"Rights Groups" vs. Ashcroft; Misuse of Tax-Exempt Funds by Jesse Jackson Skipped by All But FNC; SNL Bush Imitator Voted for Gore
1) All three evening shows labeled Ashcroft as "conservative," but CBS and NBC refused to apply an ideological tag to his opponents. CBS's Bob Schieffer referred to how "dozens of rights groups were still fighting him." Only ABC described his attackers as "liberal" and Peter Jennings contrasted Bush inviting the Kennedys over for a movie with how the Democrats "savaged" Ashcroft.
3) The morning after the CBS Evening News made a big deal about comments President Bush made into an open microphone at a private meeting of ministers, NBC's Today also picked up on them as Katie Couric claimed they put Bush "in trouble."
4) Thursday morning and evening ABC, CBS, NBC as well as CNN all failed to acknowledge print reports about how Jesse Jackson's mistress received funds from his tax-exempt Operation PUSH in order to buy a house. FNC's Brit Hume picked up on the disclosure.
ABC, CBS and NBC adopted the Democratic spin that their 42 Senate votes against John Ashcroft for Attorney General should serve as a warning against the nomination in the future of anyone so conservative. All three evening shows on Thursday night labeled Ashcroft as "conservative," but CBS and NBC refused to apply an ideological tag to his opponents. CBS's Bob Schieffer opaquely referred to how "dozens of rights groups were still fighting him today."
Only ABC described his attackers as "liberal" and Peter Jennings uniquely pointed out how Democrats were the aggressors as he noted that between Bush attending the National Prayer Breakfast in the morning and inviting the Kennedy family over for a movie in the evening, "the Democrats savaged Mr. Bush's choice to be Attorney General, John Ashcroft."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather set up the story a few minutes into the February 1 broadcast: "President Bush's Cabinet is now complete. The Senate today confirmed the final and, by far, most controversial of his nominees, John Ashcroft, to be Attorney General. Eight Democrats joined all fifty Republicans in voting 'yes.' But while the ayes had it, the nays could have an impact beyond today's vote."
Bob Schieffer reported, as transcribed by MRC
analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Dan, in the end, forty-two Democrats voted
against Ashcroft, the most votes ever against any nominee for Attorney
General. And as the votes were being counted, they made no bones about
what they were doing. This was a message to the new President."
Schieffer countered: "Maybe, but if the President's long range plan was to put Ashcroft himself on the Supreme Court some day, that may prove difficult, if not impossible. Dozens of rights groups were still fighting him today, and even some of the Republicans who voted for him told me privately they'd have a hard time voting to put him on the Court. In any case, Ashcroft went to the High Court tonight where he asked to be sworn in as Attorney General by Clarence Thomas. Thomas, of course, is the justice who shares so many of Ashcroft's conservative views."
-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw led the show: "Good evening. President George W. Bush's most controversial Cabinet appointment was confirmed by the Senate today. And this was a confirmation loaded with a message. John Ashcroft, the conservative former Senator who the President tapped to be the Attorney General, does get that job but with 42 votes against him -- all of them Democrats. As NBC's David Gregory reports tonight, this was one of those votes that went beyond the numbers."
David Gregory relayed the Democratic spin, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Tom, in defeat, Democrats do send a strong message to the President, but tonight top White House officials counter it is Bush alone who can claim political victory..."
Gregory warned: "Republicans prevailed, but
Democrats, who have enough votes to block Ashcroft's nomination with a
filibuster, able to send a powerful message to the President about their
ability to defeat future nominees, particularly to the Supreme
Gregory used the term "harsh" to describe
Orrin Hatch's words: "Among those opposing Ashcroft, Jean Carnahan,
who succeeded him in the Senate, winning the seat after her husband Mel,
the Missouri governor, died in a plane crash. Though Carnahan introduced
Ashcroft at his confirmation hearing, today she calls him quote, 'too
divisive for the country.' From a top Ashcroft supporter, harsh words
After a soundbite from Trent Lott praising Ashcroft,
Gregory scolded Bush: "For the President, the controversy over his
choice of Ashcroft has worked to undermine a spirited outreach effort to
Democrats and minority groups. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus
voiced their strong opposition yesterday at the White House."
Amazing how the demand for bi-partisanship only applies to Republicans.
