CyberAlert -- 04/29/1997 -- Nets Use Volunteer Summit as Platform to Demand More Spending

Nets Use Volunteer Summit as Platform to Demand More Spending

1. A clarification about yesterday's item on a CNN reporter expected to jump to NBC News.

2. ABC and NBC hammer Clinton and Powell from the left, demanding government spending be hiked. ABC sets out to prove that volunteering can never replace a government program.

3. Only NBC notes how Clinton trashed Bush's volunteer efforts; Dan Rather connects getting Saddam to getting volunteers.

4. "Hard right" opponents of the Chemical Weapons Convention were doomed because they "looked like extremists," argued NPR's Totenberg.

1) Yesterday's CyberAlert listed the softball questions posed to Al Gore by a CNN reporter who will soon join NBC. I referred to the reporter as "Shipman," neglecting to provide a first name. It's Claire, as in Claire Shipman, a CNN White House reporter for the past three years. In Monday's Washington Post John Carmody reported that she will join NBC on July 1 and will share White House duties with David Bloom.

2) In the real world, over the past 15 plus years federal social welfare spending has steadily risen faster than inflation. Efforts to cut or reform programs have resulted in a slowing in the projected rate of increase, but no actual reduction in spending for any welfare program.

Network reporters reside in a parallel universe where America has suffered for a decade and a half from "cutbacks" in welfare spending, capped by the disastrous impact of more slashing caused by the 1996 welfare reform bill.

This delusion governed network coverage Sunday night, Monday morning and Monday night of the Presidents' Summit for America's Future. The April 28 CyberAlert provided examples of Tom Brokaw quizzing Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter about the negative impact of welfare reform.

Here, in time sequence, are more examples of how ABC and NBC have approached the volunteer summit from the left, from the left of Clinton and Carter:

On ABC's World News Tonight/Sunday of April 27 reporter Karla Davis put together a story on those upset about the summit:
"The Presidents involved in today's summit are the very same people who are being blamed for the crisis that's facing the nation's children. Opponents say that a few days of good will will not make up for years of neglect. Critics are calling it Clinton's cutback summit. Protesters from all over -- Indiana, Georgia, New York -- gathered in front of Independence Hall to deliver a message of their own."

Larry Holmes of the National People's Campaign complained that cutting welfare spending and then trying to use volunteers to fill in the gap "amounts to an attack on social progress."

Davis continued: "Protester Frank Alexander spent the morning as he does every Sunday, feeding the homeless. Advocates for the poor report homelessness is increasing since President Clinton signed a bill last year to cut welfare by $55 billion dollars over six years."

Davis not only summarized Alexander's preposterous assertion about a bill that has yet to really take effect, she then let him deliver an even more exaggerated claim. Alexander, identified on-screen as a "homeless advocate," alleged:

"It's just hypocritical thing to eliminate social programs and cast millions of people into poverty at the same time you're calling on volunteers."

Davis and whomever let this story on the air should be embarrassed into resignation. What social programs have been eliminated? By what wacky math does she calculate a $55 billion "cut"? What evidence is there that "millions" have been cast into poverty? None.

Reality Check: As a February 24 Heritage Foundation Talking Points bulletin on the budget noted, in 1996 federal and state spending on 70 means-tested welfare programs "reached over $400 billion, a historic high equaling 5.3 percent of gross domestic product. Despite political promises to end welfare as we know it, the Clinton budget proposes to increase federal means-tested welfare spending by five percent per year, twice the rate of inflation." (The Heritage document can be read at:

For Monday's (April 28) Good Morning America both Charlie Gibson and Joan Lunden broadcast from Philadelphia. Co-host Gibson interviewed President Clinton. He wondered:
"Would we be talking about this with such urgency if there weren't cutbacks in government social programs to the extent..." [Clinton talks over Gibson]

Reality Check: Even Clinton, who blamed Reagan cuts for all kinds of ills, realizes the ludicrousness of the media angle. Clinton boasted to Gibson of how he's making sure spending soars: "Look at my balanced budget. It has the biggest increase in education spending in a generation, adds five million kids to the ranks of those with health insurance, in the case of welfare we're putting $4 billion dollars more into child care."

