Ickes Sending Big
Donors to "Nonpartisan" Groups Echoes Gingrich Charges
Two Standards on Nonprofits
Dan Rather began the January 21 CBS Evening News
on a serious note: "The House of Representatives voted today to
reprimand and fine Speaker Newt Gingrich for low ethics -- specifically,
using money from tax-exempt foundations to fund his partisan college
course." Special counsel James Cole claimed that Gingrich benefited from
tax-exempt groups -- classified as 501(c)(3) in the IRS code -- which
are barred from advocating the election of specific candidates or
But the networks failed to respond when the February 9
Los Angeles Times showed how in 1996 then-White House Deputy
Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and the DNC "steered would be campaign
contributors to a tax-exempt and supposedly non-partisan voter
registration group that in reality has close ties to the Democratic
The Times found "the primary beneficiary was
Vote Now '96," whose "efforts generally were focused most-heavily in
black communities that tend to...vote overwhelmingly Democratic." The
group was run by former Democratic Party fundraisers, and Labor
Secretary designate Alexis Herman helped arrange a White House reception
where Clinton honored the group.
Another "nonpartisan" group Ickes recommended was the
National Coalition on Black Voter Participation. Executive director
James Ferguson told the Baltimore Sun in January 1996 the group
"has targeted 83 House districts that African American voters can help
elect Democrats -- enough to wrest control of the House away from the
The rudiments of the story broke a week earlier in the
February 10 Newsweek, leading to one evening story on every
network except NBC. The stories focused on the charge that a memo from
Ickes told a potential $5 million contributor where to donate his money.
It's illegal for a federal worker to raise campaign funds. The stories
noted that Ickes recommended the names of tax-exempt groups, but failed
to say mixing 501(c)(3) groups and partisan politics is improper.
The L.A. Times story didn't generate any
follow-up on the CBS Evening News or CNN's World Today.
Nor did it even prompt an initial piece on NBC Nightly News. On
ABC's World News Sunday February 9, Carla Davis gave a sentence
to the initial Ickes controversy, but she ended: "White House Counsel
Lanny Davis told ABC News today that Ickes did nothing improper since he
did not solicit the contribution, only directed it. And, Davis says,
there is no indication Ickes did anything else improper at any other
Network audiences never learned that liberal Democrats
have trampled on the tax laws that got Gingrich scolded.
U.S. News & World Report Editor James
Fallows, a former speechwriter for President Carter, continues to
shore up the liberal talent at the top of the magazine so that now the
top three editors directing news coverage once toiled for Democrats.
The latest addition: In February he brought aboard
Steve Waldman, a Clinton Administration operative, as Assistant
Managing Editor (AME) for national news. For the past year Waldman's
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.
Just after taking the top editorial position last
September, Fallows promoted AME Harrison Rainie to Managing
Editor, the number two slot at the magazine. Before jumping to U.S. News
in 1988 Rainie served as Chief-of-Staff to Democratic Senator Daniel
An on-air ABC News veteran has traveled with Madeleine
Albright, the United Nations Ambassador and newly confirmed Secretary of
State, from New York City to the State Department in Foggy Bottom.
Rick Inderfurth covered national security, the Penatgon and Moscow
for ABC News between 1981 and 1991. At the U.S. Mission to the UN
Inderfurth held one of three Ambassador slots under Albright who has
named Inderfurth Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.
Inderfurth has now worked for virtually every foreign
affairs-related government operation. In the 1970s he toiled for
Carter's National Security Council staff and later became Deputy Staff
Director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, jumping to ABC when
the GOP took control of the chamber.
Inderfurth's not the only journalist implementing
Clinton policy. Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State and
former Time Washington Bureau Chief, "intends to remain in that
job," USA Today reported February 12. State Department spokesman
Nicholas Burns said Talbott will stay "well beyond this summer and well
into the future."
