CyberAlert -- 06/01/2001 -- Al Gore III's Speeding Ignored

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Al Gore III's Speeding Ignored; Networks Pounced on Citations to Bush Daughters; Dan Rather Able to "Understand" Clinton's Lie

1) Last summer, when Al Gore's son was charged with reckless driving, the networks ignored it. But with the exception of CBS, the networks have pounced on the alcohol incident involving the Bush daughters. "Double trouble in Texas" announced NBC's Matt Lauer at the top of Today. Before a segment on it, GMA's Elizabeth Vargas mused: "The question this morning is, is this really anyone's business?"

2) The media's double standard on the Bush daughters compared to Al Gore's kids was noted by the panel on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, though they cited incidents other than the Albert Gore III speeding/reckless driving.

3) "Insofar as it's humanly possible," Dan Rather insisted, he tries to "drain my own biases, whatever they may be, out of it." Rather charged that those who think he's biased to the left have the view that "you either report the news the way we want you to report it, or we're going to punish you" and defended his assertion that Bill Clinton is "an honest man" as he said he's able to "understand" why Clinton lied.

The network fascination with the initial investigation of Jenna Bush for using another person's ID to buy an alcoholic drink at an Austin restaurant Tuesday night contrasts with how the networks last summer ignored the speeding and reckless driving citations issued to Albert Gore III for going 97 mph in a 55 mph zone. While Gore was 17 at the time of his offense on an August weekend before the Democratic convention, and so still a minor, and Bush's daughters are now 19, the media-applied standard has been that offspring are only off-limits until they make "the police blotter."

Wednesday night on MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, for instance, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd noted that Newsweek's Jonathan Alter explained: "I actually think it's a fairly simple issue. There is a zone of privacy which should be respected as it was for Chelsea Clinton and should be for the Bush twins as, as their father suggested, when it does not involve a brush with the law. But the minute somebody in your family has any kind of connection to law enforcement, not just now but forever in American history. Franklin Roosevelt's children, if they had had a brush with the law, you can bet that it would have been in the newspapers. I think any reasonable person can say that's a fair dividing line."

The Gore and Bush offenses are also at a similar level of seriousness. As USA Today reporter Tom Kenworthy noted in a May 31 story, obtaining alcohol at an underage "is typically treated as a minor offense similar to a ticket for a traffic violation."

On Thursday, Jenna Bush was cited by Austin police for using a false ID to obtain alcohol and sister Barbara was cited for consuming an alcoholic drink.

Unlike the case with Al Gore's son, in which the North Carolina state police officer had no idea who was driving the speeding car before he pulled it over, the Bush daughters were caught because restaurant employees recognized Jenna -- which means she was pretty foolish to think she wouldn't be recognized but also that she was treated differently than the average 19-year-old in a bar in Austin. Pete Slover reported in the May 31 Dallas Morning News:
"According to a police statement and interviews, officers were called after a manager at Chuy's restaurant in south Austin dialed 911 to notify police that Jenna Bush, who was with her twin sister Barbara, offered another person's ID to try to buy a drink. She was not served, police said.
"'In this instance, I think they (restaurant workers) recognized who they (the Bushes) were, which may have prompted the call,' said Capt. David Ball of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which was consulting with Austin police."

Last summer the Washington Post and New York Times held themselves to one edited AP dispatch on the incident a week after it occurred. The Washington Post reported in full on page A6 on Sunday, August 20, three days after the Democratic convention:

Gore Son Faces Charges in N.C. Speeding Case

CURRITUCK, N.C., Aug. 19: Vice President Gore's son has a court date in North Carolina next month to face charges of speeding and reckless driving last weekend.

Albert Gore III, 17, was arrested and charged Aug. 12 with driving 97 mph in a 55 mph zone and reckless driving, said 1st Sgt. A.C. Joyner of the North Carolina Highway Patrol. Joyner said Gore was cooperative during the arrest.

He was driving on a state highway in a rural, sparsely populated area along the Outer Banks just south of Norfolk, authorities said.

Camille Johnston, a spokeswoman for Tipper Gore, said today that the teenager was alone at the time and was heading home to Washington after a family vacation.

The Gore family vacationed on Figure Eight Island farther south in early August.

"The Gores are dealing with this as a family matter," Johnston said.

