Bush Non-Favors a Scandal; "When Did They Know?" CBS Ignored Rubin, Had Time for Prince Harry’s Pot; Calls for Campaign Finance "Reform"
1) Network reporters defined Bush administration
non-favors for Enron as scandalous and contended cabinet secretaries
should have warned the public. NBC anchor Lester Holt: "At issue,
whether the President was informed about Enron’s request for help and
whether the White House knew something investors and employees
didn’t." Sam Donaldson pressed Treasury Secretary O’Neill:
"When you knew...that this big company was in deep, deep trouble,
didn’t you feel an obligation to tell the public?"
2) From Thursday through Saturday night, the CBS Evening
News, which ignored Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s phone
call, devoted just one measly sentence to Democratic links to Enron. But
CBS found time to report how Britain’s Prince Harry has smoked marijuana
and gotten drunk.
3) Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill made a perfectly
reasonable observation about how he wasn’t shocked by Enron’s demise
because the "genius of capitalism" means some companies succeed
while others fail. ABC’s Linda Douglass decided to highlight how
"Senator Lieberman called those statements today outrageous and
4) Even a liberal is baffled by how the media can justify
making Enron into a Bush political scandal. Lawrence O’Donnell declared
on the McLaughlin Group: "It is a business scandal story. There is
absolutely not even a whiff of political scandal in this thing so far. And
it’s really funny to watch the Washington press corps try to manufacture
5) ABC’s Cokie Roberts responded to the Enron case by
urging President Bush to support campaign finance reform and CBS’s Bob
Schieffer suggested: "Outlaw the big corporate contributions. That
way it won't look like the companies are calling in a chip every time they
call the White House."
6) The Washington Post referred to Peter Kirsanow, the man
President Bush has named to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as
"a conservative lawyer from Cleveland." But the newspaper
didn’t tag any commissioners as liberal.
7) Reuters corrected a story which asserted that the U.S.
"gives Israel about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill
8) Video now up of Peter Jennings setting up a clip, which
showed George Bush at a restaurant in Crawford, by announcing:
"President Clinton, of course, is on his ranch in Scotland."
9) The CyberAlert subscription list has surpassed 10,000.
week’s Human Events, the "national conservative weekly,"
features a two-page spread devoted to quotes from the MRC’s "Best
Notable Quotables of 2001: The Fourteenth Annual Awards for the Year’s
Worst Reporting." The article is not online, but you can see the
quotes Human Events chose to highlight by picking up a copy of the January
14 edition and looking at pages 10-11. Human Events is online at: http://humaneventsonline.com
a political scandal is defined by how government officials abuse their
power on behalf of a constituent or donor, not by how officials resisted a
request for a favor. But in the Enron case, the networks have turned phone
calls from Enron executives to top Bush officials into some kind of
scandalous behavior on the part of those who received the calls, even
though there is no evidence any action was taken in response.
A second media line, matching the polemical
point made by California liberal Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman: that
the Bush cabinet secretaries, who received calls from Enron in late
October, should have alerted the public to the impending collapse of
Enron. But by late October, the Enron stock price had already fallen to
about $10 from a high in February of about $80. In raising this point
journalists failed to address fundamental economics: If Treasury Secretary
Paul O’Neill had publicly warned Enron shareholders that the company
could soon go bankrupt the price would have plummeted anyway as more would
have tried to sell than wanted to buy. And employees with shares stuck in
a 401 (k) still couldn’t have done anything.
NBC anchor Lester Holt announced Sunday night:
"At issue, whether the President was informed about Enron’s request
for help and whether the White House knew something investors and
employees didn’t, that Enron was in deep trouble." CBS anchor John
Roberts similarly demanded to know two nights earlier: "The key
questions for congressional and criminal investigators include who knew
what and when about the energy company's slide into bankruptcy."
Sam Donaldson pressed Treasury Secretary
O’Neill: "When you knew...that this big company was in deep, deep
trouble, didn’t you feel an obligation to tell the public?"
More details below about these examples from
Sunday’s NBC Nightly News and ABC’s This Week, and Friday’s CBS
Evening News and Today on NBC:
-- NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt opened
the January 13 show by trying to make receiving phone calls something
evening everyone. With the Enron investigations ramping up this week,
members of the George Bush cabinet today were distancing the President
from the phone calls they received from Enron’s CEO before the
company’s collapse. At issue: whether the President was informed about
Enron’s request for help and whether the White House knew something
investors and employees didn’t, that Enron was in deep trouble."
