Networks Say "Extreme" GOP Convention at Fault
CONSERVATIVES SUNK BUSH?
On election night, as state after state
fell behind Bill Clinton, the networks worked overtime to suggest that
George Bush lost because of social conservatives and their speeches at
the Republican convention.
On NBC, Tom Brokaw asked Pat Robertson:
"There are many people in the Republican Party who believe that the
Republican National Convention in Houston, at which you were a prominent
part, was simply too extreme, too strident in its positions, and they
cite your speech and Pat Buchanan's as well."
On CNN, anchor Catherine Crier joined the
chorus: "You may have to move to the far right or the far left
during a primary to pull those voters to support you during a primary,
but you've got to move back and moderate for the general election. We
remember the convention in Houston, the Patrick Buchanans and the very
conservative movement that took over -- looks like it may have hurt the
On ABC's overnight newscast World
News Now, anchor Lisa McRee declared: "Patrick Buchanan's
speech was one of those speeches that not many people will ever forget.
It divided the party and many moderates were frightened away by
NBC's John Chancellor also promoted the
theme: "I think that the convention -- and certainly all the
polling data indicates this -- offended a lot of women, offended a lot
of people in the country who thought it was too religious and too
All the polling data? Not the
network-commissioned exit poll, as CBS reporter Ed Bradley explained
after midnight: "We gave the voters a list of things to choose
from, Dan, things that helped them make up their minds. I think in past
years, the conventions were very important, how they played on
television, television ads. This year, they fell at the bottom of the
list. The single most important thing that helped them decide were the
debates between the candidates -- 64 percent said that was number
But listen to Bradley when Rather asked:
"Did people talk about the Buchanan speech at the Republican
convention? Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson at the President's side? Was
that mentioned very often?"
Instead of repeating the poll results,
Bradley ignored them: "Well, I don't have it in this survey, but my
recollection of talking to people, in an informal survey, and
particularly among Republicans, there were a number of Republicans who
said that they felt let down by their convention, watching it on TV,
that what Pat Buchanan had to say, that some of the positions of the
religious right, did not represent the way they felt."
Clinton's Network Help
Among those likely to get a position in
the new Clinton Administration: Heidi Schulman, a
17-year veteran of NBC News. Married to Clinton campaign Chairman Mickey
Kantor, Schulman served on Hillary Clinton's staff and handled Hollywood
celebrities for the Democratic ticket. When she left NBC in 1990,
Schulman was covering Hollywood for Today. During the 1980
presidential campaign, Schulman and Chris Wallace made up NBC's
two-person team covering future President Reagan.
Left and Right Moves
The St. Petersburg Times has
promoted Eileen Shanahan to Washington Bureau Chief. An
economics reporter for the Florida paper for several months, Shanahan
spent 15 years in The New York Times Washington bureau before
becoming Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HEW under Jimmy
Carter in 1977....Sherrie Rollins, Assistant to the
President for Public Liaison until her husband, Ed Rollins, joined the
Perot campaign, has landed a new position. She's become Senior Vice
President of communications for Mort Zuckerman's publications: U.S.
News & World Report, The Atlantic and the newly
acquired New York Daily News. From mid-1990 until this past
Spring Rollins served as Director of News Information at ABC News, a
position she took after a couple of years handling public affairs for
Jack Kemp at HUD.
Former television news reporter Marjorie
Margolies Mezvinsky ran as a Democrat to fill an open U.S.
House seat representing suburban Philadelphia. On November 3, she won. A
long time reporter for CBS-owned WCAU-TV in Philadelphia and NBC-owned
WRC-TV in Washington, she also regularly contributed stories to NBC's Today
during the 1980s.
GOP Senate Slides
The newly appointed President of the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Richard Carlson, has selected
Philip Smith to serve as Vice President for corporate
communications. A Washington Post reporter for 14 years who had
risen to assistant Foreign Editor by the time he left in 1985, Smith has
worked as Press Secretary to Virginia Republican Senator John Warner
Warner's Minnesota colleague, Republican
Dave Durenburger, has hired Kevin Quinn as a Legislative
Assistant for health issues. From 1981 to 1985 Quinn reported for The
Wall Street Journal from the paper's Toronto bureau. Since then,
he's held health policy positions with the Saskatchewan government.
Ghostwriting for Lieberman
Jamie Stiehm spent 1987
and much of 1988 as an assignment editor for CBS News in its London
bureau. Returning to the states in 1988 to work for the Michael Dukakis
presidential campaign, Roll Call reported that she became a
field organizer in the San Jose area. Now, she's joined the Capitol Hill
office of Senator Joseph Lieberman where she'll write speeches for the
In a January 1989 op-ed piece for the Christian
Science Monitor, Stiehm complained: "It was easy, all too
easy, to like Mr. Reagan the man or myth, even if you disagreed with
almost everything he did in practice."
Bush Loss Is Reagan's
As November 3 drew closer, some in the
media tried to determine the cause of George Bush's impending loss. The
culprit? Ronald Reagan.
Despite Bush's abandonment of Reaganomics,
responsibility for his electoral woes was laid on the shoulders of the
man who moved out of the White House four years ago. In the October 19 Time,
special correspondent Michael Kramer wrote: "For a dozen years the
nation's life has been dominated by a philosophy that proposes to limit
government, encourage the creation of private wealth and confront
enemies with a huge arsenal and a hair- trigger willingness to
fight....The Reagan-Bush policies hastened the collapse of communism and
the end of the cold war. But at home only the rich have truly prospered.
The middle class is hurting, the poor are poorer, inequality has grown
and the country's ability to compete has been hindered by an
undistinguished education system and widespread inattention to the
problems of those caught in the backwash of the West's victory over the
'evil empire.'" He concluded: "The Republicans, it is clear,
see nothing wrong with extending the Me Decade indefinitely. No matter
that Ronald Reagan's trickle-down nostrums, which were supposed to lift
all boats, lifted only yachts."
On the October 17 NBC Nightly News,
Garrick Utley chastised Bush for being too loyal to Reagan: "For
eight years, [Bush] supported policies which, it is now widely
acknowledged, contributed mightily to our excesses then and our economic
problems now; above all, America being held hostage to debt. George Bush
went along to get ahead, and it worked. He became President. Now, the
painful irony. Now, Ronald Reagan is in happy retirement in California,
and President Bush is left to pay the price. The price for supporting
something he did not believe in to begin with. He knows it -- knows it
is now too late to do anything about that fateful bargain he entered
into twelve years ago. Going along to get ahead made George Bush
President. Now it may unmake him. The ancient Greeks wrote about this
sort of thing. They called it tragedy."
CBS Reporter Eric
Engberg, Running on Empty
WILLIE HORTON HILARITY
Willie Horton still haunts the national
media. Soon after George Bush was elected, network reporters began
routinely showing an ad with Horton's face, falsely labeling the
commercial a "Bush ad." (Bush ads never featured Horton's name
or picture.) But none of the networks came forward and made the explicit
charge that the independent expenditure campaigns (like the National
Security PAC) were working hand in glove with the Bush campaign. That
is, until CBS reporter Eric Engberg's October 14 report. For coming up
with nothing more than silly innuendo, Engberg wins the Janet Cooke
Dan Rather introduced the CBS Evening
News story: "CBS News has learned that a major congressional
probe of possible illegalities is under way...Eric Engberg has spent six
months independently looking into this case."
Engberg began: "It was the most
racially charged, divisive TV ad in the history of presidential
campaigns. It worked. The Willie Horton commercial of 1988, blaming
Michael Dukakis for a black criminal's attack on a white couple, gave
George Bush a big shove toward victory. But the Horton ad also raised
questions about racism and dirty politics that still haunt the electoral
process like a ghost."
