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 CyberAlert Weekend Edition

CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| 5:30pm ET, Friday November 3, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 228) |

Gore Pot Use Not Hyped; Last Year Networks Jumped on Bush & Drugs After Avoiding Rape Charge Against Clinton -- Back to today's CyberAlert or the Extra Edition

1) Media Reality Check. "Media Promote Last-Minute Anti-Bush Hit Job: Despite Being Smeared With Democratic Fingerprints, Networks Hype Story of Bush's 1976 Arrest."

2) "Another Late Hit: The media at work." An NR Online article about how "the media have not required solid evidence in the past to justify last-minute attack segments on surging Republican candidates." Remember Iraqgate and election-eve Weinberger indictment? And the networks never jumped on a Newsweek reporter's discovery that Al Gore smoked pot through 1976.

3) Back in August 1999 the networks picked up on unsubstantiated charges of drug use by George W. Bush after having spent the Spring avoiding Juanita Broaddrick's charge that Bill Clinton raped her when he was 32.


Just before noon today on CNN, Maine Democratic activist Tom Connolly, who gave the reporter the documentation about Bush's 1976 drunk driving arrest, proclaimed that spreading the story was "an act of democracy." The networks certainly couldn't resist Connolly's juicy tidbit, a Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check distributed by fax this afternoon documented.

    To read the report by the MRC's Rich Noyes, "Media Promote Last-Minute Anti-Bush Hit Job: Despite Being Smeared With Democratic Fingerprints, Networks Hype Story of Bush's 1976 Arrest," in the format seen by fax recipients, call up the Adobe Acrobat PDF file:

    The pull-out quote in the middle of the faxed page:

And How Many Would Die Under Gore?
"The fact is it allows people who are independent, who are Republican, who are Democrats, to evaluate who should be the next President. And recollect that more than 25,000 Americans a year die from drunk driving, and that's a big deal. If you add that up, four years, that's 100,000 Americans that are going to be dead during this guy's first term." -- Democratic activist Tom Connolly, the media's source for new anti-Bush charges, CNN interview, November 3.

    Now, the text of the November 3 Media Reality Check:

Erin Fehlau, a reporter at WPXT-TV Channel 51 in Portland, Maine, was last night's featured guest on ABC's Nightline. Earlier that evening, she triggered a feeding frenzy by disclosing that George W. Bush was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving in 1976. Ted Koppel asked her to declare that her story wasn't what it obviously was: a late-campaign Democratic smear plot.

"The way you tell the story, it certainly sounds as though you just stumbled into something and were smart enough to follow up on it," Koppel assured Fehlau. "But you also heard Gov. Bush say several times, you know, he's got his suspicions."

"I'm confident I wasn't set up," Fehlau obtusely replied, though she acknowledged her source was a lawyer who also was "a delegate to the Democratic convention." She added that "I feel like if I was being set up, he would probably have just handed me the information right off the bat."

Fehlau refused to name her source, but he quickly stepped forward. Tom Connolly, the Democratic candidate for Governor in Maine's last election, under-mined Fehlau's claim that she wasn't set up. He told Fox News on Friday that he hoped to plant the story with the Associated Press, and told CNN that Fehlau got it only because Gore's fax machine was busy.

Connolly grandly thrust himself into the center of the presidential election, pronouncing on CNN shortly before noon that "My role is to release information that I consider germane to the decision-making process," and spreading the story was "an act of democracy."

The courts had long ago expunged Bush's conviction from his criminal record, but releasing the legally irrelevant information "makes me a good citizen," Connolly crowed to CNN's Daryn Kagan.

Before they raised a finger to establish this story's partisan pedigree, reporters were using guilt-by-association tactics to smear Bush further, even as they feigned sympathy. "I never identify with George W. so much as I do tonight. It's like a cheater who gets caught, and then he blames the person who told his wife he was cheating," CNBC's Geraldo Rivera told Newsweek's Jonathan Alter last night on Rivera Live.

"The Clinton experience is a reminder that the past has a way of catching up with these people and biting them in the ankle," Alter replied. "And I'm not sure the American people want another blind date at this point." Geraldo fantasized about other possibilities: "What if he beat up his girlfriend and he said that was some youthful indiscretion? What if he snorted cocaine? What if he shot up heroin?"

