CyberAlert -- 03/19/2001 -- Media Push for McCain's "Reform"

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Media Push for McCain's "Reform"; Turner: "Wrong Man is President"; Will Media Notice Dirkhising? Reagan a "Mediocrity"

1) The media campaign for "campaign finance reform" has begun. Tim Russert discussed strategy with John McCain, but with Mitch McConnell Russert demanded he defend the system. ABC's This Week featured only McCain proponent Warren Buffet, to whom Cokie Roberts tossed softball prompts. To a summarization of the reform case, Sam Donaldson asserted: "We all know that you're correct."

2) Tim Russert confronted Tom Daschle, who complained about how Bush is talking down the economy, with how back on January 3 Dick Gephardt warned a "recession is looming."

3) Al Hunt: "Senator Chuck Hagel is a good man with a sham plan that would embrace Hillary's scam."

4) Last week Ted Turner declared the West "did not win the Cold War," claimed that "without the U.N. we wouldn't have made it through the Cold War" and argued that "the wrong man is President." But CNN's new chief insisted that FNC is "fairly extreme" while CNN is "right down the middle."

5) On CNN liberal columnist Mark Shields made CNN founder Ted Turner's "Jesus freaks" remark his "Outrage of the Week."

6) The trial of one of the gay men accused of murdering 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising started last week. The New York Post's Media Watch column noted the media's lack of interest in the 1999 case. The Fox News Channel is again covering it and, this time around, so is the Associated Press.

7) The Washington Post reporter who once oozed that Ralph Nader provided "pure honesty" and served "a reminder of what we once hoped to be," denigrated Ronald Reagan as a "mediocrity."

The media are so excited by John McCain's "campaign finance reform," which could better be described as the Media Influence Enhancement Act, that even usually balanced reporters like Tim Russert aren't even playing devil's advocacy with the contrary view of conservatives, never mind giving it equal time. On Sunday's Meet the Press Russert discussed strategy and tactics with McCain, whose bill will be debated in the Senate this week, but with opponent Mitch McConnell Russert pounded away, demanding he defend his policy position.

But Russert presented a balanced show compared to ABC and CBS. ABC's This Week featured only McCain-type reform proponent Warren Buffet, to whom Cokie Roberts tossed softball prompts. After George Stephanopoulos summarized the liberal argument for more government regulation, Sam Donaldson asserted: "We all know that you're correct." CBS's Face the Nation featured three guests who all favored some sort of liberal reform: Senators Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel as well as AFL-CIO chairman John Sweeney.

On NBC's Meet the Press Tim Russert never questioned the premise of McCain's view that there is too much money in politics and that it must be further regulated. Instead, he stressed strategy and what might block passage. While Russert did raise the idea of increasing the $1,000 hard money limit, he worried about how McCain's bill isn't tough enough since some claim they will find a way around it. He warned McCain: "Your bill will not stop people with money having influence."

Here are Russert's questions to McCain:

-- "First of all, your bill, which would ban all soft money, non-regulated money, restrict issue ads, prohibit all foreign contributions, improve disclosure and some other things. Do you have the 50 votes necessary to pass this in the U.S. Senate?"

-- "John Breaux, the Democrat from Louisiana, who voted for your bill five times, says he's no longer for it. Do you have the other 49 Democrats locked up?"

-- "Chuck Hagel, Senator from Nebraska. Fellow Vietnam veteran, strong supporter of your campaign, has another bill where he would only cap soft money and allow individuals to continue to give it. He said that he is quote 'your big brother,' protecting your interests."

-- "He says that your bill will create a black hole for so-called independent groups. The New York Times has a reference today: 'The McCain Bill: Will the Cure Compound the Illness?' Tom Davis, the Democratic [oops, really Republican] head of the congressional campaign committee on the House side said, 'We'll find a way around McCain. We'll just open up another state committee and funnel the money through that.' Won't people find a way to find the money?"

-- McCain: "....The day we pass this bill, there will be people who try to find ways around it. But to accept the status quo, accept the status quo, I mean, is-"
Russert: "But, Senator, your bill will not, in any way, stop negative television advertising. Your bill will not stop people with money having influence."

