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
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
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.
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
"...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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
(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
(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....
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
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
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
Not a mark I'd bet many in the
media mind exacerbating.
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
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
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?"
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
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,
and representatives from Public Citizen were featured in all three network
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
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.
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
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
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
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. --
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