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From the August 1997 MediaWatch

News Magazines Join Networks in Ignoring Thompson Hearing Revelations

Page One

Tabloid Tales Trump Scandals

The national news magazines boast of their ability to provide in- depth perspectives on the news. Last year, Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson suggested on PBS: "Time... can be your intelligent agent. It can help set the agenda so that we, in a time when everything is fractured, 500 channels, hundreds of thousands of places to go on the World Wide Web, what we do need in this country, and maybe in this world, is common ground."

Congressional hearings into the fundraising scandal offered the news magazines a complex, meaty subject that the networks punted (see Study, page 6) but they decided to ape TV news and cover celebrity murders and tabloid features instead.

On the Monday before the hearings, in issues dated July 14, the Senate hearings received a significant preview six pages in Time, four pages in Newsweek, four in U.S. News & World Report. But as the hearings progressed, and the evidence of wrongdoing increased, the coverage shrunk and grew sillier. One week later, Time offered a cover story on folk singer Jewel, plus eight pages on teen crime, but only two on the hearings. Newsweek gave its cover to centerfold-turned-TV-actress Jenny McCarthy, and devoted one page to a John Huang story.

U.S. News did a one-page story attacking Fred Thompson's claim that China subverted U.S. elections, and another three pages claiming the real story was ethnic lobbies within America.

The July 28 issues were stunning examples of tabloid judgment: Time put Gianni Versace on the cover, and had 16 pages on his murder, to only one on John Huang. Newsweek put Versace's killer Andrew Cunanan on its cover, and omitted its entire space on national affairs for 17 pages on the murder. (Compare the Cunanan craze to fundraising coverage from April to July: over 17 issues, Time logged 20 pages, Newsweek only ten.) U.S. News gave Cunanan a page, the hearings a whisper in its Washington Whispers feature.

Newsweek devoted six pages to Cunanan on August 4, and a half- page to Democratic attempts to dig up dirt on Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.). U.S. News had six pages on "Day Care Dangers" and a couple of paragraphs on Republican Haley Barbour. Time published nothing on the hearings except a fictitious interview with Senator Fred Thompson using lines out of his movies.

After witnesses detailed Charlie Trie's multi-million dollar funnel from China and the White House obstructed the release of documents, the August 11 editions arrived: Newsweek offered one paragraph, U.S. News a third of a page and Time had zilch. Those interested in the hearings couldn't find them on TV or at the magazine stand.



In the Media

CNN's Clintonista

CNN has tapped Rick Kaplan, a Friend of Bill who advised Clinton on how to overcome the Gennifer Flowers story and was rewarded with a stay in the Lincoln Bedroom, to take control of its news operation. A top ABC News producer who has run Nightline, Prime Time Live, and World News Tonight, Kaplan was named President of CNN in early August.

And who picked Kaplan? Tom Johnson, a Democratic political adviser turned President of CNN who now holds the title of Chairman of the CNN News Group. Tom Johnson served as Deputy Press Secretary and later Special Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960s, sticking with the former President when he moved back to Texas.

Kaplan was among the 831 names made public earlier this year of overnight White House guests in Clinton's first term. He stayed in 1993 while serving as Executive Producer of World News Tonight. But he's more than just a one-night guest. While Executive Producer of Prime Time Live in 1992 he provided Clinton campaign strategy when the Gennifer Flowers story broke. "Clinton called Kaplan for advice," Los Angeles Times reporter Tom Rosenstiel recounted in his campaign book Strange Bedfellows. On the way to the airport, Clinton made another call to Kaplan and the "night ended for Kaplan at 4am, when Clinton called one last time."

Rosenstiel quoted Kaplan as telling Clinton: "Do the toughest interview you can. If you want to prove your credibility, you don't want to do it on Good Morning America or the Today show. And you won't get ratings in the morning. You have to go for the largest audience." After Clinton decided to go on 60 Minutes, during the 4am call, Rosenstiel learned, Kaplan advised Clinton to face down a famous name like Mike Wallace or Morley Safer. Voters "are going to remember that you stood up to Mike Wallace." The Clintons appeared opposite Steve Kroft.

