CyberAlert -- 05/26/1999 -- Gun Control Before Espionage at CBS & NBC
Gun Control Before Espionage at CBS & NBC
2) Pushing aside Cox NBC and CBS led with guns. NBC focused on the nation's post-Columbine mood swing against guns as represented by Rosie O'Donnell, Sharon Stone and a woman who called a Boston talk show, but NBC ignored many more pro-gun callers to WRKO.
Every network covered the Cox Report release on Tuesday night, but only ABC, CNN and FNC led with it. The CBS Evening News went first with the backing of more gun rules by Speaker Hastert, NBC Nightly News began with the gun lawsuits announced by California cities and how Sharon Stone symbolizes the public mood's shift against guns (see item #2 today for details) and MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams was topped by speculation about Hillary Clinton's Senate run.
During the day, the three cable news channel all carried the select committee's press conference in which all nine members made comments from 11am to 12:15pm ET, but only FNC stayed through all the questions. Reaction to the report dominated cable news the rest of the day, but MSNBC still made room from 6 to 7pm ET for a Time & Again on JonBenet Ramsey. Chris Cox appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.
In the evening all the networks highlighted how Republicans blamed the White House for inaction and how the White House countered by noting how the spying occurred in the 1980s, but only FNC explicitly raised specific criticisms of Clinton policy. On FNC's Fox Report Carl Cameron noted: "The Clinton administration, and specifically former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, come under fire for emphasizing trade with China over national security." He added: "Satellite technology and spaced-based weapons involving lasers and other futuristic U.S. technology have also been stolen through espionage or acquired by exploiting export controls that have been loosened during the Clinton administration."
ABC and CBS aired pieces on Beijing's reaction and in CBS's reporter Barry Petersen passed along how China sees itself as "victims of a right-wing American propaganda machine out to make a relationship already deep in trouble a whole lot worse."
Sounds like a spin Hillary Clinton recommended.
ABC's Nightline focused in the report Tuesday night, its first show about Chinese espionage since March 12 and only its second on the subject all year.
Here's how the three broadcast networks approached the Cox Report on Tuesday night, May 25, with the intros offered by each anchor to give you a flavor of the spin heard by viewers.
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened the show with this rather convoluted overview:
"Good evening. Twenty years of Chinese espionage. Not surprising that China wants American nuclear technology. What is a shock in the report by a congressional committee today is how much the Chinese appear to have acquired in twenty years. According to the Cox Report, so named for the Republican Chairman of the committee, the Chinese have managed to steal or buy or be given classified information on every warhead in the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal. The report itself is so sensitive that nearly a third of it is classified and will not see the light of day."
Linda Douglass handled the story, starting by playing a soundbite from Cox about how the espionage is still ongoing. She then gave equal time to the spins from the two parties: "Republicans accuse President Clinton of being too eager to do business with China. They charge his administration relaxed security and failed to go after spies....Administration officials counter that they have taken unprecedented steps to tighter security in the labs and Mr. Clinton defended America's economic relationship with China."
Following a clip of Clinton she noted how the report recommends verifying that super computers are being used for non military purposes, but that would require expensive monitoring and thousands of front companies set up by China also make it tough to track where exports actually end up. Douglass concluded by reporting how Republicans want heads to roll, specifically Reno and Berger.
Next, from Beijing Mark Litke found that while the People's Liberation Army uses outdated equipment, they are upgrading their technology faster than realized, especially with the W88 allowing multiple warheads. After a soundbite from former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley, Litke ominously warned: "When China fired missiles to threaten Taiwan three years ago, the U.S. sent a task force to the region warning China to back off. Former Ambassador Lilley believes that in a future showdown a better armed China could threaten a counter-attack on say Los Angeles if the U.S. chose to defend Taiwan."
-- CBS Evening News. After stories on gun control winning in Congress and the lawsuits announced by California cities, Dan Rather got to the Cox Report:
"A new round of trading shots and political spin today to go with the official release of the already-leaked-well-in-advance investigation into how China got at least some stolen U.S. nuclear weapons secrets."
Rather briefly noted how the report found lax security to this day, that it goes back to the Carter years and that China did most of its spying through students, scientists and visitors. Rather continued: "Now congressional Republicans and others have put a large share of blame on President Clinton for all of this. In response, top Clinton members dispute that, they say much of the stealing was done during the Reagan and Bush years and claim that secrets are still spilling out of U.S. weapons labs, well they say that simply isn't true. They also question some of the report's other findings and criticisms. The President himself today emphasized the importance of good U.S.-China relations."
After a soundbite from Clinton CBS's David Martin looked at the impact of what China gained, asserting China "now has nuclear weapons design information on par with the U.S. That according to the Cox Report and it's only a matter of time before those designs are turned into weapons."
