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The 1,238th CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday March 6, 2002 (Vol. Seven; No. 37)
Printer Friendly Version

Rather's Tribute to Valor; Helen Thomas's Rant Against War Strategy; NBC's West Wing "Non-Political"? Hardly; Koppel Top Ten?

1) Dan Rather concluded Tuesday's CBS Evening News by choking up as he delivered a tribute to the U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan: "They were some of America's best. They gave this country everything. We close our broadcast tonight thinking of them and of their valor."

2) Helen Thomas denounced the war on terrorism strategy, arguing: "I don't think it's right to be contemplating what other country can we bomb next." She also castigated Reagan's "social Darwinism," minimized the relevance of his "secret" arms build-up in causing the fall of communism and admired Bill Clinton because "his heart was in the right place."

3) Senator Kennedy is only just plain "liberal" to Today co-host Matt Lauer, but George W. Bush is "one of the most conservative Presidents."

4) West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin got a lot of publicity for complaining about how the media are too reverential to President Bush, but he also preposterously maintained: "We're a completely fictional, nonpolitical show." In fact, this season the fictional "President Bartlet" is facing a dumb Republican Governor with a lot of money. Past CyberAlerts have documented the liberal themes showcased on the NBC program.

5) No Ted Koppel "Top Ten" lists from David Letterman, but a 1998 list included this item: "Can't we watch 'Nightline' for a change?" Plus, my prediction for where Letterman and Koppel will end up.

     >>> Now online, a new Media Reality Check report by the MRC's Rich Noyes which Washington, DC area readers may have noticed was cited today by Greg Pierce in his "Inside Politics" column in the Washington Times. It's titled, "Dancing Around Bill Clinton's Enron Deals; TV's Double Standard: Networks Push Bush's Links While Downplaying Clinton's Favors For Enron." It reported how only six of the 198 stories about Enron aired on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows, a piddling three percent, "hinted at Clinton's Enron connection." To read the March 5 Media Reality Check:
     To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF version:
http://archive.mrc.org/realitycheck/2002/pdf/fax0305.pdf <<<


Dan Rather concluded Tuesday's CBS Evening News by choking up as he delivered a tribute to the U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan. Pausing between some of his words as he tried to re-gain his composure, after listing the name, rank and family status of all those killed in action, Rather related: "They were some of America's best. They gave this country everything. We close our broadcast tonight thinking of them and of their valor."

     How much of whatever Rather does on the air is an act and how much is genuine is always up for debate, but in this instance his moving words appeared sincere and, of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening shows, only the CBS Evening News named those who died in action.

     Rather ended the March 5 CBS Evening News, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, over pictures of each fallen member of the Army, Navy or Air Force:
     "The U.S. death toll in the war against terrorists stands now at 30, including seven who died in operation Anaconda and joined the ranks of America's fallen heroes. Sergeant Bradley Crose, an avid reader, loved motorcycles, always wanted to be an Army Ranger. His father says Crose was 'the most precious thing I could give my country.' Army Specialist Marc Anderson, it was his dream too to be an Army Ranger as his father was. Before that, Anderson was a teacher. He wanted to help kids. Army Sergeant Philip Svitak told his mother, 'The terrorists have to be stopped. If anything happens to me, I'm proud to die for my country.' Svitak leaves a wife and two young sons. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, his mother says he loved his job, loved his country. 'He was a good kid,' she said. Cunningham leaves a wife and two daughters. Navy Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts went into the service right after high school. He is survived by a wife and an 18-month-old son. Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman received two commendation medals. His sister says the family knew he was risking his life. Chapman had a wife and two daughters. A former teacher said Army Private First Class Matthew Commons was a solid kid who loved his country. 'Matt,' she said, 'is a good example of what's right about America.'
     "They were some of America's best. They gave this country everything. We close our broadcast tonight thinking of them and of their valor. Dan Rather reporting for the CBS Evening News, good night."


Helen Thomas, the former UPI White House reporter who is now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, denounced President Bush's terrorism war strategy, urging a focus on giving food instead of weapons to other nations as she contended: "I don't think it's right to be contemplating what other country can we bomb next. I think the American people ought to start raising their voices and asking where are you going, what's the end goal here, what's the exit strategy."

     Appearing at the Newseum in Arlington, Virginia on Sunday, its last day in operation until it re-opens in the District of Columbia in 2006, Thomas also castigated Reagan's "social Darwinism," minimized the relevance of his "secret" arms build-up in causing the fall of communism and praised Bill Clinton, arguing: "I think his heart was in the right place. He certainly built up a great prosperity and surplus, balanced the budget, I think that he had great ideals." Conceding he "tarnished the White House with his liaisons," she predicted that would soon be overlooked since "every President looks better in retrospect, so I think that he has a legacy that will be worthwhile."