Two months later as Clinton's campaign floundered in New York, aides suggested an appearance on the Don Imus radio show. "The appearance was clinched," CNN producer Matthew Saal recalled in the January 1993 Washington Monthly, "when Rick Kaplan...called the radio show host to see if he could get the pair together. The answer was yes."

Kaplan "sees no conflict between being a friend of the President's and running the country's top-rated cable news operation," USA Today's Peter Johnson relayed on August 6. "'I have 28 years of making news judgments behind me,' Kaplan said. 'And I'm not the first news executive to know a President.' He said he'd make news calls about Clinton coverage as a journalist, not a friend. 'If your job is to report, you report.'"

Moonlighting Moonves

Kaplan's not the only Clinton buddy to take control of a network. In early August CBS promoted Leslie Moonves to President of CBS Television from his previous perch running the entertainment division. Moonves, who also stayed overnight in the White House and plays golf with the President, maxed out to the Clinton-Gore campaign with a $1,000 donation and pitched in another $5,000 last year to the Democratic National Committee.

In July Clinton named Moonves Co-Chairman of the Gore Commission on digital broadcasting and the public interest, i.e.: free airtime for political ads.


Page Three

News Pages, Editorials Differ

A Times Warp

After revelations of Democratic wrongdoing at the Senate fund- raising hearings, the New York Times editorial page hit the party with withering sarcasm. The July 16 page detailed the revelation that $50,000 from the Lippo Group sent to John Huang made its way to the DNC in 1992 and observed: "So much for the commentators who spent last weekend assuring the country that there was nothing to be learned from these hearings." 

What commentators? The New York Times, for one. Three days earlier, reporter Richard L. Berke wrote an analysis headlined: "A Scandal Falls Victim to Its Own Irrelevance." Berke saw no use to the hearings unless they resulted in more regulation: "So the public may be at peace with the notion that the campaign- finance system is flawed, even corrupt, and that it will never be fixed so long as that is left to the politicians who relied on the system to get elected in the first place." On July 14, Lizette Alvarez wrote the hearings "had been fat on grandstanding and innuendo and skimpy on details and corroborative evidence."

On July 16 the Senate committee found that Huang's boss at Commerce considered him "unqualified" and recommended he be "walled off" from China issues. The next day the Times editorial page reviled the Democrats' obstructionist tactics: "While Robert Torricelli tries to remember his birthday and John Glenn jokes about his astrological sign, more serious members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee kept getting several lessons a day in the operation of the most reckless presidential fundraising operation in recent history."

Then Times reporters struck again. In a July 19 front-page story headlined "Smoke, but No Gun," David E. Rosenbaum found little amiss: "No evidence was offered showing that Mr. Huang had been hired by the Commerce Department in a way any different from the way hundreds of other patronage appointments have been made by this and other presidential administrations."

Rosenbaum even hinted the Republican Senators were modern-day McCarthyites: "The chasm between the circumstantial evidence presented and the suspicions raised was so large that the Democratic Senators were able to respond by saying the Republicans had breached the line between inference and innuendo." 



Janet Cooke Award

Two ABC Reports Attack 1996 Legislation Cracking Down on Criminal Aliens

Don't Give Us Those Huddled Masses

America has prided itself on being a "nation of immigrants," but what happens when immigrants abuse America's freedom and commit crimes?

Criminal aliens are a growing problem: according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, they account for over 25 percent of federal prison inmates and represent the fastest growing segment of the federal prison population. Not only is the federal government spending almost half a billion dollars incarcerating criminal aliens. It is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars reimbursing alien-heavy states for the costs of illegal aliens in state prisons.

To help remedy the problem, Congress passed a law last year broadening the definition of "aggravated felony" as a reason for deportation to include nearly any drug offense, sexual abuse of minors, and other crimes, giving the Immigration and Naturalization Service new power to apprehend and deport criminal aliens. For airing two stories that resembled ads against government efforts to deport criminal aliens, ABC's World News Tonight earned the Janet Cooke Award.

