Why did all the Sunday morning network shows ignore the Trump massage parlor scandal?
News that the former owner of a Florida massage parlor recently raided as part of a sex trafficking ring has been selling access to Donald Trump to Chinese business executives wasn't deemed newsworthy enough to be mentioned on the Sunday network news programs this past weekend. The blackout represents the latest instance of the formerly scandal-driven Washington press suddenly opting for restraint as questionable controversies continue to erupt all around Trump.
The unfolding parlor story is one of the most bizarre of Trump's presidency, and that says a lot. Two weeks after New England Patriots owner and Trump pal Robert Kraft was caught up in a sting at the Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, Florida, where he was charged with soliciting prostitution, new reports note that the spa's former owner, Li Yang (also known as Cindy Yang), runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family.
Mother Jones reported that Yang's website boasts that her company has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” Yang, an entrepreneur from China, routinely posted photos of herself with high-profile Republicans, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump Jr. The photos certainly raise questions about who can gain access to the president while he's visiting his resorts. Yang has hosted events at Mar-a-Lago while peddling access, which means she has also been pumping money directly into Trump's pockets in the process.
Ironically, the Miami Herald reported that in January, Yang attended a Super Bowl viewing party at Donald Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club (to watch Kraft's Patriots win the game) and snapped a selfie with the president during the event. The newspaper also reported that Yang arranged for Chinese business executives to attend a paid fundraiser for Trump in New York City in late 2017.
"On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its ‘activities for clients’ have included providing them ‘the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures,’" Mother Jones noted. Yang has also donated generously to the GOP.
"It is a textbook story of how foreign actors gain leverage over senior officials," according to the Daily Beast, which raised the specter of blackmail for Trump. On Sunday afternoon, Mother Jones reported that Yang is connected to two organizations that have direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Yang may have sold the now-infamous Orchids of Asia, but the chain of spas she operated "have gained a reputation for offering sexual services," according to the Miami Herald.
Yet none of this was mentioned on ABC's This Week, CBS's Face The Nation, Fox News Sunday, or NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, as the programs discussed the most pressing political stories of the day. On cable news, CNN's State of the Union made no mention of Yang. Only MSNBC's AM Joy tackled the topic on Sunday, devoting an entire segment to the story.
And again, what's the often-heard explanation for why Trump scandals don't get enough coverage? It's because the press is “fatigued,” and there are so many outrages that newsrooms just can't keep up. So journalists kind of throw up their hands, as they seem to have done with the unfolding Yang story.
And how much of that explanation holds water? None of it.
During the 1990s, the same D.C. press corps that today insists it can't keep up with Trump’s controversies showed absolutely no fatigue covering Bill Clinton’s scandals. In fact, as the Democrat's presidency progressed, the press only became more obsessed and energized with its scandal coverage over the years (Whitewater, TravelGate, FileGate, Vince Foster's suicide, etc.), culminating in a never-ending newsroom eruption over the Monica Lewinsky story.
Recall that in 1998 and 1999, the nightly evening newscasts devoted a staggering 2,528 minutes to the Clinton scandal surrounding his affair with Lewinsky, according to monitoring done by television news researcher Andrew Tyndall. (And that tally didn't even include reporting on all the other Clinton “scandals,” such as Whitewater coverage.)
Compare that to 2017 and 2018, when ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News set aside a combined 1,740 minutes for Trump-Russia-related reporting, which included the firing of James Comey and the Trump Tower meeting with Russian contacts.
And guess what? During the Clinton '90s, one of the scandal stories that sparked mountains of news coverage over months and years was the allegation that—you guessed it—a Taiwanese-born entrepreneur, Johnny Chung, was trying to sell access to the Clintons. Chung donated heavily to the Democratic Party, and during his numerous visits to the White House, he snapped as many pictures as he could with the president and his wife and then published them in his business brochures in an attempt to sell influence to Chinese businessmen. Sound familiar?
In 1997, for instance, the New York Times published dozens of articles and columns about Chung, as the Washington press treated the story like a political blockbuster. I'm guessing that if Chung had also owned massage parlors in the United States that were subsequently raided as part of a sex trafficking crackdown and where prostitutes had allegedly worked, the story would've received even more time and attention from a press corps that was physically incapable of being “fatigued” with scandal coverage during the 1990s.
Once again, the media has different rules for covering Democrats.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.