"Nastier" & "Uglier" Thanks to Bush Push Polling; McCain "Not a Hypocrite"
1) ABC, CBS and NBC jumped on a charge from a woman about an anti-McCain "push polling" call her son got. Blaming Bush, Dan Rather grumbled that the campaign "just got a lot nastier." NBC's David Bloom stated the "race is getting uglier than anyone imagined."
2) ABC News, in alliance with Common Cause, countered Bush's charge that McCain is a hypocrite on fundraising. Barry Serafin argued that "a campaign watchdog group...says McCain is not a hypocrite" and his Web-raised donations are "the cleanest money."
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Forget getting two sources for a damaging allegation. Or even having any idea if the charge is really accurate. Thursday night ABC, CBS and NBC all featured full stories about John McCain's indignation over "push polling" by the Bush campaign -- based solely on the second-hand recitation by a mother about a phone call her 14-year-old son supposedly received tagging McCain a "fraud" and a "liar."
While all the stories included denials from the Bush campaign that they made any such calls, by making the allegation the basis of their campaign story of the night, only ABC ran a second story on another subject (see item #2 below), the networks served the agenda of the McCain campaign. Targeting Bush, Dan Rather intoned: "The Republican presidential campaign has just got a lot nastier."
NBC's David Bloom assumed the charge to be accurate, calling it a "sign that this Republican race is getting uglier than anyone imagined." CBS's Bill Whitaker passed along two examples of what he labeled "clearly misleading questions." One offered this actually well within reason spin on McCain's campaign finance regulation proposal: "Do you agree with McCain's plan to give more power to the media and unions to pick the President?"
Here's a rundown of how the broadcast networks on Thursday night, February 10, covered the woman's claims about a phone call her son received.
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Linda Douglass got right
to the soundbite of Donna Duren at a town hall meeting held by McCain:
After playing a clip of McCain claiming "What you just told me has had a very profound effect on me," Douglass piled on: "It was a political windfall and campaign aides made the most of it. Mrs. Duren said she had no idea who made the phone call, but McCain pointed his finger at the Bush campaign."
McCain demanded that Bush "stop this now. He comes from better family" and Douglass played a soundbite of Bush denying the campaign made any such calls. Douglass concluded by noting that phone call scripts provided by the Bush campaign don't use the words like "fraud" or "liar" and "there is no definitive proof this call came from the Bush campaign, but nine days before the primary McCain forced Bush to spend one more precious day on the defensive."
Thanks to the media making a standard campaign practice into a major controversy.
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather declared: "The Republican presidential campaign has just got a lot nastier. One of the dirtiest secrets of political attack strategies hit the spotlight today, something called push polling. Push polling involves political pollsters who are not seeking voter opinions, but trying to sway them under the guise of polling. In this case it's reportedly a pro-Bush line of attack aimed at John McCain in South Carolina."
Bill Whitaker played a soundbite from Donna Duren as had ABC, but CBS dropped three words: "But he was so upset when he came upstairs and he said 'Mom, someone told me that Senator McCain is a cheat and a liar and a fraud.' And he was almost in tears. I was so livid last night I couldn't sleep."
CBS then showed McCain's reaction: "What you just told me has had a very profound effect on me. I promise you I have never and will never have anything to do with that kind of political tactic."
Whitaker led into a Bush soundbite by noting that the
Bush campaign "denied any knowledge of such underhanded tactics."
Whitaker then passed along some ammunition for McCain's complaint,
"Clearly misleading?" Less than much CBS News reporting. McCain backers may disagree with the interpretations, but they are certainly within the norms of political dialogue.
-- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom opened his piece: "At a McCain town hall meeting this morning, one more sign that this Republican race is getting uglier than anyone imagined. A Spartanburg South Carolina woman, Donna Duren, describes how her son idealized the former Navy pilot and POW until the 14-year-old Boy Scout took a phone call last night, allegedly from a Bush pollster."
