ABC's Bill Ritter asked Cokie Roberts on the August 1 Good Morning America why the July Senate fundraising hearings got so little TV coverage. She replied: "The witnesses that have come so far have not been names that anyone in the media would recognize for the most part. There will be some of those close White House aides when they come back in September, and you can be sure we'll be there."
The networks proved Roberts wrong last night, after the highest-ranking official to date, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, appeared before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Berger admitted the White House had almost no screening of donors, allowing the Clinton staff to invite to events Chinese arms dealer Wang Jun, cocaine dealer Jorge Cabrera, and alleged nuclear weapons smuggler Grigori Loutchansky. But last night, ABC aired an anchor brief, and CBS and NBC aired nothing. On the 11th day of the Diana frenzy, all three nets led with Diana. The morning shows had no hearing updates today.
CNN went live to Berger's opening statement at 11:30 AM ET and remained until almost 12:30. MSNBC also carried Berger from 11:30 to 12:20, their first live coverage this week. Both CNN and MSNBC aired Haley Barbour for about four hours on July 24, but CNN gave a combined total of about two hours and 40 minutes to former DNC Chairman Don Fowler and Berger. MSNBC had a 4-to-1 discrepancy.
Evening news, September 11:
ABC's World News Tonight led with a poll showing Brits want Prince William to be the next King instead of Charles, the first of two Diana stories. After news on AIDS, osteoporosis, and sex harassment in the Army, anchor Forrest Sawyer read an 18-second brief only noting Berger "said that donations from Chinese businessmen never influenced foreign policy. He also defended his presence at meetings during last year's election."
CBS Evening News led with two Diana stories, and did three Mother Teresa reports, plus a report that President Clinton rejected Trent Lott's call to withdraw Bill Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico.
NBC Nightly News began and ended with Diana, totaling five and a half minutes, and included reports on Clinton's proposal to limit access to medical records and his education proposals.
On CNN's The World Today, Joie Chen only provided a one-minute anchor brief on Berger's testimony.
Morning news, September 12:
ABC's Good Morning America gave the Weld fight stories in all four news updates, including an interview with Capitol Hill reporter John Cochran, who said Weld was "toast." GMA gave the hearings only one anchor brief all week.
NBC's Today aired no hearings news all week. Today, the 7:30 half hour was devoted to a woman who bought 13 of Princess Diana's gowns.
CBS This Morning aired nothing on the hearings all week, just as they skipped three weeks in July. The show once promoted as "breakfast for your head" is a daily dose of empty calories. - Tim Graham and Brent Baker