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CyberAlert -- 08/28/2002 -- ABC: U.S. Leading Earth to Catastrophe

ABC: U.S. Leading Earth to Catastrophe; NY Times: Top Brit Against Iraq War, Oops, Never Mind; Estrich Concedes She Defended Clinton's "Indefensible" Behavior; Donahue's Ratings Hit Cellar

1) Previewing the UN Earth summit in South Africa, ABC asserted on Monday night that the U.S. is blocking what needs to be done to avoid catastrophe. The World News Tonight story quoted the South African president and a British activist who condemned American policy, but completely omitted the American point of view, before reporter Richard Gizbert concluded with what he had just promulgated: "What is on the agenda is bashing the U.S."

2) The New York Times built a Friday story around how the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had divulged a major policy change as he declared that removing Saddam Hussein from power was not "an object of British foreign policy." But in a Tuesday correction, the paper admitted its story was fallacious: "The assessment that removing Saddam Hussein is 'not an object of British foreign policy' was made by a BBC interviewer, not by Mr. Straw."

3) Bill Clinton defender Susan Estrich conceded during a Saturday appearance on FNC that she had "defended the indefensible" in explaining away as irrelevant to his job performance Bill Clinton's personal behavior: "I've said 'Oh, sex with an intern, oh big deal, you know. I don't care, you don't care, what could be better'....I sat there for years and I did that, in the hopes that it would finally go away and, you know, Bill Clinton would become Jimmy Carter and we could all live happily ever after."

4) In a WashingtonPost.com chat session, Howard Kurtz cited the Media Research Center in revisiting an issue first raised in a CyberAlert back in July, namely the propensity of the media to label Judicial Watch as "conservative" when they were trying to force the Clinton White House to release information, but as merely a "watchdog" group when they decided to sue Dick Cheney.

5) For the first the NBC Nightly News, while anchored by Brian Williams, beat ABC's World News Tonight anchored by Peter Jennings. And MSNBC's Donahue hit a new ratings low.


Editor's Note: In my absence, today's CyberAlert was compiled and largely written by Rich Noyes, the MRC's Director of Media Analysis. I added a few formatting improvements, wrote the table of contents text and posted the edition with our e-mail distributor. -- Brent Baker

1

If you believe ABC News the Bush administration is threatening the world by refusing to go along with the pseudo-scientific demand that the U.S. throttle its economy to appease environmental activists who claim human activity is causing a climate catastrophe, and U.S. disagreement is blocking the rest of the world from taking any action.

At least that was the view presented on Monday's World News Tonight by correspondent Richard Gizbert in a piece previewing the UN's environmental summit in South Africa: "The UN says carbon dioxide emissions are up nine percent...18 percent in the United States. Global weather is the warmest on record. Yet there is such disagreement on climate change, it's not even on the agenda this time."

ABC's pre-summit story, transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, quoted the South African president and a British activist who condemned American policy, but completely omitted the American point of view.

Peter Jennings set up the August 26 story: "Overseas today, the United Nations is beginning the largest summit meeting it has ever held, large and very complex. More than 100 presidents and prime ministers will show up over the next several days in South Africa. And there they will debate what the world can do to raise the standard of living for several billion people in the world who are increasingly being left behind. As we said, it's very, very complex. It is the Earth Summit, they haven't had one in ten years, and here is ABC's Richard Gizbert."

