CyberAlert -- 07/07/1997 -- CBS Focuses on GOP

McRee's Angles; Stomping Stephanopoulos; Blumenthal's Bombast

  1. The Senate fundraising hearings begin Tuesday. On Monday night CBS will highlight foreign money accepted by the GOP.
  2. Rush Limbaugh's high ratings drive off a leading liberal host in the 2nd biggest market, but will the national media notice?
  3. There's another side to the image of Charles Kuralt as avuncular newsman: a man who abused his position to advocate liberal policies and disparage conservatives: "What on Earth did conservatism ever accomplish for our country?"

1) Sunday's ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News aired stories previewing the upcoming Senate hearings on campaign finances. The hearings were prompted by widespread illegal Democratic fundraising and connections to communist China, yet all three networks noted that the committee will examine Haley Barbour and GOP funding from Hong Kong.

And what will CBS look at Monday night, on the eve of the hearings which begin Tuesday. Here's a promo that CBS ran over the holiday weekend:

Announcer: "Where would a deadbeat dad get half a million dollars to give to the Republican Party during the 1992 election? Ask these Japanese businessmen. They know."

Common Cause spokeswoman: "Contributions from foreign nationals are illegal."

Announcer: "So the Republican Party gave the money back, right? Eye on America investigates Monday on the CBS Evening News."

2) Rush Limbaugh's high ratings have driven a veteran liberal talk show host, a fixture in the second largest media market, to a weekend slot. As noted in the March 18 CyberAlert, when a small station in Wilmington, Delaware dropped Limbaugh U.S. News & World Report ran a piece on the development, suggesting Limbaugh's popularity may have crested. Will Limbaugh's triumph generate a similar mainstream media story?

In the July 3 Daily Variety, faxed to me by the Parents Television Council's Mark Honig, Ray Richmond reported:

"Michael Jackson, the KABC radio talk show host whose erudite, courtly style and liberal sensibility have defined the station's weekday morning personality for more than 30 years, is being bumped out of the spot he has occupied since 1966, in a move inspired by Rush Limbaugh's continued dominance of the timeslot on rival KFI."

In Los Angeles Limbaugh airs live from 9am to noon and Jackson's show, which aired from 9am to 1pm until a couple of years ago, ran opposite Limbaugh from 9am to 11:45am. ABC/Disney owned KABC will replace Jackson by simulcasting Ronn Owens from ABC's station in San Francisco, KGO. Talk radio listeners may recall Jackson, a South African who speaks with a matching accent, from ABC's several-year effort to create a national talk network in the 1980s. ABC nationally fed Jackson's LA show.

The ratings tell why KABC made the move. As summarized in Variety:

"In the quarterly Arbitron radio ratings survey for Winter '97, Limbaugh tallied a 6.8 rating in Los Angeles with listeners aged 12 and above, more than double the 2.9 pulled in by Jackson. With the prime buying demographic aged 25-54, Limbaugh generated a 4.7 rating to Jackson's 1.4."

The Los Angeles news reminded me af a story from a few months ago which showed that the biggest threat to Limbaugh's national dominance comes not from any liberal, but from a conservative -- though a non-political one, namely Dr. Laura. She's sort of a conservative Sally Jessy Raphael. In the April 8 Washington Post reporter Marc Fisher conceded: "For years now, the slime mold of the mainstream media (that's us!) has examined every ratings book, hunting in vein for any sign of weakening in Limbaugh."

Instead, Fisher found: "Limbaugh has held steady at about 650 affiliates, and he's drawing his best numbers since 1994." But, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the Los Angeles-based personal advice host with a traditional, personal responsibility emphasis, does beat Limbaugh in some markets were they face-off on different stations at the same time. Fisher elaborated: "In Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Limbaugh slaughters the upstart, winning twice her audience. But in Detroit and Atlanta, Schlessinger unseats the king."

3) Eulogies for Charles Kuralt, who passed away Friday, have emphasized his folksy reporting that brought to life uplifting stories about individual Americans. Some also showcased him as a model journalist. "He didn't merely practice good journalism but came to personify it," insisted Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales on July 5. "A terrific journalist," agreed NBC's Tim Russert on Sunday's Meet the Press.

After he retired from CBS News in 1994 Boston Globe TV critic Ed Siegel claimed: "He has been the nonideological fixture of common decency, uncommon intelligence and humanism (both secular and religious) while the country's ideological pendulum has swung from left to right and halfway back again."

Really? In the May 5, 1994 CBS special, "One for the Road with Charles Kuralt," Kuralt told Morley Safer: "I think liberalism lives -- the notion that we don't have to stay where we are as a society, we have promises to keep, and it is liberalism, whether people like it or not, which has animated all the years of my life. What on Earth did conservatism ever accomplish for our country? It was people who wanted to change things for the better."

Kuralt didn't bother keeping his personal views from influencing his reporting. Long before journalists worried about Susan Molinari using her CBS perch to help Republicans, Kuralt began abusing his journalistic position by using his CBS position as a platform to promote his liberal political views.

For the April 1994 MediaWatch study, MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski gathered some of Kuralt's liberal statements, all uttered on CBS News programs. Here's a slightly edited down version of the study which appeared just after Kuralt retired from hosting Sunday Morning:

Charles Kuralt: On the Road to Serfdom

Tax More/Spend More. Kuralt repeatedly stressed that if only people had the will to pay increased taxes, government could spend more on our country's problems and quickly solve them. Introducing a January 12, 1992 Sunday Morning piece on Michigan's welfare reforms, Kuralt heaped shame on the state for its lack of "compassion." He began with a parable: "You know the old saying about giving a hungry man a handout -- he'll just be hungry again after he's eaten. But if you teach him to fish, the saying goes, why, then he'll always be able to feed himself. A lot of states are thinking along these lines, trying to reduce their budgets by cutting dependence on welfare, telling a lot of people, in effect, to go fishing."

Yes, for Kuralt, caring equaled spending. He looked toward Europe with envy in an August 1991 Sunday Morning monologue. "A report last week compared health care for children in the United States with health care in the ten countries of Western Europe. Really there isn't any comparison. Nearly all children in Europe are able to see a doctor when they're sick. A lot more of them are immunized, a lot fewer of them die in infancy. Do Europeans care more about their children than we do? There's a simple answer: yes."

On the September 6, 1992 Sunday Morning, Kuralt discussed the plight of the poor in America. "According to guidelines established by the federal government, a family of four can be classified as living in poverty if its cash income is $13,924 a year or less. $13,924 a year for four of you comes to $9.54 per person per day. Can anybody live on that?...One nation under God is what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but the Pledge was written long ago, and has never been adjusted for inflation. With 36 million Americans in poverty now, perhaps the Pledge ought to be brought up to date to read: two nations under God." But he conveniently ignored that assets and non-cash benefits of the poor are not included in the poverty measure.

Last August, Kuralt thought Americans had been failed by their representatives. Not because of corruption or waste, but because the politicians didn't have the guts to raise taxes enough: "Last week after much posturing and fretting, the elected representatives of the people decided how much sacrifice we should make for a civilized society. By the narrowest possible margin in both houses of the Congress, they agreed, in the interest of deficit reduction, that we could afford: four cents. A rise of just over four cents a gallon in the federal tax on gasoline...In the land of the free and the home of the brave, ordinary citizens might have been brave enough to make a real sacrifice for the economic health of their country. But now we won't know. The politicians weren't brave enough to find out."

Good Liberals/Bad Conservatives. Kuralt served as a commentator for CBS News during the political conventions in the summer of 1992. The perspectives he delivered for CBS' coverage were glowing assessments of the liberals and condemnations of the conservatives. At the Democratic Convention in New York, Kuralt breathlessly praised Gov. Mario Cuomo's partisan attacks on George Bush: "I'm still in the glow of that Cuomo speech. Mario Cuomo is like one of those three-way lightbulbs...he said he was going to stay on dim so as not to put Bill Clinton in the shade. And then he stepped up here tonight and delivered a genuine 250-watter. A speech bright enough and hot enough to fill up this dark room. I think tonight was Cuomo's night, as last night was Jesse Jackson's."

At the Republican Convention, Kuralt felt the thoughts expressed by some speakers deserved condemnation. On August 17, 1992 he was especially tough on Pat Buchanan, declaring: "I thought the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it, especially there at the end, take back our culture, take back our country. I think that was an appeal to racism."

Earlier that day, following the media zeitgeist, he slammed the GOP platform as extreme. "This platform the Republicans adopted today reminds me of another Republican platform and another convention, the one of '64, the one that nominated Barry Goldwater, [when] the party's farthest right-wingers took over for the first time and drove through a breathtakingly conservative platform...Those folks were not so interested in winning the election as in humiliating Nelson Rockefeller and the other moderates of their own party." Kuralt continued: "They lost in a landslide. Republicans with long memories might have noticed that something like that was going on here today."

He concluded by attacking Christian Right delegates. "The only excited, demonstrative delegates any of us could find were the ones from the religious right, Pat Robertson's God and Country rally. They remind me of those Goldwater delegates of 28 years ago, far more interested in imposing ideological purity on this party than they are on winning the election...They got the platform they want. No room for a pregnant woman to make any decision [on abortion] at all, even if she was raped. It's tough on welfare, tough on taxes and guns and gays and pornography, tough even on public radio and public television."

Charles Kuralt, a network reporter who advocated raising taxes, condemned the U.S. for not caring as much as Europeans for children because we don't spend enough on social programs, praised Mario Cuomo, called Pat Buchanan a racist and described conservatives as extremists.

Hard to understand why any conservative would praise his work. It's all too typical.

-- Brent Baker