CyberAlert -- 03/13/2000 -- LaBella Memo Snubbed

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LaBella Memo Snubbed; Hsia's Shunning Shown; Imus Zinged Brokaw

1) The LA Times disclosed Friday that the LaBella memo charged Gore got special treatment from Reno, but ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NBC ignored it. CNN and FNC pounced, but broadcast viewers instead learned about "the living wage" and restaurant meal inflation.

2) ABC and NBC ignored LaBella Saturday night too. On Sunday, ABC featured a story on how Al Gore is painting himself as a champion of campaign finance reform, but still refused to mention LaBella.

3) FNC's Sean Hannity highlighted CyberAlert numbers on how little time Maria Hsia's conviction earned on ABC, CBS and NBC. Charles Krauthammer also relayed the notion on Inside Washington.

4) When Tom Brokaw recounted how Al Gore acted as if he didn't know Maria Hsia had been convicted, radio host Don Imus zinged him by pointing out: "If he's watching NBC News he missed it." Brokaw sheepishly conceded: "Yeah, well that's true."

5) MRC Study: Over just eight nights network reporters referred to Bush tilting toward the right on 15 occasions, "but not one evening news report described John McCain's attack on the religious right as 'liberal' or 'going to the left.'"


Another fundraising scandal development harmful to Al Gore suppressed by the broadcast networks. Friday morning's Los Angeles Times revealed much of the content of the long-secret Charles LaBella memo, including how the former Justice official, whose wish for an independent counsel to probe White House fundraising was rejected by Attorney General Janet Reno, claimed Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Harold Ickes got special treatment.

Friday morning, not a word about the disclosure appeared on the ABC, CBS or NBC morning shows. Even though the networks had all day to produce a story, not a syllable about it aired Friday night on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News. Nor did MSNBC's hour-long The News with Brian Williams touch it. The story did, however, capture some attention on cable as it topped CNN's Inside Politics and The World Today as well as FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume. FNC's Fox Report ran a story a few minutes into the 7pm ET show.

It was a slow news day on Friday, so what did broadcast networks find newsworthy? Here's a rundown of what ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC viewers saw instead on March 10:

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with a full story on what anchor Charles Gibson warned was the "most dramatic evidence yet" of how humans alter the environment, a study in Science magazine which found that pollution reduces rainfall. ABC's second full story of the night: How a Centers for Disease Control report documented media over-hype of the flu epidemic.

Other subjects earning full-length field reports: How floods in Mozambique have ruined an African success story; accusations that Allstate Insurance representatives improperly discourage injured victims from hiring lawyers; the FAA's decision to move the entire town of Minor Lane Heights, Kentucky in order to get the residents away from noise caused by new runways at the airport in Louisville; and a story which re-ran already twice-shown Nightline footage from IDEO company designs, on how designers are "blending form with function."

-- CBS Evening News opened with the debate over the minimum wage and how the House passed a $1 hike to be phased in over two years as well as tax cuts aimed at small businesses. Clinton said he won't sign the bill unless the tax cuts are removed, but reporter Diana Olick painted the Republicans as the crass political operatives, concluding: "So why did Republicans push this to a vote when they knew their tax plan would just force a veto? Easy. It's an election year. So now they can tell voters we tried to give you a raise, but the Democrats took it back."

Continuing CBS's liberal crusade, Ray Brady provided an upbeat look at a woman leading the campaign for "the living wage." Without using the term "liberal," Brady asserted: "Madeline Janis-Aparicio is part of a coalition of church people, unions and other pressing cities and counties everywhere to increase worker pay and benefits."

Other full stories run on the show dealt with the FAA's new plan to reduce storm-related delays and cancellations; a brewing scandal at the Illinois Secretary of State's office where it is thought many used bribes to get licenses to drive trucks; the ease of getting prescription drugs from overseas via the Internet; a proposal in Maryland to allow families to put cameras in nursing homes to discourage abuse; and how scientists love the violent weather they can study atop New Hampshire's Mount Washington.

