CyberAlert -- 07/21/1997 -- ABC's First Soundbite

ABC's First Soundbite; Everyone Does It; Molinari vs. Bradley

The MRC's new fax reports, Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings, can now be read on our home page. Next edition on Wednesday.

  1. World News Tonight finally airs a full story on the hearings, but only to dismiss their relevance and say people don't care.
  2. PBS and CNN argue that everyone does it. A Time reporter contends "the system lends itself to these kinds of abuses and maybe it really does need to be reformed."
  3. CBS This Morning demanded that Susan Molinari explain how she could keep her politics out of her anchoring, but not Bill Bradley.

1) After airing a grand total of one 26-second item on the hearings all week, a story read by Peter Jennings on Tuesday followed by zilch on Wednesday and Thursday night, on Friday World News Tonight aired a full story. The theme: How the hearings had failed to prove anything and the public isn't paying attention anyway.

Peter Jennings promised the July 18 piece from Linda Douglass would provide "a two week assessment." Douglass opened:

"At the very outset Republican Chairman Fred Thompson announced dramatically what he hoped to expose, a Chinese plot to subvert American elections with illegal contributions."

After a soundbite from Thompson, Douglass asserted:
"But after of hours of testimony, a parade of charts and a blizzard of documents there has been no evidence so far of such a plot..."

Time out! On the Sunday, July 13 World News Tonight ABC ran a story on how Democrats on the committee disagreed with Thompson's charges about China. But on Tuesday morning when the committee Democrats changed their mind, ABC skipped the development. As reported in the July 16 Washington Post, the day before Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Glenn issued a joint written statement saying "the information shown us strongly suggests the existence of a plan by the Chinese government -- containing components that are both legal and illegal -- designed to influence U.S. congressional elections."

Back to the Douglass story. She next conveyed that the hearings simply confirmed what was already known about the Democrats accepting illegal donations, but also found an illegal 1992 donation from Huang to the DNC. Douglass showed Republican Chief Counsel Michael Madigan asking and associate of Huang's at Lippo, Juliana Utomo, about the donation. He asked:

"The document, specifically seeks, reimbursement for the $50,000 given to the DNC from Jakarta?"

Utomo replied: "Yes."

That clip represented a historic first for ABC, that one-word "yes" answer was the first time World News Tonight had aired a word from any witness. The second time happened a few seconds later in the next exchange.

Douglass continued: "And he got classified CIA briefings while at Commerce. Republicans suggested Huang might have been passing those secrets to Lippo in Asia, but three CIA officials, one of whom did not want his face seen, shot a hole in that theory."

John Glenn: "Was there ever anytime when he divulged any classified information?"

Three CIA officials: "No." "No sir." "No sir."

Of course these briefers were hardly in a position to know what Huang did with the information. Douglass didn't bother telling viewers that in July 15 testimony a business intelligence expert told the committee that Lippo has been transformed from "a family-controlled entity to a joint venture with the Chinese government."

Douglass concluded her story: "...Democrats gripe that the hearings are too partisan, so next week the committee will focus on foreign contributions to Republicans, all the while wondering if the public is paying attention to any of this. Linda Douglass, ABC News, on Capitol Hill."

How could they, given how ABC is hardly keeping them informed. Updating the ABC rundown which appeared in CyberAlerts last week, here's how ABC's World News Tonight has "covered" the hearings so far:

  • Monday, July 7: zilch
  • Tuesday, July 8: Unlike CBS and NBC, ABC does not lead with hearings, instead airing two stories on the Fen Phen diet drug.
  • Wednesday, July 9: Led with poll showing Clinton with a high approval rating. The story mentioned the hearings, but did not include any soundbites from witness Richard Sullivan.
  • Thursday, July 10: Devoted 41 seconds to Senator Sam Brownback mimicking a Chinese dialect, but just 23 seconds to a vague hearings update.
  • Friday, July 11: nothing
  • Saturday, July 12: no story
  • Sunday, July 13: Story on how John Glenn insisted that Fred Thompson's Chinese influence charge is not supported by the FBI and a story on "why average Americans seem to be paying so little attention to the campaign finance hearings."
  • Monday, July 14: nothing
  • Tuesday, July 15: 26 seconds on John Huang funneling a foreign donation to the DNC in 1992. Nothing correcting the Sunday story on Thompson by noting that Lieberman now agrees with Thompson's China comments.
  • Wednesday, July 16: zilch
  • Thursday, July 17: zilch
  • Friday, July 18: Full story contending that on Thompson's charge of a Chinese plan to influence elections "there has been no evidence so far of such a plot," and that on the contention that Huang passed along secrets, the CIA "shot a hole in that theory." The story included three seconds of soundbites from witnesses, the first aired in two weeks, before the story concluded by "wondering if the public is paying attention to any of this."

2) As Bill Kristol contended on Sunday's This Week, Haley Barbour's appearance at the hearings this week will generate more media attention than two weeks worth of testimony has so far. Here are two bits of evidence to show how eager reporters are to prove everybody's equally guilty.

-- On the new series titled Follow the Money which aired at various times over the weekend on PBS stations, Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak previewed this week's hearing schedule, asserting:

"It will lay out there the fact that both the parties have this problem. Perhaps what we'll end up with is a very good case that both are were scrambling for money, both of them went overseas and the system lends itself to these kinds of abuses and maybe it really does need to be reformed."

-- "The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings have focused almost exclusively on John Huang and the Democratic Party's money trail problems, but a story today serves as a reminder that campaign finance problems are bipartisan," declared CNN's Judy Woodruff as she introduced a July 18 Inside Politics story.

Brooks Jackson began: "Well, Judy, when it comes to illegal campaign donations, Republicans are still claiming the moral high ground. In Cleveland today, Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson again flayed Democrats for taking illegal Asian money.

Jim Nicholson: "And can anyone seriously suggest that Republicans do it too, when there are no Republicans who have fled to China?"

Jackson: "Well, Mr. Nicholson, this just in: in Washington, the Federal Election Commission announced the Florida Republican Party has paid a fine of $82,000 for accepting illegal donations from a German real estate developer. The developer, Thomas Kramer, was also fined $323,000 for illegal giving to Republicans and Democrats. But the Florida GOP got by far the most and was the only recipient fined, because it stalled for more than a year before giving back the illegal money -- $110,000 -- to Kramer. The party's executive Director said 'There was absolutely no indication that it was a foreign donation. We had Kramer was not a U.S. citizen.' End of quote. Kramer does business in Miami, but he was in Europe today, unavailable for comment. Back to you, Bernie."

Huh? Republicans may not be squeaky clean, but this is really a stretch. I'd expect better from Brooks Jackson. A state party accepting money from a German guy is hardly on the same level as paid staff fundraisers for the national party eliciting foreign donations for presidential events and then having some of those who helped in that effort and are U.S. citizens, like Charlie Trie, flee to a communist nation and refuse to answer for their actions.

3) Saturday night the CBS Evening News aired the first weekly story from former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley, but his jump from politics to the media hasn't generated a peep compared to the moral indignation unleashed by Susan Molinari.

How each were treated in This Morning interviews reflect the media establishment's double standard. Molinari was quizzed about whether she could keep her political views separate from her news duties. Bradley got a series of softballs about, for instance, "What are some of the things that bothered you the most about what's going on in this country?"

Thanks to some transcribing by MRC interns Jessica Anderson and Ian Alexander, here are the questions posed to both on CBS.

From the May 29 This Morning interview with Susan Molinari by Mark McEwen: "From Congresswoman to anchorwoman, New York Representative Susan Molinari is leaving the Capitol and coming to CBS News to co-anchor CBS News Saturday Morning beginning this fall. Molinari was a rising star in the Republican Party, even keynoting the last convention, and politics also runs in the family. Her father is a leading New York Republican and her husband, a Congressman. Now she leaves that all behind and Congresswoman Susan Molinari joins us this morning from Washington. Good morning and welcome."

McEwen: "Well, Congresswoman, yesterday in your press conference, you took some heat from reporters who said you have no anchor experience, you have no news experience. How do you respond to that?"

McEwen: "Congresswoman, you've been called a rising star of the Republican Party. Why would you leave that behind to hop into television news?"

McEwen: "You have a brand new baby. Was that part of the decision?"

McEwen: "You speak of your constituents. Some of the people that were interviewed yesterday, some of your constituents were a little upset that you were leaving because you're quite popular as a representative here. Does a representative have an obligation to fulfill her contract, so to speak, to fulfill her term unless, of illness or of death because you're leaving early?"

McEwen: "Congresswoman, one difference between being a news anchor and being a representative, your views on touchy issues, on issues out there, are well known: how you vote, how you speak on certain things. What happens when something you feel strongly about comes up on the show and you have to be neutral about it?"

From the July 18 This Morning interview with Bill Bradley by McEwen and Jane Robelot.

McEwen: "Well, it's sure hard to know where to start when talking about Bill Bradley. Scholar, athlete, U.S. Senator. He's been around the block a few times and managed to excel at every turn. Bill first rose to national prominence on the basketball court as an All-American at Princeton and as a Hall of Fame forward for the Knicks in their championship days of the '70s. His political career was no less successful, including three terms in the Senate, his 1992 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. And now he's embarked on yet another career, as an observer and an essayist on politics and the human condition. We here at CBS News are proud to have him on our team, you better believe that. Bill Bradley, welcome home."

Jane Robelot: "Well, a lot of people are looking at you, going, 'Wait a minute: Rhodes Scholar, Princeton grad, Princeton basketball star, NBA star, Senator. Why do you want to do television?'"

McEwen: "It's called 'Where We Are.' When we tune in to see 'Where We Are,' what are we going to find? What are you going to be talking about?"

Robelot: "Now we don't want to give anything away, but we've already taped a couple of these. Let's just give people an idea of what they're going to see."

Robelot: "Everything from A to Z then. What were the things that, as a Senator, you heard...But as a U.S. Senator, you heard a lot about people's problems. I mean, people, you're the guy they want to call to fix everything from their Social Security to really, really serious problems. What are some of the things that bothered you the most about what's going on in this country?"

McEwen: "What do you miss the most about the Senate?" I miss any attempt at balance. Only politicians turned media stars who are right of center must "struggle" to be neutral about issues.

-- Brent Baker