Trumpeting McCain’s Poll Surge; No Outrage Over Salon.com’s Terrorism
1) CBS and NBC trumpeted McCain’s rise above Bush in a Zogby
poll in South Carolina. "A Republican Revolution," declared Dan
Rather. ABC’s Linda Douglass focused on the success of "the kind of
blunt talk his campaign thrives on" as McCain assailed Big Tobacco.
2) Salon.com ran a story by a reporter celebrating how he
infiltrated the Gary Bauer campaign in order to lick doorknobs so he could
infect Bauer with the flu: "My bodily fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were
all over his hand!" Where’s the media outrage?
"No Bounce Allowed for Forbes or Keyes: Media’s Overt Favoritism for
McCain Matched by Exclusion of Conservative Top Finishers in Iowa," the
latest MRC Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check fax report is up on the MRC home
page thanks to Webmaster Andy Szul. The report by Tim Graham begins:
"Reporters favoring John McCain have been making fun
of the New York Republican Party’s very tough rules for getting on the New
York primary ballot. On Inside Politics January 21, CNN’s Jeff Greenfield
joked the state Republicans ‘have ballot access rules slightly harder than
the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union.’...But the media have little right to gulag
humor when it comes to making the media ballot, especially when the candidate
"In the Iowa caucuses, Steve Forbes scored a
surprising 31 percent finish in Iowa, and Alan Keyes stunned reporters with a
strong 14 percent third-place showing. Both men were interviewed on cable
outlets on caucus night. Both candidates appeared on MSNBC’s The News with
Brian Williams the next night. But neither of them appeared on a network
morning show to discuss their momentum." For the complete rundown, go to:
Republican Revolution: McCain now leads Bush in South Carolina,"
proclaimed Dan Rather at the top of Thursday’s CBS Evening News as both CBS
and NBC trumpeted a John Zogby poll, a pollster the networks normally ignore,
showing John McCain five points ahead of George Bush in South Carolina, though
only NBC actually gave credit to the pollster, calling the finding a
"bombshell." Rather asked: "Is Bush’s Southern firewall
against McCain burning in South Carolina or not?"
While CBS led with the poll news and NBC devoted a story
to it, ABC only made passing reference at the end of a story. Linda Douglass
noted: "McCain is gleefully pointing to a local poll that now shows him
leading George Bush in South Carolina." Douglass argued McCain is winning
through straight talk, picking up on his attacks on tobacco companies:
"It was the kind of blunt talk his campaign thrives on. Taking on the
tobacco industry in a state where it is the number one crop. It might be a
shrewd move. Farmers here are angry at cigarette companies for buying more
CBS’s Bill Whitaker pointed to how McCain is backed by
non-conservatives, noting that in South Carolina "moderates and
independents make up a growing force, the very voters who made McCain the
winner in New Hampshire." NBC’s Lisa Myers highlighted how the Bush
campaign plans "to show McCain out of step with religious conservatives,
up to forty percent of the vote here."
The CBS Evening News, CNN’s The World Today and NBC
Nightly News all ran full stories on controversy over the lack of criminal
action against former Clinton CIA Director John Deutch for using an unsecured
home computer to write secret memos to the President. CBS’s David Martin
noted the computer was used to visit "high risk" Web sites,
including pornography sites, and raised the double standard with how Wen Ho
Lee was pursued for not following proper security procedures. NBC anchor Brian
Williams referred to "startling revelations" about Deutch.
Here’s how the three broadcast evening shows dealt
with the McCain-Bush race on Thursday night, February 3. All noted that
Bradley and Gore campaigned in California Thursday, but none ran a full story
on the Democrats.
-- ABC’s World News Tonight. After leading with the
Alaska Air investigation, ABC looked at the battle for veterans in South
Carolina. Dean Reynolds began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"In a state where there are half a million veterans,
George W. Bush surrounded himself today with the ribbons and medals of
military heroes....His political allies included medal of honor winners and a
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer. Their
presence was supposed to suggest that more veterans support Bush than John
McCain and that though McCain was a prisoner of war, Bush would make a better
President. The Governor, who was in the Texas Air National Guard during
Vietnam, said as much at a press conference later."
After a soundbite of Bush, Reynolds continued: "And
he said the notion that McCain, a senator for fourteen years, is somehow the
maverick outsider in this race defies reality."
ABC delivered less critical coverage of McCain.
