All The News That's Fit to Skip: Network Apathy Toward Chinese Contributions and Espionage

2. China Acquires U.S. Military Technology

Policy toward China may have been affected not just by Chinese donations, but by donations from Americans with business in China. But the nexus between campaign cash and policy actions rarely became a question on the broadcast networks. Since April 1998, the total network evening show coverage of Missilegate? ABC: 7. CBS: 3. NBC: 2. ABC outnumbered these 12 stories alone in one day of promoting their Monica Lewinsky interview. Take these examples of ignored newspaper discoveries:

• April 4, 1998: Loral’s Loose Lips. New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Raymond Bonner reported, "A federal grand jury is investigating whether two American companies illegally gave China space expertise that significantly advanced Beijing’s ballistic missile program, according to administration officials. But the officials said the criminal inquiry was dealt a serious blow two months ago when President Clinton quietly approved the export to China of similar technology by one of the companies under investigation." The Times noted that company, Loral, has a chairman, Bernard Schwartz, who was the largest individual contributor to the Democratic National Committee in 1996.

Network coverage? Six weeks went by without a single word from the networks, until the Johnny Chung allegations were published on May 15. As President Clinton visited China at the end of June, the networks stayed similarly silent.

• June 11, 1998: Bush Basher’s Reverse. Washington Post reporter John Mintz revealed, "Months after denouncing President George Bush in 1992 for coddling ‘familiar tyrants’ in Beijing, newly-inaugurated President Clinton endorsed his predecessor’s policy in 1993 by approving deals with China to launch U.S.-made satellites. Clinton took the action, the first of many favored by U.S. companies, despite evidence that China had sold ballistic missile parts to Pakistan, declassified White House documents show."

Network coverage? Zero. The only network morning or evening mention of the satellite scandal in June came on NBC’s Today June 11. Claire Shipman did not touch on the Mintz story.

• June 13, 1998: New Communications Skills. New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth found the conversion of supposedly civilian technology for military uses: "For the past two years, China’s military has relied on American-made satellites sold for civilian purposes to transmit messages to its far-flung army garrisons, according to highly classified intelligence reports. The reports are the most powerful evidence to date that the American government knew that China’s army was taking advantage of the Bush and Clinton administrations’ decisions to encourage sales of technology to Asian companies."

Network coverage? Zero.

• June 15, 1998: Pakistan Proliferation. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz found White House documents showed that Clinton loosened the Bush export-control policy by allowing a Nov. 1993 satellite launch while sanctions were in place for exporting missile parts to Pakistan: "Congressional investigators said the document, released last week by the White House, contradicts recent statements by Clinton administration officials defending satellite export policies and claiming they were following procedures set by the Bush administration."

Network coverage? Zero.

• June 16, 1998: Helping Libya and Iran. Bill Gertz added more in the Washington Times: "China is discussing sales of missile test equipment to Iran and is helping Libya develop its own missile program, The Washington Times has learned....The reports contradict administration claims that Beijing has improved its record on weapons proliferation."

Network coverage? Zero.

• June 18, 1998: The General’s Son. Jeff Gerth reported in The New York Times that the Clinton administration was rethinking its approval of one of the largest satellite deals to that date: "Administration officials said concerns about the pending satellite sale had been deepened by American intelligence reports about Shen Rongjun, the Chinese Army general who oversees his country’s military satellite programs. The reports quote the general as saying he planned to emphasize the role of satellites in gathering information." 

Gerth added: "In an unusual arrangement, Hughes Space and Communications hired General Shen’s son, a dual citizen of Canada and China, to work on the project as a manager. The company said it was aware of his familial ties; it is not clear whether the Clinton administration knew. Father and son were both directly involved in the project, and American officials said the intelligence reports said the general was pressing his son to move it forward."

Network coverage? Zero.

• June 24, 1998: The Missing Circuit Board. The New York Times reported that China barred American monitors from a previous rocket crash site: "When the Americans finally reached the area and opened the battered but intact control box of the satellite, a supersecret encoded circuit board was missing."

Network coverage? Zero.

All these stories were never factored into the network coverage of Clinton’s June trip to China. Imagine if, just a couple of months after the Iran-Contra affair broke, Ronald Reagan had planned a nine-day trip to Iran, with the President featured at a historic joint news conference with Ayatollah Khomeini. Then imagine if the networks helpfully said nothing about Iran-Contra, and praised the President for his "constructive engagement" toward a new "strategic partnership." That’s what the networks did for President Clinton’s China trip.