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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday March 12, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 43)

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NBC's Florida Recount Disparity; Cokie and Steve Roberts Disagreed on Popularity of Tax Cut; Lack of Bi-Partisanship Rued; Byrd Cited

1) NBC Nightly News highlighted a Palm Beach Post review which claimed that about 6,000 who voted for more than one candidate intended for vote for Al Gore, but last month NBC ignored a story about how if Gore had gotten the recount he wanted in four Democratic counties he still would have come up short.

2) A split in the Roberts household. Cokie Roberts on ABC: "It's a popular tax bill." Steve Roberts on CNN: "The polls still show Americans are not wild about this tax bill."

3) ABC's Sam Donaldson complained about how Republicans failed to show "bi-partisanship" in passing the tax cut bill, but on Fox News Sunday Brit Hume suggested the sudden concern with bi-partisanship was absent eight years ago when Democrats pushed through Clinton's economic package.

4) A couple earning $112,000 is not "rich" to Sam Donaldson, even though those at that level are in the top six percent skewered as undeserving of a tax cut by liberals and the media. Maybe Donaldson's view is skewed by the fact that he pays $47,500 a year in property tax on his $3.8 million house.

5) Gun owners tend to vote Republican, a trend which upsets ABC News reporter George Stephanopoulos. "Most Americans have a gun in the house," observed Cokie Roberts, to which Stephanopoulos remarked: "Unfortunately."

6) Tim Russert on Sunday became the first and only broadcast network reporter to mention Democratic Senator Robert Byrd's use of the term "white nigger." Russert asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to speculate about "what would have happened to you if you had said that?"

Last month when a Miami Herald/USA Today count of even "dimpled chads" in Miami-Dade County only gave Al Gore a net pick up of 49 votes, still leaving him 140 short of what he would have needed to tie Bush when adding up the recounts in all four Democratic counties in which he had wanted recounts, NBC Nightly News ignored the development. But on Sunday night, NBC aired a report about a Palm Beach Post review, of discarded "overvotes" in Palm Beach County, which claimed the butterfly ballot cost Gore over 6,000 votes.

    In short, NBC skipped a story about the results of an effort to accurately discern votes from those who followed the rules and voted for one candidate, and yet did not successfully fully dislodge the chad, but jumped on a report about an effort to divine the intent of those who were so stupid or careless that they voted for more than one candidate.

    ABC's World News Tonight ran a short item on the new count, just as they did back on the night of February 26 about the Miami Herald story. (The NCAA basketball tournament selection show bumped the CBS Evening News on Sunday night. CBS had also aired a short item about the February 26 assessment.)

    NBC Nightly News anchor John Seigenthaler intoned on the March 11 newscast: "The ongoing analysis of the Florida presidential election produced new information today. According to the Palm Beach Post, confusion over the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County cost Al Gore 6,600 votes, more than enough to win Florida and the presidency. The analysis concluded that many punched twice for President, once for Gore and once for Pat Buchanan, whose ballot position was across from Gore's. The double-punch invalidated those votes."

    Only 28 seconds, but 28 seconds longer that NBC Nightly News allocated to the story about how if Gore got what he wanted last fall he would not have overtaken Bush.

    An excerpt from the March 11 Palm Beach Post story by Joel Engelhardt and Scott McCabe:

Confusion over Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot cost Al Gore about 6,600 votes, more than 10 times what he needed to overcome George W. Bush's slim lead in Florida and win the presidency, The Palm Beach Post's ballot-by-ballot review of discarded over-votes reveals.

The ballots show 5,330 Palm Beach County residents, many of them in Democratic strongholds, invalidated their ballot cards by punching chads for Gore and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, whose hole on the punch card appeared just above Gore's.

The ballots also show another 2,908 voters punched Gore's name along with Socialist David McReynolds, the candidate whose hole on the card appeared just below Gore's. Both Buchanan's and McReynolds' names appeared on the right page of the two-page ballot, while Gore's was on the left. The butterfly ballot confusion didn't hurt just Gore: 1,631 people punched both for Bush and the candidate whose hole was below his on the ballot, Buchanan.

The two Gore combinations, minus the Bush-Buchanan votes, add up to 6,607 lost votes for Gore and an indictment of the butterfly ballot, political experts and partisan observers agree....

Even allowing that 1 percent of the 6,607 votes were intended for Buchanan or McReynolds -- which is more than their combined portion of Palm Beach County's total vote -- that would still leave Gore with 6,541 additional votes, more than enough to overcome Bush's statewide victory margin of 537 votes....

The over-votes can be divided into two types. Three-fourths of them were punches for two candidates, most of which experts say can be attributed to the ballot design. The rest were for three or more candidates, which experts called voter error, not a design problem....

    END Excerpt

    Talk about voter stupidity, the Palm Beach Post also relayed that 5,062 "voters" punched "three or more choices for President. Twenty-eight voters selected all 10 presidential candidates. These errors, which were disproportionately high in black-majority precincts, appear to be made by people who don't know how to vote, said Anthony Salvanto, a University of California-Irvine researcher who has studied a computer database that recorded every clear punch on the ballots cast in Palm Beach County Nov. 7."

    The Web address for this story appears to be one that's only valid for one day since its date slot is "today," but the main address for the paper is: http://www.gopbi.com/partners/pbpost/epaper/

    Back on February 26 the NBC Nightly News skipped the Miami Herald story which reported: "Al Gore would have netted no more than 49 votes if a manual recount of Miami-Dade's ballots had been completed, according to the review, which was sponsored by The Herald and its parent company, Knight Ridder. That would have been 140 too few to overcome Bush's lead, even when joined with Gore gains in Volusia, Palm Beach and Broward counties -- the three other counties where Gore had requested manual recounts."

    An accounting firm hired by the paper found that in counting missed "clean punches" Gore gained 4 votes, adding those plus "hanging chads" gave Bush a net gain of 30, adding those two categories plus "pinpricks" put Bush up by 61 and only by adding up those three categories plus "dimpled chads" did Gore gain a net 49 votes.

    For more on that ballot review and network TV coverage of it, go to: http://archive.mrc.org/news/cyberalert/2001/cyb20010227.asp#1


They may be sleeping together, but they don't think alike when it comes to analyzing polling data. On two Sunday interview shows one of Washington's prominent media power couples offered conflicting assessments of whether or not the public is behind President Bush's tax cut plan.

    On ABC's This Week, co-host Cokie Roberts declared: "It's a popular tax bill." But a bit later on CNN's Late Edition her husband, New York Times veteran Steve Roberts, now with U.S. News & World Report, argued during the panel segment: "The polls still show Americans are not wild about this tax bill."

    Here are their appraisals in full context. First, Cokie Roberts during the This Week roundtable. She stumbled mid-thought and made her declarative comment, seemingly in response to some kind of disagreeing facial expression the camera did not show from George Stephanopoulos across the table:
    "There's some feeling on the part of Republicans in the House that the Democrats are going to regret their vote on this tax bill, that they will have, that they will-. [then, seemingly reacting to Stephanopoulos across table] It's a popular tax bill, you look at every poll that's out there."
    Stephanopoulos: "They'll have a chance to vote on a tax bill later."
    Roberts: "And that in the end will get their vote for the final passage because they're going to need to vote for a tax bill."

    Asked at the start of the panel segment by CNN Late Edition host Wolf Blitzer if President Bush's campaign-like trips to sell his tax cut are working, Steve Roberts answered in the affirmative:
    "It shows us, yet again, the importance of the presidency as a factor in American politics. Bush has the megaphone that Bill Clinton had for eight years and he has the veto power that Bill Clinton had for eight years. And you don't necessary need a lot of national coverage to make an impact. You go to South Dakota, you go to Louisiana, you get a lot of coverage. And so I do think it is a smart tactic and I think that it is helping even out the playing field, because the polls still show Americans are not wild about this tax bill. He is putting pressure on Democrats, though, I think shrewdly."


Sam Donaldson on Sunday continued ABC's policy of bemoaning how Republicans failed to show "bi-partisanship" in passing the tax cut bill in the House on Thursday, but on Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume suggested concern with bi-partisanship was absent eight years ago when Democrats pushed through Clinton's economic package.

    As quoted in the March 9 CyberAlert and CyberAlert Extra, on the March 8 World News Tonight, ABC's Linda Douglass deplored the House vote to anchor Charles Gibson: "So much for bi-partisanship, Charlie. The Republicans rammed through this tax cut, and all but ten Democrats voted against it, and the Democrats are accusing President Bush of reneging on his promise to change the tone in Washington."

    Matching that theme, on This Week Donaldson set up an interview segment: "President Bush came to Washington promising to change the tone of the political debate, to make it more civil and, above all, make the results more bi-partisan. But the way Republicans handled the opening round of the tax cut legislation left some wondering whether the President really meant it."

