CyberAlert -- 09/11/1997 -- Morning Blackout; MSNBC & CNN Double Standard; Korean Famine

Morning Blackout; MSNBC & CNN Double Standard; Korean Famine

  1. Wednesday's newspapers were packed with fundraising developments, from Democratic skimming to the sentencing of the Lums, but the morning shows skipped all of it.
  2. Hard money questions surrounding Gore prompted evening stories on the three nets; one even gave Mother Teresa more time than Diana.
  3. CNN broke its implied promise to give the same time to Fowler as they had Barbour, but MSNBC didn't even bother with a second of Fowler.
  4. CBS blamed North Korean starvation not on corrupt communism but on "catastrophic floods" and an "unrelenting drought."

1) Wednesday morning newspaper readers were greeted by headlines in all the major newspapers which highlighted big developments on the fundraising front, but the morning shows ignored all of it.

"Ex-Party Leader Admits Arranging Access for Donors," announced a front page New York Times headline. Next to that another September 10 headline, that MRC analyst Clay Waters pointed out to me, revealed: "Democrats Skimmed $2 Million to Aid Candidates, Records Show." Reporter Don Van Natta Jr. discovered:

"In a practice that placed some of its most cherished donors in violation of federal election laws, the Democratic National Committee took at least $2 million in contributions restricted to generic use by the party and spent it directly on the re-election campaign of President Clinton and other candidates."

West Coast readers saw this headline in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times: "DNC Donor's Offer of Funds to Yeltsin Told." And Washington Post readers got a different spin, but still read about the hearings in this front page story: "No Memory of Calls to CIA, Ex-DNC Chief Testifies."

Plus, inside, both the Washington Times and Washington Post carried stories on the sentencing of Nora and Gene Lum to ten months in prison for hiding illegal contributions to Ted Kenneday and a House candidate.

The Lums are not small-time operators. They supposedly funneled illegal money to Ron Brown. To refresh your memory, here's a portion of the June 18 Prime Time Live story in which ABC's Brian Ross interviewed Nolanda Hill, a close associate of the late Commerce Secretary:

Ross: "The most serious charge Hill makes is that two big Democratic contributors, Nora and Gene Lum, shown here at Brown's funeral, actually did pass money to Ron Brown when he was Secretary of Commerce."
Hill: "The first number was $60,000. We discussed $60,000."
Ross: "The Lums, who just this month pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, have been under investigation by federal prosecutors for several years over their relationship with Ron Brown and the Democratic Party. In 1993, the Lums took over an Oklahoma gas company called Dynamic Energy Resources that sought special government contracts as minority-owned business. Then, the Lums hired Brown's 28-year-old son, Michael, and made him a well-paid officer of the company -- a convenient way, Hill says, to move money to the father...."

None of these developments and revelations generated even a syllable of coverage Wednesday morning on NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America or This Morning on CBS, reported MRC news analysts Geoffrey Dickens, Gene Eliasen and Steve Kaminski. (The Lum sentencing took place Tuesday, but the story was also ignored by all the networks Tuesday night.)

In fact, none of the three morning shows have uttered a word about the hearings in three days of broadcasts so far this week.

2) Wednesday night the three broadcast networks aired full reports on the release of the memo which informed Al Gore that the first $20,000 of any donation he garnered would go to candidates. Even ABC, which skipped the hearings on Tuesday, delivered a story. And, for the first time since her death last Friday, ABC spent more time on Mother Teresa than Diana-related items. CBS gave them both about the same amount of time. Here's a rundown of the September 10 shows:

ABC's World News Tonight led with the controversy over a bill submitted by Jesse Helms to block Gulf war veterans from making claims against frozen Iraqi assets. Peter Jennings opened:

"Good evening. We're going to begin tonight with the power of one man. It's not often in politics that one man, other than the President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, can suddenly lay claim to the spotlight by using his power in such a raw way as Senator Jesse Helms has. In Washington tonight the senior Senator from North Carolina has got more people upset with him than usual."

Up second, an update on the Weld nomination followed by a brief mention of how the Senate voted to rescind a "tax windfall" for the tobacco companies. Next, ABC gave two minutes to the fundraising hearings. Linda Douglass began:

"Republicans today demanded to know whether Vice President Gore understood that some of the money he raised during phone calls from the White House was hard money, money used for federal campaigns. Prosecutors say it is illegal to solicit hard money in government buildings..."
After soundbites from Senators Thad Cochran and Pete Domenici as well as Gore's counsel, Douglass noted that if Gore didn't know about the hard money he wasn't alone as donors were also not told how their soft money contributions were "secretly converted." That made ABC the only one of the three networks to mention the New York Times revelation outlined in item #1 above.
Douglass closed her story: "Though Democrats maintain that Gore was an innocent party in all of this, the Vice President continues to be splattered by mud left over from the last campaign."

Just an innocent bystander being "splattered" by what others did, as if he did nothing wrong.

Later in the show ABC allocated 1:30 to a Diana crash update and how Wills and Harry returned to school. But a story on the children of Calcutta helped by Mother Teresa lasted 2:10, 40 seconds longer.

CBS Evening News began with a 2:25 piece on the Diana crash, drugs in the driver, and how rescuers talked to her. At the other end of the newscast, CBS closed with an almost as long 2:20 look at the gratitude felt by adult men raised in an orphanage Mother Teresa created.

