Networks Obsessed on "Rats"; Bush's Dyslexia; Tying in Willie Horton; Gore versus Bush GMA Contrast
-- Extra Edition
1) The "rats" complaint
by Gore elevated to news status by the New York Times topped ABC, CNN and
MSNBC Tuesday night and earned full pieces on CBS and NBC. ABC seriously
claimed that Gore was "taken aback" by it. CNN declared it "an
effort to deceive the voters."
2) FNC reported the appearance of the word "rats" in
the ad way back on August 28, but the New York Times only decided to make it
front page news when the Gore campaign called them.
3) MSNBC anchor's first question to left-wing writer Gail
Sheehy who claims Bush has dyslexia: "Calling it 'subblibimal'
instead of subliminal. Is that dyslexia?" CNN and FNC also pointed out
Bush's inept mispronunciation, but not ABC, CBS and NBC. (ABC did on GMA.)
4) Tying in Willie Horton. Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC claimed
Lee Atwater coordinated that ad. Linking him to the "rats" ad, she
asserted: "Atwater founded the company where Alex Castellanos is now
creative director, so the tradition lives on."
5) Tuesday morning, all the shows focused on the
"rats" ad. CBS's Bryant Gumbel claimed Republicans had
"struck a new low." ABC's Charles Gibson claimed: "In all
fairness, the Gore people didn't spot it. A voter out in Seattle called
6) Good Morning America treated Al Gore gently, even letting
him suggest a "headline" for his economic plan. But six days later
ABC demanded Bush respond to the charge that his tax cut "gives"
more to the rich than Gore's prescription plan costs and raised the
unsubstantiated charge that Bush has dyslexia.
7) Bill Clinton versus Bobby Knight in the "Top Ten
Questions on the Indiana University Basketball Coach Application."
Al Gore campaign can sure play the media, though it helps that the media
want to be played on his behalf. As FNC's Brit Hume observed in opening
Tuesday's Special Report with Brit Hume:
"There are few
news organizations capable of single-handedly injecting a story into the
national bloodstream. The New York Times is one of them. So when the
Times, alerted by aides to Al Gore, published a front page story about a
single frame in a Republican TV ad containing the word 'rats,'
something pointed out on this broadcast two weeks ago, George W. Bush had
to spend much of his day explaining it." (More in item #2 below on
how FNC long ago reported the same thing.)
Indeed, the ABC, CNN and MSNBC evening shows all led
with "rats" Tuesday night while CBS and NBC provided full
stories after opening with the latest on the Firestone tire problems. (All
the morning shows also focused up front on the "rats"
controversy. See item #5 below for details.)
For those trapped in a cave, to see the offending ad
and frame of it, go to:
Every story Tuesday night noted how the
"rats" issue drowned out Bush's message of the day on
Medicare, but no reporter acknowledged the media's role in making a
choice to elevate a slightly amusing observation about something known for
weeks into a major story. NBC's David Gregory referred to how Bush made
"similar missteps last week," as if the media decision to take a
complaint by Gore and turn it into the topic of the day was his
On CNN's The World Today, CNN political analyst
Bill Schneider denounced Bush: "On one level this is just juvenile
name calling, it's a fraternity prank. But it does raise some problems
for Bush. The ad looks like an effort to deceive the voters. The
Republican Party let it run even after they knew about it. Bush has got to
make it clear that as President he will not tolerate any efforts to
deceive or manipulate the voters."
Then he should urge them to stop watching network TV
news or reading the New York Times.
ABC's Dean Reynolds played along with Gore's
gimmick, solemnly intoning: "Vice President Gore, who quickly made
himself available to reporters today, appeared to be taken aback."
CBS's John Roberts impugned ad-maker Alex Castellanos: "The ad's
producer, well known as a practitioner of the black art of negative
advertising..." NBC's Claire Shipman took the whole matter quite
seriously: "The Bush campaign says it's a meaningless flash, silly
even. But explanations for how it got there are confused."
While ABC suggested that "the myth of the
subliminal ad is just that," NBC's Shipman found something more
nefarious, insisting "this sort of word flash is not accidental and
it can be effective." Professor Robert Goodstein of Georgetown
University, who appeared on all three broadcast network evening shows,
warned on NBC: "I think it's a word that contains a lot of emotions
when you're talking about people's health."
Here's a rundown of how the broadcast networks, on
Tuesday night, September 12, handled the "rats" ad story.
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings opened
the show: "Good evening. Every day in a presidential campaign is
different in some fashion. The candidate tries to get out the message. His
opponent tries to knock him off stride. The media looks for the story of
the day as well as the meaning of it all..."
