The new frontier in the fundraising scandal - the China missile question - is being covered in much the same way the networks covered the old territory: hardly at all. The evening news leader, ABC's World News Tonight, aired seven full stories in April and May, compared to two on CBS and two on NBC.
As for the news magazines this week, Time carried nothing, Newsweek gave half a page. U.S. News & World Report printed its first article, a four-pager titled "RED SCARE? The sensational rhetoric over the China scandal obscures a basic question: Is China friend or foe?" The team of reporters made a series of excuses for the Clinton policy. For example:
Export control is no magic bullet. Foreign competitors offer technology if we don't. "We fool ourselves if we think export controls alone can stop the spread of high technology," said Pentagon export chief William Reinisch. U.S. News added: "For much of this decade, that view has had a substantial constituency in both parties."
Satellite launches are not the right place to renew export controls. "Over the next decade, a stunning 1,200 commercial satellites are expected to be launched, compared with only 298 over the past ten years. In such a tight market, the incentive to include China's boosters will be hard to resist."
Loral's advice on China's missiles was "geared toward figuring out what went wrong, not 'improving the Chinese technology.'" So agreed aerospace expert Jerry Grey. Then an anonymous "administration official" said "the Chinese can learn 'practically nothing' from a launch conducted according to U.S. restrictions." In the only GOP quote in the whole article, Rep. Chris Cox stressed the important nature of any assistance to the aim of Chinese missiles. U.S. News rebutted: "Arms control experts disagree, noting that accuracy is not important for China's long-range arsenal, aimed mostly at hitting large cities. Says John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists: 'It doesn't matter to us or the Chinese what part of Los Angeles gets blown up.' But what if China's Long March missiles that used to explode on the ground can now make it to L.A.? U.S. News didn't address the point.
The money issue is muddled. After disdaining a "Chinese connection" last year, U.S. News mentioned Johnny Chung's People's Liberation Army connection just long enough to note that by the time of his donation, Clinton had already approved four waivers and moved the satellite export issue from the State Department to Commerce. The reporters added: "Although Loral is one of the Democratic Party's most generous supporters, the other domestic companies that have received waivers lean Republican."
Is China an enemy? "In the end, the controversy over the Loral deal may say less about the campaign-finance system than it does about America's ambivalence toward China." John Pike argued: "If we treat them like a military adversary, they will become one."
"Commies! Treason! Yippee!" Columnist Gloria Borger used a column with this title to bash Republicans [see box] and predict Rep. Chris Cox's hearings would be a failure if they didn't build a case for campaign finance reform. Borger quoted liberal Rep. Chris Shays: "Some Republicans just want to get people instead of reform the system. That's why people regard our hearings as witch hunts." U.S. News isn't a White House watchdog. It's a vehicle for White House damage control. - Tim Graham