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All The News That's Fit to Skip: Network Apathy Toward Chinese Contributions and Espionage

Executive Summary

May 14, 1999, updated from April 26 edition: If TV anchors regularly suggest viewers should worry about everyday threats like spoiled hamburgers or "monster" sport utility vehicles, why can’t they report on the threat posed by the Chinese theft of secrets that may make their nuclear missiles arrive with better aim and increased deadliness? The nation’s most prestigious newspapers have published scoop after scoop detailing the connections between Chinese contributions and espionage efforts, and ABC, CBS and NBC have aired next to nothing about them on their morning and evening shows. The Media Research Center found the networks’ shocking pattern of non-coverage in four areas:

     1. China’s Army Funds the Democrats. On April 4, the Asian fundraising scandal culminated in a Los Angeles Times report: Johnny Chung told Justice Dept. investigators that the chief of Chinese military intelligence gave him $300,000 to donate to the Clinton campaign. None of the broadcast networks touched this bombshell until Chung appeared before Congress on May 11, but even then the ABC and NBC morning shows and the CBS Evening News ignored him.

     2. China Acquires U.S. Missile Technology. Beginning in April 1998, The New York Times reported the Chinese government had been given technological expertise that "significantly advanced Beijing’s ballistic missile program," and the head of one of the offending defense contractors was the largest individual contributor to Democrats in 1996. The number of evening news reports on this story since April 1998? ABC: 7. CBS: 3. NBC: 2. ABC outnumbered these 12 pieces in a 24-hour period highlighting their Monica Lewinsky interview.

     3. China Acquires U.S. Warhead Technology. One year after that discovery, The New York Times found that the Chinese government had stolen technology from U.S. nuclear labs that would help them miniaturize their nuclear warheads. In the first ten days the Big Three aired only 11 evening stories and six morning stories, then dropped the issue. The networks have since ignored several significant revelations and conducted only one morning show interview.

     4. Clinton’s Denials Exposed. When pressed by print reports about whether he knew Chinese espionage was occurring on his watch, President Clinton claimed in two press conferences that he was told nothing about espionage occurring during his term. When new print reports revealed him to be lying, the networks again refused to give viewers the evidence.

The MRC report concludes by noting this blackout would seem less irresponsible and unfair if the networks hadn’t doggedly pursued GOP foreign-policy scandals from Iran-Contra to Iraqgate, and recommends the networks pursue this story not simply to compare Clinton’s record to other Presidents, but to his own promises in his 1992 manifesto Putting People First.