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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Monday August 21, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 148) |

Bush's "Harsh Words"; Networks Wrong on Who Leaked; Ad-Packed CBS Hit Ratings Low

1) Best Quip of the Weekend: Jack Germond on how Al Gore "thought it would be inappropriate to have a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion," yet "he almost gave us an X-rated kiss on the podium."

2) ABC's World News Tonight called Bush's rhetoric, but not Gore's, "harsh." Plus, Michel Martin felt guilty about her free shrimp and argued the convention money could have been better spent on the homeless.

3) Washington Post headlines two weeks apart: "Bush, Cheney Speeches Take Great Liberties" versus "In L.A., Truth-Stretching Was Mostly in Check."

4) Dan Rather referred to the Clinton grand jury disclosure as a "carefully orchestrated story leak" about the "Republican-backed special prosecutor." On the Web, he tied in "federal judges backed by the Jesse Helms wing of the Republican Party." Wrong, a Carter- named judge was the leaker, but the networks gave the correction less time and lower priority.

5) CBS News hit an "all-time low in convention ratings" on Thursday night. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that CBS didn't show any of the actual convention in its first 45 minutes and devoted 16 of the first 34 minutes to commercials.

     >>> Conventions 2000 issues of Media Reality Check and accompanying videos. The conventions are over, but the MRC's analysis lives on accompanied by RealPlayer video clips which demonstrate the bias. To read all the articles in the 18 twice-daily issues and/or to view the issues as Adobe Acrobat PDF files,
go to: http://www.mrc.org/Campaign2000/welcome.html
     The videos from late last week are also featured at that address. For all the videos from both conventions, go to: http://archive.mrc.org/Campaign2000/campvideos.html
    The videos available include a contrast in how GMA treated the wives of the two VP candidates, Bryant Gumbel on the "preoccupation with morality" over the Playboy Mansion controversy, a contrast between how Sam Donaldson assessed Clinton's speech with how he denigrated Reagan's speech in 1988 with liberal criticism, and a contrast between how Dan Rather opened the Sunday editions of the CBS Evening News the night before each convention. Plus, ten videos from the Republican convention week. To hear Dan Rather babble on about "Popeil politics," go to:
http://archive.mrc.org/Campaign2000/mrc/20000818am.html#Dan <<<


Quote of the Weekend, or at least the best one-line quip. Syndicated columnist Jack Germond on Inside Washington talking about the lengthy kiss Thursday night between Al and Tipper Gore: 
    "I was interested in the kiss because this was the guy who thought it would be inappropriate to have a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion and he almost gave us an X-rated kiss on the podium."


Bush not Gore "harsh" according to ABC and an ABC reporter was most disturbed about all the money spent on the conventions when she had to drive by the homeless on her way to downing free shrimp.

    -- World News Tonight anchor Jack Ford opened Friday's show:
    "On World News Tonight this Friday: George W. Bush has harsh words for Al Gore only hours after Mr. Gore's convention ends. He says the attacks are unnecessary."
    Gore soundbite: "You know I think that's politics as usual. I think people are tired of it."

    What were the "harsh words"? This was the toughest thing from Bush that reporter John Yang showed: "My opponent said his first legislative proposal would be for campaign funding reform. That's fine, although he's a little short on credibility on the issue."

    Apparently Al Gore's assertions about how Bush would return the country to the "faded days and rusted ways of the old guard" and "they're for the powerful, we're for the people," are not harsh.

    -- Michel Martin in the roundtable portion of Sunday's This Week: "George [Stephanopoulos] and I were working some early morning hours, as well as some late night hours, and every time we drove to the Staples Center, or even in Philadelphia, we'd drive by people living in cardboard boxes on the street. And it was a continuing reminder that there are uses for money that could be, I just found it disturbing to continually drive here and think to myself 'okay several hours from now I'm going to be eating some free shrimp paid for by somebody else' and I do think it's worth noting that the cost of these events are upwards of $20 million each. I'm not sure they need to be four days long."

    George Will countered with the obvious: "Well, no one's living in a cardboard box because the Democrats and Republicans are holding big conventions. Those are severable problems."


A tale of two Saturdays. The Saturday after the GOP convention the Washington Post delivered a negative front page story about the Republican ticket's first day of post-convention campaigning and inside ran a piece detailing all the supposed errors made in the speeches by the two nominees. But two weeks later, on the Saturday after the Democratic convention, the Post offered neutral and approving stories on those two subjects.

