"Hosannas" for Clinton's "Virtuoso" Performance; "Good-for-Nothing" Tripp
3) Tragedy to triumph. Friday night the networks hit Clinton for going to Tiananmen Square, but by Saturday they were saluting his "virtuoso" press conference performance and how "he turned the memory of a massacre into a defense of democracy."
Reminder: Last night CBS repeated the Touched by an Angel episode crusading against the evils of McCarthyism in Hollywood. The episode originally aired on November 16, 1997. See the November 18, 1997 CyberAlert for details and quotes from the historically revisionist show.
Correction. Item #4 in the June 25 CyberAlert began: "Another example Wednesday night of an issue on which the networks see know need for balance, fairness or honesty." Obviously that should have read "see no need for..."
Anatomy of a hit. No matter what he does there are always a few in the media willing to apply the most odious interpretation to Ken Starr's actions. One question on one Sunday morning interview show yesterday demonstrated how a single anti-Starr question can get amplified in other news shows when it fills a theme a reporter or producer wants to highlight.
Step One. The
question and answer on Meet the Press.
Step Two. The
answer becomes a news item in and of itself.
And John Palmer
raised the attack in his June 28 NBC Nightly News piece.
Quinn, from Meet the Press: "I think he should be ashamed of himself."
Sunday night ABC gave a couple of vague sentences to the news that Newsweek had interviewed Dale Young about what Monica Lewinsky had told her, but NBC gave it just a sentence. Only CBS provided enough detail to enable viewers to understand the substance and relevance of the new information. Still glowing from President Clinton's "extraordinary joint appearance" with Jiang Zemin Saturday morning China time, as Sam Donaldson described it, a day later on Sunday night the network correspondents remained in awe of his performance.
Some quick notes on the Sunday, June 28 broadcast network evening shows:
-- ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday. Sam Donaldson went through Clinton's day of going to church and seeing the Great Wall. Recalling his "extraordinary joint appearance," Donaldson allowed U.S. Ambassador James Sasser to praise Jiang Zemin for putting it on television before Donaldson concluded with admiration for Clinton:
"Predictions of dire consequences if he went to Tiananmen Square have turned into widespread Hosannas of praise for President Clinton on the issue of human rights. Murphy's Law says things could still go wrong, but so far the famous Clinton luck, or whatever it is, is holding."
On the Monica front, Karla Davis began her story: "ABC News has confirmed that Dale Young, a 47-year-old New York resident and friend of Monica Lewinsky gave new details to a Washington grand jury about the alleged affair between the intern and the President. Young says in May 1996 Lewinsky confided in her that while her relationship with Mr. Clinton was sexual in nature, he put limits on his physical involvement in fear he may be questioned about it."
That was it for Dale Young. Davis moved on to previewing Linda Tripp's testimony and relaying the Quinn attack on Starr. See item #1 above.
-- CBS Evening
News. Bill Plante provided a run down of Clinton's day of church-going
And if it's not oral sex then it's not sexual relations and if it's not sexual relations then Clinton didn't lie.
-- NBC Nightly
News anchor Len Cannon opened the show by portraying Clinton as so
powerful and persuasive that he's put fear into the Chinese:
Clinton ended the week on Friday by getting hammered by the networks over China's human rights abuses and his agreement to appear in Tiananmen Square, but his joint appearance with Jiang Zemin, in which he mentioned Tiananmen Square, caused the networks to do a 180. Saturday night ABC, CBS and NBC applauded his effectiveness. "A virtuoso performance for both Presidents," oozed ABC's Sam Donaldson. On CBS Scott Pelley insisted that "with his forceful statement in the news conference the President was able to deliver a sharp rebuke to his critics." NBC David Bloom lauded Clinton for "lecturing Chinese President Zemin on personal freedom." If only the Clinton team hadn't delayed the Beijing arrival ceremony and press conference until Friday night east coast time, a lot more people could have seen the glowing networks coverage.
During the press conference, unprompted, Jiang Zemin denied that China made any effort to influence the 1996 U.S. election. CBS gave the comment one sentence leading into a quick soundbite. But ABC, CNN and NBC Saturday night didn't utter a word about it, so from Thursday night through the weekend that one CBS mention represents the total network evening newscast focus on the whole China money matter.
Some highlights from Friday and Saturday night. First, Friday, June 26. CBS, CNN and FNC led with the Supreme Court's sexual harassment decision; China topped ABC and NBC.
-- ABC's World
News Tonight. Sam Donaldson previewed the Tiananmen Square ceremony just
hours away (at 9pm ET) and how Clinton spent his day visiting a village.
Donaldson reminded viewers that he was denied access the day before to one
dissident, but another got through and Donaldson ran a soundbite from him
before running a clip of National Security Adviser Sandy Berger denouncing
China's human rights record as "terrible."
-- CBS Evening
News. Scott Pelley painted Clinton as the victim of Chinese ingratitude,
leading into the same Berger soundbite played by ABC:
"Journey to China" segment Dan Rather delivered a tough piece on
Tiananmen Square in which he scolded Clinton. To give you a flavor, here
are Rather's opening and closing words.
-- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom argued that as Clinton promises to make a statement on human rights he "confronts the ghost of Tiananmen Square." Like ABC, NBC featured a soundbite from a dissident. Bloom got Yang Hai, just released in Xian by the authorities. As Clinton's speech writers draft his press conference remarks, Bloom observed, "he knows that critics back home will say he's been too soft or too hard on the leaders he used to call the butchers of Beijing but tonight will embrace."
Next, Tom Brokaw asked U.S. businessmen whether human rights should be a factor in their decisions. His piece also featured Paul Wellstone as well as some exiles who think more business will make China more democratic. In listing China's offenses, Brokaw included selling human organs.
Saturday, June 27:
-- CBS Evening
News. Scott Pelley began his top of the show story with this well-crafted
verbiage taking the viewer through the day:
Up next, Bill
Plante offered more clips from the "dramatic, impromptu debate"
between Clinton and Jiang Zemin. One item selected as a highlight by
Plante: "Without being asked, Jiang insisted that the charges China
had contributed to American political campaigns were false."
-- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom explained the dichotomy of the day: "This was an extraordinary day in U.S.-China relations. It was to many unconscionable -- the American flag flying over Tiananmen Square, President Clinton reviewing communist troops on the very ground where Chines soldiers massacred pro-democracy demonstrators nine years ago. It was also unprecedented. A spirited debate on human rights, televised live, watched by millions throughout China, Mr. Clinton lecturing Chinese President Zemin on personal freedom..."
Balancing all the
emphasis on dissidents, NBC aired a story by Jonathan Alter about how
things are better than ever. He began:
-- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. The only story CNN aired 20 hours after the event dealt with how Beijing residents were trying to see Clinton. Reporter Rebecca MacKinnon contrasted the reality of Beijing life with the promise of Chinese leaders. Noting that a CNN camera-crew was detained for an hour because it was interviewing people, MacKinnon observed: "As President Jiang was telling the world that the Chinese people had freedom of speech, the police were telling us that it's against the law to interview any Chinese citizen without prior government approval."
Linda Tripp: Good for nothing. Normally I don't deal with Geraldo Rivera, but now that he's part of the NBC News team, not just a little-watched cable network, and covering Clinton's China trip for the Today show, what he says is relevant. Here's an exchange I caught from Friday night's edition of his CNBC show, Rivera Live, with John Hockenberry filling in as host and Rivera making a brief appearance at the top of the show from Beijing.
"If, as you say, the Linda Tripp testimony leads to a Monica
indictment it will be the ultimate betrayal of Monica."
Can't we all get along? -- Brent Baker 
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