CyberAlert - November 30, 1996 - Braver Backs Hillary

Braver Backs Hillary; Kessler PR; Hiss Through the Years

Seven items in today's holiday weekend edition. I apologize for the length, but I want to get it all out before it gets too old.

1) CBS White House reporter Rita Braver agreed with Hillary Clinton that criticism of her getting involved in fixing welfare reform shows a First Lady just can't escape attack.

2) A Reuters story referred to welfare reform as "draconian."

3) NBC's Robert Hager delivered a glowing review of David Kessler's years in the charge of the FDA, never explaining how many thought he over-reached in his zeal to regulate.

4) Referring to Stuart Taylor's article on the evidence for Paula Jones, Tim Russert asked "how big of a political story and a media story is this going to be?" So far, not much.

5) Meet the Press showed that reporters in 1948 were as skeptical as they were this year about Alger Hiss's guilt. And Tim Russert gave NBC's first mention of the Venona files.

6) The Top Ten list from Wednesday's Late Show with David Letterman: Top Ten Clinton Family Thanksgiving Traditions.

7) A Boston Globe reporter can't tell the difference between a U.S. cable channel and Canadian Broadcasting.


1) On Monday's CBS Evening News (November 25), Rita Braver reviewed First Lady Hillary Clinton's activities while accompanying the President in Asia. Braver relayed that "Her theme has been equality and opportunity for women, whether speaking to thousands or to just a few. In Bangkok, she comforted a former prostitute now dying of AIDS. And later made the point that if women are educated they are not forced to turn to prostitution."

Following a clip of Mrs. Clinton, Braver continued:
"But even abroad, Mrs. Clinton still stirs up controversy at home. In a Time magazine interview, she talked about her plans to travel the U.S., monitoring the administration's new welfare reform policies. The White House immediately denied that the First Lady will have any formal role. Perhaps Mrs. Clinton best expressed her own awkward situation when she told an Australian audience that the only way for a First Lady to escape criticism is never to express opinions or ideas."
Hillary Clinton: "So it's a kind of difficult position and I think the only answer is to just be who you are and do what you do and get through it and wait for the first man to hold the position and see how that turns out."
Braver: "And sources close to the First Lady say she is still struggling to define exactly what her role will be in her husbands next term. How to do work that is important but not controversial. Rita Braver CBS News, Bangkok, Thailand."

Hmmm. Maybe it's not that she expresses ideas, maybe it's the socialist ideas that she expresses that people don't like.


2) A CyberAlert recipient alerted me to a November 25 Reuters story on the same topic that he saw in Yahoo, from where I downloaded the story headlined "Hillary's Role on Welfare Played Down."

The piece, datelined Manila, began: "Hillary Rodham Clinton was at the center of a new controversy on Monday after she suggested she wanted a 'formal role' in shaping policy on U.S. welfare reform."

Several paragraphs later the Reuters dispatch asserted:
"A draconian welfare reform measure passed by the Republican Congress and signed into law by Clinton at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign in October ends a 60-year guarantee of federal aid to the poor. It is expected to deprive at least a million people of public assistance over the next few years."


3) Monday's resignation by FDA Commissioner David Kessler received full stories on all the evening newscasts November 25. But NBC's Robert Hager provided the most glowing assessment of the man who fought to expand the agency's regulatory power.

As transcribed by MRC intern Joe Alfonsi, here's Hager's NBC Nightly News story:
"Kessler was controversial from the start, loved going after the big guys, set the tone immediately six years ago by telling Proctor & Gamble to get the word 'fresh' off its frozen orange juice. When the company ignored him, Kessler began seizing the product. P&G backed down. Later Kessler reformed the way we label all foods, developed a whole new system for listing fat, cholesterol, and nutrients. Kessler had a law degree from the University of Chicago and an MD from Harvard Medical. And he was bipartisan too, appointed by the Republican Bush, kept on by the Democrat Clinton."

Hager continued: "But all this was prelude to his landmark decision to go after big tobacco, some of the nation's wealthiest corporations. Call cigarettes a drug, he said, and regulate them. It had been assumed that Kessler would stay in office to defend the new regulations from tobacco companies and see the regulations implemented, perhaps some, by next spring. But he's reportedly being pursued by several universities and his wife, once a Manhattan lawyer, is known to have tired of Washington politics. Also there was recent flap over some of his expense accounts uncovering dozens of errors and forcing Kessler to write an $850 reimbursement check to the government. And all along Kessler had no shortage of detractors."

Following a soundbite from Newt Gingrich on how Kessler was too cautious in approving drugs and praise from Congressman Henry Waxman, Hager concluded: "So Kessler will move on, leaving history to judge the difference he may have made in American health."

Hager spent so much time hyping Kessler's activities as accomplishments that NBC viewers never learned the other side from those who thought Kessler symbolized the worst of the nanny-state. As a November 27 Boston Herald editorial argued: "He thought - he said - the brand name 'Fresh Choice' was misleading. Never mind that right under the name it said 'made from concentrate.' With no evidence of harm but anecdotes spread by plaintiffs lawyers so cherished by the Clinton administration, Kessler ordered silicone breast implants off the market. After the publication of two impeccable studies that demolished the case against implants, Kessler has declined to end the ban, condemning thousands of women to inferior substitutes."


