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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday November 22, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 180)

Liberal "Centrist"; NBC Accented Hillsdale Scandal; Viewers Avoiding Gumbel

1) Time's Jack White complained about how the impeachment hearings were a "colossal waste of time" and CBS's Bob Schieffer judged Congress a flop for failing to enact more liberal laws.

2) Referring to a Senator who earned a 95 percent liberal rating, the Washington Post asserted: "On Saturday, Gore will get the endorsement of a centrist Democrat."

3) By once again playing a clip from the pop quiz given Bush, Friday night CBS and NBC provided evidence for Michael Kelly's theory about why the public find the media so "loathable."

4) NBC picked up on the scandal at Hillsdale College, repeatedly referring to its "conservative" orientation. NBC's Jim Avila mocked Reagan and Thatcher, noting that at Hillsdale "Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are regarded as heroic deep thinkers."

5) MSNBC's Brian Williams demanded that Ken Starr identify "a moment of zealotry, two moments of zealotry" in his "hunt" for the President which was perceived being "about a middle aged man telling kind of run of the mill lies" to hide a sexual affair.

6) ABC and NBC ignored a drug company's arguments for extending a patent as both followed Public Citizen's script: a greedy corporation contributes to cynical politicians.

7) Bryant Gumbel is driving viewers away from CBS in the morning.

Editor's Note: No, you haven't missed any issues. There hasn't been a CyberAlert since last Monday. Last week the MRC held some all day planning meetings and then I became ill for a few days, an illness I am only now overcoming. Fortunately, until Friday last week was a pretty quiet week on the political news front network news-wise, so you didn't miss much. I hope to get back on schedule next week with CyberAlerts on a more regular basis.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Taking their end-of-session shots. Over the weekend Time's Jack White complained about how the impeachment hearings were a "colossal waste of time" and CBS's Bob Schieffer judged Congress a flop for failing to enact new liberal laws, including "a nuclear test ban treaty most of the world wanted."

     -- On Inside Washington Time magazine's Jack White offered this admonishment for the Congress:
     "Lest we forget, this is the Congress that included the colossal waste of time of the impeachment hearings."

     -- Ending Sunday's Face the Nation, CBS host Bob Schieffer complained: "On issue after issue, from gun control to overhauling campaign finance law to reforming HMOs and giving seniors access to prescription drugs, polls showed the public wanted action. But Congress, feeling the hot breath of the lobby, couldn't find a way to act."
     He concluded his diatribe: "This one will go into the history books as the Congress that killed a nuclear test ban treaty most of the world wanted, but couldn't figure out how to do much else."

     "...giving seniors access to prescription drugs..."? Who is stopping them from having "access" now? Some nice and dishonest spin from Schieffer here: Turning a plan to create a whole new government program to force taxpayers to pay for drugs into an unobjectionable-sounding plan to just give seniors "access."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) How far left do you have to be before the Washington Post decides you are not a "centrist"? In a Saturday, November 20, Washington Post story headlined "Gore Runs Into Flak on Foray Into N.H.," reporter Ceci Connolly, who you may recognize from her occasional CNN and PBS Washington Week in Review appearances, wrote:
     "On Saturday, Gore will get the endorsement of a centrist Democrat, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.)."

     A perfect "centrist" would earn a 50 rating from both conservative and liberal groups. So how close is Kerry? According to the 1998 Almanac of American Politics, in 1996 the American Conservative Union put him at 5 percent. The same year the liberal Americans for Democratic Action reported he voted liberal 95 percent of the time.

     I guess to the Washington Post, anything less than 100 percent liberal makes you a "centrist."

     The ADA in 1996 gave Jesse Helms a 5 rating, but I don't recall the Post ever referring to him as a "centrist."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Friday night ABC only offered a brief mention of George W. Bush's big foreign policy speech delivered earlier in the day, while both CBS and NBC not only ran full stories but again raised the pop quiz issue from two weeks before, the repetition of which, columnist Michael Kelly suggested, is what makes the public see the media as so "loathable."

     Prompted by an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by Elizabeth Drew, ABC's Cokie Roberts provided World News Tonight with the first broadcast network evening story about the "whispering campaign" by Senators about how John McCain is unfit to serve as President.

     On the Bush speech front, Peter Jennings noted that "Mr. Bush accomplished what he set out to do: talk about foreign policy without creating any more political difficulty for himself."

