Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather are Rottweilers among media watchdogs. But too often, they don’t bark. To date, none of these network anchormen even has growled about two vital news stories that raise fresh ethical questions about Al Gore.
The September 14 New York Times reported that the Justice Department is investigating Gore’s possible use of a prospective presidential veto to pry funds from campaign donors. According to a Washington Times summary of notes taken by Gore’s deputy chief of staff, Gore asked at a November 21, 1995 meeting if he could “take more of the events and the calls” to generate campaign cash. He added: “Count me in on the calls.”
That November 28, Gore dined with six prominent Houston trial lawyers who worried about legislation to limit punitive damages in personal injury cases. Two days later, fundraisers asked Gore to phone his dinner partners and ask each for $100,000.
Despite Gore’s enthusiasm, his campaign denies he ever called Walter Umphrey, one of those Texas lawyers. Records indicate that then-Democratic party chairman Don Fowler stepped in: “Sorry you missed the Vice President,” a December 13, 1995 call sheet states. “I know [you] will give $100K when the president vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible.” Fowler now admits that conversation was “possible, maybe even probable.”
President Clinton vetoed the bill on May 2, 1996, over Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s objections. Before that veto, Umphrey, five other powerful Texas lawyers and their firms had given $747,700 to Democrats, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. They subsequently have handed Democrats approximately $4 million in soft money. Of course, that’s downright stingy given the $3.3 billion these lawyers scored through the tobacco industry’s 1998 settlement with Texas.
The Media Research Center found that the network evening news shows have yet to broadcast an electron about this front-page story. The day it broke, ABC instead spent 42 seconds covering the Macedonian Nectar Association’s demand that NATO pay it $200,000 because “stressed out” bees have yielded less honey since last year’s anti-Yugoslav bombing campaign.
Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather also napped through news of a scarier scandal. As David Schippers, former Chief Investigative Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, writes in his best-selling new book, Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment, Al Gore headed an operation called Citizenship USA. Schippers explains how Gore’s staff dragooned the Immigration and Naturalization Service into accelerating citizenship applications so newly-minted Americans might vote for Clinton-Gore.
Schippers cites e-mails in which Gore aide Douglas Farbrother said that “to get the results the Vice President wants,” INS officials should “waive stupid rules.” In a March 28, 1996 message to Gore, Farbrother wonders whether INS officials “could produce a million new citizens before election day.”
“We’ll explore it. Thanks,” Gore replied by e-mail that day.
Team Gore’s zeal let 75,000 applicants with arrest records leapfrog FBI background and fingerprint checks. Schippers says that when the FBI probed a sample of 100 new citizens in summer 1998, 20 of them had been arrested for and some convicted of violent felonies including hostage taking, sexual assault and homicide.
“At least one individual received his citizenship while serving time in jail,” Schippers told me. He added: “The pressure put on immigration professionals by the political operatives under the direction of vice president Gore’s office totally broke down the safeguards that surround the citizenship process.”
When Schippers — an active Democrat who twice voted for Clinton-Gore — accuses Al Gore of helping potential rapists and murderers become Americans to support his reelection, that’s news. Although CNN and Fox News have interviewed Schippers (as did CBS’ Early Show), the three big news hounds have been sniffing around elsewhere. On August 23, the day Schippers discussed Gore’s project in a Wall Street Journal column, NBC suggested how the lessons of CBS’ Survivor show “can be applied at work, from the loading dock to the boardroom.”
None of this is “just sex” or some campaign tactic that “everybody does.” Selling a presidential veto to campaign donors smacks of bribery. Shoehorning foreign-born criminals into voting booths reveals a lethal disregard for public safety and an affront to millions of law-abiding immigrants who patiently await naturalization.
Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather devoured George W. Bush’s so-called “RATS” TV ad, giving it nearly 11 minutes of combined coverage on September 12. Meanwhile, they have been metaphysically toothless about the Democratic nominee’s alleged veto-sale and citizenship-for-criminals schemes. Thus Al Gore skates as sleeping dogs lie.