CyberAlert -- 03/20/1997 -- All Nets Burton Bound

Copy of: MRC Alert: All Nets Burton Bound; "Conservative" Sierra Club

1. ABC, CBS and NBC all highlight the Washington Post's story on Dan Burton, but they've ignored many Post discoveries about Clinton.

2. Media labeling: CDF and Ted Kennedy not liberal but the Sierra Club is "relatively conservative."

3. March MediaNomics Issue Analysis: Networks fail to notice that Clinton's budget leaves long-term entitlement spending unaddressed.

1) All three broadcast evening network shows Wednesday night carried pieces on a Washington Post story alleging a fundraising misdeed by U.S. Representative Dan Burton, who is chairing the committee looking into Democratic fundraising. The networks jumped at the chance to implicate a conservative Republican, but over the past few months they've often ignored Washington Post stories related to Clinton's misdeeds.

The Post reported: "An American lobbyist for the government of Pakistan complained to his client last summer that he had been 'shaken down' for campaign contributions by Rep. Dan Burton.... Mark A. Siegel, then a lobbyist for" Pakistan "said he was approached by Burton early last year to raise 'at least $5,000' for Burton's re-election campaign."

On ABC's World News Tonight on Wednesday (March 19) anchor Forrest Sawyer announced:
"In a new twist, the House Republican leading the investigation of White House fundraising is now facing a possible fundraising scandal himself.."
Reporter Linda Douglass noted that "the allegation that Congressman Burton strong-armed a contributor, first surfaced in the Washington Post." Douglass later told viewers: "The charges against Burton come just one day before Congress votes on his request for eleven million dollars to look into Democratic fundraising. Today some Democrats charged Burton is unfit to chair that investigation..."
(It should be noted that later in the show Mark Litke offered a "special assignment" report from Taiwan on how John Huang, Charlie Trie and Johnny Chung have lost respect in Taiwan. Nightline Wednesday night also looked how the three gained so much money and power.)

On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather reported that the Senate passed a resolution calling for an independent counsel. Rather continued: "That resolution mentioned the White House and the Democratic Party, but not the Republicans. Still, the Republicans do have their own problems." Bob Schieffer explained: "The House investigation into campaign finance was thrown into complete turmoil today when the chairman of the investigating committee, Dan Burton, was himself accused of trying to shake down a lobbyist for the government of Pakistan..."

NBC's Tom Brokaw offered Burton as proof that everybody is equally guilty:
"From the very beginning, everyone has acknowledged there are campaign fundraising abuses in both parties. Now, a major Republican Congressman is caught in the crosshairs of a serious allegation and NBC's Lisa Myers is back on the money trail tonight."
Myers concluded her Nightly News story: "Regardless of the facts, what happened to Burton today is a textbook example of why even Republicans view these fundraising investigations with some trepidation. The Capital is full of politicians who reside in glass houses."

Glass houses for which the networks selectively provide stones. How quick have the networks been to focus on other stories broken by The Washington Post? Burton garnered stories on all three networks, but seven recent Post disclosures which put Clinton in a bad light failed to generate such interest. Let's review:

-- December 15: The Post first reported how large donors were rewarded with an overnight stay in the White House.
ABC's World News Sunday: no story
CBS Evening News: no story
NBC Nightly News didn't air that night, but Nightly News didn't get around to giving the revelation one sentence until January 21 -- five weeks later.

-- December 20: The Post reported that Wang Ju, a Chinese arms dealer, attended a White House coffee.
ABC's World News Tonight: no story
CBS Evening News: a full story
NBC Nightly News: anchor brief

-- January 24: The Post highlighted how White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry admitted that Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey knew in 1994 that the Lippo Group paid Webster Hubbell $250,000, raising questions of hush money.
ABC's World News Tonight: no story
CBS Evening News: no story
NBC Nightly News: no story

-- February 20: The head of an Asian-American business association, the Post relayed on the front page, said John Huang asked him to launder $250,000 in campaign contributions through his membership in exchange for a kickback of $45,000.
ABC's World News Tonight: brief item from Peter Jennings
CBS Evening News: no story
NBC Nightly News: no story

-- February 23: A Post story explained that former DNC Chairman Don Fowler routinely tried to put large donors in touch with cabinet officials to have their policy requests considered.
ABC's World News Sunday: no story
NBC Nightly News: no story (CBS EN didn't air)

-- March 4: "INS Accused of Giving in to Politics: White House Pressure Tied to Citizen Push," declared a Post headline over a story on the administration's drive to create more registered voters.
ABC's World News Tonight: no story
CBS Evening News: no story
NBC Nightly News: full story

-- March 10: The Post discovered that the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indians paid $107,000 to Democrats in hopes that would get their land returned; and the tribe was pressured to higher Democratic consultants, who wanted a cut of earning from minerals on the land.
ABC's World News Tonight: no story
CBS Evening News: no story
NBC Nightly News: full story

2) Some examples of bias by labeling or lack thereof from three different outlets:

-- A March 13 Washington Post story summarized the "State of America's Children" report from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a group which has battled against welfare reform and any reductions in the rate of increase in entitlement spending. Headlined "1 in 7 U.S. Youngsters Lacks Health Insurance, Group Says," the paper refused to identify the CDF as liberal. The subhead read: "Children's Advocates to Push for Expanded Coverage." In the body of the story Post reporter Cindy Loose referred to CDF as "the nonprofit group" and "the children's advocacy group."

