CyberAlert -- 04/15/1999 -- CBS & NBC Blame U.S. in Kosovo; Starr's Stands; ABC: Benefits of Taxes

CBS & NBC Blame U.S. in Kosovo; Starr's Stands; ABC: Benefits of Taxes

1) Blame America First. Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw compliantly relayed, over gory video, Serb claims that NATO bombs killed Kosovo refugees. Only ABC considered how Serbs may have done it.

2) Geraldo encouraged Susan McDougal, who charged: "I confronted Hickman Ewing at my trial and told him I consider him a murderer."

3) Today gave McDougal's lawyer an unencumbered platform to blast Ken Starr and Katie Couric found McDougal to be "funny."

4) Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live, Ken Starr assessed the dress, defended Linda Tripp and denied contact with the Jones team would have been wrong: "How the facts come to you" is irrelevant.

5) FNC picked up on Energy Dept. official Notra Trulock's charge that his superiors "urged me to cover up and bury" evidence of Chinese espionage, but not a syllable made it onto a morning show.

6) NBC's Tim Russert called the contempt ruling "a big deal" but Today spent three times more time on the crane rescue. Eleanor Clift spun the contempt ruling into vindication for Clinton.

7) The night before taxes are due ABC highlighted the benefits taxpayers receive, such as how the feds prevent "suburban sprawl" by giving money to localities to "buy up development rights."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Blame America First, or at least the West or NATO, which really means the U.S. All the networks led Wednesday night with the violent deaths of refugees in a convoy on a road in Kosovo, but while ABC's Peter Jennings left open the possibility the Serbs may have committed the atrocity, CBS's Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw disregarded NATO denials and simply relayed how the Serbs blamed NATO bombing.

Here's how the broadcast anchors opened their shows on Wednesday night, April 14:

-- CBS Evening News. Broadcasting again from Belgrade, Dan Rather's opening assertions raised the possibility he's suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. His top of the show tease:
"War and peace in the Balkans. A new report that NATO bombers have taken a tragic civilian toll as diplomats search for a way out of the Kosovo crisis."

From a Belgrade street he introduced the first story by asserting, over grisly Serb-supplied video of mangled bodies: "Collateral damage has taken on new meanings tonight with these pictures of what is alleged to be Albanian refugees struck by a NATO missile. Serbian officials claimed that there were two separate attacks killing, they say, dozens of civilians -- 60 plus or more. NATO acknowledges that it was targeting what it says were military convoys in the general area. NATO says it's continuing to investigate this whole situation."

Only later in the program in another story did David Martin show viewers denials from Kenneth Bacon and a NATO official and explain how some suggested Serb aircraft may have done it in retaliation for NATO bombs which hit their military convoy.

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw's tease: "The terrible price of war. A convoy of refugees, dozens dead, many wounded. Did NATO make another tragic mistake?"
Brokaw then set up the lead piece without even hinting to viewers that not all accept the Serb charge: "It's been a very active day for American warplanes and NATO air strikes. It's been active and it's been very controversial. The Serbs are claiming tonight NATO forces hit a convoy of civilian refugees in Kosovo, killing dozens."

From the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski began the subsequent report: "Tom, evidence indicates tonight that NATO warplanes may in fact have accidentally killed scores of Albanian refugees in what Pentagon officials say would be a tragic accident and an unintended consequence of the war..."

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Only Peter Jennings let viewers know the facts are very much in dispute, including in his opening NATO denials and a suggestion of another aggressor:
"For the second time this week the NATO alliance has been accused by the government in Yugoslavia of attacking civilians. On Monday it was a train which NATO admitted and said was a mistake. Today there is confusion and a quite a lot of it about an attack on a road in Kosovo in which civilians were killed and injured. The Serbs say 64 people were killed and at least 20 wounded when NATO bombed a convoy of refugees. NATO says its pilots deny hitting civilians and is investigating. The German Defense Minister suggests the Serbs are covering up an attack by their own military, their own artillery to be specific, on civilians. The evidence is still coming in."

The U.S. is at war with Yugoslavia, yet two of the three broadcast networks compliantly passed along the propaganda message and video from the enemy nation to make our side look like the bad guys. It may turn out that NATO planes were responsible, but which side will the U.S. networks be helping if every time the enemy claims the U.S./NATO kills a civilian (and helpfully provides wrenching video), the networks throw it on the air before they have any idea what really happened?


