CyberAlert -- 06/17/1996 -- Filegate Lacking on Networks

Filegate Lacking on Networks

Three related items today, all on coverage of Whitewater and the FBI files discovered in the White House:

1) "Harsh" is the term chosen by Bob Schieffer of CBS News to describe the leaked report from the Republican staff of the Senate Whitewater committee.

2) Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz asserts that FBI file story would have "rocketed to the front page a whole lot quicker" if it involved the Reagan administration.

3) A day by day chronology since the FBI file story broke of what happened each day and how the network evening shows did or did not cover the revelations. Warning: this is a long section.


On Face the Nation on Sunday June 16 host Bob Schieffer explained that Republicans on the Whitewater committee leaked their report, which he asserted, charged that '"First Lady Hillary Clinton upon learning of the death of White House counsel Vince Foster dispatched her trusted lieutenants to contain any political embarrassment or political damage' -- that might arise on the night of his death. That's a very harsh, that's a very harsh assessment it seems to me. Democrats on the committee apparently have not even seen the draft of the report yet. They say it's outrageous that the committee could come to that kind of a conclusion without even interviewing the First Lady."


Here's an exchange from the June 16 Fox News Sunday between Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz and host Tony Snow. (I'd note that Fox News Sunday was the only Sunday morning show to focus on the FBI files) Kurtz: "There's no question that the press initially blew this
story. This should have been all over the front page and all over the networks and it was not..."
Snow: "So why wasn't it covered?"
Kurtz: "I think there was an initial reluctance on the part of many journalists. A) we didn't have all the answers, so we weren't sure if it was as big a story as it now appears to be. And secondly, probably, a feeling that this sort of, that a political snooping operation was not the kind of thing they expected from the Clinton White House, whereas if hundreds of files had been obtained by Ed Meese in the Reagan administration on Democrats I think this story would have rocketed to the front page a whole lot quicker."


While the widespread "leaking" by the Republican report from the Senate Whitewater committee generated some publicity over the weekend (Nightline Friday night and stories on the networks on Sunday), the networks have hardly been aggressive in covering the FBI "filegate" story.
Prompted by some end of the week media inquiries, on Friday MRC media analysts Steve Kaminski, Clay Waters, Jim Forbes, Geoffrey Dickens and Gene Eliasen provided me with a review of how the network evening shows have covered the story. Interns Jessica Anderson, Andrea Wilson, Jonathan Stuart and Diane Lewis pitched in to complete some transcripts.
Below I've combined that information with the revelations/events of each day. You'll see two patterns: 1) A major revelation occurs, but only some networks cover it. 2) Even when they do a full story one night, they then drop it without follow up. In other words, there's little evidence of aggressive or enterprise reporting. If there's a report issued or a Dole comment they'll cover it, otherwise forget it.

-- Wednesday June 5: Memos show that the White House received confidential FBI background files of Billy Dale seven months after the travel office chief was fired.

ABC World News Tonight (WNT): No story
CBS Evening News (EN): Story placement #2. Full story by Rita Braver. Rather introduced story in the context of "new troubles for President Clinton tonight from Capitol Hill in the Whitewater offensive and White House travel office mess." Braver concluded by noting that "so far polls show voters don't seem to care very much."
CNN The World Today (10-11pm ET) (TWT): #20. Full story by Terry Freidan.
NBC Nightly News (NN): #3. Full story by Jim Miklaszewski.

-- Thursday June 6: Washington Times has story in June 7 edition about changing White House explanation for file request.

ABC WNT: No story
CBS EN: No story, but they do have story on how law professor Stephen Gillers has troubles with Hillary Clinton's story about involvement in Castle Grande deal.
CNN TWT: No story
NBC NN: No story

-- Friday June 7: White House admits collecting FBI background reports on 338 Bush and Reagan officials.

ABC WNT: No story
CBS EN: No story
CNN TWT: No story
NBC NN: 4th story, an anchor-read item. Brokaw relays White House "mistake" line as if not in dispute: "The White House said pulling the files was a procedural error by a member of the White House security detail, an army employee. However, those confidential files did make it all the way to the White House before this mistake was discovered."

-- Saturday June 8: Dole raises Watergate comparison, suggests it's an "enemies list." Dick Armey calls for hearings.