-- NBC Nightly News began with the FAA's plan to reduce flight delays followed by a look at rising gas prices. NBC devoted its "In Depth" segment to Lisa Myers exploring the ups and downs of raising the minimum wage. Next, NBC discovered the scandal of how restaurants charge more for meals than the food components cost. Jim Avila ominously intoned: "Across the country, menu prices rising faster than the inflation rate, four years in a row." In fact, Avila announced, a 300 percent mark-up is common.

NBC's other full-length pieces dealt with serious subjects but were hardly breaking news: Security concerns for Clinton's trip to Pakistan, a trip the Secret Service doesn't want him to make; a profile of missionary woman from the U.S. working in Mozambique; and a "Home of the Brave" piece by Tom Brokaw on a woman who was finally able to meet a WWII vet who was with her husband when he died during that war.

-- MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, anchored by Forest Sawyer, opened with the same FAA plane plan story as had Nightly News followed by the same gas prices piece. Interviews conducted by Sawyer consumed most of the rest of the show. After each of the first two stories he interviewed a print reporter about the topic. Then he talked with two Florida officials about the Governor's effort to eliminate racial quotas in some areas.

MSNBC re-ran the story about concerns related to Clinton's Pakistan trip before Sawyer talked with the Chicago Tribune's Jim Warren and Newsweek's Matt Bai about the Reform Party. None mentioned the LaBella memo, arguably the only real campaign news of the day.

Sawyer soon moved to an interview with two experts about how to deal with the six-year-old shooter. The show ended with a segment on the marketing of Sony's new PlayStation.

Here's an excerpt from the March 10 Los Angeles Times story all but CNN and FNC refused to touch. Reporters William C. Rempel and Alan C. Miller revealed:

WASHINGTON -- A confidential report by the Justice Department's former chief campaign finance investigator, kept sealed by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno for nearly two years, accused senior Justice officials of engaging in "gamesmanship" and legal "contortions" to avoid an independent inquiry into Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising abuses.

According to an edited version of the 94-page document, former task force supervisor Charles G. LaBella also faulted Reno's top advisors for using "intellectually dishonest" double standards: endorsing independent counsels to investigate Cabinet-level administration officials while opposing them for similar or stronger cases involving senior White House figures.

Among those getting special treatment, the report said, were President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former White House aide Harold M. Ickes. It is the first indication that the task force was considering Mrs. Clinton's conduct in the fund-raising scandal.

The bluntly worded July 1998 report also called for a sweeping outside investigation into "the entire landscape" of campaign finance allegations, referring to the possibility of broad schemes "conjured up by sophisticated political operatives to circumvent" election finance laws during the 1996 presidential race.

Senior Justice Department officials strongly rejected LaBella's assertions, saying that the report leaped to "outrageous" conclusions and personalized policy differences....

The disclosures are certain to provide Reno's critics, including Republican lawmakers, with powerful ammunition to renew charges that she acted to protect the White House. Already, last week's conviction of longtime Gore fund-raiser Maria Hsia on campaign finance violations resurrected Republican charges that the Justice Department has failed to get to the bottom of the scandal.

And questions raised about Gore and Hillary Clinton in the long-sealed documents could ricochet across the 2000 political landscape as well, as Gore seeks the Democratic presidential nomination and the First Lady bids for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff who spearheaded the Clinton-Gore reelection effort, is a key figure in Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign.

LaBella's accusations are particularly troubling for the Clinton administration because the career prosecutor was hand-picked in September 1997 to bolster public confidence in the Justice

Department-controlled investigations of political fund-raising abuses. It was Reno who chose LaBella to head the Campaign Financing Task Force and salvage much-criticized investigations then run by the department's Public Integrity Section....

"The failure of Reno to listen to LaBella seems to me to put a cloud on the impartiality of the top of the Justice Department in what was supposed to be the most ethical administration in the history of the United States," said Henry Ruth, a former Watergate special prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. "I can't remember...someone at that level, plus the FBI, saying 'go' and the attorney general vetoing it without satisfactory explanation."...

