ABC Ignored Bush Approval Hike; ...But Did Note Support for Stem Cell Research; CBS: Bush an "Oil Man President"; Condit to CBS?
1) When an ABC News/Washington Post poll in early June showed President Bush's job approval level had fallen to 55 percent, it led both World News Tonight and Good Morning America. But this week, when the same survey discovered approval for Bush's job performance had risen to 59 percent, neither World News Tonight or Good Morning America uttered a syllable about it.
2) ABC did consider one of its poll findings newsworthy. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced "that 63 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research; 33 percent oppose it." ABC used the number to introduce a story about the "conservative Christian" parents of a high school football player who was paralyzed, leading them to back the research.
3) CBS's Eric Engberg condescendingly claimed the House-passed energy bill "includes the oil man President's pet oil exploration plan" to drill in Alaska. The Senate, however, may save us from this awful plan because Democrats "promised a filibuster to prevent the oil rigs from going up on 2,000 acres of pristine wilderness."
5) "I regret" writing a column castigating First Daughter Barbara Bush for wearing "a denim jacket and pants" to visit the Queen, Roger Ebert asserted this week as he promised to never mention her again. But he did not quite concede that his column had been incorrect as he maintained that the White House never really denied that Barbra wore a jeans skirt.
6) NBC's Tim Russert predicted CBS will be rewarded for avoiding the Chandra Levy story as Gary Condit's team would prefer granting an exclusive interview to "a national media outlet that has covered this situation less than most."
Two months ago when an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed President Bush's job approval level had fallen eight points to 55 percent, the finding led both ABC's World News Tonight, where Terry Moran observed that "the more people learn about this President, his policies, our poll suggests, the less they're likely to support him," and Good Morning America.
But this week, when despite ongoing media hostility to his policies a new ABC News/Washington Post survey discovered a four point jump upward in approval for Bush's job performance, to 59 percent, neither World News Tonight or Good Morning America uttered a syllable about it. They also skipped improvements in his ratings on environmental and energy policy. Instead, looking ahead at the dim prospects in the Senate for Bush's victories on a Patients' Bill of Rights and an energy bill, Moran doused White House rejoicing: "It looks like their celebrating over the President on a roll is very short-lived."
ABC did not, however, totally ignore the poll. On Thursday's World News Tonight, anchor Elizabeth Vargas found one answer, which matched the liberal agenda, newsworthy: "There is a new poll tonight from ABC News and the Washington Post which finds that 63 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research; 33 percent oppose it." (More on this story in item #2 below.)
Back on June 4, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson
reminded me, fill-in World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson announced at
the top of the show:
Reporter Terry Moran elaborated: "Well, Charlie, the really ominous thing in this poll for the Bush team is the movement it shows in public attitudes. The more people learn about this President, his policies, our poll suggests, the less they're likely to support him. Take energy, which is one of his signature issues: 58 percent disapprove of the way the President is handling the energy situation. That's up 15 percent since he announced his comprehensive energy policy last month. His overall job approval rating is at 55 percent, relatively weak for a President so early in his term, and that's down 8 percent since our last check on it in late April. Of course, the big political news since then is the Democratic takeover of the Senate, and 41 percent of the respondents in our poll think that's a good thing. Only 20 percent think the Democrats taking over the Senate is bad, and the reason the Democrats did, one of them, is they've got a signature issue -- the environment. And on that issue, on the question, 'Whom do you trust to handle the environment?', the Democrats wallop Mr. Bush 54 percent to 35 percent."
The next morning the busy Gibson opened the June 5 Good Morning America: "The balance of power in the Senate does shift today. We're going to tell you exactly what happens. Also today, an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows declining public support for the President on his handling of international affairs, the economy, energy, even his hallmark education plan. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say they want the President to compromise with Democrats."
News reader Antonio Mora made it the top story for the 7am news update: "As President Bush prepares for the Senate Democratic takeover, his approval rating is shrinking. According to our poll that Charlie just mentioned, 55 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Bush's overall job performance, but that's down eight points from April. When it comes to the environment, the President has a 50 percent disapproval rating."
