CyberAlert -- 01/16/1998 -- Espy Erased

Espy Erased; Cisneros Mistress Missed; Donaldson to the Rescue?

1. Alexis Herman got a few seconds Thursday night on CBS and NBC, but ABC provided a story with a key fact missed by CNN. And NBC finds millions of "victims" in New England, but they aren't human.

2. Not one network bothered with the latest indictment in the Mike Espy case, but that's nothing new for this scorned scandal.

3. Letterman's "Top Ten Questions Clinton Will Be Asked at His Sexual Harassment Deposition."

4. A USA Today reporter acknowledged the White House press corps' bias in favor of Clinton's programs. Will Sam Donaldson fix that?

cyberno1.gif (1100 bytes) Thursday night the ABC and CNN evening shows ran full stories updating the Alexis Herman case while ABC and CBS just gave it a few seconds, but only CNN and FNC even mentioned the guilty plea entered by the ex-mistress of Henry Cisneros and all ignored the latest indictments related to the Mike Espy probe.

A rundown of Thursday night is below, but first an update on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The January 15 CyberAlert reported that ABC and FNC offered full stories on Herman Wednesday night while CBS and NBC gave it about 20 seconds each. UPDATE: The January 14 edition of CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET led with a full report on Herman from reporter Pierre Thomas.

Thursday morning, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen informed me, ABC's Good Morning America ran a Herman story by Brian Ross. NBC's Today, MRC analyst Eric Darbe noted, did more than Nightly News the night before, carrying a full story from Pete Williams. CBS This Morning, as usual, was AWOL. MRC analyst Steve Kaminski observed that they did not mention Cisneros during the national 8am hour, nor during any 7am hour portions carried by Washington's WUSA-TV.

Here's what the networks reported Thursday night:

-- The CBS Evening News led with Iraq and offered another story on tobacco marketing and a look at the controversy over life on Mars, leaving just 24 seconds this news item read by Dan Rather:

"President Clinton today strongly defended his latest Cabinet member under fire and under accusations. A story leaked late yesterday said the Justice Department is looking into whether Labor Secretary Alexis Herman traded influence for cash during her earlier tenure as a White House aide. Today, Herman flat out denied any wrongdoing. The President said he doesn't believe the charges quote, 'for a minute.'"

-- NBC Nightly News put John Glenn's future space mission at the top with two full stories. NBC also found time for two stories on marketing of tobacco to teens and one on the impact of the flu on the economy. Tom Brokaw squeezed in 20 seconds on Herman:

"President Clinton's Labor Secretary, Alexis Herman, today denied allegations that she took a bribe to help a telecommunications company secure an FCC license when she was working as a White House adviser. She said she'll cooperate fully with the Justice Department. President Clinton said, quoting now, he didn't believe these charges for a moment."

At another point in the show Brokaw ominously intoned: "In Northern New England, where an ice storm has brought a week of misery to millions of people, and there's more on the way, a giant Noreaster that could dump a lot of snow on top of the already devastating layer of ice, ice that has claimed millions of other victims." The "victims" -- maple syrup trees in Maine.

-- CNN's Thursday The World Today at 8pm (CNN now confusing has the same name for the 8 and 10pm ET news hours) reported on both Herman and Cisneros. Anchor Joie Chen took 21 seconds to note the guilty plea from Linda Jones before CNN aired a lengthy piece on Herman by Wolf Blitzer, who offered plenty of time for the White House disparagement of the man bringing the charge, Laurent Yene.

Blitzer asserted: "Her supporters say Yene is seeking revenge -- angry over a business and personal relationship that soured with Vanessa Weaver, a close friend of Herman's who had bought her consulting firm when she joined the White House in 1993.

Jeff Fried, Weaver's attorney: "He came to us asking for $250,000. He unilaterally reduced that number to $125,000 and if he did not get that from Dr. Weaver, he was going to go to Capitol Hill, to the media, and he was going to quote, 'destroy Alexis Herman and her friend.'"

Blitzer: "Yene came forward with his allegations only after her Senate confirmation last April. Yene could not be reached for comment...."

-- Viewers of ABC's World News Tonight got the fuller story, as Brian Ross provided some information damaging to the White House line which Blitzer skipped. Brian Ross reported:

"....The White House characterized the charges against her as lies, which the White House says, were fully investigated and discredited during Herman's Senate confirmation hearings. But that's just not true. Senate investigators told ABC News today that the allegation Herman was selling her influence at the White House was never investigated by them. And FBI agents doing the background check on Herman never talked to the man who is now making the accusations. He is 42-year-old Laurent Yene who first met with Justice officials only three months ago, accompanied at his request by ABC News. It was then that Yene turned over a pile of photos and documents, including several the White House has claimed were forgeries, but Justice officials have told ABC News that several key documents provided by Yene have been authenticated, one of the reasons the investigation of Alexis Herman is now being taken so seriously."

