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MSNBC, the New Clinton News Network? By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 18, 2004


MSNBC DIED THIS WEEK, but few have yet noticed.

Third among cable news networks, this joint venture begun in July 1996 by Microsoft and General Electric, owner of NBC, has lagged far behind rival Fox News Channel and CNN in viewers. But it has offered an alternative source of viewpoints, ranging from “Hardball” hosted by veteran Democrat Chris Matthews to “Scarborough County” hosted by former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough from the conservative Florida panhandle.

“It was time for a change, to bring a new perspective to the channel,” an NBC executive this week reportedly told the New York Times. This “new perspective” will be a new President and General Manager of MSNBC – Richard N. Kaplan.

With Kaplan’s entrenchment, MSNBC will, like the other establishment networks, almost certainly become just another cookie cutter stamping out a daily batch of predictable one-sided, pro-Democrat, anti-Republican, pro-Leftist propaganda.

Rick Kaplan, 56, is a huge, energetic bear of a man who got into the wrong profession a third of a century ago. Ever since, he has tried to twist his jobs as a broadcast news producer and executive into the role he wanted instead – partisan political operative, Leftist ideologue, and, since 1977, political ally and intimate friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Along his Leftward way, Kaplan has tarnished the reputations of broadcast network news departments from ABC to CNN….and he is about to do the same to ruin MSNBC. Our only consolation is that his partisan propaganda will be infecting one of the tiniest audiences in all of television. The larger lesson is what this reveals about an NBC willing to hire such a person to run one of its networks.

“Kaplan was born in the Rogers Park section of Chicago,” wrote David Margolick in a January 1998 Vanity Fair profile. “His childhood was filled with friends and Democratic politics; Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and John F. Kennedy were icons in his home.

“He envisioned a life of political activism,” Margolick continued, “and joined the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy as an advance man. A week later, when Bobby Kennedy won the California primary, Kaplan prepared to switch sides, and headed to Kennedy’s hotel to meet him. He ended up that night alone on a Santa Monica beach, watching the waves, listening to radio reports about Kennedy’s slow death. He contemplated a radically altered future outside politics.”

Turning instead to broadcast journalism, Rick Kaplan was a producer for Walter Cronkite in 1977 when Susan Thomases introduced him to the obscure Attorney General of Arkansas named Bill Clinton.

“Both gregarious, both personable, both deeply interested in politics, both news junkies, both charmers, both voracious eaters (their first encounter, appropriately enough, was in a restaurant), they hit it off instantly,” wrote Margolick. “’I just remember he was a terrific guy,’ Kaplan said. ‘Fun.’”

“If anything,” wrote Margolick, “Kaplan was at least as close to Hillary, who shares his Chicago roots; he even hired her to work on coverage of the 1980 Democratic convention. When Chelsea was searching for a 49th-birthday present for her dad, Kaplan sent along a titanium golf club fashioned from a melted down Soviet missile. After Kaplan’s younger daughter underwent serious surgery in 1994, calls from both Clintons helped a near-miraculous recovery, Kaplan said.”

During the 1980s Kaplan helped talk Bill Clinton out of giving up politics to take a million-dollar job on Wall Street. After Clinton’s much-ridiculed speech at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, writes Margolick, “it was Kaplan’s shoulder Clinton cried on, over Chinese takeout…” and Kaplan who persuaded Clinton that his political career was not over.

(Clinton’s droning speech became such a national joke that he was invited by Democrat Johnny Carson to appear and play his saxophone on the “Tonight Show,” which turned the Arkansas Governor into a star.)

After a stint during the 1980s as Executive Producer of ABC’s “Nightline,” Kaplan was promoted to Executive Producer of ABC’s “Prime Time Live.” In 1992 he dispatched reporters to work undercover as employees at the supermarket chain Food Lion, then a target of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) trying to put the company out of business. The ABC reporters got Food Lion jobs by using credentials and references ABC faked with the help of the UFCW.

