CyberAlert -- 02/18/1997 -- Russert vs. Donaldson

Russert vs. Donaldson; Media Companies Love Democrats

1. Three more revelations on the Clinton scandal front but you'd have a hard time learning about them on TV's morning and evening shows.

2. Tim Russert treats news of a secret White House meeting as a very big deal, but ABC's George Stephanopoulos dismisses its importance.

3. The owners of CNN and ABC contributed much more in soft money to Democrats than Republicans in the 1995-96 cycle.

4. The Clinton Administration has paid Billy Dale's legal bills, but the media have almost universally ignored the move.

1) Here's an update on Clinton scandal coverage since the February 16 CyberAlert (Vol. Two; No. 17). That edition noted that only CNN had reported the February 10 admission of White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry that the White House coffees were designed to raise money -- a contradiction of Clinton's earlier assurance. Through the February 17 evening shows ABC, CBS and NBC have yet to alert viewers to this concession.

The last CyberAlert also recounted how only ABC's Good Morning America mentioned the Chinese connection when it broke Thursday morning. All ran pieces that night but only one of the three broadcast networks mentioned the connection Friday morning. Friday night none of the broadcast networks said a word about China and only NBC did a short item on the NSC warning Clinton officials away from the shady donors. On Saturday night: nothing on ABC, CBS and NBC. [Update: CNN's World Today on Friday night did run a full story from Brooks Jackson reviewing the NSC angle.]

Now, let's check Sunday and Monday coverage. Sunday brought three developments:
a) On Meet the Press Congressman Dan Burton, head of the House investigation, announced that the China news forced him to expand his investigation and he had just issued 20 additional subpoenas.
b) Liberal New York Post columnist Jack Newfield unveiled the details of a 1995 White House meeting that led to all the illegal fundraising and to party money paying for Clinton ads.
c) The Sunday Washington Post carried a story headlined: "Signs of Policy Shift on Status of Guam Appeared After Contributions to Democrats: Island's Huge Fundraising Effort Followed Hillary Clinton Visit." Post reporter John Pomfret discovered that after the First Lady visited in September, 1996 the Governor had organized about $900,000 in donations to the Democrats and in December a Clinton official circulated a report supporting a bill backed by the Guam donors to allow Guam to control its own immigration and labor laws. That would allow the immigration of low-wage laborers for factories that qualify for the Made in the USA label.

Sunday night:
-- CBS and NBC: no shows in east due to college and NBA basketball.
-- ABC's World News Sunday: Reporter Carla Davis did a story summarizing the Guam revelation and airing ABC's first evening mention of the NSC warnings. But Davis concluded with the liberal spin of more rules being the solution when the current rules aren't being followed: "...There are calls for even more investigations, but still no real movement on legislation to reform the campaign finance system. Both parties are reluctant to change the system which has served them so well."
-- CNN's The World Today: Claire Shipman put together a piece citing China and the House issuing more subpoenas, but no mention of Guam.

By Monday morning: What scandal? What weekend developments?
-- ABC's GMA: Nothing about any scandal development, but at 7:30am news reader Elizabeth Vargas reported: "The Center for Responsive Politics says Democrats and Republicans tripled their take of soft money in the '90s..."
-- NBC's Today: One story, aired only in the 7am news, from John Palmer which talked about Guam and Burton expanding the investigation.
-- CBS This Morning: Massive coverage by comparison. First, in the 7:07am news break a full Bill Plante story on the GOP wanting to expand investigation and clips of White House Deputy Counsel Lanny Davis responding to questions on Sunday's talk shows. Second, in the 8am news anchor Jose Diaz-Balart gave a brief mention to Burton's decision to expand to cover the China angle.
The bottom line: In the three weekday mornings since the China and possible espionage angle broke, the three networks have each aired six hours of shows (for a total of 18 hours) but have yet to air a single discussion/interview segment on the developments.

Monday night: Nothing about anything but Starr.
-- ABC's World News Tonight led with the news that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will step down in August to become Dean at Pepperdine University's law school. John Donvan observed "cautious glee" at White House.
-- NBC Nightly News: a brief item on Starr read by Tom Brokaw.
-- CBS Evening News: No mention of Starr, but Phil Jones did a story on the soft money report cited on GMA. Jones noted: "Kent Cooper of the Center for Responsive Politics, sees a pattern. Big givers were those regulated by big government."

