CyberAlert -- 09/22/1998 -- "I Hate Linda Tripp"

"I Hate Linda Tripp"; "Don't Cry to Mommy"; Clinton a Victim of Technology

1) ABC aired the most Clinton video; CBS delivered the most hostile take on Starr's staff and Linda Tripp's supposed perjury; NBC treated White House spin as authoritative and claimed the GOP too aggressive.

2) Tom Brokaw worried "the whole grand jury procedure" has now "been compromised as a result of this frenzy."

3) Clinton's a victim of modern technology, Dan Rather claimed. "If Franklin Roosevelt lied about Lucy Mercer, no satellite beamed his words across the country, around the world..."

4) Brokaw wondered if Clinton "will...ever be able to remove the stain of Monica Lewinsky" from his image? Her stain?

>>> Reader Comments. Between my vacation on the rush of events to analyze on the Starr-coverage front, I've fallen behind in responding to e-mailed comments from CyberAlert readers. The messages add up fast, but they are all being read and considered even if I haven't had time to write a reply. <<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) It's bonus time for NBC's Lisa Myers. As she reported on Friday (see the September 19 CyberAlert), Clinton did not storm out of the room during his videotaped testimony.

Contrary to expectations that the broadcast networks would resume regular programming shortly after the tape began, they stuck with the transmission. CBS showed it in its entirety from 9:25am to 1:40pm ET. NBC also stuck with it, but cut out three times when they saw the word "oral" or "insert" ahead in their printed transcript. Washington's ABC affiliate produced its own coverage, but I understand that like CBS they stayed with it until the end. As planned, CNN, C-SPAN, FNC and MSNBC all provided continuous coverage of the tape with C-SPAN replaying it at 8pm ET. MSNBC ran a "best of" hour of highlights at 6pm ET. FNC at 11pm ET and CNN at 1am ET also ran highlights. Otherwise viewers just got to see the clips run during regular news shows.

In the evening, the three broadcast networks produced hour-long shows, double their normal length. Other than items on Hurricane Georges, the stock market and the death of Florence Griffith-Joyner, the programs focused on Clinton and the testimony. I didn't get a chance to thoroughly go through CNN's 8pm ET special or FNC's hour at 7pm ET, but that's just as well since I wouldn't have space for that anyway. Geraldo Rivera remained on vacation Monday night, so no colorful outbursts to relay from his CNBC shows.

Monday night, September 21, ABC dedicated the most time to video clips while NBC ran one set of excerpts for almost four minutes and CBS offered only brief clips. Other highlights and contrasts amongst the three shows:
-- ABC's Peter Jennings devoted the most time to the most admiring look at Clinton's reception at the UN.
-- ABC's Chris Wallace declared that Lewinsky "ended her testimony with a simple statement: 'I hate Linda Tripp.'"
-- But CBS was far more hostile to Starr's side. Rita Braver highlighted how "prosecutor Jackie Bennett [told] her, 'you're 24, you're smart, you're old enough, you don't need to call your mommy.'" CBS uniquely ran a piece on Tripp's wrongdoing, with Phil Jones asserting: "As it turns out Linda Tripp is more than a witness, she is a target for perjury."
-- NBC's Jim Miklaszewski uniquely noted how Clinton admitted sex with Gennifer Flowers, but he concluded by delivering the pro-Clinton spin on the day: "After today's X-rated videotaped release, the question still remains: was this an attempt to get at the truth, or an effort to embarrass the President? Some of the President's own advisers are convinced tonight that it fell short on both counts."
-- Tom Brokaw complained: "...explicit details from Starr's investigation, thousands of pages released today, but is this more than anyone needs or wants to know?"
-- Brokaw lamented GOP aggressiveness, hoping for the emergence of "a viable political center to serve as a common ground for the extremes and a little discretion."

Here's a rundown of how the broadcast networks used their hour Monday night:

-- ABC's World News Tonight: Peter Jennings began:
"Good evening everyone. We've never before seen a President testify to a grand jury and in the first few minutes, when it began this morning, it was a shock to simply see him there. When it was over four hours later there were any number of reactions. There is no way to predict at this early stage what the impact will be on public opinion."

