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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday July 18, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 29)

Alter Absent on Guilty McGinn; Time’s "Pro-Choice" Advice; Gumbel vs. Bozell

1. With the exception of U.S. News, news magazines ignored reports of a DNA test upholding the conviction of Texas death row inmate Ricky McGinn, guilty of raping and murdering his 12-year-old stepdaughter. After weeks of lobbying for a stay and a DNA test and wallpapering the picture of McGinn all over the cover, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter dropped his favorite ball.

2. Time Daily advised George W. Bush: Select a "pro-choice" running mate because "it may be more risky not to."

3. Time’s Lance Morrow responded to the MRC ad campaign against Bryant Gumbel and his now infamous "what a f–king idiot" remark with calls for more name-calling. "Bozell makes his usual point about media bias. It seems a little off, however, that he should indulge in pious victimology....In a better world, Bozell would straightforwardly return the insult."

4. EEOC alert! Time discovered a horrible new injustice afflicting young girls all across the country, a "wage gap" in allowances given to teenage boys and girls.

It’s the dog days of summer, and the political pickings are slim this week. On the covers of this week’s newsmagazines: Newsweek features the fate of Jerusalem. Time highlights a report on the new philanthropists. U.S. News & World Report has the mysteries of history. The news magazines all ignored the Friday Washington Times report that Al Gore and the rest of the Clintonites knew that the government was causing the gas price crunch in the Midwest, but attacked the oil companies anyway. The magazines also ignored the Boston Globe’s ideologically suspect suspension of their lone conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby, with the exception of U.S. News columnist John Leo.


After exhaustively reviewing this week’s news magazines, what is significant isn’t so much what is in the news magazines as what’s not in them. The media has taken up DNA testing as its latest cause celebre, with the premise being that DNA testing will reveal that a whole host of death row inmates are in fact innocent of the heinous crimes for which they have been convicted.

So how did the media respond when a DNA test, rather than exonerating a convicted criminal, actually affirmed the original conviction, and by extension Bush’s Texas criminal justice system? If the news magazines are any judge, only with a yawn. Of the three major news magazines this week, only U.S. News featured an article on the case of Ricky McGinn, guilty of raping and murdering his 12-year-old stepdaughter, whose DNA test only served to cement the case against him.

Dan McGraw reported: "He eluded his second date with death when Gov. George W. Bush – under pressure from death penalty opponents [including reporters!] – gave him a 30 day reprieve for DNA testing, the only such reprieve that Bush has granted during his five year tenure. McGinn had insisted that science, not an act of God or the act of a presidential candidate, would ultimately save him. But last week, the convicted murderer’s luck ran out: Published reports say one of the DNA tests, which could have exonerated him in the 1993 rape of his 12 year old stepdaughter, Stephanie Flanery, instead implicated him. The results seemed to seal the fate of McGinn, who has been sentenced to death for raping and killing the girl. Recent reports suggest 60 percent of all post-conviction DNA testing reconfirms the jury’s original finding."

After weeks of lobbying for a stay and a DNA test and wallpapering the picture of McGinn all over the cover, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter dropped his favorite ball. Let’s rehash the magazine’s McGinn crusade in capsule form.

May 29: A caption read "Ricky McGinn (left) is scheduled to die in the execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas, next week. He may die without the benefit of the kind of DNA test that in recent years has freed 72 other convicts in sexual-assault cases – eight from death row." Alter and Mark Miller championed a test for McGinn, inquiring: "Of the first 18,000 results analyzed by the FBI, the DNA test excluded the principal suspects in 26 percent of the cases. If that level of innocence applies to those arrested, how about for those convicted?"

June 5: The magazine briefly reported: "After a Newsweek article about the case last week and new motions from McGinn's attorneys, Brown County District Court Judge Stephen Ellis recommended that two critical pieces of evidence – a pubic hair and a possible semen stain – should be retested using the latest DNA techniques. Now the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is strongly pro-death penalty, must decide whether to grant a stay and the retesting. If the court and the Board of Pardons and Paroles both decline, Gov. George W. Bush has the authority to grant a 30-day reprieve on his own. In five years in office, he has never granted such a stay."

June 12: Newsweek’s cover story "Rethinking the Death Penalty" underlined its case by wallpapering McGinn’s mug shot on the cover. Jonathan Alter asked: "McGinn's execution would have been the fifth in two weeks in Texas, the 132nd on Bush's watch. Is that pace too fast? We now know that prosecutorial mistakes are not as rare as once assumed; competent counsel not as common."