Clinton's Contented Clique
At least three other media veterans are sticking with
the White House staff. Communications Director Donald Baer, an
Assistant Managing Editor at U.S. News before leaping to the
White House in early 1994, will stick around through July. He was
planning to leave, The Washington Post reported, "but agreed to
stay after appeals from" Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and Bill
Tara Sonenshine, who went
from a producer at ABC's Nightline to Clinton's National Security
Council where she handled press relations, then to Newsweek's
Washington bureau -- all in two years -- has spun through the revolving
door again. She's back at the NSC "working on identifying foreign policy
priorities for the second term," reported The Washington Post....
Clinton-Gore 1996 campaign Press Secretary and former
ABC News and CNN staffer Joe Lockhart has landed in the White
House as Senior Adviser for special projects in the press office.
Lockhart put in a stint as an ABC assignment manager in Chicago before
moving to CNN as a deputy assignment editor until joining the 1988
Dukakis-Bentsen presidential effort as a traveling press aide.
Making Excuses for Fundraising
Clinton as Victim
As the Democratic fundraising scandal grew, some
reporters portrayed Bill Clinton not as a player but as a bystander, if
not a victim.
In a lengthy interview published January 19,
Washington Post reporters asked the President: "There's been a lot
of talk lately, as you know, printed and so forth, about the Lincoln
Bedroom and the people who stay here. And obviously a lot of them are
your friends. And I don't think anybody would begrudge somebody having
guests in their own house. Some of them, though, it seems apparently you
didn't know quite as well. And we're wondering if you might feel let
down a little bit by your staff or by the DNC in their zeal to raise
When the White House admitted throwing over 100
coffees for wealthy donors five days later, NBC's Tom Brokaw cast a wide
net of condemnation: "Everyone in Washington agrees that the money game
in that town is simply out of control for Republican and Democrat alike.
And the more we learn, the greater the outrage. There's enough blame to
go all the way around the country tonight. But the latest money trail,
it turns out, is a four lane highway leading from the White House to
almost every group in America. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell tells us now,
the White House released the documentation. The Republicans are
During the President's news conference the following
week, newly-installed ABC White House reporter John Donvan asked
Clinton: "In your Inaugural address eight days ago you outlined some
quite lofty goals -- for example, the education proposals you were
speaking about today. But in the days since, many questions in the press
and in Congress have focused on issues like campaign fundraising. My
question is whether you are worried that the well is being poisoned even
now for the realization of these goals before you can get out of the
gate, particularly on the issue of bipartisanship?"
When the press conference ended, CNN anchor Judy
Woodruff pressed Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) on when the fundraising
scandal would be finished: "The President acknowledged mistakes were
made...How much more does the President need to say, to apologize, to
say he wants to clear the air or however you want to put it?"
Janet Cooke Award
Teichner's Powder Puff Interview with Wellesley
Chum Hillary Clinton Feels Her Pain
Martha Makes Nice, Not News
In a September 1993 speech to the Radio and Television
News Directors Association, Dan Rather complained about the state of
network news: "Do powder puff, not probing interviews. Stay away from
controversial subjects. Kiss ass, move with the mass, and for heaven and
ratings' sake, don't make anybody mad -- certainly not anybody you're
covering, and especially not the Mayor, the Governor, the Senator, the
Vice President, or the President, or anybody in a position of power.
Make nice, not news."
A week earlier, Rather served as an example of his own
speech in a make-nice interview with Hillary Clinton: "I don't know of
anybody, friend or foe, who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details
of this plan. I'm not surprised because you have been working on it so
long and listened to so many people." He tossed softballs: "Are you
willing to pay the ultimate price and go on David Letterman?" Just
before Inauguration Day, Mrs. Clinton granted two interviews that aired
on January 19 -- one to the deferential interviewers at C-SPAN, and one
to CBS. C-SPAN's Steven Scully at least made news by asking Hillary if
the media were biased, which she answered by suggesting there's no
liberal media: "You've got a conservative and/or right-wing press
presence with really nothing on the other end of the political
CBS Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood hinted
at their interviewer's long-standing friendship with the First Lady,
begun in the 1960s at Wellesley College: "It happens that Martha
Teichner has known the First Lady for almost 30 years, and was invited
to the White House last week for another of many conversations she's had
with Mrs. Clinton." For peppering the First Lady with nothing tougher
than the notion she was a subject of relentless "bashing," CBS earned
the Janet Cooke Award.
