CyberAlert -- 08/21/1998 -- Wag the Dog?

Wag the Dog?; Lewinsky Buried; Rock Crushed; Starr: Face of Nazi & a Persecutor

1) Dan Rather recalled charges that Reagan bombed Libya in order to boost his 1986 presidential re-election bid. 1986?

2) Wag the Dog scenario considered by all the networks as CBS questioned the lack of "bipartisan patriotism." On ABC George Stephanopoulos insisted Clinton refused to apologize "because he was afraid of projecting weakness" to the terrorists.

3) Lewinsky ignored by CNN, but the rest squeezed her in. ABC: Clinton may have "forgotten" their sex and Lewinsky said Clinton "fondled" her. NBC: sex "involved unusual practices."

4) NBC's Matt Lauer wondered if people can better identify with Clinton now that he's "more of a real person to real people."

5) NBC's Today removed the Chris Rock interview, in which he threatened Ken Starr, from the West Coast feed citing his vulgarity.

6) MSNBC's Keith Olbermann managed to say that Ken Starr reminds him of a Nazi's face and is more of a "persecutor" than a prosecutor, all in one question.

>>> Latest MediaWatch now up on the MRC home page, thanks to MRC Research Associate Kristina Sewell and MRC Web Manager Sean Henry. The August 24 edition features a page one story titled "First Lady Painted as Hero Instead of Complicit in Deceit;" a Review by Tim Graham listing over a dozen examples of media figures since January defending Clinton's denials, titled "A Chronology of Embarrassing Errors;" and articles on Geraldo Rivera and comments from CNN's former military analyst Perry Smith. Plus, Newsbites, including "Book the Liars Again" by Clay Waters on how seven months of relaying false information didn't dissuade the networks from treating Ann Lewis, Lanny Davis and James Carville as credible sources and "Shills for Shays" by Jessica Anderson on ABC's one-sided promotion of liberal, pro-regulation campaign finance "reform." <<<

Correction: The summary at the top of item #1 in the August 20 CyberAlert stated that "NBC's Lisa Myers disclosed Clinton wore in China sunglasses bought by Lewinsky." As the subsequent quote from Myers accurately stated, he wore them in Africa.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Reagan worried about his own re-election when he decided to bomb Libya in 1986? Yes, according to Dan Rather's presidential election year calendar. MRC news analyst Clay Waters alerted me to Rather's recollection announced at about 2:43pm ET Thursday just after CBS showed Defense Secretary William Cohen's briefing on the U.S. strikes against terrorists.

Rather suggested there's an argument over whether Reagan's 1986 bombing in Libya suppressed terrorism or led to more terrorism, such as the downing of Pan Am 103. Rather contended:
"So that argument has gone back and forth. The reason for mentioning it is what President Clinton has done today, ordered today, is similar, is similar to what President Reagan did in 1986. Some may want to note that 1986 was a presidential election year and of course 1998 is a U.S. congressional election year. But Secretary of Defense Cohen, in answer, in response to a question at that live news conference a short while ago came back very hard on the suggestion of a question that this was somehow related to events other than striking back at terrorists for the reasons of the bombings in east Africa."

Of course, in 1986 Reagan was well into the second year of his second term having been re-elected in 1984.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) President Clinton's decision to launch a bombing strike at terrorists consumed the entirety of CNN's 8pm ET news show and nearly all of the ABC, CBS, FNC and NBC newscasts Thursday night, thus nearly eliminating Monica Lewinsky news. CNN skipped Lewinsky's second appearance before the grand jury while the other networks managed to squeeze in a story near the end of their shows. For more on Lewinsky coverage, see item #3.

Every network went through the details of what happened before getting to suggestions Clinton may have been motivated by trying to distract attention from his Lewinsky troubles, but every network did raise the "Wag the Dog" scenario. ABC gave it a few sentences in a larger story while the other networks allocated an entire story to the theme. Every network but ABC featured a soundbite from Senator Dan Coats, who most enthusiastically jumped on Clinton. CBS questioned the lack of "bipartisan patriotism" and CNN recalled how a similar charge about diversion was made against Reagan after the Grenada invasion.

