CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
| Thursday January 11, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 6) |
Back to Today's CyberAlert | Free Subscription


CBS: Is John Ashcroft a "Racist?"; Ashcroft’s Ideology At Odds with the Law; Democratic Payback for How GOP Treated Clinton Nominees?

1) "Do you think that John Ashcroft is a racist?" CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked Senator Barbara Boxer in a story prompted by her opposition. Schieffer relayed, without any label, how "groups representing everything from civil rights to consumer advocates" are against Ashcroft and are upset by his Christmas card.

2) CBS News reporter John Roberts peppered Ari Fleischer with questions from the left over Ashcroft: "As somebody who is charged with executing the laws that are on the books, is it prudent for their ideology to be at odds with some of those laws?" And Bush’s nominees have ruined the "spirit of reconciliation."

3) On CBS’s The Early Show Jane Clayson wondered if opposition to Chavez "was payback for what the Republicans did to Clinton nominees eight years ago?" But eight years ago Republicans near unanimously supported Clinton’s most left wing nominees.

4) Don’t dare criticize us! Filling in for Bryant Gumbel, Russ Mitchell intoned: "Linda Chavez blasted the press yesterday, does that serve the incoming Bush administration well?"

5) Newsweek rued how "accommodating the right has long been a burden of the Bushes." U.S. News claimed that in naming the "Bible-quoting Pentecostal Missouri Senator to be Attorney General, Bush could not have awarded the far right a bigger prize." Time’s Jack White castigated "Ashcroft’s horrendous record on race."


NBC Nightly News led Wednesday night with, as Tom Brokaw put it, "tough new opposition to John Ashcroft" while the CBS Evening News framed a whole story around how one far left Senator, naturally unlabeled ideologically, had announced her opposition to Ashcroft. CBS featured "an exclusive interview" with Senator Barbara Boxer, as Dan Rather stressed how she’s voting no "over, among other things, questions of race."

    CBS’s Bob Schieffer proceeded to relay, without any ideological label, how "more than 200 groups representing everything from civil rights to consumer advocates said they’ll work together to kill the nomination." Schieffer even picked up on their disgust with an Ashcroft Christmas card.

    The details: On the NBC Nightly News, David Gregory reported "a growing number of Senate Democrats" are going against Ashcroft while he listed five possible GOP defectors: Chafee, Jeffords, DeWine, Snowe and Specter. After soundbites from NARAL’s Kate Michelman and Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, Gregory previewed the coming battle:
    "A leading witness at Ashcroft’s confirmation hearing next week will be Ronnie White, the Missouri Supreme Court justice whose nomination to the federal bench Ashcroft blocked, prompting charges of racism. In response, Capitol Hill sources say Ashcroft’s Republican supporters plan to call the relatives of crime victims to make the case that White was too soft on criminals whose cases he reviewed, creating the prospect of a contentious hearing within the hearing."

    Unlike NBC, CBS didn’t bother with the views of anyone but Ashcroft bashers as the January 10 CBS Evening News turned one Senator’s unsurprising announcement into a platform for her partisan bile.

    Dan Rather intoned, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "In Washington, Team Bush is gearing up for the confirmation battle facing Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft. Bob Schieffer has an exclusive interview for you with one Senator who plans to vote ‘no’ on Ashcroft over, among other things, questions of race. Bob."
    Schieffer began: "Dan, this afternoon California Senator Barbara Boxer became the first Democrat to say on the record that she will vote against John Ashcroft, and she urged President-elect Bush to withdraw his nomination for Attorney General. She told Bush in a letter she had never seen such widespread opposition among her constituents to any nominee, and she told me one of her major concerns is the way Ashcroft blocked the appointment of African-American Judge Ronnie White to the federal bench claiming he was soft on crime."
    Barbara Boxer: "I hate to use a charged term, but it’s my heart talking here. I really think it was a political lynching that happened there in the United States Senate."
    Schieffer to Boxer: "Senator, let me ask you this. Do you think that John Ashcroft is a racist and that’s why he blocked the Ronnie White nomination?"
    Boxer: "I never use that word against anyone. I can only judge John Ashcroft by his actions, and what I am telling you is that he engineered a humiliating defeat for Ronnie White."

    Schieffer moved beyond Boxer as he continued to avoid applying any liberal labels: "White serves on the Missouri Supreme Court, and we’ve learned he will testify next week during Ashcroft’s confirmation hearing, a session that may be even more bruising than expected. Ashcroft wasn’t talking as he scurried through the Capitol trying to round up support, but Boxer’s opposition came just 24 hours after more than 200 groups representing everything from civil rights to consumer advocates said they’ll work together to kill the nomination. And today in an effort to show Ashcroft’s views are not mainstream, opponents circulated an old Ashcroft Christmas card in which he listed a visit to Bob Jones University, the school that once banned inter-racial dating, as one of his highlights of 1999. No one is writing off Ashcroft. Nearly all the Republicans are believed ready to support him, but the only thing being taken for granted now by either side is that the fight ahead is going to be nasty."

    Nastiness fueled by this kind of network story which gives credence, without any evidence, to efforts to discredit Ashcroft as a racist.

    Boxer wasn’t elected to the Senate until November 1992, but as a House member she was clearly opposed to the confirmation of Clarence Thomas and 48 Democratic Senators voted against him. Does that one vote against one black judicial nominee make them all racists too?


John Roberts, gullible promoter of a bizarre new liberal attack strategy. As an attack line against John Ashcroft liberals have come up with the odd new theory that since a conservative may have opposed laws which are now in effect, he or she cannot enforce them and so is unqualified for the job. Of course, the same could be said about liberals who opposed legislation backed by conservatives.

    But instead of dismissing the ludicrous argument, CBS News White House reporter John Roberts took it quite seriously during Ari Fleischer’s daily transition briefing, peppering him about how can Ashcroft enforce laws with which he supposedly does not agree. He demanded: "As somebody who is charged with executing the laws that are on the books, is it prudent for their ideology to be at odds with some of those laws?"

    Here are the questions Roberts posed in one exchange during Fleischer’s daily 1pm ET briefing, along with excerpts of Fleischer’s answers, starting with Roberts putting the burden on Bush for ruining the "spirit of reconciliation and unity." (I should note that C-SPAN’s camera did not show the reporters asking questions, so I’m basing my identification of Roberts on recognizing his voice and that Fleischer earlier referred to him as "John.")

    -- Roberts: "Ari, back to this idea of partisanship, some people who have worked on both sides of the fence in government have said that with the political ideology of some of the nominees that President-elect Bush put forward, any spirit of reconciliation and unity that he hoped to engender was dead before it ever got going."
    Fleischer: "Well, I would refer you to some of the selections that were made by President Clinton that were approved by the Republican Senate. He appointed several liberals to Cabinet posts, and they were approved, because again, the Senate, in a long-standing bipartisan way, provides the president with latitude in the selection of their Cabinet...."

    -- Roberts: "But what if that political ideology is at odds with laws that are currently in existence?"
    Fleischer: "Well, the purpose of ideology is to advocate positions that you would want to see put into place. The purpose of serving in the Cabinet is to carry the agenda for the president-elect and to enforce the laws that are on the books unless and until those laws get changed. And if those laws get changed, then of course you enforce the new laws."

    -- Roberts: "Sure, I could understand that as a legislator, your political ideology would fit well into your job description, but as somebody who is charged with executing the laws that are on the books, is it prudent for their ideology to be at odds with some of those laws?"
    Fleischer: "I think it's the job of every Cabinet secretary, whether they're a Democrat or a Republican, to advocate laws and submit them to the Congress with the concurrence of the president. That's part of our executive branch of government. The point, though, is while you serve in that job, your position should be to enforce the laws. But there's no shortage of ideology from the Democrats or from the Republicans from those who serve in Cabinet posts. Their mission is to make proposals to the Congress that serve the ideological cause in which they believe. And that's for the Congress to determine."

    -- Roberts: "Well, let me take that question one step further then. Should some of these groups that have come out in opposition of Senator Ashcroft be concerned that he will not enforce the laws that are currently on the books?"
    Fleischer: "No, I see no reason for them to have such concerns. He has said, and the President-elect has said, that his mission will be to enforce the laws, and he shall."