Instead of taking advantage of CBS's unique
opportunity to question the First Lady on subjects she knows a lot about
but is not forthcoming -- Whitewater, Travelgate, shredding documents
during the 1992 campaign -- Teichner sought to soothe, noting: "The
First Lady has become more and more uncomfortable and wary around the
press." She had nothing to fear from Teichner, dressed all in black,
peering out over half-glasses. Hillary appeared not only as the star of
the piece, but as its director as well.
Viewers were virtually asked by Teichner to feel the
First Lady's pain: "Heat doesn't begin to describe the firestorm that
erupted when the President handed over health care reform to his wife."
She asked: "Were you startled by the fact that it was as controversial
an issue as it was, and that you became controversial?" What Mrs.
Clinton actually did to create contoversy and failure -- a secret task
force, a 1400-page plan, a failure to compromise on any point was not a
subject for CBS.
Teichner continued with Hillary's woes: "Health care
was just the beginning. She has been the subject of a non-stop,
time-release litany of investigations. Three at the moment being
conducted by Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. Speculation she
may be indicted continues."
Hillary claimed: "I expect this matter to drag out as
long as it is to anyone else's advantage to drag it out and then it will
end. I mean no one likes to be accused of having done anything improper
or wrong. It becomes frustrating when you know that people are saying
things that aren't true, but you just learn to live with it and you just
go on day after day and..."
Teichner jumped in: "But how do you do that, though,
in the climate of a non-stop four- or even eight-year bashing?" Teichner
added: "Her biggest gripe is that the positive is never what the public
sees; that her media image as a First Lady under fire, edgy and
defensive, belies the real Hillary Clinton, who has even been known to
If this had been an interview instead of a
unchallenged listing of Hillary's gripes, Teichner might have challenged
the notion the public "never sees" the positive side of Mrs. Clinton.
The entire CBS story served as a refutation of that claim. The Center
for Media and Public Affairs found that from January 20 to April 1,
1993, while Bill Clinton received only 42 percent positive network
evaluations, Hillary's evaluations were 78 percent positive. This hardly
parses with the Teichner thesis that her appointment as health care czar
was greeted with an "eruption" of controversy.
CBS moved from Hillary's lovable giggly side to
stressing Hillary's serious "sermons" on women's rights, and her
upbringing of Chelsea, asking how her departure for college would be
handled. The last part of the Teichner piece resembled a Jackie Kennedy
White House tour: "One gauge of a First Lady's stamp on the White House
is the art she chooses to display there. `Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic
City' by Henry Tanner is the first work acquired for the permanent
collection by an African American artist. It now hangs in the Green
Room." Viewers saw the White House garden, in Hillary's tenure, has
become a sculpture garden, about which Teichner asked: "Do you ever just
go there and sit?"
Was Teichner's failure to ask difficult questions
about political failures or ethical controversies motivated by warm
feelings of friendship, or the controlling grip of White House spin
control? The July 1996 American Spectator noted that before an interview
on Larry King Live the White House staff "faxed CNN a list of 20-30
questions the First Lady hoped to be asked -- and five `issues' she
would rather not hear about." (The King show's idea of being tough
consisted of politely sending over sample questions the First Lady
should expect on Whitewater and Travelgate before the show.) Did
Teichner bow to White House demands or celebrate Hillary without
prompting? And if there were conditions, shouldn't CBS have notified
viewers? Teichner did not return repeated MediaWatch phone calls.
In his 1993 interview with Mrs. Clinton, Dan Rather
asked her if it would be possible one day, whether or not the health
plan passed, "that we will have reached a point when a First Lady, any
First Lady, can be judged by the quality of her work?" Whatever her
reasons, Teichner suggested that aiding the First Lady's quest for
personal fulfillment is a more important objective than investigating
the quality (or integrity) of her work.