The resulting expose, aired by ABC around election time that year, depicted Food Lion as an unethical seller of outdated and contaminated foods. Food Lion sued, and a jury that saw the 45 hours of video from which Kaplan and ABC distilled a 10-minute hit piece awarded Food Lion $5.5 million in punitive damages for fraud committed by Capital Cities-ABC against the company.

Such a judgement is extremely rare because it requires clear evidence not only of wrong and false information but also of malice, a calculated and knowing use of falsehood by journalists to cause damage to an innocent party. These damages were greatly reduced by subsequent liberal judges, and a jury fine of $35,000 against Kaplan himself was overturned by a judge.

What the un-aired videotape revealed was that in several instances the wrongdoing ascribed to Food Lion was actually committed by or at the direction of these ABC producer fake employees. In one instance, when a genuine Food Lion employee noticed and cleaned a dirty meat slicer that ABC was preparing to film as evidence, one of the ABC producers could be heard “muttering obscenities.” It was evident that ABC was covering the story with a pro-union, anti-company agenda and was stacking the deck to produce the propaganda it wanted to air. The man in charge of this Leftist smear piece was Executive Producer Rick Kaplan.

But by 1992 Kaplan was beginning to leave any pretense of journalistic ethics behind. “Kaplan,” wrote Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, “has been the prime example of a TV news producer who did not just blur, but demolished the wall between reporting on liberal politicians and openly helping them.”

With Bill Clinton at risk of extinction in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Kaplan reportedly influenced ABC News to delay reporting for three crucial days its discovery of the 1969 Clinton letter to Col. Eugene Holmes. This is the notorious letter, as described by Accuracy in Media, in which “Clinton confessed to having tricked Col. Holmes, getting him to violate federal law to get him ROTC deferment” and in which Clinton “said he loathed the military.”  The delay gave Clinton time to prepare damage control to blunt the letter’s impact.

While Executive Producer of ABC’s “Prime Time Live,” Kaplan in 1992 advised candidate Bill Clinton how to deal with the Gennifer Flowers affair issue, recommended that the Clintons appear on rival CBS’s program “60 Minutes,” and advised the Clintons on how to handle that interview.

In his 1994 book Strange Bedfellows, a study of press coverage of the 1992 campaign, Los Angeles Times reporter Tom Rosentiel described, in Margolick’s words, “a frantic evening when Clinton called Kaplan repeatedly, baring his soul and seeking strategic advice.”

“Weeks later,” reported Graham, “when Clinton’s campaign struggled in the New York primary, Kaplan rode to the rescue again, getting Clinton booked on the Don Imus radio show. Kaplan not only arranged the interview, he prepared him for it – and ABC cameras taped both ends of the conversation and aired it on ‘Nightline.’ Later, Kaplan did not deny a Spy Magazine report that he boasted of attending Clinton campaign staff meetings and helped set up the campaign’s press office.”

On the eve of the 1992 election ABC reporter Sam Donaldson had taped interviews with both President George H.W. Bush and candidate Bill Clinton. Kaplan ordered Donaldson to do a tag line to his Clinton interview “to make it clear that you don’t hate Clinton.” This tag, of course, weakened Donaldson’s credibility and the power of his questions, leaving an impression that the reporter was somehow biased and that the interview therefore should be taken with a grain of salt. The effect was to tilt the two interviews more in Clinton’s favor.

Kaplan “played golf with Bill shortly before the inauguration,” according to the liberal magazine The New Republic, “and watched movies with both Clintons at the Governor’s mansion.”

In 1993 Kaplan spent the first of his nights in the Lincoln Bedroom in the Clinton White House. He was among those thus rewarded for services to the Clintons at least as valuable as the $100,000 they would charge mere political donors for a single night’s stay in this public property.

In late October 1994, “Kaplan killed [ABC reporter] Jim Wooten’s exclusive interview with an Arkansas state trooper who claimed a Clinton aide had tried to muzzle him,” reported Margolick. “After that, Wooten refused to do any more pieces on Whitewater.” Another ABC news producer told Margolick that “the bar kept getting higher” for such investigations into Clinton dealings with Whitewater.

“Phone logs revealed that on the night Vince Foster killed himself Kaplan called Hillary Clinton….” wrote Margolick. “When Webster Hubbell resigned, he called him too. ‘I happen to like Webb,’ Kaplan said.”

