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CyberAlert -- 08/29/2001 -- Holiday Gas Price Scam

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Holiday Gas Price Scam; CBS Conceded False SS Fears; Condit Unlabeled, But ABC Found a "Right-Wing Agenda"; Clinton's Bikinis

1) With gas prices rising as a holiday weekend approaches, ABC anchor Charles Gibson demanded: "Is it price gouging?" He speculated in setting up ABC's lead story: "You have to wonder about the timing." Reporter Dean Reynolds acknowledged other factors, but stressed nefarious business practices: "While the oil companies deny any suggestion that they are manipulating the price to boost profits, critics disagree."

2) CBS corrected itself. On Monday night anchor John Roberts hyped how "the fat federal surplus vanishes into thin air...the President will have to use Social Security money to keep the government running." But on Tuesday night he acknowledged that spin "may be more symbolism than substance" as Bill Plante explained how "Congress has been spending the Social Security surplus since it first appeared."

3) After pushing Bush to abandon his promise on embryonic stem cells, on Tuesday morning ABC and NBC repeatedly pressed the OMB's Mitch Daniels on Bush's pledge to not use the Social Security surplus. ABC's Terry Moran lectured: "It sounds like you're saying something contrary to what the Republican Party platform promised last year." NBC's Matt Lauer relayed the Democratic spin: "People are running around spending those checks to spur on the economy and it's money the government can't afford."

4) ABC's Good Morning America refuses to identify Gary Condit as a Democrat, but on Tuesday morning co-host Diane Sawyer made sure viewers realized the Republican agenda of a group aiding in Anne Marie Smith's case. Noting how he is working with Judicial Watch, Sawyer demanded of Smith's lawyer: "Is this a Republican vendetta of some kind? A right-wing vendetta?"

5) Newsweek's Eleanor Clift lamented the "sex police" hounding of Gary Condit, bemoaned how "he has brought back all the Clinton haters and all the bit players in the Clinton drama, and we're reliving the Clinton impeachment. I don't think we need that," and denounced Anne Marie Smith for coming forward.

6) Self-contradictory sentence of the week, about the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes: "[Don] Hewitt made a plea for gun control and voiced his support for stem-cell research, while ridiculing the charge that the media are too liberal."

7) People "really like" Bill Clinton because he does things like buy bikinis in Brazil. ABC News White House reporter Terry Moran insisted of the bikini buying: "That's one of the reasons that they, some people have cottoned to him, I think."


1

ABC's great Labor Day weekend gas price conspiracy. Tuesday night ABC led with how just in time for the holiday weekend, gas prices are rising. World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson demanded: "Is it price gouging?" He speculated: "You have to wonder about the timing. Millions of people are about to hit the road for the Labor Day weekend, and in many places, there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the price of gasoline."

Reporter Dean Reynolds acknowledged that "part of the problem has to do with tough air quality regulations that require hard to replace blends of gasoline for specific markets," but he stressed "suspicion" about nefarious business practices: "While the oil companies deny any suggestion that they are manipulating the price to boost profits, critics disagree."

ABC assumed any demand-induced price increases would be improper, as if the oil companies, refiners and gas stations should suspend the laws of supply and demand to ensure motorists don't pay a cent more when demand surges over a holiday weekend.

Gibson's teaser at the top of the August 28 show: "On World News Tonight, gas prices rocket up across the country just in time for Labor Day. Is it price gouging?"

He then opened the broadcast by suggesting the oil companies are up to no good: "Good evening. You have to wonder about the timing. Millions of people are about to hit the road for the Labor Day weekend, and in many places, there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the price of gasoline -- in some places, over 50 cents a gallon. That's a definite change in the trend. For most of the summer, prices had been going down. ABC's Dean Reynolds tonight is in Chicago. Dean?"

Reynolds explained, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Charlie, there are a couple of good reasons for the higher prices, but still, an awful lot of suspicion. Since a fire two weeks ago put this refinery near Chicago temporarily out of business, the region's gasoline supply has dropped 55,000 gallons every day. That helps to explain why motorists from California to Minnesota, from Oklahoma to Michigan, are now seeing pump prices shooting up again because the Midwest is scrounging for fuel from other areas."
Woman: "I'm almost at $2 a gallon, and I think it's outrageous."
Reynolds: "Usually, low-priced Oklahoma has registered a 30 cent spike in the last week. Prices in Minnesota are up 27 cents. In Michigan, up 14 cents. In Iowa, the price per gallon has reach a $1.83 while California prices are up 10 to 20 cents. Part of the problem has to do with tough air quality regulations that require hard to replace blends of gasoline for specific markets. And the oil industry says there just aren't enough refineries to take up the slack when one goes down."
Ed Murphy, American Petroleum Institute: "Essentially, we've got an overall problem of operating refineries at well in excess of 90 percent. That leaves no margin of error."
Reynolds raised suspicions: "Still, there is the question of timing. Back on Memorial Day, gasoline prices were also spiking as holiday motorists hit the road. They dropped and stabilized for months but now are heading back up just as Labor Day and its travel boom approaches."
Woman: "I have my suspicions, particularly with the holiday coming up."
Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen: "These oil companies act like the calendar sneaks up on them."
Reynolds: "While the oil companies deny any suggestion that they are manipulating the price to boost profits, critics disagree."
Slocum: "They take advantage of these bookend dates of Memorial Day and Labor Day when demand is really high by consumers and really jack up prices."
Reynolds concluded: "But whatever the cost of gasoline, Charlie, it's estimated that 33 million Americans will be taking road trips this weekend, and that's 600,000 more than last year."

