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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Friday August 25, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 151) |

Networks Suppressed Ad Content; Lauer Defended Bush on Miscues; Cheney v. Lieberman Descriptions

1) The networks all picked up how the Bush campaign cancelled a planned RNC ad showing Gore in a 1994 interview denying Bill Clinton had ever lied. But in buying the spin that it was misleading since viewers would assume the denial came post-Monica, the networks failed to point out how Clinton had lied by 1994.

2) The CBS Evening News stressed how Bush's verbal miscues could be a boon for "Al Gore's fact-laden campaign," but Today's Matt Lauer suggested the media are overreacting: "He's probably had very little sleep...So why should we criticize him for that?"

3) Newsweek: Cheney was "an overweight bald guy with a bad ticker...and right-wing positions to defend," while Lieberman was not only a historic choice, but a "centrist." Time singled out the "Christian right" as "very concerned" about Lieberman's views on Jesus. Time's Eric Pooley pleaded for "The Man Behind The Myths: Al Gore is trapped inside ugly caricatures."

Correction: The August 24 CyberAlert stated that "viewers then heard from Bob McIntyre, head of the left-winf, but unlabeled, Citizens for Tax Justice." That should have read left-wing.


The RNC decision to pull an ad just before it was set to run which showed excerpts from a 1994 interview in which Al Gore denied he or Bill Clinton had ever lied during their political careers, generated stories on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows Thursday night. Thursday morning only ABC's God Morning America looked at the development and it as well as NBC Nightly News, unlike ABC's World News Tonight or the CBS Evening News, actually let viewers hear what Al Gore had maintained.

    But while all noted how the ad was considered misleading because it supposedly left the impression that Gore was referring to the Lewinsky scandal, all assumed that Lewinsky marked Clinton's first lie as none reminded viewers that by 1994 Bill Clinton had already told quite a few whoppers.

    The story first broke in Thursday's Washington Post in which Howard Kurtz spun it as an example of dirty politics caught at the last minute: "The Republican National Committee, in a last-minute reversal, yesterday withdrew a harsh television that attacked Vice President Gore by using misleading excerpts from a six-year-old interview."

    On Thursday's World News Tonight, ABC anchor Charles Gibson portrayed the controversy as a sign of Bush campaign disarray:
    "In presidential politics today, the attack that fizzled. Yesterday the Republican Party pulled a negative television advertisement aimed at Al Gore before it actually aired. The situation raises questions about the organization of George W. Bush's campaign."

    Dean Reynolds explained, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "The Republican National Committee had an ad it thought was devastatingly effective, showing a halting, stammering Al Gore insisting under questioning that in the last two years he's never told a lie nor ever heard President Clinton tell a lie. But Governor Bush didn't like it when he saw it, and aides said today he immediately raised questions about when Gore made those comments."
    Bush: "Somebody showed me the ad a couple of days ago. I didn't think it was an appropriate ad."
    Reynolds warned off those who wanted a tough ad: "The ad, which would have clearly conflicted with Bush's promise to elevate the tone of the campaign, supplied no date. The Bush campaign said it was determined yesterday that the interview was from 1994, long before such episodes as the Lewinsky scandal that viewers could have easily assumed Gore was addressing. It was only after an intense debate within the Bush campaign and party headquarters that the ad was scrubbed, at least for now. The Gore campaign said the episode was telling."
    Chris Lehane: "It's just the latest sign that the Bush campaign is in disarray."
    Reynolds concluded by giving Bush credit for not going where the media would have condemned him, but warning others still do want to go there: "While Bush can claim credit for raising the alarm over what was arguably a cheap shot, it's noteworthy that some of his supporters wanted to go ahead with it, feeling that the best way to stop Gore's rise in the polls was to go negative as quickly as possible."

    CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer bought and relayed the official Bush line without question: "An ad the Republican National Committee planned to run on 350 television stations today was canceled after Bush concluded it took a cheap shot at Al Gore. The ad showed the Vice President telling a reporter President Clinton never told a lie, suggesting that Gore had overlooked statements the President made about Monica Lewinsky. When Bush discovered the statement had been made long before the Lewinsky episode, the ad was pulled. An adviser said quote, 'When we question Gore's credibility we want to do it in a credible way. The ad was out of context,' unquote."

    In a story tied to how Bush is "on the defensive" over his tax cut, on the August 24 NBC Nightly News reporter David Gregory noted that "one week since the close of the Democratic convention, Governor Bush seems to have faltered in his attempt to regain the spotlight. Polls show him now trailing the Vice President." Gregory then added: "And today another headache, Bush forced to explain why a TV ad questioning Gore's honesty was abruptly withdrawn before it aired. The ad shows an excerpt from a 1994 NBC News interview with Gore about his description of then Senate candidate Oliver North as a pathological liar."

