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From the April 1999 MediaWatch

Networks Continue to Avoid Major Print Scoops

What Proof of a DNC-China Connection?

In 1997, Republican Sen. Fred Thompson committed what many in the media believed was a mistake. He began hearings into the Democratic fundraising scandal by suggesting that intelligence reports showed the Clinton-Gore campaign had a China connection. ABC’s Linda Douglass reported, "Senator Thompson is clearly tired of taking a beating from Democrats, who every single day point out the fact that he’s failed to prove there is any Chinese plot in connection with the Democratic presidential campaign."

On Easter Sunday this year, the Democrats found a most unwelcome bee in their Easter bonnet. Los Angeles Times reporters William Rempel, Henry Weinstein, and Alan Miller reported a 3,500 word story that began: "The chief of China’s military intelligence secretly directed funds from Beijing to help reelect President Clinton in 1996, former Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung has told federal investigators... Chung says he met three times with the intelligence official, Gen. Ji Shengde, who ordered $300,000 deposited into the Torrance businessman’s bank account to subsidize campaign donations intended for Clinton."

In other words, "Chung’s testimony has provided investigators the first direct link between a senior Chinese government official and illicit foreign contributions that were funneled into Clinton’s 1996 re-election effort. It is the strongest evidence – in two years of federal investigation – that the highest levels of the Chinese government sought to influence the U.S. election process."

Now that evidence of a Chinese connection began to arrive, did the networks apologize for their dismissive laxity toward the Thompson probe and get up to speed? No. None of the broadcast networks presented these facts on their morning or evening shows. ABC’s Sam Donaldson came closest five days later on April 9, reporting that Chinese premier Zhu Rongji "said he had no knowledge that the Chinese government had contributed money to Mr. Clinton’s 1996 campaign." CNN gave it 29 seconds on the April 5 The World Today.

The networks couldn’t argue the story didn’t bring interesting details to the table. The Times reporters disclosed that the FBI feared at one point last year that a "hit squad" had been sent from China to kill Chung and assigned 40 agents to protect the Chung family for three weeks. They also reported that the FBI taped a "San Gabriel Valley businessman" advising Chung to say nothing about his funding from Chinese officials: "The businessman advised Chung to go to jail if necessary, assuring Chung that friends in high places would support him. The businessman even suggested that Chung could expect to be pardoned by the President."

The ongoing pattern – print outlets break new investigative ground, networks yawn – wasn’t limited to the Los Angeles Times scoop.

. Submerged across the bottom of two pages of the March 29 issue, John Barry and Gregory L. Vistica reported on a CIA probe of the compromised nuclear labs. Top nuclear experts "practically fainted" at how Chinese scientists routinely used U.S. lab phrases and concepts. One official announced: "The penetration is total...they are deep, deep into the labs’ black programs." They also learned "Beijing recently got hold of two U.S. cruise missiles that failed to detonate during last fall’s relaliatory attack on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan," and officials want to know if the Chinese are copying that sophisticated technology. Network coverage? Zero.

Investor’s Business Daily.
On March 30 and April 9, Washington Bureau Chief Paul Sperry reported on the missing manifest of former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary’s big-donor trade mission to China, and O’Leary’s efforts to open the nuclear labs, trimming the number of guards and loosening background checks on workers and visitors.

Revelations didn’t just come in the news pages. IBD’s lead editorial on March 31 revealed the FBI requested a wiretap on suspected Chinese spy Wen Ho Lee. "Justice denied it, arguing it did not have sufficient grounds to take to a federal court to get the tap approved. But a look at the Justice Department’s record on wiretaps calls that argument into serious question. From 1993 to 1997, federal officials requested 2,686 wiretaps. For all its concern for probable cause and legal standards, the Justice Department turned down one request in those four years – Lee’s in 1996." Network coverage? Zero.

The New York Times
. After repeated administration claims that nuclear espionage happened only in the mid-80s, Times reporters Jeff Gerth and James Risen found espionage happening in 1995. On April 8, they began a front-page article: "In early 1996, the United States received a startling report from one of its Chinese spies. Officials inside China’s intelligence service, the spy said, were boasting that they had just stolen secrets from the United States and had used them to improve Beijing’s neutron bomb, according to American officials."

Network coverage? In a press conference with Clinton and visiting Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, both the AP and Reuters reporters asked about the New York Times charges. Still, the CBS Evening News ignored the story, except for one vague reference by Bill Plante: "Did China steal U.S. nuclear technology? Zhu Rongji said he didn’t know a thing about it." ABC and NBC covered the charge, though NBC did not give credit to the paper and concluded by stressing the White House spin that "there’s no evidence China’s neutron bomb was improved as a result." CNN’s Pierre Thomas filed a full report.

The next morning, CBS This Morning ignored it. ABC’s Good Morning America gave the Times story two updates totaling 30 seconds, and NBC’s Today awarded one 38-second brief. But NBC spent two minutes and 43 seconds on beavers gnawing down cherry trees along Washington’s Tidal Basin.

The Washington Times
. Reporter Jerry Seper found Johnny Chung "has, for the first time, linked Charles Yah Lin Trie and John Huang directly to a massive fundraising offensive financed by Chinese military intelligence to help win President Clinton’s re-election. Federal authorities and others familiar with Johnny Chung’s grand jury testimony said the California businessman – a cooperating witness in the Justice Department’s campaign finance probe – testified that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) financed the fundraising scheme with cash secretly routed out of Beijing." Network coverage? A story on FNC, but no where else.

CBS on Trulock
. CBS Evening News reporter Sharyl Attkisson reported from the Senate on April 12: "In his first public statement the man largely credited with breaking the Chinese espionage case at U.S. nuclear labs gave an extraordinary account of what happened when he first sounded the alarm to his superiors at the Department of Energy." DOE’s Notra Trulock declared: "Beginning in early 1997 senior DOE officials, including my direct supervisor, urged me to cover up and bury this case. These officials argued that this case was of historical interest only and not relevant to the contemporary missions and objectives of the national laboratories."

Attkisson continued: "In fact, some intelligence officials now regard the theft of design plans for America’s most sophisticated nuclear warhead, the W-88, the most important spy case in recent history, but Trulock says his efforts to fix security breaches at the weapons labs were blocked at every turn, even when he identified suspects in early 1996." Other network coverage? FNC delivered a full story the next day, but the others aired nothing.

Appearing on the April 11 Fox News Sunday, Sen. Thompson wouldn’t promise new hearings into the China connection: "Nowadays, the ability of Congress to really find out anything substantive in congressional hearings has been very, very limited. The media’s short attention span, the partisanship that we have and all of that makes it so that you can kind of lay out and demonstrate what you already have, but finding something out is very, very difficult." The networks don’t have a short attention span. They appear to have no attention span.

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