Bush Rebounds in Poll, But ABC Insists He "Doesn't Do That Well" --10/15/2003
2. Top Reporters Agree Media Too Soft on Bush, Too Tough on Clinton
3. Whoopi: Bush "Doing to Bathroom What He's Done to the Economy!"
4. Oceans Advocate Ted Danson Admits Relieving Himself in Ocean
"President Rallying Support in Polls: Rebound Sets Campaign Team into Action," declared the Washington Post headline Wednesday morning about a new Post/ABC News poll which "found the President's approval rating stabilizing," at 53 percent, "after a steady drop since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was ousted in April." But ABC's Peter Jennings led World News Tonight the night before by declaring that in the very same poll "the President doesn't do that well."
For the October 15 Washington Post story: www.washingtonpost.com
Jennings proceeded on Tuesday night to highlight Bush's match-up against an imaginary Democrat, a head-to-head comparison in which an unnamed opponent always does better than when a real name is inserted, but Jennings didn't add that caveat. Jennings simply reported that "46 percent of Americans say that if a presidential election were held today, they would vote for Mr. Bush, but 47 percent say that they would vote for a Democrat."
After Terry Moran summarized the poll, Jennings went to Bill Redeker in Iraq for a status report from there. Redeker stressed how car bombings are increasingly the weapon of choice, with three in five days, but he did not highlight how another Gallup poll discovered that 71 percent of the people in Baghdad do not want U.S. troops to leave, with 26 percent wishing they would depart. For AP's story on the poll: story.news.yahoo.com
Next, Jennings turned to Betsy Stark who saw that "some real improvement in the economy has done little to shore up the President's ratings on the economy." She concluded by noting that while "optimists" credit the tax cuts for the rebound, "pessimists focus on the record deficit those tax cuts have produced..." She didn't provide any numbers to support the idea that tax cuts "produced" the deficit.
Now, more details on how Jennings, Moran and Stark, on the October 14 World News Tonight, handled the poll:
Jennings teased up top: "On World News Tonight: The results of an ABC News poll. The President doesn't do that well, but we'll take a look at the details of war and the economy."
Jennings opened the broadcast: "Good evening everyone. We're going to begin tonight with a very clear reminder that the United States is a very divided country as it gets to the end of 2003 and enters a presidential election year -- divided about war, the economy, the federal deficit and, increasingly, the President's leadership. We see it and hear it in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll which is published today. 46 percent of Americans say that if a presidential election were held today, they would vote for Mr. Bush, but 47 percent say that they would vote for a Democrat. Of course, the election is 13 months away."
From the White House, Terry Moran warned: "The ABC News poll shows the public has deep concerns about some aspects of Mr. Bush's leadership. On post-war Iraq, an issue White House officials admit could make or break the Bush presidency, Americans have lost confidence in the administration. Only 50 percent approve of the President's handling of Iraq, down from 75 percent at the end of the war. 54 percent think the administration does not have a clear plan there. And 59 percent now say the level of U.S. casualties in Iraq is 'unacceptable.'"
On the economy, "public assessment of the President is lukewarm at best" with 46 percent approving his handling economy compared to 51 percent who disapprove. (The Washington Post story noted something that Moran skipped: the 46 percent approval on the economy represented a jump of 4 points from 42 percent in same poll when conducted last month.)
Moran observed: "Overall, the President's approval rating stands at 53 percent. That's the lowest of his presidency. But that is still far above what most President's face this deep into their terms."
In ABC's posted version of the poll results, Dalia Sussman of ABCNews.com added some support for Duberstein's point:
Stark, however, predicted: "But many economists say it will not be long before employers need to hire. Businesses are reporting profits 17 percent higher than last year at this time and the stock market is surging" with the Dow up 17 percent this year and NASDAQ up 45 percent.
Stark simultaneously credited the tax cuts for stimulating the economy and blamed them for creating the deficit: "Meanwhile, the big tax cut and record mortgage refinancing have given consumers extra cash to spend. And they have been spending it. Retailers are now looking forward to the best holiday season in years."
She concluded: "Optimists say the improvement shows how well tax cuts and low interest rates have worked. Pessimists focus on the record deficit those tax cuts have produced and the lack of jobs. And judging by today's poll, Peter, America's pretty evenly divided between the two."
While the public continues to see journalists as too liberal, journalists see themselves as too pro-Bush. According to a lengthy cover story in the American Journalism Review, a magazine read by many news industry insiders, liberal bias is a "shibbeloth" and the media are actually guilty of being overly soft in covering George W. Bush.
[Rich Noyes, the MRC's Director of Research, composed this item for CyberAlert.]
"Are the News Media Soft on Bush?" read the title over the article by "contributing writer" Rachel Smolkin, which appeared in the October/November 2003 issue of the national magazine published by the University of Maryland's journalism school. The subhead answered: "That much-ballyhooed 'liberal press' hasn't been nearly as tough on President Bush as it was on his predecessor. One key reason: Bush's controversies have involved policy rather than personal peccadilloes, and the media have a much bigger appetite for the latter. But does the weapons of mass destruction flap presage a shift?"
