Standing Student Tale Skipped; ABC & NBC Ruled Gore Right on Bush Tax Cut Skew; Jennings Upset Tax Cut Means Less for Government -- Extra Edition
2) ABC, CBS and CNN on Wednesday night ignored Gore's fabrication about a Florida high school girl who because of overcrowding must stand in class. Only NBC and FNC corrected Gore on it. All the networks took note of Gore's false claim that he once accompanied FEMA chief James Lee Witt to a fire scene in Texas.
3) Fact-checking for the fact checkers? ABC and NBC ruled as accurate Gore's claim that Bush would "spend" more money for a tax cut for the top one percent than on all other programs. CNN and FNC found it inaccurate. NBC's Lisa Myers noted how Gore was "misleading" in "seeming to minimize his new spending plans." NBC and FNC cited Bush's inconsistency on RU-486.
5) CNN's Jeff Greenfield again contended Bush might have been "hurt" by bringing up Gore's fundraising scandals, but the Washington Post's David Broder found no such problem amongst people in a focus group. They were upset with a Gore line.
6) ABC found undecided voters "overwhelmed by the numbers" and urging the candidates to "keep it simple" next time. The Bush and Gore proposals were "too complicated to understand" for a group profiled by CBS's Phil Jones.
Post-presidential debate spin, fact-checking and reaction from undecided potential voters led all the evening shows Wednesday night on both the broadcast and cable networks. ABC, CBS and NBC all went to their Bush and Gore correspondents for brief updates on reactions from their respective candidates, but none said anything very interesting so in the interest of time and space I'm skipping those stories to concentrate on which mistakes by the candidates the networks picked up on and inconsistency among the networks in ruling Gore's attack on Bush's tax claim as true or false.
But first, to give you a flavor of the network spin, here's how ABC, CBS and NBC opened Wednesday night, October 4:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings announced: "We begin with last night's presidential debate and its fallout. Fewer than 50 million people appear to have watched. That may turn out to be the fewest number ever. Who won, who lost, what will it mean in the days ahead? Today, because the race is so close, no rest for the weary, the candidates are both back on the campaign trail trying to take advantage of the very real differences apparent between them last night."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather declared: "It was billed as the first great televised debate between George Bush and Al Gore. Whatever you make of the style and substance of last night's face-off, fairly or unfairly, not many are calling it great. And overnight polls, including CBS's, show the same thing. The overall presidential race is still close because few minds appear to have been changed. Polls that will be coming out in a few days may give us a better read on all this. Tonight we're going to take you beyond the spin doctors, who provide managed care for the candidates, and get to the facts and independent judgments."
Of the broadcast networks only CBS cited poll results. As Rather referred to CBS's overnight poll viewers saw an on-screen graphic showing Gore moved from a 47 to 42 percent lead before the debate to a 50 to 42 percent lead afterward.
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw opened the broadcast: "It was one of the smallest television audiences ever for a presidential debate and neither candidate moved a lot of undecided voters..."
All the networks took note Wednesday night of Al Gore's false claim that he once accompanied FEMA chief James Lee Witt to a fire scene in Texas, but ABC, CBS and CNN ignored Gore's fabrication about a Florida high school girl who, supposedly because of overcrowding, must stand in class. Only NBC and FNC informed viewers of the baseless tale.
CNN's Candy Crowley, on both Inside Politics and The World Today, mentioned the fire trip error.
Terry Moran acknowledged on ABC's World News Tonight that Al Gore "had to concede that he's never been in Texas with James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management administrator, because he hasn't. He also made a half concession to his answer to the first question, when he said he'd never questioned Governor Bush's experience when he has, a lot. He said he meant his personal experience rather than his political experience."
Though Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson was the only morning host to have asked Gore about the fire trip fabrication, ABC's own World News Tonight did not play a clip from the exchange of Gore admitting his false statement. But the ABC morning show did get credit on the CBS and NBC evening shows which both featured a clip from Gore on GMA.
