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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday October 13, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 167)

GOP Budget Views Shutdown; Orwellian Starr "Stained" the U.S.

1) ABC and NBC gave Clinton unanswered soundbites to denounce the Republicans on the budget. ABC highlighted wasteful spending by Gingrich and Lott and mourned the loss of campaign finance reform.

2) The House voted, but "America shrugged," argued Newsweek's Jonathan Alter on NBC Nightly News.

3) ABC's Lisa McRee wondered if it's "too hopeful" to think that Democrats will not vote for articles of impeachment. Cokie Roberts corrected GMA which means she corrected herself.

4) "As much as Clinton stained the dress, Starr stained the country to nail him for it," decried Time's Margaret Carlson.

5) "We've lost privacy," thanks to Ken Starr. CNN's Bruce Morton argued: "If this reminds you of George Orwell's novel, 1984, it should."

6) The woman CBS claimed a six month prison sentence would prevent from getting an abortion was really already six months pregnant.

7) A "Partisan" House vote or did Democrats "Back GOP"? The New York Times versus the Washington Post.

Corrections: In a joke about Clinton the October 9 CyberAlert referred to his "desert." That should have read dessert, as in food not parched land. At another point that same CyberAlert quoted Peter Jennings as saying: "After all the countries been through in the last eight or nine months..." Countries should have been country's.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Monday night the broadcast networks all led with preparations for an airstrike against Serbia and the possibility an agreement might be reached to put them off. Before the holiday weekend, on Friday night, CNN and NBC began with Kosovo/Serbia, but the CBS and FNC evening shows led with pieces on White House reaction to the impeachment hearings vote and a look a what's next for the House Judiciary Committee.

     ABC went first Friday with the budget showdown but in three nights of coverage while ABC provided multiple platforms for Clinton to denounce the Republicans and their conservative actions on policy and process, the network never allowed a Republican to make a policy statement or criticize Clinton on policy. NBC didn't do much better, running unanswered soundbites from Clinton on Friday and Saturday night. (Football bumped the CBS Evening News in the east on Saturday and Sunday and NBC Nightly News on Sunday.)

     Below is a rundown of how ABC and then NBC didn't meet fundamental journalistic norms of balance on the budget showdown.

     -- On the Friday, October 9 World News Tonight Sam Donaldson began:
     "Both Republicans and Democrats spent the day not coming to terms with each other on final legislation, but trying to persuade the public that it's the other side's fault that it's come down to the wire with so much left undone."
     Donaldson played a clip of Tom Daschle blaming the Republican leadership before Donaldson allowed Tom DeLay to point out Clinton's inattention and how he had yet to meet this year with the Republican leadership. Donaldson then let Clinton take a shot at the Republicans on policy:
     "Not so fast replied the President flanked down at the White House by fellow Democrats, not so fast."
     Clinton: "What is the record to date of the majority? They have killed the bill to reform the way we treat tobacco and to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. They killed campaign finance reform. They killed the minimum wage."

     Donaldson elaborated on Clinton's points: "Now said the President the Congress must pass certain legislation, beginning with more money for education, a new agriculture measure to replace the one he just vetoed as inadequate, the $18 billion for the International Monetary Fund and of course final funding for several government departments whose appropriation bills have never been passed. Late today Congress moved toward keeping the government open over the weekend in an effort to settle all this."
     Donaldson concluded by telling anchor Charlie Gibson: "The President challenged Congress today to stay in session until it passes his education legislation. The Republicans replied they would stay until the work was done. But the fact is Charlie legislators of both parties can't wait to get out of town in order to explain to the voters why it is so that little got done and why it is that's the other side's fault."

     Next, John Cochran highlighted how little Congress has accomplished, with an emphasis on how a liberal proposal failed. After explaining that it took until Friday for the House to pass a bill making it harder to declare bankruptcy, Cochran asserted that the House had passed half as many bills as last year. Cochran continued: "Republicans are so worried about charges of a do-nothing Congress that they have new ads touting what everyone agrees are real accomplishments like tax cuts and the balanced budget."
     Ad clip: "or health insurance that goes with you when you get a better job."
     Cochran countered: "But all those laws were passed either last year or the year before that. The slowdown began in January and you know what happened then. The scandal diverted attention from popular issues that might have received more debate and public support like campaign finance reform. When the Senate decided to kill reform no one noticed because the vote came the day after the Starr report was delivered to Capitol Hill."
     Having highlighted the media's favorite liberal cause, Cochran concluded: "It's not just Congress that was distracted, so was a weakened President who showed little of his usual skill in fighting for bills he wanted. Americans have made it clear they do not want the scandal to effect the nation's business, but it already has."

