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CyberAlert -- 07/16/1997 -- Hearings Get 26 Seconds on ABC

Hearings Get 26 Seconds on ABC; Hume Sees Bias in Coverage

  1. In the morning CBS again skipped the hearings and Today allocated more time to discrediting the trooper's stories as run in the "ultra-conservative newspaper, The American Spectator."
  2. ABC gives hearings 26 seconds on Tuesday night as NBC's Tim Russert dreams of "bipartisanship" and Tom Brokaw demands "to hear more from Republicans...about some of their transgressions."
  3. Fox News Channel decided to offer live hearings coverage as FNC's Brit Hume observed that "If this were Ronald Reagan...it's a little hard to imagine this wouldn't have attracted more attention."

1) Tuesday morning (July 15) one show ignored the hearings, one aired one brief item and one ran a full story:

-- CBS This Morning: For the fourth weekday morning in a row the CBS show didn't mention a word about the Senate hearings. Instead, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski found, CBS focused on the JonBenet Ramsey autopsy, the anti-flu nasal spray and the controversy over the KKK adopting a Texas highway. The last time This Morning uttered a word about the hearings: Wednesday, July 9.

-- ABC's Good Morning America also led with JonBenet Ramsey and aired a full story on the auction of OJ Simpson's house before getting to the hearings. In two hours, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen observed, GMA dedicated a total of one brief item to the hearings: news reader Elizabeth Vargas during the 7:30am news noted that the hearings would resume in a few hours.

-- NBC's Today also only aired one story on the hearings, but it was a bit longer. During the 7am news Lisa Myers provided a full story on how the Tuesday hearing would reveal that an Asian businessman, Eric Hotung (a British citizen) and his wife, contributed $100,000 to get a meeting with NSC adviser Sandy Berger. They got their meeting and a week later, Myers relayed, the Hotung's gave another $99,000 to the DNC. Myers concluded by noting that the DNC gave the documents on the Hotungs to the committee on Friday, after Richard Sullivan had testified. Obstruction and obfuscation? The networks failed to pursue that line.

Following interview segments on Ramsey and the OJ house auction, Today did showcase a Clinton scandal, if only to tear it apart. At about 7:45am Today dedicated more than three minutes to promoting a Tuesday night Dateline NBC piece by Chris Hansen. In a clip from the show Hansen recalled that in 1993 four Arkansas state troopers "gave the ultra-conservative newspaper The American Spectator sordid accounts of Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs. The ensuing scandal was dubbed Troopergate, but now one of those troopers, Ron Anderson, is telling a different story...."

It's hard to trust the reporting of someone who can't tell the difference between a newspaper and a magazine, but Hansen asked the trooper: "These allegations painted Bill Clinton as being reckless, as being involved in multiple affairs, as being sexually out of control. Did any of this really happen?"

Anderson replied: "Not in my presence it didn't."

Later, Hansen had to concede that Anderson admits that many of the events recounted by the American Spectator and Los Angeles Times could have happened. He just didn't see them.


2) Two elements that did not appear in any of the ABC, CBS or NBC coverage Tuesday night: video of any of the witnesses who testified Tuesday or mention of any of their names. All three networks buried their stories more than 15 minutes into their shows.

At about 2:37pm ET on Tuesday CNN went to Brooks Jackson for an update from the Hart Building. Jackson summarized the three key revelations from the day's hearings:
a) Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman said that after a Monday night FBI briefing he and most Democrats on the committee agree that the Chinese had a "plan to subvert U.S. elections."
b) The DNC arranged in 1995 for British citizen Eric Hotung, who donated $100,000, to meet NSC adviser Sandy Berger. Afterwards Mrs. Hotung, a U.S. citizen, gave another $99,000.
c) Documents showed that John Huang funneled an illegal donation to the DNC back in 1992. After giving $50,000, he sought reimbursement from the Lippo Group in Jakarta.

Concluded Jackson: "So Republicans, who got off to a slow start last week, are drawing blood today."

So, plenty of material for the network evening shows, right? Well, none managed to tell their viewers about all three disclosures.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. About 17 minutes into the show, after stories on the Versace murder, Versace and his designs, three pieces on the MIR situation, a Mars update, and report on the Cosby extortion trial, Peter Jennings announced:

"In Washington today the Senate committee investigating campaign financing has heard the clearest testimony yet about a foreign contribution to the Democrats. An accountant, who worked for a U.S. subsidiary of the Indonesian Lippo Group of companies, testified that in 1992 the Indonesians funneled $50,000 through the subsidiary to the Democratic National Committee. The Democrats say now that they know about this the money will be returned."

That was it. Total time: 26 seconds and no soundbites from any of the three witnesses at the hearings, meaning that after three days of witness testimony World News Tonight has yet to air a syllable from any witness.

