CyberAlert - October 10, 1996 - "Decidedly Nastier"

Four items today:

1. Dole's reaction to a man in a crowd calling Bill Clinton "Bozo" generated media condemnation on Wednesday. Boston Globe and USA Today stories portrayed Bozo as part of a grand strategy. On Today, Katie Couric charged that the campaign "turned decidedly nastier in the Dole camp yesterday" and she blamed "the right wing" for his new strategy.

2. Dole's intentions are scrutinized on Today, but Al Gore gets a softball interview that began with this challenging question: "Many can see that you have indeed been the most powerful Vice President in our history."

3. To the media Willie Horton symbolized GOP efforts to "play the race card," to "exploit racial fears," but to CNN reporters on Tuesday, Al Gore mentioning Horton showed how "tough" he can be.

4. CBS reporter Eric Engberg fact checked Bob Dole's debate performace, but Engberg's correction needs correction.

1) On Tuesday a man in a crowd yelled at Dole "Please get Bozo out of the White House." Dole shot back: "Bozo's on his way out." But to believe some media reports you'd think Dole set out Tuesday to launch a new campaign strategy based upon insulting Clinton.

Here's the headline in the Wednesday, October 9 Boston Globe: "Dole Goes On Attack, Calls Clinton 'Bozo.'" The subhead: "Comment Draws White House Retort."

USA Today's headline declared: "Dole Quips That He'll Beat 'Bozo.'" The lead of Judy Keen's story: "Bob Dole politely called his rival 'Mr. President' during Sunday's presidential debate. But on Tuesday, he referred to him as 'Bozo.'"

On Wednesday morning's Today Katie Couric talked with Tim Russert. Here's part of their discussion, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:
Couric: "Let me just turn to the presidential campaign very quickly. As you've heard Tim it turned decidedly nastier in the Dole camp yesterday. He was talking about a moral crisis. He refused to answer a question if President Clinton was morally and ethically capable of being President. You heard that bozo exchange. Effective strategy or is this going to come back to haunt him?"
Tim Russert: "I don't think it's an effective strategy. I was rather surprised. I think Senator Dole was very effective Sunday night in raising his favorable rating with the American people. He didn't move many votes but at least he was looked at in a much more favorable light with his sense of humor and quickness."
Katie Couric: "But the right wing thought he wasn't aggressive enough?"
Tim Russert: "Well obviously he's responding to that criticism and what he's saying is, 'My God, I haven't reached 40 percent in the polls yet! I have 20 percent of the Republican party still not voting for me. The only way to get to them is by being more aggressive and negative on Clinton.' The problem is Katie when you do that, what you do is say to a large amount of women, the so-called gender gap, they don't like that. And they have said repeatedly they want a more positive campaign. It's a very risky, very risky venture by Senator Dole."

2) Meanwhile, Al Gore gets a little nicer treatment. Later on Wednesday, Today aired an interview with the Vice President caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens. Here are all the "questions" posed by Ed Gordon (a frequent host of MSNBC's InterNight).

- "Many can see that you have indeed been the most powerful Vice President in our history. You satisfied with the role that you played for four years?"
- "The debate is coming up. What do you want people to come away with, after they watch you and Jack Kemp? What should they know about Al Gore?"
- "Biggest difference between you and Jack Kemp?"
- "You want to be the best second guy you can. You're there to help the President. Now having said that, do you want the job in 2000?"
- "Any concerns that you all are overconfident with the lead that the polls show and is there any concern that because the lead is so large you might not be able to use your coattails to usher in people into the House and the Senate?"

Five questions, but Gordon couldn't squeeze in an inquiry about Al Gore's hypocritical tobacco speech at the Democratic convention.

3) Speaking of sucking up to the VP, ever since a pro-Bush independent expenditure campaign in 1988 highlighted the Dukakis furlough of Willie Horton, for the media Horton symbolized how the GOP "plays the race card." Conservatives regularly pointed out, to no avail, how Gore first raised the issue in a 1988 primary debate.

But in a story for CNN's Web site two CNN reporters on Tuesday cited Gore's question not as an example of racial politics but as a sign of Gore's toughness. MRC analyst Steve Kaminski noticed the following sentence in a VP debate preview story by CNN reporters Marc Watts and Bob Franken:

"Gore can also fire off the tough question. In 1988, as a Senator, he first raised what became known as the 'Willie Horton issue' with Michael Dukakis during a primary debate."

In a February 13, 1992 CNN special on race and the campaign, MRC associate editor Tim Graham reminded me, Ken Bode placed all the onus on the GOP: "David Duke's exploitation of white working class fears about blacks echoes a theme from the 1988 election. This is the Maryland State Penitentiary. Inside resides the most politically notorious convict in America. William Horton, Jr., the focal point of a major national campaign designed to exploit white fear of black crime....The Horton case illustrates the readiness of political leaders to exploit the racial divide."

4) Monday's CBS Evening News (October 7) included a "Reality Check" segment by Eric Engberg on facts asserted during Sunday's debate. Here's a piece of the story:

Eric Engberg: "Some facts got mangled."
Dole: "For the first time in history, you pay about 40 percent of what you earn, more than you spend for food, clothing and shelter combined, for taxes under this administration."
Engberg: "Exaggeration. The most recent government study says the average household spends $16,000 on the basics, and only $6,000 on all taxes, including state and local taxes outside the President's control."

As Engberg would say, TIME OUT! On Tuesday the Tax Foundation released a report showing Dole was correct and Engberg was wrong. The Tax Foundation discovered that the government report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics "greatly understates taxes paid....Among the omissions, the survey does not list the employee's share of Social Security tax payments among taxes paid....Similarly, the BLS survey does not report sales and excise taxes paid....Just as important, the BLS survey results altogether ignore the effect of indirect levies, such as business taxes, on American households."

Factoring in all these taxes, the Tax Foundation calculated that for households from $22,500 to $750,000 plus, taxes took a larger bite than the total for food, clothing, and housing. The Tax Foundation found that households in the $45,000 to $60,0000 category spent $16,000 as Engberg said on "the basics," but had a $25,000 tax burden.

We need a Reality Check for the CBS Reality Check.

- Brent Baker