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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday June 23, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 98)

U.S. News Tapes Correct Record for Rather; China Connection Disconnected 

1) Dan Rather jumped on the U.S. News tapes to show how the "carefully orchestrated leaks" of Lewinsky tapes released earlier, "that were damaging to the Clinton camp, may not have told the whole story."

2) The Supreme Court issued two conservative decisions. They upset Time online which insists the decisions "have a troubling aspect."

3) Steve Brill's donations to Democrats were never raised by the broadcast network evening shows. Michael Kelly showed how Brill took the side "of those who seek to hide the truth."

4) Networks refuse to mention Chinese donations or satellite waivers. Not one full story in over two weeks and four major newspaper scoops all skipped.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) How the tape excerpts cited by U.S. News & World Report hurt Ken Starr's case for obstruction of justice, was highlighted Monday night by CBS, FNC and NBC. Without considering the U.S. News excerpts may themselves be a well-coordinated leak, Dan Rather asserted that the new excerpts correct the earlier "carefully orchestrated leaks" which "were damaging" to Clinton, presumably coordinated by Lucianne Goldberg.

     Monday morning Today and Good Morning America provided a forum for U.S. News editors to promote their cover story about how the tapes show evidence only of phone sex and that Lewinsky asked for job help months before being subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Jones. Today brought aboard U.S. News Editor James Fallows, followed by Harold Ickes, while Assistant Managing Editor Steven Waldman appeared on GMA. (Co-host Lisa McRee didn't bother telling viewers about Waldman's tie to the Clinton team: until February of last year he'd been promoting AmeriCorps as policy adviser for planning and evaluation to Harrison Wofford, the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National Service. Until January of 1996 Waldman was Newsweek's Deputy Washington Bureau Chief.)

     Monday night ABC led with heat and fires in Florida, the GM strike topped CBS, FNC went first with the Supreme Court ruling on public school liability in sexual harassment cases and NBC led with the Lewinsky tapes. CBS promised to begin on Tuesday a series on China and ABC ended with a China preview with what Peter Jennings dubbed "quick glimpses of what we found." Jennings showed video of tai-chi in a park, modern buildings symbolizing the rush to 21st century, worker re-training, a Kodak plant and a "bowling ball tycoon." Plus, how security forces at one point stopped them from filming.

     On CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET anchor Jim Moret noted that Starr will get the book purchasing records, but not from the uncooperative bookstore. Instead, Lewinsky's new lawyers will provide the records. Then Wolf Blitzer provided an overview of the Lewinsky-Starr immunity negotiations.

     FNC did not run a full story Monday night. On its 7pm ET Fox Report co-anchor Catherine Crier plugged the conventional spin for the U.S. News story, asserting that Starr "wants information on what he thinks is a White House cover-up, but is it? U.S. News & World Report got ahold of tapes showing the President offered to get Lewinsky a job long before she was called to testify. That could blow Starr's theory the job was a reward for lying under oath."

     Highlights of the Monday night, June 22 pieces aired by CBS and NBC:

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather delivered this loaded and quite opinionated introduction to a story on the U.S. News piece: "It appears tonight that carefully orchestrated leaks of secretly recorded tapes of Monica Lewinsky, that were damaging to the Clinton camp, may not have told the whole story. Also today, weekend reports of what Lewinsky is or isn't prepared to tell special prosecutor Ken Starr, may not be wholly accurate either. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is here with a reality and accuracy check for you."
     Referring to the U.S. News tape excerpt, Schieffer contended:
     "Now this conversation suggests that White House aides were trying to help Miss Lewinsky find a job long before Paula Jones's lawyers were trying to track her down and question her under oath about her relationship with the President. This is significant because the independent counsel has been investigating whether the White House aides were trying to find those jobs for Miss Lewinsky as a reward for her denying that she had an affair with the President."
     Schieffer went on to report how there's no deal yet between Lewinsky and Starr and that Linda Tripp may be called before the grand jury next week.

     -- NBC Nightly News led with the latest Lewinsky/Tripp tapes, but unlike CBS NBC's Lisa Myers also offered a spin less favorable to Clinton. Noting how the tape suggests Lewinsky asked for a job before hearing from Jones, Myers concluded "That could make it tougher for Starr to prove that Clinton helped Lewinsky get a job to buy her silence. Former prosecutors say the tapes are significant for what they do not say." Bruce Yannett insisted they don't suggest any obstruction by Clinton.   But Myers added: "However, theses tapes were recorded last October, two months before Lewinsky was pulled into the Jones case and before any alleged cover-up began." Noting that sources say Lewinsky will testify to sex with Clinton, Myers asserted: "That in itself would be a problem for the President who denied any relationship under oath in January and again in public statements." She then played this soundbite from Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."
     Finally, anchor Brian Williams asked Tim Russert about the tapes. Russert cautioned that they are only two hours out of twenty and while they seem to help the White House they are but a small piece of big puzzle.

