2. Network Morning Hosts Upset at Negative Tone of VP Debate
3. Fact Check #1: Correcting "Dishonest" Cheney on Edwards Meeting
4. Fact Check #2: Matthews Scolds Cheney on 9/11 but Tape Backs VP
5. ABC Touts Dr. Phil Chat with Kerry, but Bush Aired Last Week
Four times on Wednesday morning, CBS's Early Show touted the network's poll of 178 "uncommitted" voters -- a puny sample which included voters who have made up their minds but claimed they might possibly switch before Election Day -- as proof that John Edwards bested Dick Cheney in Tuesday night's debate. But ABC's Good Morning America spent almost no time on a poll of 509 voters meant to represent a cross-section of debate viewers, a poll which showed Cheney beating Edwards.
Not even Newsweek's liberal Eleanor Clift would go so far as CBS in handing the debate to Edwards. "I think it was a split decision. I don't think there was a clear-cut winner. I don't think that John Edwards gave the Kerry ticket additional momentum going into Friday. I think this sort of freezes the race," Clift said on Wednesday morning's Fox & Friends on FNC.
Clift actually thought Cheney did so well it could make Bush look bad in Friday's debate: "I don't think it sets up President Bush particularly well, because the Vice President came away as strongly in command of the issues and I think he confirms what a lot of American voters think. And that is that he's the real president. That doesn't instill a lot of confidence in the guy at the top of the ticket, who failed so miserably when he had a chance to perform last week."
CBS's shameless hyping of a poll with a huge margin of error and a piddling number of respondents who don't represent a cross-section of American voters began at 7am EDT this morning. Co-host Harry Smith touted: "A CBS News poll of uncommitted voters taken immediately after the debate showed Edwards to be the clear winner."
Margin of error: +/-7pts
According to a detailed report on CBSNews.com, the network questioned "a nationwide random sample of 178 uncommitted voters," an incredibly small sample. A paragraph below the summary of results explained that CBS's definition of "uncommitted voters" included those "who have chosen a candidate but may still change their minds," a pretty elastic definition.
For details on CBS's findings and methodology, go to: www.cbsnews.com
# After John Roberts summarized the main points made by Edwards and Cheney, co-host Hannah Storm asked analyst Craig Crawford to comment on CBS's poll:
# Shortly after 8am EDT, co-host Julie Chen was matter-of-fact in stating: "It looks like another debate win for the Democratic ticket. A CBS News poll of uncommitted voters said John Edwards won the vice presidential debate last night with Dick Cheney."
But in his second wrap piece, John Roberts acknowledged another reality: "Across the board instant polls were pretty much split over who came out the winner. But most analysts agree, the fact that John Edwards wasn't flattened last night will place even more emphasis on this coming Friday's second presidential debate."
# Then, during the 8:30am EDT half-hour, correspondent Anthony Mason came on to go over the details of CBS's poll, repeating many of the points he made during CBS's Tuesday night coverage. (For details on CBS's immediate post-debate coverage, go to: www.mrc.org )
Mason began: "John Edwards scored the highest marks in our sample of uncommitted voters last night by 41 percent to 28 percent they scored him the winner of the debate. In a scientific survey nearly 200 voters reacted to the candidates on a sliding scale during the debate. Women routinely gave Edwards higher marks...."
After showing some women positively responding to an Edwards' soundbite, Mason continued: "Vice President Cheney had an image problem to overcome. Going into the debate nearly 60 percent of the uncommitted voters we surveyed said they did not personally like him. And when we asked how they'd feel if Cheney became president, 24 percent said 'scared'. Cheney did better among male voters like Gene Faber in Los Angeles."
Gene Faber, undecided voter: "He actually is experienced at being Vice President and he seemed more mature."
Mason: "The Vice President did score well among women when he talked about women in Afghanistan."
Contrast that with ABC's timidity in presenting a more traditional poll showing Cheney with a sizeable, but not overwhelming, lead over Edwards. ABC's Charles Gibson began by downplaying ABC's results: "The morning after, some people calling it for Edwards, others for Cheney, others calling it a draw. We'll have full coverage ahead."
Following Claire Shipman's report summarizing the debate's highlights, Gibson turned to George Stephanopoulos: "Most analysis said this was draw, and yet I was interested, the ABC, sort of, instant poll had Cheney a pretty clear winner. What's behind those numbers?"
Stephanopoulos warned him that, because more Republicans watched the debate, ABC's pollsters talked to more Republicans than Democrats:
According to results posted on ABCNews.com, the 27 percent of viewers who said they were independents thought Cheney won by a small margin, 42 percent to 37 percent. "Cheney is now two for two in vice presidential debates, albeit this time around his margin of victory is much smaller. In 2000, debate viewers called him the winner over Joe Lieberman by 19 points."
