MediaWatch: November 2, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 19


Walt’s Love Boat
Walter Cronkite refuses to discuss the details of his chat with Bill Clinton when he had the President on his boat in Martha’s Vineyard. He isn’t so reticent with his disgust for Ken Starr.

On October 13, Cronkite told CBS This Morning’s Mark McEwen that unless "peccadilloes got in the way of performing the job" we should ignore it since "I don’t think we should be digging into other people’s private lives." Despite Monica’s favors occurring in work areas and during official phone calls, Cronkite maintained it met his "private affair" standard.

Hours later at a luncheon with reporters, Cronkite called Starr’s investigation "more divisive" to the country than Vietnam, Peter Johnson reported in the October 14 USA Today. After accusing Starr of "considerable excessive zeal," Johnson relayed that Cronkite "says he’d ‘like to get Kenneth Starr out on the boat,’ presumably to give him a piece of his mind."

Feingold’s Medal
In a fawning October 22 World News Tonight piece, Dean Reynolds portrayed Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) as an idealistic iconoclast for his fight for "campaign finance reform." While grousing about how Feingold was a casualty of outside soft money interests, Reynolds neglected to tell viewers that the AFL-CIO and the League of Conservation Voters have run ads against his Republican opponent Mark Neumann and that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would the next day launch ads attacking Neumann as "too extreme." (The ads ran for a few days until Feingold requested that the Committee pull the ads from local stations.)

An indignant Reynolds averred that Feingold’s troubles stemmed only from his decision to support campaign finance reform. Reynolds insisted that it was GOP-funded anti-Feingold commercials, not Feingold’s record, that was causing his support to erode: "The reality on the ground is that he’s being outspent with the very kind of money he’s tried in the Senate to regulate. And with his self-imposed spending limit, Feingold lacks the funds to adequately rebut the attacks suggesting he favors things like late-term abortions or flag burning."

If the viewer had not grasped Reynolds’ point of view by now, there was the not so subtle suggestion of Feingold’s political martyrdom. After a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal stated "What he preached may be his own fire and brimstone. It really could damn him to the Hell of losing a re-election race," Reynolds sighed: "That would say a lot about the way campaigns are run and whether fighting to change that way is political death."

Hawks Shut Out
After the House and Senate passed the latest budget bill on October 21 and 22 none of the broadcast networks mentioned that some fiscally restrained Democrats and Republicans voted against the legislation, instead examining silly pork projects. A week before, NBC and CNN raised conservative criticism of the bill, but ABC and CBS viewers never learned that conservatives opposed the deal.

ABC’s Linda Douglass on the October 15 World News Tonight advanced the pork line and concluded by hitting both parties, but without citing conservative criticism, saying spending came from the surplus, "the one the Democrats wanted to save only for Social Security and Republicans tried to dip into for a tax cut."

That night CNN’s Jonathan Karl at least briefly raised the conservative stance on the budget. Leading into a soundbite from Representative David McIntosh of Indiana, Karl relayed: "Even before the deal was announced conservative Republicans complained their leaders caved into the White House, citing nearly $20 billion in so-called emergency spending not covered by last year’s balanced budget agreement."

Over on NBC Nightly News David Bloom relayed how the White House is "euphoric" over the budget deal and "triumphant Democrats were not shy about proclaiming victory." Bloom noted, "Republican leaders insisted both sides deserved credit. But Democrats were less magnanimous, pointing to the $1.1 billion dollars for 100,000 new teachers." Bloom continued,"The White House boasted that Republicans had turned quote, ‘Democrats for a day’ and conservatives agreed."