    Viewers saw a brief excerpt of the ad which showed a TV in a kitchen playing a clip from the November 6, 1994 Meet the Press. In the portion shown by NBC Nightly News viewers heard Lisa Myers ask: "Can you say that neither you nor President Clinton has told a lie in your political career?" Gore insisted: "I, ah, none spring to mind, I'll tell you that."

    Gregory picked up: "Some thought the six-year-old interview would be taken out of context as a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal."

    Of the morning shows on Thursday, only ABC's Good Morning America looked at the ad controversy, bring George Stephanopoulos aboard to discuss it. He suggested how fear of news media reaction drove the decision to pull it: "I believe the Bush campaign thought that if this came out right now, they would get tagged with being too harsh."

    GMA was, however, the only show Thursday to let viewers see and hear the entire ad which featured a camera panning a kitchen as a TV on the counter played a clip from the 1994 Meet the Press with Lisa Myers questioning Al Gore. Here's the transcript as reported by Kurtz with some editing improvements:
    Myers: "But if the charge is lying, can you say that neither you nor President Clinton has told a lie in your political career?"
    Gore: "I, ah, none spring to mind, I'll tell you that. And I'll -- let me say again-"
    Myers: "And President Clinton has not uttered a single untruth in the last two years?"
Gore: "Uh, not that I have heard, absolutely not. And again Lisa let me say that-"
    Myers: "Not a single one?"
    Gore: "Yes-"
    Myers: "Never told a lie?"
    Gore: "Well, look, ah, Lisa, um."

    The exchange took place subsequent to Myers asking Gore about his charge that then-Senate candidate Oliver North was a "pathological liar" who was unfit for elected office.

    In buying into the Bush campaign spin that it was unfair to talk about Gore lying about lying pre-Lewinsky, the networks all ignored how at the time of the 1994 interview Clinton had already told some whoppers. The MRC's Tim Graham recalled a few examples:

  • "Clinton began with what had become his rote reply -- that the rumors [about Gennifer Flowers] were fictions made up by the Republican opposition in his last gubernatorial campaign." -- Newsweek's book Quest for the Presidency 1992, page 45.

  • "All I've been asked about by the press are a woman I didn't sleep with and a draft I didn't dodge." -- February 12, 1992 Nightline. Clinton later admitted to a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers and that he received a draft notice in 1969 but returned to England.

  • "I've talked to my client for hours, and he doesn't even know this woman. He absolutely denies this happened." -- Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett to Paula Jones lawyer Gilbert Davis in May 1994 as reported in Uncovering Clinton by Michael Isikoff, page 90. Clinton settled with Jones in 1998 for $850,000.

    ### See what Gore said in full that the networks won't show. An excerpt from the November 6, 1994 Meet the Press is now up on the MRC Web site after the MRC's Kristina Sewell dug it out of the MRC's news archive. Go to: http://www.mrc.org


CBS and NBC Thursday night painted Bush's recent verbal miscues as a problem, but Thursday morning on Today Matt Lauer actually sympathized with Bush and suggested the media are overreacting: "He's probably had very little sleep, I have days here where I can't get out of my own way. So why should we criticize him for that?"

    -- CBS Evening News, August 24. Bill Whitaker asserted that Bush has "painted his vision in broad strokes for so long he's grown rusty on the details, in Iowa this week he tried to clear up questions about his massive $1.6 trillion tax cut and just made things muddier."
    Bush: "One point nine billion to an addition spending of, one point nine trillion to additional spending of three point three trillion dollars."
    Whitaker intoned: "Facts and figures, a different tack for a man who until recently had sailed ahead on charm as much as policy. In a year with a buoyant economy and no burning issues, the Bush folks concluded one key to winning is the Governor's winning personality."

    In contrast, "Al Gore's fact-laden campaign has taken some wind out of Bush's sails and the candidate once so comfortably ahead is showing signs of concern."
    Bush: "I've got to do a better job of making it clear."
    Whitaker followed with a warning from Alan Schroeder of Northeastern University: "The closer you get to the election the more seriously people take this and the less it becomes a popularity contest and the more it becomes about a choice for the future of the country and that in turn could play into Gore's strength."

    -- NBC Nightly News. In the same story about the pulled ad, David Gregory asserted: "Also this week unwanted publicity for a series of verbal slipups, an Iowa fundraiser at the end of a long day."
    Bush: "We're a nation based upon the principle of freedom and we cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile."

    -- August 24 Today. Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman appeared on the show to look at Bush's slip in the polls. Matt Lauer argued in Bush's defense, as noted by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "What's a little disturbing Howard is so much has been made over a couple of slips of the tongue that George W. Bush has made while making speeches across the country in the last couple of weeks. Is this much ado about nothing?"

