2. NBC's Campbell Brown Corrects Bush But Ignores Kerry's Errors
3. ABC, CBS and NBC All Mention Kerry's Mary Cheney Comment
4. ABC and NBC Give O'Reilly Sex Suit Equal Time with Debate
5. Dan Rather Defender Tom Shales Jabs FNC's Coverage As Biased
All three Thursday morning newscasts led with the final presidential debate held Wednesday night. Once again, CBS was the most emphatic in declaring that John Kerry had won, again touting a Web-based poll of 200 "uncommitted voters." Early Show political analyst Craig Crawford insisted that watching the debate "you could feel the presidency slipping away from George Bush." Over on ABC, George Stephanopoulos volunteered that "if you look at three presidential elections where the challenger has come in behind going into the debates and left ahead -- 1960, 1980, 2000 -- that person went on to win the presidency." But ABC's polling has not shown Kerry ahead of Bush (their last horse race poll showed a dead heat), so perhaps Stephanopoulos assumes that the media's cheering will eventually propel Kerry into first place.
ABC's post-debate poll of 566 registered voters -- a much larger and more representative sample than CBS -- found they split about evenly, with 42 percent saying Kerry won and 41 percent saying Bush. Stephanopoulos was quick to say that 38 percent of those in ABC's poll were Republicans, compared to only 30 percent Democrats.
NBC and ABC also featured discussions with panels of undecided voters, and found more of them would vote for Bush after watching last night's debate. On ABC, six voters made up their minds after the debate, with five going for Bush and just one for Kerry. On NBC, three more voters went for Bush, two for Kerry.
In general, NBC's Today eschewed the "who won, who lost" debate, and Tim Russert stressed the overall tightness of the race. He told Katie Couric:
After Bill Plante reviewed what the candidates said in the debate, Rene Syler interviewed The Early Show's regular political analyst Craig Crawford along with the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter. Syler began by stressing CBS's poll:
Crawford thought the debate hurt Bush's chances: "Rene, even before these polls came out, you could feel the presidency slipping away from George Bush. And it wasn't that he did a poor job, in fact, I think he did a better job of showing his heart and his humanity, but the topics of this debate play to the Democratic Party's advantage. They always do. Health care, jobs, Social Security and, incredibly, it was the President's negotiators who changed the order of the topics and insisted on making this the last focus of the debates. I think that was a terrible mistake."
Crawford added, "The best news for George Bush out of this debate, Rene, is it was the last one and there aren't anymore. And he is a better campaigner than John Kerry and now he has almost three weeks to showcase that."
After more discussion of the candidates' strategies, Crawford repeated how good things look for Kerry: "The momentum is moving toward John Kerry. These debates showed that. I think the conclusion is going to be that he won all three debates. I think it's going to be tough for the President to argue it any other way. And then, George Bush is the better campaigner, so he's got to get out there in the field and show that and try to pull this thing together."
In the 7:30am EDT half-hour, CBS again brought up their poll. Correspondent Anthony Mason repeated the numbers and stressed how Kerry had helped himself with this tiny, unrepresentative group:
Mercifully, in his 8am EDT re-cap of the debate, Bill Plante did not give another plug to CBS's poll.
MRC's Ken Shepherd transcribed the coverage on ABC's Good Morning America. Co-host Charlie Gibson began the show by announcing that their poll showed voters split on who won the debate: "President Bush and Senator Kerry faced off for the last time. As for who came out on top, well, an ABC News flash poll shows it was nearly a draw. Kerry with 42 percent, Bush with 41, and 14 percent felt it was a tie."
A few minutes later, co-host Diane Sawyer asked Stephanopoulos to interpret the numbers: "The polls show that Kerry had 42 percent, Bush with 41, 14 percent felt it was a tie. What do these numbers say to you?"
Stephanopoulos suggested that they were tainted by having too many Republicans in the mix:
Then Stephanopoulos argued that Kerry won all three debates and was perhaps poised to win the election:
In their first half hour, CBS, NBC, and FNC had some factual checks in their morning news mix. NBC's Campbell Brown corrected Bush's statement he hadn't said he wasn't too concerned about Osama bin Laden, but had no correction for Kerry. FNC's Steve Doocy had three Kerry corrections and the Osama correction for Bush. CBS's Jim Acosta picked two points with Kerry and two with Bush, but disingenuously charged Bush "offered bad medical advice" when he told "younger" Americans to not get a flu vaccine, when infants and toddlers should get the shot. He left out Bush's next sentence, advocating shots for "the elderly and the young."
