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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| 1:40pm ET, Friday November 3, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 227) |

No Leaker ID on Morning TV; Bush Failed "Smell Test"; Bush "Trust" Undercut and Couric Pushed Democrats to Exploit -- Back to today's CyberAlert and see the Weekend Edition

1) Drunk driving Bush led the morning shows and while all raised questions about the agenda of the leaker, none reported he was the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1998. The Portland TV reporter who broke the story appeared on ABC, CBS and NBC but proved herself deceitful or clueless as she never said his political activity went beyond just being a Democratic convention delegate.

2) ABC's George Stephanopoulos asserted Bush's excuse that he didn't want his daughter to know "doesn't quite pass the smell test." Diane Sawyer contended Bush may be covering up more embarrassing stuff.

3) Katie Couric suggested the disclosure undercut Bush's "trust" argument and urged Democrats to exploit the revelation. She pushed Ed Rendell: "So why don't you think this is legitimate fodder for the campaign given some of the bombshells that the Bush camp has lobbed towards Vice President Gore?" And she propounded to Chris Matthews that Democrats take advantage of the pleasure of the moment.


All three broadcast morning shows led with the news of a George Bush drunk driving arrest 24 years ago with CBS and NBC devoting nearly all of the 7am half hour to it. Questions were raised about the political agenda of the source, but on at least the ET versions of the morning shows none revealed that the lawyer who fed the story was not only a Democratic convention delegate, but was a 1998 Democratic candidate for Governor of Maine.

    The AP's Laurie Kellman reported in a 9:53am ET dispatch this morning:
    "Tom Connolly, a Portland lawyer and Democratic activist who attended the Democratic National Convention, confirmed Friday to The Associated Press that he was the source of the report.
    "Connolly said someone who was in Biddeford District Court when Bush's 1976 case came up was alarmed that it had never been reported and alerted 'a public figure' about the case. That person passed the word to Connolly, he said, though he would not name the public figure.
    "Connolly, who ran unsuccessfully for Governor two years ago, said he had been talking about the case at the courthouse Thursday. He said he had confirmed Bush's arrest by obtaining a copy of the court docket -- which he gave to a local television reporter."

    Erin Fehlau, the WPXT-TV "Fox 51" reporter in Portland who followed through on Connolly's effort and broke the story last night, was interviewed by all three morning shows. If her answers are honest, she also revealed she is beyond clueless as she was unable to recognize a major party candidate for Governor from just two years ago. (Last night on Nightline this reporter covering a courthouse activity was unable to tell Ted Koppel if judges in Maine are elected or appointed.)

    Here's a quick rundown of how each show raised or addressed questions of a political agenda behind the story divulged five days before the election, mainly in their interviews with Fehlau.

    -- ABC's Good Morning America. Charles Gibson, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed, asked Fehlau via satellite from Maine:
    "Now I mentioned that last night at his news conference the Governor said five different times it was interesting that this comes out just a few days before the election and he said he had his suspicions. Can you tell us who the lawyer was who gave you this story?"
    Fehlau: "I'm sorry?"
    Gibson: "Can you tell us who the lawyer was who gave you the story?"
    Fehlau: "I'd rather not release his name at this point. I'd like to keep that source confidential right now, but I will tell you he is a local criminal defense attorney here in Portland. I don't even know him that well. I just knew him from sight, and that after he did, what he did was, he said that he did have some docket information, a docket sheet, which indicated that he had pled guilty to this, and brought it back to me and he also indicated to me that he was a delegate to the Democratic convention."
   Gibson: "And the question is, a delegate to the Democratic convention, but A, was he surprised when you asked him for this material? In other words, was he trying to get it out? And B, do you think he had an agenda in this case?"
    Fehlau: "Was he surprised? Yes, I think he was surprised, but I also think that he may have known that other people were overhearing his conversation and, you know, maybe some people had passed that along. I had not talked to him about this. I hadn't overheard him. Again, I got this information from a police officer that had heard it and was questioning whether it was even true and whether I knew about it. Of course, I didn't. When I ran up to him and asked him if he had anything on it, he said yes he did. Did he look surprised? I guess he did look a little surprised. He was leaving the courthouse. I think if he had wanted me to have that information, maybe he would have just given it to me."

    -- CBS's The Early Show. Bill Plante reported: "The Gore campaign was quick to deny last night that it had anything to do with the release of Bush's old police record. They said that the Vice President learned about this for the first time last night."

    After a soundbite from Chris Lehane, Gore's press secretary and a Maine native, denying any connection, Plante cautioned: "That of course does not mean that the Gore campaign is not interested in every last little detail of this, they are. And you can bet that below the radar they will be suggesting that this casts doubt on Bush's judgment, because he concealed it."

    Jane Clayson raised the Bush camp's charge up front in her interview with Fehlau, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed: "The Bush camp says that this is dirty tricks in the final days of this campaign. Did this in anyway come from the Gore camp?"
    Fehlau: "The only thing I can tell you is that after I was handed this docket the man who handed it to me, the lawyer who handed it to me had said that he actually was a, went to the convention."
    Clayson: "The Democratic convention?"
    Fehlau: "Correct."

    Clayson asked what the arresting officer told her before wondering: "Did you have any hesitation about this story, about a DUI conviction that's 25, almost 25 years old coming out this close to the election. Did you feel manipulated in any way?"
    Fehlau: "Uh, it came to my attention and, uh, I wanted to check it out. And that's just what I did."

    -- NBC's Today. Matt Lauer quizzed Fehlau about whether Bush has reason to be "suspicious of the timing" of the story, if anyone from the Gore campaign or the Democratic Party fed her the story and to confirm that her source was a delegate to the Democratic convention. She denied any Gore/Democratic connection and confirmed he was a delegate, but again failed to point out he had been a Democratic candidate for Governor two years ago.

