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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday June 26, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 102)

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"Big Boost" for McCain's Reform; Liberal = "Reformer"; Newsweek's Thomas: Bush Painted "in Pocket of Oil"; Schundler "Hard Right"

1) "A big boost for campaign finance reform," an excited Dan Rather announced Monday night as he insisted a Supreme Court ruling "puts pressure on Congress to act on" McCain's bill "to stop or at least stem the flood of unregulated special interest money into political campaigns." Bob Schieffer called it "just terrific news for campaign reformers." ABC and NBC also delivered matching, but shorter, items.

2) In addition to calling liberal campaign finance advocates "reformers," CBS's Bob Schieffer last week referred to supporters of the more liberal patients' bill of rights which would expand lawsuits as "reformers" battling "Republicans."

3) ABC pitched in last Wednesday night to advance the liberal spin about the evils of HMOs. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas led by claiming health insurance executives receive exorbitant compensation while "patients in many of those health plans are being denied coverage." Reporter Linda Douglass soon identified the liberal source of the numbers as "a consumer group."

4) MSNBC's Brian Williams began an interview with Senator McCain about his patients' bill of rights: "Is this fight...big guy versus little guy?" He followed up by wondering if HMOs have "lost sight of the fact that they're in the health care business," not accounting. But the next night he pitched no softballs to Senator Nickles: "You've spoken often in leading the fight here about American business. What about the American patient?"

5) Newsweek's Evan Thomas conceded perception of Bush is being skewed by how the media are portraying Bush through the prism of "Bush in the pocket of the oil companies harming the environment." Reflecting that slant, ABC News anchor Derek McGinty charged: "What we're seeing is sort of the unraveling of the public's belief in this whole idea of being a 'compassionate conservative.' What they're seeing now is the 'corporate conservative.'"

6) Being pro-life, opposing gun control and favoring school vouchers makes you a pretty standard conservative Republican, but to the Washington Post it means you are "hard right."

7) Letterman's "Top Ten Things New Yorkers Call Tourists."

     >>> "When It Comes to California's Power Problem, NBC Host Is Really In the Dark." Now online, a fresh edition of MediaNomics by Rich Noyes, Director of the MRC's Free Market Project. Rich observed: "Many of California's consumers, who have faced rolling blackouts and sharply higher energy prices, are presumably furious with environmentalists and state officials like Governor Gray Davis who have exacerbated the situation. But on June 21, NBC's The Tonight Show, based in Burbank, California, staged a gimmicky no-lights-on episode that heaped scorn on both President Bush and the power companies and even featured a guest appearance by Governor Davis, who joined host Jay Leno on stage." <<<


"A big boost for campaign finance reform. A U.S. Supreme Court decision puts pressure on Congress to act on John McCain's call for change opposed by President Bush," a giddy Dan Rather gushed in teasing Monday's lead story on the CBS Evening News. How exactly a court ruling would create "pressure" for passage he did not say. ABC and NBC also touted the Supreme Court ruling as a boost for McCain's cause, but contained their enthusiasm to short items inside their newscasts.

     "This is just terrific news for campaign reformers," proclaimed CBS's Bob Schieffer in a one-sided story that didn't bother with any other point of view. Introducing Schieffer's piece, Rather adopted the spin of advocates of increased regulation as he trumpeted how "prospects for legislation in Congress to stop or at least stem the flood of unregulated special interest money into political campaigns got a boost today from the U.S. Supreme Court." But last December, Rather wasn't quite so thrilled with the court's 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore.

     More on CBS below, but first what ABC and NBC delivered Monday night, June 25:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings announced: "The Supreme Court has ruled that individual states may impose limits on the money political parties use to help specific candidates. The ruling is considered a victory by supporters of national campaign finance reform."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams relayed: "In Washington, a note from the Supreme Court tonight which is making supporters of campaign finance reform happy. The justices upheld Watergate-era campaign spending limits by political parties on behalf of candidates. The 5-4 ruling doesn't directly affect that McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill now in Congress, but supporters say it demonstrates the restrictions on contributions the bill seeks are indeed constitutional."

     Now back to the CBS Evening News. After the tease quoted above, Rather opened the broadcast: "Good evening. Prospects for legislation in Congress to stop or at least stem the flood of unregulated special interest money into political campaigns got a boost today from the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents of the campaign finance bill, including President Bush, have suggested such limits might be unconstitutional. But in a five to four ruling in another, but related case, the justices upheld campaign finance restrictions. CBS's Bob Schieffer is on Capitol Hill where the ruling sends a strong signal. Bob, what's the real deal on this?"

     Schieffer began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Well, Dan, this is just terrific news for campaign reformers who, as you say, are trying to ban soft money. That's those backdoor unlimited contributions that both parties now collect. Opponents of this legislation have always said it would be unconstitutional to ban them because it would be a violation of free speech. Today's case was not about soft money, but here is what is important. A majority of the court has now said it is constitutional to regulate coordinated campaign contribution collections as a way to fight corruption. Massachusetts Congressman Martin Meehan, who is leading the fight in the House, says the ruling will really help the reformers' cause."
     Martin Meehan, D-Mass: "I'm happy that the Supreme Court has taken away one of the phony, bogus arguments that they're using to try to defeat a soft money ban and try to defeat a real campaign finance reform bill."
     Schieffer: "Senators McCain and Feingold, who pioneered the reform movement, were delighted. 'A big boost,' said Feingold. Said McCain, 'Our opponents will have to find some other excuse not to enact laws to restore Americans' confidence in our political system.' And for the reformers, this timing could not have been sweeter. The House is scheduled to take up this legislation early next month, and opponents had mounted a new drive to try to block it. This is going to make the opponents' arguments much more difficult, said reformers tonight."

     Rewind a few months and you'll find quite a contrast in how Rather treated a different 5-4 Supreme Court decision. Here's how he opened the December 13, 2000 CBS Evening News: "Good evening. Texas Governor George Bush tonight will assume the mantle and the honor of President-elect. This comes 24 hours after a sharply split and, some say, politically and ideologically motivated U.S. Supreme Court ended Vice President Gore's contest of the Florida election and, in effect, handed the presidency to Bush."

     The fresh court ruling, which had Justices Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, Stevens and O'Connor in the majority, involved hard money. As explained by Reuters reporter James Vincini:
     "Under federal election law, a state party or a party's national campaign committee is limited in how much it can spend on races for the Senate or the House of Representatives.
     "Individuals may contribute no more than $1,000 to any one candidate and multi-candidate political committees may give no more than $5,000 in any one election.
     "The law allows national and state committees to make additional coordinated expenditures for the general election campaign of candidates for federal office, but restricts how much can be spent.
     "In Senate elections, for example, the limit is either $20,000 or two cents times the voting age population of the state, whichever is greater. The limit is periodically adjusted for inflation.
     "The case arose in 1986 when the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee paid for a radio commercial that criticized the voting record of then-Rep. Tim Wirth, a Democrat who was running for the Senate.
     "The Federal Election Commission agreed with the Colorado Democratic Party that the payment for the commercial had to be counted toward the limit set in the law. The Republican Party challenged the limit as unconstitutional."


Campaign finance isn't the only issue on which CBS reporter Bob Schieffer refers to liberal advocates a "reformers."

    Last week in a piece on the competing patients' bills of rights he repeatedly labeled supporters of the more liberal McCain-Kennedy Democratic bill as "reformers" battling "Republicans" though, as he didn't bother to mention, the Republican bill is supported by Democratic Senator John Breaux.

    To make Schieffer's use of the term REFORMERS stand out, I've put them in all caps. He reported in his June 21 CBS Evening News piece, as taken down by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:
     "The President's veto threat came just an hour after the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, said he was seeing signs that a compromise might be possible. Ironically, as supporters pointed out during yet another Capitol rally there is bi-partisan agreement on most of it, such things as giving patients the right to visit emergency rooms, pediatricians, and gynecologists without the permission of their HMOs. But REFORMERS want to give patients who are denied coverage the right to sue their HMOs in state courts and that's the hang up. Most Republicans believe that would just drive up costs. They want to cap damages and try the cases in federal court. REFORMERS say that would take too long since federal dockets are already so crowded. So today when House Republican leaders said they could envision circumstances where a patient should be allowed to go into state courts and sue, Daschle called that encouraging news. Democrats now believe they have the votes to pass this in both the House and the Senate, but the lobby is really turning on the pressure. So whether it becomes law now appears to hinge on what the President does."

