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CyberAlert -- 11/21/1997 -- Arlington Buried

Arlington Buried; Babies Before Baghdad; No Liberal Teamster Tie

1) The Arlington Cemetery has Washington abuzz. Papers are running stories. McCurry is lashing out in anger. Talk radio is talking about it. Local TV news is leading with it. One gap: Network TV.

2) Babies Beat Baghdad. Three networks led with the sextuplets Wednesday night. CBS gave 12 times more time over the past week to Nixon's 25 year-old tapes than to any Clinton scandal.

3) The networks missed another hook for the Democratic involvement in money-laundering with the Teamsters.


>>>> This Just Into the CyberAlert Newsroom: CNN President Rick Kaplan is canning three on-air anchors and a correspondent. In today's Washington Post (November 21) John Carmody reported: "Departing will be the Washington-based medical correspondent Jeff Levine and Atlanta-based staffers Kitty Pilgrim, Kathleen Kennedy and Linden Soles." <<<<

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cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) "Uproar Arises Over Allocation of Arlington Burial Plots," read the headline over a November 20 Washington Post story buried in the Metro section. The Washington political world and talk radio across the country may reflect the uproar, but not the networks. Through Thursday night's evening shows the broadcast networks have yet to mention the erupting scandal.

The story broke Wednesday with the pre-release of an upcoming Insight magazine scoop. Editor Paul Rodriguez's lead: "Burial plots in the national war cemeteries, including Arlington, allegedly have been 'bought' by fat-cat donors to Clinton's re-election committee and the DNC who aren't even veterans." On Wednesday talk radio hosts, including Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, alerted their listeners to the potential scandal.

Thursday morning (November 20) the Post story cited above appeared, as well as pieces the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Times. "Panel Probes Waivers at Arlington Cemetery," declared the USA Today headline. The New York Times headline emphasized doubts: "White House Denies Report of Burial Plots Traded for Donations."

The Washington Times played the story on the front page: "Politics Suspected in Arlington Burials." Reporter Rowan Scarborough provided this overview of the situation as well as some background information which explains why the charge is being taken so seriously by everyone but the networks:
"A House probe has uncovered cases of suspected 'favoritism' by the Clinton administration in granting burial in the restricted Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to people who never served in the military.
"Rep. Terry Everett, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said Army Secretary Togo West has granted an unprecedented 60 waivers to the burial rules since 1993.
"Of those, he said, 10 have 'no rhyme nor reason' for the honor of burial in what war veterans revere as sacred ground. In all 10 cases, the Congressman's spokesman said, the Arlington superintendent recommended denial but was overruled by Mr. West.
"Mr. West issued waivers based on recommendations from Assistant Army Secretary Sara Lister, who said in a June 12 letter to Mr. Everett that Arlington burial policy 'falls under my purview.' Mrs. Lister resigned last week after her remark that Marines are 'extremists' angered veterans and members of Congress.
"The Army Times reported in June that Mr. West has waived the burial rules at Arlington almost triple the rate of the two previous administrations under Ronald Reagan and George Bush and has granted the highest number since the exception process began 30 years ago...."

White House counsel Lanny Davis denied any wrongdoing and revealed only one name and three descriptions of who got waivers: former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the wife of another justice, a DEA agent killed in the line of duty and a former Marine killed while a DC police officer.

Wednesday night the networks were silent, even CNN. But not all the television media failed to probe the matter. Washington DC's ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV, ran an "I-Team" report Wednesday night on its "News 7 at 11." None of the print stories were able to cite any of the ten names or so in question since the Army keeps the waiver records confidential, but WJLA reporter Kim Skeen moved the story forward by discovering one name:
"Sources tell the I-Team San Diego businessman Larry Lawrence, a major contributor to the Clinton campaign, received a waiver in 1996. Laurence was a Swiss Ambassador and merchant marine, but not a member of the armed services while veterans who were are routinely turned away" because limited space has led to very tight rules on who qualifies for burial. (Lawrence died last year.)

Thursday morning, however, the network shows failed to pick up the developing story, not even ABC's Good Morning America which could have capitalized on its own affiliate's scoop. Instead, GMA spent most of the first half hour interviewing people related to the Iowa sextuplets. Charlie Gibson also talked to UN weapons inspector Richard Butler. Today didn't bother with Iraq until the 7:30 half hour. The NBC show, MRC analyst Eric Darbe noted, spent the entire first half hour interviewing doctors and family connected to the sextuplets. CBS's This Morning aired three interviews in a row on the sextuplets during its prime 8am half hour, observed MRC analyst Steve Kaminski.

Day time Thursday brought a flurry of activity as everyone from Senator Arlen Specter to White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry commented on the story. AP relayed that "McCurry on Thursday said the charges were 'absurd.'" He went on to issue a very mean-spirited attack on talk radio for daring to mention the allegation: "This is a story that appeared, largely uncorroborated, with anonymous sources, in a conservative right-wing publication. It was picked up on the hate radio talk circuit and inflamed yesterday."

But still, the networks refused to tell their viewers about the brewing scandal or even just about the controversy surrounding it. Not a syllable about it on Thursday's ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News. On CNN it couldn't break through the instant infant infatuation. CNN dumped Inside Politics at 4pm ET to carry live coverage of two Des Moines press conferences and the network bumped the 10p ET World Today so it could run a one hour special on the sextuplets.

The networks remained asleep, but another DC affiliate considered the story newsworthy as the possible cemetery sale led the 11pm news on Washington's CBS affiliate, WUSA-TV.

