CyberAlert -- 08/12/1997 -- GOP Gaffe Before Democratic Swastika

GOP Gaffe Before Democratic Swastika; Killer Lawnmowers

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  1. Some contradictory and confusing headlines about the man who did or did not threaten Chelsea Clinton.
  2. IBD documented how the media jumped on Sam Brownback's gaffe but ignored the Nazi swastika displayed at a Democratic event. Trent Lott blamed "biased reporting" but weeks earlier he had denounced as "out of bounds" such criticism of the media.
  3. Letterman's Top Ten Ways to Make Presidential Press Conferences More Interesting.
  4. USA Today assured readers that tax cuts would not "hurt" the economy. CNN asked "Could your lawnmower kill you?"

1) Try to follow this story from the headlines about a man who did or did not improperly try to contact Chelsea Clinton and was then arrested or cleared, take your pick.

"Man Tries to Contact Chelsea, Is Nabbed." -- Washington Times, August 10.
"Man Who Tried to Write Chelsea Clinton Is Freed." -- Washington Post, same day over the same AP story.

"Letters to Chelsea Lead to Arrest." -- USA Today, August 11
"Secret Service Denies Chelsea Threatened." -- Washington Times, same day and
"Secret Service Clears N.J. Man." -- Boston Globe, same day

2) Two updates on the story of how the media ignored a man with a Nazi swastika tattoo who Democrats showcased at a press conference. One update involves the hypocrisy of the media, the other the hypocrisy of Trent Lott.

First, a reminder of what was reported in the July 29 CyberAlert. In a July 28 Washington Post story Howard Kurtz reported: "The West Virginia truck driver was trotted out by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) as someone who would be helped by the Clinton tax plan. Rockefeller, clearly unaware of the tattoo, introduced the man as 'a very close and personal friend.'

Kurtz noted that the swastika on the man's wrist "was reported as a brief item only by the Hill, the Capitol Hill weekly, and by Associated Press Radio." But everyone else skipped it. A CNN executive, Kurtz discovered, conceded a different standard would have applied to Gingrich: "A CNN producer phoned it in for Inside Politics, but on a busy day, said Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno, 'like many other pieces of copy, it didn't make it....I think it's a story. Clearly if Newt Gingrich walked out with a guy with a swastika on his arm, people would have jumped all over it.' Sesno said he would further examine the matter."

-- Media Hypocrisy: An August 1 editorial in the Investor's Business Daily contrasted lack of media interest in the Nazi tattoo to media concern about a gaffe by a conservative:

"Compare that lack of coverage to the attention a Republican Senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, got for a recent gaffe. During this month's Senate hearings on campaign finance scandals, Brownback offended Asians by using pidgin English to describe a pay policy for Democratic fundraiser John Huang as 'no raise money, no get bonus.'

"Certainly, that was an insensitive remark, and Brownback apologized for it. But isn't it worth noting when a Senator's 'personal friend' sports a swastika tattoo?

"Searching the Nexis database of major daily newspapers, we found that 16 of them had news stories or editorials on Brownback's remarks. There were just two stories on the man with the swastika tattoo -- Kurtz's column in The Washington Post and a San Francisco Chronicle summary of the column. That's a telling gap."

I'd add that both CNN's Inside Politics and ABC's World News Tonight ran stories on Brownback's remark. Neither mentioned the Nazi-tattooed friend of the Democratic West Virginia Senator.

-- Trent Lott's Hypocrisy: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott asserted that the Democrats "got a pass" from the media on the tattoo display, Greg Pierce reported in his August 1 Washington Times "Inside Politics" column. Pierce relayed remarks Lott made on NBC Radio on July 30:

"If I had brought a couple in here from my state and the guy had a swastika or something like that on his arm or his hand, I would have been absolutely crucified and very likely would have been run out of office."

Lott excused his colleagues but blamed the press: "Now, in defense of Tom Daschle and Jay Rockefeller, they didn't know this was on the guy's hand. The story is the national press...quashed the story, and the American people need to know the kind of biased reporting here that we are faced with."

I'm confused. What biased reporting could Lott possibly be talking about? Just weeks earlier the Senator denounced as "out of bounds" a letter that criticized liberal media bias. Here's how Lott's attack was recounted in the July 15 CyberAlert:

In the July 14 Washington Post, reporter Howard Kurtz quoted from a recent fundraising letter sent by a conservative group:

"The national news media has become an extension of the liberals in Congress and the Clinton administration....Our nation can't survive under a big media liberal monopoly....Many in the liberal media did everything they could to make conservatives lose the 1994 elections....Left-wing journalism professors are training their new crop of media radicals....I've seen firsthand how the news media can twist conservative programs and misrepresent them to the American people." [Ellipses as presented by Kurtz]

Hardly the nuanced tone of a well-reasoned CyberAlert, but as direct mail letters go, a pretty rational outline of how conservatives view the media. Who could object to this letter sent by the Leadership Institute to raise money for its school to train conservatives in broadcasting skills? Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, whose signature appeared at the end of the letter.

Lott, Kurtz discovered, "is now disavowing those words as 'definitely out of bounds,' says his spokeswoman Susan Irby...'He would not have approved this letter,' Irby said. 'We have let them know we're unhappy....This went out totally without our knowledge.'"

One thing shared by journalists and politicians: Lack of consistency.

3) From the August 6 Late Show with David Letterman, "The Top Ten Ways to Make Presidential Press Conferences More Interesting." Copyright 1997 by Worldwide Pants Inc.

10. Lively game of keep-away with Sam Donaldson's toupee

9. Replace presidential seal with Hooters logo

8. Reporters must refer to the President as "Puff Daddy"

7. Two words: vibrating podium

6. Clinton looks at Gore and yells, "Would you blink already you spooky bastard!"

5. Every time President dodges a question, he has to do a shot

4. The Washington Press Corps + a swarm of angry wasps = 15 minutes of hilarious political entertainment

3. If the President doesn't like a question, he bites off your ear

2. Get rid of Tubby and bring in Harrison Ford

1. More guys named Wolf

4) Two wacky stories.

First, as Steve Moore of the Cato Institute called to remind us, USA Today thinks tax cuts are dangerous. The headline at the top of the July 30 Money section: "Tax Cuts Not Expected to Hurt Economy." Who besides a reporter would see a tax cut as harmful?

Second, MRC news analyst Clay Waters has displayed signs of sod phobia, such as picking shredded lettuce out of his sandwiches, since seeing this story on CNN. On the August 3 World Today anchor Linden Soles warned:

"Could your lawnmower kill you? Perhaps. In fact, a new study finds that you could be risking your life every time you cut the grass. In our News from Medicine report, CNN's Ed Garsten tells us that matching you with the right mower may mean the difference between life and death."

All the more reason to stay inside and read your always informative but never dangerous CyberAlert.

-- Brent Baker