CBS dedicated 1:50 to a fundraising update, as Bob Schieffer explained:

"The tedious discussion or arcane campaign laws droned on for hours but it came down to this: Did Vice President Al Gore knowingly break the law barring campaign fundraising on federal property when he solicited campaign funds by telephone from his White House office."

After outlining Gore's contention that he raised only soft money, Schieffer told viewers:

"But today the committee unearthed White House memos showing the Democratic National Committee had notified the President, Gore and other top White House officials that the first $20,000 of all big donations that came in last year would be put in the so-called hard money account, to be spent directly on the campaign..."

The Diana crash investigation also topped NBC Nightly News, which spent over five minutes on Diana-generated stories but just under two minutes on a near-riot that broke out when authorities tried to end viewing of Mother Teresa for the day. In addition to the crash story, NBC ran a profile of Camila Parker-Bowles.

NBC got around to fundraising about 17 minutes into the broadcast, after stories on tired truckers, rail safety problems, and an "In Depth" look at prostate cancer. At just 1:30, NBC allocated the least time to fundraising. Instead of a standard story package, Lisa Myers provided a stand-up without any video and answered one question. Anchor Tom Brokaw intoned:

"It was another one of those difficult days for Vice President Al Gore, on the Money Trail. The Senate hearings turned up still more evidence that he went well beyond what we had been told earlier about what he knew and when he knew it about the kind of money he was raising for the '96 campaign. NBC's Lisa Myers is on Capitol Hill tonight. Lisa, take us through this hard money and soft money tangle."
Myers explained how memos showed Gore should have known he was raising hard money and that's illegal to do in federal buildings.
Brokaw inquired: "What about Janet Reno. There was talk she was considering a special prosecutor for the Gore case, what's the latest on that?"
Myers replied: "Election law experts I talked with called these documents significant and said it makes it even more likely the Attorney General will have to appoint an independent counsel..."

3) In the September 10 CyberAlert I forgot to review daytime coverage, quite an oversight given the contrast in how CNN and MSNBC treated the former Chairmen of the two parties.

When the RNC's Haley Barbour appeared both CNN and MSNBC went live for most of four and a half hours, interrupted only for updates on Andrew Cunanan. But when the DNC's Don Fowler testified Tuesday MSNBC failed to provide and live coverage and CNN got bored after an hour and forty minutes. CNN went live from about 10am ET Tuesday until 11:40am, cutting out only for ad breaks and quick news updates.
But that contradicts the promise CNN issued during its live coverage of Barbour for which CNN dropped three "destination" shows -- Talk Back Live, Inside Politics and Showbiz Today. At 6:20pm ET on July 24, after an ad break, Judy Woodruff re-introduced Barbour coverage by assuring viewers:
"We do want to remind you as we listen to Haley Barbour, the former head of the Republican Party, speak that in the weeks ahead when the committee calls on Marvin Rosen, the former Finance Director for the Democratic Party, Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Senator, former Chairman, General Chairman, of the Democratic Party, and Don Fowler, the former Chairman of the Democratic Party, that we will be carrying their testimony as well before this committee."

Well compare MSNBC's zero coverage and CNN's limited coverage of Fowler to the emphasis the cable channels put on Barbour. As detailed in the July 25 CyberAlert:

Haley Barbour's appearance led to the first live MSNBC coverage since the first week (July 9) and CNN's first since July 9 except for an hour last week...

At 2:35pm ET on Thursday CNN jumped out of a police press conference on Cunanan to catch the opening statement from Haley Barbour. MSNBC joined in just before 3pm and both carried the Barbour appearance live except for ad breaks and half hourly news updates. At 4:30pm ET MSNBC switched to a FBI press conference on Cunanan that CNN soon joined. Both were back on Barbour at about 5pm ET. CNN stayed with Barbour until resuming normal programming with Moneyline at 7pm.

MSNBC cut out at 6:40pm ET to go to an "exclusive" live interview conducted by John "Spike" Gibson with the son of the caretaker who encountered Cunanan on Wednesday. MSNBC completed their illuminating interview, with the person who knew the man who heard something, in time to show John Glenn questioning Barbour for a few minutes before MSNBC ceased live coverage at 7pm ET.

On Wednesday, September 10, neither MSNBC or CNN offered any live coverage of the testimony from DNC General Counsel Joseph Sandler. (Fox News Channel and National Empowerment Television are providing live coverage and C-SPAN is offering a replay at 10pm ET, or whenever the House adjourns.)

4) Those darn famines keep hitting communist countries, but Marxist economics has nothing to do with it. Just after the Diana crash update, the second story on Wednesday's CBS Evening News featured a "CBS News exclusive" from North Korea. In a preview of a story to air on the upcoming Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel (to premiere October 1), Peter Van Sant described his trip with AmeriCares to North Korea.

Van Sant opened with video of malnourished babies in an orphanage, explaining:

"Government overseers watched our every move, but gave us unlimited access to the babies. Dr. Diane Staves (sp?) is a member of the AmeriCares team who has come to witness first hand how two years of catastrophic floods and this year's unrelenting drought are pushing millions into starvation."
Staves: feel like they don't have a chance. I feel like their life is over before it really began."
Van Sant:"Today, the babies received their first real food in days, but for most it's too little too late."
Van Sant never even hinted at the role of government policy, preferring to stick to emotional video. He ended by ominously warning that the situation is even worse in rural areas, prompting substitute anchor Paula Zahn to gasp: "It's too hard to imagine."
It's amazing how the "catastrophic flood" and "unrelenting drought" hit only the portion of the Korean peninsula north of the 38th parallel.

-- Brent Baker