Reporters feel the need to focus on The Role -- the
perceived sexist attitudes that have held Hillary back, her symbolic
role as gender Rorschach test -- rather than what the First Lady has
done with the role, just as reporters introduced her to the country as a
brilliant lawyer without ever asking what kind of lawyering she did.
Anyone looking for new revelations about what Hillary Clinton has done
will need to consult someone other than the political sympathizers and
bosom buddies who claim to be objective journalists.
Rooting for Rubin
All that's good about the economy can be credited to
Clinton's Treasury Secretary, two reporters have gushed. On Sunday
Morning February 9 Charles Osgood asked CBS reporter Ray Brady who
is responsible for the "almost perfect" economy. Brady replied: "I
happen to think we have one of the best Treasury Secretaries we have
ever had in Bob Rubin. He got long term interest rates down, short term
rates came down, that's speeding up the economy, it's keeping it going
on an even keel."
During election night coverage Tom Brokaw asked NBC's
Brian Williams: "You've been covering the Clinton White House for some
time. Do you think that there is any more heroic figure, however not
very visible, than Bob Rubin, who is Treasury Secretary?"
Dancer, Jokester, Hypocrite.
In a January 24 profile that played up Al Gore's sense
of humor and dancing skills, NBC Today co-host Katie Couric asked
about a subject the show glossed over last year: Gore's 1996 convention
speech, in which he cited his sister's death from lung cancer as the
motivation for his opposition to the tobacco industry. She asked:
"You're aware that you were criticized for the speech because your
family was involved in the growing and selling tobacco until the late
`80s. Correct?" Gore sidestepped the issue but Couric countered: "I
noticed that your mom seemed to be in visible pain as you were talking
about this, and, led me to wonder if you felt you were exploiting your
sister's death for political gain at all?"
While Couric noted Gore's family roots in tobacco she
overlooked Gore's exuberant exultation of the Tennessee cash crop in a
1988 campaign speech. "Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I
want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the
plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it. I've dug it. I've sprayed
it, I've chopped it, I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and
stripped it and sold it."
Couric's questions were missing in NBC's pre-election
coverage. The morning after Gore's speech, Bryant Gumbel opened the
August 29 Today: "The hall fell silent as the Vice President
recalled his sister's death from lung cancer after more than three
decades of smoking. It was an emotional attempt to build support for the
administration's anti-smoking efforts." Jim Miklaszewski added: "Gore
was most effective in his shot at Dole's record on tobacco. Political
but poignant, Gore invoked the memory of his sister, a cigarette smoker
who had died of lung cancer."
In 1990, New York Times reporter Tim Weiner,
then with the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote Blank Check, a book
about the Pentagon's "black budget." In a chapter titled "Laws and
Lies," he condemned a failed attempt by Oliver North to win the freedom
of U.S. hostages in Iran: "No one in the Reagan administration told
Congress about the DEA caper, the arms sales to Iran or the weapons
shipments to the contras. The failures to notify Congress were flagrant
violations of law. The law governing congressional notification of
covert action -- the 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act -- explicitly
covers every agency in the government. To say, as North and [National
Security Adviser John] Poindexter did, that the National Security
Council or the Drug Enforcement Agency could run covert operations with
the CIA's help but without congressional approval, without appropriated
funds, was to sever constitutional and legal control of covert action."
But to judge by his February 3 Times profile of
Anthony Lake, Clinton's National Security Adviser and troubled nominee
to head the CIA, Weiner has undergone a confirmation conversion. The
failure to inform Congress, when applied to Clinton's secret foreign
policy encouraging the Iranians to arm the Bosnian Muslims, is
apparently no longer objectionable. Weiner wrote of Lake's confirmation
hearings: "But things could get ugly. [Sen. Richard] Shelby sent out a
fax on Thursday night saying that the hearing would be delayed so that
the Justice Department could fully investigate accusations by House
Republicans that Mr. Lake was `lying' about the Administration's tacit
approval of Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia's Muslims. Mr. Lake did not
notify Congress about the decision. He arguably did not have to, but now
concedes he should have." Weiner seemed more bothered by Senate
Republican attempts to find the truth. That's quite a conversion.
