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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Thursday August 24, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 150) |

Bush's Tax Plan Assaulted; Gore's Spending Ignored; FCC Hit CBS Over Kilborn

1) Janet Reno's decision to not name a special counsel to probe Al Gore earned full stories on CBS and NBC but only a brief item on ABC. CBS's John Roberts lamented the "burden" on Reno since "she takes the heat for refusing to appoint a special counsel."

2) ABC jumped Wednesday night on how the Bush campaign is now "playing defense" while the Gore team is "riding high playing offense," because of George Bush's admission that he needs to do a better job of explaining his tax cut plan. But ABC did nothing to help viewers understand it.

3) CNN's Brooks Jackson devoted two stories to the arguments against Bush's tax cut. "So the richer you are, the more you would gain under Bush's tax plan," Jackson relayed after a clip of a left-wing activist, his only expert in one story. Jackson found a waitress who would rather get day care and he worried about the tax cut's impact on the surplus but skipped Gore's spending plans.

4) Tuesday's Boston Globe front page: "Texas Diversity Plan Rapped." Wednesday's page one: "Heavy Cuts in Defense Trace to Bush Presidency."

5) An FCC commissioner has demanded CBS provide a better explanation for how and why "Snipers Wanted" appeared over video of George W. Bush on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.


Janet Reno's decision to not name a special counsel to investigate Al Gore generated full stories on CBS and NBC Wednesday night, but only a brief item on ABC. CBS's John Roberts worried that "what's good for Gore has become a burden for Janet Reno. She takes the heat for refusing to appoint a special counsel for the third time."

    World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson reported in full on ABC: "Once again, the Attorney General has refused to appoint an outside counsel to investigate Al Gore's fundraising. Janet Reno said today she has reviewed Mr. Gore's recent interview with Justice Department officials about fundraising in 1996, and she said she finds quote, 'no reasonable possibility that further investigation would produce evidence to warrant charges.'"

    CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer introduced the August 23 story: "The presidential campaign trail got a little smoother for Al Gore today. Attorney General Janet Reno again declined to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate, but Reno said the Justice Department's own investigation will go on."

    Just like OJ's search for the real killer?

    Reporter John Roberts proceeded to inform viewers of how the controversy stems from whether Gore made false statements in April about the Buddhist temple fundraising and his knowledge of how the White House coffees were used to raise money. After a clip of Reno maintaining that she saw no criminal intent, Roberts argued: "What's good for Gore has become a burden for Janet Reno. She takes the heat for refusing to appoint a special counsel for the third time."
    He also played this soundbite from Senator Arlen Specter: "The inference is undeniable that's she protecting Vice President Gore."

    NBC Nightly News anchor Pete Williams announced: "A near-miss tonight for the Vice President. Attorney General Janet Reno says she will not appoint a special prosecutor to further investigate statements Mr. Gore made about his campaign fundraising. Reno's decision means she rejected the recommendation of one of her own top investigators and, not surprisingly, her announcement did not please everyone."

    Pete Williams covered the same background as did Roberts, but played a bit longer clip from Specter: "The inference is undeniable that's she protecting Vice President Gore, but at this stage it's up to the American public."


ABC jumped Wednesday night on how the Bush campaign is now "playing defense" while the Gore team is "riding high playing offense," because of George Bush's admission that he needs to do a better job of explaining his tax cut plan. But ABC did nothing to help viewers understand the tax plan as Dean Reynolds passed on without rebuttal the Gore charge that it "would squander the nation's surplus" and without setting the record straight Reynolds showed Bush mangling his explanation.

    World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson marveled, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
    "In presidential politics today, the Bush campaign finds itself in an unfamiliar position, playing defense. You might even say the campaign is a bit rattled after Governor Bush acknowledged yesterday that he needs to do a better job explaining his tax cuts. The Gore campaign, on the other hand, is in an equally unfamiliar situation riding high playing offense."

    Dean Reynolds began the August 23 story: "The Democratic ticket had a confident look today in Florida. Bolstered by positive polls and a dawning realization that they may be onto an issue that puts George W. Bush on the defensive."
    Joe Lieberman: "You know, yesterday George W. Bush said that he hadn't done a good job at explaining his tax plan. The problem isn't explaining the tax cut plan. The problem is the plan itself."
    Reynolds: "The Bush campaign has had to go to extraordinary lengths this week to rebut charges by the Gore campaign that their $1.3 trillion tax cut would squander the nation's surplus. The Governor and his aides have repeatedly stressed that with a projected U.S. surplus of $4.6 trillion over the next decade, there should be more than enough money for his tax cuts and important government programs like Social Security and Medicare."

