The Cox Report, a One-Day Story? Yes

In the Midst of Days of Network Silence, CNN's Media-Review Show Insisted Espionage is Overcovered

rather0602.JPG (12233 bytes) How do theorists who insist the media have "hammered" Bill Clinton explain the ongoing pattern of network omissions of negative stories on Clinton's foreign policy? Last Thursday, ex-President Jimmy Carter lashed into Clinton's Kosovo policy in The New York Times, writing, "our destruction of civilian life has now become senseless and excessively brutal." The ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows never covered that.

After years of network omissions on Chinese donations and espionage, surely the media that enjoys "hammering" Clinton would obsess for days on the bipartisan Cox report, which concluded that Chinese espionage is a serious and ongoing problem. Think again:

NBC aired one Nightly News story on May 25, and nothing since. Today last covered the report on the 26th, airing two interviews with Democrats (Energy Secretary Richardson and Rep. Norman Dicks), but no Republicans.

ABC gave a few seconds on Sunday to soundbites from the interview shows, but otherwise hasn't had story on World News Tonight since May 26, when reporter John Cochran asked: "If Chinese espionage is so devastating and if this man, Wen Ho Lee, is a prime suspect, why do administration officials say he may never be put on trial for espionage? Partly because spying is always difficult to prove." Good Morning America last touched it on May 26.

CBS aired the last Big Three story on May 27, and that was reporter Eric Engberg throwing cold water on the Cox findings. "The Cox Report says China uncovered the secrets of seven U.S. nuclear warheads, but the intelligence evidence is unclear. It may be as low as four, two of which are obsolete. Amidst all the voices raised in alarm there is a bottom line: Unlike many of the things in the Cox Report there's no argument here. Number of strategic nuclear weapons? U.S.: 6,000, China: less than two dozen." (For Engberg's Iran-Contra alter ego, see box.) CBS This Morning last did China on the 26th.

Have there been no developments in the last week that deserve a network TV story? On the Sunday talk shows, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promised he'd fire people over the espionage losses, and said he would reward counter-intelligence specialist Notra Trulock for uncovering them. Rep. Cox said if they had caved in to White House demands, "there would be nothing out" to call a report.

The Big Three have yet to address Carl Cameron's shocking May 24 story on FNC. In a transcript of a call to Johnny Chung, Chinese operative Robert Luu told Chung to credit the source of donations to the "princelings" (children of People's Liberation Army officers in front companies). Luu said: "Chairman Jiang agreed to handle it like this. The President over here also agreed." (Clinton and Jiang were meeting when the call took place.) Imagine the reaction if someone had charged Ronald Reagan agreed on spin control with the Ayatollah.

For all the TV non-coverage, CNN's media-review show Reliable Sources claimed the media was Cox's lapdog. Host Howard Kurtz asked: "Has the press been spoon-fed by congressional investigators?" He insisted the Cox report was "A big story for the media, right? All over the front pages and the airwaves." His first question to guests: "So have the media been used to prolong, perhaps even hype the story?" What prolonging? What hype? - Tim Graham