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The 1,251st CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday March 27, 2002 (Vol. Seven; No. 50)
Printer Friendly Version

Bush "Influence Peddling?"; CBS Promoted as "Landmark" a Slavery Reparations Lawsuit; On JAG a Reporter Conveyed "Sincere Regret"

1) The Washington Post, CBS and CNN all hyped how the release of documents prove the administration consulted industry and not "consumer groups" in formulating energy policy. When Jane Clayson dared suggest "there's not much in them," Bryant Gumbel corrected her. Wyatt Andrews prompted an environmentalist about how some documents were whited-out: "Do you think the amount of blackout breaks the law?" On CNN's NewsNight, Connie Chung asked: "Do these documents confirm the worse suspicions of influence peddling?"

2) The CBS Evening News promoted the legitimacy of a lawsuit demanding reparations for slavery. Substitute anchor Ed Bradley imparted great meaning to the effort pushed by radical race-mongers, calling it "landmark" and stressing how it supposedly has "major legal and financial implications today and for the future."

3) An un-bylined Reuters dispatch from San Salvador on Monday described Kenneth Starr's probe of charges that Bill Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice as an "investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life."

4) Only on made-up TV. CBS's JAG ended last night with a network news reporter, whose actions led to a SEAL team being ambushed and civilians being killed, conceding that "I'm guilty of pride, of smugness, of all-importance." He announced on the air: "To the American people and to the Afghan people I express my sincere regret for my conduct. It was inexcusable."


Documents released Monday evening by the Energy Department hardly revealed anything extraordinary as they showed Bush administration officials with that department met with representatives of the industry and not any left-wing environmental groups. But the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS News and CNN's Connie Chung, for whom it reminded of Enron, all pounced on the revelation as if it provided some kind of smoking gun demonstrating underhanded administration policy-making.

     "Energy Contacts Disclosed: Consumer Groups Left Out, Data Show," proclaimed the front page headline in Tuesday's Washington Post. On CBS's The Early Show on Tuesday co-host Jane Clayson dared to suggest that "apparently there's not much in them." Bryant Gumbel, however, immediately corrected her: "Yeah, except they do show that the administration consulted business leaders and not consumer groups." Bill Plante soon stressed: "There were almost no consumer or conservation groups but there were a lot of energy industry people who were big campaign contributors."

     On Tuesday night CBS Evening News anchor Ed Bradley ominously referred to "a new chapter in the long-running controversy over President Bush's energy policy and who was consulted about it in secret." Reporter Wyatt Andrews followed the liberal environmental group spin, asserting that "one statistic stood out like a lop-sided sports score. At least 36 times, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met representatives of the energy industry to discuss the policy, compared to zero meetings with environmental groups." Noting how many of the documents were "censored," Andrews relayed that "environmentalists call this a coverup" and then tried to suggest some kind of illegal behavior: "Do you think the amount of blackout breaks the law?"

     A few hours later on CNN's NewsNight, Connie Chung hyped how "thousands of documents released last evening are only making a hot issue hotter." Chung brought aboard Washington Post Reporter Dana Milbank to elaborate on the scandal. Her first question: "Tell me, do these documents confirm the worse suspicions of influence peddling?" When Milbank noted how 29 of the 36 companies consulted were donors, Chung excitedly repeated: "Once again, 29 out of 36!"

     The faulty premise behind all of this kind of reporting: That the Bush administration, like any administration, did not already have a policy formulated upon assuming office and was not simply going through the motions of allowing its supporters to feel like they had influence. It's congressional committees that are best at adding little tax break favors for an industry, not the executive branch. As for not consulting enough with left-wing groups, "consumer groups" to Gumbel and the Washington Post, President Bush ran and won on a platform which rejected most of their policy ideas and so why should they have deserved meetings? Were reporters upset when the Clinton administration failed to bring in conservative groups to get their policy advice?

     Now, more details about the coverage summarized above:

     -- "Energy Contacts Disclosed: Consumer Groups Left Out, Data Show," announced the Washington Post's March 26 front page story by Dana Milbank and Mike Allen. An excerpt from the top:

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with 36 representatives of business interests and many campaign contributors while developing President Bush's energy policy, and he held no meetings with conservation or consumer groups, documents released last night show....

