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CyberAlert -- 10/26/2000 -- Excusing Gore's Tenn. Plight

Excusing Gore's Tenn. Plight; More RAND Ranting; Media Skipping Gore's Secret Russia Deal; Bush a "Serial Killer" -- Extra Edition

1) ABC, CBS and NBC Wednesday night rationalized Gore's Tennessee plight. ABC's Jim Wooten: "It isn't a case of a prophet being without honor in his own land....Tennessee is a genuine two party state." NBC's Claire Shipman insisted: "Experts say, in fact, it's not a state a Democrat would naturally win."

2) ABC and CBS highlighted the RAND report critical of Bush's education record. ABC even played a clip of a new Gore ad it inspired. Both showed Gore asserting Texas students have "serious learning deficits," but FNC's Jim Angle pointed out how the report says Texans "did better than students in other states."

3) FNC's Brit Hume observed the network bias in jumping on the anti-Bush RAND report: "The big three broadcast networks could not get enough of it."

4) GMA and Today dedicated 7am segments to RAND. Charles Gibson: "This morning, George W. Bush on the defensive after the RAND think tank reports that his Texas education miracle is a myth."

5) Gore's secret deal with Russia finally worth 17 seconds to one network evening show, but only as evidence of political chicanery. On FNC, Fred Barnes argued the media's lack of focus on the Russia story compared to the RAND report demonstrates media bias.

6) MSNBC's Brian Williams wondered if George W. Bush might pick a "Souter-type Justice" instead of an "ultraconservative"?

7) BET's Tavis Smiley to Geraldo Rivera: "As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer."

8) Which former 60 Minutes correspondent asked a Mets catcher: "So you spend a lot of time on your knees. Have you ever considered interning at the White House?"


1

"It's been at least 20 years since a U.S. presidential election has been so close so close to election day," declared CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather Wednesday night before stories on the tight races in states each candidate had been expected to win easily: Bush in Florida, Gore in Tennessee. NBC also ran back-to-back pieces on the two states while ABC looked only at Gore's troubles in Tennessee.

CBS and NBC blamed Bush's Social Security plan for his problem in Florida while none of the three evening shows faulted any Gore policies and instead rationalized his Tennessee plight. ABC's Jim Wooten assured viewers: "It isn't a case of a prophet being without honor in his own land....It's just that Tennessee is a genuine two party state." NBC's Claire Shipman insisted: "Experts say, in fact, it's not a state a Democrat would naturally win." She even balanced a Mason-Dixon poll, which put Bush ahead in the Volunteer State, with a very unusual citing of an internal Democratic poll which supposedly found Gore ahead.

The Cole investigation led the ABC, CBS and NBC broadcasts Wednesday night, October 25.

-- ABC's World News Tonight did not cite any Tennessee poll numbers. Jim Wooten traveled to Carthage, Tennessee where he found Bush and Gore dead even in the state. Gore campaigned in Tennessee Wednesday and Wooten recalled how Bush was there Tuesday "asking his favorite sarcastic question, where exactly is home for the Vice President?"
Bush in front of a cheering crowd: "He may win Washington, DC but he's not going to win Tennessee."

Wooten conceded that message has "resonance" and he ran soundbites from two local men, one who thought Gore has been in DC for too long and another concerned with Gore's association with Clinton. But Wooten cautioned: "It isn't a case of a prophet being without honor in his own land or even here in his own town. It's just that Tennessee is a genuine two party state and has been for a long, long time. And so although Al Gore has never lost an election here, he's never had a landslide either."

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather reported how a CBS News/New York Times poll put Gore ahead in Florida by 46 to 42 percent.

Bill Whitaker checked in from Florida: "According to the CBS poll, Jeb's popularity doesn't rub off on brother George. The troops leading Al Gore's advance in the polls: Senior citizens who by a healthy ten points favor Gore's plan for Social Security and prescription drugs."

Whitaker played a clip of John McCain warning a crowd that Gore wants to scare seniors. Whitaker explained how northern Florida is solid for Bush, the south for Gore, so Bush is concentrating on central Florida where he's bashing Gore's Social Security plan.

