CyberAlert - November 22, 1996 - Hiss Hysteria

It's been a few days, so seven items today:

1. MSNBC reported that Alger Hiss "was a victim of Cold War hysteria." But Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings issued "clarifications" this week on their reports on the death of Hiss.

2. In five days, developments in the John Huang/DNC foreign fundraising scandal get mentioned about once in the morning and once in the evening on the networks.

3. Bryant Gumbel connects prayer and Jimmy Carter's failure as President.

4. Tom Brokaw praises the work of a liberal mogul to counter "deep" federal budget cuts for the poor and immigrants.

5. A CBS News anchor makes a younger woman, over whom he had power, "model her attributes."

6. A Boston headline contrast on a topic that's not adding up.

7. A just-released study proves that articles about health and safety in women's magazines overwhelmingly favor more government and liberal views on the environment.

1) The last CyberAlert reported how Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw last Friday (November 15) suggested Alger Hiss was vindicated before his death. Tom Brokaw said Hiss was innocently "caught up in a spy scandal" and "considered vindication a declaration by a Russian General...saying that Hiss had never been a spy." Jennings claimed that "Boris Yeltsin said that KGB files had supported Mr. Hiss's claim" of innocence.

Since then I've come across another instance of a network assuming he was victimized by anti-communism. On Friday's The News with Brian Williams last week on MSNBC substitute anchor Brigitte Quinn told viewers, as transcribed by MRC intern Joe Alfonsi:

"Alger Hiss was a symbol of the cold war and the McCarthy witch hunts that haunted that era. And his public disgrace propelled Richard Nixon to the White House. Hiss died today at a New York City hospital. He was four days shy of his 93rd birthday. Hiss was a brilliant lawyer and teacher until 1948 when a man named Whittaker Chambers accused Hiss of giving him State Department secrets to pass to the Soviets. An ambitious Congressman named Richard Nixon lead the prosecution against Hiss, who was convicted and sent to prison. The publicity helped win Nixon the vice presidential nomination in 1952. As for Hiss, he fought for vindication for the rest of his life. In 1987 a Russian General declared that Hiss was never a spy but a victim of cold war hysteria."

Did she say 1987? Yes, she did.

On Monday's NBC Nightly News (November 18), Tom Brokaw issued a correction:

"Last week on this program we reported on the death of Alger Hiss, the establishment intellectual who was the center of a long bitter debate about his Communist Party credentials and suspected Soviet spy activity. Late in his life, we reported, he felt vindicated by a Russian General's claim that there were no records to support the claims that Hiss was a spy. However, the Russian General admitted he didn't have access to all records."

The next night, Tuesday, November 19, Peter Jennings got around to noting his error. On World News Tonight he stated:

"We have a clarification tonight of something we reported on Friday. In the obituary of Alger Hiss, we reported that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had said that KGB files supported Hiss' contention that he had never spied for the Soviets as he insisted all his life. It was actually a member of Mr. Yeltsin's staff, General Dmitri Volkogonov who made the statement. He later said that the evidence wasn't conclusive because there were other Soviet intelligence agencies whose files were not available."

The networks have now conceded the evidence of his innocence is not solid, but viewers never a got a full understanding of the depth of proof of his guilt.

2) Revelations about John Huang continue to make the front pages of newspapers, but the television networks have nearly blacked out the entire scandal. Last week we reported that of the broadcast network evening shows only ABC's World News Tonight, on November 12, reported that the Commerce Dept. had launched an investigation of John Huang to see if he really cut off ties to the Lippo Group. The last CyberAlert detailed how a series of revelations in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times never made it onto the ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows.

Picking up where that list left off, here's a run down on coverage this week that I compiled with the assistance of MRC analysts Steve Kaminski and Gene Eliasen. This review includes the three evening shows, plus CNN's The World Today (10pm ET) as well as GMA, This Morning and Today from Sunday through Thursday.

  • In five mornings, GMA mentioned Huang in one newscast one morning. Today and CBS This Morning devoted half of one story.
  • In five evenings, ABC raised Huang in two anchor-read items. CBS devoted one full story. In four nights (no Nightly News on Sunday) NBC aired one anchor-read brief.

Sunday, November 17.

The day after the front page of the New York Times reported that President Clinton had met with and discussed Indonesian policy with James Riady, the former employer of John Huang. Also, the DNC announced that Huang was let go as part of post-election reductions.

CNN's The World Today and ABC's World News Tonight: Brief anchor-read mentions of Huang leaving the DNC. Nothing on Riady on any show.

Monday, November 18.

Los Angeles Times reported that Huang, who claimed he severed contact with Lippo when he joined Commerce, made 70 phone calls at Commerce to the Lippo Bank in Los Angeles. The Washington Times reported that Huang lobbied to open trade with Vietnam, a position advocated by his former employer.

In the morning, nothing on Today or This Morning. One mention on GMA of Huang's firing. In the evening, nothing on CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News. On ABC Jennings did brief item on the 70 calls. CNN's World Today aired full story by Bob Franken on Huang-Lippo connections. Franken even noted the money returned from an April fundraiser at a Buddhist Temple attended by Al Gore.

Tuesday, November 19.

"Close Aide to Clinton Urged Less Candor Over Indonesian" declared the front page New York Times headline. The Times reported that aide Bruce Lindsey advised describing Clinton's meetings with Indonesian billionaire James Riady as "social calls" though after the campaign the White House admitted policy was discussed.

In the morning, nothing on GMA, Today or This Morning. In the evening, nothing on ABC, CBS or NBC. The specifics weren't spelled out on CNN's The World Today, but Wolf Blitzer did report on a Clinton press conference in Australia that took place at about 9pm ET:

"Sensitive questions involving a former Democratic Party fundraiser's activities continue to chase President Clinton here to Australia, his first overseas trip since his re-election. At a joint news conference with Prime Minister John Howard, President Clinton warned reporters not to rush to judgment about all of this, including his friend and former Democratic Party fundraiser John Huang. He compared all of this to the highly publicized case of Richard Jewell who was wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the Olympic games in Atlanta."

Clinton: "...One of the things I would urge you to do, remembering what happened to Mr. Jewell in Atlanta, remembering what has happened to so many of the accusations over the last four years that have bee made against me that turned out to be totally baseless, I just think that we ought to make sure, we ought to just get the facts out. And they should be reported That's what I've encouraged everybody to do."

Blitzer: "Mr. Clinton says he's encouraging all of his a ides to fully cooperate and he denies that there's any official stonewalling."

Wednesday, November 20

The above press conference is still fresh news and the DNC announces that it has returned $253,000 to a Thai businesswoman who had donated funds that were really from a citizen of Thailand.

In the morning, nothing on GMA. Both Today and This Morning devote half of one story to Clinton's Jewell analogy. On CBS This Morning Bill Plante reported:

"....Mr. Clinton could not avoid the controversy over contributions to the Democrats by wealthy Asians. Asked if his staff had stonewalled the issue before the election, he replied that he had answered all the questions asked of him and then compared himself with Olympic security guard Richard Jewell."

Clinton: "One of the things I would urge you to do, remembering what happened to Mr. Jewell in Atlanta, remembering what has happened to so many of the accusations over the last four years that have bee made against me that turned out to be totally baseless."

Plante: "In fact, the question of whether those accusations are baseless or not is likely to shadow Mr. Clinton's next couple of years, but he's not likely to have to deal with them again on this trip because the next three days in Australia are mostly R&R. And tomorrow he gets the chance to do what he really wanted to do and that's 18 holes of golf with champion Greg Norman."

Of course, a CBS viewer would have no idea what he stonewalled.

In the evening, ABC aired nothing, NBC's Tom Brokaw mentioned the Thai money return and CBS Evening News actually aired a full story. Rita Braver highlighted the Jewell analogy:

"Questions keep swirling around former Lippo Group Vice President, John Huang. Appointed by the White House to a high Commerce Department post then transferred to a job as a top Democratic National Committee fund-raiser. And at a news conference, the President was asked about new allegations that his staff deliberately delayed releasing information about Huang's activities until after the election. A major issue, newly disclosed White House meetings where Huang and his former Lippo boss, James Riady discussed policy matters with Mr. Clinton. But though some contributions Huang raised may have been illegal, Mr. Clinton compared both Huang and himself to Richard Jewell, a man the FBI incorrectly identified as a suspect in the Atlanta Olympics bombing."

After a clip of Clinton claiming "I just think that we ought to make sure we've got, you know, we ought to just get the facts out," Braver offered a tough conclusion: "But many of those involved in the controversy have refused to discuss their roles. And privately, some White House aides are appalled because of the appearance created by the unusual access of the Lippo Group."

Thursday, November 21.

Nothing on any broadcast network show. I did not get a chance to check CNN.

Concluding his November 18 story CNN's Bob Franklin suggested: "John Huang may have lost his job, but neither he nor the controversy he's the center of is about the fade away. Congressional Republicans will see to that."

They will have to since the networks won't.

