CyberAlert -- 07/22/1997 -- Trie's Treat

Trie's Treat; NBC on Riady in '92; Forbes "An Ugly Thing"

All three of the MRC's new fax reports published last week, Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings, can now be read at:

The July 14 edition of Notable Quotables can be accessed, thanks to MRC Web manager Joe Alfonsi, from the MRC home page: There's been so much hearings material to report that the CyberAlerts have grown too long to add an entire NQ.

  1. The Clinton team expanded the number of trade panel slots and padded Charlie Trie's resume, all to give him the prestige he desired, but the networks ignored the revelation.
  2. NBC Nightly News aired its first fundraising story in six days -- a look at how Riady funded Clinton's 1992 campaign.
  3. Free speech for Steve Forbes is "among those ugly things we have to tolerate in a free society," a U.S. News reporter complained.
  4. Two shows that have covered the hearings: CNBC's Hardball and the NewsHour on PBS.

1) A front page headline in Sunday's Los Angeles Times announced "White House Helped Boost Trie Onto Asia Trade Panel: Clinton Friend Won New Spot With a Padded Resume. Subject of Fundraising Inquiry Now in China."

Reporter Glenn Bunting discovered:
"A glimpse at the background of Yah Lin 'Charlie' Trie reveals that the Taiwanese immigrant worked at his Chinese restaurant in Little Rock, Ark., before opening a small consulting office in Beijing in late 1992 when his friend of 13 years, Bill Clinton, was elected President.
"But his resume became much grander after a major make-over by the Clinton administration's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. In papers prepared by the agency, Trie became an authority on international trade relations and a key player in building economic bridges between the United States and Asia.
"Trie possesses 'special expertise' and 'substantial knowledge and/or experience' on U.S. barriers to Asia markets, one USTR document declared. His participation on a White House advisory panel on trade with Pacific nations was proclaimed 'essential to the United States.'
"A certain amount of puffery is not uncommon in Washington, particularly for political appointments made to myriad boards and study groups created to explore policy issues. However, newly available records obtained by The Times show that the White House went to extraordinary lengths to promote and place Trie, now a central figure in federal and congressional probes into allegations of espionage and illegal fundraising, on the Presidential Commission on U.S. Trade and Investment Policy.
"To give Trie the position, according to e-mail messages, Clinton signed an executive order in January 1996, expanding the membership of the commission, which was already full. Then Trie was able to serve even though U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky refused to sign a required waiver discounting any problem with potential conflicts of interest, according to government memos marked 'highly confidential.'
A few paragraphs later in the July 20 story Bunting suggested: "The question is whether the administration helped turn Trie into an illicit fund-raiser, knowingly or not, by providing him with the credentials to flash his government clout."
Coverage: One reason given for the lack of network coverage of the hearings has been that they have not produced much new information. Well, here's a revelation from a major news outlet. And did the networks jump on it? No.
After checking with MRC news analysts Clay Waters, Geoffrey Dickens and Jessica Anderson, I can report that none of the Sunday evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today or NBC Nightly News) nor the Monday morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning or NBC's Today) uttered a word about the LA Times disclosure. Monday (July 21) night's ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows were also silent, though the story ran on the front page of Monday's LA Times Washington Edition.

2) NBC Nightly News forget all about the hearings after a comment last Tuesday night, July 15, from Tim Russert and brief and discussion with Tom Brokaw. But NBC was back in action Monday night, July 21, with the first Nightly News mention of the hearings in six days. NBC presented some rare enterprise reporting from a television network on the Clinton fundraising scandal.

