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CyberAlert -- 08/09/2001 -- Bush's "Excessive" Vacation

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Bush's "Excessive" Vacation; CBS: Bush's "Disastrous Presidency"; Clinton Still "Fascinating" to Gibson; Rather Scolded by Cronkite

1) As Tom Brokaw enjoyed the seventh week of his vacation, and the day before President Bush would address the nation, Today devoted a segment to Bush's vacation. Newsweek's Howard Fineman agreed with Katie Couric it's "excessive" and warned that "people think" he "spends too much time" on "the concerns of rich people."

2) President Bush is "down on the ranch, thousands of miles from the devastating effects of his disastrous presidency," declared a British radio talk show host given air time by CBS News. He castigated Bush for his "abandonment of the Kyoto agreement that's bequeathed our children another decade of dangerous greenhouse gases" and "his obsession with the so-called Son of Star Wars."

3) The morning after Clinton's book deal, ABC's Charles Gibson oozed on Good Morning America: "Indeed people miss him, he's still a fascinating man even six months out of the White House." Gibson later asserted that "this will be a dignified book" in contrast to all the "lurid" details in the Starr Report.

4) Geraldo's "affection" for Bush? On Tuesday night Rivera said he's starting to have "real affection for him" because of his "open-minded policies toward immigration" and decision to shut down the Vieques testing range.

5) CBS's Bob Schieffer urged President Bush to fund embryonic stem cell research because, "if he reads history, he will know that history remembers those who climbed the mountain, not those who stayed home in fear of the unknown." But Schieffer fears another scientific advance. Back in July he declared: "I think anti-ballistic missile defense systems are a bad idea."

6) Despite ingratiating himself with Gary Condit by largely ignoring the scandal, Dan Rather won't be conducting any potential interview with him, 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt told USA Today, because "somebody would assume there is some kind of deal, which there isn't."

7) Even Walter Cronkite thinks Dan Rather has gone "overboard" in avoiding the Levy/Condit story: "He could have covered it with a little bit, just, just what was needed for the facts."

8) Humorous video of Dan Rather squirming. In 1992, in the wake 41 being asked if he'd had an affair, a local reporter turned the tables on Rather and asked if he'd ever committed adultery. Rather demanded: "You've been asking this to Tom Brokaw, have you?" Then Rather turned on his robotic anchorman persona, saying cryptically, "Well, thank you very much. Pleased to see you."


Clarification: In simplifying Mark Shield's point about the danger to Bush in making the press corps suffer in a hot Texas town, the August 7 CyberAlert used the term "re-election" in summarizing how "Shields recalled that Carter and Johnson, who forced reporters to endure 'Dixie summers,' lost re-election" while "Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan vacationed 'near the sea' and won re-election." Since Kennedy and Johnson never faced re-election, in his quote, run in full in the CyberAlert, Shields only said that Reagan, Kennedy, and Clinton "spared themselves a churlish press corps" while Carter and LBJ "were denied second terms."

UPDATE: Shields' warning confirmed. In Wednesday's Washington Post, Mike Allen wrote from Crawford: "Some journalists -- preferring the previous Presidents' vacation destinations of Kennepunkport, Maine, and Martha's Vineyard, Mass. -- have dubbed this trip 'Home to the Wasteland.'"

1

As NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw enjoyed the seventh week of a ten-plus week vacation, and the day before President Bush would address the nation about federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, NBC's Today show devoted a segment to how, as Katie Couric put it, he's "getting political heat from those who feel he's spending too much time away from the White House."

Couric highlighted for Howard Fineman of Newsweek how according to the Washington Post, by the end of this vacation, Bush will have spent 42 percent of his presidency "either at vacation spots or en route. Does that sound excessive compared to other Presidents in the past or not?" Fineman declared: "Well when you add it all up it sure does." Fineman stressed how "most Americans don't get a month of vacation straight. And if George Bush has one potential political weakness it's that people think he's not in touch with the reality of most American's lives. That he spends too much time about the concerns of rich people and so forth." But, Fineman, conceded, "this is a guy who is completely proud not to be seen as a workaholic. Not only is he trying to avoid his father's mistakes. He's in many ways trying to be the anti-Bill Clinton who many people felt spent entirely too much time in the office."