    Fineman conceded: "Well to some extent. Look, Matt, we react to the polls. We meaning the media. We frame reality in the polls, that much is true. But it is also true that time matters now. This is the first stage of direct comparison between these candidates and these tickets and time is of the essence. There's only about 75 days left. Everyday that a candidate isn't on message, cleaning up a mess of some kind is a day lost appealing to voters. And that's what the Bush campaign is worried about."
    Lauer pressed his point again: "Yeah, but is it fair though Howard? I mean let me play you a piece of tape of a slip he made recently and let's talk about is the criticism is fair."

    Today played the same clip as Gregory showed on Nightly News of Bush saying "hostile" instead of "hostage."
    Lauer then came to his defense: "Obviously he met hostage, not hostile. You know, this guy has been giving campaign speeches around the clock, he's probably had very little sleep, I have days here where I can't get out of my own way. So why should we criticize him for that?"
    Fineman: "Well I think that, I think that's true. I think, I think that every candidate has bad moments and bad days. But the thing here is that Al Gore is coming out of Los Angeles as the father. The guy who's gonna work from morning till night for working families. That's his theme, that's his claim. George W. Bush has a slightly different attitude. He views the campaign as a marathon. I've known him for a long time. Ironically there's no more energetic guy hat I've met in politics than George W. Bush. But he takes a laid back attitude and, and he also, I think, comes out of a tradition where you don't want to be seen as, as working too hard. That it, that it's, it's not good to be seen as the grind late at night in the library. Well now is the time to grind and I think he is aware of that and his campaign is aware of that."

    But before you get too excited about a refreshing attitude from Lauer, in his next question he returned to standard media form in doubting the appeal of tax cuts: "Last question, isn't the real problem for the Bush campaign that the more he talks about the cornerstone of his campaign, which is this huge tax cut, the less people seem to like it."
    Fineman agreed: "Well it's not really popular right now. But he staked the primary season on it and he's staking the general election on it. But he has to explain how it helps families individually, as opposed to debating in a philosophical way with Al Gore, 'cause Al Gore [is] talking specifically."


Catching up with the news magazines from last week, the MRC's Tim Graham discovered quite a contrast in how they approached Joe Lieberman from how they treated Dick Cheney two weeks before. Below are some excerpts from the MRC's MagazineWatch about the August 21 editions of Newsweek, Time and U.S. News.

1. Newsweek's coverage of Cheney vs. Lieberman was black and white: while Dick Cheney was a hard-right pick that underlined Bush's lack of experience, Joe Lieberman was an unquestionably bold and centrist pick.

Jonathan Alter wondered two weeks ago: "Why else pick an overweight bald guy with a bad ticker, three Wyoming electoral votes, and right-wing positions to defend?" To celebrate Lieberman, Alter penned a long article on "Post-Seinfeld America" and how Lieberman's selection is greeted by Alter's generation of Jews as a hopeful sign that anti-Semitism is one the wane. (It does include one shocking sentence with the words "Clinton" and "sleaze" next to each other. "And if Gore wins, Clean Joe Lieberman will be seen as Al Gore's air freshener, his inoculation against Clinton Sleaze Syndrome.")

Two weeks ago, Newsweek's Bill Turque found "Cheney, vehement defender of Ollie North and foe of social spending and abortion rights, was no moderate in 10 years as Wyoming's sole House member." Turque had a different take on Lieberman: "Of the finalists in the vice presidential sweepstakes, he is probably closest to being Gore's political soulmate. He is a moderate man with a generally liberal record, yet willing to break with Democratic orthodoxy on issues like defense spending and media violence." Turque's article on Lieberman, titled "The Soul & The Steel," began with Lieberman's 1963 trip to Mississippi to register black voters, with an old classmate describing his objective in life: "to roll the great ball of truth and goodness forward an inch or two."

Two weeks ago, Newsweek's Howard Fineman touted Bob Shrum's take that "Democrats saw the GOP ticket as Central Casting villains -- wealthy white males from upper-income America -- in the us-versus-them psywar they were already preparing to run." Fineman had no similar take on the all-white Democratic ticket: "He [Lieberman] and Gore have been friends since the '80s, when they were founding members of the centrist pro-big business Democratic Leadership Council...growing especially close when both were among the few Democrats to support the Persian Gulf War." And we can't say he wasn't embraced by um, liberals: "As popular as Lieberman was with the conservative wing, the party's base of workers, blacks, and teachers was in need of reassurance."....

In U.S. News two weeks ago, reporter Kenneth Walsh quoted a former Clinton aide charging Bush "needs to show that he won't turn back the clock and he's not like the Republican Party's congressional crazies." Now Walsh declared Gore's "rationale for seeking the presidency remains a confusing mess," sometimes waging war on the wealthy, other times on the "do-nothing Congress," and "On still other occasions, Gore goes into Bill Clinton mode from 1992, calling himself a different kind of Democrat - an impression reinforced by his choice of centrist Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate."

