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CyberAlert -- 09/05/2000 -- Bush Contradicted "Restoring Honor and Dignity"

Bush Contradicted "Restoring Honor and Dignity"; GW Scolded; More Rebukes Over Anti-Gore Ad

1) Networks pounced on George W. Bush's "asshole" remark. ABC's Kevin Newman scolded that "he was caught on tape with a decidedly uncivil comment." NBC anchor John Siegenthaler pronounced: "Bush may have stepped on his message of restoring honor and dignity to the White House today."

2) Oops. Hosting Face the Nation, Gloria Borger read a quote from Joe Lieberman about religion in politics and then asked Bill Bennett: "Did that cross the line?" Bennett had to tell her Lieberman was just quoting America's first President.

3) NBC News, which ignored the new RNC ad Thursday night, caught up Friday morning and night as ABC and CBS also ran follow up stories based on the supposed Bush hypocrisy of running the ads after promising to not be "ugly and mean." NBC and CBS reminded viewers of how Bush had gone negative against John McCain.


Clarification: The September 1 CyberAlert correctly pointed how Brooks Jackson on CNN's Inside Politics and Wolf Blitzer on CNN's The World Today on August 31 both misleadingly corrected an error that was not in the new RNC ad. The ad showed Gore boast in a 1999 CNN interview: "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Jackson showed the ad clip and then said, "Wait, play that again." CNN did so viewers heard it another time: "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Jackson then corrected the non-error: "Gore never said he invented the Internet, as he's widely misquoted, and, in fact, he did push government support for computer networking as far back as 1986..." In seeing the ad played elsewhere, I now realize what may have prompted the CNN admonishments, though they are still distorted. After the Gore line, the announcer then concluded the ad: "Yeah, and I invented the remote control too." But CNN did not play that portion.

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The networks jumped Monday night on George Bush's private comment to Dick Cheney, about how a New York Times reporter is "a major league asshole," claiming it contradicted his campaign message of civility. Topping ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Kevin Newman warned that Bush's low poll numbers "may test his often-stated desire to bring a new tone of civility to politics. Well today he was caught on tape with a decidedly uncivil comment." NBC Nightly News anchor John Siegenthaler pronounced: "Governor Bush may have stepped on his message of restoring honor and dignity to the White House today when a microphone caught him making an undignified remark about a newspaper reporter."

Only Fox News Channel stories by Rita Cosby Monday night actually aired an unbleeped version of the remark. CNN's Inside Politics, which left it out of Candy Crowley's wrap-up of the day, played back a bleeped version in an interview with Karl Rove. Even CBS's Late Show with David Letterman bleeped the first half of asshole. In fact, Letterman delivered more news of the day than MSNBC, which decided to take Labor Day off and so didn't bother with a News with Brian Williams. At 9pm ET Monday night viewers saw about the 34th repeat of a show about Spring Break in Cancun.

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Kevin Newman made the remark the top news of the day: "Increasingly, Governor Bush is seen to be falling behind in the polls, which may test his often-stated desire to bring a new tone of civility to politics. Well today he was caught on tape with a decidedly uncivil comment, the kind that could get in the way of what the Bush campaign would rather talk about, which is debates."

Dean Reynolds at least put the remark in perspective, not getting to it until after reporting on Bush's position on debates and his criticism of Gore for not accepting ones he already agreed to. He then showed Bush on stage in Naperville, Illinois: "It's time to get rid of all those words, like 'no controlling legal authority.' We need plain-spoken Americans in the White House."
Reynolds picked up: "At one point today the Governor may have been a little too plain spoken for his own good, making a clearly audible comment about a veteran New York Times reporter who has apparently fallen out of favor with Bush and his running mate."
Bush on stage beside Dick Cheney a few feet behind the microphone as rally music played: "There's Adam Clymer, a major league [bleep] hole for the New York Times."
Cheney: "Oh yeah, he is, big time."

Up next, Terry Moran looked at Gore's "marathon" day.

-- CBS Evening News. Anchor John Roberts opened with a review of how the two candidates spent the holiday, but added, "Bush forgot a rule of the road: Don't say anything near a microphone that you wouldn't want your mother to hear."

Roberts played the same set up clip from Bush as had ABC: "It's time to get rid of all those words, like 'no controlling legal authority.' We need plain-spoken Americans in the White House."
Roberts saw the promise contradicted: "But Bush was caught speaking a little more plainly than he'd intended by a microphone that he didn't know was on."
Bush: "There's Adam Clymer, major league [bleep] hole from the New York Times."
Cheney: "Oh yeah, he is, big time."

On screen, CBS provided this text: "There's Adam Clymer, major league a------ from the New York Times."

After Roberts, Bill Whitaker looked at the debate about debates.

