CyberAlert -- 07/27/1998 -- Shooting: Blame the GOP

Shooting: Blame the GOP; Tax Cut = "Spending Government Money"

1) Juan Williams charged that GOP anti-government rhetoric provoked the shooting in the U.S. Capitol building.

2) Brokaw blamed American society, MSNBC's John Gibson the "scandal atmosphere." CNN's Lou Dobbs a bright spot.

3) The White House concealed the subpoena for days, but ABC emphasized debate "as to whether Starr is acting beyond his power."

4) "A tax cut is another way of talking about spending government money," insisted Steve Roberts, but Brit Hume expressed the novel concept that money belongs to those who earned it.

5) Charles LaBella's memo raised on Meet the Press by Tim Russert, but on Friday's Today Katie Couric never asked Al Gore about it.

6) Unlike the press corps, the public considers infidelity and asking a friend to commit perjury worse than taping a friend.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Jaunwillcap.jpg (26389 bytes) You knew it would happen. It was just a matter of time before a major media figure would blame the shooting in the U.S. Capitol building on Republican or conservative anti-government rhetoric. Less than 48 hours after the 3:40pm ET Friday incident, when in media parlance Rusty Weston "allegedly" opened fire, on Fox News Sunday FNC analyst and Washington Post reporter Juan Williams charged:
"My concern with this guy, Weston, is he's a guy talking up this business about the evils of big government and he's a nut case but this is his rant and I wonder if, you know, in some way the Republicans in this town haven't gone too far with this kind of logic."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Through Sunday night the media have shown remarkable restraint in not raising the shooting incident as evidence of the need for more gun laws. One would most expect such calls on the TV debate shows, but the late Friday incident occurred too late for inclusion on Inside Washington or on the McLaughlin Group. The normally live Capital Gang on CNN was even pre-taped and didn't mention the shooting.

Nonetheless, I caught a few noteworthy exchanges from Friday night coverage:

-- Tom Brokaw blames society. The MRC's Jones Communications cable went out for 12 seconds at about 7:28pm ET just as Tom Brokaw began a final comment at the end of the NBC Nightly News. But we caught enough to understand and convey his point. So picking up where our cable did, here is Brokaw's thought:
" peace. This generous nation rebuilt its enemies and held the line against communism until communism died. We gave the world lessons in political and economic democracy and free speech and religious tolerance. We dealt with our flaws openly. And yet, as we end this American century, with the sounds of gunfire in our most treasured institutions, we still have so far to go. Just ask the families of officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson."

-- MSNBC's John Gibson linked the shooting to the "scandal atmosphere." Treading into the thought neighborhood of Juan Williams, Friday night MSNBC's John "Spike" Gibson didn't go quite so far, but you can tell where he was heading. At about 7:40pm ET Gibson, who a few minutes earlier had referred to Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer as "Denny," proposed to MSNBC security analyst Jeff Beatty:
"It is not hard to imagine, in the super-charged, controversial, scandal atmosphere of this country that somebody is angry at the President or anybody in politics in Washington and if not entirely got their feet on the ground, might act out. Is it?"

-- CNN's Lou Dobbs denounced Senator Torricelli's effort to exploit the incident to push gun control. At about 6:30pm ET Friday night Lou Dobbs, anchor of Moneyline in that timeslot, maintained his presence during that hour by taking over CNN's live shooting coverage. At 7:26pm ET Bob Franken live on Capitol Hill told Dobbs in New York City:
"I'm just being handed a couple of statements I'd like to share with you if I could Lou. We have, first of all, one from Robert Torricelli that brings some political issue into it. I'd like to read this to you. Robert Torricelli, who's a Democrat from New Jersey, says the following. 'Guns come to every neighborhood, even Capitol Hill. Thousands of people live in fear everyday because of the massive number of firearms in the hands of those who use them to perpetrate violence on innocent bystanders. This tragedy shows once again the need for responsible gun control measures.' We also have a statement from..."
An irritated Dobbs at this point cut off Franken, snapping:
"Bob, do we have one really pertaining to the incident and less to the politics that surround it?"

A refreshing attitude.


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) The shooting pushed back into the Friday newscasts the subpoena issued to President Clinton, but the networks still managed to run stories. Friday night only CBS reported that the subpoena was not a threat but had been issued. After the White House admitted at about 11pm ET Friday night that Clinton had been served, on Saturday night ABC led with the news but expressed concern about whether "Starr is acting beyond his power." Unlike ABC's Mike Von Fremd, CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley highlighted how the White House had "concealed" the subpoena.

