CyberAlert -- 06/18/1998 -- Tobacco Disappointment

Tobacco Disappointment; Gays Before Starr; CNN "Has Damaged" the U.S.

1) Dan Rather blamed "heavy money" for killing the tobacco bill. More on "Republican" Ken Starr. ABC raised the possibility Kathleen Willey was intimidated. Brokaw: Is GOP "too narrow?"

2) Trent Lott's comments prompted ABC's Charles Gibson to demand: "Why are so many politicians finding it so attractive to attack homosexuality?" But ABC skipped Starr's refutation of Brill.

3) "CNN has damaged the United States of America quite seriously," charged CNN's own military affairs consultant. Now, CNN may sue if he talks about how he thinks their nerve gas story is baseless.

>>> "Networks Ignore Story of Deputy White House Counsel Contacting Lewinsky Probe Witnesses: Friends of Bill Become Friends of Brill," the latest MRC Media Reality Check is now up on the MRC home page. The fax report by Tim Graham begins: "This is a tale of two news stories on the Lewinsky probe. One reflects badly on the White House: the Los Angeles Times reported that Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey contacted Monicagate witnesses. One reflects badly on Kenneth Starr: the debut issue of the alleged journalism review Brill's Content attacks Starr for admitting he's briefed reporters. A fair, complete media outlet might feel compelled to do both. Guess which one the networks selected -- and hyped?" The direct address for the full report: <<<

Corrections and Clarifications:

a) Steve Kaminski, our recently departed media analyst now toiling for a law firm as he completes his legal studies, has informed me that the infamous Rule 6(e), which Steven Brill insists Ken Starr violated, is part of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, not the Federal Rules of Evidence as stated in the June 15 CyberAlert. Since he has not taken the bar exam I was not charged for the e-mail consultation.

b) Several errors occurred in the June 12 CyberAlert, but one really didn't. I did incorrectly quoted Sam Donaldson as saying "it's like cutting off your nose despite your face." That should have been "to spite." At another point in summarizing a Linda Douglass story on a bill to require parental permission for minors to get an abortion in another state, I said Douglass "made the proposed law seem less than rationale." That should have read "rational." One alert reader pointed out that I quoted NBC's Claire Shipman as reporting a furor "over a presidential decision the allow a Chinese satellite on a U.S. rocket." The reader correctly observed that was a "decision to..." Further, the reader noted it was really a U.S. satellite on a Chinese rocket. True, but not what Shipman said. I checked again and she did say "a Chinese satellite on a U.S. rocket." Unlike CyberAlert, NBC Nightly News does not offer corrections.

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)The dead tobacco bill topped Wednesday night's ABC and CNN newscasts while CBS and NBC went first with the U.S. Treasury bailout of the Japanese yen. FNC led with fires in Northeast Florida. The ABC and CBS tobacco stories reflected disappointment that the bill failed as Dan Rather blamed "Senate Republicans under heavy pressure and heavy money from the tobacco lobby." The three broadcast networks skipped the House vote to abolish the tax code by 2002, but both CNN and FNC ran full stories. NBC's Tom Brokaw profiled Texas Governor George W. Bush, worrying the GOP may be too "narrow" for the younger Bush to lead.

On the Monicagate and Brillgate front, Dan Rather highlighted how the Justice Department may launch an investigation of what Rather denigrated as "Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr's conduct and tactics." ABC's Jackie Judd exclusively highlighted how Kathleen Willey claims she was threatened with slashed tires and more but, assured Judd, "there is no evidence that anyone working on behalf of the President was involved."

Some highlights from the Wednesday, June 17 evening shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Fill-in anchor Charles Gibson opened by lamenting: "After all the hype and all the promises, the tobacco bill in Congress is dead."
Assuming the loss meant something "went wrong," reporter Linda Douglass laid the blame, her analysis interspersed with the culpable tobacco industry ads: "But what went so wrong? First, the tobacco companies got mad when Congress started talking about raising the price of cigarettes higher and higher....The smoking industry unleashed a $40 million ad campaign charging member of Congress just wanted to get their hands on tobacco money so they could spend it....Then came polls showing the public didn't trust Congress's motives."
After a soundbite from Vin Weber, Douglass noted: "Figuring they had nothing to lose, Republicans who were against the bill began loading it up with programs that had nothing to do with smoking..."

