CyberAlert -- 02/27/1997 -- ABC Downplays Overnights While Staffer Contributes

ABC Downplays Overnights While Staffer Contributes

1. ABC downplays the "possible" connection between the Lincoln bedroom and fundraising.

2. Hollywood stars, networks executives and news chiefs among overnight guests. And a photo reveals who at ABC attended a Democratic fundraiser.

3. What's the big deal? CNN's Bernard Shaw says "the same thing was done by Republican Presidents."

4. Two major developments -- on Hubbell and the drive to make immigrants citizens -- are being ignored.

5. The Senate holds hearings on the TV ratings. Get the facts in the MRC/PTC study cited Wednesday by USA Today.

6. You won't believe the title of the college course George Stephanopoulos will teach.

1) The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News as well as CNN's The World Today led Tuesday night (February 25) with the news that Bill Clinton was directly involved implementing a plan to use White House bedrooms for fundraising. But not ABC's World News Tonight.

Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw set the story to rhyme. Rather opened the CBS Evening News: "The Clinton Hilton. Turns out it was President Clinton's own idea to invite heavy money political contributors to stay overnight at the White House. And he defends it."

CBS aired a story by Rita Braver followed by a piece from Bob Schieffer on Trent Lott suggesting he'd shut down the Senate investigation if Attorney General Reano named an independent counsel.

Introducing Jim Miklaszewski's lead story Tom Brokaw announced on NBC: "It's a great honor to spend a night at the White House, but for hundreds of people in the last four years 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue turned out to be the most expensive bed and breakfast in North America. They stayed and they paid. Whether the two are connected, you decide."
Miklaszewski concluded his story: "And Trent Lott has joined a growing number of Republicans and Democrats calling for an independent counsel to investigate Democratic fundraising inside the Clinton White House."

ABC seemed to be in a parallel universe where ABC is an acronym for blaming Anybody But Clinton. The February 25 World News Tonight began with a story on credit card debt followed by a full report on Clinton's anti-drug plan. Then a commercial break. The third story, seven minutes into the show, took up the Clinton role in getting the overnights going. Peter Jennings noted Lott's call for an independent counsel, but was less sure of what the documents showed:
"Senator Lott speaks out after he learns, as do we, about a White House memo having to do with big donors and a possible connection to overnight stays at the White House"

Reporter John Donvan concluded his story by relaying the White House's "everybody does it" spin:
"The White House response to what's in those documents comes down to this: If people don't like what's going on here, don't blame the White House, blame the law that allows it. John Donvan, ABC News, at the White House."

Later, Nightline devoted itself to Clinton's fundraising schemes. Ted Koppel took a harder line than did Jennings, grilling White House special counsel Lanny Davis, the sole guest. In one humorous exchange, Koppel exposed the lack of real knowledge held by the man spewing the line of the day:
Koppel: "Here I'm looking at the President's notation on the back. It says 'yes pursue all three options promptly and get other names at $100,000 or more, $50,000 or more.' We're not even talking about anyone that the President necessarily knows, let alone friends, as long as they gave $100,000 or more or $50,000 or more."
Davis: "Ted, with all due respect that's your assumption without any evidence. The President--"
Koppel cut off Davis: "No, no. I'm just asking you based on what we have here, and that's all I can go on right now. And with all due respect to you, you weren't even at the White House before December so you don't have a clue what was going on there last year."

Some Perspective: While it's nice that the networks finally decided that using overnight White House stays to raise money is news:
-- From January 1 through February 25 ABC aired 40 episodes of Nightline. Tuesday night's was the first show of the year devoted to a Clinton fundraising scandal. But Nightline has done three 1997 shows on Newt Gingrich's ethics, MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen reports. (The January 13 Nightline examined the Paula Jones case.)
-- The news that Clinton rewarded donors with a White House room for a night first broke on the front page of the Washington Post on Sunday, December 15. The networks hardly jumped on it with none mentioning the revelation that morning, night or next day. Network viewers first heard about it eight days later on CBS This Morning. NBC didn't bother reporting it until January 21 -- five weeks later.

2) Several Hollywood Stars and network executives were sprinkled among the 831 names made public of the 900 plus overnight White House guests in Clinton's first term. Here are some of the interesting names I observed in the list run by the New York Times and Washington Times on February 26:

From the news and network executive ranks:
-- Ted Turner
-- Rick Kaplan, the ABC Television specials producer who, while he was Executive Producer of Prime Time Live in 1992, advised Clinton on how to counter Gennifer Flowers.
-- Leslie Moonves, President of CBS Television who allowed Chicago Hope to be used as a Clinton Care platform and who commissioned the CBS movie, which aired January 21, on the wonders of the Family Leave Act. A January 1 AP story, that I didn't manage to report in CyberAlert at the time, noted that Moonves played golf with the President during Renaissance Weekend.

