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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Thursday October 5, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 189) |

Standing Student Tale Skipped; ABC & NBC Ruled Gore Right on Bush Tax Cut Skew; Jennings Upset Tax Cut Means Less for Government -- Extra Edition

1) Post-debate analysis and reaction topped all the networks Wednesday night. Only CBS cited overnight poll results showing little change in candidate preference.

2) ABC, CBS and CNN on Wednesday night ignored Gore's fabrication about a Florida high school girl who because of overcrowding must stand in class. Only NBC and FNC corrected Gore on it. All the networks took note of Gore's false claim that he once accompanied FEMA chief James Lee Witt to a fire scene in Texas.

3) Fact-checking for the fact checkers? ABC and NBC ruled as accurate Gore's claim that Bush would "spend" more money for a tax cut for the top one percent than on all other programs. CNN and FNC found it inaccurate. NBC's Lisa Myers noted how Gore was "misleading" in "seeming to minimize his new spending plans." NBC and FNC cited Bush's inconsistency on RU-486.

4) Peter Jennings on what Bush's tax cut would really mean: "A very large chunk of money not available for government programs."

5) CNN's Jeff Greenfield again contended Bush might have been "hurt" by bringing up Gore's fundraising scandals, but the Washington Post's David Broder found no such problem amongst people in a focus group. They were upset with a Gore line.

6) ABC found undecided voters "overwhelmed by the numbers" and urging the candidates to "keep it simple" next time. The Bush and Gore proposals were "too complicated to understand" for a group profiled by CBS's Phil Jones.

7) Treading where the network news divisions won't, ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? asked who urged "eliminating the internal combustion engine?" Regis Philbin: "Yes! It was Al Gore."


Post-presidential debate spin, fact-checking and reaction from undecided potential voters led all the evening shows Wednesday night on both the broadcast and cable networks. ABC, CBS and NBC all went to their Bush and Gore correspondents for brief updates on reactions from their respective candidates, but none said anything very interesting so in the interest of time and space I'm skipping those stories to concentrate on which mistakes by the candidates the networks picked up on and inconsistency among the networks in ruling Gore's attack on Bush's tax claim as true or false.

    But first, to give you a flavor of the network spin, here's how ABC, CBS and NBC opened Wednesday night, October 4:

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings announced: "We begin with last night's presidential debate and its fallout. Fewer than 50 million people appear to have watched. That may turn out to be the fewest number ever. Who won, who lost, what will it mean in the days ahead? Today, because the race is so close, no rest for the weary, the candidates are both back on the campaign trail trying to take advantage of the very real differences apparent between them last night."

    -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather declared: "It was billed as the first great televised debate between George Bush and Al Gore. Whatever you make of the style and substance of last night's face-off, fairly or unfairly, not many are calling it great. And overnight polls, including CBS's, show the same thing. The overall presidential race is still close because few minds appear to have been changed. Polls that will be coming out in a few days may give us a better read on all this. Tonight we're going to take you beyond the spin doctors, who provide managed care for the candidates, and get to the facts and independent judgments."

    Of the broadcast networks only CBS cited poll results. As Rather referred to CBS's overnight poll viewers saw an on-screen graphic showing Gore moved from a 47 to 42 percent lead before the debate to a 50 to 42 percent lead afterward.

    -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened the broadcast: "It was one of the smallest television audiences ever for a presidential debate and neither candidate moved a lot of undecided voters..."


All the networks took note Wednesday night of Al Gore's false claim that he once accompanied FEMA chief James Lee Witt to a fire scene in Texas, but ABC, CBS and CNN ignored Gore's fabrication about a Florida high school girl who, supposedly because of overcrowding, must stand in class. Only NBC and FNC informed viewers of the baseless tale.

    CNN's Candy Crowley, on both Inside Politics and The World Today, mentioned the fire trip error.

    Terry Moran acknowledged on ABC's World News Tonight that Al Gore "had to concede that he's never been in Texas with James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management administrator, because he hasn't. He also made a half concession to his answer to the first question, when he said he'd never questioned Governor Bush's experience when he has, a lot. He said he meant his personal experience rather than his political experience."

    Though Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson was the only morning host to have asked Gore about the fire trip fabrication, ABC's own World News Tonight did not play a clip from the exchange of Gore admitting his false statement. But the ABC morning show did get credit on the CBS and NBC evening shows which both featured a clip from Gore on GMA.

