CyberAlert -- 08/11/1997 -- Democratic Obstructionism Spiked Again

Democratic Obstructionism Spiked Again; MSNBC's Tabloid Priorities

The July issues of MediaWatch and MediaNomics are now on-line and can be accessed from the MRC home page: Or, for MediaWatch: For MediaNomics:

Correction: The August 6 CyberAlert cited an article by Marc Gunther about Rick Kaplan and reported that it appeared the Detroit News. It actually ran in the Detroit Free Press, owned by Knight-Ridder. The story was also picked up in February 1994 by several other Knight-Ridder papers as well as by papers subscribing to the Knight-Ridder/Tribune news service.

  1. Democrats again delayed release of key documents and the committee set up to bash Clinton opponents worked with the White House to reward donors. But the networks ignored both newspaper disclosures.
  2. MSNBC's InterNight ran a total of 13 segments in July on Cunanan, Cosby, or JonBenet, but not one on fundraising

1) Two big disclosures broke as last week came to an end. But the slow news days of August didn't prompt any change in network behavior: they ignored the breaking news.

-- Announced the headline over front page story in Friday's Washington Post: "Senate Panel Probes DNC Files Delay: Donation Call Sheets for First Lady Found." Reporter Bob Woodward's August 8 story began:

"The Senate committee examining campaign finance abuses has begun an investigation to determine whether the Democratic National Committee obsructed the panel's inquiry by not delivering until Monday 4,000 pages of documents from the files of former DNC finanace director Richard Sullivan....

"DNC officials said the documents, contained in two boxes, include 1,500 pages of Sullivan's handwritten notes, files on controversial Democratic contributors such as Roger Tamraz and Johnny Chung, and 12 fundraising call sheets prepared for Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to call donors such as designer Ralph Lauren..."

The files were supposedly just found by Sullivan's successor in the only filing cabinet in his office.

-- "Donor Speaks Out on Clinton Group: Private Committee Did Favors, Had White House Ties, Chung's Lawyer Says," declared an August 9 Los Angles Times story. Reporters William Rempel and Alan Miller explained in their Saturday story:

"Prominent Democratic campaign donor Johnny Chien Chuen Chung contributed $25,000 last year to a private committee that publicly defended the President and Hillary Rodham Clinton against Whitewater-related ethics attacks after the first lady's chief of staff referred the head of the committee to Chung, Chung's attorney said this week.

"Lynn Cutler, chairwoman and co-founder of the Back to Business Committee, solicited Chung's donation and later arranged a private meeting for the Southern California entrepreneur with Ambassador James R. Sasser in China, according to Chung's attorney and documents obtained by The Times. Cutler also arranged a meeting for Chung with a Commerce Department official in Washington.

"By Chung's account, provided through Santa Monica attorney Brian Sun, the businessman was approached after attending a White House Christmas party in December 1995. Chung quoted Cutler as saying that she contacted him at the suggestion of Margaret Williams, then the first lady's chief of staff, because she said he was a friend of the first lady who may be willing to help....

"Chung's account of the White House referral and subsequent governmental favors for him raise questions about the Back to Business group's relationship with the Clinton administration and could renew pressure on the now-defunct organization to release the names of its other contributors. Back to Business, which arranged for a network of volunteer speakers to counter Clinton critics and disseminate pro-Clinton information through the media, was active between 1994 and the summer of 1996."

Coverage: Zilch on either disclosure on any of the broadcast network evening or morning shows either Friday or Saturday. That means nothing on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning or NBC's Today.

The delay in releasing the Sullivan documents represents the second instance in as many weeks of subpoenaed papers appearing after the related witness testified. The previous incident occurred during the last week of hearings and involved papers related to Charlie Trie and Mr. Wu. Like the latest situation, the Wu incident also failed to capture one second of morning show time.

The latest two disclosure did get a bit of airtime, but only on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday morning. Host Tim Russert asked Senator Thad Cochran one question about whether the committee might re-call Richard Sullivan. During the end of the show discussion, Russert again raised the missing papers topic with guests Jack Germond and Paul Gigot. He also mentioned the Chung donation to the group which attacked Senator D'Amato during his Whitewater hearings.

Earlier last week the New York Daily News disclosed that Al Gore made many more fundraising calls than he previously admitted. That has yet to garner one word of broadcast evening or morning coverage, but the Fox News Sunday summer crew discussed it. In the roundtable segment with Catherine Crier, Margaret Carlson and Monica Crowley, Roll Call's Morton Kondracke, after defending the calls as legal if Gore can claim that he placed them to raise soft money, was nonetheless baffled by the lack of media interest:

"It is exceedingly unseemly and why this is now being played on the back pages in the paper I do not understand."

At least newspapers playing it.

2) Speaking of lack of media interest in the fundraising scandal, one way to judge how important an outlet rates a subject is to look at whether it's examinied on their interview show. I asked MRC intern Jessica Anderson to check how much coverage MSNBC's evening talk show, InterNight (8pm ET/5pm PT repeated at 11p ET/8pm PT), gave to the fundraising scandal. She determined:

From July 1 to August 1, total number of shows with a segment on fundraising or which even raised the fundraising angle: Zero.

Here are some of the topics MSNBC covered instead:

Sex and marriage in the military interview with a historian about D-Day discussion about a recent KKK stunt world's best ads sports discussion with the commissioner of the NFL celebrity security measures during Cunanan manhunt Prince Charles's affair with Camilla Parker Bowles Carroll O'Connor slander suit O.J. Simpson's feud with the Brown family Three segments on the JonBenet Ramsey murder Seven segments on the Versace murder/Cunanan manhunt Three segments involving the Bill Cosby/Autumn Jackson dispute appropriate discipline for Mike Tyson Interviews with Paul McCartney, Oliver North, Pete Rose, Charles Barkley, and John Travolta.

One night host Mike Lupica moderated a discussion about politics with former Governors Mario Cuomo and Lowell Weicker along with Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle. They discussed everything but fundraising -- from potential 2000 presidential candidats to Clinton's high approval marks. And they looked at how journalism is now more tabloid-ish than substance, with cases such as Cunanan getting so much attention.

They should know. InterNight is a prime culprit.

-- Brent Baker