Cochran's Gore Dinner Date; Hillary "Whispers"; FNC Up, CNN & Gumbel Down
1) ABC reporter John Cochran's dinner date
with Tipper and Al Gore stirred controversy but he insisted it was a
"working dinner." ABC fired Bob Zelnick for writing a book about
Gore. Cochran claimed he has a "fair and tough" record, but the
MRC documented his history of liberal reporting. Al Gore called Cochran
2) Scolding Bush from the left, Newsweek's
Howard Fineman found two faults in Bush's Meet the Press answers: praising
Antonin Scalia and ruling out a meeting with Log Cabin Republicans.
3) Dan Rather ominously warned about a
"whispering campaign" aimed at Hillary Clinton in which her
opponents "are spreading the words 'ineffective' and 'blunders' about
the First Lady's campaigning."
4) CNN and MSNBC prime time viewership has
plummeted from a year ago while the Fox News Channel's prime time is up.
CBS's The Early Show is still being watched by fewer than tuned in This
ABC News reporter John Cochran invited Al and Tipper Gore over for dinner
at his home Thursday night. But did the dinner, as USA Today suggested in
breaking the story Thursday morning, raise "some ethics questions at
ABC News"? The paper reported that the "word around ABC News is
that Cochran notified executives of the dinner party after the Gores...had
accepted the invitation." Only then, to avoid an ethical problem, did
ABC News decide to transform it from a personal to official event and
offer "to foot the bill for the dinner."
Or, as Cochran maintained to
the MRC's CNSNews.com, was it designed as a perfectly appropriate
Whichever it really turned out
or was planned to be, as the MRC pointed out in a press release and fax
report during the day, it raises a double standard at ABC News which had
fired reporter Bob Zelnick last year for writing a book about Al Gore
published by the conservative Regnery company. At the time, ABC News
President David Westin told Zelnick "we cannot have a Washington
correspondent writing a book about one of our national leaders whom that
correspondent will undoubtedly have to cover."
For more on Zelnick's
departure, go to an article in the March 1998 MediaWatch:
In defending himself to
CNSNews.com Cochran insisted: "I think I've got a pretty good track
record for being fair and tough." In fact, as the MRC demonstrated in
the fax report, Cochran has a long trail of liberal advocacy in his
reporting at both NBC News and ABC News.
Below are excerpts from stories
and reports released Thursday about this still unfolding controversy,
including USA Today's original story, two CNSNews.com pieces highlighting
ABC's defense, and a MRC fax report listing Cochran's record of liberal
comments. Plus, while Cochran denied that he is a "friend" of
the Gore's, in a FNC story Thursday night Al Gore referred to John Cochran
as "a friend."
-- Thursday's USA Today broke
the news that ABC News reporter John Cochran had invited Al and Tipper
Gore over for dinner. Peter Johnson wrote:
A dinner party tonight at the Washington, D.C., home of
ABC News correspondent John Cochran and his wife, Barbara, has raised some
ethics questions at ABC News.
The guests of honor are Vice President Gore and wife
Tipper. Cochran, who covers the White House, is expected to be ABC's lead
reporter on Gore's presidential campaign.
Politicians and the reporters who cover them socialize
casually all the time in Washington. But there are certain unspoken
guidelines. One is to avoid being too close -- or giving the appearance of
chumminess -- with a politician, especially during a race.
In campaigns, reporters and candidates "will find
themselves together at dinner parties all the time," says Keith Woods
of the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla., school for journalists.
"What changes in this case is the intimate relationship that is
suggested by the fact that the reporter is inviting the candidate to his
home. This is unnecessary muddying of the waters."
Word around ABC News is that Cochran notified executives
of the dinner party after the Gores -- who are longtime friends of the
Cochrans -- had accepted the invitation. At that point, ABC News decided
to foot the bill for the dinner. Woods called ABC's sponsorship "just
stacking more bodies into the bed."
