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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday July 22, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 128)

Ted Tribute; Kennedy Family "Values" in "National Bosom"; No Scandal Qs

1) "Yet another test of Ted Kennedy's resiliency, yet another test of his endurance," ABC's Morton Dean extolled Wednesday night. CBS marveled at how people who never met JFK Jr. are grieving for him.

2) Today wondered who will "pick up the mantle" of Camelot. Jonathan Alter advocated Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Couric lamented how the massive coverage "takes a sweetness and specialness out of the images that we see."

3) CNN's Chris Black admired how "the legacy of values and a significant achievement has endured" in the Kennedy family as Jeff Greenfield suggested Americans have drawn them "into the national bosom."

4) On tax cuts NBC relayed only Clinton's viewpoint. Tuesday night ABC's Linda Douglass worried "voters may well get a tax cut whether they want one or not." Wednesday night: "The question tonight is whether any plan is going to pass."

5) Spreading the blame around, Dan Rather asserted secrets spilled to China "in the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton years."

6) At Clinton's press conference reporters avoided Chinese espionage and pressed Clinton from the left on health care. On FNC Mara Liasson suggested he's interacting so much with the press now "because we're not asking him any scandal questions anymore."

     >>> Bozell to appear Thursday morning on MSNBC to discuss JFK Jr. death coverage. MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell is scheduled to appear Thursday, July 22, in the first half of MSNBC's Watch It with Laura Ingraham. The show airs for one hour at 11am ET, 10am CT, 9am MT and 8am PT. <<<

     >>> Testimony of Tim Graham, the MRC's Director of Media Analysis, to the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection, is now up on the MRC Web site along with two video clips in RealPlayer format of his July 20 testimony which reads in part: "This erupting PBS-DNC fundraising scandal demonstrates what can happen when Congress and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have done very little to lift the veil of privacy that supposedly 'public' stations draw around their own financial arrangements. Behind our backs, PBS stations have constructed an indirect form of taxpayer- financed campaigns, at least for the Democrats. But the lack of oversight means the taxpayer is asked to put up and shut up." Go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/press/news/pr19990720a.html <<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) For the fifth straight night the three broadcast network evening shows all led Wednesday, July 21, with JFK Jr. death-related stories. All started with three stories about the bodies being found, how the search was conducted and memorial service plans. Like Tuesday night, NBC devoted the most time to the story, once again allocating over half its newscast.

     In a sign that ABC and CBS have returned to a normal news judgment routine, ABC's World News Tonight featured a look at the lack of community and things for kids to do in suburbs and the CBS Evening News checked out the controversy over genetically-altered crops. (Still no last part of CBS's "Armed America" series.)

     "The Senator's endurance and resiliency have been tested time and time again," admired ABC's Morton Dean as World News Tonight caught up with NBC and ran a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy. But unlike NBC on Tuesday night, ABC failed to call his politics liberal.

     CBS ended by marveling at how the nation has moved from observing to taking part in grieving as those paying tribute outside the Kennedy-Bessette apartment "were strangers to Kennedy, but in their minds, even though they were never near him, they are still close to him." CBS's Bob Schieffer managed to link the Kennedy tragedy to the tax debate, reporting that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has offered to fly back to vote if necessary. (See item #4 today for a look at tax bill coverage.)

     -- ABC's World News Tonight ended with Morton Dean on Ted Kennedy as family grief counselor and surrogate father: "The Senator's endurance and resiliency have been tested time and time again." Morton asserted that "religion has played an important part in his survival," as he outlined the many tragedies in the Kennedy family history.

     While NBC's Tom Brokaw on Tuesday night referred to Kennedy as the "aging liberal lion of the Senate," Morton avoided any such labeling as he concluded by simultaneously pointing out Kennedy's shortcomings while also admiring his resilience and endurance:
     "As Ted Kennedy persevered and rose from a lightly regarded junior brother of political heavyweights to one of the most formidable forces in the U.S. Senate, he survived questions about his own integrity and personal conduct, heavy drinking, reports of extra-marital escapades and Chappaquiddick: A young woman died in a car the Senator was driving. He's 67 now and soon to bury another young nephew. Yet another test of Ted Kennedy's resiliency, yet another test of his endurance."

     -- The CBS Evening News ended with Richard Schlesinger marveling at a change in America over the last 35 years:
     "The rituals of grief have changed since we first went through this with the Kennedy family. The nation looked on then, the nation takes part now. In front of the apartment where John Kennedy Jr. and his wife lived, crowds have built an instant memorial."
     After some soundbites of people who never met him saying they felt close to him and expressing how pleased they were to be able to show their feelings, Schlesinger concluded:
     "It's an emotional scene, watching people grieve. Remember, most if not all of these people were strangers to Kennedy, but in their minds, even though they were never near him, they are still close to him."

     One big change between 1963 and 1999: Television, which allows people to think they know those they often see on the screen.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) For the third straight weekday morning, on July 21 the three morning shows spent most of their time on the Kennedy death, but for the first time they also spent significant time on other subjects while NBC's Today actually devoted a segment to wondering if "the frenzy at the Kennedy compound [is] over the top?"

