FNC's Gabler Misconstrues MRC Report on CBS News Reagan-Bashing --11/10/2003
2. Widespread Media Coverage for MRC's Role in CBS Dropping Movie
FNC's Neil Gabler isn't very good at discerning what's on CBS News and what is not. Friday night on FNC's Hannity & Colmes, Gabler, who holds the liberal slot on FNC's Fox Newswatch, filled in for Alan Colmes. After Sean Hannity recited two Reagan-bashing quotes from Lesley Stahl as listed in a Media Reality Check distributed by the MRC, Gabler rejected the notion that the collection of quotes proved hostility by CBS News toward Ronald Reagan since "only two of the seven statements" in the MRC report "were made on CBS!"
In fact, the MRC's November 4 compilation featured eight quotes and four of them were uttered by CBS News personnel while on a CBS News program. And the other four still illustrate the disgust top CBS News stars have for Reagan and his policies.
Gabler's misguided effort to undermine the relevance of the quotes came during a segment, with MRC President Brent Bozell and Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, on CBS dropping its mini-series on the Reagans.
Hannity, picking up on a MRC Media Reality Check which set out to show how the scriptwriter for the mini-series derogatory toward Ronald Reagan could have just been following the lead of CBS News, noted to Bozell: "You actually did a lot of research here that frankly stunned me. CBS has a history of Reagan-bashing."
Hannity proceeded to read two quotes from Lesley Stahl, though he did not find it relevant to note whether or not she said them on CBS.
First, he quoted Stahl as having charged: "Historians are going to be totally baffled by how the American people fell in love with this man [Ronald Reagan] and followed him the way we did."
Stahl made that remark on a non-CBS News program, the January 11, 1989 edition of NBC's Later with Bob Costas.
Second, Hannity recounted how Stahl had summarized the Reagan presidency: "Bottom line. Largest deficits in history. Largest debtor nation. Can't afford to fix the housing emergency."
That opinionated comment came on a CBS News show, Face the Nation, which Stahl hosted at the time. On the May 15, 1988 program Stahl was reacting to Reagan's former Chief-of-Staff, Don Regan, who had argued: "What's the bottom line of the Reagan administration? It's a great record."
After Hannity debated the Reagan movie for a bit with Henican, Gabler launched into the MRC's Bozell: "Let me ask Brent Bozell something. First of all, I want to correct the record on his Media Reality Check. Those statements, only two of the seven statements that he cites -- went with a fine-toothed comb through CBS's record -- only two of the statements were made on CBS! They were made by people who at one time were employed by CBS, but they weren't on CBS...."
Gabler went on to make a couple of more points to which Bozell responded, but Gabler mis-counted the quotes collected from the MRC's archive.
In addition to the Stahl quote from Face the Nation, three more, for a total of four, not two, were said on CBS News programs:
# "In the plague years of the 1980s -- that low decade of denial, indifference, hostility, opportunism, and idiocy -- government fiddled, medicine diddled, and the media were silent or hysterical. A gerontocratic Ronald Reagan took this [AIDS] plague less seriously than Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn't need the ghettos and he didn't want the gays." -- CBS Sunday Morning TV critic John Leonard, September 5, 1993.
# "The '80s...[were] a decade dominated, in politics and in style, by the Reagans....While the wealthy got most of the attention, those who needed it most were often ignored. More homeless, less spending on housing. The gap between the top and the bottom grew in the '80s....The AIDS crisis began in the '80s. Some say the decade's compassion gap made it worse." -- CBS This Morning co-host Kathleen Sullivan, November 13, 1989.
# "He talked about being proud of what's happened with the economy, about the millions of new jobs that have been created. And as I listened to that, I also thought one out of five babies born in the United States are born into poverty. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country now that are homeless, have no place to live." -- CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith to Maureen Reagan on January 12, 1989, the day after President Reagan's Farewell Address.
In addition, a November 3 CyberAlert item, from which the Media Reality Check was drawn, featured two more quotes, one of which came direct from CBS News coverage:
For the Adobe Acrobat PDF version, which matches the look of the faxed version which I assume is what Gabler saw: www.mediaresearch.org
For a picture of Gabler: www.foxnews.com
For FNC's Web page for Fox Newswatch, which will discuss CBS's decision on this weekend's edition airing Saturday at 6:30pm and 11:30pm EST and Sunday at 2:30am and 6:30am EST: www.foxnews.com
The MRC earned quite a lot of media coverage this past week for our role in the effort to convince CBS to reconsider airing its mini-series, The Reagans. On Tuesday, October 28 MRC President Brent Bozell sent a letter to the top 100 advertisers on television advising them of the reported content of the CBS mini-series and urging them to look at the movie themselves before buying any time on the program.
The letter concluded: "'The Reagans' appears to be a blatantly unfair assault on the legacy of one of America's greatest leaders. I hope you will review the script, and if you agree, refuse to associate your products with this movie."
The full letter is online at: www.mediaresearch.org
That letter generated some coverage and the MRC CyberAlert continued to document developments in the controversy, such as helping to publicize Merv Griffin on MSNBC denouncing CBS as "cowardly." When CBS Chairman Les Moonves decided a week later to shift the mini-series to Showtime, dozens of reporters, radio talk show hosts and television producers turned to the MRC to explore our role in fueling the controversy and to get our take on Moonves' decision.
The MRC's Tim Graham and Rich Noyes each appeared on over a dozen radio talk shows with Graham popping up a couple of times on MSNBC -- once in the daytime and once on Scarborough Country. Bozell, in addition to appearing Friday night on FNC's Hannity & Colmes, got a soundbite Tuesday night on both ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News. See the November 5 CyberAlert for a rundown of those ABC and CBS stories: www.mediaresearch.org
Since I spent most of Tuesday afternoon on the phone with reporters, we'll start with stories which quoted me, then ones quoting both me and Bozell, an article which quoted Rich Noyes followed by stories quoting Bozell or citing the MRC. Each item is followed by the Web address for the entire article, though many require registration. To lessen confusion, other than for the headlines, I've not added any quote marks, so these are excerpts from how the stories appeared in the newspapers:
# Newsday, "CBS Dumps Reagan Miniseries"
...."The cancellation is good news for Americans who were upset for years about a small group of people in Hollywood who were able to have their point of view shown on national TV without any one able to stop it," say Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Council, a conservative media watchdog organization based in Alexandria, Va....
# Dallas Morning News, "No Teflon here: As outcry rises, CBS drops 'Reagans'"
....CBS said in a statement that its decision on The Reagans was "based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script....Although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience."
Critics weren't buying it, seeing motives that ranged from financial to political.
"CBS essentially was saved from itself by the outcry. Only after the controversy occurred did they suddenly decide it may not be fair and balanced," said Media Research Center vice president Brent Baker, whose conservative organization had urged major corporate advertisers to "refuse to associate your products with such a movie."....
# Broadcasting & Cable magazine daily, "It's Showtime for The Reagans"
....Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center, said he thought CBS bowed more to "grassroots" pressure from groups like his. The MRC wrote a letter to the 100 top advertisers urging them to boycott the miniseries because of its "distorted" view of history....
# New York Sun, "CBS, Bowing to Furor, Recalls Reagan Miniseries: Beleaguered Network Admits Made-for-TV Biopic Is Biased"
...L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center -- who sent letters to 100 of CBS s advertisers advising them not to buy spots during the program -- also reacted coolly. "The movie had lost all credibility and Viacom would be well-advised to clean this mess up before airing it on Showtime," he said in a statement....
Whether the film was made-for-television fluff or aggressive anti-Reagan propaganda, conservatives feared its entering into the popular culture.
"A new generation of people who have no personal memory of Reagan would think this is the truth," said Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center....
# Baltimore Sun, "Shelving of 'Reagans' touches off hot debate"
....One of the harshest critics of The Reagans has been the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group that had urged an advertiser boycott in reaction to what Brent Bozell, its founder, termed "a left-wing smear of one of the nation's most beloved presidents." Bozell yesterday called CBS' decision "a wise one."...
In the highlight reel, Reagan is also shown approving the sale of arms to Iran in 1984 during a moment of dementia when he fails to even recognize the national security aide to whom he is speaking. Brent Baker, vice president of the Media Research Center, yesterday cited that depiction as the kind of questionable history that so troubled his organization.
Baker attributed CBS' decision not to air The Reagans to a "confluence of things," but singled out the advertiser boycott.
"Advertisers were telling CBS they didn't want to be anywhere near the miniseries," Baker said. "It was toxic."
# Chicago Tribune "Pressured CBS drops mini-series on Reagans" (story ran in San Jose Mercury News under the headline, "Conservatives cheer CBS' decision to drop 'Reagans' mini-series")
....The campaign against the program was coordinated by the conservative Media Research Center, whose president, Brent Bozell, sent letters to the CEOs of the 100 companies that spend the most money advertising on television urging them to consider whether they wanted to be associated with the program.
Rich Noyes, research director for the center, said he had concluded CBS was not getting sufficient ad revenue and that's why it sold off the program. Some critics said the film should have been shelved instead of moved to cable TV.
Both Noyes and Michael Reagan said there had not been a formal campaign to pressure CBS, but rather separate actions by groups and individuals who support Reagan's legacy.
"What CBS completely misunderstood was the love for my father not just in this country, but all around the globe," Michael Reagan said.
But speculation is rife that the decision had something to do with CBS' parent, Viacom Inc., not wanting to rock the political boat at a critical time for its interests in Washington....
# Associated Press, "Reagan Miniseries to Air on Showtime," a story which ran in hundreds of newspapers on Wednesday
....But conservatives said it was a question of accuracy.
The miniseries became a hot topic on talk radio and the TV news networks. The chairman of the Republican National Committee wrote to CBS President Leslie Moonves, asking for historians to review the movie, and the conservative Media Research Center asked advertisers to consider boycotting the film.
"This was a left-wing smear of one of the nation's most beloved presidents and CBS got caught," said Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center....
# New York Times front page in story also carried by subscribers to the New York Times News Service, "Shifting 'Reagans' to Cable Has CBS Facing New Critics"
....On Oct. 28, the Media Research Center, a conservative group led by L. Brent Bozell that monitors the news and entertainment industries for what it sees as liberal bias, wrote a letter to a list of 100 top television sponsors urging them to "refuse to associate your products with this movie."...
The various conservatives who protested "The Reagans" said they did not coordinate their actions. "There wasn't time," Mr. Bozell said. "It was a desperate outcry. You can expect us to say something. You can expect Pat Buchanan to write a column. But when Lou Cannon, who has a track record of being in staunch disagreement with Reagan, when Merv Griffin -- who hasn't been attending our vast right-wing conspiracy meetings -- speaks out as forcefully as they did, that really tells you the depth of outrage."...
# The Washington Times, "CBS Yields on Reagan Movie"
....The public got a taste of the series' content through snippets of the script released to the press in late October. Protests mounted over the next few weeks from, among others, the RNC, the Media Research Center (MRC) and longtime Reagan friend, actor/producer Merv Griffin, who observed that the "C" in CBS stood for 'cowardly.'
Others called it downright cruel.
"The original decision to broadcast a factually distorted film about the former president when he is in the latter stages of Alzheimer's disease showed disgustingly poor taste," said MRC President Brent Bozell yesterday.
"This is another reason why Viacom would do well to ensure the movie accurately portrays history instead of rewriting history to suit a liberal agenda," he said, advising Viacom "to clean this mess up before airing it on Showtime."...
