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 CyberAlert Weekend Edition

CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| Friday December 8, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 261) |

Sauls Made It "Difficult"; Politics-Free FSC?; Florida GOP "Gamesmanship"; Geraldo: "Screw You!"; Fox Too Biased for Gore

1) "How difficult do you think that the lower court judge has made it for the Supreme Court?" So asked ABC's Peter Jennings in seeming to suggest Sanders Sauls ruled the wrong way.

2) Media Reality Check. "ABC Still Selling Florida Court as Pack of Moderates: Jack Ford Finds It 'Difficult' to See Politics in Florida Supremes."

3) CBS's Byron Pitts: "They really went after Al Gore's man -- early and often." NBC's David Bloom: "The seven Justices appeared divided and skeptical over what role, if any, they should play."

4) CBS focused on how Tallahassee reporters "are listening to Republicans call the session," to name electors, "statesmanship, not gamesmanship. Listening, if not quite believing."

5) Geraldo Rivera on the Florida House and Senate: "What they are doing is throwing dirt in the face of everyone concerned with the validity of the Florida ballot. They are saying to everyone, 'screw you!'"

6) Gore's team impressed ABC's Jami Floyd: "A James Bond moment. Even before it stops moving, Gore aides leap from the car. Their mission: to deliver documents here, the Florida Supreme Court." Actually, the minivan had come to a complete stop.

7) "I believe that most people in their hearts are Democrats," insisted Virginia state Senator Emily Couric. Does that include her younger sister Katie?

8) Al Gore refused to do an interview last week with Fox News. "I think Fox's coverage during the campaign has been decidedly one-sided," declared impeachment spinner Mark Fabiani.

9) Dan Rather's "Danisms" were based on life-experiences: "'Bush has run through Dixie like a big wheel through a cotton field.' 'I picked cotton by hand when I was a child. If you've ever seen a cotton-picking machine, it has big wheels.'"

10) Bill Clinton, Dan Rather noted, wants to repeal the presidential term limit. President Bill Clinton in 2004?


If only Judge Sanders Sauls had ruled the other way. Peter Jennings posed a question to Jack Ford on ABC's World News Tonight Thursday night which assumed Sauls' sweeping ruling, on both the law and evidence, against a recount for Gore has made it "difficult" for the Florida Supreme Court to do the right thing and order a recount.

    The first question Jennings posed to Ford after a story on the Florida Supreme Court's hearing on the appeal of the Sauls decision: "How difficult do you think that the lower court judge has made it for the Supreme Court?"

    Ford's lengthy answer: "It's made it difficult for a number of reasons, Peter. First of all, obviously it's made it an up hill battle for the Gore team, not just because they lost, but because the standard of appellate review is so difficult for them. It's not enough for the justices here to say, 'well you know what if I were sitting in the lower court I would have resolved this differently.' They are told that they have to accept Judge Sauls' conclusions of law unless they can show that there was no reasonable basis for what he did. And you can see that's a very tough standard, so that makes it difficult for them. But his opinion did build in something that they are now wrestling with -- the justices -- and may be a benefit for the Gore team. The standards in a statute, grounds for contesting elections shows that if you can show enough legal votes were tossed out that it placed the election in doubt, then you can be okay. But in his opinion Judge Sauls said well I think they have to show there's a reasonable probability that you could have changed the election. So the justices today said is that the same thing -- a reasonable probability as opposed to placing it in doubt -- and that's what they seem to be, what they're struggling with."

    Of course, if they agreed with Sauls' ruling it would not be "difficult" to just uphold it.


A Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check "Quick Take" distributed by fax Thursday afternoon: "ABC Still Selling Florida Court as Pack of Moderates; Jack Ford Finds It 'Difficult' to See Politics in Florida Supremes."

    To view the fax online as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, go to:

    Now the text of the fax put together by the MRC's Tim Graham based on quotes from the December 7 Good Morning America observed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:

Before the Florida Supreme Court baldly ordered more time for recounts in selected Democratic counties and stretched the legal deadline for certification by 12 days, ABC anchor Peter Jennings insisted the court was "moderate to conservative." Today on ABC's Good Morning America, legal analyst Jack Ford asked everyone to forget that, and the unanimous vacation of their ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court as baffling in its reasoning. He insisted these seven Democratic appointees are not acting like political appointees:

"I think people who have looked at this court have said this is a pretty steady, well-intentioned and probably more importantly, not just political-appointed court. They've got an interesting selection process down there. It's not like some other states where the governor says, 'You know what? You were my highest contributor or you've been with me since I've been in high school. Bang! You're the Supreme Court justice here.' In Florida there's a commission that gives the Governor a list of three to five candidates, and that commission is based upon somebody from the Governor's office and people from the bar association...So there's a major merit selection process that goes on here."

Substitute co-host Nancy Snyderman added: "And the Chief [Justice] is a relatively conservative man, is he not?"