-- "Fred Thompson, who supports your bill, the Senator from Tennessee, said, 'But we also should increase the amount of hard money, the regulated contribution people get, from $1,000 to, say, $3,000,' because the $1,000 was created in '74 and because of inflation, $3,000 is a more appropriate amount. Could you buy into that?"

-- "Senator Torricelli of New Jersey said, let's have a provision in the bill which says that the lowest possible TV rate, advertising rate, should be allowed or given to political candidates by the local TV stations....could you support that amendment?"

-- "George W. Bush has come forward with his principles and you read through those, they seem diametrically opposed to your views. Let me look at the first one. We'll put it on the screen. The New York Times described it as ' anti-labor provision requiring union members to approve the expenditure of their dues for political purposes. Though it's now married to a proposal requiring shareholder approval of similar corporate expenditures, it is designed to repel Democrats from the coalition supporting reform in the Senate.'
"The second thing is 'The President would allow individuals to give unlimited amounts to parties even if corporations and unions do not...'
"The third, '...he wants to protect the right of advocacy groups to raise unlimited money from special interests for their own campaign ads.'
"And four, 'He supports a provision to throw out the entire law if any part of it is found unconstitutional.'
"Every one of those things, John McCain opposes."

-- "But if those are the President's principles, he's going to veto your bill."

-- "Bottom line: Will significant campaign finance reform pass next week?"

Then Russert turned to Senator Mitch McConnell and unlike with McCain he demanded that McConnell defend the underlying premises of his position: "A country of 285 million and 800 gave two-thirds of the soft money. How can you support such a system?" Russert seemed afraid people might "get away" with free speech as he insisted all McCain's bill would do is make it so groups "couldn't go on the air 60 days before an election and run pseudo-attack ads and get away with it."

Russert's questions to McConnell:

-- "Let me put on the screen for you a single quote from The Wall Street Journal on Friday. 'Soft Money Study Shows Concentration Of Donations by Wealthy Contributors. Nearly two-thirds of the unregulated soft money campaign contributions in the last election -- about $296 million -- came from just 800 donors who gave at least $120,000 each.' Two-thirds of this revenue stream of soft money from the hands of 800 people. A country of 285 million and 800 gave two-thirds of the soft money. How can you support such a system?"

-- "When the reforms were written in '74, however, the reason there was hard money restrictions was to have accountability and to lower the amount that people could give to avoid the impression of influence-peddling. You give $1,000 per candidate. Then someone found the soft money loophole, and look how it's grown. In 1984, $22 million raised from soft money. It's now $463 million. And this is where it comes from. Tobacco, oil and gas and insurance, the Republican Party, $5 million, $12 million, $10 million; Democratic Party get less from that. But they have their benefactors. Labor unions, lawyers and entertainment, $29 million, $18 million, $12 million. And then some industries, they're equal opportunity. Computers give $10 million, Democrats, Republicans; $21 million from securities and investments; real estate $15 million and $12 million. Senator, these are huge amounts of money, gushing into Washington. And people see when it's in the small hands of 800 people, influence-peddling, influence-buying. And this was not the intent of the law."

-- McConnell: "...With all due respect, the McCain-Feingold bill does nothing about money in politics. It simply diminishes the ability of the political parties to do their job, a big part of which is to help candidates-"
Russert: "Well, what it says is-"
McConnell: "One other point."
Russert: "-those groups couldn't go on the air 60 days before an election and run pseudo-attack ads and get away with it."

How awful. Someone might "get away" with free speech.

-- "Do you have the votes to stop McCain-Feingold?"

-- "One of the things that is brought up constantly is the money that goes to campaigns influences, affects legislation. Public Citizen put out a report, naming you, and I'm going to give you a chance to respond. 'Over in the Senate, the bill was running into very similar obstacles erected by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)' -- this is the legislation that would ban betting on amateur or college sports in Nevada; it's already banned across the country, but no more Las Vegas -- 'who headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm for GOP Senate candidates...Public Citizen interviews with two well-placed Republican staff sources revealed the following: in late 1999 and early 2000, McConnell urged a number of GOP senators not to support the bill. His argument...was that 'this is a big year for Senate races' and 'we need the money [from the casino industry.'"

