Media Accuracy Patrol Only Shoots GOP
CLINTON-GORE TRUTH SQUAD?
Everyone agrees the media have a
responsibility to expose inaccuracies on the campaign trail. But the
"correcting" going on is all focused in one direction: George
Bush and the Republicans.
On the August 27 NBC Nightly News,
White House reporter John Cochran aired footage of Bush charging that
Bill Clinton's plan included "$220 billion in new spending, plus
the largest tax increase in history, $150 billion." With a red
graphic screaming "WRONG," Cochran declared: "In 1982,
Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, George Bush, presided over the
largest projected tax increase in history -- $152 billion."
Clinton's economic plan may say it only
calls for $150 billion in new taxes, but that figure does not include
any increased spending on, among other things, training or health care.
Clinton has proposed a 1.5 percent payroll tax for job training and has
loosely endorsed a "play or pay" health plan with a payroll
tax of seven to nine percent. Those two taxes, added to the rest of
Clinton's plan, would easily make Clinton American history's highest tax
raiser. Even if Cochran were correct, the same reporters who deplore
painting Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal are defending Clinton by
saying he's only proposing the second biggest tax increase in history.
The media seized on Michael Kinsley's
column challenging the Bush claim that Clinton raised taxes in Arkansas
128 times. Reporters failed to answer the question: What was the
Arkansas tax burden? Clinton's camp claims it has the 49th lowest tax
burden, but that's measured on a per capita basis, meaning only that
Arkansas is poor, so its tax revenues are necessarily low. Most
economists, however, measure the tax burden by studying the percentage
of family income devoted to taxes. By that standard, Arkansas is firmly
in the middle of the states, and rising. Stephen Moore of the Cato
Institute found from 1983 to 1990, Arkansas state taxes rose from 6.4
percent to 6.8 percent of family income.
Will most reporters question the accuracy
of Clinton's declarations? Take the ad the Clinton campaign released
August 30, which claims: "Those making over $200,000 will pay more.
The rest of us get a break." But Clinton has also proposed raising
taxes on the top two percent of earners, meaning individuals making more
than $90,000 a year and couples making more than $130,000. Economists
expect a third tax rate of 36 to 40 percent on taxpayers above those
levels. That's not exactly a "break" on everybody under
By "correcting" only one
candidate, reporters show they aren't so much interested in doing their
job -- sorting out what's accurate -- as they are making sure Clinton
doesn't become the next Michael Dukakis.
Clinton's NPR Connection.
July's Revolving Door column on former Democratic political operatives
covering the Democratic National Convention as reporters listed Anne
Edwards, scheduler for the 1984 Mondale-Ferraro campaign, as
National Public Radio's (NPR) Senior Editor. While MediaWatch
was in Houston to produce ConventionWatch, Jeff Rosenberg, the
NPR convention producer, faxed us a resume update. Edwards is now part
of the Clinton-Gore campaign advance staff. She should know how to
please the media: From 1980 to 1984 she was the assignment editor in the
CBS News Washington bureau.
Death in Sarajevo. A
sniper's bullet took the life of ABC News producer David Kaplan
on August 13. A producer since joining the network in 1972 after a two
year stint as Assistant Press Secretary to Senator George McGovern,
Kaplan was in the war-torn region with Sam Donaldson to work on a story
for Prime Time Live. During his twenty years with ABC, Kaplan
worked in the special events unit, for World News Tonight, as
White House producer for Sam Donaldson during most of the Reagan
Administration and, until joining Prime Time Live in 1989 as a
Washington-based Senior Producer, as Senior Capitol Hill producer.
Two-Timing at U.S. News.
Liberal MIT economist Paul Krugman, a Contributing
Editor to U.S. News & World Report since 1990,
simultaneously formulated economic policy for the Clinton campaign this
summer. But not anymore. Kathryn Bushkin, the magazine's Director of
Editorial Administration who served as Press Secretary in Gary Hart's
1984 presidential campaign, told MediaWatch in
mid-August that U.S. News felt things "had reached a point
where it was inappropriate for [Krugman] to be, now that Clinton is the
nominee, and that he's taken on a more active role with him, we thought
it was inappropriate for [Krugman] to be writing for us on economic
issues until the election is over. We are not taking any more of his
Krugman has most recently been
responsible for the Democrats' claim that the richest one percent took
60 percent of the income gains in the 1980s, a claim heavily criticized
by conservative economists. Krugman publicized the argument in March 23
and June 1 articles.
Clinton press aide Avis Lavelle told MediaWatch
that Krugman had been working for the campaign since early July helping
to put together debate briefing books and was charged with
"developing support for Governor Clinton's economic concepts in the
Out of Congress, On to TV.
Ohio Congressman Charles Luken decided not to seek
re-election this November, and he's already found a new career. In
January the Democrat will join Cincinnati's WLWT-TV. The News Director
for the NBC affiliate told Electronic Media's Doug Halonen that
Luken "will probably be groomed as a news anchor, but is likely to
start as a reporter and political commentator."
CAN QUAYLE'S COUNCIL
In the last four years, network reporters
have been increasingly critical of thirty-second attack ads on political
campaigns -- deriding them as cheap, superficial, emotionally
overwrought and short on facts. But this is too often the networks' own
formula. ABC reporter Ned Potter's "American Agenda" stories
on Dan Quayle's Competitiveness Council August 4 and 5 are a perfect
example, earning Potter the September Janet Cooke Award.
Potter loaded all his complaints into a
quick scatter-shot litany: "It has killed a plan to increase
recycling of municipal waste. It proposed that half the nation's
wetlands be opened to developers. It delayed aircraft noise control
rules. And environmentalists claim it is weakening or delaying 50 parts
of the Clean Air Act, legislation the President himself originally
Misleading. If Potter
had allowed any opposing spokesmen, they could have pointed out, for
example, that the recycling rule, proposed to stop municipal
incinerators, was estimated to cause no improvement in air quality at a
cost of $100 million, a proposal so outrageous the Democrat-dominated
National Governors Association opposed it. Second, the wetlands claim is
completely misleading -- a 1989 EPA wetlands manual doubled the amount
of "protected" wetlands to include private property that were
only marginally "wet," so reducing "protected"
wetlands by half is returning them to their original status.
Potter continued: "The Clean Air law
orders factories to cut their pollution to specific levels. It says if
they need to exceed those levels for any reason there must be public
notice and a hearing so people who live near the factory can object....
[But] the Council on Competitiveness stepped in, using its power to
strike the requirement from the EPA's rules....The bottom line is that
thousands of factories may cut costs but could add 490,000 pounds of
pollution to the air without warning anyone."
Competitiveness Council has no authority to strike EPA rules. EPA chief
William Reilly has publicly declared that the council only advises him,
and he makes the final decision. Additionally, public notice
requirements don't only apply to factories. When the EPA ruled that
utilities don't have to go through a public notice procedure (which can
delay projects for years), EPA also clearly stated that the rules in no
way authorized pollution increases that would cause violation of clean
air standards in any city or environmentally sensitive areas like
national parks. Often, the exclusions deal with the implementation of
new pollution control equipment. Why would environmentalists try to hold
that up? Potter didn't ask.
In his second report, Potter mourned the
Council's effect on the EPA: "Officials say the Council does more
than get specific regulations changed. They say its very presence makes
regulators flinch. For example, [EPA] chief William Reilly has lost
several battles over the Clean Air Act. And senior EPA officials, who
asked us not to use their names, said the effect of the Quayle council
on their day-to-day work has been devastating. One official said the
council 'intimidates the overall process.' Another said the council 'has
a chilling effect. So much that whole areas of environmental protection
are dropped because you know the council will not let them
Misleading. ABC, which
twice suggested the Competitiveness Council had "tremendous
impact," didn't tell viewers that the council has eight staffers,
while the federal regulatory agencies have more than 120,000. As for the
"chilling effect" the council has on EPA, Potter brought on no
one to make the argument: should EPA, an executive branch agency, have
no oversight from the executive branch? Quayle's council authorization
is the same executive order which established then-Vice President Bush's
Task Force on Regulatory Reform. Even Bill Clinton has declared the need
for such a council in his administration.
