CyberAlert -- 07/03/1997 -- McRee's Angles

McRee's Angles; Stomping Stephanopoulos; Blumenthal's Bombast

All the comments and suggestions you have sent to have been read. I've fallen behind at responding to them, but I want all readers to know that their comments are being seen and considered.

  1. Lisa McRee, picked by ABC to replace Joan Lunden, took up the liberal line during 1992 campaign interviews.
  2. ABC made George Stephanopoulos cancel a Democratic fundraising event, but ABC has no qualms about reporters helping liberal groups.
  3. Sidney Blumenthal, who claimed the Clintons demonstrated family values by "confessing to adultery," has joined Clinton's staff. Even his media colleagues realized he was more Clinton advocate than reporter. He called Phil Gramm a "mean-spirited right-wing character."

1) KABC-TV anchor Lisa McRee will replace Joan Lunden as co-host of Good Morning America, ABC News announced on Tuesday. She'll move east this fall to take on her new position. McRee was one of the original co-hosts of ABC's 1:30am-5am World News Now when it premiered in 1991. The MRC doesn't regularly monitor the show, but we do tape it. Back in 1992 Notable Quotables ran a couple of her quotes -- attacking Pat Buchanan from the left and promoting the liberal spin that conservatives doomed George Bush's re-election campaign:

-- From a February 26, 1992 World News Now interview with Buchanan:
Anchor Lisa McRee: "What's the difference between your message and the message of David Duke?....In terms of fairness, you've said things that have angered Jews, that have angered gays, that have angered women, that have angered minorities. In fact, just the other day, you said that there are certain groups that assimilate more easily into what is basically an American society which is of European derivation. As a woman, if I was a minority, why shouldn't I be scared of you?"
Buchanan: "....No nation of God's Earth has done more to fight discrimination, or has made greater progress in doing so, than the United States of America."
McRee: "But you want to turn that around!"

-- From the November 4, 1992 World News Now, the night of the election:
Lisa McRee: "Patrick Buchanan's speech was one of those speeches that not many people will ever forget. It divided the party and many moderates were frightened away by that. Patrick Buchanan is a very smart man...I find it hard to believe that he didn't know what kind of effect his speech was going to have."
ABC reporter Ann Compton: "...There are those who also say that George Bush's biggest mistake this whole year has been pandering to the end of the party, which is not going to pull together the kind of votes he needed to win nationwide."

And the media establishment is upset that Susan Molinari will express conservative views ONE morning a week on CBS.

2) ABC News forced George Stephanopoulos to back out of a political fundraiser he agreed to host, The Washington Post reported on June 26. But ABC is hardly consistent when it comes to barring news staffers from lending their name to political causes as it did nothing to stop Carole Simpson from helping a left-wing group. In the current case, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz found that Democratic New York City mayoral candidate Ruth Messinger invited supporters to a fundraiser featuring Stephanopoulos at Tavern on the Green. Kurtz relayed: "A $2,500 contribution, the invitation said, 'entitles couple to intimate dinner with Mr. Stephanopoulos and Ms. Messinger after the event.'"

Upon seeing one of the invitations, ABC News Senior Vice President Richard Wald told Kurtz that "I called George and said this is a no-no." Kurtz elaborated: "Anyone employed by ABC News 'should not be in active politics,' Wald said. 'He made a mistake.'"

So, no one employed by ABC News should be active in politics. Just how well is that rule enforced? Well, while ABC barred a commentator's activity, MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham reminded me that they seem to make an exception for on-air reporters. From the August, 1994 MediaWatch, a newsbite that by coincidence starts with Kurtz quoting a Wald edict:

Selective Ethics. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote July 8 that "ABC News is cracking down on big-bucks speeches by its star correspondents." Why? Kurtz quoted an internal memo from Senior VP Richard Wald: "'It isn't just how big a fee is, it is also who gives it and what it might imply...You may not accept a fee from a trade association or from a for-profit business. Their special interest is obvious and we have to guard against it.'"

How will ABC policy affect speeches before other special interests, like the NAACP? As Susan Gregory Thomas reported in the May 17 Washington Post, ABC correspondent Carole Simpson (and CBS anchor Dan Rather) hosted a $175-a-plate fundraiser for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's 40th anniversary. Would the new policy prevent helping such a liberal advocacy organization? No, Director of News Practices Lisa Heiden told MediaWatch, noting that ABC's policy had always covered "groups with a political purpose" and NAACP doesn't fit that category.

Stephanopoulos just has to find a liberal group to support instead of a candidate.

3) Sidney Blumenthal, the former Washington Post, New Republic and New Yorker reporter, started his new White House job on Tuesday. "He'll fill a newly created post as an assistant to the President for communications," the June 7 National Journal revealed, explaining that he was picked to "work on major speeches and serve as an all-purpose message-meister."

He's been such a Clinton promoter that even his old colleagues realized he long ago dropped any pretense of balanced journalism. Observed the New Republic: "We are delighted to note that the noted Democratic journalist Sidney Blumenthal, having worked so long for the Clinton White House outside the Clinton White House, will now work for the Clinton White House inside the Clinton White House." The June 23 edition then passed along this quip: "With any luck, one of his journalistic colleagues remarked, he'll get his back pay."

Indeed, the Washington Post reported on June 29 that while still with the New Yorker he began weekly "brainstorming sessions" with Dick Morris in which "Morris said Blumenthal recommended ideas for staging Clinton at the Democratic National Convention and for using Clinton's appearances at the Atlanta Olympics to boost him politically."

In the mid-'80s Blumenthal worked as a political reporter and later Style section writer for the Washington Post where he covered Clinton's 1988 Democratic convention speech. A couple of years later he jumped to the New Republic until moving to the New Yorker as its Washington correspondent after the 1992 election.

Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz put together a profile on June 16 that included some very illuminating anecdotes about Blumenthal crossing the line and how he lost the trust of his colleagues:

-- "Tales of Blumenthal's zealous defense of the administration have become legend. During the 1992 campaign, says Julia Reed, a Vogue magazine reporter, Blumenthal urged her at a party not to write a piece questioning Clinton's character. But what, she shot back, if it were true? 'It doesn't matter,' she recalls him saying. 'This is too important.'"

-- "Peter Boyer, a New Yorker writer, says Blumenthal tried to sabotage his story about the Travelgate affair last year. Boyer says he mentioned the piece to his colleague after learning that Blumenthal had lunched with Clinton's friend Harry Thomason on the day the Hollywood producer pushed for the firing of the White House travel office employees....Boyer says he was later told by Harry Thomason or his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, that Blumenthal had warned them Boyer was anti-Clinton and planned to smear them, leading to a series of legal threats against the magazine."

-- "When Whitewater exploded in early 1994, Blumenthal refused to write about it, dismissing it as a bogus scandal..."

-- "Blumenthal shied away from writing about his friend Hillary Clinton. 'That's where Tina [Brown, Editor of the New Yorker] finally said, 'This is untenable,' says a New Yorker writer. By 1995, Blumenthal was no longer writing the Letter from Washington. He was replaced by Michael Kelly, a fierce Clinton critic. Kelly ordered Blumenthal to stay away from the magazine's downtown office. 'I did not trust him,' says Kelly, now the New Republic's Editor. 'I felt his relationship...with the President and First Lady was such that I was not sure I wanted him around the office as I was working on stories. He was serving two masters.'"

The MRC didn't track Blumenthal's New Yorker work, but here are a few of his most left-wing comments from elsewhere as published in Notable Quotables:

-- In the February 17, 1992 New Republic: "While George Bush -- all whiteness -- talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery."

-- In the April 16, 1993 Boston Phoenix on conservatives after the 1992 loss: "Then you've got Bill Bennett out there, who is kind of a Torquemada...Bill Bennett is basically a schismatic heretic practicing his own contrived lunatic version of the Latin Mass in the basement. That's what Buchanan is doing, only with Confederate flags flying. You have Phil Gramm from Texas, an incredibly mean-spirited right-wing character backed by big-oil money. He is the kind of perverse version of Lyndon Johnson whittled down to his vices and exaggerated. Then you have Bob Dole: when he's most sardonic and cruel is when he's most sincere. I think that's the Republican Party right now."

-- In an October 30, 1994 op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times: "Negativity is the essence of the conservatives' assault. They have nurtured and exploited a negative public mood that, in turn, has wrapped itself around the conservatives' message of negative government. Cynicism has been used to breed cynicism. The conservative program can be summarized as 'anti' -- anti-tax, anti-government, anti-incumbent, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, anti-criminal -- with the all the categories conflated into one angry impulse. This is rooted in traditions of no-nothing [sic] nativism and Social Darwinism. No one should be surprised that the celebrated conservative book of this campaign season is The Bell Curve, which proclaims that blacks are inherently inferior in intelligence."

Blumenthal told Kurtz in reference to sliding into his new White House slot: "This is a chance to help change the country. I was always in journalism because I thought I could help make a difference."

At least he's more honest about using journalism to advance his personal political goals than most journalists.

-- Brent Baker