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MediaWatch: November 2, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 19

Is Sex the Only Scandal?

In a front-page story for the October 19 New York Times, reporters Jeff Gerth and Eric Schmitt followed up on the controversial sale of missile technology to China with a story on how Clinton’s decision to relax export rules, made after he met high-tech executives who later contributed to the DNC, "enabled Chinese companies to obtain a wide range of sophisticated technology, some of which has already been diverted to military uses."

So did the networks jump at the chance to cover a story involving something other than Monica Lewinsky? No. After spending months lamenting their obsession with sex scandals, the networks did not devote a single word that night, the following morning or rest of the week to the substantive issue of China diverting U.S. technology for military use. While all the networks focused on Clinton’s role in negotiating a new Middle East peace accord, none have aired a single story on the missile technology diversion story since early June.

Gerth and Schmitt reported: "The President delivered, personally presiding over what industry executives and government officials agree was one of the most sweeping relaxations of export restrictions in American history....the new rules helped Clinton fulfill his vision of a centrist Democratic Party with close ties to American business. Grateful high-technology companies showered the Democratic Party with campaign contributions, cementing a new financial base for a party that has historically struggled to raise money from corporate America."

Gerth and Schmitt also reported that "critics, including Republicans in Congress and some former Clinton administration officials, argue that the high-technology exports had a serious side effect, strengthening countries like China, which some view as a potential adversary....House and Senate committees are examining whether China took advantage of the looser rules on exports to enhance its military and to obtain technology that it passed on to rogue states, including North Korea." Like so many other angles of the fundraising scandal, the networks have ignored ongoing congressional investigations.

Even the Times seemed uninterested in their own scoop: It was absent from the front page of their Web site on the day it was published. So much for the media shucking the sex scandal to focus on "real issues."