Liberal Media Yawn at Revelations in Campaign-Fund Hearings

By Scarborough, Rowan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Liberal Media Yawn at Revelations in Campaign-Fund Hearings


Scarborough, Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


It has the makings of a classic Washington blockbuster. With a president and his men suspected of wrongdoing, the Senate opens hearings and the first witness makes a damaging disclosure about the chief executive.

But the stars of print and tube have generally treated the investigation into illegal campaign funds more as suburban dinner-theater than downtown summer blockbuster.

The newspapers and networks that lavished tons of newsprint and hours of air time on Watergate and Iran-Contra either ignored the Senate Government Affairs Committee hearings or presented stories arguing that the hearings don't matter. Their verdict was in after three days and one witness.

Conservative critics are suspicious.

If this were a Republican president with his party accused of collecting millions of dollars of illegal foreign contributions, they argue, the coverage would be punctuated with bells and whistles.

"They've largely dismissed the hearings as not an important story," says Brent Baker, analyst at the Media Research Center, which leans to the right.

Why?

"It's probably somewhat true that they're liberal," Mr. Baker says. "This is their president, and they don't want to see him destroyed. There's also another element: The vast majority of media want campaign-finance reform, more control, more regulations. And anything that detracts from that, they want to avoid."

William Safire, one of the few media stars actually analyzing the early testimony, describes the assertions by Sen. Fred Thompson, the committee chairman, that the Chinese tried to influence U.S. elections with campaign contributions as "stunning," and writes in the New York Times:

"No senator would make that statement without FBI approval. It is surely connected to Director Louis Freeh's unprecedented refusal in February to share sensitive counterintelligence with the White House Counsel, which could stem from evidence of an espionage penetration of the Clinton administration."

Hugh Davies, reporting for London's Daily Telegraph, finds early excitement, too: "A new American political star has been born with the emergence of the one-time actor Fred Thompson as a commanding presence," and speculates that this could make him a serious presidential candidate three years hence.

But Daniel Schorr, commentator for National Public Radio who covered Watergate and Iran-Contra, says that, so far, the hearings aren't prime-time material. "They just weren't news," insists Mr. Schorr, who never disguises his liberal bent.

Mr. Schorr contrasts the first week's hearings, featuring the carefully vague former Democratic Party official Richard Sullivan with the kickoff of the 1987 Iran-Contra hearing. On that distant day, middleman Richard Secord gave an inside account of how money was diverted to Nicaraguan freedom fighters. …

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