Trumpeting McCain's Poll Surge; No Outrage Over Salon.com's Terrorism
1) CBS and NBC trumpeted McCain's rise above Bush in a Zogby poll in South Carolina. "A Republican Revolution," declared Dan Rather. ABC's Linda Douglass focused on the success of "the kind of blunt talk his campaign thrives on" as McCain assailed Big Tobacco.
2) Salon.com ran a story by a reporter celebrating how he infiltrated the Gary Bauer campaign in order to lick doorknobs so he could infect Bauer with the flu: "My bodily fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were all over his hand!" Where's the media outrage?
"No Bounce Allowed for Forbes or Keyes: Media's Overt Favoritism for
McCain Matched by Exclusion of Conservative Top Finishers in Iowa," the
latest MRC Campaign 2000 Media Reality Check fax report is up on the MRC home
page thanks to Webmaster Andy Szul. The report by Tim Graham begins:
"A Republican Revolution: McCain now leads Bush in South Carolina," proclaimed Dan Rather at the top of Thursday's CBS Evening News as both CBS and NBC trumpeted a John Zogby poll, a pollster the networks normally ignore, showing John McCain five points ahead of George Bush in South Carolina, though only NBC actually gave credit to the pollster, calling the finding a "bombshell." Rather asked: "Is Bush's Southern firewall against McCain burning in South Carolina or not?"
While CBS led with the poll news and NBC devoted a story to it, ABC only made passing reference at the end of a story. Linda Douglass noted: "McCain is gleefully pointing to a local poll that now shows him leading George Bush in South Carolina." Douglass argued McCain is winning through straight talk, picking up on his attacks on tobacco companies: "It was the kind of blunt talk his campaign thrives on. Taking on the tobacco industry in a state where it is the number one crop. It might be a shrewd move. Farmers here are angry at cigarette companies for buying more tobacco abroad."
CBS's Bill Whitaker pointed to how McCain is backed by non-conservatives, noting that in South Carolina "moderates and independents make up a growing force, the very voters who made McCain the winner in New Hampshire." NBC's Lisa Myers highlighted how the Bush campaign plans "to show McCain out of step with religious conservatives, up to forty percent of the vote here."
The CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today and NBC Nightly News all ran full stories on controversy over the lack of criminal action against former Clinton CIA Director John Deutch for using an unsecured home computer to write secret memos to the President. CBS's David Martin noted the computer was used to visit "high risk" Web sites, including pornography sites, and raised the double standard with how Wen Ho Lee was pursued for not following proper security procedures. NBC anchor Brian Williams referred to "startling revelations" about Deutch.
Here's how the three broadcast evening shows dealt with the McCain-Bush race on Thursday night, February 3. All noted that Bradley and Gore campaigned in California Thursday, but none ran a full story on the Democrats.
-- ABC's World News Tonight. After leading with the
Alaska Air investigation, ABC looked at the battle for veterans in South
Carolina. Dean Reynolds began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
After a soundbite of Bush, Reynolds continued: "And he said the notion that McCain, a senator for fourteen years, is somehow the maverick outsider in this race defies reality."
ABC delivered less critical coverage of McCain.
"John McCain shrugged off Bush's questions about his qualifications for
leadership, and he scoffed at the notion that Bush is better suited to
represent the interests of the military," Linda Douglass opened her
story. She focused on his political brilliance:
After relaying how "more than $700,000 has poured
into his Web site in two days, Douglass concluded:
-- CBS Evening News. "A Republican Revolution:
McCain now leads Bush in South Carolina with one poll and money starts flowing
to McCain," Dan Rather teased at the top of the show. He then began the
program, clearly excited about the development:
From South Carolina, Bill Whitaker explained: "Forget the bounce, New Hampshire was more like a launching pad for John McCain, wiping out a twenty point South Carolina deficit by one poll and drawing in almost three quarters of a million dollars almost overnight."
Whitaker drove home the impact: "McCain's stunning victory stripped the cloak of invincibility from George W. Bush. Not only is Bush shaken, but big money backers have the jitters too, some already are hedging their bets and giving donations to McCain now as well. So Bush has dropped his frontrunner assumptions and picked up the boxing gloves."
