CyberAlert -- 07/30/1997 -- Money Laundering Piques Nets

Money Laundering Piques Nets; Budget Deal Leads

The MRC's fax reports, Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings, can now be read from the MRC home page or directly from:

  1. Zilch on the fundraising scandal Tuesday morning, but both CNN and MSNBC provided live coverage of the FBI agent's testimony.
  2. ABC, CBS and NBC all aired full stories Tuesday night on the testimony about money laundering, though deep into the newscasts.
  3. Networks fail to note how small the tax cut is compared to projected revenue. Dan Rather assumed all the money is the government's: "When Washington writes those checks will you be among the winners?"

1) None of the morning shows touched the fundraising story on Tuesday morning, though their first interview segments were at least about a serious policy matter -- the tax and budget agreement -- instead of a celebrity murder. Tuesday, July 29 also marked the 14th day in a row without a fundraising mention on CBS This Morning.

CNN and MSNBC both carried the testimony live of FBI agent Jerry Campane. Except for ad breaks and half hourly news updates, from a bit past 10am ET to about 1pm ET viewers saw Campane in the first live coverage by CNN and MSNBC since day two of a witness called by Republicans. Last Thursday they both showed Haley Barbour's appearance.

C-SPAN continues to re-play the hearings at night. Tuesday night the tape began at about 10:30pm ET. Fox News Channel and National Empowerment Television are still the only networks offering ongoing live coverage. On the internet you can get FNC's cable feed at: CNN is providing uninterrupted live coverage at:

It's a bit late now for the current round, but if you want to see the Senate and House hearings live this fall on TV, you'll have to get access to either FNC or NET (assuming both will continue coverage). If your cable provider doesn't offer either, you could consider DBS. FNC is carried by DIRECTV and NET, as you may have seen in their Tuesday USA Today ad, by the Dish Network.

2) In the evening, the three broadcast networks all ran full stories on the day's testimony on how Charlie Trie laundered money. Tuesday night was only the second time since the opening statements that all three networks offered full stories on the same night. The first: Last Thursday after Haley Barbour's appearance, meaning Trie is the first Democratic scandal-related witness to generate full stories on all three networks.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. About 21 minutes into the July 21 broadcast, after a "Solutions" story on new technology to detect bridge decay, substitute anchor Diane Sawyer announced:

"Those Senate hearings on campaign fundraising focused today on former restaurant owner Charlie Trie, who raised more than $1 million for President Clinton and the Democrats. The money has since been returned. Investigators think that a lot of it came from one very elusive man in Asia."

Linda Douglass, as transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, began: "Meet one of the most mysterious suspects in the campaign finance investigation, Ng Lap Seng, also known as Mr. Wu, a multimillionaire from the Portugese colony of Macau on the tip of mainland China. Mr. Wu evaded congressional investigators who went to Asia hoping to find him, but we caught up with him at one of his businesses in Macau. Wu says he made his fortune by being shrewd."

Wu: "My philosophy is that I should not break the law, but I wouldn't mind bending it."

Douglass: "But today, an FBI agent working for the Senate committee, testified that Wu is not just a businessman, but an advisor to the Chinese government, who allegedly funneled foreign money to his friend Charlie Trie. Trie, in turn, gave huge donations to the Democratic Party."

FBI agent Jerry Campane in testimony to the committee: "Overall, it appears to me that Mr. Trie relied upon Mr. Wu's foreign wire transfers to make his contributions to the DNC."

That clip of Campane, other than a soundbite from Barbour last Thursday, is the only soundbite longer than two words run by World News Tonight since the hearings commenced. In other words, it's the first Republican-called witness that ABC showed for more than two words.

Douglass continued: "Senators were stunned to learn that beginning in 1994, Wu wired nearly $1 million to Trie, the former Little Rock restaurant owner and friend of President Clinton's. A mind-numbing chart showed how Trie moved the money through various accounts."

Sen. Robert Smith: "In your opinion, did Mr. Trie launder money?"

Campane: "Yes, sir, in my opinion he did."

Douglass: "What did Mr. Wu want? Access to the President, in part. ABC News has learned Mr. Wu visited the White House at least six times."

Only ABC reported the six White House visits as neither CBS or NBC relayed that revelation Tuesday night.

-- Only the CBS Evening News ran a story on Monday night. Bob Schieffer outlined the Macau to DNC money laundering scheme that would be detailed at Tuesday's hearings. But CBS still aired another piece on Tuesday night in which Bob Schieffer summarized the testimony from the FBI agent and two Northern Virginia women who wrote checks after being reimbursed by Trie.

Schiefer concluded by emphasizing what the testimony had not proven: "Money laundering is clearly illegal, but investigators are having a harder time proving what some Republicans see as a larger issue, that all this is somehow tied to a Chinese plot to influence American elections. So far, no evidence of that."

-- NBC Nightly News placed an "In Depth" look at paternity questions nagging celebrities, such as Bill Cosby, before their story on the hearings. Lisa Myers opened her July 29 report:

"The man in the spotlight today, the President's friend Charlie Trie, was 7,000 miles away, hiding somewhere in China. One of the mysteries of the money trail is how Trie, who owned a modest restaurant in Little Rock, could give $220,000 to the Democratic Party. Trie told Tom Brokaw, who tracked him down in China, that it was all his own money. But today an FBI agent told a Senate committee that Trie did not earn that much money, that the contributions actually came from overseas."

