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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday June 4, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 87)

Koppel: Chinagate Unproven; Contradictory Reports on SUV Danger

1) Nightline finally got to the China connection on Wednesday, but Ted Koppel's theme: "The story may not have the additional advantage of being true."

2) ABC and CBS failed to raise the China connection in reporting Clinton's MFN request, but CNN's John King did and NBC highlighted how "China is selling human organs of executed prisoners."

3) Dan Rather characterized Starr's quest for answers as a "prosecutorial attack" as CBS aired its third China connection story, but insisted an investigation will harm diplomatic options.

4) New tests discovered trucks and SUVs are much less dangerous to car passengers than claimed. NBC reported that, but ABC, CBS and CNN distorted the results.

Correction/Additional Goldwater info: The June 1 CyberAlert noted that A&E's "Biography" on Goldwater showed an old CBS News clip of Daniel Schorr reporting that "Senator Goldwater has an invitation from Lieutenant General William Quinn, the commander of the 7th Army, to visit him for a vacation next weekend at Burthsengarten, (sp?) once Hitler's stamping ground, but now an American army recreational center." Several considerate readers replied with better spellings and I think the consensus is: Berchtesgaden.
Phil Terzian, the syndicated columnist and American Spectator contributor, passed along this fascinating tidbit: "The infamous Lt. Gen. William Quinn who invited Barry Goldwater to visit him in 'Hitler's old stamping grounds' in Germany is the father of -- yes, Sally Quinn." That's Sally Quinn as in the free-lance journalist and wife of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Fourteen week nights after the May 15 China connection story broke in the New York Times, ABC's Nightline finally got to it -- but not to advance the story. Instead, to argue that the charges forwarded by conservatives, about how the Loral Chairman's large donations led to a waiver and how that led to the transfer of advanced missile technology, cannot be proven. Ted Koppel opened the June 3 broadcast, as transcribed by MRC analyst Clay Waters:
      "I often drive into work just after noon, which is the time that Rush Limbaugh goes on the air and as he knows, I'm a frequent listener. Nor is my reaction to Rush quite as visceral as you might expect from a charter member of the dominant mainstream media. He's a smart fellow and I enjoy the program, although sometimes Rush leaps to what may seem like an obvious conclusion before all the facts are in. He's not alone, mind you, a significant majority in the House of Representatives may have done the same thing. They have concluded that the Clinton Administration could have contributed to improvements in Chinese missile technology by letting the Commerce Department approve technological transfers that would have been opposed by State or Defense. There is a strong suggestion that this would not have happened if the CEO of a major U.S. satellite communications company with business in China, had not also been a major contributor to the Democratic National Committee. And for good measure there is the involvement of a Chinese Lieutenant Colonel who is alleged to have funneled money to the Democratic National Committee, through Johnny Chung. Remember him? We'll be talking about him a little more later.
"It has the potential of being a terrific conspiracy story. Several members of Congress, including Speaker Gingrich, have called on President Clinton not to go to China this month as planned until he answers to Congress. But the story may not have the additional advantage of being true. Here's what Nightline correspondent Chris Bury has found."

      Bury began by contending: "For all the sound and fury here in Washington, no concrete evidence has yet emerged to support the two most damaging allegations. It is not certain any classified missile technology was transferred to China. And no one has produced any proof that President Clinton changed policy because of campaign contributions..."

      Bury did, at least, highlight Al Gore's hypocrisy, playing this clip of Gore from the fall of 1992: "President Bush really is an incurable patsy for those dictators that he sets out to coddle."
      Bury then noted: "Once elected, despite their tough talk, the new President and Vice President, adopted the Bush policy allowing eleven satellite launches in China to George Bush's nine..."
      Later in the show, despite the show's theme of how the charges are all unproven, Koppel did press Deputy NSC Adviser James Steinberg about several of the specific allegations.

cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Wednesday night ABC, CNN at 8pm ET, FNC and NBC all led with the German train accident. CBS went first with FDA approval for testing a potential AIDS vaccine. Neither ABC or NBC mentioned Monica Lewinsky or any part of the Clinton scandals, but CBS, CNN and FNC all ran stories on the efforts by her new legal team to get a deal. All but FNC's Fox Report noted Clinton's request to renew MFN for China, but neither ABC or CBS raised the China connection though CNN's John King and NBC's Tom Brokaw managed to work in that angle.

      Some highlights from the Wednesday, June 3 evening shows:

      -- ABC's World News Tonight: Sam Donaldson looked at Clinton's request to continue MFN for China and Albright's demands to India and Pakistan before the Big 5 meeting in Geneva. But though some suggest advances in China's missile abilities prompted India's nuclear test, Donaldson didn't raise that angle in relaying Clinton's claims: "The President praised China for chairing the Geneve meeting, saying it was an example of constructive Chinese leadership, a perfect segue into announcing he's renewing China's trade benefits..."

      Donaldson added that House Minority Leader Gephardt opposes renewal because of China's oppression, but Speaker Newt Gingrich backs it, "citing the need for commercial and diplomatic engagement."