END Excerpt

To read the entire lengthy story, go to:

In CNN's lead story on The World Today Pierre Thomas alluded to questions about Gore's honesty:
"The question whether Vice President Gore lied to the FBI about his role in the fundraising scandal was the subject of a 90-day preliminary investigation by Reno in 1998. Reno decided there was no reasonable basis to conclude Gore had lied about knowing that soft money he was raising was being forwarded to hard money accounts. But now there are new revelations Reno's aides knew of statements from then White House Chief of Staff Leon Penetta that potentially conflicted with Gore's recollection."

Earlier, on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, Jim Angle outlined the relevant questions related to Gore:
"The questions about Gore first were whether or not he made illegal fund-raising calls back in 1995 and '96 from his government offices, which is illegal. The second question was whether or not Gore lied during the first inquiry, when documents later surfaced suggesting a different story. And the LaBella memo says flatly that Vice President Gore may have provided false testimony.
"Now, in the first phase of the investigation, Mr. Gore said he didn't remember discussing calls to raise money for the campaign, then later said the matter probably would have been discussed, but only in passing. The attorney general found no evidence to the contrary and said the calls were about unregulated contributions, called 'soft money,' which she said was not illegal.
"But then some memo surfaced from deputy chief of staff to Gore, David Strauss, which said that not only had the vice president personally discussed the matter in meetings, but it also said 'Count me in on the calls.' And Gore later asked if he could make more calls than he'd been asked to. In addition, documents indicated the White House meeting specifically talked about raising hard money, which would have been illegal.
"So the attorney general began a second review, and it was then that former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta told the FBI he remembered the vice president attentively listening to discussions about hard money and walking through the papers. And of course, there is a photo, as mentioned earlier, that shows the Vice President reviewing some sort of documents. It is not quite clear what."


ABC and NBC took up campaign stories Saturday night, but still refused to touch the LaBella development. Sunday's World News Tonight on ABC even featured a whole story on how Al Gore is painting himself as a champion of campaign finance reform, but reporter Terry Moran failed to mention LaBella or remind viewers of the Maria Hsia convictions.

College basketball bumped the CBS Evening News off most ET and CT affiliates Saturday night, but a Nexis transcript showed the program did raise the LaBella development. Mark Knoller, whose appearance might be explained by the lower than usual viewership, looked at how Gore is trying to portray himself as a crusader for campaign finance reform. After showing Gore with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, Knoller noted:
"But Gore again finds himself on the defensive on that issue. A previously secret report has surfaced which was written two years ago by Charles LaBella, who, at the time, was the Justice Department's chief campaign finance investigator. In the document, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, LaBella says Gore 'may have provided false testimony' about fund-raising matters and called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate fundraising by the President, Gore and even the First Lady."

The same night, NBC Nightly News again skipped LaBella and ran a piece from Jonathan Alter on how independents in Levittown, New York are trying to decide between Gore and Bush. ABC's World News Tonight led the show with how the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll put Gore ahead of Bush by 48 to 45 percent. John Yang provided more poll details, such as how 55 percent see Gore as a "strong leader," and showed what Gore and Bush were doing during the day (Gore at a parade, Bush at a basketball tournament), but said nothing about the LaBella memo.

Sunday night sports bumped both the CBS and NBC evening shows in the east, leaving only ABC's World News Tonight. On it reporter Terry Moran examined how Gore is making campaign finance reform a theme of his campaign with the goal of winning over McCain's voters. Moran raised Gore's controversial past fundraising, but failed to mention Hsia or LaBella:
"What's striking about Gore's new found enthusiasm for reform is his own checkered history on the subject. His 1996 visit to a Buddhist temple where funds were illegally raised, has become a symbol of abuse and today Governor Bush mocked Gore's new claim to be a reformer....The Republicans will try to portray Gore as a hypocrite for calling for campaign finance reform now, but Gore is trying to inoculate himself by admitting, as he did today in the New York Times, that he has made mistakes and now he says he speaks with the conviction of a convert on the need for reform."

