MediaWatch: October 1996

Vol. Ten No. 10

Networks Blackout Clinton's Bad News

On September 26, the House ethics committee announced it would expand an investigation of Speaker Newt Gingrich's college course "Renewing American Civilization." ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC reported the story, ultimately adding up to eleven broadcast network morning and evening segments in five days.

The next morning, NBC's Today led off with an interview with NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, who proclaimed: "It's awful, it's serious, it's potentially devastating." On October 8, Today's Matt Lauer asked Gingrich six questions about ethics, including two about whether Gingrich would resign. But a MediaWatch review of recent scoops on the Clinton administration's character shows a much different approach to stories which could damage Democrats.

September 23: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's inspector general concluded that Hillary Clinton had drafted a real estate document with the intent to "deceive" federal regulators. That real estate transaction, a sham deal selling a property named Castle Grande to a straw buyer, later cost taxpayers $4 million in the bailout of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.

The Washington Post put the news on its September 24 front page. Network coverage? Nothing -- until October 4, when NBC's Jim Miklaszewski mentioned it in a Nightly News story on a speech by independent counsel Ken Starr: "Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr was invited to appear by outspoken Clinton critic Pat Robertson and the audience was very conservative. The White House claims that's proof Starr is out to get Clinton for political reasons, but Starr says he'll stay the course."

(ABC and CNN did report the story last February 29, when the FDIC released a more favorable assessment, recommending the FDIC not seek legal recourse against Mrs. Clinton or the Rose Law Firm.)

September 24: A House committee held hearings on charges that the administration has let criminals become citizens. The Washington Times story the next day began: "Immigration workers yesterday told a House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee of rampant abuses in the Citizenship USA program that apparently let thousands of immigrants with criminal records become citizens." The networks? Zilch until the October 18 CBS Evening News.

Also on September 24, a federal jury convicted Sun Diamond Growers, one of the nation's largest producers of fruits and nuts, of illegally showering former Clinton Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts, a conviction for Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz. The story made The Washington Post front page the next day. Network coverage? Nothing, but The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS did a brief anchor-read item.

September 25: Sen. Orrin Hatch revealed a six-month gap in the log which listed who at the White House was accessing FBI background files on Republican White House employees. The Washington Times bannered the news across page one the next day. Coverage? A CNN World Today story and a mention on ABC's Good Morning America.

Also on the 25th, the Times reported that Rep. John Mica (R.-Fla.) sent a letter to Clinton's "drug czar" demanding release of a four-month-old Institute for Defense Analysis report that concluded Bush's interdiction policy was far more effective than Clinton's emphasis on drug treatment. Network coverage? Nothing until a story by David Martin on the October 15 CBS Evening News.

September 26: Three days after President Clinton refused to rule out pardons for Whitewater figures on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 170 members of Congress, including three Democrats, sent a letter to the White House demanding Clinton promise not to pardon anyone. The September 29 Washington Times reported that House Democrats were prepared to shut down the government if Republicans demanded a vote on a resolution calling for President Clinton to renounce pardons. Network coverage? With the exception of one general question on the 29th about pardons from CBS Evening News Sunday anchor John Roberts to commentator Laura Ingraham, absolutely nothing until Dole raised the subject later.

October 1: The White House claimed executive privilege to withhold from House investigators a memo to President Clinton from FBI Director Louis Freeh said to be highly critical of federal drug policy. Network response? Zero.

October 4: Sen. Orrin Hatch released the deposition of White House aide Mari Anderson before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anderson verified that pages of the log used to record the taking of FBI files were missing. Anderson also asserted, in contra- diction to White House aide Craig Livingstone's assurances, that he knew they were procuring the FBI files of Republicans. Even The Washington Post put this story on its front page the next day. Network coverage? Only CNN, in two Linden Soles anchor-briefs on The World Today, mentioned the news. (ABC's World News Tonight didn't report it, but the revelations were raised in an interview on the October 6 This Week.)

Also on October 4, former FBI Special Agent Dennis Sculimbrene, who was the senior agent assigned to the White House from 1986 to April 1996, told The Wall Street Journal: "There were senior people as well, senior aides and advisers to the President who used drugs recently -- people in policy positions, or say, the director of an office...Some senior people even said they had used drugs as recently as the Inaugural." Sculimbrene estimated that "about 25 percent of the incoming administration, about one out of four cases, had a problem with illegal drugs. Not just casual experimentation, but a pattern of usage." Network coverage? Zero.

October 10: A House panel investigating the Clinton administration's secret foreign policy initiative to encourage the Iranian government to arm the Bosnian Muslims asked the Justice Department to probe administration officials for possible criminal charges for false statements. Since the Iran-Bosnia secret foreign policy emerged in the Los Angeles Times April 5, CBS and NBC have aired absolutely nothing on the evening news about the story. CNN and ABC aired only anchor briefs, only in the first days of the story. Network coverage for the latest development? Zero.

On CNN's Crossfire Sept. 20, Chicago Tribune reporter Ellen Warren declared: "Reporters want nothing more, this year and four years ago, to have a horse race. That's what we're in love with, is the fight, the close call....So it's in our interest to make it look close, to make Bob Dole look good."

The omissions documented here suggest otherwise.