Bush on stage: "He's got a plan called Social Security plus. Social Security plus $40 trillion of debt down the road."
Whitaker adopted Gore campaign language as he warned: "But Bush's Social Security plan is part of his problem here. By wide margins seniors say a partially privatized plan like Bush proposes is a risky idea."

Next, John Roberts looked at Gore's problems in Tennessee where he's never lost in 24 years and Bush is "relishing" an upset win. Roberts noted how Gore has been forced "to divert precious time and money" from elsewhere to his home state, but "he rejects the notion of weakness, saying the state has gone back and forth for years."
Gore on a plane: "It's always a state where you have to campaign hard. And you know there's nothing new about that."
Bruce Oppenheimer of Vanderbilt University agreed: "This is closely divided partisan state. There's a hard-core Republican base, there's a hard-core Democratic base. It would be silly to think that it is an automatic."

Roberts moved on to Gore's attack on Bush's education plan (see item #2 below for details), before concluding: "For the Vice President Tennessee is about far more than just eleven electoral votes. It's a personal battle. His father suffered a serious Senate defeat here 30 years ago and Gore does not want to be the first presidential candidate to win the White House while losing his home state since it happened to Woodrow Wilson in 1916."

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw announced: "In the presidential race tonight, with less than two weeks to go now, both candidates are forced to spend time in states they should have had safely in the win column months ago. It is that tight tonight. According to today's MSNBC/Reuters tracking poll, Gore is maintaining his lead over Bush, but that lead narrowed from three points to two in the last 24 hours. And in the crucial battleground state of Florida, two statewide polls today also show just how tight this race is. One poll done for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel shows Bush with a five-point lead over Gore, 46 to 41 percent, but another poll by the American Research Group shows Gore up by four points in Florida, 49 to 45 percent."

David Gregory looked at Bush's challenge in Florida where he brought in his "best weapon," John McCain, to reach undecided voters in a bus tour along the central Florida I-4 corridor.

From Tennessee, Claire Shipman next assessed Gore's situation where she found he concentrated on a get out the vote message. She noted how a Mason-Dixon poll found Bush ahead 46 to 43 percent, "but an internal Democratic poll has Gore up 47 to 45."
Shipman justified Gore's plight: "Experts say, in fact, it's not a state a Democrat would naturally win."
Fred Yang, Democratic pollster, backed her up: "The South as a whole in the last couple of elections has gone Republican."
Shipman provided evidence: "The state's Republican Governor and two Republican Senators have been a boost to Bush, but Gore aides say, Tennessee will, in the end, support its native son."

She concluded by noting that the last presidential candidate to lose his home state was George McGovern in 1972.

2

For the second straight night, ABC and CBS on Wednesday highlighted the RAND report critical of Bush's Texas education record. ABC even played a clip of a new Gore campaign ad which uses the RAND numbers to attack Bush.

Both played a soundbite of Al Gore asserting Bush's emphasis on teaching to a test has left Texas students "with serious learning deficits." But only FNC's Jim Angle corrected Gore's claim as he pointed out how "the new paper only argues that students in Texas didn't do as well as originally claimed, but still says they did better than students in other states."

In his CBS Evening News story on Gore's day in Tennessee, quoted in item #1 above, John Roberts relayed: "In an appeal to partisans and swing voters alike, Gore today hammered Bush on his claims to have elevated student test scores. He pointed to that RAND Corporation report debunking the Governor's so-called Texas Miracle as so much myth."
Gore in speech: "This is the bottom line. We cannot afford to just teach kids how to take a state tests while leaving them with serious learning deficits."
Instead of assessing that claim, Roberts concluded his story: "For the Vice President Tennessee is about far more than just eleven electoral votes. It's a personal battle...."

On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, however, Jim Angle played the same Gore soundbite, but then informed viewers: "'Leaving them with serious learning deficits' isn't quite accurate. The new paper only argues that students in Texas didn't do as well as originally claimed, but still says they did better than students in other states. The Bush campaign also got some help today in refuting the new critique. The Education Trust, a liberal education group, issued a statement calling the RAND study 'incomplete' and 'misleading' and it said that something important is indeed happening in Texas."