Next, from Beijing Barry Petersen checked in with China's denials and how the regime there claims the espionage report is an attempt to divert attention from the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade. Petersen concluded with China's Hillary-like reasoning: "The Chinese claim is that they are not thieves of American nuclear secrets, but victims of a right-wing American propaganda machine out to make a relationship already deep in trouble a whole lot worse."
-- NBC Nightly News. Following two gun stories, a full report on the Louima police brutality case in New York City and an ad break, Tom Brokaw arrived at the Cox Report:
"It's finally out tonight, the congressional report on China's espionage and the political fallout in Washington and beyond. This report by a committee of five Republicans and four Democrats concludes..." After a quick rundown of what the U.S. lost reporter
Andrea Mitchell noted it was a unanimous and bipartisan conclusion. Unlike ABC and CBS she highlighted remarks by George W. Bush: "The political fallout immediate: Although the report says the espionage began at least under Jimmy Carter an went on under four Presidents, including George Bush, Bush's son, a likely candidate, leaped to blame this White House."
Following a bite from Bush she and a counter clip of Clinton saying his administration is working to resolve the problems Mitchell raised the satellite issue but failed to note how Loral's Chairman was a big donor to Democrats: "The report says a major failure on Clinton's watch: After several failed tests China's leap forward on rocket technology, traced to possible illegal help from two U.S. companies: Loral and Hughes Electronics."
Loral and Hughes deny doing anything wrong, Mitchell noted, before concluding with how Senator Shelby wants Reno fired and a clip from Reno saying she disagrees.
China may soon be able to fire nuclear missiles at Los Angeles, as ABC News reported above, but NBC understands what's really important now: LA's lawsuit against the gun manufacturers and actress Sharon Stone's feelings about guns and children.
NBC Nightly News led Tuesday, May 25, with two gun pieces. First, the lawsuits. Second, America's changing mood post-Columbine as represented by Rosie O'Donnell, Sharon Stone and a woman in Massachusetts. Now that's middle America.
(The CBS Evening News also led with guns. Dan Rather topped the show by introducing pieces on Congress and the city lawsuits: "Good evening. Prospects for final congressional approval of landmark, yet very limited, gun control measures improved some today. House Republican leaders now say they will support mandatory trigger-lock sales for handguns and some other Senate-approved proposals to keep guns out of the hands of the young.")
It all began on NBC with this long-winded introduction from Tom Brokaw:
"Good evening. There's something happening here. In the Spring of 1999 after the massacre at Columbine High the political climate for gun control in this country suddenly changed. Those who fought any change in the past are now saying it's time to do something. Even gun manufacturers are in on the changed attitude, worried that if they aren't they'll go the way of Big Tobacco and lose billion to lawsuits. More of those lawsuits did come today in Los Angeles and San Francisco, so tonight we begin with two reports on the legal challenges and the new political attitudes."
Talk about burying the lead.
First, Pete Williams looked at how Los Angeles and some other California cities are suing the gun industry for not tracking how their guns sold.
Second, Lisa Myers examined America's changing mood, though she did not cite a single poll figure. She began with how bells tolled in eight cities for victims of gun violence. After a soundbite of a father, who lost a son, blasting the gun industry, Myers asserted:
"Since the massacre at Columbine High School the gun control debate has shifted dramatically and become almost impossible to escape. A usually friendly talk show host takes on a supporter of the gun lobby."
Rosie O'Donnell on her show last week : "I don't think it's in the Constitution to have assault weapons in the year 2000."
Tom Selleck on same show: "I didn't come on your show to have a debate. I came on your show to plug a movie."
Wow. A usually liberal woman is liberal.
Myers then actually treated Sharon Stone's publicity stunt announcement last week as something worth taking seriously: "Even some gun owners are having second thoughts. Recently actress Sharon Stone turned over her shotgun and three handguns to police, saying 'our children are in danger. I choose to surrender my right to bear arms.' Pollsters say public opinion has shifted dramatically, that large majorities now favor moderate restrictions on guns."
Linda DiVall, GOP pollster: "I think where the ground is shifting is primarily in suburban America and with those people who have not owned guns."
Without offering any numbers, Myers plowed forward: "Suburban women in particular have changed their minds. One who owns guns called a Boston radio show."
Caller to a radio talk show: "I think this is entirely reasonable and neither my husband nor I are impacted in any bad way from this."
Myers continued: "One reason for shifting opinion is the debate itself has changed from the rights of gun owners to the need to protect children. And pollsters say this issue now has such momentum it could become the key hot button issue of the next election."
Myers concluded with Dennis Hastert's announcement about how promises action on gun control as politicians are being pushed by a public "they know that they dare not ignore."
