When Rep. Christopher Cox was tapped by Newt Gingrich to head a nine-member special committee to probe Chinese espionage, he pledged to conduct a serious inquiry without public hearings. The New York Times and other media outlets filed admiring profiles of this oh-so-restrained Republican.
The reporters applauded because Cox apparently wouldn't behave like those other undiplomatic crazies who insisted on public hearings to air Democrats' dirty laundry (see "Burton, Dan"). A smart move, a better media strategy? After all, how much coverage did the national media like to give Dan Burton's persistent probe into Asian fundraising, anyway? How much did the networks let Fred Thompson accomplish?
Now that the Cox committee has produced a 700-page report, the verdict is in. The network "news" media are, overall, less than impressed. The Big Three each filed an obligatory story that night, but nothing more. More amazingly, only ABC led with it. CBS and NBC piled stories about gun control in front of it; teens packing heat beats the Chinese armed with multiple-warhead nukes. Actually, name a subject in the news, and the networks probably devoted more time to it. Pro wrestler Owen Hart's accidental death got two or three times more coverage on ABC's and NBC's morning shows. CBS devoted less than three minutes to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, but almost five minutes to a book-plugging interview with William Shatner on Star Trek fans.
It gets worse when you consider the dismissive tone of the stories, too.
The night before the report, Dan Rather claimed: "With twenty years worth of blame for both Republicans and Democrats to go around, some in Congress are now singling out Attorney General Janet Reno for what they see as her failure to investigate the long-leaked nuclear secrets." Sorry, Dan, both parties did not open up the nuclear labs, and Republican administrations did not blithely ignore warnings of espionage for four years.
The most atrocious attack came from Time's daily Web site update, where reporter Tony Karon flippantly began: "Where have you gone, Joe McCarthy, oh, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you....Yes folks, Republican efforts to warn Americans of the danger of fuzzy liberals in charge of the nation's political system - and its nuclear secrets - are about to go into overdrive." Karon added that "if the new 'Who lost China?' campaign is to have its own Alger Hiss, the prime candidate appears to be Attorney General Janet Reno."
Anti-anti-communism is back in full force. The liberal elite who dismissed the Cold War in the days of the Soviet Union are at it again, this time ridiculing the idea of a "threat" just because Red China now successfully has stolen every single nuclear warhead secret we've got and is busily producing nuclear weapons aimed directly at the United States. Add to that their desire to protect Bill Clinton and you've got a farce instead of news reporting.
Eleanor Clift kept her record of perfect attendance at Clinton Suck-Up School, claiming ridiculously that "when the President says nobody talked to him about espionage he was correct about no espionage." She spinned wildly to her "McLaughlin Group" cohorts: "If security was compromised, both parties are guilty of inattention. Bureaucratic inertia is the enemy here and the attempt to make this partisan and distract from what was a terrific week for this administration - gun control, Al Gore casting the deciding vote, an election in Israel that is very positive for Israel and this country. Why didn't we talk about that?"
The broadcast networks are beyond shame. But let's offer a couple of claps for the cable news networks, which actually gave several hours of air time to the Cox report, and the politicians of both parties who assembled it. Even so, the blue ribbon for Clinton-coddling spin goes to MSNBC's Brian Williams for this gem: "I heard someone ask rhetorically today that, 'Look. This is only gonna matter if God forbid, there is one dark day that sees the use, the all-out use of thermonuclear weapons on this planet, and so why worry?'"
In the final analysis, Cox didn't fare much better than Burton on the boob tube. This only proves that Republicans can try nice, or try nasty. They can bleat about bipartisanship, or rain fire on the ramparts. Either way, the Democrats run the TV networks, and neither approach wins the day as long as they control the pictures.