"Surplus Vanishes Into Thin Air"; Condit a "Very Conservative Democrat"; Jennings Admitted Reporters Like to Impact Policy
1) "The fat federal surplus vanishes into thin
air," CBS's John Roberts misleadingly claimed as ABC, CBS and NBC
all led Monday night by hyping fears over new CBO numbers which show
spending will "dip" into the imaginary Social Security
"Trust Fund." For years the money was always spent, but ABC's
Charles Gibson acted as if it were a new concept while NBC's Campbell
Brown blamed not only Bush's tax cut, but "his spending
2) Time relayed fiscal expertise from an Arkansan golfer
while it warned of dire consequences for the average person: "To
avoid cutting into the Social Security trust fund, Congress may have to
slash farm subsidies, tax credits for the working poor and other social
3) Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" provided a
down arrow for Bush: "Adios, surplus. When retired boomers dine on
dog food, will they say thanks for that $600?" And the magazine was
pleased to see Helms go: "'Sen. No' finally earns an Up -- by
4) Sound familiar? Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday:
"The question is whether or not you think the American people
associate Gary Condit with the Democratic Party. So far, I don't think
that's the case. In fact, the news media was reluctant initially to even
say this is a Democratic Congressman."
5) In highlighting on NBC's Today how Gary Condit
claimed he is "close" to the Bush White House staff,
Newsweek's Michael Isikoff declared: "He's a conservative
Democrat." Monday night, CNN's Larry King labeled Condit a
"very conservative Democrat."
6) Admission of the year: "There's nothing a
reporter likes more than to have an effect on policy," ABC's Peter
Jennings proclaimed during a CBS News special on Friday night. When his
reporting changes a policy, "it's just a glorious feeling."
7) An ABC Sports reporter on George W. Bush: "He is
the first acting President to ever make a trip to the Little League World
8) Letterman's best question to Connie Chung and why is
Star Trek's "Scotty" suing Gary Condit?
Correction. A wrong date. The August 22 CyberAlert included the text of
the August 20 Notable
Quotables which featured, under the heading "'Centrist' --
Like Barbara Boxer," a quote from a Washington Post profile of
Senator John Edwards. It was incorrectly dated August 14. The story
actually appeared in the Washington Post the previous Tuesday, August 7,
-- as the August 13 CyberAlert correctly reported.
Nightly News anchor Stone Phillips demanded Monday night: "They
promised to protect Social Security, but news tonight they may have to
take $9 billion from the trust fund to pay the bills. What happened to all
the money?" NBC and CBS referred to the need to "dip into Social
Security" as all three broadcast networks led by hyping fears over,
as CBS's John Roberts put it, how "the fat federal surplus vanishes
into thin air." Roberts preposterously maintained of the surplus:
All three networks concluded their lead
stories, on new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which
say federal spending in 2001 will go $9 billion beyond non-Social Security
revenue, by emphasizing how Social Security payments are unaffected by the
new numbers, but that didn't prevent them from some scare-mongering
based on the assumption the Social Security "trust fund" really
exists and that the government will run a deficit this year because Social
Security revenue cannot be counted.
Only CBS's Bill Plante played a clip of a
new GOP ad as he relayed the Republican point that "Democrats have
spent the Social Security surplus for years." (CNN viewers heard the
same point and saw the same ad on Inside Politics.)
ABC anchor Charles Gibson acted as if Social
Security revenues had never been spent on other programs when, in fact,
they routinely were until three years ago. Gibson intoned: "Democrats
and Republicans alike have always sworn on a stack of Bibles that Social
Security was absolutely, totally, completely off limits."
ABC's John Yang soon personalized the issue,
zeroing in on Bush: "This could end up being a big political problem
for the President. All through the campaign, he vowed to keep hands off
Social Security money except in the most dire of circumstances."
But NBC's Campbell Brown topped Yang as she
also exclusively blamed Bush's spending proposals: "CBO says the
President will have to take to take $9 billion from the Social Security
Trust Fund to cover his spending proposals this year and use $18 billion
from the trust fund in two years to cover his tax cut."
In contrast, up front FNC's Brit Hume put
the new CBO numbers in perspective as he noted at the top of Monday's
Special Report with Brit Hume: "CBO numbers could spell some
political trouble for the administration because the so-called Social
Security lock box is a sacred cow to lawmakers even though diverting the
funds has virtually no direct effect on the Social Security program."