[In February 2003 ABC re-hired Kaplan as a Senior Vice President to oversee “World News Tonight,”“Nightline,” the ABC News Political Unit gearing up for 2004 election coverage, and “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”  MSNBC must have paid a pretty penny, not disclosed, to hire him away from ABC. Nowadays ABC openly acknowledges its pro-Left, anti-Conservative political bias.]

By 1997, after Kaplan moved to Cable News Network as one of its chieftains, with evidence of campaign fundraising improprieties threatening to submerge Bill Clinton, CNN unleashed a Kaplan-produced special.  U.S. News & World Report found that Kaplan had ordered CNN reporters to “limit the use of the word ‘scandal’ in reporting on Clinton’s campaign fundraising.” The message to CNN reporters was clear: go easy on the boss’s friends in the White House.

As the Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998, wrote Graham, “Kaplan leapt into action at CNN with two-hour specials attacking any and all Clinton critics. The programs included ‘Media Madness,’ which asked ‘what the hell are you people doing’ probing Bill Clinton’s sex life?; and ‘Investigating the Investigator,’ which described Ken Starr as ‘suspect’ over his ‘religious and Republican roots.’  In May, Kaplan devoted an hour to demonizing Rep. Dan Burton, who was compared by reporter Bruce Morton to English despot Oliver Cromwell.”

Kaplan saw to it that CNN gave softball coverage to the Clintons and threw hardballs at their enemies. Under his watch, CNN came to be known as the Clinton News Network for its pro-Bill&Hill bias. As Bill O’Reilly of rival Fox News Channel has noted, “financial reporter Lou Dobbs quit CNN because Kaplan was cutting into ‘Moneyline’ to give Mr. Clinton some marginal coverage.”

(CNN also came to be called the Castro News Network for its coverage unwaveringly favorable to the Cuban Marxist dictator. Kaplan and Castro have been good friends since at least 1978, Margolick reported, and during a Castro United Nations visit to New York while they were dining together, Kaplan invited Fidel to come with him to a private dinner with President Clinton, deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, and Susan Thomases. “Castro paused, for what seemed like an hour, before declining,” wrote Margolick. “He didn’t want to embarrass Clinton, he explained.”)

In 1998 CNN President Kaplan also oversaw production of the first documentary for his new show NewsStand.  The documentary called “Tailwind,” narrated by hyper-Leftist journalist Peter Arnett, alleged that during the Vietnam War the United States had used poison gas against women and children in Laos. Challenged for proof by other journalists and the Pentagon, CNN’s documentary fell apart like the tissue of lies it was. But that did not stop its use around the world as a tool of Marxist anti-American propaganda.

Kaplan’s Leftist love did not end with the Clintons. “The November 20, 2000, Newsweek reported Kaplan had helped Al Gore prepare for a debate against Bill Bradley,” wrote Graham. “At a rehearsal for a California debate on March 1, former CNN President Rick Kaplan joked, ‘Let’s do the debate now.’” But as Graham notes, Kaplan “was still CNN president in March,” while acting openly as a Gore partisan and enabler.

“I keep looking for what I should be ashamed of, long and hard,” Kaplan told Margolick of those who question his Clinton sycophancy and lack of journalistic distance from those he covers, “and I just can’t find anything.”  He dismisses his critics such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media and Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center as “liars.”

And now, trailing clouds of glory, Rick Kaplan reportedly will be taking control of the helm at MSNBC.

The problem this poses for MSNBC is that nobody familiar with Kaplan’s past can trust anything reported on a network under his control. And without viewer trust in its integrity, a news network dies. This is why CNN’s credibility and ratings collapsed during Kaplan’s reign of blatant bias. MSNBC could scarcely have found a worse President anywhere than this poster boy for Left-wing media bias.

