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CyberAlert -- 10/30/1997 -- Thompson's Drug Scandal; Clinton as Human Rights Crusader

Thompson's Drug Scandal; Clinton as Human Rights Crusader

  1. Evidence of Clinton calls and Wednesday's hearings ignored by the networks, but NBC did tie Fred Thompson to a drug scandal.
  2. Nothing Wednesday morning on fundraising; CNN and MSNBC ignore hearings all day.
  3. Clinton portrayed as a human rights crusader; Gary Bauer tagged as "far right" by ABC but Richard Gere just an "activist." And Captain Picard comes as whose date to the State Dinner?
  4. In 1997 networks didn't blame Clinton for market fall, but in 1987 the "chickens were coming home to roost" for "Herbert Reagan's" refusal to raise taxes.

1) The networks refuse to jump on evidence that Clinton made fundraising calls from the White House. "Records Show Clinton Made White House Calls to Donors" announced a New York Times headline last Friday, October 24. Reporter John Cushman began his story:

"The Clinton Administration has turned over to federal investigators telephone records showing that President Clinton made telephone calls about campaign fundraising from the White House, including one from the Oval Office and others from his residence, White House officials said today."

Coverage: In the morning: a brief item read by Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman, but not a syllable on This Morning or Today. Zilch Friday night on CNN's The World Today and the broadcast network evening shows.

Now, jump ahead to yesterday. On Wednesday, October 29, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee heard from Richard Jenrette, the former CEO of Equitable Insurance who actually does recall getting fundraising calls from both Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He appeared in the morning. In the afternoon the committee questioned White House counsels Lanny Breuer, Charles Ruff and Michael Imbroscio about the delays in the release of documents and the videotapes.

Coverage: Not a word about fundraising or the hearings Wednesday night on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News. CBS can at least say it earlier reported the Jenrette revelation, but not ABC or NBC. As detailed in the October 21 CyberAlert, on the October 20 CBS Evening News Dan Rather read a 30 second item about Jenrette confirming a call from Clinton -- the totality of broadcast network time for the disclosure which appeared in the October 27 Newsweek.

(Two more days have passed since Monday's Los Angeles Times story in which the "Indonesian gardener" contradicted the White House line and said that his contributions came from an Indonesian national tied to the Lippo Group. Through Wednesday night still nothing on the networks about this latest evidence of illegal foreign money.)

But Senator Fred Thompson has received some airtime in a story about a scandal -- the scandal of legislation to benefit drug companies. The October 28 NBC Nightly News featured a "Between the Lines" segment about a bill that would prevent the sale of some generic drugs, including a generic of the popular anti-allergy drug Claritin, by extending for five additional years the exclusive rights to the formula granted to companies which create a new drug. NBC reporter Lisa Myers explained:

"...At stake: billions of dollars. First, the special deal was pushed by Senator Fred Thompson, Chairman of the investigation into money and politics. But when reporters started asking questions, Thompson quickly backed off..."


2) Wednesday morning and day time. Once again, what hearings? Good Morning America, This Morning and Today were dominated by the nanny murder trial, the stock market and the visit of Chinese honcho Jiang Zemin. CBS's This Morning, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski noted, managed time to teach viewers how to knit a sweater with dog hairs. A whole new way to look at Fido the next time you get cold.

Neither CNN or MSNBC offered any live hearings coverage Wednesday as each showed events with the Chinese leader and offered constant updates on how the nanny murder jury was still deliberating. From 10am through 5pm ET, in fact, CNN did not even offer a hearings update. And the Jiang/Clinton press conference bumped Inside Politics as the show has yet to air this week. (Bumped Monday and Tuesday for stock market news.) But CNN did find time during the day for some less than pressing news, including the usual ShowBiz Today features from Jim Moret and, at about 2:48pm ET, a whole story about the wonders of a new margarine made without any trans fats.


3) Wednesday night the networks portrayed Clinton as a great human rights crusader, emphasizing how he took on Jiang Zemin face to face. But only NBC noted that Clinton's new tough line on human rights contradicts his policies of the past few years. And on ABC, the political spectrum of the protesters went from "far right" Gary Bauer to the "Hollywood activism" of Richard Gere. Here's a rundown of the October 29 Chinese visit coverage and the stories run instead of fundraising:

ABC's World News Tonight. John Donvan opened his top of the show story:

"While the Chinese leader was getting the full measure of a White House welcome -- the cannons, the fifes and drums -- demonstrators were unfurling a full menu of protests. China's behavior on Taiwan, its record on human rights, its suppression of independence in Tibet. That rally briefly allied speakers from the far right."

