MediaWatch: September 1992

In This Issue

Network TV Convention Disparities; NewsBites: Rather Reveals All?; Revolving Door: Clinton's NPR Connection; Media Accuracy Patrol Only Shoots At GOP; Praised Cuomo, Attacked Conservatives and Buchanan; Woodruff vs. First Lady; Just Like Prime Time; Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Can Quayle's Council

Network TV Convention Disparities

Following the pattern established in 1984 and 1988, again this year the networks labeled Republicans more than Democrats and challenged Republicans more than the Democrats with questions from the opposition's agenda. After analyzing prime time network coverage of the July Democratic convention in New York and the August Republican convention in Houston, MediaWatch found:

(1) Republicans were tagged conservative three times more often than Democrats were called liberal. (2) Republicans had to respond to questions from the liberal or Democratic agenda three-and-a-half times more often than Democrats were asked questions from the conservative or Republican agenda. (3) While Democrats were never criticized for their negative tone, network reporters discussed or asked about the GOP's negative tone on 70 occasions.

The study covered all ABC, CBS and NBC evening coverage, the combined NBC/PBS broadcast for 90 to 120 minutes a night and CNN from 8pm to 12am Eastern times. (See the August MediaWatch for more details and quotes from the Democratic convention). The findings:

LABELING. Republicans were tagged with about 40 more ideological labels than were the Democrats. While the Democrats were dubbed moderate more often than liberal by a margin of 51-to-38 labels, Republicans in Houston were described with various conservative labels over moderate ones by a margin of 9-to-1. In total, viewers heard 118 conservative labels vs. 13 moderate ones. No Democrat in New York was ever described as "far left" or "hard left," not even Tom Harkin or Jesse Jackson. Instead, they were called liberal as the ticket and party platform were described as moderate. Tom Brokaw declared: "This is a centrist platform." But in Houston, on five occasions each, CBS and CNN used "hard right" and/or "far right" to describe Republicans.

In New York, the networks labeled the Democrats 22 times the first night. In the first night from Houston, however, the networks used about three times as many labels. ABC and CNN used more labels on Monday in Houston than they did in four nights of Democratic coverage. Overall, ABC issued 12 liberal labels in New York, 30 conservative labels in Houston. In the first night of the Republican convention ABC issued 19 "conservative" labels. Peter Jennings mused it was "very much conservatives night. A very conservative opening prayer" and later noted that Dan Quayle "is very much preferred by the Republican right." At another point, Cokie Roberts found "an extremely conservative convention." Later in the week, Jennings asserted that the convention had "been colored by the party's most conservative elements."

In New York, CBS used 13 labels, five during the first session. The first night for the Republicans: nine labels. Dan Rather claimed it was Pat Buchanan's job "to set a frame of reference around a moral majority right, heavily influenced party." To reporter Bob Schieffer the delegates represented "a very, very conservative group of Republicans." In total, Republicans got tagged 18 times, five of those hard or far right. Dan Rather twice described Buchanan's speech as "hard right." On the last night, August 20, Connie Chung called Dan Quayle's speech "far right" and asked Pat Robertson: "Has the party gone far right enough for you? I mean there's the gay bashing that you brought up. There's some people who think it's gone too far."

In four days of Democratic coverage, CNN attached 22 labels to Democrats, but at no time did CNN label any Democrat "far left." When the GOP gathered, CNN issued 49 ideological labels, five of them "far right." In fact, in the first night from Houston CNN used 25 labels, three more than all week from New York. On Monday from the Republican meeting Candy Crowley announced: "As for what Buchanan has to say, this is really an appeal to the far right." Co-anchor Catherine Crier asked analyst William Schneider whether "the Republicans made concessions to the far right in hopes that the rest f the Republican Party isn't watching." On August 18, William Schneider referred to "staunch conservatives" and to "gung-ho conservatives." The third night, Gene Randall said the platform reflected the "agenda of the religious right." On the last night, Charles Bierbauer recalled Buchanan's speech as being "heavy-handed conservative" and Frank Sesno labeled Buchanan and Bill Bennett as "very hard, far right conservatives."

