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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Friday February 11, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 24) |

Printer Friendly Version

"Nastier" & "Uglier" Thanks to Bush Push Polling; McCain "Not a Hypocrite"

1) ABC, CBS and NBC jumped on a charge from a woman about an anti-McCain "push polling" call her son got. Blaming Bush, Dan Rather grumbled that the campaign "just got a lot nastier." NBC's David Bloom stated the "race is getting uglier than anyone imagined."

2) ABC News, in alliance with Common Cause, countered Bush's charge that McCain is a hypocrite on fundraising. Barry Serafin argued that "a campaign watchdog group...says McCain is not a hypocrite" and his Web-raised donations are "the cleanest money."

3) More media admissions and explanations for the pro-McCain bias. Steven Brill relayed how reporters accept McCain since they don't think he really believes the conservative position he espouses.

4) Did Democrats support or oppose the effort to reduce the marriage penalty? Depends if you believe ABC or NBC.

    >>> Now online, the February 8 edition of MagazineWatch about the February 14 editions of the news weeklies. Topics covered in this edition compiled by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:
1. John McCain's wooing of the press paid off in New Hampshire and in the magazines. Newsweek praised McCain's media politicking. U.S. News proclaimed McCain's victory shows Reaganism is "hopelessly outdated." Time declared tax-cut politics are dead.
2. Newsweek published its delayed second excerpt of its own reporter Bill Turque's book, including testimony from Gore friends John Warnecke and Andy Schlesinger that Gore's post-Vietnam toking was more than "once or twice."
3. Newsweek's Debra Rosenberg claimed Hillary Clinton's advocacy for "the children" was "largely ignored by the press." But she never mentioned the 'activist' role Hillary took in firing the White House Travel Staff.
    To read these items, go to:
http://www.mediaresearch.org/news/magwatch/mag20000208.html <<<


Forget getting two sources for a damaging allegation. Or even having any idea if the charge is really accurate. Thursday night ABC, CBS and NBC all featured full stories about John McCain's indignation over "push polling" by the Bush campaign -- based solely on the second-hand recitation by a mother about a phone call her 14-year-old son supposedly received tagging McCain a "fraud" and a "liar."

    While all the stories included denials from the Bush campaign that they made any such calls, by making the allegation the basis of their campaign story of the night, only ABC ran a second story on another subject (see item #2 below), the networks served the agenda of the McCain campaign. Targeting Bush, Dan Rather intoned: "The Republican presidential campaign has just got a lot nastier."

    NBC's David Bloom assumed the charge to be accurate, calling it a "sign that this Republican race is getting uglier than anyone imagined." CBS's Bill Whitaker passed along two examples of what he labeled "clearly misleading questions." One offered this actually well within reason spin on McCain's campaign finance regulation proposal: "Do you agree with McCain's plan to give more power to the media and unions to pick the President?"

    Here's a rundown of how the broadcast networks on Thursday night, February 10, covered the woman's claims about a phone call her son received.

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Linda Douglass got right to the soundbite of Donna Duren at a town hall meeting held by McCain:
    "But he was so upset when he came upstairs and he said 'Mom, someone told me that Senator McCain is a cheat and a liar and a fraud.' And he was almost in tears. I'm so mad, I was so livid last night I couldn't sleep."

    After playing a clip of McCain claiming "What you just told me has had a very profound effect on me," Douglass piled on: "It was a political windfall and campaign aides made the most of it. Mrs. Duren said she had no idea who made the phone call, but McCain pointed his finger at the Bush campaign."

    McCain demanded that Bush "stop this now. He comes from better family" and Douglass played a soundbite of Bush denying the campaign made any such calls. Douglass concluded by noting that phone call scripts provided by the Bush campaign don't use the words like "fraud" or "liar" and "there is no definitive proof this call came from the Bush campaign, but nine days before the primary McCain forced Bush to spend one more precious day on the defensive."

    Thanks to the media making a standard campaign practice into a major controversy.

