More Bruising of Brownback than Telling What Sullivan Says
- One Thursday
morning show ignored the hearings and the other two barely touched
them while CNN and MSNBC ceased live coverage.
- ABC's World
News Tonight dedicated more time to Senator Sam Brownback's
"pigeon English" than to the actual fundraising
- The networks
pounced on Trent Lott's comment that Clinton is a "spoiled
brat," but they ignored Al Gore when he denounced Republicans
1) Before the Senate
Government Affairs Committee hearings on fundraising had gaveled down
for the third day Thursday morning network coverage had already
Morning shows on Thursday:
One show skipped the hearings altogether and the other two barely
mentioned them. Wednesday morning all the broadcast morning shows
aired at least one full report. Thursday morning coverage plummeted.
-- CBS This Morning
did not utter a syllable about the hearings on July 10, MRC news
analyst Steve Kaminski informed me.
-- ABC's Good Morning
America, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noted, aired two brief
items read by news reader Bill Ritter during the 7 and 8am news
-- NBC's Today aired a
grand total of one 17-second item read by news anchor Ann Curry during
the 7am newscast. Like GMA, Today devoted its first interview segment
to the Mike Tyson decision. Today followed with an interview about
Mars, a story on the search for a missing Republic of Texas member who
fled to the hills two months ago, and the unusually jammed half hour
ended with a look at the new National Airport terminal. During the
7:30am news update Today ran a three minute and 16 second long profile
of Pete Rose Jr. who is playing AAA baseball in Indianapolis.
Day time: CNN and MSNBC
dropped live coverage Thursday and offered only occasional updates
from the Hart building. In late morning, MSNBC anchor John
Siegenthaler interviewed Ty Cobb, John Huang's attorney. CNN's Inside
Politics at 4pm ET did provide a summary of the day's testimony as did
MSNBC's The Money Trail at 4:30pm.
C-SPAN has been scheduled to
run the hearings in their entirety starting at 10pm ET each night, but
special orders Wednesday night delayed the coverage until a bit past
12 midnight in the east and Thursday night House debate did not end
until about 12:30am ET Friday morning at which time C-SPAN began their
2) Thursday evening ABC and
CBS barely touched the hearings as only NBC took them seriously and
aired a full story.
-- ABC's World News Tonight
led with the NATO roundup of Bosnian war criminals followed by Peter
Jennings interviewing NSC adviser Sandy Berger. After an ad break, ABC
went to a story on RJ Reynolds dropping Joe Camel and then aired a
piece on the new TV ratings.
ABC's fifth story dealt with
the hearings, sort of, as viewers heard more about how a Senator posed
a question than about any information revealed by the witness. Below
is the full transcript of ABC's coverage. I've noted the time devoted
to each portion for a reason that will become clear as you read.
Peter Jennings introduced the
"On Capitol Hill today the Senate committee investigating
campaign finances heard again from Richard Sullivan, the campaign
finance director of the Democratic National Committee during President
Clinton's re-election campaign. The Republicans are pressing hard to
find out whether high level Chinese government officials were trying
to buy influence. That is ABC's Linda Douglass who was at the hearings
today. Linda what did we learn first of all." [20 seconds]
"Sullivan was the Democratic Party's top fundraising official and
he admitted today under very heavy questioning that the party did a
very poor job of checking into big donations that came from mysterious
donors in 1996. Republicans presented a little bit of new evidence
that a lot of those donations may have been from foreign sources, but
Sullivan insisted he didn't know the money was foreign and he believed
that neither did anyone else. Peter." [23 seconds]
also drew our attention today to a fairly notable moment that involved
Senator Brownback on the Republican side. Set the scene for us, would
Senator Brownback, a Republican of Kansas, was questioning Sullivan
about John Huang. He was asking was Huang paid a bonus to be an
aggressive fundraiser and as he asked the question he appeared to be
using some pigeon English."
PJ: "This is the
kind of thing that's upset the Asian community. Here's what it looked
Brownback: "If he
didn't produce no more money. You said if things worked out, were your
terms, is that correct?"
no raise money, no get bonus." PJ: "Kind of thing as we said
that upset the Asian community. Our thanks to Linda Douglass."
First, ABC spent more time highlighting Brownback's language (41
seconds) than Linda Douglass got to explain what transpired in the
hearings -- just 23 seconds for her rather vague report. The initial
intro from Jennings lasted 20 seconds mainly consumed by giving
Sullivan's title and introducing Douglass, not conveying what
happened. But even if you count that time ABC still devoted about as
much to Brownback as the actual hearings.
Second, the audio of Sullivan
saying "that's correct," as the camera focused on Brownback,
represents the totality of what World News Tonight viewers have heard
from Sullivan, the only witness to testify so far. Wednesday's World
News Tonight did not run any soundbites of what Sullivan said and
neither did Douglass in her brief Thursday night report.
Third, the networks jump on
gaffes and "divisive" or "mean-spirited" comments
uttered by conservatives while often ignoring similar comments
delivered by liberals. For a Trent Lott versus Al Gore case study, see
item #3 below.