The two-network NBC/PBS team used more labels in New York than Houston, but while Democrats were called moderate, centrist or conservative the same number of times they were identified as liberal, Republicans were tagged conservative over moderate by 14-to-5. Tom Brokaw said the platform "was hammered together by ...the more conservative elements of this party. In fact, this Republican Party platform takes a right-hand turn on almost every key issue. It is a conservative document."

Lisa Myers observed: "More than one conservative has boasted that this platform is proof that the religious right is alive and well in this party."

NBC's solo broadcast also labeled Republicans less often than the Democrats, but while NBC tagged the Democrats moderate over liberal by 14 to 4, NBC described Republicans as conservative by 12 to 2. "They've also put together here a platform that is very conservative," said Brokaw, "And the explanation is `It's worked in the last three presidential elections, why shouldn't we try it again?' Well, in part, it is a changed world." And NBC's John Cochran explained: "Reagan is a radical conservative and Bush is a moderate conservative."

AGENDA QUESTIONS. The networks posed 130 liberal or Democratic agenda questions to the GOP, but just 38 conservative or Republican questions to the Democrats. (The question count includes statements made by reporters to which other reporters reacted. At the Republican convention, for instance, NBC's John Cochran asserted: "Some of these [family values] issues have racial overtones, such as Bush's support for welfare reforms which penalize single mothers who continue having children.")

Democratic/liberal questions to Republicans outnumbered those from the right by a margin of nearly 8-to-1, specifically, 130-to-17. In contrast, Democrats were asked eight less questions from the right than from the left.

During the Democratic conclave ABC posed eight questions from the left and six from the right. In Houston, ABC posed ten liberal questions to the GOP, but just three from the right. CBS asked five from each side in New York, but Republicans were confronted with 16 from the left and just two from the right. CNN showed a greater disparity: Democrats were asked nine questions from the left and six from the right. But while Republicans were asked three questions from the right, they were met by liberal ones on 34 occasions.

In New York, the joint NBC/PBS broadcast aired one more question from the right than left, but in Houston the network lost all balance, asking questions from the liberal over conservative agenda 56-to-8. During its solo show, NBC challenged Republicans from the left 15-to-1. Democrats were asked ten questions from the left and six from the right.

Some sample questions. A liberal question to the Democrats: Tom Brokaw asked Ann Richards, "Do the poor and the inner cities get left out with this ticket?"

A conservative question to the Democrats: Jeff Greenfield asked Congressman Louis Stokes, "You know the Republicans are going to run against people like you as the cause of the real problems, the evil, big spending, insulated Congress. Isn't that going to resonate a lot with voters?"

Liberal questions to Republicans: ABC reporter Jim Wooten asked a GOP delegate: "Do you really, do you think all that stands between this country and an improved economy and successful war on drugs and poverty is the Congress?" And Greenfield asked an Arkansan: "This convention's clearly going to try to paint Bill Clinton as a super-liberal, but how can a man be elected five times the governor of your state, not exactly a Northeast Harvard-boutique state, and be effectively be painted as a liberal?"

Dan Rather asked Jack Kemp the first night: "But if you cut taxes, isn't that going to drive the deficit even further up, the bond market might collapse?" On Tuesday's PBS/NBC coverage, Maria Shriver challenged HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan: " of those 36 million people [without health insurance], and that number is growing every day, to them that is not good enough. They need health insurance now. So are they better off voting for Bill Clinton if the Congress has this in their hands to have a Democratic President?"

NBC's Shriver talked with California Senate candidates, asking: "But voters do see women as agents of change, and they're asking for change. They don't see guys like you." Along the same line, Rather asked Buchanan: "I hear some talk, and not all of it among Democrats, that you're a kind of walking gender gap. Do you think your speech last night helped President Bush and Dan Quayle with woman voters?"

CNN's Crowley asked Sen. Nancy Kassebaum: "I heard Marilyn Quayle...say `Boy, if only Murphy Brown could meet Major Dad.' I'm wondering what that says to the many families out there that do have single mothers?" And, "It is perceived that the Democrats are actually fighting for middle America, the family. I'm wondering if you think, that with the various permutations that families have nowadays, if the Republicans are actually shoving away those who don't have mother, father, kids and don't do it 'the right way?'"

On Thursday's NBC/PBS broadcast, Shriver told Craig Fuller: "We were talking about family the Republicans saying that as the theme of their campaign, they're really excluding everybody but the people who fit into the traditional nuclear family, the `Ozzie and Harriet' image."

The networks never suggested the Democrats' abortion-on-demand stance might hurt them with Reagan Democrats, but Shriver did ask Charlie Black: "You've shored up the conservative end of your party... But you haven't done yourself any good with the moderates -- the Reagan Democrats. In fact, many people say you've alienated them."

Conservative question to Republicans: ABC's Greenfield asked Pete duPont: "But clearly there was a lot of disaffection from economic conservatives, growth conservatives that this President wasn't pushing that agenda. Suppose he doesn't push it tonight in his speech, is this a matter of just saying 'OK, best of two alternatives'?"

CONTROVERSIES. Like 1984 and 1988, the networks barely mentioned controversies connected to the Democrats as Bill Clinton's draft problems were raised only in passing. Unlike '84 and '88, the networks did not highlight controversies involving the incumbent administration, such as Neil Bush's S&L problem, which was raised once on CBS and NBC/PBS. Instead they concentrated on new controversies.

Exclusion: While the Democrats' decision to not allow pro-life Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey to speak in New York garnered only an interview on NBC and an interview and four mentions on CNN, in Houston the abortion debate became a major focus of coverage. On more than 20 occasions network analysts charged the Republicans with trying to exclude people from their party. For example, NBC's Tom Brokaw told Buchanan on Tuesday night: "You gave the impression that if you're not a white, heterosexual, Christian, anti-abortion, anti-environment, you're somehow not welcome in the Republican Party."

CBS never mentioned in prime time how the Democrats suppressed pro-life Gov. Bob Casey's attempt to speak in New York, but in Houston Connie Chung asked Rep. Connie Morella: "Do you think the pro-choice voice has been stifled?"

Negativity: When Jesse Jackson compared Dan Quayle to baby- killing legend King Herod in New York, none of the networks called Jackson's oratory mean or personal. But the networks thumped a steady drumbeat of disapproval of the Republican political attacks. From the often-scorned 1988 campaign methodology to attacks on Mrs. Clinton, the networks suggested to Republicans that they had been too negative with the Democrats on 70 occasions in the four nights of prime time coverage.

CNN's John Holliman asked a roundtable of voters on Wednesday night: "You know, there's been a lot of criticism that the Republicans have been bashing the Democrats fairly big time in this campaign...Have the Republicans been too heavy-handed in being critical of the Democrats?"

NewsBites: Rather Reveals All?

Rather Reveals All? Journalists aren't afraid to ask politicians about their personal life, but what about when the tables are turned? Tom Sherwood, a reporter for Washington's local NBC affiliate WRC-TV, turned the tables on Dan Rather in Houston by asking him if he ever committed adultery. A squirming Rather tried to evade the question by bravely throwing a colleague to the wolves: "You've been asking this to Tom Brokaw, have you?" Then he asked Sherwood if he'd ever had an affair. Sherwood assured him "I'm going to answer the question at the end of my story." As he walked away, Rather turned on his robotic anchorman persona, saying cryptically, "Well, thank you very much. Pleased to see you."

Coming Clean. In columns earlier this year, Hendrik Hertzberg and Mickey Kaus of The New Republic reported that most reporters hope Bill Clinton wins. Now another reporter has conceded the same thing. On Inside Washington August 15, Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas explained: "The Republicans are going to whack away at the press for the next couple of months as being pro- Clinton. And you know what? They're right. The press is pro- Clinton -- not 80-20, but I think at least 60-40. There are a lot of formerly liberal reporters out there who'd like to see the Democrats win." Formerly?

