CyberAlert -- 07/25/1997 -- Barbour Talks, Nets Discover Hearings

Barbour Talks, Nets Discover Hearings; Clinton's Calls Clipped

The MRC's new fax reports, Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings, can now be read from the MRC home page or directly from:

  1. Haley Barbour led to a night of firsts: such as the first full stories on all networks in more than two weeks.
  2. CNN and MSNBC went live with Barbour, but CNN showed it's sensitive to charges of bias, promising equal coverage of Democrats.
  3. A newly revealed memo shows Clinton made fundraising calls, but that discovery lost in portrayals of how Barbour defended "his party against the same charges that party has been making."
  4. ABC recalled Justice Brennan as "a champion of the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised, the mentally ill, minorities."

1) Haley Barbour's appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee led to a day and evening of firsts:

-- The first extended live coverage on CNN and MSNBC since Wednesday, July 9 (See item #2 of today's CyberAlert)

-- The first night in which all three broadcast network evening shows aired full stories on the hearings since the night of the opening statements, meaning the first time they all aired a full story on a day of witness testimony. See item #3. (CBS and NBC aired full stories the first day Richard Sullivan testified, but ABC made the hearings a subset of a larger story on Clinton at the NATO meeting.)

-- The first night all three broadcast networks managed to air stories of any length (full or anchor-read brief) on the hearings while also running three or more Cunanan-related pieces.

-- The first World News Tonight story to include a witness soundbite longer than two words. Haley Barbour was the first witness to appear long enough on screen for ABC to run a chyron with his name. (Last Friday ABC aired the first and only other soundbites from witnesses: one saying "yes" and three CIA officials answering "no," "no sir," and "no sir.")

2) Haley Barbour's appearance led to the first live MSNBC coverage since the first week (July 9) and CNN's first since July 9 except for an hour last week. But, CNN repeatedly assured viewers they would carry any future testimony from Democrats on par with Barbour.

At 2:35pm ET on Thursday CNN jumped out of a police press conference on Cunanan to catch the opening statement from Haley Barbour. MSNBC joined in just before 3pm and both carried the Barbour appearance live except for ad breaks and half hourly news updates. At 4:30pm ET MSNBC switched to a FBI press conference on Cunanan that CNN soon joined. Both were back on Barbour at about 5pm ET. CNN stayed with Barbour until resuming normal programming with Moneyline at 7pm.

MSNBC cut out at 6:40pm ET to go to an "exclusive" live interview conducted by John "Spike" Gibson with the son of the caretaker who encountered Cunanan on Wednesday. (Later, CNN's Larry King interviewed Cunanan's aunt in the Philippines.) MSNBC completed their illuminating interview, with the person who knew the man who heard something, in time to show John Glenn questioning Barbour for a few minutes before MSNBC ceased live coverage at 7pm ET.

CNN certainly realized their decision to cover Barbour live would raise charges of bias. Throughout the day they tried to pre- empt the criticism by announcing at least once an hour (over a graphic showing photos of three Democratic leaders) that they will carry any future appearance before the committee by former DNC Finance Director Marvin Rosen, Chris Dodd or former Chairman Don Fowler.

3) After watching Thursday's World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News the average viewer unfamiliar with all the details of the alleged Democratic and Republican fundraising transgressions would have come away with the impression that foreign fundraising was equally widespread in both parties and both parties had committed equally serious violations.

Even if you buy the Democratic interpretation and assume Haley Barbour is a liar, the hearings show a RNC affiliated group got one donation from a foreign source, hardly the same as the widespread and systematic effort by Democrats to raise and hide foreign money, improperly use the White House to reward donors with bedroom stays and policy changes, and having the President and VP place fundraising calls on federal property.

"Clinton Sought Role as Fundraiser, Memo Says" announced a from page New York Times headline on Thursday, but only the CBS Evening News in the evening and NBC's Today in the morning mentioned the revelation.

Here's a network by network review of July 24 coverage:

-- ABC's Good Morning America skipped the hearings and didn't mention the New York Times story.

ABC's World News Tonight also failed to report the news of a memo which showed Clinton had more involvement in making calls than previously known, but about 21 minutes into the show ran a full story on Barbour's appearance.

Reporter Linda Douglass began: "In a display of political showmanship, former Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour marched in and declared the foreign money fundraising scandal is not bipartisan."

Barbour: "The RNC never turned a blind eye to any activity that wasn't allowed. Our defenses stayed in place as they should have. People who say everybody does it are wrong."