For ABC's complete online report by Gary Langer and Dalia Sussman, go to: abcnews.go.com
For its part, NBC's Today did not mention any post-debate polls this morning. Co-host Katie Couric asked Tim Russert if he thought there was any movement among undecided voters as a consequence of last night's debate.
In other words, no real change.
The Wednesday morning network shows were crammed with disparaging comments about the supposedly mean tone of Tuesday's Vice Presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. On ABC, Charles Gibson called the debate "icy...two guys sitting side-by-side throwing bombshells at one another," while reporter Claire Shipman called it "hard-hitting and often bitter....The jabs often drew audible gasps from the crowd." On CBS, co-host Hannah Storm said the candidates "traded criticism and insults in last night's vice presidential debate, which was down right nasty at times."
Katie Couric began NBC's Today complaining about the hostile tone: "Good morning. A bare knuckled brawl. Dick Cheney and John Edwards go for the jugular, in a highly contentious vice presidential debate."
"I kept saying, 'Ouch,'" Couric recounted for co-host Matt Lauer. "It was pretty rough."
Five days earlier, after the debate between President Bush and John Kerry -- a debate that many in the media said Kerry "won" -- the network morning hosts were much more pleased. "Boy, what a sharp contrast in foreign policy approaches," was all CBS's Storm had to say back on October 1. To ABC's Gibson, that first presidential exchange was a "good debate, a lot better debate than we've had in the past," while his colleague George Stephanopoulos called last Thursday's presidential debate "one of the best ever."
For more on how the network morning shows covered that first presidential debate, go to: www.mrc.org
Now, for more on how the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows summarized last night's debate. CBS's The Early Show continually cited its flimsy poll of 178 "uncommitted" voters as resounding evidence that Edwards had somehow bested Cheney, an analysis unique to CBS News. (More about that in Item #1.)
In a wrap-up report during the 7am EDT hour, MRC's Brian Boyd recorded how correspondent John Roberts stressed the debate's negativity: "It was the political newcomer against the seasoned veteran and it was everything that a vice presidential debate is supposed to be: lively and marked by some testy exchanges, with Iraq as the major point of contention."
A soundbite from Dick Cheney: "What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do. If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the right, same course of action."
Roberts: "If anyone was wondering when the first punch would be thrown, they didn't have to wait long. It came with the very first rebuttal: John Edwards claiming the White House can't be trusted."
John Edwards: "Mr. Vice President, you are still not being straight with the American people. I mean, the reality you and George Bush continue to tell people, first, that things are going well in Iraq. The American people don't need us to explain this to them, they see it on their television every single day."
Roberts praised the Democrat's performance: "Edwards, whose swift attacks seemed to rattle the Vice President, went particularly hard on Cheney for suggesting a connection between Iraq and 9/11."
A second soundbite from Edwards: "Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of September 11th, and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 commission has said it, your own Secretary of State has said it."
Roberts: "Cheney fired back that he'd never said there was a connection and turned the tables proclaiming the Kerry-Edwards track record doesn't exactly suggest consistency."
Cheney: "You can not use talk tough during the course of a 90 minute debate in a presidential campaign to obscure a 30 year record in the United States Senate and prior to that by John Kerry who has consistently come down on the wrong side of all the major defense issues that he's faced as a public official."
Roberts: "Their policy differences were as sharp as their contrasting styles but both shared an appetite for the jugular. Cheney went after Edwards and Kerry for changing their positions on Iraq to beat back a primary challenge from Howard Dean."
Cheney: "Now, if they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?"
Roberts continued stressing the friction between Edwards and Cheney, interspersing his report with more soundbites from the debate: "There were flashes of anger: Edwards on war casualties, Cheney on what he called Kerry-Edwards' disrespect to coalition allies....And they traded personal attacks. Cheney on Edwards' attendance record in the Senate, calling him 'Senator Gone,' Edwards on Cheney's ties to Halliburton and his long career in Congress....In fact, the two seemed to genuinely dislike each other until same sex marriage came up. Both men put down their foils as Edwards praised Cheney's support for his daughter, Mary."
He showed Edwards praise of Cheney: "You can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing."
Roberts concluded by insisting that Cheney had failed to stop the Democratic juggernaut, and that Edwards had helped the Democratic ticket: "The job for Cheney last night was to blunt the momentum that John Kerry had built coming out of the first presidential debate. But, the sense in the room here last night was that Edwards held his own against the Vice President, leaving any big changes in the overall campaign dynamic to this Friday and the second presidential debate."
