Friends of Bill Become Friends of Brill

Networks Ignore Story of Deputy White House Counsel Contacting Lewinsky Probe Witnesses

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?

On Friday, Los Angeles Times reporters David Willman and Ronald Ostrow explained: "After reviewing Lindsey's actions, a federal judge has sharply questioned why a lawyer on the government payroll was doing this kind of sleuthing, according to confidential court records obtained by The Times. 'The court questions the propriety of the President utilizing a government attorney as his personal agent in a personal attorney-client relationship,' Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson wrote in a 51-page opinion that she signed May 1."

They added: "Independent counsel Kenneth Starr wants to know what Lindsey said during his contacts and whether Lindsey crossed the line from innocuous fact-finding to implicitly coaching a witness' testimony. Whether Lindsey must disclose under oath what he knows about the Lewinsky matter is the subject of a legal battle that will go to an appeals court Monday..."

The Big Three networks aired nothing on Lindsey, but by Monday, they were in their second day of hyping Steven Brill's article attacking Starr. This response to a Brill story is a much different reaction than the one the networks had in October 1996, when Brill's monthly magazine The American Lawyer carried a Stuart Taylor article saying Paula Jones had a credible case of sexual harassment against Clinton. ABC's Jeff Greenfield briefly mentioned it as an example of liberal media bias on the October 31 World News Tonight. CBS and NBC waited ten weeks, until the Jones case was about to be argued before the Supreme Court, to acknowledge the piece. (None of the networks covered Taylor's November 1994 American Lawyer article castigating coverage of Iraqgate.)

Democrats calling for a special prosecutor for the special prosecutor seems to be big news. But what about when Republicans called for an investigation of Iran-Contra counsel Lawrence Walsh? Then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole called for a Walsh probe, as ABC's World News Tonight reported on November 8, 1992. But CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News never touched the story.

Except for CBS's Scott Pelley, none of the networks balanced Brill with Walsh's own comments, as noted by Landmark Legal Foundation: "For me to be heard it depended on the press. The press were very perceptive, just as fair as they could be all through... I also talked to them. Twenty-odd or so, met two or three times a year with them in rotation so they could ask about the general background....I don't think I would have survived any political attacks by Dole and Bush, by some of the others in the Senate, but for the press." Earlier this year, the networks attacked Ken Starr for having no sense of public relations. Now, they're attacking him for doing too much. This hardly makes them Starr's "enablers." - Tim Graham