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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday May 10, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 79)

CBS & NBC Refuse to Touch China; Russert Grilled Richardson

1) All the broadcast networks ignored the Senate Intelligence Committee report released Friday. Only CNN provided a story and only ABC informed viewers about how Wen Ho Lee claimed to be a long-time FBI informant.

2) No stories on any morning show but NBC's Katie Couric did pose one question about Wen Ho Lee to Attorney General Janet Reno.

3) On Meet the Press Tim Russert grilled Bill Richardson about a subject the rest of NBC News has ignored: "Did, in fact, espionage occur by the Chinese against the nuclear labs during the Clinton presidency?" and did Clinton mislead the public in his denial.

4) Tony Snow pointed out how Senator Thompson was right about China's plan "to influence the 1996 elections" and Porter Goss told Snow the Cox report should be out this week.

5) A story in Monday's Investor's Business Daily: "TV's Blackout on China Spying: Big Three Networks Bypass Blockbuster Scandal."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) On Friday the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report about the impact and extent of what nuclear secrets China acquired and both the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post featured front page stories about how suspected spy Wen Ho Lee denied any wrongdoing. But CBS and NBC ignored both developments Friday night and none of the Friday morning shows aired a story, though Today's Katie Couric did pose one China question to a guest. See item #2. (See the May 7 CyberAlert for details of what the Senate report found as previewed in Friday's papers.)

     ABC ran a story on Lee's denial and CNN briefly noted his statement after providing a full report on the committee's bi-partisan findings.

     Instead of covering China, the May 7 CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News ran full reports on the Jenny Jones decision. CBS added stories on how Japanese youth play the same violent video games but don't act out any aggression and an update on what happened to an Iowa teacher famous for a 1968 experiment in which she treated blue-eyed and brown-eyed kids differently so they could experience the impact of discrimination. NBC had time for a "Retiring Smart" segment on how many don't get the best earnings they could in their 401k plan and a look at how dogs suffered "trauma" in the Oklahoma tornadoes. MSNBC's News with Brian Williams also ignored China but included a 12-minute replay of a Dateline piece about the dangers of ground beef.

     Here's what ABC and CNN delivered Friday night:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Bob Woodruff summarized Wen Ho Lee's statement about how never spied and that the FBI recruited him in the early 1980s to monitor other scientists. Woodruff explained:

     "Law enforcement sources tell ABC News Lee's story is accurate. Critics say this early relationship between Wen Ho Lee and the FBI could explain why the bureau did not vigorously pursue Lee when he himself became a suspected spy in late 1995. And why he was left in his sensitive job for almost three years."

     After a soundbite from Senator Richard Shelby complaining about "sloppy" FBI work, Woodruff concluded: "The FBI has said it was held back in its investigation by the Justice Department. Now the Justice Department is investigating whether the FBI's work on this case was affected by Lee's cooperation as an undercover agent."

     Sounds like an intriguing story, but not one the networks are pursuing.

     CNN's The World Today. Candy Crowley began her story by noting how the Senate committee's findings were "delivered in unfamiliar bipartisan form" with Republican Richard Shelby and Democrat Bob Kerrey agreeing. Crowley outlined the report the broadcast networks ignored: "After a ten-month investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded two things: China probably used U.S. commercial technology to improve its nuclear weapons system. China also had a plan to influence the 1996 U.S. elections."

     Following a clip of Kerrey Crowley continued: "The China story is like that, a series of troubling dots without a line to connect them. The latest dot thrown on to the canvas, allegations of Chinese espionage inside U.S. nuclear labs. Maybe he cannot connect the dots, but the Intelligence Committee chairman sees a troubling big picture." Shelby asserted: "The committee concluded that U.S. technology will enable the Chinese to improve their ICBM's."