Roberts was back just after 8am EDT with a second summary of the debate, using a few different soundbites. But his overall spin remained the same. "There were flashes of anger and personal attacks," he insisted. "Issues took a backseat to insults."
ABC's Good Morning America began with Gibson's chagrin at the tone of the encounter: "Icy last night. It was icy in that room, two guys sitting side-by-side, throwing bombshells at one another."
MRC's Jessica Anderson noted that reporter Claire Shipman seemed appalled, telling co-host Diane Sawyer: "It was a hard-hitting and often bitter debate in the hall. The jabs often drew audible gasps from the crowd. There were no knockout punches, but the two candidates' strikingly different and equally effective debate styles caused more than one observer to note that the number ones could take some lessons from their number twos."
And in her wrap-up report for NBC's Today, reporter Campbell Brown characterized the vice presidential debate as "fierce," "testy" and "very personal."
Brown began her report: "Good morning, Katie. It was a fierce debate. It did get testy and it got very personal. And it began with Vice President Cheney defending the administration's decision to go to war."
Later, MRC's Megan McCormack caught how Couric repeated her grievances with the debate's tone to NBC's Tim Russert, asking Russert: "Were you surprised? I'm just curious, because it was sort of uncomfortable, I think, several times, because it did get quite nasty on both sides. Were you surprised at the level of discourse during this debate?"
Russert said the negativity was typical: "No, because I realize Katie, just how these men have been treating each other on the campaign trail. And there are issues that really do divide these two. And they're not like each other at all. This stern CEO and this folksy trial lawyer. They just plain are in two different worlds."
Couric suggested: "Do you think that they could afford to be sort of the hatchet men, so to speak, so the other -- the presidential candidates can, frankly, be more presidential?"
Russert agreed, before concluding that both Cheney and Edwards had realized their goals: "Sure. They don't have to subscribe to the same niceties that the top of the ticket do. Both these men had a role last night, and I think they both achieved it.
Everybody's number one fact-check item: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and FNC all made the point (and sometimes repeated it) that Vice President Cheney misspoke when he said he had never met Senator Edwards before last night's debate. CBS's John Roberts said Edwards "had a clear gotcha" on his "lethal opponent." On NBC, Katie Couric asked Tim Russert: "If you misspeak like that and are dishonest about it, that can backfire, right?"
Let's review how everyone in national TV news had an eye on Cheney this morning, on an issue that even very casual, less informed voters could understand. Did I meet you or not?
# ABC. MRC analyst Jessica Anderson reported that on Good Morning America, reporter Claire Shipman noted Edwards "did occasionally succeed at getting under Cheney's skin -- no easy task."
She showed this soundbite from Cheney: "You've got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you is when you walked on the stage tonight."
Shipman countered: "In fact, Elizabeth Edwards corrected the V.P. on stage: the men had met at least once at a prayer breakfast on Capitol Hill."
Later, Charles Gibson repeated to George Stephanopoulos: "A couple of moments, and Claire made mention of one, I sort of gasped when the Vice President said, 'you've not attended to your Senate duties, Senator Edwards. I'm President of the Senate and yet I've never met you 'til we walked on this stage.' That was a haymaker thrown, and yet not entirely accurate, I gather."
Stephanopoulos readily agreed: "It sure was. That was going to be, I think, Vice President Cheney's 'you're no Jack Kennedy' line, but it turns out not to be true, as Claire said. Democrats, immediately after the debate, were circulating pictures of the two meeting or crossing each other's paths at a National Prayer Breakfast. They apparently also met at the swearing in of Elizabeth Dole. It was surprising to me that Senator Edwards didn't say that during the debate, but Charlie, I think this is the last time these two guys ever sit at a table at such close quarters. They do not like each other very much." ABC accompanied the segment with video of Cheney and Edwards together on a dais at the prayer breakfast.
CNN viewers then saw a clip of Cheney acknowledging Edwards: "Thank you very much, Congressman Watts, Senator Edwards, friends from across America and distinguished visitors to our country from all over the world."
Hemmer: "There you see Senator Edwards and the Vice President. Did your father misspeak?"
A few minutes later, Hemmer also interviewed Cate Edwards, the daughter of John Edwards, who raised the meetings issue without a Hemmer question:
At 9:08am EDT, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider noted the meetings issue as well. Since Schneider emphasized certain words, we've put them in ALL CAPS in the transcript:
# FNC. MRC analyst Megan McCormack noted how Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy reviewed the facts just after 8am EDT:
# NBC. Early in the 7am EDT hour, reporter Campbell Brown reviewed debate highlights including this Cheney clip: "Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you 'Senator Gone'. You've got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate. Now, in my capacity as the Vice President, I am the President of the Senate. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on this stage tonight."
