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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday January 18, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 11) 

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Walters Pressed Bush from Left; Gumbel Complained Ashcroft "Not Going Quietly"; CBS Blamed Deregulation for Electricity Shortage

1) The networks all reviewed how at the hearings Ashcroft assured Senators he would not pursue his anti-gun control and abortion agendas. Barbara Walters told Bush that Ashcroft is "not considered a friend to civil rights" and demanded: "Can an Attorney General enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously, opposes?"

2) ABC and NBC relayed new poll numbers Wednesday night about Clinton's popularity, lack of trustworthiness and how most aren't going to miss him as well as how less than a majority have confidence in Bush's policies and personal characteristics.

3) Bryant Gumbel called John Ashcroft's tone during the first day of his hearing "aggressive" and complained: "He's not going quietly, shall we say."

4) "The deregulation of electric utilities in California was supposed to bring cheap, plentiful energy," John Blackstone declared on the CBS Evening News. "Instead it's brought high prices and today a critical shortage." In fact, utility prices are regulated and environmentalists blocked new power plants.

5) Letterman's "Top Ten Things We've Learned from the Clinton Years." Number 6: "You can have sex without having sex as long as while you're having sex you don't actually have sex."

The California rolling power outages topped the ABC, CBS and NBC newscasts Wednesday night, but all three ran full stories on the second day of hearings for John Ashcroft and how he promised not to pursue his personal agenda on abortion or guns.

    Nonetheless, ABC featured an excerpt from Barbara Walters' upcoming 20/20 interview with George W. Bush in which she took the usual media slant of putting all the burden on Bush for improving Washington's tone as she declared as fact that Ashcroft is "not considered a friend to civil rights" and demanded: "The big question is, can an Attorney General enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously, opposes?"

    Of course, the "big question" is really just a tactic adopted by liberal activist groups to discredit conservatives they oppose.

    Bob Schieffer began his CBS Evening News story: "Democrats know they don't have the votes now to block Ashcroft from becoming Attorney General, so they're using these hearings to extract promises from him on how he'll run the Justice Department. And from the promises so far you might think he's an abortion rights, gun control Democrat."

    Like ABC's Linda Douglass and NBC's Lisa Myers, Schieffer showed clips of Democratic Senators extracting promises from Ashcroft that he would not pursue overturning Roe v Wade, would enforce laws protecting a women getting an abortion against disruptive protesters and would continue the Justice Department's position in favor of banning "assault weapons."

    Lisa Myers opened her NBC Nightly News piece: "A very different mood here on day two. John Ashcroft comes face-to-face with his past as Democrats accuse him of re-inventing himself to try to gain confirmation."

    ABC's World News Tonight followed up the story by Linda Douglass with an excerpt of interview conducted by Barbara Walters on Tuesday in Crawford, Texas with President-elect Bush. Here it is in its entirety, showcasing how Walters pursued Bush with liberal cliches:

   Walters: "Did you expect him to be as much of a lightning rod?"
   Bush: "Yes."
   Walters: "You really did. And you did it anyway even though you talk about wanting to unite."
   Bush: "It doesn't mean we can't unite the nation once we put somebody in place who can do the job as Attorney General."
   Walters: "He's not considered a friend to civil rights, he's been against court ordered desegregation. The big question is, can an Attorney General enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously, opposes?"
   Bush: "Yes. His job is going to be to enforce the laws and there's no question in my mind he will. I know there's a lot of people out there hollering, mainly voices of special interests in Washington. That's what they're paid to do. And they're paid to create noise and emotion, but John is a steady hand who will do a fine job."

   Friday's 20/20 will feature a lengthier treatment of the interview.


ABC and NBC relayed some new poll numbers Wednesday night about Clinton's popularity, lack of trustworthiness and how most aren't going to miss him as well as how less than a majority have confidence in Bush's policy positions and personal characteristics.

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings relayed how an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 65 percent approve of the way Clinton has handled his job, one point higher than Reagan earned in 1989, but 77 percent described him as "neither honest nor trustworthy."

    -- NBC Nightly News. In a story on Bush's farewell in Midland, David Gregory related how an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll determined that only 40 percent have a "high level of confidence in Bush's policy positions and personal characteristics."

    At the very end of the broadcast Tom Brokaw passed along some numbers about Clinton: 56 percent think Clinton will be remembered as "better than most" [40 percent] or "one of the very best Presidents" [16 percent] while 53 percent are "not going to miss" him and 43 percent said they "are going to miss" him.

    Put CyberAlert in the former category.


Bryant Gumbel thinks John Ashcroft is going to lose? At the top of Wednesday's The Early Show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed, Gumbel called Ashcroft's tone during the first day of his hearing "aggressive" and complained: "He's not going quietly, shall we say."

    Right at 7am on the January 17 CBS show viewers witnessed this exchange between The Early Show's co-hosts:

    Gumbel: "You watched some of the Ashcroft stuff yesterday, what did you think?"
    Jane Clayson: "It was quite contentious wasn't it?"
    Gumbel: "I thought so."
    Clayson: "Both sides."
    Gumbel: "Yeah, I thought it was pretty aggressive actually on his part. He's not going quietly, shall we say."
    Clayson: "He's up for a fight."
    Gumbel: "You got that right."


