CyberAlert -- 03/04/1997 -- Quayle Did It Too

Copy of: MRC Alert: Quayle Did It Too; Good that BBA Lost

1. CompuServe problems strike again.

2. Clinton's fundraising generate multiple days of coverage, but major revelations, such as a quid pro quo, are ignored by most.

3. The networks discover Republicans and Quayle did it too. But stories equate illegal and legal activities.

4. Clinton calls Senators to ask them to block an independent counsel, but the networks don't see any obstructionism.

5. A liberal Democrat abandons his BBA promise, but ABC blames the GOP and USA Today praises him for "courageously" resisting popular will.

6. Tom Brokaw calls "partial birth abortion" a "provocative and mostly inaccurate description," but NBC uses it.

1) If you can read this then there's no need for you to read this item. If you can't read this then you need to. Which is the dilemma. For reasons I don't comprehend, about one in ten recipients of CyberAlerts since February 24 have only received the title and header information. CompuServe is going through the same cycle of denial and indifference displayed during the December blind copying problem: First, deny there's any problem; second, claim to look into it but do nothing; third, "discover" that there "might" be a problem. We are in stage three.

Needless to say, moving to a competent internet provider is a top priority and is something I hope we can do within a week or two. It's a matter of getting a listserve set up.

2) All three broadcast network evening shows carried Clinton fundraising stories from Tuesday through Friday night, the first time this year the scandals have generated stories for more than two days in a row. But, TV viewers are still missing major developments. And, two of the three dropped the scandal over the weekend.

Thursday's (February 27) World News Tonight led with two exclusive stories that the other networks failed to pick up. First, ABC's Brian Ross described the potential trouble involving Clinton attending a September 1996 Chicago fundraiser:

"Most of the money came from of bankruptcy lawyers and bankers who paid $10,000 to eat not only with the President, but with this man, Brady Williamson who the President had recently appointed as chairman of the bipartisan National Bankruptcy Review Commission. Under federal law it is illegal for any non-elected federal official to use his or her government title for political fundraising. And Williamson says he only went to the dinner as a private citizen. But one bank lobbyist who was invited to the dinner, Phil Corwin of the American bankers Association, told ABC News today that a Democratic fundraiser described Williamson as the guest of honor."

Corwin: "He was attempting to suggest a quid pro quo between participation in the fundraiser and the administrations future position on bankruptcy law issues."

Ross reported that Corwin decided not to go and was told that Harold Ickes said banks haven't given enough, that the industry cannot achieve goals just by working with Republicans. Ross concluded: "But of the dozens of Democratic fundraising events that have raised so many questions, this is the first in which there is an allegation of a direct quid pro quo -- influence over policy in exchange for campaign cash."

Next, Linda Douglass told viewers: "ABC News has learned that one of the central figures in the campaign fundraising investigation, Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak is now being investigated for possible obstruction of justice. Sources tell ABC News that when U.S. Marshalls came to her downtown office to serve subpoenas for her records they were told some documents were being destroyed..."

The revelations from Ross made the front page of the March 1 New York Times. The Saturday headline announced: "A Fundraiser Tied Policy to Gifts, His Accusers Say." But the discovery of a connection between donations and policy didn't garner a mention that night on CBS or NBC. NBC Nightly News (and ABC's World News Saturday) didn't even air a fundraising story of any kind, and the CBS Evening News story didn't raise this angle.

3) Friday and Monday night the networks found a new angle to fuel the scandal coverage: Republicans do it too. But in so doing the networks mixed allegations of illegal activity with recollections of legal fundraising.

Friday (February 28) brought news of the Democratic National Committee returning $1.5 million, a fact noted by all the networks, and the release of a memo showing fundraisers wanted to use as rewards to donors seats on Air Force One, appointments to boards, seats in the President's Kennedy Center box and access to the White House mess.

Here's how three networks concluded Friday night's stories:

-- World News Tonight (the only network which didn't mention the rewards memo): "The Democratic Party is taking most of the heat right now, but sources tell ABC News the FBI is also investigating whether the Chinese gave illegal money to both parties in Congress. Some Republicans are worried their calls for an investigation may have opened a Pandora's box. Linda Douglass, ABC News, Washington."

-- CBS Evening News: "Democrats say they've now tightened their fundraising rules. And a CBS check of campaign records shows that some people the Democrats returned money to also contributed to Republican candidates. Rita Braver, CBS News, at the White House."

-- CNN's The World Today: "Among the contributions Democrats returned, $50,000 from the Empire Sanitary Landfill of Scranton Pennsylvania. An Empire official pleaded guilty last year to a tax charge. And by the way, Empire officials also gave $50,000 to Bob Dole's campaign. Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington."

As mentioned earlier, ABC didn't air a scandal story on Saturday. Nor did World News Sunday utter a syllable about the Washington Post story that day that Al Gore personally made fundraising phone calls, possibly in violation of laws against using public facilities to raise political money. (Both NBC and CBS Sunday night did report the Gore news).

And on Monday morning, GMA didn't mention Gore until the 8am news in the second hour. But that's more thorough than NBC: Today didn't mention Gore at all in two hours. So it's plausible to believe that the Gore angle wouldn't have been highlighted Monday night if the VP hadn't held a late afternoon press conference.

But like Friday night, the networks had a spread the blame spin on Monday night (March 3):

-- ABC's World News Tonight: "Meanwhile, Democrats have unearthed a Republican fundraising letter -- dated 1990 -- offering big donors a reception at the official home of another Vice President, Gore predecessor Dan Quayle. Raising that letter now seems to be the Democrats' way of saying that everybody does it, which is not quite the same note the Vice President was trying to hit today when he said he'd done nothing wrong. John Donvan, ABC News, the White House."

-- On the CBS Evening News Rita Braver reported: "The latest fundraising flap comes with the Vice President already under fire for first denying, then later admitting, that he knew an event he attended at a California Buddhist temple was a fundraiser. Democratic National Committee documents show that Mr. Gore's appearances at dozens of fundraisers brought millions into Democratic party coffers. But White House aides point out that Vice President Dan Quayle was also a super-active fundraiser during the Bush years..."

While I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to assume that Republicans haven't violated fundraising laws, Braver's reporting matches the liberal game plan: equate the Buddhist temple money laundering, which is clearly illegal if true, with the "super-active" fundraising of Quayle.

4) "Irate Clinton Blasts Moves for Counsel: Late-Night Phoning of Democrats Comes Amid Fund Scandal," declared a February 28 Wall Street Journal headline. The story recounted how Clinton had made angry calls at 1am to Democratic leaders to urge them to fight against the naming of an independent counsel. Is Clinton trying to obstruct the inquiry? A sign of a coverup? Not to the networks.

ABC didn't mention it. Here's the entire relevant portion of Gwen Ifill's February 28 NBC Nightly News story:

"The President wasn't talking about the fundraising flap in public today, but privately he has been described as upset that members of his own party have called for an outside investigation. Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle got a late Sunday night call from the President, but he wouldn't divulge the details."

Daschle: "I don't think it's important what came up."

Ifill: "But Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska was more forthcoming. He said the President complained that Congress was showing its willingness to be quote 'governed not by the law, but by the mob.' Gwen Ifill, NBC News, the White House."

In a story the next night on the March 1 CBS Evening News Paula Zahn reviewed the week's developments, noting: "And there was a report of an extraordinary phone call by the President to the Senate's top Democrat, irate over calls for a special prosecutor to investigate party fundraising." That was it.

5) A liberal Democratic Senator who in the words of The Washington Post, "campaigned on the balanced budget amendment and voted for it three times during his 14 years in the House," announces he's now opposed. His decision leaves the amendment one vote short of the necessary 67 votes. Does ABC News focus on how the Senator lied to voters? No, ABC painted a picture of a Republican failure.

On the February 26 World News Tonight reporter John Cochran told viewers:

"Republicans knew from the start they needed the votes of at least three of the four freshman Democrats who during the election campaign said they supported a constitutional amendment to outlaw budget deficits. They got two [on screen photos of Max Cleland of Georgia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana], but Johnson of South Dakota decided to vote against it, citing concerns about the threat to the Social Security trust fund. That left Torricelli. And to keep him from joining the Republicans, President Clinton promised last night to establish a special commission to study his budget concerns."

Of course, there is no Social Security Trust Fund to protect. It only exists in the imaginations of liberals and reporters.

Cochran aired a soundbite from Torricelli citing his concern about the ability to override spending limits during a military threat. But Cochran failed to note that the amendment allowed exemptions with just a 60 percent vote. After a clip from Orrin Hatch, Cochran concluded:

"Torricelli's decision leaves Republican still unable to produce on two of the big promises of their almost forgotten Contract with America. Two weeks ago the House rejected term limits, and now the balanced budget amendment seems doomed. Republicans may not get their constitutional amendment, but they still give themselves credit for forcing Bill Clinton to work for a balanced budget without changing the Constitution."

Isn't abandoning a promise to constituents a crass political move that fuels public cynicism? Not to USA Today "Politics" columnist Walter Shapiro, a former Time magazine reporter. In the February 28 USA Today Shapiro argued that in moving to block the amendment Torricelli and Senator Tim Johnson were heroes. "Two Senators, Two Votes, One Blow Against Cynicism" read the headline.

Shapiro wrote that Torricelli has been portrayed as a "poll-directed, publicity-driven modern politician," but "Here was Torricelli defying such facile media labels with an unpopular vote against a gaudily wrapped package of constitutional mischief." Shapiro asked: "Why do political weather vanes sometimes point true north? What prompts a pragmatic legislator to courageously resist, at the last moment, the siren song of expediency?" Torricelli claimed "I'd simply decided I'd do the right thing,"

Shapiro concluded: "Two freshman Senators, so different in style and temperament, deserve plaudits for sticking their necks out to block a constitutional calamity. Despite my cynical doubts, sometimes the system works."

6) Tom Brokaw's words don't match his graphics. The February 26 NBC Nightly News carried a story on the fall out from the admission by Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers that he lied during the partial birth abortion debate. Tom Brokaw announced:

"Late term abortions. What anti-abortionists call partial birth abortions. That's a provocative and mostly inaccurate description. When President Clinton vetoed a bill banning late term abortions he relied heavily on an advocate who said they were rare and used mainly to save the life of a mother or to terminate a malformed fetus. Now that advocate says he lied. Some of what you're about to hear is very graphic. Fair warning."

Reporter Lisa Myers explained:
"He says in most cases the fetus is not hopelessly deformed, but healthy, which is why opponents called this gruesome procedure performed in the last months of pregnancy infanticide."

Next, just a minute and 18 seconds after Brokaw declared "partial birth abortion" an "inaccurate" description, viewers saw the "Partial Birth Abortion" title above drawings that Myers described: "It works this way. The fetus is pulled partially out of the birth canal feet first, then the skull is punctured and the brain suctioned out."

Brokaw really should watch the stories before they air so his personal opinion isn't contradicted by them.

-- Brent Baker