A court hearing was scheduled for Sept. 13. Possible punishment would be a fine and loss of driving privileges in North Carolina.

END reprint

Demonstrating the lack of media interest in the case, I could find nothing in Nexis about the disposition of it during the September 13 hearing or since.

On Thursday the New York Times remained consistent and confined the Bush story to an wire dispatch at the bottom of an inside page. The Washington Post, however, increased its attention on the Bush daughters with a story on the front page of the "Style" section on Thursday and another inside today, plus a "Style" front page piece today by media reporter Howard Kurtz about the media's focus on the incident.

Last year the broadcast networks and prime time newscasts on the cable networks all ignored the case involving the son of the sitting Vice President who was running for President, as later noted in a National Review Online piece by Tim Graham, then with the MRC:

This year, on Wednesday night all the cable networks pounced on the story as both ABC's World News Tonight and the NBC Nightly News ran brief items. (See the May 31 CyberAlert for transcripts of the ABC and NBC items.) Thursday night ABC ran a brief update while NBC made the event its hook for an "In Depth" segment on the behavior of presidential sons and daughters. (See below for details.)

The CBS Evening News has remained consistent, with the Ed Bradley-anchored show not touching the Bush daughter's story either Wednesday or Thursday night. Thursday morning, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noted, CBS's The Early Show held itself to a couple of briefs during news updates.

But the ABC and NBC morning shows devoted entire segments to the Bush daughters on Thursday morning with Today opening the May 31 broadcast with their troubles. At he top of a Good Morning America segment on what happened at the bar, ABC's Elizabeth Vargas ruminated: "Jenna Bush's story is moving beyond the tabloids into mainstream media. The question this morning is, is this really anyone's business?"

Details about Thursday May 31 evening and morning coverage:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings read this short item: "In Texas today the Austin police issued citations to both of President Bush's teenage daughters. Barbara is charged with alcohol possession and Jenna is charged with using someone else's ID to order alcohol."

-- NBC Nightly News used the event for an "In Depth" segment on life in White House spotlight. Andrea Mitchell began, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth:
"Nineteen-year-old Jenna Bush, along with her twin sister Barbara, exposed to the full tabloid treatment for allegedly using a fake ID to order Margaritas at this Tex Mex restaurant Tuesday night. This after Jenna pleaded no contest only two weeks ago to possessing alcohol as a minor. Paid court costs, did community service, attended alcohol awareness classes...A second offense for Jenna could mean a suspended driver's license, a $500 fine, and more community service and alcohol awareness classes-and more embarrassment. [clip from Saturday Night Live] A stern father called Jenna, but the White House insisted that's a private matter and suggested the Secret Service has a more important job than keeping presidential kids out of trouble....The President, as a candidate, pleaded for his daughters' privacy."
George W. Bush in May of 2000: "I'm asking you again to just be respectful of these two little girls."
Mitchell: "In fact, Secret Service agents say they deliberately hang back, try to let presidential teenagers be normal adolescents, even if it means illegal drinking. What about other first children? Susan Ford Bales, only 17, a high school senior when her father unexpectedly became President, says her agents did not, quote, 'get in her face.'...

-- ABC's Good Morning America. Elizabeth Vargas set up the May 31 segment, as observed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "For the second time in two months, President and Mrs. Bush are dealing with a problem many parents know all too well: a teenager, their daughter, in a brush with the law involving alcohol. With this second incident, Jenna Bush's story is moving beyond the tabloids into mainstream media. The question this morning is, is this really anyone's business?"

Vargas added: "The White House had no comment, calling it a family matter. but Jenna's new brush with the law raises new questions: Is it an alcohol problem? Is it teenage rebellion? More importantly, is it anybody's business?...Wayne, I'd like to start with you, if I may. You say that Jenna's brushes with the law is the public's business. Why?"
Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News: "Absolutely, it is. Pretty much during the course of the governor's tenure in office as the governor, we paid little attention to the daughters. But when you have the daughter of the President of the United States in an incident in which the police are involved, that's news. That's not a federal offense, it's not the end of the world, and people who read this or watch this on television are smart and understand that it's the kind of thing that many normal teenagers do. But that doesn't mean it's not news -- it is news."
Vargas: "But you just said, it's the kind of thing that many normal teenagers do. I'm sure she's not the only college student in America drinking underage. She is, however, the only college student getting on the front pages of newspapers for doing so. Shouldn't we have compassion for a young woman who, after all, didn't elect to be in this position herself?"
Slater: "Not only did she not elect to be in this position, both she and her sister asked their father not to run for President early on. They didn't want to be in this kind of position, in the spotlight, but they are. They're the daughters of the President of the United States, and as long as the episodes are treated fairly and in some kind of context -- look, this is not the end of the world, but it is something that people talk about, that people ought to know about and the mainstream media ought to deal with it and deal with it accurately, fairly and, frankly, not make that big a deal about it."

