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CyberAlert -- 05/09/2001 -- "Controversial" Judge Nominees

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"Controversial" Judge Nominees; MSNBC's Reno Lovefest; Bush's SUV Lifestyle; Bush Linked to Unfair Paddling; Sheen's Dinner Partner

1) ABC's Jackie Judd stressed how Bush's list of judicial nominees "is weighted with conservatives." She named as "controversial" three, including Michael McConnell, "who argued in support of banning homosexuals from the Boy Scouts." FNC's Jim Angle noted how the eleven are "diverse" with three women, two blacks and a Hispanic. He recalled how McConnell clerked for William Brennan, "one of the court's most revered liberal judges."

2) MSNBC's Brian Williams delivered a lovefest with Janet Reno on Tuesday night. He didn't pose a challenging question as he instead elicited responses about how she likes to kayak and "walk in the grass in my bare feet" as he empathized about how much she was criticized by Orrin Hatch who "said some terrible things about you." He wondered: "How would you like to leave this Earth?"

3) Rising energy prices have led to "Republicans and Democrats alike now demanding that President Bush do something," Dan Rather asserted in painting Bush as out of step.

4) "The way of life in Austin, Texas, is SUVs, SUVs, and bigger SUVs," Peter Jennings rued before using a study on the amount of time wasted stuck in traffic to make a political point for more conservation: "A study today...finds that Americans are wasting a colossal amount of fuel idling in their cars, or their SUVs."

5) Good Morning America linked President Bush to paddling students as Charles Gibson set up a sympathetic look a ten-year-old who was paddled by noting how "part of President Bush's education reform package would give teachers broad immunity from civil lawsuits in paddling incidents."

6) On the indictment of Democratic Congressman James Traficant CNN's Wolf Blitzer wondered: "Is this more of an embarrassment for Democrats or Republicans? He's a Democrat who voted for the Republican Speaker."

7) Katie Couric never brought up how Dan Rather headlined a Democratic fundraiser earlier this year, but she did ask him about the corruption of "entertainment values" in news.

8) A few days after West Wing star Martin Sheen begged off a tour of the Bush White House, he dined with Bill Clinton, the Washington Post learned.


1
ABC and FNC beat the competition Tuesday night in identifying the eleven people President Bush plans to announce on Wednesday as his choices for federal appeals courts slots, but they delivered contrasting assessments of the picks as ABC emphasized their supposed conservative tilt and controversial views while FNC pointed out the credentials and liberal background of the very same nominees.

MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams caught up, sort of, hours later as it led with an on-screen graphic which awkwardly asked: "A Hard Right?" (The east coast feeds of the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News didn't mention the judicial picks and neither did any of CNN's nighttime news shows.)

ABC's Jackie Judd stressed on World News Tonight how "the slate is weighted with conservatives. At least four belong to the newly influential Federalist Society." She listed three as "controversial," including Jeffrey Sutton who, she asserted, is guilty of advocating "for states' rights over federal intervention" and Michael McConnell, "who argued in support of banning homosexuals from the Boy Scouts."

In contrast, on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, reporter Jim Angle noted how the eleven names are "very diverse" with three women, two blacks and a Hispanic. Angle offered a different take on two of the men disparaged by Judd. He described Sutton and McConnell: "Jeffrey Sutton, who's argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and won six of the seven that have been decided; Michael McConnell, a widely respected legal scholar who once clerked for Justice William Brennan, one of the court's most revered liberal judges."

Angle's piece aired at just past 6pm EDT. By 9pm EDT MSNBC had caught up, sort of. Since NBC News hadn't produced a story Brian Williams was left to interviewing a Washington Post reporter about her story set to run the next morning, but he made the development his lead item. The News with Brian Williams opened with a graphic with these words below a photo of George Bush: "A Hard Right?"