None of the stories on ABC, CBS or NBC
questioned the rationale of running a huge $150 billion-plus surplus
during an economic downturn, though FNC's Hume raised that very policy
question with White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
More details about the ABC, CBS and NBC
evening show stories of August 27:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Charles
Gibson opened the broadcast by warning: "Good evening. We lead our
broadcast tonight with the subject of Social Security. Politicians call
Social Security the third rail of politics: Touch it, fool with it, and
you can get a terrible shock. Well, today the non-partisan congressional
office that crunches the budget numbers projected the government will have
to use $9 billion in Social Security funds this year just to pay for the
programs it already has in place. Democrats and Republicans alike have
always sworn on a stack of Bibles that Social Security was absolutely,
totally, completely off limits. ABC's John Yang is in Crawford, Texas
tonight with the President. John?"
Yang began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad
Wilmouth: "Charlie, this could end up being a big political problem
for the President. All through the campaign, he vowed to keep hands off
Social Security money except in the most dire of circumstances, and it's
a promise he's been repeating as President. The President's most
recent promise came last week."
George W. Bush: "Well, I've said that the
only reason we should use Social Security funds is in case of an economic
recession or war."
Yang: "Today Democrats, who made similar
promises, quickly seized on the Congressional Budget Office numbers,
sensing a political opportunity."
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt: "It
is a failure of the President's budget, and what we're asking today
again is that the President submit a new budget to the Congress."
Yang outlined the CBO numbers:
"Congressional analysts say in order for the government to fund
itself, it will have to use $9 billion of the Social Security surplus this
year. In 2003, it will potentially need as much as $18 billion. Just last
week, the White House projected a sunnier forecast. They claim no Social
Security money will be needed in any of those years. Republicans say the
slowing economy is to blame for the shrinking surplus and that President
Bush's tax cut is the solution. Democrats say the tax cut is the
Senator Kent Conrad, (D-ND): "The
fundamental problem here is that this administration came up with an
overall plan that didn't add up in order to make their tax cut look more
Yang: "White House officials said that in a
$3 trillion federal budget, the differences between the two forecasts are
Mitchell Daniels, Director of Office of
Management and Budget: "The numbers are very close together, fraction
of one percent apart, and I think it underscores that these are only
estimates. We have to make them very cautiously."
Yang concluded: "Now ultimately, spending
this Social Security money will not have any immediate impact on the
program. It will, however, slow the government's ability to pay down the
$3 trillion national debt."
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts
teased: "The fat federal surplus vanishes into thin air.
Congressional accountants say the President will have to use Social
Security money to keep the government running."
Roberts then began the show, as taken down by
MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "It's gone. The non-partisan
Congressional Budget Office says the federal budget surplus for this year
has been eaten up by President Bush's tax cut and dwindling tax revenues
from the slowing economy. The report says the President will now have to
do what he said only war or recession would force him to do: tap into
Social Security to keep the government running."
Revised GDP numbers on Wednesday could very
well show negative growth, putting the U.S. on its way to an official
Bill Plante began the subsequent piece:
"The $1 billion budget surplus over and above Social Security
predicted last week by the White House, shows up as a $9 billion deficit
in the forecast due tomorrow from Congress. The Congressional Budget
Office says that to make ends meet, the government will be forced to dip
into Social Security. The CBO estimates the surplus at $153 billion, not
far from the White House's $158 billion, but Congress says that after
the money promised to Social Security, the government will still be $9
billion in the hole this year, $2 billion in the black next year, but back
in the red in 2003 and '04. The Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee
accuses Republicans of fiscal mismanagement and charges the President with
violating his campaign promise not to dip into Social Security."
Kent Conrad, Senate Budget Committee Chairman
(D-ND): "The budget was in very good shape before he got to town.
It's been his budget and tax plan that have blown a huge hole in the
budget and taken us back to deficit, taken us back to raiding the trust
funds of Social Security and Medicare, and that's a serious
Plante: "The White House budget director
shrugged off the difference in the estimates as insignificant, a tiny
fraction of the $2 trillion budget."
Mitchell Daniels, White House Budget Director:
"I think the lesson here is that these are good faith estimates, both
of them, and nobody is so precise over numbers this big and time frames
this long to know for sure."
Plante uniquely relayed: "What is sure, said
the Republican National Chairman, is that Democrats have spent the Social
Security surplus for years. He launched a TV ad blasting Democrats in
Congress for hypocrisy."
Clip of ad: "But Democrats who for years
supported budgets that spent all Social Security money and left no
surplus, are now launching partisan, misleading attacks on President
Plante concluded: "As a practical matter,
spending the Social Security portion of the surplus today has no effect on
retirement benefits in the future, and it is true that both parties used
to spend that money routinely, but now they've promised they won't,
and this is the beginning of a major fight over how to spend what's
-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Stone Phillips
teased before the musical introduction: "High stakes. They promised
to protect Social Security, but news tonight they may have to take $9
billion from the trust fund to pay the bills. What happened to all the
Phillips opened the program: "Only in
times of war or recession. That's what President Bush said last week.
