CyberAlert -- 09/17/1999 -- Shooter's Anti-Christian Motive Missed & Noted; Nets Avoiding Pardons

Shooter's Anti-Christian Motive Missed & Noted; Nets Avoiding Pardons

1) CBS and CNN were unable to see any motive for the Fort Worth shooting inside a church, but NBC reported he was "ranting anti-religious curses" and ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer relayed how "one witness said the gunman appeared to be taunting Christians."

2) Only the CNN and FNC political shows are following the battle between Congress and the White House over the pardons as FNC noted even Daschle is concerned. The MRC's fax report detailed the lack of broadcast network attention over past month to the controversy.

3) A weekend viewing suggestion: ABC's John Stossel on Sunday night will compare the success of heavily regulated economies to nations where businesses are left alone.

Corrections: First, the September 16 CyberAlert quoted Dan Rather using the word "experiencial" and noted that's not a word. It's not, but "experiential" is. Second, the September 15 CyberAlert accurately stated that "ABC's World News Tonight didn't get around to reporting" on Clinton's August 11 pardon decision for the FALN terrorists until September 5, but then inaccurately added "that remains the show's only full story." In fact, ABC aired another piece the next night, September 6, Labor Day. Since then 17 seconds on September 10 is all that the clemency issue has received on World News Tonight.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) "If 47 year-old Larry Ashbrook had a motive to his madness it apparently died with him," asserted Bob McNamara on Thursday's CBS Evening News as CBS and CNN were unable to assign any motive to the shooter who killed eight on Wednesday night inside Fort Worth's Wedgewood Baptist Church.

But both ABC and NBC told viewers about his anti-religious views. NBC's Jim Cummins noted how "authorities say the gunman...entered the church sanctuary ranting anti-religious curses." ABC relayed how the FBI discovered anti-religious writings inside his house as World News Tonight also provided a very unusual piece for network news -- Peggy Wehmeyer portrayed Christians as the victims of hate, observing: "What worries many church leaders is that active Christians are being singled out for their beliefs."

For third straight night on Thursday, September 16, the three broadcast networks devoted over half their evening shows to the hurricane. All made the Fort Worth shooting their second topic with two stories each.

-- No discernable motive. Bob McNamara began his CBS Evening News story: "If 47 year-old Larry Ashbrook had a motive to his madness it apparently died with him."
Fort Worth Deputy Police Chief Ralph Mendoza then explained: "We don't have any significant information in regards to why he committed this crime."
McNamara later added: "Police say the shooter had no criminal record, no hate group ties."

Next, Richard Schlesinger looked for a motive but couldn't find one: "In this case, just like so many of these cases, what happened is painfully clear. Why it happened will probably never be known."
After a soundbite from an FBI agent describing Ashbrook as paranoid, Schlesinger continued: "The search for answers began immediately at Larry Ashbrook's house and yielded details about his life that were more disturbing than revealing."
FBI agent: "He's trashed his house. He's punched holes in the walls. Furniture has been destroyed, photographs have been cut up, faces removed from the photographs."

Similarly, on CNN's The World Today, Anne McDermott avoided suggestions of an anti-religious or anti-Christian motivation, concluding her story on the search of his house: "They did not find any recent notes or a computer or any other clues that might be able to point to a motive and neighbors are just as law enforcement official here says we may never know why."

-- Anti-religious motive noticed. On NBC Nightly News reporter Jim Cummins relayed what Ashbrook did after shooting a maintenance worker in a hallway: "Authorities say the gunman then entered the church sanctuary ranting anti-religious curses and opened fire on a group of kids at a teenage prayer service..."

ABC's Dean Reynolds alerted viewers to things found in the house that neither CBS or CNN noted: "In addition to boxes of ammunition and bomb making material, the FBI discovered writings that condemned religion and law enforcement."

After the piece by Reynolds, ABC's religion reporter, Peggy Wehmeyer, examined how Christians feel targeted: She began: "Anyone listening to Christian radio today heard conservative Christians expressing their fears about a frightening trend."

It's hard to imagine many network types ever listen to Christian radio.

She then played a clip of Marlin Maddoux of the USA Radio Network, who also serves as a judge every year for the MRC's annual Best of Notables Quotables issue: "I think it's time for America to take a good hard look at the rising tide of anti-Christian bigotry that's growing daily in our nation."
Wehmeyer uniquely added an eyewitness account: "One witness said the gunman appeared to be taunting Christians."
Teen Boy: "And someone pointed a gun at this man and said you're religion is all fake and he said no it's not, that I believe in this with all my heart, basically."
Wehmeyer then reviewed the recent cases at Columbine and Paducah where Christians were targeted, pointing out: "What worries many church leaders is that active Christians are being singled out for their beliefs."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) As noted in the September 16 CyberAlert, the broadcast networks all skipped over the House and Senate votes condemning Bill Clinton's pardon offer to the FALN Puerto Rican terrorists. This week, House and Senate committees heads have requested documents and the Senate held hearings with bombing victims, but the activities have only generated stories on the FNC and CNN political shows. (The latest MRC fax report reprinted a few paragraphs below details how the big three networks were very slow to pick up on the FALN pardons and then delivered skimpy coverage.)

Thursday night's Inside Politics on CNN, for instance, featured a full story by Jonathan Karl on how Republican Congressman Dan Burton and Senator Orrin Hatch are upset by the White House's assertion of executive privilege in response to a document request. Hatch appeared Thursday on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume.

The night before, on the September 15 Special Report with Brit Hume, David Shuster recounted how Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to provide documents led Hatch to accuse the "Justice Department of muzzling law enforcement officials who disagreed with President Clinton's clemency offer for members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN."

Shuster added: "On the House side of Capitol Hill, Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, anticipating a similar struggle with the Justice Department over his hearings, issued subpoenas for documents and testimony in advance. Burton said that if the Justice Department witnesses refuse to show up next week as scheduled, Republicans on the committee will vote to hold them in contempt."

Tuesday night on the FNC show Steve Centanni recounted the testimony of FALN victims before a Senate committee, adding: "Even a top Democrat expressed concerns about the freed prisoners."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle: "But I must say I'm troubled deeply by the lack of remorse, the lack of empathy for the victims on the part of the Puerto Ricans themselves."
Centanni illustrated: "For example, one of the former prisoners denies his group intended to hurt anyone and says the U.S. has terrorized Puerto Rico."
Ricardo Jimenez on Meet the Press last Sunday: "And have no respect for us whatsoever during all these 60 years."

Now to the September 17 Media Reality Check fax report put together by Tim Graham, "Little Sympathy for FALN Crime Victims: Big Three Networks Very Slow and Skimpy on Coverage of Puerto Rican Terrorist Group Clemency." Here's the text, but you can also read it online, thanks to Kristina Sewell and Sean Henry, at:

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings into Bill Clinton's decision to offer clemency to 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. Clinton's decision was criticized by Senators from both parties, including committee chairman Orrin Hatch and liberal Democrat Robert Torricelli. Victims of the FALN's bombings spoke emotionally about their outrage over the release. How much ABC, CBS, and NBC coverage? Zero. It fits a pattern of neglect.

In the five weeks from the Associated Press reporting the offer on August 11 through Thursday morning, Big Three network coverage has been skimpy:

-- Evening news coverage: A total of six full stories: two on ABC, two on CBS, two on NBC. Only one August 30 story by CBS's Jim Stewart preceded Hillary's sudden opposition to clemency.

-- Morning news coverage: A total of 11 segments (seven news stories and four interviews). That's if you count two partial stories that CBS aired (mixed in with other Clinton news), and half an interview on Hillary with NBC's Tim Russert. Only one August 31 story by NBC's Fred Francis came before Hillary's flip-flop. Only CBS interviewed an FALN victim, policeman Anthony Senft. "We'll be following your testimony," co-host Thalia Assuras promised Senft. CBS viewers couldn't follow his testimony. It was spiked.

The networks have mostly labored to avoid occasions where they could underline the unpopularity of Clinton's clemency offer and the emotional punch of opposition from law enforcement officials and FALN victims:

-- September 14: The Senate voted 95 to 2 on a resolution calling Clinton's clemency offer "deplorable." (Only Democrats Daniel Akaka and Paul Wellstone voted no.) Big Three coverage? Zero, except a sentence previewing the vote on Nightline.

-- September 9: The House of Representatives voted 311 to 41, with about 70 Democrats voting "present" instead of standing with Clinton, to condemn the clemency offer. Big Three coverage? Zero, even though ABC's and NBC's morning shows mentioned the next day that the Puerto Ricans would be released that day. CBS Saturday Morning mentioned the release the next morning.

-- August 27: The New York Times reported, "A wide range of federal law enforcement agencies that were asked to review a clemency petition filed by imprisoned members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group unanimously opposed any leniency" before Clinton's decision. Big Three coverage? Zero. Law enforcement opposition surfaced in only five stories: three on NBC, once on ABC and CBS.

-- August 23: New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir held a press conference featuring police officers injured by FALN attacks to criticize Clinton's offer. Big Three coverage? Zero, although CBS's August 30 evening story and NBC's August 31 morning story both contained a clip from it.

-- August 13: A Wall Street Journal editorial underlined the rarity of Clinton's offer: "From the time he took office in 1993 until April 2, the date the Office [of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department] prepared its last report, Mr. Clinton had received 3,042 petitions for clemency. Until Wednesday, he had granted a total of three." Big Three coverage? Zero. Only one use of the word "rare" by NBC's Andrea Mitchell reflected that fact.

END Reprint


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Sunday night at 9pm ET/PT, 8pm CT/MT, ABC will bump 20/20 for a John Stossel special, titled "Is America Number 1?" As of Thursday night there were no details about it on the Web site, but a brief item in USA Today suggested Stossel will deliver another dose of a pro-free market perspective rarely outlined on network news.

In his September 16 Inside TV column for USA Today Peter Johnson revealed: "In his new ABC News special (Sunday, 9pm ET), John Stossel examines why some economies succeed and others fail. In places like the USA and New Zealand, businesses are left alone, and 'there's an openness to new ideas.' Weak economies, like India, have many restrictions."

Sounds like a perspective not often seen on a network, so worth tuning in. -- Brent Baker


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