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Couric: Aren't "Liberals Controlling the Mainstream Media?" --5/19/2004


1. Couric: Aren't "Liberals Controlling the Mainstream Media?"
Every time David Brock writes a book bashing conservatives, NBC's Today gives him a platform to promote it as they did on Tuesday to discuss his latest book, The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. But this time Today added a twist: Katie Couric didn't fully buy into his premise and she actually suggested there is credence to the idea that the mainstream media tilts left. She proposed: "Aren't most people in journalism, primarily, except for say on Fox, and in certain conservative publications, aren't they for the most part, and of course the media is, are not monolithic, but pro-choice, you know, against prayer in school, probably favor affirmative action? I mean don't you think that's, that's fairly typical? And if so is it, why isn't it fair to say that liberals, sort of, are controlling the mainstream media?"

2. Now That He's Attacking Bush, Reporters Have Respect for Hersh
Now that crusading liberal journalist Seymour Hersh is fueling a scandal that hurts a President the media largely dislike, writing stories about how the responsibility for prisoner abuse in Iraq goes right up to the office of the Secretary of Defense, as opposed to writing a book which tarnished JFK's "Camelot," he's become the media's darling. Media reporter Howard Kurtz marveled in Wednesday's Washington Post: "Is Seymour Hersh becoming... respectable?" Kurtz cited a litany of media appearances for Hersh as Kurtz noted how "the media establishment is embracing" him "as never before." NBC's Today provides a great example of how the media's attitude toward Hersh has changed as Hersh has changed his targets. Today has interviewed Hersh twice in the last few weeks on his prison abuse stories, treating him like an unbiased, authoritative journalist. But when he wrote a book in 1997 attacking the legend of John F. Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot, Today's Matt Lauer pounded him for two days with hostile questions.

3. Top CBS News and NY Times Execs Deny Any Agenda in Iraq Coverage
Jim Murphy, Executive Producer of the CBS Evening News, denied his program reflects any political agenda. The idea that "there some agenda here," in the focus on the prisoner abuse story, is "ridiculous," he told Howard Kurtz on Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN. Murphy, who works daily with Dan Rather, noted how "there are people in all media and in all walks of life who, you know, bring a political set of arguments to the table." But, he insisted, "we don't on my broadcast." New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman expressed "no pleasure" in focusing on prisoner abuse. He insisted: "We don't have an agenda about the Bush administration."


Couric: Aren't "Liberals Controlling
the Mainstream Media?"

NBC's Katie Couric Every time David Brock writes a book bashing conservatives, NBC's Today gives him a platform to promote it as they did on Tuesday to discuss his latest book, The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. But this time Today added a twist: Katie Couric didn't fully buy into his premise and she actually suggested there is credence to the idea that the mainstream media tilts left.

Couric contended that "most people, I think, on the street would say the media it tends, tend to be more liberal than conservative" and she proposed: "Aren't most people in journalism, primarily, except for say on Fox, and in certain conservative publications, aren't they for the most part, and of course the media is, are not monolithic, but pro-choice, you know, against prayer in school, probably favor affirmative action? I mean don't you think that's, that's fairly typical? And if so is it, why isn't it fair to say that liberals, sort of, are controlling the mainstream media?"

A lot of journalists, who see no bias in any mainstream media outlet, are magically able to see bias on the Fox News Channel. Couric may be the first to recognize bias beyond FNC.

But Couric also fretted: "Why does the Democratic Party seem unable to fight fire with fire?"

And Brock got plenty of time to claim that right-wingers created a false notion of liberal media bias and that, unlike Bill O'Reilly, Dan Rather does not lie: "They took that concept, they invented it, they marketed it, they funded it of tens of millions of dollars to convince people of this notion of bias. But here's the question Katie. It's not about bias, it's about the facts. They are professional news organizations. If Dan Rather was doing the kind of lying that Bill O'Reilly does every night on the Fox News Channel he'd be out of business, he'd be off the air."

Brock also impugned conservatives in general, and Sean Hannity in particular, as he asserted that "there's always been a market for lies and deceptions and I show in this book, going back to the 1950s, there were racist newsletters circulated in this country. It's the same market. You take a Sean Hannity. And I've got all the information on him. How he built his career on gay-bashing, on racism."

