CyberAlert -- 05/20/1997 -- Brokaw's Budget Baloney

Liberals Promoted at CBS & ABC; Reporter Confronts Police

  1. More examples of Clinton stonewalling and more evidence of database abuse, but networks ignore that while highlighting Burton.
  2. Tom Brokaw preposterously reports that the budget deal cuts spending and he emphasizes that the "tax cuts may be too generous."
  3. Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser defines media elitism. Asked to discuss possibility of bias in reporting, she tells C-SPAN's Brian Lamb: "I think it's a mistake for me to be on."
  4. "Right-wing Republicans" are "led" by Henry Kissinger. The communists in Russia control the "hardline, right-wing Duma."

1) No major Clinton scandal developments the last few days, but a lot of little ones. All ignored by the broadcast networks, but they didn't miss a chance to highlight Dan Burton's problems.

-- In a May 15 Washington Times story Jerry Seper revealed that Congressman Gerald Solomon, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, "asked Commerce Secretary William M. Daley yesterday to explain briefings in which former Democratic fundraiser John Huang may have received classified information at 146 separate meetings instead of the 37 originally claimed or the 109 later acknowledged."

Coverage: Zilch on the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows.

Seper broke the story, of all the additional Huang briefings, on April 30. In that story Seper relayed: "Sources close to the Rules Committee said Mr. Solomon is particularly concerned about briefings in which Mr. Huang received classified information, including documents stamped 'secret,' after which telephone logs show he almost immediately made calls to the Lippo Group....On one of those occasions, the records show he also scheduled a meeting with Chinese officials."

Coverage back then: Nothing on the broadcast networks, not even on CNN's Inside Politics.

-- Friday brought two stories related to Clinton Administration stonewalling.

"White House Puts Up Obstacles in Espy Probe: Fights to Keep Papers from Counsel, Lawyers Say," announced a May 16 Washington Times headline over an AP dispatch. The AP reported that "the White House has invoked executive privilege in refusing to turn over documents from its 1994 ethics review of trips, sports tickets and other gifts that Espy accepted from large food producers..."

A Friday Washington Post headline announced: "Senator Criticizes White House Action in Fundraising Probe." While the dispute over documents between the White House and Dan Burton has generated some print and weekend talk show discussion, this complaint came from Fred Thompson. The Post's Bob Woodward learned that Thompson "called White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles Tuesday to complain that despite pledges of full cooperation by presidential aides, his investigators are receiving documents slowly and often with whole sections, even entire pages, blanked out, the sources said."

Coverage of the Espy and Thompson stories: Not a word on ABC, CBS or NBC.

-- The White House line on use of the database continues to collapse. On Friday Washington Times reporter Paul Bedard revealed that "The White House apparently merged its list of President Clinton's social contacts with a larger list of Democratic donors, despite warnings from the counsel's office, according to newly released documents turned over to a House oversight panel."

Coverage: Zilch again.

-- "Bhutto Told to Testify in Funds Probe: Pakistani Subpoenaed on Rep. Burton's Role," read a Saturday Washington Post headline. The May 17 story reported that Justice Department investigators wish to talk to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto "about efforts by Rep. Dan Burton to pressure a lobbyist for her government to raise campaign contributions for him." This is the story involving Mark Siegel.

Coverage: Stories on Saturday on both the CBS Evening News and ABC's World News Tonight paired with reports about the independent counsel lawyer suggesting in a court session that Hillary Clinton could be indicted.

2) More fallacious budget reporting. On Friday's NBC Nightly News (May 16), Tom Brokaw announced that the House budget committee had approved the balanced budget deal. After noting the tax cuts planned, Brokaw offered this summary of its spending provisions:

"...The plan also contains $325 billion dollars in savings from cuts in defense and domestic programs. There will be some new spending involved as well, $32 billion dollars, most of it will go for education and health care. The Senate budget committee is also expected to approve the plan on Monday, however NBC's David Bloom is telling us tonight the administration's financial analysts are already saying the tax cuts may be too generous for the savings in the budget if they want to keep it all in balance."

Brokaw encapsulated in a few seconds the most common misreporting on the budget deal. A viewer would conclude that the plan cuts spending, with about one-tenth of the amount saved allocated for new spending, leaving tax cuts as a threat to a balanced budget. Wrong on all counts, but Brokaw was not alone. "Spending cuts will include defense, Medicare, Medicaid and housing," insisted Phil Jones the same night on the CBS Evening News.

In fact, as Heritage Foundation budget analyst Scott Hodge discovered and reported in a May 12 Heritage Backgrounder, "non-defense discretionary spending will grow by a cumulative $73 billion over the next five years, and defense spending will receive about $23 billion in new funding." As for the promised tax cuts, they amount to "less than one penny for every dollar taxpayers will send to Washington" as taxpayers "will receive only 67 cents in tax relief for every new dollar of spending."

To read Hodge's report, "The 1997 Budget Agreement: The Return to Big Government," go to: bd116.html

3) Newspapers hire ombudsmen to give serious consideration to reader complaints and to evaluate how the newspaper performs. Last Friday's performance on C-SPAN by Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser suggests the placement agency made a mistake. Appearing with MRC Chairman Brent Bozell, the former Editor of the Des Moines Register thought it beneath her to even consider the concept of liberal bias.

A caller to Friday morning's Washington Journal program (May 16) asked about the lack of Washington Post coverage of how Clinton knew earlier than he admitted about the charges against Webster Hubbell. Overholser responded by conceding that the Post "under-covered that story, I agree."

Here's an unedited, full transcript, as completed by MRC intern Jessica Anderson, of the discussion that ensued:

Brent Bozell, Chairman of the MRC, observed: "If the Post under-covered that story, that's one of the stories, that is one of the stories that the Post has under-covered, but I'm going to stress, I mean, I'm sounding like an apologist for your paper and I apologize for that, the Post has done a very good job in covering, in covering this overall. I think that they have been, in some senses, remarkable, not just in reporting stories, but in investigating stories, and so has The L.A. Times and so has The Washington Times. Again I go back to this: Where are the networks? Where are their great investigative reporters? Where are these people who tell you they're going to get to the truth of a story? They don't even cover something when The Washington Post puts it on the front page for them to cover on the nightly news."

Brian Lamb turned to Overholser: "Is it a political decision, or is it a ratings decision?"

Now, keeping in mind how Bozell had just praised her paper and hadn't even mentioned political bias, read her reply to Lamb. Unable to accept his praise, she complained:

"You know, I'm uncomfortable with the format of this. I realize that it's probably not good for me to be on it. Everything we do turns to some ideological point. In fact, I'd rather just talk about the media, so Brent, you're quite skilled at turning every single thing, and I don't like it."

Bozell then gently raised the possibility of bias at the networks, not even at Overholser's employer: "No, no, I'm making an observation of fact, I'm making an observation of fact that on a nightly basis this is happening. Is it that the media, is it that there's no ideology in this at all, that it's simply a decision that one is news and the other one isn't?"

Lamb pressed her for a response: "Let me just ask you that question: Is it, in your opinion, not an ideological decision?"

Overholser: "As I said before, I don't think you should be amazed that newspapers are breaking news better than network television is. It's always been true and ever it will be true, in my opinion. I don't think it has to do with ideology."

Lamb, sensing her discomfort, inquired: "Let me go back to your point about, I don't know why the two of you are together because I don't put the show together, but, I mean, I don't, and there is a difference in your roles in life. You [Brent] used to be the [finance] chairman of the Buchanan for President, in 1992. Have you ever been in politics?"

Overholser, less than grateful for her C-SPAN booking, shot back: "No, I wouldn't be in politics. I'm a journalist, I've been a journalist all my life and I'm very uncomfortable with having all these ideological discussions. I don't, I'm not here to defend an ideology and I really don't, you know, I think it's a mistake for me to be on."

A first. A C-SPAN guest upset by an opportunity to discuss the issues on TV's most genteel network. The mistake is to have as an ombudsman someone so stuck in an Ivory Tower that she thinks it's beneath her to even be in the same room with someone who is not a "journalist." As a C-SPAN caller noted, to discuss media coverage of politics without considering ideological bias is like talking about Navy operations without mentioning the ocean.

4) New York Times foreign policy columnist Tom Friedman, a long-time reporter, isn't exactly in touch with who conservatives consider part of their movement. Discussing NATO expansion to include Hungary and the Czech Republic, on Friday's Washington Week in Review, he explained:

"This is not a done deal at all. You're going to find a lot of opposition from a lot of different trends. The isolationists are going to say wait a minute, we're not sending troops or our nuclear umbrella to defend Prague, basically, that's going to be one line. Right-wing Republicans, maybe even led by Henry Kissinger, are going to say you just gave away the store to the Russians..."

Right-wing Republicans "led" by Henry Kissinger?

In the same discussion Friedman noted that Russian parliament members upset by the NATO expansion may retaliate by not ratifying START. Friedman asserted:

"You've got a basically, hardline, right-wing Duma, largely, not largely but a strong communist, I'm not sure a majority but a plurality..."

So, how do the media define "right-wing"? The term is applied to everyone from anti-government militia groups in the U.S. to those opposing NATO expansion to Henry Kissinger to communists in Russia who want total government control over everything. Let me suggest a pattern: if the media think you are bad, then you are right-wing.

-- Brent Baker