CyberAlert -- September 18, 1996 -- Gumbel Backs McDougal; Thomas Dropped by CNBC

Two items today:

1. On Tuesday's Today show Bryant Gumbel interviewed Susan McDougal from jail in Arkansas. But instead of pressing her on why she won't tell what she knows (for which she's been granted immunity), Gumbel sympathized with her plight and portrayed her as a victim of Republican politics. He asked: "Have you any doubt that Kenneth Starr and his deputies are pursuing an agenda that is purely political?"

2. CNBC cancels the Cal Thomas show, a decision Thomas says will only fuel conservative feelings that the media are liberal.


1. Susan McDougal has already been found guilty of fraud and been jailed for contempt of court for over a week for refusing to answer questions about Bill Clinton's knowledge of the fraudulent SBA loan deal. From the September 17 Today show, here are some of Gumbel's questions to her, transcribed by MRC intern Matt Turosz:

Gumbel: Mrs. McDougal, let me start with you if I might. How bad has confinement been there in Conway?"

Gumbel: "How are you being treated by the authorities and the other inmates?"

Gumbel: "There are those who are obviously hoping that in prison will prompt a change of heart on you part. Are you having any second thoughts about refusing to answer questions?"

Gumbel then posed his one and only tough question: "According to reports, you were charged with contempt after being asked to testify, about whether Bill Clinton knew about an illegal loan or the purchase of a piece of property with some loan proceeds. Why have you refused to answer that question?"

McDougal responded by claiming Ken Starr had lied to her before and failed to come through on a deal: "He used witnesses against me with perjured testimony. Would you buy a used car from this man. I certainly wouldn't go into a hearing without my lawyer, into a grand jury room, and answer questions he asked me. He has lied repeatedly. I won't deal with him."

Instead of challenging her, Gumbel summarized her view: "So basically you don't trust his promises of immunity from prosecution in exchange for answers to his questions?"

McDougal responded: "...He has lied about me. He has lied during the trial. He has lied after the trial. And he has said many times give us a proffer, something against the Clintons, something that we can use, and we'll make all your problems go away. Well, I'm sorry, that's just not how America works, and that not how I want to deal with him."

Gumbel next queried "Is there any amount of time in jail that might make your either (A) change your mind or (B) have second thoughts about trusting Mr. Starr and his deputies?"

McDougal answered: "I told you earlier, I become stronger everyday in my conviction everyday that I sit here."

Gumbel then asserted: "Have you any doubt that Kenneth Starr and his deputies are pursuing an agenda that is purely political?"

McDougal: "I don't believe anyone in America doubts it....I want to know were I can go to complain about these people's evil agenda to overrun me to get to the President."

Gumbel took the same approach in talking to her lawyer: "Bobby McDaniel, you said that your client is being used as political pawn. Have you any legal recourse but to sit there and watch this unfold?"

A couple of questions later Gumbel returned to McDougal and again bought her premise: "Given that you think this is all just a Republican witch hunt, do you expect the pressure to ease somewhat after the election?"


2. On Monday CNBC announced the cancellation of the weekend interview shows hosted by Cal Thomas, Al Roker and Gerry Spence. Thomas's last show (6:30pm and 1am ET Sat. and Sun.) will air in early October. The Washington Post's John Carmody on Tuesday quoted Thomas suggesting that the decision will "further the already deep suspicion among conservatives that the news media is overwhelmingly liberal."

I'll let you know when Thomas finds another outlet and, hopefully, a more prominent time slot.

-- Brent Baker