ABC Has Anti-Paula Policy; Jennings Reverses on Mother Teresa
1) Tuesday morning newspaper stories disclosed more evidence of illegal fundraising at the White House involving President Clinton, but the morning shows ignored it all. Tuesday night, however, the three broadcast networks all ran stories.
A September 16 USA Today subheadline announced: "New documents suggest that White House gatherings June 7 and June 21, 1995, for Democratic donors were, in essence, fundraisers held on government property. If so, the events could be a violation of federal law." Next to that story a sidebar from the Associated Press was headlined "1994 Document Suggests Gore Knew Calls Illegal." The document showed that in 1994 Gore was driven to DNC headquarters in order to place fundraising calls, suggesting that he knew making calls from federal property would be improper.
Previewing Tuesday's testimony from Karl Jackson of the U.S.- Thailand Business Council, a September 16 Washington Times headline declared: "Witness Puts Clinton at Scene of Illegal Fundraising Pitch."
None of this prompted a syllable Tuesday morning, but MRC analyst Eric Darbe noticed that during the 7am news Good Morning America had time to report that OJ Simpson had moved into a new house. Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens pointed out, made time for a multi-day interview with Kitty Kelly about her book on the British Royal family, a book full of unsubstantiated allegations that Today (and Dateline) highlighted.
2) Tuesday night (September 16) the networks carried fundraising stories, though all very different. CBS led with a charge that the FBI has suppressed information about Chinese efforts to funnel money, ABC ran a full story on how the coffees raised hard money and what happened at the hearings, and NBC gave the hearings just 40 seconds.
NBC Nightly News led with study on how doctors are prescribing too many antibiotics, followed by stories on a micro- organism in Maryland waters that causes lesions on fish and an update on Dodi Fayed bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones. About nine minutes into the show, after the fist ad break, Tom Brokaw read a 40-second update on the hearings. Here's what he reported, in full, over three still photos of the White House coffee:
Illegal activity in front of the President. But NBC didn't judge it worth a full story.
ABC's World News Tonight started with a Trevor Rees-Jones update followed by a full report on how Clinton will reject the tobacco deal. After an ad, Peter Jennings went to story on a study from "two public interest organizations" on how Americans spend more repairing cars than the U.S. spends on road repair. Euro-centric Jennings then narrated a piece on how the Europeans build better roads. Next, he announced that consumer prices were up only 0.2 percent.
About 13 minutes into the show, and after the second ad break, ABC got to fundraising. Linda Douglass began by noting that Attorney General Reno has said coffee money was legal because it was soft money. Douglass continued:
Relaying that Republicans want an independent counsel named, Douglass told viewers that the White House insisted the coffees were not fundraisers. Douglass countered:
After a soundbite from Karl Jackson, Douglass added:
Douglass concluded with the White House spin followed by her own favorable spin on Reno's situation:
Fundraising topped the CBS Evening News. Rather announced the Reno-ordered shake-up as he introduced Bob Schieffer's story on charges of a cover-up leveled by Senator Arlen Specter.
Following a Specter soundbite Schieffer moved to Tuesday's hearings with the "first direct allegation that those now famous White House coffees were actually fundraisers...." CBS showed a clip of Jackson's testimony before Schieffer offered this tough conclusion:
"Real trouble" if people hear about it. But two of the three networks skipped Specter's charge.
3) ABC's White House reporter John Donvan revealed Tuesday that his boss told him to not even bother filing reports which include news on the Paula Jones front. And that's fine with him since he prefers to stick to "much larger issues."
This week CNN's TalkBack Live (3-4pm ET) is broadcasting from the Freedom Forum's Newseum in Arlington, Virginia. Tuesday's guests: the White House reporters for the four networks.
Talking about how the media can get caught up in a frenzy, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted:
ABC's Donvan jumped in with a comment displaying just how upset he and his boss are at any coverage of Paula Jones:
The name of the Executive Producer of World News Tonight: Paul Friedman.
Earlier in the show Donvan made his disdain for the story quite clear, disagreeing with NBC's David Bloom who called the Jones case a "legitimate issue." Here's the exchange:
We certainly don't want to do anything that might help "Clinton haters." So much for covering the news. If Donvan doesn't "enjoy" the story then it won't get covered.
4) After Christopher Hitchens spent two minutes trashing Mother Teresa Friday night during ABC coverage of her funeral, anchor Peter Jennings acted like he found the comments inappropriate for the setting:
Well, that's not what Jennings really felt if you believe a more recent assessment he issued. On Sunday, New York's Cardinal John O'Connor, The Washington Post noted Tuesday in picking up an item from Monday's New York City papers, "expressed his 'deep regret' over TV's 'tasteless' criticism of the late nun," specifically the attacks by Christopher Hitchens on ABC.
Apprised of this complaint, the Post's John Carmody reported that Jennings "stoutly defended the choice of Hitchens." Jennings told Carmody: "I thought it added immeasurably to our coverage. Some of the debate about Mother Teresa very much has focused on reported relationships with the rich. I thought his presence set off an interesting, lively debate." As noted in the September 15 CyberAlert, ABC didn't think having a guest on to attack Diana during her funeral would have added "immeasurably" to their coverage since they avoided such scrutiny of Diana's life.
As a reminder of what kind of comments so pleased Jennings, here's some of what what Hitchens intoned at about 2am ET Saturday during the funeral (for more, see the September 15 CyberAlert):
Let's review today's media lesson. Reporting on Paula Jones should be shunned, books full of uncorroborated sexual allegations about the Royal family should be promoted, but saying anything mean about Diana should be avoided, though disparaging Mother Teresa during her funeral is just great.
-- Brent Baker