     This came an hour after Today spent a segment exploring who will "pick up the mantle" of Camelot. Jonathan Alter advocated Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, "who's about to become Governor of Maryland." (Maryland residents take note of this, no need to vote since it's already been decided.)

     On non-JFK topics, ABC's Good Morning America interviewed Jesse Ventura during the 7:30am half hour and Today devoted the whole 7:30am half hour to the recovery of the Liberty Bell Mercury capsule and to a heartwarming interview by Matt Lauer with Lorraine Wagner, the woman who corresponded with Ronald Reagan for over 50 years and is the focus of an article in this week's New Yorker.

     During the 7am half hour Today brought aboard Democratic activist Lawrence O'Donnell and liberal analyst Jonathan Alter of Newsweek to answer Matt Lauer's question:
     "Ever since November of 1963 the legacy of Camelot had rested in large part on the shoulders of John Kennedy Jr. With his death who will now pick up the mantle?"

     Lauer conceded the obvious, telling O'Donnell, "This is something that in the media we tend to be a little obsessed with, who will carry the mantle."

     Alter contended that the Kennedys have always been entwined in American history as Joe Kennedy was isolationist in the 1930s when most Americans were and when Americans were concerned about communism Robert Kennedy toiled for Joe McCarthy. Bringing his analysis up to the present, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed that Alter tied the Kennedy family to the impending rise of women in politics:
     "I think in the next century they will represent the coming to power of women in this country and in that sense they do have somebody who represents that and that's Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who's about to become Governor of Maryland."
     Lauer: "You feel strongly that she is both willing and able to step into the spotlight. Why?"
     Alter: "She's just already developing a good track record in Maryland. At the next gubernatorial election she's expected to get elected Governor. You never know how these things work out for sure but looking down the road ten years or so it's hard to imagine she wouldn't be a pretty attractive candidate to put on a national ticket."

     An hour later the ubiquitous Alter hadn't left the Today set when Katie Couric asked him and disgraced newspaper writer turned Kennedy expert, Mike Barnicle: "The tragedy that began to unfold last Saturday has attracted an enormous amount of media attention. John F. Kennedy Jr. was no stranger to the spotlight. But is the frenzy at the Kennedy compound over the top?"

     After reporter Anne Thompson showed how Hyannisport has been inundated by the media Barnicle expressed concern for how the Kennedys are being treated: "The media has mistaken volume for content. There's a huge difference...the most lethal weapon of all, in a sense, is the media. We kill reputations, we invade privacy, we are ruthless and we are endless."

     Alter complained: "The problem Katie is that the intensity of the coverage strips the coverage of the dignity that it used to have before we had 24 hour news. It used to be a story had some time to unfold in a dignified way. And now the saturation coverage, I think, is really starting to annoy not just the people who watch it but those of us who participate."
     Couric agreed, ending the segment by lamenting: "And it takes a sweetness and specialness out of the images that we see."

     Couric and Alter should talk to Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz. MRC analyst Paul Smith noticed that he ended CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday by insisting to co-host Bernard Kalb: "You mentioned the question of over-coverage, Bernie. I'm not sure a story like this can be over-covered."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Two CNN reporters gushed over the Kennedy family Tuesday night on Late Edition Prime Time as Chris Black maintained that despite setbacks "the legacy of values and a significant achievement has endured" and Jeff Greenfield suggested national guilt over the assassination has drawn the family "into the national bosom."

     MRC analyst Paul Smith picked up on these July 20 assertions:

     -- From Hyannisport, Chris Black, a former Boston Globe reporter turned CNN correspondent, argued:
     "Because the Kennedy legacy really endures: Senator Kennedy has been in the United States Senate for 36 years, and the baby boom generation -- my generation -- has a Lieutenant Governor in Maryland, Congressman Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, Joe Kennedy is not in Congress now, but everyone in Massachusetts will tell you that he'll probably be Governor of Massachusetts some day. So the legacy of values and a significant achievement has endured."

     -- Jeff Greenfield on the Kennedy family and America:
     "I think the massive national guilt that was felt about the fact that the President of the United States was murdered in broad daylight, kind of turned the Kennedys into this family that was taken into the national bosom."

     Certainly into the bosom of the news media.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) The intra-Republican battle over a tax cut plan and Clinton denouncing the GOP leadership's plan generated full stories on ABC and CBS, as Dan Rather highlighted how the idea is not popular, and a one-sided half story on NBC which presented only Clinton's viewpoint. ABC's Linda Douglass showed she's not a very good prognosticator, predicting passage one night only to not be so sure the next evening.

     NBC's David Bloom highlighted how at his press conference Clinton threatened a veto of the GOP tax cut plan, calling it "risky." Bloom allowed Clinton to denounce Republicans for doing nothing about Medicare and Social Security and charge the plan will lead to "major cuts" in popular programs, before Bloom moved on to other press conference topics.

     Over on the CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather intoned:
     "An election year tax cut battle kicked into higher gear today. In the Republican controlled House the push is on for a $800 billion tax cut plan. President Clinton calls the plan 'way too risky for our future.' That's a quote. So do some Republicans."

     Bob Schieffer allowed Dick Armey to promote its value before noting how "Democrats say it's tilted to the rich and so huge there would be no money left to run the government." Schieffer outlined the major provisions of the GOP bill and then concluded by relaying how a Kennedy may save the Democrats:
     "The Republican leaders are still convinced they can push this through somehow, but it's going to be so close that even Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the cousin of the late John Kennedy Jr., has sent word to the Democratic leadership that he'll fly back to Washington from Hyannisport just to cast his vote."

     Rather nicely followed up by pointing out how tax cuts are "not a top priority of the public" according to a CBS News poll which found only five percent cited taxes as the most important issue, compared to 14 percent who named health care and eight percent who identified Social Security.

     ABC's Linda Douglass demonstrated the short-lived nature of television prognostication. Tuesday night she concluded her World News Tonight piece: "But now the President is also calling for a tax cut. So tomorrow the House may consider a Republican proposal to cut taxes by $800 billion over ten years and possibly a Democratic alternative to cut taxes by less than half that. So voters may well get a tax cut whether they want one or not."

     A night later, she ended her Wednesday story: "The question tonight is whether any plan is going to pass. Some provisions are being negotiated but the price tag remains the same. So Peter, it is likely to be a very long night."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) CBS's Dan Rather continues to insist upon spreading the blame around equally for Chinese espionage. Wednesday night CBS was the only broadcast network to note an espionage fallout-prompted Senate vote, as Rather told CBS Evening News viewers:
     "The U.S. Senate voted tonight to create a new agency to oversee nuclear weapons lab security. It would report directly to U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. This follows disclosures of lack security that allowed nuclear weapons secrets to spill to China, it is said, in the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton years."

     Not all are equally culpable. As Paul Sperry reported in the June 9 Investor's Business Daily:
     "The declassified version of the House report identifies 11 cases of Chinese espionage since the late 1970s. Eight took place during President Clinton's years in office. Two of the three prior cases were first learned in 1995 and 1997.
     "In other words, the vast majority of the leaks over the past 20 years have sprung on Clinton's watch and nearly all the old leaks have shown up then.
     "That's not all. The House report doesn't disclose the full extent of Chinese espionage in the Clinton years. Citing "national security" reasons, the White House censored roughly 375 pages, including several recent cases."

     The only thing we know that has remained consistent through the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton years is CBS's liberal bias.


cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) A jovial Bill Clinton met an accommodating White House press corps for a 70-minute press conference from 2:35 to 3:45pm ET Wednesday afternoon carried live by the cable networks. The press corps avoided all scandal questions and failed to broach Chinese espionage. Instead, they asked about JFK Jr., pressed him from the left "to provide the leadership" to give health coverage to the uninsured, and wondered if he will run for elective office in the future.

     At one point Clinton lied about Newt Gingrich, but no one in the room corrected him then or in later news reports. Specifically, Clinton charged: "So unless they just simply propose to bankrupt all the teaching hospitals and a lot of the other hospitals in the country and let the Medicare program wither away, as one of their previous leaders so eloquently put it, they can't possibly finance this tax program without doing serious damage."

     As Clinton well knows and the press corps should, he was lying. His reference to "withering away" was to a comment from Newt Gingrich, but Gingrich was referring not to the Medicare program but to reducing bureaucracy and reforming the program so that the Heath Care Finance Administration would "wither away."

     Here are three questions of note posed at the July 21 press conference which only CNN carried to the end as both FNC and MSNBC cut out about six minutes early to go back to more JFK Jr. coverage.

     -- In a question he wasn't too embarrassed to replay in his CBS Evening News story, CBS Scott Pelley asked about John F. Kennedy Jr.'s visit to the White House: "Is there anything Mr. Kennedy said to you that night that particularly struck you?"

     -- Los Angeles Times reporter Ed Chen hit Clinton from the left about not doing enough on health care:
     "You mentioned the Patients' Bill of Rights. It seems like that was an argument by both parties over providing more for people who already are lucky enough to have health insurance. And in fact, neither party dealt with some very fundamental issues that energized you and the First Lady five and six years ago. The question is: With such a robust economy and the budget surpluses, if not now when? And if not you, who would provide the leadership to provide for those folks?"

     -- The press conference ended with this question from CBS reporter Bill Plante: "As the spotlight shifts from you to your Vice President and to your wife, are you likely to be content drifting slowly offstage, or do you think that someday you will want to run for office, some office, again? Or are you willing to tell us this afternoon, sir, that you will never again run for elective office?" (Answer: "I don't have any idea.")

     On Wednesday's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, NPR reporter Mara Liasson observed:
     "I think the President does really enjoy this. As Joe Lockhart said the other day, one of the reasons he's interacting so much with the press now is because we're not asking him any scandal questions anymore. We're actually asking him about things he wants to talk about. The President was very relaxed, he was funny."

     Well, that's what's important. -- Brent Baker


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