Now there's a story idea for CBS: If you reduce the number of laws that impact companies then might they have less of a need to curry favor with the politicians who impose those rules?

2) Jack Newfield's column in the Sunday New York Post caught the attention of two Sunday morning shows, but viewers got a very different impression of its seriousness depending on which one they watched. NBC's Tim Russert took a serious tone with the White House's Lanny Davis. Russert asked Davis:
"There have been suggestions that many of these charges come from conservatives. This morning in the New York Post, Jack Newfield, a liberal, and a columnist wrote the following and I want to put it on the screen."
Russert then took the unusual move of reading the following lengthy passage about a May 1995 White House meeting as viewers saw the words in an on-screen chyron (following quote is from Newfield's column):
"But according to this now conscience-stricken Clinton adviser 'The President was incredibly intense about the need to raise all this money fast and early. That's what created all the pressure on the fundraisers. That's what caused people to start cutting corners...It finally caused people to skirt laws and ethics. Soft money donations are unlimited and supposed to be used only for party-building activities. But soft money was used for Clinton commercials that talked about his concrete plans for crime, welfare and the budget. That was unethical. Money was raised on federal property, from the White House, from Air Force One, and this was against the law,' my source explained.
"He continued, 'Where do you go for so much soft money? We went to the Asian clients of Clinton's Arkansas friends. We went to dirty unions like the Laborers International, to bankers with regulatory problems. We went to very shady hustlers who were willing to pay $300,000 to get their picture taken with the President so they could con people about their White House access and influence.'"

So, a very ominous discovery of a nefarious plan that led to all sorts of unethical behavior. Well, not according to ABC. Among those attending the 1995 meeting: George Stephanopoulos who was part of ABC's This Week roundtable. Sam Donaldson asked him:
"Before we finish this subject, George I gotta ask you about this what, Jack Newfield has a story that in May 1995 there was a secret meeting in the White House which you which according to the story that's where the money started. In other words everyone said yes, we have to get the money."
Stephanopoulos deflected the issue: "And boy, there was a real big secret, that we wanted to raise a lot of money in 1996 to be competitive."
Donaldson: "What happened at that meeting, give us the low down."
Stephanopoulos: "I think if it's the meeting he's talking about the President said we need to make sure have enough money to stay competitive, to stay on the air. And yeah, I think everyone in the White House would plead guilty to that."

Very reassuring.

3) The Center for Responsive Politics study cited earlier revealed that even while the Republicans controlled the House and Senate, the big media companies gave far more to Democrats than Republicans in the 1995-96 election cycle. The numbers include money given to the main party committee as well as the congressional and Senate campaign committees. The list of large donors ran in the February 17 Washington Post.

-- Walt Disney Company (owner of ABC):
Democrats: $1,063,050 (that's one million plus)
Republicans: $296,450

-- Time Warner Inc. (CNN and Time magazine):
Democrats: $401,250
Republicans: $325,000

-- DreamWorks SKG (TV and movie producers):
Democrats: $530,000
Republicans: 0 (zero)

-- Only Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. reversed the pattern:
Democrats: $20,000
Republicans: $654,700

4) The February 14 Washington Times reported that the previous day the Treasury Department had wired a check for $410,622.19 into the account of Billy Dale's attorney. Dale was the head of the Travel Office supposedly fired for embezzlement but then found innocent. Last fall President Clinton said he'd only sign the bill providing compensation to Dale if Congress agreed to pay the legal fees of White House staff under investigation. Congress didn't. The Times reported: "In October Congress approved the legislation to pay Mr. Dale's legal fees, and Mr. Clinton quietly signed it without comment."

On the February 16 Fox News Sunday, host Tony Snow noted the payment in his "Final Thoughts." USA Today ran a one paragraph item on February 17. But that's all the coverage I've seen.

The President's move shows that he concedes Dale was wronged, but if no one knows about it then the President will never have to say he's sorry.

-- Brent Baker