CyberAlert -- 10/01/2001 -- CBS's Liberal Senator
CBS's Liberal Senator; CNN "Terrorist" Update; Pulling Maher Defended and Cancelling Suggested; MRC & Limbaugh on Jennings
1) Another fictional liberal Democrat in prime time. On CBS's Citizen Baines, "Senator Elliott Baines" boasted: "I pushed through gun control legislation, helped expand Medicare." Later he complained there's much left for him to do: "You know, every day another river gets polluted." One of the Senator's campaign aides, who is black, was upset that the Senator's opponent is "young, black, Republican. Pisses me off."
2) "CNN has not 'banned' the use of the word 'terrorist,'" a CNN public relations official stated Friday in countering a Wall Street Journal story. That should reassure Howard Kurtz, host of a CNN show, who when asked on Friday morning what he would do if he were fired for using the word, defiantly proclaimed: "That's fine because I'm not going to use any other word."
3) The company which owns the ABC station in Washington, DC that dropped Politically Incorrect defended its decision. And in a National Review column Jonah Goldberg contended "the real aim of the show is to make fun of conservatives while sounding 'politically incorrect.'" He noted: "Maher calls himself a libertarian, but the fact is he's a libertine socialist."
4) An explanation of the MRC's analysis of Peter Jennings as a claim about what he said has been added to the "Urban Legends Reference Pages." Plus, Rush Limbaugh has posted audio of a couple of the offending quotes so you can listen for yourself.
A new CBS drama revolves around a U.S. Senator. Naturally, like the administration on NBC's The West Wing, he's a liberal Democrat.
On the premiere Saturday night of Citizen Baines, Senator Elliott Baines, played by James Cromwell, boasted of his achievements: "I pushed through gun control legislation, helped expand Medicare and Medicaid." Later he complained there's much left for him to do: "You know, every day another river gets polluted." The show's producers also made clear the kind of Republicans they like: Ones who are "moderate" and "pro-choice." One of the Senator's campaign aides, who is black, was upset that the Senator's opponent is "young, black, Republican. Pisses me off."
Here's how the CBS Web site describes the
9pm ET/PT, 8pm CT/MT drama produced by John Wells Productions in
association with Warner Bros. Television:
The premiere episode opened with "Elliott Baines" at home in Seattle in election day. He pointed out to a house guest a picture of himself with Jim Brady who "helped me lobby for gun control."
As "Baines" re-assures his daughter he will win despite tight polls, he espouses his liberal platform: "They are always tight and rarely right. They had me down by five in '84 and I won by three. I am coming off the most productive term I ever had in the Senate. I pushed through gun control legislation, helped expand Medicare and Medicaid, extended permanent normal trade relations with China."
A bit later at his campaign headquarters he watches TV coverage of how his Republican opponent, "Richard Hanson," is chauffeuring people at a retirement home to the polls. Baines Campaign Director "Denise," who herself is black, laments: "Young, black, Republican." Press Secretary "Sherman" rues: "Don't forget moderate." Denise continues: "Pisses me off."
As the day progresses, Senator Baines travels to a ferry landing to greet voters. He expresses regret to a campaign aide as he realizes he might lose: "It's just a shame. You know, every day another river gets polluted, another kid gets hooked on drugs. Can't even keep guns out of our schoolyards and our health care system is so screwed up people's heads are spinning. There's still so much I want to do."
At the campaign's hotel suite that night the Senator overhears a bad omen as an incumbent Democrat loses to an upstart Republican in Ohio named "Whistler." The TV anchor's report reflected the kind of Republican Hollywood likes: "Whistler entered the race as a complete long shot and now he's emerged the winner. He has led a moderate campaign as a strong labor supporter, pro-choice advocate."
The show ends as Senator Baines learns that he too has lost his re-election bid.
The preview on the CBS Web site for the next
episode on October 6:
Sounds more like a soap opera than a political drama, so maybe with the star character out of the Senate the liberal pronouncements will wane.
For more about the show and its cast, including a photo of James Cromwell who you will recognize from his many small roles in movies and TV shows: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/citizen_baines/
CNN issued a clarification on Friday to make sure everyone knows they have no problem with the terms "terrorist" and "terrorism" for the September 11 attacks and Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's Reliable Sources, proclaimed he wouldn't abide by any edict barring the terms: "I'm not going to use any other word. The T-word is the word here." Kurtz contended: "I just think this kind of value-neutral reporting is hogwash."
