CyberAlert -- 09/08/1997 -- Gore Ignored; Mother Teresa Crushed by Diana

Gore Ignored; Mother Teresa Crushed by Diana

  1. Media obsession with Diana meant that the networks on Saturday skipped Al Gore's e-mail and Janet Reno's dereliction.
  2. Margaret Carlson contended that the system "corrupted" an innocent Al Gore as a New York Times headline spun for the VP.
  3. Just one network led with Mother Teresa over Diana Friday night. NBC dedicated seven times more time to Diana while Peter Jennings compared both but only raised criticisms of Mother Teresa.
  4. Sunday morning only Meet the Press explored Mother Teresa, but for just one-fourth as much time as NBC gave to Diana.

1) Princess Diana's death couldn't have come at a better time for Al Gore. Just as the fundraising hearings focused on him the media were in the midst of obsessing on Diana. Saturday's newspaper's conveyed three developments on the Gore front:

During Friday's hearing a former top aide to Al Gore defended his boss, but as the Saturday Washington Times reported, he may have broken the law: "Vice President Al Gore's former Deputy Chief-of-Staff told a Senate committee yesterday he 'staffed' four of the fundraising calls Mr. Gore made from his White House office, prompting concern from some Senators that the aide may have violated federal law."

Saturday's Washington Post, reviewing the Republican contention that Gore knew the Buddhist temple event was designed to raise money, reported that "their strongest evidence was an elliptical memo written by Gore himself weeks before the event, on March 15, 1996. Gore was replying to an aide's query about a scheduling conflict. The aide wrote that since Gore had 'fundraisers' set for April 29 in California, could he attend a Jewish group's event in New York the night before? Gore replied electronically that 'if we've already booked the fundraisers,' then decline the New York event."

The most explosive news of the day came on page one of the Washington Post. The headline announced: "Justice Did Not Review Legality of Gore White House Solicitations: Report of Hard Money Deposits Prompted Reno to Act." The Post discovered that in the five months since Gore claimed in March that his calls were legal, the Justice Department never looked into the matter -- not until Bob Woodward did their job for them with his September 3 story. Saturday's Post quoted Republicans who said this contradicted Reno's claims that Justice was aggressively investigating all fundraising-related charges.

Coverage: Zilch on the broadcast networks. Friday night on CNN's The World Today anchor Leon Harris briefly mentioned that Gore aide David Strauss denied the temple event was a fundraiser. But nothing Friday night on ABC, CBS or NBC nor on Saturday's NBC Nightly News, the only broadcast network with an evening show in the east. Diana obliterated Saturday's Today on NBC and CNN aired a Diana special from 8 to 11pm ET on Saturday night. Diana consumed virtually the entire Today and Good Morning America on Sunday.

2) The weekend talk shows delivered two examples of top journalists forwarding either the "system is the problem" or the "everybody does it" defense for VP Al Gore:

Time columnist Margaret Carlson on the Saturday, September 6 Capital Gang:
"What we've done is we've got a face on a corrupt system and we're doubting the probity -- who would ever have thought that you would doubt the probity of Vice President Al Gore and three nuns. So it seems to me you've got to look at the system when the system is corrupting people that you would not otherwise think."

An exchange from the September 5 Washington Week in Review on PBS:
Time magazine reporter Michael Duffy on Gore: "He's applied the same defense there [on calls] as he has in the temple. He said didn't know the temple was a fundraiser and what his aides have told me today is that he didn't know this money was going to go into the hard money account. So, the I was out of the loop defense is what is currently operative in the Office of the Vice President."

Moderator and CNN reporter Ken Bode jumped in: "Originating in the Bush Administration."

Speaking of giving the most positive spin possible, look at how the New York Times headlined its Friday story.

The Los Angeles Times told readers: "Buddhist Nuns Admit Misdeeds in Fundraising."

USA Today announced: "Nuns Admit Destroying Documents."

But the New York Times headline declared: "Nuns Say Temple Event With Gore Was Not a Fundraiser."

3) All the networks but one led Friday night with Diana-related events over the passing of Mother Teresa. And neither the CBS or NBC remembrances mentioned her opposition to abortion. Here's a Diana vs. Mother Teresa rundown of Friday, September 6 shows:

The CBS Evening News led with Diana in stories lasting nearly nine minutes. Richard Threlkeld got 2:40 for a review of Mother Teresa's life, but he never noted her pro-life stand. Dan Rather ended the broadcast by saying that Diana and Mother Teresa were incomparable, but introduced a two-and-a-half minute story doing just that:
"They could not have been move different. One lived in a privileged world of glamour and media hype, the other in a world of illness and poverty. Yet, as CBS's Harry Smith reports, the lives of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa intersected on the common ground of compassion."
Diana vs. Mother Teresa index (not counting last story): 3 to 1.

