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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| 4:55pm ET, Tuesday October 31, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 221) |

Critics "Claim" Finance Excesses; Today's Gloomy Prediction for Bush; Gumbel's Show 10% Below This Morning -- Back to today's CyberAlert

1) Campaign finance excesses in 1996 by Clinton-Gore are not an established fact to ABC's Jack Ford. There are just "critics" who complained about "what they claim were campaign finance excesses."

2) A gloomy forecast for Bush from NBC's Today. Katie Couric speculated about "if Gore wins Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin does he win the election?" Russert affirmed: "Yes, the race is over. Absolutely."

3) Media Reality Check. "NBC: Helping Hillary on GOP Cole Calls; Today Co-Hosts Upset at New York Phone Calls, But Blind To Democratic Anti-Bush Calls in Michigan."

4) CyberAlert Bonus: What didn't fit in the fax. Until they were able to use against Lazio the GOP's phone calls about the Cole incident, CBS and NBC had ignored the ties between the Muslim group and Hillary Clinton. Katie Couric argued with Hilary about how she shouldn't have returned the Muslim money.

5) A year after CBS replaced This Morning with The Early Show starring the $5 million-a-year Bryant Gumbel, ten percent fewer people are watching than tuned into the former show.


Campaign finance excesses in 1996 by Clinton-Gore are not an established fact, ABC's Jack Ford presumed in a question he posed to Al Gore. There are just "critics" who have complained about "what they claim were campaign finance excesses."

    MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught the wording of Ford's questioning in a taped piece he filed for Tuesday's Good Morning America about how Bush and Gore define leadership. In the piece Ford announced his questions and then ran the responses from one or both candidates. Ford's questions to both, unless otherwise indicated:

    -- "What is your definition of leadership as it applies to the presidency?"

    -- "Tell us about a time in your life, a decision you made, a position you took where you stood firm, despite some very strong opposition that could have cost you personally or politically."

    -- "What moment in your life when you had to make a decision, exercise leadership, do you think was morally and personally most difficult for you?"

    -- To Bush only: "What does a decision, such as the one you made to stop drinking, teach the American public about your leadership?"

    -- To Gore only, the campaign finance question: "Critics have said that during what they claim were campaign finance excesses that you had the chance to exercise moral and political leadership by stepping up then and saying, 'We've gone too far here,' but you didn't. How do you answer that?"

    -- To Bush only: "Critics have said, when they're talking about leadership, that a component of leadership should be experience, and they have said that you have not had experience on the federal level or in foreign policy. How do you answer that?"

    -- To both: "Who in your life did you learn the most from about leadership?"


NBC's Katie Couric and Tim Russert this morning stressed the worst case scenario for George W. Bush. Couric speculated about "if Gore wins Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin does he win the election?" Russert affirmed: "Yes, the race is over. Absolutely." Russert cited poll numbers showing Gore well-ahead in Florida, a must-win for Bush.

    MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down the Couric-Russert conjecture about whether Bush can win if Gore picks up some battleground states:

    Russert: "Well let's go to the board and take a look. First is Florida, Katie. We now show Al Gore up 11 points in Florida. The Gore people say they're up but not by that much. The Bush people say that's wrong that they're up. The L.A. Times, today has Bush up four in Florida. But our track has Gore up 11 in Florida. Missouri, Bush still up, but just one point, Katie. And we'll talk about that and what the entrance of Mrs. Carnahan, the widow, could have on the presidential race. Pennsylvania, Gore, now up three. Bush had been leading in that state by two, Gore now up three. Michigan, Gore up but one. That's dead even. Tennessee, Bush up five. He had been up 11 points. That's narrowing a little bit. Al Gore's home state. Wisconsin, Gore now up eight. Another slight gain for Al Gore."
    Couric: "So if you look at that list Tim, if, if Gore wins Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin does he win the election?"
    Russert: "Yes the race is over. Absolutely, Katie. We have been talking repeatedly how important it is for George W. Bush to win Florida to go along with Texas. Just like Al Gore has New York and California. George Bush cannot afford to lose Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Al Gore would then win the electoral college and win the election."


NBC's Today interviewed Hillary Clinton on Monday and Rick Lazio today, but both New York Senate contenders were pressed about outrage over Republican campaign messages. Yet Today has never mentioned the anti-Bush scare phones into Michigan or he NAACP ad, a new Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check has documented.

    Titled, "NBC: Helping Hillary on GOP Cole Calls; Today Co-Hosts Upset at New York Phone Calls, But Blind To Democratic Anti-Bush Calls in Michigan," the report by the MRC's Tim Graham was distributed by fax this afternoon. To see it as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, go to:

    Before getting to the text, here's the pull-out box text from the middle of the page:

Hillary's Ads Distort: Who Cares?