On ABC George Stephanopoulos insisted Clinton refused to apologize Monday night "because he was afraid of projecting weakness" to the terrorists. Peter Arnett is back: CNN played at about 8:15pm ET a 13 minute profile of Bin Laden by Arnett, which first aired on Impact in May 1997, the precursor show to NewsStand.

Here's how each network handled the "diversion" idea on Thursday night, August 20:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Filling in for Sam Donaldson at the White House, John Cochran relayed in a portion of a larger piece:
"As the President was returning to Washington for a national security briefing, some of his aides worried that his critics would suspect he created an international crisis to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was uncomfortably similar to a recent movie, Wag the Dog, which portrayed a scandal-plagued President starting a war to regain his popularity. Defense Secretary Cohen said this is not a movie."

Next, Cokie Roberts reported most leaders in Congress were supportive, including Newt Gingrich, but she noted a few have raised questions. Roberts did not show any soundbites.

George Stephanopoulos then told anchor Forrest Sawyer that Clinton "left his political advisers completely out of this," contending: "Yesterday White House advisers were saying that one of the reasons the President was wary of a giving a more fulsome, elaborate apology Monday night was because he was afraid of projecting weakness in the face of potential hot spots around the world and now we know why."

Who really believes that? Instead, Clinton's now ridiculed.

-- CBS Evening News. Anthony Mason explained that most congressional Republicans back Clinton, including Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms, "but not everyone in Congress was ready to rally 'round the flag."
U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton: "I would be surprised, very surprised, if the President's action is not supported by the Congress."
Mason: "But in fact several in Congress openly questioned the President's motives today. Republican Senator Dan Coats questioned whether the Lewinsky crisis might have played a role in Mr. Clinton's decision."
Senator Dan Coats: "I think we fear that we may have a President that is desperately seeking to hold onto his job in the face of a firestorm of criticism and calls for him to step down."
Mason: "In Washington it's called the Wag the Dog scenario, after the movie...."
Mason outlined the movie plot, ran a soundbite from Senator Arlen Specter echoing Coats' concerns and a comment from Senator John McCain backing the President.
Mason picked up: "Traditionally that's the kind of bipartisan patriotism that greets this kind of crisis. But the skepticism expressed today is apparently the price President Clinton will have to pay for the Lewinsky scandal."

-- CNN The World Today at 8pm ET. In his top of the show piece Wolf Blitzer ran the soundbite from Dan Coats, adding: "White House officials reacted angrily to that kind of talk."

The show ended with a story from Charles Feldman in Los Angeles on how most on Capitol Hill back Clinton, but not Dan Coats. After showing Secretary Cohen being asked about the Wag the Dog scenario, Feldman conveyed: "While not a scientific poll by any means, most of the people we talked to in Los Angeles also questioned the President's credibility."
Viewers saw a clip from a woman in LA before Feldman concluded by recalling Reagan:
"This is not the first time a sitting President has been accused by some of manipulating world events to distract from another problem. President Reagan's critics charged him with invading Grenada in 1983 in order to divert attention away from the deadly bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed more than 200."

-- FNC's Fox Report at 7pm ET. From Winston-Salem, North Carolina Carl Cameron checked in with congressional reaction, noting support from Gingrich and Senator Lott, and then running supportive soundbites from Senators Hatch and Robb. FNC viewers then saw a clip of Coats, followed by a pro-Clinton bite from Senator Lauch Faircloth. Cameron observed that "other Republicans are saying comments such as Mr. Coats made are indeed irresponsible."

FNC also featured a full story on the Wag the Dog scenario, "questions about life imitating art."