Dean Reynolds explained how Bush in Florida talked
about Medicare, "but as the Governor tried to advance his
compassionate message, he was distracted by repeated questions from the
press about a curious Republican party ad attacking his opponent on health
Reynolds showed a portion of the ad and then
directed viewers, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "You
have to look very closely at this thirty-second commercial, which has been
running for a couple of weeks nationally. Most people have to have the
tape slowed down and told to look right there for just a thirtieth of a
second, a blink of an eye, the word 'rats' shows up on the screen. But
that was long enough for the Democrats who saw it to charge Bush with
using subtle psychological warfare against them. Vice President Gore, who
quickly made himself available to reporters today, appeared to be taken
Al Gore: "Well
I've never seen anything like it. Not even in a product commercial have
I ever seen anything like it. And I think it's just disappointing."
instead of Bush's tax cuts or health care reforms dominating news
reports, the ad flap got squarely in the way....The Governor said he was
sure there was no intention to compare his opponents to rodents, and the
ad's producer in Washington explained further."
Following a clip of Alex Castellanos calling the
word "unintentional" and the flap "silly," Reynolds
continued: "As the campaign headed on to Missouri, another important
state, the Governor's aides were insisting this was no story, and they
were mocking reporters for pursuing it."
Karen Hughes called the stories "cheesey"
before Reynolds concluded: "For one very important day, the Bush
campaign message was diluted and at times overshadowed. It's only one
day, Peter, but there are just 56 of them left in this race."
That means 56 more opportunities for the Gore
campaign to control what the media focus on.
Up next, ABC dismissed the effectiveness of
subliminal advertising. Jennings explained: "If the word 'rat'
was intentionally meant to appear in that political ad, one wonders what
the Republican Party thought it might accomplish because, as ABC's Ned
Potter reports, the myth of the subliminal ad is just that."
Ned Potter recalled the old tale about how in 1957
New Jersey moviegoers mobbed concession stands after hidden words on
screen urged "eat popcorn." Potter countered:
classic story, but it's not true. It was eventually exposed as a hoax,
and since then no experiment has been able to prove that people have
anything more than the mildest emotional response to a subliminal
Bob Garfield, ABC
News consultant: "There is no evidence, no evidence that I know of
that subliminal seduction works, that you can embed messages and make
people somehow register them and act in any given way."
Garfield of Advertising Age says nevertheless it has become popular
mythology that sales messages are filled with hidden messages, that
advertisers hide something in the ice cubes in every liquor ad. But
that's a big chance for them to take."
Goodstein, Georgetown University: "If it's found out the backlash
is so horrible compared to the positive effect that this might have."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather relayed how a CBS
News/New York Times poll put Gore at 46 percent over Bush at 43 percent.
Bob Schieffer observed a "growing preference for Gore's position on
the issues." Specifically, by 62 to 41 percent the public thinks Gore
is the "most likely" to make health care more affordable and by
61 to 47 percent the most likely to reduce prescription costs. While Bush
leads on taxes and defense, Schieffer explained, only 6 percent see taxes
as "most important" and just 3 percent say that about defense.
Rather then intoned: "On another front, the
Bush campaign today defended an attack ad that flashes the word 'rats'
across the television screen while denouncing Gore's health care plan
for seniors. CBS's John Roberts has the ad pictures in question and the
bigger picture, including context and perspective."
John Roberts asserted: "The presidential
campaign got downright weird today. Messages about education and health
care were overshadowed by accusations of hidden messages in a Republican
He too showed the ad and then a freeze frame:
"But wait, slow the ad down, and what you'll see when they're
discussing bureaucrats is the word 'rats' in big bold letters. Some
called it a subliminal message."
Al Gore: "I'm
disappointed by this development. I've never seen anything quite like
hidden message in a campaign ad? Preposterous said the Texas
Bush noted the word
appears in one frame of 900 and you can't see it at normal speed.
Castellanos: "The ad's producer, well known as a practitioner of
the black art of negative advertising, admitted he placed the word
'rats' there but not to run down Gore."
"It's just a little visual drumbeat designed to get you to look at
the word bureaucrats..."
Roberts scolded: "The bottom line is voters
don't even like the appearance of being manipulated, says Ron Goodstein,
who has studied subliminal advertising."
Georgetown University: "It doesn't matter if the advertisers
intended it or not. If people react to it as if it was done on purpose,
then it's gonna have the negative backlash that it's having."
Roberts concluded Bush had been "pulled off
message" but failed to note how the media made that decision for him:
"Late today Republicans announced that the ad had run its course and
suddenly pulled it off the air, but the Texas Governor had already been
pulled off message, another bizarre distraction for a campaign looking to
regain its focus and momentum."
-- NBC Nightly News. Claire Shipman showed the ad
and allowed Gore to maintain: "I find it a very disappointing
development. I've never sen anything quite like it."
Shipman then took the Gore campaign complaint
gimmick quite seriously, trying to nail down who knew what, when:
"The Bush campaign says it's a meaningless flash, silly even. But
explanations for how it got there are confused. Last night, Alex
Castellanos the veteran Republican ad man who made the commercial, says
the reference is unintentional but today he suggests he put it there on
purpose to emphasize the tail end of the word 'bureaucrats,' but he
says he wasn't trying to call Al Gore a rat."
"It doesn't matter, all it was was a drumbeat to get you to pay
attention to the real thing, bureaucrats."
Shipman ominously warned: "A marketing expert
on the effects of so-called subliminal advertising says in his experience,
this sort of word flash is not accidental and it can be effective."
Goodstein, Georgetown University: "I think it was a curious selection
of letters to take the last four letters in bureaucrats, in saying
Gore's health plan is being developed by rats. I think it's a word
that contains a lot of emotions when you're talking about people's
Shipman concluded by admitting the stunt she was
gullible enough to buy: "In public the Gore campaign is trying to
stay away from this story, but behind the scenes aides are pushing it
relentlessly, expressing shock, passing out background materials on
subliminal advertising. As for the ad itself, Republicans say it was due
to be pulled off the air today anyway."
Next, David Gregory noted how the Bush campaign was
"knocked off message" as Bush was "forced to answer"
questions about the "rats" ad. Gregory argued: "Similar
missteps last week and the debate over the debates consumed most of
Bush's efforts to get his message out."
Gregory surreally concluded: "Today Bush says
all of this is just another example of Democrats making quote
'everything out of anything.' Maybe so, but some believe the problem
for Bush is that it doesn't take much to throw him off his message or
Doesn't take much to throw Bush off? More like it
doesn't take much for the Gore camp to be able to pull the media's
York Times demonstrated how it's at the service of the Gore campaign.
FNC reported the appearance of "rats" way back on August 28, but
the New York Times only decided to make it front page news when the Gore
Brit Hume recalled on FNC Tuesday night: "When
Fox News first pointed out that GOP ad with the single frame flashing the
word 'rats' and showed it on the air back in late August, we called it
to the attention of the New York Times. A Fox News spokesperson left a
detailed message about it, and followed up with a second call the next
day. We never got a call back. Two weeks later, when aides to Vice
President Gore alerted the Times, the paper put it on the front
Indeed, in the roundtable segment of the August 28
Special Report with Brit Hume, host Tony Snow observed:
"Our crack crew
noticed something very interesting about George W. Bush's campaign
commercial -- I'm sorry, an RNC, not George W. Bush's ad on medical care.
Take a look at this. This is really cool." Snow pointed out the word:
"Is that subliminal or what? There's the subliminal man. We froze the
frame there and what you have on the screen for just a minute about
bureaucrats is rats."
Bill Sammon of the Washington Times joked: "I
wonder how PETA feels about this. Rats being used for political
FNC moved on to real news, but not the New York
Times. Check out the oh so serious tone of Richard Berke's September 12
front page piece, headlined "Democrats See, and Smell, Rats in G.O.P.
Ad." Go to:
and NBC did not draw attention Tuesday night to George W. Bush's
inability to pronounce the word "subliminal" and none mentioned
the Vanity Fair article which claims he suffers from dyslexia, but the
three cable news networks pointed out both. (On GMA earlier, ABC asked
Bush about the dyslexia charge. See item #7 below.)
Carl Cameron contended on FNC's Special Report
with Brit Hume: "He may have jump started an old flap over his
diction and manner with his mispronunciation of the word subliminal."
Bush: "I want
to make it clear to people that the idea of putting 'subblibinal'
messages in ads is ridiculous."
garbled the word three more times in just nine minutes....Bush's slip
ups occur regularly. In the latest Vanity Fair magazine, columnist Gail
Sheehy cites experts who suggest Bush has the learning disability
dyslexia, he says not so."
On CNN's The World Today, Jonathan Karl noted how
Bush "repeatedly mispronounced the word" subliminal.
MSNBC News with Brian Williams substitute anchor
Lester Holt's first question to left-wing writer Gail Sheehy, author of
the Vanity Fair piece: "Calling it 'subblibimal' instead of
subliminal. Is that dyslexia?"
But on the up side, Bill Kristol cracked on FNC's
Special Report with Brit Hume: "If George Bush is dyslexic, as Gail
Sheehy in Vanity Fair thinks, well then he thinks that what the r-a-t-s
spells is 'star.' So he's being nice to Al Gore."
