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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday June 25, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 99)

Gumbel Hits Starr; ABC, CBS & CNN Skip Encryption; Tax Cut Enrages NBC

1) Ken Starr is just like other federal prosecutors. That's not reassuring to Bryant Gumbel.

2) China absconded with U.S. encryption technology, top officials told a House committee. Tuesday night only FNC cared. A New York Times story spurred a Today mention and a Nightly News piece.

3) Wednesday night CBS ran a tough piece about Chinese oppression of Tibet, but ABC highlighted a Chinese woman urging Clinton to "not lecture us on human rights. We have our own culture."

4) Taxes no longer certain for the rich, NBC's Gwen Ifill falsely asserted in a class warfare story about how an inheritance tax change "will end up costing everyone else $800 million."

>>> "Only Liberal HMO Solutions Allowed: Networks Push for New Regulations of Managed Care, Disregard Free Market Ideas," the latest MRC Media Reality Check fax report, should be posted on the MRC home page by the time you read this. Tim Lamer, Director of the MRC's Free Market Project, wrote this week's edition. <<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Bryant Gumbel is getting in all the political hits he can while CBS is still airing his now canceled show, Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. Introducing a piece Wednesday night, June 24, on federal prosecutors who abuse their power, Gumbel tied in Ken Starr:
     "Whenever the methods of independent counsel Kenneth Starr are attacked someone is bound to claim that his tactics are no different than any other federal prosecutor, as if that's supposed to be comforting. Well, a Public Eye investigation has found that such claims are anything but reassuring. Rita Braver has the troubling story of some John Q. Public encounters with hardball prosecutors."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Wednesday's New York Times featured a front page story about how during a Tuesday congressional hearing officials disclosed that they believe China took a secret encrypted circuit board from a crashed satellite, but Wednesday only NBC picked up on the evidence China has gained valuable and possibly dangerous technology, running a brief item on Today and a full piece on Nightly News. Tuesday night only FNC had even mentioned the disclosures made during the hearing earlier that day.

     "Coded U.S. Device Missing in Wreck of Chinese Rocket," declared the front page story in the June 24 New York Times. Reporter Eric Schmidt explained:
     "A secret encoded circuit board containing sensitive technology was missing from the wreckage of an American satellite aboard a Chinese rocket that exploded in 1996, and American officials said Tuesday they suspected that Chinese authorities took the board.
     "The disclosure of the missing circuit board, which tells an orbiting satellite which way to point to receive and transmit signals to and from Earth, was made Tuesday at an unusual joint hearing of two House committees, National Security and International Relations.
     "If China did steal the circuit board, it would be a violation of a technology safeguards agreement that Beijing and Washington last amended in 1993, to prevent the transfer of sensitive American military technology. In raising that possibility, the news disclosure opened a new front in Congress' inquiry into whether sensitive space technology was transferred to China by American aerospace corporations using Chinese rockets to launch their satellites....
     "On Feb. 15, 1996, American military monitors had watched the Chinese rocket launch from a command post in southern China as it streaked toward space carrying a $200 million American communications satellite. But 22 seconds after liftoff, the Long March rocket exploded, showering debris, burning fuel and chaos on a nearby Chinese village, where by American accounts as many as 200 civilians were killed.
     "For five hours, American officials said, Chinese authorities barred them from the crash site, saying it was for their own safety. When the Americans finally reached the area and opened the battered but intact control box of the satellite, a supersecret encoded circuit board was missing...."

     Coverage: Not a syllable on ABC, CBS, CNN or NBC Tuesday night. Only FNC's Fox Report reported on the hearing. Carl Cameron, noting that FNC had previously raised the issue of how after a Loral satellite failed, China kept U.S. observers from the wreckage for five hours, relayed what the Congressmen were told: "Now the Defense Department has confirmed to Congress a Fox News report that classified computer microchips were taken from the satellite by the Chinese." Cameron also highlighted what he dubbed "another bombshell," how "a year earlier another Chinese launch failed destroying Hughes Corporation satellite. Afterward, Hughes helped China investigate the crash and announced plans to improve China's rockets. Because China's rockets are nearly identical to their nuclear missiles, such assistance must be approved and monitored by the U.S. Defense Department. It was not."

     Wednesday morning coverage: MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens alerted me to this one, brief item read by Sara James during the 7am Today news update: "Bill Clinton leaves Washington today on the most controversial trip of his presidency. As he heads for China the New York Times says American officials suspect Chinese scientists may have stolen a crucial piece of American high technology. It is the secret encoded circuit board that couldn't be found in the wreckage of an American satellite aboard a Chinese rocket that exploded in 1996."
     But that was it Wednesday morning. Zilch on CBS This Morning, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed, and nothing on Good Morning America which, the MRC's Clay Waters noticed, spent a half hour showing swing dancing.

