MediaWatch: June 1, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. Eight

TV, Print Outlets Slow to Recognize China Missile Scoop

Another Clinton headache arrived in the April 4 New York Times. Jeff Gerth and Raymond Bonner reported the Justice Department was looking to prosecute two defense contractors who may have illegally provided China with space expertise that "significantly advanced Beijing's ballistic missile program." But in February, Bill Clinton "quietly approved the export to China of similar technology by one of the companies under investigation." The Times noted the chairman of that company, Loral, one Bernard Schwartz, was the largest individual contributor to the Democratic National Committee last year. Network coverage? Nothing except on the Fox News Channel, which reported it 11 days later.

On May 15, the New York Times reported that Johnny Chung told investigators that a large part of the almost $100,000 he gave Democrats in the summer of 1996 came from Liu Chaoying, who works on defense modernization, such as satellite technology, for China's People's Liberation Army. Two days later, the Times added how Clinton overrode then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher's decision to limit China's ability to launch U.S.-made satellites on Chinese rockets.

Where were the networks? On the 15th, in the midst of heavy coverage of Frank Sinatra's death, ABC devoted 75 seconds to it, CBS 27, and NBC 15. Two nights later, ABC reported one story, but CBS and NBC ignored it. A few nights later, the networks each devoted a few seconds to Newt Gingrich's announcement of a special committee to investigate the China matter (ABC 17, CBS 18, NBC 23). It took CBS five nights before it aired a full story, NBC six (offering only 62 seconds in the first five nights). NBC's Today didn't air a word on it in the first week.

The news magazines have also been AWOL on this story: In its May 25 issue, Newsweek matched its 20-plus pages on Frank Sinatra's death and its 11 pages on India's nuclear test with a page and a half on the China story. One U.S. official told Newsweek about Liu: "Getting [U.S.] parts and technology is part of her brief." Time and U.S. News offered nothing.

In the June 1 issues, only Time printed a three-page story, claiming "there may be less to the China connection than meets the eye." Newsweek offered a paragraph in its "Periscope" section. U.S. News made China the sixth item in its "Washington Whispers" section without any mention of missiles or Loral: "Clinton and Chinese leaders are miffed at Republican criticism of the administration's China policy."