On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings into Bill Clinton's decision to offer clemency to 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. Clinton's decision was criticized by Senators from both parties, including committee chairman Orrin Hatch and liberal Democrat Robert Torricelli. Victims of the FALN's bombings spoke emotionally about their outrage over the release [See box]. How much ABC, CBS, and NBC coverage? Zero. It fits a pattern of neglect.
In the five weeks from the Associated Press reporting the offer on August 11 through Thursday morning, Big Three network coverage has been skimpy:
Evening news coverage: A total of six full stories: two on ABC, two on CBS, two on NBC. Only one August 30 story by CBS's Jim Stewart preceded Hillary's sudden opposition to clemency.
Morning news coverage: A total of 11 segments (seven news stories and four interviews). That's if you count two partial stories that CBS aired (mixed in with other Clinton news), and half an interview on Hillary with NBC's Tim Russert. Only one August 31 story by NBC's Fred Francis came before Hillary's flip-flop. Only CBS interviewed an FALN victim, policeman Anthony Senft. "We'll be following your testimony," co-host Thalia Assuras promised Senft. CBS viewers couldn't follow his testimony. It was spiked.
The networks have mostly labored to avoid occasions where they could underline the unpopularity of Clinton's clemency offer and the emotional punch of opposition from law enforcement officials and FALN victims:
September 14: The Senate voted 95 to 2 on a resolution calling Clinton's clemency offer "deplorable." (Only Democrats Daniel Akaka and Paul Wellstone voted no.) Big Three coverage? Zero, except a sentence previewing the vote on Nightline.
September 9: The House of Representatives voted 311 to 41, with about 70 Democrats voting "present" instead of standing with Clinton, to condemn the clemency offer. Big Three coverage? Zero, even though ABC's and NBC's morning shows mentioned the next day that the Puerto Ricans would be released that day. CBS Saturday Morning mentioned the release the next morning.
August 27: The New York Times reported, "A wide range of federal law enforcement agencies that were asked to review a clemency petition filed by impris-oned members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group unanimously opposed any leniency" before Clinton's decision. Big Three coverage? Zero. Law enforcement opposition surfaced in only five stories: three on NBC, once on ABC and CBS.
August 23: New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir held a press conference featuring police officers injured by FALN attacks to criticize Clinton's offer. Big Three coverage? Zero, although CBS's August 30 evening story and NBC's August 31 morning story both contained a clip from it.
August 13: A Wall Street Journal editorial underlined the rarity of Clinton's offer: "From the time he took office in 1993 until April 2, the date the Office [of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department] prepared its last report, Mr. Clinton had received 3,042 petitions for clemency. Until Wednesday, he had granted a total of three." Big Three coverage? Zero. Only one use of the word "rare" by NBC's Andrea Mitchell reflected that fact. - Tim Graham