CyberAlert -- October 17, 1996 -- Making the Campaign "Meaner"

Three items today:

But first, a quick correction: The quote from the CBS Evening News cited in yesterday's CyberAlert was incorrectly attributed to Bill Plante. In fact, the quote came from Phil Jones.

1. Before Wednesday night's debate reporters worried about Dole's more aggressive plan. NBC's Matt Lauer said it meant the campaign "is now getting meaner." On CBS, Phil Jones worried that in a "town meeting" format, Dole may be seen as "being too mean." Dan Rather warned that Dole planned to unload a "carpet bombing on character."

2. On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer asked if Dole's tax cut proposal is responsible for "the economic mess that the country is in."

3. A quiz question: A man identified as a "Democratic strategist" has been making the rounds of TV shows to provide the pro-Clinton spin. He is married to which network correspondent who is covering the Clinton campaign?

1) Today show news anchor Matt Lauer opened the 7am newscast on Wednesday (October 16) by blaming Dole for causing a mean campaign. As transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "Good morning everyone. The last debate of the national political campaign is on tap for tonight in San Diego. Bob Dole is not waiting for that debate to attack Bill Clinton's ethics. With more on a campaign that is now getting meaner, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell is standing by live in San Diego."

On Wednesday's CBS Evening News, reporter Phil Jones showed a clip of him shouting questions about debate strategy at Bob Dole as Dole got into his car:

Phil Jones: "Ethics?"
Dole: "Maybe."
Jones: "Do you worry about it backfiring if you get into that?"
Dole shook his head, and Jones then explained:

"Well, attacking the President could be risky for Mr. Dole because of the debate format. The candidates will be facing voters who are asking the questions, not a reporter. Mr. Dole has never been able to shed that image of a hatchet man that he got back in his 1976 vice presidential debate and the last thing he needs tonight is a boo, a hiss, or a gasp from one of the questioners who thinks he's being too mean."

Introducing the next story from Rita Braver on the Clinton beat, Rather asked: "Rita, true or untrue that they're preparing for a kind of carpet bombing on character?"

2) Most analysts suggest that Dole's 15 percent tax cut plan has not been a more effective campaign issue because people don't believe he'll follow through. Not Bob Schieffer. He thinks Dole's problem is that people believe he's committed to the supply-side theory behind the plan.

On the October 6 Face the Nation, Schieffer asked Ross Perot: "You mentioned the economic mess that the country is in. The keystone of the Dole campaign at this point seems to be a 15 percent across the board tax cut. That seems to go against a lot of the things that Senator Dole has said in the past. I know that you personally would not have gone in that direction. But do you think that is one of the reasons that the Dole campaign is running behind as it is now? What do you think of the 15 percent tax cut? Is it at all realistic? Could that be done?"

3) Quiz answer: Rita Braver, the White House correspondent for CBS News. Her husband: Bob Barnett, a Washington lawyer who played George Bush in mock debates with Bill Clinton in 1992. In addition to Clinton, he served as a debate coach for Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale. Wednesday night he appeared on CNN both before and after the debate, identified on screen as a "Democratic strategist."

How convenient. Rita Braver gets the Clinton spin at work and at home.

-- Brent Baker