GOP Apocalypse Now
As the new year began overly descriptive doomsayers at
the Los Angeles Times predicted Republican reforms would bring
devastation to the environment and welfare recipients. In a January 1
front page story on California's welfare reform, reporters Carla Rivera
and Hector Tobar fashioned this scary scene: "Like an ominous storm
blown in from the East the reality of welfare reform has descended with
relentless and unsparing force on thousands of families like that of
Parris who begin the new year today with less cash to live on and the
prospect of a welter of new rules aimed at restricting their access to
government aid." Rivera and Tobar offered this analysis: "Many who are
against the cuts argue that the welfare overhaul does little to address
the fundamental causes of poverty, but is instead based on long-standing
myths and prejudices."
The hyperbolic imagery continued the very next day.
James Gerstenzang opened a story on congressional Republicans and
environmental issues this way: "When environmentalists looked west
across the continent from Capitol Hill two years ago, they saw chain
saws on the march. They were haunted by the specter of species of
feathered, finned and furry creatures left to fall inexorably toward
extinction by an assault on the Endangered Species Act. There too in the
distance were dumps left untended. Such were their fears at the start of
what became known as the Republican revolution." After quoting Greg
Wetstone of the liberal Natural Resources Defense Council stating the
current Congress is "more friendly" to the environment, Gerstenzang
warned: "But those who would protect the forests -- and the skies,
streams and rivers, for that matter -- are not out of the woods yet."
The networks ignored The Washington Times when
its June 26, 1996 front page declared: "Secret System Computerizes
Personal Data. "Insight magazine Editor Paul Rodriguez detailed
how the White House Office Data Base (WHODB) tracked personal
information on those who visited the Clintons, including DNC donation
records. Only CNN's Inside Politics carried a story at the time.
Seven months later, when Time magazine and the Los Angeles
Times "discovered" the Insight story, the database finally gained
network attention. The January 30 Los Angeles Times story
reported that a government-owned database could not be used for
unofficial purposes, but the White House did as "staff frequently
retrieved data on large political contributors and turned it over to the
Democratic National Committee to help raise money for the President's
ABC aired nothing that night, but NBC Nightly News
devoted its "Fleecing of America" segment to the database. Reporter Lisa
Myers tied the database to the First Lady: "The White House tried to
keep the database secret. An early memo to Hillary Clinton, who pushed
the project hard, noted that precautions should be taken or the database
would be open to public scrutiny and inquiry."
On the CBS Evening News that night, Dan Rather
stated: "Republicans have again attacked the White House for using a
database containing 350,000 names. The Republicans say that this was a
blatant fundraising operation and that taxpayers were stuck with a $1.7
million tab to create it. Correspondent Rita Braver reports why that
could be a problem for President Clinton." It might have been more of a
problem if it had been reported before the election.
Watts, We Worry
The selection of black conservative Rep. J.C. Watts
(R-Okla.) to respond to Clinton's fifth State of the Union address on
February 4 would not go unpunished by CBS. On that night's CBS
Evening News, reporter Rita Braver noted that Clinton would "recycle
a line from his Inaugural, asking Americans to join him in becoming
repairers of the breach." Dan Rather then used the metaphor as a handy
tool to whack Watts: "One breach that apparently needs repairing already
involves the man chosen by Republicans to give their official response
to the President's address." Reporter Bob Schieffer explained: "A real
sour note was struck in the Republican effort to reach out to black
voters today Watts has stirred up a furor when he was quoted in The
Washington Post today speaking of his contempt for `race-hustling
poverty pimps' like Jesse Jackson and Marion Barry, whose careers depend
on keeping black people dependent on government.'"
Watts later denied referring specifically to Jackson
and Barry, but the story didn't include that denial. Watts made the
evening news, but Jesse Jackson's own outbursts in December 1994 didn't
spark a story at CBS. During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times,
Jackson slurred the Christian Coalition, claiming it "was a strong force
in Germany. It laid down a suitable, scientific, theological rationale
for the tragedy in Germany. The Christian Coalition was very much in
evidence there." Weeks later, Jackson was at it again in Britain, in
remarks broadcast Christmas Day, 1994: "In South Africa the status quo
was called racism. We rebelled against it. In Germany it was called
fascism. Now in Britain and the U.S., it is called conservatism."