-- Fox News Channel's 7pm ET Fox News Report allocated 35 seconds to Herman, but in about 25 seconds anchor Jon Scott delivered all the key facts in the latest development on the Cisneros front:

"The ex-mistress of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy today. Jones admits lying to investigators about how much Cisneros paid her to keep quiet about their affair. She's said it was $60,000 but prosecutors say it was a quarter million. Now Jones is going to prison for three and a half years."

Not even a prison term and a guilty plea that implicates a former Cabinet official could stir the broadcast networks. As I said above, only CNN and FNC mentioned the matter.

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But not even those cable networks bothered with the Espy case in their prime time shows Thursday night. As reported by the AP's Curt Anderson in a January 15 dispatch:

"A Tyson Foods Inc. vice president and the company's top

lobbyist were charged Thursday in a 15-count federal indictment with giving illegal gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and lying about it.

"The charges against Archibald L. Schaffer III, the Tyson executive, and lobbyist Jack L. Williams involve the same $12,000 in gratuities that Tyson pleaded guilty in December to giving Espy: playoff football tickets, tickets to a presidential inaugural dinner, travel to an Arkansas party and a scholarship for Espy's girlfriend."

Ignoring Espy is nothing new. Back on December 29 Tyson agreed to pay a $6 million fine for its gifts to Espy. The CBS Evening News and CNN's Prime News gave it a few seconds as did Good Morning America. But zilch on NBC or ABC's World News Tonight.

Earlier developments also went unnoticed by the networks. As documented by Tim Graham in the MRC's December 11 Media Reality Check (, the four network evening shows (and three morning ones) all skipped the November 26 announcement that a Sun Diamond Growers VP had been convicted of giving Espy illegal gratuities. The December 2 conviction of Ronald Blackley, Espy's top aide at Agriculture, for lying about money he received, never made it onto an ABC, CBS or NBC morning or evening news show, nor CNN in prime time.

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With President Clinton scheduled to be deposed on Saturday in the Paula Jones matter, from the January 9 Late Show with David Letterman the "Top Ten Questions Clinton Will Be Asked at His Sexual Harassment Deposition." Copyright 1998 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. "Would you please put your pants back on?"

9. "Why do you giggle when you hear the word subpoena?"

8. "Mr. President, could you put away the GameBoy?"

7. "Would you please take your hand off my thigh?"

6. "True or false: you own a pair of boxer shorts that read, 'Home of the Washington Monument.'"

5. "Could you repeat that when you finish chewing?"

4. "Explain this" (Video tape of Bill & Hillary dancing in their swimming suits)

3. "What exactly is 'Pants Force One?'"

2. "Can you explain this room service charge for three gallons of mayonnaise?"

1. "Did somebody say McDonald's?"

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CyberAlert demonstrated a vacuum for Sam Donaldson to fill? The January 8 CyberAlert detailed the fawning coverage that greeted Clinton's child care spending proposal. In Monday's USA Today political reporter Richard Benedetto suggested that's just the kind of non-challenging coverage Donaldson may put an end to if he practices the kind of reporting he did during the Reagan years. (In an effort to bolster third place World News Tonight, as of this week ABC News made Donaldson its prime White House correspondent.)

Recalling Donaldson's tough reporting during the Reagan Administration, Benedetto wrote in his weekly column on January 12:

"...By Donaldson boldly leading the way, other reporters were encouraged to follow up and contribute toward getting the full story out.

"Such hard-nosed reporting out of the White House is in shorter supply these days, even though Clinton aides vehemently deny it.

"Last week was illustrative. Clinton, just returned from a New Year holiday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, used the media to full advantage. With Congress in recess, his flurry of popular proposals to balance the federal budget, extend Medicare to those 55-65 and expand federal child-care assistance by $22 billion won mostly glowing media coverage.

"In the days before the announcements, Clinton got an advance blast of positive publicity by selectively leaking details of his plans to chosen news outlets, which gave them prominent play.

"Once the proposals were out, few reporters raised tough questions about whether it is wise to expand Medicare when the system is near bankruptcy or if the strategy is a ruse to give Democrats voter-friendly issues to run on this year.

"Instead, they were more likely to be framed as progressive, forward-looking government initiatives that show Clinton looking benevolent.

"After the child-care announcement, many newspapers and TV stations published and broadcast carefully staged photos of the

President and First Lady walking down the White House entrance hall holding hands with a band of smiling children -- white and black -- from Washington day-care centers.

"Placing that photo and a graphic showing the growing need for child care next to a story on Republicans carping about Clinton's return to 'big government,' as this newspaper did, reinforced the President's case and made the GOP look mean.

"Had Donaldson been around, he might have shouted to Clinton during the stroll, 'Mr. President, isn't this a staged attempt to make Democrats look good and Republicans look bad in an election year?' That may have triggered coverage of another angle of the story...."

The idea that Sam Donaldson could shift the White House press corps to the right shows just how poor a job the reporters are doing.

-- Brent Baker

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