MediaWatch: February 8, 1999

Vol. Thirteen No. 3

The Wild Swings in Hubbell's Relevance

Networks That Hyped Starr Loss Downplayed Starr Win

Here’s a crystal-clear presentation of TV news bias against Ken Starr. On July 1, 1998, federal Judge James Robertson threw out an indictment against disgraced Clinton pal Webster Hubbell for failing to pay taxes on suspected hush money, harshly criticizing Starr’s tactics and claiming he exceeded his mandate.

The anti-Starr decision led ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and CNN’s The World Today. FNC’s Fox Report and NBC Nightly News gave it a brief mention. ABC’s Jackie Judd relayed the White House claim that "this further weakens Starr’s image as a man of justice." Dan Rather proclaimed: "The judge sharply criticized the tactics Starr used against Hubbell" and CNN’s John King examined how the decision raised "new questions about the independent counsel and his hardball tactics." The next morning, it was the lead story on CBS’s This Morning, the second report on NBC’s Today and the third story on ABC’s Good Morning America.

But on January 26, 1999, a federal appeals court overturned Robertson’s decision and reinstated the indictment, deciding it was within Starr’s jurisdiction. The Starr victory was ignored by ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News. CBS Evening News gave it these 12 seconds from Dan Rather: "A federal appeals court in Washington today reinstated tax evasion charges against Clinton friend Webster Hubbell. Hubbell insists special prosecutor Ken Starr is just trying to squeeze him for information damaging to the Clintons." CBS failed to correct the record on how Starr did not abuse his power. CNN’s The World Today devoted just 70 words to the reversal. And on the morning shows? Not a syllable on January 27.

FNC’s Special Report with Brit Hume on January 26 aired a full story by David Shuster, the only show to take the appeals court ruling seriously. After explaining the background of the case and how the appeals court decided that to avoid Hubbell’s claims of self-incrimination, Starr must show he had independent knowledge of what Hubbell’s tax records would show before Hubbell turned them over, Shuster reported: "But the rest of the ruling validated Starr’s contention that the charges are related to possible obstruction of the Whitewater investigation and, therefore, within his jurisdiction."

For a visual illustration of the lack of media interest, FNC’s story showed all two members of the media outside of Hubbell’s home as he and his wife stood before two microphones.