Then there's Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.), who wrote a
letter on November 20, 1996 to fellow Congressional Black Caucus members
in which he referred to a black Republican, outgoing Connecticut Rep.
Gary Franks, as a "foot-shuffling, head-scratching `Amos and Andy' brand
of `Uncle Tom.'" Clay also said of black conservatives: "The goal of
this group of Negro wanderers is to maim and kill other blacks for the
gratification and entertainment of...ultraconservative white racists."
CBS didn't report that, either.
CBS Discovers Bias -- On Fox
When one of their own network reporters, Bernard
Goldberg, accused CBS reporter Eric Engberg of liberal bias in his
campaign coverage, he was disdained and ostracized. CBS News President
Andrew Heyward declared: "To accuse Eric of liberal bias is absurd." But
CBS, unable to locate any bias in its decades of reporting, found what
it called conservative bias on the four-month-old Fox News Channel.
On the January 19 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace
reported on the long running Ted Turner-Rupert Murdoch feud. The feud
stems from Turner's attempts to keep the fledgling Fox News Channel, a
CNN competitor, off New York City cable systems. Wallace insisted that
"On Murdoch's new cable channel the news also comes with a conservative
spin...Ted Turner disdains all this. He believes Murdoch's political
bias contaminates his news coverage." Turner insisted: "He looks down
his nose at do-good, honest journalism. He thinks that his media should
be used by him to further his own goals."
Wallace left out Turner's propaganda. In 1988, Turner
produced Portrait of the Soviet Union, with narrator Roy Scheider
making bizarre claims such as "Once the Kremlin was the home of Czars.
Now it belongs to the people." The Financial Times later reported
that Soviet TV aired the series with a disclaimer saying the film gave
an "excessively glamorous portrait." In 1991, Turner's TBS aired
Portrait of Castro's Cuba, calling the country "defiant, spirited,
free." Turner's approach to environmental reporting was summarized by
CNN and TBS producer Barbara Pyle: "I feel that I'm here on this planet
to work in television, to be the little subversive person in television.
I've chosen television as my form of activism. I felt that if I was to
infiltrate anything, I'd do best to infiltrate television."
While Newspapers Offer Clinton Information,
Networks Thrive on Gingrich Speculation
Newt News Coverage Triples
On December 19, Newt Gingrich admitted he misled the
House ethics committee, which led off the newest burst of network Newt
coverage. How did that burst compare in quality and quantity to emerging
news on the Clinton fundraising scandal?
reviewed evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, as well as
morning news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from December 15 to January 31.
On both morning and evening news, the Gingrich story almost tripled
coverage of the Clinton story.
The Gingrich storyline drew 73 full stories and 29
anchor briefs on the evening news programs, compared to 31 full stories
and eight anchor briefs for the Clinton money story. On the morning
shows, Gingrich received 63 full segments (28 news reports and 35
interviews), as well as 69 anchor briefs; Clinton attracted only 19 full
segments (15 reports, 4 interviews) and 11 briefs.
Comparing scandals can be like comparing apples and
oranges. Journalists might suggest the disparity comes from differing
storylines: the approaching Speaker's election in the House on January 7
left Gingrich's political future in doubt, while a safely re-elected
Clinton faced congressional and FBI investigations on a less frantic
But the quality of journalism on the two storylines
was also vastly different. Reports on Gingrich were a drip-drip-drip
sequence of repetitive horse-race stories wondering if Gingrich would
resign, with little new information. By contrast, the print scoops on
Clinton broke new substantive ground, but the networks alternated
between spurts of intensity and weeks of disinterest. Especially
noticeable is the gap in morning show interview segments about Gingrich
and Clinton. CBS aired five interviews about Gingrich, but none about
Clinton, and ABC (14-2) and NBC (16-2) were more lopsided. (If you count
three interviews on other topics which each included one question on
fundraising, NBC's ratio was 16-5).