ABC's World News Tonight dedicated a whole story to evaluating the Texas situation. But first, anchor Peter Jennings conveyed Gore's spin, though Jennings' words were a bit jumbled: "Mr. Gore spent the day concentrating on Mr. Bush's education record in Texas -- a researcher at the RAND Corporation criticized yesterday on the subject of testing children. Democrats rushed a political ad into production to beat up on Mr. Bush."
Ad announcer over a shot of the ad video: "Now the new RAND study reports the achievement gap for Texas students is widening. There is serious question about the validity of scores on state tests."
Jennings: "Mr. Gore has been hard at it too."
Gore in a speech: "We cannot afford to just teach kids how to take a state test while leaving them with serious learning deficits."
Jennings: "Well, the Bush campaign has dismissed the criticism and cited an earlier RAND study which was much more positive."

Reporter Bill Blakemore then examined the Texas record, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, and found evidence to support the contentions of Bush fans and detractors: "The controversy is the new RAND issue paper, which finds that when Texas students take their state's test, they do a lot better than when they take the leading test given nationwide."
Stephen Klein, author "Rand Issue Paper": "The statewide test scores, we feel, is not necessarily presenting an accurate picture of true improvement of the students in reading and mathematics."
Blakemore: "And there have been complaints that the Texas test is too easy and that Texas teachers spend too much time preparing kids just to pass that test."

Elsa Duarte-Noboa, San Antonio teacher: "We have school districts here in Texas who have focused so much on test-taking skills that they're not teaching the curriculum, and that's very scary."
Blakemore: "But the Texas education commissioner says that a study RAND published in July is far more significant."
Jim Nelson, Texas Commissioner of Education: "If you look at the previous report, it talked in length about the progress of Texas, the achievement of Texas."
Blakemore: "And indeed, that RAND study based only on the nationwide test, did show that between 1992 and 1996, Texas fourth-graders scored among the best in the country in math, and African-American fourth graders better than peers in all other states. Mr. Bush did not become governor till 1995, but he is given credit by many for continuing reforms that were started by others and for keeping education a priority. But how could both RAND studies by true? Education analysts say it's a matter of grade levels, that the tests show this:"
Professor Martin Carnoy, Stanford University School of Education: "The gains in Texas are concentrated at the lower level, and that once they get up to the middle grades and the high school grades, that in fact they don't get these gains, particularly for the lower income kids."
Blakemore concluded: "In most states, you'll find controversy over testing and over statewide versus national results. In an election year where a candidate is also the Governor, it's especially sensitive."

3

Media bias in hyping the RAND report, at least by the networks, highlighted by FNC's Brit Hume. In the "Political Grapevine" segment of Wednesday's Special Report with Brit Hume, he observed:
"That RAND Corporation document that challenged George W. Bush's education record was not a study, as news reports claimed, but as we've heard, is a so-called issue paper whose author by the end of the day Tuesday was describing it as a mere, quote 'hypothesis.' But the big three broadcast networks could not get enough of it anyway. CBS News called it a quote, 'shot to the heart' of the Bush campaign, and all three networks ran extensive stories on it, noting only in passing that the paper contradicted an earlier, much more extensive report, from RAND itself."

Indeed, for details about this coverage, see the October 25 CyberAlert which included a full recitation of Bill Whitaker's CBS story quoted by Hume:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20001025.asp#1

4

"This morning, George W. Bush on the defensive after the RAND think tank reports that his Texas education miracle is a myth," ABC's Charles Gibson declared at the top of Wednesday's Good Morning America in previewing a second straight morning of coverage for the RAND paper. Minutes later Gibson revealed how he had adopted Gore campaign spin in that opening, as he asked a RAND researcher: "There's already a Gore campaign ad out quoting the lead researcher on this study as saying this shows the Texas miracle in education is a myth. Is at overstated or is that what the study finds?"

NBC's Today also devoted a 7am half hour interview segment to the "controversial report questioning the success of Governor Bush's signature issue, education. The study cast doubt on the validity of rising test scores in Texas." (Worth noting: MRC analyst Brian Boyd informed me CBS's The Early Show did not mention the RAND report either Tuesday or Wednesday morning.)