On July 20, ABC's Anderson Cooper focused on deported Salvadoran gang members with names like Little Mousie and Sloppy, suggesting a Blame America First approach to crime problems in El Salvador: "San Salvador today seems a lot like Los Angeles. You cruise through streets of fast food, fancy cars, and radios blasting the oldies. Everywhere you look, American culture stares back. But by deporting what Salvadoran officials say are at least 3,000 gang members to the country of their birth, the U.S. has also been exporting a darker side of its culture. The deportees, most of whom grew up in Los Angeles, return to a country they barely know. The gang life they learned in the U.S. is the one thing that gives them some status."

Cooper continued: "Sloppy was 12 when he joined L.A.'s 18th Street Gang. Upon returning to El Salvador, he formed a new gang clique with Nasty, a deported drug dealer. Together, they recruited a half-dozen young Salvadorans eager to join something hard-core, something American."

Cooper concluded: "The gangs just keep on growing. Some kids do get out. Rosa was shot and paralyzed by a rival gang member. Her gang then abandoned her. The deportees, she says, bring nothing but disgrace. 'They come here,' she says, 'and recruit and tell us the rules from L.A., but in the end, we are the ones who suffer.' But for every one who leaves a gang, there are two or three to take their place. A whole generation in El Salvador has come of age enamored with those deported from the U.S., enamored with this violent side of American culture."

Jack Martin, special projects director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told MediaWatch that Cooper "ignores that the persons in question are not persons that the United States sought out to come to this country. In fact virtually all of them entered alone or with their parents as illegal aliens. While it is surely true that they should have been deported back to El Salvador long ago, perhaps before they became so adept at criminal activity and gang conflict, the fact that they turned to crime in the United States can in no way be accepted by the United States as its fault."

Martin also questioned if violence is the result of "American culture" or El Salvador's civil war: "The segment might have pointed out that the civil strife in El Salvador that some of the deportees were exposed to as children often involved children as combatants. The fact is that the proliferation of gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States in recent years is related to the heavy influx of immigrants, primarily but not entirely illegal entrants."

The very next night, ABC's Peter Jennings announced: "Congress passed a series of bills which permitted authorities to deport immigrants, including legal immigrants, who have been convicted of a crime. The laws are very sweeping, and it turns out, very unforgiving." Antonio Mora found the most sympathetic of subjects: "In most ways, Charlie Jaramillo is the ideal immigrant. His parents brought him legally to America from Colombia when he was just a baby. In the 32 years since, he married an American, who is a deaconess at the local church, had two children, and became a successful and respected contractor in West Chester, Pennsylvania. But there is a blemish: eight years ago he was convicted of selling $40 worth of cocaine. He says it was a one-time thing."

Mora elaborated: "After completing five years probation, Jaramillo thought he'd paid his debt to society. But then a few months ago, he decided to become an American citizen. He applied here at the INS office in Philadelphia, admitting he had been convicted of a crime. When he returned for his citizenship test, federal agents were waiting...They handcuffed him and told him the government was deporting him to Colombia, a country whose language he barely speaks."

Despite a lobbying campaign on Jaramillo's behalf, Mora reported: "The outcry over illegal immigration has led to tough laws against all non-citizens, allowing authorities to deport even legal aliens, like Jaramillo, if they've committed one of a wide range of crimes."

Mora allowed a sentence from Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.): "This legislation is to say that we have enough criminals in this country without having to import them." Mora added: "Attorney General Janet Reno is applying the laws strictly, booting out permanent residents for crimes committed years ago."

Mora ended: "In a case similar to Jaramillo's, a federal judge granted two immigrants the right to appeal, calling Reno's position an 'arbitrary abuse of power' that could lead to 'cruelty' to immigrant families. Experts believe the issue will not be resolved until it reaches the Supreme Court, but for the Jaramillos and thousands of other immigrants, that might be too late."