Williams then began the May 8 show with this lengthy set up in which he actually used the terms "left" and "liberal" for past judicial nominations:
"Short of the power to pardon and declare war the most awesome power of the U.S. presidency is the ability to re-shape the federal bench. From the Supreme Court on down Presidents get to appoint the judges who, in many cases, decide what life in America ought to be like. The rights and freedoms of the people, of companies, deciding how much government can get away with and who gets locked up or goes free. FDR tilted the bench decidedly to the left, Ronald Reagan began the long process of tilting it back to the right, now after eight years of Democratic rule in Washington and a good number of liberal judges in the federal courts what kind of judges will this new President pick when vacancies are filled in the highest courts in the land?"

Williams's first question Washington Post reporter Amy Goldstein: "Is there a rightward tilt?" She replied that the list is mixed and pointed out how only five of the eleven are white men.

Now a fuller rundown of Judd's May 8 World News Tonight piece transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth. She began: "Administration sources say that Mr. Bush will be nominating eleven people to the federal bench tomorrow. Mr. Bush's first batch of nominees is for the circuit courts of appeal, just one level below the Supreme Court."

After a soundbite from Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice praising the judicial restraint of Bush judges, Judd warned: "But they will potentially make law affecting everything from school vouchers and prayer to civil rights to abortion rights and the environment. With all of that at stake and the Senate controlled just barely by Republicans, Democrats have been preparing for this day as if the Supreme Court were at stake."
Ralph Neas, People for the American Way: "What the Bush administration wants to do is turn back the clock on fundamental civil rights and civil liberties. This is a philosophy of judicial activism, not judicial restraint."

Having offered conservative and liberal soundbites, Judd weighed in with her evaluations: "The slate is weighted with conservatives [on screen: photos of two men and three women]. The nine Republicans who sources say will be nominated are young rising stars. At least four belong to the newly influential Federalist Society, a libertarian legal organization [on screen, four men identified as Estrada, Roberts, Sutton, McConnell]. Among the most controversial, Jeffrey Sutton, frequently before the Supreme Court arguing for states' rights over federal intervention. Terry Boyle, a lower court judge and former aide to Senator Jesse Helms. Michael McConnell, who argued in support of banning homosexuals from the Boy Scouts. The White House also will be nominating two black Democrats as an olive branch to his political opposition [on screen photos of Parker, Gregory]. And Mr. Bush will be taking the unusual step, Peter, of personally introducing these nominees tomorrow as a signal to Democrats he is going to fight hard for their confirmation."

Fight hard against liberal Democrats and their media allies.

2

Brian Williams's love session with Janet Reno. Former Attorney General Janet Reno rarely sits for a media interview so when she does you'd expect a reporter to take advantage of the situation and press her about any number of her questionable efforts to protect the Clinton team, why FBI Director Louis Freeh and her subordinate Charles La Bella so vehemently disagreed with her judgments and whether she avoided upsetting Clinton in order to keep her job. That's what Sean Hannity did with her last week when she appeared on FNC's Hannity & Colmes. Hannity is a radio talk show host, but he has a better grasp of journalism than Williams displayed Tuesday night.

Setting up the interview taped earlier in the day, Williams painted Reno as Clinton's enemy as he asserted that "on more than one occasion Janet Reno was the President's adversary." Williams did not pose a single challenging question. Asking her "what do your days consist of these days" elicited the response that she likes to kayak and "walk in the grass in my bare feet." Now there's an image.

Williams empathized with how Reno was the target of criticism: "Did any of it make you want to scream?" When she insisted that if Orrin Hatch walked into the room she'd give him a "big hug," Williams was astonished: "But he said some terrible things about you on those Sunday talk shows." Williams wondered if "the words 'opportunity wasted' occur to you when thinking of the Clinton administration?" Reno credited Clinton with lower crime and asserted: "I think we gave children a new and positive opportunity for the future that many of them did not have."

Other than, I guess, Elian Gonzalez and those who died at Waco. But Williams didn't counter her on that claim.