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Geraldo Rivera prompted Susan McDougal to slander Starr deputy Hickman Ewing as a "murderer" who caused Jim McDougal's death. Earlier in the week, at Susan McDougal's victory party, one of Rivera's reporters bought a drink for her lawyer.

-- Susan McDougal appeared live from Camden, Arkansas Wednesday night on both of Rivera's CNBC shows. On Upfront Tonight Rivera tossed this loaded assertion about Ken Starr as a question:
"Do you think he was out to get the President and the First Lady by any means necessary, even getting you to lie, to perjure yourself?"

Later, talking about Starr's prosecution team, Rivera encouraged McDougal to hold Starr liable for the death of her ex-husband, though Bill and Hillary Clinton were the ones to abandon their friend who tried to make them rich:
"Do you believe that they had, at least indirectly, something to do with your ex-husband, Jim McDougal's, ultimate demise?"

McDougal said she didn't hear the question, so Rivera condensed it: "Did they help speed your husband's sickness and his ultimate death?"
Susan McDougal replied: "There's no doubt in my mind..." She went on to complain about how he "died like a dog on the floor" in a prison cell, charging: "I confronted Hickman Ewing at my trial and told him I consider him a murderer. I consider him responsible for the death of Jim McDougal and for the fact that Jim was never able to reconcile himself with the lies that he told..."

Rivera concluded the interview by stating his solidarity with her: "I think that their persecution of you was way beyond the pale. It was indefensible, it was reprehensible and I promised you before you went down on trial this time and I promise you next time if they go after you they're going after both of us."

-- Watching Monday's Rivera Live, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this illuminating exchange on the April 12 show:
Rivera: "Ron where are you? Still at the courthouse? Oh you're at the party. You're at the Capitol Hotel?"
CNBC reporter Ron Blome: "I'm at the Capitol Hotel, Geraldo."
Rivera: "Oh man have a drink for me. I know you don't, I know you don't."
Mark Geragos, McDougal's lawyer: "And you wanna know something Geraldo?"
Rivera: "Go ahead."
Geragos: "You give Ron his credit. He's already bought me a drink tonight at the party. He's quite a man that Ron Blome."

And apparently he's more than just an impartial observer.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Katie Couric found convicted felon Susan McDougal's comments, after her acquittal on one charge Monday as the jury deadlocked on two other charges, to be "pretty funny."

Tuesday's Today gave Mark Geragos an unobstructed platform to blast Ken Starr, as the NBC show didn't bother bringing on anyone to give a contrary assessment.
Asked by Katie Couric "What did you think the message of this verdict was?", Geragos replied as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:
"Well it was clear at this point that the jury was told by the judge that the only thing that they could consider in terms of whether or not Ken Starr was seeking the truth was the obstruction of justice count. And they resoundingly said, clearly Ken Starr was not seeking the truth and found her not guilty. So in that sense it was quite a message for this jury to have sent out to Ken Starr and the Office of Independent Counsel."
Couric helpfully emphasized: "And that was a message that you were trying to send out loud and clear. I mean during the course of this trial you put Ken Starr on trial didn't you?"

Following a couple of easy questions about whether Geragos anticipates that Starr will re-try her and whether she wants to testify against the independent counsel law, Couric posed this as her last question:
"Other than testifying before the House Judiciary Committee what are her plans? She was pretty funny. She doesn't know how to live except as a defendant. What is she gonna do?"


lking0415.jpg (15639 bytes)cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Ken Starr spoke the obvious on Wednesday's Larry King Live, but it was a point which has evaded network analysis.

Tuesday night none of the broadcast networks uttered a word about Judge Wright's late Monday contempt of court citation against President Clinton, but all three ran items on how Ken Starr would testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday about how he opposes renewing the independent counsel law. Wednesday night ABC skipped Starr, NBC ran one soundbite while CBS and CNN ran full reports on Starr's testimony, including his charge that witnesses lied about what happened in the grand jury room.

