CyberAlert -- 02/21/1997 -- "Posh" GOP Fundraising

"Posh" GOP Fundraising; Communist OK -- He Sings Elvis

1. Several new revelations of illegality in Clinton fundraising, so what do ABC and NBC focus on? A legal Republican fundraising event.

2. So, you're the communist dictator of China. What interests CBS? Your ability to karaoke an Elvis tune.

3. The February MediaWatch Study: From mid-December through the end of January Gingrich scandal coverage tripled that given to Clinton.

Clarification: The February 19 CyberAlert quoted Ron Silver's character on Chicago Hope demanding a government health care solution. I referred to the character as "Dr. Tommy Wilmette." In this case I should have listened to Senator Ted Kennedy who referred to him as "Mr. Wilmette." Silver plays a lawyer/businessman who runs the hospital, not a doctor.

1) Wednesday's (February 19) USA Today carried an article headlined "Democrats Knew Huang Might Be Trouble." Reporter Tom Squitieri explained:
"Top finance officials in the Democratic Party quietly decided last July to limit John Huang's fundraising and to end appearances by President Clinton at Asian-American events organized by Huang....The acknowledgment that suspicions surrounded early as July comes from extensive interviews with officials and staff members of the Democratic National Committee. The interviews present a vision of events different from official statements from the White House and DNC last the time, White House and DNC spokesmen said they had little knowledge of Huang's activities or any improper contributions."

Coverage Wednesday night of this contradiction or any other Clinton scandal matter (for instance, Wednesday morning independent counsel Kenneth Starr said it would be "dangerous" to conclude that his impending departure means his investigation is over or that there will not be indictments):

Nothing on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or CNN's The World Today. NBC Nightly News carried an "exclusive" report from Jim Miklaszewski on a DNC-paid "volunteer" worker on the White House staff. It's improper for a party operative to perform official government duties.

On Thursday (February 20) the Washington Post provided a couple of new revelations. A front page story by Lena Sun reported:
"An executive of an Asian-American business association said he was approached by Democratic fundraiser John Huang last summer and asked to funnel more than $250,000 from Huang through its members as contributions to the Democratic National Committee in return for a $45,000 payment to the group."

Inside, a story by Bob Woodward began: "A twice-convicted felon who met with President Clinton at one of the small, controversial White House coffees in 1995 appeared on four other occasions at Democratic National Committee fundraising events with Clinton last year, according to records and interviews with DNC officials."

Plus, a front page Wall Street Journal story documented how a Miami businessman twice met with the National Security Council's Latin America specialist to urge Clinton to back Paraguay's President in a coup attempt. "The day the unsuccessful coup attempt began," the DNC "received $100,000 from Mr. [Mark] Jimenez."

The Thursday morning shows:
-- CBS This Morning: not a word
-- NBC's Today: nothing, not even a syllable about Jim Miklaszewski's exclusive from the night before.
-- ABC's Good Morning America: A live report during the 7am newscast from Ann Compton at the White House. She summarized the Post's Huang story.

Thursday night CBS remained disinterested, not airing anything about fundraising or Whitewater.

-- On World News Tonight, Peter Jennings told viewers, in full:
"Charges of fundraising abuses continue to hound the Democrats and Patrick Moynihan has become the first Democratic Senator, first Democratic Senator, to call for an independent counsel to look into last year's campaign practices by the Democrats. Today the Washington Post reported the leader of an Asian-American business was approached by Democratic fundraiser John Huang and asked to channel more that $250,000 to the Democratic National Committee in order to disguise the real source of the contribution. Mr. Huang refused today to cooperate with a congressional investigation into fundraising."

That was it, no full story. "Refused to cooperate?" That sounds like a coverup, the very topic which should spur the media. Jennings then introduced a piece on a legal Republican event: "The Democrats have been under so much scrutiny that Republican fundraising has almost been forgotten. Almost. ABC's Linda Douglass is in Florida."
Douglass filed from the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach where the biggest GOP donors, Team 100, were meeting with top Republicans. After a soundbite from Congressman Bob Livingston saying there's nothing wrong with the event, Douglass countered:
"However, many donors do have big business pending before Congress, including at this gathering oil and gas, telecommunications, railroads, pharmaceuticals, insurance. But Republicans Party leaders bristled at suggestions that they are selling influence.."
Following a soundbite from an RNC official, Douglass continued: "Republicans insist they should not be compared to Democrats, who are under investigation for accepting illegal foreign contributions. GOP leaders say huge donations from American special interests are just part of the democratic process."
After a comment from Trent Lott, she concluded: "Republican leaders face an interesting challenge: How to keep the focus on Democratic fundraising scandals without being forced to pass legislation that would ban big contributions to both parties and perhaps put an end to posh gatherings like this one."

-- At the top of NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw equated illegal and legal fundraising: "A score of Democratic National Committee employees working out of the White House, while Republicans tap the fat wallets of special interests in posh Palm Beach."

