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 Magazine Watch

Wednesday November 7, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 43)

DUI Spy; Clinton Teaches Morals; Stengel Takes Sides

1. All three magazines cover the Democratic discovery of George W. Bush’s DUI arrest, but U.S. News & World Report gave it the least emphasis.

2. Two more magazine reviews of campaign ads leave out the NAACP’s "Bush killed James Byrd all over again" ad.

3. Newsweek and U.S. News take up the Clinton legacy watch, with author Robert Coles praising in Newsweek our Lewinsky-assisted education: "The possible irony: a fallen leader can be an inadvertent moral instructor-at-large."

4. U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman gave all the credit for prosperity to tax increases: Bush’s in 1990 and Clinton’s in 1993.

5. On media bias, U.S. News columnist John Leo ponders a tilt against Gore, while Time’s Richard Stengel explained how reporters don’t take sides. He learned it from working for Bill Bradley.

On the November 13 covers, as voters approached the polls, the magazines focused on minorities: Time touted an investigation into "The Shame of Foster Care." Like Time, Newsweek featured a black youth on its cover, promoting an Ellis Cose piece on "America’s Prison Generation." U.S. News & World Report explored "The Mormon Way." Only Newsweek noted Ross Perot’s endorsement of George W. Bush. Reporter Matt Bai dismissed it in a little box: "In an unhinged moment close to Election Day in 1992, Perot accused the Bushies of plotting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding; the campaign called him ‘loony.’ Last week, looking older and even less sure-footed, the man who wanted to tinker under America’s hood tried to make amends by endorsing George W’s White House bid....As usual, only a few people close to Perot knew his thinking, and few others cared."


All three magazines cover the Democratic discovery of George W. Bush’s DUI arrest, but U.S. News gave the least emphasis to the story, folding it into a one-page story on "A bumpy, bumptious ride, right to the end." Reporter Kenneth T. Walsh explored the leaker: "Claiming responsibility for the leak was Tom Connolly, a Portland, Maine, lawyer and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate who was a Gore delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Connolly told CNN he had gotten the information last Thursday and said ‘it came to me in my capacity as an attorney.’ Connolly said it was important to release the information, despite it being the eve of the election, because many man consider it ‘a crime of moral turpitude.’ A secretary in the Biddeford District court said a ‘gentleman’ came in two weeks ago and asked court staff to ‘research’ the 1976 docket books in the basement archives."

Time reporter Adam Cohen’s article was headlined "Fallout from a Midnight Ride." He explained the leaker: "Connolly – a well-known local gadfly who gave interviews last week wearing a fishing cap and seated in front of a human skeleton he keeps in his office – says he learned about Bush’s DUI through a round of old-fashioned small-town gossip...Connolly was a Democratic candidate for governor two years ago (finishing third in a five-way race) and a delegate to this year’s Democratic National Convention. There he handed out anti-Bush buttons proclaiming W IS FOR WIENER, and he has a website bearing the same slogan. Yet he insists he had no contact with the Gore campaign. ‘It’s not a dirty trick to tell the truth,’ he says."

Cohen wrote of Bush: "The reason he did not disclose the DUI arrest specifically, she says, is that he did not want his behavior to set a bad example for his twin daughters, now freshmen in college – an excuse that struck some listeners as similar to one that President Clinton gave for lying about Monica Lewinsky."

Newsweek’s large headline blared "Unhappy Hour." Howard Fineman, Mark Hosenball, and Michael Isikoff summarized: "As the contest between Bush and Al Gore wound down, the governor held high ground on matters of honesty and candor, drawing thunderous cheers every time he promised to ‘bring honor and dignity to the office.’ But now his lead in the character contest was threatened by the belated disclosure – and by reminders that he was a son of privilege who’d been able to take his time growing up. It didn’t help that his running mate, Dick Cheney, had earlier admitted to two youthful drunken-driving arrests of his own." The article questions why Bush did not reveal this earlier (including instances in which Bush was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News and a call to jury duty in 1996) and how his campaign dealt with the news once it broke. Fineman insisted: "Bush has tried to have it both ways on the personal-redemption story: lots of detail on the uplift, little on the murky depths whence he arose."

The trio explained that a man named Bill Childs was bragging around the courthouse about his knowledge of the Bush matter, and Connolly handed the story to local Fox reporter Erin Fehlau. "Connolly was a Democratic lawyer and gadfly, a candidate for governor in 1998. Childs was a Democratic lawyer and part-time probate judge. Both were part of the interconnected world of Maine party politics, and Republicans tried strenuously to tie them to the Gore campaign. The best they could do was to focus on [Gore spokesman Chris] Lehane, whose sister worked in a prominent Portland law firm in which former Governor Tom Curits is a partner – and Curtis is said to have backed Childs for his probate judgeship. But Lehane, his sister, and the law firm all vehemently denied any involvement."

Columnist Jonathan Alter added to the Bush push: "The candidate whose signature line is, ‘I trust the people,’ didn’t trust us to be mature enough to handle this information."


Two more magazine reviews of campaign ads leave out the NAACP’s "Bush killed James Byrd all over again" ad. Time led its political section with James Poniewozik’s "Campaign Ad Nauseam" piece: "As this magazine’s TV critic, I always like to see a new generation pay homage to the classics; for instance, that pro-Bush group’s ‘remake’ of Daisy, the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson ad that targeted Barry Goldwater as a dangerous extremist. Both ads cut from a little girl picking petals off a daisy to footage of a nuclear explosion. The new version accused Clinton and Gore of making America vulnerable to nuclear attack from ‘communist Red China’ (reminding voters under 45 what ‘red’ means)." Poniewozik also mentioned recorded phone calls from celebrities like Norman Schwarzkopf and Ed Asner, but doesn’t vet any for accuracy, except quoting Kathleen Hall Jamieson saying this year’s crop is "comparatively a model for accuracy."