Potter's first report also charged:
"Critics say the council...is unaccountable to Congress or the
public and its actions may be illegal...Trimming regulations would be
one thing, but critics say doing it in secret is another."
especially Democrats in Congress, have been trying to force the council
into "sunshine" rules requiring staffers to list all incoming
and outgoing phone calls and the subject of those calls. But when
Special Counsel Peter Fleming investigated the Senate Judiciary
Committee's Anita Hill leak, the media responded much like Nina
Totenberg, who felt that citing of contacts by lobbying groups with
senators or their aides would "chill democratic liaisons."
Potter allowed no one to make the ironic
point that these are provisions the Congress rejects for itself and that
no regulatory agency like the EPA has ever faced. He also missed the
point that by reviewing the mostly unpublicized workings of the
regulatory agencies, the Competitiveness Council is actually increasing
the public accountability of federal regulators. He never cited a stupid
regulation stopped by the White House, like the one requiring
decontamination of construction helmets at an estimated cost of $60
million, although no one has been contaminated by one.
Potter refused to return repeated calls
from MediaWatch over a week-long period to
discuss his stories. On September 8, a voice sounding very much like
Potter's came on the line and said: "Hello...Who is this?"
After identifying ourselves as MediaWatch, the
Potter-like voice said: "Hang on, I'll try to find him." Then,
an ABC receptionist came back on the line and said: "Umm, he's not
in the building. No one here's seen him in a long time." The same
receptionist told us two hours earlier: "He's out to lunch."
Claiming that political campaign ads are
filled with distortions, the networks have appointed themselves
guardians of accuracy with "ad watch" patrols. But before they
proclaim themselves the enemies of distortion, the networks should watch
their own news stories first.
Rather Reveals All?
Journalists aren't afraid to ask politicians about their personal life,
but what about when the tables are turned? Tom Sherwood, a reporter for
Washington's local NBC affiliate WRC-TV, turned the tables on Dan Rather
in Houston by asking him if he ever committed adultery. A squirming
Rather tried to evade the question by bravely throwing a colleague to
the wolves: "You've been asking this to Tom Brokaw, have you?"
Then he asked Sherwood if he'd ever had an affair. Sherwood assured him
"I'm going to answer the question at the end of my story." As
he walked away, Rather turned on his robotic anchorman persona, saying
cryptically, "Well, thank you very much. Pleased to see you."
Coming Clean. In columns
earlier this year, Hendrik Hertzberg and Mickey Kaus of The New
Republic reported that most reporters hope Bill Clinton wins. Now
another reporter has conceded the same thing. On Inside Washington
August 15, Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas
explained: "The Republicans are going to whack away at the press
for the next couple of months as being pro- Clinton. And you know what?
They're right. The press is pro- Clinton -- not 80-20, but I think at
least 60-40. There are a lot of formerly liberal reporters out there
who'd like to see the Democrats win." Formerly?
Brokaw on Bias. Network
anchors and newspaper editors gathered in Houston on August 16 for a
Freedom Forum seminar on bias in campaign coverage. "The panel at
the Houstonian Club felt for the most part there was little or no
bias," The Houston Post's Steve Friedman reported August
17. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw asserted: "I am left with the
conclusion that bias, most often, is left in the eye of the beholder --
But that bias is in Brokaw's eye
according to another reporter on scene. The abortion debate become a
media obsession in Houston, but in New York the networks virtually
ignored the fact that the Democrats refused to let pro-life Gov. Bob
Casey speak. Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Bark reported that
at the same forum Brokaw admitted that Casey "was
underplayed." Bark quoted Brokaw: "During the course of the
convention, it just kind of got lost in a lot of stuff. I think he
should have gotten more attention for not getting attention."
Dueling Jennifers. When
Gennifer Flowers' story came out, neither she nor anyone from the Star
was invited on any morning or evening interview show. But when The
New York Post ran a story August 11 publicizing rumors that
President Bush had an affair with aide Jennifer Fitzgerald, ABC's Good
Morning America and CBS This Morning brought on sources of
the New York Post story the next day.
