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CyberAlert -- 11/12/1997 -- Au Pair Before War; NBC Picks Up Whitewater Check; Harsh to Hersh

Au Pair Before War; NBC Picks Up Whitewater Check; Harsh to Hersh

You Read It Here First:

This week's issues (November 17 cover dates) of U.S. News & World Report and the Weekly Standard include stories on the plight of conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. The November 4 CyberAlert detailed how the newspaper's ombudsman had denounced him for daring to cross the PC line on gay rights.

Correction: The November 7 and 10 CyberAlerts reported that no broadcast network had touched the story of the just-found Whitewater check payable to Bill Clinton. In fact, as reported in the MRC's November 6 Media Reality Check fax report, on the November 6 Today news anchor Ann Curry read a 17-second item on the discovery. See item #3 below for more information.


1. Au pair before war. The day after the re-sentencing Louise Woodward topped the CBS Evening News.

2. The networks focused on how conservatives were an impediment to fast track and Dan Rather said there's "speculation" that Clinton "is losing some of his legislative clout."

3. NBC Nightly News on Monday carried the first broadcast network evening show story on the Whitewater check that contradicts Clinton.

4. Seymour Hersh treated as a hostile witness by NBC's Matt Lauer for daring to tarnish a liberal icon.

5. Thursday on CBS: Elvis committed suicide and Michael Landon talks from beyond. Is it 48 Hours or is it not?


1) The day after the re-sentencing of the au pair the story still led one network's evening show. In fact, three stories in a row on the au pair topped the November 11 CBS Evening News: a story by Kristin Jeannette-Myers on reaction to the reduced sentence, an interview conducted by Dan Rather with a juror upset by the judge's decision to free Louise Woodward, and a short item read by Rather about how au pair applications from Britain are down. Then CBS got around to possible war.

Both ABC's World News Tonight and the NBC Nightly News led with Iraq. NBC didn't get to the au pair until after the second ad break.


2) In a humiliating defeat for a sitting President, Clinton had to ask Newt Gingrich to cancel a vote on fast track trade legislation because he (Clinton, that is) couldn't get more than a few dozen House members of his own party to support him. So, how did the networks play it Monday night? ABC relayed how Clinton blamed conservative demands as both ABC and CBS argued it did not show that Clinton has lost any clout.

On the November 10 World News Tonight ABC's John Cochran asserted, as transcribed by MRC analyst Gene Eliasen:

"Peter, in the end, despite all the deal making, there was one deal Bill Clinton could not cut. That was a demand by Republican conservatives that he put some anti-abortion language in a foreign aid bill. If he had done that, there's just a chance, just a chance he might have won on fast track, but he said no."

Jennings: "And so who are the winners and losers in all this?"

Cochran: "Big winners: Labor unions, who opposed the President and showed they still have a lot of political clout in this town. Big winner, Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, who took on the President and won. Big losers: Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich, who supported the President. The biggest loser, of course, Bill Clinton himself. Already, and probably unfairly, people are asking, 'Is he a lame duck who can no longer win the big ones?'"

Well, he just lost a big one.

Over on the CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather intoned:
"President Clinton today was beaten and sounded retreat in his effort to pass so-called fast track trade legislation. The President says he will return and try again to get the measure through Congress. But first he has to twist more arms on both sides of the aisle and promise a lot more and shake speculation that he is losing some of his legislative clout in his second term...."

Speculation?


3) Last Thursday during the 7am news update Ann Curry told Today viewers:

"Whitewater prosecutors may have made some potentially damaging discoveries in the files of an Arkansas Savings & Loan. Witnesses say they turned up a cashiers check for more than $20,000 made out in Bill Cinton's name. The President has testified under oath that he never borrowed money from the S&L."

The key phrase: "potentially damaging." That 17-second item read just once on Today represented the totality of broadcast network coverage of the Whitewater check discovery until a story appeared on Monday's NBC Nightly News. But through Tuesday's evening shows nothing yet on ABC or CBS.

