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CyberAlert -- 07/28/1997 -- WH Solicitation

WH Solicitation; Hearings Important; Media Reporter Scolds Nets

  1. Four big revelations in papers over the past week, but two are ignored and Sunday's LA Times report on how Maggie Williams solicited a check in the White House gets a full story on just one network.
  2. ABC aired an interview with Charlie Trie in which "he scoffs at the notion that he might be working as an agent for the Chinese."
  3. Haley Barbour's testimony led to two morning interview segments. With both sides dirty, NBC's Sara James hoped: "Does it end here?"
  4. A poll found that 80 percent find the hearings important. And, a leading media reporter declared: "The real significant failure here has been by NBC and ABC which has simply blown off these hearings."

1) Three big newspapers, over the past week, broke four big revelations on the Democratic fundraising front. Two were ignored by all the broadcast networks plus CNN, two of the three broadcast networks skipped a third big story, and the fourth, which appeared Sunday, generated the first full evening show story. To review, in date order:

-- REVELATION #1: A front page headline in the Sunday July 20 Los Angeles Times announced "White House Helped Boost Trie Onto Asia Trade Panel." The Times discovered:

"Newly available records obtained by The Times show that the White House went to extraordinary lengths to promote and place Trie...on the Presidential Commission on U.S. Trade and Investment Policy. To give Trie the position, according to e-mail messages, Clinton signed an executive order in January 1996, expanding the membership of the commission, which was already full. Then Trie was able to serve even though U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky refused to sign a required waiver discounting any problem with potential conflicts of interest, according to government memos marked 'highly confidential.'"

Coverage: Nothing that night or since on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today or NBC Nightly News nor the morning shows on Monday or since: ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning or NBC's Today. (See the July 22 CyberAlert for details)

-- REVELATION #2: "Clinton Sought Role as Fundraiser, Memo Says" announced a front page New York Times headline on Thursday, July 24. Contradicting earlier White House recollections, the New York Times revealed that "President Clinton personally requested a list of potential contributors whom he offered to call..."

Coverage: In the morning, only NBC's Today ran a story -- in the 8am news. By evening, NBC had lost interest and only the CBS Evening News touched it, devoting half a story to the disclosure. That was it. Nothing then or since on ABC's World News Tonight or GMA, or on NBC Nightly News or on CNN's The World Today. (See the July 25 CyberAlert for more details)

-- REVELATION #3: "5 in Lippo Deal Got a Meeting at the White House," declared a July 26 Washington Times front page headline. Washington Times reporter Warren Strobel began:

"Five Chinese businessmen who were part of a $1 billion energy deal involving Indonesia's Lippo Group were given a tour of the White House and held a meeting that may have included campaign finance figure John Huang, according to White House documents." The group met with Mark Middleton, a top aide to Chief-of-Staff Mack McLarty. Strobel explained the implication: "The meeting is the latest revelation of an instance in which Mr. Huang and others apparently traded on their easy access to the White House in order to impress business clients."

Coverage: Zilch on Saturday's Today, though news anchor Bob Kur found time to report that during Friday's hearings former RNC Chairman Richard Richards had "refuted" testimony from Haley Barbour. Also skipping the latest Huang revelation: ABC's World News Tonight Saturday, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and CNN's The World Today.

All did, however, air stories on Clinton and Gore going to Lake Tahoe to promise more federal spending to clean up the lake. NBC Nightly News ran two stories. They began the first with this on-screen chyron about the Clinton/Gore trip: "To the Rescue."

On Sunday, the only mention was generated by Senator Specter who raised the issue on Fox News Sunday. But ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows Sunday night continued to ignore the story.

-- REVELATION #4: A front page headline in the July 27 Los Angeles Times: "First Lady's Aide Solicited Check to DNC, Donor Says" Another Sunday, another big LA Times story, but unlike the July 20 item this one got some attention. Maybe because a short version appeared in Sunday's Washington Post. But first, the story. Reporters William Rempel and Alan Miller's opening:

"Contradicting accounts by the Clinton administration, one of the Democratic Party's biggest campaign donors says he gave a $50,000 check to the first lady's chief of staff on White House grounds in 1995 in direct response to solicitations by aides of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Southern California entrepreneur Johnny Chien Chuen Chung said he was seeking VIP treatment for a delegation of visiting Chinese businessmen when he was asked to help the first lady defray the cost of White House Christmas receptions billed to the Democratic National Committee.

"Chung, who has refused to cooperate with investigators unless granted immunity from prosecution, told The Times during interviews that he realized such special treatment hinged on his willingness to make a political contribution. 'I see the White House is like a subway: You have to put in coins to open the gates,' Chung said in his first public comments on the controversial episode."

Later, referring to Hillary Clinton's Chief-of-Staff Maggie Williams, the Times reporters emphasized: "Chung's detailed version of White House events, combined with other newly available information, challenges the President's insistence that Williams played 'a completely passive' role in relaying an unsolicited $50,000 check to the DNC."

Coverage: Not a word on Sunday's Good Morning America or Today, but the interview shows all raised the story, or at least Chung's subway analogy. On ABC's This Week, Linda Douglass read the subway quote to Senator Tom Daschle. During the Meet the Press roundtable Tim Russert asked NBC reporter Lisa Myers to comment on it. On Face the Nation CBS reporter Rita Braver asked Senator John Glenn for his reaction to the "explosive story."