A first review of the 11,000 pages of documents bolsters the contention of Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups that the Bush administration relied almost exclusively on the advice of executives from utilities and producers of oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy while a White House task force drafted recommendations that would vastly increase energy production.

Of the corporations that met with Abraham, all but a few were large contributors of unregulated soft money to the Republican Party during the 2000 election cycle. A dozen of the companies that had meetings with Abraham contributed $1.2 million to the GOP, mainly for Bush's election. Ten of the 12 gave more soft money to Republicans than Democrats....

Abraham's meetings, between Feb. 14 and April 26 of last year, included groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Nuclear Energy Institute. Top executives of Westinghouse Electric Corp., Duke Power, Entergy, Exelon Corp., UtiliCorp United (now Aquila Inc.), American Coal Co. and others sat down with Abraham.

     END of Excerpt

     For the entire Washington Post story:

     -- The March 26 New York Times headline: "Energy Chief Met Envoys From Industry." The lead of the story by Don Van Natta Jr.:

The Bush administration released the first wave of documents related to Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force today. The papers showed that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a member of the panel, met with three dozen energy industry representatives but with no consumer or conservation groups in preparing the national energy strategy last year.

In the three months before the release of the energy strategy on May 16, Mr. Abraham met on eight occasions with top executives representing oil and gas interests, coal producers and utilities like Westinghouse Electric and Duke Power, the documents show.

But the energy secretary did not list any conservation or consumer advocacy groups in his list of contacts with organizations outside government. The Energy Department said several advocacy groups had failed to respond to its outreach....

     END of Excerpt

     For the story in its entirety: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/26/politics/26ENER.html

     -- CBS's The Early Show of March 26, the only broadcast morning program to devote any significant time to the subject. Co-hosts Jane Clayson and Bryant Gumbel highlighted the document release at the top of the show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed:

     Gumbel: "I guess the GAO wins round one in its battle with the White House."
     Clayson: "As per a court order these thousands of documents have been released, but apparently, there's not much in them."
     Gumbel corrected her: "Yeah, except they do show that the administration consulted business leaders and not consumer groups in getting this energy task force together."

     News reader Julie Chen soon reported: "The Bush administration has reluctantly released documents relating to Vice President Cheney's energy task force. Bill Plante is at the White House with the story. Good morning to you, Bill."

     Plante explained: "Julie, good morning, it took a court order but late yesterday the Energy Department released thousands of pages of documents detailing who gave advice as the administration formulated its energy policy. There were almost no consumer or conservation groups but there were a lot of energy industry people who were big campaign contributors. Box upon box, over 11,000 pages detailing the secret meetings of Vice President Dick Cheney's task force, what maybe most noteworthy is what you don't see, most of the pages have large areas whited-out, a frustrating development for the groups who fought to see the papers."
     Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council: "I have to believe that there must be something pretty awful in them if they've gone to so much trouble to keep what's in here secret."
     Plante: "Conservation groups claim they were shut out of meetings and that policy was influenced by energy businesses with campaign contribution ties to the Bush White House. Among those, the Vice President met one time with Enron chief Kenneth Lay, one of six meetings between the now bankrupt corporation and the task force. And Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met dozens of energy executives including those from Westinghouse, Duke Power, Entergy, Exelon, Utilicorp, and American Coal. President Bush is unapologetic, he said some time ago that it seemed to him to make sense when formulating energy policy to listen to the people who knew something about it."

     -- Tuesday night, neither the ABC or NBC evening shows mentioned the matter, but the CBS Evening News anchored by Ed Bradley treated it as a major revelation. Bradley intoned:
     "In this country, there is a new chapter in the long-running controversy over President Bush's energy policy and who was consulted about it in secret. Thousands of government documents on the subject have now been disclosed. But as Wyatt Andrews reports, they've only added fuel to the energy debate."