As noted in item #1 above, the rolling power outages in California led the broadcast network newscasts Wednesday night, an event Dan Rather dubbed "the California lightmare." For the third time in a week, CBS News blamed the problem on "deregulation" though the problem is too much regulation as utilities are barred from passing on higher costs to customers and environmentalists have successfully blocked any new plants while demand has surged. ABC and NBC refrained from the misplaced blame on deregulation.

    CBS reporter John Blackstone declared on Wednesday's CBS Evening News: "The deregulation of electric utilities in California was supposed to bring cheap, plentiful energy. Instead it's brought high prices and today a critical shortage."

    Tuesday night Dan Rather introduced a story which focused on the culpability of power companies, not environmentalists and government regulators: "CBS's John Blackstone reports there are new questions tonight about whether the deregulated power industry is manufacturing the electricity shortage to generate profits."

    Last week, on January 11, Rather announced: "Millions of Californians face rolling power blackouts tonight after a powerful storm piled natural disaster on top of the state's manmade deregulation disaster."

    In the latest edition of MediaNomics Rich Noyes, of the MRC's Free Market Project, demonstrated the fallaciousness of the media's penchant, especially CBS, for blaming deregulation.

    Below is a reprint of the article posted on January 11 titled: "Journalists Blame 'Deregulation' for California Shortages, But Electricity Rules Are Plentiful"

As winter has settled over the nation, it has become a media mantra: the current crisis in California is the result of the state's deregulation of the electric power industry. The implication, of course, is that the powerful and uncaring forces of the free market have been loosed to wreak havoc on citizens who now lack government's "protection." And, with many other states at various stages of deregulation, some journalists seem to think that what is now a regional crisis could soon be a national one. After blaming deregulation "in part" for California's troubles, Dan Rather warned viewers of the January 4 CBS Evening News that "residents of many other states could be next."

CBS correspondent John Blackstone then discussed the mounting costs of a California dairy farmer who uses electric milking machines. Declared Blackstone: "Blame it on deregulation, an experiment state officials once embraced, but now wish they could end....Consumer advocates say California's dismal experience provides a powerful warning to 25 other states moving toward deregulation."

But as Washington Post business writer Peter Behr explained in a January 9 article, California officials left in place many regulations that have effectively undermined the promised benefits of a free market system, and he contrasted the California experiment with the deregulation program, pushed by then-Gov. George W. Bush and the state legislature, that will take effect in Texas in about six months.

"California, whose system depended on competition among independent electric power generators, has not had a major new power plant built in a decade, largely because of the state's stringent environmental and siting regulations," Behr wrote. "By contrast, Texas is awash in power plants, and more are being built."

"Furthermore," Behr continued, "California has attempted to shield consumers from price rises with a complex, sometimes conflicting set of price controls. The system has brought two major utilities close to insolvency because they cannot pass $11 billion in higher energy costs on to customers....Under Texas's plan, electricity rates can go up twice a year to reflect higher costs for producing power, including higher [natural] gas costs."

In other words, while California let local power companies bid for electricity from competing independent producers, regulations prohibited them from passing along higher than expected costs to their customers. Government red tape also restricted the building of new plants. That, coupled with the lack of long-term contracts for electricity purchases, practically guaranteed supply shortages that meant those independent producers could demand top dollar at times of peak demand.

Thus, the media's condemnation of "deregulation" is simplistic and inaccurate. As Investor's Business Daily's Charles Oliver reported January 8, "many economists say deregulation isn't to blame because the state never deregulated," Oliver wrote. "The real problem, they say, is the complex rules that govern the state's power system. These rules drive up the cost of electricity and make it hard to add capacity when things are tight."

Yet despite the fact that economists won't call California's experiment "deregulation," the media don't call it anything else. On CNN's Morning News on January 9, for example, reporter Greg LaMotte asserted that "deregulation...has become a political nightmare." But if states such as Texas manage to deregulate their electrical power industries in a way that benefits consumers, will those same reporters be ready to declare deregulation "a political dream come true?" Don't count on it.

    END Reprint

    For the other pieces in the January 11 MediaNomics, "Shriveling Network News Shows Shocked By Shrinking Snack Chip Bags!" and "Media Spin Bush Tax Cut as Huge and Ineffective," go to: http://www.mediaresearch.org/fmp/medianomics/2001/welcome.html


From the January 17 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Things We've Learned from the Clinton Years." Copyright 2001 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. That Hee-Haw crap's funny on TV, but not in the White House
9. A White House internship provides hands-on experience
8. It's a good idea to replace the Oval Office carpets every once in a while
7. You can jog every day and still be a chunky tub
6. You can have sex without having sex as long as while you're having sex you don't actually have sex
5. As long as the economy is good Americans believe anything you tell them
4. Considering his taste in ladies it's a good bet Bubba's been drunk since '92
3. Hillary looks really hot in those pantsuits
2. You can be Vice President during the most prosperous time in America, run against a dumb guy, get more votes and still lose
1. It's bent

    *** Editor's Note: I'll be a bit busy over the next day or so with some MRC events and won't get to see Ronnie White's appearance or network coverage of it on Thursday night, so there won't be a regular CyberAlert Friday. But I will send the text of a special Notable Quotables we put together on Wednesday: "Eight Years of Fawning Over the Clintons." It's full of classic quotes.

  -- Brent Baker

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