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CyberAlert -- 01/30/2002 -- State of the Union Edition: Bush Rebuked on Tax Cut, Not Calling for Campaign Finance Reform

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State of the Union Edition: Bush Rebuked on Tax Cut, Not Calling for Campaign Finance Reform; Bush Chided for Not Citing Enron; CNN Essayist Found Speech "Unnerving"; NY Times's Poll Result Slant

1) Several network anchors and analysts praised President Bush's speech. Dan Rather: "This was a solid, at times even eloquent address." Tim Russert: "It was sober speech, but a very, very effective one." On MSNBC, Howard Fineman praised its eloquence but he, and CNN's Jeff Greenfield, were especially impressed by Bush's calls for more activist government.

2) Analysts expressed disappointment at how Bush hadn't abandoned his defense of his tax cut or championed campaign finance reform. The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly was "struck" by "the things that were missing. Very little with respect to minorities, the uninsured, the homeless..." David Gergen, Andrea Mitchell and Bob Schieffer lamented the lack of a call for campaign finance reform. Margaret Carlson denounced the tax cut.

3) Obsessed with Enron. Before the address, network anchors predicted President Bush would not specifically mention Enron. When he didn't, several condemned him. CBS's Dan Rather strangely decided to read an AP dispatch outlining how Republicans favor the wealthy. On Nightline, David Gergen lamented how Democrats are not being "gutsy" on Enron. He admitted: "It's the media right now that's leading this charge; it's not the Democrats."

4) Peter Jennings pressed to see if any focus group members thought Bush did "badly" and, in a segment with Paul Begala and Haley Barbour, tossed a softball to Begala but a tough question to Barbour about how the GOP can win his fall "without being tripped up on Enron, having it called a 'Bush recession' and carrying the potential burden of a budget deficit?"

5) Dan Rather was more interested in how declining economic indicators spell doom for Republicans than in terrorism. Only after highlighting Enron's fall, how the Dow Jones average is down 9 percent since Bush took office and that unemployment stands at a six-year high, did it occur to Rather: "It's all well and good to talk about the economy, but there is a war going on."

6) Appearing on CNN, essayist Anne Taylor Fleming found it "unnerving" that "we don't talk about it as a moral commitment of the free world. We talk about it as 'America the righteous,' 'America the good.'"

7) Sunday's New York Times headline over a story on a poll which found 82 percent approval for the President: "Poll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats." In fact, USA Today found that twice as many believe Democrats thought they would owe Enron something than think Bush would owe anything to the company.


1

Though, as you'll see in subsequent items below, network anchors, analysts and pundits rebuked President Bush for not talking about Enron, criticized him for pursuing tax cuts and expressed disappointment that he did not call for campaign finance reform, several also expressed praise for his State of the Union address.

(NBC News and Fox News cut out the earliest after Dick Gephardt finished the Democratic response Tuesday night, January 29, with NBC on to Dateline by 10:25pm EST and Fox, which put Brit Hume on the broadcast side while Tony Snow anchored on cable, handing off to affiliates a couple of minutes earlier. CBS and CNN continued analysis until 10:30pm EST when CBS went to a 60 Minutes II repeat of a Rumsfeld profile and CNN started a 90 minute Larry King Live. FNC, MSNBC and ABC News provided post-speech analysis until 11pm EST when FNC put on an updated O'Reilly Factor and MSNBC went to a live Hardball.)

Below is a sampling of post-speech evaluations:

-- CBS News. Dan Rather: "In content, this was a solid, at times even eloquent address. In delivery, proof of George W. Bush's growth in the presidency, certainly in terms of his ability to deliver a speech well."

Bob Schieffer: "I thought the speech was quite good."

-- Fox News. Brit Hume was impressed by the unusual content of the speech: "It was an address that toward its end, in passages, had within it the same kind of list of programs -- some favored by some, some favored by others -- that are the characteristic of a State of the Union address. But for most of it, it was very different indeed. It was an address that was filled with warning that the threats that have been embodied in the war on terror that the President has spoken of are nowhere near over and the President spoke with specificity about possible dangers that lie ahead and he said, for example, he spoke of an 'axis of evil,' composed of states that sponsor and harbor terrorism, and the terrorist organizations that operate within them."
"This was very much, as we anticipated, a war speech. This was not -- although as I noted, it did have some of the characteristics of a State of the Union address, a typical State of the Union address -- it was not typical at all."