An explosive story according to a CBS reporter, but here's all it got on the July 27 CBS Evening News, in full:

Anchor John Roberts: "A California businessman claims he handed a $50,000 check to a top aide of Hillary Clinton on White House grounds. Johnny Chung told the Los Angeles Times that the White House is like a subway, quote 'you have to put in the coins to open up the gates.' The White House says Chung did not receive any special treatment for his donation."

ABC's Bob Zelnick squeezed in a couple of sentences about Chung at end the of a story about Sunday morning interview show comments from Trent Lott, Pete Domenici and Tom Daschle about immunity, the independent counsel and Janet Reno.

NBC Nightly News, however, devoted its lead story by Joe Johns to the LA Times discovery, the first and only full story over the past eight days on any of the four Democratic fundraising scandal revelations.


2) Bob Zelnick's story aired second on ABC's World News Tonight Sunday. Up first: what anchor Carole Simpson billed as an exclusive interview with Charlie Trie who Simpson asserted "is speaking for the first time tonight, exclusively to ABC News." Linda Douglass narrated story from Washington, explaining that Trie is living in China but may return because his lawyers say he will be indicted and should come back to make deal.

Douglass continued: "Trie, a former Little Rock restaurant owner and friend of President Clinton's stands accused of giving more that $640,000 in possibly illegal foreign contributions to the Democrats. Trie told ABC News Democratic officials never asked him where the money was coming from or explained the campaign finance laws, but he scoffs at the notion that he might be working as an agent for the Chinese government."

Trie: "I have nothing to hide. But I don't know how become this about spying. This kind of thing totally is false."

Douglass then concluded: "Another reason Trie is considering returning, is that the State Department has asked the Chinese government to help locate Trie. Last week Chinese officials said they didn't know if he was in China even though he's been in Beijing for weeks living in a hotel registered under his own name."

He may "scoff at the notion," but why would a U.S. citizen with nothing to hide flee to communist China?


3) Friday coverage. Haley Barbour's testimony prompted ABC's first weekday GMA interview segment on the hearings since the first week. Charles Gibson asked Cokie Roberts: "How serious are the charges against Haley Barbour? Very serious, or simply a chance for Democrats to say, 'A-ha, you Republicans do it, too'?" Cokie Roberts replied: "I think more the second."

That's just the opposite of what Linda Douglass told World News Tonight viewers on Thursday night, as she concluded: "All along the Democrats have called the loan a sham transaction, but legal or not, one thing the hearings have made clear is that both parties were so consumed by money laws were bent if not broken."

Gibson followed the liberal campaign finance reform line, later inquiring of Roberts: "Cokie, everyone agrees this is a horrible system that we have, the campaign finance system. Do you see reform coming out of these hearings, or are we going to be left with the same system that everybody agrees doesn't work?"

Friday's Today also featured the first interview segment since the first week. Here's a humorous exchange caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens. As transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, NBC anchor Sara James seems to think that since both sides did the same thing it's time to end the hearings.

Tim Russert: "It was Republican Fred Thompson who scored the points by saying, 'Will you at least acknowledge, Mr. Barbour, that you owe some money to a gentleman in Hong Kong, who you took, borrowed money from and never repaid the loan?' But overall, the Democrats got their poster boy. Haley Barbour was not hurt all that much."

Sara James: "Does it end here, Tim?"

Russert: "No, it will continue on today and then next week, Sara, the Democrats go back in the witness stand. The country right now still believes they all do it, although even some Democrats are willing to acknowledge the excesses by the Clinton Administration were much worse than the Republican Party thus far."

Now if only a few more journalists would acknowledge that.

Friday evening only the CBS Evening News of the broadcast networks ran a story. Dan Rather announced: "Today's session of the Senate's dirty campaign money hearings was not easy listening for Republicans. It featured the spectacle of one party Chairman openly refuting the testimony of another on questions of foreign money."

Bob Schieffer explained: "Barbour claimed yesterday the loan had nothing to do with politics, but that too was contradicted by Richards who said Barbour clearly had politics on his mind when he asked him to arrange the loan." Schieffer ended with the usual everybody's equally guilty spin: "It's not clear if Barbour will be called back to the committee to re-explain all this, but John Glenn, the committee's top Democrat says, it just show the influence of foreign money on both parties and that it ought to stop."


4) No one cares about the hearings? So say reporters. ABC"s Forrest Sawyer asserted on the April 10 Nightline: "The first week has now drawn to a close, and it's fair to say that this highly-touted, much-anticipated examination of a problem most Americans consider critical, is so far a bust. Little public interest, no headlines, and no focus."

Really? Here are the results of a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll announced on the July 27 Fox News Sunday.

"How important are the Senate campaign finance hearings?"

Important: 60%
Somewhat Important: 20%
Not that Important: 20%

Recognition that the networks are failing to fulfill their responsibilities has spread to the mainstream press. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz rejects the notion of liberal media bias, but on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday Kurtz charged:

"The real significant failure here has been by NBC and ABC which has simply blown off these hearings, just blotted them out of their evening newscasts, which is their front page, on many, many days of the hearings so far and I just think that is just giving the back of your hand to an important story."

We've been saying that for three weeks, but we welcome Kurtz's agreement.

-- Brent Baker