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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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June 1997


Networks Ignore Environmental Stories When Democrats Disagree
Different Shades of Green Reporting

Two years ago, after Republicans had just taken control of Congress, the GOP couldn't make a move on environmental policy without journalists immediately questioning their motives and putting a negative spin on their actions. This year, it's the Democratic White House that's making controversial environmental decisions, particularly on clean-air regulations. And media criticism, or even attention, is nowhere to be found.

Environmental policy was a constant source of negative publicity for Republicans in the first five months of 1995. Dan Rather, on the March 3, 1995 CBS Evening News, warned that "House Republicans voted to water down another environmental protection law. They approved expanded compensation to land owners affected by environmental legislation. Opponents say this makes protecting endangered animals and the environment too costly, and would mostly benefit big landholding companies."

On May 30, 1995, Rather again used administration language to report on a Republican environmental initiative: "President Clinton is heading for another veto showdown with Republicans in Congress. This time it's over environmental legislation the President considers a major giveaway to industry, a bill that would water down the Clean Water Act."

On the May 11, 1995 World News Tonight, ABC's Diane Sawyer introduced a segment on "health and wealth, the latest battle over the environment. For the first time since the major environmental protection laws were passed in the 1970s, there is a campaign by the new Congress substantially to rewrite that legislation, and the lobbyists for industry have a more powerful voice than they did two decades ago."

Correspondent Ned Potter then reported that "senior Democrats say, behind their backs, Republicans sat down with lobbyists from oil, chemical, and agricultural to craft the bill."

Over at the NBC Nightly News, Chuck Scarborough, on April 1, 1995, reported that "the Senate next week begins fine-tuning a regulatory reform bill that would reduce [the cost of regulations] by chopping away at federal regulations and making them easier to challenge. But some environmentalists are worried that what may be good for the economy today could be bad for the environment tomorrow." But this year, the networks have been silent about Clinton administration proposals for new clean-air regulations so onerous that even many in the President's own party are objecting.

As columnist Paul Gigot points out, in the May 30 Wall Street Journal, Michigan Representative John Dingell is leading a group of 41 House Democrats who oppose the new regulations. Gigot also notes that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner admits "that 1) the air is getting cleaner all the time, 2) it will keep getting cleaner for at least five years even without the new rules, and 3) the new rules would slow this progress by forcing a delay while cities rewrote their current clean-air plans."

"What's amazing about this widespread Democratic whiplash is how little news it's made," Gigot reports. "Democratic mayors are upset, especially in the Midwest, where the rules could force construction bans that slow growth and cost jobs. Harry Henderson, Chicago's environmental chief, says the new EPA rules 'may even have negative effects on public health and other environmental goals."

Gigot is correct. During the first five months of this year, there hasn't been a single evening news story on ABC, CBS, or NBC about the Clinton administration's clean-air regulatory plans. The same network journalists that were exceedingly skeptical of every Republican environmental initiative of 1995 have ignored a White House policy that will dramatically affect the lives of their viewers.


Rich Noyes


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