NBC First Broadcast Network to Highlight Hillary Clinton's Hsu Fundraising Scandal

NBC on Thursday night became the first broadcast network to air a story on the Clinton presidential campaign scandal over donations from Norman Hsu, a fugitive from a grand theft charge who is also suspected of illegally funneling excess donations through another family. While ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News, as well as the NBC Nightly News, found time for a third straight night of coverage of Larry Craig's travails, only NBC caught up with FNC and CNN and highlighted the fundraising irregularities involving Democrats. Lisa Myers noted how Hsu has “given a quarter of a million dollars to a who's who of Democratic candidates in the last three years. But Hsu is also a fugitive, wanted in California in connection with a 1991 fraud case. The Clinton campaign initially defended Hsu, listed on her campaign honor roll as a man of integrity. Today the Senator said she's giving his $23,000 in donations to charity.”

Over video of a small, lime-colored house in Dale City, California, Myers also relayed how “questions also have been raised about big donations Hsu raised for Senator Clinton from others, some seemingly of modest means. This house in California is one of Clinton's biggest sources of campaign cash. Campaign records indicate that six members of a family listed at this address have given Clinton $45,000 since 2005 and a total of $200,000 to Democratic candidates.” Myers concluded by recalling an earlier scandal much of the media were reluctant at the time to pursue: “It resurrects images of campaign finance scandals during her husband's presidency, of Johnny Chung handing over a $50,000 check in the First Lady's office and donors sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom.”

Back in 1996 and 1997, the Washington press corps wasn't all that excited about the Clinton campaign's 1996 fundraising, as recounted in the MRC's MediaWatch newsletter:
From the November 1996 MediaWatch, “A Continuing Pattern of Omission: Networks Send Voters to the Polls Without Much Mention of Clinton Newspaper Scoops.” It began:
Six days after the election, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz noted that several print media outlets had pieces of the Democratic National Committee's foreign fundraising in hand, but didn't think they had enough for a major story -- until the pieces came together in the person of John Huang in October. Just as MediaWatch found last month, front-page newspaper scoops failed to attract much network interest or intensity, even in the final days of the campaign. A MediaWatch review of October morning (ABC, CBS, NBC) and evening news coverage (ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN's The World Today) found the networks were slow or missing in action on critical campaign stories in the last few weeks before the election.
From the March 1997 MediaWatch, “TV Fundraising Coverage in February Skips Major Developments that Might Not 'Resonate.'”

From the May 1997 MediaWatch, “Networks Bail Out of Fundraising Scandal Coverage in Mid-March, Go AWOL in April.”

From the July 1997 MediaWatch, “Hearings? What Hearings? Networks Skip Not Only Live Coverage, But Also Evening News Summaries.”

From August 1997 MediaWatch, “Networks Explore Every Stitch of Versace Murder, But Thompson Hearing Angles Ignored.”

From the October 1997 MediaWatch, “Frenzy Over Princess Diana's Death Buries Senate Fundraising Hearing Coverage.”

From the November 1997 MediaWatch, “Media Also Have Boasting Rights: Chinese Intelligence Brags of 'Thwarting' Thompson Hearings.”
Amongst other cable shows, CNN's Situation Room and FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume have offered coverage this week of the Hsu story, prompted by a Tuesday Wall Street Journal article on Hsu's bundling of questionable donations followed by a Wednesday front page Los Angeles Times story, “Democratic fundraiser is a fugitive in plain sight,” which revealed how he's been a fugitive from San Mateo County, California for 15 years over charges related to an import scheme involving latex gloves. Not even a Thursday New York Times story, “Clinton Donor Under a Cloud in Fraud Case,” led the other networks, however, to pick up on the scandal.

Often, MSNBC's Countdown runs the investigative pieces from Myers aired on Nightly News, but on Thursday night, not surprisingly, Keith Olbermann passed on the opportunity. MSNBC.com page for the NBC News “Investigative Unit” led by Myers (Hsu story not yet posted there as of 8:45pm EDT Thursday night).

A transcript of the story on the August 30 NBC Nightly News which I created by correcting the closed-captioning against the video of what aired:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Senator Hillary Clinton is in the news tonight, having nothing to do with her standing in the early race for President. This story, instead, has to do with financing that run for President. Specifically, a big donor with a problem in his past and money that has now been turned away. That story tonight from our senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers.

LISA MYERS: He is one of Hillary Clinton's biggest fundraisers. Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman, who's given a quarter of a million dollars to a who's who of Democratic candidates in the last three years. But Hsu is also a fugitive, wanted in California in connection with a 1991 fraud case [zoom in on Aug. 29 LA Times headline]. The Clinton campaign initially defended Hsu, listed on her campaign honor roll as a man of integrity. Today the Senator said she's giving his $23,000 in donations to charity.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: When you have as many contributors as I'm fortunate enough to have, we do the very best job we can based on the information available to us to make appropriate vetting decisions and this one was a big surprise to everybody.

MYERS: But questions also have been raised about big donations Hsu raised for Senator Clinton from others, some seemingly of modest means. This house in California is one of Clinton's biggest sources of campaign cash . Campaign records indicate that six members of a family listed at this address have given Clinton $45,000 since 2005 and a total of $200,000 to Democratic candidates.

FRED WERTHEIMER, ETHICS REFORM ADVOCATE: Well, this raises questions whether campaign contributions have been laundered here. And it's a matter that does need to be investigated.

MYERS: NBC News was not able to reach the family for comment. Hsu's lawyer insists he's done nothing wrong in raising campaign money. Hsu said he was surprised to learn there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest and would not purposely evade his legal obligations. No one has alleged any wrongdoing by the Clinton campaign. Other candidates also have had embarrassments with donors. Obama, Edwards, Romney, and Giuliani have returned donations.

CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Any hint of impropriety just hurts Senator Clinton more than any of the other candidates just because of past history.

MYERS: It resurrects images of campaign finance scandals during her husband's presidency, of Johnny Chung handing over a $50,000 check in the First Lady's office and donors sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom. Today Senator Clinton said there is no similarity. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center