CyberAlert -- 04/22/1997 -- Hubbell Yawn

Hubbell Yawn; PBS Fights for Food Stamps

1. Newspapers uncover more White House meetings with Hubbell, but the networks yawn at the news.

2. Ken Bode of PBS asks: "Why isn't the public concerned?" about campaign finance scandals. Maybe because the most damaging revelations aren't getting reported by the TV networks.

3. The PBS NewsHour focuses a story on "fears the food stamps cutbacks will make things even worse."

> 1) The broadcast networks have aired virtually nothing during the past week -- since Janet Reno's decision not to name an independent counsel and McDougall's sentencing -- on any Clinton scandal. But disclosures keep coming in the print press. The April 17 CyberAlert detailed two revelations the networks skipped:

-- The Washington Post discovered 70 meetings by Hubbell with Clinton officials between the time he resigned and when he plead guilty.

-- USA Today uncovered how Labor Secretary nominee Alexis Herman allowed a former business associate to profit from special access to the White House for clients.

Since then, four more stories have broken:

-- Thursday's New York Times and USA Today ran two more stories on controversy surrounding Herman's influence peddling while she served as Director of Public Liaison for the White House. The April 17 New York Times story explored Herman's dealings with a business associate who gave the Democrats a large contribution at the same time a client, a Singapore businessman seeking approval for a satellite project, met the President. USA Today raised questions about how Herman had answered previous inquiries about her involvement in getting Congo to sign a consulting deal with a firm with close ties to Herman.

-- "Clinton Aide Unaware of Hubbell Contacts," declared a front page story in Friday's Los Angles Times. Reporter David Willman learned that "Former White House Counsel Abner Mikva said that his understanding in 1994 was that President Clinton and his top aides were avoiding any contact with Webster Hubbell." In fact, they had quite a bit of contact.

-- On Monday, April 21, Willman was back with another story which contradicted previous White House statements. The LA Times story began:

"During an eight month period when former top Justice Department official Webster Hubbell had promised to cooperate with the Whitewater counsel's investigation of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Clinton's closest confidant and lawyer on the White House staff was in repeated contact with Hubbell...

"The previously unspecified contacts between Hubbell and Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey occurred between Hubbell's guilty plea to charges of bilking clients and partners of his former law firm and the beginning of his 16-month prison term. The new information about Hubbell's contacts with Lindsey is certain to raise new questions regarding whether the White House was trying to encourage Hubbell, who had been a law partner of Hillary Clinton in Arkansas, to remain silent about the Clintons' role in the Whitewater controversy."

Well, it's not raising questions on the networks, not even CNN which didn't find time on Monday's Inside Politics to mention the revelation. (Last Friday, ABC's World News Tonight did air a piece by Jackie Judd on the three areas Kenneth Starr is probing on the Hubbell front: his work with Hillary Clinton on Castle Grande; how billing records stored in Hubbell basement disappeared and then appeared in the White House living quarters; and whether the Lippo payments were hush money.)

2) Back on the Friday, April 11 Washington Week in Review, moderator Ken Bode noted that Janet Reno had delayed to Monday her announcement about naming an independent counsel and "the White House was scheduled to release a bunch of information today about trips on Air Force One and trips to Camp David may be related to campaign finance reform," but also decided to wait until Monday. Bode suggested that "by dumping these over till Monday" they "avoid us all talking about them on the weekend talk shows."

Bode then noted that "early this week a poll came out which said that Americans really aren't very much concerned about this campaign reform problem. It rates low among the problems as they rate them, you know?" Bode asserted that the media are way ahead of the public: "What we've had so far is almost all press. We have not had a hearing yet. So everything that's come out has come out from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and good broadcast reporting as well. Lincoln Bedroom, White House coffees, foreign money, convicted drug dealers in the White House for social events, Chinese arms dealers in the White House for coffees, huge corporate soft money donations, obviously interested money, $400,000 or $500,000 and so forth, evasions of the spending limits by passing the money through different political committees and so forth. And we just are beginning to learn this. Why isn't the public concerned?"

Leaving aside the ludicrous praise for "broadcast reporting as well" which has been proven deficient by CyberAlerts throughout this year, may I suggest one reason for the lack of public concern is that much of the public has never heard of some of these revelations because the most relied upon media, the TV networks, never told them about it.

