CyberAlert -- 09/24/1997 -- Recounting IRS Abuse; Cokie's Soft Dream; Peter, Marv & a Woman

Recounting IRS Abuse; Cokie's Soft Dream; Peter, Marv & a Woman

  1. The networks showed no interest in Thompson's switch to campaign finance reform, but found compelling the hearings on the IRS. ABC hoped for passage of a reform bill while ignoring Clinton's scam.
  2. Tuesday's morning shows barely touched Reno or fundraising.
  3. Marv Albert's lawyer tied a very familiar name on Monday to the woman accusing the NBC sportscaster, but the networks didn't mention it.

1) Senator Fred Thompson's decision to change the focus of the Senate fundraising hearings from campaign wrongdoing to exploring campaign finance reform sent the hearings into television oblivion. None of the broadcast networks Tuesday night uttered a word about testimony from Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

ABC did note progress on getting campaign finance to the Senate floor, prompting Cokie Roberts to yearn for passage of at least one liberal proposal.

But an item from the conservative agenda led all three networks on September 23: the Senate Finance Committee hearings on abuses by the IRS.

ABC's World News Tonight began with Barry Serafin's review of the hearings on the IRS. Serafin started by highlighting an attempt to embarrass the IRS which failed: Florida Senator Bob Graham's cellular phone call to the IRS meant to show the agency's slowness to answer calls. He got right through. But Serafin also featured an IRS agent who conceded that staffers are evaluated by the amount of property they have seized.

Second, the show looked at a House hearing on how the FDA is not getting drugs approved fast enough. Next, Peter Jennings announced:

"Just before we leave Washington, something else of importance to all of us, it looks like there's going to be a debate and a vote on campaign finance reform after all. Republicans and Democrats, including the President, appear to have worked it out today so that the full Senate will debate and vote on campaign reform before the end of the year...."

Cokie Roberts filled in the details before Jennings inquired of her: "Give us your best instinct: do you think that before the end of the year there will be some measure of campaign finance reform?"

Roberts: "My gut says no, but if the hearings heat up some more which they are promising to do, at the same time that the bill comes to the floor then the answer could be yes. And if the answer is yes and all they do is outlaw this so-called soft money, then they really have accomplished something."

If we could just impose another regulation to limit people's freedom, just one more, that would be an achievement worth celebrating.

Neither Jennings nor Roberts mentioned what former top Clinton aide Harold Ickes claims Clinton really thinks about campaign finance reform, though the issue was raised a few hours earlier on CNN. During an interview on Tuesday's Inside Politics co-anchor Judy Woodruff asked White House special counsel Lanny Davis:

"The President called very aggressively today for hearings in the Congress on campaign finance reform. Harold Ickes is said to believe in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine that the President doesn't really care about campaign finance reform, that he's only pursuing it for political purposes."

CBS Evening News led with the IRS hearings as Dan Rather declared:

"This was opening day on Capitol Hill for a guaranteed crowd pleaser, sure to score points with the voting public. The subject was alleged abuse of power by agents of the Internal Revenue Service portrayed as wrecking havoc on the lives and wallets of ordinary citizens powerless to fight back. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer has more about the IRS and the politics of bashing the taxman."

Bob Schieffer concluded by emphasizing Democratic complaints, but finished by promising stories of abuse over the next few. As transcribed by MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski who put in a late shift stint transcribing these stories, Schieffer asserted:

"...In letters, Senate Republican Leader Lott has been soliciting party campaign contributions by saying the money will help in the fight to 'end the IRS as we know it,' which left a Democrat wondering if the hearings had a political purpose."

Senator Richard Bryan: "As pollster Frank Luntz points out in his widely distributed memo to Republican members of Congress, nothing guarantees more applause and support than the call to abolish the Internal Revenue Service."

Schieffer: "Whatever the underlying motives, the hearing should create a stir later in the week as current and former IRS agents tell how they say the agency has mistreated low income taxpayers who couldn't fight back. Bob Schieffer, CBS News, at the Capitol."

Next, Ray Brady offered what Dan Rather dubbed "context and perspectives" on what the hearings will uncover.

NBC Nightly News topped its broadcast with the IRS story and though Tom Brokaw provided the most even-handed intro, Lisa Myers then delivered the most anti-IRS package of the night. Brokaw intoned:

"The tax collector, a villain in the eyes of just about everyone, but a necessary part of government. And so today a Senate committee opened hearings on how to get rid of the abuses but still keep the benefits of the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS, America's tax collector responsible for bringing in a trillion and a half dollars annually. As you might expect, the hearings turned up some nightmarish scenarios."

Myers devoted most of her story to recounting the harrowing experience of one man falsely accused of nonpayment. It took the IRS 17 years to acknowledge the error. An example, Myers asserted, of how the hearings would show that the IRS "lied to, bullied and abused taxpayers," especially those who cannot afford to fight back. For some balance, NBC followed with an In Their Own Words segment from a revenue agent who defended his profession.

2) The Reno decision to investigate Clinton dominated the first half hour of the morning shows on Monday, but on Tuesday the topic virtually disappeared.

ABC's Good Morning America ran a story during the 7am news update about Clinton promising to cooperate with the investigation, but that was it for the September 23 show, reported MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen.

On CBS's This Morning, Steve Kaminski informed me, the show reverted to form and skipped all aspects of fundraising but made time to tell viewers that when Bill and Hillary arrived at a New York City opera the orchestra played the national anthem.

NBC's Today gave fundraising one brief mention by news reader Ann Curry. But, MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noted, NBC allocated time in the first half hour to an interview about Marv Albert's trial.

3) In fact, all the morning shows on Tuesday ran stories about day one of the Marv Albert sexual assault trial. Tuesday night only NBC Nightly News carried a full report recapping day two of their sports division colleague's trial. But none of the stories let viewers know that a familiar name arose in the trial's first day. Monday night Peter Jennings read a short item noting that the trial had begun, but didn't mention one development noted in Tuesday newspaper accounts. The MRC's Steve Kaminski wrote up this item for today's CyberAlert:

Anchor Peter Jennings's name popped up during opening statements in what the September 23 New York Post dubbed "Menage a Marv!" After the prosecution's description of Albert's preference for "ladies underwear" and all types of threesomes, defense attorney Roy Black announced in his opening statement that Albert's accuser "would brag about celebrities she's had relationships with to her friends, from Peter Jennings of ABC News to sports figures to other people on NBC." The New York Post generously provided a sidebar story which let us know: "The urbane ABC anchorman lost his virginity at the age of 11 and women have been chasing him ever since."
Reached for comment on Black's assertion, Jennings offered a denial that could have been scripted by the White House press office: "I am unaware of even having met the woman referred to in the Marv Albert trial."

Suddenly ABC's policy of deliberately ignoring developments in the Paula Jones case (see the September 17 CyberAlert) makes sense.

-- Brent Baker