"John McCain shrugged off Bush’s questions about his qualifications for
leadership, and he scoffed at the notion that Bush is better suited to
represent the interests of the military," Linda Douglass opened her
story. She focused on his political brilliance:
"For the most part, McCain avoided talking about Bush
today. Instead, he got into another fight with the tobacco companies. McCain
wants to raise tobacco taxes. Today a group which has had ties to the
cigarette companies began running an ad attacking him. He jumped at the chance
John McCain: "I am honored by the attacks from the
people that addicted our children and lied to Congress."
Douglass: "McCain even said he despises the tobacco
companies. It was the kind of blunt talk his campaign thrives on. Taking on
the tobacco industry in a state where it is the number one crop. It might be a
shrewd move. Farmers here are angry at cigarette companies for buying more
tobacco abroad. McCain aides say it is working."
After relaying how "more than $700,000 has poured
into his Web site in two days, Douglass concluded:
"McCain is gleefully pointing to a local poll that now
shows him leading George Bush in South Carolina, and some of his supporters
are starting to use a word they say seemed unimaginable just a week ago:
-- CBS Evening News. "A Republican Revolution:
McCain now leads Bush in South Carolina with one poll and money starts flowing
to McCain," Dan Rather teased at the top of the show. He then began the
program, clearly excited about the development:
"Good evening. A shake up and shake out today in the
Republican presidential campaign. Is Bush’s Southern firewall against McCain
burning in South Carolina or not? Here’s the latest: If you believe the
polls, John McCain has struck from behind and has suddenly chewed up George W.
Bush’s twenty point lead in South Carolina leading into the February 19th
primary there. After his stunning come from behind blowout of Bush in New
Hampshire, McCain’s momentum now also includes more money pouring in to keep
From South Carolina, Bill Whitaker explained:
"Forget the bounce, New Hampshire was more like a launching pad for John
McCain, wiping out a twenty point South Carolina deficit by one poll and
drawing in almost three quarters of a million dollars almost overnight."
Whitaker drove home the impact: "McCain’s
stunning victory stripped the cloak of invincibility from George W. Bush. Not
only is Bush shaken, but big money backers have the jitters too, some already
are hedging their bets and giving donations to McCain now as well. So Bush has
dropped his frontrunner assumptions and picked up the boxing gloves."
After a soundbite of Bush proclaiming his readiness for
battle, Whitaker added: "Folks here revere God and country. Bush claims
the religious right. In fact, one of his first stops here was to Bob Jones
University, a Christian conservative bastion."
CBS then played a clip of Bush with veterans before
Whitaker noted how "war hero McCain fired back." Whitaker concluded:
"Bush seems to have a lock on the party establishment,
but South Carolina is changing. Moderates and independents make up a growing
force, the very voters who made McCain the winner in New Hampshire."
-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Brian Williams announced
after the lead Alaska Air update: "We turn now to political news tonight
and a bombshell out of South Carolina, where there is word John McCain has
apparently turned the tide on George W. Bush in at least one poll and erased a
twenty point deficit. The New Hampshire bounce appears to be more of a
Lisa Myers started her piece: "In South Carolina,
John McCain is riding what appears to be a huge wave, touched off by his
victory in New Hampshire." Unlike ABC and CBS reporters Myers actually
cited the source of the poll and gave numbers:
"Today a new one day poll finds that Governor George
W. Bush’s twenty point lead in South Carolina has evaporated, virtually
overnight. The race now a statistical dead heat."
An on-screen graphic credited Zogby and showed McCain at
44 percent and Bush at Bush 39.3 percent. John Zogby then told NBC viewers:
"I don’t know that I’ve ever quite seen an overnight change like
this. This, in essence, turns the world upside down for the Bush campaign and
causes them, I think, to do some scrambling in the next two-and-a-half
Myers continued: "And there is more good news for
McCain." She explained how he’ll probably be put on the New York ballot
and that money is now pouring into his campaign, though the "reality is
that in that category, money, McCain is badly outgunned. Bush has four times
more, $31 million in the bank versus McCain’s $7.7 million. Due to election
laws, McCain can only spend $3 million in South Carolina. Because Bush
doesn’t take federal campaign money, he can spend whatever he wants and,
says an advisor, will spend quote, ‘As much as it takes to win.’"
Myers moved on to Bush’s activities of the day:
"Today a more aggressive Bush, surrounded by former
military leaders and veterans, says McCain’s heroic war record doesn’t
mean he’s best qualified to be President....The Bush camp also is readying
an aggressive new ad campaign going after McCain for claiming incorrectly that
Bush does not set aside any surplus money for Social Security. Also planned,
efforts to show McCain out of step with religious conservatives, up to forty
percent of the vote here."