Take two items from Bode's recitation. First, the list released on Monday, April 14 of who flew on Air Force One. That night, CBS aired a story, ABC mentioned in one sentence that 62 donors got a plane ride, and NBC Nightly News didn't utter a word about it, nor did Today the next morning.

Second, Bode highlighted "evasions of the spending limits by passing the money through different political committees." The April 3 USA Today uncovered the DNC scheme to send tobacco money to state party organizations in order to avoid limits and reporting requirements. CNN ran a story on April 7 and The Washington Post splashed the maneuver across page one on April 13. But none of that budged the broadcast networks. To this day ABC, CBS and NBC viewers have yet to hear anything about it.

3) With little going on policy-wise in Washington, the networks have aired hardly any policy-related stories during the past few weeks. But a popular theme of the few issue-oriented pieces: the evil impact of welfare reform. The April 15 CyberAlert detailed a one-sided April 10 NBC story on the "disastrous effect" of welfare reform in California. A few days later the PBS NewsHour ran a story from the Golden State on the victims left in the wake of new food stamp rules.

Spencer Michels' April 14 NewsHour story featured 12 soundbites from seven advocates and recipients opposed to the new rules versus a total of five soundbites from two supporters. Michels explained from San Francisco that under the law passed in 1996 "about 3 and a half million recipients face cuts. About one of every five food stamps recipients here, where there is a large immigrant population, will likely be pared from the roles. Most legal immigrants who are not citizens will be cut off entirely. And able-bodied single adults will have to work, or lose their food stamps."

Michels aired clips from a food stamp recipient upset by the new rules and one pleased by them as well as from a local social services director with a complaint followed by Eloise Anderson, the pro-reform California Social Services Director.

Then the slant kicked in:
Michels: "Of the nearly 50,000 individuals who get food stamps in San Francisco, about 5,000 are considered single, able-bodied, and therefore capable of working for their stamps. Their income determines how many -- up to $120 a month. Shirley Cook gets half of that."

Shirley Cook: "The food stamps a big help to me. It's a lot of big help to me, and it's going to be a lot of big problem if they mess these food stamps up. A lot of people is going to be hurting."

Michels: "Because she has no refrigerator at home Cook shops fairly often with her stamps. She's a recovering addict who has some job experience doing laundry and styling hair. But because of various problems and her fight to get back her children, she says her prospects for work are limited."

Cook: "I'll try to get out there, but I, it's hard to get a job right now."

Michels: "Why is it hard for you to get a job?"

Cook, apparently referring to getting a GED: "Because my angle is my GD -- I have to have a high school diploma, a GD -- and it's real hard for other people to judge people about getting a job. They have to be in they shoes to walk in they shoes, and they'll see how it is."

Michels then looked at the workfare option, but found a problem:

Michels: "Other counties say they can't expand workfare without additional funds. That's a problem, according to California food policy advocates."

Marion Standish of California Food Policy Advocates provided a soundbite on how there aren't enough workfare slots.

Michels picked up: "For many of these people in line for a free meal job or workfare prospects are dim. Although some are considered able-bodied for food stamps purposes, many can't function....Charlene Tschirhart helps run the free dining hall that currently serves 2200 meals a day. While there has been a slight drop in the number of food stamps recipients because of an improving economy, you wouldn't know it at St. Anthony's, where the numbers keep increasing. Tschirhart fears the food stamps cutbacks will make things even worse."

Charlene Tschirhart: "There's going to be longer lines. There's going to be less at the end of those lines. Already our services maxed out in the '80s. They even became much more pressed in the '90s. And now this is like unthinkable that there would be more cuts. And there's no way that non-profits are going to make that up."

Michels moved on to a clip of a Second Harvest official explaining how food banks can't handle the needs. He then returned to the conservative Anderson: "How it should be done, according to Social Service Director Anderson, is that more food stamps recipients should work, including drug abusers and alcoholics."

But after Anderson's soundbite, Michels countered: "Finding a job won't restore food stamps for more than a million legal immigrants who are not yet citizens."

Just once it would be nice to see a story on welfare reform from the point of view of those paying for all the benefits.

-- Brent Baker