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CyberAlert -- 03/20/2001 -- McCain-Feingold Trumpeted

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McCain-Feingold Trumpeted; Corporate Investment in Bush "Paying Off"; Morning Shows Worried About Impediments to McCain's Success

1) "This year reformers think the time for what's known as McCain-Feingold has finally arrived," trumpeted NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. The CBS Evening News portrayed Bush as the poster child for what's wrong: "No presidential candidate ever raised more money from business than George W. Bush. For corporate America those investments may be paying off."

2) Monday's morning shows all gave a forum to John McCain but no campaign finance "reform" opponents as each show failed to question his premises and worried only about impediments to his success. NBC's Katie Couric: "I know you're worried this is gonna get amended to death, right?"

3) "If you want to say that Clinton gave the pardon to Denise Rich for money," Time magazine's Margaret Carlson argued donations from the coal industry fueled Bush's carbon-dioxide decision: "The coal industry gave $3 million, so they win....It's just rolling over for the industry."


1
Conservatives view McCain-Feingold as an intolerable assault on free speech rights, but that's not how the networks portrayed it Monday night. "This year reformers think the time for what's known as McCain-Feingold has finally arrived," trumpeted NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams as the networks all bought into the assumptions of liberal advocates that there's too much money in politics and it must be further regulated. "This money is like a narcotic to politicians and they're having a hard time breaking the habit," CBS's Bob Schieffer concluded his CBS Evening News story.

The CBS Evening News dedicated a whole second story to outlining the evil of money in politics as demonstrated by the positions President Bush has taken on airline strikes and drilling in Alaska. Anthony Mason asserted: "No presidential candidate ever raised more money from business than George W. Bush. For corporate America those investments may be paying off."

Only ABC's World News Tonight stressed how "campaign finance reform" is a low priority with the public and while no network story explored the argument that maybe the 1974 regulations have caused many of the perceived current problems by, for instance, imposing a never inflation-adjusted $1,000 donation limit, only the NBC Nightly News allowed viewers to hear a policy argument against the liberal "reform" efforts as Lisa Myers played this soundbite from Senator Mitch McConnell: "And the real problem is not that there's too much money is politics; there's too little money in politics."

Here's an overview of how the three broadcast network evening shows approached the campaign finance issue on Monday night, March 19:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings set up ABC's story by misleadingly stating that McCain-Feingold "would limit when unions and corporations can run issue ads." Corporations don't run issue ads and it would prevent individuals alone or in groups from expressing their views.

Jennings added that "most people favor the concept but it is not their highest priority."

Linda Douglass began her story with soundbites from Senators McCain and Feingold as they stood before their respective party headquarters in Washington, DC. Douglass cautioned: "But opponents pointed to those polls which show that while the public supports a ban on soft money, it ranks far below other issues on their list of priorities."
After a clip of Senator Mitch McConnell saying "it ranks right up there with static cling as one of the great concerns among the American people," Douglass observed a phenomenon fueled by the media: "Most members of Congress are loath to oppose campaign finance reform publicly for fear they will be accused of supporting corruption, a charge made by public interest groups such as Common Cause and the AARP."

"Public interest groups" = liberal groups.

Following a matching soundbite she noted how Republicans are pushing an alternative bill with a cap on soft money and she let Senator Trent Lott argue that people will always find a way around any rule.

-- CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer opened his story, as did ABC's Douglass, with clips from McCain and Feingold each attacking their party's allegiance to donations. Matching the liberal spin, he portrayed free expression as taking advantage of a "loophole" in a too lenient law as the "proposal closes the loophole that allows individuals and groups to ignore spending limits and make unlimited contributions to political parties, a loophole that allowed the parties to collect nearly a half billion to spend in last year's elections. Opponents claim the legislation violates free speech and they say the public could care less about it."
Mitch McConnell: "They're not particularly interested in campaign finance reform. I often say it ranks right up there with static cling as one of the great concerns among the American people."

Actually, the public couldn't care less.

Schieffer concluded by noting that now that McCain-Feingold is coming to a vote "some of the Democrats are wavering. This money is like a narcotic to politicians and they're having a hard time breaking the habit."

