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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday January 20, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 11) 
Public "Loves" Clinton's Plans; CBS: Time for Ruff But Not Hyde

1) CBS and NBC focused on the lack of Republican enthusiasm for Clinton's speech. ABC's Cokie Roberts insisted Clinton delivered a "very conciliatory" address. MSNBC's John Hockenberry imagined most viewers wished Washington would "get down to business."

2) Hours before Clinton's address his retirement system plan got rave reviews. ABC's Sam Donaldson dubbed it "daring, some would say audacious." NBC showcased a man who "loves" his "solutions."

3) The CBS Evening News gave Charles Ruff an uninterrupted minute-plus soundbite for his emotional counter to Henry Hyde's closing argument about what Americans died for in battle -- an entreaty CBS ignored the day Hyde uttered it.

4) ABC, CBS and NBC gave Charles Ruff an hour more than they gave the House managers on day one. ABC's Cokie Roberts described Ruff as "brilliant," CBS's Bob Schieffer oozed he was "quite eloquent."

5) And on the left: Charlie Gibson. On Monday's Good Morning America he asked Bob Dole why Republicans are dragging out the trial. On Tuesday, he pressed George Mitchell about why Republicans want to "drag this out."

6) Richard Scaife and the American Spectator are just as destructive as Larry Flynt, Al Hunt contended.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The length of Clinton's address limited the amount of time the networks had for analysis, especially on CBS which aired many more ads than ABC or NBC, including lengthy commercial blocks consuming most of the time between Clinton and the Republican response and again from after the Republicans spoke until nearly 11pm ET.

     CBS offered the earliest poll results, with Dan Rather announcing just before 11pm ET that 82 percent approved of Clinton's proposals versus a mere 13 percent who disapproved. Later, during ABC's Nightline, viewers learned that an ABC News poll discovered 77 percent approved of what Clinton said in his speech and 60 percent oppose his removal, an option favored by 36 percent.

     Here are some noteworthy instances of bias from Tuesday night coverage of the State of the Union address, made possible by the MRC's "Nightbeat Team" of analysts Jessica Anderson, Mark Drake and Paul Smith, including: how CBS and NBC blamed the lack of Republican enthusiasm, not Clinton's insistence on speaking, for discord in the chamber; how ABC's Cokie Roberts insisted Clinton delivered a "very conciliatory" and "bi-partisan" speech, but it took a Clintonista, George Stephanopoulos, to point out "This was quite a partisan speech;" how MSNBC's John Hockenberry imagined most viewers wished Washington would "get down to business" and forget impeachment and that Tom Brokaw claimed the agendas of Republicans and Clinton are "pretty much" the same.

     -- Republicans scolded for ruining the mood. Just after Clinton finished, Bob Schieffer told the CBS audience: "It was the most divided House that I can recall in recent years for a State of the Union message, Dan. Very odd."
     He soon elaborated: "While the Republicans were polite, but nothing beyond that. I must say I was a little bit surprised that they were not a little more enthusiastic than they were. But some of them, Dick Armey, the number two Republican in the House, if he applauded at all or ever stood up I never saw it. Trent Lott seldom rose to his feet."

     Just before signing off NBC's coverage at 11pm ET Tom Brokaw asked Gwen Ifill: "On the House side at least tonight, Gwen, I gather there were number of vacant seats and not a lot of enthusiasm for almost anything the President had to say."
     Ifill explained: "Yeah. There were obviously at least a dozen House Republicans who decided they weren't going to come at all and some who after the speech began, some pages sitting in the seats so there is a lot of bad feeling but also the President always ends up ahead in these sorts of things."

     -- Conciliatory and bipartisan? Immediately following Clinton, ABC's Cokie Roberts asserted: "You know, the President not only had his speech filled with bipartisan references, but I counted eight times that he added words of bipartisanship or words of congratulations to the Congress about their own about something. This is clearly a very conciliatory speech, trying very hard to work with these people who are trying him."

      Peter Jennings agreed: "Indeed, the President reaching out a couple of times, referring to the 'pioneering leadership of all of you.'"

