Keeping Quiet on Clinton's China Trip
Networks Provide Silence on
Fundraising, Missile Scoops
Isn't arming a communist nation with
missile technology and accepting donations from communist military
officials worth a few minutes of network air time? President Clinton
left for China with very little media emphasis on his China scandals -
either the illegal campaign contributions or the waivers for satellite
technology. Since June 5, the networks offered almost nothing on
developments reported by newspapers.
The only TV updates on the missile
scandal came on June 11. CNN's Wolf Blitzer and NBC's Claire Shipman
alluded to that day's Washington Post report by John Mintz on how
a newly inaugurated Clinton dropped his campaign pledge and endorsed
Bush's policy of allowing satellite deals "despite evidence that China
had sold ballistic missile parts to Pakistan, declassified White House
documents show." Also ignored:
New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth found: "For the past two years,
China's military has relied on American-made satellites sold for
civilian purposes to transmit messages to its far-flung army garrisons,
according to highly classified intelligence reports. The reports are the
most powerful evidence to date that the American government knew that
China's army was taking advantage of the Bush and Clinton
administrations' decisions to encourage sales of technology to Asian
Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz found: "China is discussing
sales of missile test equipment to Iran and is helping Libya develop its
own missile program... The reports contradict administration claims that
Beijing has improved its record on weapons proliferation."
June 18: Gerth
reported in The New York Times that the U.S. was backing down on
a large satellite deal due to "American intelligence reports about Shen
Rongjun, the Chinese Army General who oversees his country's military
satellite programs...In an unusual arrangement, Hughes Space and
Communications hired General Shen's son, a dual citizen of Canada and
China, to work on the project as a manager... Father and son were both
directly involved in the project, and American officials said the
intelligence reports said the General was pressing his son to move it
June 20: The
Washington Post relayed another allegation from Johnny Chung, that
Democratic officials knew they were accepting illegal Chinese money. At
least that disclosure generated a CNN story, but just 19 seconds on the
CBS Evening News and nothing on ABC and NBC.
Spurred by alarmist predictions from environmentalists, NBC's Kelly
O'Donnell demanded that Al Gore and the federal government do more to
save the seas. For the June 12 Today, O'Donnell accompanied Gore
and his fellow greenies to a summit on the world's oceans in Monterey,
California. On the trip Gore remotely piloted an underwater vehicle to
explore "a place that many believe must be rescued by government action
Every one of O'Donnell's questions to
Gore came from the left. "The hundreds of scientists who are gathered
here know your passion for the environment but at the same time many of
them feel an urgency even an anger that more hasn't been done."
Man was portrayed as evil: "And still
more evidence of man's interference. Overfishing, that has depleted a
third of the world's fisheries. As someone who is going to run for
President in the not too distant future, are you prepared to take on
those who oppose protecting the environment, those who see protecting
the ocean as maybe harming the livelihoods of those who make a living
O'Donnell added: "Mr. Gore unveiled the
Administration's plan: $30 million to explore the oceans, track climate
changes, preserve endangered coral reefs and clean up polluted waters.
In addition once secret military information, that could help civilian
scientists, will be declassified. Is that enough?...While he [Gore] got
a warm welcome at the ocean summit, some scientists say the new
commitments don't go far enough."
Liberal Book Club. For Time
magazine's June 8 issue celebrating "100 Artists & Entertainers of the
Century," Senior Writer Paul Gray cited ten books that "changed minds
and lives," most of which sounded like college textbooks excavated from
a liberal's closet.
Gray noted the importance of Anne Frank's
diary and Solzhenitsyn's chronicle of Soviet labor camps The Gulag
Archipelago, but the other eight came from liberal icons, like
philosopher John Dewey, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Sigmund Freud, Simone
DeBeauvoir and Rachel Carson. Gray wrote of Carson's Silent Spring:
"Her vivid descriptions of the ensuing damage [of poisonous fertilizers]
to the environment -- including animals, birds and humans -- made
ecologists of her many readers.
Gray listed leftists like economist John
Maynard Keynes and his most famous text, The General Theory of
Employment, Interest and Money. Gray wrote, "By positing that
government spending could revive sagging economies, Keynes rewrote the
rules of free-market capitalism." Time couldn't concede
Keynesianism failed to rewrite the rules of capitalism.