     Apparently, you are only a reformer if you believe in expanding the opportunities for lawsuits.

     And once again, Schieffer managed to stumble into the obvious in his last sentence. Quite an insight into the power of the presidency.


ABC pitched in last Wednesday night to advance the Democratic Party's liberal spin about the evils of HMOs. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas led World News Tonight by claiming many health insurance executives receive exorbitant compensation while "patients in many of those health plans are being denied coverage," causing "the frustration level for millions of people is rising." Reporter Linda Douglass soon named the source of the numbers, but she refused to accurately identify the group as liberal.

      Vargas opened the June 20 World News Tonight: "We start tonight with an exclusive report about health care and it's bound to make a lot of people angry. ABC News has obtained a study which finds that many people in charge of major health providers are bing paid huge sums of money. At the same time patients in many of those health plans are being denied coverage, and the frustration level for millions of people is rising."

     ABC "obtained" it by accepting a report handed to it by a left wing group and then deciding it was the most newsworthy thing of the day.

     Douglass proceeded to recount compensation packages of up to $54 million and, after letting Senator Ted Kennedy assert the numbers prove HMOs can afford to offer more coverage, she described the source of ABC's story: "The report was compiled by a consumer group, Families USA, a critic of HMO cost cutting."

     The "consumer group" was a leading proponent of HillaryCare.


MSNBC's Brian Williams displayed contrasting levels of challenges last week, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd observed, in interviews on two different nights with a supporter and an opponent of the more liberal so-called patients' bill of rights.

     While Senator John McCain got to a couple of tougher questions, Williams began by asking: "Is this fight...big guy versus little guy?" Williams followed up by wondering if HMOs have "lost sight of the fact that they're in the health care business in favor of accounting and business practices?"

     The next night, he posed only devil's advocate questions to Senator Don Nickles, no softballs, as he first demanded: "You've spoken often in leading the fight here about American business. What about the American patient?"

     Here are all of the questions posed by Williams on his The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC. First, on June 19 to McCain:

     -- "It is an interesting name for the plan: the Kennedy-McCain bill. Strange bedfellows in a way but Senator, is this fight, at least the way you're framing it, big guy versus little guy?"

     -- "Do you think the HMO mission has fundamentally changed? Do you think they've lost sight of the fact that they're in the health care business in favor of accounting and business practices?"

     -- "And yet, Senator, you pre-empted it, you know what the other side is going to say. Watch out for costs. There are already, Mr. Nickles is already warning, look out employers, that means look out employees, so could this end up hurting the little guy you're trying to help?"

     -- "We should point out to our viewers we have invited a leader of the other side to join us for the other side of this debate tomorrow evening. Senator, as you know, they are saying that your plan allows patients 200 more ways to sue. Do you worry, is it possible that there could be too much patient choice, patient leeway against the HMOs?"

     -- "Senator, finally, what would an interview with John McCain be without a question on politics, specifically yours? Is it still your position, for the record, that you've conducted no talks, no conversation even toward leaving the GOP in an eventual run for President in another party perhaps as an independent in 2004?"

     Second, the next night, June 20, Williams plugged his interview with Don Nickles: "Coming up next: the debate over patient's rights. Are Republicans on a suicide course by taking the side of the HMOs and not the patients? We'll ask the leader of the fight."

     The questions from Williams:

     -- "For more on all of this tonight, we are joined from Capitol Hill by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican has been a sharp critic of the Democrats' health care legislation. Calling those lawsuit provisions by the way that the president spoke of quote 'a knife to the throat of American business.' Senator, good evening to you, thank you for coming on. You've spoken often in leading the fight here about American business. What about the American patient?"

     -- "Do you believe in your heart that that's what would happen that a bill that allows people to sue for some big money, $5 million, would really as a net effect lead to them being dropped from the insurance rolls?"

     -- "Devil's advocate, Senator, and God forbid a thousand times if a member of the Nickles family let's say passed away while in an emergency room waiting for approval for health care from an HMO, as a visceral matter, as a husband and father wouldn't you want to, like other people, sue the pants off that HMO? Wouldn't you reserve the right to do so?"


A week ago on CNN's Reliable Sources, Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas conceded how he and his journalist colleagues "launder our views through quote 'objective critics.'" He elaborated: "I don't think there's any question that they, as a body, feel that Bush is wrong on the environment...the rank and file press is pretty green and they're going to use the Europeans to take the Bushies to task."

     Over the past weekend Thomas reaffirmed his take, applying it to explain why a New York Times poll found most dissatisfied with Bush's environmental positions. The poll determined that 71 percent believe producing energy is more important to Bush than protecting environment.

     On Inside Washington, Thomas suggested media bias had influenced public perception, a bias he conceded that he shares: "They're definitely seeing this through the prism that the press has provided here, which is that coverage has been overwhelmingly 'Bush in the pocket of the oil companies harming the environment.' Personally, I don't totally disagree with that, but I think there's no question that the press has framed it that way."

     Sunday morning on ABC's This Week, Derek McGinty, who co-anchors the overnight ABC News show World News Now, reflected the slant perceived by Evans. On the June 24 program he opined about Bush's public standing, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
     "He's got a much bigger problem than that, Cokie. I think it's, what we're seeing is sort of the unraveling of the public's belief in this whole idea of being a 'compassionate conservative.' What they're seeing now is the 'corporate conservative' that George W. Bush actually is. He's in favor of big business, and they see, and you see it over and over again in all but the most egregious cases."
     Sam Donaldson: "But do you think people didn't know that?"
     McGinty: "Oh, certainly, they picked it up."
     Donaldson: "I mean, is that a surprise?"
     McGinty: "Well, you know what? He definitely came across, during the campaign -- they thought compassionate conservative meant 'I'm a pragmatist. There's not going to be any fighting.' Al Gore said 'I'll fight for you.' George W. Bush said, 'There won't be any fighting because I'm bringing a bipartisan spirit. I'm going to work with you. I'm on your side.' They thought this meant that he was a pragmatist, sort of along the lines of a Bob Dole. No, he's not. He is a right-wing conservative, for the most part on many issues, and that's coming out now, especially on the issues of the environment and issues of this patients' bill of rights."

     As George Will pointed out, Bush has hardly been a conservative on the education spending bill.

     To read Thomas's June 16 Reliable Sources comment in full, or to view it via RealPlayer, go to:


Being pro-life, opposing gun control and favoring school vouchers makes you a pretty standard conservative Republican, but to the Washington Post it means you are "hard right." In a June 25 story previewing today's GOP gubernatorial primary in New Jersey, reporter Thomas Edsall applied to loaded tag to candidate Bret Schundler.

     Here's how Edsall opened his piece:
     "Bret Schundler, the renegade Republican who three times won the mayoralty in overwhelmingly Democratic Jersey City, appears to be on the verge of defying the state's GOP establishment and winning Tuesday's gubernatorial primary.
     "The 42-year-old Harvard graduate, who combines hard-right conservative stands on abortion, school vouchers and gun control with a record of striking policy and political achievements in gritty, majority-minority Jersey City, is running ahead of former U.S. representative Bob Franks, 49, who was handpicked by New Jersey Republican leaders to take over the post vacated by Christine Todd Whitman, according to public and private polling.
     "Schundler's unexpected success has provoked deep anxiety among the state's generally moderate Republican leaders, who fear both a conservative insurgency within their party and trouble winning in November in a contest against the expected Democratic nominee, Jim McGreevey. He is the Woodbridge mayor who nearly won the governorship four years ago."


From the June 21 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Things New Yorkers Call Tourists." Copyright 2001 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. Visitors from a strange land where coffee doesn't cost five dollars
9. Victims
8. Gator bait
7. Walking ATM machines
6. The people who brought you George W. Bush
5. Taxi roadkill
4. Witnesses
3. Senator Clinton
2. Annoying weirdos who don't speak any English (sorry, that's what tourists call New Yorkers)
1. Mr. I'm-too-good-to-take-a-leak-on-the-subway

     All too accurate. -- Brent Baker

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