Hours later Starr appeared live on CNN's Larry King Live, his first television interview since the slimy Diane Sawyer taped interview ran on 20/20 on Thanksgiving-eve last November in which the ABC star kept lecturing Starr about his misdeeds. (To read some of her loaded questions or to hear and see them via RealPlayer, go the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 1998: The Eleventh Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting: and then scroll down to the award titled: "Too Late For Our Judging, But Year-End Best of NQ Worthy")

In the April 14 hour King failed to ask Starr what lies were told to the public by those on the courthouse steps and King ran through virtually every negative allegation made by Clinton supporters. But, but unlike Sawyer, King offered up some friendly questions, refrained from condemnatory lectures and allowed Starr to respond to each charge he raised.

Asked if he agreed it would have been wrong for his office to have been in contact with anyone associated with the Paula Jones case, Starr responded with a view not heard from supposed experts in the media:
"The facts are the facts. How the facts come to you, unless you're inventing the facts or manipulating the facts and so forth, but the source of the facts? Would we not want to receive information about organized crime because someone's involved in organized crime? People do have incentives and motivations and the FBI should gather information from whatever sources, lawful sources, it can."

Not exactly the standard applied by Geraldo Rivera, the New York Times and CBS News -- all of which loved to condemn Starr when they jumped on allegations about a conspiracy linking those around Jones to Starr's staff.

+++ Experience Starr's rarely heard views. Thursday morning the MRC's Kristina Sewell and Sean Henry will post, on the MRC home page, a three-minute clip from the CNN interview. You can hear his answer quoted above, as well as how he defended Linda Tripp and said the stained dress proved "there's no doubt, there's no doubt whatsoever" about Clinton's guilt. Go to:


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) The morning shows on Tuesday all ignored the Monday testimony from former Energy Department official Notra Trulock who charged that "beginning in early 1997 senior DOE officials, including my direct supervisor, urged me to cover up and bury" his warnings about Chinese espionage. As detailed in the April 13 CyberAlert, on April 12 the CBS Evening News ran a full story and FNC gave it 43 seconds, but ABC, CNN and NBC all skipped the first comments from Trulock made in front of video cameras.

Tuesday night FNC caught up with CBS, running a full story by Carl Cameron, which appeared on Special Report with Brit Hume but not on the Fox Report.


cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) Crane versus Contempt. Today allocated three times more time to the crane rescue than to the contempt citation for Clinton; only FNC and CNN followed up on Monday's citation on their Tuesday night shows; and Eleanor Clift spun the contempt ruling into vindication for Clinton about how the judge "was sympathetic with the President's frustration at the political motivations behind much of this case" and impeachment was excessive.

-- "But Katie, bottom line, to be held in contempt by a federal judge is a big deal." So declared NBC News VP Tim Russert just past 7:30am on Tuesday's Today -- AFTER Today dedicated most of the first half hour to talking with five people involved in, or who covered, the rescue of the man in Atlanta trapped on a crane above a roaring fire.

The April 13 Today allocated 13:34 to the fire rescue, by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens' count, versus just 4:24 dedicated to the contempt citation issued to the President the afternoon before, a first in American history. Wednesday morning Today producers couldn't resist spending another 2:15 on the fire story, running a piece on the hero firefighter. April 14 time spent on contempt: Zero.

-- Tuesday night, April 13, only CNN and FNC followed up on the contempt citation. Not a word on ABC, CBS or NBC about fallout or White House reaction, though NBC Nightly News found 2:25 in the middle of the show to spend profiling the heroic firefighter, a slightly different version of the story Today would play the next morning.

On the Fox Report David Shuster uniquely showed viewers how the White House refused to address the embarrassment: "At the end of an event in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Clinton was asked the question directly."
Reporter, who sounded like Les Kinsolving: "Will you appeal the contempt, Mr. President?"
Shuster showed how Clinton kept walking away and did not answer. Shuster added: "Later, the strategy of avoiding the issue continued with presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart."
Joe Lockhart: "I'd suggest you ask that question to Mr. Bennett, the President's able private attorney."
Shuster: "So what did the President's lawyer have to say? Nothing. Robert Bennett refused to return phone calls from the press. The news is bad enough for the White House. Mr. Clinton is the first ever President to be held in contempt of court, but making matters worse, Judge Susan Webber Wright warned that an appeal of her ruling will lead to lengthy court hearings. In Little Rock, Arkansas, Paula Jones and her newest lawyer both seemed to rejoice in Mr. Clinton's predicament."