     Crowley went on to preview upcoming events: "A half dozen congressional committees are probing one element or another of the China connection. Next week alone, Johnny Chung, a former Clinton friend, former Democratic fundraiser, is likely to provide some embarrassing moments when he testifies before the Burton committee about his contacts with Chinese military and business leaders. And a House committee may release its bipartisan report on Chinese attempts to influence U.S. politics and secure nuclear secrets. Two Senate committees plan hearings in the continuing investigation into what happened at the nuclear labs...."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Friday morning not a syllable about any of the many China stories in that morning's papers made it onto ABC's Good Morning America or CBS's This Morning. No story either on NBC's Today, but MRC analyst Mark Drake did notice that after several questions about school violence Katie Couric asked Attorney General Janet Reno not about her agency's malfeasance in pursuing espionage but only if Wen Ho Lee's claim about working for the FBI is true.

     Here are the last five questions Couric posed to Reno on Friday morning, May 7:
     -- "Is the federal government willing to give schools more money so they can enact these kinds of programs [to curb teen violence]?"
     -- "It is a very complicated and multifaceted problem, I think, when it comes to young people in this country today. What about access to guns? Do you think that is part of the problem?"
     -- "But it doesn't look like it's going to pass though does it? I mean the NRA has not exactly embraced these proposals and there a lot of people who don't like them."
     -- "What about the role of the Internet, of movies, of television, of video games. Are they contributing to the problem in your view?"
     -- "While you're here, I just want to ask you a question about some news this morning regarding allegations of spying against a Chinese nuclear scientist who used to work at the Los Alamos labs. His lawyer says he worked for the FBI for 17 years. Can you comment on that this morning?"

     Reno refused to confirm or deny, calling the matter classified.


richardson0510.jpg (16159 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Tim Russert, resident of a parallel universe at NBC News. After NBC Nightly News and Today ignored every recent major China disclosure, on Sunday's Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert grilled Energy Secretary Bill Richardson about how Clinton falsely denied knowledge of espionage in during his term, a topic NBC's regular shows have never raised. His interview with Richardson followed a segment with Shelby and Kerrey discussing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee's report which Today and Nightly News did not find newsworthy.

     Below are the most interesting excerpts from the May 9 Meet the Press:

     -- Demanding more information in a report NBC News shows ignored. Talking with Shelby and Kerrey Russert pointed out: "Senator Shelby, in the report, which I read yesterday, on page 40, there's something quite interesting and striking to me. It says, 'All relevant information collected during the committee's investigation, including some suspicious banking relationships, have been turned over to appropriate law enforcement and counterintelligence authorities.' What does that mean?"
     Shelby explained that "it means that our point of reference in our committee that we agreed on -- the scope of our committee didn't cover everything, but there are very suspicious banking relationships here. The PRC, their national bank, like our Federal Reserve, through various front companies, has sent millions and millions of dollars to a small bank in the United States. And one of the people at the bank, who is a PRC national, is kin, if not close, to someone who is a very suspicious character that's being investigated, is a target of the investigation of what happened to this money, and did a lot of it get into the political arena? We don't know that yet."
     Russert followed up: "Is it a Democratic fundraiser?"
     Shelby: "Well, I'm not going to say that right now, but that's what we think it leads to."
     Russert then scolded: "Well, why wasn't this included in the report?"

     How odd of the Vice President of a network which has ignored China on its two main shows for several weeks to complain to a Senator about leaving out an angle in a report his network skipped. If Russert thinks the committee is covering up isn't that a great angle for a story on Nightly News or Today instead of 401(k) tips?

     -- Senator Kerrey, a Democrat, says espionage occurred in the Clinton years and Clinton knew about it:
     Russert: "The President said in March that no one reported to him any espionage occurred."
     Shelby: "Well, he said that, and I think somebody is ill-serving the President of the United States. If it's the National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, or if it's the Attorney General, it's the FBI director, whoever it is, if they ill-serve the president, that's no service at all. Somebody's got to be accountable. The president's wrong. Maybe the information never got to him, but it should have." 
     Russert: "Senator Kerrey, has the President been ill-served and how would you gauge the damage done to our national security at our nuclear labs?"
     Kerrey: "Well, if the President says he was not aware of it, it's surprising since he signed a presidential directive in 1997 and created a new counterintelligence effort at the Department of Energy and moved our top counterintelligence person over to the Department of Energy, Ed Curran, who now has put a first-rate plan in place. I mean, he's the first administration to have done it. So it'd be very surprising if he says now 'I didn't know about this,' and he should have known about it way back in 1996."....
     Russert: "But, Senator Kerrey, you have no doubt there has been Chinese espionage at the nuclear laboratories?"
     Kerrey: "I have no doubt that there's been Chinese espionage at the nuclear laboratories. And I have no doubt that the efforts to reduce the risk of that espionage was sloppy and not well-coordinated, and as a consequence, has been damaged to the people of the United States of America's safety."