Brokaw on Bias. Network anchors and newspaper editors gathered in Houston on August 16 for a Freedom Forum seminar on bias in campaign coverage. "The panel at the Houstonian Club felt for the most part there was little or no bias," The Houston Post's Steve Friedman reported August 17. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw asserted: "I am left with the conclusion that bias, most often, is left in the eye of the beholder -- like beauty."

But that bias is in Brokaw's eye according to another reporter on scene. The abortion debate become a media obsession in Houston, but in New York the networks virtually ignored the fact that the Democrats refused to let pro-life Gov. Bob Casey speak. Dallas Morning News reporter Ed Bark reported that at the same forum Brokaw admitted that Casey "was underplayed." Bark quoted Brokaw: "During the course of the convention, it just kind of got lost in a lot of stuff. I think he should have gotten more attention for not getting attention."

Dueling Jennifers. When Gennifer Flowers' story came out, neither she nor anyone from the Star was invited on any morning or evening interview show. But when The New York Post ran a story August 11 publicizing rumors that President Bush had an affair with aide Jennifer Fitzgerald, ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning brought on sources of the New York Post story the next day.

ABC interviewed Susan Trento, the author of The Power House, a book including the rumor. CBS brought on her husband, Joseph Trento, a former CNN reporter who had an interview with the supposed source of the rumor, Ambassador Louis Fields, who died in 1986. On the August 15 Inside Washington, Newsweek's Evan Thomas told a different tale: "Actually, we've heard the tape of this old Ambassador Fields, who's now dead, talking to one of the reporters, and the tape makes it pretty clear that he thinks it's just gossip."

Defending the Democrats. While associating the Republicans with dirty politics is a liberal media mantra, network reporters defended the Democrats against charges that they spread the Bush infidelity rumors. On the August 12 Today, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: "I see no evidence that this was promoted by the Democrats, and the Republicans have been throwing around a lot of mud, the surrogates." Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt agreed: "I don't think the Democrats had anything to do with this."

Then NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski suggested: "I've talked to some reporters who have personally received faxes from the Clinton campaign. This story, according to these reporters, was in fact pushed by the Clinton campaign as early as a month ago." On Inside Washington, Newsweek's Evan Thomas also asserted: "It's true that Clinton's folks faxed around copies of the book to people. That's true." Was the Clinton camp involved? Network newscasts didn't ask.

MARILYN VS. HILLARY. While major media reporters flock to the defense of Hillary Clinton, asking if criticism of her activities is fair, Marilyn Quayle is fair game for cutting media remarks. In the August 24 Time, reporter Michael Duffy wrote: "Mrs. Quayle differs from the President's wife in many ways. While the First Lady's image is cuddly and grandmotherly, Marilyn Quayle can seem hard, intolerant, and combative." Duffy continued: "Ever since a Washington Post series on her husband last winter depicted her as a power-mad spouse who once kicked to shreds a framed picture of her husband playing golf, Mrs. Quayle has been trying to soften her Cruella de Vil [sic] nature."

In the same story, Duffy also wrote about Hillary Clinton: "No sooner had Bush been accused of infidelity than GOP chairman Rich Bond attacked Mrs. Clinton for likening marriage to slavery -- a gross distortion." Earlier this year, in the January 27 issue, Time Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson called Hillary "an amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa, and Oliver Wendell Holmes."

WIN ONE FOR CONNIE. Pro-abortion Republicans just didn't do enough to satisfy CBS' Connie Chung. During convention coverage on August 17, Chung began complaining with her first question to Maine Gov. John McKernan: "You are such a strong supporter of abortion rights but you gave up, you succumbed to the pressure." Her second question: "Many people think you weren't organized, you didn't have your ducks in line, you didn't have the delegates."

After McKernan explained that they had only four of the six states required to force a floor fight, an exasperated Chung responded: "You know it seems like such a small number. Good heavens, all you needed was six state delegations to try and bring it on the floor, then obviously two-thirds of the delegation, but I don't think you were organized, sir."

HAUNTED BY REAGAN. Do those in the media subconsciously miss the Reagan years, when they had a more conservative Republican in the White House to lambast? At least two of them apparently do. During CBS News August 17 convention coverage, Dan Rather maintained that "the Republicans believe that this remains Ronald Reagan's election to lose. That he can lose it, yes, he may lose it, but it's Ronald Reagan's election to lose, even now." A few days later on the August 20 Today, Bryant Gumbel advised his audience that "The Vice President will also speak tonight, and then, of course, the big address by President Reagan."

INSULTING HILLARY'S CRITICS. Critics of Hillary Clinton's ideological activities and legal writings haven't been quoted as much as insulted, as the media's feminists assert that Hillary's critics are intimidated by successful women. On the August 18 Nightline, even Ted Koppel got into the act: "Let us not for a moment be confused into believing that this is only a conservative Republican thing, this business of some people feeling threatened by smart, assertive, professional women... Women who speak their minds in public are still swimming upstream in this country."

STROBE'S SCAM. Time Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott has made no secret of his affection for old Oxford classmate Bill Clinton. But he must not have wanted to go all the way to putting his money where his mouth is. The August Washingtonian reports that Talbott's two sons, Devin, 15, and Adrian, 11, have each contributed $250 to the Clinton campaign, using what Talbott called "discretionary money."

Revolving Door: Clinton's NPR Connection

Clinton's NPR Connection. July's Revolving Door column on former Democratic political operatives covering the Democratic National Convention as reporters listed Anne Edwards, scheduler for the 1984 Mondale-Ferraro campaign, as National Public Radio's (NPR) Senior Editor. While MediaWatch was in Houston to produce ConventionWatch, Jeff Rosenberg, the NPR convention producer, faxed us a resume update. Edwards is now part of the Clinton-Gore campaign advance staff. She should know how to please the media: From 1980 to 1984 she was the assignment editor in the CBS News Washington bureau.

Death in Sarajevo. A sniper's bullet took the life of ABC News producer David Kaplan on August 13. A producer since joining the network in 1972 after a two year stint as Assistant Press Secretary to Senator George McGovern, Kaplan was in the war-torn region with Sam Donaldson to work on a story for Prime Time Live. During his twenty years with ABC, Kaplan worked in the special events unit, for World News Tonight, as White House producer for Sam Donaldson during most of the Reagan Administration and, until joining Prime Time Live in 1989 as a Washington-based Senior Producer, as Senior Capitol Hill producer.

Two-Timing at U.S. News. Liberal MIT economist Paul Krugman, a Contributing Editor to U.S. News & World Report since 1990, simultaneously formulated economic policy for the Clinton campaign this summer. But not anymore. Kathryn Bushkin, the magazine's Director of Editorial Administration who served as Press Secretary in Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, told MediaWatch in mid-August that U.S. News felt things "had reached a point where it was inappropriate for [Krugman] to be, now that Clinton is the nominee, and that he's taken on a more active role with him, we thought it was inappropriate for [Krugman] to be writing for us on economic issues until the election is over. We are not taking any more of his pieces."

Krugman has most recently been responsible for the Democrats' claim that the richest one percent took 60 percent of the income gains in the 1980s, a claim heavily criticized by conservative economists. Krugman publicized the argument in March 23 and June 1 articles.

Clinton press aide Avis Lavelle told MediaWatch that Krugman had been working for the campaign since early July helping to put together debate briefing books and was charged with "developing support for Governor Clinton's economic concepts in the media."

Out of Congress, On to TV. Ohio Congressman Charles Luken decided not to seek re-election this November, and he's already found a new career. In January the Democrat will join Cincinnati's WLWT-TV. The News Director for the NBC affiliate told Electronic Media's Doug Halonen that Luken "will probably be groomed as a news anchor, but is likely to start as a reporter and political commentator."

Media Accuracy Patrol Only Shoots At GOP


Everyone agrees the media have a responsibility to expose inaccuracies on the campaign trail. But the "correcting" going on is all focused in one direction: George Bush and the Republicans.

On the August 27 NBC Nightly News, White House reporter John Cochran aired footage of Bush charging that Bill Clinton's plan included "$220 billion in new spending, plus the largest tax increase in history, $150 billion." With a red graphic screaming "WRONG," Cochran declared: "In 1982, Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, George Bush, presided over the largest projected tax increase in history -- $152 billion."

Clinton's economic plan may say it only calls for $150 billion in new taxes, but that figure does not include any increased spending on, among other things, training or health care. Clinton has proposed a 1.5 percent payroll tax for job training and has loosely endorsed a "play or pay" health plan with a payroll tax of seven to nine percent. Those two taxes, added to the rest of Clinton's plan, would easily make Clinton American history's highest tax raiser. Even if Cochran were correct, the same reporters who deplore painting Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal are defending Clinton by saying he's only proposing the second biggest tax increase in history.

The media seized on Michael Kinsley's column challenging the Bush claim that Clinton raised taxes in Arkansas 128 times. Reporters failed to answer the question: What was the Arkansas tax burden? Clinton's camp claims it has the 49th lowest tax burden, but that's measured on a per capita basis, meaning only that Arkansas is poor, so its tax revenues are necessarily low. Most economists, however, measure the tax burden by studying the percentage of family income devoted to taxes. By that standard, Arkansas is firmly in the middle of the states, and rising. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute found from 1983 to 1990, Arkansas state taxes rose from 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent of family income.

Will most reporters question the accuracy of Clinton's declarations? Take the ad the Clinton campaign released August 30, which claims: "Those making over $200,000 will pay more. The rest of us get a break." But Clinton has also proposed raising taxes on the top two percent of earners, meaning individuals making more than $90,000 a year and couples making more than $130,000. Economists expect a third tax rate of 36 to 40 percent on taxpayers above those levels. That's not exactly a "break" on everybody under $200,000.

By "correcting" only one candidate, reporters show they aren't so much interested in doing their job -- sorting out what's accurate -- as they are making sure Clinton doesn't become the next Michael Dukakis.

Praised Cuomo, Attacked Conservatives and Buchanan


After Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan spoke August 17, CBS News reporter Charles Kuralt observed: "I thought that the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it. Especially there at the end, 'Take back our culture, take back our country'...I think there was an appeal to racism, and then Ronald Reagan came along and made everybody feel good about the country again."

Last month, Kuralt offered a glowing assessment of Mario Cuomo's partisan speech filled with divisive attacks on George Bush: "I'm still in the glow of that Cuomo speech. Mario Cuomo is like one of those three-way light bulbs... He said he was going to stay on dim so as not to put Bill Clinton in the shade. And then he stepped up here tonight and delivered a genuine 250-watter. A speech bright enough and hot enough to light up this dark room. I think tonight was Cuomo's night, as last night was Jesse Jackson's."

Kuralt may love Cuomo and Jackson, but he doesn't have much respect for conservatives. Earlier in the night in Houston Kuralt asserted: "This platform the Republicans adopted today reminds me of another Republican platform and another convention, the one of '64, the one that nominated Barry Goldwater, [when] the party's farthest right wingers took over for the first time and drove through a breathtakingly conservative platform. I will never forget that convention. Those folks were not so much interested in winning the election as in humiliating Nelson Rockefeller and the other moderates of their own party... They lost in a landslide. Republicans with long memories might have noticed that something like that was going on here today."

"The only excited, demonstrative delegates any of us could find were the ones from the religious right, Pat Robertson's God and Country rally. They remind me of those Goldwater delegates of 28 years ago, far more interested in imposing ideological purity on this party than they are on winning an election... They got the platform they want. No room for a pregnant woman to make any decision at all, even if she was raped. It's a platform tough on welfare, tough on taxes and guns and gays and pornography, tough even on public radio and public television. They cheered Dan Quayle... and they will cheer Pat Buchanan and Ronald Reagan tonight, but will they help elect George Bush? It's almost as if they haven't thought of that."

Woodruff vs. First Lady


Last month, when PBS anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed Hillary Clinton, Woodruff mentioned the now infamous Harvard Educational Review article and asked: "How important is it that that not enter in, and should it enter in?" During PBS/NBC joint coverage August 18, First Lady Barbara Bush didn't get softballs from Woodruff, but the First Lady fought back.

Woodruff's questions came from the Democratic playbook: "I want to ask you about some of the statements that have been made here at this convention over the last few days starting with this one."

Mrs. Bush interrupted: "You said you weren't going to ask all these same old questions." But Woodruff went on, "Now these questions you've never heard before...Republican Party Chairman Rich Bond saying the views of the Republicans are America, Democrats' views are not America... Well I didn't hear a Democrat say that you're not American if you're Republican?" Democrats "were absolutely vicious and nobody called it a dirty attack. So I'm not going to apologize for Rich Bond," Bush responded.

Unfazed, Woodruff demanded: "Campaign official Charles Black and Pat Buchanan have both said in the past 24 hours those who favor rights for homosexuals have not place in the Republican Party... Were you pleased to have that message going out over television?"

"I'm not sending that message," Bush said. Woodruff continued: "U.S. Treasurer Mrs. Villalpando, who just said yesterday, who joked that Gov. Clinton is a skirt chaser... does that have a place in this campaign?"

The First Lady took Woodruff to task: "Look you're saying nothing nice... where were you during the Democrat convention defending us?" Woodruff returned to her inquiry: "But Mosbacher who said in the last day or so that Gov. Clinton's alleged marital infidelity is a legitimate campaign issue."

After a final attempt to get Mrs. Bush to respond, Bush let loose: "You didn't listen to the Democrat Convention I think... I'm not sure you've been [sic] to the same political year I've been to, Judy. Now c'mon, be fair." Mrs. Bush got in the last word: "I'm going to listen to your questions. I'm going to monitor you."

Just Like Prime Time


On the Monday to Thursday morning shows, Democrats were labeled moderate over liberal by 31 to 16; the Republicans were tagged conservative almost four times more often than moderate, by 54 to 14. Democrats were posed questions from the left over right by 26 to 11. The GOP: More than 60 from the left vs. just ten from the right.

Labels: On Tuesday, ABC's Mike Von Fremd declared: "The Republicans passed one of the most conservative platforms ever." On the Thursday Today, Jim Miklaszewski, who never uttered "hard left" in New York, found at least one positive in Barbara Bush's speech: "She stressed tolerance, in an apparent attempt to pull the Party back from the conservative hard right turn it's taken at this convention so far."

Questions: On Monday's Today, Katie Couric asked Gov. John Ashcroft about abortion: "Aren't you fearful that this position, this very conservative position, will in fact alienate many women and moderate Republicans and it will make a difference?"

CBS This Morning's Harry Smith asked Senate candidate Alan Keyes and Rep. Susan Molinari: "We've heard a lot of talk this week about the big tent, the idea that the Republican Party needs to attract a wider range of people, but some critics say the party platform does anything but that."

On Wednesday, Couric pressed Dan Quayle repeatedly with Democratic questions: "Some have said they find the tone of this convention, some Republicans, a bit troubling. Abortion rights have been totally ignored in the platform; gay rights not acknowledged...Do you think the Republican Party has grown, or become, too exclusionary, too intolerant, and that this kind of rhetoric is divisive and counterproductive?"

Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Can Quayle's Council

In the last four years, network reporters have been increasingly critical of thirty-second attack ads on political campaigns -- deriding them as cheap, superficial, emotionally overwrought and short on facts. But this is too often the networks' own formula. ABC reporter Ned Potter's "American Agenda" stories on Dan Quayle's Competitiveness Council August 4 and 5 are a perfect example, earning Potter the September Janet Cooke Award.

Potter loaded all his complaints into a quick scatter-shot litany: "It has killed a plan to increase recycling of municipal waste. It proposed that half the nation's wetlands be opened to developers. It delayed aircraft noise control rules. And environmentalists claim it is weakening or delaying 50 parts of the Clean Air Act, legislation the President himself originally supported."

Misleading. If Potter had allowed any opposing spokesmen, they could have pointed out, for example, that the recycling rule, proposed to stop municipal incinerators, was estimated to cause no improvement in air quality at a cost of $100 million, a proposal so outrageous the Democrat-dominated National Governors Association opposed it. Second, the wetlands claim is completely misleading -- a 1989 EPA wetlands manual doubled the amount of "protected" wetlands to include private property that were only marginally "wet," so reducing "protected" wetlands by half is returning them to their original status.

Potter continued: "The Clean Air law orders factories to cut their pollution to specific levels. It says if they need to exceed those levels for any reason there must be public notice and a hearing so people who live near the factory can object.... [But] the Council on Competitiveness stepped in, using its power to strike the requirement from the EPA's rules....The bottom line is that thousands of factories may cut costs but could add 490,000 pounds of pollution to the air without warning anyone."

Wrong. The Competitiveness Council has no authority to strike EPA rules. EPA chief William Reilly has publicly declared that the council only advises him, and he makes the final decision. Additionally, public notice requirements don't only apply to factories. When the EPA ruled that utilities don't have to go through a public notice procedure (which can delay projects for years), EPA also clearly stated that the rules in no way authorized pollution increases that would cause violation of clean air standards in any city or environmentally sensitive areas like national parks. Often, the exclusions deal with the implementation of new pollution control equipment. Why would environmentalists try to hold that up? Potter didn't ask.

In his second report, Potter mourned the Council's effect on the EPA: "Officials say the Council does more than get specific regulations changed. They say its very presence makes regulators flinch. For example, [EPA] chief William Reilly has lost several battles over the Clean Air Act. And senior EPA officials, who asked us not to use their names, said the effect of the Quayle council on their day-to-day work has been devastating. One official said the council 'intimidates the overall process.' Another said the council 'has a chilling effect. So much that whole areas of environmental protection are dropped because you know the council will not let them through.'"

Misleading. ABC, which twice suggested the Competitiveness Council had "tremendous impact," didn't tell viewers that the council has eight staffers, while the federal regulatory agencies have more than 120,000. As for the "chilling effect" the council has on EPA, Potter brought on no one to make the argument: should EPA, an executive branch agency, have no oversight from the executive branch? Quayle's council authorization is the same executive order which established then-Vice President Bush's Task Force on Regulatory Reform. Even Bill Clinton has declared the need for such a council in his administration.

Potter's first report also charged: "Critics say the unaccountable to Congress or the public and its actions may be illegal...Trimming regulations would be one thing, but critics say doing it in secret is another."

Misleading. Critics, especially Democrats in Congress, have been trying to force the council into "sunshine" rules requiring staffers to list all incoming and outgoing phone calls and the subject of those calls. But when Special Counsel Peter Fleming investigated the Senate Judiciary Committee's Anita Hill leak, the media responded much like Nina Totenberg, who felt that citing of contacts by lobbying groups with senators or their aides would "chill democratic liaisons."

Potter allowed no one to make the ironic point that these are provisions the Congress rejects for itself and that no regulatory agency like the EPA has ever faced. He also missed the point that by reviewing the mostly unpublicized workings of the regulatory agencies, the Competitiveness Council is actually increasing the public accountability of federal regulators. He never cited a stupid regulation stopped by the White House, like the one requiring decontamination of construction helmets at an estimated cost of $60 million, although no one has been contaminated by one.

Potter refused to return repeated calls from MediaWatch over a week-long period to discuss his stories. On September 8, a voice sounding very much like Potter's came on the line and said: "Hello...Who is this?" After identifying ourselves as MediaWatch, the Potter-like voice said: "Hang on, I'll try to find him." Then, an ABC receptionist came back on the line and said: "Umm, he's not in the building. No one here's seen him in a long time." The same receptionist told us two hours earlier: "He's out to lunch."

Claiming that political campaign ads are filled with distortions, the networks have appointed themselves guardians of accuracy with "ad watch" patrols. But before they proclaim themselves the enemies of distortion, the networks should watch their own news stories first.