-- NBC Nightly News. Halfway into the broadcast anchor Brian Williams intoned:
"NBC News In Depth tonight. Within minutes of the attack today some in Washington were openly questioning the timing of it. Here we had an American President, his second term threatened by scandal, ordering military strikes overseas, which effectively move his troubles right out of the spotlight. It had some invoking the title of a recent movie in which just that happens, Wag the Dog. It's a work of fiction, but that same plot today had a real feel."

Pete Williams handled the story that included a soundbite from Coats, but which Williams concluded by emphasizing public support for Clinton.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Monica Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury for a second time on Thursday and contradicted the President, a point made in stories squeezed into the ABC and NBC newscasts. ABC and FNC revealed that Lewinsky said Clinton "fondled" her and NBC relayed her claim that their sex included "unusual practices." CBS emphasized how Clinton will fight a subpoena. CNN skipped it all, devoting all of The World Today to the anti-terrorist strike.
The stories on Lewinsky's appearance were the only non-bombing news on ABC or NBC. CBS also gave a few seconds to noting that Janet Reno may brief Senators on her analysis of the need for an independent counsel for fundraising, though she's far from making a decision.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. In a piece that lasted barely a minute, Linda Douglass, filling in for Jackie Judd, informed viewers: "According to legal sources, Monica Lewinsky's testimony today directly contradicted the President's on two key points. First on the question of Mr. Clinton's gifts to Lewinsky, which he later returned to his secretary Betty Currie, sources say the President testified that they talked about the gifts before they had been subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case. But Lewinsky testified today that the discussion came after the subpoena arrived, which could amount to obstruction of justice."

Douglass continued: "And though Mr. Clinton admitted to sex with Lewinsky, he denied it fit the description presented him in the Paula Jones case which would involve his fondling her, but today, say sources, Lewinsky testified he did fondle her. A source close to the President said it is possible quote, 'that in the heat of battle something could have occurred between them and Mr. Clinton has forgotten.'"

Sex to Clinton is a "battle" and he forgot?

-- CBS Evening News. Citing "what we've been told by sources in a position to know," Bob Schieffer reported that Clinton will answer no more questions voluntarily and will fight any subpoena. On Monday Clinton deferred detailed answers, "that was one reason Miss Lewinsky, who was described as hurt and angry about the President's Monday night speech, was called back to the grand jury today. And, we're told, her description of events continues to differ from the President's." Schieffer offered on details.

-- FNC's Fox Report. David Shuster announced: "According to sources familiar with the investigation, Lewinsky's testimony flatly contradicted what the President told the grand jury on Monday. Lewinsky described encounters, said a friend, where Mr. Clinton allegedly fondled parts of her body. In addition, Lewinsky again recounted discussions with Mr. Clinton about how to cover up the relationship."
Shuster concluded: "No matter what Mr. Clinton is trying to confront overseas, his legal problems associated with Monica Lewinsky have gotten worse."

-- NBC Nightly News. Lisa Myers revealed: "NBC News has learned that Lewinsky today contradicted key parts of the President's testimony and provided graphic details of sexual encounters with the President that suggest he did not tell the full truth to the grand jury Monday."
Prosecutors, she reported, played the video of Clinton's testimony and questioned Lewinsky about it. Myers explained: "Sources say one key conflict: Clinton's claim that encounters were limited to a specific kind of sex and that under the definition of sex as he understood it he did not commit perjury when he denied sexual relations in January. Sources familiar with Lewinsky's account say she contradicts that, claims the sex was mutual, involves unusual practices and included the President touching her in very intimate ways that amount to sex by any definition."

