ABC Quicker on Thompson Scandal Than on Hillary's Hsu Scandal

When the Wall Street Journal in late August broke the fugitive Norman Hsu illegal fundraising scandal, it took ABC's World News three days to get around to reporting it -- and despite developments as the fugitive has moved through the court system, ABC hasn't mentioned him since. But after the Washington Post on Sunday disclosed the criminal past of an adviser to Fred Thompson's campaign, ABC pounced immediately with a full story Monday night. CBS also got into the action with a brief item. NBC, which waited two days to touch Hsu, got to Thompson with even less delay, citing the matter in a larger Nightly News story Sunday about Thompson's appearance on Meet the Press where Tim Russert asked him about the Post story. (In the EST and CST zones, only NBC had a newscast on Sunday night.)

On Monday, Thompson adviser Philip Martin gave the media a hook with his resignation from the campaign, but when the Clinton campaign announced on September 11 that it was returning $850,000 in suspect donations and when the Justice Dept. on September 20 filed a criminal complaint, ABC's World News was silent. Anchor Charles Gibson announced Monday night: “In the presidential race, another candidate has been embarrassed by the conduct of a major fund-raiser. This time it's Republican Fred Thompson.” ABC's Brian Ross explained how “the resignation comes just one day after ABC News,” apparently a reference to a Sunday posting on “The Blotter” blog, “and the Washington Post reported that not only was Martin a convicted drug trafficker, but that he had left a long trail of unpaid taxes in his business dealings.” Ross highlighted how “Thompson has been traveling in style during this campaign on a Cessna Citation Five private jet” owned by Martin.

Ross did note the fund-raising problems of Clinton and two other Republicans: “Thompson's not the only presidential candidate who's been embarrassed this year by allegations that forced key campaign fund-raisers and advisers to resign. A fund-raiser for Senator Hillary Clinton turned out to be a wanted fugitive. Rudolph Giuliani's South Carolina chairman was indicted for cocaine dealing. And the Florida co-chairman for Senator John McCain is awaiting trial on charges he solicited sex for money in a men's room.”

The November 4 Washington Post front page article: “Thompson Adviser Has Criminal Past.”

The short item read by Katie Couric on Monday night's CBS Evening News:
And this political note now: An adviser to Republican Fred Thompson quit his presidential campaign today after a report came out detailing a criminal record for drug dealing. Philip Martin was sentenced to probation in the 70s and again in the 80s for selling cocaine and marijuana.
How ABC handled Hsu:

The Friday, August 31 NewsBusters posting, “ABC and CBS Catch Up with Fugitive Clinton/Democratic Donor Norman Hsu,” recounted:
Norman Hsu's appearance in a San Mateo County, California courtroom Friday to answer for a 1991 grand larceny charge, prompted full stories Friday night on the ABC and CBS evening newscasts catching up with the case of the fugitive donor to many Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton. On Thursday night, the NBC Nightly News became the first broadcast network program to report on Hsu, in a story from Lisa Myers, and on Friday night anchor Brian Williams offered a brief update about Hsu's court appearance.

On Friday's CBS Evening News, Sandra Hughes pointed out how "a large group of Hsu's bundling checks came from this little green house in Daly City, California that Hsu once listed as a home address. The Paw family, which lives here, has given $45,000 to Hillary Clinton since 2005." Hughes also noted how Clinton has returned $23,000 in direct donations from Hsu, but on ABC's World News, Brian Ross reported that "in the last year Hsu has helped to raise more than a million dollars for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign" and he highlighted how Hsu "was scheduled to be one of the hosts of a major Clinton fund-raiser in California next month." Ross also saw a pattern, as he recalled a fact which has received little broadcast network air time -- that Clinton's "kickoff Senate fund-raiser in 2000 was organized by a convicted felon."...