Martin told MediaWatch: "Congress has decided that aliens who are drug pushers, if they were convicted of crimes serious enough to be sentenced to at least one year in prison, are not welcome and should be deported. Prior to last year's reforms, the standard for citizenship ineligibility was whether the alien had committed a 'crime of moral turpitude.' Selling cocaine was such a crime. So, regardless of the change in the law, the alien in this case became deportable at that time. The fact that the INS didn't fulfill its responsibility earlier is hardly a reason they shouldn't do so now."

In both stories, ABC reporters were too busy explaining the dark side of American culture and jurisprudence to explore the costs (both financial and social) criminal aliens impose on American society, or the bad name criminal aliens give to those immigrants who come to America asking for nothing more than the chance to breathe free and make their own way.




No Nazi Gaffes Unless It's Newt. When Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Jay Rockefeller brought an "average" American to a press conference to illustrate who'd benefit from the Clinton tax plan, Rockefeller described him as "a very close and personal friend." But the guy had a Nazi swastika tattooed to his arm. News? Naah.

Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz explained the gaffe that wasn't on July 28: "Most of the reporters at Daschle's July 18 news briefing (including two from The Washington Post) couldn't see that Rickey McCumbers, the $5-an-hour worker there with his wife, had a small swastika near his right wrist. But Roberta Hornig, an NBC reporter seated near McCumbers, said 'my eyes popped' when she saw it." Was it news? Hornig told Kurtz: "'I just thought it would be unfair to make an issue of this couple who Rockefeller was using to make a point. It would have blown it way out of proportion.'"

What if the politicians were Republicans? Kurtz wrote, "A CNN producer phoned it in for Inside Politics, but on a busy day, said Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno, 'like many other pieces of copy, it didn't make it....I think it's a story. Clearly if Newt Gingrich walked out with a guy with a swastika on his arm, people would have jumped all over it.'" Yet on the "busy day" in question, July 18, Inside Politics found time for a story on Senator Lauch Faircloth's bill to ban computer games like Solitaire from government computers.

Class Warmongers. While the network news hailed the recent budget agreement, there was one facet of it they didn't care for: tax cuts, specifically capital gains tax cuts. The networks mischaracterized the budget from the left as helping the rich the most.

On the July 29 World News Tonight, ABC substitute anchor Diane Sawyer emphasized the liberal angle that wealthier people "benefit" the most dollar-wise: "Economists everywhere spent the day trying to sort out who wins and who loses. Here's one view the economists agreed on: People with very low incomes under $13,000 a year will stay the same, or actually pay a little bit more if they smoke because of higher cigarette taxes. As for everyone else, the range of the tax cuts is huge, as you can see, ranging from $14, at the lowest income levels [on-screen $12,800] to nearly $17,000 at the highest levels [$246,000]. Those with the very highest incomes benefit the most from cuts in capital gains, estate, and inheritance taxes."

On MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, substitute anchor John Hockenberry relayed the same numbers and introduced a piece by Jonathan Alter: "Now some people busy calculating the actual tax relief generated by the budget agreement think it will end up mostly benefitting people who need it the least: the rich." Alter elaborated: "After the back-slapping, after the fine print, the bottom line on the tax bill is still this: The richer you are, the richer you'll be." While Alter never took the time to point out how much the wealthy pay in taxes, he did take this pot shot as he stood in front of a New York hotel: "The biggest winners from the new tax cut are those...making more than $200,000 a year, the top one percent of all taxpayers. They'll get an average of well over $5,000 a year in new tax relief, enough for a couple of weeks here at the Plaza."

The networks did not point out that the poor who have kids benefit the most, percentage-wise, getting a payment greater than the income tax they pay. The August 1 Washington Post showed how a working mom, who has two children younger than 17, now gets a refund of $771. Under the new deal, it will be $1,771, a tax cut of $1,000, or 130 percent. On the other hand, take the power couple with two children, one in college, one younger than 17. They earn $400,000 and declare $100,000 in capital gains. Now they pay $96,080. Under the new system they would pay $88,080. A tax cut of $8,000, but that's just 8 percent. Only on network television is 8 percent larger than 130 percent.

