CyberAlert -- 05/13/1997 -- Bananas First; Chinese Agent Eats with Clinton

Bananas First; Chinese Agent Eats with Clinton

1. ABC puts it all into perspective: Don't let Whitewater come before bananas.

2. NBC finally reports the White House appeal to the Supreme Court; only ABC airs a full story on Monday's court filing.

3. The FBI is looking at whether a Clinton dinner-mate is an agent for communist China. But the networks spike the story.

4. "What is this, the Chinese Reds? What decade are you in Chris?!" Eleanor Clift demands of Chris Matthews in arguing that China is no enemy.

1) For the second time during the presidential excursion to Mexico and the Caribbean, ABC's John Donvan emphasized how the locals were tired of Whitewater. Last Tuesday (May 6) Donvan, reporting from Mexico City, reassuringly noted that Whitewater "has not ruined this Mexico trip. Mexicans could care less about Whitewater. They are joining the administration in calling this summit a success."

From Barbados, on ABC's World News Tonight/Saturday Donvan told anchor Rene Poissant about Bill Clinton's reaction to Kenneth Starr's speech that day complaining of White House stonewalling. Donvan made clear what's really important:

"...When the President fended off a Whitewater question by saying, 'Look, I'm just down here doing my job,' the Caribbean journalists burst into applause, in part because they had heard enough about Whitewater and wanted to talk more about bananas."

2) NBC News finally catches up, but only ABC devoted a full story to the White House's appeal to the Supreme Court. Eight days after ABC, CBS and CNN told their viewers about the White House going to the Supreme Court in order to hide notes of conversations Hillary Clinton had with lawyers, NBC finally got around to the story. On Saturday's (May 10) Nightly News, reporter David Bloom mentioned the maneuver in a story from Barbados on Clinton's reaction to Kenneth Starr's charges.

Monday the White House filed its appeal to the Supreme Court over the Hillary notes. NBC did some more catch up Monday (May 12) night. Jim Miklaszewski began a short story by noting the filing. He observed that "The White House hasn't faced these kinds of legal challenges since the days of Richard Nixon."

Miklaszewski then mentioned the impending House committee vs. White House "constitutional showdown" over the Clinton administration's refusal to turn over documents. Next, NBC caught up on the Republican foreign money story which they had not reported last Thursday. In a question that implied an ongoing problem, Tom Brokaw asked Miklaszewski:

"Jim, what are the chances that that House committee will now begin looking into these charges that Republicans were also accepting money from foreign sources which of course turned out to be illegal?"

Of the broadcast networks, only ABC provided full stories on the Supreme Court appeal, though World News Tonight packaged the news to favor the White House spin.

The 8am newscast on Monday's Good Morning America included a story from Tim O'Brien who noted: "Not since Richard Nixon and his infamous Watergate tapes has a President gone to the Supreme Court in an effort to withhold potential evidence in a criminal case..."

By nightfall ABC had edited out that point. Peter Jennings painted it as an easy to understand case of attorney-client privilege: "In Washington today White House lawyers went to the Supreme Court to file an appeal on behalf of the First Lady. At issue is a right most Americans take for granted, attorney-client privilege...." Instead of O'Brien, viewers saw a piece from Jackie Judd that failed to raise the Watergate comparison.

The CBS Evening News devoted one minute and 37 seconds to a tornado in Miami, that didn't kill anyone, before Dan Rather squeezed in this brief item:

"The President also stepped back into the Whitewater fray today, with an appeal to the United States Supreme Court to throw out a subpoena from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Starr is demanding notes of Hillary Clinton's Whitewater related conversations with her government lawyers."

"Her government lawyers"? Since when did she buy them? And note that Starr is "demanding" not that Clinton is "denying" or "hiding" or "withholding" or "obstructing" or "stonewalling."

