CyberAlert -- 03/02/2000 -- Tears for McCain

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Tears for McCain; CBS's Crusade for More Medicare; Bush Flopped on Letterman

1) Gary Bauer criticized John McCain's attacks, but ABC's Linda Douglass gushed about how "some people fought back tears when they saw" McCain. Only NBC's Lisa Myers portrayed McCain as retreating and noted how Bill Bennett conceded McCain "went too far."

2) At CNN's Wednesday night Democratic debate Jeff Greenfield pressed Gore and Bradley about condemning Al Sharpton.

3) Dan Rather gladly relayed how Clinton "said it's high time for the Congress to do more to keep guns away from criminals and children." A sarcastic Geraldo Rivera recommended a new NRA slogan: "Guns don't kill people, first graders kill people."

4) "President Clinton may be helping more than just senior citizens," gushed CBS's Diana Olick in relaying an anecdote about an old woman Republicans wouldn't help, warning that if the GOP doesn't cave in to Clinton Democrats will have a "potent weapon."

5) U.S. News picked up on Bryant Gumbel's dismay at his co-host's guess that historians ranked Ronald Reagan the best President.

6) A testy exchange between radio talk show host Michael Reagan and John McCain.

7) In the late night show appearance battle it's McCain 1, Bush 0.


Late in the day Wednesday Gary Bauer released a letter asking John McCain to retract his references to Christian Right leaders as "an evil influence." CNN got it onto Inside Politics and FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume jumped on the story. But ABC didn't mention it on World News Tonight. Instead, Linda Douglass marveled at how "today, as always, some people fought back tears when they saw" McCain.

CBS's Phil Jones alluded to the controversy, saying "McCain is under heavy pressure to dial back on his attacks on Religious Right leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell." But only NBC's Lisa Myers explicitly noted how "McCain today appears to at least soften his latest attacks on leaders of the Religious Right," though his accompanying soundbite hardly sounded remorseful, and Myers uniquely pointed out how McCain advocate Bill Bennett thought McCain "went to far" in his attacks.

The CBS Evening News launched a series of candidate profiles with McCain first up on Wednesday night. Susan Spencer admired how "his style and a heroic bio" are "sure stirring up voters."

Here's a rundown of Wednesday, March 1, campaign coverage delivered by the three broadcast network evening news shows:

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Linda Douglass handled the show's one campaign story. She relayed an uplifting message about McCain's campaign:

"John McCain will argue that he is the first Republican candidate in years who has stirred voters' passions. Today, as always, some people fought back tears when they saw him. For this Democrat, it is his tale of heroism as a prisoner of war."
Woman in the audience at a town hall meeting in Riverside, California: "I have to feel good about the man. Here stands a man that not only talks the talk, but did the walk."
Douglass bemoaned: "McCain seems to be capturing the imagination of voters, but so far that doesn't seem to be helping him win the nomination...."

After pointing out how he's only won a third of Republican votes so far and how upcoming GOP primaries won't allow Democrats to vote, Douglass noted another challenge: "Democrats may want to vote for their own front-runner, Al Gore, instead of McCain. Without huge numbers of crossover voters, McCain may fail, which is fine with Republican leaders."

As transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, Douglass asserted: "They want their party to coalesce around its front-runner, George Bush. Yet early on, they had hoped he would be the candidate who would bring in new voters. Instead he has done just the opposite, locking in the party faithful, but not appealing much beyond party lines. Today Bush insisted he will demonstrate he is a unifying figure who will begin by repairing splits in his own party caused by McCain's attacks on the Christian Right."

Douglass concluded: "So far, Bush has not shown the capacity to attract all the people who are voting for John McCain."

Of course you could also say McCain has not shown the capacity to attract the people who are voting for Bush, such as conservative Republicans.

-- CBS Evening News featured three stories on the GOP race. Traveling with Bush, reporter Phil Jones noted how he "began his day in Georgia, clearly invigorated." Jones quickly moved to McCain, asserting that he's optimistic about his chances in California.

Jones played a soundbite of McCain saying it's time to talk about Social Security and the surplus and not respond "to continued assaults on my character." Viewers also heard Bush complain about McCain's attacks, insisting that calling him an anti-Catholic bigot is "beyond the reach."

Taking advantage of his employment at CBS, Jones showed a clip of Bush's upcoming appearance on Letterman taped an hour before.
Letterman: "I know that campaigning is difficult work. How do you look so youthful and rested?"
Bush: "Fake it."

(That was about the only coherent exchange. See item #7 below.)

Jones concluded: "The Bush campaign is convinced it has re-captured the high road in this battle and tonight McCain is under heavy pressure to dial back on his attacks on Religious Right leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell."

Up next, Dan Rather got rhythm: "With McCain looking for Super Tuesday to help him make lost ground, Ohio is one of the places he hopes to shake, rattle and roll up a victory."

From Cleveland, Bob Schiefer claimed that though Bush has all the elected Republican leaders behind him, this past weekend McCain drew "enormous crowds everywhere he went from Columbus on down to Cincinnati. It made the Bush people nervous enough that they asked Bush to make another swing through the state. He did that yesterday. It went very well. Today I talked to people all over the state and they still believe now Bush will take Ohio. But they also say if McCain should falter here they think it would be the end of the McCain campaign. I would add just one thing, if you're going to pick one place where there could be an upset, I think it might be right here in Ohio."

The show ended with the first of what Rather promised will be a series of "candidate close-ups" focused on character and personality. First up, a glowing profile of McCain by Susan Spencer who even managed to put a positive spin on the dislike of McCain by his Senate colleagues, the only negative she even hinted about, allowing a former aide to assert: "Senators are used to having their butts kissed."

She ended her piece: "Whether or not his maverick style would work in the White House, it's sure stirring up voters. His style and a heroic bio, with only a few remaining secrets."
Spencer to McCain: "You won $2,000 on Jeopardy?"
McCain: "Yes indeed. Won the first time and lost the second time. I was crushed and naturally I bet it all given my nature you know."
Spencer: "And on Super Tuesday he'll be betting it all again."

Nothing wrong with such a positive profile, so long as the other candidates receive equal treatment. We'll be monitoring.

-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Brian Williams asserted that Bush and Gore now have "the big mo." Taking the opposite tack of ABC's Linda Douglass, NBC's Lisa Myers emphasized Bush's upswing and how McCain is in trouble.

As transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, she began: "Emboldened by his clean sweep, a greatly relieved and confident George W. Bush campaigns with new energy....In Georgia and later in Missouri, Bush hammers away on education reform, which he hopes will peel independents and moderates away from John McCain."

After a clip of Bush she shifted to McCain: "Shrugging off his latest setback, McCain spends a second day barnstorming California." Viewers heard McCain claim he's optimistic about California before Myers cautioned:
"But amid signs of a backlash, McCain today appears to at least soften his latest attacks on leaders of the Religious Right. Yesterday he called them, quote, 'an evil influence.' Today he says this:"
McCain: "It's part of the light-hearted and, frankly, optimistic way we try to conduct this campaign, and if it was taken in any other way, then I'd like to correct that right now."
Myers: "But a leading Republican who recently pronounced McCain the most electable says he no longer thinks that because McCain went too far."
Bill Bennett, Empower America: "To call them evil is quite something else. This is way over the line. I think it's pretty extreme, quite extreme, reckless and self-destructive."
Myers: "And the holy war has another casualty. Bush used to call McCain his buddy.
Myers to Bush: "Do you still consider him a friend?"
Bush: "I try not to take things personally in politics, and I'll of course assess things once the campaign's ended, but calling somebody an anti-Catholic bigot is uh, is beyond the reach."

When Myers finished NBC ran a piece by Claire Shipman on questions being raised about when Bill Bradley will drop out and the brewing arguments among his advisors about "key campaign mistakes."


Kudos to Jeff Greenfield. During Wednesday night's CNN/Los Angeles Times debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, CNN's Greenfield, as he did a week ago at the Apollo Theater debate (see the February 23 CyberAlert), actually posed a question from the right to the two liberals. He pressed them about condemning Republicans for condoning bigotry while cozying up to Al Sharpton, asking: "Don't you have an obligation to be equally forthright in condemning such language by people who tend to be more on the Democratic side of things?"

Al Gore replied by saying, "I would not be so quick as to completely dismiss what he has to say about some of these issues" since he represents many people. "I think that he has grown," declared Bill Bradley in defending his contact.

The March 1 debate, held inside the Los Angeles Times building, aired live on CNN from 6 to 7:30pm PT. Moderator Bernard Shaw took questions from the audience and via e-mail and two reporters got to pose two questions each. Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein went first, pushing the candidates to advocate more federal intervention:

"Mr. Vice President, in your answers, both of you, on the question about the Supreme Court, you each expressed a desire to see that the laws remain adjusted to the times. In light of that, I want to ask you about a subject that's on the minds of a lot of people here in California and elsewhere around the country. A generation ago, to safeguard the civil rights of black Americans, the federal government moved in and overrode a traditional state function in terms of registering voters and running the rules of local elections.
"Today, in light of the Diallo case in New York, the Rampart scandal here, do you see a need for the federal government to take an active, assertive role in systematically involving itself and intervening in cases of local police malfeasance?"

Greenfield then posed a more challenging question:
"Mr. Vice President, this whole question of racial justice brings us back to answers that you and the Senator gave a few moments ago and it raises the question of how consistent outrage has to be. You have both condemned the flying of the Confederate flag, you've spoken out about anti-gay bigotry, you've spoken out about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, neither of whom I think it fair to say are likely to support either of you anyway.
"But both of you have met with Reverend Al Sharpton, a person who was found by a jury to have libeled a New York State prosecutor with highly inflammatory remarks falsely alleging an attack on a young black woman, which could have led to a genuine racial dilemma, and he is also been someone who has repeatedly used very inflammatory language about whites and other ethnic groups.
"Now I'm asking, if the Republican candidates have an obligation to forcefully, unambiguously condemn extremists on their side, don't you have an obligation to be equally forthright in condemning such language by people who tend to be more on the Democratic side of things?"

Neither candidate would disassociate themselves from Sharpton. Gore began his answer: "I do condemn the language that he used. I think that in America we believe in redemption and the capacity of all of our people to transcend limitations that they have made evident in their lives in the past..."

Bradley replied: "I don't agree with everything Reverend Sharpton has said or done, but I think that he has grown. We have to allow people the right to grow. We have to allow people the right to evolve. And in the process, he has, in many cases, kept the lid on otherwise dangerous situations that were beginning to develop." Bradley added: "It sometimes takes someone that rubs a part of the population the wrong way in order to get the attention focused on the issue at hand. I view his activities in that light. As I said, there are things that he's done, things that

Imagine the media reaction if a Republican applied such rationalizations to defending alliances with David Duke who, after all, represents the views of a segment of the white Southern population.

While on a Bob Jones-related topic, Bob Jones the something, whichever one is President of BJU, will be the guest on Friday night's Larry King Live.


Without bothering with balance, Wednesday night the CBS Evening News uncritically relayed President Clinton's exploitation of the shootings in Michigan and Pennsylvania in order to once again criticize Congress and campaign for gun control. The night before, Geraldo Rivera maintained that Second Amendment defenders should be "ashamed" and sarcastically suggested a new NRA slogan: "Guns don't kill people, first graders kill people."

-- On the March 1 CBS Evening News, after stories on the two shootings, Dan Rather intoned: "Appearing today before a group of high-tech industry workers, President Clinton urged Congress to pass at least modest measures to try to reduce gun crimes before a scheduled break for Congress next week. Chances of that happening are slim to none, but the President said it's high time for the Congress to do more to keep guns away from criminals and children."
Clinton: "You have had legislation now that would require child safety locks, would close the gun show loophole, would take other steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands for well over six months."

That was it. No balancing counter-point. In the case of the Michigan shooting of a six-year-old by another six-year-old, the murderer's father was already in prison and the kid was living in a "flop house" full of drugs and guns. NBC's Jim Avila, in fact, reported that the gun the kid found in his house was itself stolen a few months before from a neighbor's house. The futility in such a circumstance of a law requiring trigger locks didn't deter Rivera:

-- MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this indignant outburst from Rivera as uttered on the February 29 Rivera Live on CNBC:
"We were suggesting today that maybe the NRA, the National Rifle Association should modify its well known slogan to read, 'Guns don't kill people, first graders kill people.' Now I'm the father of a first grader so this story really shocked me to my very core. The news this morning from a school near Flint, Michigan that a little girl was fatally shot by her classmate in the first grade....
"Anyone who hides behind the 2nd Amendment, you know the right to keep and bear arms should be ashamed of themselves tonight. 250 million guns in this country. This is sickening. When does it stop? When do they let laws get passed like safe storage of your own damn guns?....It just makes me sick."


CBS showcased an anecdotal claim of an inability to afford a prescription, made by a political crusader labeled simply as a "Medicare recipient," to portray those against Bill Clinton's universal prescription coverage plan as heartless.

In a Tuesday night story Diana Olick deplored how the woman in question cannot afford her medicine, although somehow she's currently managing, and then concluded by claiming that Clinton has the proper position, insisting he "may be helping more than just senior citizens" as Al Gore will benefit "if Republicans refuse to budge" since then, she stated as fact, "they'll be handing Democrats a potent weapon."

Olick began her February 29 CBS Evening News report by highlighting how Bill Clinton released a study on the costs of drugs to elderly, a "calculated attempt" to spur Congress to pass his plan to have Medicare cover prescription costs for all recipients. After a soundbite from Clinton, she noted that Republicans want the benefit targeted to the poor. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott argued that Democrats want the government to pay for everyone, whether poor or Bill Gates.

After explaining how "the Republican plan draws the eligibility line at $12,750, making the majority of seniors ineligible," Olick related her sob story.
Viewers saw a woman on screen, obviously next to a Capitol Hill gathering, wearing a shirt proclaiming: "Affordable Rx Now." But on-screen CBS identified her just as Ula Johnson, "Medicare recipient." She complained: "When I pay that in my rent, all my money's gone."
Olick: "Ula Johnson, whose income is just over the Republican limit, is struggling under her prescription bills."
Johnson: "I talked with my doctor and tried to get him to cut it and he said he could not take the medicine from me, I need my medicine."
Olick: "So you need these drugs but you really can't afford them?"
Johnson: "No I can't."
Olick then concluded her story by endorsing Clinton's take on the policy: "President Clinton may be helping more than just senior citizens. Al Gore is pushing this same Medicare plan and if Republicans refuse to budge they'll be handing Democrats a potent weapon for the battle this fall."

How lazy can you get, grabbing a woman at a protest to use as your example of a typical senior in need. And, as usual, no mention of taxpayers who are burdened by the cost of these nice-sounding giveaways.


U.S. News & World Report this week picked up on a media quote showcased in a CyberAlert last week. The "In Quotes" column, on the second page of the "Washington Whispers" section in the March 6 issue, lists this quote:
"'No. Reagan wasn't even in the top 10. Abraham Lincoln. Maybe you've heard of him.' -- Bryant Gumbel, when his CBS Early Show co-host guessed Reagan was the best President."

The exchange took place on the February 21 The Early Show, as described in a February 22 CyberAlert item about Gumbel and co-host Jane Clayson discussing an upcoming interview about a C-SPAN survey of historians to rank Presidents:

Gumbel: "Well later on this morning we're going to be talking on this President's Day about this presidential survey. Who would you think finished first?"
Co-host Jane Clayson deferred: "Hmmm. Good question."
Gumbel: "Of all the Presidents when they did first to worst. Oh c'mon, you would know."
Clayson: "Ronald Reagan."
Gumbel, appalled, dropped his pen on the desk and exclaimed: "First?!?!"
Clayson: "Who was it?"
Gumbel chastised her: "No! Reagan wasn't even in the top ten. Abraham Lincoln. Maybe you've heard of him."

To view video of this in RealPlayer format, go to:


Radio talk show host Michael Reagan had a brief and testy exchange Tuesday night on Reagan's nationally syndicated talk show, culminating with Reagan saying good-bye in mid-interview when McCain wouldn't move on and relent in his attacks on Pat Robertson. Wednesday night FNC's Hannity & Colmes opened by playing an audio tape of the four-minute interview. But if you missed that, you can get a sense of what took place from a news story about the incident and transcript of the interview posted on the MRC's site.

For the news story by Susan Jones relating what took place, "Testy McCain Bickers with Conservative Talk Show Host," go to:\Politics\archive\200003\POL20000301c.html

For the transcript, go to:\Opinion\archive\OPI20000301b.html


It's hard to describe George W. Bush's appearance, via satellite from St. Louis, on Wednesday night's Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. I think the word "painful" conveys the experience of watching what happened, but that would understate had badly Bush performed. He delivered a series of bad jokes about Letterman's heart surgery which generated groans and boos from the audience, didn't seem to understand how he was supposed to have lighthearted retorts, not the same old serious read off cue-card responses, to Letterman's questions, and he kept laughing at the most inopportune times.

As later guest Candice Bergen told Letterman in suggesting Bush's team would not be pleased by how he came off: "I think you can kiss Secretary of State goodbye."

I'm sure not being at the Ed Sullivan Theater contributed to the problems, as it's hard to judge an atmosphere when you are not in the room and by satellite you only hear a disconnected voice. Plus, there's the two second sound delay which leads to people talking over each other.

Tonight Show viewers enjoyed a far better performance from John McCain, who bantered comfortably with Jay Leno as he told the same old one-liners and jokes he's been using for months, but they were fresh to the studio audience.

We'll soon know if Bush can do better in person. Late Show Executive Producer Rob Burnett told Letterman that Bush can't appear in person on the Late Show on Monday before the New York primary because he will be in Burbank that day to appear on the Tonight Show. -- Brent Baker

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