Appearance Alert!
MRC's Brent Bozell on FNC's The Kelly File, Friday 9:40pm ET/PT

CyberAlert -- 01/14/2002 -- Bush Non-Favors a Scandal

Printer Friendly Version

Bush Non-Favors a Scandal; "When Did They Know?" CBS Ignored Rubin, Had Time for Prince Harry's Pot; Calls for Campaign Finance "Reform"

1) Network reporters defined Bush administration non-favors for Enron as scandalous and contended cabinet secretaries should have warned the public. NBC anchor Lester Holt: "At issue, whether the President was informed about Enron's request for help and whether the White House knew something investors and employees didn't." Sam Donaldson pressed Treasury Secretary O'Neill: "When you knew...that this big company was in deep, deep trouble, didn't you feel an obligation to tell the public?"

2) From Thursday through Saturday night, the CBS Evening News, which ignored Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's phone call, devoted just one measly sentence to Democratic links to Enron. But CBS found time to report how Britain's Prince Harry has smoked marijuana and gotten drunk.

3) Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made a perfectly reasonable observation about how he wasn't shocked by Enron's demise because the "genius of capitalism" means some companies succeed while others fail. ABC's Linda Douglass decided to highlight how "Senator Lieberman called those statements today outrageous and cold-blooded."

4) Even a liberal is baffled by how the media can justify making Enron into a Bush political scandal. Lawrence O'Donnell declared on the McLaughlin Group: "It is a business scandal story. There is absolutely not even a whiff of political scandal in this thing so far. And it's really funny to watch the Washington press corps try to manufacture it."

5) ABC's Cokie Roberts responded to the Enron case by urging President Bush to support campaign finance reform and CBS's Bob Schieffer suggested: "Outlaw the big corporate contributions. That way it won't look like the companies are calling in a chip every time they call the White House."

6) The Washington Post referred to Peter Kirsanow, the man President Bush has named to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as "a conservative lawyer from Cleveland." But the newspaper didn't tag any commissioners as liberal.

7) Reuters corrected a story which asserted that the U.S. "gives Israel about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill Palestinians."

8) Video now up of Peter Jennings setting up a clip, which showed George Bush at a restaurant in Crawford, by announcing: "President Clinton, of course, is on his ranch in Scotland."

9) The CyberAlert subscription list has surpassed 10,000.


>>> This week's Human Events, the "national conservative weekly," features a two-page spread devoted to quotes from the MRC's "Best Notable Quotables of 2001: The Fourteenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting." The article is not online, but you can see the quotes Human Events chose to highlight by picking up a copy of the January 14 edition and looking at pages 10-11. Human Events is online at: http://humaneventsonline.com <<<

1

Usually a political scandal is defined by how government officials abuse their power on behalf of a constituent or donor, not by how officials resisted a request for a favor. But in the Enron case, the networks have turned phone calls from Enron executives to top Bush officials into some kind of scandalous behavior on the part of those who received the calls, even though there is no evidence any action was taken in response.

A second media line, matching the polemical point made by California liberal Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman: that the Bush cabinet secretaries, who received calls from Enron in late October, should have alerted the public to the impending collapse of Enron. But by late October, the Enron stock price had already fallen to about $10 from a high in February of about $80. In raising this point journalists failed to address fundamental economics: If Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had publicly warned Enron shareholders that the company could soon go bankrupt the price would have plummeted anyway as more would have tried to sell than wanted to buy. And employees with shares stuck in a 401 (k) still couldn't have done anything.

NBC anchor Lester Holt announced Sunday night: "At issue, whether the President was informed about Enron's request for help and whether the White House knew something investors and employees didn't, that Enron was in deep trouble." CBS anchor John Roberts similarly demanded to know two nights earlier: "The key questions for congressional and criminal investigators include who knew what and when about the energy company's slide into bankruptcy."

Sam Donaldson pressed Treasury Secretary O'Neill: "When you knew...that this big company was in deep, deep trouble, didn't you feel an obligation to tell the public?"

More details below about these examples from Sunday's NBC Nightly News and ABC's This Week, and Friday's CBS Evening News and Today on NBC:

-- NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt opened the January 13 show by trying to make receiving phone calls something scandalous:
"Good evening everyone. With the Enron investigations ramping up this week, members of the George Bush cabinet today were distancing the President from the phone calls they received from Enron's CEO before the company's collapse. At issue: whether the President was informed about Enron's request for help and whether the White House knew something investors and employees didn't, that Enron was in deep trouble."