On the same show, MSNBC's Chip Reid related that reporters covering Bush were giddy at the prospect of additional embarrassments. "The reporters were all chattering about this and saying 'Wait a minute! If he's got this skeleton in his closet, what else is there?' And some were saying 'Remember, he never answered those questions about hard drugs?'"

There's been zero evidence to support hard drug use, but the media nevertheless heavily promoted the tale last summer. Now, the gossip is being revived by reporters as they race to cover a last-minute story, peddled by a Democratic activist, that they couldn't resist.

    END Reprint of Media Reality Check


From National Review Online, a just-posted article by Tim Graham, the MRC's Director of Media Analysis, "Another Late Hit: The media at work."

    To read this online, go to:

    The text of the November 3 NR Online "Media Watch" article:

They are not judicious. They are not moderate. By their very pattern of time allocation, devoting an entire Nightline and much of today's morning shows to this wisp of an old story, they are serving the Democratic party, casting the campaign picture pack to the Dubya-drubbing soap opera When I Was Young and Irresponsible, I Was Young and Irresponsible.

Make no mistake about it: the media have been handed solid evidence of Bush's drunk-driving arrest, and Bush has admitted the offense. But the media have not required solid evidence in the past to justify last-minute attack segments on surging Republican candidates.

Eight years ago, at this very stage in the campaign, the Friday before Election Day, as tracking polls suggested as small as a two-point lead for Bill Clinton, Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh re-indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and asserted then-Vice President George Bush was "in the loop" on Iran-Contra essentials. In the interest of supposedly staying above the partisan fray, ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention Mr. Walsh by name, obscuring the extremely political tactic as the unsuspicious emergence of "new material" or "new grand jury evidence." In the days to come, the media had next to zero interest in examining whether Walsh acted appropriately, and why the Clinton campaign released a multi-page analysis of the indictment dated October 29 -- the day before the indictment was disclosed.

But Walsh was not alone in trying to sandbag President Bush. Six days before the election, there was the alleged judicious moderator Ted Koppel. He declared that 18 months of ABC's searching had revealed a series of "legal and illegal technology transfers" to Iraq. He cited network poll numbers citing the politically crippling issue for Bush: "Indeed, last week a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 68 percent of the American public has major doubts about George Bush's explanation of his administration's role in providing aid to Saddam Hussein before the Persian Gulf war." Koppel had aired at least eight shows in 1991 and 1992 exploring the intricacies of the Iraqgate conspiracy theory, and while he interviewed five Democrats and Iraqgate promoter and reporter Alan Friedman on these programs, Sen. Arlen Specter was the only Republican guest, on the earliest Iraqgate show. (He also fit in an hour-long special on the "October Surprise" conspiracy theory during that time.)

Koppel concluded his late-hit scandal program with senators David Boren and Patrick Leahy charging a Bush cover-up. Koppel emphasized this issue could not be dismissed as political: "It is easy enough, given the political season, to dismiss charges of a cover-up coming as they do from two Democratic senators as purely partisan. As I told you at the beginning of the broadcast, though, a number of serious news organizations have been pursuing [the Italian bank] BNL and the Iraqgate story for almost two years. And in a campaign where trust has been made into such a central theme, this story is no trivial issue."

Then there was 60 Minutes. On October 25, 1992, nine days before the election, CBS's Lesley Stahl devoted an entire segment to chasing Ross Perot's bizarre charges of Republican dirty tricks: "Several of us who did know what he was talking about had already looked into his charges and found nothing to report, until we heard that Perot was claiming he got out of the race last July because of a bizarre story he said he'd heard from a high-placed Republican he won't name -- and a shadowy character he does name. The story? That the Bush campaign was planning to sabotage his daughter's wedding."

Stahl conceded later in the story: "Even as he's making this charge, Perot acknowledges he can't prove it. And we haven't found any proof either."

The obvious question for any journalist: "Then why in blazes are you putting this segment on the air?"

On Sunday, November 1, two days before the 1992 election, 60 Minutes star Mike Wallace promoted the charges of goofball liberal Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D., Texas) -- who regularly called for Ronald Reagan and George Bush to be impeached -- that Bush and his aides were guilty of obstruction of justice and were "principally responsible for arming Saddam Hussein."

Wallace began: "If you have trouble understanding exactly what it is that people mean when they say Iraqgate, perhaps you'll understand it better after you hear from the man who has probed into it longer than anyone else in Washington, the chairman. He has never talked about it as fully and freely as he does tonight." Wallace's first question to Gonzalez: "Who are the main players who have tried to stop your investigation?"

It did not matter that the Iraqgate allegations crumbled after the election, in addition to the 1980 "October Surprise" allegations. There were no apologies or retractions from the Koppels and Wallaces, just the continued pretense that they were the objective referees of the election process.

It bears repeating that there were many unproven stories circulating around Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992 that could have been the subject of a 20-minute report, or an 18-month investigation. Whitewater died in April. Al Gore's mysterious service in Vietnam went completely untouched, unlike Dan Quayle's record four years before. The Juanita Broaddrick story was circulating at that time. When President Bush suggested on CNN that Clinton ought to level with the public on his record as an anti-war protester in England who took a trip to Moscow, the media were inflamed. On the October 8, 1992 Nightline, Koppel took the night off, but substitute Chris Wallace complained: "In the end, we always knew it would come to this. For all the talk about how this campaign would be different, about how this time the politicians would stick to the issues, there was always the suspicion it wouldn't last. And the fact is, it hasn't."

The Nightline philosophy in a nutshell: spend months trying to prove Bush armed Saddam Hussein and conspired to leave American hostages in Iranian hellholes for electoral gain, no foul. Suggest Clinton explain his Vietnam War activities, since no network reporter would spend months on that, big foul.

In this election cycle, Koppel and his associates have been long exposed as ridiculous hypocrites on the issue of youthful indiscretions. Koppel's Nightline devoted an entire show in August 1999 to the rumors of Bush cocaine use, with no evidence and no accusers. Koppel lectured: "Why not accept his one-size-fits-all declaration that when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible? Perhaps, we might say, because he has never accepted youth and irresponsibility as legitimate excuses for illegal behavior."

In January, Newsweek reporter Bill Turque reported in his book Inventing Al Gore that Gore friend John Warnecke said Gore smoked marijuana with him regularly in Tennessee in the 1970s, right up to running for Congress in 1976. Gore responded to the Warnecke allegations with a very similar-sounding dodge: "When I was young, I did things young people do; when I grew up I put away childish things." Koppel suggested Bush was applying for Hypocrite-in-Chief. But the Gore allegations have never been touched by Honest Broker Ted.

In the February 14, 2000 Newsweek, Turque added: "Warnecke and two other close friends from Gore's Nashville days say Gore was an enthusiastic recreational user, smoking sometimes as often as three or four times a week: afterhours at Warnecke's house, on weekends at the Gore farm or canoeing on the Caney Fork River. Andy Schlesinger, a former Tennessean reporter who remains close to the Gores (he celebrated with them last week in New Hampshire), says that in the first few months after Gore returned from South Vietnam in 1971, he smoked with him 'at least a dozen times' at the Warneckes'. The partying continued, according to Warnecke and a Gore friend who declined to be named, until Gore ran his first House race in 1976."

Bill Turque wasn't handed this information from stealthy Republican sources. He interviewed Gore friends and published the story in a major national newsmagazine. But the television networks treated this story, much more corroborated than anything about Bush's alleged use of hard drugs, as if it never existed.

Every feeding frenzy of the fall campaign has originated from the Gore fans: the RATS fracas, the completely spontaneous Can Lady follies of Winifred Skinner, the last-minute four-Democrat report from the Rand Corporation, and now the DUI dustup. Every one of these stories underlines what everyone who follows politics knows: The major media is never more in bed with the Democrats than in the last few weeks of a tough campaign.

    END Reprint of National Review Online article


The current media hoopla reminded me of how the networks back in August 1999 picked up on unsubstantiated charges of drug use by George W. Bush after having spent the Spring avoiding Juanita Broaddrick's charge that Bill Clinton raped her when he was 32 -- two years older than Bush was at the time of his drunk driving arrest.

