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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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November 1996


Issue Analysis: A Liberal Pipeline to Soccer Moms
Women's Magazines Largely Endorse Government Solutions

"Soccer Moms." This term struck as much fear into the hearts of conservatives during the 1996 election campaign as "Angry White Men" did in liberals in 1994. Conventional wisdom has it that the limited-government policies of the GOP just did not resonate with these suburban housewives, creating a gender gap that cost Bob Dole dearly at the polls.

Why the apparent skepticism among women towards smaller government, especially since in some polls they strongly favor reducing taxes and cutting wasteful spending? Perhaps at least part of the reason can be found in a joint Consumer Alert/Media Research Center study of the publications that Soccer Moms read. Each month, as they perused the pages of their favorite magazines, women were not merely learning new recipes, the latest diet ideas, and how to have better relationships with their husbands or boyfriends; they were also often being told that government was the solution to most of society's problems, and they were being urged to lobby for its expansion.

For the study, Consumer Alert and the Media Research Center analyzed the October 1995 through September 1996 issues of thirteen family and women's publications -- Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Parents, Prevention, Redbook, Weight Watchers, Woman's Day, and Working Woman.

Overall, there were 115 positive portrayals of government intervention in the market and/or calls for such intervention during the study period. There were only 18 negative portrayals od government intervention and/or calls for cutbacks in government spending or regulation. There were five balanced portrayals of policy issues.

Working Woman and Glamour were the most biased in favor of expanding government. Each had 24 positive portrayals of government activism compared to four negative portrayals. Good Housekeeping was next with 15 stories promoting bigger government and only three stories promoting smaller government; Woman's Day had nine positive portrayals of government activism and no negative portrayals.

Ladies' Home Journal was the most politically balanced magazine in the study. Although the monthly ran ten stories promoting bigger government, it also ran six promoting limited government and ran four balanced stories. Two of the magazines, Better Homes & Gardens and Prevention, almost completely avoided public policy issues during the study period.

Health Care. Health-related issues brought forth the most calls for government intervention. There were 28 such stories. Seven focused on "drive-through deliveries," in which insurance companies didn't pay for women to stay in the hospital for longer than one day after giving birth. Good Housekeeping warned that "tiny lives are at risk" and advised readers on "how you can help stop this shocking practice." The magazine provided a form readers could send to Congress to demand regulations extending hospital stays.

Seventeen stories demanded increased federal funding for medical research into everything from AIDS to obesity to breast cancer, with no mention of how this new spending would be paid for. It didn't seem to matter because, according to Woman's Day, women had a "right" to quality health care.

Urging Readers to Lobby the Government. Twenty- three stories went beyond merely promoting bigger government as the solution to problems; they also asked readers to contact Congressmen or other government officials to lobby on behalf of bigger government. Good Housekeeping provided form letters ("Join the Good Housekeeping Lobby") that merely needed a signature. After a June, 1996 story about Christopher Reeve and his life since his equestrian accident, for instance, Good Housekeeping provided a letter to Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations.

Other publications, while not going to such elaborate lengths, nonetheless prodded readers into lobbying for bigger government. Six stories highlighted the "These Children Have Faces" campaign. Under the headline "Has Congress Put Children in Danger?" the May Glamour told readers that the group's founders "devised a plan to let politicians know that children's allies are watching: They're collecting photos of young people, with notes about their parents' fears and hopes, and will deliver the pictures to Congress next month." Glamour advised its readers on how to participate.

In a November 1, 1995 Woman's Day story about osteoporosis, Dr. Marie Savard told readers to "urge your members of Congress to work for more women's health research funding." Woman's Day's other doctor, Dr. Loraine Stern, who writes the "Your Child's Health" column, wrote: "If you agree that immunizations should be fully covered for all children in need, tell your insurance company and your representatives in Washington." In March, Weight Watchers alerted readers to a new advocacy group, the American Obesity Association, whose "first priority is to lobby the federal government to spend more money on obesity research." The magazine then told readers how to get in touch with the group to help its cause.

Promoting Liberal Activists. Well-known liberal activists and political figures were profiled or prominently mentioned 18 times by these magazines. Marian Wright Edelman was the clear favorite, being promoted in Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, Parents, and Working Woman. Family Circle seemed particularly enamored with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) founder, mentioning her on four different occasions. The November 1 "From the Editor" section featured a prayer drawn from Edelman's latest book; the May 14 issue gave Edelman the magazine's "Lifetime Achievement Award" for such accomplishments as increasing Head Start funding; the June 4 issue promoted Edelman's "Stand for Children" march in Washington. And when the editors of Family Circle picked the 25 best-selling books "that can change your life," a recent Edelman book made the list.

Good Housekeeping also promoted Edelman's "Stand for Children" march on Washington; Parents editor Ann Pleshette Murphy pointed out with pride that Edelman won that magazine's first "As They Grow Award," and Mademoiselle, in a sidebar to a September article about poverty, urged readers to send a check to the CDF and provided the group's address. At no point did any of these publications question Edelman's policy prescriptions. They could have pointed out, for example, that Census Bureau statistics show that child poverty went down every year between 1983 and 1989, when Ronald Reagan's policies, which Edelman opposed, were in effect. But no critics or criticisms of Edelman were mentioned by the women's magazines.

Some magazines had regular features to highlight liberals. Glamour's "Women in Washington" column, for instance, reported on the work of female representatives and senators -- but usually only the ones who were working to expand the role of government. One month, the column praised a host of female legislators for increasing federal funding for child care "during last year's bitter welfare debate." Another "Women in Washington" column expressed relief that "while members of Congress were slashing funding for almost all federally funded programs last fall and winter, Congresswomen from both parties managed to engineer a triumph for breast-cancer programs."

Two staffers at the magazines even became liberal activists for a time, attending the United Nations' World Conference on Women in Beijing. "What hit me...was the passionate belief shared by women everywhere that we have a right to good health care," wrote Dr. Marie Savard, who penned the "Your Health" section of Woman's Day. Ladies' Home Journal editor-in-chief Myrna Blyth also attended, writing that the evening after Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech, the American delegation "got into a large circle, held hands and sang some sixties-style folk songs."

"Redbook Strategy." The Clinton campaign understood what an asset it had in family and women's magazines. It pursued, according to U.S News & World Report, a "Redbook strategy" aimed at courting the demographic group to which most of the readers of women's and family magazines belong. Redbook editor Kate White, in an article about "Why you're the White House's secret weapon," wrote that she was "flattered." But the magazines themselves, by promoting big government, had laid the groundwork for such a strategy to be successful. In doing so, they often misled their readers -- or didn't give them the whole story -- about the downside of government activism for women and families.


Rich Noyes


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