Tripping Tripp; Starr's Rush to Judgment; Media Self-Flagellation
Friday night ABC and NBC marveled over Clinton's high approval ratings as both networks highlighted how one subpoenaed witness disparaged Ken Starr. ABC raised questions about the accuracy of Linda Tripp's claim to have heard Lewinsky talking with Clinton on the phone while CBS relayed Tripp's recollections without the disdain applied by ABC. Only NBC acknowledged GOP criticism of Clinton, running clips from Senators Lott and Ashcroft.
Here are highlights from the Friday, January 30 evening shows:
-- Peter Jennings opened ABC's World News Tonight:
"Good evening. Here's the situation. Hardly a week after this presidential crisis began the President is under investigation because he may have lied about a sexual relationship and told someone else to lie and tonight he has the highest job approval rating since he was first elected. Some week. Only a few days ago the entire presidential retinue was in shock about these allegations which the President doesn't want to explain. Tonight the Clinton team is on the offense against the independent counsel."
Jackie Judd started her reported by noting how Congressman John Conyers is demanding an investigation of Starr for misconduct, but the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde, quashed the idea. Judd then made Conyers' case:
"Starr did seem to play into the White House strategy today. He was blasted by a press secretary for the administration's drug czar. An angry Bob Weiner said all he had done was make calls from his home to local Democrats about whether Linda Tripp's taping of Monica Lewinsky's calls was illegal. Weiner said soon after he was subpoenaed by Starr to testify before the grand jury."
Weiner: "I think this is an incredible overreach by the prosecutor to have subpoenaed us. It is big brother at it worst, it really scares you."
Harassing Tripp over taping calls would have been like demanding the police arrest Woodward and Bernstein for theft of services for standing in a parking garage space they did not pay for when they talked to "Deep Throat."
Judd continued: "As for Linda Tripp her credibility was challenged today too. In her first public statement Tripp claimed that she was present when Lewinsky received a late night phone call from the President. But in an interview with Barbara Walters for tonight's 20/20, Lewinsky's attorney says that is not true."
After a clip of attorney William Ginsburg, Judd showed former Deputy Chief-of-Staff Evelyn Lieberman denying Clinton did anything wrong and noted that Starr came up empty in his search for forensic evidence since the dresses had been dry cleaned. Concluded Judd:
"Tonight there are indications that while Starr is still confident about his investigation, he may need to engage in some kind of public relations damage control to counter the White House strategy."
ABC moved on to Iraq, but later featured "A Closer Look" on the use of unnamed sources.
-- The CBS Evening News uniquely reported a White House win in Judge Susan Weber Wright's ruling that Secret Service officers would not have to testify in the Jones case.
CBS led with a story from Scott Pelley which began with Tripp's charge that she heard Lewinsky argue on the phone with Clinton and that Lewinsky had saved answering machine tapes. After noting that Evelyn Lieberman says she moved Lewinsky to the Pentagon because she hung around the West Wing too frequently and wore short skirts, Pelley elaborated on Tripp's statement:
"Also today Linda Tripp, the friend who recorded Lewinsky's allegations, offered new details in a written statement. Tripp's statement says Lewinsky described 'every detail of the relationship during hundreds of hours of conversations.' Tripp also says she heard several tapes of Mr. Clinton's voice. CBS News has learned that Tripp claims Lewinsky saved answering machine tapes with the President's voice and played them for her at her Pentagon office. Tripp also says she witnessed several 'volatile and contentious' phone calls between Mr. Clinton and Lewinsky. A source tells CBS News that Tripp says in one argument Lewinsky complains that Mr. Clinton's friends have not come through with a job offer for her."
Rather noted the Conyers call for an investigation of Starr and then Bob Schieffer reviewed Clinton's standing on Capitol Hill. Later in the show Steve Kroft came on to promote a 60 Minutes piece that will run Sunday which will include both his 1992 interview with the Clintons about Flowers as well as portions not aired.
-- NBC Nightly News opened with this tease from Tom Brokaw which featured the complaining witness:
"In Washington, the pendulum swings the other way. Confidence in the President now at an all-time high. The question: Did prosecutor Kenneth Starr make a rush to judgment?"
Bob Weiner: "It is big brother at its worst, it really scares you."
David Bloom began the first story of the show:
"The criminal investigation of the President is proceeding tonight at a breakneck pace. Tonight prosecutors wrapped up a fourth straight day of grand jury testimony, but today at the White House there's also a sense that a week that began so poorly is ending on a positive note. For President Clinton tonight, promise and peril. Today he basked in the applause of the nation's mayors, managed again to keep at arms length from questions he refuses to face..."
He went on to report on Evelyn Lieberman, relay Tripp's claims about overhearing phone calls, cite Weiner's attack on Starr and run Trent Lott's criticism of Clinton.
