MediaWatch: April 19, 1999

In This Issue

Networks Continue to Acoid Major Print Scoops; NewsBites; Dan Rather Searches Clinton's "Feelings"; They Would Indict Clinton; FNC Shows the Flow

Networks Continue to Acoid Major Print Scoops

What Proof of a DNC-China Connection?

In 1997, Republican Sen. Fred Thompson committed what many in the media believed was a mistake. He began hearings into the Democratic fundraising scandal by suggesting that intelligence reports showed the Clinton-Gore campaign had a China connection. ABC’s Linda Douglass reported, "Senator Thompson is clearly tired of taking a beating from Democrats, who every single day point out the fact that he’s failed to prove there is any Chinese plot in connection with the Democratic presidential campaign."

On Easter Sunday this year, the Democrats found a most unwelcome bee in their Easter bonnet. Los Angeles Times reporters William Rempel, Henry Weinstein, and Alan Miller reported a 3,500 word story that began: "The chief of China’s military intelligence secretly directed funds from Beijing to help reelect President Clinton in 1996, former Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung has told federal investigators... Chung says he met three times with the intelligence official, Gen. Ji Shengde, who ordered $300,000 deposited into the Torrance businessman’s bank account to subsidize campaign donations intended for Clinton."

In other words, "Chung’s testimony has provided investigators the first direct link between a senior Chinese government official and illicit foreign contributions that were funneled into Clinton’s 1996 re-election effort. It is the strongest evidence – in two years of federal investigation – that the highest levels of the Chinese government sought to influence the U.S. election process."

Now that evidence of a Chinese connection began to arrive, did the networks apologize for their dismissive laxity toward the Thompson probe and get up to speed? No. None of the broadcast networks presented these facts on their morning or evening shows. ABC’s Sam Donaldson came closest five days later on April 9, reporting that Chinese premier Zhu Rongji "said he had no knowledge that the Chinese government had contributed money to Mr. Clinton’s 1996 campaign." CNN gave it 29 seconds on the April 5 The World Today.

The networks couldn’t argue the story didn’t bring interesting details to the table. The Times reporters disclosed that the FBI feared at one point last year that a "hit squad" had been sent from China to kill Chung and assigned 40 agents to protect the Chung family for three weeks. They also reported that the FBI taped a "San Gabriel Valley businessman" advising Chung to say nothing about his funding from Chinese officials: "The businessman advised Chung to go to jail if necessary, assuring Chung that friends in high places would support him. The businessman even suggested that Chung could expect to be pardoned by the President."

The ongoing pattern – print outlets break new investigative ground, networks yawn – wasn’t limited to the Los Angeles Times scoop.

. Submerged across the bottom of two pages of the March 29 issue, John Barry and Gregory L. Vistica reported on a CIA probe of the compromised nuclear labs. Top nuclear experts "practically fainted" at how Chinese scientists routinely used U.S. lab phrases and concepts. One official announced: "The penetration is total...they are deep, deep into the labs’ black programs." They also learned "Beijing recently got hold of two U.S. cruise missiles that failed to detonate during last fall’s relaliatory attack on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan," and officials want to know if the Chinese are copying that sophisticated technology. Network coverage? Zero.

Investor’s Business Daily.
On March 30 and April 9, Washington Bureau Chief Paul Sperry reported on the missing manifest of former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary’s big-donor trade mission to China, and O’Leary’s efforts to open the nuclear labs, trimming the number of guards and loosening background checks on workers and visitors.

Revelations didn’t just come in the news pages. IBD’s lead editorial on March 31 revealed the FBI requested a wiretap on suspected Chinese spy Wen Ho Lee. "Justice denied it, arguing it did not have sufficient grounds to take to a federal court to get the tap approved. But a look at the Justice Department’s record on wiretaps calls that argument into serious question. From 1993 to 1997, federal officials requested 2,686 wiretaps. For all its concern for probable cause and legal standards, the Justice Department turned down one request in those four years – Lee’s in 1996." Network coverage? Zero.

The New York Times
. After repeated administration claims that nuclear espionage happened only in the mid-80s, Times reporters Jeff Gerth and James Risen found espionage happening in 1995. On April 8, they began a front-page article: "In early 1996, the United States received a startling report from one of its Chinese spies. Officials inside China’s intelligence service, the spy said, were boasting that they had just stolen secrets from the United States and had used them to improve Beijing’s neutron bomb, according to American officials."

Network coverage? In a press conference with Clinton and visiting Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, both the AP and Reuters reporters asked about the New York Times charges. Still, the CBS Evening News ignored the story, except for one vague reference by Bill Plante: "Did China steal U.S. nuclear technology? Zhu Rongji said he didn’t know a thing about it." ABC and NBC covered the charge, though NBC did not give credit to the paper and concluded by stressing the White House spin that "there’s no evidence China’s neutron bomb was improved as a result." CNN’s Pierre Thomas filed a full report.

The next morning, CBS This Morning ignored it. ABC’s Good Morning America gave the Times story two updates totaling 30 seconds, and NBC’s Today awarded one 38-second brief. But NBC spent two minutes and 43 seconds on beavers gnawing down cherry trees along Washington’s Tidal Basin.

The Washington Times
. Reporter Jerry Seper found Johnny Chung "has, for the first time, linked Charles Yah Lin Trie and John Huang directly to a massive fundraising offensive financed by Chinese military intelligence to help win President Clinton’s re-election. Federal authorities and others familiar with Johnny Chung’s grand jury testimony said the California businessman – a cooperating witness in the Justice Department’s campaign finance probe – testified that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) financed the fundraising scheme with cash secretly routed out of Beijing." Network coverage? A story on FNC, but no where else.

CBS on Trulock
. CBS Evening News reporter Sharyl Attkisson reported from the Senate on April 12: "In his first public statement the man largely credited with breaking the Chinese espionage case at U.S. nuclear labs gave an extraordinary account of what happened when he first sounded the alarm to his superiors at the Department of Energy." DOE’s Notra Trulock declared: "Beginning in early 1997 senior DOE officials, including my direct supervisor, urged me to cover up and bury this case. These officials argued that this case was of historical interest only and not relevant to the contemporary missions and objectives of the national laboratories."

Attkisson continued: "In fact, some intelligence officials now regard the theft of design plans for America’s most sophisticated nuclear warhead, the W-88, the most important spy case in recent history, but Trulock says his efforts to fix security breaches at the weapons labs were blocked at every turn, even when he identified suspects in early 1996." Other network coverage? FNC delivered a full story the next day, but the others aired nothing.

Appearing on the April 11 Fox News Sunday, Sen. Thompson wouldn’t promise new hearings into the China connection: "Nowadays, the ability of Congress to really find out anything substantive in congressional hearings has been very, very limited. The media’s short attention span, the partisanship that we have and all of that makes it so that you can kind of lay out and demonstrate what you already have, but finding something out is very, very difficult." The networks don’t have a short attention span. They appear to have no attention span.


Rude Rudy?

Today co-host Matt Lauer chided New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the "tone" he was setting in his potential Senate bid against Hillary Rodham Clinton in a remarkably pro-Clinton interview April 1.

After demanding Giuliani acknowledge he had "a difficult time connecting with minorities," Lauer castigated Giuliani for his connection to a Web site called "Is this the kind of tone...She’s a carpetbagger, she’s someone who failed in her health care experience."

Giuliani pointed out these were "all very fair issues about somebody that’s never run for public office, [and] wants to win a state that they have absolutely no connection to." Lauer would have none of it, lecturing Giuliani: "Is this the tone of the campaign we might expect?"

The site is innocuous and contains only three options: signing a petition urging Giuliani to run, making a donation and reading a page explaining how to place the banner on the viewer’s web page. The site’s two paragraphs of text also contained these less than incendiary statements: "It is a website dedicated to the notion that we should expect more from someone who aspires to the U.S. Senate. That the U.S. Senate is a place for proven leaders, not a proving ground."

After a year in which Clinton’s closest advisers declared "war" on their opponents and the First Lady charged a "vast right-wing conspiracy" on Today, Lauer’s sudden disdain for negative tone is an interesting development.

Puny Protests
If the April 3 nightly newscasts are any indicator, it only takes a few liberals protesting to generate a TV news story.

The CBS Evening News gave a few seconds to a small rally in Washington, D.C. protesting police brutality, but NBC portrayed it as a major event. Reporter Rick Davis began: "They came from cities and towns across the country, holding names and photographs high, victims they say of abuse of power. One killing in New York caused them to join in grief and anger." NBC only used close-up shots so one could not determine how many protesters there actually were. The April 4 Washington Post reported "hundreds" attended. Not exactly the Million Man March.

Next up that night was the issue of rising gas prices in California. The CBS Evening News ran a story pegged to about a dozen people on a Los Angeles sidewalk complaining about California’s escalating gas prices. Reporter Vince Gonzalez opened by featuring a clip of a woman shouting, "How are you going to buy milk for your children and gas for your car to go to work on?" Gonzalez promoted the protesters’ call for a "national gas out day" and allowed a gas station owner to denounce oil company "greed," but ignored two key factors in California’s gas prices: environmental rules and high state taxes.

NRDC: All Wet
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the liberal group behind the bogus 1989 Alar-on-apples scare promoted by 60 Minutes, released a report on March 30 about how they supposedly discovered excessive bacteria and chemicals in one-third of the bottled water they tested.

ABC’s World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and FNC’s Fox Report all jumped on it, airing full stories. None labeled the NRDC as liberal. ABC’s Peter Jennings underlined their credibility: "A serious environmental monitoring group has released a report about bottled water today that certainly flies in the face of the advertising."

In an April 8 Washington Times column, Michael Fumento quoted Yale professor Stephen Edberg, who sat on many of the EPA panels that regulate drinking water, saying the report was "completely fallacious...There’s absolutely no risk to the population. This is extremely alarmist and has great detrimental effect."

The International Bottled Water Association countered the NRDC: "There have been no confirmed reports in the US of illness or diseases linked to bottled water." The NRDC claimed they found evidence in the medical literature they surveyed. Fumento noted they located just two instances: one in the Mariana Islands and one in Portugal.

Dan Rather Searches Clinton's "Feelings"

Therapist-Style Interview Nothing Like 1988 Assault on Bush

More than ten years ago, on the January 25, 1988 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather yelled at Vice President George Bush about selling arms for hostages to Iran: "You’ve made us hypocrites in the face of the world! How could you sign on to such a policy?"

But Rather was an entirely different man in the first exclusive post-impeachment TV interview with Bill Clinton, aired on the March 31 edition of 60 Minutes II. Rather delicately suggested Clinton’s no-ground-troops pledge in Kosovo might not stick: "With all respect, but also directly, everybody acknowledges you have a brilliant mind, you’re an excellent speaker. But sometimes people, and people who support and like you say, well, he parses words too closely." When Clinton said he meant it, Rather backed off: "Fair enough."

Rather then turned therapist, wondering about Clinton’s "feelings" about the situation: "I’m told by those close to you that you have a lot of pent -up feelings about what’s happening in the Balkans, what we’re doing there. Can you share some of that with us?"

After an ad break, Rather went softer, promoting Hillary for the Senate: "Could you describe for me what you believe to be the responsibilities of the husband of a United States Senator?" Clinton giggled and said he’d do whatever it took.

When it came time to talk impeachment, Rather made it sound like the Clintons had lost a family member, not lied under oath and obstructed justice. "Americans like to know that the First Family is okay, that they’re doing alright. Given the year, plus what you and our First Family have been through, tell us what you can about how the three of you are doing." Rather stuck to the therapeutic tone: "How about yourself? We’re here in a room with pictures of Lincoln, Washington, Continental Congress. When you look back over this year plus, what’s the moral of it? Does it have a moral?"