     Andrews began his story, which matched the agenda of the liberal environmental groups opposed to Bush administration policy: "Forced by a court order, the Energy Department released 11,000 pages of documents on the making of the national energy policy, and one statistic stood out like a lop-sided sports score. At least 36 times, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met representatives of the energy industry to discuss the policy, compared to zero meetings with environmental groups. The White House called that misleading, saying everyone was consulted, just not by the Secretary."
     Ari Fleischer: "So people are focusing on one person as opposed to all the people who were part of the energy plan."
     Andrews countered, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "But critics charge that to be part of the energy plan, you had to pay. On the list of the 36 who met Abraham, 19 were strong Republican donors, including the Exelon Corporation, which gave more than $900,000, and Kerr-McGee, more than half a million."
     Lawrence Noble, Center for Responsive Politics Executive Director: "I definitely see a connection to the money. The energy industry has overall given far more to the Republicans than to the Democrats. In fact, they tend to give about 75 percent of their money to the Republicans."
     Andrews: "Meanwhile, the group that sued to see the documents complained they arrived heavily censored. Scores of memos are wiped clean. Like this one, blacked out from the 'Joan and Charlie' greeting to the 'Thanks, Morgo' down below. The administration claims it has the legal right to protect these internal deliberations, but environmentalists call this a coverup. Do you think the amount of blackout breaks the law?"
     Sharon Buccino, Natural Resources Defense Council: "Yes, we do, and we're going to challenge that in court. We've got 11,000 pages that have been scrubbed, sanitized, purged. There's a lot that's been taken out of them."
     Andrews: "The administration defends the energy policy as a carefully balanced blueprint for what the country needs -- namely, more energy."
     Fleischer: "This report is designed for a nation that has an energy problem and still has an energy problem."
     Andrews concluded: "Remember all this squabbling is still over Energy Department documents the White House agreed to give up. The President has vowed he will never release documents on the bigger question: Who advised the Vice President when the energy policy was made?"

     -- CNN's NewsNight at 10pm EST on Tuesday night was anchored by Connie Chung, whose mind immediately turned to reviving Enron as a scandal: "The White House and its connection with the energy business was a hot issue before any us knew much about that Houston company called Enron. Critics want to know just how much energy companies, most of them big campaign contributors, helped shape energy policy. That policy was drafted last year by a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. Well, thousands of documents released last evening are only making a hot issue hotter."

     Reporter Kelly Wallace delivered a story which closely matched the CBS one by Wyatt Andrews. While she referred to what "environmentalists say" and to "environmental groups," she managed to find one group worthy of an ideological tag: "Administration officials argue the law allows internal policy deliberations to be held back, but the conservative group Judicial Watch is not satisfied."

     Chung then interviewed Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank. Her first question seemed to express her hope: "Tell me, do these documents confirm the worse suspicions of influence peddling?"
     Milbank replied that they do not confirm the worst since there were no suitcases of money, but 29 of 36 industry groups who got meetings were affiliated with donations.
     Chung jumped in to emphasize the point: "Once again, 29 out of 36!"
     Milbank called that "a pretty good record" and one which indicates donations purchase access, which is nothing new.

     Chung moved on: "Now, the Bush administration had repeatedly said that it had a commitment to conservation. Do these documents support that?"
     Milbank asserted the document release "throws a little bit of doubt on that" and that the administration only reached out to environmental groups last March when energy policy formulation became controversial.
     That led Chung to wonder: "Does that mean that environment groups were correct, that in fact there was a flurry of activity and that it is not because the administration clearly did want to include environmental groups?"
     Milbank answered that it's hard to tell because so much information was redacted, but that calls to environmental groups went out in March when it became controversial.
     Chung pushed the spin of the liberal groups: "So they are justified in saying that they weren't considered until sort of the last minute?"

     Chung ended where she had begun: "What effect is this going to have on the Enron investigation?"
     Milbank: "Hard to tell."

     In total, NewsNight devoted a lengthy seven minutes to the subject.


It was liberal crusading night on CBS. The above-quoted story built around the complaints about energy policy by liberal environmental groups aired a few minutes after the March 26 CBS Evening News gave time to a one-side story promoting the legitimacy of a lawsuit filed to demand reparations for slavery.