     The MRC's Brad Wilmouth took down some of Thomas's comments in the March 3 Newseum session with an audience shown by C-SPAN on March 4 and 5:

     -- On Ronald Reagan's presidency: "No question that President Reagan turned the country to the right. There was a Reagan revolution, a very conservative revolution, and it was social Darwinism. If you can't make it, tough. I mean, he did not believe in social welfare and, but at the same time, he did build up our military. He had a secret plan to spend one trillion dollars on new arms when he came in. It was secret and fortunately for us, I think, the Washington Post reporter who covered the Pentagon revealed this, but there was Hell to pay. They went after those who had leaked the story. At the end of that road, the President had spent $1.5 trillion in terms of new arms, but there is also no question that the arms race did help to break down the Soviet Union. It was already, I believe, on its last ropes, last feet, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back of having to spend more and more money on arms. But at the same time, he was a very popular President, people still long for him, and they think that he was a real president and played the part very well."

     So he was popular despite the fall of communism?

     -- On Bill Clinton's presidency: "Clinton, I think his heart was in the right place. He certainly built up a great prosperity and surplus, balanced the budget, I think that he had great ideals, but, of course, he tarnished the White House with his liaisons and, but eventually, you know, every president, time is the great healer, and every president looks better in retrospect, so I think that he has a legacy that will be worthwhile."

     -- On President, George W. Bush: "Work in progress. I think that his lack of real knowledge about the world, and I miss the ideals. I don't think we should arm every country that says oh, we've got terrorists here. I think we should be helping countries, helping in terms of education, food, and so forth, and I certainly think it was right to go into Afghanistan, but I don't think it's right to be contemplating what other country can we bomb next. I think the American people ought to start raising their voices and asking where are you going, what's the end goal here, what's the exit strategy, do we just because a country wants arms and military assistance, is that us?"


Senator Kennedy is only just plain "liberal" to Today co-host Matt Lauer, but George W. Bush is "one of the most conservative Presidents."

     The MRC's Geoffrey Dickens noticed how Lauer teased an upcoming story on the March 4 Today: "And talk about social life, we'll take a look at the new found friendship between the liberal Senator Ted Kennedy and one of the most conservative Presidents, George W. Bush."

     The subsequent story by Jonathan Alter did not address how George W. Bush can be considered "one of the most conservative Presidents," when he signed onto a big federal education spending bill which so pleased Ted Kennedy.

     But at least Today tagged Kennedy as liberal. That's progress.


With a fresh episode of The West Wing set to air tonight, I thought I'd catch up with a comment in the New Yorker from the show's creator and producer, Aaron Sorkin, which didn't get much play last week in the midst of coverage of his complaint that Tom Brokaw's special about a day inside the Bush White House was too nice to President Bush since "the media is waving pom-poms" for Bush "and the entire country is being polite" in not pointing out his ongoing foibles. (See end of this item for more on that theme.)

     Largely overlooked, Sorkin also preposterously maintained of The West Wing: "We're a completely fictional, nonpolitical show."

     As Peggy Noonan, the only conservative adviser to the show, suggested last week on OpioninJournal.com: "Aaron Sorkin thinks the thoughts of a left-liberal. Because he is a left-liberal. And the show he writes and produces each week, the show whose storylines and dialogue he dreams up, reflects his views, utterly."

     Indeed, over the past few years CyberAlert has documented the many liberal themes and anti-conservative plot lines showcased on the NBC program.

     But before even getting to that proof, in the March 4 New Yorker article itself Sorkin boasted about pursuing a liberal plot line this season involving the rehabilitation of Al Gore. An excerpt from the New Yorker article by Tad Friend in which Sorkin referred to a then-upcoming episode which aired last Wednesday:

In the semi-contemporaneous universe of "The West Wing," where the World Trade Center never fell but terrorism is now a top staff priority, President Josiah Bartlet is up for re-election this November. "Bartlet is going to be running against Governor Robert Ritchie, of Florida, who's not the sharpest tool in the box but who's raised a lot of money and is very popular with the Republican Party," Sorkin said. If this sounds familiar, it should. "It was frustrating watching Gore try so hard not to appear smart in the debates -- why not just say 'Here's my fucking résumé, what do you got?' We're a completely fictional, nonpolitical show, but one of our motors is doing our version of the old Mad magazine 'Scenes We'd Like to See.'

And so to an extent we're going to rerun the last election and try a few different plays than the Gore campaign did. In the episode this Wednesday, Toby Ziegler" -- Bartlet's communications director, and the conscience of Sorkin's White House -- "is going to continue his conversation with the President, 'Your father hated your guts because you were smarter than he was. In fact, he hit you because of it, and as a result you are scared to get people mad at you with your brains. You don't want to lose as the smartest kid in class who's running against an everyman. But I'm telling you, be the smartest kid in your class. Be the reason why your father hated you. Make this an election about smart and stupid, about engaged and not, qualified and not.'"