-- On Sunday’s This Week, Sam Donaldson
quizzed Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill: "When you knew, no matter
how long the phone calls were, that this big company was in deep, deep
trouble, didn’t you feel an obligation to tell the public?"
replied: "Sam, you and your other friends in the print media, were
telling the people everyday. I didn’t learn anything from Ken Lay that
wasn’t public property."
wasn’t satisfied: "So you don’t think the Secretary of the
Treasury, the Secretary of Commerce, if they had spoken out, wouldn’t
have meant more to investors, to employees than a newspaper story?"
Up next, Cokie Roberts interviewed Democratic
Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs
Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, who was more
interested in talking about wrongdoing by Enron and Arthur Anderson, but
Roberts kept prodding him to agree with anti-Bush partisan Democratic
Roberts, referring to an earlier taped
soundbite, asserted: "You heard earlier in the broadcast your
colleague, Senator Lieberman, saying that the relationship between Enron
and the administration, the fact that Ken Lay has been the biggest
contributor to the administration, is an area of concern. Is that
something that you will be looking into?"
Levin said it is not a concern of his
committee, but that campaign finance reform is a concern and "I have
no doubt that Enron had greater access because of huge campaign
the conversation back to the Bush administration: "Greater access to
cabinet secretaries and to the White House staff and Vice President
Levin tried to
get away from politics and back to Enron: "I have no doubt that they
had greater access not just to the administration but to Members of
Congress, because of huge campaign contributions and that’s what we’ve
got to end. But it’s the actions of Enron, the improprieties, the false
statements. They were selling glass as real diamonds and that is false,
we’ve got to put an end to it. That is the major concern of my
subcommittee and that is what it seems to me the American people want us
to focus on."
Roberts returned again to politics: "Now, Congressman Waxman, from
California, has sent letters to the secretaries asking for all of the
documents, all of the meetings, any contacts at all between the
administration and Enron. And implying that maybe even though Enron
didn’t seem to get energy policy changed to suit it that maybe the
administration was advocating tax policy that would be helpful to Enron at
the time that all of these contacts were taking place. What’s your
reaction to that?"
Roberts soon hoped: "Do you see a change
in the laws coming as a result of this, re-regulation of energy, for
Wrapping up the interview, Roberts worried
about how the matter could hurt Democrats: "Senator, we’re out of
time, but I know that you are looking at the company. But there are a lot
of Democrats licking their lips over this at the moment, seeing an
opportunity to get at the Bush administration. Do you think there’s a
danger for Democrats here?"
-- Anchor John Roberts began Friday’s CBS
Evening News by characterizing the scandal as one of "who knew what
and when" in the Bush administration:
administration was trying again today to control the damage from the
collapse of the Enron Corporation, a company with ties to many
administration officials, including the President. The key questions for
congressional and criminal investigators include who knew what and when
about the energy company's slide into bankruptcy. Today we learned that a
top executive of Enron asked the administration to step in late last year
to try to head off the company's collapse."
-- Katie Couric led Friday’s Today, MRC
analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, in full scandal mode: "Good
morning. What did they know and when did they know it? The shockwaves from
the collapse of the energy giant Enron, once the seventh biggest company
in the U.S. are being felt at another power source, the White House, as
the Justice Department's criminal investigation gets into gear today,
Friday, January the 11th, 2002."
Clinton ties to Enron. While Saturday’s NBC Nightly News mentioned how
Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now with Enron creditor CitiCorp,
called a Treasury official last fall, CBS ignored the revelation which was
headlined on the front page of the Washington Post. But CBS found time to
report how Britain’s Prince Harry has smoked marijuana and gotten drunk.
CBS gave a clause on Friday night to how Enron
"even received White House support for overseas Enron projects,"
a reference to how Clinton administration officials helped Enron with a
power plant project in India (and got a $100,000 donation to the DNC), a
story which the DrudgeReport recalled was first reported by Time magazine
at the time. The Washington Times put it on its front page on Saturday.
(There was no World News Tonight on Saturday.)
