Jennings Decides It's Wrong to Call Osama Message "Disgusting" --10/31/2004
2. CBS Upbeat on Kerry, Downbeat on Bush & Harps on Confetti Miscue
3. ABC & NBC Twist 3.7% GDP Into Bad News, ABC Stresses Job Losses
Early Show Delivers Pre-Halloween Treat to John Edwards
5. Belzer: Bush "Worst President in History," Coulter a "Fascist"
Osama bin Laden's videotaped message "fascinating" but not "disgusting." ABC's Peter Jennings on Friday night described bin Laden's message as "quite fascinating and disgusting to read." But a minute or so later on World News Tonight, the MRC's Rich Noyes noticed, Jennings backtracked from one of his characterizations: "Probably not appropriate of me to characterize the tape as I did -- calling it 'disgusting.'"
Following a report from Brian Ross on what bin Laden spewed in his message played by al-Jazerra, Jennings alerted viewers: "The text of all this, by the way, you can find at ABCNews.com. Of course, it's quite fascinating and disgusting to read."
Jennings then played reaction soundbites from President Bush and Senator John Kerry before he was joined at the anchor desk by George Stephanopoulos. Jennings decided that it was inappropriate to have described the message as "disgusting," but not to have called it "fascinating," as he segued from the candidate clips to Stephanopoulos: "So this is, of course, now a factor to some degree in the presidential election for the last few days. ABC's George Stephanopoulos is with us. Probably not appropriate of me to characterize the tape as I did -- calling it 'disgusting.' But how does a politician identify with the disgust of most, if not all Americans, and still either use this for his presidential campaign or see that it doesn't hurt him?"
On Friday, for the second night in a row, the CBS Evening News provided downbeat coverage for George Bush's campaign day and an upbeat look at John Kerry's. With "Rallying Cry" as the on-screen peg, Byron Pitts began his story on Kerry's day by portraying Osama bin Laden's message as playing into Kerry's hand: "Osama bin Laden was already a key part of John Kerry's campaign, the foundation of his argument that President Bush is unfit for office."
But for Bush, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth observed, CBS put "Bad Week" on the screen as the network treated a meaningless miscue on when to drop confetti as a metaphor for an unsure campaign. Bush's "attempt to seal the deal with voters didn't always go off as planned," Dan Rather intoned. Bill Plante began: "It's been a bad week for a President who doesn't like surprises. That was only an air cannon full of confetti going off early, but it came on top of days of questions about the missing Iraqi explosives and word of a widening investigation into Halliburton. And Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who was supposed to add some star power to Mr. Bush's campaign swing through New Hampshire, suddenly cancelled citing his injured ankle." Plante warned that while "outwardly the President's team is confident, privately they're concerned that they could lose a few key states."
CBS on Thursday night had launched another effort to torpedo President Bush's re-election as their reporters gloated over how their earlier hit on "missing explosives," combined with their lead story about the FBI probing one person's claim about a no-bid contract awarded to Halliburton, had meant "a bad week for Mr. Bush has gotten only worse" while John Kerry is "on a roll" now that he's "buoyed by the momentum that the weapons controversy has given him." For details about the October 28 CBS Evening News, see the October 29 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
Rather then set up Plante with Bush: "Even before the bin Laden tape, President Bush had been campaigning hard on the theme that he could keep the country safe, and today was no exception. Still, as CBS's Bill Plante reports, in the closing hours of the President's final campaign, his attempt to seal the deal with voters didn't always go off as planned."
With "BAD WEEK" on screen over video of George and Laura Bush ascending stairs to a campaign stage, Plante delivered a glooming assessment: "It's been a bad week for a President who doesn't like surprises. [video of confetti falling on, at the Verizon Arena in Manchester, before he finished his speech] That was only an air cannon full of confetti going off early, but it came on top of days of questions about the missing Iraqi explosives and word of a widening investigation into Halliburton. And Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who was supposed to add some star power to Mr. Bush's campaign swing through New Hampshire, suddenly cancelled citing his injured ankle. Bush advisers privately think Schilling was pressured. At this event, the President never mentioned John Kerry by name. Instead, surrounded by relatives of 9/11 victims, he invoked the nation's feeling of unity in the wake of the attacks."
When the third quarter GDP rate in 2000 plunged to 2.7 percent from 5.6 percent, ABC and NBC didn't bother to report the announcement, a week before the election, of the bad news for Vice President Al Gore and CBS's Dan Rather rationalized the slower growth: "There is a school of thought that says this is overall good for the economy to keep it from overheating."
But on Friday night, while Rather stayed neutral, ABC's Peter Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw forwarded negative twists to the announcement of a solid 3.7 percent GDP growth rate for the third quarter of this year, significantly better than the 2000 number. "That was an improvement from the spring but less than forecast," Jennings intoned before Betsy Stark recalled the "question that Ronald Reagan first asked when he ran for President: 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' For most Americans, economic well-being begins with having a job. And there are 821,000 fewer jobs today than when Mr. Bush took office." Brokaw's take on the 3.7 percent jump: "That's slightly better than in the spring, but it's not as strong as analysts had expected."
Brokaw was more upbeat the last time an incumbent President faced re-election, even though the GDP rate was much lower. "The economy was slow but steady going into the last quarter," Brokaw insisted about a 2.2 percent GDP growth report that came out right before Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election bid. Brokaw, the MRC's Rich Noyes determined, found economists pleased: "Many economists were encouraged by that, because it means inflation is under control and interest rates will stay low."
Back on October 27, 1992 when a 2.7 GDP number for the 3rd quarter represented the sixth straight quarter of economic growth under President George H. W. Bush, the same growth rate as in the third quarter of 2000 which ABC and NBC ignored and Rather spun into good news, all three broadcast network evening shows led with the number but quickly dampened the good news for the senior Bush's re-election effort:
"That is more than economists had projected, but in many cases, less than meets the eye," Peter Jennings cautioned on October 27, 1992. "There is some doubt about the accuracy of the figures," Dan Rather warned before adding how "it was also announced today" that "consumer confidence in the economy continues to fall." (In the subsequent story Susan Spencer warned that Bush "crowed today at upbeat news of a third quarter growth rate of 2.7 percent, though some economists warn that rate may not hold." In fact, it soared in the next quarter, jumping 5.4 percent in the 4th quarter of 1992.) Tom Brokaw said the 2.7 percent rate was "well above what most economists predicted, but in this unusual economy that's not enough, not with another report out today showing a sharp drop in consumer confidence."
For a full rundown of the contrasts between coverage for the same 2.7 percent GDP rates in the third quarters of 1992 and 2000, see the October 28, 2000 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
Now, back to Friday night, October 29:
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather delivered a short item: "The government today put out its final report on the U.S. economy before the election. It says the economy picked up a bit in the third quarter of the year, growing at an annual rate of 3.7 percent."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw reported: "And we have news on the economy tonight. The last look at the GDP before the election, which measures overall economic growth. The economy grew at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the third quarter. That's slightly better than in the spring, but it's not as strong as analysts had expected."
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings used the GDP number to segue to a story on the overall status of the economy: "The government said today that the economy grew at an annual rate of 3.7 percent in the third quarter [number on screen]. That was an improvement from the spring but less than forecast. This, of course, is the government's last snapshot of the economy before Election Day. And our business correspondent Betsy Stark is with us to say that, I guess, each campaign gets a little bit out of it."
Stark, sitting at the anchor desk by Jennings, checked in with a set of good and bad economic numbers, starting with a bad one for Bush: "Each campaign does get a little bit out of it. But what matters to voters, Peter, gets back to that question that Ronald Reagan first asked when he ran for President: 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' For most Americans, economic well-being begins with having a job."
And by coincidence, the view of network reporting matches those with a negative view.
No mention by Stark of the relatively low unemployment and inflation rates.
CBS's Hannah Storm "interviewed" Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards in an "exclusive" for Friday's Early Show and Storm exclusively tossed him a series of softballs which cued up his standard talking points. She began by asking him to expand on the Kerry campaign's position that the Bush administration has managed to "avoid responsibility for the 380 tons of missing explosives in Iraq." She proceeded to wonder if his assertion that the missing weapons could be used in terrorist attacks is "an attempt to chip away at the President, whose leadership numbers in the area of terror are very strong?"
