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MediaWatch: October 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 10

Anchors Push McCain-Feingold

Lobbying for "Reform"

On the night of the Senate’s first vote to invoke cloture on the campaign finance "reform" debate, the network anchors mourned the death of the big government McCain-Feingold bill.

As Peter Jennings put it on the October 7 World News Tonight: "Now let’s turn to getting money out of politics. In the full Senate today campaign finance reform never had a chance. Reformers have been trying to change the system that many people think has caused so many of the fundraising problems but the McCain-Feingold bill, as it’s called, one Republican, one Democrat, went down to defeat today."

On CBS, Bob Schieffer also painted more government rules as the natural answer to 1996 campaign corruption: "For all the outrage at the hearings today, a few hours later Senate Republican Leader Lott went to the Senate floor and used parliamentary tactics to prevent the Senate from voting on campaign reform legislation. That, for all practical purposes, killed reform for another year and the Democratic leader saw some irony in that."

NBC’s Tom Brokaw rued the loss of more government regulation: "For all the rhetoric and the outrage about what happened in the ‘96 campaign, a bill that would overhaul the system was all but killed off today in a partisan battle. It was sunk by two procedural votes. One of which was a Republican amendment requiring labor unions to poll their members before making campaign contributions. Democrats saw that as a deliberate attempt to kill reform."

To the media, opponents of McCain-Feingold are simply enemies of good government, not protectors of civil rights. This was evident in Tom Brokaw’s September 26 Nightly News introduction to a profile of Mitch McConnell, a key defender of free speech: "And tonight NBC’s Gwen Ifill tells us about a Republican Senator who is a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to campaign finance reform and he’s proud of it."

None of the stories noted that new restrictions on who could advertise before an election would make the media even more influential. Nor did they alert viewers to an "evolution" of the bill. The broadcasters got "reform" backers to drop mandatory free TV time for candidates.