CyberAlert -- 05/11/2000 -- Elian Afraid of Cuban Jail

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Elian Afraid of Cuban Jail; NBC's Tribute to Greg Craig; The Real Donna Dees-Thomases

1) CBS and FNC related how a social worker's report revealed Elian fears that jail awaits him in Cuba, but Peter Jennings called the report "very positive" and Tom Brokaw insisted: "Elian is happy."

2) ABC, CBS and NBC all ran full stories on Rudy Giuliani's separation. NBC's Andrea Mitchell worried: "If Giuliani drops out Mrs. Clinton could face an even tougher opponent" -- Gov. Pataki.

3) CBS campaigned for another entitlement program. Reporting Bill Clinton's latest plan to expand Medicare, CBS's John Roberts anticipated that for 15 million "seniors without prescription drug coverage, relief may finally be on the way."

4) Today's tribute to Greg Craig. NBC's Jamie Gangel relayed how "friends describe him as an idealist who wears his heart on his sleeve," asserted that "Craig's professionalism has also earned him the respect of his fiercest opponents," and gushed how "if you need the impossible, call Greg Craig."

5) The media portrayed Million Mom March organizer Donna Dees-Thomases as "a typical mom," Tom Brokaw claimed she's "a mother who'd never been politically active." FNC's Brit Hume noted her family tie to Hillary, but she's also a donor to her campaign and a former Capitol Hill staffer for Democratic Senators.


"Elian is happy and adjusting well," promised NBC's Tom Brokaw Wednesday night in relaying a federal social worker's report. Peter Jennings stressed how the assessment is "very positive," but CBS and FNC disclosed how the report revealed Elian fears that jail awaits him in Cuba.

Over new happy photos of Elian playing catch, carousing with his playmates and laughing with his father, ABC's Peter Jennings announced on the May 10 World News Tonight:
"Tomorrow's going to be a very important day for the extended family of Elian Gonzalez. A court is going to hear arguments about whether the boy should be granted asylum. Some new photographs of Elian were released today by the Reuters news agency. He seems to be enjoying his time with his family and his playmates from Cuba. A government report by a social worker who visited him was filed in federal court today. It was sealed but sources familiar with the case say its findings are very positive."

On the NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw showed the same pictures and noted the impending court hearing, before he reassured viewers: "According to a social worker's report filed with the court today, Elian is happy and adjusting well."

From Atlanta, FNC's Bret Baier provided a less glowing assessment of Elian's happiness, telling Special Report with Brit Hume viewers: "The Justice Department filed sealed papers with the 11th circuit. Sources tell Fox News the paperwork is a status report from a psychiatrist and a social worker who say Elian is doing well but has some fear of being jailed if he's returned to Cuba."

Even Dan Rather managed to pick up on what eluded ABC and NBC. As the CBS evening News showed the new photos, he intoned:
"New photographs of Elian and his father were released today. Sources tell CBS News that in court papers filed today, a government-hired psychiatrist says Elian fears he'll go to jail if he returns to Cuba."

Elian seems more aware of Cuban reality than much of the U.S. media.


Rudy Giuliani's announcement that he plans to separate from his wife, Donna Hanover, generated full stories Wednesday night on the broadcast networks.

ABC's Morton Dean concluded his World News Tonight piece by relaying how "late today members of the Mayor's inner circle were suggesting that he is reassessing his run for the U.S. Senate."

NBC's Andrea Mitchell worried on the NBC Nightly News: "But if Giuliani drops out Mrs. Clinton could face an even tougher opponent: New York's popular Governor John Pataki could change his mind and get into the race."

On the CBS Evening News Diana Olick observed: "Right from the start this race seemed to be all about her, not him. Here was a controversial carpet-bagging First Lady trying to become a U.S. Senator. But now the tables have turned. He's getting all the headlines and outshining the star candidate."


"America is the only country that is mean to their senior citizens where medicine is concerned," complained an ungrateful Rita Butler in a soundbite featured on Wednesday's CBS Evening News. But in reporting Bill Clinton's latest plan to offer another entitlement via Medicare, CBS's John Roberts proclaimed: "But for Rita and 15 million other seniors without prescription drug coverage, relief may finally be on the way."

The Roberts piece aired well into the May 10 CBS Evening News which led, as did NBC Nightly News, with the wildfires around Los Alamos, New Mexico. ABC's World News Tonight began with the unveiling of Clinton's new way to transfer tax money through the expansion of Medicare.

