Join Networks in Ignoring Thompson Hearing Revelations
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
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
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
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
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.'"
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe