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CyberAlert -- 03/16/2000 -- CBS "Reality Check" on "Carnage" Condoned by NRA

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CBS "Reality Check" on "Carnage" Condoned by NRA; Brokaw's Hero: Pataki

1) The NRA attacks Clinton into order to deflect from the "carnage" of gun violence, CBS's Jim Stewart argued in a one-sided "Reality Check" on the evils of the NRA. ABC's John Cochran undercut the NRA's point about the lack of federal prosecutions.

2) Tom Brokaw trumpeted: "For a Republican Governor, Pataki's proposals are 'revolutionary,' as one gun control advocate put it. Pataki prefers to call his plan 'common sense.'"

3) CBS quoted from Bush's reply to Gore's e-mail but failed to explain his reference to the LaBella memo and skipped Bush's last line: "Thank you for your e-mail. This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention."

4) Al Gore was pressed in general terms by Good Morning America and The Early Show about his fundraising history, but neither show uttered the names Maria Hsia or Charles LaBella.

5) Zilch in Time or U.S. News on the release of the Charles LaBella memo, two paragraphs in Newsweek.

6) The Washington Post labeled incumbent Democratic Senator Chuck Robb "a centrist Democrat." His record shows otherwise.

>>> "The LaBella Memo: Not Ready For Prime Time?" The text of this March 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by the MRC's Brent Baker, adopted from a CyberAlert article, is now available on the MRC Web site thanks to Webmaster Andy Szul. To read it, go to: <<<


"Every time there's a school shooting or a mass killing, President Clinton urges passage of new gun control laws. And every time -- in order to deflect from that carnage, say some observers -- you can count on the NRA to attack Mr. Clinton." So asserted CBS's Jim Stewart in a one-sided CBS News "Reality Check" Wednesday night discrediting the NRA's criticism of Clinton. Stewart highlighted how Charlton Heston's TV ads led one NRA member to quit, but ABC viewers learned from John Cochran that the NRA's new aggressiveness is "driving up NRA membership to a record three-and-a-half million."

Anchor Bob Schieffer opened the March 15 CBS Evening News by uncritically relaying "fresh ammunition" from an FBI report announced by Clinton at the White House about how the background check system blocked 179,000 gun sales in two years, two-thirds of them convicted felons. Schieffer ran several soundbites from Clinton as he explained that Clinton said the numbers disprove gun control impeded the law-abiding, as only five percent of the checks took longer than 24 hours, and Clinton tried to shame the House GOP leadership for backing the NRA.

Schieffer then jumped to a pre-taped interview he had with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, but instead on giving him an uncritical platform as CBS gave Clinton, Schieffer pushed him repeatedly to back off his criticisms of Clinton. After LaPierre maintained that he stands by his Sunday comment that Clinton is "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda," an incredulous Schieffer countered: "But Mr. LaPierre, President Clinton may be many things, but do you really believe that when you say he's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda. I mean do you mean that literally?"

When LaPierre wouldn't back down Schieffer pressed again: "I want to make sure I understand this. You stand by those words exactly as you spoke?"

Having dispensed with the NRA point of view CBS moved to discredit it with a one-sided hit job from the left. Schieffer introduced the next story: "These blunt and, in some cases, very personal attacks on the President and other gun control advocates by the NRA has angered a lot of people, including some of the NRA's own ranks. So whether the gun lobby's charges are true or not, why would it say things that alienate so many people? We have a CBS News Reality Check on that tonight from Jim Stewart."

Of course, if CBS News employed any conservatives they might have suggested that the NRA story of the past few years is not its hard-line but how it decided a few years ago to be more accommodationist so it could become a player in negotiations over the enactment of gun control rules. CBS News probably never heard of them, but there are pro-gun groups, such as Gun Owners of America, which are much more hard-line than the NRA, groups which unlike the NRA are unwilling to compromise on Second Amendment issues. Stewart's story below should be a warning to all conservatives that no matter how much you move left in order to appear more reasonable to the liberal establishment you can never go far enough left to avoid their condemnation.