This is the media gospel -- that Bush won
by "appealing to racial fears." But Washington Post
pollster Richard Morin questioned that worn theory in a September 27
Sunday "Outlook" section article, citing "substantial
evidence [negative ads] didn't work four years ago. Bush's poll numbers
in 1988 didn't budge during or after the Willie Horton ad
controversy." Morin even quoted Clinton consultant Samuel Popkin:
"There is no credible evidence showing that the Horton ad or the
Boston Harbor ad affected the vote at all."
Engberg continued: "The President
and his campaign officials have always denied any involvement with the
ad, which was produced by a legally independent committee. But CBS News
has discovered new links between that committee and the Bush
organization which throw those blanket denials into question. There is
also evidence that federal laws may have been violated. A congressional
committee is now investigating what it calls serious allegations that
financial disclosure and reporting requirements that might have exposed
Bush links to the Horton ad makers were conveniently ignored."
Engberg told how Candace Strother, a
"shadowy political intelligence operative," coordinated anti-Dukakis
research at the Republican National Committee, and how she may have
broken federal election law by contacting Elizabeth Fediay, the head of
National Security PAC. Claimed Engberg: "When the Federal Election
Commission conducted a limited investigation into that ad last year,
Fediay's TV producer said a key source he used to write the ad was
newspaper clippings he believed were obtained at the Library of
Congress. But a check by CBS News revealed that one of the principal
sources he listed, a newspaper from Massachusetts, was not available at
the Library of Congress. There was one place in Washington where the
clippings from that newspaper were readily available: the Bush campaign
How on earth could Engberg suggest that
the only place the Horton story could be found in 1988 was the Bush
campaign? Al Gore first raised the furlough issue in April. Then the
largest-circulation magazine in the world, Reader's Digest, did
its own Horton story in July. In fact, conservatives were distributing
the Pulitzer- Prize winning Lawrence Eagle-Tribune series on
Horton all over the country.
devolved into gossip: "Was there any connection? Someone thought
so. A memo from the FEC's General Counsel, Lawrence M. Noble, details a
tip he received from an anonymous caller claiming to be a GOP insider.
The caller said: 'Candace Strother gave the material and information
gathered on Willie Horton to Lily Fediay so the Bush campaign would not
be connected to a racist ad.'" CBS has skewered the Bush campaign
for raising questions about unsubstantiated charges, so why did Engberg
report this anonymous tip without any proof?
Near the end of the story, Engberg
asserted: "The committee is reportedly investigating charges
Strother has received preferential treatment in a $100,000 a year job
that didn't exist before she got it. The FEC never followed up on the
report of the secret link between the Horton ad makers and the Bush
campaign. The congressional investigators, with a second chance, appear
to have a troubling new question on their agenda: Did the administration
use a high-paying job on the federal payroll to make sure that the true
story of Willie Horton would never be told?"
Again, for all his investigation, Engberg
left only innuendo -- and a glaring double standard. For if CBS were
really concerned with the spectacle of a woman getting a government job
to hush up a scandal, why wouldn't they investigate how Gennifer Flowers
suspiciously received a state government job in Arkansas, causing a
promotion to be wrongfully denied to Charlette Perry, a black state
employee? The taped evidence of Clinton's involvement in Flowers'
employment (including his telling her to lie about his role in it) is
arguably more concrete than Engberg's story.
Tim Graham asked Engberg if he would answer a few questions, this
Engberg: "Well, if
you can answer a couple of questions for me. Why should I spend one
minute with a political, propagandistic rag like yours, number one?
Number two, did Brent Bozell tell you to call?"
"No, it's just the usual practice."
Engberg: "Oh, it
is? Because, you know, you've got a real conflict of interest with
Bozell on this. He was involved with the Willie Horton ad."
Engberg: "So I was
just kind of wondering whether maybe he's trying to figure out what I
know about him."
"Well, no. I was not put up to this. We just selected this..."
Engberg: "Oh, you
don't work for Bozell?"
"Yes I do."
