CyberAlert -- 07/14/1997 -- No Hearing for Hearings in the Morning

No Hearing for Hearings in the Morning; Joe Camel vs. Mickey

  1. Friday's morning shows went 0 for 3 on mentioning the hearings; Torricelli called a NBC reporter insensitive for highlighting his lie.
  2. Stupidest question of the weekend. CBS's Bob Schieffer equated a bank owned by communists to a Texas bank.
  3. ABC's Aaron Brown passed along as fact a preposterous study claiming more children recognized Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
  4. "So far his [Thompson's] hearings have left the country cold," Nightline concluded since it's been "disappointing" to those who want campaign finance reform.

1) None of Friday's morning shows included a syllable about the hearings and neither did Friday's World News Tonight.

-- Friday morning. The morning after the third day of the hearings and ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning and NBC's Today did not find anything worth reporting, MRC analysts Gene Eliasen, Steve Kaminski and Jessica Anderson observed.

Here's the CALCI for the week, that's the CyberAlert Lack of Coverage Index. Checking the three morning shows from Monday, July 7 through Friday, July 11:

# of days with NO mention of hearings:
ABC: 2 (40%)
CBS: 3 (60%)
NBC: 1 (20%)

# of days with a discussion or interview segment on hearings:
ABC: 1
CBS: 0
NBC: 1

The morning shows didn't think anything important happened on Thursday and neither did the Washington Post. Friday's front page story in the Post was headlined "Speeches Overshadow Answers: Senate Hearings Often Leave Witness a Spectator." Inside, a Post headline announced: "GOP Questions Source of $325,000." By contrast, the Los Angeles Times put news not the editor's analysis on page one. The front page, above the fold July 11 headline declared: "2 Donors to Democrats Linked to Asian Funds."

-- Friday evening. ABC's World News Tonight skipped the hearings Friday night. On the CBS Evening News Phil Jones provided a brief update of behind the scenes discussions about whether to offer immunity to John Huang.

NBC Nightly News picked up a story from Thursday's Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, about a factual problem with New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli's comments about why he wanted to avoid ethnic stereotyping. The July 10 Roll Call reported that in his opening statement on Tuesday, Torricelli lectured Thompson on "remembering the hearings held by Sen. Estes Kevauver (D-Tenn), 'another Chairman of a congressional committee, a Senator also from the state of Tennessee.' Waxing nostalgic, Torricelli said, 'It was among the first memories of government in the United States that I have, and probably the first hearing of the Senate I ever witnessed. It was only a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it'...thundering that the anti-Italian sentiment that followed Kevauver's revelations about the mob should not be revisited on Asian-Americans."

Just one problem with Torricelli's moving anecdote. He made it up. The Kevauver hearings lasted from May 1950 to August 1951. Roll Call explained: "Torricelli couldn't have remembered the Kevauver investigation, or even that flickering screen. The future Senator was born on August 26, 1951. The final gavel fell on the Kevauver subcommittee hearings on August 31, 1951."

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams intoned:
"A freshman Senator from New Jersey is in a little bit of trouble for what he wanted very badly to be a very big dramatic moment on the much anticipated first day of those campaign finance hearings going on the Hill. NBC's Lisa Myers tonight looks between the lines and finds all that was lacking was the truth."
After summarizing Torricelli's made-up story, Myers reported: "...Torricelli's response: That he may have seen re-runs of the hearings as a child rather than actually watch the hearings as an infant, but that it really doesn't matter."

Myers asked Torricelli: "You don't think you left the impression that you personally witnessed them at the time they occurred?"

Torricelli retorted: "I think that the insensitivity that I'm afraid will befall Asian-Americans is exactly what you're exhibiting. I'm raising a question about whether people will be racially stereotyped and you're interpreting as an issue of whether I saw this as an infant or saw tapes of it as a child."

ABC's World News Tonight, which gave more time on Thursday to Senator Brownback mimicking how Asians speak English than to the actual hearings, hasn't bothered noting Torricelli's creative imagination.

2) The weekday morning shows and evening newscasts aren't making the hearings a priority, but the much less watched Sunday morning interview shows all focused in whole or in part on the hearings.

From Face the Nation, my nomination for the "stupidest question of the day." Bob Schieffer asked Senator Arlen Specter:

"You say you have evidence that the money came from the Bank of China and then in turn was passed on. But you know the Bank of China, they don't just have money from the Chinese government there. It would be like if I got something from the Fort Worth National Bank, that wouldn't mean it would come necessarily from the Fort Worth City Council. They keep money from a lot of different people there. Where's the connection between the government and going into this, into the campaign?"

