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CyberAlert -- 04/17/1997 -- Letting Clinton Blow Smoke

Letting Clinton Blow Smoke; More Fundraising Rules

1. More evidence of White House misstatements on Hubbell and an allegation that a top aide misused her office. Two of the days three revelations that the networks ignored.

2. ABC and CBS showcase Clinton's "concern" about teenage smoking but fail to note that Democrats solicited and then hid tobacco dollars. But they find time to discuss Gingrich's "fine."

3. "If you really care" about illegal fundraising, a reporter tells Gingrich, then you must demand more rules and bureaucracy.

4. Newsweek's Evan Thomas inadvertently concedes that the media will follow the White House spin by focusing on Burton, not the facts.


1) Wednesday brought another round of Clinton scandal developments: Evidence of White House deception in their story about Web Hubbell; Charges the Secretary of Labor nominee misused her previous White House position to financially benefit a business partner; and a convoluted tale of campaign cash and a shady deal involving Mack McLarty.

As usual, the networks ignored them all. Here's a brief summary of each:

-- A Wednesday, April 16 Washington Post story raised more questions about "hush money." Reporter Susan Schmidt began:

"In the nine months after he resigned from the Justice Department in 1994 and before he pleaded guilty to charges of bilking his former law firm, Webster Hubbell had more than 70 meetings with Clinton administration officials, records show. An appointment calendar, telephone message slips and other documents obtained by The Washington Post indicate that the extent of Hubbell's contacts within the upper reaches of the White House and the administration was much broader than was previously known."

-- Wednesday's New York Times and USA Today carried stories detailing questionable activities by Labor nominee Alexis Herman. USA Today reporter Edward Pound's lead:

"Secretary of Labor nominee Alexis Herman, while serving in a top administration job, provided extraordinary access to the White House for a former business associate who bought her consulting company. USA Today has learned that Herman, while the director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, repeatedly opened the doors of the White House to Vanessa Weaver, a close friend. In some cases, Weaver brought along clients or others she was trying to sign up, or she arranged through Herman for them to participate in prestigious White House events."

-- On Tuesday night PBS ran an edition of Frontline produced by Peter Boyer in which he traced the role of Nora and Eugene Lum in making some Clinton cronies very rich. It's a pretty complex story and I've only seen the first 15 minutes of the show, but as explained in Walter Goodman's New York Times television review on Tuesday, the Lums were used in 1992 "as a channel for large amounts of cash from prosperous Asian-Americans." The real news in the program comes in what Boyer uncovered about Mack McLarty.

Goodman outlined the revelations, noting that Boyer tracks the Lums "to Oklahoma and finds them being used as fronts to benefit a giant utility company headed by Thomas McLarty, who later became the President's Chief-of-Staff. The details of that operation, which an Oklahoma official suggests amounted to a political fix, are too complicated the short explication," but the result "was that the McLarty company benefited; the Lums suddenly became millionaire part-owners of a new natural gas outfit; Ron Brown's son, Michael, received a nice piece of the new company..."

Wednesday night not a word on ABC, CBS or NBC about any of these three disclosures.


2) While the broadcast networks didn't find time Wednesday night for Clinton scandals, they ran lengthy packages on tobacco which failed to note Clinton hypocrisy on the issue. But at the same time the networks did manage to squeeze in news about the status of Newt Gingrich's "fine."

ABC's World News Tonight devoted the first seven minutes to a series of stories on the potential $300 billion settlement deal with tobacco companies. Introducing a piece, Peter Jennings explained: "The Clinton administration has been very concerned about the increase in teenage smoking recently and very vocal about its belief that the tobacco companies deliberately go after kids..."

Yeah, "very concerned" about getting their cut of tobacco profits from sales to teens. ABC failed to note that recently released documents show that Clinton and the Democrats solicited contributions from tobacco companies and then asked that the money go to state parties in order to avoid federal disclosure rules.