The difference in drama might explain why the network
evening news shows led off 18 broadcasts with Gingrich's ethics, and
only three with Clinton's. But a closer look at individual developments
demonstrates the differing intensity and substance of TV coverage.
December 15: The
Washington Post reported on Page One that the Democrats rewarded
large donors with an overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Network
coverage: Nothing on ABC or CNN. CBS This Morning's Bill Plante
filed a report eight days later. NBC noted it January 21.
December 20: The
Washington Post reported on its front page that Wang Jun, a Chinese
arms dealer, was welcomed to a White House fundraising coffee. Coverage:
CBS was the only network to air a full story. NBC ran an anchor brief.
ABC did nothing. Of the morning shows, only NBC's Today mentioned
December 26: The DNC
released a huge pile of documents on their fundraising activities. In
the next four days, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and
USA Today all published articles. But the networks never aired a
story summarizing the documents. CBS did lead off the news with a report
on Thai donor and Clinton coffee attendee Pauline Kanchanalak on the
26th (repeated on This Morning the next day), and added another
Thai story on the 27th, as well as a story on White House Asian-American
liaison Doris Matsui on the 28th. CNN aired two similar stories. NBC
aired nothing. ABC did nothing, but did find time for a John Cochran
report on Gingrich losing support.
December 30: A single
Republican Congressman, Michael Forbes of Long Island, announced he
would not vote for Gingrich. All four networks aired full reports.
January 10: The New
York Times reported on its front page the contents of a cellular
phone conversation between Republican leaders they reported came from a
Democrat, later identified as Rep. Jim McDermott, ranking member of the
House ethics committee. Republicans demanded an investigation of
McDermott for breaking federal privacy laws.
This was one Gingrich story the networks didn't like.
ABC and NBC aired no evening story until the 13th, and neither used the
word "illegal" in that night's report. CNN aired three anchor briefs and
one full report (which did not mention McDermott) from the 10th to the
14th. CBS aired a full report on Gingrich on each of those five nights.
On the 10th, Dan Rather suggested the Times story "raises new
ethics questions about Gingrich," with no mention of Democratic
illegality. Lawbreaking surfaced briefly on the 11th, but Sharyl
Attkisson's report on the 12th focused only on some Republicans "urging
Gingrich to step aside." When McDermott's role emerged on the 13th and
14th, on both nights Dan Rather complained the focus was shifted away
"from what Gingrich actually said." Reporter Wyatt Andrews added the
brouhaha "sidetracked substantive ethics charges against the Speaker."
January 15: The
Washington Times and USA Today carried the AP report that Al
Gore confessed he used "a poor choice of words" in describing a
fundraiser at a Buddhist temple as a "community outreach event." Before
the event, Gore sent the DNC a memo explaining the event should "inspire
political and fundraising efforts." Coverage: A full story by CNN's
Brooks Jackson, followed ten days later by one Today show
question to Gore and an evening report by Andrea Mitchell. ABC and CBS
January 16: The Los
Angeles Times reported that documents show that contrary to White
House assertions, controversial fundraiser John Huang helped shape Asia
policy at the Commerce Department. The Boston Globe reported
Huang helped convince Clinton to make a major shift in immigration
policy wanted by Asian-Americans. And The Washington Post found a
couple of attendees at White House coffees had criminal records. Network
coverage? Zero. But CNN had time for a live update from Bob Franken on
the still-unreleased special counsel report on Gingrich.
January 23: The
Washington Times reported Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry
admitted senior adviser Bruce Lindsey knew in 1994 the Lippo Group had
paid a reported $250,000 to former associate attorney general Webster
Hubbell after he resigned in disgrace, raising questions if Lippo paid
Hubbell hush money. The Washington Post followed the next day. TV
coverage: Five days later, after it came up in a press conference, NBC
reported it on its evening and morning shows. ABC, CBS, and CNN: zero.
