Couric's Curt Campaign Reform Combat; No Clinton Scandal on CNN
Wednesday night the three broadcast networks all ran two fundraising stories, but the similarity in approaches ended there. Only ABC led with fundraising and provided a mention of a memo about what Clinton knew, but the network virtually ignored Harold Ickes and ran a story painting Clinton as the victim, "ill-served" by White House lawyers. CBS was the only network to acknowledge the opening day of House hearings, but Bob Schieffer disparaged a proffer, announced by Dan Burton, for making "one of the wildest charges yet." NBC's Lisa Myers skeptically reviewed the testimony from Ickes, including questions about his connection to money- laundering for the Teamster election, making NBC the only network to raise the union scandal.
Here's a rundown of Wednesday, October 8 coverage made possible by the after hours analysis and transcribing by MRC news analyst Clay Waters:
ABC's World News Tonight, after leading Tuesday with disappointment about the loss of campaign finance reform, ABC got around to questions about whether the White House hid evidence.
Peter Jennings topped the show:
"Good evening, it's been a busy day for the Justice Department, the Attorney General and her staff are trying to ascertain tonight whether the White House conveniently delayed telling the Department about those videotapes of the President at coffee with his supporters until after an important ruling by the Attorney General about the President's fundraising activities. The President insists there was no attempt to hide any evidence today. But today the White House lawyer who responded to requests for evidence, including the tapes, was called before a grand jury."
In the story Jennings had introduced Linda Douglass picked up on a Wednesday Los Angeles Times story, though she did not credit the paper:
"And there is new information about the coffee held in the Oval Office, where most fundraising is prohibited. A newly disclosed White House memo sent to President Clinton before the coffee describes those attending as $100,000 contributors. But an ABC News analysis shows no $100,000 contributions from those donors until after the coffee. The question: Did the President or anyone else ask for money in the Oval Office?"
Neither CBS or NBC mentioned the memo. Douglass then ran the one and only soundbite ABC aired of Harold Ickes before concluding by noting that "Attorney General Reno has let the White House know that she is angry, and prosecutors will be examining the originals of the tapes, to be sure they weren't doctored." Next, Jennings went to John Donvan for the White House spin. Donvan explained:
"Mr. Clinton elaborated on what has become a two part response to all the questions raised by the discovery of the videotapes. Part one, there was no coverup, it was a mistake.... Part two, there is nothing in those tapes to be ashamed of."
Following a couple of soundbites from Clinton, Donvan relayed how Clinton aides want him to be seen as the victim:
"The President went on Peter to say he is not worried about his credibility overall of this. However his aides know that the President is taking a big political hit, one of them said to me tonight, that he was ill-served by those lawyers in his counsel's office who let this happen."
Jennings: "John, that's the public view we've seen of the President today. How about behind scenes?"
Donvan: "Behind the scenes an official told me The President is quote-unquote, 'really frosted' at those lawyers who were involved in this, but he apparently says he understands their explanation, and nobody's going to lose their jobs over this."
The CBS Evening News got to fundraising after stories on a superstrain of pneumonia resistant to penicillin, a piece on how nursing home workers might be passing along the flu, a whooping cough update, an item on Greenspan warning of inflation and a Chrysler minivan lawsuit.
Dan Rather introduced a report from Scott Pelley:
"President Clinton today brushed off the latest Republican attacks over the White House coffee videotapes, and he blasted back, blaming the Republicans for killing campaign funding reform in Congress. Then Mr. Clinton headed out of town for fundraising events in New Jersey and Pennsylvania."
Pelley ran a long soundbite from Clinton, but then countered:
"Justice Department sources tell CBS News there is no evidence of illegal fundraising on the tapes, no smoking gun. On the other hand, the tapes are not complete; the camera is ushered out when the meetings begin. President Clinton is seen greeting three people who are at the center of the foreign money investigation. Of them, two have fled the country and one refuses to testify. Today White House lawyer Lanny Breuer testified before a grand jury..."
Observed Pelley in his conclusion: "Privately the White House staff is deeply frustrated that the fundraising fog continues to obscures nearly everything the President does."
Up next, the House hearings which both ABC and NBC skipped, but CBS did not give much respect. Dan Rather declared:
"On Capitol Hill House Republicans opened a new line of attack on fundraising by the Clinton camp, featuring allegations of a mysterious Asian connection with heavy clout and deep pockets."
Bob Schieffer began: "After several false starts, the House Committee investigating campaign finance irregularities got underway with Chairman Dan Burton leveling one of the wildest charges yet. He said that if the committee gives them immunity, this couple, Gene and Nora Lum, already under prison sentence for other campaign violations, will testify that they offered to set up a foreign contribution to the President's 1992 campaign, if Mr. Clinton would offer written praise of a man running for office in another country...."
Schieffer soon switched to the Senate side, running one brief bite from Ickes ("We did not violate the law") followed by an argumentative exchange between Fred Thompson and John Glenn.
NBC Nightly News. Following the lead story on a court martial for Gene McKinney, in the second story slot NBC provided the only full story of the night on just the testimony from Ickes. NBC discovered two news angles missed by ABC and CBS: memory loss and the Teamsters. Tom Brokaw announced:
"Senate Republicans today pushed and poked the man who was the captain of President Clinton's fundraising operation, but he pushed and poked back, or said he didn't recall to many pointed questions. One particularly sensitive area, the Teamsters Union, now under investigation by federal authorities for possible criminal violations in the election of the Union's President. Was there a White House connection?"
