2. Kerry "Fighting Back" Against "Hard-Right" Attack from Bush
3. CBS's Roberts Insists "Many Republicans" Are "Furious" at Bush
4. Democratic Candidates Earn Positive Media, Unlike GOP in 1996
The West Wing Suggests Example of Liberal Media Bias
Without citing liberal influences on the other side, the networks on Tuesday night credited President Bush's decision to support a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage as prompted by his desire to please conservatives. CBS's John Roberts pejoratively referred to how conservatives had "browbeat" Bush. And despite polls showing overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage and lesser majorities favoring the constitutional amendment, CBS warned that it is Bush and Republicans who are more vulnerable on the topic than Democrats while ABC painted both as equally vulnerable. Both networks also stressed how those "most distressed" by Bush's stand are his gay supporters.
"In recent months the President has been heavily pressured by social conservatives and evangelical Christians," asserted ABC's Terry Moran on World News Tonight. CBS's John Roberts insisted that "conservatives" had "browbeat Mr. Bush to annul the parade of gay marriages" and contrasted their delight with how "Democrats, on the other hand, charge the move is purely political, a wedge issue to split the nation..." Roberts later referenced the "highly charged issue that will ignite the right."
Over on the February 24 NBC Nightly News, reporters cited opponents of Bush's view but didn't add an ideological tag to them as they did to Bush backers. David Gregory observed how "the President's political team does see this as a winning issue, a way to fire up his conservative political base while taking a stand, against gay marriage, widely supported around the country." In a subsequent story, Norah O'Donnell maintained that opposition in Ohio to gay marriage is reflective of how "Ohio is a state that has for decades leaned to the right on social issues."
A CBS News poll found solid support for the amendment, by 55 to 40 percent, yet the network painted Republican Party as the vulnerable one. Roberts argued: "Ironically, it's Republicans who may end up split over same-sex marriage. Many believe it should go through the courts before Congress. And the Log Cabin Republicans, a major gay Republican group, all but abandoned the President today."
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann worried on his Countdown show about how Bush may have not gone far enough for "ultra-conservatives" and wondered whether he may have ended up with a situation in which he "angers the gay groups and the tolerant and still does not go far enough for the far right?"
In the opening of his Tuesday program, Olbermann teased: "Much will come of this: A constitutional amendment against gay marriage, endorsed today by the President. But will it be opposed not just by gay activists, but also by ultra-conservatives?"
Later, during a session with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Dick Polman, Olbermann proposed: "The last place this played out in a constitutional way was in Massachusetts where the most strident gay activists and the most strident conservatives, so to speak, wound up in bed together because the politicians tried to finesse this. They embraced civil unions, which, as you saw in David Gregory's report, this proposed amendment would probably include, and so the gay groups and the conservative groups both despise civil unions as a compromise. Could that same scenario play out nationally? Could Mr. Bush, because of the civil unions element, have just stuck his head into a hornets nest whereby he angers the gay groups and the tolerant and still does not go far enough for the far right?"
More on the CBS and ABC coverage:
-- Dan Rather opened the February 24 CBS Evening News, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening. President Bush wants to change the Constitution of the United States, change it to ban gay marriage. The President called on Congress today to amend the Constitution for the 28th time in 215 years. He said it's all about preserving a fundamental institution of civilization. Supporters of gay marriage say it's about civil rights. CBS's John Roberts reports it is also very much about election-year politics."
Roberts began: "In the face of thousands of gay marriages, President Bush today objected strongly to matrimony he sees as wholly illegal and hardly sacred."
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Terry Moran began his story from the White House: "In recent months the President has been heavily pressured by social conservatives and evangelical Christians, his political base, and today the President specifically mentioned religious faith as an additional rationale for passing an amendment."
Peter Jennings recited how ABC's poll found 46 to 45 percent support for a constitutional amendment while 55 percent oppose same-sex marriage.
Gathering public reaction, Dean Reynolds relayed how "Christian conservatives are cheering" before cautioning: "Among those most distressed by his stand, are Mr. Bush's gay supporters who predicted it will hurt him in November."
Jennings then turned to George Stephanopoulos who confirmed for Jennings that both parties are playing to their bases, as he actually uttered the word "liberal" in his explanation: "On the President's side, cultural conservatives. You saw it in Terry's piece. They are offended, enraged by this issue, and they want the President to stand up for them. But on the Democratic side, liberals, and the gay and lesbian community, the majority in the gay and lesbian community, see this as civil rights issue..."
As for which party is more "vulnerable" on the subject, Stephanopoulos painted both as equally at risk: "A lot of risk in this issue, Peter. The majority of the public is against gay marriage. Dead even on the constitutional amendment. But they tend to punish, voters tend to punish any politician who rubs this issue in their faces. That's why you saw President Bush today say, 'Listen, I'm not pushing this. I have to do this because of activist judges.' And you see Democrats saying 'the President doesn't have to do this. We have laws in place that can protect the state and prevent it from having to recognize another state's gay marriage.'"
CBS on Tuesday night painted leading Democratic presidential contender John Kerry as a victim of an attack from President Bush the night before. "The Democratic front-runner, now under attack by President Bush," Dan Rather intoned, "was fighting back today." Reporter Byron Pitts insisted that "Kerry was forced to respond to a political hit fired his way by President Bush." Unable to differentiate between normal political discourse and truly nasty attacks, after running some clips from Bush, Kerry and Edwards, Pitts complained about "the early days of a nasty political season that will only grow meaner in the months to come."
Bush's Monday night remarks also earned a cold greeting on Tuesday morning as Matt Lauer opened NBC's Today: "Good morning, no more Mr. Nice Guy! President Bush sticks it to the Democrats as he kicks off his re-election campaign." Katie Couric at least noted how "the President has tried to stay above the fray for several months now while his Democratic rivals have taken repeated potshots." But news reader Ann Curry soon observed how "Kerry blasted President Bush's record on the economy on Monday and defended himself against what he calls Republican attacks on his own patriotism. President Bush took off the gloves last night in his sharpest language yet he attacked the Democrats and mocked John Kerry without mentioning his name."
Interviewing RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, Couric charged about Bush's speech: "He spoke out against bitterness and partisanship and yet he criticized, took a swipe at Senator Kerry right from the start."
NBC reporter David Gregory, appearing on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, applied an extreme ideological label to Bush's approach: "It is a very hard-right campaign that he's preparing to run."
At the top of the 8am hour on CBS's Early Show, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed, Harry Smith maintained: "President Bush kicked off his re-election campaign with a gloves off attack on Democrats. The President spoke last night to Republican governors, mocking Democrats who change their positions."
Now a further rundown of the above-referenced Tuesday stories:
-- CBS Evening News, February 24. Dan Rather: "In the presidential nomination race, there are primaries and caucuses tonight in three states -- Idaho, Utah and Hawaii. CBS's Byron Pitts reports the Democratic front-runner, now under attack by President Bush, was fighting back today."
Pitts began with Kerry as the victim fighting back, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Touring a manufacturing plant today in hard-hit blue-collar Youngstown, Ohio, John Kerry was forced to respond to a political hit fired his way by President Bush."
-- NBC's Today, February 24. The MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed that this was Katie Couric's very first question posed during a segment with RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, and it went to Gillespie: "Mr. Gillespie let me start with you. Obviously the President showed his cards last night, unveiling his themes for the coming campaign. He spoke out against bitterness and partisanship and yet he criticized, took a swipe at Senator Kerry right from the start. So how do those two things square and what was the goal of the speech in your view?"
Couric's second question: "Some, some people Mr. Gillespie have suggested that this seems a bit early and Senator Kerry has even suggested that the Democrats have the President on the run. What's your response?"
Couric did make McAuliffe respond to a Bush point: "Terry McAuliffe, do you think the President's criticism of John Kerry as a flip-flopper is in any way valid? For example he did vote for the Patriot Act and now he is criticizing how it's being enforced. He voted for the authorization of the war but, then voted against the $87 billion to support the U.S. efforts in Iraq. Do you think these decisions have made him vulnerable?"
McAuliffe's answer included a mention of Education Secretary Rod Paige referring to the NEA union as "terrorist," prompting Couric to jump in to pick up on his complaint: "In fact, Terry, hold on because Mr. Gillespie I wanted to ask you about that. I know in the, in his speech the President said, 'anger is not an agenda for the future of America.' But as Mr. McAuliffe just mentioned Secretary of Education Rod Paige did call the nation's largest teachers union the, the National, the NEA, a 'terrorist organization' when discussing that organization's resistance to the President's No Child Left Behind plan. Do you regret his choice of words? He did later apologize, by the way."
