Elian Afraid of Cuban Jail; NBC's Tribute to Greg Craig; The Real Donna Dees-Thomases
1) CBS and FNC related how a
social worker's report revealed Elian fears that jail awaits him in Cuba, but
Peter Jennings called the report "very positive" and Tom Brokaw
insisted: "Elian is happy."
2) ABC, CBS and NBC all ran full
stories on Rudy Giuliani's separation. NBC's Andrea Mitchell worried: "If
Giuliani drops out Mrs. Clinton could face an even tougher opponent" --
3) CBS campaigned for another
entitlement program. Reporting Bill Clinton's latest plan to expand Medicare,
CBS's John Roberts anticipated that for 15 million "seniors without
prescription drug coverage, relief may finally be on the way."
4) Today's tribute to Greg Craig.
NBC's Jamie Gangel relayed how "friends describe him as an idealist who
wears his heart on his sleeve," asserted that "Craig's
professionalism has also earned him the respect of his fiercest
opponents," and gushed how "if you need the impossible, call Greg
5) The media portrayed Million Mom
March organizer Donna Dees-Thomases as "a typical mom," Tom Brokaw
claimed she's "a mother who'd never been politically active." FNC's
Brit Hume noted her family tie to Hillary, but she's also a donor to her
campaign and a former Capitol Hill staffer for Democratic Senators.
is happy and adjusting well," promised NBC's Tom Brokaw Wednesday night
in relaying a federal social worker's report. Peter Jennings stressed how the
assessment is "very positive," but CBS and FNC disclosed how the
report revealed Elian fears that jail awaits him in Cuba.
Over new happy
photos of Elian playing catch, carousing with his playmates and laughing
with his father, ABC's Peter Jennings announced on the May 10 World News
"Tomorrow's going to be a very important day
for the extended family of Elian Gonzalez. A court is going to hear
arguments about whether the boy should be granted asylum. Some new
photographs of Elian were released today by the Reuters news agency. He
seems to be enjoying his time with his family and his playmates from Cuba.
A government report by a social worker who visited him was filed in
federal court today. It was sealed but sources familiar with the case say
its findings are very positive."
On the NBC Nightly
News Tom Brokaw showed the same pictures and noted the impending court
hearing, before he reassured viewers: "According to a social worker's
report filed with the court today, Elian is happy and adjusting
FNC's Bret Baier provided a less glowing assessment of Elian's happiness,
telling Special Report with Brit Hume viewers: "The Justice
Department filed sealed papers with the 11th circuit. Sources tell Fox
News the paperwork is a status report from a psychiatrist and a social
worker who say Elian is doing well but has some fear of being jailed if
he's returned to Cuba."
Even Dan Rather
managed to pick up on what eluded ABC and NBC. As the CBS evening News
showed the new photos, he intoned:
"New photographs of Elian and his father
were released today. Sources tell CBS News that in court papers filed
today, a government-hired psychiatrist says Elian fears he'll go to jail
if he returns to Cuba."
Elian seems more
aware of Cuban reality than much of the U.S. media.
Rudy Giuliani's announcement that he plans to separate from his wife,
Donna Hanover, generated full stories Wednesday night on the broadcast
ABC's Morton Dean
concluded his World News Tonight piece by relaying how "late today
members of the Mayor's inner circle were suggesting that he is reassessing
his run for the U.S. Senate."
Mitchell worried on the NBC Nightly News: "But if Giuliani drops out
Mrs. Clinton could face an even tougher opponent: New York's popular
Governor John Pataki could change his mind and get into the race."
On the CBS Evening
News Diana Olick observed: "Right from the start this race seemed to
be all about her, not him. Here was a controversial carpet-bagging First
Lady trying to become a U.S. Senator. But now the tables have turned. He's
getting all the headlines and outshining the star candidate."
"America is the only country that is mean to their senior citizens
where medicine is concerned," complained an ungrateful Rita Butler in
a soundbite featured on Wednesday's CBS Evening News. But in reporting
Bill Clinton's latest plan to offer another entitlement via Medicare,
CBS's John Roberts proclaimed: "But for Rita and 15 million other
seniors without prescription drug coverage, relief may finally be on the
The Roberts piece
aired well into the May 10 CBS Evening News which led, as did NBC Nightly
News, with the wildfires around Los Alamos, New Mexico. ABC's World News
Tonight began with the unveiling of Clinton's new way to transfer tax
money through the expansion of Medicare.