Updating the ABC rundown which appeared in the July 15 CyberAlert, here's how ABC's World News Tonight has "covered" the hearings so far:

  • Monday, July 7: zilch
  • Tuesday, July 8: Unlike CBS and NBC, ABC does not lead with hearings, instead airing two stories on the Fen Phen diet drug.
  • Wednesday, July 9: Led with poll showing Clinton with a high approval rating. The story mentioned the hearings, but did not include any soundbites from witness Richard Sullivan.
  • Thursday, July 10: Devoted 41 seconds to Senator Sam Brownback mimicking a Chinese dialect, but just 23 seconds to a vague hearings update.
  • Friday, July 11: nothing
  • Saturday, July 12: no story
  • Sunday, July 13: Story on how John Glenn insisted that Fred Thompson's Chinese influence charge is not supported by the FBI and a story on "why average Americans seem to be paying so little attention to the campaign finance hearings."
  • Monday, July 14: nothing
  • Tuesday, July 15: 26 seconds on John Huang funneling a foreign donation to the DNC in 1992. Nothing correcting the Sunday story on Thompson by noting that Lieberman now agrees with Thompson's China comments.

-- CBS Evening News. Led with the Versace murder, followed by reports on the Versace fashion empire, Starr concluding that Vince Foster committed suicide, the Cosby extortion trial, MIR, Mars, heart disease studies and a new treatment for migraines. Finally, a bit more than 15 minutes into the broadcast, Dan Rather reported that Senator Lieberman supported Republican claims that China had tried to buy influence and that the committee heard testimony about how Huang made 400 calls to Lippo while working at Commerce.

In a stand up from Capitol Hill, Bob Schieffer then relayed the 1992 Huang payment and that Senator Susan Collins observed that Huang's 400 calls to Lippo means more than one call per day while at Commerce. Schieffer stated: "And the interesting thing is, Dan, that the Lippo bank apparently let him keep his credit card. He charged a lot of those calls to the bank's credit cards. So whatever else he's done, he was keeping in close touch."

How sweet. But CBS also failed show any soundbites from the hearing.

-- NBC Nightly News. NBC also led with the Varsace murder, then a look at the suspected serial murderer, followed by stories on Cosby, MIR, Mars, and an "In-Depth" piece on the "life and work" of Versace. Twenty minutes into the show, Tom Brokaw introduced a soundbite from Senator Lieberman about how Lippo reimbursed Huang's 1992 donation. (Nightly News didn't say a thing about the Hotung disclosure featured on Today.) Lieberman asserted:

"There's a pretty clear document here requesting reimbursement for a $50,000 contribution to the DNC Victory Fund which certainly looks like the movement of foreign money into an American campaign in 1992."

Brokaw then turned to Tim Russert, who offered his take on the day: "Tom, a small flicker of bi-partisanship there with Senator Lieberman acknowledging potential wrongdoing. And that is absolutely instrumental if these hearings are going to educate the American people. We remember the Watergate hearings with Sam Ervin and Howard Baker. Iran-Contra with Daniel Inouye and Warren Rudman. Unless these hearings are perceived as bipartisan the American people have a tendency to turn partisan bickering off. Today's an indication that at least one Democrat is willing to put the chips on the table."

Brokaw wondered: "When do you think we're going to begin to hear more from Republicans, however, about some of their transgressions?"

Russert answered: "...It is important that Republicans step forward and acknowledge wrongdoing potentially on their side. Unless Democrats and Republicans say, hey, it's beyond we all just do this. The fact is Tom millions of dollars have been returned by the Democratic Party, five people have fled overseas, 20 people at least have taken the 5th. This is a serious issue confronting our country and both parties have to deal with it. Unless the bickering stops and people step forward and take off their Republican and Democratic hats we'll never get to the bottom of it."

Let's see, "A serious issue confronting our country." And NBC runs the story 2o minutes into its newscast and Tom Brokaw is more concerned about Republican "transgressions."

If all Democrats have to do is obfuscate and refuse to cooperate and that will turn the public off, then I guess it would be too much ask the media to point that out so the Democrats couldn't get away with suppressing the probe.


3) CNN and MSNBC ran hourly updates on the hearings on Tuesday, but offered no live coverage. That's a bad programming decision, Brit Hume, Managing Editor in Washington for the Fox News Channel (FNC), told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. In a July 15 Post story on the lack of media attention, Hume argued:

"If this were Ronald Reagan accused of selling foreign policy to the highest bidder, it's a little hard to imagine this wouldn't have attracted more attention." Hume suggested: "I can't think of a higher and better use of a 24-hour news channel's time in July than to cover these hearings."

FNC is taking advantage of the opportunity. FNC has now committed to live coverage of the rest of the hearings, other than cutting out for half-hourly news updates and for ad breaks. For those like me who are among the two-thirds of cable subscribers without access to FNC's cable signal, you can watch FNC over the Web. Go to: http://www.foxnews.com/video/ and if you have adequate computer equipment (sound card, speakers etc) you can download the Real Media software and watch. An audio only service is also available.

CNN may not be showing the hearings on cable, but they are providing a video feed at their Web site: http://AllPolitics.com.

Two other networks with limited availability are offering live coverage: National Empowerment Television (NET), which is on at least one of the direct satellite services, as well as C-SPAN3.

Speaking of C-SPAN, on Tuesday night for the first time the cable service re-played the hearings on C-SPAN2 from about 7 to 10:30pm ET before they ran on C-SPAN after the House adjourned at about 11:30pm ET. At least a few networks are trying to offer coverage instead of wondering why the public is not interested, which is more than you can say for ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC or CNN.

-- Brent Baker