ABC interviewed Susan Trento, the author
of The Power House, a book including the rumor. CBS brought on
her husband, Joseph Trento, a former CNN reporter who had an interview
with the supposed source of the rumor, Ambassador Louis Fields, who died
in 1986. On the August 15 Inside Washington, Newsweek's
Evan Thomas told a different tale: "Actually, we've heard the tape
of this old Ambassador Fields, who's now dead, talking to one of the
reporters, and the tape makes it pretty clear that he thinks it's just
Defending the Democrats.
While associating the Republicans with dirty politics is a liberal media
mantra, network reporters defended the Democrats against charges that
they spread the Bush infidelity rumors. On the August 12 Today,
NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: "I see no evidence that
this was promoted by the Democrats, and the Republicans have been
throwing around a lot of mud, the surrogates." Wall Street
Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt agreed: "I don't think
the Democrats had anything to do with this."
Then NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski
suggested: "I've talked to some reporters who have personally
received faxes from the Clinton campaign. This story, according to these
reporters, was in fact pushed by the Clinton campaign as early as a
month ago." On Inside Washington, Newsweek's Evan
Thomas also asserted: "It's true that Clinton's folks faxed around
copies of the book to people. That's true." Was the Clinton camp
involved? Network newscasts didn't ask.
MARILYN VS. HILLARY.
While major media reporters flock to the defense of Hillary Clinton,
asking if criticism of her activities is fair, Marilyn Quayle is fair
game for cutting media remarks. In the August 24 Time, reporter
Michael Duffy wrote: "Mrs. Quayle differs from the President's wife
in many ways. While the First Lady's image is cuddly and grandmotherly,
Marilyn Quayle can seem hard, intolerant, and combative." Duffy
continued: "Ever since a Washington Post series on her
husband last winter depicted her as a power-mad spouse who once kicked
to shreds a framed picture of her husband playing golf, Mrs. Quayle has
been trying to soften her Cruella de Vil [sic] nature."
In the same story, Duffy also wrote about
Hillary Clinton: "No sooner had Bush been accused of infidelity
than GOP chairman Rich Bond attacked Mrs. Clinton for likening marriage
to slavery -- a gross distortion." Earlier this year, in the
January 27 issue, Time Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret
Carlson called Hillary "an amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa,
and Oliver Wendell Holmes."
WIN ONE FOR CONNIE.
Pro-abortion Republicans just didn't do enough to satisfy CBS' Connie
Chung. During convention coverage on August 17, Chung began complaining
with her first question to Maine Gov. John McKernan: "You are such
a strong supporter of abortion rights but you gave up, you succumbed to
the pressure." Her second question: "Many people think you
weren't organized, you didn't have your ducks in line, you didn't have
After McKernan explained that they had
only four of the six states required to force a floor fight, an
exasperated Chung responded: "You know it seems like such a small
number. Good heavens, all you needed was six state delegations to try
and bring it on the floor, then obviously two-thirds of the delegation,
but I don't think you were organized, sir."
HAUNTED BY REAGAN. Do
those in the media subconsciously miss the Reagan years, when they had a
more conservative Republican in the White House to lambast? At least two
of them apparently do. During CBS News August 17 convention coverage,
Dan Rather maintained that "the Republicans believe that this
remains Ronald Reagan's election to lose. That he can lose it, yes, he
may lose it, but it's Ronald Reagan's election to lose, even now."
A few days later on the August 20 Today, Bryant Gumbel advised
his audience that "The Vice President will also speak tonight, and
then, of course, the big address by President Reagan."
INSULTING HILLARY'S CRITICS.
Critics of Hillary Clinton's ideological activities and legal writings
haven't been quoted as much as insulted, as the media's feminists assert
that Hillary's critics are intimidated by successful women. On the
August 18 Nightline, even Ted Koppel got into the act:
"Let us not for a moment be confused into believing that this is
only a conservative Republican thing, this business of some people
feeling threatened by smart, assertive, professional women... Women who
speak their minds in public are still swimming upstream in this
STROBE'S SCAM. Time
Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott has made no secret of his affection for
old Oxford classmate Bill Clinton. But he must not have wanted to go all
the way to putting his money where his mouth is. The August Washingtonian
reports that Talbott's two sons, Devin, 15, and Adrian, 11, have each
contributed $250 to the Clinton campaign, using what Talbott called
Attacked Conservatives & Buchanan
KURALT OVER THE EDGE
After Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan
spoke August 17, CBS News reporter Charles Kuralt observed: "I
thought that the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it. Especially
there at the end, 'Take back our culture, take back our country'...I
think there was an appeal to racism, and then Ronald Reagan came along
and made everybody feel good about the country again."
