CyberAlert -- 09/18/1997 -- Two Nets Skip Hearing; Plante's Theory Uprooted; Kelley Call

ABC Has Anti-Paula Policy; Jennings Reverses on Mother Teresa

  1. Tom Brokaw called Wednesday's testimony "the most compelling evidence so far," but neither ABC or CBS carried a story.
  2. Bill Plante insisted that most of the revelations at the hearings were reported long ago, so are not news. But CBS ignored a Tuesday revelation they also ignored when first reported months ago.
  3. Kitty Kelley has now written books about the Royal family and about Nancy Reagan. Guess which one CBS denounced.

1) Making up for Tuesday night, when NBC Nightly News delivered just a 40-second item on the hearings while ABC and CBS provided full stories, Wednesday night NBC was the only broadcast network to air a fundraising story.

NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw announced just after the first ad break:

"Back on the Money Trail tonight, the most compelling evidence so far of just how far the Clinton administration would go to raise money for its campaign. In the spotlight at the Senate campaign fundraising hearings today, a White House witness with the credentials and the knowledge to offer damaging testimony."

Reporter Lisa Myers began her review of the day's testimony:

"It is the most dramatic testimony so far, a former White House staffer describing how she was pressured to give a shady businessman a personal meeting with President Clinton in exchange for a $400,000 contribution to the Democratic Party. Sheila Heslin fought for months to keep oilman Roger Tamraz, wanted for embezzlement in Lebanon, out of the White House. Then in April of last year she got a call from an Energy Department official about an offer from Tamraz."

Viewers then saw a soundbite of Sheila Heslin explaining how she was told Tamraz would contribute another $400,000 in exchange for a meeting with the President about his Turkish pipeline plans.

Myers continued: "The Energy official said he was calling at the request of senior presidential adviser Mack McLarty."

Following another Heslin clip Myers noted: "Today, Mack McLarty denied all, but documents show that he and the President had spoken with Tamraz at two White House fundraisers during that period..."

Myers pointed out that Tamraz never got his meeting, leading Maine Senator Susan Collins to label Heslin a hero. "Still," Myers concluded, "Heslin said she was troubled that someone as shady as Tamraz could use $300,000 in campaign contributions to attend six White House events and get access to the highest levels of the U.S. government."

ABC's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News. "The most compelling evidence so far" and the "most dramatic testimony so far" according to NBC, but neither ABC or CBS bothered reporting anything about it. Here's a rundown of what the two shows covered instead. (Both NBC and CBS ran updates on Trevor Rees-Jones, but not ABC, making the September 17 World News Tonight the first edition since Diana's death without a Diana-related story.)

    September 17 World News Tonight

  • Clinton rejects tobacco deal
  • How higher cigarette prices in Canada reduced teen smoking
  • Helicopter crash on Bosnia
  • Another military plane crash/DOD decision to review safety decisions
  • U.S. will not sign land mine ban
  • Land mine ban treaty adopted in Norway.
  • Video of Saddam Hussein swimming
  • Hearing on TV industry use of frequencies given them for HDTV
  • Positive side of HMOs -- coverage for unconventional treatments like acupuncture
  • Tribute to Red Skelton
  • September 17 CBS Evening News

    1. Clinton rejects tobacco deal
    2. Tobacco industry view
    3. Helicopter crash in Bosnia
    4. Defense Dept. review of aircraft safety procedures
    5. Trevor Rees-Jones update. Police communicating through parents
    6. Clinton says US won't sign land mine treaty
    7. Video of Saddam Hussein swimming
    8. New tobacco/cigarette ad strategies
    9. Fight over ownership of 9,300 year old skeleton found in Washington, fight between Native Americans and scientists
    10. Tribute to Red Skelton

    Daytime. On neither Tuesday or Wednesday did CNN or MSNBC offer any live coverage of the hearings, though CNN promised to go live when Tamraz appeared Wednesday but his testimony was delayed until today (Thursday).

