In This Issue
Networks Prefer Monica News to Missile News; NewsBites: Ads for Aliens; Please Push NRA to the Left, Mr. Heston; Rest in Peace, Extremist; Smaltz vs. Clinton Justice
Networks Prefer Monica News to Missile News
The Monica Lewinsky saga is completely unique in the annals of Clinton scandal coverage. Even after disparaging Ken Starr's focus on what Dan Rather insists is the President's "personal life," the networks have shown much more interest in Monicagate than the ongoing fundraising scandal. As NBC's Claire Shipman explained in February, "Who's thinking about Buddhist nuns when the issue is illicit sex in the White House?"
The fundraising scandal returned in the evolving story of Chinagate. On April 4, The New York Times noted President Clinton's waving through missile technology transfers by Loral to the Chinese government, and the related fact that Loral CEO Bernard Schwartz was the Democratic National Committee's leading donor. The networks (except for Fox News Channel) said nothing, in the morning or evening.
On May 15, the Times revealed that Clinton fundraiser Johnny Chung told investigators he gave the DNC thousands of dollars from China's People's Liberation Army. Despite these bombshells, the Monica story has continued to take the lion's share of network scandal coverage. To document disinterest in the policy scandal, MRC analysts reviewed evening newscasts (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET, and NBC Nightly News) and morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) in the three weeks from May 15 to June 5. Overall, the Monicagate story drew more than twice as much coverage as the Chinagate story on the evening news, and more than six times as many stories on the morning shows.
In the evening, the networks offered 38 full stories (featuring reporters in the field) on Monicagate to only 15 on the Chinagate angle, and seven of those were on ABC. (The disparity in brief items from the anchors was 15 to 10). ABC's World News Tonight went against the grain in airing six full stories on the Lewinsky case versus seven full stories on the China connection.The tone was not always critical, or even objective. On May 21, reporter Linda Douglass deflated the China issue by underlining partisan glee: "Republicans hope to make a big show of their hearings over the summer, and lay the ground work for a scandal that they can talk about during the fall election."
CBS Evening News aired eight full stories on the Lewinsky probe to three on Chinagate. Their first full Chinagate report came on May 20, five days after the second New York Times story appeared. NBC Nightly News (with 12 stories on Monicagate, and only two on Chinagate) didn't air its first China report until May 21. CNN's The World Today (with a story ratio of 12 to 3) jumped on the May 15 Times story, but hasn't pursued the China angle, not running a piece since May 22.
The Big Three morning shows focused much more on Lewinsky, airing 40 full segments (21 reports and 19 interviews) on Monicagate to only six (four reports, two interviews) on Chinagate. (The disparity in anchor-read items was 32 to 4.) As with the evening shows, ABC's Good Morning America aired the most on Chinagate, with two full reports and the only two interviews on morning TV, including a Memorial Day panel with Rep. Christopher Cox and Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu. ABC aired more than twice as many segments on Monica, four reports and six interviews.
CBS and NBC each aired only one full report on Chinagate - no interviews, and no brief items from anchors. CBS This Morning aired nine reports and one interview on Monica, but only touched on China with a Sharyl Attkisson report on Memorial Day. NBC's Today had the widest disparity of coverage with 20 Monica segments (including 12 interviews), to just one David Bloom report, also on Memorial Day, the morning after Loral CEO Bernard Schwartz and other Chinagate players appeared on the Sunday talk shows.
Since May 15, Chinagate developments have continued to tumble out with little network followup. On May 22, the White House briefed reporters on Chinagate, which led to major newspaper stories the next day. On June 7, NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert underlined the importance of the briefing when he asked NBC White House correspondent David Bloom: "The issue of Chinese money and whether or not national security was compromised. David Bloom, how concerned is the White House about this issue getting legs and resonance with the American public?"
Bloom answered: "I think deeply concerned, and I think that the evidence of that was the fact White House immediately came out and made available to those of us who were reporting at the White House all the internal, top secret documents that the White House used in order to make their decision on whether that satellite technology from Loral should indeed go to China. They've never done that before with us. They brought us all in and said 'look at all the evidence.' They don't do that unless they think there's a problem." But on May 22, NBC led with the Secret Service ruling, and didn't mention Chinagate. CNN ran a full report and CBS aired a couple of sentences. ABC provided a full story the next night, but not NBC.
The New York Times followed up on June 1. Reporters Jeff Gerth and John Broder noted from their review of the documents that Bush and Clinton both approved satellite waivers with little debate, but the Loral waiver "was not routine," since Loral was under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger learned the State Department found Loral's offenses to be "criminal" and "knowing" of the damage it could cause. The Pentagon told the NSC that Loral provided "potentially very significant help" to Beijing's ballistic missile program, although a White House official claimed the NSC never received the official Pentagon report.