A run-down of this morning's network fact-checks:
# NBC. On Today, reporter Campbell Brown began by noting "The first question posed a problem for the President and it became one of the testiest exchanges of the night."
John Kerry: "Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be found dead or alive, this president was asked where's Osama bin Laden? He said 'I don't know. I don't really think about him very much, I'm not that concerned.'"
Brown's review of the debate did not suggest any Kerry misstatements.
Harry Smith began: "During the debates, the candidates have accused each other of playing fast and loose with the truth. And as last night's face off showed, at times they may have each been right. CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta has a fact check."
(This is always a fascinating allegation coming from the Fast and Loose Forgery Network.)
Acosta noted Bush was wrong on Osama bin Laden: "Here's what the President said in March of 2002."
CBS played editing tricks with this claim. Bush's full quote clearly address young children: "My call to our fellow Americans is if you're healthy, if you're younger, don't get a flu shot this year. Help us prioritize those who need to get the flu shot, the elderly and the young."
Acosta ended with a soundbite from Kerry: "Under President Bush the middle class has seen their tax burden go up and the wealthiest tax burden has gone down. Now that's wrong."
Here, CBS would seem to be contradicting ABC political director Mark Halperin, who told Peter Jennings last night that Senator Kerry should have made this misleading claim even more strongly:
For more on that exchange, see this morning's CyberAlert: www.mrc.org
Halperin, as you probably recall, wrote a memo before last Friday's debate telling his colleagues that Bush's campaign was the most deceitful: "The current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done."
Halperin urged: "As one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right."
For more on Halperin's memo, see the October 9 CyberAlert: www.mrc.org
All three networks noticed this morning that the wife of the Vice President, Lynne Cheney, denounced John Kerry after the debate for bringing her lesbian daughter Mary into the last debate, calling it "a cheap and tawdry political trick," but none spent much time on it. ABCNews.com's "The Note" quoted Mrs. John Edwards as telling ABC Radio today that Mrs. Cheney's response "indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences that I'm certain makes her daughter uncomfortable."
But ABC's "The Note" reported how "liberal gay rights activists and social conservatives who e-mailed us last night seem to agree with Lynne Cheney: John Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney last night was, well, discordant, to say the least."
On ABC's Good Morning America, reporter Claire Shipman found in following a focus group that "they thought John Kerry's mention of Dick Cheney's daughter was gratuitous."
After running a soundbite of Kerry's Mary Cheney quote, CBS's Bill Plante mentioned in passing in one debate roundup on The Early Show: "Lynne Cheney called the mention of her daughter a cheap and tawdry political trick."
On NBC's Today, Katie Couric asked Tim Russert: "Dick Cheney said this was inappropriate. Lynne Cheney, his wife, called it 'a cheap and tawdry political trick.' Is this fair game, Tim?"
On Kerry's "thoughtful" response, Russert shared the tone of Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the Democratic running mate, John Edwards. On ABCNews.com's daily political memo "The Note" today, they reported Mrs. Edwards told ABC Radio this morning that Mrs. Cheney's response "indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences that I'm certain makes her daughter uncomfortable. That makes me very sad on a personal level." Mrs. Edwards called Kerry's response "very thoughtful" and "extremely sensitive." She also said Lynne Cheney has been a "wonderful advocate for her daughter," but feels "she has over-reacted to this" and "that's a very sad state of affairs."
"The Note' also reported: "So liberal gay rights activists and social conservatives who e-mailed us last night seem to agree with Lynne Cheney: John Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney last night was, well, discordant, to say the least. Some went so far as to suggest that the Kerry campaign deliberately wants more conservative swing voters to know that the President is associated with a capital-L-Lesbian...Others said it was simply too personal to mention....One gay rights activist did tell us that Kerry's mention sounded much less political than John Edwards' mention, although we suspect the Cheneys themselves would strongly disagree."
For more, see: abcnews.go.com
All three network morning shows leaped on the sexual harassment allegations against FNC talk show host Bill O'Reilly. ABC and NBC devoted almost as much time to the O'Reilly suit as they did to the presidential debate, as both networks interviewed the plaintiff, former Fox producer Andrea Mackris, and her lawyer, Benedict Morelli.
NBC gave the debate 9 minutes and 42 seconds, and they gave the O'Reilly suit 9 minutes, 31 seconds. ABC offered viewers 8 minutes, 35 seconds of debate news, and 7 minutes, 42 seconds to the O'Reilly charges. CBS had one O'Reilly news report lasting two minutes and 11 seconds. CNN carried about four minutes. Fox had nothing.
# ABC's Good Morning America had two segments, a David Muir news story at 7:13 in the first half hour, and a Bob Woodruff interview with Mackris and her attorney in the 8am half hour.
Co-host Charles Gibson introduced the news story: "Diane, next we turn to the allegations against Fox News star Bill O'Reilly. A female producer for his broadcast claims O'Reilly sexually harassed her for years. But O'Reilly and Fox have gone on the offensive, suing the woman and her lawyer. ABC's David Muir has been working on the story overnight. David?"
Muir reported: "What you have here are two sides now suing each other and possible audiotapes between O'Reilly and that producer that have yet to surface."
Diane Sawyer introduced Woodruff's interview with Mackris this way: "Bill O'Reilly, the titan of Fox News and his declaration of legal war. It is all over the headlines and our own Bob Woodruff is sitting now with the woman O'Reilly has accused of extortion."
If you want a further idea of how apolitical ABC is during election season, while they gave eight and a half minutes to the final debate this morning, they also offered eight minutes to Jennifer Lopez in the 7:30 half hour, and seven minutes to ABC's upcoming "Growing Pains" sitcom reunion special in the 8:30 half hour.
Holt introduced the news story this way: "Cable TV anchor Bill O'Reilly is locked in the fight of his life today. He's being sued for sexual harassment by a producer on his show. We'll talk to her live in a moment but first O'Reilly, himself. He calls it a shakedown, and has filed his own suit, taking to the airwaves last night to defend himself."
In his interview, Holt asked Mackris and her attorney if they hadn't hurt their case by politicizing their argument: "[In] your lawsuit, it says Bill O'Reilly, supporter of President Bush, his family values and compassionate conservatism, it makes that part of a lawsuit. What does that have to do with the allegations, and can you see where that might feed into his argument, that there's a bit of political motivation here?"
Dan Abrams picked up that point in his interview: "I think that was completely unnecessary in his lawsuit, as a matter of PR, not as a matter of law. But to make references to Bill O'Reilly espousing George Bush's positions, I think that undermined the credibility of the lawsuit to a certain degree."
Benedict Morelli, attorney: "He would talk sexually to her, tell her that he wanted to have phone sex with her and tell her, at one point, that he was the next time going to do it in person, the sex."
Alfonsi: "Now, Mackris is suing O'Reilly and Fox News for sexual harassment. And in true O'Reilly fashion-"
CNN's American Morning had a 55-second anchor brief, and a 3-minute news story from reporter Jason Carroll. Fox and Friends had no report today.
So in just the first day, the three broadcast networks aired six stories lasting nearly 20 minutes on the O'Reilly mess, with CNN upping the ante still further.
Ten years ago, those networks had noticeably less enthusiasm for the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit against the sitting U.S. President, Bill Clinton. As we wrote in our MediaWatch newsletter at the time, in the first ten days of the Jones allegations, TV coverage was puny:
"NBC did the most, with 11 news updates and 3 discussions. (Four of the updates came on the Saturday Today....) By contrast, the others barely touched it: ABC had two stories and two discussions, and CBS had only one news story and three discussions. Unlike the Hill coverage, most of the discussions (including all three on CBS) asked one question about the Jones case and moved on. For example, on May 5, CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith asked: "Paula Jones, the state employee who is going to try and get President Clinton on charges of sexual harassment, is this the real deal or is this the creation of Arkansas arch-nemesis Cliff Jackson?"....On Today May 4, 1994, Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal said of Jones: "This woman, I have no idea about the details, she has been used as sort of a puppet by the right, by the political right that wants to discredit Clinton, which I think certainly detracts from her credibility."