Vargas turned to former Hillary Clinton aide Lisa Caputo: "The President has made it clear that he expects the press to respect the privacy of his daughters. Should that include incidents like this where it is involving breaking the law?"
Vargas soon raised George W. Bush's history: "However, it has become a bit of an issue only because President Bush himself has admitted that he had a drinking problem as a man, quit drinking when he was 40, was in fact arrested for driving under the influence."
That was even too much of a stretch for Caputo: "I think that's an apples to orange issue. What I would say here is that, you know, First Kids, the First Family, they didn't elect to be in office. They're not elected officials and really the question here is, is where do you draw the line in terms of who is a public figure and who isn't? This is not the President of the United States violating the law, allegedly. These are his kids and I just think that there should be a zone of privacy. They are under 21. They're in college..."

-- NBC's Today. Matt Lauer opened the broadcast: "Good morning. Double trouble in Texas. President Bush's 19 year old daughter, Jenna, brought her twin sister Barbara along when she allegedly tried to buy a drink at a local restaurant. Her second brush with the law. She's under investigation for underage drinking today, Thursday May 31st, 2001."
Katie Couric, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, chimed in: "Geesh. You can only imagine the phone conversations going on between the White House and the two Bush daughters. And this, what, just two weeks ago Jenna pleaded no contest to other charges about underage drinking."
Lauer: "That's right and the judge who presided in that case ordered her to undergo alcohol counseling and perform some community service. Now she could be facing more of the same. We're gonna get details on what happened in Austin in just a moment. We'll find out how students at Jenna's school, the University of Texas, feel about all this."

Today made the case its "Close Up" segment, starting with a full report from reporter Jim Cummins who recalled: "There was another incident involving Jenna back in February. The sheriff in Ft. Worth, Texas claimed Secret Service agents in a black Chevy Suburban came to the county jail late one night to pick up this man, 18 year old William Bridges, who was under arrest for public intoxication. Deputies say Bridges claimed to be Jenna's boyfriend and they were told she was in the black Suburban."

Next, Matt Lauer talked with Marshall Maher, Editor of The Daily Texan at the University of Texas in Austin. Lauer's questions, which included raising the possibility that Jenna had been "singled out":
-- "Your newspaper has decided not to give any special coverage to these incidents, why?"
-- "So in this situation with incidents involving underage drinking I guess you would not cover underage drinking were it happening with other students."
-- "The drinking age in Texas is 21, Marshall, is that correct?"
-- "So, so are there sweeps done in the local bars? I know it's not uncommon to find students who are under the age of 21 in the local bars in Austin. Are there sweeps conducted in those bars to try to prevent that?"
-- "Yeah in this case I understand the manager of the bar actually called the police. Do you think in some ways the President's daughter was singled out?"
-- "Perhaps a tough question for you to answer, answer Marshall. But she has Secret Service protection there. And yet where was the Secret Service during these two incidents?"

But Today wasn't done as it used the Bush daughters as a hook for one more segment. Katie Couric set it up: "The most recent investigation of President Bush's 19 year-old daughter Jenna for allegedly trying to buy alcohol illegally has brought even more attention to underage drinking. That combined with the results of University of Michigan survey that has found in the past two weeks almost one third of twelfth graders have had five or more drinks in a row. Well that all makes it a good time for parents to talk with their kids about drinking. Here with some help is psychologist Dale Atkins."


The media's double standard on the Bush daughters compared to Al Gore's kids was noted by the panel on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, though they cited incidents other than the Albert Gore III speeding/reckless driving. The discussion, however, is what prompted me to recall the speeding incident.

