Equally Kind & Gentle Coverage in Houston?
EASY ON THE DEMOCRATS
What did viewers glean from four nights
of network coverage of the Democratic National Convention and what might
it portend for coverage of the Republicans? MediaWatch
reviewed all ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC prime time coverage. Below is a list
of conclusions and a suggested way of judging whether each network
treats the GOP the same as they did the Democrats.
Labeling: The networks
never called the Clinton-Gore ticket or the Democratic platform
liberal, only "moderate," "centrist," or
"conservative." In total, the networks issued 88 labels, just
two more than 1988. During the 1988 Republican convention, viewers heard
214 labels (182 of them conservative). Question #1: Will the networks
show more evenhandedness in Houston by using fewer labels? Question #2:
The networks reflected the liberal view that Clinton moderated the
party. Given that conservatives believe President Bush has moved the
Republican Party leftward, will the labeling of Bush reflect this shift?
Agenda of Questions:
More questions representing a political agenda came from the left than
from the right. In total, Democrats were challenged from the right just
38 times. In 1988, the networks made Democrats respond to 49 GOP agenda
questions, but Republicans had to answer 128 Democratic agenda
questions. Question #3: Will the networks again make Republicans respond
to the arguments of their opponents more than twice as often? Will
reporters pose more questions from the right than the left (e.g., Bush's
environmental policies are not liberal enough)?
1988, when only ABC brought up Jim Wright's transgressions (twice), this
year the House Bank and Post Office scandals involving the House
leadership never came up on ABC, CBS, or NBC. (CNN mentioned them once
in the 7 pm ET hour). Similarly, none of the networks raised charges
about the Clintons' involvement with a failed S&L. All the networks
made passing reference to how Bill Clinton had to overcome charges of
draft dodging and marital infidelity, but none investigated any further.
Question #4: Will the networks give similar light treatment to
Republican scandals, from Neil Bush's S&L role to Iran-Contra to the
Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey's fight
against the Democrats' abortion-on-demand stance generated nothing on
ABC and CBS, only an interview on NBC, and an interview and four
mentions on CNN Question #5: Will the networks give more time to Ann
Stone and pro-choice Republicans than they did to Casey and other
On Board for Gore.
Al Gore has at least one network veteran on his side. Marla
Romash, Press Secretary to Senator Al Gore since 1989, is
traveling with Gore's vice presidential campaign entourage. For most of
1984 and early 1985 Romash was an Associate Producer for Good
Morning America, meaning she helped book guests. After ABC, she
spent three years as a reporter for Hartford CBS affiliate WFSB-TV.
Helping CBS. After
choreographing the 1988 Michael Dukakis primary victory and running
Senator Bob Kerrey's less successful campaign this year, Tad
Devine became "a fully credentialed member of the
press" during the Democratic National Convention." The July 14
Boston Globe reported that at the Madison Square Garden event,
Devine acted "as a spotter and in-house expert for CBS News."
Democrats Covering Republicans.
Last month, MediaWatch listed the names of 17
reporters or executives set to cover or oversee coverage of the
Democratic Convention who used to work for Democratic politicians. Names
included NBC News Vice President Tim Russert, a former
aide to Mario Cuomo; ABC News convention coverage Executive Producer Jeff
Gralnick, one time Press Secretary to Senator George McGovern;
and CNN reporter Ken Bode, a worker in Morris Udall's
1976 presidential campaign. All will be on hand in Houston to cover the
Republicans Covering Republicans.
A few reporters who once worked for Republicans will be on hand in
Houston, but not many. MediaWatch identified
17 Democrats turned reporters or news executives, but only four
Republicans who will cover the Republican National Convention.
ABC News: Joanna Bistany,
Vice President and Assistant to the President; Special Assistant to the
President for Communications, 1981-83.
CNN: Catherine Crier,
co-anchor of convention coverage; Judge elected on the Republican
ticket, Texas civil district court, 1984-89.
Fox: Cissy Baker, Vice
President and Managing Editor; unsuccessful 1982 Republican
congressional candidate in Tennessee.
