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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| August 8, 1996 (Vol. One; No. 59) |


***MRC CyberAlert: From San Diego***

One item today:

A Media Reality Check '96 fax report released Wednesday afternoon. Back on June 22, 1992 CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn announced: "Making headlines this morning: Bill Clinton comes up with a plan for the economy. Tax the rich, cut the deficit, and help just about everyone else." That's not quite how reporters have greeted Bob Dole's tax cut plan. In this report we compared and contrasted how media outlets which have tried to discredit Dole's proposal were the very same outlets which praised Clinton's economic and health plans.

The following is the text of the report put together by Tim Graham with the assistance of Tim Lamer and the rest of our crew in Alexandria:

The Voodoo Gap: The Media's Partisan Economics

SAN DIEGO, CA -- Bob Dole's tax cut proposal was quickly denigrated by reporters as the unwelcome return of irresponsible Reaganomics, but the outpouring of media skepticism about Dole's tax proposal in no way resembles the national media's salesmanlike reaction to Clinton proposals in 1992 and 1993.

"Raising questions about how Bob Dole's going to cut taxes and balance the budget is fair," said MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell III. "What's not fair is attacking Dole's credibility after you've swallowed Clinton's bizarre fiscal estimates whole. After passing on the fantasy of a self-financing Clinton health plan and 1,000 descriptions of Medicare `cuts,' the media ought to think about their own credibility on budget matters before they pretend to be nonpartisan skeptics of Dole." Among the outlets with a bad case of partisan economics:

NBC. Reporter David Bloom quickly declared on the August 5, 1996 Nightly News: "Most economists say the Reagan tax cuts did worsen the budget deficit and many are skeptical of Dole's plan." Mike Jensen agreed about "most economists" minutes later: "They say these tax cuts could cause huge budget deficits as they did during the Reagan years, debt that would have to be paid off by future generations....Most analysts say it's not good economics." NBC did not note as columnist James Glassman pointed out Tuesday, that according to Clinton's own Economic Report of the President, tax revenues increased from $601 billion in 1983 to $991 billion in 1989, but spending rose from $808 billion in 1983 to $1.143 trillion in 1989.

Clinton often drew praise. NBC reporter Lisa Myers raved on the February 18, 1993 Today: "The President deserved great, great credit for having the courage to come forward with a plan to deal responsibly with the deficit." NBC's Andrea Mitchell worried about his image on the May 2, 1993 Meet the Press: "This is the first President in a generation who had the guts to try to do something about deficit reduction and take on health care, and somehow he's not selling that. He's still being perceived as an old-style Democrat."

CBS. Reporter Linda Douglass declared on the July 23, 1996 CBS Evening News: "Dole will have to tread carefully as he promotes his tax cut. Each of the proposals he's considering would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and Dole will have to convince voters that won't drive up the deficit."

But on the September 15, 1993 Sunday Morning, Douglass simply passed on Clinton's notion of paying for 37 million uninsured Americans' health care -- with a cigarette tax: "They have a very elaborate plan to pay for this revolution in health care. It doesn't provide for much new in the way of taxes, just a sin tax, cigarette tax. They claim the money's going to come from savings in spending." The Clinton health proposal was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost $784 billion in its first seven years.

U.S. News & World Report. Senior Writer Susan Dentzer was the first to condemn Dole's tax cut on CNN just minutes after Dole was finished: "The old joke among economists is that an economist who's stuck in a ditch gets out of it by assuming the existence of a ladder, and there are a fair amount of assumptions of existences of ladders in this plan that really, I think, under intense scrutiny, are not going to bear out." Appearing on Nightline a few hours later, she called the Dole plan "a free lunch."

Dentzer, on the other hand, applauded Clinton's micromanagement of the economy in the March 15, 1993 U.S. News: "Amid a broader economic plan that has its share of flaws, Clinton's well-crafted stimulus is a piece worth keeping...The sorts of spending the President has picked -- for example on education or on long-planned highway projects -- tend to create lots of jobs, many which carry high wages and benefits."

Newsweek. Reporter Howard Fineman wrote in the latest issue that Dole "risks his most cherished asset: his credibility....Now he's embracing supply-side economics, years after it came (and went) in GOP circles. So late in his career -- so late in the campaign -- it looks desperate. Clinton, meanwhile, can brag that the annual deficit has been cut in half on his watch -- and that he's a champion of fiscal responsibility. In other words, he can be Bob Dole."

Fineman had a different idea of who was responsible for the deficit on the October 11, 1995 Fox Morning News: "He [Clinton] really doesn't have to put numbers on the table. It's the Republicans who have said they're the revolutionaries. They're the ones with the responsibility."

Time. Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame declared on September 20, 1993: "The Clinton plan is surprisingly persuasive in supporting the long-time claim of the Clintons and their top health care strategist, Ira Magaziner, that [health] reform can be almost entirely from savings, without broad-based new taxes and with enough left over to reduce the federal budget deficit." But in the January 29, 1996 issue, Goodgame described the 1980s as "when top tax rates were slashed and the deficit soared, but that's the reason supply- siders are often described as optimists."

   -- Brent Baker



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