ABC's John Cochran
noted how "Democrats have raised the stakes" in the debate as
Clinton decided to back a Democratic House plan "that's more
generous" than his previous proposal. Under this new plan, for $25 a
month from senior citizens the "government would pay for half of
their prescription costs up to $2,000 a year the first and even more
later." Actually, taxpayers would pay, but Cochran didn't mention
them. Instead, he focused on the popularity of new entitlement,
highlighting how an ABC News poll found 64 percent of middle-aged people
said prescription coverage is "very important" in their vote
this fall. Cochran suggested that's because many have parents with big
drug bills. Cochran noted how Republicans have "more modest
proposals" and "are worried about losing control of the House
this fall and seem eager for a compromise with Democrats."
The CBS Evening
News delivered an advocacy piece which assumed there's no rational reason
why the elderly shouldn't expect taxpayers to pick up more of their
medical costs. As transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, Dan Rather set
up the piece:
"President Clinton and congressional
Democrats settled today on their version of a plan to expand Medicare to
cover prescription drugs. This is a major election year issue for one of
the biggest voting blocks in the country. CBS News Chief White House
correspondent John Roberts has the facts -- medical, financial, and
didn't bother with facts, opening instead with a personal anecdote from a
woman who thinks it's perfectly proper to force others to pay for her
problems: "Rita Butler is just the sort of person a new study shows
gets hit most often by the high cost of prescription drugs: Older women
above the poverty level who pay more for drugs than any other group."
Butler whined: "America is the only country
that is mean to their senior citizens where medicine is concerned."
Roberts saw hope ahead: "But for Rita and 15
million other seniors without prescription drug coverage, relief may
finally be on the way."
Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony:
"There is absolutely no reason that we should force seniors to make a
choice between their health, their food, or their daily existence."
Roberts explained: "The Democratic bill,
introduced in the Senate today, puts in motion the first attempt to add
prescription benefits to Medicare. Republicans recently announced that
they too would pursue a drug plan for seniors."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "Can senior citizens reasonably expect
that by this time next year there will be a prescription drug plan under
Dick Gephardt, no I mean Dennis Hastert,
promised: "I would certainly hope so. I hope by this time in
November, coming there, that we have this. It's important."
At times like this
it's hard to tell the difference between the two parties.
political fighting could ruin the chance to enact another government
spending program: "But differences in how to approach drug coverage
could derail the whole effort. Republicans charge the Democrat plan smacks
of big government. Democrats counter that the Republican proposal is too
vague and leaves out seniors who earn more than $15,000 a year -- people
like Rita Butler who often makes the trade-off between filling her six
prescriptions and filling her refrigerator."
Roberts empathized with Butler, asked her:
"So it's pretty tough, is it?"
Butler: "It's not pretty tough. It's damn
Roberts concluded: "Prescription drugs under
Medicare will be one of the most talked about issues in the upcoming
Campaign 2000. Whether senior citizens actually benefit from all that talk
will depend on whether candidates are looking for real results or just an
The day before the court hearing on Elian Gonzalez, Today decided to air a
lengthy, glowingly positive, puff piece about lawyer Greg Craig, the hired
gun working to get Elian back into Castro's arms.
NBC's Jamie Gangel
called him "smart, politically connected and discreet," relayed
how "friends describe him as an idealist who wears his heart on his
sleeve," asserted that "Craig's professionalism has also earned
him the respect of his fiercest opponents," gushed that "Craig
has been everywhere and seems to have met everyone," admired how
"Craig has also showed remarkable media savvy" by releasing
happy photos of Elian hours after the raid, and advertised how "if
you need the impossible, call Greg Craig." As if that weren't enough,
she featured this from Ted Kennedy: "Greg Craig is a gifted,
talented, eloquent, brilliant lawyer."
The whole package,
Katie Couric's intro plus Gangel's taped piece, consumed ten seconds shy
of 11 minutes, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens measured -- an eternity for a
network morning show. Just after the 7:30am news update on the May 10
show, Couric announced:
"Tomorrow the case of Elian Gonzalez will be
back in court with lawyers on both sides arguing over the future of the
six-year old Cuban boy. Front and center once again will be attorney
Gregory Craig, the man who reunited father and son. We saw Craig often as
the Elian story unfolded so we asked our national correspondent Jamie
Gangel to tell us a little more about him."