     There's no World News Tonight anywhere on Saturday's during college football season, but ABC gave Clinton more time on Sunday. The October 11 show led with the gay beating in Wyoming and then went to Mike Von Fremd on the budget fight. He announced:
     "In a rare Sunday meeting in the cabinet room the President, flanked by Democratic leaders, blasted the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to pass his budget and education package to repair old schools and higher more teachers."
     Clinton: "We are waiting for the Republican majority in Congress to bring this year's education investment bill to the floor. The delay must end on education. Congress must choose progress over partisanship."
     Von Fremd allowed Trent Lott to speak, but not to express any policy view about empowering local officials to control the money. Instead, von Fremd showed Lott just saying they would have a meeting Monday morning.
     Leading into a clip of Newt Gingrich saying Congress will stay until a deal is made, von Fremd recalled: "Three years ago Newt Gingrich and the Republicans were blamed for the government shutdown, something they want to avoid this time around."
     Von Fremd did then show himself asking Clinton, in a White House meeting earlier in the day, a process question: "Republican leaders were saying this morning that if you were serious about reaching this budget deal that you would stay in Washington instead of going on the fundraisers tomorrow and the following day."
     But, by the end of the story, no Republican or conservative got to counter Clinton's first soundbite about how his plan equals "progress."

     Having failed to explore the GOP view on the budget -- whether from the Republican view of allowing localities to control education funding or pointing out how Clinton's spending exceeds his agreement or even from a conservative view critical of the Republicans for failing to fight for reduced spending -- on Monday night ABC highlighted wasteful spending advocated by Gingrich and Lott. After anchor Charlie Gibson noted Clinton and Congress had agreed to another two-day deal, he announced: "Somehow there always seems to be enough for the pet projects of powerful politicians, especially military projects."

     John Martin explained: "When Congress passed the Defense budget Speaker Newt Gingrich blamed President Clinton for failing to ask for enough money to keep the military strong."
     Gingrich, October 6: "The President can talk about Kosovo or Bosnia or Iraq or Korea but the fact is we have to pay for and strengthen a military force capable of backing up those speeches."
     Martin: "Gingrich was so concerned he decided to give the Pentagon things it didn't want. This bill he is signing contains $464 million to build seven C-130 cargo planes. They just happen to be built in his home town of Marietta, Georgia and that's six more than the Pentagon asked for. Mr. Gingrich wouldn't talk to us about the planes but this isn't the first time the Pentagon has been ordered to take something. In fact, there's even money in the budget this year for a helicopter carrier it didn't ask for, but getting back to those planes."

     After Air Force General Michael Ryan complained he's not allowed to deploy the planes where he wants and that his budget does not include the cost of maintenance for the planes, Martin added Trent Lott as a culprit: "One place they are being told to put one new plane is Mississippi, the home of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott."
     Following soundbites from Lott and Democrat David Obey, who dubbed the planes a "pork project for the Speaker," Martin concluded with the cost: "Since 1994 Congress has ordered 20 C-130s the Pentagon did not ask for at a cost of $1 billion. It's your money."

     -- NBC Nightly News also gave Clinton time to denounce Republicans for hurting children but never found time for the GOP or conservative side. On Friday night Claire Shipman began her story by noting that Clinton "insists Republicans give him the money he wants for education."
     Viewers heard this shot from Clinton: "They have tried to erode my commitment to saving Social Security first in the House of Representatives. But still it is not too late for us to go forward together on our children's future."

     Shipman moved on to the fight with no soundbite from a Republican, reporting that the White House thinks it will get funding for Head Start and child literacy while Republicans believe they will win on tax breaks for farmers "and on the controversial issue of the way the next census will be counted."

     From Capitol Hill, Gwen Ifill hit several topics but did not allow any time for a Republican to counter Clinton. Ifill noted that "In the House lawmakers approved a bankruptcy bill to make it tougher for consumers to erase bad debts, but the President says it favors credit card companies and he will veto it."
     Over video of Democrats marching up the Capitol steps she announced: "And Democrats staged one last attempt to salvage a political lost cause: HMO reform." Jumping to her third topic, Ifill next looked at how Republican Representative Jay Dickey's vote for both resolutions angered Republican leaders, but "Dickey's unorthodox vote apparently didn't cost him at home." Ifill illustrated that with a soundbite from a man in Arkansas: "A lot of other Republicans should have had the guts to be that objective and do that."
     Finally, she noted that Judiciary Committee members are drawing up wish lists of witnesses.

     Saturday, October 10, NBC Nightly News led with Gwen Ifill on how the two sides are not so far apart, but they do still disagree on spending for drug abuse and education. After Tom Daschle claimed the Democratic bill "deals with urgent needs facing America's public schools," Ifill led into a clip of Senator Pete Domenici by outlining one of the GOP's arguments that ABC never bothered to mention: "But Republicans argue that Democrats are busting the balanced budget and dipping into the surplus they promised to save for Social Security."

     Next, from the White House John Palmer gave Clinton some more unanswered time, highlighting how Clinton was "criticizing Senate Republicans for rejecting his bill to clamp down on managed health care programs, warning in his weekly radio broadcast the same fate should not happen to his education proposal."
     Clinton in his radio broadcast: "I do not want to see this Congress walk away from America's school children as it has walked away from America's patients. We should be able to make real bipartisan progress on education."
     Palmer followed with a clip of Erskine Bowles saying Clinton's proposal will help education by "reducing the size of classrooms" and adding 100,000 teachers.

     Time allowed for the GOP radio broadcast: Zilch.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) For Saturday's NBC Nightly News Newsweek's Jonathan Alter set out to prove that everyone wants to move on and doesn't understand why the House voted for unlimited hearings. Alter opened his piece, interspersed with clips from the House debate:
     "A fierce debate in the Capitol Thursday. But at the same moment Congress agonized over history, America shrugged."
     Alter introduced a series of soundbites denouncing the focus on he scandal: "At a Los Angeles restaurant....A grocery store in Dearborn, Michigan....A coffee bar in Atlanta."
     Finally, he settled in New Jersey. Sitting at the counter he told viewers: "Here at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, New Jersey they like to hash over the scandal with their hash browns, but they're not necessarily going to vote over it. With three weeks to go before the mid-term elections, most politics is still local."
     He ran a some soundbites from a waitress and a businessman expressing more interest in local matters before turning to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Center: "Public opinion really hasn't changed because people haven't learned anything new." Alter picked up Kohut's thought, concluding: "And unless they do, Washington's obsession will never be theirs."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Wishful thinking? On Friday's Good Morning America, MRC analyst Ross Adams noticed that co-host Lisa McRee, in Dorset, Vermont for fall foliage, asked ABC's Cokie Roberts:
     "Cokie, so many people have said that since only 31 Democrats voted with the Republicans yesterday, that at the end of this inquiry it's very unlikely that any Democrats will vote for the articles of impeachment. Is that too hopeful?"

     Roberts replied that's "way ahead of the game here," but then corrected an earlier item: "Keep in mind only five members of the House, you all said earlier it was ten, it was five, only five members of the House voted against any inquiry at all."

     Indeed, in the first half hour of the October 9 show Kevin Newman asked Paul Begala: "But how partisan was it really I mean? All but ten members of Congress voted for some kind of investigation into the President's behavior, particularly into the Monica Lewinsky. That's significant. How do you square that?"

     Gee, where did he get the idea that ten voted no to both resolutions? On World News Tonight the night before a reporter told Peter Jennings: "It is significant that the Democrats did have their own inquiry plan too and almost all of them voted for it, so one way or the other, almost every single member of the House of Representatives today, only ten voted against proceeding with some kind of inquiry of impeachment against the President of the United States."

     The name of the reporter who passed along the erroneous information on ABC's evening show? Cokie Roberts.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Like Clinton stained the dress, "Starr stained the country," declared Time magazine's Margaret Carlson. In an October 12 "Public Eye" column in Time about how Starr "remains a mystery himself," Carlson concluded with some ominous implications about the Starr-directed grand jury appearance by Bill Clinton at the White House:
     "Coming out on to the White House driveway on the day after he had violated all norms of privacy, he jauntily gave his trademark wave and his patented grin, one that doesn't involve eye movement, carrying himself as if he were President and as if there were a crowd of well-wishers rather than a ravenous camera crew awaiting him, as if he were on some high horse instead of on some low road. 'You cannot defile the temple of justice,' he has said in explaining his relentless pursuit of Clinton. But Starr did. As much as Clinton stained the dress, Starr stained the country to nail him for it. And his party goes on and on."