Shuster ran soundbites from Jones and her lawyer and explained what Wright ruled before concluding:
"Republicans are especially pleased, convinced that the ruling gives them political cover for impeachment. Democrats look at the contempt citation a little differently, though, saying this is the punishment the President deserved."

CNN skipped the White House's non-reaction, going instead on The World Today with a piece by Bruce Morton on how after surviving so many scandals, "Finally, he ran out of teflon" and "got nailed for contempt of court. Not a close call, either. 'Contumacious' the judge called the President. Webster's says that means 'stubbornly perverse or rebellious, willfully disobedient.'..."

Looking back at how it all began, Morton wistfully recalled: "And what a tangled journey it's been. Think back. Once, there was a state trooper named Danny Ferguson who, in a magazine called The American Spectator, which most Americans don't read, mentioned a woman named Paula -- just the first name, that's all. And that obscure reference prompted Paula Jones to sue. We can't know why. But it changed her life; made her famous, if you like; made her the subject of attacks by Clinton backers; the subject of jokes on late- night TV; a tacky-tinged celebrity at best...."

Morton concluded: "Paula Jones, in the end, has won. She did not end Bill Clinton's presidency, but she is part of his legacy. First President ever cited for contempt is part of his legacy. And you still have to wonder why she did it or if today, she thinks it was worth doing."

Of course, broadcast network viewers probably don't realize the significance of the ruling given the short-shrift those networks have given it.

-- Here's how Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, in an April 13 Fox Report appearance on FNC transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, creatively spun the contempt ruling:
"Well, first of all, I'd like to point out that the Judge said reasonable expenses, and the Paula Jones attorneys were going to hold this deposition anyway, so I don't think there's a whole lot of extra cost here. And in terms of the impact on his legacy, I think the Judge pointed out that she was sympathetic with the President's frustration at the political motivations behind much of this case. And I think that this contempt citation will be a footnote to the whole impeachment saga and that historians will view it in the context that while the President certainly behaved badly, he was less than truthful and he should have been punished, that impeachment was an excessive sentence for what he did, that actually Judge Wright's ruling is the appropriate punishment for what the President did, and that is to be less than truthful in a civil case."


cyberno7.gif (1643 bytes) ABC News anticipated the April 15 federal tax deadline by telling viewers about all the benefits they receive for their tax dollars which "are not always visible," such as preventing "suburban sprawl" by giving money to localities to "buy up development rights in order to preserve farmland."

For the April 14 World News Tonight reporter Judy Muller traveled to "the bucolic town of San Louis Obispo" California to illustrate what a bargain federal taxes offer. She opened by going to the downtown farmers market where she found a couple of people complaining about big government and high taxes.

Muller countered: "In fact, the federal government takes about a billion dollars a year from this county, but what most residents don't realize is that the government gives back almost the same amount -- money that definitely makes a difference."
She ran through a long list of beneficial projects, including stabilizing the banks of a creek, dredging a bay, building a pedestrian overpass over railroad tracks, fixing a water tower, hiring extra police officers, building housing for the elderly and homeless and issuing grants totaling $6 million a year to Cal Poly for such projects as writing a computer program to load cargo onto military ships.
Muller explained the value of even those college grants:
"While that money does not directly affect the townspeople, it does add to the prestige and overall economic health of the university which is directly linked to that of the town. A recent study shows that faculty and students here pour $300 million a year into the local economy."

Sounds like the trickle-down economics the networks have long disparaged.

Muller concluded her lecture: "In other words, the benefits of tax dollars are not always visible. Take this picture [video of an empty field]: What you don't see is suburban sprawl. That's because federal money helped the county buy up development rights in order to preserve farmland -- farmland that feeds the farmers who feed the tourists, who feed the town."

Again, more trickle-down economics. And without taxes, suppressing property rights would be impossible.

Muller did not explain why it would not make more sense to cut out the federal middlemen and just let localities levy the taxes to pay for these wonderful projects.

If you waited until Thursday to pay your federal taxes, as you write your check remind yourself of these benefits ABC was so timely in helpfully highlighting. -- Brent Baker


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