CyberAlert -- 07/19/1999 -- Chappaquiddick a Kennedy "Tragedy"; Rather Fooled & Broke Gun Vow

Chappaquiddick a Kennedy "Tragedy"; Rather Fooled & Broke Gun Vow

1) JFK Jr's death generated massive coverage over the weekend, allowing NBC to showcase liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Plus, Mike Barnicle rehabilitated as an expert by the networks and ABC and CBS listed Chappaquiddick as a Kennedy family "tragedy."

2) Even after a "Coast Guard Lieutenant" referred to Bababooey and Howard Stern, Dan Rather believed his report: "This just in, the Coast Guard Lieutenant says they have found debris." ABC also gullibly put on a Stern fan, but Peter Jennings realized it.

3) Previewing a series on guns, Dan Rather promised: "We're trying to be both accurate and fair, which is why there will be a different perspective each night." On Friday Rather broke his vow.

4) ABC's World News Tonight picked up on the controversy about PBS stations sharing fundraising lists with the DNC.

5) Katie Couric insisted Al Gore is "squeaky clean," Brian Williams tagged Gore and Bill Bradley as "centrists" while CNN labeled Senator Bob Smith an "arch-conservative."

>>> Hear Carl Cameron from Last Week and More Tonight. On Monday night, July 19, MRC Chairman L. Brent Bozell will again host the national Mike Reagan radio talk show. The guests planned before John Kennedy Jr's death: Laurence Jarvik on PBS fundraising, Congressman Dan Burton, National Review Editor Rich Lowry, Grover Norquist on the Reagan Legacy Project and the Parents Television Council's Mark Honig on the group's Top Ten Best & Worst TV Shows.
The Reagan show is distributed live from 6 to 10pm ET, 5 to 9pm CT, 4 to 8pm MT and 3 to 7pm PT, but many stations carry it on a delayed basis. To see a list of the cities, dial positions and times 180 stations carry the Mike Reagan Show, listed by state, go to: For a list of major stations, go to the July 15 CyberAlert:
To listen live during the above listed hours via either RealAudio or Windows Media Player, go to's site:
At this address you can also play back Bozell's show from last Thursday with Carl Cameron, Steve Allen, Paul Weyrich and Tony Snow. Just scroll down to the archive and click on July 15. To hear FNC's Carl Cameron's explanation for the lack of interest by his television colleagues in Chinagate, advance the play back to 2:15 into the four-hour show and listen through 2:32. On RealPlayer a counter in the bottom left will tell you where you are as you advance the play back bar at the top. <<<

Correction. Inside Politics did briefly mention Hillary's gaffe. The July 16 CyberAlert detailed a July 14 gaffe by Hillary Clinton and stated that only ABC's Good Morning America mentioned it. MRC analyst Paul Smith since alerted me that it also got a few seconds on the July 14 Inside Politics, but without video. CNN's Bernard Shaw announced: "Mrs. Clinton made a blunder while continuing her emphasis on gun control. She said to a woman whose son was wounded in a 1994 school shooting quote, 'You've really spent a lot of time in the years since your son's murder,' but then the woman cut Mrs. Clinton off and said quote, 'He wasn't murdered. My son is alive.' The only thing Mrs. Clinton could say was, 'Thank God.'"


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) The worst thing about the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.: Another excuse for NBC and MSNBC to feature the pedantic and always annoying liberal historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Four other less opinionated observations plucked from the massive all-day broadcast network coverage on Saturday, which also dominated the networks on Sunday:

-- Mike Barnicle is good enough for TV. The Boston Globe canned the columnist for making up facts in his columns, but that didn't deter several networks from using him as a "Kennedy family expert," though he was more of a Kennedy family defender. He was interviewed on Saturday on CNN and MSNBC, appeared as part of a panel on Sunday's Meet the Press and showed up again on CBS's 60 Minutes. (Since his departure from the Globe, Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News has picked him up as an occasional columnist.)

-- John F. Kennedy Jr. may have been more conservative than many Republicans, at least in not shying away from tax cuts. Several times ABC played back an excerpt of a 1995 interview with Barbara Walters in which she asked: "If you were President, what would you do?" He replied: "I think I would have to call my uncle Teddy and gloat for a moment. And then I would offer a big tax cut before the next election and hopefully in between try to do some good."