-- Friday, July 24: Of the broadcast networks, Friday night only CBS's Scott Pelley reported that a subpoena had indeed been issued. ABC and NBC viewers learned only that one had been threatened or was impending. ABC's Peter Jennings delivered the White House spin about how lawyer David Kendall was negotiating about how to provide information to the grand jury, but also showed the January clip of Clinton promising more rather than less, sooner rather than later. NBC's David Bloom marveled at how a subpoena threat had prompted a new willingness to cooperate after refusing earlier requests to testify.

-- Saturday, July 25. (Golf bumped NBC Nightly News in the Eastern and Central time zones on both Saturday and Sunday night.)
ABC's World News Tonight led with Clinton being formally called to appear. Reporter Mike Von Fremd worried: "Since Bill Clinton is the first President ever subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, there is now a legal dispute raging among constitutional scholars as to whether Starr is acting beyond his power."
After battling soundbites from Paul Rothstein of Georgetown University and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern California, a clip of Mike McCurry claiming negotiations were ongoing and a comment from a former Starr deputy, Von Fremd noted that Clinton is scheduled to appear this week. He then concluded:
"But if there are negotiations going on that date could slip. And when it comes to dealing with Starr the President has a history of fighting and delaying every step of the way and he may find it difficult to do an about face now.

"Clinton just can't help himself.

The Saturday CBS Evening News led with the shooting, but Scott Pelley, pulling weekend duty in Aspen, Colorado with Clinton, delivered a much tougher report. Pelley asserted: "Given the political implications the White House has concealed the fact of the subpoena for days."
Pelley then showed his question to McCurry at Friday's press briefing: "Is it your position Mike that the White House is not going to tell the American people whether the President has received a subpoena to testify in a criminal case?"
McCurry at the press briefing: "It is my position we don't comment on subpoenas because subpoenas arise out of grand jury proceedings that are secret so they protect the rights of the innocent."
Pelley: "It is legal, however, for the recipient of a subpoena to make that fact known..."

-- Sunday, July 26: ABC's World News Tonight anchored by Terry Moran (he's come far from CourtTV) led with the Capitol building shooting. The CBS Evening News put the subpoena up first. Both ABC's Mike Von Fremd and CBS's Scott Pelley delivered the same basic story: Clinton has been commanded to testify on Tuesday, the two sides are negotiating but it appears likely that Starr will allow a videotaped deposition at the White House with Clinton's lawyer present, Starr will not agree to limit the scope of his questioning, and Senator Orrin Hatch threatened impeachment proceedings if Clinton refuses to cooperate.

-- One lie too many. Maybe it was the embarrassment of being beaten by CBS, or maybe it was just being mad about being lied to, but on Sunday's Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert demanded that Clinton aide Rahm Emmanuel explain why he "misled" NBC about the subpoena. Russert asserted:
"Let me talk about an issue of credibility. As you know, NBC News called you three times on Thursday and five times on Friday and asked specifically whether a subpoena had been issued based on information we had obtained. And eight times we were told no. Did you mislead us or did the White House lawyers mislead you."
When Emmanuel claimed he just said "we don't comment on subpoenas," Russert countered: "But we specifically asked whether you received a subpoena and you said no."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) A tax cut is giving away the government's money. That's economics according to New York Times and U.S. News veteran Steve Roberts. In a discussion of the House Republican effort to cut taxes, viewers of Sunday's Late Edition on CNN heard this exchange:
"We're seeing this fascinating flip-flop where the Democrats now take all of the economic arguments Republicans used to give and the Republicans have become the free spending, because a tax cut is another way of talking about spending government money."
Host Wolf Blitzer: "Alright, very quickly Tucker, you're laughing. Why are you laughing."
Tucker Carlson of The Weekly Standard: "That is so perverse that a tax cut is spending government money? No, it's giving it back to the people who made it."
Roberts: "It has the same effect on the bottom line of the deficit. Exactly the same effect and that's what Alan Greenspan was saying that if you, that what's worked over the last few years, why we have such a good economy is because people have been responsible. You start being irresponsible, you're going to raise the deficit..."
Carlson, cutting in: "Irresponsible by taking back money that you made."
Roberts: "By raising the deficit. Irresponsible by raising the deficit."

Over on ABC's This Week Sam Donaldson reflected thinking from the same "responsible" school on tax cuts, declaring: "Since 1981 we have increased the national debt five times thanks to the tax cuts."

But there was an island of sanity Sunday morning. On Fox News Sunday after Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling droned on about the "historic obligation to fix Social Security for future generations," host Brit Hume suggested:
"But Gene don't you think that we have a historic obligation to let the American people keep as much of their money as we possibly can?"

What a novel concept. At least in newsrooms.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Tim Russert raised on Sunday a major story that never made it onto Nightly News during the week and which Katie Couric ignored on Friday. On Meet the Press he inquired of guest Rahm Emmanuel:
"Charles LaBella, who was appointed by Janet Reno to head up the Justice Department investigation into campaign contributions, Louis Freeh a non-partisan Director of the FBI, both of them have said, unequivocally, there needs to be an independent counsel to look at campaign irregularities, both of Democrats and Republicans. Why won't the President support these two men?"

Well, LaBella was urging a look at Democratic activities and direction from the White House, but setting that aside, as detailed in the July 24 CyberAlert a July 23 front page New York Times story on LaBella's memo did not get a syllable on Thursday's Good Morning America or CBS's This Morning. Today ran two brief items from the news reader. Reno's reaction at a press conference went unreported Thursday night by ABC and NBC.

Friday's broadcast evening shows all skipped the matter. So did the Friday morning shows, with the exception of a vague reference on GMA quoted below, reported MRC news analysts Clay Waters, Jessica Anderson and Mark Drake. But it wasn't as if there weren't opportunities to raise the issue of appointing an independent counsel. Pegged to his trip to Chernobyl, both GMA and Today interviewed Vice President Al Gore from Moscow.

Check out the flavor of the questions posed by Katie Couric on Today, as transcribed by the MRC's Mark Drake. She didn't pose a single challenging question even about the subject she stuck to --U.S.-Russia relations:
"Tell us about the purpose of your meeting with Russia's new Prime Minister. What will the two of you be focusing on primarily?"
"In fact, Iran, this week, as you know, tested a medium range missile that could reach Israel and Saudi Arabia, and they did this, apparently, with technology from Russia. How concerned are you about that, Mr. Vice President?"
"Have you brought up this particular Iranian missile with Russian officials on this trip?"
"The transfer of technology, the enforcement of keeping that from happening, in some cases, is virtually impossible, though is it not?"
"Switching gears for a minute, Mr. Vice President, are you finding yourself having to be a bit of a cheerleader to boost morale in a country that's finding itself in some kind of financial turmoil right now?"
"How is Boris Yeltsin faring? How much confidence do the Russian people have in him?"
"But what's your sense, Mr. Vice President? His popularity seems to ebb and flow. How is he faring? What are you gathering from the people you've with spoken with so far?"
"Let me ask you about Chernobyl. I know that you toured it recently. Describe what it looked like if you could."

GMA substitute co-host Aaron Brown at least made Gore defend U.S. loan policy and squeezed in a question, delicately, about the independent counsel issue:
"Let's talk about Chernobyl first. That must have been a little bit frightening in a kind of global way, to see not just the site itself, but to see those ghost towns that used to be cities."
"Every now and then you hear from the Ukrainians a sense that what happened twelve years ago at Chernobyl could happen again at Chernobyl. Are they doing enough? Are we doing enough to make sure it doesn't happen?"
"Let's talk about some of the decisions the Russians are making. It seems like since the fall of the Soviet empire we have been sending bailout money to the Russians year after year after year. Now the IMF is going to send more bailout money and the Russians continue to refuse to make the kinds of economic reforms the international community says is necessary. Why is this not money down a rat hole?"
"Without beating this to death, it is so unstable politically, it is sometimes hard from this end, I suspect equally so from your end, to figure out if decisions or agreement made today are going to be the agreements they keep tomorrow."
"One quick domestic question. There are more and more every day calls for an independent counsel to look at the campaign financing stuff, some of which includes phone calls that you made or didn't make during the campaign season. Is there any way short of an independent counsel to put this behind you?"

If the networks continue ignoring the evidence and calls demanding an independent counsel Gore and Clinton won't have anything to put behind them since most won't know about it.


cyberno6.gif (1081 bytes) The Washington press corps, especially Margaret Carlson, may despise Linda Tripp and dismiss Monicagate as no big deal since all it involves is lying about sex, but the American people have a different set of values. The July 26 Fox News Sunday featured the results of an interesting set of questions posed in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamic poll.

First, "Which personal behavior do you think is worse?"

Cheating on your spouse: 49%
Secretly taping a conversation with a friend: 18%
Both equally: 29%

Second, "Which of the following is worse?"

Asking a friend to commit perjury: 54%
Secretly taping a conversation with a friend: 19%

I bet you can guess which behavior most Washington reporters find more upsetting.
-- Brent Baker

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