PBS: David Gergen,
analyst during convention coverage; White House Communications Director,
Chicago Tribune: Jack
Fuller, Editor; Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi,
CBS News, NBC News, National Public
Radio, Newsweek and Time: None known.
The Democrats also had two former CBS
News producers working for them in New York. Republicans will have three
media veterans working on their behalf. David Beckwith, Press Secretary
to VP Dan Quayle, spent most of the 1980s as a Time reporter. Dorrance
Smith, Assistant to the President for Public Affairs since
early 1991, spent much of the last decade as Executive Producer of This
Week with David Brinkley. Peggy Noonan, occasional
speechwriter for George Bush, wrote radio commentaries for Dan Rather in
the early 1980s.
IS IT TODAY or TOADY?
Reporters and anchors always seem to
compete with each other to see who can ask the toughest questions of the
President. But at the Democratic convention, the network morning shows
sounded like they were reading off the Democratic National Committee's
list of talking points, asking about Clinton's family background, the
party's emphasis on women candidates, and the nastiness of Republican
attacks. All of the Big Three networks turned to mush, with NBC the
worst offender. For abandoning any pretense of toughness, NBC's Today
show earned the Janet Cooke Award.
WOMEN. One of the
Democrats' goals was to showcase their feminist candidates. On Today
July 14, Katie Couric interviewed three: California Treasurer Kathleen
Brown Senate candidate Dianne Feinstein, and Iowa House candidate Elaine
Baxter. Couric's questions didn't challenge the three, but let them tout
their strengths: "Let's give women some credit here. What do they
bring to the mix, what do they bring to the equation? What can they get
accomplished?....What about addressing though, some of the issues that
are particularly important to women? They may be domestic issues, and
not exclusive to women, like family leave. Will you focus on things like
that?....Do you think that women are more sensitive to family issues and
do you think they can steal this whole family values campaign away from
Couric might have asked how their party's
opposition to parental consent for abortions puts them at odds with most
voters, or how Democrats can be for family values and the gay rights
VIRGINIA KELLEY. On June
2, Dateline NBC ran a very tough (and for the networks, very
rare) investigative piece on Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelley,
questioning whether she used her son's influence to cover up a mistake
she made that may have cost a young woman's life. In Hot Springs
in 1981, a car of drinking young whites yelled racial epithets at
blacks. A black man threw a piece of concrete at the car, striking
17-year-old Susan Deer in the face. Although the surgery was routine,
Mrs. Kelley struggled in moving the tube supplying the girl's air from
her nose to her mouth. She died on the operating table. But the state
medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, appointed by Clinton in 1979, ruled
the death a homicide, leaving Clinton's mother out of his report. Dr.
Malak was later appointed to a higher-paying job.
Dateline NBC on-air reporter
Brian Ross pointed out that Mrs. Kelley claimed to be willing to talk
about the incident, but only if the Clinton campaign assented -- and
they said no. But on the July 16 Today, Katie Couric only had
non-threatening questions to ask Kelley: "I also read in the many
things that have been written about your son and his childhood that he
used to walk to church alone with a Bible under his arm."
Couric followed up with more toughies:
"You've talked before about the fact that you were a segregationist
way back when and how your son convinced you to see things
differently....There have been things though in more recent memory that
have been very difficult, I know, for you. He, of course, has been the
target of a lot of controversy involving allegations of marital
infidelity, draft dodging, not inhaling. Are these legitimate campaign
issues, in your view?...How tough has it been for you, Ms. Kelley, to
witness this, to see these in many ways, character assassinations, and
negative comments made about your son?"
HILLARY AND TIPPER.
Bryant Gumbel gave -- and the word "gave" fits too well -- an
appallingly soft interview to the ticket's spouses, Hillary Clinton and
Tipper Gore, on July 20. Gumbel began by asking: "How's the trip
going?" After Hillary said they were having fun, Gumbel asked:
"Why fun? What's fun about jumping on a bus and wandering around
through over 1,000 miles? Mrs. Gore?" While GOP spokesmen often get
their answers cut off with hostile retorts, Gumbel let Mrs. Gore and
then Mrs. Clinton go on about their bus trip for one minute and 28
seconds. Then Gumbel asked: "Let me talk about the two of you a
little bit. How well did you know each other up until about two or three
weeks ago?" Then, Gumbel asked if "two women as strong-willed,
independent- minded, outspoken as you are" got along, and let Mrs.
