CyberAlert -- 05/18/1998 -- CBS & NBC AWOL on China Connections

CBS & NBC AWOL on China Connections; Gap on Clinton's "She" Gaffe

1) People's Liberation Army money went to the DNC and Justice looks at if that prompted Clinton to approve missile know how transfer: Of the broadcast networks only ABC did a story on both; CBS and NBC gave a few seconds to the first and ignored the latter.

2) At a ceremony celebrating the Berlin Airlift Bill Clinton mistakenly called a male pilot "she" and "her." If it were Quayle you'd have heard about it. But all big network shows ignored it.

>>> "Like Other Cabinet Probes, Networks Mostly Ignore Charges Against Labor Secretary Alexis Herman: Queen of Shmooze or Queen of Bribes?" The latest Media Reality Check fax report by the MRC's Tim Graham is now posted at the top of the MRC home page: <<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Two big developments on the campaign fundraising scandal front, but the networks barely noticed. Friday's New York Times linked Democratic money to China's People's Liberation Army. On Sunday, both the New York Times and Washington Post featured front page reports on how the Justice Department had launched an investigation into, as the May 17 Post put it, "whether a Clinton administration decision to export commercial satellites to China was influenced by contributions to the Democratic Party during the 1996 campaign." Some foreign policy observers have suggested China's improved missile abilities may have pushed India to hold the nuclear test last week.

So, you have two big stories involving substantive policy issues, none of that sex stuff so many in the media criticize Starr for delving into. And how do the networks react? In three weekday evenings (Friday to Sunday) only ABC aired full stories on both developments. Neither CBS or NBC mentioned the Sunday newspaper reports on the China satellite/missile deal.

-- Three day total CBS Evening News time devoted to either development: 27 seconds.
-- Three day total NBC Nightly News time devoted to either development: 15 seconds.
-- From Friday through Sunday evening total number of nights CBS or NBC aired a scandal story: 1.

But before you think that they would have provided thorough coverage if it weren't for Frank Sinatra's passing, check out some of the topics they made time to explore: "Powerball fever," collecting blues albums, and the effort by scientists to determine if Thomas Jefferson had offspring with slave Sally Hemings.

And no major scandal news cycle would be complete without the usual disconnect between Tim Russert and the actual content of the network news division for whom he serves as a Vice President. On Meet the Press he called the revelations "devastating." That night and the night before the total amount of coverage on NBC Nightly News: Zip, zero, nada.

So, without further delay, a day by day run down of network coverage from Friday through Sunday:

-- Friday, May 15. Under the innocuous headline "Democrat Fundraiser Said to Detail China Tie," reporters Jeff Gerth, David Johnston and Don Van Natta disclosed:
"A Democratic fundraiser has told federal investigators he funneled tens of thousands of dollars from a Chinese military officer to the Democrats during President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, according to lawyers and officials with knowledge of the Justice Department's campaign finance inquiry.
"The fundraiser, Johnny Chung, told investigators that a large part of the nearly $100,000 he gave to Democratic causes in the summer of 1996 -- including $80,000 to the Democratic National Committee -- came from China's People's Liberation Army through a Chinese lieutenant colonel and aerospace executive whose father was General Liu Huaqing, the officials and lawyers said.
"General Liu was then not only China's top military commander but also a member of the top leadership of the Communist Party. Chung said the aerospace executive, Liu Chao-ying, told him the source of the money. At one fundraiser to which Chung gained admission for her, she was photographed with President Clinton...."

Coverage: Not a word on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning or NBC's Today, reported MRC analysts Clay Waters and Geoffrey Dickens, as all three shows focused on Frank Sinatra's death. Both GMA and Today, however, found time for news from the summit in England and updates on the India nuclear test fallout, as well as some other items, such as an estimate on Today about how many watched the final Seinfeld.

Friday evening the three networks and CNN (I missed FNC) devoted over half their broadcasts to Sinatra with both ABC and NBC concluding with "My Way" over a video montage. CBS and NBC gave the China news a few seconds, ABC a bit more than a minute and only CNN really offered a complete summary.

ABC's World News Tonight: After three Sinatra stories and pieces on Indonesia and Pakistan ABC allocated one minute and 15 seconds to the China donor angle. Peter Jennings announced:
"There is an explosive revelation in the New York Times today about a relationship between the government of China and the Democratic Party."
Linda Douglass gave a very cursory overview of the Times story, which is all the time allowed, concluding: "Chung's revelations are the first direct evidence of links between Democratic fundraisers and the Chinese government. Republicans have vowed to launch a fresh set of hearings into the Chinese connection."

