CyberAlert -- 10/15/1997 -- Blame Lott, Not Ickes or Clinton; Overlooking Temple Laundering

Blame Lott, Not Ickes or Clinton; Overlooking Temple Laundering

1) All the networks led with El Nino Tuesday night, but Janet Reno's decision also generated stories. Tom Brokaw said that she "has refused" to drop her investigation.

2) The Buddhist temple was laundering money years before Al Gore showed up, but ABC, CBS and NBC didn't find that of interest.

3) One reporter acknowledged the media bias in favor of campaign finance reform as Tom Brokaw, Gloria Borger and Sam Donaldson prove his point. >>>> The MRC's 10th Anniversary Gala is fast approaching: October 22 in Washington, DC. For ticket information, go to: OR Or, call 1-800-MRC-1423. After hours, punch in extension 131.

1) The "El Nino Preparedness Summit" in Santa Monica, California topped the three broadcast networks on Tuesday night and each also reported that Janet Reno had decided to extend her investigation into Clinton's phone calls. But none mentioned Tuesday's House subcommittee hearing on corruption in the Teamsters election.

On ABC's World News Tonight Peter Jennings announced Reno's decision and followed with a clip of Clinton's reaction. Reporter Linda Douglass offered some analysis, explaining that the Attorney General says "she needs more time to evaluate the evidence that has been collected so far. Thus far though the prosecutors say there is no evidence of the President even asked anybody for money on the telephone..." Jennings next highlighted a new ABC News poll which showed that "all this fuss" is not hurting Clinton's approval rating. One reason: 31 percent had never heard of the videotapes of the coffees.

On the CBS Evening News Scott Pelley focused on the imminent release of 60 additional videotapes and "newly discovered audio tapes."

NBC Nightly News opened with a piece on the El Nino threat. Reporter Mike Boettcher assured viewers: "The White House considered the threat serious enough to send Vice President Al Gore to the summit." I guess exploiting the issue to shine up Gore's environmental image had nothing to do with it.
Much later in the show, anchor Tom Brokaw painted Reno as the unreasonable party: "In Washington tonight the Attorney General has refused to just drop her investigation of those fundraising calls made by President Clinton from the White House...."

2) The October 14 CyberAlert reported that Los Angeles Times reporter Alan Miller appeared on Monday's Inside Politics to discuss his October 7 story showing how Democrats raised money abroad long before the 1996 election season. His story focused in part on the foreign fundraising coordination by Maria Hsia. Miller did appear on the CNN show and talked about Hsia's role, but his appearance was prompted by a newer story. Bernard Shaw interviewed him about an October 12 Los Angeles Times piece he wrote that ran in the October 14 Washington Edition of the paper. It also centered on Hsia.

"Temple's Political Giving Hidden in '93, Records Say: Federal grand jury targets Democratic fundraiser Maria Hsia, Buddhist group's donations," read the headline. Reporters William Rempel and Alan Miller's lead: "The aggressive Democratic fundraiser behind last year's Buddhist temple benefit featuring Vice President Al Gore acted to conceal temple political donations as early as 1993, according to records and testimony that reveal a more extensive history of temple money-laundering than was previously known.
"A federal grand jury is investigating fund-raiser Maria Hsia and the temple's potentially illegal contributions, including a $5,000 donation last October to Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), The Times has learned.
"And Hsia has been singled out as one of the initial targets of the recently reorganized Justice Department task force investigating alleged campaign-finance abuses, sources confirm. Hsia not only helped arrange for the Hsi Lai Temple to provide the $5,000 Kennedy contribution, according to records turned over to congressional investigators, but she also was one of five straw donors who served as conduits for the temple's hidden donation."

Coverage: Nothing yet, morning or evening, on any of the broadcast networks.

3) Last week USA Today reporter Richard Benedetto observed that "most of the reporting" on campaign finance reform "is tilted toward voices in favor of wholesale reform." The October 12 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources used the column to set up a segment on reform coverage during which moderator Bernard Kalb cited a quote run in the September 29 CyberAlert and October 6 Notable Quotables.
Kalb offered up: "Let me pick up, since you mentioned Senator McConnell, an intro line by Tom Brokaw the other night on how the media covered the story, Brokaw saying, introducing a piece about a Republican Senator who was a one man wrecking crew when it comes to campaign finance reform and he's proud of it."
Martin Schram of Scripps-Howard agreed that showed bias: "Tom Brokaw's line went too far. That's the kind of thing that Benedetto was talking about."

McCain-Feingold's defeat last week hasn't quelled demands from star journalists for the liberal regulatory plan to control speech and spending. Here are some recent examples:

-- Tuesday night, October 14, NBC's Tom Brokaw made a guest appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. The host raised the coffee videotapes, leading Brokaw to offer his assessment which blamed "money in politics" not the President for how he has demeaned the office: "The country has just tuned it out at this point, unfortunately, because it is a real cancer on the system. And you can't have a political system that is cash and carry, that only the people who have the cash can carry away the influence and everybody else is cut out."

In the end, Brokaw predicted, Janet Reno will decide against appointing an independent counsel and that will lead to some Republican hypocrisy: "The Republicans will beat on the table as say this is outrageous, but at the same time the Republican Majority Leader, Trent Lott, has arranged the legislative schedule in the Senate so there's no chance that campaign finance reform will pass this time, he's actively taking a part in that."

-- On last Friday's (October 10) Washington Week in Review on PBS Gloria Borger of U.S. News and CBS News offered the same spin, painting McCain-Feingold as THE WAY to "solve the problem" of all the 1996 improprieties. Those against the bill, in Borger's simplistic presentation, don't want "to solve the problem."

Borger, as transcribed by MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen, recounted what she saw happen on Capitol Hill on Tuesday:
"It's one of those days where you actually see the problem and one day, in the morning, and then in the afternoon you have an opportunity to solve the problem, in one day, this never happens, but it happened on Tuesday. And of course it turned out very badly for some people who wanted to solve the problem.
"The morning you had the Senate committee investigating all of these campaign finance abuses, ready to blow a gasket over these videotapes we've been talking about. Very exciting hearing, you go up there Senator Thompson is ready to give them hell and he does. Then you have Harold Ickes, the guy who was the President's point man for money, finally ready to testify about all the money in the campaign, we've been waiting for this public testimony for months. And then in the afternoon, you're going to have a key procedural vote on campaign finance reform that would essentially determine whether campaign finance reform lives or dies.
"So as a journalist it's sort of a mandatory visit to the Hill, you've got to go. So you go up to the Hill, you go to the hearings in the morning, they do not disappoint. Thompson's talking about the foot-dragging of the White House. Then Senators have their lunch, as they do every Tuesday to discuss the agenda and when their next recess's going to be, or whatever the topic seems to be, and then they went on the floor to vote.
"And what happened was, without boring everyone with all the procedural details, is that in the end the Senate balked and it decided it could not vote for campaign finance reform. Back I went to the Harold Ickes testimony on the Hill and Harold Ickes said to the Senators, 'Your problem isn't with me, Senators, it's with the law, which P.S. you just refused to change.' So it was a wonderful day."

PBS viewer's problem isn't with Ickes either. It's with reporters who think it's more important to change laws that were violated than determine who did what.

-- A few weeks ago, on the September 28 This Week, Sam Donaldson demonstrated that the First Amendment is great for journalists but we can abandon it when it comes to others who want their voice heard free of a media filter.

Donaldson began by giving away his real concern, that without more regulation Republicans will benefit: "If we have more money and everybody can put in as much as they want to, the Republicans win." Donaldson explained how upset he was with a campaign message he and his colleagues couldn't stop: "All of the special interest groups, not directly connected with the parties. I remember 1988. It was not George Bush who ran the Willie Horton ad, that devastating ad. It was Floyd Brown and some other group that ran that ad and if we don't limit money there what good does it do to simply say to the parties, 'No soft money?'"

Later Donaldson declared that "I think the Supreme Court decision is wrong, I do not think money is speech."

All of this illustrates the accuracy of Benedetto's October 6 "Politics" column in USA Today. He observed: "Little space or time is devoted to sober, broad looks at arguments on all sides of the issue. Instead, coverage is often emotional and selective. Reporting usually begins from the premise that the McCain-Feingold reform bill now before the Senate is good, and that any attempt to slow it, stop it or change it is bad."

Benedetto offered a couple examples of bias, including this broad indictment:
"When Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., introduced an amendment last week to require labor unions to get permission of members before spending dues money for political purposes, news reports said he was 'muddying the water.'
"Opponents called it 'a poison pill.' Newspaper editorials denounced the move as shamefully partisan. The charge: Republicans want to hamper unions' ability to raise money because the millions of dollars they raise for campaigns go mostly to Democrats.
"But if that's legitimate cause for denouncing the amendment, why is it not similarly legitimate to question the motive of Democrats seeking to ban 'soft money?' Those are unlimited contributions that go to political parties and are supposed to help pay for party-building activities such as get-out-the-vote efforts.
"Republicans collect more soft money than Democrats. So it would seem in the Democrats' interest to get rid of that GOP advantage. Yet, few raise that point. According to the prevailing wisdom, soft money must go -- period."
Benedetto concluded: "Media conduct on this one is not pure liberal bias. It's another example of what Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson calls 'pack journalism run amok.'
"'We media types fancy ourselves independent and skeptical thinkers,' he recently wrote. 'Just the opposite is often true. We're patsies for the latest social crusade or intellectual fad.'
"The anti-smoking campaign is a recent example of the media buying in with few reservations. Global warming, too. Now it's campaign finance reform."

Let's see. The anti-smoking campaign, portraying global warming as a threat and arguing for campaign finance reform. What do they all have in common? They are issues pushed by liberals. If not "pure liberal bias," maybe a 99 percent liberal pack.

-- Brent Baker