Lisa Myers offered a uniquely skeptical look at Ickes. She started:
"Harold Ickes said from the outset that he had a pretty feeble memory. His testimony today proved him right." She then showed a collage of Ickes comments: "Mr. Chairman I have no idea...my memory is hazy on this...I don't have a specific recollection...I have no idea what I was doing on June 13."
Myers continued: "Ickes did remember that he never broke any laws. And he was certain that he knew nothing about the illegal money-laundering scheme involving the Teamsters Union." She then outlined the scheme and showed him repeatedly saying "I don't recall" as Senators questioned him and showed him memos, leading Myers to point out: "In all, Ickes said some version of 'I don't recall' about forty times."
Next, David Bloom summarized Clinton's reaction, but he displayed skepticism about the White House story:
"But today as always, as he set off for a series of fundraisers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Mr Clinton was followed virtually every step of the way by a White House camera crew, again casting doubt on the administration's claim that no one remembered that at least 44 of the President's coffees with big money donors were videotaped."
Thirteen weeks after the Senate fundraising hearings began, for the first time a morning show on Wednesday interviewed a Senator from the committee. NBC's Today on October 8 brought aboard Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Torricelli not to discuss the Clinton scandals, but to examine......campaign finance "reform."
Katie Couric showed that's one topic she's passionate about as she enthusiastically took on the majority Republican position. As transcribed by MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens, here are her "questions" posed in the form of an argument to Specter:
"In fact Senator Specter as Senator Torricelli mentioned two votes have left campaign finance reform legislation pretty much DOA. Do you think that prompts the American people to wonder about the sincerity of Congress to really enact change and suspect that perhaps this is an intentional effort to embarrass the Democratic Party?"
"But it's so ridiculous, you know people watching this just think that reform is necessary. They can't understand why you guys can't get your acts together!"
Specter asserted: "It won't be changed unless there's a real demand by the American people. And Katie that's not gonna happen until NBC starts covering the governmental affairs hearings and hears first hand about these $300,000 payments to get a meeting with the President. Hears about the man in line handing the President a card suggesting millions of dollars in contributions and the President then has his aide call the man shortly after that..." Specter repeated his call for more NBC coverage.
To which Couric shot back: "And I guess NBC would have to tell the American people what's happened during Republican administrations as well." Couric wrapped up by asking, "Senator Torricelli do you buy this honest mistake excuse?"
ABC's Good Morning America has yet to interview a Senator from the fundraising investigation committee, but on Wednesday Charlie Gibson insisted that by rejecting "reform" the Senate had preserved "the system that led to those abuses" by the Clinton campaign.
Harold Ickes could not have written a better introduction to Senator John McCain than the one delivered by Charlie Gibson:
"As you heard in the news it was an ironic pairing of events in Washington yesterday. As former White House official Harold Ickes was testifying about possible fundraising abuses in a Senate office building, just a few hundred yards away a bill that would overhaul the way political campaigns are paid for was being voted into obscurity on the Senate floor."
Gibson asserted to McCain, as transcribed by the MRC's Gene Eliasen:
"It was a very strange juxtaposition yesterday. You've got this committee documenting campaign finance abuses and then you've got the full Senate preserving the system that led to those abuses. What's going on?"
After a couple of questions about whether his bill might rise again, Gibson charged that law breaking should lead to more laws:
"If a fiasco like the White House handling of the coffee klatch tapes doesn't give your bill enough impetus, if the sight of a flailing Justice Department unwilling or unable to investigate all of this doesn't give your bill enough impetus, what will?"
CNN offered extensive live coverage on Wednesday, but MSNBC never returned after the lunch break. Both networks went live to Ickes just past 10am ET and stuck with him, minus some limited ad breaks, to a bit past noon.
MSNBC never returned. But CNN did at about 1:50pm when Ickes resumed. At 3pm ET CNN switched to a Talk Back Live look at the hearings, jumping back to Ickes at 3:20 for about ten minutes. After more Talk Back Live, CNN aired Inside Politics at 4pm. When IP ended at 4:30, CNN went live again with Ickes until ShowBiz Today time at 5pm ET.
An October 6 CyberAlert item on the then upcoming two-hour CNN special on campaign finance noted that it was to be produced by CNN President Rick Kaplan, who U.S. News reported had demanded that CNN staffers "limit the use of the word 'scandal' in reporting on Clinton's campaign fundraising woes."
I wondered: "Can you do a two-hour show on Clinton's 1996 fundraising and not use the word 'scandal'?" A rhetoric question, or so I thought. But incredibly enough the answer is -- yes!
The October 7 show titled "Democracy for Sale" wandered well beyond Clinton to examine Republicans and to argue for campaign finance reform, but summarizing charges against Clinton took up a significant portion of the show. Nonetheless, the phrase "Clinton scandal" was never uttered. MRC news analyst Clay Waters reviewed the show and then ran the transcript from the CNN Web page through WordPerfect's "find" feature. The words "scandal" or "scandals" appeared just four times. Twice in the Crossfire segment of the special liberal Bill Press claimed that Republicans are trying to use scandal to bring down Clinton since they can't win on the issues. At another point, Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs made this generic reference: "The campaign funding scandal hasn't slowed the parties' lust for soft money." And the fourth "scandal" mention? Here it is, from Brooks Jackson: "So, you want to be a Washington player, get next to the powerful, lobby for a tax break or a nice ambassador's job? If you've got money, I can help. First, you've got to get around that law they enacted back in '74 after the Watergate scandal...."
Yes, having an FOB, who stayed overnight in the Lincoln bedroom, as President of CNN is reflected in the network's coverage. -- Brent Baker