Anchor John Roberts next introduced not a news story by a promotional piece for the argument of liberals that money drives everything in politics, without consideration for how money may be given to a politician who has already taken a particular stand on an issue: "When ordinary voters complain of feeling cut out of the political process, it's often the growing role of big money backers they cite as the reason. Just how big a role do those big time contributions play? Anthony Mason follows the money trail."

Mason began his one-sided polemic: "No presidential candidate ever raised more money from business than George W. Bush. For corporate America those investments may be paying off."
Larry Noble, Center for Responsive Politics: "I think you can raise the question about why President Bush was so quick to intervene in the potential airline strike."
Mason: "When workers at Delta and Northwest threatened to strike, Bush responded."
Bush, March 9: "I intend to take the necessary steps to prevent airline strikes from happening this year."
Mason assumed donations were all that mattered: "The airline industry was a big Bush backer according to the Center for Responsive Politics. So was the oil and gas industry which gave more than $3 million to the Bush campaign, says the Center's Larry Noble."
Noble: "There it's not only a money connection, it's a friendship connection, it's a business connection."
Mason: "And suddenly the campaign to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge had found new backers."
Roger Herrera, Arctic Power: "The White House being one of them of course and its support."
Mason: "Lobbyist Roger Herrera admits money is part of politics in Washington."
Herrera: "It doesn't need to corrupt though and I would argue that it doesn't corrupt."
Mason: "But many in Washington don't seem concerned about even the appearance of corruption."
Larry Sabato, University of Virginia: "The reason the parties are not terribly concerned is because the other party does it too."
Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor, March 6: "This is special interest legislation. This is a political payoff."
Mason finally gave a clause to conceding the supposed problem existed before this year: "Democrats accused business of buying the recent rollback of worker protection rules, but labor contributions also paid heavily to get them passed during the Clinton administration."
Sabato: "Our whole campaign system is set up in a way to provide for legal bribery."
Mason: "And contributors, says professor Larry Sabato, aren't giving for their health."
Sabato: "They're expecting an agenda to be passed. You can call it bribery, you can call it access and influence. You can call it the American democratic system if you want to but the effect is the same."
Mason concluded: "Of course the system has worked this way for a long time, only the numbers keep getting bigger. In this last election cycle a company that contributed a million dollars would not have ranked in the top 100 donors."

If CBS is so concerned about money in politics maybe it could have its O&Os reduce their rates for political ads or make them free.

-- NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams delivered the most favorable overview of how the liberal regulation bill "has finally arrived." Williams announced: "Another huge battle joined over the influence of interest groups and their big money contributions to political parties. Campaign finance bills have been shot down in the Senate every year for the past half dozen years, but this year reformers think the time for what's known as McCain-Feingold has finally arrived."
Lisa Myers echoed the theme: "It's been almost 30 years since Congress last cleaned up the campaign money system in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Critics claim the situation today is almost as corrupt with bigger and bigger money buying more and more influence."

Myers outlined how soft money donations "have exploded" from $84 million in 1992 to $463 million in 2000. Following clips from McCain and Feingold's march on their party headquarters, Myers asked: "Why does it matter to you? Because critics say both parties are so beholden to big givers that they put their interests ahead of yours. But opponents of reform argue that banning these contributions is unconstitutional and that this money is needed to buy expensive TV time."
McConnell: "And the real problem is not that there's too much money is politics; there's too little money in politics."

Myers concluded by noting how previous Democratic backers of the McCain-Feingold regulation bill are "getting wobbly" because Democrats believe they will be hurt by not having a limit on small donors, a category where Republicans excel.

2

To most journalists there is only one credible positions on so-called "campaign finance reform." Thus, the network morning shows on Monday didn't bother with any contrary view as each interviewed only advocate Senator John McCain. But none questioned the basic premises of his views and instead each quizzed him about strategy -- chances for passage and what obstacles lie in his way.

CBS's Jane Clayson wondered: "In your opinion do you think President Bush has reneged on his support of campaign finance reform?" NBC's Katie Couric expressed distress: "I know you're worried this is gonna get amended to death, right?" And she brooded: "Are you worried that no matter what you do, that the system is so entrenched it's gonna be next to impossible to change?"

Here are the questions McCain faced on CBS and NBC on Monday morning, March 19 as taken down by MRC analysts Brian Boyd and Geoffrey Dickens.

