CyberAlert -- 04/02/1998 -- Jennings Worries About Anti-Clinton Clique
Jennings Worries About Anti-Clinton Clique; CBS Wrong: Jones Ignored
The April 1 NQ. Before anyone starts citing or quoting the April 1 Notable Quotables distributed in the April 1 CyberAlert, let me make clear that they were all made up by us. Every year we try to balance the desire to show how plausible made up quotes are with ensuring that after a good laugh everyone understands the quotes are not real. So at the top of the issue I offered a subtle hint about paying attention to the dates of the quotes (each dated April 1, a physical impossibility since the e-mail was sent, and the actual hard copy issue mailed, before any of the quotes were supposedly uttered or printed), and put "April Fools!" at the end. If you missed the hints, sorry, but now you know.
ABC's Peter Jennings opened with a rhyme, calling the decision "a political shock from Little Rock." On CBS Phil Jones described it as "a shocker." Like NBC's Tom Brokaw who dubbed it "a stunning victory for President Clinton," all portrayed it as a triumph for Clinton.
-- Of the broadcast networks, only CBS explicitly pointed out that the decision does not mean the judge found that Clinton did not do what Jones described.
-- Both CBS and NBC emphasized Webber-Wright's Republican background and how she once campaigned against Clinton.
-- ABC's Jennings wondered who would now carry the ball for the "anti-Clinton clique."
-- Is it time for Ken Starr "to put up or shut up?" Dan Rather asked. Tom Brokaw posed a similar question.
-- Clinton's the victim, contended CNN's Bruce Morton. In the history of the country no one has "had his character so trashed" and that hurts us all since it means good people will no longer yearn to be President.
There was far too much coverage to adequately summarize, but here are some highlights of interesting takes as aired Wednesday night, April 1:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened the show:
"...The judge in Arkansas, Susan Webber-Wright, appointed by Republican President George Bush, was categorical. 'Miss Jones fails,' she said, 'to demonstrate that what the President did to her was sexual assault...her claim of sexual harassment is without merit.'"
Jackie Judd concluded her overview piece:
"Lawyer Bob Bennett's goal has always been to ensure that the Jones case would not be Mr. Clinton's legacy in office. As of today he has succeeded in that."
Following Judd's story, Jennings discussed the case with Judd, Democratic operative Mandy Grunwald, Sam Donaldson in Senegal and ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who praised Webber-Wright for "a courageous and a difficult decision to make."
Jennings tossed this nice one to Grunwald, suggesting the Jones case was little more than a tool of Clinton-haters:
"Mandy who do you think is now going to carry the water, briefly, for the anti-Clinton clique in the country or the anti-Clinton people in the country?"
-- Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News:
"Good evening. A big legal victory for President Clinton and his lawyers today in the Paula Jones case. United States federal judge Susan Webber-Wright delivered a courtroom stunner. She dismissed Jones's civil lawsuit on all counts...."
Phil Jones summarized the judge's action and then Scott Pelley checked in from Africa. Rather asked Pelley:
"Scott, in human terms, for the President and the First Lady there has got to be an enormous sense of relief about this whether they're expressing that or not."
Pelley replied that it "has been dogging the President for three years now, has often dominated the news. When the President has been traveling overseas or pushing forward on a major policy agenda in the United States..."
Rather next inquired: "Scott, is there any doubt there that this increases the pressure on Ken Starr to put up or shut up, to show whatever cards he has and do it fairly soon?"
After Bob Schieffer looked at how Clinton is not out of the woods yet since Starr is still around, Rather promised: "CBS will have much more on this story coming right up, we're going to go long and hard on this tonight..."
Insert, I mean fill in, your own joke here tying Rather's words to what Jones saw in the hotel room.
Back from the break Rather delivered this bio of the judge:
"She's 49 years old, often described by Democrats, Republicans and independents as tough, smart and extremely conservative in her rulings. She was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 1990 and she has a long, often unfriendly, history with Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton was Wright's law professor and she fought with him over her final grade. Wright campaigned against Mr. Clinton in 1974. Reason: Mr. Clinton was then trying to unseat her boss, a Republican Congressman..."
Kristin Jeannette Myers explained the legal basis for the ruling before another ad break. While all the networks noted that Webber-Wright said that if true Clinton's behavior "may be characterized as boorish and offensive," of the broadcast networks only CBS explicitly explained what Rather next reported:
"I've just spoken with Jim Fisher, one of Paula Jones's attorney's and he said and I quote, 'the judge has not found Bill Clinton innocent of what Paula Jones said he did. The judge found that there was not a serious or tangible job detriment.'"
(See item #2 below for more from CBS.)
-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. I only saw part of the show, but caught Bruce Morton noting that while the judge dispensed a legal victory, he wondered:
"Has anybody in the history of America, any President certainly, had his character so trashed, so publicly, for so long? I think the answer is no and I think Mr. Clinton is probably personally damaged by that and I think, if you were a young state representative, 28 years old, you're sitting with your wife and kids thinking do I want to run for President someday. What are you going to say, you're going to say good grief no, look what they do to them."
Two comments. First, Clinton provided plenty of material for his enemies to work with. Second, if you are home with your wife and kids you probably are not doing the things that generated the attacks on Clinton.
-- Tom Brokaw teased at the top of the NBC Nightly News: "A stunning victory for President Clinton in the Paula Jones case. The judge rules case dismissed. What now?"
Lisa Myers went first, observing: "Many legal experts thought Jones's case was weak but strong enough to go to trial and were surprised by today's ruling."
David Bloom checked in from the White House, starting his story: "They are trying to contain their glee here at the White House. But one official talking about their enemies said 'this ought to knock the wind out of their sails. After three years,' he said, 'it's over.'..."
