CyberAlert -- 05/07/1998 -- Starr the Sieve?

Starr the Sieve?; Reporters Had Full Access to Tapes; CNN Denies Bias

1) Who leaked the executive privilege ruling? ABC and NBC relayed the White House attack on Starr but FNC added an alternative explanation.

2) Dan Rather warned of "international merger mania" Wednesday night and adopted the White House spin about Starr probing Clinton's "personal life." NBC's Myers added to the Currie story.

3) "Reporters were review the committee's excerpts and then to listen to the tapes to get the context," National Review revealed. So none were misled on the Hubbell tapes.

4) CNN's negative portrait of Dan Burton prompted the Congressman to complain, but Judy Woodruff insisted: "We try not to be biased."

Correcting the correction. More than one reader has pointed out that contrary to the May 6 CyberAlert correction about how "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun, "effect" can also be a verb, as in "effect a solution," meaning to bring about. In the future I think I shall stick to bias and avoid grammar, an area I know much less about.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Starr the Sieve or Clinton the Conniver? Or, who leaked? Wednesday night ABC and CBS relayed the White House complaint, filed by Clinton's personal lawyer, that the Office of the Independent Counsel improperly leaked the judge's sealed decision denying the executive privilege claim invoked by some top Clinton aides. But only FNC and Brit Hume offered viewers the theory forwarded by Starr's office that the White House really did the leaking.

Concluding his May 6 World News Tonight story, ABC's Sam Donaldson told anchor Peter Jennings: "Back in the administration's court the President's lawyer David Kendall, late today, accused independent counsel Starr of leaking the court order yesterday and in a letter to the court asked that Starr and his office be held in contempt. Peter, getting hotter, getting hotter."

Similarly, NBC's David Bloom ended his Nightly News piece: "Late today the President's private attorney again asked that the independent counsel's office be held in contempt of court, arguing that at least one broadcast news report cited Starr's office as the source of the leak of the supposedly secret executive privilege decision."

But on FNC's Fox Report Rita Cosby noted Kendall's letter, but added that "sources are saying that prosecutors believe that they can prove that the original leak didn't come from them but from the White House."

Near the end of the 6pm ET Special Report with Brit Hume a few minutes earlier, the FNC's Washington Managing Editor -- that would be Hume -- offered some informed speculation about what might have transpired:
"David Kendall is blaming the independent counsel for the leak because the Fox News Channel report mentioned the independent counsel's office as having done this. In fact, I can tell you that the reporter who did that story did not talk to the independent counsel's office, but subsequently, we have heard from sources, that the way the independent counsel's office was first approached by the press was by the news organization which broke this story which was Lisa Myers at NBC News, called and had a tip already, already knew about it. And the suspicion at the independent counsel's office apparently is that the White House leaked this and put its spin on it and then when the independent counsel's office was later quoted then blamed it."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)FNC and NBC led Wednesday night with stories pegged to Clinton's contention that the facts in his executive privilege claim distinguish it from Nixon's assertion. Of the broadcast networks, only CBS featured a separate story on Dan Burton and only NBC aired a separate piece on Betty Currie's grand jury appearance as Lisa Myers charged "she was more deeply involved as a go-between for the President and Monica than she previously indicated."

The proposed Daimler-Benz merger with Chrysler topped the ABC, CNN and CBS newscasts. "International merger mania, the theory that bigger is better, is spreading to the automobile industry now," warned Dan Rather at the start of the May 6 CBS Evening News, noting the deal would "bring together a world renowned maker of luxury cars and a company whose legacy includes the Duster."