As CBS's Eric Engberg would say, Time Out! That call to a Boston talk show was hardly representative even in the liberal Bay State. CyberAlert Boston Bureau Chief Eric Darbe, a former MRC news analyst, sent me an e-mail Tuesday night revealing:
"NBC Nightly News is taping calls coming into the Howie Carr show [on WRKO] about guns for a report for the Nightly News. They have explicitly requested callers who have changed their minds about the right to keep and bear after school shootings. They are not getting very many....They are asking for a certain viewpoint for their story," but "women are calling in and saying 'yeah I have changed my mind, now I want to get a gun, before they take away my rights.'" Not a view NBC cared to highlight.
After the first hour of the 3-7pm show, Darbe reported, "there were only two callers" who said what NBC wanted to hear as "every other caller said that they still support the right to keep and bear arms, or even more interestingly that even though they never did before they want to buy a gun now while they still can."
+++ See NBC's news priorities. Late Wednesday morning ET the MRC's Sean Henry and Eric Pairel will post in RealPlayer format an excerpt from the story by Lisa Myers with O'Donnel and Stone as public mood symbols. Go to: http://www.mrc.org
Tuesday's Investor's Business Daily featured an excellent editorial nicely packaging points and illustrations from various past MRC reports to demonstrate the network double standard on Chinagate versus Iran-Contra:
Media Double Standard On Chinagate
Now that TV news producers and anchors have proof of one of the most explosive foreign-policy scandals ever, will they give Chinagate the round-the-clock coverage they gave Iran- Contra? Judging from their disinterest to date, don't bet on it.
Big Three newscasters went into full feeding-frenzy mode when a Republican administration freed hostages in Beirut and armed anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
White House correspondents teed off on President Reagan. In just one press conference, he was hit with:
"How has this damaged your presidency?"
"How can you not know?"
"Doesn't it look suspicious?"
"Why don't you just come clean and be done with it?"
President Clinton was spared such a barrage at his March press conference. But Clinton could be asked all four questions just as easily.
Iran-Contra, which involved trading arms to Iran, was misguided policy. But it never hurt our national security.
Chinagate, on the other hand, has damaged security. That's the finding of Congress' 700-plus-page bipartisan report, which newscasters at ABC, CBS and NBC should all have in their hands as of Tuesday.
Thanks to the nuclear warhead data China stole (and may still be stealing) from U.S. labs, the communist state is making the missiles it has aimed at the U.S. more lethal. And thanks to the satellite technology and supercomputers it got due to Clinton's lax export rules, it's making those missiles more accurate.
Another distinction makes Chinagate a more alarming story. Iran-Contra had the patriotic goal of driving communism from our hemisphere.
Yet Clinton's policies were soft on communism -- and may have been influenced by Beijing bribes in the form of 1996 campaign cash.
In 1987, whole newscasts were devoted to Iran-Contra. Not so with
Chinagate. In fact, there's been a virtual TV blackout on the scandal, as IBD reported in the May 10 National Issue.
The most recent example is Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's May 9 admission that lab secrets were indeed stolen on Clinton's watch. Evening news coverage? Not a word.
The double standard shows up in White House interviews, too.
Take the grilling that CBS News anchor Dan Rather gave then-Vice President George Bush in 1988.
Referring to Iran-Contra, Rather complained: "You've made us hypocrites in the face of the world. How could you sign on to such a policy?"
But when Rather interviewed Clinton on March 31 -- just weeks after the Chinese spying story broke -- he didn't touch the scandal. Not one question.
Make no mistake. Iran-Contra deserved the attention it got. The networks knew it was a big story for the simple reason you don't give rogue regimes sophisticated weapons -- for whatever reason.
Here, far more critical technology made its way to China. It may not be rogue, but it sure doesn't have our best interests at heart. China has sent nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and Iran. It's a close ally of North Korea, which continues to flout an antinuclear treaty with the U.S.
And yet newscasters yawn.
When they have covered the story, they've dismissed it as politics. "Republicans believe they've finally found an issue that will stick to the President," ABC reporter Linda Douglass said.
Or they suspend skepticism. "Isn't there a possibility that China could have done this (improved its nuclear warheads) on its own (without spying)?" NBC's Today co-host Katie Couric asked Richardson.
We doubt TV reporters would have ever cut Reagan such slack. From the start of Iran-Contra, they thought the worst.
"There is a colossal arrogance at the heart of the Iran-Contra operation," opined NBC's John Chancellor in 1987.
What's arrogant is the Big Three's refusal to cover this frightening scandal.
Or is there more at work than just arrogance -- like bias toward Clinton? Or worse, toward communism?
To read today's IBD editorial, go to: http://www.investors.com
To watch the Dan Rather interview contrast (with Bush versus with Clinton) go to the MRC's video page and then click on "Rather Video Contrast" at the top of the list of videos. Go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/biasvideo.html. -- Brent Baker
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