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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Friday December 17, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 189)

McCain-Bradley = "Virtue"; "Divisive" Pope; FNC Showed Broaddrick Q to Gore

1) Networks jumped on the McCain-Bradley liberal campaign finance stunt. CBS led with it, ABC's Peter Jennings admired it: "So what does this handshake in New Hampshire mean? A demonstration of public virtue." ABC, CBS and NBC all painted Bush as the villain.

2) Bryant Gumbel identified a troubling world figure who is spreading "very divisive" thinking as he keeps "coming down on the side of conservatism." Gumbel's target: The Pope.

3) A Boston Globe writer gushed about Bryant Gumbel: "When the camera flickers to life, he makes just about whatever he's doing better because he's doing it."

4) Of all the networks, only FNC has shown the video of a woman at a New Hampshire town hall session asking Al Gore if he believes Juanita Broaddrick's rape charge against Bill Clinton.

    >>> Voting extended until Monday morning. Our Dishonor Awards dinner put us a bit behind schedule in getting the Best of '99 up on the Web site, so our delay means more time for you to vote. What was the most biased reporting in 1999? You make the call. Cast your vote by using our "Special Web User Ballot" for the "Best Notable Quotables of 1999: The Twelfth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting." At the end of every year since the late '80s a panel of about 50 leading media observers have served as judges to select the MRC's year-end awards. Again this year they voted in 14 categories, but now you too can participate. Go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/nqbest/nq1999bestballot.html <<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Nothing like a stunt promoting a liberal cause to excite the networks. The Republican presidential candidates have participated in three debates this month, but after the first two none of the three broadcast evening news shows ran a story the next night and after the third only CBS bothered to tell viewers about it.

    The networks, however, eagerly jumped on Thursday's Bill Bradley-John McCain joint appearance to promise they would not accept soft money if nominated and to promote more regulation of campaign speech. ABC, CBS and NBC all ran full stories, with the CBS Evening News making it the lead of the night and running two stories on it. (Nightline later gave the cause 30 free minutes, the kind of speech McCain-Feingold would not limit, as Ted Koppel moderated a taped town meeting with Bradley, McCain and voters, the first of whom, a right-to-lifer, actually did challenge McCain on limiting the free speech of citizen groups.)

    In a top of the show tease Thursday night, ABC's World News Tonight showed McCain and Bradley shaking hands as anchor Peter Jennings asked: "So what does this handshake in New Hampshire mean?" His answer: "A demonstration of public virtue." ABC's Cokie Roberts declared that the promise of clean campaigns is "music to the ears of New Hampshire's independent voters" which only the nomination of George W. Bush could mar.

    Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News by marveling: "Two presidential hopefuls crossed party lines today trying to fight the influence of big special interest money on American political campaigns." Diana Olick concluded a piece, on the unlikely passage of McCain's ideas, by fretting: "How do you change the system from within when the parties and the politicians are all addicted to it?" Only NBC's Lisa Myers noted how McCain ripped "Vice President Gore for his role in '96, including his infamous fundraiser at a Buddhist Temple."

    Bottom line for the night on the three evening shows: All assumed more regulation of campaign finance is a noble cause. Neither ABC or NBC aired a contrary word and CBS didn't get to its opposing soundbite until its second story. None raised the point that maybe soft money is growing so fast because of regulation of hard money that limits donations to a mere $1,000, an amount set in 1974 and not since adjusted for inflation. None of the networks balanced the two candidates advocating more rules with someone expressing the concept of deregulating campaign finance.

    Here's a rundown of how the three broadcast evening shows on December 16 approached the liberal gimmick:

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings was in awe:
    "There was an unprecedented political event in New Hampshire today. Never before have two presidential candidates, from opposing parties, come together to promise that if they're chosen as their party nominee, they will not allow any so-called soft money to be spent on their behalf."

