CyberAlert -- 05/21/1997 -- Networks Afraid of Partial-Birth

Networks Afraid of Partial-Birth; Hubbell's Son; Poor Susan

  1. Corrections. Espy briefly noted.
  2. In addition to arranging payments to Hubbell, the Clinton team gave his son a job, but all four networks skip the discovery.
  3. Networks finally look at abortion debate. Dan Rather refers to "one type of later-term abortions, what anti-abortion groups call, quote 'partial-birth abortions.'"
  4. Poor Susan McDougal. NBC relays her complaints about "inhuman" conditions, such as "being served oatmeal that is cold and gluey."

1) Corrections.
- The May 20 CyberAlert listed several scandal developments and noted that none had been picked up by a broadcast network. In fact, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen informed me that ABC did mention the White House impeding the investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Espy. At the end of a World News Tonight Saturday story on how one of Kenneth Starr's staffers told a judge that Hillary Clinton could be indicted, reporter Karla Davis noted:

"And the administration is refusing to comment on another battle over subpoenas."

Mike McCurry, White House press secretary: "I can't discuss it."

Davis: "In a 1994 statement, the White House said it would comply with a subpoena from Donald Smaltz, the independent counsel investigating former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy. It was revealed just this week that the White House, instead, is fighting in secret court proceedings to block that subpoena, too. Karla Davis, ABC News, the White House."

- The May 20 CyberAlert listed an incorrect address for the Heritage Foundation analysis of the balanced budget deal. The correct address is:

- The May 15 CyberAlert cited a quote from James Taylor saying that looking to the free-market for solutions leads to "an armed camp mentality." I called Taylor a "blues artist." I've been informed that is incorrect. Some have told me that he's a folk singer while others insist he's a pop singer.

-- The May 13 CyberAlert referred to ABC anchor Rene Poissant. As my staff gleefully pointed out, her name is spelled Renee Poussaint.

2) "Clinton Aide Kantor OK'd U.S. Job for Hubbell's Son," announced a front page story in the Tuesday, May 20 Los Angeles Times. David Willman discovered:

"In addition to the employment deals in the private sector that were steered to Webster Hubbell, a top Clinton administration official approved giving a federal job to Hubbell's son soon after the senior Hubbell's resignation from the Justice Department. Mickey Kantor, the top Clinton political advisor who served four years in the President's cabinet, signed off on a staff position for W. Walter Hubbell in the U.S. Trade Representative's office. The hiring came in May 1994 - just as Webster Hubbell had resigned as Associate Attorney General..."

Willman explained the importance of the revelation: "The hiring is the first known use by Clinton aides of the federal payroll to help the Hubbell family after his resignation. It will compound the questions now being asked by federal and congressional investigators about the administration's effort to help the departing official - particularly whether it was intended to discourage Hubbell from cooperating with the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons."

Coverage: Not a word Tuesday night on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today or NBC Nightly News. Nothing Tuesday morning either on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning or NBC's Today.

UPDATE. CNN also missed the stories. The May 20 CyberAlert listed several scandal developments skipped by ABC, CBS and NBC (with the exception noted in item #1). These were Congressman Gerald Solomon wanting an explanation for the additional classified meetings attended by John Haung, the White House not cooperating with the Espy probe, Senator Fred Thompson complaining about trouble in getting documents, and more evidence that the White House merged donor names into its database.

MRC news analyst Clay Waters and intern Jessica Anderson have informed me that none were reported on CNN's The World Today. CNN did report an item skipped by the other networks: On May 13 anchor Kathleen Kennedy noted that Congressman Solomon said MFN for China should be put on hold until the whereabouts of Charlie Trie, thought to be in China, can be determined. Back on April 1, however, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Trie received $50,000 and $100,000 from a Chinese government owned bank shortly before he donating similar amounts to the DNC, none of the networks picked up the revelation.

3) It's a contentious issue with passionate people on both sides. The public has made clear its overwhelming opposition, leading a top Democrat to abandon his party's traditional stance as his colleagues scurry for cover. But the networks virtually ignore the developing story. The issue: partial-birth abortion.

Last week the President endorsed Senator Daschle's partial- birth abortion bill and the Senate later defeated it. But during the week, of the evening shows, only NBC Nightly News aired a story. And that story aired on Wednesday, May 14, before the vote on the Daschle bill. NBC Nightly News viewers never learned the outcome of the vote. But ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and CNN The World Today viewers didn't even hear the Senate was debating the issue.

NBC's Today didn't mention the issue all week. But ABC's Good Morning America aired one full story (and a brief anchor-read item) and CBS This Morning two brief items on May 16 from anchor Jane Robelot who referred to "so-called partial birth abortions."

Finally, on Sunday, ABC's World News Tonight picked up the story, offering the perspective of a doctor who performs partial birth abortions. Anchor Carole Simpson introduced the interview:

"The Senate votes this week on one of the thorniest issues in the abortion battle, a bill that would ban the procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion. The medical name is intact dilation and extraction because a living fetus is partially withdrawn from the womb, then the skull is vacuumed out. It's one method used in late abortions, which occur between 20 and 24 weeks. They account for just one percent of all abortions. Doctors point out that none of the methods for late abortions is pretty, and most argue strongly that it's not the business of lawmakers to tell them how to practice medicine. ABC's Aaron Brown sat down for a conversation with a doctor, one of the few who has performed late abortions. Dr. Richard Hausknecht."

Brown did challenge Hausknecht ("Why should we not, as a society, say, 'Here are the rules for this.' Why shouldn't we say that? Why should I leave the rules to you?"), but the abortion doctor still got a platform to argue against any restrictions.

On Monday ABC's John Cochran reported that the AMA had endorsed Senator Rick Santorum's bill, but neither NBC Nightly News or the CBS Evening News mentioned the abortion issue.

Tuesday night, all the networks aired stories on the passage of Santorum's bill (banning partial-birth abortion with narrow exceptions) by a less than veto-proof majority. For NBC Nightly News it was their first story since last Wednesday. For the CBS Evening News, the first one yet. Dan Rather, unable to refrain from warning viewers about dangerous spin forwarded by conservatives, intoned:

"In Washington, the stage is set now for President Clinton's latest veto showdown with Congress over abortion policy. The flashpoint again -- a U.S. Senate vote today to ban one type of later-term abortions, what anti-abortion groups call, quote 'partial-birth abortions.' The President says he won't sign this ban unless it makes exceptions for the mother's health.

Reporter Bob Schieffer then noted the AMA endorsement, aired a soundbite from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle who voted for the Republican's bill and from Senator Barbara Boxer warning about "turning back the clock." Schieffer concluded by using a phrase favored by abortion-backers:

"This is the closest that the anti-abortion forces have ever come to putting limits on abortion and of course they'll try again. But for now, abortion remains a question to be decided only by a woman and her doctor."

CBS viewers heard nothing about the debate over whether Daschle's bill was a real ban or a sham, or anything about conservative arguments that the President's "exceptions for the mother's health" must be so broad to meet his standard that it would effectively obviate the ban.

4) Poor Susan McDougal. As detailed in the April 24 CyberAlert, the April 23 CBS Evening News portrayed her as a martyr and focused on her plight in a Los Angeles jail. Prompted by her request to be released, Tuesday's Today offered the same take.

News anchor Ann Curry stated in the 7am news summary: "Lawyers for Whitewater figure Susan McDougal are preparing to go to court in a bid to get her out of jail. She has been jailed for seven months for refusing to testify before a grand jury. More from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski."

Miklaszewski began:
"Susan McDougal wants out of jail. McDougal's lawyers will ask a federal court to release her from jail, where she's being held for contempt, for refusing to testify before a Whitewater grand jury. Independent counsel Ken Starr says McDougal won't testify unless she's given immunity from perjury."

Ken Starr: "In essence, a license to lie."

Miklaszewski: "But in her motion to the court, McDougal calls Starr 'the devil incarnate' and says she won't do the 'bidding of the devil.' In a telephone interview from a jail in Los Angeles County, McDougal told NBC News Starr has threatened her family with indictments if she doesn't cooperate."

Susan McDougal: "The American people would be shocked to know the kinds of methods he's used in his investigation to get the Clintons."

Miklaszewski: "She also claims she's being held under conditions that are inhuman, including solitary confinement, sexual harassment by male prisoners, and being served oatmeal that is cold and gluey...."

Miklaszewski than ended his story by reporting that Jim McDougal had been ordered to report to prison. As with CBS, NBC failed to mention that McDougal was moved to a Los Angeles jail so she could face California charges of embezzling from a former employer.

Today didn't have time to mention the revelation that the Clinton administration arranged a job for Hubbell's son, but they did have time to tell us about McDougal's cold oatmeal.

-- Brent Baker