Wednesday, September 24, 1997 | Vol. One, No. 21 | Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703) 683-5004
Whether the Issue is Fundraising or the IRS, Networks Play Up Partisan-Gain Angle If Goal Isn't Liberal
Republican Hearings? Partisan Stunt
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's decision to
drop hearings on the fundraising scandal in favor of a "public-policy phase"
sent the hearings back into television oblivion last night. But the networks have been
clear on their interpretation of the hearings: if liberal campaign finance
"reform" doesn't pass, then the hearings will be a failure. Oversight of
fundraising abuses by the executive branch, from the selling of foreign policy to the
selling of the executive mansion, was never the point. [See box.]
The colorful testimony of Roger Tamraz ("a walking ad for campaign reform,"
said CBS) allowed them to make their point, but when Warren Meddoff appeared Friday to
offer testimony unfavorable to Democrats, coverage thinned again.
Meddoff underlined how President Clinton responded to an offer of a $5 million
contribution, asking for another business card for his aides, and the subsequent request
of Harold Ickes, running the campaign and the DNC from the White House, that Meddoff shred
a memo telling him that $5 million could be sent to pro-Democratic front groups. Shocking
revelations? NBC skipped them. ABC offered a 20-second anchor brief to the shredding
allegation: "Mr. Ickes, he was told, told him to destroy the documents. Mr. Ickes
says he does not remember that."
Only CBS devoted a full story to
Meddoff, but at the end, Schieffer noted Ickes would
not testify for a while, since the Thompson committee dropped its investigative phase in
favor of hearing "reform" proposals. He then noted the donnybrook over a bill
"didn't bother the Republican leader at all." Schieffer asked Majority Leader
Trent Lott: "So if it doesn't come up this session, it's not really going to bother
you?" Lott responded: "No. It will come up eventually." Schieffer concluded
his story: "So for all the noise these hearings have produced, it looks tonight as if
nothing will happen, this year anyway, to change any of it."
What all of the networks ignored was only hinted at in Schieffer's report, where he
noted Ickes faxed Meddoff "a list of Democratic Party-supported organizations that
Meddoff's client could give money to and qualify for the tax deductions he was
When the Meddoff story first surfaced in February, the Los Angeles Times
reported that then-White House aide Alexis Herman helped arrange a White House reception
where Clinton would honor the efforts of Vote Now '96, run by Democratic fundraisers in
Miami and focused on "black communities that tend to...vote overwhelm-ingly
Another tax-exempt nonprofit, the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation,
bragged of its partisan agenda to reporters. The group's executive director, James
Ferguson, told the Baltimore Sun in January 1996 that his group "targeted 83
House districts that African American voters can help elect Democrats -- enough to wrest
control of the House away from the GOP."
What makes these groups that Schieffer called "Democratic-supported" so
interesting is that they are classified by the IRS as 501(c)(3) groups -- which are barred
from advocating the specific election of candidates or parties. The networks found these
distinctions fascinating when the special counsel investigating Newt Gingrich fined the
Speaker $300,000 insisting Gingrich benefited politically from the 501(c)(3) groups that
funded his college course, which included no advocacy of candidates or parties.
The networks did provide a mini-burst of reporting when Attorney General Janet Reno
decided to include President Clinton in her investigation of fundraising phone calls from
the White House. Most focused on the "arcane and archaic" law against
fundraising on federal property. The spurt of interest evaporated Tuesday morning. But
none of the reporters are echoing their when-will-Gingrich-go line with the question of
when the President and Vice President will have the decency to resign for abusing IRS
guidelines or many other laws.
Auditing the IRS. One set of Senate hearings did capture network
attention last night: the Senate Finance Committee's oversight hearings on the Internal
Revenue Service, which led all three network newscasts. ABC and NBC presented a balance of
reports, but CBS underlined the hearings as a partisan stunt.
Dan Rather declared: "This was opening day on Capitol Hill for a guaranteed
crowd-pleaser, sure to score points with the voting public. The subject was alleged abuse
of power by agents of the Internal Revenue Service portrayed as wreaking havoc on the
lives and wallets of ordinary citizens powerless to fight back. CBS News chief Washington
correspondent Bob Schieffer has more about the IRS and the politics of bashing the tax
Schieffer emphasized the Republicans were simply scoring political points: "In
letters, Senate Republican Leader Lott has been soliciting party campaign contributions by
saying the money will help in the fight to 'end the IRS as we know it,' which left a
Democrat wondering if the hearings had a political purpose." Sen. Richard Bryan
(D-Nevada) told viewers: "As pollster Frank Luntz points out in his widely
distributed memo to Republican members of Congress, nothing guarantees more applause and
support than the call to abolish the Internal Revenue Service."
Schieffer returned to the point today in the floating first-hour newscast on This
Morning [see box]. In the second hour, he underlined it again: "Republican
pollsters have been telling Republicans the best way to raise campaign donations is to
bash the IRS." Then he was asked to repeat himself by host Jane Robelot: "Bob,
is anybody coming to the defense of the IRS? Are Democrats standing up for them?"
Replied Schieffer: "Well, as we just said in the piece, some Democrats wonder if they
[the IRS] are being used as a whipping boy by the Republicans, who are trying to raise
money." The Clinton administration's effort to pass a nationalized health-care plan
was a blatant attempt to win over voters, and was surely highlighted in Democratic
fundraising letters. Democratic-run hearings were used to build support for the Clinton
plan. But we don't remember CBS calling all that a political stunt.
Also missing in all of the IRS coverage was Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's
parliamentary maneuver yesterday to shut down most committee work, including the IRS
hearings, by invoking a rarely used rule to protest actions by the Republican majority.
After years of harping on the politically disastrous moves toward a government shutdown --
and after very recent declarations that GOP Sen. Jesse Helms' denial of committee hearings
on William Weld as the work of a "dictator" (NBC's David Bloom, ABC's Sam
Donaldson) or a "terrorist" roughly comparable to Hamas suicide bombers (ABC's
George Stephanopoulos) -- the over-sight of this little shutdown shows a clear double
Partisan stunts seem only to occur when the ideas presented curtail the power of
government. On last night's World News Tonight, ABC anchor Peter Jennings
returned to cheerleading for new regulations on political fundraisers and interest groups:
"Just before we leave Washington, something else of importance to all of us. It looks
like there's going to be a debate and a vote on campaign finance reform after all.
Republicans and Democrats, including the President, appear to have worked it out today so
that the full Senate will debate and vote on campaign finance reform by the end of the
When Jennings asked Cokie Roberts if "some measure of campaign
finance reform would pass," Roberts replied: "My gut says no, but...if the
answer is yes, and all they do is outlaw this so-called soft money, then they really have
accomplished something." In other words, how encouraging it is that the media can
help translate liberal misdeeds into more liberal legislation. -- Tim Graham
L. Brent Bozell III, Publisher; Brent Baker, Tim Graham, Editors;
Eric Darbe, Geoffrey
Dickens, Gene Eliasen, Steve
Kaminski, Clay Waters, Media Analysts; Kristina Sewell, Research
Associate. For the latest liberal media bias, read the
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe