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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday May 9, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 19)

Mothers March On the Constitution; Eulogizing A "Demagogue"; DeLay’s "Murder Inc."

1. All three newsmagazines filed reports on the so-called "Million Mom March" against the Constitution. Newsweek tossed Clinton anti-gun softballs and allowed Susan Faludi to claim "the Million Mom March's rhetoric strikes a blow at the psychological solar plexus of the pro-gun movement, the alliance between pro-gun and anti-abortion sentiments."

2. Newsweek was taking on Clinton’s big guns on one front: Kosovo. John Barry and Evan Thomas’s article "Kosovo Coverup" reported the administration’s boasts of damage to military targets were inaccurate.

3. After months of giving his ethical problems little more than a brief aside, Time and Newsweek both discovered that Gore campaign chief Tony Coelho’s troubles could gain traction.

4. Time and Newsweek each picked a New York liberal to eulogize John Cardinal O’Connor, while U.S. News used the occasion to relay that he was "reviled by some who saw him as a demagogue on sex and gender issues."

5. Newsweek and U.S. News passed on that Democrats assert Rep. Tom DeLay is running the "political version of Murder Inc." Unlike Ted Turner, who is funding the abortion lobby "in key states where Democrats face tight races against anti-abortion Republicans."

On the covers of the May 15 issues: Time featured "The Love Bug" computer virus. U.S News & World Report took a look at "The New CEOs! Young, wired, fearless and female." Newsweek hyped the coming Disney animated feature, "Dinosaur!" The political and societal weather vanes at the magazines declared it was a good week for Janet Reno and Bill Clinton but a bad one for Tom DeLay and Al Gore, and a mixed one for George W. Bush. In Time’s "Winners and Losers," Reno came up a winner: "A.G. clears Puerto Rican protestors without a shot. Now just get the kid back to Cuba." DeLay was a big loser: "Paleo-Repub blasts TV’s West Wing as too liberal. Oh, please. That’s so Murphy Brown." Over at the "Conventional Wisdom" box in Newsweek, Bill Clinton garnered an up arrow: "Self-mocking tape had longer legs than ‘Seinfeld’ finale. Even enemies say they'll miss him." Gore drew a down arrow: "Polls show he’s down in Democratic strongholds. Makes Dukakis look warm." While Bush received a sideways arrow: "NRA video brags it will ‘work out of his office.’ Next: Charlton Heston in ‘West Wing.’"


All three news magazines filed reports on the so-called "Million Mom March" against the Constitution. U.S. News & World Report asked, "Will it Matter if the Moms March? Only if it becomes a movement with stamina." Former Mother Jones staffer Amanda Spake spotlighted Thomases as a "homemaker and former CBS public relations representative," and "neophyte activist." Spake wondered aloud about the lifespan of the movement. "But what happens after the march ends, when the moms -- many of whom, like Dees-Thomases, never before organized anything other than, as one leader puts it, "a carpool" -- lay down their placards and go home? Will this be a one-time headline grabber -- or the roots of a political force that will one day be powerful enough to take aim at the gun lobby? The latter, says Andrew McGuire, director of the Bell Campaign, a privately funded activist organization that pushes for gun control and is sponsoring the Million Mom March."

Time’s Amy Dickinson labeled Dees-Thomases as a "housewife," but pointed out she isn’t exactly a political neophyte, having worked as a "press aide to a U.S. Senator and later as a publicist for Dan Rather and David Letterman." (Actually, it was two Senators, both Democrats.) Dickinson devoted most of the article to mothers revealing their personal horror stories and how Al Gore attacked Bush as a "tool of the NRA." Near the end Dickinson devoted only one paragraph to the NRA’s growing membership and the Second Amendment Sisters’ counterprotest, but Dickinson concluded with the daughter-in-law of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Nancy Inhofe, declaring: "It doesn’t matter what side you’re on politically. Personal experience has prompted me and people like me to want to make sure guns are safe. I’ve seen enough."

But Newsweek worked the hardest and longest to promote the event. In an article headlined "Don’t Mess With the Moms," Newsweek’s Matt Bai wishfully warned of a coming force in November. "Their message to Congress: give us new gun laws, or suffer in November. The emergence of guns as a key issue for suburban women -- ‘soccer moms’ like Betsy Storm marks a pivotal moment for the gun-control movement. And it could be a major challenge for George W. Bush, who spent much of last week trying to explain his friendship with the National Rifle Association while Al Gore hammered away at him."

Bai did mildly point out that Dees-Thomases’s Clinton connection. "It used to be that suburban moms rallied over abortion rights or public education, but not gun violence; most of that was confined to the cities. The school shootings changed all that. Donna Dees-Thomases, a 42-year-old mother of two, reached her breaking point when she watched the footage of small children running from their Granada Hills, Calif., day-care center last August. A week later Dees-Thomases -- the sister-in-law of Clinton friend Susan Thomases -- applied for a permit for 10,000 people to march on the Capitol."

But he concluded, "Even if it falls short of expectations, the Million Mom March could prove troubling for the gun lobby. The planning involved in getting 600 buses to Washington has almost overnight given gun foes something they've never had: a base of grass-roots activists who've got the time to get out the vote. The day after the march, Dees-Thomases will announce a new group that will keep the moms' network intact. They'll probably be called on to help get out the vote in the fall -- just as their kids are headed back to school."

Bai and colleague Debra Rosenberg interviewed the President about the march and his fight with the NRA. The questions predictably tilted leftward:

1. "Do you personally think it makes sense for people to have handguns in their homes for self-defense? Is that a constitutional right?"

2. "When he was in the Senate, the vice president frequently voted along with the NRA. Do you think that he's the best messenger now for gun control?"

3. "In 1992 you won points for distancing yourself from some of the more extreme elements of your own party. How would you tell Governor Bush, if you were advising him, to handle this issue of the Republicans and the NRA?"

4. "Some gun control advocates think that maybe you haven't gone far enough in using the bully pulpit."

5. "Some wish that maybe in the days after Columbine you had gone right to the American people, perhaps given an Oval Office address and seized that moment." The online edition contained this eye-opening Clinton statement that was edited out of the print edition: "Look, what happened is, you can’t pass a bill in Washington in three days or three weeks. That’s the real problem."

The online version also contained two additional questions edited out of the print edition:

1. "Do you think the Million Mom March will have any real impact on the political landscape? And is there any chance that you might march to show your support?" Clinton answered that he had asked "what I can do to be helpful. I think that wheat they want it to be is an expression of citizen support, and they want it to be as non-political as possible..."

2. "Do you think you might work on this issue once you leave office?"

Newsweek also invited feminist author Susan Faludi to write about how gun control and abortion rights are intertwined. "For the men whose pro-gun and pro-life preoccupations are twinned, the connection goes deep. Whether defending their right to bear arms against government ‘jack-booted thugs,’ or proclaiming their right to save fetuses from the clutches of ‘the abortion mill,’ these men are compelled by the same desire: to resurrect their traditional male role as family protector. If there is little call for that role in their actual domestic lives, they can still dream of reclaiming it in fantasy realms."

Reproductive control and lack of gun control are inseparable halves of what feminists once dubbed the male ‘protection racket’: If women have no control over their wombs, then they are helpless dependents in need of men's protection. But if women can make their own choices, then they no longer need the paternal guardianship either. That is why gun ownership and anti-abortion advocacy go together: each props up the other....Intentional or not, the Million Mom March's rhetoric strikes a blow at the psychological solar plexus of the pro-gun movement, the alliance between pro-gun and anti-abortion sentiments. They are saying in essence: not only don't we want male protection, we are the protectors now."

Newsweek magazine did not give space to a gun rights activist to respond to either the Clinton interview or Faludi’s editorial.


