In This Issue
Networks Coddle the Democrats; NewsBites: Eleanor Tingles; Revolving Door: On Board for Gore; Equally Kind and Gentle Coverage in Houston; Convention Reporting Usually Favors Democrats; All for Clinton-Gore; Matches Prime Time; Janet Cooke Award: NBC: Is it Today or Toady?
Networks Coddle the Democrats
During the Democratic National Convention July 13-16 in New York City, a team of MediaWatch analysts watched live prime time coverage offered by the four networks. The information gathered appeared in a special daily MediaWatch Convention Watch newsletter and has been analyzed since for this month's study which has determined that, as in 1984 and 1988, the Democrats failed to receive tough scrutiny of their records, ideology, or policies.
In short: (1) Democratic delegates, speakers and candidates were described as moderate, centrist or middle-of-the-road more often than they were tagged liberal; (2) Reporters and anchors posed more questions from the Democratic or left-wing agenda than which matched the conservative or Republican agenda; (3) Controversies, such as charges about Bill Clinton's draft record or the party's refusal to let pro-life Governor Bob Casey speak, were raised just 8 times by the broadcast networks, on another 7 occasions by CNN.
This year's study follows 1984 and 1988 studies of how the television networks covered the Democratic versus Republican conventions (as summarized on page 5). The study covered all ABC, CBS and NBC night time coverage, the combined NBC/PBS broadcast for 90 to 120 minutes a night and CNN from 8pm to 12am Eastern time. In the September issue, MediaWatch will publish the final results comparing and contrasting coverage of the two conventions.
LABELING. Network reporters attached moderate or even conservative ideological labels to convention attendees 51 times, while using liberal labels 38 times. Only ABC referred more to liberals than moderates in Madison Square Garden, by a ratio of 12 mentions to two. While PBS/NBC joint coverage balanced moderate and liberal labels (11-11), the other networks concentrated more on moderate labels: CBS by a ratio of 10-3, CNN 14-7, and NBC on its solo broadcast 10-4. During the last night, NBC's Tom Brokaw concluded: "Bill Clinton and Al Gore will try to capitalize on some of the goodwill that you see here tonight, and lead a unified centrist party."
Bill Clinton and Al Gore were never once directly labeled liberal, only "moderate," "centrist," "middle of the road," or "conservative" a total of 19 times. Before his July 16 speech, for instance, Tom Brokaw tagged Clinton "a moderate of modest means." A bit later, John Chancellor decided "they've done a good job of moving this party back to the center of the political spectrum."
Some reporters went so far as to call the ticket "conservative." During the first night, Susan Spencer of CBS asserted: "I think it's fair to say that if you talk to delegates, even liberal Democrats now, they think that Al Gore and Bill Clinton could be a winning ticket. They're willing to swallow their problems that they have with such a conservative pair in hopes of winning." Late Thursday night CNN's Candy Crowley noted that many delegates "are more of the liberal wing of the party," who "are willing to put aside some of their policy differences with this man. Bill Clinton, of course, is a conservative Democrat, he is a moderate Democrat."
Similarly, the platform which stands by abortion on demand and calls for massive new spending, including a public works job program and a national health care system, was never called liberal. All 12 prime time references described it with moderate labels. During a July 14 All-Star baseball game break-in, Dan Rather announced: "Delegates approved the Clinton-Gore, center- of-the-road Democratic Party platform, trying to move the party closer to voters around the malls in America's suburbs." On CNN the same night, Ken Bode reported that the convention had "passed this moderate platform" and Tom Brokaw declared: "This is a centrist platform."
Most liberal labels were reserved for Mario Cuomo, Jerry Brown and delegates. On opening night, Schieffer labeled Brown and then Clinton: "It doesn't hurt to have someone acting kind of goofy off to the left because it leaves the man in the center looking more moderate." Similarly, Peter Jennings wondered: "Doesn't Tom Harkin represent sort of a dilemma here, because he's on the left wing of the party and Bill Clinton and Al Gore are really trying to move this party to the center?" On Wednesday, Sam Donaldson declared: "Mario Cuomo's speech was a liberal speech."
AGENDA QUESTIONS. Reporters normally play devil's advocate, making politicians respond to points from their opponents. In 1988, Republicans were challenged with 128 Democratic agenda questions, the Democrats just 49 Republican agenda questions. Judging by those posed this year, reporters considered liberal Democrats just as much, if not more of, an opponent for the Clinton-Gore ticket than the GOP and conservatives. The networks asked more questions (or raised points) from the left than from the right, by a count of 46 to 38. Of these, CNN and NBC asked a higher proportion of questions from the left than right, both with a ratio of 10 to 6. The other networks either balanced their agenda questions or came close: ABC, 8-6, CBS, 5-5, and PBS/NBC, 14-15.
Some examples of questions from the left. Nine minutes into Monday's solo NBC show, Brokaw asked Ann Richards: "Do the poor and the inner cities get left out with this ticket?" During Monday's joint PBS/NBC show, NBC's Andrea Mitchell told House Speaker Foley that Clinton has "been trying to move the party further to the right. Doesn't that leave you traditional liberals out in the cold?"
Tuesday night Maria Shriver continued the theme. To U.S. Representative Maxine Waters: "After the L.A. riots, you talked about people needing change, wanting to empower themselves. What specifically should give them a reason to vote for this ticket -- two white boys from the South?" And, "Do you feel that you have to sell out here?" Shriver to Mario Cuomo: "Some say this ticket is hard to distinguish from the Republicans. I mean, they've moved so far to the right."
After Elizabeth Glazer's AIDS speech, Shriver asserted: "You place responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely at the feet of the Reagan Administration. Do you believe they are responsible for that?"
On Wednesday Ed Bradley asked Walter Mondale: "In 1984 you were very honest, very up front, very open with the American people. At the convention you said in San Francisco, 'I will raise your taxes. It will be necessary.' There are people today who say that you cannot solve the problems of this country without raising taxes. Your recommendation?"
ABC's Cokie Roberts the same day: "I'm talking to Frank Gallegos from California who is a Teamster official, a union man. Bill Clinton has not been terribly sympathetic to the unions. Are you going to be, is it going to be comfortable for you to be working for him?" On Thursday, CNN's Gene Randall queried Sen. Howell Heflin: "You were part of the Anita Hill hearings this year. Will there be some kind of effect from those hearings that will play to the Democrats' advantage?"
As for conservative agenda questions, Dan Rather asked U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton two: "What about the ticket? It's light on foreign policy experience." And, "I know Indiana, I've traveled there many times. They care about family values in Indiana. Isn't this going to hurt him [Clinton] badly?"
Also on Monday, CNN's Catherine Crier interviewed Al Gore: "You are seen as someone with the environment as a major part of your agenda, even at the cost sometimes of economic recovery. How are you going to avoid the label of being environmentally radical at a time and period when people are so worried about the economy and dollars?"
Jeff Greenfield asked Congressman Louis Stokes on Wednesday: "You know the Republicans are going to run against people like you as the cause of the real problems, the evil, big spending, insulated Congress. Isn't that going to resonate a lot with American voters?" In a twist on the usual "gender gap" issue, NBC's John Cochran asked a delegate: "Has the party become too sensitive to the women's movement?"
A few times anchors made points that reflected a political agenda. Polls show two-thirds of the public support the Pennsylvania abortion restrictions, but on Tuesday, for instance, John Chancellor endorsed the liberal view of how the issue plays: "My own guess is that the Supreme Court's recent decision, which ...in the minds of many Americans, kept Roe v. Wade alive, but fuzzed up the question for a lot of ordinary people. That helps Democrats in this. As we all know all the polls over the years have shown that people favor in this country, by varying mounts, a woman's right to choose." A few minutes later Brokaw made a conservative point: more money for AIDS will mean less for bigger killers like cancer.
CONTROVERSIES. Network reporters steered clear of asking Democrats many questions about recent controversies that might make the liberal ticket look bad. Contrast that to the 1988 Republican convention, when Tom Brokaw led off NBC's coverage: "In this hall, you'll hear nothing of Iran-Contra, or Meese, or Deaver, or Nofziger, or the tragedy in Beirut." In New Orleans, network anchors and reporters raised controversies like this on 32 occasions. Democrats in New York clearly got an easier time, with only 15 mentions of controversy, and CNN was responsible for half of those. The others were even more sparing: three mentions on ABC, two on NBC, two on PBS/NBC, and only one on CBS.
Seven of the mentions were brief references to Clinton's struggles with charges of marijuana use, draft dodging, and infidelity. Reporters vaguely listed them as character tests Clinton faced down during the primaries. But reporters never made any Democrat respond to a question about the draft issue or discuss the political impact of Clinton's draft avoidance. Two additional mentions, both on CNN, brought up the Democrats' role in the S&L imbroglio. Among the other controversies barely touched on:
Pro-life Democrats. Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey was denied permission to address the convention against the Party's abortion-on-demand stance. He was also denied permission to address a network audience. Only CNN and NBC interviewed Casey in the four days of prime time convention coverage. CNN made another four mentions in prime time.
House Bank and Post Office. The House Bank and Post Office fiascos, scandals involving the Democratic House leadership, never came up on ABC, CBS, or NBC during the convention. CNN's Bernard Shaw, however, did mention the scandal in the 7pm hour, outside the time frame of this study.
South African Profits. Also outside the study period: only CNN's Shaw, on Monday night, highlighted the recent revelation that Bill and Hillary Clinton reported small capital gains on the sale of stock in the South African diamond conglomerate DeBeers in 1980 and 1981, years in which apartheid continued and liberals called for divestment.
NewsBites: Eleanor Tingles
ELEANOR TINGLES. Is Newsweek's Eleanor Clift looking at the Democratic ticket for more than journalistic reasons? On The McLaughlin Group July 4, Clift speculated about a Clinton-Gore ticket: "I think Gore and Clinton could be the all-generational change ticket, and I suppose if they lose they could do cameo appearances on Studs or something."
Then, after Bill Clinton and Al Gore appeared together to make the decision known, Clift declared on Inside Politics: "I must say I was struck by the expanse of their chests. They may have to put out their stats." Asked on McLaughlin Group July 11 about the ticket, Clift made her interests clear: "I must say looking at some of that footage it looks like the All-Beefcake Ticket."
STONED NETWORKS. Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice may claim grass-roots support for a change in the GOP's pro-life platform, but she can't prove it. In the August 2 New York Times, reporter Richard L. Berke exposed Stone's newest publicity ploy, a pro- abortion "caravan" heading toward the GOP convention in Houston. "Organizers predicted that the caravan would be met at every stop by enthusiastic crowds," but Berke found a "sparse crowd" attending their Indianapolis stop, consisting mostly of reporters and pro-life counter-demonstrators.
Berke reported Stone tried to put a favorable spin on her failure by telling "a reporter that the trip was never intended to draw crowds but instead to attract news reports." The media certainly obliged. In a one week period, Stone appeared on Larry King Live, CBS This Morning and Face the Nation, plus her one-truck "caravan" garnered coverage on CNN's World News and the CBS Evening News.
Berke's story might prompt reporters to re-examine their promotion of Stone. As he reported, "The absence of public support for Ms. Stone's highly publicized effort so far does little to bolster the hopes of Republicans who favor abortion rights, and it tend to strengthen the arguments of anti-abortion Republicans who dismiss Ms. Stone as representing a noisy but small minority."
TV LADIES LEAN LEFT. Some famous newswomen weren't afraid to show their political stripes as guests at People magazine Publisher Ann Moore's power lunch for Ellen Malcolm, President of EMILY's List, a fundraising group for liberal pro-abortion Democratic women, New York Daily News columnist Elizabeth Jensen reported on July 14. Who attended? NBC's Faith Daniels and Mary Alice Williams, ABC's Lynn Sherr, CBS' Paula Zahn and National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg.