Later, ABC delivered an exclusive on intimidation of Kathleen Willey. Gibson explained: "There is a story tonight about what may have happened to a key witness in the Monica Lewinsky investigation before she testified in front of the grand jury. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating and ABC News has learned that someone may have tried to influence the testimony of former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey."
Judd detailed how in the weeks before she testified her car tires were punctured and her cat disappeared. Days before her Jones lawsuit deposition in January, while she was out jogging a stranger approached and asked about the tires, cat and her kids by name, saying to Willey: "Don't you get the message?" Willey testified anyway. The damage to her tires and her cat's disappearance have been confirmed, Judd reported before concluding: "Investigators have not been able to establish the identity of the stranger or if the jogging incident occurred as Willey, the sole witness, alleges. And there is no evidence that anyone working on behalf of the President was involved. So for now it is impossible to know whether this is just a bizarre story, or if it is a case of someone trying to intimidate a witness."

-- CBS Evening News. Following the yen story, Rather transitioned into the tobacco developments:
"Another breaking story tonight with huge implications for the health of the U.S. economy and the health of smokers. The months-in-the-making multi-billion dollar tobacco settlement bill is dead. Finished. Senate Republicans under heavy pressure and heavy money from the tobacco lobby, voted tonight to kill it."
Bob Schieffer ran down the day's Senate events, airing this bite from Senator Trent Lott: "What's wrong with this bill now is it's lost sight of the original, noble cause of just dealing with the question of teenage smoking and drug abuse.'
Schieffer concluded by countering: "What Lott did not say is that many of the extras on the bill were added by Republicans. First they tacked on expensive programs, then voted to kill the bill because they said the added costs exceeded Senate spending limits."

Rather then offered an update on Starr, but in just 18 seconds managed to show how contrary to Brill's contention the networks are hardly Starr allies as Rather once again discredited Starr with a partisan label:
"Justice Department officials are discussing whether to open an investigation into Republican special prosecutor Ken Starr's conduct and tactics. These talks are said to be preliminary, but in the words of one high government source that we believe to be highly credible, the word is quote, 'serious.'"

-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Gene Randall and Charles Bierbauer handled the top of the show tobacco pieces, followed by John King on the 219-209 House vote to abolish the tax code. Wolf Blitzer handled Monicagate, reporting that Senator Tom Daschle joined the call for an investigation of Starr. Blitzer allowed Bush legal counsel C. Boyden Gray to insist Starr's actions were legal and note that Lawrence Walsh did the same thing. "The purpose of the White House assault is to keep Starr off balance as the President's supporters brace for a possible immunity agreement between Starr and Monica Lewinsky," suggested Blitzer.

-- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. Steve Centanni provided a full report on the House vote to abolish the tax code in five years.
On Brillgate, co-anchor Jon Scott noted: "Ken Starr may be bleeding. A lawyer familiar with the Lewinsky scandals says she and her lawyers may not be so eager to strike a deal with Starr because Brill's accusations put the prosecutor on a little weaker footing."
Later, Wendell Goler showed a FOP protest over Clinton's failure to keep a campaign promise to back collective bargaining and unionization for the uniformed division of the Secret Service. (CNN mentioned the broken promise Tuesday, but only FNC has run a full story.)

-- NBC Nightly News. Freudian slip? Here's how Tom Brokaw introduced the tax, I mean tobacco, story:
"And tonight it's effectively over for that big tax bill on, tobacco bill on Capitol Hill. This was a huge setback for President Clinton and other congressional sponsors of the tobacco bill. NBC's Gwen Iffil tonight on the President's reaction and what's ahead."
Like her competitors, she blamed the ads: "The tide turned when tobacco companies appealed to smokers with advertising that emphasized the new taxes."

NBC wrapped up the broadcast with a profile of Texas Governor George W. Bush by Brokaw. He's discouraging presidential talk and emphasizing his successes in fighting juvenile crime, pushing welfare reform and improving education, Brokaw relayed. Noting he regularly consults with former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, Brokaw cautioned: "And he dismisses suggestions the GOP is tilting heavily to the Christian conservative agenda." Brokaw asked: "Are you concerned that your party is too narrowly cast?"
Bush replied: "The people who tend to put labels on are not the citizens but the pundits and the observers and, the average citizen doesn't care about labels they care about performance."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)The Massachusetts decision on au pair Louise Woodward led the CBS, CNN and FNC newscasts Tuesday night while ABC went first with Trent Lott's not quite PC assessment of homosexuality and NBC led with Ken Starr's reaction to Steve Brill's attack. All but CNN ran full stories on the supposed controversy over Lott's remarks equating being gay with being an alcoholic or kleptomaniac. Every network but ABC gave at least some time to Starr's retort. ABC didn't bother with it Wednesday night either. Tuesday night only FNC mentioned Mike Espy or how other media outlets also countered some of Brill's claims.

Highlights from the Tuesday, June 16 evening shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight: In the top of the show tease, based upon the remarks of one Senator agreed to by one House member, anchor Charles Gibson demanded: "Why are so many politicians finding it so attractive to attack homosexuality?"