On the CBS Evening News Bob Schieffer hit both
candidates as equally guilty: "Both occasionally fudged facts. Bush
incorrectly claimed Gore's primary campaign cost more than his. When
Bush brought up these fires that swept South Texas, Gore recalled going
there with the federal emergency management chief."
In an NBC Nightly News segment, dubbed as from
"The Truth Squad," Lisa Myers delivered the most comprehensive
and wide-ranging examination of flubs by both candidates. As transcribed
by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, she began with two Gore whoppers:
(Item #3 below includes more from the remainder of the Myers story.)
FNC's James Rosen also took up both of those Gore
gaffes, reporting them on Special Report with Brit Hume and the Fox
Report. On Hume's show he asserted, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad
Wilmouth: "Vice President Gore also recalled visiting wildfires in
rural Texas in 1996. In fact, Gore's so called visit came two years
later when fires ravaged the same area, and his visit consisted of an
airport hangar briefing which Gore sandwiched between two fundraisers.
Gore's failure to acknowledge error on the fires drew immediate fire
For more on the situation as related by the school
principal to CNSNews.com reporter Jim Burns, go to:
Network fact-checking, of Gore's claim that Bush would "spend" more money for a tax cut for the top one percent than on all other programs combined, needs a little fact-checking itself as the networks contradicted each other. Wednesday night ABC and NBC ruled Gore accurate, but FNC and CNN cited sources which found Gore inaccurate.
ABC's Betsy Stark also took Bush to task for his claim that 50 million are excluded from Gore's tax cut plan, but she noted it's more than the only three or four million claimed by Gore. As did FNC's James Rosen, NBC's Lisa Myers highlighted Bush's flip-flop on RU-486, but she also uniquely pointed how "Gore appears to have been misleading about his own priorities, seeming to minimize his new spending plans."
First, a look at the varying assessments of Gore's blast at Bush's tax plan.
-- "Ten times he said it favors the wealthiest
one percent," Betsy Stark noted on ABC's World News Tonight of Gore
before playing this debate soundbite: "He spends more money for tax
cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of his new spending proposals
for health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense all
It's not only that "they say" it, it is also accurate, but Stark failed to give any numbers to convey how a minuscule percent of the population pays a huge hunk of all income taxes collected.
-- NBC's Lisa Myers, picking up her story after
recounting Gore's fire trip and crowded classroom tales, asserted:
"Beyond today's controversy, questions tonight about each
candidate's truthfulness, about their economic priorities and using the
-- FNC's James Rosen delivered the opposite
assessment on Special Report with Brit Hume. He suggested Gore
"flirted with falsehood."
-- CNN's The World Today. Brooks Jackson used a
different Gore soundbite, but like FNC's Rosen, he found Gore, not Bush,
the inaccurate one on the size of Bush's tax cut. CNN viewers saw Gore
assert: "Almost half of all the tax cut benefits, as I said, under
Governor Bush's plan go to the wealthiest one percent."
-- Other areas. Jackson, Stark, Myers & Rosen, the reporters not the law firm, also corrected the candidates in other areas. CNN's Jackson maintained that Bush was "misleading" when he claimed that under his plan the wealthy will pay a higher percentage of all taxes collected.
ABC's Betsy Stark declared: "Both candidates are exaggerating, though it's hard to say how much. The Gore camp says only three to four million Americans, those making more than $120,000 a year, are ineligible for the Vice President's tax breaks, not the $50 million Governor Bush alleges. But analysts say millions more could be excluded. Gore's tax breaks for child care, elder care, education and retirement savings clearly favor families with children over single people, couples without children and retirees."
NBC's Lisa Myers followed up her assessment, that
Gore got it correct about how Bush's tax cut favors the wealthy, by
taking on a Gore claim: "Gore appears to have been misleading about
his own priorities, seeming to minimize his new spending plans."
She also nailed Bush on another assertion: "As
for Bush, he seemed to flip-flop on a hot-button issue: Would he try to
overturn the FDA's approval of the abortion pill RU-486?"