Over a shot of the glaring front page covers of the New York Daily News and New York Post, Hume asked on the May 31 program:
"Let's turn to another piece of New York journalism from this day, which is the headlines in the two best-read New York tabloids. This, of course, is the story of Jenna and Barbara Bush, who, as of this moment, stand accused of misdemeanor charges relating to their attempts to get a couple of alcoholic beverages in a restaurant in Texas. This, of course, the second tour around a similar track by Jenna Bush in recent weeks. The media have had a field day with this. Should the media have had a field day with this? Jeff?"

Jeff Birnbaum of Fortune replied, as taken down my MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "I don't think so. I covered the Clinton White House for the Wall Street Journal and went, from the very beginning, and we were asked, all the press were asked to lay off Chelsea Clinton, and the same thing was thought of the Gore children, as well. And we did, for the most part, and I think that's admirable. I mean, these are children, they did not run for office, and they do not deserve this kind of scrutiny."

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard suggested the media should not touch the lives of offspring unless their name "gets on the police blotter."

That prompted Hume to cryptically recall: "Now, there was an incident, and we didn't report it at the time, and I'm not going to go into any detail about it here, involving a member of one of the first families of the land in recent years, who was in serious trouble at school, it involved drugs, it was a serious matter. Nobody reported it. Now, I don't know whether the police were involved, but it certainly involved an alleged offense. Question: Is a different standard applied then than is being applied now?"

Roll Call's Morton Kondracke answered: "Well, I'm not exactly sure what the, in one case, and both of these stories, by the way, there were two of Al Gore's children did get in trouble, and each case, there was a story. One in the Washingtonian magazine, way down buried."
Hume: "The media didn't pick it up."
Kondracke: "Well, it did not get picked up. Barely touched. And the other was an AP story that actually ran in the Washington Times about one of Al Gore's daughters being cited for carrying around an open can of beer."
Birnbaum: "Barely touched."
Kondracke: "Barely touched. Not the same thing."
Fred Barnes: "There were no legal charges."
Hume: "Cited."
Kondracke: "Cited. No, she was cited, and it ran as a story, and it was not blown up, but it was not a second offense, and it was not-"
Birnbaum: "The answer is, there is a double standard."
Kondracke: "Well, it's was the President's daughter, too."

I don't know about the Daily News, but I'm pretty sure the New York Post put Albert Gore III on its cover last August.


Catching up with an interview with Dan Rather, last week on FNC's The Edge with Paula Zahn he maintained that "I try to be an honest broker of information" since, "insofar as it's humanly possible," he tries to "drain my own biases, whatever they may be, out of it." Rather charged that those who think he's biased to the left have the view that "you either report the news the way we want you to report it, or we're going to punish you, Dan Rather," and defended his assertion made the week before that Bill Clinton is "an honest man" as he said he's able to "understand" why Clinton lied.

Pressed about that assessment, Rather oddly argued that because he and others lie it would be wrong to describe Clinton as a liar: "I certainly didn't approve of Bill Clinton lying. I think it was very serious. But I'm not going to be hypocritical and say I've never lied in my life." He affirmed that "my own belief is, yes, you can be an honest person and still sometime in your life, maybe several sometimes in your life, have lied about something."

For background, see two previous CyberAlert items:

-- Dan Rather on Bill Clinton: "I think he's an honest man....I think at core he's an honest person....I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things." Go to:

-- Dan Rather sees himself as a martyr for telling the truth about Watergate and Vietnam. Rejecting any responsibility for being seen as liberal, Rather told Geraldo Rivera the liberal bias charge is made by those who "subscribe to the idea either you report the news the way we want you to report it, or we're gonna tag some...negative sign on you." Go to:

Now to the May 22 The Edge with Paula Zahn on FNC:

Paula Zahn: "Peter Jennings in an interview suggested back in March, that quote, 'There are not enough conservative voices in mainstream broadcasting.' What's your response to that?"
Rather: "Well, Peter speaks for himself. When Peter speaks, I listen very carefully. I don't think reporters should see themselves as conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, or for that matter, Mugwumps. I think reporters should take the view 'Pull no punches, play no favorites,' that insofar as it's humanly possible, to be objective reporters. I recognize that there are people in journalism, and certainly a lot of people in politics, who see this as an archaic view. But that's my view. I think-"
Zahn: "But of course, there's a whole blood sport that's come up of they're accusing you of being a liberal."
Rather: "Well, of course there's a blood sport, and I understand that. There's also a blood sport on the other side of, you know, accusing you of being a tool of corporate America and therefore a reactionary. They very rarely use the word 'conservative.' But you know, a lifetime in journalism has taught me that the people -- the public in general, viewers, listeners and readers, don't think in those terms. They size you up and if you have a political agenda they recognize it pretty quickly. And they will do one of two things. They will either get mad at you, or they will discount it and say, 'Well, look, he made a mistake today, but tomorrow it'll be OK.' I think here's the important thing. I recognize that some reporters say, 'Look, I want the world to know I'm a Republican and I'm a conservative,' or however they want to describe themselves. Others want to say I want the world to know I'm a Democrat or I'm a liberal. That's fine if they really feel that way, but however anyone may see me from a distance, I don't feel that way. I try to be an honest broker of information. I try to -- insofar as it's humanly possible, to be accurate, fair, drain my own biases, whatever they may be, out of it. Now, no one can do that every day in every way on every story, but I see it a little -- I don't mean to be sacrilegious here -- a little like the Ten Commandments. We all know we should live up to the Ten Commandments, but who among us says we're able to do it every day? But one test of the character of a person is how often they try and how often they succeed to live up to the Ten Commandments.
"Now, in journalism, I can't do it perfectly, but I'm willing to be judged on the basis of how hard do I try and how often have I succeeded in being simply an honest broker of information? What I won't do -- and this I what gets me in trouble with some people. What I won't do is allow someone to tell me how to report the news. There are people, particularly in politics and people who feel very strong ideologically, who want to say, 'Listen, you either report the news the way we want you to report it, or we're going to punish you, Dan Rather.' And they set out to punish you, not just me, but-"
Zahn: "Do you feel you've been punished?"
Rather: "No, I don't really think-"
Zahn: "I mean, what do you make of the -- of so many charges out there that you're -- you are a lefty?"
Rather: "Well, first of all, I never rule out the possibility that the other person is right. Some criticism is justified. I've been doing it a long time, I make mistakes. The criticism I tend to smile at -- and I am able to smile at it now -- is that criticism that says, 'Well, because he doesn't report it our way, we're really going to make him pay a price.' I pay that price happily. While I think it's intended as punishment I don't see it that way."
Zahn: "And what -- and how is that doled out?"
Rather: "I wear it as a badge of honor. Quite frankly, I -- you know, I have a lot of scars, but I'd like to think, when it comes to this kind of criticism, my wounds are at least always from the front."

Zahn then raised his Clinton as "an honest man" assessment made on FNC's The O'Reilly Factor. Rather defended himself:
"I do remember the conversation with Bill [O'Reilly], that who among us can say that we have never lied? My point is, I don't approve of lying. I certainly didn't approve of Bill Clinton lying. I think it was very serious. But I'm not going to be hypocritical and say I've never lied in my life. If you or Bill or Sam can tell me that you've never lied in your life about anything, well, a tip of the Stetson to you. I do think you can be an honest person. I think you can be a decent-intending person and sometime in your life tell a lie, particularly if you tell a lie believing that, 'Well, maybe I'll be protecting somebody else by telling the lie.'
"But look, I have no argument with anyone who says 'I have a different view.' Bill Clinton's record stands for itself, but I would stand -- my own belief is, yes, you can be an honest person and still sometime in your life, maybe several sometimes in your life, have lied about something. For example, in -- you're the interviewer here, and understand it. Are you prepared to tell me -- I would be very surprised if you were -- that you have never lied about anything in your entire life? If you say yes to that, I would say, well, you're one of the rare people on earth who can say it. So it's in that context that I say -- yeah. Yeah, I'm not one of those, I don't defend Bill Clinton, but I'm also not going to attack him. My job as a reporter is to say, 'Alright, what did he do? Let's look at his record.' Now, the record shows that he lied. He stood up in front -- lied in front of the country, lied on television. That -- I do not approve of that. I don't know very many Americans who do. But I do understand it."

Unlike Rather, I am able to "understand" his bias. -- Brent Baker

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