     -- Grilling Energy Secretary Bill Richardson about Clinton's denial.
     Russert, with text of the May 2 New York Times story on-screen: "In 1998, a report was sent to you and the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, the FBI, the President, and let me put it on our screen. This was in The New York Times last week. It says: 'A secret report to top Clinton administration officials last November warned that China posed an 'acute intelligence threat' to the government's nuclear weapons laboratories, and that computer systems at the labs were being constantly penetrated by outsiders.' It goes on, and let me continue. 'Yet investigators waited until March to search the computer of a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who had been under investigation for nearly three years, suspected of spying for China. And it was not until April that the Energy Department shut down its classified computer systems to impose tighter security over their data.' If you were warned in November of penetration, why would you wait until April to close down the computers?"
     Richardson replied: "Because that report is incorrect. I moved immediately with $8 million in cybersecurity measures to push for new firewalls on the computer, intrusion devices. We've moved ahead with automated systems so that this would not happen again. We had a very strong cybersecurity measure. Now, in April, I completely shut down all the nuclear weapons computers. Now, that is a Draconian, drastic step. That meant that for two weeks we could not do any work on our nuclear weapons. We have moved aggressively. We can stand for new suggestions and improvements. We are not perfect...."

     Unsatisfied, Russert continued to press: "But, again, it's the President's word that is at stake. You heard Senator Kerrey say, 'The reaction' -- he's a Democrat -- 'The reaction was sloppy and not particularly well-coordinated.' The report concluded, let me put this on the screen, 'This effort has been successful and Beijing's exploitation of U.S. national laboratories has substantially aided its nuclear weapons program.'
     "That was November of 1998. Our counterintelligence sending that report to the President and to you, very specifically that Beijing has benefitted. Now, let me show you what the President was specifically asked in March, and find out, again, what happened. Question: 'Mr. President, can you assure the American people that under your watch no valuable nuclear secrets were lost?'
     "President Clinton: 'Can I tell you there has been no espionage at the labs since I've been President? I can tell you that no one has reported to me that they suspect such a thing has occurred.' And later in the news conference: 'To the best of my knowledge, no one has said anything to me about any espionage which occurred by the Chinese against the labs, during my presidency.'
     "Mr. Richardson, that's not true. In November of '98, you received, the President received a report saying exactly something contrary. Senator Kerrey, Senator Shelby of the Intelligence Committee said they were aware and the President was aware. Why would he tell the American people in March that he wasn't aware?"
     Richardson: "Tim, what the President was referring to -- and I was with him -- he was referring to this individual had not been charged with espionage."
     Russert: "That's not what he said. It's not what he said, Mr. Richardson."
     Richardson: "The President has been fully, fully briefed. The President has been... (cut off)
     Russert: "He said, 'Can I tell you that there's no espionage at the lab since I've been President? I can tell you that no one has reported to me they suspect such a thing. To the best of my knowledge, no one has said anything to me about espionage.'"
     Richardson: "Tim, it was the President..." (Cut off)
     Russert: "...which occurred by the Chinese against the labs during my presidency."
     Richardson: "Tim, it was the President that vigorously pushed for a decision memorandum, a PDD, in February. He set dramatic counterintelligence measures at the labs. We moved ahead a month later and hired Mr. Curran, the best counterintelligence person."
     Russert: "But let's clear up the record."
     Richardson: "And when I came in, Tim, we have taken dramatic steps."
     Russert: "Right. Let's clear up the record. Let's clear up the record. Did, in fact, espionage occur by the Chinese against the nuclear labs during the Clinton presidency?"
     Richardson: "Tim, this is what's happened."
     Russert: "It's a simple question."
     Richardson: "No, no, no, this is what happened."
     Russert: "Was there Chinese espionage..." (Cut off)
     Richardson: "There has been damaging security leaks, number one."
     Russert: "...during the Clinton administration?"
     Richardson: "The Chinese did get W-88 information that is damaging. It started in the '80s, it's gone into the '90s. The Chinese have obtained damaging information. We are..."
     Russert: "During the Clinton presidency?"
     Richardson: "We are addressing the problem."
     Russert: "During the Clinton presidency?"
     Richardson: "During past administrations and present administrations."
     Russert: "Finally, someone has acknowledged it."