Now here's all of
what Gangel reported with summaries and partial or sometimes full quotes
from what Craig and others said in soundbites. Jamie Gangel began her
"Ask almost anyone in Washington who'd they
call if they needed a lawyer who was smart, politically connected and
discreet and you'd get one name: Greg Craig. Fifty-five years old, a
partner in the powerful law firm of Williams and Connelly, Craig seems to
attract clients who make headlines. He successfully defended John Hinckley
for the assassination attempt on President Reagan. A longtime advisor to
Ted Kennedy he was the Senator's counsel when his nephew William Kennedy
Smith was tried on rape charges. When President Clinton was facing
impeachment he called in Craig, a former Yale law school classmate, to
quarterback the defense team. And now the case of Elian Gonzalez."
Gangel to Craig: "If 35 years ago someone
had told you the kinds of cases and clients you would have you would have
Craig: I'd love that life.
Gangel: "What do you like best about being a
Craig: Cases have beginning and an end and you
know how you did.
Gangel: "You like the contest and you
Craig: "Lost some too."
Gangel: "But not many. Craig is also known
for his passion. Friends describe him as an idealist who wears his heart
on his sleeve. In the sixties he went to Mississippi to register black
voters. At Harvard he stood with Dr. Martin Luther King as a student
leader in the anti-war movement. The son of Yankee Republicans he
nevertheless became a devout Democrat. And admits his favorite job was
foreign policy advisor to Senator Kennedy. Kennedy returns the
Sen. Edward Kennedy: "Greg Craig is a
gifted, talented, eloquent, brilliant lawyer...."
Gangel: "A look at his office says it
Craig: looked at picture of himself with LBJ.
Gangel: "You were very young. Craig has been
everywhere and seems to have met everyone. From the Pope to the Dalai Lama
to Nelson Mandela. When you finally met him what was it like?"
Gangel: "And the case of little Elian is not
his first time dealing with Fidel Castro. In a very different case in 1986
Craig negotiated the release of Colonel Ricardo Montero Duque, the last
officer being held in prison from the Bay of Pigs invasion. You have had
some controversial cases and clients and I imagine some of your friends
and your family have not always liked it or understood."
Craig: Hinkley most troublesome for wife to
Gangel: "Craig himself had some doubts when
President Clinton asked for his help in the impeachment trial."
Craig: Clinton did wrong, but not impeachable.
Gangel: "In fact, Clinton and Craig have
genuine affection for each other. These are never before released photos
of the President thanking Craig for his help. Craig's professionalism has
also earned him the respect of his fiercest opponents."
Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson: After a heated
trial you "know you can say job well done...."
Gangel: "Which is why when the National
Council of Churches wanted to help Juan Miguel Gonzalez get his son back,
Senator Patrick Leahy gave them one name. Greg Craig."
Sen. Patrick Leahy soundbite
Gangel admired how easily he managed to
manipulate the media: "And in the Elian case Craig is credited with
an amazing political balancing act. Working the Justice Department,
working the legal system, even working Fidel Castro. Craig has also showed
remarkable media savvy when within hours of these photos appearing [raid
pictures including gun pointed at Elian] he released these photos
[snapshots of Elian and father]. How is Elian doing?"
Craig: "I think very well. He is inseparable
from his father..."
Gangel: "How did you feel about the
Craig: "Sad that it had to happen," but
relatives could have avoided it.
Gangel: "That said, how did you react when
you saw the photo?" [gun/Elian]
Craig: "...terrifying moment..."
Gangel: "After the court's ruling, assuming
the decision goes in Juan Miguel's favor, will they immediately leave for
Craig: "I don't know the answer to
that..." Up to the father.
Gangel: "Craig admits he's also taken this
case personally. He and his wife Dari have five children, including a six
year old son."
Craig: "I was very sympathetic to the
Gangel: "If Elian said to you, 'Mr. Craig I
want to stay in the United States?'"
Craig: "Well I'd take it up with Juan
Miguel. Juan Miguel is the father..." I don't let my six-year-old
choose his church or school.
finally broached what critics say, but she hardly pressed him and did not
pursue who is really paying for him and their real agenda: "Your
critics in the Cuban-American community in Miami say that you are an
instrument of Castro."
Craig: "That's not the way I see it...He's
not my client."
Gangel: "The other thing your critics say is
that because you are close to the President, because you worked at the
State Department as head of policy planning, that you were calling the
shots in all of this."
Craig: "I wish. I was not calling the
shots..." Never talked to Clinton about it.
