CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
| Tuesday January 11, 2000 (Vol. Five; No. 5) |
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Merger Fears; Russert Argued for Internet Taxes; Bush Like Clinton

1) AOL/Time-Warner led Monday night. Peter Jennings relayed how Gerald Levin "says he believes in objective journalism" while CBS focused on the threat to consumers. Dan Rather also warned "there is fear of dust bowl in the nation's salad bowl."

2) Moderating another GOP debate Monday night Tim Russert again became the seventh candidate, arguing with Steve Forbes over Internet taxes. In a post-debate interview with George Bush he continued his network's fixation on the Confederate flag.

3) Howard Kurtz on CNN: "There were seven important people at the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire last week: six candidates and NBC's Tim Russert."

4) Today's Katie Couric asked Al Gore Monday morning about Donna Brazile's race-mongering attack on Colin Powell and J.C. Watts and even suggested that "perhaps you've been a little too strident."

5) On ABC's This Week George Stephanopoulos reported on a NH focus group and found they reject George W. Bush: "Another slick Southern Governor is decidedly not what these voters want."

6) Bill Kristol has found an outlet for his views on Fox News Channel and Face the Nation, but despite what USA Today reported, not on Meet the Press.

7) Letterman's "Top Ten Good Things About Having a President With a Temper."

    >>> Oliver North on the MRC's special report on gun bias. A new syndicated newspaper column by North is now up on the MRC Web site, thanks to MRC Webmaster Andy Szul. To read North's column, as it appeared in the January 9 Washington Times, go to: To read the January 5 Special Report researched by Geoffrey Dickens, "Outgunned: How The Network News Media Are Spinning the Gun Control Debate," go to:<<<


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The AOL merger with Time-Warner topped the three broadcast network evening shows Monday night. ABC briefly touched on supposed concerns about the new company's size and Peter Jennings scoffed at CEO-to-be Gerald Levin's praise for Time founder Henry Luce. CBS devoted an entire story to how, as Jerry Bowen related, "critics say the merger will come at a price to consumers, higher prices for products and Internet services."

     On the campaign front, Gore got all the attention, good and bad. CBS ran a full story on Al Gore's UN appearance to announce U.S. aid to African nations to battle AIDS while NBC aired a full report on his backtracking on his litmus test on gays in the military for members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

     Introducing two ominous "Weather Watch" stories, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather warned: "U.S. government climate experts tell CBS News that they now believe global warming is real and underway." Setting up the second story, Rather relayed a rhyme:
     "It is not only getting warmer, it is getting drier in parts of the country, including important farming zones that feed much of this nation and, indeed, a great part of the world. Case in point: The rich crop and cattle country in California. CBS's Sandra Hughes reports tonight there is fear of dust bowl in the nation's salad bowl."

     On the AOL front, after two stories about the merger ABC brought aboard Ken Auletta of The New Yorker. The first question posed by Peter Jennings: "Ken, should the news and information consumer beware, all this media in fewer hands?"

     At the end of the January 10 World News Tonight Jennings profile AOL's Steve Case and Time-Warner's Gerald Levin, who will be the merged company's CEO. Looking at Levin, who has overseen Time magazine and CNN, Jennings intoned:
     "Outside the office he is widely regarded as a philanthropist determined to make the new media available to everyone, including the poor and keep it objective. He says he believes in objective journalism."
     Levin: "Well fortunately I view myself, and now with Steve, as the trustee of the heritage of Henry Luce and even in Mr. Luce's will he said that Time Inc. was to be operated, not only for the interest of shareholders but in the public interest and we have an absolutely sacred principle -- church and state as it's called -- that respects the journalism and the integrity of that journalism."
     Back live from the taped piece Jennings quickly countered: "Not everyone's view of Henry Luce, but that will be part of the debate to come."

     The CBS Evening News opened with a story about the basics of the merger, but then Rather moved to the dark side, cautioning:
     "One media giant will have a lot to say about the news, information and entertainment available to you, and critics point out, the price you will have to pay for it. CBS's Jerry Bowen in Los Angeles has more about America Online and the bottom line for you."

