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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday May 19, 1998 (Vol. Three; No.80 )

CBS & NBC Skip China in the AM, All in the PM; Only FNC Recalls Huang

1) Sunday and Monday the network morning shows avoided China. Instead, Cokie Roberts was asked about Bulworth. CBS stuck with stucco homes. ABC posed one question and aired one 12 second news item.

2) Monday night the networks presented the government case against Microsoft and demanded Gates respond. China absent from ABC, CBS and NBC but CNN catches up and FNC uniquely recalls John Huang's role.

3) "That will be a relief to the public," declared Peter Jennings last fall when Fred Thompson's committee decided to not probe the China connection. But now ABC refuses to admit new evidence may vindicate Thompson.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The broadcast networks are not just not reporting anything about the connections between Clinton fundraising and China, they are going out of their way to avoid the subject.

     The May 18 CyberAlert detailed how the networks handled the two big stories of the weekend:
     a) Friday's New York Times showcased a report on how Johnny Chung said he funneled money from China's People's Liberation Army to the DNC. All three Friday morning shows skipped the news. That night, CBS gave it 27 seconds, NBC just 15 seconds and ABC squeezed in a story that lasted just over a minute. CNN aired a full report as did FNC's Fox Report. None of the broadcast networks added a syllable Saturday evening.
     b) Sunday's New York Times featured a front page story on how the Clinton Administration overrode security concerns to allow a company run by a big donor to share missile technology with China. The Sunday Washington Post revealed that the Justice Department had begun a probe into whether contributions influenced the policy switch. Sunday night neither the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News uttered a word about the China connection, a story Tim Russert on Meet the Press called "devastating." Of the broadcast networks only ABC carried a story.

     Update: I've now had a chance to check Sunday's GMA and Today, neither of which raised the China topic, as well as Monday coverage.
     -- Sunday's Good Morning America deliberately avoided the topic. Co-host Aaron Brown discussed the week's events with Cokie Roberts, but MRC news analyst Clay Waters observed that neither uttered a word about either New York Times discovery or the launch of the probe by the Justice Department. Brown asked about the Middle East, the status of trying to convince Pakistan not to detonate a nuclear device and something far more important that the possibility Clinton helped China build a rocket, that could deliver a nuclear weapon, in exchange for donations: the movie Bulworth.

     -- Sunday Today. The first half hour presented an interview with Mark Fuhrman about a 1975 murder in Greenwich Connecticut, a feature piece on a real life horse trainer as portrayed in the movie the Horse Whisperer. Topics in the seconds half hour: osteoporosis, John Lithgow, star of 3d Rock from the Sun, and a look at healthy snacking.

     -- Monday's morning shows: Zilch on NBC's Today or CBS's This Morning, MRC news analysts Geoffrey Dickens and Clay Waters informed me. The two main features of This Morning's prime half hour, the 8am half hour shown by nearly all affiliates: problems with stucco homes and a preview of the final Murphy Brown sit-com. NBC Today's 7am half hour features: breast cancer breakthroughs, a legitimate story, followed by more on Sinatra and a preview of a Dateline story about the father who kidnaped his now teenage daughters when they were babies.

     On Good Morning America co-host Lisa McRee did ask UN Ambassador Bill Richardson one question about the China scandal:
     "The New York Times this weekend raised questions about whether some huge Chinese political campaign contributions made to the Democratic Party in this country affected our foreign policy and allowed us, or encouraged us to go ahead and share some technological advances with China that we might not otherwise have shared. Are there rumblings in the diplomatic corps about this?"

     During the 7:30am news update Antonio Mora took 12 seconds to note how the Justice Department had begun investigating but that Clinton had denied any link between contributions and policy.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) The networks didn't go soft on Microsoft Monday night, presenting the government's case but only allowing Microsoft to deny the charges. CBS and NBC, however, also ran interviews with Bill Gates in which he was pressed to respond to the governmental complaints.
     None of the broadcast networks aired anything about China, though on a fairly slow news day they had plenty of time. CNN ran a full report on the Justice Department probe and FNC contributed two unique stories: what John Huang did while at the Commerce Department that may tie into the satellite technology transfer and how top Pentagon official Ken Bacon has admitted ordering the release of Linda Tripp's personnel file.

