CyberAlert -- December 23, 1996 -- Scandals Skipped

Scandals Skipped; Bias? Ridiculous; Clift's Year-End Awards

Bryant Gumbel Countdown Calendar: 11 Days to Go
1. In October Tim Russert called a Clinton scandal development "dead serious." On Friday he called another revelation "deadly serious." But, again, it's hardly big news on NBC.

2. ABC's Cokie Roberts insisted nobody can "not be appalled" at how large donors get a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. But World News Tonight never told viewers about it.

3. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter dismissed as "ridiculous" a reporter's contention that Clinton's ethics were underplayed, but MediaWatch showed how wrong Alter remains.

4. Time magazine endorsed calling Bob Dornan a "national disgrace" and lamented that he'll have more time to sub for Rush Limbaugh.

5. Parade magazine forwarded the standard liberal spin on how Reagan's defense build-up caused the deficit.

6. Eleanor Clift announced her year-end awards. She bashed Dornan and Starr, was saddened that Republicans retained House.

1) To set up today's first item we need to review a comment from Tim Russert and media coverage from late October. On October 25 a panel of judges authorized independent counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate whether former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum lied about his knowledge of Hillary Clinton's involvement in the FBI files matter.
On the October 28 Today, NBC's Tim Russert insisted: "This is dead serious. I mean the ethical problems of the Clinton Administration are now troubling even to the most partisan Democrats."
So how much emphasis did the networks give this "dead serious" development? The CBS Evening News didn't mention the news. On ABC's World News Tonight anchor Forrest Sawyer read a brief item. And how did Russert's NBC, where he is Washington Bureau Chief, treat a story that he insists can't be dismissed nine days before election day? NBC Nightly News offered viewers only a brief item read by anchor Brian Williams.

Now, fast forward to the Friday Today show of December 20. Katie Couric interviewed Russert at about 7:20am. After asking about Newt Gingrich she turned to the President and the decision of Justice Department officials to probe Clinton's defense fund.
Russert explained:
"Career officials in the public integrity section. Yesterday, another bombshell. They we're not only going to look into President Clinton re-election campaign fundraising, they're going to look into fundraising for his legal defense fund. And they subpoenaed documents throughout Washington. This is deadly serious, Katie. It is career, professional investigators in the Justice Department who are going to prove their independence. And this investigation into the President's campaign and legal campaign fund is going to be exhaustive and people at the White House are quite concerned this morning."

Well they needn't worry about TV network coverage. The 7am Today newscast didn't mention this development nor the front page Washington Post story that day which revealed how Clinton had included in a fundraising gathering the head of the Chinese arms manufacturer accused of smuggling weapons into the U.S. But Today dedicated three minutes to two stories on OJ. In fact, the defense fund subpoena development was overshadowed by the Newt Gingrich case. Here's a network evening show breakdown:

ABC's World News Tonight: On December 19 ABC ignored the defense fund subpoenas, but did find time for a brief item on the status of Newt Gingrich. On December 20: nothing.
CBS Evening News: On December 19 CBS aired a full Phil Jones story on Gingrich followed by a brief mention from anchor John Roberts about Clinton. On December 20 CBS was the only one of the three networks to air a full story on the Chinese arms dealer.
NBC Nightly News: On December 19 NBC's Tom Brokaw relayed a short item on Clinton followed by a full story on Gingrich from reporter Lisa Myers. On December 20 anchor Brian Williams showed a clip of Clinton commenting on the Chinese arms dealer during his press conference that day after announcing the latest cabinet picks. But no full story on NBC on either development.

2) On the same theme (of what's big news on Sunday morning isn't always reported on network newscasts), on the December 22 This Week George Will recalled the December 15 Washington Post story on how Clinton is "treating the Lincoln Bedroom as Motel 6." Cokie Roberts chimed in: "It's offensive. It's offensive to anybody. I mean nobody can look at that and not be appalled."

Nobody apparently except producers for ABC's World News Tonight, which failed to report the revelation of how large contributors get a night in the White House.

