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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday July 20, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 126)

Reviving the Myth of Camelot; Dan Rather Awed by "Kennedy Mystique"

1) ABC and CBS employed "An American Tragedy" graphic for the Kennedy story Monday night. NBC ended with a whitewash of the Kennedy family history: "The life of the Kennedys is one of the great American sagas" for which "they paid a terrible price."

2) A U.S. News editor conceded that when it comes to the Kennedys, "you suspend normal news judgment." Network stars used JFK Jr.'s passing as a chance to revive the liberal myth of the Kennedy presidency as "Camelot"; the family as American royalty.

3) Dan Rather fawned over the Kennedy family, referring to how they uphold Greek mythology and asserting "there is a Kennedy mystique and their history is mythical" as "we feel" the family's aching "because the mystique and the myth are deep within us."

4) Magazines on Kennedy. Newsweek: "...a sort of American royal. He was our closest equivalent to Princess Diana, a comparison that his sudden loss will now make inescapable." For the media.

5) ABC's Charles Gibson told Entertainment Tonight "that some of his fellow ABC journalists were guests at the family's wedding John and Carolyn were to attend."

6) As a new co-host of CNN's Crossfire, Mary Matalin told the Washington Post she doesn't think there is a liberal bias in the news media, though "we like to say that there is."

     >>> MRC's Tim Graham will testify Tuesday morning before a House committee about PBS/CPB funding and the controversy over some stations exchanging fundraising lists with the DNC. Graham will appear at a hearing being held by the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection. The hearing begins at 10am ET, July 20, and is on the C-SPAN schedule. But since C-SPAN will be covering the House floor session live the hearing will probably not air until Tuesday night. <<<

Correction: The July 19 CyberAlert reported how the CBS Evening News looked at "a woman at the Luby's mass shooting massacre in Colleen, Texas who became a state representative and advocate of concealed weapons." In taking down a summary of the story I spelled out the city name phonetically and then in a Rather-like lapse forgot to correct the spelling. That's "Killeen" Texas.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The Kennedy-Bessette plane crash story consumed barely half of Monday's World News Tonight on ABC, a bit more of the CBS Evening News and all but about two minutes of the NBC Nightly News. Both ABC and CBS ran their stories under the "An American Tragedy" moniker while NBC went with the more accurate on-screen graphic of "A Family Tragedy."

     NBC ended with a whitewash of the Kennedy family history as Tom Brokaw declared: "The life of the Kennedys is one of the great American sagas." A saga which includes both good and bad, but NBC skipped the bad side.

     Other than the Kennedy story, ABC managed to find time for full reports on airstrikes in Iraq, a Department of Justice report on the decline in violent crime last year and the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman, Eileen Collins. CBS ran only one full report on something non-Kennedy related, Scott Pelley on "the President's cherished goal" to achieve Middle East peace. The show ended with Anthony Mason on how Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg will now be in the spotlight as "the last heir to her father's legacy."

     NBC squeezed in a brief report from David Bloom about Clinton's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Tom Brokaw read a short item about how the U.S. military is watching China because of concern about tensions with Taiwan. Other than that it was all post crash news with Brokaw asserting of John F. Kennedy Jr.: "At his father's funeral young John became America's child when he saluted his father's passing casket."

     The July 19 Nightly News concluded with a tribute to the Kennedy family. Brokaw offered an approving overview which ignored how the family gained wealth by bootlegging liquor during prohibition:
     "The life of the Kennedys is one of the great American sagas. Poor immigrants, the Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds, came here in the mid-1800s escaping the potato famine of their native Irish soil. And from that humble arrival in Boston they built over the generations a dynasty of great wealth, political power and cultural impact unparalleled in their time. And, they paid a terrible price. NBC's Bob Faw tonight on the triumphs and the trials of the Kennedy's of Boston."
     From Boston Faw began: "On the Kennedy's home turf a wound was re-opened and a curse seemed to linger. In this Irish-American stronghold, the death of JFK Junior is like another death in the family."

     Faw talked to Jerry Burk, owner of Doyle's pub, about his sense of a family cursed. Faw also played soundbites from a 22-year-old waitress who felt a bond with JFK Jr. and a "devastated" bartender who saw in JFK Jr. the hope of young blue collar workers. The bartender maintained: "He was the touchstone for the idea of Camelot."

