CyberAlert -- 07/11/1997 -- More Bruising of Brownback than Telling What Sullivan Says

More Bruising of Brownback than Telling What Sullivan Says

  1. One Thursday morning show ignored the hearings and the other two barely touched them while CNN and MSNBC ceased live coverage.
  2. ABC's World News Tonight dedicated more time to Senator Sam Brownback's "pigeon English" than to the actual fundraising hearings.
  3. The networks pounced on Trent Lott's comment that Clinton is a "spoiled brat," but they ignored Al Gore when he denounced Republicans as "un-American."

1) Before the Senate Government Affairs Committee hearings on fundraising had gaveled down for the third day Thursday morning network coverage had already peaked.

Morning shows on Thursday: One show skipped the hearings altogether and the other two barely mentioned them. Wednesday morning all the broadcast morning shows aired at least one full report. Thursday morning coverage plummeted.

-- CBS This Morning did not utter a syllable about the hearings on July 10, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski informed me.

-- ABC's Good Morning America, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noted, aired two brief items read by news reader Bill Ritter during the 7 and 8am news updates.

-- NBC's Today aired a grand total of one 17-second item read by news anchor Ann Curry during the 7am newscast. Like GMA, Today devoted its first interview segment to the Mike Tyson decision. Today followed with an interview about Mars, a story on the search for a missing Republic of Texas member who fled to the hills two months ago, and the unusually jammed half hour ended with a look at the new National Airport terminal. During the 7:30am news update Today ran a three minute and 16 second long profile of Pete Rose Jr. who is playing AAA baseball in Indianapolis.

Day time: CNN and MSNBC dropped live coverage Thursday and offered only occasional updates from the Hart building. In late morning, MSNBC anchor John Siegenthaler interviewed Ty Cobb, John Huang's attorney. CNN's Inside Politics at 4pm ET did provide a summary of the day's testimony as did MSNBC's The Money Trail at 4:30pm.

C-SPAN has been scheduled to run the hearings in their entirety starting at 10pm ET each night, but special orders Wednesday night delayed the coverage until a bit past 12 midnight in the east and Thursday night House debate did not end until about 12:30am ET Friday morning at which time C-SPAN began their tape.

2) Thursday evening ABC and CBS barely touched the hearings as only NBC took them seriously and aired a full story.

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with the NATO roundup of Bosnian war criminals followed by Peter Jennings interviewing NSC adviser Sandy Berger. After an ad break, ABC went to a story on RJ Reynolds dropping Joe Camel and then aired a piece on the new TV ratings.

ABC's fifth story dealt with the hearings, sort of, as viewers heard more about how a Senator posed a question than about any information revealed by the witness. Below is the full transcript of ABC's coverage. I've noted the time devoted to each portion for a reason that will become clear as you read.

Peter Jennings introduced the segment:
"On Capitol Hill today the Senate committee investigating campaign finances heard again from Richard Sullivan, the campaign finance director of the Democratic National Committee during President Clinton's re-election campaign. The Republicans are pressing hard to find out whether high level Chinese government officials were trying to buy influence. That is ABC's Linda Douglass who was at the hearings today. Linda what did we learn first of all." [20 seconds]

Linda Douglass: "Sullivan was the Democratic Party's top fundraising official and he admitted today under very heavy questioning that the party did a very poor job of checking into big donations that came from mysterious donors in 1996. Republicans presented a little bit of new evidence that a lot of those donations may have been from foreign sources, but Sullivan insisted he didn't know the money was foreign and he believed that neither did anyone else. Peter." [23 seconds]

Jennings: "You also drew our attention today to a fairly notable moment that involved Senator Brownback on the Republican side. Set the scene for us, would you."

Douglass: "Well Senator Brownback, a Republican of Kansas, was questioning Sullivan about John Huang. He was asking was Huang paid a bonus to be an aggressive fundraiser and as he asked the question he appeared to be using some pigeon English."

PJ: "This is the kind of thing that's upset the Asian community. Here's what it looked like."

Brownback: "If he didn't produce no more money. You said if things worked out, were your terms, is that correct?"

Sullivan: "That's correct."

Brownback: "So, no raise money, no get bonus." PJ: "Kind of thing as we said that upset the Asian community. Our thanks to Linda Douglass." [41 seconds]

Three observations:
First, ABC spent more time highlighting Brownback's language (41 seconds) than Linda Douglass got to explain what transpired in the hearings -- just 23 seconds for her rather vague report. The initial intro from Jennings lasted 20 seconds mainly consumed by giving Sullivan's title and introducing Douglass, not conveying what happened. But even if you count that time ABC still devoted about as much to Brownback as the actual hearings.

Second, the audio of Sullivan saying "that's correct," as the camera focused on Brownback, represents the totality of what World News Tonight viewers have heard from Sullivan, the only witness to testify so far. Wednesday's World News Tonight did not run any soundbites of what Sullivan said and neither did Douglass in her brief Thursday night report.

