"There is, in Cuba, government
intrusion into everyone's life, from the moment he is born until the day
he dies. The reasoning is that the government wants to better the lives
of its citizens and keep them from exploiting or hurting one
another." This quote from NBC News reporter Ed Rabel typified the
view conveyed by Sunday Today's February 28 broadcast from
Co-host Maria Shriver and an NBC crew
traveled to Cuba ostensibly to interview Cuban leader Fidel Castro who
wanted his rebuttal of drug smuggling charges against him to reach a
U.S. TV audience, but another development at the time also highlighted
Cuba. Just a few weeks before, the State Department released its
"Country Reports on Human Rights," naming Cuba one of the two
But Sunday Today's look into
both these charges was anything but probing. In fact, Today's
conciliatory approach allowed Castro to spew lies about his drug
connections and the wonderful achievements of the Cuban revolution.
The show began with excerpts from
Shriver's Castro interview. Seven of the 13 questions she asked dealt
with the recent drug allegations brought out by former Panamanian
official Jose Blandon. All that Shriver got Castro to say was that
Blandon was lying. Demonstrating how ill-prepared she was, at no time
did Shriver confront Castro with the long-standing drug connection that
dates back to 1982 U.S. indictments of four senior Castro aides.
On human rights, Shriver managed only
slight reference to "high numbers of political prisoners who have
told of suffering in Cuba's prisons," which Castro dismissed,
saying "all that is a lie." Shriver seemed satisfied as she
failed to confront Castro with political prisoner figures that approach
15,000, according to the Cuban Human Rights Committee, an internal group
led by Marxist opposition leader Ricardo Bofill. Shriver was well aware
of the situation since, as MediaWatch has
learned, Today producers received extensive briefings by
Amnesty International just before the trip. What did Shriver spend time
on? The Cuban missile crisis, Soviet leader Khrushchev, and the
assassination of her uncle, President Kennedy.
Showing who really controlled the visit,
viewers then saw highlights of Castro's guided tour of Havana, complete
with adoring crowds cheering him. Shriver, who tagged along,
occasionally tried to let viewers know that life in Cuba is really not
as rosy as Castro's selective tour showed, but still ended up relaying
an image of Castro as popular reformer and a man of "incredible
stamina." Dismissing the injustices in Cuba that the U.S. human
rights report detailed, including repression of religion and no freedom
to choose an occupation, Shriver mimicked her host's propaganda line:
"The level of public services was remarkable: free education,
medicine, and heavily subsidized housing."
Reporter Ed Rabel continued the
non-adversarial approach when he accompanied a regime-chosen family on a
Sunday outing, saying Cuban officials consider them "a triumph over
racial and economic discrimination, an affirmation that Fidel Castro's
revolution works." Rabel characterized Cubans as pleased with the
life Castro has brought:
"The worker's earn about five
dollars a day....It doesn't sound like much, but consider this: at a
government daycare center, pre-school children of the workers are taken
care of for a small fee...their health care needs are looked after,
they're fed three times a day, and they appear happy and healthy. Older
children...go to boarding school through the week. [They] are on a
course...that will take them all the way through the university
completely free of charge."
While Rabel allowed a little time for
some Cuban dissidents to speak and a later story from Miami summarized
Cuban-American sentiment toward Castro, Rabel's conclusion about life in
Cuba demonstrated how gullible NBC had become. Said Rabel: "This
year Cuba celebrates its 30th anniversary of the revolution....On a
sunny day in the park in the city of Havana, it is difficult to see
anything that is sinister."
After repeated phone calls, MediaWatch
reached Senior Producer Penelope Fleming, who accompanied Shriver and
Rabel to Cuba. She declined comment on two occasions, explaining she was
in the middle of a "crisis" and unable to discuss the show.
However, as Mario Portuondo, a concerned Cuban American National
Foundation official told MediaWatch: "The
program served only to confirm the existence of a double standard."
Can you imagine NBC letting a less than perfect pro-U.S. leader off so
A presidential campaign connection MediaWatch
missed: former Chicago Tribune political reporter David
Axelrod has been serving as media adviser to liberal Democratic
presidential candidate Paul Simon. Axelrod left the
paper's presidential primary beat in 1984 to become Manager of Simon's
successful U.S. Senate race.
Peggy Simpson, an
Associated Press political reporter in the 1970's and most recently a
Washington based economics reporter for the Hearst newspapers, named
Washington Bureau Chief of Ms. magazine.
She'll be joined by Ann Lewis, an adviser
to the Jesse Jackson campaign and former Executive Director of the
liberal Americans for Democratic Action, who will write a regular column
on national affairs. Making the early March announcement, Anne Summers,
Editor of the magazine created by Gloria Steinem, asserted: "Since Ms.
is no longer tax-exempt, we are able to express political opinions and
take a stand on issues that was not possible before."
Roger Wilkins, a Senior
Fellow with the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (IPS),
is Chairman of the Pulitzer Prize Board which will announce its awards
recipients in late March. Wilkins was appointed to a one-year term in
April of last year after serving on the board since 1979.
Wilkins worked as a Senior Adviser to the
Jesse Jackson presidential campaign in
1984. Under President Johnson, he served as an
Assistant Attorney General. He has also sat on the editorial advisory
boards of The New York Times and Washington Post.
Last month MediaWatch
relayed the findings of a book uncovering the numerous ties between IPS
and the media, "Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy
Studies." Author S. Steven Powell wrote that Brian Ross of NBC News
taught a course on investigative journalism at an IPS sponsored seminar.
Ross called MediaWatch to deny he ever taught
any such course and "never even heard of IPS before."
Contacted by MediaWatch, Powell explained that
Ross' name appeared on an IPS brochure listing participants in previous
Janet Cooke Award
Mid-February marked the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique.
No doubt her radical feminist ideas have had a significant impact, but
many argue her extreme women's liberation ideology has caused more harm
than good. Friedan's views go far beyond the mainstream desire of women
to have equal access to the workforce. However, most news stories
marking the anniversary considered only Friedan's point of view and
For the most unbalanced assessment of
Friedan's impact, the March Janet Cooke Award goes to ABC's World
News Tonight and anchor Peter Jennings for the February 19, Person
of the Week. ABC clearly set out to paint Friedan in a positive light
without featuring the concerns of millions of pro-life, family oriented
women. Jennings began by declaring: "As a result of the book...many
young women today have a degree of equality that was simply not imagined
in the 1950's." Jennings continued his glowing assessment of
Friedan: "And women have come a long way since she just sat down
and wrote what so many women were thinking but afraid to say." The
lengthy report featured three generations of women in one family, all of
whom feel liberated because of Friedan's work.
Jennings failed to mention many of the
negative effects her views have had on modern society. As Phyllis
Schlafly of the conservative women's group Eagle Forum points out,
Friedan "had a significant role in bringing easy divorce laws to
all 50 states, in the legalization of abortion which has killed over 20
million, and the fight for lesbian rights in the mid-'70's." As
Schlafly concluded: "She preached a doctrine of liberation from
marriage, husband and children. The movement she started failed in its
primary legislative goal, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment
The ERA defeat might reflect the fact
that most women and men in the country do not endorse Friedan's radical
views, but Jennings still saw her as champion of all women. He concluded
his segment by endorsing her radical goals: "And so we choose Betty
Friedan because she had the ability and the sensitivity to articulate
the needs of women, which means that she did us all a favor." When
asked about the obvious imbalance, ABC News Press Representative Laura
Wessner responded, "You can't deny she has made a difference for
the better for many women." But why weren't critics of Friedan
offered airtime? She explained: "Our selection is someone who has
made an enormous change. We can do that with a piece." Refusing to
acknowledge the imbalance, Wessner maintained that general standards of
objectivity and balance "do apply to Person of the Week
Asked about Jennings endorsement of
Friedan's accomplishments, Wessner declared: "I don't see anything
wrong with what Peter said!" Asked again whether it is proper for
an anchor to back such controversial views, Wessner shot back:
"This becomes really obnoxious, I don't spend 20 minutes with
anyone else but you. Your persistence is unbelievable. I don't think it
was an unbalanced story. I don't know what else we have to discuss. We
don't have a problem with it."