-- More coverage than anything in CyberAlert memory. The search for Kennedy's plane generated much greater and more intense television attention than any major recent event, including the Lewinsky scandal or the launch of either the 1991 Persian Gulf War or more recent Kosovo conflict.

Not only did the three broadcast networks go live all day Saturday with their prime anchors coming aboard at some point, which meant the bumping of ABC's major sports coverage to ESPN, NBC's WNBA to CNBC and the dropping of a golf tournament by CBS, but all the networks ran specials Saturday night in prime time with ABC going for two hours. The weeknight anchor stars all anchored their shows Saturday night, as happened the night of the House impeachment vote, but Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw were also back again Sunday night when the three networks also used previously scheduled news show slots (20/20, Dateline, 60 Minutes) for Kennedy death specials.

Coverage of all other news was suspended for the weekend with the near-totality of both Saturday and Sunday's ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News devoted to Kennedy. On Sunday ABC and CBS gave a few seconds to the perfect game played by the Yankees with ABC adding who won he British Open and on Saturday CBS aired a story about the heat wave, but that was it for non-Kennedy news.

MSNBC touched no other story all weekend, staying live all night on Saturday night. CNN stayed with it until past midnight on both Saturday and Sunday when the network switched to CNN International overnight which did handle other news.

-- Chappaquiddick listed among Kennedy family tragedies by ABC News and CBS News. At about 3:10pm ET on Saturday ABC showed a list on screen headed "Kennedy Family Tragedies," starting with "1944: Joseph Kennedy Jr. killed in WWII plane crash" followed by "1948: Kathleen Kennedy (28) killed in plane crash." After "1968: Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in LA" and before "1984: David Kennedy (35) dies of drug overdose," ABC listed this item: "1969: Ted Kennedy in car crash in Chappaquiddick in which Mary Jo Kopechne died."

I think that was a tragedy for the Kopechne family.

Earlier in the day CBS anchor Dan Rather justified CBS's non-stop coverage by citing the Kennedy "curse" and the family's tragedies, though he made an error as he recalled Chappaquiddick:
"I think it's this coming Sunday that would be 30 years since a car driven by John F. Kennedy's uncle, Senator Robert Kennedy of Massachusetts, plunged off a bridge and into the waters of Chappaquiddick, killing 28-year-old companion Mary Jo Kopechne and all that flowed out of that. It's just been one tragedy after another for the Kennedy family. Well you say every family has its tragedies. True enough. But this family, which is as close as America comes to having royalty...this family has had so much public tragedy."

Of course, that was Uncle Ted, not Uncle Robert.


rather0719.jpg (18008 bytes)cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) The journalistic establishment condemns Matt Drudge for not double sourcing everything before going with it, but Saturday afternoon, as happens during live coverage of every major incident, two networks gullibly showcased reports from a Howard Stern fan pretending to be a Coast Guard officer.

While ABC's Peter Jennings quickly realized his staff's stupidity in putting the obvious phoney on the air, Dan Rather remained clueless. Even after the caller made clear he was a phoney by saying "Bababooey's teeth" and Howard Stern were found "in the bay too," Rather repeated the caller's supposed news about found wreckage, excitedly restating what he thought was a big CBS scoop: "But now, this just in, the Coast Guard Lieutenant says they have found debris." Rather stressed: "This puts the late information in a whole new context, a whole new perspective."

At about 11:10am ET on Saturday Rather assured viewers:
"It is deep within the professional id of CBS News to check and double check. Before we say something is a fact we like to have two independent sources. We'll be clear with you as we go along what's fact and what's in the way of speculation."

Almost exactly two hours later, at about 1:15pm ET, Rather announced: "We now have Lieutenant Ed Gaynor of the United States Coast Guard, that they've now found some debris. Lieutenant, what can you tell us about this debris?" [yes, verb missing but that's what he said.]
By phone "Gaynor" reported: "Some debris has been spotted and it is consistent with debris from a Saratoga, whether it's John F. Kennedy's Saratoga we don't know. We also found Bababooey's teeth were laying all in the bay too. And Howard Stern and Bababooey were all there." [Bababooey is a reference to the producer of Stern's radio show.]
Rather, unfazed by how the caller had made abundantly clear he was phoney, plowed ahead with his big scoop: "Excuse me, when you said you have determined this debris is from a Piper Saratoga. [pause as Gaynor is barely heard as producer probably tunes him down] Well, I'm not sure that we heard correctly there Lieutenant Gaynor of the Coast Guard telling us, this is breaking information, I remind you again this is live television, we take in raw information, we do the best we can to be rock solid in stating fact. But now earlier there was a report of debris spotted, then there was a report from the FAA, Bob Orr said, well the FAA in effect steered us away from making any conclusions that the debris might or might not have anything to do with John Kennedy's plane. But now, this just in, the Coast Guard Lieutenant says they have found debris. That debris, I believe that he said, we've lost him for the moment now, is consistent with a Piper Saratoga but that they couldn't determine whether it was John F. Kennedy Junior's Piper Saratoga aircraft. But this puts the late information in a whole new context, a whole new perspective."

Only after endorsing the caller's information three times did Rather, maybe at the prompting of an amazed producer screaming in his ear, suggest that his big scoop was not so reliable: "I want to emphasize to you that this is raw information. Sometimes people call in and say things that aren't true, sometimes you know cranks, that sort of thing happens. So let's be very, very careful here with this information. One thought comes to mind. Was this actually the Coast Guard Lieutenant that we thought we were talking to? He jumped off that phone very pronto. Let's go to Bob Orr in Washington."

Poor Bob Orr, who had to be embarrassed by his network's star anchor, gently informed Rather what every viewer already realized:
"Dan, I've never understood why when you're in a crisis type story and when people are hungry for good reliable information, I've never understood why pranksters think it's funny to come on and just pass out erroneous information. I can tell you categorically Dan that last report was completely unfounded. I doubt that it was anybody from the Coast Guard..."

Memo to Orr: Maybe people think it's fun to do because network producers are too dumb, lazy or incompetent to be able to determine who someone really is before throwing them onto live national television. These callers are quite an indictment of network incompetence. What other baseless facts get on the air that aren't so obvious?

But Rather still couldn't quite let go, leaving open the possibility the caller relayed accurate info even as he properly conceded responsibility for airing the call:
"I want to nail this point down. We do not know whether any debris of any significance has been sighted anywhere. On the phone, and we can be faulted for this, we'll fault ourselves for it if there's fault to be assessed, a person we believed to be a Coast Guard Lieutenant said that debris had been found and it was consistent with a Saratoga Piper. We now have fairly strong reason to believe that that was, however it happened, and fault ours if it did happen this way, that some person, who for whatever demented reason, would think that it was get through with a crank call like that [accurate transcript of this sentence as he said it]. But nonetheless, with live television, and handling in effect hot-leaded information, sometimes it happens."

"Fairly strong reason to believe" that it was a "crank call"? How much more evidence would it take to convince Rather?

An hour and a half later, at about 2:53pm ET, the same guy called up ABC News. By that time some real debris had actually been located. Peter Jennings asked: "Can you add anything to our knowledge of your search at the moment. We've just listened to one of your Coast Guard spokesman say you've identified more debris from an aircraft that would have belonged to Mr. Kennedy."
The caller, identified on-screen as "Lt. Ed Gainer [same name, different spelling, as on CBS], U.S. Coast Guard," got right to his gag: "That's true. I'd like to know, do you know that Howard Stern thinks you're a dick?"
An angry Jennings fumed: "Ah, I see. Just cut this gentleman off, will you. There's always one like this. That happens in every crisis in America, someone representing the disc jockey Howard Stern manages to get through. It happens and it passes. So, just to review what we do know. We apologize to the Coast Guard that we've misrepresented someone as being a member of the Coast Guard, but that kind of call doesn't surprise us anymore."

If ABC News knows these phoney calls are going to come in why don't they stop putting them on the air? It would make Howard Stern a more responsible member of society if he condemned or at least stopped rewarding these callers by playing their phoney calls on his show, but that doesn't excuse the networks for putting the landing of a scoop ahead of basic source verification.

++ Listen and watch Rather's embarrassing episode. Late Monday morning MRC Webmaster Sean Henry will post a video clip, in RealPlayer format, of Rather's humorous reaction to the phoney caller, a truly classic moment in live television. Go to:


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Rather isn't any more "accurate and fair" than he is culturally hip to Howard Stern calls. Last week he promised viewers a balanced series on the role of guns in America, but Friday night's installment violated his pledge.

