CyberAlert -- 08/04/1997 -- GMA Noted Lack of Hearings Coverage

GMA Noted Lack of Hearings Coverage; Class Envy on Tax Bill

Correction: The August 1 CyberAlert quoted Tom Brokaw as saying that "Warriors for Paula Jones served a subpoena on a former White House aide...." Brokaw actually said that "Lawyers for Paula Jones..."

  1. GMA offered no update on the hearings, but noted that "media watch groups" think they were undercovered. Medicare reform is the only "storm cloud" on Clinton's horizon, asserted Today's Matt Lauer.
  2. Fundraising story non-existent over the weekend. Even news of another policy payoff to a donor failed to stir the networks.
  3. MSNBC claimed that "the new tax bill will shower most of the goodies on the wealthiest" but a real-life analysis shows that the poor will get the most.
  4. Headline contrasts on China and the line item veto.

1) The Friday morning shows treated the end of the current round of fundraising hearings the same way they most often dealt with them over the four weeks -- by ignoring them. One show discussed an undercovered news story, but it was not the hearings, and another raised conservative concern about the lack of hearings coverage.

-- This Morning skipped the hearings for the 17th straight weekday on Friday, August 1. The last mention of fundraising on the CBS show came on Wednesday, July 9 before the first witness even appeared. Friday's This Morning aired two lengthy and separate segments on baby talk as a universal language employed by mothers around the world.

-- ABC's Good Morning America, in a show that failed to offer any update on the hearings, highlighted how "conservative media watch groups" (sounds like the MRC) think the hearings are undercovered. In the second interview segment during the 7am half hour, co-host Bill Ritter asked Cokie Roberts for the latest on the Helms/Weld fight. Next, viewers heard this exchange:

Bill Ritter: "Let's move on to another Republican issue: Senator Fred Thompson's committee having hearings on campaign financing. A lot of conservative media watch groups are saying that we, the mainstream media, are not paying as much attention as perhaps we should be to these hearings. Are we missing some bombshells here, and not telling the American people?"

Cokie Roberts: "Well, Senator Thompson would say that there's been some very important revelations in these hearings, that basically the White House was up for sale. But he says, 'Look, there'll be, there'll be exciting days to come in September and a lot more boring days to come.' The truth is that the witnesses that have come so far have not been names that anyone that in the media would recognize, for the most part. There will be some of those, some close White House aides when they come back in September, and you can be sure we'll be there."

Well, they haven't been so far. On Thursday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee repudiated the White House as all the Democrats joined the Republicans for a unanimous vote to issue a subpoena to the White House for all outstanding documents. The action followed the White House decision to hold the release of documents showing ten visits by Mr. Wu until after the committee heard from witnesses about his role. But none of Thursday's evening shows of Friday's morning shows mentioned this evidence that neither committee Republicans or Democrats believe the White House is acting in good faith.

-- Today viewers did not hear a word about fundraising as the NBC show put a higher priority on some other news. The 7am "Close-Up" segment highlighted a Miami Herald story on how Andrew Cunanan didn't have AIDS. Next, a story and interview about prisons that have banned smoking.

During the 7:30am half hour Today brought on Newsweek's Jonathan Alter to discuss the week's events. Fundraising was not one of them. Alter deemed more important a new S&M cafe in Manhattan and Bill Cosby's paternity suit. Though he ignored fundraising, Alter complained about lack of coverage of another subject: Pol Pot.

Following Alter's comments about Autumn Jackson and Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer inquired: "Alright, let's move onto another subject that didn't get as much attention: Pol Pot, the Cambodian dictator, was shown photographed this week and apparently put on trial for crimes he's committed in the past. Why do you think this didn't receive the kind of attention in this country that some say it should have?"

Alter explained: "It really should have. This Pol Pot character is an Asian Adolf Hitler. Just imagine if 20 years after World War II, pictures of an aging Adolf Hitler had showed up, that would be very big news. Well, this should be, too...."

Lauer later followed up: "Did we blow the coverage of this story, you say? We didn't give it enough emphasis?"

Alter: "I think that's right. This should have been a much bigger story in the United States."

Lauer: "Yeah, when we discussed this segment, the first story you wanted to talk about was Autumn Jackson, also."

Alter: "Hey, she's got better name recognition, what can I tell ya?"

Next, the duo moved on to Clinton's 58 percent popularity which Alter credited to the budget and tax deal.

Lauer incredibly asserted: "But there aren't any major storm clouds on the horizon for Bill Clinton, other than maybe Medicare reform."

Alter: "Yeah, but of course there are these possible scandals, but when the economy is doing well, the public really doesn't seem to care much about anything else."

Especially when the networks don't tell them anything about them. In the week ending with Lauer's appearance, a week in which money laundering generated some evening show interest, Today aired a grand total of one story on the hearings during one half hourly news update. And Today failed to mention another "storm cloud" on Clinton's horizon: the subpoena issued by lawyers for Paula Jones to a former female White House staffer.

2) The broadcast networks did not utter a word about fundraising on their Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening shows. As noted above, the networks failed to tell viewers about the committee's unanimous vote on Thursday to subpoena the White House. They also ignored a new example of how large donors got the changes they desired in government policy.

"DNC Donor with an Eye on Diamonds: Tempelsman Plan Got the Ear of U.S. Aides" read the front page headline over the August 2 Washington Post story. Reporter Susan Schmidt's lead:

"International diamond dealer Maurice Tempelsman, a generous contributor to the Democratic Party, has won unusual support from high Clinton administration officials for a business proposal hat could position him as a key marketer of billions of dollars worth of Angolan diamonds, interviews and classified government cables show."

Coverage: Zilch on Saturday's ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News. Not even CNN's The World Today aired a word about it.

3) MSNBC approached the budget bill from the left, emphasizing how it will help the rich but not the poor. Anchoring The News with Brian Williams on July 29 John Hockenberry introduced a piece by Jonathan Alter:

"Now some people busy calculating the actual tax relief generated by the budget agreement think it will end up mostly benefitting people who need it the least: the rich. But as NBC's Jonathan Alter found, exactly who falls into that category depends on whom you ask."

Several times Alter insisted that the rich would benefit most: "After the back-slapping, after the fine print, the bottom line on the tax bill is still this: The richer you are, the richer you'll be....

"By slashing capital gains by almost a third, the new tax bill will shower most of the goodies on the wealthiest 20 percent of all Americans. That's families earning more, often much more, than $64,000 a year....

"The biggest winners from the new tax cut are those...making more than $200,000 a year, the top one percent of all taxpayers. They'll get an average of well over $5,000 a year in new tax relief, enough for a couple of weeks here at The Plaza. Enough to make them feel richer, but not rich. Jonathan Alter, NBC News, New York."

Next, Hockenberry interviewed tax attorney Clint Stretch. Here are his class warfare questions, as transcribed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson:

-- "Are we back to voodoo economics, or is this a brave new world?"

-- "Although in looking at the broadest scale, people making over $230,000 a year would get roughly on the order of twelve to sixteen thousand dollars in tax relief, whereas people making $12,000 would get $14 in tax relief."

-- "Does a capital gains tax of this order of magnitude, at this point in the year, encourage other things to happen in the economy? Are we likely to see massive profit-taking sometime in December?"

Reality Check:
Alter and Hockenberry relayed the same numbers on how much a $200,000 plus and $12,000 income person will "get" under the plan as ABC's World News Tonight reported the same night. Diane Sawyer announced that "The range of the tax cuts is huge, as you can see [on screen graphic], ranging from $14, at the lowest income levels [$12,800] to nearly $17,000 at the highest levels [$246,000]. Those with the very highest incomes benefit the most from cuts in capital gains, estate, and inheritance taxes."

Of course, it's the percent not the dollar figure that best reflects impact. In reality, the convoluted and targeted plan means that the rich only benefit if they make a capital gain or sell property while the poor, if they have children, benefit the most by getting a payment from the government far in excess of any tax payment -- in effect, a greater welfare payment.

Indeed, Friday's Washington Post offered examples of how the tax plan will impact five families. Two come close to the ABC/MSNBC income levels:

-- "The Working Mom. Two children younger than 17. Receives $771 tax refund through the earned income tax credit for the working poor.
"Income: $20,000
"Tax refund under current law: $771
"Tax refund under agreement: $1,771
"Tax cut: $1,000 (130%)"

-- "The Power Couple. Two children, one in college, one younger than 17. $100,000 in capital gains income.
"Income: $400,000
"Tax under current law: $96,080
"Tax under agreement: $88,080
"Tax cut: $8,000 (8%)"

Only a liberal, or a journalist, could think that 8 percent is greater than 130 percent.

4) Two examples of conflicting headlines from Saturday's newspapers:

"Thompson Says Hearings Point to China Role."
-- Los Angles Times, August 2.


"Thompson Backpedals on China Election-Meddling Claim."
-- Washington Times, same day.

"White House Considering Line-Item Veto of Tax Cuts."
-- Washington Post, August 2.


"Clinton Seems Unlikely to Use Line-Item Veto on New Tax Bill."
-- Washington Times, same day.

It just shows why you should read beyond the headlines.

-- Brent Baker