2. Nets Fret About How Campaign Finance Laws Not Tough Enough
3. Go Easy on Dean, Couric: Gore "Considered...a Hardcore Centrist"
Every network on Wednesday highlighted the angry reaction of nations excluded from receiving U.S.-paid contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, but CBS went the furthest in treating the decision to limit the contracts to the 63 nations in the anti-Hussein coalition as some kind of scandalous punishment when it could also be seen as a reward to those who helped or as an incentive to others to join up.
Dan Rather managed to work "Halliburton" and "war-profiteering" into his introduction of his lead story: "President Bush has decided to punish some major countries by excluding them from the rebuilding of Iraq. American companies with contracts in Iraq, especially those like Halliburton with close ties to the administration, are being paid handsomely. Some critics are saying Halliburton is unfairly war-profiteering. But countries that wouldn't join the President's coalition of the willing to oust Saddam Hussein are now saying, 'unfair,' about being denied a share of the big money reconstruction pie."
CNBC's Brian Williams saw retribution, teasing his December 10 newscast: "Tonight on 'The News,' getting even: After claiming, 'You're either with us or against us,' the Bush White House now goes after those who weren't on board during the war in Iraq."
Williams, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth observed, opened his The News with Brian Williams, by noting how critics worried that Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric had too much "swagger," but now, he warned, "it is much more real." Williams announced: "Good evening. Few people alive in this country during those scary days after September 11th will forget the President's speech to Congress, which became known later as the 'Bush Doctrine.' To other nations, he said, 'You're either with us or against us.' Critics later worried it was swagger -- too blunt, not realistic. Tonight, it is much more real. The bill has come due for the nations that failed to step up and help the U.S. fight terrorism. It's not that those nations will have to pay for it as much as it is about how much they will perhaps lose because of it. And so we begin here tonight at the Pentagon with NBC's Carl Rochelle."
Following Dan Rather's opening of the December 10 CBS Evening News, as quoted above, David Martin reported:
A baffling sentence: "Today, Congressman Henry Waxman demanded an investigation into why Halliburton charges up to three dollars a gallon to import gasoline from Kuwait into Iraq where it sells for as little as five cents at the pump."
How exactly is Halliburton "war-profiteering" if they are paying $3.00 for a product unit they sell for 1/60th that price? Sounds like they are providing gift to the Iraqis.
I'd assume this was a jumbled explanation for a complaint from a Congressman, whom Martin failed to identify as a liberal Democrat, about how Halliburton is over-charging the U.S. government for bringing gas into Iraq, but then why not just charge more for it in Iraq?
Martin and CBS also failed to point out how non-U.S.-paid contracts are still available to Canada, France and Russia. ABC's Kate Snow asserted that "the new reconstruction policy drew anger around the world," but she pointed out on World News Tonight how "the contracts in question represent only the U.S. portion of all the money committed for Iraq's reconstruction."
In covering the Supreme Court's Wednesday ruling upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law, instead of showing any concern for the diminution of the free speech rights, network stories matched the liberal agenda of campaign regulatory advocacy voices as they presumed there's too much money in political campaigns, worried about how political speech, denigrated as "special interest money," will still get through despite the law and court ruling and ignored how the media remain exempt from the speech restrictions which regulate everyone else.
ABC and CBS failed to even mention the limits on political ads 60 days before an election, a limitation which protects incumbents from speech they don't like. While CBS, NBC and CNN at least cited dissenting Justice Scalia's free speech concerns, ABC didn't mention the views of the dissenters.
"The Supreme Court rules on campaign finance reform. The controversial law stands, but we'll show you the loophole where big special interest money can still get through," Dan Rather warned in teasing the December 10 CBS Evening News.
NBC's Tom Brokaw charged that "many worry" that money in politics "has been corrupted by the massive amounts of money pouring into campaigns, the single-minded pursuit of money by politicians and the advantages all of that money brings to the wealthy and the special interests, especially so-called soft money which was unregulated."
Naturally, Brokaw didn't kvetch about the "special interests" NBC News is able to promote or denigrate. But how the rules benefit President Bush did worry him: "This ruling doesn't remove the place of money from campaigns. Far from it. In fact, many believe it will only help President Bush who has the built-in advantage of the White House for fundraising and sky's the limit because he chose not to accept the restrictions that come with federal matching funds for the campaign."