In fact, ABC had plenty of opportunity to
balance the piece with a critics views, but chose not to. Rebecca
Hagelin, Director of Communications for Concerned Women of America (CWA),
informed MediaWatch that CWA President Beverly
LaHaye was interviewed for the Person of the Week segment. When LaHaye
did not appear, Hagelin contacted ABC News producer Pam Ridder who
claimed that LaHaye's comments had to be edited out at the last minute.
ABC could certainly have edited some of Friedan's extensive comments
rather than LaHaye's, but apparently ABC does not consider the views of
non left-wing feminists legitimate enough to air. As Rebecca Hagelin
pointed out: "It was ABC's feminist ideology at work. It's typical
to portray feminists as heroines representative of all women."
The night of the Iowa caucuses CBS News political correspondent Bruce
Morton told viewers: "There's always one candidate, I guess, whom
reporters like. Reporters liked Morris Udall the year he ran for
President." This year, he concluded, "reporters like Bruce
Babbitt a lot."
A few weeks later, when Babbitt and
conservative Republican Pete du Pont dropped out of the race, ABC's World
News Tonight helped prove Morton's point. On February 18 anchor
Peter Jennings spent 24 seconds telling about du Pont's decision before
he introduced a nearly four minute long story by Richard Threlkeld on
the Babbitt campaign's last days.
Jennings paid homage to the former
Arizona Governor for having "the courage to say that as President
he would probably have to raise taxes," and lamented the fact
Babbitt "never recovered from his courage."
Jennings' Hostage Break.
The CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews and NBC Nightly News
all broadcast video of U.S. Marine Lt. Colonel William Higgins stating
the demands of his terrorist kidnappers. But, even though ABC's World
News This Morning and Good Morning America had already
shown the tape earlier on February 22, World News Tonight
anchor Peter Jennings refused to play along, explaining, "the
hostage holders clearly intend to use the media to put pressure on
Could this positive development become a
new policy? Unfortunately not. Asked by MediaWatch,
ABC News press representative Laura Wessner responded: "No, we will
still decide on a case by case basis."
Surprise, Surprise. Is
there a liberal mindset among the Eastern media elite? The results of a
recent survey help provide the answer. The Washington Journalism
Review (WJR) "Best in the Business" reader poll has
received plenty of publicity, especially since ABC News is airing a
promotion touting Sam Donaldson, Peter Jennings and Nightline
But the "least favorite"
winners have received little attention. In the print media category,
George Will won, followed by Robert Novak and William F. Buckley. All
conservatives. But that's not much of a surprise given WJR's readers are
mainly Washington and New York based reporters, producers and media
executives. Who do they consider the "best" newspaper
reporter? Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
Freedom in the Donaldson Vein.
Sam Donaldson has discovered a "freedom fighter" group he can
tolerate, in fact one that he even supports. This may come as a surprise
to those used to hearing Donaldson's frequent criticism of the Contras.
For instance, on the February 7 This Week with David Brinkley
he saw nothing wrong with abandoning the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters,
declaring: "I think the House was right to turn down aid to the
So what is the group he wants to assist?
A hint: the group battles a government in Africa. No, it's not the
democratic resistance movements in Angola or Mozambique, but the
communist-backed, terrorist African National Congress (ANC) in South
Africa. Donaldson asked Reagan at his February 24 news conference:
"Have you considered sending aid to the freedom fighters, the ANC,
or any other organization against this oppression, just as you send aid
to other freedom fighters around the world?"
Misleading Economic Indicators.
"Alarm bells were going off again today about an economic recession
in this country," NBC anchor Tom Brokaw announced on February 2.
The source of Brokaw's concern? The Index of Leading Economic Indicators
fell 0.2 percent in December, the third monthly drop and a sign of an
impending recession according to some economists. A month later, on
March 1, the Commerce Department revised the figure to reflect an actual
jump of 0.3 percent for December. But Brokaw ignored the correction
which shot down his earlier assertion.
Brokaw's not the only one emphasizing
negative economic news. On February 17 government agencies reported
housing starts fell while industrial productivity rose. ABC's Peter
Jennings only mentioned the housing decline. The March 2 CBS Evening
News led with the news new home sales were down. A dire story by
reporter Ray Brady warned viewers the dip means "trouble for the
entire economy." Of the four networks, only CNN's Bernard Shaw gave
viewers a more complete explanation, reporting: "economists are
saying housing downturns are not uncommon at this time of year and they
are predicting much better numbers by Spring."