Clinton talk for another 55 seconds.
As if Hillary hadn't had enough time to
criticize Republicans, Gumbel lobbed another softball: "Mrs.
Clinton, in an interview with PBS, you said you thought that the
Republicans had made a calculated political decision to, in your words,
go after you. How big an issue do you think you're yet going to be in
this campaign?" After Hillary talked for a minute and 13 seconds,
Gumbel inserted, "You think it's going to get pretty nasty,"
and let her talk for another 40 seconds.
contacted NBC, spokesperson Lynn Appelbaum said Today Executive
Producer Jeff Zucker was in Barcelona for the Olympics. Applebaum did
stick up for the Today interviews: "I don't know if I
would necessarily agree, or I don't frankly think that Jeff would agree
that they were all softball interviews."
Is Newsweek's Eleanor Clift looking at the Democratic ticket
for more than journalistic reasons? On The McLaughlin Group
July 4, Clift speculated about a Clinton-Gore ticket: "I think Gore
and Clinton could be the all-generational change ticket, and I suppose
if they lose they could do cameo appearances on Studs or
Then, after Bill Clinton and Al Gore
appeared together to make the decision known, Clift declared on Inside
Politics: "I must say I was struck by the expanse of their
chests. They may have to put out their stats." Asked on McLaughlin
Group July 11 about the ticket, Clift made her interests clear: "I
must say looking at some of that footage it looks like the All-Beefcake
STONED NETWORKS. Ann
Stone of Republicans for Choice may claim grass-roots support for a
change in the GOP's pro-life platform, but she can't prove it. In the
August 2 New York Times, reporter Richard L. Berke exposed
Stone's newest publicity ploy, a pro- abortion "caravan"
heading toward the GOP convention in Houston. "Organizers predicted
that the caravan would be met at every stop by enthusiastic
crowds," but Berke found a "sparse crowd" attending their
Indianapolis stop, consisting mostly of reporters and pro-life
Berke reported Stone tried to put a
favorable spin on her failure by telling "a reporter that the trip
was never intended to draw crowds but instead to attract news
reports." The media certainly obliged. In a one week period, Stone
appeared on Larry King Live, CBS This Morning and Face
the Nation, plus her one-truck "caravan" garnered
coverage on CNN's World News and the CBS Evening News.
Berke's story might prompt reporters to
re-examine their promotion of Stone. As he reported, "The absence
of public support for Ms. Stone's highly publicized effort so far does
little to bolster the hopes of Republicans who favor abortion rights,
and it tend to strengthen the arguments of anti-abortion Republicans who
dismiss Ms. Stone as representing a noisy but small minority."
TV LADIES LEAN LEFT.
Some famous newswomen weren't afraid to show their political stripes as
guests at People magazine Publisher Ann Moore's power lunch for
Ellen Malcolm, President of EMILY's List, a fundraising group for
liberal pro-abortion Democratic women, New York Daily News
columnist Elizabeth Jensen reported on July 14. Who attended? NBC's
Faith Daniels and Mary Alice Williams, ABC's Lynn Sherr, CBS' Paula Zahn
and National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg.
COFFEY'S GROUNDS. Los
Angeles Times Editor Shelby Coffey joined CNN President Tom Johnson and New
York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at a July 12 event
organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. As he
left the fete, which honored Democrats Barbara Boxer, Barney Frank, and
Eleanor Holmes Norton, MediaWatch asked Coffey
whether he would sponsor an event for conservative candidates. Coffey
stammered: "This is an event, where what we work with, has to do
with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. So Arthur
Sulzberger, Tom Johnson and myself are doing that." But weren't
liberal candidates being honored? "What we're doing was, has no
political meaning other than signifying equality of opportunity to
journalists," Coffey asserted. So, Coffey won't hesitate to chair
an event where conservatives will be honored? There's no political
content involved, and equality of opportunity for conservative
journalists isn't exactly major media newsroom policy, either.
