MediaWatch: July 13, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 11

NewsBites: Al Gore's Airball

Al Gore’s Airball.

The media pounced whenever Dan Quayle fumbled, but it looks like Al Gore will face no such obstacle as he bumbles toward 2000.

The latest example: on June 15 before cameras, Gore marveled at the Chicago Bulls’ NBA championship: "That Michael Jackson is unbelievable isn’t he, unbelievable?" The Bulls star player is Michael Jordan. Jackson is the pop singer. Total TV coverage: a few seconds on CNN’s Inside Politics.

Six days later Fox News Sunday played Gore’s goof. Host Tony Snow wondered: "If Dan Quayle said that would that be headline news?" On June 27, CBS News Saturday Morning co-host Russ Mitchell recalled how "Gore congratulated the NBA champion Bulls and their unbelievable team leader, Michael Jackson," but he couldn’t refrain from nullifying Gore’s flub by highlighting one by Quayle. Mitchell declared: "Dan Quayle thought that was very funny, but then the Democrats say he upped the ante by declaring in an interview that any Republican nominee will beat Bill Clinton in the year 2000. Of course, Mr. Clinton will not be running."

Harry Wu, Hypocrite?
Previewing Clinton’s nine-day China trip, Time’s Johanna McGeary wrote "How Bad Is China?" for the June 29 issue. Her verdict: "There is no simple answer, just ambiguous facts."

She glossed over satellite sales and illegal campaign contributions as part of "a string of unfortunate events," while blaming "the hot air of partisan politics" for puffing the scandals out of context. She called Clinton’s ‘92 election rhetoric about getting tough with China "demagoguery," wisely jettisoned in favor of the more responsible "constructive engagement."

In the next paragraph, McGeary termed every group disagreeing with Clinton’s position a hypocrite, including Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese prison labor camp: "No country today brings out more of the passions - or the hypocrisy - in Washington politicians. Every time they get the chance, those who see profit in it pummel the ‘butchers in Beijing’ about all manner of failings, aiming their blows as much at Clinton as at China’s communist die-hards. Anti-abortion activists rail at China’s forced abortions. Exiled crusader Harry Wu charges China with harvesting human organs from executed prisoners for sale."

McGeary claimed "Chinese citizens today lead remarkably free lives, as masters of their own fates and fortunes" and "can even mock their leaders and criticize government politics — in the privacy of their homes."

McGeary despaired at "the tendency of some activists to narrow the focus to the most sensational charges, like forced abortions. Human-rights experts in and out of government have found some anecdotal evidence that these abuses happen but no proof that the government promotes them." Just before McGeary penned her piece, clinic worker Xiao Gao, who just escaped from China, told a congressional hearing about post-birth injections to kill fetuses.

McGeary faulted both "the hard-line right" and "liberals" for their "simplistic tone," but also claimed: "While the religious right has tarred Beijing with a reputation for wholesale repression, religious freedom is officially guaranteed." Talk about simplistic.

Spin of the Week.
While issuing convicted felon Susan McDougal the "Political Play of the Week" on June 26, CNN’s William Schneider asserted that she wished to prove that "Whitewater doesn’t amount to anything.... Most Americans agree. They feel the Whitewater investigation has not turned up any serious wrongdoing." That’s a point supported by polls, assured Schneider, who explained McDougal’s contention while displaying a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showing that when asked about Whitewater 29 percent of the public felt the President did something illegal, 42 percent something unethical, while only 24 percent said he did nothing wrong.

In other words, 71 percent think Clinton did something illegal or unethical. But by not considering unethical actions to be "serious wrongdoing," Schneider presented Clinton’s numbers in the best possible light, thus earning himself the Political Spin of the Week.