The Espy Blackout, One of Many

The Espy Blackout, One of Many
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 28, 1997

On October 3, 1994, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy resigned after it became clear he had cashed in on his Cabinet position with frequent trips home to Mississippi and free football tickets and goodies from companies regulated by his department. The next morning, CBS reporter Bill Plante concluded: ""White House officials hope now that with Espy's resignation, this story will simply be over."

After Espy resigned, and each network did its obligatory single evening news story, the White House got its wish, as usual. Until Espy was indicted on 39 counts on August 27, the story had been dutifully smothered to death by the network protection racket. Over the next two years and almost 11 months, the network evening news shows, combined, filed a grand total of two full stories on the Smaltz investigation of Espy and those who dangled favors before him.

To be specific, ABC's "World News Tonight" offered one reporter's update on Espy and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros in March 1995. "CBS Evening News" aired a Jim Stewart report criticizing Smaltz for venturing beyond his original mandate in February 1995. "NBC Nightly News," which avoids Clinton scandal news like it was rat poison, never assigned a reporter. The CNN 10 pm evening newscast aired nothing in that period. Between MacNeil-Lehrer and solo Lehrer, PBS offered...nada. Ted Koppel never gave the Espy story a "Nightline," either.

The morning shows, which really ought to be transferred out of the news division over to the entertainment side, were even worse. Not only did they avoid a full story since the morning after Espy resigned at ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "This Morning," and NBC's "Today." Amazingly, CBS "This Morning" ignored the 39-count indictment as well!

CNN did have what some might consider a bright spot: its afternoon show "Inside Politics" aired two full reports in that same long period. But one was a February 1995 John Camp story allowing chicken magnate Don Tyson and Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) time to complain about Smaltz being too aggressive. The other full story covered guilty pleas by former Bush campaign official James Lake for illegally diverting $4,000 to Espy's brother Henry when he ran to replace his brother in Congress.

So what? the Democrats no doubt would suggest. Independent counsel investigations are long, dry, boring affairs with little news worth covering. Not this time. Let's take a quick look at some developments during 1996, smack in the middle of the an election season, no less.

June 14: Sun Diamond Growers, a large California agricultural cooperative, is indicted on nine counts of attempting to influence Secretary Espy. TV coverage: None.

July 10: Henry Espy, Mike Espy's brother, is indicted on 15 counts for making false statements to a bank to obtain a $75,000 loan and violating federal campaign laws. TV coverage: None. (He was later acquitted.)

September 24: A federal jury convicts Sun Diamond Growers of illegally showering Mike Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts. The story makes the Washington Post front page the next day. TV coverage: None.

October 17: Lobbyist Richard Douglas, a former college roommate of Espy, is indicted on charges of giving illegal gifts to Mike Espy and illegal campaign contributions to his brother Henry. The indictment also states Secretary Espy lied to FBI agents, a possible criminal offense, about football tickets he received from Quaker Oats. TV coverage, two weeks before Election Day: None.

It's this kind of blackout, along with a multitude of others too numerous to list, that explain why these scandals seem to have no effect on Clinton's approval rating. For a scandal to make a dent, it has to be on the radar screen of public opinion. But these networks, whose reporters scoff at the notion of bias, simply have no intention of providing news if that news will hurt the Clinton administration.

It's worse than arrogance. It's rank hypocrisy. More than 100 times, reporters described Reaganites with the term "sleaze factor." The same media that ignored Espy over $35,000 in goodies salivated over John Sununu taking a limo trip to a stamp auction. They camped out on Reagan National Security Adviser Richard Allen's lawn over the discovery that he'd accepted...two Japanese watches. And what of Ed Meese? He was forced out of the Reagan administration after a non-stop barrage of negative news stories pronounced him guilty of corruption. Never mind that Meese was not only not guilty, he was not indicted even once - let alone 39 times over.

Mike Espy is just the latest proof of that old saw: the 89-percent pro-Clinton media aren't just off-hours liberals. They are using their power to keep the truth about this corrupt Administration from the public. Welcome back to the spotlight, Mr. Espy. You're just in time for another 15 minutes of attention. But surely no more than that.