     END of Excerpt

     From my watching of the show, it has toned down the liberal policy preaching a bit this season on issues such as gun control, child poverty and the inheritance tax, but that hasn't made the show anywhere near "nonpolitical." The season-long plot has re-played the Clinton impeachment saga, complete with mean-spirited and vindictive House committee members and staffers using the fictional "President Bartlet's" covering up of his multiple sclerosis as an excuse to hurt administration staffers by catching them in "perjury traps" and forcing them to spend money on lawyers. The only difference, Sorkin has Bartlet do what all liberals wish Clinton had done: He agrees to a joint House-Senate censure for his lack of forthrightness and now the White House staff is moving on to what really matters, like fighting terrorism.

     Noonan asserted that she was behind a conservative plot line featured this season but that Sorkin made it less conservative so it would not upset liberal sensibilities. Noonan recounted:
     "I am an adviser or contributor to The West Wing. I'm not sure which because I can't find the letter of agreement. I am, as far as I know, the only conservative who works on the show, though maybe there are more. I send Aaron e-mails from New York with ideas and suggestions. About every fourth show someone says something conservative. That's usually me. Two weeks ago, for instance, Press Secretary C.J. was talking to Presidential Conscience Tobey about affirmative action. When Tobey pressed C.J. for her views, she said she was the wrong Democrat to ask. She explained that her father had once been denied a job when someone else got it in an affirmative action decision. Tobey nodded and asked, 'How's he doing?' C.J. said, lightly, 'Fine.'
     "In my version, C.J.'s father had suffered. He was an idealist who believed everyone has an equal shot at success in America, a public school teacher who wanted to help kids and was gifted in his work with them; now he saw a less qualified and implicitly less loving person elevated at his expense, and only because he was the wrong color. It left him shattered. The flag on which he'd stood had been pulled from under him, and he never fully regained his balance.
     "When Aaron wrote it, C.J.'s father was not a victim of government but a fellow doing fine. In part because that's how Aaron thinks about affirmative action, and it's his show. And in part perhaps because C.J.'s terse 'he's fine' is dramatically interesting -- a man is treated badly and he's fine. Life is strange."

     For Noonan's March 1 piece in full: http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/

     National Review's Jonah Goldberg also took on Sorkin's claim that The West Wing is "nonpolitical." Check out his piece at:

     Now to a rundown from past CyberAlerts of liberal pronouncements and advocacy promoted on NBC's The West Wing over the past three years. Each item includes a link to the fuller CyberAlert article, some of which feature RealPlayer clips of the scenes:

     -- The West Wing, devoted to staffers discussing terrorism with a group of high schoolers, gave air time to some pretty conventional liberal points. Characters raised the "black list," blamed "abject poverty" for terrorism and argued that "is the same as it is right here" where gangs "give you a sense of dignity." They also worried about "the patriotism police."

     -- The West Wing featured a subplot in which an insurance company refused to pay for emergency surgery for a gun shot victim because he did not get pre-approval for the life-saving emergency surgery.

     -- The West Wing's new conservative blonde babe character assessed the staff of the fictional Democratic White House: "Their intent is good, their commitment is true. They are righteous and they are patriots."

     -- Dr. Laura demonized by NBC's The West Wing. Martin Sheen as the President attacked her misleading "Dr." title and sarcastically compared her claim that the Bible says homosexuality is "an abomination" to how it advocates slavery for his daughter and that his mother be burned. "You may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the ignorant tight-ass club." http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001019.asp#7

     -- NBC's The West Wing returned Wednesday night with a left wing shot at the idea that allowing citizens to carry guns makes for a safer community. And a reporter agreed.

     -- The West Wing took a bizarre twist into very tolerant social liberalism with President Bartlet offering to order the Attorney General to help a prostitute, who just earned a law degree, gain admittance to the bar. http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000517.asp#6

     -- The show continued the campaign finance reform cause and added replacing "mandatory minimums" for drug convictions, which were repeatedly called "racist," with more funding for drug "treatment." http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000510.asp#5

     -- After some dialogue backing school vouchers, NBC's West Wing went left wing on campaign finance and gays in the military.

     -- Left and Right West Wing. NBC's The West Wing delivered scenes linking census sampling opponents to the Constitution's definition of blacks as 3/5ths a person and aired a candid admission that liberals don't trust people to spend their money correctly.

     -- NBC's liberal dream State of the Union. On The West Wing the President abandons "the era of big government is over" theme and agrees "government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind....an instrument of good."

