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CyberAlert -- 09/19/1997 -- Campaigning for Campaign Reform; MSNBC Priorities

Campaigning for Campaign Reform; MSNBC Priorities

  1. All three broadcast networks ran full stories on Tamraz, but ABC and CBS promoted campaign finance "reform." CBS tagged Tamraz "a walking ad for campaign reform."
  2. Four weeks after the story broke, CBS got around to the donation for access charge against Hazel O'Leary, but that's sooner than ABC.
  3. The morning shows ignored the hearings, but CNN provided some live coverage of Tamraz. MSNBC stuck to discussing bi-sexuality.

1) For the first time since September 4 stories on testimony from nuns on the Buddhist temple event, Thursday night the three broadcast network evening shows all aired full reports on the fundraising hearings. The testimony from Roger Tamraz topped the ABC and NBC shows.

But, instead of focusing on wrongdoing and who did what, both ABC and CBS skipped over the details so they could emphasize how the testimony demonstrated the need for campaign finance reform. A former Energy Department official and a current Energy Department official also testified about who said and did what to Sheila Heslin in an effort to get Tamraz into the White House. All three networks skipped their testimony and since only NBC covered Heslin on Wednesday night, ABC and CBS viewers have no idea about the dispute over pressure put on Heslin.

ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened the September 18 show by focusing on a corrupt system:

"We begin tonight with the kind of cynicism that turns so many Americans off politics. We've heard a lot about how money was raised for the last presidential campaign, but nothing quite as blatant as from the witness who appeared at the Senate fundraising hearings today. He's an international businessman and unlike so many people who dodged questions and even skipped the country, this man said yes I gave money and a lot of it to get the President's attention."

Reporter Linda Douglass began:

"Democrats were as outraged as Republicans by the tale of Roger Tamraz, a Lebanese-American businessman wanted for financial crimes in three countries, who admitted buying his way into the White House with $300,000 in campaign contributions."

Douglass showed an exchange between Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and Tamraz about how he gave solely to gain access. She went on to explain that when blocked from getting in, Tamraz turned to fundraisers who got him into the White House four more times. Asked if he got his money's worth, Tamraz told Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman that he'd give $600,000 next time.

Douglass added:

"Today, for the first time, several Democratic Senators were openly critical of White House fundraising practices." Levin: "This country is in danger when people are offered access in exchange for contributions."

Next, instead of informing viewers of who in the Clinton team may have violated which law, a subject many Senators spent much of the day exploring with the Energy officials (and with Tamraz about what CIA official "Bob" did), Peter Jennings portrayed the Republicans as out of touch on the need for campaign reform:

"Well even with all this cynicism about fundraising, some people would even say disgust, Republicans have been unwilling to bring any campaign finance reform bill to the floor."

Reporter John Cochran explained that Senate Republicans are working on bill to ban soft money:

"What happened is that the Republicans suddenly realized it is politically incorrect to be seen as stonewalling against campaign reform."

Jennings then asked Cochran: "I was going to say, getting it to the floor is one thing, getting legislation is another, right?"

Cochran: "That's right. The Majority Leader of the Senate, Trent Lott, still says there will be no campaign reform this year. Everyone agrees he is right, unless one thing happens. Unless the public, which has been pretty apathetic so far, suddenly decides it wants campaign reform and it wants it now and tells its elected members it wants it."

A not very subtle message from ABC News to its viewers.

The CBS Evening News led Thursday night with a story on how the Justice Dept. is about to declare war on Mexican drug gang. Second, a report on how the FBI recovered $18 million in North Carolina from biggest ever armored car robbery. Third, CBS got to the hearings.

Reporter Bob Schieffer opened by contending that Tamraz proved the need for "reform" instead of by telling viewers which of the current laws were broken:

"Roger Tamraz is an American businessman with shady international connections who's been sentenced to prison in Jordan, faces embezzlement charges in Lebanon, a $56 million dollar court judgment in Paris and is wanted by Interpol. But he became a walking ad for campaign reform as he told Senators how he got in to see President Clinton at four White House socials after giving Democrats $300,000, even so he said it was not always easy to corner the President for serious talk."

Tamraz: "First the President is surrounded by the ladies, because they swoon around him."