Tom Brokaw announced on November 10: "For four years now the Whitewater investigation has taken numerous and sometimes bizarre twists and turns. Well tonight the latest. A discovery in an Arkansas car repair shop that could challenge the veracity of President Clinton and Hillary Clinton."

As transcribed by MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens, NBC reporter Fred Francis explained:

"The mystery begins at Johnny's Transmission shop in south Little Rock. An unlikely place to find what could be key evidence in the Whitewater investigation. Last spring a tornado ripped through this neighborhood, damaging hundreds of cars. Nine years ago one of the cars had been abandoned over a repair dispute. It belonged to this man, Henry Floyd, a courier for Jim McDougal a now jailed Whitewater business partner of President Clinton. Floyd had worked at McDougal's failed savings and loan. And incredibly he says he forgot that he left six years of bank documents in the car. Before junking it mechanic Johnny Lawhorn pried open the trunk and found a cashier's check for $27,600 payable to Bill Clinton.

"Adding to the mystery, Bill Clinton has testified that he never borrowed money from his Whitewater partner. But the amount of the check corresponds exactly to the amount of a Whitewater loan repayment. So why was it made out to Bill Clinton? That's what the Whitewater grand jury wants to know. And although Clinton's attorneys discredit the new documents there are a trunk full of bank records. Some of them relating to a time when Hillary Clinton worked as a lawyer on another McDougal land deal, Castle Grande. Castle Grande is a thousand acre track that McDougal wanted to sell as trailer home sites. The grand jury is now examining these documents to help answer the question whether Mrs. Clinton has honestly portrayed her role in the financing of that project..."

Francis ran a soundbite from Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before concluding that "the Whitewater grand jury has until next May to make something of this mystery or ask for yet another extension."

Evidence uncovered that shows the President probably lied, yet ABC and CBS have yet to find the discovery of any interest.


4) How does a crusading liberal reporter catch the wrath of his journalistic colleagues? He writes a book that destroys the myth built around a liberal icon. That's just what has happened to Seymour Hersh, a hero to liberals during the 1960s and 70s, in reaction to his new book on President Kennedy. While he offers some new details and eyewitness accounts, virtually all the charges in his book -- from the Mob buying the Illinois election to women in the White House -- were long ago reported. But if you've seen any of the stories on Hersh you know that reporters are acting as if Hersh is passing along new and unbelievable allegations.

As a case study, look at Today's two-part interview aired Monday and Tuesday. Matt Lauer didn't treat Hersh as a journalistic hero digging out the truth, but as an irresponsible rumor-monger. As the MRC's Director of News Analysis, Tim Graham, reminded me, that's quite a different greeting than Today offered Kitty Kelly when she wrote her salacious book on Nancy Reagan. On the April 8, 1991 Today, Bryant Gumbel gushed:

"Best-selling author Kitty Kelly has proven both her courage and her credibility with her no-holds-barred biographies of Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Now she's out with her most difficult and explosive book yet. Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography goes on sale this morning, and already people are running for cover, issuing denials from all around the nation."

Gumbel's first question: "This book paints a picture of a totally unethical, scheming social climber who lied and faked her way through life. Is that the picture you set out to create?"

Compare that to Lauer with Hersh. Running all the questions would take at least four pages, so here are some representative questions, as transcribed by MRC intern Rebecca Hinnershitz:

From November 10:
  • "...The book, The Dark Side of Camelot, is out today, but the controversy began earlier this fall when a collection on Hersh's source documents on some of the most titillating topics proved to be fakes. Seymour Hersh, good morning."
  • "You handle the legacy of JFK with about as much tenderness as a steamroller. What was your goal with the book?"
  • "Let's talk about the controversy. The documents you obtained in question was apparently a contract between JFK and Marilyn Monroe, hush money paid to Marilyn Monroe to keep her quiet about their alleged affair. You insisted that those documents were authentic long after others began to question their authenticity."
  • "What do you say about the problem that might now exist where people may look at the other stories in the book and the other sources in the book and say that because there was a bogus document that we continued to believe for so long these other stories may not be true."
  • "You say that in 1960, John F. Kennedy stole the election. Let's begin with the fact that you say he paid $2 million in a primary election to win the state of West Virginia. And you go further and you say Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy personally delivered some of that money to local state politicians. Based on what proof?"
  • "Obviously Bobby Kennedy's not around to defend himself. A spokesperson for Ted Kennedy said 'We don't intend to comment on this kind of malicious gossip and innuendo.'"
  • "You have heard this about you before. People think that you have strong opinions and that often your opinions cloud your journalism. I know you've done wonderful works in the past, but they think that possibly you've been twisting the words of sources. Some of your sources in this book have now come out and said you twisted their words. As a matter of fact, one gentleman, Jerry Bruno, a former Kennedy advance man, says after being interviewed by you and reading the final product that you should have called this book the Dark Side of Seymour Hersh."
From the November 11 Today:
  • "There have been stories circulating for years about alleged affairs between JFK and a variety of women. Very few facts have surfaced. Or pictures have surfaced or interviews with people involved in those affairs over these years to back them up. What new ground have you broken?"
  • "Thirty-five years have passed. Why would they [Secret Service agents] talk to you now and not have told their stories to anyone else over that time period?"
  • "All right you mention women. The way you put it out in the book it seems like once he was elected he turned the White House into basically a sex club. That there were women in the White House all the time. Almost on a daily basis you say. And a lot of them were, you used the word hookers I'll use the word prostitutes. Who was bringing these women to the President?"
  • "So you're saying they are standing outside the door of the Lincoln bedroom or the pool in the White House. They're guarding what they know is going on inside which is the President, according to you frolicking with prostitutes and basically their job has now become to make sure that Jackie doesn't come down the hall?"
  • "If we are talking about prostitutes and we are talking about over the course of a presidency in the White House we must be talking about dozens of prostitutes. Would you agree with that?"
  • "Okay, these are women who sell their bodies, sell sexual favors for money. Are you gonna try to tell me that these women over the period of 35 years wouldn't sell what is an amazing story for money, to someone?"
  • "How about an author? How about write a book? How about go to someone and say, 'Look what I did with the President of the United States. Let's write a book. Let's make a fortune.'"
  • Stories have circulated about the possibility that John F. Kennedy did have a venereal disease at one time or another. You basically say he had venereal diseases on and off for 30 years. Do you have any medical records? Did you find proof, talk to doctors who said, 'Yes I treated JFK for venereal disease?'"
  • "You talk about one period where a Secret Service agent goes to a Washington gallery with photos, nude photos of the President frolicking with women and has them framed as keepsakes. Now as you know in Time magazine Sydney Mickelson, the owner of that gallery in question, has said that the story was very different. That none of the people, this is what you said in the book that they were nude in bed. He says none of the pictures showed anyone naked. That first of all the three people in the pictures he saw, the two pictures, were wearing masks and they had covers pulled up right to their necks. Which story is true?"
  • "They couldn't tell they were the President, they had a mask on....But in the book you called them sexually explicit photographs of a naked President with various paramours....But just a simple point was the President naked in these photos or not?...Covers up, covering his body or no? Naked?"

And finally, Lauer ended with a note of scorn: "Again stories have been going around for years. And I think that's one of also the complaints on this book by the way Seymour. Is that all these stories have been out there. That you're basically taking a lot of, I guess, stories that have never been proven putting them together and making them fact. But the one story you do talk about in the book was that JFK was married before Jackie. That he actually married Durie Malcolm, a Palm Beach socialite. Basically you call it a one night stand. Durie Malcolm, as you know, is still alive. She has always denied that she was ever married to JFK. There are no records to prove it. Why are you right and why is she lying?"


5) From this week's CBS "Eye Opener" e-mail report:

"THURSDAY at 10:00 PM, ET/PT, finds the CBS premiere of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. Subjects on host Robert Stack's agenda include Elvis Presley's alleged suicide, whether Michael Landon has contacted his stepdaughter from beyond and a homicide in Kentucky."

Doesn't sound too different than the usual 48 Hours fare aired in that time slot.

-- Brent Baker