CyberAlert -- 07/15/1997 -- System's the Problem

System's the Problem; Save NEA; Top GOPer Denies Media Bias

  1. Two of three Monday morning shows skipped the hearings and all three ignored them Monday night, but ABC wonders why public not paying attention.
  2. The system not law breakers are the problem "What's legal is corrupt as well." And "It's about a rotten system."
  3. Cut NEA funding? "Mind-boggling," declares David Broder. "The domestic version of 'the Commies are coming,'" says another reporter.
  4. A top Republican declares as "out of bounds" a letter pointing out the impact of liberal media bias.

1) Two out three morning shows on Monday ignored the fundraising hearings as did all three broadcast network evening shows, though they offered coverage with a slant over the weekend.

Morning shows on Monday, July 14:
-- ABC's Good Morning America ran a brief item from news reader Elizabeth Vargas at 7am and a q&a with Vargas and reporter Linda Douglass at 8am, the MRC's Jessica Anderson informed me. Vargas and Douglass discussed the controversy over whether Fred Thompson went too far in his opening day comments about China.

-- CBS This Morning: For the third weekday morning in a row, MRC analyst Steve Kaminski determined, CBS skipped the fundraising topic.

-- NBC's Today, which didn't utter a word about the hearings on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, went a fourth morning, and second weekday morning in a row, without mentioning fundraising. Monday's Today didn't have time for fundraising, but news reader Ann Curry assured viewers: "President Clinton wants to give Americans a security blanket so genetic testing can't be used against them." NBC aired a full story on "Stork parking" spaces close to stores for new and expectant mothers. Andrea McCarren relayed: "Two years ago the manager of an Atlanta supermarket was intrigued when he learned the concept was practiced in Cuba."

Evening shows:
-- Golf bumped NBC Nightly News in the east on Saturday and Sunday, but Monday's edition did not include a syllable about the hearings. Nightly News did, however, make time for a full story from David Bloom on White House complaints about how digitally altered video of Clinton appears in the movie "Contact."

-- The CBS Evening News on Saturday aired a story from Phil Jones on what anchor Paula Zahn dubbed an "underwhelming" first week of hearings. On Sunday, anchor Sharyl Attkisson read a short item on the appearance of Ty Cobb, John Huang's lawyer, on Face the Nation.

Monday's Evening News led with the release of the autopsy report on JonBenet Ramsey, but didn't raise the hearings.

-- ABC's World News Tonight on Saturday, MRC analyst Gene Eliasen noted, skipped the fundraising hearings. On Sunday, ABC ran a story on charges that Thompson went too far when he asserted that the Chinese tried to buy influence. "New ammunition for the Democrats and new criticism of the head of the Senate's campaign finance hearings," announced anchor Carole Simpson before Deborah Weiner's story which highlighted how U.S. News & World Report found that most Chinese money went to legal activities, like lobbying. After Weiner, Simpson plugged an upcoming piece from Jeff Greenfield: "A look at why average Americans seem to be paying so little attention to the campaign finance hearings, later on World News Tonight Sunday."

Could it be because the networks alternate days between ignoring them and dismissing, instead of pursuing, any allegations that flow from the hearings?

Let's review how ABC's World News Tonight has "covered" the hearings so far:

  • Monday, July 7: zilch
  • Tuesday, July 8: Unlike CBS and NBC, ABC does not lead with hearings, instead airing two stories first on the Fen Phen diet drug.
  • Wednesday, July 9: Led with poll showing Clinton with a high approval rating. The story mentioned the hearings, but did not include any soundbites from witness Richard Sullivan.
  • Thursday, July 10: Devoted 41 seconds to Senator Sam Brownback mimicking a Chinese dialect, but just 23 seconds to a vague hearings update.
  • Friday, July 11: nothing
  • Saturday, July 12: no story
  • Sunday, July 13: Story on how Fred Thompson's Chinese influence charge is not supported and a story on "why average Americans seem to be paying so little attention to the campaign finance hearings."
  • Monday, July 14: nothing

2) More evidence that the fundraising scandal isn't about identifying who broke the law but about "reforming" a "corrupt" system made those poor Clinton people do those things that everyone else does too. MRC analyst Clay Waters caught these two comments from CNN's July 12 Capital Gang:

-- Margaret Carlson of Time: "It's never going to end until there's some kind of reform. And just because what Clinton did is, may be illegal, doesn't mean the whole thing doesn't have to be looked at. Because what's legal is corrupt as well."

-- Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal: "I will agree with you if you will agree there's a Republican tactic which says 'the whole thing is about illegalities. It's not about a rotten system.' It's about a rotten system."

3) The National Endowment for the Arts has some allies in the media who are indignant that conservatives would dare to reduce its funding. The House may replace the NEA appropriation with block grants.

-- On Friday's (July 11) Washington Week in Review on PBS Washington Post reporter David Broder seemed baffled:

"The Senate will restore the money and in the end, given the closeness of the House vote, I think the NEA will probably survive. I find it, I have to say personally, mind-boggling that a nation with our wealth and standing in the world cannot make some kind of contribution, as a nation, to sustaining the arts and to bringing the arts to communities and to people who don't, otherwise, have them."

-- Here's an exchange from the July 13 CNN Late Edition between Steve Roberts of the New York Daily News and Time magazine's Margaret Carlson:

Steve Roberts: "Well, this is, I'll tell ya, this is the domestic version of 'the Commies are coming.' The Republicans love this issue because they get to say 'pornography,' they get to say..."

Margaret Carlson: "Mapplethorpe!"

Roberts: " about crucifixes in urine. They get to call out all of the old cultural warfare stuff. I don't think the country's buying this anymore than they're buying the Chinese communists line."

Quite an enlightening examination of the proper role of government in arts funding.

4) But don't worry, liberal bias really isn't a problem impeding conservative policies. At least according to one top Republican official. In the July 14 Washington Post, reporter Howard Kurtz quoted from a recent fundraising letter sent by a conservative group:

"The national news media has become an extension of the liberals in Congress and the Clinton administration....Our nation can't survive under a big media liberal monopoly....Many in the liberal media did everything they could to make conservatives lose the 1994 elections....Left-wing journalism professors are training their new crop of media radicals....I've seen firsthand how the news media can twist conservative programs and misrepresent them to the American people." [Ellipses as presented by Kurtz]

Hardly the nuanced tone of a well-reasoned CyberAlert, but as direct mail letters go, a pretty rational outline of how conservatives view the media. Who could object to this letter sent by the Leadership Institute to raise money for its school to train conservatives in broadcasting skills? Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, whose signature appeared at the end of the letter.

Lott, Kurtz discovered, "is now disavowing those words as 'definitely out of bounds,' says his spokeswoman Susan Irby...'He would not have approved this letter,' Irby said. 'We have let them know we're unhappy....This went out totally without our knowledge.'"

Leadership Institute President Morton Blackwell, Kurtz reported, "says Lott specifically approved the letter...'We had a meeting,' Blackwell said. 'We discussed the letter and he agreed to do it.'"

It used to be only liberals were upset when you criticized the media's liberal bias.

-- Brent Baker