Jane Clayson on CBS's The Early Show:

-- "Your bill calls for a ban on all this soft money, this unregulated, unlimited donations to political parties. Do you have the votes necessary to pass this?"

-- "Well, you're essentially asking incumbents to change a system that sends incumbents to Washington. Are you optimistic that you can do that?"

-- "Let's talk for a moment, Senator, about Democrats who once voted for your bill or versions of it now seem to be breaking ranks. For example, Senator John Breaux who's voted for your bill five times now says he's not going to vote for it. Says it would create an unlevel playing field for Republicans and Democrats. What's your response to that?"

-- "Democrats, not coincidentally, raised more soft money in 2000, in the 2000 election than the Republicans did, didn't they?"

-- "President Bush, Senator, seems to be siding with another version of this bill, the Chuck Hagel bill which would limit soft money not ban it. In your opinion do you think President Bush has reneged on his support of campaign finance reform?"

-- "Why not embrace the Hagel bill? It surely will pass, it's a compromise."

-- "On a scale of one to ten, will we have meaningful campaign finance reform in this Congress?"
McCain: "Six."
Clayson: "Six. Let the battle begin."

Katie Couric on NBC's Today:

-- "As you know your previous efforts to get campaign finance reform legislation passed has, have been thwarted because you've made many efforts. How big a battle do you see ahead?"

-- "So if this really, the system as it stands today really does benefit incumbents, Senator McCain how do you expect a bunch of incumbents to support changing it?"

-- "How many of your Republican cohorts on Capitol Hill are supporting this?"

-- "I know you're worried this is gonna get amended to death, right?"

-- "Let's talk about the Democrats. Because in the past your bill has enjoyed pretty widespread support from Democrats. But are you worried about John Breaux of Louisiana who as we just heard said that he could not support this bill because he says it gives Republicans an unfair fundraising advantage. What do you think of his perspective on that first of all."

-- "So you don't think a lot of Democrats are gonna follow John Breaux's lead?"

-- "Alright let's talk about President Bush and where he stands and the differences between the two of you. Last uh, he just, he just recently sent a letter to Congress saying he supported curbing soft money. And I guess the crucial word is 'curbing' when you support banning. What's wrong with curbing it and is there a middle ground here?"

-- "What about those who say and you sort of alluded to it earlier in this interview Senator McCain, that no matter what you do smart people will be able to get around this system. In other words they will contribute money to state parties that could even be divided into two separate factions with one being almost a shadow state committee with, with the sole purpose of, of raising money for ads for example. Are you worried that no matter what you do, that the system is so entrenched it's gonna be next to impossible to change?"

-- "Real quickly in The New York Times this weekend there was an article about people jockeying for ambassadorships and basically saying they were huge fundraisers, contributed a lot to the Bush campaign. Will your bill deal with that or is that just the way it's always been and the way it will always be when it comes to rewarding people ambassadorships?"

Up next, Today's Matt Lauer interviewed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham about OPEC's decision to reduce supply. But first Lauer wanted to know about the chances of success for campaign finance reform. Lauer first asked "Let me start with a different subject. As a former Senator, a guy who was in the Senate until January 1st, will campaign finance reform pass?" Lauer pressed for a definitive response: "But if you were a betting man would you say it will pass?"

3

President Bush was "just rolling over for the [coal] industry" in his decision to not add carbon-dioxide to the list of regulated pollutants, Time magazine's Margaret Carlson asserted on CNN's Capital Gang in reflecting the media assumption that "big money" donations drive all political choices.

She argued on the March 17 show:
"Now, it looks like he's not keeping the promise because of pressure from the coal industry and conservatives. During the campaign, if you want to say that Clinton gave the pardon to Denise Rich for money, look at this. Ken Lay, who is the chairman of Enron, during the campaign gave a million dollars and had Bush's ear. He wanted carbon dioxide to be a pollutant because he has natural gas and he has the technology for reducing it. Then lo and behold, it turns out the coal industry gave $3 million, so they win. They got to the White House, and now we won't have carbon dioxide on this list of pollutants. It's just rolling over for the industry."

No more than the Washington press corps is "rolling over" for McCain's effort to increase the media's influence by limiting the speech of others. --Brent Baker


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