Accuracy in Media

Reminiscent of Geraldo Rivera’s foray into Al Capone’s vault, after tantalizing his audience with the promise of a dramatic payoff if they would take the journey with him, Geraldo has stumbled again. Back then, in one of the most promoted TV shows ever, when the vault was finally opened, there was nothing there.

Once again Geraldo has tantalized his audience with a grandiose assertion – that Independent Counsel Ken Starr might be removed from office based on what would be revealed in dramatic audio tape recordings. And the outcome was much the same, an empty promise that must have stung his loyal audience who tune into to hear the latest White House spin on the Clinton scandals.

The recordings were done by author Dan Moldea, whose book, A Washington Tragedy, backed Ken Starr’s findings that Vincent Foster had committed suicide in Ft. Marcy Park. Geraldo, on his nightly CNBC show of July 27, referred to the so-called “damning tape recordings” which purportedly reveal that Starr’s deputies, Hickman Ewing and Jackie Bennett, Jr., are said to, quote, “promise reporter Moldea substantive grand jury information provided his reports would be sympathetic and favorable to Ken Starr.” This caught our attention.

Geraldo then proceeded to read a statement from Moldea explaining his motive for coming forth with this recording, which in essence was to encourage an inquiry into leaks from Starr’s office. Geraldo concluded his so-called bombshell, dramatically stating that, quote, “both Mr. Starr and Mr. Clinton have been rocked by profound developments in this epic struggle” unquote.

The next night Moldea was on the show to play a sample from his tape. Geraldo was hyping. Quote, “Now comes apparent proof of what Steven Brill alleged in his explosive article, that Starr’s prosecutors have been willing illegally to provide certain kinds of information, especially to sympathetic journalists,” unquote. Geraldo asked Moldea if Ewing or Bennett had offered him anything secretive or substantive. That’s when Moldea dropped a bombshell on Rivera. Quote, “Well, neither man was a source. Neither man gave me direct information. What each of them gave me was the process, the process by which information was collected. Hickman Ewing told me that non-public information is given on an off-the-record basis to reporters who are personally approved by Ken Starr who appear to be in sync with the OIC’s position on key issues,” unquote. That was the payoff, and the recorded sound bite didn’t even live up to that.

After telling Jackie Bennett that he wanted to come pay his respects to Starr and ask him a few questions – still more than a week before Monica Lewinsky’s name first broke publicly – Bennett brought up the issue of ground rules. He asked Moldea to confirm that in calling on Starr, he was, quote, “not looking for substantive information.” Moldea agreed. Bennett then stated, “Cause if you are, then there are other people who really are better to talk to.” And that’s it. That’s the only tape he played, and Geraldo repeated that last phrase and shook his head as the segment ended as if this proved his point.




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