Ralph Reed: "Once they know where he really stands and
how he’s waffled on values and life issues, I think John McCain’s gonna
have a serious problem in South Carolina."
Myers concluded: "Tonight a Bush advisor says the
campaign must show that John McCain is not the white knight he appears but
quote, ‘just another Washington politician.’ He admits the race in South
Carolina is now a dogfight."
One the media will love to cover.
the media reaction if a conservative infiltrated the Gore campaign in order to
spread a disease amongst his staff and volunteers, and then Matt Drudge
celebrated the maneuver in a glowing article. As the New York Post’s Rod
Dreher put it, "the ‘hate crimes’ hysterics would be baying for
But that did happen to Gary Bauer with a left-wing media
outlet and yet there’s been no media outrage. CNN didn’t even mention it
in a full story on Thursday’s Inside Politics about Bauer dropping out of
the presidential race and none of the broadcast networks mentioned it in brief
items Thursday night about Bauer’s departure, despite the fact that The
Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote about it that morning.
So far, while it has generated some interest on some
radio and television talk shows, the totality of television network news show
coverage seems to be a brief exchange on FNC’s Special Report with Brit Hume
on Monday night. MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth alerted me to this exchange in the
roundtable portion of the January 31 show:
Morton Kondracke: "If there’s been a low in
American journalism, it is Salon magazine, which-"
Brit Hume: "That’s an Internet magazine."
Kondracke: "It’s an Internet magazine. Which
confessed their sex columnist, whatever that is, invaded the Bauer
headquarters, and this guy had the flu, and he went around licking cups
Hume: "Door knobs."
Kondracke: "-pens and door knobs and stuff like that
in order to spread the flu among Gary Bauer’s supporters, and then tried to
give the flu to Gary Bauer himself, I mean, and then wrote about all this in
Salon, I mean cancel your subscription."
Hume: "Are you sure he was serious?"
Kondracke: "Seems to be. I mean he was proud of it. He
regarded it as ‘an act of terrorism,’ I mean quote unquote."
If hate speech is to be condemned uniformly, then
whether the guy really did those things or just made up the story doesn’t
matter as he conveyed hateful thoughts and Salon ran his piece as if it were
accurate and, as Kurtz reported, is unwilling to call the story inaccurate.
Two days later Washington Times "Inside the
Beltway" columnist John McCaslin picked up on the article and relayed
Bad news and good news for Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer: He
didn't win New Hampshire, but at least he didn't come down with the flu. If
nothing else, the latter represents a victory over homosexual columnist Dan
Savage, who -- if we are to believe his bizarre penmanship in the on-line
publication Salon.com -- orchestrated a vile infiltration of Bauer 2000
campaign headquarters in Des Moines.
Posing as one Mr. Bauer's "gay bashing" volunteers, Mr. Savage,
feverish with the flu, "hatched a plan to infect the candidate
himself." In other words, get close enough to Mr. Bauer "to lay him
flat" just before yesterday's New Hampshire primary. "I started
licking doorknobs," Mr. Savage writes. "The front door, office
doors, even a bathroom door. When that was done, I started in on the staplers,
phones and computer keyboards. Then I stood in the kitchen and licked the rims
of all the clean coffee cups drying in the rack."
While he admits to "feeling slightly sickened" by his perverted
act, Mr. Savage's upset stomach didn't keep him from chewing on "my
killer pen" and handing it to Mr. Bauer for an autograph. "My bodily
fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were all over his hand," says Mr. Savage.
"He handed me the pen, and started to walk toward his van. He stopped to
answer a reporter's question, and I saw him run a finger under his nose.
Perfect. I didn't need to lick all those doorknobs after all."
Reached in New Hampshire yesterday, Mr. Bauer's communications director,
Tim Goeglein, was furious: "It would appear to be a hate crime through
and through, and [Mr. Savage's] seething anger and hatred at Christians is
enormously disturbing." He adds: "This is the sort of intolerance
that the left in America seems almost preoccupied with. It would be nice to
see some indignation, some anger among that crowd for this sort of outrageous
and unacceptable behavior. This is not journalism, this is trash can politics
at its worst."
From San Francisco, Salon.com editor David Talbot tells Inside the Beltway
that Mr. Savage is an "infrequent contributor" to the publication.
Still, "like we do with all writers, we don't cut them loose when they
get into trouble. We're not abandoning Dan," he stresses.
