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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday September 30, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 161)

Beatty Not Liberal; Morris Distorted on "Airhead"; Clinton's Spittle

1) ABC's George Stephanopoulos approved of Gore's campaign reorganization while NBC's Andrea Mitchell stood in front of Gore's real boyhood home. Peter Jennings insisted: "China, today, is hardly a communist country."

2) CBS and NBC refused to call Warren Beatty a liberal, but in their stories about his possible presidential bid they both tagged as "conservative" columnist Arianna Huffington.

3) Contrary to Katie Couric's claim that Edmund Morris concluded Reagan was "an airhead," he told her Wednesday: "I did not call him an airhead." In fact, he decided Reagan "was a very bright man."

4) When IBD's Paul Sperry dared to ask Bill Clinton about the FBI's Chinese money probe being thwarted, Clinton "blew up" and Sperry got a ten minute tirade from a foot in front of his face.

Correction. The September 29 CyberAlert item about the NBC drama The West Wing reported that "controversy ensues after Deputy Chief-of-Staff 'Toby 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.'" As he is subsequently referred to, the character's name is "Josh" Lyman. The Communications Director is "Toby Ziegler."

cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Wednesday night Gore's announcement that he's moving his campaign offices to Nashville, and challenge to Bill Bradley to debate, led ABC's World News Tonight, CNN's The World Today and the NBC Nightly News. The CBS Evening News went first with the spread by birds of the West Nile virus. FNC's Fox Report led with a topic skipped by ABC, CBS and NBC: Gary Bauer denouncing a rumor about him having an affair.

     ABC viewers also learned from Peter Jennings that China is no longer communist, as he ended the show:
     "Finally this evening, part history and part myth. It was fifty years ago this week that the People's Republic of China came into being, Mao Tse-Tung its founding father. China's going all out to celebrate the triumphs of the communist revolution and ignore its failures. And all the ceremony will also ignore the fact that China, today, is hardly a communist country."

     Reporter Mark Litke then proceeded to compare and contrast the village of Nanjie, which follows communist rules, and Huaxi, where the residents are capitalists and among China's wealthiest.

     On the Gore front, the story by ABC's John Cochran featured the view of just one analyst, former Clinton/Gore enabler turned ABC News analyst George Stephanopoulos, who approved: "Anything that helps people to take a second look, that gives them a reason to say let me take another look at Al Gore, is good for this campaign right now because the people have so far, especially in the key state of New Hampshire, stopped listening."

     CBS's Dan Rather offered only a brief item on Gore, but pointed out: "In the background criticism, some of it inside the Gore camp, that his Washington-based operation is too-insular, too top heavy and too expensive."

     Over on the NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw observed: "This was unprecedented maneuver for a candidate who's still the odds-on favorite."
     Andrea Mitchell concluded her piece by pointing out that Tennessee is really not Gore's home. As she stood in front of the hotel at 2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW in Washington, DC, once known as the Ritz Carlton, she intoned: "But can Al Gore, who grew up in that Washington luxury hotel when his father was a Senator, get people to believe he's really an outsider? Experts say that's a tough sell. Still, Gore is ahead in national polls and advisers say he's finally on a wartime footing, facing in Bill Bradley a much tougher opponent than anyone had expected."



cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) CBS and NBC couldn't bring themselves to apply an ideological label to Warren Beatty, but both made sure viewers realized that columnist Arianna Huffington is "conservative," though she's probably a lot less conservative than he is liberal. Wednesday night the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News profiled Beatty, who at the time was hours away from making a speech in Beverly Hills, but only indirectly raised his liberalism. To make the labels that were uttered easy to find, I've put them in ALL CAPS below.

     -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather's intro avoided any ideological labels. Reporter Jerry Bowen opened his piece:
     "He wouldn't be the first actor to run for President. He has candidate charisma to burn and his past womanizing is already public knowledge. But Warren Beatty for President? Even some Washington insiders are intrigued, asking why not?"
     Following a laudatory soundbite from Jesse Jackson Jr., Bowen continued:
     "As Gore and Bradley sound more and more alike, almost Republican goes the theory, life-long Democrat and activist Beatty is seen as the one person who can champion the social issues that LIBERALS believe are being ignored -- at least that's the way it played over dinner this summer at Arianna's."
     Arianna Huffington, identified on-screen as "CONSERVATIVE columnist," recalled: "Someone at the table, I don't remember who, said to him then why don't you run and dramatize the issues."