Gary Bauer, Family Research Council, at a Lafayette Park protest: "We will keep the pressure on the Chinese leadership and the Chinese government."

Donvan: "With Hollywood activism."

Richard Gere, actor, at same protest: "This is not a cuddly new China we're talking about here."

Donvan: "Jiang missed all of that. He was in talks with Mr. Clinton. But then Mr. Clinton turned part of this news conference into an unscheduled debate on human rights..."

Donvan showed clips of the Clinton/Jiang Zemin exchange and described the deals signed on aircraft and nuclear technology. Next, ABC aired a full story from John McWethy on the nuclear power plant deal followed by a piece from Dean Reynolds in Kansas on how Americans are hoping to get more business with China:

"Here in Kansas, as in many parts of America, the old hostility toward the Red Chinese is giving way to the realization China is a huge market that must be tapped..."

Other stories covered by ABC: the day on Wall Street, trip by Prince Charles to Africa, the nanny murder trail, more on the drug dealer with AIDS in New York who had sex with teenagers, and how the Mars Rover has been out of communication for weeks.

  • CBS Evening News. "President Clinton in private and finally in public today made pointed remarks about China's record on human rights," Dan Rather announced at the start of the show.
Reporter Scott Pelley began: "A short time ago we witnessed a remarkable and very public split between the two Presidents on the subject of human rights. At a news conference Mr. Clinton called for a truly free China."

Pelley showed soundbites from Clinton and Jiang, noting that Jiang "justified the killing" in Tiananmen Square. Pelley ended by listing the agreements made.

CBS didn't mention the protests, but ended the show with a look at the U.S./China trade deficit driven by the toy industry which takes advantage of China's low production costs. In between, viewers saw stories on the stock market, the New York AIDS scandal, a study that found DDT did not cause breast cancer and an Eye on America on new recruits to organized crime.

Also in the mix: An excerpt of Bryant Gumbel's "exclusive" interview with parents of the baby in the nanny murder case, an interview which aired on Wednesday night's Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. See the October 29 CyberAlert for how Gumbel promised his show would avoid tabloid topics.

Rather signed off by asserting: "Washington, DC is decked out in red today in honor of that close and growing partnership with communist China, but all the decorations can't hide the discomfort that was evident in this picture [Jiang and Clinton] at today's news conference and the knowledge that in major areas, particularly human rights, these two partners do still have irreconcilable differences."
  • NBC Nightly News opened with a report from David Bloom on how Jiang got the red carpet treatment in the morning "until this afternoon when President Clinton pulled the rug out from under Jiang as the two men engaged in a surprisingly forceful, extraordinary public debate over China's brutal repression of human rights and religious freedom."

NBC showed soundbites of the press conference as Bloom highlighted how Jiang was "unapologetic" over Tiananmen Square. Bloom also summarized the agreements made.

Next, NBC went to Bob Faw for a look at the protests and human rights in China. Faw began:

"As Washington was rolling out the red carpet for President Jiang, Jiang's government was rolling over a Protestant church group in the northeastern city of [some place I can't imagine how to spell, but something like Ging Do]..."

Faw explained how 2,000 are jailed for political views and how thousands came to DC to protest, including actor Richard Gere. Faw ran a soundbite from the actor who stars in a movie about China's "repressive legal system."

Then Faw raised an angle skipped by ABC and CBS:

"Despite Mr. Clinton's tough talk today to the Chinese leader, some Chinese watchers doubt that the words will bring about change."
Ross Munro, China scholar: "Because he took such a strong stand in 1992 through 1994 and then totally retreated on the issue. So the Chinese do not take him seriously."

Other topics covered by Nightly News: DDT/breast cancer, the nanny murder trial and an "In Depth" segment on the Au Pair system, plus a story on researchers who attached electrodes to people's hands as they flashed the word "God" on a computer screen to learn if human brains are "hard-wired to God."

