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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday September 29, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 160) 

Hailing Maverick McCain; "Gipper Was an Airhead"; Leftist West Wing

1) Without raising doubts about his sincerity, CBS and NBC relayed how Bill Clinton thanked the "power of grace" and "the God in whom I believe." Dan Rather added how he's seeing religious counselors.

2) "I suspect a lot of people would find it the height of irony that Linda Tripp files a suit for invasion of privacy," declared ABC's Charlie Gibson as he doubted Clinton officials did wrong.

3) The networks hopped aboard John McCain's campaign, stressing how he's a "maverick" and a "renegade" who's willing to "buck the odds for what he believes in." His Big Government ideas were deemed an asset as reporters still labeled him a conservative.

4) "Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead!" blurted Katie Couric at the top of Today, but other stories on the Morris book led with the strife over fake characters and noted his praise for Reagan.

5) In NBC's drama The West Wing actor Martin Sheen, as the President, told leaders of the Religious Right, who are called anti-Semitic, to get their "fat asses out of my White House."


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) While ABC ignored President Clinton's prayer breakfast appearance, without any judgment on his sincerity Tuesday's CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News both played the same soundbite of Clinton thanking the "pure power of grace" and "the God in whom I believe."

     -- CBS Evening News, September 28. Dan Rather announced:
     "It's been one year since President Clinton stood before religious leaders at a White House prayer breakfast to say that he had sinned Monica Lewinsky and ask for forgiveness. Today the President stood before the same group again, this time it was to express his gratitude."
     Clinton: "I have been profoundly moved as few people have by the pure power of grace, unmerited forgiveness through grace. Most of all to my wife and daughter, but to the people I work with, to the legions of American people and to the God in whom I believe, and I am very grateful."
     Rather: "The President said he still meets with his religious counselors and says the sessions are, and I quote, 'not always comfortable but always rewarding,' unquote."

     Yes, Rather said "sinned Monica" though I assume he meant to say a word in between.

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw stated:

     "In Washington, one year after he admitted to being a sinner for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton spoke this morning to the national prayer breakfast. He said the past year has been the most difficult of his life and that he is continuing spiritual counseling. He also said he has learned about forgiveness."
     Clinton: "I have been profoundly moved as few people have by the pure power of grace, unmerited forgiveness through grace. Most of all to my wife and daughter, but to the people I work with, to the legions of American people and to the God in whom I believe, and I am very grateful."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)The privacy of a whistle-blower is improperly violated in an effort to discredit the person's testimony about wrongdoing by high-level government officials. Normally, you'd assume the media would be outraged and treat his or her lawyer as a hero fighting to correct an injustice. But not if the victim is Linda Tripp.

     Tripp is suing the Defense Department and White House officials civilly for invading her privacy by releasing her personnel file to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker who was working on an article aimed at discrediting her.

     Tuesday morning Tripp's lawyer, Stephen Kohn, appeared on ABC's Good Morning America. Co-host Charlie Gibson hit him with four questions, all of them hostile MRC analyst Mark Drake noticed, as Gibson assumed Tripp is the one in the wrong:

     -- "I suspect a lot of people would find it the height of irony that Linda Tripp files a suit for invasion of privacy."
     -- "But you charge there was an attempt to smear Ms. Tripp. The only thing that the Defense Department revealed was that she'd never committed a crime. That' seems to be rather favorable to her."
     -- "But Mr. Kohn, the person who revealed the fact that she had committed a crime was not the Defense Department, it was her own former step mother."
     -- "The Defense Department acknowledges that any release of information was inappropriate or improper but in order to show a conspiracy to harass or to intimidate Ms. Tripp, you have to show some sort of conspiracy and you've alleged that involves the White House. What evidence do you have of that?"

     Kohn explained how the request to the DOD was for a specific form which meant Mayer had to be tipped by the White House.

     For more on this subject, check the October 5, 1998 MediaWatch Review which offered this overview of the controversy:
     "Every network reported The New Yorker's allegations in March that Tripp lied on her federal job application that she'd never been arrested. As a teenager, she was once detained by Greenwood Lake, New York police over a missing wallet and watch another teenager had placed in her purse as a prank.
     "But that story carried a twist that reflected badly on the Clinton administration. The story's author, Jane Mayer, had contacted her former Wall Street Journal colleague, chief Pentagon spokesman and Clinton appointee Kenneth Bacon, and asked if Tripp had claimed never to be arrested on her application form. Bacon ordered Tripp's confidential personnel file released -- a possible violation of the Privacy Act and a clear violation of Pentagon security policy."

     The article runs through several subsequent developments in the case which most outlets ignored. Go to:


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Coverage of John McCain's official presidential announcement demonstrated he really is the media's candidate. Network stories Monday night all stressed how he is a maverick -- Tom Brokaw tagged him a "renegade" and Dan Rather said he's willing to "buck the odds for what he believes in" -- and, by labeling him a conservative, gave him cover against the view that his liberal anti-free speech stands on campaign finance and tobacco make it impossible to consider him conservative. ABC's World News Tonight gave his entry just a sentence, but the September 27 evening shows on CBS, CNN and NBC all provided full reports.

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather introduced the story:
     "Senator John McCain, of Arizona, put his reputation as a candidate willing to buck the odds for what he believes in, on the line today. He officially announced that he is running for the Republican nomination. He did so amid all the talk, true or not, that George W. Bush has the money and the nomination all but sewn up, unless McCain can stop him."
     Reporter Bill Whitaker began: "Arizona Senator John McCain prides himself on going his own way. Today in New Hampshire he asked the American people to go with him and chose him to lead the country into the new millennium."
     Whitaker later added, MRC analyst Brian Boyd observed: "So, the conservative Republican who backs school vouchers and tax cuts, also bucks the party leadership and implored Americans to fight for campaign finance reform."

     -- CNN's The World Today. Candy Crowley reported: "Even as he strays from party positions in very public ways, McCain remains conservative at his core. He is pro-business, pro-defense, pro-voluntary school prayer, anti-abortion, and anti-gun registration. He considers himself a Goldwater conservative, but conservatives picket his campaign, while his liberal partner on campaign finance reform can't say enough."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw seemed in awe:

     "A man who promises to shake up the American political system formally announced that he's a presidential candidate. Republican Senator John McCain: war hero, renegade."
     Lisa Myers began: "Ever the maverick, the former war hero turned Senator launches his mission for the White House by kicking the political establishment of both parties and vowing to restore dignity to the Oval Office."
     After a clip of McCain asserting "something has gone terribly wrong when parents no longer want their children to grow up to be President," Myers positively portrayed his campaign finance view: "Saying government has become a spectacle of selfish ambition auctioned to the highest bidder, McCain vows to break the power of big money in Washington."

     Given that McCain's bill would prevent conservatives from buying ad time to spread their views in the weeks before an election, a restriction that would increase the influence of journalists, it's no surprise media figures favor shutting out competing voices. But on CNN's Inside Politics on September 27, MRC analyst Paul Smith noted, Bruce Morton suggested nobler-sounding reasons for why reporters love McCain:
     "Reporters like McCain because he is a hero and because they suspect he might run, even govern, on principles, on what he really believes."

     Of course, governing on conservative principle didn't earn Reagan much media support.

     Leading journalists assume McCain's liberal principles are correct and so instead of challenging them they act bewildered in wondering why most Republicans don't "get it." For instance, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught how on Monday's Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer didn't challenge McCain's campaign finance ideas and instead tossed this softball at him:
     "Well, however brave a stand campaign finance reform may be, members of your own party have rejected it. What's the matter with them? Why don't they get it?"


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) With the exception of NBC's Today, network stories on the Reagan biography by Edmund Morris relayed both his negative and positive assessments of Reagan, though giving precedence to the derisive comments, as the controversy over Morris's use of fictional characters sometimes became the lead. All the stories let former Reagan aides contradict Morris's claims and Dan Rather dubbed the book "a controversial new fiction biography."

     MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens pointed out how NBC's Today twice opened the show this week by highlighting how Morris dismissed Reagan as an "airhead."

     At the top of Monday's broadcast, co-host Katie Couric exclaimed: "Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead! That's one of the conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that's drawing a tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the 27th, 1999."

     Tuesday morning Today featured a taped interview with President Bush who denied Morris's claims that he and Reagan were distant, but co-host Matt Lauer still opened by citing the "airhead" charge: "Good morning. For the first time President Bush is responding to the controversial new biography of Ronald Reagan. And in particular the author's assertion that Reagan was a great President but an airhead."
     George Bush: "And it's brutal and grossly unfair and untrue."
     Lauer: "And Mr. Bush has more to say today, Tuesday, September 28th, 1999."

Here's a look at Monday night, September 27, stories:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings stressed the controversy:

     "The official biography of President Reagan will arrive in bookstores this week to considerable controversy about the methods and the ideas of the biographer, Edmund Morris. When Mr. Morris first met President Reagan in 1981 he found him to be largely benign. In his words, 'I couldn't conceive of writing more than a paragraph about him.' Morris ended up spending 14 years on Reagan."

     Barry Serafin started his piece: "The author of the Reagan biography describes the former President in both harsh and glowing terms -- 'bland' and 'boring,' an 'airhead' and a cultural 'yahoo.' But also, 'a great President,' 'the bravest and most incorrupt figure I've ever studied.'"

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather plugged an upcoming story: "The Reagan inner circle, including Nancy Reagan, responds to a controversial new fiction biography of the 40th President."

     Rather's intro to the story will never make it onto the back cover of the paperback edition of the Morris book:

     "Excerpts from a controversial new book about Ronald Reagan hit newsstands today. It's a mixture of fact and fiction and the author wrote himself into the book as a character. You may have seen the writer last night on CBS's 60 Minutes. He's under fire from associates of the former President, who chose him to write the book, and from literary critics who say the book just isn't very good."

     Bill Plante began: "First Lady Nancy Reagan hand picked Edmund Morris to write her husband's biography. Now that the book is finally about to appear, a close friend says that Mrs. Reagan is definitely not please with what she's heard."

     Plante allowed Michael Deaver to take on some premises in the book and aired a clip of former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon complaining about how Morris missed a great opportunity.

     -- CNN's The World Today. Bruce Morton began his piece, that MRC analyst Paul Smith watched, with some balance:
     "His official biographer never figured him out. Edmund Morris told 60 Minutes 'Reagan was frequently an old, spaced-out man, inattentive to details. Boring in private.' He told Newsweek that Reagan was 'shatteringly banal' when they first met. But he also said, 'I have gradually come to the conclusion that he was a great President.'"

     But following a comment from Marlin Fitzwater, Morton uniquely added some specific negatives: "Morris writes of a Reagan with bizarre beliefs, that North and South Vietnam had been separate countries for centuries, that the Soviets wanted to invade the United States through Mexico, adding: 'His beliefs are as unerasable as the grooves of an LP.'"

     Morton later noted that Morris "was around for the Iran-Contra crisis." After playing a clip of Reagan in he 1980s denying a arms for hostages swap, Morton asserted: "Morris told 60 Minutes: 'His will was so enormous that it resisted logic. It resisted protest. What Reagan willed, what Reagan believed was fact.' Things worked for him, as in this debate with George Bush during Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign."
     Ronald Reagan: "Mr. Green..."
     Moderator: "Would you turn down the microphone...."
     Reagan: "....I am paying for this microphone."
     Morton: "Three things: the moderator's name wasn't Green; the line is from an old Spencer Tracy movie; and it worked. It brought down the house in a Reagan triumph. Morris told Newsweek: 'When you asked him a question about himself, it was like dropping a stone into a well and not hearing a splash.'"

     Deaver got a chance to react before Morton concluded with the positive side, sort of: "Morris, in the excerpts published so far, describes a Reagan with little curiosity, a man of the surface, but a winner. 'I can only note that what Dutch believed has largely come to be.' And he writes of Reagan, 'his optimism unquenchable...his laugher impossible to resist.' The Cold War, restoring America's belief in itself -- he used to talk about the little boy who, confronted with a pile of manure, knew there had to be a pony around somewhere. Ronald Reagan was good at finding ponies."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw asked: "What new information does the author, Pulitzer prize winner Edmund Morris, reveal about Reagan the man and his presidency? Why do some people say it's really a work of fiction? Some answers tonight from NBC's Andrea Mitchell."

     Of the broadcast network and CNN stories Mitchell uniquely raised Morris's bizarre blood tale: "In his book, Morris says the President almost died -- lost, quote, 'well over half his total supply of blood,' but Reagan friend Ed Meese disagrees with Morris....Even more sensational, Morris says some of the blood transfusions were still cold -- not properly warmed, what Morris calls, quote, 'a major physiological insult from which he would never entirely recover.'"
     Nonsense countered Dr. Laurence Altman: "I'm not aware of any long-term consequences that come from receiving a blood transfusion of that type."

     Mitchell also raised how "Morris describes Reagan as, quote, 'vacuous, shatteringly banal,' 'culturally a yahoo,' 'boring,'" but she countered that's "not the Reagan described by his friends and another biographer, journalist Lou Cannon" who told Mitchell:
"You don't get to the places he got to by being some superficial, I think he calls him an apparent airhead. No, that's not the Ronald Reagan I knew."

      That's a good sign of how anti-Reagan Morris is. His portrait is so negative that even a liberal reporter like Cannon feels compelled to come to his defense.

     +++ See Stahl stew. The September 27 CyberAlert quoted how Lesley Stahl took on Reagan over homelessness and argued to Morris that Reagan's supposed lack of compassion is a character flaw. Upon his return Tuesday after being out for a few days, MRC Webmaster Sean Henry posted a RealPlayer clip from Sunday's 60 Minutes. To watch it, go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/cyberalert/1999/cyb19990927.html#1


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) westwing0929.jpg (10669 bytes)The second episode of NBC's drama, The West Wing, will air Wednesday night at 9pm ET/PT, 8pm CT/MT. Last week in the premiere viewers saw how the Hollywood Left views conservatives as the show concocted a preposterous plot and series of scenes which portrayed leaders of the Religious Right as anti-Semitic buffoons. The show culminated with an angry Democratic "President Josiah Bartlet," played by Martin Sheen, indignantly telling ministers: "You can all get your fat asses out of my White House."

     Reviewers last week uniformly denounced the show for lacking minority characters, but in having an all-white cast the show matches reality.

     First, a review of the September 22 show made possible thanks to some transcribing by MRC intern Ken Shepherd.

     Controversy ensues after Deputy Chief-of-Staff "Josh Lyman" says to a Ralph Reed-type character, named "Mary," on a TV show: "Lady, the God you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud."

     For some reason this concerns the Democratic White House and the staff call in Mary and several other male Christian Right types so that Josh can apologize. Mary then demands that in return for "insulting millions of Americans" the liberal President come around to their viewpoint: "Sunday morning radio address: public morals, school prayer, or pornography, take your pick."

     Mary soon says to Josh: "It was only a matter of time with you, Josh. That New York sense of humor was just a little..."
     A reverend tries to calm her down and Josh points out he's from Connecticut, but "Toby Ziegler," the Communications Director, is on to her: "She meant Jewish. When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me."

     The show soon portrays the ministers as confused by basic religious facts:
     Reverend: "The First Commandment says: 'Honor thy father.'"
     Toby: "No, it doesn't."
     Josh: "Toby!"
     Toby: "It doesn't. No! If I'm going to make you sit through this preposterous exercise, we're going to get the names of the damn commandments, right. Honor thy father is the Third Commandment."
     Reverend: "Then what's the First Commandment?"

     In walks "President Bartlet," limping from a bike accident: "'I am the Lord your God, thou shalt worship no other god before me.' Boy those were the days, huh?"

     The Reverend asks Bartlet: "If our children can buy pornography on any street corner for five dollars, isn't that too high a price to pay for free speech?"
     Bartlet: "No."
     The Reverend seems surprised by this logical answer from a liberal: "Really?"
     Bartlet: "On the other hand I do think that five dollars is too high a price to pay for pornography."
     "C.J.", the Press Secretary: "Why don't we all sit down?"
     Bartlet: "No, let's not, C.J., these people won't be staying that long."
     Turning to one of the ministers, Bartlet demands: "Al, how many times have I asked you to denounce the practices of a fringe group that calls itself the Lambs of God."
     Reverend Al: "Sir, that's not up to me."
     Bartlet: "Crap, it is up to you, Al. You know my wife, Abby, she never wants me to do anything while I'm upset. Twenty-eight years ago I came home from a very bad day at the State House, I tell Abby I'm going out for a drive. I get into the station wagon, put it in reverse and pull out of the garage full speed. Except I forgot to open the garage door. Abby told me not to drive while I was upset and she was right. She was right yesterday when she told me not to get on that damn bicycle while I was upset but I did it anyway. And I guess I was just about as angry as I'd ever been in my life. Seems my granddaughter Annie had given an interview in one of those teen magazines and somewhere between movie stars and makeup tips she talked about her feelings on a woman's right to choose. Now, Annie, all of 12 has always been precocious but she's got a good head on her shoulders and I like it when she uses it so I couldn't understand it when her mother called me in tears yesterday. I said, Elizabeth what's wrong. She said, 'It's Annie.' Now, I love my family, and I've read my Bible from cover to cover so I want you to tell me from what part of Holy Scripture do you suppose the Lambs of God drew their divine inspiration when they sent my 12 year old granddaughter a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife stuck through its throat? You'll denounce these people Al, you'll do it publicly, and until you do you can all get your fat asses out of my White House. C.J., show these people out."
     Mary: "I believe we can find the door."
     Bartlet: "Find it now!"

     +++ Watch this scene. Wednesday morning MRC substitute Webmaster Eric Pairel will post a RealPLayer clip from The West Wing. Go to: http://www.mrc.org

     TV critics focused on the color of the actors:

     -- On the September 19 Sunday Morning on CBS John Leonard complained: "Not since Murphy Brown has a prime-time series been both witty and edgy about politics. It is of course scandalous that a liberal President like Martin Sheen has a staff entirely white. They promise to fix this."
     -- The Washington Post's Tom Shales whined on September 22 that the staff is "alarmingly short on minority representation."
     -- In the Los Angeles Times on the same day TV critic Howard Rosenberg, MRC analyst Paul Smith noticed, grumbled about "the absence of characters of color, an omission the producers vow they are remedying."
     -- USA Today's Robert Bianco claimed "the only weak link" in the cast "is the absence of minorities, a ludicrous lapse the show plans to correct."

     Actually, it's the one part of the show which is accurate. The program features six characters. Five are white males: The President, Chief-of-Staff, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Communications Director and Deputy Communications Director. The sixth is a white female, the Press Secretary.

     Sound familiar? Just like the Clinton White House in 1993 with Dee Dee Myers as the only non-male in a top position. None of the positions portrayed as being held by a white male has ever been held by anyone but.

     Tonight, Hollywood solves the problem. As revealed in the promo shown last week, the show will add a black character as the "personal aide" to the President, in other words, his valet.

     Now that's progressive thinking. But since the show lacks a National Security Adviser I wouldn't be surprised if the producers soon have this garment bag-carrier solving an international crisis.  -- Brent Baker


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