CyberAlert -- 02/16/1997 -- China Tie Quickly Dropped

China Tie Quickly Dropped; Horrible Hollywood Attack

1. The Chinese connection got the usual network reception: ignored at first, then one story, then dropped.

2. Peter Jennings analogizes a North Korean defector to Thomas Jefferson.

3. The Republican Party is controlled by "nasty" and "horrible men" who are "the forces of darkness." So says a Hollywood star.

1) After failing to report anything either Monday or Tuesday night about how Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry admitted that the White House coffees were designed to raise money, thus contradicting President Clinton's assurances, on Wednesday night (February 12) ABC's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News did run stories on Web Hubbell. The stories dealt with Hubbell's release from a halfway house and his refusal to cooperate with requests for documents. On February 13 NBC Nightly News caught up and ran a Hubbell story. (See the February 12 CyberAlert for details on how only CNN's Wolf Blitzer highlighted the McCurry/Clinton contradiction.)

Thursday morning's (February 13) Washington Post revealed that the Justice Department "has uncovered evidence that representatives of the People's Republic of China sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign." The news raised the possibility of economic espionage as Post reporters Bob Woodward and Brian Duffy noted, "the information gives the Justice Department inquiry what is known as a foreign counterintelligence component, elevating the seriousness of the fundraising controversy, according to some officials."

The networks didn't exactly jump on the story. On Thursday morning:
-- ABC's Good Morning America: MRC analyst Gene Eliasen observed that news anchor Elizabeth Vargas gave the news a brief mention in two hourly news updates.
-- CBS This Morning: didn't mention it at all, but did manage to find time to show four and a half minutes of co-host Jane Robelot learning to belly dance.
-- NBC's Today: also couldn't find time for the Chinese connection news in that morning's Washington Post, but news reader Ann Curry did squeeze in this from another Thursday morning newspaper story: "The Los Angeles Times is reporting that First Daughter Chelsea Clinton has been admitted to Harvard University as a member of the class of 2001. She has until May 1st to make up her mind."

By Thursday evening all three broadcast networks felt the allegation deserved a full story. Each included a clip of President Clinton calling it "a very serious matter" in response to a question posed during a late afternoon press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski offered some details on the activities of John Huang:
"At the time of the electronic intercepts, John Huang worked at the Clinton Commerce Department where he had frequent contacts with the Chinese government. He also had a high security clearance: top secret. In fact, government records obtained by NBC News show that on one day Huang received a number of classified documents from the Commerce Department. Phone logs show while he possessed those documents he the placed two calls to his former employer, the Lippo Group, which has strong business ties to China. And his appointment calendar shows on the same night Huang met the Chinese ambassador here at the embassy."

Given the network reluctance to pick up the story in the morning, however, makes you wonder how much emphasis the story would have received if Clinton had not commented on it.

Indeed, the networks have hardly been aggressive in their coverage. Here's what happened on Friday morning:
-- ABC's GMA: No mention.
-- CBS This Morning: Nothing in the second hour. (A massive half inch snow storm led Washington's CBS affiliate to air local "Storm Team" coverage during the first hour.)
-- NBC's Today: The 7am news included a re-run of Jim Miklaszewski's Nightly News story, but no further mention for the rest of the show.

Later on Friday, in response to a request from Senator Richard Shelby for documents about CIA Director nominee Anthony Lake's activities as head of the National Security Council, the White House released some interesting papers. As The Washington Post's lead Saturday front page story reported:
"White House aides sidestepped or ignored warnings from the National Security Council staff about some contacts the President and Vice President had with Asian American fundraisers now under federal investigation...In one case, a National Security Council official warned that a Democratic Party fundraiser was 'a hustler' trying to trade on his connection to President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, even presenting himself as a free-lance diplomat for the President. But White House aides allowed him into the Executive Mansion at least ten more times...The same NSC staff official also warned that a fundraising event at a Buddhist temple should be viewed with 'great, great caution,' because organizers 'may have a hidden agenda.'"

The New York Times and Washington Times also put the story on the front page. The networks on Friday night February 14:
-- CNN's Inside Politics ran a full story by Brooks Jackson.
-- ABC's World News Tonight: nothing.
-- CBS Evening News: not a word.
-- NBC Nightly News. Here's Tom Brokaw's complete report: "There's more tonight on what looks like the Chinese connection to Democratic Party politics. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski tells us a number of low level Chinese government officials were brought to the White House by an Asian American fundraiser for a photograph with the President, even though the President's National Security Council had recommended they not be allowed in. That was in 1995."

So, once network producers saw the Saturday front pages they prepared stories? Wrong. The ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows on Saturday didn't utter a syllable, but CBS Evening News anchor Paula Zahn told viewers: "Independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr has reportedly hit a snag in his Whitewater investigation. According to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Starr has conducted four mock trials. In each, the jury acquitted both President and Mrs. Clinton."

2) Peter Jennings made quite a stretch for an analogy on the February 13 World News Tonight. Introducing a story on the defection in Beijing of North Korean official Hwan Jang Yop, Jennings explained:
"In much of the world today, including Washington, governments and their diplomats are astonished still by the news that such a senior official should have defected from communist North Korea to the South. A diplomat in the Chinese capital Beijing said it was as if Thomas Jefferson had bolted from the young United States."

3) Actor Alec Baldwin doesn't think much of conservatives. The star of the Ghosts of Mississippi, who first gained fame as in The Hunt for Red October in 1990, made his feelings clear in an interview in the February issue of US magazine. MRC entertainment intern Kelly Weiss noticed this exchange:
US: "What do you predict the next four years are going to be like for President Clinton?"
Baldwin: "I believe that the people who run the Republican Party in this country are really rotten, nasty, horrible human beings and they want to hurt him. They want to bash him; they're pissed. The forces of darkness are going to try to give it to him bad."
US: "The Shadow speaks? Who are these evil men?"
Baldwin: "Newt Gingrich, who calls [Clinton] a lying scumbag every chance he gets, and Al D'Amato, the paragon of senatorial virtue."

Gee, calling Gingrich a "rotten..horrible human being" is so much nicer than Gingrich supposedly calling Clinton a "scumbag." Sounds like Baldwin is the one in touch with the forces of darkness.

-- Brent Baker