COFFEY'S GROUNDS. Los Angeles Times Editor Shelby Coffey joined CNN President Tom Johnson and New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at a July 12 event organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. As he left the fete, which honored Democrats Barbara Boxer, Barney Frank, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, MediaWatch asked Coffey whether he would sponsor an event for conservative candidates. Coffey stammered: "This is an event, where what we work with, has to do with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. So Arthur Sulzberger, Tom Johnson and myself are doing that." But weren't liberal candidates being honored? "What we're doing was, has no political meaning other than signifying equality of opportunity to journalists," Coffey asserted. So, Coffey won't hesitate to chair an event where conservatives will be honored? There's no political content involved, and equality of opportunity for conservative journalists isn't exactly major media newsroom policy, either.
L.A. VERDICT CHALLENGED. Coverage of the Los Angeles police brutality trial took a beating from Roger Parloff in the June American Lawyer. "A torrent of politicians, commentators, and lawyers...were arguing over the airwaves that actually seeing any of the trial wasn't a prerequisite to condemning the verdict." Parloff singled out Time and The New York Times for wrongly reporting Rodney King's behavior. "The Times article, though it does mention a `high speed chase' also twice refers to King's offense thus far as a `traffic stop.' Time's May 11 article about the verdict makes no allusion to" King's speed or his running stop signs at 80 MPH.
As for the juror who was berated for asserting King was "in control" of the situation, Parloff explained: "The juror meant that King could have avoided or stopped the beating by assuming a prone position. I agree. Every time King assumed that position, the beating stopped. (It's no secret in Los Angeles that this is what is expected of an arrested suspect and King had been arrested before.)" He concluded: "I am terrified at the prospect of quotation out of context. After all, imagine if the media were to summarize this article the ay it summarized the trial."
HILLARY'S TAG TEAM. PBS anchor Judy Woodruff and her husband, Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt, teamed up to defend Hillary Clinton during the convention. Hunt grew positively livid on CNN's Capital Gang July 13. When columnist Mona Charen declared that Hillary still represents the left wing of the party, Hunt complained: "Mona, I would point out that that is based on law review pieces she wrote 20 years ago. It's utter complete nonsense. You don't have anything factual." When Charen tried to counter with facts, Hunt exploded: "No! That is the far- right American Spectator kind of neo-fascist hit nonsense!"
The Spectator article quoted a 1982 Harvard Law Review article in which Hillary described parents making decisions for their children as authoritarian: "Along with the family, past and present examples of such arrangements include marriage, slavery, and the Indian reservation system." But when Woodruff interviewed her on PBS July 14, she suggested that Hillary's past comments shouldn't be an issue: "How important is it that that not enter in, and should it enter in?"
MOYERS ON MARIO. During a convention stint at CNN, PBS omni-presence Bill Moyers praised the Democrats' leading leftists. After Mario Cuomo's speech, he declared: "It's worth dying prematurely so you can hear someone else do your eulogy if that someone is Mario Cuomo." Moyers also praised Jesse Jackson: "Now you know a speech like this reaches me. I'm from East Texas. My daddy was a New Deal Democrat, and I love the vibrations and the rhythms and the cadences and the power that he puts behind lost causes. But they've got to go beyond that." Jerry Brown emerged as Moyers' favorite: "I thought all through the primaries that Brown had the message -- that this is a party that is spoiled, that this is a two-party system that is corrupt."
AMORAL AMSTERDAM. Amsterdam did more than host the international AIDS Conference in late July; it allowed the media to promote their progressive policies on sex and drugs. "Talk to anyone from the mayor on down," Dr. Bob Arnot proclaimed on CBS This Morning, "and you'll find exactly how tolerant and open this city is about sex, drugs and AIDS....It's a lesson the entire world can learn if we are going to survive the AIDS epidemic." Dr. Arnot's prescription? "Spread the word and you won't spread the disease."
On NBC Nightly News, Robert Bazell touted the fact that "Dutch school children not only get condoms, but starting at age 12, they receive highly trained information on how to use them." CBS reporter Edie Magnus pointed out that "drug addicts can exchange dirty needles for clean ones here, no questions asked." The city also maintained needle dispensers, as George Strait noted on ABC's World News Tonight, that "provide a user with what he needs" for about 75 cents. Absent from the Amsterdam reports were any critics of the city's policies, although there was no shortage of criticism regarding the United States' "strict" laws and "spotty social pro-grams." Asked NBC's Bazell: "Why can't people in the United States and other countries be more like the Dutch?"
Revolving Door: On Board for Gore
On Board for Gore. Al Gore has at least one network veteran on his side. Marla Romash, Press Secretary to Senator Al Gore since 1989, is traveling with Gore's vice presidential campaign entourage. For most of 1984 and early 1985 Romash was an Associate Producer for Good Morning America, meaning she helped book guests. After ABC, she spent three years as a reporter for Hartford CBS affiliate WFSB-TV.
Helping CBS. After choreographing the 1988 Michael Dukakis primary victory and running Senator Bob Kerrey's less successful campaign this year, Tad Devine became "a fully credentialed member of the press" during the Democratic National Convention." The July 14 Boston Globe reported that at the Madison Square Garden event, Devine acted "as a spotter and in-house expert for CBS News."
Democrats Covering Republicans. Last month, MediaWatch listed the names of 17 reporters or executives set to cover or oversee coverage of the Democratic Convention who used to work for Democratic politicians. Names included NBC News Vice President Tim Russert, a former aide to Mario Cuomo; ABC News convention coverage Executive Producer Jeff Gralnick, one time Press Secretary to Senator George McGovern; and CNN reporter Ken Bode, a worker in Morris Udall's 1976 presidential campaign. All will be on hand in Houston to cover the gathering Republicans.
Republicans Covering Republicans. A few reporters who once worked for Republicans will be on hand in Houston, but not many. MediaWatch identified 17 Democrats turned reporters or news executives, but only four Republicans who will cover the Republican National Convention.
ABC News: Joanna Bistany, Vice President and Assistant to the President; Special Assistant to the President for Communications, 1981-83.
CNN: Catherine Crier, co-anchor of convention coverage; Judge elected on the Republican ticket, Texas civil district court, 1984-89.
Fox: Cissy Baker, Vice President and Managing Editor; unsuccessful 1982 Republican congressional candidate in Tennessee.
PBS: David Gergen, analyst during convention coverage; White House Communications Director, early 1980s.
Chicago Tribune: Jack Fuller, Editor; Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi, 1975-76.
CBS News, NBC News, National Public Radio, Newsweek and Time: None known.
The Democrats also had two former CBS News producers working for them in New York. Republicans will have three media veterans working on their behalf. David Beckwith, Press Secretary to VP Dan Quayle, spent most of the 1980s as a Time reporter. Dorrance Smith, Assistant to the President for Public Affairs since early 1991, spent much of the last decade as Executive Producer of This Week with David Brinkley. Peggy Noonan, occasional speechwriter for George Bush, wrote radio commentaries for Dan Rather in the early 1980s.
Equally Kind and Gentle Coverage in Houston
EASY ON THE DEMOCRATS
What did viewers glean from four nights of network coverage of the Democratic National Convention and what might it portend for coverage of the Republicans? MediaWatch reviewed all ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC prime time coverage. Below is a list of conclusions and a suggested way of judging whether each network treats the GOP the same as they did the Democrats.
Labeling: The networks never called the Clinton-Gore ticket or the Democratic platform liberal, only "moderate," "centrist," or "conservative." In total, the networks issued 88 labels, just two more than 1988. During the 1988 Republican convention, viewers heard 214 labels (182 of them conservative). Question #1: Will the networks show more evenhandedness in Houston by using fewer labels? Question #2: The networks reflected the liberal view that Clinton moderated the party. Given that conservatives believe President Bush has moved the Republican Party leftward, will the labeling of Bush reflect this shift?