Gibson began the show by elaborating: "The Majority Leader of the United States Senate says homosexuality is an addiction and a sin. The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives echoes his Senate counterpart, quoting the Bible. In so saying, these two leading Republicans have put homosexuality right in the middle of the American political debate."

"Lott labeled homosexuality an addiction that needs to be treated," reporter John Cochran noted in leading into a clip from an interview with Armstrong Williams on America's Voice, the channel formerly known as National Empowerment Television: "My father had a problem, as I said, with alcoholism. Other people have sex addictions. Other people, you know, are kleptomaniacs." Cochran elaborated: "Lott urged compassion toward homosexuals but said he agrees with football hero Reggie White, who has criticized their lifestyle." Cochran ran a soundbite from Gary Bauer before adding: "Moderate Republicans worry that presidential contenders may decide gay bashing is if not politically correct, then at least politically smart..."
Lott illustrated the impact of Lott's thinking by, probably for the first time ever on network TV, mentioning the name of an ambassador-nominee to Luxembourg: "Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmation of an openly gay nominee, James Hormel, to become ambassador to Luxembourg. The White House was quick to link that to Lott's latest remarks."
Cochran concluded by relaying Lott's view that far from being "extreme" as McCurry charged, he reflects "the views and values of the great majority of Americans."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather went with Starr before Lott, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
"Stormy politics in Washington. A federal court investigation into special prosecutor Ken Starr's secret leaking of details to selected reporters about his case against the Clintons, is far from over. But the impact on Starr's case is already being felt, as CBS News White House correspondent Scott Pelley reports tonight."
Pelley explained: "Dan, this controversy could hardly have come at a worse time for the obstruction of justice investigation. Ken Starr is in the midst of delicate negotiations with Monica Lewinsky's new lawyers. Now both sides are just waiting to see how disruptive this storm is going to be. Before now, Starr's prosecutors had all the leverage. They told the new defense team they wanted to interview Lewinsky, in person, soon, or she would face indictment. Now the prosecutors are on the defensive...."
Noting that Starr called Brill's article "a reckless and irresponsible attack that borders on the libelous," he concluded: "Late today, Steven Brill, the editor of Content magazine, noted that Starr did not dispute any of the quotes attributed to him in the article. Brill challenged Starr to name exactly what he told reporters."

Next, Dan Rather announced: "Elsewhere in Washington, there was no secret leak involved in the national stir caused by Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott. It was what Lott said right on the record about gays and lesbians, as CBS's Bob Schieffer reports."
Schieffer slid into a Lott soundbite: "The controversy began when Republican Senate Leader Lott said on a cable TV show that homosexuality was a sin, but it could be treated and controlled."
Schieffer then picked up: "Citing studies showing homosexuality is genetically preordained, gays were outraged. The nation's largest gay group said the remarks showed the 'far right has a stranglehold on congressional leadership.'"
After Michael McCurry complained how it is difficult "to get business done in Washington sometimes when you're dealing with people who are so backward in their thinking," Schieffer acknowledged that "several Republicans came to Lott's defense, including the House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who said just this morning he had looked up Bible verses supporting Lott's point of view."

-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Anchor Joie Chen noted the grand jury appearance of Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta before Bob Franken summarized Starr's letter to Brill: "Point by point Starr's letter gives his version of how various stories got out and what role he claims his office did or did not have." Franken also relayed Brill's counter-points and a letter sent by Clinton lawyer David Kendall.

-- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. David Shuster checked in with Starr's reaction through "a scathing 19-page letter" documenting 14 errors in the Content article. Only FNC highlighted negative reaction to Brill by other media outlets, as Shuster recalled: "The Washington Post, quoted in the Brill article, has demanded a retraction. NBC News called Brill's story 'utterly garbage.' An editor at Time magazine said Brill 'misunderstood my words or was twisting them.'"

Also uniquely, FNC raised a development in the Mike Espy case. Co-anchor Jon Scott revealed: "Mike Espy is back in trouble. An appeals court re-instated charges against the former Agriculture Secretary today. He's accused of accepting thousands of dollars in gifts while serving in the Clinton cabinet."

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw managed to intertwine the fights related to Starr and gays as he began the show: "Good evening it was a wild day for word fights in Washington. The tactics of Ken Starr. The views of the Senate Majority Leader on homosexuals. We begin tonight with the Ken Starr story. He stepped up his attacks on the man who wrote a long critical review of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and suggested that Starr may have acted illegally in leaking information to reporters. Starr released a detailed angry letter to Steven Brill of Content magazine."
Lisa Myers put Starr's situation in perspective, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "It's come to this. Ken Starr, the independent counsel whose job it is to investigate Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and possible crimes by the President today found himself not focused on those issues. Instead he was preoccupied with still another controversy, largely of his own making."