-- "Time magazine said in September that you and Trent Lott, the leader of the Senate, flew to Las Vegas on Steve Wynn's jet, and came back and sat down with Orrin Hatch and members of the Judiciary Committee, and said that 'if we voted for this legislation, it would impact our ability to raise money.' Is Time wrong, too?"

-- "So there's no connection between campaign contributions and legislation?"

Over on ABC's This Week, Cokie Roberts gave an unchallenged platform to liberal regulation advocate Warren Buffet, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Her prompts in the form of questions:

-- "I love your analysis about underpriced commodity, I mean applying essentially market conditions to the political world. You're saying that somebody who spends $200 million on advertising could do better putting it straight into political influence."

-- "What do you think will be the affect on American democracy if what you just said is true [that businesses feel obligated to donate], if we don't stop it now?"

-- "Describe a little bit for me what it's like for the business community to have this kind of pressure to give this kind of money."

-- "So it's a shakedown?"

-- "Now you in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, made an interesting proposal that an eccentric billionaire, and you stipulated not you, would say I will a give a billion dollars to the party that votes for campaign finance reform and the effect would be that everybody would vote for campaign finance reform and the billionaire wouldn't have to give."

-- "I know you don't want to talk specifically about the estate tax but that seems to me to be a perfect example of the kind of thing. Elimination of the estate tax, would that be there without people giving campaign contributions?"

ABC then jumped to its roundtable. George Will immediately noted the "vapidness" of Buffet's viewpoint.

George Stephanopoulos defended him: "Warren Buffet is showing the common sense that made him a wealthy man. We all know right now that money gets you in the door, whether it's Congress, whether it's the White House, whether it's the state legislatures. The soft money loophole has led to almost half a billion dollars contributed in the last campaign and you can't say that it's not buying policy. I mean, just look at this week: $3.4 million from the coal industry, Bush turns around on CO2 emissions."

To which Sam Donaldson chimed in: "We all know that you're correct."

In last week's Newsweek, the March 19 edition, Jonathan Alter outlined what McCain needs to do to prevent his bill from being destroyed by amendments: "McCain's aim is to trade on his rock-star status (and wartime heroics) to prevent that. To do so, he needs his old allies in the press. If the media could devote a fraction of the passion and time to the causes of the disease that it lavished on the John Huang-Marc Rich-Lincoln Bedroom symptoms, real change might even be possible."

There's no question McCain has "his old allies in the press" on his side.


Tim Russert may have been disappointing in how he handled campaign finance, but in interviewing Senator Tom Daschle about the Democratic spin that President Bush is improperly talking down the economy, he stood out for confronting Daschle with how on January 3 House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt warned a "recession is looming."

Russert told Daschle on the March 18 Meet the Press: "Some are suggesting it's just telling the truth. Let me show you the gross domestic product on the board here. In the first quarter we grew at 4.8 percent; second quarter, 5.6 percent; third quarter -- July, August, September -- it was down to 2.2 percent; and then October, November, December, 1.1 percent. Your fellow Democrat, Dick Gephardt, on the Today show in January two months ago. This is what we had to say."
Gephardt on the January 3 Today: "Look, I don't know the exact size. It may be that it has to get bigger because the recession is looming and we've got economic worries out there."
Russert: "'The recession is looming,' the R-word, fellow Democrat. Is he talking down the economy?"


Taking to rhyme, Al Hunt chastised Chuck Hagel for his campaign finance bill as he castigated President Bush for doing nothing about Denise Rich-like donations. The Executive Washington Editor of the Wall Street Journal made Bush's bill his "Outrage of the Week" on CNN's March 17 Capital Gang:
"As revelations surface about Denise Rich's unsavory political contributions and Hillary Clinton's $9.6 million of soft money, most of it funneled through the state party, the Senate considers McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. President Bush would do nothing about the Denise Rich's, mocking his pledge to restore integrity to politics, and the author of the alternative, Senator Chuck Hagel is a good man with a sham plan that would embrace Hillary's scam. We'll soon see which Senators are addicted to this system of political bribery and which ones want to clean up corruption."