Agenda of Questions: More questions representing a political agenda came from the left than from the right. In total, Democrats were challenged from the right just 38 times. In 1988, the networks made Democrats respond to 49 GOP agenda questions, but Republicans had to answer 128 Democratic agenda questions. Question #3: Will the networks again make Republicans respond to the arguments of their opponents more than twice as often? Will reporters pose more questions from the right than the left (e.g., Bush's environmental policies are not liberal enough)?
Controversies: Like 1988, when only ABC brought up Jim Wright's transgressions (twice), this year the House Bank and Post Office scandals involving the House leadership never came up on ABC, CBS, or NBC. (CNN mentioned them once in the 7 pm ET hour). Similarly, none of the networks raised charges about the Clintons' involvement with a failed S&L. All the networks made passing reference to how Bill Clinton had to overcome charges of draft dodging and marital infidelity, but none investigated any further. Question #4: Will the networks give similar light treatment to Republican scandals, from Neil Bush's S&L role to Iran-Contra to the October Surprise?
Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey's fight against the Democrats' abortion-on-demand stance generated nothing on ABC and CBS, only an interview on NBC, and an interview and four mentions on CNN Question #5: Will the networks give more time to Ann Stone and pro-choice Republicans than they did to Casey and other pro-life Democrats?
Convention Reporting Usually Favors Democrats
HISTORY OF UNEVEN COVERAGE
Political bias in convention coverage is not a baseless concern. Studies comparing coverage of the Democratic versus Republican conventions in 1984 and 1988 found significant differences. In short, Republican convention delegates and party activists were identified with ideological labels much more often than Democrats; controversies dogging the GOP nominee received much more emphasis than those involving the Democratic nominee; reporters frequently forced Republicans to respond to Democratic campaign issues, but reporters rarely posed Republican agenda questions to Democrats.
After the 1984 conventions, a team headed by Professor William Adams of George Washington University reviewed tapes of CBS and NBC. Among his findings:
CBS and NBC reporters and anchors called the Democratic Party, its platform and leaders by liberal labels just 21 times, despite the liberal domination of the convention. Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro were the nominees, and Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart were key players. In contrast, the same two networks used various conservative labels to describe the Republicans 113 times, more than five times as often. "On the average," Adams discovered, "about once every six minutes from Dallas, viewers were told that the Republican Party was in the hands of `very strong conservatives,' or `the hard right,' with enormous power exercised by, in Walter Cronkite's words, the `fundamentalist religious conservative right wing.'"
Questions posed by reporters at both conventions came overwhelmingly from the Democratic agenda. In total, reporters posed Democratic agenda questions to Republicans 84 times, but Republican questions were put to Democrats only eleven times. On 18 occasions Democrats, for instance, were asked whether Ronald Reagan was too conservative. Republicans were asked whether the Democratic ticket was too liberal on just five occasions. On another 27 occasions, reporters asked Republicans how they expected to garner women's support given their opposition to the ERA and abortion. Democrats were never asked whether their liberal views might turn off some women.
Four years later, in 1988, the Media Research Center (MRC) completed a similar analysis following the study parameters established by Adams. The MRC studied the three broadcast networks, plus CNN and found that the 1988 coverage was almost a mirror image of 1984:
Republicans were tagged as "conservative" two and a half times more often than Democrats were described as "liberal." The 86 labels attached to Democrats were split about evenly between liberal and moderate. At the Republican gathering, however, 85 percent of the 214 labels were conservative.
Republican controversies, from Iran/Contra to the "sleaze factor," were raised 32 times. (Questions about Dan Quayle's background were raised another 471 times.) At the Democratic convention, however, reporters were silent about controversies, such as then-House Speaker Jim Wright's growing ethical problems and Michael Dukakis' furlough policy.
Republicans had to respond to Democratic agenda issues on 128 occasions, more than twice as often as the 49 times Democrats were challenged by GOP themes.
