MediaWatch: November 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 11

Chinese Intelligence Brags of "Thwarting" Thompson Hearings

Media Also Have Boasting Rights

When Senator Fred Thompson folded his Governmental Affairs Committee hearings into the fundraising scandal on Halloween, the media coverage that night wasn’t treated any differently than any other scandal development. ABC gave it only 19 seconds, and CBS 30 seconds.

NBC aired a two-minute piece, but reporter Lisa Myers concluded: "It didn’t help that while Republicans railed about misdeeds of the Clinton administration, their leaders opposed anything outlawing the huge contributions that helped create the scandal. And few believe these hearings will really fix anything." Developments after that were mostly ignored:

• A strange twist in the Whitewater case arrived on November 6: Whitewater documents, including an uncashed check for more than $20,000 made out to Bill Clinton, were found in an abandoned, tornado-damaged car. Today gave it 17 seconds, NBC Nightly News got to it four days later. ABC and CBS never did.

• The next day, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee continued its hearings, with White House Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills admitting she and former Counsel Jack Quinn decided to withhold (for a total of 15 months) a White House staffer’s memo suggesting Clinton wanted the White House Office Data Base shared with the Democratic Party, an improper action. TV coverage? Zero.

• On November 13 and 14, that House committee investigated mysterious donor Johnny Chung, who gave $366,000 in suspicious donations to Democrats and made 51 visits to the White House. Despite Chung testifying in closed session, the hearings were ignored both days. ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News have yet to notice the House hearings since they began in early October.

• On November 14, Washington Post investigator Bob Woodward revealed another breakdown in the fundraising probe: "The FBI has acknowledged overlooking key intelligence information gathered as far back as 1991 that investigators believe shows further Chinese efforts to buy political influence in the United States."

A "senior official" told Woodward documents indicated that Democratic fundraiser Maria Hsia (organizer of the Buddhist temple event) was "doing the bidding" of Beijing as a Chinese agent. Woodward said the FBI found the Chinese equivalent of the CIA boasted it had "thwarted" the Thompson hearings.

CBS gave the story 29 seconds, but ABC and NBC did nothing, even though ABC’s Forrest Sawyer kissed the hearings goodbye on October 31 by noting "Thompson conceded he had not proven his charge that the Chinese government tried to influence the American elections."