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ABC & CBS Move On; NBC Leads with Cheney and Raises Alcohol Use --2/17/2006


1. ABC & CBS Move On; NBC Leads with Cheney and Raises Alcohol Use
ABC and CBS largely moved on from the Dick Cheney hunting mishap story Thursday night as, for the first time this week, they led with other subjects. Both held their Cheney coverage to short items on President Bush expressing satisfaction with Cheney's Wednesday explanation to FNC's Brit Hume. But for the fifth straight day, the NBC Nightly News led with the topic with reporter Kelly O'Donnell stressing Cheney's alcohol consumption. Anchor Brian Williams set up her piece by asserting "the questions that continue tonight have to do mostly with the damage this bizarre accident has caused." O'Donnell zeroed in on how the local sheriff's department report relayed how victim Harry Whittington "called it an accident and told investigators, 'foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.'" O'Donnell, however, raised doubts about such a conclusion: "The report makes no other reference to any drinking or that any blood alcohol tests were ever done. The Vice President did say in his Fox TV interview that he had a beer at lunch, noting that was hours before the shooting." She then moved on to how "observers say the whole ordeal has weakened Mr. Cheney's influence." Her "observers"? One soundbite from David Gergen.

2. Liberal Journalist Bruce Morton Retires from CNN, A Look Back
Longtime CBS and CNN political reporter Bruce Morton has retired, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer announced after Morton filed his last piece (on the changing significance of the vice presidency) shortly before 5pm EST on Thursday's The Situation Room. "Beyond his years of solid, hard news reporting, Bruce brings something very special to television journalism, a truly unique voice, smart and wry, with a perspective you could only get by covering politics for five decades," Blitzer enthused. "When we need a certain kind of piece we immediately know is Bruce material, 'Morton-esque,' as many of us like to say right here." In most instances, "Morton-esque" was a synonym for reliably liberal.

3. MRC This Week's "Outside Voice" on the CBS News Public Eye Blog
This week the CBS News "Public Eye" blog turned its weekly Friday "Outside Voices" space over to Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center: "Tim Graham On What Conservative Media Critics Are And Aren't."

4. Letterman's "Top Ten Surprises in the Dick Cheney Interview"
Letterman's "Top Ten Surprises in the Dick Cheney Interview."


ABC & CBS Move On; NBC Leads with Cheney
and Raises Alcohol Use

ABC and CBS largely moved on from the Dick Cheney hunting mishap story Thursday night as, for the first time this week, they led with other subjects. Both held their Cheney coverage to short items on President Bush expressing satisfaction with Cheney's Wednesday explanation to FNC's Brit Hume. But for the fifth straight day, the NBC Nightly News led with the topic with reporter Kelly O'Donnell stressing Cheney's alcohol consumption. Anchor Brian Williams set up her piece by asserting "the questions that continue tonight have to do mostly with the damage this bizarre accident has caused." O'Donnell zeroed in on how the local sheriff's department report relayed how victim Harry Whittington "called it an accident and told investigators, 'foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.'" O'Donnell, however, raised doubts about such a conclusion: "The report makes no other reference to any drinking or that any blood alcohol tests were ever done. The Vice President did say in his Fox TV interview that he had a beer at lunch, noting that was hours before the shooting."

She then moved on to how "observers say the whole ordeal has weakened Mr. Cheney's influence." Her "observers"? One soundbite from David Gergen. O'Donnell concluded with how "senior advisors make the claim that because the White House has now answered some questions, the American people should be satisfied, too."

[This item was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To post your comments, go to: newsbusters.org ]

ABC's World News Tonight led with, in the words of co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas: "President Bush asks American taxpayers for another $65 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total is approaching half a trillion dollars."

The CBS Evening News began, as announced by anchor Bob Schieffer: "The United Nations says the American prison at Guantanamo Bay violates international law and should be shut down."

ABC's short item on Cheney and Bush's comments, as handled by Elizabeth Vargas:
"Also in Washington, President Bush weighed in for the first time today on Vice President Cheney's hunting accident, saying Mr. Cheney had, quote, 'handled the issue just fine. '"
George W. Bush, in the Oval Office: "It was a deeply traumatic moment for him and obviously for the, it's a tragic moment for Harry Whittington. And so I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."
Vargas: "The sheriff's office in Texas announced today that it has closed its investigation into the hunting accident, and that no charges will be filed. Diane?"

Co-anchor Diane Sawyer then chipped in: "One more note on that story, Elizabeth. The man the Vice President accidentally shot, Harry Whittington, remains in stable condition in a Corpus Christi hospital. And doctors say he's in good humor and could go home in the next few days."

Over on the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer related:
"President Bush made his first public comment today on the hunting accident involving his Vice President. The President said he believes Mr. Cheney handled the issue, quote, 'just fine.'"
George W. Bush, in the Oval Office: "And so I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave."
Schieffer: "The man the Vice President shot on Saturday, Harry Whittington, remains in stable condition in a hospital. Doctors say he could go home in a few days."

Now, as provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, a full transcript of the lead story on the February 16 NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams, in opening teaser, with "Case Closed?" on screen:
"Case closed? Tonight, President Bush says he is satisfied with the Vice President's explanation about his hunting accident. Also, the Texas sheriff says there will be no charges filed."

Williams, in Torino, opened his newscast: "Good evening. The White House made it very clear today, in their view, this story is over. The Vice President, after all, has taken full responsibility for the accidental shooting of a hunting partner who continues to improve in a Texas hospital. No charges will be filed in the case, and today the President spoke for the first time about the incident that has drawn a lot of unwanted attention to his number two man. The questions that continue tonight have to do mostly with the damage this bizarre accident has caused. We begin once again at the White House tonight with NBC's Kelly O'Donnell."

Kelly O'Donnell: "From the Oval Office, the President's first word on the Cheney shooting."
George W. Bush: "And I thought his explanation yesterday was a powerful explanation."
O'Donnell: "Mr. Bush offered sympathy for both the shooting victim and the Vice President."
Bush: "And it was a deeply traumatic moment for him and obviously for the, it's a tragic moment for Harry Whittington."
O'Donnell: "While in Texas today, the last word from authorities who investigated the hunting accident."
Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel, Jr., Kenedy County Sheriff's Department: "The case is closed, like I said, and no criminal charges and that's going to be the end."
O'Donnell: "Today the sheriff's department in Kenedy County, Texas, released a two-page incident report with the descriptions of official interviews conducted with the Vice President Sunday and the first account from shooting victim Harry Whittington, taken Monday morning at the hospital. The report says Whittington 'requested not to be recorded due to his voice being raspy.' The wounded 78-year-old expressed 'concern this incident would bring a bad image to hunting in Texas.' Whittington called it an accident and told investigators, 'foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.' The report makes no other reference to any drinking or that any blood alcohol tests were ever done. The Vice President did say in his Fox TV interview that he had a beer at lunch, noting that was hours before the shooting. Observers say the whole ordeal has weakened Mr. Cheney's influence."
David Gergen, former presidential advisor: "My expectation is that Condi Rice's authority will go up and the Vice President's authority may diminish some."
O'Donnell concluded, from the White House lawn: "Trying to bring to an end days of criticism and distraction, President Bush said he is satisfied with Mr. Cheney's handling of the situation, and senior advisors make the claim that because the White House has now answered some questions, the American people should be satisfied, too. Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, the White House."

Liberal Journalist Bruce Morton Retires
from CNN, A Look Back

Longtime CBS and CNN political reporter Bruce Morton has retired, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer announced after Morton filed his last piece (on the changing significance of the vice presidency) shortly before 5pm EST on Thursday's The Situation Room.

"Beyond his years of solid, hard news reporting, Bruce brings something very special to television journalism, a truly unique voice, smart and wry, with a perspective you could only get by covering politics for five decades," Blitzer enthused. "When we need a certain kind of piece we immediately know is Bruce material, 'Morton-esque,' as many of us like to say right here."

In most instances, "Morton-esque" was a synonym for reliably liberal. Morton was of the vintage of political reporter who came of age when liberals were ascendant in the 1960s, and could barely restrain their hostility as Ronald Reagan and conservatives began to push back the liberal tide beginning in 1980. In his pieces for CNN, Morton often reached back to the 1960s and 1970s for inspiration.

[This item, by the MRC's Rich Noyes, was posted moments ago on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org. To share your thoughts, go to: newsbusters.org ]

Back in May 2004, for example, when the media became inflamed over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story, Morton reminded viewers of the 1968 My Lai massacre in which hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were killed; he failed to say that the awful My Lai killings were an aberration in American military history, not at all indicative of the morality of American soldiers. See: www.mediaresearch.org

Morton's liberal slant has been recognized numerous times by MRC's annual year-end awards, in which a panel of media observers choose the quotes most typifying the media elite's liberal bias. A few examples from our archives:

# "Jesse Jackson toured Chicago and brought tears and excitement wherever he went. Watch him as he walks to the Robert Taylor project, home of some of this city's poorest people. They gave him what they had, they gave him love. This week Jackson has been king. Greeted like a rock star, in a campaign more emotional, perhaps, than Robert Kennedy's in 1968." -- Reporter Bruce Morton, CBS Evening News, March 15, 1988.

# "[Justice William Brennan] loved the flag clearly, and the Constitution, too...Maybe the way to remember Brennan's years on the Court is with some words he spoke to another Georgetown University event back in 1979. 'The quest for freedom, dignity, and the rights of man will never end,' he said. The quest, though always old, is never old, like the poor old woman in Yeats' play. 'Did you see an old woman going down the path?' asked Bridget. 'I did not,' replied Patrick, who had come into the house just after the old woman had left it. 'But I saw a young girl and she had the walk of a queen.' William Brennan loved and served two young girls who walked like queens -- his country, and its highest court." -- Conclusion to story by reporter Bruce Morton on the July 21, 1990 CBS Evening News.

# "Anyone of us could be investigated like this and we would be able to keep no secrets about love or sex or money '€" no secrets about anything. If this reminds you of George Orwell's novel, 1984, it should. The government in that book poked and pried everywhere. Its slogan was 'Big Brother Is Watching You.' And with the aid of the thought police, he was. Welcome to Orwell's world." -- CNN's Bruce Morton on Late Edition, October 11, 1998.

# "His presidency ended more than a decade ago, but politicians, Democrat and Republican, still talk about Ronald Reagan. Al Gore has an ad noting that in Congress he opposed the Reagan budget cuts. He says that because Bill Bradley was one of 36 Democratic Senators who voted for the cuts. Gore doesn't point out that Bradley also voted against the popular Reagan tax cuts and that it was the tax cuts that piled up those enormous deficits, a snowballing national debt." -- Bruce Morton on CNN's Late Edition, February 6, 2000.

# "'Send me,' it says on the Statue of Liberty, 'your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.' Well, some of them maybe. If they have visas and are from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan or Syria, they now pose national security concerns and must be fingerprinted and photographed. This registration system, Attorney General Ashcroft said, would eventually be expanded to other visitors who posed a security concern. What would the standards for that be? Well, they'd be secret, that's what. It's a little like the search for communists in the government after World War II. There were some, of course. But a lot of innocent people had their names blackened and their careers damaged during the hunt." -- Bruce Morton in his "Last Word" commentary on CNN's Late Edition, June 9, 2002.

# "A friend of mine here at CNN has a theory about the Bush administration. They're convinced that everything Bill Clinton ever did was wicked, bad and awful, and so they want to do the opposite....Clinton wanted to save all that wilderness area in Alaska; and Mr. Bush wants to drill for oil there. Clinton fussed about clean air; this President wants to ease new restrictions on coal-burning power plants.... Clinton, my friend noted, had surpluses. Obviously, the Bush administration thinks those are evil, because what they want is deficits '€" big ones, maybe the biggest ever." -- CNN's Bruce Morton on Late Edition, February 9, 2003.

# "Veterans haven't been a big force in past campaigns... but the Vietnam vets may feel bound together more strongly....It may be too early to know how influential they'll be in Kerry's campaign, but they've already done one thing: If the Republicans had any hope of casting Kerry as some Michael Dukakis-style effete Eastern liberal, that's over. The band of brothers stands in his way." -- CNN's Bruce Morton on Inside Politics, January 30, 2004.

Next week, ex-CBSer John Roberts starts at CNN. He'll fill Morton's liberal loafers nicely.

MRC This Week's "Outside Voice" on the
CBS News Public Eye Blog

This week the CBS News "Public Eye" blog turned its weekly Friday "Outside Voices" space over to Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center: "Tim Graham On What Conservative Media Critics Are And Aren't."

The CBSNews.com introduction to the February 17 posting:
"Each week we invite someone from outside PE to weigh in with their thoughts about CBS News and the media at large. This week we turned to Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis for the Media Research Center. From his conservative media watchdog perch, Graham (a frequent commenter on Public Eye) answers some of the questions he's often asked, and gives his take on the differences between right and left media critics. As always, the opinions expressed and factual assertions made in 'Outside Voices' are those of the author, not ours, and we seek a wide variety of voices. Take it away, Tim:"
For the online posting this morning of Graham's piece: www.cbsnews.com

Or, read it here. A reprint of Graham's contribution:

If a conservative were to start a career in the field of politics with the goal of gaining maximum exposure in the "mainstream media," probably the last thing he or she would do is sign up with a conservative media watchdog group. Conservatives of a certain pre-Internet vintage knew it was hard enough getting your name in the paper without picking a fight with the media giants. But since Public Eye was kind enough to solicit this "outside voice," let's explore a few questions we are often asked:

1. Are you anti-journalist? Left-wing media-watch groups like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting make a show of how they're "pro-journalist," as if we at the MRC are not. Surely, Dan Rather is not on our Most Admired list. But we have a deep, geeky love of the news. Several of us can remember being grade-school age and watching Vietnam stories with 'VIA SATELLITE' graphics on screen, when the technology was new and exciting. At 17, I was a little late for my dishwashing job the night Walter Cronkite did his last newscast.

We know the value of reporting done right, but we also warn of the harm of reporting done wrong. We're media critics in part because we're angered by media unfairness, inaccuracy and even injustice in reporting on our ideas and our think tanks, on our political leaders and our historical heroes, on our religious faiths and our traditional family upbringings. But the great majority of what we watch and read is not noticeably unfair or inaccurate. If we were asked the recent CBS poll question, "How often do the news media tell the truth," we would answer "most of the time." So much of the news our patient analysts review every day is focused on subjects without earth-shaking political impact: who won at the Olympics, wildfires and church arsons, low-fat diets and teenage alcohol consumption, missing white girls and Britney Spears neglecting to belt up her baby. We don't suspect the networks are twisting or omitting facts for a political agenda in these hours.

After decades on this beat, we're familiar with the workings of journalism (in my case, I had a recent stint in the White House press corps) and we're willing to consider that many stories we don't like, like the Cheney frenzy this week, are undeniably news. (We may not like the "flood the zone" number of stories, or the tilt within, but would concede it's a story.)

2. Are you cheerleaders for corporate conglomeration in the news business? Conservatives are clearly capitalists, but if there's one thing that left-wing and right-wing media critics can agree on, it's that TV news is too dumbed-down and focus-grouped and concentrated on cheesy stories of the nanny-shook-the-baby-too-hard variety.

For liberal media critics, these stories obstruct the media from having a political impact -- what Danny Schechter calls "serving democracy" and displaying "conscience" instead of goosing commerce. As conservative media critics, we can understand how a day heavy on News Lite is a day for high fives at the Bush White House. But it was also a pleasing vacation from scandal stories for the Clinton White House as well, from the O.J. Simpson trial forward.

Media critics of both varieties can easily be accused of being snobbish, of wanting more spinach for viewers, so that more Americans might be able to identify who is Secretary of State or who is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or understand what is a conference report or a health savings account.

3. Are you only happy when conservatives get to dominate the news? This reminds me of an old Bill Moyers quote from 1991 in the public-broadcasting newspaper Current, complaining about David Horowitz trying to balance out PBS: "He and his ilk do not want 'fairness and balance' -- they want unanimity. They don't want 'media integrity' -- they want media subservience to their ideology. To him and his reactionary allies, criticism equals subversion, opposition equals treason, and liberalism is a personal affront."

Liberalism at its most arrogant assumes that "dissent" is narrowly defined as heroic disagreement with stodgy conservatism and "speaking truth to power" is the same as exposing conservatives as reckless and ridiculous. But when the president or the Senate leader is a Democrat, doesn't the definition of power change? It's not just elected leaders. To conservative media critics, the established media elite aren't speaking truth to power '€" they are the power. They are not dissenters, but the authority the dissenters are challenging.

I would argue that in the modern TV-news era, ever since Edith Efron first tagged the media for liberal bias in "The News Twisters," that it's easier to suggest that it's liberal media poobahs who have more accurately lived up to the Moyers accusation -- that have wished for liberal unanimity, and the voicing of conservatism is a personal affront. They have told liberal media friends it made no sense to balance sweet liberal reason and truth with the misinformation of conservatism, a dark creed beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

I have interviewed TV news producers who've bluntly told me they had no interest in "ping-pong matches" from differing ideological poles, that it only "confuses" the audience. The scientist who's skeptical of global warming forecasts, the quiet protester praying the rosary in front of an abortion clinic, the conservative Christian expert who argues "gay marriage" will broadly undermine stable parenting for children: these people are not welcome to sit at the liberal media table. They are shunned as the voices of subversion and unreason.

For an echo of unanimity, look no further than last week's piece by Danny Schechter, who denounces Bernard Goldberg as a "liberal turned renegade" on a bender of "personal bitterness." He is saying Goldberg's dissent from his old network is a personal affront. Yet he embraces disgraced Mary Mapes for her "highly detailed tell-all tales." There's no "personal bitterness" or misinformation from this Bush-hating partisan?

The Danny Schechters of the world, weaned on sixties radicalism, have the network resumes. He's worked at ABC, at CNN, and made documentaries and series for PBS. Most of us as young conservative journalists never considered sending a resume to these outlets. Those now accused of being TV news conservatives -- say, John Stossel, or Brit Hume -- certainly weren't hired at the networks with conservative activism on their resumes.

4. How can you advocate objectivity, when you're not objective? It's amazing how many people think the argument over liberal bias can be ended in ten seconds by insisting that right-wingers are hardly objective, so they can't insist on objectivity for the media elite. No person can be objective, but a news outlet can certainly strive toward an objective method.

Personally, I'm amazed that liberals think they have the more idealistic position on media bias. The conservative position is for fairness and balance and debate, for each side getting a say. You can argue that conservatives are merely tugging the media rightward in their nefarious demands for balance, but the location of these poles demonstrates convincingly that the media today is not on the right, but located noticeably to the left of the Squishiest Middle and somewhere to the right of the rarefied radical air around Ramsey Clark.

END of Reprint

To offer your comment, go to the online posting: www.cbsnews.com

Letterman's "Top Ten Surprises in the
Dick Cheney Interview"

From the February 16 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Surprises in the Dick Cheney Interview." Late Show home page: www.cbs.com

10. Admitted he's the guy who popped a cap in Suge Knight

9. Sentenced himself to a week at Gitmo

8. He's engaged to Katie Holmes

7. Revealed list of the next ten old guys he plans to shoot

6. Pinned Brit Hume to the wall with a ninja throwing star

5. Chalked the whole thing up to 'roid rage

4. Spent most of the time talking about who's going to win "American Idol"

3. His clumsy attempt to pin the entire thing on Michael Brown

2. Claims it was all part of the plan to make Bush look smarter

1. Stunning admission: "The gun was loaded and so was I"

-- Brent Baker