     It's great tat Russert was so aggressive in getting this acknowledgment, but it would be nice if NBC News would finally report some of this on Today or Nightly News.

     As documented in previous CyberAlerts, NBC News has avoided the subject of Clinton's lie. When the April 28 New York Times ran a story disclosing how Wen Ho Lee supposedly transferred the legacy codes to an open computer, ABC's World News Tonight aired a story and the CBS Evening News mentioned it, though neither pointed out how the 1994-95 activity contradicted Clinton's claims it all occurred in the 1980s. NBC's Today gave the story 15 seconds while Nightly News skipped it.

     Four days later the front page of the New York Times featured the story cited in detail by Russert. NBC's reaction: Zilch that morning or since on Today, not a word on Nightly News that evening or since. Only ABC's World News Tonight told viewers about it that night, in a 40-second item that did not mention how the revelation contradicted Clinton.

     +++ See Russert grill Richardson. Late Monday morning ET the MRC's Sean Henry and Kristina Sewell will post a video clip, in RealPlayer format, of some the heated exchange between Russert and Richardson. Go to: http://www.mrc.org

     So, did Russert's success at getting Richardson to concede that nuclear technology loss occurred during Clinton's term generate any network interest Sunday night? Nope. NBA basketball bumped NBC Nightly News in the ET and CT times zones, though it's doubtful anything appeared given NBC's irresponsible record. The May 9 World News Tonight on ABC featured a full report on the growing popularity of Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, poster boy of the hottest music trend: Latin music. The CBS Evening News had time to showcase a New Jersey A&P with an automatic scanning system customers use and for a look at the growing enrollment in Catholic seminaries. (Less than a hour later 60 Minutes highlighted a man suing the Jesuit order for sexual harassment.) Nothing about China on CNN's 7pm ET The World Today.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) In addition to Meet the Press Fox News Sunday also looked at Chinese espionage, bringing aboard Senator Shelby and Porter Goss, Chairman of the House intelligence committee. Host Tony Snow ended wit a noteworthy point and question:

     -- Snow to Shelby: "We all remember that Senator Fred Thompson accused the Chinese of having a Chines plan to influence the 1996 elections. They did, didn't they?"
     Shelby agreed.

     -- Snow to Goss: "The Cox committee is going to be releasing a report. You're always telling us it's two weeks away. You going to tell us that again?"
     Goss bet it would be released this week: "Their mandate runs out on the 14th of May and In think it's a question of now printing it and getting it out."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) "TV's Blackout on China Spying: Big Three Networks Bypass Blockbuster Scandal." That's the headline over a May 10 "National Issue" story by Paul Sperry on the front page on Investor's Business Daily. Sperry picked up on some points made by the MRC over the past few months, as you can see in this excerpt:

Communist China plays a central role in three of the most alarming scandals facing the Clinton administration: campaign finance fraud, satellite technology transfers and nuclear weapons espionage.

Yet when Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji visited the White House early last month, TV newscasters by and large passed on the story, now known as Chinagate, focusing instead on issues like China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

It's not as if they didn't have a new scandal hook.

Earlier in the week the Los Angeles Times dropped a bombshell: "The chief of China's military intelligence secretly directed funds from Beijing to help re-elect President Clinton in 1996."

Network coverage of the scoop? Not a peep. The Big Three -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- all blacked out the story on both their morning and evening news shows.

Surveys show Americans get most of their political information from these networks' evening newscasts, which reach a combined audience of nearly 30 million.

"The perfect time for them to have gotten into the story was during the recent visit of the Chinese premier,'' said Richard Noyes, an analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs. "And they didn't."

Analysts at the two major partisan media watchdogs -- the conservative Media Research Center and the liberal Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting -- are also scratching their heads over the dearth of TV coverage....