In fact, from Thursday through Saturday night,
the CBS Evening News devoted just one measly sentence to Enron donations
to Democrats. On Thursday night, CBS ignored those contributions to
Democrats. See the January 11 CyberAlert:
On Friday night, John Roberts emphasized how
the "The lion’s share of the campaign cash has gone to Republicans,
specifically George Bush. Since 1993, Enron and its employees funneled two
and a quarter million into Mr. Bush's political career and party
coffers." But, he briefly added, "Enron also played the other
side of the political fence. Prior to George Bush's campaign, Enron
Chairman Ken Lay contributed heavily to Bill Clinton's election, played
golf with the former President, even received White House support for
overseas Enron projects."
Saturday’s CBS Evening News ran two full
reports on Enron, about how accounting firms are too cozy with client
companies and concerns about off-the-book partnerships, but made no
mention of Rubin’s pressure. Anchor Russ Mitchell did, however, find 17
seconds for this important news:
newspaper in Britain reports that 17-year-old Prince Harry has admitted to
his father, Prince Charles, that he has smoked marijuana and gotten drunk
at parties. A royal family spokesman would not confirm the report about
Harry, Charles’s younger son, but said quote, ‘this is a serious
matter which was resolved within the family and it is now closed.’"
(On Sunday night, I should note, both ABC and
NBC ran full stories on the same topic.)
On Saturday’s NBC Nightly News reporter
Norah O’Donnell first stressed the phone calls to Bush officials:
"Democrats also want to know more about the close ties between Enron
and the Bush administration. Between late October and early November,
Enron officials spoke by phone with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill,
Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Federal
Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan."
Brookings Institute: "There’s nothing illegal about that or
necessarily improper, but it poses a political problem for President
O’Donnell gave a few seconds to Rubin: "The White House insists no
action resulted from those calls, or one by President Clinton’s former
Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. Rubin’s spokesman tells NBC News Rubin
did ask the Bush administration in November to intervene to help Enron,
but the call was not made at Enron’s request and the matter was later
Secretary Paul O’Neill made a perfectly reasonable observation about how
he wasn’t shocked by Enron’s demise because the "genius of
capitalism" means some companies succeed while others fail. ABC’s
Linda Douglass decided to highlight how "Senator Lieberman called
those statements today ‘outrageous’ and ‘cold-blooded.’"
Douglass ended her January 13 World News
Tonight/Sunday story: "Some Democrats say the administration should
have done something to protect Enron’s workers. The Treasury Secretary
said today though there was no reason for the government to get involved
in saving Enron. He called Enron’s collapse an example of the ‘genius
of capitalism’ because it shows how companies can rise and fall based on
their own merits rather than because of control from the government.
Senator Lieberman called those statements today ‘outrageous’ and
O’Neill’s comment occurred on Fox News
Sunday. Asked by Tony Snow whether he was surprised by Enron’s collapse,
watched lots of corporations come and go. An interesting fact, that there
are very few companies that have been around for 40 or 50 years or 100
years. So, you know, in the broader scheme of things, not really.
Companies come and go. Part of the genius of capitalism is people get to
make good decisions or bad decisions and they get to pay the consequence
or to enjoy the fruits of their decisions. It’s the way the system
Even if the media don’t understand it.
liberal is baffled by how the media can justify turning Enron into a Bush
MSNBC analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, a former
aide to Democratic Senators, declared on the McLaughlin Group over the
weekend: "It is a business scandal story. There is absolutely not
even a whiff of political scandal in this thing so far. And it’s really
funny to watch the Washington press corps try to manufacture it."
The media viewpoint bewildered O’Donnell:
"Let’s get it straight. The big, big contributor to the Bush
campaign, goes to the Bush administration and says, ‘please help us’
and the Bush administration says ‘no.’ The scandal is going to have be
explained to me."
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift tried to convince
O’Donnell: "You get Ken Lay, the CEO, calling the Treasury
Secretary and the Commerce Secretary, and they don’t pass that
information on to anyone, when if they advised someone maybe a lot of
people could have saved their holdings."
Of course, Enron’s stock fell steadily
throughout 2001 amidst news stories about troubles at the company, so
investors were not totally in the dark.
surprisingly, some in the media are using the Enron situation to justify a
fresh call for "campaign finance reform." During the roundtable
on This Week, ABC’s Cokie Roberts urged President George Bush "to
come out for campaign finance reform."
Bob Schieffer concluded Sunday’s Face the
Nation on CBS by asserting that since "Enron had tried to buy off
half of Washington with campaign contributions, people here were standing
in line last week to say they had no Enron connections."
Schieffer then argued corporations should not
be allowed to decide how to spend their own money: "The White House
spokesman, Ari Fleischer, who's from New York, got so wound up he was
spouting Texas talk. 'That dog won't hunt,' he said, when asked if Enron
could become a political issue. Well, a little Texas talk never hurts.