      Noting that NSC chief Sandy Berger is just back from China, Jennings asked Donaldson if anything was resolved about the Chinese hosting Clinton in Tiananmen Square during his trip in three weeks. Donaldson replied: "One official here said the welcome will be right in front of the Great Hall of the People, across the street from Tiananmen Square, but you an I know it's the same space."
      Jennings added: "The same space where of course the Chinese cracked down and killed so many people during the democracy uprising."

       -- Though Donaldson reported support from the Republican leader and opposition from the Democratic leader, Dan Rather announced on the CBS Evening News:
      "President Clinton today opened what has become his annual battle with the Republican Congress over trade with China. The President used the White House Rose Garden to formally propose renewing China's trade privileges. The President said it's especially important now, because he said, China can help deal with the nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan."

      Again, no mention of the China connection and how it might impact debate about the MFN issue.

      -- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. Wolf Blitzer checked in with a story on how "Monica Lewinsky's new attorney's, Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein, have opened preliminary contacts with independent counsel Ken Starr over a possible immunity deal, causing serious jitters at the White House..."
       In his story on Clinton's MFN request, John King noted: "There are allegations of illegal Chinese contributions to the Democratic Party and Congress is investigating whether Mr. Clinton allowed the Loral Corporation to share sensitive missile technology with China because it Chairman is a big Democratic donor..."

      -- FNC's 7p ET Fox Report included a piece by David Shuster on how Lewinsky's new lawyers made sure Starr was willing to deal before they accepted her as a client.

      -- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Tom Brokaw worked the China connection and MFN into his introduction of a unique story on Chinese inhumanity, how the nation may kill prisoners to fulfill orders for organs:
      "Now President Clinton and China: He's been on the defensive about campaign contributions that appear to be directly linked to Beijing's interests. But today he said China should be kept as a full trade partner, Most Favored Nation. Otherwise, he said, we may lose China's influence with India and Pakistan."
      After a soundbite from Clinton Brokaw continued: "But this will not help the President's case. There's hard new evidence tonight that China is selling human organs of executed prisoners."
Reporter Andrea Mitchell previewed a Thursday appearance at a congressional hearing by a man who says he bought a kidney that came from a Chinese prisoner.

cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Monica Lewinsky's new lawyers and Ken Starr's decision to ask the Supreme Court for a quick decision on privilege for the Secret Service, led all the networks evening shows Tuesday night. (CNN led with Lewinsky/Starr at 8pm ET, but at 10pm began with smoking studies.) Only NBC's Lisa Myers told viewers that Lewinsky was "uncooperative" when providing those samples to the FBI last week. The CBS Evening News ran a piece on the China connection, only its third full story since May 15.

      ABC's Jackie Judd looked at the lawyers for World News Tonight and FNC's David Shuster handled that news as well as Starr's request to the Supreme Court. Here are some highlights from the other shows on Tuesday, June 2. (MRC analysts Clay Waters, Geoffrey Dickens and Jessica Anderson pitched in and provided the transcribing, while I was at a Capitals NHL playoff game, for these stories as well as the SUV stories in the next item.)

      -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather topped the show by painting Starr as on the attack:
      "Good evening. There are these important developments tonight in Ken Starr's prosecutorial attack against President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Starr is now reported ready to offer Lewinsky total immunity for testimony against the President. Lewinsky has fired her lawyer; she's hired two new ones. And Starr cited, quote, what he calls 'serious criminal matters' in asking the Supreme Court to act immediately on his request for testimony by Secret Service agents."

     Prompted by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's announcement of a special task force to coordinate Senate probes into the China connection, CBS ran a piece summarizing the allegations. Other than a couple of less than 30-second items read by the anchor, the totality of CBS Evening News stories on the China connection now stands at three: one by Phil Jones on May 20, five days after the initial May 15 New York Times story, another on Sunday May 24 summarizing talk about it on the Sunday morning interview shows, and then June 2. But that puts CBS ahead of NBC Nightly News which has run just two full reports.

      Referring to all the congressional probes, Bob Schieffer concluded by painting Clinton as the victim and as with Wednesday night coverage, CBS failed to link China's missiles to India's test:
     "For the President, the timing couldn't be worse. With all his other troubles, these investigations will now be heating up just before he's prepared to leave for China later this month and, among other things, just when he needs China's help to cool the situation between India and Pakistan."

      -- CNN's The World Today led at 8pm with Wolf Blitzer on the day's events, a Pierre Thomas profile of two new attorneys and Jonathan Karl on Ginsburg, "the lawyer who loves to talk." At 10pm ET, however, CNN led with a study on the danger of how smoking while pregnant is more damaging to the fetus than cocaine followed by a piece on a study on how smoking contributes to hearing loss.

