ABC: Starr "Too Aggressive?" & An IC Leaking in 1992 Not So Bad
1) Sunday night the networks ignored Panetta's rebuke of his old boss and focused on how Starr should be dumped. Saturday night NBC dismissed the relevance of a Secret Service officer's testimony. Friday night ABC asked if Starr is "too rough?"
On Sunday's This Week former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta insisted of Clinton "that at some point he's got to tell the American people the truth of what was behind this relationship. Obviously, there was something more here. And it's got to be explained to the American people."
But the networks remain more interested in attacks on Starr than in former top aides questioning the President's integrity. On Sunday night the broadcast networks ignored Panetta's comment and focused instead on hits on Ken Starr. The same occurred Friday night when ABC set out to prove that Starr's "tactics are too rough." Saturday night the networks focused more on Clinton, but ABC and NBC offered conflicting takes on who Secret Service officer Lewis Fox's testimony would help.
Here's a rundown of broadcast evening show coverage in reverse date order -- Sunday, Saturday and then Friday:
-- Sunday, February 15
CBS: The demonization plan, we won't call it a conspiracy, has worked. The White House and its operatives spent two weeks disparaging the ethics of Ken Starr, leading the public to perceive him, in the words of Dan Rather, as "conducting a partisan rather than an impartial investigation." Now it's come full circle, with the media able to highlight how even a Republican thinks Starr should be dumped. On the February 15 Fox News Sunday a liberal Republican Senator declared Ken Starr unfit because of public mistrust.
After mentioning how Newsweek will publish e-mail messages sent by Lewinsky to Linda Tripp, CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts announced:
"Republican Senator Arlen Specter says someone other than Kenneth Starr should investigate Lewinsky because many Americans think Starr, quote 'is out to get the President.'"
ABC: Over on ABC's World News Tonight on Sunday night, Monicagate got 11 seconds, but all about Starr's conduct. Anchor Kevin Newman reported: "Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg, says he has filed a formal complaint with the Justice Department over what he calls 'a consistent flow of leaks' from independent counsel Kenneth Starr's office."
ABC followed with stories on how the scandal is not hurting Democratic fundraising and a piece prompted by Tim Russert's Meet the Press questioning of National Security Adviser Sandy Berger about a briefing he gave actor John Travolta on how the U.S. is addressing the German crackdown on Scientology.
(NBA basketball bumped NBC Nightly News, at least in the eastern and central time zones.)
-- Saturday, February 14
ABC: World News Tonight got to Monicagate after stories on Iraq, the naming of a suspect in the abortion clinic bombing and El Nino's impact. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas delivered this intro: "ABC's Ann Compton reports on two more witnesses, whose accounts are expected to support the prosecutor's version of what happened." Compton outlined the deal with Secret Service officer Fox that will allow him to tell how he let Monica Lewinsky into the Oval Office where Clinton was alone, but not discuss security procedures.
Compton picked up on a Los Angeles Times story about how on Thursday the grand jury had heard from Neysa Erbland, a friend whom Lewinsky had told of sex with Clinton. A Washington Post report on how Linda Tripp talked to lawyers for Jones the night before they deposed Clinton, also got a sentence from Compton before she concluded by noting that Newsweek will publish e-mail sent by Lewinsky. Compton ended by reciting one of the messages: "And Monica laments the Big Creep didn't even try to call me on Valentine's Day."
Next, ABC ran a story from John Cochran on Newt Gingrich's quiet comeback from his fight for survival a year ago. He's now less combative, less partisan and more popular.
NBC: Like ABC, NBC put Monicagate after Iraq, El Nino and the bomber, but reporter Chip Reid, who relayed the Tripp news and ignored Erbland, had the opposite spin on Fox's testimony:
"Fox's attorney doubts, however, that the testimony has much value."
Michael Leibig, Fox's lawyer: "He did not perceive then, and he doesn't perceive now that that was something that unusual or something that needed to be reported or particularly recorded because it didn't seem to be that unusual. So I don't see the context in which that is a smoking gun."
CBS: Saturday's Evening News didn't bother with a full report. Instead, anchor Paula Zahn delivered three brief items: the deal with Fox, Erbland's testimony and how Tripp talked to the Jones lawyers.
Friday, February 13: A front page "analysis" piece in Friday's Washington Post carried this headline: "To Some in the Law, Starr's Tactics Show a Lack of Restraint."
ABC: On cue, World News Tonight picked up on the theme. After two stories on Iraq, Peter Jennings claimed that Starr's "tactics have been very widely discussed this week. Is he being too aggressive for one thing?"
Reporter Linda Douglass gave time to proponents and detractors, but the agenda matched Starr's opponents as those upset by Starr got more time and the last counterpoint. Douglass began:
"The anguish on the face of Monica Lewinsky's mother was the best evidence yet of how rough Kenneth Starr is willing to play. Prosecutors say that sometimes comes with the territory."
Following a clip of former federal prosecutor James Cole, Douglass continued:
"But many prosecutors wonder if Starr's tactics are too rough. Some examples: wiring Linda Tripp so she could collect evidence on her friend. Sending FBI agents to a college fraternity house to question Lewinsky's younger brother. And most striking, forcing Lewinsky's mom to testify about her private conversations with her daughter about her sex life. Former prosecutors say those methods may be distasteful, but they are used all the time."