     Wednesday night only NBC offered a story. Tom Brokaw announced: "Right up to the moment that he left today congressional Republicans were giving the President a hard time over this China trip, especially on the issue of American technology and China's military. Ever since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 the transfer of American technology to the Chinese military has been forbidden. But, as NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports now, there's widespread suspicion that Beijing has its ways."
     Mitchell began with "exclusive home video" showing soldiers carrying away the downed satellite with the missing circuit board.  Catching up with a late May FNC story, Mitchell reported that the Justice Department is looking at an export violation involving McDonnell-Douglas: "It started here, at this McDonnel-Douglas plant in Columbus Ohio. August 1994, a tractor trailer pulls out. Its cargo: high-tech machine tools, supposedly to make Chinese commercial airliners. The real destination: A grand jury has been told, a Chinese cruise missile plant and another factory that producers top of the line fighter jets." Leading into a soundbite from Commerce Secretary William Daley, Mitchell asserted: "Pentagon experts opposed this and other deals, but the Clinton administration's Commerce Department routinely defends them."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Clinton's trip to China topped the Wednesday night newscasts on ABC and NBC while CBS and CNN went first with the big AT&T-TCI merger. FNC led with an exclusive about how the AMA protects incompetent doctors.
     ABC, CBS and CNN failed to specifically raise the latest technology transfer charges, but Wednesday night ABC and CBS made brief reference to the controversy over satellite waivers and Chinese donations to Democrats. CNN insisted Clinton's campaign "unknowingly" accepted Chinese money. While CBS ran a tough piece about Chinese oppression of Tibet, the China preview piece by ABC's Peter Jennings featured a Chinese woman urging Clinton to "not lecture us on human rights. We have our own culture."

     Some highlights from the Wednesday, June 24 evening shows:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened the broadcast with this introduction to a story by Sam Donaldson: "Good evening. The President's trip to China is as important as any he has made since he won the White House almost six years ago. The American relationship with China is about economics and strategic relationships. It is complicated by different values, Chinese and American. It's about China as an ally and a competitor, sometimes an adversary. Moreover, the President took off for China today with critics of his China policy, here at home, still nipping at his heals."
     Despite the expansive opening, from Xian China Donaldson devoted most of his piece to the cancellation of visas for three Radio Free Asia journalists before he ran a soundbite from Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi complaining about China's lack of free speech. He ended by noting that a former Chinese premier said Tiananmen Square was one of the biggest human rights problems of the century.

     Later, in A Closer Look segment, Donaldson ran down Clinton's goals, such as improving the trade imbalance and having the Chinese de-target their missiles U.S. cities. Donaldson wrapped up: "He also wants to discuss high-tech transfers. The Chinese want more high technology, but given the present state of discussion over the question over U.S. campaigns, contributions and all of that, that too will be a ticklish matter. Big agenda Peter."

     In his "The New China" piece Jennings found the Chinese flattered by Clinton's visit and wishing Americans knew more about their country. Jennings discovered content people less concerned than Americans with human rights.
     Jennings: "Along the Great Wall, built originally to keep foreigners out, which President Clinton will visit this weekend, a sense of Chinese pride."
     Woman through Jennings: "Please, this woman said, your President should not lecture us on human rights. We have our own culture."
     Jennings: "It is hard to tell how freely people might talk about human rights. The state can be very oppressive when it feels threatened. But the general impression we got is that most people do think their life is better and they want to get on with it."

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather took 20 seconds to show Clinton getting on a plane and to note that he had given an interview to the three barred journalists. Later in the show Barry Petersen focused on the "plight of Tibet" since the 1949 invasion. Petersen discovered: "When the Chinese realized that bullets and beatings were not winning hearts and minds here, they tried another idea; hard cold cash. The motherland, as they are told to call it here, has poured in millions of dollars to re-build monasteries and start up manufacturing."

     -- CNN's The World Today at 8pm ET. John King handled the China trip story, complete with a critical soundbite from Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone. Over video of Reagan in China, King oddly asserted: "In the old days a President traveling overseas could count on quiet back home, but politics no longer automatically stops at the water's edge. And China's plan to welcome the President in the shadow of Tiananmen Square is striking a raw nerve." Democrats were silent during Reagan's trip to Bitburg?
     Viewers saw a clip of a Chinese student leader in the U.S. before King led into a bite from Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher by briefly noting: "Also shadowing the President are questions about China gaining access to U.S. missile technology."