     Bowen still refused to apply a label to Beatty: "Those who bought tickets got a taste of Beatty's platform in Bulworth, his movie about a Senate candidate who goes over the edge campaigning against big money party politics as usual."
     Beatty rapping in Bulworth: "....as long as you can pay I'm going to do it all your way. Yes the money talks and the people walks."
     But Bowen made sure viewers knew Huffington's ideology: "CONSERVATIVE columnist Huffington also believes the two party system is broken."
     In the soundbite Huffington claimed the two-party system "desperately needs shaking up." Lou Cannon told Bowen that Beatty allows voters to have a "romantic fling" with a more interesting candidate. Bowen then concluded: "Beatty is making what is billed as a major political speech tonight here in Beverly Hills and may hint at whether he's a serious candidate or just Bulworth."

     -- NBC Nightly News. As with Rather, in introducing the story Tom Brokaw did not label Beatty. Bob Faw began his profile with an overview of Beatty's life that skipped his ideology, but Faw didn't miss a chance to tag Huffington:
     "Tonight, Beverly Hills is getting ready for a speech from Warren Beatty, a star celebrated for his romances off-screen and on, an actor who wrote and directed a story about a politician who claims to tell it like it is. Warren Beatty speaking out tonight on issues he says others are ignoring, a candidate for President? That notion was floated first by, of all things, a CONSERVATIVE Republican -- nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington."
     Huffington: "A presidential race is a great opportunity for having a story-teller bring the nation together around a campfire."

     After a soundbite from Beatty's wife Annette Bening on Today commenting on her husband's intentions, Faw went on to at least note how Beatty has helped liberals though Faw did not label him a liberal: "He's never held public office before but he's worked and raised money for a host of Democratic LIBERALS, a breath of fresh air says one-time presidential pollster, now Hollywood screenwriter, Patrick Cadell."
     Of course, Faw did not describe Caddell as liberal either, but he made sure viewers knew that another person was a "liberal-basher" as he relayed: "Just how serious is the Beatty boom? After Beatty amassed just one percent in a recent California poll, some long-time LIBERAL-BASHERS cackled."
     MRC Chairman Brent Bozell, identified on-screen as a "syndicated columnist," suggested: "Warren Beatty will be the Andy Warhol candidate of the year 2000. He will have 15 minutes of fame but he will run out of gas because there's no there there."
     Faw concluded: "Still, if President Beatty sounds far-fetched [clip of Reagan movie] remember voters have warmed to other actors and in a celebrity-obsessed culture fame can cover a multitude of sins. Stay tuned."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Reagan biographer Edmund Morris told Today's Katie Couric on Wednesday that he never called Ronald Reagan "an airhead," which means Couric distorted his assessment in order to impugn Reagan when she opened Monday's Today by happily blurting:
     "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."

     In the first day of three days of interviews on Today, Couric spent most of her time on September 29 quizzing Morris about the appropriateness of his fictional characters. But she started out by telling him, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:
     "There has been a lot of outrage expressed by President Reagan's friends and associates about your use of the word 'airhead' to describe him. George Bush says it's 'brutal, grossly unfair, untrue.' Ed Meese, former Attorney General, said it's 'not fair, not true.' Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary says it's 'totally inappropriate' to describe the former President that way."
     Morris replied: "I agree with every single one of those. It's brutal and grossly unfair. I did not call him an airhead. The quote, as published first in the Washington Post, dropped the word 'apparent' before 'airhead.' What I said in the book that appears plainly on the page is I found him at first, 'an apparent airhead.' And the whole course of the book makes quite obvious that that first impression was wrong."
     Couric: "So you do not believe today that Ronald Reagan was an airhead?"
     Morris: "Oh good God no! He was a very bright man. At first I was surprised and dismayed by the apparent banality of his conversation. I couldn't reconcile this, the utter ordinariness of the private man with how magical he became when he stepped out in front of the cameras."
     Undeterred, Couric pressed on: "In fact what you say Mr. Morris, in your words, from the book is, quote, 'What you see is what you get, several of the above named intimates had warned me when I asked about his hidden depths. Nevertheless I could not believe how little one indeed got and how shallow those depths appear to be.' Are you saying now this morning that you found President Reagan to have great intellectual depth?"
     Morris: "'Shallow the depths appeared to be.' You see he was all mystery. He seemed to be shallow. He seemed to have no culture. He seemed to have, to be resistant to new ideas from outside. He seemed all these things. One of the reasons it took me 14 years to write the book was to come to grips with this apparent simplicity which concealed depths and depths, and depths."
     Couric: "So you believe today that he is a man of great depth or was?"
     Morris: "Oh absolutely. He was a huge and important man. He had, he had, a presidential mind. He was a statesman. He kept himself to himself which was one of the reasons it was hard to penetrate him. Ronald Reagan was a formidable person."