In a June 4 front-page article ignored by the networks, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz revealed "U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking a Chinese ship carrying weapons materials and electronics destined for Pakistan's major nuclear weapons laboratory." Clinton administration actions may have increased the possibility of a south Asian nuclear conflagration and may have resulted in increasingly accurate Chinese missiles aimed at American cities, but the networks still prefer the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal they've repeatedly emphasized that the American people don't care about. They ought to pursue both scandals.
NewsBites: Ads for Aliens
Ads for Aliens. As part of the 1996 welfare reform law, food stamps were cut for adult legal immigrants. On the May 31 The World Today, CNN anchor Laurie Dhue introduced a one-sided virtual ad for renewing the handout: "There is a disturbing follow-up report to the federal government's decision to cut off food stamps to legal immigrants who are not U.S. citizens...a California study finds that hunger has become a way of life for many people new to America."
Susan Reed presented a California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) study, but failed to name the group. CFPA claimed to find that 40 percent of immigrant households in L.A. and 32 percent in San Francisco experience "moderate to severe hunger," but Reed refused to provide any conflicting arguments from conservative critics. Instead, she supplemented CFPA's point: "Studies have shown that children who are hungry are less able to learn and have a greater chance of becoming anemic. Which means they will be less able to grow and fight infection."
Reed explained that food banks were set up to deal with the extra demand created by the food stamp cuts, but that only a third of those eligible are using them. Why? "Welfare officials say that for many of the immigrants food banks are just too difficult to access." Reed closed: "Both the U.S. Congress and the California Assembly are considering legislation to give food stamps back to adult immigrants, who need them."
Ferris's Day Off. Despite the views of budget-cutting conservatives, NBC portrayed Bill Ferris, the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, as a savior of southern culture and hero to the humanities. On the May 16 Nightly News Bob Dotson emphasized how Ferris spent his life, "chronicling the art of the common man," including quilt making, painting and the blues.
Dotson oozed: "Dr. Ferris' notion of the arts may make some highbrows cringe, but then his sense of culture includes those who are often omitted: women, minorities and the poor." Dotson continued with a thumbs up from B.B. King: "I don't think there is anybody more qualified than he is." No conservative critics of the NEH were aired. Dotson's report amounted to a three minute plug for Ferris and the NEH.
With Ferris strumming a blues riff in the background, Dotson ended with this endorsement: "Culture for Bill Ferris does not just come in museums. It is rooted in everyday lives. His mission in Washington is to think about all of our culture. This man who has seen so much is trying to help us from seeing too little."
Newt vs. Peace? When Newt Gingrich visited Israel in late May, he wrote in the Jerusalem Post that "Israel, and Israel alone, must define the requirements of Israeli security," and he reaffirmed the position of the U.S. Congress and the Israeli government that the capital of Israel should be Jerusalem. ABC lambasted him for possibly ruining the peace process. But when Hillary Clinton on May 7 voiced her approval for a Palestinian state, going against the policy of both the U.S. and Israel, her motives remained unquestioned by ABC.
On the May 24 World News Tonight, Richard Gizbert asserted: "Some people think Gingrich is hurting the peace process, because he may have another agenda. Recent friction between President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu has left a potential political opening for Gingrich and the Republican Party, which he appeared to exploit when he paraded the Prime Minister through Congress during his last visit to Washington."
Gizbert questioned if this alleged partisan ploy would work: "Many American Jews are critical of Netanyahu's hardline policies. It's therefore unclear if latching onto Prime Minister Netanyahu will lead Newt Gingrich and his Republican Party to the political promised land back home."
On the May 27 Good Morning America, David Ensor scolded: "It's beginning to look as if the days when American partisan politics ended at the waters' edge may be over." Had Ensor forgotten when House Speaker Jim Wright wrote to Nicaraguan communist leader Daniel Ortega opposing U.S. policy in the 1980s? Perhaps a President's foreign policy is beyond reproach only when he's a Democrat.
Please Push NRA to the Left, Mr. Heston
Network Appetite for School Shootings Leads to "PR Crisis"
In the aftermath of recent school shootings the media assumed the National Rifle Association faced a public relations nightmare, as if they were responsible for the actions of psychotic children. In their coverage of the NRA's annual convention in Philadelphia, network reporters fixed their crosshairs squarely on Charlton Heston.
On the June 5 CBS Evening News Dan Rather marveled at the possibility Heston might be picked to lead the NRA, offering this loaded intro: "Members of the gun lobby, taking heavy fire for a spate of shooting sprees by children with guns, are set to meet and vote in their next President and this time it appears the far and away favorite is a high caliber name out of Hollywood."
Reporter Jim Stewart charged Heston's ascendency "comes at a time when the actor's own politics is under fire. Last December, Heston stunned some of his old friends with a speech filled with bitterness for some minorities." In fact an anti-Heston Web page set up by the anti-NRA liberals at the Violence Policy Center had highlighted the quote, not "old friends."
