CyberAlert -- 06/09/1997 -- ABC & NBC Ignore Dead

ABC & NBC Ignore Dead; GOP's Disastrous Disaster; Clift's Idea

  1. 1) Dead people and people who never existed contributed to the DNC. NBC ignores the news and ABC focuses on donations to the GOP.
  2. 2) ABC devotes more time to Chelsea's graduation as Bill Clinton's words evoke an emotional response from Peter Jennings.
  3. 3) After emphasizing how Republicans are delaying disaster aid, ABC discovers even conservatives are mad at House Republicans. The delay will "kill us" says one North Dakotan.
  4. 4) Eleanor Clift says sex life of Paula Jones should be probed and that the Constitution should be changed to protect Clinton.
  5. 5) CBS names an Executive Producer for Bryant Gumbel's show. Good news: Three of the last three news magazines he ran failed.

1) Friday's New York Times carried a front page exclusive headlined: "Donations to Democrats Traced to Phony Firms and Dead Person." Reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Christopher Drew discovered:

"At least $200,000 in contributions to President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign came from donors that federal investigators now suspect were fictitious, including checks from several phony corporations and a $3,000 draft funneled through the account of a dead woman."

Big news, this evidence of a systematic effort to hide the true source of money spent by Democrats? Not at the networks. ABC's GMA, CBS This Morning and NBC's Today all ignored the revelation on Friday morning. By that evening they surely had plenty of time to put together stories, right? Yes, but two of the three broadcast networks didn't. The CBS Evening News aired a story, but not NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight. (CNN aired a piece by Brooks Jackson on The World Today.)

Noting that at least 20 individuals and corporations that donated to the DNC cannot be located, Dan Rather declared on the June 6 CBS Evening News: "This is the strongest evidence yet of attempts to hide the real donors. One sure clue: some donors to the Democratic National Committee, to the DNC, were DOA, dead and buried long before the checks were written. Bill Plante is at the White House. Bill, what about these grateful dead?" Plante showed a couple of checks and noted that they were submitted by John Huang and Charlie Trie.

ABC skipped the development, but what did World News Tonight find newsworthy: Republican fundraising. After spending 24 seconds noting that the Justice Department says the Supreme Court should hear an appeal from the White House to keep Kenneth Starr from reading the notes lawyers took in meetings with Hillary Clinton, Jennings to 30 seconds to alert viewers:

"And there's a note tonight about Republicans and campaign money. New evidence that foreign money may have been used to elect Republican congressional candidates in 1994. A letter from a Hong Kong financial company to the Republican Party Chairman released this evening says $2 million dollars was sent from the Hong Kong company."

So, ABC has a consistent standard that news about foreign money in congressional campaigns is always worth reporting? Let's go to the videotape.

-- COMPARISON #1: "FEC Probing Illegal Funds from India," declared an April 23 page one headline in The Hill, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill. Reporter Jock Friedly discovered:

"In the first solid evidence of illegal campaign contributions by a foreign government official in a dozen years, the Federal Election Commission is investigating at least $46,000 in contributions from a senior Indian intelligence officer to 18 current and former Democratic congressional candidates. The confidential FEC investigation -- which some critics fear has run off-track -- focuses on the activities of Lalit Gadhia, a long-time Maryland political activist who has ties to Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and pled guilty last summer to a felony charge of making false statements in campaign disclosures. Gadhia has admitted receiving $100 bills from a top Indian Embassy official and illegally laundering the cash through Indian-Americans to election campaigns of India-friendly Democrats..."

ABC Coverage? As reported in the April 25 CyberAlert, none of the networks picked up the Hill revelation.

-- COMPARISON #2: About two months ago the Wall Street Journal reported that a large donor's money may have come from the Chinese government. The April 1 story began: "Charlie Yah Lin Trie, a central figure in the controversy over foreign contributions to the Democratic Party, received a series of substantial wire transfers in 1995 and 1996 from a bank operated by the Chinese government. The transfers from the New York office of the Bank of China, usually in increments of $50,000 or $100,000, came at a time when Mr. Trie was directing large donations to the Democratic National Committee."

ABC Coverage? As elucidated in the April 2 CyberAlert, nothing on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News. (CNN's The World Today did offer a brief anchor-read item.)

2) So what did ABC find more newsworthy than the scandals of either party? Chelsea Clinton's graduation from the District's Sidwell Friends school. ABC devoted more than a minute to the subject. World News Tonight viewers heard an audio clip of President Clinton's address to the students (the media were not allowed to attend). The clip ended: "....Though we have raised you for this moment of departure and we are very proud of you, a part of us longs to hold you once more as we did when you could barely walk, to read to you just one more time Goodnight Moon or Curious George or the Little Engine that Could."

The passage moved Peter Jennings emotionally. Immediately following, he sighed and uttered: "whoofs." (As in "who" with a "efs" added on)

Tom Brokaw, who also ignored the New York Times story, played a nearly identical clip of Clinton, but wasn't so impressed. Brokaw playfully lectured: "Hey Mr. President, don't forget Green Eggs and Ham."

Of course in all the fawning over this life passage, as Mona Charen pointed out on Sunday's Capital Gang, none noted that while Chelsea attended a private school Clinton opposes using vouchers to let his neighbors escape District schools.

3) Network coverage of the disaster relief bill is looking like a re-run of the government shutdown story. The media blame the Republican House and then do stories on how the public blames the Republicans. As documented in the January 1996 MediaWatch study of the late 1995 shutdown, conducted by Tim Lamer, in the 48 network stories in which reporters allocated blame, "23 assigned blame to the Republicans, but not one held Clinton culpable (25 blamed both)." To read the full study go to:

Friday's World News Tonight story presented a case study. ABC reporter John Cochran began: "Flood victims in Grand Forks do not understand why Republican leaders refuse to pass an aid bill without strings attached."

Tomi Lundby, flood victim: "The river took our home, our posessions, our neighbors, our neighborhood and we still have our spirit. But the government is taking our spirit and our strength. And that's what's going to kill us."

Cochran: "Doug Spray is a life-long conservative Republican."

Doug Spray: "I believed in these guys and I voted for some of them and I'm beginning to lose my faith in the conservative party."

Cochran: "What makes flood victims especially angry is when Republican leaders insist there is plenty of short term help available. Food and temporary housing -- like trailers."

Senator Trent Lott: "Trailers. And if they need more we'll make them in Mississippi for them real quick. We can turn out a bunch of them in nothing flat."

Cochran: "People whose homes and businesses were destroyed say GOP leaders should realize that what they really need is money to rebuild."

After a soundbite from a flood victim, Cochran continued: "Republicans say they're only doing what both parties have done for years -- trying to force a reluctant President to accept items he does not want by tacking them onto a popular bill, like disaster relief."

Following another Lott bite, Cochran concluded: "One item Republicans want would prevent the Census Bureau from using counting methods they fear might inflate the number of minorities and others who usually vote Democratic. Another item would guarantee there would not be another government shutdown this fall, like the recent ones that hurt Republicans in the election. But some Republicans in Congress now worry that the delay in disaster aide will hurt them again so they're urging their leaders to stop playing hardball. No sign of that yet. John Cochran, ABC News, Capitol Hill."

The Republican position would have seemed more persuasive if Cochran mentioned that the Constitution demands an "enumerated" Census; that given how the Democrats used the INS in 1996 to create more favorable voters that there's a legitimate fear of what the administration will do with the Census; or that Clinton himself said after the last shutdown that he'd never let it happen again -- so why does he oppose that portion of the bill. And removing the Census and shutdown portions would hardly leave a "clean" bill. Clinton supports riders funding troops in Bosnia, more WIC funding and addtional SSI dollars for disabled immigrants.

4) Forced to choose between her feminist and Clinton-defender halves, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift decided to abandon the usual feminist line on sexual harassment and instead rationalize Clinton's legal maneuvers.

-- First, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught Clift defending tactics employed by attorney Bob Bennett, tactics so offensive to women's groups that though the case involves Clinton even they denounced Bennett. From the June 2 edition of CNBC's Equal Time:

"The discovery process works both ways though. And we have already seen that Bennett has brought a former lover to Washington. Interviewed a former lover of Paula Jones'. I think it's fair game in a sexual, yes it is, it's fair game legally."

-- Second, what we really need Clift thinks, apparently serious, is a constitutional amendment to protect heroic men like Clinton, who are battling for women's progress, from bothersome lawsuits from women he personally abuses. As reported in the June 16 New Republic, the Jones case has generated "its comic media moments." Among them: "There was Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, interviewed on a Washington radio station, floating the idea of 'a constitutional amendment, maybe, to ban lawsuits' against the President."

I don't recall Clift suggesting a law to protect federal judges from uncorroborated charges about events that allegedly took place a decade earlier. Clift didn't have any doubts about Anita Hill, insisting on the October 12, 1991 McLaughlin Group that Hill "has done nothing to suggest she has a credibility problem, whereas Clarence Thomas has done a lot to suggest that he can lie pretty easily."
As opposed to Bill Clinton?

5) The still yet to be titled Wednesday prime time news hour on CBS with Bryant Gumbel now has an Executive Producer: Michael Rubin, who held the same position with Coast to Coast, America Tonight and Street Stories (hosted by Ed Bradley). Though Coast to Coast, which ran for a few weeks in January, will return for a six week fill-in run this summer, the three CBS news magazines all share one thing in common: they didn't make it and were canceled within months.

Is it too much to wish that Rubin's touch will also doom Gumbel's hour? Here's hoping that Rubin goes four for four.

-- Brent Baker