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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Thursday February 15, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 27)

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Congress Not Networks Examined; Wealthy Anti-Tax Cutters Promoted; Geraldo Rationalized Pardon; After Eight Years Media Find Scandal

1) At the top of his newscast ABC's Peter Jennings mentioned the House hearing on TV coverage of election night, but Dan Rather gave it just 29 seconds. He stressed how the executives argued "it is not the role of Congress to investigate news organizations." NBC's Tom Brokaw served up off-topic soundbites, such as NBC's Andrew Lack urging a look at voting machine problems.

2) ABC's Good Morning America and the NBC Nightly News jumped on the news that some wealthy people, led by Bill Gates's father, are opposed to eliminating the estate tax.

3) ABC and NBC led Wednesday night with the Senate hearing into the Marc Rich pardon and the late breaking news about how the U.S. Attorney in New York had launched a criminal probe of any illegalities related to the Rich pardon.

4) ABC, CBS and NBC all briefly noted how UBS Warburg withdrew its invitation for Bill Clinton to speak, but none picked up on a New York Times story about how a UBS executive had written a letter to Clinton urging him to pardon Marc Rich.

5) Geraldo Rivera on why Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich: "Because some people he loved and respected, advised him and strongly lobbied him to do so." On NBC's Today Rivera also called himself "a radical" and claimed the Rich pardon is no worse than former President Bush's pardon of Caspar Weinberger.

6) Media Reality Check. "Finally Discovering Clinton's Dirty Deeds: After Years of Disparaging Ex-President's Critics as Cynical Haters, Media Now Notice Bill's Bad Side."

Right at the top of World News Tonight ABC's Peter Jennings mentioned the House hearing on TV coverage of election night, but Dan Rather gave it just 29 seconds buried deep in the newscast. He avoided any network wrongdoing as he delivered a brief lecture about how the "executives said the errors were not intentional, not politically motivated and...made clear the belief that under the First Amendment it is not the role of Congress to investigate news organizations."

    On the NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw featured self-serving soundbites from the executives with CBS News President Andrew Heyward avoiding any responsibility: "It took the nation, not the networks, the nation, five weeks to pick a President." NBC News President Andrew Lack urged the Congressman to "look at the problems that the voters experienced on election day. As a journalist I wish I had."

    Wednesday afternoon the three cable news networks switched live from Senate hearing on the Rich pardon to the House Commerce Committee hearing and stayed with it until 6pm ET on FNC and a bit longer on MSNBC and CNN, thus wiping out CNN's Inside Politics. Full stories on the hearing ran on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume and Fox Report as well as on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports and CNN Tonight. MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams featured a two-minute segment of soundbites set up by anchor Forrest Sawyer.

    Now some more on how the three broadcast network evening shows handled the February 14 hearing:

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings plugged the upcoming story right at the top of the show before the lead story on the Rich pardon hearing: "Good evening. It was a busy day in the Congress. Our bosses, who run the network news divisions, got a going over for our mistakes on election night, and we'll get to that one in a minute..."

    Linda Douglass provided a full report, starting with clips from election night, including this one from Dan Rather which elicited chuckles in the room: "Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, put it in the album, hang it on the wall, George Bush is the next President of the United States."

    Douglass ran soundbites of critical comments from a Democratic and a Republican Congressman as well as clips of ABC News President David Westin promising to insulate exit polling analysis from competitive pressure and NBC News President Andrew Lack arguing the flawed balloting system is the real story. She wrapped up by noting widespread interest in a uniform national voting time.

    -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather read this 29-second item, sans any soundbites or anything critical of the networks, about 20 minutes into the show: "News executives were summoned before Congress today about errors the networks, including this one, made projecting the winner of the last presidential election and about changes they'll be making for future elections. The executives said the errors were not intentional, not politically motivated and in the case, especially of the Associated Press's Lou Boccardi, made clear the belief that under the First Amendment it is not the role of Congress to investigate news organizations. Some of the executives expressed support for the idea of a single, national poll closing time."

    -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw reviewed what happened on election night and then got to the day's events:
   "The Presidents of the major news divisions and the head of Associated Press told a House committee they had regrets about the mistaken calls, but they also warned that Congress should be careful about meddling in news decision-making and that the problems voters had on election day, especially in Florida, do bear close scrutiny."

    Viewers then saw four back-to-back soundbites, with only the first in any way critical of the networks. The next two could be categorized as self-serving comments which avoided the subject of the hearing and the last was a bit of sucking up from the committee chairman:
    David Westin, President of ABC News: "We could have served our viewers much better if on election night we had been clearer about what was going on when we were making a projection."
    Andrew Heyward, President of CBS News: "It took the nation, not the networks, the nation, five weeks to pick a President. Let's assume for a second that we had gotten Florida right and never projected a winner there. The country would still have undergone its five week marathon and there still would have been debate about the outcome and how it was reached."
    Andrew Lack, President of NBC News: "As this hearing winds down, that you extend your focus beyond just the problems that the networks experienced on election night and look at the problems that the voters experienced on election day. As a journalist I wish I had."
    Congressman Billy Tauzin, Chairman of the House Commerce Committee: "I thank you all for the kind of self-evaluation you did. I think America had something to be grateful for today."

    But that "self-evaluation" is just the area CBS and NBC avoided in their stories on the hearing.


ABC and NBC jumped on the news that some wealthy people are opposed to eliminating the estate tax. On Good Morning America on Wednesday ABC highlight a New York Times story on the organized campaign to oppose Bush's plan and the NBC Nightly News featured a full story Wednesday night.

    During the 7am news update on the February 14 GMA news reader Antonio Mora, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed, announced: "President Bush's call to repeal the tax on large estates is reportedly under fire from some of America's richest people. The New York Times reports the group -- including Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller and Bill Gates's father -- is urging Congress not to repeal taxes on estates and gifts. They say repeal would enrich the heirs of billionaires, while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet."

    A few hours later on the NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw publicized the effort: "A surprise for Washington policy makers in another area tonight: Some of America's wealthiest citizens and best known are launching a major campaign against eliminating the estate tax, the so-called death taxes that can keep a great deal of wealth from being passed on to their heirs. Why would they do that? NBC's David Gregory is at the White House tonight."

    Gregory actually provided a fairly balanced piece, starting with how the group claims too much inherited wealth is bad for the country. Gregory explained how the group is headed by Bill Gates Sr., father of Microsoft's Bill, who says the tax encourages charitable giving. After soundbites from Bill Senior and George Soros, Gregory took time to explain how Bush calls it unfair and believes it hurts small business owners trying to pass on the enterprises they have built.

    When your son is a lot wealthier than are you maybe you lack an appreciation for not having him lose half your estate to the government.


ABC and NBC led Wednesday night with the Senate hearing into the Marc Rich pardon and the late breaking news about how the U.S. Attorney in New York, Mary Jo White, had launched a criminal probe of any illegalities related to President Clinton's decision to pardon Rich. CBS aired a full story after leading with the investigation of the Hawaii submarine accident.

    Both CBS's Bob Schieffer and NBC's Pete Williams emphasized how Clinton administration Justice Department pardon lawyer Roger Adams testified about getting a post-midnight call, in the early morning hours of January 20, in which he learned of the pardon for Rich and an associate. The two networks played a soundbite of how Adams recalled he was not told they were fugitives, just that "they had been living abroad for several years." ABC's Jackie Judd relayed the same quote but without a soundbite.

    To give you a flavor of the network coverage, here's how the three broadcast networks set up their February 14 evening shows stories, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:

    -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings began: "Good evening. It was a busy day in the Congress. Our bosses, who run the network news divisions, got a going over for our mistakes on election night, and we'll get to that one in a minute. Another committee is still investigating former President Clinton's last minute pardons, and we begin with that because there's a new development. The U.S. Attorney in New York City, Mary Jo White, has launched a criminal investigation. She wants to know whether Marc Rich, the billionaire fugitive, tried to buy the pardon that he got in the final hours before Mr. Clinton left the White House. ABC's Jackie Judd has been covering the Senate hearing today. Jackie, in the case of the New York Attorney, U.S. Attorney, does this mean Mr. Clinton himself might be called?"

    -- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather declared: "As for tonight's late-breaking political development in this country, the U.S. Attorney here in New York has launched an investigation into President Clinton's last minute pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive financier. This could involve examination of bank, phone, and other records for any evidence that the pardon was bought. Basically, the Federal Attorney wants to follow the money. In Washington, the Republican-controlled Senate took testimony in its own investigation of the Rich case. CBS's Bob Schieffer has the latest on that."

   -- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw announced at the top of the show: "Good evening. President Bush now thinks it's time to move on from that controversy about Bill Clinton's pardon of that wealthy fugitive Marc Rich, but congressional Republicans aren't ready to give up just yet. And today, reports the U.S. Attorney, whose office prosecuted Rich, will open her own investigation."


The decision by UBS Warburg, parent company of Paine Webber, to withdraw from negotiations to get Bill Clinton to speak was given passing mention Tuesday night by ABC and NBC in their stories on Clinton in Harlem. CBS caught up Wednesday night with a short item read by Dan Rather. But none of the broadcast networks picked up on a Wednesday New York Times story about how a UBS executive had written a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to pardon Marc Rich.

    The February 14 story by reporter Philip Shenon began: "A major financial company has canceled negotiations with former President Bill Clinton over hiring him for a speech, fearing it would be drawn into controversies swirling around Mr. Clinton since his departure from the White House, people involved in the negotiations said today.
"They said the company, UBS Warburg of London, the parent of the American investment firm Paine Webber, may have also worried that a large speaking fee would create an appearance of impropriety since a senior UBS executive wrote a letter urging Mr. Clinton to grant a last- minute pardon to Marc Rich, the fugitive financier."

    Wednesday night on the CBS Evening News Dan Rather noted, after Bob Schieffer's story on the Senate hearing:
    "In a related development, the financial firm UBS has reportedly shut down negotiations to hire former President Clinton for a speaking engagement. Among other things, UBS, an international brokerage outfit, is reportedly concerned because one of its senior executives wrote a letter to then-President Clinton urging him to pardon Marc Rich."

    UBS Warburg used to be named Union Bank of Switzerland, the country where Rich is "living abroad."


An extra hour of Today allowed for another forum for Geraldo Rivera to defend Bill Clinton, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed. Wednesday's Today featured Rivera as the Clinton-defending guest alongside former prosecutor Greg Garrison during the first half of the third hour of the February 14 Today.

    Matt Lauer started by asking: "Let me start off by asking you both the simplest questions, probably the hardest to answer. Geraldo, start with you. Quick answer: Why did Bill Clinton pardon Marc Rich?"
    Rivera answered: "Because some people he loved and respected, advised him and strongly lobbied him to do so."

    Lauer soon suggested: "Alright basically we got a bunch of scenarios here. A.) He truly believed Marc Rich deserved a favor, B.) or a pardon. B.) He was mislead or misinformed on the facts. C.) There was some national security interest at stake here or D.) He got something in return. What have I left on the list? Anything else?"
    Rivera: "I think that Marc Rich's pardon came about because he was a very well connected, well funded person who had a case that had some substance on his side. You know many people, many experts suggest that his violations would not even be a crime today. They would be an income tax civil matter that would be resolved with a payment of a penalty. So given the fact that Denise Rich, his former wife was so very generous to the Clintons and so very supportive over his time of anguish when the right wing was pillorying him over what many believed to be a private matter, he would, you know, in the, in the hubbub of that last minute of his last days in office, I can see how he didn't research it quite as extensively as he should have."

    A bit later Rivera launched into an attack on Garrison: "The problem with the right is you only investigate when it's Bill Clinton. How about Caspar Weinberger's pardon by George H. Bush? I mean if you, if you criticize that publicly then you have standing to criticize this pardon."
    Garrison: "No, no, no. You are not listening to the right conservative here. You didn't listen to me which is the big problem with the left, they're so busy being right they don't pay attention."
    Rivera: "I'm not left or right."
    Garrison: "Good. Well yeah you are. But let's talk about the fact of the matter."
    Rivera: "I'm radical."
    Garrison: "I want those, good, that's worse yet. What I'm trying to say to you is this doesn't belong on a bunch of shoutfest TV shows. This belongs with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
    Rivera: "Well it certainly doesn't belong with Dan Burton and Bob Barr and Asa Hutchison and people who make a living out of obsessing about Clinton."

    Lauer soon interjected: "Let me interrupt, let me interrupt here for a second. Let me interrupt. Geraldo you said that, you know, the people on the right just love to criticize Bill Clinton. But let's talk about the Democrats here. Let's talk about guys lie Joe Biden who called this 'indefensible,' Diane Feinstein called it, 'a major mistake.' Barney Frank put it frankly and called it 'contemptuous.' They're not even Democrats lining up to defend this pardon."
    Rivera claimed he wasn't defending the pardon and re-launched his comparison to Weinberger: "Oh, I'm not defending the pardon either. I'm merely suggesting that it is interesting to me that of all the pardons ever granted, including Caspar Weinberger the disgraced cabinet member under Reagan and then Bush pardoned him when it was possible that Weinberger was going to be giving testimony against Bush. If we're going to examine the pardon process it's gonna be like making sausage. You're gonna find a lot of ugliness involved. Now what the opponents of what Clinton did are suggesting is that he took a bribe essentially. The President, just wait, Greg let me just, let me just finish this. That would require a document that said Bill Clinton says if you give him $2.5 million he will give you a pardon. That does not exist."


The text of a Media Reality Check fax report compiled by the MRC's Rich Noyes and distributed Wednesday afternoon titled, "Finally Discovering Clinton's Dirty Deeds: After Years of Disparaging Ex-President's Critics as Cynical Haters, Media Now Notice Bill's Bad Side."

    To view an Adobe Acrobat PDF of the one-page report, go to:

    Now the text of the February 14 Media Reality Check which recalls how journalists denigrated the news value of some previous Clinton misbehavior:

Like nearsighted umpires who don't find their eyeglasses until after the game is over and the cheating team has hauled their trophies (and a truckload of furniture) up to Chappaqua, liberal journalists have finally found the Clinton scandal beat.

"It's not the usual critics who make this Clinton scandal different; it's the usual supporters," CBS's Jim Axelrod noted during Monday's Evening News. He meant Democrats like New York Senator Charles Schumer, who bravely condemned as "wrong, wrong, wrong" the now-powerless former President's pardon of an anti-American billionaire fraudster whose ex-wife gave more money to the DNC than even some Chinese generals.

But Axelrod could have been talking about his colleagues in the press -- the media have only now found their voice after nine years of ignoring evidence, minimizing charges, and smearing those who accused Clinton of unethical or criminal conduct.

Back in 1993, the CBS Evening News didn't show viewers a single second of more than ten hours of taped interviews reporter Scott Pelley conducted with Arkansas state troopers who alleged that Gov. Clinton used them to procure women for adulterous affairs. "We just felt, not to sound pompous in any way, but it didn't rise to the level of something that we wanted to put on the Evening News," Pelley later told political scientist Larry Sabato.

CBS and NBC refused to cover sexual harassment allegations made against Clinton by Paula Jones in February 1994, while ABC's World News Tonight offered a brief report and no follow-up for months. "I would much rather that this story didn't exist," ABC's John Donvan confessed on CNN's Talkback Live back in September 1997. "I think there are Clinton haters who would like to be able to use this issue to hurt him....I would much rather be talking about much larger issues."

Remember the Reagan years, when the media howled that any "appearance of impropriety" was a serious ethical breach? That standard was forgotten in the last eight years. "So a couple of White House aides helped [potential anti-Clinton witness] Webster Hubbell find work, and he did find work, some of it with Democratic donors," NBC's Jodi Applegate remarked in April, 1997. "It may not look good, but is there any proof anything was done wrong?"

The media defined the Lewinsky scandal as mainly about sex, not law-breaking; some even found it sexy: In 1998, Good Morning America's Lisa McRee told a guest, "Women who've been polled seem to put it behind them as well, and are willing to move on and forget about it. Is that because Bill Clinton's been such a great President whom they elected in great part, or is there something I want to say almost sexy about a man who can get away with things over and over again?"

Perennial apologist Eleanor Clift insisted Clinton couldn't possibly have raped Juanita Broaddrick. "Where is this going to go except among all the Clinton haters and the right-wing conspiratorialists? It's great fodder, but you know, you proved the guy's a cad, you're not going to prove he's a violent criminal," she told the rest of the McLaughlin Group in February, 1999.

So former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart was probably stunned when NBC's Katie Couric grilled him Tuesday morning. "It's interesting that you blame the Republican attack machine," she lectured. "Doesn't President Clinton have to take responsibility for some of his actions here?"

After nine years of loaning their airwaves to Clintonites who ran down all of the President's accusers and enabled him to avoid responsibility for his actions, it's a marvelous coincidence of timing that the first Clinton (non-sex) scandal that finally got the watchdogs' attention didn't begin until January 20, 2001.

    END Reprint of Media Reality Check.  -- Brent Baker

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