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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| December 15, 1997 (Vol. Two; No. 194) |

Missing Cisneros; Applauding Lee; Full Gore on Kyoto

The Best Notable Quotables of 1997: The Tenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting. The judges have voted, their picks have been tabulated and the awards issue published. It mailed Friday, so subscribers should get it soon if they haven't already. It will be posted early this week on the MRC Web site. Those in the Boston area or who read a paper which picks up Don Feder's syndicated column may have already seen his column on the quotes he picked as a judge. His column on the awards ran in the December 11 Boston Herald.
Too much bias today for one CyberAlert, so further bias in coverage of Larry Lawrence and the testimony from independent counsel Donald Smaltz originally scheduled for this edition have been pre-empted so we may bring you bias on Henry Cisneros, Bill Lan Lee, global warming and giving Hillary the boot.
For the details on Smaltz, read the December 11 Media Reality Check fax report titled "Rats That Help Wire Schools to the Internet Get More Coverage than Espy Counsel's House Testimony." Available in the Media Reality Check box at www.mrc.org

1.  ABC and CBS allocated a combined 27 seconds to the Cisneros indictment. Instead, CBS worried about how airline deregulation means planes are too old and El Nino's impact on butterflies.

2.  GMA ignored Cisneros but discussed the week's events with a reporter who observed that the media are not giving the public "what we should be giving them."

3.  Flashback: "It's ludicrous to talk about a special counsel with Henry Cisneros," insisted Al Hunt. So did Bryant Gumbel.

4.  Today's Matt Lauer suggested a recess appointment for Bill Lann Lee is "a solution" until Republicans realize "he's pretty good."

5.  Only three of 19 evening network stories on Kyoto included a skeptical scientist. Same misleading info in the morning.

6.  Headline of the week: a "Coot," a "Boot" and Hillary.

1. The indictment of former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros on Thursday generated 18 seconds that night on ABC while CBS didn't get around to it until Friday, then allocated a massive nine seconds to the development on the same night the network CBS spent two minutes on how El Nino is impacting butterflies. Only NBC bothered with a full report in the evening. In the morning, Today gave it a few seconds, but neither Good Morning America or This Morning mentioned Cisneros on Friday morning.

First, a look at the December 11 evening shows:

ABC's World News Tonight. Here's the entirety of what Peter Jennings took 18 seconds to tell viewers:
"In Washington today a federal grand jury indicted President Clinton's former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros for lying and obstructing justice during the FBI background investigation for his confirmation. An independent counsel decided that Mr. Cisneros lied about payments he made to his former mistress."

CBS Evening News had no time for Cisneros. Dan Rather led with "a whole new twist of the growing problem, and it is a problem, of aging airliners" and how there also are "too many planes." Naturally, deregulation and a lack of adequate regulation are the problem.

Reporter Bob Orr worried: "Passengers are likely unaware that one-third of the 5,400 commercial jets flying today in the US are past their designed retirement age of 20 years. And there are no federal regulations in place requiring extra inspections of wiring and fuel systems for those aging planes...."
Later, he asserted: "The whole issue of aging planes is unchartered territory. Until deregulation in 1978 airplanes rarely flew for more than twenty years. Now, many cost-conscience airlines are flying jets far longer..."

NBC Nightly News. The Cisneros indictment played as NBC's second story. Tom Brokaw explained:
"One of the most prominent members of the original Clinton cabinet, one of the best known Hispanic politicians in the country, faces very serious charges. Henry Cisneros, the former Mayor of San Antonio and former Secretary of Housing."

Reporter Pete Williams provided the only full story of the night, outlining how Cisneros was charged with purposely misleading the FBI about payments to his mistress: "Prosecutors say the payments amounted to hush money to buy the woman's silence and avoid further scandal." Williams concluded by suggesting the outcome may not have been worth the cost: "Today's charges were brought by an independent counsel that had been called for by Attorney General Reno. Total cost of the investigation so far: nearly $4 million dollars."

Friday night the CBS Evening News got around to the Cisneros news, but the network's priorities showed that not all lying is equally newsworthy. The top story on December 12: How the Justice Department is supposedly pursuing evidence that cigarette company executives lied about creating a high nicotine tobacco plant. Dan Rather set up the piece: "Did executives lie to the government when they swore they never manipulated their products to hook smokers?"

Later in the show Rather spent 57 seconds to run down some political news about Bill Lann Lee and Cisneros, as well as to mention Mike Espy's indictment and the ongoing investigation of Bruce Babbitt. Note how Rather portrayed Lee's opponents as people who are against fighting discrimination suffered by women and minorities:

"President Clinton reportedly plans to appoint Bill Lann Lee to the government's top civil rights enforcement post while Congress is in recess. That would at least temporarily get around opponents who have so far successfully blocked Lee's confirmation. Lee's opponents cite his support for affirmative action, designed to fight discrimination against women and minorities. Well this just the newest turmoil about the Clinton team, especially focusing on cabinet members or former cabinet members. Several are under investigation or indictment. Just added to the indictment list: former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros -- indicted about lying about secret payments to a former lover."

That was it: nine seconds on Cisneros. But, a few minutes later, CBS devoted over two minutes to another more compelling topic. As Rather poetically put it:

"The huge Pacific weather machine, whipping up the waves and winds, is also giving a gentle lift to the tender wings of the Monarch butterfly. CBS's John Blackstone has the story and pictures that will make you flutter with delight."

2. As noted in #1, Friday morning brought zilch on Cisneros on ABC or CBS. NBC's Today, MRC news analyst Eric Darbe observed, gave the indictments a few seconds during the 7 and 8am news updates.

The topics during Good Morning America's "Week In Review" segment: Bill Clinton's visit to New York, Hillary Clinton getting kicked out of a club, Kyoto and Latrel Sprewell. MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen noticed this illuminating exchange:

Charles Gibson: "But that story gets ignored, that the President spends so much time raising money, perfectly properly, but spends all his time, spends a lot of time doing that and things like the dog and things like Hillary Clinton in this stuffy club in New York get the headlines."

Debra Dickerson, U. S. News and World Report: "Well, I think that has to do with the dumbing down of news in general that I think is getting a lot of talk in press coverage these days, that people, we're giving people what they want and not what we should be giving them."


3. Henry Cisneros worth investigating? No way, what a waste of money. MRC news analyst Clay Waters scanned through the MRC's directory of bias we've transcribed and found a few old comments from Al Hunt and Bryant Gumbel that look pretty silly now that an independent counsel managed to convince a grand jury to indict Cisneros.

Al Hunt, on the February 18, 1995 Capital Gang on CNN: "You ought to be real careful about appointing a special counsel. It seems to me it's ludicrous to talk about a special counsel with Henry Cisneros..."

Al Hunt, just a few weeks ago, on the October 4 Capital Gang: "Janet Reno is probably the most independent minded Attorney General since Edward Levy. She has appointed outside counsels when it was not warranted -- in the case of Henry Cisneros."

And what trip down memory lane would be complete without something from Bryant Gumbel? From Gumbel's March 15, 1995 Today interview with Senator Ted Kennedy:

"Attorney General Janet Reno has asked for an independent counsel to investigate charges against HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown is being investigated. Questions have been raised about Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy resigned under pressure, as did Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. The Clinton White House seems to be having a hard time retaining high-profile minorities particularly. Do you think, Senator, they are being held to a higher standard in Washington than their white predecessors?"

4. If you had any doubt about which side the networks will favor if President Clinton makes a recess appointment of Bill Lann Lee they should have been answered by Today's treatment of him on Friday. Co-host Matt Lauer described a recess appointment as "a solution" and failed to confront the nominee with the concerns of Republicans in the Senate.

