MediaWatch: September 1996

In This Issue

The Spin: Both Parties Too Conservative; Newsbites: Poll: Most Say Media Favor Clinton; 60 Minutes Does a 180 on Doyle; A Stunning Contrast on Negativity; Democratic Harshness; Poor Hillary, Is it Worth It?

The Spin: Both Parties Too Conservative

The networks had big news from the Democratic convention in Chicago: liberals exist in the Democratic Party, and they didn't like President Clinton's decision to sign a welfare reform bill. From both the Republican and Democratic conventions, the networks relayed the same message: the parties had become too conservative.

During the Chicago convention:

  • (1) Democratic delegates, speakers, and candidates were labeled twice as often as the Republicans were in San Diego, although they were labeled as extreme only one-fourth as often;

  • (2) Reporters and anchors posed almost five times as many questions from the left as from the right, a much more liberal questioning agenda than the Democratic convention four years ago; and

  • (3) the controversy over welfare reform dominated the convention story line, while the Democrats' abortion-on-demand stance and exclusion of some pro-life speakers garnered no network mentions in prime time.

As during the Republican convention, MediaWatch analysts watched live prime-time coverage of the Democratic convention for a special daily Media Reality Check '96 newsletter. Analysts watched all ABC, CBS, and NBC prime time coverage, as well as the combined PBS/NBC broadcast and CNN starting at 8 pm Eastern time.

Labeling

 

Previous convention studies in 1984, 1988, and 1992 found the Republicans were tagged as conservative or very conservative far more often than the Democrats were called liberal or very liberal, with reporters instead playing up the moderate nature of Democratic candidates and delegates. In 1992, Republicans drew 131 labels, 118 (90 percent) of them conservative; the Democrats had 89 labels, 51 (57 percent) of them moderate or conservative.

In 1996, the Republicans were labeled only 59 times, 46 of them (78 percent) conservative; while the Democrats were labeled twice as often, on 119 occasions, and 75 of those tags (63 percent) were liberal, to only 44 moderate or conservative labels. The Republicans were still four times as likely to be described as extreme as the Democrats -- 16 to 4 -- but the Democrats were never described as extremely liberal in 1992.

ABC (with three moderate/conservative labels and 15 liberal tags) was the network most willing to underline the liberal nature of the party gathered in Chicago, while CBS (8 moderate/conservative, 10 liberal) CNN (13-20), NBC-PBS (15-24), and NBC (5-6) held to a more traditional percentage of moderate labeling. Labeling decreased nightly -- from 40 on Monday, to 35 on Tuesday, to 13 on Wednesday -- and then jumped back up to 31 on Thursday, when the departure of Dick Morris spurred speculation about Clinton's post-Morris ideological positioning.

In 1992, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Democratic platform were never described as liberal. In 1996, Clinton was described as moderate on 28 occasions and liberal on 16 occasions, but almost always as a tactical function of "moving to the left" or "moving to the right." In San Diego, the Republican platform was described as conservative on six occasions; in Chicago, the platform was described as moderate on six occasions.

Some examples of labeling:

 

As the Republican convention began on August 12, PBS anchor Charlayne Hunter-Gault told former Sen. Howard Baker: "Pat Buchanan said most of his views, most of Senator Dole's views, were consistent with his own, and he cited specifically, affirmative action, and the platform position of illegal immigration. And as you know, Pat Buchanan is on the farthest extreme of the right wing of the party."

CNN reporter Gene Randall declared on August 13: "With me is Phyllis Schlafly, an ardent anti-abortion rights advocate...Do you think the speakers do not reflect the conservatism of the platform?"

CNN's Bob Franken explained the next night: "It's interesting they just had a minute ago a very brief tribute to the Republican freshmen in the House of Representatives. Why brief? Because they are highly, highly controversial. It's the freshmen in the House of Representatives that really gave Bill Clinton the extremist issue, fairly or unfairly."

In Chicago on August 26, ABC's Sam Donaldson explained the Democrats "want to accomplish the same thing the Republicans accomplished -- showing a unified party, even though we know from our survey that these delegates are far to the left of the mainstream just as the Republican delegates were to the right of the mainstream."