Marci McDonald’s article for U.S. News discussed the advertising trends – away from national TV to local TV – and roped in activist Paul Taylor to decry "this nightly carpet-bombing of ads" – but ended with the note that "advertising veterans lament that neither the Bush nor Gore teams managed to produced a single memorable ad image of tagline."


Newsweek and U.S. News take up the Clinton legacy watch. In "Clinton’s furtive, final run," U.S. News reporter Terence Samuel explored "Should Gore have let him to more to help?" Samuel discussed a nearby image of Clinton’s Esquire magazine cover photo: "There’s the cover photograph, in which Clinton seems to loom over everything: He sits on a bar stool, his legs apart, with his tie hanging just below his belt. His smile is not one of summing up but of starting out. It is the smile of the cat that ate the canary that was stuffed inside a chicken that was stuffed inside a turkey, and now he wants dessert. With help like that, maybe it’s no surprise that one of the nation’s most accomplished campaigners has been reduced to playing inconsequential gigs in Louisville and Little Rock....For a man who so loves to be loved, the rebuff must be deeply wounding."

In Newsweek, author Robert Coles made the case for Clinton’s sex-capades as a civic good: as the pull quote explained, "The possible irony: a fallen leader can be an inadvertent moral instructor-at-large." Yes, Coles explained, an 11th-grade student arrived at The Truth: "He’s done a lot of good for the country, a lot more than some of the people who are going after him, and call him bad. You can make a mistake, but if you’re going to judge a guy like the President, or anyone, you should look at the whole record, everything he’s done, my dad says." Coles concluded: "There is it, I mused, a President and some schoolchildren amid a nation’s unfolding history: moral leadership paradoxically becoming immediately, intensely discussed, despite its distant, notable, regrettable lapse."

Only one lapse?


U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman gave all the credit for prosperity to tax increases: "The good times we enjoy, made possible by savings from the transformation of deficits into record surpluses, financed an increase in capital investment from $600 billion in 1989 to nearly $1.4 trillion in 2000. That did not come about exclusively because of the private sector in the 1990s, as some have argued. Americans worked just as hard during the economic boom of the 1980s, when the country ran up huge deficits. What made the difference were the tax increases, mainly on upper-income households, pushed through by the Bush and Clinton administrations in 1990 and 1993."

Zuckerman was kinder to Gore than Bush: "Vice President Gore’s spending programs are also excessive and would eat into the surplus, but his combination of new spending programs and more modest tax cuts would consume much less of the fiscal surplus." And invest some of social security in private funds? Oh, no. "Bush intends to take about a sixth of Social Security revenue and put it into a system of $1.2 trillion by 2010, advancing the date of its bankruptcy, which would require vast transfusions of general revenue. This would mean a return to deficit spending because Bush will have squandered the surplus on across-the-board tax cuts."


On media bias, U.S. News columnist John Leo ponders a tilt against Gore, while Time’s Richard Stengel explains how reporters don’t take sides. In his column "Media Hopscotch," Leo noted: "A 1992 Roper poll of Washington reports and bureau chiefs showed that 89 percent voted for Bill Clinton, 7 percent voted for George Bush. This is the kind of voting pattern we might expect among political reporters in Poland under Communists or in Iraq today."

Leo listed a pack of stories and columns about a pro-Gore bias (Charlie Cook, Howard Kurtz, Charles Krauthammer), and added: "The irony here is that believers in the liberal-bias theory seem to have bade the competing cyclical theory look more accurate." After GOP complaining about the RATS ad and Gore gaffe omissions, Leo suggested, "By mid-October, Democrats and liberal commentators were doing the complaining, again with some justification. Margaret Carlson. Jonathan Alter, E.J. Dionne, and others were asking why Gore’s embellishments were endlessly kicked around in media while Bush’s inaccuracies and off- the-cuff fibs were being ignored. Here we have history’s first great wave of liberal whining about conservative bias in Washington political coverage." Did Leo miss out on reading Mark Hertsgaard’s On Bended Knee about the blatant pro-Reagan bias of the media?

Leo claimed "Gore had some legitimate anti-Gore bias may have come into play. The flood of embellishments crystallized what so many reporters think about Gore – that he’s inauthentic and not very principled. So they never let go of the issue." Actually the media downplayed almost every Gore gaffe (including James Lee Witt), but Republicans were the ones who never let go.

Time’s Richard Stengel explained about listening to Bill Bradley’s 1999 announcement of his presidential campaign: "Earlier that summer I had left my job as a senior editor at Time to become a senior adviser and chief speechwriter for the presidential campaign of former Senator Bill Bradley, who I had known and admired since he came to talk to one of my classes at Princeton."

Despite Stengel’s new crusade, one of his lessons was: "Don’t expect the press to carry any water for you." He explained how "Campaigns do a whole lot more investigative reporting than investigative reporters do," and complained about reporters being slow to pick up their spin: "Being committed to some he-said-she-said idea of ‘objectivity’ often makes a journalist a neutral vessel of distortion. Correcting a candidate’s mistake is not subjective; it’s objective. At the same time, I noticed that people in politics tend to think journalists are biased toward one candidate or another. [He’s just learned this after years at Time?] This leads to a deep misconception."

His title for that "myth" was "Sure, journalists are biased – in favor of their own story." No reporter is going to turn down a story that will put her byline on the front page. I was always dismayed when people in the campaign said certain journalists were on ‘our side’ or on ‘their side.’ Journalists are on the side of the story that gets them the most attention."

Stengel is undone by his own story. Journalists are never on one side. That’s why I left Time to join the Bradley side. Isn’t he missing something?

Tim Graham and Ted King




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