Last month, Kuralt offered a glowing
assessment of Mario Cuomo's partisan speech filled with divisive attacks
on George Bush: "I'm still in the glow of that Cuomo speech. Mario
Cuomo is like one of those three-way light bulbs... He said he was going
to stay on dim so as not to put Bill Clinton in the shade. And then he
stepped up here tonight and delivered a genuine 250-watter. A speech
bright enough and hot enough to light up this dark room. I think tonight
was Cuomo's night, as last night was Jesse Jackson's."
Kuralt may love Cuomo and Jackson, but he
doesn't have much respect for conservatives. Earlier in the night in
Houston Kuralt asserted: "This platform the Republicans adopted
today reminds me of another Republican platform and another convention,
the one of '64, the one that nominated Barry Goldwater, [when] the
party's farthest right wingers took over for the first time and drove
through a breathtakingly conservative platform. I will never forget that
convention. Those folks were not so much interested in winning the
election as in humiliating Nelson Rockefeller and the other moderates of
their own party... They lost in a landslide. Republicans with long
memories might have noticed that something like that was going on here
"The only excited, demonstrative
delegates any of us could find were the ones from the religious right,
Pat Robertson's God and Country rally. They remind me of those Goldwater
delegates of 28 years ago, far more interested in imposing ideological
purity on this party than they are on winning an election... They got
the platform they want. No room for a pregnant woman to make any
decision at all, even if she was raped. It's a platform tough on
welfare, tough on taxes and guns and gays and pornography, tough even on
public radio and public television. They cheered Dan Quayle... and they
will cheer Pat Buchanan and Ronald Reagan tonight, but will they help
elect George Bush? It's almost as if they haven't thought of that."
Woodruff vs. First
MRS. BUSH FIGHTS BACK
Last month, when PBS anchor Judy Woodruff
interviewed Hillary Clinton, Woodruff mentioned the now infamous Harvard
Educational Review article and asked: "How important is it
that that not enter in, and should it enter in?" During PBS/NBC
joint coverage August 18, First Lady Barbara Bush didn't get softballs
from Woodruff, but the First Lady fought back.
Woodruff's questions came from the
Democratic playbook: "I want to ask you about some of the
statements that have been made here at this convention over the last few
days starting with this one."
Mrs. Bush interrupted: "You said you
weren't going to ask all these same old questions." But Woodruff
went on, "Now these questions you've never heard
before...Republican Party Chairman Rich Bond saying the views of the
Republicans are America, Democrats' views are not America... Well I
didn't hear a Democrat say that you're not American if you're
Republican?" Democrats "were absolutely vicious and nobody
called it a dirty attack. So I'm not going to apologize for Rich
Bond," Bush responded.
Unfazed, Woodruff demanded:
"Campaign official Charles Black and Pat Buchanan have both said in
the past 24 hours those who favor rights for homosexuals have not place
in the Republican Party... Were you pleased to have that message going
out over television?"
"I'm not sending that message,"
Bush said. Woodruff continued: "U.S. Treasurer Mrs. Villalpando,
who just said yesterday, who joked that Gov. Clinton is a skirt
chaser... does that have a place in this campaign?"
The First Lady took Woodruff to task:
"Look you're saying nothing nice... where were you during the
Democrat convention defending us?" Woodruff returned to her
inquiry: "But Mosbacher who said in the last day or so that Gov.
Clinton's alleged marital infidelity is a legitimate campaign
After a final attempt to get Mrs. Bush to
respond, Bush let loose: "You didn't listen to the Democrat
Convention I think... I'm not sure you've been [sic] to the same
political year I've been to, Judy. Now c'mon, be fair." Mrs. Bush
got in the last word: "I'm going to listen to your questions. I'm
going to monitor you."