ABC's John Cochran noted how "Democrats have raised the stakes" in the debate as Clinton decided to back a Democratic House plan "that's more generous" than his previous proposal. Under this new plan, for $25 a month from senior citizens the "government would pay for half of their prescription costs up to $2,000 a year the first and even more later." Actually, taxpayers would pay, but Cochran didn't mention them. Instead, he focused on the popularity of new entitlement, highlighting how an ABC News poll found 64 percent of middle-aged people said prescription coverage is "very important" in their vote this fall. Cochran suggested that's because many have parents with big drug bills. Cochran noted how Republicans have "more modest proposals" and "are worried about losing control of the House this fall and seem eager for a compromise with Democrats."

The CBS Evening News delivered an advocacy piece which assumed there's no rational reason why the elderly shouldn't expect taxpayers to pick up more of their medical costs. As transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, Dan Rather set up the piece:
"President Clinton and congressional Democrats settled today on their version of a plan to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs. This is a major election year issue for one of the biggest voting blocks in the country. CBS News Chief White House correspondent John Roberts has the facts -- medical, financial, and political."

John Roberts didn't bother with facts, opening instead with a personal anecdote from a woman who thinks it's perfectly proper to force others to pay for her problems: "Rita Butler is just the sort of person a new study shows gets hit most often by the high cost of prescription drugs: Older women above the poverty level who pay more for drugs than any other group."
Butler whined: "America is the only country that is mean to their senior citizens where medicine is concerned."
Roberts saw hope ahead: "But for Rita and 15 million other seniors without prescription drug coverage, relief may finally be on the way."
Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony: "There is absolutely no reason that we should force seniors to make a choice between their health, their food, or their daily existence."
Roberts explained: "The Democratic bill, introduced in the Senate today, puts in motion the first attempt to add prescription benefits to Medicare. Republicans recently announced that they too would pursue a drug plan for seniors."

Roberts asked House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "Can senior citizens reasonably expect that by this time next year there will be a prescription drug plan under Medicare?"
Dick Gephardt, no I mean Dennis Hastert, promised: "I would certainly hope so. I hope by this time in November, coming there, that we have this. It's important."

At times like this it's hard to tell the difference between the two parties.

Roberts warned political fighting could ruin the chance to enact another government spending program: "But differences in how to approach drug coverage could derail the whole effort. Republicans charge the Democrat plan smacks of big government. Democrats counter that the Republican proposal is too vague and leaves out seniors who earn more than $15,000 a year -- people like Rita Butler who often makes the trade-off between filling her six prescriptions and filling her refrigerator."
Roberts empathized with Butler, asked her: "So it's pretty tough, is it?"
Butler: "It's not pretty tough. It's damn tough."
Roberts concluded: "Prescription drugs under Medicare will be one of the most talked about issues in the upcoming Campaign 2000. Whether senior citizens actually benefit from all that talk will depend on whether candidates are looking for real results or just an issue."


The day before the court hearing on Elian Gonzalez, Today decided to air a lengthy, glowingly positive, puff piece about lawyer Greg Craig, the hired gun working to get Elian back into Castro's arms.

NBC's Jamie Gangel called him "smart, politically connected and discreet," relayed how "friends describe him as an idealist who wears his heart on his sleeve," asserted that "Craig's professionalism has also earned him the respect of his fiercest opponents," gushed that "Craig has been everywhere and seems to have met everyone," admired how "Craig has also showed remarkable media savvy" by releasing happy photos of Elian hours after the raid, and advertised how "if you need the impossible, call Greg Craig." As if that weren't enough, she featured this from Ted Kennedy: "Greg Craig is a gifted, talented, eloquent, brilliant lawyer."

The whole package, Katie Couric's intro plus Gangel's taped piece, consumed ten seconds shy of 11 minutes, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens measured -- an eternity for a network morning show. Just after the 7:30am news update on the May 10 show, Couric announced:
"Tomorrow the case of Elian Gonzalez will be back in court with lawyers on both sides arguing over the future of the six-year old Cuban boy. Front and center once again will be attorney Gregory Craig, the man who reunited father and son. We saw Craig often as the Elian story unfolded so we asked our national correspondent Jamie Gangel to tell us a little more about him."