After summarizing what the FBI agent discovered, Myers explained: "Trie wasn't alone. Today two women testified, through an interpreter, that they wrote these checks, totaling $25,000 to the Democrats, and then Wu's company reimbursed them. That is illegal. Why?"

Testifying woman: "The boss wanted to go to the White House."

Myers then offered a conclusion which left open the possibility of a China connection:

"The boss is Wu, and he did in fact attend a presidential fundraiser at this hotel last year, the same day the checks were written. Today a quarter of a million dollars in apparently illegal foreign money was traced back to mysterious Mr. Wu. Why would he want to give Democrats all that money? Well, one reason, in Asia, even the appearance of a relationship with the President of the United States brings stature. Still unknown tonight is whether any of Wu's money actually came from the Chinese government."

3) The budget and tax deal announcement led the three broadcast network evening shows as each aired multiple stories on the deal which raises spending and the amount collected in taxes. The $91 billion in net tax reduction represents about one percent of projected federal revenue over the next five years, hardly a major tax cut. But that's not an angle viewers heard anything about in the July 29 stories. (I'm basing the one percent on a June 25 Heritage Foundation analysis of the then planned $85 billion in tax cuts.)

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather operated under the assumption that all the money is owned by the government, so a tax cut does not mean that you are able to keep more of your own money but that the government is giving you something. His top of the show tease: "When Washington writes those checks will you be among the winners?"

Rather began the show: "Good evening. The big new tax break and budget deal in Washington is already on the fast track for passage by Congress..." Reporter Richard Schlesinger looked at the winners and losers, concluding:

"But the bottom line is to get the most out of this new deal: Buy a lot of stocks, buy a lot of houses, or make a really risky investment -- have a lot of kids."

CBS aired a piece by Eric Engberg on how structural problems with Medicare and Social Security were not addressed followed by a piece from Bill Plante on how both Clinton and GOP leadership celebrated and each got key elements they wanted.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Diane Sawyer announced: "Good evening, it's official, there is a budget deal with lots of new tax breaks. But what does it all mean for you? We're going to spend some time tonight trying to figure it out."

Instead of looking at the percent each income category saved, Sawyer relayed the liberal, class warfare angle by emphasizing how wealthier people "benefit" the most dollar-wise:

"As you can imagine, economists everywhere spent the day trying to sort out who wins and who loses. Here's one view the economists agreed on: People with very low incomes -- under roughly $13,000 a year -- will stay the same, or actually pay a little bit more if they smoke because of higher cigarette taxes. As for everyone else, the range of the tax cuts is huge, as you can see [on screen graphic], ranging from $14, at the lowest income levels [$12,800] to nearly $17,000 at the highest levels [$246,000]. Those with the very highest incomes benefit the most from cuts in capital gains, estate, and inheritance taxes."

But, having illustrated from the liberal angle how the rich benefit the most, ABC next bustrussed the view argued by conservatives that capital gains cuts would benefit more than just the rich. Sawyer asserted: "That cut in the capital gains tax has long been a rallying cry for the wealthiest Americans, but as ABC's Bob Jamieson reports today, a lot of middle class people are excited, too."

As transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, Bob Jamieson began: "There were cheers today for the capital gains tax cut from a surfer in California, from a cop in Illinois, and from a bellman at a hotel in New York, Homer Pope, who makes $23,000 a year. Over the years he's put $7,000 in the stock market."

Homer Pope: "Capital gains tax cut is very important to people of all classes, more particularly me, because now I can reinvest those capital gains and not worrying about having to be taxed for them."

Allen Sinai, economist: "I think this is a tax cut for mainstream America. I might not have said that ten years ago, but I would now because we have so many Americans, at all income levels, who are invested in the U.S. stock market."

Jamieson: "In the last five years as stock prices have nearly tripled, the number of people invested in the market has doubled. Half of all investors today never graduated from college; 35 percent are middle-class or blue-collar workers..."

Following a profile by Dean Reynolds of a middle class family with three children, Sawyer turned to John Donvan to explain how the deal came together and then to John Cochran to examine the criticisms. Sawyer wondered: "There are some doubters on this deal, right? What are their concerns?"

Cochran relayed three, all liberal, concerns: "Diane, the naysayers say that this is a Christmas-in-July budget, with tax cuts paid for with money that should be used to reduce the national debt. The critics also say that with the economy booming, there's no need to encourage investors to invest more in the stock market with a big capital gains tax cut. They also point out that the last time we had a big cap gains tax cut in 1981, the very next year the economy fell into a deep recession."

Note no mention of the conservative concern about the piddling size of the very selectively targeted tax cuts.

-- NBC Nightly News. NBC's Claire Shipman at least hinted at the small size of the tax cut as she gave a sentence to criticism from both ends of the spectrum:

"But some conservative Republicans are still grumbling that the tax relief isn't enough and some liberal Democrats, like House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt who's staking out political territory for the year 2000, complained that the tax cuts are skewed to the rich..."

Like CBS, NBC next highlighted how the deal failed to tackle Medicare and Social Security. But neither Engberg on CBS or NBC's David Bloom recalled how Republicans were savaged, by both liberals and the media, when they tried to take on the impending insolvency.

-- Brent Baker