    THE SCRIPT: "O.K., let's take a look at Rick Lazio's friends. A [New York] Daily News investigation just revealed that the home-building industry has kicked in a million dollars to Lazio's campaign. And Lazio has tried to help them weaken safety and construction standards...."
    SCORECARD: "...The breathless tone of the commercial should be enough to give viewers pause. Its review of this part of Mr. Lazio's housing record is a flat-out distortion meant to confuse viewers about Lazio's record in the House at a time when he has increasingly cited it to justify his run for the Senate." - New York Times reporter Randal C. Archbold critiquing a Hillary commercial, October 30.

    Now the text of the October 31 Media Reality Check:

NBC's Today interviewed Hillary Clinton on Monday and Rick Lazio today. But both New York Senate contenders were asked about outrage over Republican campaign messages.

Yesterday, Katie Couric began with a softball: "I know that you were outraged last week, Mrs. Clinton, about a telephone campaign by the New York Republican party that told voters you took money from quote, 'A Mideast organization, Mideast terrorism group, the same kind of terrorism that killed our sailors on the U.S.S. Cole.' That telephone campaign has ended, a GOP spokesman said, not because of your criticism that it was politicizing a tragedy but because the script had run its course. What's your reaction to that?"

Matt Lauer took up the outrage with Lazio this morning: "There's been accusations going in both directions of negative campaigning. It's gotten a little bit dirty. The gloves have come off. But this week it seems to have gotten out of hand. The Republican state committee has been making phone calls to voters -- they say they stopped this now, by the way -- in some way insinuating that Mrs. Clinton is accepting support from a group that may, that may, have some connection to the tragic attack to the U.S.S. Cole. Isn't that outrageous?...But it is coming out of the state Republicans' campaign and you know about this." Lauer pounded away:

-- "The group you're talking about is the American Muslim Alliance, is that right? Who also endorsed Governor Bush for President, and he wholeheartedly accepted that endorsement." (Bush returned their money.)

-- "Let me go back to the phone call for a second, because here's what the callers are saying to voters: 'Mrs. Clinton took money from an organization that openly brags about its support for a Mideast terrorism group.' And here's the part that gets a lot of people: 'The same kind of terrorism that killed our sailors on the U.S.S. Cole.' Now that's obviously exploiting a national tragedy for political gain."

-- "What you're doing is you're saying that it's not coming out of your campaign. But you're not backing away from it at all!....Mrs. Clinton has demanded an apology. You're not apologizing."

The Early Show on CBS also interviewed both candidates in the last two days. Bryant Gumbel didn't ask Mrs. Clinton about the Cole calls, but Jane Clayson asked Lazio today: "Do you regret that that phone campaign happened?"

While CBS and NBC sharply questioned the tone of the GOP's messages, neither of their morning shows has reported on or questioned recent Hillary Clinton ads (see box). Neither has reported on or questioned Democratic phone calls in Michigan suggesting George W. Bush's policies on nursing homes led to the death of a Texas man in 1995, or the NAACP's ad suggesting Bush killed James Byrd "all over again." While pundits worry about the impact of last-minute negative ads, they also might worry about the impact of selective media coverage that only scrutinizes and finds outrage in Republican messages.

    END Reprint of Media Reality Check


A CyberAlert Bonus: Tim Graham wrote up what he couldn't fit into the one-page fax report, specifically, how until they were able to use against Lazio the GOP's phone calls about the Cole incident, CBS and NBC had ignored the ties between the Muslim group and Hillary Clinton.

    Last week neither CBS nor NBC reported on Mrs. Clinton's decision to return the Muslim activist donations, a story which broke last Thursday, or provided any context to a rather complicated controversy. It began last Wednesday, when Larry Cohler-Esses of the New York Daily News reported:

"An American Muslim group whose leader backs the Palestinians' right to use 'armed force' against Israel has raised thousands of dollars for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.

The American Muslim Alliance says it sponsored a $500-a-ticket fund-raiser in Boston in June at which $50,000 was raised. Clinton confirms she attended and accepted a plaque from the alliance citing her work for human rights, but argues that another group sponsored the event.

As First Lady, the Daily News has learned, Clinton also held several White House Muslim holiday receptions to which individuals opposed to the Mideast peace process and Israel's existence were invited.

One of the guests, Abdurahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council, later boasted, 'We are the ones who went to the White House and defended what is called Hamas.'

The State Department has designated Hamas a terrorist organization. A Clinton campaign spokesman said today that a $1,000 contribution by Alamoudi has been returned. "


    Based on that story, Lazio told Clayson on CBS's The Early Show this morning: "I think if you look at the underlying facts of what happened, you see that Mrs. Clinton invited people to the White House who espoused terrorism and violence as a political tool." Clayson asked incredulously: "You really believe that?...You really believe she invited those people to the White House?"