     Faw continued: "But here there were not only condolences, there was also a renewed sense of a family being stalked."
     Burk: "People have been walking in all day long and all day yesterday saying I'm very, very sorry to hear about this, there might be something in fact to the curse, the Kennedy curse."
     Faw then offered a review of the family's tragedies, but mixed murders with things they did to themselves and ignored the bad acts family members have committed:
     "Airplane crashes killed Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. and his sister Kathleen, assassins cut down JFK and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Senator Edward Kennedy broke his back when a plane went down, David Kennedy died from a drug overdose, Michael Kennedy in a skiing accident. After all that the regulars at Doyle's concluded history does not play favorites."
     Burk: "It's sad. John Kennedy is the one who said life is not fair. Life is not fair."

     Being murdered by an assassin is a tragedy but killing yourself by overdosing on drugs is your own fault. And before he skied into a tree while irresponsibly playing on a slope, Michael was having sex with his under-aged babysitter.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Frequently over the weekend and Monday, especially during the cable networks' non-stop coverage, journalists and guests used John F. Kennedy Jr.'s tragic death as an opportunity to revive dreams about "Camelot" and how everyone considers the Kennedys to be America's Royal Family. Many may, but not conservatives and others opposed to the family's liberal politics.

     I have no doubt JFK Jr. was a fine and decent man, probably in part because of how his mother raised him apart from the Kennedy family, and don't object to tribute's to his life's works, but when journalists start using his passing as a hook to revive "Camelot," a myth they originally created, or to call the Kennedys "our Royal Family," that's worth noting.

     Some examples:

     -- Suspend news judgment and pour on the praise. On CNN's live Reliable Sources at 11:30am Sunday, MRC analyst Paul Smith noticed, Brian Kelly of U.S. News & World Report conceded the media's inclinations:
     "Kennedy is part of this vast national soap opera that we've all been wrapped up in now for, you know, 35, 40 years. It really -- you suspend normal news judgment, I think, when you're dealing with Kennedys. That's certainly the feeling that we came to when this all broke."

     UPI's Helen Thomas added: "Everything that happened to the First Family, they added a certain glamour everybody could tie into in some way. And I think that's what happened. We think of the family. We think of all of the tragedies and the glamour and the mischief and so forth all wrapped up into one, but mostly hope."

     -- "Royal Family" media label accurate. Later on NewsStand:
     CNN & Time, reporter Jeff Greenfield, who once toiled for Robert Kennedy and who normally cuts through media caricatures, suggested: "It's been decades since the label of 'Our Royal Family' was applied to the Kennedys. But now with another generation climbing the political ladder with another unbelievable meeting of joy and sorrow, this may be one of the rare times when a manufactured media label may actually be close to the mark."

     -- Caroline is all that's left of Camelot. MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught this from ABC's Beth Nissen on Sunday's World News Tonight, which assumed Camelot was a true phenomenon beyond dispute:
     "Officials were careful to say there might still be hope, but most of us saw it, almost from the first, as a tragedy, another sad act in the drama of the Kennedys, a family that has long starred on America's center stage. Now of the young family that once made the White House into Camelot, only one is still among us -- Caroline."

     Similarly, on Monday's Today, MRC analyst Mark Drake observed, Katie Couric, live from Hyannisport, declared as fact:
     "With the death of JFK Jr., there is now only one survivor of Camelot. That, of course, is Caroline Kennedy, the little girl who walked her father to the Oval Office and rode a pony on the White House lawn. And now grown up with a family of her own, Caroline remains our only link to those golden years."

     -- The Royal Family's "Prince." Also on Monday's Today Matt Lauer contended: "For many of us, this weekend evoked memories of two summers ago and another death, Diana, Princess of Wales, She was an actual princess. JFK Jr. was the closest thing this country had to a prince. They both died in their mid '30s in tragic accidents on summer weekends. Diana had once suggested that JFK Jr's approach to fame might be a useful model for her son."

     -- Hollywood too. On Monday's syndicated Access Hollywood two stars at a party for an upcoming movie, Inspector Gadget, conveyed how they consider the Kennedy family to be royalty:
     Joely Fisher: "It's difficult to put on bright colored clothing and fix up your hair and your face and go to a party really in celebration, I mean of course the Kennedy family is like our royalty and we all know, we all feel for them, we all feel like they're our family."
     Connie Stevens: "It just makes me ill because, well, it's part of my era. I think that he's our prince."


rather0720.jpg (16150 bytes)cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) That's all pretty mild compared to what Dan Rather delivered Saturday afternoon and Monday night. He maintained the Kennedy family story "is the kind of thing that made Greek mythology survive through the ages" and asserted "there is a Kennedy mystique and their history is mythic" as "some of the aching grief the family feels tonight we feel because the mystique and the myth are deep within us."