(Left unmentioned by Couric, or any other network host, how John Kerry himself used the "terrorist" line back in 1996 when he insulted House Republicans as "legislative terrorists." The DrudgeReport.com on Tuesday highlighted Kerry's remark from eight years ago and FreeRepublic.com has posted a January 6, 1996 news story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette which cited the Kerry charge made in comments to student at Worcester State College: www.freerepublic.com )
-- In a news update, Ann Curry announced: "Today another step forward in presidential politics. A primary in Utah and caucuses in Idaho and Hawaii with 61 delegates at stake. Neither Democratic frontrunner John Kerry nor John Edwards has visited any of those states recently. Kerry blasted President Bush's record on the economy on Monday and defended himself against what he calls Republican attacks on his own patriotism. President Bush took off the gloves last night in his sharpest language yet he attacked the Democrats and mocked John Kerry without mentioning his name. Accusing him of flip-flopping on issues such as NAFTA, Iraq and the Patriot Act. The President's comments came after weeks of criticism from the Democrats and his own decline in the polls."
-- NBC News White House reporter David Gregory, on MSNBC's Imus In the Morning, characterized Bush's strategy as a "hard-right campaign." The MRC's Jessica Anderson transcribed his February 24 analysis:
Media Reality Check. "Anti-Bush Anecdotes Trump Pro-Bush Poll: While CBS's Poll Shows Huge GOP Majorities Backing Bush, CBS Reporter Finds a 'Fury' on the Right."
Below is the text of a Media Reality Check by the MRC's Rich Noyes, which was distributed by fax on Tuesday afternoon.
The Media Reality Check is posted online at: www.mediaresearch.org
For the Adobe Acrobat PDF version: www.mediaresearch.org
Now, the text of the February 24 Media Reality Check:
Last night [Monday] and this morning [Tuesday], CBS White House reporter John Roberts claimed that President Bush is in trouble with "furious" Republican voters. Previewing Bush's speech to GOP governors last night [Monday], Roberts warned that the President's base was ready to bolt. "Many Republican voters are furious about the lingering situation in Iraq and the massive job losses under the President's watch," he told CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather.
Then this morning [Tuesday] on CBS's The Early Show, Roberts hit the same point in a post-speech wrap-up: "President Bush wants to be seen as the only candidate who can effectively defend America, but an increasing number of people who voted for him in the year 2000 are furious about the daily loss of life in Iraq and say they won't vote for him this time around."
If true, that would be bad news for the President. But the most recent CBS News poll found Republican voters are actually strongly supportive of the President and his policies. A huge margin of Republicans (86 percent) say the U.S. "did the right thing in taking military action in Iraq," compared with 13 percent who say we "should have stayed out of Iraq."
Similarly, 77 percent of Republicans approved of Bush's handling of the economy, with only 18 percent saying they disapproved. (Independent voters also liked Bush's handling of the economy and said the war in Iraq was worth it, but by smaller margins.) Overall, nine in ten Republicans told CBS pollsters they approved of the Bush's job performance.
If Republicans are so united, why would Roberts claim that GOP voters are defecting in "increasing" numbers? On Sunday, the New York Times published a story by reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, who said she had randomly talked to "dozens" of "independents and Republicans who said they voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 [and now] say they intend to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate this year."
Rosenthal allowed that polls show "an overwhelming majority" of Bush voters would re-elect him, but she sought out a Kerry operative to justify her approach: "'The strong Republicans are with him,' a senior aide to Senator John Kerry said of Mr. Bush. 'But there are independent-minded Republicans among whom he is having serious problems.'"
While the Times quoted Democratic strategists, the Republicans were represented by angry malcontents. One voter even demanded anonymity as he vented his spleen: "It's the lies, the war, the economy. We have very good friends who are staunch Republicans who don't even want to hear the name George Bush anymore."
But there may not be as many voters abandoning Bush as CBS or the New York Times would wish. As Clay Waters of MRC's TimesWatch.org noted yesterday, one of the Times's angry citizens popped up three weeks ago in another Rosenthal-reported item. "I don't think I could vote for George Bush again when I think of the 500 people killed in Iraq and what's happened to the economy in this country," George Meagher, a South Carolina independent, was quoted as saying in a February 3 story about veterans leaving Bush to support Kerry. Meagher got to voice the same objections in Sunday's Times.
Does CBS really consider an anecdotal re-hash of a few aggrieved Republicans more reliable than its own polls showing a united GOP base? If so, get ready for a really biased election year.