     But a half hour later or so, after the Republican response, it fell to a partisan Democrat to point out the error of ABC's analysis. George Stephanopoulos told Jennings: "But, Peter, I guess I disagree with those who say this was very bipartisan and very conciliatory. All the rhetoric was, but in fact, this was, was quite a partisan speech. The President took the Republican goals, but he had Democratic means to get them, and you could almost see him looking in that Republican side and hoping they wouldn't know what to do, who would get up, who would sit down, and I think it was effective in that way, as well."

     Indeed, none of the network stars pointed out how Clinton had proposed a series of big spending proposals and new powers for the federal government.

     -- Clinton not liberal, but Largent conservative. Following the Republican response Peter Jennings commented: "The Republican response to the President from two young, upwardly-mobile, rising young Republican stars, Jennifer Dunn from Washington, Steve Largent from Oklahoma. Particularly in the case of Steve Largent, conservative wing of the Republican Party, as you can hear there in what he has to say, largely about the social issues."

     Funny, I heard a lot about a broad tax cut and building a missile defense.

     -- Lott and Clinton policies the same. During NBC coverage Tom Brokaw suggested: "The Senate Majority Leader said the Republican agenda would be Social Security reform, education -- getting money back to the classrooms, a tax rate cut, a defense readiness bill, that is, increasing the amount of money for the military and then something about drug rehabilitation. Sound familiar? That was pretty much the President's program as well. We'll hear from the Republicans after this station break."

     As Stephanopoulos said, Clinton's getting there differently than Republicans want.

     -- Get back to real issues. MSNBC's John Hockenberry to the media's favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, at 11:31pm ET: "Doris Kearns Goodwin, it seems to me, and as I was watching both the President's speech and the Republican response that Americans must look at this, if 57 million people look at this and go, 'Where is impeachment? Why is this happening? Will these people just get down to business and leave this impeachment thing alone?'"

     -- Peter Jennings, proper identification-challenged. Just past 9pm ET Jennings recited the names of those walking in: "After that, Carol Moseley-Braun. Sorry, Carol Browner who's the Director of the EPA....Sandy Berger there on the center of the screen, the President's National Security Adviser. Just a moment ago, a look at a couple of the Republican Senators, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, Olympia Snowe of Vermont."

     Snowe is from Maine.

     -- Koppel dared to ding the speech, shocking Paul Begala. Finally, a humorous item. On Nightline Ted Koppel recounted how Trent Lott was overheard after Clinton's speech asking "Does the man have no shame?" Koppel asked guest Paul Begala for a reaction, flustering Begala. So, Koppel stepped in: "Paul, I can't pretend to know precisely what Senator Lott was talking about, but let me suggest what might lend, you know, some credence to that kind of a reaction to the speech. The speech in some respects was a collection of applause lines."

     Begala, aghast at Koppel for daring to criticize Clinton's brilliance, shot back: "Nonsense."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Just hours before Clinton's address his Social Security plan got rave reviews from the networks. ABC's Sam Donaldson previewed what he described as Clinton's "daring, some would say audacious, plan..." NBC's Mike Jensen dedicated a whole story to a man who "loves" Clinton's Universal Savings Account (USA) and Social Security ideas.

     On the Tuesday, January 19 World News Tonight, Sam Donaldson began his preview piece, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
     "Peter, the President's centerpiece proposal tonight is the daring, some would say audacious, plan to do two things: save Social Security and deprive the Republicans of the ability to enact across-the-board tax cuts for 15 years. It's sure to stir up a political fire fight." Donaldson proceeded to explain how Clinton would propose using all of the surpluses for Social Security, Medicare, his USA idea and other spending.

     But Donaldson concluded by noting the short term benefit of Clinton's plan: "The President's proposal, far too complex to explain in a short period of time, is almost certainly not going to be totally enacted, but it may accomplish one of his principal objectives tonight: to create instant commentary and divert attention from his Senate trial. It's far preferable for the President to have people discussing tax cuts and Social Security, Peter, than whether to call witnesses in a trial that could remove him from office."

     NBC Nightly News dedicated a whole story to showing how popular Clinton's retirement system plans are except that sort of conservative part about investing in the stock market. MRC analyst Mark Drake transcribed the story which Mike Jensen began by exclaiming:
     "Marty Connor loves what the President will propose tonight."
     Connor: "I think government using the surplus money to help Social Security right now is a great idea."
     Jensen: "He's forty two, manages a sports store outside Boston. He and his wife have three sons, three college educations to pay for before they can even think about retiring. So when Marty heard about the new personal retirement account the President's proposing, he said he'd start one in a heartbeat...."