Brown made no attempt to explore the accuracy of Edwards' charge that Cheney was supposedly against Nelson Mandela's liberation from prison. This Democratic charge erupted in July of 2000 just after Cheney joined the Bush ticket. One place he defended himself was on NBC's Today show on July 27, 2000.
Four years ago, Cheney told Matt Lauer: "Nelson Mandela is an important case partly because the debate that we had at the time had to do with how we could best pursue our policies in South Africa. Nobody supported apartheid. We were all against it. But there was a big debate over what the best way to proceed was. A debate over how, the best leverage we could use to get Nelson Mandela freed. One school of thought said that there should be sanctions imposed on South Africa, that American companies should be prohibited from operating in South Africa, that there shouldn't be any trade with South Africa. The other school of thought said, 'wait a minute,' that in fact the only good jobs that were available to black South Africans were with American firms. If you wanted a company that was going to provide opportunities and not discriminate, you had to go to American firms and the people that would be hurt if we forced American firms out of South Africa were those very people we were trying to help. That was a position, by the way, supported by a lot of black South Africans, including Chief Buthelezi, who was head of the Zulus.
To see more of a transcript (and video) of that hostile NBC interview of Cheney, go to www.mrc.org
Later, Katie Couric hit the meetings issue with Tim Russert: "And it was interesting how they didn't really respond to each other's criticisms. Oftentimes, they would -- somebody would make a point and then they wouldn't be responsive. They would just say another point against that candidate. For example, the Vice President said he had never met John Edwards until tonight, talking about, pretty much being an absentee Senator. But you say that's not true."
Russert: "No, it's not true. In fact, on April 8, 2001, they were on Meet the Press together. Dick Cheney first, and then John Edwards after him."
Russert didn't have to "wish" Edwards had remembered the meetings instead of Mrs. Edwards. The liberal media are usually pretty diligent about correcting the record when the Democrats are incensed.
Fact check item, number two: On Wednesday morning's Today, NBC's Brian Williams repeated his crumbling claim from Tuesday night on both NBC and MSNBC that Cheney misspoke in denying he'd said that those "responsible for 9/11" were based in Iraq. Williams repeated his claim that a tape of Cheney on Meet the Press contradicts this claim, even though it does no such thing.
For details of what Williams claimed last night, go to: www.mrc.org
Appearing during the 9am EDT hour of Wednesday's Today, MSNBC host Chris Matthews angrily seized on Williams' story to condemn Cheney as untruthful: "We have the record from Meet the Press, thank God, to base the truth on. To find the truth. Last night was an argument, the evidence suggests, states in fact, that the Vice President wasn't telling the truth."
But the Republicans blasted an e-mail to reporters Wednesday afternoon noting that the actual Meet the Press transcript shows Cheney explicitly denied to host Tim Russert that Iraq had a hand in 9/11: "I was careful not to say that."
Williams began his Wednesday morning fact check this way: "Hard to know where to begin after what was less than a lovefest last night, but we have identified two major areas. And we indeed watched last night's debate with our own experts by our side, taking on the charges, the facts as they came flying out, and our first exchange for highlighting came during the second round of questions last night. What you're about to see is Vice President Dick Cheney, who Senator Edwards charged repeatedly linked Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. This was the Vice President, first here in his own defense."
Dick Cheney: "The Senator's got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."
Williams: "So there you have it. Vice President Cheney from Tuesday night's debate and then from Meet the Press just over a year ago." But as Brent Baker noted in this morning's CyberAlert, those words in no way imply that Cheney was connecting the 9/11 attacks specifically to Iraq.
Nevertheless, in the 9am half hour, Chris Matthews unleashed his anger at Cheney on news anchor Ann Curry. After noting the Cheney-Edwards meetings issue, he added, "And more important is his assertion that he never claimed that Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11 was been misproven [sic] by NBC last night. In a Brian Williams report last night, we showed a tape on our show, on MSNBC, establishing the fact that in no uncertain terms that the Vice President had asserted on Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. We know those things are facts. We know that what he told us last night are not facts."
Curry asked, "will the truth matter, do you think, in that regard?"
Matthews responded: "Well, I think if we get it out it will...the truth should matter. Our responsibility is to let the people know what actually was said last night. That's our reporting responsibility. It's also our reporting response to let them know what the truth is. And here, you have an absolute contradiction between a tape we've got from Meet the Press where he said this was the heart of terrorism, what happened to us on 9/11, and then we have him last night saying that's not the case. Well, we have the record from Meet the Press, thank God, to base the truth on. To find the truth. Last night was an argument, the evidence suggests, states in fact, that the Vice President wasn't telling the truth."
