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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| April 25, 1997 (Vol. Two; No. 57) |


Tapegate Avoided; Biting Burton; Chain Saw Ted

1.  Media ignore developments in a scandal, but it's not the fundraising scandal. Remember tapegate and Jim McDermott?

2.  The first illegal foreign campaign donations in 12 years all go to Democrats. What does CBS highlight? Dan Burton's legal donations.

3.  Ted Koppel not concerned about China trampling on the rights of Hong Kong residents. Meanwhile, he tramples over U.S. laws.

1) Late Wednesday afternoon the wire services moved a story announcing that John and Alice Martin, the couple which had taped the cellular phone call of Newt Gingrich stratagizing with top Republicans, had agreed to plead guilty to wiretapping charges and will cooperate with investigators. The Washington Times put the news across the top of page one on Thursday and every other major paper ran stories inside.

Washington Times reporter Laurie Kellman explained the seriousness of the investigation:

"Among those who handled the tape or knew of it before excerpts were published in the New York Times on January 13 were Rep. Jim McDermott, to whom the Martins say they gave the tape; House Minority Whip David Bonior, whose staff allegedly suggested immunity for the couple; and Karen Thurman, Florida Democrat, to whom the couple first sent the tape. Yesterday's plea bargain with the Martins indicates that the Justice Department is pursuing more serious charges against lawmakers and aides." The Times quoted a Deputy Assistant Attorney General noting that anyone disseminating the tape committed a felony.

Coverage of this development: A brief item on CNN's The World Today Wednesday night. But not a word on the April 23 or April 24 ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News, nor a syllable about it on Thursday's morning shows.

While the networks are ignoring the story the newspapers which published quotes from the tape are actively impeding the investigation. In an April 3 Washington Times story reporter Brian Blomquist relayed that "Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Litt asked the New York Times, the Atlanta Constitution and Roll Call in a March 26 letter to hand over their tapes voluntarily, along with 'any accompanying letter' from their source." The media outlets refused to help: "The newspapers said they would not cooperate in a matter that might reveal a source."

A look back at coverage of the taped call will remind you of the media's angle: more interested in how it could be used to hurt Gingrich than in the unethical way in which it was obtained. On the January 13 CBS Evening News Dan Rather introduced a story by focusing not on the ethics of Democrats but on how Republicans are guilty of trying to change topics:

"On Capitol Hill the House today was supposed to begin making full disclosure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethical violations and tax problems. It didn't. And what's more, now there's an added ethics allegation based on what Gingrich said, in what he thought was a secret telephone call, which Democrats say is proof that Gingrich violated a promise to the House ethics committee not to mount a political damage control effort. But Republicans tried to shift the focus today away from what Gingrich actually said. Bob Schieffer has the latest."

The next night, on the January 14 CBS Evening News, reporter Wyatt Andrews demonstrated how easy it is to tune in a cellular call and reviewed how the Martins claimed they caught the call, then concluded his piece:

"...So now the Martins could be charged with a crime. Congressman James McDermott, who leaked the tape, could be charged with a crime and ironically, in the ways of Washington, mini-tapegate has for five days sidetracked substantive ethics charges against the Speaker of the House."

Three months later and the networks have yet to get sidetracked from their obsession with Gingrich.

2) Disclosures on the fundraising front haven't relented, but the networks refuse to cover them. Here are two items from this week:

-- New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth, David Sanger and Sheryl WuDunn figured out why the Riady family of Indonesia poured so much money into the Democratic Party. They planned to buy a big U.S. bank, a move that would require approval from several regulatory agencies. The controversy over their donations and their representative, John Huang, dissuaded them from the idea. In a front page story on Thursday, April 24, the Times reporters explained:

"The disclosure that the family intended to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a California bank offers the first significant indication that the Riady family had a specific business interest that would have required help from a range of government agencies and regulators..."

-- "FEC Probing Illegal Funds from India," declared an April 23 page one headline in The Hill, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill. Reporter Jock Friedly discovered:

"In the first solid evidence of illegal campaign contributions by a foreign government official in a dozen years, the Federal Election Commission is investigating at least $46,000 in contributions from a senior Indian intelligence officer to 18 current and former Democratic congressional candidates. The confidential FEC investigation -- which some critics fear has run off-track -- focuses on the activities of Lalit Gadhia, a long-time Maryland political activist who has ties to Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and pled guilty last summer to a felony charge of making false statements in campaign disclosures.

"Gadhia has admitted receiving $100 bills from a top Indian Embassy official and illegally laundering the cash through Indian-Americans to election campaigns of India-friendly Democrats. The scheme, denied by the Embassy, was discovered by FBI agents who found receipts of packages that Gadhia sent to the Embassy, The Hill has learned.

"This saga of international intrigue has drawn little attention despite the current concern about foreign money in U.S. elections."

Indeed, none of the networks, not even CNN picked up the Hill revelation of "illegal" donations to Democrats. But when the Center for Responsive Politics made an announcement about legal fundraising by Congressman Dan Burton, chair of the House committee investigating fundraising, at least one network found it newsworthy.

During the 8am news update on the April 17 CBS This Morning, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski noticed, anchor Jose Diaz-Balart intoned:

"Indiana Congressman Dan Burton who chairs the House committee investigating campaign fundraising turns out to have a somewhat unusual record himself: 84 percent of the money Burton raised for last election came from outside his state. It's important to state that there's nothing illegal about that."

Then why is it news? (You can read the full story from The Hill at: http://www.hillnews.com)

3) Friday's Nightline begins the first of a three-part look at Hong Kong by Ted Koppel, who was based there for ABC News from 1969 to 1971. But Koppel's not very concerned about the impending takeover by the Peoples Republic of China. In Thursday's USA Today, "Inside TV" columnist Peter Johnson reported that "Koppel predicts not much will change." Koppel told Johnson: "Everyone is focusing on what the nasty Chinese are going to do when they takeover Hong Kong, which now has some of the trappings of a democracy. But remember: Those trappings are pretty new."

What Hong Kong has had is a bit more than just the "trappings of democracy." A fully democratically-elected legislature is new, but Hong Kong has long benefited from a common law legal system, independent judiciary, and guaranteed personal freedoms, including freedom of the press, speech, assembly and travel -- all rights denied in the PRC.

In the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 China agreed to uphold these rights and to allow Hong Kong to govern itself. China has already violated the deal by forming an appointed legislature that will replace the current elected one when China takes over on July 1. And comments from China's leaders have made clear they have no intention of allowing any political opposition.

Koppel doesn't seem to mind China's lack of regard for the rule of law, and he doesn't have much respect for it either if it gets in the way the view from his backyard deck. The National Park Service recently had to stop some workers, whom Koppel had hired, from cutting down tree branches in a national park that blocked the view of the C&O Canal and Potomac River from property Koppel owns in Montgomery County, Maryland. In the April 21 Washington Post Al Kamen reported that Koppel, who "doesn't want to see people when he looks out over the canal and Potomac, says the workers were not doing 'anything illegal. We were cutting things less than six inches in diameter that we were permitted to cut.'"

Douglas Faris, Superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historic Park, disagreed, telling Kamen: "Periodically we get someone doing what they shouldn't be doing." Kamen noted that "some folks are fined thousands of dollars for cutting without permission," but no such penalty is contemplated for Koppel.

And Washington media stars complain that Bob Dole gave Newt Gingrich a "sweetheart deal."

  -- Brent Baker





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