Election Spinning; Clinton Got Best Press on Fundraising
"tough" on Saddam Hussein said Tom Brokaw, but Dan
Rather led by insisting Clinton made a "concession."
coverage: Houston avoided "Redneckville" tag by keeping
set-asides. So says ABC. Anti-tax or pro-status quo? Ann Compton
wanted it both ways. Today attacked a black Republican for
supporting welfare reform after being raised in public housing.
- Two studies
show lack of network interest in fundraising. Bill Clinton and
John Huang get more positive press than Fred Thompson.
1) The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News led Wednesday with the
unfolding Iraq story, but with conflicting spins on Clinton's actions.
Tom Brokaw began: "The delicate game of talking tough, but taking
no military action, not yet, against Saddam Hussein continues
tonight..." On CBS Dan Rather painted Clinton as a bit less
tough: "President Clinton and the new Secretary General of the
United Nations have made a concession to Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Reconnaissance flights to determine what Saddam is up to with his
weapons of mass destruction, have been suspended."
A piece from Sam Donaldson on
how an internal Treasury Department Inspector General report
"found widespread IRS abuses," topped ABC's Wold News
Tonight. Donaldson noted how Acting IRS Commissioner Michael Dolan
acted surprised at the September hearings to hear stories about IRS
intimidation, but "in fact, five years ago the IG report cited
widespread evidence of retaliation and intimidation of IRS employees
by their superiors. And the official who had signed off back then on
the IG's findings was none other than Michael Dolan...."
2) A vote for
the status quo is how the networks evaluated the election results as
Good Morning America simultaneously portrayed the vote as spurred by
anti-tax sentiments and an endorsement of Clinton's economic policies.
The idea that a black son of a welfare mother could be elected as a
Republican baffled Today news reader Ann Curry. In the evening, ABC
ran a hopeful story on the one liberal result of the day: Houston's
vote to keep its contract set-aside policy.
Here are some noteworthy
aspects of November 5 coverage of the elections:
ABC's World News Tonight.
Peter Jennings ran down the results of the Virginia and New Jersey
gubernatorial races as well as Rudy Giuliani's victory in New York
City. Cokie Roberts then explained how incumbents did well because of
the good economy. She added this insight: "It's also good for
Republicans to keep in mind that they always do well when they get on
the side of the little guy on taxes. They run into trouble when they
look like the party of the rich. They do well when they look like the
party of the middle class."
And who makes them "look
like the party of the rich"?
Next, Jennings listed the
initiative results: Oregon kept law on assisted suicide, Washington
rejected tighter gun control laws and a law to ban discrimination
against workers because they are gay. But ABC only did a full story on
the one liberal vote of the day, arguably the least representative
since it involved just one urban population, not a state: "And in
Houston voters chose to keep in place an affirmative action program
that steers city contracts to companies owned by women or minorities.
The Houston decision seems to buck a trend developing in the country
to reverse course on affirmative action..."
Dean Reynolds picked up the
spin of the pro-affirmative action forces, crediting them with
revealing the sneaky move opponents tried to pull off:
"It has been the goal
here in Houston to award about 20 percent of all city contracts to
firms owned by women and minorities. The city says that number is only
a goal, not a rigid quota. But opponents of the policy, spurred by the
success of the anti-affirmative action campaign in California said the
policy was biased and the time to end it had come. They sponsored
Proposition A and tried to make it sound as if it were a way to end
discrimination without ever mentioning the words affirmative action.
But Houston Mayor Bob Lanier got the city council to re-phrase the
language in the proposition making it clear that a yes vote would end
the city's affirmative action program..."
That made it less popular
with Houston's minority population, but, Reynolds added, the business
community also threw its weight and money behind saving the policy.
Mayor Lanier explained they thought dropping the policy "would be
bad for business." Reynolds concluded with this denigration of
the conservative, anti-discrimination view:
"Mayor Lanier said the
choice for Houston was clear: people here had to decide whether they
wanted to be viewed as a cosmopolitan, diverse, international city or,
as he put it, 'Redneckville.' Dean Reynolds, ABC News, Houston."
NBC Nightly News. Back on
October 16, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens and the NRA's PR firm
reminded me, Tom Brokaw introduced a story: "In the state of
Washington, the front lines have been drawn in the deadly battle over
gun control. It started in the grass roots as anger exploded over the
hundreds of children in this state killed or hurt by guns."
With the measure defeated, on
Wednesday night NBC didn't credit individual citizens standing up for
their rights but blamed the NRA. In the midst of a rundown of ballot
initiatives, Gwen Ifill asserted: "In Washington state the
National Rifle Association spent two million dollars to derail a
measure that would have forced gun makers to put safety trigger locks
on guns for sale in the state and require new gun owners to take a
safety test in order to get a license."
Somehow I bet if the vote
went the other way we'd have seen a big story on the little guys
overcoming a discredited, extremist NRA.
ABC's Good Morning America.
During the 8am news Ann Compton first asserted that voter anger drove
the election: "New Jersey really provided the only squeaker
election. Republican Governor Christine Whitman's narrow victory
reflected what may be voter unhappiness about some local tax issues.
In Virginia, Republican James Gilmore also won with a hotly divisive
tax proposal to scrap local taxes on cars."
But as MRC analyst Gene
Eliasen documented, she concluded by claiming the vote reflected
satisfaction with the status quo: "Well, the President's
coattails aren't very long but in off year elections they aren't
necessarily always, but it does come at a time when the President's
own personal popularity has remained at a fairly high level. It also
comes at a time when the Democrats suggest that the Clinton economy is
just so good that the incumbents won and people voted for the status
NBC's Today. Also during the
8am news, anchor Ann Curry interviewed Paul Harris, the first black
Republican elected to the Virginia House of Delegates since the 1870s.