Cochran couldn't be reached. ABC News spokeswoman Eileen
Murphy said the "working dinner...will not compromise our coverage of
the presidential race in any way."
Murphy would not discuss how ABC came to sponsor the
dinner. No other ABC correspondents have hosted dinners for candidates,
she said. Reporters from The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN
will attend tonight. "It's one in a series of conversations we're
having with presidential candidates. We intend to have other similar
-- Early in the afternoon
CNSNews.com reporter Jim Burns reached Cochran, who denied he is a friend
of the Gore family and maintained "It is not a party for them. It is
a 'working dinner' with them." He also claimed that he's had
Republican leaders over for dinner in the past. Here's an excerpt of the
ABC News White House Correspondent John Cochran denied a
report in Thursday's USA Today that said he is hosting a "dinner
party" tonight for Vice President Gore and his wife at the reporter's
home and added that he is not "friends" with the couple.
Cochran told CNSNews.com, "It is not a party for
them. It is a 'working dinner' with them. There was a report that I am a
friend of the Gore's. I am not a friend of the Gore's, never have been. I
have not seen the Gores in a social setting since some time last
According to Cochran he did check with ABC News before
committing to having the "working dinner" and received
management's permission. "I thought it would be a good idea to invite
them to a dinner. I think it is a good idea that the better that you know
the candidate, the better your coverage is, I think," said Cochran.
"It may be an old fashioned idea but I've been in
this business now over 25 years in political reporting and I think I've
got a pretty good track record for being fair and tough. I've already
covered some stories on Gore this year. I think anybody who saw those
stories would certainly say they were not soft pieces on Gore. They were
quite critical," Cochran told CNSNews.com.
When asked how he managed to entice ABC to foot the bill
for the dinner Cochran said, "It's a business dinner." He went
on to say, "If you take somebody out to dinner at a restaurant, your
company pays for it. This whole thing about the tab, people entertain
sources all the time, their company pays for it."
Cochran said he understands that ABC News plans to have
more dinners and invite the other candidates but does not know the
specifics since he is only covering Gore. "My company [ABC News], I
know, has plans for [other dinners] but you'd have to speak with them
because I'm not covering the other candidates. I feel I need to know more
about the candidate I'm covering."
"However," Cochran went on to say, "I
have hosted working dinners in my house, at which [Senate Majority Leader]
Trent Lott was present. [I have also hosted Arizona Senator] John McCain.
I've certainly had Republicans in my house before."....
To read the full story, go to:
-- Late in the afternoon
CNSNews.com's Jim Burns filed an updated story in which an ABC News
spokeswoman conceded that "given the attention" that the Gore
dinner generated, ABC "would think long and hard before we would do
another one at another person's home." Here's an excerpt of the
A spokeswoman for ABC News said the company does not
view a "working dinner" Thursday night hosted by one of its
reporters with Vice President Al Gore as a "conflict" but
concedes it is unlikely it will sponsor another dinner again.
Eileen Murphy, spokesperson for ABC News, told
CNSNews.com that Thursday evening's working dinner hosted by its White
House correspondent John Cochran is "in no way conflict our
reporting" of the Gore presidential campaign.
She went on to say, "I think given the attention
that this particular one [the Gore working dinner] has gotten, we would
think long and hard before we would do another one at another person's
home. I don't know that anybody would be willing to do it because of the
attention that this one has gotten."
Murphy defended the practice and said the network's use
of working dinners with politicians is "great" and added that
ABC reporters will continue to meet with presidential candidates in some
format. "We've done similar things in this campaign season,"
Murphy told CNSNews.com, "with Senator (John) McCain. We have gone
down to Austin, Texas and visited with (Governor) George Bush. We intend
to do an editorial meeting with Bill Bradley. That is what this is. It is
a working dinner with the Vice President, who is a candidate for
president" Murphy went on to say, "We didn't do a dinner with
George W. Bush but we did go down to Austin and spent about two and a half
hours with him. We intend to invite him (Bush) here to New York to do
another one of these as we move along in the [campaign] cycle."....