Now here's all of what Gangel reported with summaries and partial or sometimes full quotes from what Craig and others said in soundbites. Jamie Gangel began her tribute:
"Ask almost anyone in Washington who'd they call if they needed a lawyer who was smart, politically connected and discreet and you'd get one name: Greg Craig. Fifty-five years old, a partner in the powerful law firm of Williams and Connelly, Craig seems to attract clients who make headlines. He successfully defended John Hinckley for the assassination attempt on President Reagan. A longtime advisor to Ted Kennedy he was the Senator's counsel when his nephew William Kennedy Smith was tried on rape charges. When President Clinton was facing impeachment he called in Craig, a former Yale law school classmate, to quarterback the defense team. And now the case of Elian Gonzalez."
Gangel to Craig: "If 35 years ago someone had told you the kinds of cases and clients you would have you would have said?"
Craig: I'd love that life.
Gangel: "What do you like best about being a lawyer?"
Craig: Cases have beginning and an end and you know how you did.
Gangel: "You like the contest and you usually win."
Craig: "Lost some too."
Gangel: "But not many. Craig is also known for his passion. Friends describe him as an idealist who wears his heart on his sleeve. In the sixties he went to Mississippi to register black voters. At Harvard he stood with Dr. Martin Luther King as a student leader in the anti-war movement. The son of Yankee Republicans he nevertheless became a devout Democrat. And admits his favorite job was foreign policy advisor to Senator Kennedy. Kennedy returns the compliment."
Sen. Edward Kennedy: "Greg Craig is a gifted, talented, eloquent, brilliant lawyer...."
Gangel: "A look at his office says it all."
Craig: looked at picture of himself with LBJ.
Gangel: "You were very young. Craig has been everywhere and seems to have met everyone. From the Pope to the Dalai Lama to Nelson Mandela. When you finally met him what was it like?"
Craig soundbite
Gangel: "And the case of little Elian is not his first time dealing with Fidel Castro. In a very different case in 1986 Craig negotiated the release of Colonel Ricardo Montero Duque, the last officer being held in prison from the Bay of Pigs invasion. You have had some controversial cases and clients and I imagine some of your friends and your family have not always liked it or understood."
Craig: Hinkley most troublesome for wife to accept.
Gangel: "Craig himself had some doubts when President Clinton asked for his help in the impeachment trial."
Craig: Clinton did wrong, but not impeachable.
Gangel: "In fact, Clinton and Craig have genuine affection for each other. These are never before released photos of the President thanking Craig for his help. Craig's professionalism has also earned him the respect of his fiercest opponents."
Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson: After a heated trial you "know you can say job well done...."
Gangel: "Which is why when the National Council of Churches wanted to help Juan Miguel Gonzalez get his son back, Senator Patrick Leahy gave them one name. Greg Craig."
Sen. Patrick Leahy soundbite
Gangel admired how easily he managed to manipulate the media: "And in the Elian case Craig is credited with an amazing political balancing act. Working the Justice Department, working the legal system, even working Fidel Castro. Craig has also showed remarkable media savvy when within hours of these photos appearing [raid pictures including gun pointed at Elian] he released these photos [snapshots of Elian and father]. How is Elian doing?"
Craig: "I think very well. He is inseparable from his father..."
Gangel: "How did you feel about the raid?"
Craig: "Sad that it had to happen," but relatives could have avoided it.
Gangel: "That said, how did you react when you saw the photo?" [gun/Elian]
Craig: "...terrifying moment..."
Gangel: "After the court's ruling, assuming the decision goes in Juan Miguel's favor, will they immediately leave for Cuba?"
Craig: "I don't know the answer to that..." Up to the father.
Gangel: "Craig admits he's also taken this case personally. He and his wife Dari have five children, including a six year old son."
Craig: "I was very sympathetic to the father's plight..."
Gangel: "If Elian said to you, 'Mr. Craig I want to stay in the United States?'"
Craig: "Well I'd take it up with Juan Miguel. Juan Miguel is the father..." I don't let my six-year-old choose his church or school.

