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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday February 6, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 21)

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"Still Paying Bill" for '81 Cut; AM Shows Pounded at Size and Skew of Bush's "Controversial" Plan; Clinton Furniture Removal Skipped

1) CBS's John Roberts distorted history as he maintained "America is still paying the bill" for Reagan's 1981 tax cut. NBC's Tom Brokaw obsessed on the size of Bush's plan, referring to it as "big" and "massive." David Gregory ominously concluded with how critics claim: "What helps individual families today...may actually hurt the country down the road."

2) Dan Rather promised a "Real Deal" look "beyond the photo-ops and spin" at how the tax cut plan "could effect you." Instead, Bob Schieffer said nothing about the impact on the tax bill on viewers as he delivered only the Democratic spin about how "they fear" the tax cut will lead to 1980s-style deficits.

3) Morning hosts pounded away at Larry Lindsey over the size and skew of the tax cut. CBS's Jane Clayson: "Isn't it true though that 43 percent of Bush's tax cuts go to the wealthiest one percent of Americans?" ABC's Antonio Mora called it "massive and controversial."

4) The Clintons removed from the White House several pieces of furniture donated to the White House, not to them personally, the Washington Post revealed. Not a word about it aired on the morning shows on Monday and neither ABC or CBS touched the matter Monday night. But CNN, FNC and the NBC Nightly News found it newsworthy.



The favorite soundbite of the broadcast networks on Monday night? This blast from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle: "You know, if you make over $300,000 a year, this tax cut means you get to buy a new Lexus. If you make $50,000 a year, you get to buy a muffler on your used car." All three evening shows used the clip in their February 5 stories on Bush's week-long effort to promote his tax cut plan.

    ABC's World News Tonight folded it into a balanced presentation by Terry Moran of the "first big political test for the Bush administration" as he showed Bush with some families at the White House, outlined the basics of the plan, relayed how Democrats call it too big and complain it would help the rich (Daschle soundbite), allowed Bush economic adviser Larry Lindsey to counter that people want their fair share not jealousy and concluded by showing Bush joking, in response to a question from a reporter about how no family at the White House was from the top bracket, that he represents the top income bracket.

    CBS and NBC viewers weren't so fortunate. CBS's John Roberts distorted history as he stressed how an unlabeled "Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice can't forget the last time Congress went on a tax cut spree in 1981. America is still paying the bill." (Has CBS ever portrayed Congress as "going on a spending spree?") Roberts emphasized how Democrats "voiced concern" that Bush's "hands off" philosophy to let Congressmen make suggestions "may give Republicans a green light for a tax cut free for all."

    NBC anchor Tom Brokaw obsessed on the size: "President George W. Bush began his big push for a big tax cut....President Bush made the massive tax cut a centerpiece of his campaign." While reporter David Gregory did counter the liberal canard that the plan mostly benefits the rich, as he relayed how "some experts" say "as a percentage of their tax liability, the rich actually get a smaller cut than many others," he nonetheless portrayed the tax cut as dangerous. "Opponents argue that Bush's tax cut is so large it will force the government's budget back into deficits, impacting its ability to save Social Security or improve Medicare," Gregory warned as he ominously concluded: "What helps individual families today, they argue, may actually hurt the country down the road."

    Now the details about CBS and NBC on Monday night, February 5:

    -- CBS Evening News. John Roberts began his piece, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "President Bush was locked in full campaign mode today parading before the cameras families he claims will benefit from his tax cut."

    Following a clip from Bush, Roberts continued: "Democrats, collaborating on a smaller tax cut proposal, have vowed to fight the Bush plan, targeting it as a budget buster that caters to the rich."
    Tom Daschle: "You know, if you make over $300,000 a year, this tax cut means you get to buy a new Lexus. If you make $50,000 a year, you get to buy a muffler on your used car."
    Roberts: "On the Republican side, Mr. Bush faces a different problem. Already they're talking up adding more tax cuts to his plan. And then, there's the lobbyists who wonder why Mr. Bush gave nothing to corporate America. Critics charge the bill could eventually top $3 trillion."
    Bob McIntyre, Citizens for Tax Justice: "Well, I'm afraid that we're going to see Congress bidding against each other to try to add things to this tax bill to please favorite contributors or constituencies. If that happens, gee wilikers."
    Without ever identifying McIntyre as a liberal, Roberts gave credibility to his re-writing of history: "Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice can't forget the last time Congress went on a tax cut spree in 1981. America is still paying the bill. And while those magnificent surplus projections make it seem like anything is possible, even the man who took the lid off the tax cut punch bowl cautions they are only a best guess."
    Alan Greenspan, January 25: "The errors that have been made in these long-term projections are really quite extraordinary."
    Roberts concluded: "The Democratic leadership today criticized the President for trying to lock in a tax cut before he even has a budget, and they also voiced concern that his 'hands off' philosophy to make suggestions and let Congress work it out may give Republicans a green light for a tax cut free for all."

    -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw liked to employ the terms "big" and "massive" as he set up two NBC stories: "President George W. Bush began his big push for a big tax cut, as he put it, 'tax relief for all.' President Bush made the massive tax cut a centerpiece of his campaign, of course, and a combination of a sagging economy, but with strong surpluses, has only strengthened his resolve."

    First, new White House reporter Campbell Brown, who has replaced Claire Shipman who is on her way to ABC News, reviewed Bush's case and the Democratic arguments against it. Second, David Gregory examined the plan's impact. He began by noting how "Middle class married couples with children like what they see." He profiled a St. Louis family with a husband who works and a wife and three kids at home. They like the plan because of the boost in the child credit.

    Gregory outlined how "Bush would reduce all tax brackets: 15 percent to 10 percent; 28 percent to 15 percent; 31 percent to 25 percent; and, 36 and 39.6 percent, to 33 percent." He then asked, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Who loses under the Bush plan? Mainly single taxpayers without children. And what about the charge that the plan mostly benefits the rich? Not so, say some experts. As a percentage of their tax liability, the rich actually get a smaller cut than many others. But while the President maintains tax relief is the best way to immediately revive the economy, many economists aren't so sure."
    Paul Christopher, economist: "Any policy that the government undertakes, whether it's monetary policy by the Fed or fiscal policy, all of those are going to work with some lag and 12 months is probably a pretty reasonable rule of thumb."
    Gregory ominously concluded: "In fact, opponents argue that Bush's tax cut is so large it will force the government's budget back into deficits, impacting its ability to save Social Security or improve Medicare. What helps individual families today, they argue, may actually hurt the country down the road."

    As for the size of and who benefits from the Bush tax cut plan, Monday's USA Today offered some basic numbers skipped by the networks:

    -- The rich would continue to pay more than their fair share, the lower classes much less than their fair share. USA Today reporter Jonathan Weisman relayed in his February 5 cover story:
    "The most affluent would gain a remarkable cash windfall from both the rate cuts and the estate-tax elimination. However, the share of total federal taxes that the wealthy pay would remain the same, according to an analysis by the non-partisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
    "For example, a corporate vice president earning $800,000 and her husband, who makes $150,000 heading a non-profit organization, would reap a $43,517 tax cut once the plan was fully phased in, according to Deloitte & Touche. But the family would still be left with a tax bill of nearly $258,000 a year.
    "Families like this one, earning more than $200,000 a year, make up 2% of taxpayers, but they fork over 27.4% of all federal taxes -- and would continue to pay that percentage even after Bush's tax cut.
    "Poorer families, who already pay a tiny fraction of federal taxes, would also continue to pay the same small share, according to the committee analysis. Families earning $20,000 to $30,000 -- about 14% of all taxpayers -- would pay the same 3.4% of taxes after the Bush plan is enacted that they do now.
    "Families with incomes $30,000 to $40,000 -- about 12% of all taxpayers -- would continue to pay 5.3% of all federal taxes after the Bush plan is phased in. But those families would get something from the plan."

    -- A chart accompanying the cover story listed tax analysis provided by Deloitte & Touche. They determined that after five years, a married couple earning $70,000 with two children would have their income tax burden reduced by 40 percent. Someone much wealthier, such as couples making $280,000, $520,000 or $950,000 wouldn't fair nearly so well, getting only a 14 percent cut.

    -- As for Tom Brokaw's worry about its "massive" size, Weisman observed that "when measured in today's dollars, Ronald Reagan's tax cut in 1981 was more than twice as large as Bush's proposal."

    To read the USA Today story while it remains up for a few days, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/news/acovmon.htm
    For the chart, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washdc/2001-02-04-taxchart.htm


CBS promised one thing Monday night, but delivered quite another. Setting up a report by Bob Schieffer immediately following the John Roberts story quoted in item #1 above, Dan Rather promised: "Looking beyond the photo-ops and spin, CBS's Bob Schieffer has one of what we call his 'Real Deal' analyses for you tonight on how this volatile mix of tax cut numbers and political equations could effect you."

    Now compare that promise of a spin-free report about how the tax cut will "effect you" with what Bob Schieffer delivered:
    "Well Dan, to put it bluntly, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leaders at the Capitol, see this in a very different way. They told us tonight that when the Bush tax cut is added to the administration's projected spending plans the cost will not only eat up the entire surplus, but even worse, government would have to dip into Social Security surpluses to pay for it. They say that is because the Bush tax cut will actually cost $2.3 trillion, not $1.6 when you add in interest and other costs. By Democratic figuring that is 85 percent of the expected ten year surplus, leaving only $400 billion to cover spending increases already projected to run more than $700 billion on such programs as prescription drugs, education and defense. Gephardt and Daschle want a tax cut too, something in the neighborhood of $800 billion, but they fear anything larger could set off the kind of red ink spending that produced the enormous deficits in the 1980s."

    (Yeah, their "fear" is deficits and not an inability to spend more money.)

    Not a syllable about the impact of the tax bill on individual viewers. And which sentence was "beyond...the spin"? It was only the Democratic spin.


If it's conservative it must be "controversial" according to the media's dictionary. On Monday's Good Morning America, ABC news reader Antonio Mora, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, introduced an 8am story: "President Bush is launching a major public relations campaign today. He's trying to sell his massive and controversial tax cut plan to American taxpayers."

    Mora's characterization followed 7am half interviews of Bush economic adviser Larry Lindsey on all three morning shows in which he was pounded from the left on the size and supposed skew to the wealthy of the Bush tax cut proposal.

    > ABC's Good Morning America. Charles Gibson set up his interview: "Today President George W. Bush starts the rollout of a centerpiece of his agenda, his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan. Now, his plan would reduce the 39.6 and 36 percent brackets down to 33 percent, and the 31 percent and 28 percent brackets would be reduced to 25 percent. Is it fair to give such a large percentage of the tax break to upper-income people? Can this country afford $1.6 trillion in tax cuts?"

    -- He pressed Lindsey: "Well, with all due respect, you have seen those estimates, haven't you, that a third of this tax cut goes to the top one percent?"
    Lindsey: "Well, I'm not sure. Again, it depends, there's a whole range of estimates out there. What I follow is the joint committee-"
    Gibson: "But that's about in the ballpark, isn't it, that a very, very high percentage of this goes to the rich?"

    -- "Overall, you've got an estimate now of a $5.6 trillion projected surplus over the next 10 years. Bill Safire in the New York Times calls that 'faith-based economics,' but a large part of that, when you take out Social Security, more than half of the estimates of surplus are going to this tax cut, right?"

    -- "If, if you get those kinds of surpluses, but those surpluses are projected on no growth in overall spending, and if we're in for tough economic times, the amount of government revenue will go down."

    -- "People always worry when tax cut bills are going through Congress that it'll get loaded up with all kinds of other things that perhaps you don't want. If this begins to get bigger than $1.6 trillion, will you oppose any additional tax cuts?"

    -- "You want this as a stimulus, obviously, against any concerns about a recession that could be in the offing, but the full effect of this doesn't take place until 2006. Are you going to alter this to make it more immediate, to get more money in the hands of people immediately so that perhaps they can spend more and avert a recession?"

    > CBS's The Early Show. MRC analyst Brian Boyd took down these questions to Lindsey from Jane Clayson, which actually began with one from the right:

    -- "The President is suggesting this $1.6 trillion tax cut plan over the next decade. If we need immediate tax relief now, why draw it out over the next ten years?"

    -- "But will this tax cut come in time to really help this slowing economy?"

    -- "Let's take a look at some of the components of President Bush's plan, we saw a few of them in Bill Plante's piece. He wants to double the child tax credit to $1,000 per child, he wants to cut tax rates across the board, eliminate the marriage penalty tax and the Social Security tax. Based on those proposals you say the average family of four making $50,000 will see about a $1,600 cut a year?"

    -- "Isn't it true though that 43 percent of Bush's tax cuts go to the wealthiest one percent of Americans?"

    -- "There's a lot of talk about this tax cut being retroactive to the first of the year, will it be?"

    -- "Democrats say a responsible tax cut would be somewhere between $700 and $900 billion, is there compromise in here somewhere?"

    -- "Let's listen to President Bush talking about all this during his weekly radio address, then I'll ask you about that after....Mr. Lindsey, in our last ten seconds how likely is it that this Bush tax cut plan will pass?"

    > NBC's Today. Matt Lauer handled the interview with Lindsey as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:

    -- "President Bush is kicking off tax week by saying not only does he want the full scope of the cut he talked about in the campaign but he also wants to accelerate this plan. He wants the money to get into the hands of taxpayers this year. How likely is that?"

    -- "How does that happen though? I mean you are actually going to take fewer deductions out of those paychecks?"

    -- "We talk about $1.6 trillion. That again is the, is the whole ball of wax that President Bush says he wants. You know Democrats want something less than that. They are talking in the neighborhood of $800 to $900 billion. As an economic adviser what's wrong with a tax cut of $900 billion?"

    -- "I guess what I'm asking you is if it, if it comes down to $900 billion, the Democrats or certain Democrats proposal do you not think that would help the economy?"

    -- "Critics of the plan are saying, you know, the biggest problem they see is, is who's getting this tax relief. And I know you're cutting rates all across the board. But they're concerned that the richest people in this country, the top one percent of wage earners are gonna get the biggest benefit from that. How do you argue those numbers?"

    -- "What would be the problem with some triggers in this Mr. Lindsey? In other words you do this more gradually than President Bush has suggested and you look at some predetermined economic indicators and say if these numbers show us certain, certain things over the next ten years then we bring in more of a tax decrease."

    -- Lauer actually snuck in a conservative concern: "Why no reduction in capital gains taxes?"

    -- "If you get a final bill that looks something like $900 billion or as some are saying even higher than $1.6 trillion, something around $2 trillion would you suggest the President veto it?"

    -- Lauer: "But is this about what he promised in the campaign or what's best for the economy?"


The Clintons removed from the White House several pieces of furniture donated to the White House, not to them personally, during a 1993 redecorating project, the Washington Post revealed on Monday. Not a word about it aired on the CBS and NBC morning shows on Monday, while ABC's GMA gave it a sentence, and neither ABC's World News Tonight or the CBS Evening News touched the disclosure Monday night. But three networks did find the development worthy of a full story Monday night: CNN ran a piece on Inside Politics, FNC covered it during Special Report with Brit Hume and NBC Nightly News aired a story by Lisa Myers.