    -- Front page, top right headline on August 5: "Gore Links Bush Bid to 'Old Guard.'" The subhead: "GOP Ticket Assailed as a Return to 'Rusted Ways'"

    Now compare that to the August 19 headline in the same top spot on the page: "Nominees Hit Trail as Race Narrows." The subhead: "Bush Criticizes Gore in Tenn.; Democrats Embark on River Tour"

    -- An August 5 story on page A12, labeled "analysis," carried the headline: "From GOP Ticket, a One-Sided View." The subhead: "Bush, Cheney Speeches Take Great Liberties"

    Compare that to an August 19 story not tagged as "analysis" which ran on page A8: "In L.A., Truth-Stretching Was Mostly in Check." Subhead: "Gore Fudged on Bush's Tax Cut Plan, But Clinton Made Party's Most Questionable Economic Claim"


The networks all promoted last Thursday night and Friday morning, without rebuttal, the White House/Gore campaign spin that nefarious Republicans leaked the news that independent counsel Robert Ray had established a new grand jury to examine Bill Clinton's statements in the Monica Lewinsky case. But when a federal judge appointed by Jimmy Carter admitted on Friday that he was the source of the leak to an AP reporter, the correction did not get such high priority.

    Friday's Today, for instance, dedicated an entire 7am half hour interview segment to the grand jury news. Co-host David Bloom's first question to Clinton hack Paul Begala: "The White House spokesman Jake Stewart said yesterday, quote, 'The timing of this leak reeks to high heaven.' Do you agree?" Naturally, he did. But on Saturday, Today didn't mention the reality of who leaked until the 8am news at the top of the second hour. News reader Gina Gaston gave it 17 seconds. Today's 7am half hour segments looked at McCain's cancer, the submarine rescue, controversy over boys on a girls softball team and a CIA exhibit of spy stuff from TV shows and movies.

    Thursday night CBS's Dan Rather naturally delivered the most loaded language, outright accusing Bush-affiliated people. He referred to it as a "carefully orchestrated story leak" about what the "Republican-backed special prosecutor Robert Ray" is up to. In a Web posting, Rather slimily noted how Ray is overseen by a three-judge panel which "features two federal judges backed by the Jesse Helms wing of the Republican Party."

    More on Rather below, but first a quick review of NBC and ABC on Thursday night:

    -- NBC Nightly News led with the grand jury revelation and suspicions about Republican leakers, but Friday night anchor Brian Williams didn't get to the update until several stories into the show and then he only gave it 23 seconds.

    -- "The timing of the leak stunned the Gore campaign," ABC's Linda Douglass relayed on Thursday's World News Tonight. She then led into a supporting and unchallenged soundbite: "Officials believe it is a dirty trick, hatched by aides to President Clinton's nemesis, former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr."
    Mark Fabiani, Gore Communications Director: "Americans are going to have serious questions about the timing of today's leak. People are wise by now to these Ken Starr-like tactics."

    The next night ABC's Bob Woodruff acknowledged: "After all this finger pointing, it turns out this was not a Republican dirty trick after all. It was not even coming from the independent counsel's office. In fact, it came from a federal judge...."

    -- Now back to Dan Rather. On the August 17 CBS Evening News, in a formulation he repeated during CBS's prime time convention coverage, Rather intoned:
    "Timing is everything. Al Gore must stand and deliver here tonight as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. And now Gore must do so against the backdrop of a potentially damaging, carefully orchestrated story leak about President Clinton. The story is that Republican-backed special prosecutor Robert Ray, Ken Starr's successor, has a new grand jury looking into possible criminal charges against the president growing out of Mr. Clinton's sex life. CBS' Jim Stewart in Washington has that story and the context."

    In prime time and on the Evening News Gloria Borger then passed along the Gore spin with a warning about Ken Starr: "One top Gore adviser portrayed it as what he called a quote 'grand Republican strategy to tie Al Gore to President Clinton.'" She added: "The hope of the Gore campaign is that this leak will fire up their troops and backfire against the Republicans. How? By tying George W. Bush to Kenneth Starr."

    The CBS News Web site, as of Sunday night, still featured Dan Rather's Thursday "Notebook" essay titled "Low-Road Politics: Clinton Grand Jury Leak Carefully Orchestrated."
    Part of his diatribe:

For all the talk by both parties and major candidates about keeping this presidential campaign on the high road, it seems low-road politics remain very much in fashion. Once again, we are reminded that with politicians, especially, you need to watch their feet as you listen to their words.

All of which comes to mind in light of the leak revealing that Ken Starr's successor, Independent Counsel Robert Ray, has empaneled a new grand jury to look at evidence that President Clinton broke the law while giving testimony on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

You don't have to be a cynic to note that this has all the earmarks of a carefully orchestrated, politically motivated leak. The Republican-backed Robert Ray is sponsored by a three-judge panel that must periodically decide whether Ray's investigation should continue. This panel features two federal judges backed by the Jesse Helms wing of the Republican Party.