So, let's compare network news judgment to that of their journalistic colleagues. Network producers may argue the story is not solid, that they are not sure of the accuracy of the allegation. Indeed, no one has provided conclusive evidence that anything improper occurred. But, the story is swirling around the networks: Not only has talk radio picked it up, but mainstream national papers, such as the New York Times and USA Today, considered it newsworthy. The ABC and CBS affiliated stations in DC made it their top story. And the Press Secretary to the President commented on it as well as the Army Secretary and several Senators and Congressmen.

Network reporters are the only people not mentioning the charge, not even raising it in order to emphasize the lack of evidence. They appear to be the ones out of touch. Out of touch with both official Washington and middle America.

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cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Babies Beat Baghdad. The three broadcast network shows led Wednesday night with the sextuplets, putting the babies before the Iraq crisis. But NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw managed to intertwine the stories as he opened the November 19 broadcast:
"Good evening. It was a day of great contrasts. While world leaders continued to worry about a merchant of death in the Middle East, in the Middle West of America there was a new celebration of new life..."

Thursday night, the networks reversed order with all three leading with the apparent Iraqi agreement followed by the Iowa births. Tom Brokaw again got both stories into one sentence: "Good evening. Baghdad and babies remain the two most compelling and contrasting stories of the day..."

And before you get the idea that the Iraqi deal dominated the newscasts and thus eliminated any time for the Arlington Cemetery story, take a look at what the networks had time to air Thursday night. NBC featured an "In Depth" segment on septuplet doctors and another story on the controversy over fertility drugs. Plus, land scams played on elderly in which they send $500 to someone in another state who promises to advertise and sell land owned by the elderly, but pocket the money instead. They even had time for a piece on adults who go to college at night.

CBS ran a full report on Clinton's proposal for a health care bill of rights, a story on a weather satellite to be launched from Japan which will better track Dan Rather's favorite weather pattern, El Nino and an Eye on America about telemarketing scams aimed at seniors. If you missed the telemarketing story, don't worry. NBC is doing the same story Friday night.

The CBS Evening News has not run a word about any Clinton-related scandal since Dan Rather gave 29 seconds last Friday to Bob Woodward's discovery that the Justice Department had evidence of a Chinese effort to influence U.S. elections. But, CBS has found a scandal worth almost 12 times as much airtime: Transcripts of Nixon tapes, tapes that offer no new revelations. MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski timed the two Eye on America segments from Eric Engberg. On November 18 CBS gave the story 2 minutes and 48 seconds; on November 19 CBS allocated 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

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cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) It's not only scandals with weak evidence that the networks avoid. They also ignore ones where the evidence is overwhelming in which people have admitted their guilt or been found guilty.

Take the money laundering scheme involving Democratic officials and the Teamsters. On Monday, the court appointed overseer of the Teamster election disqualified Teamster President Ron Carey from running again. The official determined that Carey knew about improper money-laundering. But none of the network stories mentioned the Democratic/Clinton connection or that of some liberal groups in the money laundering scheme.

MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens reported that Tom Brokaw gave the development 21 seconds on November 17:
"In other news tonight, when he was elected Teamsters President six years ago Ron Carey was a working class hero in a union with a history of scandal. Well tonight Carey is a victim of his own scandal. A court appointed overseer has ruled he knew of an illegal fundraising scheme in last year's union elections. Carey has been disqualified from running again."

CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took 30 seconds to read this item:
"A federal court appointed union monitor today disqualified Teamsters President Ron Carey from running again. Former federal judge Kenneth Conboy ruled Carey 'tolerated and engaged in' violations of political and union campaign spending. This is a big victory for James Hoffa, Jr., the son of the late Jimmy Hoffa, Carey's chief rival for the union presidency. Late today, Carey denied wrongdoing, he said though Teamster reform 'does not depend on one man or woman.'"

ABC's World News Tonight even did a full story, as did CNN. But neither mentioned the Democratic angle. As transcribed by MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen, ABC's John Martin alluded to the outside involvement, but failed to cite names: "Today's decision said that just one month before this rally, Carey had personally approved donations of $735,000 from the Teamsters treasury to groups that were to funnel the money back to his campaign. Election officer Kenneth Conboy ruled that was a clear and serious violation of the election rules. In Washington, Carey vowed to appeal."
Martin went on to paint the situation as a loss for everyone, concluding his piece: "One analyst called the day a disastrous set back for the union and the nation. Despite his recent UPS strike victory, Carey's status is in shambles and so is the effort to clean up the Teamsters."

This isn't the first time the networks have missed a hook for the Democratic/Clinton/Citizen Action angle:
-- As detailed in the October 15 CyberAlert, when the House held a hearing the networks didn't bother attending.
-- The October 9 CyberAlert explained how only NBC's Lisa Myers told viewers how Harold Ickes, before the Senate committee, was asked about money laundering with the Teamsters.
-- The Senate fundraising committee recalled Richard Sullivan on October 9 to probe his knowledge of a Ron Carey-DNC money swap plan. Only ABC's World News Tonight ran a story. See the October 10 CyberAlert.
-- Back on September 18 three Democratic consultants, including one who worked for the Clinton campaign, plead guilty to subverting campaign finance laws. As explained in the September 25 CyberAlert, zilch on any of the broadcast network evening shows, but it captured a few seconds on GMA and a story on CNN.

For more on Teamster coverage over the past few months, read the latest edition of the MRC's Media Reality Check fax report. In the issue sent on Thursday the MRC's Director of Media Analysis, Tim Graham, gives a numerical rundown of what the networks haven't considered worth reporting and contrasts that with the focus given to the strike. The report is now posted on the MRC Web site, right at the top of the page: http://www.mrc.org

-- Brent Baker