    -- At this point another reporter, whose voice I did not recognize, returned to the very same theme with which Roberts began: "On Senator Ashcroft, when you're saying -- talking specifically about the need to change the tone. How did President-elect Bush believe nominating such a strong conservative -- one of the most conservative members of the Senate, almost certain to be a lightning rod for liberal opposition -- how did he believe that would help contribute to changing the tone in Washington?"

    Maybe reporters could consider changing their hostile tone toward conservatives.


Dumbest question of the morning on Wednesday, CBS The Early Show co-host Jane Clayson to Linda Chavez: "Do you think this is in some ways payback for what the Republicans did to Clinton nominees eight years ago?"

    What exactly did Republicans do to Clinton nominees eight years ago? Democrats controlled the Senate and Zoe Baird was done in mostly by liberals disturbed by her corporate law career. Clinton nominated several far left liberals, but unlike with Ashcroft Chavez and Norton, few, if any, Republicans opposed any of them.

    Labor Secretary nominee Robert Reich and Interior nominee Bruce Babbitt were not opposed by any Republican Senator; just two Republican Senators voted no on HHS nominee Donna Shalala and only one GOP Senator voted against Commerce nominee Ron Brown. And, as MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey determined, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve Janet Reno as AG with the Senate confirming her 98-0.


Don’t dare criticize us! Russ Mitchell, filling in for Bryant Gumbel on CBS’s The Early Show, to political analysts Fred Barnes and Bob Beckel on Wednesday morning as noticed by MRC analyst Brian Boyd: "Linda Chavez blasted the press yesterday, does that serve the incoming Bush administration well?"

    Barnes suggested it doesn’t make much of a difference while Bob Beckel warned the national press in DC are far tougher than reporters in Austin.

    Make that much tougher on anything conservative.


How the weekly news magazines treated Ashcroft in last week’s issues, as detailed by the MRC’s Tim Graham in the MRC’s MagazineWatch: The news magazines found the new Bush cabinet picks to be a mix of acceptable pragmatists and questionable conservatives. Unlike many TV reporters, some writers find "liberal" groups will fight conservative picks, but they also added Ashcroft’s pick warmed the "far right."

    Here’s the text of the MagazineWatch article about the January 8 editions of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News:

The news magazines found the new Bush cabinet picks to be a mix of acceptable pragmatists and questionable conservatives. Ever snarky, Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" kept up the bashing one-liners on the new administration. Bush drew a sideways arrow: "New theme song for antique cabinet: ‘Don't Stop Thinking About Yesterday.'" Dick Cheney's arrow was up: "Old: Gore most-active No. 2 guy ever. New: W. will be most-active No. 2 guy ever." So was John Ashcroft ("After losing to dead man, right-winger rises from dead to be AG-designate") and Donald Rumsfeld ("Bush retreat won't do? Try a used Ford. New use for surplus: unworkable missile defense."). Clinton attracted an up arrow for tossing a "Hail Mary in [the] Holy Land."

Newsweek's Evan Thomas and John Barry found Bush wants loyalty first and foremost, and theorized that "the establishment, or at least the Bush-Ford wing of it, is back." Still, "Bush's cabinet is more conservative than moderate. Liberal-interest groups will bitterly oppose the nominations of Ashcroft and [Interior Secretary pick Gail] Norton." But they explained that "accommodating the right has long been a burden of the Bushes." Thomas and Barry presented Norton as particularly scary to the greens. "Norton worked with Jim Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1979 and then followed Watt to Washington to work in the Interior Department from 1985 to 1987." (Readers might mistakenly conclude that Watt came to Washington in 1985, when in fact he was appointed in 1981 and was dumped by 1985.) Norton foes disputed the media caricature: "‘There's all this talk about James Watt in a skirt,' says Pam Eaton, a regional director of the Wilderness Society based in Colorado, Norton's home state. ‘No, no. She’s not going to make outrageous statements and blunders. She's going to do it in a way that's much more friendly.'" Thomas and Barry warned "To environmentalists, Norton's amiability makes her that much more dangerous," since she'll "pose" as an environmentalist and "move to exploit the wilderness for oil and gas."