ABC's World News Tonight held itself to a short item read by anchor Peter Jennings, who conveyed only the viewpoint of the court's liberal majority:
-- Dan Rather announced on the CBS Evening News: "In this country, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the new campaign finance law designed to stop unlimited campaign donations to political parties, what's called 'soft money.' The ruling was five to four. CBS's Wyatt Andrews has details on the Court's decision and how special interest donors with deep pockets have already found a way around it."
Andrews began, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "In a sharp rebuke to big money and special interests, the Supreme Court said unlimited donations to political parties is not a form of free speech. 'To the contrary,' wrote Justices Stevens and O'Connor, Congress can limit the power of money because 'large soft money contributions to national political parties give rise to corruption.'"
-- Tom Brokaw led the NBC Nightly News with the ruling: "One of the legendary lines about the place of money American campaigns came from a powerful California politician who said, 'money is the mother's milk of politics.' But in recent years, many believe that wholesome metaphor has been corrupted by the massive amounts of money pouring into campaigns, the single-minded pursuit of money by politicians and the advantages all of that money brings to the wealthy and the special interests, especially so-called soft money which was unregulated. When Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold pushed through a bill to end that there was an immediate challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. Today the court ruled and in a close decision McCain-Feingold was upheld. NBC's Peter Williams tonight on this landmark judgment for American politics."
Williams noted how "in a 5 to 4 ruling today, Justice O'Connor, and the four more liberal justices [Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer], said soft money contributions have a corrupting influence...." But he also pointed out a restriction on free speech ignored by ABC and CBS: "Today's decision also upholds a part of the law, opposed by groups from the NRA to the ACLU, that bans union, corporations and groups they fund from using their own money to buy attack ads in the weeks before primary and general elections."
"Attack ads." Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are just "issue ads." How about describing agenda-laden television news stories as "attack stories"?
Williams went on to highlight a contrast made by Justice Antonin Scalia: "In dissent, Justice Scalia called it 'a sad day for freedom of speech.' He said the same court that has struck down limits on sexually explicit cable TV shows now upholds a law that restricts the right to criticize the government."
But the law and court ruling don't go far enough for Brokaw and, even worse, may help President Bush. Brokaw bemoaned in setting up a second story: "This ruling doesn't remove the place of money from campaigns. Far from it. In fact, many believe it will only help President Bush who has the built-in advantage of the White House for fundraising and sky's the limit because he chose not to accept the restrictions that come with federal matching funds for the campaign. It all sounds like fine print on a mortgage, but as NBC's David Gregory reports tonight, the hot pursuit of money will not be cooled by today's decision."
Of course, Howard Dean also opted out of the federal matching fund system.
Gregory ran through reaction to the ruling from Democrats and Republicans before focusing on how people will try to get around the law: "Observers say enforcement of the law will be the key because special interest groups are expected to push the limits when the campaign heats up."
-- CNN's Aaron Brown on NewsNight delivered a comparably straight introduction to a piece by Bruce Morton which also aired earlier on Inside Politics: "Money and politics now and what could be fairly called the most significant ruling on the subject since Watergate on the role of money in politics. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a controversial ban on large unregulated contributions known as soft money. It also ruled in favor of limits on some political advertising. The justices split 5-4 on this one. And there were bitter dissents, as there tends to be in a court so sharply divided as this one is."
Morton ruefully concluded: "Will this fix campaign finance forever? No. O'Connor and Stephens wrote for the majority, quote, 'Money, like water, will find an outlet. What problems will arise and how Congress will respond are concerns for another day.'"
On Inside Politics, anchor Judy Woodruff celebrated with Senator Russ Feingold and fretted with him about how people are already finding a way around his law. She set up a segment with him: "Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold have issued a joint statement praising today's Supreme Court ruling, upholding most of their campaign finance reform law, calling it, quote, 'a landmark victory for the American people.' Senator Feingold now joins me by telephone from Fennimore, Wisconsin. Senator, surprised that you got the endorsement in effect that you did of a majority of the Supreme Court?"
Woodruff hit him from the left: "Senator, what do you say to those who say, Well, they may have knocked down soft money, and said that for the most part, it is banned. But already you have these independent third-party groups, so-called 527 committees, that are out there raising money, putting money into this presidential campaign, both on the left and on the right, in effect, you know, making what the court decided today, you could argue meaningless because money is finding its way back into these campaigns in an unregulated way."
