Chomping on Chavez; Reagan Civil Rights Enforcement an "Oxymoron"; Ashcroft on the "Far Right" and a Divider; "Riveting" Regulation
1) ABC and NBC led Monday night with the Linda Chavez
live-in friend controversy as all analogized her case to Zoe Baird's
1993 situation. ABC and NBC played an old clip of Chavez criticizing Baird
while CBS highlighted how Chavez once said something supposedly
inappropriate about obese people.
2) PBS's Washington Week in Review on Chavez:
"Which nominee has suggested that sexual harassment cases threaten to
make America a nation of cry babies?" Time's Michael Duffy:
"She was a Reagan civil rights official. Some people would say that's
3) Bush could have avoided opposition to Ashcroft "by
choosing someone for that post who was a little more acceptable to all
people," argued NBC's Matt Lauer as Tim Russert agreed the problem
is that Ashcroft comes from the "far right."
4) Ann Curry delivered a fawning Today interview with
former FDA Commissioner David Kessler. Curry did not pose a single tough
question as she repeatedly gushed about how she found his book on
regulating tobacco to be "riveting." She pleaded: "Who
needs to dismantle the industry?"
ABC and NBC
on Monday night made questions about Marta Mercado and Labor Secretary
nominee Linda Chavez their top story while CBS ran a full story later in
its newscast. The networks all tied Chavez to problems Clinton had back in
1993 with two nominees and each raised one supposedly offensive comment
Chavez has made in her years of writing and TV commentary appearances.
ABC, NBC and FNC all played an identical 1993 PBS clip of Chavez
criticizing Zoe Baird for employing an illegal alien and CBS highlighted a
supposedly offensive comment about obese people.
While ABC and CBS portrayed Mercado as contradicting
Chavez on whether she was an employee, FNC's Brian Wilson relayed how
"Mercado says she occasionally did chores around the Chavez home, but
both women insist it was not an employee-employer relationship."
ABC's Peter Jennings opened the January 8 World
News Tonight: "It does sound like an episode early in the Clinton
administration when two women he wanted for the Cabinet got into
difficulty for employing undocumented workers. This time Ms. Chavez's
political opponents picked up on this, and Mr. Bush has a
CBS's Dan Rather argued: "President-elect
Bush's skills at damage control and managing controversy, are being put
to the test after new disclosures about one of his most heavily opposed
Cabinet choices, Labor Secretary designate Linda Chavez."
Tom Brokaw opened the NBC Nightly News: "Eight
years ago when Bill Clinton was attempting to form his cabinet, it was the
Nanny factor. Two of his choices had hired illegal immigrants as nannies
and that cost them cabinet posts. Well now the same kind of issue has
developed for George W. Bush."
Here are more details on how the broadcast networks
and FNC handled the story Monday night, January 8:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings
launched the show, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
We begin tonight with the controversy about George W. Bush's nominee to
be the Secretary of Labor. We learned just before the broadcast tonight
that Linda Chavez has been interviewed again by the FBI about a Guatemalan
woman who was or was not an employee of Ms. Chavez while she was still an
illegal alien. And yes, it does sound like an episode early in the Clinton
administration when two women he wanted for the Cabinet got into
difficulty for employing undocumented workers. This time Ms. Chavez's
political opponents picked up on this, and Mr. Bush has a controversy,
maybe even a problem on his hands."
Reporter John Yang explained: "As
President-elect Bush prepared for his move to the White House, he stood by
Linda Chavez....Chavez's confirmation may be in trouble because in the
early 1990s, Guatemalan immigrant Marta Mercado lived in Chavez's home
in suburban Washington. At the time, Mercado was in the country illegally.
Chavez says Mercado's chores were irregular. Immigration rules allow
undocumented residents to do household work if it is irregular. Chavez
says she occasionally gave her money, a few hundred dollars at a time, and
did not consider it pay for a job. Mercado is not so certain."
"I cannot be sure, you know, because she knew that I had my family in
my country, my three daughters, my husband, and all my family, and she
knew also that I was needing some things like everybody."
Yang warned: "A
former immigration official says Mercado's situation could still be
considered a job, especially since Chavez provided her shelter."
Paul Virtue, former
INS General Counsel: "Her living there and working for that benefit
could also be employment."
Yang: "And if
Mercado was employed, Chavez would have been required to pay Social
Security taxes for her, an issue that sank Zoe Baird, President
Clinton's first choice to be Attorney General. At that time, Chavez was
December 21, 1993 PBS NewsHour: "I think most of the American people
were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she had hired an illegal
alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay
Social Security taxes."