     Bowen opened by noting how the new company will own everything from Braves baseball to Pokemon to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and People magazine. Bowen first showcased someone who saw the upside:
     "That's the brave new Internet world soon to pop up on your PC, where you can surf the Web and watch TV at the same time -- a marriage of content and distribution that analyst John Dodge says is a good thing."
     John Dodge, PC Week: "It should be good news in that Time Warner's content can be delivered over America Online and there's so much of it. There's music, there's film, there's TV production."
     Bowen then jumped to the downsides: "And, there are also potential problems. Critics say the merger will come at a price to consumers, higher prices for products and Internet services. And there are questions about AOL and Time Warner's possible ties to AT&T through cable companies, ties that could let them dominate the lucrative business of high speed Internet access, a relationship that could cost consumers even more."
     Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union: "In the long run, it inevitably means less choice, higher prices for consumers and, most dangerously in the media market, less opportunity to get the information, the points of view that consumers really want to have."
     Tilting the story in favor of the fears, Bowen added: "Even supportive analysts concede there may be hidden costs just a click away."
     Dodge: "I think the people at Time Warner and AOL think of how it's gonna be better for them before they think about how it's gonna be better for consumers. I think we have to wait and see."
     Bowen concluded with a final shot at the new combined company's exclusivity: "Supporters say the merger will, in the end, give consumers new choices on AOL. True enough, say opponents, as long as they're owned by Time Warner."

     Sounds like CBS News may be afraid they'll lose their current feature status on AOL.


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Though he wasn't as intrusive as during the January 6 debate last week in New Hampshire, Monday night NBC's Tim Russert again became the seventh candidate as he at one point went beyond the moderator role and argued with Steve Forbes over Internet taxes. (For details on how Russert hit George Bush from the left last Thursday, see the January 7 CyberAlert.)

     His leading question: "Are you prepared, as more and more people buy on the Internet, to allow Michigan to lose more and more sales tax revenue when, in fact, two-thirds of that revenue goes directly to education in this state?" When Forbes did not affirm that Michigan residents should voluntarily pay sales tax on Internet purchases, Russert seemed to accuse Forbes of inciting anarchy: "So consumers should break the law in Michigan by not paying?"

     After the debate sponsored by Grand Rapids, Michigan, NBC affiliate WOOD-TV ended, Russert picked up where colleague Brian Williams left off Friday night. Live on MSNBC's post-debate special Russert pressed George Bush about the Confederate flag in South Carolina. Russert declared: "It is a divisive flag." (For details on how Williams was booed by South Carolinians for his questioning of Bush on the flag, see the January 10 CyberAlert.)

     (Seemingly, only NBC affiliates sponsor Republican debates. Monday's debate from Michigan was MSNBC's third cablecast of a Republican debate sponsored by an NBC affiliate, and the fourth involving an NBC star as a host, thus providing Tim Russert with his second moderating job in less than a week. Back in December, Tom Brokaw co-moderated the WHO-TV debate in Des Moines and on Friday night Brian Williams co-moderated the WIS-TV debate from South Carolina. Last Thursday Russert moderated a GOP debate sponsored by The Union Leader, New Hampshire Public Television and New England Cable News which was shown by MSNBC.)

     Russert served as moderator of the 90 minute debate Monday night from Calvin College with two WOOD-TV anchor/reporters also posing questions. MSNBC showed the debate live at 7pm ET and C-SPAN played it on tape at about 11pm ET Monday night.

     Russert opened with a question for Bush about the Steve Forbes TV ads accusing him of breaking his no sales tax hike promise. A local male anchor asked all the candidates whether libraries should filter Internet content before Russert asked John McCain if he'd ever negotiate with hijackers. The local female reporter pressed Bush about John Rocker's comments and the male anchor raised the Elian Gonzalez case.