     As for the "airhead" quote Couric so eagerly repeated on Monday, the Today writers sure picked an unusual way to open their September 27 show as the misquote appeared on the jump page of a Washington Post story from five days earlier. Today also had to skip over a more positive assessment to find the airhead line. Look at how Washington Post reporter Linton Weeks led into the airhead graph in his September 22 story:

Asked by American Enterprise magazine -- for an interview that will appear in its November-December issue -- what was the biggest revelation in "Dutch," Morris replied, "That Ronald Reagan was a massively substantial person of considerably more deliberation and philosophical seriousness than he's ever been given credit for."

At points in the book, however, Morris is more dismissive of Reagan's intellect. He writes that he could not believe how shallow Reagan's "hidden depths" appeared to be. He refers to Reagan's frequent use of cue cards, to his deference to aides on matters of substance, and to the often rambling answers the president gave to interviewers.

After following him around for seven months, making friends with Reagan insiders such as Michael Deaver, Donald Regan, George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, Morris writes that he was stumped. "Dutch remained a mystery to me, and worse still -- dare I entertain such a heresy, in the hushed and reverent precincts of his office? -- an airhead."

     END Excerpt

     According to what Morris told Couric, he wrote "-- an apparent airhead." While that clarification should hardly make Reagan fans any happier with Morris's book or powers of perception, a reading of the original Washington Post recounting makes obvious that Today and Couric distorted Morris as he was referring to how he viewed Reagan in late 1985 after following him around for a few months, a view he eventually realized was wrong.

     Now for a little Morris bashing courtesy of Couric, here's the next exchange in Wednesday's interview:
     Couric: "But do you think that many readers might come away confused....You use semi-fictional characters. You for example have a fictionalized version of yourself, a young Edmund Morris, whose basically a contemporary of Ronald Reagan. He's the same age. He observes him at college football games, has a job interview with him in Hollywood. And he's even saved by Reagan when he was a lifeguard. Edmund Morris is saved from drowning. There are a number of other..."
     Morris, cutting her off: "You gave away my ending."
     Couric: "Oh sorry. There are a number of other fictional characters. Well it is a memoir not a novel, right?"

     Good question.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)sperry0930.jpg (11879 bytes) Clinton "spittle" in the face. When Investor's Business Daily's Washington Bureau Chief, Paul Sperry, dared to do what no other Washington reporter would -- ask Clinton about campaign money from China and the FBI's probe being subverted -- he was rewarded with ten minutes of an angry Clinton yelling at him from barely a foot away.

     The display of Clinton's temper happened last Friday night on the White House South Lawn at a jazz concert for Washington reporters.

     Wednesday night on FNC's The O'Reilly Factor Sperry recounted his experience, telling Bill O'Reilly how while standing in a receiving line he asked Clinton when he would next hold a press conference since "the American people have a lot of unanswered questions." Sperry recalled that "at that point he moved right square in front of me and basically got in my face and said 'like what?' and at that point I took a big gulp."

     Sperry asked him about the campaign finance investigation and how four FBI agents two days earlier had testified about their probe of him and Democrats being suppressed. Sperry explained: "When I mentioned the FBI agents in particular, and there was at least one other reporter there who witnessed this, the Seattle Times reporter said he just 'blew his top.' He did. He came unglued and said the FBI was basically saying that 'gee we need to change the subject from Waco and get attention on the campaign finance probe.'"

