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12 May 1998

Our current howler: Why would Bossie doctor the tapes? He has Lisa Myers for that!

Synopsis: David Bossie should have just released the full tapes. Lisa Myers clips ’n snips by herself.

Lisa Myers report
The Today Show, NBC, 5/1/98

Lisa Myers report
InterNight, MSNBC, 5/1/98

We couldn’t help chuckling, here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, reviewing network news treatment of the Hubbell tapes, to see the creative work Lisa Myers had done at doctoring the tapes for her viewers. The Burton Committee has made it clear that even they didn’t alter the tapes. Well, Lisa Myers did, in an egregious fashion, to make them sound worse for the Clintons!

At issue is the phone call where the Hubbells are discussing whether Mrs. Clinton would be “vulnerable” to a probe of over-billing. Here is the transcript of one part of the call, with one statement set out in bold:

MRS. HUBBELL: You didn’t actually do that, did you, mark up time for the client?

HUBBELL: Yes, I did. So does every lawyer in the country.

MRS. HUBBELL: That would be one thing that you would look into the firm for [in a countersuit].

HUBBELL: Suzy, you are getting ahead.

MRS. HUBBELL: No, I am just thinking out loud. That’s an area where Hillary would be vulnerable. Not unless she overbilled by time, right?

HUBBELL: No, you are talking and not listening. We are on a recorded phone. So I am trying to explain...

It’s not clear what Hubbell objects to in his wife’s characterization, or why she still doesn’t know even basic facts about why her husband is sitting in prison. But it is quite clear, in the segment printed in bold, that Mrs. Hubbell is not accusing Mrs. Clinton of over-billing. She states first that she is “just thinking out loud;” and it is clear to any listener, when she closes out with her question, that she doesn’t know whether or not Hillary has engaged in this conduct. (Hubbell tells her at length, later in the call, that Hillary has not over-billed.)

But that’s not the way NBC viewers heard the response on The Today Show on Friday, May 1, by the time Spin Doctor Lisa Myers got out her scissors and did a little surgical work on the tapes. Incredibly, this is the conversation that Myers’ viewers heard--a conversation in which Mrs. Hubbell makes a very different presentation altogether:

MYERS: At another point, Mrs. Hubbell talks about over-billing clients.

MRS. HUBBELL (on tape): That’s an area where Hillary would be vulnerable.

HUBBELL (on tape): No, you are talking and not listening. We are on a recorded phone.

And that is precisely the way the transcript was presented on the screen to NBC viewers as the tape rolls--with no ellipsis whatever to let viewers know that material has been left out. Not that this would have been an appropriate deletion even if an ellipsis had been used. Myers’ cut in the tape completely changes the meaning of the presentation by Mrs. Hubbell--changing it from a question about whether Mrs. Clinton would be vulnerable, to an assertion that she would be. The charade was even worse by that evening; in a tape played on MSNBC’s May 1 InterNight program (apparently taken from that evening’s NBC News), Myers doctors the conversation in a more egregious fashion:

MYERS: The Hubbells seem worried that Mrs. Clinton could be vulnerable on an issue that sent Hubbell to prison in the first place--overbilling clients.

MRS. HUBBELL: You didn’t actually do that, did you? Mark up time for the client? Did you?

HUBBELL: Yes, I did. So does every lawyer in the country.

MRS. HUBBELL: That’s an area that Hillary would be vulnerable.

HUBBELL: Suzy, you’re talking and you’re not listening. We are on a recorded phone, OK?

Again, there was absolutely no indication of any kind that the viewer was hearing an edited phone call. Viewer had every reason to think they were hearing the phone call just as it happened. And by the way, Myers’ opening statement is completely inaccurate, if you listen through to the end of this phone call. Hubbell makes it very clear, later on in this call, that Mrs. Clinton would not be vulnerable to charges of over-billing clients.

This is truly egregious, disgraceful misconduct--a grotesque deception of NBC viewers.

And yes, we’re especially amused because this is exactly what David Bossie bragged this week that even the Burton Committee didn’t do; Bossie stated on This Week, in his defense, that at least the Burton Committee never altered the tapes. As it turns out, the committee never had to make these deletions--they had enterprising journalists like Myers for that! NBC viewers heard badly doctored tapes, in which a question was changed into accusation. But the doctoring wasn’t done by GOP spinners--it was done by Dr. Myers herself!

I don’t suppose we have to tell you that these Myers reports were nightmares of error and spin--filled with howlers of various types about the indictments and the phone calls. But in the matter of Mrs. Clinton’s supposed over-billing, Myers outdid even herself. She never tells viewers that Webster Hubbell later explicitly says that Hillary did no over-billing. Instead, she takes a knife to Mrs. Hubbell’s response, and deftly changes day into night. David Bossie didn’t need to doctor the tapes. Dr. Myers was standing by--fresh scrubbed!