      -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened the show:
      "Good evening. There are major developments tonight in the Monica Lewinsky story. Her old lawyer is gone. William Ginsburg. The friend of her father who was on television for a time almost as much as a test pattern has been replaced now by two high powered Washington attorneys. And Ken Starr has gone to the Supreme Court looking for help. Reminding everyone quote, 'A President is under serious criminal investigation.' We begin tonight with NBC's Lisa Myers."

       Uniquely, Myers raised Lewinsky's poor attitude: "Sources close to the case say it is not too late for Lewinsky to get a deal if she tells the whole story. But so far prosecutors see few signals that Lewinsky herself is in a mood to be helpful. Remember her visit to the FBI last week to provide fingerprint and handwriting samples? Law enforcement sources say the session took an hour longer than usual because Lewinsky was at times uncooperative. Tonight sources close to the investigation say it will be almost impossible for Lewinsky to get immunity without providing evidence damaging to the President. That she must choose between protecting herself and protecting Mr. Clinton. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington."

cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)New National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests showed light trucks are not as dangerous as thought to cars. In four crashes with a Honda Accord, Washington Post reporter Warren Brown relayed June 3, "A Chevrolet Lumina sedan inflicted as much damage on the Accord dummies as the striking light trucks -- a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 pickup, a 1997 four-door Ford Explorer and a 1997 Dodge Caravan minivan." USA Today's June 3 headline was less conclusive but made clear the tests did not confirm the supposition that light trucks and SUVs are more dangerous to car passengers: "Truck-Car Crash Data Inconclusive."

      But CNN, ABC and CBS viewers heard something very different Tuesday night. Only NBC put the reality of the test results ahead of SUV bashing. "New government crash test results confirm what many had already feared: passengers in cars risk injury or death when they are hit on the side by light trucks or sport utility vehicles," announced CNN anchor Joie Chen on the June 2 The World Today.

      On ABC's World News Tonight anchor Forrest Sawyer declared: "Safety news. Results of new crash tests released by the government today clearly demonstrate once again that sport utility vehicles do pose a serious danger to automobiles. Since SUV's are the fastest growing segment of the market, now the question is, how to make them less of a threat. ABC's Lisa Stark is at the International Auto Safety Conference in Canada."
      Lisa Stark began by insisting: "The government crash test confirmed what many drivers have long suspected: When hit from the side, cars are no match for sports utility vehicles." Stark claimed: "When the popular Ford Explorer was rammed into the side of a Honda Accord at 33 miles an hour, it was twice as likely to cause severe chest injuries to the car's driver as a Dodge minivan of the same weight."
      After letting a couple injured in an accident with an SUV explain why they are suing the SUV manufacturer, Stark concluded:
"Government regulators won't call SUVs dangerous, but their tests show the problem is very real and manufacturers are going to have to make changes to solve it."

       Over on the CBS Evening News Dan Rather told viewers: "America's automobile makers say they're redesigning their Sport Utility Vehicles to make them less of a hazard to the other guy. Tonight CBS's Bob Orr reports there is new evidence of how dangerous SUVs can be."
      Orr ran down the ominous test results: "The government crash tests, the first pitting large vehicles against small cars, confirm what accident statistics have suggested: People in the cars are at greater risk. Four large vehicles -- a Chevy S-10 pickup, a Ford Explorer, a Dodge Grand Caravan, and a full-size Chevy Lumina -- were slammed into a lighter Honda Accord at 33 miles per hour. In each crash, test dummies registered a greater than 50 percent chance of a serious injury to the driver. And the government reports in actual side-impact crashes, the driver of the car is 20 times more likely to die than the driver of the SUV, or sport utility vehicle...."

      Really? NBC Nightly News delivered a contrasting assessment of the test results. Tom Brokaw reported: "There are new questions tonight about the most popular vehicles on the road. For months the federal government raised red flags about big trucks and sport utility vehicles, claiming they present an extreme danger in accidents with regular size cars. But are those fears oversized? Here's NBC's Robert Hager."
      Hager explained: "Dramatic tests but when the dust settles, and the glass and metal too, hard to prove what the government says statistics show -- that when a big pickup, sport utility or van hits a car it's much more dangerous than getting hit by another car."
      Hager ran through the test results, and tough he revealed the SUV was the most dangerous to the car passenger, it still caused little risk of death. He cited the same 50 percent injury risk figure as Pelley, but Hager portrayed that as relatively low compared to expectations. In test one with a the pickup "sensors inside the Honda say there's only a 50 percent chance an occupant would be seriously injured, less than two percent chance death. Test two, minivan, Dodge Caravan. This time a greater risk of injury inside the Accord, but still less than two percent chance of death. Test three, sport utility, Ford Explorer. Its size overwhelms the Honda, an eighty percent chance of severe chest injury, five percent chance of death. But in test four, a regular car, it turns out a Chevy Lumina does almost as much damage to the Accord as the other vehicles..."

       But that a big car is practically as dangerous as a "killer" SUV, as Dan Rather put it in April (see the April 22 CyberAlert), is not newsworthy to CNN, ABC or CBS. It must not fit their preconceived notions.  -- Brent Baker

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