Any reporter who's spent time on the police beat learns to look for motive. So you ask yourself -- what group has the motive to see that such a leak would occur at such a time, hours before Gore is set to accept his party's nomination in the most important speech of his political life?

None of which is to say that George W. Bush is behind the leak, directly or indirectly. We certainly have no information that he is. But candidates themselves hardly ever are, as their hands must remain clean and their deniability plausible. (You may want to review some of the more unpleasant tactics used by Bush backers against John McCain in South Carolina earlier this year.)....

    END excerpt

    To read all of Rather's rant, go to:

    Friday night on the CBS Evening News Jim Stewart insisted:
    "Yesterday the White House, Democratic Party officials and just about everyone in Washington who follows politics were in agreement that it had to be a Republican that leaked the news that a new grand jury was looking into the Monica Lewinsky affair. Now, a federal judge has stepped forward and volunteered that he was
the leak. And not only that, the judge was appointed by a Democrat..."

    Make that the White House, Democratic Party officials AND the news media "were in agreement that it had to be a Republican that leaked the news..."


CBS News hit an "all-time low in convention ratings" on Thursday night the Drudge Report noted in a Friday posting brought to my attention by MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that CBS didn't show any of the actual convention in its first 45 minutes and devoted 12 minutes of the 9pm ET half hour (and 16 of the first 34 minutes) to commercials.

    An except from the Drudge item:

They're calling it Black Night at Black Rock after A.C. NIELSEN overnight ratings show CBS NEWS finishing dead last in viewership for coverage of Thursday's Democratic National Convention finale.

CBS sank to a 3.1 rating/5 share for Thursday night coverage, trailing ABC 7.3/12; NBC 5.5/9. The numbers stunned CBS executives in New York, several of which thought there must have been a technical glitch at NIELSEN, according to insiders. CBS viewership levels have collapsed more than 1000% from conventions held in the 1980s.

The results were said to be especially disappointing for CBS NEWS legend Dan Rather, who has quietly told associates how this week marked his last convention as anchor....

At one point during CBS's primetime coverage [from 9 pm to 9:30 ET] the network only managed to snag 4% of households using televisions!

The embarrassment of trailing nearly all over-the-air network broadcasts -- CBS slightly edged WB -- has led for calls inside of the network for a change in direction at CBS NEWS....

"[CBS NEWS President] Andrew Heyward is the Dog House," said the executive. "But I really think it would be quite unfair to put the full blame on him. We had a very weak lead in [BIG BROTHER], and there is a feeling that we have just become too complacent, over all, in our political coverage. And our stable of talent is not really where it should be."

    END Excerpt

    The Drudge Report address: http://www.drudgereport.com

    I'll suggest a better reason: crappy coverage. From 9 to 9:30pm ET Thursday CBS provided no more actual convention coverage than did NBC -- and NBC was showing a Will & Grace repeat.

    While ABC delivered a series of live interviews with people on the floor and interviews in the booth with major Democrats, CBS viewers never got a flavor of the event and so could not have been drawn in. Instead, CBS offered non-stop commercials interrupted by boring pre-taped pieces:

-- 9pm ET: Rather welcomed viewers; Bob Schieffer previewed Gore speech; Ed Bradley summarized Gore's challenges of overcoming a negative image and showing there are differences on issues like Medicaid; Rather/Borger on the "Republican" leak.

-- 9:05: ad break

-- 9:07:45 Ed Bradley on the Democratic "money trail" and how $350,000 bought access to suites. Bradley provided CBS's one and only floor interview of the night, asking Senator Russ Feingold about how he's called fundraising "legalized bribery."

-- 9:10:20 ad break

-- 9:15 Re-run of taped Phil Jones story, which already aired on the Evening News, about corporate donors paying for parties and how the Democratic Party's second biggest donor didn't come to LA.

-- 9:17:45 ad break

-- 9:22: Pointless taped piece by Andy Rooney on "what is a Democrat?" Featured a series of soundbites from delegates.

-- 9:25:30 ad break

-- 9:27 Taped piece by Sandra Hughes on protests, police response

-- 9:30: ad break

-- 9:34: brief shot of Tipper Gore dancing to drums; John Roberts in booth with Rather talking about Tipper

-- 9:36 Tipper speaking from podium

-- 9:38:30 Cut off Tipper to run taped profile of Al Gore by John Roberts

-- 9:47 Roberts ends; Gore soon walks across floor to give address.

    Maybe a few more would have stuck with CBS, despite Dan Rather's false cheap shot about who leaked news about the "Republican-backed special prosecutor," if the network hadn't decided to cram most of its usual 9 to 11pm ad inventory into the first 34 minutes of its broadcast. -- Brent Baker


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