Speech Never Tagged Liberal; Bemoaning Clinton's Loneliness; He's a "Martyr"?
1) A "virtuoso" speech by "a proud President, a tireless policy wonk," gushed ABC's George Stephanopoulos. A wistful Dan Rather recalled Clinton's last chance "to preach, to teach." Reporters noted the spending costs; NBC dubbed his gun idea a "wedge issue."
2) Networks refused to label Clinton's plans as liberal. CBS's John Roberts gushed about how Clinton "really wants to improve the social status of everyone." ABC's reporters listed reasons why the address could be called "historic."
3) "His agenda is ambitious," crowed NBC's Claire Shipman. If Congress gets in Clinton's way, ABC's John Cochran casually relayed, "he will simply bypass Congress whenever he can by using his power to issue executive orders."
6) Katie Couric: "So are you saying that the relatives in Miami somehow frightened this little boy before the meeting and made him too nervous and the grandmothers too nervous to make this natural at all?" No, the Sister who set up the meeting said, blame Cuba.
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If it weren't for Bill Clinton's flub during his State of the Union address Thursday night that Al Gore had led a "new effort to help make communities more liberal," instead of "more livable," viewers at home never would have heard the word "liberal." Neither before or after the speech, or in the preview stories on the evening shows beforehand, did any of the broadcast networks describe Clinton's litany of new spending and regulatory program ideas as liberal.
The MRC night team of Jessica Anderson, Brad Wilmouth, Geoffrey Dickens and Ken Shepherd stayed into the morning to track coverage, but with Clinton blathering on so long the networks dumped out to local news at 11:15pm ET -- as soon the Republicans finished their response. We did, nonetheless, come across some noteworthy material. This item lists what we found after Clinton's speech. Item #2 below recounts some pre-speech analysis and #3 relays reporting from the evening shows.
After Clinton's speech, while no one described it as liberal, all the broadcast networks remarked about the high price tag of all the proposals. ABC included George Stephanopoulos among its analysts allowed to critique it. He dubbed it a "virtuoso" performance and oozed: "The address of a proud President, a tireless policy wonk and a very shrewd political strategist." (Clintonistas Stephanopoulos and David Gergen served later as the only analysts on Nightline.)
Dan Rather signed CBS off by solemnly intoning: "Tonight Bill Clinton mounted the Bully Pulpit one last time as President to preach, to teach, to prod the country." NBC's Tom Brokaw actually wondered why we couldn't have a larger tax cut and Tim Russert suggested Clinton's gun licensing idea was a "wedge issue" meant to benefit Hillary in New York.
-- ABC News. After a few words from Peter Jennings ABC
went first to George Stephanopoulos for an assessment:
Sam Donaldson picked up on the costs: "Peter, something in there for everyone almost. Maybe $364 billion worth of new spending. Senator Domenici, the Republican head of the Budget Committee in the Senate, estimated that it would be about $4 billion a minute if he went an hour and a half, and that's about what it was. I agree with George, though. It was well delivered, a Clinton speech always is. But I suspect, Peter, that the one soundbite you're going to hear in the next 24 hours, more than any other, is the one where he fluffed, and said, 'Remember last year the Vice President launched a new effort to help make communities more liberal.' He meant livable, but I think a lot of people will have a lot of fun at that and you saw his face redden. But overall, a successful final address by this President on the State of the Union."
Cokie Roberts added that "the President proposed ten, as I counted, either tax credits, tax deductions or tax incentives. That's another form of spending." Well, maybe.
-- CBS News. Wrapping up coverage at about 11:15pm ET,
Dan Rather wistfully reminded viewers:
-- NBC News. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught some
unusual questions and points from the right. Interviewing former Treasury
Secretary Robert Rubin, whom he'd earlier labeled the "architect"
of the economic boom, Tom Brokaw wondered:
Brokaw also asked: "But why shouldn't we have a bigger tax cut. For example $500 billion instead of stopping at $350 [billion] if there is the kind of surplus that we are talking about?"
Later, Tim Russert explained how a "top
Republican" assured him the gun licensing idea would not pass and
"will even help the Republicans keep some swing districts in the Congress
up for re-election this November because it will mobilize, energize the
NRA." Russert made clear Clinton had put politics ahead of policy:
During the lengthy twenty minutes after the networks signed on at 9pm ET and Clinton finally decided to come out, the networks filled the time with their own chatter.
In the most ironic comment of the night, referring to Bill Clinton's role in the Hillary Clinton Senate campaign, Gloria Borger of U.S. News and CBS News told Dan Rather: "I think behind the scenes, Dan, he's actually running that campaign. I mean he's very involved in every aspect of that campaign and people in her campaign say that he is her closest adviser. He is the one she trusts."
Just like after the speech, beforehand ABC, CBS and NBC avoided the term "liberal" to describe Clinton's spending spree. Instead, CBS's John Roberts gushed about how "I think that this is all part of the President's legacy, he really wants to improve the social status of everyone in the country here." ABC's team of star correspondents exchanged reasons for why Clinton's address could be called "historic." Peter Jennings lamented how "the President spends an awful lot of time alone at the White House alone now," though he didn't explain why he assumed the absence of Hillary and Chelsea meant he was actually alone.
At about 9:10pm ET CBS News viewers witnessed this bit
of insight as taken down by the MRC's Ken Shepherd:
Opening ABC's coverage, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson observed, Peter Jennings asked his team if "this is an unusually historic occasion." John Cochran replied: "Well, this is a President who, after all, survived impeachment. That's historic. The historic thing to me is I don't think there's ever been a President who will be sorrier to leave the White House. He just loves the job. He'd keep it until the age of 90 if they'd let him, Peter."
Cokie Roberts offered another historic angle and falsely assumed it is now the 21st century: "Well, for Bill Clinton it's unusually historic in that there's not some huge cloud hanging over him as he goes into that chamber tonight, and that is different. It's also the first State of the Union address of the 21st century, and there are two candidates. The historic part is probably Mrs. Clinton, who's coming into the chamber now, and having a First Lady run for the Senate is a first in history."
That prompted Jennings to ruminate: "Right behind her, Chelsea of course, reminding us that the President spends an awful lot of time alone at the White House alone now -- Chelsea at school in California, Mrs. Clinton now living in New York State and running for the Senate, as Cokie said."
Sam Donaldson compiled Roberts' error: "Peter, as Cokie says, the first one of the millennium, only the third President to have two terms in the last 50 years, and this may not be very much, but it's going to be historic: perhaps the longest of such addresses we have ever heard -- 35 pages. It could go on over an hour and a half, maybe toward two hours."
At least we were warned.
Instead of pointing out how Clinton's proposals represent liberal activist government with more spending, more regulation and more tax code tinkering to alter behavior, during Thursday's evening newscasts before the speech the networks avoided the term liberal and instead praised Clinton's ambitiousness.
On the NBC Nightly News Claire Shipman proclaimed: "It's the last time Bill Clinton will make this walk to outline the State of the Union and with less than a year left his agenda is ambitious."
Over on the CBS Evening News John Roberts at least credited the "ambitious" claim to the White House: "Despite the fact that the President has less than a year remaining in office, his final State of the Union address tonight will be what the White House characterizes as his most aggressive and ambitious yet. What that really means is that the President will take record revenues and again raise government spending to record levels."
And if Republicans don't go along? No problem. John Cochran relayed at the end of his World News Tonight piece laying out Clinton's ideas: "The President will challenge Republicans to work with him in this his final year, and his aides say if they refuse, he will simply bypass Congress whenever he can by using his power to issue executive orders."
You'd think subverting the will of Congress might generate more media ire since it so concerned them in the 1980s.
Poor Bill Clinton, supposedly all alone in the White House. ABC's Peter Jennings lamented the plight of "this very young, very energetic man," though if he's still energetic he probably isn't very alone. On Thursday's World News Tonight Jim Wooten examined the "wistful acknowledgment that he is now more alone in the White House than he's ever been."
Peter Jennings introduced the January 27 piece:
"Finally this evening from here, home alone may be an exaggeration of
what life is like for President Clinton these days, but it does give you an
idea that life for this very young, very energetic man is certainly in
transition. When his State of the Union is over tonight, he'll likely go back
to the White House with applause still ringing in his ears, but it's never
going to be the same."
After American University presidential scholar James
Thurber remarked, "He is set in terms of his legacy now. However, those
legacies change over time when people have some perspective. Give this man
some perspective and he may look a little bit better a decade from now,"
So I can maintain plausible deniability, fill in your own Monica Lewinsky joke here.
The damaging duo of Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes is making sure frontrunners George Bush and John McCain "cannot escape" the "divisive issue" of abortion, CBS News contended. The network reported it's a development which concerns the party establishment because they hoped to prevent Bush "from being shoved too far right on the issue like Bob Dole was." As if being too conservative was Dole's problem in 1996.
It's more like the Republican candidates "cannot escape" from CBS's one issue, abortion, agenda, an extremist test they do not apply to Democrats who oppose any restrictions on abortion-on-demand.
Otherwise, Thursday night NBC skipped the campaign and ABC ran a piece on Bush's challenge from McCain in New Hampshire, but did not mention abortion.
Teasing the January 27 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather
After the story on Bradley, Rather declared: "More now on the five man Republican field. The latest CBS News poll indicates Bush's win in Iowa and McCain's fifth place showing after basically bowing out apparently have had little carry-over affect in New Hampshire. Forbes and Keyes on their right though have each picked up several points. That may turn out to not be good news for George W. Bush. And, they're both making sure the front runners cannot escape a divisive issue."
CBS refused Thursday night to tag Clinton as
"liberal," but reporter Bill Whitaker wasn't so reticent about
labeling Republicans. He began: "When it comes to abortion, John McCain
would appreciate his own don't ask, don't tell policy. Hounded by abortion
questions again today he joked he'd rather tackle a safer issue like the
Confederate flag....What's got him rattled? Well, until recently both he and
George W. Bush deliberately downplayed their staunch anti-abortion records
making conciliatory statements like Bush today."
Whitaker concluded: "The most pro-choice segment of the voting population, independent voters, and most of those are and you can't win here without winning them over and right now, most of them are moving toward McCain. No wonder he'd like this abortion issue just to go away."
CBS News certainly isn't letting it.
And while ABC didn't explore abortion Thursday night,
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed they did Thursday morning. On Good
Morning America Dean Reynolds asserted:
Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin "was asked by Attorney General Janet Reno, described as an old friend, to provide a neutral setting" for a get-together between Elian Gonzalez and his two grandmothers, the January 27 Washington Post reported. So naturally when she appeared on Thursday's Today to recount the meeting she hosted in Miami, Katie Couric assumed she saw the Florida family as the bad guys. Not so Couric learned, to her surprise.
Couric asked: "Whose fears were dispelled Sister
Jeanne, in your view?"
Both ABC's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News
briefly mentioned O'Laughlin's assessment and NBC Nightly News featured an
"In Their Own Words" segment in which O'Laughlin explained why she
changed her mind and decided the boy should stay:
Someday maybe America will be "progressive" enough to see Bill Clinton as a "martyr" for how he was abused over his sexual activities.
MRC analyst Mark Drake caught this exchange during a
January 26 News with Brian Williams interview by MSNBC's Williams with
Clinton biographer David Maraniss:
The American people should be considered martyrs for having to put up with this kind of media thinking. -- Brent Baker 
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