Database Discovered; Stahl Denies Bias; CNN's Spins
1. The White
House database makes the network evening news -- seven months after it
was uncovered by The Washington Times.
2. A fugitive
and man convicted of securities fraud attended White House coffees,
but the networks don't tell viewers about them.
magazine brings aboard a reporter who once disparaged conservatives as
"largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command."
4. Dan Rather
describes current 2.5 percent GDP as "ideal," not quite the
spin the media took toward a higher rate in 1992.
bias? Lesley Stahl blames viewers: "It's just if what you're
watching doesn't please you then you think we're biased."
CNN reporter said HUD nominee Andrew Cuomo received "breathless"
praise from Senators. Another insisted that he was "grilled."
the frequency, Kenneth?" Dan Rather's story not as unbelievable as
"Secret System Computerizes Personal Data," declared a front
page June 26, 1996 article in The Washington Times. Reporter Paul
Rodriquez detailed how the White House Office Data Base (WHODB) tracked
personal information on those who visited the Clintons, including their
DNC donation records.
Network coverage? Not a word on ABC, CBS or NBC. Nor on CNN's 10pm ET The
World Today. But, CNN's Inside Politics that day did carry a full story
from Claire Shipmam.
later, the February 3 Time magazine, out January 27, ran a story headlined
"A Secret Cash Link: A White House Operation that Tracked Donors Was
Extensive, Top Secret and Pushed by the First Lady." On January 30
the Los Angeles Times reported on its front page that though the
government-owned database could be legally used only for official
purposes, "the White House staff frequently retrieved data on large
political contributors and turned it over to the Democratic National
Committee to help raise money for the President's re-election, interviews
months and four days after The Washington Times broke the story, the night
the LA Times story appeared the database drew broadcast network attention,
but only from two of the three networks.
The January 30
NBC Nightly News devoted its "Fleecing of America" segment to
the database. Reporter Lisa Myers filed a tough report that highlighted
some Hollywood celebrities:
"...White House documents obtained by NBC News show the database was
conceived as a political tool, as a way to keep track of early supporters.
Hollywood mogul David Geffen is listed as an early financial supporter,
which means he gave money during the '92 primary, and as a Democratic
National Committee trustee, which means he gave the party at least
$100,000. He was invited to 16 White House functions. Diva Barbra
Streisand also is listed as a DNC trustee. She was invited to nine
Myers later noted: "A non-partisan expert on campaign ethics says the
White House crossed the line."
Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity: "This is beyond the pale.
Everyone knows this is improper. There's no way to put a happy spin on
Myers: "The White House tried to keep the database secret. An early
memo to Hillary Clinton, who pushed the project hard, noted that
precautions should be taken or the database would be open to public
scrutiny and inquiry....The White House refuses to allow congressional
investigators examine the database even though taxpayers paid for it. So
for now we do know it's another fleecing of America. But we don't know
which contributors slept upstairs in the Lincoln Bedroom because their
names appeared downstairs and across the way in a secret computer."
On the CBS
Evening News Dan Rather announced: "Questions keep coming about the
way Democrats bankrolled the Clinton re-election campaign. Republicans
have again attacked the White House for using a database containing
350,000 names. The Republicans say that this was a blatant fundraising
operation and that taxpayers were stuck with a $1.7 million tab to create
it. Correspondent Rita Braver reports why that could be a problem for
Of course, it
would have been more of a problem if reported last June.
by noting Hillary Clinton's role, but gave her the last word:
"....Now the documents we obtained showed that the First Lady
personally pushed hard for this system. And at a meeting with a few
reporters today on another subject, she confirmed that. She also insisted
she only wanted something to track who came to official White House
ABC's World News
Tonight didn't air a piece, but did do a story on the Friday, January 31
Good Morning America. How about World News Tonight Friday night? No story,
nor one Saturday or Sunday.
The database stories aired Thursday night, but CBS and NBC immediately
dropped the subject. Not another word about the database on the CBS
Evening News or NBC Nightly News through Sunday night.
It's not the only
revelation the networks are failing to pursue. On January 30 the
Associated Press reported that "a former banker who is a fugitive
from Lebanon on embezzlement charges sipped coffee at the White House with
President Clinton and other Democratic donors last April." Coverage:
a story on CNN, but nothing on the broadcast network evening shows.
February 1 Washington Post revealed that "a New Jersey stock
promoter, convicted of criminal securities fraud that benefitted a member
of the Bonanno organized crime family, was among eight guests who accepted
an invitation to join President Clinton and top Democratic Party leaders
for an early morning coffee four days before Christmas in 1995."