Third, the networks jump on gaffes and "divisive" or "mean-spirited" comments uttered by conservatives while often ignoring similar comments delivered by liberals. For a Trent Lott versus Al Gore case study, see item #3 below.

-- The CBS Evening News ran stories on these topics, in order, before getting to the hearings: New TV ratings, RJ Reynolds dropping Joe Camel, publicity for recent church arsons has led to an investigation of a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, grandson of Betty Shabazz plead guilty, part of Texaco racial slur audio tape may have been erased, House hearing on TWA downing, and the ValuJet/Air Tran merger.

Here in its totality is the eighth story, lasting 27 seconds and announced by anchor Bob Schieffer:

"A new charge tonight that China tried to buy political influence in Campaign '96. At today's congressional hearing on campaign funding Republican Senator Arlen Specter said there was evidence that a Democratic donor, Johnnie Chung, got $150,000 from the Bank of China just three days before he gave a $50,000 donation to Hillary Clinton's chief of staff. China has denied any attempt to buy influence."

Of course this charge is "new" to CBS because the network ignored the April 1 Wall Street Journal story describing how wire transfers from China arrived in Chung's account days before he made big donations to the Democratic Party.

-- Only NBC Nightly News offered a full story on the hearings. After pieces on the House hearing on TWA, the ValuJet/Air Tran Airways merger, Joe Camel being dumped, and the new TV ratings, anchor Brian Williams intoned:

"On Capitol Hill tonight, those hearings on campaign fundraising. An apparent direct hit, a straight line from a Chinese bank to the war chest of the Democratic Party."

Reporter Lisa Myers provided a fuller account than did CBS of the China connection, explaining that in March 1995 Johnnie Chung gave a $50,000 check payable to DNC to Maggie Williams. "Today, the Thompson committee produced bank records showing that money actually came from someone in China, the first concrete evidence that Chinese money went to the DNC." After a soundbite from Senator Alen Specter, Myers continued: "Records show that Chung had less than $10,000 in his bank account before he received $150,000 from the Bank of China. Three days later he wrote the $50,000 check to the DNC."

Myers was the only broadcast network reporter to highlight that Sullivan didn't want Chung to be allowed to bring his foreign national colleagues to see Clinton do a radio address, but he was overruled.

Two items not mentioned in any of the stories: The decision by Yogesh Gandhi, a man who donated $325,000 though he was broke, to take the 5th. And, discrepancies between Sullivan's deposition and testimony on Monday about whether he and Al Gore knew in advance that the Buddhist temple event was designed to raise money.

3) Trent Lott called Bill Clinton a "spoiled brat." Four days later Al Gore called Republicans "un-American." Guess which generated more media condemnation.

A June 20 Los Angeles Times story began: "Vice President Al Gore on Thursday attacked as "un-American" a Republican proposal to restore welfare benefits to some legal immigrants but omit others who would have been protected under the balanced budget agreement." USA Today also ran a story and the AP distributed a report on Gore's slam.

Coverage of this divisive comment, a comment arguably far worse than Lott's since it impugns the patriotism of an entire class of citizens? I asked MRC intern Jessica Anderson to use the MRC's Media Tracking System database to compare coverage of Gore to that generated by Lott's comment. In total, Gore got picked up just once, by CNN's Inside Politics on June 24 which ran this clip from the VP: "In my opinion the Republican plan is un-American, simply un-American." Not a word about it on the broadcast networks.

Appearing on the June 15 This Week on ABC, Lott asserted about President Clinton: "One of the things he needs to understand: He acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks he's got to have it his way or no way." The networks which ignored Gore, Jessica learned, jumped on the comment. ABC's World News Tonight and GMA, CNN's Prime News and Inside Politics, and NBC's Today and Nightly News all ran the clip. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted on June 16: "There's a new element in the battle between the White House and the Republican congressional leadership over proposed tax cuts: name calling." Two other examples:

-- On the July 15 World News Tonight anchor Carole Simpson declared:

"In the political wars: proof tonight that Republicans and Democrats can find something to fight about even when they agree. The disaster relief bill is now signed and both sides have compromised on the budget, so why all the name calling today? Here's ABC's Deborah Weiner."

Deborah Weiner: "The Senate Majority Leader launched the first salvo today in a major Republican offensive on tax cuts, attacking the President for not working with Congress."

Trent Lott: "One of the things he needs to understand: he acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks he's got to have it his way or no way."

Weiner: "Today Mr. Clinton's only response was to wish the Majority Leader a happy Father's Day."

-- The comment led the June 16 NBC Nightly News. Anchor Tom Brokaw announced:

"Good evening. President Clinton and the Republican Congress, fresh from their showdown over flood relief when the Republicans were forced to retreat, are back at it again tonight. This time the issue is a major tax cut from the Republicans, a proposed $85 billion over five years. The President says its priorities are all wrong. The Senate Republican leader is calling him a spoiled brat."

Just more proof that when reporters denounce incivility it's only conservatives they will censure.

-- Brent Baker