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The 1,961st CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
12:15pm EDT, Wednesday April 27, 2005 (Vol. Ten; No. 74)
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1. CBS Presses Fulfillment of Its Wish: Demise of Personal Accounts
Is the CBS Evening News, which has been the broadcast network evening newscast most hostile to President Bush's idea of personal accounts in Social Security, pressing to get its wish fulfilled with the demise of the concept? Anchor Bob Schieffer teased Tuesday night: "The President makes his final push on Social Security reform. Congress says it's ready to get serious about it. But is the whole idea already dead?" Bill Plante reported that "polls show that despite campaigning in 23 states, Mr. Bush has made little progress -- even lost ground -- on his pitch for personal accounts," before Schieffer repeated himself to Gloria Borger: "Do you think this thing is already dead?" Schieffer also wondered if Bush has "any kind of exit strategy here, any way he can back away from this? Or will he go down fighting on this one?" Back in January, CBS's John Roberts dismissed Bush's contention the option would provide a nest egg for retirees: "As the last market crash proved, investments are hardly a sure thing." Soon after assuming the anchor desk, Schieffer pointed out how Democrats saw personal accounts as an impediment and he wanted to know if there was "any chance" Bush would drop them?

2. Sans Dan Rather, CBS Evening News Hits All-Time Viewership Low
The CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer hit an all-time viewership low point last week with just 6.1 million viewers, down substantially from the number who tuned into Dan Rather -- though the 6.1 million viewers is still four times more than watch FNC in prime time and six times as many who tune into CNN in prime time.

3. Hume Finds Polls with Support for Blocking Judicial Filibusters
FNC's Brit Hume on Tuesday night pointed out how the wording of a Washington Post/ABC News poll led to its finding of overwhelming opposition to blocking Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, an observation made in Tuesday's CyberAlert, and Hume noted how differently-worded polls led to opposite results. "If you doubt whether the framing of a poll question can influence the outcome," Hume asked, "consider this. When a Republican poll said quote, 'Even if they disagree with a judge, Senate Democrats should at least allow he President's nominations to be voted on,' 81 percent said they agreed." In addition, a Rasmussen survey found that when asked "should the Senate rules should be changed so that a vote must be taken on every person that the President nominates to become a judge?", 56 percent responded affirmatively.

4. NPR: Chafee and Jeffords Both Centrist/Moderate and Liberal
The news media's traditional double standard for ideological labeling is to identify conservative persons, organizations, and causes as conservative far more often than they ID liberal persons, organizations, and causes as liberal. National Public Radio's labeling practices generally hew to that line; sometimes, it seems that the network would rather hire Howard Stern than apply the liberal label to the Brookings Institution. Last week, though, two NPR reporters labeled inconsistently in a different way: Each did a story for the drive-time program Morning Edition in which they characterized two U.S. Senators both as "liberal" and as "moderate" or "centrist."

5. Fox & Friends Crew Stings CNN's Brown for His Attacks on FNC
FNC's Fox & Friends crew singled out CNN anchor Aaron Brown on Tuesday morning for remarks Brown made last Friday at a University of Washington conference on news coverage of the tsunami. "Entertainment with news as a component," sniffed Brown about FNC's approach to news. He also mocked how Ward Churchill's claim that New York deserved 9/11 would be "a Fox story for a month" and "O'Reilly did about two weeks on taking the 'Christ' out of Christmas. Who the hell was worried about that?" But last December, Brown accurately reflected the liberal "core audience" of CNN with an hour-long CNN Presents documentary on "The Two Marys," which focused on the faddish liberal idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.


