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CyberAlert -- 03/06/1997 -- ABC Ignores Scandals

MRC Alert: ABC Ignores Scandals; Not Nixonian; Brokaw Hits Rather

1. CBS ignores Hubbell-related White House subpoenas; ABC and the Today show ignore everything Clinton scandal related.

2. "No one can argue" that every aspect of Whitewater isn't being covered, Dan Rather insists. John Cochran calls fundraising coverage "thorough."

3. A top reporter argues: "It's not Nixonian, because Nixon was clearly a criminal President. What Clinton wanted to do was be re-elected."

4. When there's a hurricane, a network anchor said of Dan Rather, " Mr. Hard News' is down there wrapped around a lamp post."

1) A casual viewer may assume that Clinton's personal go-ahead for the overnights, and Al Gore's admission that he made fundraising calls from the White House, are fueling widespread Clinton scandal stories in which every development is covered thoroughly. Not quite.

The March 5 Washington Post carried a front page story reporting that "independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has subpoenaed the White House for information on 20 individuals and entities connected to an Indonesian conglomerate that made a payment to former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell, a key figure in the Whitewater investigation....Starr's office has been trying to determine whether" payments from the Lippo Group and others "were orchestrated by the White House in an effort to buy Hubbell's silence on Whitewater matters and obstruct the investigation."

As noted in the March 5 CyberAlert, the March 4 NBC Nightly News ran a story on the development. But not ABC's World News Tonight or CBS Evening News and the Washington Post story failed to prompt any mention Wednesday night (March 5). In fact, though NBC played it big Tuesday night, Wednesday's Today show did not utter a word about it or any aspect of any Clinton scandal.

In the 7am news on Wednesday's Good Morning America reporter Bob Zelnick noted that Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott called for an independent counsel. Zelnick then explained the laws Gore may have violated, before concluding:

"Among those most familiar with campaign laws, there is division over whether Mr. Gore did something illegal. But the overwhelming consensus is that he did something uncharacteristically foolish."

During the day on Wednesday two new developments occurred. First, Al Gore changed his story and said he used a Clinton-Gore calling card, not a DNC one, to make his fundraising calls. That's a critical legal distinction since a candidate's campaign opetated under spending limits as presidential candidates are, cannot be used to raise party money. Second, it came to light that in violation of the prohibition on fundraising in a federal facility, a top White House aide accepted a $50,000 donation to the DNC.

How were these events covered?

In what Tom Brokaw billed as a "NBC News exclusive," he explained: "NBC News has been on the trail of a large check delivered to and accepted inside the White House."

Lisa Myers reported that Johnny Chung visited the White House in March 1995 for the second day in row, continuing:

"This time, he and six Chinese officials had their picture taken with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. NBC News has learned that same day, inside the White House, Johnny Chung handed Mrs. Clinton's Chief of Staff, Maggie Williams, a $50,000 check made out to the Democratic National Committee..."

Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova made clear that it's illegal to receive campaign funds on federal property. Myers then offered this tough conclusion:

"Tonight no one could say how many other times administration officials accepted campaign contributions on federal property. But one White House official said quote, 'there is an accepted procedure, which suggests to me this is not a one time event.'"

Brokaw then reported how Gore said "he misspoke" about who paid for his fundraising calls.

On the CBS Evening News Rita Braver also reported on the Johnny Chung news that NBC touted as "exclusive." So did CNN's Brooks Jackson. But CBS didn't mention anything about Gore changing his story.

And ABC's World News Tonight on March 5? Not a word about these developments or any Clinton scandal.

So, just how much coverage are all these scandals getting. Here are three measures:

*** ABC in the evening
-- March 1 World News Saturday: nothing.
-- March 2 World News Sunday, the day the Gore story broke: nothing.
-- March 3 World News Tonight: one story on Gore.
-- March 4 World News Tonight: 26 seconds on subpoenas issued related to John Huang.
March 5 World News Tonight: nothing.

*** NBC's Today: No coverage two of the past three mornings.
-- Monday, March 3: nothing
-- Tuesday, March 4: story and interview with Tim Russert about Al Gore.
-- Wednesday, March 5: nothing

*** The revelation that, in contradiction to earlier assurances, Hillary Clinton personally approved of the White House database and knew the information would be shared with the DNC. NBC Nightly News ran a story on Monday. But not a syllable yet about the matter on ABC's World News Tonight or CBS Evening News.

2) Keeping in mind how the CBS Evening News has yet to report on the database contradiction or the Hubbell related Whitewater subpoenas, look at what alternate universe in which Dan Rather must reside. Interviewed February 27 at the National Press Club Foundation's awards dinner, Dan Rather assured Marc Morano, formerly Rush Limbaugh's "Man in Washington," that the media have covered Clinton thoroughly:

"There's no question that [Clinton] had extremely intense scrutiny on this issue. No one can argue that anybody in the press, right, left, center, above or below, has failed to cover everything in Whitewater to the maximum extent and continue to do so. And the same thing with these new and what I consider to be very serious questions about campaign contributions."

Given ABC's lack of coverage on its prime news show, the network's John Cochran was even more brazen, telling Morano that on the fundraising controversies coverage "seems to be pretty tough; it seems to be pretty thorough; it seems to be that there's been no laziness on the part of the media with this one."

3) Discussing the Clinton fundraising scandal, on Tuesday Newt Gingrich asserted: "It's much bigger, I think, than Watergate. This is the most systematic large-scale effort to get around the law that I think we've certainly seen since Watergate." Bob Woodward disagrees. Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live Friday night (February 28) after he had written the story which would appear on Sunday revealing Al Gore's fundraising phone calls, Woodward put a pro-Clinton spin on the mess.

In the midst of discussing Clinton's approval of the plan to use overnights to reward large donors, King wondered "A little Nixonian?" The Washington Post reporter responded: "I don't want to say it's Nixonian." King pressed: "We never had any record of him doing anything like that, to raise money." Woodward countered:

"Well, sure. It was all about raising money, in part, for Nixon. But it's not Nixonian, because Nixon was clearly a criminal President. What Clinton wanted to do was be re-elected, and in that burning desire did he cross a line? Did he kind of open the flood gates? Well, he did the money, did he watch the boundaries of the law? We're gonna see."

Didn't Nixon just want to get re-electd?

4) Don't get between Tom Brokaw and anyone critical of his show. In a refreshing, because it's so rare, shot at another member of the media, Brokaw lashed out at Dan Rather. A few weeks ago Rather said that NBC Nightly News had became "news-lite" and the CBS Evening was the only evening show still committed to hard news. "I resent that quite deeply," Brokaw told Philadelphia Inquirer "TV Talk" columnist Gail Shister.

Some other arrows from Brokaw as quoted in the March 5 Inquirer:
-- "I think it's inappropriate for our competitors, who have gone through their own incarnations -- including moments like Connie Chung anchoring from Tonya Harding's rink -- to judge us."
-- "Whenever there is the first hint of a counter-clockwise symbol on a weather map that a hurricane might hit land, 'Mr. Hard News' is down there wrapped around a lamp post."

Ouch. Maybe Rather can win Brokaw back over by singing one of his train songs that Letterman viewers are blessed to hear whenever Rather appears.

-- Brent Baker

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