Espy Blackout; CNN's President Must Pay; O'Leary Ignored
- The networks
spent nearly three years ignoring or complaining about the cost of
the Espy probe.
- A judge
reduced the punitive damages but upheld the Food Lion decision, so
the new President of CNN must still pay an award.
- The August 27
Media Reality Check fax report: charges against Hazel O'Leary
ignored and a revelation about a proposed White House payoff to a
"Top Ten Things Overheard During the Clinton/Kennedy Sailing
1) On August 27 a federal
grand jury indicted former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy on 39
felony charges. But as pointed out in a press release last week
distributed by the Media Research Center, the television networks had
long ago abandoned the Espy story. In the press release, MediaWatch
Associate Editor Tim Graham reported that when Espy resigned, in
October of 1994, CBS News reporter Bill Plante relayed: "White
House officials hope now that with Espy's resignation, this story will
simply be over."
The White House got its wish
as the television network newscasts and morning news shows blacked the
story out for almost three years. "Since Espy resigned on October
3, 1994, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and CNN ran a grand total of just two full
stories and five anchor briefs on the scandal swirling around
him," Graham explained.
Thanks to MRC online manager
Joe Alfonsi, you can read the entire press release, put together by
Keith Appell, on the MRC's home page. Address at top of this
While on Espy, a few other
interesting notes about the lack of coverage:
In addition to the two full
stories cited above, on the March 31, 1997 World News Tonight ABC's
John Martin narrated a "Your Money" segment on the cost of
independent counsels. Prompted by a GAO report, Martin showcased the
Espy investigation as a big waste of money. He began:
"They are legal lions
conducting monumental investigations. Leon Jaworski looking into
Watergate. Lawrence Walsh looking into Iran-Contra. Kenneth Starr
looking into Whitewater. But today's GAO report shows that many cases
are far from monumental and the time and money spent on them are far
from inconsequential. Example, the investigation of whether former
Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy repaid corporate favors worth perhaps
a few thousand dollars." Martin emphasized that without any real
results the independent counsel had already spent $6.6 million.
Martin might have had a
better appreciation of the independent counsel's work had ABC bothered
to report some earlier convictions. As detailed by MRC news analyst
Gene Eliasen for an April MediaWatch newsbite, "Martin failed to
note that a federal jury convicted a California agribusiness company
of illegally showering Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts this past
March, and a lobbyist for Tyson Foods was convicted of lying to
investigators who were looking into allegations that Tyson had given
gifts to Espy, his girlfriend and another high-ranking department
On Thursday, August 28, the
day after the Espy indictments, CBS This Morning didn't report it. Not
one word. But, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski observed, the alleged
news show did find time to broadcast interviews on which microsoda is
best and on a teacher in Maine who has a large number of twins in her
elementary school class.
The August 27 World News
Tonight and August 28 Good Morning America carried full stories on
Espy. But, the MRC's Gene Eliasen reported, both stories emphasized
how the investigation cost taxpayers $9 million. Similarly, CNN's
World Today story led with the cost angle, noted MRC news analyst Clay
2) A federal judge ruled last
Friday that Rick Kaplan, now President of CNN, must pay $7,500 to Food
Lion for his role as Executive Producer of ABC's Prime Time Live when
it ran the infamous undercover story on the grocery chain. I don't
know how much play this decision received in your Saturday paper, but
neither the Boston Herald or Boston Globe ran a story on it so I'll
assume that a lot of papers skipped it.
In a front page story, the
August 30 New York Times reported that judge N. Carlton Tilley of the
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina
"ruled yesterday that Capital Cities, ABC and two ABC employees
should have to pay the Food Lion supermarket chain only $315,000 in
punitive damages." The judge decided that the $5.5 million
awarded by the jury in January was "excessive in comparison with
the $1,402 that the jury awarded for actual damages suffered by Food
Lion" for the cost of training the fraudulent staffers from ABC.
In addition to reducing the
award to Capital Cities, which owned ABC at the time the piece was
broadcast, and the ABC Television Network, the judge also lessened but
did not drop the penalty on Kaplan and producer Ira Rosen, who is
still with ABC. They must each pay $7,500, down from the original
Though the judge reduced the
punitive damages, he rejected ABC's request to reverse the jury ruling
completely. ABC News, the New York Times explained, claimed "that
under the free speech clause of the First Amendment, punitive damages
may be awarded only if the news report was false and broadcast with a
reckless disregard for the truth." The judge countered:
"Despite the many protections necessary for the proper operation
of the press, it would be a peculiar rule indeed which immunized
illegal activity, undertaken with a consciousness of wrongdoing, from
punishment and deterrence."