Gray credited Michael Harrington's 1963
work The Other America for scratching the "ingrained, persistent
poverty beneath the affluent surface of U.S. life...Lyndon Johnson's War
on Poverty was launched by Harrington's book." Harrington wrote, "There
is only one institution in the society capable of acting to end poverty.
That is the federal government." Time ignored right-leaning
life-changing literature like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, or even
Witness C by Whittaker Chambers, a former editor of Time
Military Modesty? On June 9, a
front page Washington Post headline announced: "Army Plans Modest
Makeover of Combat Divisions." Post staff writer Bradley Graham
explained: "The army has decided to trim troop strength in the
18,000-soldier divisions by a modest 13 percent."
But when the Republican Congress wanted
to slow the rate of increase in Medicare and Medicaid spending, the
Post incorrectly labeled the legislation as containing "huge,"
"massive," and "large" cuts. In a 1996 MediaWatch study of
print media coverage of Republican Medicare proposals, the Post
led all publications surveyed with 397 uses of "cuts" and its variants
in 370 stories. In the June 30, 1995 Post, reporter Judith
Havemann suggested: "Think of the upcoming battle for Medicaid as though
it were the battle of Manila," with more than 100,000 dead Filipino
civilians. "The battle received little attention despite its enormous
impact. The same thing could happen to Medicaid."
U.S. "Damaged" By
CNN, Says One of Network's Own
CNN "damaged" the U.S. and helped Saddam
Hussein with a "Hitlerian" program alleging the U.S. used deadly nerve
gas against defecting soldiers in 1970 Laos. So contended CNN's very own
military affairs consultant, Perry Smith, after viewing the June 7
premiere of NewsStand: CNN & Time.
Two weeks after the original report
narrated by Peter Arnett, co-host Jeff Greenfield acknowledged the
controversy and how "CNN's military consultant, retired General Perry
Smith, resigned in protest over that story. Other voices have been heard
calling that story into doubt. We take these voices seriously." But CNN
hardly conveyed the depth of Smith's anger or their efforts to cover it
Howard Kurtz reported in the June 17
Washington Post that "Smith quit after failing to convince Tom
Johnson, Chairman of the CNN News Group, that the network needed to
retract the story" which was also published in Time magazine. "'I
can't work for an organization that would do something like this and not
fess up to it,' Smith said yesterday."
Kurtz explained how Smith found the story
lacking: "Smith flew 130 combat sorties over Laos from 1968 to 1969 and
said he never heard of lethal gas being used. He said he has consulted
such former high-ranking military officials as Colin Powell and Norman
Schwarzkopf, who assured him that no nerve gas was used by the United
States during the war. Smith quoted Schwarzkopf as calling the
allegation 'ridiculous.' Smith also tracked down two pilots who
delivered gas to Laos that day from an air base in Thailand. Both said
they had carried non-lethal tear gas, not poisonous nerve gas."
Kurtz relayed this condemnation from the
man who spent years on the inside: "'CNN has damaged the United States
of America quite seriously,' Smith said. Referring to Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein, he said: 'Saddam can now accuse America of hypocrisy and
use CNN as a source.'" Smith told Washington Times reporter
Jennifer Harper the next day: "CNN vowed they would never sink to
tabloid journalism, that they would be honest and straight-forward. Then
they air this story, which is almost Hitlerian in concept."
But if CNN, which demands openness from
everyone else, had its way, Smith would never have spoken.
WorldNetDaily Editor Joe Farah learned that CNN threatened the
retired Air Force Major General with a lawsuit if he kept talking:
"Smith was told by CNN lawyers, in no uncertain terms, to shut up."