NBC began with a tough follow-up to the February 19 Miklaszewski story. Brokaw announced:
"It's beginning to look as if the White House is a branch office of the Democratic National Committee. Last night we first reported here that the DNC had placed people at the White House and they had access to confidential government files. Well, tonight we learn there were at least 20 people paid by the political committee working as volunteers in the White House. That could be a violation of federal law."
Jim Miklaszewski then noted that Clinton had "ordered a White House investigation into the unusual arrangement," a development ignored by ABC and CBS.
Miklaszewski explained: "If the DNC-paid employees did any political work from the White House, that would be illegal. The White House claims nobody broke the law, but it could be a close call. At least two of the employees worked in the office of White House political affairs which requires frequent contact with the DNC and Clinton-Gore campaign....It could go even deeper, documents obtained by NBC News also show that two DNC-paid employees, who worked in the political affairs office, also had access to the White House computer database which contains valuable political information the Democratic Party could have used."
After a soundbite from Congressman David McIntosh of the House committee looking at the database, Miklaszewski continued: "The White House said the use of employees paid by a political party must be legal because the Republicans did it. President Bush's White House counsel denies it." NBC aired a comment from C. Boyden Gray and then Miklaszewski ended by noting that the four currently DNC-paid staffers would be switched to the White House payroll.

Next, Brokaw stated: "Although the White House has been getting most of the attention recently on fundraising excesses, the Republicans after all have their own questionable practices. Tonight, NBC's Lisa Myers reports from the lap of luxury and political access in Palm Beach, on the Money Trail."
From the Breakers, Myers told viewers what it took to get invited: "The price of an invitation? A $175,000 contribution which makes you a member of one of the most exclusive club in politics -- Team 100."
Myers explained that the donors pay to get access to Gingrich, Lott and Livingston, adding: "And if a day and a half of private briefings and breakfasts isn't enough, tomorrow's schedule calls for tennis or golf, perhaps even with the politician of your choice. And, it's all entirely legal. These Republican contributors say they're only after good government, but concede they do get a chance to get powerful lawmakers to hear their views..."

Of course, if it's legal, then it's in a different category than the lead story with which NBC paired this one.

Myers next noted that both the RNC and DNC set fundraising records last year, but that "Republican leaders oppose limiting these contributions, saying they want people more involved."
Myers to Trent Lott: "So, you would support asking these people to give even more money?"
Trent Lott: "I think for them to have the opportunity to do that is the American way."
Myers: "The American way. The bigger the wallet, the louder the voice. Lisa Myers. NBC News, Palm Beach."

Neither Myers nor other reports I've seen on fundraising explore how regulations have led to the current situation. The $1,000 per person cap (never adjusted for inflation since 1975) for a contribution to a candidate means soft money donations to party committees is the only way to raise the large sums necessary to buy TV time.

2) The death of Deng Xiaoping led the February 20 CBS Evening News to profile Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin. >From Beijing, CBS reporter Barry Petersen found an upbeat angle for a man at the top of a murderous regime:
"...Jiang Zemin became President after Tieneman Square. The then President was fired because of world wide condemnation for sending in the troops. But, warn observers, when it comes to democrats and dissidents Jiang's also a hardliner. Still, a hardliner with a private side that is easy going."
James Sasser, U.S. Ambassador to China: "Jiang Zemin is personally is a very warm and engaging individual. He has a great interest in American movies. He has a great interest in music."
Petersen, over video of Jiang Zemin singing: "Indeed, he recently offered a karaoke rendition of 'Love Me Tender.' It remains to be seen if his fellow communists will love him enough to someday award him Deng Xiaoping's title of Paramount Leader."

One wonders if CBS News in 1938 would have done a story on how Hitler enjoyed waltzing to the music of Austrian composers.

-- Brent Baker (MediaWatch study below)

3) Below is the study from the February 1997 edition of MediaWatch. It's long, but given its relevance to the debate over how the networks cover scandal, I thought I'd give you a chance to read it. MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham put it together based upon the ongoing analysis of MRC news analysts Steve Kaminski, Clay Waters, Gene Eliasen, Jim Forbes and Geoffrey Dickens. To get a free copy of this MediaWatch, send your address to: Carey Evans:

While Newspapers Offer Clinton Information, Networks Thrive on Gingrich Speculation

Newt News Coverage Triples Clinton's

On December 19, Newt Gingrich admitted he misled the House ethics committee, which led off the newest burst of network Newt coverage. How did that burst compare in quality and quantity to emerging news on the Clinton fundraising scandal?

MediaWatch analysts reviewed evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, as well as morning news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from December 15 to January 31. On both morning and evening news, the Gingrich story almost tripled coverage of the Clinton story. The Gingrich storyline drew 73 full stories and 29 anchor briefs on the evening news programs, compared to 31 full stories and eight anchor briefs for the Clinton money story. On the morning shows, Gingrich received 63 full segments (28 news reports and 35 interviews), as well as 69 anchor briefs; Clinton attracted only 19 full segments (15 reports, 4 interviews) and 11 briefs.

