ABC Finds "Talk of a 7.2 Percent Growth Rate Falls Flat" --10/31/2003
2. NPR Ombudsman Reacts to CyberAlert Item About Nina Totenberg
3. On 60 Minutes II Dan Rather Raises Jennings/Toby Keith Dispute
4. Letterman's "Top Ten Things Never Before Said By Wolf Blitzer"
The 7.2 percent annualized GDP growth rate for the third quarter, the highest since 1984, is great news, but. That's how the networks approached the news on Thursday night as they added caveats about the lack of job growth and doubts about whether the boom can last, though all acknowledged how Bush's tax cuts were a factor in spurring growth.
ABC and CBS noted how it was the biggest GDP jump in nearly 20 years or since 1984, but only NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams mentioned Ronald Reagan: "You'd have to go back to the Reagan years to find the last time the nation's Gross Domestic Product jumped this much."
While ABC, CBS and NBC led with the fresh GDP number announced Thursday morning, as did FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, FNC's Fox Report and CNBC's The News with Brian Williams didn't get to it until after fire news, and CNN's NewsNight, which devoted its first half hour to the California fires, held itself to a very brief item read by anchor Aaron Brown.
Following its lead story on the GDP hike, ABC's World News Tonight countered the good news with bad news as Dean Reynolds highlighted a poll taken before the fresh number was announced: "Indeed, an ABC News poll this week found that 71 percent of Americans think the economy is still bad. In terms of expectations, only three in ten say things are improving." Reynolds warned: "So in places like Georgetown, South Carolina, where the local steel mill has cut 450 jobs since June, the talk of a 7.2 percent growth rate falls flat."
(The ABCNews.com Web site on Thursday was even more downbeat. The home page plug for World News Tonight: "The latest on California's devastating fires. Plus, President Bush cut taxes to boost the economy, but at what cost?" That was online at abcnews.go.com
At the top of the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams cautioned: "Today's figures show the nation's output of goods and services up 7.2 percent at an annual rate for the third quarter this year. In fact, today's number was so big, it didn't take long for some to question just how real it is and how long it will last."
NBC's Anne Thompson warned: "More jobs means more consumer spending and potentially more growth. But not even the President thinks the economy can keep expanding at this rate. Already, Advertising Age Editor Scott Donaton is seeing a change. The ad pages that bulked up fall magazines are shrinking for December and January."
But over on the CBS Evening News, Jim Axelrod saw just the opposite, signs of a job-creating business rebound: "On the factory floor they've been producing one giant disconnect the last few years. As workers dodge layoffs, politicians say better days lie just ahead. But now, says Wachovia's Mark Vitner looking at the latest numbers, believe it."
Below, more complete rundowns of the October 30 stories on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. The opening tease from Peter Jennings: "On World News Tonight, from Washington, an unexpected surge in economic growth. Best quarter in 19 years. Did the tax cuts make a difference?"
Jennings, in Washington, DC, anchored with the White House in the background, but ABC had no sound for his first few words, so we join him in progress: "-good news about the economy. And it comes from the third quarter of the year -- July, August and September. The Gross Domestic Product, which is the broadest measure of economic activity, was up more than seven percent. That is the strongest growth for a single quarter in nearly two decades. And it was better than most estimates. This is very big news for millions of Americans, and big political news as well. They're very happy over there at the White House tonight. We're going to begin with our business correspondent, Betsy Stark."
Stark started: "The economy roared back to life this summer, and for the first time in a long time, business led the charge. Companies ratcheted up their spending by 11.1 percent, the biggest increase in three years. This advertising executive says she's finally feeling confident enough in the recovery to invest thousands in new computers."
Jennings wondered: "Two questions about jobs. How can you continue to grow the economy without workers?"
Jennings then showcased Bush's take: "Almost as soon as the economic numbers were released here today, the Bush administration was indeed taking credit. Here's what the President had to say."
Next, Jennings listed other positive numbers as he introduced a second story devoted to the lack of job growth and an ABC poll now superceded by the facts, but that didn't dissuade ABC from highlighting it: "There are various bright spots in this economy. Corporate earnings are improving, home sales are still very strong, mortgage rates are still relatively low, but there is still a lot of weakness, as Betsy Stark alludes, in the job market. Here's ABC's Dean Reynolds."
Reynolds began: "Even as they fuel the nation's economy, there was a certain hesitancy today among shoppers on Chicago's Magnificent Mile."
For the online version of Reynolds' story: abcnews.go.com
That's online at: abcnews.go.com
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather stuck to the upbeat as he led his broadcast: "The U.S. economy has produced some strong, very strong, and encouraging numbers for the third quarter of this year. Consumers went on a buying spree and business boomed. From July to September, the nation's Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 7.2 percent, an at least short-term pace not seen since 1984. And as CBS News economics correspondent Anthony Mason reports, President Bush took credit for the surge, citing it as a vindication of his much-debated economic policies."
Mason characterized the economy as "firing on all cylinders" with the highest GDP in 20 years. He noted how "campaigning in Columbus Ohio, President Bush credited his tax cuts for the turnaround."
