CyberAlert -- 10/31/1997 -- Babbitt Battles the Nanny; Where's Trie?; MRC on CNN

Babbitt Battles the Nanny; Where's Trie?; MRC on CNN

1) Babbitt's testimony made the three evening newscasts, but hardly as the top news of the day. Brokaw insisted that campaign finance irregularities are "a swamp without end for both parties."

2) MSNBC squeezed in 45 minutes of Babbitt around nanny coverage; CNN aired 90 minutes of Paul Eckstein before going to the nanny.

3) Other than seconds on one morning show, the morning and evening shows haven't used Jiang's visit as a hook for stories on China's money or on those who fled to China. But Koppel did press Berger.

4) "For working to keep the media honest, the Media Research Center has done good," a Reliable Sources panelist pronounced on CNN.

1) Thursday night the three broadcast network evening shows all ran stories on Bruce Babbitt's testimony, but buried well into the newscasts. NBC's Tom Brokaw insisted that both parties are equally emersed in the "swamp without end" of campaign finance investigations. ABC led with Iraq, CBS with "turmoil in the world financial markets" and NBC started with Jiang Zemin's visit. (See the October 28 CyberAlert for background on the Babbitt/Ickes/ Indian casino controversy.) Here's what the October 30 shows offered:

-- ABC's World News Tonight started with Saddam Hussein giving U.S. members of the UN Commission a week to leave country. Second, ABC got to Jiang Zemin's day visiting Congress. Peter Jennings introduced the story:
"The Chinese President spent another day in the United States and today he has probably not won very many new friends here. Today Jiang Zemin told members of Congress that China was not persecuting religious figures, did not mistreat dissidents and in fact that there was democracy in China."

Following an ad break ABC carried stories on the end of the Roby, Illinois standoff with a woman and on the jury picked for the trial of Terry Nichols. After another ad, Jennings delivered a quick wrap on Wall Street's day before arriving at the fundraising hearings and ABC's first ever mention of the Wisconsin Indian tribe matter. Peter Jennings announced:
"In Washington today, for the first time, a member of President Clinton's cabinet was a witness at the Senate campaign fundraising hearings. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had to answer questions about the possible influence of campaign dollars on his department's policies. ABC's Linda Douglass reports tonight that Mr. Babbitt's integrity was also at stake."

Douglass explained the topic explored Thursday by the committee, reporting that Babbitt was asked about denying a small Wisconsin Indian tribe the right to open a casino. Larger tribes that gave big bucks to the DNC opposed the application. Babbitt denied White House influence, but long time Babbitt friend Paul Eckstein, a lobbyist hired by the small tribe, told the committee that Babbitt told him Harold Ickes didn't want the decision in favor of the larger tribes to be delayed. Babbitt denied that version of events in letter to Senator John McCain, but Douglass noted that "now Babbitt has changed that story" though "Babbitt stubbornly insisted his first story wasn't a lie."
Douglass recounted how Babbitt now says he only told Eckstein about pressure from Ickes in order to get him out of his office. ABC showed an exchange between Thompson and Babbitt: Thompson: "Did you mislead him" Babbitt: "I don't think so." Douglass concluded her story: "Most of the Senators weren't buying it, but it won't end here. The Justice Department is looking into Babbitt's story to see if an independent counsel is needed."

-- CBS Evening News. Neither ABC or NBC treated Thursday's Wall Street performance as anything special, but Dan Rather topped the show by ominously intoning: "The turmoil on world financial markets is not over. After a sell-off in the Asian markets overnight, Wall Street put on a slide show of its own today. The two-day old recovery came to an end, the Dow stocks lost 125 points, 1.6 percent of their value..." Rather's dramatic intro led into a story by Ray Brady on victims of Monday's downturn: small investors who couldn't get through to their brokers.

Second, CBS discovered another crisis overlooked by both ABC and NBC. Correspondent Bob Orr explained: "It is a crisis on America's rails. The nation's largest railroad, Union Pacific, already plagued by an unparalleled series of accidents, is now drawing fire from federal safety investigators..."

