MediaWatch: September 1996

Vol. Ten No. 9

60 Minutes Does a 180 on Doyle

Labor Day weekend marks the start of the campaign season, and this year the 60 Minutes interviews with the two presidential candidates demonstrated how it also corresponds with another season of tilted coverage.

In his August 18 interview with Bill Clinton, Dan Rather wasn't as interested in posing questions as setting up speeches: "Some of your staff members, not by name, have been saying, `Yes, the President thinks Bob Dole is a nice person and has been a pretty good leader in some ways,' but, say they, `he's been captured by the extremists in the Republican Party, the radical part of the Republican Party, including Newt Gingrich.' Is that what you think?"

Rather then led Clinton through a set of GOP convention speeches. He showed Dole charging Clinton led "a core of elites who never grew up, did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered, and never learned." He played video of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison mentioning the FBI files, and George Bush on the White House being "diminished" since his wife left.

When Clinton's response wasn't strong enough, Rather added: "I don't know of anyone in the convention who didn't take that as a difference of the present First Lady and the former First Lady." Rather insisted: "Don't you get mad, Mr. President, when this sort of thing happens?"

Two weeks later Lesley Stahl interviewed Bob Dole. But in her September 1 talk she gave Dole less time to react to attacks. Stahl didn't suggest Clinton is too far to the left and when Dole complained about unfair attacks, she made him defend his criticisms. Rather never argued with Clinton, but Stahl debated the advisability of Dole's tax cut plan.

Stahl began by underlining the Democrats' decency: "At the Democratic convention, a lot of Democrats were saying that Bob Dole is a good and decent man, and even Bill Clinton made a point of saying Bob Dole loves his country. I'm wondering what you think of Bill Clinton. What kind of a man do you think he is?"

When Dole complained about Democratic attacks, Stahl aired a convention clip of Al Gore saying Dole voted against creating Medicare and Medicaid, Peace Corps and Head Start. She assumed such votes would have been wrong: "Did you really vote against all these things?" Then she turned on Dole, asking: "They say that you were unfair in what you said about Hillary....Do you think you were unfair in what you said to her?"

Stahl made Dole respond to 11 inquiries doubting the tax cut. She demanded he explain how he's going to pay for it, contending that in the '80s he was correct to oppose Reaganomics: "You were right, it did explode the deficit."