The Espy Blackout, One of Many
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 28, 1997
On October 3, 1994, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy resigned
after it became clear he had cashed in on his Cabinet position with frequent
trips home to Mississippi and free football tickets and goodies from companies
regulated by his department. The next morning, CBS reporter Bill Plante
concluded: ""White House officials hope now that with Espy's
resignation, this story will simply be over."
After Espy resigned, and each network did its obligatory
single evening news story, the White House got its wish, as usual. Until Espy
was indicted on 39 counts on August 27, the story had been dutifully smothered
to death by the network protection racket. Over the next two years and almost
11 months, the network evening news shows, combined, filed a grand total of
two full stories on the Smaltz investigation of Espy and those who dangled
favors before him.
To be specific, ABC's "World News Tonight" offered
one reporter's update on Espy and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros in March 1995.
"CBS Evening News" aired a Jim Stewart report criticizing Smaltz for
venturing beyond his original mandate in February 1995. "NBC Nightly
News," which avoids Clinton scandal news like it was rat poison, never
assigned a reporter. The CNN 10 pm evening newscast aired nothing in that
period. Between MacNeil-Lehrer and solo Lehrer, PBS offered...nada. Ted Koppel
never gave the Espy story a "Nightline," either.
The morning shows, which really ought to be transferred out
of the news division over to the entertainment side, were even worse. Not only
did they avoid a full story since the morning after Espy resigned at ABC's
"Good Morning America," CBS's "This Morning," and NBC's
"Today." Amazingly, CBS "This Morning" ignored the
39-count indictment as well!
CNN did have what some might consider a bright spot: its
afternoon show "Inside Politics" aired two full reports in that same
long period. But one was a February 1995 John Camp story allowing chicken
magnate Don Tyson and Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) time to complain about Smaltz
being too aggressive. The other full story covered guilty pleas by former Bush
campaign official James Lake for illegally diverting $4,000 to Espy's brother
Henry when he ran to replace his brother in Congress.
So what? the Democrats no doubt would suggest. Independent
counsel investigations are long, dry, boring affairs with little news worth
covering. Not this time. Let's take a quick look at some developments during
1996, smack in the middle of the an election season, no less.
June 14: Sun Diamond Growers, a large California
agricultural cooperative, is indicted on nine counts of attempting to
influence Secretary Espy. TV coverage: None.
July 10: Henry Espy, Mike Espy's brother, is indicted on 15
counts for making false statements to a bank to obtain a $75,000 loan and
violating federal campaign laws. TV coverage: None. (He was later acquitted.)
September 24: A federal jury convicts Sun Diamond Growers of
illegally showering Mike Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts. The story makes the
Washington Post front page the next day. TV coverage: None.
October 17: Lobbyist Richard Douglas, a former college
roommate of Espy, is indicted on charges of giving illegal gifts to Mike Espy
and illegal campaign contributions to his brother Henry. The indictment also
states Secretary Espy lied to FBI agents, a possible criminal offense, about
football tickets he received from Quaker Oats. TV coverage, two weeks before
Election Day: None.
It's this kind of blackout, along with a multitude of others
too numerous to list, that explain why these scandals seem to have no effect
on Clinton's approval rating. For a scandal to make a dent, it has to be on
the radar screen of public opinion. But these networks, whose reporters scoff
at the notion of bias, simply have no intention of providing news if that news
will hurt the Clinton administration.
It's worse than arrogance. It's rank hypocrisy. More than
100 times, reporters described Reaganites with the term "sleaze
factor." The same media that ignored Espy over $35,000 in goodies
salivated over John Sununu taking a limo trip to a stamp auction. They camped
out on Reagan National Security Adviser Richard Allen's lawn over the
discovery that he'd accepted...two Japanese watches. And what of Ed Meese? He
was forced out of the Reagan administration after a non-stop barrage of
negative news stories pronounced him guilty of corruption. Never mind that
Meese was not only not guilty, he was not indicted even once - let alone 39
Mike Espy is just the latest proof of that old saw: the
89-percent pro-Clinton media aren't just off-hours liberals. They are using
their power to keep the truth about this corrupt Administration from the
public. Welcome back to the spotlight, Mr. Espy. You're just in time for
another 15 minutes of attention. But surely no more than that.
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