Sex Slant Against Starr; Pruning Trie's Story; Where's Brown?
Look for an appearance soon on CNN's Showbiz Today by the MRC's Tim Lamer in a story on how businessmen are portrayed on TV. Showbiz Today airs twice daily at 5:30pm ET/2:30pm PT and again at 12:30am ET/9:30pm PT. To read the Businessmen Behaving Badly study from the MRC's Free Market Project, go to: http://www.freemarketproject.org/ 
1) A front page headline in Wednesday's Washington Post announced "Starr Probes Clinton Personal Life: Whitewater Prosecutors Question Arkansas Troopers About Women." Post reporters Bob Woodward and Susan Schmidt wrote that "sources said that the extensive interviews were part of an effort by Starr's office to find close Clinton associates in whom he may have confided and who might be able to provide information about the veracity of sworn statements Clinton has made in the course of the Whitewater investigation."
The revelation hardly stirred the networks on Wednesday morning (June 25). Not a word appeared about it on NBC's Today or CBS This Morning. Only ABC's Good Morning America mentioned it, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen informed me. In the 7am news Elizabeth Vargas read a brief item on the Post disclosure.
Wednesday night neither ABC's World News Tonight or CBS Evening News uttered a syllable about the matter, but NBC Nightly News ran a full story. NBC portrayed Starr as the bad guy, reporting the story as the tale of improper personal probing of Clinton's sex life instead of as a story of an independent counsel trying to locate potential witnesses with key information.
Anchor Brian Williams told
Jim Miklaszewski began with Starr's detractors: "President Clinton had no comment today, but White House aides and fellow Democrats were outraged at reports Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating the President's private sex life."
Senator John Kerry: "I think this crosses the line of decency and I felt incensed by it, outraged by it and I think all of America is hurt by that kind of activity."
Miklaszewski then summarized Starr's take: "The Washington Post first reported that Starr investigators have recently questioned Arkansas state troopers about Governor Bill Clinton's alleged relationships with at least a dozen women, including Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones. Tonight Starr issued a statement denying he's investigating the President's sex life. And sources close to the investigation tell NBC News Starr's not interested in revealing intimate details of the President's private relations but is pursuing a broader investigation into public corruption, bribery and drug abuse in the Arkansas state capital."
Instead of pursuing that path, Miklaszewski next put on two soundbites denouncing Starr for doing what Starr claims he is not -- uncovering Clinton's sex life.
Miklaszewski continued: "Nevertheless, one former Independent Counsel thinks even Starr's questions about the President's sex life have gone too far."
Michael Zeldin: "They're irrelevant to the job he was asked to perform and he should be ashamed of himself."
Miklaszewski: "James Carville, an outspoken Starr critic, ridiculed the investigation."
James Carville: "This thing sort of has a Pee Wee Herman scent to it here."
Miklaszewski: "Critics charge that after three years and $30 million dollars Starr's investigation is nothing more than a political witch hunt, but Starr's office is gearing up for a new round of indictments as early as this fall. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the White House."
Quite the model of balance: The intro, three soundbites and their lead-in sentences disparaging Starr versus no soundbites and a couple of sentences forwarding his view. As for Carville's comment, with all the women Clinton knows you'd hardly think Pee Wee Herman would come to mind.
This isn't the first time Brian Williams has made the person raising the issue of Clinton's conduct the bad guy instead of focusing on Clinton's bad behavior. Anchoring the June 8, 1996 NBC Nightly News a few days after the FBI files story broke, Williams painted Bob Dole as the bad guy: "The politics of Campaign '96 are getting very ugly, very early. Today Bob Dole accused the White House of using the FBI to wage war against its political enemies."
2) Tuesday's NBC Nightly News led with a story tagged as an "exclusive" interview with Democratic donor Charles Trie. But NBC didn't break any new ground as Tom Brokaw just relayed Trie's assurances that he'd done nothing wrong. Trie never even spoke during the June 24 story that Brokaw filed on his way to Hong Kong. (NBC quickly dropped their "exclusive." MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that it wasn't mentioned at all on Wednesday's Today.)
Read through this transcript taken down by MRC intern Jessica Anderson and see if you catch a couple of oddities.
Brian Williams: "Good evening. We're going to begin tonight with an NBC News exclusive. Until Bill Clinton was elected President, Charles Yah Lin Trie was an obscure restaurant owner in Little Rock, Arkansas. It happened to be one of then Governor Bill Clinton's favorite restaurants and Charlie Trie became a good friend. But when Bill Clinton was elected to the White House, that made Charlie Trie a friend of the President, a successful Asian businessman and a powerful fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. He made 22 visits to the White House. Then when questions surfaced about how Democrats raised money last year, Trie became a central figure. $1.2 million he raised has been returned and almost four months ago Congress issued subpoenas to question Charlie Trie. But congressional investigators haven't been able to get to him because he disappeared until now. Tom Brokaw found him in Shanghai, China. His exclusive report now. Life on the run for a man who describes himself as a king to the Asian people because of his friendship with President Clinton."