Healy's Homilies. Los Angeles Times reporter Melissa Healy strove to leave the impression that state-run programs employing welfare recipients are completely inhumane. In her July 5 front page article "N.Y. 'Workfare' Not So Fair After All, Some Say," only four of her 41 paragraphs were allotted to welfare-reforming Republicans, with only one quote from Rep. James M. Talent (Mo.) defending the program. Healy devoted the rest of the article to the complaints of workfare recipients and liberal union and welfare activists that workfare is "slavery" or "indentured servitude."

Healy wrote that one workfare recipient, Geneva Moore, "is reminded of her second-class status daily... Moore and many others say that as long as she is doing work that other people are hired and paid to do, she should not need to wait to be treated like a worker. Showing up promptly on the job each morning, Moore says she does exactly the things that any city maintenance worker, who in New York would earn roughly $9 per hour, would do. And while she does it, she says, some of those workers drink coffee and remind her that they pay for her welfare check, so she should get to work."

The Liberal Libertarian? Longtime Supreme Court Justice William Brennan died on July 24. Instead of taking a serious look at the man who expanded government power in many areas, reporters celebrated Brennan's liberalism.

NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw praised Brennan's habit of reading his personal views into the Constitution, calling Brennan "a brilliant constitutional scholar who used that document as a dynamic instrument in American life and used it to reshape and expand individual rights in this country." Legal reporter Pete Williams added he was "appointed to the Court by President Eisenhower, but became an advocate for the right of individuals to challenge government power." Over on ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Renee Poussaint gushed: "He was one of the most influential jurists in American history with a legacy of defending individual rights."

Tony Mauro and Mimi Hall wrote in the July 25 USA Today that Brennan "led the Supreme Court on a quiet revolution that expanded individual rights and press freedoms to an extent found nowhere else in the world...Brennan saw his influence wane as justices appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush cut back the court's role as active protector of individual rights." In Newsweek, Stephen Vermiel, a former Wall Street Journal Supreme Court reporter, had a bizarre take on Brennan's legacy, in light of the fact that Brennan's views have been soundly rejected by the voters at the ballot box. Vermiel wrote: "His influence came from his ability to make his expansive view of rights in the Constitution a more attractive, more appealing alternative for other justices than the pinched reading of the Constitution advanced by conservative colleagues."

Death to Balance. A network reporter finds religion when the life of a murderer is at stake. On the July 23 NBC Nightly News, Bob Faw took up the case of Joseph O'Dell, convicted of raping and murdering a Virginia Beach waitress in 1985. Tom Brokaw opened the story: "The clock is counting down for a convicted murderer who does have a powerful advocate, no less than Pope John Paul, asking that he be spared, but so far not even the Pope has been able to persuade Virginia's Governor to reopen this case."

Faw devoted more of the soundbites to O'Dell and his supporters than to those seeking justice for his crime. Faw added: "He was found guilty after a prison inmate said O'Dell confessed and after DNA tests concluded the victim's blood was on his clothes. But later the inmate admitted he'd lied and DNA tests in 1990 showed the blood on O'Dell's shirt was neither the victim's nor his. When tests on his jacket were inconclusive, his lawyers sought one final test on evidence from the victim's body."

Faw did air a soundbite from Katherine Baldwin at the Virginia Attorney General's office pointing out O'Dell's case has been reviewed by over 40 judges and the Supreme Court, but that did not deter Faw. "With O'Dell on death row, friends proclaimed his innocence on the Internet; there were demonstrations for him, the latest today in Rome. A delegation of European legislators even flew to Virginia's Capitol to plead his case." After airing an Italian parliament member's plea for O'Dell to punctuate his point, Faw declared: "The Pope agreed, as did Mother Teresa, who wrote to Virginia Governor George Allen, but Allen rebuffed them." Faw then interviewed "noted defense attorney" John Tucker, who also supported O'Dell.

Faw did run soundbites from Allen and the victim's mother, but nonetheless gave the last word to the convicted murderer and called the story "a case which O'Dell's defenders say will show whether Virginia cares more about a notch in its belt or the truth."

