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CyberAlert -- 12/07/2001 -- Today Show's Idea of Balance

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Today Show's Idea of Balance; Leahy: "Civil Liberties Defender"; Bush Has No Right to Bomb; "Pretty Opinionated" as a Reporter

1) Though, as Tom Brokaw noted, "the Attorney General has public opinion on his side," Dan Rather referred to how "Ashcroft told a Senate panel that the government needs every policy, including the controversial and questionable ones." All three broadcast network evening shows made note of how Democrats accused Ashcroft of hypocrisy for not checking detainees against gun records.

2) Balance as practiced by NBC's Katie Couric: Tell Senators from both parties the dangers of Ashcroft's policies. "In fact, Senator Shelby, civil libertarians are calling military tribunals the perversion of the American justice system." She prompted Senator Leahy: "The wiretapping of conversations between suspects and their attorneys. What's your biggest beef about that?"

3) Washington Post headline over profile of liberal Democrat Patrick Leahy: "Civil Liberties Defender Picks His Fights." Post reporter Edward Walsh did not identify Leahy as a liberal until the 16th paragraph, well after he noted he's "a frequent target of conservatives" and has "drawn the wrath of conservatives."

4) At Wednesday's White House press briefing Helen Thomas demanded to know what makes President Bush "think that he has the right to go into a sovereign country and bomb the people?"

5) "I've always been pretty opinionated, even as a reporter," New York Times columnist Tom Friedman admitted to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. Friedman's wife confirmed his perception. After he won a Pulitzer for his reporting, she wondered: "What for, editorial writing?"

6) Media Reality Check. "Bully the Whistle-Blower, Ignore the Bias: In Book, Bernard Goldberg Recounts How He Was Shunned & Vilified For Exposing Truth About CBS."

7) He did all he could to help the Soviet Union obtain the atomic bomb, but when asked why, when the FBI was pursuing him, he didn't flee to the Soviet Union he told CBS News: "I didn't want to leave the United States to go to some hellhole like Russia or China."


1

Reporting on Attorney General John Ashcroft's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ABC, CBS and NBC on Thursday night put a special emphasis on how Democrats hit him on not checking gun purchase records against those being detained. "The Democrats complain that Ashcroft is bending over backwards to protect one right, and that is the right to own a gun," noted ABC's Linda Douglass.

Despite overwhelming public support for the Bush administration's policies to investigate terrorism, CBS's Dan Rather referred to how "Ashcroft told a Senate panel that the government needs every policy, including the controversial and questionable ones, it is using to meet that threat." NBC's Tom Brokaw, however, did point out how "the Attorney General has public opinion on his side."

MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth took down how the three broadcast networks set up their December 6 stories on Ashcroft's testimony, as well as how each relayed the Democratic polemical charge on gun records.

-- Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight: "In Washington today the Attorney General made a very high profile visit to the Senate to defend the Bush administration's new rules for the Justice Department in the wake of September the 11th and, as he surely knew in advance, there were Senators there who approve of the changes and some who believe that Mr. Ashcroft is too enthusiastic about military tribunals, looser rules for wiretapping, and detaining people without some public notification. ABC's Linda Douglass, who's on the Hill tonight, was there to hear it all. Linda?"

Linda Douglass stressed: "The Democrats complain that Ashcroft is bending over backwards to protect one right, and that is the right to own a gun. He is a staunch defender of gun owners' rights, and he's telling the FBI they cannot use records of gun purchases to find out if any of the people being detained bought a gun."

-- Dan Rather, back in New York City from his few days in Kabul, on the CBS Evening News: "There is news tonight about the threat to the homeland from foreign terrorists. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a Senate panel that the government needs every policy, including the controversial and questionable ones, it is using to meet that threat. But some Senators remained concerned about what the government is and is not doing. CBS's Bob Schieffer has late details."

Schieffer observed: "The only tense moments came when Ashcroft was asked why he had blocked the FBI from using data gathered during gun sale background checks to trace terrorist weapons. Ashcroft, a strong advocate of gun owners' rights, said as he reads it, the law doesn't allow it. And as for changing the law, he was uncommittal."
Ted Kennedy: "The FBI obviously wants that power in order to try and deal with the problems of terrorism. Will you support it?"
John Ashcroft: "I'll be happy to consider any legislation that you would propose."

-- Tom Brokaw on the NBC Nightly News: "In this country, a simmering debate over terrorism trials and civil rights boiled over some today when Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend military tribunals and other decisions. The Attorney General has public opinion on his side and, as NBC's Lisa Myers reports tonight, he was on the offensive today."

Myers noted: "Though Ashcroft vows to use every tool available to fight terrorism, Democrats complain he's been a hypocrite on one issue. An opponent of gun control, Ashcroft has blocked the FBI from using federal firearms records to see if any suspects have bought guns."

2

Given the opportunity to simultaneously interview both Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Richard Shelby just hours before Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, NBC's Katie Couric could have challenged each with the arguments of the other. Instead, Couric approached both from the assumption that Ashcroft's policies are misguided.

Couric demanded that Shelby react to liberal complaints while she prompted Leahy to outline why the Ashcroft policies are so bad. "In fact Senator Shelby civil libertarians are calling military tribunals the perversion of the American justice system," she asserted. But she cued up Leahy: "The wiretapping of conversations between suspects and their attorneys. What's your biggest beef about that Senator Leahy?"

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught the questions Couric posed on the December 6 Today:

-- "Senator Leahy let me start with you if I could. What kind of reception will John Ashcroft get today?"

-- "And you are particularly peeved that you were not consulted. That Congress passed this broad anti-terrorism measure and then after that the Bush administration unilaterally took these steps."

-- "In fact, Senator Shelby, civil libertarians are calling military tribunals the perversion of the American justice system. They have a lot of complaints about a defendant's inability, perhaps to appeal a conviction about the secret nature of this. About no ban on, or the ban rather, on hearsay and the exclusionary rule which will not keep out evidence that has been incorrectly gathered. There are all sorts of issues attendant to these tribunals. Do you have any problems with that?"

-- "You know in 1993, Senator Shelby, federal prosecutors convicted Ramzi Yusef in the first World Trade Center trial. Why not go through the federal court system if it worked before?"

-- "Senator [Shelby], one other problem that, that Senator Leahy just referred to. As many foreign countries that have so far rounded up the majority 350 or so Al Qaeda members have a serious problem with the concept of military tribunals. Spain, in fact, has said it may not even extradite these individuals if they are tried this way in the United States. As a result of that response do you think the Bush administration will have to back off on this at all?"

-- Couric raised a pro-Ashcroft point, but didn't ask Leahy to respond to it as she wanted to know why he disliked another policy: "And in fact Senator Leahy, I just want to interrupt because we are almost out of time, but public opinion is, frankly, behind Senator Shelby and his colleagues and the Bush administration. Having said that, the wiretapping of conversations between suspects and their attorneys. What's your biggest beef about that Senator Leahy?"

Over on CBS's Early Show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed, while Jane Clayson asked Republican Senator Hatch, "isn't it fair to say we might be jeopardizing the civil rights that make our country great?" she also pressed Leahy: "Civil libertarians may be upset, Senator Leahy, but do you think the average American is losing sleep about the civil liberties of suspected terrorists?"

Much of the media certainly are.

3

"Civil Liberties Defender Picks His Fights," announced the headline over a Washington Post profile of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, otherwise known as a liberal Democrat. Post reporter Edward Walsh did not identify Leahy as a liberal until the 16th paragraph of his 23 paragraph tribute, after he relayed quotes about how Leahy is not very partisan.

Walsh, however, applied the conservative label four times to Leahy detractors, noting how he's "a frequent target of conservatives" and has "drawn the wrath of conservatives."

I don't recall a Washington Post profile of Congressman Dan Burton, on the eve of a hearing, which was headlined anything like "Champion of Government Integrity Picks His Fights."

An excerpt from the December 6 Washington Post "Federal Report" page story brought to my attention by the MRC's Liz Swasey:

The veneer of bipartisanship that has enveloped Capitol Hill since the Sept. 11 attacks is unlikely to hold up today in a hearing room of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The chief antagonists will be familiar to each other.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has been summoned to the hearing to explain some of the administration's latest plans to combat terrorism....

The man who will lead the questioning, and who demanded that Ashcroft make the appearance, is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.)....

Leahy presided at Ashcroft's confirmation hearing and voted against his nomination, saying Ashcroft "lacks the sensitivities and balance we need in an attorney general."

Such stands have made Leahy a frequent target of conservatives.

In emerging as the Senate's most outspoken critic of some of the administration's domestic anti-terrorism measures, Leahy has again drawn the wrath of conservatives, who have flooded his office with e-mails and telephone calls questioning his actions.

Under the headline "Osama's Enabler in Congress," the conservative magazine Human Events this week declared, "It is Leahy who would put Americans at greater risk of terrorism."

But Leahy, who last summer was described by the conservative National Review as "the meanest, most partisan, most ruthless Democrat in the Senate," has been through this sort of thing before....

John D. Podesta, who worked on Leahy's staff in the 1980s and was President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, doesn't think Leahy is "cut out of a particularly partisan mode."...

