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CyberAlert -- 12/08/1997 -- CBS Ignores Lawrence; Carlson Blames Campaign Finance

CBS Ignores Lawrence; Carlson Blames Campaign Finance

Correction:

By a vote of 5 (who will not receive a Christmas gift from me) to 2 (who will get a better than usual gift) the MRC news division staff decided that Friday's CyberAlert misquoted Dan Rather. The December 5 CyberAlert quoted Rather as saying "El Nino's tripling combination punch of..." The majority contends he actually declared: "El Nino's crippling combination punch of..."

Reminder: "Facts Frozen Out: Network News and Global Warming," a special report released by the MRC's Free Market Project can be read at: http://mrc.org/SpecialReports/1997/frozen.asp. See the December 5 CyberAlert for a summary.


1. NBC Nightly News picked up on the Lawrence's resume enhancement, but the CBS Evening News refuses to correct its earlier spin.

2. Margaret Carlson argued that the Lawrence flap proves the need for....campaign finance reform. It really proves the need for reporters to do their job. It took a conservative columnist to discover Lawrence's lie.

3. Disney and Time Warner contributed more the Democrats than Republicans during the last election.

4. Same story, but very different headlines.


1) Friday night NBC Nightly News caught up with ABC's World News Tonight and featured a piece on Larry Lawrence. ABC ran one on Thursday night. But the CBS Evening News still hasn't mentioned the revelation that Lawrence's claim of suffering an injury while serving in the merchant marine during World War II has been discredited. Nothing about it on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.

Also AWOL on the story: all three morning shows, though the Lawrence revelation prompted the Washington Post to move the story on Friday from the Metro section to the front page. Through Friday morning ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's This Morning and NBC's Today had yet to mention the controversy over Lawrence, reported MRC news analysts Gene Eliasen, Steve Kaminski and Eric Darbe.

The December 5 Nightly News dedicated an "In Depth" piece to questions about the justification for Larry Lawrence being granted a waiver for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Reporter David Bloom explained:

"...When he died last year, Lawrence, then America's Ambassador to Switzerland, and a huge Democratic donor, was eulogized by President Clinton, buried in coveted space near the Tomb of the Unknowns. But if, as is now suspected, Lawrence lied about his World War II service, he may not be buried at Arlington for long. Today the President said serious questions have been raised..."

Bloom told viewers how Lawrence earned the waiver because of his claim that he suffered a head injury when his ship was torpedoed during World War II, but his name does not appear on the ship's crew list. Bloom added: "This afternoon Lawrence's former personal assistant said she'd long suspected he'd made the story up after asking her for research on Merchant Marine ships."

NBC then ran a clip from Norma Nicolls, the same woman cited by ABC's Nightline on Thursday night: "The only names I could remember were the Bushnell and the Battle or Murmansk. I gave it to him and I didn't see it again."

After noting that Lawrence family members call her a disgruntled former employee, Bloom concluded by relaying that the White House said that if he did not serve he will be moved.

Friday's CBS Evening News had no time for Lawrence, but did make room for multiple stories on El Nino and a piece on a dispute over whether the producers of the "Armistad" movie plagiarized a book. Saturday's New York Post brought more evidence that Lawrence did a bit of resume enhancing. The Post discovered that during the month he supposedly suffered his injury he was actually taking at least 12 credit hours at Wilbur Wright Junior College in Chicago. But still no interest by CBS.

So, through Sunday night, this 17-second item read by Dan Rather on November 21, in which he dismissed the matter, stands as the totality of CBS Evening News coverage:

"There's been considerable publicity lately about accusations that President Clinton quote, 'perhaps provided burial space at Arlington National Cemetery to major campaign donors,' unquote. Spokesmen for President Clinton flatly and unequivocally denied this today to CBS News and they called it 'a deliberate political smear,' unquote."


2) No matter what the Clintonites do or did they are never to blame for anything, if you follow the creative spin and blame shifting forwarded by Time columnist Margaret Carlson. On the cemetery flap, first she blamed the media for spreading a lie. Two weeks later when the lie was a bit less clear, she blamed money in politics.

Concluding her "Outrage of the Week" on the November 22 Capital Gang on CNN, Carlson insisted that in the Arlington story, "Republicans succeeded in spreading this despicable lie because the press is as addicted to scandal as they are."

Fast forward two weeks. On the December 6 Capital Gang Margaret Carlson announced this as her Outrage of the Week:

"No one dug into Larry Lawrence's past before making him an ambassador, which then allowed him the higher honor of burial at Arlington. While the non-rich get an FBI check that includes asking the neighbors whether you take out your trash, no one bothered to check whether the rich campaign donor Lawrence was injured at sea, or in the merchant marine at all. Yet another reason for taking money out of campaigns."

Leaving aside the idiocy of proposing that campaigns could be run without money, maybe the Arlington controversy is yet another reason to take money out of reporter's paychecks. The entire Washington media establishment dropped the ball. We probably still wouldn't know about Lawrence's resume enhancement if it weren't for conservative columnist Arianna Huffington, who convinced Norma Nicolls to tell what she knew.


3) After Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in 1994 most business PACs and associations shifted their contributions to favor the new incumbent party. But not the two biggest media companies. They stuck with the Democrats. On December 2 the Washington Post ran the findings from a study of the top 50 political givers conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics. The study counted money from PACs, employees and members of their families donated in the 1995-96 election cycle.

Walt Disney Company, owner of ABC, contributed $1,637,130. Of that, 75 percent went to Democrats and just 25 percent to Republicans.

Time Warner Inc., owner of Time magazine and CNN, donated $1,400,163. They were a bit more balanced, but still tilted to the party out of power, giving 54 percent to Democrats and 46 percent to Republican candidates.


4) Headline writers can shape a story even though they don't write them. Check out some Friday headlines over stories about Winnie Mandela's appearance before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The headline in the December 5 Washington Post --
"Winnie Mandela: Murder Accusers 'Liars'"

The same day, the headline in the International Herald Tribune announced:
"'Begged' by Tutu, Mandela Says She's Sorry.".

One similarity between the two headlines: Both appeared over the identical story written by Post reporter Lynne Duke.

The Post story carried a subhead which added some context:
"In Testimony, She Denies Responsibility for Abuses, but Apologizes to Families."

The same day, the Boston Globe declared:
"Madikizela-Madela Denies Allegations."

Did she? Here are two headlines which contrast with the angle highlighted by the Washington Post and Boston Globe:

"Winnie Mandela Offers Apology" -- Richmond Times Dispatch.

"Winnie Mandela Admits 'Things Went Horribly Wrong'" -- Baltimore Sun.

All accurate but not necessarily true -- a demonstration that in deciding which part of an event to emphasize a headline writer can influence public perception of what happened

-- Brent Baker