But Mason balanced Bush with Lee Price of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, though he didn't offer any such label. Price cautioned: "Real output did go up a lot. That's not an illusion, but whether it can sustained or whether it's a flash in the pan is the question."
Mason maintained that "economists agree" that to sustain growth the economy must create new jobs. Mason concluded: "The President himself admitted today the economy can't keep growing at this blistering pace. Interest rates have been inching back up, those tax cuts have been spent, so with less money in people's wallets growth will slow. The question is does the economy now have enough momentum that the engine won't stall out again."
The tax credits may have been spent, but the lower tax rates will continue.
Next, Jim Axelrod saw an upbeat jobs future: "On the factory floor they've been producing one giant disconnect the last few years. As workers dodge layoffs, politicians say better days lie just ahead. But now, says Wachovia's Mark Vitner looking at the latest numbers, believe it."
Axelrod, however, pointed out how in the last 30 months the private sector has shed 3.3 million jobs, with Carrier layoffs in Syracuse being the latest, and so lost manufacturing jobs might never come back.
-- NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams teased: "Rebound: The American economy shows its fastest growth in nearly 20 years. Will new jobs follow?"
Williams opened the newscast: "Good evening. It's about the only news that could knock the disaster in California out of the headlines tonight. There are dramatic new numbers on the economy. In fact, you'd have to go back to the Reagan years to find the last time the nation's Gross Domestic Product jumped this much. Today's figures show the nation's output of goods and services up 7.2 percent at an annual rate for the third quarter this year. In fact, today's number was so big, it didn't take long for some to question just how real it is and how long it will last. We begin here tonight with NBC's Anne Thompson."
Thompson: "The dramatic growth in the economy, fueled by both consumers and businesses spending money, and lots of it. The trends converging at Wes Smith's auto parts plant in Plymouth, Michigan. Here, sales of fasteners and seat brackets skyrocketed in August and September as Americans bought vehicles at a near record pace. Taking advantage of new tax breaks, Smith in turn bought $6 million worth of equipment to increase business."
For the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analyis' press release on the GDP number: www.bea.gov
For BEA's historic table: www.bea.gov
CyberAlert reader complaints about NPR reporter Nina Totenberg's hope on Inside Washington that Lt. General Jerry Boykin, who had talked about the war on terrorism as a war on Satan, is "not long for this world," led NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin to devote an online report to her comment.
Dvorkin recounted the exchange on the October 18 Inside Washington, though he mis-dated it as October 10, and then outlined what happened next: "'Cyberalert!' The Media Research Center (motto: 'Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996') immediately put out a 'cyberalert.' This is a call to supporters to send repeated e-mails saying how distraught, shocked and appalled they are."
In fact, though CyberAlert has been around since 1996, the MRC, as the top of every CyberAlert announces, has been "bringing political balance to the news media since 1987. The MRC is the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias."
In addition, CyberAlert is a regular publication with multiple articles each day, not an e-mail dedicated to fueling complaints about one specific incident. And as CyberAlert readers know, I did not ask or suggest, and as a policy do not ask or suggest (or provide addresses for doing so), readers to complain to a media outlet about something I argued was biased or imbalanced.
So, whatever response Dvorkin got is a tribute to the industriousness and independence CyberAlert readers who tracked down Dvorkin and complained to him on their own.
An excerpt of NPR Ombudsman Dvorkin's October 29 "Media Matters" report in which he insisted that "'opinion' is not what NPR is about" and argued that it's a bad idea for NPR reporters to appear on opinion shows:
NPR Journalists: Pundits or Reporters? Time to Choose
On October 10, the normally sedate television program, Inside Washington, had this lively exchange among host Gordon Peterson, Colbert King and Charles Krauthammer -- both of The Washington Post -- and NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg:
NINA TOTENBERG: The problem in Iraq is also that I think that the administration doesn't want to really fess up that there are some serious, serious problems that maybe even they didn't do everything perfectly. I mean, now they've got this guy who was the head of the intelligence section in the Defense Department who is being quoted as telling various groups while he's in uniform that this is a Christian crusade against Muslims who --
GORDON PETERSON: You're talking about Boykin, Gen. Boykin.
TOTENBERG: Gen. Boykin, and this is terrible. This is seriously bad stuff for us.
COLBERT KING: And the other thing about Boykin, he got it wrong. He said, God put George Bush in the White House. It's the Supreme Court that did it.
TOTENBERG: The Supreme Court put George Bush in the White House.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: There were 5,000 yentas in Palm Beach who couldn't read the ballot. If that was not an act of providence, nothing is...
TOTENBERG: I hope he's not long for this world, because you can imagine --
PETERSON: You want a hit out on this guy or what? What is this, The Sopranos?
TOTENBERG: No, no. I mean, in his job. In his job, in his job, please, in his job.