L.A. VERDICT CHALLENGED.
Coverage of the Los Angeles police brutality trial took a beating from
Roger Parloff in the June American Lawyer. "A torrent of
politicians, commentators, and lawyers...were arguing over the airwaves
that actually seeing any of the trial wasn't a prerequisite to
condemning the verdict." Parloff singled out Time and The
New York Times for wrongly reporting Rodney King's behavior.
"The Times article, though it does mention a `high speed
chase' also twice refers to King's offense thus far as a `traffic stop.'
Time's May 11 article about the verdict makes no allusion
to" King's speed or his running stop signs at 80 MPH.
As for the juror who was berated for
asserting King was "in control" of the situation, Parloff
explained: "The juror meant that King could have avoided or stopped
the beating by assuming a prone position. I agree. Every time King
assumed that position, the beating stopped. (It's no secret in Los
Angeles that this is what is expected of an arrested suspect and King
had been arrested before.)" He concluded: "I am terrified at
the prospect of quotation out of context. After all, imagine if the
media were to summarize this article the ay it summarized the
HILLARY'S TAG TEAM. PBS
anchor Judy Woodruff and her husband, Wall Street Journal
Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt, teamed up to defend Hillary Clinton
during the convention. Hunt grew positively livid on CNN's Capital
Gang July 13. When columnist Mona Charen declared that Hillary
still represents the left wing of the party, Hunt complained:
"Mona, I would point out that that is based on law review pieces
she wrote 20 years ago. It's utter complete nonsense. You don't have
anything factual." When Charen tried to counter with facts, Hunt
exploded: "No! That is the far- right American Spectator
kind of neo-fascist hit nonsense!"
The Spectator article quoted a
1982 Harvard Law Review article in which Hillary described
parents making decisions for their children as authoritarian:
"Along with the family, past and present examples of such
arrangements include marriage, slavery, and the Indian reservation
system." But when Woodruff interviewed her on PBS July 14, she
suggested that Hillary's past comments shouldn't be an issue: "How
important is it that that not enter in, and should it enter in?"
MOYERS ON MARIO. During
a convention stint at CNN, PBS omni-presence Bill Moyers praised the
Democrats' leading leftists. After Mario Cuomo's speech, he declared:
"It's worth dying prematurely so you can hear someone else do your
eulogy if that someone is Mario Cuomo." Moyers also praised Jesse
Jackson: "Now you know a speech like this reaches me. I'm from East
Texas. My daddy was a New Deal Democrat, and I love the vibrations and
the rhythms and the cadences and the power that he puts behind lost
causes. But they've got to go beyond that." Jerry Brown emerged as
Moyers' favorite: "I thought all through the primaries that Brown
had the message -- that this is a party that is spoiled, that this is a
two-party system that is corrupt."
Amsterdam did more than host the international AIDS Conference in late
July; it allowed the media to promote their progressive policies on sex
and drugs. "Talk to anyone from the mayor on down," Dr. Bob
Arnot proclaimed on CBS This Morning, "and you'll find
exactly how tolerant and open this city is about sex, drugs and
AIDS....It's a lesson the entire world can learn if we are going to
survive the AIDS epidemic." Dr. Arnot's prescription? "Spread
the word and you won't spread the disease."
On NBC Nightly News, Robert
Bazell touted the fact that "Dutch school children not only get
condoms, but starting at age 12, they receive highly trained information
on how to use them." CBS reporter Edie Magnus pointed out that
"drug addicts can exchange dirty needles for clean ones here, no
questions asked." The city also maintained needle dispensers, as
George Strait noted on ABC's World News Tonight, that
"provide a user with what he needs" for about 75 cents. Absent
from the Amsterdam reports were any critics of the city's policies,
although there was no shortage of criticism regarding the United States'
"strict" laws and "spotty social pro-grams." Asked
NBC's Bazell: "Why can't people in the United States and other
countries be more like the Dutch?"