Gizbert began from London: "These villagers in Ghana risk being poisoned every time they go to the river. They have no access to clean water, like one in every five people on Earth. It's the kind of problem that this summit is supposed to deal with."
Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa: "This is a world in which a rich minority enjoys unprecedented levels of consumption, comfort and prosperity, while the poor majority endures daily hardship, suffering, and dehumanization."
Gizbert: "The global economy has grown significantly in the ten years since the last Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but aid to the poor is down, from $35 per person in Africa to $19. There are 750 million more people on Earth. The Amazon rain forest is still burning, 6,000 square miles per year. And the UN says carbon dioxide emissions are up nine percent since Rio, 18 percent in the United States. Global weather is the warmest on record. Yet there is such disagreement on climate change, it's not even on the agenda this time."
Joanne Green, Tearfund UK policy officer: "Unfortunately, the U.S., along with Canada and Australia, have been blocking any concrete proposals being agreed, and this is causing a great problem. They're taking an isolationist approach to this whole summit."
Gizbert concluded: "What is on the agenda is bashing the U.S. At a summit where lofty ambitions meet with conflicting interests, that might be the one thing people actually agree on."

ABC News seem to agrees too.

2

Imagine if a major German newspaper confused Tim Russert's questions, or George Stephanopoulos's, with Secretary of State Colin Powell's answers. That's pretty much what the New York Times did in a Friday story that was built around the "news" that the British Foreign Secretary -- the equivalent of our Secretary of State -- had declared that removing Saddam Hussein from power was not "an object of British foreign policy."

Unfortunately for the Times, the words were those of the BBC interviewer questioning Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a fact revealed by Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz on Monday. Would the Times have been so eager to build an entire news report around this phony fact if the news had been positive for the Bush administration's desire to oust the Iraqi dictator?

Here are the first few paragraphs of the erroneous Times report, which carried the byline of reporter Suzanne Kapner from London, published Friday, August 23:

Reinstating United Nations weapons inspectors not the removal of Saddam Hussein -- is the centerpiece of Britain's policy toward Iraq, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today.

The statement, made on the BBC radio program "Today," underscored the differences between the United States, which has made the removal of Mr. Hussein a top priority, and Britain, its closest ally in the campaign against terrorism. Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing growing opposition to the use of military force in Iraq from within his own Labor Party as well as from the Conservative and Liberal opposition, and some cabinet members have called for an open debate on the issue.

President Bush, who is also encountering some internal opposition to military action, has said the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq would be inadequate. Removing Mr. Hussein remains an important goal of American foreign policy, though Mr. Bush said on Wednesday that he was open to nonmilitary ways of achieving that.

Mr. Straw, in contrast, said today that the return of the weapons inspectors would be the best way of reducing the risk posed by Mr. Hussein and his presumed access to weapons of mass destruction, though he did not rule out removing the Iraqi leader by force if necessary.

"If my prayers were answered," Mr. Straw said, Mr. Hussein would be "removed by divine intervention" tomorrow. "But," he continued, removing him "is not an object of British foreign policy."

World leaders have increasingly voiced their resistance to an invasion of Iraq, and Mr. Straw's comments served as another setback to Mr. Bush's efforts to build a coalition to oust Mr. Hussein....

END of Excerpt

For the story in full: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/23/international/europe/23BRIT.html

On Tuesday, August 27, The New York Times printed a correction: "An article on Friday about remarks by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on the British government's Iraq policy misattributed a statement about that policy. The assessment that removing Saddam Hussein is 'not an object of British foreign policy' was made by a BBC interviewer, not by Mr. Straw."

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, in his Monday "Media Notes" column, first pointed out the Times's error. Kurtz relayed this short item: "A New York Times story Friday quoted British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as telling the BBC that toppling Saddam Hussein 'is not an object of British foreign policy.' A bloody mess, says the embassy here, for it was BBC interviewer John Humphries who said that, not Straw."

FNC's Brit Hume, on Monday's Special Report, noted Kurtz's report and reminded viewers that the New York Times has seemed to grab onto every scrap of news that might undermine the case for a war against Iraq. Hume explained in his "Grapevine" segment for August 26:
"The New York Times, already under fire for allegedly slanting its news coverage against U.S. military action against Iraq, reported on Friday that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had told the BBC that removing Saddam Hussein from power is quote 'not an object of British foreign policy.' If that were true, it would represent a major break between the U.S. and its closest, some say even its only European ally on Iraq. But the British embassy told the Washington Post that it was not Straw, but the BBC interviewer John Humphries who made the comment. So far, no further word from the New York Times."