Among the first things Kaplan installs in a new office, wrote Margolick, is what he calls ‘”my favorite picture in life.’ It was a 1986 Vladimir Sichov photograph of a homeless man, who holds a sign declaring ‘I’m hungry. Please help’; copies of [betrayer of President Ronald Reagan] David Stockman’s The Triumph of Politics are visible in a bookstore window behind him. ‘That’s trickle-down economics,’ Kaplan said” of the crude Leftist agitprop photo.

Kaplan’s announced coming may already have begun changing things at MSNBC. Monday, the day this was first reported, Chris Matthews with a moistened finger in the wind aired an episode of “Hardball” slanted almost entirely to the Left, nearly bereft of even a pretense of balance from the other side.

(MSNBC has already started to go “fluffy,” its shows larded with guests during the current ratings sweeps to promote shows on other NBC channels such as the Today Show’s Matt Lauer and his Guess-Where-I-Am travel contest.)

It’s easy to anticipate that Republican Joe Scarborough will soon be either purged or gelded. Gelding would take the form of Kaplan requiring that every conservative guest and statement on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” be “balanced” with a Leftist guest or statement. At best this will dilute the show and destroy its savor and ability to balance Matthews. At worst it will goad Scarborough to turn his attention to relatively apolitical topics like the Michael Jackson scandals. 

Needless to say, MSNBC Democrats like Matthews or the “Countdown” laughing Lefty Keith Olbermann will get no comparable command to “balance” their Left-leaning shows with right-wing voices and views.

The concept behind any such Kaplan directive would, of course, be the old “fairness doctrine” that John F. Kerry now says he would like to re-impose on licensed broadcasters. This doctrine pretends to open the airwaves to a wide diversity of views. In practice, as past decades of experience showed, it does the opposite. By making broadcasters afraid of punishment for failing to satisfy some bureaucrat’s or political ideologue’s arbitrary notion of balance, most broadcasters simply ceased airing controversial views.

An enforced “Fairness Doctrine” has a chilling effect on free speech.  It would let Democrat politicians demand that any talk radio station airing Rush Limbaugh or Lowell Ponte be required to air Al Franken, whose new show commences, appropriately enough, on the eve of April Fool’s Day.

The evidence of Senator Kerry’s disingenuousness in calling for such political control over free speech is clear. A segment of broadcasting is still under a “fairness doctrine.” The Charter of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting requires PBS television stations and National Public Radio stations to deal with topics in a fair, balanced and even-handed way.

Does anybody with more than a room temperature I.Q. or Third Grade education believe PBS and NPR are anything more than house organs of the Left and the Democratic Party?

If Senator Kerry is serious, then let him do what Republicans should be doing. He should call for Senate and House subcommittees to do objective research to determine whether PBS and NPR are violating their own “fairness doctrine” by airing programs that tilt relentlessly to the Left.

We should be following the example of Great Britain, where serious consideration is underway over whether to dismantle the taxpayer-supported British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) altogether. Leftists at the BBC slanted their coverage against the recent Gulf War with such virulent, toxic bias and dishonesty that crews on British warships switched away from BBC to private Rupert Murdoch’s SkyNews. It seems that BBC has been taken over by outright ideological enemies of Britain – much as has happened in the U.S. with anti-Americans now controlling most of what airs on PBS and NPR. Free, capitalist societies do not need, and are harmed by having, government-owned, politically controlled broadcast networks.

The biggest uncertainty in how Leftist Rick Kaplan will tilt MSNBC comes from his love, verging on worship (remember, he believes in their “near-miraculous” power to heal his daughter), of the Clintons.

If Hillary Clinton wants this year’s Democratic nominee to lose so that the White House will be open for her to run in 2008, then her friend and vassal Rick Kaplan will use MSNBC to help defeat John F. Kerry or whomever else becomes the Democratic 2004 presidential candidate.  His personal loyalty to the Clintons seems even stronger than his ideological love of the Left.

If this comes to pass, then Joe Scarborough will likely remain on the air until the day following the November election, when a loyalist of the Hillary 2008 campaign will replace him.  That’s trickle-down politics. That’s Rick “Capo” Kaplan, reportedly the new boss of a now-dying private network that once held much promise, MSNBC.

We may soon be changing the nickname on its gravestone to Marxist-Socialist-NBC.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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