As an example of a Democratic question, take Lesley Stahl of CBS News, who asked unsuccessful presidential candidate Pete du Pont: "Is there any concern on your part that this ticket might just be a little too conservative? It's to the right of most Americans in the country right now." CNN's Frank Sesno asked a black delegate: "Bush and Quayle opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act -- balked on it. And opposed Grove City. Two very large, important civil rights bills. How do they overcome that stigma within the minority community?"
All for Clinton-Gore
CBS anchor and reporter Bob Schieffer is another media fan of the Clinton-Gore campaign. On July 21, the CBS Capitol Hill reporter spoke to a group called Democrats for a New Direction. Schieffer praised Clinton's long convention speech: "It seemed to me that it said the right things for winning an election...I thought that the most important paragraph of the speech was when he said 'I accept the nomination on behalf of the working people, the people who play by the rules, the people who pay the taxes.'" Naturally, he said nothing about Clinton's plan to raise taxes by $150 billion.
He also praised the Clinton-Gore campaign strategy: "Seeing them out there on the campaign trail, they seem young, and vibrant, and full of energy...I think this bus tour that they are on right now is one of the great political innovations of recent years. I mean, finally, a candidate is getting out, and actually talking to real people. You see them out there -- You can tell they are having a lot of fun. I think that it is really creating a lot of energy." Why wasn't the idea of a bus tour through small-town America an "innovation" when Bush did it in 1988?
Schieffer also made a few gratuitous pokes at Vice President Quayle. In talking about the fizzled campaign of Ross Perot, Schieffer digressed: "On the cover of Newsweek with one word -- 'The Quitter', or two words, I should say. Sounds like Dan Quayle." As for the Quayle rumors, Schieffer said: "You couldn't take [Quayle] off. He would have to quit...He'd have to say, he believed he could, you know, work for family values as the Secretary of Education, something, something of that nature. I don't think you could make him Secretary of Education, though, with his spelling."
Matches Prime Time
The networks can't blame time constraints for the tilt in Democratic National Convention coverage documented in the MediaWatch Study at right. The morning shows followed the same pattern as prime time broadcasts.
A study of ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning and NBC's Today from Monday through Thursday found the three shows issued almost twice as many moderate and conservative labels as liberal ones, 31 to 16. On Tuesday, for instance, Today's Katie Couric asked Michael Dukakis: "How do you feel about the more centrist direction of the party?"
Reporters and hosts never called the platform liberal, instead tagging it moderate or centrist nine times. On Tuesday, ABC's Mike Schneider reported that "when it comes to business and economic affairs, this is a very mainstream, if not in some cases almost conservative platform." Today's Bryant Gumbel agreed: "On the business side, the Democrats adopted what's viewed as a moderate platform." The next morning, ABC's Ron Claiborne asserted that "in its sum it's a fairly moderate program, but certainly more to the right than previous platforms."
Besides two questions from CBS' Paula Zahn, eight references to Bill Clinton's ideology put him in the center or right. Zahn twice asked about George McGovern's assertion that Clinton-Gore would become "more liberal" if they won. More typical, ABC's Jim Wooten explained how Clinton wanted "to move the party back toward the middle. He's comfortable there." On Monday, Charlie Gibson had asked Susan Estrich "Does the left like this ticket that is clamoring so hard to get into the center?"
By a margin of 26 to 11, morning show hosts posed more than twice as many questions from the left than from the right. Interviewing Senator Tom Harkin, Zahn asked: "There is a feeling, though, Senator that in reaching to those Reagan Republicans or Reagan Democrats that in fact you're disenfranchising some of your minority voters. "The morning shows also ignored questions about Clinton's past, but Today did mention the Casey situation five times and Good Morning America another three.
Janet Cooke Award: NBC: Is it Today or Toady?
Reporters and anchors always seem to compete with each other to see who can ask the toughest questions of the President. But at the Democratic convention, the network morning shows sounded like they were reading off the Democratic National Committee's list of talking points, asking about Clinton's family background, the party's emphasis on women candidates, and the nastiness of Republican attacks. All of the Big Three networks turned to mush, with NBC the worst offender. For abandoning any pretense of toughness, NBC's Today show earned the Janet Cooke Award.