The September 28 CyberAlert relayed: "CNN reporters are supposed to refer to the 'alleged hijackers' and not 'terrorists,' an AOL Time Warner spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, because 'CNN cannot convict anybody; nothing has been judged by a court of law.'" The CyberAlert pointed out, however, that "CNN journalists are not following the policy. They are citing the 'terrorist attacks' and the 'terrorist hijackers.'"
On Friday, the CNN public relations department sent to the MRC the following statement about CNN's policy, which matches the actual on-air content cited in the September 28 CyberAlert: "CNN has not 'banned' the use of the word 'terrorist.' In fact, CNN has referred to the persons responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as 'terrorists' and the act as 'terrorism' since September 11."
The clarification from CNN executives must be
a relief to Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, who also hosts
CNN's Reliable Sources. MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught, on MSNBC's
Imus in the Morning on Friday, this rebuke from Kurtz:
As it should be.
More on Maher. In a letter to the editor published Saturday by the Washington Post, the President of the company which owns the ABC affiliate in Washington, DC that stopped carrying Politically Incorrect, defended his company's decision. Frederick Ryan argued: "As the nation mourns the loss of innocent airline passengers and office workers, we reject Mr. Maher's view that the fanatics who took their lives were anything more than despicable cowards."
The day before, in a column published by National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg suggested that while Maher's current offense does not deserve cancelling his show it should be anyway. Goldberg contended "the real aim of the show is to make fun of conservatives while sounding 'politically incorrect.'" Goldberg observed: "Maher calls himself a libertarian, but the fact is he's a libertine socialist."
The September 29 Washington Post ran this letter from Frederick Ryan Jr., President and Chief Operating Officer of Allbritton Communications Co., the parent company of WJLA-TV:
I must respectfully disagree with The Post's Sept. 26 editorial "Resisting the Censor's Impulse" regarding WJLA-TV's decision to refrain from airing Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect."
Unlike government censorship, WJLA's decision to suspend airing the show was rooted in the station's concern about taste and sensitivity at this time of unprecedented loss for our country, especially Washington.
It is important to note that "Politically Incorrect" is produced by the Disney ABC Entertainment Division. It is not a product of ABC News. Further, Mr. Maher is a satirist, not a journalist. In his attempt at humor he is unguided by rules of journalism or the standards that ABC News, The Post or other major news organizations follow.
The First Amendment entitles Mr. Maher to speak his views no matter how outrageous or insensitive they may be. The First Amendment also gives WJLA the right to broadcast what it deems appropriate.
In making this decision, we think of so many friends, family, neighbors and colleagues who have faced personal loss in our community -- our viewers and your readers. Today, brave men and women of the military go to work in a Pentagon that still bears the charred memories of their lost friends and colleagues.
We believe that it is beyond the bounds of taste and decency to give voice to Mr. Maher's characterization of U.S. military efforts against terrorism as "cowardly."
As the nation mourns the loss of innocent airline passengers and office workers, we reject Mr. Maher's view that the fanatics who took their lives were anything more than despicable cowards.
We regularly hear from our viewers -- sometimes irate about a controversial news story, other times accusatory about editorial positions. But today we hear from the pained hearts of those whose grief is only exacerbated by reckless, insensitive remarks such as those by Mr. Maher. We stand by our decision.
END reprint of letter to the editor
"Maher's Final Half Hour: Why PI should go," read the headline over a September 28 column by Jonah Goldberg, Editor of National Review Online. An excerpt:
Bill Maher, host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, is under attack. Sears and Federal Express pulled their sponsorships of the show. Viewers are angry. Several affiliates have dropped him. His show is teetering on the brink of cancellation, all because he said that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center weren't cowards. Rather, he said, "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly."
Now, I'm torn. On the one hand, Maher is not entirely wrong, though his comments were poorly timed and mean-spirited. The Clinton policy of risk-free symbolic strikes against Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden was hardly gutsy.
On the other hand, Politically Incorrect deserves to be canceled more than any show not currently on the WB. Maher, his producers and fans have long contended that the show makes a valuable contribution by inviting apathetic Americans into the "national conversation." Of course, it's a mystery to me why any American who can't be bothered to pay attention to politics unless Pamela Anderson is discussing it should be welcome in that conversation.
I'm embarrassed to admit I've been on Politically Incorrect a few times but will never again. Still, I think I've identified the two basic problems with the show: the concept and the host.
Politically Incorrect is one of the last icons of the 1990s conflation of celebrity and politics: George magazine, Murphy Brown, "policy summits" at the White House for the likes of Billy Crystal and Richard Dreyfuss, "serious" speeches by Barbra Streisand.
The result of this phenomenon was a profoundly cynical approach to important questions. It said that fame, as opposed to serious work, intelligence or experience, was the best criterion for determining who has a legitimate opinion.
....the idea behind Politically Incorrect is to get a bunch of pretty people together and have them argue with politicians and other political professionals (journalists, activists, etc.).
Of course, the real aim of the show is to make fun of conservatives while sounding "politically incorrect." As Maher told Playboy in 1997, "Ninety percent of show-business people are nutty liberals." So the liberal seats are filled with lefty comedians, movie stars, and rappers. This leaves the conservative seats to mockable right-wingers. Worse, not only does the audience root for the celebrities, but the host and producers do too.
Which gets us to the second problem with the show. Bill Maher is anything but an impartial host. He sucks up to Hollywood liberals because A) he needs to get them back on the show, B) he usually agrees with them, and C) they tend to be wildly ignorant.
Maher calls himself a libertarian, but the fact is he's a libertine socialist; he favors guilt-free promiscuity and legal drugs, but everything else is eligible for a government takeover. Remember: Libertarians are for as little government as possible, particularly in the economic and regulatory realm. Maher supported Ralph Nader for president and has said he favors a government takeover of the electoral system. To call himself a libertarian is like a Vishnu worshipper calling himself Catholic....
The truth is that Politically Incorrect lasted longer than it deserved. And, in the wake of the Sept. 11 murders, Maher's style of cynical mocking, sophomoric sex-talk, and knee-jerk America-bashing was destined to die on the vine no matter what, because it's inappropriate, dated and boring just like the title of the show.
Does he really deserve to be canned because of this specific remark? Probably not, but why get caught up in the details?
END of Excerpt
To read Goldberg's piece in full, go to: http://www.nationalreview.com/nr_comment/nr_comment092801b.shtml
Indeed, while Maher's show may not be produced by ABC News, its advocacy of liberal positions and nightly denigration of conservatives, should long ago have led ABC to either correct the imbalance or replace the program.
A note about the MRC's approach to Peter Jennings' September 11 coverage as the "Urban Legends References Pages" has decided to classify as "false" an Internet-circulated quote from Jennings. Plus, Rush Limbaugh played the remarks by Peter Jennings which upset so many and has audio of them posted on his Web site.
The MRC has received some impassioned e-mail over the past couple of weeks following our September 19 Media Reality Check fax ("What Did Jennings Say? ABC Anchor Never Insulted Bush During Crisis Coverage, But Did Label His Day Trip 'A Little Strange'"), which was picked up last week by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, and a column by MRC President L. Brent Bozell which CyberAlert reprinted.
First, let me assure everyone that we did indeed watch all of the coverage, not just review transcripts. In fact, as of last week there were no transcripts available from ABC News of the live September 11 coverage. The MRC recorded the entire day as aired both by Washington, DC's ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV, which did run all of Jennings as he speculated about the location of the President and talked to Ann Compton when she got off Air Force One in Shreveport, and the uninterrupted ABC News coverage carried by ESPN from 1 to 6pm EDT. The MRC's Rich Noyes reviewed the tapes of the entire day, paying particular attention to the key times when complaints were made. That review led to the September 19 Media Reality Check: http://www.mediaresearch.org/realitycheck/2001/Fax20010919.html
Second, many e-mail writers suggested the bias came through the tone and facial expressions shown by Jennings. That's very subjective and intuitive. With such an important story the MRC would be poorly serving our audience if we lowered our standards from tracking what is actually said by a reporter to intuiting his or her mood.
Third, in the hours and days after the terrorist attacks a series of bizarre and preposterous claims were made in e-mails and elsewhere about what Jennings said on the air. Many included full sentence statements from Jennings within quote marks. That led people to demand that the MRC expose Jennings and then to ask why we were conspiring to cover up his "treason."
That put the MRC in a difficult position since we normally are critical of journalists, but in this case realized from our recollections of watching the live coverage that the claims did not sound accurate. So, we decided to review the coverage to definitively determine what Jennings really said.
All else being equal, we would have done something on his demands to see and hear immediately from Bush and how they illustrated the way the networks have turned the presidency into the empathizer in chief, putting his public appearance and words ahead of him making important decisions at closed meetings.
But, and this is the big but, the claims about what he said were so ludicrously distorted, to the extent that we feared that many really believed what they heard or read, that we felt correcting the record was most important.
So, that is was led to the September 19 Media Reality Check which I introduced in CyberAlert with words I still stand by: "Since the September 11 terrorist attacks the Media Research Center has received quite a few complaints about what Peter Jennings said during the hours after the tragic incidents. The quotes cited, however, fit into one of three categories: never uttered, distorted or taken out context."
I am confident that if those so upset by our defense of Jennings could re-watch his coverage outside of the heat of the moment, many would agree that what he said wasn't as bad as they now recall.
In the CyberAlert which reprinted the report on Jennings I stated that "we will not compound the erroneous claims by repeating them here."
However, since the "Urban Legends Reference Page" has posted one of the e-mails, I will quote from it here to illustrate the exaggerated nature of the claims. From a widely forwarded and copied from e-mail urging a boycott of ABC News and demanding that Jennings be fired: "His comment that President Bush should 'quit hiding behind the Secret Service, come out and face the Nation and explain 'The President's Failure' to protect the country from these terrorists attacks.' As far as I am concerned, this is at best 'the lowest form of attack and unworthy of any news organization' and at worst could be considered an act of 'Treason.'"
After pointing out that Jennings never uttered such a sentence, the urban legends page authors observed: "Clearly, many viewers were put off by Jennings' demeanor on the day in question, feeling that he acted unprofessionally and was inappropriately critical of President Bush. However, what Jennings meant is matter of opinion; what he actually said is a matter of fact. The anonymous e_mailer quoted above presented his interpretation of Jennings' statements as an actual quote."
For the Jennings analysis posted by the "Urban Legends References Pages," go to: http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/jennings.htm
For their assessment of the accuracy of terrorist attack related rumors, go to: http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/rumors.htm
Now to Rush Limbaugh, who last week on Wednesday and Friday provided the public service of running audio clips of two Jennings comments from September 11. The remarks were ones Limbaugh had earlier misconstrued, leading Limbaugh to retract his initial critical assessment of Jennings.
I would note that both soundbites played by
Limbaugh were cited in the MRC's report, so we were hardly hiding
anything Jennings said that upset people. To illustrate how, though
Jennings' comments weren't as bad as he originally conveyed, they were
noteworthy, Limbaugh played two bites from just past 12:50pm EDT. Here's
how we quoted, in our report, the two Jennings soundbites selected by
To hear these for yourself via Windows Media Player, go to: http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_092601/content/tape.guest.html
This is on Rush's free site. Scroll to the bottom of the page to hear all 16 minutes of what Limbaugh explained on his show last Wednesday. Move forward 9 minutes to hear the two Jennings soundbites. The direct address for the Windows Media Player audio:
As Limbaugh noted on Friday's show, given Jennings' long record of hostility toward conservative policies and leaders it was logical for viewers to be skeptical of Jennings and to infer the most negative interpretation of anything he said. In this case, however, Jennings didn't live up to his reputation.
Jennings stated on September 11: "The President and his response to this is also part of the psychological package because the country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't."
That may not be what you or I would have said
that day, but it is not an outrageous observation. Indeed, suggesting Bush
may not be as good a public communicator as Reagan or Clinton was a common
view, one even shared by Bush himself. As Fred Barnes wrote in the October
1 Weekly Standard:
Barnes noted that after Bush's address to Congress he now is a "rhetorical President able to stir the nation."
I bet Peter Jennings realizes that too. So let's move on and monitor Jennings for any future anti-conservative or pro-liberal bias. -- Brent Baker