Fast forward two months to Thursday morning this week, the equivalent morning to compare to June 5 as it was also the morning the Washington Post carried the poll results. But this week: Zilch on GMA which led with the since-determined hoax tip that she was buried at Fort Lee, Virginia. Antonio Mora's 7am news update included updates on Bush successes on a Patients' Bill of Rights and an energy bill, but didn't mention the rise in Bush's job approval found by ABC's own poll. Diane Sawyer also didn't bring it up during a discussion with George Stephanopoulos about the prospects for a Patients' Bill of Rights and Senator Clinton's impending "first big win" in defeating in committee the nomination of Mary Sheila Gall to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Wednesday night, this week, the night before the August 2 Washington Post featured the poll results, World News Tonight didn't touch them. Instead, ABC warned that Bush's energy bill is a payoff to Big Oil donors and relayed concerns from "moderate Republicans" that Bush is cementing an anti-environmental image. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas teased: "The $34 billion dollars in tax breaks for the energy industry tucked away in President Bush's energy plan. Is it good policy or political payback?" Linda Douglass soon stressed how "environmental groups say less than one-fifth of the tax breaks are aimed at conservation. That worries moderate Republicans, who fear their party is increasingly perceived as anti-environment." (For more details, go to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010802.asp#1 )
The Thursday, August 2, World News Tonight provided a full report on Democratic reaction to Bush's deal on a Patients' Bill of Rights with Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) followed by Terry Moran dousing White House excitement. Moran first observed: "This is one happy place tonight because after weeks of Senate Democrats dominating the policy agenda, the President, his top aides here and their Republican allies on Capitol Hill are celebrating for now a turnaround that has stunned Washington."
Moran cited the Patients' Bill of Rights
deal with Norwood and the passage in the House of an energy bill that
included a "big surprise" victory for allowing oil drilling in
Alaska. But the victory may be short-lived, Moran cautioned, as Democrats
in the Senate are vowing to kill oil drilling and are not pleased with the
Patients' Bill of Rights. Moran played a soundbite from Senate Majority
Leader Tom Daschle, referring to the energy bill: "They have a bill
and now we have a bill and we'll go to conference and try to work out
our differences. This shouldn't be viewed as the last word."
It may well be, but if it's newsworthy to ABC News when their own poll shows a drop in the President's public approval level shouldn't it also be newsworthy when that approval level jumps a bit? (The four point hike was greater than the three point margin of error.)
In early June ABC reporters specifically cited Bush's disapproval numbers on the environment and energy. The new late-July poll, the MRC's Liz Swasey alerted me, showed jumps upward in approval in both areas for Bush. His approval on the environment rose from 41 to 45 percent and on energy policy it soared six points, from 37 to 43 percent.
For a complete rundown of the poll questions and results: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/vault/stories/data080201.htm 
As noted in item #1 above, ABC did consider one of its poll findings newsworthy. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced on the August 2 World News Tonight: "There is a new poll tonight from ABC News and the Washington Post which finds that 63 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research; 33 percent oppose it. For several months President Bush has been trying to decide if he will continue federal funding for this research. It could lead to treatments for many serious diseases and injuries but it involves the destruction of human embryos. So far the debate has largely taken place in hearing rooms and press conferences, but in Odessa, Texas it has a human face."
From Texas, reporter Erin Hayes looked at the plight of Joe Beene, a high school football player injured and left paralyzed. His parents, Hayes asserted, are "conservative Christians," but as you probably already guessed, they support embryonic stem cell research for the hope it provides to help their son.
While Hayes noted that their pastor disagrees
with them as does one of Joe's uncles, Hayes concluded with an emotional
pitch on behalf of embryonic stem cell research. Referring to Joe's
parents, Hayes pleaded over video of someone feeding Joe in his
wheelchair: "They want President Bush, in reaching his decision, to
know everything that's at stake here."
CBS News reporter Eric Engberg on Thursday night condescendingly claimed the House-passed energy bill "includes the oil man President's pet oil exploration plan -- drilling in the now-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska." The Senate, however, may save us from this awful plan because "the Democratic leadership immediately promised a filibuster to prevent the oil rigs from going up on 2,000 acres of pristine wilderness." Isn't it more like barren tundra?
CBS Evening News fill-in anchor Scott Pelley introduced Engberg's August 2 piece by referring to "President Bush's controversial energy plan."
Engberg began his polemic in the guise of a
news story: "House Republicans, helped by more than 30 Democratic
crossover votes, were ecstatic after pushing through an energy bill that
includes the oil man President's pet oil exploration plan -- drilling in
the now-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska."
Engberg continued: "The Senate debate,
still weeks away, will also give Democrats a chance to chip away at the
heart of the bill -- $35 billion in tax breaks granted to the oil, gas,
coal and nuclear industries as a means of promoting increased exploration.
Democratic critics charge that those industries, which gave an estimated
$69 million to congressional campaigns last year, are simply getting a
So there's still hope Engberg's views will prevail.
