Lauer Dampened Bush Win; ABC Asked Gore if Credibility Doubts "Hurt?"; Discredited Gore Global Warming Claim Ignored -- Back to today's CyberAlert
1) Network polls found Bush won the debate. "Of course you have to remember that last week's snap polls weren't entirely accurate so we're gonna have to see how this whole thing plays out," pooh-poohed NBC's Matt Lauer. Tim Russert warned that Gore "has to have one consistent image of just who he is."
2) Gore the victim? ABC's Jack Ford ignored Gore's distortions, but pressed both candidates on a faulty Bush claim, and empathized with Gore about how it felt to be doubted: "You find yourself on stage, in front of family members and tens of millions of people, with a moderator asking questions about your integrity and your credibility. Does that hurt?"
Repeated Shaw's Liberal Questions: Why Didn't the PBS Anchor Balance
Questions from the Left with Questions from the Right?" Picking up on
this morning's CyberAlert, the MRC's Tim Graham suggested some comparable
conservative agenda questions Lehrer could have asked. To read the Media
Reality Check distributed this afternoon by fax, go to:
Last night's debate was the top story on both NBC's Today and CBS's The Early Show today, while ABC's Good Morning America spent the first few minutes on the fact that their correspondent, Morton Dean, had safely escaped from covering a shoot-out between the Israelis and Palestinians. As they did after last week's debate, all of the programs carried brief interviews with both presidential candidates, although this time neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore appeared live. Instead, they taped interviews with network correspondents soon after last night's debate.
All three programs also reported on polls showing that
voters thought Bush had won the debate. Good Morning America's Jack Ford asked
both Bush and Gore about ABC's poll, which found 46 percent of voters thought
Bush won the debate, compared with 30 percent for Gore and 18 percent which
declared it a tie. But on NBC's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed,
co-host Matt Lauer acted as if the results didn't mean much:
NBC's Tim Russert argued that Gore was weakened by last week's condemnations of his irritating interruptions and sighs. Lauer reminded Russert: "When we talked about Al Gore, Tim, you said he needed to ease off a bit, he needed to back off, not come off as condescending or irritating. How did he do in, in that area?"
"He tried so hard, Matt," Russert empathized, "it almost made him tentative. And that was the key. Did he lose some of the passion and emotion and spark that has been a centerpiece of his campaign by being almost too restrained. He tried to lay out a premise against the Governor's record in Texas but never brought it to full closure. It will be quite interesting to see what happens in the third debate. Whether or not Al Gore can maintain this, kind of aloofness from battle, if you will."
Russert added: "But he's got to be careful because there was one Al Gore as the Vice President, another Al Gore at the convention, another Al Gore at the first debate and another Al Gore at the second debate. He's got to be very, very careful he doesn't keep re-introducing a new and different person to the American public. He has to have one consistent image of just who he is."
Jumping on an error Bush made in discussing the sentences received by a trio of Texas murderers, reporters this morning ended their half-hearted hunt for Gore gaffes and began trying to blur the distinctions between the two on issues of truthfulness.
In his interview, ABC's Ford demanded of Bush: "You had said, during the course of your response in the debate, that the three people involved in the death of James Byrd were going to get the ultimate penalty, the death penalty." Bush admitted he'd made a mistake: "Yeah, unfortunately I was wrong. Two of them were going to get the ultimate penalty." The other murderer was sentenced to life in prison.
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed how a few moments later ABC played Ford's interview with the Vice President, but instead of quizzing Gore about any mistakes he might have made (see item #3 below), Ford hammered again on Bush's self-admitted slip: "Governor Bush was asked a question about hate crimes law in Texas, and as part of his answer he stressed the fact that three men had been sentenced to death as a result of the killing of James Byrd. Well, it turns out that he was wrong. Only two men were sentenced to death there." Ford then pitched this softball to Gore: "Is that the type of error, the type of mistake that the Bush campaign has criticized you for making?"
Never pressing Gore to defend any of his debate statements, Ford gave Gore this chance to play the victim: "Let me ask you this, and this is really more of a personal question. You're the Vice President of the United States. You've had a distinguished career in the House and in the Senate, and yet you find yourself on stage, in front of family members and tens of millions of people, with a moderator asking questions about your integrity and your credibility. Does that hurt?"
Does that hurt? Maybe it's time someone started questioning Ford's gullibility.
No network reporter last night, nor any correspondent this morning, reported on erroneous statements made during the debate by Vice President Gore on the subject of global warming. To bolster his argument that global warming poses a real threat to the world's safety, Gore cited a discredited study that purported to show that the North Pole was melting -- the very same study that the New York Times was ridiculed for putting on its front page last August -- and he falsely claimed that pollution was on the rise.
Yet even in spite of their recent public embarrassment, not even the New York Times bothered to refute Gore's claim about the melting pole. Instead, the Times's debate story, written by Richard L. Berke, included Gore's comment last night that "I can't promise I will never get another detail wrong. I can promise you if I am elected president, I will work my heart out to get it right for the American people."
For more on how the New York Times backed off its story
and to read a Letterman Top List prompted by the Times retraction ("Top
Ten Signs The New York Times is Slipping"), go to:
Some might expect that journalists would react by holding Gore accountable to his pledge to be more accurate, but they would be wrong.