In 1987 the Radio and Television News Directors
Association, the largest organization devoted to electronic journalism,
adopted a code of ethics which it required all members to accept. In
Section 2 of the code, it states that journalists must, "Strive to
conduct themselves in a manner that protects them from conflicts of
interest, real or perceived. They will decline gifts or favors which would
influence or appear to influence their judgments."
Barbara Cochran, wife of John Cochran and President of
RTNDA, told CNSNews.com that the dinner with Gore in not an ethical
violation. "It's a news organization that's the host, not the other
way around. So there's no gift or favor coming in the direction of any of
the news people involved. This is a part of your job. It is to get to know
the people you cover."
To read the entire story, go
-- Picking up on Cochran's
insistence to CNSNews.com, as cited two excerpts above, that "I think
I've got a pretty good track record for being fair and tough," late
in the day the MRC's Tim Graham checked the record and found a trail of
liberal advocacy from Cochran's time at ABC News and before that with NBC
Here's a reprint of the
December 2 Media Reality Check fax report:
ABC Caters to Gore at Casa Cochran: ABC Fired Zelnick
Over Gore Book Deal, But It Pays for Cochran's Dinner Party With Al and
ABC News fired veteran reporter Bob Zelnick in 1998
because he refused to break a contract with Regnery, the publisher of his
Al Gore biography. When The New Yorker noted that Zelnick
reported a story on Gary Aldrich, a fellow Regnery author, ABC News
President David Westin wrote to Zelnick his story "held up to
ridicule that our reporting is influenced by views you/we have formed
about the individual involved."
But USA Today reported today that ABC reporter
John Cochran is hosting a dinner party for Al and Tipper Gore tonight at
his home. Was Cochran fired? No, ABC is picking up the tab. If Cochran's
dinner doesn't say he's a liberal, his work does:
-- Appalling Reagan Years. "Conventional wisdom
here in Washington has it that you and your department are too busy
dealing with what's leftover from the Reagan Administration, those
scandals, to do the rest of your work. For example, there's the HUD
scandal, there's the Pentagon procurement fraud. Do you ever go to work
and get angry and frustrated and think about the mess that you
inherited?... Are you just appalled by what happened during the Reagan
years?" -- Then-NBC White House reporter Cochran to Attorney General
Richard Thornburgh on Meet the Press, August 20, 1989.
-- Duke Loves Bush: "Civil rights leaders say
Bush's [hiring quota bill] veto will play well with whites who support
former Klansman David Duke, but not with black voters." -- Cochran,
October 17, 1990 Nightly News.
-- Scrooge Buchanan: "If street people were asked
today who Scrooge is, some might name Republican presidential contender
Pat Buchanan, who said last night that the homeless should be restricted
to certain areas and that pan handlers should be locked up if they ignore
warnings to stop." -- Cochran, December 24, 1991 Nightly News.
-- Racist Welfare Reform: "Some of these [family
values] issues have racial overtones, such as Bush's support for welfare
reforms which penalize single mothers who continue having children."
-- Cochran live from the GOP convention, August 19, 1992.
-- Conservative Clinton: On the October 2, 1994 This
Week, ABC reporter Cochran claimed Clinton could say as an
"Eisenhower Democrat" that "The Republicans are making
promises that are going to bust the budget. I, a responsible,
middle-of-the- road, conservative type, can tell you it's not going to
-- The GOP Mafia: "Going into the homestretch, the
campaign is taking on faint overtones of the old protection racket with
[House] Republicans increasingly sounding like the Capone gang, offering
protection against Bugsy Clinton and his mob." -- Cochran, October
27, 1996 This Week.