Alter added: "Even as Bush made the decent decision, the McGinn case illustrated why capital punishment in Texas is in the cross hairs this political season. For starters, McGinn's lawyer, like lawyers in too many capital cases, was no Clarence Darrow. Twice reprimanded by the state bar in unrelated cases (and handling five other capital appeals simultaneously), he didn't even begin focusing on the DNA tests that could save his client until this spring. Because Texas provides only $2,500 for investigators and expert witnesses in death-penalty appeals (enough for one day's work, if that), it took an unpaid investigator from out of state, Tina Church, to get the ball rolling."

After their bald-faced lobbying for McGinn’s DNA test, Newsweek added this classy poll on the bottom of Page 27: "Bush stayed McGinn's execution for political reasons, say 59 %, not because of evidence; 44 % say other governors also put politics first in capital cases."

July 3: Alter wrote a column touting his crusade: "This spring, I focused on an obscure case in Texas. The state was all set to execute Ricky McGinn, who looked very guilty but had not been given his proper DNA tests. It seemed like a no-brainer – why not find out for certain before executing him? This was the case in which Gov. George W. Bush issued his first-ever reprieve. But that raised as many questions as it answered. Illinois and New York are the only states that currently allow inmates to obtain DNA testing on request, and Bush had previously turned down such testing in cases that didn't get as much publicity."

Alter and Miller suggested most thought McGinn were guilty and he wasn’t a "poster boy" for death penalty opponents, but that’s precisely what they made him. Now shouldn’t they have the courage to see the story through to the end?


With Bush’s steady lead in the polls, I am sure he really appreciates campaign advice from the liberal media. Time warned of the perils of picking a pro-life running mate and suggests to Bush that picking a pro-choice candidate would actually be less risky. Time makes this argument in a web exclusive article with the subheadline: "The prospect of George W. picking a running mate who supports rights is seen by many as risky. It may be more risky not to."

Reporter Jessica Reaves suggested the "tantalizing choice" was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge: "Ridge would appear to be the most logical choice if the Republicans decided this was an opportune moment to cross a line in the sand and incorporate the majority American view (abortion is a disturbing and unpleasant topic, but the procedure must remain legal) into the party platform."

Reaves listed both the pros and cons of an abortion-friendly veep. The pros were: "Tempt fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters who were previously scared off by pro-life position; Gain unequivocal support of pro-choice groups within party; Showcase ‘new, inclusive’ GOP, exorcise demons of 1992 convention; Attract younger voters (generally shown to be the most staunchly pro-choice bloc)."


Time’s Web site also featured a Web-exclusive essay by Lance Morrow responding to MRC Chairman Brent Bozell’s ad campaign against Bryant Gumbel for his now-infamous "what a f–king idiot" remark. He criticizes Bozell’s complaint by suggesting the proper response should have been some name calling on our behalf.

Morrow wrote: "Bozell makes his usual point about media bias. It seems a little off, however, that he should indulge in pious victimology (painting [conservative expert Robert] Knight as the victim of Gumbel's religious intolerance). In a better world, Bozell would straightforwardly return the insult. He might paraphrase Groucho Marx's line: ‘Gumbel looks like an idiot. He talks like an idiot. But don't get me wrong. He really is an idiot.’ Instead, Bozell has mounted a campaign that, in essence, accuses Gumbel of a hate crime. Odd. Any intelligent conservative opposes the idea of trying to designate certain thoughts and opinions as ‘hate crimes,’ just as, in the late '40s, every intelligent liberal (and plenty of conservatives) opposed outlawing the Communist party. It's not a great idea to go around outlawing thoughts and opinions, even ugly ones, even potentially dangerous ones."

Morrow missed the point of the Gumbel ad. Nobody proposed a law against Gumbel’s intemperate insult, that opponents of gay-activist Boy Scout leaders are idiots. Gumbel refused to apologize for his thought-I-was- off-camera outburst, and CBS declared they didn’t know what Gumbel said, but it was "irrelevant to the content" of the program. In short, CBS suggested: conservative viewers are offended? So what?


EEOC alert! New evidence of allowance pay inequities between boys and girls! Sound like a joke? Not according to Time magazine. In a brief article under the heading "Your Family," Time has a chart showing a "wage gap" between boys and girls when it comes to allowances. Here are a few examples: Clean room – Girls $1.93, Boys $2.61; Clean bathroom – Girls $1.73, Boys $9.02; Do homework – Girls $1.41, Boys $2.86.

The caption by the chart explained, "Today’s parents are more generous to their children. A study of almost 9,000 kids ages 12 to 16 found that they had a median weekly spending allowance of an astounding $50. A wage gap, however, shows up early in life. Even though the top 10 allowance earning chores are the same for both, boys are paid more on average than girls for the same jobs, according to"

It would appear that if Time had its way, it would seek to impose a minimum allowance and equal pay standards on parents toward their children.

-- Tim Graham




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