CyberAlert -- 03/14/1997 -- TV Bored with Scandal

MRC Alert: TV Bored with Scandal; Gumbel Gets Big Bucks

1. Clinton scandals have largely fallen off network news. NBC hasn't aired any stories the last two nights. And big developments go unreported.

2. Bryant Gumbel to get $7 million and a prime time hour, but an ABC reporter insists blacks have no power at the networks.

3. Michael Dukakis appointed conservative judges? Yes, according to a scene in a new ABC drama.

1) The last CyberAlert detailed how Monday night's evening shows all ran pieces on the White House and FBI disagreement over how and who was warned about Chinese attempts to influence the election. Tuesday night brought coverage of the Senate's decision to expand the hearings to include "improper" as well as illegal fundraising. But by Wednesday, the Clinton fundraising scandals had largely dropped from the network scene so viewers didn't learn about some significant developments.
First a review of what was covered and then a list of what the three broadcast networks ignored.
Tuesday, March 11:
-- ABC's World News Tonight: Full story on the Senate expanding the scope; brief item on Clinton asking TV stations to provide free ad time.
-- NBC Nightly News: Jim Miklaszewski reported on Clinton's proposal to ban soft money, noting how Clinton spent $70 million in soft money on TV ads. Tom Brokaw then mentioned the Senate expansion before Andrea Mitchell provided a story on CIA nominee Anthony Lake's confirmation hearings where he was hit by questions on Chinese attempts at influence.
-- CBS Evening News: After a full story on the Senate expansion, CBS offered two stories not covered by ABC or NBC. Rita Braver did a piece on the release of a memo from aide Marsha Scott advocating the political use of the White House database. "This is the President's idea," Scott wrote. Braver's story also reviewed the changing White House story on the FBI Asian warning, leading to this tough conclusion from Braver: "These two episodes suggest new credibility problems for the White House."
Next, Gerry Bowen examined the controversy over the Long Beach Naval Station ship yard being leased to Chinese company "with a checkered past." The China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) is owned by the communist Chinese government. Bowen observed that the company has been "implicated, but never charged, in a scheme to smuggle 2,000 illegal Chinese weapons into California last year." Bowen also noted that a COSCO business adviser sat in on a Clinton radio address just days after Johnny Chung gave the $50,000 check to Maggie Williams.
Wednesday, March 12:
-- ABC WNT: One story by John Cochran on Anthony Lake's hearing. Cochran offered a brief overview of he COSCO situation in Long Beach.
-- CBS EN: Brief item read by Dan Rather on how California Senators Boxer and Feinstein asked the NSC to review the national security implications of the Long Beach deal.
-- NBC NN: No stories.
Thursday, March 13:
-- ABC WNT: Brief item by Peter Jennings on House and Senate Judiciary committees making a formal request to the Justice Dept. for an independent counsel.
-- CBS EN: A full story from Bill Whitaker on a public hearing in Long Beach on the ship yard lease. Whitaker asked:
"Does turning over a major American port facility to a major foreign power expose the U.S. to espionage, smuggling and other security risks. That's something the administration only now is considering."
Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen: "Obviously if there are any national security implications involved in this we will review it."
Whitaker: "But what took so long? Critics wonder whether the White House fast-tracked the port deal in return for big campaign contributions from Asians here and abroad...."
-- NBC NN: No stories.
So, what have viewers missed?
-- Neither ABC or CBS evening shows have mentioned the Washington Post story that NBC reported Monday night on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indian claim that they were shaken down for a $107,000 donation to he DNC for a policy (return of their lands) that was never implemented. They also complained about pressure to hire highly paid, Democratic Party connected consultants. The DNC's March 11 offer to return the donation failed to prompt any coverage.
-- NBC Nightly News viewers have yet to hear a word about the COSCO/Long Beach controversy on which CBS has done two stories.
-- Neither the ABC or NBC evening shows have uttered a word about how a memo from Marsha Scott, the woman in charge of the White House database, directly linked the President to its political use. Both the Washington Times and Los Angeles Times played this on their front pages.
The following are developments none of the three broadcast evening shows have reported this week:
-- On March 11 the White House admitted that Clinton knew in 1994 that the Lippo Group had hired Webster Hubbell. This contradicts Clinton's statement at a February press conference that he was not aware of anyone hiring Hubbell after he left the Justice Department.
-- A March 12 USA Today story began: "President Clinton spent more than $1 million on coffees for campaign donors and other entertainment at the White House last year -- a tab three times what George Bush spent on such events in his last year in office."
-- "No More Contributor Events at White House -- for Now," declared the front page headline in the March 13 Washington Post. But the networks ignored the news of how the White House has canceled four planned receptions.
-- That Post story included news that the Washington Times devoted a whole piece to relaying: the DNC is unable to return any of the $1.5 million in illegal gifts it promised last month to send back because it is deep in debt.
2) After a fierce battle by ABC, CBS and NBC to get the services of Bryant Gumbel, on Thursday CBS announced a deal. USA Today reported that "he gets a weekly news magazine, a series of prime-time interview specials and something that could someday make him even more money: owning and developing syndicated programming with CBS's syndication arm, Eyemark."
Friday's Washington Post reported that the prime time news show will be live in order to showcase his interviewing skills. In addition, a statement from CBS said the deal includes a commitment from CBS "to create additional opportunities for minorities to gain access to and movement within the television industry through Gumbel's new production company."
How much will Gumbel be getting? Depends who you read, but it's at least about double the $2.5 he pulled in at Today. The Washington Post put his new salary at "as much as $5 million annually." USA Today pegged it at "more than $5 million a year." And the New York Post headline declared: "Gumbel Inks $7M-a-Year Deal with CBS." The New York Post's Josef Adalian observed that his CBS deal "puts him on a par with ABC News star Diane Sawyer, who also pulls down a reported $7 million a year."
Looking on CompuServe for AP's story on Gumbel, I came across a short piece on a speech delivered in Alabama by ABC News anchor Carole Simpson. The March 12 AP dispatch, the day before Gumbel's $7 million deal which included the commitment to creating slots for minorities, began:
"ABC anchorwoman Carole Simpson says gains made by minorities in network news don't extend past 'window dressing' jobs. 'If you turn on the TV, all over the country, the networks may have a black weatherman, a black sports guy, an Asian anchorwoman,' she said at Auburn University. 'In top management, where the real power is, those jobs are still being denied us.'
Yes, but for the past two months a bunch of white guys have been battling over who can offer more millions of dollars to a black man in order to give him a prime time showcase. But even if Simpson is able to overcome racial discrimination, she's ready for her next obstacle. AP quoted her: "I'm in my 50s now, and I'm prepared to fight age discrimination should that come up."
If only the networks discriminated against liberal bias, then we'd be rid of both Gumbel and Simpson.
3) ABC has temporarily replaced Tuesday night's 10pm ET show, NYPD Blue, with a new drama, The Practice, which follows a low-budget criminal defense law firm. The show is set in Boston. On the March 11 episode two female associates argue a search and seizure case before a judge. After smelling marijuana on a car's driver, a police officer searched the trunk and found a stash of cocaine. The two defense lawyers contended the cocaine evidence should be thrown out.
One defense lawyer asks the other: "So, what do you think? What do we know about this judge?" The other lawyer replies, with no hint of irony or sarcasm: "Well, Dukakis appointed him. He's a strict constructionist."
There you have it. In Hollywood Michael Dukakis defines the conservative end of the spectrum.
Finally, a reminder of a news segment that may be of interest: Sunday night 60 Minutes will air Ed Bradley's interview/profile of Paula Jones.

-- Brent Baker