But Mr. Talbot also acknowledges "a lot of dissent and controversy
[among staff] at Salon.com" about whether to run the piece. In
retrospect, he says, a disclaimer should have accompanied the article,
"explaining Salon.com did not assign, or endorse, or condone" its
On Thursday a major media outlet others usually follow
caught up with the story, but still no wider media reaction. In a piece on the
front page of the February 3 Style section, the Washington Post’s Howard
Kurtz reported that "a Salon magazine writer who went undercover and
tried to infect presidential candidate Gary Bauer with the flu has sniffled
his way into a heap of trouble."
In addition to his doorknob licking, Kurtz added that
"Savage also says he voted in the Iowa caucuses, despite the fact that he
lives in Seattle. State Republican officials in Des Moines have asked the
local prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation."
Salon editor David Talbot suggested the story should
have been taken as humor and was really made up, but Kurtz noted "Talbot
is not certain which elements of the story might be less than truthful."
An except from Kurtz’s story:
David Talbot, Salon's editor, says he hasn't been inundated with so much
hate mail since the online magazine disclosed a 30-year-old extramarital
affair involving Illinois congressman Henry Hyde during the impeachment saga.
"The political culture has lost its sense of humor," Talbot said
from San Francisco. "We believe anyone who knows Dan Savage's writing
knows he is given to a kind of spirited and funny gay hyperbole....He was, out
of his strong personal convictions, trying to freak out the Bauer
An Internet magazine, unlike establishment publications, ought to embrace
such "gonzo journalism," Talbot said.
Still, Salon is distancing itself a bit from the stunt by Savage, a
freelance contributor. Shortly after the piece appeared, the Webzine told
readers: "We still believe publishing the article was the right choice,
but we also feel compelled to say: We didn't assign Savage to infect Bauer. We
don't condone or endorse what he says he did."
Savage is associate editor of an alternative Seattle paper called the
Stranger, where he writes a syndicated sex advice column called "Savage
Love." Talbot says Savage is "laying low" -- and not talking to
reporters -- out of concern for both the legal and physical threats he has
In his piece -- titled "Stalking Gary Bauer" -- Savage wrote:
"My plan was a little malicious -- even a little mean-spirited -- but
those same words describe the tactics used by Bauer and the rest of the
religious right against gays and lesbians....When Bauer tells people that gays
and lesbians are a threat to families, I take that personally. I feel I have a
right to be angry." He quoted a Bauer campaign worker as telling him that
"God said that homosexuals have to die."
Recalling the moment when Bauer took the pen that had been in his mouth,
Savage wrote: "Score! My bodily fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were all
over his hand!"
Talbot says editors asked Savage about the account's veracity before it was
published "and he was somewhat evasive. He later made clear to me he was
exaggerating," although Talbot is not certain which elements of the story
might be less than truthful.
Thousands of readers have registered their complaints. "If Savage's
'sick' reporting is Salon's idea of a new kind of witty journalism, they
should remember that wit requires humor and I'm not laughing," one
To read Salon.com’s reaction to the controversy, with
a link to the original Savage piece, go to:
In the original late January story Savage spewed:
"In my Sudafed-induced delirium I decided that if it's
terrorism Bauer wants, then it's terrorism Bauer is going get -- and I'm just
the man to terrorize him. Naked, feverish and higher than a kite on codeine
aspirin, I called the Bauer campaign and volunteered. My plan? Get close
enough to Bauer to give him the flu, which, if I am successful, will lay him
flat just before the New Hampshire primary. I would go to Bauer's campaign
office and cough on everything -- phones and pens, staplers and staffers. I
even hatched a plan to infect the candidate himself. I would keep the pen in
my mouth until Bauer dropped by his offices to rally the troops. And when he
did, I would approach him and ask for his autograph, handing him the pen from
my flu-virus incubating mouth."
One of the few media figures to jump on this story was
New York Post columnist Rod Dreher who wrote about it on January 28. He
followed up with another column on February 1 in which he argued:
"Savage is a narcissist and a liar whose
self-righteousness borders on the sociopathic. He's a disgrace to both
journalism and gay activism.
"And Salon should pay the price for its contempt for
journalistic standards and simple human decency. Do companies like Barnes
& Noble really want to support this kind of "journalism" with
its advertising dollars?
"Why has the mainstream media ignored this story, with
its profound implications for media ethics, gay politics and the integrity of
the democratic process?
"Are hate crimes not hate crimes when committed
against Christian conservatives?
"The media's silence says it all."
Indeed it does