Plowing blithely along, minutes later GMA co-host Joan Lunden suggested to Colin Powell:
"Some of the things though have to also be done by the government. I mean, you know the criticism, it's the cutbacks in government programs that's now bringing this big call for volunteerism about. Are there some areas where the government really has to do more?"

"Republican" Powell responded: "Of course."

Over on NBC's Today, Matt Lauer remained in New York while Katie Couric traveled to Philadelphia. Couric made Bryant Gumbel proud, reading out of his play book on how to use the co-host chair to forward liberal advocacy. Couric argued to Bill Clinton:
"74 percent of the respondents in a recent poll think young Americans without education or job prospects is the greatest threat facing the country. If that's the case, if that many people think this is such a serious problem, shouldn't government be increasing its role rather than decreasing it? Many people think that your signing the welfare bill only exacerbated the situation of poor kids at risk."

She followed-up with this stinger: "Do you hope this emphasis on community service will be part of your legacy?"

Up next on Today, the unavoidable Powell. Couric stuck to her liberal premise:

"Don't you think the government should be doing more if so many people are concerned about these problems?"

World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings warned on Monday: "Among those who find fault with this summit there is concern that all this enthusiasm for volunteering not be seen as a substitute for what government should do." Making sure viewers didn't get carried away and actually believe the wild idea that their volunteer work could replace government spending and grants, ABC sent Tom Foreman to Wichita, Kansas to, in Jennings' words, "see if pure volunteerism is enough."

Foreman began by noting that Wichita has many enthusiastic volunteers, including one hundred people delivering Meals on Wheels. Foreman then intoned:

"But 15 years after the government first began retreating from social programs, some volunteers say they have been strained to their limits, especially when it comes to solving the most time consuming, difficult societal problems."

Nick Moore: "There needs to be some support from our government to help solve these problems. The problems are just too large."

Foreman: "Nick Moore is head of the Big Brothers and Sisters program in Wichita. In 1982 one thousand at risk young people here were paired with adult volunteers who helped them cope with peer pressure, drugs, teen violence. Then the agency's quarter million dollar a year federal funding dried up. The professional staff that used to find and train volunteers suddenly had to focus much of its time on fundraising. The number of young people served was cut in half and the agency has never fully recovered..."

Blah, blah, blah. "15 years after the government first began retreating from social programs..." Conservatives wish. How would the media react if the government ever really cut spending? Could they actually get more hyperbolic?

Two perspectives never expressed or raised during any of these stories and interviews: the conservative views that 1) welfare dependency, not lack of spending, has worsened the plight of the poor; or 2) the ever-soaring tax burden has driven most to work longer hours, get a second job, or make both spouses work. If taxes were lowered substantially people could afford to donate more money and more of their time.

3) Two other interesting items from Monday night coverage of the volunteer summit.

David Bloom, on NBC Nightly News, was the only reporter to raise Clinton's hypocrisy:
"...President Clinton is a new convert to the notion that volunteerism can solve the nation's social ills. This was candidate Clinton in 1991 talking about President Bush's Thousand Points of Light."

Clinton in October 3, 1991 campaign speech: "When there is no national vision, no national leadership, no national direction, a thousand points of light leaves a lot of darkness."

Dan Rather made quite a stretch in searching for an analogy about Colin Powell, announcing:
"General Colin Powell, a leader of the war to drive Saddam Hussein back into his box is now a leader in the effort to draw Americans out of their homes, especially to volunteer their help to children of the inner cities. Harry Smith went along as Colin Powell reviewed his troops."

4) Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's decision to back the Chemical Weapons Convention swung enough Republican votes to allow the treaty to pass last week over the opposition of many conservatives. Instead of exploring the arguments of those opposed, on Inside Washington NPR's Nina Totenberg hurled labels and insults. As caught by MRC news analyst Steve Kaminski, on the April 27 edition Totenberg declared:

"What happened here is that the hard right thought they could make this a big mail-kind-of-money-raising issue and they failed to do that, number one. And number two, the entire Republican presidential establishment lined up against them and they began to look like extremists and Trent Lott, in the end, decided not to do something that would have been damaging to the country."

No matter what baseless, bizarre exaggerations liberals activists and reporters make about illusionary spending cuts, it's reassuring to know that conservatives will always hold the exclusive rights to the "extremists" label

-- Brent Baker