Gibson announced on GMA after the opening music: "Our lead story is education, this study that put education in the spotlight on the campaign trail. The RAND Corporation has put out a report which really deconstructs George W. Bush's education record in Texas, says it's not as strong as they have claimed in the past, refutes an earlier RAND Corporation study that said Texas was outperforming the nation. So we're going to talk to the Bush education advisor and one of the researchers on this study a little bit later."

Setting up the interview segment, Gibson asserted: "The Bush campaign is decidedly unhappy about a new study that suggests the so-called Texas education miracle is not what it's cracked up to be. The study by the RAND Corporation, a private think tank, a think tank once touted by Bush because of an earlier study, has now found the record-breaking scores of blacks and Latinos in Texas are not a result of a better education but just the result of intense drilling to pass the state's standardized test."

GMA first played for viewers Bush's reaction as recounted the day before to Ted Koppel for a Nightline story.

Gibson talked with RAND researcher Brian Stecher, to whom he first asked the question quoted above about whether it's a "myth"? Stecher avoided a direct answer and reiterated the new RAND numbers about how they found scores in the Texas test are up, but scores on national tests have not gone up while the gap between whites and blacks has improved in the Texas test but not in the national one.

Gibson also interviewed Bush education adviser Margaret LaMontagne, who got time to dispute the RAND report.

Over on NBC's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Matt Lauer previewed the program: "The polls say this presidential race is still as tight as it can be and now there is a potential bump in the road for the Bush campaign."
Katie Couric: "That's right. A new study out giving them a real headache."
Lauer: "That's right, a new report from a non-partisan organization says that many of Governor George Bush's claims of improvements in education in the state of Texas, specifically improvement in test scores may be overblown. This would call the whole so-called, 'Texas Miracle' into question but there are also questions about the report. We'll have the latest on that."

Of course, it's not the "study" which is giving the Bush campaign "a real headache," it's the decision by Today and other network shows to make it the biggest news of the day.

Lauer set up the subsequent interview segment:
"On Close Up this morning, the politics of education. Just two weeks before an incredibly tight presidential election a non-partisan think tank, the Rand Corporation, has released a controversial report questioning the success of Governor Bush's signature issue, education. The study cast doubt on the validity of rising test scores in Texas and has been met with a swift rebuttal from the Bush campaign. Stephen Klein is one of the authors of the study and Margaret LaMontagne is Governor Bush's senior education adviser. Good morning to both of you. Mr. Klein let me start with you. Let, let's get through the controversy of this. The report seems to deflate some of the claims made by the Bush campaign on the improvement in education in Texas. What exactly did you find in this report?"

Lauer's other questions: "So are you, are you saying that the Bush people are inflating the numbers, are they trumping up the numbers or are they misinterpreting what their numbers tell them?"

-- "Before I get to Miss LaMontagne, what was the reason for going back and looking at this? Because didn't the Rand Corporation release a report in July that pretty much backed up the Bush campaign's claims?"

-- "And we'll talk about timing in a second. Ms. LaMontagne what do you think about this report? Obviously it says that some of the claims made by Governor Bush do not seem to hold water....Now let's go, let's go, let's go through that. Let's see if we can dispute that. Go ahead."

-- "Ms. LaMontagne, what about the improvement or the shrinking of the gap that Mr. Klein talked about and Governor Bush has talked about repeatedly in this campaign between students of color and students, and white students? How has that been documented in, in the Bush campaign and do you think you can, you can, back up those statistics?"

-- "What about the timing here, Mr. Klein? I mean obviously we are two weeks before a presidential election that is extremely tight. This has been called a signature issue for the Bush campaign. It does, I mean it does call into question why would this report come out now?"
-- "When was the report ready?"
-- "So no one's been asking you to hold this report at all?"

-- "Ms. LaMontagne, the Gore campaign is coming out with an ad I think you've seen already today that will challenge the Bush findings on education. Will the Bush campaign continue to stick to these numbers?"

5

Gore's secret deal with Russia finally worth 17 seconds to one network evening show, but only as evidence of political chicanery. And on FNC Fred Barnes argued the media's lack of interest in the Russia story, while pounding away over the RAND report, demonstrates media bias.