Woodruff's third and last question: "Senator, what do you say as a Democrat to those Democrats who are out there saying, 'We are the ones who are really hurt by this reform?' Because Republicans are always going to have a harder time -- or an easier time, that is, raising so-called hard money, direct contributions, the $2,000 limit contributions, than are the Democrats."
Howard Dean appeared on all three broadcast network morning shows on Wednesday morning and other than CBS's Harry Smith pointing out to him that "most Americans supported" the war against Iraq and so "how are you going to convince them in the general election that you should be President?", none really challenged him on anything and largely stuck to the horse race.
Smith also delivered this sarcastic question about Bush policy: "One of the things that you have said over and over again that there needs to be more international troops in Iraq. Today we learned the Pentagon has barred Russia, France and Germany from bidding on reconstruction projects there. Is that how we get them to send more troops?" Dean, of course, said no.
And NBC's Katie Couric very strangely contended that Al Gore "is considered sort of a hardcore centrist." Is that like a "raging moderate"?
A rundown of the questions posed on the December 10 morning shows as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, Brian Boyd and Geoffrey Dickens:
-- ABC's Good Morning America. Charles Gibson: "Well, as we've been discussing this week, the former Vice President Al Gore shocked the political world by endorsing former Vermont Governor Howard Dean for the presidency of the United States this week, so the question obviously is is Howard Dean now the overwhelming frontrunner in the Democratic race? That's the question to ask him, and so we turn to Governor Dean, who is joining us this morning from Concord, New Hampshire. Governor, since last we talked, there've been some very encouraging polls for you, the Vice President's endorsement. Are you now willing to accept the mantle of frontrunner?"
# "Governor Dean, you have run -- let me ask you about the Vice President's endorsement. You've run a campaign as an outsider, as an insurgent, as an anti-Democratic establishment candidate. Why were you so aggressive in courting, sort of, the ultimate Mr. Insider, Mr. Democratic Establishment, Vice President Gore?"
# "But some do see a strange fit in the Vice President endorsing you. A number of candidates have commented on it, Joe Lieberman seemed to express it last night in the debate when he said, 'Al is supporting a candidate who is so fundamentally opposed to the basic transformation that Bill Clinton brought to this party,' bringing it into the middle of the road, saying it's a strange fit, you and the Vice President."
# "It reflects, though, an interesting moment in last night's debate. Ted Koppel raised an interesting question. He asked all the nine candidates can Howard Dean beat George Bush? I want to play that moment during the debate."
-- CBS's The Early Show. Harry Smith: "Former Governor Howard Dean solidified his frontrunner status among the Democratic presidential hopefuls after receiving an endorsement from former Vice President Al Gore. Last night in New Hampshire Dean took part in the final debate of the primary season. Governor Dean joins us this morning. Good morning, sir...I don't think I have to point out to you that Al Gore did not win the last election, he didn't even carry his home state. How does his endorsement help you?"
# "But if your's is the insurgency campaign Al Gore is Mr. Insider. Might he eventually end up an albatross to you?"
# "Vice President Gore said that you were the only one who was right on Iraq all along. That was among the reasons he decided to endorse you. Does the road to the White House run through Baghdad?"
# "But the fact remains though that most Americans supported that war, supported the idea of that war. How are you going to convince them in the general election that you should be President?"
# "One of the things that you have said over and over again that there needs to be more international troops in Iraq. Today we learned the Pentagon has barred Russia, France and Germany from bidding on reconstruction projects there. Is that how we get them to send more troops?"
-- NBC's Today. Katie Couric: "On Close Up this morning Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean. Governor Dean joins us this morning. Governor Dean, good morning."
# "So what does this endorsement mean to you?"
# "Did you approach Al Gore about this endorsement or did he approach you?"
# "'Delighted and thrilled,' and perhaps a bit surprised at the timing?"
# "Senator Joe Lieberman was on this program yesterday. This is what he had to say about Al Gore's endorsement of you....What's your reaction to that?"
# "In his endorsement Tuesday Al Gore said, 'we need to remake the Democratic party.' You're considered, Governor Dean, more, more left-leaning and Al Gore is considered sort of a, a, a, hardcore centrist, if you will. The two of you, specifically, what do you think needs to be done to remake the Democratic party?"
+ Tom Brokaw will be the guest Thursday night on CNN's Larry King Live.
-- Brent Baker