Why would the major networks beg off such a big story? Politics, contends MRC chief analyst Tim Graham. "This shows the (TV) media doesn't have a liberal bias; it has a Democratic Party bias," he said. "It gives complete, almost Secret Service-level protection to the President."....

Even so, daily newspapers are covering the story, if in fits and starts.

Does it matter then that TV news producers are yawning? Yes, media analysts say. Fully 70% of Americans say they get their political information from the evening news -- not newspapers, a 1992 University of Michigan poll shows.

"When the TV news passes on a big story, as it has on this China story, it has little chance of breaking into the public's consciousness," Noyes said.

The thin coverage contrasts starkly with that of past foreign policy scandals. Consider the nonstop play received by Iran-Contra, which revolved around allegations that the Reagan White House was secretly selling arms to Iran and using the profits to back Nicaraguan freedom fighters. Another goal was to try to free hostages held by Islamic terrorists in Beirut....

"If this were Ronald Reagan accused of selling foreign policy to the highest bidder, it's a little hard to imagine this wouldn't have attracted more attention," Fox News' Washington bureau chief Brit Hume said at the time.

Some Washington media pundits intone that Chinagate is just too "complicated" for TV.

They point out that producers have, after commercials, just 22 minutes to pack in all the day's news. That's why most stories run just a few minutes long -- hardly enough time to explain things like shell companies, straw donors, Byzantine money trails, nuclear codes and satellite-guidance systems.

But that excuse doesn't hold up to scrutiny, Noyes says. Producers broke format to get out the equally complex Iran-Contra story. "There were some nights when it took up the entire newscast," he recalled....

The Chinagate story isn't as easy for TV newscasters to tell as "two teenagers shooting up a school," Graham allowed. "But it's their professional obligation to explain to people, in terms they understand, what this means to their lives."

Yet the opposite is happening. Graham says he's noticed that the more light the press sheds on the story, the more the networks back away from it. He suspects it's a political reaction. "The more damaging the news is to Clinton," he said, "the less play it gets.

Whatever the motive, Big Three snoozing on Chinagate shows a pattern. Consider that:

On March 29, Newsweek quoted intelligence officials saying that the Chinese "penetration is total. They are deep into the (U.S. nuclear weapons) labs' black programs." Network coverage? Zero, a recent MRC report finds.

On March 24, The New York Times revealed that the Clinton administration promoted the suspected Chinese spy at Los Alamos and even let him hire a Chinese national as an assistant.

Nightly news coverage? Zip, although the Kosovo bombing started later that day. Still, the morning news shows didn't touch the story (informing viewers instead about, among other things, cherry blossoms and used-car buying).

During President Clinton's June 1998 trip to Beijing, "the networks avoided the China scandals the entire time Clinton was on Chinese soil," MRC noted.

At the time, Clinton was drawing fire for relaxing controls on satellite exports, which helped China enhance its missile-guidance systems.

In April 1998, The New York Times reported that Clinton's policy change got top Democratic Party donor Bernie Schwartz's company out of hot water. Loral Corp. allegedly had given China restricted technology. The networks did mention this story -- six weeks later.

During the summer of 1997, Senate Chinagate hearings led off the evening newscast just five times, MRC found. By contrast, evening stories on gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan got the top slot on 30 shows.

The most recent bombshell -- The New York Times' April 28 scoop that a Los Alamos spy in 1994 and 1995 downloaded U.S. nuclear codes to an open computer network -- triggered some network coverage. But it was spotty and unusually cautious.

Both CBS and ABC ran the story third in their evening lineups. And they cast doubt on any serious damage from the massive data transfer. "The network news is constantly scaring us about fatty cheese fries and sport utility vehicles," Graham quipped, "but not Chinese nuclear espionage."

NBC's coverage? Not a word, though it found room to run a piece on the coming hurricane season.

     END IBD Excerpt

     To read the whole article, go to the Investor's Business Daily Web site and click on "today's newspaper" where this piece will be posted on Monday only. Go to: http://www.investors.com (Click on register and you'll see a user name and password you can use.)

     Always nice to see a mainstream media story spread the MRC's findings to a wider audience. -- Brent Baker


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