Some other highlights from the evening shows of Wednesday, May 6:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Sam Donaldson reported there are "a lot of indications" Clinton will appeal the executive privilege ruling. After a soundbite from Clinton at a press conference with the Italian Prime Minister in which Clinton insisted "the facts are quite different in this case" than in Nixon's, Donaldson observed: "The President wouldn't say how the facts in the Monica Lewinsky investigation are different from Watergate."
Noting that Dan Burton fired his top aide over how the Hubbell tapes were released, Donaldson showed critical clips from Clinton and Congressman Henry Waxman before this soundbite from Newt Gingrich: "I'd rather side with a decent man trying to get at the truth than side with Henry Waxman and the cover-up artists who do anything they can to avoid the truth."
Donaldson concluded with the news about David Kendal cited above in item #1. Anchor Peter Jennings then took a few seconds to note Betty Currie's appearance.

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather adopted the White House spin about Starr probing Clinton's "personal life," announcing:
"President Clinton today said little and shrugged off any similarity between a federal court rejecting his assertions of executive privilege in the Ken Starr investigation of his personal life and the Richard Nixon executive privilege claims during the crimes of Watergate. But, President Clinton's spokesman Mike McCurry put it bluntly, and I quote, 'In Watergate crimes were committed,' unquote."

Scott Pelley reported that Clinton's lawyers think they have strong grounds to appeal the executive privilege decision. He also highlighted how Clinton disagreed with the Watergate comparison but that Clinton failed to say how the cases differ. After noting Currie's appearance Pelley observed that while Starr has won all the recent court rulings the appeals are beginning as Lewinsky's lawyers plan to appeal the immunity decision, which will delay Starr for months.

Turning to Capitol Hill Rather found Republican "internal stress cracks on display." He reported the firing of Burton's aide, adding that Gingrich "distanced himself from the Burton committee." Bob Schieffer emphasized how Republicans found Burton embarrassing and wanted to get rid of him, but the aide took the fall.

-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Wolf Blitzer reviewed Clinton's executive privilege claim, specifically citing White House counsel Charles Ruff as favoring an appeal, and noting how that would further delay Starr. Bruce Morton then provided a history of executive privilege claims before anchor Martin Savidge noted Currie's appearance and how Susan McDougal's lawyer asked a judge to throw out her two year sentence for a conviction related to a SBA loan.

Finally, Candy Crowley checked in from Capitol Hill, where she found that "Dave Bossie took the fall for releasing incomplete tape transcripts which has given the Democrats an issue for five days running." Crowley asserted that while "in public the GOP is circling the wagons" around Burton, they are not in private. Crowley uniquely reported that the last of the Hubbell tapes were released Wednesday, but she was less than impressed: "They are as ambiguous and inconclusive as the first tapes."

-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET led with Rita Cosby on Clinton claiming he's different than Nixon and condemning the Hubbell tape release. Cosby's story also covered the resignation of Burton's aide, the Congressman's apology to his colleagues and Currie's recall to the grand jury.

-- Tom Brokaw opened NBC Nightly News by observing that while Clinton "claimed the facts are quite different" from Watergate, he "didn't elaborate." David Bloom filled in the details before switching gears: "Among the President's Republican opponents -- disarray." Burton fired his top investigator David Bossie because, Bloom asserted, Burton had come under fire for releasing Hubbell "recordings that appeared selectively edited to damage the White House."

Next, Lisa Myers offered no specifics about what Starr's team had learned about Betty Currie, but tantalizingly suggested:
"With Monica Lewinsky not talking, the President's secretary is for now Starr's most crucial witness in determining if the President lied and obstructed justice. And today she was confronted with new evidence, which NBC News has learned, suggests she was more deeply involved as a go-between for the President and Monica than she previously indicated..."
Myers did add: "Starr also is investigating any White House efforts to influence Currie's testimony. Sources tell NBC News that pager records show White House officials frantically trying to reach Currie while she was holed up with Starr's investigators right after the Lewinsky story broke."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Contrary to the media line dismissing or ignoring the content of the Hubbell tapes because Dan Burton and aide David Bossie supposedly provided only misleading excerpts (see Bloom and Crowley above and the May 6 CyberAlert for examples), National Review revealed that reporters had full access to all the tapes last week.