Usually Favors Democrats
HISTORY OF UNEVEN COVERAGE
Political bias in convention coverage is
not a baseless concern. Studies comparing coverage of the Democratic
versus Republican conventions in 1984 and 1988 found significant
differences. In short, Republican convention delegates and party
activists were identified with ideological labels much more often than
Democrats; controversies dogging the GOP nominee received much more
emphasis than those involving the Democratic nominee; reporters
frequently forced Republicans to respond to Democratic campaign issues,
but reporters rarely posed Republican agenda questions to Democrats.
After the 1984 conventions, a team headed
by Professor William Adams of George Washington University reviewed
tapes of CBS and NBC. Among his findings:
CBS and NBC reporters and anchors called
the Democratic Party, its platform and leaders by liberal labels just 21
times, despite the liberal domination of the convention. Walter Mondale
and Geraldine Ferraro were the nominees, and Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart
were key players. In contrast, the same two networks used various
conservative labels to describe the Republicans 113 times, more than
five times as often. "On the average," Adams discovered,
"about once every six minutes from Dallas, viewers were told that
the Republican Party was in the hands of `very strong conservatives,' or
`the hard right,' with enormous power exercised by, in Walter Cronkite's
words, the `fundamentalist religious conservative right wing.'"
Questions posed by reporters at both
conventions came overwhelmingly from the Democratic agenda. In total,
reporters posed Democratic agenda questions to Republicans 84 times, but
Republican questions were put to Democrats only eleven times. On 18
occasions Democrats, for instance, were asked whether Ronald Reagan was
too conservative. Republicans were asked whether the Democratic ticket
was too liberal on just five occasions. On another 27 occasions,
reporters asked Republicans how they expected to garner women's support
given their opposition to the ERA and abortion. Democrats were never
asked whether their liberal views might turn off some women.
Four years later, in 1988, the Media
Research Center (MRC) completed a similar analysis following the study
parameters established by Adams. The MRC studied the three broadcast
networks, plus CNN and found that the 1988 coverage was almost a mirror
image of 1984:
Republicans were tagged as
"conservative" two and a half times more often than Democrats
were described as "liberal." The 86 labels attached to
Democrats were split about evenly between liberal and moderate. At the
Republican gathering, however, 85 percent of the 214 labels were
Republican controversies, from
Iran/Contra to the "sleaze factor," were raised 32 times.
(Questions about Dan Quayle's background were raised another 471 times.)
At the Democratic convention, however, reporters were silent about
controversies, such as then-House Speaker Jim Wright's growing ethical
problems and Michael Dukakis' furlough policy.
Republicans had to respond to Democratic
agenda issues on 128 occasions, more than twice as often as the 49 times
Democrats were challenged by GOP themes.
As an example of a Democratic question,
take Lesley Stahl of CBS News, who asked unsuccessful presidential
candidate Pete du Pont: "Is there any concern on your part that
this ticket might just be a little too conservative? It's to the right
of most Americans in the country right now." CNN's Frank Sesno
asked a black delegate: "Bush and Quayle opposed the extension of
the Voting Rights Act -- balked on it. And opposed Grove City. Two very
large, important civil rights bills. How do they overcome that stigma
within the minority community?"
All for Clinton-Gore
CBS anchor and reporter Bob Schieffer is
another media fan of the Clinton-Gore campaign. On July 21, the CBS
Capitol Hill reporter spoke to a group called Democrats for a New
Direction. Schieffer praised Clinton's long convention speech: "It
seemed to me that it said the right things for winning an election...I
thought that the most important paragraph of the speech was when he said
'I accept the nomination on behalf of the working people, the people who
play by the rules, the people who pay the taxes.'" Naturally, he
said nothing about Clinton's plan to raise taxes by $150 billion.
He also praised the Clinton-Gore campaign
strategy: "Seeing them out there on the campaign trail, they seem
young, and vibrant, and full of energy...I think this bus tour that they
are on right now is one of the great political innovations of recent
years. I mean, finally, a candidate is getting out, and actually talking
to real people. You see them out there -- You can tell they are having a
lot of fun. I think that it is really creating a lot of energy."