NBC Nightly News began with Diana and devoted nearly 13 minutes of a 22 minute show to her, her upcoming funeral and the status of the Royal Family. And that's before counting an end of show 2:30 piece on whether the media went "overboard" on Diana coverage. NBC squeezed in a profile of Mother Teresa by reporter Richard Roth that lasted just over two minutes.
Diana vs. Mother Teresa index: 7 to 1.

ABC's World News Tonight was the only network Friday night to put Mother Teresa at the top of the show. In the second of two pieces, Bill Blakemore raised abortion near the end of his story, which concluded:
"...On her travels she also frequently spoke out against abortion and birth control, backing up the position of her great admirer, Pope John Paul II. For years Catholics have talked of sainthood in this tiny, quick woman. For everyone, she proved the old saying, that the most powerful form of leadership is example."

Those pieces took 5:45 but were followed with nine minutes on Diana, plus another 2:40 in two items that compared and contrasted the two women.
Diana vs. Mother Teresa index (not counting comparison time): 1.5 to 1.

World News Tonight did not pick a Person of the Week on Friday night, but instead closed with Peter Jennings saying "it is not possible to compare" Diana and Mother Teresa. Then he did so. Below is the entirety of the story by Jennings. Notice about whom of the two women he decided to relay criticism:
"Finally this evening, the great irony that two such extraordinary woman should die in the same few days. It is not possible to compare them -- there were so many obvious differences. But there are certainly connections. In June this year Diana went to call on Mother Teresa who was staying at the time with her Missionaries of Charity in New York's South Bronx. Diana had visited her in India as well. And each was to say that they'd drawn some strength from the other's goodness.
"They were both so very famous and each would use their celebrity to advance the causes in which they believed. But whereas Diana has this week been seen by some as a unique example for her generation, Mother Teresa has always been absolutely clear that her work is God's work. It is not I who count, she once said, I am but a small pencil in the hand of God. Mother Teresa was not immune from criticism for using her Nobel acceptance speech to speak out against abortion, for accepting honors from dictators and money without always questioning the sources.
"Tonight, here in London, when Princess Diana's coffin was moved from one palace to the other we are struck again by what a shock her death was. She was so young, so vibrant. Mother Teresa's death after such a long life of service seems somehow understandable. And she was so familiar with death. It was Mother Teresa who often said, in death everyone is the same."

CNN's The World Today not only cited Mother Teresa's opposition to abortion, but provided the only soundbite by her on abortion aired on any network. In a three-and-a-half minute retrospective on her life, Richard Blystone noted:

"The forceful personality and unswerving beliefs put her in conflict with several Western liberal ideals. Among them, the notion that feeding the poor only perpetuates poverty and hunger should be attacked at its root with seeds and hoes and population control. Not her job she said. Her calling was to serve not theories but individual humans. And her opposition to contraception, divorce and abortion drew active and vocal criticism but she was not to be turned."
Mother Teresa: "Abortion is a terrible evil and if you do not want the child, I want it. Give it to me."

4) Mother Teresa did not move up the news agenda by Sunday as two of the Sunday shows allocated time to a music video and the only show which dealt with Mother Teresa allocated four times as much time to Diana.

Of the five Sunday morning interview shows (Fox News Sunday, CBS's Face the Nation, ABC's This Week and CNN's Late Edition and NBC's Meet the Press) all dedicated at least one interview segment to post Diana funeral analysis, but only NBC's Meet the Press brought anyone on to discuss Mother Teresa's legacy. Following sixteen minute and seventeen minute segments on Diana, host Tim Russert spent eight minutes talking with two Catholic leaders about Mother Teresa.
That's a four-to-one ratio before Russert took 3:52 to close the program by playing Elton John from the funeral singing "Candle in the Wind." Viewers heard John over a video montage of Diana scenes with some shots of Mother Teresa mixed in.

ABC's This Week also ended with a full rendition of the Elton John song, but its video montage stuck to Diana.

For the record, This Week devoted most of the show to Diana, but also interviewed Bill Weld. CBS's Face the Nation took up Diana followed by the fundraising hearings. CNN's Late Edition looked at the Middle East, followed by Diana. Fox News Sunday proved the most substantive, running lengthy segments on the Middle East and fundraising after a short opening talk with Brit Hume about Diana.

The question is, how much coverage will the networks devote to Mother Teresa's funeral on Saturday? I'm betting very little compared to Princess Diana, unless a pop singer creates a song for her.

-- Brent Baker