(Doesn't this vindicate Senator Fred Thompson for his focus last summer on the China connection? ABC didn't raise that angle.)

CBS Evening News: Following two Sinatra stories, one of which took six minutes, as well as pieces on Indonesia and Pakistan, Dan Rather took 27 seconds to relay this cautionary and vague summary of the New York Times story, though he refused to give credit:
"Congressional sources told CBS's Phil Jones today that there may now be evidence that communist China did funnel illegal campaign cash to the Democratic Party and the '96 Clinton-Gore campaign. The evidence has not yet been seen. Fundraiser Johnny Chung, now indicted in the case did give $366,000 to the Democrats and he is widely believed to have told federal investigators that much of that money did come from the Chinese government."

Rather next noted that an appeals court had upheld the lower court decision in Starr's favor denying Lewinsky had an immunity deal.

CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET: About 43 minutes in, after an estimate of Seinfeld's audience and news of a VW Beetle recall, CNN gave Pierre Thomas over two minutes to explain the Times story. Thomas even recalled that it matches the very charge congressional Republicans made last summer.

NBC Nightly News: Four Sinatra stories, India and Indonesia came before Tom Brokaw announced:
"NBC News has learned that in the summer of 1996 Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung in fact received $300,000 from a Chinese military arms dealer, as reported today in the New York Times. Much of that money later found its way into the coffers of the Democratic Party."

That took Brokaw 15 seconds, the same amount of time he consumed to note the bug in the Beetle.

-- Saturday, May 16. A slow news day presented the broadcast networks with an opportunity to catch up with complex China story and explain it to their viewers. But the networks passed, suggesting that the Friday New York Times revelations would not have received much more play even if the networks were not obsessed with Sinatra's death.

ABC's World News Tonight: Led with the Microsoft talks collapsing and featured full reports on Sinatra, Indonesia, Pakistan/India, storms in Iowa, smoke in South from fires in Mexico and a big Florida Marlins-LA Dodgers baseball trade. But of the broadcast networks only ABC picked up on an AP story about Jim McDougal's new book, if only to discredit the news. Anchor Aaron Brown explained:
"New accusations in the Whitewater case from James McDougal, the Clinton's former partner. In a book that McDougal wrote just before he died he alleges that President Clinton promised to pardon Susan McDougal if she were convicted in the case. That's what he claimed. ABC News has talked to four attorneys who were in the room when this conversation supposedly took place and all said it never happened, that the two men were never alone."

CBS Evening News: Led with the collapse of the Microsoft talks, and then went to Indonesia, India, the G-8 summit, two stories on Sinatra plus another at the end of the show. In between, CBS made room for the successful test results for new anti-breast cancer drug and a piece on the black market for cigarettes in New York City propelled to avoid the high New York tax but condoned by the tobacco companies.

NBC Nightly News: Started with Pakistan and moved on to Indonesia and Sinatra. NBC skipped the China disclosure but spent several minutes on new insurance company efforts to get people off long-term disability and into jobs.
The show ended with a profile of Bill Farris (sp?) the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities who collects Southern culture, such as 30,000 blues albums. Bob Dotson emphasized how he has spent his life "chronicling the art of he common man," including quilt making and painting. Dotson oozed: "Dr. Farris's notion of the arts may make some highbrows cringe, but then his sense of culture includes those who are often omitted: women, minorities and the poor."
Dotson concluded with this endorsement: "His mission in Washington is to think about all of our culture. This man who has seen so much is trying to help us from seeing too little."

-- Sunday, May 17. In a front page story New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and David Sanger tied together the Chinese donations and a technology export policy change:
"On Oct. 9, 1995, Secretary of State Warren Christopher ended a lengthy internal debate within the Clinton administration by initialing a classified order, preserving the State Department's sharp limits on China's ability to launch American-made satellites aboard Chinese rockets.
"Both American industry and state-owned Chinese companies had been lobbying for years to get the satellites off what is known in Washington as the 'munitions list,' the inventory of America's most sensitive military and intelligence-gathering technology. But Christopher sided with the Defense Department, the intelligence agencies and some of his own advisers, who noted that embedded in commercial satellites were technological secrets that could jeopardize 'significant military and intelligence interests.'
"There was one more reason not to ease the controls, they wrote in a classified memorandum. Doing so would 'raise suspicions that we are trying to evade China sanctions' imposed when the country was caught shipping weapons technology abroad -- which is exactly what happened in 1991 and 1993 for missile sales to Pakistan.
"The Secretary of State's decision to keep satellites on the munitions list, making it harder for them to be exported, did not stand for long. Five months later, President Clinton took the unusual step of reversing Christopher's decision.
"Control of export licensing for communications satellites was shifted to the Commerce Department, then run by Ronald Brown....
"One of the beneficiaries of that decision, it now turns out, was China Aerospace because its rockets could launch American satellites. An executive of the state-owned Chinese company, Liu Chao-ying, allegedly provided tens of thousands of dollars from Chinese military intelligence to the Democratic Party in the summer of 1996...."