     Over on the November 19 CBS Evening News, Bill Whitaker found that "he staked out a foreign policy tougher than the Clinton administration." After a couple of soundbites from Bush, Whitaker asserted: "With Republican foreign policy heavyweights for support, this clearly was to establish the Texas Governor as a serious player on the international stage and to counter the impression he's a lightweight that has dogged him ever since he failed a reporters' foreign policy pop quiz recently."

     Whitaker showed video of Bush being unable to answer WHDH TV's Andy Hiller's question about who is the Prime Minister of India before Whitaker allowed Bush adviser Condleezza Rice to claim he has "all the right instincts." Whitaker concluded:
     "Yet with his shaky foreign affairs record he'll have hard work to convince voters his grasp of the issue is more than one speech deep."

     NBC's David Bloom set up his Nightly News piece: "From the typically subdued Bush, it was a surprisingly energetic speech meant to convey that he's serious about foreign policy despite a series of foreign policy gaffes."

     After a few soundbite of Bush, Bloom declared: "But, having burst on the scene as the Republican frontrunner, it is Bush who has been ridiculed of late, confusing Slovakia with Slovenia, unable to name various world leaders."
     Bloom showed the same Hiller/India clip before adding that Bush is now "the butt of many a late night joke." Viewers then heard this from Jay Leno: "Yesterday he went into a think tank, almost drowned."
     Bloom continued: "Today's speech was an opportunity for Bush to combat the impression that he lacks the intellectual heft and the experience to be America's commander-in-chief, even as pranksters paraded outside the Reagan library in dunce caps."

     (Bush gave his address at the Reagan Library.)

     By drudging up once again the pop quiz incident Whitaker and Bloom provided more evidence to support National Journal editor Michael Kelly's contention that such "group think" is one reason the public loathes the media.

     In his column which appeared in the Washington Post back on November 10, Kelly argued:

Fellow hacks, scribblers, on-air talents, talking heads and pundits, may we speak about a delicate subject? To wit: Why does everyone loathe us so? Because, my little preciouses, we are so loathable.

Last week, a Boston television interviewer named Andy Hiller surprised Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush with a pop quiz comprising, as Hiller put it, "four questions of four leaders in four hot spots." Hiller asked Bush to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, Pakistan and India. They are, as you doubtless know: Aslan Maskhadov, Lee Teng-hui, Pervez Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee. And, as you doubtless also know, Bush couldn't answer the questions, scoring only a partial hit for identifying the president of Taiwan as "Lee."

Media wits leapt to mock Bush for his ignorance, and media thinkers leapt to opine that his inability to name names on the spot was reminiscent of Ted Kennedy's disastrous 1980 failure to give Roger Mudd a coherent explanation as to why he wished to be president. Yes, said we chin-pullers, this was a gaffe with legs, one that would resonate.

Hiller's stunt does indeed resonate, but not in quite the way we would have it. It resonates because it demonstrates a range of the reasons why the public increasingly regards the media -- us -- with contempt.

(1) We are so relentlessly mindless. Reporters like to picture themselves as independent thinkers. In truth, with the exception of 13-year-old girls, there is no social subspecies more slavish to fashion, more terrified of originality and more devoted to group-think. Every day, journalists go out into a world of confusion and chaos, and every day they are obliged to present the passing confusion in what appears to be order. It is nearly impossible to do this honestly -- to think your way fresh through each day's events, day after day. So, for survival's sake, most journalists learn to see the world through a set of standard templates into which they plug each day's events.

Thus, the Hiller interview is played big because it fits -- neatly, mindlessly -- into a template of the campaign, which is itself a subset of an older template: Bush is a know-nothing; Republicans are mostly know-nothings (except for Rockefeller Republicans, who are mostly dead).

(2) We are so blatantly unfair. Almost everyone knows that they could not, out of the blue and with the cameras rolling, dredge up the answers to Hiller's questions. This includes most if not all of Bush's campaign rivals. (Only the campaign of Al Gore, the call-on-me candidate, was quick to say their teacher's pet would have aced the quiz.)

When Hiller tried to sandbag Bill Bradley with a similar test, Bradley had the good sense to refuse to play. Smart move. But it raises a question: Could Bradley have passed the quiz? If flunking this sort of test matters about Bush, doesn't it also matter about the other candidates? Shouldn't the press force Bradley and the rest to take pop quizzes too? That won't happen, because this whole exercise was really just about getting one man: Bush....

     END Excerpt


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) The sex scandal at Hillsdale College was picked up on Friday by NBC which made sure viewers knew of the school's "conservative" orientation, employing the term "conservative" six times each on Today and Nightly News.