Engberg: "Tell you
what. You tell Bozell if he will call me and tell me the truth about the
Willie Horton ad, I'll answer your questions. How's that for a
Engberg hung up. In his role as head of a
PAC, MediaWatch Publisher Brent Bozell did
produce a 1988 ad featuring Willie Horton. Bozell's ad had nothing to do
with the National Security PAC, a fact one hopes even Engberg has
learned. But in Engberg's story, facts weren't as important as
conspiratorial whispers, a brand of journalism that's less solid
investigative work than sensationalism worthy of Geraldo.
Mandate for What?
Shortly after midnight eastern time election night, CNN analyst William
Schneider reviewed a network exit poll question: "We asked them
which would you favor -- 'A government that provides more services but
costs less in taxes,' only 37 percent said that, and even though a
Democrat was elected today, most voters said they favored a government
which would have lower taxes and fewer services." An on-screen
graphic showed 55 percent for "Lower Taxes."
Schneider concluded that "the
consensus of the Reagan era, for less government, appears not to be
entirely gone." The exit poll was completed by Voter Research and
Surveys for all the networks, but this answer never got mentioned in the
days after the election by ABC, CBS or NBC, nor The New York Times,
Washington Post or USA Today.
A Sweeping Mandate? Bill
Clinton garnered the lowest popular vote percentage since Woodrow Wilson
in 1912. Someone needs to break the news to The Boston Globe's
Curtis Wilkie. In a front page "news analysis" the morning
after the election, Wilkie exclaimed: "Bill Clinton called for
change, but he never dared ask for a mandate as sweeping as the one he
received last night. The magnitude of the Democratic triumph was so
enormous that it ensures Clinton a strong alliance with Congress and an
incentive to move quickly on his domestic programs....Clinton marched to
victory in state after state, from New England to the Old Confederacy,
across the industrial belt and the Great Plains to California, where the
Democrats last won in 1964. He piled up a popular vote nationwide that
transcended predictions, while his party strengthened its hold on
Congress." In fact, the Republicans gained nine House seats and,
depending on a run-off, may break even in the Senate.
Wilkie proceeded with some additional
historical revisionism to justify a Clinton mandate: "The
repudiation of President Bush was so vast that it is reminiscent of the
election 12 years ago that drove another President, Jimmy Carter, from
office." Of course, in that three-way race Carter won just six
states. Bush won 18. Later, Wilkie asserted: "The overwhelming
margin of his election gives Clinton an opportunity to create a new
Democratic epoch, in the same way that Lyndon B. Johnson's 44-state
majority in 1964 produced a Great Society....It has been a long, barren
period for the Democrats, but Clinton is in a position to lead a
Do the Left Thing. CNN's
look at George Bush in its October 25 "Battle to Lead" special
was critical of the President's record -- but only when he refused, as
reporter Ken Bode put it, to "do the right thing." In other
words, only when he refused to take the liberal position.
Bode intoned: "When it comes to
questions of race and civil rights, George Bush has a tendency to shift
sides. Sometimes he follows a conviction to 'do the right thing.' Other
times he seems motivated by politics, what will help win the
election." Bode explained: "For two terms as Vice President,
Bush watched as Reagan chipped away at civil rights gains: the Voting
Rights Act was one target. The courts began to roll back decisions in
discrimination cases. The days of aggressive civil rights enforcement
were over. Bush never broke publicly with Reagan over his racial
policies. But supporters say privately, he pushed the President to take
more moderate stands."
Bode also smeared the conservative
position on quotas: "David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, ran
for office as a Republican, using themes that sounded very much like
George Bush's own words."