Mort Kondracke: "I don't know how many State of the Union speeches I've seen, but this was one of the most eloquent."

-- NBC News. Tim Russert: "It was sober speech, but a very, very effective one."

-- MSNBC. Tim Russert: "Very sober speech, but I think a very effective one. The President felt obligated to go to the country and say, 'Folks, this is real.' He has said over the last couple of days in the White House to his aides and to anyone who would listen that he wakes up every morning wondering whether today is the day we're going to be hit again. He looks at his threat assessment from the CIA on his desk every day, and he wanted to share that with the rest of the country, and I think he did it effectively."

Newsweek's Howard Fineman enthused: "My early assessment is that's one of the most elegant and eloquent statements of our purpose for being in the world that I've heard, and it came at just the right time."

Fineman especially liked Bush's calls for bigger government: "Saying that there are good things about government. I mean, it is no accident that Ted Kennedy was repeatedly referenced and shown there because what George Bush is saying is that the government can do things and can summon the best in people. That's a new role for the government, at least as far as the Republicans Party has been concerned. The Republican Party hasn't been giving that message in a long time, and that's what Bush is trying to stake out, a new Republican philosophy."

-- CNN. Jeff Greenfield also admired Bush's Democratic-sounding goals: "Over time, when we get past the politics and the polls, that I found I must say the most remarkable in this speech was his invocation of what he called nonnegotiable values of free speech, the non-oppression of women, religious tolerance, private property. I mean, if you think about the criticism that people have made about presidents like -- well, like Bill Clinton, who have tried to assert humanitarian reasons for American power, he almost seemed to be -- he almost seemed to be talking the way Woodrow Wilson did, that there were these universal values and universal principles that we were at least going to stand on the side of. That's an extraordinary statement in the state of the union."
Judy Woodruff quipped: "A Republican President, as well."

2

Liberal policy advocacy. Within minutes of President Bush finishing his State of the Union address Tuesday night, network anchors and analysts were expressing disappointment at how he hadn't abandoned his tax cut or championed campaign finance reform.

-- On Fox News (not FNC), Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly packed five liberal agenda issues into one sentence, complaining: "I have to say that part of what also struck me, aside from how frightening much in this speech was, were the things that were missing. Very little with respect to minorities, the uninsured, the homeless, the elderly, Enron workers who have lost their life savings."

-- Bob Schieffer's first concern on CBS: How Bush didn't push for campaign finance reform. After admiring how Bush was working with Ted Kennedy on a patients' bill of rights and was passionate about a "USA Freedom Corps" to expand the Peace Corps, Schieffer rued to Dan Rather: "I would also say, one thing not mentioned tonight, Dan, any mention of campaign finance reform."

Rather immediately relayed Democratic talking points on taxes even before Gephardt spoke: "Indeed, Bob, there was however, mention, the President more than mentioned, he urged Congress to pass his tax cutting economic package while acknowledging the country will go back into deficit spending. Now, we will have the Democrats' response soon, but they're bound to raise questions about the President saying he needs to spend more money for national defense, homeland defense and some other things, but at the same time he wants to pass more tax cuts."

-- Time's Margaret Carlson, on PBS's Charlie Rose, criticized Bush for not seeing the illogic of tax cutting: "I think there are going to be terrible fights and should be over the economic stimulus bill because George Bush says we're in a recession, we have to have tax cuts, but he doesn't say the next thing which is we're at war and we shouldn't."

-- ABC News. On Nightline, U.S. News and World Report editor at large David Gergen lamented the lack of campaign finance reform in Bush's speech: "I do think on this campaign finance reform, the President could have stepped out on that tonight. What we saw in the Democratic response by Dick Gephardt was he talked about campaign finance reform. If the Republicans now try to block that, they're going to get hurt, they're going to get hurt in the House and the Senate if they just stand in the doorway."