1) At 4:35, ABC ran the longest set of testimony excerpts, including Clinton's opening statement and questions about his definition of sexual relations, specifically how oral sex not is included. ABC also showed the question and answer about the use of a cigar.

2) Jennings talked with Jeffrey Toobin about what does "revert to statement" refer to? He asked Jackie Judd if there were any inconsistencies between Monica and Clinton? Yes, she explained, he denied touching with intent to arose her, which goes to perjury.

3) Jennings noted Clinton's UN appearance before informing viewers that Clinton had used some variation of "I don't recall" 148 times. Sam Donaldson got 5:20 to explore how Clinton's "highly imperfect memory is both controversial and potentially a factor in charges of perjury."
Donaldson ran through how Clinton couldn't recall being alone when asked in the Jones deposition, but now admits that while he argues about the definition of "alone." In Jones he didn't recall gifts, but now acknowledges a December 28 gift-giving just three weeks before the Jones deposition. Now he admits a Jordan meeting about Lewinsky though he previously could not recall such a discussion. When questioned about Bill Bennett's sweeping assertion there is absolutely no sex of any kind, Clinton argued the definition of "is." Clinton, Donaldson relayed, blamed pressure from the prosecutors for his declining memory. Donaldson concluded with this anecdote:
"And when it comes to memory, Peter, sometimes age is a factor, although perhaps not in the case of Mr. Clinton. But when Ronald Reagan was leaving the White House in his late 70s he said once, 'ah memory. Fifty years ago is crystal clear. Yesterday is up for grabs.'"

4) Jennings asked George Stephanopoulos if he noticed if Clinton was surprised by anything. Yes, Stephanopoulos suggested he was taken aback by the questions about the cigar and phone calls to Willey from his hotel room.

5) Jackie Judd narrated clips of Clinton responding to charges he tried to influence Betty Currie.

6) Jennings posed to Toobin: "It sounds, at least to a layman's ear, lots of hints here but no outright proof?"
Toobin explained that intent is the key.

7) From Capital Hill Linda Douglass learned most found the tape, after all the hype, anti-climatic. People expected Clinton to lose his temper, so a let down. But members are awaiting the public reaction. Cokie Roberts reported that Democrats believe it helped them, but will be vary cautious until they can gauge public reaction.

8) ABC allocated another 3:30 to playing clips showing Clinton's various moods, including the portion where he lashed out at the Jones lawsuit and claimed it was a bogus lawsuit funded by political enemies out to hurt him.

9) Jennings observed that Leon Panetta said that he saw all sides of Clinton: the impatient Clinton, the charmer Clinton, the angry Clinton and the introspective Clinton.

10) Back to Stephanopoulos, he told viewers that we didn't see the real private Clinton, the Clinton with a "red-faced temper."
Donaldson offered his assessment: "You saw a President who generally came across in the clips we've just showed as a very forceful individual. People can look at him and say 'I think he's trying to tell it from the heart.' But remember, he stood in the Roosevelt Room and he wagged his finger and he appeared to be telling it from the heart when he said he had no sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. So who is the real Bill Clinton? That's the question to determine."

11) Chris Wallace summarized the transcript of Lewinsky's testimony, asserting he found "no bombshells." He ran through how she has been taking anti-depressants, detailed her sexual encounters, was in love with Clinton and brought her family in to meet him before their sex started. Wallace relayed that Linda Tripp insisted she not clean the dress and that Lewinsky was jealous over the photo of Bill and Hillary on the beach. Wallace concluded:
"To the end Lewinsky denied she had ever been asked to lie, or was ever promised a job in return for her silence. And she ended her testimony with a simple statement: 'I hate Linda Tripp.'"

12) Bill Blakemore sampled reaction from people in Times Square, Colorado, San Francisco and Atlanta. He summed up: "None we spoke with today seem to have changed their opinions because of the videotape, but it did seem to make opinions on both sides stronger."

13) Finally, Peter Jennings highlighted Clinton's warm UN reception: "At the UN General Assembly when the President walked in, he was given a standing ovation by the representatives from nearly 200 countries. According to the delegates some of it was admiration, some of it sympathy, some of it encouragement. Some of it a way to say to Mr. Clinton that he should not lose sight of how important foreign policy is to the rest of the world."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather opened the show by asserting: "The Clinton presidency now hinges in part on the American public's reaction to four hours of videotape broadcast worldwide today."

