Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center (MRC), the publisher of NewsBusters. He’s been the central figure in the MRC’s News Analysis Division since the MRC’s 1987 founding and in 2005 spearheaded the launch of NewsBusters.
Baker oversees the selection of the award nominees and “winners” for the MRC’s “DisHonors Awards,” presented at an annual gala, and each week he helps the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard select a “Mainstream Media Scream.” Those picks are added, on a one week delay, to NewsBusters. (Archive for 2012-2014 on MRC.org)
An avid fan of the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team, in January of 2009 the Washington Post's "DC Sports Bog" took note of Baker's attendance at a Caps game with John Kerry: "The Caps, John Kerry and a Scourge."
Baker lived in Massachusetts through high school, whereupon he fled the liberal commonwealth for George Washington University in DC and, since graduation, a life in Northern Virginia. Full bio on MRC.org.
“Professor George Stephanopoulos,” on Wednesday's Nightline, awarded the Democrats “straight A's” for the third day of their convention, with an A for “Filling in the Blanks,” an A for “Heartstrings,” an A for “Red Meat” and an A for “Body Language.” The former Bill Clinton campaign operative and White House aide glowed over “a night of perfect political choreography” from his former boss and other Democrats as he marveled “the only problem Barack Obama has right now, and it's a high-class problem, as Bill Clinton used to say, is can he top what happened tonight?” Anchor Terry Moran echoed: “An extraordinary series of speeches.”
Nightline has used Stephanopoulos all week to assign grades. Not counting his F on Monday night for the "garish stage," of eleven grades over three nights Stephanopoulos has presented eight A's, two grades of B+ and one C.
Hailing 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's Wednesday night address to the Democratic convention “the toughest speech” by “perhaps the most forceful speaker so far,” one in which Kerry denounced the “Swiftboating” of Barack Obama, NBC anchor Brian Williams channeled the liberal view, which he described merely as that of “people watching tonight,” that Kerry lost in 2004 because he didn't take on the presumed unfair “Swiftboating” attacks against him four years ago. The first question from Williams to Kerry during NBC's 10 PM EDT prime time hour of coverage:
I don’t need to tell you, people watching tonight were, you can answer this before I do, saying, “Sure, now, he took on 'Swiftboating’ in his speech tonight, but not when he ran for President.”
Kerry vociferously rejected the premise, then agreed with it, before he rejected it again as he credited newspapers with writing “the truth” about how he was smeared:
But we did actually. That’s not true. We took it on. The problem we made was a miscalculation about the truth being out there. We thought enough had been done. And the mistake we made was not spending enough money to answer the lies. We should have done that. I accept responsibility for that. But believe me, we answered it. Countless newspapers wrote the truth.
CBS reporter Dean Reynolds on Wednesday night described the attacks on the other candidate by Barack Obama and John McCain, but only felt McCain's required a correction. After conveying how Obama is painting McCain as “out of touch and asleep at the switch are two...Obama favorites,” Reynolds cited a new McCain “ad attacking what it said was Obama's position on Iran.” Viewers saw a clip of the ad: “Iran. Radical Islamic government, known sponsors of terrorism. Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, 'doesn't pose a serious threat.' Obama, dangerously unprepared to be President.” Reynolds pounced:
But the ad is a stretch because this is what Obama really said last May in Pendleton, Oregon, on the need for diplomacy.
CBS then played a clip of Obama on May 18, part of the statement the McCain campaign cited to support its ad: “Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. I mean, think about it, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us.”
Most prevalent theme during Tuesday night's coverage of the Democratic National Convention, after speculation over healing the Clinton-Obama feud: TV journalists worrying about how the Democrats are not adequately aggressive in their attacks against John McCain as reporters, especially on CBS, repeatedly pressed for more “red meat” and wondered if the speakers are being “hard enough” or “tough enough” on McCain?
CBS's Bob Schieffer rued to keynoter Mark Warner that “normally keynote speeches” deliver “a lot of red meat,” but “I didn't hear a lot of that.” Over on NBC, Brian Williams pushed Warner: “You know there's some in the party who feel that this gathering isn't tough enough against a John McCain who, after all, hasn't let up for a day against this party.” Back to CBS, Jeff Greenfield asserted Barack Obama needs Hillary Clinton “to wake up this hall after a speech that was not only not red meat by former Governor Warner, but more like tofu with sprouts.” Couric even asked Michael Dukakis “if he thought the Democrats were hitting John McCain hard enough?” Clinton's speech left Couric unfulfilled: “We expected a lot of red meat from Senator Clinton tonight...Are you surprised she didn't sort of attack him more vociferously?”
Previewing Ed Rendell early in the evening, CNN's Wolf Blitzer wondered: “Let's see if he has some red meat.” On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was “amazed why they don’t have more fun with the man who calls himself Dick Cheney,” as he lamented: “It seems like they’re pulling their punches.” Analyst Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post yearned:
I am waiting for someone to take the podium and say the word “torture.” I'm waiting for someone to take the podium, say the word “Iraq.” I'm waiting for someone to take, to take the podium and talk about domestic surveillance...
Paying tribute to Hillary Clinton hours before her address to the Democratic National Convention, on Tuesday night CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric delivered a nearly five-minute-long review of Senator Clinton's campaign and why it came up short, though Couric ended on a laudatory note: “She did leave her mark in the history books.” Following a soundbite from former Clinton campaign operative Geoffrey Garin touting how “for the next woman who runs for President, they don't have to wonder what the model looks like. The model looks like Hillary Clinton,” Couric trumpeted: “And the party platform, where for the first time, the issue of sexism in America is raised.”
Over on the NBC Nightly News, sitting with NBC political director Chuck Todd inside the Pepsi Center to preview the upcoming speech, anchor Brian Williams rued:
And I assume she's going to talk about that glass ceiling, i.e., a woman President of these United States, which begs the question as we listen to her tonight, if not her, who and when?
After Michelle Obama's Monday night speech at the Democratic National Convention, ABC and NBC mentioned her “for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm proud of my country” previous slap at the United States, but in the context of how she resolved any doubts. ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared:
“Tonight, there was no doubt. The money line in this speech was that line when she said, 'that is why I love this country,' and she lingered.” Noting how “we heard the word 'America' or 'American' or 'Americans' 12 times,” NBC's Chuck Todd decided “this is definitely a response in some ways to that whole kerfuffle that she created for herself, six or eight months ago, about being proud to be an American.”
CBS didn't touch on the topic during its prime time hour, though during an interview with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Katie Couric described Mrs. Obama not as controversial, but as “slightly controversial.” In a taped session later with Craig Robinson, Michelle's older brother, Couric wondered: “What one word would you like viewers all across the country to use to describe your sister?” When he suggested “sincere,” Couric agreed: “That's a good word.”
On the ideological labeling front, Ted Kennedy's appearance the hour before, highlights of which led all three broadcast networks at 10 PM EDT, failed to prompt a single liberal label on ABC or CBS, but NBC applied the tag three times, two of those to describe Kennedy as a “liberal lion.” (CNN and MSNBC provided scattered liberal labeling.)
One reason Barack Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate is that Obama's advisers “think the press loves Biden and so the press will sort of go easy on him on the past gaffes and when he's contradicted Obama,” CNN's Jessica Yellin revealed minutes before midnight Friday night, just an hour ahead of CNN and other media outlets reporting Joe Biden was, indeed, Barack Obama's pick.
Hailing Barack Obama's attacks on John McCain's foreign policy as “profound” with “the fire I've been waiting for,” during live MSNBC coverage Saturday afternoon of Obama introducing running mate Joe Biden, Chris Matthews was pleased “he finally took on John McCain on the issue of our time, which is Russia” as “he used the word bluster twice.” Matthews then smeared John McCain and conservatives as warmongers: “There are a lot of neo-conservatives out there that just love the old black and white Manichaean cold war feeling again. They'd like to get rid of color television, in fact. Let's go back to the '50s and let's fight with the Russians again.” That earned approving laughter from co-anchor Keith Olbermann who later cited Biden's call “to restore America's soul” and wondered: “Does it bring it up to this kind of Lincolnian greater than the sum of the parts public good mission almost?”
Matthews explained to his viewers that Obama “referred to it as bluster because if you read the really smart columnists,” and those would be “people like David Ignatius and Tom Friedman” who are “in the middle politically,” Obama was just “calling it what it is, bluster. It's just words, just sword-rattling, and he called it today. I thought that was profound.”
At about 3:42 PM EDT, just after Biden finished speaking, Matthews oozed over Obama's address with “dignity and indignation,” comparing him to actors Denzel Washington and Spencer Tracy. Really:
When I was watching Barack, I said there's the fire I've been waiting for. Maybe it was the camera angle, but I was looking up, if you look at some of the stronger performances, and they're almost always strong by the actor Denzel Washington, when he's really sticking it to the bad guys at the end of the movies, when he's really making his sort of Spencer Tracy moment, there's something about the face, there's something about that statement of strength and even anger where you really make your point with dignity and indignation, and I thought he was doing it today for the first time as a candidate: Barack Obama taking the fight to the bluster of the opponent.
MSNBC went live shortly before 1 AM EDT, with David Shuster anchoring, to announce that Senator Joe Biden is Barack Obama's pick for Vice President, and Shuster was joined via phone over the next hour by NBC News political director Chuck Todd, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Howard Fineman of Newsweek. One word I didn't hear in that hour or the next as MSNBC remained live until 3 AM (CNN and FNC went to re-runs at 2 AM): liberal.
NBC's Brian Williams and Andrea Mitchell on Friday night used their presumption, that Senator Joe Biden is Barack Obama's VP choice, to showcase, for a second straight night, the Obama campaign's attack on John McCain over his inability to say how many homes he owns. In setting up the lead Nightly News story on VP speculation, Williams highlighted how “the Obama camp is telling the McCain campaign people who live in that many houses shouldn't throw stones.”
After asserting that “it is looking more and more like Senator Joe Biden is the choice,” reporter Andrea Mitchell contended “Biden, with blue collar roots, could help reinforce Obama's latest message” conveyed in an Obama TV ad: “Call it country club economics. How many houses does he own?”
Following her story, Williams returned to what interested him the most: “Back to the McCain campaign and this issue they're fighting which you predicted yesterday would go down as one of those moments in a campaign. Does this live on and on and on, do you think?” Mitchell maintained it's now an “emblematic” issue which arrived “just when” Obama “needed it.” So, what a coincidence the media have pounced to assist Obama. Mitchell answered:
I think it does, it becomes emblematic and it gives Obama an opening just when he needed it. He was having trouble identifying himself, defining himself. The McCain people were having a couple of good weeks. This has definitely been a setback.
Four years ago when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry made his “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” remark, the CBS Evening News instead ran a soundbite of Kerry promising “we're going to build an army of truth-tellers” as it took the newscast six months (!) to finally air the vote for/voted against clip and the NBC Nightly News didn't play it for nine days. Yet on Thursday night, both newscasts led with what NBC's Lee Cowan declared is “John McCain's personal housing crisis.”
ABC, which in 2004 aired Kerry's comment a day later when Dick Cheney raised it, didn't lead Thursday with McCain's failure Wednesday to say how many homes he and his wife own, but devoted a full story-plus to it with Jake Tapper deciding “it could be a seminal moment” in the campaign before George Stephanopoulos relayed how the Obama camp thinks “this is one of those metaphorical moments.” He recalled 1992, “when it seemed like President Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was.”
Fill-in CBS anchor Maggie Rodriguez led: “John McCain couldn't answer a question most Americans would find simple, how many homes do you own?” NBC's Brian Williams, back in Manhattan from Beijing, opened with how though “reporters are busy chasing down all available clues” on Obama's VP pick:
This was not the biggest political story of the day. That came from John McCain in response to a question about how many houses he owns. He didn't answer. The actual answer is a sizable number.
Kate Albright-Hanna, who runs the Obama campaign's online video operations, got the job after she pitched the campaign “a proposal on video strategy” -- while she was still a CNN producer. A Wednesday Washington Post “Style” section feature on the key members of the “Triple O: Obama's online operation,” recounted the how and when of her pitch to Joe Rospars, a Howard Dean campaign veteran in charge of the so-called Triple O:
An Emmy winner, she joined CNN's political unit in 1999 and met Rospars while filming a documentary on Dean. When she heard that Rospars was working for Obama, Albright-Hanna called and said she wanted to produce a doc on Obama. The campaign planned to develop its own video content, Rospars said. Intrigued, Albright-Hanna sent him a proposal on video strategy. Weeks later, she left CNN and moved with her husband and 3-year-old son to Chicago.
The key phrase: “weeks later, she left CNN...” So while working at CNN she was simultaneously developing a plan for Obama which, given their decision to hire her, they liked and she's implementing.
Before CNN, she was an intern in the Clinton White House and, in a Dateline NBC story days after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, she was featured by reporter Dawn Fratangelo as one of a group of former interns who “simply don't find it plausible the President of the United States could have an affair with an intern.” In a soundbite (see slightly snowy screen shot from the MRC's archive), Albright-Hanna asserted: “I can't imagine how that would happen.”
CBS News reporter Dean Reynolds, who on Tuesday night centered a story on how “Obama is pivoting toward a more combative style, rebuking the Republicans for habitually turning differences over policy into questions about patriotism, a habit he said John McCain has readily embraced,” on Wednesday night countered John McCain's assurance he is “not questioning” Barack Obama's “patriotism, I am questioning his judgment.” After playing that soundbite from McCain in story pegged to how a new CBS News poll found McCain has cut Obama's lead in half since two weeks ago, Reynolds retorted:
Yet the McCain campaign continues to run ads attacking Obama on a personal level, belittling him as a shallow celebrity and describing him as fussy, hysterical, or testy. And while Obama's been fighting back lately, our poll found a majority believes McCain spends more time attacking Obama [52%] than explaining what he would do as President [38%].
Reynolds then concluded by acknowledging that “with the race getting closer, there's a sense that whatever voters may think about it” -- and, though he didn't say it, journalists -- “McCain's strategy may be helping him catch up.”
The Tuesday, July 29 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, during which the “Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident” was produced, but then edited out from what aired for time -- yet accidentally posted with video for a day or so leading to charges, after the text and video were removed from the Late Show site, that CBS spiked the list -- will re-run tonight (Wednesday).
So tune in to see if the list is restored to the show (doubtful), or the show airs again as it did the first time (most likely). Letterman read the list for the studio audience immediately after the second ad break and just before guest Kevin Costner. As originally aired, the show went straight from the ad break to Letterman introducing Costner.
My August 6 NewsBusters item. “Non-Scandal: CBS/Late Show Did Not Spike Anti-Obama 'Top Ten,'” explained the allegations and the reality. I since updated that post with an image of the list as published in the August 11 e-mailed Late Show Newsletter: “From the Home Office in Wahoo, Nebraska...An Exclusive Un-Aired Top Ten List Edited from the 7/29/08 Broadcast: 'Top Ten Signs Barack Obama Is Overconfident.'” Image here is of the list in last week's newsletter. Go below the break to see a larger version.
Delivering the ultimate liberal insult, in an online commentary posted Tuesday morning on CNNPolitics.com, CNN's Jack Cafferty charged that John McCain is as incompetent and incapable as President George W. Bush. “It occurs to me that John McCain is as intellectually shallow as our current President,” Cafferty felt compelled to share. “Bush goes bumbling along, grinning and spewing moronic one-liners, as though nobody understands what a colossal failure he has been,” Cafferty fretted before concluding: “I fear to the depth of my being that John McCain is just like him.”
What set off Cafferty? McCain's “shallow, simplistic and trite” answers during Saturday's Saddleback forum in which “he showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has -- virtually none.” The contributor of “The Cafferty File” segments on The Situation Room complained in his posting: “Throughout the evening, McCain chose to recite portions of his stump speech as answers to the questions he was being asked. Why? He has lived 71 years. Surely he has some thoughts on what it all means that go beyond canned answers culled from the same speech he delivers every day.”
CBS and NBC led Tuesday night with speculation over the VP picks, but moved quickly, without citing any proof of John McCain's supposed scurrilous attack on Barack Obama's patriotism, to Obama condemning McCain for questioning his patriotism.
“Patriot games,” CBS Evening News anchor Harry Smith teased, “Barack Obama fights back.” Viewers then heard a clip of Obama before the VFW: “I will let no one question my love of this country.” Reporter Dean Reynolds described how “Obama is pivoting toward a more combative style, rebuking the Republicans for habitually turning differences over policy into questions about patriotism, a habit he said John McCain has readily embraced.” CBS ran two Obama soundbites, yet on Monday, when McCain addressed the VFW, CBS didn't show a second of him. Reynolds soon asserted that McCain and Republicans “had the stage to themselves last week while Obama vacationed.” Certainly not on the CBS Evening News which spent the week puffing Obama.
On the NBC Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell touted how “Obama strongly defended his patriotism today to veterans, the same group that heard John McCain attack him yesterday,” and relayed how Obama's “hearing a lot of messages from all across the country that he has not been tough enough. He has to go after John McCain, he's got to be more aggressive.”
“Over the last 10 years,” the just-released biennial news consumption survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press determined, “virtually every news organization or program has seen its credibility marks decline” and “Democrats continue to give most news organizations much higher credibility ratings than do Republicans.”
Based on past Pew polls, CNN touts itself as “the most trusted name in news,” but the percent who “believe all or most” of what CNN reports has fallen 12 points, to 30 percent, since Pew first posed the question in 1998. Yet, in a sign of how far the news media have fallen in the eyes of the public, that puts CNN at the top of the 12 television news outlets analyzed, as well as above all the newspapers and online sources. Believability for ABC News, CBS News and NBC News is down six points over the past ten years, to 24 percent for ABC and NBC, 22 percent for CBS, but that's still better than the mere 18 percent who “believe all or most” of what they read in the New York Times.
The extensive polling conducted in May also discovered that the audiences for CNN and MSNBC, “which were heavily Democratic two years ago, have become even more so: fully 51 percent of CNN's regular viewers are Democrats while only 18 percent are Republicans. MSNBC's audience makeup is similar -- 45 percent of regular viewers of MSNBC are Democrats, 18 percent are Republicans” and “the regular audience for nightly network news also is now about two-to-one Democratic (45 percent vs. 22 percent Republican).”
With this year's vice presidential picks expected any day now, time to go into the MRC archive for a look back to 2000 when Dan Rather's left-wing tilt still got air time on a major network.
When George W. Bush named Dick Cheney, Rather introduced the Tuesday, July 25, 2000 CBS Evening News story by relaying the derisive and negative Democratic spin against the GOP ticket:
In the presidential campaign, the official announcement and first photo-op today of Republican George Bush and his running mate Richard Cheney. Democrats were quick to portray the ticket as quote 'two Texas oilmen' because Cheney was chief of a big Dallas-based oil supply conglomerate. They also blast Cheney's voting record in Congress as again quote, 'outside the American mainstream' because of Cheney's votes against the Equal Rights for Women Amendment, against a woman's right to choose abortion -- against abortion as Cheney prefers to put it -- and Cheney's votes against gun control. Republicans see it all differently, most of them hailing Bush's choice and Cheney's experience.
But two weeks later, his glowing Tuesday, August 8, 2000 set up of the Gore-Lieberman pairing forwarded the Democratic ticket’s boasts about themselves which included a sly dig at Bush-Cheney:
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore officially introduced his history-making running mate today, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. History-making because Lieberman is of Jewish heritage and faith. The two started running right away. In their first joint appearance they gave a preview of the Gore-Lieberman fight-back, come-back strategy. Their message: They represent the future, not the past, and they are the ticket of high moral standards most in tune with real mainstream America.
Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell reviewed how many stories the newspaper put on the front page about John McCain and Barcak Obama over the past ten weeks and discovered a wide gap in favor of Obama, a “disparity,” she declared, “so wide that it doesn't look good.” Howell, the Washington Bureau chief and editor of Newhouse News from 1990 until 2005, outlined in her weekly Sunday column what she determined:
John McCain finally received some positive coverage Friday night from the broadcast networks as Barack Obama's vacation ended -- a couple of sentences on ABC and CBS about how he raised $27 million in July, the most ever. Then those newscasts, and NBC's, ran full stories trumpeting evangelist Rick Warren's Saturday “Civil Forum on the Presidency” featuring McCain and Obama, with CBS and NBC stressing his rejection of past narrow conservative interests as both pegged their stories to conservative push back against the fear McCain will pick a “pro-choice” VP. Taking up McCain's consideration of Tom Ridge, CBS's Bob Schieffer asserted “religious conservatives...just went nuts.” NBC's Andrea Mitchell contrasted McCain's “rocky relationship with the religious right” with how Obama is “reaching out by softening the party's platform on abortion.”
On Warren, CBS reporter Ben Tracy trumpeted “Warren's attempt to redefine evangelicals by breaking with the politics of the past” and how Warren “doesn't want to talk about just abortion and gay marriage, but also poverty and disease.” NBC's Mitchell recalled that in 2004, 80 percent of evangelicals “voted for George Bush over John Kerry,” but “this year they could be less predictably Republican” and “that's because Rick Warren says many younger evangelicals define social issues broadly -- to include global warming, human rights, poverty, not just abortion.” She then featured a soundbite from Warren:
I call myself whole life, which means I don't just believe in that little girl before she's born but I believe that it's important to care about after she's born, whether she's poor, whether she's educated.