Below are all of William's inquires as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth. He set up the nearly seven minute-long interview segment aired on the May 8 News with Brian Williams:
"She served in the office used by Robert F. Kennedy and John Mitchell. The Attorney General used to be called the 'President's lawyer,' but on more than one occasion, Janet Reno was the President's adversary. She is the longest serving Attorney General in U.S. history, and today in Philadelphia, where she addressed a gathering of neurologists on the subject of her own Parkinson's disease, we talked with Janet Reno about life back in the private sector after so long in the public eye."

The questions:
-- "How is it being back in the house, back in Florida?"

-- "What do your days consist of these days? What do you read? What do you watch? What do you listen to?" (Reno answered that she likes to kayak and "walk in the grass in my bare feet.")

-- "Let's talk about Parkinson's. You were diagnosed during your term, of course, as Attorney General."

-- "The Sunday shows, all the criticism of you personally, editorial pages, op-ed pieces, did any of it make you want to scream?"

-- "You made your share of enemies. It's impossible to operate in Washington without them. Orrin Hatch comes to mind. Were he to walk in the door, and he's not, what would the relationship be like? What would you say to Orrin Hatch, who was so tough on you?"

-- When she denied he's an enemy and said "I would give him a big hug," Williams admiringly wondered: "What does that show on your part?" She suggested it show "genuine affection for him," which baffled Williams: "After he was so tough?"

-- "But he said some terrible things about you on those Sunday talk shows....He called for your departure from Washington....Long before you wanted to depart from Washington."

-- "High point and low point of your two terms as Attorney General?"

-- She called Waco the low point, prompting Williams: "Where did the anti-government sentiment come from? Where is it that suddenly a patriot, small 'P' or capital, is someone who often believes that the present government should not be in power?"

-- "Did Bill Clinton, to use the vernacular, hang you out to dry during Waco?"

-- "If Bill and Hillary Clinton had released the Whitewater documents to the Washington Post, would you have ever needed to appoint a special counsel?" (Reno: "Don't know.")

-- "Do you think about it?" (Reno: "No.")

-- "Do you wish you'd been closer to the President who appointed you?"

-- "Do the words 'opportunity wasted' occur to you when thinking of the Clinton administration?" (Reno: The crime rate fell and "I think we gave children a new and positive opportunity for the future that many of them did not have.")

-- "Does it disappoint you that this past President, Mr. Clinton, will, at least so far as the short view of history looks back, be remembered in that first sentence that sums up his life, for scandal, for impeachment?" (Reno: Clinton gave the country a good economy and he reduced crime.)

-- "You entered an elite group toward the end of your stay in Washington. You were a guest on Saturday Night Live. [clip of SNL] Was that an easy decision?"

-- "Where's that path through the woods going to take you?"

-- "I take it you have extensive travel plans?" (Reno: Plan to travel to see the country more thoroughly.)

-- "How would you like to leave this Earth?" (Reno, referring to kayaking: "On the crest of a wave.")

End of MSNBC lovefest with Reno.

Can you imagine such a fawning approach with Ed Meese in early 1989 in which Iran-Contra is never mentioned?

3

Rising energy prices have led to "Republicans and Democrats alike now demanding that President Bush do something," Dan Rather asserted at the top of Tuesday's CBS Evening News before lamenting how Bush won't do anything.

Rather opened his May 8 broadcast by portraying Bush as out of step: "Good evening. There is a growing outcry in this country about the short supplies and high prices of energy, from gasoline to natural gas to electricity. Congress is getting an earful from constituents and is beginning to stir with Republicans and Democrats alike now demanding that President Bush do something. But the answer again today from the President was he has no plans for immediate solutions, he doesn't believe there are any. If ever a place needed some, it is California, facing a chronic and critical shortage of electricity that forced more rolling blackouts today."

4

ABC on Monday night used a study about how much time is wasted by people stuck in traffic jams to make a political point about how more could be achieved by conservation than the Bush administration believes. As Peter Jennings put it, "Americans are wasting a colossal amount of fuel idling in their cars, or their SUVs." NBC's Robert Hager summarized the same study and, while he mentioned the waste of fuel, he concentrated on the real point of the study.