     For those who missed the National Review and Weekly Standard stories last week, or the Thursday Washington Post story, in mid-October Hillsdale President George Roche III resigned after his daughter-in-law Lissa Roche committed suicide hours after revealing she'd been having an affair with him since 1980. Hillsdale is one of only a few colleges able to avoid federal decrees because it does not accept any federal money for the college or via student loans.

     Introducing a Friday Today story, Katie Couric declared: "Tiny Hillsdale College in rural Michigan. It's been the darling of the conservative movement since its dynamic President refused all federal funding back in the '70s. But today it's facing up to a public relations nightmare and much more following a tragic death."

     MRC analyst Mark Drake noticed that in a portion of the story aired on Today, but cut from a replay run on Friday's Nightly News, Jim Avila mocked the notion of Reagan and Thatcher as heroes with ideas worthy of value:
     "Hillsdale College is supposed to be different: a liberal arts college where liberals are unwanted, where Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are regarded as heroic deep thinkers, prayer is encouraged and morality is taught alongside grammar."

     Avila opened the November 19 Nightly News story:
     "The dynasty of George Roche III, first family of Hillsdale College in southern Michigan, President and visionary for a temple of conservative politics and family values, now torn apart by a love triangle. Charges of a secret 19-year affair between the family patriarch and the wife of his oldest son....Tragedy backed by irony. Important to conservatives across the country, because of who these people are, what they claim to stand for, and because their story ends in suicide. Daughter-in-law Lissa Roche, editor of the Hillsdale campus magazine, wife to the son, lover of the father, in deep despair takes her own life in this stone gazebo."

     Avila added that "For 29 years, Dr. Roche ruled this campus with an iron fist, taking it from a small Midwestern college to a national bastion of conservative thought. So powerful here that students, the campus newspaper, even some faculty were afraid to cross him."

     Following a soundbite from a former professor who complained about how "the morality taught in class was not followed at the administration tower," Avila summarized the tragic events of mid-October and how the elder Roche's son came to believe what Lissa claimed. Avila picked up the story: "Days after the suicide the father resigned his post as Hillsdale President, but some in the administration began a whisper campaign."
     William Bennett: "This girl was a pathological liar I was told, and there were problems with, with the son."
     Avila: "Respected conservative William Bennett suspected cover-up, and decided he could no longer help Hillsdale through its crisis."
     Bennett: "Spin, I sensed, was being put on it. That's when I got out."
     Avila concluded: "Leaving behind twin tragedies: family destruction and a permanent mark on this conservative college."

     Not a mark I'd bet many in the media mind exacerbating.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Will Ken Starr ever get any respect? Certainly not, it seems, from even members of the media who acknowledge he was a victim of a White House smear campaign which "demonized" him. But instead of trying to show how wrong that was, last Wednesday night MSNBC's Brian Williams demanded that Starr identify "a moment of zealotry, two moments of zealotry" in his "hunt" for the President. In a live November 17 interview on The News with Brian Williams the host of the same name, MRC analyst Mark Drake observed, also wondered if Starr realized that his case was perceived as being "about a middle aged man telling kind of run of the mill lies to protect a non-intercourse sexual affair"?

     Williams began by telling Starr: "Judge, I wanted to give you an independent opening opportunity here and the question is this: when you are alone with your thoughts and memories and you look back, can you identify in all truthfulness a moment of zealotry, two moments of zealotry? Can you identify a moment where perhaps you snapped yourself out of it but for a short time this became a hunt?"

     After asking him about a New Yorker article which argued that if he had agreed to give Lewinsky immunity early on he would have prevented the White House from having months to attack him, Williams demanded:
     "Do you understand now, did you understand at the time, looking at the coverage of yourself, perhaps you saw some of it, that the perception widely held, not among everyone, was that you were going after a case, that was at the end of the day, about a middle aged man telling kind of run of the mill lies to protect a non-intercourse sexual affair?"

     Williams then returned to the New Yorker thesis, agreeing that the White House had "demonized" him and letting Starr note how improper such attacks on him were. Williams ended, however, by putting the burden back on Starr:
     "Could you make a case that you were too closely identified with Republican politics and it wasn't fair, in a way, to put you in the job?"


cyberno6.jpg (1848 bytes) Instead of exploring why a drug company might want an extension on a patent, and airing views on both sides of the issue about which policy would most benefit consumers while also encouraging continued expensive pharmaceutical research, a couple of weeks ago ABC and NBC assumed all that mattered was campaign money and how much the company gave to whom.