And with Clinton "time in the office" didn't always meaning working, at least in the traditional sense.

MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down Couric's interview with Newsweek's Fineman on the August 8 Today:

Couric: "President Bush is on Day Four of his month long working vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But along with the 100 degree weather he's also getting political heat from those who feel he's spending too much time away from the White House. Howard Fineman is Newsweek magazine's chief political analyst.... Well I know a recent USA Today poll shows that 55 percent believe Bush is, President Bush's vacation is too long. And I know that administrative, administration officials have gone out of their way to make sure people understand that he's getting some work done as well. But how sensitive are they at the White House to this criticism?"
Fineman: "Well they are sensitive enough to have left somebody behind to express how concerned they are. Last Friday as I was working on a piece for Newsweek I talked to one of the top White House aides and I said, 'boy it's great I hear Bush is going on a month long vacation we can all relax around here.' And he said, 'Oh no, this is home to the heartland. This is about getting in touch with the people. He's gonna have aides in and out all the time. He's gonna take long trips and so forth.' So they were, they were quite concerned. At least concerned enough to tell me about it."
Couric: "Well tell me about some of the trips he's taking and do they really add up to a working vacation? I know for example he and his wife will spend 15 minutes at a Habitat for Humanity work site in Waco, Texas today."
Fineman: "Well I, I think this is mostly about vacation. George W. Bush firmly believes and wants to show that all wisdom and morality does not, does not reside in Washington DC. As a matter of fact as far as he is concerned very little of it does. He's a Texan he wants to demonstrate that and he wants to travel around the country. And he will be going to Milwaukee, he'll be going to Pennsylvania for the Little League World series...."
Couric: "And, and again I guess that one of the strategies is to show his care for home and family. And so he'll be emphasizing that on his vacation and when he does take these side trips right?"
Fineman: "Yeah I think to some extent Presidents are defined by their vacations. Don't forget his father was very much defined by his cavorting around on the coast of Maine. With George W. Bush most of the lessons he wants to take are not from his own father but from Ronald Reagan. And it's important for Presidents to show that in some sense they are regular guys. So that's why you see pictures of George W. Bush out in Waco, which after all is not Tuscany, you know out there, out there on the ranch. And, and that's very much an important part of the symbolism, that, that he wants to show."
Couric: "And in fact his attitude, Howard, to vacation is quite different than Bill Clinton's. And you say that's not entirely a negative thing."
Fineman: "I don't think necessarily. I think the poll is correct. Most, most Americans don't get a month of vacation straight. And if George Bush has one potential political weakness it's that people think he's not in touch with the reality of most American's lives. That he spends too much time about the concerns of rich people and so forth. But after all it is Waco, he is a Texan. It is what he cares about. And this is a guy who is completely proud not to be seen as a workaholic. Not only is he trying to avoid his father's mistakes. He's in many ways trying to be the anti-Bill Clinton who many people felt spent entirely too much time in the office."
Couric: "Howard, I know by the time President Bush returns to the White House he'll have spent 54 days at his ranch. This is since his inauguration. Four days in Kennebunkport, 38 full or partial days at Camp David. According to the Washington Post that's 42 percent of his presidency. Either at vacation spots or en route. Does that sound excessive compared to other Presidents in the past or not?"
Fineman: "Well when you add it all up it sure does. I think part of it is personal. I think he doesn't like Washington. I don't think he can stand the place. There are too many Democrats, journalists, lawyers, bureaucrats, etc. He is proud to be President, he takes the job seriously but he doesn't love it with a kind of hunger other Presidents have. And as far as he's concerned the American people can take him that way or not. And his job approval numbers are pretty good. In that same poll Katie, Americans by 2 to 1 thought is first six months had been a success. So even though he can't wait to get out of the office at 5 o'clock on Friday night and vamoose to Camp David or even all the way to Crawford, Texas, at least at this point where the American people don't seem obsessed with politics, per se, he's a kind of President who seems to fit the times."
Couric: "And can afford the time off, right?"
Fineman: "And can take the time, right."

(While on the subject of the number of Bush's vacation days, on Monday's NBC Nightly News, David Gregory reported from Crawford, Texas, as quoted in the August 7 CyberAlert: "The Washington Post has actually crunched some of the numbers on their Web site today, calculating that in fact the President has spent enough days between vacation or traveling to vacation spots, including his folks' place up in Kennepunkport, to account for 42 percent of his young presidency so far."
In fact, as Couric properly noted Wednesday morning, that 42 percent calculation is not for "so far," but where Bush will stand at the end of his current 30-day vacation in Texas. And it counts time at Camp David as well as days en route to Camp David, Crawford or Kennepunkport.)

2

President Bush is "down on the ranch, thousands of miles from the devastating effects of his disastrous presidency," declared a British radio talk show host given air time on a CBS News show.

U.S. journalists regularly complain about how radio talk show hosts in America are all conservatives, which might explain why the overnight CBS News program, Up to the Minute, went overseas to find a decidedly left-of-center British radio talk show host to use Bush's vacation as an opening to bash his conservative policies. From a park bench in London, Simon Bates rued "four weeks to forget the mess he's left behind right 'round the world."

Bates listed Bush's "abandonment of the Kyoto agreement that's bequeathed our children another decade of dangerous greenhouse gases....His obsession with the so-called Son of Star Wars, despite the fact that his untested proposals break a raft of international agreements and threaten to launch a new arms race in space."

Bates provides a weekly commentary for Up to the Minute, carried by most CBS affiliates for at least an hour or so between 2 and 4:30am Monday through Friday. On Monday night/Tuesday morning, August 7, Bates condemned Bush's vacation and his policies:

"Okay, I admit it, I'm confused. Now, if I'm right, you Americans are only entitled to two full weeks' annual vacation. If that's the case, where's the man you so nearly elected as leader of the western world? Yep, we read that good old George W., for it is he, has just bunked off for a full four-week holiday at his Texas Ranch. Four weeks, as he put it, to 'talk to his cows' and keep his hands firmly off the reins of government. Four weeks to forget the mess he's left behind right 'round the world.
"His abandonment of the Kyoto agreement that's bequeathed our children another decade of dangerous greenhouse gases. His unilateral rejection of the chemical weapons treaty which the rest of the world was ready to sign up to. His obsession with the so-called Son of Star Wars, despite the fact that his untested proposals break a raft of international agreements and threaten to launch a new arms race in space. And four weeks during which the Middle East will probably descend even further into chaos. There was a time, just a few months ago, when the White House would have jumped in to try and calm the situation -- you know, save a few lives here and there. But now, when the phone call comes, from either side of the border in Jerusalem, it'll ring off the hook. Because the boss is in Texas.
"Mind you, while George W. is down on the ranch, his appointees seem to be keeping up his fine tradition of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The U.S. ambassador to Berlin has just caused great offense there by railing that the Germans aren't spending enough on their armed forces to please the President. Excuse me, but what's German for 'mind your own business?'
"But George W. himself probably doesn't know about that one. He's down on the ranch, thousands of miles from the devastating effects of his disastrous presidency, 'talking to his cows.' This is Simon Bates for CBS News, in London."

Excuse me, but what's mediaspeak for "mind your own business?" If U.S. officials have no business commenting about German policy what business does a British talk show host have to assess U.S. policies?

3

The morning after Bill Clinton's book deal was announced ABC's Charles Gibson still glowed in awe of it on Tuesday's Good Morning America: "I remember the great thing on Saturday Night Live where the fellow who does President Clinton said, 'You're going to miss me.' And indeed people miss him, he's still a fascinating man even six months out of the White House."

In a subsequent exclusive morning show interview with the lawyer who made the deal, Gibson noted how a "publishing source" assured him "this will be a dignified book" that will not be "lurid." He contrasted it with Ken Starr: "As one other publishing source said to me, look, all the details are in the Starr Report, the President can write about his state of mind."

The night before, as anchor of World News Tonight, Gibson decided "Bill Clinton is just as fascinating as ever." For more on Monday night coverage, refer back to the August 7 CyberAlert:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010807.asp#1

Gibson opened the August 7 GMA, as observed by MRC intern Lindsay Welter "Bill Clinton's memoirs set a record at a whopping 12 million dollars. We'll talk to the man who made the deal for the former President." Diane Sawyer soon chimed in: "And I'm Diane Sawyer and it's Tuesday, August 7th, 2001. And he is up there with Stephen King and we know the ending. It's amazing."

Gibson's soft ball questions to lawyer Robert Barnett, who is better known in Washington media circles as the husband of CBS News reporter Rita Braver:

-- "I talked to several people in publishing yesterday, and they said this is actually a good deal for everybody all around. First, they said, you wanted this publisher, this editor. You could avoid a sort of unseemly auction for the book."

-- "Bob, how specific are the conversations of what the President has to write about and what he will say?"

-- "One, one of the publishing sources that I talked to yesterday said to me, this will be a dignified book. It will be modeled, as Jackie reported, on the Katharine Graham uh, autobiography in which she was able to convey specifics of difficult times without being lurid. And as one other publishing source said to me, look, all the details are in the Starr Report, the President can write about his state of mind."

-- "So when he writes about the Lewinsky episode and impeachment during his presidency, he writes about what? What does he say?"

4

Bush winning over Geraldo? He's still a big admirer of Bill Clinton, but while many journalists are scolding President Bush for his lengthy vacation time, on Tuesday night, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Geraldo Rivera said he's starting to have "real affection for him" because of his "open-minded policies toward immigration" and decision to shut down the Vieques testing range.

On the August 7 Rivera Live on CNBC, Rivera opined:
"I didn't like George Bush after the election Norah [Vincent, Village Voice] because I thought that they basically robbed it. I got a little more affection for him during the early days before the Kyoto global warming treaty and some of the other missteps. And I absolutely came to really have real affection for him for a reason you probably don't like. I think that his policies, open-minded policies toward immigration liberalization is a wonderful thing. His ending unilaterally the, the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range is also a good thing. He's reaching out to Hispanic people in a way that Clinton reached out to African-Americans. And I think those are good."

But minutes later Geraldo was back to his usual form, proclaiming of Bill Clinton: "A great President, c'mon! He was an a adulterer but he was a great President."

5

Bob Schieffer's "fear of the unknown." After reading in Monday's CyberAlert how on Sunday's Face the Nation CBS's Bob Schieffer urged President Bush to fund embryonic stem cell research because, "if he reads history, he will know that history remembers those who climbed the mountain, not those who stayed home in fear of the unknown," the MRC's Rich Noyes reminded me how Schieffer himself expressed reservations about moving forward scientifically in another area: missile defense.

"I think anti-ballistic missile defense systems are a bad idea," he declared during a July 17 appearance on radio's Imus in the Morning.

But on the August 5 Face the Nation he ridiculed those against embryonic stem cell research, contending they are just afraid of learning something: "History's longest argument has been over what to do about the mountain. One group has always wanted to cross the mountain, to explore and see what is on the other side. The other group, no less sincere, has always been willing to let well enough alone. That group worries there might be things on the other side of the mountain we didn't want to know. They were the ones who refused to look through Galileo's telescope. They already knew all they needed to know about the moon and the sun and the stars."

For the diatribe in full, go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010806.asp#7

For his assessment of missile defense, go to:
http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010718.asp#4

6

Dan Rather won't be conducting any potential interview with California Democratic Congressman Gary Condit, 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt told USA Today's Peter Johnson, because "somebody would assume there is some kind of deal, which there isn't."

As Johnson noted in the August 7 USA Today: "Because Rather has decried the media's tabloid fascination with the disappearance of Chandra Levy, who has been romantically linked to Condit, and because Rather's CBS Evening News has aired only one story on the case while others have aired dozens, the Congressman will return the favor by granting an interview."

In an August 8 New York Post story, Hewitt insisted: "Everybody who thinks -- incorrectly -- that Dan was doing anything other than taking the high-road in not reporting that story daily on his newscast would assume that there was a hidden agenda if he were to land the Condit interview."

The Post's Don Kaplan relayed, however, that Hewitt is pursuing Condit for 60 Minutes or 60 Minutes II: "The 60 Minutes boss said he has been lobbying to land a no-holds barred Condit interview....'I am waiting for his attorney to call me back. My understanding is he's on vacation and will contact me when he comes back and if he doesn't already know that 60 Minutes has never pulled its punches, he'll know it when we talk.'"

7

Even Walter Cronkite thinks Dan Rather "went overboard" in avoiding the Chandra Levy/Gary Condit story. His scolding occurred during an interview on Martha's Vineyard with NBC's Jamie Gangel which aired on today's Today.

Asked by Gangel for his assessment of the modern media, Cronkite replied on the August 9 Today, as transcribed by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, that "it's skewed toward the more sensational" and that "the profession of journalism ought to be about telling people about what they need to know, not what they want to know."

But Rather's near-blackout is beyond Cronkite's tolerance. When Gangel raised how "Dan Rather decided for a long time" that the CBS Evening News was "not going to cover" the Levy/Condit story, Cronkite gently rebuked Rather:
"I think it was an interesting experiment on the part of Dan's and an understandable one, understandable. I think that, I'm, this is all my, of whole cloth, I know nothing. I haven't talked to Dan about it at all. But I suspect that what happened was that Dan got tired of this scandal coverage of every, every story of this nature. Taking over the newscasts being covered far too fully. Of course I do think that he went overboard. I mean he went too far. He could have covered it with a little bit, just, just what was needed for the facts. Just the facts ma'm."

If only we could get "just that facts" from CBS News on any topic.

8

Some fun Dan Rather video from our archive for the slow news days of summer. Besides, what's more fun than piling on Rather? Back in 1992, in the wake of President George H.W. Bush being asked whether he'd committed adultery, when a local TV reporter turned the tables on Rather and asked if he ever had, Dan Rather offered a humorous reaction.

During the 1992 Republican convention in Houston, a squirming Rather tried to evade the question from Tom Sherwood of NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington, DC, by bravely throwing a colleague to the wolves: "You've been asking this to Tom Brokaw, have you?" Then he asked Sherwood if he'd ever had an affair. Sherwood assured him "I'm going to answer the question at the end of my story." As he walked away, Rather turned on his robotic anchorman persona, saying cryptically, "Well, thank you very much. Pleased to see you."

To learn how Tim Graham, formerly with the MRC and now White House correspondent for World magazine, connected Rather's Levy non-coverage to this episode, check out his National Review Online piece posted on Monday:
http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-graham080601.shtml

I'm writing about it since the video clip needs context and it's a fun one to show on our Web site when I haven't come across any current video clips that are very interesting. It seems so quaint now given Clinton's history which reporters knew more about in 1992 than they told and what Clinton did in office, but for a Dateline NBC interview aired just before the 1992 GOP convention, Stone Phillips asked President Bush: "Have you ever had an affair?" Turning the tables on journalists, for the August 19, 1992 "News 4" at either 5 or 6pm, WRC-TV's Sherwood posed the same question to a number of reporters at the Houston Astrodome.

Humorously, in retrospect, one of them was the late Charles Kuralt who we now know was at the time carrying on a multi-decade live-in relationship with a woman at his Montana ranch. He told Sherwood: "I take the Barbara Bush position on this thing. I don't think it's, I don't think it's relevant."

But his family, who sued the woman over his will which left her his ranch, sure found it "relevant."

The RealPlayer video clip will by posted this afternoon ET by the MRC's Andy Szul. Go to: http:\\www.mrc.org. -- Brent Baker


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