Storm fretted that "we're not seeing headlines about the economy, jobs, health care" where you "score very well in the poll numbers," and noted charges "the Bush administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's company" and asked: "What's your reaction to that news?" She also prompted Edwards to "describe" his "relationship" with Kerry, to explain why it "would be so beneficial to you and Senator Kerry" for "voters to get to the polls early before November 2nd" and, "on a lighter note," as if everything before wasn't light, "Sunday is Halloween. Are you going to get a chance to go with your little ones and go trick-or-treating?"
Storm delivered CBS's Halloween treat to Edwards.
Edwards appeared via satellite from Indianola, Iowa and the MRC's Brian Boyd took down Hannah Storm's questions posed in the taped session which CBS played back in two segments on the October 29 Early Show.
-- Storm began the 7am half hour segment with this exchange:
Storm's other questions:
-- "Want to touch on something you just said, because your campaign is focused on these missing weapons as being potentially used in terrorist attacks. Now is this an attempt to chip away at the President, whose leadership numbers in the area of terror are very strong?"
-- "You are making a lot of headlines talking about these missing weapons, but we're not seeing headlines about the economy, jobs, health care. Now, the polls show that these are very important to average Americans. You score very well in the poll numbers, you and John Kerry do in these areas. Are you concerned that by focusing on Iraq and the war on terror that you're going to lose your edge on these domestic issues?"
-- Storm: "The FBI's begun investigating whether the Pentagon improperly awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton companies. So this elevates to a criminal matter, this question here, of whether the Bush Administration showed favoritism to Vice President Dick Cheney's company. What's your reaction to that news?"
-- Storm: "Let me ask you an economic question. Can you 100% guarantee that you won't raise taxes on the middle class?"
Storm wrapped up: "And we'll have more of my interview with John Edwards in our second hour. Also, we should note, that despite ongoing requests for interviews with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over the past six months, they have repeatedly declined."
Storm's question in the tape played back during the 8am half hour:
-- "Despite working together in the Senate for six years, it wasn't until they became running mates earlier this year that John Kerry and John Edwards really got to know each other. In an exclusive interview with the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Edwards, I asked him to describe their relationship."
-- "Are you worried that this election will be similar to last time, a disputed election? And the latest poll by Time Magazine says almost half of Americans think an illegitimate winner might actually prevail in this election. What would that mean if this goes to the courts and the lawyers? What would that mean for our democracy?"
-- "On a lighter note, Sunday is Halloween. Are you going to get a chance to go with your little ones and go trick-or-treating?...Are you going to dress up, Senator?"
Looks like Storm has already cast hers.
Actor/comedian Richard Belzer, who plays "Detective John Munch" on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, charged Friday night on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, to loud audience applause, that John Kerry is "running against the worst President in the history of the United States! And that's not hyperbole." Belzer cited "the demonization of gays, the repression of black voters, the favoritism of Halliburton." He also dismissed the terrorist threat: "We can't consume everybody's life with this fear when we've been attacked twice in twenty years." To loud applause from the audience, he denigrated Ann Coulter as "a fascist party doll" and claimed she's "a repugnant person who says the most vile things, she lies."
The hour-long Real Time with Bill Maher, produced at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, is shown live at 11pm EDT on Fridays on HBO East, and has re-runs through the following week.
Belzer appeared on the Real Time panel with retired General Wesley Clark and actor Kevin Costner who claimed he was "conservative" yet spent most of his time effusively praising Ralph Nader and attacking Bush from the left.
In reaction to Costner urging those who like Nader to vote for him and not consider the political impact of costing Kerry the presidency, Belzer broke in to argue, referring to Kerry:
Later, by satellite, Maher interviewed conservative columnist Ann Coulter. Just before she came on, Belzer smeared her: "She's a fascist party doll."
Following the interview, during which Belzer took barely audible, off-mike cheap shots at her, much of the audience booed Coulter, prompting Maher to call for respect for differing views. Belzer fired back: "She's a repugnant person who says the most vile things [loud applause], she lies, she's a liar and you know that."
For NBC's bio of Belzer (with a picture), who lives in France when not filming Law and Order: SVU, and the character he plays: www.nbc.com
-- Brent Baker