CyberAlert - November 18, 1996 - Hiss Innocent

Three items today:

1. The death of Alger Hiss generated sympathetic coverage that implied he was just an innocent victim of anti-communist hysteria. Tom Brokaw said he "was caught up in a spy scandal." CNN noted that his conviction led to "a period of blacklisting and hysteria over the communist threat."

2. Another week of DNC fundraising/John Huang revelations, another week of a network blackout of the entire issue.

3. This Week with George Stephanopoulos? The White House aide may soon be a regular on ABC's Sunday show.

1) Reporting the death of Alger Hiss, in the November 16 Washington Times, reporter Carelton Bryant noted that "Hiss's supporters and detractors often have camped on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Liberals, such as Adlai Stevenson and John Foster Dulles, defended Hiss, saying charges against him were the product of a communist witch hunt. Conservatives, such as William F. Buckley and J. Edgar Hoover, castigated Hiss, saying he was one of many left-leaning intellectuals swayed by the communists' economic rhetoric during the Great Depression."

Guess which point of view the networks took Friday night?

On the November 15 World News Tonight Peter Jennings announced:

"We learned late today that a very controversial American had died. Alger Hiss was an accomplished lawyer and a diplomat until a man named Whittaker Chambers accused him a being a communist who passed state secrets to the Soviets. At congressional hearings Hiss defended himself against a young Richard Nixon. Hiss was ultimately convicted of perjury. He lost his livelihood and his marriage. He protested his innocence until the very end and last year we reported that the Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that KGB files had supported Mr. Hiss's claim. He was 92 when he died today."

On CNN's Prime News anchor Linden Soles told viewers:

"Alger Hiss, the man at the center of a Cold War spy scandal, has died at age 92. Hiss was a Harvard educated lawyer with a distinguished career in government when he was accused in 1948 of helping pass secret documents to the Soviets. The case attracted national attention and helped spurn a period of blacklisting and hysteria over the communist threat. Richard Nixon's political career got a major boost after his aggressive efforts in Congress against Hiss. Hiss was later convicted of perjury and spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name."

Tom Brokaw, on NBC Nightly News, declared:

"One of the most controversial men of the post-war years has died. Alger Hiss, at the age of 92. He was a public servant of rising prominence in the 1930s and 1940s when suddenly he was caught up in a spy scandal and he was accused of being a member of the Communist Party. In 1948 he was charged with helping pass State Department secrets to the Soviets. His case drew unprecedented attention and he was pursued tenaciously by a freshman Congressman - Richard Nixon. Despite the support of many prominent Americans, Hiss was sent to prison for almost four years. It's a case that still divides many people in this country, but at the end of his life Hiss considered vindication a declaration by a Russian General, who controlled the KGB archives, saying that Hiss had never been a spy. Alger Hiss, dead tonight at the age of 92."

As for the vindication suggested by Jennings and Brokaw, both were apparently referring to a 1992 statement from Soviet General Volkogonov that the KGB archives contained no evidence that Hiss had spied for the Soviet Union. But as even The New York Times obituary on Saturday noted, "he conceded that he could not rule out the possibility that some records have been overlooked or destroyed."

The New York Times story continued: "In 1993, Maria Schmidt, a Hungarian historian doing research on the Hungarian secret police, said she had discovered a stack of documents among the files of the Interior Ministry in Budapest that implicated Mr. Hiss as a communist spy."

Finally, earlier this year the National Security Agency released a 1945 message to Moscow from a Soviet spy in Washington that identified a State Department official as an agent code-named "Ales." As the Times reported, "There was a notation by someone at the National Security Agency suggesting Ales was 'probably Alger Hiss.'"

2) The November 13 CyberAlert reported that ABC's World News Tonight on Tuesday, November 12 aired a story on the Commerce Department launching an investigation of whether John Huang raised money for the DNC while he was at Commerce and whether he really cut off all contact with the Lippo Indonesian conglomerate where he formerly worked.

NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News that night: No story. And the blackout has continued, a review of broadcast network evening shows through November 16 found:

  • The November 13 Washington Post reported the Commerce Department investigation and that DNC Chairman Don Fowler conceded the party failed the check the legitimacy of donors. The Washington Times reported on page one that Huang met with Webster Hubbell after Hubbell resigned but before he plead guilty: "At the time of the meeting, Mr. Huang had been at the Commerce Department for 15 days after his resignation as vice chairman of the Indonesian-based Lippo Group. Hubbell was on the Lippo payroll after his 1994 resignation and was negotiating with independent counsel Kenneth Starr for testimony in the Whitewater probe."

Network stories: None.

  • The November 14 Washington Post picked up the Washington Times story on the Huang/Hubbell meeting and detailed how Huang simultaneously worked at Commerce and raised DNC money.

Network stories: None.

  • A front page story in the November 15 Los Angeles Times recounted how large donations to the DNC followed a few days after businessmen met Huang at Commerce. Also on Friday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Mark Middleton, the White House aide involved in fundraising in Taiwan with Huang, "entertained clients or potential clients in the White House staff restaurant after he left the government and set up his own consulting company."

Network stories: None

  • The Saturday, November 16 New York Times reported that in an interview with the paper Clinton admitted "that he twice discussed policy about Indonesia and China with James Riady, the Indonesian financier, Democratic contributor and longtime friend of Mr. Clinton who is at the center of several inquiries into the influence of foreign money in Washington."

Network stories: None on NBC Nightly News, the only one to air in D.C. in Saturday.

3) On Friday The Washington Post's John Carmody reported: "Senior presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos lunched in Manhattan yesterday with ABC News President Roone Arledge and his top aide, Joanna Bistany. Network sources say Stephanopoulos, who has said he plans to leave the White House soon, is being considered as a contributor to Sunday morning's This Week as the program undergoes changes following David Brinkley's retirement as moderator, and on other news programs, including Good Morning America."

Just when you thought there were enough liberals on network television ABC wants to hire another.

- Brent Baker