    After a soundbite from Karen Hughes, Reynolds asserted: "But part of making the case is making it coherently."
    George W. Bush: "Our budget's gonna grow from roughly $1.9 billion to an additional spending of, $1.9 trillion, to additional spending of $3.3 trillion."
    Reynolds: "And this week the Governor has had some difficulty talking numbers."
    Bush: "We will spend $3.3 trillion over the next ten years on top of, on top of the $1.9 trillion budget."
    Reynolds: "It didn't help yesterday when the Republican Congressman who introduced him at this rally in Peoria, Ray LaHood, confided to the reporters on hand that Bush should be saying more about reducing the nation's debt, a point made repeatedly by none other than Al Gore. For Bush, this was supposed to be a week devoted to education issues, but the interference of the debate over taxes has taken the usually disciplined campaign off its message, to a degree seldom seen before. Dean Reynolds, ABC News, Austin."

    As for who and what will "squander" the surplus, see the end of item #3 below for a study which found Gore will spend it all on new programs.


Much of the reason why the public may be gullible to Al Gore's spin that Bush's tax cut is a sop to the rich and does little for lower-income workers is how the media have portrayed it.

    Bush's tax cut plan is quite "progressive" since it reduces the marginal rate for those at the bottom who now pay 15 percent to 10 percent, a one-third reduction, while those in the middle bracket would get a one-fourth rate cut and those paying the top rate only a one-fifth cut of their marginal rate. And of course those who pay the most taxes get a bigger tax cut in raw dollars. As noted in the July 20 CyberAlert which picked up on some CBO numbers, those earning $75,000 to $200,000 now pay 79 percent of income taxes collected by the federal government while those in the $20,000 to $30,000 range pay a mere one percent of taxes collected.

    But those points seldom make it onto TV. Disappointingly, CNN's Brooks Jackson has produced two distorted stories in a row this week which relied on two liberal analysts as experts as he failed to explore the above points and simply passed along the liberal class warfare argument based on the raw dollar amounts of the Bush tax cut by income class. I said "disappointingly" because historically Jackson has been a reporter who goes beyond the partisan spin of the day to dig out the real facts or a contrarian angle on a policy dispute. And, in worrying about the size of the Bush tax cuts, he never raised the cost of Gore's proposed spending programs.

    Jackson opened his August 22 piece for Inside Politics by showing a women who "is just the sort of waitress mom Bush says needs a tax cut."

    He played a clip from Bush: "Under current tax law, for example, a single waitress supporting two children on an income of $22,000 faces a higher marginal tax rate than a lawyer making $220,000. Under my plan, she will pay no income tax at all."

    Jackson countered: "Sounds good, but look more closely. The truth is that Bush's hypothetical $22,000-a-year waitress, who makes a bit more than our waitress, isn't paying any income tax now. In fact, she gets a $1,688 refund thanks to the earned income tax credit, a subsidy benefitting low-wage workers. We asked accountant Charlie Bish to calculate exactly how much Bush's waitress and Bush's $220,000-a-year lawyer would benefit under Bush's plan. His $22,000-a-year waitress gains $114. Her after-tax income increases by half of one percent."

    Back to the women, Jackson asserted: "Our waitress is not impressed." She complained: "I could put a penny in a cup for the whole year and I can see that."

    Jackson moved on: "But that $220,000 lawyer? He gains more than $7,000, increasing his after-tax income more than four-and-a- half percent. Just simple math."

    The accountant noted the obvious: "Whenever you cut the tax rates, basically the people at the higher end of the spectrum will tend to enjoy a better savings simply because of the numbers."

    But instead of explaining how the rich pay the most, Jackson then summarized Bush's plan: "The heart of Bush's plan is an across-the-board rate cut, dropping the top rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and lowering the bottom rate from 15 percent down to 10 percent. It'd also abolish the estate tax, increase deductions for two-earner families, allow non-itemizers to write off charitable deductions."

    Viewers then heard from Bob McIntyre, head of the left-wing, but unlabeled, Citizens for Tax Justice: "The truth of it is it's a pretty traditional Republican tax cut plan that gives 60 percent of its benefits to the top tenth and 42 percent of its benefits to the top one percent."

    Jackson reinforced the point: "So the richer you are, the more you would gain under Bush's tax plan. And not only that, it would consume most -- and some say all -- of the budget surplus outside Social Security. The Bush plan would cost $1.3 trillion this decade, according to the bipartisan Joint Tax Committee of Congress. Right off, that's most of the $2.2 trillion non-Social Security surplus projected by the Congressional Budget Office and an even bigger bite out of the $1.9 trillion forecast by the administration's Office of Management and Budget. But even that's not the whole story."

    William Gale of the Brookings Institution added: "That $1.9 trillion figure is funny money. According to my calculations, a better estimate would be about 0.3 trillion."