In U.S. News, reporter Kenneth Walsh declared that "Bush is also eager to placate the right as he considers whether to quickly roll back a number of unilateral decisions by President Clinton that circumvented Congress....Conservatives are also pressuring Bush to reverse eight years of Democratic policymaking in other ways, such as taking hard-line positions on everything from rescinding tough new emission standards on trucks to discouraging abortion and opposing affirmative action through the Justice Department under Ashcroft." He added the proposed tax cut, which regularly comes with "big" adjectives or decade-long revenue estimates: "Most important, conservatives insist that Bush must not retreat from his campaign pledge to fight for a $1.3 trillion, across-the-board tax cut through 2010."

Walsh's colleague Chitra Ragavan pondered "Is Ashcroft Unsinkable?" She suggested: "In picking the anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, gospel-singing, piano-playing, Bible-quoting Pentecostal Missouri Senator to be Attorney General, Bush could not have awarded the far right a bigger prize." But Ragavan at least used two liberal labels, noting conservatives found it "especially painful to watch Reno place the Clinton activist, liberal stamp on the biggest flashpoints straddling the ideological divide. Just to name a few: affirmative action, abortion, guns, school prayer, and drugs." She also noted Ashcroft would be fought by "liberal advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women and the League for Conservation Voters."

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Bill Turque also acknowledge that "Ashcroft faces a fight from the left." They begin by recalling Ashcroft rallying South Carolina Republicans in 1998 by holding up sonograms and pictures of his grandson to applause, pledging "Americans must protect unborn children under the law." (Reporters shudder here.) The reporters acknowledge that "Ashcroft's resume is hardly that of a bomb-thrower....But he has always been a man of deeply held -- and deeply conservative -- convictions. He opposes gun control and affirmative action; he's long supported term limits, prayer in schools, and direct funding of churches to fund social-service programs."

But wait, it gets worse, they wrote: "Ashcroft tacked even farther to the right when he tested the waters for a 2000 presidential run [in 1998]. His exploratory campaign brought him close to the most ardently conservative elements of the GOP, including [Pat] Robertson and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife." While People for the American Way and NARAL drew no direct labeling, Isikoff and Turque took exception to Ashcroft's support from "the militant American Life League, whose members picket abortion clinics. Last year the group gave him a Courage and Integrity Award, an honor previously bestowed on Pat Buchanan and Sen. Jesse Helms."

By comparison, Time magazine's coverage was mostly mellow. Michael Duffy found Treasury Secretary designate Paul O'Neill wasn't one of those undesirable ideologues: "There's no sign that O'Neill is an ardent supply-sider. Zarb, the NASDAQ chief who also served with O'Neill in the Nixon White House, said ‘Paul's not an ideologue by any stretch of the imagination.' But even those who know him well can only guess at O'Neill's views on the big, trillion-dollar tax cut Bush campaigned on last year."

For Ashcroft-bashing, Time turned over a page to black columnist Jack E. White, who began: "What was President-Elect George W. Bush thinking when he selected John Ashcroft as his nominee for Attorney General? That since he was designating three superbly qualified African Americans for high-level positions....blacks would somehow overlook Ashcroft’s horrendous record on race?"

(A month ago, White beseeched Bush not to pick any conservative -- read inauthentic -- blacks to his administration with the headline "No Toms Need Apply.")

White then suggested Ashcroft was picked out of pity: "Or that it was compassionately conservative for Bush to hire a man who had lost re-election as Missouri’s junior U.S. Senator to a dead man?...It certainly couldn’t have been that appointing Ashcroft would enhance Bush’s image as a uniter, not a divider. Ashcroft’s positions on civil rights issues are about as sensitive as a hammer blow to the head."

White called Ashcroft an "extremist" and found a "leading GOP strategist to declare in large letters: "Every six months...they will open their papers at the White House and say, ‘What the hell is he doing?'" White concluded: "This is one nomination that, pardon the pun, should be consigned to the Ashcroft of history."

    END Reprint of MagazineWatch article

    Two other items in this MagazineWatch:
    -- Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report insisted there was still news from the Gore campaign, as news outlets plan Florida recounts, and Clinton and Gore vie for Bush-era Democratic dominance.
    -- In that section that could be called Feminist Corner, Newsweek "contributing editor" Susan Faludi wrote on how commercialism threatens to ruin feminism, which clashed a bit with Time's Margaret Carlson touting Hillary's new $2.8 million dollar Washington manse.
-- Brent Baker



Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314