CyberAlert -- 10/21/1997 -- Clinton Call Letter; Starr's Gestapo Tactics Toward McDougal

Clinton Call Letter; Starr's Gestapo Tactics Toward McDougal

1) Burton's charge about altered videotape picked up, but only CBS told viewers about a letter confirming that Clinton placed calls.

2) CNN looked at the Gore-Knight-Molten Metal Technology-DNC contributions-government grants circle.

3) Dateline NBC turned Susan McDougal into a martyr serving time in oppressive prison conditions. NBC even gave a platform for her and her mother to equate Ken Starr and the Gestapo.

1) Congressman Dan Burton's suggestion on Sunday's Face the Nation that the White House may have altered or edited the videotapes generated a few broadcast network mentions Sunday night and Monday morning. But only CBS picked up a Newsweek item on a donor who said Clinton called him.

-- A World News Tonight story Sunday night by Karla Davis led with Burton's allegation that the abrupt ending of some tapes shows they may have been altered, but the Sunday CBS Evening News ignored it. Monday morning (October 21) Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman read a brief item on Burton during the 7am and 8am newscasts, MRC news analyst Eric Darbe noted. NBC's Today, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, gave Burton an anchor-read brief during the 7am, 7:30am and 8am news updates by Ann Curry. Even This Morning news anchor Jane Robelot on CBS gave Burton a couple of sentences.

-- Monday morning, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski noticed, This Morning news anchor Jane Robelot read one sentence about a Newsweek report confirming that Clinton made fundraising calls. Neither GMA or Today mentioned the evidence of calls. Monday night, of the broadcast networks, only the CBS Evening News reported the Newsweek discovery. Dan Rather read this 30-second story:
"President Clinton said he does not recall making any calls from the White House seeking campaign contributions. But former Equitable Corporation CEO Richard Jenrette now says he remembers getting a call. And CBS News today obtained a copy of a letter Jenrette wrote to the President after the call, quote, [at this point Rather is reading what also appears on screen over a copy of the letter] 'Dear Mr. President. In response to your request, I wanted you to know that I am sending checks totaling $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee,' unquote. A spokesman says President Clinton does not recall the phone conversation but does not dispute Jenrette's account."

Rather stopped reading the letter before finishing what viewers saw on screen. The rest of what CBS put up on the chyron: "You said you wanted to raise $2 million from 40 good friends."

So, not only proof that Clinton called one business executive but that call was part of a plan to contact at least 39 other potential givers. All in the face of What House "don't recalls." Yet, neither ABC or NBC found it newsworthy.

2) Yesterday's (October 20) CyberAlert noted that none of the networks picked up on Friday's Washington Post story detailing the relationship amongst Molten Metal Technology, Al Gore, Peter Knight, DNC contributions and government grants. The CyberAlert also reported that when Time broke the story back in June the networks ignored the story, even CNN.

Update: All true, but CNN did air a piece on it during an October 15 Money Trail special at 10pm ET last Wednesday. MRC news analyst Clay Waters informed me that CNN ran a story by Time's Michael Weisskopf, author of the June magazine item. Afterwards, anchor Judy Woodruff posed a couple of questions about the matter to White House counsel Lanny Davis.

3) Catching up on some bias from a couple of weeks ago, Dateline NBC ran a two-part interview with Susan McDougal on October 5 and 6. But instead of treating her an uncooperative impediment to justice NBC's Stone Phillips portrayed her as a victim of Kenneth Starr's vindictiveness.
In the first part Phillips concentrated on her harsh prison experience, especially since being transferred to a Los Angeles jail to await trial for embezzling from an former employer. On day two NBC provided a prime time soapbox for McDougal to paint Starr as a Nazi, complete with recollections from her mother about Nazi- occupied Belgium.

Here are some excerpts from the stories without most over the soundbites from McDougal, as transcribed by MRC intern Rebecca Hinnershitz. From the October 5 Dateline:

Stone Phillips: "Last year Susan McDougal was convicted of fraud in the ongoing Whitewater investigation. Prosecutors offered her a deal. If she'd give them something incriminating about her old friends the Clintons, they'd give her a lighter sentence. She refused and went to jail rather than testify before a Whitewater grand jury. But Susan McDougal had no idea what was in store for her. Tonight a Dateline exclusive: Susan McDougal and her family speak out on a prosecution they say became persecution..."

"At first, she went to this minimum security federal facility in Texas where inmates are free to walk around and visit with one another, but in December she was moved to a county jail in Los Angeles for a court hearing on unrelated criminal charges. That's when her family says authorities began a deliberate pattern of persecution, aimed they say at breaking Susan's silence, starting when she was locked in a cell alone for forty-eight hours -- allowed out for just fifteen minutes to call her brother Bill...."

"And Dateline discovered it's not just Susan McDougal's family that's saying her treatment in jail has been unusually tough.... By her own admission Lorraine Overbaugh, who goes by the nickname Butch, is a street-scarred former junkie well-acquainted with life inside the L.A. County Jail. Butch told Dateline that while Susan McDougal was locked in her cell for up to 23 hours a day, other prisoners, even the accused murderers, were allowed out to watch TV and socialize..."