"Bush transition officials say the two situations are not comparable.
This, they say, was an act of compassion on Chavez's part, taking in a
woman in need as she has done in the past."
-- CBS Evening News. Afer Dan Rather's
introduction quoted above, John Roberts went through the basics of the
story, stressing how Mercado says she informed Chavez within months that
she was illegal.
Roberts then highlighted how for Democrats "the
controversy only sharpens existing concerns they have about Chavez's
views, such as this statement regarding the health and cost issues of
employing overweight people." Roberts read the text which also
appeared on screen where it was identified as from the November 19, 1999
PBS show To the Contrary: "It's irrational to discriminate against
somebody because of the color of their skin. It may not be irrational at
all to discriminate against somebody because they're morbidly
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened the
broadcast: "Good evening. Eight years ago when Bill Clinton was
attempting to form his cabinet, it was the nanny factor. Two of his
choices had hired illegal immigrants as nannies and that cost them cabinet
posts. Well now the same kind of issue has developed for George W. Bush
and his choice of Labor Secretary, Linda Chavez. The President-elect is
standing by her, but her case now is being reviewed by the Bush
Lisa Myers handled the first of two stories. Myers
recalled: "In fact, while Mercado
was living with Chavez, Bill Clinton's first nominee for Attorney
General, Zoe Baird, was done in by revelations she employed an illegal
immigrant as a nanny and failed to pay Social Security taxes. Chavez said
Chavez on the PBS
MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on December 21, 1993: "I think most of the
American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she had
hired an illegal alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that
she did not pay Social Security taxes."
Next, David Gregory offered the take from the Bush
camp: "The Bush team is caught by surprise by these revelations. Top
transition sources saying that Chavez was specifically asked the so-called
nanny question but failed to disclose her arrangement with Mercado, making
some Bush supporters tonight increasingly concerned that she was not a
forthcoming as she should have been."
FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume delivered a
story more sympathetic to Chavez's situation. Hume began his show:
"Linda Chavez, George W. Bush's nominee as Secretary of Labor,
stands accused of harboring, and perhaps even employing an illegal alien
some years back. She says she merely took in a woman in need and tried to
help and that the woman was not an employee. So what does the woman
herself say? She spoke this day to Fox News, and basically backed up
Chavez's version, but the issue has clearly complicated Chavez's
confirmation prospects as Brian Wilson reports."
Wilson explained, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad
Wilmouth: "Linda Chavez was already headed for a tough confirmation
battle. She is opposed by organized labor and some minority groups. Now
another wrinkle. In the early 1990s, Linda Chavez provided room and board
to Guatemalan native Marta Mercado. Both women say it was an act of
"It was for me, I would think, to find Mrs. Linda, her family, they
gave me a place to live and the opportunity to go to school to learn some
English, and, you know, the opportunity, you know, to start making
Wilson raised a
theme not detailed by the other networks: "Chavez has a history of
reaching out to help those in need. Ada Iturrino of Queens, New York, says
that Chavez mentored her kids and provided tuition money so they could
attend private Catholic schools."
"Because I know that Linda is the type of lady that she likes to help
"But the Mercado matter is raising questions and a few eyebrows
because Chavez says occasionally she gave Mercado money. Mercado says she
occasionally did chores around the Chavez home, but both women insist it
was not an employee-employer relationship....The other problem: At the
time, Mercado was in the United States illegally, though Mercado says she
did not share that information with Chavez for two, maybe three
out how Gwen Ifill, host of PBS's Washington Week in Review,
sarcastically described the Bush cabinet last Friday night: "Now, on
to the new Bush Cabinet. Which nominee has suggested that sexual
harassment cases threaten to make America a nation of cry babies? Which
one accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University? And which one
has worked as a lobbyist for a lead paint manufacturer? Well, Michael
Duffy, I'm going to turn it to you."
MRC intern Ken Shepherd noticed Duffy, Time's
Washington Bureau Chief, took particular delight in castigating Linda
Chavez with a cheap shot against Reagan's policies:
"The person who really
is worth watching here and where I think the fight will be ugliest is
Linda Chavez, who's up for Secretary of Labor. This is a someone who is a
Democrat, became a Republican. She's a Hispanic woman who speaks no
Spanish. She was a Reagan civil rights official. Some people would say
that's an oxymoron."
Others would say that being an objective Time
magazine reporter is an oxymoron.