But in a statement, ABC News
made clear it still doesn't think it did anything wrong and remains
proud of its story: "By going undercover and telling a vital
story about Food Lion's unsanitary food-handling practices we were
following a great tradition of American journalism."
Jury foreman Gregory Mack,
the AP reported, "was furious over the judge's decision." He
told the AP: "That's a joke...You're looking a situation where
we're barely punishing the network."
For background on the Food
Lion story and media reaction, see the January 23 and January 27
editions of CyberAlert as well as the page 8 article in the February
3) Here's an edited version
of the August 27 edition of the MRC's Media Reality Check fax report
written by Tim Graham. To see the entire report, go to the MRC home
page. Address at the top of this CyberAlert. All issues at:
Topics include how the other
networks ignored the charge against Hazel O'Leary, a charge that even
George Stephanopoulos called "very serious;" instead of
investigating, the networks forwarded White House denials of charges
that the Democrats funneled money into the Teamster election; and the
networks skipped a revelation about a proposed White House payoff to a
trooper but played up allegations about a Clinton enemy offering money
for scandalous information.
Wednesday, August 27, 1997 | Vol. One, No. 12 | Media Inquiries:
Keith Appell (703) 683-5004
Media Reality Check
A Weekly Report on Major News Stories Distorted or
From Teamsters to Troopers
to Chung, Some Democratic Scandal Angles Are Taking a Vacation
No News Here at Martha's Vineyard
Bill Clinton may be resting, but the reporters in his entourage seem
restless. On Tuesday's This Morning, CBS reporter Bill
Plante suggested: "It's August and there's not much news
anywhere, let alone here on Martha's Vineyard. Things are so slow
that the press corps covered the President's golf scores as though
they were part of a congressional investigation into, well, campaign
fundraising." Back in Washington, however, new developments in
the Clinton scandals are still seeping out slowly with little sense
of media urgency:
Change. Often the slowest network off the mark on the
fundraising scandal, NBC actually broke news last Tuesday with
Johnny Chung's declaration that he was asked to donate $25,000 to
Energy Secretary Hazel
O'Leary's favorite charity (Africare) as the price of admission to a
In a half-page item this
week, Newsweek suggests Chung's accusation could trigger an
independent counsel, since cabinet officials are "covered"
under the law. But none of the other networks (of for that matter
NBC's Today show) featured a story on the O'Leary charge.
Tuesday's CNN newscast The World Today did air a full
report from Brooks Jackson on the Federal Election Commission's
investigation of the Christian Coalition. The FEC is seeking to
prove the Coalition coordinated efforts with the 1992 Bush campaign,
such as discussing the distribution of voter guides.
On ABC's This Week,
former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos claimed the Chung
allegations were "very serious" and qualified as a trigger
for an independent counsel. But ABC did nothing, even as Good
Morning America found time for a story on how McDonald's may
drop the Arch Deluxe burger and another interview about the JonBenet
Why no O'Leary coverage? It
helps to remember that the number of stories each network has done
in the last three years on the independent-counsel examinations of
former Clinton cabinet secretaries Mike Espy and Henry Cisneros can
be counted on one hand.
Money. On Friday, federally appointed election monitor
Barbara Zack Quindel overturned the December 1996 election of
Teamster President Ron Carey for "extraordinary"
misconduct through "a complex network of schemes to funnel
employer and [union] funds into the Carey campaign." The
networks each aired a story, but didn't question the watchdog's
timing: In a prepared statement, Quindel said she reached her
decision before the UPS strike began August 4, but delayed an
announcement to avoid making it a factor in the strike.
The DNC Connection.
On Saturday morning, The Washington Post added that the
Justice Department is investi-gating whether officials at the
Democratic National Committee improperly directed contributions to
Carey's campaign. When the story was covered, it came wrapped in
Democratic denials. On Saturday's CBS Evening News, Plante
told substitute anchor Sharyl Attkisson: "The Democratic
National Committee did say it doesn't believe that any commitments
were made or any plan implemented. And the White House special
counsel says that to the Administration's best knowledge, no one
there was involved in any such deal."
On CNN's The World
Today, Jeanne Meserve led the show's lone anchor brief on the
story with the White House denial: "A White House official
tells CNN he has no knowledge of a [DNC] plan to help Teamsters
President Ron Carey in his election last year. White House lawyer
Lanny Davis says he has no idea why a senior Clinton aide's name is
mentioned in notes describing such a plan."
