Wednesday, August 13, 1997 | Vol. One, No. 10 | Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703) 683-5004
Networks Explore Every Angle of Versace Murder, But Ignore Many Angles of Fundraising Scandal
Thompson Hearings Trounced by Cunanan
Last fall, Hedrick Smith devoted an hour
of his PBS special The People and The Power Game to decrying the media's negative
coverage of Bill Clinton: "By focusing on scandal and conflict over substance, and by
our increasingly negative tone, the media has distorted the nation's agenda and lost touch
with the public we claim to serve."
news coverage in the month of July suggests the substance of scandal is being swamped by
the titillating tabloid fun of celebrity murders. The killing of fashion designer Gianni
Versace and the subsequent manhunt for gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan dramatically
outnumbered coverage of the Thompson hearings, even though the murder happened a week
after the hearings began. To be specific:
The morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 132
full segments on Versace and Cunanan, but devoted only 18 full segments to the Thompson
hearings, a ratio of more than seven to one. (The shows also aired 49 anchor briefs on the
murder, compared to 16 on the hearings.)
The Big Three morning shows aired 51 interviews
on Cunanan and five on the hearings, for a ten to one ratio.
All five morning show interviews on the hearings
were held with network pundits, who reviewed the hearings as theater and as a horse race.
Senators on the Governmental Affairs Committee never appeared to discuss the substance of
Morning show hearings coverage declined each
week, from 21 to seven to five to one in the last week.
Evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN aired
93 full reports on the Cunanan story to 58 full reports on the hearings. (The shows also
aired 11 anchor briefs on Cunanan and 12 on the hearings.)
Evening stories on Cunanan led off the newscast
on 30 shows, and came number two in 23 shows. By contrast, the hearings came first in only
five newscasts, and drew the second story seven times.
Like most of the other months this year, the
networks skipped fundraising stories on a majority of their broadcasts. In July's 31 days,
the morning shows were all guilty (CBS 25 days off, NBC 20, ABC 17). In the evening, ABC
(19 nights off) and NBC (17) preferred to play hooky, but not CBS (10) or CNN (11).
Some networks were less distinguished than others
in their rush for the tabloid headline over the difficult exposition of corruption in high
CBS This Morning won the prize for
ignoring the hearings. After one anchor brief on the first day, July 8, and one Phil Jones
report and two briefs on July 9, they took the rest of the month off.
On ABC's Good Morning America, the
Cunanan story attracted 41 full segments, including 17 interviews. The hearings drew just
nine full segments, with three interviews of ABC pundits. Co-host Charles Gibson traveled
to Miami to cover Cunanan, but never came to Washington for the hearings. (Good
Morning Americaaired 20 Cunanan anchor briefs to 7 on the hearings.)
NBC's Today loved the Cunanan story the
most, with 59 full segments, including 24 interviews, to only eight segments, including
two Tim Russert interviews, on the hearings. (Today's anchor-brief discrepancy
was 18 to 6.) Like ABC, NBC sent co-host Matt Lauer to Miami,not Washington. After Haley
Barbour testified, news anchor Sara James asked Russert if the fundraising scandal was now
over: "Does it end here, Tim?" (Turn to Page Two)
After Lisa Myers profiled Sen. Fred Thompson,
co-host Katie Couric scurried from substance: "Lisa, back to the really important
things. I remember he brought that country singer Lorrie Morgan to a Washington dinner
once a few years back. Is he still dating her?"
CNN's The World Today (and Prime
News on Wednesdays) had the greatest evening-news discrepancy between the Cunanan
killings and the Thompson hearings: 29 to 14. CNN led its newscast with Cunanan nine
times, and made it number two on seven nights.
CNN aired a
story or brief on the hearings every evening after they took place, and their 14 full
stories ran longer than the other networks. But The World Today is twice as long
and it barely matched the Big Three in number of stories. CNN never led with a hearings
story, and only put it second once.
CBS Evening News led the Big Three in
Cunanan coverage, with 24 full stories and two anchor briefs. The murder led off eight
broadcasts, and got the second story six times. While CBS dragged far behind their morning
competitors in caring about the Senate corruption probe, Evening News came in
first among the Big Three with 18 full segments and 2 anchor briefs. CBS aired a story
every night after the Senate hearings were in session. Fundrais-ing led the newscast only
once, on July 8.
ABC's World News Tonight followed CBS
closely in capitalizing on Cunanan with 22 stories and an anchor brief. ABC also led its
newscast with Cunanan eight times, and gave it the number two story seven times.
By contrast, the hearings drew 14 full reports
and two anchor briefs. Fundraising led the newscast twice, including a July 9 piece
touting Clinton's high new approval rating of 64 percent. ABC's John Donvan underlined the
poll: "Mr. Clinton in Europe is moving like a man on a roll. A summit here where he
got almost everything he wanted, an economy back home that is the best in decades. Even
the charges being raised about his party's fundraising tactics do not seem to stick."
While NBC's Today led the morning pack
in the Cunanan frenzy, NBC Nightly News trailed the other evening shows with 17
full reports and four anchor briefs. NBC led the newscast with Cunanan on five nights, and
gave its number two slot three times. NBC devoted five "In Depth" features to
Versace and Cunanan, but none to the hearings. NBC aired 15 reports on the hearings, nine
of them in the first week. Fundraising led two shows, and made the number two slot just
On July 13, ABC carried a Deborah Weiner story
suggesting Fred Thompson had no proof of a Chinese plot to subvert American elections. But
ABC ignored the hearings a few days later when the Democrats agreed with Thompson.
ABC and NBC both ignored testimony that Clinton
favorite John Huang was considered "totally unqualified" by his Commerce
ABC totally ignored Huang's habit of crossing the
street from Commerce to receive packages and faxes. One witness said she was instructed
never to let Huang's Commerce co-workers know when he received something across the
ABC and NBC ignored Senate Democrats joining in a
15-1 vote to grant immunity to Buddhist nuns, a no-confidence vote on the Justice
As the hearings began, Brian Williams cast the
probe as a partisan food fight: "It's clear the Republicans are going after the
President, that's half of what this is all about. They'll also go after John Huang. Who
will the Democrats be left to attack?"
That's a far cry from the line NBC's John Chancellor took in 1987, decrying
Oliver North's efforts to keep Iran-Contra details from Congress: "There is a
colossal arrogance at the heart of the Iran-Contra operation.... North was working for the
American government, but when he got in trouble, his first priority was to keep his files
from the American government. It wasn't trustworthy, and that's the greatest arrogance of
all." Ten years later, the White House and the DNC ignore subpoenas and withhold
documents for months from Congress and Kenneth Starr, but Americans are kept busy watching
the detective stories. -- Tim Graham
L. Brent Bozell III, Publisher; Brent Baker, Tim Graham, Editors;
Jessica Anderson, Geoffrey
Dickens, Gene Eliasen, Steve
Kaminski, Clay Waters, Media Analysts; Kristina Sewell, Research
Associate. For the latest liberal media bias, read the
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