CyberAlert -- 03/26/2001 -- Senate Debate But No Media Debate

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Senate Debate But No Media Debate; Bush to Pack Courts with "Right Wing Nut Cases"; Liberal Upset with Bush Big News to ABC

1) Bob Schieffer admired how Senators engaged in "real debate" about campaign finance reform, but he didn't provide any "real debate" on Face the Nation. He failed to substantively challenge John McCain and instead acted more like his coach. When McCain demurred on running against Bush in 2004, Schieffer prodded: "Would you rule out running as an independent?"

2) Weekend quotes: Time's Jack White claimed Bush withdrew the ABA "to make it easier to pack the federal courts with right wing nut cases"; Eleanor Clift contended Bush's decision on arsenic will "be the equivalent" of what Newt Gingrich "did with cutting school lunches"; actress Whoopi Goldberg complained Bush said "it's okay to raise the level of arsenic in my water."

3) Without using the term "liberal," ABC's Linda Douglass provided a story about those upset by Bush's conservative policies. "The Sierra Club calls President Bush's latest moves on the environment 'March Madness,'" Douglass declared before warning how "some in the President's own party are becoming alarmed" by his rulings.

4) CBS discovered news in a supposed fumble by John Ashcroft that the other networks did not find worth reporting. On Friday night Jim Stewart argued that, contrary to Ashcroft's assertion, most of the guns used in recent school shootings were not illegal.

5) In the wake of a school shooting, the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows all pressed AG John Ashcroft about more gun control. Bryant Gumbel pleaded: "Do you ever see yourself considering any measures to control the supply of firearms available?"

6) Tonight PBS will air a one-sided special by Bill Moyers on the chemical industry in which no one from any chemical company appears. They are relegated to a post-show panel segment.

Bob Schieffer ended Sunday's Face the Nation by admiring how Senators spent the week engaged in "real debate" about campaign finance reform. But Schieffer didn't provide any "real debate" for his viewers. Instead, he delivered a one-sided presentation with government regulation of speech advocate John McCain, whom he failed to challenge substantively.

As occurred a week earlier on NBC's Meet the Press, as detailed in the March 19 CyberAlert, McCain was only asked about the status of various amendments and how he will overcome impediments in his way. But that's no surprise given how Schieffer gushed about how "campaign finance is finally getting the airing it deserved and the Senate has never looked better."

Schieffer opened the March 25 interview by hoping: "Do you think you're going to be able to pass a ban on soft money?" A befuddled Schieffer wondered "what's that all about?" in regards to how Tom DeLay called McCain a hypocrite for using soft money to pay for ads against soft money and after McCain demurred on running against Bush in 2004, Schieffer suggested another approach: "Would you rule out running as an independent next time?"

Here are all the questions McCain heard from Schieffer and co-host Gloria Borger:

-- Schieffer: "Well, Senator, let's get right to it. You've had a week of debate. You've fought off some amendments that could have killed this legislation. At this point -- and you're about halfway there -- do you think you're going to be able to pass a ban on soft money?"
McCain: "I don't know, Bob. I think we've got some tough issues coming up, particularly this issue of severability. By the way, severability is French for 'kill campaign finance reform.'"

Schieffer helpfully explained: "And what that means is that what some of the opponents are trying to do is put an amendment on here that if one part of this bill should be declared unconstitutional the whole thing dies."

-- Schieffer: "Well, let's talk about that, this business of would, are you amenable to raising the $1,000 limit on contributions that an individual can give?"

-- Gloria Borger: "Senator Daschle, the Democratic leader, says that he won't go as high as $3,000. So are you realistically looking at a $2,000 limit?"

-- Borger: "Well, there is also the issue, not only about raising just the $1,000 limit but there's an aggregate limit that individuals can give as a total amount to parties as well as to candidates and that's $25,000. Your bill raises that to $30,000. Some people want to just take the cap off of that altogether. Some people want to triple it to $75,000. Where do you stand on that?"

-- Schieffer: "Now Senator, another important amendment that will be offered this week is Senator Hagel's. And that is to put a limit on the amount of soft money not to eliminate it. Does that have the support to pass at this point do you think?"

-- Schieffer: "Tom DeLay, the number three Republican in the House said this morning on television that he will do whatever is necessary to defeat this bill when it gets to the House. And I must say, he put out last week a fairly extraordinary press release about you. He says, 'DeLay,' it says, 'DeLay blasts McCain for allowing a group to launch soft money campaign in his Senate offices.' Among the things he says in this is, 'Senator McCain, you should be ashamed of himself, should be ashamed of yourself.' He says you are a hypocrite and he said you just shouldn't ought to have done it. I mean, what's that all about?"

-- Schieffer: "But what about the substance of his charge that you're using soft money, that this group is funded by soft money and they're putting out ads to defeat soft money?"

-- Schieffer, befuddled by how anyone could oppose McCain's efforts: "Well, I must say, I do find it unusual that someone in your own party would call you a hypocrite or say you should be ashamed of yourself. That is kind of unusual isn't it?"

-- Borger: "Do you think you can get the votes to beat Tom DeLay in the House?"

-- Borger: "As long as we're talking about some people who are not good friends of yours, let's talk a moment about the White House, because recently there's been a spate of stories about the bad blood between McCain and Bush, and between the staffs of McCain and the President. And I'm wondering, the White House is saying that essentially you're throwing monkey wrenches into all of their plans to control the congressional agenda, that you've gone off on your own on not only campaign finance reform but on HMO reform. How do you respond to that?"

-- Schieffer, as ever baffled by the obvious: "Do you feel, though, I mean, because here's the White House is concerned enough about this story that officials there called me this morning and said they wanted to point out that the campaign finance proposals the President put out were given to you privately before they were given to the public or to other senators. They say that you have been meeting privately with Mr. Cheney. That their personnel chief there met privately with you on Friday about some appointments, even pointed out that Laura Bush has complimented you in recent speeches. The word they send to me is, 'We think John McCain is our ally.' Do you feel that way? Is this somehow, is this sort of a disagreement between one part of the White House and you get along with the other part? It's kind of hard to figure this out if you're just looking at it as an observer."

-- Borger, dreaming of 2004 already: "Would you rule out challenging President Bush?"
McCain: "Absolutely. Yes."
Schieffer urged him to look at another option: "Would you rule out running as an independent next time?"
McCain: "Yes. Yes. I envision no scenario."
Schieffer, undaunted and still hoping: "If nominated you would not accept, I mean, and all that?"
Schieffer wrapped up the coaching session: "Okay. Thank you very much, Senator. Good luck in the coming week."

After a segment with some other guests about another subject, Schieffer provided a closing commentary in which he praised the Senate for debating campaign finance reform:
"Finally today, I tried to get the Evening News to do a story last week about how the Senate was having a real debate, that one on campaign finance reform. Well, I kept getting turned down, and then I understood why. Like most people, the editors in New York assumed the Senate has real debates all the time. I have a scoop for you. The Senate hardly ever has a real debate....
"Republican leaders have always blocked campaign finance reform from coming to a final vote, but in a Senate divided 50-50, that's no longer possible. So with a filibuster no longer a question, individual amendments are being debated and voted on. No one knows which amendments will be considered until they're introduced on the floor. So the debate has been spontaneous and compromises are being struck and legislation is being written, well, like it's usually portrayed in the movies. What has surprised the Senators is that they love it. It's been so long since they've had a real debate, they had forgotten how much fun it can be. I'm with them. I don't know how this one is going to come out, but campaign finance is finally getting the airing it deserved and the Senate has never looked better."

And network sycophants for McCain have never looked worse.

The night before Schieffer's coaching of McCain, on CNN's Reliable Sources, Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein admitted the media bias in favor of McCain's agenda: "Journalists buy the basic construct of the reformers, that money is the principle problem in Washington, it's the principle explanation for why things don't work here as they should."


Three extreme quotes of note from the weekend: Time's Jack White claimed President Bush withdrew the America Bar Association (ABA) from the judicial vetting process in order "to make it easier to pack the federal courts with right wing nut cases"; Newsweek's Eleanor Clift contended Bush's decision on arsenic in water "is going to be the equivalent" of what Newt Gingrich "did with cutting school lunches"; actress Whoopi Goldberg complained President Bush has made her "uncomfortable" by saying "it's okay to raise the level of arsenic in my water."

-- Time magazine national correspondent Jack White to columnist Charles Krauthammer, during a discussion on Inside Washington about the ABA's role in evaluating judges: "It's pure ideology alright. It's a scheme to make it easier to pack the federal courts with right wing nut cases like the ones that you like so much."
Krauthammer: "With conservative justices who respect the Constitution, absolutely."
White: "Same thing."

-- Newsweek's Eleanor Clift on the McLaughlin Group, reacting to a point about the ABA by Tony Blankley, former Press Secretary to Newt Gingrich: "This is another bouquet to the right. Arsenic in the water. Starting up the Cold War. Make as much carbon dioxide as you like. Laugh about it. Bush has set himself up as a huge target. And the arsenic is going to be the equivalent of what your boss did with cutting school lunches."

Bush didn't put arsenic in water and Newt Gingrich never cut any school lunches.

-- Whoopi Goldberg, on Friday's CNN Crossfire, when asked to explain her charge that Bush makes her "uncomfortable." She asserted: "Well, I don't like the fact that it's okay to raise the level of arsenic in my water. That makes me a little uncomfortable. I'm not sure I like the fact that the American Bar Association is no longer going to be part of the judicial process, in terms of choosing some of the judges. There is just some things that make me uncomfortable."

A good thing reality isn't important in Hollywood. Bush didn't do anything to "raise the level of arsenic" in water. He just had the EPA delay implementation of a plan to reduce it from the level allowed during the presidency of Goldberg's favorite President, Bill Clinton.


Liberal upset at President Bush's conservative policy decisions spurred a whole story by ABC News on Saturday night. "The Sierra Club calls President Bush's latest moves on the environment 'March Madness,'" declared reporter Linda Douglass in turning the hardly shocking opposition position into a news story. "Some in the President's own party are becoming alarmed," she ominously added without tagging them as liberal Republicans.

World News Tonight/Saturday anchor Aaron Brown set up the March 24 story: "Today European Union leaders urged the President to re-commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions which are believed to contribute to global warming. And the Europeans aren't the only ones unhappy with Mr. Bush's flip-flop on that issue or with other environmental decisions he's made in his first two months in office. And his critics now include members of his own party."

Douglass began her hit piece in which she adopted the liberal spin about "pristine" forests: "The Sierra Club calls President Bush's latest moves on the environment 'March Madness.' In the last two weeks the administration has signaled that it may allow logging in pristine forests that had been declared off limits, has put off a decision to reduce arsenic in drinking water, has suspended a rule to protect the environment from damage caused by mining, has reversed a decision to limit carbon dioxide emissions, and the President also suggested drilling for oil in national parks and is pushing oil exploration in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Some in the President's own party are becoming alarmed."
Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York: "The fact of the matter, this was disappointing."
Douglass: "New York Congressman Boehlert is one of several environmentalist Republicans. He says it hurts Republicans to be seen as anti-environment and he hopes the President will soon change course."
Boehlert: "If you just take a snapshot, I think he's done damage to himself and the reputation of the administration in dealing in one very sensitive issue area. But that's for the moment."
Douglass: "Democrats have not been so gentle."

Following clips of Senator Charles Schumer complaining about Bush's "assault on the environment" and Senator Barbara Boxer charging Bush has launched a "war on the environment," Douglass squeezed in a defense of Bush not on his conservative policy decisions but on how he's really a liberal environmentalist on some issues: "EPA Administrator Christine Whitman says the Democrats are just playing politics. She points out that the President ordered reduction in pollution from diesel fuel."
Whitman: "I think some would like to be able to label the administration as anti-environment because they kind of started from that perspective and they ignore the decisions that come out that are actually pro-environment."

Douglass concluded: "Some Republicans are already trying to block some of Mr. Bush's initiatives, such as drilling for oil in the arctic preserve. For Mr. Bush, some of the biggest battles over the environment may be fought within his own party."

Yes, if one single Congressman can direct the news judgment of a TV network.


Friday night CBS News made a big deal about a supposed factual fumble Attorney General John Ashcroft made in talking about guns used in school shootings. The comments were not considered worthy of note by the other networks on Friday night and, when he made his alleged factual error on NBC's Today, Matt Lauer didn't notice.

Anchor John Roberts introduced the March 23 CBS Evening News story: "As for what to do about the school shooting crisis, comments today by the U.S. Attorney General only stirred up more controversy."

Jim Stewart asserted: "The Bush administration was quick today to call for more security measures in the nation's schools as a result of the latest California shooting. But with one comment, Attorney General John Ashcroft also appeared to plunge right back into the middle of the gun debate as well."
Ashcroft on NBC's Today on Friday morning: "All the guns that have been involved, at least in most of these situation, there have been guns that have been illegal. It's been against the law to have them."

Stewart countered: "In fact, most of the guns, including, it now appears, the ones used Thursday, were not illegal at all: like the revolver in the Santee, California, shooting two weeks ago; like the handgun used that same week in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; the one before that in Palm Beach; and all of the guns in the Jonesboro, Arkansas, case. All were legally purchased at legal outlets. In fact, according to a study by the U.S. Secret Service last year, 'In nearly two-thirds of the school incidents, the attackers got the guns from their own home or that of a relative. In some cases, the guns had been gifts to the attackers from their parents.'"

Stewart condescendingly insisted: "By his second appearance on national television this morning, Ashcroft had a different explanation for his 'illegal' remark, explaining that it was illegal to carry a gun on school grounds, period."
Ashcroft on CBS"s The Early Show: "Handguns, in the hands of, at a school, for instance, example, are simply illegal. So we've got a lot of laws on the books that make this kind of activity illegal."

Stewart continued: "Ashcroft's comments, while confusing, actually go to the heart of the Bush administration's approach to gun control, which prefers to focus on existing firearms laws as opposed to new ways to restrict access to guns, such as mandatory gun locks. The problem, say lawmen, is that it's difficult to deter an angry adolescent from getting his hands on a firearm when all he has to do to find one is look in his parents' closet."

What's "confusing" is CBS's news judgment since Ashcroft's comments on Today can easily be understood as an observation about how gun laws are broken when a gun is brought into a school.


Attorney General Ashcroft appeared on all three morning shows on Friday to discuss the recent school shootings and on each he was pressed about enacting more gun control rules. "You and I both know that the proliferation of guns is a component of this problem," lectured CBS's Bryant Gumbel who pleaded: "Do you ever see yourself considering any measures to control the supply of firearms available?"

> ABC's Good Morning America. The questions from Diane Sawyer as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:

"Another school shooting. Does the Bush administration consider this a crisis?...So do you use the word crisis?"

-- "You mentioned a number of variables, and you have said that the culture has to do something about curbing the response of kids with violent behavior, and yet the one thing you didn't mention was access to guns, and there are a number of people who say that anger in kids has been around since time immemorial. What is different is 200 million guns in this country, 43 percent of households with kids have guns and one out of eight of those, unlocked. As we have heard this morning, the report is that this teen got a gun or guns from home. My question to you is this: Do you think that the Bush administration should do anything to make sure that parents restrict the access of kids to guns?"

-- "There was some move in the last administration to hold parents accountable if their teen used a gun in a crime -- adults accountable. How does the Bush administration feel about those proposals?"

Sawyer's fourth and last question was about "trying kids as adults."

> CBS's The Early Show. Bryant Gumbel's inquiries, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brian Boyd:

-- "In response to this latest shooting what is the Bush administration doing to insure the safety of students and ease the minds of parents?"

-- After Ashcroft cited how Bush's budget provides money for police officers to be placed in schools and to make free trigger locks available, Gumbel demanded: "Those are all noble long-term goals, we don't quibble with any of them, but in the short-term is there anything concrete that can be done?"

-- "You and I both know that the proliferation of guns is a component, a component of this problem. The suspect in this particular shooting was armed with a handgun and a rifle, as you consider ways of addressing school violence do you ever see yourself considering any measures to control the supply of firearms available?"

> NBC's Today. Matt Lauer's questions to Ashcroft as noted by MRC analyst Paul Smith:

-- "Another tragic situation only miles away from Santee, this time in El Cajon. What could you possibly say to officials in El Cajon that you haven't already said to officials in other parts of the country?"

-- After Ashcroft pointed out how and armed officer on the scene limited the shooter's damage and that Bush's budget includes money for more cops in schools, Lauer argued: "But obviously much more has to be done because if a youth is troubled, as these shooters or alleged shooters have obviously been in the last several years, they're going to find a way to get a hold of a gun whether it's their parents' weapon or someone else's weapon."

-- "You're opposed though, I understand, to the mandatory attachment of a sale of a trigger lock with a handgun in this country. If you would be in favor of enforcing existing laws designed to keep guns out of children's hands, why not support something that's tangible, a piece of steel or plastic that's designed to do the exact same thing?"


Too important for balance? Or too afraid of allowing viewers to hear a contrasting interpretation? Last week the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz revealed that a Bill Moyers special on PBS about the evils of the chemical industry, set to air tonight in most markets, does not include one second in its 90 minutes from any chemical industry representative. Instead, Moyers has relegated any balance to a 30-minute panel discussion afterward in which two industry spokesmen will have to fight it out with some antagonists.

An excerpt from Kurtz's March 22 story:

Bill Moyers, the dogged crusader of public television, is about to air a typically tough exposé on the chemical industry.

But unlike the most routine news story, the 90-minute documentary includes not a single comment from the industry under fire. Instead, Moyers has invited two industry officials to play defense in a panel discussion after the program.

"We're looking at this as Bill Moyers, media icon, statesman: Why isn't he including us in a story that's going to have a big impact on us?" said Terry Yosie, vice president of the American Chemical Council. "We just want a fair shake."

But Moyers, noting that his report is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of industry documents, said yesterday: "It's not that kind of story. We designed the special to include them from the beginning, but in the half-hour that follows the reportage. These documents exist. They are fact. They are not a matter of opinion or conjecture. We wanted to lay the record down, and then we want the industry to respond to the whole."

Yosie and his colleagues have peppered Moyers and PBS with letters complaining about their exclusion in an effort to change the "Trade Secrets" documentary before it airs Monday night....

Despite the exclusion, Yosie said he and another industry official would join PBS's taped panel discussion. "He's trying to make a comparison between our industry and the tobacco industry -- that we're secretive, deceptive, covering up information," Yosie said. "If we don't show up, that's going to reinforce a message he's trying to peddle that we're tobacco-like. We think we can hold our own."...

The documentary, which includes interviews with people affected by vinyl chloride, draws on an archive of "secret" and "confidential" documents unearthed in a lawsuit by the widow of a Louisiana chemical worker.

A 1959 memo to B.F. Goodrich, for example, says vinyl chloride "is going to produce rather appreciable injury when inhaled seven hours a day, five days a week for an extended period."...

Should industry officials have been allowed to weigh in? "Sure, we could have interviewed them and cut them down to fit my notion of what I wanted," Moyers said. "But that would have been unfair."... comfortable with his approach. "If I had given it to them too far in advance, they would have tried to do what industry has always done" -- launch a preemptive strike against the broadcast. "The documents are the story, not the debate about the documents."

END Excerpt

Kurtz pointed out that the American Chemical Council has set up a Web site with its letters of complaint to PBS and Moyers:

The show by Moyers, Trade Secrets, will air tonight, Monday March 26, in most markets. In Washington, DC, it will air at 9pm on WETA-TV channel 26. --Brent Baker

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