Newsweek was taking on Clinton’s big guns on one front: Kosovo. John Barry and Evan Thomas reported the administration’s boasts of damage were inaccurate: "According to a suppressed Air Force report obtained by Newsweek, the number of targets verifiably destroyed was a tiny fraction of those claimed: 14 tanks, not 120; 18 armored personnel carriers, not 220; 20 artillery pieces, not 450. Out of the 744 'confirmed' strikes by NATO pilots during the war, the Air Force investigators, who spent weeks combing Kosovo by helicopter and by foot, found evidence of just 58."

They added that "the Pentagon essentially declared victory and hushed up any doubts about what the air war exactly had achieved. The story of the cover-up is revealing of the way military bureaucracies can twist the truth -- not so much by outright lying, but by "reanalyzing" the problem and winking at inconvenient facts."

Barry and Thomas concluded: "The lesson of Kosovo is that civilian bombing works, though it raises moral qualms and may not suffice to oust tyrants like Milosevic. Against military targets, high-altitude bombing is overrated. Any commander in chief who does not face up to those hard realities will be fooling himself."

Newsweek took the time to verify or disprove its original reporting. In June of 1999, reported they'd destroyed 100 tanks in three weeks.


After months of giving his ethical problems little more than a brief aside, Time and Newsweek both discovered that Gore campaign chief Tony Coelho’s troubles could gain traction. In Time, Karen Tumulty and Viveca Novak found storm clouds on the horizon: "A running State Department Inspector General's investigation of Coelho has entered a new and potentially more ominous phase, sources close to the probe tell Time. At issue is the 57-year-old's service as head of the American mission to the 1998 World Exposition in Lisbon, Portugal, and whether or not Coelho abused government resources to promote a private foundation he started. Potential witnesses in the case, legal sources tell Time, have been told to expect subpoenas, and the matter may soon be presented to a grand jury.

They added: "As if that weren't bad enough for Coelho, the Securities and Exchange Commission is continuing two investigations involving parts of the complicated, overlapping business empire -- ranging from race horses to funeral homes to dotcoms -- the Californian built after he left Congress. Recently, still another probe was started, this one an audit of the government's Census Monitoring Board, of which he was co-chairman, a post he resigned when he joined the Gore campaign. Coelho's attorney, noted Washington defense lawyer Stanley Brand, says his client has done nothing wrong. Brand says he has not heard from government investigators on any of these inquiries concerning Coelho for months (something that is not unusual for any target of an investigation)."

In Newsweek, Bill Turque and Mark Hosenball delivered seven paragraphs Coelho’s ethically addled relationship with businessman Nunzio deSantis. "Coelho declined repeated requests for an interview. But his attorney, Stanley Brand, said his client has done nothing wrong. Top Gore strategists also insist that the inquiries don't amount to much, legally or politically. ‘I don't think voters care about it,’ said speechwriter Bob Shrum. But other campaign insiders are anxious -- about both the often-complicated specifics of the probes and the drip-drip of bad press that comes with coverage of protracted investigations. Some are reconciled to coping with a chronic problem. ‘Tony is just part of the baggage we all have to carry,’ said another senior adviser."

The baggage travels nicely if the amount of reporting stays low.


All three news magazines observed the passing of John Cardinal O’Connor. Newsweek and Time each picked a New York liberal to eulogize O’Connor. Both former mayor Ed Koch (Newsweek) and former governor Mario Cuomo (Time) praised O’Connor’s work with AIDS patients. Cuomo also praised O’Connor’s "vigorous struggle" for labor unions and workers’ rights but still managed to call him "one of the Vatican’s favorite conservative dogmatists."

U.S. News & World Report religion writer Jeffrey L. Sheler picked up on the liberal line of praise as well as the dogmatic theme: "The pontiff got what he wanted: a leader revered by many as a devoted and compassionate man of God, unflinching in his fidelity to church teachings and in his defense of the rights of the unborn. He also got a man reviled by some who saw him as a demagogue on sex and gender issues and inflexible in his dogmatism and in his determination to impose a stern moral discipline on his flock."