Horton II? NBC's Andrea Mitchell tried to connect the dots Tuesday night
to show a link between the anti-Dukakis Willie Horton ad in 1988 and the
Wrapping up her The Mitchell Report on MSNBC just
before 6:30pm ET, Mitchell recalled past political ads that were not so
subtle and "hit you over the head with their negative message."
She cited LBJ's anti-Goldwater ad with the countdown to a nuclear
explosion, the anti-affirmative action ad on behalf of Jesse Helms and,
"of course, Willie Horton."
She played a clip of the Horton ad, then lectured:
"They said it was produced independently of the Bush campaign, but
connections to Bush's campaign genius, the late Lee Atwater, were later
discovered. And in fact Atwater founded the company where Alex Castellanos
is now creative director, so the tradition lives on."
Huh? Tradition of what? Aggravating liberal
If Mitchell really cared about fully informing her
viewers of any ironic links between the Horton ad and the anti-Gore ad
this year she could have pointed out that it was Al Gore who first raised
the name "Willie Horton" in his primary challenge to Dukakis.
Democrat Lyndon Johnson produced an ad which used an atomic explosion to
suggest that the election of Barry Goldwater would mean the end of life on
the planet, but in Bryant Gumbel's mind, Republicans "have struck a
new low" in their ad with the word "rats" on screen for
one-thirtieth of a second.
NBC's Today, broadcast on tape this week from
Sydney, is blowing off most news in order to concentrate on the Olympics,
but still managed room for a live news segment on the ad. ABC's Good
Morning America brought aboard two guests to analyze it and demanded that
guest George W. Bush explain it (details about the Bush interview in item
-- ABC's Good Morning America, September 12. MRC
analyst Jessica Anderson noticed that Charles Gibson asked George
Stephanopoulos: "Do you think that was intentional?" He
answered: "If it was it was awful
stupid because it was going to get discovered. In these ads, the political
people vet every single frame, so it's hard for me to imagine that someone
at some level didn't know, but it feels much more like a sophomoric prank
than a dirty trick."
Gibson also preposterously claimed: "In all
fairness, the Gore people didn't spot it. A voter out in Seattle called in
and said, 'You ought to look at this thing more closely,' and the Gore
people said, 'Oh.'"
If the Gore campaign didn't have anything to do
with it or care about it they wouldn't have fed the story to the New
Gibson soon turned to another guest: "Let's
take it from the advertising perspective, Bob Garfield. Do the advertising
people, when they make these things, know frame by frame what's in there
and could it have been unintentional?"
Garfield, editor at
large of Advertising Age: "It could have been unintentional, but it
couldn't have gone on the air without them knowing it was there...."
-- CBS's The Early Show. Bryant Gumbel introduced
the show's top story: "By their very nature campaign ads are biased
efforts to sell someone a point of view, but one Republican television ad
attacking Al Gore now seems to have struck a new low. It carries hints of
a hidden message and some would say they smell a rat."
John Roberts showed the ad and then, as transcribed
by MRC analyst Brian Boyd, repeated the historic canard reported as a
"hoax" by ABC (see item #1 above): "Some inside the Gore
campaign have suggested that this is an attempt to discredit the Vice
President's prescription drug plan. But it certainly harkens back to the
controversy of the 1950s when theater owners were accused of flashing the
words 'Eat Popcorn' and 'Drink Coke' on theater screens to entice people
to go to the concession stands. And again in 1973 during a Christmas
advertising blitz when the words 'get it' were briefly flashed on the
screen. For its part the Republican National Committee denies any
suggestion of subliminal advertising and has, in fact, accused the Gore
campaign of engaging in so much silliness. The Bush campaign even went so
far as to say if you play the ad backwards it says 'Paul is dead.' But,
however the word 'rats' got on the screen it has certainly done three
things: it's given the Vice President a new headline, it's put the Bush
campaign on the defensive; and cast a suspicious eye on any future George
W. Bush ads."
-- NBC's Today. News reader Ann Curry declared:
"In presidential politics a new TV ad from the Bush campaign is
causing controversy this morning. The Gore campaign says it smells a
showed the offending frame and then, as transcribed by the MRC's
Geoffrey Dickens, intoned:
Republican ad man who created the commercial, Alex Castellanos, called
the inclusion of rats, 'unintentional, and editing slip-up.' He
suggests that it might have been an errant fragment from the word
'bureaucrats,' and joked that the Democrats have uncovered our quote,
'rodent strategy.' Castellanos, a veteran and top Republican ad man
had one of his commercials questioning Gore's credibility pulled by
the Bush team as too negative. It's not at all clear that 'rats,' was
an attempt to send a subliminal negative message about Gore but
experts say it is hard to imagine that a maker of an ad would not have
scrutinized every frame..."