    An op-ed I (Brent Baker) wrote for the August 23, 1999 Washington Times best encapsulates the coverage contrast in a reasonable number of words, so below is a reprint of the piece titled: "Bush Talks, Clinton Walks." To read it online, go to:

    Here's the text:

No one has claimed to have witnessed George W. Bush use cocaine or any other illegal drug, but that didn't stop reporters over the past weeks from repeatedly pressing him for a definitive answer about his alleged history of drug abuse. That media interest in a rumor about possible criminal acts committed decades ago stands in stark contrast to the media's widespread refusal to pursue the charge by Juanita Broaddrick that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1978.

The drug questions were fueled in late July by a week-long profile of Mr. Bush in the Washington Post. Reporters Lois Romano and George Lardner insisted, "We need to ask the cocaine question. We think you believe that a politician should not let stories fester. So why won't you just deny that you've used cocaine?" ABC invited Ms. Romano to be a guest on the July 27 edition of "Good Morning America" to dismiss Mr. Bush's answer: "He's basically declared that his life began at 40 and that we're supposed to not ask about that other fellow before 40 and I don't know if he can hold to that position."

No such invitation to appear on a network news show materialized after Ms. Romano interviewed Mrs. Broaddrick back in late February for a Post story which ran four days before Mrs. Broaddrick recounted her charge on the Feb. 24 edition of "Dateline NBC."

That long-delayed interview with Lisa Myers failed to spark network television coverage. Indeed, CBS's "This Morning" has yet to mention her name and ABC's "Good Morning America" has never aired a story or full interview segment, though the show briefly raised her name one day in a larger interview. The closest "NBC Nightly News" came was an end-of-the-show plug for that night's "Dateline" segment, but Tom Brokaw only referred to how the show would feature "controversial allegations" in "an exclusive interview with the woman known as Jane Doe No. 5, Juanita Broaddrick." The following weekend the ABC, CNN, Fox and NBC Sunday morning interview shows all discussed Mrs. Broaddrick but even that failed to generate any mention on the broadcast-network morning or evening shows.

Three weeks later, at Mr. Clinton's first solo press conference in ten months, in 21 questions posed only ABC's Sam Donaldson asked about Mrs. Broaddrick, leading to "World News Tonight's" first mention of her name, but neither CBS or NBC uttered a syllable about her in their summaries of the March 19 press conference. At this point the "CBS Evening News" hadn't mentioned Mrs. Broaddrick since its only story on a Saturday in February, but instead of broaching her charge, anchor John Roberts highlighted how Mr. Clinton "said he and Mrs. Clinton love each other very much."

In contrast to an eyewitness accusing Mr. Clinton of committing a felony, there is no one accusing Mr. Bush of drug use, but nonetheless last week reporters kept demanding he answer drug questions and then treated the very occurrence of the queries as justification for news stories. On Thursday night, Aug. 19, ABC anchor Charlie Gibson asserted "the question is dogging his otherwise smooth campaign." NBC anchor Brian Williams called it "the question that will not go away." (Mr. Bush's evolving answer during the week, in which he expanded his drug-free years from seven to 25, gave the networks a convenient story hook, but Mr. Clinton's evasive press conference answer about Mrs. Broaddrick -- "There's been a statement made by my attorney. He speaks for me, and I think he spoke quite clearly" -- did not motivate them to pursue her charge.)

Viewers of Thursday's "NBC Nightly News" were treated to three minutes on the subject and ABC's "World News Tonight" gave it three and a half minutes -- which is exactly three minutes and three and a half minutes more time than the two shows devoted in February or early March to Mrs. Broaddrick's charge. The "CBS Evening News" aired a piece for the second consecutive night on Thursday on the drug issue, thus giving twice as much attention to

Mr. Bush and drugs as to Mrs. Broaddrick. Thursday morning ABC's "Good Morning America" brought aboard former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos to analyze the controversy and NBC's "Today" ran a pre-taped interview with Mr. Bush during which the interviewer raised the drug question. "Today" returned Friday with a discussion about media coverage.

Don't count on members of the media to realize their hypocrisy. Thursday afternoon on MSNBC, the Republican National Committee's Cliff May tried to point out the media's "double standard," since "we have right now a credible allegation by Juanita Broaddrick that while Attorney General Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her and he won't answer." Host David Gregory cut him off: "Now hold on. You know what Cliff, I'm not going to let you go there. We are not talking about this today. We're not going to turn that into this."

    END Reprint of Washington Times op-ed. -- Brent Baker


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