Gangel: "There hasn't been some back channel
Craig: "No. I wish...."
Gangel: "Ultimately, what would you like to
see happen in this case?"
Craig: "Well, I would like to see the boy in
the arms of his father and his father free and unpressured to make a
decision about where he's going to live and where he's going to raise his
son. And we're close to that, I think."
Gangel: "All of which, in this town earns
you the reputation of Washington Super Lawyer. If you need the impossible,
call Greg Craig. Perhaps President Clinton summed it up best in this spoof
at the White House Correspondents' dinner."
Bill Clinton: pointed out joke photo of himself
on Mount Rushmore, with caption: "photo courtesy of Greg Craig."
Gangel: "In the nation's capital it doesn't
get much better than that. Which embarrasses Craig to no end. I'm going to
read you some words being used to describe you these days. You are a
Washington super lawyer, you are the big gun, you are a power broker and
you're a mover and shaker in this town."
Craig: "That's all rubbish. I'm just another
lawyer in Washington, DC that's had some lucky cases. If this is what a
power broker is, it ain't all it's cracked up to be. It's great to have
some cases people care about, that doesn't turn me into a anything more
than I am which is a hard working lawyer that loves the combat."
End of lovefest.
And who has the
media on his side. Thursday on Today: An equally promotional profile of a
lawyer for the Miami relatives, admiring his quest for justice. Yeah,
right. That would require interest in balance and fairness at NBC.
Thursday's show has already been set aside for Hillary's "town
Donna Dees-Thomases, the organizer of Sunday's so-called Million Mom
March, is far from the apolitical housewife portrayed by the media, FNC's
Brit Hume revealed Wednesday night. But she's actually even more connected
to liberal and partisan politics than Hume disclosed.
On the May 10
Special Report with Brit Hume the anchor of the same name told FNC
"Donna Dees-Thomases, the New Jersey woman
who's leading the so-called Million Mom March on Washington to promote gun
control, has been characterized in nearly all media accounts as a
housewife and mother who was moved to act by TV footage of a shooting at a
day camp. It turns out, however, that she's also a professional public
relations specialist who most recently worked for Dan Rather at CBS News.
And she's the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases, Hillary's Clinton's
long-time close friend and political adviser."
She's also a
former Capitol Hill staff member for two Democratic Senators and a
contributor to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. But more on that later
in this item. First, a rundown of some misleading network descriptions
from over the past couple of months.
Many of the
mothers participating in the protests on Sunday probably are apolitical
people who see guns as a threat to their kids, but that does not excuse
the networks for their duplicity in relaying misleading and/or incomplete
descriptions of Dees-Thomases as some kind of average suburban Mom without
a liberal political agenda. Diana Sawyer happily relayed one morning how
"Donna Dees-Thomases says that she'd never really organized anything
larger than a car pool before." ABC's Elizabeth Vargas called her
"a typical mom you might say, who has made it her mission to stop the
bloodshed." NBC's Tom Brokaw uttered an outright falsehood, tagging
her "a mother who'd never been politically active."
-- CBS Evening
News, May 7. John Roberts offered this identification, as transcribed by
MRC analyst Brian Boyd: "Donna Dees-Thomases is a mother of two and
former CBS News publicist. For her the Granada Hills shootings, part of a
wave of school violence that included the massacre at Columbine High,
finally made her sit up and take notice."
Donna Dees-Thomases: "I think we as mothers
fear for our children and their futures. We are at a crossroads right now,
if we don't do something now, in 25 years am I going to have to send my
grandchildren to nursery school in flap jackets."
Roberts: "Donna Dees-Thomases did something.
She created the Million Mom March next Sunday, Mother's Day, in the
-- ABC's Good
Morning America, April 14. As transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson,
Diane Sawyer introduced an interview segment without mentioning Dees-Thomases's
political activism: "Well, one month from today, tens from thousands
of women are expected to converge on the nation's capital, showing support
for what they call common sense gun legislation. It's being called the
Million Mom March, and even though the number may not quite reach a
million, it's still pretty impressive so far, especially, as we said, when
you consider that the organizer, Donna Dees-Thomases, says that she'd
never really organized anything larger than a car pool before that. We
first met her last month, and she is back now to bring us up to date,
along with two of the regional coordinators, moms as well."
Sawyer set her up
for her story of how the day care shooting motivated her: "Want to
remind people, Donna, what it was that galvanized you to start this."