1) Bob Schieffer played Clinton's opening statement and clips of the prosecutors zeroing in on Clinton's definition of sex, but Clinton, Schieffer observed, kept figuring out ways to "sidestep" the oral sex questions. Schieffer added: "Eventually the grand jurors became exasperated with the legalisms" and demanded to know if Lewinsky performed oral sex on Clinton. Clinton was at times remorseful, Schieffer asserted, but he denied asking Lewinsky to lie and lashed out at the Jones lawyers for pushing a "bogus lawsuit" funded by his political enemies.

2) From the White House, Scott Pelley presented the clearest rundown of the three networks on Starr's charges and how Clinton answered: being alone, no touching of Lewinsky's genitalia, tampering with Currie's testimony, obstructed justice by lying to top aides. Pelley also raised how Clinton tried to argue about the meaning of the words "is" and "alone."

3) Rita Braver examined Lewinsky's testimony, emphasizing portions that put Starr's staff in the worst light. Braver reported that Lewinsky testified that after being detained at the hotel after lunch with Tripp, she was kept from calling her mother or lawyer, "prosecutor Jackie Bennett telling her, 'you're 24, you're smart, you're old enough, you don't need to call your mommy.' And contrary to Starr's public statements, Lewinsky claims 'they told me that I'd have to place calls or wear a wire to see or call Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan and possibly the President.'"
Braver finished by noting Lewinsky maintains Clinton never asked her to lie and the job offer was not to buy her silence.

4) Phil Jones picked up from Braver by stressing doubts about Tripp, specifically highlighting a point not mentioned by ABC or NBC: "As it turns out Linda Tripp is more than a witness, she is a target for perjury. Nine of her secretly recorded Lewinsky tapes have been tampered with and investigators want to know if she lied about her involvement or knowledge of the tampering." Jones added that "Lewinsky portrays Tripp as more than an innocent victim" since Tripp recommended not cleaning the dress and. Jones also focused on how Tripp told Lewinsky an affair would be a neat thing to tell grandkids and that Tripp talked about a tell all book. Jones concluded with this hit on Tripp:
"Even some members of the grand jury were leery about Tripp. According to Lewinsky one juror told her, 'even though you have a lot of hate for Tripp, leave her where she is, because whatever goes around comes around.'"

5) Bill Plante delivered a piece on Clinton's warm reception at the UN, highlighted by a standing ovation. Unlike ABC and NBC, Plante also showed video of Hillary, contending she's continuing her "unwavering public support."

6) Dan Rather tied the stock market rebound by the end of the day to Clinton: "Some stock market analysts said Wall Street took heart today from President Clinton's warm welcome at the UN and the way the grand jury testimony went."

7) After the hurricane and Joyner, CBS closed out the first half hour with a look ahead from Bob Schieffer and Scott Pelley.

8) Rather began the second half hour with a clip of Clinton defending how he didn't lie about sexual relations.

9) Eric Engberg took at look at the kinds of other documents that were released, including phone records, credit card bills, and photos of the dress. Adding to Braver's earlier look at Lewinsky's testimony, Engberg cited how she told the grand jury they did not have intercourse because Clinton said it had "too much consequence."

10) Wyatt Andrews summarized reaction on Capitol Hill: Republicans saw the chief law enforcer telling lies, so that's a misdemeanor which is impeachable. Democrats saw evasions but not perjury. While Congress is waiting for the public's judgement, Andrews forwarded the anti-Starr spin: "If it's all about sex, some are asking, so what?"

11) Rather played another brief set of clips in which prosecutors pressed Clinton about touching her breasts and genitalia and Clinton attacked the motives of the Jones lawyers.

12) Former White House speechwriter Don Baer and Gloria Borger of U.S. News then gave Rather the White House and Democratic reaction, as if Republicans are irrelevant. Baer maintained the White House was relieved since they "believe they beat the expectations game." Borger declared that Democrats believe "Republicans have overplayed their hand." Her assessment and advice: "Republicans did what Bill Clinton could not do, that is unite the Democrats" by making them mad at the abuse of the process, so Republicans "better be careful. They cannot let their personal hatred for this President guide their political instincts."

