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CyberAlert -- 08/15/2001 -- Bush Trip Skipped

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Bush Trip Skipped; Gumbel and Couric Advocated on Behalf of Texas Murderers; Did Bush "Let Down" Majority on Stem Cell Research?

1) NBC, which made a big deal last week about how Bush has spent 42 percent of his presidency on vacation, on Tuesday night ignored his trip to Colorado. CBS gave it a sentence. ABC anchor Charles Gibson showed video of "another photo-op out in nature" as he added that Bush would speak at a certain hotel "despite an NAACP boycott of the hotel chain alleging discrimination."

2) Bryant Gumbel on Monday morning insulted the prosecutor in a Texas death penalty case, repeatedly cutting him off as he tried to tell what the defendant did to deserve the punishment and later mocking the prosecutor's voice. After the interview, Gumbel blurted: "Real hard to see why it was a fair trial." Earlier, Gumbel had demanded of the murderer's parents: "How big a factor do you think was race in your son's sentence?"

3) At the same time Gumbel was railing against the death penalty for Napoleon Beazley on CBS, Today's Katie Couric was helping out another Texas murderer. As NBC producers showed the address on screen of the defense fund for Andrea Yates, the woman who killed her five kids, Couric read it aloud. But unlike Gumbel's advocacy, Couric's generated a Washington Post story.

4) Bush's decision on embryonic stem cell research funding disappointed Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: "I didn't think it was a good decision because I think in these sorts of things you do go with what the scientists say."

5) On Saturday's Today, David Bloom wondered about embryonic stem cell research funding: "How quickly might we see these promised miracle cures?" Soledad O'Brien noted that 70 percent of the public support the research, and then asked Geraldine Ferraro if President Bush "has let those people down?" Actually, most approved of Bush's decision and of those who disapproved most thought Bush's decision was "not strict enough."


1

The networks made a big deal about President Bush's lengthy vacation, but when he left his Texas ranch on Tuesday for events in Colorado the NBC Nightly News didn't mention it and the CBS Evening News gave it a sentence in an unrelated story. On ABC's World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson showed a few seconds of video of "another photo-op out in nature" as he added that Bush would speak at a certain hotel "despite an NAACP boycott of the hotel chain alleging discrimination."

Contrast NBC's ignoring of Bush's trip off his ranch with how last Monday, August 6, from Crawford, Texas NBC reporter David Gregory informed Nightly News viewers: "The Washington Post has actually crunched some of the numbers on their Web site today, calculating that in fact the President has spent enough days between vacation or traveling to vacation spots, including his folks' place up in Kennepunkport, to account for 42 percent of his young presidency so far. The White House bristles at the numbers being counted that way. They say look, this is his home out here, it's his base of operations, he's even going to take some trips from here to promote his fall agenda, so it's not all play out here."

But when Bush took one of those trips, NBC didn't consider it newsworthy. (And, as noted previously in CyberAlert, the 42 percent calculation by the Washington Post was not for "so far," but for where Bush would stand in early September.)

Back to this week, in a Tuesday, August 14 CBS Evening News piece on fires in the West, over video of Bush sawing off a tree limb, reporter Jerry Bowen noted: "The President was in Colorado today demonstrating how reducing fuel can lessen the threat to national forests."

Over on ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Charles Gibson took a couple of shots at Bush over the same tree branch removing video: "President Bush had another photo-op out in nature today. He traveled from his Texas ranch to Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park where he helped clear brush and build trails. Later, he's going to speak at the Adams Mark Hotel in Denver, despite an NAACP boycott of the hotel chain alleging discrimination."

2

Bryant Gumbel on Monday morning insulted and made fun of the prosecutor in a Texas death penalty case, repeatedly cutting him off as he tried to tell CBS viewers what the defendant did to deserve the penalty. "We can't recall all the facts of the case," Gumbel told the prosecutor even though in two segments Gumbel had yet to offer any more details than saying the case involved "killing the father of a prominent federal judge during a car jacking back in 1994."

After the 7am half hour interview, Gumbel showed his disgust with the death penalty in the case as he tossed his glasses on the desk and declared: "Real hard to see why it was a fair trial." Several minutes later, after an unrelated segment, Gumbel mocked the prosecutor's monotone southern drawl and he tried to impersonate his voice in thanking a CBS reporter at the end of her stock market update: "Thank you for those facts, Ms. McGinnis."

Up front Gumbel had revealed his bias as he set up the segments by stating: "Even in Texas, where executions are frighteningly common, the case of Napoleon Beazley has attracted special attention." After noting how he was convicted of killing a man during a car jacking, Gumbel added: "Beazley was only 17 at the time and an honor student with no criminal record."

Before getting to the prosecutor, Gumbel interviewed the murderer's parents. Without any prompting from them, out of the blue Gumbel pushed his agenda on them: "How big a factor do you think was race in your son's sentence?"

Since CBS and Gumbel wouldn't allow viewers to learn what Beazley did, here's how the crime was described in a Dallas Morning News story by Ed Timms posted on August 14:
"According to authorities, Mr. Beazley set out to steal a luxury car in April 1994. He and two friends spotted a 1987 Mercedes-Benz driven by Tyler resident John Luttig, who was returning from Dallas with his wife, Bobbie Luttig.
"After the Luttigs arrived home, authorities said, Mr. Beazley and his two friends, brothers Cedric and Donald Coleman, tried to steal the car at gunpoint.
"'Beazley fired one round from his pistol, hitting Mr. Luttig in the side of the head, leaving him alive, but stunned.... Beazley next ran around the car where Mrs. Luttig was getting out of the vehicle and fired at her at very close range,' a statement from Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's office recounted. 'Although he missed her, she fell to the ground. Beazley then returned to Mr. Luttig, raised his gun, took careful aim, and fired point blank into Mr. Luttig's head.'"
Gumbel set up the August 13 Early Show segments brought to my attention by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:
"Even in Texas, where executions are frighteningly common, the case of Napoleon Beazley has attracted special attention. Beazley is scheduled to die in two days for killing the father of a prominent federal judge during a car jacking back in 1994. Beazley was only 17 at the time and an honor student with no criminal record. Although prosecutors have called Beazley a ruthless killer, human rights groups and even the DA from his hometown have pleaded for mercy."

Gumbel then talked with Beazley's parents, Rena and Ireland, from Houston. He asked when they last spoke to their son, about his state of mind and if he doesn't deny the charge, why doesn't he deserve this fate? Ireland Beazley answered that the trial was unfair and because of his age at the time of the crime, 17.

Then, without either parent having raised race, Gumbel decided he had to do it himself: "How big a factor do you think was race in your son's sentence?" The father replied: "It was very much so. I think having that all white jury was a factor there and mostly the jurors not being jury of his peers, things like that I feel like was very instrumental in him getting the death penalty."

Gumbel moved on to another issue raised by defense attorneys: "What about the involvement of John Luttig's son, Jay Michael Luttig, who is a fairly prominent federal judge?"
Ireland Beazley: "Yeah, yes sir, I think it played an important part in that, too. You know, he orchestrated the courtroom the way he wanted it orchestrated to get what he wanted done."
Gumbel: "Because of that do you think Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from considering your son's fate because Judge Luttig played such a role in his confirmation process?"
Beazley: "I'm afraid I don't know much about the details about what you are talking about there, Bryant."

(In fact, Thomas, as well as Justices Souter and Scalia, recused themselves from a Monday Supreme Court ruling which by a 3-3 vote fell a vote short of delaying the execution.)

Gumbel proceeded to ask the parents what they "realistically" expect from the parole board and if they have anything to say to the prosecutor.

Gumbel then moved on to Jack Skeen, the District Attorney of Smith County. Gumbel demanded: "Why do you feel so strongly that this death sentence should be carried out?"

Skeen replied that Beazley deserved the penalty because of the facts of case in which Beazley and two co-defendants drove around, while armed, looking for a car to car jack. Gumbel jumped in: "No, I understand. So it was premeditated is what you're telling me."

Skeen picked up from where he was interrupted, recounting how Beazley followed Luttig to his home, took a gun to the garage, jerked Lutting out of his car, shot him in the head, fired two shots at Mrs. Luttig. Over Gumbel yelling "Mr. Skeen, Mr. Skeen," a discerning viewer could make out Skane saying "and then came back around and shot Mr. Luttig at point blank range. So it's important to understand-"

Gumbel cut him off: "Mr. Skeen, Mr. Skeen, I understand but we can't recall all the facts of the case. Let me ask you something-"
Skeen paid Gumbel back, cutting him off and continuing: "Mr. Gumbel, if I could just explain that what is important about the facts of the case is that the facts of the case are what form the main basis for the death penalty and the death penalty was sought by the prosecutors in the case."
Gumbel lectured: "I understand that but we don't need, we don't have the time to recall all the facts of the case, sir. Let me ask you isn't it uncommon for a first time offender to be executed?"

Skeen maintained there's nothing uncommon given the facts of what the defendant did -- pre-meditated execution in front of the victim's wife combined with the defendant's future danger to the community.

A disgusted Gumbel frowned and he ended the segment: "Jack Skeen, thank you, it's 14 past, let's check the weather."

Mark McEwen soon wrapped up his weather report: "It's starting to rain, I'm coming inside." Gumbel used McEwen's terminology to take a shot at Skeen: "Yeah, come on inside, it's been raining in here for about the last five minutes. [Tosses glasses on desk, turns to Jane Clayson] Real hard to see why it was a fair trial, right? Up next, an update on Steve Fossett's high-flying journey around the world. We're back in a moment after this."

But Gumbel wasn't done insulting Skeen. Several minutes later, after the interview about Fossett's attempt to circle the earth and the "CBS Marketwatch" report from Susan McGinnis, Gumbel impersonated Skeen's monotone southern drawl: "Thank you for those facts, Ms. McGinnis."
Jane Clayson played along: "Back to you, Mr. Gumbel."
Gumbel: "Yeah, what a, what a beauty."

++ This afternoon the MRC's Andy Szul will post, on the MRC home page, a RealPlayer clip of Gumbel's encounter with Skane.

3

Bryant Gumbel wasn't the only morning show host on Monday to be using their position for a bit of advocacy on behalf of a Texas murderer. At almost the same time Gumbel was railing against the death penalty for Napoleon Beazley on CBS, Today Executive Producer Jonathan Wald allowed Katie Couric to urge NBC viewers to donate to the defense fund for Andrea Yates, the Houston-area woman who killed her five kids. As NBC producers showed the defense fund address on-screen, Couric read it aloud.

But unlike Gumbel's advocacy, Couric's generated a story in Tuesday's Washington Post.

The August 13 Today ran a taped piece by Jim Cummins in which he showed clips of his interview with the mother of Andrea Yates, Karin Kennedy, and Andrea's brother, Andrew Kennedy. After allowing Karin to plead her daughter's case, complain about how tough it is not to be able to touch her daughter and insist Andrea was concerned about each kid getting their own casket, Cummins turned to the pain and cost to the family: "The funerals for her grandchildren, the same year Karin buried her own husband."
Karin Kennedy: "Six people since March, you know? I just got through paying for my husband's expensive funeral."
Cummins: "Now she's facing huge legal costs to defend her daughter."
Karin Kennedy: "Since my husband died, I don't have the income like I used to have, but I'm spending part of what would have been Andrea's inheritance."
Cummins: "The family has established a defense fund for Andrea Yates."
Andrew Kennedy, brother of Andrea: "Well, I mean, the prosecution has unlimited funds. And in a case like this, we're talking about, you know, the general expenses of a half million, a million dollars. We're just, we don't have that kind of funds."
Cummins: "Her family insists Andrea Yates is the victim of postpartum depression and psychosis."
Karin Kennedy: "With Andrea it just seemed that with each pregnancy it got worse. You don't hear much about people saying that they're depressed, or they're psychotic or something. You used to be ashamed. You know, nobody would believe it if somebody had something like that. And I think it's going to have to come out now, so that people can get help too."
Cummins concluded: "But for her own daughter, the help comes too late. For Today, Jim Cummins, NBC News, Houston."

Back to Couric live, over a matching full-screen graphic listing the address, Couric helpfully informed viewers: "Contributions to the legal defense fund can be made to Andrea Pia Yates Defense Fund, Horizon Capitol Bank, One City Center 1021 Main Street, Houston, Texas, 77002. Any money left over from Andrea's defense will be given to women's charities dealing with postpartum depression and psychosis."

In Tuesday's Washington Post, TV reporter Lisa de Moraes picked up on Couric's tip, under the headline: "Katie Couric, Reporter or Advocate?"

Too bad we don't see that headline for any of the standard liberal advocacy practiced regularly by many network stars.

An excerpt from the August 14 de Moraes piece in which NBC News executives denied Today did anything wrong:

Katie Couric doesn't need to leave the Today show and join the talk-show circuit to do on-air advocacy work on controversial subjects, a la Oprah or Rosie. She's already doing it on Today.

Yesterday morning, for instance, at the end of a taped interview with the mother and brother of confessed child murderer Andrea Yates, Couric told viewers where to send contributions to the Texas woman's defense fund; the address also appeared onscreen....

Couric gave the detailed information about the defense fund -- which was set up late last week -- right after Yates's mother and brother told NBC News correspondent Jim Cummins that they need help paying the legal bills....

Still, Today spokeswoman Allison Gollust insisted yesterday afternoon that the producers were not worried that inclusion of the defense fund address before the murder case is adjudicated might have given viewers the impression that Couric and/or NBC News subscribe to the idea that Yates was indeed suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis when she drowned her five children, one at a time, in a bathtub on June 20.

Nor are they worried that having Couric tell her 6 million viewers this information might lead them to believe that Couric and/or NBC News believe Yates's actions were defensible if she suffered postpartum depression at the time.

"I don't see how it would suggest that NBC is agreeing or somehow supporting" the defense, Gollust said. Today has posted addresses for defense funds before, she said, although when asked if any had been given before a ruling in the case, she said she did not know....

"This is a story that has generated a tremendous amount of interest from our viewers. We thought it was information that might be useful to them," she said.

But yesterday afternoon, after the Today segment had rerun twice on MSNBC, NBC News decided to remove the defense fund information before it ran two additional times. "When we realized it might send the wrong message, we didn't include it in the piece," Gollust told The TV Column late yesterday....

Gollust says that running details of the Andrea Pia Yates Defense Fund was not a condition of getting the interview for Today, and the decision to include the information was made by show executive producer Jonathan Wald, who's been in the post for just three months....

END Excerpt

To read the entire story, go to:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7034-2001Aug13.html

4

Add Newsweek's Jonathan Alter to the list of reporters who disagree with Bush's decision on embryonic stem cell research -- not disagreeing from the right, but naturally from the left for not going far enough.

MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught Alter's opinion as expressed on Monday's Imus in the Morning radio show simulcast on MSNBC:

"I didn't think it was a good decision because I think in these sorts of things you do go with what the scientists say within, you know, certain parameters. And you have a situation now where the White House, people like Karen Hughes, are getting out there and saying the scientists are all happy about this, excited about the research possibilities, and yeah, you can find a couple of them who are but the bulk of scientific opinion is this is going to tie our hands and make it harder to get cures to the bedside.
"So substantively I didn't think it was a great decision but I think it worked for him politically at least in the short term and it made him seem more thoughtful. You saw that the word 'thoughtful' was at the top of all their talking points. Every one of their spinners got out and said 'thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful,' and it was kind of thoughtful and helpful to him in that sense because, you know, he has this reputation as Incurious George who cut the amount of time that he reviewed death penalty cases from half an hour to 15 minutes because he didn't want to know the details in Texas and I think they sensed that that was, that perception was hurting them and they wanted him to look really thoughtful and he did."

At least he looked more "thoughtful" than Alter in this analysis.

5

On Saturday's Today, co-host David Bloom furthered the misconception that embryonic stem cell research will immediately lead to cures for current sufferers of many diseases, as he wondered: "How quickly might we see these promised miracle cures if you will?" Later, co-host Soledad O'Brien noted that 70 percent of the public support the research, and then asked Geraldine Ferraro if President Bush "has let those people down?"

Bloom, at least, also posed some questions from the right about the moral line Catholic bishops say Bush had crossed and if Bush had broken a campaign promise.

During the August 11 show's first hour, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd observed, Bloom made these inquiries to HHS secretary Tommy Thompson:
-- "Mr. Secretary, for people who might be suffering from diabetes or Parkinson's disease, who believe that stem cell research offers the hope for promising treatments, would you tell them this morning that the President's decision will speed up or slow down that research?"
-- "Secretary Thompson, the biggest surprise in the President's announcement was his contention that there are enough existing stem cell lines that new human embryos do not need to be created or destroyed. A lot of scientists are skeptical of that claim. How confident are you that that's true?"
-- "Secretary Thompson, you're Catholic. Yesterday the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the President's decision, 'morally unacceptable.' If your parish priest says to you, 'how can you sanction the destruction of human life,' what will you say?"
-- "Secretary Thompson, what are you saying to some of your fellow conservatives who are saying, 'look no matter how you spin this, the President made a campaign promise and just like his dad on taxes, he broke it?'"

An hour later, Today brought aboard 1984 Democratic VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro to discuss the subject. Unlike, Bloom, O'Brien posed no questions from the right as she worried that Bush has "let down" the majority of Americans: "Some polls show that some 70 percent of Americans support stem cell research. Do you think in some way the President has let those people down?"

Actually, as a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found, 60 percent approved of Bush's decision to allow federal funding for research on cells already removed from embryos, while 34 percent disapproved. And of those displeased, Tuesday's USA Today reported, the majority, 56 percent, disapproved because Bush's decision was "not strict enough."

Only 36 percent of those who disapproved shared the media's view that the decision was "too strict." -- Brent Baker


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