For the record, John Ashcroft accepted an honorary
degree from Bob Jones University and Gale Norton once represented paint
manufacturers. But I'm sure no liberal Democrat has ever lobbied for an
Bush's fault for picking someone from "the far right." Monday
morning on Today, Matt Lauer and Tim Russert discussed how the Ashcroft
choice for Attorney General is not controversial because far left
Democrats are violating the spirit of bi-partisan cooperation, but because
Bush picked someone on the "far right" who he knew would
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down the January 8
"Obviously the critics of the Democrats will say this is them
exacting some revenge for the election. But truth be told George W. Bush
could have avoided some of this by choosing someone for that post who was
a little more acceptable to all people."
know it's interesting, John Kerry the Democrat made that point yesterday
and I was surprised. Because he said if George W. Bush sent us Frank
Keating, the Governor of Oklahoma, or John Danforth, former senator from
Missouri, they would not have had the problem that John Ashcroft has.
Ashcroft, ideologically and philosophically is, even John Breaux, the
Democrat from Louisiana, said on, on the far right. It is something that I
think the Bush people are going to have to deal with. How do you change
the tone in Washington? How to unite the city, the city?"
Lauer: "Say you
are trying to reach out and then appoint someone like John Ashcroft who
you know is going to divide people."
fairly or unfairly is being perceived as a poke in the eye by black
Americans and Chavez is a poke in the eye by labor unions. Republicans
would counter, 'Wait a minute we won the election. We're putting the
people who are conservatives in place because we are the next
Russert got it right in
regulation. Ann Curry delivered a fawning interview Monday morning on
NBC's Today with former FDA Commissioner David Kessler to promote his
book about his battle to expand government regulation and control over
private industry. Curry did not pose a single challenging question, MRC
analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, as she repeatedly gushed about how she
found the book so "riveting" she "could not put it
Teasing the upcoming January 8 segment, Curry oozed:
"Dr. David Kessler, the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug
Administration, is here to tell us about his new book on the battle to
regulate cigarettes. I am telling you I began reading this book last
night. Could not put it down. I mean I read 200 pages before I could take
a breath. It's riveting, a riveting story."
She set up the interview: "Dr. David Kessler
didn't expect an easy fight when as head of the Food and Drug
Administration he proposed that the agency regulate tobacco products as a
drug and he was right. Now the former FDA Commissioner chronicles his
David and Goliath struggle in his new book, A Question of Intent. Dr.
Kessler good morning. As I mentioned earlier this book is riveting. It
reads like a detective novel. But ironically you did not expect to take on
tobacco when you first arrived in Washington in 1990, what changed
-- "In fact that young
man basically brought you to this question, why doesn't the FDA regulate
the consumer product that is the nation's number one killer. What did you
find was the answer to that? Why not before you had this been
-- "Knew that nicotine was an addictive drug.
Was this the turning point for you?"
-- "In retrospect do you think to some degree
your ignorance about the power of the tobacco industry, how influential it
was in Washington allowed you to tackle this when some many others
-- "You began the investigation and you came
across secret documents. What lead you to these secret documents that
indicated that the, that the tobacco companies knew that they had an
addictive drug in nicotine?"
-- "Informants named Veritas and Deep Cough. I mean
it sounds very cloak and dagger. Was it?"
-- "It all came to a head at a major hearing
that we all can remember your testimony in that. And you really had to
prepare for this big fight over whether when tar goes down, nicotine goes
down. What did you discover in your investigation about that about what
the tobacco companies were doing?"
-- "What explains that when historically they
did have the lower, historically the companies claimed that they had the
lowest levels of nicotine? Nicotine of course being the drug that causes
us to be addicted to cigarettes."
-- "What you did was take on a very powerful,
as you mentioned, industry. With fear or not fear? In other words here you
are David Kessler, in your what early 40s late 30s, and you are being told
that there is no way you are going to win this. You got people trembling,
not wanting to give you information. And yet here you are probing deeper
and deeper. What allowed you to push when everyone else said, 'you know
what this is too dangerous. No way we're gonna go there?'"
-- "Have you made a difference?"
-- "But cigarettes are still on the market,
tobacco companies from all reports are doing well."
-- "Who needs to dismantle the industry if
that's what you're saying needs to happen?"
-- "Dr. David Kessler the book is called A
Question of Intent. Thank you so much for being here. And as I said the
book is riveting."
A lesson to Bush II appointees: If you want
adulatory press treatment, use your agency to promote more regulation of
anything the media don't like.
-- Brent Baker
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