    On the CBS Evening News Bob Schieffer hit both candidates as equally guilty: "Both occasionally fudged facts. Bush incorrectly claimed Gore's primary campaign cost more than his. When Bush brought up these fires that swept South Texas, Gore recalled going there with the federal emergency management chief."
    Gore: "I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out."
    Schieffer: "Today Gore said maybe not."
    Viewers then saw a clip from ABC's Good Morning America.

    In an NBC Nightly News segment, dubbed as from "The Truth Squad," Lisa Myers delivered the most comprehensive and wide-ranging examination of flubs by both candidates. As transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, she began with two Gore whoppers:
    "Though both candidates took liberties with the truth, Al Gore seems most on the defensive today, accused by Republicans of embellishing. First his claim to have gone to the scene of devastating fires in Texas with the head of the federal emergency response team."
    Al Gore in the debate: "I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out."
    Myers: "But Gore admits this morning that wasn't quite right. He flew over the fires and met with local officials but didn't actually go with Witt."
    Gore on ABC's Good Morning America: "If James Lee was there before or after then, you know, I got that wrong then."
    Myers: "Also challenged, Gore's dramatic story about the need for more money for school construction, describing a letter from a father in Sarasota, Florida, whose fifteen-year-old daughter has to stand in class."
    Gore in debate: "She is the thirty-sixth student in that classroom, sent me a picture of her in the classroom. They can't squeeze another desk in for her so she has to stand during class."
    Myers: "Today the Sarasota superintendent says Gore's right about overcrowding but wrong about the student. She did have to stand but only for one day."
    Wilma Hamilton, Sarasota, Florida, School Superintendent: "On her first day in science, she did stand in the back, and the second day when the custodians were made aware that another desk was needed, one was moved in, and it was available to her."

    (Item #3 below includes more from the remainder of the Myers story.)

    FNC's James Rosen also took up both of those Gore gaffes, reporting them on Special Report with Brit Hume and the Fox Report. On Hume's show he asserted, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Vice President Gore also recalled visiting wildfires in rural Texas in 1996. In fact, Gore's so called visit came two years later when fires ravaged the same area, and his visit consisted of an airport hangar briefing which Gore sandwiched between two fundraisers. Gore's failure to acknowledge error on the fires drew immediate fire from Bush."
    George W. Bush: "You know, I took the man for his word. Of course, it turns out he didn't. This man has got a record of, you know, of sometimes exaggerating in order to make a point."
    Rosen: "Finally, Gore flunked his description of classroom conditions facing Florida school girl Kailey Ellis."
    Gore: "They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class."
    Rosen: "The local school board, however, says Kailey came into the class a few days after it started and only had to stand for that first day."
    Wilma Hamilton, Sarasota County School Superintendent: "I think not all of the facts surrounding the incident that Vice President Gore was referring to had been given to him, unfortunately, and there was a bit of misinformation."

    For more on the situation as related by the school principal to CNSNews.com reporter Jim Burns, go to:


Network fact-checking, of Gore's claim that Bush would "spend" more money for a tax cut for the top one percent than on all other programs combined, needs a little fact-checking itself as the networks contradicted each other. Wednesday night ABC and NBC ruled Gore accurate, but FNC and CNN cited sources which found Gore inaccurate.

    ABC's Betsy Stark also took Bush to task for his claim that 50 million are excluded from Gore's tax cut plan, but she noted it's more than the only three or four million claimed by Gore. As did FNC's James Rosen, NBC's Lisa Myers highlighted Bush's flip-flop on RU-486, but she also uniquely pointed how "Gore appears to have been misleading about his own priorities, seeming to minimize his new spending plans."

    First, a look at the varying assessments of Gore's blast at Bush's tax plan.

    -- "Ten times he said it favors the wealthiest one percent," Betsy Stark noted on ABC's World News Tonight of Gore before playing this debate soundbite: "He spends more money for tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of his new spending proposals for health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense all combined."
    Stark backed him up: "Gore's claim does seem to hold up if you count what the wealthy get back from Bush's cut in estate taxes along with his cut in income taxes. But the Bush camp calls it a misleading argument. The reason the wealthy get such a big chunk back, they say, is because they paid so much more in the first place."

    It's not only that "they say" it, it is also accurate, but Stark failed to give any numbers to convey how a minuscule percent of the population pays a huge hunk of all income taxes collected.

