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CyberAlert -- 02/11/1997 -- Scandal Discoveries Ignored

MRC Alert: Scandal Discoveries Ignored; Food Lion in Prime Time

1. Friday brought more news of Harold Ickes directing donations and news that big donors got a federal contract. The networks: No stories.

2. Sunday provided news of Jim McDougal implicating Clinton, more on overnight White House guests and money for Hubbell: Only ABC takes a look.

3. Monday a paper revealed questionable DNC ties to a tax-exempt group, and an admission that the coffees were a fundraising tool: The networks: Not a syllable about any of it.

4. Court TV and ABC to air specials on the Food Lion case. Sam Donaldson's mad at Fox for showing ABC's outtakes which you can see.

1) Revelations and allegations in the Clinton scandals keep coming, but if you rely upon the network news you'd know very little about them. The last CyberAlert noted that the February 6 Boston Globe linked a Clinton policy decision to a promised $5 million donation that then-Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes tried to direct to various liberal groups. ABC's World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News: no stories. The CBS Evening News ran a full story on the role of Ickes.

Here's a summary of four big newspaper stories that appeared on Friday, February 7. None were covered by the broadcast networks:

-- The Boston Globe carried a front page story reporting that the investigation of Ickes "is being expanded to explore his dealings with a Massachusetts donor who last year became the nation's biggest individual donor to the Democratic Party, official said. The donor, Arnold Hiatt of Weston, the Chairman of the Stride Rite Foundation, gave $500,000 to Democratic Party committees after discussing suggestions with Ickes about how to donate the money."

-- The same day the Los Angeles Times reported that of the four Asian businessmen who Clinton dined with at a July 30 meeting which eventually raised $500,000, two could not legally donate to U.S. election campaigns.

-- The Wall Street Journal recounted the payoff for two Boston businessmen who attended a White House coffee. Alan Leventhal and Fred Seigel "went on to collect $3 million for the President's campaign...Last fall, they got what they wanted: Their company, Energy Capital Partner, was picked by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a major lending role in a new $200 million program to make federally assisted housing more energy efficient."

The donors got a great deal, the Journal discovered: "Breaking precedent, HUD entered into an arrangement allowing Energy Capital to be repaid ahead of the government if housing development loans defaulted. In another unusual twist, the federal notice outlining the loan program mentioned Energy Capital and Mr. Seigel by name."

-- A front page USA Today story began: "A controversial 230,000 name White House computer list now under congressional investigation includes far more political fundraising information than presidential aides have admitted, Gannett News Service has learned. Internal documents given to GNS show the database, from its very inception three years ago, was used, in part, for keeping track of people who had contributed to President Clinton's political campaign."

ABC's World News Tonight: No mention of any of these items on Friday or Saturday night.
CBS Evening News: No story Friday or Saturday night.
NBC Nightly News: No story Friday or Saturday night.

2) Sunday brought three relevant stories.

-- First, news that the new Time magazine included a story that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr is exploring whether

Webster Hubbell got hush money arranged by Clinton associates. Time revealed that top Clinton aide Michael Berman arranged in 1994 for consulting deal with Time-Warner.

-- Second, the New Yorker magazine released a big piece by James Stewart, author of Blood Sport, in which James McDougal claims that contrary to his earlier testimony, Bill Clinton did attend a meeting in which an illegal loan was discussed. McDougal also claimed that his wife Susan and Bill Clinton had an affair in 1992.

-- Third, the Los Angeles Times revealed that "In the two years before the November election, the President and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arranged for at least 577 friends and supporters to stay overnight at the White House, including many major party contributors..."

Network coverage:

ABC World News Sunday: Two full stories -- Jackie Judd reviewed the New Yorker piece, though not the affair charge. Judd began: "Jim McDougal is now telling prosecutors that Bill Clinton was involved in helping solicit an illegal loan for McDougal's ex-wife Susan..." Next, reporter Carla Davis picked up on the LA Times piece, noting that "the list of overnight guests includes Hollywood's rich and elite, including Steven Spielberg and Lew Wasserman, who each contributed at least $300,000 to the DNC." Davis also mentioned charges that Ickes wrote a memo to a potential donor on "how and where to contribute," but she concluded with the White House spin:

"But White House counsel Lanny Davis told ABC News today that Ickes did nothing improper since he did not solicit the contribution, only directed it. And, Davis says, there is no indication Ickes did anything else improper at any other time."

