Appearance Alert
MRC's Bozell to appear on Fox News' 'The Kelly File' at 9:40pm ET

CyberAlert -- 09/20/2000 -- Does Bush Have "The Smarts"?

Does Bush Have "The Smarts"?; Oprah Gentle With Bush With Exceptions; NY Times Conceded Headline "Exceeded the Facts"

1) Does George W. Bush have "the smarts to be President?" So asked MSNBC's Brian Williams in picking out that question from Oprah to highlight. ABC stressed how Bush "opened up to Oprah." CBS's Bill Whitaker showcased a woman on the street who blasted Bush: "I don't feel like he's truly interested in women's rights."

2) If only Dan Rather were as balanced as Oprah Winfrey. FNC's Brit Hume decided she treated Bush "as gently as she did Al Gore." But there were two exceptions: Oprah argued with Bush about the death penalty and she raised a belittling topic, asking if he's "smarter than most folks?"

3) More disdain for law enforcers than for Clinton. A reporter "asked" Bill Clinton on Tuesday: "There's word that independent counsel Ray will release a statement tomorrow about his findings on Whitewater, including the role of your wife. Six weeks away from the election. Do you question the timing?"

4) "The headline exceeded the facts in the article," the New York Times conceded in an "editor's note" about how the paper wrongly attributed "a general political viewpoint to" FNC.


Editor's Note: My own, not from the New York Times. This week I've begun including up top: "When posted, this CyberAlert will be readable at...." and then listing the exact, direct Web address. This is to allow those who do not read the CyberAlert immediately, and/or who like to be able to jump down via a link from a table of contents listing to an article, to be able to quickly access the online version. Be aware, however, that there is a delay in posting. CyberAlerts sent overnight won't be up until at least 10am ET and ones sent during the day, like this one, will not be posted until at least an hour after they are sent, longer in both cases if MRC Webmaster Andy Szul needs to incorporate a video clip.

1

Does George W. Bush have "the smarts to be President?" So asked MSNBC's Brian Williams in picking out that question from Oprah as the one and only one to highlight Tuesday night. ABC showed how Bush "opened up to Oprah," announced ABC's Dean Reynolds in a laudatory World News Tonight piece which displayed Bush's humor. CBS's Bill Whitaker showed clips of his effort on Oprah to win back women voters, but predicted: "Polls indicate Bush will have a hard time winning them back." Whitaker then allowed a woman on the street to blast Bush: "I don't feel like he's truly interested in women's rights."

(Bush will be interviewed live by Williams today, Wednesday September 20, during MSNBC's post-Olympic coverage hour hosted by Williams which has replaced Hardball. It airs at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT.)

CNN's Candy Crowley reviewed Bush's appearance for The World Today and then Jeanne Meserve compared the Oprah appearances of Gore last week and Bush on Tuesday, deciding: "What was striking was the similarity of their performances in style and substance. Both Bush and Gore were able to rock 'n roll with their host and get a laugh out of the audience."

The ABC, CBS, CNN and FNC stories all showcased the same humorous exchange:
Oprah: "Tell us about a time when you needed forgiveness."
Bush: "Right now."
Oprah: "I'm looking for specifics."
Bush: "I know you are but I'm running for President."

Just after the top story on the Cuban plane crash, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams got to Oprah, and showed only one exchange from the show in this brief segment he narrated: "One question Oprah asked Bush involved an issue that's been raised often during this campaign, whether or not he's got the smarts to be President."
Bush on Oprah: "I'm well educated but I'm certainly not the kind of person that talks down to people because of my education. I don't think that's what a leader does. I think a leader needs to inspire and unite and you can't inspire and unite by thinking you're smarter than everybody else, at least that's what I've learned as Governor."
Oprah: "You don't have to think it but somewhere know that you are."
Bush: "Well I think people are going to figure it out one way or the other."

ABC, CBS, CNN and FNC all skipped that exchange. And now here's how ABC and CBS handled Bush on Oprah on September 19, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth.

-- ABC World News Tonight made Bush the second story, just after the Cuban plane crash.

Dean Reynolds began: "With polls showing him losing the support of women, George W. Bush turned to a female favorite today and opened up to Oprah."

Oprah: "What do you know for sure?"
Bush: "That there is a God."
Oprah: "Tell us about a time when you needed forgiveness."
Bush: "Right now."
Oprah: "I'm looking for specifics."
Bush: "I know you are but I'm running for President."
Reynolds: "He disclosed that his favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly on white bread and that his favorite childhood memory is playing little league baseball in Texas."
Viewer question: "Governor Bush, what is the public's largest misconception of you."
George W. Bush: "Probably, I'm running on my Daddy's name."
Reynolds: "Bush campaign aides were so intent on trumpeting his performance that they were claiming to have received laudatory phone calls from all over the country, even before the program had been broadcast outside Chicago. This whole week has been an attempt to show a softer side that might win back women voters. Last night, for example, he honored a wounded policeman, and today he encouraged minority students on Chicago's south side."

Reynolds concluded: "For Bush, this is something of a balancing act. He undoubtedly needs to do better among women, but he has to do it without alienating his strongest supporters -- men."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather announced: "The presidential campaign is being overshadowed in many ways by the Olympics, but today Republican George Bush made another in his bids to close the gender gap with Vice President Gore when it comes to support from women."

Bill Whitaker opened his piece: "If women voters won't come to the candidate."
Oprah: "The Governor of Texas, George W!"
Whitaker: "Then the candidate must go to them, so George W. Bush went to the queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey, to court her huge audience, 22 million, mostly women."
Oprah: "Tell us about a time when you needed forgiveness."
Bush: "Right now."
Whitaker: "Submitting to the kind of personal confessional he usually shuns."
Oprah: "I'm looking for specifics."
Bush: "I know you are but I'm running for President."
Whitaker: "But with polls showing Vice President Gore attracting more women, Bush today reached out by opening up, talking of his relationship with God, his parents, his wife and twin daughters. It was a hit with wife Laura watching at a nearby restaurant. It's part of his aggressive new push to win back voters who've been drifting away, hitting issues like education and health care that women say matter most -- the very issues that are at the core of Gore's appeal to women and that he hit hard again today in California."

After a Gore soundbite, Whitaker asserted: "The personable Governor had closed the long-standing gender gap, but when Gore shifted the debate from personality to policy at his convention, that turned the tide says Ellen Malcolm of the Democratic Women's Political Action Committee, Emily's List."

Ellen Malcolm: "I think originally George W. Bush was sort of a blank slate, and people had high hopes for who he was. But as they found out where he stood on the positions, and when they found out where the Vice President stood on the positions, women moved towards Al Gore."
Whitaker backed up her point with a comment from just one woman: "And polls indicate Bush will have a hard time winning them back."
Woman on street: "I think the words that he has been saying, he's been saying just to mimic them, to get the women's vote. I don't feel like he's truly interested in women's rights."
Whitaker concluded: "Bush says Gore has a gender gap, too. More men prefer Bush, but usually on election day, more women go to the polls."

2

If only Dan Rather were as balanced as Oprah Winfrey. "George W. Bush went on the Oprah Winfrey show and the question beforehand was whether she would treat him as gently as she did Al Gore," FNC's Brit Hume contended at the top of his 6pm ET show Tuesday night. His assessment: "She did."

Indeed, after tossing softballs at Gore last Monday as she avoided scandal and tough political questions and largely stuck to personal questions in order, as she put it, to get "behind the wall" of politicians, with a couple of minor exceptions she offered Bush the same treatment. She asked Gore to name his "favorite cereal," with Bush she inquired as to his "favorite sandwich."

Her even-handedness occurred despite her personal support of Democratic causes. CNN's Bernard Shaw reported on Inside Politics that she donated $5,000 to the DNC in 1998 and $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 1996.

The exceptions to balanced treatment could be considered minor quibbles, but they do reflect some tougher treatment of Bush: First, Oprah never argued with Al Gore about any controversial policy he's advocated or enacted, but she did allow a viewer questioner to ask about the death penalty and then she followed up, seeming perplexed that Bush would actually maintain that he thinks the death penalty system works in Texas without errors. In contrast, all four of the viewer inquiries of Gore were softballs. Second, while Oprah did ask Gore about being "stiff," she raised a more derogatory subject with Bush, asking if he's "smarter than most folks?"

During Bush's September 19 hour three people other than Oprah got to ask questions: A woman in the audience asked "how do your policies affect me?"; in an audio e-mail a man wondered, "What is the public's largest misconception of you?"; and then came this video question from man: "How do you plan on reforming the death penalty so that innocent people are not put to death yet those who deserve the punishment receive it?"
Bush: "That's what the system should be doing now and I believe does in the state of Texas."
Oprah pressed about the number executed during Bush's term as Governor: "But what about those 143?"
Bush: "What about them? I'm convinced every one of them is guilty of the crime committed and they've had full access to the courts of law. That's what the Governor does. The Governor asks two questions: Innocent or guilty and whether or not the person has had full access to the judicial system."
Oprah, befuddled: "So do you think the system as it is now works?"
Bush: "I do in Texas, I do...."

Eight days earlier Oprah made Gore reply to no such tough outside questions. Gore heard four viewer questions: A video question from a woman, "Al, you know I noticed you're a little stiff sometimes. I just want to know what makes you happy, what puts a smile on your face, what gets you going, what do you enjoy?"; an audio e-mail a woman wondered, "What do you believe is the greatest problem America faces today?"; a woman in the audience stood and asked, "What is your greatest fear in regards to personal or work?"; and Oprah relayed another audience inquiry about how he handles scrutiny.

Back to Bush's hour, after Bush told Oprah that going to Phillips Academy as a teenager was a moment of "self doubt" for him, she creatively raised the issue of his intelligence: "My sense is that the American people want a President who is like us, who has felt some of the same things that we felt, that knows what it's like to live and work. And also, who is smarter than us. Do you fit that bill?"
Bush: "Yes. Particularly the way you asked it."
[Audience laughter]
Oprah: "Okay you think you're like us and smarter than most folks?"

Bush went on to provide the answer shown by MSNBC and quoted in item #1 above.

3

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, reporters keep displaying their disdain for law enforcement agents who might hurt the Clintons. The top network reporters are out on the campaign trail, but those still at the White House are just as disgusted with Robert Ray as their predecessors were with Kenneth Starr, at least judging from a statement to Clinton Tuesday in the form of a question.

At about 3:45pm ET President Clinton went to the press room to make a comment on the Senate's passage of permanent trade status for the People's Republic of China. It was carried live by CNN and FNC and afterward a voice that sounded very much like that of NBC's Bob Kur, asked Clinton: "There's word that independent counsel Ray will release a statement tomorrow about his findings on Whitewater, including the role of your wife. Six weeks away from the election. Do you question the timing?"

A better question would have been along the lines of "Do you regret your delaying tactics and legal maneuvering which impeded the Whitewater investigation for so long that the results won't come out until just before the election?"

4

"The headline exceeded the facts in the article." The September 19 New York Times ran an "Editor's Note" about its September 18 story on the Fox News Channel. The September 19 CyberAlert noted how the original story showed The New York Times had discovered bias at just one network, a conservative tilt on FNC. For the CyberAlert item, go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000919.asp#5

Apparently some editors realized the paper had displayed bias in running a headline which implied FNC has a bias, though the "Editor's Note" misnamed the Fox News Channel:
"An article in Business Day yesterday reported on the rise of the Fox News Network and its efforts to combat a perception that it advances a conservative political agenda. The article quoted Fox executives who said they sought to present fair and balanced news coverage.
"In editing, however, the article was headlined 'The Right Strategy for Fox: Conservative Cable Channel Gains in Ratings War.' In attributing a general political viewpoint to the network, the headline exceeded the facts in the article."

Now that's a great line, "the headline exceeded the facts in the article." They should admit that with at least one story every day. -- Brent Baker


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