    From Claremont New Hampshire, where Bradley and McCain used the same senior citizens center venue as had Clinton and Gingrich in June 1995, Cokie Roberts recalled how that broken pledge died, "leaving behind skeptical voters."
    After clips of McCain and Bradley disavowing soft money, Roberts showed Bradley proclaiming: "Above all, we need a sense of bipartisanship that puts nation above party and that's what this meeting today is all about."
    Roberts chimed in: "That's music to the ears of New Hampshire's independent voters who make up more than a third of the electorate and can cast a ballot in either party's primary and seem to care more about campaign finance reform than most other voters. Nationwide, only one percent put the issue at the top of the list in an ABC poll. That's why politicians have played fast and loose with this issue and even today's well-staged event includes an asterisk on the pledge: McCain says he won't take unregulated money period. Bradley says he won't only if the Republican nominee refuses soft money. Al Gore says the same thing."
    Roberts then concluded by warning: "It's a promise they won't have to keep if the Republicans nominate frontrunner George W. Bush."

    -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather opened the show by using the loaded liberal language of campaign finance "reform" supporters:
    "Good evening. Two presidential hopefuls crossed party lines today trying to fight the influence of big special interest money on American political campaigns. They crossed party lines to do it. Republican John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley tried to focus attention on what's called quote, 'soft money' -- the unlimited, unregulated money shoveled into campaigns by special interests."

    As opposed to the "unlimited, unregulated liberal advocacy in the guise of news shoveled into America's homes by CBS News."

    From New Hampshire Phil Jones began: "In New Hampshire today, it was a case of presidential politics making strange bedfellows: a Republican, John McCain, and a Democrat, Bill Bradley, signing a pledge not to allow use of big corporate, unregulated money if they become the nominees."
    Jones played dueling soundbites of each candidate attacking the other party. McCain charged: "The scandal of 1996 was not Monica Lewinsky. The scandal was the debasement of the institution of government by the Clinton-Gore campaign. The President of the United States rented out the Lincoln bedroom. He rented it out like Motel 6 and he was the bellhop."
    Bradley asserted: "I personally think that the Governor of Texas will demonstrate that you can raise too much money in politics."

    Jones wistfully recalled: "It was only four and a half years ago, at this same site, that President Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich also shook hands and promised campaign finance reform in response to a question from a local citizen, Frank MacConnell. It never happened, and MacConnell has since died."
    Jones to Joan MacConnell, Frank's widow: "Did your husband become cynical?"
    Joan: "He was very disappointed because he felt that a handshake meant a lot, especially up here in New Hampshire and New England."

    Jones concluded: "Both Bradley and McCain denied that this was just another campaign stunt that would only fuel cynicism around the nation, here where there's already a memorial bench marking the site of the historic last unfulfilled political promise."

    Next, CBS had Diana Olick explain what is blocking the wonderful idea of more regulation of campaign spending. Olick intoned: "They can preach reform and sign away the system, but the candidates of Campaign 2000 are set to run the most expensive political race in history, fueled by soft money."
    Olick turned to the former Democratic Attorney General of Massachusetts, Scott Harshbarger, who is now President of Common Cause, for some expert analysis. He reported: "It's unregulated and it's a huge amount of money. We estimate over half a billion dollars in 2000 alone."

    Olick ran through some numbers from the Center for Public Integrity about how through June Democrats had raised $26 million in soft money and the Republicans had gathered $31 million.
    After again turning to Harshbarger for a soundbite about how AT&T gives to both parties since its business is influenced by congressional decisions, Olick pointed to George W. Bush as the party-pooper:
    "But while McCain and Bradley were vowing to rid their campaigns of that kind of special interest money, frontrunner George W. Bush today gave little hope he would jump on their bandwagon anytime soon."
    Bush video press release: "We cannot afford a version of campaign finance reform that unilaterally disarms our Republican Party and our conservative principles."
    Olick: "And the Chairman of the Republican Party today defended soft money as a right of free speech."
    Jim Nicholson: "I think parties have a right to express themselves as well as citizens and any other organizations and that's what we do."
    Olick concluded regretfully: "McCain's crusade to reform the system has cost him support from his own party leadership and that's just the problem. How do you change the system from within when the parties and the politicians are all addicted to it?"

