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The 1,248th CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
| Friday March 22, 2002 (Vol. Seven; No. 47) |
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Finance Reform "At Long Last"; Lauer’s Switch on Tax Cuts; Terrorism Pay-Off for Arafat; Editor Takes Liberal Bias Seriously

1) "At Long Last, Campaign Finance Reform," trumpeted the headline over a Time magazine online story which didn’t hide its enthusiasm for the regulatory scheme.

2) ABC’s Diane Sawyer celebrated the passage of campaign finance reform as a "big moment in Washington," but George Stephanopoulos dampened her enthusiasm by explaining that it's only "going to shift the influence from these fat cats who can write $200,000 checks to networkers who have big Rolodexes and then get 100 people to write $2,000 checks." CNN’s Aaron Brown worried the new law may not go far enough and may be vulnerable in the courts.

3) Last summer, after the tax cut rebate checks started being distributed, NBC’s Matt Lauer raised the argument that the government could not afford to lose the revenue. But this week, Lauer noted that "thanks to the new tax laws Americans are seeing bigger tax refunds this year" and declared: "It's nice that people are getting more money."

4) Newsweek’s Dan Ephron pointed out on MSNBC that terrorism has paid off for Yasser Arafat since "the way Arafat has employed violence in the last couple of months has certainly produced gains for the Palestinians. It has brought about international decisions that are good for the Palestinians."

5) Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler "was so impressed with [Bernard] Goldberg's book that he invited him to lunch recently with several of the paper's senior managers." But Herald reporter Glenn Garvin found that ABC’s Peter Jennings is still in denial, maintaining journalists "recognize bias and work hard to keep it out of their coverage."

6) More subscriber comments on sending CyberAlert in HTML versus plain text. Plus, the debate put to prose.


     >>> Attention Yahoo! Mail users: If you didn’t receive the March 21 CyberAlert in your "in box" check your "bulk mail" folder. In my Yahoo! Mail account that’s where I found that Yahoo placed the March 21 CyberAlert. You can also view it online at:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020321.asp <<<

1

Time magazine’s online page certainly didn’t pretend to provide an impartial look at campaign finance reform, displaying in its headline its enthusiasm for the new regulatory scheme: "At Long Last, Campaign Finance Reform." The subhead over the article posted late Wednesday and brought to my attention by the MRC’s Owen Sweeney: "It's been a long road for John McCain, Russell Feingold and the other supporters of reform, but their moment has finally arrived."

     A link highlighted beside the March 20 story by Time reporters Jessica Reaves and Douglass Waller brought readers to a February 20 opinion piece by Waller in which he hailed how the bill "choking off hundreds of millions of unregulated soft dollars that poured into the Republican and Democratic parties to buy influence will certainly be a welcome reform." For that piece: http://www.time.com/time/columnist/waller/article/0,9565,211553,00.html

     But the March 20 story was just as opinionated in applauding the wonderful virtues of the bill which restricts free speech for everyone but incumbents and the news media. Reaves and Waller were concerned not about impingements on free speech but about how the law is not strict enough, so people may find a way around it to still get evil money into politics. An excerpt:

Victory and vindication came at last for John McCain Wednesday when the Senate gave up and passed the sweeping campaign finance reform bill that had made it through the House last month....

Supporters hope the bill will lessen the impact of massive contributions on political decisions by restricting the amount of "soft money" that companies or organizations can inject into the system, either directly to a party or candidate or through television or radio ads promoting their agenda. The move away from giant, unregulated donations is critical, reform advocates insist, for politicians anxious to regain the trust of the electorate.

The legislation's sponsors, including Sen. McCain, hail the passage as a step toward cleaning up a system polluted by big money. But not everyone is quite so optimistic; some politicos doubt whether the new laws will do much to pare political contributions, theorizing that serious donors will simply find new avenues for their cash. And others fear the changes will only reinforce the power of incumbents by drying up challengers' primary source of funding: the Republican and Democratic National Committees. And, as with every law, there are ways around it....

