Spiked "Donargate" Stories

By D. Dowd Muska
  • Tuesday, June 24, 1997

Newspaper reporters continue to discover major revelations about the fundraising scandal swirling around the Clinton administration. Journalists at papers such as the Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe have uncovered many facts about "donorgate," but print reporters’ colleagues in television news have displayed a disturbing unwillingness to relay such information to their audiences. This lack of coverage of significant donorgate developments is particularly troubling in Nevada, a state where access to major newspapers is limited. The Media Research Center (MRC), a Washington-based media analysis organization, conducted studies in March and May that document the lack of television coverage granted to fundraising stories. Herewith, a list of items relevant to the fundraising scandal, but completely overlooked by network news programs.

The Studies’ Methodology

MRC analysts studied all evening and morning news programs of the three major networks—ABC, CBS and NBC. CNN’s nightly news program The World Today was also included in their analysis. "Newspaper scoops," noted the March study, "emerge nearly every day, but many were overlooked by one network, or all of them. The following stories were each completely ignored by all three networks, as well as CNN.

February 7

A USA Today article reported that internal White House documents revealed the White House database was used for political purposes as far back as 1994. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported two businessmen from Boston received an exclusive energy loan program from the administration after attending a fundraising "coffee."

February 19

USA Today reporter Tom Squiteri revealed in a front-page story that Democratic Party officials decided in July to limit John Huang’s fundraising appearances to Asian-American events attended by the president. Squiteri pointed out this contradicted assertions by senior Democratic officials that they knew nothing of Huang’s shady fundraising schemes.

February 22

The New York Times reported that Manhattan’s district attorney said "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."

February 23

The Washington Post reported that Don Fowler, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, routinely tried to get high-dollar donors into touch with both White House and cabinet officials, "to have their needs met."

February 25

Contrary to the Clintons’ public attempt to put distance between themselves and former Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell (who had just been released from federal prison), the Los Angeles Times reported the president and first lady had indeed kept in touch with their Arkansas crony through Marsha Scott, "a trusted White House aide." Some allege the White House was attempting to keep Hubbell from cooperating with investigators.

March 20

The Boston Globe obtained a memo written to John Huang. "It spelled out how to ‘convert’ Democrats to back favorable trade status for China." The memo noted this strategy was being discussed with "the embassy," which many believe refers to the Chinese embassy.

March 21

USA Today noted that the Democratic National Committee might have to return as many as 36 improper campaign donations. "In one case, a donor considered legitimate by Democratic auditors listed a used car lot as his home. In other cases, donors gave the address of a Buddhist temple."

March 30

Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe wrote that 27 corporations that sent executives on trips with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown obtained billions in federally-guaranteed assistance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Hohler noted the companies that received such support were also donors to the Democratic Party.

April 1

The Wall Street Journal discovered a major revelation: "Charlie Yah Lin Trie … received a series of substantial wire transfers … from a bank operated by the Chinese government. The transfers … came at a time when Mr. Trie was directing large donations" to the Democrats.

April 4

According to the New York Times, cocaine smuggler Jorge Cabrera "was asked for a campaign contribution in the unlikely locale of a hotel in Havana by a prominent Democratic fundraiser." Days later, Cabrera gave $20,000 to the Democratic Party from an account that contained proceeds from cocaine smuggling.

PBS and Donorgate

One of the only television news programs to investigate any aspect of donorgate in depth has been, ironically, PBS’s Frontline. In April, the documentary series—whose leftist agenda has been well documented—aired a profile of Eugene and Nora Lum, former Democratic Party officials. The critics raved over the program: "sizzling stuff" proclaimed the Wall Street Journal. "Meticulous reporting" added the Rocky Mountain News. In the documentary, correspondent Peter Boyer traced the Lums’ rise through the ranks of party fundraisers, and documented their connection to prominent Clinton officials Mack McClarty and the late Ron Brown. Boyer’s investigation, unfortunately, has not yet inspired network reporters. Polls show an overwhelming majority of establishment media figures are registered Democrats. But the unwillingness of network news programs to dig deeper into donorgate may also be due not to bias, but laziness—network news divisions simply do not devote resources to examining the ethics of the nation’s important officials. Only one television journalist—ABC’s Brian Ross—is a full-time political investigative reporter.


In the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw responded to critics who allege his NBC Nightly News has become "soft." "There are no important stories we have missed," Brokaw insisted. Clearly, the MRC’s studies indicate otherwise. Brokaw and his colleagues have missed many important stories in the ongoing fundraising scandal.

D. Dowd Muska is a research analyst at NPRI.

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