-- On Sunday's This Week, Sam Donaldson quizzed Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: "When you knew, no matter how long the phone calls were, that this big company was in deep, deep trouble, didn't you feel an obligation to tell the public?"
O'Neill replied: "Sam, you and your other friends in the print media, were telling the people everyday. I didn't learn anything from Ken Lay that wasn't public property."
Donaldson wasn't satisfied: "So you don't think the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Commerce, if they had spoken out, wouldn't have meant more to investors, to employees than a newspaper story?"

Up next, Cokie Roberts interviewed Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, who was more interested in talking about wrongdoing by Enron and Arthur Anderson, but Roberts kept prodding him to agree with anti-Bush partisan Democratic points.

Roberts, referring to an earlier taped soundbite, asserted: "You heard earlier in the broadcast your colleague, Senator Lieberman, saying that the relationship between Enron and the administration, the fact that Ken Lay has been the biggest contributor to the administration, is an area of concern. Is that something that you will be looking into?"

Levin said it is not a concern of his committee, but that campaign finance reform is a concern and "I have no doubt that Enron had greater access because of huge campaign contributions."
Roberts swung the conversation back to the Bush administration: "Greater access to cabinet secretaries and to the White House staff and Vice President Cheney?"
Levin tried to get away from politics and back to Enron: "I have no doubt that they had greater access not just to the administration but to Members of Congress, because of huge campaign contributions and that's what we've got to end. But it's the actions of Enron, the improprieties, the false statements. They were selling glass as real diamonds and that is false, we've got to put an end to it. That is the major concern of my subcommittee and that is what it seems to me the American people want us to focus on."
Undeterred, Roberts returned again to politics: "Now, Congressman Waxman, from California, has sent letters to the secretaries asking for all of the documents, all of the meetings, any contacts at all between the administration and Enron. And implying that maybe even though Enron didn't seem to get energy policy changed to suit it that maybe the administration was advocating tax policy that would be helpful to Enron at the time that all of these contacts were taking place. What's your reaction to that?"

Roberts soon hoped: "Do you see a change in the laws coming as a result of this, re-regulation of energy, for instance?"

Wrapping up the interview, Roberts worried about how the matter could hurt Democrats: "Senator, we're out of time, but I know that you are looking at the company. But there are a lot of Democrats licking their lips over this at the moment, seeing an opportunity to get at the Bush administration. Do you think there's a danger for Democrats here?"

-- Anchor John Roberts began Friday's CBS Evening News by characterizing the scandal as one of "who knew what and when" in the Bush administration:
"The Bush administration was trying again today to control the damage from the collapse of the Enron Corporation, a company with ties to many administration officials, including the President. The key questions for congressional and criminal investigators include who knew what and when about the energy company's slide into bankruptcy. Today we learned that a top executive of Enron asked the administration to step in late last year to try to head off the company's collapse."

-- Katie Couric led Friday's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, in full scandal mode: "Good morning. What did they know and when did they know it? The shockwaves from the collapse of the energy giant Enron, once the seventh biggest company in the U.S. are being felt at another power source, the White House, as the Justice Department's criminal investigation gets into gear today, Friday, January the 11th, 2002."

2

Minimizing Clinton ties to Enron. While Saturday's NBC Nightly News mentioned how Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now with Enron creditor CitiCorp, called a Treasury official last fall, CBS ignored the revelation which was headlined on the front page of the Washington Post. But CBS found time to report how Britain's Prince Harry has smoked marijuana and gotten drunk.

CBS gave a clause on Friday night to how Enron "even received White House support for overseas Enron projects," a reference to how Clinton administration officials helped Enron with a power plant project in India (and got a $100,000 donation to the DNC), a story which the DrudgeReport recalled was first reported by Time magazine at the time. The Washington Times put it on its front page on Saturday. (There was no World News Tonight on Saturday.)

In fact, from Thursday through Saturday night, the CBS Evening News devoted just one measly sentence to Enron donations to Democrats. On Thursday night, CBS ignored those contributions to Democrats. See the January 11 CyberAlert:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020111.asp#1

On Friday night, John Roberts emphasized how the "The lion's share of the campaign cash has gone to Republicans, specifically George Bush. Since 1993, Enron and its employees funneled two and a quarter million into Mr. Bush's political career and party coffers." But, he briefly added, "Enron also played the other side of the political fence. Prior to George Bush's campaign, Enron Chairman Ken Lay contributed heavily to Bill Clinton's election, played golf with the former President, even received White House support for overseas Enron projects."