Of course, the media really were during the Clinton years, and now are during the Bush years, most biased on policy issues, approaching both Presidents from the left.
Smolkin quoted many current and former network news reporters who supported her premise that the media should have been even more adversarial in their coverage of the Bush administration.
"Any objective person would say that in some ways Clinton was covered too aggressively in some areas, and Bush is not covered aggressively enough," Smolkin quoted ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin as saying. "Principally on cable television, journalists have sounded off in a very pro-administration, very pro-patriotic tone," agreed ex-NBC and CBS reporter Marvin Kalb, who now works at a Harvard think tank and who must not watch very much CNN.
These same journalists maintained they were too tough on Bill Clinton. ABC's Terry Moran told AJR: "[Clinton coverage] was way over the top, excessive scandal-mongering, pointless."
The hand-wringing from these journalists only validates the view that they are a pretty left-leaning bunch in the first place. And, if network reporters genuinely believe that they've been going too easy on the President, brace yourself for even worse bias in the months ahead.
The journalists' complaints are in complete contradiction with the public's evaluation of the media's performance. According to a Gallup poll taken last month, 45 percent say that the news media are "too liberal," three times as many as feel the media are "too conservative." That's the fourth survey since 2001 in which Gallup has recorded the public as endorsing the view of the media as tilting left.
For more on the report from Gallup: www.gallup.com
And a July Pew poll determined that even a plurality of Democrats see more of a liberal than conservative tilt to the media. The July 14 CyberAlert summarized: Most Americans (53%) believe that news organizations are politically biased, while just 29% say they are careful to remove bias from their reports. When it comes to describing the press, twice as many say news organizations are "liberal" (51%) than "conservative," a just-released Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey discovered. Even a plurality of Democrats see a liberal slant over a conservative one as 41 percent of Democrats perceive a media slant to the liberal side versus 33 percent of Democrats who see a skew in the conservative direction. For details: www.mediaresearch.org
....Reporters have handled Bush gingerly, particularly after the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted a surge of patriotism. The administration skillfully capitalized on that sentiment, just as it excelled at controlling information, staying on message and limiting access to Bush from the nascent days of his presidency.
Bush and his allies also have benefited in press coverage from having a weak opposition party. Democrats foundered after 9/11; then the discordant voices of 10 presidential candidates diluted attempts at a unified message.
And as voices from the right saturate radio and cable talk shows, the media have become increasingly sensitive to the venerable conservative shibboleth of liberal bias, a development that also favors the first Republican President in eight years....
"Any objective person would say that in some ways Clinton was covered too aggressively in some areas, and Bush is not covered aggressively enough," says ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin. Among stories receiving insufficient attention in his view: the growing deficit, the lack of transparency regarding energy policy formation and, at least initially, the rationale for committing troops to the war in Iraq.
Halperin attributes the uneven coverage in part to the demise of the Independent Counsel law used relentlessly by Clinton's opponents and to the dwindling prestige of the White House beat after the Cold War that gradually led to "less experience and, in some cases, less skill" among White House correspondents. "People like [ABC's] Terry Moran and [CBS'] Mark Knoller are not able to battle the White House by themselves," says Halperin. The President and his staff know the public mistrusts the press and that they can "dismiss us and steamroll over us."
....Of course, the notion that the press has bestowed kinder, gentler treatment upon Bush is by no means unanimous. "Each President I've covered dating back to [Gerald] Ford thinks no other President gets more heated coverage than he did -- they all think they get it hotter than their predecessors," says CBS' Knoller. "That tells me that the press is treating each President without fear or favor."
....[But] some critics perceived gentler handling of Bush early in his term....On May 6, 2001, former Washington Post White House correspondent John F. Harris observed in a story in the paper's Outlook section that "this new President has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton.... What is being hailed as Bush's shrewd diplomacy [regarding the surveillance plane] would have been savaged as 'Slick Willie' contortions."
....Nine months into Bush's term, the terrorist attacks transformed the nation's mood and heightened media restraint. Confronting unfathomable horror, the press largely abdicated its watchdog role. In late January 2002, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Dan Balz penned a nearly 40,000-word, eight-part series offering an "inside account" of what happened from September 11 to September 20 but skirting the issue of whether the administration missed signs of terrorism. American flags fluttered on newscasts and anchors' lapel pins, and Bush was portrayed as a brave leader shouldering a painful burden.
"Principally on cable television, journalists have sounded off in a very pro-administration, very pro-patriotic tone," says Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, who coedited "The Media and the War on Terrorism" with Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. The flags in news broadcasts had "very little to do with journalism, very much to do with patriotism."