13) Ed Bradley came aboard to replay clips from his 60 Minutes interview with Kathleen Willey and compare her assertions with Clinton's denials.

14) From Center, Texas Bob McNamara checked in with a radio show hosted by an 86-year-old woman. He found that in Democratic East Texas, "heartache has set in." He highlighted people mad at both players:
"Tonight people here are mad at the man in the Oval office."
Caller: "this is a lying President."
"Mad at the man pursuing him."
Caller: "Mr. Starr ought to be censured."
"And they're mad we ended up on this road, stuck in the middle."

15) Mark Phillips summarized world reaction, asserting Europe is worried because they want strong leadership and they've had enough of this distracting scandal.

16) Rather finished up by getting a last word from Schieffer (because no scenes of an irate Clinton it was anti-climatic) and Pelley (Starr not finished -- He thinks he has enough to indict Clinton for perjury).

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw topped the show with this lengthy overview:
"Good evening. Tonight the President, his legal and political adversaries, his fellow Democrats, commentators and American citizens east and west, north and south are trying to determine: Where do we go from here? They've now all witnessed the President on videotape being asked in great detail about the sexual nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, whether he lied to obstruct justice or prosecutors. They have two thick volumes of other testimony and documents to consider as Ken Starr and the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee make their best case against the President. Did this move the country closer to impeachment or presidential resignation or did it help the President?"

1) Like ABC, NBC went first to a compilation of clips, but at 3:45 NBC allocated less time than ABC.

2) Before any stories on what Clinton said or the documents revealed, NBC got public reaction from Jim Avila. Observing how the video was hard to avoid, Avila argued it was "a program many viewers labeled just sad, the humbling of a President in plain sight," adding: "A TV culture embarrassed for and by its President."

3) Pete Williams examined legal trouble spots for Clinton, including admitting "When I was alone with Miss Lewinsky...," saying the relationship began in 1996 not 1995 as she claims and his coaching of Currie as to what she remembered, such as saying "you were always there when she was there, right?"

4) Jack Ford explained how both sides got something: prosecutors were able to pin down Clinton and he got to put his side on the record. The Lewinsky testimony that there was no quid pro quo for a job, Ford noted, lessens the import of the obstruction of justice charge.

5) Jim Miklaszewski reviewed the sexual aspects of Clinton's testimony, marveling at the content: "It was an extraordinary exhibition, the most private details of President Clinton's sex life played out on daytime television." He showed Clinton being grilled on details about kissing breasts and "inanimate objects as sexual aides," though he never uttered the word "cigar."
Miklaszewski uniquely recalled Gennifer Flowers: "President Clinton did make a belated confession. Six years after he denied it he now admits a sexual affair with Gennifer Flowers."
Miklaszewski concluded by delivering the pro-Clinton spin on the day: "After today's X-rated videotaped release, the question still remains: was this an attempt to get at the truth, or an effort to embarrass the President? Some of the President's own advisers are convinced tonight that it fell short on both counts."

Brokaw then announced: "When we come back, the other excruciating details. The documents, explicit details from Starr's investigation. Thousands of pages released today, but is this more than anyone needs or wants to know?"

6) For that piece Lisa Myers reviewed the 7 and a half pounds of material released in which "no fact is too obscure, or too tawdry." Myers uniquely delved into the portion of Lewinsky's testimony in which she recounted how Clinton told her how he secretly struggled against his desires and kept a calendar to track how long he'd refrained from extramarital sex.

7) David Bloom checked in from the North Lawn, relaying: "Tom, from White House tonight, a collective sigh of relief. They believe the tape did not live up to its billing" since he showed both a combative and a contrite Clinton, but no outbursts. Bloom, however, added that Harold Ickes "offered a much harsher judgment" of Clinton's evasions, saying he should have come clean.

8) Just like ABC and CBS reporters, Gwen Ifill found few minds changed on Capitol Hill. Republicans saw Clinton avoiding truth, Democrats saw a prosecutor out of control. Ifill ended: "There was little question today that lawmakers who must sit in judgment on the President, are waiting first for the verdict of public opinion."

