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CyberAlert -- 08/23/2001 -- "Social Security Money at Risk?"

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"Social Security Money at Risk?"; Surplus "Erased" by Tax Cut; Reporters "Reviled" Helms; Wishing Helms Would Die from AIDS

1) ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas used irrational scare-mongering to entice viewers: "Gambling with the federal budget surplus. Billions of dollars evaporate into thin air. Is your Social Security money at risk?" CBS anchor John Roberts referred to "the incredible shrinking federal budget surplus." Bill Plante added, "It's official: the government surplus has been virtually erased by the President's tax cut and the economic slowdown."

2) While Newsweek's Howard Fineman called Jesse Helms an "inconvenient presence for George W. Bush who wants to show that this is a moderate Republican Party," he acknowledged how Helms fought for a balanced budget and that "it's possible that both Nicaragua and El Salvador would be sort of relic communist regimes were it not for his staunch opposition to them."

3) FNC's Brit Hume observed that he couldn't "think of a reporter I knew...that admired Jesse Helms." Indeed, in 1997 George Stephanopoulos denounced Helms as a "terrorist." In 1995 NPR's Nina Totenberg wished him dead: "If there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it." In 1994 Bryant Gumbel claimed Helms had earned "the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."

4) Bryant Gumbel's divorce was finalized on Tuesday and the New York Post reported that the judge awarded his Westchester home, a Manhattan apartment and half of his $20 million fortune to his spurned wife.


Corrections: The August 22 CyberAlert quoted CBS News reporter Bob Orr as saying: "Helms, who reached the height of his power as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could be brusk..." Brusk should have read "brusque." The August 21 CyberAlert referred to Connie Chung's former magazine show on CBS as "Eye to Eye with Connie." They weren't that informal. The show was titled Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.

1

New federal budget surplus numbers show the second largest one in history, but ABC and CBS on Wednesday night portrayed it as practically zilch. ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas declared on the August 22 World News Tonight: "In Washington today, the federal budget surplus has all but vanished." CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts set up a story: "Now to the incredible shrinking federal budget surplus." Bill Plante immediately placed blame, "It's official: the government surplus has been virtually erased by the President's tax cut and the economic slowdown."

ABC's Vargas irrationally raised the security of Social Security as, without any basis in reality, she tried to scare naive viewers. She teased at the top of World News Tonight: "Gambling with the federal budget surplus. Billions of dollars evaporate into thin air. Is your Social Security money at risk?"

Of course, no Social Security money is any more at risk this year than in any previous year. For years revenue from the FICA tax which exceeded pay outs was spent on other federal programs. This year with a surplus the debate is whether to again use it for other programs or to apply it toward paying down the national debt. Either way, Social Security recipients won't see a dime of it. But ABC never explained that.

Instead, both ABC and CBS warned of the dangers President Bush's Social Security private investment plan poses in transition costs and in the supposedly likely reduction in benefits.

Neither network addressed the propriety of the government running a surplus during an economic downturn and both only made passing references to the role of spending, but only in the future, not how it has already contributed to a smaller surplus. After highlighting how Democrats blame the tax cut, ABC's Terry Moran noted: "But White House officials insist the money is there, and the only real threat to the budget comes from congressional overspending." CBS's Plante observed that Bush will "say if the money's not there, Congress can't spend it."

As National Review Online pointed out, end of the year appropriation bills last year cost more than either the revenue lost from the economic downturn or the tax cut.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Elizabeth Vargas announced, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "In Washington today, the federal budget surplus has all but vanished. That is what the new figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget show. It is a rather incredible headline, and it amounts to a staggering change in the political landscape. It is also something that affects every American and every level of government. ABC's Terry Moran is at the White House. So, Terry, where did the money go?"

Moran answered: "Well, that is the question of the moment, Elizabeth, and one that is bound to spark a nasty political battle. When the Bush administration came into office, they inherited one of the strongest fiscal pictures in a generation, and while today's numbers show that the budget is still in surplus, especially counting Social Security, they also show the situation has deteriorated very, very rapidly. Today the administration's budget director placed the blame squarely on the economy."
Mitchell Daniels, Director of Office of Management and Budget: "It is growth that produces surpluses, not vice versa. And a return to economic growth will be the focus of the President and the administration in the months ahead."
Moran: "The country is still running a huge surplus, $158 billion this fiscal year. But almost all of that comes from Social Security payroll taxes which Republicans and Democrats have promised not to spend on other items. In April, the administration estimated this year's surplus, excluding Social Security, would be $122 billion. Now, they say, it will be $1 billion. Their April estimate for next year was a $56 billion non-Social Security surplus. Today they say $1 billion. And for 2003, the numbers have gone from $49 billion to $2 billion. Democrats say the economy is not to blame, the President's tax cut is."
Gene Sperling, former Clinton Economic Adviser: "This administration passed such an expensive tax cut that they left no provisions, no contingency, no cushion for anything bad to happen."
Moran: "The White House acknowledges the tax cut will reduce the surplus by $40 billion this year, and previewing a fierce political battle this fall over budget priorities, House Democrats say the country can no longer afford the President's agenda."
Congressman Ken Bentsen (D-TX): "Where is the money for prescription drugs? There is no money for prescription drugs? Where is the money for education reform? There is no money left for education reform. Where is the money to fix Social Security and to fix Medicare? It's gone. The money is not there."
Moran: "But White House officials insist the money is there, and the only real threat to the budget comes from congressional overspending, and so, Elizabeth, almost overnight, it seems, the budget politics in Washington have gone from a debate about what to do with all the money to who lost it."

Vargas then asked: "Terry, as the White House was releasing these numbers, President Bush's Social Security commission was meeting again in Washington. How will these new budget figures affect the efforts to restructure Social Security?"
Moran warned: "Well, the co-chairman of that commission says absolutely not, there will be no effect from this shrinking surplus. But most Social Security experts say that passing a package of private accounts like the President wants is going to cost a tremendous amount of money in transition costs, and the question now is where is it going to come from."

-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts set up a full story: "Now to the incredible shrinking federal budget surplus. New figures from the White House today show that, not counting what's set aside for Social Security, the surplus has shrunk to just $2 billion. That's down $122 billion since April. Democrats are howling. The White House says not to worry."

From Crawford, Texas, Bill Plante intoned, "It's official: the government surplus has been virtually erased by the President's tax cut and the economic slowdown. But to the Bush administration the glass is still half full."

After a soundbite of Mitch Daniels arguing the government is awash in money, Plante countered: "But the administration's latest budget forecast shows virtually no surplus over and above Social Security, either this year or next. And it says that means any new spending would require cuts from other programs. Democrats say the projections are still too optimistic and they blame the President for squandering the surplus with his tax cut."
Following a matching clip from Democratic Rep. Ken Bentsen of Texas, Plante allowed Daniels to say that Bush plans to reform Social Security and Medicare before higher taxes are required to pay their ever-spiraling costs.

Plante then warned: "The President's commission to reform Social Security, which met today, support Mr. Bush's proposal to allow workers to put some of their payroll taxes in private accounts. But a report today from the Congressional Research Service says the President's solution would undercut Social Security's financing. The study says if that happens people retiring in the next two decades could see cuts in their benefits of almost eleven percent."

Plante concluded: "Democrats in Congress will fight the President on private Social Security accounts and on the budget they'll say that his long-range projections are unreliable. He'll say, if the money's not there, Congress can't spend it."

The August 22 Washington Bulletin, "National Review's Internet Update," by John J. Miller and Ramesh Ponnuru, pointed out:
"The tax cut didn't reduce the surplus as much as last December's spending spree. The economic slowdown cut the surplus by $46 billion, tax rebates by an additional $40 billion, an accounting shift regarding corporate taxes by $28 billion, and some spending bills passed this year by $9 billion. Last December's appropriations bills increased spending by $50 billion -- larger than any of these other factors."

2

Wednesday morning on Today, Newsweek's Howard Fineman acknowledged some of the positive contributions of retiring Senator Jesse Helms, a subject studiously avoided in network stories the night before as detailed in the August 22 CyberAlert: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010822.asp

(That CyberAlert item relayed how broadcast network viewers heard negative caricatures on Tuesday night of Jesse Helms. CBS's Bob Orr stressed how he "has opposed abortion rights, AIDS funding, and even the Martin Luther King holiday" and "opponents have accused him of using race to win elections." NBC's Lisa Myers highlighted his "race-baiting" and insisted his willingness to "fight...help for AIDS patients" made "him a hero to many conservatives." ABC's Claire Shipman called him "unrepentant about his support for American segregation.")

On Wednesday morning, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Fineman admitted that "it's possible that both Nicaragua and El Salvador would be sort of relic communist regimes were it not for his staunch opposition to them. He helped give rise to the presidency of Ronald Reagan."

But those comments came only after he asserted the White House was pleased to see Helms go since he conflicted with their effort to make the GOP seem moderate: "I think you could hear the sigh of relief all the way from here to Crawford, Texas. Not that this is a slam dunk for the Republicans by any means. If former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt decides to run a lot of people think he could win even against Elizabeth Dole. But, but Jesse Helms even though he's a, a huge figure in the rise of the modern Republican party had become kind of an inconvenient presence for George W. Bush who wants to show that this is a moderate Republican Party. I don't think the White House was looking forward to having to defend and campaign with Jesse Helms were he to run. And I think behind the scenes they were quite active in making it clear to Helms that it was time for him to go."

Later, Today co-host Matt Lauer reminded Fineman that NBC's Lisa Myers had described Helms as "Senator No," but wondered "what were some of the issues he was 'Senator Yes' on?"
Fineman explained: "Well he was 'Senator Yes' on balancing the budget which is now accepted orthodoxy. He was 'Senator Yes' on fighting communism. It's possible that both Nicaragua and El Salvador would be sort of relic communist regimes were it not for his staunch opposition to them. He helped give rise to the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
"There are really two pillars of the modern Republican Party that were built in part by Helms. One: Southern whites, came over from the Democrats to the Republicans. And Northern conservative Catholics. And Helms provided attractions in the Republican Party to both of those. There wouldn't be a George Bush presidency today and George Bush certainly wouldn't have run the way he did in the primaries in the Republican race had it not been for Jesse Helms. But now it's a new time. North Carolina's changed. A million people moved into that state in the last decade. A lot of them Republicans but moderate Republicans. Not the old Jesse-crats."

3

Jesse Helms was "reviled within the Beltway," FNC's Brit Hume observed Wednesday night as he noted that he couldn't "think of a reporter I knew...that admired Jesse Helms." Indeed, a quick perusal through the MRC's archive located numerous examples of hate-filled invective fired at Helms by the same journalistic class which has castigated conservatives as "mean-spirited."

In 1997, for instance, George Stephanopoulos called him a "terrorist." In 1995 NPR's Nina Totenberg wished he would die: "If there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it." And in 1994 Bryant Gumbel claimed Helms had earned "the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."

As Hume suggested on his Special Report with Brit Hume: "Perhaps few powerful figures in Washington have been more, I don't know if it's too strong a word to say, reviled within the Beltway by the usual institutions. I can't think of a reporter I knew, other than perhaps you and Fred Barnes, Bill [Kristol], that admired Jesse Helms. He did not get good news coverage, he did not have favorable press at any time."

Juan Williams, a former Washington Post reporter, recalled during the same panel segment on Hume's show: "He once allowed me to follow him around and we did a magazine piece. He later said it was the biggest mistake of his career."

Here's an excerpt from that piece by Williams, a Helms profile in the October 28, 1990 Washington Post Magazine: "What Helms has done is taken the words 'North Carolina values' -- a beautiful phrase that evokes the small-town, good-hearted sense of place that one feels when one travels the state -- and redefined them as the values belonging to a certain group of North Carolinians, mostly white, mostly male, mostly unhappy with the changes of the last 30 years. To Helms and his supporters, 'North Carolina values' seems to translate into a status quo view of the world in which blacks, women, and poor people know their stations in society."

Hard to imagine why Helms would regret that kind of fair and balanced reporting.

Below are some more Helms-bashing media quotes gathered from the MRC's Notable Quotables newsletter, starting in 1990, when Helms beat Harvey Gantt to win re-election and followed by 1994 quotes when reporters feared his rise in power after the GOP takeover of the Senate and so tagged him as "ultraconservative" and an "extreme conservative."

> "I think the question there, I mean there are several of them, but one of them is whether old time Southern racist politics can work, because Helms really let loose this week with some base, hate, racist ads."
-- Wall Street Journal reporter Jane Mayer on Fox's Off the Record, November 4, 1990.

> "This has really been a heart-breaking race....What happened here was a very strong racial message from Jesse Helms in the closing ten days of the race and it focused on something that we've found, found previously in Louisiana with the David Duke campaign."
-- Andrea Mitchell during NBC's election night coverage, November 6, 1990.

> "In victory, Jesse Helms was no more gracious than he had been during his slashing campaign...Gantt's surprisingly strong showing will encourage more black candidates to run for office, but this contest also proves that race is still a powerful issue in American politics."
-- Mitchell, NBC News at Sunrise, November 7, 1990.

> "Everybody seems to agree on the general dimensions of that race, and we also seem to get common agreement that it is going to be one of the most important indicators of whether we have progress in racial voting or not."
-- CNN reporter Ken Bode during election night coverage, November 6, 1990.

> "On Foreign Relations, North Carolina's archconservative Jesse Helms may move to slash foreign aid -- and try to redirect Clinton's Haitian and Cuban policies."
-- Newsweek caption, November 21, 1994 issue.

> "Ultraconservative, he is likely to seek cuts in foreign aid and U.N. contributions."
-- Time caption on Helms, November 21, 1994 issue after Republicans won control of the House and Senate.

> "North Carolina archconservative Sen. Jesse Helms will head the Foreign Relations committee...Another trap, some say, is overplaying the far right's social agenda."
-- U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor Gloria Borger, November 21, 1994 issue.

> "Jesse Helms, 73, who was first elected in 1972, has been the avenging angel of extreme conservatism in the Senate on everything from abortion, pornography and school prayer to left-wing governments around the world."
-- Washington Post profile of the new committee chairmen, November 10, 1994.

> "The Senate will be different, too, with archconservatives like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond taking control of key committees."
-- CBS reporter Bob Schieffer, November 12, 1994 Evening News.

> "With Republicans taking control of Congress in January, Senator Jesse Helms is slated to be the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a prospect that is embarrassing to many Republicans. His two most recent outbursts against the President are just the latest in a long line of outrageous remarks that have earned Helms the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."
-- Today co-host Bryant Gumbel, November 23, 1994. (I believe Gumbel was referring to Helms's joke that Bill Clinton would not be safe on a military base in NC due to the military's lack of respect for the President.)

> Inside Washington host Tina Gulland: "I don't think I have any Jesse Helms defenders here. Nina?"
Nina Totenberg: "Not me, I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the Good Lord's mind, because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it."
-- National Public Radio and ABC News reporter Nina Totenberg reacting to Senator Jesse Helms' claim that the government spends too much on AIDS research compared to other diseases, July 8, 1995 Inside Washington.

This quote was a runner-up in the "I'm a Compassionate Liberal But I Wish You Were All Dead Award (for media hatred of conservatives)" category in the MRC's Dishonors Awards for the Decade's Most Outrageous Liberal Bias.

> "I think North Carolina is a test in the great divide in the Republican conservative movement. There's the politics of hope personified by Jack Kemp and there's the politics of hate personified by Jesse Helms."
-- Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt, October 5, 1995 Capital Gang on CNN.

> Sam Donaldson: "I think Governor Weld has done this country a service in a sense, even though I think that he's been shot down in the ocean now, and that is by allowing the country to see Senator Helms in action. Over the years I've run into him two or three times at receptions here and he's the most gentlemanly, courtly, friendly, pleasant individual you would ever hope to meet. But, when you see him in action, you see beneath that courtliness beats the heart of a dictator and I think the country is appalled."
George Stephanopoulos: "Or a terrorist. The President is really, I think made a mistake because he's been negotiating with a terrorist here."
-- Exchange on ABC's This Week, September 14, 1997.

> James Warren, Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau Chief: "I also find interesting this revisionism about Senator Helms. We've sort of turned his dogmatism and bigotry into now, the iron-willed principle of a man of the right."
Mona Charen: "What bigotry?"
Warren: "Oh, his gay-baiting, his union-bashing. His hatred of any fundings for the arts. His isolationism."
-- Exchange on August 3, 1997 edition of CNN's Capital Gang.

(Not wanting to force taxpayers to pay for art is "bigotry"?)

> "He had deep roots in the conservative traditions of the Old South. In his campaigns, Helms had been known to exploit the race issue for political advantage, which is exactly how slave owners and conservatives used to dominate Southern politics."
-- CNN's William Schneider in the Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1997.

4

Bryant Gumbel's divorce was finalized on Tuesday and the New York Post reported that the judge awarded his Westchester home, a Manhattan apartment and half of his $20 million fortune to his spurned wife.

An excerpt from the August 22 New York Post story by Steve Dunleavy, which referred to "White Plains County." Since there is no White Plains County in New York, I assume he meant a Westchester County court building in White Plains:

The Gumbel rumble ended yesterday in divorce -- leaving the $6 million-a-year man half the man he once was.

The newly ex-Mrs. Bryant Gumbel, June, got the pair's Upper East Side apartment and plush Westchester estate during a hearing before Judge Mark Dillon in White Plains County Court.

But there is apparently more -- millions of dollars more -- to come for June, in a settlement that will basically split the millionaire newscaster's fortune down the middle, sources said.

Gumbel, 52, emerged from the courtroom on the seventh floor and said with a smile: "I'm just happy to have my life back."...

June's lawyer, Barry Slotnick, declined comment on the settlement, citing the fact that it is sealed. He has estimated that the news star's estimated worth is $20 million.

June, 51, had accused the CBS star of being a "serial adulterer" after Gumbel shacked up with leggy blonde Hilary Quinlan, 41, a former researcher for Goldman Sachs.

In the final act of chutzpah by the "Early Show" anchor, she said, Gumbel had asked a judge for sharing privileges of the Westchester house where June was living after he walked out on her.

The reason was, "He wanted to take his girlfriend there and be near his golf club," said June, who has two kids with Gumbel....

The bad memories, she said, include Gumbel trying to put the financial squeeze on her and even refusing to pay their teenage son Bradley's telephone bill.

END of Excerpt

To read the entire New York Post story, go to: http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/2607.htm

I'll consider the loss of his homes and $10 million or so bucks his fine for all his biased reporting over the years.

-- Brent Baker


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