For more, see: www.mrc.org
Reviewing Wednesday night's debate for Thursday's morning newspaper, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales found nothing to complain about in Bob Schieffer's largely liberal questions to the candidates, calling them "thoughtful, comprehensive and well worded." But Shales groused about the commentary on the Fox News Channel, calling it "adamantly pro-Bush," and he branded FNC's Morton Kondracke a "simpering suck-up" and Bill Kristol a "smirking right-winger."
As the September 22 CyberAlert noted, Shales is far less willing to see liberal bias at CBS News, saying conservatives just "love to beat on Dan Rather." Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball on September 20, Shales tried absolve the CBS anchor of any wrongdoing in the forged documents scandal:
"Every news organization seems to get its turn at it," Shales rationalized. "And it couldn't have happened at a worse time, in a way, and the fact that it was CBS, which the conservatives perceive as being, you know, this recklessly liberal place....They love to beat on Dan Rather. They have their little, you know, bumper stickers, 'Rather Biased,' and they have Web sites and all this stuff. So Dan -- the fact that Dan is associated with it -- even though he can't really be blamed for it, it just-"
For more on Shales' apologia for CBS, go to: www.mrc.org
In the October 14 Post, Shales gave Schieffer a pat-on-the-back even as he took a number of jabs at FNC. An excerpt of his lopsided review, headlined: "Bush Grins, Spins but Doesn't Win":
An essentially dignified and thoughtful performance by Sen. John Kerry, contrasted with an oddly giggly turn by President Bush, combined to give the last debate of the presidential campaign to the challenger last night, but very narrowly.
Bush seems to have been taken apart and put back together again after each debate, reassembled according to estimates of how he'd done. Last night it looked as though his handlers had told him to smile, smile, smile, especially when Kerry was trying to make points, points, points.
The debate, televised on all the networks from Arizona State University in Tempe and expertly moderated by CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer, was supposed to concentrate on domestic issues. But Schieffer's very first question -- would Americans ever feel truly safe and secure again? -- gave Kerry the immediate opportunity to trot out his much-vented criticisms of Bush's Iraq war and gave Bush a chance to crow about progress in Afghanistan.
Kerry charged that Bush had once said terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was not someone he worried about, and Bush denied ever having said such a thing. But during otherwise adamantly pro-Bush analysis on Fox News Channel after the debate, the commentators had to agree that the record showed Bush made such a statement not just once but twice....
Schieffer's questions were thoughtful, comprehensive and well worded, though there was no practical way to keep the candidates from repeating their favorite buzzwords and slogans as often as they could. Bush must have said 98 times during the debate -- or so it seemed -- that Kerry had voted 98 times to raise taxes. Kerry didn't go long before saying "I have a plan," in this case a plan for health care during the upcoming flu season. He also mentioned at every opportunity -- or else created an opportunity to mention -- that Bush's tax cuts allegedly benefit only the richest Americans....
When Schieffer asked a question about jobs, Bush took his cheapest shot of the evening, ignoring the question to say to Kerry, "There's a mainstream in American politics, and you sit right on the far left bank," then adding that Kerry was so liberal he made Kennedy look like the conservative senator from Massachusetts.
It was crummy behavior for a president of the United States, the kind of thing better left to lap-dog pit bulls such as vice presidents....
"A spirited and wide-ranging debate" was Tom Brokaw's estimation on NBC. Jeff Greenfield on CNN, talking over the roar of those rackety students again, felt that "neither candidate" made the most of his opportunity. Over on Fox, though, everybody threw bouquets at Bush, especially that sickening, simpering suck-up Morton Kondracke, who hailed a "much better performance" by the president than last time. Smirking right-winger William Kristol said that of Bush vs. Kerry, "He slaughtered him," a manifestly ridiculous contention.
Nobody slaughtered anybody. The real mystery is how many American minds found either candidate persuasive enough to lock in a vote based on that debate, or even on all three presidential debates (plus one vice presidential debate) put together. The political year is clearly improved by the presence of the debates, however awkward and clunky the formats sometimes are, but the candidates doing the debating still tend to be motivated more by the fear of making a mistake than by the courage of whatever convictions they actually have.
Nobody won big last night, including the American people.
END of excerpt.
For all of Shales' diatribe, go to: www.washingtonpost.com