In This Issue
TV Still Spiking Fundraising, Missile Scoops; NewsBites: Al Gore's Airball; Why Did CNN, Time Push Gaseous Lies?; The Subtle Seduction of a Feminist Time Reporter; ABC's Firearms Fearmongering
TV Still Spiking Fundraising, Missile Scoops
When in China, Skip China Scandals
Imagine if, just a couple of months after the Iran-Contra affair broke, Ronald Reagan had planned a nine-day trip to Iran, with the President featured at a historic joint news conference with Ayatollah Khomeini. Then imagine that the networks and news magazines helpfully said nothing about Iran-Contra, and praised the President for his "constructive engagement" toward a new "strategic partnership." Sound absurd? But that’s what these national media outlets did for President Clinton’s trip to China.
Before Clinton departed, Boston Globe Washington Bureau Chief David Shribman warned the trip was not politically smart: "Presidents usually go abroad to avoid their problems, not to underline them. No President has ever flown right into the winds of his problems the way Clinton does tomorrow.... Clinton is under fire for his fundraising practices. Many of them lead right to Beijing, the second stop on his China trip....He’s under fire for compromising American security by permitting China to enhance its missile capabilities. One of the principal rationales for this trip is American national security." While TV reporters intermittently focused on China’s poor human rights record, the networks avoided the China scandals the entire time Clinton was on Chinese soil.
Despite their tendency to reduce almost everything politicians do to political calculation, none of the networks noted the effect a China trip undisturbed by scandal could have. If Clinton could convince the public that China is not a potential enemy, but a "strategic partner," then their thefts of American technology or illegal campaign donations could seem less threatening.
On June 24, the day Bill Clinton left for China, Eric Schmitt of The New York Times reported a congressional hearing had revealed that the Chinese stole a secret circuit board from the crash of an American satellite. "For five hours, American officials said, Chinese authorities barred them from the crash site, saying it was for their own safety. When the Americans finally reached the area and opened the battered but intact control box of the satellite, a supersecret encoded circuit board was missing." But only the Fox News Channel (and a night later, NBC) aired a report. ABC, CBS, and CNN aired nothing.
The fundraising scandal surfaced twice in connection with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, both in events that provided ready-to-air video highlights. In the June 27 joint press conference, Jiang claimed without prompting that China had no role in the 1996 U.S. elections. CBS Evening News gave the comment one sentence leading into a quick soundbite, and Bill Plante mentioned it on Sunday Morning. But ABC, CNN and NBC didn't utter a word about it. At Clinton's wrap-up press conference on July 3, a reporter asked him if he had pressed Jiang Zemin about sending campaign money to America. That night, only CNN alluded to campaign donations funneled from China. In his story on The World Today, Wolf Blitzer led into a soundbite from Clinton on how he accepts Jiang's denial of any knowledge, observing: "On several sensitive issues Mr. Clinton seemed to take President Jiang at his word. The Chinese leader, for example, had forcefully denied China had funneled campaign cash into Mr. Clinton’s Democratic Party." But ABC, NBC, and CBS said nothing.
The satellite technology transfer only came up on NBC’s Today July 29, not as a dangerous strategic mistake, but as a foresighted political move. Geraldo Rivera boasted: "It is fair to say it is undeniable that the President has raised the issue of human rights. He hasn’t just raised it. He has trumpeted it from virtually every rooftop in China. Ninety percent of all Chinese homes have television. Interestingly one of our NBC national security experts tells me that but for that controversial transfer of satellite technology from our country to theirs, neither of those live broadcasts [press conference and Beijing University] would have been possible."
Not even fresh developments could prod the networks into caring about the China scandals. As Clinton’s trip was winding down on July 2, both The New York Times and The Washington Post delivered scandal revelations, but all the networks, both in the morning and evening, ignored them both. In the Times, Jeff Gerth reported that Shen Rongjun, the son of a commander in the People’s Liberation Army, had his State Department license "suspended last week, while Congress presses questions about the role of the United States in China’s rocket and satellite projects. Officials are examining Shen’s role in the project as well as the capabilities of the sophisticated satellites, which are to be the cornerstone of a commercial mobile phone network planned for China and 21 other Asian countries but which also could be used to eavesdrop on thousands of phone calls in the region."
Post reporter George Lardner added new details about Johnny Chung, who has admitted funneling thousands of dollars from the Chinese government into the DNC: "Johnny Chung, boosted by the Democratic National Committee, secured a meeting at the Treasury Department in the fall of 1995 on behalf of China’s biggest oil company, according to new information released by House GOP investigators....The documents from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee reveal that then-DNC Co-Chairman Donald L. Fowler helped Chung arrange a meeting at Treasury for a delegation headed by Huaren Sheng, President of China Petrochemical Corp. (SINOPEC), a huge state-owned conglomerate that employs 900,000 people."
Not only did the networks ignore China scandals, they ignored small details of the trip, like the cost of the President’s huge delegation. Greg Pierce of The Washington Times noted Rich Galen of GOPAC compared that price tag to the Kenneth Starr probe’s alleged waste of taxpayer money: "1,200 people accompanied President Clinton on his vacation to China at a cost of upwards of $40 million. That, as luck would have it, is about the same amount as the White House Spinsters have been complaining Ken Starr has spent on investigating the same President Clinton." But the same networks which repeatedly remind viewers of Starr’s costliness ignored the story that the Clinton administration may have spent as much in nine days as Starr’s spent in the last four years.
NewsBites: Al Gore's Airball
Al Gore’s Airball.
The media pounced whenever Dan Quayle fumbled, but it looks like Al Gore will face no such obstacle as he bumbles toward 2000.
The latest example: on June 15 before cameras, Gore marveled at the Chicago Bulls’ NBA championship: "That Michael Jackson is unbelievable isn’t he, unbelievable?" The Bulls star player is Michael Jordan. Jackson is the pop singer. Total TV coverage: a few seconds on CNN’s Inside Politics.
Six days later Fox News Sunday played Gore’s goof. Host Tony Snow wondered: "If Dan Quayle said that would that be headline news?" On June 27, CBS News Saturday Morning co-host Russ Mitchell recalled how "Gore congratulated the NBA champion Bulls and their unbelievable team leader, Michael Jackson," but he couldn’t refrain from nullifying Gore’s flub by highlighting one by Quayle. Mitchell declared: "Dan Quayle thought that was very funny, but then the Democrats say he upped the ante by declaring in an interview that any Republican nominee will beat Bill Clinton in the year 2000. Of course, Mr. Clinton will not be running."
Harry Wu, Hypocrite?
Previewing Clinton’s nine-day China trip, Time’s Johanna McGeary wrote "How Bad Is China?" for the June 29 issue. Her verdict: "There is no simple answer, just ambiguous facts."
She glossed over satellite sales and illegal campaign contributions as part of "a string of unfortunate events," while blaming "the hot air of partisan politics" for puffing the scandals out of context. She called Clinton’s ‘92 election rhetoric about getting tough with China "demagoguery," wisely jettisoned in favor of the more responsible "constructive engagement."
In the next paragraph, McGeary termed every group disagreeing with Clinton’s position a hypocrite, including Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese prison labor camp: "No country today brings out more of the passions - or the hypocrisy - in Washington politicians. Every time they get the chance, those who see profit in it pummel the ‘butchers in Beijing’ about all manner of failings, aiming their blows as much at Clinton as at China’s communist die-hards. Anti-abortion activists rail at China’s forced abortions. Exiled crusader Harry Wu charges China with harvesting human organs from executed prisoners for sale."
McGeary claimed "Chinese citizens today lead remarkably free lives, as masters of their own fates and fortunes" and "can even mock their leaders and criticize government politics — in the privacy of their homes."
McGeary despaired at "the tendency of some activists to narrow the focus to the most sensational charges, like forced abortions. Human-rights experts in and out of government have found some anecdotal evidence that these abuses happen but no proof that the government promotes them." Just before McGeary penned her piece, clinic worker Xiao Gao, who just escaped from China, told a congressional hearing about post-birth injections to kill fetuses.
McGeary faulted both "the hard-line right" and "liberals" for their "simplistic tone," but also claimed: "While the religious right has tarred Beijing with a reputation for wholesale repression, religious freedom is officially guaranteed." Talk about simplistic.
Spin of the Week.
While issuing convicted felon Susan McDougal the "Political Play of the Week" on June 26, CNN’s William Schneider asserted that she wished to prove that "Whitewater doesn’t amount to anything.... Most Americans agree. They feel the Whitewater investigation has not turned up any serious wrongdoing." That’s a point supported by polls, assured Schneider, who explained McDougal’s contention while displaying a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showing that when asked about Whitewater 29 percent of the public felt the President did something illegal, 42 percent something unethical, while only 24 percent said he did nothing wrong.
In other words, 71 percent think Clinton did something illegal or unethical. But by not considering unethical actions to be "serious wrongdoing," Schneider presented Clinton’s numbers in the best possible light, thus earning himself the Political Spin of the Week.
Why Did CNN, Time Push Gaseous Lies?
Media Claim It’s All About Ratings, Ignore the Liberal Bias
CNN’s and Time’s retraction of their unsubstantiated NewsStand documentary charging U.S. special forces used nerve gas on U.S. "defectors" in Laos in 1970 stirred a new debate in media circles. What fueled this fiasco? Despite the fact that network meltdowns in the 1990s have been aimed at liberals’ villains (GM, Food Lion, the U.S. military), liberal bias wasn’t blamed. It was the demand for juicy ratings-grabbing magazine shows on a 24-hour news channel.
Quoting establishment expert Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski relayed the majority view on July 3: "So what’s going on? Media critics claim the explosive growth in 24 hour news outlets has created an unhealthy competition."
On ABC’s World News Tonight, Carole Simpson talked with Harvard’s Marvin Kalb, formerly with CBS and NBC, about how ratings lust is to blame. She offered another theory: "Older people are leaving. Do you think young people are lacking some of the wisdom that the old heads could provide, because they’re not there in the newsroom anymore?" That’s odd considering the advanced ages of reporter Peter Arnett, fired producer Jack Smith and CNN President Rick Kaplan, who created the NewsStand concept.
If CNN had simply been competing for a Nielsen bonanza, why not focus on Princess Di or JonBenet instead of a war that seems ancient to many viewers? CNN didn’t spice up its promos with the explosive charge of Americans killing Americans: "A tightly held military secret of the Vietnam War now exposed.... American warriors with the lethal weapon the U.S. swore never to use." In bragging up the "multiply sourced" report, CNN’s Jeff Greenfield only told Don Imus on his MSNBC/radio show: "All I can tell you at this point is that both the target of the mission and the means used to try to carry that mission out are really most disturbing."
One leading media figure was willing to acknowledge the fiasco at least aided the liberal bias argument. ABC This Week host Cokie Roberts said July 5: "This plays into the whole conservative view of the liberal media, which is that it’s a fundamental view of an America that is essentially anti-American. It is saying that the American military is such an evil institution that it will go out and do this to its own people." CNN’s Vietnam revisionism doesn’t bode well for their upcoming project: a 24-part documentary on the Cold War produced with consultants from the leftist National Security Archive.
The Subtle Seduction of a Feminist Time Reporter
Former Time White House reporter Nina Burleigh recounted in the July/August Mirabella how she was "quite willing to let myself be ravished" by Bill Clinton. The magazine’s headline touted how Burleigh "thought she was beyond being seduced by a man’s power, his status, his job. Then she played cards with the President on Air Force One."
Filling in for Time’s regular reporter on Clinton’s trip to Jasper, Arkansas last summer for a funeral, Burleigh, now a Time contributor, recalled how she was asked to join Clinton in a game of hearts. Things quickly heated up: "The President’s foot lightly, and presumably accidentally, brushed mine once under the table. His hand touched my wrist while he was dealing the cards. When I got up and shook his hand at the end of the game, his eyes wandered over to my bike-wrecked, naked legs. And slowly it dawned on me as I walked away: He found me attractive."
Burleigh revealed her feminist standard of how men can ogle her if they are powerful: "We all know when we’re being ogled. The weird thing was that I didn’t mind. There was a time when the hormones of indignant feminism raged in my veins. An open gaze like that, at least from a man of lesser stature, would have annoyed me. But that evening, I had the opposite reaction. I felt incandescent. It was riveting to know that the President had appreciated my legs, scarred as they were.
"If he had asked me to continue the game of hearts back in his room at the Jasper Holiday Inn, I would have been happy to go there and see what happened. At the time, that seemed quite possible. It took several hours and a few drinks in the steaming and now somehow romantic Arkansas night to shake the intoxicated state in which I had been quite willing to let myself be ravished by the President, should he have but asked."
Burleigh is still ready to go, telling The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz what specific sex act she’d perform on Clinton to reward his pro-abortion stand. (See the accompanying issue of Notable Quotables.)
ABC's Firearms Fearmongering
Greeted by a graphic of gunshots shattering through a headline, ABCNEWS.com readers were subjected to an unbalanced special series titled "Armed in America." ABCNEWS.com found little space to run the pro-gun rights side. In a series of six articles, just 13 scattered paragraphs were given to gun rights advocates, five of which were just brief audio files. Most of the series focused on firearms fearmongering.
In an article headlined "The Land of Guns and Death," ABCNEWS.com reporter Jorgen Wouters declared: "America is carrying on a deadly love affair with firearms that kills some 35,000 people every year." Wouters castigated America for not being as enlightened as Europe or Australia: "After a particularly shocking killing several countries have chosen to ban handguns outright. But that hasn’t happened in the United States, which has a constitutional protection for gun owners, and a lot of scared people who want protection in a society that’s starting to mirror its movies. The death toll mounts."
In an article on "solutions," Wouters added: "Everyone agrees America will never pass a British or Australian-style gun ban, but short of such measures, what can be done to reduce the number of American gun deaths?" An encouraged Wouters extrapolated current trends into a utopian liberal future: "Time and demographics may offer some hope. The NRA’s membership peaked at 3.5 million in the mid 1990s, and now stands below 3 million. The number of Americans that hunt — the NRA’s core constituents — is declining, and if current trends continue, hunting may all but disappear in the U.S by the middle of the 21st century, says Robert Spitzer, professor of Political Science at SUNY Cortland and author of The Politics of Gun Control."
Wouters repeatedly held up the European model: "While even draconian gun control probably wouldn’t reduce U.S. gun deaths to European rates, many experts agree the amount of deadly violence would approach more civilized levels." But the strangest passage came when Wouters quoted Harvard professor David Hemenway, making this absurd assertion about the NRA argument that the Second Amendment is not an "anachronism" open to loose interpretation: "The NRA repeats it over and over again. And the media repeats it and people buy it." The people may buy it, but the media aren’t selling it.