     So far, so good. But then Russert posed this leading question to Steve Forbes, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth who stayed late to monitor the debate for CyberAlert:
     "The state of Michigan collects $7 billion a year from a sales tax on goods purchased in the state. Because the number of people in Michigan now buying from the Internet, there's been a loss in state revenues approaching $200-300 million. With that in mind, Mr. Forbes, are you prepared, as more and more people buy on the Internet, to allow Michigan to lose more and more sales tax revenue when, in fact, two-thirds of that revenue goes directly to education in this state."

     Forbes replied by noting how Internet companies generate tax revenue indirectly: "I think, Tim, the way you phrase the question shows what's wrong with politics today, and that is the assumption that when something happens, if somebody gains, somebody loses. The Internet, overall, is stimulating commerce. It's allowing people who may not have time to buy things quickly and easily, and what does that mean? It means you need a warehouse to store the goods. It means you need more trucks and drivers to deliver the goods. That means more salaries, more jobs. It is a net wealth creator. But in Washington, and in Lansing, and elsewhere, they have this mentality that if it's out there, it's growing, by golly they gotta get their claws and hooks into it. It's not right. But it's typical of that mentality. It's no coincidence that the boom in startups and dot com's came when Congress put a three-year moratorium on in October of 1998, and the boom in e-commerce allowed to flourish and boomed after that moratorium was put on. Don't kill it with taxes. It creates wealth, Tim. It doesn't destroy it."

     Russert stuck to the topic, pressing Forbes: "The state government of Michigan has sent a form to taxpayers throughout the state which asks them to itemize all the items they purchased on the Internet and to voluntarily pay the six percent tax. Should taxpayers in Michigan comply with that law?"
     Forbes answered: "I think the court decisions have been very clear from the Supreme Court. If you're a seller, and you don't have a physical presence in the state, then the buyer isn't eligible to pay the sales tax. And the rules that apply to catalog sales, the rules that apply to sales over the phone should apply to the Internet. No more, no less. This is a wealth creator. The state of Michigan, the municipalities in America will be collecting a lot of money because of the Internet, far more than what they might lose because if they think they're afraid they might lose something on the sales tax."
     Russert snidely shot back: "So consumers should break the law in Michigan by not paying..."
     Forbes cut him off: "Tim, I don't know what Michigan law is, but I do know that no state has tried yet to have a police state of making you itemize everything you buy over the phone or over the catalogs. Then you'd have real revolution, and it wouldn't just be in Boston. It would be around all over America. Taxes are too high in America. Instead of always trying to figure out ways to raise them, how about cutting them across the board."

     +++ To watch this exchange between Russert and Forbes, go to the MRC home page late Tuesday morning. The MRC's Eric Pairel will post a RealPlayer clip of it.

     Following the debate, Russert interviewed Bush during MSNBC's post-debate special. He asked him about Elian Gonzalez and the Forbes ads. Then, he picked on up a subject Brian Williams asked Bush about during the January 7 debate and afterward on that night's MSNBC post-debate special: The Confederate flag. Russert reminded Bush: "You were asked in South Carolina about the flag, the Confederate flag, and you said it's a state decision. Would you feel comfortable with the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol of Texas?"
     When Bush said he wouldn't do that because of the symbolism, Russert piped up: "It is a divisive flag."

     Back at the MSNBC studio in the New Jersey Forrest Sawyer filled in as anchor for Brian Williams. His guest analysts for the Republican debate: Two former Clinton aides, Mack McLarty and David Gergen.

     Russert could be just as activist in moderating a Democratic debate, but since no NBC star has yet done so and is not scheduled to do so, we don't know. But, as detailed in the January 7 CyberAlert, in interviews on MSNBC after the January 5 Democratic debate Russert failed to push Al Gore or Bill Bradley from the left.

     Next up: A Des Moines Register/Iowa Public Television debate amongst the Republicans at 1pm CT on Saturday which will be shown live by CNN, FNC, C-SPAN and PBS.

     For more information about how NBC reporters approached the last three debates, check out these CyberAlert items which also feature illustrative video clips:


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) CyberAlert isn't alone in pointing out, as did the January 7 and 10 editions, how NBC's moderators have become part of the debates. USA Today's Walter Shapiro raised the issue Monday as did Howard Kurtz on CNN's Reliable Sources, though both failed to note, as had CyberAlert, how the advocacy of the moderators marched a liberal political agenda.