Comparing scandals can be like comparing apples and oranges. Journalists might suggest the disparity comes from differing storylines: the approaching Speaker's election in the House on January 7 left Gingrich's political future in doubt, while a safely re-elected Clinton faced congressional and FBI investigations on a less frantic schedule.

But the quality of journalism on the two storylines was also vastly different. Reports on Gingrich were a drip-drip-drip sequence of repetitive horse-race stories wondering if Gingrich would resign, with little new information. By contrast, the print scoops on Clinton broke new substantive ground, but the networks alternated between spurts of intensity and weeks of disinterest. Especially noticeable is the gap in morning show interview segments about Gingrich and Clinton. CBS aired five interviews about Gingrich, but none about Clinton, and ABC (14-2) and NBC (16-2) were more lopsided. (If you count three interviews on other topics which each included one question on fundraising, NBC's ratio was 16-5).

The difference in drama might explain why the network evening news shows led off 18 broadcasts with Gingrich's ethics, and only three with Clinton's. But a closer look at individual developments demonstrates the differing intensity and substance of TV coverage.

December 15: The Washington Post reported on Page One that the Democrats rewarded large donors with an overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Network coverage: Nothing on ABC or CNN. CBS This Morning's Bill Plante filed a report eight days later. NBC noted it January 21.

December 20: The Washington Post reported on its front page that Wang Jun, a Chinese arms dealer, was welcomed to a White House fundraising coffee. Coverage: CBS was the only network to air a full story. NBC ran an anchor brief. ABC did nothing. Of the morning shows, only NBC's Today mentioned it.

December 26: The DNC released a huge pile of documents on their fundraising activities. In the next four days, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today all published articles. But the networks never aired a story summarizing the documents. CBS did lead off the news with a report on Thai donor and Clinton coffee attendee Pauline Kanchanalak on the 26th (repeated on This Morning the next day), and added another Thai story on the 27th, as well as a story on White House Asian-American liaison Doris Matsui on the 28th. CNN aired two similar stories. NBC aired nothing. ABC did nothing, but did find time for a John Cochran report on Gingrich losing support.

December 30: A single Republican Congressman, Michael Forbes of Long Island, announced he would not vote for Gingrich. All four networks aired full reports.

January 10: The New York Times reported on its front page the contents of a cellular phone conversation between Republican leaders they reported came from a Democrat, later identified as Rep. Jim McDermott, ranking member of the House ethics committee. Republicans demanded an investigation of McDermott for breaking federal privacy laws.

This was one Gingrich story the networks didn't like. ABC and NBC aired no evening story until the 13th, and neither used the word "illegal" in that night's report. CNN aired three anchor briefs and one full report (which did not mention McDermott) from the 10th to the 14th. CBS aired a full report on Gingrich on each of those five nights. On the 10th, Dan Rather suggested the Times story "raises new ethics questions about Gingrich," with no mention of Democratic illegality. Lawbreaking surfaced briefly on the 11th, but Sharyl Attkisson's report on the 12th focused only on some Republicans "urging Gingrich to step aside." When McDermott's role emerged on the 13th and 14th, on both nights Dan Rather complained the focus was shifted away "from what Gingrich actually said." Reporter Wyatt Andrews added the brouhaha "sidetracked substantive ethics charges against the Speaker."

January 15: The Washington Times and USA Today carried the AP report that Al Gore confessed he used "a poor choice of words" in describing a fundraiser at a Buddhist temple as a "community outreach event." Before the event, Gore sent the DNC a memo explaining the event should "inspire political and fundraising efforts." Coverage: A full story by CNN's Brooks Jackson, followed ten days later by one Today show question to Gore and an evening report by Andrea Mitchell. ABC and CBS aired nothing.

January 16: The Los Angeles Times reported that documents show that contrary to White House assertions, controversial fundraiser John Huang helped shape Asia policy at the Commerce Department. The Boston Globe reported Huang helped convince Clinton to make a major shift in immigration policy wanted by Asian-Americans. And The Washington Post found a couple of attendees at White House coffees had criminal records. Network coverage? Zero. But CNN had time for a live update from Bob Franken on the still-unreleased special counsel report on Gingrich.

January 23: The Washington Times reported Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry admitted senior adviser Bruce Lindsey knew in 1994 the Lippo Group had paid a reported $250,000 to former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell after he resigned in disgrace, raising questions if Lippo paid Hubbell hush money. The Washington Post followed the next day. TV coverage: Five days later, after it came up in a press conference, NBC reported it on its evening and morning shows. ABC, CBS, and CNN: zero.

January 25: Gingrich told a town meeting in his district the liberal media uses a double standard to attack him and ignore liberal groups like the Sierra Club. All four networks covered this story, suggesting Gingrich's contrition wasn't genuine.

-- Brent Baker