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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| 4:50 pm ET, Friday October 6, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 192) |

Prodded to Hit Cheney Harder; Lauer Excused Gore on Fibs; Media Flunked Kaus Test; Left Wing West Wing Back -- Back to today's CyberAlert

1) An ABC poll found Dick Cheney to be the "clear winner" of last night's VP debate, so Good Morning America's Jack Ford prodded Joe Lieberman about why he didn't attack Cheney harder, especially on his "congressional record."

2) Network truth squads were AWOL this morning on Lieberman's Hollywood hypocrisy, but Bill Bennett brought it up on Today.

3) NBC's Matt Lauer defended Gore's fibs: "I mean, he is under the heat of a huge national audience."

4) Russ Mitchell gave Clinton credit for Dick Cheney's good fortune, showcasing how "Lieberman teased Cheney for his multi-million-dollar stock portfolio, accumulated under a Democratic President."

5) Mickey Kaus suggested Gore's debate fabrications presented a great opportunity to test the liberal bias theory. By his measurements, the media didn't pass.

6) Left-leaning stopwatches? ABC claimed Gore and Bush got about the same amount of time in their debate, but Sam Donaldson corrected his colleagues.

7) Gore got the bigger "half" of CNN's split-screen.

8) NBC's The West Wing returned Wednesday night with a left wing shot at the idea that allowing citizens to carry guns makes for a safer community. And a reporter agreed.

    >>> MRC on the Fox News Channel tonight. MRC President L. Brent Bozell is scheduled to discuss campaign coverage tonight on FNC's Hannity & Colmes. The show airs at 9pm EDT and is repeated overnight at 3am EDT. In other time zones, the show airs at 8pm and 2am CDT; 7pm and 1am MDT; 6pm and 12am PDT/non-Navajo Arizona; 5pm and 11pm Alaska DT; 4pm and 10pm Hawaii-Aleutian DT. <<<

Correction: A table of contents listing in this morning's CyberAlert inadvertently substituted "Gore" for "Lieberman" in stating: "By 43 to 24 percent voters surveyed by ABC News picked Cheney as the winner over Gore with 27 percent calling it a tie."


All three of the network morning shows led Friday with the situation in Yugoslavia and interviews with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright before reporting on last night's vice presidential debate, and all pushed the theme that Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman provided a lesson in civility to the two presidential candidates. (ABC and CBS aired pre-taped interviews with both Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman, but neither appeared on NBC's Today.)

    Only ABC had a poll, so only Good Morning America substitute co-host Jack Ford asserted that Cheney was the "clear winner," favored by 43 percent of those polled by ABC last night, compared with just 24 percent who thought Lieberman triumphed.

    Ford also interviewed both candidates last night for playback this morning and, unlike in his questions to Cheney, he pushed Lieberman to explain why he didn't mount more of an attack. Ford's first two questions to Lieberman:
    -- "It was an extraordinarily courteous and non-confrontational event. There are some people that are saying that you guys were just way too polite to each other, and as a result you weren't able to create sharp differences between the two of you. What do you think about that?"

    -- "It was widely assumed that you would use this opportunity to raise the questions about Secretary Cheney's congressional voting record, about Governor Bush's record in Texas, but you didn't. Why not?"

    His last question informed Lieberman of the results of ABC's poll, and the Democrat seemed genuinely surprised that so few of those who watched thought that he won.

    Ford neglected to push Cheney on why he didn't exploit weaknesses in either Lieberman's or Gore's record, such as the Vice President's out-of-the-mainstream environmental views, his persistent class warfare rhetoric, and his no-holds-barred support of Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal.

    Maybe Ford doesn't recognize those as weaknesses in Gore's record.


No network reporter Friday morning played the role of truth cop when it came to Joe Lieberman's flat-out assertion that he's as tough on Hollywood now as he was before Al Gore tapped him to be on the Democratic ticket. But Bill Bennett brought it up on his own during a Today interview.

    Last night, debate moderator Bernard Shaw asked Cheney if he'd noticed any "hypocritical shift by your opponent on positions and issues since he's been nominated." Cheney answered that Lieberman had muted his condemnations of the entertainment industry, a suggestion that Lieberman said was not true.

    Coverage? None on CBS's The Early Show. ABC's Morton Dean provided just a quick mention of the issue in a debate summary. Dean said that in "the only hint of a personal attack, Cheney accusing Lieberman of being a changed man, no longer as principled, softening his attacks on sex and violence in the movies to raise money in Hollywood."

    He showed Cheney in the debate: "I like the old Joe Lieberman better than I do the new Joe Lieberman, let me see if I can put it in those terms." Then Lieberman's response: "I have not changed a single position since Al Gore nominated me to be his Vice President." Dean made no effort to help viewers determine the facts.

    On NBC's Today, no journalist touched the issue, but Bill Bennett brought it up on his own, telling Matt Lauer that his old friend Lieberman was wrong: "He said last night that when he went to Hollywood he reiterated his position, you know, that Hollywood was a place that was producing these horrible things and they should stop. He did not do such a thing. Instead, he lavished praise on Hollywood."

    Since the network correspondents won't do it, here's a Reality Check. First, Lieberman last night: "Al Gore and I have felt for a long time, first as parents, and then only second as public officials, that we cannot let America's parents stand alone in this competition that they feel they're in with Hollywood to raise their own kids and give their kids the faith and the values that they want to give them. And I've been a consistent crusader on that behalf."

    And here's what Lieberman said when he visited "a posh Hollywood mansion" collecting money for the Democrats last month, according to a September 21 news item by The Washington Times's Sean Scully: "Al and I have tremendous regard for this industry. We're both fans of the products that come out of the entertainment industry."

    "I promise you this," Lieberman pandered at the fundraiser as also quoted by the Washington Post: "We will never, never put the government in the position of telling you by law, through law, what to make." He added: "We will nudge you, but we will never become censors."

    Imagine what the networks would have said if Dick Cheney had made similar pledges to oil or drug company executives while seeking campaign contributions.


NBC's Matt Lauer proposed on Today that Al Gore has been making false statements because he's under too much pressure.

    After guest Bill Bennett cited Gore's claims about his trip to view Texas fires and the high schooler who has no seat, MRC analyst Paul Smith noticed how Lauer offered an excuse for Gore: "Let me play Devil's advocate for a second, though. I mean, he is under the heat of a huge national audience. He maybe exaggerated, maybe a slip of the tongue. Are those things reason enough to keep him out of the White House?"


Both anchors on CBS's The Early Show this morning boasted of the good economy. In a debate re-cap, Russ Mitchell gave Clinton credit for Dick Cheney's good fortune. On the vice presidential debate: "Both men were clear in their own government philosophies, well highlighted when Lieberman teased Cheney for his multi-million-dollar stock portfolio, accumulated under a Democratic President."

    Later, in an interview with Mario Cuomo and Jack Kemp, Jane Clayson asked Cuomo: "About the issues, about Social Security, about Medicare and all these different things, some journalists have been fact-checking what all of the candidates have been saying, and they've found a few flubs. I mean, are these just missteps, misspeaks? [sic] Or is it spin, Governor?"

    Cuomo responded: "I think hyperbole on both sides....If you look at where this campaign started, the whole effort by the Republicans was to make Clinton the issue, and to win by saying Clinton was a bad guy, let's scrub clean the White House. It didn't work, because the President's performance as President was more powerful than his problems personally. And so they've had to abandon that, and come to the issues. And on the issues, you have the greatest economy in modern history in the Clinton-Gore years, and you've got a plan. They have a tax cut that goes mostly to the people who don't need it. That's a fact. I love that issue, I love the Medicare issue, I love the prescription-drug issue, if they keep talking about those issues, the Democrats win."

    Clayson seemed sold, turning to Kemp, "Jack Kemp, isn't the economy really going to ultimately decide this? We're in such good times."


Speaking of Gore's fibs, all day Wednesday the revelation that Al Gore made up a story about going to fires in Parker County, Texas, with FEMA Director James Lee Witt began picking up steam. Or did it? On his Web site, Kausfiles.com, former Newsweek and New Republic writer Mickey Kaus found this evolving boast of bull a fabulous test of the media's biases.

    Here's an excerpt of his idea for a test, posted Wednesday night:

Okay, media, over to you! If there is an ideologically neutral press cycle, the Witt Fib should certainly set it off. The Cyclical Theory would predict a mini-orgy of Gore-trashing stories, emphasizing the serial, obsessive nature of the fibs, pointing out that by now the issue isn't whether the fibbing is important, but why Gore persists in fibbing when he knows that whether it's important or not he has to stop or else the press will treat it as important! It's as if Gore were told that whatever he did at the debate he shouldn't hop up and down on one foot and he'd gone and hopped up and down on one foot. It's as if Gary Hart had gone home with yet another babe after the Donna Rice incident! Put another way, the question isn't whether Gore's a liar and whether that's worse than Bush being dim; it's whether Gore's lying shows that, in some respects, he's a bit dim too.

If the Liberal Bias Theory is correct, however, the predicted mini-orgy, the anti-Gore cycle, won't happen. Reporters will for one reason or another pass off the Witt Fib as a non-story. It will play deep inside the New York Times and Washington Post. It won't be featured on the nightly news or in the newsweeklies. The last-straw lie will mysteriously become a next-to-last straw lie. If he lies again, then we'll nail him! That's the ticket! Anyway,we don't harp on stereotyped flaws any more! That's old news--the voters have processed it!

Which will it be? As this item is written, it's shortly before midnight on Wednesday, October 3. The dailies come on line in a few minutes. The newsweeklies get written a day from now. Only time will tell! But not much time. Does the press herd target Democrats and Republicans randomly? Or is even the dynamiting of a large boulder unable to start an avalanche against a Democrat in the waning weeks of a close campaign?"


    To read the entire Kaus challenge, go to:

    Well, now we know that the answer is: B, the Liberal Bias Theory wins, as Kaus admitted. On Thursday morning, the Witt Fib was buried inside the Washington Post on page A18, while the first few words from reporter Dan Balz on the upper left side of the front page read: "There were no memorable moments, no crippling mistakes...."

    The New York Times buried the Witt story on page A24. (Richard "RATS" Berke hit the story on Friday....on A26.)

    By the way, USA Today put the Witt story on 15A, paragraph four. Reporters Laurence McQuillan and Judy Keen followed Gore's suggestion that "he might have been with the official on another trip," with the quote: "'I think it's better to attack America's problems rather than attacking people personally,' Gore said to the cheers of 10,000 people in Warren Ohio...."


Does someone at ABC News have a left-leaning stopwatch? After Tuesday night's debate, some people complained that Gore got more time than Bush. On Wednesday's Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos assured viewers that it was "very close." He related that the political team at ABC News used a stopwatch and found Bush spoke for 42 minutes 30 seconds, and Gore for 43 minutes 15 seconds, a difference of just 45 seconds over a 90-minute debate.

    This morning, anchor Diane Sawyer was forced to confess that ABC was wrong on Wednesday. "Well, we're going to make a quick note this morning, take a little second here, because we want to make a correction," Sawyer told viewers at 7:30 this morning. "We want to tell you that we goofed earlier this week. We reported that Al Gore spoke only 45 seconds longer than George W. Bush in Tuesday's debate because so many people have been talking about that fact that he seemed to speak quite a bit longer. Well, guess who our personal truth squad was?"

    At this point, Sawyer theatrically cleared her throat before revealing that the in-house critic was "Sam Donaldson, who immediately started e-mailing all of us and said we had to check again. We did, we double-checked, and our crack political watchdogs here found that in fact it was closer to three minutes, and not nearly the one minute we reported. So we're sorry we passed along incorrect information to our viewers and to ABC News political analyst George Stephanopoulos and Sam is going to come get me and throttle me personally, I believe."

