Bush Team Too Influenced by Big Oil; Liberal Charged Price Fixing, ABC Jumped; Washington Post Upset By Ashcroft's Prayer Meetings
1) The CBS Evening News led Monday night with how its poll
found, in the words of John Roberts, that "62 percent say the oil
industry has too much influence with the Bush administration."
Roberts then listed which top officials once worked in the energy
industry, "ties that 56 percent of Americans think will result in
favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries."
2) Henry Waxman as ABC's assignment editor. World News
Tonight devoted a whole story Monday night to his claim that energy
companies withheld electricity from California in order to boost prices.
Afterward, Peter Jennings assumed the charge was accurate as he bemoaned
how "there is really no way to prove how much energy is being
withheld by the power companies."
3) Eight years after the Washington Post insulted
Christian activists as "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to
command," the paper featured a front page story on an unnamed few
upset by Attorney General Ashcroft's bible sessions with staffers. The
Post highlighted complaints that he is "running the department like a
church." One Justice attorney charged: "It strikes me and a lot
of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional."
months of the media portraying the Bush administration's ties to
"big oil" as a negative example of money in politics instead of
as a sign of the Bush team's energy expertise, a CBS News poll found, in
the words of John Roberts in the lead story on Monday's CBS Evening
News: "Sixty-two percent say the oil industry has too much influence
with the Bush administration."
Roberts then helpfully noted which top
officials once worked in the energy industry, "ties that fifty-six
percent of Americans think will result in favorable treatment of the oil
and gas industries." Adding a conspiratorial tone, Roberts relayed:
"Environmental groups agree and point to a closed-door meeting at the
American Petroleum Institute just nine days before Mr. Bush took
Dan Rather opened the May 14 CBS Evening News, as
transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"Good evening. The price of gasoline is breaking
records and budgets all over America. A U.S. Energy Department survey
taken today finds that gasoline went up another penny in the past week to
a nationwide average now of $1.71 a gallon. It's even higher for
so-called reformulated gasoline, now averaging $1.83 a gallon. With every
increase in prices of gasoline and other energy comes new pressure on
President Bush to take action. In the latest CBS News poll out tonight,
Americans named the energy situation as the number one problem facing the
government. Two months ago, it didn't even make the list. President Bush
is set to announce his new energy plan later this week. Today he made a
new move to blunt criticism from environmental protection groups and
conservationists. CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts begins
Roberts started with Bush's successful
overture to labor: "Six months ago, these union leaders battled to
keep George Bush out of the White House. Today the White House reached out
to them, seeking labor's support for an energy plan that's being
attacked by critics. For Teamsters President James Hoffa, it's all about
After a clip of Hoffa saying Bush's plan would
create an "amazing number of jobs," Roberts concentrated on the
negative: "But the new CBS News poll out tonight finds the majority
of Americans believe it's about what's best for big oil. Sixty-two
percent say the oil industry has too much influence with the Bush
administration. The President, Vice President, Commerce Secretary, and
National Security Advisor all worked for oil companies. The Secretary of
the Interior, and other high-ranking administration official, also had
ties to oil and energy, ties that 56 percent of Americans think will
result in favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries. Environmental
groups agree and point to a closed-door meeting at the American Petroleum
Institute just nine days before Mr. Bush took office."
Phil Clapp, National Environmental Trust: "All of
the industry lobbyists there put together a wish list which was
transmitted to the transition office and then to the Interior Department,
and it shows up line by line in the energy policy."
Roberts mildly countered the environmentalist paranoia:
"The White House makes no apology for extending a helping hand to the
energy sector, saying it's the best way to increase supplies of oil and
electricity. But sky high prices have already sparked a new cycle of
exploration and construction, and it's long-term confidence that's
driving the boom, says analyst Bill O'Grady."
Bill O'Grady, A.G. Edwards: "It's not just
I'm gonna drill today because the price is good. I'm gonna drill today
because I think the price is going to be good in the future."
Roberts concluded: "Which means that even with the
President's plan, the oil industry doesn't believe that prices will
drop significantly any time in the foreseeable future. And as for the idea
of a quick fix, the White House has weighed several options, but officials
say they have rejected most of them because either they wouldn't work or
they might just make things worse."
For the complete CBS News rundown of its poll, go
One finding Roberts skipped over: Dick Cheney's
approval rating came in at 56 percent compared to a piddling 17 percent
who disapprove of his performance -- and he's the biggest "big
oil" man in the administration.
liberal Congressman speaks and ABC News jumps. ABC dedicated a whole story
Monday night to the claim by Henry Waxman that energy companies withheld
electricity from California in order to boost prices. Afterward, anchor
Peter Jennings assumed the charge was accurate as he bemoaned how
"there is really no way to prove how much energy is being withheld by
the power companies" since there are "no independent inspections
of the plants."
Jennings set up the May 14 World News Tonight push
piece: "Today in Washington a U.S. Congressman from California
accuses the power companies of price gouging."
Reporter John Martin began with proof of how
conservation doesn't work, but he used the data to make a different
point: "Last week Californians suffered a new round of blackouts even
though demand for electricity, 33,000 megawatts, was lower than at its
peak three years ago. In fact, Californians have been using less
electricity at peak hours each year since 1998. But Democratic Congressman
Henry Waxman says at least 5,000 megawatts, one-tenth of the state's
peak demand, were withheld deliberately last week to boost prices."
Henry Waxman: "People feel that they're being
robbed, being taken advantage of, that's there's gouging going on. And
you know what? They're right."
Martin boosted Waxman's charge: "That's an
opinion shared by this independent energy analyst."
Professor Peter Navarro, University of
California-Irvine: "It's a ruse. Basically the producers have
learned that they can make a lot more money by withholding some of their
capacity from the market rather than providing all the power they can
Martin gave a few seconds to a denial of his story's
premise: "But the industry insists the blackouts were caused by a
fire at one power plant and by maintenance shutdowns at others."
Jan Smutny-Jones, Independent Energy Producers
Association: "I think there's a lot of rhetoric and, unfortunately,
finger pointing going around but very little substance behind those
Martin then conceded regulators undermine the case, but
quickly moved on to another allegation: "State energy monitors say
they also see no evidence of price manipulation, but in another case of
alleged artificial price increases being heard here in Washington today,
California is accusing a Texas conglomerate of conspiring to withhold
Harvey Morris, California Public Utilities Commission:
"They artificially drove up natural gas prices in California which
has harmed substantially California consumers."
Martin: "This too the energy industry
Norma Dunn, El paso Corporation: "When you have
demand that tremendously outstrips supply the price is going to go
Martin concluded: "But California officials
continue to investigate price spikes in both electricity and natural gas.
And tonight Governor Gray Davis repeated his contention that only the
federal government can control his state's rising energy costs."
Immediately after Martin's piece, Jennings
endorsed the Waxman and gas withholding claims as he complained:
"There is really no way to prove how much energy is being withheld by
the power companies. There are no independent inspections of the plants
and it is up to the power companies to police themselves."
And it's up to CyberAlert to police the biased
meetings at the Justice Department attended by the Attorney General! What
an unconstitutional horror warned a front page story in Monday's
Washington Post. Eight years ago then-Washington Post reporter Michael
Weisskopf wrote in a news story this now infamous passage:
"Corporations pay public relations firms millions of dollars to
contrive the kind of grass-roots response that Falwell or Pat Robertson
can galvanize in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor,
uneducated, and easy to command."
While John Ashcroft is a Pentecostalist and not a
fundamentalist like Falwell and Robertson, Monday's Post story matched
the same derogatory attitude toward Christian believers reflected in the
February 1, 1993 story quoted above.
"Ashcroft's Faith Plays Visible Role at
Justice," warned the top of the fold May 14 headline. The subhead
intoned: "Bible Sessions With Staffers Draw Questions and
Reporter Dan Eggen, without naming any sources,
focused his piece on how "some who do not share Ashcroft's
Pentecostal Christian beliefs are discomfited by the daily prayer sessions
-- particularly because they are conducted by the nation's chief law
enforcement officer, entrusted with enforcing a Constitution that calls
for the separation of church and state." Eggen highlighted one
unnamed Justice Department attorney who charged: "It strikes me and a
lot of others as offensive, disrespectful and unconstitutional."
An excerpt of the May 14 front page Washington Post
The Bible study begins each day at 8 a.m. sharp, with Attorney General
John D. Ashcroft presiding. A group of employees gathers at the Main
Justice building in Washington, either in his personal office or a
conference room, to study Scripture and join Ashcroft in prayer.
Ashcroft held similar meetings each morning as a U.S. Senator and sees
the devotionals as a personal matter that has no bearing on his job as
attorney general, according to aides. Spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said
Ashcroft wants to "continue to exercise his constitutional right to
express his religious faith." Any employee is welcome, but not
required, to attend, his aides said.
But within the massive Justice Department, with about 135,000 employees
worldwide, some who do not share Ashcroft's Pentecostal Christian beliefs
are discomfited by the daily prayer sessions -- particularly because they
are conducted by the nation's chief law enforcement officer, entrusted
with enforcing a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and
"The purpose of the Department of Justice is to do the business of
the government, not to establish a religion," said a Justice
attorney, who like other critics was unwilling to be identified by name.
"It strikes me and a lot of others as offensive, disrespectful and
unconstitutional....It at least blurs the line, and it probably crosses
"It's alienating," another lawyer said. "He's using
public spaces to have a personally meaningful event to which I would not
be welcome, nor would I feel welcome."