4) Discussing politics with husband and wife team James Carville and Mary Matalin on the November 24 Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Matalin:
"A week before the inauguration in January, the Supreme Court's going to hear arguments about sexual harassment charges filed by Paula Jones. Stuart Taylor in the American Lawyer, a long piece where he lays out the charges by Paula Jones against Bill Clinton, Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas and says the evidence involving Jones is overwhelming compared to that of Anita Hill. Mary Matalin, how big of a political story and a media story is this going to be?"

Well, so far it hasn't been much of one. As far as I've seen it still hasn't been mentioned on Nightly News or Today. In fact, the only broadcast network coverage it's gotten was in a late October World News Tonight story in which ABC's Jeff Greenfield used the lack of coverage given the blockbuster article as an example of why conservatives see liberal bias.


5) Later in the same Meet the Press (November 24) Russert played a tape of Whittaker Chambers on the old Meet the Press radio show during which he accused Alger Hiss of being a spy.

Two points here. First, reporters were as skeptical about the guilt of Hiss in 1948 as they were this year when he died. Second, after the clip, Russert actually laid out the evidence, something Nightly News never did.

From the Friday, August 27, 1948 at 10pm Meet the Press radio show, here are some of the questions posed to Chambers:

Nat Finney, Cowles Publications: "I thought you left it a little unclear as to whether you are certain in your mind, now, whether Alger Hiss is now a member of the Communist Party or not."
Chambers: "I would not presume to say whether Mr. Hiss is or is not a member of the Communist Party."
Finney: "You mean to say that you have not made a check to find out whether he, as you, has recanted."
Chambers: "I have no possibility of making such a charge. The House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed me to tell what I knew about the Communist Party at the time that Mr. Hiss was a member. I have testified on that, I have not presumed to testify what he is now."
Tom Reynolds, Chicago Sun-Times: "Are you prepared at this time, to say that Alger Hiss was anything more than, in your opinion, a Communist? Did he do anything wrong? Did he commit any overt act? Has he been disloyal to his country?"
Chambers: "I am only prepared, at this time, to say that he was a Communist."
Reynolds: "It seems to me then sir, if I may say so, that in some respects this may be a tempest in a teapot. You say that you think he was a Communist, you say he was a Communist but you will not accuse him of any act that is disloyal to the United States."
Chambers: "I am not prepared, legally, to make that charge. My whole interest in this business has been to show that Mr. Hiss was a Communist."

Back to 1996, Russert explained that "Hiss sued Whittaker Chambers for slander, for what he said on Meet the Press" and Hiss was later convicted of perjury for his congressional testimony "because the statute of limitations on espionage had expired."

Russert then explained: "For the last 40 years until he died last week at age 92, Alger Hiss proclaimed his innocence. But this year, the CIA declassified and released the so called Venona files, translations of actual intercepts of messages sent from the Soviet Embassy in Washington back to Moscow. One, dated 30 March, 1945, talks about the activities of a high level State Department official, turned Soviet agent, code named A-L-E-S, ALES. His travel schedule matched that of Alger Hiss. At the bottom of the cable, there's a notation by an officer at the National Security Agency saying ALES, A-L-E-S was probably, quote Alger Hiss."

As you saw in past CyberAlerts, when Hiss died Tom Brokaw said he was "caught up" in a spy scandal. NBC Nightly News made no mention of the Venona files. In fact, when they were released this past Spring, of the broadcast networks, only the CBS Evening News did a story (by David Martin).


6) From the November 27 Late Show with David Letterman, a pretty humorous politically oriented Top Ten List. Downloaded from CompuServe's E-Drive it is, of course, copyright 1996 to Wide World Pants Inc.

Top Ten Clinton Family Thanksgiving Traditions

10. Stuffing the turkey with shredded Whitewater documents
9. Bill flip-flops for hours over whether he wants white meat or dark meat
8. They break the wishbone and Hillary wishes to stay out of prison
7. George Stephanopoulos scampers around under the table begging for scraps
6. After the meal, the President unbuttons his pants, and also those of several female staffers
5. At least a dozen people pass out from too much "Hillbilly Punch"
4. They fill the oval office with mashed potatoes, and Bill has to eat his way out
3. Instead of slaughtering the turkey, they have Al Gore bore it to death
2. At about 3:00 A.M., Bill places a call to "The Happy Pilgrim" Escort Service
1. They all thank God they're not the Doles


7) Under the heading "Conan goes to Canada...early" in the November 30 Boston Globe "Names & Faces" column, reporter M. L. Montgomery wrote: "Add Canada to Yogi Berra's list of places where it gets late early: Late Night with Conan O'Brien will air on CNBC at 10pm, giving the lad his first non-insomniac audience. It'll air a month after U.S. broadcasts, but hey, those Turkey Jokes will recycle nicely for Boxing Day."

Send M.L. back to the copy desk. CNBC is a U.S. cable channel and it will air O'Brien repeats nightly at 10pm ET (that's 7pm in British Columbia). Reporter Montgomery has confused CNBC, the Consumer News & Business Channel, with the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

I'm in the Boston area for a few days visiting my family. We have snow! Monday it's back to the warmth of D.C. Expect the next CyberAlert (with the December 2 Notable Quotables) in the middle of the week.

- Brent Baker