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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday, April 22, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 65)

Make "Killer" SUVs "Kindler & Gentler;" Gore Charity Shortchanged

1) CBS and NBC skipped the scandals but CNN and ABC highlighted Bush's letter. Only FNC mentioned Jim Guy Tucker or McCurry's dodging. ABC looked at the upside of Microsoft's dominance.

2) A report suggested making cars heavier and safer but ABC and CBS preferred to focus on "deadly," "killer," "destructive," "dangerous" and "monster crushing" SUVs. CBS urged development of a George Bush edition: a "kindler, gentler" SUV.

3) Media feeding frenzy over the Gore's paltry charitable giving? Hardly. It has yet to generate a story on ABC or CBS.

4) Peter Jennings asked whether the U.S. "might have done more to stop" Pol Pot's genocide, but a study found that the mass murder got less than one minute a year on ABC while it was happening.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes)Neither the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News touched on any Clinton scandal Tuesday night, but CNN's The World Today devoted a full story to the maneuvering over Secret Service testimony and how George Bush urged they not be made to tell what they saw. ABC's Peter Jennings took a few seconds to explain that Justice Department papers filed in a court motion "included a letter from former President George Bush warning that if Secret Service officials are compelled to testify Presidents would feel uncomfortable having them nearby."

On FNC's 7pm ET Fox Report David Shuster uniquely noted that Jim Guy Tucker testified again before the Little Rock grand jury about Hillary and Castle Grande, how David Hale failed in his effort to get the Supreme Court to block his state prosecution though he was assured of immunity for cooperating with the federal probe, and how on the Secret Service matter White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry "dodged questions asking if those agency decisions are being made by political appointees."

(A month ago, Peter Jennings recalled on the April 21 World News Tonight, ABC took "A Closer Look" at Microsoft and "whether consumers should be afraid of Bill Gates." Last night ABC devoted it's A Closer Look segment to: "Should we be grateful to Microsoft?" ABC explored the advantages of a single system, such as lower software prices allowed by standardization. But ABC also caught up with the other network and ran video from Monday of Windows 98 crashing on Bill Gates during a demo.)


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes)The networks have discovered something more dangerous than Ken Starr: SUVs. Both ABC and CBS Tuesday night showcased the "deadly," "killer," "destructive," and "dangerous" sport utility vehicles.

A front page story in the April 21 USA Today reported that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials had concluded that making SUVs smaller "would lead to more deaths in those vehicles." But instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that the answer to reducing deaths in cars hit by SUVs is to make cars heavier so they are safer, ABC and CBS last night treated that as a wacky view and concentrated on how to make SUVs less dangerous since the public insists on buying the "killer" machines. Both stories were prompted by a meeting in DC among safety experts to discuss the SUV versus car problem. (Since I can't highlight is an ASCII e-mail message I've put in ALL CAPS the loaded terms used by the networks.)

Peter Jennings opened the April 21 World News Tonight:

"Good evening. Tonight we begin at the crossroads of physics and safety and government responsibility. In Washington today government is grappling with what to do about the THREAT that sport utility vehicles represent to lesser vehicles in accidents. It's an obvious concern now. Sport utility vehicles have become the latest driver's passion and because they are bigger and heavier they have the potential to do UNUSUAL DAMAGE."

John Cochran began: "The government is having difficulty coming to grips with the DANGER from sport utility vehicles, partly because they make the people in them feel safer."

After a soundbite of a woman praising their safety, Cochran continued: "So what to do about evidence that SUVs are DANGEROUS to smaller passenger cars? One suggestion is that the government require SUVs be made lighter and less DESTRUCTIVE, but that would also mean less protection for those inside and a lot of Americans like their SUVS just as they are: big."

Cochran showed another soundbite from a woman and then noted that the NHTSA report suggested making cars bigger, a notion that pleased a spokesman for the Coalition for Vehicle Choice.

Then Cochran moved to the other side, giving anti-SUV arguments more time: "But environmentalists and the Clinton Administration want smaller, fuel efficient cars, not bigger ones."

Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety: "We don't want to go back to the land cruisers and gas guzzlers of the 1960s that weighed 5,000 pounds."

Cochran's piece concluded by putting the burden on SUVs: "So if it is environmentally incorrect to make heavier cars and if it is unfair to SUV buyers to make them lighter, what's the solution? Mercedes has come up with one: lowering its SUV bumpers so they are below window height of cars. Mercedes and others have also worked on making front ends more flexible, less rigid so they are less DEADLY to others. That's all well and good, but SUV dealers don't seem to mind horror stories. As one dealer said, there's nothing better for sales than a fresh story about a MONSTER SUV CRUSHING a defenseless car."


Over on the CBS Evening News, immediately after a story on the Justice-Microsoft battle, Dan Rather intoned:

"There were high-level talks today about knocking a very different giant down to size: the sport utility vehicle. SUVs. Extremely popular with some but considered a KILLER on the road to others..."

Reporter Sharyl Attkisson opened with a SUV dealer who said they sell themselves. Attkisson distressingly noted: "Ironically, he says, buyers are attracted by all the recent research showing sport utility vehicles can be KILLERS ON THE ROAD."

Explaining how auto engineers are meeting to lessen deaths in cars hit by SUVs, Attkisson also put the burden on the SUV side:

"Some safety experts say it's no big mystery how to make a kindler, gentler SUV. They point to the new Mercedes, which is lighter, lower to the ground and absorbs more of the force in a crash than other sport utility vehicles. But other major automakers who make up to $14,000 on every SUV are loath to tinker with the success of their big boys. SUV proponents even suggest the problem is the car, not the truck."

In discrediting this idea as one only someone with a profit motive would advocate Attkisson didn't bother to note that's what the NHTSA concluded.

Ron DeFore of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice asserted: "If we are to do anything at all, the greatest safety gain would be by allowing cars to get larger."

Attkisson concluded: "With all the debate over how to make sport utility vehicles safer, consumers are sending a loud message: the bigger the better. And the newest models coming off the assembly lines are bigger than ever."

AEI's Irwin Stelzer proposed another way of looking at the problem. In a March 16 Weekly Standard piece critical of an earlier NHTSA study characterizing SUVs, called LTV's by the feds, as "'fundamentally incompatible with cars in highway crashes' because they 'are heavier, of more rugged construction, and have higher ground clearance than the passenger cars with which they share the road,'" Stelzer offered another "equally accurate way of stating the problem." Stelzer suggested: "The study might be entitled 'The Vulnerability of Small Cars in Traffic Crashes.' These 'vulnerable' cars, it might be said, 'are lighter, of flimsier construction, and have lower ground clearance' than LTVs, and are therefore 'fundamentally incompatible with the larger, safer vehicles with which they share the road.'"

Seltzer reported that while in crashes in 1996 between LTVs and cars "81 percent, or 4,260 fatalities, occurred in the cars," that "doesn't make LTVs the villains of the piece." That's because "fatal crashes between two cars caused 4,013 deaths, while LTV-LTV crashes resulted in far fewer fatalities: 1,225."


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes)It's only a matter of time. Soon on some panel shown by C-SPAN someone who doesn't actually watch television news will complain about the "media frenzy" over Al and Tipper Gore's paltry charitable giving. While it did generate some comment on the little-watched weekend talk and interview shows, the Gore's giving has not garnered widespread attention on the network morning and evening news shows.

Here are the facts gathered from my observation and the ongoing analysis of the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, Gene Eliasen, Clay Waters and Eric Darbe:

-- Through Tuesday night, only three stories have appeared on CNN, the broadcast network weekday morning shows or broadcast network evening shows on any day. NBC's Today aired a piece on April 16. On Friday, April 17 both the NBC Nightly News and CNN's The World Today featured stories on how the Gore's donated just $353 in all of 1997.

-- That means two of the three broadcast networks have yet to do a story on the subject, specifically, not one syllable yet on ABC's World News Tonight on any night or weekday editions of Good Morning America nor anything on the CBS Evening News or CBS's This Morning.


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes)Last Thursday night (April 16) after a World News Tonight story on the death of Pol Pot and the genocide he directed in Cambodia, Peter Jennings ruminated: "There will always be a debate about whether the United States might have done more to stop it."

That reminded me of a study which proved the television networks, especially ABC, didn't treat the ongoing murder as an important issue for Americans to know about while it was happening in the late 1970s. The MRC's 1990 book titled And That's the Way It Isn't: A Reference Guide to Media Bias reprinted an excerpt from "The Unnewsworthy Holocaust: TV News and Terror in Cambodia," a study by William C. Adams and Michael Joblove which originally appeared in a book titled Television Coverage of International Affairs.

Below are the overview and key findings as presented in And That's the Way It Isn't. -- Brent Baker


     The xenophobic reign of terror by the Marxist Khmer Rouge from April 1975 to January 1979 in Cambodia was as brutal as that of any in history. Up to three million Cambodians died of starvation, torture or execution. But despite what George Washington University professor William Adams and research associate Michael Joblove called "the barbarism and the magnitude of the tragedy," major media outlets in the U.S. paid little attention to the tragic events.

     To find out what the American public was told about the despotic reign of Pol Pot, Adams and Joblove, with the help of the Vanderbilt News Archive, studied ABC, CBS, and NBC weeknight news coverage from April 1975 through December 1978. They limited their focus to reports about "Cambodian refugees, genocide, general Khmer Rouge policies, and the reconstruction of society." They excluded reports about border clashes with neighbors, simple civil war occurrences, and the Mayaguez incident. Their statistics show that Americans who watched network news never saw the carnage and chaos that consumed Cambodia during those four years.


     -- "Stories about the 'new society' and death in Cambodia were so sporadic that even the most constant viewers could not be expected to grasp the gravity of the Cambodian crisis." Over the four-year period of the Khmer Rouge rule, the three networks devoted less than sixty minutes on weeknights to the human rights situation in Cambodia. That averaged out to less than thirty seconds per month per network.

     -- Explicit discussion of genocide was heard on ABC for less than one minute and on CBS and NBC less than four minutes each during the four-year period.

     -- To show what little mention there was of death in Cambodia, the authors compared the coverage to time given the Jonestown murders and suicides. In the first week alone, three hours of network news detailed the cult deaths, although the death toll was at least a thousand times less than in Cambodia.

     -- Adams and Joblove dismissed the old network line that without pictures there is no story: "Poignant and striking footage was available without end in refugee camps all across eastern Thailand....The fact that television ignored the upheaval in Cambodia simply cannot be attributed to a dull story with poor pictures."

     -- The authors blamed the print media as well. "Television caricatures the front page of the prestige press" and "assignment editors rely heavily on The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the wire services to set the network agenda." So it was no surprise when the networks didn't "veer far from the pack" and "provide extensive coverage of a topic given little attention in print." Until mid-1978, little print space was given the events in Cambodia. Only when it picked up did television follow.   -- Brent Baker

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