-- The CBS Evening News ran
stories on these topics, in order, before getting to the hearings: New
TV ratings, RJ Reynolds dropping Joe Camel, publicity for recent
church arsons has led to an investigation of a 1963 church bombing in
Birmingham, grandson of Betty Shabazz plead guilty, part of Texaco
racial slur audio tape may have been erased, House hearing on TWA
downing, and the ValuJet/Air Tran merger.
Here in its totality is the
eighth story, lasting 27 seconds and announced by anchor Bob Schieffer:
"A new charge tonight
that China tried to buy political influence in Campaign '96. At
today's congressional hearing on campaign funding Republican Senator
Arlen Specter said there was evidence that a Democratic donor, Johnnie
Chung, got $150,000 from the Bank of China just three days before he
gave a $50,000 donation to Hillary Clinton's chief of staff. China has
denied any attempt to buy influence."
Of course this charge is
"new" to CBS because the network ignored the April 1 Wall
Street Journal story describing how wire transfers from China arrived
in Chung's account days before he made big donations to the Democratic
-- Only NBC Nightly News
offered a full story on the hearings. After pieces on the House
hearing on TWA, the ValuJet/Air Tran Airways merger, Joe Camel being
dumped, and the new TV ratings, anchor Brian Williams intoned:
"On Capitol Hill
tonight, those hearings on campaign fundraising. An apparent direct
hit, a straight line from a Chinese bank to the war chest of the
Reporter Lisa Myers provided
a fuller account than did CBS of the China connection, explaining that
in March 1995 Johnnie Chung gave a $50,000 check payable to DNC to
Maggie Williams. "Today, the Thompson committee produced bank
records showing that money actually came from someone in China, the
first concrete evidence that Chinese money went to the DNC."
After a soundbite from Senator Alen Specter, Myers continued:
"Records show that Chung had less than $10,000 in his bank
account before he received $150,000 from the Bank of China. Three days
later he wrote the $50,000 check to the DNC."
Myers was the only broadcast
network reporter to highlight that Sullivan didn't want Chung to be
allowed to bring his foreign national colleagues to see Clinton do a
radio address, but he was overruled.
Two items not mentioned in
any of the stories: The decision by Yogesh Gandhi, a man who donated
$325,000 though he was broke, to take the 5th. And, discrepancies
between Sullivan's deposition and testimony on Monday about whether he
and Al Gore knew in advance that the Buddhist temple event was
designed to raise money.
3) Trent Lott called Bill
Clinton a "spoiled brat." Four days later Al Gore called
Republicans "un-American." Guess which generated more media
A June 20 Los Angeles Times
story began: "Vice President Al Gore on Thursday attacked as
"un-American" a Republican proposal to restore welfare
benefits to some legal immigrants but omit others who would have been
protected under the balanced budget agreement." USA Today also
ran a story and the AP distributed a report on Gore's slam.
Coverage of this divisive
comment, a comment arguably far worse than Lott's since it impugns the
patriotism of an entire class of citizens? I asked MRC intern Jessica
Anderson to use the MRC's Media Tracking System database to compare
coverage of Gore to that generated by Lott's comment. In total, Gore
got picked up just once, by CNN's Inside Politics on June 24 which ran
this clip from the VP: "In my opinion the Republican plan is
un-American, simply un-American." Not a word about it on the
Appearing on the June 15 This
Week on ABC, Lott asserted about President Clinton: "One of the
things he needs to understand: He acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks
he's got to have it his way or no way." The networks which
ignored Gore, Jessica learned, jumped on the comment. ABC's World News
Tonight and GMA, CNN's Prime News and Inside Politics, and NBC's Today
and Nightly News all ran the clip. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted on June
16: "There's a new element in the battle between the White House
and the Republican congressional leadership over proposed tax cuts:
name calling." Two other examples:
-- On the July 15 World News
Tonight anchor Carole Simpson declared:
"In the political wars:
proof tonight that Republicans and Democrats can find something to
fight about even when they agree. The disaster relief bill is now
signed and both sides have compromised on the budget, so why all the
name calling today? Here's ABC's Deborah Weiner."
Deborah Weiner: "The
Senate Majority Leader launched the first salvo today in a major
Republican offensive on tax cuts, attacking the President for not
working with Congress."
Trent Lott: "One of the
things he needs to understand: he acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks
he's got to have it his way or no way."
Weiner: "Today Mr.
Clinton's only response was to wish the Majority Leader a happy
-- The comment led the June
16 NBC Nightly News. Anchor Tom Brokaw announced:
"Good evening. President
Clinton and the Republican Congress, fresh from their showdown over
flood relief when the Republicans were forced to retreat, are back at
it again tonight. This time the issue is a major tax cut from the
Republicans, a proposed $85 billion over five years. The President
says its priorities are all wrong. The Senate Republican leader is
calling him a spoiled brat."
Just more proof that when
reporters denounce incivility it's only conservatives they will
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