Here Comes Gore's Independent Counsel

AlThe New York Times preceded yesterday's Senate hearings on Al Gore's phone solitications and DNC fundraising practices with a front-page scoop by reporter Don Van Natta, Jr.: "In a practice that placed some of its most cherished donors in violation of federal election laws, the Democratic National Committee took at least $2 million in contributions restricted to generic use by the party and spent it directly on the re-election campaign of President Clinton and other candidates." The cherished donors were not informed.

At Senate hearings yesterday, the DNC's top lawyer, Joseph Sandler, claimed Vice President Gore had "no reason" to know that money he raised through controversial White House phone calls would be partially allocated to hard-money accounts. But neither CNN nor MSNBC offered any live coverage yesterday. All four evening shows offered reports, but the morning shows remained enraptured by Diana.

Evening news, September 10:

ABC's World News Tonight surprisingly led with stories from Washington, including a full hearings report. Reporter Linda Douglass noted that if Al Gore wasn't notified that fractions of his phone-solicited millions in contributions were earmarked for hard-money accounts, he wasn't the only one, since many donors were not told their contributions were "secretly converted." ABC was the only network of the Big Three to note the New York Times donor angle.

CBS Evening News led with the latest Diana tidbit, but featured a report by Bob Schieffer noting "the committee unearthed White House memos showing the Democratic National Committee had notified the President, Gore, and top White House officials that the first $20,000 of all big donations that came in last year would be put in the so-called hard money account, to be spent directly on the campaign."

With just 90 seconds, NBC Nightly News aired the least on the hearings, 17 minutes into the show, after Diana news, tired truckers, and an "In Depth" report on prostate cancer. Tom Brokaw asked Lisa Myers two questions: the difference between hard money and soft money, and the latest on the likelihood of an independent counsel. Myers replied: "Election law experts I talked with called these documents significant and said it makes it even more likely the Attorney General will have to appoint an independent counsel."

After leading with six minutes of Diana news, CNN's The World Today carried a two-minute report by John King at 10:15 ET that touched briefly on the hearings, focusing its attention on the New York Times angle of the DNC's hard-money policy.

Morning news, September 11:

CBS This Morning only had time for entertainment, fashion, makeovers, women's health, and the Diana crash.

ABC's Good Morning America toured the home of JonBenet Ramsey, but provided only a single Kevin Newman anchor brief on the hearings at 7:30 AM.

NBC's Today skipped the fundraising developments, devoting its first interview segments to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers' use of Princess Diana, Rep. Sonny Bono's new bill outlawing paparazzi harassment, and a promotional interview and reading from poet Maya Angelou. Senator Fred Thompson could be a rock, or a tree, but he's not getting on morning TV. - Tim Graham and Brent Baker