After Nov. 5, however, the bill would have a dramatic effect -- preventing corporations, unions and fat cats from writing million-dollar checks to buy influence with the parties. (Enron and its affiliates, for example, spent over $2 million in soft money for the 2000 elections.) But just as water tends to find ways to flow, "money will still get to the campaigns," predicts a G.O.P. fund raiser. Special-interest groups wouldn't be able to use soft money to broadcast attacks on radio or TV just before an election, but the bill doesn't prevent them from putting that cash into direct-mail, e-mails or get-out-the-vote campaigns against a candidate. The soft-money spigot would be shut for the parties, but more regulated "hard money" would be allowed to pour in. Under the bill, a donor could give $2,000 to a single candidate and a maximum of $95,000 to different candidates and party organizations during a two-year election cycle. That's almost double the current hard-money limits....

The last time Congress passed sweeping campaign-finance reform was in 1974, after the Watergate scandal. But the big bucks have long since crept back in. "Any campaign-finance reform law works for a period of time," says Anthony Corrado, a Colby College professor of government. "But it has to be revisited from time to time, or the money will find ways to get back into the system."

     END of Excerpt

     In other words, it’s a never-ending process which assumes money is bad.

     To read the entire article: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,218989,00.html

2

Diane Sawyer celebrated the passage of campaign finance reform as a "big moment in Washington" and in "American politics," but George Stephanopoulos soon dampened her enthusiasm by explaining that the Supreme Court may knock down some provisions and it's only "going to shift the influence from these fat cats who can write $200,000 checks to networkers who have big Rolodexes and then get 100 people to write $2,000 checks."

     The night before, CNN anchor Aaron Brown shared in Senator John McCain’s triumph, telling him: "You must be extraordinarily happy today." Brown only worried about the new law not going far enough: "Do you have any concern that...there's still going to be plenty of money in politics and plenty of opportunity to spend money." Brown wanted to know: "Are you concerned about vulnerability of any part of this in the courts?"

     > The MRC’s Jessica Anderson caught this exchange on the March 21 Good Morning America:

     Diane Sawyer: "Well, a big, big moment in Washington yesterday and American politics. John McCain said after seven years of struggling for campaign finance reform, he couldn't believe he just got it....What difference is it going to make?"
     George Stephanopoulos: "Well, it's a big win for John McCain, a powerful symbol, but I'm not sure how much difference it's going to make on the ground. First of all, it doesn't take effect until after the 2002 election, so no effect at all on these congressional elections. Secondly, this is going straight to the Supreme Court and they may knock out provisions of the bill -- that's number two. But I think the big difference is it might not change how much money is raised, but it's going to change how the money is raised, and it's going to shift the influence from these fat cats who can write $200,000 checks to networkers who have big Rolodexes and then get 100 people to write $2,000 checks....My guess is the Court will decide this before the 2004 election."
     Sawyer: "Alright, well, a big event in Washington yesterday, maybe."
     Stephanopoulos: "We'll see."
     Sawyer: "Yeah, right. We'll see."

     > CNN’s Aaron Brown posed these questions to McCain on the March 20 NewsNight, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd observed:

     -- "Senator McCain, when did you begin to believe, really believe that this day would happen, that you'd win this?"
     -- "Because you'd never believed opponents could filibuster it to death or amend it to death?"
     -- Referring to the Enron scandal: "It made it more difficult for people to vote against it?"
     -- "And do you have any concern that in some respects you all have promised more than in fact the bill can deliver that there's still going to be plenty of money in politics and plenty of opportunity to spend money."
     -- "Are you concerned about vulnerability of any part of this in the courts?"
     -- "The argument being there that it is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech."
     -- "Just a half a minute or so left, you must be extraordinarily happy today."

3

Suddenly NBC’s Matt Lauer appreciates the benefits of the tax cut. Last summer, after the tax cut rebate checks started being distributed, Lauer pointed out how "Democrats are now saying, ‘You know what? People are running around spending those checks to spur on the economy and it’s money the government can’t afford.’" But on Thursday morning this week, the MRC’s Geoffrey Dickens noticed in picking up on the contrast, Lauer noted that "thanks to the new tax laws Americans are seeing bigger tax refunds this year" and declared: "It's nice that people are getting more money."

     Back on the August 28, 2001 Today, Lauer pressed OMB Director Mitch Daniels with the odd argument that the tax cut hurt the economy because it deprived the government of money it could better spend: "Let me go back and play devil’s advocate for a second. You talk about the rebate checks that were sent to the, to the taxpayers. It was their money and sent back to them. The President wanted $1.6 trillion in tax cuts. He got about $1.35 trillion. Democrats are now saying, ‘You know what? People are running around spending those checks to spur on the economy and it’s money the government can’t afford.’"

     Fast forward seven months, and on the March 21 Today Lauer set up a segment: "This morning on Today's Money what to do with that tax refund? Thanks to the new tax laws Americans are seeing bigger tax refunds this year. Averaging at roughly $2100 per person. Today's financial editor Jean Chatzky is here to suggest some things you can do with all that money. Jean good morning, nice to see you. It's nice that people are getting more money. Now the question is what do you go out and do with it?"

4

The media often refer to the "cycle of violence" in Israel, as if Palestinian terrorism and the Israeli response to it are equally at fault. But on MSNBC’s The News with Brian Williams on Monday night, a Newsweek reporter pointed out what many conservatives have, that by employing suicide bombers for which Israel retaliates, which leads to international condemnation of Israel and consideration of Palestinian demands, Yasser Arafat has made terrorism pay off for him.

     In a March 18 "First Person" segment, in which a reporter recounts his observations on camera, Newsweek reporter Dan Ephron delivered the following analysis, the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth noticed:
     "Palestinians say openly that they have been inspired by the Hezbollah, by the militants in Lebanon, that the militants managed through violence, through inflicting the pain on Israelis to get the Israelis to get up and withdraw. Militants in Lebanon killed about 25 Israeli soldiers per year in the last years of Israeli occupation in south Lebanon. The Palestinians have killed nearly 350 Israelis in the last year-and-a-half alone. So if the strategy worked for the militants in Lebanon, Palestinians certainly see it as something that could work for them. What could be said is the way Arafat has employed violence in the last couple of months has certainly produced gains for the Palestinians. It has brought about international decisions that are good for the Palestinians, and it brought American attention. I would imagine that the signal that gets sent is that in certain scenarios violence is effective, it does work. I think we'll probably see in next couple of days some kind of cease-fire...I'm sure that Sharon has an interest in lowering the level of violence in terms of his own popularity. I'm not sure that for Arafat's domestic and international interests that lowering the level of violence serves him."

5

One top-level journalist has taken as a serious problem to be addressed Bernard Goldberg’s premise that the media tilt to the left. The Miami Herald reported on Sunday that its Executive Editor, Tom Fiedler, "was so impressed with Goldberg's book that he invited him to lunch recently with several of the paper's senior managers."

     But Miami Herald reporter Glenn Garvin found that ABC’s Peter Jennings is still in denial. While Garvin reported that Jennings "concedes that newsrooms sit well to the left of American society," he "insists that makes no difference" since, Jennings maintained, journalists "recognize bias and work hard to keep it out of their coverage."

     You may recall the name Tom Fiedler from 1984 when he was the Miami Herald reporter who discovered Gary Hart’s relationship with Donna Rice.

     Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) highlighted the story and former MRCer Clay Waters alerted me to the Fiedler and Jennings comments deep within it. An excerpt from the March 17 Miami Herald story about Miami-area resident Goldberg and reaction to his book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News:

ABC anchor Peter Jennings says bias is hard to detect because it isn't there. He concedes that newsrooms sit well to the left of American society, but insists that makes no difference.

"We all have baggage," Jennings says. "But one of the good things about journalists is that they recognize bias and work hard to keep it out of their coverage...You can have all sorts of people who voted for Bill Clinton, but the media gave Clinton one hell of a time. Now we hear a lot from people who complain that we don't give George Bush as hard a time as we gave Bill Clinton."