Pink Panic. Is
"gay-bashing" on the rise in America? Dateline NBC
co-host Jane Pauley believes so. She introduced an October 27 piece by
declaring: "You're holding your sweethearts hand as you walk down
the street. And for that, you're kicked in the face. Why? Because you
and your lover are lesbians. Attacks like that, many far more violent,
have been reported across the country. Just how far will intolerance
Reporter Deborah Roberts talked to
various members of OutWatch, a New York City-based gay activist group,
about "gay-bashing" and what is being done to fight it. She
lectured that "what is happening is a surge in hate crimes against
gay men and lesbians ...Last year there were nearly 600 assaults
reported. The vicious assaults -- gay-bashings -- are happening all over
the country." On what did Roberts base this? She did not speak to
any government or other law enforcement representatives. Three news
clippings, detailing assaults on homosexuals were presented as evidence;
but they came from three different regions of the country and spanned
nearly two years.
Roberts ended up undercutting her story.
To illustrate this "surge" in hate-crimes, Roberts convinced
two homosexuals to walk up and down a New York City street holding
hands. The men were wired for sound and filmed by a hidden camera, but
they were approached only by panhandlers. After two hours, the two
walked by a group of drunks who did little more than yell a few insults.
Even Roberts later acknowledged that in two years of patrolling New York
streets, OutWatch has not intervened in a single gay- bashing incident.
Accentuate the Negative.
When the government released its figures showing the latest economic
growth rate at 2.7 percent, ABC countered with a barrage of naysayers.
Peter Jennings opened the October 27 World News Tonight:
"[The 2.7 percent rate] is more than economists had projected, but
in many cases, less than meets the eye." Reporter Bob Jamieson
followed, "The increase in economic growth was driven by a surge in
consumer spending. The best news came from spending for big appliances
and furniture, which rose by nearly nine percent. But many economists
say the report is not proof the economy is taking a sharp turn for the
As if that were not enough, Jennings
returned the next night to dampen the good news further: "The
President may complain about the news media, but the economic growth
figures which he is so pleased about are not that definitive, according
to a great many independent economic analysts...The government reports
that personal income and consumer spending were up in September, but
orders for durable goods, for such long-lasting items such as cars and
household appliances, were down for the third straight month. And all
over the country, millions of people hardly need any statistics to tell
them what is happening."
This Magic Moment. When
Magic Johnson joined the National Commission on AIDS the media praised
the appointment. But his replacement on the commission, Mary Fisher,
wasn't given quite the same welcome. On the October 7 CNN World News,
anchor Patrick Greenlaw emphasized complaints about Fisher. "Some
groups criticize President Bush's appointment, saying Fisher brings no
medical expertise to the panel and was chosen just because she's the
daughter of a Republican fundraiser."
Did CNN ever point out Magic Johnson's
similar lack of medical expertise or suggest that he was chosen for the
Commission just because he was a famous basketball player? Of course
not. On the November 11, 1991 World News, anchor Bernard Shaw
reported, "Magic Johnson is being suggested for a position on the
National Commission on AIDS. Chairwoman June Osborn says someone of his
stature would be a wonderful appointment. AIDS activists agree Johnson's
high profile will help AIDS education efforts."
Scheer Madness. Los
Angeles Times reporter Robert Scheer pounced on Dan Quayle but
praised Al Gore after the October 13 vice presidential debate. On CNN's
post-debate coverage, Scheer thought "Quayle was a disaster for the
Bush ticket, one thing he kept reminding people was that he could be
President, and he was a disaster because he was quintessentially Dan
Quayle. He was unctuous, and I disagree that he suggested sincerity...If
your fear of the federal government is so enormous, and you don't want
government to play an active role...then [Quayle] would serve you well
as kind of an anti-government, anti-competency impulse. But if this were
a competition to run a business, it would seem to me the stockholders
would clearly vote for the person who knows what he's talking about, and
that's not Dan Quayle."
But Scheer praised Al Gore, saying:
"I thought Al Gore, if anything, seemed much more impressive than
Bill Clinton, and did seem very presidential, and very well informed. It
was the most impressive I've seen Gore yet...He obviously knows what he
is talking about most of the time, he's very competent, he thinks
clearly, and so forth. I just don't understand how any one could think
Dan Quayle is in his league."