     NBC viewers certainly received a more complete picture of competing interpretations of what the tapes mean and the jeopardy still facing Clinton than did those relying on CBS.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) "High Court Turns Rightward: Two pragmatic conservative decisions have a troubling aspect." So declared the headline on the Time.com Web page Monday evening, June 22. Troubling to whom? To Time magazine legal correspondent Adam Cohen who Time online's Frank Pellegrini cited as the authority on the misguided thinking of Justice Clarence Thomas. The piece is fairly short, so here it is in full:

WASHINGTON: It's going to be tougher for criminals to get off on technicalities. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that illegally gained evidence may still be considered in a parole hearing. Some lawyers are questioning the Court's wisdom in the ruling since it concedes that the same evidence would be considered inadmissable in a criminal trial. "Why should evidence that was unacceptable in a trial be acceptable for a parole revocation?" asked TIME Legal Correspondent Adam Cohen. "It's the same principle. The person's freedom still hinges on it." But Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion, felt that burdening "the traditionally flexible, administrative nature of parole revocation hearings" with all the minutiae of criminal proceedings would hinder justice rather than serve it.

A similar common-sense standard seemed to be the factor in another 5-4 ruling by the same Justices: that a for the sexual misconduct of its teachers if the school doesn't know about it. [This is how the sentence reads. Obviously a few words missing. The court ruled that a school could not be held liable if it was unaware of the sexual harassment.] Make sense? There's a downside. The decision leaves few options in the courts for the victims of harassment. "This makes it much more difficult to sue," says Cohen. "Without being able to hold the employer responsible, victims aren't likely to recover much in the way of damages -- especially from a teacher." -- Frank Pellegrini

     Only a lawyer would consider fewer lawsuits to be "a downside."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Tim Russert grilled Steve Brill on Sunday's Meet the Press and cited how he has donated to Democrats, including $1,000 to Clinton-Gore in 1996 and $2,000 this year to the campaign of New York Democratic Senate candidate Charles Schumer. But Russert was just catching up with CNN and FNC which highlighted Brill's donations last Monday night, June 15. Tuesday morning, June 16, MRC analysts Clay Waters and Jessica Anderson noticed, GMA and This Morning mentioned his giving to Democratic candidates, including Clinton-Gore. But that information never made it onto those network's evening shows. And after reviewing Nightly News and Today last week MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed that neither show uttered a word about his liberal giving.

     While on the subject of Brill, the just-out June 29 Weekly Standard features a persuasive cover story by David Tell headlined "Bill Clinton's Lap Dog: Steven Brill, Pseudo-Press Critic and White House Mouthpiece." Tell dismisses Brill's much publicized story as "fundamentally dishonest journalism."

     Last week Michael Kelly of the National Journal wrote an excellent syndicated column on how Brill missed the abuse of power that really matters. The last four paragraphs from his column, as it appeared in the June 17 Washington Post, are worth repeating here:

     Still, this time the pack is fundamentally doing the right thing, and critics like Brill are fundamentally wrong. Brill writes that the press's coverage of the Lewinsky saga "raises the question of whether the press has abandoned its Watergate glory of being a check on official abuse of power. For in this story, the press seems to have became an enabler of Starr's abuse of power."

     This is what reporters call missing the story. Starr and his deputies may have done some things wrong, and so may have the ruthless smearers and leakers, whom Brill neglects to mention, who work on the President's behalf.

     But the great, central and unanswered question the press is chasing is precisely the one Brill says the press has forgotten: whether the President of the United States abused his official power, whether he corrupted his office and broke the laws he was sworn to uphold and whether he lied to the nation. This is the question that the President's defenders, those Augean stable hands of politics, spend their days ducking and dodging and wishing away, and this is the question the press rightly seeks to answer.

     It is odd that a media critic would take the side of those who seek to hide the truth from the people over those who seek to tell it to them.

     Odder yet, I'd add, that the press corp at large would so eagerly promote such a critic's agenda.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) President Clinton leaves for China on Wednesday, but will that prompt the networks to look at charges of illegal campaign contributions from China and improper waivers for satellite launches? Don't count on it. The networks have barely touched the stories since the initial May 15 New York Times piece on how Johnny Chung claimed to have funneled money from China's People Liberation Army to the Democratic National Committee and a May 17 story linking satellite waivers for Loral to the large Democratic donations by its Chairman, Bernard Schwartz:
     + A study in the June 15 MediaWatch documented how the "networks prefer Monica news to missile news." Specifically, that from May 15 to June 5 ABC's World News Tonight ran seven full China connection/satellite waiver stories. The CBS Evening News and CNN's The World Today ran just three pieces each and NBC Nightly News only aired two. While Good Morning America featured two full stories and two interview segments, CBS This Morning and NBC's Today offered just one piddling story each.     

     + From the time that study closed on June 5 through last week, the totality of broadcast network morning and evening show coverage, as well as that by CNN's The World Today, were a couple of sentences in June 11 stories on CNN and NBC. That night CNN's Wolf Blitzer and NBC's Claire Shipman alluded to a Washington Post story that day by John Mintz, which began:
     "Months after denouncing President George Bush in 1992 for coddling 'familiar tyrants' in Beijing, newly inaugurated President Clinton endorsed his predecessor's policy in 1993 by approving deals with China to launch U.S.-made satellites. Clinton took the action, the first of many favored by U.S. companies, despite evidence that China had sold ballistic missile parts to Pakistan, declassified White House documents show...." (See the June 12 CyberAlert for more.)

