MediaWatch: September 1996

Vol. Ten No. 9

Newsbites: Poll: Most Say Media Favor Clinton

A September survey for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that while most of the public thinks coverage of Clinton and Dole has been fair, when asked "Who do you think most newspaper reporters and TV journalists want to see win the presidential election," 59 percent said Clinton, 17 percent Dole and just one percent Perot.

As to how much influence news organizations have on which candidate becomes President, 64 percent thought "too much," 30 percent said "about right" and a mere four percent believed "too little."

Nasty Bob, Pure Bill

On September 12, Bob Dole demanded that Bill Clinton release his medical records and complained that Clinton's ads were overwhelmingly negative. Instead of examining the tone of Clinton ads, ABC and CBS portrayed Dole as the villain.

On ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings said: "The campaign for President took a nasty turn today. First, Bob Dole departed from his standard stump speech in Kentucky, lashing out at the Democrats for what he says they are saying about him, and negative advertising was the kindest thing Mr. Dole had to say." After a piece on Dole, Jennings introduced the next story: "The President is going to come under further Republican attack with the release next week of the House Committee on Government Operations and Oversight's report on the firings at the White House travel office."

On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather followed the same Clinton-as-victim theme: "Now for his part, Bob Dole reopened one of his favorite lines of attack today about President Clinton's health records." Reporter Phil Jones provided a very short piece just on the medical records, concluding: "Dan, this campaign is headed exactly where everybody expected it to go: personal."

Bloom and Doom

Only NBC Nightly News bothered to show viewers that night what upset Dole. Tom Brokaw declared: "Bob Dole on the ropes and looking for a way to boost his sagging campaign made it clear today he is taking off the gloves in the war of the political airwaves."

Reporter David Bloom began: "Stung by a barrage of negative television advertising, Bob Dole today accused Bill Clinton of running a campaign of fear, of engaging in character assassination." Bloom aired Clinton declaring "This must be a campaign of ideas, not a campaign of insults," and then added: "But since then, the Dole camp claims the Democrats have run only 42 positive ads with 4, 0 negative ads running across the country."

Bloom explained: "Dole aides say the campaign will double its ad budget next week, unveiling new attack ads blaming Clinton for rising teen drug use, ads even tougher than this one." After an ad clip, Bloom ended: "At a Dole rally today the music blared `get ready.' Get ready, that is, for a very nasty campaign."

What "Moderate" Democrats?

"Return to Chicago: This Time, the Democrats Embrace Moderation," declared the headline on the front of the Washington Post's August 25 convention section. Four pages later, the Post headline over a story on a survey of delegates read: "Delegates Leaning More Liberal Than Their Leader or the Rank and File." Indeed, 82 percent favored affirmative action, 65 percent were against a balanced budget amendment, 72 percent opposed "reducing spending on social programs," but 65 percent wanted less defense spending.

Three days later, New York Times reporter David Rosebaum insisted the Democratic platform "takes a middle ground between the unfettered capitalism and government-enforced morality espoused by Republicans and the welfare-state economics and Aquarian values that once formed Democrats' image." Four paragraphs later, Rosenbaum summarized the "middle ground" policies: "The Democrats call for government-paid abortions for poor women, full civil rights for homosexuals, a strong commitment to public schools, gun control, tobacco regulations, a continuation of affirmative action programs and a greater emphasis on environmental protection than on the development of resources."

"Most Economists" Split.

An August survey of 700 economists found that "52 percent blame the growth of the federal deficit in the 1980s on increased government spending more than on the Reagan tax cut," which was blamed by 48 percent. The fact that economists are about evenly split contradicts many recent media reports.

"Most economists say the Reagan tax cuts did worsen the budget deficit and many are skeptical of Dole's plan," announced reporter David Bloom on the August 5 NBC Nightly News. Colleague Mike Jensen insisted a few minutes later that "most analysts say it's not good economics." The next morning a headline over a Washington Post news story declared: "Economists Question Dole's Plan." The headline over a Boston Globe news story asserted: "Economists Cool to Dole's Tax-Cut Plan: Candidate Speaks of Growth, but Analysts See No Big Payoff."

The poll of 700 members of the American Economics Association discovered that 81 percent agreed that the Reagan tax cuts increased economic growth. A plurality of 42 percent "want to see the next Congress put a high priority on both restraining government spending and cutting taxes," matching the Dole-Kemp promise. William Adams, a professor at George Washington University, directed the poll conducted August 19-21.

Though reported in The Weekly Standard and The Washington Times, none of the previously noted outlets revised their claims. In fact, in the September 9 Post, reporter Clay Chandler focused only on the answer which put Dole in the minority: "A majority expressed doubt about the notion that 30 percent of the revenue lost from a 15 percent cut in marginal income tax rates would" be recaptured.