    -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather declared: "The Republican presidential campaign has just got a lot nastier. One of the dirtiest secrets of political attack strategies hit the spotlight today, something called push polling. Push polling involves political pollsters who are not seeking voter opinions, but trying to sway them under the guise of polling. In this case it's reportedly a pro-Bush line of attack aimed at John McCain in South Carolina."

    Bill Whitaker played a soundbite from Donna Duren as had ABC, but CBS dropped three words: "But he was so upset when he came upstairs and he said 'Mom, someone told me that Senator McCain is a cheat and a liar and a fraud.' And he was almost in tears. I was so livid last night I couldn't sleep."

    CBS then showed McCain's reaction: "What you just told me has had a very profound effect on me. I promise you I have never and will never have anything to do with that kind of political tactic."

    Whitaker led into a Bush soundbite by noting that the Bush campaign "denied any knowledge of such underhanded tactics." Whitaker then passed along some ammunition for McCain's complaint, asserting:
    "The brouhaha is over something called push polling, where a pollster for one candidate calls supporters of an opponent and attempts to sway opinions with distorted questions. In fact, McCain claims Bush pollsters called around earlier this week with clearly misleading questions like this: 'Do you know the McCain tax plan does not give a significant tax cut to average working families?''Do you agree with McCain's plan to give more power to the media and unions to pick the President?'

    "Clearly misleading?" Less than much CBS News reporting. McCain backers may disagree with the interpretations, but they are certainly within the norms of political dialogue.

    -- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom opened his piece: "At a McCain town hall meeting this morning, one more sign that this Republican race is getting uglier than anyone imagined. A Spartanburg South Carolina woman, Donna Duren, describes how her son idealized the former Navy pilot and POW until the 14-year-old Boy Scout took a phone call last night, allegedly from a Bush pollster."

    Following the same soundbites from Duren and McCain as played by ABC, Bloom showcased McCain's case: "Afterward the two meet, shake hands and hug and McCain steps outside, his voice filled with anger."
    McCain: "I'm calling on my good friend George Bush to stop this now. He comes from a better family, he knows better than this and he should stop it. I'll pull down every negative ad I have. Let's treat the voters of South Carolina with some respect."

    Bloom ended by acknowledging that Bush denied the charge, but admitted his campaign placed "advocacy phone calls."


After the story on the woman and her son, ABC's World News Tonight aired a second campaign story, one that initially appeared to balance the anti-Bush story with an anti-McCain piece. But, in fact, ABC delivered a second pro-McCain report.

    Pegged to McCain's fundraiser Thursday night at a Washington, DC hotel, ABC's Barry Serafin took up Bush's charge that McCain is a hypocrite for accepting money from lobbyists while he denounces the campaign finance system. After summarizing Bush's case, Serafin countered it by relaying how Common Cause decided "McCain is not a hypocrite," reporting that Bush received more money from special interests than McCain, and again treating Common Cause as some kind of impartial authority in highlighting how they consider McCain's Web fundraising to have gathered "the cleanest money."

    Serafin opened his piece by explaining how McCain was scheduled to hold a fundraiser at a Washington DC hotel Thursday night with lobbyists and that he's accepted donations from industries with matters before the Senate committee he chairs. Serafin played a soundbite from Bush accusing McCain of hypocrisy.

    Serafin then spent the remainder of his story making McCain's case, supported by a left-wing group headed by Scott Harshbarger, the former Democratic Attorney General of Massachusetts, but Serafin failed to note the ideology of the group or of its chief or even that it is a backer of McCain's campaign finance regulation proposal.
    Serafin announced: "McCain says he has to work within the system to change it. A campaign watchdog group agrees and says McCain is not a hypocrite."
    Scott Harshbarger, President of Common Cause: "Senator McCain has been among the first to say that it's the system that's corrupt and taints everyone in it. We've never asked anybody to unilaterally disarm."
     Serafin: "In fact, the Center for Responsive Politics says Bush has raised far more money than McCain from a number of special interests. Fifteen times as much from lawyers, nearly twenty times as much from the banking industry, and 58 times more than McCain from the oil and gas industry."