Later, the In Depth segment returned to the scandal. Claire Shipman looked at how things have changed in ten days with Clinton's job approval now at all time high thanks to the State of the Union, Hillary's strong defense and a weaker than expected case from Starr. But, she emphasized, he's not off the hook. Clinton, she reported, will have to explain his relationship with Lewinsky and more witnesses are possible. Also, there is still the Jones trial. She aired a clip of Senator Ashcroft calling Clinton a "disgrace," before ending by noting how Clinton and Chelsea were off the Camp David for the weekend.
Brokaw then ran down the legal situation with Jack Ford who explained that the immunity deal was not closed because Lewinsky won't back an obstruction of justice prosecution.
Another week, another opportunity for Bryant Gumbel to suck up to the Clintons. MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski alerted me to these comments from the January 28 Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel on CBS.
Reviewing the day's news, Gumbel charged:
"...Despite the weather, the clouds hovering over the President seemed to dissipate today. Perhaps over the past two days, binging on scandal has taken a toll on the public's appetite. What 24 hours earlier peaked the nation's curiosity today felt uncomfortable and inappropriate...Yet less than an hour before the President addressed the nation, new players in this melodrama emerged. They dented Monica Lewinsky's credibility."
Terry Giles, Andy Bleiler's attorney: "She made the comment to Kathy not once but on numerous occasions before going to Washington, 'I'm going to the White House to get my presidential knee pads.'"
Gumbel: "The claims not only transformed the story, they further tarnished the image of media folks, reducing some to little more than procurers of sensation. The sordid state of affairs was all painfully evident when a frightened Betty Currie, the President's personal secretary, had to make her way through a gauntlet of hungry reporters. She seemed just the latest morsel in a feeding frenzy that still has no end in sight...."
Interviewing, or should we more properly say giving a platform to, James Carville, Gumbel raised Hillary Clinton's claim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." To Gumbel there are only two possibilities: either Monica Lewinsky is part of the conspiracy, or she's a victim of it:
"Where does Lewinsky fit into this conspiracy theory? Is she victimizing the President or is she too a victim?"
On the up side: No more Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel for about a month. The Olympics will bump him for two weeks and with CBS not wanting his low ratings to drag them down in the February sweeps, his show will not air this upcoming week. But I heard a rumor that CBS might use him during Olympic coverage. Maybe he can stick to sports.
The January 30 MRC Media Reality Check fax report put together by Tim Graham. With Meet the Press promos for Sunday's show touting an examination of how the media have overplayed the story, this report is particularly timely. It looks at two sessions of media self-flagellation: the two-hour January 28 CNN special and a long PBS NewsHour segment on January 29. Neither included any voices scolding the media for dropping the ball in 1992 and 1994 by dismissing Flowers and disparaging Jones, or considered the view that while they may be overdoing the current scandal because it features sex, they've underplayed many more important scandal developments, from fundraising to the health care task force lies to indicted cabinet officers.
For more on how the media failed the public by avoiding Clinton's sexual escapades, see the January 29 fax report titled "Media Should Say Whoops Over Whoopee: After Years of
Insisting Sex-Related Abuses of Power Weren't Relevant, Media
Refuted by Monicagate." For the archive of MRC fax reports, go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/reality/faxrep.html 
For more on what financial, policy and political scandals the networks skipped, see my Investor's Business Daily op-ed piece "Now They Decide to Cover a Scandal," viewable from the MRC home page, or go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/ibd0126.html  where MRC Web manager Joe Alfonsi has posted it.
Now, here's Friday's MRC fax report:
Here's the highlight box with a nice contrast Tim noticed:
The only view the media find acceptable:
"There is something about this story, this presidency, that has led the media to almost obliterate the standards of decency that were built up for so many years." -- Howard Kurtz on CNN's special Media Madness?
The view that's getting spiked:
"The American media have been enjoying a six-year crawl to judgment...the current 'feeding frenzy' is no more than a first, belated step toward an all-you-can-eat salad bar that has been blinking invitingly at them for half a decade." -- Mark Steyn, Wall Street Journal.
From the January 30 Late Show with David Letterman, the Top Ten "Signs You're in Love with the President." Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.
10) Just to be like him, you balloon up 300 pounds
9) You're perfectly content to be mistress number 143
8) On your White House application, you list your goal as "doin' it"
7) You boycott a Hallmark store for not having a "sorry you may be impeached" section
6) Your Website: www.tubby-lovin'-fool.com
5) You've memorized the words to every one of his denials
4) Your last major crush: Nixon
3) You've taped every one of his appearances on Hee Haw
2) The enthusiastic way you say, "Welcome to Hooters, Mr. President"
1) You find him guilty of being adorable
This e-mail is a bit long, but there's so much stuff out there to track and analyze. I put this out on Saturday since with Monicagate/Tailgate/Sexgate/Fellategate developments every day material becomes old quickly. Tomorrow or Monday I'll send my Investor's Business Daily piece so we'll then be caught up with the backlog of material, at least until more bias breaks out. -- Brent Baker 
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