Sheila Heslin vs. White House Pressure

"Most Dramatic Testimony So Far" Ignored by ABC, CBS Last Night; Another TV Blackout This Morning

Sheila Sheila Heslin, the National Security Council aide responsible for analyzing international energy issues, testified before the Senate yesterday about almost a year of pressure brought upon her to admit Lebanese oilman Roger Tamraz into the White House. Heslin said a Tamraz ally identified only as "Bob of the CIA" provided her with misleading information about Tamraz. She also told Senators that senior Energy Department official Jack Carter told her Clinton aide Mack McLarty wanted Tamraz to meet with Clinton, saying Tamraz would contribute $400,000 to the DNC in return for a formal meeting with the President. ABC and CBC reported nothing last night, and all three morning shows were distracted by lighter fare. CNN and MSNBC avoided live coverage yesterday.

Evening news, September 17:

ABC's World News Tonight did cover a hearing - on the TV industry. [See box.]

Like ABC, CBS Evening News led with Clinton's comments on a tobacco deal, and added a piece on the tobacco industry's response. Instead of the hearings, CBS followed the tobacco stories with items on the Bosnia helicopter crash, the Defense Department aircraft safety review, an update on Dodi's bodyguard, the land-mine treaty decision, video of Saddam Hussein swimming, new advertising strategies in the tobacco industry, a fight between Indians and scientists over who owns a 9,300-year-old skeleton found in Washington state, and a Red Skelton tribute.

After the first commercial break, NBC Nightly News aired a Lisa Myers story on Heslin's testimony: "In the most dramatic testimony so far, a former White House staffer described how she was pressured to give a shady businessman a personal meeting with President Clinton in exchange for a $400,000 contribution to the Democratic Party." Myers detailed the charges against McLarty, and ended: "Heslin said she was troubled that someone as shady as Tamraz could use $300,000 in campaign contributions to attend six White House events and get access to the highest levels of the U.S. government."

After three full stories and an anchor brief about the tobacco deal, CNN's The World Today aired a story on what anchor Leon Harris called "shocking and emotional testimony." Candy Crowley added that the committee opened hearings late yesterday because a man saying he was Tamraz accused Morocco Ambassador nominee Edward Gabriel of demanding $50,000 for a meeting with then-Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. Crowley said Tamraz and the White House denied the story, trying to be "on the safe side of this toxic political atmosphere."

Morning shows, Sept. 18:

After two days of interviews on Today, Kitty Kelley took her Royal Family-bashing book tour to ABC's Good Morning America for an eight-minute interview.

One morning after ABC tackled it, CBS This Morning devoted a segment to how Chelsea will handle college complete with a Secret Service detail.

NBC's Today also offered a full report on Chelsea's departure for Stanford, as well as advice for senior citizen Web surfers searching the Internet "looking for a little love." - Tim Graham and Brent Baker