Two years ago, on March 14, 2002 Today gave a forum to David Brock to plug his book, Blinded by the Right. Matt Lauer noted how Brock "made a living as a right-wing hatchet man," and he now "exposes how...the GOP tried to destroy the Clinton presidency through a series of well-plotted smear campaigns." Lauer cued up Brock to endorse Hillary Clinton's insight into the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Even though Brock had renounced his writing critical of liberals, Lauer set up the segment during the 7:30am half hour by treating Brock's claims bashing conservatives as fully credible. Lauer bought Brock's allegations as beyond dispute: "You were posing as a journalist when you were really a political operative."

Interestingly, because he worked for an "ultra-conservative" magazine, The American Spectator, back in 1993 when he wrote his book undermining Anita Hill's charges, Today didn't then consider him to be credible. On the May 3, 1993 Today, Katie Couric asked Brock: "The American Spectator is an ultra-conservative magazine, and it seems as if you are an advocate for Justice Thomas in the book. Is it really fair to call yourself an objective journalist?"

But when he started denouncing conservatives, Today considered him fully credible. Lauer did not once question any of Brock's claims as he prompted him to elucidate on how wealthy conservatives who directed the anti-Clinton conspiracy allowed him to smear people.

For a full rundown of Brock on Today in 2002: www.mediaresearch.org

Back to Tuesday morning, May 18, this week, Katie Couric plugged the upcoming session: "And coming up in this half-hour, for those who disparage the so-called liberal media here's a shot across the bow. A former conservative says they've got it all backwards. It's actually the right wing that's making all the noise and setting the agenda these days. We'll hear how when we talk to David Brock about his new book in just a few minutes."

At least this time Today relegated Brock to a later hour as his interview aired just after 9am, in Today's third hour. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down the entire session:

Couric set up the segment, in which Brock appeared in-studio with Couric, sitting in a chair across from her: "Much like the nation, bookstores are also seemingly divided into red and blue with a lot of new books taking a very sharp partisan edge. A recent entry is called The Republican Noise Machine. It's written by David Brock who describes himself as a former right wing journalist. Hi, David, good morning."
David Brock: "Good morning, thanks for having me back."
Couric: "Let's sort of put this in context and give people some perspective. You wrote, you were part of the right wing-"
Brock: "That's right."
Couric: "-I guess in terms of your political views and your job. Right?"
Brock: "Yes for 10 years I worked in the conservative movement at the Washington Times, at the Heritage Foundation, at the American Spectator, a right wing magazine-"
Couric: "You wrote-"
Brock: "-I wrote a book attacking Anita Hill back in 1993."
Couric: "And, and also Hillary Rodham Clinton. And, and, and basically they vilified both of these individuals. And then somehow you had what might be described as an epiphany, depending on your political views where you either went to the dark side or saw the light, depending on how people view your views now."
Brock: "Sure."
Couric: "What, what created that change in you?"
Brock: "Sure well actually it was doing the research on the Hillary Clinton book I could start to see through the Republican attack machine that I describe in my new book The Republican Noise Machine. In other words I saw all the lies that were being propagated. The right wing was going crazy in the mid-1990s with Clinton hating and I was able to see my way through that. And I know how the system works. As I said I was in it for 10 years. But it's not just a 10-year thing. They've been working on this for 30 years. And in The Republican Noise Machine I describe a very well-financed attack on journalism to move this country to the right. To skew American politics to the right. I name all the names and I go back 30 years. I name the funders, the Rupert Murdochs, the Reverend Moons and I show exactly how it works. And I show what a distorting effect it's having on our politics because people are getting, and I did this, people are getting false and wrong information drummed into their heads everyday. There's an important election this year. Voters need to know what's true and what's not."
Couric: "The Republican Noise Machine, how did it come to be so effective in your view? You talk about it being well-financed, obviously run by very experienced political operatives."
Brock: "Right, right."
Couric: "But why did it find such a captive audience if you think it's so full of lies and deceptions?"
Brock: "Well I think there's always been a market for lies and deceptions and I show in this book, going back to the 1950s, there were racist newsletters circulated in this country. It's the same market. You take a Sean Hannity. And I've got all the information on him. How he built his career on gay-bashing, on racism. This is something people need to understand. And I've also started an organization, as you know, Media Matters for America which launched two weeks ago, which posts now, everyday on a Web site at mediamatters.org, all these smears and lies that are coming out of the right wing media. Because it's not enough to just describe it. I've described in this book, people really need to read it. But also we have to push back, we have to stop it. Rush Limbaugh's comments on the Iraqi prisoner abuse. We posted those on our Web site where he was comparing it to a college fraternity prank." [Photo of Limbaugh shown]
Couric: "Let's talk about why the Democrats haven't been able to counter this."
Brock: "Sure."
Couric: "Obviously the Republicans are doing something right."
Brock: "Sure, absolutely."
Couric: "They've made significant gains as a result of these efforts. Why does the Democratic Party seem unable to fight fire with fire?"
Brock: "Right. Well I think a couple things. I think that part of it is, if people read this book with all the money, I mean we're talking well over a billion dollars, it's overwhelming. I think Democrats and liberals have been in denial about the impact of all of this. They think these are fringe characters. That's not the case. Our organization released a poll showing that people go to Rush Limbaugh for information. It's a news source. Talk radio in this country, 310 hours a day of right wing talk and five hours of liberal talk just in the top 50 markets, Katie."
Couric: "What about the allegation that liberals really do kind of control the mainstream media and, and the airwaves. You dispute that notion. But most people, I think, on the street would say the media it tends, tend to be more liberal than conservative."
Brock: "Right."
Couric wondered: "Why is that perception out there, do you think? And, and aren't most people in journalism, primarily, except for say on Fox, and in certain conservative publications, aren't they for the most part, and of course the media is, are not monolithic-"
Brock: "Sure, right."
Couric: "-but pro-choice, you know, against prayer in school, probably favor affirmative action? I mean don't you think that's, that's fairly typical? And if so is it, why isn't it fair to say that liberals, sort of, are controlling the mainstream media?"
Brock charged: "Well first of all the right wing, and I have a whole chapter in the Republican Noise Machine that people really need to read. Because you're right, most people do believe there's liberal bias. They took that concept, they invented it, they marketed it, they funded it of tens of millions of dollars to convince people of this notion of bias. But here's the question Katie. It's not about bias, it's about the facts. They are professional news organizations. If Dan Rather was doing the kind of lying that Bill O'Reilly does every night on the Fox News Channel he'd be out of business, he'd be off the air." [Photo of Bill O'Reilly]
Brock: "So we have to return to questions of fact and forget about bias and forget about opinion. People are entitled to their opinions. That's not what the issue is."
Couric: "You also talk about, you talk about 24 hour news networks, cable networks and how this created a huge vacuum, needed to be filled by talking heads and most of those talking heads, you claim, are conservative. People like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter. But aren't there plenty of liberal writers out there, in fairness, like Eric Alterman or Jonathan Alter or Paul Krugman. We were talking about Molly Ivins, Eleanor Clift."
Brock: "Sure."
Couric: "I mean it's not as if the other side isn't represented at all. Do you feel like you're going overboard here a little bit?"
Brock: "I don't. I mean first of all the amplification system and this is what I detail in Republican Noise Machine it is what mediamatters.org is trying to fight back against. The talk radio amplification system, liberals do not have that. They, they do not have a dedicated cable channel like the Fox News Channel."
Couric: "They're trying though. What about Al Gore's cable channel?"
Brock: "They are, they are trying."
Couric: "What about Al Franken's Air America?"
Brock: "We don't know what that will be. But let me tell you this. Whatever Al Gore does it will not be what Roger Ailes is doing. This is a right wing Republican henchman at the head of a news channel. This is inconceivable Katie."
Couric: "David Brock. It's an interesting book. It's called The Republican Noise Machine. And people can read an excerpt on our Web site at today.msnbc.com. Thanks for coming in, nice to see you."