In the magazine's May 6 e-mailed Washington Bulletin, NR Washington reporters Ramesh Ponnuru and John J. Miller explained:


Would Henry Waxman ever fire his top investigator because Republicans were squawking about him-based on a misunderstanding of the facts? That's essentially what House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R., Ind.) has just done by firing Dave Bossie for editing the Hubbell tapes.

Whatever else they thought of him, reporters generally found Bossie straightforward. From Lloyd Grove's profile in the November 14th Washington Post: "'Dave Bossie has never lied to me, and the Clinton White House has lied to me,' says ABC News producer Chris Vlasto, echoing the comments of other reporters."

And it was not Bossie's decision to release short excerpts from the Hubbell tapes; he favored releasing a lengthier version. Instead, reporters were encouraged last week to review the committee's excerpts and then to listen to the tapes to get the context, although they were cautioned about the personal nature of much on the tapes. Yes, that's right: reporters had access to the full tapes -- a fact which makes it hard to attribute any intent to mislead to Bossie et al. Committee staffers figured that reporters would be able to filter out obviously self-serving statements by Hubbell for themselves. In other words, the committee's condensation was really a sort of guide to the highlights of the tape. And even that condensation included passages put there at Waxman's request....

For information about receiving NR's Washington Bulletin via e-mail, send a message to: NR's Web site:


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)More Burton-bashing. While on the subject, the day before CNN's Tuesday prime time special diatribe against Dan Burton (see May 6 CyberAlert), CNN's Inside Politics delivered a condensed version of its attack on him. Afterwards Burton complained about the bias, but Judy Woodruff assured him CNN tries to avoid bias.

MRC news analyst Eric Darbe alerted me to this May 4 story and Burton/Woodruff exchange. Eric also caught the Wolf Blitzer "so-called scandal" quote cited in the May 6 CyberAlert which I falsely credited to another analyst.

CNN's Inside Politics featured a profile of Burton. Reporter Frank Sesno began: "From the outset of the campaign finance hearings, Dan Burton has been a lightening rod for partisanship and accusation. His adversaries say he has run the committee with authoritarian zeal, that he's steamrolled Democrats and shattered precedent."
Henry Waxman (D-CA): "The Chairman has made his view clear. And he has unilateral power and will do whatever he wants."
Sesno: "Burton has given himself authority to subpoena witnesses, and he's subpoenaed hundreds. The Democrats say they've been shut out of what has always been a consultative process."
Following soundbites from Waxman and Burton, Sesno continued: "Burton's release of the Hubbell tapes has only inflamed passions and questions about his judgment."
Tom Lantos (D-CA): "I think it's self-evident that Burton is incapable of conducting an objective, fair, dignified congressional investigation."
Sesno: "Many Republicans are privately uneasy. Several approached for this story declined to be interviewed. An aide to one GOP Committee member says Burton's handling of the tapes represents 'horrible tactics, horrible PR.'"
After noting that some Republicans are pleased by his committee's work, Sesno concluded: "This is hardly the first Burton blowup. There were his comments about President Clinton to The Indianapolis Star last month. Quote: 'This guy's a scumbag, that's why I'm after him.' Burton apologized for the vocabulary, but not the sentiment. And there are plenty of other controversies, from his own fundraising, to his persistent belief that White House counsel Vince Foster's death was not a suicide."

Anchor Judy Woodruff then launched a live interview with Burton, who immediately complained: "I'd like to start off saying that when I do interviews on shows like yours and Bernie's, I really expect to be treated fairly, and I want you to know that pre-interview piece that you showed was very biased, and I think your producers know it. All I ask out of you and CNN is a modicum of fairness." Woodruff insisted: "As you know, we try not to be biased in our reporting. We identified that as flashbacks to some of the more controversial moments on your committee. But if I may, I'm going to go ahead and launch into these questions today..."

They should try harder. Judging by CNN's May 5 10pm ET special on Burton (see May 6 CyberAlert) the network didn't take Burton's admonition too seriously.

-- Brent Baker

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