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