CyberAlert -- 09/29/1997 -- McConnell No Hero to NBC; CBS's Schieffer Blames His Bias on GOP

McConnell No Hero to NBC; CBS's Schieffer Blames His Bias on GOP

  1. Friday night Peter Jennings was pleased that Senate "finally" got to reform, NBC looked at the "one man wrecking crew" blocking that "reform," and only CBS noted an eyewitness to Clinton's calls.
  2. CBS's Bob Schieffer admitted that he approached the IRS hearings with an anti-GOP bias because "the Republicans sent out some fairly odious, in my view, fundraising letters."
  3. Letterman's "Top Ten New Allegations Against Al Gore."

1) Friday's Los Angeles Times reported that Harold Ickes admitted he witnessed President Clinton make phone calls from the White House, but of the broadcast networks only CBS mentioned the news, and for only 21 seconds. Meanwhile, Peter Jennings told viewers that the Senate had "finally" begun debate on campaign finance reform and NBC profiled Senator Mitch McConnell, who Tom Brokaw described as "a one man wrecking crew when it comes to campaign finance reform."

"Ex-Aide Details Clinton Calls From White House" announced the headline over the front page LA Times story. The subhead for the September 26 story declared: "Harold Ickes tells federal investigators he heard President phone donors in '94, Times learns." The thrice bylined piece, by reporters David Willman, Alan Miller and Ronald Ostrow, opened:

"Telephoning from the White House, President Clinton solicited money from several major Democratic contributors in 1994, according to new information provided to federal investigators by a former White House aide, The Times has learned.

"Clinton placed the calls within a month of the 1994 midterm elections, when the Democratic National Committee was trying to preserve the party's control of Congress and was seeking the money to pay for a television advertising campaign. Harold M. Ickes, the former aide, has told federal authorities that he was present when Clinton made the calls from a room in the residence quarters, according to people familiar with the investigation.

"The account, provided during questioning this week, is the first corroboration that Clinton personally solicited political donations from within the White House. The propriety of such solicitations is the subject of intense debate....

"Regardless, the confirmation that Clinton personally solicited donors from the White House could inflame criticism that he and Democratic campaigners stretched the limits of propriety and abused the Executive Mansion for partisan purposes...."

Also on Friday, the Washington Post carried a story by Bob Woodward headlined "Gore's Staff Routinely Discarded Call Sheets: Justice Dept. Probe May Be Extended if Record of Fundraising From White House Is Incomplete."

Friday morning, all three morning shows skipped both developments in favor of multiple pieces and interviews about the Marv Albert case.

Here are the highlights from the September 26 evening shows, all of which ignored the Gore disclosure:

ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Peter Jennings made clear how tired he had become of the focus on Democratic wrongdoing. Leading into soundbites from Senators Tom Daschle (in favor) and Mitch McConnell (against) on the McCain-Feingold bill, Jennings intoned:

"In Washington today, after a summer full of committee hearings on fundraising scandals the full Senate has finally begun to debate a campaign finance reform bill. The bill's most important feature is a ban on so-called soft money, contributions that are supposed to only help political parties but often go to the candidates. Opponents of the bill say this violates free speech, but those in favor say action is needed now."

CBS Evening News was the only one of the three to mention Ickes. Substitute anchor John Roberts delivered this 21-second item, complete with White House spin:

"Former top White House aide Harold Ickes reportedly told Senate investigators that President Clinton made several phone calls from the White House in 1994 to solicit campaign contributions. Mr. Clinton has said he doesn't remember making any calls and the President's White House counsel said today even if Mr. Clinton did make those calls they were, quote, 'entirely legal.'"

NBC Nightly News ignored Ickes and Gore, but managed to report a Barbour development and portray McConnell as an impediment to good government.

Leading into the first ad break, Tom Brokaw offered this plug:

"Up next, action of a sort in Washington on reforming money and politics. But one Senator continues to just say no."

Before getting to McConnell, Brokaw told viewers:

"In Washington tonight there's word that the former Chairman of the Republican Party, Haley Barbour, is now being investigated by a federal grand jury about a one and a half million dollar loan to the GOP from a foreign source."

Brokaw rolled right into a profile of McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. NBC could have portrayed him as a hero of the First Amendment, standing up for the civil rights of the average guy. But they didn't. Instead, after the Barbour item, Brokaw continued:

"And over at the Senate today debate started on campaign finance reform but Trent Lott, the Senate Republican Leader, made it clear from the beginning he doubts anything will come of it. And tonight NBC's Gwen Ifill tells us about a Republican Senator who is a one man wrecking crew when it comes to campaign finance reform and he's proud of it."

If only McConnell were arguing for the right to burn the flag or for the right of Penthouse to be available in high school libraries, then he'd be a media hero.

Following Ifill's profile of the "unabashed fundraiser," Brokaw made an independent expenditure for a rich liberal, announcing:

"There was a challenge today to the members of the Senate committee who have been looking into the Democrat's campaign fundraising habits. In an ad in the Washington Post Sol Price, the founder of the Price Clubs, says he'll offer $100,000 to a charity chosen by the first committee member who vows he or she has never given access to a campaign contributor."

Normally the press ignores moronic ads placed by rich guys with too much free time and money to burn spouting off, so maybe NBC agrees with this one. Why exactly should a donor have any less chance for access than anyone else?

2) Last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning Bob Schieffer's stories on the IRS hearings all emphasized how the hearings had a partisan taint because Trent Lott signed a fundraising letter critical of the agency. On the September 24 This Morning for instance, Jane Robelot asked him:

Robelot: "Bob, you say that these hearings are real crowd pleasers. Are they political?"

Schieffer agreed: "Republican leaders in the Senate have sent out fundraising letters soliciting donations by saying, 'Your support will help us to end the reign of terror of the IRS.' So, while it's true there are certainly some reforms needed in the IRS, I think because these fundraising letters have been sent out, a lot of people think these hearings are suspect."

Well, on Sunday's Face the Nation Schieffer conceded that he approached the hearings with a bias, a prejudice against the Republican position fueled by his disgust at their attacks on the IRS. He asked Senator Orrin Hatch:

"I think one reason that a lot of people in Washington, and I include myself in that group, did not take these hearings all that seriously in the beginning is that the Republicans sent out some fairly odious, in my view, fundraising letters where they said, you know, send us ten dollars and we'll help bring pressure to get rid of the IRS. And I think people, in some cases, saw these hearings as just a part of a Republican fundraising effort. I'm going to also add, after we heard the testimony from these witnesses, in my mind anyway, it gave a lot of credibility to these hearings. But do you think it's not such a good idea in retrospect to be, trying to raise money on the idea of eliminating the IRS?"

And I always thought reporters were adamant that their personal views never influenced their stories.

By the way, Schieffer's question took 40 seconds to ask. That's twice as much time as Friday's Evening News item on the Harold Ickes revelation.

3) The Top Ten New Allegations Against Al Gore, from the September 23 Late Show with David Letterman. Copyright 1997 by Worldwide Pants Incorporated.

10. Has been covering up the fact that Janet Reno is his identical twin brother

9. Made hilarious prank fundraising calls under the name "Jerky Al"

8. Before Cabinet meetings, always gets, like, really baked

7. Has thirty pounds of plastic explosives taped to his body at all times

6. Uses White House phones to run service called "1-900-HOT-VEEP"

5. Leaves Big Macs all around Oval Office in hope that President Clinton will eat himself to death

4. During campaign, spread rumor that Dole was old, when in fact he's only 36

3. On the night of March 12, at approximately 8:15 PM, he blinked

2. According to Tipper, he's not nearly as stiff as everyone thinks

1. He's the real father of Michael Jackson's baby

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