The Media Research Center (motto: "Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996") immediately put out a "cyberalert." This is a call to supporters to send repeated e-mails saying how distraught, shocked and appalled they are. NPR has sent out the following note to concerned listeners:
Ms. Totenberg was invited -- to share her opinions as a panelist on Inside Washington , a syndicated television talk show produced by the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., not associated with NPR. During this particular show, Ms. Totenberg expressed her view that General Boykin's remarks would put the U.S. at a disadvantage in dealing with Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere, and that he should be replaced. In no way did she wish any harm to General Boykin. I have attached the Inside Washington transcript in which Ms. Totenberg makes clear that she was talking about General Boykin's tenure in his job.
In my opinion, Totenberg made it abundantly clear that she was not calling for anything other than the resignation of Gen. Boykin. Those who insist that she MUST have meant otherwise are indulging in their usual attempt to demonize her and NPR.
But there is another implication....
Frequently NPR journalists speak in public or write op-ed pieces in which their personal positions are expressed, but should they?
The issue goes beyond the First Amendment right of NPR reporters. While no one denies that NPR employees have that right, it becomes more complicated when NPR journalists are asked for their opinions -- not as citizens -- but as NPR journalists.
Whenever an NPR journalist opines in public about issues in the news, the consequences are fraught, in my opinion.
-- First, it diminishes the ability of that journalist to be perceived by the public as fair and neutral....
-- Second, it implies that the NPR journalist is speaking for the entire organization....
-- Third, "opinion" is not what NPR is about. NPR is -- and should be seen to be -- about providing fact-based reporting. Opinions and commentaries on NPR newsmagazines are always provided by non-NPR journalists or other outsiders. This is as it should be. Other media may make their reputations on providing strong opinions. But this has not been part of NPR's mission.
There is a danger whenever NPR reporters appear in other media that do not have the same standards of journalism....
NPR journalists should be speaking, as well as writing and appearing, in other media. It is good for NPR and for its journalists, but when they do it, they should maintain NPR standards....
END of Excerpt
For Dvorkin's item in full: www.npr.org
For the October 20 CyberAlert which started this tempest: www.mediaresearch.org
In a 60 Minutes II profile Wednesday night of country singer Toby Keith, Dan Rather brought up how ABC's Peter Jennings rejected having Keith sing his hit song, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," on ABC's 2002 prime time 4th of July special. Keith told Rather: "I don't like him." But when Keith recalled how he said at the time that "I bet Dan Rather wouldn't kick me off his show," Rather demurred from agreeing.
MRC analyst Brian Boyd caught the exchange during the October 29 piece aired a week before CBS will carry the Country Music Awards.
Rather reminded viewers: "But not everybody embraced the song. Weeks after 'Angry American' was released, producers for ABC television asked Keith to play a Fourth of July concert, a show hosted by newsman Peter Jennings."
Rather proceeded to raise a new lyric which has upset liberals: "For now though, he'll be busy promoting -- or shall we say -- explaining his newest album, due out next week. It's called 'Shock 'N Y'all,' and it contains more controversial songs, including "The Taliban Song."
Some of the lyrics: "I'm just a middle-aged, middle Eastern camel-herdin' man. I got a two-bedroom cave here in northern Afghanistan...So we prayed to Allah with all of our might and then those big U.S. jets come flyin' in one night. They dropped little bombs all over our holy land and man you shoulda seen 'em run, like rabbits, they ran: the Taliban."
For the online version of the story, with a video clip of it: www.cbsnews.com
From the October 30 Late Show with David Letterman, as announced in taped segments by CNN's Wolf Blitzer himself to people on the streets of Manhattan, the "Top Ten Things Never Before Said By Wolf Blitzer." Late Show Web site: www.cbs.com
10. "For a hundred dollars, I'll mention your name on CNN tonight"
9. "Have you seen Peter Jennings around here? That sum bitch owes me money"
8. "You know, it's a really slow news day today -- you wanna knock over a 7-11?"
7. "Saddam Hussein is in that Starbucks over there -- just keep it quiet"
6. "Once I got drunk at the CNN Christmas party and let's put it this way, the next day I woke up wearing Larry King's suspenders"
5. "Would you like to be the one hundredth person today to touch my beard?"
4. "You didn't hear it from me, but next week we're attacking Sweden"
3. "In case you missed last night's CNN newscast, let me give you the headlines...there's a major dispute between the hawks in the Bush administration, Don Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, versus the doves, the Secretary of State Colin Powell. Let's review all the factual issues right now in this dispute"
2. I'm going on CNN in five minutes -- what's the Vice President's name again?"
1. [To a couple of women] "The Wolf is on the prowl, ladies"
# Les Moonves, President of CBS, is scheduled to appear tonight (Friday) on PBS's Charlie Rose show. This booking is timed to plug CBS's Sunday night 75th anniversary special, but maybe Rose will bring up the Reagan movie controversy.
# It's the last day of the month. If you haven't made a contribution yet to the MRC to help make CyberAlerts possible, how about doing so today, Halloween, so we can continue to put the scare into liberal reporters? A $25 donation works out to a mere ten cents per CyberAlert you receive, though don't hesitate to give more!
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-- Brent Baker