    Jackson elaborated: "Bush's tax cut by itself would shrink the surplus an estimated $275 billion, because the national debt would not be paid down as fast and the government would have to pay more interest. The surplus would shrink even more if Congress boosts military spending as promised or expands Medicare to cover prescription drugs or -- well, you get the idea."

    Jackson slyly added: "And our waitress mom? She'd rather have day care than a tax cut." She insisted: "That helps a lot of single parents a whole lot more than giving them a tax -- an earned tax credit at the end of the year."

    Jackson then assessed Gore's tax cut plan, explaining how he wants "targeted" cuts: "In fact, Gore opposes any outright rate cut that would favor most those who pay the most: upper-income taxpayers....Gore's broadest tax cut would increase the standard tax deduction for married couples: no help for upper-income marrieds who itemize. Gore's other targeted cuts include tax breaks for health insurance, child care, college expenses, long-term health care, even a permanent tax credit for business research. Hardly tax cuts at all, some say."

    Jackson's expert? Once again Robert McIntyre who was critical but not on a class envy basis: "Well, what Gore has proposed is a whole bunch of government spending programs that would be run by the Internal Revenue Service. He's got a plan to encourage people to buy more energy-efficient appliances. Who's in charge of that? The Energy Department? No. The Internal Revenue Service. And down the list. It adds up to about 500 billion in spending programs that would be run by IRS."

    Jackson elaborated: "The tax code already is growing more complicated. Taxpayers spend untold billions trying to comply. And Gore's list of proposed new tax breaks makes advocates of a simpler tax code cringe."

    Following another clip of Gale, Jackson concluded by endorsing Gore's position: "Republican George W. Bush says the growing federal surplus is money the government doesn't need and should give back...But Gore would use the surplus to pay down the national debt by the year 2013, more quickly than Bush proposes. That would put downward pressure on interest rates. And Gore says lower interest rates benefit family budgets just as well as federal tax cuts."

    Wednesday night, August 23, Jackson returned to Inside Politics with another piece showcasing only Robert McIntyre's left-wing class warfare analysis of the Bush tax cut plan.

    Jackson devoted most of the story to explaining how Gore and Bush each offer different numbers for how people at different incomes will fare under their plans. For instance, Gore says a $60,000 family will get a bigger cut under his plan, while Bush says Gore's will not given them any cut. Jackson explained that's because Gore assumes they are saving a lot and so will get a $2,000 tax credit and that they have a kid in college and so will get his college tax credit while Bush assumes neither.

    After another example about a low income family, Jackson gave a soapbox to McIntyre to espouse the liberal line on Bush's tax cut idea. "These carefully massaged examples actually obscure the big picture," Jackson warned. McIntyre then got this lengthy forum:
    "Here's what we know. We know that Gore's plan, while very complicated and hard to get firm numbers on, has income caps on all the tax breaks. So nobody over $100,00 is going to get anything. And most of the money looks like it will go to people from $60,000 and down. Bush's plan, we know, that most of the money goes to people over $100,000 and that the very rich, the top one percent, get almost half the money. That's the bottom line."

    Jackson then concluded as if McIntyre had made some criticism of Gore too: "So both sides are being, to say the least, selective about their facts and in the process doing more to confuse than to inform."

    The only thing being obscured is complete reporting. In addition to ignoring how Bush's rate reductions actually skew in favor of the less wealthy, in relaying without rebuttal claims that Bush's tax plan would "consume most" of the surplus, Jackson ignored how Gore would spend it all.

    In a study released last Friday, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation determined Gore's spending proposals are five times greater than Bush's. In "Risky Schemes and Squandered Opportunities: A Comparison of Al Gore's and George W. Bush's Spending Proposals," Tom E. McClusky wrote:

    "Following an extensive examination of the two Presidential candidates' speeches, press releases, agendas, issue briefs, and fact sheets by National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), in this time of a projected ten-year surplus of $2.173 trillion1 both candidates are campaigning on who can spend the surplus quicker -- and one of them has pulled far ahead. As seen in Table 1, Governor Bush, while addressing issues not usually associated with Republicans such as education, health care, and low-income housing, would like to increase annual spending by over $42 billion a year, or $425 billion over ten years.
    "The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, approaches traditional Republican issues like national defense and crime, and ends up with a total five times larger than his opponent -- an increase in spending of over $233 billion a year (see Table 2). As Figure 1 illustrates, Vice President Gore's total agenda over ten years would equal $2.334 trillion, swallowing all of the surplus -- actually creating a deficit of $161 billion."

    To read the whole study and to see the tables, go to:


Not that media bias in Massachusetts matters much to either the Bush or Gore campaign since the state is a solid lock for Gore, but I noticed for two days in a row this week that the Boston Globe's front page featured attack pieces on Bush policies.

