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CyberAlert -- 10/25/2000 -- "Texas Miracle" Just a "Mirage"?

"Texas Miracle" Just a "Mirage"?; West Wing Star Called Bush "Full of S**t" and Jesus Disappointed in Bush

1) ABC, CBS and NBC all jumped on a study disputing Bush's record on education. "A new report from the RAND Corporation, a non-partisan think tank, argues the so-called 'Texas miracle' in education is in fact overstated," declared NBC's David Gregory. Dan Rather asserted: "A new study out today questioned whether it's in fact a miracle or a mirage."

2) CBS dedicated a whole story to the battling Bush and Gore spending visions. John Roberts: "Under merciless attack as an old-line Democrat who believes big government is better, Gore today pledged that if elected he would freeze the size of the federal work force."

3) A Republican character joins The West Wing tonight just after star Martin Sheen told George magazine that George W. Bush is a "bully" who is "full of s**t." A co-star called Bush "proudly uninformed" and argued that Jesus would be displeased by Bush's promotion of the death penalty.


1

Just two weeks before the election a study from RAND Corporation researchers disputed George W. Bush's claims about improvements by minorities in Texas schools, but instead of dismissing such a questionably-timed report, all three broadcast networks ran full stories on it Tuesday night. They all at least briefly noted how the new report contradicted an earlier RAND study, but those caveats came within stories focused on discrediting Bush's record.

Citing Bush's educational achievement boasts, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather cast doubt: "A new study out today questioned whether it's in fact a miracle or a mirage." NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw highlighted how "the Gore campaign was eager to publicize a new study from a highly regarded and non-partisan think tank that challenges some of the Governor's claims about education gains in Texas."

Democrats, CBS's Bill Whitaker admitted, "alerted the press to the report overnight and piled on today." The networks certainly didn't resist. Only FNC's Carl Cameron pointed out how the Gore campaign went beyond just "alerting" reporters. "Reporters received overnight packages from the Gore camp" with the report, Cameron observed on Special Report with Brit Hume.

For a rundown of how the ABC and NBC morning shows on Tuesday jumped on the report and an excerpt from the earlier RAND report which had praised Texas achievements compared to other states, check out the Tuesday CyberAlert Extra:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001024_extra.asp#3

Tuesday night's Nightline followed Bush's day on the campaign trail and reaction to the RAND study dominated two of three interview segments with Bush conducted by Ted Koppel.

Now to how the broadcast networks played the education report on Tuesday night, October 24. All three led with campaign news:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. After an initial story on where each candidate stands in the electoral college and their strategies, anchor Peter Jennings set up a full piece on the RAND report: "George Bush was defending his record on education in Texas. A research paper from the RAND Corporation which says that Texas students may do well on statewide tests but no better than average on a national test. The Texas Commissioner of Education said another RAND study cited remarkable gains."

Dean Reynolds noted how the Bush campaign questioned the timing of the report, but Reynolds made clear its potential damage: "Bush has built his campaign to a large extent on his record of improving education in Texas. Anything that cast doubt on his achievement at this stage in the race could be fodder for the Democrats."
Indeed, in a soundbite Dick Gephardt suggested Bush's record is "all exaggeration."

After running a clip from Bush Communications Director Karen Hughes insisting Texas leads in improving educational achievement, Reynolds moved on to how in campaign appearances Bush mocked Gore's targeted tax cuts and suggested that if Clinton campaigns for Gore it would mean "the shadow returns."

-- CBS Evening News. After the lead story on Bush versus Gore back and forth on the size of government (see item #2 for details), Dan Rather proclaimed: "Bush hit hard on another one of his main messages today, what his campaign calls the 'Texas miracle,' especially what Bush says are big gains in education. But a new study out today questioned whether it's in fact a miracle or a mirage."

Bill Whitaker, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, began: "Just about every day, George W. Bush boasts of boosting test scores of Texas public school children and says as President he'd do the same for students nationwide."
George W. Bush: "We're gonna challenge what I call the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.'"
Whitaker countered: "But a report out today dropped like dynamite on his so-called 'Texas miracle.' Researchers at the respected, non-partisan RAND think tank found while Texas students' scores were up on state tests, their scores on national tests were unremarkable, and the gap between whites and students of color was widening."
Stephen Klein, author of the RAND study: "They're not like learning how to read in the broader sense, but instead they may be learning how to answer the reading kinds of questions that appear on the state test, and that kind of skill does not necessarily carry over into the national test."
Whitaker stressed the impact: "It's a shot to the heart of a core Bush issue, his claim that under his leadership, student scores have soared, especially disadvantaged students. Today's report was so explosive the campaign, which hasn't had a press conference in weeks, shot back immediately."
Karen Hughes: "The timing of this opinion, this fourteen-page opinion paper, conducted by four researchers, is highly suspect, and the conclusions are dead wrong."
Whitaker: "While both Bush and Al Gore called for testing, Bush would use annual Texas-style tests to determine whether schools get federal funding. Democrats were so eager to give his Texas record a black eye, they alerted the press to the report overnight and piled on today."
Tom Daschle: "This so-called 'Texas miracle' is nothing more than a tall Texas tale."
Whitaker concluded: "Now Bush staffers say that this earlier report from the same think tank gave Texas high marks and imply that today's record is politically motivated, a charge RAND researchers vehemently deny."