Reporters put Ronald Reagan
in what could be called an Iran-Contra vise: the President was
either plotting malfeasance or was an out-of-the-loop dolt who was
unfit to control a malfeasant White House. In the Clinton era,
reporters simply forward denials without assessing how realistic
they are in light of Clinton's micro-management of the campaign's
finances, including the creation of the White House Office Data
Carey Plays Dumb. TV reporters haven't made much of
Carey's declarations of ignorance, either. The Washington Times
reported Carey personally authorized four checks totaling $735,000,
some of whose proceeds made their way back into the Carey campaign.
Quindel's report singled out Carey's campaign manager Jere Nash, but
Carey even claimed he didn't know his own campaign manager was
working half-time for the Clinton-Gore campaign. Nash's indictment
in July drew no network coverage until last weekend.
Carey also claimed he didn't remember signing a check for $475,000
to the liberal group Citizen Action, which indirectly funneled
$75,000 into the Carey campaign. Quindel called Carey's claims
"surprising" considering it was "by far the largest
single contribution made by the [union] during the 1996 public
elections." The national media have still largely ignored
Citizen Action -- even though election monitor Quindel is married to
a member of the board of the Wisconsin branch of Citizen Action.
Last Friday, Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly wrote
an entire story on Citizen Action's latest critique of big
corporations' campaign donations -- without any mention of the
group's Teamster dealings.
Troopers for Sale?
Also on Friday, The Washington Times reported that former
Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown sent a letter to independent
counsel Kenneth Starr saying he's prepared to testify that a man
approached him in London on June 16 and offered him $100,000 and a
job to influence his testimony in the Whitewater investigation.
Brown has told prosecutors he overheard Clinton asking Whitewater
figure David Hale for financial help. The Brown story was ignored by
the rest of the national media, broadcast and print.
On Friday, former trooper
Roger Perry appeared on CNN's Burden of Proof program to
discuss former trooper Danny Ferguson's stories to him about Paula
Jones. Perry said Ferguson told him he'd been offered a federal job
at the time Perry cooperated on Troopergate investigations by The
American Spectator and the Los Angeles Times. Perry
added that Ferguson even traveled to Seattle to meet with Clinton.
But illegal jobs-for-silence offers still have not interested the
When do the troopers get in
the news? When they retract their stories. On July 15, NBC's Dateline
aired a long feature on trooper Ronald Anderson, one of the troopers
who spoke to the Spectator in 1993. Reporter Chris Hansen
asked Anderson: "These allegations painted Bill Clinton as
being reckless, being involved in multiple affairs, as being
sexually out of control. Did any of this really
happen?"Anderson answered: "Not in my presence it
didn't." Hansen underlined: "And Anderson spent a lot of
time in Clinton's presence. He helped protect the governor for
nearly eight years, often around the clock."
Job offers were newsworthy
-- when made by Clinton's adversaries. Hansen (who wrongly called
the Spectator "an ultraconservative newspaper" in
a promotional segment on Today) claimed lawyer Cliff
Jackson, who promoted the troopers' stories to the media,
"promised to find the troopers high-paying jobs if they got
fired for telling their stories." Hansen asked Anderson:
"What did it say to you that Cliff Jackson was willing to
promise you jobs in exchange for going public with these stories
about Bill Clinton?" Hansen did note Jackson, who wouldn't talk
to NBC, had said he only promised to try to get the troopers new
jobs if they were fired for talking.
Hansen concluded his
interview: "When you boil all this down, is this just about
Little Rock politics? Cliff Jackson taking on Bill Clinton and some
guys who thought they could make some big-time money by telling
their story?" Anderson replied: "That's it rolled up in a
nutshell." A story that could yield multiple abuses of power
was reduced to nothing more than a personal grudge match. -- Tim
4) Summer vacation season is
now over, but Bill Clinton is just starting his third week of vacation
on Martha's Vineyard where he sailed one day with Ted Kennedy. From
the August 21 Late Show with David Letterman, here's the "Top Ten
Things Overheard During the Clinton/Kennedy Sailing Trip."
Copyright 1997 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.
10. "No, Bill, I'm not
seasick -- I always throw up this time of day"
9. "Isn't there a way to catch fish that are already
8. "We're listing to the left -- get Ted's head back to the
center of the boat"
7. "Who wants another Chivas and salt water?"
6. "The main sail just ripped -- Senator, can we borrow your
5. "This time I'll be Captain Steubing and you can be
4. "If you're outside U.S. waters, it's technically not
3. "That's not a doughnut, Mr. President -- it's a life
2. "Isn't a case of Jim Beam a bit much for a 30-minute boat
1. "Ship ahoy, Captain Tubby!"
I'll be back from vacation on
Wednesday, so daily reports should soon resume.