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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| May 1, 1997 (Vol. Two; No. 61) |


More on Chelsea Than Reno; No Burton Correction

1.  CBS and NBC evening shows devote more time to Chelsea Clinton than to Janet Reno's Senate testimony.

2.  Clinton stonewalls investigators; did a donor influence foreign policy?; and news that Huang attended three times more classified meetings than previously known. The networks skip all of it.

3.  The shakedown story involving Dan Burton crumbles, but the networks which highlighted the charge fail to tell viewers.

4.  Instead of using the rare interview opportunity to run down the many contradictions in Hillary Clinton's claims, Larry King asks her to confirm the most benevolent spins on her activities.

1) Attorney General Janet went before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but NBC Nightly News didn't devote a second to it. As did ABC and CBC, however, Nightly News found time to report which college Chelsea Clinton plans to attend.

Dan Rather told viewers about Reno's appearance, but didn't bother with mentioning why Republicans are upset with her. Here's the entirety of Rather's April 30 report:

"Attorney General Janet Reno today defended her decision not to request any special prosecutor to look into Democratic fundraising during last year's election campaign. Reno told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she sees no credible evidence that requires her to invoke what the Republicans want, which is the independent counsel law."

Following that 19 second item, CBS then dedicated one minute and 46 seconds to Chelsea's decision to attend Stanford University. Introducing a full story from Rita Braver, Rather again demonstrated that it's impossible to predict what uniquely odd angle he'll bring to a story. Rather declared that Stanford is the "alma mater of Herbert Hoover." 

Only ABC's World News Tonight gave more time to Reno than Chelsea. Reporter Linda Douglass noted that Republicans held their fire as "even their harshest attacks were polite." Her piece included soundbites from Reno and Senator Orrin Hatch debating whether there is convincing evidence of illegal acts.

2) The networks continue the policy of picking up stories that fit their "everybody does it" take on fundraising, but skipping new revelations damaging to Clinton. On ABC's World News Tonight/Saturday (April 26) anchor Rene Poissant announced:

"While the Democratic Party has been under fire for accepting questionable donations from the Chinese, now Time magazine reports the Republicans had a Chinese connection of their own. A Hong Kong businessman reportedly bailed out the Republican Party twice in two years to the tune of two and a half million dollars."

NBC's Today followed with a story on Sunday morning and CNN's Inside Politics allocated a segment to the Time story on Monday.

Meanwhile, three scandal development go unnoticed by the networks:

-- On Face the Nation on Sunday President Clinton asserted that he is fully cooperating with Kenneth Starr:

"All I can do is keep smiling, keep cooperating and answering the questions that are asked of me and spending my time being President...I have told the truth, I will continue to tell the truth, that's all that I can do....When I'm required to do something, say something, testify I will do my best to cooperate as honestly and fairly as I can."

Reality Check 1: "Stonewalling Starr" declared a May 5 Newsweek story which reported that the White House is refusing to provide Starr with "notes taken by a former White House lawyer, Jane Sherburne, about her conversations with First Lady Hillary Clinton after her grand jury testimony last year."

Reality Check 2: Clinton's also failing to cooperate with Dan Burton, head of the House investigation. In the April 29 Washington Post Susan Schmidt relayed: "The White House is refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents related to the central figures in the campaign financing investigation, among them former Commerce Department official John Huang."

Coverage: Not a word on the broadcast network morning and evening shows through Wednesday night. (Post reporter Susan Schmidt later in the article referred to Burton as "a hard-line conservative." The MRC's Tim Graham used Nexis to see if the Post ever applied a "hard-line liberal" tag to Henry Gonzalez, the Chairman of the House committee under Democratic control which held Whitewater hearings in 1994. As you may recall, Gonzales spurned any line of questioning that would have embarrassed Democrats. The answer, surprise, surprise: No hard-line label.

-- A front page story in the April 29 Washington Post again raised questions about whether foreign policy was influenced by a large donor. Reporter David Ottaway discovered that Mansoor Ijaz donated $525,000: "Now Ijaz is trying to reap what he has sown. Having earned access to the Clinton administration through his fundraising prowess, Ijaz has met with a succession of senior officials at the White House, State Department and Congress to further his business interests through changes in U.S. policy toward Islamic countries, particularly Sudan, a government long accused of sanctioning international terrorism."

Network coverage: Zilch

-- More evidence of possible espionage at the center of the fundraising scandal? Wednesday's Washington Times carried a page one story by Jerry Seper which revealed:

"Former Democratic fundraiser John Huang...received at least 109 classified intelligence briefings during his 18-month stint at the Commerce Department, not the 37 previously acknowledged."