3) China funneled $1 million into the U.S. in "a secret plan to influence American politicians and policy," the May 19 Newsweek disclosed. Monday's Los Angles Times drew the scandal closer to the Clinton Administration, revealing that President Clinton shared bread with a Chinese agent. Reporter James Risen's front page story on May 12 began:

"U.S. officials are investigating whether an executive of a Chinese-language newspaper in Southern California who sat next to President Clinton at a Democratic fundraiser in Century City in July is an agent of the Chinese government, according to sources familiar with an ongoing federal inquiry."

The man in question, Ted Sioeng, and his family, own the International Daily News. Risen reported that after acquiring the paper in 1995, they "changed its independent editorial stance to one that is pro-Beijing." And in what you would think would be enough to put him in Clinton's dog house, Risen noted that Sioeng "imports Chinese cigarettes into the United States."

John Huang organized the Century City fundraiser and Sioeng also attended the Buddhist Temple event with Al Gore in Hacienda Heights.

Coverage: Nothing, not one syllable about Sioeng on any of the broadcast network shows on Monday morning or evening. Nothing on Today and Nightly News. Zilch on This Morning and Evening News. Not a word on Good Morning America or World News Tonight. MRC intern Jessica Anderson, returning for another summer of news watching, did observe that GMA mentioned the Newsweek story. At 8am news reader Elizabeth Vargas noted that China denied the Newsweek story, calling it "shear fabrication."

And the networks can't say they didn't have a visual. CNN's Inside Politics ran video of Sioeng sitting beside Clinton at the fundraiser.

4) Maybe a Chinese agent sharing a meal with the President of the United States isn't considered important by the media because reporters don't really buy that anachronistic view of the PRC as an evil communist regime. Take a look at how Newsweek's Eleanor Clift and Steve Roberts, recently of U.S. News, reacted to the term "Red China." MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught and transcribed the April 30 exchange on CNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.

Chris Matthews: "I will now take a shot at Janet Reno. She calls the White House to say the Chinese government, the Chinese government, the communist Reds are trying to infiltrate and interrupt and exploit our campaigns to their advantage. She makes one call to Tony Lake, the President's advisor and doesn't get through to him and she just drops it!"

Eleanor Clift: "What is this the Chinese Reds? What decade are you in Chris?!"

Matthews: "Well what do you want to call them? What do you want to call them? Oh you want to call them the good guys fine. Call them what you want, the Beijing communist government. Oh, are you with Clinton on this to say they are no longer communist? Are you saying they're not communist anymore? I call them the Reds."

Eleanor Clift: "That's not the issue anymore. It's outdated language. It's Cold War language."

Matthews: "Oh I think they would probably like it. They would prefer it."

Clift: "The Chinese maintain an embassy in Washington as do other countries. They're not here just to show the tourists around. They're here to influence government policies. The Chinese may have done it very ineptly. But I don't think you're gonna find any evidence of espionage or so forth. And you are also going to find that they tried to influence Republicans more than Democrats because the Republicans are at odds with them."

A bit later Steve Roberts pitched in: "This whole business of the Chinese Reds. Eleanor is absolutely right Chris. You are wallowing in it. You need the Reds to be an enemy. And you know you don't have the Russians to kick around anymore. The fact is they are more capitalist than we are in many ways."

Matthews: "I think we make a big mistake when we think a communist country which has no human rights at all, we saw that in Tianemen Square, is somehow a benign post-communist government like Bill Clinton. I think Bill Clinton made a big mistake, said the former communist power China."

Steve Roberts: "Why do you think this country is so weak that we have to quake under the threat that somehow the Chinese are influencing our elections. This thing is blown way out of proportions. It's people like you who say, 'We are so weak that the Chinese can manipulate us.' That's undervaluing the strength of our political system enormously. And the fact is there is no evidence that they succeeded."

Clift: "Right."

Two veterans of two of the major news magazines are grilled from the right by a former aide to House Speaker Tip O'Neill. When reporters are to the left of a Democratic operative for a liberal leaders can there be any doubt about liberal bias?

-- Brent Baker