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Old Promises Escape Network Memories

While Networks Focus Almost Exclusively on Reno, House Hearings and Newspapers Look at 1991-92

Network coverage of the fundraising scandal is on the upswing in October, although they prefer to concentrate on the Justice Department's preliminary probe into the President's and Vice President's White House phone calls. On Meet the Press last weekend, host Tim Russert took the war-by-other-means scandal strategy to a whole new level, asking Attorney General Janet Reno: "The fact that if President Clinton or Vice President Gore had to step aside Newt Gingrich would become President. Is it a conflict for him, telling you to appoint an independent counsel or resign?"

1015a.gif (5951 bytes) Calls for Reno's resignation are treated as an exercise in guerrilla theater, but it could be seen as a simple follow-through on Reno's own stated intentions as she came aboard. (See box.) But last week's House hearings and new revelations in the Los Angeles Times (a must-read for fundraising scandal followers) are suggesting a new story line. Instead of unethical fundraising erupting out of a Dick Morris demand to place Clinton-Gore television ads in media markets outside the Beltway in 1995, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were mangling their own campaign "reform" rhetoric in 1992.

An October 7 story by Los Angeles Times reporter Alan Miller revealed: "When Democratic Party aide Melinda Yee mapped out a 1991 trip to Asia for the party's chairman [Ron Brown], she saw dollar signs. Bringing home the money would be a cadre of fund-raisers. 'John Huang has offered to host an event in Hong Kong with a goal of $50,000,' Yee wrote in an Oct. 22, 1991, memo. 'Maria Hsia will identify key donors to give to us directly during the Taiwan portion of the trip.' In Hawaii, 'Nora T. Lum has personally guaranteed $25,000.'

Miller explained: "The explicit memos and itineraries laying out at least one of the trip's purposes are now in the hands of House, Senate, and Justice Department investigators and they appear to contradict a central defense of the Democratic National Committee: that its foreign-linked financial abuses in the 1996 presidential campaign were an aberration precipitated by a handful of rogue fundraisers operating under lax supervision." Coverage on the Big Three networks? None.

The House hearings led by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) are also focusing on 1992. In their request for immunity, Democratic fundraisers Gene and Nora Lum outlined how they obtained a written endorsement by then-candidate Bill Clinton for a gentleman running for office in an "Asian nation" in return for a $50,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee. (Columnist Robert Novak suggests the Asian candidate was South Korean President Kim Young Sam.) Big Three network coverage? None.

Clinton and Gore and their party were quickly making a mockery of their 1992 manifesto Putting People First: "We believe it's long past time to clean up Washington. As part of our plan to fight the cynicism that is gripping the American people, we will support and sign strong campaign finance legislation to bring down the cost of campaigning and encourage real competition." In ignoring old promises, both the Democrats and their media allies have gone from fighting public cynicism to encouraging it. Getting to the truth is just another boring episode of politics as usual. - Tim Graham