CBS Evening News anchor Paula Zahn read a brief item on this revelation,
but ABC's World News Saturday? No story. On Sunday's Meet the Press host
Tim Russert noted that "The headline in The Washington Post today:
'White House Says Felon Not an Appropriate Guest.' I think this is going
to give Senator Thompson an awful lot of ammunition." So how did NBC
play this "ammunition"? No mention on Nightly News either
Saturday or Sunday.
Michael Weisskopf wrote the Time magazine story on the database. Weisskopf
recently jumped to Time from The Washington Post where he had become
infamous for a paragraph in a 1993 news story he wrote. It won the
"Dumbest Quote of the Year" Award in the MRC's Best Notable
Quotables of 1993: The Sixth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting.
In a February 1,
1993 Washington Post story Weisskopf asserted: "Corporations pay
public relations firms millions pf dollars to contrive the kind of
grass-roots response that [Jerry] Falwell or Pat Robertson can galvanize
in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor, uneducated, and
easy to command."
Friday night (January 31) Dan Rather told CBS Evening News viewers:
"Encouraging news tonight about the U.S. economy. The government says
the economy grew two and a half percent last year. That's considered an
ideal, non-inflationary growth rate."
Not quite the
gloomy spin CBS offered in 1992 when a higher GDP rate of 2.7 percent was
announced. On October 27, 1992 Susan Spencer filed from the Bush campaign:
"He crowed today at upbeat news of a third quarter growth rate of 2.7
percent, though some economists warned that may not hold." Spencer
was correct, but not in the direction she thought: the GDP was later
revised upward to 3.9 percent.
A caller to C-SPAN's Washington Journal on Friday morning asked Lesley
Stahl of 60 Minutes about liberal media bias in coverage of Bill Clinton.
She responded by claiming the bias is not with reporters but with viewers.
Here's her response, as transcribed by MRC news analyst Jim Forbes:
"I was about
to say that if you want to talk about bias go ask President Clinton where
the bias lies. As you know, the White House just issued this big huge
study, they called it, of how the main line media is sucked in by the
right wing conspiratorialists. My point is that everybody who watches
television brings their own biases to it, and if what you're watching
doesn't please you then you think we're biased.
"Everybody dislikes the messenger, everybody complains about us,
right wing, left wing, Democrats, Republicans, they all pound on us, they
all think we're unfair to them if we're telling them things they don't
want to hear. And we do the best we can, we try to be fair, there are
always issues where an individual reporter does have a point of view. If
he or she is a good journalist and does his or her job the way they are
supposed to then the piece will come out as balanced as is humanly
possible and the individuals' leanings won't come through. I'm sure there
are cases where a piece is slanted, but I think generally the effort and
the end product, overall, is balanced with everybody being happy with the
way things come out."
MRC news analyst Clay Waters noticed this contradictory reporting just
hours apart on CNN. On the January 22 Inside Politics Candy Crowley
Crowley: "And the hearing on Andrew Cuomo's nomination as Housing
Secretary was practically breathless."
Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD): "This is a sterling choice by the
Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-NC): "You have, certainly have an impressive
record and an impressive group of friends."
Crowley: "It should all be so easy."
Maybe it wasn't
so easy. Six hours later CNN anchor Kathleen Kennedy announced on The
World Today: "Senate confirmation for two of President Clinton's
other Cabinet appointees may not be so easy. Housing Secretary nominee
Andrew Cuomo was grilled for three hours on the state of Housing and Urban
Development. The Department is under congressional fire for alleged
inefficiency and wastefulness."
While on the
contrast beat, compare these January 31 headlines.
The Washington Post -- "Saudis May Purchase U.S. F-16 Fighters:
Bethesda's Lockheed Martin in Line for Multibillion-Dollar Deal."
The Washington Times -- "F-16 Sale to Saudis Isn't in the Works,
White House Says."
"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" became a well-known phrase in
media circles, and the title of a R.E.M. song, after Dan Rather claimed
that's what a man on a Manhattan street yelled at him during a 1986
assault. The incident added to Rather's image as a man on the edge, just
about to go nuts. Thursday's USA Today recalled that Rather's story of
being mugged "was greeted with widespread incredulity." Well, it
may well be that Rather's tale was actually true.
The Wednesday January 29 New York Daily News revealed that Rather looked
at pictures of William Tager, a man now serving 25 years for shooting to
death an NBC technician outside NBC's studios in 1994, and identified
Tager as his assailant. A forensic psychiatrist, who examined Tager, first
made the connection and alerted Rather.
Before you think
that means Rather is perfectly rational, remember what he said election
night: "In New Hampshire, closest Senate race in the country, this
race between Dick Swett and Bob Smith is hot and tight as a too small
bathing suit on a too long car ride back from the beach."
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