9) Brokaw talked with Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Representative James Rogan about whether a deal could be worked out involving Clinton going before the Judiciary Committee.

10) Andrea Mitchell reported on Clinton's overshadowed terrorism speech to the UN and how Usama bin Laden is the biggest threat.

11) After stories on the hurricane and Joyner, Bob Faw looked at what the documents reveal about Lewinsky's personality. "To her critics it's a portrait of a harlot," but mostly, Faw contended, the documents showed she was in love, jealous of Hillary and hurt by Clinton's statement that she did little more than service him with oral sex. Faw concluded: "New grist for Americans still debating whether she was predator, prey or both."

12) Brokaw ended the show by denouncing the "extremes" and pleading for "discretion." In other words, Republicans are too aggressive. After stressing how the public wants to get this over with, but the process has long way to go, Brokaw offered his solution:
"Judging from what we have heard so far and what we have been exposed to in language and description, the difficult days ahead would be well served by two elements missing up to this point: a viable political center to serve as a common ground for the extremes and a little discretion to serve as a substitute for the feeding frenzy in a debate of this magnitude. These are sobering times. Big questions. It should not be politics as usual."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) That theme matched Brokaw's points expressed during live coverage of the tape replay, as documented by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens.

-- During one break Brokaw suggested to law professors Jonathan Turley and Lawrence Tribe: "Let me ask you both briefly about whether or not you have any concerns about the whole grand jury procedure now in America having been compromised as a result of this frenzy that we've all been involved in Washington in the past month or so especially?"

-- During a later break he argued to reporter Lisa Myers:
"And Lisa as I have read. Really skimmed through the first two volumes and they're very thick as you know, 2800 pages of documents altogether, there is some stunning detail in all of this. Both in the Monica Lewinsky testimony before the grand jury, at one point she said, 'Oh God,' after she said something that was quite embarrassing to her obviously. What about the possibility of the Ken Starr backlash? And the backlash against the congressional, the House Judiciary committee, the Republicans for having released all of this? A lot of people said before it came out, 'We don't need to see this, we get the big picture here.' But there it is in vivid and very discomforting detail."
Myers: "And well some Republicans were quite fearful over the last couple of days that there would be a backlash. But what they say in response is, 'Look it's the President who engaged in this activity. If you don't like it, blame him.'"


Danbill2cap.jpg (19333 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Poor Bill Clinton, he's a victim of modern technology. As is the nation as a whole. So suggested Dan Rather. If we'd had CNN and the Internet, he seemed to imply, we might have video of Warren Harding's lover and FDR may have been grilled about his lover. At the end of CBS coverage Monday, just before 2pm ET, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, Rather propounded:
"This has been a historic day. History offers little guide in such a moment as this. Presidents have been in awkward spots before, but only recently could technology make witnesses of the entire nation, indeed, the entire world. And even when technology advanced in capability, it has usually retreated before any scenes so personal, so potentially embarrassing, and indeed, dangerous to the nation as this one.
"If Andrew Johnson back then in the 1800s was drunk at his inauguration, no video camera recorded the fact. If Warren Harding met his mistress in a White House closet, he didn't see the pictures or hear it reported on that night's television news. If Franklin Roosevelt lied about Lucy Mercer, no satellite beamed his words across the country, around the world, and literally beyond the stars. Even Richard Nixon's criminal coverups of a widespread criminal conspiracy were recorded only on audiotape. We have come a long way. Technology has given us power and speed, but now we must provide our own wisdom and judgment."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Here's a question posed to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin by Tom Brokaw after NBC finished playing Clinton's grand jury testimony:

"Has the President been tainted forever as a result of all this? Will he never, ever be able to remove the stain of Monica Lewinsky and their relationship and his, what many people believe, is his dissembling in describing the nature of that relationship?"

"...remove the stain of Monica Lewinsky?" Isn't it the other way around?

I have a many more noteworthy quotes from Monday daytime coverage that the MRC staff has studiously transcribed, but I'm out of room. I hope to squeeze some of those into tomorrow's CyberAlert which I hope to complete earlier in the day. -- Brent Baker

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