Ford replied: "Yeah, he is, and in terms of their politics, it's difficult to see how that weaves into their political, into their legal decisions here. But just in terms of a bench and what you expect from a bench, these are very talented and experienced lawyers who became judges, four of whom, as I mentioned, had experience on appellate courts before they moved up to the Supreme Court."

Ford did not explain that the counsel to Gov. Lawton Chiles, who made most of these appointments, was Dexter Douglass, one of Gore's Florida lawyers, or explain the liberal slant of the state bar association. While networks cast aspersions on Republican elected officials, Democrat-appointed judges are praised as non-political and highly talented.

    END Reprint of Media Reality Check


Thursday night the networks provided pretty straight rundowns of the proceedings before the Florida Supreme Court, but each offered their own assessment of which way the court may be leaning.

    ABC's Erin Hayes withheld personal judgment and on World News Tonight said only that "at the end of the day neither side seemed convinced of a win."

    Byron Pitts began his CBS Evening News piece: "The justices have headed home for the night having fired tough questions at both sides, but they really went after Al Gore's man -- early and often." Pitts added of Bush lawyer Barry Richard: "He too was worked over by the justices."

    On the NBC Nightly News David Bloom observed: "During 70 minutes of arguments today the seven justices appeared divided and skeptical over what role, if any, they should play."

    Dan Abrams later provided an evaluation of each justice: "Justices asked tough questions of both sides, but it seemed Justices Wells, Harding and Lewis were more skeptical of parts of the Gore argument, while Justices Anstead, Pariente and Shaw tougher on Bush. The seventh Justice, Quince, tough to call."


Are national reporters following the lead of local reporters in believing Florida's Republican legislators are pursuing "gamesmanship" not "statesmanship" in moving ahead to name a slate of electors?

    In a Thursday CBS Evening News piece, CBS report Jim Axelrod relayed: "Tonight, long-time Capitol reporters like Lucy Morgan are listening to Republicans call the session statesmanship, not gamesmanship. Listening, if not quite believing."
    Lucy Morgan, St. Petersburg Times: "We're in the midst of the world's biggest political game. I mean this is for all the marbles."


Amongst those clearly not believing in Republican statesmanship: Geraldo Rivera, who denounced the Florida House and Senate: "They are saying to everyone, 'screw you!'"

    On his CNBC show Wednesday night, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, Rivera complained:
    "There is already a certified slate of Bush electors as far as I know. He's already been the certified winner. They don't have, what they are doing is throwing dirt in the face of everyone concerned with the validity of the Florida ballot. They are saying to everyone, 'screw you! You can play your game, you can exercise your constitutional rights in court, you can jerk everybody's chain. It doesn't matter! Because we are determined that it's gonna be our way!' And their way is going to put such a taint or at least a bad taste that it will fuel the most incredibly malignant voter cynicism, I think, that we've seen in many years."

    Of course, all they are really doing is fulfilling their constitutional responsibility.


ABC's Jami Floyd is easy to impress, at least if you're working hard for Gore. In a December 7 story previewing the Florida Supreme Court hearing, Floyd offered this dramatic description from Tallahassee during the 7am news update on Good Morning America, over supposedly matching video:
    "Well, this could be the last stop in a very long process, a process filled with lots of legal motions, late night preparation, drama in the courtroom and even theatrics like this. A James Bond moment. Even before it stops moving, Gore aides leap from the car. Their mission: to deliver documents here, the Florida Supreme Court, the one court in Tallahassee with a sympathetic ear for Al Gore."

    As MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, the video actually showed a minivan pull up to a curb, come to a complete stop, and then the doors opened and men with briefcases and boxes hopped out as a normal speed.


Does that include her younger sister? "I believe that most people in their hearts are Democrats," insisted Virginia state Senator Emily Couric (D-Charlottesville) who at Saturday's meeting of Virginia Democrats was named "General Chairwoman" of the party. Emily Couric dropped out of the 2001 race for Lieutenant Governor earlier this year in order to battle pancreatic cancer.

    In October, Emily Couric starred in an anti-Republican Senate candidate George Allen ad from Voters for Choice TV ad in support of Democratic Senator Chuck Robb. To see a picture of her and for the text of the liberal ad, go to:

    Her quote about how most people "in their hearts are Democrats" was reported in the last paragraph of a December 3 Washington Post story by Craig Timberg, who proceeded it by relaying: "Democrats also gave a standing ovation to Couric. The sister of Today show co-host Katie Couric said she hopes to lead the party back from a decade of declining fortunes by returning to the basics of grass-roots organizing and delivering a message of opportunity."


Last week Al Gore refused to sit for an interview with the Fox News Channel because of their supposed bias against him, the New York Observer reported this week. Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) highlighted the story in the December 6 New York Observer. Here's an excerpt from the piece by Jason Gay:

If George W. Bush wraps up this presidential deal soon -- as most people expected him to do earlier this week -- that will be good news for the Fox News Channel. Because unlike Al Gore, Mr. Bush will sit down for an interview with Fox.