CBS Evening News on February 9: Not a syllable about any of the Sunday stories.
NBC Nightly News: Brief anchor-read item on McDougal changing his story.

3) Monday newspaper readers learned of two new developments on the Clinton scandal front:
-- Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish led his front page article: "Going well beyond what the White House has been willing to admit, former Democratic National Committee chairman Donald Fowler said in an interview that the DNC routinely solicited campaign donations from people after they attended White House coffees with President Clinton."


-- "Democrats Steered Gifts to Favored Tax-Exempt Group," read a front page Los Angeles Times headline. The Times reported that "Democratic official regularly steered would be campaign contributors to a tax-exempt and supposedly non-partisan voter registration group that in reality has close ties to the Democratic Party." The group in question is called "Vote Now '96" and is a 501(c)3 educational, non-profit group, raising the very same issues of mixing politics and tax-exempt activities that sunk Newt Gingrich.

Monday night network coverage:
ABC's World News Tonight offered viewers 9 minutes on OJ, but not one second on either scandal development. And ABC can't claim the Susan McDougal affair charge is beneath it -- that got a sentence Monday morning on a GMA hourly newscast.

NBC Nightly News devoted the least time of the three networks to OJ, just five minutes, and found time to summarize an American Dietetic Association survey of airports which found that the Chicago, Seattle and Pittsburgh airports offer the "widest variety of wholesome foods." But, NBC couldn't squeeze in anything about Clinton.

CBS Evening News dedicated half the show (11 minutes and forty seconds) to OJ, but, though CBS never told viewers on Sunday what James McDougal now says about Clinton, it did find time for Dan Rather to tell viewers Susan McDougal's view:

"Another new twist in the Whitewater investigation. Susan McDougal, President Clinton's former Whitewater partner, spoke with CBS News affiliate KTHV in Little Rock Arkansas today and she said her former husband and Whitewater partner, James McDougal, is now quote 'lying.' to try to get a lighter sentence for his role in a fraudulent Arkansas bank loan case. She says he's trying to do this by reversing his previous sworn testimony and now trying to implicate President Clinton."

Rather failed to note that Susan McDougal is in jail because she refuses to answer questions before a grand jury.

Reviewing the three evening shows over the past two weeks, two glaring holes jump out:
a) ABC's World News Tonight has yet to mention the White House database.
b) NBC Nightly News has not yet told viewers anything about the charges surrounding Harold Ickes.

4) Tuesday night February 11 Court TV will air a two-hour special edition of Cochran & Grace dedicated to the Food Lion case. Yes, that's Cochran as in Johnnie. The 10p-12 midnight ET show, USA Today reported, will air Prime Time Live's original 1992 report as well as Food Lion's 15 minute response which shows outtakes from ABC's undercover work. I've seen the Food Lion tape and it's pretty indicting of ABC.

Wednesday night Prime Time Live will look at the use of hidden cameras and how they covered Food Lion. The Washington Post reported that ABC offered Food Lion two minutes for an unedited response. Later Wednesday night ABC will air a 90 minute Viewpoint, hosted by Ted Koppel in place of Nightline, on the Food Lion case.

Speaking of the outtakes tape, when the Fox News Channel showed some of them back on January 22, the day of the punitive verdict, ABC reacted with outrage. ABC News VP David Westin told the New York Times: "I find it outrageously unfair that a news organization would proceed that way. The tape that Food Lion presented is a gross distortion of what actually occurred."

MRC news analyst Clay Waters caught this illuminating exchange on Larry King Live back on January 23:

Larry King: "Fox reporters say the outtakes, which were provided by Food Lion, showed ABC reporters staging evidence of spoiled meat."

Donaldson: "Well let me just answer that. These were outtakes that we didn't put on the air. Now, Food Lion made the same assertion and wanted to bring it to the court. And the judge said, having looked at all of this, No, there is no basis for making that charge. There is nothing in these outtakes that show staging. There is nothing in these outtakes that support Food Lion's assertions."

Defending his network, on the January 26 Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume noted that ABC had filmed 45 hour of undercover tape and "Food Lion turns around and takes from that 45 hours a tape that was produced for the trial -- about 20 minutes or so worth -- and produces a video that makes ABC look every bit as bad in the news business as Food Lion looked in the food business. It's the first I can remember an organization under assault from the news media doing to the news media what it claimed the news media had done to it."


-- Brent Baker

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