 

CBS Presses Fulfillment of Its Wish:
Demise of Personal Accounts

     Is the CBS Evening News, which has been the broadcast network evening newscast most hostile to President Bush's idea of personal accounts in Social Security, pressing to get its wish fulfilled with the demise of the concept? Anchor Bob Schieffer teased Tuesday night: "The President makes his final push on Social Security reform. Congress says it's ready to get serious about it. But is the whole idea already dead?" Bill Plante reported that "polls show that despite campaigning in 23 states, Mr. Bush has made little progress -- even lost ground -- on his pitch for personal accounts," before Schieffer repeated himself to Gloria Borger: "Do you think this thing is already dead?" Schieffer also wondered if Bush has "any kind of exit strategy here, any way he can back away from this? Or will he go down fighting on this one?" Back in January, CBS's John Roberts dismissed Bush's contention the option would provide a nest egg for retirees: "As the last market crash proved, investments are hardly a sure thing." Soon after assuming the anchor desk, Schieffer pointed out how Democrats saw personal accounts as an impediment and he wanted to know if there was "any chance" Bush would drop them?
    
     Schieffer teased the April 26 CBS Evening News: "Good evening. I'm Bob Schieffer. The President makes his final push on Social Security reform. Congress says it's ready to get serious about it. But is the whole idea already dead?"

     Schieffer soon led the broadcast, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "For two months now, President Bush has been criss-crossing the country campaigning for Social Security reform and his plan to allow workers to divert some of their payroll taxes into private savings accounts. But the campaign has not worked. The plan is more unpopular today than when the President began, and today he made one more try. We're covering this story tonight from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Bill Plante is at the White House, Gloria Borger is on Capitol Hill. We start with you, Bill."

     Plante, at the White House: "Well, Bob, the President kicked it up a notch today, suggesting that this generation has a moral obligation to fix the Social Security system."
     George W. Bush: "I look forward to doing something about it with people of both political parties to permanently solve the Social Security system once and for all. And then we can say we did our duty."
     Plante: "But polls show that despite campaigning in 23 states, Mr. Bush has made little progress -- even lost ground -- on his pitch for personal accounts. He admits those accounts won't solve the problem of keeping the system solvent, but has so far refused to say how he thinks that should be done. The details? He says those must come from Congress."
     Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), at hearing: "Doing nothing is not an option because doing nothing is a cut in benefits."
     Plante: "The Senate Finance Committee got down to business today with a panel of experts. Their suggestions for a permanent fix ranged from linking benefits to income to using money from the estate tax to help fund Social Security to personal retirement accounts with a guaranteed minimum benefit."
     Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA): "Those of you that are bad-mouthing every other suggestion out there, suggest your own plans."
     Plante: "But committee Democrats, while agreeing that the system's finances have to be fixed, remain firmly opposed to the President's idea of allowing individual investment accounts."
     Senator Max Baucus (D-MT): "We do not need to privatize Social Security to save it. That's a very key point."
     Plante: "The congressional battle is now under way. Democrats today mounted a campaign-style rally to make the point that, contrary to what the administration is hoping, they remain united in their opposition to the President's plan."
     Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip, yelling at rally near the Capitol: "And if he thought there was no fight left in the Democratic Party, by golly, he was sadly mistaken!"
     Plante concluded with a shot at Bush's ineffectiveness: "The White House continues to insist that the President can convince the public that the Democrats who refuse to play are being obstructionist. And never mind that that 60 days of campaigning hasn't changed much. The President's spokesman says he'll just keep on doing it. Bob?"

     Schieffer turned to Gloria Borger: "Well, let's go to Capitol Hill then. Gloria, as we saw there, the Finance Committee is meeting. They'll write the legislation, but my sense of it is that nobody is anywhere close to coming up with a bill yet. Do you think this thing is already dead?"
     Borger: "Well, at this point, Bob, the President surely doesn't have anywhere near the votes that he needs. In fact, his biggest problem is with his own Republicans. They're looking at those polls. They're worried that these private accounts could hurt them in the midterm elections."
     Schieffer: "Well, Bill, does the President have any kind of exit strategy here, any way he can back away from this? Or will he go down fighting on this one?"
     Plante snickered: "He'll go down fighting, but if it doesn't work, he'll simply declare victory and just appoint another commission. And then he'll change the subject."

