MediaWatch: July 1995

Vol. Nine No. 7

Today Co-Host Uses NBC Morning Show as Personal Political Soap Box

Bryant Gumbel, Angry Black Male

When asked in the June 17 TV Guide which three women with whom he would choose to host Today if Katie Couric and Jane Pauley were excluded, Bryant Gumbel chose his wife June, Oprah Winfrey, and "Hillary Clinton, just to tick off the right-wing extremists." A MediaWatch review of the last four years found Gumbel's editorializing focused noticeably on right-wing extremists, race relations, and his ongoing hatred of Ronald Reagan.

Right-Wing Extremists. Gumbel regularly puts conservatives on an unrespectable fringe, especially social conservatives. On February 9, 1993, he asked consultant Roger Ailes about the Republicans: "Rich Bond. As he stepped down as RNC Chair he had some parting shots for the religious right and fringe fanatics like Phyllis Schlafly. What did you think of his remarks?" On July 14, 1994, the Today co-host announced: "We're back in just a moment to talk about the President's problems with the extremists of the religious right."

The day after the 1994 vote, Gumbel challenged Rep.-elect J.C. Watts: "You're aligned to a party which owes many of its victories to the so-called religious right and other conservative extremists who are historically insensitive to minority concerns. That doesn't bother you?" The next day, he asked Jack Kemp: "The so-called Christian Coalition, as you know, is claiming a great deal of credit for GOP victories across the board. Are you not at all concerned about where their brand of some would say extremism or intolerance may yet try to take your party?"

Eight days later, he interviewed Sonny Bono: "You're a moderate, pro-choice Republican. Are you totally comfortable with some of the extremists and ideologues that seem headed for the 104th Congress and may dominate the Republican Party?" On November 23, the NBC star proclaimed: "With Republicans taking control of Congress in January, Senator Jesse Helms is slated to be the new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a prospect that is embarrassing to many Republicans. His two most recent outbursts against the President are just the latest in a long line of outrageous remarks that have earned Helms the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."

Race. Gumbel took a strident line on race. The L.A. riots provoked the co-host's anger about the 1980s on April 30, 1992: "We keep hoping for some good to come out of this. Maybe it might help in putting race relations on the front burner, after they've been subjugated so long as a result of the Reagan years." The next day, Gumbel repeated himself: "During the `80s nobody even talked about it. It was like everything was fine. If we shut up, it would all go away...Taking their cues from Washington, most Americans over the past dozen years have chosen to ignore the issue of civil rights and the growing signs of racial division."

Seventeen days later, he shifted slightly: "George Bush has been at the focal point of incidents that have exacerbated race relations in this country...the Willie Horton affair, for example; making affirmative action a front-and-center proposal; constantly discussing welfare as a problem in this country -- things that really separate the races rather than bring them together."

But Gumbel didn't believe in peace, telling Knight-Ridder's Marc Gunther on May 13, 1992: "Everyone is quick to want you to condemn them but some of us are sitting in that position feel uncomfortable being asked to do that...When the violence was being perpetrated on these people on an ongoing basis, did America see it? Certainly not...Black people are being killed by the handfuls in that area on an ongoing basis, and basically America doesn't care."

On April 15, 1993, Gumbel retained that violent attitude with Rep. Maxine Waters: "If I'm a young black man in South Central L.A., where poverty is rampant and unemployment is skyrocketing, I see that Washington's promises of a year ago have gone unfulfilled. I see that perhaps for a second time, the court's inability to mete out justice in a blind fashion, why shouldn't I vent my anger?" He lionized the Black Panthers on February 19, 1993: "The Panthers took up arms in the midst of the Sixties struggle for social justice. They preached self-determination...They also preached self-defense, and to that end took on policemen who brutalized blacks."

Gumbel sympathized with former criminal-turned-reporter Nathan McCall on March 22, 1994: "Those who say `just lock them up, throw away the key, incarcerate them, warehouse them,' whatever, do you think they are even conscious of just how racist this country is?" He also asked: "It's been written that being black in America is like being a witness at your own lynching. Why didn't your experiences make you more resentful than you are today?"

Reagan vs. Clinton. Gumbel's lasting hatred for Ronald Reagan has been matched by a promotional tone for Bill Clinton. On January 15, 1992, he said: "Few people personify the greedy me-first attitude of the Reagan years more than Donald Trump." A week later, he asserted: "In the Reagan years, economic erosion set in, so much so that the middle class now finds itself in ever-deepening trouble." Gumbel asked on March 31, 1993: "In the greedy excesses of the Reagan years, the mean income of the average physician nearly doubled, from $88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?"

On February 18, 1993, Gumbel asked Al Gore if he would "remind the nation that it was Ronald Reagan who quadrupled the deficit?" He repeated the line to Bob Dole on March 2, 1993: "Are you not guilty of holding President Clinton to a tougher standard than you did two Republican Presidents who over the last 12 years quadrupled the national debt?" Gumbel told economist Irwin Kellner on June 2, 1993: "The Reagan Administration used to boast they created a lot of jobs. Most of those were menial jobs that were quickly dissipated by a quadrupled budget deficit."

Gumbel asked author Gerald Swanson in 1993: "I'm not sure there's a grade low enough for the next one: Ronald Reagan. He spoke regularly of balancing the budget, but he broke the bank. In return for his own personal popularity he spent eight years in office and ran up $1.34 trillion in deficits." He then followed up: "It's early yet, but for at least trying to address the deficit in a more serious fashion than anyone in 12 years, what kind of early marks do you give Bill Clinton?"

Gumbel defended Clinton before far-left Mother Jones Editor Jeffrey Klein on January 7, 1994: "Do you give Bill Clinton credit for addressing serious issues that went untouched for 12 years -- deficit reduction, gun control, world trade, health care? He has certainly taken on tough questions and made them not a question of if, but how much."