Of course, the Ft. Worth City Council does not own the Ft. Worth National Bank.

3) Don't trust anything you hear from ABC reporter Aaron Brown. In a July 10 World News Tonight story on RJ Reynolds dropping Joe Camel, Brown issued this preposterous claim:

"Kids loved Joe. Researchers in 1991 found more kids knew Joe Camel than knew Mickey Mouse..."

As the Internet Guild's Steve Allen ( reminded me, the June 16 Weekly Standard demolished the hyperbolic propaganda Brown relayed, but which is preposterous on its face. The magazine noted that the "bogus" claim appeared in a 1991 Journal of the American Medical Association article. The Weekly Standard explained the problem: "The Mickey Mouse result was derived from interviews with 23 children at a single Atlanta pre-school -- and couldn't be replicated on a broader scale."

4) The hearings are a failure and a waste of time because they are not leading to more regulation and limitations on free speech, aka "campaign finance reform." As noted in the July 9 CyberAlert, much of the media aren't interested in finding wrongdoing, just in enacting another set of liberal policies. Thursday's Nightline delivered more evidence of the media's view.

Anchor Forrest Sawyer opened the July 10 show: "Senator Fred Thompson promised drama and intrigue, but so far his hearings have left the country cold."

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia then asserted: "If it were a summer television show, I think it would have been canceled after the first day."

Sawyer wondered: "Tonight, the hearings into campaign finance reform. Is anyone watching?"

Someone might be if they could. But with ABC's two main shows, World News Tonight and GMA, not even covering them on some days and with no live coverage even on cable, how can anyone?

As transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, here's Sawyer introduction:
"If you were looking for an example of how far apart Washington has grown from the voters, you wouldn't have to look beyond the Senate hearings on campaign finance reform. The first week has now drawn to a close, and it's fair to say that this highly-touted, much-anticipated examination of a problem most Americans consider critical, is so far a bust. Little public interest, no headlines, and no focus. To many Americans it all looks like business as usual: name calling, finger pointing, all for political advantage, with no intention of stamping out the real corruption. Look at the latest ABC News poll: Do you favor campaign finance reform? Sixty-two percent said yes. Do you think it's likely to happen? Sixty-seven percent said no. In the mean time, President Clinton's approval rating is as high as it's ever been, 64 percent, which means, Senator Thompson, so far America is either not listening or not believing. Maybe bad news for the Republicans and good news for the Democrats. But for those hoping for real campaign finance reform, it's all disappointing"

It's also disappointing that Clinton's team couldn't follow the current laws, but that's of no concern to ABC.

Next, Sawyer interviewed Senator John Glenn, the leading Democrat on the committee. Instead of pressing Glenn about his efforts to sidetrack the hearings from their original purpose, Sawyer pushed for campaign finance reform:

-- "Maybe it's cynical, Senator, but here is how it shakes down to at least some people: It appears that the Republicans want to tar the Democrats, and the Democrats' answer is, basically, 'Yeah, well so is your old man. If we did it, you did it.' Now that's not much of an answer."

-- "Well, Senator, I think what, to some of the American people, it comes down to is this: What they really would like Congress to do is to address what they believe is widespread corruption when it comes to campaign finance reform. And this, they believe, is a kind of football match, where each side puts up their arguments in the hope that the American people will believe what they have to say versus what the other side has to say, and that is just more, as I said earlier, of business as usual."

-- "I have talked to a lot of people about this, and when I ask them if they think there will be new laws, they sort of snicker. I think what they believe is that a lot of people in Washington, elected officials, don't really want campaign finance reform laws because you're addicted to the money that you get."

If Sawyer had been around in 1973 would he have demanded reforms to the burglary and break-in laws?

"Watergate: Not Exactly High Drama" read the Washington Post headline on May 18, 1973, the day after the Watergate hearings opened. So noted a July 11 Christian Science Monitor story. As CNN's Brooks Jackson observed on Thursday: "Democrats of course would like to, based on Sullivan's appearance as the first witness, write these things off...Well, it's too soon to say that. We have to remember how Watergate unfolded; the first witness was some low level White House aide. John Dean was by no means the first witness and there were a lot of dull witnesses during the Watergate hearings."

The question is, this time will the media be around to report later developments?

-- Brent Baker