But Sheler noted O’Connor had a "less rigid" side, especially when it came to criticizing Reagan administration policies: "Whether or not they always agreed with him, New Yorkers seemed to appreciate O'Connor's personal feistiness and his ability to defy easy labels. Though he was often described as a conservative for his unabashed commitment to traditional church teachings on such issues as abortion, contraception, and homosexuality, he also was a tireless advocate of the poor, a champion of organized labor, and a staunch opponent of the death penalty. In the 1980s, he condemned U.S. support of counter-revolutionary guerrillas in Central America and criticized the Reagan administration’s plan to develop a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system."

Sheler then returned to O’Connor’s "harsher" views on abortion: "Yet it was O'Connor's penchant for ‘plain talk’ on the most delicate issues that got him often into the headlines and occasionally into trouble. He frequently used his pulpit at St. Patrick's Cathedral and his easy access to the media to condemn abortion and to admonish fellow Catholics, especially politicians, who refused to abide by the church’s teachings on the subject. He created a stir in 1990 when he declared in a newspaper column that ‘bishops may decide’ that Catholic politicians who take a pro-choice stand ‘must be warned ...that they risk excommunication.’ Mario Cuomo, New York's governor at the time, and a Catholic, called the remark ‘profoundly disconcerting,’ and Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who is also a Catholic, termed it ‘mean-spirited, threatening, and intimidating.’ O'Connor complained that his statement was widely misinterpreted, that it was not intended as a threat but to clarify a bishop's rights in such cases."

This is the standard media vision of church and state: the religious leader gets "in trouble" with the politicians for advocating church teaching, but the politicians are never presented as "in trouble" (either politically or spiritually) for supporting policies which openly flout church teaching.


The frivolous racketeering lawsuit the Democrats filed against Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) received significant play in Newsweek and U.S. News. U.S. News writer Marianne Lavelle echoed the media frenzy against the so-called "Newt Inc." empire: "It's known as DeLay Inc. This small circle of nonprofit organizations with wholesome names, like the U.S. Family Network and Americans for Economic Growth, declares devotion to the issues embraced by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. In fact, DeLay's closest political advisers run the groups. And their money has come, at least in part, from the campaign cash that DeLay has raised to keep a Republican majority in Congress. The Democrats claim DeLay Inc. is the political version of Murder Inc., and they want it stopped. So last week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued DeLay, charging that his use of these groups was a coordinated effort to violate election law and therefore amounted to racketeering."

Lavelle pointed out the suit was primarily an attempt by Democrats to counter the GOP’s charges against Gore’s fundraising tactics. "Some observers believe the suit is an effort to counter the image of Gore raising cash among the saffron-robed monks with another picture: that of the Texas Republican known as ‘the Hammer’ for his pressuring of potential donors." Lavelle concluded with a Republican election law expert, Jan Baran, who noted the suit had little chance at survival.

But Newsweek portrayed the suit as something that could hurt Bush. Under the headline "Just What Bush Doesn’t Need," the article claimed it could cause an "ugly escalation of political mudslinging" and renew the potency of campaign finance "reform." While Bush was being hurt by DeLay, the same article noted some help coming the Democrats’ way from a media mogul: "Meanwhile, the Democrats may be getting some indirect help of their own from an undisclosed source. Newsweek has learned that the Turner Foundation, headed by CNN founder Ted Turner, has made a multi-million-dollar grant to two pro-choice groups, NARAL and Planned Parenthood, to help identify pro-choice voters and train ‘activists’ in key states where Democrats are in tight races against anti-abortion Republicans. The foundation has not publicly announced the grant. A spokesman says the money is not intended for ‘political’ purposes."

So there you have it. Democrats are helped by Ted Turner-backed pro-abortion groups and Republicans are hurt by trumped-up Kennedy lawsuits. How’s that for media spin?

-- Geoffrey Dickens




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