    It may be worth noting that Sawyer didn't offer precise numbers this morning, perhaps worried that Donaldson would fire up his e-mail again.


CNN awarded Vice President Al Gore six percent more of the TV screen when both he and George W. Bush were shown on a split-screen during Tuesday night's debate, the New York Post's Richard Johnson revealed. The other networks, he added, split their screens into equal halves.

    In an October 6 story noted by MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey, "Gore's the Winner Any Way TV Ted Slices It," Johnson disclosed that Republicans "suspect CNN's manipulation of the pooled camera feeds was done to help Gore." Here's an excerpt from Johnson's story:

Brian Propp, a former TV-station engineer who watched the debate on CNN International, noticed the inequity.

"Its impact was to give Gore a more commanding presence on the screen, and Bush a visually reduced impact," Propp said in an e-mail to Bush headquarters after he measured each side of the split screen with graph paper.

The split-screen scandal comes after The New York Times attacked the Republicans in a front-page story for showing the word "rats" for a fraction of a second in a health-care ad slamming bureaucrats.

"They were all upset about a tenth of a second of a subliminal 'rats,' but they have no problem with 90 minutes of George W. Bush being diminished," one Republican scoffed.

    END Excerpt

    To read the entire story, go to http://nypostonline.com/news/12429.htm

    Last night and today the Fox News Channel has been illustrating the difference in screen size by showing a still shot from CNN's debate coverage.


The Left Wing West Wing returned Wednesday night. It took until near the end of the second hour of the season premiere of NBC's drama for The West Wing to deliver a liberal political message, but when it did the shot took aim at an idea supported by conservatives and George W. Bush -- that allowing citizens to carry guns makes for a safer community.

    NBC ran back-to-back hour-long episodes to answer the May season-ending cliffhanger which showed the President and his aides being fired upon as they walked to the limos after "President Josiah Bartlet," played by Martin Sheen, addressed a group of students at the Newseum in Arlington, Virginia.

    When the show unfolded Wednesday night, in a plot line ripped from what really happened to Ronald Reagan, as the limo raced from the scene a Secret Service agent saw blood coming out of Bartlet's mouth, figured out he'd been shot and diverted the limo to The George Washington University Hospital. By the end of the two hours Bartlet had recovered, but aide "Josh Lyman" remained in critical condition. A bunch of West Virginia skinheads were the shooters and their target was not the President but "Charlie Young," the black personal aide to the President who is dating the President's white daughter.

    The liberal political crusading came when Allison Janney, as Press Secretary "C.J. Cregg," briefed the press the morning after the shooting. As transcribed by MRC analyst Paul Smith, she used the barely 12-hour-old tragedy to make a political point:
    "This is our fifth press briefing since midnight and obviously there is one story that's going to be dominating the news around the world for the next few days and it would be easy to think that President Bartlett, Joshua Lyman and Stephanie Abbott were the only people who were victims of a gun crime last night. They weren't. Mark Davis and Sheila Evans of Philadelphia were killed by a gun last night. He was a biology teacher and she was a nursing student. Tina Bishop and Belinda Larkin were killed with a gun last night. They were twelve. There were 36 homicides last night, 480 sexual assaults, 3,411 robberies, 3,685 aggravated assaults, all at gunpoint. If anyone thinks those crimes could have been prevented if the victims themselves had been carrying guns I'd only remind you that the President of the United States was shot last night while surrounded by the best-trained armed guards in the history of the world. Back to the briefing."

    In the back of the room a reporter turned to Chief-of-Staff "Leo McGarry" and opined: "She's good." McGarry agreed: "Yes she is."

    The show accurately reflected the predictable reaction from a member of the White House press corps. -- Edited by Brent Baker Morning show material written by Rich Noyes with input from Tim Graham.


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