Following a May 7 ABC World News Tonight piece on how Bush's energy plan will put production ahead of conservation, Jennings remarked: "As one other reporter who covers Mr. Bush said today, the way of life in Austin, Texas, is SUVs, SUVs, and bigger SUVs. But a study today from Texas A&M University finds that Americans are wasting a colossal amount of fuel idling in their cars, or their SUVs, during an increasingly long commute."

Stark explained, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "The length of the rush hour for most drivers has doubled in the last two decades. That is costing plenty, $78 billion dollars in wasted time and gasoline, nearly 7 billion gallons of extra fuel blamed on delays....The worst city for congestion, Los Angeles, where drivers waste an average of 56 hours a year sitting behind the wheel. In Seattle, the second worst, Don Jordan's 27-mile trek to the office can take more than two hours....Traffic tie-ups can also drive down a region's economic growth. The Boeing company, which is moving its headquarters out of Seattle, has threatened to pull manufacturing jobs as well, partly because of the traffic. Nationwide, city planners are trying to address the problem, but the study's authors say new roads and public transit are not keeping pace with new homes and businesses. And, they say, the problem is only going to get worse in the next decade with medium-size cities, such as Austin and Charlotte, likely to have the same traffic headaches as today's largest cities."

Over on the NBC Nightly News reporter Robert Hager stressed the waste of time over the waste of fuel as he outlined how the Texas Transportation Institute study "finds Americans now waste 4.5 billion hours extra each year sitting in traffic, costing $78 billion in lost work time, vehicle wear and gasoline -- 6.8 billion gallons extra each year, enough to fill a line of tanker trucks from Miami to San Francisco and back. For each individual driver it's an average of 36 hours extra in delays each year."

5

Good Morning America linked President Bush on Monday morning to the practice of paddling school students, as Charles Gibson set up a sympathetic look a ten-year-old who was paddled by noting how "part of President Bush's education reform package would give teachers broad immunity from civil lawsuits in paddling incidents."

Gibson pressed a Louisiana school superintendent: "Well, I understand what's legal, but I'm asking you -- there's a difference sometimes between what's legal and what's right. Do you think this is the right way to go about disciplining children?"

Gibson introduced the May 7 segment caught by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson: "We're going to take up a couple of issues in which parents are rebelling against school practices, and the first one we're going to consider today is whether teachers should be allowed to hit children at school. It happens to hundreds of thousands of children each year, often with a wooden paddle, and part of President Bush's education reform package would give teachers broad immunity from civil lawsuits in paddling incidents. Now, the practice of paddling is banned in 27 states, but in 23 states it is legal. One of them, Louisiana, where a principal's use of a paddle on a 10-year-old girl has triggered a lawsuit from angry parents....Your daughter came home with welts and some injuries, is that right?"
Robert Cahanin, father of paddled girl: "Yes, sir. She came home severely bruised."
Gibson: "How badly bruised?"
Cahanin: "Pretty big bruises, three or four inches in diameter, dark, dark in color. It had me scared..."

Gibson switched to another guest: "Let me turn to Superintendent Leslie. Do know in this incident, sir, how many times this young woman was struck?"
Dan Leslie: "Yes, I do."
Gibson: "How many?"
Leslie: "She was struck three times."
Gibson: "Three times. Is there a line, Mr. Leslie, between a swat and a lick with a paddle and an assault, in effect?"

Gibson soon demanded: "Are there not better ways to discipline children than hitting them?...And you think it's a proper way to deal with, quote, 'inappropriate behavior?'"
Leslie: "It is by law, statutorily, one of the manners in which we are allowed to discipline children and is a part of our board policy."
Gibson: "Well, I understand what's legal, but I'm asking you -- there's a difference sometimes between what's legal and what's right. Do you think this is the right way to go about disciplining children?"
Leslie: "It is one deterrent to inappropriate behavior."
Gibson next empathized with the girl: "Megan, how you doing?"
Megan: "Good."
Gibson: "You are? Are you worried at all about going back to school, or have you been comfortable going back to school since this happened?"
Megan: "I'm scared to go back to school."
Gibson: "Why?"
Megan: "Because I seen her every day hitting another kids and it makes me feel sad."