     Some recent CyberAlert items on the hostility the CBS Evening News has shown to Bush's personal accounts advocacy:

     -- February 4: Twenty-one hours after President Bush outlined his plan for Social Security, CBS News began its campaign to discredit it. "He claims it would guarantee future retirees a nest egg," John Roberts relayed before countering that "as the last market crash proved, investments are hardly a sure thing." Though polls show young adults overwhelming support the idea of putting some money into personal accounts, Roberts couldn't find one. Instead, he highlighted two college students, one who "thinks the President's plan takes the safety out of safety net." That student's insight: "I just feel like the stock market itself, like, who knows when it's going to crash?" The other student "didn't hear enough last night to convince him." After Roberts, CBS turned to Anthony Mason for an outline of Bush's proposal. Mason featured a professor who asserted that "personal accounts can be viewed, in large part, like a shell game." Echoing Roberts, Mason treated the Senate Minority Leader as an expert on stock market performance: "The market doesn't always go up. As Senator Harry Reid said, we could be playing 'Social Security roulette.'" www.mrc.org

     -- February 15: CBS on Monday night showcased a liberal opponent of Bush's Social Security plan. Jim Axelrod trumpeted the credentials of Robert Ball, who "may well know more about Social Security than anyone alive." Axelrod relayed the recommendations of the former Commissioner of Social Security: "Raise the max on income that gets taxed" and "keep and dedicate the tax on estates over $3.5 million." Axelrod concluded with a boost to Ball's wisdom. Showing Ball's wall with photos of past luminaries, Axelrod asserted: "While the wall in his study speaks from the past, it's also the voice of experience." See: www.mrc.org

     -- March 11: Bob Schieffer's assumption of the anchor chair on the CBS Evening News didn't alter the program's hostility to President Bush's Social Security reform proposal. John Roberts joined Bush in a visit to Alabama where Roberts highlighted how the chief of the state's retirement system dismissed private accounts as "a dumb idea" and how a woman who voted for Bush doesn't think much of the concept. Without citing a single poll number beyond his two anecdotes, Roberts asserted: "The level of skepticism about the President's proposal in Alabama would seem remarkable. After all, he walked away with 63 percent of the vote here in November." (Over on ABC, Terry Moran noted that a Quinnipiac Poll found that 49 percent nationwide support the President's plan, suggesting a higher level in Alabama.) Schieffer pressed Roberts from the left: "All weekend the Democrats were saying if the President would just take this idea of personal savings accounts off the table, they'd be willing to sit down and talk about this. Do you think there's any chance he would do that?" See: www.mrc.org

 

Sans Dan Rather, CBS Evening News Hits
All-Time Viewership Low

     The CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer hit an all-time viewership low point last week with just 6.1 million viewers, down substantially from the number who tuned into Dan Rather -- though the 6.1 million viewers is still four times more than watch FNC in prime time and six times as many who tune into CNN in prime time.

     An excerpt from an April 26 AP dispatch, "CBS Evening News Hits Low Ratings Mark," by David Bauder:

While critics have praised changes made to the "CBS Evening News" since Bob Schieffer took over for Dan Rather last month, viewers clearly haven't been intrigued.

The show's average of 6.1 million viewers last week was the lowest since Nielsen Media Research began measurement with "people meters" in 1987 -- and likely the lowest for many years before that. Evening news viewership was much higher from the 1960s to 1980s than it is now....

The show's average of 6.8 million viewers for the six weeks that Schieffer has anchored is down 7 percent from the 7.3 million from the comparable six weeks during 2004, Nielsen said. It's also down 10 percent from Rather's last six weeks although, to be fair, evening news viewership generally declines when the weather gets warmer.

NBC's "Nightly News," where Brian Williams has replaced Tom Brokaw, is also down 7 percent in viewers from the same six weeks last year but remains the top-rated evening news broadcast. ABC's "World News Tonight" is essentially unchanged.

