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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| June 27, 1996 (Vol. One; No. 40) |

Airline Scare; Nancy vs. Hillary

Two items today:

1) The FAA shuts down ValuJet leading CBS to discover that "suddenly the skies are not so friendly" as airlines are cutting maintenance to "boost profits," an awful development for which the public is paying the price.

2) ABC News offered two very different treatments two First Ladies with embarrassing revelations. Hillary Clinton is "beleaguered, in pain, and seeking help" in a culture where "there is a political price to be paid for those in public life who seek help for their private problems." But in reporting on Nancy Reagan and astrology eight years ago, ABC focused on how "this unflattering portrait of the First Family...is producing new, often humorous, unfavorable public reaction which political opponents are clearly savoring."


Not letting the fact that there have been fewer accidents per passenger mile since deregulation get in the way of an ominous story to scare viewers, on the Tuesday night (June 25) the CBS Evening News Dan Rather announced:
     "ValuJet was grounded after an investigation turned up a series of problems with airplane maintenance. This was after the big crash. Maintenance is just one area in which the overall airline industry has been cutting back in an effort to boost  profits. Correspondent Scott Pelley has been investigating the price the public pays for that."
     Pelley's story began: "Suddenly the skies are not so friendly. Overbooking, canceled flights, equipment failure. Passengers are feeling the pinch as airlines compete to fly on the cheap. Discounters are forcing big carriers to cut costs to survive...."


With the help of MRC intern Jessica Anderson, here's a little comparison of two World News Tonight stories on embarrassing revelations about two First Ladies. First, from Monday (June 24) night's show, the day after the news broke about Hillary Clinton using a spiritual adviser to talk to Eleanor Roosevelt:
     Peter Jennings: "Mrs. Clinton is all over the headlines today and it is all because of a new book on politics over which some of the tabloids, particularly, are having a field day. In the book, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post writes that Mrs. Clinton, apparently as an exercise, conducted some imaginary conversations with, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt. Some flap. Here's ABC's Jim Wooten."
     Jim Wooten: "In Nashville today, at a family conference, Mrs. Clinton put a humorous spin on the story."
     [Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Shortly before I arrived I had one of my conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt and she thinks this is a terrific idea, as well."]
     Wooten: "Still no one has challenged the account in Woodward's book of the First Lady's imaginary conversations in the White House, last year, with Mrs. Roosevelt. No one including Jean Houston, the self-styled counselor, who suggested it and was there."
     [Jean Houston: "It was an intellectual exercise. It had nothing of spirituality about it, you know, it was just purely an intellectual exercise."]
     Wooten: "Ms. Houston says that any other interpretation of her relationship to Mrs. Clinton would be merely political."
     [Houston: "It's been made a circus and it's a pack of garbage. It's just not telling the truth about who I am, what I do, and what our conversations were about."]
     Wooten: "Such role-playing conversations are traditional counseling techniques, and Ms. Houston describes Mrs. Clinton as beleaguered, in pain, and seeking help."
     [Leon Panetta, White House Chief of Staff: "She basically seeks a, her strength from her friends and those that are close to her, like everybody else, and believe me, in these jobs, she needs as much strength as she can get."]
     Wooten: "The unwritten subtext here, of course, is that even here at the end of the 20th century there is a political price to be paid for those in public life who seek help for their private problems. Jim Wooten, ABC News, Washington."

Compare that sympathetic take to the spin provided by World News Tonight on Monday May 9, 1988, the day after news that Nancy Reagan used an astrologer was revealed in Don Reagan's book. Digging back into the MRC tape library we found a more critical look.
     Peter Jennings introduced the lead story that night:
     "Good evening, as you can see it is Monday, May the 9th. If it is your birthday your horoscope says this month should be emotionally varied and your problems seem to involve communication. If you are President Reagan you may wish you never heard of horoscopes or astrologers or Donald T. Regan. It is today that the former White House chief of staff's book is officially published, containing all the details about the First Family's reliance on astrology. The revelations have already led to criticism and jokes at the President's expense. But as we have seen in the past Mrs. Reagan is not easily deterred. Sam Donaldson reports the White House will not take the Regan book lying down."
     Sam Donaldson reported how Ronald Reagan denied that astrologers ever set his schedule, but Donaldson noted that aides later admitted he misunderstood the question. Donaldson went through the Regan charges about how Nancy wanted Regan to fire Bill Casey and how Ronald Reagan didn't make decisions in meetings and was "content to exercise the symbolic powers of his office."
     Then Donaldson stated: "This unflattering portrait of the First Family by Regan is producing new, often humorous, unfavorable public reaction which political opponents are clearly savoring." ABC played three soundbites -- Congressman Tony Coelho agreeing, followed by Congressman Chris Cox calling Regan  vindictive and Helen Thomas saying she likes any book which imparts new info.
     Donaldson then concluded the story: "Presidents and their wives look to their place in history. And for the Reagans, Regan's book doesn't help. Sam Donaldson, ABC News, the White House."

     -- I'm going on vacation in New Hampshire for a week, so this  will probably be the last e-mail for at least a few days.  -- Brent Baker



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