That night on CBS, Dan Rather asked Jesse Jackson: "Bill Clinton's been running pretty hard to the right, so far that some Democrats now call him a `Republicrat.' Do you go that far?"

Tom Brokaw put Clinton and Gore in Newt Gingrich territory: "Since 1994 they have slid across the political spectrum to really right of center. And they've got a guy by the name of Dick Morris who's advising them on a daily basis how to be more pragmatic."

Three nights later, Brokaw exemplified post-Morris speculation in asking James Carville: "He was the man who moved him to the right. I know that you had some philosophical differences with Dick Morris. Does this mean that the door has been opened again for those of you who believe that the President probably ought to move a little more left of center?"

Agenda Questions

 

The bottom dropped out on agenda questions from the right in 1996. In 1992, Republicans were asked 130 questions from the left, while Democrats were asked only 38 from the right. Actually, Democrats were asked more questions from the left (45) than the right (38).

In 1996, network reporters asked Republicans 51 questions from the left, and only six from the right. Thanks to welfare reform, the pattern in Chicago was almost exactly the same: 47 questions from the left, 11 from the right.

In Chicago, ABC asked only two liberal questions and one conservative question, followed by NBC with just three liberal questions and one conservative.

CBS (12 liberal, zero conservative), CNN (13-2), and NBC-PBS (17-7) clearly preferred a menu of questions from the left. Combine both conventions, and the questioning numbers are more stark: ABC (five liberal, one conservative), CBS (20-3), CNN (23-3), NBC-PBS (37-8), and NBC (13-2). Some examples of agenda questions:

  • From the right to Republicans: CNN's Gene Randall asked New York Gov. George Pataki on August 13: "The focus tonight of course is on the keynote speech and that is by Representative [Susan] Molinari, who it's well known favors abortion rights. Do you sense a dissatisfaction on this floor that she will be giving this address?"
  • From the left to Republicans: CNN's Judy Woodruff inquired of Rep. Susan Molinari on August 12: "Leading up to the convention, Bob Dole was running well behind President Clinton with women voters. We look at the statistics of how many women delegates. What, 43 percent in 1992. Only 36 percent of delegates are women this year. What sort of signal does that send the country, you think?"
  • From the right to Democrats: NBC's David Bloom asked James Carville after Hillary Clinton's speech August 27: "I was struck by the fact that she talked about health care and the need for more health care insurance for the unemployed. That's a topic that got her and Bill Clinton into a lot of trouble two years ago. Why would she revisit that tonight?"
  • From the left to Democrats: ABC's Michel McQueen asked former DNC official Lynn Cutler on August 26: "She is comparing her candidate not to perfection, but to Bob Dole. Isn't that right, Lynn -- do the liberals in the party, as you unashamedly describe yourself, feel abandoned by the President this year?"

Controversy: Welfare

 

The controversy over welfare reform surfaced in prime time on 44 occasions (questions plus comments by reporters), forming the most common basis for liberal analysis. As in agenda questions, ABC (4) and NBC (2) did not dwell very much on the welfare controversy, and NBC-PBS raised it 10 times in a longer time frame. CNN (16) and CBS (9) were most interested in the story.

Tom Brokaw provided the only example found of coming at the issue from the right, even if it sounded like he wished some lesser welfare reform had passed before the GOP takeover of Congress. He asked HHS Secretary Donna Shalala: "I guess the question a lot of us have is why didn't you come up with something of your own two years ago when you had power in the Congress, before Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over, when you knew that Repub -- welfare reform was a high-priority issue for this country and the President was talking about it when he was running in 1992?"

Brokaw also asked a more typical network question: "If you were a poor single mother in a poor rural state in America, without many resources, and you wanted to go to work, you want to do the right things, but there aren't too many jobs for people who have real skills. Wouldn't you be slightly terrified looking into the next two years?"

CBS reporter Ed Bradley questioned far-left Rep. Ron Dellums on August 29: "Congressman Dellums was unhappy when the President signed the welfare bill. I know you saw it not as welfare reform but more as a budget cut. What does he have to do to fix it?" Bradley followed up: "When the President is expected to say tonight that he's going to propose a $3.5 billion jobs program for welfare recipients, is that enough?"