Stewart began his diatribe, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "That's not just hot smoke and insults the NRA is blowing at President Clinton. It's a tried and true political strategy. Every time there's a school shooting or a mass killing, President Clinton urges passage of new gun control laws. And every time -- in order to deflect from that carnage, say some observers -- you can count on the NRA to attack Mr. Clinton."

Stuart Rothenberg, political analyst: "I think they're on the defensive on the issue. They're on their heels because of the number of shootings, because of the talk on Capitol Hill, because of the visibility on the issue."
Stewart dug up old attacks: "The last time the NRA tried this was in 1995 when Mr. Clinton backed efforts to expand the Brady background check on gun buyers. The NRA responded with a fundraising letter calling federal agents 'jack-booted government thugs,' a position they defended even after the Oklahoma City bombing. Former President George Bush was so outraged he resigned from the NRA. The most recent assaults, however, are far more personal, and, as in the past, they twist and turn through the truth. For example, spokesman Charlton Heston charges in one ad:
Heston in TV ad: "Under Bill Clinton federal gun prosecutions are half, half of what they used to be."
Stewart countered: "But while technically true, Heston ignores a government finding that state gun prosecutions increased sharply and federal cases against major gun offenders have increased more than 25 percent. But it is the NRA's other major claim, that the President, in effect, condones murder to advance his political interests, that has stunned gun owners like Ernest Lisabett, who quit the NRA over just such attacks."
Ernest Lisabett: "That's crazy, the idea that the President of the United States condones violence and killing in America is preposterous."
Stewart concluded: "But it's likely not a coincidence. This is an election year, and every time the NRA makes such attacks, say critics, its hard core members contribute more money, which means the NRA can then give more to candidates who will vote just like they want them to."

How awful, a group engaging in the political process in order to protect the rights of like-minded citizens.

ABC's World News Tonight also led with the gun battle as reporter John Cochran undermined one of LaPierre's points, but at least also acknowledged how the NRA's new aggressiveness is gaining it support among gun owners.

Cochran began: "The day began with the President arguing against the conventional wisdom that gun control legislation is doomed in this, an election year."
Clinton: "We all still draw a check in election years, just like we do in nonelection years. And we're all here. And these kids, they keep dying every day. They don't know it's election year."
Cochran: "That drew a hard-line response from the gun lobby, which not only rejected any thought of compromise but escalated its attacks on the President in the most personal way."
LaPierre: "The key question here for the President is has he looked into the eyes of Ricky Birdsong's family, because that blood is on his hands."
Cochran proceeded to undercut LaPierre's point: "Ricky Birdsong was a former basketball coach at Northwestern University. He was one of those shot and killed during a rampage last summer by a man named Ben Smith. Smith had been turned away at a gun store in Illinois because he had a criminal record. It was illegal for him to try to buy a gun, but he was not arrested or prosecuted. He then bought a gun from an unlicenced dealer, and a week later killed himself after shooting another man and Ricky Birdsong."
LaPierre: "That death is on the President's hands. If he had prosecuted, he would have prevented the death."
Cochran gently rebuked: "But what LaPierre did not know, or did not say, is that in Illinois, it is the state and not the federal government which is responsible for background checks. And federal agents say Illinois did not inform them about Smith until six days after he killed Ricky Birdsong."
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart: "What's clear is the NRA will do anything, say anything to stop sensible gun safety legislation that'll save lives."

It would have been interesting to hear LaPierre's response to Cochran's version of who prosecutes what in Illinois, but Cochran didn't give him a chance.

Cochran then conveyed news which contradicted CBS's theme that the NRA is alienating everyone: "But at NRA headquarters, the gun lobby claims its attacks on the President have been wildly successful, with hundreds of thousands of new members tying up computer and phone lines in their rush to join, driving up NRA membership to a record three-and-a-half million, and creating a rich war chest to use against candidates, mostly Democrats, who favor gun control."

Cochran concluded: "Today, the NRA lobbied heavily against a House resolution merely urging Congress to discuss gun control. But the NRA suffered a surprising defeat, as 46 Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the NRA. Some Republicans may have voted against the NRA today, feeling it was safe to vote for talk that will not lead to action. But the White House hopes the gun lobby's attacks on the President will boomerang -- and create a groundswell of support for gun control."

The media sure hope so.


If you are a Republican Governor who wants to get some national TV air time in order to raise your profile before your party's presidential nominee makes his VP pick, what can you do to get a network anchor's attention? One way that worked Wednesday: Announce your support for policies opposed by a group the media hate, in this case the NRA.

Tom Brokaw opened Wednesday's NBC Nightly News by promoting a new gun control initiative from New York Governor George Pataki:
"Good evening. Guns and their place in America. This is quickly taking shape as one of the major issues for election year 2000, and tonight there are several developments. President Clinton stepped up his campaign against the NRA and for gun control. He wants it this year, and a powerful Republican Governor surprised almost everyone with his new gun control plan."

Pete Williams outlined Pataki's ideas, including maintaining a database of ballistic tests on every gun manufactured, before NBC ran an "In Their Own Words" segment from Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy deriding the NRA.

Brokaw then introduced his admiring look at Pataki: "And in New York, that sweeping gun control legislation from Republican Governor George Pataki surprised almost everyone, especially since he's been frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on a George W. Bush ticket. Today I was with the Governor when he made his announcement."

Brokaw trumpeted: "For a Republican Governor, Pataki's proposals are 'revolutionary,' as one gun control advocate put it. Pataki prefers to call his plan 'common sense,' a natural extension of other efforts to reduce crime in New York, where assault is down 21 percent since 1995, robbery 35 percent, murder 44 percent. The Governor's plan puts him at odds with many other Republicans and the NRA. What did Pataki think when he heard the NRA claim President Clinton wants a certain level of violence to further his political agenda?"
Pataki: "I don't think there's anyone who would believe that someone in public office looks to violence as a possible political benefit."
Brokaw at least mildly challenged Pataki: "As you know, the NRA is opposed to the ballistic testing because they say that it will lead to registration, that you'll know where every gun is in America, and when you know where every gun is, it means you can take'm all away."
Pataki: "If you look at it from the standpoint of a gun owner, is this going to be an undue burden? Is it going to in any way take away my right to own a gun, to use it in sporting activity or to defend my family. The answer is no it will not."
Brokaw: "Let me ask you about raising the minimum age from 18 to 21. We ask eighteen-year-olds to serve their country in the military. We give them the right to vote."
Pataki: "We tell someone who's 19 or 20 that they have to be 21 to drink because drinking can lead to dangerous activities. I think the most dangerous risk that a young person faces, in addition to car violence, is handgun violence."
Brokaw noted how conservatives might ruin Pataki's triumph: "In any discussion of George W. Bush's vice presidential prospects, the name Governor Pataki ends up on the list. If your name comes before the convention, can't you hear those conservative Republicans saying, 'No way, he's a gun control guy'?"
The piece ended with this from Pataki: "Oh sure, Tom. You know, that's, there's always those who are going to oppose you for whatever reason. But what my obligation as an elected official is is to advance what I think is right for the public, and that's what I'm doing here."


CBS missed another opportunity Wednesday to inform viewers of the Charles LaBella memo and to add to their 19 seconds on March 2 about Maria Hsia's convictions, to say nothing of George Bush's poke at Gore for his claim about inventing the Internet.

Of the broadcast networks Wednesday night, only CBS ran a story on George W. Bush's response to Al Gore's gimmick of sending an e-mail to Bush demanding weekly debates and a moratorium on soft money. On the March 15 CBS Evening News Bill Whitaker asserted that Bush went after Gore "in the toughest terms yet" as Whitaker played a soundbite of Bush saying he doesn't trust Gore on his soft money promise.

Whitaker then got to Bush's reply e-mail: "Today Bush fired back this e-mail bullet: 'I hope you will encourage the White House and the Department of Justice to release all records and photographs relating to the investigation of fundraising abuses by you and your administration.' He went on: 'What is even more important is the duty of public officials to obey the existing laws and I'm afraid your record does not inspire confidence.'"

Since Whitaker failed to explain it, most CBS viewers had no idea what "records and photographs" referred to. The LaBella memo which the weekday CBS Evening News has yet to mention, revealed the existence of a photo showing Gore reviewing fundraising documents about how he was to make calls for hard money. As noted in the March 13 CyberAlert, Saturday's Evening News mentioned the LaBella memo but few ET or CT affiliates carried the show because of college basketball.

Whitaker left out two other parts of Bush's e-mail. Bush also wrote:
"In your note, you did not mention the matter of compulsory union dues being used to support political candidates -- a violation of worker rights. And I see that you did not mention this today, when you spoke to the AFL-CIO. This would have been an ideal setting to display your sudden interest in campaign finance reform, and to demonstrate your own seriousness on the issue. Your silence was not encouraging, because any campaign finance reform must be broad and fair."

Bush ended with this zinger: "Thank you for your e-mail. This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention."


Al Gore appeared Wednesday morning on ABC's Good Morning America and CBS's The Early Show, and while hosts on both shows asked him about his fundraising history, neither show took the opportunity to utter the names Maria Hsia or Charles LaBella. Neither show has yet mentioned Hsia's March 2 conviction or the March 10 Los Angeles Times story on LaBella's memo.

On ABC's Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noted, pressed Gore: "Mr. Vice President, there will be, as there always is during campaigns, a debate about the debates and how you interact with your Republican opponent. But let me take you up on point number one, and I mean no disrespect here, but you only have to look at the editorial pages in this country to see that a lot of people feel your conversion to the case of campaign finance reform is ironic, even in some cases laughable, given what happened in 1996."

Gibson followed up: "You said on Saturday, for first time, you said, 'I made a mistake going to that Buddhist Temple. I made a mistake making fundraising telephone calls from my office.' The question is, why did it take you four years to say that?"
Gore maintained: "Well, it didn't. I acknowledged the mistakes at the time. But you know, 22 years ago, I first proposed the, or I co-sponsored legislation to have full public financing of federal elections, and over the last 20 years, Charlie, I've sponsored or co-sponsored a dozen major campaign finance reform bills. I mention that to show you, to tell you that it's not a new concern for me, but I bring a new passion to it born of personal experience, just as John McCain did...."

GMA then jumped to a taped interview with George Bush. When that was completed Gibson gave Gore "a chance to respond to what Governor Bush had to say since the Vice President is here live," an opportunity in reverse that Bush didn't get because of his refusal to appear live.

Over on CBS's The Early Show MRC analyst Brian Boyd observed that co-host Jane Clayson didn't press Gore with any specific facts, just wondering if the issue will "dog" him: "I want to ask you Mr. Vice President about campaign finance reform because you've been talking a lot about it in the last week or so. To quote John McCain, he said quote we can beat Al Gore like a drum over the 1996 Buddhist temple fundraiser. Are you afraid that this issue is going to dog you all the way to November?"

Clayson followed up: "You say you want to ban soft money but your supporters including the President are out raising as much as $50 to $60 million of what you need to raise coming into November. Is that contradictory at all in anyway?"


Newsweek offered just two paragraphs on revelations from Charles LaBella's memo to Janet Reno demanding an independent counsel for Clinton and Gore on 1996 campaign cash. But Time and U.S. News & World Report ignored the story and also suggested Buddhist Temple tactics will hurt Bush, not Gore, the MRC's Tim Graham reported in the March 15 edition of MagazineWatch about the March 20 issues.

Here's the item about fundraising coverage:

Newsweek was the only news magazine to touch on top Justice Department adviser Charles LaBella's leaked memo on the fundraising scandal. In their two-paragraph story, they seemed more interested in political gamesmanship than educating the public about new details. They began: "The leak was perhaps more interesting for its timing than its content....What seems curious is that the story appeared just as the Bush vs. Gore race was getting started."

They acknowledged, "The L.A. Times report did have some new details. LaBella accused senior Justice Department officials of using a double standard that protected high White House officials. There is some new evidence, testimony that Gore was "attentively listen[ing]" to a fundraising discussion that he later could not recall. But the speculation in Washington was over the source of the leak. Administration officials saw a GOP plot to smear Gore...Republicans suspected score-settling among rival staffers at the Justice Department. The only certainty is that the voters will hear more about Gore's fundraising role in 1996 as the 2000 presidential campaign heats up."

Actually, the only certainty so far is that the media try hard to ignore any evidence against Gore -- or downplay it as uncertain.

In U.S. News, Roger Simon suggested that the primaries proved any Buddhist Temple tactics by Bush won't help: "Bradley raised the Buddhist temple fundraising scandal and Gore's flip-flops on issues and made pointed attacks on Gore's character. The result?

Gore not only won every primary but, in so doing, he became a sharper, more focused, more user-friendly candidate, a man whom crowds actually seem to like. Nobody is writing today that Gore is 'uncomfortable in his own skin.' Today, people are writing that if Bush doesn't watch out, Gore could skin him alive."

Time bigfoot Nancy Gibbs was much more discouraging, ending her story: "Already last week Bush was trying to carve up Gore's character, charging on Friday that he had misled federal investigators into the White House fundraising practices of 1996. Bush's advisers believe that going on the offensive against Gore will fix that stature gap, the sense, even among a sizable minority of Republicans, that Bush simply doesn't have the know-how to be President. 'The best way to demonstrate that he is the right guy for the party is to get in a fight with Gore,' says a top Bush adviser. 'That way you become the standard bearer. Fighting the enemy is the classic way you fix that in a hurry.' It's also the classic way to get killed."

END Excerpt.

Other items in MagazineWatch:
-- U.S. News offered a report on the sentencing of convicted former Teamsters political director Bill Hamilton, marking "a messy and ongoing saga that has already caused political damage to the Democratic Party...just at the moment when Big Labor is wielding the kind of clout it hasn't seen in 30 years."
-- Time whimsically compared Pat Buchanan to termites, and George W. Bush to Darth Vader.
-- Newsweek's "Gay Today" cover package focused on "the battle for tolerance" on the frontiers of "the family, the schools, the military and the church" instead of the political arena, which allowed them to avoid any mention of Al Gore or the word "liberal."
To read these items, go to:


The Washington Post is nurturing a whole new generation of reporters who are so far to the left that they see liberals as centrists. If the Metro section reporters of today are the national political reporters of tomorrow then Post readers can look forward to years more of biased national political reporting, at least judging by a sentence in a Metro story caught by the MRC's Tim Graham.

A March 14 story by reporters R.H. Melton and Jamie Stockwell on the launch of a campaign for Senate by Republican George Allen, a former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, contained this sentence about Allen and incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb:
"The election promises to be a classic ideological fight between Robb, a centrist Democrat who helped bring his state party back to life by winning the governorship in 1981, and Allen, a more dynamic campaigner whose staunchly conservative agenda sowed the seeds for the rebirth of the modern Virginia GOP."

Graham checked the Almanacs of American Politics to compare Robb's actual vote ratings with the Post's claim.

American Conservative Union ratings:
1998: 12 percent
1997: 4 percent
1996: 20 percent
1995: 13 percent
1994: 12 percent

Ratings from the left-wing Americans for Democratic Action:
1998: 80 percent
1997: 60 percent
1996: 80 percent
1995: 95 percent
1994: 60 percent

Okay, so maybe not a Tom Harkin-like left-wing ideologue, but clearly on the liberal side and hardly a "centrist Democrat." -- Brent Baker

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