NBC detailed how James Riady, the Indonesian head of the Lippo Group, bankrolled Clinton's 1992 campaign. Lisa Myers explained:
"New documents analyzed by NBC News reveal for the first time that Riady and his wife were the top donors to the Democratic Party in 1992, giving $450,000 to elect Clinton. The contributions were entirely legal, but that's more money than any American citizen, any corporation, even any labor union."
Following a soundbite from Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, Myers explained how Riady and others associated with the Lippo Group had contributed $1.4 million to Democrats over the past five years, beginning with the illegal $50,000 donation delivered through John Huang that the committee uncovered last week. Myers noted that Riady and associates gave mainly to state party groups in states critical to Clinton's election, so as to avoid detection.
Myers concluded by leaving viewers with something to ponder:
"The question of course is what did Riady get for all his money? At a minimum he enhanced his power back home by convincing the President to meet with Indonesian dictator Suharto (sp?) and by bringing Indonesian officials to the White House. And then there is John Huang who once worked for Riady and now is at the center of the fundraising scandal. A letter unearthed by Senate investigators says that the Riady family invested heavily in the Clinton campaign and that getting Huang a job working for the President was Riady's top priority. Both criminal and congressional investigations now are trying to determine what else Riady got for his huge investment."

3) Steve Forbes is more damaging to the U.S. political system than John Huang because money should not equal speech. So contended a U.S. News & World Report economics reporter in an op-ed piece caught by MRC news analyst Clay Waters. Matthew Miller opened a July 17 op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"There are two big things wrong with the current hearings on campaign-finance scandals. First, they're not really about foreign influence. And second, John Huang isn't the poster boy for what ails money and politics -- Steve Forbes is."
If foreign influence was a serious concern then the committee would be examining all the millions spent by foreign governments on legal lobbying, Miller argued before getting to the Forbes problem.
Miller asserted: "The real heart of our campaign woes is a constitutional doctrine that equates 'money' with 'speech.' That's what the Supreme Court ruled in a famous 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo. Overall campaign expenditures can't be involuntarily capped, the court said, because such limits violate First Amendment rights of free speech."
So much for journalists standing up for the First Amendment. Miller doesn't want it extended to others: "Forbes represents the purest, most offensive challenge to the idea that money should equal speech." Then he got personal:
"Must we really accept a doctrine that lets a vain twit pour Daddy's millions into so much flat tax propaganda that it lands him on the cover of Time and Newsweek and influences the national agenda? Forbes has been encouraged by what money can buy and won't go away. If anything's sinister about campaign finance nowadays, it's this."
Isn't that the kind of invective condemned by Al Hunt when said by a conservative?
Miller concluded: "Thus the key question: Is Steve Forbes constitutional? The court might tell us that Forbes' fetishes are among those ugly things we have to tolerate in a free society. In any event, this is the kind of conversation that might begin to fix our campaigns, not witch hunts for red perils that don't exist."
Of course, it could be observed that the man Huang helped ended up in the White House while Steve Forbes spent a lot of money to end up in.......New Jersey. (Sorry, New Jersey readers)
Miller's urge to limit the free speech of non-journalists would, conveniently, increase the influence of his profession. A sure sign that Miller is well to the left is that he misses the point that "reform" and regulation led to the "ugly" Forbes. If campaign laws didn't prevent it then Forbes could give his millions to someone like Jack Kemp to finance a run. And with the $1,000 per person donation limit not even adjusted for inflation since 1975, its very hard for any candidate to raise real money. How about a free-market, pro-free speech reform: deregulate and eliminate all the giving and spending limits.

4) As detailed in CyberAlerts over the past two weeks, ABC, CBS and NBC barely touched the hearings. This Morning on CBS, in fact, hasn't mentioned them since July 9. Now that Republicans are to sit in the witness chairs the networks may suddenly discover that the hearings justify thorough coverage, but two shows have provided a nightly re-cap over the past couple of weeks:

-- CNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews has focused all or part of every show on the hearings. Hardball airs Monday through Friday at 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT and repeats at 2am ET/11pm PT.
-- The NewsHour on PBS. MRC intern Jessica Anderson reviewed the NewsHour since the hearings commenced and learned that every night the show has provided a full report from Kwame Holman, complete with soundbites from Senators and witnesses -- an element largely missing from the rare broadcast network stories.
Chris Matthews once toiled for Tip O'Neill and Kwame Holman served as Press Secretary to DC Mayor Marion Barry. Not all liberal dismiss the hearings as irrelevant.

-- Brent Baker