MediaWatch: March 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 3

Loving the Lincoln Bedroom Angle

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward broke the story March 2 of "solicitor-in-chief" Al Gore dialing for dollars in the White House. It drew major coverage -- but not from all. That evening's ABC World News Sunday, as well as the next morning's Today show on NBC, completely ignored Woodward. This illustrates the pattern of reporting on the DNC fundraising scandal. Newspaper scoops emerge nearly every day, but many were overlooked by one network, or all of them. Anyone watching only one network missed key parts of the emerging story.

MediaWatch analysts reviewed all February fundraising scandal stories on the evening shows of ABC, CBS, CNN (The World Today), and NBC, as well as the morning shows of ABC, CBS, and NBC. The February 25 discovery of Bill Clinton ordering the invitation of major donors to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom caused a major increase in intensity: the networks aired as many stories in the last four days of February as they had in the first 24. The gritty complexities of election law were, for the networks, much less attractive than a sexy angle expected to "resonate" with viewers.

On the evening shows, the networks aired 50 full reports and 13 anchor briefs, but 25 of the reports and three of the briefs came in the last four days. The eight network shows that led with the fundraising story were all in the last four days. For a majority of days in February, ABC (16 days), CBS (18 days), and NBC (19 days) aired no story on the fundraising beat. Even CNN had 12 days with no fundraising story.

The morning shows did less: 18 full reports, 11 interview segments, and 19 anchor briefs. Again, almost half of the coverage -- eight full reports, five interviews, and 11 anchor briefs -- came after the Lincoln Bedroom story broke. Six morning shows led with the Lincoln Bedroom story, but only two shows led off with the fundraising story in the previous 25 days. Not counting the absence of Saturday morning shows on ABC and CBS, ABC (on 15 days), CBS (16 days) and NBC (19 days) aired nothing new on the fundraising story. A look at daily scoops shows spotty network interest:

  • February 6: The Boston Globe reported "President Clinton renewed controversial aid flights to Cuba last October on the same day a campaign donor pressed President Clinton to resume the flights and offered to arrange a $5 million contribution to the President's campaign." ABC's World News Tonight noted top aide Harold Ickes' memo to the donor, but only CBS aired the Cuba angle.

  • February 7: The Globe reported Arnold Hiatt, the DNC's largest individual donor, gave $500,000 to Democratic Party after discussing suggestions with Ickes about how to donate the money. The Los Angeles Times reported that of the four Asian businessmen Clinton dined with at a July 30 meeting which eventually raised $500,000, two could not legally donate to U.S. campaigns. A front-page USA Today story reported internal White House documents showed the White House Office Data Base was used for political purposes from its inception in 1994. The Wall Street Journal recounted the payoff for two Boston businessmen who attended a White House coffee, getting an exclusive energy efficiency loan program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. None got any coverage.

  • February 12: Contradicting Clinton's claims about coffees, spokesman Mike McCurry said: "I think the President would have wondered why he was doing all those coffees if he hadn't had some follow-up." Only CNN's Wolf Blitzer noted the contradiction.

  • February 16: The Washington Post reported that following a Hillary Clinton visit to Guam in September 1996, island residents raised $900,000 for the Democrats and in December, a Clinton official circulated a report backing a bill allowing Guam to control its immigration and labor laws. On Meet the Press, Rep. Dan Burton announced 20 additional subpoenas on Chinese interest in the U.S. elections. Liberal New York Post columnist Jack Newfield quoted a Clinton adviser claiming Clinton's "incredibly intense" demands for fundraising "caused people to start cutting corners." The Guam story was mentioned only on ABC's World News Sunday and NBC's Today. Burton's subpoenas only aired on CNN, CBSThis Morning and Today. Newfield's article came up on NBC's Meet the Press and ABC's This Week, but it made no other TV show.

  • February 19: In a front-page story, USA Today's Tom Squiteri wrote: "Top finance officials in the Democratic Party quietly decided last July to limit John Huang's fundraising and to end appearances by President Clinton at Asian-American events organized by Huang." Squiteri noted this didn't match statements last fall that officials had no idea of Huang's improprieties. Network coverage? Zero.

  • February 20: The Washington Post reported that Asian-American business association chief Rawlein Soberano was asked by Huang to funnel more than $250,000 through his group for a kickback of $45,000. Inside, Bob Woodward reported a twice-convicted felon who met with Clinton at a 1995 White House coffee attended four subsequent DNC fundraisers with Clinton. The Wall Street Journalshowed how a Miami businessman met twice with the National Security Council's Latin America specialist to urge Clinton to back Paraguay's President in a coup attempt. "The day the unsuccessful coup attempt began," the DNC "received $100,000 from Mr. Jimenez." Only ABC's morning and evening shows mentioned Soberano. (NBC got around to it March 3.) The other two stories: skipped by all.

  • February 22: The New York Times reported "The Manhattan District Attorney said yesterday he had given federal prosecutors evidence that a Venezuelan banking family might have illegally funneled campaign contributions to the Democratic Party during the 1992 elections." Network coverage? Zero.

  • February 23: The Washington Post reported DNC Chairman Don Fowler tried to routinely put large donors in touch with the White House or cabinet officials to have their needs met. Network coverage? Zero.

  • February 25: . The Los Angeles Times reported that while the Clintons kept a public distance from former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, "a trusted White House aide" Marsha Scott has acted as a "confidential go-between," raising the question of White House attempts to keep Hubbell from testifying fully. Network coverage? Nothing.

  • February 28: The Wall Street Journal reported Clinton made angry calls at 1 a.m. to Democratic leaders urging them to fight the naming of an independent counsel. CBS and NBC evening shows mentioned it in passing. ABC and CNN did not.