ABC WNT (actually World News Saturday): Does its first piece, a brief story by anchor Aaron Brown.
CBS EN: #3. Full story by Sharyl Attkisson. Anchor Bob Schieffer in his introduction says "Bob Dole took his hardest swipe yet at President Clinton today."
CNN TWT: Full report by Candy Crowley.
NBC NN: Full report from David Bloom. Anchor Brian Williams introduces story by claiming Dole is making the campaign ugly: "The politics of Campaign '96 are getting very ugly, very early. Today, Bob Dole accused the White House of using the FBI to wage war against its political enemies, and if that sounds like another political scandal, that's the point. NBC's David Bloom is traveling with the Dole campaign tonight."...

David Bloom: "Never before had Bob Dole made such a detailed critique of alleged misdeeds by the White House. Making it clear once more that Republican attacks on Bill Clinton's character will be at the centerpiece of this campaign. David Bloom, NBC News, Marietta, Georgia.

-- Sunday June 9: Chief of Staff Leon Panetta appearing on Meet the Press apologizes, sort of.

ABC WNT: Lead story by Jerry King. Anchor Carole Simpson's introduction: "President Clinton, traveling out West, had to battle to keep his own issues on the agenda. It was thanks in large part to his likely opponent, Bob Dole, who hammered away at the latest issue in the campaign, those FBI background files that ended up in the White House."
CBS EN: Lead story, a full report which makes Republicans look like the desperate aggressors: "For a year and a half, the Republican-controlled Congress has been bent on holding one hearing after another, investigating the Clinton White House. This provides them fodder for yet another. Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News, Washington."
CNN TWT: Anchor-read brief item
NBC NN: Lead story, full story by Jim Miklaszewski

-- Monday June 10: Bill Clinger, Chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, says the White House may have received more than the 339 files.

ABC WNT: #3. Full story on the scandal by Brit Hume.
CBS EN: Full story by Bill Plante who reported that Clinton out campaigning, but "the partisan fight over the White House search of FBI files continued."
CNN TWT: Anchor-read brief.
NBC NN: #2. Full story from Brian Williams who referred to a "small firestorm about FBI files."

-- Tuesday June 11: Two former WH counsels, Fred Fielding and C. Boyden Gray, say they are baffled by how files got into White House; Washington Times reports that FBI procedures violated.
ABC WNT: Anchor-read brief from Peter Jennings.
CBS EN: No story
CNN TWT: No story
NBC NN: No story

-- Wednesday June 12: President Clinton apologizes, says "I'm sorry that it occurred" and that he "would never tolerate or condone any kind of enemies list."

ABC WNT: No story
CBS EN: Apology noted at beginning of story by Bill Plante on Clinton going to a re-built church, and mention of Dole attacking Clinton over the files in conclusion.
CNN TWT: Anchor-read brief.
NBC NN: No story

-- Thursday June 13: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch announces hearings would be held; a former FBI agent writes Wall Street Journal op-ed saying White House explanation "is really too much for this FBI veteran to believe;" FBI announces overhaul of procedures; New York Post reports that civilian army staffer Anthony Marceca was specifically requested by WH and has ties to Democratic politicians.

ABC WNT: No story
CBS EN: No story
CNN TWT: * All Freemen coverage *
NBC NN: No story

-- Friday June 14: FBI Director Freeh issues report that charges White House with "egregious violations of privacy," says he and FBI were "victimized," reveals that 408 files obtained, up from 339.

ABC WNT: Lead story.
CBS EN: Lead story. Unlike ABC and NBC, CBS reporter Bill Plante notes political connections of Marceca.
CNN TWT: Lead story
NBC NN: Lead story

-- Saturday June 15: Day after stunningly critical FBI report that contradicts initial WH line.

ABC WNT: No story
CBS EN: Sharyl Attkisson story -- about two-thirds on Dole's ties to tobacco PACS, one-third on FBI files
CNN TWT: No story, but full story on GOP Whitewater report
NBC NN: No story

-- Sunday June 16:

ABC WNT: No story, but full story on GOP Whitewater report
CBS EN: No story, but full story on GOP Whitewater report
NBC NN: Full story by Joe Johns looking at upcoming hearings

Last Tuesday (June 11) at the National Press Club, Tom Brokaw insisted: "Someone said to me on the way in here today...that there's not enough outrage out there about the FBI files, for example, that have ended up in the Clinton administration and the Clinton White House, at the moment. It's not because the press hasn't publicized this."

NBC Nightly News didn't air a FBI story that night, or the next, or the next. Another one ran three days later -- on Friday when Freeh's report came out.

-- Brent Baker