    A bit later, MRC analyst Paul Smith noted, Tim Russert raised questions about the motives of the lawyer. Matt Lauer asked: "Keep in mind this campaign's been going on for more than a year know. We know these candidates. Every investigator, every reporter has been looking into their past. How come no one finds this until this local reporter in Portland, Maine uncovers this?"

    Russert speculated: "Well apparently it had been expunged from his record which is a common practice when people do something 24 years ago as been mentioned. Why it came forward? Who is this lawyer? What was his motivation? We don't know. The Gore campaign says they had absolutely nothing to do with this. At the national level certainly there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. It could have been just a matter of happenstance as the reporter says or it could've been a cold calculated attempt by a local lawyer. I don't know if we'll ever know."

    I think we know now, now that we know who the lawyer whose identity Fehlau covered up really is.


On Good Morning America Diane Sawyer wondered: "Four days to go, is this going to have any effect?"

George Stephanopoulos replied: "Well, this is the final chapter of the campaign. This is everything now. The question is, is the title 'Dirty Tricks' or 'Secrets and Lies'? We just don't know yet. I mean, as this unfolds over the next few days, will people look at this and say, 'Wait a second. This came from a delegate to the Democratic National Committee and it comes out four days before the election? George W. Bush is a victim.' On the other hand, people can fairly ask, 'Why didn't we know about this before? Why didn't he disclose it?'"

    Sawyer followed up: "This is my question to you. Why not get this out long ago? Twenty-four years ago this happened. Why not just put it out there early on?"
    Stephanopoulos: "I don't know the answer to that. That was the first question I posed to the Bush campaign when I found out about this story last night. The person I talked to said that several people in the campaign knew about this, but that Governor Bush, as he said later in public, didn't want his daughters to know it. The problem with that explanation is that it doesn't quite pass the smell test. I mean, you were more worried about your daughters than the voters? If this was no big deal, why not just disclose it earlier? And I think that was probably a tactical error."

    Sawyer moved on to Cheney: "And his running mate, Dick Cheney, when he was up for confirmation, in hearings disclosed that, in fact, when he was in his 20s, had two of these incidents."
    Stephanopoulos: "He had been arrested when he was at Yale for DWI, two incidences. I don't know if they were arrests or not. My only other theory here is that maybe they feared that if this came out too early in the campaign, it would be one of the first things that people learned about George W. Bush and he would be forever branded with it, but that's taking a big risk. You know in a presidential campaign that sooner or later everything comes out."

    In the next segment, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, David Gergen wasn't so excited by the disclosure: "Well, first of all, Diane, the incident itself seems to be wholly irrelevant to his capacity to govern as President of the United States....He doesn't hit anyone or anything, he's picked up for driving under the influence and it happened 24 years ago, and 14 years ago, this fellow gave up drinking all together. This has nothing to do with how a great republic should choose its President."
    Sawyer speculated: "But let me ask you, Dave, what about this whole issue of not having disclosed it? Does it just raise the possibility there are other things that were also not disclosed?"
    Gergen: "I suppose if we in the press want to, you know, keep, you know, moving into this area, inquiring into everybody's past and trying to shake out every little skeleton, perhaps it has some bearing, but I don't think so. Diane, he had made quite clear in the beginning of this campaign that he'd taken a tour on the wild side, a very extended tour during his life, and he made it quite clear that he regretted that, but he's moved since then, and it seems to me this is the most powerful nation since Rome, and for us to be sort of, you know, focusing on something which is so irrelevant, I just find very, very surprising. I can't believe we're going to vote on this basis. I can't believe this won't disappear very shortly. On the question of whether he should have disclosed, yeah, there's an argument he should have disclosed way back then, but think about it this way. Let's suppose there were a 20-year-old girl who was single, made a mistake, got pregnant, had an abortion. Twenty-four years later she's running for the United States Senate, she has two children and her campaign manager comes to her and says, 'You know, you ought to disclose that.' And she said, 'You know, I just as soon not have my children know that.' I think she'd make the right decision."


The Democratic/Gore reticence to exploit the Bush disclosure upset Katie Couric. She used her interview segments on Friday's Today, MRC analyst Paul Smith informed me, to prod Democrats and suggest Bush is a hypocrite after having made trust an issue.

    Couric queried Bill Bennett just past 7:30am about how the disclosure undercuts Bush's "trust" argument: "And yet Mr. Bennett, George Bush his mantra throughout this campaign has been that he trusts the American people. If that in fact is the case why didn't he trust them enough to disclose this information and allow them to put it in the proper context?"

    She followed up: "And yet Mr. Bennett, he is not running for father of the year, he is running for President of the United States and when people apply for jobs in the government it is incumbent upon them to disclose this kind of information."

    She quizzed DNC Chairman Ed Rendell on why the Gore campaign won't use the arrest to fight back:
    "And yet the Bush campaign has continuously labeled Vice President Bush, Vice President Gore rather in the past as deceptive so why don't you think this is legitimate fodder for the campaign given some of the bombshells that the Bush camp has lobbed towards Vice President Gore?"

    During the 8:30am half hour she demanded of Paul Begala:
    "What about for the Democrats, Paul? I mean obviously they are going to be very careful at least, that is what Chairman Rendell said earlier on this program, but they really don't want to talk about this. But is it appropriate fodder for the campaign and are they making a mistake by not bringing it up or not, you know, taking the ball and running with it just a bit?"

    She then turned to Chris Matthews and inquired: "Do you think the Democrats need to carpe diem when it comes to this drunk driving business?"

    Webster's defines "carpe diem" as: "The enjoyment of the pleasure of the moment without concern for the future."

    Be back with more later this afternoon. -- Brent Baker


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