     The rest of this item as recited below was written by Rich Noyes, the MRC's new Director of our Free Market Project:

     On Wednesday night, November 17, Peter Jennings read a brief item from Washington: "The headline here would have to be the power of the spotlight," Jennings said. "The Senate Judiciary Committee has decided not to go ahead with a bill that would have made it possible to extend the patent for the best-selling allergy drug Claritin beyond the year 2002. The drug's maker, Schering-Plough, had lobbied very aggressively in favor of the bill, which would have kept less expensive generic versions of Claritin off the market longer."

     While Jennings didn't say so, the "spotlight" that proved so consequential belonged to ABC. The week before, World News Tonight ran two reports by Jackie Judd apparently designed to thwart the lobbying campaign by Schering-Plough. NBC Nightly News carried one report by Lisa Myers on the same story. "The drug maker would have liked the legislation to pass -- quietly," Jennings told viewers on Monday, November 8.

     The impetus for the networks' expose seems to have come from Public Citizen, a Nader-ite liberal activist group that issued its own anti-Schering-Plough report. Both Myers' and Judd's reports closely followed Public Citizen's press release, (http://www.citizen.org/Press/pr-drugs10.htm) and representatives from Public Citizen were featured in all three network stories.
Meanwhile, Schering-Plough company spokesmen wouldn't talk to either Myers or Judd, so both reporters briefly paraphrased a company statement which argued that the patent extension was justified by FDA delays during the approval process.

     In fact, after Schering-Plough obtained the original 17-year patent for Claritin in 1983, it was forced to wait eight years before the government said it could begin selling the drug. A two-year extension was later granted, but that runs out in 2002. Schering-Plough wanted to extend its patent another three years, to 2005, before generic drug companies could copy its formula and sell cheaper versions of Claritin.

     The networks ignored those pesky details, however, as both journalists followed Public Citizen's script: a greedy corporation contributes to cynical politicians in order to obtain political support. Myers called it "a classic case of how Washington works." Judd reported that "Schering-Plough is pushing hard, having spent millions in lobbying Congress to get the patent extended." Myers, echoing Judd, reported that "documents also revealed the company spent $11 million for an army of lobbyists to work the halls of Congress, and it increased campaign contributions more than a million dollars to Republicans, $300,000 to Democrats."

     Both reporters pointed out that Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli, who introduced the bill, received a substantial contribution from Schering-Plough, which is based in his home state of New Jersey. And, both reported that Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch leased Schering-Plough's corporate jet for campaign trips -- legal, both reporters admitted, but perhaps too cozy an arrangement.

     These are the same details contained in Public Citizen's press release, making one wonder how hard either Judd or Myers really worked on the story. Public Citizen makes no bones about its liberalism on this issue. "This bill is about whether prescription drugs are going to continue to be unaffordable for too many Americans, including seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare who have no prescription drug coverage," Public Citizen's Frank Clemente said in the press release.

     But in hewing so closely to Public Citizen's anti-corporate line, Myers and Judd ignored a crucial fact: Drug companies won't research and develop new drugs such as Claritin unless they can recoup those costs in the marketplace. That's the reason new medicines get patent protection from the U.S. government, and it's a process that ultimately benefits consumers.


cyberno7.gif (1643 bytes) Fewer people watched the second week of the new The Early Show on CBS co-hosted by Bryant Gumbel than tuned into CBS in the morning the same time a year earlier.

     On Friday the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes reported that for the second week of November 4.3 million tuned into ABC's Good Morning America, "that's up 23 percent compared with the same week last year." So there goes any argument that the impeachment process drove viewers to morning news a year ago more than now. NBC's Today maintained the same 6.1 million viewers level in both sans-Gumbel years.

     But from November 8 to 12 this month a mere 2.7 million watched CBS's latest morning show incarnation, a viewership level that de Moraes noted is "down 12 percent compared with the same week a year ago, when CBS had This Morning in the day part."

     Note to CBS stockholders: If CBS listened to CyberAlert and took note of our "Gumbel Stumbles" collection of a decade of liberal advocacy from Gumbel, his inability to attract viewers would not be any surprise. And CBS could have saved all the money it spent building a new studio in a Manhattan office building.

     Gumbel is scheduled to be the guest tonight, Monday, on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman. I think this is his first major media appearance since the November 1 launch of The Early Show. -- Brent Baker


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