Judy Woodruff pleaded with Hillary Clinton to intervene with her husband in six questions of an August 27 interview: "We were just reminded in that moving film that we saw here of your lifelong work as an advocate for children's causes. And yet, late last week, your husband signed a welfare reform bill that as you know, Senator Patrick Moynihan and other welfare experts are saying is going to throw a million children into poverty. Does that legislation undo so much of what you've worked for over the years?"

Newsbites: Poll: Most Say Media Favor Clinton

A September survey for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that while most of the public thinks coverage of Clinton and Dole has been fair, when asked "Who do you think most newspaper reporters and TV journalists want to see win the presidential election," 59 percent said Clinton, 17 percent Dole and just one percent Perot.

As to how much influence news organizations have on which candidate becomes President, 64 percent thought "too much," 30 percent said "about right" and a mere four percent believed "too little."

Nasty Bob, Pure Bill

On September 12, Bob Dole demanded that Bill Clinton release his medical records and complained that Clinton's ads were overwhelmingly negative. Instead of examining the tone of Clinton ads, ABC and CBS portrayed Dole as the villain.

On ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings said: "The campaign for President took a nasty turn today. First, Bob Dole departed from his standard stump speech in Kentucky, lashing out at the Democrats for what he says they are saying about him, and negative advertising was the kindest thing Mr. Dole had to say." After a piece on Dole, Jennings introduced the next story: "The President is going to come under further Republican attack with the release next week of the House Committee on Government Operations and Oversight's report on the firings at the White House travel office."

On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather followed the same Clinton-as-victim theme: "Now for his part, Bob Dole reopened one of his favorite lines of attack today about President Clinton's health records." Reporter Phil Jones provided a very short piece just on the medical records, concluding: "Dan, this campaign is headed exactly where everybody expected it to go: personal."

Bloom and Doom

Only NBC Nightly News bothered to show viewers that night what upset Dole. Tom Brokaw declared: "Bob Dole on the ropes and looking for a way to boost his sagging campaign made it clear today he is taking off the gloves in the war of the political airwaves."

Reporter David Bloom began: "Stung by a barrage of negative television advertising, Bob Dole today accused Bill Clinton of running a campaign of fear, of engaging in character assassination." Bloom aired Clinton declaring "This must be a campaign of ideas, not a campaign of insults," and then added: "But since then, the Dole camp claims the Democrats have run only 42 positive ads with 4, 0 negative ads running across the country."

Bloom explained: "Dole aides say the campaign will double its ad budget next week, unveiling new attack ads blaming Clinton for rising teen drug use, ads even tougher than this one." After an ad clip, Bloom ended: "At a Dole rally today the music blared `get ready.' Get ready, that is, for a very nasty campaign."

What "Moderate" Democrats?

"Return to Chicago: This Time, the Democrats Embrace Moderation," declared the headline on the front of the Washington Post's August 25 convention section. Four pages later, the Post headline over a story on a survey of delegates read: "Delegates Leaning More Liberal Than Their Leader or the Rank and File." Indeed, 82 percent favored affirmative action, 65 percent were against a balanced budget amendment, 72 percent opposed "reducing spending on social programs," but 65 percent wanted less defense spending.

Three days later, New York Times reporter David Rosebaum insisted the Democratic platform "takes a middle ground between the unfettered capitalism and government-enforced morality espoused by Republicans and the welfare-state economics and Aquarian values that once formed Democrats' image." Four paragraphs later, Rosenbaum summarized the "middle ground" policies: "The Democrats call for government-paid abortions for poor women, full civil rights for homosexuals, a strong commitment to public schools, gun control, tobacco regulations, a continuation of affirmative action programs and a greater emphasis on environmental protection than on the development of resources."

"Most Economists" Split.

An August survey of 700 economists found that "52 percent blame the growth of the federal deficit in the 1980s on increased government spending more than on the Reagan tax cut," which was blamed by 48 percent. The fact that economists are about evenly split contradicts many recent media reports.

"Most economists say the Reagan tax cuts did worsen the budget deficit and many are skeptical of Dole's plan," announced reporter David Bloom on the August 5 NBC Nightly News. Colleague Mike Jensen insisted a few minutes later that "most analysts say it's not good economics." The next morning a headline over a Washington Post news story declared: "Economists Question Dole's Plan." The headline over a Boston Globe news story asserted: "Economists Cool to Dole's Tax-Cut Plan: Candidate Speaks of Growth, but Analysts See No Big Payoff."

The poll of 700 members of the American Economics Association discovered that 81 percent agreed that the Reagan tax cuts increased economic growth. A plurality of 42 percent "want to see the next Congress put a high priority on both restraining government spending and cutting taxes," matching the Dole-Kemp promise. William Adams, a professor at George Washington University, directed the poll conducted August 19-21.

Though reported in The Weekly Standard and The Washington Times, none of the previously noted outlets revised their claims. In fact, in the September 9 Post, reporter Clay Chandler focused only on the answer which put Dole in the minority: "A majority expressed doubt about the notion that 30 percent of the revenue lost from a 15 percent cut in marginal income tax rates would" be recaptured.

Another Gore Gaffe That Wasn't.

After Al Gore's emotional August 28 speech recalled the 1984 death of his sister Nancy and how it motivated him to fight the tobacco industry, ABC, NBC, and CNN did suggest hypocrisy. Jennings noted that "tobacco companies are here in Chicago wining and dining the hierarchy of the Democratic Party." NBC's Tom Brokaw recalled that "the Gore family were tobacco farmers." On CNN, Judy Woodruff suggested that Gore "was responding to what was said in San Diego," where his tobacco roots were highlighted.

But all the networks ignored the July 3 New York Times report that in 1988, Al Gore told an audience of tobacco farmers during his presidential campaign: "Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it. I've dug in it. I've sprayed it, I've chopped it, I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it." Dan Quayle can only dream of getting away with something like that.

Base Bias.

CBS Evening News took two different approaches to the passionate poles that create each party's base. The day before the Republican convention, CBS reporter John Roberts suggested "hard-line anti-abortionists" controlled the Republican Party: "Delegates are pursuing their own agendas and forcing party leaders, including Dole, to fall into line behind them...so far the rogue elephants seem to be calling the shots."

But on August 28, reporter Harry Smith's piece on unions didn't talk about ideologically extreme unions pushing around the party, but how Bill Clinton failed to be liberal enough for them: "It still takes steel to make America's cars. It still takes labor to get a Democrat elected President. But talk to the union rank and file, and you'll find that their enthusiasm is less than red hot.... We talked with United Auto Workers in Dearborn, Michigan this week. Their biggest gripe: Bill Clinton's support of the North American Free Trade Agreement...Organized labor will invest millions of dollars to get Bill Clinton elected this fall. These dues-paying members wonder if they are still getting their money's worth."

Sunday Lefties.

The networks came at Republicans from the left on abortion in San Diego, and on the Sunday before the Democrats convened, they also came at Democrats from the left. By concentrating on liberal complaints about welfare reform, reporters helped Bill Clinton's effort to portray himself as a centrist. On the August

CBS Evening News, Dan Rather demanded of DNC General Chairman Chris Dodd: "You said this morning that the party's message will focus on the needs and cares of the people. Now, how do you reconcile that with a President who has just signed a quote `welfare reform bill' which by general agreement is going to put a lot of poor children on the street?" Earlier, on Face the Nation, CBS reporter Rita Braver asked Chicago Mayor Richard Daley: "Aren't you scared about what is going to happen? Aren't you afraid you are going to have a lot of hungry children?"

That same day NBC Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert demanded of Dodd: "It's an issue of morality to many people, and how can you defend a President who basically said to the congressional Democrats: Listen, that's your view, but I'm doing this, because -- was it politically expedient?" Russert tried the same line with strategist James Carville: "But the Democratic Party for sixty years, James Carville, fought for a minimum guarantee payment to poor children and Bill Clinton undid that. Don't you have to draw the line someplace and say `I'm a Democrat and this is what I stand for'?"

