CyberAlert -- 07/17/1997 -- ABC & NBC Spike Hearings

ABC & NBC Spike Hearings; Even New York Times Finds Newsworthiness

The MRC on Wednesday launched a daily one-page fax report titled "Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings." It's largely a compressed version of CyberAlert targeted at those without e-mail. Put together by Tim Graham based upon CyberAlert and the morning show logging completed by the MRC's Steve Kaminski, Geoffrey Dickens and Gene Eliasen, it's distributed just past noon on days after hearings. We cannot afford to offer this to everyone, but if you are in the media and would find a same day review of the morning shows useful, please send your name, affiliation and fax number to Kristina Sewell:

  1. CBS This Morning and NBC's Today skipped the hearings Wednesday morning. CBS hasn't uttered a word about them since July 9.
  2. Wednesday brought news at Huang's boss at Commerce considered him "totally unqualified," but both ABC's World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News ignored the hearings. ABC has yet to show a witness.
  3. A rundown of who is showing the hearings on cable and via the Web.
  4. The New York Times decried those who claimed "there was nothing to be learned from these hearings." Like their own news pages?

1) What if they held hearings, and no reporters covered them? That happened with the television networks on Wednesday. Two of the three networks skipped the hearings in the morning and the evening. Let's start with the morning rundown:

-- ABC's Good Morning America, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen reported, ran a two sentence item read by news reader Elizabeth Vargas, during the 7:30am news update, on the 1992 Huang donation and how Democrats would now return it. This brief citation made GMA the only morning show to actually mention the hearings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

-- CBS This Morning once again ignored the hearings on Wednesday. As MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski pointed out, that's the fifth day in a row without a word about the hearings on the CBS morning show which last mentioned them on Wednesday, July 9, the morning after the opening statements. This Morning, which ran several stories and an interview segment on the Versace murder, managed to find time to show Jane Robelot and Mark McEwen learning to tango.

-- NBC's Today, for the second of three mornings this week, couldn't find time to tell viewers anything about the hearings. But MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens pointed out that Today dedicated the entire 7am half hour to three interview segments on the Versace murder and much of the 7:30 half hour to the man fired for sexual harassment for talking about the Seinfeld episode revolving around Jerry trying to remember his girlfriend's name which he knew rhymed with a part of the female anatomy. The man won his wrongful dismissal suit. (The woman's name: Dolores.)

2) A big day of hearings with testimony from about ten witnesses, but neither ABC's World News Tonight or NBC Nightly News told viewers a syllable about any of it. Only the CBS Evening News ran a story.

Just before 5pm ET on Wednesday, CNN's Brooks Jackson told Judy Woodruff what we learned from Wednesday's witnesses:
"A rather interesting day, actually, slow at times but the Republicans are building a circumstantial case understand. I think they've shown that John Huang got a patronage job at the White House by virtue of his being an active fundraiser in 1992....We've shown that his superior at the Department of Commerce considered him unqualified for the job, so he got into a job that he might not have gotten if it had not been for that fundraising. And we're learning that he had access to quite sensitive classified information. Of course we knew that, but we're getting that in somewhat more detail now from the CIA briefers."

CNN's Prime News carried a full report from Candy Crowley mentioning all those elements and emphasizing how the Commerce Department failed to perform a background check on Huang.

Here's how broadcast network coverage, or lack here of it, went Wednesday night, July 16:

-- CBS Evening News. After two stories on Versace and serial killer Andrew Cunanan and a piece of the stock market's Dow Jones hitting 8000, Dan Rather noted that at the hearings "the focus of attention: John Huang." Bob Schieffer opened his story:

"The committee bored in on how Huang wound up in a sensitive Commerce Department job that gave him access to highly-classified trade secrets. His old boss conceded Huang didn't get there on expertise."

CBS ran a soundbite of Jeffrey Garten declaring Huang "totally unqualified" for the job those above Garten made sure he landed.

Schieffer also reported that "CIA officials testified from behind a security screen that Huang got plenty of trade secrets in his government post," before ending by explaining that the Senate committee is investigating a hand-written note then DNC chairman Don Fowler faxed to Mack McLarty in 1995 which said the party had to raise $4 million within 14 days. The fax "listed a group of oil company executives and asked McLarty to call some of these people and ask them for $25,000. Federal law prohibits such fundraising by White House employees," Schieffer asserted before concluding by saying that McLarty denies getting the memo.

-- NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight spiked the hearings. Let me allow you to play editor and evaluate their Wednesday night story line-ups so you can judge whether all the pieces they ran were more newsworthy than the hearings.

NBC Nightly News:

  1. Versace/Andrew Cunanan
  2. profile of suspected serial killer Cunanan
  3. stock market Dow Jones hits 8000
  4. who benefits from stock rise
  5. Bill Gates is the richest man in world
  6. Mir health of cosmonaut update
  7. Army General Henry Shelton to be Chief of JCS
  8. In Depth on Cunanan. FBI challenge in catching a serial killer
  9. JonBenet Ramsey parents questioned
  10. new drug to relieve arthritis pain
  11. Safest and most dangerous states crime wise
  12. man fired for sexual harassment for joking about Seinfeld episode about a woman's name, wins his wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

ABC's World News Tonight:

  1. Versace/Cunanan murder investigation status
  2. profile of Cunanan's gay life in California
  3. Versace's business empire after his death, will it survive?
  4. Mir update
  5. Shelton picked
  6. Korean DMZ gun battle/starvation in North Korea
  7. UN Secretary General to cut UN budget
  8. NAACP annual convention. Courting new generation. Trying to find new issues to press, re-thinking school integration
  9. Inflation at just 1.4 percent this year.
  10. Dow Jones closes above 8000
  11. Virginia Beach teller gave bank robber bills with dye pack which ignites. Man stuffed into his pants and it exploded, burning his pants. Last seen fleeing in his underwear.
  12. SBA loan applicants only asked if ever convicted of a crime. "No" answers never checked.
  13. FDA approved an implant for epilepsy
  14. Casting for Recovery. Fly-fishing program for breast cancer victims.

    World News Tonight's lack of coverage means that if you watched every WNT since the hearings began you would yet to have seen one second of video of any witness.

    Updating the ABC rundown which appeared in the last two CyberAlerts, 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.
    Wednesday, July 16: zilch

    3) Who is showing the hearings on TV and on the Web.
    -- MSNBC. On Wednesday, as on Tuesday, MSNBC didn't offer any live coverage, just occasional live updates from Joe Johns. On Wednesday, live coverage of a press conference by police on the Versace murder cut MSNBC's usual 4:30pm Money Trail review of the day down to a five minute piece at about 4:52pm ET.

    -- CNN. For the first time since last Wednesday, on Wednesday, July 16 CNN actually showed some live testimony. From just after 4pm ET until the Versace press conference at about 4:30pm, CNN aired the hearings. After Versace, CNN ran a full review of the day from Candy Crowley and Brooks Jackson (see Jackson in item #2 above).

    -- Fox News Channel promised to run continuous coverage, minus news updates and ads. I have no reason to doubt they are, but I can't see it.

    -- NET and C-SPAN. National Empowerment Television is running the hearings live all day, as is C-SPAN3 for those with satellite access or serviced by one of the limited number of cable providers carrying either channel. C-SPAN's Wednesday night re-play began just past midnight ET, but C-SPAN2 carried a few hours of hearings earlier in the evening.

    -- On the Web. I've been told the direct address I gave yesterday for Fox News video doesn't work, but I'm sure anyone interested figured out how to find the video service. Forget the direct address, go to: and then click on "video." Fox News offers both video and audio only of its cable signal.

    CNN's AllPolitics site with Time magazine offers live video and audio of the hearings. Go to: pick "Live Coverage" to watch the hearings via "Vxtreme streaming video." (With AllPolitics there's no need for the www in the address)

    MSNBC claims to offer audio of the hearings at its Web site: But good luck finding it. I couldn't. Bill Gates may be worth $41 billion, but he can't create a decent news Web site that approaches CNN or Fox News. is the shallowest, most convoluted, slow to load, and illogically designed news site I've ever encountered. At least that's my opinion.

    4) Referring to the revelation at Tuesday's hearing that the Lippo Group reimbursed John Huang for a 1992 $50,000 donation to the DNC, a July 16 New York Times editorial declared:

    "So much for the commentators who spent last weekend assuring the country that there was nothing to be learned from these hearings. The fact is that every time the Senate Government Affairs Committee can get a straight answer or a fresh document, another $50,000 or $100,000 wire transfer from Asia turns up."

    Who could the Times be referring to? How about to their own news staff? MRC news analyst Clay Waters recalled a July 13 Sunday "Week in Review" story. The headline: "A Scandal Falls Victim to Its Own Irrelevance."

    Even the New York Times editorial page writers find the hearings of interest. How far to the left must that place the network producers who don't?

-- Brent Baker