-- NBC Nightly News. The RAND report led the broadcast after a few words about tight poll standings. Tom Brokaw announced:
"Good evening. Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore were working the geographical middle of America today from Arkansas and Tennessee and Louisiana up to Illinois, stepping up the tone and content of their attacks on each other with just two weeks to go. The latest Reuters/MSNBC overnight tracking poll has Gore opening now a small three-point lead over Bush [45 to 42], a bounce as they call it in the political business. Governor Bush today continued to hammer the Vice President on the issue of big government, and the Gore campaign was eager to publicize a new study from a highly regarded and non-partisan think tank that challenges some of the Governor's claims about education gains in Texas. NBC's Claire Shipman is with the Vice President in Louisiana tonight, David Gregory with the Governor in Tennessee. David, tell us about that Texas education story."

Gregory did "tell us" about the education study, but Claire Shipman did not recount Bush's attacks on Gore as a big spending. Her story instead concentrated on how Gore is working to get out the vote from key constituencies.

Gregory started his story by pretending he somehow had no control over what NBC considered newsworthy: "Well, Tom, it became a distraction, I can certainly tell you that. Today the Bush campaign forced to defend what it has touted as the Governor's strongest credential, his education record in Texas. Bush has traveled to 115 schools during the campaign boasting that the state's emphasis on accountability has led to a dramatic increase in student math and reading test scores. But a new report from the RAND Corporation, a non-partisan think tank, argues the so-called 'Texas miracle' in education is in fact overstated."
Dr. Stephen Klein, RAND: "The question is should people trust the scores on the state test to indicate how much improvement has actually occurred in Texas. I think there's real questions about that trustworthiness."

Gregory, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, outlined the new findings, though he eventually acknowledged they contradict an earlier study by the same group: "The study shows that those positive statewide test scores Bush points to may be inflated. Researchers compared the Texas results to scores by Texas students on a national achievement test and found that Texas students did not score any higher than students in other states. The researchers suggest that teachers may be specifically preparing students for the state exam. The report also asserts that the achievement gap in Texas between white and minority students is not shrinking as Bush says, it's actually growing slightly. Today's report stands in contrast to an earlier, more broadly focused RAND study that compared national test results across all states. It singled out Texas as having improved dramatically. The author of that study reaffirmed his findings today, and Bush advisors who dismiss the new study as unscientific and politically motivated are happy to repeat them."
Karen Hughes: "Texas consistently ranks at the top in every category of improving student achievement among all students from all races and all income groups."
Gregory: "Top Democrats today used the new report to debunk Bush's crowning achievement."
Senator Tom Daschle: "I think really this so-called 'Texas miracle' is nothing more than a tall Texas tale."
Gregory concluded: "And an ironic footnote to today's scuffle, the study that shows Texas in the most favorable light of all is based largely on student test scores that pre-date Bush's tenure in office."

2

ABC led Tuesday night with the rise in the number of toss-up states and CBS topped the Evening News with its estimate of an electoral college tie. ABC briefly noted how Bush and Gore traded charges on the size of government while CBS dedicated a whole story to that campaign theme. CBS's John Roberts asserted: "Under merciless attack as an old-line Democrat who believes big government is better, Gore today pledged that if elected he would freeze the size of the federal work force."

Peter Jennings opened the October 24 World News Tonight by reporting the number contested states had gone up according to ABC analysis as "neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Gore seem to be able to establish a commanding lead and hold onto it."

Linda Douglass looked at some unexpected trends in the 14 toss-up states, such as how Bush campaigned in Illinois, a state earlier written off by his team while Gore spent time in Arkansas, a state expected to have been in his column. She noted Gore is behind in West Virginia because miners mad at Gore over his environmental policies and Bush has not locked up Florida because seniors prefer Gore's prescription plan.

Labor leaders, she reported, are planning a $60 million door to door campaign for Gore while the NRA is "waging its biggest campaign ever" on behalf of Bush.

Next, just before ABC's RAND story quoted in #1 above, Jennings reported how Bush accused Gore of planning to increase the size of government, but "Mr. Gore said he would not add one new federal employee if he's elected."

Dan Rather led the CBS Evening News with the battle over the surplus and a supposed electoral college tie: "Good evening. It's just two weeks now till America chooses a new President, and these could turn out to be among the most important pre-election facts and figures. With Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush battling over who is better qualified to continue growing the economy and their very different budget priorities, the U.S. government today posted the third straight budget surplus, a record $237 billion for the fiscal year just ended. The eight-year Clinton-Gore administration takes some credit for this. Bush says they don't deserve it. And there is this number. CBS News now estimates Bush and Gore are flat even at 205 electoral votes each. It takes 270 to be elected. A number of other polls have Bush with a slight lead. Both candidates were talking up their separate visions of the government's future today."