    Lazio responded: "I think there's no doubt. It's been in the papers." Clayson began the negative-ad section of the interview by demanding: "I want you to respond to some numbers. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows...("I hate numbers, I hate polls," protested Lazio.) Well, listen to this one, because it says people think you are attacking Mrs. Clinton more than explaining your positions. In fact, 60 percent think you're attacking, 27 percent think you're explaining, exactly the opposite almost for Mrs. Clinton. Does it seem that way to you?"

    For a look at the latest CBS/New York Times poll questions, go to:

    On the 26th, the New York Daily News questioned Mrs. Clinton's claims that she didn't know the $50,000 fundraiser in Boston was hosted by the American Muslim Alliance: "She said a plaque she was pictured accepting from the group at the event was given to her as she was leaving -- and she responded by smiling for a photo with the man who gave it to her. The American Muslim Alliance's name was embossed in large type on the plaque. Clinton said she routinely accepts such plaques -- then stores them away. 'I've been given literally thousands of plaques,' she said."

    Now -- after years of touting Mrs. Clinton's encyclopedic memory for details, testifying on her health care plan before Congress without notes -- can the media sell Hillary as absent-minded and averse to detail? Neither CBS nor NBC asked her about that, despite the fact that Couric on Monday questioned Mrs. Clinton about being too hasty to refund the American Muslim Association money:
    "This all stems, of course, from a $50,000 contribution from the American Muslim Alliance, that you returned last week after learning that the group's leader was quoted as defending the Palestinian's right to take up arms against Israel. Now this group, the American Muslim Alliance, is saying its views have been distorted by both sides and by returning the money you're pandering to the Jewish vote in New York state."

    Couric followed-up: "And yet members of the American Muslim Alliance are upset because they feel that you didn't meet with them. So they had an opportunity to clarify their views on certain positions. And they are saying, basically, just because they are support the Palestinians doesn't mean they are supporting terrorism."

    Couric pressed again: "But don't you think it might've been helpful for you to find out exactly what this group was condoning or promoting before giving them back the money?"

    Lazio tried to tell Lauer this morning that Mrs. Clinton misled federal authorities about her Muslim activist donations. "When the Clinton campaign was caught, and that's the important thing here, they only do something, they only correct their problems when they get caught. They, they were, they were caught because they filed on their Federal Election Commission return, their disclosure form, the American Muslim Council, but the American Museum Council in an attempt to sort of cover up the fact that they were receiving support from people who were supportive of terrorism."

    Late in a Sunday story on the GOP Cole calls, The New York Times noted: "Mr. Lazio's campaign, meanwhile, moved yesterday to turn the attention back to Mrs. Clinton, noting that in her filing with the Federal Election Commission, she misidentified Abdurahman Alamoudi, a board member of the American Muslim Council, who gave her $1,000.
    "Officials of that group also say they do not support terrorism, but Mr. Alamoudi has been quoted in interviews as making statements sympathetic to Hamas. In the F.E.C. filing, the Clinton campaign listed him as a member of the 'American Museum Council.' A news release put out by Mr. Lazio's campaign quoted Governor Pataki as assailing Mrs. Clinton, saying, 'Mrs. Clinton should say why she filed this under the American Museum Council, and
not the American Muslim Council.'"

    Neither CBS nor NBC asked Mrs. Clinton about that.


The MRC must continue to watch CBS's The Early Show to catch all the bias from Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson, but a year after CBS spent $30 million building them a street-side studio in Manhattan, the new Gumbel vehicle is attracting ten percent fewer viewers than did the old This Morning show, a program considered a failure in need of replacement.

    In Monday's USA Today Peter Johnson reported: "CBS's The Early Show celebrates its first birthday this week, with CBS News brass saying it's a better news show than predecessor," but "viewers don't agree: Early, anchored by former Today host Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson, has 10 percent fewer viewers" than did This Morning.

    Johnson added to the bad news for CBS: "Key demographics used to sell ads -- women 18 to 49 and women 25 to 54 -- are flat. And Early's 2.1 average rating for the past year is well below the 2.6 that CBS promised advertisers."

    Johnson speculated: "That will not please CBS affiliates, which CBS News brass persuaded this summer to be patient. Early, into which CBS pumped $30 million to revamp, had 2.1 million viewers last week. NBC's Today had 6 million, and ABC's Good Morning America had 4.2 million."

    Let's hope the affiliate managers can convince the CBS executives that they can produce a better show that more people will watch if it's sans Gumbel.

    Reminder: Al Gore will be on NBC's Tonight Show tonight and on the daytime syndicated Queen Latifah Show on Wednesday. -- Brent Baker


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