     -- About 4:15pm ET on Saturday, July 17 during live CBS News coverage, as located by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:
     "You search through Greek mythology, about which I'm not an expert, you have to say to yourself, this is the kind of thing, I don't mean this story, but the on-going saga of the 'star-crossed' Kennedys, is the kind of thing that made Greek mythology survive through the ages. I've heard it said, and you face something like this, whatever the story turns out to be, even if it has the happiest of endings, it's woven into this tapestry, getting to be a very large tapestry of the myth of Camelot. It's the kind of thing that lasts through the ages, when much of what we think is important disappears, turns out to be a half line in future history books. This is the kind of thing, the Kennedy legacy, that tends to endure, whether we like it or not."

     I bet Rather likes it.

     -- Leading into the last ad break on Monday's 10pm ET/PT 48 Hours, just after interviewing Jesse Jackson, Rather adopted JFK Jr. for all of us: "When this special 48 Hours returns, a tribute to America's son."

     After the break on the July 19 show Rather fulfilled his promise but transferred the tribute from the one Kennedy who died Friday night to the whole clan:
     "We Americans, even those among us who have never liked the Kennedy's politics, have long been fascinated by the Kennedy mystique. Or as some call it, the Kennedy myth. The dictionary defines mystique as 'an aura of heightened meaning surrounding something to which special power or mystery is given.' A myth is 'a traditional story dealing with ancestors or heroes,' a story that 'shapes the world view of a people or delineates the customs or ideals of a society.' By those definitions, like it or not, there is a Kennedy mystique and their history is mythical.
     "The world outside of America may see this more clearly than we do ourselves. Their history, the history of the Kennedy's in the last half of the 20th century, is inextricably intertwined with our history as a people. Whether this will continue deep into the 21st century neither we nor they can know. What we do know is that some of the aching grief the family feels tonight we feel because the mystique and the myth are deep within us. That's 48 Hours for tonight, an American Tragedy. For CBS News, Dan Rather reporting. Good night."

     ++ Watch Rather's homage to the Kennedy family. Tuesday morning the MRC's Sean Henry and Kristina Sewell will post a RealPlayer clip of Rather's ending comments. Go to: http://www.mrc.org


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) The latest weekly news magazines mourned the passing of another member of "America's Royal Family." Newsweek laid it on thick, the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens noticed in putting together this week's MRC MagazineWatch on the July 26 editions. Newsweek asserted: "He was more than our 'Prince Charming,' as the New York tabs called him...We etched the past and the future on his fine face."

     Here's Geoffrey's MagazineWatch review of Kennedy coverage:

Coverage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash dominated the July 26 news magazines and their covers. If the week-after issues filled with Princess Diana news are any indication, the news magazines will have their best sales week of 1999. Time merely noted a "commemorative issue" with his name and life span. Newsweek's cover said "AGAIN: A Kennedy Family Tragedy," and U.S. News & World Report just used "The Kennedy Curse." Only U.S. News also featured the late Mrs. Kennedy on the cover.

While the coverage was for the most part sober, some writers couldn't resist the opportunity to make the perfunctory regal references to the liberal Kennedy clan.

At Time, the headline to a Nancy Gibbs story trumpeted: "He Was America's Prince. An Icon of Both Magic and Grief Who Flew His Own Course to the Lost Horizon."

But Time lionized the whole family. In a piece entitled, "Look Homeward Angel Once Again," essayist Roger Rosenblatt waxed poetically about the Kennedy curse taking on the proportion of Greek tragedy and then ranked the Kennedys in the pantheon of great political dynasties: "Love or hate the Kennedys, there is no family in American history like them-Not the Adamses, not the Roosevelts. They may lack the blue-blood lineage, but they have stuck together (even if the glue has sometimes been messy), have forged and sustained a civilization before our eyes."

Even conservative writer Peggy Noonan claimed "His father lived a life of meaning and drama, a heroic life that spanned less than 50 years," and wondered of Junior, "Wouldn't he live a giant life too? What kind of man will King Arthur's son be?"

