CyberAlert -- September 20, 1996 -- Reagan Bashing; Clinton Save the Earth; CIA as Drug Dealers

Four items today:

1. Taking shots at President Reagan is not limited to the news division at CBS. It occurred in the Rockford Files movie Wednesday night.

2. Speaking of CBS, Bob Dole is on the "attack" while Bill Clinton is helping everyone by "protecting" the environment.

3. The story of the CIA selling cocaine in Los Angeles in order to pay for the Contras in Nicaragua gets a one-sided hearing on MSNBC's InterNight. Check out some of the questions posed.

4. The MRC's Free Market Project releases a study on how the networks worry incessantly about to "pay" for Dole's tax cut but almost never ask how taxpayers will afford higher taxes to pay for Clinton's refusal to trim Medicare hikes.

1) Ronald Reagan left office more than seven years ago, but he's still fodder for liberal TV script writers. At the beginning of Wednesday night's Rockford Files movie special on CBS, "Jim Rockford" (a private investigator played by James Garner, for those of you who missed the 1970s), arrives at a birthday party for the father of a former girlfriend he hasn't seen for 15 years.

Upon seeing Rockford, the father says to him: "I was glad to hear Megan say that you might show. Hey, I bet the Reagan years were good to you, huh? S&L investigations, defense contractor fraud."
Rockford responded: "Matter of fact."

2) A few hours earlier Wednesday night (September 18) Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening News: "Bob Dole unloads his strongest attack yet blaming President Clinton personally and directly for rising drug crime."
He then began the show with this assessment of the themes of each candidate that put Clinton in a more positive light:
"Bob Dole and Bill Clinton targeted each other today, on each other's turf. In California Dole gave star billing to President Clinton in a new attack blaming both the President and Hollywood for what he says is a lax attitude on drug abuse. President Clinton's theme today was let's protect the environment, parks and public lands together. He used the Grand Canyon as his backdrop to declare almost two million acres of Utah off limits to developers."
Reporter Phil Jones reported on Dole and included some doubt about the effectiveness of Dole's anti-drug slogan and concluded by noting that "only eleven percent blame the Clinton administration for the [drug] problem." Rita Braver then reported on Clinton move "to stake his claim as the environmental President." But Braver didn't include any consideration of how Clinton's move was an anti-property rights land grab. ABC and NBC at least aired soundbites from upset Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, but CBS aired no dissenting voice.

3) Thursday night's (September 19) InterNight on MSNBC looked at the San Jose Mercury News story that the CIA coordinated cocaine sales in Los Angeles in the 1980s through a Nicaraguan to pay for the Contras. The guests: the reporter (Gary Webb), Jesse Jackson, a lawyer for a drug dealer, Washington talk show host Joe Madison and his buddy, the wacky as always Dick Gregory. The premise of course is that if the CIA hadn't provided the drugs the residents of South Central would not have become addicted to crack.
Here are a few of host Ed Gordon's less than probing questions:
-- To Jesse Jackson: "Does it bother you that indeed, and I think this is where you're going, the hypocrisy that might be that those who backed the Contras at that time and said it was for freedom fighters and the like would indeed turn their back on this country's problems?"
-- To Dick Gregory: "Dick, I know that this is nothing new to you in the sense of trying to keep people alert to what may be going on across this country as relates to the government, but as you compare it to things you've seen and heard in the past where does this fall?"
-- To Joe Madison: "As Dick was saying, a conspiratorial thing, something that is genocidal that many African-Americans whisper and talk about that, or was it simply an economic situation that they thought this was a quick way to make money to send to the Contras?"

4) Study, from the front page of the September MediaNomics published by the MRC's Free Market Project:
Tax Cuts Concern Reporters, Medicare Increases Do Not Deficit Chicken Hawks
"At the Republican convention, Bob Dole pledged to cut income taxes by 15 percent, balance the budget, and leave Social Security and Medicare untouched. Tough-minded reporters believed none of it and shared their skepticism with a national television audience," writes the Weekly Standard's David Frum in the September 9 issue of that magazine.
But then, according to Frum, "Two weeks later, the Democrats met in convention and, to put it simply, lied through their teeth about their plans for Medicare. They accused Republicans, in Al Gore's words, of wanting to `give health insurance rip-off artists a license to change Medicare, to let this program for our seniors wither on the vine. That's why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won't let them.' Those remarks are blatantly untrue, both about the Republican plans and about Clinton's own. And the media said...nothing."
Is Frum correct? Are reporters more skeptical of Bob Dole's tax rhetoric than of Bill Clinton's Medicare rhetoric? Media Research Center analysts reviewed all of the stories about either tax cuts or Medicare on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's World Today during the month of August. The MRC's findings: While network journalists were ardent deficit hawks when reporting on tax cuts, they lost their deficit-cutting zeal when Democrats denounced Republican Medicare plans.
There were a total of 24 stories during the month that questioned whether Bob Dole could both cut taxes and balance the budget. Only two stories questioned whether Bill Clinton could erase the deficit while not advancing Medicare reforms in his second term.
The reaction to the unveiling of Dole's tax plan was the same across the networks. "Since Dole would leave Social Security, Medicare, and defense untouched," reported CBS News correspondent Phil Jones, "it's still unclear what would be cut in order to pay for his tax cut." According to CNN's Gene Randall, "Bob Dole has produced an economic plan that is getting mixed reviews even from Republicans. The bipartisan Concord Coalition on Sunday warned against election-year tax-cut Santas."
NBC's Mike Jensen offered that "most analysts say it's not good economics. Bob Dole says about a fourth of the tax cuts would be paid for by an expanding economy, but the rest would have to come from spending cuts, and those haven't been spelled out yet." Over at ABC, correspondent John Cochran claimed that "if critics say Dole's tax plan would lead to budget deficits of the size of those dating back to the Reagan era, then his campaign simply isn't going to worry about it for now."
But what about Bill Clinton and Medicare? Economics columnist Robert Samuelson, in the September 4 Washington Post, pointed out that in the upcoming years "the only way to avoid (or minimize) much higher taxes, the [Congressional Budget Office] said, would be a mix of an older retirement age, reduced benefits and a shift of Medicare toward managed care. On Medicare, the Republicans proposed precisely such a shift...Clinton's demolition of this effort confounds the CBO's sensible advice."
Only two network reporters questioned whether leaving Medicare alone could be compatible with balanced budgets. "A generation of baby boomers begins retiring within a decade," ABC's Jerry King pointed out. "So, the bad news is, unless the politicians find a way to cut entitlement spending, today's deficit reductions will be impossible to sustain." ABC's Jeff Greenfield reported that "with the huge baby boomer generation retiring in about 15 years, those entitlement programs could take every single dollar of the budget."
King and Greenfield were the only reporters concerned about how to "pay for" automatic Medicare spending increases. If Bill Clinton won't reform Medicare in his next term, why aren't reporters asking him which taxes he will raise?

-- Brent Baker