Brokaw went to Claire Shipman in Senegal and then turned to Tim Russert for a look at the political impact. Brokaw asked:
"Tim, as you know, in the past Arlen Specter who is a Republican on Capitol Hill, also Trent Lott who's the Senate Majority Leader, have suggested that Ken Starr move this investigation along and wrap it up. But tonight he sounds as defiant as ever. Do you think that there will be some back channel communication with Starr?"
Later, Pete Williams provided an "In Depth" story. He began by running down Webber-Wright's resume: law student of future President, campaigned for a Republican Clinton opposed, made judge by Bush. Williams concluded: "Many experts on sexual harassment say the fact that Bill Clinton was President actually kept this case, with fatal flaws, on legal life support, letting it go on longer than it would have lasted for any other defendant."
As Smith's CBS colleague Eric Engberg would shout: TIME OUT! Smith must think that CBS News is irrelevant to what the public learns because the CBS Evening News ignored her February 1994 press conference. As did NBC News. And CNN. Not until she filed her lawsuit in May 1994 did the media take note. To remind you of the network attitude toward the Jones case, below are three excerpts from previous CyberAlerts or MediaWatch articles detailing how the networks ignored her or dismissed her relevance.
-- From the June 1994 MediaWatch study compiled by Tim Graham, "Network Contrast of Hill and Jones Show Dramatic Differences in Coverage, Tone," a rundown on how long it took the networks to notice Jones:
"...MediaWatch analysts compared news stories on Jones and Hill on five network evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour)...In the first five days of the Hill and Jones affairs, Hill's story received more than four times as much coverage as Jones' story.
On Sunday, October 6, 1991, Anita Hill's story broke. In the five days before hearings began (October 6-10), all the networks led with Hill every night except CNN, which led with the story three times. (Due to football, NBC had no East Coast show on the 6th). The five programs aired 67 stories in five days on the charges (averaging more than 13 per day).
When Paula Jones announced her charges on February 11 this year, only ABC reported the story -- for 16 seconds. That's 67 to 1. None of the evening shows touched it again until May 4, the day The Washington Post ran its long-delayed investigation of Jones. CNN's Wolf Blitzer led World News with it. ABC and CNN read brief stories on May 5. On May 6, the day Jones filed suit, all five networks covered the story, but none led the newscast with it. Only ABC and PBS did more than one story. In the first six days of the Jones story -- May 4-9, the networks reported 15 stories, or less than three stories a day, for a Hill-Jones ratio of 67 to 15.
And far from "bursting" onto the CBS stage, MediaWatch found that "CBS had the most dramatic contrast -- 17 stories on Hill's charges, to one on Jones. On May 6, Rita Braver's story came fifth, and featured no more detailed description of Jones' charges (Clinton exposed himself and asked for oral sex) than that she accused Clinton of 'soliciting sexual favors.'"
-- Why no stories (except the few seconds on ABC) the night of the Jones press conference? Because CNN said so. Here's an excerpt from a March 1994 MediaWatch article on the February press conference, as cited in the January 26, 1998 CyberAlert:
Why no stories from the same media which made the uncorroborated Anita Hill a heroine and sexual harassment the gravest political sin? In the March 7 New Republic, former Newsweek reporter Mickey Kaus described the scene at the Jones press conference: "Afterward...reporters conferred with each other to try to figure out whether what they'd just seen was 'a story' and...whether anybody was going to report it. The consensus was that if CNN carried it the networks would carry it, which meant The New York Times might carry it, in which case it would be a big story."
Kaus explained why that didn't happen: "Clinton is also the best President we've had in a long time. That is the unspoken reason the sex charges haven't received as much play as you might expect. Reporters are patriots, too; it's their dirty little secret...Few journalists want to see the President crippled now that he is making some progress in cracking large, intractable domestic problems."
-- CBS barely covered Jones, but ABC decided to deliberately ignore her. So boasted ABC's John Donvan last fall. The September 17, 1997 CyberAlert relayed his comments from the September 16 CNN TalkBack Live. Donvan asserted:
"We do make decisions. And I would say this is not just because I'm from ABC, but because I'm on ABC, I've seen it in the case of the Paula Jones story in particular. I work for an Executive Producer who has consciously said that until he is sure on a daily basis that there's really news there that has really moved forward, that it's relevant, that it matters to the public, that he will make the choice not to do the story. And I think that may be one explanation for why we've done it less than others. But I've always disagreed with the notion that the news happens to us. We make decisions about it."
The name of the Executive Producer of World News Tonight: Paul Friedman. Earlier in the show Donvan made his disdain for the story quite clear, disagreeing with NBC's David Bloom who called the Jones case a "legitimate issue."...
[CNN's Frank] Sesno: "OK. I want to go over to the Internet now. We're joined, as we will be throughout the hour, by our viewers from all over the world, really, who join us. This one, 'So why does the press seem so consumed with this Paula Jones?,' from Michelle Shelton. John, are you consumed?"
Donvan: "No, I'm not. I part ways with David on this one. I would much rather that this story didn't exist, that it didn't happen, that the suit had never come up. I don't particularly enjoy it. I don't think the American public, the majority doesn't enjoy it. I think there are Clinton haters who would like to be able to use this issue to hurt him. It's difficult to know whether there's a case there or not, because we're outside the process. But I would much rather be talking about much larger issues than this one."
"The Top Ten Ways President Clinton Will Celebrate the Paula Jones Decision," as presented on the April 1 Late Show with David Letterman. Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants Inc.
That's the first Letterman Top Ten on a Clinton scandal since before the Olympics. I don't know what that means, but I thought I'd toss out that "fun fact." -- Brent Baker
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