Third, CBS went to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a live update from Kristin Jeannette-Myers on the nanny murder deliberations. After an ad break Rather made quick mention of the Iraq situation and offered a few seconds of summary on Jiang Zemin's visit to Capitol Hill. The sixth story of the night: a full report on the Septuplets due an Iowa mother and questions about the ethics of how fertility drugs are used.

Finally, 15 minutes into the show and following the second ad break, Dan Rather declared:
"On Capitol Hill today the dirty campaign money investigation focused on whether contributions bought political influence in one specific case. Under fire, on the witness stand was President Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. CBS News Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer reports this was one of the most important days of the hearings so far."

One of the most important days of the hearings, but in the CBS hierarchy that puts it after nothing happening in a murder trial as the jury deliberated and the future birth of septuplets.

Schieffer summarized the case of how a rival tribe that was a big donor "enlisted White House help to block the project" proposed by the smaller tribe. Paul Eckstein had urged Babbitt to delay the decision but, Eckstein recalled, Babbitt said Ickes wanted an immediate decision that day. Babbit first denied saying that, but at the hearing conceded he might have to get Eckstein out of his office.
Schieffer closed with the toughest conclusion of the night: "So whether it was the White House that got the project killed depends on whether you believe Babbitt or Eckstein. What is not in dispute is that the Indians who lobbied to get it killed wrote these letters of thanks to the White House and went on to give the Democratic Party $270,000."

-- NBC Nightly News began with a critical review of Jiang Zemin's views as expressed during his second day in Washington. Andrea Mitchell opened her story:
"Jiang Zemin was just as tough today with Congress as he was yesterday, stiffing the President on human rights. Pointedly, congressional leaders showed him historical documents proclaiming liberty and freedom [video of them in the Capitol Rotunda] and then they hammered him on China's human rights abuses, a very tough session. The Chinese President did not yield...
" Mitchell emphasized how the Chinese chieftain says his regime has done nothing wrong in Tibet before concluding that Jiang had outmaneuvered President Clinton:
"Jiang came away with greater stature and a nuclear deal for China. But he stonewalled the President on dropping trade barriers and stopping nuclear sales to India and Pakistan. So for all his talk of loving American poetry and music, Jiang gave almost nothing and got what he wanted."

Next, NBC ran an In Their Own Words segment featuring Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) narrating home video he took during a recent trip to Tibet. Brokaw then briefly noted the Iraq situation before shifting to a story on Paula Jones:
"There's an important new development tonight in the Paula Jones case. Why is she suing President Clinton? The reasons may have changed. This could be a significant turn in the pre-trial maneuvering."
Pete Williams explained how Paula Jones has dropped her complaints about protecting her reputation, which may be part of a strategy to make that off limits to Clinton's lawyers. Her new complaint says that after her encounter with Clinton she was punished by not getting a merit pay increase. But, Williams insisted, records obtained by NBC News prove she got a merit raise despite having received a low score in a written merit test. Jones now also claims, Williams relayed, that female state employees who slept with Clinton got job benefits like raises and promotions.

Immediately after the first ad break NBC got to Babbitt, the earliest of the three networks. But Tom Brokaw portrayed both parties as equally tainted:
"In Washington tonight one of the most dramatic stories to come out of the campaign finance investigations, which seem to be a swamp without end for both parties. This one involved a decision by the Interior Secretary to deny gambling rights to an Indian tribe, his best friend, and now a bitter personal feud."
Lisa Myers explained: "It is two battles. One a political fight with potentially huge losses for the Clinton administration. Another, a deeply personal fight between these two men, rupturing a friendship of more than 30 years."
The Senators, Myers noted, wanted to know if Babbitt did "allow campaign money to influence government policy." She concluded: "Babbitt's troubles do not end here. Not only has this cost him a friendship, he's now under investigation by the Justice Department."

