CyberAlert -- 11/03/1997 -- Yawning At Thompson; Nets Less Interested Than Public

Yawning At Thompson; Nets Less Interested Than Public

1) Thompson's decision got just a few seconds on ABC and CBS. NBC insisted hearings failed because GOP "leaders opposed outlawing the huge contributions that helped create the scandal."

2) Networks declare public uninterested, but reporters aren't interested in informing them. Last week: 15 seconds of morning show coverage. More tapes and news on the database front skipped.

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The networks treated Senator Fred Thompson's Friday announcement that he had decided to end public hearings the same way they approached the hearings all along: two networks gave the news a few seconds and the third blamed the mess on Republicans for not passing campaign finance "reform." Only one bothered to mention what the committee had uncovered or illuminated. All three broadcast evening shows Friday night led with multiple stories on the au pair murder conviction and sentencing. Here's how the October 31 shows greeted Thompson's decision.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. About half way through the show substitute anchor Forrest Sawyer gave 19 seconds to the development:
"Political news. In Washington today Senator Fred Thompson announced he is suspending the hearings on campaign finance abuses. Thompson conceded he had not proven his charge that the Chinese government tried to influence the American elections. But he did say the public learned a valuable lesson about the role of money in campaigns."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather allocated almost 30 seconds to Thompson's decision and not only failed to mention any achievements of the committee, but asserted that "some" Republicans called them a failure. Rather declared:
"On Capitol Hill a sudden turn in the Senate investigation of sleazy campaign money. Committee Chairman Fred Thompson suspended the hearings and said he doesn't plan any new ones because he doesn't have the votes, not even among Republicans, to keep going. Some Republicans say the hearings produced no bombshells, did not draw huge public interest and could wind up hurting them instead. In any case, while the Senate investigation may be over, the Justice Department criminal investigation is still under way."

-- NBC Nightly News was the only broadcast network to run a full story, a nearly two-minute piece from Lisa Myers. Here's a full transcript of her story in which she managed to both cite some accomplishments and blame Republicans for Democratic illegality because GOP leaders "opposed outlawing the huge contributions that helped create the scandal."

Myers began: "Today, the most heralded hearings since Watergate ended with a thud. Chairman Fred Thompson admitted he's simply run out of material."
Senator Fred Thompson: "And I'm not going to have hearings just for the sake of having hearings."
Myers then listed what ABC and CBS avoided: "There were some high points: money laundering by Buddhist nuns, a businessman admitting that he gave $300,000 to buy access to President Clinton. And without this investigation the public might never have seen documents detailing sleep overs in the Lincoln bedroom or videotapes of the President with his arm around fundraiserss who have fled the country or are taking the Fifth."
Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21: "These are the most important, most valuable hearings we've ever had in documenting the widespread corruption that exists in our campaign finance system."
Moving to the down side, Myers continued: "Still, after 70 witnesses, 1.2 million documents and spending $2.6 million dollars, the hearings fell well short of expectations, especially where it matters most: with voters."
Man on street: "I think it's a lot of ta-do about nothing."
Second man on street: "But I don't think you're going to ever take money out of politics."
Woman on street: "Have we ever really believed politicians, I mean really."
Myers then blamed lack of reform: "It didn't help that while Republicans railed about misdeeds of the Clinton Administration, their leaders opposed outlawing the huge contributions that helped create the scandal. And few believe these hearings will really fix anything."
Claibourne Darden, Atlanta pollster: "Well maybe brain dead would be a good way to put it if you really believe they're going to clean up the system on fundraising."
Myers concluded: "In fact, even some Republicans joined Democrats to bring the hearings to an end. Many fear that more horror stories might actually force the public to say enough is enough, let's fix the system, the same system that got every one of them elected."

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Of course the public might have known more about the issues involved and illegalities committed if the networks had committed themselves to thorough coverage. Several examples from last week prove the lack of media interest in informing the public:

-- Blind to Clinton call eyewitness. Last Wednesday, October 29, the Senate committee heard from Richard Jenrette who recounted how President had personally called him, an activity the White House had refused to acknowledge. The committee also quizzed three White House lawyers about delays in the release of documents and the videotapes.
Coverage: Nothing on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News. Nor anything in the morning.

-- More video ignored. An October 29 Associated Press dispatch by Larry Margasak revealed: "Some 60 videotapes of President Clinton attending campaign fundraising events have yet to be provided to Senate investigators, Senate aides said today."
Coverage: Still waiting. Nothing last week on any of the broadcast network morning or evening shows.

-- Morning wipe-out. The appearance Thursday of Bruce Babbitt, the highest ranking official to testify, generated stories that night on ABC, CBS, NBC as well as CNN. But nothing in the morning Thursday or Friday. In fact, neither CBS's This Morning or NBC's Today uttered a word about fundraising at any time last week. The totality of morning coverage: one 15-second item on Thursday's Good Morning America on how Clinton asked Jiang Zemin if China sent money to U.S. campaigns.

-- Clinton wanted to improperly use database. Or, White House obstructed justice by withholding key memo. Competing Friday headlines gave the networks a choice of angles to pursue, but they didn't bother with either.
"Clinton Wanted Database Shared" announced an October 31 Washington Times headline. Reporter Paul Bedard began: "President Clinton wanted to share a taxpayer-funded database of 300,000 names with the Democratic National Committee, possibly in violation of rules barring the political use of the list, according to a just-discovered White House memo."

"Lawmaker Suggests Obstruction in Late Delivery of Memo on White House Database" declared the Washington Post headline. Reporter Guy Gugliotta's lead: "A key House investigator said yesterday he suspects the White House counsel's office of obstructing justice by withholding a memo suggesting that President Clinton wanted to share a taxpayer-funded database with the Democratic Party, a violation of federal law.
"Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.), who has been leading an investigation into the 'White House database' for more than a year, said the counsel's office had had the memo since September 1996, but that 'somebody, a senior official at the White House, made a decision not to give it to us.'"

Coverage: Still waiting. Nothing Thursday or Friday on ABC, CBS or NBC morning or evening shows.

It's hard for the public to know what's going on when the networks don't even try to inform them.

-- Brent Baker