     Pressed by O'Reilly, Sperry confirmed Clinton "was shouting" and so he was therefore getting hit in the face with "spittle, if you will." Sperry added that Clinton "went into a tirade about Haley Barbour" being the only person tied to Chinese money, a preposterous claim. Sperry predicted: "I will not be going to the Easter Egg roll."

     +++ Hear Sperry recount his encounter with a Clinton in full fury. About one hour after this CyberAlert is sent Thursday morning, the MRC's Sean Henry and Kristina Sewell will get up a RealPlayer clip of Sperry on FNC's September 29 The O'Reilly Factor. Go to: http://www.mrc.org

     In Monday's Seattle Times reporter James V. Grimaldi, of the paper's Washington bureau, relayed what he witnessed. Here's an excerpt from his September 27 story:

The President seemed buoyant and relaxed.

He was smiling, shaking hands and socializing with reporters Friday night during the annual picnic for members of the White House press corps when a guest asked, "When are you going to have your next formal press conference, Mr. President?"

President Clinton kept shaking hands and after a few moments said: "I don't know. I'll have one."

The reporter, Paul Sperry, Washington bureau chief of Investor's Business Daily, asked, "When?"

The President replied, "Why?"

Sperry: "The American people have a lot of questions about illegal money from China and the campaign-finance scandal."

Suddenly, the President's mood changed, his face turned red and he launched into an argument that lasted nearly 10 minutes as he defended himself and the Democratic Party against allegations of Chinese attempts to influence the 1996 U.S. presidential election.

During the extraordinary exchange, Clinton suggested that Republicans were hypocrites on the subject of campaign-finance violations. He complained about the length and cost of the investigation and suggested that the FBI would prefer that the news media report on political funding irregularities rather than questions about the April 19, 1993, federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

"We've spent $4 million and gave the (campaign-finance) task force millions of records and every shred of evidence, and they haven't found a thing," Clinton told Sperry.

Sperry replied that FBI agents who testified before Congress this month raised serious allegations of Department of Justice stonewalling on the campaign-finance matter and reminded him that FBI Director Louis Freeh thought enough evidence existed to call for an independent counsel.

At that, Clinton laughed and said, "Yeah, the FBI wants you to write about that rather than write about Waco."....

Clinton began his response to Sperry by saying that Republicans were as sullied as Democrats by campaign-finance allegations. "You want to know the only person who has been linked to money from China? Haley Barbour and the RNC, that's who," he said.

He apparently was referring to allegations by former Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung, who told investigators that he was told by a Chinese contact that an aide to Barbour -- who was then the Chairman of the Republican National Committee -- helped arrange a $2.1 million loan to Republicans with the help of the Chinese in 1994. The aide's attorney has denied the allegation.

The President suggested that reporters were bowing to an agenda set by Republicans and not following the issues the people care about. "The GOP wants that to be the story rather than guns or their tax plan," Clinton said.

Sperry replied that the public wanted answers about the allegations of illegal contributions. But Clinton wasn't buying it. "I've been all around this country, and you are the first person to ask me about it," Clinton said. "Not one person has brought that up."

The conversation got so heated that a White House photographer attempted to end it. "This is so inappropriate," the photographer said, defending the President. "Mr. President, there is a nice little boy here who wants to shake your hand."....

     END Excerpt

     To read the entire story, go to: http://www.seattletimes.com/news/nation-world/html98/clin_19990927.html

     Sadly, Clinton is probably right about one thing: This was the first time anyone asked him recently about campaign finance or the charges made by the four FBI agents as Sperry stands out in a Washington press corps uninterested in the whole subject. Indeed, as detailed in the September 24 CyberAlert, of the TV networks only FNC covered the troubling cover-up claims made by the FBI agents. Not a word even on CNN's Inside Politics or in the New York Times or Washington Post. For details on what the agents said about being thwarted and what FNC and the Washington Times reported, go to: http://archive.mrc.org/news/cyberalert/1999/cyb19990924.html#2

     Here's a prediction: Whenever Clinton does hold a press conference no one will ask about the subverted FBI probe or China money in general, unless Clinton mistakenly calls upon Sperry. -- Brent Baker


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