    The Washington Post listed these as the items with which the Clinton absconded:

    -- "$19,900 two sofas, an easy chair and an ottoman from Steve Mittman, New York.
    -- "$3,650 kitchen table and four chairs from Lee Ficks, Cincinnati.
    -- "$2,843 sofa from Brad Noe, High Point, N.C.
    -- "$1,170 lamps from Stuart Schiller, Hialeah, Fla.
    -- "$1,000 needlepoint rug from David Martinous, Little Rock."

    "Gifts Were Not Meant for Clintons, Some Donors Say," announced the headline over the February 5 story by George Lardner Jr. which the Washington Post placed on page 3. Here's an excerpt:

Among the gifts that former President Bill Clinton says he is keeping as personal presents he accepted last year are $28,000 worth of furnishings that documents and interviews indicate were given to the National Park Service in 1993 as part of the permanent White House collection.

The Park Service serves as a steward for the White House and, according to the White House curator's office, is the only unit with the legal authority to accept gifts for the White House. A gift meant for the current White House occupants, by contrast, is routed through the White House gifts office, a separate unit.

Two of the furniture makers whose donations Clinton took with him on leaving the White House last month say they gave them to the White House as part of a widely publicized, $396,000 redecoration of the executive mansion and not to Clinton personally.

"When we've been asked to donate, it was always hyphenated with the words, "'White House,'" New York manufacturer Steve Mittman said of his family-owned business, which gave two sofas, an easy chair and an ottoman, worth $19,900 and listed by Clinton as part of the gifts he took with him. "To us, it was not a donation to a particular person."

A spokesman for the Clintons, Jim Kennedy, rejected the notion that the gifts in question had been made to the White House rather than to the Clintons. He said it was his understanding that the furnishings in question were on the White House gifts office list and that the Clintons were entitled to rely on that in deciding each year which gifts they were going to keep.

In the case of the furnishings, Kennedy said, the Clintons postponed a decision until 2000. He said "all of the items" listed on Bill Clinton's final financial disclosure report "were considered by the gifts office to be gifts to the Clintons that they could keep or leave behind."

When the redecoration project was completed in the fall of 1993, the White House distributed a four-page summary of the work, saying it had been "financed by private donations of money to the White House Historical Association, including a donation from surplus funds of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, as well as donations of goods and services to the National Park Service."

Attached was a National Park Service list of "contributors to the National Park Service" and what they had given. In addition to furniture from Mittman, the document listed "Mr. and Mrs. Lee Ficks, Cincinnati, OH., furniture; David Martinous, Little Rock, AR., rug; Mr. Brad Noe, High Point, NC., furniture; and Stuart Schiller, Hialeh, Tx., furnishings."...

Like Mittman, Joy Ficks, whose late husband headed the Ficks Reed Co., said she thought the custom-finished rattan chairs and breakfast table installed in the private quarters would remain there as government property. She was puzzled when she learned the Clintons had taken the set with them.

"We gave it to the White House," she said. "I wondered what happened to it."...

Two former Internal Revenue Service commissioners, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, said that Clinton's taking the furnishings under such circumstances would appear to be an improper "conversion of government property" that could require the Clintons to pay taxes on them. They said they were not suggesting criminal wrongdoing by the President....

Thank you notes to the Fickses suggest the gifts were understood to be for the White House. In a June 28, 1993, note "on behalf of the President and Mrs. Clinton," White House usher Gary J. Walters said he wanted to express "my deep appreciation for the donation of a table and a breakfast set to the Executive Residence at the White House."

In an Aug. 10, 1993, letter signed "Hillary," the then-first lady expressed appreciation "for your generous contribution to the White House."...

    END Excerpt

    To read the entire Washington Post story, go to:

    The Clintons are a scandal-providing machine which never stops giving.

  -- Brent Baker

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