2

Oh, never mind. On Monday night CBS Evening News anchor John Roberts breathlessly claimed: "The fat federal surplus vanishes into thin air. Congressional accountants say the President will have to use Social Security money to keep the government running." But the next night, Roberts acknowledged the baselessness of the fear he hyped as he noted the Democratic spin he repeated "may be more symbolism than substance."

Reporter Bill Plante informed viewers of how "Congress has been spending the Social Security surplus since it first appeared after Social Security taxes were increased in the mid-'80s" and that "today's debate over the meaning of the surplus is still all about political symbols and not economic policy."

Roberts employed the usual language blaming the "Bush tax cut" for eliminating the surplus as he set up the August 28 CBS Evening News report, but he immediately conceded the vacuousness of the fear-mongering: "The economic slowdown along with the Bush tax cut has eaten away the federal budget surplus for this year, according to a congressional analysis. That's setting the stage for a battle between Congress and the White House over what Bill Plante reports may be more symbolism than substance."

Plante began his report by outlining how Democrats claim Bush will "raid the Social Security and Medicare trust funds for years to come," but that Republicans counter that Democrats just want to spend more money.

Plante tried to correct the misinformation spread by his own network about using Social Security money which had suggested it was some kind of new danger: "Congress has been spending the Social Security surplus since it first appeared after Social Security taxes were increased in the mid-'80s. It was President Clinton who made dedicating all surpluses to Social Security a political issue to one-up the Republican Congress."
Clinton, January 27, 1998 State of the Union: "What should we do with this projected surplus? I have a simple four word answer: Save Social Security first."
Plante: "Today's debate over the meaning of the surplus is still all about political symbols and not economic policy, says former Congressional Budget Office Director Robert Reischauer"
Reischauer: "The $9 billion dipping into Social Security this year is insignificant, trivial, from the standpoint of economics. From the standpoint of symbols and political promises it's terribly important."
Plante concluded by blaming both parties: "The White House argues that the Social Security trust fund is totally secure. It says this is all about the Democrats wanting more money to spend. As one Republican Congressman put it, 'don't tell me this isn't politics.' He could have been speaking for either side."

If CBS knew Social Security money had always been counted as part of government revenue and spent that way, why a week ago did anchor John Roberts warn of "the incredible shrinking federal budget surplus" before Bill Plante asserted, "It's official: the government surplus has been virtually erased by the President's tax cut and the economic slowdown"?

3

The networks spent all spring pushing President Bush to abandon his campaign promise to not have the federal government fund research on embryonic stem cells, but they liked his promise to not "dip" into the Social Security surplus -- especially now that the CBO reported the government will do so this year.

In Tuesday morning interviews with OMB Director Mitch Daniels, ABC's Terry Moran and NBC's Matt Lauer zeroed in on Bush's Social Security funds promise, repeatedly pressing Daniels to reassure viewers this will remain an unbroken pledge.

ABC set up its late in the show interview segment, during the 8am half hour, with a taped piece from John Yang who warned of using Social Security surplus revenue: "That would break a promise the President has made again and again."
President Bush, August 24: "I have said that the only reason we should use Social Security funds is in the case of an economic recession or war."
Yang explained: "Congressional analysts say in order for the government to fund itself, it will have to use $9 billion of the Social Security surplus this year. In 2003, it will potentially need as much as $18 billion.

MRC analyst Jessica Anderson took down how fill-in co-host Moran pressed Daniels on the August 28 show:
-- "The Congressional Budget Office is clearly saying that this year Social Security revenues will have to be used to pay for other items, right?"

-- "Well, it sounds like you're saying something contrary to what the Republican Party platform promised last year. Let's take a look at a graphic of what the platform said -- this is the platform that the President ran on. It said, 'That's what we mean by our lock-box,' the Social Security lock-box. 'The Social Security surplus is off-limits, off budget, and will not be touched.' CBO says you're going to be touching the Social Security surplus."

-- "These analyses, both yours and the Congressional Budget Office's, do not take into account missile defense, prescription drugs, Social Security reform. Something's gotta give here. Can you assure the American people that that promise, not to touch the Social Security surplus, will be kept?"

Over on NBC's Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Matt Lauer took a similar approach as he oddly also asserted: "Democrats are now saying, 'You know what? People are running around spending those checks to spur on the economy and it's money the government can't afford.'"

Lauer introduced the August 28 Today segment: "Now to some bad news on the economy. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has revised its numbers for this year's budget surplus and those numbers have been moving downward. According to its new report, $9 billion will have to be taken out of Social Security this year to keep the government running. Mitch Daniels is the Director of the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Daniels good morning to you."

Lauer's inquiries:

-- "Do you agree with the numbers from the CBO?"

-- "So you're saying now, will you guarantee that none of that money will go to anything but paying down the debt?"

-- "The numbers, I mean we went from a projection of $275 billion, the new estimate about $153 billion. What happened to the $120 billion?"

-- "Well, let me go back and play devil's advocate for a second. You talk about the rebate checks that were sent to the, to the taxpayers. It was their money and sent back to them. The President wanted $1.6 trillion in tax cuts. He got about $1.35 trillion. Democrats are now saying, 'You know what? People are running around spending those checks to spur on the economy and it's money the government can't afford.'"

-- "Let, let me go back to something you were quoted as saying recently. You said that when it comes to the promise of not touching Social Security, and I assume you were referring to not touching it for anything other than paying down the debt. You said that is 'symbolic,' quote. You went on to say quote, 'It's a big mistake to make Social Security so sacrosanct that other priorities are discarded.' So, so if money is taken from Social Security, Mr. Daniels, to pay for something other than paying down the debt would that be a broken promise?"

-- "But in terms of going in and taking a little to pay down the debt, here are the numbers that the CBO comes up with for the next three years. See if you agree with these. 2001: $9 billion; 2003: $18 billion; 2004: $3 billion. Is that right with your numbers?"

4

ABC's Good Morning America refuses to identify Gary Condit as a Democrat, but on Tuesday morning co-host Diane Sawyer made sure viewers realized the Republican agenda of a group aiding in Anne Marie Smith's case against Condit. Noting how he is working with Judicial Watch, Sawyer demanded of Smith's lawyer: "Is this a Republican vendetta of some kind? A right-wing vendetta?"

Sawyer never labeled Condit before, during or after her August 28 interview with Smith and her lawyer, Jim Robinson. And, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson recalled, GMA didn't utter his party identification on Monday, or on Friday when nearly the entire show was consumed by discussions about the Condit interview from the night before.

Sawyer's sudden concern for the partisanship and a political agenda came in her final question, one posed to Robinson who the day before filed a request for a grand jury to indict Condit for asking his client to sign a false affidavit:
"In the New York Times this morning, the fact that you are joined in this request for a grand jury by Judicial Watch, according to the New York Times says, 'adds a decidedly political edge to the case.' Is this a Republican vendetta of some kind? A right-wing vendetta?"
Robinson: "Absolutely not. Murder is non-partisan."
A shocked and appalled Sawyer exclaimed: "Murder?"
Robinson: "We're talking about a murder investigation, yes. We're talking about a missing person who hasn't shown up in over a hundred days. That's, as far as I'm concerned, that's a murder investigation."

The word "Democrat" was soon uttered by Sawyer, but only after she was prompted by Smith and it was not a reference to Condit. Following the above exchange in which Robinson went on to insist "I don't care anything about Judicial Watch, I could care less about their political past," Smith assured Sawyer: "I'm not a Republican." Sawyer observed: "In fact, I heard you were a Democrat."

5

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift rationalized Gary Condit's refusal to answer all questions because "I don't think we need to be the sex police here," argued that "Democrats want him off the scene 'cause now he has brought back all the Clinton haters and all the bit players in the Clinton drama, and we're reliving the Clinton impeachment. I don't think we need that as a country," and denounced Anne Marie Smith for coming forward.

MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth caught Clift's comments on Tuesday's The Edge on FNC hosted by Linda Vester. After Kathleen Willey Schwicker talked about Condit copying the Clinton strategy, Clift retorted:
"I don't think he had to take lessons from President Clinton. There must be a master play book out there. If you're a married man and you get caught, you're evasive. And while I certainly don't condone any of this, we should remember that Chandra Levy was a 24-year-old woman, she was not his intern, she was working in Washington, and it's very sad the way this has turned out. And if Mr. Condit has withheld information that could be helpful in the investigation, he should be rightfully condemned, but I don't think we need to be the sex police here as actually Police Chief Ramsey said at one point in this investigation."

Vester soon wondered: "Eleanor, do you think there are going to be any more of these interviews? I mean, so far, he's batting zero."
Clift hoped not: "I think every family has their secrets and every family has their loyalties, and clearly the Condit family, they're sticking with him right now. He seems constitutionally incapable of coming out and admitting any wrongdoing on his part and being contrite and at least appearing to be candid. And if he doesn't do those things, I don't see any point in his coming forward. He's just going to increase the animosity against him, which is why Democrats want him off the scene 'cause now he has brought back all the Clinton haters and all the bit players in the Clinton drama, and we're reliving the Clinton impeachment. I don't think we need that as a country."

Vester later noted that FNC would interview Anne Marie Smith the next day and so wanted to know: "As a journalist, what would you want to ask her first off?"
Clift replied: "Why she wants to stand up and be so, have the country know that she had an affair with this man. I don't see that that's much of a badge of honor, frankly. And I don't think her lawsuits are gonna go anywhere."

So much for a journalists wanting to dig out the facts.

6

A self-contradicting sentence: "Hewitt made a plea for gun control and voiced his support for stem-cell research, while ridiculing the charge that the media are too liberal."

That sentence appeared near the end of an August 28 New York Post item by gossip columnist Neal Travis about how Don Hewitt, Executive Producer of CBS's 60 Minutes, criticized the arrangement to which ABC agreed for its Condit interview as he also "suggested TV would be better off banning political advertisements and replacing them with spots for hard liquor."

Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews/) alerted me to this item. An excerpt:

....Don was guest speaker at the Bridgehampton library the other evening and pulled no punches. He described the relationship between politicians and the networks as an unsavory "marriage for money." He suggested TV would be better off banning political advertisements and replacing them with spots for hard liquor. "After all, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's do less harm to America than Dick Morris," he claimed, referring to the political consultant and Post columnist.

Hewitt also lashed out at ABC News for the way it went about obtaining that exclusive with Rep. Gary Condit. If Don had been running the show, the Connie Chung interview wouldn't have aired, given the strictures the Condit camp was allowed to place on it.

Hewitt made a plea for gun control and voiced his support for stem_cell research, while ridiculing the charge that the media are too liberal. All that matters, he said, is whether the issues are dealt with sensibly or stupidly.

END of Excerpt

One assumes that since no one opposes "stem cell research," Hewitt was mis-summarized and meant or really said "embryonic stem cell research."

Hewitt's formulation, in which he characterizes his liberal views as "common sense," should be a familiar one to CyberAlert readers. Recall the following from past issues:

-- Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes refused to defend Dan Rather for attending a Democratic fundraiser, denied 60 Minutes is liberal and said he believes in "sense" and "nonsense." But he revealed that his view of "sense" follows the liberal line: "I have always believed that if you get the NRA out of the way..." Go to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010416.asp#7

-- Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes voted for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, TV Guide revealed. Wallace's admission came just four days after Don Hewitt, the Executive Producer of the show, charged that George W. Bush "may have stolen the election," but he didn't mind until Bush governed as a conservative. Go to: http://www.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2001/cyb20010613.asp#4

7

Doing things like buying bikinis is what makes people "really like" Bill Clinton, ABC News White House reporter Terry Moran admiringly contended on Tuesday morning. After recounting on Good Morning America how Clinton, while in Brazil, bought bikinis, Moran insisted: "That's one of the reasons that they, some people have cottoned to him, I think."

MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noted this time-filler exchange toward the end of the 7:30am half hour on Tuesday's GMA which Moran co-hosted:

Over a still shot of Clinton walking next to actor Anthony Hopkins, Moran saluted Clinton's life: "You know, some ex-Presidents, they go make corporate speeches, some build houses. Bill Clinton is living the life of Riley, as everybody knows. He was in Brazil, strolling the beach -- that's Anthony Hopkins he's with -- he played some volleyball on the beach and bought two bikinis and sarongs."
Sawyer: "Bikinis?"
Moran: "Bikinis."
Sawyer: "And sarongs?"
Moran: "Yes."
Sawyer: "Are we going to see him in, like, those spandex things?"
Moran: "One hopes not, but one does wonder for whom did he purchase these bikinis?"
Sawyer noted he's also making speeches, adding: "Oh well, you know, at least he's having fun."
Moran: "He is indeed having fun. That's never been a problem for Bill Clinton."
Sawyer: "Right, and that's true to form, that's true to form."
Moran: "And I think people really like him for that. That's one of the reasons that they, some people have cottoned to him, I think."
Sawyer: "Some people -- yeah, right."

"Some people" who "have cottoned to him" seems to include the White House reporter for ABC News.

-- Brent Baker


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