    Serafin went on to highlight how McCain has out-raised Bush on the Internet via his Web site, but that $5 million is "money that Common Cause says is not tainted."
    Harshbarger: "It is the cleanest money that we're seeing in the system now."
    Serafin concluded with one more justification for McCain's practice: "Beyond the Web, whatever his misgivings, McCain will continue to seek money wherever the system allows -- just like his opponent."


Three more admissions from media insiders about their profession's affection for John McCain to add the couple already cited in the February 7 CyberAlert.

    Content magazine founder Steven Brill relayed on CNN how top reporters told him journalists accept McCain because they don't think he really believes the conservative position he espouses on abortion and gun control. Slate.com's Jacob Weisberg conceded "journalists don't want to punish someone for being candid" so reporters "overlook some things he says in unguarded moments that maybe don't represent him in the best light." A New Republic editor acknowledged that "McCain has a lot of positions the magazine likes."

    -- On the February 8 Crossfire on CNN, in a soundbite played Wednesday by Rush Limbaugh, Content magazine and Court TV founder Steven Brill relayed some illuminating inside information from the campaign trail:
    "I had a conversation last week -- actually, two different conversations -- with two of the more prominent reporters who are covering the campaign and who spent a lot of time with McCain, and both told me in so many words the same thing. As one of them put it: 'You know, we know McCain is pandering on gun control and abortion, and we know he really doesn't believe that stuff, but he has to say it. But at least when McCain panders like that, he sort of kind of lets us know so we know he knows, and he's not that hard-edged and he's really a good guy.' To which I responded, well, you know, that seems to be the story. If Mr. Straight Talk is pandering, isn't that more significant even than whatever his position is on abortion or gun control or anything else?"

    -- On CNBC's Upfront Tonight the same night, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens picked up these quotes from Slate.com's Chief Political Correspondent, Jacob Weisberg: "He jokes with you, kids around, makes fun of you it's really I have to say very enjoyable...."
    "As a journalists don't want to punish someone for being candid and I think there is sometimes a tendency to overlook some things he says in unguarded moments that maybe don't represent him in the best light...."
    Weisberg, a former Newsweek reporter, also suggested: "I do think that there is a sense that this man sacrificed very, very greatly and that a lot of journalists on the bus, most of them older than me, found one way or another to get out of serving in the war, and yes I think they respect that."

    -- Simultaneously Tuesday night on Hardball, carried at 7pm ET on MSNBC and 8pm ET on CNBC, Chris Matthews talked about the media and McCain with New Republic Senior Editor Michelle Cottle.

    Matthews asked: "Tell me what your magazine thinks of John McCain?"
    Cottle: "Well I'm thinking of quitting my job and actually going to work for the McCain campaign."
    Matthews: "When are you gonna decide?"
    Cottle: "No, no, no, no, I'm joking! No, the magazine actually has, I mean McCain has a lot of positions the magazine likes. Like everyone he's talking about campaign finance reform and he's talking about a lot of issues that we agree on."


Were House Democrats on Thursday, February 10, opposed to or in support of the idea of reducing the so-called "marriage penalty"? Depends if you believe ABC or NBC. Each ran full stories Thursday night, as did CBS, on the House passage of the GOP-sponsored bill to reduce the impact of getting bumped into a higher tax bracket. That often occurs when two people marry and then file jointly instead of separately. But ABC and NBC didn't agree about where most Democrats stood:

    -- John Cochran on ABC's World News Tonight: "Democrats say the bill passed by House Republicans is too generous, but Democrats don't want to be on the wrong side of a popular issue, especially in an election year."
    Minority Leader Richard Gephardt on the House floor: "Democrats support a marriage penalty tax cut, but it needs to be a tax cut that fixes the problem."

    -- Lisa Myers on NBC Nightly News: "But what Republicans call a Valentines gift for married families, Democrats complain is an expensive $200 billion tax cut that mostly helps the rich."
    Congressman Charles Rangel on the House floor: "I know that the Republicans want to have a political gimmick for Valentine Day."
    Congressman Bob Matsui on the House floor: "One half of it goes to people that don't even have a marriage penalty."

    Of course, all three soundbites were uttered. It's all in the spin. -- Brent Baker


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