After that first ever more than two word soundbite from a witness aired by World News Tonight, Douglass explained that Barbour contended that Democrats turned a blind eye to Huang who intentionally solicited illegal foreign funds and disguised their source. She also outlined the Democratic contention that the RNC was able to spend more in the 1994 election because a Hong Kong businessman made a $2 million loan guarantee to the National Policy Forum (NPF) in October 1994, thus allowing the NPF to re-pay a loan from the RNC.

Douglass noted that "Barbour pointed out a foreign contribution to a think tank is not illegal," but concluded with the everybody does it spin favored by Democrats:

"All along the Democrats have called the loan a sham transaction, but legal or not, one thing the hearings have made clear is that both parties were so consumed by money laws were bent if not broken."

-- NBC's Today. Andrew Cunanan consumed almost all of the first hour, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed. But toward the end of the 8am news Today became the only Thursday morning show to pick up on the release of a memo showing that Clinton wanted to make fundraising calls.

Lisa Myers told Today viewers: "Documents obtained by NBC News suggest strongly that the dialing for dollars was far more extensive than the White House has admitted, and that the President himself may have made calls. Take this memo to the President last year, which his personal check mark shows Clinton received. It begins 'as you requested,' and provides names and numbers of donors and the amount he should ask for. Ten of the 14 names contributed more than a million dollars over the next few months. Some denied Clinton called; others wouldn't comment."

NBC Nightly News failed to mention the Clinton fundraising memo. Instead, Tom Brokaw equated the charges against both parties:

"At the campaign finance hearings today, the former head of the Republican National Committee was on the hot seat defending his party against the same charges that party has been making against the Democrats -- taking money from foreign sources. Here's NBC's Lisa Myers."

Lisa Myers began: "While vigorously denying he did anything wrong, former Republican Chairman Haley Barbour admitted that foreign money did go into a Republican think tank, the National Policy Forum."

Myers proceeded to explain that Barbour says he just recently learned that the loan came from Hong Kong's Ambrous Young, but pointed out that the man who brokered the loan testified earlier in the day that he told Barbour about it in 1994. The loan, Myers elaborated, enabled the NPF to re-pay the RNC which poured the money into 16 states just before the 1994 election.

Concluded Myers: "The think tank later defaulted on the loan, leaving an upset Ambrous Young holding the bag for $800,000. Republicans today were embarrassed, not only that their party benefitted from foreign money but that they also stiffed a benefactor. Republican Fred Thompson says his party should take responsibility and at the very least, repay the loan."

-- CBS This Morning. What hearings? This Morning obsessed on Cunanan Thursday morning. The show hasn't mentioned fundraising or the hearings since July 9 -- that's eleven fundraising free mornings.

The CBS Evening News led with four stories on Cunanan (they aired a fifth later in the show), but the hearings were the second topic of the show, just after the first ad break. Bob Schieffer filed a report half on Barbour, half on the Clinton fundraising memo, making CBS the only broadcast network evening show to cite the memo about how Clinton personally placed calls.

After summarizing the Democratic theory of how Barbour used the NPF to funnel foreign money into a U.S. campaign, Schieffer relayed that "the former Republican Party Chairman said no way." After a soundbite from Barbour Schieffer highlighted how Fred Thompson said the party should have realized the loan would have raised questions.

Then Schieffer switched topics: "The committee has turned up a White House memo that may prove embarrassing to the President who's tried to distance himself from all the fundraising controversy. As recently as five months ago Mr. Clinton was saying he couldn't remember even calling anyone for campaign donations, a practice he pictured as distasteful."

Following a clip from Clinton at a March 7 press conference, CBS put on-screen the text of a memo as Schieffer read it aloud:

"But in this 1996 memo then White House aide Harold Ickes tells the President: 'Attached as you requested are names and telephone numbers of 10 individuals...who will respond favorably to a telephone call from you for contributions.' Ickes goes on to say the list of donors 'was provided pursuant to your request.'"

Schieffer ended his story by saying that the White House maintains that "While he may have made a fundraising call somewhere along the line he doesn't remember doing so."

4) The passing away Thursday of former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan led to glowing tributes Thursday night on all the networks championing him as an advocate of "individual rights."

On ABC's World News Tonight substitute anchor Rene Poussaint offered a one-minute review of his career that was less balanced news story than a personal tribute. In between clips from Brennan interviews, she gushed:

"He was one of the most influential jurists in American history with a legacy of defending individual rights..."

"Brennan was a champion of the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised, the mentally ill, minorities..."

"He consistently supported a woman's right to have an abortion. Brennan was major factor in the court's upholding of busing and affirmative action to achieve racial equality in the schools. Brennan was opposed to the death penalty in all cases..."

No mention of how there were some civil rights he curbed instead of expanded, such as property rights and gun rights. And One word not uttered by Poussaint: "liberal."

-- Brent Baker