That book excerpt is at: www.msnbc.msn.com

For Brock's Web site, with rants against the conservative views of conservatives commentators, but zilch about actual news coverage: mediamatters.org

Now That He's Attacking Bush, Reporters
Have Respect for Hersh

Now that crusading liberal journalist Seymour Hersh is fueling a scandal that hurts a President the media largely dislike, writing stories about how the responsibility for prisoner abuse in Iraq goes right up to the office of the Secretary of Defense, as opposed to writing a book which tarnished JFK's "Camelot," he's become the media's darling. "Is Seymour Hersh becoming...respectable?", media reporter Howard Kurtz marveled in Wednesday's Washington Post. [Ellipses in original]

Kurtz reported in his May 19 "Style" section article: "Thirty-five years after breaking the news of the My Lai massacre, the tenacious, hot-tempered reporter is winning praise for his disclosures about U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. He's on the tube touting his findings with Bob Schieffer, George Stephanopoulos, Wolf Blitzer, Bill O'Reilly. He's just won a National Magazine Award. 'If there's a journalistic equivalent to Viagra, he's on it,' gushes Newsweek. A Pentagon spokesman is ripping him for 'outlandish' and 'conspiratorial' reporting, but the media establishment is embracing the Cleveland Park resident as never before."

Indeed, this week all the networks jumped on his latest story about how a secret team that doesn't have to follow the rules, set up by Don Rumsfeld to capture terrorists, set in motion a disregard for prisoners which led to excessive abuses in Iraq.

NBC's Today, the MRC's Tim Graham noticed, provides a great example of how the media's attitude toward Hersh has changed as Hersh has changed his targets.

Tim submitted this item for CyberAlert:

Today has interviewed the liberal New Yorker writer twice in the last few weeks on his prison abuse stories, treating him like an unbiased, authoritative journalist. But when he wrote a book in 1997 attacking the legend of John F. Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot, Today co-host Matt Lauer pounded him for two days with questions like, "Do you think you were blinded by the desire to tell a sordid tale?" And: "People think that you have strong opinions and that often your opinions cloud your journalism."

To discuss his prisoner-abuse stories, Hersh appeared on April 30, with two other guests, and then alone on May 10. On the 10th, co-host Katie Couric asked straight questions, treating him like an unbiased, authoritative source of information: "Tell us how this worked. I mean these were civilian contractors, CIA personnel and DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, personnel. So they basically came in, they decided or it was decided that they would be in charge of the prison. Did they specifically order these soldiers, these underlings to do these specific things to the detainees or was it simply a request to soften up the prisoners for interrogation as far as you know?"

She also asked why the media and others had failed to beat him to this important story: "Sy, before we go, the International Red Cross, another human rights group, investigated this prison abuse late last year. Why wasn't the Pentagon, Congress, or for that matter, the media more aware or more aggressive about these reports?"

But on November 10 and 11, 1997, it was a much different story, since the ox being gored wasn't the Bush family, but the Kennedy family. NBC had dumped out of a deal with Hersh for a Kennedy documentary project when, as Today's Lauer explained in introducing Hersh, his "source documents on some of the most titillating topics proved to be fakes." Hersh didn't include that material in his book, but note the hostility of the hardballs Lauer threw at Hersh back then:

-- "You handle the legacy of JFK with about as much tenderness as a steamroller here. What was your goal with the book?"

-- "Let's talk about the controversy. The documents you obtained in question was apparently a contract between JFK and Marilyn Monroe, hush money paid to Marilyn Monroe to keep her quiet about their alleged affair. You insisted that those documents were authentic long after others began to question their authenticity."

-- "Our network has expressed that they had serious concerns about some of your source material and that's why they backed out of a project with you...So when Warren Littlefield, the President of NBC Entertainment, says he backed out of this because of questions he's lying?"

-- "You did believe that these documents were true. Do you think you were blinded by the desire to tell a sordid tale?"

-- "What do you say about the problem that might now exist, where people may look at the other stories in the book, and the other sources in the book, and say that because there was a bogus document that we continued to believe for so long, these other stories may not be true."

-- "You say that in 1960, John F. Kennedy stole the election. Let's begin with the fact that you say he paid $2 million in a primary election to win the state of West Virginia. And you go further and you say Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy personally delivered some of that money to local state politicians. Based on what proof?...Obviously Bobby Kennedy's not around to defend himself. A spokesperson for Ted Kennedy said, 'We don't intend to comment on this kind of malicious gossip and innuendo.'"

-- Lauer concluded: "You have heard this about you before. People think that you have strong opinions and that often your opinions cloud your journalism. I know you've done wonderful works in the past, but they think that possibly you've been twisting the words of sources. Some of your sources in this book have now come out and said you twisted their words. As a matter of fact, one gentleman, Jerry Bruno, a former Kennedy advance man, says after being interviewed by you and reading the final product that you should have called this book the Dark Side of Seymour Hersh."

The next day, the 11th, the hardballs resumed as they discussed JFK's sex life. Here are illustrative examples:

-- "You mentioned Arthur Schlesinger a second ago, Kennedy advisor, historian. He says this, I'll quote, 'The notion that there was a bunch of bimbos parading around the White House is ridiculous. I worked at the White House. No doubt some things happened but Hersh's capacity to exaggerate is unparalleled.'"

-- "Again stories have been going around for years. And I think that's one of also the complaints on this book by the way, Seymour. Is that all these stories have been out there. That you're basically taking a lot of, I guess, stories that have never been proven, putting them together, and making them fact. But the one story you do talk about in the book was that JFK was married before Jackie. That he actually married Durie Malcolm, a Palm Beach socialite. Basically you call it a one-night stand. Durie Malcolm, as you know, is still alive. She has always denied that she was ever married to JFK. There are no records to prove it. Why are you right and why is she lying?....Real quickly. Are you confident that the stories in this book will stand the test of time?....And you are receiving the scrutiny."

That book may be riddled with misinformation. But he's getting only plaudits, not scrutiny, today.

For more on Hersh's strong, anti-conservative opinions, see the May 6, 200 CyberAlert on how he thought John Ashcroft was "demented," President Bush "doesn't know much," Don Rumsfeld "thinks he's Woody Allen," and the Iraq war was going to start a "horrible Armageddon." Go to: www.mrc.org

In his Post story, "Seymour Hersh, At the Front Lines On War Scandals," Kurtz recalled how as "a onetime volunteer for Eugene McCarthy's antiwar campaign," Hersh, who toiled for many years for the New York Times, "doesn't pretend to be a neutral observer." Kurtz elaborated: "Appearing with two Senators Sunday on Face the Nation, Hersh challenged them: 'If you convene a serious hearing and I assure you some senior officers will come and -- if you give them enough protection -- and tell you things that will really knock your socks off. So go for it.' And on Late Edition, Hersh didn't hesitate to invoke a Nazi parallel: 'You're seeing two attack dogs, German shepherds, snarling, it's a scene from, you know, Third Reich, you name it.'"

For Kurtz's May 19 article in full: www.washingtonpost.com

Top CBS News and NY Times Execs Deny
Any Agenda in Iraq Coverage

Jim Murphy, Executive Producer of the CBS Evening News, denied his program reflects any political agenda. The idea that "there some agenda here," in the focus on the prisoner abuse story, is "ridiculous," he told Howard Kurtz on Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN. Murphy, who works daily with Dan Rather, noted how "there are people in all media and in all walks of life who, you know, bring a political set of arguments to the table." But, he insisted, "we don't on my broadcast."

Murphy also asserted that "we are like every other American. We want to win this war. We believe in the country." Recalling the "strange conspiracy theories that float around this war and about the attacks of 9/11 and everything else," Murphy maintained they always "get evidence before we tell stories."

But that wasn't so for the CBS Evening News one night in 2000 when Dan Rather relayed the Al Gore campaign spin that nefarious Republicans leaked the news that independent counsel Robert Ray had established a new grand jury to examine Bill Clinton's statements in the Monica Lewinsky case. But when a federal judge appointed by Jimmy Carter admitted that he was the source of the leak to an AP reporter, the correction did not get such high priority. Dan Rather delivered the most loaded language, outright accusing Bush-affiliated people. He referred to it as a "carefully orchestrated story leak" about what the "Republican-backed special prosecutor Robert Ray" is up to. In a Web posting, Rather slimily noted how Ray is overseen by a three-judge panel which "features two federal judges backed by the Jesse Helms wing of the Republican Party." For details: www.mediaresearch.org

On the May 16 Reliable Sources, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman expressed "no pleasure" in focusing on prisoner abuse. He insisted: "We don't have an agenda about the Bush administration."

