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CyberAlert -- 09/22/1997 -- NBC Skipped Meddoff; Pushing "Reform;" Turner's Logic

NBC Skipped Meddoff; Pushing "Reform;" Turner's Logic

  1. Friday night NBC ignored that day's Senate testimony, ABC gave it 20 seconds and CBS offered a full story, but concluded that campaign finance reform is the only solution.
  2. Today and GMA ran the first full stories and interviews of the week on Friday; CNN ran some of Meddoff live, but not MSNBC.
  3. Ted Turner believes in global warming because the beach on an island owned by the billionaire got "washed away" by melting ice caps.

1) Reciting Warren Meddoff's story about how top Clinton aide Harold Ickes told him how to donate $5 million to non-profit groups that worked with the DNC, and then to destroy the document, didn't interest NBC. Friday's NBC Nightly News ignored Meddoff's testimony before the Senate hearing while ABC gave it just 20 seconds. Only CBS provided viewers with a full story. (For historical context, on February 6 the CBS Evening News was the first network to air a full story on Meddoff, NBC Nightly News caught up in late March.)

Here's a rundown of Friday night, September 19, coverage:

ABC's World News Tonight. After two stories on Ted Turner's $1 billion gift to the UN, an update on Trevor Rees-Jones and a public appearance by Prince Charles, the train accident in London, Chelsea moving in at Stanford and a feature on campus crime, Peter Jennings gave this 20 second update on what happened at the hearings:

"Now to Washington and the Senate hearings on campaign fundraising today. Businessman Warren Meddoff testified that former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes sent him instructions on how to donate $5 million dollars to groups tied to the Democratic Party. Mr. Ickes, he was told, told him to destroy the documents. Mr. Ickes says he does not remember that."

Only the CBS Evening News took the hearings seriously, though Bob Schieffer asserted that if the hearings don't produce a liberal result -- campaign finance reform -- they will be a failure. Just after the first ad break, which followed stories on Rees-Jones, the Prince and the train crash, Dan Rather turned to Bob Schieffer for a full story on the Meddoff testimony.

Schieffer recounted Meddoff's story of how he gave Clinton a card saying that he had a client willing to donate $5 million. But, the client want to give to tax-deductible groups. Later, Harold Ickes called and faxed a list of Democratic supported groups that were tax deductible. Ickes, apparently realizing the illegality of coordination between the DNC and non-profit groups, asked that Meddoff tear up the fax. Schieffer wrapped up by noting that Ickes may not get chance to respond because the committee decided to switch this week to campaign finance reform. But, he noted, the deal to bring a bill to the floor had fallen apart Friday afternoon.

Schieffer asked Trent Lott: "So if it doesn't come up this session it's not going to really bother you?"

Trent Lott: "No, it will come up eventually."

Schieffer concluded his story: "So for all the noise these hearings have produced it looks tonight as if nothing will happen, this year anyway, to change any of it."

Next, the show ran a piece by Phil Jones recounting his interview with Roger Tamraz.

NBC Nightly News, anchored for reasons unknown by Brian Williams in London, avoided anything about the hearings but did at least make a brief note about Reno looking into O'Leary. Here's what NBC covered Friday night:

  1. Trevor Rees-Jones update
  2. Prince Charles public appearance in Manchester
  3. Train crash in London
  4. Governors met on micro-organism attacking fish in Chesapeake Bay area
  5. Clintons with Chelsea at Stanford
  6. In-Depth on Ted Turner's pledge of $1 billion to UN. Challenged rich to give more
  7. Reno stepping up investigation into O'Leary based on Chung allegation (29 seconds)
  8. Fleecing of America: supposed oversupply of Army rockets, but they want more
  9. Late word that Gore has hired private attorney (10 seconds)
  10. The American Spirit: Tom Brokaw profile of photojournalist Gordon Parks

2) The Thursday appearance by Roger Tamraz generated some morning show interest Friday morning and CNN actually offered some more live coverage.

Friday's Good Morning America ran a full story reviewing the Tamraz testimony and co-host Charlie Gibson interviewed Sam Donaldson about the corrupt system Tamraz highlighted. MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noticed that Gibson's last question matched a growing media trend -- argue that all the illegalities and unethical behavior demonstrate the need for new laws. (See Bob Schieffer above.) Gibson asked Donaldson:

"Sam, you now have a witness who says yes, he did buy his way in to access the President for his $300,000. We had a witness a couple of days ago who said there was a very direct solicitation for funds in the White House, right in the presence of the President. Does all this mean, are these committee members going to tell you this weekend, do you think, that we're going to get a bill that will really reform the campaign finance system?"

So, if a bunch of houses are burglarized in Gibson's New Jersey neighborhood, instead of catching and prosecuting the burglar, the police and DA should lobby the freeholders to "reform" the burglary laws.

Friday's Today provided the first fundraising coverage of the week. In addition to a full story on Tamraz from Joe Johns, Claire Shipman and Tim Russert talked with Matt Lauer about the impact of Reno's investigation on Al Gore. Earlier, Russert came on to analyze Clinton's high approval rating, but MRC analyst Eric Darbe noted that the discussion also briefly explored the impact of the fundraising scandal.

As usual, viewers of This Morning on CBS had no idea any hearings were being held. The CBS Evening News may air more fundraising stories than ABC and NBC, but in the morning CBS hasn't aired a fundraising story in its prime 8am hour since early July.

Speaking of morning avoidance, the three morning shows have yet to carry an interview on fundraising with a Senator on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

CNN went live to Meddoff's testimony when he began at 10:30am ET, but cut out an hour later, just before 11:30am. Adding up CNN's live hour with Meddoff, the two hours of Tamraz and the hour and forty minutes with Fowler and CNN's live coverage of the three Democrats over two weeks about matches the four and a half hours they spent showing Haley Barbour in one afternoon.

MSNBC, which showcased live coverage of Barbour, skipped Meddoff, just as the cable network ignored Fowler and Tamraz. At about 4:45pm ET MSNBC aired a Money Trail update. Joe Johns devoted three minutes to the Lott/Daschle disagreement on bringing campaign finance reform to the floor, but just one minute to telling viewers what Meddoff said.


3) CNN had Larry King stick around to 10:30pm ET Thursday night so he could interview Ted Turner live about his just announced $1 billion gift to the UN. Here's a revealing exchange about how Turner forms his liberal conclusions:

Larry King: "Global warming, you were very strong on that tonight, and you said 'everybody knows' that there's global warming."

Ted Turner: "That's right, haven't you been outside lately? It's hotter than Hell out there. The polar ice caps are melting. I got a island, and I know that the ocean's rising because I watched my beach get washed away."

Quite the scientist, that Ted Turner.

-- Brent Baker