He "had a very good relationship with [Clinton] but could often be a critic of the administration," Podesta said. "When he felt strongly about something like the land mine issue, he was up in the face of the president and [national security adviser] Sandy Berger and me....He will pick his issues and fight you whether you're a Republican or a Democrat if he thinks he's right, and a lot of the time, he's proven to be right."...

He has compiled a solidly liberal voting record. His causes have included championing a ban on land mines and making it easier for death row inmates who are appealing their convictions to obtain DNA testing....

END of Excerpt

For the story in full, go to:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63750-2001Dec5.html

4

At Wednesday's White House press briefing former UPI reporter Helen Thomas demanded to know what makes President Bush "think that he has the right to go into a sovereign country and bomb the people?"

As the senior White House correspondent Thomas, now a columnist with Hearst Newspapers, gets the first question when she attends briefings, which isn't very often anymore. On December 5 she took advantage of her privileged position to pose this question to Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: "Ari, what makes the President -- I'm taking note of his wide-swinging threats in speeches recently. What makes him think that he has the right to go into a sovereign country and bomb the people?"
Fleischer was baffled by her hostile tone: "His threats?"
Thomas: "Any country. Yes, he's-"
Fleischer: "Would you like to be more specific?"
Thomas: "Does he think he can go beyond Afghanistan or anywhere else?"
Fleischer responded: "The President has made it clear to the American people that the United States, in the wake of an attack on our country, will defend itself. And as a result of defending ourselves, you can see what is happening in Afghanistan. The President has said that this is a war against terrorism because terrorists continue to pose a threat to the United States and to others around the world, and that he is involved in phase one of defending this country against terrorists, and he will continue to do so. Major."
Thomas, raising her voice to cut off CNN's Major Garrett: "What gives him the authority to go into other countries and bomb them, which is what he is threatening to do?"
Fleischer tried again: "The right as the Commander-in-Chief to protect and defend the American people."

The real wonder is why the White House still provides press credentials to such a political activist.

5

"I've always been pretty opinionated, even as a reporter," New York Times columnist Tom Friedman admitted to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz in a December 6 profile. His wife confirmed his admission. Kurtz recounted: "In 1988 he shouted upstairs to his wife after getting word that he had won a Pulitzer. 'What for, editorial writing?' she shot back." That was seven years before his left his reporting position to become the newspaper's foreign affairs columnist.

Kurtz observed how Friedman was transformed by September 11: "Friedman is usually liberal and was sharply critical of George W. Bush during the campaign, accusing him of 'affable ignorance' and 'deeply, deeply shallow' views on foreign affairs. But he's been a big booster of the President since the September attacks, urging people to 'give war a chance' during the weeks when little progress was being made in Afghanistan."

As the December 3 CyberAlert detailed, on the November 30 Late Show, Friedman mocked the European press for focusing on civilians being hurt by bombing when, in fact, "the Afghan civilians were praying for another ration of B-52s." He also pointedly noted how "people say to me often, 'war doesn't solve anything.' To which I say, 'guess what, neither does social work.'" For full quotes: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011203.asp#2

The old Friedman was scared of President Reagan as Commander-in-Chief. Check out this exchange on the March 5, 1995 Face the Nation between Friedman and then-GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander:
Friedman: "Governor, I'm kind of a foreign policy wonk, and it scares the bejesus out of me to have someone as President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief, and finger on the nuclear button who is such an outsider to Washington and American foreign policy."
Lamar Alexander: "Well, did Ronald Reagan scare you, Tom?"
Friedman: "He sure did."
Alexander: "Did he? He didn't scare me. I thought he was the best national defense and Commander-in-Chief and foreign policy President we've had since Eisenhower."
Friedman, referring to the 1993 barracks bombing: "Ask 245 Marines in Beirut about that."

It would seem he has disproven his theory since President Bush had no foreign policy experience and yet is now earning praise from Friedman for how he's directing the war on terrorism.

To read the Washington Post profile, go to:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64378-2001Dec5.html

6

The text of a Media Reality Check, produced by the MRC's Rich Noyes and distributed by fax on Thursday afternoon, titled, "Bully the Whistle-Blower, Ignore the Bias: In Book, Bernard Goldberg Recounts How He Was Shunned & Vilified For Exposing Truth About CBS."

The text in the pull-out box in the middle of the faxed page:

Goldberg: Not Anti-Liberal, Just Anti-Bias
"None of this should be seen as an argument against liberal values, or as an endorsement of conservative values. This is a big country with a lot of people, and there's room for all sorts of views. This is nothing more than an argument for fairness and balance, something liberals ought to care about as much as conservatives." -- From Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.