Some excerpts from the two segments Kurtz conducted with Murphy, Taubman and Leonard Downie, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, at the start of a special hour-long program which began at 11am EDT on Sunday morning:

Kurtz: "Jim Murphy, I want to turn to the question of how often television, for example, continues to show these pictures. And I want to read from a column in the Boston Globe by Jeff Jacoby, who writes, 'I'm sickened as well by the relish with which the scandal is being exploited by those who think that the defeat of the Bush administration is an end that justifies just about any means. I'm sickened by the recklessness of the media, which relentlessly flogged the graphic images from Abu Ghraib, giving them an in-your-face prominence that couldn't help but exaggerate their impact.' Your thoughts?
Murphy: "My thoughts are that I completely disagree with what he wrote. I mean, there's a small kernel of truth buried in there about how sometimes the media just uses these images as wallpaper. We try, on our broadcast, at least, to be as judicious as possible with how much gets used, what gets used, how often it's shown. That's an important part of our decision-making process. I'm sorry if he's offended by what we have shown.
"But the other part of his argument, that there's some agenda here, it's just -- it's ridiculous. I mean, there are people in all media and in all walks of life who, you know, bring a political set of arguments to the table. We don't on my broadcast. I don't.
"It's an important story. We had to inform people of it. We had to show people what was behind it. I mean, that's the evidence, that's a major, major part of the story, the biggest part of the story that's in our hands. And I just have to disagree that it's wrong to use it."

Later, Kurtz asserted: "Pew Research survey you probably saw said that 50 percent of Republicans, but only 26 percent of Democrats, say the press is giving too much attention to this prisoner abuse story. There is a sense out there, fairly or unfairly, particularly among conservatives, that the press is kind of relishing this as an administration scandal."
Taubman: "That's certainly not true in our case, and I'm sure in Len's case as well. There's no pleasure in this. It's a very disturbing story. The decisions to run these pictures are not easy to make. No one is relishing this, believe me."
Kurtz: "In other words, this is -- I mean, journalists love scandal and they love stories that land on the front page. But this is also something that we're all grappling with, our own shock and dismay at what happened."
Taubman: "Yes, and I think -- you know, let's not get carried away with the idea that journalists love scandal. I mean, you know, some news organizations love scandal, not all. And in this case, it's an important political story, an important military story.
"It cuts to the role of America in the world and our credibility now as we try to stabilize Iraq. It couldn't be more important. And there is no -- no one's having fun doing this. ...And I think it's -- if I may interject, it's important for people to understand that the news organizations, at least the ones that are represented on this show this morning, we don't have an agenda about the Bush administration. I mean, the New York Times has run all kinds of photos on the front page during the Bush administration. Many of them which would be perceived as critics of Bush as somehow supportive of him or somehow flattering of him."

Murphy soon interjected, as too why it took so long for the media to get on the abuse story: "But can I say something there, too, Howie? You know what? We are like every other American. We want to win this war. We believe in the country. And the reason that the prisoner abuse story took so long to come out is that there was no proof of it. We heard stories like this last summer. People -- every journalistic organization in Iraq has been approached by people who claimed things like this were going on at detainee camps and in prisons, but without any real evidence. And so you couldn't do anything with it."
Kurtz: "But wasn't there a mindset, Jim Murphy, that, well, you know, these are a bunch of detainees, maybe they're exaggerating? In other words, how aggressive were journalists really?"
Murphy: "Well, that's part of the mindset, because, also, if you work in that part of the world, you learn that rumors rule. And we don't run with rumors. And you also can't believe a lot of what you see, because insane things are said all the time. Look at the strange conspiracy theories that float around this war and about the attacks of 9/11 and everything else. We can't buy into that. So we get evidence before we tell stories."

For the full transcript of the Reliable Sources session: www.cnn.com

Be advised that we have corrected the transcript above against the tape, so our version above does not always match CNN's text. In several instances, the posted transcript misidentifies the speaker.

# First Lady Laura Bush is scheduled to appear tonight, Wednesday, on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

-- Brent Baker