    -- August 22 front page piece by Patrick Healy, headlined "Texas Diversity Plan Rapped." It began:

Call it the "compassionate conservative" alternative to affirmative action.

Instead of picking minority students for Texas universities based on their race, Governor George W. Bush signed a law in 1997 that guaranteed a spot for all students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

The idea had an immediate, egalitarian appeal: All applicants would be judged strictly by their performance. And yet, at urban schools where black or Hispanic students are predominant, minorities would surely fill the top 10 percent as well, getting into public campuses by virtue of their own pluck.

But, rather than emerge as the national model some Texas officials hoped for, the plan has run into a wall from Massachusetts to Washington, where officials criticize the idea as simplistic. Though Florida recently adopted a Texas-style policy, officials in other states say the 10 percent rule allows the admission of too many unqualified students and promotes diversity only in states with highly segregated high schools.

"We don't think it solves anything," said Joseph Marshall, who oversees enrollment at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which has scaled back affirmative action and rejected the idea of basing admission on class rank....

    END Excerpt

    To read the whole story, go to:

    -- August 23 front page story by Michael Kranish and John Donnelly, headlined: "Heavy Cuts in Defense Trace to Bush Presidency." It began:

Ten years ago, President Bush ordered Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to slash the defense budget and reduce troop levels 25 percent by the mid-1990s.

This week, Bush's son, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, and his running mate, Cheney, accused the Clinton administration of "hollowing out" the military during much of the past decade.

Those two conflicting points are now at the heart of a dispute in the 2000 presidential campaign over the levels of money spent for defense, military pay, and benefits, and the fighting ability of US forces.

The differences were on display in speeches to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as Bush said Monday that "the next president will inherit a military in decline," and Vice President Al Gore responded yesterday that the US military is the "strongest and best in the entire world."

Strictly in terms of dollars, Bush's charge is questionable. William J. Perry, a defense secretary earlier in the Clinton administration, said two-thirds of the decline in defense spending during the Clinton administration was put in place by President Bush.

"This is the silliest thing I ever heard," John Pike, a defense analyst with the American Federation of Scientists, said of Bush's charges. "The Cold War is over. Most of those force reductions were either accomplished or planned under the Bush administration. The Clinton administration came in and ratified them and modestly tinkered with the force structure. The big draw-downs were under President Bush."

In terms of morale and mission, however, Bush may have tapped into a frustration among some within the military that has existed since Bill Clinton became commander-in-chief....

    END Excerpt

    To read the entire article, go to:


"Snipers Wanted" still causing trouble for CBS. As noted Tuesday night by Tony Snow on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, an FCC commissioner wants a better explanation from CBS for how the "Snipers Wanted" caption appeared over video of George W. Bush during a comedy item on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.

    Pamela McClintock of Variety reported Tuesday:

Though CBS publicly apologized for running a picture of GOP presidential contender George W. Bush with "snipers wanted" as a caption on Craig Kilborn's late-night show, FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani has admonished the network to further account for the "appalling broadcast."....

In a letter to CBS Television president Leslie Moonves dated Aug. 18, Tristani wrote that many viewers have contacted her demanding the government take action over the spot on The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn, aired earlier this month during the week of the Republican National Convention.

"Perhaps there is no government solution for bad taste or the thoughtless broadcast of misguided humor. However, Americans' patience with gratuitous violence on her airwaves is perilously thin," Tristani stated in the letter.

"Calls for voluntary codes of conduct are changing to calls for enforceable regulatory standards. I urge CBS to meaningfully respond to these citizens and use this incident to assess its public interest obligations," the letter continued....

    END Excerpt

    Sounds like the "Freepers" at freerepublic.com, who have been publicizing Kilborn's bad joke, are having an impact.

    As noted last week in CyberAlert, on the Monday, August 14 show, Kilborn did "apologize for a mistake we made....with a caption on our screen concerning Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush that should not have made it on the air." He added: "I want to apologize personally to George W. Bush, our audience, the viewers at home, and to anyone else who was offended. I am sorry it happened."

    A couple of weeks ago the MRC posted a video clip of the incident as shown by FNC, but it was without the Kilborn audio. MRC research associate Kristina Sewell has since obtained a copy of the original show and this afternoon MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post it in this item in the posted version of this CyberAlert.

    The event occurred on the show aired the night of August 4 as Kilborn told this joke in his "In the News" segment parodies of news events: "Our top story, news from the dark side of the force. George W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for President with a very stirring speech at the convention last night in Philadelphia. The delegates got a real sense of George W. or as he's known to most Americans, Hollow Man."

    Kilborn's next joke: "Bush excited the crowd with his indictment of President Clinton, asking do you really want eight more years of peace, low inflation and unbelievable prosperity?"

    To watch this segment, after 1:30pm ET today, go to:
http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000824.asp#5 -- Brent Baker


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