Welfare-State Television

All three networks featured stories August 27 critical of the new welfare reform law. On NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw presented his view: "There are serious questions about what happens to these people after they're taken off the welfare rolls. Andrea Mitchell went to Indiana to look at the conflict between fixing the system and doing the right thing by people." Mitchell featured no welfare reform proponents, just social workers, Jesse Jackson, and impending victims: "Kimberly Gilbert will get benefits for two years. After that, she's cut off, whether or not she finds a job. That deadline is near for Charla Milton. Unable to find work, she is terrified."

On ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings suggested: "Maybe if he is reelected, Mr. Clinton will do something to reverse himself on welfare reform. Many of these delegates hope so." ABC reporter Erin Hayes asked where the jobs would come from to support welfare recipients: "An Urban League study found in Chicago there are six times as many people who need work as there are entry-level jobs available." Hayes aired no voices favoring welfare reform, and concluded: "There is another concern as well: the young children. When their mothers are made to go to work, who will take care of them? Right now, no one really has an answer. With so much still uncertain about welfare reform, it is no wonder there is fear out there."

CBS reporter Harry Smith also ignored taxpayers and focused on victims on the CBS Evening News: "We talked to four welfare moms from across Chicago. They feel like they are this year's political target...President Clinton seemed deaf to protests last week when he signed the new welfare cuts into law. Cuts many Americans support, but cuts these women think go too far." Smith concluded: "Neighborhoods like Cabrini-Green have more than their share of misery. Folks around here think misery is only going to grow. Their long faith in the Democratic Party has been shaken, and the actions of President Clinton confirm their fear that the poor just do not count."

60 Minutes Does a 180 on Doyle

Labor Day weekend marks the start of the campaign season, and this year the 60 Minutes interviews with the two presidential candidates demonstrated how it also corresponds with another season of tilted coverage.

In his August 18 interview with Bill Clinton, Dan Rather wasn't as interested in posing questions as setting up speeches: "Some of your staff members, not by name, have been saying, `Yes, the President thinks Bob Dole is a nice person and has been a pretty good leader in some ways,' but, say they, `he's been captured by the extremists in the Republican Party, the radical part of the Republican Party, including Newt Gingrich.' Is that what you think?"

Rather then led Clinton through a set of GOP convention speeches. He showed Dole charging Clinton led "a core of elites who never grew up, did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered, and never learned." He played video of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison mentioning the FBI files, and George Bush on the White House being "diminished" since his wife left.

When Clinton's response wasn't strong enough, Rather added: "I don't know of anyone in the convention who didn't take that as a difference of the present First Lady and the former First Lady." Rather insisted: "Don't you get mad, Mr. President, when this sort of thing happens?"

Two weeks later Lesley Stahl interviewed Bob Dole. But in her September 1 talk she gave Dole less time to react to attacks. Stahl didn't suggest Clinton is too far to the left and when Dole complained about unfair attacks, she made him defend his criticisms. Rather never argued with Clinton, but Stahl debated the advisability of Dole's tax cut plan.

Stahl began by underlining the Democrats' decency: "At the Democratic convention, a lot of Democrats were saying that Bob Dole is a good and decent man, and even Bill Clinton made a point of saying Bob Dole loves his country. I'm wondering what you think of Bill Clinton. What kind of a man do you think he is?"

When Dole complained about Democratic attacks, Stahl aired a convention clip of Al Gore saying Dole voted against creating Medicare and Medicaid, Peace Corps and Head Start. She assumed such votes would have been wrong: "Did you really vote against all these things?" Then she turned on Dole, asking: "They say that you were unfair in what you said about Hillary....Do you think you were unfair in what you said to her?"

Stahl made Dole respond to 11 inquiries doubting the tax cut. She demanded he explain how he's going to pay for it, contending that in the '80s he was correct to oppose Reaganomics: "You were right, it did explode the deficit."

A Stunning Contrast on Negativity

In 1992, the networks questioned the convention's tone as too negative 70 times during the GOP convention, to zero at the Democratic convention. This year, analysts again searched for questioning of negative tone (such as the use of words like "attack" or "bash"), and found a similar tilt.

At the GOP's San Diego convention, prime-time TV analysts noted excessive Republican negativity 34 times, to one NBC reference to Clinton "pummeling" Dole in TV ads. In Chicago, the networks suggested excessive GOP negativity again on 23 occasions, to only six for the Democrats. In total, the networks had a negativity gap of 57 to 7.

