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CyberAlert -- 06/13/1997 -- Better Late Than Never: CBS & NBC on Fundraising

Better Late Than Never: CBS & NBC on Fundraising

  1. The CBS Evening News raised the charge that John Huang passed along secret info, but CBS quickly dropped the story.
  2. NBC Nightly News aired its first fundraising scandal story in three weeks, but it mostly relayed what newspapers reported weeks ago. Yet in one case that's still sooner than ABC or CBS.

1) As relayed in the June 11 CyberAlert, on June 10 the New York Daily News reported: "U.S. intelligence officials have told the White House and Congress they've collected evidence that Democratic money man John Huang passed classified trade information to his Indonesian ex-bosses."

Wednesday night CBS became the first and only broadcast network to catch up with the story, though Dan Rather claimed it was a new discovery by CBS. On the June 11 CBS Evening News Rather announced:

"New and exclusive information tonight about another high-profile legal case. This one centering on a key Democratic political campaign fundraiser and his possible leak of classified economic information to an Asian business connection. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is on the case."

Schieffer, as transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, then explained:

"Investigators are closing in on John Huang, the onetime Democratic Party fundraiser and former Commerce Department official. Sources tell CBS News the government now has information, collected by electronic eavesdropping devices, suggesting that while Huang was at the Commerce Department, he did pass on classified trade secrets and other information to his former employer, The Lippo Group, an international company with ties to China. House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon, who's been pushing the investigation, believes the new information may be the smoking gun investigators have been looking for."

CBS never picked up on April 30 and May 15 Washington Times stories on Solomon's concerns about how Huang attended more classified briefings than previously acknowledged and often made suspicious calls to the Lippo Group or the Chinese Embassy soon after a briefing. But Wednesday night, after a soundbite from Solomon, CBS finally highlighted Solomon's concerns as Schieffer continued:

"Attorney General Reno and FBI Director Freeh gave Senators an early read on all this during an April visit to the Capitol, but Solomon has since learned that Huang's access to classified information went even deeper. In a letter to FBI Director Freeh, he says Huang not only saw Commerce Department trade secrets, but also had access to sensitive State Department message traffic through a computer network of the Commerce Department. As Solomon sees it, this is just one more reason to take the case out of the hands of Congress and the Justice Department and appoint a special prosecutor. Dan."

(Later, Wednesday's Evening News ran a full story by Sharyl Attkisson, prompted by the big DNC fundraiser attended by Clinton, on the massive DNC debt and how the party is not returning donations as it had promised.)

So just how important did CBS consider its "new and exclusive information" on John Huang? They didn't run a syllable about it the next morning on Thursday's CBS This Morning.


2) Thursday's NBC Nightly News ran a lengthy (two and a half minute) piece on the Clinton fundraising scandal. But, as the saying goes, after watching the story you can say the glass is half full or half empty. On the positive side, NBC became the first broadcast network to detail how many key figures are refusing to talk. On the negative side, all NBC did was finally got around to reporting information weeks after it was highlighted elsewhere. But, on the positive side, at least NBC covered these developments, unlike ABC or CBS.

Hooking their story on the June 11 DNC fundraiser featuring President Clinton, on Thursday night (June 12) NBC Nightly News ran its first Clinton fundraising scandal story in more than three weeks. The last one, a story on the Lums pleading guilty, appeared on May 21. (On June 11 Brokaw did do a brief anchor-read item on Clinton attending the fundraiser that night).

Noting Clinton's attendance at the fundraiser, NBC's Lisa Myers pointed out: "But some of last year's big donors were not around, including this man, Ted Sioeng, a new target of congressional investigators. Sioeng, his family and associates gave $400,000 to the Democrats. Who is he? He manufactures Red Pagoda cigarettes in Asia and runs a pro-Beijing newspaper in California. Investigators say they want to ask him if he's also an agent for the Chinese government, a charge his lawyers deny. But investigators tell NBC News Sioeng is long gone, hiding somewhere in Asia..."

Sound familiar? As cited in the May 13 CyberAlert, the May 12 Los Angeles Times first disclosed Sioeng's possible espionage: "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."

So it took NBC more than four weeks to get around to this revelation. But, that's better than ABC or CBS which have yet to report a word about it on their morning or evening shows. (CNN reported it at the time.)

Back to Myers' Thursday story. She next noted that Charlie Trie is "also long gone" and has been spotted at a restaurant in Beijing. In fact, Myers reported, a "half dozen key targets" have fled and more than two dozen are taking the Fifth. "The result: a virtual wall of silence."

Myers explained that among those refusing to talk are the organizer of the Buddhist Temple event for Al Gore "and 23 monks who took vows of poverty, but whose names appear on checks. Now their lawyers say they'll take vows of silence. And there's the biggest player of all, John Huang, who raised more than three million dollars for the President, including this check from someone dead for ten years. He too is taking the Fifth."

Nice of NBC to tell viewers, though very briefly, about the DNC getting checks from the dead and others who do not really exist. Last Friday the New York Times broke this story of how fundraisers hid the true source of donations. CBS and CNN aired stories that night. Now NBC has at least mentioned it, but ABC's World News Tonight viewers still don't know anything about it.

Myers did conclude with some news about Democratic obstructionism that neither ABC or CBS mentioned Thursday night:

"Today Republicans on the Senate committee investigating this scandal tried to offer immunity to some low level players, including the monks, to get them to talk, but Democrats vowed to block it, reinforcing the wall of silence."

-- Brent Baker