A Tale of Two Interviews. ABC's World News Tonight airs a weekend interview feature called "A Conversation With." But the tone of the conversation can depend on the ideology of the subject. On August 2, reporter Carole Simpson got nasty when interviewing black conservative Ward Connerly, proponent of California's Proposition 209, which repealed racial quotas. Anchor Deborah Roberts introduced Simpson's report: "His critics call him a traitor, or worse. We wanted to hear his side." Not if Simpson could help it. Her first question set a hostile tone: "May I ask you the question that all black people have wanted me to ask you, all the black people I know? Why you, why you leading the fight against affirmative action?" Her next question: "You've been called an Uncle Tom, an Oreo cookie. How do you respond to that?" When Connerly later explained the drop in black admissions in California graduate schools was based on merit, Simpson shot back: "You're trying to suggest to me Bell Curve stuff, that blacks are just intellectually inferior."

But Simpson was respectful to Jesse Jackson when she introduced Erin Hayes' "Conversation With" Jackson on February 23: "The Rev. Jesse Jackson is trying to change the face of education in this country. And he's brought together some of the nation's leading educators to Chicago for a three-day summit." When Hayes challenged Jackson, she put criticism into other people's mouths: "Some people are convinced that pouring money into [education] won't help." Then she fawned: "I was wondering what you've seen that makes this a priority for you."

"Ugly Thing" Forbes. Money-laundering from communist regimes into the U.S. political system. Selling access to the White House. Allegations of policy changes in exchange for donations. None of this shakes Matthew Miller's faith in the political system like a wealthy American using his own money to run for President. Miller, a U.S. News & World Report economics reporter, wrote in the July 17 Philadelphia Inquirer: "There are two big things wrong with the current hearings on campaign-finance scandals. First, they're not really about foreign influence. And second, John Huang isn't the poster boy for what ails money and politics Steve Forbes is."

Miller explained: "Forbes represents the purest, most offensive challenge to the idea that money should equal speech." Then he got rough: "Must we really accept a doctrine that lets a vain twit pour Daddy's millions into so much flat tax propaganda that it lands him on the cover of Time and Newsweek and influences the national agenda?" Miller advocated limiting speech instead of the laws which deny Forbes the ability to make big donations to other candidates: "Is Steve Forbes constitutional? The court might tell us that Forbes' fetishes are among those ugly things we have to tolerate in a free society. In any event, this is the kind of conversation that might begin to fix our campaigns, not witch hunts for red perils that don't exist."

Of course, limiting the free speech of candidates would make journalists like Miller all the more influential.



Networks Explore Every Stitch of Versace Murder, But Thompson Hearing Angles Ignored

Dressmakers Outrank Democrats

Last fall, Hedrick Smith devoted an hour of his PBS special The People and The Power Game to decrying the media's negative coverage of Clinton: "By focusing on scandal and conflict over substance, and by our increasingly negative tone, the media has distorted the nation's agenda and lost touch with the public we claim to serve."

But network news coverage in the month of July suggests the substance of scandal is being swamped by the titillating tabloid fun of celebrity murders. The killing of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the subsequent manhunt for gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan dramatically outnumbered coverage of the Thompson hearings, even though the murder happened a week after the hearings began. To be specific:

The morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 132 full segments on Versace and Cunanan, but devoted only 18 full segments to the Thompson hearings, a ratio of more than seven to one. (The shows also aired 49 anchor briefs on the murder, compared to 16 on the hearings.)

The Big Three morning shows aired 51 interviews on Cunanan and five on the hearings, for a ten to one ratio. All five morning show interviews on the hearings were held with network pundits, who reviewed the hearings as theater and as a horse race. Senators on the Governmental Affairs Committee never appeared to discuss the substance of the investigation. Morning show hearings coverage declined each week, from 21 to seven to five to one in the last week.

Evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN aired 93 full reports on the Cunanan story to 58 full reports on the hearings. (The shows also aired 11 anchor briefs on Cunanan and 12 on the hearings.) Evening stories on Cunanan led off the newscast on 30 shows, and came number two in 23 shows. By contrast, the hearings came first in only five newscasts, and drew the second story seven times.