Networks Plug Brill's Attack on Ken Starr
Pro-Clinton Content Analysis
Professional critics of the news media
would seem to be the least likely subject for news reports. Why would
the media elevate their critics to prominence and perhaps damage their
reputation? Five years ago, Newsweek media writer Jonathan Alter
dismissed critics on the right and left: "What you realize is these
people aren't really interested in media criticism. What they're doing,
often, is just ax-grinding for a political view in the guise of media
The media did not apply this logic to
Steven Brill, who debuted his journalism review Brill's Content
with press releases on June 13. When asked on Today June 15 if
the magazine was a "positive step for consumers of journalism," Alter
replied: "I do. I generally think if we're going to dish it out in the
media, we have to be willing to take it when it comes to criticism, and
a lot of people look awfully bad in this story." What made Brill
His direct-mail sales package declared
war: "Name the industry that, when it comes to power, lack of
accountability, arrogance, and making money in the name of sacred
constitutional rights, actually makes lawyers look good...The media."
That and the magazine's high-finance launch gained him one early booking
on the Today show.
But Brill's first issue didn't create a
TV news frenzy for criticizing the media, but because it contained a
very partisan, one-sided, Clinton-echoing cover story attacking
independent counsel Ken Starr. In a 24,000-word article titled "Pressgate,"
Brill sounded like Alter's description of "ax-grinding for a political
view in the guise of media criticism." He charged Starr with Aunethical
if not illegal" leaks of secret grand jury testimony, even claiming
Starr was the law-breaker, not Clinton: "There is a lot more evidence of
Starr and some of his deputies committing this [leaking] felony than
there is of the President or Vernon Jordan committing a felony."
A Sunday Smash.
Brill also asserted "the press seems to have become an enabler of
Starr's abuse of power." That's a curious charge considering the
attention Brill received. Within hours of a Saturday New York Times
Web dispatch, the alleged Starr-enabling press invited Brill to a
William Ginsburg-style Sunday morning parade for his allegations: NBC's
Today, CBS's Face the Nation, CNN's Late Edition,
and Fox News Sunday. Brill's interviews focused primarily on the
Starr vs. Clinton angle, not media performance, and Brill did not divert
the networks from the anti-Starr line.
What About Brill?
While they didn't ask about their own reports, network stars didn't
refrain from asking Brill about his lack of focus on White House
tactics. On CBS's Face the Nation, Gloria Borger wondered: "Ken
Starr's people might say that the media had been manipulated in fact by
the White House on this story." Bob Schieffer added: "Do you think in
fact this has helped Ken Starr because his poll ratings, when you go out
around the country, if he was using the media in this way it does not
seem to have helped him."
But the Sunday night newscasts matched
the White House spin. On ABC, Carole Simpson announced: "Independent
Counsel Kenneth Starr has admitted in an interview released today that
he and his office were the source of some of the leaks about his
investigation into President Clinton. The news may come as no surprise
in Washington, but the fact that he said it -- that's another matter."
On CBS, Bob Schieffer trumpeted how "Steven Brill drops a bombshell." On
NBC, law professor Paul Rothstein insisted: "If there's a lot more under
the surface, it could lead to possible dismissal of Kenneth Starr."
Skeptical coverage of Brill's partisan
background was very slow to appear. By Monday morning, conservatives
were sending around Federal Election Commission records showing Brill
had donated $2,000 to the Clinton-Gore campaign, as well as more than
$9,000 to other liberal Democrats, such as Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
CNN and the Fox News Channel reported it that night, but the Big Three
networks never mentioned it on the evening shows. ABC's Good Morning
America and CBS This Morning touched on it, but despite
Brill's repeated appearances on NBC, they never reported Brill's
Democratic donations until Meet the Press host Tim Russert
brought it up six days later.
On Monday night, the networks again loaded negatives on Starr. Dan
Rather referred to Starr's "secret briefings." But the reporters knew
the contacts occurred, so if they were so newsworthy why didn't anyone
report them months ago? On ABC, substitute anchor Charles Gibson
insisted this feeding frenzy was all Ken Starr's fault, as if the
network news producers had nothing to do with it: "By admitting he did
talk to reporters hasn't Kenneth Starr handed the White House an
enormous political opportunity?" On Tuesday, Ken Starr answered Brill
with a stinging 19-page rebuttal on the facts and the law. The networks
covered the story -- all except ABC's World News Tonight, which
never mentioned it.
As the week wore on Brill showed up on
CNN's Larry King Live, and MSNBC's The News with Brian
Williams. Brill appeared on the Today show on Sunday, Monday,
and Wednesday, and then on the next Sunday's Meet the Press.