6

CNN's Wolf Blitzer: Is James Traficant "more of an embarrassment for Democrats or Republicans?" The May 7 CyberAlert noted how on Friday night, May 4, on World News Tonight ABC's Linda Douglass concluded a story on the indictment of the Ohio Congressman: "Now Traficant is a Democrat, but this indictment is actually an embarrassment to Republican leaders. They gave him $20 million last year for a project in his district in return for his support of the Republicans."

The same night, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth noticed, CNN's Wolf Blitzer offered similar reasoning. On Wolf Blitzer Reports he asked Jonathan Karl: "Jon, is this more of an embarrassment for Democrats or Republicans? He's a Democrat who voted for the Republican Speaker."
Karl elaborated on Blitzer's point: "Well, James Traficant is a lifetime Democrat, but Democrats are very quick to point out not only did he voted for the Speaker, but that the Republicans have courted him aggressively. Republicans last year in Congress helped funnel some $20 million in federal projects to Traficant's district. So the spin from the Democrats here is that this is a Republican embarrassment."

7

Helping Dan Rather sell his new book on the Today show, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed how Katie Couric never brought up how Rather headlined a Democratic fundraiser in Texas earlier this year as she instead asked him about the corruption of "entertainment values" in news.

On the May 8 Today, after discussing the content of his new book of profiles of individuals titled, The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation, she inquired:
"I have to ask you a quick question. Because recently you spoke about blurring the lines between news and entertainment which is nothing new. And you said there is a lot posing as news that is entertainment. Do you feel more troubled than ever about that and about our business?"
Rather: "I do. I think we are in some danger, Katie, of being overwhelmed by entertainment values. Nothing wrong with entertainment values, but news values are different. And in my time in the business and yours we've virtually been overwhelmed with entertainment values. And we've lost sight of news as a public service. Now I don't exclude myself from this criticism. I think we all have much to answer for in, in that regard..."

Rather knows the viewers aren't watching CBS. He didn't even give his own network his first book tour slot. He appeared on Today during the 7:30am half hour but didn't show up on The Early Show until an hour later.

8

Martin Sheen dined with Bill Clinton after blowing off the Bush White House. The Sunday after the Saturday night White House Correspondents Association dinner a week and a half ago, the cast and top producers of NBC's The West Wing accepted an invitation to tour the White House. Martin Sheen, who plays the President in the series, was a no show, but the Washington Post disclosed how he spent an evening with Bill Clinton.

An excerpt from "A Reliable Source" column item on May 2 by reporter Lloyd Grove:

A couple of days after fictional President Josiah Bartlet begged off from a VIP White House tour for "West Wing" cast members -- after all, Martin Sheen, the actor who plays him, did call President Bush a "moron" recently -- Sheen showed up with bells on for a dinner at Washington's Etrusco restaurant with Bill Clinton....

Also there to hear Clinton's stories about his recent visits to Africa and India were actors Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, Nicole Robinson and Richard Schiff and Clinton loyalists Karen Tramontano, Joel Johnson, Julia Payne, Joe Lockhart, Steve Ricchetti, Capricia Marshall and a very casual Jake Siewert, who showed up wearing flip-flops....

President Bartlet, recovered from a bad cold that he was battling over the weekend, stayed after almost everyone else had left -- past 11 p.m. -- and answered the restaurant's ringing phone with a crisp "Etrusco!" Former President Clinton, meanwhile, spent the night at the big Embassy Row house he shares with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

END Excerpt

A fresh episode of The West Wing will air tonight, May 9, at 9pm EDT/PDT, 8pm CDT/MDT, on NBC. -- Brent Baker


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