Over at Newsweek, Jonathan Alter laid it on thick: "The Kennedy family will play a role in American public life in the next century. A member of the family, perhaps Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, may even be elected President some day. But we will never see a figure quite like John F. Kennedy Jr. again. He was more than our 'Prince Charming,' as the New York tabs called him. We etched the past and the future on his fine face."

His colleague Kenneth Auchincloss drooled: "Blessed with a handsome face and a famous name, ample wealth and five-star celebrity, JFK Jr. was the golden boy of his generation, a darling of magazine covers (the sexiest man alive, cooed People) and a sort of American royal. He was our closest equivalent to Princess Diana, a comparison that his sudden loss will now make inescapable." Historian Douglas Brinkley echoed the thought in an essay, recounting how he suggested to JFK Jr. that he could be seen like John Quincy Adams: "That's kind of you...But I feel more like Princess Di."

U.S. News was less prone to lapse into royal worship. Brian Kelly and Kenneth Walsh referred instead to geography: "Just miles from the place where his Uncle Ted drove off the Chappaquiddick bridge and into the rolls of political infamy almost exactly 30 years ago, John F. Kennedy Jr. disappeared." But they also listed Chappaquiddick in a listing of family tragedies: "Since World War II, the Kennedy family has been plagued by a series of disasters that, taken together, stretch the bounds of coincidence."

Certainly, Ted's infamous efforts to leave the scene of an accident and fake like he hadn't been there weren't coincidental.

     END Excerpt

     Other topics covered in MagazineWatch:
     On the campaign trail, Newsweek's Howard Fineman reported on George W. Bush's finessing of the "hard right" members in his party but didn't get around to mentioning Al Gore and Bill Bradley's attempts to woo the "hard left" in their party.
     Time magazine began a report on Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak meeting in Washington by asking the hardly-unbiased James Carville about his two clients: Which one is smarter? Time found "'Clinton is brilliant but nowhere near the mathematician or musician that Barak is.' Then again, Carville notes, the President has astonishing people skills."
     U.S. News & World Report found a marriage expert to endorse Bill and Hillary Clinton living the 21st century in separate states. "In a way, it's the ideal situation. They can stay married ...and they don't have to deal with the day-to-day problems of marriage."

     To read the July 20 MagazineWatch, go to the MRC's home page or directly to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/magwatch/mag19990720.html


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Maria Shriver isn't the only media figure with Kennedy connections. On Monday's Entertainment Tonight Mary Hart talked to Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson and learned:
     "Gibson told us that some of his fellow ABC journalists were guests at the family's wedding John and Carolyn were to attend. Kennedy family friend Diane Sawyer may have been among those guests. Sawyer has been noticeably absent from ABC's news coverage of the accident, reportedly because she's too emotional to cover the story."

     Over on Access Hollywood Pat O'Brien relayed: "Gibson also revealed to me that his Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer, a good friend of JFK Junior's, has been too shaken to cover the story."

     Indeed, Connie Chung co-hosted Monday and Barbara Walters pitched in this morning.



cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) Mary Matalin, tell us it isn't so. CNN announced Saturday that Mary Matalin is a new "on the right" co-host of CNN's Crossfire, but now she says she doesn't think there is any liberal media bias.

     Recounting her conversation with Mary Matalin in Pasadena at the network press tour, in Monday's Washington Post reporter Lisa de Moraes wrote: "Now a member of the press, Matalin said Saturday she doesn't think there is a liberal bias in the news media, though 'we like to say that there is.'"

     Sounds like one too many nights sleeping with James Carville.

     If she won't attack the media for being too liberal what will she advocate? In the July 18 Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Bark relayed: "Perhaps this isn't a bulletin, but Ms. Matalin plans to carry the battle for George W. Bush whenever Crossfire focuses on campaign issues. 'He's the kind of conservative I am,' Ms. Matalin said in an interview. 'He's inclusive, he's broad-minded, he solves problems as a social entrepreneur. He's done it in Texas and he can do it in the Oval Office. He's a good guy and he's not afraid to lose, which is why he's gonna win.'"

     In 1996 and 1997, when she hosted a CBS Radio talk show, Matalin served as a judge for the MRC's annual Best of Notable Quotables issue, the Award's for the Year's Worst Reporting.

     Unless what I still see as the liberal media misquoted her, I guess we shouldn't count on her to be judge this year. -- Brent Baker


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