Tom Brokaw: "Trie would not talk on camera, but he agreed to let us take his picture because he says newspaper photos make him look ugly. He said that friends in China have been hiding him, friends he met in his trade business. He made a million dollars in '93, the first year of the Clinton Administration, but when he became controversial, his business dried up. Now Trie says he's broke, even though he insists he's done nothing wrong. Trie vehemently denies that he was working for either China or Taiwan, saying he received not one dollar from either government.
"This is Wong Joon, the suspected arms dealer Trie had invited to a White House coffee with the President. Trie says he knew Wong only as a powerful businessman, not as a suspected arms dealer. As for John Huang, the former Clinton Administration official and fellow fundraiser, Trie said he considers him to be a friend, but he knows nothing of possible Huang ties to China.
"Trie supported the Clinton's legal defense fund, but said he acted only as a courier for contributions from fellow worshipers in the Buddhist community, and many of those checks were returned, he said, only because the donors were barely literate immigrants who have no addresses or phone numbers on their checks. In the White House, Trie said he often saw the President, but insists that they only spoke as friends, never about political issues. Trie did say he wrote to the President last year urging him not to send an American aircraft carrier into tensions between China and Taiwan, only because he thought it would hurt the President and it would also be bad for Trie's booming Asian trade business. Trie blames much of his trouble on what he called, 'discrimination against Asians.' He did not want to go on the record on other open questions.
"Trie bragged that he could continue to hide out in Asia for 10 years; 'they'll never find me,' he said. And the best part about living here, he doesn't have to read about himself in American newspapers, but he is concerned about his wife, now living in Taiwan and especially about his mother, now living back by herself in America. As for when Trie will tell the whole story, he said that could come later this summer. Now let's go to Brian Williams in New York for the rest of the day's news."
Two observations: First, Brokaw passed along Trie's assertion that "he received not one dollar" from the Chinese government. But Brokaw didn't bother to mention that the April 1 Wall Street Journal reported that Trie "received a series of substantial wire transfers in 1995 and 1996 from a bank operated by the Chinese government." The June 13 USA Today disclosed that "A foreign developer with ties to the Chinese government funneled at least $470,000 into a Washington bank account controlled by Charles Yan Lin Trie while Trie was raising money for the Democratic Party." NBC skipped over both stories.
Second, near the end of the story Brokaw referred to "when Trie will tell the whole story." Trie maintains that all the charges against him are false. So if what Brokaw relayed from Trie is accurate then what "whole story" is there to tell?
3) The June 18 Prime Time Live featured a story by Brian Ross highlighting Nolanda Hill's charges about former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's unethical activities, including the acceptance of payoffs. A week has passed, but the major newspapers and the networks have not only failed to pick up the story and try to advance it, they haven't even mentioned the bombshell revelations from an intimate friend of Brown's. Even colleagues of Ross at ABC have refused to touch the story as World News Tonight, Good Morning America and This Week all failed to air a word about their own network's exclusive story.
The media have long put Ron Brown on a pedestal. Just look at what Tom Brokaw announced during Democratic convention coverage last August. As dug out, by MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham, of the MRC database of network news coverage, during joint PBS-NBC coverage on August 26 Brokaw reminisced about Brown:
"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."
Compare that assertion to this excerpt from last week's Prime Time Live:
Brian Ross: "...Which Nolanda Hill says would twice lead Brown into schemes involving under-the-table money. The first, an offer from the group claiming to represent the government of Vietnam, seeking to get American trade restrictions lifted. Hill says Brown met with them both before and, more significantly, after his selection as Secretary of Commerce.
Nolanda Hill: "And he said, 'Do you think it would be worth a million dollars?' And I said, 'Ron, this is crazy. I mean, it's nuts.'"
Ross: "But he was trying anyway?"
Hill: "He was considering it. He saw it as an opportunity to afford to be Commerce Secretary."
Ross: "And were bank accounts set up overseas?"
Hill: "There was a bank account set up, as I understand it."
Ross: "In the middle of it, one of the men allegedly involved -- a Vietnamese-American named Binh Ly -- went to the FBI telling of a plan to funnel some $700,000 to Brown through a secret bank account in Singapore."
Video of reporter posing question to Brown in 1993: "Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us about this report that says you received money in exchange for helping lift the trade restrictions on Vietnam?"
Ross: "It was big news when the investigation broke in 1993, and, at the time, Brown denied everything."
Brown replying to the 1993 question: "An absolutely ridiculous report, has no validity to it. I have never been involved with any such thing."
Ross to Hill: "Is that truthful?"
Ross: "He lied?"
Ross: "But Hill says no money ever changed hands, and the bank account was not used because Brown got a tip the FBI was on to him, something FBI agents on the case have told ABC News they always suspected."
Brokaw is quite the judge of character.
-- Brent Baker