     After explaining how the USA plan would work Jensen moved to how Clinton will save Social Security: "To help pay for future retirement benefits, more than sixty percent of the government's overall budget surplus would go into the Social Security Trust Fund. More than twenty percent of that money for the first time would be invested in the stock market. Marty Connor's not so sure about that."

     Connor: "In the back of my mind I always worried if the stock market is gonna crash, what's gonna happen to Social Security, what's gonna happen to the money that's there."
     Jensen: "Still, he's pleased that the government is finally suggesting solutions to one of his generation's biggest worries, finding enough money to retire."

     How would we survive without Clinton "finally suggesting" a solution to this problem? Maybe by listening to conservatives twenty years ago who proposed allowing individuals to put their money into the stock market. Clinton will have the government control the money, a difference Jensen skipped over.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)ruff1-20.jpg (8913 bytes)The CBS Evening News gave Charles Ruff an incredibly long, unencumbered platform for his emotional counter to Henry Hyde's closing argument in which he had urged Senators to vote to convict in order to uphold the values Americans died for in battles from Normandy to Desert Storm -- a plea CBS ignored the day Hyde uttered it.

     At the top of Tuesday's show Bob Schieffer reviewed the opening defense argument from White House counsel Charles Ruff. Here's over half the story:
     Bob Schieffer: "Last week lead prosecutor Henry Hyde told Senators they could not be true to those who had died defending freedom if they left a President in office who had lied under oath. Ruff took exception."
     Ruff in the Senate: "I have no personal experience with war. I've only visited Normandy as a tourist. But I do know this: My father was on Omaha Beach 55 years ago [starting to cry] and I know how he would feel if he were here today. He didn't fight, no one fought for one side of this case or the other. He fought as all those did for our country, for our Constitution. And as long as each of us, manager, President's counsel, Senator, does his or her constitutional duty those who fought for their country will be proud."

     Does that look like a long soundbite? It is, one minute and two seconds to be exact. That's the longest soundbite I can recall ever seeing on CBS. And how much time did the CBS Evening News allocate on Saturday night to the argument from Hyde referenced by Schieffer? Zero seconds, el zippo. In total, on Saturday night CBS reporter Eric Engberg aired three soundbites from Republicans in the Senate totaling 25 seconds: 10 seconds for Charles Canady, 11 seconds for Hyde to say Republicans are not Clinton haters but love the rule of law, and another 4 seconds of Hyde reading a letter from a kid.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)Charles Ruff wowed ABC's Cokie Roberts and CBS's Bob Schieffer.

     The three broadcast networks stayed with Ruff's presentation from when he began a bit after 1pm ET until he finished at just past 3:30pm ET. Taking out the 15 minute break in the middle of Ruff's appearance, ABC, CBS and NBC gave the opening defense almost exactly an hour more time than they provided the opening from the House managers. Last Thursday, January 14, the three networks carried Henry Hyde and James Sensenbrenner from 1 to 2:15pm ET, then ducking out just as Ed Bryant began. All offered analysis until 2:30pm. (CBS ended coverage then while ABC and NBC then let affiliates return to normal shows but did continue feeding coverage to any affiliate which chose to pick it up.)

Just after Ruff wrapped up, ABC's Cokie Roberts gushed: "I think that doing that imaginary cross-examination of Vernon Jordan on the Senate floor was brilliant because it got to the point where Senators could suddenly see that this would probably not work very well for them. He really hit all the places that people were nervous, Democrats were nervous."

     Over on CBS Bob Schieffer was just as impressed, admiring Ruff for how he countered Hyde's employing of Normandy and, like Roberts, how he demonstrated the futility of gaining insights from witnesses:
     "Even if they think the President committed these offenses, do they constitute a threat to the Constitution and if they do, should he be removed from office. I thought that Mr. Ruff was quite eloquent in the way he wound that up. Just prior to that, a very clever pre-emptive strike...."

     Dan Rather also chimed in with his approval of how Ruff used his father's memory to counter Hyde's call to do right by those who died to protect America's values: "This is under the heading of this is a constitutional process but it's also theater, his curtain line was pretty emotional, packed a wallop."