On CNN's Reliable Sources over the weekend, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne appeared to fault the Times's skewed coverage -- not for the disservice done to readers, but for giving media-bashing conservatives more ammo. He told Howard Kurtz:
"Conservatives have been running a campaign for thirty years saying the big media is biased against them, and whenever they find something that they can run with they do it. You know in just, in particular in terms of coverage, the one place I would fault the Times is I don't think they gave enough coverage to Condy Rice's arguments for the war. It seems to me even if you're against the war, if you think the arguments for it don't work, you should lay them out and let people judge them."

3

Now she admits her duplicity. Bill Clinton defender Susan Estrich conceded during a Saturday appearance on FNC that she had "defended the indefensible" in explaining away as irrelevant to his job performance Bill Clinton's personal behavior.

Recalling her many media appearances post-Lewinsky, Estrich expressed regret: "I mean I've done it. I've said 'Oh, sex with an intern, oh big deal, you know. I don't care, you don't care, what could be better'....I sat there for years and I did that, in the hopes that it would finally go away and, you know, Bill Clinton would become Jimmy Carter and we could all live happily ever after."

Estrich, who was Michael Dukakis's campaign manager in 1988, appeared via satellite from Los Angeles, where she is now a law professor. The other guest: GOP strategist Rich Galen. When FNC anchor Jim Angle raised the possibility of a Bill Clinton talk show, Estrich rued the notion. Galen argued that it was probably an idea being floated by Clinton's supporters to drum up a little publicity, but Estrich disagreed, saying the Clintonites were so out-of-touch they really thought a talk show was a good idea. MRC analyst Patrick Gregory tracked down the following exchange from just before 2pm EDT on August 24: Susan Estrich
On FNC, Susan Estrich admitted: "Everybody has seen me defend the indefensible when it comes to Bill Clinton"

Galen: "A daytime talk show is just not possible for Clinton...I mean I think it's another one of those deals where they just want to make a little news because they can't stand not being in the spotlight."
Angle: "Susan?"
Estrich: "I wish that were true Rich, I really do. I mean everybody has seen me defend the indefensible when it comes to Bill Clinton, okay, let's be honest. I mean I have sat there feminist that I am, author of books on sex discrimination, et cetera. I mean I've done it. I've said 'Oh, sex with an intern, oh big deal, you know. I don't care, you don't care, what could be better.'"
Galen: "It's about time. I'm writing this down, I'm writing this down. Estrich says-"
Estrich: "Alright, I mean I sat there for years and I did that, in the hopes that it would finally go away and, you know, Bill Clinton would become Jimmy Carter and we could all live happily ever after. This is absolutely ridiculous, and I would agree with you Rich were it not for the fact that I sat and had a conversation with a number of my friends who were with him the day he talked to NBC. I said 'This is all a joke right? This is not real?' And they looked at me as if I'd lost my mind and said 'Of course it's real.'"

Now if only some members of the mainstream media would be so honest.

4

In a WashingtonPost.com chat session, the paper's media reporter, Howard Kurtz mentioned the Media Research Center and revisited an issue first raised in a CyberAlert back in July, namely the propensity of the media to label Judicial Watch and its founder, Larry Klayman, as "conservative" when they were trying to force the Clinton White House to release key information, but as merely a "watchdog" group when they decided to sue Vice President Dick Cheney.

Former MRCer Tim Graham spotted Kurtz's Tuesday afternoon exchange with an e-mailer who identified himself as from Baltimore, Maryland:
"Baltimore, Md.: When did press decide that Judicial Watch was no longer a far right-wing anti-Clinton group but, as the Post referred to them today 'a legal watch dog group?' Don't they kind of owe the group an apology for what I can only assume is a bad mischaracterization of them for so many years?
"Thanks for pointing out the use of 'conservative' to describe groups and people. I'm now seeing it in a lot of places where I would have missed it before including in the caption of a picture (along with two other spots in the article) of 'conservative commentator' Bill O'Reilly for a New York Times business section article on his investing strategy. When do you think I'll be able to read the article on 'liberal commentator' Phil Donahue?"