     Here are some highlights from the Monday, May 18 evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight led with the arrest of Mexicans involved in the drug trade, including prominent bankers, while all were in Las Vegas. Barry Serafin opened his piece on the anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft by the Justice Department and twenty states: "State and federal officials used words like 'outrageous,' 'illegal' and 'predatory' in accusing Microsoft of trying to squeeze out its competition."
     Serafin ran through the charges of how Microsoft asked Netscape to divide up the market and when Netscape refused MS decided to eliminate them as well as how MS realized it couldn't succeed with a better product but only by leveraging Windows to force customers to use Explorer. Viewers heard lengthy soundbites from Janet Reno and anti-trust chief Joel Klein before a brief bite from Gates saying that making Windows give equal access to Netscape "is like requiring Coca Cola to include three cans of Pepsi in each six pack it sells."

     Next, ABC's Gina Smith presented the case against Microsoft, opening with a contrary analogy, though one I find pretty compelling:
     "Here's one way to think about it. What if 90 percent of America's television sets were controlled by a singe company? And those TVs were rigged to steer viewers to a handful of channels that same company owned. The government says that is the world Microsoft has been trying to create on your home computer."
     After soundbites from two technology experts about the advantage Microsoft's new Windows 98 "Channel Bar" gives companies allied with Microsoft, Smith went to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who asserted: "The company that can control Internet commerce ultimately can control commerce itself in travel and industry, business and news an entertainment."
     Smith then concluded with the anti-Microsoft argument:
     "And that's what the government is worried about. Over the next few years Americans may be buying billions of dollars of goods and services through the Internet and that's a market too important, the government says, for one company to act as gatekeeper."

     -- The CBS Evening News was topped by the success with the anti-cancer drug Herceptin. Next, Rather intoned: "Well it's shaping up as one of the anti-trust battles of the century. Federal and state governments today sued Microsoft, saying the computer software giant is predatory and scheming to crush all competition, charges Microsoft flatly denies. Both sides say they have consumers best interest at heart."
     Anthony Mason's story gave more time to Reno, Klein and Blumenthal than Gates as Mason highlighted how one Microsoft memo declared: "Netscape pollution must be eradicated." Gates only got to make his Coke/Pepsi analogy, but later CBS showed taped highlights of an interview with him.
     Rather pressed Gates to respond to the claim of anti-competitive practices and that MS documents show MS knew it would be hard to increase market share if their browser had to measure up so the company decided to exploit Windows. Rather queried: "How is that encouraging innovation?"

     For the Eye on America segment, Rather explained: "Jim Stewart looked into a sport that's putting handguns into the hands of young children." Stewart looked at practical shooting, the sport of hitting targets while on the move. Mason emphasized that one of the Jonesboro shooters participated in the sport but gave only a little more time to a critic than to an advocate.

     CBS had no time for China, but managed room for a full story on a perfect game pitched by Yankee David Wells, the 12th time ever that's happened in baseball.

     -- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET started with Microsoft. After a piece from Wolf Blitzer on how Clinton is frustrated by the lack of cooperation from allies on Pakistan and India, reporter Pierre Thomas contributed a full story on how Justice is looking at whether donations played a role in why Clinton overruled Pentagon objections to technology transfer waivers for Loral and China.

     -- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report led with Microsoft. Later, Carl Cameron filed a story on the Justice probe, but added an angle so far ignored by the other networks: John Huang, the Commerce official turned DNC fundraiser. Cameron explained:
     "Sources say Huang...pressed the White House to get Bernard Schwartz, the head of Loral Space Corporation, on a Commerce Department trade mission to China like this one with Secretary Ron Brown. Documents show Schwartz met with high level communist military officials. He cut a billion dollar deal and later got the President's permission to launch Loral satellites into orbit atop Chinese rockets. But the Chinese rockets exploded and parts of Loral's satellite, containing top secret technology, have never been recovered by the United States. Furthermore, the Pentagon has said that Loral may have harmed national security by giving China a classified crash report to improve its rockets, which can also deliver nuclear warheads...
     "But now investigators want to know if the Chinese also had help from John Huang. Huang received classified briefings on satellite technology and often sent mysterious packages to Asia. He also called and visited officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington. At the time Bernie Schwartz was donating hundreds of thousands of dollars and becoming the biggest single donor in the country to the Democratic Party. Investigators are looking for a connection. The President denies national security was breached or that contributions effected U.S. policy, but now even some Democrats who have been arguing there's no evidence to investigate the President for over a year say these allegations are so serious there ought to be a serious inquiry."

     The broadcast networks certainly aren't taking the charges seriously.

     Next, co-anchor Catherine Crier raised another subject skipped by the other networks, announcing:
     "Did he [Clinton] use the Pentagon to wage war on Linda Tripp? She's the one who reported Monica Lewinsky, saying she had an affair with Clinton. In a videotaped deposition, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon admits he was behind leaking Tripp's personnel files to the press. And a judicial watchdog group says Bacon's orders came from the White House, but so far that hasn't been proven."

     (Assistant Secretary of Defense Bacon was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter. The May 18 Weekly Standard features a fascinating examination by Jay Nordlinger of how Bacon pushed for Tripp's personnel records to be handed over to Jane Mayer for her New Yorker profile in which she used the records to show that Tripp had been arrested while a teen in 1969.)

     -- NBC Nightly News also led with Microsoft. Pete Williams offered the same analogy as ABC's Smith, noting the lawsuit wants "to end Microsoft's demand that its programs must pop up first when the computer comes on. The government says the current practice would be like a television network forcing a TV maker's sets to switch automatically to the network's channel when the TV is turned on."

     Tom Brokaw peppered Gates with arguments from his Microsoft's distractors, such as why not let people choose between Explorer and Netscape. Like Rather, he raised the claim that in 1995 MS went to Netscape and "offered to divide up the market. That doesn't sound like it's a very competitive arrangement."

     No time for China, but NBC ran a piece on a nationwide effort by states to enforce child seatbelt laws, plus more on Sinatra.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Though ABC has run more on the China scandal than CBS and NBC (one minute Friday night, full story Sunday night and one question and a 12 second news item Monday morning), neither World News Tonight or GMA has pointed out how the current allegations may vindicate Senator Fred Thompson. As the MRC's Tim Graham reminded me, ABC is the most obligated to correct the record since it spent so much time last summer disparaging Thompson's claim of a China connection.

     This excerpt from the September 10, 1987 CyberAlert, which starts by reviewing ABC's September 9 World News Tonight coverage, provides an illuminating reminder of how the network so adamantly dismissed the very suggestion that China may have sent money to Democrats:

Anchor Peter Jennings intoned: "At the Senate hearings into campaign fundraising today what appears to be a change of heart by the committee's Republican Chairman Fred Thompson."

ABC showed a soundbite from the opening day in which Thompson raised the China-connection issue followed by a clip from Tuesday in which Thompson said he didn't mean to blame just one party.

Jennings then turned to Linda Douglass, asking her what prompted Thompson's remarks. Douglass explained that he just got "tired of taking a beating from the Democrats who every single day point out the fact that he's failed to prove there's any Chinese plot."

Douglass elaborated: "Today one Democratic Senator held out an olive branch to Senator Thompson. He said, 'look, forget the Chinese plot, the hearings are important because they're exposing the evil influence of money in politics.' At that moment Senator Thompson's face relaxed, he said then he was sorry if he left the wrong impression. And it's clear that many of the Senators now want to diffuse the partisan warfare and get this whole messy issue behind them."

Jennings agreed: "That will be a relief to the public."

And to ABC which seems to avoid covering the actual content of the hearings. During the first round, ABC aired the fewest stories of the Big Three....

This isn't the first time ABC has tried to discredit the Chinese influence claim. As detailed in the July 21 CyberAlert, Linda Douglass opened a July 18 World News Tonight piece: "At the very outset Republican Chairman Fred Thompson announced dramatically what he hoped to expose, a Chinese plot to subvert American elections with illegal contributions." Douglass countered: "But after of hours of testimony, a parade of charts and a blizzard of documents there has been no evidence so far of such a plot..."

Along the same lines, on the Sunday, July 13 World News Tonight ABC ran a story on how Democrats on the committee disagreed with Thompson's charges about China. But on July 15 when the committee Democrats changed their mind, ABC skipped the development. As reported in the July 16 Washington Post, the day before Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Glenn issued a joint written statement saying "the information shown us strongly suggests the existence of a plan by the Chinese government -- containing components that are both legal and illegal -- designed to influence U.S. congressional elections."

END excerpt

     Maybe if ABC and the other networks spent more time pursuing leads and less time denouncing Republicans for suggesting wrongdoing may have occurred, we would have learned about China's role months ago. Indeed, the House committee has twice been unable to get Democrats to agree to give immunity for testimony from two associates of Johnny Chung, yet the networks have ignored that suppression of possible criminal wrongdoing and instead focused on the personality of the committee Chairman, Dan Burton.

-- Brent Baker

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