Couric Spends More Time on 'Alex the Parrot' Than Hsu's Money

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, as the New York Times revealed Tuesday, may be concerned about how much evening news program coverage fugitive donor/fundraiser Norman Hsu attracts, but they had nothing to worry about Tuesday night. ABC didn't utter a word about the campaign's decision to refund the largest amount ever, $850,000 solicited by Hsu, yet anchor Charles Gibson found time to note how the New England Patriots broke an NFL rule by videotaping New York Jets coaches giving signals, while CBS's Katie Couric gave Hsu barely 20 seconds -- about half the time she devoted to the death of “Alex the Parrot” -- and NBC allocated 25 seconds, but only after a three-minute piece framed around how Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 image “stirs angry resentment.”

So far, including Tuesday night, the three broadcast network evening newscasts have each run one full story on Hsu while CBS and NBC, but not ABC, have aired two additional 20-second or so anchor-briefs. NBC Nightly News ran a full story on Thursday, August 30 (NB item) and ABC and CBS caught up the next night, Friday, August 31 (NB item). A week later, on Friday, September 7, CBS and NBC aired brief items on how Hsu was captured in Colorado after failing to appear for a bail hearing in California (NB post).

And Tuesday night, not even the Clinton campaign's maneuver of announcing their decision, to send back $850,000 collected by Hsu, at 6:40pm EDT Monday -- after the start of the evening newscasts -- irritated network producers enough to run a full story, nor ABC to even mention the development.

The very last paragraph of a story by Patrick Healy (noted in earlier NB posting), buried on page A-22 of Tuesday's New York Times, reported:
The Clinton campaign made its announcement around 6:40 p.m., shortly after the network news programs had begun on the East Coast. The timing was roughly the same Aug. 29, when Clinton advisers disclosed that they were giving Mr. Hsu's $23,000 in personal donations to charity. Clinton aides, who have been trying to contain the damage from the case, have been monitoring the number of stories the evening news programs have run on Mr. Hsu -- only a handful thus far.
The Washington Post put the news on its front page Tuesday, “Clinton's Campaign to Return $850,000: Her Team Cuts Ties to a Top Fundraiser Jailed in Fraud Case.”

(The morning shows haven't been any more interested in the story, though NBC's Today on Tuesday did feature a short story from Andrea Mitchell. ABC's Good Morning America and CNN's American Morning allocated a few seconds and CBS's Early Show ignored the story altogether.)

Tuesday's NBC Nightly News tried to undermine Rudy Giuliani's image as reporter John Yang centered a story around how the “campaign's central message” of “strong leadership in times of chaos” now “stirs angry resentment in some who lost loved ones in the attacks.” Focusing on the parents of a killed firefighter, Yang relayed how “they say Giuliani should have anticipated another attack after the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing.” Yang proceeded to highlight an attack from a left-wing union that regularly endorses liberal Democrats: “The nation's biggest firefighters union produced a video attacking what they call the Giuliani myth.” Yang then outlined how “there are two main complaints. That in 1999, Giuliani built the city's emergency command center in the World Trade Center complex, despite the earlier attack there. And that firefighters' radios didn't work properly, causing them to miss the evacuation orders before the second tower collapsed.” Only at the very end of the piece did Yang get around to how a biographer said the attacks on Giuliani are “unfair.”

September 11 morning show coverage of Hsu, as tracked by the MRC's Matthew Balan, Scott Whitlock and Geoffrey Dickens:

CNN's American Morning, John Roberts:
And Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is giving back $850,000. The money was raised by Norman Hsu who is under investigation now for allegedly violating election laws. Hsu is accused of reimbursing donors for their campaign contributions in order to get around limits on donations.
ABC's Good Morning America, David Muir:
Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is going to vet its fundraisers more closely now, that includes conducting criminal background checks. The changes come as the Clinton camp returns $850,000 raised by Democratic backer Norman Hsu. Hsu is being investigated for his fund-raising practices.
NBC's Today:
DAVID GREGORY: Another developing story today in presidential politics. Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign on the defensive this morning. It's now returning $850,000 linked to one of her big donors who is facing prison time in an old fraud case. NBC's Andrea Mitchell is covering that story for us from Washington, this morning. Andrea, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Campaign Controversy, Clinton to Return $850,000"]

ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, David. It is a big concession from Hillary Clinton, who initially dismissed the controversy as quote, “a major surprise to everyone.” But after first saying that they do their best job vetting the donors that they can, last night the campaign announced among the largest refunds in political history, cutting all ties to controversial fundraiser Norman Hsu, returning more than $800,000, as you say, to 260 contributors, whom he solicited on Clinton's behalf. Hsu is believed to have remain hospitalized today in Colorado, after failing to show up for a hearing in California. But for Clinton the controversy is an unwelcome reminder of past campaign scandals from the White House years with donors like Johnny Chung, even though Hsu has given to leading Democrats, including Barack Obama, before he ran for president and recently to the Democratic National Committee led by Howard Dean, as well as state Democrats in New York and others, David.