Like most of the other months this year, the networks skipped fundraising stories on a majority of their broadcasts. In July's 31 days, the morning shows were all guilty (CBS 29 days off, NBC 20, ABC 17). In the evening, ABC (19 nights off) and NBC (17) preferred to play hooky, but not CBS (10) or CNN (11).

Some networks were less distinguished than others in their rush for the tabloid headline over the slow exposition of corruption in high places.

Morning shows: CBS This Morning won the prize for ignoring the hearings. After one anchor brief on the first day, July 8, and one Phil Jones report and two briefs on July 9, they took the rest of the month off.

On ABC's Good Morning America, the Cunanan story attracted 41 full segments, including 17 interviews. The hearings drew just nine full segments, with three interviews of ABC pundits. Co-host Charles Gibson traveled to Miami to cover Cunanan, but never came to Washington for the hearings. (Good Morning America aired 20 Cunanan anchor briefs to seven on the hearings.)

NBC's Today loved the Cunanan story the most, with 59 full segments, including 24 interviews, to only eight segments, including two Tim Russert interviews, on the hearings. (Today's anchor-brief gap was 18 to 6.) Like ABC, NBC sent co-host Matt Lauer to Miami, not Washington.

After Haley Barbour testified, news anchor Sara James asked Russert if the fundraising scandal was now over: "Does it end here, Tim?" After Lisa Myers profiled Sen. Fred Thompson, co-host Katie Couric asked: "Lisa, back to the really important things. I remember he brought that country singer Lorrie Morgan to a Washington dinner once a few years back. Is he still dating her?"

Evening shows: CNN's The World Today (and Prime News on Wednesdays) had the greatest evening news discrepancy between the Cunanan killings and the Thompson hearings: 29 to 14. CNN led its newscast with Cunanan nine times, and made it number two on seven nights. CNN aired a story or brief on the hearings every evening after they took place, and their 14 full stories ran longer than the other networks. But The World Today is twice as long and it barely matched the others in the number of stories. The hearings never led CNN.

CBS Evening News led the Big Three in Cunanan coverage, with 24 full stories and two anchor briefs. The murder led off eight broadcasts, and got the second story six times. While CBS dragged far behind their morning competitors in caring about the Senate corruption probe, Evening News came in first among the Big Three with 18 full pieces and two anchor briefs. CBS aired a story every night after the Senate hearings were in session. Fundraising led the newscast once, on July 8. ABC's World News Tonight followed CBS closely in capitalizing on Cunanan with 22 stories and an anchor brief. ABC also led its newscast with Cunanan eight times, and gave it second-billing on seven days.

By contrast, the hearings drew 14 full reports and two briefs. Fundraising led the newscast twice, including a July 9 piece touting Clinton's high new approval rating of 64 percent. ABC's John Donvan underlined the poll: "Mr. Clinton in Europe is moving like a man on a roll. A summit here where he got almost every- thing he wanted, an economy back home that is the best in decades. Even the charges being raised about his party's fund- raising tactics do not seem to stick."

While NBC's Today led in the Cunanan frenzy in the morning, Nightly News trailed the other evening shows with 17 full reports and four anchor briefs. NBC led with Cunanan on five nights, and gave it the number two slot three times. NBC devoted five "In Depth" features to Versace and Cunanan, but none to the hearings. NBC aired 15 reports on the hearings, nine of them in the first week. Fundraising led two shows, and made the number two slot just once.

The hearings were first and second on July 8, as the hearings began. That night, Brian Williams cast the probe as a partisan food fight in a question to Tim Russert: "It's clear the Republicans are going after the President, that's half of what this is all about. They'll also go after John Huang. Who will the Democrats be left to attack?"

That's a far cry from the line NBC's John Chancellor took in 1987, decrying Oliver North's efforts to hide Iran-Contra details: "There is a colossal arrogance at the heart of the Iran- Contra operation....North was working for the American government, but when he got in trouble, his first priority was to keep his files from the American government. It wasn't trustworthy, and that's the greatest arrogance of all."