Ashcroft declined to comment on the devotional meetings, and reporters
have not been allowed to attend. But top Justice Department officials say
his Bible studies at Justice should be viewed no differently from those
organized and attended by many members of Congress.
"It is against my religion to impose my religion on people,"
Ashcroft said in a recent speech.
Several aides also said many of Ashcroft's top staffers -- including
the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff and the communications
director -- have never attended the devotional meetings, nor have they
been pressured to do so. They say that the sessions are open to all
Justice employees, Christians or otherwise, and that one of the regular
participants is an Orthodox Jew....
The federal government's "Guidelines on Religious Exercise and
Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace," issued in 1997 after
bipartisan negotiations, say supervisors and department heads must be
especially careful with religious activities or statements.
"Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire or promote,
employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors' religious expression
as coercive, even if it was not intended as such," the guidelines
say. "Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their
statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any
coercion...and should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel
Ashcroft considered a run for the presidency with support from leading
Christian conservatives, and has regularly cited God and Scripture in
speeches and policy statements. In 1998, Ashcroft said at a Christian
Coalition event that "a robed elite have taken the wall of separation
designed to protect the church and they have made it a wall of religious
The next year, he told Bob Jones University graduates that America was
founded on religious principles, and "we have no king but
Jesus." That statement became the subject of some controversy at his
The morning devotionals are not the only sign that Ashcroft approaches
religion differently from his predecessor, Janet Reno, who ran a strictly
secular office. At a Black History Month celebration in February, for
example, Ashcroft prayed with a minister, who urged Justice employees to
The department also issued new style guidelines for correspondence
carrying Ashcroft's signature. They forbid, among other things, the use of
"pride," which the Bible calls a sin, and the phrase "no
higher calling than public service."
"He's running the department like a church, complete with rituals
and forbidden words," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "That is deeply
Ashcroft refers to his daily devotionals as RAMP meetings -- Read,
Argue, Memorize and Pray. Attendance ranges from three to 30, including
some from outside Justice, but centers on a regular core of a half-dozen
Justice staffers with long-term ties to Ashcroft.
All employees are invited to attend, but Tucker said no department-wide
memorandum or invitation has been issued.
Ashcroft hands each participant a devotional book from a stack he has
used for years, Tucker said. The book highlights a Bible verse or passage
for each date of the year, and the group spends the first minutes
discussing its meaning, according to a participant.
The group then moves on to a memorization, with the goal of committing
to memory a psalm or Bible story through repeated readings.
The session ends with a prayer, often including a reference to a
relative or acquaintance who is ill or in need. The prayer is usually
ecumenical, but at times has referred to Jesus or other Christian figures.
Although sometimes led by Ashcroft, the prayer is more often recited by
Shimon Stein, 24, a Justice program analyst who worked in Ashcroft's
Senate office, is the only regular participant who is not a Christian.
Stein, an Orthodox Jew, said he finds the meetings fascinating from a
theological perspective and enjoys discussing matters of faith with the
attorney general and his co-workers.
"He's made every effort to make everyone and everything feel
comfortable," said Stein, who was the only participant other than
Ashcroft identified by Justice officials. "There is theological
discussion and textual discussion....Growing up in the circle I did, I
didn't have a chance to study other religions, so it's very educational
"These go on on the Hill all the time, and he's done this for
years and years and years," Tucker said. "He's always done them
in his office, and that's how he started his day."
But advocates for the strict separation of church and state, as well as
some Justice employees, said Ashcroft is now in a far different position
from when he was a U.S. Senator. As the leader of the nation's top law
enforcement body, they contend, he has a responsibility not to offend
employees of different faiths or test the limits of accepted guidelines.
Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's
Washington office, said Ashcroft is at least violating the spirit of the
federal rules on workplace prayer.
"Ashcroft has a right to pray in office, but he does not have a
right to implicitly or explicitly force others into praying with
him," she said. "Ashcroft's the chief defender of the nation's
civil liberties. He can't pretend to be just another citizen leading
A career Justice lawyer agrees, calling the devotionals "totally
"It feels extremely exclusive, that if you don't participate in
that kind of religion, that your career could be affected by it," the
attorney said. "If I had some political aspirations and wanted to
work for the front office and didn't have the same religious feelings as
he does, my non-participation could adversely affect me."
Others say the issue is muddier than that. Harvard Law School professor
Phillip B. Heymann, who was deputy attorney general in the Clinton
administration, said the prayer sessions are "not clearly wrong or
illegal. But the main practical worry is that anybody might think they may
be closer to the attorney general if they prayed with him, or more able to
influence him....It's really sort of on the edge."....
To read the entire Washington Post story, go to:
Seems like those so upset by any hint of religious
belief are the intolerant ones. And they have a sympathetic ear at the
Washington Post. -- Brent Baker
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