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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Friday August 13, 1999 (Vol. Four; No. 142)

Corporate America Dominates PBS; Cronkite Denounces Jarvik

1) Today's Media Reality Check fax report: "Reporters Look Biased in Pressing Bush, But Not Forcing Clinton's Answer About Cocaine or Broaddrick: Coke-Question Pushers Should Ask Bill."

2) Walter Cronkite takes to the Wall Street Journal letters page in the wake of the PBS-DNC fundraising scandal to denounce PBS critic Laurence Jarvik, announcing that PBS viewers "are quite clear about who is carrying out a political agenda. And they know it's not public broadcasters."

3) How NPR used a hearing on the list-swapping scandal to promote a left-wing media-watch group who claims PBS is dominated by large corporations.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) Today's Media Reality Check fax report addresses this week's inside-the-media chatter about George W. Bush's rumored use of cocaine:

     "On March 27, 1992 Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz complained that Bill Clinton was being treated unfairly: "At no time during his presidency has George Bush been subjected to a comparable barrage of scandal-type stories, the kind that can alter forever how the public views a politician."

     But in Wednesday's Post, Kurtz's story was headlined "Drug Use: A Campaign Issue in the Making." Kurtz did not complain that asking George W. Bush about cocaine use is unprecedented and something Clinton has never had to answer during his presidency. He ended by quoting National Review editor Rich Lowry, who thinks Bush the Sequel will have to provide an answer.

     If the media will press Bush to answer the cocaine question, as they've asked other candidates - and asking a potential chief law enforcement officer of the United States if he's broken a serious drug law is a legitimate question - then shouldn't they ask Bill Clinton?

     Without any actual allegations, the coke question came up on several Sunday talk shows, on ABC's This Week, Fox News Sunday, CNN's Late Edition, Reliable Sources, and Capital Gang. When George Stephanopoulos brought it up on ABC, he said: "I'm not sure Bush is handling this issue well. He's basically making a bet that he can go on without answering it. Everyone who works in the White House has to answer this question." Cokie Roberts added: "Except the President."

     In Bush's case, reporters have found no one alleging that they have knowledge of Bush using cocaine. In Clinton's case, several Arkansans - whether credible or not - have accused Clinton of cocaine use, as detailed in books like Roger Morris's Partners in Power. If some liberal journalist finds an alleger against Bush (as some media partisans in 1988 found "Speedway Bomber" Brett Kimberlin to allege marijuana purchases by Dan Quayle), will national reporters investigate just Bush?

     And if reporters feel any potential President ought to be pressed to answer if they've broken a law, shouldn't they keep pressing the current President for an answer to Juanita Broaddrick's charge of sexual assault?

     In July, Washington Post reporters Lois Romano and George Lardner asked: "We need to ask the cocaine question. We think you believe that a politician should not let stories fester. So why won't you just deny that you've used cocaine?"

     On July 27, Romano went on ABC's Good Morning America to dismiss Bush's non-answer: "He's basically declared that his life began at 40 and that we're supposed to not ask that other fellow before 40 and I don't know if he can hold to that position." Romano interviewed Juanita Broaddrick, and she never showed up on TV to address how another "fellow before 40" got away with nothing better than a lawyer's denial.

     Despite his assertion to USA Today in 1992 that "no candidate in history" has had a press as tough as he faced, Clinton faced no coke queries in 1992 or 1996. In the April 6, 1992 Newsweek, Jonathan Alter kvetched: "The voters are left confused. All they know is that Clinton is in trouble again, and that red-meat phrases like 'S&L' and 'cocaine dealer' are making their way down the food chain, passing through the New York tabloids en route to Jay Leno's monologue and the files of GOP hit men."

     But Newsweek hopped on Bush early, in the November 16, 1998 issue: "If you're asked specifically about marijuana or cocaine [use in your past], what's the answer?" Reporters will look biased if they press Bush to break the silence, but not Bill Clinton. Whatever their standard, it shouldn't be a double standard."


cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite took to the pages of yesterday's Wall Street Journal in his role as a board member of WNET-TV, the PBS superstation in New York City. In that role, Cronkite channeled the offical PBS line. Here is the letter in its entirety, interspersed with a suitably cynical translation: 1. 2. 3.

"Anyone reading Laurence Jarvik's jeremiad over public television ("PBS: Political Bias Scandal," editorial page, July 28) will readily comprehend the extent to which the entire donor-list episode has been blown out of proportion.

[Blown out of proportion means: anything that's more than a one-day story about PBS's backstage methods.]

While it is true that some stations did not exercise sufficient oversight of their list management, they have acknowledged the error and are taking immediate steps to safeguard their donor lists and prevent anything like this from happening again.

[We've swapped lists with Democrats and liberals for 20 years, and now that we've been caught, we'll be good boys and girls.]

But Mr. Jarvik would have Americans believe that public broadcasters have engineered a vast conspiracy. His theory that WGBH president Henry Becton "has placed the station squarely within a lucrative web of interlocking directories" reads like the plot from a Hollywood espionage movie.

[How unfair that you treat public TV like one of those blood-sucking private monopolies like Microsoft.]

As a member of the board of trustees of Thirteen/WNET in New York since 1991, I can say from first-hand experience that the political affiliations of donors and board members have nothing to do with the content of programs. As a journalist and producer who has been involved in numerous productions with public television over the years, I can attest to the efficiency - even frugality - of public broadcasters. This is not a lucrative business.

[Who's making money? Just because Sesame Street licenses 5,000 products doesn't mean anyone's making money.]

For a long time now, public broadcasting has been caught in a Catch-22. Public broadcasters are continually exhorted to become more independent of federal funding. As they search for new sources of support, however, they must endure a barrage of faultfinding.

[Faultfinding is what media outlets do the rest of society, not what the rest of society should be allowed to do to media outlets.]

But those of us who know public television know that its 94 million viewers are intelligent, thoughtful, and wise. Critical and discriminating, they are quite clear about who is carrying out a political agenda. And they know it's not public broadcasters."

[We love you wonderful viewers, as long as you stay quiet and pony up at pledge time.]


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Before the week ends, I have to unload a personal gripe. On July 20, the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee responsible for PBS funding held a hearing into the list-swapping scandal. That night on NPR's "All Things Considered," reporter Brooke Gladstone presented a very one-sided story on how public broadcasting has faced too much political pressure, using as her only source author James Day, a pro-PBS partisan. (Gladstone avoided the aforementioned Laurence Jarvik, also an author of PBS books.) But Gladstone's most serious offense was her conclusion:

     "Because balance is subjective, public broadcasting's political tilt has never been convincingly calculated, though many attempts have been made by the left and the right. But it's not hard to identify the people who speak on public broadcasting and the marketplace they represent.

     A study of PBS programs released last month by the liberal think tank FAIR, found that the on-camera sources hailing from Wall Street and corporate America had doubled since 1992 to 30 percent. At the same time, on-camera sources who were members of the general public amounted to 6 percent, down by half. Brooke Gladstone, NPR News, New York."

     PBS bias has "never been convincingly calculated," but here's a study from a left-wing group who thinks PBS is a corporate tool. Needless to say, the conservative PBS content analysts were not consulted.

     Do you think Walter Cronkite heard that report? -- Brent Baker


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