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Context of 'March 15, 2004: Media Coverage Varies Widely in Covering Kerry-Brown Exchange'

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The four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” [Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, George W. Bush, Fox News

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), warns Richard S. Foster, the agency’s top expert on Medicare costs, that he will be fired if he responds to Congress’s request for a cost estimate on the drug plan favored by the administration. Foster estimates that the plan will cost $534 billion over the next 10 years. This amount is roughly a third more than the $400 billion estimate that was provided to legislators by the Congressional Budget Office. The White House knows about Foster’s cost estimate but fears that if Congress obtains this information, it will not pass the drug plan. Several conservative House Republicans have said they will not vote for the bill if it exceeds $400 billion. Foster’s estimates are shared with Doug Badger, the president’s special assistant for health policy, and with James C. Capretta, associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Scully instructs Foster that all cost estimates must first be submitted to him so he can decide whether they should be released. “More than once, Tom said he was just following orders,” Foster later tells the Washington Post, adding that he suspects the orders were coming directly from the White House, probably from Badger. On other occasions, when Foster is talking to lawmakers over the phone, White House officials are routinely on the line monitoring his comments and in some instances they instruct Foster not to respond to lawmakers’ questions, according to an unnamed congressional Democratic aide. It is not until January 2004, after the drug bill is passed, that the White House finally releases Foster’s estimates. [Knight Ridder, 3/12/2004; Washington Post, 3/13/2004; New York Times, 3/25/2004; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/6/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 7/7/2004] Several Republicans later say they would not have voted for the program had they known its true cost. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116]

Entity Tags: Doug Badger, Richard S. Foster, Thomas A. Scully, James C. Capretta

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event.John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event. [Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters]At a town hall event in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reportedly says, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush], we need a new policy, things like that.” White House officials and conservative pundits immediately attack Kerry for his remarks, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling a Fox News audience: “I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make, but if he feels that’s [an] important assertion to make, he ought to list names. If he can’t list names, then perhaps he ought to find something else to talk about.” The White House issues a statement saying: “If Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, he needs to be straightforward with the American people and state who they are.… Or the only conclusion one can draw is he’s making it up to attack the president.” Bush himself says, “If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.” Over a week after Kerry’s remarks are published, the pool reporter who reported the original remark, Patrick Healey of the Boston Globe, reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders,” but “more leaders” (see March 15, 2004). The correction does little to blunt the criticism of Kerry, who does not directly challenge the assertion, but calls his choice of words “inartful.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note: “Had this journalistic blunder created a firestorm of controversy around a Republican Party nominee, the conservative opinion leaders would have minimized the damage to their candidate by crying ‘media bias.’ The Democrats didn’t have a comparable argument in their arsenal.” [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Associated Press, 3/15/2004; Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 4-5]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Joseph N. Cappella, Patrick Healey, John Kerry

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-17]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Varga, Cedric Brown, CBS News, Brit Hume, ABC News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Carl Cameron, Joseph N. Cappella, John Kerry, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Linda Douglass, James Taranto, Scott McClellan, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Vice President Dick Cheney weighs in on on the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed acceptance of private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After). At an Arizona fundraiser, Cheney says: “[I]t is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.” [Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 18-19]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Kerry

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bashar Assad, Cedric Brown, Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Kim Jong Il, Joseph N. Cappella

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

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