January 25: Gingrich told
a town meeting in his district the liberal media uses a double standard
to attack him and ignore liberal groups like the Sierra Club. All four
networks covered this story, suggesting Gingrich's contrition wasn't
the Bright Side
Polls put scientists among the most trusted
professionals, but is what they say always true? That was the focus of a
January 9 ABC News special Junk Science: What You Know That May Not
Be So. Reporter John Stossel looked at salt, dioxins, breast
implants and crack babies, where science has been manipulated to serve
greed or a quest for power. Plus: "And we in the media, well, we're part
of the problem too. We often take a grain of truth and run with it."
The report opened with salt, noting that government
bureaucracies "don't like it when their ideas are challenged...Look at
the empire built on salt." Stossel talked to Dr. Jeffrey Cutler of the
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the biggest advocate of
cutting back on salt. Stossel declared: "They have the government
churning out pamphlet after pamphlet. However, most experts we consulted
don't agree with the government's message about salt."
After pointing out to Dr. Cutler that the Journal
of the American Medical Association found that reducing salt in diet
has little effect on blood pressure, Stossel stated: "What led him
[Cutler] to conclude that less salt is good is that years of studies
have found that eating less salt often leads to lower blood pressure.
And we know that high blood pressure leads to heart disease. But this
doesn't prove that less salt leads to less heart disease. If it did you
could also argue say, that, since sunbathing gives you Vitamin D and
Vitamin D's good for you, sunbathing's good for you."
ABC Refuses to Debate Accuracy
Fighting Food Lion
ABC devoted the entire February 12 Prime Time Live
(PTL) and a 90-minute Viewpoint to the Food Lion verdict resulting
from a 1992 undercover look inside the grocery chain. But ABC avoided
exploring its accuracy and only briefly touched on the issues examined
by a North Carolina jury which awarded the chain $5.5 million in
punitive damages for ABC's deception and fraud to get jobs in the stores
that they failed to perform.
Instead, ABC focused on hidden cameras. Diane Sawyer
opened PTL by portraying them as a guard against the triumph of
evil. Intermixed with clips from previous shows, Sawyer asked: "Should
we have used hidden cameras to track crooked car repairmen?...Is it
spying? Is it lying? Is it right or wrong? This is footage of kids
packing guns. Would you use hidden cameras this way? What if you heard
some fast food restaurants were unsanitary? What if the mentally ill
were being neglected, or children were being abused?"
Sawyer showed part of the 1992 Food Lion piece,
including segments in dispute, and then talked with some jurors. Two had
since seen PTL's story. "We wondered if it changed anyone's
mind." One juror replied: "If I could have considered the broadcast, it
probably would have changed my mind a bit in favor of ABC." But another
juror was unconvinced.
Food Lion's Chris Ahearn got two minutes for rebuttal.
She said PTL's story "was not true, and it wasn't good
journalism. We know this because Food Lion has the 45 hours of hidden
camera footage ABC shot in our stores. This footage shows that Prime
Time Live staged scenes, violated our store policies and then
deceptively edited the tapes."
An opportunity for some fascinating TV? ABC had time
to show the PTL piece and Food Lion's video which showed how ABC
inaccurately described several of the scenes. But Food Lion did not
counter some other clips. So do they concede those scenes of food
mishandling were accurate? How does ABC defend their editing or do they
believe Food Lion's tape employed misleading editing?
Viewers will never know. ABC refused to consider that
the story was anything less than perfect. When former Senator Alan
Simpson noted on Viewpoint that the media have an "abhorrence of
ever saying anything more than that marvelous phrase, we stick by our
story," ABC News President Roone Arledge shot back: "Not true." But
minutes later Arledge maintained: "The fact of the matter is the
broadcast was true." On PTL, ABC chief David Westin declared: "We
stand by the truth and integrity of our Food Lion report." Ahearn asked
"Who is watching journalists?" Ted Koppel replied: "Journalists are
watching journalists." But when another journalistic enterprise gave
voice to Food Lion's side, ABC condemned them. On the day of the
punitive verdict, Jan. 22, Fox News Channel ran Food Lion's video of
clips from ABC's original footage. Westin was steamed: "I find it
outrageously unfair that a news organization would proceed that way."
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe