CyberAlert -- 07/29/1997 -- Chung Chopped

Chung Chopped; Democrat's Nazi Ignored; Flustered on Flushing

  1. The networks reported Sunday that Johnny Chung contended that he was solicited in the White House. But not a word Monday morning.
  2. Monday night only CBS ran a fundraising story -- more evidence of Trie's money laundering. But NBC oddly linked the Helms/Weld fight to the White House coffees.
  3. Democrats showcased a man at a press conference who had a Nazi tattoo. Not newsworthy, but if Newt involved it would have been.
  4. Eleanor Clift demanded toilet conformity: "I don't think the people of one state should be allowed to flush three times."

1) News at night, forgotten by morning. Sunday night all the networks at least mentioned the Los Angeles Times story quoting Johnny Chung, but none uttered a syllable about it Monday morning. Here's a network by network rundown.

-- ABC. Reporter Bob Zelnick gave Chung's charges 38 seconds in a larger story, asserting: "In a potentially explosive development, the Los Angeles Times today..."

"Potentially explosive" but the bomb never went off as Monday's GMA, MRC news analyst Jim Forbes determined, did not include any stories citing Chung. Good Morning America did, however, air the only morning show reference to the fundraising scandal. During the 7am news update news reader Elizabeth Vargas devoted a brief item to ABC's "exclusive" interview with Charlie Trie. ABC dedicated a full story Sunday night (see July 28 CyberAlert), but Monday morning Vargas just ran one soundbite from Trie in which he insisted "I have nothing to hide. But I don't know how become about this spying. This kind of thing totally is false."

-- CBS. The Sunday CBS Evening News devoted a brief anchor-read item to Chung.

Monday morning's This Morning: zilch on fundraising of any kind, noted MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski, making July 28 the 13th This Morning broadcast in a row to fail to mention any aspect of the fundraising scandal.

-- NBC. Sunday's Nightly News carried the only full story on the Chung charges aired by a broadcast network and the only story to point out how his version of events contradicts the story told by Richard Sullivan. Anchor Sara James delivered a tough introduction to the top story of July 27:

"Good evening, embarrassing questions for the Clinton Administration today in the wake of new allegations concerning campaign fundraising. One of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party had a lot to say about who asked him for money and what he thought he could get in return. The White House insists the allegations are false. NBC's Joe Johns has details."

As transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, Joe Johns began:

"While the President was posing for pictures in California with one top Democratic fundraiser and playing golf with another, White House aides were scrambling to deal with potentially damaging new statements from businessman Johnny Chung, a key figure in the campaign money scandal. Chung told the Los Angeles Times, quote, 'I see the White House is like a subway -- you have to put in coins to open the gates.'"

Johns outlined how Chung recalled that an aide to Maggie Williams asked him for a check to help cover White House Christmas decorations, he returned and gave Williams a check for $50,000. That got him what he wanted for some Chinese associates: access to the White House mess and to a Clinton radio address. Johns pointed out:

"Chung also contradicted statements by Richard Sullivan, a former Democratic director of finance. He testified at the Senate campaign finance hearings before the Governmental Affairs Committee that he was nervous about whether Chung's money was coming from the Chinese businessman who wanted to get into the White House....Chung told the Los Angeles Times Sullivan was never worried about his money."

Johns concluded: "Committee hearings resume on Tuesday. This is expected to be another tough week for Democrats, especially the White House. Joe Johns, NBC News, the Capitol."

But only if the networks don't drop these stories. Monday's Today, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, did not air any fundraising stories. So what led Nightly News wasn't even newsworthy 13 hours later.

2) After days of Cunanan, O'Connor, Cosby and Ramsey, Monday night all the networks led with political stories, though only one broadcast network aired a full story on fundraising.

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with Ted Koppel narrating video of a mock trial in Cambodia for Pol Pot. But ABC didn't run anything on fundraising, not even on the "potentially explosive" Chung charges, though hearings resume Tuesday.

-- NBC Nightly News topped the show with three stories on the impending tax deal. In the first, Lisa Myers outlined the winners and losers from the deal, but concluded with an unusual angle that a conservative would take:

"In fact, for all the talk about Washington's new hard line on spending, this President and this Congress get to take credit for actually spending more on popular causes this year. But they promise that sometime in the future someone else will muster the courage to make unpopular spending cuts."

About 20 minutes into the show Tom Brokaw reported that Governor William Weld had resigned as Governor of Massachusetts in order to fight Senator Helms over his nomination for Ambassador to Mexico. Brokaw then slid into a story by Gwen Ifill on how most ambassadors are chosen because they give money.

Noting a Dallas Morning News story that reported how several White House coffee attendees will soon become ambassadors, Ifill then provided the first network citation of a Heritage study:

"The Heritage Foundation, a Republican think tank, had even more to say about the coffee connection in a recent study. It showed that White House coffee guests received nearly $30 billion dollars in federal contracts in the 1996 fiscal year."

Ken Weinstein, Heritage Foundation: "So much seemed to have been up for sale at the White House during these coffees."