    Other than one brief item on one show, the Wednesday morning shows skipped the fundraising scandal. During the 7:30am news update on Good Morning America, MRC analyst Eric Darbe observed, ABC's Kevin Newman read a brief item on how Attorney General Janet Reno had replaced the leader of the Justice Department's team looking into fundraising. NBC's Today and This Morning on CBS failed to utter a word about Reno's shake-up or anything about Tuesday's testimony about how John Huang made a fundraising pitch in front of President Clinton at a White House coffee. Nor did they preview the expected Wednesday testimony from and about Roger Tamraz.

    To learn if any of the morning shows mentioned fundraising on Thursday morning, check the MRC Web site Thursday afternoon for the latest Media Reality Check daily fax report. The latest issue is featured each day on our Web site:

    2) CBS News White House reporter Bill Plante asserted Tuesday that the hearings don't get covered many nights because the revelations are not really revelations since they were disclosed earlier in another forum and reported. Plante appeared on Tuesday's TalkBack Live on CNN (in the same September 16 show cited in the September 17 CyberAlert). Here's the relevant exchange from the show:

    Frank Sesno: "It seems like an appropriate moment to go to one of the faxes that we've got here from California and change the subject slightly: 'Why aren't the revelations from the hearings on campaign contributions to the DNC and the links to China getting more coverage on the national news?,' not to say that Paula Jones is the only case here that is causing concern and raising eyebrows."

    Bill Plante: "Because in most cases, they are no longer revelations. In other words, they don't fit the definition of news. They are not, for the most part, new. It is true that because these hearings are being held, more people are learning of them, but this has all been covered. It tends to be dry and technical and a little bit complicated to plow through, but it has all been covered before or very little, I would say is news."

    Okay, let's test his contention.

    All the networks Tuesday night ignored one witness who recounted how John Huang asked him to launder money through his business group in exchange for a 15 percent cut. As recounted in the September 17 Washington Post, Rawlein Soberano, VP of the Asian-American Business Round Table, "said that during a 1996 lunch with Huang, who was then at the DNC, he told Huang that his organization did not even have a budget. He said Huang responded by suggesting that 'we can give you $300,000, you can give it back later and you can keep 15 percent.'"

    Old news, reported long ago. Well, yes and no. The story broke in the February 20 Washington Post. As noted in the February 21 CyberAlert, it got a story on Good Morning America and a brief anchor-read mention from Peter Jennings on World News Tonight. On March 3, as noted in the March 5 CyberAlert, NBC Nightly News delivered a full story on Soberano's claim.

    But CBS? Zilch on this revelation. "Very little" of what is discussed during the Senate hearings may be new, but for CBS viewers this item still is.

    3) What a difference the target makes. Kitty Kelley has been featured all this week on Today and Dateline and is now making the rounds of other shows to talk about her new book on the Royal family. It's full of unsubstantiated allegations about everything from who slept with who to who was artificially inseminated. One reporter who is not pleased with her work: Mark Phillips, now based in London for CBS News.

    On the September 17 This Morning he reported:

    "Buckingham Palace says it hasn't seen the book and anyway, it says, it doesn't comment on what it calls tittle-tattle. But just about everyone else mentioned in it seems to have and they've all called it junk....The book certainly will not help the already tarnished Royal reputations, but it isn't being published here because British libel laws are stricter than American. So however much in bad taste the book seems now in light of recent events, Kelley won't have to worry about lawsuits. Instead, she'll merely be embarrassed all the way to the bank. Mark Phillips, CBS News, London."

    But back in 1991 when he was in the U.S. Phillips showed a bit less hostility to Kelley's 1991 unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan which claimed that the former First Lady had an affair with Frank Sinatra. As recalled by the MRC's Tim Graham and tracked down by Steve Kaminski, here's how Phillips concluded an April 8, 1991 CBS Evening News story:

    "So the world, it seems, must know. Did Nancy Reagan really recycle gifts to her own grandchildren? Is the stuff in the book true or just vindictive tales? Who knows? Who cares?"

    While on Kelley, did she find anything good about the Royals? On Wednesday's Today Katie Couric asked her:

    "Does she [Queen Elizabeth] have any redeeming qualities?"

    Kelley replied: "Indeed she does. In fact I think one of the most outstanding was when she felt that the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher were so harsh to the poor that she really did say something."

    Well, there's the problem. Nancy Reagan is more out of touch with the common folk than the Queen.

    -- Brent Baker