     -- In his January 10 "Hype & Glory" column in the news section of USA Today, Walter Shapiro opined:
     "The debates are far from over, but there is no longer a flicker of doubt as to who will have asked the most repugnant question. That dubious honor goes to WIS-TV news anchor David Stanton. As a moderator of the South Carolina debate, his hypothetical question to Gary Bauer began with this ugly supposition, 'If someone in your family was raped....'
     "In a 1988 presidential debate, CNN's Bernard Shaw posed a similarly loathsome question to Michael Dukakis, ostensibly designed to probe the Democratic presidential nominee's opposition to capital punishment.
     "Can't we ever learn there is no justification for asking a candidate how he might react if something horrible befell a loved one?"

     -- On Monday's Inside Politics on CNN, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz looked at how the moderators have become part of the debates:
     "There were seven important people at the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire last week: six candidates and NBC's Tim Russert."

     After showing Russert going back and forth with Bush, Kurtz explained: "In the flurry of debates in recent weeks, the personality of the moderator has often shaped the tone of the encounter. These are, after all, network extravaganzas, complete with big-shot anchors more prominent than some of the White House wannabes. And sometimes they can't help drawing attention to themselves, as NBC's Tom Brokaw did in Iowa."
     Brokaw: "Senator Hatch, why not have means testing for Medicare? Why should someone who earns my kind of income, for example, pay and get the same kind of coverage as a school teacher or someone who works on a farm here in Iowa?"

     After looking at how ABC's Peter Jennings "took a more self-effacing approach last week in New Hampshire" and FNC's Brit Hume "used subtlety to drive home a point," Kurtz played a South Carolina soundbite:
     "And sometimes the audience just plain doesn't like the questions. That's what happened at Friday's GOP debate in South Carolina when MSNBC's Brian Williams asked Bush about the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol."
     Williams: "It is, as you can hear from the reaction of tonight's crowd of 3,000 people from South Carolina, a hot-button issue here. The question is: Does the flag offend you personally?"

     Kurtz continued: "No moderator worth his anchor-hair wants a boring debate. But Russert's dominating performance drew fire from the Manchester Union Leader, which is backing Steve Forbes. The paper apologized for co-sponsoring the debate, saying Russert gave too much time to Bush and John McCain, though the air time turned out to be roughly even."

     Kurtz then relayed a defense from Russert who, Kurtz asserted, "makes no apologies for challenging the candidates." Russert told CNN: "You can have a staged infomercial if you like where each of the candidates can offer their canned responses and consultant-driven replies. Or you can have a journalistic even where you ask follow-up questions. It's imperative that we fulfill our role as journalists and press for specific answers."

     Just as long as they approach candidates for both parties with equal zeal.

     After playing the Shaw question to Dukakis in 1988 cited by Shapiro, Kurtz returned to last Friday:
     "Some local anchors serving as questioners are ready for their close-up. At Friday's GOP debate in South Carolina, David Stanton of the local NBC affiliate tried the melodramatic approach with Gary Bauer."
     Stanton: "Mr. Bauer, if someone in your family was raped and became pregnant and wanted an abortion, and after discussion with you they were adamant in their decision to have an abortion, would you support that decision or would you try to prevent it?"

     Kurtz concluded: "In theory, at least, the debates are supposed to be about the candidates, but they are also television shows, with television stars and would-be stars trying to enhance their own reputation. Running for President these days means getting into the ring with millionaire anchors who pack a rhetorical punch."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Today's Katie Couric asked Al Gore Monday morning about Donna Brazile's race-mongering attack on Colin Powell and J.C. Watts and even suggested that in courting gays and blacks "perhaps you've been a little too strident."