Instead of a look at Lee's use of extortion while at the NAACP, euphemistically called "consent decrees," and continued advocacy of policies the Supreme Court has ruled impermissible, Lauer's questions painted him as a victim of conservatives out to get Clinton. Here are all of Lauer's questions from December 12 as transcribed by the MRC's Eric Darbe:

"You take a look at your resume and you seem like a pretty good candidate to be assistant attorney general for civil rights. But you've run into a wall in Congress. And, as you know, the problem is that some conservative Republicans think that your support of affirmative action simply doesn't work for this job. How do you convince them that you're the right guy for the job?"

"But some of these Republicans, Orrin Hatch among them, say look here's a guy who is going to be in the middle of the civil rights policy in this country and he has beliefs, on affirmative action, that fly in the face of what we believe, the Republicans talking here. And that also are in direct opposition to certain laws that have been passed in this country. Are you being treated fairly here?"

"Kind of an interesting situation here, it would be a little strange for the Republicans to expect Bill Clinton to appoint or to nominate someone for this job who is anti-affirmative action, after all the President himself is in favor of affirmative action."

"There's a solution here, all be it a temporary solution. The President could make you what's called a recess nominee. Which he can give you the job for a year, almost a trial run. And that way Republicans can say hey he's pretty good at this and then vote on you, a year from now. Would you accept the job under those conditions?"

"But your talking about Congress here, so in other words, you would take the job, you'd consider taking job even though you'd know that you do not have the support in Congress at this time?"

"There is talk behind the scenes, Mr. Lee, that the Republicans would be willing to give you, almost any other job, but this one. Would you be willing to walk away form this, and take another job?"

"Good Luck to you, Bill Lann Lee, nice to meet you."

5. On Friday the MRC distributed a fax report relaying analysis conducted by Tim Lamer, Director of the MRC's Free Market Project, of how the networks covered the Kyoto conference. On Monday this will be posted at the top of the MRC Web page, but here's an excerpt:

Network Kyoto Conference Coverage Ignored Climate Scientists Skeptical of Global Warming Theories

Imposing an Energy Crisis Without Debate?

Polls commissioned by groups as diverse as Greenpeace and Citizens for a Sound Economy show that most climate scientists are nowhere near a consensus that human activity is causing a disastrous warming of the planet. Yet climate scientists skeptical of global warming were almost completely left out of the news this week as the delegates to an international conference on climate change in Kyoto, Japan agreed to drastic cuts in American energy use.

On the three major network evening news shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News), there were 19 stories about the conference from December 1 to 11. Only three included a soundbite from a climate scientist unsure of global warming theories. The rest simply assumed that science supports such theories.

On the December 8 NBC Nightly News, for instance, Tom Brokaw told viewers: "At the global warming talks in Japan today, almost unanimous opinion that human beings, in fact, do influence the earth's temperature, but there was agreement on little else." Peter Jennings reported, on the December 10 World News Tonight, that "negotiators from 160 countries struggled to the end for an agreement to control man-made gases that many scientists say are making the world dangerously warmer." The night before Jennings had said "most scientists" warn of dangerous warming. And on the December 1 CBS Evening News, correspondent Barry Petersen, announced that "environmentalists see catastrophes of biblical proportions, from droughts to melting ice caps that send sea levels rising."....

The lack of any concern for accuracy extended last week to the morning shows, especially ABC's Good Morning America. MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen caught these liberal statements offered as news:

-- News reader Kevin Newman on December 10: "Some strong indications this morning from a climate conference in Kyoto, Japan that a breakthrough is in the works on a treaty to cut greenhouse gases. Those are the gases that an industrial society spew into the atmosphere that most scientists believe are warming up the planet too quickly."

-- Reporter Carol Lin, December 11: "The agreement requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of global warming..."

Of course this is total Barbra Streisand. A September survey commissioned by Citizens for a Sound Economy found that most state and regional climatologists don't agree with ABC's assertions. Asked "Do you think historical data indicates that fluctuations in global temperatures are attributable to human influences such as burning fossil fuels?" just 25 percent agreed as 61 percent answered "No."

6. The headline of the week ran over Cindy Adams' recounting of how she and Hillary Clinton were asked to leave New York's University Club.

Bannered over pages 2 and 3 of the December 11 New York Post:


Can't beat that.

-- Brent Baker




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