If the networks continue to ignore major memos about his activities and convictions of his aides, Gore won't have to inoculate himself against anything.


CyberAlert data on Maria Hsia is being spread to wider audiences. As reported in the March 3 CyberAlert, Maria Hsia's March 2 conviction for five counts of illegal money laundering was ignored that night by NBC Nightly News and MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams while ABC's World News Tonight gave it 19 seconds and CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took 23 seconds to read a short item on it.

Last week and over the weekend, fueled by the Republican National Committee publicizing the lack of Hsia coverage, the numbers were picked up by FNC's Sean Hannity, who cited the MRC as his source, FNC's NewsWatch put them on-screen and on Inside Washington Charles Krauthammer alluded to the coverage pattern.

-- MRC cited on FNC, a credit to which former MRC analyst Mark Drake alerted us. Interviewing Congressman Dan Burton on FNC's Hannity & Colmes on March 9, co-host Sean Hannity observed:
"You know, the other problem we have in this country, and I guess, thank God for the Fox News Channel, and thank God, I guess, talk radio around the country and Rush and some others. The Media Research Center did a little investigation. Here is a woman, close associate with the Vice President, actively involved with him, a friend of the Vice President, who was convicted on all five counts involving this issue with the Buddhist temple. ABC World News Tonight spent a grand total of 19 seconds on the story. CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, 23 seconds. NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, he totally ignored it. Now under, could you imagine any Republican President, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., George W. Bush, when he becomes President, having a friend...having something like this, and they ignore it. They don't even bring it up?"


-- Saturday on FNC's 11am ET NewsWatch conservative panelist Cal Thomas pounded away at how the broadcast networks have ignored Hsia and an on-screen graphic displayed later in the show listed the number of seconds devoted to her convictions by the three evening shows.

-- Columnist Charles Krauthammer complained on Inside Washington: "Gore will have the media on his side. If you look at the coverage of the networks, Maria Hsia, close friend of the Vice President, the one who organized the Buddhist temple thing, is found guilty on five felony charges. On one of the networks it wasn't even on the evening news and on the other two it was less than 30 seconds."


Tom Brokaw boasted to radio host Don Imus last Wednesday about how he confronted Al Gore during Super Tuesday coverage about Maria Hsia. When Brokaw recounted how Gore seemed to act as if her conviction was news to him, Imus zinged him by pointing out how Gore wouldn't have learned about it from watching NBC News.

Imus is as informed as an attentive CyberAlert reader.

As transcribed by the MRC's Tim Graham, on the March 8 Imus in the Morning radio show simulcast on MSNBC, Brokaw told Imus:
"One of the flaws of Al Gore is that he does have that remarkable ability to look into the camera earnestly and furrow the brow and then just kind of rewrite history. He's done that in the past with his dying sister and his own support of tobacco and growing tobacco at the time. He certainly did it last night with campaign finance reform. And I think it has neutralized the issue because every time he begins to raise a wagging finger and aim it at Governor Bush, that's what they'll be bringing up. They'll just be running ads. You can just see the ads running across the screen with Charlie Trie and Johnny Chung and Maria Hsia and all that happened at the Buddhist temple. You know, those pictures are around, so we cannot expect to see that."
Imus interposed: "I didn't think he did a very good job answering you last night. He looked to me, I saw it live, he looked to me like you'd punched him."
Brokaw: "I think he was not expecting that question...It's tough running for President, but you know, part of the price that you pay is you've got to be prepared to answer any questions, especially those that are not speculative. This was a wholly factual question about his background, and he was the one who raised the idea that we're going to get rid of all the soft money, I'm a reformer, he was saying let's go to the debates, so..." Imus jumped in: "He acted like he barely knew that this Maria Hsia, didn't he? Like he was ready to drag her up out of a park someplace." Brokaw agreed: "Oh, I know, yeah, it was: 'Did I miss that?' It was as if he were saying, 'Did she get convicted?' He said, 'It's still in the courts.' It's no longer in the courts! The jury has ruled! Guilty! Five counts!
Imus shot back: "Well, if he's watching NBC News he missed it."
Brokaw conceded: "Yeah, well that's true."
Imus: "And he only saw 19 seconds of it with Dan [Rather]."
Brokaw: "Yeah, I know."

