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From the January 1999 MediaWatch

Networks on China: Still Soft on Defense

Bipartisan House Report on Missilegate Gets Just Seconds

After months of media groaning about the lack of bipartisanship in the impeachment debate, on December 30 a special select House committee of five Republicans and four Democrats released a unanimous report which concluded that U.S. technology deals with China over the last 20 years have boosted the accuracy of their missiles and harmed America’s national security.

Of the broadcast networks, only CBS considered it worth a full story. ABC’s World News Tonight gave it a piddling 22 seconds and NBC Nightly News allocated 26. FNC and CNN also provided full stories, but only FNC reminded viewers that Loral’s Chairman donated $100,000 to Democrats just before his company earned a technology transfer waiver.

The next morning, ABC and NBC aired even less, although the December 31 New York Times advanced the story by revealing the panel found China had stolen military-related American technology from American nuclear labs. NBC’s Today aired nothing while ABC’s Good Morning America allowed 17 seconds in the 8am newscast.

It wasn’t just the official House probe that the networks ignored. New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth continued to plug away with front-page dispatches on the Missilegate front:

December 9:
Gerth relayed: "A secret Pentagon report concludes that Hughes Space and Communications, without proper authorization, gave China technological insights that are crucial to the successful launchings of satellites and ballistic missiles." Network coverage: zero.

December 15:
Gerth, David Johnston, and Don Van Natta presented an overview: "Federal authorities have unearthed new evidence that Beijing’s efforts were part of a broader campaign to obtain access to high technology," contradicting the earlier view that donations were meant to swing specific elections. "Investigators now believe contributions were intended to enhance the political standing of those passing along the contributions to Democratic causes, to give them clout in arguing for favorable policies on trade and technology." Network coverage: zero.

December 24:
Gerth revealed CIA officers in China "told headquarters in March 1996 that a consultant who worked for American aerospace companies had made payments to Chinese officials in hopes of getting lucrative contracts...The cable languished in CIA files for more than two years." The consultant, Bansang Lee, was a Chinese-American who worked for both Hughes and Loral. Network coverage? Zero.




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