    Over on Fox News Sunday, Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly, who has been on leave at Harvard University for a few months, wondered: "Can you tell me when bi-partisanship began? It might have been while I was out of town."
    Brit Hume reminded her: "I'll tell you when it didn't begin was when Bill Clinton passed his budget without a single Republican vote. All Democrats voted for it. There was not a lot of hand-wringing in Washington about Democratic bi-partisanship eight years ago, or lack of bi-partisanship. Now, we're hearing it because lo and behold Democrats are losing and the Republicans are winning even when as in the House they picked some Democratic votes."


Liberals and Democrats consider anyone who makes over $100,000 to be amongst the "rich" who don't deserve a tax cut, but ABC's Sam Donaldson argued those at that income level are not rich, though George Will pointed out they are in the top six percent targeted in Democratic rhetoric. Maybe Donaldson's perspective is skewed by the fact that he lives in a home assessed at about $3.8 million.

    On Sunday's This Week Will suggested that Democratic arguments against Bush's tax cut won't succeed because even those in jobs not considered high-paying are labeled as "rich" by liberals. He proposed a hypothetical couple: A Chicago police officer making $57,888 after ten years of service and his wife, a school teacher, pulling in $54,724 after 20 years. Their combined income: $112,612. Will asserted: "They are in the top six percent of income earners in a rich country. They are by yours and Dick Gephardt's and everyone's definition: rich."

    Donaldson rejected the notion: "May I say for the record that I don't believe $100,000 is rich....because if you're going to put kids schools, particularly, $100,000 today is really not rich."

    Indeed, $100,000 is not very rich for someone living in an urban area where an average house sells for $300,000 and perhaps Donaldson is keenly aware of this since he's so much wealthier. This year he'll pay $47,850 in property taxes to Fairfax County, Virginia. The "Fairfax Weekly" section in the March 8 Washington Post listed his home on Crest Lane in McLean, which overlooks the Potomac River, as the tenth most highly assessed property in Fairfax County. But Donaldson may be getting a $75,000 break since the Post noted that assessments are often well below market value. Another home on his street assessed at a mere $3.5 million, the Post observed, is now on the market for $10 million. At the tax rate of $1.23 per thousand, that would mean if Donaldson's house is really worth a similar amount he's being under-taxed by about $75,000.

    As a good liberal Donaldson should volunteer to send in the additional money since the "rich" like him, by the liberal reasoning he spews, don't deserve any tax cut. After all, his $75,000 break is more than virtually anyone in the county pays in total in property tax.


In what might be dubbed an "excited utterance," on Sunday's This Week ABC News reporter and analyst George Stephanopoulos revealed that at heart he's still a Democratic Party partisan upset by anything which hurts Democrats. In a discussion about how those who own guns voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, Cokie Roberts noted how "most Americans have a gun in the house," prompting Stephanopoulos to spontaneously react by sighing "unfortunately."

    During a roundtable discussion on how Democrats are not pushing gun control in response to the latest school shooting because the issue backfired on them in November, Stephanopoulos countered:
    "But I do think the Democrats are over-reading the politics on this. Now there's no question the single best predictor of how someone was going to vote in the last election was did you have a gun in the house -- by 40 points they went for Bush. But if you look at the three states-"
    Cokie Roberts jumped in: "And most Americans have a gun in the house."
    Stephanopoulos: "Unfortunately, yeah. If you look at the three states where the NRA spent the most money -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- Gore won all three of those..."


Tim Russert on Sunday became the first and so far only broadcast network reporter beyond Fox to mention Democratic Senator Robert Byrd's use of the term "white nigger" during a taped interview on the March 4 Fox News Sunday, a remark for which Byrd later apologized. Russert asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to speculate about "what would have happened to you if you had said that?"

    As detailed in the March 7 CyberAlert, on the March 6 Special Report with Brit Hume the FNC panel ruminated about what kind of media play the racially-derogatory language would have generated if uttered by Jesse Helms or another conservative. For more about FNC's discussion and Byrd's original comment, go to:

    Russert asked Ashcroft: "One of your former colleagues, Robert Byrd, got in some trouble last weekend and this is what he had to say: 'My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' We practice that. There are white N words. I've seen a lot of white N words in my time; I'm going to use that word.' What should Robert Byrd do after having said that and what would have happened to you if you had said that?"

    (The on-screen text which Russert read aloud had "white niggers" where Russert substituted "white N words." A nice compromise. NBC conveyed the actual word usage without uttering it aloud.)

    Ashcroft replied: "Well, I wouldn't have said it and I'll not advise Robert Byrd in terms of his own conduct..."

    I'll also suggest an answer to Russert's question of what would have happened if Ashcroft had said it, even if back when he was just a Senator: It would have taken less than a week for NBC News to mention it and it would have been immediately highlighted in condemnatory stories by all the broadcast networks. --Brent Baker

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