It's helped me make a good living, but if Ari's worried that it makes the
White House look bad because all those Enron people who gave so much
during the campaign are now calling to see if the White House can help
them a little, well, here's another thought. Outlaw the big corporate
contributions. That way it won't look like the companies are calling in a
chip every time they call the White House. Democrats who took some of
those Enron contributions seem a little uncomfortable, too. Maybe they can
help in the project.
conservatives need labeling, the latest example. The Washington Post on
Friday referred to Peter Kirsanow, the man President Bush has named to the
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as "a conservative lawyer from
Cleveland." But the newspaper didn’t tag as a liberal either
Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, who refuses to seat Kirsanow, or the
commissioner he is set to replace.
MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught this item in
the "Washington Briefs" section of the January 11 Washington
have told the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights she has no
authority to interpret the law creating the panel and must accept a
commissioner appointed by the White House.
House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales wrote Mary Frances Berry in response to
her letter asking the administration to respect the panel's independence.
repeated accusations that this litigation will somehow undermine the
independence of the commission are unfounded,’ he wrote.
week, Berry appealed to the president to drop attempts to appoint Peter
Kirsanow, a conservative lawyer from Cleveland, to replace Victoria
Wilson, an ally of Berry.
and four other commissioners on the eight-member civil rights panel
contend Wilson was appointed by then-President Clinton to a six-year term
in 2000. The Bush administration and the three GOP-appointed commissioners
say Wilson's term expired Nov. 29, at the end of the term of the
commissioner she replaced...."
"Compiled from reports by the Associated
Press and Reuters," read the credit line beneath the three stories in
the "Washington Briefs" section.
maintains it realized its error. A January 11 CyberAlert item picked up on
how OpinionJournal.com’s "Best of the Web" column had
highlighted how a Reuters story asserted that the U.S. "gives Israel
about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill Palestinians." For
details, go to:
In Friday’s "Best of the Web,"
James Taranto passed along: "We heard from our good friend Nancy
Bobrowitz, senior vice president of
Reuters, about yesterday's item on a Reuters dispatch referring to America
giving Israel ‘weaponry used to kill Palestinians’:
the Reuters story you mentioned today, as you can tell from our news file
we also saw this and quickly issued a revised version. The original story
clearly ran counter to our policy, which is to report the news in an
objective fashion. We view this as a serious matter and a breach of
internal policies. We are taking it up with the editorial staff
In this case Reuters realized, at least when
their distortion was highlighted, its biased reporting. If only more media
to the MRC’s Mez Djouadi, the MRC
home page now features a RealPlayer clip of a bit of a goof by Peter
Jennings which the January 9 CyberAlert had recounted:
About 18 minutes into the special ABC 2002
broadcast on December 31, at about 6:48pm EST when ABC was providing a
mini World News Tonight-like summary of the day’s news, Jennings
Clinton, of course, is on his ranch in Scotland, and he talked a little
bit about the situation in Afghanistan today, and here’s an excerpt from
what he had to say."
ABC then played video of George W. Bush
shaking hands in a restaurant in Crawford, Texas with patrons in a line
waiting to place or pick up an order. Viewers heard Bush saying such
things as, "happy new year to you all" and "welcome to
Jennings, apparently correcting for how ABC
failed to show the correct clip of Bush commenting on Afghanistan, but
without correcting his own goof, soon broke in: "He basically said
what he’s said many times before, is that they’re not sure exactly
where Osama bin Laden is but they’re going to get him and they don’t
know exactly where Mohammad Omar is, but they’re going to try to get him
as well. The President still at his ranch. He’ll return to Washington,
of course, after the new year."
To view the Jennings mess-up, check the MRC
home page or go to:
CyberAlert milestone. As of this edition, CyberAlert is being distributed
to more than 10,000 subscribers (10,032 to be exact), a growth of about
3,800 during the past year. It all began with 22 subscribers in April of
1996 -- which doesn’t sound like very long ago, but it was before there
was an MSNBC or a Fox News Channel. And the ever-increasing readership has
been achieved without any "opt-out" gimmicks in which people are
added without permission.
Every subscriber had to take the initiative to
subscribe and to confirm their request. I’m gratified by the validation
of the MRC’s efforts to document liberal media bias and will work to
continue to earn your readership.