But a new report out tonight from the bi-partisan Congressional Budget
Office says the government will have to do what it promised not to: Dip
into Social Security funds sooner than expected to cover an estimated $9
billion shortfall in this year's budget. And that's just the
From Crawford, Campbell Brown checked in with
an ominous assessment about the lack of money available to be spent:
"Tonight an even gloomier view of the
government's finances, new numbers suggesting the situation is only
going to get worse. The shrinking pot of government money, today projected
to be even smaller. What's gobbling up the surplus? The President's
tax cut and the sluggish economy. And now the non-partisan CBO says the
President will have to take to take $9 billion from the Social Security
Trust Fund to cover his spending proposals this year and use $18 billion
from the trust fund in two years to cover his tax cut. New ammunition for
Democrats who charged the President is breaking a promise to keep Social
Security Funds in a so-called lock box."
After a soundbite from Dick Gephardt, Brown
asserted: "The new CBO numbers are at odds with White House
projections that show the President won't have to tap Social Security
funds and will even have a billion dollars left for new spending. Today
the White House downplays the accounting difference."
NBC viewers then saw a clip of Mitch Daniels
noting how his and the CBO numbers are within less than one percent,
before Brown concluded by conceding the vacuousness of her ominous tone:
"Now this will have no effect on Social Security benefits, but it
does set the stage for a huge battle between the White and Congress over
whether both sides can keep a promise to keep Social Security funds
fiscal analysis from an Arkansas golfer. That's what this week's Time
magazine provided, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd noticed.
In a story in the September 3 Time headlined,
"Who Swiped The Surplus?", Adam Cohen warned of dire
consequences for the average person as he adopted the phoney language
about a "trust fund" for Social Security: "The dwindling
surplus will have a real impact on ordinary Americans. To avoid cutting
into the Social Security trust fund, Congress may have to slash farm
subsidies, tax credits for the working poor and other social programs. A
lack of surplus dollars to pay down the national debt helps keep mortgage
and credit-card rates higher than they should be. And all those
great-sounding programs Bush and Al Gore argued about last year -- giving
a drug benefit to seniors, letting people invest Social Security money in
the stock market -- just got pushed further into the future.
"On the most basic level, the surplus
matters because anyone who has ever tried to run a household or a small
business understands the core issue: being disciplined enough to keep
spending in line with income. 'I run a business on a budget,' says Jay
Fox, 42, executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association. 'If
our surplus was disappearing, it would be of concern to me.'"
Of course, federal fiscal policy isn't like
a home budget and it's irrational during a downturn for the government
to take more out of the economy than it needs to operate. The U.S. had
many boom years during the 1980s and 1990s while running large deficits,
so a surplus isn't necessary for a growing economy.
To read the entire Time story, go to: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101010903-172550,00.html
items in Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" section in the
September 3 issue, caught by the MRC's Ken Shepherd:
-- Bush (Down arrow): "Adios, surplus.
When retired boomers dine on dog food, will they say thanks for that
-- Helms (Up arrow): "After 30
obstructionist years, 'Sen. No' finally earns an Up -- by
or later, even some liberals in the media catch up with the MRC which, in
this case, long ago observed how journalists have been reluctant to
identify Gary Condit as a Democrat. For the latest examples and a link to
our study on the subject, refer back to the August 27 CyberAlert: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalert/2001/cyb20010827.asp#5
During the panel segment on the August 26 Fox
News Sunday, Juan Williams, a former Washington Post reporter who just
lost his position as host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, offered his take
on the impact of the scandal on the Democratic Party:
"The question is whether or not you think
the American people associate Gary Condit with the Democratic Party. So
far, I don't think that's the case. In fact, the news media was reluctant
initially to even say this is a Democratic Congressman. I think that
message has gotten through now. But for most people, this is about Gary
Condit. It's not about Republicans versus Democrats in the way that you
think of the Clinton thing where you had Republicans attacking the
President in terms of his private behavior."
members of the media identify Gary Condit as a Democrat they often seem
compelled to falsely describe him as "conservative." On
Monday's Today, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff declared: "He's a
conservative Democrat." Monday night, CNN's Larry King went further
during his interview with Gary Condit's just as aloof son, Chad, tagging
the elder Condit as a "very conservative Democrat."