GREGORY: We'll wait to see the political fallout from all of that. Andrea Mitchell, thanks very much.

September 11 broadcast network evening show coverage:

CBS Evening News:

20 seconds on Hsu from Katie Couric:
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign will refund $850,000 collected by the so-called fugitive fundraiser Norman Hsu who was wanted by authorities for 15 years, all the while raising money for candidates. He's now being investigated for allegedly skirting election laws by paying people to donate to the Clinton campaign.
37 seconds on a dead bird:
COURIC: The death of a parrot doesn't normally make the evening news, but rarely has there been a parrot like Alex.

WOMAN: What color? Smaller?

BIRD: Green.

WOMAN: Good birdy! You're right. What's this?

BIRD: Rock.

WOMAN: Good birdy!

COURIC: Alex could say the names of 50 objects, five shapes and seven colors. He was purchased at random from a pet store, but for 30 years helped researchers at Harvard and other schools learn how birds think and communicate. Alex died of unknown causes. Scientists say they'll miss him.

NBC Nightly News on Giuliani followed by Hsu:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The political career of Rudolph Giuliani can easily be seen in two parts. Before and after 9/11, split right down the middle by tragedy. He took on the title of “America's Mayor” almost starting on that awful day. And that day became the basis, really, for his run for President. And not everyone feels the same way about it. Our report from the Giuliani campaign tonight from NBC's John Yang.

RUDY GIULIANI AT GROUND ZERO CEREMONY: On this day-

JOHN YANG: Rudy Giuliani near Ground Zero today, marking the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

GIULIANI: -it was a day with no answers.

YANG: His dust-covered walk through lower Manhattan that day embodies his campaign's central message: strong leadership in times of chaos. It comes up at virtually every stop.

GIULIANI: That's the way I felt about September 11th.

YANG: But it stirs angry resentment in some who lost loved ones in the attacks.

JOYCE MERCER, MOTHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: He tries to portray himself as a hero of 9/11. No. All the heroes are either dead or sick.

YANG: Joyce and Russell Mercer's son, firefighter Scott Copickto (sp?), died at Ground Zero. They say Giuliani should have anticipated another attack after the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing.

RUSSELL MERCER: He was the commander in chief of this city. He should have foresight. He should have prepared better.

YANG: The nation's biggest firefighters union produced a video attacking what they call the Giuliani myth.

FROM AD BY INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS: Don't just go by the image you saw on television.

YANG: There are two main complaints. That in 1999, Giuliani built the city's emergency command center in the World Trade Center complex, despite the earlier attack there. And that firefighters' radios didn't work properly, causing them to miss the evacuation orders before the second tower collapsed. A Giuliani biographer says that's unfair. The radio problem still hasn't been solved and the command center location was chosen because federal agencies were already there.

FRED SIEGEL, AUTHOR, THE PRINCE OF THE CITY: Did he fail at these things? Yes. Have people succeeded in that regard since? No.

YANG: But Giuliani can be his own worst enemy. His penchant for drama opens him up to charges of self-aggrandizement.

GIULIANI, AUGUST 9: I was at Ground Zero as often if not more than most of the workers.

JOHN “JACK” MCDONNELL, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: For him to claim that he was down here even ten percent of the time that most of the recovery workers were down here is an absolute lie. Absolute lie.

YANG: While critics cite specific mistakes, others say there are many things Giuliani got right. Getting the city back on its feet quickly and setting the stage to clear the site at ground zero months ahead of schedule.

SIEGEL: On balance, Giuliani was an extraordinarily effective leader. He'd been preparing for a terror attack. Not the one that came. And he was quick to respond.

YANG: The Giuliani campaign says it welcomes the scrutiny because it draws attention to what it believes is his greatest asset.

JOSEPH LHOTA, FORMER NEW YORK CITY DEPUTY MAYOR: It's real important to understand that seeing him in action was really a result of what he did day in and day out for seven and three-quarters years before that.

YANG: A debate over leadership that'ss central to his campaign for the White House. John Yang, NBC News, New York.

WILLIAMS: Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton's Democratic campaign is returning $850,000 in campaign donations collected by the fundraiser who turned out to be a fugitive, Norman Hsu. A campaign spokesman said about 260 separate donors will get their money back this week. Hsu is still in a Colorado hospital in FBI custody and will be turned over to California authorities when he is released.
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