     + Another allegation in Saturday's (June 20) Washington Post from Johnny Chung, about how Democratic officials knew they were accepting illegal Chinese money, generated a CNN story, but just 19 seconds on the CBS Evening News and zilch on ABC and NBC. (See the June 22 CyberAlert.)

     + This past Sunday, June 21, Fox News Sunday explored the whole China controversy by interviewing Republican Chris Cox and Democrat Norm Dicks who will lead the select House committee set to probe the waivers and donations. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared on Meet the Press, but Tim Russert asked not what the Clinton team may have done but only whether Clinton will insist that China tell how it tried to influence U.S. elections. But at least Russert raised the subject. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger escaped any questions on This Week about the waivers or donations, though he wrote memos about the implications of granting the Loral waiver and warning that the Justice Department was in opposition. (See the May 26 CyberAlert.)

     + Two major Washington Times and two major New York Times stories in the past ten days have been ignored by the three network morning shows (ABC, CBS and NBC) and four network evening shows (the three plus CNN's The World Today), according to the MRC analysis team of Geoffrey Dickens, Clay Waters, Eric Darbe and Jessica Anderson. Specifically, in date order:

     -- June 13 New York Times front page headline: "U.S. Knew China Military Used Civilian Satellites, Reports Show." Reporter Jeff Gerth began: "For the past two years, China's military has relied on American-made satellites sold for civilian purposes to transmit messages to its far-flung army garrisons, according to highly classified intelligence reports. The reports are the most powerful evidence to date that the American government knew that China's army was taking advantage of the Bush and Clinton administrations' decisions to encourage sales of technology to Asian companies...." (See the June 15 CyberAlert for more.)

     -- June 15 Washington Times front page headline: "Clinton Rescinded Bush's Policy on Exports: Allowed Launch of U.S. Satellite by Chinese." Reporter Bill Gertz explained: "President Clinton loosened the export policies of the Bush administration in November 1993 by allowing a U.S. satellite to be launched in China while economic sanctions were in place in Beijing for exporting missile technology, according to White House documents....
     "Sanctions were imposed on China in August 1993 for selling missile components to Pakistan that were barred for export under the 29-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR). They were lifted in October 1994 after the Chinese promised not to sell any more missiles.
     "Congressional investigators said the document, released last week by the White House, contradicts recent statements by Clinton administration officials defending satellite export policies and claiming they were following procedures set by the Bush administration...."

     -- June 16 Washington Times front page headline: "China Assists Iran, Libya on Missiles: New Findings Contradict White House." Bill Gertz disclosed: "China is discussing sales of missile test equipment to Iran and is helping Libya develop its own missile program, The Washington Times has learned. Iran held discussions with China last month on the purchase of 'telemetry equipment' for missile testing, said U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports.
     "In addition, new intelligence data indicates Chinese technicians involved in missile research and development are working with Libya to help the North African state develop missiles. The reports contradict administration claims that Beijing has improved its record on weapons proliferation...."

     -- June 18 New York Times front page headline: "U.S. Rethinking a Satellite Deal Over Links to Chinese Military: Pentagon and State Dept. Raising New Questions." Reporter Jeff Gerth also discovered that Hughes Space Corp. hired as its project manager in charge of the launch the son of the Chinese General overseeing China's military satellite program. Gerth revealed:
     "Faced with growing criticism of its satellite exports to China, the Clinton administration is rethinking whether to allow one of the biggest sales to date, a $650 million deal President Clinton quietly approved two years ago. Government officials said the Pentagon and State Department were raising new questions about whether a Chinese-controlled company with close ties to China's military should be allowed to buy the satellites, which contain some of the United States' most sophisticated communications equipment.
     "The satellites are the cornerstone of a commercial mobile phone network planned for China and 21 other Asian nations. American officials said their design included a powerful antenna that could eavesdrop on mobile phone calls in China or other countries in the region. It could also be used by the Chinese military to transmit messages through hand-held phones to remote parts of China. Antennas of these dimensions are a mainstay of the United States' and Russia's eavesdropping satellites and have not previously been exported to China....
     "Administration officials said concerns about the pending satellite sale had been deepened by American intelligence reports about Shen Rongjun, the Chinese Army general who oversees his country's military satellite programs. The reports quote the general as saying he planned to emphasize the role of satellites in gathering information.
     "In an unusual arrangement, Hughes Space and Communications hired General Shen's son, a dual citizen of Canada and China, to work on the project as a manager. The company said it was aware of his familial ties; it is not clear whether the Clinton administration knew. Father and son were both directly involved in the project, and American officials said the intelligence reports said the general was pressing his son to move it forward...."

     What kind of mindset do network producers have which allows them to dismiss all these stories as unnewsworthy? Isn't arming an enemy nation and accepting donations from communist military officials worth a few minutes of network airtime? Not so far and don't count on it this week. It's more likely Peter Jennings will have more on China's "bowling ball tycoon."

  -- Brent Baker

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