Brill received more publicity from the networks in a single week than
other media critics had gained in decades.
What About Walsh?
None of the TV stories offered much historical perspective. Reporters
suggested prosecutors like Lawrence Walsh talked to reporters regularly,
but they did not mention controversies over Walsh's leaking of grand
jury testimony. Mark Levin, a former attorney for Attorney General Ed
Meese, remembered Walsh's treatment of grand jury testimony in the
February 16 Washington Times: "Before Mr. Walsh's final report on
his Iran-Contra investigation was released to the public, I filed
several motions with the Special Division overseeing Mr. Walsh's
investigation objecting to, among other things, over 600 hundred
references to secret grand jury testimony. Remarkably, some of the same
journalists and pundits who are now decry alleged leaks of grand jury
information in the investigation of Bill Clinton -- leaks which they and
Mr. Clinton place at Mr. Starr's door without any substantiation or hard
evidence -- were not as worried about the sanctity of the grand jury
process during the Iran-Contra investigation. In fact, the Society of
Professional Journalists, among others, filed an emergency motion with
the Special Division demanding 'full disclosure' of Mr. Walsh's final
report -- including grand jury testimony and allegations of criminal
The networks failed to devote a fraction of the Brill coverage to other
scandal developments less favorable to the President. On June 12, Los
Angeles Times reporters David Willman and Ronald Ostrow found that
Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey was contacting potential
witnesses in the Lewinsky probe: "After reviewing Lindsey's actions, a
federal judge has sharply questioned why a lawyer on the government
payroll was doing this kind of sleuthing....'The court questions the
propriety of the President utilizing a government attorney as his
personal agent in a personal attorney-client relationship,' Chief U.S.
District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson wrote....Independent counsel
Kenneth Starr wants to know what Lindsey said during his contacts and
whether Lindsey crossed the line from innocuous fact-finding to
implicitly coaching a witness' testimony." Network coverage? Zero.
Brill ended his article with a list of
recommendations, including: "No one should read or listen to a media
organization that consistently shows that it is the lapdog of big,
official power, rather than a respectful skeptic." Then no one should
have paid attention to Brill's magazine, which quickly decided the White
House was "not the story" in Monicagate coverage. But if Brill had spent
his first issue criticizing only the press instead of the prosecutor the
press despises, Brill's Content might have joined other media
critics sitting behind a stone wall of near-silence on the networks.
On the Bright Side
"Seldom has a religious statement
been so misconstrued," assessed Newsweek religion writer Kenneth
Woodward after seeing the media reaction to the adding of a new plank to
the official "Baptist Faith and Message." Dan Rather, for instance,
declared on the June 10 CBS Evening News: "New changes in the
church's official formal statement of beliefs are sparking big debate
today across religious boundaries. Southern Baptist leadership now takes
the view that quote, 'a wife is to submit graciously to her husband's
leadership.' CBS's Bob McNamara has chapter and verse on this
controversial interpretation of a woman's place."
As Woodward explained in the June 22
issue, the "Apostle Paul set forth rules for godly family relationships.
'Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,' runs a
typical passage that later became sacred scripture. 'Husbands, love your
wives and never treat them harshly,' he continued." But, he observed,
"when delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution
saying that a wife should 'submit graciously to her husband's
leadership' -- a paraphrase of Paul -- the media reacted as if the
Baptists were promoting heresy. From a secular perspective, they were."
The Baptist statement, Woodward pointed
out, "twice mentioned the equality of husbands and wives," but "this was
barely noted in media reports." Indeed, of the network stories, only
ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer told viewers: "The husband and wife are of equal
worth before God" and "a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the
Instead of bringing understanding of
religious doctrines to their viewers as Woodward had to his readers, NBC
propounded a nefarious interpretation. Leading into a clip from the Dean
of the Wake Forest Divinity School, reporter George Lewis brusquely
charged: "The Southern Baptists quote the Bible, the Book of Ephesians,
to back up their contention that women should follow men, but other
theologians point out that in the 19th century the Southern Baptists
used the same scripture to justify slavery."
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