MediaWatch: March 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 3

Repetitive Stress on CBS

If you think you hear the same phrases over and over again on CBS you aren't imagining it. Two trends:
First, since the GOP took control of Congress, Bob Schieffer has been shocked at the political divisions on Capitol Hill. Again and again he termed it the worst ever.

Before a congressional vote on Medicare reform, Schieffer complained on the October 18, 1995 CBS Evening News: "After months of some of the bitterest partisan fighting that anybody can remember around here, the House is set to vote tomorrow on the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare." During the coverage leading up to President Clinton's 1996 State of the Union address, Schieffer insisted that "this is the most divided Congress that we've had in many years around here...It's the most partisan session of Congress we've seen in a long time."

Expounding on the investigations surrounding Whitewater on the June 18, 1996 Evening News, Schieffer suggested that "this probe was something of a milestone: the first major congressional investigation, in recent memory, where Republicans and Democrats could agree on nothing, a sign of how partisan the whole thing has become."

This year, Schieffer commented on the January 12 Sunday Morningabout the battle over the Newt Gingrich ethics flap: "I have never seen the partisanship running as high as it was. We've had just a complete meltdown in the House."

Second, Schieffer may be stuck on divisiveness, but Dan Rather has a fetish about identifying Ken Starr as a "Republican." He has applied the term to the Whitewater Independent Counsel 27 times in the past two and a half years. It started right after Starr was named: "There is growing controversy tonight about whether the newly named Independent Counsel in the Whitewater case is independent or a Republican partisan allied with a get-Clinton movement," Rather asserted on August 9, 1994. He chimed in again on September 5, 1995: "A legal setback late today for Kenneth Starr, the Republican independent counsel in the Whitewater case." When Starr gained convictions on May 28, 1996, Rather didn't let up: "The Republican Whitewater special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, won a big one today. "

On February 21, Rather once again applied his favorite label: "The Republican special prosecutor in the Whitewater case announced a sudden change in plans this afternoon. Kenneth Starr reversed orbit. He cancelled plans to quit and take another job in California."