Senator Susan Collins: "This one doesn't"

Schieffer also played the Lieberman/Tamraz exchange about how he would donate more next time. Tamraz labeled that "the American system."

Schieffer concluded with this perversely twisted spin:

"Committee Democrats who've been defending the White House made no effort to defend Tamraz, saying his testimony just showed the system must be reformed."

Instead of showing how the system needs reforming maybe the Tamraz testimony points to who needs to be prosecuted for violating current laws, or at least who in the Clinton administration violated standard ethics rules.

NBC Nightly News, like ABC, put Tamraz at the top of the broadcast. But unlike the other two networks, NBC refrained from liberal advocacy of more regulation and free speech restrictions.

Tom Brokaw opened the show:

"It was a rare moment in Washington. A big donor to the Democratic Party who was willing to admit -- indeed he was eager to tell his story -- of how he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars with one purpose in mind: to get in the President's face and tell him how much help he needed in building an oil pipeline in the Middle East. He didn't get what he wanted, but when he testified today, the Senate Republicans did."

Reporter Lisa Myers showed the Levin/Tamraz exchange in which Tamraz admitted buying access to Clinton followed by Tamraz explaining how hard it was to actually talk to Clinton because of all the ladies swooning around him.

Myers elaborated:

"In fact, Tamraz managed to talk to Clinton twice, even though national security officials fought to ban him from the White House because he was wanted for embezzlement in Lebanon. The staff barred him from a breakfast with Al Gore, but he got around them and sat that week with Gore at a fundraising dinner..."

To learn if any of the Friday morning shows mentioned Tamraz, check Friday's Media Reality Check fax report. It will be posted Friday afternoon on the MRC Web site.


2) Immediately after Bob Schieffer completed his plea for campaign "reform," anchor Dan Rather announced:

"Also tonight, a move that could lead to a special prosecutor to investigate another aspect of political fundraising. CBS News has been told that Justice Department prosecutors now are urging Attorney General Reno to investigate Hazel O'Leary, President Clinton's former Energy Secretary. At issue, whether O'Leary met with an Energy official from China in return for a donation to her favorite charity. It's important to note that O'Leary denies any wrongdoing."

Sound familiar? Check the August 20 and August 21 CyberAlerts. NBC Nightly News first reported the allegation from Johnny Chung about trading money for a meeting. It came in an interview with Tom Brokaw excerpted on the August 19 Nightly News and Dateline. But, it quickly died. In fact, it never went anywhere as ABC, CNN and, until this Thursday night mention, CBS ignored the charge. Even NBC's own Today show never bothered to tell morning viewers about it. So, the CBS Evening News has now given more time to NBC's scoop than has Today.


3) The morning, CNN and Thursday daytime:

As usual, the morning shows on Thursday all ignored the hearings.

As noted by Tim Graham in the September 18 Media Reality Check fax report, introducing a September 17 World Today story on the testimony of Sheila Heslin, anchor Leon Harris labeled it "shocking and emotional." But, neither ABC or CBS aired a story that night. Catching up with CNN, MRC news analyst Clay Waters also reports that though CNN's World Today was bumped on Tuesday night, Prime News made time for a full report from Candy Crowley on Karl Jackson's testimony.

CNN went live to Roger Tamraz at about 10:20am ET Thursday and stayed with him with only a few interruptions through to the lunch break shortly before 12:30pm ET. The few interruptions were for an Air Force ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, analysis from Brooks Jackson and for local cable ad breaks. CNN dropped its regular ad schedule.

Adding Thursday's two hours to last Tuesday's 1:40 of live coverage for Don Fowler and CNN is approaching the amount of time (four and a half hours) it devoted July 24 to Haley Barbour.

MSNBC really makes you appreciate CNN. MSNBC, which allocated more than four hours to live coverage of Barbour, but which skipped Fowler, on Thursday again failed to provide any live coverage of testimony. MSNBC did have a few updates from Joe Johns. Instead, while CNN viewers saw Tamraz, from 11am to 12pm ET MSNBC spent the entire hour interviewing Kitty Kelley.

When I flipped over at about 11:30am Kelley was in the middle of explaining how most of the Windsor men are bi-sexual. If Fred Thompson could add a little something about bi-sexuality to the hearings maybe MSNBC would become interested.

-- Brent Baker