CyberAlert -- 03/09/2001 -- Tax Vote Ruined Bi-Partisanship

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Tax Vote Ruined Bi-Partisanship; Odd Definitions of "Solid" Versus "Narrow" by LA Times; Morning Shows Pushed Federal Action on Guns

1) Bush won the tax cut vote in the House, but CBS's John Roberts asserted, "his pledge to change the tone in Washington was shattered on the House floor." ABC's Linda Douglass: "So much for bi-partisanship....The Republicans rammed through this tax cut." Warned NBC's Lisa Myers: "This victory comes at a price." NBC reported a poll found 57 percent favor the tax cut.

2) To the Los Angeles Times, the 55 percent its poll learned support the Democratic tax and spending plan is a "solid majority," but the 52 percent which favor Bush's plan represent a "narrow majority." So FNC's Brit Hume noticed of a poll with seemingly contradictory answers, which demonstrated that how a question is posed impacts the response.

3) Building a "missile defense system" is supported by nearly two-to-one, the Los Angeles Times poll also determined.

4) Diane Sawyer and Bryant Gumbel pushed Education Secretary Rod Paige to use federal power to control guns. Sawyer: "One thing that some people have said, that the Clinton administration was way out front on this issue after Columbine and that the Bush administration has been relatively reticent."

5) Guess which network anchor conceded "there are not enough conservative voices in mainstream broadcasting"?

Bush won but. "This victory comes at a price," warned NBC's Lisa Myers. All three broadcast network evening shows on Thursday night stressed Democratic upset at the lack of bi-partisan cooperation in the House passage of the tax rate reduction portion of Bush's tax cut bill.

"So much for bi-partisanship, Charlie," sighed ABC's Linda Douglass to anchor Charles Gibson, "the Republicans rammed through this tax cut." ABC colleague Terry Moran noted how "many Democrats say that the President's hard sell tactics could backfire, raising the possibility that Democrats could become heroes by resisting the pressure and saying no to President Bush."

CBS's Dan Rather contrasted how while "it was an important step forward for President Bush's big tax cut plan," it was also "a big step away from bi-partisan cooperation in Congress." CBS reporter John Roberts intoned: "George Bush hit the road again today amid criticism that his pledge to change the tone in Washington was shattered on the House floor."

The ABC and CBS stories also played into the Democratic spin by using dollar figure numbers to illustrate how the wealthier would get a bigger tax break. Only NBC's David Gregory picked up on new Treasury Department numbers which show "just nine percent goes to those making more than $200,000." But he went on to relay the liberal case that the estate tax reduction would benefit the rich.

Now some details about the Thursday, March 8, evening show coverage. The tax cut passage topped all three.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Charles Gibson cautioned up front: "The debate in the House today was contentious at times. Indicative, perhaps, of polls that show many Americans are still not convinced the cuts are necessary." (See NBC section below for how a new NBC poll found Bush's tax cut is supported by 57 percent.)

Linda Douglass began her piece, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "So much for bi-partisanship, Charlie. The Republicans rammed through this tax cut, and all but ten Democrats voted against it, and the Democrats are accusing President Bush of reneging on his promise to change the tone in Washington. House Republicans today staged a rally with so-called 'average Americans,' the very people they say will benefit from their tax cut."
Congresswoman Nancy Johnson: "Americans spend more in taxes than they spend on food, clothing, and housing combined."
Congressman J.D. Hayworth: "It's real money for real people, and it is money that belongs to the people, not to the government."
Douglass: "Democrats repeated their refrain that it is a tax cut for the rich."
Congressman Edward Markey: "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what can be done for your country club pals."

Douglass proceeded to outline the rate reductions and then used raw numbers instead of percent cuts to illustrate the impact:
"People making $56,400 would get back $511 a year. Those making $1 million would get back more than $28,000. The fight against the tax cut was led by conservative Democrats, the very people Mr. Bush had hoped to win over. They argued it is irresponsible to cut taxes without knowing what money will be needed for other programs."

Next, Terry Moran checked in from President Bush's rally in Fargo where "the President is out to muscle Democrats." Moran concluded with the quote cited in the second graph of this item.

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather announced: "Good evening. It was an important step forward for President Bush's big tax cut plan. It was a big step away from bipartisan cooperation in Congress. The Republican-controlled House tonight approved the core of the Bush plan over Democratic objections that it was a rush to judgment and risky for the overall U.S. economy. True or not, don't expect any fast final approval in the Senate. CBS's Bob Schieffer has the latest on tonight's vote and the future of the Bush tax cuts. Bob."

Schieffer explained: "Dan, what passed on a mostly party line vote was a sweeping reduction in income tax rates. Democrats say the refusal to discuss even a, even discuss a smaller compromise proposal will probably doom the legislation in the Senate, but House Republicans were having none of that."
Congressman Bill Thomas: "Mr. and Mrs. America, help is on the way."
Unnamed Congresswoman: "If you are paying taxes today, you are paying too much."
Schieffer: "The Democratic leaders said the steam roller approach raised questions about future cooperation."
Richard Gephardt, Minority Leader: "We have to work together and do the hard work of finding those compromises that we can both live with."
Schieffer: "The Bush plan calls for modest cuts during the first year, then phases in deeper cuts over the next six years and works this way: The top two tax brackets will shrink to 33 percent by 2006. The middle brackets are reduced to 25 percent in the same period. The 15 percent bracket remains, but those who earn less than $12,000 a year will move into a new bracket which eventually shrinks to 10 percent. For a single parent with one child earning $22,000 a year, that translates to a savings of $932, once the full cut is phased in. A two-earner couple with two children earning $55,000 will realize a $1900 a year tax cut. The same size family earning $90,000 would see a cut of more than $2700. And if that family's earnings rose to $400,000, their tax cut would total more than $13,000 yearly.
"Playing it to the hilt, Republican leaders notified the President of the victory in a televised telephone call. But even as the Republicans celebrated, the Democratic leader in the Senate said flatly tonight the legislation as now written cannot pass the Senate."

Rather followed up on the breakdown of Bush's promise of bi-partisanship: "As Bob mentioned, tonight's House vote underscores the increasingly partisan political stress cracks that are forming up and so do the President's latest trips outside Washington to campaign hardball for his tax cut agenda. CBS's John Roberts is traveling with the President."

Roberts warned: "With an early legislative victory assured, George Bush hit the road again today amid criticism that his pledge to change the tone in Washington was shattered on the House floor."
Richard Gephardt, House Minority Leader: "The President came to town saying, 'I'm a uniter not a divider, and I'm willing to incorporate ideas from the other side into compromise solutions.' That is not happening."
Roberts reminded viewers: "Early on, Mr. Bush had eagerly talked of building bridges with Democrats, staging high profile photo-ops with leading lawmakers."

Roberts noted how Republicans say they are just giving voters what they want before he outlined how Bush is campaigning in states he won which have Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2002.

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw celebrated Bush's win, but also again insisted upon calling the tax cut "massive." He opened the show: "President Bush, who's off to a fast start after a long and tortured road to the White House, tonight is getting a major victory in Congress -- a sharp reduction in tax rates, the first big step toward the massive tax cut program that he wants as well."

Lisa Myers began: "Tom, this is indeed a big victory for the President. Republicans simply used their superior numbers to muscle the heart of the Bush tax cut through the House. But this victory comes at a price."

Myers went on to report how a family of four making $54,000 would save $1,900 while someone single earning $31,000 would save $400 a year as those in higher incomes would "do better," specifically a woman Myers found who would save $5,000. After relaying how Democrats called the cut "reckless," Myers warned the lack of bi-partisan effort could cost Bush later.

Next, David Gregory looked at Bush's road trip to push his tax cut which he noted, in contrast to the claims of ABC's Charles Gibson that "many" are against it, is supported by the majority. He reported that a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll discovered Bush's tax cut is favored by 57 percent and opposed by 32 percent.

Gregory added: "And it was no accident that today the White House chose to release data officials say proved the tax cut isn't just a payoff to the rich. According to the Treasury Department, 38 percent of the savings goes to individuals making $30 to $40,000 a year while just nine percent goes to those making more than $200,000. But critics say they're not telling you everything, like who really benefits when you include Mr. Bush's proposal to repeal the estate or death tax."
Gene Sperling, former Clinton economic advisor: "Twenty eight billion dollars a year of this tax cut will go to the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of estates."

It's a bit difficult for a dead person to enjoy a tax break.


To the Los Angeles Times, the 55 percent its poll learned support the Democratic tax and spending plan is a "solid majority," but the 52 percent which favor Bush's plan represent a "narrow majority." FNC's Brit Hume caught the assessments in a Los Angeles Times story published on Thursday. The conflicting responses from those polled also showed how the way you form a question impacts the answer the public gives.

During the "Grapevine" segment on Thursday's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC Hume observed:
"The Los Angeles Times reports based on a new poll that President Bush enjoys 62 percent job approval rating, but it says a quote, 'solid majority of the public' favors the Democrats' plan for a smaller tax cut with more debt repayment and more spending on such things as education and Medicare. The Times says only a quote 'narrow majority' backs the Bush tax plan. Now you have to go to the Times Web site to find this out, but the difference between the 'solid majority' the Times says favors the Democrats' budget and the 'narrow majority' it says is for the Bush tax cut is only 55 to 52 percent."

The subhead over the March 8 Los Angeles Times story reported: "Majorities back the President on such issues as defense and education, and most like him personally. But 55% prefer how the Democrats would use the surplus."

Reporter Ronald Brownstein wrote: "Despite growing anxiety about the economy, Americans give Bush high marks for his early job performance -- and say they like him personally as well. Such Bush priorities as building a missile defense shield, reforming federal education programs and increasing cooperation between Washington and religious charities all draw support from significant majorities of the public, the survey found.
"But the ground is far more contested on Bush's tax cut -- the issue that heads the new administration's priority list. Although a narrow majority of Americans now says it would support Bush's proposed $1.6-trillion tax cut, nearly half believe it would not help them personally and a clear majority worries that the plan could throw the federal budget back into deficit.
"Reflecting those concerns, Americans -- by a solid 55% to 30% majority -- say they would prefer the alternative Democratic approach, which would cut taxes less and use more of the anticipated federal surplus to pay down the national debt and fund domestic programs.
"These findings suggest that, although Bush has moved public opinion in his direction on many issues since the 2000 campaign, most Americans remain stubbornly unconvinced that a tax cut should take precedence as Washington allocates the federal government's massive anticipated surpluses."

Later, Brownstein again stressed the "solid" support for the Democratic plan: "All these doubts about the Bush proposal help explain the solid 55% support for the Democratic alternative of a smaller tax cut that would leave more money for both new spending and debt reduction. Voters at every income level favor the Democratic approach (though the margin drops among the most affluent); even nearly one-third of Republicans prefer it. By contrast, only about 1 in 8 Democrats prefers Bush's blueprint."

To read Brownstein's story, go to:

To be fair to Brownstein, his "narrow" versus "solid" descriptions could reflect an interpretation of the gap between support and opposition. While 52 percent back Bush's plan, 12 percentage points fewer, 40 percent, disapprove of it. Asked if they favor the Democratic plan or the Bush plan, the gap grew to 25 percentage points, with 55 preferring the Democratic plan to 30 percent saying they liked Bush's plan better.

But, as Hume noticed, you can only figure any of this out by going to an Adobe Acrobat PDF document on the LA Times Web site. Brownstein did not explain the gap ratio, thus making his three point difference between "solid" and "narrow" stand out.

The PDF of every poll question and all the answers provides an illuminating illustration of how pollsters can generate conflicting responses depending what facts are laid out in the question. Compare the two inquiries at issue here.

-- Question 35: "During the presidential campaign George W. Bush proposed using the budget surplus for an across-the board- tax cut of $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years for all taxpayers as part of his economic program, rather than a targeted tax cut for low and middle income families. Do you approve or disapprove of Bush's tax cut proposal?"

Approve: 52 percent
Disapprove: 40 percent
Don't know: 8 percent

-- Question 39: "George W. Bush has proposed a tax cut of $1.6 trillion and eliminating about two-thirds of the national debt over the next 10 years, which is about $2 trillion. Democrats say the tax cut should be about half as big with more money devoted to spending on domestic programs such as Medicare and education and reducing the debt. Which comes closer to your view?"

Bush's proposal: 30 percent
Democrats' proposal: 55 percent
Neither: 4 percent
Don't know: 11 percent

To access the Adobe Acrobat PDF with all of the poll questions and responses broken down by race, party, sex, income and region, go to:


The next time you hear or see missile defense described as "controversial," remember this poll result: The same Los Angeles Times poll discussed in item #2 above also found that by nearly two-to-one the public backs the building of a "missile defense system."

Specifically, 59 percent replied that they approved of it while 31 percent said they were opposed.

For those accessing the PDF of the poll, this was question #33.