The media also have something to do with it.

Tom Brokaw next delivered the most dispassionate and even-handed summary of the furor caused by the Lott remarks:
"Now to what's going on in American politics and increasingly that debate is about culture and values. What's right, what's wrong? What's a sin and what's not? And tonight that debate picked up momentum because of recent remarks by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. He said, he considers homosexuality to be a sin and a condition that can be helped like alcoholism, sex addiction or kleptomania. His political allies rushed to his defense, the White House was critical and the debate is on."
After going through what Lott said and McCurry's claim that the GOP is "in the clutches of a prejudiced right wing minority," David Bloom noted that "conservatives like Gary Bauer admit they've been pressuring Republican leaders to stand up to what Bauer calls the gay rights movement." Bloom decided to take sides in the nature versus nurture debate: "The rancorous debate is part politics, part religion, part science. Is homosexuality a sin? Is it a choice?" Viewers heard only from Raymond Fowler of the American Psychological Association who maintained it's genetic. Bloom concluded like Cochran with Luxembourg: "This debate does have real consequences. Senate conservatives are holding up a nomination of a U.S. ambassador. The White House insists the only reason is because he's openly gay."

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)In protest of CNN's June 7 CNN Newsstand/Time inaugural report by Peter Arnett alleging the U.S. murdered defectors in Laos in 1970 with nerve gas, the network's military adviser quit. On WorldNetDaily Joe Farah reported that CNN is threatening retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith with a lawsuit if he makes his complaints public about the show. But Smith insists CNN "has damaged" the U.S. and helped Saddam Hussein.

In the June 17 Washington Post Howard Kurtz reported that "Smith quit after failing to convince Tom Johnson, Chairman of the CNN News Group, that the network needed to retract the story" which was also published in Time magazine. "'I can't work for an organization that would do something like this and not fess up to it,' Smith said yesterday."

Kurtz explained how Smith found the story lacking: "Smith flew 130 combat sorties over Laos from 1968 to 1969 and said he never heard of lethal gas being used. He said he has consulted such former high-ranking military officials as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, who assured him that no nerve gas was used by the United States during the war. Smith quoted Schwarzkopf as calling the allegation 'ridiculous.'
"Smith also tracked down two pilots who delivered gas to Laos that day from an air base in Thailand. Both said they had carried non-lethal tear gas, not poisonous nerve gas."
Further, Kurtz quoted this damning charge from Perry, who you may remember as an on-air analyst during the Persian Gulf War: "'CNN has damaged the United States of America quite seriously,' Smith said. Referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he said: 'Saddam can now accuse America of hypocrisy and use CNN as a source.'"

Joe Farah broke this story Tuesday on WorldNetDaily and here's an illuminating excerpt from his June 17 update available at

CNN threatens former military adviser: General quit in protest of Arnett Vietnam War special.
By Joseph Farah

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, who quit as CNN's military adviser in protest of Peter Arnett's report alleging the U.S. murdered defectors and used nerve gas during the Vietnam War, is now being forced into silence by the network at the threat of a lawsuit, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Smith protested to CNN's top executives that he was deliberately excluded from the production process of the special program on "Operation Tailwind" called, "The Valley of Death," airing June 7. After the program, Smith demanded of Chief Executive Officer Tom Johnson that CNN retract the central allegations and issue letters of apology to veterans whose testimony had been misrepresented. When his demand was rejected, Smith resigned.

"There was a time when CNN had quite high standards," Smith wrote. "The downhill slide in the past year has been frightening."...

"I had tried very hard for a week to convince (top executives) to do a major retraction, but to no avail," said Smith. "Lot's of people at CNN were solidly with me on this, but not the top bosses and the team that put that terrible special together. There is an outside chance that my resigning in protest may finally get attention -- only time will tell."

But that was before Smith was told by CNN lawyers, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. The official word from CNN's public relations department is that Smith has "retired." The network is also telling some who ask about the general's departure that he was, indeed, "the military consultant on the Tailwind story."

On June 15, Smith went public with his resignation in a letter to his West Point classmates: "I wanted you all to know that I have just quit CNN," he wrote. "For a solid week I tried to convince the top bosses that the special last Sunday night was profoundly wrong. I have not been able to do so."....

For more of Smith's comments and the evidence contradicting Arnett's story, read the rest of Farah's piece on The direct address for this piece as of Wednesday evening:

Just when you assumed we were safely done with Arnett now that Clinton didn't engage Hussein in another battle, he's back with tales from his glory years in Vietnam. -- Brent Baker

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