    -- NBC Nightly News. Lisa Myers opened her more reasonable piece: "Whether you see it as grandstanding or a breath of fresh air, it's a rare moment in presidential politics -- two underdogs reach across party lines..."

    Myers explained the goals set by Bradley and McCain and cited the same soft money numbers as had CBS's Olick before uniquely getting to McCain's hit on Gore: "Today McCain and Bradley take turns blasting each other's opponent. McCain rips Vice President Gore for his role in '96, including his infamous fundraiser at a Buddhist Temple."
    McCain: "The Vice President of the United States had monks pay thousands of dollars and violate their vows of poverty so they could spiritually commune with him."
    Myers: "Bradley accuses Governor George W. Bush, who's raised $60 million so far, of thumbing his nose at campaign spending limits."
    Bradley: "The Governor of Texas will demonstrate that you can raise too much money in politics."

    Myers noted that Bush won't match the McCain pledge and ran a clip of him saying McCain's plan would hurt the Republican Party. Myers then praised them for "speaking the truth," asserting:
    "Both McCain and Bradley are getting heat from their parties for consorting with the enemy, but here in New Hampshire where both men are leading and must win, renegades play well. So does speaking the truth."
    Myers at event: "Can both of you honestly say that you have never ever been influenced by a campaign contributor?"
    Bradley: "I can say quite honestly there has never been a decision I've made that's been influenced by money."
    McCain: "I can tell you that I cannot say that's the case. In fact, I believe that there have been times when I have probably been influenced."
    Myers concluded: "An unusual statement on a day that is anything but politics as usual."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)Promoting conservative values makes you "divisive" in Bryant Gumbel's mind, even if you are the Pope and supposed to believe that your religion is the correct one. Thursday morning Gumbel proposed that the Pope has been "very divisive," offering this as evidence: "I mean coming down on the side of conservatism in almost all cases."

    Gumbel's hit on Pope John Paul came during an 8am half hour interview on The Early Show with Greg Burke, author of An Invitation to Joy, a collection of the Pope's letters and homilies. After asking Burke about how the Pope views the millennium and what is "least understood" about the Pope, viewers of the December 16 show heard this exchange, as taken down by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:

    Gumbel: "He is the first non-Italian Pope in almost 500 years, he's the longest serving Pope of the 20th century. Is there any evidence that Catholics are in any way better off for his stewardship?"
    Burke: "I think in a way yes. He has brought clarity. The church after Vatican II was very confused in many ways. There were a lot of things out there and I think in a way, he hasn't made everyone happy, but at least he's said this is what we believe, this is where we're going."
    Gumbel: "But he's been a very, in that sense he's been a very divisive Pope, hasn't he?"
    Burke: "He has,"
    Gumbel: "I mean coming down on the side of conservatism in almost all cases."
    Burke: "No, no that's true. And yet at the same time he's convinced that unity is key, clarity is key..."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)Yes, The Early Show's ratings are lower than the program it replaced, but don't blame Bryant Gumbel. Doing that would be racist, Boston Globe "Living/Arts" section writer Renee Graham implied in relating Gumbel's complaint that Ted Koppel isn't cited for arrogance. Graham decried how Gumbel has become a "scapegoat" for the show's problems.

    In fact, she argued Tuesday, he's The Early Show's "greatest asset" since "when the camera flickers to life, he makes just about whatever he's doing better because he's doing it. There hasn't been anyone better on the morning shows for the past two decades." And he delivers "sharp, incisive interviews."

    Of course Gumbel's arrogant attitude toward his co-workers isn't what's turning away viewers. As illustrated by item #2 above it's that, as a seemingly CyberAlert-inspired letter-to-the-editor suggested the next day, "Gumbel is so biased to the left." Below are excerpts from both Globe items passed along to CyberAlert by an occasional CyberAlert reader in the Boston-area.