Others are not so sure. "Goldberg is right in that there are belief systems at work here that influence us," says Tom Fiedler, The Herald's executive editor, who was so impressed with Goldberg's book that he invited him to lunch recently with several of the paper's senior managers.

"I hate to say there's a political correctness that guides us, but I think there is. We tend to give more credibility to groups on the liberal side of the spectrum than on the conservative side... We have to guard against falling into a groupthink."

     END of Excerpt

     For the entire article:
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/columnists/glenn_garvin/2879898.htm

     As for Jennings’ contention about giving Clinton "one hell of a time," let’s not forget how hard a time they gave the law enforcer, Ken Starr, as the networks worked to undermine the legitimacy of his probe. To whatever extent Jennings is on to something, Clinton got a hard time from the media for the mechanics of his administration and his personal behavior, not for his policies -- at least whenever they pleased liberals. In short, Clinton was criticized for the incompetence of needing three tries to find an Attorney General. George W. Bush was criticized for picking a "far right" one who once defended the Confederacy.

6

More on our survey about whether CyberAlert e-mail subscribers would like to have the CyberAlert distributed in HTML.

     The March 18 CyberAlert featured some subscriber comments and initial results. Check:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020318.asp#6

     We’re now up to about 375 responses, but the result is holding steady at 66 percent in favor, 34 percent opposed.

     Below are some more comments received since last weekend. As before, since they are sans any identification, I hope those quoted don’t mind my sharing their views. I’ve added observations of my own. Plus, one reader put the options to prose.

     -- File size. "The basic issue for me is file size. If you send out the daily updates in HTML, would that be a larger file than the plain-(vanilla)-text that we currently receive?
     "I archive many of these mailings, and my web mailer limits the total storage that I can have. So, if converting to HTML greatly increased the size of the files that you send, I'd have to vote against it."

     # My comment: Yes, the file size would be larger, probably nearly doubling the size of a CyberAlert.

     -- Plain text simpler. Several conveyed this belief, two examples:

     "Please don't change your format from text to html. Although my system would support receiving html format I however do not want to wait the length of time it takes to open email received in html format. Text is instantly opened and available for read. And isn't that what it's all about. Being able to read immediately what MRC has to offer and clicking the available links. Receiving html will also mean I will receive obnoxious advertisements and probably a bunch of cookies also. Lets keep it simple. There are already enough obnoxious advertisements proliferating the internet."

     "I want to vote to KISS: keep it simple (you pick the next word). If you are considering a switch to HTML with minimal graphics so readers can jump down to only the articles they are interested in, can't they do that now by just reading the numbered summaries at the top of the page and just hit page down until they get to the articles they want to read??? Just bold the article numbers and leave it alone unless you have some other added functionality in mind."

     # My comment: Very good reasons for keeping it as is. Just because we could put in ads does not mean we will. If we were to do HTML, it would just be to add internal navigation and a nice logo up top. And you can’t do bolds or italics or anything like that in plain text e-mail.

     -- HTML and viruses. Three comments along that line:

     "Reading the reasons given by some supporters of HTML surprised me; they urged using HTML but not loading it up with graphics. Read any basic text on the advantages of HTML and you find only one real advantage -- graphics! The disadvantages are many -- security for anyone using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, VERY long download times for most users, etc. I previously voted for plain text and stand by that vote."

     "There was a comment about those of us who use plain text e-mail to get into the 21st century. Well us plain text e-mailers are not the ones spreading ‘Pictures from my party’ and ‘I love you’ viruses!"

     "I voted ‘yes’ at first, but after reading some of the comments, I was not aware that HTML e-mail newsletters would be so vulnerable to virus's or hackers. So I have changed my mind. Better to be safe than worry about fancy bells & whistles."

     # My comment: All good concerns, but if you already are getting HTML e-mail from others with these possible dangers, what’s the harm of one more? If we do start sending an HTML version of CyberAlert I can assure you that making sure it is securely sent from us without any viruses will be a top priority.