The text of the December 6 Media Reality Check:

In 1993, when he was well-regarded by the top people at CBS, correspondent Bernard Goldberg recommended exploring both sides of the liberal bias debate for the prime time magazine Eye to Eye. According to Goldberg, "the report I envisioned would be fair and balanced, just the way the news was supposed to be at CBS....We do stories about everything else, about every other institution in America; why not a story about ourselves?"

Talk about trying to float a lead balloon: "A few days later, [the show's Executive Producer Andrew] Heyward came back with the answer....I could do the story, he said, 'but you can't ask Dan any tough questions.'" The Dan in question was, of course, CBS anchor Dan Rather. Goldberg refused to accept "these ridiculous restrictions," which would have been intolerable to CBS had the interview subject been anyone else -- anyone outside CBS News, that is.

This 1993 encounter should have alerted Goldberg to the furious CBS reaction that greeted an op-ed he wrote three years later for the Wall Street Journal, which accurately fingered a CBS Evening News story by Eric Engberg as emblematic of the liberal bias permeating the elite media. "Mr. Engberg's report set new standards for bias," Goldberg stated in his op-ed. He then proved his assertion with a point-by-point review of Engberg's sarcastic and one-sided "Reality Check."

As he recounted in his new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, Goldberg's bosses weren't interested in reprimanding Engberg for his biased story or in fixing the system so that CBS's news would be more balanced. Instead, Goldberg found his job in jeopardy and his motives being questioned by CBS colleagues who refused to speak with him.

"People are just stunned. It's just such a wacky charge, and a weird way to go about it," CBS's Bob Schieffer told the Washington Post at the time. "I don't know what Bernie was driving at. It just sounds bizarre." Goldberg explained that he made his complaints public only after no one in authority would acknowledge that CBS's liberal bias was a problem. Reading Schieffer's dismissive quote in the Post, Goldberg realized CBS was still in denial: "Wacky? Weird? Bizarre? What I found wacky, weird, and bizarre was that the chief Washington CBS News correspondent found absolutely nothing wrong with Engberg's piece."

Goldberg was immediately removed from Dan Rather's Evening News, and Rather hasn't spoken a word to his former friend since 1996. Denied an assignment on 60 Minutes II in 1998, Goldberg agreed to leave CBS on the day he became eligible for his pension.

"I would have been thrilled if New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, who is so sensitive to all sorts of 'chilling effects,' had shown just a little sensitivity to the plight of a reporter whose job was hanging by a thread because he wasn't diplomatic, because he actually had the nerve to publicly express an unpopular view about -- oh my God! -- the press," Goldberg wrote. "Liberals in the media -- who would have come down with the vapors if a conservative CEO had so much as given a reporter a dirty look -- didn't flinch when CBS News executives took me off the air and suggested I might be fired because they saw me as a whistle-blower."

"If I had worked at Firestone and blown the whistle on defective tires, 60 Minutes would have immortalized me," Goldberg rued. "Unfortunately, the defective product I was making noise about wasn't tires, it was network news."

Over the past 14 years, the Media Research Center compiled a mountain of evidence proving the liberal bias that has degraded the networks' reputations, and Goldberg offered his own examples. But what his book uniquely adds is damning insight into the utter contempt network chiefs have for those who dare to complain about their flawed product.

END Reprint of Media Reality Check

To read a transcript of Engberg's 1996 story which led to Goldberg's ostracization, as well as for a RealPlayer clip of it: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20011205.asp#7

7

He did all he could to help the totalitarian Soviet Union obtain the atomic bomb, but when asked why, when the FBI was pursuing him, he didn't flee to the Soviet Union, he told CBS News: "I didn't want to leave the United States to go to some hellhole like Russia or China."

The man who spoke those words: David Greenglass, the brother of Ethel Rosenberg. He freely admits that while an Army soldier assigned to Los Alamos in the 1940s he drew sketches of what he saw scientists working on and passed them to the Soviets. In a December 5 story on CBS's 60 Minutes II, reporter Bob Simon recounted how Greenglass has now recanted his testimony that his sister typed up U.S. secrets for her husband to deliver to the Soviets, thus supposedly absolving her of the charge which led to her death sentence.

Here's the sickening part of the interview:
Bob Simon: "After the war...Greenglass's career in espionage was over and he thought he'd gotten away with it. But four years later [Julius] Rosenberg warned Greenglass that the FBI was onto them and urged him to flee the country. So Greenglass had a family passport picture taken, but he had no intention of using it."
David Greenglass: "What, I didn't want to leave the United States to go to some hellhole like Russia or China, or wherever the hell he wanted to send me, or Czechoslovakia or whatever."

Isn't there a "hellhole" to which we can send this guy...like Afghanistan? -- Brent Baker


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