Within the 25-to-54 demographic that advertisers seek -- most news viewers tend to be older -- CBS is down 13 percent from last year, NBC down 7 percent and ABC up 2 percent, Nielsen said....

     END of Excerpt

     For the story in full: story.news.yahoo.com

     The DrudgeReport.com on Tuesday linked to a Variety article which also featured some cable news numbers. An excerpt from the story, "CBS News hits record low," by Michael Learmonth:

....In cable news, Fox News Channel showed a rare weakness, slipping 6% in total audience in April from the same period a year ago, while CNN gained 11% and MSNBC 7%.

Fox averaged 825,000 viewers in a month marked by the deaths of Pope John Paul II and Terry Schiavo, compared to 531,000 for CNN, 249,000 for MSNBC and 235,000 for CNN's Headline News.

Headline News appears to have ceded third place to MSNBC after a strong start and plenty of marketing power behind its revamped "Headline Prime" lineup.

In primetime, Fox was up 1% to 1.5 million viewers, led by a 25% increase for "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren," while CNN grew 6% in prime to 893,000, led by a 37% increase for "Anderson Cooper 360."

     END of Excerpt

     For the article in full: www.variety.com

 

Hume Finds Polls with Support for Blocking
Judicial Filibusters

     FNC's Brit Hume on Tuesday night pointed out how the wording of a Washington Post/ABC News poll led to its finding of overwhelming opposition to blocking Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, an observation made in Tuesday's CyberAlert, and Hume noted how differently-worded polls led to opposite results. "If you doubt whether the framing of a poll question can influence the outcome," Hume asked, "consider this. When a Republican poll said quote, 'Even if they disagree with a judge, Senate Democrats should at least allow he President's nominations to be voted on,' 81 percent said they agreed." In addition, a Rasmussen survey found that when asked "should the Senate rules should be changed so that a vote must be taken on every person that the President nominates to become a judge?", 56 percent responded affirmatively.

     The April 26 CyberAlert recounted: ABC and the Washington Post touted how a new poll found two-thirds opposed to a rule change to end Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, but the language of the question led to the media's desired answer. "An ABC News poll has found little support for changing the Senate's rules to help the President's judicial nominees win confirmation," World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson trumpeted Monday night. The Washington Post's lead front page headline, over a Tuesday story on the poll, declared: "Filibuster Rule Change Opposed." But the questions in the poll failed to point out the unprecedented use of a filibuster to block nominees who have majority support while they forwarded the Democratic talking point that "the Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush" and painted rules changes as an effort "to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees," not as a way to overcome Democratic obstructionism. See: www.mediaresearch.org

     Hume led his "Grapevine" segment, on the April 26 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, with a slightly different angle on the Washington Post/ABC News poll:
     "The Washington Post has a front-page headline today based on a new poll that says quote, 'Filibuster Rule Change Opposed.' But the poll makes no mention of filibusters, whatsoever, nor does it mention that new rules would apply to all future Presidents, Democrat or Republican or to any Senator Democrat or Republican. Instead, the Post/ABC News poll asks quote, 'Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?' To that, 66 percent said no. If you doubt whether the framing of a poll question can influence the outcome, consider this. When a Republican poll said quote, 'Even if they disagree with a judge, Senate Democrats should at least allow he President's nominations to be voted on,' 81 percent said they agreed."

     For the RNC's poll: www.gop.com

     Later, during the panel segment, Hume cited a Rasmussen Reports survey which asked: "Should the Senate rules be changed so that a vote must be taken on every person that the President nominates to become a judge?" By two-to-one, those asked said yes, 56 percent to 26 percent.

     For Rasmussen's rundown of the poll released on April 22: www.rasmussenreports.com

 

NPR: Chafee and Jeffords Both Centrist/Moderate
and Liberal

     The news media's traditional double standard for ideological labeling is to identify conservative persons, organizations, and causes as conservative far more often than they ID liberal persons, organizations, and causes as liberal. National Public Radio's labeling practices generally hew to that line; sometimes, it seems that the network would rather hire Howard Stern than apply the liberal label to the Brookings Institution. Last week, though, two NPR reporters labeled inconsistently in a different way: Each did a story for the drive-time program Morning Edition in which they characterized two U.S. Senators both as "liberal" and as "moderate" or "centrist."

     [Tom Johnson, who monitors NPR for the MRC, filed this item for CyberAlert.]

     The first instance came last Tuesday, April 19. In a piece on Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), reporter David Welna lead into a soundbite from the Senator by noting that Chafee "admits [that] being a centrist can be a handicap." Roughly forty seconds later, however, Welna, leading into another soundbite, asserted that Chafee is "in a situation Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords knows well. As a fellow liberal northeastern Republican until he bolted [the party] four years ago to become an independent, Jeffords says he can feel Chafee's pain."

     Two days later, reporter Brian Naylor, in a story on Jeffords' retirement announcement, first describes the Vermonter as "a liberal who was concerned about the environment and education," but wrapped up the piece by remarking: "Another potential candidate [for Jeffords' Senate seat] is the current Governor, Republican James Douglas. While President Bush lost Vermont by twenty percentage points in the last election, moderate Republicans can win in the state. Just ask Jim Jeffords."

     It's not likely that NPR will ever label a politician both "liberal" and "conservative" within the same story, but it could happen -- especially if the subject is, say, John McCain.

    

 

Fox & Friends Crew Stings CNN's Brown
for His Attacks on FNC

     FNC's Fox & Friends crew singled out CNN anchor Aaron Brown on Tuesday morning for remarks Brown made last Friday at a University of Washington conference on news coverage of the tsunami. "Entertainment with news as a component," sniffed Brown about FNC's approach to news. He also mocked how Ward Churchill's claim that New York deserved 9/11 would be "a Fox story for a month" and "O'Reilly did about two weeks on taking the 'Christ' out of Christmas. Who the hell was worried about that?" But last December, Brown accurately reflected the liberal "core audience" of CNN with an hour-long CNN Presents documentary on "The Two Marys," which focused on the faddish liberal idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

     [The MRC's Tim Graham submitted this article for CyberAlert.]

     At the beginning of the 8:30am EDT half hour Tuesday, the MRC's Megan McCormick noticed, co-host Steve Doocy noted: "Well, let's talk a little bit about some extraordinary comments that a fellow over at a lesser watched news channel made recently. Aaron Brown was at the Dart Center in a symposium about journalism and the tsunami, and he was talking about how he had to sleep on the floor of a place while he was over in the tsunami area, and then at the end of his prepared remarks he had some comments for somebody in attendance who said-"
     Co-host E.D. Hill explained: "It was a question and answer."
     Doocy: "'Hey, can I ask you a question about a competing network?'
     Hill: "It was a question and answer."
     Doocy: "'Hey, can I ask you a question about a competing network?' And he said oh Fox, sure. And then he said some very peculiar things about -- he said, for instance, 'as soon as I heard about the professor' -- Ward Churchill -- 'at the University of Colorado, I said oh man! That's a Fox story for a month.' Then he went on, 'O'Reilly did about two weeks on taking the Christ out of Christmas! Who the hell, who the hell, was worried about that? But for their core audience, that was a great story for them. Is that news? No. Its entertainment with news as a component. That's what it is.'"
     Co-host Brian Kilmeade chimed in: "He went on to say that Fox knows what their audience wants, the only people better might be McDonalds. So their audience wants Americans?"
     Doocy: "-but it's just extraordinary where he goes and he says, Aaron Brown says that for two weeks Bill O'Reilly did stories about taking Christ out of Christmas."
     Hill: "That was an important story!"
     Doocy: "Absolutely. But he says who the hell was worried about that? What is it, 82, 83 percent of this country is Christian? And they are concerned about that, Mr. Brown."
     Hill: "Maybe because Mr. Brown is not concerned about that, and can't imagine anybody would be, that's why they aren't watching him."

