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Why Ignore Nolanda Hill?

Why Ignore Nolanda Hill?
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 26, 1997

At a time when so many DNC-Donorgate targets are refusing to cooperate or have fled the country, why are the media ignoring the key player standing right in their midst - Nolanda Hill? Despite being under investigation by the Justice Department, the former business partner and close friend/lover of late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown is singing like a canary - and the media are pretending to be deaf.

Mrs. Hill recently surfaced in a Peter Boyer story in the June 9 New Yorker. Boyer underlined Hill's importance by quoting a former Clinton administration official: "She's the only one who understood his business...There were a lot of things Ron didn't remember." Hill advised the Clinton transition team in 1993 how to get Brown confirmed. When Congress began scrutinizing Brown's finances in 1994, Boyer noted the White House "dispatched a team of lawyers to Hill's apartment for a series of debriefing sessions with her."

On the June 18 edition of ABC's "Prime Time Live," investigative reporter Brian Ross interviewed Mrs. Hill, who put a lot of incredible charges on the table. For example, she:

1. Confirmed the story she paid Brown hundreds of thousands of dollars - while he was Commerce Secretary - as a partner in her firm First International, for which he'd paid nothing to acquire. Hill told Ross that Brown's monthly spending demanded $7,000 a month more than he made as a Cabinet officer, leading to his drive for under-the-table cash.

2. Asserted that Gene and Nora Lum, the first fundraising culprits to be indicted by the Justice Department's fundraising task force, paid Brown $60,000 while he was Commerce Secretary, by hiring Brown's son Michael and funneling money to Daddy through him.

3. Elaborated on allegations that Vietnam was set to pay off Brown for advocating normalized trade relations with that country. Hill informed Ross that the payoff never occurred because Brown was tipped that the FBI was tracking the scheme. Ross, who showed viewers Singaporean bank documents to back up the tale of a plot, pegged the missed payola at $700,000.

4. Disclosed a quid pro quo for the Lippo money: the White House sent Brown to China in 1994 to urge officials to approve a billion dollar power project involving the Lippo Bank.

5. Told how Brown believed Hillary Clinton had placed Lippo employee John Huang in his Commerce Department slot.

6. Claimed that while he was Commerce Secretary, Brown regularly went to her apartment after work and smoked marijuana (and once, did a line of cocaine) with her.

Now that's one juicy interview, full of leads for reporters.

There's only one problem: nobody - not newspapers, not magazines, not networks (including any of ABC's other shows) - followed up. A Nexis search one week after the show found none of the national news media, print or broadcast, have touched the story.

This is not the exception, but the rule with Ron Brown scandal coverage. When Nolanda Hill's payoffs to Brown first broke in The Washington Post on January 14, 1995, the networks did absolutely nothing for 13 days. When the Justice Department announced a preliminary investigation on February 16, all three networks did a story - and all three praised Brown in their introductions. ABC's Peter Jennings called him "one of Clinton's most capable political allies." On CBS, Dan Rather mourned: "New legal trouble tonight for a widely respected member of President Clinton's Cabinet." NBC's Tom Brokaw described him as "one of Clinton's shrewdest advisers."

The networks each filed only four full reports in all of 1995, and on CBS and NBC, three of the four reports made sure to include praise for Brown. Rather repeated the "widely respected" description and White House reporter Rita Braver called him a "superstar" and "one of Clinton's most trusted Cabinet members." NBC also called him "one of the best political minds in the administration" and "one of the stars of the Cabinet."

The praise went so far it lapsed into downright falsehood. On August 26, 1996, the first night of the Democratic convention, the DNC showed a video tribute to Brown. On the joint PBS-NBC broadcast Tom Brokaw waxed: "The man whose smiling eyes didn't miss much when he came to American politics. He took in the whole room when he walked in. And had the respect of people in our business as well, because when he got in hot water, which he did from time to time, he was always straightforward in his answers. He didn't try to duck anyone."

What?? In September 1993, Brown was caught lying about meetings he had with Vietnamese officials over the possible $700,000 in bribes. Tom Brokaw sat in the anchor chair and reported that lie in his broadcast.

Tom Brokaw and the rest of the anchors are now sitting in their anchor chairs on their thumbs.