Ifill then concluded by equating the Helms opposition to Weld with how the Clinton Administration picked ambassadors: "White House officials dismiss the Heritage Foundation report as politically motivated. But political motivations are at the heart of these disputes. Democrats say Senator Jesse Helms is playing politics by ignoring the Weld nomination. Helms says the same thing about the White House. But the games begin long before they burst into public view. Gwen Ifill, NBC News, Washington."

Ifill's conclusion is so odd it's a bit tough to tell what she's talking about. But it looks like she's making quite a stretch for moral equivalency. No matter what you think of the Helms/Weld battle it's based on policy, whether drug policy or the future of the Republican Party. The same cannot be said for awarding ambassadorships to large donors.

-- The CBS Evening News also led with the impending tax deal followed by a look at Medicare fraud. Next, CBS delivered the only broadcast piece of the night on fundraising. Dan Rather intoned: "There is new and exclusive information tonight about foreign money, allegedly funneled through a fundraiser named Charlie Trie."

Bob Schieffer explained that after Clinton won Charlie Trie became a high profile mover and shaker, but:

"When Senate hearings on campaign finance resume tomorrow investigators will try to show that Trie was also part of a blatant money-laundering scheme used to channel illegal foreign contributions to the Democratic Party. For example, investigators have obtained bank records showing a $150,000 from a Macao trading company was transferred by a Hong Kong bank to Trie's bank account in Washington. Five days later Trie's assistant wrote this check for $12,500 to the husband of Yu Chew (sp?), a Maryland resident. On the same day she wrote a check for an identical amount to the Democratic National Committee.

"The check writer is one of two woman who've been given immunity from prosecution and tomorrow they will tell the committee that Trie asked for their help because the Macao businessman who had sent him the money wanted to go to a presidential fundraiser but couldn't make a legal donation to the presidential campaign because he wasn't a U.S. citizen...."

3) Two Senators bring an "average" American to a press conference to illustrate who will benefit from their tax plan, but the guy has a Nazi swastika tattooed to his arm. Big news? Evidence of intolerance, bigotry or just plain insensitivity within a party? Only if Newt Gingrich had accompanied him, admitted CNN's Frank Sesno. But since the man stood beside liberal Democrats the media took a pass. So Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz documented in a July 28 story.

Kurtz explained: "The West Virginia truck driver was trotted out by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) as someone who would be helped by the Clinton tax plan. Rockefeller, clearly unaware of the tattoo, introduced the man as 'a very close and personal friend.'

Kurtz noted that "it was reported as a brief item only by the Hill, the Capitol Hill weekly, and by Associated Press Radio." Many reporters had an excuse, as Kurtz contended that "Most of the reporters at Daschle's July 18 news briefing (including two from The Washington Post) couldn't see that Rickey McCumbers, the $5-an-hour worker there with his wife, had a small swastika near his right wrist. But Roberta Hornig, an NBC reporter seated near McCumbers, said 'my eyes popped' when she saw it."

But NBC put image ahead of substance: "Lacking videotape of the offending symbol, Hornig said, 'I just thought it would be unfair to make an issue of this couple who Rockefeller was using to make a point. It would have blown it way out of proportion.'"

CNN skipped it, but a CNN executive conceded a different standard would have applied to Gingrich: "A CNN producer phoned it in for Inside Politics, but on a busy day, said Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno, 'like many other pieces of copy, it didn't make it....I think it's a story. Clearly if Newt Gingrich walked out with a guy with a swastika on his arm, people would have jumped all over it.' Sesno said he would further examine the matter."

A "busy day"? MRC news analyst Clay Waters went to the MRC Media Tracking System and found that on July 18 CNN managed to allocate time on Inside Politics to a story on Senator Faircloth's bill to ban computer games like Solitaire from government computers.

Kurtz concluded by admonishing his colleagues: "Did the press fall down on the job? Reporters traffic in symbolism all the time -- remember President Clinton's $200 tarmac haircut, or Dan Quayle's misspelling 'potato' -- and the news conference itself was an exercise in political symbolism. The journalists who sat on the story clearly gave the Democrats a pass."

4) Eleanor Clift thinks the federal government must regulate how many times you can flush your toilet. On this past weekend's McLaughlin Group John McLaughlin raised Michigan Congressman Bill Knollenberg's bill to rescind to 1992 law forcing all new toilets to not exceed 1.6 gallons. Almost everyone agrees the new toilets do not have enough water to flush properly, so people defeat the water saving goal by flushing multiple times. Knollenberg's bill would let states set the water level standard.

McLaughlin inquired: "Question: Is Congressman Knollenberg's legislation loony? Eleanor Clift."

Clift replied: "I knew I'd get that issue. It's loony in the sense that you can't have every locality decide what the water standards are and I don't think the people of one state should be allowed to flush three times at whim while the people of California have to conserve water."

To which Fred Barnes interjected: "Heaven forbid!"

I guess this is one area in which liberals don't believe in diversity. We must all flush alike or else.

-- Brent Baker