Newspapers have been out in front on this scandal with the cable news networks picking up on a Tuesday Wall Street Journal article on Hsu's “bundling” of questionable donations followed by a Wednesday front page Los Angeles Times story, “Democratic fund-raiser is a fugitive in plain sight,” which revealed how he's been a fugitive from San Mateo County, California for 15 years over fraud charges related to an import scheme involving latex gloves. On Thursday, the New York Times ran a story, “Clinton Donor Under a Cloud in Fraud Case.”
The September 11 NewsBusters item, “Couric Spends More Time on 'Alex the Parrot' Than Hsu's Money,” relayed how ABC ignored the return of 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/fund-raiser 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.”
The NewsBusters article, “ABC Again Refuses to Cover Hsu Case; CBS and NBC Offer Brief Updates,” reported:
CBS and NBC on Thursday night [September 20] aired brief updates on how the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against Norman Hsu, the captured fugitive Democratic/Hillary Clinton campaign donor, for bilking $60 million from investors -- but ABC was once again absent on the story. ABC's World News hasn't uttered Hsu's name since its one and only story the Friday night of Labor Day weekend while Thursday's mention was the fifth for NBC and fourth for CBS. (Coverage details below.) On the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams read this very short item: “Norman Hsu, that Democratic fund-raiser indicted today by federal prosecutors -- accusations of a massive Ponzi scheme. Hsu funneled a lot of money to Senator Clinton's campaign.”...
So far, including Thursday night September 20, the ABC and CBS evening newscasts have each run one full story on the Hsu scandal while NBC has aired two. CBS and NBC have aired three additional 20-second or so anchor-briefs. In sum, over the past three-plus weeks, that's two full stories on NBC, plus three brief updates; one full story and three brief items on CBS; and just one full story on ABC which hasn't mentioned Hsu on World News since Friday, August 31.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the story on the Monday, November 5 edition of ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: In the presidential race, another candidate has been embarrassed by the conduct of a major fund-raiser. This time it's Republican Fred Thompson. One of Thompson's close friends and key fund-raisers, a man named Philip Martin, resigned from Thompson's campaign today following revelations that he has a criminal record. Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, has been tracking Martin's involvement in the Thompson campaign for months now. Brian?

BRIAN ROSS: Charlie, the resignation comes just one day after ABC News and the Washington Post reported that not only was Martin a convicted drug trafficker, but that he had left a long trail of unpaid taxes in his business dealings. Fred Thompson has been traveling in style during this campaign on a Cessna Citation Five private jet, owned by close adviser and long-time friend Phil Martin, the tall man in the gray jacket. Martin accompanied Thompson on many of his early exploratory trips, and as chairman of a group called First Day Founders, Martin helped to raise an initial $6 million to get Thompson's campaign going.

PHIL MARTIN, FORMER THOMPSON FUND-RAISER: Before you know it, there was more and more people just across the country calling from everywhere, every state. So it's just been really exciting.

ROSS: What Thompson says he did not know until two days ago was that his long-time friend Martin was twice convicted on drug trafficking charges, including a 1983 count of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine.

FRED THOMPSON: Phil, I'm sure, knows that he should have told me about this, but he thought it was over and done with and forgotten about, I'm sure, but, of course, nothing is ever over and done with and forgotten about in this business.

ROSS: Nor did Thompson apparently know that businesses founded by his long-time friend Martin had almost a million dollars in back unpaid taxes, according to county records in Tennessee discovered by ABC News.

THOMPSON: I know him to be a good man.

ROSS: Thompson's not the only presidential candidate who's been embarrassed this year by allegations that forced key campaign fund-raisers and advisers to resign. A fund-raiser for Senator Hillary Clinton turned out to be a wanted fugitive. Rudolph Giuliani's South Carolina chairman was indicted for cocaine dealing. And the Florida co-chairman for Senator John McCain is awaiting trial on charges he solicited sex for money in a men's room.

FRED WERTHEIMER, DEMOCRACY 21: When you're desperate for bundlers to raise large amounts of money, the vetting system disappears, and you wind up with people who should not be involved let anywhere near these campaigns.

ROSS: Campaign officials said today that in the wake of Phil Martin's resignation, Senator Thompson was no longer using his private jet. In fact, last night, Charlie, he flew commercial.
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