3) Jimmy Carter appeared on Today Monday (November 18) to plug his new book, "Living Faith." Here's an exchange with Bryant Gumbel in which Gumbel implicates prayer with Carter's poor presidential performance:

Gumbel: "You write that you prayed more during your four years in office than basically at any time in your life and yet I think it's fair to say, and I hope this doesn't sound harsh, I think it's fair to say, you are consistently viewed as one of the more ineffective Presidents of modern times."

Carter: "Well, I think that's harsh and unfair, but you have a right to your opinion."

Gumbel: "It's not mine. It's what I perceive as a general view. What do you think, if anything, that says about the power of prayer?"

4) Thursday night NBC Nightly News aired another segment of its Who Cares series on charitable giving. Over video of the Statue of Liberty, Tom Brokaw began:

"She's a symbol of hope for those seeking a better life, the words given to us by poet Emma Lazarus. So, when the welfare reform bill was passed by Congress this year, a bill that slashed aid to legal immigrants, deep cuts, some $22 billion dollars philanthropist George Soros reacted immediately, creating a $50 fund and he named it after Emma Lazarus."

Brokaw asked Soros:

"You just gave a lot of money for immigrants because you worry immigrants, in the eyes of some people in this country, pariahs."

Brokaw continued:

"His swift and deeply personal response to the welfare reform bill comes at a time when many are asking whether private giving can compensate for government cuts in social services."

Brokaw did give Arianna Huffington a chance to explain the benefits of personal charity, but it's amazing how year after year there are "cuts in social services" yet the budget keeps soaring.

5) Boston held its Achievement in Radio Awards luncheon Wednesday. The master of ceremonies: Charles Osgood of CBS. The Boston Globe's Susan Bickelhaupt reported Thursday:

"As he introduced Gina (he didn't share her last name) as the one who would hand out the awards, he took note of the catcalls and whistles that greeted her as she took the stage in a floor-length, backless green gown. He then asked her to turn around, telling the audience, 'There are two sides to people, a front and a back.'"

As the Boston Herald's Inside Track column observed about Osgood making "the shapely award presenter...model her attributes" for the crowd, "If the PC Police were there, he would have been 'cuffed and hauled away!"

6) Here's how the two Boston papers reported on November 21 the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

The Boston Globe: "Home Life Called Key to Science, Math Skills."

Boston Herald: "Study Puts U.S. Math Failure Squarely on Teachers."

I wonder which paper will have better luck with its Newspaper in the Classroom program?

- Brent Baker [one more item below]

7) Thursday the MRC's Free Market Project released a joint study conducted with a group called Consumer Alert. The study examined 13 magazines: Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Parents, Prevention, Redbook, Weight Watchers, Women's Day, and Working Woman.

Following is the front page summary of the 12 page study. The entire report will soon be on our web site , but for more information, to arrange an interview or to get a copy, e-mail Tim Lamer who coordinated the study:

Women's Magazines: A Liberal Pipeline to Soccer Moms

High-circulation women's and family magazines use most of their ink to focus on lifestyle issues - relationships between dating and married couples, parenting, home decorating, fashions and personal care, and dieting. Surprisingly, many also deal with public policy issues relating to government activism and women's and families' health and safety.

A joint Consumer Alert/Media Research Center study of 13 women's and family magazines analyzed the October 1995 through September 1996 issues for their policy-oriented coverage. Part I of the study reviewed whether expansion of government programs was depicted positively or negatively. Part II looked at the magazines' depiction of risk in discussing public policy issues relating to health and safety. The study found:

  • In the 13 magazines studied, there were 115 positive portrayals of government activism and/or calls for more. There were only 18 negative portrayals and/or calls for less.
  • Twenty-three stories went beyond promoting bigger government they also asked readers to lobby government officials on behalf of expanded government programs.
  • In 56 articles or mentions of science and risk issues, 35 were one-sided and did not acknowledge a skeptical view that the risks depicted were minor and the alarmist views presented go against mainstream science.
  • According to women's magazines, recycling is always good. Out of 15 stories that mentioned recycling, there was not one skeptical argument presented that sometimes recycling is impractical and wastes resources.
  • Women's magazines featured numerous warnings about unsafe drinking water, yet routinely bashed chlorine as unsafe, even though chlorine provides the most effective protection against waterborne diseases.


Look for balance in coverage of public policy issues. Note who the spokespersons are for a particular point of view. Is there a pattern in who is depicted as the good guys (or gals) and bad guys? Be skeptical of articles that provide only anecdotal information instead of scientific evidence.

- Brent Baker