Gangel then finally broached what critics say, but she hardly pressed him and did not pursue who is really paying for him and their real agenda: "Your critics in the Cuban-American community in Miami say that you are an instrument of Castro."
Craig: "That's not the way I see it...He's not my client."
Gangel: "The other thing your critics say is that because you are close to the President, because you worked at the State Department as head of policy planning, that you were calling the shots in all of this."
Craig: "I wish. I was not calling the shots..." Never talked to Clinton about it.
Gangel: "There hasn't been some back channel conspiracy?"
Craig: "No. I wish...."
Gangel: "Ultimately, what would you like to see happen in this case?"
Craig: "Well, I would like to see the boy in the arms of his father and his father free and unpressured to make a decision about where he's going to live and where he's going to raise his son. And we're close to that, I think."
Gangel: "All of which, in this town earns you the reputation of Washington Super Lawyer. If you need the impossible, call Greg Craig. Perhaps President Clinton summed it up best in this spoof at the White House Correspondents' dinner."
Bill Clinton: pointed out joke photo of himself on Mount Rushmore, with caption: "photo courtesy of Greg Craig."
Gangel: "In the nation's capital it doesn't get much better than that. Which embarrasses Craig to no end. I'm going to read you some words being used to describe you these days. You are a Washington super lawyer, you are the big gun, you are a power broker and you're a mover and shaker in this town."
Craig: "That's all rubbish. I'm just another lawyer in Washington, DC that's had some lucky cases. If this is what a power broker is, it ain't all it's cracked up to be. It's great to have some cases people care about, that doesn't turn me into a anything more than I am which is a hard working lawyer that loves the combat."

End of lovefest.

And who has the media on his side. Thursday on Today: An equally promotional profile of a lawyer for the Miami relatives, admiring his quest for justice. Yeah, right. That would require interest in balance and fairness at NBC. Thursday's show has already been set aside for Hillary's "town meeting."


Donna Dees-Thomases, the organizer of Sunday's so-called Million Mom March, is far from the apolitical housewife portrayed by the media, FNC's Brit Hume revealed Wednesday night. But she's actually even more connected to liberal and partisan politics than Hume disclosed.

On the May 10 Special Report with Brit Hume the anchor of the same name told FNC viewers:
"Donna Dees-Thomases, the New Jersey woman who's leading the so-called Million Mom March on Washington to promote gun control, has been characterized in nearly all media accounts as a housewife and mother who was moved to act by TV footage of a shooting at a day camp. It turns out, however, that she's also a professional public relations specialist who most recently worked for Dan Rather at CBS News. And she's the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases, Hillary's Clinton's long-time close friend and political adviser."

She's also a former Capitol Hill staff member for two Democratic Senators and a contributor to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. But more on that later in this item. First, a rundown of some misleading network descriptions from over the past couple of months.

Many of the mothers participating in the protests on Sunday probably are apolitical people who see guns as a threat to their kids, but that does not excuse the networks for their duplicity in relaying misleading and/or incomplete descriptions of Dees-Thomases as some kind of average suburban Mom without a liberal political agenda. Diana Sawyer happily relayed one morning how "Donna Dees-Thomases says that she'd never really organized anything larger than a car pool before." ABC's Elizabeth Vargas called her "a typical mom you might say, who has made it her mission to stop the bloodshed." NBC's Tom Brokaw uttered an outright falsehood, tagging her "a mother who'd never been politically active."

-- CBS Evening News, May 7. John Roberts offered this identification, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brian Boyd: "Donna Dees-Thomases is a mother of two and former CBS News publicist. For her the Granada Hills shootings, part of a wave of school violence that included the massacre at Columbine High, finally made her sit up and take notice."
Donna Dees-Thomases: "I think we as mothers fear for our children and their futures. We are at a crossroads right now, if we don't do something now, in 25 years am I going to have to send my grandchildren to nursery school in flap jackets."
Roberts: "Donna Dees-Thomases did something. She created the Million Mom March next Sunday, Mother's Day, in the nation's capital."

-- ABC's Good Morning America, April 14. As transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson, Diane Sawyer introduced an interview segment without mentioning Dees-Thomases's political activism: "Well, one month from today, tens from thousands of women are expected to converge on the nation's capital, showing support for what they call common sense gun legislation. It's being called the Million Mom March, and even though the number may not quite reach a million, it's still pretty impressive so far, especially, as we said, when you consider that the organizer, Donna Dees-Thomases, says that she'd never really organized anything larger than a car pool before that. We first met her last month, and she is back now to bring us up to date, along with two of the regional coordinators, moms as well."