Another Gore Gaffe That Wasn't.

After Al Gore's emotional August 28 speech recalled the 1984 death of his sister Nancy and how it motivated him to fight the tobacco industry, ABC, NBC, and CNN did suggest hypocrisy. Jennings noted that "tobacco companies are here in Chicago wining and dining the hierarchy of the Democratic Party." NBC's Tom Brokaw recalled that "the Gore family were tobacco farmers." On CNN, Judy Woodruff suggested that Gore "was responding to what was said in San Diego," where his tobacco roots were highlighted.

But all the networks ignored the July 3 New York Times report that in 1988, Al Gore told an audience of tobacco farmers during his presidential campaign: "Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it. I've dug in it. I've sprayed it, I've chopped it, I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it." Dan Quayle can only dream of getting away with something like that.

Base Bias.

CBS Evening News took two different approaches to the passionate poles that create each party's base. The day before the Republican convention, CBS reporter John Roberts suggested "hard-line anti-abortionists" controlled the Republican Party: "Delegates are pursuing their own agendas and forcing party leaders, including Dole, to fall into line behind far the rogue elephants seem to be calling the shots."

But on August 28, reporter Harry Smith's piece on unions didn't talk about ideologically extreme unions pushing around the party, but how Bill Clinton failed to be liberal enough for them: "It still takes steel to make America's cars. It still takes labor to get a Democrat elected President. But talk to the union rank and file, and you'll find that their enthusiasm is less than red hot.... We talked with United Auto Workers in Dearborn, Michigan this week. Their biggest gripe: Bill Clinton's support of the North American Free Trade Agreement...Organized labor will invest millions of dollars to get Bill Clinton elected this fall. These dues-paying members wonder if they are still getting their money's worth."

Sunday Lefties.

The networks came at Republicans from the left on abortion in San Diego, and on the Sunday before the Democrats convened, they also came at Democrats from the left. By concentrating on liberal complaints about welfare reform, reporters helped Bill Clinton's effort to portray himself as a centrist. On the August

CBS Evening News, Dan Rather demanded of DNC General Chairman Chris Dodd: "You said this morning that the party's message will focus on the needs and cares of the people. Now, how do you reconcile that with a President who has just signed a quote `welfare reform bill' which by general agreement is going to put a lot of poor children on the street?" Earlier, on Face the Nation, CBS reporter Rita Braver asked Chicago Mayor Richard Daley: "Aren't you scared about what is going to happen? Aren't you afraid you are going to have a lot of hungry children?"

That same day NBC Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert demanded of Dodd: "It's an issue of morality to many people, and how can you defend a President who basically said to the congressional Democrats: Listen, that's your view, but I'm doing this, because -- was it politically expedient?" Russert tried the same line with strategist James Carville: "But the Democratic Party for sixty years, James Carville, fought for a minimum guarantee payment to poor children and Bill Clinton undid that. Don't you have to draw the line someplace and say `I'm a Democrat and this is what I stand for'?"

Welfare-State Television

All three networks featured stories August 27 critical of the new welfare reform law. On NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw presented his view: "There are serious questions about what happens to these people after they're taken off the welfare rolls. Andrea Mitchell went to Indiana to look at the conflict between fixing the system and doing the right thing by people." Mitchell featured no welfare reform proponents, just social workers, Jesse Jackson, and impending victims: "Kimberly Gilbert will get benefits for two years. After that, she's cut off, whether or not she finds a job. That deadline is near for Charla Milton. Unable to find work, she is terrified."

On ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings suggested: "Maybe if he is reelected, Mr. Clinton will do something to reverse himself on welfare reform. Many of these delegates hope so." ABC reporter Erin Hayes asked where the jobs would come from to support welfare recipients: "An Urban League study found in Chicago there are six times as many people who need work as there are entry-level jobs available." Hayes aired no voices favoring welfare reform, and concluded: "There is another concern as well: the young children. When their mothers are made to go to work, who will take care of them? Right now, no one really has an answer. With so much still uncertain about welfare reform, it is no wonder there is fear out there."

CBS reporter Harry Smith also ignored taxpayers and focused on victims on the CBS Evening News: "We talked to four welfare moms from across Chicago. They feel like they are this year's political target...President Clinton seemed deaf to protests last week when he signed the new welfare cuts into law. Cuts many Americans support, but cuts these women think go too far." Smith concluded: "Neighborhoods like Cabrini-Green have more than their share of misery. Folks around here think misery is only going to grow. Their long faith in the Democratic Party has been shaken, and the actions of President Clinton confirm their fear that the poor just do not count."