No "Moving On" to Chinese Espionage
Stolen Bomb Secrets Draw Less TV News Than Monica's Book
year, The New York Times broke the story that two defense
contractors were kept from prosecution by the Clinton White House
despite giving China knowledge that advanced their ballistic missile
technology. On March 6, the Times landed another shocking scoop:
"Working with nuclear secrets stolen from an American government
laboratory, China has made a leap in the development of nuclear weapons:
the minatiurization of its bombs."
Put the two together —
miniaturized nuclear warheads on improved ballistic missiles — and you
have an American security nightmare. So did the networks leap into a
post-impeachment frenzy of substance on the story? No. In the first ten
days of the story, the Big Three aired only 11 stories, six of them on
the CBS Evening News. ABC’s World News Tonight arrived
first on the story but aired only three reports, and NBC Nightly News
did just two, even though NBC Vice President Tim Russert told MSNBC’s
John Hockenberry the charges were "dead serious."
The morning shows were worse,
airing only six full news reports and one interview in the first ten
mornings. ABC’s Good Morning America carried three, NBC’s
Today two, and CBS’s This Morning one. As the China story sat
unaddressed, ABC had to air a half-hour on weight loss, CBS asked O.J.
Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran about his upcoming appearance on the CBS
soap Guiding Light, and two networks urgently discussed the 40th
anniversary of the Barbie doll.
Only NBC’s Today aired
an interview. On March 9, Katie Couric helped Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson make excuses for the breach: "Isn’t there a possibility that
China could have done this on its own? After all, you’ve got the U.S.,
the British, the French, and the Russians all able to make these
warheads without spying."
Even when the networks touched
the story, reporters sometimes stressed uncertainty. On March 11, Anne
Thompson reported on NBC Nightly News: "The doubts expressed here
are also being voiced in Washington. Senior law enforcement and
intelligence officials tell NBC News neither the CIA nor the FBI is at
all sure Lee is the source of the leaks, if there are any leaks at all."
Well, if there weren’t any leaks, how did the Chinese leap 15 years
ahead of themselves in warhead technology? The grave prospect of a
Chinese missile threat to America has drawn less morning and evening
show coverage than Barbara Walters’ interview with Monica Lewinsky. So
much for "moving on."
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