Harry Hurls. The
normally chummy co-host of CBS This Morning, Harry Smith,
didn't miss an opportunity throughout October to rail against Republican
campaign strategy. Following the first presidential debate, Smith
declared to pundit Fred Barnes: "Clearly, that Red-baiting junk
didn't work for the President last night. What's he going to try
next?" Apparently, character issues continued to irritate Smith, as
he grilled Pat Buchanan on October 19: "Why is it the White House
though, has insisted on this sort of campaign to discredit Bill Clinton,
which has clearly not worked in the least." He then suggested that
"the Bush/Quayle team spent too much time paying attention to the
Right, and as they paid too much attention to the Right, they lost the
middle." To radio and television talk show host Rush Limbaugh on
October 21, Smith again insisted that "none of this Red-baiting,
none of this stuff, none of it works."
Did the Democrats receive the same
campaign advice from Smith? Hardly. On October 15, Smith simply reversed
the question to Clinton/Gore co-chairman Senator Tim Wirth: "The
poll lead, if not staying the same, is increasing a little bit. If
George Bush comes out like a junkyard dog, the way the Vice-President
did two nights ago, what does Clinton do to fight off that kind of
Sam's Sources. When
grillmeister Sam Donaldson interviewed President George Bush and
Governor Bill Clinton on ABC's Prime Time Live October 29,
Donaldson challenged Bush with some of the Clinton campaign's favorite
statistics on health care and Bush's record on federal spending, and
Bush said he doubted the numbers.
At show's end, Donaldson did a short
wrap-up from his anchor booth: "You'll notice in that portion of
our interview with the President, he and I disagreed over certain
figures. Later, we double-checked them. On the question of whether
Congress spent less money than Mr. Bush asked for, a statement of mine
with which the President took issue, we relied on the analysis of the
Congressional Budget Office, which says Congress spent less. We also
disagreed on my assertion that the President's health plan would leave
out 27 million Americans of the 37 million now uninsured. Our figures
came from a study of the Bush and Clinton plans by the respected public
interest group, Families USA."
Donaldson failed to mention that the CBO
is controlled by the Democratic leadership in Congress, and that
Families USA is a relentless liberal advocate for greater entitlement
spending whose leader, Ron Pollack, has been an outspoken Clinton
CLINTON & GORE IGNORED,
Throughout the 1992 campaign, reporters
were quick to label the Republicans as the party of distortion and
inaccuracy, but the networks could have just as easily documented the
daily errors and distortions of the Democratic ticket. The October 21 Wall
Street Journal included an article by economist Alan Reynolds
titled "The Worst Lying About the Economy in the Past 50
Years," detailing distortions in Clinton's statements in stump
speeches and the debates.
Reynolds noted that in the first debate,
Clinton said we are suffering "the first decline in industrial
production, ever." Reynolds pointed out industrial production has
risen by 2.1 percent since May 1991. Clinton also charged that U.S.
wages have slipped to 13th in the world. Reynolds asserted: "All
these figures show is that high German interest rates pushed European
exchange rates up. That did indeed make European wages look high when
converted to dollars, but it also makes European prices look
even higher. The real purchasing power of foreign wages is a great deal
lower than implied by converting them into dollars." (Italics his.)
In the third debate, Clinton said "I
defy you" to find where he supported higher CAFE standards. Newsweek
economics columnist Robert Samuelson wrote in the October 28 Washington
Post: "Please, give me a hard one. Page 98 of Putting
People First (the Clinton-Gore manifesto) says that a Clinton
administration would 'raise the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE)
standards for automakers to 40 miles per gallon by the year 2000 and 45
miles per gallon by the year 2015.'"