evidence of why George Bush avoids the morning shows. Al Gore has
appeared three times on Good Morning America since his convention,
most recently last Wednesday, but George Bush made his first
appearance Tuesday since before the Republican convention. MRC analyst
Jessica Anderson noticed the stark difference in how ABC approached
While Gore was pressed about his debate
position, his prescription plan was not dissected and he was asked
nothing about his running mate, such as about how he's
simultaneously running for the Senate. And he got a softball asking
for his "headline" for his economic plan. But six days later
ABC obsessed about shortcomings in Bush's prescription plan,
demanded Bush respond to the charge that his tax cut "gives"
more to the rich than Gore's prescription plan costs, asked Bush to
explain his running mate's poor voting record and raised the
unsubstantiated charge about dyslexia.
Sawyer began her September 12 interview of Bush
by asking what he thinks of the FTC report on marketing of sex and
violence to kids and if he agrees with Joe Lieberman that Friends is
too racy for its early hour.
Then she pounded away:
turn to this ad. Front page of The New York Times, we told everybody
about it earlier, 'Democrats see and smell rats in Republican
ad.'...There is a frame which definitely shows you the word -- here it
is coming up right now -- and the word is 'rats,' and advertising
executives say nothing is by accident in an ad like this, subliminal
ads do matter. Was this intentional?"
saying the first you've heard about it is right now on this TV show
because your campaign has issued statements about it already?"
campaign said it sounds like happy hour at the Gore campaign lasted a
little too long."
you like to see the ad pulled or changed?"
talk about the difference because you have said you're going to turn
to the private sector -- HMOs, insurance companies -- while the Gore
campaign is turning to government spending and government
additional choices through insurance companies and HMOs -- and I just
want to point out a headline in the Boston Globe this morning, which
says that in Massachusetts, HMOs are hiking rates for the elderly, and
we've seen all over the country that HMOs are pulling out of Medicare,
saying they can't afford it. What can you do to stop that?"
-- "I want
to give you a chance to answer something Democratic strategist James
Carville has said. He said that, in fact, your tax cuts would give
more money back to the richest one percent of people in this country,
the rich people in this country, than the entire Gore prescription
drug plan would, even though he's outspending you about three to one
presidential candidate Dick Cheney did not vote in 14 of 16 local and
state elections since he signed up in 1995 in Texas. Are you sorry
about that, including the fact he didn't vote in the primary, when he
could have voted for you?...But is that a good model for kids?"
small thing. Vanity Fair, Gail Sheehy article out today says that
there is some theorizing that dyslexia runs in your family and
wondering if you were ever tested for dyslexia."
the hardest lesson you've learned so far about a presidential
My answer: The media's pro-Gore bias.
Just compare the above to how the show treated
Gore when he last appeared on September 6. Charles Gibson pressed Gore
four times about the debates and Bush's charge that he's not
living up to his pledges to participate in network-hosted shows:
start with the debate on debates, because the Bush people have put out
a new ad. And I'm not gonna run it, but let me just quote from it. The
ad says, 'When it was politically convenient, Gore said he'd debate
anyplace, anywhere. Now that Governor Bush has accepted, Gore says,
'Unacceptable.' Is not the Governor to an extent calling your bluff,
Mr. Vice President? You did say you'd debate anytime, anywhere. Now
you're saying, 'We have to have the three debate commission debates
After some follow-ups, Gibson went soft:
"I do want
to turn to this book that you're putting out today. You're putting out
a book called The Prosperity for America's Families, which you've
authored and your vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, have
authored. I've just had a chance to read the introduction of it, and
it's a 190-page book. But I must say -- and you're a former reporter
-- tell me what the lead in this is. Tell me what's new in this."
GMA then had some drivers who pulled over along
the Pennsylvania Turnpike ask questions. The first asked it Social
Security will be around for him and the second demanded: "I'd
just like to ask Mr. Gore what he's going to do about the minimum
wage. There's a lot of people here in Philadelphia that are working
for that little bit of money and just can't survive on that. There's a
lot of these jobs out here that are worth more than that, and yet
they're making that little bit of money."
the September 11 Late Show with David Letterman, the one political
item in the "Top Ten Questions on the Indiana University
Basketball Coach Application."
#2. "Which scenario results in getting fired: A) threatening a
basketball player or B) having sex with a hefty intern?"
To see the entire list, go to:
http://www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow/topten/lists/20000911.shtml -- Brent Baker
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