     -- Offer subscribers a choice of HTML or plain text. Several e-mailers suggested this. Here are two:

     "In my opinion, the simplest option would be to maintain parallel lists, one in text format and the other in html. A number of other lists use this system and it seems to work quite well. I hope, strongly, that the list does not convert exclusively to html. I generally refuse to subscribe to any service which cannot deliver plain text."

     "Here's an idea. Add a field in your registration system that indicates the mail style preference and default everyone to text. Occasionally add reminders to your readers that they can re-register to begin receiving in HTML format (or switch back to text)...."

     # My comment: I think this is where we’re going given the significant percent of subscribers who do not want HTML.
     Some companies offer a service in which I would create the CyberAlert as an HTML and then the distribution software would automatically recognize whether each recipient could handle HTML. If they could, they’d get it. But if they couldn’t, they’d get it in plain text or, if on AOL, an AOL-ized "HTML Light" version. Downside: Some who have HTML-capable e-mail don’t want CyberAlert in HTML, all recipients would receive a larger file which would mean many plain text e-mail services would convert it to an attached file, and I really wonder about the accuracy of the conversion process from HTML to plain text.
     So, I think that means we’re headed toward creating two or three lists: HTML, plain text, and maybe an AOL version. Of course, that means more work up front to create more than one version, but it also means those who want HTML can get all those advantages while those who prefer plain text can still get it.
     This is my next challenge: Figure out how to best move current subscribers from here to there. Topica now places ads in all new mailing lists, so to avoid that we’d have to sign up with their paid service when we create a new list (or go to another paid service.) That will cost about $200 per month per list, which is something we did not budget for this year.

     -- Better navigation in current format. "Understanding your problems and attempting to come up with a solution, I came up with 2 small changes to your existing alerts that might be a good compromise....a suggestion to add a link to the top to give people an option to choose graphics. The second change is to simply add a section break between each article. My biggest problem with your mailing is the little numbers at the start of a new article are hard to see when you scroll. This section break would allow people to quickly scroll to the correct article. I ‘designed’ one that looked like this... 

---------------------------2 ---------------------------

I think it is more of a stop gap measure. Eventually all of us plain typers will be drug kicking and screaming into the HTML world. But maybe this will get you by for a couple of more years."

     # My comment: We do currently provide link, in the paragraph below the title, to the online version. As for making the start of articles easier to catch, an excellent idea. With the last CyberAlert I began adding a space between each table of contents item and another space between each article, so there are now four blank lines between each story. I’ll experiment with the idea above to see how to make the start of each article even easier to catch.

     -- Kind words. "I can get html mail, but I would prefer newsletter stays the same....I like the simplicity of it, & I don't think scrolling down is that irritating...gee, aren't we all in such a hurry that we need a link to get to bottom of page! Anyway, you encapsulize the contents at the beginning, so anyone who wants the full version of a particular story can just scroll down to it. Need I say ‘keep up the good work’? I may automatically delete a lot of mail, but I can't delete your newsletter -- I always read it -- somehow, it would make me feel un-American -- ok, ok, I won't succumb to distorted nationalistic lingo!!! Seriously, you help me to have a balanced viewpoint, something it seems too few people care about these days. Thanks for all your hard work."

     # My comment: A brilliant and insightful reader with the proper priorities in life. Thanks Mom.

     -- We close with the options put to prose by CyberAlert reader Matthew Irish:

     To HTML, or not HTML?
     That is the question, and I hear it well.
     We could use pics and colors and such, 
     But would it slow our read while adding a nice touch?
     My love for artwork is great indeed,
     Not greater, though, than my love for speed.
     I try to read each, word by word.
     Could speed increase with pictures of trees or birds?
     Nay, I say, but it would look nice.
     If "right" information is the primary aim, perhaps you should think twice.

     More comments welcome. Send them to: cyber@mediaresearch.org -- Brent Baker


 

 


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