Kurtz replied: "Donahue is one guy who seems to be attached to the L-word fairly regularly. I wrote an item a few weeks back about how the press was describing Judicial Watch in more neutral terms now that it was suing the Bush administration:
"In reporting earlier this month that Klayman had sued Vice President Cheney in connection with his tenure as CEO of the energy firm Halliburton, CBS, CNN and NBC described the organization as 'a watchdog group', while ABC called it 'a legal activist group.' The Media Research Center cited numerous instances in which the networks labeled the group 'conservative' during the Clinton era.
"In fairness, founder Larry Klayman describes himself as conservative, and it wasn't apparent during the Clinton years that he planned to beat up on both political parties."

For the entire August 27 chat session: http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/zforum/02/mediabacktalk082702.htm

For the original CyberAlert item documenting the labeling disparity, refer back to the July 11 edition: http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020711.asp#1

5

While Peter Jennings was spending the week highlighting Canadian opposition to any Iraq war and distorting a secret judicial panel's disgust with Clinton-era Justice Department abuses into a rebuke of John Ashcroft, for the first the NBC Nightly News, while anchored by Brian Williams, beat ABC's World News Tonight anchored by Jennings.

MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey noticed the success for NBC's future anchor. An excerpt from an August 27 dispatch from Associated Press reporter David Bauder:

In a foreshadowing of what may be a future duel for news viewers, NBC's Brian Williams scored a historic victory over ABC's Peter Jennings last week.

It was the first time a Williams-anchored Nightly News beat Jennings' broadcast for a week in the Nielsen Media Research ranking since a time was set for when Williams would replace Tom Brokaw.

NBC announced this spring that Williams would take over for Brokaw after the 2004 presidential elections....

Nightly News averaged 8.8 million viewers (6.4 rating, 14 share) to 8.5 million viewers for World News Tonight (6.1, 13). The CBS Evening News averaged 7.4 million (5.3, 11).

Those numbers are something of a relief for NBC, where Williams' poor ratings performance while sitting in for Brokaw last summer raised some eyebrows....

END of Excerpt

For the entirety of Bauder's story:
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20020827/
ap_on_en_tv/nielsens_2

For a flavor of Jennings' show from last week, refer back to these two CyberAlert items:

-- O' Canada, let us follow thee. ABC's Peter Jennings seemed to speak for himself as he announced as a fact: "Some people are asking today whether or not the White House is losing control of the debate about war with Iraq." Terry Moran then trumpeted how Canada has given a "sharp rebuke" to U.S. policy before treating Scott Ritter, who has been defending Saddam Hussein for years, as fresh news: "Opposition is mounting at home, too" as Ritter "said the administration had failed to make the case for war." http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020821.asp#1

-- Clinton-era abuses led a federal court to reject John Ashcroft's request for broader power in pursuing terrorism suspects, but the networks portrayed it as a scolding of the Bush administration. ABC's Peter Jennings: "A federal court tells the Bush administration it is abusing its power in the campaign against terrorism." http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020826.asp#1

In other ratings news, MSNBC's Donahue, who has featured Studs Terkel and Louis Farrakhan for the whole hour on recent nights, scored a 0.1 -- that's ZERO POINT ONE -- on Friday, compared with a 0.6 for CNN's Connie Chung Tonight and 1.0 for FNC's O'Reilly Factor. For more about MSNBC's ratings free-fall, check this Variety story: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/variety/20020828
/tv_variety/news_1158

MRC staffers, led by senior analyst Geoff Dickens, are taking bets on when MSNBC will finally pull the plug on the sinking show.


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