In fact, the networks did not devote one
evening news story to assessing the accuracy of the presidential
debates. But on October 14, the evening after the vice presidential
debate, ABC and CNN both scored Quayle for lying about the Clinton-Gore
record. On World News Tonight, ABC reporter Jim Wooten declared
"The blue ribbon for factual flexibility goes to the Vice
President. More often than Senator Gore, Mr. Quayle was either mistaken
CNN reporter Brooks Jackson agreed:
"It was Quayle who repeatedly twisted and misstated the facts...The
political reality is that voters don't score campaign debates on the
basis of who gets the facts straight. But if they did, Dan Quayle would
have lost Tuesday night's debate hands down."
Quayle asserted that raising the CAFE
standards to 45 miles per gallon would cost 300,000 jobs. Wooten
asserted: "That estimate is based on an unlikely worst-case
scenario that all workers now building cars which do not meet that
standard would eventually lose their jobs."
Wooten took exception to Quayle's claim
that Gore favored a $100 billion environmental Marshall Plan, as
proposed in Gore's book Earth In The Balance: "That is not
true. Gore's book proposes a global plan financed by several countries,
not the U.S. alone. And it does not specify a total cost or America's
On CNN's Inside Politics,
Jackson agreed: "Dan Quayle was flat wrong about that. The $100
billion figure on Page 304 of Gore's book refers to the cost in today's
dollars of the post-war Marshall Plan, not what Quayle said." But
suggesting a Marshall Plan for any problem means a massive financial
commitment of foreign aid. Instead of following up with Gore on the
charge (If not $100 billion, how much?), reporters hit Quayle for
bringing it up.
Jackson pointed out that contrary to
Gore's assertion, Clinton's policies did not create a lot of high-wage
jobs in Arkansas, since the state's average hourly wage is $2.38 below
the national average. But Jackson quickly turned back to the Vice
President: "Quayle misrepresented Clinton's economic plan, which
calls for a net tax increase of only $46 billion spread over four years
-- the $150 billion Quayle mentioned, minus $104 billion in cuts he
neglected to mention."
But the conservative weekly Human
Events discovered the $104 billion figure was nowhere to be found
in the Clinton-Gore book Putting People First, which
underscores an important point: throughout the year, Clinton's economic
plan has changed repeatedly. By the time he sends a plan to Congress, it
may change again.
Network reporters like Wooten and Jackson
easily slipped into choosing sides by calling candidates
"wrong" on amorphous estimates of future policy decisions.
Quayle couldn't give a precise number for Gore's environmental Marshall
Plan, because Gore won't commit to one, but it would cost billions. No
one can give a precise estimate of job losses with more regulations on
automobile production, but it would cost jobs. No one knows how much
Clinton will raise taxes and spending, but he's declared that he would
raise both. Even debates over past policies, like Clinton's claims about
wages, are points of debate that reporters would do better to explain
than superficially declare "wrong."
The networks can be much firmer with
matters of public record that are easily determined right or wrong, such
as Quayle's charge that Gore voted for the Caribbean Basin Initiative
(CBI). Jackson charged: "Once again, Quayle was wrong. The record
shows Gore voted against final passage of the initiative in 1983."
But ABC's Wooten corrected CNN: "[Gore] did vote against it, twice,
but also voted for it once as part of a larger legislative
Outside the network news, syndicated
columnist Mona Charen added: "In 1991, Mr. Gore voted for the [CBI]
program in stand-alone legislation." None of the networks followed
up on Gore's charge that through the CBI, the Agency for International
Development (AID) was supporting the export of American jobs to Latin
America. Gore specifically charged that a plant in Decaturville,
Tennessee was closed and its jobs moved to El Salvador.
