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CyberAlert -- 02/27/2001 -- Nets Pounced on Anti-Tax Cut Poll

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Nets Pounced on Anti-Tax Cut Poll; Tax Cut "Favors" Wealthy; NBC's Today Pushed "Trigger" Idea; Helen Thomas's Liberal Views

1) The ABC and NBC morning shows jumped on an ABC News poll which found most want a smaller tax cut and only 22 percent think a tax cut should be the top priority for the surplus. GMA and Today both cited the numbers in three separate stories, with ABC's Terry Moran tagging it a "handicap" for Bush.

2) CBS's Jane Clayson this morning suggested "many Americans would prefer a smaller tax cut for lower and middle income Americans" and she asked Karen Hughes to agree: "But doesn't the tax cut really favor mostly wealthy Americans?"

3) Today's Katie Couric asked Karen Hughes "what's wrong" with imposing a "trigger" to stop tax cuts. Matt Lauer pressed Dick Gephardt: "Wouldn't it make you very comfortable if this trigger system were put into effect?" Couric highlighted how ABC's poll found "nearly a half of the people...thought the plan will benefit mainly the wealthy."

4) The New York Post's MediaWatch column: "As the Media Research Center has documented, [Helen] Thomas saves her venom only for Republicans like Bush. Liberals, on the other hand, can do no wrong."


1
Usually networks don't cite polls done by their competitors, but NBC made an exception this morning for an ABC News poll which found 53 percent prefer a "smaller, more targeted" tax cut and only 22 percent think a tax cut should be the "highest priority" for the surplus. Today news reader Ann Curry highlighted the finding in two hourly news updates and Katie Couric raised the 22 percent number in an interview with White House counselor Karen Hughes. (See item #3 below for Couric's question.)

Of course, on the morning before President Bush's address to Congress in which he'll make the case for his tax cut plan, ABC also emphasized their own poll.

Here's a rundown of how ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today made sure viewers realized how unenthusiastic Americans supposedly are about Bush's tax cut.

> Good Morning America. MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught three instances:

-- White House reporter Terry Moran during the 7am news update: "The President needs to connect with the public tonight as he tackles the first big fights of his administration: Selling his $1.6 trillion tax cut and his tight budget. He starts with a handicap. An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows only 22 percent of Americans think cutting taxes should be the top priority for using the surplus. Mr. Bush's allies say that doesn't matter....But to pay for that broad tax cut, President Bush has proposed a leaner budget than Congress had been used to under the Clinton administration, one that calls for actual cuts in some programs. White House officials acknowledge they've got a tough selling job ahead of them."

Yes, a tough job to overcome the onslaught of media hostility.

-- Antonio Mora at 7:30am: "President Bush has some selling to do as he brings his tax and spending plan to the American people tonight. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 53 percent of Americans favor a smaller, more targeted tax cut than Mr. Bush's $1.6 trillion plan."

-- Moran at 8am: "He comes to making this speech tonight, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, with a 55 percent approval rating. That sounds pretty good and it is, but not as good as other Presidents this early in their term and he has a handicap as well. Our poll shows that only 22 percent of Americans that we polled say that the tax cut is the highest priority in using the surplus, so he has a selling job ahead of him."

> Today. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens picked up these citations:

-- News reader Ann Curry at 8am: "President George W. Bush will address a joint session of Congress tonight. He will outline his budget and try to convince Congress and the American people that his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan is a good idea. But a new poll found that most Americans prefer a smaller tax cut targeted to middle and lower income people."

-- Curry at 9am: "President Bush takes his budget plan to Congress tonight in a speech to be carried on national television. His $1.9 trillion budget proposal calls for lower spending and massive tax cuts. But according to a new poll most Americans don't agree with his across the board tax cut. The poll found that most people favor a smaller tax cut aimed at lower and middle income people."

"Massive" tax cuts? They are far smaller than the amount federal spending has been growing in recent years.

For a rundown of the major findings of the ABC News/Washington Post poll, go to:
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/poll010226.html

2

CBS's Early Show brought aboard White House counselor Karen Hughes to promote Bush's budget ideas, but CBS didn't balance her with a Democratic guest. It soon became clear, however, that they didn't need to as co-host Jane Clayson forwarded the Democratic spin. Clayson suggested "many Americans would prefer a smaller tax cut for lower and middle income Americans" and she asked Hughes to agree with her view: "But doesn't the tax cut really favor mostly wealthy Americans?" And, without explaining what it is, she raised the liberal idea of a "trigger" to restore higher tax rates if the surplus does not materialize.

MRC analyst Brian Boyd transcribed Clayson's questions to Hughes:
-- "As we just heard in Bill Plante's piece the President has proposed an 11 percent increase on education spending, a 7 percent increase on defense spending, 13 percent increase on medical research. To increase spending in these areas and still cut taxes by more than $1 trillion won't the President have to cut other areas of the budget?"

-- "If those are the priorities where are the cuts? There have to be some cuts."

-- "Let's talk for a moment, Karen, about the tax cut because a lot of people are interested in that. Instead of an across the board tax cut it seems many Americans would prefer a smaller tax cut for lower and middle income Americans. Would the President be opposed to that?"

-- "But doesn't the tax cut really favor mostly wealthy Americans?"

-- "The tax cut relies heavily on a surplus and hoping that there is a surplus over the next ten years. If there is not a surplus, would you be opposed to this idea of a trigger concept?"

-- "You've been at this, Karen, for about a month now, how's life at the White House?"

3

"Trigger" mania on today's Today. Katie Couric hit Karen Hughes with the liberal idea, asking her "what's wrong" with imposing a "trigger" to stop tax cuts if the surplus is smaller than expected.

