ABC Has Anti-Paula Policy; Jennings Reverses on Mother Teresa
morning papers had new fundraising disclosures, but the morning
shows avoided it all.
- Tuesday night
the hearings generated stories on all the networks, but only CBS
highlighted the charge of an FBI cover-up and NBC gave the
hearings a mere 40 seconds.
- "I would
much rather that this story didn't exist" ABC's John Donvan
declared about the Paula Jones case as he revealed that his ABC
boss in New York refuses to air developments in the story.
- On Friday
Peter Jennings said derisive comments on Mother Teresa were
inappropriate. On Monday he said they "added
immeasurably" to ABC coverage.
morning newspaper stories disclosed more evidence of illegal
fundraising at the White House involving President Clinton, but the
morning shows ignored it all. Tuesday night, however, the three
broadcast networks all ran stories.
A September 16 USA Today
subheadline announced: "New documents suggest that White House
gatherings June 7 and June 21, 1995, for Democratic donors were, in
essence, fundraisers held on government property. If so, the events
could be a violation of federal law." Next to that story a
sidebar from the Associated Press was headlined "1994 Document
Suggests Gore Knew Calls Illegal." The document showed that in
1994 Gore was driven to DNC headquarters in order to place fundraising
calls, suggesting that he knew making calls from federal property
would be improper.
testimony from Karl Jackson of the U.S.- Thailand Business Council, a
September 16 Washington Times headline declared: "Witness Puts
Clinton at Scene of Illegal Fundraising Pitch."
None of this prompted a
syllable Tuesday morning, but MRC analyst Eric Darbe noticed that
during the 7am news Good Morning America had time to report that OJ
Simpson had moved into a new house. Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey
Dickens pointed out, made time for a multi-day interview with Kitty
Kelly about her book on the British Royal family, a book full of
unsubstantiated allegations that Today (and Dateline) highlighted.
night (September 16) the networks carried fundraising stories, though
all very different. CBS led with a charge that the FBI has suppressed
information about Chinese efforts to funnel money, ABC ran a full
story on how the coffees raised hard money and what happened at the
hearings, and NBC gave the hearings just 40 seconds.
NBC Nightly News led with
study on how doctors are prescribing too many antibiotics, followed by
stories on a micro- organism in Maryland waters that causes lesions on
fish and an update on Dodi Fayed bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones. About
nine minutes into the show, after the fist ad break, Tom Brokaw read a
40-second update on the hearings. Here's what he reported, in full,
over three still photos of the White House coffee:
- "In Washington
still another story of raising campaign money in the White
House, this time in the presence of President Clinton. Karl
Jackson, a Republican and former Bush administration official,
said the pitch came at this White House coffee where the
President was at his side. He said John Huang stood up and said
elections cost money, I am sure everyone here will want to
support the President's re-election. That in testimony today
before the Senate committee hearing. Democrats at that meeting
say they don't remember the solicitation. Later that day,
however, a guest at the coffee did contribute $85,000 dollars.
Soliciting campaign funds in government buildings -- remember,
this was the White House -- that's illegal."
Illegal activity in front of
the President. But NBC didn't judge it worth a full story.
ABC's World News Tonight
started with a Trevor Rees-Jones update followed by a full report on
how Clinton will reject the tobacco deal. After an ad, Peter Jennings
went to story on a study from "two public interest
organizations" on how Americans spend more repairing cars than
the U.S. spends on road repair. Euro-centric Jennings then narrated a
piece on how the Europeans build better roads. Next, he announced that
consumer prices were up only 0.2 percent.
About 13 minutes into the
show, and after the second ad break, ABC got to fundraising. Linda
Douglass began by noting that Attorney General Reno has said coffee
money was legal because it was soft money. Douglass continued:
- "But now an ABC
News analysis of contributions from people who attended the
coffees shows that more than $667,000 was put into a fund that
went to specific candidates -- that is called hard money and it
is illegal to raise such money on federal property."
Relaying that Republicans
want an independent counsel named, Douglass told viewers that the
White House insisted the coffees were not fundraisers. Douglass
- "But today a
businessman who attended one coffee testified that fundraiser
John Huang made an outright pitch for money with President
Clinton at his side."
After a soundbite from Karl
Jackson, Douglass added:
- "A Democratic
fundraiser who was at the same coffees testified that she never
heard Huang ask for money."
Douglass concluded with the
White House spin followed by her own favorable spin on Reno's
- "For their part,
White House officials said today it doesn't matter if Huang
asked for money because the coffees were held in the White House
residence, where they argue raising money is legal. Reno
wouldn't talk about any of this today but she's said to be
furious with the pace of the Justice Department's investigation.
In fact, late today Reno's spokesman announced there has been a
major shake-up in the Justice Department's team investigating
Fundraising topped the CBS
Evening News. Rather announced the Reno-ordered shake-up as he
introduced Bob Schieffer's story on charges of a cover-up leveled by
Senator Arlen Specter.
"Dan, this was not great day for the Clinton White House. The
Attorney General decided to bring in all those new people after
Republican Senator Specter issued a withering indictment of the way
she and the FBI have been handling the case this far. Specter says
the FBI now admits it has known for more than a year that a
Democratic campaign contributor, in Specter's words, 'made
significant campaign contributions as part of a plan of the
government of China,' but for some reason did not tell Senators
investigating all of this."
Following a Specter soundbite
Schieffer moved to Tuesday's hearings with the "first direct
allegation that those now famous White House coffees were actually
fundraisers...." CBS showed a clip of Jackson's testimony before
Schieffer offered this tough conclusion:
discounted Jackson's statement, noting that he once worked for
Republicans. But far more serious is Specter's charge. If the
Justice Department has been caught covering up, that could be
real trouble for all concerned."