-- Following Gephardt's speech, MSNBC went to Andrea Mitchell with John McCain. Mitchell asked about Bush's war policies, but soon got to McCain's pet issues: "Now, on the domestic front, Senator, you have been critical of deficit spending, you've been critical of campaign excesses. No mention of campaign finance reform."

Mitchell also prompted McCain on Bush's lack of leftward movement on another issue "What about patients' rights? It's another big area where you disagreed with the Bush White House. They were not willing to go beyond tax credits, and he didn't seem to move on that tonight."

3

Obsessed with Enron. Before the State of the Union address, network anchors found it worth air time to predict that President Bush would not specifically mention Enron. When he didn't, several condemned him for not doing so.

-- Dan Rather made sure CBS viewers realized Bush's misjudgment: "As you may have noticed, the President did not mention directly the Enron energy company debacle. It will be interesting to see if in the Democrats' response they do that or not."

Immediately after Gephardt finished, Rather strangely decided to read an AP dispatch outlining a liberal polemical point: "Congressman Richard Gephardt, speaking for the Democrats. You may have noted that he mentioned the Enron energy company debacle by name. President Bush did not do so. The Associated Press reports that, and I quote, 'the measured response to Enron's collapse by President Bush, reflects concern in the White House that voters view Bush and Republicans as more sympathetic to big business than to average Americans,' unquote, the Associated Press. Now, obviously President Bush and the Republicans vehemently deny that, but you can see in the Gephardt address that the Democrats are taking a different view."

-- Near the very end of ABC's prime time coverage Sam Donaldson rued: "Well, he didn't talk about Enron, I think that's quite clear, and if there's a dark cloud in the Bush presidency at the moment, aside from a recession, which he probably won't have in a couple of years, it could be this fallout from Enron. People don't blame him directly, but the idea that they want it investigated is there. And all of the money that went to both Democrats and Republicans, 75 percent of it went to the Republicans. He has a problem there, Peter, whether he thinks he does or not."

Translation: The Washington press corps will make sure it's a problem.

Later, on Nightline, Ted Koppel raised the subject with David Gergen: "The President, David, clearly does not believe that this is a political scandal. He believes it's a business scandal and will be perceived as such by the American public. Do you agree with him or with Paul [Begala]?"
Gergen advised Democrats to take advantage of the issue: "At the moment, he's right, but I think this is turning on the Republicans and if the Democrats were clever, they could clearly take the offensive on it. I was surprised and, frankly, disappointed that the President did not tackle the Enron situation very frontally: talk about Enron, talk about the abuses of the open market system that he himself so fervently believes in and plan out a course of action. I think he did deal with it obliquely and I think that was a mistake. But I have to tell you I don't see the Democrats, at this point, who have taken a lot of money from all these folks, too, I don't see that they're very gutsy on this issue either. It's the media right now that's leading this charge; it's not the Democrats."

Quite an admission.

-- On MSNBC Newsweek's Howard Fineman urged action: "The most important thing about Enron politically, at least to this point, is not any malfeasance in the White House or the administration because there apparently wasn't any. It's that Enron and companies like Enron and their behavior call into question our reliance on this wonderful free market system that we believe in, and unless the rules are changed and tightened, people are going to lose faith. And it was one of George W. Bush's idols, Teddy Roosevelt, who a century ago cleaned up the corporations that had elected him President, and it may fall to George W. Bush, if he's smart, to do the same thing."

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, however, portrayed Enron as a bi-partisan mess, asking Lisa Myers: "Lisa, what do they think on the Hill? Do they think that Enron has political legs for the Democrats? Because the fact is that as many on that side of the aisle have taken money from Enron as have on the Republican side."

4

Peter Jennings pressed to see if any focus group members thought President Bush did "badly" in his speech and, during a segment with Democratic consultant Paul Begala and Republican consultant Haley Barbour, tossed a softball to Begala but a tough question to Barbour about how Republicans can win his fall "without being tripped up on Enron, having it called a 'Bush recession' and carrying the potential burden of a budget deficit?"