    -- NBC's Lisa Myers, picking up her story after recounting Gore's fire trip and crowded classroom tales, asserted: "Beyond today's controversy, questions tonight about each candidate's truthfulness, about their economic priorities and using the budget surplus."
    Gore: "He spends more money on a tax cut for the wealthiest one percent than all of his new proposals for prescription drugs, health care, education, and national defense combined."
    George W. Bush: "I wanna say something, Jim, wait a minute. This man has been disparaging my plan with all this Washington fuzzy math."
    Myers sided with Gore and used an unlabeled liberal as her source: "But most experts say Gore's math isn't fuzzy. Though estimates vary, Bush does give the wealthiest one percent, those making more than $300,000, a huge tax cut."
    Bob McIntyre, Citizens for Tax Justice: "Gore got the numbers right. Bush didn't really challenge him. He just said, 'I think those people deserve a tax cut, too.'"

    -- FNC's James Rosen delivered the opposite assessment on Special Report with Brit Hume. He suggested Gore "flirted with falsehood."
    Viewers saw the usual Gore clip: "He spends more money for tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of his new spending proposals for health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense all combined."
    Then Rosen countered: "Former Senate staffer Carol Wait crunches numbers for the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget."
    Wait maintained: "The wealthiest one percent are estimated to get just about $300 billion in tax cuts under the governor's proposal. He proposes to spend just about one and a half times that much on those programs."

    -- CNN's The World Today. Brooks Jackson used a different Gore soundbite, but like FNC's Rosen, he found Gore, not Bush, the inaccurate one on the size of Bush's tax cut. CNN viewers saw Gore assert: "Almost half of all the tax cut benefits, as I said, under Governor Bush's plan go to the wealthiest one percent."
    Jackson countered: "Almost half? That's an exaggeration. When Bush's plan is fully phased in 43 percent of the benefits, well under half, would go to the top one percent. And that's according to the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice. The bipartisan Joint Tax Committee of Congress says 51 percent of the benefits would go to those making over $100,00 a year, but they make up much more than one percent of the population."

    -- Other areas. Jackson, Stark, Myers & Rosen, the reporters not the law firm, also corrected the candidates in other areas. CNN's Jackson maintained that Bush was "misleading" when he claimed that under his plan the wealthy will pay a higher percentage of all taxes collected.

    ABC's Betsy Stark declared: "Both candidates are exaggerating, though it's hard to say how much. The Gore camp says only three to four million Americans, those making more than $120,000 a year, are ineligible for the Vice President's tax breaks, not the $50 million Governor Bush alleges. But analysts say millions more could be excluded. Gore's tax breaks for child care, elder care, education and retirement savings clearly favor families with children over single people, couples without children and retirees."

    NBC's Lisa Myers followed up her assessment, that Gore got it correct about how Bush's tax cut favors the wealthy, by taking on a Gore claim: "Gore appears to have been misleading about his own priorities, seeming to minimize his new spending plans."
    Gore: "For every dollar that I propose in spending for things like education and health care, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts."
    Myers: "According to an independent analysis, that's not true. It finds that for every dollar Gore devotes to tax cuts, he proposes more than three dollars in new spending, some $1.4 trillion."
    Carol Cox Wait, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: "It is the largest expansion of government since the Great Society program and LBJ."
    Myers: "Also not true, this Gore statement:"
    Gore: "I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience. I have questioned his proposals."
    Myers: "In fact, Gore and his aides repeatedly questioned Bush's qualifications, Gore himself asking, 'Does he have the experience to be President?'"

    She also nailed Bush on another assertion: "As for Bush, he seemed to flip-flop on a hot-button issue: Would he try to overturn the FDA's approval of the abortion pill RU-486?"
    Bush: "I think once the decision has been made it's been made, now unless it's proven to be unsafe to women."
    Myers: "But last January Bush said, 'I would be inclined not to accept that ruling by the FDA. That's abortion.'"

    Myers concluded: "In ninety minutes, both candidates managed to oversimplify and mislead, and with two presidential debates to go, both campaigns hope that someone's misstep or exaggeration could tip the election."

    FNC's James Rosen found Bush almost as bad as Gore: "For his part, Governor Bush proved only slightly less factually challenged than his opponent."
    Bush: "This man has outspent me-"
    Rosen: "Federal Election Committee figures show that as of September 1, including the primaries, Bush's campaign has outspent Gore's by more than $45 million, almost two to one. Then Bush was asked if he'd seek to overturn the Food and Drug Administration's recent ruling legalizing the so called abortion pill RU-486."
    Bush: "I don't, I don't think a President can unilaterally overturn it. I think the FDA's made its decision."
    Rosen: "In fact, says George Washington University Law Professor John Banzhaf, the FDA is an agency wholly within the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Commissioner of the FDA is appointed by and serves solely at the pleasure of the President."