"Real trouble" if
people hear about it. But two of the three networks skipped Specter's
White House reporter John Donvan revealed Tuesday that his boss told
him to not even bother filing reports which include news on the Paula
Jones front. And that's fine with him since he prefers to stick to
"much larger issues."
This week CNN's TalkBack Live
(3-4pm ET) is broadcasting from the Freedom Forum's Newseum in
Arlington, Virginia. Tuesday's guests: the White House reporters for
the four networks.
Talking about how the media
can get caught up in a frenzy, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted:
"If we do get a
sense that really large numbers of people are interested in the
subject, we want to satisfy their curiosity. And, you know, as all
of us know, sometimes it was the OJ Simpson trial that fascinated
millions of Americans, so we did a lot of reporting on that. A few
weeks ago, the last couple of weeks, it was Princess Diana's tragic
death. But other times, it's very, very different stories, and it's
almost on a day-to-day basis. Our editors and our producers and we
will decide what is news."
ABC's Donvan jumped in with a
comment displaying just how upset he and his boss are at any coverage
of Paula Jones:
- "But Wolf, you're
saying that we are passive in this process, that the news just
happens to us. And, in fact, we make decisions. We do make
decisions. And I would say this is not just because I'm from
ABC, but because I'm on ABC, I've seen it in the case of the
Paula Jones story in particular. I work for an Executive
Producer who has consciously said that until he is sure on a
daily basis that there's really news there that has really moved
forward, that it's relevant, that it matters to the public, that
he will make the choice not to do the story. And I think that
may be one explanation for why we've done it less than others.
But I've always disagreed with the notion that the news happens
to us. We make decisions about it."
The name of the Executive
Producer of World News Tonight: Paul Friedman.
Earlier in the show Donvan
made his disdain for the story quite clear, disagreeing with NBC's
David Bloom who called the Jones case a "legitimate issue."
Here's the exchange:
CNN's Frank Sesno, hosting
the show: "Isn't it fair to say that the White House would
like to see us standing and sitting here talking today about just
about anything other than this issue?"
David Bloom: "Well,
this is a legitimate issue. This would be an unprecedented lawsuit
against a sitting President. We have every right and duty to cover
Sesno: "OK. I want
to go over to the Internet now. We're joined, as we will be
throughout the hour, by our viewers from all over the world, really,
who join us. This one, 'So why does the press seem so consumed with
this Paula Jones?,' from Michelle Shelton. John, are you
Donvan: "No, I'm
not. I part ways with David on this one. I would much rather that
this story didn't exist, that it didn't happen, that the suit had
never come up. I don't particularly enjoy it. I don't think the
American public, the majority doesn't enjoy it. I think there are
Clinton haters who would like to be able to use this issue to hurt
him. It's difficult to know whether there's a case there or not,
because we're outside the process. But I would much rather be
talking about much larger issues than this one."
We certainly don't want to do
anything that might help "Clinton haters." So much for
covering the news. If Donvan doesn't "enjoy" the story then
it won't get covered.
Christopher Hitchens spent two minutes trashing Mother Teresa Friday
night during ABC coverage of her funeral, anchor Peter Jennings acted
like he found the comments inappropriate for the setting:
- "I was just
going to make the point that I wasn't sure that this was the
right occasion for us to continue having a debate about Mother
Teresa. I may be wrong, but that's the decision for now."
Well, that's not what
Jennings really felt if you believe a more recent assessment he
issued. On Sunday, New York's Cardinal John O'Connor, The Washington
Post noted Tuesday in picking up an item from Monday's New York City
papers, "expressed his 'deep regret' over TV's 'tasteless'
criticism of the late nun," specifically the attacks by
Christopher Hitchens on ABC.
Apprised of this complaint,
the Post's John Carmody reported that Jennings "stoutly defended
the choice of Hitchens." Jennings told Carmody: "I thought
it added immeasurably to our coverage. Some of the debate about Mother
Teresa very much has focused on reported relationships with the rich.
I thought his presence set off an interesting, lively debate." As
noted in the September 15 CyberAlert, ABC didn't think having a guest
on to attack Diana during her funeral would have added
"immeasurably" to their coverage since they avoided such
scrutiny of Diana's life.
As a reminder of what kind of
comments so pleased Jennings, here's some of what what Hitchens
intoned at about 2am ET Saturday during the funeral (for more, see the
September 15 CyberAlert):
- "It will be
recalled, for example, that when she got the Nobel Prize for
peace, never having done anything for peace or claimed to have
done anything for peace, that she said the greatest threat to
peace in the world was abortion and she said that contraception
was morally equivalent to the murder of abortion.
- "It will be
recalled as to how much time she spent with the richest of the
rich and the sleaziest of the sleazy with people like the
Duvalier family in Haiti whom she went to praise and from whom
she received a medal and to whom she said they were lovers of
the poor and not only that, even more blasphemously, that the
poor loved them, the Duvaliers.
- "It will be
remembered that she took stolen money from Charles Keating of
the Lincoln Savings and Loan and other Catholic
fundamentalists who was giving her money that didn't belong to
him and she wouldn't give it back when asked..."
Let's review today's media
lesson. Reporting on Paula Jones should be shunned, books full of
uncorroborated sexual allegations about the Royal family should be
promoted, but saying anything mean about Diana should be avoided,
though disparaging Mother Teresa during her funeral is just great.
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