END Reprint of Media Reality Check
The Media Reality Check also featured a rundown of the CBS News poll numbers from the survey conducted February 12-15 2004. This poll was not conducted with the New York Times and CBS did not post these results, but Rich found, in the February 17 Hotline, the responses in the poll from Republican voters:
CBS Poll Found Republicans Like Bush
In a news flash that shouldn't surprise regular CyberAlert readers, ABC, CBS and NBC gave the Democratic presidential candidates unusually positive news coverage during the month of January while continuing their negative coverage of President Bush, according to statistics collected by the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).
[Rich Noyes submitted this item for CyberAlert]
CMPA's conclusions were cited last week in a syndicated column by Roll Call Executive Editor and regular FNC contributor Mort Kondracke, who observed that "President Bush got such negative TV coverage during the month of January -- and Democrats got so much favorable attention -- that one wonders why Bush's polls aren't worse than they are."
CMPA normally publishes the results of their content analyses in Media Monitor, a newsletter that appears only six times a year, so it looks as if Kondracke got a sneak peak at the data.
After observing how a few polls indicate that Bush is running behind both John Kerry and John Edwards, Kondracke wrote: "Bush's depressed polls can be explained by what the public has heard over the past month. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs shows that references to Bush in January were more than two-thirds negative on the three broadcast network evening newscasts, while references to Democratic presidential candidates were 71 percent positive."
"A negative press isn't new for Bush, according to the center's director, Robert Lichter. 'Except after Sept. 11 and during the Iraq war, he's had a terrible press,' Lichter said. 'The fact is that all Presidents do. Presidential coverage is overwhelmingly negative, a little less for Democrats, more for Republicans.'"
Kondracke also pointed out that the data show that while the overall Democratic field got very good press, Kerry and Edwards earned the best of the best: "The spin put on most news reports about the Democrats has been favorable, center data shows -- 79 percent favorable for Kerry over the course of the month, 96 percent favorable for Edwards and 52 percent favorable for Howard Dean."
That's not what CMPA found when several Republican candidates were competing to take on Bill Clinton in 1996. Lichter's survey of network coverage that year determined "all four leading Republican candidates -- Dole, Forbes, Buchanan and Alexander -- received more bad press than good press during the primary season."
CMPA's March/April 1996 Media Monitor quoted examples of network talking heads denigrating the campaign the Republicans had run that year: "'None of these nine candidates...has inspired voters, nor are many voters persuaded that these candidates have the secret to improve their lives,' reported Lisa Myers (NBC, 2/11) CBS's Bob McNamara agreed that 'the campaign has left many voters as cold as the weather.' (CBS, 2/9)."
CMPA's 1996 study also found that ABC, CBS and NBC offered incumbent Clinton increasingly positive press as the campaign year progressed, while Republican Bob Dole was handicapped with more and more bad press: "Incumbent Presidents typically endure highly negative media coverage when they run for a second term," Lichter explained in the November/December 1996 Media Monitor. "Studies have documented the aggressive press scrutiny faced by George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter on the road to re-election. This year, however, Bill Clinton has enjoyed the best press of his presidency."
What's the likelihood that the networks will give the current President any better treatment as the year wears on?
Another episode of NBC's The West Wing airs tonight. In last week's episode, a scene channeled a point made by Bernard Goldberg in his books on liberal media bias, specifically about how with so many major media outlet staffers putting their kids in daycare, many journalists are hostile to questions about the negative influences of daycare on children.
On the February 18 show, when one character recited how a Congressman commissioned a study which found "a clear link between parents dumping their kids in daycare and an increase in hyperactivity, lack of discipline and violent behavior," a second character said he never heard of the study, prompting a third character to suggest: "Well maybe that's because all TV news programs are produced by mothers who dump their kids in daycare?"
Lyman tasked an intern to do some research on the matter and in Lyman's office he and an aide to the Vice President "Will Bailey," played by Joshua Malina, discuss the idea:
Bailey: "I've been thinking about this Wendt Amendment. Maybe we should give it a second look."
NBC's home page for The West Wing: www.nbc.com
For a look at the characters: www.nbc.com
For a look at Joshua Malina, who you may recognize from the Sports Night sit-com, since the NBC page doesn't have anything on him, see his Internet Movie Database page: imdb.com
The Baily/Malina comment was a brief, shining moment in a sea of liberalness on the weekly drama about a liberal Democratic White House staff.
# Diane Sawyer is scheduled to appear tonight, Wednesday, on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman.
-- Brent Baker