    First, Renee Graham's December 14 piece on the front page of the Living/Arts section:

Did Gumbel stumble, of is he simply the scapegoat?

It's time to get off Bryant's back.

That's Bryant as in Gumbel, as in the co-host of CBS's "The Early Show," which is staggering on the ropes like a punch-drunk fighter. After a mere seven weeks, the program intended to turn CBS into a contender again in the morning-show sweepstakes, and make NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" flinch, is sinking faster than the Patriots' playoff hopes....

So now, it's scapegoat time, and some eyes have quickly turned to the man in the Joseph Abboud suits -- Bryant Gumbel.

For several weeks, there have been ominous whispers about the so-called "Gumbel factor." It usually goes a little something like this: He's a smart newsman, a talented interviewer, but he's also an arrogant and abrasive egomaniac whose mere presence, for some viewers, is reason enough to reach for the remote.

Of course, none of this is new. For much of his career, Gumbel has been dogged by stories about his mercurial nature and less-than-gracious manner toward co-workers. Everyone remembers the field day the tabloids had when a leaked memo found Gumbel, then co-anchor of "Today," dissing the morning show's weatherman Willard Scott. There was so much hoopla one would have thought Gumbel cursed the pope (who, by the way, he met without incident while with "Today") rather than a goofy weatherman who once dressed on-air as Carmen Miranda.

    Let me interrupt this excerpt to submit that Gumbel now has "cursed the Pope."

    Back to the Graham article:

And more recently, Gumbel didn't help his own cause when he made what some believed to be veiled swipes at his former "Today" co-host Katie Couric in a New York Times Sunday Magazine article....

These sorts of things, coupled with Gumbel's healthy self-confidence bordering on smugness, have led some to see the man as some sort of unholy cross between Ted Bundy and Dennis Rodman. Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report tracks network news shows, told USA Today just two weeks after the premiere of "The Early Show," that it's "a well-known fact that Gumbel alienates a portion of the audience. Certain people cannot stand him. But CBS knew that going in, and figured his strengths outweighed his weaknesses."

Funny how no one seemed concerned about Gumbel's so-called "weaknesses" when he was co-anchoring "Today," and the show was handily beating any and all comers. And, while we're on the subject, what "weaknesses" might those be? Would it be his reputation for exhaustively researching interview subjects and topics? Would it be the sharp, incisive interviews he conducts whether he's talking to comedian Chris Rock, baseball exile Pete Rose, or Lieutenant Steve May, an Arizona congressmen and gay Army Reservist challenging the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy?

Perhaps those "weaknesses" refer to Gumbel's inability to be an insubstantial Ken doll feigning giggles and gravity for two hours each weekday morning.

Or, it could be something more insidious, which Gumbel, 51, himself addressed in a USA Today profile a few years ago. Asked about being labeled arrogant, he said, "I do think there are a great number of Americans who are more comfortable with blacks [as] comics, jokesters, always laughing, never taking the world or themselves too seriously. I can think of very few, if any, African-American men in this business who were not accused of arrogance. Do I think it's a coincidence? No.

"I do think it is less than amusing that Ted Koppel runs his shop in a tight fashion and is concerned about the graphics, concerned about who his producer is, gets tough with his director, and that shows his professionalism, his attention to detail," Gumbel added. "But if I do that, suddenly I'm a meddler, or I'm arrogant, or I'm conceited, or I make enemies. I don't get it."

Neither do I.

Gumbel has long been one of television's best and brightest. He may not be great to work around or for, but when the camera flickers to life, he makes just about whatever he's doing better because he's doing it. There hasn't been anyone better on the morning shows for the past two decades, and that's why he was wooed by a host of network suitors when he chose to leave NBC....

