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Now They Decide To Cover a Scandal

The following article appeared in Investor's Business Daily on January 26th, 1998

By Brent H. Baker

When Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr spoke publicly on Thursday about the current sex scandal, ABC News reporter Tim O'Brien stood behind him and interrupted by yelling, "How is this Whitewater? How is this Whitewater?"

The question is not why Starr is going beyond Whitewater. The question is: When will the networks go beyond sex?

A former Clinton Cabinet officer is indicted while those around another official admit giving him illegal gifts. Another Cabinet secretary contradicts earlier statements and concedes he made payments to former Associate General Webster Hubbell. A federal judge rules that the first lady and a top White House aide made misleading statements in court papers. The discovery of an old check contradicts the president’s earlier sworn Whitewater claims. 

All that happened in the past three months, before the Clinton sex scandal fueled the network news frenzy. But television viewers learned little if anything about any of the developments.

In early November, Cable News Network broke a story about the discovery, in the trunk of an abandoned car, of a 1982 Madison Guaranty check for $27,000 to Bill Clinton. The check contradicts Clinton’s assertion that he never borrowed any money from the failed savings and loan. 

A few days later NBC picked up on the explosive find that suggests the president committed perjury in his trial testimony, but ABC never got around to it in the morning or evening. Zilch on the CBS "Evening News" or "CBS This Morning." 

Not even a prison term and a guilty plea that implicated a former Cabinet official could stir the broadcast networks. 

On Jan. 15, the ex-mistress of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros pleaded guilty and agreed to a 3 1/2-year prison term for fraud and conspiracy related to her lying about how much Cisneros paid her to keep quiet about their affair. CNN and Fox News Channel ran stories, but ABC, CBS and NBC were silent on both their evening and morning shows.

The Cisneros indictment a month earlier, for lying and obstructing justice during his FBI background check, did warrant a full segment on NBC, but generated just 18 seconds on ABC’s "World News Tonight."

CBS didn’t get around to it for another day. Dan Rather gave it nine seconds on Dec. 12. That same night, he gave two minutes to El Nino’s impact on butterflies.

The plight of those around former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy has also gone unnoticed by network viewers.

Not even the cable networks that mentioned Cisneros on Jan. 15 bothered with the Espy case in their prime time shows. That day, a Tysons Food Inc. vice president and lobbyist were indicted for giving illegal gifts to Espy and later lying about it. 

Ignoring Espy is nothing new. The Dec. 2 conviction of Ronald Blackley, Espy's top aide at Agriculture, for lying about money he received never made it onto an ABC, CBS or NBC morning or evening news show, or CNN in prime time.

The networks were just as uninterested in the latest news about Hillary Clinton’s Health Care Task Force. The news of a federal judge’s Dec. 18 ruling that White House officials lied about the makeup of the ‘93 health plan panel didn’t generate one network story. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth accused White House officials of engaging in a "cover-up" and levied a $285,000 fine. 

Clinton health care adviser Ira Magaziner had insisted the panel included "only federal government employees" and didn’t have to hold open meetings. Lamberth ruled that Magaziner’s claim was "actually false." The only network coverage of this fabrication: One question from Tim Russert over a week later on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

And former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor admitted that he had indeed helped Webster Hubbell obtain a do-nothing contract with the Los Angeles city government.

The Los Angeles Times noted on Dec. 14 that Kantor "said earlier this year that it would have been ‘inappropriate’ for him to have gotten involved with the Los Angeles payment," but "in sworn testimony to congressional investigators...Kantor described steps he took to help Hubbell obtain the $24,750 payment from the city government in late 1995."

The networks, however, didn’t devote so much as one second to this admission of "inappropriate" behavior.

These are important stories that deserve as much attention as Monica Lewinsky and then some. The American viewing public deserves better.

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