Following comments by members of Florida focus group, Michele Norris summarized: "Overall, the President seemed to get high marks. Most people said that they heard what they needed to hear, but as always, the proof is in not just the talk, but, as they say, the walk, what the President actually does and if he's able to actually work with Congress."

Jennings then engaged Norris: "Michele, I wonder if I could impose on you and your cameraman to ask two questions for a show of hands, though I must say I admire your 'walk the walk and talk the talk' suggestion there....How many people thought the President deserves his more than 80 percent approval rating? [entire group raises hands]...Does anybody there tonight think the President did badly?" [no hands]

Later, he asked Begala not about Democratic weaknesses but about how Democrats could deal with Bush's strength: "How do the Democrats, in this election year, run against a man as popular as George Bush and win on the issues?"

But in his first question to Barbour, Jennings listed supposed GOP trouble spots: "How do the Republicans now run in this election year, without being tripped up on Enron, having it called a 'Bush recession' and carrying the potential burden of a budget deficit?"

5

At least half of President Bush's speech focused on strategies to win the war on terrorism, but CBS's Dan Rather was much more interested in asking his reporters about how declining economic indicators spell doom for Republicans. Only after highlighting Enron's collapse, how the Dow Jones average is down 9 percent since Bush took office and that unemployment stands at a six-year high, did Rather remember the war, observing: "It's all well and good to talk about the economy, but there is a war going on."

Rather wrapped up CBS's coverage Tuesday night with one question each to four CBS reporters. Three of his inquiries focused on the poor economy:

-- Rather to Anthony Mason in New York: "Anthony, the markets sort of took into account, anticipated some of what was said tonight. And also, are they or are they not, feeding off concerns of what the Enron company collapse and it reverberations may mean for he future of our economy?"

-- Rather to Bob Schieffer on Capitol Hill: "Note that on Friday, January 19th 2001, the day before President Bush was inaugurated, the Dow closed at 10,587. With today's sell-off, the industrial average closed at 9,618. That's a decline of almost 9.2 percent from just over a year ago. Now my question, how, if it is going to, is this likely to affect economic policy in the coming weeks and months?"

-- Rather to John Roberts at the White House: "John, the unemployment rate hit 5.8 percent for the month of December. That's the highest in more than six years and the indications are it probably, the unemployment rate will probably will go up at least some for much, if not all, of the rest of the year. Got to be concern about that among the economic advisers to the President."

-- Rather to David Martin at the Pentagon: "It's all well and good to talk about the economy, but there is a war going on and it stretches as far as we can see into the future and the President tonight moved the country, if I'm correct and correct me if I'm wrong, to something of a new war footing by mentioning by name North Korea, Iran and Iraq."

6

CNN brought aboard PBS NewsHour essayist Anne Taylor Fleming for post-speech analysis. "I think the President's speech was much more sort of a war rallying speech than I had anticipated," she regretted. Fleming found it "unnerving" that "we don't talk about it as a moral commitment of the free world. We talk about it as 'America the righteous,' 'America the good.'"

Fleming complained: "I think the President's speech was much more sort of a war rallying speech than I had anticipated. I figured he'd hit it hard and he's carrying the good will from that, but the idea to plunge forward into other places, that really was the headline to me."

She added: "The only other thing that was unnerving to me, as is always in these speeches, is the sense that when we talk about it, we don't talk about it as a moral commitment of the free world. We talk about it as 'America the righteous,' 'America the good.' And I was conscious of looking at Karzai sitting there, I mean, whose own people have suffered a great deal, and wondering how that hits him. I'm always wondering how speeches like this play in the world at large rather than just at home, which is what we talk about. And, you know, I think that, as I said before, I think there is a global mindfulness certainly if we're going to plunge forward, that we have to be much more careful about and that I wish there had been much more of."

7

Tuesday's USA Today and Washington Post delivered headlines over their latest polls which conveyed the support found for President Bush's performance, a contrast from Sunday's New York Times which featured this headline over a top of the front page story on a poll which found 82 percent approval for the President: "Poll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats."

In fact, as James Taranto noted Tuesday in his "Best of the Web" column on OpinionJournal.com: "Only a 45% plurality think Enron executives 'had closer ties' with Republicans than with Democrats (10% said Democrats, 10% said 'both equal' and 34% had no opinion)."

As Mickey Kaus pointed out in a Slate.com piece cited by Taranto: "It would also be significant if the poll showed that this closeness substantially tainted Republicans -- as in the headline the Times' crusading editors gave to the piece...But there's not much evidence to support the 'taint' headline either -- since...the Republican 'favorables' actually climbed more than the Democrats' numbers."

Specifically, Kaus uncovered a finding not cited in the New York Times story by Richard Berke and Janet Elder: A "large gain (46% to 58%) in the 'favorable' rating of the GOP, beating a smaller (53% to 58%) gain for the Democrats."

Indeed, reporting on the latest USA Today/CNN poll, which pegged approval of President Bush's job performance at 84 percent, USA Today's Richard Benedetto outlined how it discovered just the opposite of what the New York Times proclaimed. Benedetto relayed in a January 29 story that while "29 percent believe Bush felt he would owe Enron executives special policy treatment in return for campaign contributions," with 59 percent saying he would not, a much greater "55 percent believe congressional Democrats felt they would owe Enron executives special policy treatment in return for campaign contributions; 33% said they would not."

The Washington Post headlined its January 29 front page story about the 83 percent presidential approval documented by its poll done with ABC News: "Bush and GOP Enjoy Record Popularity." The subhead over the story about the newest Washington Post/ABC News survey: "Poll Finds Broad Support Despite Doubts on Economy." For that story in full:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50835-2002Jan28.html

An excerpt from the top of the January 27 New York Times story by Berke and Elder, the one headlined "Poll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats," which waited until the fourth paragraph to get around to Bush's 82 percent approval:

Americans perceive Republicans as far more entangled in the Enron debacle than Democrats, and their suspicions are growing that the Bush administration is hiding something or lying about its own dealings with the Enron Corporation before the company filed for bankruptcy protection, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.

Even among Republicans, a majority said they believed that the administration had not been forthcoming about its dealings with Enron. That perception could pose a threat to Republican candidates in the midterm elections this year, and undermine the White House drive to portray the Enron collapse as affecting Republicans and Democrats equally.

In a demonstration of how the public's concerns have shifted in recent weeks, the economy has now supplanted battling terrorism -- albeit by a slight margin -- as the issue people want their elected officials to make a top priority. They fear that the budget deficit is too much of a burden for the nation, and 6 in 10 favor postponing the Bush tax cut rather than incurring a deficit.

President Bush's impressive approval rating of 82 percent has not diminished since the terrorist attacks. As Mr. Bush prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, neither party is seen as having an edge on keeping the country prosperous, improving education, balancing the federal budget or making the proper decisions about how to spend taxpayers' money....

For the entire story, those registered with the New York Times can access it at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/27/business/27POLL.html?pagewanted=all

Berke and Elder added this in their next to last paragraph: "The poll also found that the Republicans' drive to make a high-profile villain of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has not succeeded. He is still a virtual unknown. Eleven percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Mr. Daschle, 15 percent unfavorable, 18 percent undecided, and 55 percent have not heard enough about him to have an opinion."

But as Kaus pointed out, the Times/CBS News poll discovered that "Daschle's 'unfavorable' rating more than doubled, from 7 to 15 percent, and is now higher than his 'favorable' rating, which is stuck at 11 percent. Though Daschle's not well-known, that's the sort of shift in 'favorable-unfavorable ratio' that terrifies a potential presidential candidate."

For the analysis by Kaus, "Enron's Got Nothing on Rick Berke! The New York Times' hyped-up poll story," in which he denounced Berke's story as "propagandistic journalism," go to: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2061236 -- Brent Baker, with the MRC night team of Jessica Anderson and Brad Wilmouth


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