The network drumbeat for more gun control in the wake of the Santee, California school shooting has begun. On Thursday night ABC's Prime Time Thursday aired another one of its hidden camera segments to show how teens who are left alone in a room will pick up a gun and play with it. Nightline carried on the coverage and earlier World News Tonight previewed the prime time segment.

On the March 8 CBS Evening News Dan Rather forecast what may be coming next: "With each school shooting in this country come new calls for stricter gun control laws. In Britain, which already has tough gun regulations, CBS's Richard Roth reports tonight they are now talking about possibly banning toy guns."

Thursday morning, both ABC's Diane Sawyer and CBS's Bryant Gumbel pressed Secretary of Education Rod Paige about Bush administration inaction on guns. Here is their advocacy in the guise of questions:

-- ABC's Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer, as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson. Sawyer set up the segment: "In our last half-hour you may have seen some of the report tonight on Prime Time on kids and guns. Well, a few minutes before we began this morning, I talked with the Secretary of Education in this country, in the Bush administration. He is Secretary Rod Paige, and I talked to him about many things, including the responsibility adults have in making so many guns accessible to kids."
Paige: "I know there's a great national debate about this, but I think it goes much deeper than just the technology that they use for violence. We need to find out what's underneath it, not the instrument they're using. We need to find out why they are seeking violent ways to solve their problems."
Sawyer: "So you don't think there's anything that needs to be done to curb the availability of guns to kids?"
Secretary Paige: "I'm just not focusing on that point now. I'm focusing on the point that goes broader than that, and that is trying to know our young people better, more personalization with them. I'm sure that this debate's going to take place and there will be different points of views, and in our nation when we have debates like this, we come out with the right solution to that. That's just not where my focus is at this point."
Sawyer: "One thing that some people have said, that the Clinton administration was way out front on this issue after Columbine and that the Bush administration has been relatively reticent. Do you agree?"
Secretary Paige: "No, not at all, I don't agree. I think that we can't focus on just some narrow aspect of it. It's a much broader problem and we need to look much deeper than just the instrument used to cause the violence."

-- CBS's The Early Show. MRC analyst Brian Boyd caught Bryant Gumbel's leading inquiries:

Gumbel: "If reviewing this is a broader problem, Mr. Secretary, how much do you fault the surplus of guns for the frightening increase in violence we're seeing?"
Paige: "I think instead of looking for faults we need to look for causes. Pointing fingers at each other is not going to get this accomplished. As a community we need to be concerned about how our young people are growing up and to determine ways that we can prevent rage and teach our young people to solve problems in non-violent ways."
Gumbel: "Well, I don't think it's pointing fingers, Mr. Secretary. But what do you say to those who want to see federal action to do something to keep guns out of the hands of young people?"
Paige: "I think the federal government has a role and it has a leadership role, but this is a community problem, Bryant. All of us including the media, and that's why we appreciate so much you calling attention to this matter."
Gumbel: "It's a community problem but doesn't the federal government have to take a lead in this?"
Gumbel wrapped up the interview by encouraging Paige to promise some federal intervention: "As a final note, is there any specific one new thing that you can tell parents the Bush administration is going to do in response to this week's incidents?"


Conservatives obviously don't think there are enough conservatives in the media, but it turns out ABC's Peter Jennings also realizes the lack of conservatives "in mainstream broadcasting."

Prompted by an e-mailed tip, MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey located our tape of this past weekend's Tim Russert show on CNBC and found this exchange at the end of the interview first shown on Saturday evening, March 3:
Russert: "What's the biggest challenge to our profession?"
Jennings: "Not losing our way. And not being, not losing our way. And I think in the case of those of us who work in the so-called establishment, be it by and large middle-of-the-road media, not being dragged around by the, by the political persuasions of the time, making room for people to be on. I'm always struck by the fact that there are not enough conservative voices in mainstream broadcasting. And so I think that's unfortunate and it always reminds me of one of the best we can do, and one of the things you do well on this program, present company excepted, is to make room for people to have their say."

Nice thoughts and he has brought aboard a religion reporter who appears occasionally. But he's been the anchor for over 15 years, so what else has he done to include conservatives in ABC's diversity?

Yesterday's CyberAlert promised more Dan Rather quotes today. But I'm out of time and space, so if time permits later today, I'll try to put out a CyberAlert Extra with more Rather quotes on the occasion of his 20th anniversary as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

--Brent Baker

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