-- Mrs. Cochran's In Sync: On September 23, 1994,
then-CBS Washington Bureau Chief Barbara Cochran told C-SPAN:
"There's no question it was the Reagan tax cuts that led to the
Space did not permit relaying in the
fax report two other good examples of Cochran's liberal reporting, so here
they are as a CyberAlert bonus:
> Why the Public Blames the
GOP. Cochran on the June 6, 1997 World News Tonight reporting on GOP
Cochran: "Flood victims in Grand Forks do
not understand why Republican leaders refuse to pass an aid bill without
Tomi Lundby, flood victim: "The river took
our home, our possessions, our neighbors, our neighborhood and we still
have our spirit. But the government is taking our spirit and our strength.
And that's what's going to kill us."
Cochran: "Doug Sprehe is a life-long
conservative Republican." Doug Sprehe: "I believed in these guys
and I voted for some of them and I'm beginning to lose my faith in the
Cochran: "...People whose homes and
businesses were destroyed say GOP leaders should realize that what they
really need is money to rebuild."
> Medicare: Not Enough
Spending. Cochran on ABC's World News Tonight on June 29, 1999 the day
Clinton announced his proposal to have Medicare cover prescriptions:
"For many older people the Clinton plan is
welcomed, but it would hardly solve the problems of those who have huge
drug bills every month. That would include the Mitchells, who live in
Florida. 68-year-old Willie has kidney problems, heart problems, and
diabetes. The Mitchells' combined income each month from Social Security
is only $1,200. Last month Willie's drug bill alone was more than $1,000.
To make it through each month he cuts back on food and on medications,
cutting his pills into quarters .....Under the Clinton plan Willie would
only get $83 a month, not enough....His doctor urged him to go to Mexico
where drugs are cheaper. But as a war veteran who paid taxes all his life,
Willie can't understand why his own government can't help more."
-- Cochran told CNSNews.com he
does not consider himself to be a Gore "friend," but in a
soundbite run in a Special Report with Brit Hume story on FNC Thursday
night Gore claimed the opposite:
"A friend invited me to come over for dinner
and Tipper and I said okay, we'll do that and we look forward to it and
[shrugging] you know, I [starts laughing] you know, whatever people think
is the controversy they'll have to decide for themselves."
In the story on the controversy
FNC's Eric Burns stood up for Cochran: "I have known John Cochran
very well for 15 years. He is a fair and honorable man on and off the air.
But there's a larger issue here than just one reporter and one dinner
party and one guest of honor...." That's how journalists have moved
from independent outsiders to being insiders.
Later, in the roundtable
segment, The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes dismissed the controversy:
"I know John Cochran very well. I know Barbara his wife even more. We
worked together at the Washington Star, going back many, many years.
They're both lovely people and I see nothing wrong with it. If truth be
told, you know, I am hosting a dinner for a political figure next
Wednesday night, and Mort's going to be there."
My bottom line: If there was
nothing wrong with Cochran having a presidential candidate, whom he is
covering, over to dinner at his house, why were some ABC News insiders
upset enough to complain to USA Today's Peter Johnson?
Scolding Bush's interview performance from the left. Catching up on a
comment from last week caught by MRC analyst Mark Drake, Newsweek's Howard
Fineman found two "unforced errors" in George W. Bush's answers
to Tim Russert on the November 21 Meet the Press -- and both were
instances where Bush positioned himself on the right: praising Justice
Antonin Scalia and ruling out a meeting with Log Cabin Republicans.
Last Tuesday, November 23, on
radio's Imus in the Morning show simulcast on MSNBC, Fineman argued:
"I thought he made some unforced errors
politically. I don't think he had to say that Antonin Scalia was his
favorite Supreme Court Justice. I mean it's not like Bush was really under
great pressure from Gary Bauer. You know it just didn't make any sense for
him to do that. Nor do I think he had to, you know, rule out meeting with
the Log Cabin Republicans. Again, because he's not under a lot pressure
from the right. And I think those may have been two unschooled,
unrehearsed moments and, you know, I think he messed them up."
As he pushed Bush from the left
Fineman seemed befuddled why a candidate would express any conservative
views if not pressured to do so from the right.