-- The New York Times called a Republican Senator who backs a liberal proposal a "conservative," but a liberal Democratic Senator went unlabeled, MRC news analyst Clay Waters noticed. Reporter Robert Pear began a March 14 Times story: "Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, today embraced a major Democratic effort to provide health insurance to half the nation's 10 million uninsured children..."

The second paragraph began: "Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, wrote much of the bill..."

-- Gannett's USA Weekend magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement carried by many newspapers, planted an unusual tag on a liberal environmental group. A CyberAlert reader who is a radio talk show host alerted me to this one. Profiling Adam Werbach, the 24-year-old President of the Sierra Club, staff reporter Myron Pitts asserted: "Elected by the board last May to revitalize the relatively conservative organization, Werbach has won both fans and critics..."

"Relatively conservative"? The Sierra Club fought even the mildest GOP attempts in 1995 to balance environmental concerns with property rights. Pitts argued that other environmentalists think Werbach's conceded too much in backing Clinton's decision to allow some logging of healthy trees in national forests. "Many environmentalists want Clinton to adhere to a 'zero-cut' policy."

If anything less than total adherence to the ideological line makes you "relatively [opposite side of spectrum]" then reporters should start referring to Newt Gingrich as "relatively liberal" since he strays from the hardline of Senator Jesse Helms.

3) The Issue Analysis study from the March issue of MediaNomics, published by the MRC's Free Market Project. To get a copy of MediaNomics or comment on this study, e-mail its editor, Tim Lamer, at

Issue Analysis: Entitlements and Budget Coverage

Forgetting the Scary Fiscal Future

Republicans and Democrats in Washington have decided to focus on the year 2002 to balance the budget. Many economists say this is shortsighted. They point out that regardless of whether Congress and the President succeed in balancing the budget by then, structural problems in entitlement programs remain that will cause the deficit to re-emerge shortly after 2002 and cause severe economic problems for Americans.

Nonetheless, network reporters have chosen to focus on the year 2002 with the politicians and ignore the fiscal tidal wave to hit shortly thereafter.

MediaNomics analysts reviewed every story on ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, CNN's World Today, and the NBC Nightly News during February about President Clinton's proposed 1998 federal budget. There were 16 such stories. Not one mentioned the long-term entitlement problems left unaddressed by President Clinton's budget.

All of them, instead, concentrated entirely on the year 2002. Wyatt Andrews, on the February 9 CBS Evening News, said the President's blueprint is "a budget plan that promises lower federal taxes, cuts in spending, and a balanced budget in five years, and that's the proposal from the President, a Democrat." According to Andrews, "There is a document on the table now that balances the budget in five years, which is what both sides say they want. Show me the money, Washington style, is about to begin in earnest."

NBC's Tom Brokaw, on the February 6 Nightly News, reported that "according to the President's calculations, it would be a balanced budget by the year 2000, and there would even be a surplus by 2002."

"CNN's Carl Rochelle has some numbers you'll be interested in," promised CNN's Linden Soles on the February 5 World Today. Would these be numbers explaining the explosive growth of entitlements in the next decade? No. "President Clinton will propose an ambitious $1.7 trillion budget that the White House believes will not only balance the budget over the next five fiscal years," Rochelle declared, "but will result in a $17 billion surplus by the year 2002."

The matter of honor was brought up by ABC's Peter Jennings, on the February 2 World News Tonight, who said the President had "called on Republicans to reach an honorable compromise with him and balance the federal budget in the next five years." Correspondent John Donvan reported that "in fact, the President's plan would balance the budget, but not until the year 2002, if his calculations are correct."

ABC's Robert Krulwich then reported on proposed cuts in discretionary spending: "The dirty little secret here is they don't have to decide which programs to cut this year. They can do that next year or the year after."

But is that Washington's only dirty little budgetary secret? Not according to economists. "Without entitlement reform," says Patrick Fleenor of the Tax Foundation, "the deficit will rapidly rise to levels that could threaten the economic well-being of Americans during the early part of the next century." Fleenor points out that the baby boom generation will begin retiring late in the next decade and become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. "Even under the most optimistic assumptions," Fleenor observes, "if the federal government attempted to meet these demands it would have to raise taxes to unprecedented levels or go deeply into debt. In either case the economy would likely falter and the economic well-being of Americans could be forever jeopardized."

President Clinton's budget doesn't deal with this impending crisis, Fleenor argues, but reporters aren't interested in any budget problem beyond the year 2002.

-- Brent Baker