Sawyer did broach the liberal political agenda advocated, but Dees-Thomases
dismissed the premise: "What about some of the things that you've
talked about -- licensing handgun owners, registering handguns, safety
locks on guns. Are you partisan? Is this a Democratic agenda in some ways
because, as we know, there is a divide?"
-- ABC's Good
Morning America, March 23. In the first GMA appearance by Dees-Thomases,
recalled by Sawyer above, Elizabeth Vargas set her up: "On the heels
of yet another shooting rampage at a Texas church last night, we have a
mom with us this morning, a typical mom you might say, who has made it her
mission to stop the bloodshed. You remember the Million Man March? Well,
this woman is the organizer of the Million Mom March against gun violence,
and it is scheduled for Mother's Day May 14th. Joining us now is Donna
Dees-Thomases. Donna, good morning. Good to have you here. You actually
got the idea for this march, you say, by watching the television coverage
of a shooting at a Los Angeles daycare center. Tell me about that."
Two of the
questions posed by Vargas:
"You have actually taken great pains with
this march not to politicize it. I understand you've been telling some
candidates for different offices, perhaps even Hillary Clinton, that we'd
like your support but from the sidelines, thank you, we don't wanna
"One last question. You say you got the idea
of doing this on Mother's Day because of a story you heard once about
mothers uniting during the Civil War. Tell me about that."
For more on this
interview, go to:
-- NBC Nightly
News, March 30. In his top of the show tease Tom Brokaw stated an outright
falsehood: "And Women to Watch, tonight a mother who'd never been
politically active until she saw this [video of LA kids crossing street
after Grenada Hills Jewish day care center shooting]."
claimed: "Donna Dees-Thomases, a suburban mom. Too busy with her two
daughters and a part-time job to pay much attention to politics. Describes
herself as apathetic until one day last August. Thousands of miles away
from her home in New Jersey, this scene on national television: The
aftermath of a gunman's attack on a Jewish center in Los Angeles."
Myers explained, as transcribed by MRC analyst
Ken Shepherd: "Within days, this 42-year-old successful television
publicist drew up a plan for a mother's march on Washington demanding
tougher gun safety laws. She first asked well-connected friends in
Washington to organize the march. They said no, too hard to pull
Donna Dees-Thomases: "No one ever turns out
for rallies about gun control."
Myers: "That's what you were told?"
Donna Dees-Thomases: "That's what I was
Myers: "Undaunted, she decided to set up the
Myers: "What's the biggest thing you've ever
Dees-Thomases: "Um, a car pool."
Myers went on to
describe her organizing efforts, before concluding: "Now this
suburban mom says her mission won't end with the march. Not until the
mothers of America face down the gun lobby and win."
So who is this
"typical suburban mom" who'd "never been politically
active"? She's a former staffer for two Democratic U.S. Senators and
last year she contributed to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.
The December 1987
MediaWatch reported that in October Donna Dees, the Assistant Press
Secretary to retired Senator Russell Long (D-LA), was named to the post of
Manager of Communications for CBS News in New York where she was to
oversee "Campaign '88" press. Before jumping to Long's office in
1980 she held the same position with Louisiana Democratic Senator Bennett
A check of the
donor database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, the MRC's
Tim Graham learned, uncovered two donations from a "Thomases,
Donna" of Short Hills, New Jersey, the same town media reports list
as the residence for Donna Dees-Thomases. Both identified Thomases's
employer as "CBS." The two items listed:
-- 10/14/1999, $250 to "Clinton, Hillary
-- 08/09/1999, $1,000 "Clinton, Hillary
To replicate our
search, go to http://www.opensecrets.org, click on "Donor
Lookup," enter "Thomases" as the contributor and
"Clinton" as the candidate.
+++ See what Dees-Thomases
looks like. Thursday morning MRC acting Webmaster Eric Pairel will post a
still shot of her from GMA. Go to the posted version on this CyberAlert
item on the MRC home page.
A reminder. Promo
run at the end of Wednesday's World News Tonight: "Good Morning
America's making history again, returning to the White House, looking for
ways to protect kids from guns. Last year we took teenagers, now the moms
speak out. Friday."
Count on all of
Friday's morning shows to promote the Dees-Thomases's "Million Mom
March." As The Early Show's Executive Producer, Steve Friedman, told
Tuesday's USA Today: "This is an issue that everyone is concerned
about. I think it ranks right up there with MADD.
-- Brent Baker
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