Sawyer set her up for her story of how the day care shooting motivated her: "Want to remind people, Donna, what it was that galvanized you to start this." Sawyer did broach the liberal political agenda advocated, but Dees-Thomases dismissed the premise: "What about some of the things that you've talked about -- licensing handgun owners, registering handguns, safety locks on guns. Are you partisan? Is this a Democratic agenda in some ways because, as we know, there is a divide?"

-- ABC's Good Morning America, March 23. In the first GMA appearance by Dees-Thomases, recalled by Sawyer above, Elizabeth Vargas set her up: "On the heels of yet another shooting rampage at a Texas church last night, we have a mom with us this morning, a typical mom you might say, who has made it her mission to stop the bloodshed. You remember the Million Man March? Well, this woman is the organizer of the Million Mom March against gun violence, and it is scheduled for Mother's Day May 14th. Joining us now is Donna Dees-Thomases. Donna, good morning. Good to have you here. You actually got the idea for this march, you say, by watching the television coverage of a shooting at a Los Angeles daycare center. Tell me about that."

Two of the questions posed by Vargas:
"You have actually taken great pains with this march not to politicize it. I understand you've been telling some candidates for different offices, perhaps even Hillary Clinton, that we'd like your support but from the sidelines, thank you, we don't wanna politicize this."
"One last question. You say you got the idea of doing this on Mother's Day because of a story you heard once about mothers uniting during the Civil War. Tell me about that."

For more on this interview, go to:

-- NBC Nightly News, March 30. In his top of the show tease Tom Brokaw stated an outright falsehood: "And Women to Watch, tonight a mother who'd never been politically active until she saw this [video of LA kids crossing street after Grenada Hills Jewish day care center shooting]."

Lisa Myers claimed: "Donna Dees-Thomases, a suburban mom. Too busy with her two daughters and a part-time job to pay much attention to politics. Describes herself as apathetic until one day last August. Thousands of miles away from her home in New Jersey, this scene on national television: The aftermath of a gunman's attack on a Jewish center in Los Angeles."
Myers explained, as transcribed by MRC analyst Ken Shepherd: "Within days, this 42-year-old successful television publicist drew up a plan for a mother's march on Washington demanding tougher gun safety laws. She first asked well-connected friends in Washington to organize the march. They said no, too hard to pull off."
Donna Dees-Thomases: "No one ever turns out for rallies about gun control."
Myers: "That's what you were told?"
Donna Dees-Thomases: "That's what I was told."
Myers: "Undaunted, she decided to set up the march herself."
Myers: "What's the biggest thing you've ever organized before?"
Dees-Thomases: "Um, a car pool."

Myers went on to describe her organizing efforts, before concluding: "Now this suburban mom says her mission won't end with the march. Not until the mothers of America face down the gun lobby and win."

So who is this "typical suburban mom" who'd "never been politically active"? She's a former staffer for two Democratic U.S. Senators and last year she contributed to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.

The December 1987 MediaWatch reported that in October Donna Dees, the Assistant Press Secretary to retired Senator Russell Long (D-LA), was named to the post of Manager of Communications for CBS News in New York where she was to oversee "Campaign '88" press. Before jumping to Long's office in 1980 she held the same position with Louisiana Democratic Senator Bennett Johnston.

A check of the donor database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, the MRC's Tim Graham learned, uncovered two donations from a "Thomases, Donna" of Short Hills, New Jersey, the same town media reports list as the residence for Donna Dees-Thomases. Both identified Thomases's employer as "CBS." The two items listed:
-- 10/14/1999, $250 to "Clinton, Hillary Rodham."
-- 08/09/1999, $1,000 "Clinton, Hillary Rodham."

To replicate our search, go to, click on "Donor Lookup," enter "Thomases" as the contributor and "Clinton" as the candidate.

+++ See what Dees-Thomases looks like. Thursday morning MRC acting Webmaster Eric Pairel will post a still shot of her from GMA. Go to the posted version on this CyberAlert item on the MRC home page.

A reminder. Promo run at the end of Wednesday's World News Tonight: "Good Morning America's making history again, returning to the White House, looking for ways to protect kids from guns. Last year we took teenagers, now the moms speak out. Friday."

Count on all of Friday's morning shows to promote the Dees-Thomases's "Million Mom March." As The Early Show's Executive Producer, Steve Friedman, told Tuesday's USA Today: "This is an issue that everyone is concerned about. I think it ranks right up there with MADD. -- Brent Baker

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