Just Like Prime Time
On the Monday to Thursday morning shows,
Democrats were labeled moderate over liberal by 31 to 16; the
Republicans were tagged conservative almost four times more often than
moderate, by 54 to 14. Democrats were posed questions from the left over
right by 26 to 11. The GOP: More than 60 from the left vs. just ten from
Labels: On Tuesday,
ABC's Mike Von Fremd declared: "The Republicans passed one of the
most conservative platforms ever." On the Thursday Today,
Jim Miklaszewski, who never uttered "hard left" in New York,
found at least one positive in Barbara Bush's speech: "She stressed
tolerance, in an apparent attempt to pull the Party back from the
conservative hard right turn it's taken at this convention so far."
Questions: On Monday's Today,
Katie Couric asked Gov. John Ashcroft about abortion: "Aren't you
fearful that this position, this very conservative position, will in
fact alienate many women and moderate Republicans and it will make a
CBS This Morning's Harry Smith
asked Senate candidate Alan Keyes and Rep. Susan Molinari: "We've
heard a lot of talk this week about the big tent, the idea that the
Republican Party needs to attract a wider range of people, but some
critics say the party platform does anything but that."
On Wednesday, Couric pressed Dan Quayle
repeatedly with Democratic questions: "Some have said they find the
tone of this convention, some Republicans, a bit troubling. Abortion
rights have been totally ignored in the platform; gay rights not
acknowledged...Do you think the Republican Party has grown, or become,
too exclusionary, too intolerant, and that this kind of rhetoric is
divisive and counterproductive?"
Network TV Convention
Following the pattern established in 1984
and 1988, again this year the networks labeled Republicans more than
Democrats and challenged Republicans more than the Democrats with
questions from the opposition's agenda. After analyzing prime time
network coverage of the July Democratic convention in New York and the
August Republican convention in Houston, MediaWatch found:
(1) Republicans were tagged conservative
three times more often than Democrats were called liberal. (2)
Republicans had to respond to questions from the liberal or Democratic
agenda three-and-a-half times more often than Democrats were asked
questions from the conservative or Republican agenda. (3) While
Democrats were never criticized for their negative tone, network
reporters discussed or asked about the GOP's negative tone on 70
The study covered all ABC, CBS and NBC
evening coverage, the combined NBC/PBS broadcast for 90 to 120 minutes a
night and CNN from 8pm to 12am Eastern times. (See the August MediaWatch
for more details and quotes from the Democratic convention). The
LABELING. Republicans were tagged
with about 40 more ideological labels than were the Democrats. While the
Democrats were dubbed moderate more often than liberal by a margin of
51-to-38 labels, Republicans in Houston were described with various
conservative labels over moderate ones by a margin of 9-to-1. In total,
viewers heard 118 conservative labels vs. 13 moderate ones. No Democrat
in New York was ever described as "far left" or "hard
left," not even Tom Harkin or Jesse Jackson. Instead, they were
called liberal as the ticket and party platform were described as
moderate. Tom Brokaw declared: "This is a centrist platform."
But in Houston, on five occasions each, CBS and CNN used "hard
right" and/or "far right" to describe Republicans.
In New York, the networks labeled the
Democrats 22 times the first night. In the first night from Houston,
however, the networks used about three times as many labels. ABC and CNN
used more labels on Monday in Houston than they did in four nights of
Democratic coverage. Overall, ABC issued 12 liberal labels in New York,
30 conservative labels in Houston. In the first night of the Republican
convention ABC issued 19 "conservative" labels. Peter Jennings
mused it was "very much conservatives night. A very conservative
opening prayer" and later noted that Dan Quayle "is very much
preferred by the Republican right." At another point, Cokie Roberts
found "an extremely conservative convention." Later in the
week, Jennings asserted that the convention had "been colored by
the party's most conservative elements."
