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The LaBella Memo:
Not Ready For Prime Time?

Op-ed by Brent H. Baker, vice president of the MRC,
as printed in the March 15, 2000 edition of The Wall Street Journal 

By Brent Baker

Friday morning's Los Angeles Times revealed much of the content of the long-secret memo prepared by Charles LaBella, the Justice Department's former campaign-finance investigator, whose wish for an independent counsel to probe White House fundraising was rejected by Attorney General Janet Reno. The report revealed Mr. LaBella's conclusion that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and former Clinton aide Harold Ickes had all received special treatment from Justice.

Not a word about the disclosure appeared on the ABC, CBS or NBC morning news shows Friday. And not a syllable about it aired Friday night on ABC's "World News Tonight," the "CBS Evening News" or the "NBC Nightly News," even though the networks had all day to produce a story. Nor did MSNBC's hour-long "The News with Brian Williams" touch it. The story did top CNN's "Inside Politics" and "The World Today" as well as Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Brit Hume." FNC's "Fox Report" ran a story a few minutes into the 7 p.m. ET show.

Was the LaBella story bumped for more important news? Judge for yourself. ABC's "World News Tonight" led on Friday with a story on what anchorman Charles Gibson warned was the "most dramatic evidence yet" of how humans alter the environment, a study in Science magazine that found pollution reduces rainfall. ABC's second full story of the night: How a Centers for Disease Control report documented media overhype of the flu epidemic.

ABC and NBC did take up campaign stories Saturday night, but both ignored the LaBella development. College basketball bumped Saturday's "CBS Evening News" off most eastern affiliates Saturday night, but a transcript shows the program did raise the LaBella development. Correspondent Mark Knoller looked at how Mr. Gore is trying to portray himself as a crusader for campaign finance reform.

After showing the vice president meeting with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, Mr. Knoller noted: "But Gore again finds himself on the defensive on that issue. A previously secret report has surfaced which was written two years ago by Charles LaBella, who, at the time, was the Justice Department's chief campaign finance investigator. In the document, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, LaBella says Gore 'may have provided false testimony' about fund-raising matters, and called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising by the president, Gore and even the first lady."

Sunday night sports bumped both the CBS and NBC evening shows in the East, leaving only ABC's "World News Tonight." On it, reporter Terry Moran examined how Mr. Gore is making campaign finance reform a theme of his campaign with the goal of winning over John McCain's voters.

Mr. Moran raised Mr. Gore's controversial past fundraising, but failed to mention Ms. Hsia or Mr. LaBella: "What's striking about Gore's newfound enthusiasm for reform is his own checkered history on the subject. His 1996 visit to a Buddhist temple where funds were illegally raised has become a symbol of abuse and today Governor Bush mocked Gore's new claim to be a reformer. . . . The Republicans will try to portray Gore as a hypocrite for calling for campaign finance reform now, but Gore is trying to inoculate himself by admitting, as he did today in the New York Times, that he has made mistakes and now he says he speaks with the conviction of a convert on the need for reform."

If the networks continue to ignore major revelations about his activities and convictions of his aides, Mr. Gore won't have to inoculate himself against anything. 

Wall Street Journal | Back to Op-Ed Archives



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