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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday September 27, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 159)  

Morris's Imaginary Friends Spawned by Acorn; Reagan's "Empty Mind" 

1) 60 Minutes revealed an "electric shock" from an acorn led Edmund Morris to invent imaginary characters. Lesley Stahl cited Reagan's lack of compassion for the homeless as a character flaw, pleading with Morris: "You can't have admired him for that."

2) Time's Jack White tore into Reagan's "empty mind" and near "treason," while Newsweek's Evan Thomas dismissed the idea Reagan knew what he was doing, crediting his "intuitive idiot genius."

3) The President of ABC News promised George Stephanopoulos would not be the "beat reporter" on Gore, but Sunday's World News Tonight aired his story about the battle between Gore and Bradley.

4) Bias blast from the past. Back in 1980 two Washington Week in Review panelists clearly hoped Carter would beat Reagan.

5) After a network blackout, MSNBC's Brian Williams finally asked a Clinton aide about the propriety of McAuliffe's house gift.

6) Today ABC News launches SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com, "a live, Internet-only news program."


stahl0927.jpg (10731 bytes)cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Sunday's 60 Minutes interview by Lesley Stahl of Reagan biographer Edmund Morris revealed a bizarre-sounding event behind Morris's decision to describe experiences through a fictional character and that Stahl can't resist hitting Reagan from the left as she pressed Morris about how Reagan's lack of compassion for the homeless demonstrated a character flaw.

     Viewers learned that an "electric shock" from an acorn powered a "voice" in Edmund Morris's head which gave him the idea to create a fictional character. Actually, he also created second imaginary character, a son named "Gavin," to, as Stahl put it, "represent the young people of the 1960s and to vilify Reagan for his role in putting down the student protests at Berkeley in 1969."

     Before 60 Minutes aired, Sunday's Meet the Press brought aboard former Reagan aides Michael Deaver, Ed Meese, Lyn Nofziger and Marlin Fitzwater to assess the assessments in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Newsweek's Evan Thomas also appeared since the magazine this week excerpts the book. The This Week roundtable on ABC also looked at the book, but stuck to analyzing Morris's fictional character device which the panel found wanting, with George Will especially troubled by the dedication to Christine Reagan, the short-lived baby of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.

     Now back to 60 Minutes, which devoted two of three segments to Morris. That's too much to fully summarize here so I'll stick to what I found most interesting. (As a brief background note, Morris had unique access to Reagan as from 1985 on he was allowed to stay at the White House all day and sit in on meetings. The book was expected to be published in 1991 but since Morris found him so "inscrutable" the book is just now being published with controversy about how Morris describes events through imaginary characters in inserts into situations.)

     -- Acorn gave Morris idea to overcome his problem understanding Reagan by talking through an imaginary voice. In a portion of the piece recalling Reagan's days at Eureka College, Stahl relayed:
     "It was here at Eureka that Morris, stepping on an acorn, finally figured out how to write his book."
     Morris: "As I stepped on this particular acorn I felt myself wishing that I could have been there in the fall of 1928. I got this electric shock and a voice in my head said, 'but you were there.'"

     But there's not just one imaginary person in the book, as Stahl added:
     "And there's yet another fictional character, Gavin Morris, Edmund's imaginary son. Morris created Gavin to represent the young people of the 1960s and to vilify Reagan for his role in putting down the student protests at Berkeley in 1969. As Governor of California Reagan called out the state troopers who opened fire and killed a young man."

     How nice of Stahl to seemingly blame Reagan for the killing.

     -- Reagan just an empty-headed performer. Morris recounted how just before Reagan's 1989 farewell address he seemed listless until just before he went on TV when he saw his face in the monitor, at which point he said, "ah, there he is," and came to life for the performance.
     An appalled Stahl demanded of Morris: "Did it scare you as you came to realize that when he wasn't performing that there wasn't much there and he was leading the free world at that time?"