The discovery concerns House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon, who first raised the possibility of espionage. Seper learned: "Sources close to the Rules Committee said Mr. Solomon is particularly concerned about briefings in which Mr. Huang received classified information, including documents stamped 'secret,' after which telephone logs show he almost immediately made calls to the Lippo Group....On one of those occasions, the records show he also scheduled a meeting with Chinese officials."

Coverage: Nothing on the broadcast networks, nor even on CNN's Inside Politics on Wednesday which spent several minutes on Chelsea's college pick.

3) The networks jump on stories that implicate Congressman Dan Burton, the Chairman of the House committee investigating fundraising. But if the story proves less than solid they don't bother with a correction. When the March 9 New York Times carried a front page story on Burton headlined "Critic of White House Ethics Let AT&T Give Him Favors," on World News Tonight/Sunday anchor Carole Simpson's story began with an effort at equating the activities of both parties: "The head of the House committee looking into Democratic fundraising is defending his own fundraising today...."

The story quickly died as even the media realized Burton had not done anything illegal. (See the March 11 CyberAlert for Brit Hume's comments about the media's liberal bias in highlighting this story.)

A week and a half later, all the networks jumped on the March 19 Washington Post story that a lobbyist for Pakistan claimed Dan Burton shook him down for a campaign contribution. ABC, CBS and NBC all ran full stories on their evening shows. On the March 19 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw announced: "From the very beginning, everyone has acknowledged there are campaign fundraising abuses in both parties. Now, a major Republican Congressman is caught in the crosshairs of a serious allegation." (See the March 20 CyberAlert for details on network coverage.) 

But what happened when the allegation didn't pan out as necessarily accurate. Brokaw and the other network ignored the story. The Washington Times reported on Friday that even White House counsel Lanny Davis doubts the charge is accurate. Reporter George Archibald explained in his April 25 story: 

"A White House lawyer and Pakistani officials have questioned the honesty of accusations by Democratic lobbyist Mark Siegel that he was 'shaken down' for political contributions by Republican Rep. Dan Burton....White House counsel Lanny Davis said Mr. Siegel never mentioned his claims when they worked closely as lobbyists for the government of Pakistan....Pakistani officials here and in Pakistan were incredulous about he emergence of Mr. Siegel's accusations....The officials...denied Mr. Siegel's claims that he twice discussed Mr. Burton's shakedown efforts and threats with Ambassador Maheela Lodhi."

Not a peep on this yet from Brokaw and his network competitors.

Maybe there's no coverage because reporters have decided before all the evidence is in that there's nothing to worry about. Five days before The Washington Times story broke, the McLaughlin Group taped on Friday, April 25. MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught Eleanor Clift's reassuring prediction: "The investigation into Asian influence buying in this country, China influence buying in this country, will not reveal any evidence of espionage. No spies in the Clinton administration."

4) Hillary Clinton appeared on CNN's Larry King Live Tuesday night. Last week when King interviewed Jim McDougal he defended the Clintons and explained away their supposed transgressions (see the April 23 CyberAlert for quotes). With the First Lady he did ask about McDougal's criticism of her and her husband (she declined to comment) and whether they went too far in selling the Lincoln Bedroom. But in between discussions of which college Chelsea would attend and questions about her life, such as when did she last drive a car, King offered up questions in which he considerately included the most benevolent spin on the issue. Here are some examples:

King: "Let's run some things down: the travel office, was that an example of your saying 'I'm unhappy,' and then people taking it further than that? Was that an example of what you spoke about earlier, you have to think of everything you say. What did happen?"

King: "Have you felt, like with grand juries and the like, beleaguered, put upon?" 

King: "You may be too close to the forest for the trees, but with all the attacks that have occurred, how do you explain the popularity of Bill Clinton?"

In a reference to money given to Webster Hubbell, King didn't even mention the possibility of hush money, assuming it was all benevolent: "We're back with Hillary Rodham Clinton. A couple of things that you may not want to talk about, but we'll ask them. Mr. Hubbell -- were you just being a friend?"

King: "Was the toughest part -- we're going to go to calls in a couple of minutes -- having to go before a grand jury personally?"

Finally, this fascinating exchange between a talk host famous for making up stories about his brushes with greatness and a First Lady whose recollections have been contradicted by several recently released documents.

King: "Someone said if you just tell -- if anybody tells the truth, you never have to remember anything."

Hillary Clinton: "That's a very easy -- and then you don't have to worry about all of this. You just show up answer their questions and you go on from there."

King: "The fundraising, did that surprise you how far the DNC went or were you -- did you -- was it knowledgeable to you?"

Bryant Gumbel returns to TV Thursday night: He'll host CNN's Larry King Live and interview King.

  -- Brent Baker





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