     After talking to Gore about his back tracking on a litmus test over gays in the military, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed that on the January 10 Today Katie Couric moved on to Brazile's blast. Unlike Saturday's NBC Nightly News story recounted in the January 10 CyberAlert, Couric quoted what Brazile said:
     "Let's talk about your campaign manager, Donna Brazile's comments. She's the first African American to manage a presidential campaign and in a recent interview she said the Republicans use blacks like General Colin Powell, a former Chairman of course of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congressman J.C. Watts for photo ops but don't really care about African Americans. Let me put on the screen exactly what she said: 'Republicans bring out Colin Powell and JC Watts because they have no program, no policy. They play the game because they have no love and no joy. They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them.' Mr. Powell sent you a note saying he was offended and disappointed. He urged the campaign not to play the race card, saying it would hurt the cause of all children. I know you spoke with Gen Powell. Did you apologize for those comments?"

     Couric pressed Gore: "Do you regret her invoking the names of General Powell and JC Watts to get this point across?"

     Couric ended the interviewing with this exhortation: "In your efforts to court blacks and gays are you worried at all Mr. Vice President, that perhaps you've been a little too strident in efforts and in the process are turning off many potential voters?"


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) George Stephanopoulos, who certainly knows about "slick Southern Governors," suggested George W. Bush's supposed image as one is why independent voters are not attracted to him.

     On Sunday's This Week Stephanopoulos reported a taped story about a focus group in New Hampshire made up of independent voters. Stephanopoulos, MRC intern Ken Shepherd observed, asserted that "George W. Bush doesn't fare much better [than Al Gore]. In a word:" He then played three clips from voters: "Arrogant," "Pretty plastic," and "I think he's slippery."

     Stephanopoulos rejoiced: "Sound familiar? Another slick Southern Governor is decidedly not what these voters want. And they're also suspicious of Bush's family ties."
     Woman: "Famous father."
     Stephanopoulos: "And campaign finances."
     Woman: "A wealthy fake, from a wealthy state that has a lot of money to back him."

     Just being from the South doesn't make you as sleazy as Clinton.


cyberno6.gif (1129 bytes) Speaking of This Week, while former Clinton enabler George Stephanopoulos has been promoted to reporter, fired conservative roundtable commentator Bill Kristol has found other outlets for his analysis, including Fox News Channel, though one less outlet than USA Today cited Monday.

     In his "Inside TV" column in Monday's USA Today Peter Johnson wrote: "Conservative commentator Bill Kristol seems to be as popular as ever on the Sunday network talk show circuit since he and ABC's This Week parted ways a few weeks ago. On Jan. 2, Kristol was a guest on Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation on CBS. When asked where he'd been, the former Face contributor said, 'I disappeared down a black hole for a few years' -- a dig at ABC News, which decided not to renew his contract. On Sunday, Kristol was a guest on Tim Russert's Meet the Press on NBC."

     Actually, no he wasn't. The January 9 Meet the Press featured a roundtable with two liberals (Al Hunt and Joe Klein) versus one conservative (Bill Safire). Given the imbalance, he may have been scheduled, but he didn't appear.


cyberno7.gif (1643 bytes) From the January 10 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Good Things About Having a President With a Temper." Copyright 2000 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. Fun to hear White House spokesman use phrase "'roid rage"
9. Four words: Vice President John Rocker
8. Sam Donaldson would find himself on a raft to Cuba
7. New monument: Tomb of the Unknown Guy Who Looked at the President Funny
6. Instead of jar of jellybeans on desk, President claims to have "can of whoop-ass"
5. State of the Union address begins with the words "Hulk mad..."
4. Years from now, it would be cool to have coin with a guy giving the finger on it
3. Ends each radio address with "Well, I see it's clobberin' time"
2. Goodbye presidential veto -- hello guy named Vito hired by the President to break legs
1. Look how well it worked for Nixon!

     And from the Late Show Web site, some of "the extra jokes that didn't quite make it into the Top Ten."

-- New tradition of calling locker room of losing team in Superbowl to curse them out
-- Knock-down, drag-out brawls with veteran UPI reporter Helen Thomas

     Now that Ted Turner will be the number three man in the new AOL/Time-Warner empire, he'll have control over CompuServe, so if these suddenly stop coming you'll know why. -- Brent Baker



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