Indeed. Today and NBC Nightly News have yet to mention Hsia's conviction. It should be noted that the day of her conviction, March 2, Brian Williams filled in for Brokaw as anchor of Nightly News. But Brokaw has done nothing since to help his viewers catch up and not even Imus's prodding last Wednesday led Brokaw to utter Hsia's name on his daily broadcast. Nor the name LaBella.


MRC Study: Bush Is "Far Right," McCain Wasn't "Left." TV Evening News Couldn't Find a Left Turn on the Republican Campaign Steering Wheel.

The text of the March 10 Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check fax report compiled by the MRC's Tim Graham, with input from the MRC analyst staff:

The Bush campaign was often described by TV evening news shows as tilting toward the "far right," but when John McCain made that charge, he wasn't described as "liberal" or going "to the left."

MRC news analysts surveyed evening news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, FNC's Fox Report, and CNN's The World Today (and WorldView on weekends) for coverage of George W. Bush in the days after the South Carolina primary (February 20 to 28), and stories on John McCain in the days after his attack on religious right leaders (February 28 to March 6).

In the Bush coverage, evening news reporters or anchors referred to Bush tilting toward the right on 15 occasions. Of those 15, nine described tilts to the "far right," "hard right," or "too far to the right." But not one evening news report described John McCain's attack on the religious right as "liberal" or "going to the left." MRC news analysts provided the network breakdown:

ABC analyst Jessica Anderson identified three instances of Bush tilting to the right. For example, on February 21, John Yang asserted: "After veering to the right in South Carolina, Bush came to this inner-city community center to return to his theme of compassionate conservatism." On the 29th, Linda Douglass explained that McCain attacked Pat Robertson as "part of an effort to reach out to moderates and independent and Democratic voters."

CBS analyst Brian Boyd discovered CBS was the most aggressive user of extreme conservative labels, employing "hard right" and "far right"on four occasions. On the 24th, Eric Engberg claimed, "The support of far right organizations ignited Democrats and independents who fueled McCain's win." McCain's attacks on Robertson and Falwell drew no labels, as Rather declared, "McCain gives leaders of the religious right holy Hell while Bush tries to mend fences with Roman Catholics."

NBC analyst Geoff Dickens found three instances of Bush tilting to the right, and one to the extreme right. On February 21, Tim Russert announced, "Bush wanted to win this nomination viewed as the compassionate conservative without having to tilt right." A week later, Anne Thompson cited: "Aides describing the assault as the defining moment in McCain's campaign, aimed at moderate Republicans....The goal: To tie George W. Bush to the extreme right."

CNN analyst Paul Smith found two extreme-right references to Bush ("too far to the right" or "farther and farther to the right"). After McCain's attack, CNN suggested he "continues to aggressively court Democrats and independents."

FNC analyst Brad Wilmouth noted Fox only referred to Bush tilting right on the 28th. Carl Cameron reported on "John McCain trying to drive George W. Bush to the right and distance himself from Christian conservatives." Shepard Smith asked if Bush was "a captive of the right."

If past campaigns are any indication, this pattern will continue, with TV reporters suggesting Bush has to move away from a "far right," as Gore comfortably appeals to "moderates and independents." Will journalists be fair, or will Gore's consultants echo McCain aide Mike Murphy and rely on their "base in the media"?

END Reprint

Of course, this finding complements the ongoing media pattern of warning of how Bush became a "Pat Robertson Republican" and must move to the center while never portraying Al Gore as an "Al Sharpton Democrat." To reporters, Gore is already in the center. -- Brent Baker

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