Walsh's colleague Terrence Samuel was the only one to see any similarity with the Cheney story. Two weeks ago, Cheney was "moderate on the outside but conservative to the core, proudly opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, reauthorization of the Clean Water Act, abortion rights, and gun control." This week Samuel added: "But much like Dick Cheney, the GOP's vice presidential nominee, Lieberman has a long and varied record with plenty to feast on for friends and foes alike. On some levels, Lieberman is a pure Democrat. He is against banning 'partial-birth' abortion; opposed removing Clinton from office; voted against confirming Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; and was against a balanced-budget amendment. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, gave him a perfect score of 100, while the Christian Coalition scored him at 9 out of 100 in favoring their issues. In recent weeks, Lieberman has revised some of his more provocative positions, notably partial privatization of Social Security, which he once favored and now opposes."....

2. Time's Eric Pooley also loved the Lieberman pick, but wrote absolutely nothing about Lieberman's ideology, either the past record or the evolving new flexible version. He loved Lieberman's personality: "You know, there are some people who might actually call Al's selection of me an act of chutzpah," he said in Nashville, using the familiar Yiddish word for audacity. Lieberman has chutzpah too. At first glance you figure he will bore you silly, but he grows on you -- his voice is a decent instrument, and he obviously enjoys playing it. His basic tune, about an immigrant's grandson who was the first in his family to attend college and now might be Vice President, is an American classic. He makes no effort to conceal how tickled he is to be on the ticket, and the result is charming."

While two weeks ago, Time asked in a poll if people would be more or less comfortable with Cheney when told he "is very politically conservative," no poll question asked about Lieberman's policy views. Instead, pollsters focused on just "how concerned" voters would be about "the fact that Lieberman does not believe Jesus Christ was the son of God." They then isolated "Among those who identify themselves as members of the Christian right, percentage who say they are 'very concerned' about Lieberman's views on Jesus: 49 percent."....

3. In another article, Pooley pleaded for "The Man Behind The Myths: Al Gore is trapped inside ugly caricatures." He explained: "His challenge isn't merely a charisma deficit or a tin ear or a knack for seeming phony even when he's being himself. It's that he must try to dispel at least five familiar myths about himself. Each is based on nuggets of truth, but Gore believes each fails to convey the essence of who he is. Is it possible that the shorthand on a man can be so wrong?"

MYTH NO. 1 AL THE CAUTIOUS: "Though there's truth to this image (think Elian), Gore is capable of making gutsy campaign choices (think Lieberman). Lurking behind the often slippery candidate is a man whose approach to governance is undeniably bold."

MYTH NO. 2 AL THE LIAR: "Gore's penchant for exaggerating his past and distorting the positions of his opponents has dominated his press clippings...But many of the well-known examples of Gore's stretching the truth are themselves stretches. He never claimed to have 'invented' the Internet; he said that in Congress he 'took the initiative in creating the Internet,' an unfortunate way of saying he sponsored the bill that bankrolled the transformation of a Defense Department computer network into the Internet we know today. Nor did he claim to have discovered the Love Canal toxic-waste crisis; he was misquoted on the subject, but the newspaper corrections didn't get the same play as the original charge. That's not to say Gore doesn't exaggerate; he does. But plenty of other people in his line of work do too."

If he does exaggerate, how is it a "myth"?

MYTH NO. 3 AL THE HYPOCRITE: Pooley reminded the reader that Gore told the 1996 Democratic convention he swore on his sister's death bed to fight the tobacco industry, but continued tobacco farming for years. He can't correct that, but he makes excuses for Gore: "He was so passionate about giving the speech that none of his aides felt comfortable pushing the hypocrisy issue with him. Like many other overachievers, he is arrogant and a little insecure, but people had always called him Dudley Do-Right, and it never occurred to him that could change. Six months later, during the furor over his campaign fund-raising adventures, the same belief in his goodness led Gore to call a press conference and repeat 'no controlling legal authority' seven times -- and with that, his ugly new image was set in stone."

MYTH NO. 4 AL THE TECHNO-INTELLECTUAL: Pooley undercuts this "myth" too: "Gore has always had an eye for how social and technological change affects people," but he's also political: "perhaps the reason Gore so often seems to be impersonating a tub-thumping pol is that he feels the need to disguise his cerebral nature, since American politics has often punished eggheads....But it's more likely that the tub thumper is part of the real Gore too."....

    END Excerpt

    To read those items in full, as well as #4, "As part of Humanize Al Week, Time focused on 'The Women Who Made Al Gore.' Tamala Edwards looked at his daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, and found her to be an imposing power inside the campaign. 'I hear people say, 'Let's fax a copy to Karenna.' 'Has anybody talked to Karenna about this?'", go to:
http://archive.mrc.org/magwatch/mag20000815.asp -- Brent Baker


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