     -- In the premiere, viewers saw how the Hollywood Left views conservatives as the show concocted a preposterous plot and series of scenes which portrayed leaders of the Religious Right as anti-Semitic buffoons. The show culminated with an angry Democratic "President Josiah Bartlet," played by Martin Sheen, indignantly telling ministers: "You can all get your fat asses out of my White House."

     Plus, off-screen West Wing stars have done quite a bit of liberal pontificating. A sampling:

     -- President Bush is a "moron," actor Martin Sheen, who plays the President on NBC's The West Wing, told a British magazine. He conceded that JFK womanizing "made him more substantial and human to me." Sheen also ridiculed the U.S. as he claimed "Alcoholics Anonymous and jazz are the only original things of importance" the U.S. has exported to the world. http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010214.asp#5

     -- A Republican character joins The West Wing tonight just after star Martin Sheen told George magazine that George W. Bush is a "bully" who is "full of s**t." A co-star called Bush "proudly uninformed" and argued that Jesus would be displeased by Bush's promotion of the death penalty. http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001025.asp#3

     West Wing creator/writer/producer Sorkin got into the news last year when he was caught at the Burbank airport with "illicit mushrooms" in his luggage. For a bio of Sorkin, who was also responsible for the liberal preaching movie The American President starring Michael Douglas, check the Internet Movie Database page about him:

     For photos of Sorkin, go to:

     Finally, an excerpt from the March 4 New Yorker article by Tad Friend in which Sorkin complained about how the media are being too nice to President Bush given his failings:

....The first point Sorkin raised, speaking last week from his quarters at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, where he was writing another episode of the show, is that something has gone awry in the media's representation of the President. "President Bush seems to be handling things very well, and I support him one hundred per cent," Sorkin said. "I also think it's absolutely right that at this time we're all laying off the bubblehead jokes. But that's a far cry from what the Times and CNN and others on whom we rely for unvarnished objectivity are telling us, which is that" -- his voice took on a worshipful tone -- "'My God! On September 12th he woke up as Teddy Roosevelt! He became the Rough Rider!'"

Among these hagiographies, Sorkin said, was NBC's look at a day in the life of the Presidency, "The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing," which aired as the lead-in to a "West Wing" repeat a few weeks ago. "The White House pumped up the President's schedule to show him being much busier and more engaged than he is, and Tom Brokaw let it happen -- the show was a valentine to Bush. That illusion may be what we need right now, but the truth is we're simply pretending to believe that Bush exhibited unspeakable courage at the World Series by throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, or that he, by God, showed those terrorists by going to Salt Lake City and jumbling the first line of the Olympic opening ceremony. The media is waving pom-poms, and the entire country is being polite."...

     For the entire piece, "Snookered by Bush," go to:

     As I said at the top of this item, a fresh episode of The West Wing airs tonight at 9pm EST/PST, 8pm CST/MST on NBC. For more about the show and tonight's plot, check NBC's Web page for the program: http://www.nbc.com/The_West_Wing/index.html


No Top Ten about Ted Koppel. The Late Show is dark this week, but with the media full of stories about ABC's interest in replacing Nightline with the Letterman show, I thought I'd try to find a past Letterman "Top Ten" list about Ted Koppel. No such luck. I searched the Late Show's Top Ten archive and even resorted to some old-fashioned data retrieval -- looking at every list in the three books of Top Ten lists -- but came up dry.

     Apparently, on CBS Letterman has never done a Top Ten about Ted Koppel and not on NBC either, or at least none which was published in either of the two books which collected Top Tens from his NBC years.

     But I wasn't about to let all of my efforts go to waste. Undaunted, on the Late Show Web site I discovered how in Top Tens about other subjects Koppel's name has come up. My two favorites in light of the present goings on:

     -- From a 1998 list, the "Top Ten Things Dave's Kitty Would Say If It Could Talk." After #10, "Get me out of this Princess Leia costume!" came #9: "Can't we watch 'Nightline' for a change?"

     -- From a 1996 list, the "Top Ten Insults for Dave Letterman," #5: "This is the part of the show where I always say to myself, 'I wonder what Koppel's doing tonight'"

     For the Late Show's Top Ten archive:

     My prediction: ABC is the big loser in all of this. David Letterman will stay at CBS since he's seen how ABC treats its stars and, most importantly, he does not want to be blamed for killing Nightline. And the staff of ABC News now knows that the corporate side wants to dump Nightline as soon as they can find something else to replace it.

     What I wonder is if Letterman could move from NBC to CBS and now might jump to ABC, why is no one suggesting that if Nightline is replaced on ABC by the Late Show, why couldn't Koppel and his team go to CBS at 11:35pm, a time slot for which CBS would then need programming? Call it Eveningline.

     At the very least, I'd bet that as long as Letterman is in play Koppel will show up to anchor Nightline more than two or three times a week. -- Brent Baker


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