In New York, CBS used 13 labels, five
during the first session. The first night for the Republicans: nine
labels. Dan Rather claimed it was Pat Buchanan's job "to set a
frame of reference around a moral majority right, heavily influenced
party." To reporter Bob Schieffer the delegates represented "a
very, very conservative group of Republicans." In total,
Republicans got tagged 18 times, five of those hard or far right. Dan
Rather twice described Buchanan's speech as "hard right." On
the last night, August 20, Connie Chung called Dan Quayle's speech
"far right" and asked Pat Robertson: "Has the party gone
far right enough for you? I mean there's the gay bashing that you
brought up. There's some people who think it's gone too far."
In four days of Democratic coverage, CNN
attached 22 labels to Democrats, but at no time did CNN label any
Democrat "far left." When the GOP gathered, CNN issued 49
ideological labels, five of them "far right." In fact, in the
first night from Houston CNN used 25 labels, three more than all week
from New York. On Monday from the Republican meeting Candy Crowley
announced: "As for what Buchanan has to say, this is really an
appeal to the far right." Co-anchor Catherine Crier asked analyst
William Schneider whether "the Republicans made concessions to the
far right in hopes that the rest f the Republican Party isn't
watching." On August 18, William Schneider referred to
"staunch conservatives" and to "gung-ho
conservatives." The third night, Gene Randall said the platform
reflected the "agenda of the religious right." On the last
night, Charles Bierbauer recalled Buchanan's speech as being
"heavy-handed conservative" and Frank Sesno labeled Buchanan
and Bill Bennett as "very hard, far right conservatives."
The two-network NBC/PBS team used more
labels in New York than Houston, but while Democrats were called
moderate, centrist or conservative the same number of times they were
identified as liberal, Republicans were tagged conservative over
moderate by 14-to-5. Tom Brokaw said the platform "was hammered
together by ...the more conservative elements of this party. In fact,
this Republican Party platform takes a right-hand turn on almost every
key issue. It is a conservative document."
Lisa Myers observed: "More than one
conservative has boasted that this platform is proof that the religious
right is alive and well in this party."
NBC's solo broadcast also labeled
Republicans less often than the Democrats, but while NBC tagged the
Democrats moderate over liberal by 14 to 4, NBC described Republicans as
conservative by 12 to 2. "They've also put together here a platform
that is very conservative," said Brokaw, "And the explanation
is `It's worked in the last three presidential elections, why shouldn't
we try it again?' Well, in part, it is a changed world." And NBC's
John Cochran explained: "Reagan is a radical conservative and Bush
is a moderate conservative."
AGENDA QUESTIONS. The networks
posed 130 liberal or Democratic agenda questions to the GOP, but just 38
conservative or Republican questions to the Democrats. (The question
count includes statements made by reporters to which other reporters
reacted. At the Republican convention, for instance, NBC's John Cochran
asserted: "Some of these [family values] issues have racial
overtones, such as Bush's support for welfare reforms which penalize
single mothers who continue having children.")
Democratic/liberal questions to
Republicans outnumbered those from the right by a margin of nearly
8-to-1, specifically, 130-to-17. In contrast, Democrats were asked eight
less questions from the right than from the left.
During the Democratic conclave ABC posed
eight questions from the left and six from the right. In Houston, ABC
posed ten liberal questions to the GOP, but just three from the right.
CBS asked five from each side in New York, but Republicans were
confronted with 16 from the left and just two from the right. CNN showed
a greater disparity: Democrats were asked nine questions from the left
and six from the right. But while Republicans were asked three questions
from the right, they were met by liberal ones on 34 occasions.
In New York, the joint NBC/PBS broadcast
aired one more question from the right than left, but in Houston the
network lost all balance, asking questions from the liberal over
conservative agenda 56-to-8. During its solo show, NBC challenged
Republicans from the left 15-to-1. Democrats were asked ten questions
from the left and six from the right.
Some sample questions. A liberal
question to the Democrats: Tom Brokaw asked Ann Richards, "Do the
poor and the inner cities get left out with this ticket?"
A conservative question to the Democrats:
Jeff Greenfield asked Congressman Louis Stokes, "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 voters?"
