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CyberAlert -- 06/20/2000 -- Bush & Gore Eat Dessert, Avoid Spinach

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Bush & Gore Eat Dessert, Avoid Spinach; Liberals not Labeled; Missile Shield "Doubts"; Helen's Plea

1) ABC, CBS and NBC led with the Supreme Court's ruling against student-led prayer. Dan Rather spun it as "strengthening...the wall between church and state." ABC tagged as "anger" Rehnquist's criticism that the majority "bristled with hostility" to religion. CBS suggested prayer backers would be "heartened" by his comment.

2) "After he bashed" Bush's "plan to invest Social Security money in the stock market," Gore announced a "strikingly similar plan," CBS's John Roberts noted. ABC's John Cochran complained Gore and Bush are telling voters they don't have to "eat their spinach."

3) The media crusade for Texas death row inmate Gary Graham rolls on. Time's Margaret Carlson made George Bush's failure to stop the execution her "Outrage of the Week" and though Bush cannot commute the sentence, ABC's Dean Reynolds stressed how critics "argue whatever it may say on paper Bush is far from powerless."

4) A liberal group put out a study Monday meant to discredit welfare reform, but the networks failed to apply a label. CBS's Dan Rather picked up on the "private study." ABC's Peter Jennings cited the numbers from "a lobbying group."

5) "More Doubts Are Raised on Missile Shield" announced the Sunday headline over the Washington Post's lead story. But far from an unworkable system, the panel found, as ABC but not CBS noticed, that it will work, though it will take some time to deploy.

6) Matt Lauer used an appearance by Bill Clinton to promote the giving of used instruments to school kids to advocate a bigger federal role in schools.

7) Helen Thomas's commencement plea to the next generation: "Don't let the politicians chip away at the New Deal and the Great Society programs like Social Security, Medicare" which make sure "the powerless do not starve." And she condemned the GOP Congress.

8) Asked if she ever came across anyone she dated years ago, Diane sawyer laughed nervously. Was she afraid of the name Bill Bradley?


>>> Now online, the June 16 edition of MediaNomics, which relays "what the media tell Americans about free enterprise." MediaNomics is published by the MRC's Free Market Project (FMP). The articles by FMP Director Rich Noyes in this latest edition: "Liberals Featured, Conservatives Shunned in Death Tax Coverage"; "Networks Silent on Government-Inspired Hospice Horrors," which showed how "the broadcast networks -- whose news programs frequently feature stories of how patients of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) have suffered as a result of cost-cutting rules -- showed no interest in documenting the human costs that can result from the mindless application of government rules"; and "NBC News Lent Support to Mandatory Vacation Law" which quoted how Today's Matt Lauer confessed that he'd "never stopped to think about the fact there is no official U.S. policy on vacation time." To read these articles in full, go to:
http://www.mrc.org/fmp/medianomics/2000/welcome.html <<<

1

The Supreme Court's decision barring student-led school prayer before sporting events led the three broadcast network evening shows on Monday night. Each delivered a pretty even-handed account of the views of those pleased and displeased, though CBS's Dan Rather offered a positive spin on the ruling, relaying how "CBS's Jim Axelrod has more the Court's latest strengthening of the wall between church and state."

All three June 19 lead stories ended by citing Chief Justice William Rehnquist's dissenting opinion that the "majority bristled with hostility to all things religious in public life," but each gave the comment a different spin:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Jackie Judd labeled the comment evidence of anger: "In an unusual display of anger, Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing the dissent, said the Court's majority 'bristled with hostility to all things religious in public life.'"

-- CBS Evening News. Jim Axelrod portrayed it as an upbeat sign for public prayer supporters: "While many school prayer opponents see this as a sweeping decision with a potentially powerful impact on many issues, those on the other side might be heartened by the dissent of Chief Justice Rehnquist. He wrote he was most bothered by the opinion's tone, which quote, 'bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.'"

-- NBC Nightly News. Pete Williams failed to label the six Justices in the majority as liberals or even moderates, but provided a conservative tag for those in dissent: "The Court's three most conservative members -- Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas -- write a strong dissent today. They say the ruling quote, 'bristles with hostility to all things religious in political life.'"

2

Al Gore couldn't even fool the media as all the networks on Monday night pointed out how his retirement savings plan, to be officially announced on Tuesday, borrows heavily from George Bush's with its reliance on investments in stocks and mutual funds. "Just a month after he bashed George W. Bush's plan to invest Social Security money in the stock market, Al Gore has torn a strikingly similar plan from Bush's own playbook," announced John Roberts on the June 19 CBS Evening News.

Monday night CBS took on only Gore while NBC ran back-to-back pieces, one on Gore's plan and one on Bush's plan, and ABC's John Cochran declared that both candidates are avoiding hard truth: "Gore and Bush are telling voters they can eat their dessert without having to eat their spinach."

-- ABC's World News Tonight. John Cochran outlined how while Bush's plan would permit money for Social Security to be put in the stock market, Gore's plan would only allow money to be put in through new accounts to which the federal government would add: $3 for every $1 put in for the poor, $1 for $1 for those between $30,000 and $60,000 with a phase-out at $100,000.

After running a soundbite of Bush accusing Gore of a flip-flop for accusing him of putting money in the "risky" stock market, and a clip of Gore claiming Bush's plan, unlike his, "diverts" money from the Social Security "trust fund," Cochran assessed both plans as inadequate:
"Critics of Gore and Bush say both are counting on budget surpluses to last forever and neither has proposed the tough medicine needed to keep Social Security solvent in the years ahead, such as raising payroll taxes or the age of eligibility. So, when it comes to retirement plans, both Gore and Bush are telling voters they can eat their dessert without having to eat their spinach."

-- CBS Evening News. After opening his story with the above quoted statement, John Roberts ran through the basics of Gore's plan and let Bush accuse him of flip-flopping before Roberts showed tape of him demanding of Gore: "Well, you've said it's too risky to invest Social Security in the stock market, does it not follow that it's too risky to invest tax dollars from the surplus into the market?" Gore replied: "Doesn't follow at all because Social Security is protected this way."

-- NBC Nightly News. Claire Shipman handled the piece on Gore's proposal and she featured a soundbite from Carol Cox Wait of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who complained that Gore's plan would mean a "tremendous cost to the government." Of course, it would really mean a tremendous cost to higher-income taxpayers who already shoulder most of the tax burden.

Up next, Lisa Myers reviewed Bush's retirement plan, acknowledging up front: "Republicans gloat that Al Gore is now copying Bush's ideas." Myers featured a suburban man in favor of Bush's idea and noted how a poll found most back it, especially the young, but not the elderly. Myers then hit Bush with a criticism from a rarely cited source on network TV: The libertarian Cato Institute. Myers asserted: "Experts say Bush is avoiding the hard truth."
Michael Tanner, Cato Institute: "The Governor has tried to hide the fact that there is going to be some costs associated."
Myers concluded: "A cost of hundreds of millions of dollars which aides say probably will come out of the projected budget surplus. Still, the Bush camp argues that a proposal, which some hailed as political suicide, is in a fact a political winner. The best proof of that they say: today's move by Al Gore."

3

The media continue to promote the cause of Texas death row inmate Gray Graham, injecting George W. Bush's campaign into their cause. Monday's Nightline was devoted to Graham's case following another story on Monday's NBC Today. On Saturday's Capital Gang on CNN Margaret Carlson denounced Bush for not stopping the impending execution. And in a piece on Monday's World News Tonight reporter Dean Reynolds pushed Bush into the controversy by acknowledging that a Governor can only issue a 30-day stay, but then stressed how critics of the death penalty "argue whatever it may say on paper Bush is far from powerless." Reynolds piled on with criticism from death penalty opponents about how the pardon board operates.

First Carlson and then more on the story by Reynolds.

Here's the June 17 "Outrage of the Week" from Time magazine's Margaret Carlson as announced on CNN's Capital Gang:
"Gary Graham is about to be executed in Texas on the basis of one witness's shaky I.D. Graham's attorney put on not one witness in the case and did no investigating. There was strong evidence that the deceased was the victim of a drug hit man, and Graham's gun did not match the murder weapon. A new study shows a 68 percent reversal rate in capital cases that are appealed. Shouldn't Governor Bush be a little less sure of himself in his 134 executions and in a case as flimsy as this one?"

Of course the 68 percent reversal rate hardly means 68 percent of those sentenced to death are later found innocent. As detailed in the June 16 CyberAlert, most just found anti-death penalty judges.

On Monday's World News Tonight Dean Reynolds explained that Gary Graham can only escape execution if the state Board of Pardons and Paroles gives a pardon, a decision Bush as Governor can overrule, "but the Texas constitution prevents him from vetoing an execution once the board says it should go ahead. He can only issue a one-time 30 day reprieve, nothing more." Reynolds noted that Bush's office maintains it cannot even do that in this case because former Governor Ann Richards already gave Graham one seven years ago.

Reynolds then turned over his story to death penalty opponents: "But for several hours today the Governor's office and the Board of Pardons and Paroles were offering differing interpretations of what the Governor can and cannot do. That kind of imprecision draws critics of the death penalty who argue whatever it may say on paper Bush is far from powerless."
Professor Jordan Steiker, University of Texas Law School: "It's his decision to allow the execution to go forward as a political matter. This is his board, these are his appointees and he certainly has a lot of political and moral sway."
Reynolds: "The 18-member board's mode of operation is also drawing fire. It almost never meets together on a case and members usually send in their opinions by fax."

Professor Larry Marshall of Northwestern University Law School then got time for an attack, though Reynolds failed to inform viewers that he's part of a team of lawyers who claim Graham is innocent. Marshall bemoaned: "They don't meet as a group, they don't hear evidence as a group. That's very unusual."
Reynolds concluded: "Governor Bush today reaffirmed his confidence in the system and he vowed to quote 'stand my ground' in the face of a pretty considerable movement to undermine the death penalty in Texas."

More like a "pretty considerable movement" in the national news media.

4

Another example Monday night of how unchecked numbers from liberal groups get relayed by the networks which fail to accurately apply an ideological label. A liberal group put out a study Monday meant to discredit welfare reform and CBS's Dan Rather compliantly picked up on the "private study." ABC's Peter Jennings cited the numbers from "a lobbying group," but at least named it.

Viewers of the June 19 CBS Evening News heard this unsourced item from anchor Dan Rather: "On the CBS HealthWatch, a private study of 15 states out today shows many low income families that went off welfare in recent years were also dropped from Medicaid, leaving them with no health insurance. The study found that by mistake or otherwise the 15 states cut off Medicaid benefits to almost a million parents who still need or qualify for it."

Over on ABC's World News Tonight Peter Jennings at least told viewers the name of the group and offered a description of their policy agenda, though he refused to provide an ideological tag: "There is a report today from a lobbying group which advocates universal health care coverage, that says nearly a million parents have lost their Medicaid coverage because of welfare reform over the last four years. Families USA says a number of states either improperly removed people from Medicaid once they left welfare or made it extremely difficult for them to get it."

If you are really off "welfare" shouldn't you be off Medicaid since it is a welfare program?

5

"More Doubts Are Raised on Missile Shield" announced the top of the fold headline over the Washington Post's lead story on Sunday, June 18. The subhead: "Pentagon Panel Concurs with Recent Criticism." Reading the headline you'd think the panel found the idea unfeasible and a waste of money to try to develop. In fact, buried in the article by Roberto Suro and Thomas E. Ricks was the finding that "'there is substantial schedule risk, but not particularly high technical risk' of a fundamental engineering or scientific flaw." In other words, it may take longer than planned to develop, but it can be deployed successfully.

Not until the 17th paragraph did readers learn: "Overall, the new report gives the Pentagon's missile defense developers a 'B plus grade for work done thus far,' and it grants an overall blessing to the plans drawn up for future testing and evaluation, a senior official said. The warnings mainly concern a series of developments that could hold up the process."

But before that the reporter duo delivered a lead which emphasized the negative portion of the report. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

A classified report by a Pentagon-appointed panel of experts raises numerous warning flags about the current plan for a missile defense shield, citing problems with the booster rocket for interceptor missiles, doubts about whether the interceptor can distinguish an enemy missile from decoys, and concern that the timetable for constructing a working system in five years is unrealistic.

The panel, headed by Larry Welch, a retired four-star general and former Air Force chief of staff, cites many of the same difficulties recently raised by critics of the plan, including prominent scientists and former top-ranking defense officials. But the Welch report carries far more weight, because the panel had extensive access to secret information and is giving lengthy briefings on its conclusions directly to Pentagon decision-makers.

The report contains a mix of cautions and encouragement for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the Pentagon office charged with developing a system to defend all 50 states from a small number of incoming warheads fired by such "rogue states" as North Korea and Iran.

Senior defense officials familiar with the report said it concludes that the complex system of targeting radars, interceptor missiles and high-speed computers eventually should work as designed. But it voices strong skepticism that the system will be operating successfully by 2005, the deadline set by Congress and the White House.

The Welch panel warns that "there is substantial schedule risk, but not particularly high technical risk" of a fundamental engineering or scientific flaw, said a senior official familiar with the report. "It is like remodeling a kitchen: It may not get done by [the date the builder promised], but it will get done."

The report, delivered last week to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, questions whether the system's "kill vehicle" -- which is designed to ram incoming warheads high in space -- will be able to detect a warhead hidden by decoys and other sophisticated countermeasures, the officials said.

Opening a new area of concern, the report notes engineering problems in the construction of the high-speed interceptor missile that is supposed to boost the kill vehicle into space, the officials said. Initial testing of the booster has been delayed repeatedly this year and is now scheduled for September, and yet it is supposed to be ready for a flight test of the entire system by early next year.

The Welch panel, composed of 12 weapons scientists and former military officers, has issued two previous reports on national missile defense, including one in 1998 that warned against a "rush to failure" and prompted the Pentagon to seek a postponement of the deployment date from 2003 to 2005, schedule additional tests and take measures to tighten management of the program. The new report comes at a particularly sensitive moment, as missile defense is emerging as a presidential campaign issue and President Clinton is due to make a critical decision soon on the current plan....

In recent weeks, a variety of Russia scholars, prominent scientists and former Clinton administration officials -- including former defense secretary William Perry, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili and former CIA director John Deutch -- have urged the President to defer the decision. Among the reasons they have cited are the hurried testing schedule, the many technical questions hanging over the system, predictions that a U.S. missile shield could provoke an arms race in Asia, and concern about souring relations with Russia and the European allies....

END Excerpt

CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts adopted the Post's spin on that night's broadcast: "The proposal for a limited missile defense system has come under criticism from an independent Pentagon panel. Today's Washington Post says the panel's report finds problems with the booster rocket and with the system's ability to distinguish armed warheads from decoys. The report doubts the $60 billion system can be deployed successfully by the year 2005 as planned."

To the credit of ABC and anchor Carole Simpson, she saw through the Post's spin to what the report actually stated. In a short item on World News Tonight/Sunday she stressed how the report contended the schedule, not the concept, is too ambitious:
"A confidential report by an independent Pentagon panel is raising concerns about the speed of U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense by the year 2005. Pentagon officials have been saying privately for months that the target date, already postponed from 2003, is overly ambitious."

6

Bill Clinton got the 8am half hour of Friday's Today to promote the VH-1 cable channel's "Save the Music" campaign to encourage donations of used instruments and money to schools for music education. A good-sounding cause and one Today promoted for an hour with Hillary Clinton on June 10, 1999, but co-host Matt Lauer used it as an opportunity subvert the private giving cause of the project and advocate increased federal spending on education.

MRC analyst Paul Smith caught these June 16 questions/assertions from Lauer to Clinton as they sat inside a New York City elementary school: "But is this the way it's going to be? I mean, when people like VH-1 come in and they donate money like this, it's great but it is private and public partnership. Why can't we find a way, even through the federal government's assistance, to make sure that this is a basic part of education?"

And: "Is it possible to take it a step further. From what I understand now, the federal government supplies about nine percent of funding for schools, local and states provide the rest. Can you offer states incentives? Can you say to them look we'll provide more funding if you take it upon yourselves to make music education part of your basic curriculum?"

7

Helen Thomas's plea to the next generation: "Don't let the politicians chip away at the New Deal and the Great Society programs" and do vote out the Republican Congress because it failed to pass tougher gun control laws and failed to approve the nuclear test ban treaty.

Just three days after she resigned from UPI on May 16 following its purchase by News World Communications, the long-time White House correspondent gave the commencement address at the University of San Francisco. On Saturday, June 17, C-SPAN let those not there hear her May 19 comments as part of weekend series of replays of commencement addresses.

As transcribed by MRC intern Michael Ferguson, Thomas warned:
"There is a problem that we could lose our human touch, and humanity still counts above all things. All you have to do is look around you and see that there is so much to be done to make this a more equal society. For starters, don't let the politicians chip away at the New Deal and the Great Society programs like Social Security, Medicare, that puts a floor beyond which the elderly, the sick, the powerless do not starve or lack for medicine or shelter."

After some applause, she continued her diatribe: "Winston Churchill said, 'Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been invented.' We're all in it together. As for the problems on the domestic front, twelve or thirteen children are killed everyday from guns. Five school massacres in two years. Members of Congress have bottled up a gun safety bill, refused to vote on it. Forty million Americans with no health insurance. Ten million children who live below the poverty line. Thousands of schools in this country falling apart. Racism. On the foreign front, we have volatile disputes in the Balkans, the Middle East, Northern Ireland. The AIDS pandemic in Africa. The world is also a more dangerous place because Congress turned down the nuclear test ban treaty. That vote deprived the United States of its moral authority to urge other nations not to test or build nuclear weapons. So you see, there is a lot of work cut out for you."

No doubt some of the students who heard her will join the media and carry on her legacy of liberal advocacy.

8

Diane Sawyer, like a deer caught in the headlights. Could it be because of her dating experience with Bill Bradley years ago, which she has never acknowledged on the air?

Following a June 19 Good Morning America story about two college sweethearts who found each other after 70 years and married in their mid-'90s, co-host Jack Ford asked his ABC colleague Sawyer: "It's a great story -- college sweethearts, away from each other for 70 years. Did you ever come across somebody that you sort of dated or were involved with years and years ago, and you kind of bump into them afterwards?"
Sawyer, who started to look uneasy before Ford finished his question, answered with a drawn out "Yes," then started laughing as she nervously asked: "Where are you going with this?"
Ford, seeming to have realized he'd raised an uncomfortable issue, assured her: "You don't have to answer this question. As your lawyer, I should probably advise you you can feel free not to answer any of these questions if you want."

Sawyer then asked Ford if he'd ever had such an experience and he said he had when meeting the daughter of someone he once dated.

As for Sawyer's discomfort, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson suggested that Sawyer may have been worried Ford was going to mention Bill Bradley. As cited in the December 16, 1999 CyberAlert, the Washington Post revealed that she and Bradley once dated and were so serious that she spent one Christmas with Bradley's family. The December 15 "Reliable Sources" item by Lloyd Grove and Beth Berselli disclosed:

ABC News star Diane Sawyer and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley managed to get through the entire half-hour of yesterday's "Good Morning America" Times Square Town Meeting without mentioning that they once seriously dated each other. Sawyer, who questioned her former boyfriend on health care and religion, was attending Wellesley and Bradley was playing basketball at Princeton when they began seeing each other in the mid-1960s.

According to The Post's Barton Gellman and Dale Russakoff, their romance was so strong that Sawyer and her parents spent Christmas 1966 with Bradley's family in Missouri and their friends speculated that they might marry. During a trip to Russia on his Rhodes scholarship, Bradley bought her a fur hat (which we hear Sawyer didn't much like).

END Excerpt

+++ Watch Sawyer's anxious reaction to Ford's query. On Tuesday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip of the exchange. Go to: http://www.mrc.org -- Brent Baker


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