Following the same soundbites from Duren and McCain as
played by ABC, Bloom showcased McCain's case: "Afterward the two meet,
shake hands and hug and McCain steps outside, his voice filled with
Bloom ended by acknowledging that Bush denied the charge, but admitted his campaign placed "advocacy phone calls."
After the story on the woman and her son, ABC's World News Tonight aired a second campaign story, one that initially appeared to balance the anti-Bush story with an anti-McCain piece. But, in fact, ABC delivered a second pro-McCain report.
Pegged to McCain's fundraiser Thursday night at a Washington, DC hotel, ABC's Barry Serafin took up Bush's charge that McCain is a hypocrite for accepting money from lobbyists while he denounces the campaign finance system. After summarizing Bush's case, Serafin countered it by relaying how Common Cause decided "McCain is not a hypocrite," reporting that Bush received more money from special interests than McCain, and again treating Common Cause as some kind of impartial authority in highlighting how they consider McCain's Web fundraising to have gathered "the cleanest money."
Serafin opened his piece by explaining how McCain was scheduled to hold a fundraiser at a Washington DC hotel Thursday night with lobbyists and that he's accepted donations from industries with matters before the Senate committee he chairs. Serafin played a soundbite from Bush accusing McCain of hypocrisy.
Serafin then spent the remainder of his story making
McCain's case, supported by a left-wing group headed by Scott Harshbarger,
the former Democratic Attorney General of Massachusetts, but Serafin failed to
note the ideology of the group or of its chief or even that it is a backer of
McCain's campaign finance regulation proposal.
Serafin went on to highlight how McCain has out-raised
Bush on the Internet via his Web site, but that $5 million is "money that
Common Cause says is not tainted."
Three more admissions from media insiders about their profession's affection for John McCain to add the couple already cited in the February 7 CyberAlert.
Content magazine founder Steven Brill relayed on CNN how top reporters told him journalists accept McCain because they don't think he really believes the conservative position he espouses on abortion and gun control. Slate.com's Jacob Weisberg conceded "journalists don't want to punish someone for being candid" so reporters "overlook some things he says in unguarded moments that maybe don't represent him in the best light." A New Republic editor acknowledged that "McCain has a lot of positions the magazine likes."
-- On the February 8 Crossfire on CNN, in a soundbite
played Wednesday by Rush Limbaugh, Content magazine and Court TV founder
Steven Brill relayed some illuminating inside information from the campaign
-- On CNBC's Upfront Tonight the same night, MRC
analyst Geoffrey Dickens picked up these quotes from Slate.com's Chief
Political Correspondent, Jacob Weisberg: "He jokes with you, kids around,
makes fun of you it's really I have to say very enjoyable...."
-- Simultaneously Tuesday night on Hardball, carried at 7pm ET on MSNBC and 8pm ET on CNBC, Chris Matthews talked about the media and McCain with New Republic Senior Editor Michelle Cottle.
Matthews asked: "Tell me what your magazine thinks
of John McCain?"
Were House Democrats on Thursday, February 10, opposed to or in support of the idea of reducing the so-called "marriage penalty"? Depends if you believe ABC or NBC. Each ran full stories Thursday night, as did CBS, on the House passage of the GOP-sponsored bill to reduce the impact of getting bumped into a higher tax bracket. That often occurs when two people marry and then file jointly instead of separately. But ABC and NBC didn't agree about where most Democrats stood:
-- John Cochran on ABC's World News Tonight:
"Democrats say the bill passed by House Republicans is too generous, but
Democrats don't want to be on the wrong side of a popular issue, especially
in an election year."
-- Lisa Myers on NBC Nightly News: "But what
Republicans call a Valentines gift for married families, Democrats complain is
an expensive $200 billion tax cut that mostly helps the rich."
Of course, all three soundbites were uttered. It's all in the spin. -- Brent Baker 
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