James P. Pinkerton, a Newsday columnist and former aide to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says the current Bush's "war on terror" is larger and less tangible than Clinton's controversies. "The Clinton scandals, such as they were, were kind of embraceable: did or did not cheat on his wife, did or did not cheat on his real-estate deals, did or did not molest Paula Jones," says Pinkerton, a contributor to Fox News Channel. "It's a little harder when you come across the Bush doctrine. It takes a little longer to get your legs under you intellectually."
Scandals in the Clinton administration provided easy targets for reporters. ABC's Moran says Clinton coverage "was way over the top, excessive scandal-mongering, pointless." He believes Bush has been covered aggressively, with examinations of his environmental, fiscal and foreign policies. But rather than "fully and fairly informing the American public," Moran says White House reporters tend to focus on scandal -- a tendency that did not evaporate after 9/11.
....The White House communications team has molded coverage throughout Bush's incumbency by limiting press access, plugging administration leaks, rationing information, crafting images and coordinating messages. This mirrors the way the Bush administration handled the media while he was governor of Texas
....Harvard's Kalb agrees Bush aides have put together an "exceptionally effective press program....This White House very wisely and very effectively created a message system that made it seem as [if] the Bush administration walked on water, and the media went along for the walk."
...[Matt] Drudge is but one example of the legion of conservative columnists, radio talk-show hosts, cable hosts and pundits who disseminate the administration's views, overpower a muffled chorus of liberals and blame the media for purported bias. In "What Liberal Media?" [left-wing author Eric] Alterman constructs a compelling case challenging conventional wisdom that the media lean left. "The myth of the 'liberal media' empowers conservatives to control debate in the United States to the point where liberals cannot even hope for a fair shake anymore," Alterman writes.
Former CNN executive [Frank] Sesno concurs that the "discussion about liberal bias has gotten altogether skewed and altogether out of proportion. There were legitimate complaints by the right a few years ago, but now the pendulum has swung wildly to the other side in terms of radio and talk shows on television."
CNN and MSNBC, he adds, are "dealing with the harsh reality that Fox has become the ratings leader, built on the pretension that it is 'fair and balanced.'"...
END of Excerpt
To read Smolkin's entire screed: www.ajr.org
NBC's Today on Tuesday devoted a segment to Whoopi Goldberg promoting the then-upcoming Tuesday night episode of her sit-com in which she trashed President Bush repeatedly as her character seemingly channeled the real-life political views of the actress/comedian.
In the sit-com, titled Whoopi, Goldberg plays a former Broadway performer who now runs a small Manhattan hotel. In the episode, she learns that Bush will be driving through the neighborhood that day. She declares: "Tell him to stop by the UN and apologize to Europe, starting with France."
It ends up that while Goldberg's character, "Mavis," is away from the front desk Bush stops by the hotel to use the facilities, leading to this scene which Today showcased:
Mavis, to hotel janitor: "Bush is in my can?"
Later, in a scene not played by Today, Mavis charges: "Black Republicans make about as much sense to me as Jews for Jesus."
On Today, Goldberg claimed she did the Bush-bashing episode because it was an "opportunity to say some things that people are actually thinking." She also maintained: "We are afraid of people who don't look like us."
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down Goldberg's session on the October 14 Today with Ann Curry, picking up after Today played the above-quoted scene:
Curry, laughing: "Whoopi Goldberg, good morning. It looks like you're having fun!"
Curry soon set up a second clip: "In fact let's give people a glimpse of what, a little bit of what's gonna get really started with a clip of tonight's episode, is that right? Where Mavis actually meets the President, whose played by, of course, an impersonator. Let's take a look."
Mavis: "My name is Mavis-"
Back to Today, Curry, laughing: "Unbelievable. I mean he looks exactly like the President!"
For NBC's page on Whoopi: www.nbc.com
Do as I preach not as I do. Actor Ted Danson, a founder of the American Oceans Campaign, a group which since merged with Oceana, an advocacy organization on whose Board of Directors he sits and which has a campaign devoted to stopping cruise ships from discharging sewage into the ocean, admitted to Craig Kilborn that he has relieved himself in the ocean.
During the "5 Questions" segment on Monday's Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn on CBS, Kilborn prefaced question #4 by asking Danson, who is best-known for playing "Sam Malone" on Cheers and who now stars in the sit-com Becker on CBS, to affirm: "You're an advocate for cleaner oceans." Danson agreed. Kilborn then queried, "True or false: You have never relieved yourself in the ocean?" Danson, after a long delay, answered "false" as he bowed his head in shame.
To watch a playback of this and other recent "5 Questions" sessions, via RealPlayer, go to: www.cbs.com
For the Internet Movie Database page on Danson, with a picture and bio: us.imdb.com
For his page on CBS's page for Becker: www.cbs.com
For the press release on the merger: www.oceana.org
Oceana's slogan: "Protecting the world's oceans."
They should add: "...from Ted Danson."
-- Brent Baker