Clinton, You’re Our Best Landmark!
Maria Shriver Leads
Today’s Biased Buscapade with
Shriver is a good Democrat. She’s joked about her husband, Arnold
Schwarzenegger: "When you marry someone, you marry them for sickness and
health. [Republican politics] are Arnold’s sickness." But is she a good
reporter? Maria’s current malady is her tendency to collapse into
flattery in interviews with the First Lady, including Hillary Clinton’s
recent bus tour of national landmarks.
On July 14, NBC’s Today show
offered Mrs. Clinton an uninterrupted 16-minute broadcast from Thomas
Edison’s lab. Viewers may have benefited from the Edison lesson, but the
First Lady was the intended beneficiary of Shriver’s apple-polishing
questions. Shriver committed a faux pas in a treacly tribute to the
hard-working President. As the First Lady showed the cot where Edison
napped, Shriver quipped: "You ever wanted to put one of those in the
Shriver also insisted: "I know the way
you prepare when you go out to tackle something. So no doubt you
probably read everything ever written about Thomas Edison, and since
we’re here in his library, what’s the most interesting thing you came
across in all your reading?" Shriver didn’t ask adversarial questions,
such as: Is this designed to divert attention from the Clinton scandals?
Or: if these landmarks have been deteriorating, where’ve you been for
the last six years?
Two days later, while replacing Katie
Couric as Today co-host, Shriver presented a taped Hillary
interview from the tour bus. Instead of focusing on museums, she
lathered the First Lady with soccer-mom suckups, marveling at her
personal strength: "Four states, ten or eleven stops. Four days. This is
a real commitment for you. What do you get out of that? It is exhausting
it seems to me." And: "Do you feel physically, emotionally, spiritually
different when you get out of Washington, get on the road?" (For more
quotes, see Notable Quotables inside.)
Shriver has used a different approach in
covering Republicans. At the 1992 Democratic convention, Elizabeth
Glaser, who contracted AIDS through a transfusion and transmitted it to
her children, declared that her daughter didn’t survive the Reagan
administration. Shriver met her after the speech to underline that
attack: "You place responsibility for the death of your daughter
squarely at the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe
they’re responsible for that?" NBC’s employment of Maria Shriver has
never signaled simply the appearance of liberal bias. It's the
definition of liberal bias.
When do judges get an
ideological label? At CBS, only when they rebuke the Clinton
Administration, and not Ken Starr’s office.
After a judge dismissed tax evasion
charges brought against Clinton crony Webster Hubbell on June 26, Dan
Rather announced on the CBS Evening News: "In Washington a
federal judge today bluntly described special prosecutor Ken Starr’s
tactics as, and I quote, ‘really scary.’...U.S. District Judge James
Robertson’s comment came when Starr’s team argued that it was proper to
indict Hubbell again on tax charges based on documents Hubbell supplied
under a grant of immunity." Not once did Rather suggest Judge
Robertson’s ideological leanings or mention that he is a Clinton
Two weeks later, on July 16, when an
Appeals Court again denied the existence of a "protective function
privilege" for the Secret Service, correspondent Scott Pelley felt it
necessary to tag a judge involved in the matter. "In a blistering
statement, one Appeals Court judge essentially accused the White House
of obstructing Starr’s investigation. Judge Laurence Silberman, a
conservative appointed by President Reagan, called the administration’s
position a ‘constitutional absurdity.’"
On the July 5 Sunday Today, viewers were treated to the lighter,
softer, more romantic side of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. MSNBC’s Chris
Jansing interviewed the author of a book that overlooked the brutal acts
of the Cuban despot, instead focusing on the image of a more cuddly
Jansing opened the segment: "To many in
this country, Fidel Castro is little more than an aging communist leader
who periodically shakes a harmless fist toward our shores. But the man
behind that beard is so much more. Now a new book tells a different side
of Fidel Castro and his native Cuba through the eyes of three very
special women in his life. The book is called Havana Dreams. And its
author is Wendy Gimbel."
To highlight the kinder, gentler Castro,
Jansing read a love letter in the book: "I want to read a little bit
from one of the letters that he wrote. It says, ‘I remember you and love
you very much. Some things are eternal and cannot be erased like my
memories of you which will accompany me to my grave.’"
Jansing wondered if this book would
change perceptions of the Cuban tyrant: "Do you think this book will
give people a look at a whole different side of Fidel Castro?" Jansing
empathized for Castro’s time in jail, "When he was in prison do you
think that these letters were crucial to getting him through that
period?" She concluded, "Well it is a remarkable story. I want to
congratulate you. This morning the New York Times called the book
‘both breathtaking and shimmering.’"
Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak, one of the major Asian players
in the DNC campaign finance scandal on July 13, became the fourth major
figure to be indicted in the ongoing Justice Department investigation,
following Maria Hsia, Johnny Chung, and Charlie Trie. The Washington
Post reported that she and her sister-in-law were indicted on 24
counts, for allegedly steering $679,000 in illegal foreign campaign
contributions to Democrats. Kanchanalak had such pull that the White
House recommended her for a spot on a trade policy advisory committee
that required a security clearance, even though she wasn’t a U.S.
News of the Kanchanalak indictment took
up just 36 seconds of evening news time. NBC Nightly News
completely ignored it, while ABC and CBS each devoted 18 seconds to the
story. Dan Rather insisted Kanchanalak "and another woman were formally
charged with funneling almost $700,000 in illegal donations from abroad,
mostly to the Democratic Party." Mostly? The Post article
detailed how all her efforts were devoted to Democrats.
Though she was invited to the White House
more than two dozen times, and one of the White House "coffee tapes"
showed her sitting next to Clinton, both networks skipped the
embarrassing video of the President with Kanchanalak at his side.
Public Realizes Liberal Bias
Two recent polls have documented that
more news consumers detect a liberal than a conservative bias in the
- "More Americans perceive bias of one
stripe or another than believe the various media are fair and
impartial — the ratio being about 55 percent to 45 percent across all
media," Frank Newport and Lydia Saad observed in summarizing a Gallup
Poll commissioned by the American Journalism Review. "While
conservatives tend to see liberal bias and liberals tend to see
conservative bias," they noted in the July/August edition of the
magazine, "this tendency is much stronger among the conservatives
surveyed." More persuasive as to the direction of the bias, the
authors noticed that "the large group of moderates in America tend to
perceive somewhat more of a liberal bias than a conservative bias."
Specifically, the overall numbers
showed that of 1,009 people surveyed who had an opinion, twice as many
perceived liberal bias on "national network TV news" than conservative
bias: 38 percent versus just 19 percent. The poll found nearly
identical numbers with "weekly news magazines," as 39 percent
discerned a liberal slant and just 19 percent identified a
conservative tilt. "National cable TV news" fared a little better with
a liberal vs. conservative bias ratio of 33 to 20 percent.
- Asked to give a pollster a one word
description of the national news media, 61 said "biased," making it
the most frequent response heard in a Pew Research Center for the
People & the Press poll released in June. Which way? "Conservative"
did not make the top ten answers listed by Pew in its report, but
"liberal" came in seventh place with 21 offering it as their one word
At U.S. News, Fallows
Elevated Apathy to an Art
Scandals? News You Can Lose
In 1996, Atlantic Monthly writer
James Fallows released his fifth book, titled Breaking the News: How
the Media Undermine American Democracy. He quickly became a media
critic the media could love, appearing for interviews on ABC’s Good
Morning America and serving as the main source in a PBS Frontline
shaped almost entirely on his book’s theories. His take on scandals
sounded conveniently close to Clintonspeak:
"For the national press, scandals have
become the main obstacle to keeping news in perspective. Real and
alleged scandals, involving figures from Bill Clinton to Michael
Jackson, have come to serve as a distraction machine, systematically
diverting attention to a spectacle whenever the political system
threatens to deal with an important but dull-seeming question affecting
the way people actually live."
Months after the book’s arrival, Fallows’
boss, real estate/magazine magnate Mortimer Zuckerman, elevated Fallows
to the editorship of U.S. News & World Report, only to fire him
at the end of June this year. In his 22 months at the helm, Fallows
practiced what he preached: until Monica Lewinsky changed the rules,
scandal was nearly absent from the magazine, and when it did appear, it
carried an exculpatory tone.
To document the scandal coverage in
U.S. News & World Report over Fallows’ tenure, media analysts
surveyed issues of U.S. News and counted the number of pages
(photos included) devoted to Clinton scandal news, compared to other
magazine fare. Since news magazine pages are divided into three columns,
space is often divided in thirds. Editorials were included. Like the
rest of the media’s scandal coverage, Fallows’s tenure can be divided
into two segments, pre-Monica and post-Monica. In the 68 issues from
September 23, 1996 (the first issue with Fallows’ name in it) through
January 1998, the magazine ran a total of 44.6 pages on the fundraising
scandal, averaging less than two-thirds of a page per issue. From
February 1998 through Fallows’ last issue, dated July 6, U.S. News
ran 100 pages of Monicagate and Missilegate news in 23 issues, or more
than four pages an issue.
Head to Head. But U.S. News
regularly printed much less than its competitors. From October 1996
through July 1997, analysts compared it to Clinton scandal coverage in
Time and Newsweek. In the ten issues from October 21 to
December 23, Newsweek devoted 15.3 pages to the fundraising
scandal, and Time printed 13. Both gave the charges a cover
story. U.S. News offered only 1.3 pages (and never gave it a
cover story). Its first coverage was a one-page November 18
post-election column by David Gergen offering Clinton advice, which he
didn’t take: "Prohibit anyone in his entourage — except for his
attorneys — from talking about Kenneth Starr...Appoint a Republican as
Attorney General...Clinton must talk to the country in an open, contrite
manner about the ethical clouds that hang over him."
From January through July of 1997,
Time ran 52.2 pages of fundraising scandal coverage, Newsweek
43.3, and U.S. News 22.3. So U.S. News printed fewer than
half as many pages of scandal coverage as Time or Newsweek.
More than half of Time and Newsweek’s coverage came in
March, when Newsweek ran 27 pages, Time had 21.5 — and
U.S. News printed just 5.8.
Analysts found in issues dated from
August 1997 through January 1998, U.S. News only ran another 21
scandal pages. In other words, the magazine printed fewer pages on
scandal in six months than it devoted to "News You Can Use" in several
individual issues, such as these in 1997: "Best Mutual Funds" (22.5
pages), "Best Graduate Schools" (28.5), "Best Hospitals" (27), "Best
Colleges" (29) or "Mysteries of Science" (40). When they touched on
scandal, it often served to downplay them or exculpate Democratic
offenses. For example:
April 14, 1997: In a classic
example of how U.S. News veered off scandal news to make its own
political points, a team of reporters moved quickly from the week’s new
findings on Clinton abuses to underline donor scandals such as: the
FCC’s granting of free high-definition frequencies, a ban on
generic-drug competition on some drugs, the failure to stop credit-card
late fees caused by slow postal delivery, and the higher cost of cable
TV under a new telecommunications law.
July 21, 1997: In a piece titled
"Is the latest Red Peril actually a red herring?" David Kaplan and
Julian Barnes wrote: "FBI investigators believe that most of the $2
million the Chinese allegedly spent or budgeted to increase their
influence went to legal activities like lobbying and bringing senators
to Beijing on expensive junkets." Paul Glastris followed up with more
than two pages on how "the ship of state is more likely to be tugged by
U.S. ethnic groups than by foreign money." Gloria Borger’s column on
John Huang was headlined "A useful punching bag."
September 1, 1997: The headline
read: "The Canadian menace? Countries other than China dominate foreign
lobbying." Julian Barnes introduced a two-page chart: "Sen. Fred
Thompson, who resumes his campaign finance hearings this week, has
alleged a Chinese conspiracy to illegally influence U.S. policy. But
nearly 100 nations pay some 1,500 lobbyists and public-relations
consultants to influence the U.S. government legally. Even if China’s
alleged illegal contributions — which in July the FBI put at less than
$100,000 — were added to the total it spent on legal lobbying
($327,000), China still wouldn’t make the U.S. News list of top
10 lobbying nations."
When Johnny Chung pleaded guilty to
making foreign donations, the March 16, 1998 U.S. News claimed:
"Virtually every company in China is state-owned. While the government
uses a few as fronts, most are purely commercial." Since May, they’ve
ignored his tale of funneling money from a Chinese general into the DNC.
May 11, 1998: The tone of coverage
is suggested by headlines like "The Survivalist/How does Hillary Clinton
cope with the barrage of sex scandal charges? By launching a national
campaign to make people be nicer." And: "Feeling ‘like Paul
Revere’/William Ginsburg: defending, liberty, a client — and himself."
June 8, 1998: Two months after the
New York Times broke Missilegate, U.S. News ran the
headline: "Red Scare? The sensational rhetoric over the China scandal
obscures a basic question: Is China friend or foe?" The reporters hit
all the Clintonite defense lines systematically: both parties took money
from satellite companies, other countries will give China technology if
we don’t, satellite companies didn’t intend to help China, U.S. demand
for satellite launches make closing off China an unattractive prospect.
Gloria Borger used a column titled "Commies! Treason! Yippee!" to bash
Republicans and predict Rep. Chris Cox’s hearings into Missilegate would
be a failure if they didn’t build a case for campaign reform bills.
June 29, 1998: In a cover story on
"The Other Tapes," Elise Ackerman wrote of early Tripp-Lewinsky tapes
U.S. News heard: "The tapes cast some doubt on one of Starr’s key
charges against Clinton: that he and his friend Vernon Jordan got
Lewinsky a job in New York as an enticement for her to lie in a
deposition for the Paula Jones lawsuit against the President. In these
conversations, Lewinsky... was already talking about having the
President get her a different job — two months before she was subpoenaed
in the Paula Jones case."
In a September 15, 1997 essay after
Princess Diana’s death, Fallows preached: "The press’s tools for
changing public opinion are nearly identical to politicians.’ And if
Senators or Presidents are expected to surmount the immediate demands of
the political market — which threatens to put them out of work, not just
cut into profits — then the same standard should apply to the press.
What people care about is at least partly shaped by what the press
serves up. This market, like the one for political ideas, works both
Readers of U.S. News must not care
about scandal, since the magazine has hated to report on it.
Plenty have jumped from politics to the media, but two former
network correspondents are now trying to win elected office.
Naturally, both are running as Democrats.
Pennsylvania primary voters on May 19
picked Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky as the Democratic candidate
for Lt. Governor. A reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington until
1990, during the ‘80s, her stories appeared on Today. In 1992 she
captured a U.S. House seat in suburban Philadelphia. She lost in 1994
after delivering the deciding vote for Clinton’s 1993 budget.
The Clintons, the AP reported May 18,
"have not forgotten" her as "First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was the
guest of honor at a $5,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner for her." Since
Mezvinsky’s 1994 loss she has served as head of the Women’s Campaign
Fund which, AP noted, helps "female candidates who favor abortion
Over the border in Northwest New Jersey’s
5th congressional district Mike Schneider is the Democratic
candidate to face incumbent U.S. Rep. Marge Roukema, a moderate
Republican. A network veteran best known as the news reader on ABC’s
Good Morning America and NBC’s Today in the late ‘80s and
early ‘90s, Schneider told the Bergen Record he thought he could
pick up the votes of the conservative who lost to Roukema in the
primary. Asked why conservatives would back him, Schneider took the
liberal dodge: "‘What is a conservative?’ he asked. ‘What is a liberal?
What is a moderate these days? I’m not sure anybody can really explain
it except for politicians who try to wrap themselves in those labels
when they find it convenient.’"
Covering the 1992 Democratic convention
for ABC Schneider defined Clinton’s platform as conservative: "When it
comes to business and economic affairs, this is a very mainstream, if
not in some cases almost conservative platform."
Martha’s Clinton Living
CBS News not only isn’t embarrassed that one of its stars hosted a
fundraiser for President Clinton, it publicized the event.
Do-it-yourself maven Martha Stewart may not cover politics, but
she is a regular on CBS’s This Morning. On the June 13
Saturday Morning, Mark Knoller showed a clip of Clinton at a
fundraiser saying: "Let me first thank Martha Stewart for having us
here." She credited the assembled Democrats: "I’m so happy that you
could show your generosity of spirit and pocketbook."
Knoller set the mood: "She whipped up a
festive lunch, very much in the Martha Stewart style. Take a look at the
program, tastefully bordered in red and white checkerboard. Not only did
it present the luncheon menu of oven-cured tomatoes, peachwood-smoked
salmon, and shortcakes with strawberries, you get the recipes for each
dish, as well. Seems like a reasonable bonus for $5,000 a plate."
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