Donald Smaltz Gets No Media Respect

Rats That Help Wire Schools to the Internet Get More Coverage Than Espy Counsel's House Testimony

FBI Director Louis Freeh returned for a second day of testimony yesterday before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. The committee also heard from a high-profile witness with first-hand experience of Justice Department impediments: independent counsel Donald Smaltz, who is investigating corruption in the Clinton Agriculture Department. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went completely ignored by the morning and evening shows.

The blackout came despite a nasty attack from Democrat Tom Lantos (see box), and Smaltz's agreement with committee chairman Dan Burton's assertion that the Justice Department was "deliberately trying to impede your ability to prosecute justice in a fair and efficient way." Smaltz also testified that Justice impeded his investigation into Arkansas-based Tyson Foods.

Nothing Smaltz does seems newsworthy. On December 2, Smaltz won a conviction of Ronald Blackley, who had been Clinton Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy's top aide, for lying to investigators about receiving $22,000 from Mississippi associates with business before his department. The Justice Department strongly resisted charging Blackley. Network coverage? Zero. On November 26, Smaltz announced he'd won the conviction of Richard Douglas, the vice president of Sun Diamond Growers, for giving $7,600 in illegal gratuities to Espy. Network coverage? Zero.

Why is this not surprising? In the two years and eleven months between Espy's resignation and his indictment on 39 counts of accepting illegal gratuities, the networks combined aired two full stories on the Smaltz investigation. And they haven't filed a story since the Espy indictments.

Evening news, December 10:
ABC's World News Tonight led with the arraignment in the Paducah, Kentucky shooting, and also covered the emerging Kyoto treaty, "Quick Court" legal computers in Arizona, and - rats that help wire schools to the Internet by pulling strings through walls and ducts.

CBS Evening News also led with Paducah, and featured an "El Nino Watch" on six inches of snow in Detroit, Hillary's stand for women's rights at the United Nations, moderation arriving in Iran, and an 11-year-old being tried as an adult for murder in Michigan.

NBC Nightly News began with a study on the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption, followed by a story on "elder addiction" to alcohol and drugs.

While CNN's Inside Politics covered the Smaltz testimony (and Lantos' assault), CNN's The World Today only mentioned Freeh in an anchor brief, story number 22. A report on FBI morale followed.

Morning shows, December 11:
CBS This Morning aired a Bill Plante report on the Kyoto treaty, but its entire five-minute news slot at 8 AM went to developments in an Orlando hostage-taking.

NBC's Today featured reports on a new Versace exhibit, Hillary's "race relations dialogue" in Boston, and David Bloom's report on the Kyoto treaty on global warming, "which most scientists say is warming the earth's climate with potentially disastrous results."

For the second day in a row, ABC's Good Morning America touted the contest on its Web site to name President Clinton's new dog. Today, the show devoted a segment to the first wave of suggested names. We suggest "Photo Op." - Tim Graham and Brent Baker