Bottom line to Peter Jennings on tax cuts: "A very large chunk of money not available for government programs."

On the October 4 World News Tonight Jennings described the "philosophical" differences between Gore and Bush displayed in two topic areas during the debate.

    Jennings explained: "On prescription drugs and Medicare, Al Gore says the government will help to pay for everyone's prescription drugs, universal coverage, whatever their income, which means a very large price tag for government. George Bush wants the government to help those who can least afford it, except in the case of a catastrophic illness.
    "On taxes, it's the other way around. Mr. Bush believes in a universal tax cut, which would mean a very large chunk of money not available for government programs. Mr. Gore believes that those who make the most money do not need to get as much back."

    Jennings clearly believes all the money belongs to the government.


Just as he complained after the debate Tuesday night, on Wednesday's Inside Politics CNN's Jeff Greenfield again contended Bush might have been "hurt" by bringing up Gore's fundraising scandals. But this time Washington Post reporter/columnist David Broder found the evidence lacking for Greenfield's concern as people in a focus group were upset at Gore.

    Greenfield argued: "The one time when I thought somebody did something that might have hurt, and I'd be curious whether David's focus group thought so, was when Bush said 'yeah I was disappointed in the fundraising and I've got a question about how Al Gore handled that,' because we've been hearing that one of the things that voters are least interested in is any sign of negativity, even if it's a criticism of public behavior. And I wondered whether that comment of Bush got a thumbs down from your folks?"

    From Florida, where he sat in with a group of undecided voters, Broder found Greenfield off base: "It did not Jeff. The only thing that they commented on negatively was the frequency with which Al Gore repeated that wonderful phrase, 'the wealthiest one percent of the American people.'"


"Undecided" voters are really too stupid to figure anything out on their own and to lazy to try. ABC's John Cochran and CBS's Phil Jones didn't say that, but it's the inevitable conclusion to draw from their summaries of focus groups of undecided voters gathered by each network.

    ABC's John Cochran traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania where he found a group which was "confused." In between soundbites from the citizens he described them as "overwhelmed by the numbers, especially those from Al Gore" and unable to comprehend the Medicare arguments. He concluded: "From all these Pennsylvania holdouts, advice for the next debate: Keep it simple."

    For the CBS Evening News Phil Jones sat in with a focus group in St. Louis where he found: "The people in our focus group were turned off by what they thought was Gore's aggressive debate style," though "many of these voters were also upset by Governor Bush's repetition of Clinton-Gore having had their chance." Jones concluded: "For a small group of frustrated undecided voters, their proposals appear to be too complicated to understand and time is running out. There are only five weeks and two debates left."

    Five weeks, five months, five years. It won't make any difference with these people. They'll never figure it out.


Clueless potential voters probably don't watch TV news, but if they watch ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? they learned something not even dedicated network news watchers would have seen this campaign season.

    Just a half hour before the debate began, eastern and central time zone viewers of ABC's quiz show heard host Regis Philbin pose this $32,000 question to contestant Susan LaRose of Redlands, California:
    "In the 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, what politician proposes eliminating the internal combustion engine?"

    The possible answers:
A: Ralph Nader
B: Jerry Brown
C: Al Gore
D: Tom Hayden

    LaRose was clueless, so she employed her last "lifeline," the 50-50, to narrow her choices. She was left with Nader or Gore. Philbin commented: "Eliminating the internal combustion engine. It's quite a proposal."

    A long pause ensued and LaRose joked about how she should have listened to Philbin and not used her other "lifelines" on some earlier questions.

    But she eventually took a stab and correctly guessed "C, Gore."

    Philbin exclaimed: "Yes! It was Al Gore!"

    LaRose soon met her demise, stopping the game at the $125,000 question about which Columbus ship did not return to Spain.

    +++ Watch the ABC quiz show question session about the proposal in Gore's book. Today MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip. Go to: http://www.mrc.org

    To view other recent clips we've posted, including two of ABC debate coverage, go to:

    Maybe there's a secret Bush "mole" on the writing staff of the ABC show. -- Brent Baker


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