     Substitute anchor Ed Bradley imparted great meaning to the lawsuit pushed by radical race-mongers, calling it "landmark" and stressing how it supposedly has "major legal and financial implications today and for the future."

     FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume also featured a full story by Eric Shawn on the lawsuit, but Shawn gave more time than CBS to critics, and FNC followed it up with substitute anchor Tony Snow interviewing reparations detractor John McWhorter, a professor at UC Berkeley. He contended that the nation has already acknowledged slavery with massive welfare spending and affirmative action aimed at addressing the problems of many black citizens.

     Bradley enthusiastically set up the CBS story: "Here in New York City today, three well-known American companies were named in a landmark class action lawsuit. The grievance at issue goes back hundreds of years, but as Mika Brzezinski reports, the case has major legal and financial implications today and for the future."

     Mika Brzezinski, who I'm pretty sure is the daughter of Cater's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "In a Brooklyn court today, descendants of American slaves began an unprecedented legal battle, filing suit against companies who they say profited off the backs of their ancestors."
     Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, plaintiff in slavery lawsuit: "It started out with my grandfather as a child, always talking about the 40 acres and a mule that we were promised-"
     Brzezinsksi: "Deaddria Farmer-Paellmann, whose great-grandparents were slaves in South Carolina, is the lead plaintiff. She says the suit is about far more than money."
     Farmer-Paellmann: "This lawsuit sets out to educate the world about what slavery really was."
     Brzezinski: "Named in the suit, the Aetna Corporation. Documents like this show the company more than 150 years ago provided policies on the lives of slaves. The lawsuit also names Fleet Boston whose earliest bank was funded by a slave trader, and CSX, which owns rail lines built by slaves."
     Farmer-Paellmann: "Companies that were built on the backs of people who were kidnaped, raped to breed additional enslaved Africans, tortured -- the list goes on."
     Brzezinski: "The lawsuit argues that these companies contributed to the disparity between blacks and whites today and that African-Americans are still suffering from the results of slavery. It demands a jury trial and potentially billions in damages."
     Roger Wareham, Plaintiff's Attorney: "A tenet in United States law is where there is a law there is a remedy. And that's what we're seeking, is a remedy."
     Brzezinski finally gave a few seconds to a contrary view: "Aetna released a statement saying, in part, 'We do not believe a court would permit a lawsuit over events which, however regrettable, occurred hundreds of years ago. These issues in no way reflect Aetna today.' Law Professor Anthony Sebok says this may never get to a jury."
     Professor Anthony Sebok, Brooklyn Law School: "This is really a kind of an interesting game, almost of legal chicken, because the companies do not want to encourage lawsuits that follow this model because the potential for damages is open-ended."
     Brzezinski concluded: "Others in the reparations movement are targeting the government. This suit goes after big business, demanding those who took part in oppression to pay for it."

     Of course, no one who took part in the oppression is still alive. And just how much do U.S. citizens who are descendants of people who arrived in this country since slavery ended owe a network news star, such as Ed Bradley, who is paid multi-millions of dollars a year?

     CBS didn't explore any of those issues or any of the arguments against the idea beyond the one corporate statement.

     A story by Christine Hall of the MRC's CNSNews.com included the concerns of reparations critic Mark Behrens. An excerpt:

...."What standing do the current plaintiffs have to sue for damages that allegedly may have occurred 150 years ago?" asked Behrens, who is a partner in the law firm Hook Hardy & Bacon.

In a class action lawsuit, Behrens explained, plaintiffs must show they have been injured, that they have suffered common injuries, and that they are representative of the people on whose behalf they are suing. "For the people who may be alive today and are descendants [of slaves], there just seems to be a lot of threshold questions they may have to meet," said Behrens. "Despite the obvious inhumanities of slavery,...I think one of the problems will be challenging a system that was wrong but at the time was legal."

Plaintiffs will face other challenges in bringing their case, said Behrens, including statutes of limitation (long since passed) and the difficulty of showing a common injury suffered by slave descendants....