Saturday's CBS Evening News ran two full reports on Enron, about how accounting firms are too cozy with client companies and concerns about off-the-book partnerships, but made no mention of Rubin's pressure. Anchor Russ Mitchell did, however, find 17 seconds for this important news:
"A Sunday newspaper in Britain reports that 17-year-old Prince Harry has admitted to his father, Prince Charles, that he has smoked marijuana and gotten drunk at parties. A royal family spokesman would not confirm the report about Harry, Charles's younger son, but said quote, 'this is a serious matter which was resolved within the family and it is now closed.'"

(On Sunday night, I should note, both ABC and NBC ran full stories on the same topic.)

On Saturday's NBC Nightly News reporter Norah O'Donnell first stressed the phone calls to Bush officials: "Democrats also want to know more about the close ties between Enron and the Bush administration. Between late October and early November, Enron officials spoke by phone with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan."
Thomas Mann, Brookings Institute: "There's nothing illegal about that or necessarily improper, but it poses a political problem for President Bush."
But then O'Donnell gave a few seconds to Rubin: "The White House insists no action resulted from those calls, or one by President Clinton's former Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. Rubin's spokesman tells NBC News Rubin did ask the Bush administration in November to intervene to help Enron, but the call was not made at Enron's request and the matter was later dropped."

3

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made a perfectly reasonable observation about how he wasn't shocked by Enron's demise because the "genius of capitalism" means some companies succeed while others fail. ABC's Linda Douglass decided to highlight how "Senator Lieberman called those statements today 'outrageous' and 'cold-blooded.'"

Douglass ended her January 13 World News Tonight/Sunday story: "Some Democrats say the administration should have done something to protect Enron's workers. The Treasury Secretary said today though there was no reason for the government to get involved in saving Enron. He called Enron's collapse an example of the 'genius of capitalism' because it shows how companies can rise and fall based on their own merits rather than because of control from the government. Senator Lieberman called those statements today 'outrageous' and 'cold-blooded.'"

O'Neill's comment occurred on Fox News Sunday. Asked by Tony Snow whether he was surprised by Enron's collapse, O'Neill replied:
"I've watched lots of corporations come and go. An interesting fact, that there are very few companies that have been around for 40 or 50 years or 100 years. So, you know, in the broader scheme of things, not really. Companies come and go. Part of the genius of capitalism is people get to make good decisions or bad decisions and they get to pay the consequence or to enjoy the fruits of their decisions. It's the way the system works."

Even if the media don't understand it.

4

Even a liberal is baffled by how the media can justify turning Enron into a Bush political scandal.

MSNBC analyst Lawrence O'Donnell, a former aide to Democratic Senators, declared on the McLaughlin Group over the weekend: "It is a business scandal story. There is absolutely not even a whiff of political scandal in this thing so far. And it's really funny to watch the Washington press corps try to manufacture it."

The media viewpoint bewildered O'Donnell: "Let's get it straight. The big, big contributor to the Bush campaign, goes to the Bush administration and says, 'please help us' and the Bush administration says 'no.' The scandal is going to have be explained to me."

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift tried to convince O'Donnell: "You get Ken Lay, the CEO, calling the Treasury Secretary and the Commerce Secretary, and they don't pass that information on to anyone, when if they advised someone maybe a lot of people could have saved their holdings."

Of course, Enron's stock fell steadily throughout 2001 amidst news stories about troubles at the company, so investors were not totally in the dark.

5

Not surprisingly, some in the media are using the Enron situation to justify a fresh call for "campaign finance reform." During the roundtable on This Week, ABC's Cokie Roberts urged President George Bush "to come out for campaign finance reform."

Bob Schieffer concluded Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS by asserting that since "Enron had tried to buy off half of Washington with campaign contributions, people here were standing in line last week to say they had no Enron connections."

Schieffer then argued corporations should not be allowed to decide how to spend their own money: "The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, who's from New York, got so wound up he was spouting Texas talk. 'That dog won't hunt,' he said, when asked if Enron could become a political issue. Well, a little Texas talk never hurts. It's helped me make a good living, but if Ari's worried that it makes the White House look bad because all those Enron people who gave so much during the campaign are now calling to see if the White House can help them a little, well, here's another thought. Outlaw the big corporate contributions. That way it won't look like the companies are calling in a chip every time they call the White House. Democrats who took some of those Enron contributions seem a little uncomfortable, too. Maybe they can help in the project.

6

Only conservatives need labeling, the latest example. The Washington Post on Friday referred to Peter Kirsanow, the man President Bush has named to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as "a conservative lawyer from Cleveland." But the newspaper didn't tag as a liberal either Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, who refuses to seat Kirsanow, or the commissioner he is set to replace.

MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught this item in the "Washington Briefs" section of the January 11 Washington Post:
"Republicans have told the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights she has no authority to interpret the law creating the panel and must accept a commissioner appointed by the White House.
"White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales wrote Mary Frances Berry in response to her letter asking the administration to respect the panel's independence.
"'Your repeated accusations that this litigation will somehow undermine the independence of the commission are unfounded,' he wrote.
"Last week, Berry appealed to the president to drop attempts to appoint Peter Kirsanow, a conservative lawyer from Cleveland, to replace Victoria Wilson, an ally of Berry.
"Berry and four other commissioners on the eight-member civil rights panel contend Wilson was appointed by then-President Clinton to a six-year term in 2000. The Bush administration and the three GOP-appointed commissioners say Wilson's term expired Nov. 29, at the end of the term of the commissioner she replaced...."

"Compiled from reports by the Associated Press and Reuters," read the credit line beneath the three stories in the "Washington Briefs" section.

7

Reuters maintains it realized its error. A January 11 CyberAlert item picked up on how OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web" column had highlighted how a Reuters story asserted that the U.S. "gives Israel about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill Palestinians." For details, go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020111.asp#4

In Friday's "Best of the Web," James Taranto passed along: "We heard from our good friend Nancy Bobrowitz, senior vice president of Reuters, about yesterday's item on a Reuters dispatch referring to America giving Israel 'weaponry used to kill Palestinians':
"'Regarding the Reuters story you mentioned today, as you can tell from our news file we also saw this and quickly issued a revised version. The original story clearly ran counter to our policy, which is to report the news in an objective fashion. We view this as a serious matter and a breach of internal policies. We are taking it up with the editorial staff concerned.'"

In this case Reuters realized, at least when their distortion was highlighted, its biased reporting. If only more media outlets would.

8

Thanks to the MRC's Mez Djouadi, the MRC home page now features a RealPlayer clip of a bit of a goof by Peter Jennings which the January 9 CyberAlert had recounted:

About 18 minutes into the special ABC 2002 broadcast on December 31, at about 6:48pm EST when ABC was providing a mini World News Tonight-like summary of the day's news, Jennings announced:
"President Clinton, of course, is on his ranch in Scotland, and he talked a little bit about the situation in Afghanistan today, and here's an excerpt from what he had to say."

ABC then played video of George W. Bush shaking hands in a restaurant in Crawford, Texas with patrons in a line waiting to place or pick up an order. Viewers heard Bush saying such things as, "happy new year to you all" and "welcome to Crawford."

Jennings, apparently correcting for how ABC failed to show the correct clip of Bush commenting on Afghanistan, but without correcting his own goof, soon broke in: "He basically said what he's said many times before, is that they're not sure exactly where Osama bin Laden is but they're going to get him and they don't know exactly where Mohammad Omar is, but they're going to try to get him as well. The President still at his ranch. He'll return to Washington, of course, after the new year."

To view the Jennings mess-up, check the MRC home page or go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020109.asp#5

9

A CyberAlert milestone. As of this edition, CyberAlert is being distributed to more than 10,000 subscribers (10,032 to be exact), a growth of about 3,800 during the past year. It all began with 22 subscribers in April of 1996 -- which doesn't sound like very long ago, but it was before there was an MSNBC or a Fox News Channel. And the ever-increasing readership has been achieved without any "opt-out" gimmicks in which people are added without permission.

Every subscriber had to take the initiative to subscribe and to confirm their request. I'm gratified by the validation of the MRC's efforts to document liberal media bias and will work to continue to earn your readership. -- Brent Baker


>>> Support the MRC, an educational foundation dependent upon contributions which make CyberAlert possible, by providing a tax-deductible donation. Use the secure donations page set up for CyberAlert readers and subscribers:
http://www.mrc.org/donate

>>>To subscribe to CyberAlert, send a blank e-mail to: mrccyberalert-subscribe
@topica.com
. Or, you can go to: http://www.mrc.org/newsletters. Either way you will receive a confirmation message titled: "RESPONSE REQUIRED: Confirm your subscription to mrccyberalert@topica.com." After you reply, either by going to the listed Web page link or by simply hitting reply, you will receive a message confirming that you have been added to the MRC CyberAlert list. If you confirm by using the Web page link you will be given a chance to "register" with Topica. You DO NOT have to do this; at that point you are already subscribed to CyberAlert.
To unsubscribe, send a blank e-mail to: cybercomment@mrc.org.
Send problems and comments to: cybercomment@mrc.org.

>>>You can learn what has been posted each day on the MRC's Web site by subscribing to the "MRC Web Site News" distributed every weekday afternoon. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: cybercomment@mrc.org. Or, go to: http://www.mrc.org/newsletters.<<<