Ten years later, the White House and the DNC ignore subpoenaes and withhold documents for months from Congress and the Independent Counsel, but Americans are kept busy watching the detective stories.



On the Bright Side

Torricelli's Prenatal Studies

NBC's Lisa Myers deserves credit for catching a liberal Senator in a lie and calling him on it. On the July 11 NBC Nightly News, Myers was the only network reporter that went after Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) for an emotional embellishment he made at the Senate fundraising hearings. 

In his opening statement Torricelli lectured that he wanted to avoid the ethnic stereotyping spread by organized crime hearings held by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.). Waxing nostalgic, Torricelli recalled, "It was among the first memories of government in the United States that I have, and probably the first hearing of the Senate I ever witnessed. It was only a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it."

Just one problem with Torricelli's moving anecdote. As the July 10 Roll Call documented, he made it up. The Kefauver hearings lasted from May 1950 to August 1951. Roll Call explained: "Torricelli couldn't have remembered the Kefauver investigation, or even that flickering screen. The future Senator was born on August 26, 1951. The final gavel fell on the Kefauver subcommittee hearings on August 31, 1951."

Brian Williams set up Myers: "A freshman Senator from New Jersey is in a little bit of trouble for what he wanted very badly to be a very big dramatic moment on the much-anticipated first day of those campaign finance hearings going on the Hill. NBC's Lisa Myers tonight looks between the lines and finds all that was lacking was the truth."

Plante Goes Back to Basics

Here's an idea for TV reporters: dig up some old quotes from President Clinton and see how he's lived up to his promises. Sounds like Journalism 101, but it's rarely been done. CBS reporter Bill Plante tried this out on the August 6 CBS This Morning. He told anchor Jane Robelot: "That tax and spending bill, those two bills he signed yesterday, are not exactly what Mr. Clinton wanted when he came here. He came to Washington calling for universal health care and government spending to stimulate the economy. We looked around yesterday and we came up with this quote from an interview he did in November of 1994.... He said, 'All these extreme Republicans,' that's a quote, 'promising tax cuts and spending increases and balanced budgets, all this ridiculous stuff,' unquote."


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CNN Barely Touched Willey, But...

Pounced on Mayor Giuliani

CNN pounced on news that a Vanity Fair article charged New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) was having an affair. But the network ignored a Newsweek story about Kathleen Willey, the White House staffer subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Jones.

CNN's Inside Politics on July 31 placed the subpoena last on the show. The World Today gave 26 seconds to how Willey is "fighting efforts to drag her into the Paula Jones case."

Jump to Monday, August 4. Inside Politics devoted half the show to Giuliani. After a taped piece, Judy Woodruff interviewed Jennet Conant of Vanity Fair. Bernard Shaw talked with The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and Newsday's Leonard Levitt. Shaw assumed the media had suppressed the Giuliani story: "President Clinton's private life versus Mayor Giuliani's private life. Double standard on the part of the media?" Both guests agreed.

The same day the August 11 Newsweek detailed how Willey had been a White House volunteer, but when her husband was accused of embezzlement she went to Clinton to ask about a paying job. Reporter Michael Isikoff revealed that "Linda Tripp, then an executive assistant in the White House counsel's office, recalls bumping into Willey" after she had left Clinton. "Willey was 'disheveled. Her face was red and her lipstick was off. She was flustered, happy and joyful'....According to Tripp, Willey said the President had taken her from the Oval Office to his private office...and kissed and fondled her. She was not in any way 'appalled,' Tripp told Newsweek."

Willey's husband committed suicide, leading Clinton lawyer Bob Bennett to say that "Clinton may have consoled her around the time of her husband's death, but it is 'preposterous' to suggest that Clinton might have made a sexual advance." Isikoff, however, discovered that "Ed Willey's body was not found until the day after the alleged encounter."

That night The World Today ran a two minute story on Giuliani, but neither that day nor anytime that week did the show cite the Newsweek details. "Nothing makes headlines like sex and politics," anchor Joie Chen declared. Except if it involves Bill Clinton. 



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