Why wasn't the idea of a bus tour through small-town America an
"innovation" when Bush did it in 1988?
Schieffer also made a few gratuitous
pokes at Vice President Quayle. In talking about the fizzled campaign of
Ross Perot, Schieffer digressed: "On the cover of Newsweek
with one word -- 'The Quitter', or two words, I should say. Sounds like
Dan Quayle." As for the Quayle rumors, Schieffer said: "You
couldn't take [Quayle] off. He would have to quit...He'd have to say, he
believed he could, you know, work for family values as the Secretary of
Education, something, something of that nature. I don't think you could
make him Secretary of Education, though, with his spelling."
Matches Prime Time
The networks can't blame time constraints
for the tilt in Democratic National Convention coverage documented in
the MediaWatch Study at right. The morning
shows followed the same pattern as prime time broadcasts.
A study of ABC's Good Morning America,
CBS This Morning and NBC's Today from Monday through
Thursday found the three shows issued almost twice as many moderate and
conservative labels as liberal ones, 31 to 16. On Tuesday, for instance,
Today's Katie Couric asked Michael Dukakis: "How do you
feel about the more centrist direction of the party?"
Reporters and hosts never called the
platform liberal, instead tagging it moderate or centrist nine times. On
Tuesday, ABC's Mike Schneider reported that "when it comes to
business and economic affairs, this is a very mainstream, if not in some
cases almost conservative platform." Today's Bryant Gumbel
agreed: "On the business side, the Democrats adopted what's viewed
as a moderate platform." The next morning, ABC's Ron Claiborne
asserted that "in its sum it's a fairly moderate program, but
certainly more to the right than previous platforms."
Besides two questions from CBS' Paula
Zahn, eight references to Bill Clinton's ideology put him in the center
or right. Zahn twice asked about George McGovern's assertion that
Clinton-Gore would become "more liberal" if they won. More
typical, ABC's Jim Wooten explained how Clinton wanted "to move the
party back toward the middle. He's comfortable there." On Monday,
Charlie Gibson had asked Susan Estrich "Does the left like this
ticket that is clamoring so hard to get into the center?"
By a margin of 26 to 11, morning show
hosts posed more than twice as many questions from the left than from
the right. Interviewing Senator Tom Harkin, Zahn asked: "There is a
feeling, though, Senator that in reaching to those Reagan Republicans or
Reagan Democrats that in fact you're disenfranchising some of your
minority voters. "The morning shows also ignored questions about
Clinton's past, but Today did mention the Casey situation five
times and Good Morning America another three.
NEWTWORKS CODDLE THE DEMOCRATS
During the Democratic National Convention
July 13-16 in New York City, a team of MediaWatch
analysts watched live prime time coverage offered by the four networks.
The information gathered appeared in a special daily MediaWatch
Convention Watch newsletter and has been analyzed since
for this month's study which has determined that, as in 1984 and 1988,
the Democrats failed to receive tough scrutiny of their records,
ideology, or policies.
In short: (1) Democratic delegates,
speakers and candidates were described as moderate, centrist or
middle-of-the-road more often than they were tagged liberal; (2)
Reporters and anchors posed more questions from the Democratic or
left-wing agenda than which matched the conservative or Republican
agenda; (3) Controversies, such as charges about Bill Clinton's draft
record or the party's refusal to let pro-life Governor Bob Casey speak,
were raised just 8 times by the broadcast networks, on another 7
occasions by CNN.
This year's study follows 1984 and 1988
studies of how the television networks covered the Democratic versus
Republican conventions (as summarized on page 5). The study covered all
ABC, CBS and NBC night time coverage, the combined NBC/PBS broadcast for
90 to 120 minutes a night and CNN from 8pm to 12am Eastern time. In the
September issue, MediaWatch will publish the
final results comparing and contrasting coverage of the two conventions.