Make no mistake, the program has its weaknesses, one of which is being the newest kid on the fiercely competitive morning-show block. But whatever his peccadilloes, Gumbel isn't one of them. In truth, the "Gumbel factor" may be "The Early Show"'s only and greatest asset.

END Excerpt

    The next day, December 15, the Globe published a response from William Bromstedt of Needham:

Renee Graham's article on Bryant Gumbel misses the point of why many people like myself are tuning in other morning shows. Like Dan Rather, Gumbel is biased to the left.

A perfect example is the Bill Clinton interview. Gumbel fawned and acted unprofessional. In response to the question what was the one thing about his administration people would most remember, Clinton replied that he had made everyone's life better. Gumbel must have had his mind on golf, because he uttered not a word about the year of lies and impeachment, just a follow up about a round of golf.

If I was the CBS executive planning Gumbel's next assignment, I would send him to the sports division as a golf commentator. There he would have a built-in audience and it would be a job where his political bias would not show.

    END reprint of letter

    I wouldn't count on it. He managed earlier this year to work a blast at conservatives into his HBO show, Real Sports.

    For a transcript and video excerpt of Gumbel's Clinton interview, go to:

    For a collection of Gumbel material, go to:


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)A woman stood up Tuesday night live on television and confronted Al Gore about Juanita Broaddrick's charge that Bill Clinton had raped her. Gore hemmed and hawed, but never denied the allegation, during a town meeting shown live on WNDS-TV, channel 50, an independent station in Derry, New Hampshire.gorefnc.jpg (12620 bytes)

    So far all the networks but FNC have ignored the raising by the woman of a subject media outlets either had never picked up or long ago dropped. Despite available video of Gore struggling to offer a reply, zilch on the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows Wednesday morning through Thursday night.

    Not even CNN or MSNBC have broached it on their evening shows. Wednesday's Inside Politics on CNN, MRC analyst Paul Smith observed, ran a short item on remarks Gore made about medical marijuana at the WNDS event, but the show failed to mention the Broaddrick question. And not a word Wednesday night on MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, MRC analyst Mark Drake noted. [Web Update: Thursday night, December 16, The News with Brian Williams showed the same video of the exchange as had FNC the night before. For updated coverage information.]

    Wednesday night FNC played the video on several of its evening shows, including Special Report with Brit Hume and Hannity & Colmes. On Thursday FNC located the questioner and featured her on the 9pm ET Hannity & Colmes show. Her name is Katherine Prudhomme and she explained that she was a dedicated Paul Tsongas supporter, and even attended his funeral, but switched to the Republican Party after a 40-minute phone conversation with John McCain a few months ago.

    People in New Hampshire get that kind of attention.

    But she was not a plant, FNC's Sean Hannity stressed, as she was invited by WNDS-TV to be part of the studio audience.

    Prudhomme's initial question: "When Juanita Broaddrick made the claim, which I found quite credible, that she was raped by Bill Clinton, did that change your opinion about him being one of the best Presidents in history? And do you believe Juanita Broaddrick's claim? And what did you tell your son about this?"
    Gore replied: "Well, I didn't know what to make of her claim, because I don't know how to evaluate that story, I really don't."

    Prudhomme soon bore in: "So you didn't believe Juanita Broaddrick's claim."
    Gore: "No, I didn't say that. I think I said I don't know how to evaluate that, and I didn't see, uh, the interview. Uh, but I must say something else to you about this....I think that, uh, I think that whatever mistakes he made in his personal life are in the minds of most Americans balanced against what he has done in his personal life as President."

    Gore took more than two more minutes to deliver a meandering four point explanation of why Prudhomme's concern was misplaced.

    For a complete transcript, go to the Drudge Report page:

+++ Check out the December 14 exchange for yourself as run on the December 15 Special Report with Brit Hume. MRC Webmaster Andy Szul has the tape and will post it on the MRC home page, in RealPlayer format, by 10am ET Friday. Go to: http://www.mrc.org. -- Brent Baker


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