     END of Excerpt

     For the story in full:


An un-bylined Reuters dispatch from San Salvador on Monday described Kenneth Starr's probe of charges that Bill Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice as an "investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life."

     As James Taranto noted in his Tuesday "Best of the Web" column for OpinionJournal.com (www.opinionjournal.com/best), "Reuters refuses to call the Sept. 11 attacks 'terrorism' because it wants to treat terrorists evenhandedly. When reporting on American politics, though, the British wire service is happy to take sides."

     Indeed, the March 25 report headlined, "Bush Will Sign Campaign Finance Bill," included phraseology which matched the spin espoused by Clinton defenders. The dispatch, which did not carry a byline and was datelined San Salvador, where President Bush held a press conference on Sunday, began: "President Bush said on Sunday he would sign landmark campaign finance reform legislation with only a slight hesitation, reflecting his ongoing concerns about the measure."

     The fifth paragraph: "Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life resulted in the president's impeachment in 1998, is to lead a legal challenge that will seek to knock down most of the measure as unconstitutional."

     To read the entire Reuters piece:


Only on made-up TV. CBS's JAG ended last night with a network news reporter conceding that "I'm guilty of pride, of smugness, of all-importance" and asking: "To the American people and to the Afghan people I express my sincere regret for my conduct. It was inexcusable."

     On the show, as previewed in the March 25 and 26 CyberAlerts, the actions of "ZNN" reporter "Stuart Dunston" led to a SEAL team inside Afghanistan being ambushed, resulting in several SEALs being injured and four Afghan civilians being killed. The CBS Web page for JAG: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/jag/

     The March 26 episode of the show about Navy lawyers, produced by Donald Bellisario of Belisarius Productions, in association with the Paramount Television Network, began with action footage of the Navy personnel suddenly being fired on and taking casualties as they moved in on a Taliban or Al-Qaeda position in an operation that was supposed to be a surprise. Next, viewers saw "Dunston," who had accompanied the Navy team on the mission, reporting how a foul-up by the SEALs led to four innocent Afghans being killed and the target getting away.

     JAG lawyers "Commander Harmon 'Harm' Rabb," played by David James Elliott, and "Lt. Colonel Sarah 'Mac' MacKenzie," played by Catherine Bell, are assigned to investigate what went wrong. They soon discover that Dunston, in violation of orders, had used his satellite phone to call his headquarters in the U.S. less than an hour before the incident. Suspecting the enemy could have intercepted the call and thus learned of the SEAL team's operation, Harm and Mac press for Dunston to be court-martialed since as part of a military operation he could be held to military command rules.

     In a huge leap of believability, even though the Secretary of the Navy had approved of Dunston going on the mission and opposed filing charges against him, "Admiral A. J. Chegwidden," the JAG boss, talks directly to President Bush who approves of bringing charges. This, naturally, leads to much back and forth amongst Dunston, his JAG lawyer and Harm and Mac about the First Amendment and freedom of the press.

     The case is broken when in the hallway outside of the trial Dunston's producer, a woman who claimed to be raised in London and Cairo, is overheard by Mac speaking fluent native Farsi during a cell phone call. Putting her on the stand, Mac soon gets her to admit that she's really Iranian and that she blames the U.S. for her family's death under the shah and that after getting the call from Dunston she called a contact in Pakistan who alerted the hunted terrorist to the imminent attack.

     This leads Dunston to realize he really was at fault since his phone call led to the ambush. He's sentenced to 12 months in prison, but because he admitted his guilt it is suspended. As JAG ended, viewers saw and heard Dunston making this statement on ZNN:
     "Earlier today I threw myself on the mercy of a military court. Now I do the same with the court of public opinion. I do so because I am guilty, not just of disobeying an order in a time of war. I'm guilty of pride, of smugness, of all-importance. To the American people and to the Afghan people I express my sincere regret for my conduct. It was inexcusable. I'm going to take some time off after I visit each of the wounded SEALS and personally apologize for my actions. Then I'll be back on the air, but with a different attitude."

     You'd like to hope a real journalist would be as contrite if guilty of such irresponsibility. -- Brent Baker


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