Fox staffers were irate last week after the Vice President, in a marathon stretch of television appearances on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 29 and 30, purposely blew off the Rupert Murdoch-owned news channel. Trying to bolster support for his re-count challenges, Mr. Gore appeared for a string of interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, but passed on Fox's offer to appear on its airwaves.

Mr. Gore's decision wasn't business; it was personal. Mr. Gore's campaign staff has been miffed at Fox News for what they consider to be a bias against the V.P. "I think Fox's coverage during the campaign has been decidedly one-sided," Mr. Gore's campaign spokesman, Mark Fabiani, told The Observer....

"You can get your message out without covering every single broadcast outlet, and given the fact that Fox's coverage has been decidedly negative, if you are going to economize, they're the place you economize," Mr. Fabiani said.

So the Vice President left Fox News out in the cold. Mr. Gore's decision prompted Fox News' Washington bureau chief, Kim Hume, to issue a strongly worded letter to Mr. Gore's campaign. "We have been told that it's obvious why we are being excluded," read one passage of Ms. Hume's letter. "It's not obvious to us. Our coverage of Vice President Gore has been even-handed....

Even though Mr. Gore's decision was politically calculated, it did put Fox News in a frustrating, somewhat embarrassing situation. The 4-year-old network has made significant gains in the ratings recently, to the point that it regularly nips at the heels of CNN. But not getting Mr. Gore on any day when the desperate Vice President appeared on nearly every channel except the Food Network was a potential blow to Fox's efforts to achieve status as a straightforward, legitimate news outfit, particularly since the network has been plagued by accusations of conservative bias.

Ms. Hume didn't see it that way. "Our reporters do fair and balanced reports," said Ms. Hume, who is married to Fox chief Washington correspondent Brit Hume. "[Mr. Gore] has the opportunity to come on and basically give one side of the story. If they decline to do that, that's their problem."....

    END Excerpt

    To read the entire story while it remains up for a few days, go to: http://www.observer.com/pages/nytv.asp

    When Mark Fabiani, a veteran of defending Clinton's interpretation of the words "is" and "sex," calls you "one-sided" it probably means you're really "fair and balanced."


Dan Rather defended his election night "Ratherisms" or, as they apparently call them inside CBS News, "Danisms," as the product of his actual life experiences. Or so he insisted to Philadelphia Inquirer TV reporter Gail Shister in an interview about how he's signed a deal with CBS News that does not guarantee that he remain anchor of the CBS Evening News. Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) listed her Tuesday piece.

    An excerpt from Shister's December 5 article:

For the first time since he took over CBS Evening News from Walter Cronkite in March 1981, Rather's contract does not guarantee him the anchor slot for the length of the deal.

According to Rather's $10-million-a-year contract, the date ensuring his anchordom -- March --- has already passed, he says. Until the deal expires in late 2002, both he and CBS News boss Andrew Heyward have the option to change anchors.

The clause was Rather's idea, he says, "because CBS has been fair to me and I wanted to be fair with them. I'm very comfortable with [CBS News President] Andrew [Heyward]....I don't want anybody to be forced to do anything....

Either way, Rather will continue anchoring 48 Hours and reporting for 60 Minutes II, he says. Besides, the ongoing George W. Bush-Al Gore election saga has energized him.

"This story is constant fuel for me," says Rather, who's been working 12- to 15-hour days. "I may be dumb as wallpaper about a lot of things, but I do know this is a great story."

As for those bizarre "Danisms" (as they are called within CBS), the proud Texan says he grew up around people who used colorful metaphors. "My father used to say, 'His chances were slim to none, and slim just left town.'"

Most of Rather's Election Night nuggets are based on his life experiences, he says.

Some examples: "Governor Bush will be madder than a rained-on rooster" if he loses Florida. "My grandmother's farm had a lot of roosters, and when they get rained on, you don't want to be around them."

"Bush has run through Dixie like a big wheel through a cotton field." "I picked cotton by hand when I was a child. If you've ever seen a cotton-picking machine, it has big wheels."

"These returns are running faster than a squirrel in a cage." "I grew up hunting with my father. Squirrels are wild, and they go crazy in a cage."

"This race is tighter than the lug-nuts on a '55 Ford." You guessed it -- Rather owned one.

For the record, Rather talks the same way off camera. Not long after this reporter left CBS headquarters, he asked an assistant to bring him a cup of coffee "strong enough to float horseshoes."....

    END Excerpt

    To read Shister's piece in full, go to:

    Maybe Dan can swap farming tales with Al Gore.


Bill Clinton in 2004? On Thursday's CBS Evening News Dan Rather took a few seconds to pass along how Bill Clinton told a magazine interviewer that if he could have he would have run for and won a third term. Rather added: "President Clinton also told Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner that as life expectancy rises the term limit should perhaps be changed to two consecutive terms so a President who served eight straight years could run again after a four year break."

    President Bill Clinton in 2004? Or 2008? Or 2012? We wouldn't be safe for decades.  -- Brent Baker


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