Myers concluded: "In ninety minutes, both candidates managed to oversimplify and mislead, and with two presidential debates to go, both campaigns hope that someone's misstep or exaggeration could tip the election."
FNC's James Rosen found Bush almost as bad as
Gore: "For his part, Governor Bush proved only slightly less
factually challenged than his opponent."
Bottom line to Peter Jennings on tax cuts: "A very large chunk of money not available for government programs."
On the October 4 World News Tonight Jennings described the "philosophical" differences between Gore and Bush displayed in two topic areas during the debate.
Jennings explained: "On prescription drugs
and Medicare, Al Gore says the government will help to pay for
everyone's prescription drugs, universal coverage, whatever their
income, which means a very large price tag for government. George Bush
wants the government to help those who can least afford it, except in
the case of a catastrophic illness.
Jennings clearly believes all the money belongs to the government.
Just as he complained after the debate Tuesday night, on Wednesday's Inside Politics CNN's Jeff Greenfield again contended Bush might have been "hurt" by bringing up Gore's fundraising scandals. But this time Washington Post reporter/columnist David Broder found the evidence lacking for Greenfield's concern as people in a focus group were upset at Gore.
Greenfield argued: "The one time when I thought somebody did something that might have hurt, and I'd be curious whether David's focus group thought so, was when Bush said 'yeah I was disappointed in the fundraising and I've got a question about how Al Gore handled that,' because we've been hearing that one of the things that voters are least interested in is any sign of negativity, even if it's a criticism of public behavior. And I wondered whether that comment of Bush got a thumbs down from your folks?"
From Florida, where he sat in with a group of undecided voters, Broder found Greenfield off base: "It did not Jeff. The only thing that they commented on negatively was the frequency with which Al Gore repeated that wonderful phrase, 'the wealthiest one percent of the American people.'"
"Undecided" voters are really too stupid to figure anything out on their own and to lazy to try. ABC's John Cochran and CBS's Phil Jones didn't say that, but it's the inevitable conclusion to draw from their summaries of focus groups of undecided voters gathered by each network.
ABC's John Cochran traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania where he found a group which was "confused." In between soundbites from the citizens he described them as "overwhelmed by the numbers, especially those from Al Gore" and unable to comprehend the Medicare arguments. He concluded: "From all these Pennsylvania holdouts, advice for the next debate: Keep it simple."
For the CBS Evening News Phil Jones sat in with a focus group in St. Louis where he found: "The people in our focus group were turned off by what they thought was Gore's aggressive debate style," though "many of these voters were also upset by Governor Bush's repetition of Clinton-Gore having had their chance." Jones concluded: "For a small group of frustrated undecided voters, their proposals appear to be too complicated to understand and time is running out. There are only five weeks and two debates left."
Five weeks, five months, five years. It won't make any difference with these people. They'll never figure it out.
Clueless potential voters probably don't watch TV news, but if they watch ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? they learned something not even dedicated network news watchers would have seen this campaign season.
Just a half hour before the debate began,
eastern and central time zone viewers of ABC's quiz show heard host
Regis Philbin pose this $32,000 question to contestant Susan LaRose of
The possible answers:
LaRose was clueless, so she employed her last "lifeline," the 50-50, to narrow her choices. She was left with Nader or Gore. Philbin commented: "Eliminating the internal combustion engine. It's quite a proposal."
A long pause ensued and LaRose joked about how she should have listened to Philbin and not used her other "lifelines" on some earlier questions.
But she eventually took a stab and correctly guessed "C, Gore."
Philbin exclaimed: "Yes! It was Al Gore!"
LaRose soon met her demise, stopping the game at the $125,000 question about which Columbus ship did not return to Spain.
+++ Watch the ABC quiz show question session about the proposal in Gore's book. Today MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip. Go to: http://www.mrc.org
To view other recent clips we've posted,
including two of ABC debate coverage, go to:
Maybe there's a secret Bush "mole" on the writing staff of the ABC show. -- Brent Baker
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