While President Bush battles the international Islamic jihad, and the networks warn almost daily that his approval ratings are terrible, President Clinton draws coos and congrats for solving the really big issues -- like making sure your kids can't destroy their lives by purchasing a Cherry Coke at school.
On Wednesday, CNN was hyping live coverage of the Miniature-Issues President taking on school soft-drink policies. By Thursday, MRC's Geoff Dickens informed me that NBC was so impressed by his life-saving prowess as ex-president that they were wondering if it outclassed his presidency. Perish the thought:
Ann Curry: "And former President Clinton is speaking out about his mission to end childhood obesity and the plan to eliminate sugary soft drinks from schools. He spoke to NBC's science correspondent Robert Bazell."
Anyone with a working TV set knows that the broadcast networks have hyped the high gas price story (“Pain at the Pump”) to ridiculous levels. A new MRC study of the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows found a whopping 183 stories in just three weeks, an avalanche of TV coverage that (helpfully to Democrats planning their midterm election strategy) has buried far more important good economic news, like robust economic growth, low unemployment and a booming stock market.
One device the networks have used to maintain an outraged tone in all of their coverage has been to plant themselves next to gas pumps and find motorists who aren’t embarrassed about whining on camera. The MRC analysts who went through all of the coverage — Geoff Dickens, Brian Boyd, Mike Rule and Scott Whitlock — counted 151 sound bites from gas buyers during the period we studied, April 12 to May 2.
Feminist anthems still draw rave reviews. On Thursday morning's "Today," singer Helen Reddy was scheduled for an interview on her new memoir. As "I Am Woman" played in the background, Katie Couric explained how she knew every word of the song and it "shaped me in a lot of ways." News anchor Ann Curry interviewed Reddy and echoed the swooning: "Oh, that song still gives me the chills."
Coming into the 8:30 half hour, MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed Katie Couric announced over the Reddy song and the outside crowd noise:
Katie Couric: "Matt I'm sure you have this one on your iPod don't you? This of course is Helen Reddy's I Am Woman. When it first came out in 1972 it became an anthem for the women's movement and for feminists everywhere and I have a confession to make."
'Today' had two 9/11 family members on as guests this morning to react to yesterday's jury determination of life in prison rather than the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui. That the family member who expressed general support for the process was relatively unknown, whereas the bitter Bush-administration critic, Kristin Breitweiser, is a household commodity, is indicative of MSM coverage in the years since 9/11.
Ironically, it was the family member that was disappointed in the verdict who expressed pride in America and the process, whereas Breitweiser, who got the verdict she preferred, remained bitter.
First to speak was Hamilton Peterson, who lost his father and step-mother on United 93. Katie Couric opened by asking him why he believes Moussaoui should have received the death penalty. Consider Peterson's response:
Exxon-Mobil: private-for-profit corporation or social service agency? The question arises in the wake of Matt Lauer's wide-ranging interview this morning with Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of Exxon/Mobil. Lauer's tone was not antagonistic; for that matter he was manifestly grateful to Tillerson for being the lone CEO among the Big Oil companies to accept an invite from "Today." Still, there was some bad economics on display, along with a notable attempt by Lauer to make the GOP look like ingrates to an industry with which they've been cozy. Tillerson put in a solid, undefensive performance.
Here are highlights:
Lauer: "Critics say the big oil companies crushed the competition and they are manipulating the prices. What is the truth?"
Katie Couric took industrial-strength umbrage this morning when Bill Frist suggested to the soon-to-be CBS anchor that she opposes drilling in ANWR.
Yesterday, Matt Lauer gave respectful treatment to Rush Limbaugh's suggestion that Frist's proposal of a $100 rebate amounted to treating taxpayers like ladies of the night. So the Majority Leader surely knew he was walking into the lion's den this morning.
At one point, Katie hit Frist with excerpts from two letters to the editor of her apparent paper of choice - the NY Times.
"Let's see, $100 rebate checks to all taxpayers to offset rising gas prices. That's money out of my tax dollars back to me to give back to gas companies. The way I figure it that rebate won't even cover my gas one way to Washington to complain."
Since we had snow - Tony Snow - in April, why not another unseasonable event - Matt Lauer citing Rush Limbaugh as a respectable source for purposes of making a point?
The issue was high gas prices, and the pandering band-aid some in Congress have proposed by way of a $100 tax rebate. Today displayed this quote from El Rushbo, from his show of this past Friday:
"Instead of buying us off and treating us like we're a bunch of w----s, just solve the problem."
If Lauer did not explicitly endorse Rush's take, he came close, certainly recognizing that Rush's point merited a response. Lauer filled in the blanks when he read the quote out loud, then posed this question to guest Pat Buchanan: "Pat, has anyone put forth any solution that can solve this problem?"
Did NBC allow a pro-illegal immigration message to air on the Today show? The singer Shakira appeared at 8:47AM EDT on the April 28 edition of the Today show. Wyclef Jean accompanied the Colombian performer and used NBC's platform to advertise a planned May 1 strike of illegal immigrants. Wearing a shirt that said "Immigration Rights" and below that, "Mayo Uno," Wyclef ended the song by bellowing, "May 1st! Immigration rights, baby!"
It should be noted that Wyclef Jean is also one of the artists recording a Spanish version of the Star-Spangled Banner that President Bush disapproved of in a Rose Garden press conference later in the day.
Nobody would argue that President Bush is overly popular at the moment. The media, however, seem determined to keep it that way. The April 28 edition of Today made this point extremely clear. Katie Couric opened the NBC program with this tease of a Brian Williams presidential interview:
Couric: "President Bush on those skyrocketing gas prices, his plummeting poll numbers and whether New Orleans is ready for hurricane season."
At 7:03AM EDT, Matt Lauer introduced the Williams interview this way:
Lauer: "Before we get to all that, let's talk about President Bush on those rising gas prices, the future of FEMA and his dismal poll numbers."
And the sneaky use of adjectives wasn’t the only tactic that Today employed.
As oft-documented by MRC - NewsBusters' parent organization - the MSM is quick to label people 'conservative', 'right-wing' and various 'ultra' variations thereon. But the MSM typically turn shy when it comes to the 'liberal' label. In a surprising twist, not only did Katie Couric speak of George Clooney as a liberal this morning, but the Hollywood star didn't hesitate to pin himself as a liberal, and an old one at that. What's more, Katie even suggested that Clooney's advocacy of countless liberal causes might be diluting the brand.
The topic was Clooney's advocacy of international involvement to end the humanitarian disaster in Darfur in the Sudan. Wikipedia entry on the Darfur conflict here. It is notable that although the conflict largely pits Arabs against non-Arabs, the populations on both sides are Muslim. This seems, by the way, to have been something of Celebrity Advocacy Week at Today. As noted here, yesterday it was Angelina Jolie's opportunity to tout her support for universal childhood education [courtesy the American taxpayer].
NBC's Today show was full of negative news for President Bush, as it usually is, so it was a bit surprising when Katie Couric asked Tim Russert why the President hasn’t gained from positive consumer confidence. Maybe it’s because, according to a quick Nexis search of Today, the phrase "consumer confidence" hasn’t even been uttered all year long. During a segment on the bad news for the President in NBC’s latest poll Couric noted:
"We just see the right direction, wrong track question Tim and we can follow that by the economy. Only 19 percent feel confident when it comes to, excuse me, the economy and 77 percent are uneasy. One of Josh Bolten's five point plans, as you know, Tim was to brag more about the economy and there is good news. Consumer confidence this month is at its highest in four years. The Dow is trading at a six-year high. Obviously they've got their work cut out for them but why aren't some of those good things reflected in the poll numbers?"
All three network morning shows played the envy card Thursday morning, as they hyped the “record high profits” and “corporate greed” of American oil companies. High on their agenda: ExxonMobil’s announcement of $8.4 billion in profits, which the networks implied was scandalous given the high price of oil.
But unstated in the network coverage was the fact that the U.S. government took in more than $7 billion from ExxonMobil during the first quarter of 2006, a jump of more than $2 billion from the same time period in 2005. And that doesn’t count the more than $7.6 billion in excise taxes — the gas tax — that ExxonMobil collected for the government during the same quarter. Plus another $11 billion in "other taxes" and ExxonMobil sent the government more than $25 billion in the first quarter of 2006 -- three times more than the amount network reporters seem to feel is obscene.
Big Government is making more off of high gas prices than Big Oil.
You can't say Angelina Jolie doesn't think big - with your tax dollars. In an interview aired on this morning's Today show, Jolie advocated applying the No Child Left Behind Program . . . to every child in the world, courtesy the American taxpayer.
Ann Curry, Today newsreader and NBC Dateline host, had interviewed Jolie during her recent trip to Africa to promote education. At one point, Curry made this somewhat surprising observation to the Hollywood star:
"There is another very famous person who talks about education. And you sound a lot like her: Laura Bush."
Jolie engaged in a, no pun intended, pregnant pause and a nervous chuckle. You could hear the gears grinding as she seemingly asked herself 'just how political can I get here?'
At the end of her interview on this morning's 'Today', Katie Couric asked Kaavya Viswanathan why she had wanted to come on the show. Couric's implication was clear: the Harvard undergrad caught in a plagiarism scandal had done herself absolutely no good by her appearance.
The Harvard Crimson recently broke the story of the numerous passages in Viswanathan's coming-of-age novel that bear striking similarities to lines from two books by Megan McCafferty. Isn't there something derivative, by the way, to the feel of the book's very title: "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life"? Amazon listing here.
Have a look at the two screen captures from this morning's shows. Same issue, different takes. Good Morning America is apparently sure that gas price gouging exists, and wants to stop it. 'Today' is agnostic, simply posing the question whether gouging is going on.
But when you turn to the substance of the two segments, there was one consistency: neither show adduced any evidence of gouging. Not a scintilla to show that oil companies are in fact colluding. And without collusion there can be no sustained gouging, since any company that pushed prices higher than market levels would immediately lose its sales to competitors.
Over at GMA, the guest was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, for all the world looking like a politician wanting to give the appearance of doing something about a problem over which he in fact has little control.
Sawyer opened by raising the gouging issue: "You are targeting gouging, which is the guy at the pump, the middle guy. How is this going to help and how soon, specifically, the person paying $2.91 on average right now?"
A seemingly sympathetic Frist replied:"Diane, you're exactly right. This $2.91, over $3 in some areas right now, cannot be sustained by the person driving their kids to school or filling up their tractor with fuel."
Much as this column is quick to point out the prevalent liberal bias of the MSM, fairness compels us to acknowledge those occasions, rare as they might be, when the MSM plays it down the middle.
NBC's handling of the recent spike in gasoline prices could be shaping up to be one of those flying-pig moments of 'fair & balanced' coverage. At the very least, there are indications that the conventional wisdom within NBC News is that the Bush administration is not to blame for the high prices, and/or that there is little government can do to stem the price rise.
As noted here earlier today, Katie Couric and David Gregory both expressed skepticism on this morning's Today show as to the government's ability to do much in the circumstances. Gregory was back at it this evening, guest-hosting for Chris Matthews on 'Hardball.'
When yet another gloomy segment on gas prices and the pessimistic prospects for the GOP finally drew to an end on this morning's Today show, you might have thought that a fluffy piece on crosswords and how mental games help keep aging minds sharp would have offered a respite from liberal media bias.
Hollywood-handsome NBC reporter Peter Alexander somehow managed to work into his segment clips of two liberal icons: Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart! Both are apparently crossword aficionados. Who knew?
Does lacrosse lead to rape? NBC’s Today show seriously investigated that question in the April 21 edition. Matt Lauer teased the story with this scintillating query:
Lauer: "And still to come, the Duke lacrosse rape case. Is there something about the sport of lacrosse that causes players to act out of bounds?"
Natalie Morales furthered this line of thinking when she introduced the segment at 7:32AM EDT:
Morales: "But first, Matt, the investigation into the alleged rape by some members of the Duke lacrosse team. It's not the first time the players there have been in trouble and it has some wondering whether this aggressive sport leads to aggressive behavior."
Fair reporting at the Today show is like snow in April. Rare, but not entirely unheard of. And so it was that the Today show devoted its opening segment to debunking Dem attempts to blame Republicans for high gasoline prices.
Matt Lauer set the tone with this opening tease: "Driving the political agenda: Democrats attack the Republicans for sky-high gas prices. What is really to blame?" And later, in introducing the segment, he repeated the theme: "Democrats are making an effort to pin the blame on Republicans. What is really causing all this?"
Today offered its answer in two parts: foreign and domestic causes.
Andrea Mitchell reported the following foreign causes:
On this morning's Today Katie Couric endorsed Ted Kennedy's goal of guaranteeing health care for every America as "noble." After a discussion about the White House shakeups Couric moved to promoting Ted Kennedy's new book: "Let me ask you about the seven challenges. You talk about the things that need to be done, Senator, from 'reclaiming our constitutional democracy, to protecting our national security, to guaranteeing health care for every American.'Noble, noble goals for sure. Are they doable and is there a national will to achieve these things in your view?"
Earlier Couric teased the segment by asking Today viewers: "Also ahead has America veered off course? Actually a serious book coming from Senator Ted Kennedy who's written one about public policy. He was recently voted one of the ten most effective senators in Time magazine. He'll be here to tell us about his book and also give us his take on the recent shakeup at the White House. And whether Donald Rumsfeld should in fact resign."
Actor Dennis Quaid was on this morning's Today show promoting his new movie American Dreamz whose movie poster proclaims: "Imagine A Country Where The President Never Reads The Newspaper, Where The Government Goes To War For All The Wrong Reasons And Where More People Vote For A Pop Idol Than Their Next President." But according to Quaid the movie is, "not a political statement," and that he’s "not a Bush-basher." Katie Couric outed Quaid as a Gore voter in 2000 but tried to give him cover by noting he voted for Bush in 2004, however she had praise for Quaid’s co-star Mandy Moore’s performance in Saved, a movie that mocks Christians.
On this morning's Today show, NY Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman repeated his astonishing wish that the price of crude oil . . . go to $100/barrel ASAP. This is apparently a favorite Friedman mantra, as NewsBusters/MRC's Tim Graham and Brian Boyd have noted.
Friedman's theory is that extremely high oil prices are desirable because they would induce behavioral changes that would ultimately decrease demand and force oil prices way down. Here's how the exchange with host Matt Lauer unfolded:
Friedman: "I hope the Iranians get as crazy as they want. My attitude toward the president of Iran is 'you go, girl', because the faster we get to $100 a barrel, pal, the quicker we're going to get back to $20. Because when we go to $100/barrel, then you're going to see all these people change their behavior and their oil-buying habits and their car-buying habits in a fundamental way."
Darn it, when the MSM have a Republican in their sights, shouldn't he have the good grace to sit there and take it until he's hounded from office? That would appear to be NBC's operative principle, judging by Today's coverage of the Rumsfeld flap. Much of the emphasis this morning was not so much on the substance of the controversy but on the fact that the Pentagon is fighting back against the calls for Rumsfeld's ouster.
Topping it all was the very first question that Matt Lauer posed to his guest, retired Marine Lt. General Mike DeLong, a Rumsfeld defender:
"Have you been asked by Secretary Rumsfeld to be here on his behalf?"
Different day, different Today show anchor, different attitude. As we documented yesterday, Couric's Complaint: Why Won't Rumsfeld Critic Bash Bush Too?, when Katie Couric hosted a segment on the matter of the retired generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld's ouster, she chose as her guest one of the generals calling for Rumsfeld's head. Her most notable contributions to the discussion were to invite her guest to take a shot at Pres. Bush as long as he was at it, and to ask why he didn't come out sooner with his criticism so he could have 'shaped public opinion far earlier.'
This morning it was Lester Holt's turn in the Today show host seat. Now, it might just be in the normal course of the news cycle that his guest was a former general who is opposed to Rumsfeld's departure. But there was no mistaking Holt's even-handed treatment of the issues, in stark contrast with Couric's cheerleading for the Rumsfeld-must-go crowd.
Who says NBC won't highlight the accomplishments of the US military? Why just this morning the Today show had on as its very first guest a recently retired general, John Batiste.
Oh, wait. The purpose of inviting him was to provide a platform for his call for the ouster of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Again we see the pattern illustrated yesterday with Newt Gingrich's appearance. See Iraq Knock Nets Newt Net Nod. Republicans, military folks, etc. are welcome on Today - so long as they're prepared to take shots at the Bush administration and its policies.
There is no reason to doubt Batiste's sincerity. He said that his motivation is the servicemen and women and their families. He stated that he had come forward to demand "accountability for a war plan was built to invade Iraq but failed to build the peace. Accountability for what happenened at Abu Ghraib. Accountability for a leadership style that which is intimidating, abusive. It was not a two-way street of respect."
As has been noted here before, the surest way for a Republican to get himself invited onto a broadcast network news show and accorded respectful treatment is to be prepared to take shots at the Bush administration.
The time-tested technique was on display on this morning's Today, as Newt Gingrich got the kind of kid-glove treatment he could have only dreamed of back in his Speaker days when the MSM was vilifying him as 'the Gingrich Who Stole Christmas'.
At the top of the show, Matt Lauer teased Newt's appearance in these terms:
"A prominent politican is saying US policy in Iraq since toppling Saddam Hussein has been an enormous mistake. This isn't a Democrat. It's a Republican - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich."
Has Meredith Vieira started her stint on the Today show early? The future NBC anchor already knows how to ask combative, loaded questions to conservatives. On the April 12 edition of The View, she posed this query to the Vice President:
Vieira: "You know what, I’ve got a question for Vice President Dick Cheney. Given your low approval ratings these days, why would you want to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals games yesterday?...He got cheered and he got booed."
Vieira, in a segment that started at 11:05AM EDT, seemed honestly puzzled as to why someone would want to throw out the first pitch on opening day. She continued, "But this is a man we rarely see, so why do you think yesterday he made that decision to go out and throw that ball?"
An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, Vieira says she's being unfairly labeled as a raving liberal by some right-wing bloggers.
"I'm an independent. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I'm not particularly interested in politics, truth be told. Every time you read the paper, somebody lies about something [about the war.] I've been vocal about it.
On a light news day, why not run a generic piece on President Bush's low poll numbers and his assertedly bleak prospects for reviving them? That was apparently the thinking at the Today show this morning.
Today themed the segment "Can Bush Save Presidency?", and NBC White House reporter Kelly O'Donnell seemed to answer the question in the negative, kicking things off with this gloomy assessment:
"For President Bush, low poll numbers have not just been a dip or temporary rough patch but appear now to be a sustained pattern that is different than his predecessors of both parties who went through their own tough times." She continued: "His . . presidency appears to have a chronic case of the below-40 percent blues."
After David Gergen was shown suggesting that "presidents have sometimes broken out of slumps when they've had big, bold initiatives and unexpected victories - that often shake things up" O'Donnell reappeared to dump cold water on the notion that W could have any such luck:
"Looking back, some second-term presidents have been able to rebound. President Reagan's approval fell to 34 percent with the arms-for-hostages scandal. Pres. Clinton hit 41 percent around impeachment. But both bounced back up to the 60s as they left office. Analysts say the prospects for Mr. Bush are not as good because of the weight of ongoing events: Iraq, gas prices, the CIA leak case and hurricane response."
Gergen popped back up to pessimistically proclaim: "After a while those negative feelings really do congeal, they crystallize, they become firm and then it's very hard to break out."
O'Donnell: "political observers claim big speeches and staff changes won't turn things around and suggest the president may have to wait to seize on any good news."
Commentator Stu Rothenberg then observed: "If there is something he can brag about he needs to quickly then be able to go to the American public and make his case and drive home the point. But for now he simply doesn't have much ammunition at his disposal."
Count on Today and its MSM cohorts to do their best to keep things that way.
Poor John Green. The executive producer of ABC’s weekend “Good Morning America” broadcasts got a month-long involuntary vacation after his private e-mails were exposed saying “Bush makes me sick,” and that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has “Jew shame.”
Once the e-mails were publicized, the people inside the media were agitated. How many of them are equally guilty? How many people inside the liberal media send snarky anti-Bush notes to each other every day? The New York Times lamented the “chilling effect.”