After noting that most blacks voted for his white opponent, MRC news
analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that Curry demanded:
"You were raised, sir,
in a subsidized housing project by a single mother and yet you support
welfare reform and oppose affirmative action. How do you square those
Harris explained that
Republicans "believe that if you get up every morning and put one
foot in front of the other good things will happen and that every
American ought to be treated with equal dignity and respect."
3) A House
subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the Al Gore/Peter
Knight/Molten Metals favors for money controversy. CNN's Inside
Politics ran a piece on it by Brooks Jackson, but none of the
broadcast network evening shows aired a word about it. See the October
20 CyberAlert for details on how the networks also ignored this story
when reported by the Washington Post and Time magazine.
On Thursday Dan Burton's
House committee is scheduled to meet, but don't count on much
coverage. When the committee met last month neither ABC or NBC
bothered to mention it. Two recently released studies documented lack
of network interest in the Senate hearings.
The Center for Media and
Public Affairs last week released a study of how the three networks
handled the Senate hearings on the days the committee met. Among the
most interesting findings, as summarized in the September/October
issue of the CMPA's Media Monitor newsletter and typed up by MRC
intern Rebecca Hinnershitz:
"During the 35 days
when hearings were in session, the broadcast network evening news
shows carried only 56 stories with 105 minutes air time on these
events, an average of one minute per network per night. In July
there were nearly twice as many stories on serial killer Andrew
Cunanan (67) as there were on the hearings (37). The second round of
hearings produced fewer than one fourth as many stories (19) as the
death of Princess Diana (88)."
"We noted every
positive and negative evaluation about all individuals involved in
the controversy. It would be a misnomer to equate many of these
evaluations with good press and bad press, since positive
evaluations frequently consisted of assertions of innocence in
response to charges of impropriety. Nonetheless, this measures each
individual's success or failure in getting the media to carry
his/her side of the story.
"No one was more
successful in this endeavor than Bill Clinton. Just as we found in
our 1994 report on the Whitewater controversy, the President fared
better than either his political opponents or other members of his
own administration in getting his side of the story out over the
airwaves. Three out of every four evaluations of Mr. Clinton were
favorable or supportive of his behavior, a far higher positive
proportion than any other individual received. For example, ABC's
John Donovan (7/9) called Mr. Clinton a 'man on a roll...even the
charges raised about his party's fundraising tactics don't seem to
In fact, Clinton received
the least negative press (at 25 percent) of the eight people
measured. He rated far better than Fred Thompson who got 79 percent
negative versus just 21 percent positive press. Even John Huang did
slightly better than Thompson: 69 percent negative and 31 percent
positive. And Charlie Trie fared only a little worse than Thompson,
as 17 percent of network assessments of the fugitive were positive.
Al Gore went 50-50 and Hazel O'Leary garnered 36 percent positive
press, 15 points better than Thompson.
"Democrats on the
whole fared better than Republicans in defending their motives and
behavior over the airwaves. Overall, members of the Clinton
administration received nearly balanced coverage (46% positive to
evaluations of Republicans were 70 percent negative overall, and
Republicans in Congress fared even worse -- 74 percent negative.
Example: 'Even with the public disgust over this kind of cynicism in
fundraising, Republicans have been unwilling to bring any campaign
finance reform bill to the floor.' -- Peter Jennings, ABC
The October MediaWatch
features a study, put together by MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski,
titled: "Frenzy Over Princess Diana's Death Buries Senate
Fundraising Hearing Coverage: Celebrity Culture Sinks Politics
The study determined:
"In July, MediaWatch noted how compelling details of the Senate
fundraising hearings were buried by the media frenzy over the murder
of designer Gianni Versace, with a Versace-to-hearings ratio of 7 to
1 on the network morning shows.
"At the end of August,
Britain's Princess Diana died in a car crash. While the death of the
most photographed woman in the world is news, it is certainly not as
important as a fundraising imbroglio implicating President Clinton
and Vice President Gore, the two most powerful men in the world.
"Or is it? MediaWatch
analysts examined fundraising scandal stories in August and
September on the Big Three morning shows and evening shows, plus
CNN's The World Today. The networks broadcast 686 stories on Diana
between August 31 and the end of September compared to just 113
stories about the fundraising scandal. That's a ratio of more than 6
to 1. Isolating the morning shows, collectively they aired 407
stories on Princess Diana's death, while devoting just 36 to the
scandal. That's an astonishing ratio of 10 to 1.
"In August, the
networks combined for a paltry total of 16 full stories and five
anchor briefs on the evening shows, and five full stories and two
briefs in the morning. In the evening, ABC aired only one
fundraising story in the whole month. CBS was next with four full
stories and one brief, followed by NBC Nightly News with five full
stories (mostly about Johnny Chung) and two anchor briefs. CNN The
World Today ran the most coverage with six full stories and two
"Like most other
months this year, most networks skipped fundraising stories on a
majority of their broadcasts. In September's 30 days, with the
Thompson hearings in their most dramatic stage, the morning shows
were all guilty (CBS 28 days with no story, NBC 24, ABC 22). In the
evening, CBS, ABC (both 20 nights off) and NBC (19) took more than
half the month off, while only CNN (12) didn't."
To read the rest of the
study, which offers more numbers and a rundown of newspaper
revelations and hearing developments skipped in August and September
by the networks, go to the MRC Web site where MRC Web manager Joe
Alfonsi has put it at the top of our newly designed home page: http://www.mediaresearch.org.
Or, go directly to: http://www.mrc.org/mediawatch/1997/mw1097st.html
Tomorrow: Will Sunday's
episode of Fox's X-Files confirm last Sunday's plot development that
tales of UFO sightings are all part of a huge Defense Department
conspiracy to generate support for unnecessary Cold War military
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