Networks Hyped "Controversy" Over Bush Photo Use; Davis "Forced" to Raise Taxes; Another Begala Shot at Bush's Legitimacy; ABC: 1984 Most Popular Book in Cuba; West Wing Plot: Sue Network News
1) The networks jumped on Democratic complaints about Republicans raising money by offering a September 11th photo of President Bush. "Controversy surrounds" it declared ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas. Dan Rather wondered "whether the use of this photo crosses the line of bad taste." Most over the top, this on ABCNews.com: "A Republican fund-raising pitch is luring contributors by offering White House photographs of President Bush taken aboard Air Force One as thousands of people lay trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11."
2) "There is a financial crisis in much of the country," Peter Jennings warned in citing state budget deficits. Reporter David Wright listed cuts being imposed and how California Governor Gray Davis has been "forced" to propose tax hikes, but ABC failed to note how spending by states soared much faster than inflation during the 1990s.
3) Paul Begala used CNN's Crossfire as a platform to take another shot at President Bush's legitimacy. In a discussion on Monday's show on the Bush administration pushing for elections in Cuba, Begala suggested: "Let's set aside the irony of anybody in the Bush White House talking about free elections..."
4) CNN countered by George Stephanopoulos who discovered that Cuba isn't quite the nirvana portrayed by CNN. On Monday night CNN touted how "before the 1959 revolution, Cuba had 100 libraries," but "today it has approximately 2,000 libraries." On GMA, Stephanopoulos showed that to read what they want Cubans must set up secret libraries in their homes. The most popular book: 1984. And with good reason. After ABC left a home its phone was cut off.
5) The West Wing last week featured a White House aide employing a novel approach to convince network executives to provide multiple hours a night of convention coverage. If they refuse, the Justice Department would file an anti-trust lawsuit. And star Martin Sheen plans to campaign in real-life for Janet Reno.
>>> Watch the MRC's Rich Noyes discuss the study he conducted for the MRC of CNN's Cuba coverage. The MRC's Mez Djouadi has posted a RealPlayer clip of Rich appearing on Tuesday's Fox & Friends on FNC. To watch it, go to the executive summary page for the study, "Megaphone for a Dictator: CNN's Coverage of Castro's Cuba, 1997-2002," at:
Correction. The May 14 CyberAlert quoted CNN's Kate Snow as asserting: "Cuba may not have the nicest facilities or equipment, medicine is sometimes in short supply, but everyone has access and the concept of money is completely foreign." One word was mis-transcribed. She said "paying," not "money." So the sentence should have read: "...but everyone has access and the concept of paying is completely foreign."
"Controversy surrounds" a Republican fundraising gimmick which offers a photo of President Bush aboard Air Force One on September 11th in return for a donation, ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas intoned on World News Tonight. "At issue," CBS's Dan Rather asked, "is whether the use of this photo crosses the line of bad taste." NBC's Tom Brokaw claimed "this White House has come up with a token for contributors that is raising more than eyebrows." Campbell Brown asserted: "A moment of crisis that united Democrats and Republicans behind President Bush, but today the Republican Party under fire, accused of exploiting the September 11th attacks to raise campaign cash."
The Democratic National Committee didn't have much trouble setting the network news agenda for Tuesday night as one press release offering a condemnatory quote from DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe convinced every network to devote a full story to news coverage-seeking complaint.
ABCNews.com delivered the most over the top take. Under the headline of "Democrats Decry GOP Fund-Raising Pitch, Use of 9/11 Bush Photo Questioned," the story by Marc J. Ambinder offered this concise contrast in a top of the story summary: "A Republican fund-raising pitch is luring contributors by offering White House photographs of President Bush taken aboard Air Force One as thousands of people lay trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11."
For the rest of that story, and a look at the photo: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/fundraising_020514.html 
It was reasonable for political-oriented shows such as CNN's Inside Politics and FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume to report on the Democratic attack, but their stories demonstrated the inaccuracy of the original Democratic Party-suggested hook for a story -- that Republicans had misused a government-provided photo. In fact, the White House had given the September 11th photo to news outlets and the Republican House and Senate fundraising committees who are now offering the photo in a set of three in exchange for $150, bought it from where anyone could get it, from a commercial vendor, corbis.com.
Yet despite the collapse of that angle of impropriety, ABC, CBS and NBC proceeded with stories. CBS and NBC suggested Bush fundraising is hypocritical after he criticized Clinton's. NBC's Tom Brokaw complained: "In Washington tonight President Bush and company are about to break a record for raising campaign cash at a single gathering, the same President Bush who made fundraising in the Clinton White House a major campaign issue."
CBS's John Roberts insisted: "The President who promised to change the tone in Washington has changed nothing, says the campaign watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics." Roberts noted that at "Ground Zero in New York today everyone had an opinion," but he only showed one opinion, that of a man who denounced the photo-selling as "completely inappropriate."
-- ABC's World News Tonight, May 14. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Also in Washington tonight, Republicans expect to set a record by bringing in $30 million at a fundraising gala. That surpasses the record of $26 million set by the Clinton White House. In a separate event, controversy surrounds the use of a single photograph of President Bush taken on September 11th. ABC's Terry Moran joins us from the White House. Terry, it is the use of that photo to raise funds that has raised some questions."
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor Dan Rather intoned: "There are questions and criticisms today over a presidential photograph that is being used in a Republican fundraising campaign. At issue is whether the use of this photo crosses the line of bad taste. CBS's John Roberts has the story and the picture in question."
Roberts began: "The White House today defended the use of the government photo taken aboard Air Force One in the hours after the September 11th attacks. A grave President Bush conferring by telephone with his Vice President, now part of a limited edition photo set to raise money for the Republican Party. Sale price $150."
-- NBC Nightly News. Making no distinction between illegal and sleazy use of White House access and the same old fundraising everyone has done for decades, anchor Tom Brokaw charged:
Contrast NBC's assumption that the Democrats had a legitimate criticism of Bush fundraising with how the same show reacted to the news in 1996 that the Clinton White House violated people's privacy by obtaining the FBI files of many Republicans. Remember Craig Livingstone? When Bob Dole complained about it on June 8, 1996, a day after the White House admitted having the files, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams painted Dole, not Clinton, as the bad guy: "The politics of Campaign '96 are getting very ugly, very early. Today, Bob Dole accused the White House of using the FBI to wage war against its political enemies."
With Peter Jennings in Cleveland as part of a series on downtrodden cities, ABC's World News Tonight opened Tuesday night by bemoaning how 43 states face deficits and are proposing budget cuts. "There is a financial crisis in much of the country," Jennings warned before reporter David Wright cited cuts being imposed and how California Governor Gray Davis has been "forced" to propose tax hikes.
But in all of ABC's kvetching, Wright failed to note how spending by states skyrocketed much faster than inflation during the 1990s so that substantial budget cuts could still leave state spending well-above where it stood just a few years ago.
Wright began his May 14 World News Tonight story by reporting that in less than a year California has gone from an $8 billion surplus to a projected $23 billion deficit "brought on by a faltering national economy, an energy crisis the state spent $6 billion to fix, and the collapse of the technology sector which put tens of thousands of dot-com workers out of their jobs," thus costing the state their income tax payments.
Wright rued: "Plenty of other states are in a similar bind. All but seven face budget deficits. Many are being forced to make drastic cuts. In Minnesota, Governor Jesse Ventura closed the Governor's mansion to save money. Missouri can't afford to pay tax refunds. In Alabama officials temporarily stopped jury trials. Wisconsin's deficit could make it hard for some cities to pay for police and fire services. Massachusetts is cutting dental acre for the poor."
Closing a Governor's Mansion? Whoopee. What a meaningless gimmick which probably saved next to nothing.
Wright continued with his list of dire consequences: "At least 17 states are cutting their public school budgets, 22 have cut Medicaid. The only alternative, to increase revenues -- either by borrowing from Wall Street or raising taxes. This in a campaign year when 36 of the nation's Governors are up for re-election. Today, California's Gray Davis was forced to reverse the pledge he's made for months, that he would not raise taxes. Now he wants to raise the cigarette tax and the car tax and he's proposing deep cuts in health programs and aid to local government. Here and across the country, a season of unpopular choices. Voters will have to pay more and get less."
"Forced" to raise taxes? How about a few more reductions in the rate of increases in some programs.
As Steve Moore and Steve Slivinski documented in a report earlier this year for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), state spending has been soaring out of control:
They added: "As tax collections by states soared from 1995-2000, state spending soared even higher. By our estimates, roughly 2 of every 3 surplus dollars into the state coffers since 1996 has gone to new spending, not to tax reduction. Between 1990 and 1998 state government expenditures climbed from $572 billion to $930 billion. The states now spend roughly $630 (adjusted for inflation) more per person than they did in 1990."
As for the states facing a crisis listed by Wright, California state government spending rose 67 percent between 1990 and 2000. Minnesota: Up 73 percent; Missouri: Up 79 percent; Alabama: Up 62 percent; Wisconsin: Up 93 percent; and Massachusetts: Up a comparatively paltry 55 percent.
For the ALEC report, which is posted only in PDF format: http://www.alec.org/meSWFiles/pdf/TaxCrisis.pdf 
Another shot at President Bush's legitimacy from Democratic activist Paul Begala in his role as co-host of CNN's Crossfire. In a discussion on Monday's show of the Bush administration pushing for elections in Cuba, Begala suggested: "Let's set aside the irony of anybody in the Bush White House talking about free elections..."
MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught Begala's shot uttered on the May 13 Crossfire: "The President's press spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said, trying to put a good light on it [Carter's visit], said well perhaps President Carter can talk to them about the benefits of free elections and free travel. Let's set aside the irony of anybody in the Bush White House talking about free elections and only focus on the question of travel. Our country in fact is a country that restricts American citizens from going to Cuba if they want to, so don't you think that it'd be better if the White House just sort of let President Carter do what he wanted and then move on to their own agenda."
Life in Cuba isn't quite the nirvana of free health care, great schools and a booming library system as portrayed by CNN, ABC's George Stephanopoulos discovered.
On Monday's "Live from Havana" the CNN announcer asserted as the show returned from an ad break: "Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba had 100 libraries and six museums. Today it has approximately 2,000 libraries and 250 museums."
But on Monday's Good Morning America, Stephanopoulos relayed how he learned that books people want to read are not so readily available as CNN claimed so Cubans set up secret libraries in their homes with books they've obtained from tourists. One woman told Stephanopoulos the book 1984 is the most popular "because many people see similarities with the life they live in Cuba." That prompted Stephanopoulos to note that her fear matched reality since "shortly after we left" the woman's house "her phone line was cut."
But I guess that won't prevent her from benefitting from a home visit from her doctor, the kind praised Monday night by CNN's Kate Snow. For more on Snow's enthusiasm for Cuban "successes" in sports training, health care and education, see the May 13 and 14
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught the piece by Stephanopoulos aired near the top of the May 13 Good Morning America. Stephanopoulos recounted what he found in Cuba: "Castro and Carter shared a long dinner last night, opening a visit in which Castro promised Carter free reign of the island. Today the former President visits a biotechnology lab, but as he gets around Cuba, he's likely to find that ordinary Cubans are getting new freedoms with only limited success.
As I suggested in Monday's CyberAlert, compared to the reporting on CBS, NBC and, especially, CNN, George Stephanopoulos is a cold warrior.
Another new episode of NBC's The West Wing airs tonight. Last week's show featured a White House aide employing a novel approach to convince network executives to offer multiple hours a night of convention coverage. If they refuse, the Justice Department would file an anti-trust lawsuit against them. And star Ramon Estevez, better known as Martin Sheen, plans to campaign in real-life next month for Janet Reno.
-- On the May 9 episode, "Communications Director Toby Ziegler," played by Richard Schiff, meets with four people from the networks to discuss their coverage of the upcoming Democratic National Convention. Illustrating how the show's writer, Aaron Sorkin, sometimes isn't familiar with his subject matter, Toby keeps referring to the "panels" of officials the convention will showcase in prime time and one of the network guys says: "The four of us are news directors."
"News directors"? That's a term used at local affiliates for the person in charge of the local newscasts. Such a meeting at the White House would involve either network news division Presidents or Vice Presidents down from New York City or the Washington Bureau Chiefs.
The "news directors" inform Toby they plan to air just one hour in total from the conventions of both parties, the presidential nominee acceptance speeches. No one makes any mention of cable coverage.
Outraged, Toby calls them all back in a day later. He walks into the room carrying a big legal book. He tells the three men and a woman they must broadcast all four nights "cause if you don't the Justice Department is going to investigate you for anti-trust violations...a joint decision not to compete for the best convention programming."
The scene ended with the news people saying they must talk to their lawyers.
Imagine the real network news outrage if in 2004 the Bush White House were to mimic this fictional plot.
-- Last week, the MRC's Liz Swasey noticed, the Palm Beach Post reported that Martin Sheen will stump for Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno. Reporter Brian Crowley relayed how Sheen "is coming to Florida next month to campaign and raise money for Reno. There are few details available about the visit, which is still being put together, Reno spokeswoman Nicole Harburger said....The actor, 61, is expected in Florida for two days in early June, including stops in South Florida, Harburger said."
For the story in full:
-- Tonight on The West Wing, as recounted on NBC's Web page for The West Wing (http://www.nbc.com/The_West_Wing/index.html ):
A little something for everyone: Terrorism, sex, a fundraising controversy and North Dakota all in one hour. -- Brent Baker