He did ask how people will explain Monicagate to their children, but closed by suggesting, "whatever else you do, in the first paragraph of your obituary is going to be a reference to what you consider among the worst things that’s ever happened to you. Only President in the 20th century to be impeached, one of only two Presidents to be impeached. Give me some sense of how you feel about that within yourself." After Clinton defiantly declared he was honored "to defend the Constitution," Rather suggested, "You’ve got to be bitter about it." He certainly can’t be bitter about Dan Rather.

They Would Indict Clinton

Top Juror's Starr Defense Ignored

A silent but important figure in Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s Lewinsky investigation briefly broke her silence last month. Grand jury forewoman Freda Alexander revealed that she would have voted to indict President Clinton for perjury, if given the chance, and characterized attacks on Ken Starr as "grossly unfair." But the networks showed little interest in her revelations.

In an exclusive televised interview with the Washington, D.C. CBS affiliate, WUSA, aired on March 25 and March 26, Alexander told reporter Mark Lodato that Starr "was well within his right to investigate the President.... ‘His approval rating is the lowest of anyone. I don’t think Linda Tripp’s rating is as low as Ken Starr’s is and I think it’s grossly unfair because he didn’t have a job description.’" The Washington Post ran a front page story on Alexander and her comments on March 26. Reporter Susan Glasser detailed how even though Alexander admitted she "absolutely love[s] Clinton," she put her feelings aside and applied the law: "She was convinced he lied to the grand jury in his August 17 appearance. ‘I took offense to it.’...But Alexander...also reflected the ambivalence many Americans felt about Clinton’s behavior. ‘I believe he lied,’ she said. ‘But I also believe he had no other choice."

Only ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today included Alexander’s comments in their March 26 broadcasts, albeit very briefly during their 7am news updates. Both mentioned that she would have voted to indict Clinton and that she thinks his activities should never have become public. Neither mentioned her defense of Starr. That same evening, it was the networks’ turn to go silent, even on CBS, not bothering to show some of its own affiliate’s interview footage.

The day after the Post story ran, AP reported Alexander had her lawyers tell media outlets she would no longer talk to reporters. Just as well, since the networks did not show any interest anyway.

FNC Shows the Flow

Four days after the Los Angeles Times revealed Johnny Chung told a grand jury how the head of China’s military intelligence unit gave him $300,000 to donate to the DNC, the Fox News Channel’s Carl Cameron was the first and only television reporter to outline the money flow to show how cash traveled from communist front companies to the Democrats. He also uncovered how Al Gore met with the head of one of the front companies.

In a piece run on the April 8 Fox Report and Special Report with Brit Hume, Cameron revealed: "China’s military intelligence official most likely to be interested in stealing U.S. secrets, sources say, also turns out to be the mastermind behind China’s alleged plot to get the Clinton-Gore team re-elected in 1996 with illegal contributions."

Cameron then explained the money path: "At the beginning of a complicated money trail is the head of Chinese military intelligence, General Ji. He pulls the strings at a massive Chinese conglomerate called China Resources Company. U.S. intelligence say some China Resources divisions in Hong Kong and worldwide are known fronts for China’s Peoples Liberation Army and espionage. China Resources has joint ventures with an Indonesian-based firm called the Lippo Group. Lippo is run by the ethnic Chinese Riady family. James Riady has visited the White House. His family has long supported the Clintons. The Riady family’s chief adviser on U.S. political donations: John Huang. Huang left Lippo for a Commerce Department job, then became a fundraiser, where mostly through connections to the Riady’s, he collected nearly $2 million in illegal foreign contributions for the Democratic Party. Thus completes what investigators say was the Chinese military’s circuitous route to funnel money to the President’s re-election effort."

During Cameron’s exposition of how the money flowed, FNC offered an on-screen graphic showing the stream of money with arrows between each name going down the screen: General Ji => China Resources => Lippo Group => Riady Family => John Huang => Democratic Party.

Cameron noted Al Gore "has been connected too...On September 23rd, 1993, Huang and Riady came to the White House to meet Gore and introduce...[the] head of Beijing’s alleged espionage front, China Resources Company."