Also on the list: Dr. Nancy Snyderman, though I can't be sure it's the same Dr. Nancy Snyderman who serves as a health correspondent for Good Morning America and is a frequent fill-in host. But if it is, she's not the only GMA air talent who backs the Clintons and the Democratic cause.
Check your U.S. News & World Report carefully. The March 3 issue carries a story on Clinton's fundraising illustrated by a two-page photo of Clinton addressing a February 18 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in New York City. Attendees paid "either $10,000 in direct contributions or $25,000 in soft money," The Washington Times reported.
Now, if you have the magazine, look in the middle of the portion of the photo on page 32. Read the name tag of the man with glasses: "Arthur Miller." He's GMA's legal editor and a Harvard Law professor. I must admit I didn't catch this -- C-SPAN's Brian Lamb pointed it out on Monday morning's Washington Journal show.

3) ABC wasn't the only network to take a skeptical tone toward the White House overnights revelations. Interviewing Republican Congressman Dan Burton on the February 25 Inside Politics, Bernard Shaw asked: "How can you keep a straight face when you talk about this President, who is a Democrat, inviting people to the White House -- big, heavy rollers, contributors --when the same thing was done by Republican Presidents?"

Even Clintonistas have been unable to offer any proof that Reagan or Bush did the same thing. In fact, Bush had one third as many overnight guests.

When Burton pointed out that Clinton "brought arms dealers into the White House to have lunch with him," Shaw turned incredulous: "Mr. Chairman, are you implying that a President of the United States can be bought?"

4) Wednesday night all the networks carried follow-up stories on the White House bedrooms/fundraising controversy, but two other significant scandal developments have gone unnoticed by the networks:

-- The February 25 Los Angeles Times ran a front page story headlined: "Clinton Intermediary Kept in Touch with Hubbell." Reporter David Willman discovered: "In public, President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for nearly three years have maintained a firm distance from former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell since their longtime friend resigned and pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion charges. But in private, the Clintons have stayed quietly in touch with Hubbell -- through a trusted White House aide who has acted as a confidential go-between.
"During the 16 months that Hubbell spent in prison, the White House aide, Marsha Scott, frequently visited him....And when Hubbell was first appearing before a grand jury investigating the Whitewater controversy, Scott traveled to Little Rock to confer with him."

The February 26 Washington Times reported that Congressman Gerald Soloman, "the chairman of the House committee investigating Webster Hubbell's ties to the Lippo Group said yesterday the White House may have obstructed justice through an aide's meetings" with Hubbell.

So far, nothing about this matter on ABC, CBS or NBC. Nor on CNN's World Today Monday or Tuesday night.

-- From a front page February 25 Los Angeles Times story: "Admitting a breakdown of citizenship procedures, the Justice Department conceded Monday that 180,000 immigrants were naturalized during the last two years without undergoing the full criminal background checks required by law....House Republicans immediately labeled the review as 'alarming' confirmation of allegations that the Clinton administration improperly expedited citizenship applications in a politically motivated effort to bolster Democratic ranks..." The New York Times also put the admission on its front page.

ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN's The World Today: No coverage.

5) On Thursday (February 27) a Senate committee will hold hearings on the new TV ratings system children. As you may recall, a MRC/Parents Television Council study released February 11 proved the failure of the system. A Wednesday (February 26) USA Today editorial cited the study to support their argument that the ratings are too vague: "The Media Research Center's Parents Television Council clocked 150 network hours over two weeks and found three-letter, four-letter and five-letter vulgarities popping up in 52% of PG shows. Sexual references, including jokes about masturbation techniques, were in 55% of PG shows."

Thursday's Los Angeles Times also carries a big ratings story that begins by looking at how MRC analyst Crissy Brookhart evaluated the shows for the MRC/PTC study.

To read the study put together by Tom Johnson, go to:

6) Wednesday night the CBS Evening News ran two very tough pieces on Clinton's fundraising practices. Rita Braver began and ended her story with clips of a 1962 tour of the Lincoln bedroom with Jacqueline Kennedy explaining the history of the room's important guests. Braver concluded:
"And even some of the President's advisers were shaking their heads in sorrow that President Clinton may have cheapened a symbol of American history."

In a "Reality Check" look at the controversy Eric Engberg included this August 4, 1995 soundbite from Bill Clinton: "It is wrong to raise money on the promise of guaranteeing specific kinds of access. That is wrong and we have stopped that."

On a related matter, scanning through Wednesday's New York Times I caught a piece on how George Stephanopoulos will teach a course at Columbia University in the fall. The title of the course: "From Cup to Lip: Presidential Promises and Presidential Action." Stephanoupoulos should be able to offer many examples of the lack of any connection.

-- Brent Baker

P.S. Thursday night at 8pm ET/PT Fox will carry the NAACP Image Awards. They'll present an award to Bryant Gumbel.

-- Brent Baker