Networks Come to the Aid of Dukakis
Mad at the Ads
In the final weeks of the campaign the
television networks focused attention on the "dirty" campaign
led by "divisive" and "negative" Bush commercials.
Reporters debated why Dukakis let the charges "go unanswered"
for so long, but when Dukakis labeled Bush campaign assertions he's soft
on defense and crime "garbage," several network correspondents
moved quickly to help the Democratic candidate discredit the ads.
On October 19 ABC rushed Richard
Threlkeld onto World News Tonight to correct all the alleged
errors in an anti-Dukakis spot best known as the "tank" ad.
Over video of a tie-clad Dukakis riding in a tank, the Bush ad began:
"Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we
developed." Threlkeld countered: "In fact, he supports a range
of new weapons, including the Trident II missile." The commercial
continued: "He opposed four missile systems, including the Pershing
Two missile deployment." Not so, "Dukakis opposes not four
systems, but two, as expensive and impractical, and never opposed
Pershing Two," Threlkeld charged. "Dukakis opposed the Stealth
bomber," the announcer asserted. "In fact," Threlkeld
insisted, "Dukakis has supported the Stealth bomber."
So who was telling the truth? A week
later NBC's Lisa Myers referred to a Bush press conference where
"the campaign provided quotations from Dukakis to show he once
opposed all those weapon systems as the ad states." Did ABC balance
the Threlkeld story by citing this documentation? No, viewers received
just this vague reference from reporter Brit Hume: "The Bush
campaign sent out a team Bush spokesmen to display what they claimed was
documentation for all of Bush's TV ads."
The Bush campaign also provided evidence
to back up their prison furlough ads. But that had little effect. Within
days CBS Evening News was back to portraying the Dukakis
program and Willie Horton's release as typical. On the November third
reporter James Hittori declared: "In Texas, George Bush's adopted
home state, 5,000 inmates, including hundreds convicted of murder and
manslaughter, have received furloughs over the past two years under a
Republican Governor." Like virtually every other network story on
the policy, CBS ignored the fact Dukakis fought against changing the
provision that made the unique Massachusetts program a campaign issue:
It was the only state to furlough first degree murderers sentenced to
life without possibility of parole.
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