-- ABC's World News Tonight also led with Ashcroft, but while the subsequent story by Linda Douglass matched the theme of the other networks about a warning shot to Bush, Peter Jennings opened by contrasting Bush's outreach efforts with how Democrats "savaged" Ashcroft:
"We begin tonight with the strange and occasionally wonderful world of Washington. The President's day began with a national prayer breakfast in a downtown hotel, tonight he has the country's leading Democratic family -- the Kennedys -- over for to the White House for dinner and a movie. And between breakfast and dinner the Democrats savaged Mr. Bush's choice to be Attorney General, John Ashcroft, one last time. Mr. Ashcroft was confirmed by the full Senate nonetheless today, but not a single Democrat up for re-election next time voted to confirm him."
Linda Douglass began her piece: "Well Peter the vote was 58 to 42 and one Democrat called it a shot across the bow to the President, a warning that from now on they will wage war on any of his nominees they consider to be too conservative."
Unlike CBS and NBC reporters, however, she realized the ideology of Ashcroft's attackers: "Republicans were furious, accusing Democrats of pandering to their liberal supporters by destroying Ashcroft's reputation."
Catching up with ABC and NBC, on Thursday night the CBS Evening News finally arrived at the controversy over the high price of Bill Clinton's proposed office space in Manhattan. John Roberts outlined the basics and reported how Republican Congressman Ernest Istook has asked the GSA to delay the signing of the lease.
Lisa Myers noted the Istook request in a NBC Nightly News piece pegged to Bill Clinton agreeing to his first speech. He'll get $100,000 to address a meeting held by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. She also relayed how Clinton had turned down appearing on Saturday Night Live and in an ad to be run during the Super Bowl.
The morning after the CBS Evening News made a big deal about comments President Bush made into an open microphone at a private meeting of ministers, NBC's Today also picked up on them, though without CBS's dramatic flair. (See the February 1 CyberAlert for details about the CBS story.)
Thursday morning, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens
noticed, NBC news reader Ann Curry wrapped up a news update by raising the
subject: "And President Bush was apparently unaware that his
microphone was open on Wednesday. Before a meeting with Roman Catholic
charity leaders he said, a lot of Republicans from wealthy districts are
scared to death of his plan to fund school vouchers. He said that they are
afraid of angering the public school movement. And he said the voucher
issue is a battle and a problem politically. He also joked that he's about
to name his brother Jeb as ambassador to Chad."
How is making conventional wisdom observations about school vouchers something that would get Bush "in trouble"?
The networks have no interest in pursuing developments in the Jesse Jackson love child scandal, even when it involves financial improprieties, as evidenced by their refusal on Thursday to pick up on print reports about how his mistress received funds from the tax-exempt Operation PUSH in order to buy a house.
Thursday afternoon the MRC's Rich Noyes put together a Media Reality Check "Quick Take" about how the morning shows skipped the story. Thursday night ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News all ignored the disclosure published in Thursday's Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. CNN's Inside Politics also skipped it as did Wolf Blitzer Reports, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth informed me. But Brit Hume did pick up on it during his FNC show.
The text of the February 1 Media Reality Check Quick Take distributed by fax:
ABC'S ROBERTS, JAN 21: "I DO NOT WANT HIS VOICE SILENCED"
The Washington Post reported this morning that "a woman with whom Jesse L. Jackson fathered a child during an extramarital affair had approval to use funds from one of Jackson's tax-exempt charitable organizations to buy a house in Los Angeles, according to correspondence confirmed by a Jackson aide today." The story, by Post staff writer William Claiborne, appeared on page A3 of this morning's edition, and was therefore available to all of the broadcast networks as they planned their morning news programs.
But not a single network morning show offered viewers even a hint of this new twist in the scandal plaguing the liberal
activist/Baptist preacher/CNN personality. It's not that the networks are too sophisticated for tabloid news -- ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today both dug into the latest developments in the 25-year-old Moxley murder case in Connecticut.
For its part, CBS's The Early Show shamelessly promoted tonight's episode of Survivor, explaining how a spin of a wheel will determine whether contestants will eat a bug, cow brains, or another gross item -- but said nothing about the Jackson scandal.
All along, the broadcast networks have made it clear that they don't want to risk Jackson's career as an activist by trumpeting the unfolding scandal. When news that he'd fathered an illegitimate daughter first broke on January 18, ABC's Diane Sawyer insisted on a sympathetic spin: "This is, of course, a political story, but also a family story, and everybody has to be very concerned for the Jackson family." Three days later on This Week, ABC's Cokie Roberts fretted that Jackson's liberal clout would be diminished: "Obviously this is something he is feeling shame about and should, but I do not want to have his voice silenced in public debate. I think he's an important voice in public debate and I think that having it now lose some authority is too bad."