-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor John Siegenthaler opened the program: "Good evening. Labor Day 2000. A day set aside to honor working Americans and a day of hard work on the presidential campaign trail. Al Gore and George Bush and their running mates were barnstorming through battleground states today with the question of debates still hanging over their heads. But Governor Bush may have stepped on his message of restoring honor and dignity to the White House today when a microphone caught him making an undignified remark about a newspaper reporter."

As if one comment is the same as seven-plus years of bad behavior.

David Gregory began with the debate debate and actually showed a clip of Gore on the July 16 Meet the Press agreeing to the face-off he's now rejecting, imploring Tim Russert: "I've accepted for two or three months now your invitation to debate on this program. Have you gotten a yes from Governor Bush yet?"

Gregory soon arrived at Bush's blooper: "Also today, an embarrassing moment for Bush in front of an open microphone. Just moments before telling a crowd of supporters it's time for quote 'plain-spoken Americans in the White House,' Bush uses an obscenity to describe a New York Times reporter he spots in the crowd."
Bush: "There's Adam Clymer, major league [bleep] hole from the New York Times."
Cheney: Oh yeah, he is, big time."

On screen: "There's Adam Clymer, major league a------ from the New York Times."
Cheney: Oh yeah, he is, big time."

Gregory elaborated: "Bush, who has promised to elevate the tone of discourse in Washington, said later through a spokeswoman that he regrets his private remark to Dick Cheney was overheard by the media. As for the reporter in question from the New York times, he said only he was disappointed by the Governor's language."

Following Gregory, Claire Shipman looked at Gore's day and his improving poll numbers.

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George Washington scolded by CBS News for crossing "the line" on religion and politics.

Bill Bennett sure embarrassed Gloria Borger on Sunday's Face the Nation. Hosting the show, Borger read a quote from Joe Lieberman about religion in American life and then asked guest Bill Bennett: "Did that cross the line a little bit?" Bennett informed her that Lieberman was just reciting a comment by America's first President.

During a September 3 segment with the ADL's Abraham Foxman and Bennett, Borger inquired: "Bill Bennett, let me go to you. Joe Lieberman also said that quote, 'morality cannot be maintained without religion.' He later struggled to explain that statement. But did that cross the line a little bit?"
Bennett responded: "Well, that was actually George Washington who said that and Joe Lieberman was piggy-backing on George Washington..."

Bennett went on to suggest too much religion is not the biggest problem in society: "Our kids are not really being overcome by piety. This is not a major problem in American life right now."

Saturday's Washington Post had made clear that Lieberman was quoting Washington: "On his first two days of campaigning without Gore, Lieberman spoke at length of the importance of faith not just in his life, but in the 224-year life of the United States. 'George Washington warned us never to indulge in the supposition morality can be maintained without religion,' he told black churchgoers in Detroit."

+++ Watch this humorous exchange. Tuesday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip. Go to: http://www.mrc.org

The best part of dying in 1799: Avoiding CBS News.

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NBC News, which ignored the new RNC ad Thursday night, caught up Friday morning and night as ABC and CBS also ran follow up stories based on the supposed hypocrisy of running the ads after promising to not be "ugly and mean." Like ABC the night before, as detailed in the September 1 CyberAlert, on Friday morning NBC reminded viewers of how Bush had gone negative against John McCain.

-- September 1 Today. Campbell Brown set up the supposed contradiction: "Campaigning in Louisville, Kentucky, Governor Bush begins a speech to high school students with this thought."
Bush: "That politics doesn't have to be ugly and mean. It doesn't have to be a system that downgrades people."
Brown countered: "Yet, today, the Republican National Committee launches this new ad in 17 states....It's the first direct attack on Vice President Gore's credibility and character. And it uses this 1998 interview in which Gore claimed credit for the Internet."

Gore: "I took the initiative in creating the Internet."
Ad announcer: "Yeah, and I invented the remote control too."

Actually, that CNN interview occurred in 1999.

Brown continued: "Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes defended the ad's tone, telling reporters she, quote, 'laughed out loud' when she saw it."
Hughes: "It's a humorous way to make a point.
Brown: "There was immediate and strong reaction from Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman."
Lieberman: "At the first signs that his campaign is in trouble, what does he do, he goes to a harsh, negative, paid, political personal attack."

Brown continued: "What's behind the move? One Republican Party official concedes given Gore's momentum over the last two weeks it was time for a more aggressive approach. And while Bush talks about elevating the tone of the campaign and promises to stay positive, he has before demonstrated a willingness to play hardball during the tough primary fight in South Carolina against Senator John McCain."
Old ad clip: "McCain's campaign is crawling with lobbyists."
Brown: "One political analysts says using the same strategy now against Gore may not yield the same results."
Stuart Rothenberg, political analyst: "This is kind of a Hail Mary pass that you might normally see at the end of a campaign in mid-October or late October, not just as the general election is beginning around Labor Day."

Brown concluded: "In presidential politics, Labor Day weekend has often been described as the start of the mean season. And given this is already shaping up to be an extremely tight race, few expect the campaign rhetoric to get any nicer."

Why would anyone want a "nice" campaign?

-- September 1 Good Morning America on ABC. Charles Gibson discussed the ad with Dean Reynolds, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "Let's talk about campaign commercials. Today the Republicans are going to start running, in many states, a new, and some say negative campaign ad against Al Gore -- seventeen states, actually, in all. The commercials were personally approved by Governor George W. Bush, a surprising move from a candidate who for months has been pledging to keep the campaign positive.... Dean, let me start with you, because we ran a piece on World News last night about this commercial and the Bush people were calling us and saying, 'No, no, no. We're not going negative. This is a funny ad, it's done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. It's a legitimate issue to talk about the Vice President and what he's done in the past.' Is it not going negative or is this just a gratuitous shot? What is this ad?"
Reynolds affirmed: "No, there's no question it's a negative ad. I mean, it mocks him. There's less humor here than there is bitterness, I think, in the ad, but the real question is, why now?"
Gibson: "Yes."
Reynolds: "Why before Labor Day are they going negative?"
Gibson: "Having said for so long that they wouldn't."
Reynolds: "Yeah. Right, which appears like it's a contradiction. So they've apparently made a calculation that they'll stomach the criticism from journalists who say that this is somewhat hypocritical for Bush to now go negative in the apparent hope that this will stop the slide or the ascent of Gore."

-- CBS Evening News, Friday night September 1. Anchor John Roberts picked up on a bad poll number for Bush: "Sixty-seven days now until America elects a new President. And this was not the best of days for George W. Bush. The latest Newsweek poll out tonight shows that in a two-way race, Al Gore has upped his lead over Bush to 12 points now. Bill Whitaker reports the Republican candidate is defending a new attack ad that started running today."

After showing an ad clip, Whitaker reported: "Democrats called it desperate and negative. Bush called it factual and funny."
Bush: "I don't think this is mean and ugly. I think this is a tongue-in-cheek use of the man's own words. I also said loud and clear throughout the campaign I'm going to defend myself."

Whitaker also resurrected the McCain campaign days: "It's a road-tested Bush strategy: the candidate rides the high road while surrogates deliver the body blows. It worked to great effect against John McCain in the South Carolina primary."
Doug Bailey, Hotline: "This is really quite a negative spot. That is quite risky, particularly because these people just got to know him and liked him."
Whitaker concluded: "A senior Bush aide says they have to do something, acknowledging that TV and newspaper pictures of Bush are often on poorly lit planes, while Gore's are sunny. And Gore may have trumped him again today, releasing this photo signing a new plutonium agreement with the Russians, looking presidential."

-- NBC Nightly News, Friday September 1. Anchor John Siegenthaler offered a slightly different number from the same poll cited by CBS: "In the race to see who will be the next President, the current Vice President, Al Gore, has according to one new national poll, opened up a double-digit lead over Texas Governor George W. Bush. A Newsweek magazine poll out tonight shows Gore up 10 points over Bush, 49 to 39 percent, and the Republican Party is out with a new TV ad to try to turn those numbers around by going negative."

David Gregory proclaimed: "Today, in the face of fresh evidence that Al Gore is widening his lead over Governor Bush as Labor Day approaches, the Republican Party goes on the offensive, unveiling an ad the Gore campaign labels a personal attack."

Clip from RNC ad: "Who's he going to be today? The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist Temple or the one who now promises campaign finance reform? Really."
Gregory: "Bush advisers say the ad, which airs in 17 key states, is designed to remind voters of what they don't like about the vice president. Specifically, Bush says that Gore will say anything to get elected."
Bush: "Well, I thought it was tongue-in-cheek. This ad came up after about $30 million in advertisements that have been attacking me and my record."
Gregory: "Today, the Vice President in a conference call with reporters promises never to launch a personal attack, and his running mate tells NBC News."
Senator Joe Lieberman: "I'm afraid that it's a response to the fact that the Bush-Cheney ticket has been having some trouble lately. But you know, that's when our values are tested."

Gregory warned: "Some question the ad's timing, saying it makes Bush appear defensive after two weeks of missteps, aides admit, over issues like taxes and prescription drugs for seniors."
Stuart Rothenberg, political analyst: "Nobody knows why they did it now. Why do you shoot your bullets on Labor Day that you may need in the middle of October?"
Gregory: "Bush advisers maintain the ad was planned months ago, and whether it's perceived as negative or not, attacking Gore's character represents a major theme of the campaign."
Frank Luntz, Republican pollster: "When it's an issue of credibility, Bush will do well. But when it's detail after detail after detail, Gore does better."

Gregory concluded: "The question is, will it work? Or will Labor Day, the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign, mark just the start of this race getting personal?"

All this preening just proves the Bush campaign must always factor in media hostility toward any criticism of Gore. -- Brent Baker


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