Who Makes or Breaks a Scandal?

The Cox Report vs. The Iran-Contra Report

4. Follow-up Coverage: Pretend the story doesn't exist

Since May 28, three days after the Cox committee reported, only CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News have aired a single story on Chinese espionage among the Big Three, despite ongoing congressional investigations and government reform initiatives. The isolated exceptions to the daily blackout dealt with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, chaired by former Sen. Warren Rudman. Only CBS Evening News covered the initial report on June 15, and only NBC Nightly News caught up with a full story when Rudman appeared before an unprecedented four-committee Senate hearing on June 22. (CBS did note that development for 42 seconds.) NBC Nightly News gave 19 seconds each to developments on June 25 and 27. ABC’s World News Tonight aired nothing in all of June. The morning shows also have aired less than a minute on Chinagate since May 26. ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today each gave the Rudman report 23 seconds on June 16.

The blackout comes despite the Fox News Channel’s continuing efforts to report new developments. Take a look at recent FNC stories the Big Three networks could have been pursuing:

May 24: A Beijing-Coordinated Coverup? The day before the Cox Report release, reporter Carl Cameron found evidence suggesting a capital-to-capital coverup strategy. In a transcript of a call to Johnny Chung, Chinese operative Robert Luu told Chung to credit the source of donations to the "princelings" (children of People’s Liberation Army officers in front companies). Luu said: "Chairman Jiang agreed to handle it like this. The President over here also agreed." (Clinton and Jiang were meeting when the call took place.) Imagine the reaction if someone had charged that Ronald Reagan had agreed on spin control with the Ayatollah. Big Three network coverage? Zero.

May 27: More Labs Investigated. Cameron outlined his exclusive: "FBI counter-intelligence sources have told Fox News about two more previously undisclosed open investigations into Chinese nuclear espionage at the national labs during the Clinton administration. Sources say both the Argonne National Labs in Illinois and Idaho and the Sandia National Lab in New Mexico have been compromised and that both weapons secrets and detonation technology have been passed to China since 1993." Cameron added that 80 House members led by Republicans Cliff Stearns and J.D. Hayworth demanded the resignations of National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Attorney General Janet Reno over their handling of Chinagate. Big Three network coverage? Zero.

June 3: Testing a Second Missile. Cameron reported: "This has caught U.S. military and intelligence officials off guard. China now plans to move up its development timetable and later this year will test not one, but two new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. The second is particularly surprising because it comes years before any U.S. analyst had predicted China would be able to do it and because of how similar it will be to the top weapon in the U.S. arsenal." Cameron added: "Frustrated FBI agents say the Justice Department should have already asked a grand jury to indict fired Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee. Counter-intelligence sources say a sting operation caught Lee mishandling secrets in 1997." Big Three network coverage? Zero.

June 8: O’Leary’s Leak. Cameron reported allegations made by Republicans on the Cox committee, such as Rep. Curt Weldon: "Now come allegations that former Clinton administration Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary leaked classified nuclear weapons information personally in 1995 to U.S. News & World Report. After the magazine published this classified design information on the W-87 warhead, an investigation began to find the leak. Sources say DOE brass abruptly canceled the probe to prevent O’Leary embarrassment. Lawmakers now want that suspected cover up investigated." Big Three network coverage? Zero.

June 9: Deliberate Incompetence? A week-and-a-half after he promised to fire Energy Department officials responsible for lost secrets (a promise he has yet to fulfill), Energy Secretary Bill Richardson appeared before the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. It was an open hearing with cameras taping footage any network could use, but only one bothered. Richardson told Senators he opposes new security proposals because they "undermine and micro-manage him."

Cameron moved on: "The chief of Energy Department counter-intelligence, Ed Curran, accompanied Richardson and found himself under fire for claiming several days ago that the Senate knew about China's spying in 1996 and failed to act. The Vice Chairman of the committee, Democrat Bob Kerrey, scolded Curran for being both inaccurate and too partisan." Kerrey said: "It carried a tone that sounded as if it was written by the political shop over at the White House." Cameron added: "Curran sat by and watched as his boss acknowledged that the comments and the facts were wrong."

Cameron explained how the House unanimously passed new security measures proposed in the Cox Report and then concluded with exclusive information about more malfeasance: "In rare closed-door testimony, Fox News has learned that frustrated rank and file FBI agents told lawmakers that they found ample evidence of Chinese espionage, but felt thwarted by senior Justice Department officials. Now sources say lawmakers will look into the possibility of what’s called, quote, ‘deliberate incompetence’ by Justice Department officials to sweep it under the carpet." Big Three network coverage of any of this? Zero.

June 10: Trie Destroyed Evidence. Cameron reported how Charlie Trie destroyed documents, which was reported in newspaper accounts of his plea deal, but not mentioned elsewhere on TV, and added fresh information about how the FBI was thwarted:

"The President appointed his long-time friend and fundraiser Charlie Trie of Little Rock to a trade commission to deal with Hong Kong and other Asian nations. Trie has pleaded guilty to fundraising violations and is cooperating with investigators, but in 1997 FBI surveillance observed Trie’s employees destroying evidence in the campaign fundraising investigation. At the time, the Justice Department sent two officials to Little Rock to get search warrants and intervene. But on the eve of Senate hearings into campaign finance abuse, the Justice Department pulled back on the warrants and the search of Trie’s office and frustrated FBI agents watched as more documents were destroyed." Big Three network coverage? Zero.

June 25: Clinton Admits Poor "Choice of Wording." At a late-afternoon press conference, FNC’s Wendell Goler asked: "Do you still maintain that you were not told anything about these Chinese efforts to spy at the nation’s nuclear labs during your administration?" Clinton claimed he’d learned of Wen Ho Lee’s transfer of computer codes since March: "I think my choice of wording was poor. What I should have said was I did not know of any specific instance of espionage because I think we’ve been suspicious all along." Big Three network coverage? NBC’s Claire Shipman noticed for 19 seconds.

June 27: Very Early Notification. Contradicting White House claims that they first learned of Chinese espionage in April 1996, The New York Times reported the White House was told about Chinese nuclear thefts in July 1995, "soon after it was detected by the Energy Department and the Central Intelligence Agency...interviews with current and former officials show that warnings about possible Chinese nuclear espionage received high-level attention within the Clinton administration early in the government’s investigation of the matter." Fox Weekend Report led with the story, noting it had already reported on the shifting date story. Big Three network coverage? NBC Nightly News anchor Kelly O’Donnell noted it for 19 seconds.

June 29: Punishing Whistleblowers. Cameron revealed what went on behind the scenes at a House Government Reform Committee hearing the week before: "Democrats and Republicans say the secret testimony of Energy Department counter-intelligence agent Bob Henson caught them completely off-guard. Lawmakers are mum on the classified details which sources say involve weapons labs, like Los Alamos, over the last five years and may have been part of China’s nuclear espionage. The Energy Department’s top spy catcher, who admits security cannot be guaranteed, said he was unaware of his agent’s testimony until Fox News told him."

Cameron added this bit of intrigue: "At the exact time Defense Department analyst Peter Leitner was telling Congress that his bosses have in the past planted evidence in his desk to discredit him, over at the Pentagon those supervisors were allegedly trying to get into his computer without proper permission. A trail of e-mails obtained by Fox News indicates that several Defense Department officials were involved. Ultimately they did not gain access, but the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has announced an investigation and pending the outcome Leitner’s supervisor at the Pentagon has been transferred to another post. Congress continues to investigate alleged reprisals and has subpoenaed Leitner’s supervisors to explain their actions next week." Other network coverage? Zero.