"And as hard as K10 was, it got eve tougher in June when Susan was moved to the new county jail into a cell like this one -- spotless but soundproof, adding to her sense of isolation..."

"But what angers Susan's family even more is that she continued to be held in the county jail on lockdown in spite of a judge's repeated orders like this one last December. It ordered her released on the local charges pending her trial and returned to federal custody, but for months Susan McDougal was not moved."

Phillips proceeded to explain how it took a lawsuit from the ACLU to get her moved to a nicer facility.

Not only is she being persecuted by Starr, but Phillips told Dateline viewers, the case against her in California is also a bogus set up to further Starr's goal.
Phillips contended: "There's something else unusual about Susan McDougal's case. It's about those criminal charges she's facing in California. Her attorney made a surprising claim. Mark Gerigos told Dateline that at first local prosecutors weren't even interested in the case. Susan McDougal thinks it was dusted off and revived as yet another attempt to pressure her to talk about the Clintons. Can she prove it? No, but listen to what Susan's mother told us about a phone call she got from an FBI agent just as the Whitewater investigation was heating up." Susan McDougal's mother: "He said, 'Well I just wanted to tell you that if you can get to Susan and tell her to call me and talk to me about the Clintons that we will forget all those charges in California.'"

Phillips outlined the California case and how McDougal supposedly stole $150,000 while working as personal assistant to Hollywood actress Nancy Kovac. Phillips finally got around to challenging McDougal, asking her about how she set up mail drop addresses for credit cards. But he soon returned to the theme of McDougal the victim: "She clearly has some explaining to do in court, but her lawyer Mark Gerigos claims he can prove that when the allegations first came to light more than five years ago the case was considered too weak to prosecute." The piece ended with Phillips relaying a denial from the LA District Attorney's office.

If you think part one was biased, wait to you read what NBC delivered the next night. Here are some excerpts from the October 6 Dateline:

Stone Phillips: "....It's been more than a year since Susan McDougal was caught in the Whitewater net. But unlike others, including her ex-husband, who caved and cooperated she has remained silent. And though she has served harder time than many murderers, locked down in isolation, left in a county jail for months in spite of a judge's order that she be transferred, she says it has only stiffened her spine and her belief that prosecutor Kenneth Star and his investigators will stop at nothing in what she calls the 'Whitewater witch hunt.'"
Susan McDougal: "They cared little for the people that they stomped along the way, the people they ran over along the way to get to Bill Clinton, and that is exactly why I liken Ken Starr to a Nazi, because the end to him justified the means."
Phillips, instead of dismissing the charge as ludicrous, empathizes with it and builds her case: "Kenneth Star a Nazi? To understand the depth of Susan McDougal's hatred for the man who had her jailed, you have to understand the depth of her love for the woman who's been her inspiration."
Phillips to Susan's mother: "Susan seems to feel that she's following in your footsteps with the stand that she has taken." Lorette Hinley, Susan's mother: "In a way it makes my sad, and in a way I'm very proud of her." Phillips: "Susan McDougal's mother Lorette Hinley knows all about standing firm under enormous pressure. As a teenager in Nazi- occupied Belgium she saw first-hand how the Gestapo turned neighbor against neighbor forcing people to lie about loved ones who were then arrested or shot. She says her family defied them, going so far as to hide Resistance fighters in their basement....Those lessons from the war were often told around the family dinner table in Camden, Arkansas but never with more at stake than in September, 1996, the night before Susan was scheduled to testify before a Whitewater grand jury. She'd already been convicted of fraud, and she says prosecutors were offering to lighten her two year sentence if she'd testify against the Clintons, but that night she called her family together to tell them that not only was she turning down the deal, she wasn't going to testify at all. Did you try to talk her out of it?"
Hinley: "I must admit that I did."
McDougal: "I said mom I've told them, I don't know anything they've done wrong."
Hinley: "They want me to lie about the Clintons. I told her, I said my goodness this sounded just like the Nazis."
Phillips did at least ask McDougal "Is it fair to compare Kenneth Star to the Nazis? Isn't Kenneth Star just doing what prosecutors do every day in this country, offering leniency to those who cooperate and upping the pressure on those who don't talk?"

The story soon moved to a review of the Whitewater land deal, what McDougal was convicted of doing and how Hillary Clinton pushed the project forward. As the segment neared its conclusion Phillips finally got tough with McDougal, showing her examples of how she had lied on job applications, incidents that lead prosecutors to consider her deceitful.

The final inquiry from Phillips: "Your family says that you could make two phone calls. One to the prosecutors one to a publisher and you'd be free and you'd be rich. Are those phone calls you'll ever make."

More than 20 minutes of airtime, but instead of portraying her as obstructing justice by refusing to say whether the President lied at her trial, NBC turned her into a martyr, treating seriously her outlandish equating of the Gestapo and the independent counsel. If Watergate figures had claimed that Archibald Cox reminded them of Stalinist tactics do you think NBC News would have treated the allegation as credible, worthy of elaboration in prime time?

-- Brent Baker