WOMEN. One of the Democrats' goals was to showcase their feminist candidates. On Today July 14, Katie Couric interviewed three: California Treasurer Kathleen Brown Senate candidate Dianne Feinstein, and Iowa House candidate Elaine Baxter. Couric's questions didn't challenge the three, but let them tout their strengths: "Let's give women some credit here. What do they bring to the mix, what do they bring to the equation? What can they get accomplished?....What about addressing though, some of the issues that are particularly important to women? They may be domestic issues, and not exclusive to women, like family leave. Will you focus on things like that?....Do you think that women are more sensitive to family issues and do you think they can steal this whole family values campaign away from the Republicans?"
Couric might have asked how their party's opposition to parental consent for abortions puts them at odds with most voters, or how Democrats can be for family values and the gay rights agenda.
VIRGINIA KELLEY. On June 2, Dateline NBC ran a very tough (and for the networks, very rare) investigative piece on Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelley, questioning whether she used her son's influence to cover up a mistake she made that may have cost a young woman's life. In Hot Springs in 1981, a car of drinking young whites yelled racial epithets at blacks. A black man threw a piece of concrete at the car, striking 17-year-old Susan Deer in the face. Although the surgery was routine, Mrs. Kelley struggled in moving the tube supplying the girl's air from her nose to her mouth. She died on the operating table. But the state medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, appointed by Clinton in 1979, ruled the death a homicide, leaving Clinton's mother out of his report. Dr. Malak was later appointed to a higher-paying job.
Dateline NBC on-air reporter Brian Ross pointed out that Mrs. Kelley claimed to be willing to talk about the incident, but only if the Clinton campaign assented -- and they said no. But on the July 16 Today, Katie Couric only had non-threatening questions to ask Kelley: "I also read in the many things that have been written about your son and his childhood that he used to walk to church alone with a Bible under his arm."
Couric followed up with more toughies: "You've talked before about the fact that you were a segregationist way back when and how your son convinced you to see things differently....There have been things though in more recent memory that have been very difficult, I know, for you. He, of course, has been the target of a lot of controversy involving allegations of marital infidelity, draft dodging, not inhaling. Are these legitimate campaign issues, in your view?...How tough has it been for you, Ms. Kelley, to witness this, to see these in many ways, character assassinations, and negative comments made about your son?"
HILLARY AND TIPPER. Bryant Gumbel gave -- and the word "gave" fits too well -- an appallingly soft interview to the ticket's spouses, Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, on July 20. Gumbel began by asking: "How's the trip going?" After Hillary said they were having fun, Gumbel asked: "Why fun? What's fun about jumping on a bus and wandering around through over 1,000 miles? Mrs. Gore?" While GOP spokesmen often get their answers cut off with hostile retorts, Gumbel let Mrs. Gore and then Mrs. Clinton go on about their bus trip for one minute and 28 seconds. Then Gumbel asked: "Let me talk about the two of you a little bit. How well did you know each other up until about two or three weeks ago?" Then, Gumbel asked if "two women as strong-willed, independent- minded, outspoken as you are" got along, and let Mrs. Clinton talk for another 55 seconds.
As if Hillary hadn't had enough time to criticize Republicans, Gumbel lobbed another softball: "Mrs. Clinton, in an interview with PBS, you said you thought that the Republicans had made a calculated political decision to, in your words, go after you. How big an issue do you think you're yet going to be in this campaign?" After Hillary talked for a minute and 13 seconds, Gumbel inserted, "You think it's going to get pretty nasty," and let her talk for another 40 seconds.
When MediaWatch contacted NBC, spokesperson Lynn Appelbaum said Today Executive Producer Jeff Zucker was in Barcelona for the Olympics. Applebaum did stick up for the Today interviews: "I don't know if I would necessarily agree, or I don't frankly think that Jeff would agree that they were all softball interviews."