Last Tuesday, July 13, the CBS Evening News launched a five-part series called "Armed America." Rather outlined what it would deliver, saying that night CBS would air the "start of a five-part series on the role of guns in our country. They've been a fact of life in this land for better or for worse since before there was a United States. Each night we're going to give you a look at the impact of firearms from a different perspective. We know this is a very controversial subject. We're trying to be both accurate and fair, which is why there will be a different perspective each night. Tonight Richard Schlesinger begins with the epidemic of accidental shootings in 'Armed America.'"

That first piece looked at a three-year-old shot in the face by a 14-year-old. On Wednesday, Day Two, CBS aired a pro-gun perspective by focusing on a Colorado town with little crime where guns are used to protect sheep from predators. Day Three, Thursday, brought the second look at the downside of guns with a piece on gunshot victims inundating a Philadelphia emergency room.

Until this point, each piece was presented from a point of view without countervailing facts or soundbites. If CBS had stuck to that policy, Friday would have brought a pro-gun story and meant CBS showed two pieces each for each side before a wrap-up story for part five. But CBS couldn't restrain itself. Friday's piece began as a look at Susanna Gratia-Hupp, a woman at the Luby's mass shooting massacre in Killeen, Texas who became a state representative and advocate of concealed weapons, which she believed would have saved lives. But instead of adding to her case by citing John Lott's study about how violent crime rates fall after concealed weapons laws are passed in states, Rather countered her by giving almost equal time to a police chief opposed to allowing citizens to carry guns.

Given the Kennedy death part five may not run on Monday, but if it does this is how Rather plugged it: "Does or does not the Bill of Rights give every American the right to carry a gun, to bear arms? On Monday's CBS Evening News, a Reality Check on the Second Amendment."

Think that will be even-handed?

You can read rough transcripts of the "Armed America" pieces which have already aired at:


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) Friday night ABC picked up on the PBS mailing list sharing controversy. Nothing about it Friday on CBS, CNN or NBC before the Kennedy crash took over the news, though Fox News Sunday did squeeze in a discussion about it during the end of show roundtable.

Reporter Bob Woodruff began his July 16 World News Tonight piece by explaining how the issue came to light after a Massachusetts mother complained that a donation to Boston's WGBH in the name of her young son, Sam, prompted a fundraising letter to him from the DNC. Woodruff got to the big picture:
"For years PBS and its member stations have been arguing they are not the liberal broadcasters that conservatives have long charged. That effort was dealt a setback with the news that WGBH swapped Sam's name, and 32,000 others, with the Democrats over six years. A congressional committee had been considering increasing PBS's federal funding. Now that is in doubt."
Rep. WJ "Billy" Tauzin, Chairman, Telecommunications subcommittee: "This is clear evidence that everything the critics have been saying about some elements of public broadcasting being too doggone close to one of the major parties."

Nice of him to finally realize that.

Woodruff later added: "Other public television stations, including New York and Washington, now say they also shared lists, some with both Democrats and Republicans. PBS says the practice will now stop."

Actually, neither exchanged lists with the RNC.


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Al Gore is "squeaky clean," he and Bill Bradley are "centrists" while Senator Bob Smith is an "arch-conservative." That's what network viewers learned last week from NBC, MSNBC and CNN.

-- July 16 Today. Interviewing Republican presidential candidate Dan Quayle on Friday morning, MRC analyst Mark Drake caught this assertion in the form of a question from Katie Couric:
"When it comes to values though, I mean Al Gore is pretty squeaky clean, wouldn't you say?"

-- July 15 The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC. MRC intern Ken Shepherd noticed that anchor Brian Williams conceded that Tom Harkin and Ted Kennedy are liberal, but not this year's presidential candidates, Gore and Bradley. He told guest Paul Begala:
"Paul, do you miss the left these days? The center is where the action is. As one of our correspondents pointed out here last night, there is no true liberal to be found in this race. There's no Harkin, there's no Kennedy, there are just two centrists that, watch them very closely, will become more so."

-- July 12 The World Today on CNN. Announcing the impending departure from the GOP of Senator Bob Smith, anchor Jim Moret, MRC analyst Paul Smith observed, did not shy from applying an ideological label:
"Smith, an arch-conservative, confirms he has been talking to several third parties including the taxpayers party about the possibility of running on their national ticket."

If Gore and Bradley are "centrists" then Michael Forbes is an "arch-conservative." -- Brent Baker


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