     Next, Garrick Utley explored how our two cultures are intertwined. Utley asserted: "In dealing with the Chinese, the only weak card Clinton is taking with him may be himself. The disclosures that his campaign accepted, unknowingly, contributions from official Chinese sources, and that he authorized, knowingly, the transfer of satellite technology, which China might be able to use for military purposes."

     "Unknowingly"? Not what the June 20 Washington Post reported that Johnny Chung observed. See the June 22 CyberAlert.

     -- FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report. Co-anchor Jon Scott ventured: "Now the uproar over the China visit. It's probably the most controversial overseas trip for Bill Clinton since he went to England and didn't inhale..."
     Jim Angle went through a list of complaints from right and left, from Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson to actor Richard Gere. Only Angle Wednesday mentioned forced abortions. He concluded by contrasting the Clinton of 1998 to the Clinton of 1992:
     "The President argues the U.S. has to work with China in spite of differences. The irony of course is that six years ago President Bush made the same argument and candidate Bill Clinton dismissed it as coddling dictators."

     -- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom checked in from Xian with a quick update and schedule rundown before NBC went to Andrea Mithchell's piece detailed above #2.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Another example Wednesday night of an issue on which the networks see know need for balance, fairness or honesty. Just bash away with liberal cliches about class warfare and how the rich are hurting everyone else. Noting that Clinton announced Wednesday that he plans to sign the IRS reform bill which shifts the burden of proof back to the IRS, Brokaw cautioned: "But, if you also read the fine print, at least one tax break heading for the President's signature will end up costing the average taxpayer millions of dollars, taken collectively."
     Picking up on a New York Times story, but not giving credit, Gwen Ifill warned over video of polo playing:
     "Hidden away, deep within the 500 page bill to overhaul the IRS, is this little nugget, a tax break for the richest Americans. The new bill, completed in darkness late last night, is supposed to help the middle class, but amazingly it also allows a year-old tax break for those who need it the least, Americans who inherit estates worth $17 million or more and that will end up costing everyone else $800 million over ten years."
     Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice then got a chance to reinforce Ifill's contention that everyone else will have to pay more "to make up" for the thoughtless rich.
     Ifill, feigning bafflement, continued: "How could this happen? It all begins with a simple mistake, the kind that frequently occurs in huge and complicated laws, but when congressional tax writers tried to fix it they hit a brick wall, the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Bill Archer of Texas. He says all inheritance taxes, he calls them death taxes, are unfair."
     Archer suggested the policy of letting the government take 60 percent of a farm or small business someone wants to pass on "is outrageous."
     Instead of exploring how the high rate destroys small businesses, Ifill stuck to the liberal zero-sum mantra: "Archer's tax break for the wealthy is just part of a $13 billion IRS overhaul..."
     After running down some of the less offensive features, she let Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle complain about how the inheritance provision benefits the wealthy.
     Ifill then preposterously concluded with this demonstrably false contention: "Death and taxes are supposed to be a certainty in this life. That may be true for most of us, but at least half of that, the taxes part, may not be so true for the wealthiest Americans."

     So, thanks to this late-night, secret Archer deal the wealthy can escape inheritance taxes? Not quite. Going to the more complete June 24 New York Times story from which Ifill lifted her story, I learned that the inheritance tax exclusion is rising year by year from $625,000 in 1998 to $1 million by 2006. The inheritance tax rate begins at 18 percent and rises, reporter David Rosenbaum explained, "to 55 percent on the taxable amount over $3 million."
     What's the big giveaway to the rich? Rosenbaum wrote: "The old law required the value of the exclusion to be gradually eliminated, a process called a phase-out, on estates worth more that $17,184,000." Now, estates over $17 million can also use the exclusion. In other words, everyone will be treated the same.

     I'm no tax accountant, but let me try to translate. Before this change saved by Archer someone inheriting a $20 million estate would have to pay tax on the entire $20 million. Now, they'll only pay on a mere $19 million ($20 minus the $1 million exclusion). Let's take some rough numbers: 55 percent of $20 million equals $11 million. Under the new rules, let's exclude $1 million and assume a slightly lower overall tax rate since a bit less would be subject to the highest rate: 52 percent of $19 million is $9,880,000. $11 million minus $9.88 million equals $1,120,000 less tax to be paid.

     Bottom line: Ifill claimed the certainty of paying taxes "may not be so true for the wealthiest Americans." $9,880,000 instead of $11,000,000. Outrageous. The wealthy are so irresponsible, refusing to pay their fair share and making us pick up their tab. How can the rich get away with paying so little?  -- Brent Baker

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