(Top media figures were among the guests at Wednesday night's White House State Dinner for Jiang Zemin. In addition to congressional leaders and more than 30 business leaders, the October 30 Washington Post listed these guests: Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Diane Sawyer, CNN President Tom Johnson, Mortimer Zuckerman, New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and former Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham. "Winning the odd couple of the evening award," the Post suggested, "were [Secretary of State] Albright and her escort, Star Trek: The Next Generation's bald Captain Picard -- actor Patrick Stewart.")


4) What a difference a President makes. In Monday's stock market plunge the Dow Jones fell 7 percent compared to a 22 percent drop in the 1987 crash. That difference dissuaded me from comparing coverage of the two downturns, but Tim Graham, the MRC's Director of Media Analysis, went back to the records from the MRC's first days and discovered a big difference worth highlighting.

This year on Monday night none of the networks blamed Clinton for the stock market fall. In fact, ABC, CBS and NBC all made time for stories on Clinton touting how the annual deficit had fallen to the lowest level in 23 years. (None mentioned how falling defense spending was the primary factor or how the GOP Congress had prevented many huge Clinton spending initiatives.)

But ten years ago, the media delivered a no confidence message on President Reagan's economic leadership. The media line: Stock market plunge proves Reaganomics is a failure and it's time to finally raise taxes. Some examples:

From the October 20, 1987 NBC Nightly News. The late John Chancellor's commentary: "...America has been borrowing its prosperity, not creating it. Borrowing a lot of it from foreigners while Wall Street had a boom the USA became the world's biggest debtor nation. It was like the Chinese water torture, drop after drop of bad news. Everybody knew these chickens were coming home to roost. Investors had begun to loose confidence in the future, and that's why a little scare became a big panic. The party was nice while it lasted, but this was the week when the bill arrived. Which is the commentary for this evening, Tom."

From the October 21, 1987 NBC Nightly News. John Chancellor's commentary: "...Ronald Reagan said a tax increase 'over my dead body' and that was popular with the voters. In 1984 Fritz Mondale said he'd raise taxes and carried only Minnesota and the District of Columbia. So, without enough money coming in, government had to borrow to pay its way, which drove up the deficit and the deficit was one of the main reasons for this week's disaster, which raises and interesting question, which would have been better: a stock market disaster or a tax increase which might have prevented the disaster? The answer, which is clear, is already changing the vocabulary of the 1988 election. Even President Reagan said today he's willing to talk about taxes, sort of..."

From the October 21, 1987 CBS Evening News. Dan Rather: "New questions were raised today about President Reagan's ability, willingness and clout to help calm the shock waves still reverberating from Wall Street..."

Bill Plante, picking up after a soundbite of Senator Lloyd Bentsen calling for a tax hike: "That idea, that a tax increase is all but inevitable was also advanced today by this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics."

Robert Solow: "I would like to see the President stop this nonsense of we are never going to have a tax increase, over my dead body."

Plante: "Ronald Reagan may still be saying that, but now a lot of people both inside and outside the administration are betting the President will be forced to accept some kind of new taxes under the threat of another Wall Street disaster. Bill Plante, CBS News, the White House."

From the October 22, 1987 CBS Evening News. Bill Plante: "...Despite today's assurances, some in financial circles are afraid that President Reagan will repeat his pledge of no new taxes tonight and further upset the markets."

Ray Brady: "Analysts say stocks won't go up until Wall Street knows which way Washington is going. Wall Street's been talking about the optimistic statements issued by President Hoover during the 1929 stock crash and comparing them to President Reagan's upbeat messages this week."

President Reagan:> "All the business indices are up. There is nothing wrong with the economy." [Just what Clinton said]

Pierre Rimfert, economist: "He cannot walk away from this and say don't blame me. I'll tell you what we call him in private. We call him Herbert Reagan."

Brady: "One big brokerage house today told clients to sell ten percent of their stocks and get into bonds. Advice that was taken by giant investors and small investors who lined up at banks to buy. Bonds are what you buy if you think there's trouble ahead and that's just what some economists are predicting...So Wall Street finished the day relieved it will have time to clean up al that paperwork, but worried that for the economy and the stock market, there seems no relief in sight. Ray Brady, CBS News, New York."

No relief in sight? As noted in the October 29 USA Today, going back to the early 1960s the best ten year period in the Standard and Poor's 500-stock index: up 444 percent between June 30, 1982 and June 30, 1992.

-- Brent Baker