Last week CNN founder Ted Turner, currently Vice Chairman of AOL Time Warner, declared the West "did not win the Cold War," claimed that "without the U.N. we wouldn't have made it through the Cold War" and argued that "the wrong man is President." Last Thursday FNC played clips of some of his remarks in receiving the "Norman Cousins Global Governance Award" from the World Federalist Association which Greg Pierce, in his Washington Times "Inside Politics" column, further quoted.

The March 15 Special Report with Brit Hume showed Turner making these declarations:

-- "We won, won my foot. I mean we did not win the Cold War. The Cold War ended really pretty much in a stalemate."

-- "You will notice that when we go bomb countries we do it in Iraq or Grenada, places like that, we don't bomb Russia or China because they can bomb back. We pick on the real little guys, you know, the real small ones. You know I don't know why haven't we bombed the Palestinians? Because all they have is rocks to throw at us."

-- "This election that we just had was so close that we didn't know who was going to be President and probably the wrong man is President, anyway, after they recounted, recounted those votes."

That morning in the Washington Times Greg Pierce relayed some additional comments from Turner:
"Mr. Turner accused the Bush administration of justifying 'its increased military budget buildup' by falsely viewing Russia, China and North Korea as potential enemies....Praising the United Nations for its efforts to promote population control, world peace and a cleaner environment, Mr. Turner said that 'without the U.N. we wouldn't have made it through the Cold War.'
"'We owe our very existence to the U.N.,' he added."

++ To view a RealPlayer clip of Turner's remarks as shown by FNC, go to the online version of this CyberAlert. MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will put it on the MRC home page shortly after this CyberAlert is e-mailed.

Meanwhile, CNN's new chief has claimed to see right wing bias in the Fox News Channel but no liberal bias on CNN. Jamie Kellner, who had been running the WB network, last week was put in charge of most of AOL Time Warner's cable channels, including CNN. In his March 19 column, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz picked up on some recent comments from Kellner:
"Kellner told the Chicago Tribune that while Fox uses a 'we report, you decide' slogan, 'the fact is it is a fairly extreme, to-the-right-of-center channel. And that's a brilliant strategy. CNN can never be that. CNN is about journalism; it's about reporting right down the middle of the alley."

Maybe Kellner should be less dismissive of FNC and consider that it appears conservative compared to CNN not because FNC is so right wing but because CNN is so far to the left. Kurtz pointed out that though CNN has more viewers because it is carried by more cable systems, its 319,000 average households viewing it this year is up just 4 percent from last year while FNC's 266,000 households represents a 135 percent jump.


Liberal columnist Mark Shields dared to use CNN air time to denounce Ted Turner for his "Jesus freaks" remark, though it took him an extra week to get to it. The March 7 CyberAlert quoted Brit Hume's March 6 story about the incident at the retirement party for Bernard Shaw. See the March 7 and 15 CyberAlerts for details.

Shields made the outburst his "Outrage of the Week" on the March 17 Capital Gang: "On the first day of Lent, Catholics around the world have ashes put on their foreheads with a reminder, quote: 'Remember you are dust and will return to dust,' end quote. When CNN founder Ted Turner noticed ashes on the foreheads of some CNN employees, Turner reportedly called them, quote, 'Jesus freaks,' end quote, and asked, 'shouldn't you be working for Fox?' In 1990, Turner called Christianity a religion for losers. Later he denounced Catholics and Pope John Paul II. Now, once again, Ted Turner has profusely apologized and condemned religious intolerance. Ted Turner may be truly contrite, but what he said remains the Outrage of the Week."


The trial of one of the gay men, accused of murdering 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising during a sexual assault, started last week, but you can be excused if you haven't heard about it. Like when the crime occurred in the fall of 1999, the mainstream media, which hyped the Matthew Shepard case of a murdered gay man, aren't so interested in a case where the offenders are gay.