3) The December 9 CyberAlert reported how in his first piece for the New Republic William Powers, a former Washington Post reporter, showed how the networks underplayed the Clinton character issue during the campaign. Other reporters have not appreciated his analysis. Powers and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter are exchanging a series of memos on the Slate magazine Web site (
In his December 11 shot Alter called the Powers piece "ridiculous," contending Clinton's ethics got plenty of coverage. On December 13 Powers responded: "I am sincerely stunned, and more than a little intrigued, by the way you and other media watchers have reacted to my debut New Republic piece. I seem to have broken some secret, unspoken rule of the club. Your collective tone is of incredulous disdain, as in: 'Whooooaa, what's up with this new guy? He's got some ridiculous idea that the coverage of the Clinton scandals was inadequate. Can you imagine? Must be some raving right-winger. Is he insane?'"

Well, welcome to the club Mr. Powers.

In his December 17 retort, Alter dismissed Powers's series of examples of under coverage: "As for Filegate, do you honestly believe that Newsweek, or any other news organization, wouldn't have loved a good, juicy Craig Livingstone story to liven up October? Of course we would have. But what are we supposed to do -- make one up?"

Alter should read MediaWatch. As we reported in our October Study, the networks largely ignored Filegate. On September 25 Senator Orrin Hatch revealed a six month gap in the log which listed who at the White House accessed the FBI background files. CNN's World Today did a story and it got one mention on ABC's Good Morning America. But zilch on CBS and NBC as well as World News Tonight.
On October 4 the Senate released the deposition of Mari Anderson, a former aide to Livingstone. She verified that pages were missing and that, in contradiction to Livingstone's testimony, he knew they were getting files on Republicans. The Washington Post put it on page one, but nothing appeared in the morning or evening on ABC, CBS or NBC. CNN did note it on The World Today.

4) Here's Number 7 from the December 23 Time magazine "Worst Public Performances of 1996."
"Robert Dornan. B-1 Bob went ballistic after narrowly losing his House seat in Orange County, California, to Hispanic financial analyst Loretta Sanchez. Threatening to sue her for election fraud, Dornan called Sanchez a 'liar' and said the whole thing stinks to high heaven.' Of course, sour grapes were to be expected from the former fighter pilot who once grabbed a fellow Congressman by the collar and called him a 'draft-dodging wimp.' Sanchez's campaign manager, John Sullivan, spoke for many when he said of Dornan, 'He's been, and continues to be, a national disgrace. All we can say is Adios.' The bad news is that Dornan will now have more time for his second job as Rush Limbaugh's substitute host."

5) A question listed in "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" in the December 15 Parade, the Sunday newspaper magazine, asked "if the federal budget was ever in the black?" The Parade writer explained that Louis Fisher, a political scientist with the Library of Congress, reported that there's been a surplus in 27 budgets this century. "The other years showed deficits, but most were manageable until 1981, when 'President Reagan's plan to increase defense spending while cutting taxes threw the deficit into the $200 billion range,' says Fisher."

6) On this past weekend's McLaughlin Group Newsweek's Eleanor Clift showed that the gap between the official White House line and what she mouths is near impossible to quantify. The Group issued its year-end assessments. Here are a few from Clift:

-- Biggest Winner: "Linda Sanchez who toppled Bob Dornan, the scourge of all thinking people. And also awakened us to the power of the Hispanic vote, even in Republican stronghold Orange County."
-- Most Decisive Campaign Moment: "Sadly, the flap over the Indonesian campaign contributions. The only thing that moved the polls all year. Probably cost the Democrats control of he House."
-- Turncoat of the Year: "Sherrie Rowlands, the lady of the night who ratted on Dick Morris and tarnished what would otherwise have been a big win for him."
-- Fairest Rap: "My fairest rap is like Clarence's [Page], that Ken Starr is a partisan Republican. True, true, true."
-- Most Original Thinker: "David Kessler, who came up with the scientific rationale for the President to launch a war on tobacco."
John McLaughlin: "So you appreciate that?"
Clift: "I appreciate it. He called tobacco a drug, an addictive drug."
-- Man/Woman of the Year: "I'm going to give it to Madeleine Albright who broke a very thick glass ceiling, with the help of President Clinton, and she did it solely on the basis of her qualifications. Nobody can say she didn't deserve that job, Secretary of State by the way."

That's not quite the line many liberals in the media took when President Bush tapped Clarence Thomas.

This is the last CyberAlert until after Christmas. So, from the Media Research Center and the CyberAlert team, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays.

-- Brent Baker