Minutes later, after first suggesting Bush's overall plan "sounds pretty good," Couric's colleague Matt Lauer decided to not challenge Democrat Dick Gephardt from the right by asking about the economic rationale for a trigger to raise taxes during an economic downturn. Nor did he suggest a "trigger" to reduce spending. Instead, Lauer pressed Gephardt about how imposing a "trigger" on tax cuts should allay his concerns: "Wouldn't it make you very comfortable if this trigger system were put into effect?" And: "If President Bush will agree to the trigger would you agree" with the $1.6 trillion tax cut?

Couric also brought up a competing network's poll as she told Hughes "a Washington Post/ABC News poll out today showed that only 22 percent of those responding favored a tax cut as a top priority. They want a targeted tax cut for low and middle income people, not across the board. And nearly a half of the people who responded thought the plan will benefit mainly the wealthy."

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down the questions posed this morning in the 7am half hour to Hughes and then to Gephardt. First, Couric to Hughes:

-- "So what is President Bush's goal tonight and to whom will he be speaking?"

-- "Well you say there's gonna be bigger money and of course the Bush administration is relying on a $5.6 trillion surplus over the next ten years. But there is no guarantee of that. And some people, including, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan have suggested a trigger. So if that money, you know, for some reason isn't there and the debt isn't being paid down that the tax cut would be put on hold. What's wrong with that notion?"

-- Couric: "Well if he's asking for an 11 percent increase in education spending, 5 percent increase in defense spending, 14 percent increase in medical research spending, how can he enact such a huge tax cut and fund all these federal programs? Does that mean some departments will get no increase, not even the four percent to account, account for inflation? Or they, in fact, their budgets might be reduced, for example the Department of Energy?"

-- "Yeah this may not face such smooth sailing as you well know in Congress. And in fact a Washington Post/ABC News poll out today showed that only 22 percent of those responding favored a tax cut as a top priority. They want a targeted tax cut for low and middle income people, not across the board. And nearly a half of the people who responded thought the plan will benefit mainly the wealthy. How will President Bush convince the American people when they feel that way that this is the right thing to do and the fair thing to do?"

Lauer to Gephardt:

-- "House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is one of the Democrats who will respond to President Bush's speech tonight. Congressman good to see you. Sounds pretty good. He's got money to pay down the debt. Education, military, community healthcare and he's gonna offer a $1.6 trillion tax cut. How can you vote against that?"

-- "Alright, so wouldn't it make you very comfortable if this trigger system were put into effect? Because that would say to you. Alright, look if the numbers don't add up and the surpluses don't add up we put this tax cut on hold and we don't risk the deficit."

-- "But as someone whose been in the House for as long as you have you know there's gotta be an area for negotiation. Isn't the trigger that area? I mean if, if President Bush will agree to the trigger would you agree to $1.6 trillion, million, uh trillion dollars?"

-- "But clearly it sounds as if the Democrats are saying that President Bush is more right than wrong. I mean if you talk about $900 billion or a trillion dollars that's almost double what Al Gore proposed in the campaign. So you are definitely moving in President Bush's direction."

-- "You got a lot you want to accomplish as Democrats in Congress. How much sidetrack, or how much have you been sidetracked by the attention being paid to former President Clinton right now? Obviously that's not the story you want on the front page of the papers."

-- "Has Bill Clinton, though, alienated members of the Democratic party by his last minute actions?"

4

The New York Post today picked up on the February 23 CyberAlert item about the lecture Helen Thomas delivered to President Bush about separating church and state. The Post editorial page staff dug into the MRC's archives to demonstrate how "Thomas saves her venom only for Republicans like Bush. Liberals, on the other hand, can do no wrong."

Here's an excerpt of the February 27 "MediaWatch" column about liberal pontificating by Thomas, now a columnist for Hearst Newspapers:

....Bush was confronted by an angry and sarcastic Thomas, who demanded, "Why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and state?" -- adding that "the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter."

When the President tried to answer, saying that he "strongly" respects the separation of church and state, Thomas quickly interrupted him: "You wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did."...

This isn't the first time that Thomas -- who resigned, to the cheers of her colleagues, as White House correspondent of UPI just one after the wire service was bought by the owners of the conservative Washington Times -- has made her feelings about the new administration known.

Last month, at a White House press briefing, she made light of Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer's statement that his office had received 42,000 resumes. "He said he got 42,000 resumes," Thomas told Clinton spokesman Jake Siewart. "He could count them but he couldn't count the votes?"

But surely that's just Helen Thomas being Helen Thomas, right? Wrong. As the Media Research Center has documented, Thomas saves her venom only for Republicans like Bush. Liberals, on the other hand, can do no wrong.

So Thomas refuses to suggest that Bill Clinton might have cheapened the Oval Office by his personal conduct. "I don't say that," she told MSNBC's Brian Williams. "I think he is a man of peace....I feel that his heart was in the right place."

Compare that to her evaluation of Ronald Reagan: "I'm not so certain he was nice....I think he left an uncaring society." Or of George W. Bush and John McCain: "About as far right as you can get without dropping off the edge." John McCain?

In fact, even when she was an "objective" reporter, Thomas made her political feelings well known. Rejecting claims of a liberal bias in the news media, Thomas admitted to C-SPAN her own personal left-wing leanings.

Liberalism, she said, is "everything that's good in life, that we do care. And also for the solutions; we seek solutions and we do think we are responsible for what happens in this country."...

END Excerpt

To read the whole MediaWatch article, go to:
http://www.nypostonline.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/24984.htm

I hope to get another CyberAlert out early tomorrow morning with analysis of coverage of President Bush's address to Congress scheduled for 9pm ET tonight. -- Brent Baker


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