GOP Convention. On August 13, keynoter Rep. Susan Molinari said: "Americans know that Bill Clinton's promises have the lifespan of a Big Mac on Air Force One." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison remarked earlier: "America -- it's time to wake up to President Clinton and his high-taxing, free-spending, promise-breaking, Social Security-taxing, health care socializing, drug-coddling, power- grabbing, business-busting, lawsuit-loving, UN-following, FBI- abusing, IRS-increasing, 200-dollar-haircutting, gas-taxing, over-regulating, bureaucracy-trusting, class-baiting, privacy- violating, values-crushing, truth-dodging, Medicare-forsaking, property-rights-taking, job-destroying friends."

Network Reaction: On NBC, Tim Russert warned: "I think the speech by Senator Hutchison of Texas is dangerous, Tom, because she uses words that could be interpreted by some people as mean." Lisa Myers asked Hutchison: "Do you think you went too far?" Tom Brokaw worried that the party knows "it has to lower the threshold of perceived meanness" in the country.

On CBS, Dan Rather announced Hutchison was "expected to hit President Clinton, rhetorically, with everything short of a tire tube." CBS's Bob Schieffer told Sen. Hutchison: "I must say, it's Attack Dog Hutchison tonight."

CNN's Judy Woodruff announced: "Well, they said it was going to be a Clinton-bashing night at the Republican convention." Bernard Shaw replied: "And the bashing will continue when the keynote speaker, Susan Molinari, steps up there."

Democratic Convention. From the podium in Chicago on August 27, Jesse Jackson proclaimed: "President Clinton has been our first line of defense against the Newt Gingrich Contract, America's right-wing assault on our elderly, our students, and our civil rights."

Mario Cuomo charged: "The Republicans are the real threat. They are the real threat to our women. They are the real threat to our children. They are the real threat to clean air, clean water, and the rich landscape of America...in the end, Bill Clinton spells hope and the Republicans spell disaster." The next night, Al Gore proclaimed Republicans "want to give free reign to lobbyists for the biggest polluters in America to rewrite our environmental laws, allowing more poison in our air and drinking water."

On August 29, Sen. Ted Kennedy used the same literary device that caused Hutchison to be bashed for negativity, in this case describing the Republican platform: "It is the radical wish list of the education-cutting, environmental-trashing, Medicare- slashing, choice-denying, tolerance-repudiating, gay-bashing, Social Security-threatening, assault-rifle-coddling, government- closing, tax loophole-granting...minimum wage-opposing Republican majority..."

Network Reaction: Dan Rather said of Jesse Jackson: "Mrs. Clinton received a ringing defense during what was clearly the most stirring speech of the convention so far."

Oozed Brokaw: "The old lion has not lost its roar. There are very few speakers left in America who can switch on a hall like Jesse Jackson. He has done it so many times in the past. He began tonight in more muted tones, but of course it's almost irresistible for him, and it grows out of a very deep passion."

Russert added: "The crowd is letting loose a little bit because the philosophy of Jesse Jackson is something they very much ascribe to, and by him bridging the gap and endorsing Bill Clinton so wholeheartedly, it's a plus for Bill Clinton."

"Convention rhetoric has not been much better than it was tonight, particularly with Jesse Jackson," exclaimed CNN's Ken Bode. CNN reporter Bob Franken asked Andrew Cuomo about his father: "You really are a fan of his speaking style. It's amazing, isn't it?"

ABC's Jim Wooten noted wistfully of Cuomo: "That old-fashioned voice, full-throated, fierce, raising the rafters...a glimpse of conventions past, when liberals were still the lions of the party, and rhetoric roared."

When Gore accused the Republicans of advocating pollution, CBS reporter Bob Schieffer mysteriously insisted it was the opposite of nastiness: "This was an old-fashioned political speech, the kind of speech that politicians used to give before politics turned so nasty with all those commercials on television."

On Kennedy, Brokaw came out of the speech on NBC/PBS: "Still in full voice after all these years in the United States Senate. The proud champion of the liberal cause, addressing this convention hall once again as he does every four years."