2) A verdict in the nanny murder trial finally came Thursday night, but until then it seemed that the more nothing happened as the jury deliberated the more CNN and MSNBC found excuses to focus on the trail. During the day Thursday, MSNBC skipped Paul Eckstein's morning testimony. MSNBC went live with Bruce Babbitt at 2:30pm ET, but stuck with it for just 45 minutes, cutting out at about 3:15pm for a one hour discussion of the nanny murder trial.

CNN carried Eckstein's testimony live from just past 10am ET until dropping out at 11:30am ET for CNN & Company which focused on, you guessed it, the nanny murder. CNN picked up with Babbitt at 2:30pm ET and remained with it until shortly before 4pm ET with analysis from Brooks Jackson and Candy Crowley.

3) The leader of the country implicated in funneling money into U.S. elections comes to America. Several figures in the fundraising scandal, including Charlie Trie, flee to his country in order to evade subpoena's. Naturally, a major topic for the news media to jump on. Or so you'd think.

But neither topic was raised by reporters in Wednesday's joint news conference. And news that Clinton asked Jiang Zemin about funneling money into the U.S. generated exactly one 15 second item on one broadcast network news show. During the 7:30am news update on October 30, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen observed, Good Morning America news reader Kevin Newman reported: "Was there a China connection to Democratic Party fundraising? The White House says President Clinton asked that question of Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday. Jiang reportedly said China was not involved in any illegal donations and that China will cooperate with U. S. investigators."

That was it on Thursday's morning shows. Today's Matt Lauer interviewed National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, but didn't raise anything related to fundraising. In fact, other than Newman's brief item, Thursday's morning shows avoided fundraising.

Wednesday night, however, Ted Koppel did press Berger on whether the President really asked Jiang Zemin to help the investigation into fundraising. Here's a bit of the October 29 interview:

Koppel: "I just want to ask you about what President Jiang's reaction was when the President raised the issue of trying to buy influence in American elections? How forcefully was the issue raised and what was Mr Jiang's reaction?"
After Berger said the Chinese deny the allegations, Koppel pushed for a real answer: "No, I understand that. My question was did the President raise it and how forcefully?"
Berger: "The President did raise it with President Jiang last night and President Jiang said two things. Number one, he said that their own inquiry, their own investigation was not able to find anything to corroborate this, number one. But number two that he would cooperate with any investigation that was going on in the United States."
Koppel: "Including sending Charlie Trie back to the United States or anyone else who may be sitting over there with information?"
Berger: "I have no idea whether they have control or know where Charlie Trie is or not."
Koppel: "Oh, I'll bet you they could find him if they wanted to and I think you know that, too."
Berger: "No, I think this is an investigation being conducted by the Justice Department, being conducted by congressional committees, not the..."
Koppel: "My only question was did, no, I'm simply asking did the President or anyone in his behalf ask the Chinese would they send Charlie Trie back?"
Berger: "The President said will you cooperate with investigations and the Chinese said yes."
Koppel: "But is it your understanding that when that sort of broad question is raised that that includes within it, I mean would Chinese cooperation include returning to the United States people who are being sought here under subpoena for questioning by Congress?"
Berger: "Well, if that is something that is part of the investigation."
Koppel: "Well, I think it is. Don't you?"

In other words, the President really didn't push for cooperation with investigators. If only a few more reporters were as persistent and Koppel.

4) MRC saluted on CNN. I usually watch CNN's Sunday morning Reliable Sources show. But on the one I missed they featured a nice plug for the MRC that MRC news analyst Clay Waters caught. In the end of the program "The good, the bad and the ugly" awards John Podhoretz, the only conservative allowed on the show, praised the MRC:
"The Media Research Center celebrated its tenth anniversary this week. This provocative organization based in Alexandria, Virginia is dedicated to exposing liberal bias in the media and it does so in the very best way, by letting the bias speak for itself, by reporting offensive and outrageous quotes and distortions from news stories and television broadcasts. For working to keep the media honest, the Media Research Center has done good."

Thanks. We appreciate the vote of confidence. At the MRC we all wish John success as he moves from the Weekly Standard, where he's been Deputy Editor, to run the New York Post editorial page.

-- Brent Baker