Coverage: Senator John Glenn appeared on Face the Nation, but instead of pouncing on him and asking if he'll apologize to Senator Thompson, host Bob Schieffer tossed this softball: "What do you make of these revelations Senator Glenn? You were on the Government Operations Committee that investigated all this. Is this serious?"
The other guest, Senator John McCain suggested "some people" owe Fred Thompson an apology. But instead of taking the cue and pressing Glenn, Schieffer asked McCain about the tobacco deal.

In the evening, only ABC's World News Tonight uttered a syllable about the newspaper stories on the probe of a link between donations and technology transfer. Noting that China had a problem with rockets exploding, Mike Von Fremd explained that the U.S. "technology to fix the problem was top secret and its export banned because of potential military use. But in 1996 the Clinton Administration allowed the Loral Corporation and Hughes Electronics to provide the technology to the Chinese. Now the Justice Department's campaign finance task force is investigating, because Loral's Chairman, Bernard Schwartz, donated $600,000 to the Democratic Party."
Following soundbites from Clinton denying the connection and from former DOD official Frank Gafney arguing the transfer has made China a threat to the U.S., Von Fremd concluded: "The Justice Department and Congress are now certain to dig into all this just as the administration was hoping to put the campaign finance issue to rest."

CBS and NBC have.

The CBS Evening News led with Pakistan. Though CBS had no time for Clinton's denial or anything about the China angle, the network featured stories on the quest by some scientists using DNA to determine if Thomas Jefferson had offspring with slave Sally Hemings, complaints about the end of affirmative action at the University of Texas and remembrances of Sinatra from Hoboken.

On NBC's Meet the Press Tim Russert actually raised the nuclear connection, asking Senator Richard Shelby: "Several Republicans in Washington are saying as follows: that the American administration of Bill Clinton gave the Chinese technology which emboldened the Chinese and threatened the Indians. And in response the Indians detonated this nuclear device. And, the saga continues, the Chinese funneled campaign money into the Clinton campaign as a reward. You buy into that?"
Next, to Senator Bob Kerrey: "Senator Kerrey you're a Democrat, but these stories are devastating when you read them in their entirety about the Clinton-Gore campaign receiving money from what turned out to be Chinese military officials."

So, how much time did NBC Nightly News give a few hours later to these "devastating" stories: Zilch. In a 15 minute newscast, shortened by the length of a NBA playoff game, NBC devoted half its limited time to two interesting but less than compelling or time-sensitive stories: the upcoming vote in Ireland on the peace plan and "Powerball fever."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Last Thursday on ABC's World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings assured viewers: "Whenever the President travels we watch him like a hawk." Really? Jennings was introducing video showing Clinton having trouble maneuvering because of a bad back, but ABC skipped video they surely would have highlighted if it involved Dan Quayle.

At a May 14 ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift Clinton praised "the countless acts of individual kindness, like Gail Halvorsen the famous Rosinenbomber (sp?) who dropped tiny parachutes of candy to Berlin's children. She is here with us today, and I'd like to ask her to stand."

He stood.

But Clinton's mistake has hardly generated any media interest, MRC news analyst Clay Waters informed me after searching for coverage. None of the broadcast networks or CNN touched it that night, not even CNN's Inside Politics. I saw it covered in just two places: First, FNC's Brit Hume highlighted the gaffe at the end of his Special Report with Brit Hume on May 14. Second, on the CBS show Saturday Morning on May 16, Mark Knoller showed the flub, but blamed Halvorsen's mother: "It's probably not the first time that a man named Gail has had this happen to him."
To which co-host Russ Mitchell chimed in: "Those things happen Mark."

Those things happen to those who think women were flying Army and Air Force planes in hostile areas in 1948. National Review's Kate O'Beirne put it well in her Outrage of the Week for CNN's Capital Gang on May 16:
"Marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, President Clinton praised American pilots who supplied the city under Soviet blockade. One of the most famous was Gail Halvorsen who dropped candy to the city's children, earning the nickname 'Candyman.' President Clinton referred to Halvorsen as 'she' and asked 'her' to stand to be recognized. A woman flying with the Army Air Corps over hostile territory in 1948? Another depressing display of our Commander-in- Chief's total disconnect with America's veterans."

And another display of the media's disinterest in gaffes made by politicians who are not conservative. -- Brent Baker

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