reporters attached moderate or even conservative ideological labels to
convention attendees 51 times, while using liberal labels 38 times. Only
ABC referred more to liberals than moderates in Madison Square Garden,
by a ratio of 12 mentions to two. While PBS/NBC joint coverage balanced
moderate and liberal labels (11-11), the other networks concentrated
more on moderate labels: CBS by a ratio of 10-3, CNN 14-7, and NBC on
its solo broadcast 10-4. During the last night, NBC's Tom Brokaw
concluded: "Bill Clinton and Al Gore will try to capitalize on some
of the goodwill that you see here tonight, and lead a unified centrist
Bill Clinton and Al Gore were never once
directly labeled liberal, only "moderate,"
"centrist," "middle of the road," or
"conservative" a total of 19 times. Before his July 16 speech,
for instance, Tom Brokaw tagged Clinton "a moderate of modest
means." A bit later, John Chancellor decided "they've done a
good job of moving this party back to the center of the political
Some reporters went so far as to call the
ticket "conservative." During the first night, Susan Spencer
of CBS asserted: "I think it's fair to say that if you talk to
delegates, even liberal Democrats now, they think that Al Gore and Bill
Clinton could be a winning ticket. They're willing to swallow their
problems that they have with such a conservative pair in hopes of
winning." Late Thursday night CNN's Candy Crowley noted that many
delegates "are more of the liberal wing of the party," who
"are willing to put aside some of their policy differences with
this man. Bill Clinton, of course, is a conservative Democrat, he is a
Similarly, the platform which stands by
abortion on demand and calls for massive new spending, including a
public works job program and a national health care system, was never
called liberal. All 12 prime time references described it with moderate
labels. During a July 14 All-Star baseball game break-in, Dan Rather
announced: "Delegates approved the Clinton-Gore, center-
of-the-road Democratic Party platform, trying to move the party closer
to voters around the malls in America's suburbs." On CNN the same
night, Ken Bode reported that the convention had "passed this
moderate platform" and Tom Brokaw declared: "This is a
Most liberal labels were reserved for
Mario Cuomo, Jerry Brown and delegates. On opening night, Schieffer
labeled Brown and then Clinton: "It doesn't hurt to have someone
acting kind of goofy off to the left because it leaves the man in the
center looking more moderate." Similarly, Peter Jennings wondered:
"Doesn't Tom Harkin represent sort of a dilemma here, because he's
on the left wing of the party and Bill Clinton and Al Gore are really
trying to move this party to the center?" On Wednesday, Sam
Donaldson declared: "Mario Cuomo's speech was a liberal
Reporters normally play devil's advocate, making politicians respond to
points from their opponents. In 1988, Republicans were challenged with
128 Democratic agenda questions, the Democrats just 49 Republican agenda
questions. Judging by those posed this year, reporters considered
liberal Democrats just as much, if not more of, an opponent for the
Clinton-Gore ticket than the GOP and conservatives. The networks asked
more questions (or raised points) from the left than from the right, by
a count of 46 to 38. Of these, CNN and NBC asked a higher proportion of
questions from the left than right, both with a ratio of 10 to 6. The
other networks either balanced their agenda questions or came close:
ABC, 8-6, CBS, 5-5, and PBS/NBC, 14-15.
Some examples of questions from the left.
Nine minutes into Monday's solo NBC show, Brokaw asked Ann Richards:
"Do the poor and the inner cities get left out with this
ticket?" During Monday's joint PBS/NBC show, NBC's Andrea Mitchell
told House Speaker Foley that Clinton has "been trying to move the
party further to the right. Doesn't that leave you traditional liberals
out in the cold?"
Tuesday night Maria Shriver continued the
theme. To U.S. Representative Maxine Waters: "After the L.A. riots,
you talked about people needing change, wanting to empower themselves.
What specifically should give them a reason to vote for this ticket --
two white boys from the South?" And, "Do you feel that you
have to sell out here?" Shriver to Mario Cuomo: "Some say this
ticket is hard to distinguish from the Republicans. I mean, they've
moved so far to the right."
After Elizabeth Glazer's AIDS speech,
Shriver asserted: "You place responsibility for the death of your
daughter squarely at the feet of the Reagan Administration. Do you
believe they are responsible for that?"