Peter Jennings read this short item on Wednesday's World News Tonight: "Presidential politics reached Capitol Hill today. When have they not? Republicans held hearings which may embarrass Mr. Gore. Senators said that Mr. Gore violated U.S. law by making secret deals about Russia's arms sales to Iran. The White House says no laws were broken. House members questioned the Education Secretary today about the money he spends on travel. His office called the charges partisan."

That took Jennings 25 seconds to announce, 17 seconds of which was consumed by the Gore-Russia part. But that was the first broadcast network evening show mention yet of a story broken on the front page of the October 13 New York Times and advanced by a couple of front page Washington Times stories last week. Last week and Wednesday night FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume delivered full stories. (Space precludes me from running any excerpts from those newspaper stories with the specific details, but I'll try to get some of the details into the next CyberAlert.)

This morning, October 26, Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson did raise the issue with Al Gore. More on that, too, in the next CyberAlert.

Wednesday morning, CBS's The Early Show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed, also gave the matter a few seconds as news reader Diana Olick noted: "Questions about a secret arms deal and Vice President Al Gore. Today a Senate panel investigates Gore's role in a deal allowing Russia to sell arms to Iran. Some former high level Republican officials say the 1995 agreement should have been fully disclosed to Congress. A Gore official said it was and calls the charges political."

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes contrasted media interest in the potential Gore scandal with its focus on the anti-Bush RAND report. He contended on the October 25 edition of FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"As you say, Brit, it's not really a study. It's just sort of a report. It's extremely tendentious and argumentative. But it does raise, it actually raises a legitimate point while saying that indeed Texas students did perform well above the national average on math, and they did at least the national average level on reading and writing and so on, so it doesn't say that Texas did poorly. The only thing it says is well maybe the Texas students didn't do quite as well as they did...on their own Texas test, or quite as well as was reported in that other RAND study.
"But here is the thing that's the most interesting to me, and that is the reception by the press. In other words, this was treated as a dagger to the heart of the entire Bush program and so on. They treated this as some explosive new report, when it's basically a press release, some explosive new report that destroys all Bush's claims on education. Now look, the press is gonna write about this thing because education is something that, it is a big issue for Bush in the campaign, but compare it to this: The New York Times has an extraordinarily well-documented story about how Gore made a secret deal with Vice President Chernomyrdin of Russia that allowed Iranians to get years of weaponry, including a submarine, in violation of an American law that Gore had sponsored while in Congress. And yet that has no legs at all with media, though it strikes at also something that Gore is basing his campaign on, his experience in foreign policy. Now I say the press, in this one, made way too much out of the Bush story and not nearly enough out of the Gore story."

6

Overwrought labeling. Might Bush pick a "Souter-type Justice" and not an "ultraconservative"?

MRC analyst Paul Smith caught this question from MSNBC's Brian Williams to former Senator George Mitchell on the October 24 News with Brian Williams:

"Senator, let's talk about the Supreme Court for just one moment. Do you think there is a wind and a nod effort by Republicans to signal to moderates that George W. would not pick an ultraconservative Justice but would pick a Souter-type Justice for the Supreme Court?

7

Geraldo Rivera found someone more extreme than himself, a star of another cable network's evening interview show, who told Rivera: "As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer."

That charge came from Tavis Smiley, host of BET Tonight on the Black Entertainment Television channel. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed how Smiley opined during the October 24 Rivera Live on CNBC:
"There are, there are some issues on which if you are a voter of color, certainly if you are an African-American, you have a hard time choosing. For example, both of these guys support the death penalty. As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer. But we, but we cannot expect that much more out of, out of Gore, because this guy supports the death penalty as well."

What a conundrum.

8

Thought only male reporters would make crude allusions to Monica Lewinsky's fellatio services to Bill Clinton? Former 60 Minutes correspondent Meredith Viera did it Wednesday on The View, the ABC daytime show she quint-hosts with Barbara Walters and three other woman.

On the October 25 show, Joy Behar asked Paula Jones to describe Bill Clinton's "distinguishing characteristic." She held up her finger at a particular angle. After an ad break, The View played a tape of Viera at Shea Stadium talking on the field to Mets players. Her question to catcher Vincent Valinotti:
"You're a catcher, right? So you spend a lot of time on your knees. Have you ever considered interning at the White House?"

Not a question you'd get from Morley Safer. -- Brent Baker


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