MEDIA POLITICS : Sometimes Day’s News Brings a Freebie

Times Political Writer

Funny thing about presidential campaigns and television news: Sometimes a candidate gets a boost even when a report is not about anything he did that day.

Take, for example, Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.

On CBS and CNN, the only networks with news shows Saturday, Dukakis did get in his own sound bites and pictures. He was shown in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco attacking the environmental record of Republican nominee George Bush. But he also took a “hit” as both reports pointed out that Dukakis is vulnerable on the issue because Boston Harbor is polluted.

So it was something else on the “CBS Evening News” that almost surely had the Dukakis advisers smiling: Two thought-provoking reports on the deficit and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a positive piece on the much-maligned American Civil Liberties Union.


On the deficit, experts interviewed by CBS expressed exasperation with both Dukakis and Bush for not offering realistic proposals for getting the figure down from its current $155-billion level.

“Clearly they have decided this is silly season,” one economist said. “That you can’t say anything that makes any sense about the deficit without running enormous political risk.”

But the first “silly” picture to pop up was of Bush, who looked unconvincing in the orange hard hat a factory worker had plopped on his head.

Dukakis, on the other hand, was shown flipping hamburgers at a rally--not serious stuff but very much back yard Americana nonetheless.


The biggest boost for Dukakis, however, was an expert’s assessment of the deficit:

“We’re running up a huge deficit and we’re financing it with foreign capital, we’re financing it with Social Security trust funds and at some point you have to pay that debt.”

Dukakis’ campaign ads could not have said it better.

In the report on the ACLU, it was noted that Bush’s attacks on Dukakis for belonging to the group have “had an impact Bush could not have intended--people from all over the country are rushing to join the ACLU.”

The CBS report then gave the ACLU a chance to point out that its mission is to protect such basic American rights as free speech and the right to a fair trial

Saying that the group has defended the American Nazi Party’s right to march and is now opposing the indictment of conservative hero Oliver L. North, ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser looked into the camera and said: “If the government can take away their rights, it can take away anyone’s rights.”

Dukakis’ advisers, tired of being hit on this issue, would have danced a jig if Dukakis had come back with that line in his recent debate with Bush.

The CBS report on the Supreme Court wondered whether the court has shifted to the right with three Reagan appointments.


The Democrats argue often that it has, and as they urge a vote for Dukakis on this issue, they target minorities and women.

Landmark Decision

The CBS reporter noted that Reagan’s newest appointee to the high court, Anthony M. Kennedy, voted last year with other conservative justices to reconsider the landmark Runyon decision, which allows minorities to sue for damages if they have been discriminated against in private contracts.

A court expert said on camera: “The thought that President Reagan’s new appointee would consider shaking up the civil rights structure so substantially could be an omen of other things to come.”

The reporter concluded with a subject of more than passing interest to some women:

“Legal experts are also watching for how the court will deal with another controversial decision--abortion.”