John Roberts relayed those visions in a remarkably balanced story transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "The two candidates traded fire today over how best to spend the record surplus and how much say the government should have. On that front, George Bush believes less is best, a message he took to Illinois today."
Bush: "I'm running against a man who trusts Washington, D.C., to make decisions on behalf of Illinois folks."
Roberts: "Al Gore argues that government needs to have a strong guiding hand but adds it can be done differently."

After a Gore soundbite, Roberts noted: "Under merciless attack as an old-line Democrat who believes big government is better, Gore today pledged that if elected he would freeze the size of the federal work force."

Following a soundbite of Gore making that promise, Roberts turned to Bush: "An impossible task, claims the Texas Governor who figures Gore's spending plans will bloat the federal payroll."
Bush: "He wants to increase the size and scope of the federal government more than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined. That's pretty big."
Al Gore: "I know my opponent would like to run against a mythical big-spending, big government candidate, a cartoon image from campaigns past."
Roberts concluded: "And indeed he's going to continue to do that. Today the Governor said that even though the new surplus numbers were in favor of what the fiscal policies of the Clinton administration have been they still would not cover Gore's spending increases. The Gore camp today instantly mocked that saying that if the Bush campaign wants to balance their budget, they need to come up with at least a trillion dollars more."

Of course, it isn't the number of employees which matters most but the level of taxation and scope of regulation.

3

NBC's The West Wing tonight will introduce a Republican adviser to the staff of the Democratic President in an episode that will air just days after a magazine article quoted one star as asserting George W. Bush is a "bully" who is "full of s**t" while another star proclaimed Bush "proudly uninformed." That actor, who dubbed himself a "pinko liberal," also argued that Jesus would be displeased by Bush's promotion of the death penalty.

The NBC Web site provided this summary for the October 25 edition of The West Wing airing at 8pm ET/PT, 8pm CT/MT:

"When a confident Sam is outmatched by a novice Republican adviser (Emily Proctor) on a political point-counterpoint television program, an impressed President Bartlet offers to hire her as assistant White House counsel despite her party affiliation, a bold move that sends shock waves through the resentful staff. Elsewhere, Toby and Josh attend a deadlocked White House summit between representatives of pharmaceutical companies and the leaders of AIDS-ravaged African nations."

The West Wing cast assessments of Bush came in a November George magazine cover story by Sharon Waxman about the show.

Joining Waxman's article in a section quoting Martin Sheen, who plays The West Wing's President "Josiah Bartlet," Waxman recited his lack of appreciation for anyone not liberal:

"'I think he's a bully. I don't think he has any heart. That scares me,' says Sheen heatedly, hunched over some melting frozen yogurt in a mess tent on location in downtown Los Angeles. The show has set up in a parking lot for a shoot at a veterans' hall. It is Sheen's sixtieth birthday and he is wearing a T-shirt that reads, 'What's Next?' -- the mantra of his television character.
"He's not done. 'I've seen him. I've watched him -- he's like a bad comic working the crowd. He's too angry. He talks too loud. He's acting compassionate. It's not real. It's not there.'
"Pause. 'I think he's full of shit, frankly.'
"Sheen is not too hot on Republicans in general. He says: 'If a Republican showed me a heart, I'd respond to that heart. I have not seen much heart coming from Republicans.'"

Waxman moved on to Bradley Whitford, who plays Deputy Chief-of-Staff "Josh Lyman." She recounted:

"Sheen is not the only rabidly anti-Republican cast member. Listen to Whitford, who offhandedly describes himself as 'a white-bread pinko liberal.' Whitford is livid that during one of the primary debates, Bush dared to name Jesus as the political philosopher who has influenced him the most.
"'You offer up Jesus Christ in a debate -- and then you execute more people than the other governors combined?' Whitford rages, lounging in his trailer between takes.
"'Do you really believe that Jesus, who himself was killed because of the death penalty, would be pro-death penalty? I think Bush is a hypocrite, and I think he's proudly uninformed.'"

To read the entire George magazine piece, go to:
http://www.georgemag.com/xp6/George/Features/1100/WestWing.xml

For how a Dr. Laura character was demonized on the last episode, go to the October 19 CyberAlert which documented how Martin Sheen as the President attacked her misleading "Dr." title and sarcastically compared her claim that the Bible says homosexuality is "an abomination" to how it advocates slavery for his daughter and that his mother be burned. "You may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the ignorant tight-ass club." Go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001019.asp#7

For how Sheen would be "enormously disappointed" if Bush won, but then hoped in that case his show would be a "royal pain in the ass," as well as how he described Bill Clinton as "terrific and heroic," go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001018_extra.asp#5 -- Brent Baker


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