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:
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."
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
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
-- 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"
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
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
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
-- 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.)....
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
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..."
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
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
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 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."
The Drudge Report
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
-- 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
-- 9:17:45 ad break
-- 9:22: Pointless taped piece by Andy
Rooney on "what is a Democrat?" Featured a series of soundbites
-- 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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