USA Today uncovered the scheme April 3 and CNN ran a story on April 7 (See the April 11 CyberAlert for details.) The Sunday April 13 Washington Post ran a front page story on how Democrats "channeled millions of dollars to state Democratic parties last year, effectively hiding big contributions from tobacco, gambling and other special interests."

But ABC, CBS and NBC have yet to utter a word about this scheme. On Tuesday night (April 15) CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather failed to mention the hypocrisy when he introduced a clip of Clinton denouncing teen smoking:

"President Clinton is in New York tonight. Besides fundraising for Democrats the President came here to campaign against teenage smoking. At a quote 'Kick Butts Rally' at a junior high school in Brooklyn the President told students they have to take responsibility for their future."

Meanwhile, the three evening shows on Wednesday night ran pieces on how Newt Gingrich is expected to announce on Thursday how he'll pay off the $300,000 assessment imposed by the ethics committee. But instead of calling it an assessment (to cover the cost of the investigation), ABC and NBC referred to it as a "fine."

ABC's Peter Jennings suggested that Gingrich "will have to take out a loan to repay the bulk of the fine." NBC Nightly News ran the words "Ethics Fine" below a photo of Gingrich as Tom Brokaw introduced a full story from Lisa Myers:

"In Washington tonight Newt Gingrich is trying the political equivalent of a triple somersault. How does he make good on that fine leveled against him for ethics violations, at the same time please his fellow Republicans and his wife."


3) Speaking of Speaker Gingrich, an exchange he had over the weekend with a reporter illustrates that, to many reporters in Washington, more regulation to limit speech and spending is the only acceptable response to the Clinton fundraising mess.

Gingrich got into a bit of a debate with Jane Mayer of the New Yorker when he appeared on the April 13 Fox News Sunday. Mayer, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, co-authored the book Strange Justice which attacked Clarence Thomas and backed Anita Hill's version of events.

Here's the relevant portion of Fox News Sunday:
Gingrich: "How long do the Democrats get to pretend they don't have an obligation as patriots to investigate? How long do the Democrats get to misdefine this case? This, here you have, let's stay on the one narrow case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports the Chinese Communists may be trying to buy the election. The Bank of China transfers to Charlie Trie the money that he was taking to the presidential defense fund. How long can Henry Waxman of the Democrats say, We don't want to investigate whether or not the Chinese Communists were trying to buy the American election'?"

Mayer: "If this is such, though, if you really care about this issue, then why is it that there are only two co-signers to the campaign finance bill that's serious in the Senate?"

Gingrich: "Because it's not a campaign finance bill."

Mayer: "You know, it seems like it's just being demagogued, but nobody really is trying to reform."

Gingrich: "In the first, in the first place, the Clinton-Gore team broke the current campaign law. Why would you think the people who broke the law are suddenly going to -- I mean, of course, they're calling for a new law. That way, we won't look at the fact that they broke the law."

Mayer: "Haven't both sides said that they had to give back money because they, I don't know if you want to say broke the law, but breached the rules or whatever?"

Gingrich: "You compare jaywalking and felony."

Mayer: "I think someone went to jail for giving money in the wrong way to the Republican Party to Bob Dole, didn't they?"

Gingrich: "Well, in fact, if the same standard were applied to the Democratic National Committee, they would have to give back $300 million in penalties."


4) The demonization of Congressman Dan Burton, the Chairman of the House investigating committee, continues. MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski caught this diatribe from Newsweek's Evan Thomas on last weekend's Inside Washington:

"Burton is a car wreck waiting to happen. He's got real problems himself on campaign fundraising. Some lobbyist accused him of trying to extort money from him. The Justice Department's on the case. Burton is, shall we say, a complicated guy. He once, I think, said he wanted to nuke Iraq to avoid the Kuwait War. I mean, he's got all sorts of problems. It's great for the White House to take the press attention away from a serious, sober congressional hearing and put it on Burton."

So the White House decides what gets attention? If the media are interested in a providing a "serious, sober" examination of what happened maybe they could show a bit more interest in the evidence as it is disclosed and a bit less interest in diverting attention to irrelevant analysis of the policy positions of a Congressman.

-- Brent Baker

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