After a soundbite of Bush proclaiming his readiness for battle, Whitaker added: "Folks here revere God and country. Bush claims the religious right. In fact, one of his first stops here was to Bob Jones University, a Christian conservative bastion."
CBS then played a clip of Bush with veterans before
Whitaker noted how "war hero McCain fired back." Whitaker concluded:
-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Brian Williams announced after the lead Alaska Air update: "We turn now to political news tonight and a bombshell out of South Carolina, where there is word John McCain has apparently turned the tide on George W. Bush in at least one poll and erased a twenty point deficit. The New Hampshire bounce appears to be more of a boom."
Lisa Myers started her piece: "In South Carolina,
John McCain is riding what appears to be a huge wave, touched off by his
victory in New Hampshire." Unlike ABC and CBS reporters Myers actually
cited the source of the poll and gave numbers:
An on-screen graphic credited Zogby and showed McCain at 44 percent and Bush at Bush 39.3 percent. John Zogby then told NBC viewers: "I don't know that I've ever quite seen an overnight change like this. This, in essence, turns the world upside down for the Bush campaign and causes them, I think, to do some scrambling in the next two-and-a-half weeks."
Myers continued: "And there is more good news for McCain." She explained how he'll probably be put on the New York ballot and that money is now pouring into his campaign, though the "reality is that in that category, money, McCain is badly outgunned. Bush has four times more, $31 million in the bank versus McCain's $7.7 million. Due to election laws, McCain can only spend $3 million in South Carolina. Because Bush doesn't take federal campaign money, he can spend whatever he wants and, says an advisor, will spend quote, 'As much as it takes to win.'"
Myers moved on to Bush's activities of the day:
One the media will love to cover.
Imagine the media reaction if a conservative infiltrated the Gore campaign in order to spread a disease amongst his staff and volunteers, and then Matt Drudge celebrated the maneuver in a glowing article. As the New York Post's Rod Dreher put it, "the 'hate crimes' hysterics would be baying for blood."
But that did happen to Gary Bauer with a left-wing media outlet and yet there's been no media outrage. CNN didn't even mention it in a full story on Thursday's Inside Politics about Bauer dropping out of the presidential race and none of the broadcast networks mentioned it in brief items Thursday night about Bauer's departure, despite the fact that The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote about it that morning.
So far, while it has generated some interest on some radio and television talk shows, the totality of television network news show coverage seems to be a brief exchange on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume on Monday night. MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth alerted me to this exchange in the roundtable portion of the January 31 show:
Morton Kondracke: "If there's been a low in
American journalism, it is Salon magazine, which-"
If hate speech is to be condemned uniformly, then whether the guy really did those things or just made up the story doesn't matter as he conveyed hateful thoughts and Salon ran his piece as if it were accurate and, as Kurtz reported, is unwilling to call the story inaccurate.
Two days later Washington Times "Inside the Beltway" columnist John McCaslin picked up on the article and relayed Salon's defense:
Bad news and good news for Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer: He didn't win New Hampshire, but at least he didn't come down with the flu. If nothing else, the latter represents a victory over homosexual columnist Dan Savage, who -- if we are to believe his bizarre penmanship in the on-line publication Salon.com -- orchestrated a vile infiltration of Bauer 2000 campaign headquarters in Des Moines.
Posing as one Mr. Bauer's "gay bashing" volunteers, Mr. Savage, feverish with the flu, "hatched a plan to infect the candidate himself." In other words, get close enough to Mr. Bauer "to lay him flat" just before yesterday's New Hampshire primary. "I started licking doorknobs," Mr. Savage writes. "The front door, office doors, even a bathroom door. When that was done, I started in on the staplers, phones and computer keyboards. Then I stood in the kitchen and licked the rims of all the clean coffee cups drying in the rack."
While he admits to "feeling slightly sickened" by his perverted act, Mr. Savage's upset stomach didn't keep him from chewing on "my killer pen" and handing it to Mr. Bauer for an autograph. "My bodily fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were all over his hand," says Mr. Savage. "He handed me the pen, and started to walk toward his van. He stopped to answer a reporter's question, and I saw him run a finger under his nose. Perfect. I didn't need to lick all those doorknobs after all."
Reached in New Hampshire yesterday, Mr. Bauer's communications director, Tim Goeglein, was furious: "It would appear to be a hate crime through and through, and [Mr. Savage's] seething anger and hatred at Christians is enormously disturbing." He adds: "This is the sort of intolerance that the left in America seems almost preoccupied with. It would be nice to see some indignation, some anger among that crowd for this sort of outrageous and unacceptable behavior. This is not journalism, this is trash can politics at its worst."
From San Francisco, Salon.com editor David Talbot tells Inside the Beltway that Mr. Savage is an "infrequent contributor" to the publication. Still, "like we do with all writers, we don't cut them loose when they get into trouble. We're not abandoning Dan," he stresses.
But Mr. Talbot also acknowledges "a lot of dissent and controversy [among staff] at Salon.com" about whether to run the piece. In retrospect, he says, a disclaimer should have accompanied the article, "explaining Salon.com did not assign, or endorse, or condone" its content.
On Thursday a major media outlet others usually follow caught up with the story, but still no wider media reaction. In a piece on the front page of the February 3 Style section, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported that "a Salon magazine writer who went undercover and tried to infect presidential candidate Gary Bauer with the flu has sniffled his way into a heap of trouble."
In addition to his doorknob licking, Kurtz added that "Savage also says he voted in the Iowa caucuses, despite the fact that he lives in Seattle. State Republican officials in Des Moines have asked the local prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation."
Salon editor David Talbot suggested the story should have been taken as humor and was really made up, but Kurtz noted "Talbot is not certain which elements of the story might be less than truthful."
An except from Kurtz's story:
David Talbot, Salon's editor, says he hasn't been inundated with so much hate mail since the online magazine disclosed a 30-year-old extramarital affair involving Illinois congressman Henry Hyde during the impeachment saga.
"The political culture has lost its sense of humor," Talbot said from San Francisco. "We believe anyone who knows Dan Savage's writing knows he is given to a kind of spirited and funny gay hyperbole....He was, out of his strong personal convictions, trying to freak out the Bauer people."
An Internet magazine, unlike establishment publications, ought to embrace such "gonzo journalism," Talbot said.
Still, Salon is distancing itself a bit from the stunt by Savage, a freelance contributor. Shortly after the piece appeared, the Webzine told readers: "We still believe publishing the article was the right choice, but we also feel compelled to say: We didn't assign Savage to infect Bauer. We don't condone or endorse what he says he did."
Savage is associate editor of an alternative Seattle paper called the Stranger, where he writes a syndicated sex advice column called "Savage Love." Talbot says Savage is "laying low" -- and not talking to reporters -- out of concern for both the legal and physical threats he has received.
In his piece -- titled "Stalking Gary Bauer" -- Savage wrote: "My plan was a little malicious -- even a little mean-spirited -- but those same words describe the tactics used by Bauer and the rest of the religious right against gays and lesbians....When Bauer tells people that gays and lesbians are a threat to families, I take that personally. I feel I have a right to be angry." He quoted a Bauer campaign worker as telling him that "God said that homosexuals have to die."
Recalling the moment when Bauer took the pen that had been in his mouth, Savage wrote: "Score! My bodily fluids -- flu bugs and all -- were all over his hand!"
Talbot says editors asked Savage about the account's veracity before it was published "and he was somewhat evasive. He later made clear to me he was exaggerating," although Talbot is not certain which elements of the story might be less than truthful.
Thousands of readers have registered their complaints. "If Savage's 'sick' reporting is Salon's idea of a new kind of witty journalism, they should remember that wit requires humor and I'm not laughing," one wrote....
To read Salon.com's reaction to the controversy, with
a link to the original Savage piece, go to:
In the original late January story Savage spewed:
One of the few media figures to jump on this story was
New York Post columnist Rod Dreher who wrote about it on January 28. He
followed up with another column on February 1 in which he argued:
Indeed it does -- Brent Baker 
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