While even CBS's Eric Engberg, as quoted in item #3 above, acknowledged that the energy bill's provision to allow drilling in Alaskan tundra was "helped by more than 30 Democratic crossover votes," earlier in the day on NBC's Today news reader Ann Curry chose to stress how the "controversial" bill includes drilling and "critics on both sides of the aisle predict the harm would be severe."
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this August 2 Today item from Curry: "The President is enjoying two big victories this morning. First overnight the House approved a sweeping and controversial energy bill. It would boost energy conservation and development and allow oil companies to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska. The President has argued that the drilling can be done without harming the environment. Critics on both sides of the aisle predict the harm would be severe. The bill now goes to the Senate."
In a column this week movie reviewer Roger Ebert said "I regret" writing a column castigating First Daughter Barbara Bush for wearing "a denim jacket and pants" to visit the Queen and promised that he would adhere to her mother's request and not mention Barbara again. He blamed Matt Drudge for his original misinformation, but he did not quite concede that his column had been incorrect as he pointed out that the White House never really denied that Barbara wore a jeans skirt.
The July 26 CyberAlert picked up on how his July 24 op-ed piece in the Chicago Sun-Times degenerated into a bashing of President Bush's intellect as Ebert equated Bush's lack of interest in the world with his off-base conservative policies. Noting that before assuming office President Bush had made only two overseas trips, Ebert opined: "No wonder he wants to beak the missile treaty, alienate NATO, ignore global warming and reinstall Russia and China as enemies: Those foreign countries scarcely exist in his imagination. Why go to Australia when you have the Outback Steakhouse right here at home?"
Ebert didn't apologize for that liberal attack.
An excerpt from Ebert's August 1 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, headlined, "Apologies to Barbara for fueling denim ruckus," and brought to my attention by Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/ ).
The First Lady has asked the news media to leave her twin daughters "totally alone." She said on CNN Monday night: "If we never saw their pictures in the paper again, we'd be a lot happier. I think it's selling magazines and newspaper articles and television at the expense of my children, that's what I think it is."
She is correct in asking for privacy for the girls. I regret that I have been one of the violators. Last week I wrote an opinion piece based on two reports in the Times of London that said her daughter Barbara attended a luncheon at Buckingham Palace "wearing a denim jacket and pants." I wrote what was intended to be a humorous piece about this transgression, using the fashion angle on my way to observing that we have a President who is not well-traveled.
I should have cut directly the chase. But noooo, I had to be Dave Barry. I wrote the piece on July 21. It appeared on July 24. What I did not know was that Laura Bush appeared on the Today show the morning of the 23rd, decrying "tabloid reports" that her daughter had worn jeans, and saying, "of course, she wore a dress."
If I had been watching TV that morning, I would have yanked the column. Assorted pundits on the Internet attacked my impertinence (they had a point), and accused me of writing even though I knew of the First Lady's denial (I did not).
Had I not checked my facts? I confess I took the word of two separate reports in the Times of London (not a tabloid) -- links I found, for my sins, on the Drudge Report. I wrote Matt Drudge. "The Times stands by its report," he wrote back, observing that the First Lady had specified a "dress" but that Matt Lauer had not asked her if it was denim.
Through our paper's Washington bureau, I sought official word. Ashley Adams, the First Lady's deputy press secretary, said Barbara Bush wore "a blouse and a skirt" at the Palace. Was any part of the outfit denim? She declined to elaborate. Was there a photo we could run? She did not think there were any photos, and even if there were photos, she would not release them, since "the episode is old news."...
Frankly, I don't care whether or not Barbara Bush wore denims to Buckingham Palace, it was rude of me to write about her, and I will never mention her again. She deserves to be as much of a regular American kid as you can possibly be when your father is the President. I was wrong....
To read the entire column, go to: http://www.suntimes.com/output/eb-feature/cst-edt-ebert01.html 
The July 24 column is no longer posted by the Sun-Times, but you can read an excerpt in the July 26 CyberAlert: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010726.asp#5 
Dan Rather's payoff from Gary Condit? The CBS Evening News hasn't touched the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy story since its first report back on July 18 -- and that may pay off for Rather, NBC's Tim Russert suggested, with Condit granting an exclusive interview to CBS.
On Thursday's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey
Dickens noticed, Russert outlined Condit's PR strategy:
Sounds like they turned down Russert.
If they want to reward non-coverage, Dan Rather and or/60 Minutes/60 Minutes II are the Condit team's only options since no other CBS News program has avoided the story.
-- Brent Baker 
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