     On the Web site of the University of Washington's Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which touts itself as a "global resource for journalists who cover trauma and violence," Online Editor Jesse Tarbert's story on Brown's keynote address concluded (an excerpt):

After Brown's speech, a questioner made a vague reference to "a competing network." Brown said, "If you just want to talk about Fox for a second, hell, I can do that." He characterized Fox News as "entertainment with news as a component." He marveled at Fox's business plan. "They know exactly what their audience wants, exactly," he said. "They are the best at serving their core viewers what they want of any news organization, any business, I have ever seen. Maybe McDonalds is as good."

Brown continued: "As soon as I heard about the professor" -- Ward Churchill -- "at the University of Colorado, I said, 'Oh man! That's a Fox story for a month!'....O'Reilly did about two weeks on taking the 'Christ' out of Christmas! Who the hell was worried about that? But for their core audience, that was a great story for them. Is that news? No. It's entertainment with news as a component. That's what it is."

     SUSPEND Excerpt

     Earlier in the report, Brown displayed a need to explain his own hardships in the tsunami zone and lecture that CNN is not in the "eat your brussels sprouts" news business, which might explain the Fox-as-McDonald's metaphor. Resume excerpt:

"I did a panel on this a few weeks back in New York and one of the criticisms was that we Americanized the story too much," Brown said. "When these professors from Columbia have nothing to do but sit around and think of why those of us who actually make these decisions, that tell these stories, that sleep on the floor and battle the dehydration cramps, why we've made some foolish decision or another, I tend to get pretty annoyed." He said he told the professor, "Someday, I want a job like yours. So I can get to sit around and not actually have to make the decisions, but just criticize them. That sounds like a cool gig. But it's not the gig I have."

His job, he explained, "is to try to capture as many viewers, as many eyeballs as I can, and communicate honestly and accurately a story in a way that means something to them. And here's where this gets a little dicey, okay? Here's the truth of it, of the tsunami: It was horrible! It wasn't 9-11 ... For the people who watch CNN America, it was a horrible tragedy that happened to someone else. It did not change their lives, okay? Were they interested in it? Yes, absolutely. For a week they were really engaged in it." Brown was candid about the importance of ratings and audience share. He said it isn't his job to educate viewers, or to say, as he put it, "Eat your vegetables!" He said he aims to provide "a balanced meal" for his viewers. "We'll put some vegetables there. A substantial entree that's good for you...and some dessert...That's what we're going to do, and hope we can grab an audience while we're doing it. Because without an audience, what's the point?"

He went on, "I'm glad to talk about this stuff and how we told these stories, but don't expect me"because I won't"to apologize for how we focused them. Because we were trying to engage an audience. I am not in the eat-your-Brussels-sprouts news business. I'm not out there saying, ‘You have to care about this!' Because you know what? Click! They don't have to care about anything!"

     End of Excerpt

     For the full report on Brown's April 22 speech in Washington state: www.dartcenter.org

     Brown did accurately reflect his distaste for the Ward Churchill story. MRC analyst Ken Shepherd found only two Ward Churchill reports on NewsNight -- one on February 4, when Brown was out, and one on February 9, as well as a brief January 31 mention in Brown's closing "Morning Papers" segment.

     Brown criticized FNC's Christmas agenda, but CNN had one too as Brown accurately reflected the liberal "core audience" of CNN at Christmas time with an hour-long "CNN Presents" documentary on "The Two Marys," which focused on the faddish liberal idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

     Brown introduced that program: "Though it is a work of historical fiction, 'The Da Vinci Code' has nevertheless sparked an international debate and enormous interest in the women closest to Jesus and the women at the heart of Christianity -- Mary Magdalene, the most controversial and misunderstood of his followers, and his mother, the Virgin Mary. Over the next hour, a look at the two main female icons of the Christian faith -- who they were in history, how they're perceived today -- and how those views are changing, and what that may mean for the future of Christianity."

     The show was narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver. CNN just re-aired it on March 20, Palm Sunday.

-- Brent Baker

 


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