John McCain isn't the only victim of a "whispering campaign"
according to Dan Rather. Last week, the day before Hillary Clinton said
she does "intend" to run for a New York Senate seat, Rather
impugned Hillary Clinton's opponents for supposedly employing a
"whispering campaign" to push her out of the race. Rather
ominously intoned that they were "spreading the words 'ineffective'
and 'blunders' about the First Lady's campaigning," as if that's some
kind of unmentionable secret.
On the November 22 CBS Evening
News, after a story about McCain, Rather warned:
"Fair or unfair, another whispering campaign
is underway in New York. Aimed at First Lady Hillary Clinton and her hopes
of winning a Senate seat. Republicans supporting Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
and some Democrats are spreading the words 'ineffective' and 'blunders'
about the First Lady's campaigning. CBS News has been told that partly
because of this Mrs. Clinton is now considering moving up her official
announcement as a candidate, now scheduled for February. Mrs. Clinton's
supporters are telling her, she needs to do this to counter talk that she
is considering pulling out of the race."
Ratings rundown: CNN's prime time viewership has plummeted 44 percent from
a year ago and MSNBC has also fallen while the Fox News Channel's prime
time is attracting more viewers, thanks in part to gaining carriage by
more cable systems, especially The O'Reilly Factor. Plus, for another week
CBS's The Early Show underperformed compared to the audience attracted by
the show it replaced.
-- Washington Post television
reporter Lisa de Moraes disclosed on December 2:
CNN did not have plenty to be thankful for last month,
having plunged 44 percent in prime time vs. November '98. CNN wasn't the
only cable news network to experience that sense of weightlessness
November-to-November, but its decline was by far the steepest.
When it landed, CNN was still the leader of the pack,
with an average of 561,000 viewers last month in prime time -- where most
of the viewer and ad action is. But last November CNN was pulling in 1
million watchers. And CNN's lead against its closest competitor, CNBC, was
cut from about 490,000 viewers to just 128,000.
CNBC had dropped 15 percent in prime time, from 511,000
viewers to 433,000.
Fox News Channel was the only one of the pack in the
black; up from 202,000 to 248,000 viewers. That puts it ahead of MSNBC in
prime time for the seventh month this year. MSNBC averaged 197,000
prime-time sets of eyeballs, vs. 248,000 last November.
CNN's prime-time flagship show "Larry King
Live" was down about as much as the network was overall in prime
time. But King can still crush his competitors; CNBC, for instance,
averaged just 455,000 viewers opposite King's audience of 1 million.
It can be argued that CNN's bad news is actually its
good news because it shows that CNN is still the cable news network of
choice in times of crisis. November '98 was a crisis-riddled month what
with the U.S. bombing of Iraq, Ken Starr's impeachment testimony and John
Glenn's return to outer space. By comparison November '99 was calm.
At least CNN was saying as much when asked for comment.
The network might also have mentioned that fledgling Fox News Channel has
added 7.7 million TV homes since last November and MSNBC has added 7.1
-- O'Reilly Rules. USA Today's
Peter Johnson noted in his December 2 "Inside TV" column:
"While ratings for Bill O'Reilly's cable talk-show competitors are
down significantly from this time last year, ratings for Fox News
Channel's The O'Reilly Factor are up 50%. An average of 300,000 households
tuned in weeknights to see his chatfest in November."
-- As reported in the November
22 CyberAlert, in its second week CBS's The Early Show attracted 12
percent fewer viewers than This Morning did a year earlier. The audience
isn't growing, as USA Today noted Tuesday that in its third week ratings
for The Early Show "were unchanged from the second week -- below the
season average of predecessor This Morning."
But CBS doesn't concede that
maybe Bryant Gumbel is turning people away as USA Today's Peter Johnson
relayed: "CBS chief Leslie Moonves says he's 'feeling very good'
about the new program, which he says needs 'fine tuning. They're all doing
a fine job.'"
When you've been in third place
for 24 years I guess you have low expectations. --
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