Former federal prosecutor Sean O'Shea elaborated on that point before Douglass cited the example of prosecutors making Tim McVeigh's sister testify against him. She picked up:
"But does this case, which involves the possibility of lying in a civil deposition about sexual affairs, warrant such strong- arming?"
David Schertler, former federal prosecutor: "You don't use those no holes barred techniques in the less serious felonies or the misdemeanor cases. You reserve them for he cases tat are really serious"
James Cole: "Is it really necessary, is this the appropriate case to take an extreme measure like this?"
Douglass: "In fact, several former prosecutors told ABC News they would never pursue charges of perjury in a civil case in the first place. But because these charges involve lying and cover up by the President, others say Ken Starr has no choice."
O'Shea explained how the involvement of the President elevates the importance of the case, before Douglass concluded:
"Most criminal investigations are conducted quietly, behind the scenes. This case is unusual because the American people are watching and they don't always like what they see."
CBS: Dan Rather gave the whole case 28 seconds devoted to the plight of Marcia Lewis, claiming that in Thursday's grand jury appearance "Lewinsky's mother screamed and had an anxiety attack after hearing transcripts and listening to secretly made tapes of her daughter."
NBC: Tom Brokaw spent 24 seconds reciting a pep talk Bruce Babbitt gave Interior employees about the request for an independent counsel. NBC's In Depth segments examined morality in America and why there's not more outrage about the charges against Clinton. Bob Faw discovered: "On Main Street America it's getting harder to tell right from wrong" because of the reluctance to pass judgement on others.
Continuing our "All Starr" edition, the MRC Media Reality Check fax report from last Thursday. The MRC's Tim Graham compared current network concern with the appropriateness of leaks from Starr to how the networks didn't care about 1992 leaks from Lawrence Walsh which made President Bush look bad. -- Brent Baker (fax report follows below)
Thursday, February 12, 1998 | Vol. Two, No.
7 | Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703)
Who Bashed the Partisan Leaker?
The unasked question in the pack of stories and polls suggesting the partisanship of independent counsel Kenneth Starr is this: has Starr done anything as politically damaging as Iran-Contra counsel Lawrence Walsh's October 30, 1992 reindictment of ex-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger four days before the 1992 election, complete with the leak of a note suggesting George Bush lied when he said he was "out of the loop" on Iran-Contra? The networks underlining Starr's partisanship have displayed a double standard:
ABC's Nightline reported: "When asked if there is a right-wing political conspiracy against Bill Clinton, 45 percent say yes, 43 percent no." The night of Walsh's leak, Peter Jennings began:
"The question of truth and character came up again today for President Bush." After reading the leaked Weinberger note, Jennings was the only anchor to mention the note was "released by the special prosecutor, who is seeking a new indictment of Mr. Weinberger for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair." But he didn't mention Walsh by name.
On CBS, after years of calling him a "Republican prosecutor," Dan Rather noted "By more than two to one, the public says special prosecutor Ken Starr is politically motivated to damage the Clintons." But the night of Walsh's leak, Rather cited new "grand jury evidence" without any mention of Walsh. Reporter Rita Braver ran two soundbites of unlabeled liberal columnist Anthony Lewis who, she related, "says it's ironic George Bush is trying to
make Bill Clinton's truthfulness an issue." Braver concluded: "The independent counsel insists the release of the note was timed to meet the schedule for Caspar Weinberger's trial, not to embarrass the President in the final days of the campaign."
NBC News touted a poll showing 64 percent said the Starr probe is "partisan and political" while only 22 percent found it "fair and impartial." But the night Walsh leaked, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw cited "new material that directly contradicts President Bush's claim he was out of the loop in the Iran-Contra affair." John Cochran noted: "the last thing George Bush needs is a reminder of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran." Andrea Mitchell added:
"The Iran-Contra developments were a gift to Bill Clinton, who's been struggling to counteract Bush's attack on his credibility." No one mentioned Walsh.
CNN President/Clinton pal Rick Kaplan followed his seminar on "Media Madness?" against Clinton with a special on "Investigating the Investigator," where reporters announced Starr's conservative connections, his links with the President's political opponents, have made him suspect." On the October 30, 1992 World News, Anthony Collings noted that "pre-trial court papers in the indictment of...Caspar Weinberger quote from Weinberger's notes seeming to contradict Mr. Bush." But Collings also found someone the others ignored who thought Walsh was "playing politics" -- then-Weinberger lawyer Bob Bennett, who said: "They've had this information for years. There can be no doubt any more that this is not about justice. This is an outrageous political prosecution."
None of the networks followed up on The Washington Times story of November 6, 1992 asking: why did the Clinton campaign issue a detailed press release dated the day before Walsh's re-indictment? Did the Walsh team leak to the Clintonites? It may seem late to seek answers now, but it should chasten media attacks on Starr, who worked quietly throughout the 1996 campaign as each new inquiry added to his plate (Travelgate, the FBI files) disappeared from the news media.
-- Brent Baker 
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