Months after his colorfully frank approach to fundraising made the morning newspapers, Lebanese oilman Roger Tamraz finally appeared on the network news last night after he testified to the Senate. For the first time since Buddhist nuns testified September 4, all the networks covered the hearings last night. ABC and NBC both devoted morning show segments to him as well. CNN provided live coverage for two hours, while MSNBC skipped the Senate for a one-hour interview with tabloid author Kitty Kelley.
Instead of focusing on possible violations of the law surrounding Tamraz's battle for access, several networks took the opportunity to sell liberal campaign-finance "reform" bills to increase the amount of government funding and regulation of campaigns and political groups.
Evening news, September 18:
ABC's World News Tonight led off with Tamraz, putting its focus on a corrupt system. Peter Jennings declared: "We begin tonight with the kind of cynicism that turns so many Americans off politics." He described Tamraz's testimony, which Linda Douglass underlined: "Democrats were as outraged as Republicans by the tale of Roger Tamraz, Lebanese-American businessman wanted for financial crimes in three countries, who admitted buying his way into the White House with $300,000 in campaign contributions." Jennings then turned this story of corrupt DNC practices into a problem for the GOP. [See box.]
CBS Evening News began with a story on the Justice Department's fight with a Mexican drug gang, and an update on an FBI investigation of an armored-car robbery. Bob Schieffer detailed all of the crimes Tamraz is charged with, but concluded with the same outraged-Democrats line: "Committee Democrats who've been defending the White House made no effort to defend Tamraz, saying his testimony just showed the system must be reformed."
NBC Nightly News also led with Tamraz. Tom Brokaw began by quipping that Tamraz asked for help with a proposed pipeline: "He didn't get what he wanted, but when he testified today, the Senate Republicans did."
CNN's The World Today led with Ted Turner's billion-dollar pledge to the U.N., but then aired four segments on the fundraising scandal, including reports on Johnny Chung and on the Teamster election.
Morning shows, Sept. 19:
ABC's Good Morning America interviewed Sam Donaldson on the hearings in the first hour, and ran a full report in the second.
NBC's Today carried two full reports and a brief on fundraising, plus a few questions to Tim Russert, who came on to note Bill Clinton has the highest approval rating of his presidency.
CBS This Morning didn't spend 15 seconds on political news, unless you count Chelsea's trip to Stanford or Ted Turner's U.N. pledge. But they did interview Kitty Kelley on the royal family, completing the network hat trick. - Tim Graham and Brent Baker