But Charen corrected Gore: "The
plant in Decaturville was closed because the company went bankrupt, not
because it moved to El Salvador. In fact, the only connection between
the two plants (which made different items) is that the same holding
company at separate times owned both of them." Charen added that
"The 40-year-old American company that opened the plant in El
Salvador was able to increase its U.S. employment by 20 percent since
expanding its operations to Latin America in 1984. It has never closed a
Exploring the details of candidates'
claims is a laudable practice that brings voters more of the statistical
nuts and bolts of governing that the networks don't always have the time
(or take the time) to explain. But singling out one candidate over
another for "ribbons of factual flexibility" isn't educating
the voters; it's just telling them how to punch their ballot.
the Bright Side
NBC's Ross Dogs
While many in the media have worked to
highlight GOP scandals, NBC's Brian Ross has stood out from the crowd by
digging up details on the Democrats. On the October 9 Nightly News,
Ross picked up on some hypocrisy by Al Gore: "Al Gore gets a lot of
applause for his criticism of junk bonds...He even blamed junk bond
dealers for President Bush's veto of the family leave bill."
Ross then noted: "But five years
ago, when Gore was preparing to run for President, he received tens of
thousands in campaign contributions from the junk bond industry."
Ross pointed out that Gore got $20,000 from Thomas Spiegel, a junk bond
dealer whose financial dealings helped bring down an S&L. Ross
displayed a letter Gore wrote to Spiegel in which Gore praised Spiegel
for his financial skills. Confronted by Ross, Gore downplayed his
relationship with Spiegel (who has since been indicted for fraud),
contradicting his own records.
Ross concluded: "There's no record
that Gore took any official action in Congress to benefit junk bond
dealers. And the junk bond industry gave similar contributions to dozens
of other Democrats and Republicans. What makes the contributions to Gore
noteworthy is that he's now campaigning for Vice President claiming he
and Bill Clinton are different from all of the others."
Threlkeld's Clinton Cut
Richard Threlkeld of CBS was the only
network reporter to dedicate a story to sorting out Clinton's
middle-class tax cut proposals. On October 23, Threlkeld outlined the
shift in emphasis from January, when "his [Clinton's] promise to
cut taxes on the middle class by 10 percent was a big deal," to the
Democratic convention, when "the tax cut wasn't 10 percent
anymore" and "not such a big deal," to October, where
"the middle class tax cut sort of got lost altogether."
Unlike many of his colleagues, who cite
economic figures from liberal sources such as the Economic Policy
Institute and Citizens for Tax Justice, Threlkeld balanced the Clinton
campaign spin with a soundbite from Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage
Foundation. Mitchell refuted Clinton's previously unchallenged claim
that he could raise $150 billion from only the top 2 percent of
Since joining the weekend Today
shows in August, former National Public Radio anchor Scott Simon
regularly preaches the liberal line to his flock. Some examples:
On September 5, Simon delivered a lecture
on the economy that sounded like a Clinton-Gore commercial:
"According to the Census Bureau, 35.7 million people are living in
poverty, two million more than before....But aiming blame at politicians
may actually steer blame away from ourselves. Over the last generation,
after all, we elected politicians who gave voice to our grievances and
reduced what the government could regulate and guarantee...The financial
wealth of the United States has doubled, but the number of poor people
has stayed the same. Instead of trickling down, apparently that wealth
mostly stayed in the tight fists of those who became richer."
On Columbus Day Weekend, Simon railed
against the Italian explorer: "Christopher Columbus didn't discover
a New World. He ran into the other side of the world....In the past year
or more, many people have been asking 'What's to commemorate in that?'
Of course, race found its way into the discussion: He sailed just as
Jews and Muslims were being expelled from a Spain. The persecution of
these peoples and the riches robbed from them paying for his small
armada of ships....For Native Americans, the people who hardly felt
discovered, Columbus' landing commenced a holocaust."
On October 17, Simon offered
pronouncements on the Vietnam War: "And the cruel truth was that
there were more Vietnamese ready to die for their country than there
were Americans ready to die for a country that wasn't theirs at
all....For many Americans, including many who served there, the war in
Vietnam wasn't to defend the United States, but to prop up a corrupt and
brutal South Vietnamese dictatorship....It may be useful for any
politician who may be President to recall almost a generation later how
that war really felt to people who didn't feel they were being asked to
defend their country, but punish a smaller one."
His NPR colleagues must be proud.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe