CyberAlert -- 07/23/1997 -- A CBS Diversion

A CBS Diversion; Nothing Criminal Here; Cult of Christianity

The Wednesday edition of Media Reality Check: A Daily Report on the Media's Coverage of the Campaign Finance Scandal Hearings, will be posted on the MRC Web site Wednesday afternoon. Back issues can be read at: reality/faxrep.html

  1. As another witness took the 5th and Thompson said he has "lost confidence" in the Justice Dept., ABC profiled a dentist who works on lions and CBS diverted attention to legal Chinese lobbying.
  2. Watergate and Iran-Contra deserved live coverage because, unlike the current hearings, they involved "criminal wrongdoing."
  3. CNN has decided to provide live hearings coverage -- but just of Haley Barbour.
  4. A report documented Chinese persecution of Christians, but Dan Rather highlighted how a communist insisted: "We do, as you do, have some trouble with cults."

1) Movement and developments occurred in the Senate fundraising investigation, but the broadcast networks ignored it all. As on Monday, none of the morning shows Tuesday morning mentioned a syllable about fundraising. It's now been two weeks since CBS This Morning has noted the hearings which they last cited on July 9. NBC's Today hasn't referred to the hearings for a week, last referring to them on Tuesday, July 15.

Tuesday developments:
John Huang's wife, Jane, refused to sit for a deposition, invoking her 5th amendment right. The DNC listed her as the solicitor of some donations during the time her husband worked at Commerce, leading to suspicions that the donations were put in her name to cover for her husband's illegal fundraising while a federal official.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee met in a closed session Tuesday with Justice Department officials to discuss their opposition to immunity for the Buddhist nuns. After the meeting, Senator Fred Thompson criticized the Justice Department. The AP reported:

"Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., voiced anger that senior Justice Department officials refused to specify why they opposed granting partial immunity to allow four Buddhist nuns to testify about a fund-raiser attended by Vice President Al Gore. Thompson, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, charged that the Justice Department's handling of congressional immunity is fraught with conflicts of interest because the testimony deals with alleged Democratic wrongdoing. Thompson also complained that the department was slow in reviewing the panel's immunity requests.

"As a result, he told reporters, 'I do not have confidence any more in the Justice Department's ability to carry out a credible investigation.' Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said prosecutors had approved immunity for 11 of the 26 people for which the committee had requested. Of the remaining 15, Brandenburg said, the department either opposed immunity or said it lacked enough information to make a decision."

Tuesday night coverage: Nothing on any of the broadcast network evening shows, but the CBS Evening News diverted attention from the focus of the hearings with a story on China paying for congressional staffers to visit their nation.

-- ABC's World News Tonight led with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's upbeat testimony on the economy, found time to examine the slander trial involving Carroll O'Connor and for a lengthy piece on the history of the Morman church, all before ending with a profile of "The Brave Dentist" who works on lions, tigers, elephants, and other large animals.

-- Here's the rundown on what July 22 NBC Nightly News viewers saw, as tracked by MRC intern Jessica Anderson who stayed late to help me monitor and transcribe coverage:

  1. Clinton announces support for means testing Medicare
  2. Greenspan's midyear report to Congress on the booming economy
  3. Continued search for Andrew Cunanan and memorial service for Versace in Milan
  4. New report on L.A. police officers and domestic violence in their homes
  5. "In Depth" on security measures of the rich and famous
  6. New study on cholesterol-reducing drugs
  7. Scientists find technique to grow organs for humans
  8. New, cheap Romanian sport utility vehicle available in U.S.
  9. Popularity and safety of sport utility vehicles

-- The July 22 CBS Evening News skipped the battle over whether the Buddhists will be allowed to testify and how another witness has refused to cooperate. Instead, CBS highlighted legal lobbying efforts by China, painting them as just as bad as anything illegal the committee might uncover.

Dan Rather intoned: "The Senate committee is looking into, among other things, alleged attempts by China to buy influence in the 1996 presidential campaign. But other Chinese connections are being overlooked, downplayed, or covered up, as CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg reports in tonight's Reality Check."

Engberg began: "Right off the bat, the congressional watchdogs looking at fundraising abuses grabbed headlines by pointing to a China plot."

Senator Fred Thompson: "The committee believes that high level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process."

Engberg: "Time out! One of the Chinese government's influence schemes is also one of the most popular perks on Capitol Hill, and no one is investigating, even though Chairman Thompson could do so without even leaving this hearing room."

Engberg explained that aides to Senators Specter and Glenn went on trips to China paid for by the Chinese government as part of a lobbying plan to counter Taiwanese influence. After noting that an aide to House investigative committee chairman Dan Burton traveled to Indonesia on a trip paid for by the U.S.-Indonesia Society, of which James Riady is a trustee, Engberg concluded:

"Congressmen express outrage over foreign attempts to influence U.S. elections, but see no problem in taking foreign money to satisfy their own wander-lust. Eric Engberg, CBS News, Washington."

Cleaning up this practice may sound appealing, but remember that CBS is only highlighting it now because it fits into the "what's legal is corrupt too" agenda.

2) Tuesday's Inside Politics on CNN brought on ABC's Hal Bruno, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno to discuss television coverage of the hearings. Bruno and Sesno agreed that the networks have handled them just right, while it was left to Kurtz to suggest that their lack of interest meant viewers missed some revelations.

Here's one illuminating exchange in which Bruno dismissed the conservative view raised by CNN anchor Judy Woodruff.

Woodruff: "Hal Bruno, as someone pointed out, well, but the news organizations carried the Watergate hearings live -- or PBS did, and a few others did -- Iran-Contra hearings ten years ago. What's different about these hearings?"

Hal Bruno, ABC News political editor: "Oh, all the difference in the world! First of all, Watergate was directly affecting the conduct of government in this country. I mean, this country, government was at a stand still in Washington as a result of Watergate, and the whole country was immersed in it, and the same thing was true, to a lesser degree, with Iran-Contra. These were major stories of revelations of criminal wrongdoing."

Woodruff: "Different?"

Bruno: "Yeah, I think it's very different from this."

Now if only the Republicans would turn the hearings into a forum on the need for more regulation and limits on free speech, then they'd get some coverage. As caught by MRC analyst Clay Waters, on Sunday's Capital Gang, Washington Post columnist and former New York Times reporter E.J. Dionne wished:

"I think the Republicans could do a better job of making the case they want to make if they weren't so afraid, some of them, not Senator Thompson, that these hearings are actually going to make a good case for campaign reform."

3) CNN has decided to offer live coverage of the hearings....of testimony from former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour. On Tuesday's Inside Politics CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno buried the decision in the midst of defending his network's coverage so far:

"We have done many pieces and a great deal of live coverage with our reporters Candy Crowley and Brooks Jackson -- you [Judy Woodruff] know, you've been part of it. We took the opening statements live, we took some of Sullivan live, we'll be taking Haley Barbour live, as we will be taking counterparts in the Democrats, when they testify, live."

After the first day, CNN carried one hour on the second day and another half hour last week. That's it. But when the hearings become bi-partisan, so they fit the everybody does it theme, then the networks suddenly discover the hearings. We'll be watching CNN to make sure they do offer as much live coverage of any future Democrat of Barbour's stature who appears.

4) A very odd news judgment by Dan Rather. After a story by David Martin on Tuesday's CBS Evening News about a State Department report on the suppression of Christianity around the world, including arrests, torture and four deaths in China, Rather added this strange postscript:

"An editor's note: When your reporter was in China recently, a very high ranking Chinese government official was repeatedly asked questions about religious persecution. He told me, and I quote directly, 'These stories are untrue. We do, as you do, have some trouble with cults and we, like you, deal with them accordingly, but that's all.' End quote."

Imagine it's 1938 and substitute the word "Germany" for China. Why would Rather find any credibility or news value in relaying the propaganda line of an oppressive communist regime with no regard for human rights? Must the U.S. State Dept. be "balanced" by the communist view?

-- Brent Baker