Liberal questions to Republicans: ABC
reporter Jim Wooten asked a GOP delegate: "Do you really, do you
think all that stands between this country and an improved economy and
successful war on drugs and poverty is the Congress?" And
Greenfield asked an Arkansan: "This convention's clearly going to
try to paint Bill Clinton as a super-liberal, but how can a man be
elected five times the governor of your state, not exactly a Northeast
Harvard-boutique state, and be effectively be painted as a
Dan Rather asked Jack Kemp the first
night: "But if you cut taxes, isn't that going to drive the deficit
even further up, the bond market might collapse?" On Tuesday's
PBS/NBC coverage, Maria Shriver challenged HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan:
"To...one of those 36 million people [without health insurance],
and that number is growing every day, to them that is not good enough.
They need health insurance now. So are they better off voting for Bill
Clinton if the Congress has this in their hands to have a Democratic
NBC's Shriver talked with California
Senate candidates, asking: "But voters do see women as agents of
change, and they're asking for change. They don't see guys like
you." Along the same line, Rather asked Buchanan: "I hear some
talk, and not all of it among Democrats, that you're a kind of walking
gender gap. Do you think your speech last night helped President Bush
and Dan Quayle with woman voters?"
CNN's Crowley asked Sen. Nancy Kassebaum:
"I heard Marilyn Quayle...say `Boy, if only Murphy Brown
could meet Major Dad.' I'm wondering what that says to the many
families out there that do have single mothers?" And, "It is
perceived that the Democrats are actually fighting for middle America,
the family. I'm wondering if you think, that with the various
permutations that families have nowadays, if the Republicans are
actually shoving away those who don't have mother, father, kids and
don't do it 'the right way?'"
On Thursday's NBC/PBS broadcast, Shriver
told Craig Fuller: "We were talking about family values...by the
Republicans saying that as the theme of their campaign, they're really
excluding everybody but the people who fit into the traditional nuclear
family, the `Ozzie and Harriet' image."
The networks never suggested the
Democrats' abortion-on-demand stance might hurt them with Reagan
Democrats, but Shriver did ask Charlie Black: "You've shored up the
conservative end of your party... But you haven't done yourself any good
with the moderates -- the Reagan Democrats. In fact, many people say
you've alienated them."
Conservative question to Republicans:
ABC's Greenfield asked Pete duPont: "But clearly there was a lot of
disaffection from economic conservatives, growth conservatives that this
President wasn't pushing that agenda. Suppose he doesn't push it tonight
in his speech, is this a matter of just saying 'OK, best of two
CONTROVERSIES. Like 1984 and 1988,
the networks barely mentioned controversies connected to the Democrats
as Bill Clinton's draft problems were raised only in passing. Unlike '84
and '88, the networks did not highlight controversies involving the
incumbent administration, such as Neil Bush's S&L problem, which was
raised once on CBS and NBC/PBS. Instead they concentrated on new
Exclusion: While the Democrats'
decision to not allow pro-life Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey to speak
in New York garnered only an interview on NBC and an interview and four
mentions on CNN, in Houston the abortion debate became a major focus of
coverage. On more than 20 occasions network analysts charged the
Republicans with trying to exclude people from their party. For example,
NBC's Tom Brokaw told Buchanan on Tuesday night: "You gave the
impression that if you're not a white, heterosexual, Christian,
anti-abortion, anti-environment, you're somehow not welcome in the
CBS never mentioned in prime time how the
Democrats suppressed pro-life Gov. Bob Casey's attempt to speak in New
York, but in Houston Connie Chung asked Rep. Connie Morella: "Do
you think the pro-choice voice has been stifled?"
Negativity: When Jesse Jackson
compared Dan Quayle to baby- killing legend King Herod in New York, none
of the networks called Jackson's oratory mean or personal. But the
networks thumped a steady drumbeat of disapproval of the Republican
political attacks. From the often-scorned 1988 campaign methodology to
attacks on Mrs. Clinton, the networks suggested to Republicans that they
had been too negative with the Democrats on 70 occasions in the four
nights of prime time coverage.
CNN's John Holliman asked a roundtable of
voters on Wednesday night: "You know, there's been a lot of
criticism that the Republicans have been bashing the Democrats fairly
big time in this campaign...Have the Republicans been too heavy-handed
in being critical of the Democrats?"
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