On the morning shows reporters emptied their rounds of liberal questions on Heston. On the June 8 Good Morning America, ABC's Lisa McRee put Heston on the defensive: "But how much of a public relations crisis have the shootings in schools across this country caused for you this year?"
Mark McEwen blasted Heston with both barrels on CBS This Morning: "A new Harris poll shows almost 60 percent of Americans favor stricter gun control laws. In the wake of recent shootings, of children shooting children in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Pearl, Mississippi, and other places, what kind of policy will [you] be looking to be pushing forward as President of the NRA?" McEwen then distorted the NRA's position, "A lot of parents are concerned about the facts that people who aren't adults, let's say they're under 21, can get guns easily. What about trigger locks, what about gun locks? The NRA is against both of those." In actuality the NRA opposes mandated use of trigger locks.
Heston's refusal to adopt the media's platform disappointed reporters. Reciting how the NRA believes "that what the country really needs to reduce crime is not tougher gun laws, but tougher enforcement of criminal laws," on the June 8 World News Tonight ABC's Antonio Mora sighed, "Which sounds as if the NRA under Heston will offer the same message it's always offered."
Rest in Peace, Extremist
Network correspondents managed to condemn Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" line when he died, but not the infamous "daisy" ad that suggested he'd start a nuclear war. Only CNN and FNC tied the launch of Ronald Reagan's political career to his speech for Goldwater.
The day he passed away, May 29, Dan Rather displayed the very liberal bias which so upset Goldwater backers in 1964, declaring on the CBS Evening News: "Goldwater was born 89 years ago in Arizona, before it was a state. CBS's Richard Schlesinger remembers the man who turned the GOP hard to the right."
Schlesinger insisted Goldwater's convention speech did more harm than good: "When Goldwater was nominated for President in 1964 his speech defined him and haunted him for the rest of his career." Viewers heard the first half of his famous line - "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" - but not the second half about how "moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue."
Schlesinger moved to the ad in which a little girl pulls petals from a daisy matching a countdown which ends with a nuclear blast: "Lyndon Johnson jumped at the chance to portray Goldwater as a loose cannon in the nuclear age. What might have been the first negative TV ad in history hammered home the point."
ABC matched CBS, letting viewers hear only the first half of Goldwater's comment. Anchor Peter Jennings introduced the "extremism" line: "To his conservative political supporters he was a savior. In your heart, they said, you know he's right." After the Goldwater clip Jennings continued: "To his opponents, including President Johnson who he ran against, he was a dangerous extremist. In your heart, they said, you know he's nuts." Then, over video of the daisy ad, Jennings announced without judgment: "With political ads like this one, that suggested Goldwater would get the nation into war with the Soviets, President Johnson buried him."
CNN's Bernard Shaw also refrained from condemning the daisy ad: "Vietnam became a campaign issue, but President Johnson defended himself by successfully painting Goldwater as a right-wing kook who couldn't be trusted to have his finger on the nuclear button. This commercial ran once and voters got the message."
The media may have delivered another round of biased coverage, but the media message against Goldwater three decades ago did not go unnoticed. On A&E's Biography This Week, narrator Richard Schlesinger of CBS News noted how liberal Republicans attacked Goldwater in '64, adding: "The press joined the charge. There were insinuations that he was a Nazi." Viewers then saw a CBS News story by Daniel Schorr, now with NPR.
Smaltz vs. Clinton Justice
Donald Smaltz, who indicted ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy last year and will try him this fall, emerged from network TV oblivion when the PBS series Frontline presented "The Secrets of an Independent Counsel" on May 19. Correspondent Peter Boyer, a co-writer of two other recent Frontline films on the Whitewater and fundraising scandals, began by noting the creation of the independent counsel law in the 1970s, and the Clintons' changing positions: "Now, two decades later, the nation is having second thoughts, real doubts about whether there should be any more. The political generation now in power, which once exalted the independent counsel, now seems determined to destroy it."
Boyer told Smaltz's story of having his investigation frustrated and constrained by the Clinton Justice Department, but also gave plenty of time to Smaltz's adversaries at Justice and lawyers for the men and companies he convicted. He noted that the Justice Department declared Smaltz could not pursue the allegations of Joe Henrickson, the Tyson Foods pilot who claimed he flew envelopes of cash from Tyson to then-Gov. Bill Clinton. The Justice Department claimed it would investigate, but Boyer noted Henrickson has never been contacted by them.
Frontline not only told the story the other networks have failed to report, but corrected the program's own record: Frontline's only signficant mention of a Clinton scandal in the first term was an investigation of the Agriculture Department called "Is This Any Way to Run a Government?" which portrayed Espy as a force for reinventing government who "sees himself as a victim of his own reforms."