# Washington Times editorial, "Win One for the Gipper."
"...Several individuals deserve credit for safeguarding Mr. Reagan's legacy. Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times broke the story about distortions in the miniseries script. Matt Drudge's constant scoops and persistent advocacy was the locomotive that pulled the train. Michael Paranzino organized the BoycottCBS.com movement, which received thousands of hits. Television host and producer Merv Griffin attested to specific inaccuracies. RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie wrote to CBS President Leslie Moonves requesting that either the miniseries be fact-checked or that viewers be informed of its fictions. The Media Research Center's Brent Bozell wrote advertisers requesting they review the series before making their sponsorship decisions..."
# Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "It's Showtime for 'The Reagans' as politics take over"
...Though the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, asked advertisers to boycott "The Reagans," there's little chance that would have happened. Controversies like this usually result in high ratings, which in turn make advertisers hungrier to spend ad dollars on a program. For instance, Heinz could have used this forum to remind us that Reagan, in addition to helming a period of terrific economic recovery, deemed ketchup a vegetable...
# San Jose Mercury News, "CBS Pulls 'The Reagans'"
...The film was attacked on right-wing radio talk shows across the country. The Republican National Committee asked CBS to screen the film for a team of historians, with GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie suggesting the network run a "crawl" reminding the audience "that this is not a film that is supposed to be historically accurate." Brent Bozell -- president of the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group -- called for an advertising boycott... www.bayarea.com
# Orlando Sentinel "CBS Dumps Reagan Docudrama Amid Furor About its Accuracy"
"Brent Bozell, who had spearheaded a protest against the miniseries, called CBS' decision "a wise one" and warned Viacom to "clean this mess up before airing it on Showtime." Bozell is president of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group...." www.orlandosentinel.com
# Sacramento Bee, "CBS Runs from the Reagans"
The Washington-based Media Research Center, which exists mostly to harass anyone who might differ with its causes, rallied other conservatives and friends of Reagan -- including the screamers of talk radio who are always looking for a fight -- to say they were shocked, shocked to learn that Hollywood scriptwriters make things up. News flash: Hollywood makes things up.
The MRC, among other things, contacted advertisers with the implied threat that they'd be dragged into the controversy, and for most advertisers, that threat is huge, even if it's not aimed directly at them...
...The folks at the Media Research Center know this, and they struck CBS in its most vulnerable spot: money. Whatever the reasons, Moonves knows when to fold 'em."
# Boston Globe, "Amid heat, CBS pulls Reagan film"
....The Media Research Center had sent letters to 100 corporations urging them to review the script or the movie before buying ads. Conservative cable TV commentators and radio talk-show hosts, including the former president's son Michael Reagan, had also complained about the show....
# USA Today, "Conservatives cheer miniseries cancellation: Media watchers fear dangerous precedent"
....Using TV, talk radio and the Internet, conservative activists roared into action.
The Media Research Center asked advertisers to review the script....
# Christian Science Monitor, "Activists Win a Round in TV's Culture War"
"...The Republican National Committee asked CBS to screen the film for historians, and RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie suggested the network run a disclaimer "that this is not a film that is supposed to be historically accurate." Brent Bozell, head of the Virginia-based Media Research Center, the largest conservative media watchdog group, sent a letter to 100 top corporate advertisers asking them not to support the biopic..."
# St. Paul Pioneer-Press (also ran in Tallahassee Democrat), "Cowards at CBS Play Us for Fools"
"...The usual suspects have been in even higher dudgeon than normal. The Drudge Report ran days of outraged headlines. Bill O'Reilly railed. L. Brent Bozell organized a campaign threatening advertiser boycotts. The Republican National Committee fired off a read-between-the-lines letter to CBS president Les Moonves demanding Reagan-friendly "experts" review the film prior to air -- or else..."
Wow. That's a pretty impressive collection of press coverage, if I must say so myself -- and I'm sure there's a lot more we missed.
Normally I shy away from touting our impact too much. But this week the mainstream media did so for us. As you read above, USA Today listed the MRC as amongst the groups which "roared into action." The Chicago Tribune stated that "the campaign against the program was coordinated by the conservative Media Research Center" and the Orlando Sentinel saw that the MRC "spearheaded a protest against the miniseries."
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