Rather: 3 Bush Errors, None by Gore; Dominated by Questions From the Left; Brokaw Wanted More Liberal Topics; Gushed Over Gus -- Extra Edition 
1) ABC's Dean Reynolds declared Bush had been "uneasy" and "he sure did not seem relaxed." Dan Rather lamented how Bush and Gore "confined their quote 'answers' mostly to rehearsed, repetitive, canned, focus group tested and market research soundbites."
2) Dan Rather listed three errors made by Bush, but was unable to name any by Gore. FNC noted Gore was "patently false" in saying drug companies spend more on ads than research. "Inaccurate," ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared of a Bush claim about Gore's spending, but NBC's Lisa Myers found it on target.
3) Most of the audience questions sprung "from a liberal or Democratic premise," FNC's Brit Hume noticed. Indeed, liberal agenda questions outnumbered conservative ones by 8-to-2. CNN's Bill Schneider called them the "best questions in all of the debates." MSNBC's Farai Chideya praised them as "incredibly piercing."
7) The evening of the debate CBS decided to run a story on Bush's non-response to a two-year-old letter from a man admitting to a murder for which other men were convicted. Bob McNamara: "Critics say Governor Bush's repeated claim that the Texas criminal justice system is fair and failsafe has been undermined."
8) ABC's Peter Jennings highlighted the passing away of "notable American" Gus Hall, the former Communist Party USA chief. Jennings managed to resurrect McCarthyism as he rued how Hall "spent a lifetime in the political wilderness for his views."
Following the third presidential debate Tuesday night, ABC's Dean Reynolds declared Bush had been "uneasy" and "he sure did not seem relaxed." Both Bush and Gore, CBS's Dan Rather lamented, "confined their quote 'answers' mostly to rehearsed, repetitive, canned, focus group tested and market research soundbites." Colleague Bill Plante claimed "you probably saw" the real Al Gore and noted how Bush "forwent the opportunity to bash Gore" on campaign finance.
NBC's Tim Russert outlined a common network analyst reaction: "I don't think either candidate scored a knockout. Both reinforced their base." Since Russert and colleague Tom Brokaw refrained from issuing broad assessments of how each candidate performed, below is more detail just on judgments aired by ABC and CBS.
-- ABC News. Dean Reynolds, who covers Bush, told
Peter Jennings, as transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
-- CBS News. Dan Rather was bored: "If there were any doubt about it, the candidates proved they can indeed walk and talk at the same time. They covered a lot of ground, a lot of carpet, much of it well-worn. Vice President Gore and Governor Bush again confined their quote 'answers' mostly to rehearsed, repetitive, canned, focus group tested and market research soundbites. In the end, each man spent most of his time playing to his base. Whether anybody's mind was changed by this wind [? sounded like wind] festival, I don't know."
Bill Plante thought "maybe the most surprising thing was that Bush passed up several opportunities to respond to Gore, particularly when the morality question was raised. Bush forwent the opportunity to bash Gore on the campaign finance business that he has mentioned before." Plante added later: "If there is such a thing as a real Al Gore I think you probably saw him tonight. He was very much at ease."
Seconds after the debate ended CBS's Dan Rather highlighted three supposed factual errors made by George Bush, but was unable to identify even one made by Al Gore. While Rather referenced an AP story as his source that Bush was wrong in his claims about the patients' bill of rights in Texas, citing the very same AP story FNC pointed out how Gore was "just patently false" in claiming pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than on research.
"Inaccurate," ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared of Bush's claim that Gore will spend more than even Clinton, but NBC's Lisa Myers found that "most experts say Bush is right." Only CNN pointed out how Gore's claim to have reduced federal employment was almost totally achieved through post Cold War reductions in the Defense Department.
On CBS, Rather pounced: "On the truth patrol, the Associated Press and others report that while Governor Bush is promising to make prescription drugs more affordable -- that's one of the things he did tonight -- the Governor did sign legislation in Texas making it more difficult for doctors there to prescribe a cheaper generic version of a popular blood-thinning drug. And Associated Press and others point out that a very large drug company was involved in getting that legislation passed with the Governor's support of it. The situation's changed somewhat in more recent times. Also, Governor Bush said the percentage of those without health insurance in Texas has gone down while the percentage of uninsured nationally has gone up. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of uninsured in the United States has actually gone down from 16.3 percent in 1998 to 15.5 percent last year."
Rather only admonished Gore for not outlining a policy: "As for Vice President Gore, he said at one point in the debate that he would do something about what he called 'this culture's assault on children' from the Internet, over the airways, and on the movies, but the Vice President did not say what he would do."
Last Thursday CNN's Brooks Jackson showed how Bush's insurance coverage numbers are accurate according to Census numbers: Those with no health insurance has decreased in Texas from 24.5 percent in 1995 to 23.3 percent in 1999 while nationally those without insurance has grown slightly over the same stretch, from 15.4 percent to 15.5 percent.
Over on the Fox News Channel, the MRC's Tim Graham noticed, Morton Kondracke alerted viewers: "One whopper, one serious whopper, and that was the statement, the allegation that pharmaceutical companies spend more money on advertising than they do on research. That is just patently false by a factor of ten or twelve."
Brit Hume then relayed information Rather skipped: "Indeed we are indebted to the Associated Press for telling us that the Kaiser Family Foundation study released in July showed that the industry spent between $5.8 billion and $8.3 billion on promotion and $21 billion on research and development in the year 1998, which was, I guess, the most recent year for which at least that study had statistics. If those statistics are anywhere near matched in the last two years, it appears that that was really quite an extravagant exaggeration."
ABC's George Stephanopoulos admired how "Gore seemed to know some of Bush's proposals and facts about his record better than Bush did himself, and they'll point out that many of Bush's charges against Gore, most specifically on his spending proposals, are inaccurate." Asked by Peter Jennings if Bush made any progress in tying Gore to big government, Stephanopoulos ruled Bush out of order: "I think there's a chance he may have lost some ground because when Gore was questioned about it, he was able to say quite firmly Bush's charges are absolutely wrong, and I do believe that Gore will be right, that when the charge that Bush, that Gore spends three times as much as President Clinton is analyzed, it will seem to be more of a partisan analysis than an impartial analysis."
Sort of like Stephanopoulos's analysis?
At about the same time, Lisa Myers was telling viewers of MSNBC, and some NBC affiliates which weren't carrying baseball, that of Bush's charge that Gore will initiate the largest federal spending spree in years, "on this, most experts say Bush is right."
"The Truth Squad" report from Myers called Bush "misleading" on the Texas patients' bill of rights, matched Rather's correction about how the number of uninsured Americans actually declined last year and caught Gore only on citing as a model a North Carolina plan to close bad schools when, in fact, none have yet been closed, so the policy is untested.
Myers decided: "Bottom line, Tom, what we found is no real whopper tonight but two candidates very selective with their facts, trying to make a case for their own version of the truth."
Only CNN, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth observed, picked up on a true Gore whopper raised by John McCain in an earlier interview. Judy Woodruff later asked Dick Gephardt to respond: "I just asked Senator McCain about the charge that, or the defense rather, on the part of the Vice President, to the charge that he is for a big-spending federal government. He talked about the loss of federal jobs under the Clinton-Gore administration. Senator McCain's response was, well most of those jobs came out of the Defense Department and the Energy Department, suggesting that this really was not due in any part, to any effort on the part of President Clinton, Vice President Gore, to shrink the federal government, that their intentions are exactly the opposite. Where do you come down on this?"
The audience members selected by Gallup and the debate commission were even more ideologically tilted left in the questions they posed than were moderators Jim Lehrer or Bernard Shaw at previous debates, a slant uniquely acknowledged by FNC.
Brit Hume relayed how he counted, "I guess, one or two questions that seemed to spring, at least to my ears, from what seemed like a conservative or Republican premise. The rest seemed either neutral or to spring from a liberal or Democratic premise."
Indeed, Hume was quite observant about the 15 questions posed during the town meeting style debate. By my assessment, liberal agenda questions outnumbered conservative ones by 8-to-2 with the remaining five forwarding ambiguous or neutral inquiries.
Back to FNC, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth noticed that Morton Kondracke observed how "most of those questions, I believe, came out of left field...You know, it was about did you enjoy executing people in Texas? You know, what about the Brady Bill? You know, it was what are you gonna do about prescription drugs for me? I mean it was basically, I think, questions that did not come straight down the playing field."
Despite that, or maybe because of the slant, CNN's Bill Schneider called the citizen topics the "best questions in all of the debates." On MSNBC Farai Chideya praised the questions as "incredibly piercing, incredibly poignant."
Kondracke hit on three of the eight liberal questions which mainly exposed questioners as selfish whiners who demanded to know how the presidential candidates would take money from others and give it to them or take care of their problems.
Here are synopses of the eight inquiries I've
categorized as coming from the left and matching the liberal agenda.
(Unless necessary I've skipped to whom the question was posed since both
candidates answered all the questions):
The two questions from the right which followed a
The five ambiguous or neutral inquiries:
The questioning pleased CNN and MSNBC analysts. CNN's Bill Schneider argued "that they asked questions a lot of voters are interested in. And they really, quite frankly, asked the best questions in all of the debates that I've seen."
That's not saying much.
Just before 1am ET on MSNBC, Farai Chideya of popandpolitics.com who is a former CNN analyst who briefly worked as an ABC News reporter, proclaimed: "I think that the real winner here tonight was the American people. I thought that the questions that were asked were incredibly piercing, incredibly poignant."
The debate didn't address enough liberal concerns for NBC's Tom Brokaw. In post-debate coverage shown on MSNBC and a few NBC affiliates which skipped the baseball game, New York-based Brokaw grumbled about the lack of attention to the "digital divide," "worker rights" and "the have nots." Later he quizzed Senator McCain about how Bush doesn't support campaign finance reform.
Brokaw listed subjects he thought were missing from the debate, starting with relations with China and Russia. He then rued: "There was almost no discussion about the digital divide or the role of technology in our lives. Globalization really didn't come up. Worker rights around the world. The issue of poverty, the have nots in this country, again, not much addressed. Both candidates aiming squarely at senior voters and at working class and middle class families."
Brokaw later pressed McCain about Bush's lack of support for McCain's pet cause: "Your great passion is campaign finance reform and it was Vice President Gore tonight who invoked that first and talked about it most enthusiastically, almost no word at all from the man you're supporting, Texas Governor Bush."
After McCain expressed hope that Bush will "come around," Brokaw asked him to agree: "But safe to say the Governor has not embraced this enthusiastically at all."
His next question: "Are you worried at all that the Governor is over-promising with the size of that tax cut?"
From the St. Louis debate site Tim Russert handled the balancing interview with Joe Lieberman. His only policy question dealt with how Gore's plans assume continued surpluses which may not come to pass.
Dan Rather didn't deliver any Ratherisms after the debate Tuesday night, but he didn't fail to provide a quirky bit of pontificating that only Rather could write as he wrapped up CBS coverage with a banal review of the obvious:
"It's been forty years since candidates for President of the United States first stood side-by-side on live television. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off four times in 1960, pioneers on what was then a new medium. At the close of their final joint appearance moderator Quincy Howe (?) speculated, and I quote: 'Perhaps they have established a new tradition,' unquote. They had. Forty years later American voters once again had the opportunity to take the measure of two men, standing side-by-side and face to face, not debating, but in a joint appearance, discussing the issues on live television. One of the two men who did that tonight will be the next President of the United States. In just 21 days, in an old and sacred tradition, you will make that decision."
ABC's poll found a tie at 41 percent in who won the debate while CNN put Gore up by two points and CBS's survey determined Gore won by five points, 45 to 40 percent. ABC also determined that Gore won with independents by 14 points. CNN's Bill Schneider argued CNN's results were especially bad news for Bush since he "lost ground with the debate viewers."
As on other debate nights, NBC/MSNBC did not offer snap poll results. If tradition holds, NBC will announce numbers on Today.
ABC's Peter Jennings relayed their poll: "We once again did a poll of registered voters who watched the debate, and here is what it looks like. Forty-one percent thought Vice President Gore won, and 41 percent thought Governor Bush won, and 14 percent of those people we talked to called it a tie. We also asked whether the debate affected their choice and here you can see support for Mr. Gore among viewers, 40 percent before the debate and 42 percent after it. Support for Mr. Bush, 53 percent before the debate and 53 percent afterwards, and the head of our polling unit says the implication, in part, in that latter number is that more Republicans may have tuned in this evening than Democrats."
Later on Nightline, Ted Koppel added: "We've taken note that during the past couple of debates, there doesn't seem to have been any shifting of opinion among the independents. We just got a call from our polling unit, and that loud creaking noise you've heard may be the independents finally stirring themselves. It turns out that tonight among independents, 47 percent thought that Al Gore won the debate, 33 percent thought George Bush."
Dan Rather provided numbers from a CBS News/Knowledge Networks survey. It found 45 percent considered Gore the winner compared to 40 percent who were more impressed by Bush. The remaining 15 percent fell into the "can't say" category.
Rather moved on to the question: "Compared to two weeks ago, your feeling about him as President?" For Gore, 34 percent felt better, 31 percent worse. For Bush, 36 percent felt better, 26 percent worse.
William Schneider related the findings of a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll: "We interviewed viewers of the debate tonight. Now they started out favoring Bush 52 to 43 percent. That's a 9-point margin. Then we asked them, okay, who do you think won the debate?...The answer is Gore by two points, 46 to 44. But that's actually a substantial victory for Gore because, notice this: They started out, 52 percent of them, supporting George Bush for President, but only 44 percent of those interviewed said they thought Bush won the debate. So very clearly Bush lost ground with the debate viewers. A majority of them started out supporting him. Only 44 percent thought he won the debate."
Dan Rather is shameless. The night of Al Gore's convention address Rather falsely suggested Republicans were behind "a potentially damaging, carefully orchestrated story leak about President Clinton" related to the empaneling of a grand jury. Then on the night of the first presidential debate he hit the Bush campaign by publicizing a newspaper story which alleged that many criminals obtained guns under Bush's concealed weapons law.
And Rather did it again last night, suddenly considering newsworthy on the evening of the debate a complaint that Bush did not act on a two-year old hand-scrawled letter from a man who claimed to have committed a murder for which other men are serving life sentences.
Rather intoned: "Texas justice under Governor Bush has been raised time and again as an issue in this presidential campaign. Sometimes he's raised it, sometimes his opponents have. This time it's over a letter from a Texas convict confessing to murder. What Bush's office did or did not do about it and about the two other men who were serving time for the crime. CBS's Bob McNamara has been checking the facts."
McNamara began with Bush's deficiency in not
responding to one particular letter, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad
McNamara then denounced Bush's assurances: "Today, critics say Governor Bush's repeated claim that the Texas criminal justice system is fair and failsafe has been undermined by this case."
His expert source? A lawyer who defended murderer
O.J. Simpson. Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project asked rhetorically:
"How can you be confident that you have a system in place that's
gonna adequately investigate these kinds of claims if this one could slip
through the cracks so egregiously."
Two weeks ago, just hours before the first debate,
CBS dedicated nearly three minutes to highlighting the findings of a Los
Angeles Times story about how, as Dan Rather put it, "since concealed
handguns were legalized in Texas five years ago, thousands of people who
were issued licenses have been arrested on charges ranging all the way to
murder." For details, go to:
Back on August 17 Rather was disgusted by news which threatened to mar Gore's day. The news was that Robert Ray had established a new grand jury to examine Bill Clinton's statements in the Monica Lewinsky case. The next day a Democrat-appointed federal judge conceded telling a reporter about the development, but that night, from the Democratic convention, Rather complained: "Timing is everything. Al Gore must stand and deliver here tonight as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. And now Gore must do so against the backdrop of a potentially damaging, carefully orchestrated story leak about President Clinton."
In a Web posting, Rather slimily noted how Ray is
overseen by a three-judge panel which "features two federal judges
backed by the Jesse Helms wing of the Republican Party....Any reporter
who's spent time on the police beat learns to look for motive. So you ask
yourself -- what group has the motive to see that such a leak would occur
at such a time, hours before Gore is set to accept his party's nomination
in the most important speech of his political life?" For more details
and a video clip of Rather, go to:
In highlighting Tuesday night the passing of former Communist Party USA chief Gus Hall, ABC's Peter Jennings elevated him to "notable American" status. Jennings even managed to resurrect McCarthyism as he painted the communist as a victim who spent "a lifetime in the political wilderness for his views," but was respected as a "dignatarian" in the Soviet Union.
Jennings delivered this short tribute to Hall on the
October 17 World News Tonight:
As if never wavering from communism is something of which to be proud. -- Brent Baker  with the night team of Jessica Anderson and Brad Wilmouth
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