     Schieffer's and Rather's praise is quite a flip from five days earlier. Here's Schieffer's January 14 verdict on Hyde and Sensenbrenner: "Thus far, Dan, we have not heard either Clarence Darrow or William Jennings Bryan, this has been fairly tedious."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes)Good Morning America co-host Charlie Gibson is consistent in consistently advocating the liberal view. On Monday he hit Republican Bob Dole from the left on why his party insisted on dragging out the trial process. On Tuesday, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, he hit Democrat George Mitchell from the left, wondering why Republicans want to "drag this out." Later, he regretted how the 1998 Lewinsky scandal derailed many of Clinton's proposals made in last year's State of the Union address.

     (Amongst his January 18 questions to Dole: "But Senator, if there's no way that this is going to turn around, if the votes aren't there, why is your party dragging this thing out?" To read his other questions to Dole, see the January 19 CyberAlert or check it out on the MRC Web site:


     Now to Tuesday morning. Gibson introduced the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader with this heaping of admiration:

      "You live a strange life these days. You worked on the Northern Ireland settlement. You're working now on baseball's problems. You're on the Olympic oversight situation with these allegations of bribes. You've become sort of the Judge Judy and Judge Wapner of our day."

     Instead of playing devil's advocate to Mitchell by quizzing him about why liberals want to subvert a legal process or whether Democrats have become the party of witness tampering and perjury, he tossed softballs right out of the White House spin manual:

     -- "Do we have a government in paralysis because of impeachment?"
     -- "But in some respects, isn't that happening in spite of the government, not because of it? You have a State of the Union address tonight where people are going to be listening for something the President isn't going to say. You have people in the chamber who've just impeached that man a month ago and the Senate has him on trial, and the government's not going to do anything until this is resolved."
    -- "But everything looks like witnesses, then the White House will call witnesses, we'll have depositions, we may have live testimony. Do you see us getting out of this without months and months passing?"
     -- "Bob Dole was here yesterday, a Republican, who said, look, the 67 votes aren't there and aren't going to be there to convict the President. So why, why drag this out when the public, so obviously, doesn't want it dragged out?"
     -- "Republicans, do you think they're walking off a cliff?"
     -- "Is this a nadir for American government? Can you think of any period in our history  where we've had this kind of gridlock in government and strange actions by people who aren't in it?"
     -- "How do we get out of it? How do you get this over with, 'cause they are going to call witnesses, Senator, you know what's going to happen."

     Gibson and co-host Diane Sawyer later lamented how the scandals sidetracked Clinton's policies last year, suggesting the partisan battles were what stood between the public and beneficial policies.

     Gibson: "We've been talking about whether the government is paralyzed by the impeachment process, and what chances the President has at getting the proposals that he will make tonight in his State of the Union enacted. USA Today went back and looked at last year's speech. The President made 27 major proposals. Only 10 of them got enacted, and even those, only in part. We have a scorecard on some of those....He asked for IRS reform, he got that. He asked for campaign finance reform, didn't get that, Republicans filibustered. Tobacco regulations, those ads killed that and the Senate did too. Family leave expansion, didn't get it. Child care credits, didn't get it. We have five more, there they are. Hiring more teachers, he got some money for that, but no school construction, didn't get the five-year plan enacted. Juvenile crime, minimum wage increase, Medicare expansion, patients bill of rights, didn't get 'em, didn't get 'em."
     Sawyer observed: "Very low score of success, very low score. In fact, we're told that it was the lowest for that year of any two-year presidency since the Eisenhower administration."
     Gibson attributed the shortcomings to scandals, not that Clinton's proposals were too liberal for a Republican Congress: "So it shows that impeachment, really having an effect, it's a very partisan division on Capitol Hill right now, and in Washington."


cyberno6.jpg (1848 bytes)Richard Mellon Scaife and American Spectator Editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, pornographers? To Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt those two conservatives are just as evil as Larry Flynt in how they've improperly intruded into Bill Clinton's life. On the January 16 Capital Gang Hunt told the CNN audience:

     "It's obscene that Larry Flynt gets any kind of attention. You're right. He is sleazy. I would point out I didn't hear the same objection from conservatives when the American Spectator, funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, the right-winger, launched an inquisition into Bill Clinton's private life."
     It's amazing how liberals are unable to distinguish between what is truly personal and the misuse of state employees to procure personal pleasure.  -- Brent Baker


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