But by Wednesday afternoon at 1pm EDT, the Republican National Committee blasted out an e-mail titled, "Democrat Chris Matthews' Selective 'Analysis.'" MRC intern Frank Caliva checked the RNC's fuller version of the Meet the Press transcript from September 14, 2003 against our own tape. It shows that NBC, for all its valiant digging, couldn't seem to watch the tape another minute or two for context. See how little of the exchange made NBC's air in the last 24 hours: (Their clip is in brackets.)
Tim Russert on Iraq: "Can we keep 150,000 troops beyond next spring without, in effect, breaking the Army?"
Vice President Cheney: "Tim, we can do what we have to do to prevail in this conflict. Failure's not an option. And go back again and think about what's involved here. This is not just about Iraq or just about the difficulties we might encounter in any one part of the country in terms of restoring security and stability. This is about a continuing operation on the war on terror. And it's very, very important we get it right. If we're successful in Iraq, if we can stand up a good representative government in Iraq, that secures the region so that it never again becomes a threat to its neighbors or to the United States, so it's not pursuing weapons of mass destruction, so that it's not a safe haven for terrorists, now [we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.] They understand what's at stake here. That's one of the reasons they're putting up as much of a struggle as they have, is because they know if we succeed here, that that's going to strike a major blow at their capabilities."
But Russert followed up to clarify what NBC has now confused: "So the resistance in Iraq is coming from those who were responsible for 9/11?"
Cheney replied then: "No, I was careful not to say that. With respect to 9/11, 9/11, as I said at the beginning of the show, changed everything. And one of the things it changed is we recognized that time was not on our side, that in this part of the world, in particular, given the problems we've encountered in Afghanistan, which forced us to go in and take action there, as well as in Iraq, that we, in fact, had to move on it. The relevance for 9/11 is that what 9/11 marked was the beginning of a struggle in which the terrorists come at us and strike us here on our home territory. And it's a global operation. It doesn't know national boundaries or national borders."
The RNC's rebuttal charged that NBC was doing the Kerry campaign's bidding -- that NBC did not uniquely "dig out" the truth, as Matthews claimed, but followed along as the Kerry campaign posted the misleading partial transcript on its Web site at 9:35 pm EDT, which Brian Williams then used about an hour later. See the RNC rebuttal of Matthews at www.gop.com
To his credit, Williams did match his Cheney fact check with an Edwards fact check on Halliburton, concluding that Edwards misled audiences by repeatedly claiming that Halliburton was allowed a "no-bid" contract to work on reconstruction in Iraq, an Edwards' falsehood that neither ABC nor CBS revealed this morning.
When Williams cited as his source the "Government Accountability Office," we thought he had made a boo-boo, confusing the name with the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress. But finding a fact-checking error in the Williams fact-check would itself have been a factual error. The GAO's Web site explains: "Effective July 7, 2004, the GAO's legal name became the Government Accountability Office. The change, which better reflects the modern professional services organization GAO has become, is the most visible provision of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004."
See the item at www.gao.gov
If you ever wanted to comb through the GAO's Halliburton report (requested by Democrats in 2003), see www.gao.gov
Skip the Bushes but watch the Kerrys. Now that advice guru Dr. Phil's national syndicated TV interview with George and Laura Bush has already aired, ABC's Good Morning America chose this morning to promote his interviews with the presidential candidates and their wives, just in time to plug Dr. Phil's interview with John and Teresa Heinz Kerry airing Wednesday afternoon.
[MRC's Jessica Anderson wrote this item for CyberAlert.]
Before a taped interview with Dr. Phil in the 7:30am EDT half hour, co-host Diane Sawyer explained that "he and his wife, Robin, garnered interviews with both presidential candidates and their wives to talk about marriage, children, even Senator Kerry's divorce and then remarriage to Teresa Heinz. The interview with President and Mrs. Bush aired last week, but his talk with Senator Kerry and his wife airs today. So we thought we'd get a chance to look ahead, talking with Dr. Phil, who's in Los Angeles, and finding out what he learned."
Dr. Phil had nothing but positive assessments of both candidate's marriages and parenting styles: "You know, both of these men, Bush and Kerry, both are very committed not only to their marriages, but to their family. And there are real similarities in that both President Bush and Senator Kerry have two daughters, and so it's really interesting to see how they had some real parallels."
Too bad that GMA didn't feel like giving its viewers a promotional heads-up last week before the Bushes' interview, so they could see the First Couple firsthand and reach their own conclusions.