Those formulations followed Connie Chung's
description of him, during her Primetime Thursday interview on ABC, as
"a little-known six-term conservative Democrat." As the August
24 CyberAlert countered: From 1989 through 2000 Condit has a career 52
percent average rating from the liberal Americans with Democratic Action
(ADA) and a 48 percent career rating from the American Conservative Union
(ACU). So he's hardly a flaming liberal, but he's significantly more
liberal than several House Democrats from the South and West and many
Republicans. "Moderate Democrat" would be a more accurate
Indeed, if Chung, Isikoff, King and the rest
of the media were consistent they would label Republican Congressman Chris
Shays of Connecticut as liberal, not with the usual "moderate
Republican" tag. Just compare the career ratings for Condit and
Shays: Condit earned a 48 percent rating from the ACU; Shays a slightly
lower 45 percent. The ADA gave Condit a 52 percent rating; Shays pleased
the liberal group a bit more as he voted the way it wanted 57 percent of
For all the ratings numbers you could want,
check these pages: For the ACU: http://www.conservative.org/ratings2000.htm
For the ADA: http://adaction.org/voting.html
Oh, almost forgot, as MRC analyst Geoffrey
Dickens observed, Isikoff's label came in the midst of highlighting how
Condit extolled his closeness to the White House. Isikoff announced on the
August 27 Today: "You know, interesting, what was interesting there.
He did make a point of talking about how close he is with the Bush White
House and how he has access to the President and Vice President Dick
Cheney. And can get them on the phone and people in the Bush White House
on the phone at any time. After all he's a conservative Democrat. They had
in the past looked to him as an important ally for the Bush agenda in the
House among Democrats."
agenda unmasked. "There's nothing a reporter likes more than to
have an effect on policy," ABC's Peter Jennings proclaimed during a
CBS News special on Friday night. He admitted that while "we may tell
you...that our principal aim in life is to communicate and...inform...our
audience...if you see injustice and you can get people to do something
about it, ahh, it's just a glorious feeling."
The admission from Jennings that he and other
journalists are not impartial observers but are really interested parties
wishing to bring about particular political policies, occurred during a
two-hour CBS News special, Breaking the News. Aired on August 24, Mel
Gibson narrated the program produced by the Museum of Television and
The 8-10pm EDT/PDT, 7-9pm CDT/MDT show
presented clips from interviews with high-profile network correspondents
recounting their experiences covering big stories, illustrated with
archival footage of the events.
Former MRCer Tim Graham alerted me to these
comments from Jennings. Just after an ad break about half way through the
show, viewers heard this concession: "We may tell you all the time
that our principal aim in life is to communicate and assist, inform,
whatever the fancy words are, our audience. But if you see injustice and
you can get people to do something about it, ahh, it's just a glorious
Jennings proceeded to recall his February 1994
trip to Sarajevo where he witnessed the carnage from the bombing of a
marketplace. After lamenting how U.S. planes were circling but did
nothing, Jennings affirmed: "I think the fact that we were there at
the time, I think had a lot to do with changing American policy. And
there's nothing a reporter likes more than to have an effect on
Gibson then explained how four days later
President Clinton gave an ultimatum to the Serbians that unless they
pulled back NATO would bomb them.
Remember Jennings' admissions as you watch
him cover politics day-to-day: "There's nothing a reporter likes
more than to have an effect on policy" and if he can get an
"injustice" corrected, "it's just a glorious
have something to do with how one team was from Florida? Just before the
Little League World Series game between teams from Japan and Florida
began, a game at which George W. Bush threw out the first pitch, ABC aired
a pre-taped interview with the President, or did they? The sports reporter
seemed unsure of Bush's exact job title.
As Leslie Gudel, of ABC Sports, and Bush stood
in a dugout, she set up her opening question: "He is the first acting
President to ever make a trip to the Little League World Series and he has
also been enshrined today in the Little League Hall of Excellence. Mr.
Bush seemed unfazed by being called the
"acting President" as he proceeded to answer her first question
without mentioning her description.
In fact, from watching it I don't think she
meant any slight and got her thoughts jumbled about how Bush is the first
Little Leaguer to "actually" become President. Or, maybe some of
the hostility toward Bush inside ABC News has crept into ABC Sports.
notes. David Letterman's best question to Connie Chung on Monday's
Late Show in a discussion about her interview with Gary Condit: "Did
he ask you out?" Chung just shook her head and whispered "oh,
David," to show her revulsion at the inquiry.
And a question for anyone who saw the Monday
press conference with the lawyers for Anne Marie Smith: Why is
"Scotty" from Star Trek demanding Gary Condit be indicted? On
screen he was identified as Sterling Norris of Judicial Watch, but I
wasn't fooled. I know it was really actor James Doohan in a new role.
-- Brent Baker
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