Bode observed: "You need a partisan speech, one that puts it to the other party. You get it at any convention. Ted Kennedy does it as well as anybody could do it. Elder statesman of the party. Eloquent."

Democratic Harshness

Democrats blame the GOP for harsh personal attacks, but on the August 26 Good Morning America co-host Charlie Gibson asked Senator Christopher Dodd: "You said the other day that `I got the word out,' that I don't want to hear personal attacks against the Republicans at this convention. Yesterday on his train trip the President accused Republicans of blackmail to get their budget. Al Gore, yesterday, accused the Republicans of ignorance and audacity, talked about the two-headed monster of Dole and Gingrich. Dick Gephardt, the leader of the House, of the Democrats, talked about Republican extremism, said they're radicals. Talk about getting the word out?"

Labor's Power Ties

The labor unions didn't get the Darth Vader treatment reserved in San Diego for the Christian Coalition, but in Chicago there were a few critical looks at union power.

CNN campaign finance reporter Brooks Jackson delivered a story on the unions' political campaign in which he observed: "So Bill Clinton says the era of big government is over? Not at the Democratic convention, where unionized government workers are suiting up for battle against Republicans."

On World News Tonight August 27, ABC's Brian Ross reported: "In the world of big money and Democratic politics on public display this week in Chicago, this man holds a special place. His name is Arthur Coia, who despite being president of a labor union the FBI says has long been controlled by the Mafia, the Laborers International has become one of the Democrats' top money people, raising millions and gaining him special access to the Clinton White House....In the last two years, the Clinton administration has gone all-out to court Coia and his union money with invitations to the White House and an appearance by the First Lady at a big union conference."

Ross added detail: "In an abrupt change of plans that raised questions about whether the union's money to the Democrats had bought it some kind of sweetheart deal, prosecutors dropped the allegations and instead quietly negotiated a deal with Coia that let him keep his job and put him in charge of cleaning up the union."

Poor Hillary, Is it Worth It?

During the week of the Democratic convention the three networks got a chance to interview First Lady Hillary Clinton, but their favorite topic was the First Lady's role as the beleaguered martyr of unfortunate Republican attacks.

On Monday, CNN's Judy Woodruff went first: "Let me take you back to San Diego. Bob Dole said it doesn't take a village, a collective, the state, which he said has made mistakes in raising children, it takes a family. Is this something that is going to become a major issue in this fall campaign?"

Woodruff inquired: "Also in San Diego, former President George Bush told the delegates he `worked hard,' I'm quoting here, `to uphold the dignity and the honor of the presidency, to treat it with respect. And then he added, quote, `it breaks his heart, when the White House is demeaned, the presidency diminished.' Does that hurt coming from your immediate predecessor?"

Woodruff kept going: "He then went on, Mrs. Clinton, he made a point of saying that his wife, Mrs. Bush, quote, `unquestionably upheld the honor of the White House.' Is that an insult to you?" When Mrs. Clinton failed to answer sharply enough, Woodruff insisted: "But he was clearly drawing a contrast there...you're not hurt?"

Stories of Mrs. Clinton's rough-house approach to politics, such as her reported role in firing and lodging criminal accusations against seven workers of the White House Travel Office, did not prevent CBS This Morning co-host Jose Diaz-Balart from asking on August 26: "In the San Diego Republican convention, you were the subject of much conversation, and I think the target, I think many would say, of some very serious attacks....Do you ever, seriously, in the White House, when all the doors are closed, do you ever say `Is this worth it'?"

Just after she left the podium, NBC's Maria Shriver asked her: "This has been a difficult couple of years for you. Did that applause, the way you've been treated here, the way people have been reacting to you, kind of make it all go away?" And: "You are credited with really redefining the role of First Lady and for doing that, you've taken a lot of heat, a lot of criticism. As you look back, do you wished you'd redefined it a little less?"

On CBS, Bob Schieffer inquired of her: "Weren't you a little offended when he [Bob Dole] made the reference he did [to your book]?" CNN's Wolf Blitzer echoed: "What goes through your mind when you hear some of these bitter attacks against you?"