     ("...on the day after he had violated all norms of privacy...." I'm somewhat baffled by her reference to the day after when I assume she's referring to Starr violating Clinton's privacy that day in the Map Room testimony.)


bmortcap.jpg (19971 bytes)cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Great media minds and Starr haters think alike. Carlson is upset by how he "violated all norms of privacy" and on Sunday's Late Edition CNN's Bruce Morton recalled the book "1984," claiming that by violating people's privacy Starr fueled the sordid scandal and created "Orwell's world."

     In his end of the show essay for October 11 Morton showed Democrat Robert Wexler on the House floor complaining: "The global economy is crumbling and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Saddam Hussein hides weapons and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky. Genocide rakes Kosovo, and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky."

     Morton agreed, but warned: "Yes, neither one can worry full time about global recession or murderous Serbs right now. They're busy with lawyers and depositions and so on. But we've lost maybe forever one other thing, perhaps more valuable. We've lost privacy.
     "This shabby tale has reminded us that people, or government can record your telephone calls, that people or government can wear wires and record what you say [over video of Linda Tripp]. That people or government can demand that your bookstore reveal what you read. That people or government can raid your computer and read messages you thought you'd erased. Can access your telephone records, your bank accounts and so on, and so on and so on."

     After showing Clinton in his testimony saying he knew Lewinsky would talk, Morton insisted: "Anyone of us could be investigated like this and we would be able to keep no secrets about love or sex or money -- no secrets about anything. If this reminds you of George Orwell's novel, 1984, it should. The government in that book poked and pried everywhere. Its slogan was, big brother is watching you. And with the aid of the thought police, he was."

     Dramatic pause, then: "Welcome to Orwell's world."

     Morton held Starr the prosecutor responsible: "Lovers, like cold war spies, may have to meet in parks in open spaces away from hidden microphones. Coded messages maybe. One time pads, all the stuff James Bond taught us how to use. Maybe the loss of privacy will make us virtuous, chaste in word and deed but probably not. The President knew he'd be found out and seems not to have cared. So welcome to the brave new world in which the letter P stands not for privacy, but for poking and peeking and prying and for prosecutor, coming soon perhaps to life near yours."

     Only if you make the first move and commit perjury in a court proceeding.


cyberno6.jpg (1848 bytes) An update on the woman denied an abortion by a judge's tough sentence, at least in the version portrayed by CBS News. "Locked inside this Ohio jail is a 21-year-old pregnant woman who wants to have an abortion. Sitting inside this courthouse is a judge who won't let it happen." So bemoaned reporter Diana Olick in opening an October 8 CBS Evening News story detailed in the October 9 CyberAlert.

     I suggested that despite Olick's implication that a six month sentence from the judge would stretch from the woman's first to third trimester, she had been pregnant more than three months when she appeared before the judge. I was correct. The CBS story aired two days after Yuriko Kawaguchi's October 6 sentencing. An October 8 AP story, the MRC's Tim Graham alerted me to, reported that on October 6 Kawaguchi, "who is more than five months' pregnant" and had pleaded "guilty August 10 to forgery in a credit-card scam, was sentenced to six months in prison, with credit for four months already spent in jail."

     In other words, she was already into her sixth month of pregnancy when she faced Judge Patricia Cleary, whom CBS portrayed as an insensitive anti-abortion crusader. Her previous four months in jail may well have prevented her from obtaining an abortion, but her subsequent six month sentence only stopped her from trying to get an abortion months outside the normal first trimester time frame.

     Nonetheless, having failed to tell viewers about how the sentence was imposed days not months ago and skipping over the fact that all but two months were suspended, Olick had declared: "When Kawaguchi is released in about a month she'll be close to seven months pregnant, forced to have her child."

     See the October 9 CyberAlert for more on Olick's story.


cyberno7.jpg (1724 bytes) The headlines Friday, October 9, in America's two most influential dailies:

     -- The Washington Post: "Impeachment Inquiry Approved; 31 House Democrats Back GOP."

     -- The New York Times: "House, In a Partisan 258-176 Vote, Approves a Broad, Open-Ended Impeachment Inquiry."

     As so many in the media emphasized, it was a solemn vote in the House. But not solemn enough for the New York Times to rise above inserting liberal spin. -- Brent Baker

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