Here's what Gore said last night about global warming: "I think that in this 21st century, we will soon see the consequences of what's called global warming. There was a study just a few weeks ago suggesting that in summertime the north polar ice cap will be completely gone in 50 years. Already many people see the strange weather conditions that the old-timers say they've never seen before in their lifetimes. And what's happening is the level of pollution is increasing, significantly."
Now, the corrections that the network "Truth Squads" should have made. First, the claim that the "north polar ice cap" will be gone in 50 years was effectively debunked by climatologist Fred Singer, writing in the Wall Street Journal on August 28. An excerpt:
A recent New York Times story related that "leads" of open water in ice fields near the North Pole filled cruise passengers on a Russian icebreaker with a "sense of alarm." Proponents of the theory of man-made global warming grasped at the story to vindicate their warnings.
But climate experts report that open water at the North Pole is nothing new.
They say that after a long summer of 24-hour days it is not unusual to find open leads just about everywhere -- especially after strong winds break up the winter ice.
Indeed, a 1969 Dutch atlas contains the following passage: "The North Pole Ice Sea is never completely frozen; 3-to-30-meter-thick ice floes continue moving slowly around the pole. At the North Pole the winter temperature is never lower than -35 degrees Celsius."
The atlas goes on to report that summer temperatures can rise to 10 to 12 degrees Celsius -- which is well above freezing.
Actual observations and data from meteorological instruments such as weather satellites and weather balloons confirm that polar regions have not warmed appreciably in recent decades.
Scientists report that the Earth did warm between 1900 and 1940, with the climate recovering from a previous cold period known as the Little Ice Age. As a result of these changes -- which have nothing to do with human influences -- it is warmer now than it was 100 years ago.
Singer is with the Science & Environmental Policy Project. Its Web address: http://www.sepp.org/
Gore also asserted that "the level of pollution is
increasing, significantly." Back on Earth Day, however, environmental
activists were celebrating the decline in pollution over the previous 30
years. The National Journal's Jonathan Rauch pulled together the relevant
statistics for an April 30 story which appeared in the Washington Post's
In his pledge last night, Gore did preface his promise to work to "get it right" with "if I am elected President." The media aren't giving him any reason to start sooner.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos claimed on Thursday's Good Morning America that Bush got his facts wrong when he asserted that former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin stole IMF money meant to aid the Russian people. Stephanopoulos called it "a case where Governor Bush is stretching the facts to make a political point," but the former Clinton White House aide was doing a little stretching himself.
Here's what Bush said last night: "I think we can help, and I know we've got to encourage democracy in the marketplaces, but take Russia for example. We went into Russia. We said, 'Here's some IMF money,' and it ended up in Viktor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others, and yet we played like there was reform. The only people who are going to reform Russia are Russia. They're going to have to make the decision themselves."
This morning Stephanopoulos admitted that Bush "did look strong here and this looked like a high point in the debate for Governor Bush, but on second thought, it looks like he also got some of his facts wrong. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, while he did get wealthy through the state energy concern, there's no evidence at all that he siphoned money off from the International Monetary Fund. Bush probably brought it up because Gore was chairman of a commission with Chernomyrdin, so he wanted to tie them together, but this looks like an example of what Gore has been criticized of in the past, a case where Governor Bush is stretching the facts to make a political point."
Stephanopoulos argued that Chernomyrdin didn't directly take IMF money, billions of dollars of which originated with U.S. taxpayers, which would be difficult to prove. But there's still a strong case to be made that Chernomyrdin, a former Gore ally, did get at the money after pumping it through various corrupt businesses.
Here's how the burgeoning scandal was written up by Washington Post op-ed writer David Ignatius on August 25, 1999:
Investigators are exploring whether Bank of New York served as one of the conduits for $200 million or more that may have been diverted from IMF loans to Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This alleged diversion of IMF funds could be a political hot potato for Gore. That's because the vice president was a loud advocate of continued IMF lending to Russia, even as evidence mounted that some of it was being misused by the business oligarchs and their political cronies.
Also potentially troubling for Gore is evidence that the Russian central bank speculated with some of the roughly $ 20 billion the IMF has lent to Russia since 1992. The Post's David Hoffman has reported that the speculation was allegedly managed through a firm operating in the Channel Island of Jersey. The Russians would use these funds partly to speculate in their own securities, buying up short-term government debt known as "GKOs" when the ruble plummeted and selling them back into the market when the price rose.
Gore's biggest vulnerability may be his close relationship with Russia's former prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The vice president formed what amounted to a political alliance with the Russian premier, despite evidence that Chernomyrdin was in league with the forces of corruption -- and an oligarch himself through his holdings in Gazprom, the state natural-gas monopoly he helped "privatize" under what can only be called dubious circumstances.
"It was all laid out for Gore...and he didn't want to hear it," says one knowledgeable former government official, describing 1995 reporting on Chernomyrdin's activities. "Our government knew damn well what was happening."
This year, on the July 16 Meet the Press, NBC's Tim Russert asked Gore if he now thought that Chernomyrdin was corrupt. "I have no idea," Gore replied. "I think that in his dealings with our country, he proved to be a person whose word was worthy of respect and we accomplished a great deal with Chernomyrdin."
Just one debate left before the end comes to the 15 minutes of fame for the "undecided" voters annoyingly showcased by the networks as the arbiters of who will win. -- edited Brent Baker with morning show analysis by Rich Noyes
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