Now that new information on the use of tax-exempt funds to help Jackson's mistress has come to light, the networks are showing that they don't think hypocrisy is newsworthy if the alleged hypocrite is a liberal.
END Reprint of Quick Take
FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume on Thursday
night included this item read by Hume:
Bush impersonator didn't vote for him and has little regard for him. On Thursday night, in an effort to counter CBS's Survivor, NBC premiered a second weekly showing of Saturday Night Live from 8:40 to 9pm ET/PT, 7:40pm CT/PT. The programming decision gives a prime time showcase to Will Ferrell, the show's George W. Bush impersonator.
A New York Times profile last week of Ferrell, brought to my attention by MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey, revealed that Ferrell has little respect for Bush and voted for Gore. Here's an excerpt from the January 25 piece by Jim Rutenberg:
The television set anchored to the wall in Will Ferrell's "Saturday Night Live" dressing room at NBC was tuned to the Fox News Channel; George W. Bush was on the screen, taking the presidential oath.
Mr. Ferrell, who has been impersonating the new president for national audiences since early last year, watched his subject with a slight grin on his apple-pie face. As Mr. Bush held up his right hand, Mr. Ferrell did the same. In a mild, dress rehearsal-level mimicry of the new president, Mr. Ferrell said in mock fear: "This is it. There's no turning back. It's happening."
He dropped his hand, sat down in front of his mirror, popped a grape into his mouth and shook his head in a mix of disapproval and bewilderment. But there was also excitement.
For Mr. Ferrell, 33, the inauguration of Mr. Bush was a moment of ambivalence. He was fairly open about it: he voted for Vice President Al Gore and he has big questions about Mr. Bush's preparedness for his new job.
But then Mr. Bush's election campaign, with all of its twists and turns, has given an enormous boost to Mr. Ferrell's already healthy career as a comedian. He now stands as the leading impersonator of the commander in chief, as a definer of President Bush for the popular culture at large. He takes the reins from his "Saturday Night Live" co-star Darrell Hammond, impersonator of President Bill Clinton....
Mr. Hammond's Al Gore had somewhat slurred speech and the condescending air of the nerdy smart kid who is universally disliked by classmates. Mr. Ferrell's George Bush was an inarticulate, squinty-eyed frat boy doing his best to fake his way through final exams. Mr. Ferrell's Mr. Bush promised to emerge from the election process "victoriant"; his one-word election mantra was "strategery." In a recent skit in which Mr. Gore and the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, are shown debating the country's future, Mr. Ferrell's George Bush is in the corner of the room playing with a ball of string like a cat.
Though his portrayal may well have capitalized on a negative image of Mr. Bush that had already taken shape on its own in some circles, it helped fix it in the public mind.
"I think it's going to be very hard for Bush to get away from the image that this guy has created for him in people's minds," said Eric Foner, professor of American history at Columbia University....
Mr. Ferrell said that his decision to be open about his low regard for Mr. Bush did not come lightly. He said he recognized there was "a fine line" he had to walk, although he does not consider himself a highly political person. But he added: "You shouldn't have a problem being political, expressing yourself. It's funny in the stories and stuff; I don't know whether to be unabashed about that or not, but, yeah, I didn't vote for him."
His general description of Mr. Bush? "Let's just put it this way: I wouldn't be surprised if this is, like, just a stepping stone on his way to being commissioner of baseball. It's just like, 'O.K., I'll do this for a while.'" Addressing television critics this month in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Ferrell said, "I think he's probably drawing up plans to set up a mechanical bull in the Oval Office."
This perspective informs the Mr. Bush that Mr. Ferrell plays on the program, although the skits are written by others before being customized by the comedian. For instance, in the "Saturday Night Live" sketch based upon the first debate between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, Mr. Ferrell's Mr. Bush was slow to answer questions, and steadfastly avoided saying too much lest he misstate a fact.
"If you noticed in the debates, he took these long pauses, which some people, I'm sure, read as wisdom," Mr. Ferrell said. "But I just read it as, like, 'I'm...trying...to...think...what...I'm... supposed...to...say.'"....
Another new live Saturday Night Live will air tomorrow night at 11:30pm ET/10:30pm CT.
-- Brent Baker 
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