On Friday the New York Post's "Media Watch" column reminded readers of the case and reported that this time around the AP has decided to cover the trial, but that hasn't led to any network interest beyond the Fox News Channel. A reprint of the March 16 Media Watch column:

The first of two trials in the brutal 1999 sex-torture murder of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising has been under way in Bentonville, Ark., since Monday -- and the media silence is deafening. Save for the Associated Press and the local Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, not a journalistic peep has been heard across the nation.

But that's hardly surprising. Because since the day that 13-year-old Jesse was found bound and gagged after having been repeatedly sodomized, there has been a near-total media blackout on this story.

Why? Could the fact that his admitted killers are a gay couple who insist it was all a case of statutory rape "gone wrong" have something to do with it?

At yesterday's trial session, two police officers testified as to how they found the youngster. According to The Associated Press, they said he was lifeless, his face was blue and he had blood in his mouth and excrement smeared on parts of his body." Officer Jason Curry testified: "There was a horrible stench in the room when I walked in. It was overwhelming."

Can you imagine similar media silence if Jesse Dirkhising had been gay and his attackers straight? No way.

In a column that appeared in The Post, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center compared the Dirkhising case to the media orgy that accompanied the murder a year earlier of Matthew Shepard: "It made the cover of Time magazine with the headline 'The War Over Gays,' with reporters predictably using the occasion to blame religious conservatives and call for hate-crime laws and other gay-left agenda items."

But not the Dirkhising case. Indeed, as Bozell noted, the initial AP stories refused even to describe the accused killers as gay. The rest of the media have taken their cue from the gay-rights Human Rights Campaign, which declared, "This has nothing to do with gay people."

As Bozell noted, "this is the same Human Rights Campaign that led the national media by the nose to the ridiculous charge that Matthew Shepard was not killed by the two strangers he followed out of a bar, but by Christian conservatives who bought newspaper ads urging gays to return to Christ."

AP, to be fair, has reversed its previous silence and is filing comprehensive stories that, unlike earlier dispatches, are moving over the national wire. But none of them has made its way into print. And no network is covering the trial.

END Reprint

Well, none of the broadcast networks CNN or MSNBC. As in 1999, FNC has assigned reporter Bret Baier to the case and the March 14 Fox Report, FNC's hour-long news show at 7pm EST, carried a full story by Baier. Anchor Shepard Smith set it up:
"A 13-year-old boy enslaved for weeks. Prosecutors say sexually-abused by two gay men, then left to die. Now one of the accused standing trial in an Arkansas courtroom, facing charges of rape and capital murder. Jury selection finishing up this afternoon."

To read the aforementioned Bozell column, go to:

To read Media Watch columns when they are published in the New York Post:


Reflexive media disgust toward President Reagan. A Washington Post column on Saturday by a veteran reporter demonstrated how little respect the Washington press corps have for Reagan. The comment in question came in the middle of a March 17 "Metro" section column by Marc Fisher, who had been a national and international reporter for the Post for many years before becoming a columnist.

The column dealt with the efforts of Georgia Congressman Bob Barr to get the Metro subway system to add "Reagan" to the "National Airport" stop as listed on their maps and signs. While Fisher's contention about naming things for persons still living is certainly a reasonable point worthy of discussion, note this snide assessment of Reagan which preceded it in this sentence:
"Leaving aside Reagan's mediocrity, the fact that he is alive should be enough to shame any public body into waiting to name anything for him."

Fisher was the first runner-up in the "Media Hero Award" category in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 1989 for this fawning tribute in the Washington Post Magazine:
"Ralph Nader is a legend, perhaps the only universally recognized symbol of pure honesty and clean energy left in a culture that, after being shot through with greed, cynicism and weariness, is oddly proud of its hardened self. Two decades after he slew General Motors, Nader, the young dynamo who could not be bought, is a reminder of what we once hoped to be."

That about sums up the Washington press corps: Reagan was mediocre, Nader represents the hopes of journalists. --Brent Baker

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