After noting another contradiction about the gifts, which is important to obstruction of justice charges, Myers concluded: "As for Lewinsky, friends say she's feeling hurt and betrayed. Legal sources tell NBC News that Lewinsky told prosecutors the President led her to believe that they might somehow have a future together after he leaves the presidency."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Lying for seven months and embarrassing his political allies who put their reputations on the line for him should make Clinton a more sympathetic figure the average person can now better relate to. So contended Today co-host Matt Lauer Thursday morning in an exchange I was alerted to by Steve Allen, Washington correspondent for World Net Daily (

MRC analyst Mark Drake transcribed the relevant portion of the August 20 interview with family therapist Pat Love and syndicated columnist Jacquelyn Mitchard.

Matt Lauer suggested: "What about the possibility the President's apology has narrowed the gap, so to speak? That's he's now more of a real person to real people living in this country, as opposed to being this political figurehead."

Lauer next wondered: "If he is seen as more of a real person, isn't there a possibility, Jacqueline, that people are saying: 'Hey, if a friend of mine, if the guy who lived down the street from me did this, I would forgive him. So why shouldn't I forgive the President of the United States?'"
Mitchard disagreed: "You're assuming that people would say if the guy who lives down the street did it I would forgive him and that's not what I'm hearing. I think a lot of people are saying forget whether his presidency is canceled, we're wondering whether his wife should have him knee capped."
Lauer: "On that note, what about his wife? What about Chelsea? What role are they playing in the American people's perception of what should happen next?"


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) NBC's Today removed the interview with comedian/actor Chris Rock from the PT/MT feed of the August 19 show, so 30 percent of Americans never had a chance to see his diatribe against Ken Starr and for Bill Clinton quoted in the August 20 CyberAlert.

At one point Rock declared: "If President Clinton would pardon me I would whip Starr's ass right now. I will get a crew from Brooklyn and we will stomp him like, like, we're Savion Glover. We'll stomp him like it's bringing da noise. Who else? Stephanopoulos. He gave this guy a job! You can't dis people that gave you jobs, man. He put my man on, he's talking, he needs to get stomped. Somebody need to whip his ass. Anybody. If I give you a job, if I give you a job, you know."

A Today press rep explained that Rock's "Language today was inappropriate for morning TV, especially for the many children who are off from school and watching at that hour."

But, judging by the use of language in NBC's sit-coms documented in studies by the MRC's Parents Television Council (, perfectly appropriate for the family hour.


obermancap.jpg (27437 bytes)cyberno6.gif (1081 bytes) MSNBC's Keith Olbermann said Ken Starr reminds him of Heinrich Himmler and is more of a persecutor than a prosecutor. All in one question. The August 20 CyberAlert recounted Olbermann's August 19 clarification of a question he posed on August 18, but at the time I didn't have the text of his original question. So here's his question as posed on the August 18 Big Show with Keith Olbermann, as located and transcribed by MRC analyst Paul Smith, followed by his apology the next night.

Olbermann to Jim Warren, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, August 18:
"Can Ken Starr ignore the apparent breadth of the sympathetic response to the President's speech? I mean, facially, it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses. If he now pursues the President of the United States, who, however flawed his apology was, came out and invoked God, family, his daughter, a political conspiracy and everything but the kitchen sink, would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?"

The next night, August 19, Olbermann told his viewers:
"For months since I have looked at videotape of Kenneth Starr's face I have thought he looks like somebody famous from history, but who? Not long ago it dawned on me and yesterday, in a question to one of my guests, I mentioned it, that facially Ken Starr reminded me of Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses, the infamous Nazi. We got a number of calls from people who were offended by that remark, who thought I was comparing Starr to Himmler and insulting Starr or who thought I was comparing Starr to Himmler and demeaning the terrible importance of the Holocaust. And to those people who were offended I sincerely and humbly apologize. I meant only what I said. Facially, the two men look vaguely alike. But I am primarily of German descent, so I carry with me an inherited shame and guilt about this. So despite the innocence of the intent of my remark there, I should have been much more sensitive about invoking that name in this context and for having not been so I am very sorry."

Notice that he's not sorry for denigrating Starr's professionalism by denouncing him, in Geraldo-like fashion, as a "persecutor." -- Brent Baker

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