     Morris replied that he had no fears since he saw how secure and strong Reagan was when he met Gorbachev in Geneva.

     -- Communists rejected Reagan as a "flake." Morris seems to admire Reagan in many ways, but he didn't hesitate to relay a cheap shot anecdote. He told Stahl how in 1938 Reagan wanted to join the Communist Party but the party's leader in Southern California said he didn't want him because "he's a flake."

     -- Homelessless shows Reagan's lack of character. Bringing back memories of TV news from he 1980s, Stahl asserted:
     "In his first term he faced a recession with severe unemployment, food lines and a dramatic increase in homelessness."
     Stahl to Morris: "Reagan had such difficulty with the homeless. When he was President the country felt he was dismissive of the homeless."

     Actually, the media were disturbed by his non left-wing views on the topic. Homelessness hasn't decreased under Clinton, but you don't hear about it anymore.

     Morris replied: "About the only time I ever got through his epidermis was in the last month of his presidency when I said to him, 'Is there anything about your presidency you regret Mr. President?' 'Oh no, I've been very happy here.' But I said, 'you know the homeless for example, they're all over the place.' And he said 'I don't think that's such a serious problem.' I said 'did you ever consider the possibility that your own father might have become a bum?' And he reacted with anger. He said, 'no, no, no.' I could see he didn't like that for me to suggest that homelessness could have come as close to his own home as I was suggesting."
     Stahl: "Was he compassionate. Did he care about poverty?"
     Morris: "No, I do not think he was compassionate."
     Stahl, pouncing on the idea that she discovered the true Reagan which Morris missed, argued: "This is character. This is important."
     Morris: "It is important. I think Reagan regarded misfortune as weakness. There was something undignified about poverty. He did not think it was the duty of the state to do anything about poverty, but he didn't like it, he didn't want to see it and felt the community should take care of it."
     Stahl: "You can't have admired him for that."
     Morris: "No I did not."

     To Stahl's dismay, however, Morris did go on to call Reagan a "great President" for winning the Cold War and leading a "moral regeneration" of America.

     -- "Inscrutable" or consistent and open? Early in the 60 Minutes piece Morris sulked about how he found Reagan "inscrutable" and "one of the strangest men who ever lived." But on Meet the Press, Ed Meese offered a simpler explanation for Morris's befuddlement, telling Tim Russert:
     "As far as getting to him, I think most all of us here had the opportunity to know him well and to work closely with him. But he didn't emote about his personal feelings endlessly, or anything like that. Things about his feelings would come out over time, as you were with him, in casual circumstances particularly, traveling on the plane or traveling in a car some place. But, you know, the thing about Ronald Reagan is, he was essentially the same person if he was sitting around with three or four of us as he was talking to 10,000 people. I think what probably confused Edmund Morris was he was the same person. He did not have a private persona and a public persona. What you see was what you got. And I think that was one of the unusual things for a political figure."

     Next stop for Morris: He'll be on NBC's Today on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Time's Jack White used the Edmund Morris biography as a chance to denounce Ronald Reagan, referring to his "empty mind," his near "treason" and terrible civil rights record, while Newsweek's Evan Thomas dismissively referred to Reagan's "intuitive idiot genius."

     It all happened over the weekend on Inside Washington, the show carried by many PBS stations. After columnist Charles Krauthammer praised Reagan, Jack White of Time magazine shot back: "It's a fictional book about an empty mind and you want to put this guy's face on Mount Rushmore?"

     Later, White declared: "And he was extraordinarily lucky in that he wasn't brought down by the Iran-Contra scandal."
     Krauthammer: "Oh, come on."
     White: "Come on. It verged on treason. He was extraordinarily lucky on that. He tried to turn the clock back on civil rights. There's a whole history of problems with this guy that some of us don't join you in the view that he's the most successful presidency."
     Krauthammer: "People say he only had a single idea, he hated communism etcetera. Here's a man who had the subtlety, late in his presidency, to understand Gorbachev and the opportunity he offered. Many of us on the right attacked Reagan for being seduced by Gorbachev and we were wrong and he was right. He ushered in the collapse of the Soviet empire which is the greatest achievement of the last fifty years."
     Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas: "He had kind of an intuitive idiot genius."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) It depends on what "beat reporter" means. As noted in three previous CyberAlerts, back on August 23 the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz quoted ABC News President David Westin as assuring him that while ABC News is turning George Stephanopoulos into a regular correspondent, "we wouldn't have him be the beat reporter on the Gore campaign."

     Sunday morning the former Clinton enabler, who worked to twice elect Gore the Vice President, narrated a taped piece for This Week about a focus group session conducted by a Democratic pollster with New Hampshire Democrats about their feelings toward Gore and Bradley. Sunday night World News Tonight aired a taped story by Stephanopoulos about Bradley's challenge in the polls to Gore.

     This all follows Stephanopoulos serving many mornings as he sole political analyst on GMA and conducting GMA's interview with Bradley.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Bias blast from the past. This Friday Gwen Ifill assumes the moderator slot on PBS's Washington Week in Review. To close this past Friday's show moderator Paul Duke marked the end of his days filling in, since WETA-TV canned Ken Bode, by playing highlights from the past 25 plus years.

     One clip showed three panelists in 1980 predicting who would win the presidential election. The replies from two of the three strongly suggested that they hoped Carter would pull it out:
     Al Hunt: "I would guess that Ronald Reagan is going to win."
     Jack Nelson: "Carter probably will win."
     Haynes Johnson: "All my bones tell me Reagan's going to win but I think, somehow, that Carter's going to slip through."

     It didn't work out for Nelson or Johnson. Nelson is still with the Los Angeles Times and though Johnson has left the Washington Post, hoping the conservative would lose is still being rewarded by PBS where he appears occasionally on the NewsHour.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes)MSNBC's Brian Williams actually raised the issue of the propriety of Terry McAuliffe's gift of $1.3 million to the Clintons to allow them to get a mortgage for the house in Chappaqua New York. As noted in the September 13 CyberAlert, the broadcast networks all ignored any questions about the deal, with CBS This Morning host Thalia Assuras wondering if the Clinton will attend bake sales in town.

     But on last Thursday's The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC, the anchor of the same name raised the issue during an interview with White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. MRC analyst Mark Drake caught this question from Williams on the September 23 show:
     "Joe, the other matter these days is the house for the first family and true or false, be honest here, if someone had put up the money for George W. Bush to purchase a home in upstate New York the way it was put up in this deal, wouldn't the White House be all over them and at minimum, crying foul, crying gift in kind?"


cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) Sam live online. Sam Donaldson is off the White House beat and off 20/20, though he will remain on This Week, but you can still see him on weekdays -- via computer. Starting today Sam Donaldson will host a three times per week news show on abcnews.com. Here's how ABC News plugs it on their Web site:
     "Starting Monday, Donaldson will host SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com, a live, Internet-only news program, on ABCNEWS.com -- the Internet's fastest-growing news site. This is the first regularly scheduled, live, television-quality produced Webcast offered by a broadcast network. It will feature news reports on a variety of issues ranging from politics to business, with special features, debate, analysis and occasional newsmaker interviews.
     "You can see SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com on this site Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30p.m. ET. It will run 15 minutes and will be streamed live at 28.8k, 56k and 100k so that you will be able to view the program at the highest quality possible....
     "All SamDonaldson@ABCNEWS.com programs will be archived on ABCNEWS.com so that you can access them at your convenience, outside the regular live Webcast times."

     Just when it became safe to turn on ABC News all but one hour a week and be assured you wouldn't see Sam, ABC makes him available 24 hours a day via streaming video. Actually, Sam is a lot fairer than his reputation so maybe he'll produce a show more balanced than World News Tonight. Maybe.  -- Brent Baker


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