On Wednesday Ed Bradley asked Walter
Mondale: "In 1984 you were very honest, very up front, very open
with the American people. At the convention you said in San Francisco,
'I will raise your taxes. It will be necessary.' There are people today
who say that you cannot solve the problems of this country without
raising taxes. Your recommendation?"
ABC's Cokie Roberts the same day:
"I'm talking to Frank Gallegos from California who is a Teamster
official, a union man. Bill Clinton has not been terribly sympathetic to
the unions. Are you going to be, is it going to be comfortable for you
to be working for him?" On Thursday, CNN's Gene Randall queried
Sen. Howell Heflin: "You were part of the Anita Hill hearings this
year. Will there be some kind of effect from those hearings that will
play to the Democrats' advantage?"
As for conservative agenda questions, Dan
Rather asked U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton two: "What about the ticket?
It's light on foreign policy experience." And, "I know
Indiana, I've traveled there many times. They care about family values
in Indiana. Isn't this going to hurt him [Clinton] badly?"
Also on Monday, CNN's Catherine Crier
interviewed Al Gore: "You are seen as someone with the environment
as a major part of your agenda, even at the cost sometimes of economic
recovery. How are you going to avoid the label of being environmentally
radical at a time and period when people are so worried about the
economy and dollars?"
Jeff Greenfield asked Congressman Louis
Stokes on Wednesday: "You know the Republicans are going to run
against people like you as the cause of the real problems, the evil, big
spending, insulated Congress. Isn't that going to resonate a lot with
American voters?" In a twist on the usual "gender gap"
issue, NBC's John Cochran asked a delegate: "Has the party become
too sensitive to the women's movement?"
A few times anchors made points that
reflected a political agenda. Polls show two-thirds of the public
support the Pennsylvania abortion restrictions, but on Tuesday, for
instance, John Chancellor endorsed the liberal view of how the issue
plays: "My own guess is that the Supreme Court's recent decision,
which ...in the minds of many Americans, kept Roe v. Wade alive, but
fuzzed up the question for a lot of ordinary people. That helps
Democrats in this. As we all know all the polls over the years have
shown that people favor in this country, by varying mounts, a woman's
right to choose." A few minutes later Brokaw made a conservative
point: more money for AIDS will mean less for bigger killers like
reporters steered clear of asking Democrats many questions about recent
controversies that might make the liberal ticket look bad. Contrast that
to the 1988 Republican convention, when Tom Brokaw led off NBC's
coverage: "In this hall, you'll hear nothing of Iran-Contra, or
Meese, or Deaver, or Nofziger, or the tragedy in Beirut." In New
Orleans, network anchors and reporters raised controversies like this on
32 occasions. Democrats in New York clearly got an easier time, with
only 15 mentions of controversy, and CNN was responsible for half of
those. The others were even more sparing: three mentions on ABC, two on
NBC, two on PBS/NBC, and only one on CBS.
Seven of the mentions were brief
references to Clinton's struggles with charges of marijuana use, draft
dodging, and infidelity. Reporters vaguely listed them as character
tests Clinton faced down during the primaries. But reporters never made
any Democrat respond to a question about the draft issue or discuss the
political impact of Clinton's draft avoidance. Two additional mentions,
both on CNN, brought up the Democrats' role in the S&L imbroglio.
Among the other controversies barely touched on:
Pro-life Democrats. Pennsylvania
Gov. Bob Casey was denied permission to address the convention against
the Party's abortion-on-demand stance. He was also denied permission to
address a network audience. Only CNN and NBC interviewed Casey in the
four days of prime time convention coverage. CNN made another four
mentions in prime time.
House Bank and Post Office. The
House Bank and Post Office fiascos, scandals involving the Democratic
House leadership, never came up on ABC, CBS, or NBC during the
convention. CNN's Bernard Shaw, however, did mention the scandal in the
7pm hour, outside the time frame of this study.
South African Profits. Also
outside the study period: only CNN's Shaw, on Monday night, highlighted
the recent revelation that Bill and Hillary Clinton reported small
capital gains on the sale of stock in the South African diamond
conglomerate DeBeers in 1980 and 1981, years in which apartheid
continued and liberals called for divestment.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe