CyberAlert -- November 7, 1996 -- Special Expanded Election Coverage Edition

Special Expanded Election Coverage Edition

Nine items today:

1. Six of every seven House freshmen won re-election, so did the vote ratify the GOP's policies? Not according to the network evening shows. And the GOP holding the House is not what Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson predicted.

2. All the networks initially incorrectly reported that Senator Bob Smith lost, but CBS had a ready-made reason: he was just too darn conservative.

3. Numerous Republican candidates got an ideologically-charged label. CNN even reported that if Jesse Helms "was running against Jesus he'd find a way to attack him."

4. Network reporters repeatedly stated as fact, without mentioning Clinton's role, that the GOP shut down the government.

5. NBC warned Republicans that the public doesn't want any more investigations of the Clintons.

6. NBC and CBS asserted that passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative was a step backward.

7. Some wacky Ratherisms.

8. David Brinkley calls Bill Clinton a "bore."

9. NBC finds a voter who wants a President "that stands for what he believes in and not somebody who just wants to please the people." Guess who she voted for.

Today's CyberAlert depended on the work of the MRC's analysis team: Steve Kaminski on CBS, Clay Waters on CNN, Geoffrey Dickens on NBC, Jim Forbes on PBS, Gene Eliasen on ABC, and with intern Joe Alfonsi pitching in at the transcribing desk. Plus, Tim Graham and myself.

1) On This Morning on Wednesday, November 6, CBS reporter Troy Roberts began a story:

"The pundits had written his political obituary, but last night Newt Gingrich oversaw a victory, just barely, as voters ratified the two-year-old revolution that changed the face of Congress. The party retains control of the House, despite discouraging poll figures about its leader..."

That view, of the vote ratifying the GOP win in 1994, was rarely heard on the networks. In fact, no story on the Wednesday night ABC, CBS or NBC evening shows told viewers that almost all of the "extremist" freshmen won.

Among the winners, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho. Back on the October 12 Capital Gang, The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt predicted: "I think the Gingrich robots are going to pay a price. I mean Helen Chenoweth, the militia momma, is toast. She's gone. Absolutely."

Then followed this exchange:

Mark Shields: "Helen Chenoweth better start working on her concession speech."

Time's Margaret Carlson: "Oh absolutely. Toast. Yeah."

2) Early in the evening, all the networks falsely reported that Senator Bob Smith would lose in New Hampshire. CBS provided an explanation for the Republican loss. Bob Schieffer explained:

"I think that most Republicans considered Bob Smith, the New Hampshire incumbent, perhaps, one of their most vulnerable incumbents. This is a very interesting case Dan, he's a very conservative Senator in a state that's becoming more moderate. Most people on the national scene will recall him as the one that fought against abortion over the past 3 or 4 years and always brought all those graphic photos out to the Senate floor. But in our polling, our exit polling today we found that the moderate voters, 61 percent of them said that they voted for Dick Swett. This is a state that is simply becoming more moderate. When we ran this poll I think that almost half of the people in New Hampshire told us that they now consider themselves moderate. This used to be a very conservative state but it got too moderate, I guess, for Bob Smith."

In the end he wasn't too conservative for a newly moderate state as he won re-election.

3) Speaking of labeling, the networks provided plenty of it Tuesday night. Senator Paul Wellstone got tagged "liberal" a few times, but Republicans were described as conservative or "very" conservative more often, especially on CNN. Some examples:

-- Peter Jennings on ABC: "And the other thing which would be quite a change, at least in ideological terms, is the projection you made for Brownback in Kansas. Much more conservative than the Republicans that Kansas usually sends to Washington."

-- Bob Schieffer on CBS, reporting the Georgia Senate race: "Max Cleland, the Secretary of State and triple amputee down there, the most popular vote getter. He even gets more votes than Sam Nunn over the last 10 years was running against Guy Millner a very conservative Republican."

-- Bruce Morton on CNN: "And finally Louisiana. That's Bennett Johnston's old seat, where the Democrat Mary Landrieu is in a very, very competitive race with a very, very conservative, but there're a lot of those folks in Louisiana, state Representative named Woody Jenkins."

-- Frank Sesno on CNN: "Onto Illinois now, where Dick Durbin turns back a challenge from Al Salvi, a very conservative Republican there, but Dick Durbin winning there."

-- Sesno again: "This seat was the one that was vacated when Robert Dole took his leave to campaign for presidency. Jill Docking the Democrat against Sam Brownback, very conservative Republican."

-- Morton again: "Still up in the air, Louisiana, where very conservative Woody Jenkins won that odd, everybody-in primary that they have."

-- Exchange on CNN. Frank Sesno: "Helms ran a series of really tough ads hitting his opponent Harvey Gantt, African-American, with liberal liberal liberal label again." Bruce Morton: "Well the famous line I guess, more liberal than Bill Clinton. Gasp! Shudder! Too liberal for North Carolina. Helms always runs mean ads. I talked to one man down there who were saying if he was running against Jesus he'd find a way to attack him."

-- Ken Bode on CNN: "That was a very clear choice for the voters of Louisiana. Mary Landrieu is a moderate at least, probably a liberal. And the person she was running against, Woody Jenkins, a state legislator so conservative that in twenty-some years, twenty-some years in the state legislature, he did not vote for a single tax increase."

As 1am ET approached, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw assured viewers: "A lot of Democrats have criticized us in our coverage and conversely a lot of Republicans have criticized us in our coverage. Never once in our coverage of this campaign story have we played favorites. We don't play favorites."

4) In speculating about what factors led to Clinton's comeback, reporters repeatedly committed the biased reporting that aided Clinton's cause: stating as fact that the GOP shut down the government without mentioning how Clinton refused to sign the spending resolutions. Some examples:

-- Bernard Shaw on CNN: "Ken Bode making the point about, and you Judy, that the President made this comeback, especially after the disaster of 1994. The Republican Party actually helped William Jefferson Clinton in that comeback, especially when they voted to shut down Congress. The American people said the Republicans went too far. We did not sent you to Washington to shut down the federal government."

-- Sam Donaldson on ABC on why Dole lost: "I think this was set by two or three people. I think Alan Greenspan, who is the Fed Chairman, helped engineer an economy that worked and it worked for President Clinton. I think the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich helped engineer a shutdown of the Congress twice, that scared the country and that worked against Senator Dole, it wasn't Senator Dole's fault...."

-- Troy Roberts on Wednesday's This Morning on CBS: "Often abrasive, Gingrich never mastered the fine art of compromise. Less than a year after he rode into Washington in triumph, he was on the defensive. His gambit to shut down the government over the budget backfired. Seizing the moment, President Clinton quickly became the voice of centrist reason."

5) Republicans may maintain control of both houses, but they better not use their position to investigate Clinton scandals. So warned several network reporters. Some examples:

-- NBC's Tom Brokaw in prime time: "There is also a theory, however, that if the Republicans begin to engage once again in a lot of investigations that it will not do well for them four years from now. Because the country in all the exit polling that we're seeing so far is saying, 'Hey let's get on with the business of solving the real problems that we have out there.'"

-- NBC's Matt Lauer to Haley Barbour, on the Wednesday, November 6 Today: "Mr. Barbour, exit polls show us that the economy was still the number one issue on people's mind last night. And although character and trust play a role, people choose candidates based on their handling of the issues. With that in mind, what do you say to people now who look to Republicans in Congress and say, hey, move forward on key legislation. Don't get bogged down on investigations into the Clinton White House?"

-- ABC's John Cochran concluding his November 6 World News Tonight story on the new Congress: "But both parties know the public has a limited appetite for partisan head-bashing. And today Senate Republicans said they had no plans to resume investigations of the Whitewater affair. John Cochran, ABC News, Capitol Hill."

6) None too pleased with the passage of a proposition in California to end racial discrimination, reporters tagged the vote a step backward. Examples:

-- NBC's Maria Shriver to Jesse Jackson at about 12:48am ET: "Affirmative action was a hotbed issue in this country, still a big race on that subject going on about that in California. Did you feel at times like we've turned back the clock on some of these issues?"

-- On Wednesday's This Morning co-host Jane Robelot interviewed California Civil Rights Initiative chief Ward Connerly:

"Good morning Mr. Connerly. Do you feel like Prop. 209 is going to stand up to the promised court challenges that it faces?"

Ward Connerly: "Absolutely, I think if you read the first five words of the initiative, which say that the states shall not discriminate. And by state I mean all governmental agencies in the state. You recognize that it is already existing law and the remainder of that first clause, nor grant preferential treatment to' and so on is really saying that discrimination encompasses preferential treatment." Robelot: "But that's sort of living in an ideal world I mean it's nice to say it on paper. If you look around at corporate offices in America and in CEO's offices, you're gonna see very few minorities and few women. Are we really ready to backtrack on civil rights now, or on affirmative action?"

7) Another election night, another night of wacky comments from Dan Rather, aka Ratherisms:

-- "Phil Jones is at the Dole HQ in Washington. Phil if you are a Republican and you're a Bob Dole supporter, seeing New Hampshire and Florida both fall into the column for Bill Clinton, is it scary enough to make you swallow your gum?"

-- "In Kentucky, in the presidential race, this is the way it looks. This is with 47 percent of the precincts reporting. Bill Clinton leading Bob Dole by just about the margin of cigarette paper."

-- "Our CBS news estimates is in one of the nastiest, smelliest campaigns of them all -- a lot of people thought the stench from this would gag a buzzard -- Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Attorney General, has beaten back the effort of state senator Roger Bedford, to fill the seat of retiring Democratic Senator Howell Heflin."

-- "Now, we may see Michael Jackson's baby before we know the final outcome of this race for the House of Representatives tonight..."

-- In New Hampshire, closest Senate race in the country, this race between Dick Swett and Bob Smith is hot and tight as a too small bathing suit on a too long car ride back from the beach."

-- "Reelection of President Bill Clinton is as secure as a double knot tied with wet rawhide and here's why..."

-- NBC's Tom Brokaw got into the act, offering this Brokawism: "Just one state now closing its polls at this hour. It's the home state of the incumbent President of the United States, the state of Arkansas. No surprise, Bill Clinton now our projected winner there. For him to lose Arkansas would be like Elvis losing his hair. He could go on but it just wouldn't be the same somehow."

8) Networks reporters regularly referred to Bob Dole's "harsh" rhetoric and media professional didn't complain. But in Thursday's newspapers you may be reading about a critical comment about Clinton that David Brinkley uttered. At the very end of ABC's broadcast, just before 1am ET, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Jeff Greenfield, Lynn Sherr, and Hal Bruno stood by the anchor desk where Peter Jennings and Brinkley sat.

Jennings asked Brinkley for a final comment. Referring to the assembled ABC crew, Brinkley announced: "OK, fine, I'm not going to say much. Among things I admire, almost near the top is creativeness, and everyone in this group has it. It shows in your work, it shows in your thinking, and it shows in your speech, what you do, what you write, what you say, and it's one reason this group is so terrific. Bill Clinton has none of it, he has not a creative bone in his body. Therefore, he's a bore and will always be a bore."

9) Finally, Wednesday's NBC Nightly News concluded with a piece from Mike Boettcher on what people want in second term. Boettcher began:

"When the sun touched the Pacific, America had made a decision. Bob Dole's work was over. Bill Clinton's had just begun. There, in a California night school was the gender gap. The all-woman sign language class wanted their support for Clinton rewarded."

Woman in the class: "I want to see a President that stands for what he believes in and not somebody who just wants to please the people."

So, someone who doesn't want a President who molds his views to match polls voted for......Clinton.


-- Brent Baker