NBC's Slight to Human Rights.
On February 10 the State Department released its 1987 "Country
Reports on Human Rights." A department official described North
Korea and Cuba as the "most repressive states in the world, closely
resembling George Orwell's nightmare state as depicted in his novel,
'1984.'" That night, the CBS Evening News and CNN
PrimeNews mentioned these conclusions. CNN's Mary Alice Williams
also referred to Nicaragua's "significant human rights abuses"
and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. NBC Nightly News ignored
the authoritative study. But a week later NBC did find time to air a
lengthy report on abuses by a U.S. ally described by another human
rights study. On February 19 NBC's Ed Rabel charged that "the U.S.
government knows Honduras is using death squads to kill civilians
suspected of being leftists."
Headline Writing for Human Rights.
The day after the release of the State Department's report, The
Washington Times gave the story a straight forward headline based
on what the report found: "North Korea, Cuba Worst Abusers of Human
Rights." The Washington Post chose to overlook the worst
oppressors and, instead, put a positive spin on the conditions in
another communist nation. The headline read: "Soviet Rights
Improved By 'Glasnost,' U.S. Says; Repression Eased Under Gorbachev
Grenading Urgent Fury.
Once again, the PBS public affairs series Frontline has lashed
out against Reagan's foreign policy goals. Last year Frontline
focused on what it termed "America's war" on Nicaragua. The
show's main question: "How the U.S. claimed the right to intervene
against the sovereign government it didn't like?" This year, Frontline
looked at "Operation Fury," the 1983 U.S. military plan to
rescue American students in Grenada. To present the case, PBS turned to
crusading liberal reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh spent much of the time
explaining how military incompetence endangered the very people the U.S.
went to save, but his main point was political, characterizing the
invasion as irrationally driven by Reagan's conservative ideology.
Hersh argued that the students were not
"really in imminent danger," despite the communist regime's
shoot to kill curfew and frequent threats to hold Americans hostage.
Carter's ambassador to Grenada, Sally Shelton-Colby, served as Hersh's
main source. She claimed the government had "a great, deep, and
sincere interest in making things better for Grenadans." Hersh
misleadingly describes the situation as "a war of words between
Ronald Reagan and the revolutionary government of Grenada." The
program failed to document key points. First, that neighboring Caribbean
nations felt threatened by Grenada and requested assistance. Second,
documents seized after the liberation proved that just 30 days after the
communist takeover in 1979, massive Soviet armaments began arriving from
Cuba. Third, while both Hersh and Shelton-Colby claimed the Point
Salines airfield was strictly for tourism, the same documents prove that
the strategically-located island would someday be used as a Soviet and
Cuban military installation.
A Provocative Passage?
The Soviet Union claims its territory extends 12 miles out to sea, but
the U.S. recognizes the three mile limit established by international
law. When two U.S. Navy ships sailed closer than 12 miles to the
Soviet's Black Sea coast on February 12, Soviet ships forced the U.S.
vessels to turn away by bumping into them. But at least one TV network
reporter saw the U.S. as the antagonist. NBC's Fred Francis charged the
U.S. was deliberately "taunting the Soviet bear" and countered
the Navy's explanation they were simply exercising the right of
"innocent passage" by stating: "the mission was hardly
innocent" since the ship's "were collecting intelligence along
the Soviet shore." CNN's Carl Rochelle gave viewers a more balanced
picture, pointing out that intelligence gathering is "something the
Soviets regularly do to the United States, which has only a three mile
A bit later in his Nightly News
story Francis asserted that "many analysts say the U.S. policy is
provocative" and warned: "instead of bumping the American
warships, next time the Soviets may fire missiles." However, when
the Soviets test-fired ballistic missiles near Hawaii last October,
leading the U.S. to issue a strong protest, NBC didn't consider the act
"provocative" enough to mention on the Nightly News.
Faw and Order. Worried
about the treatment of violent criminals, CBS sent reporter Bob Faw to
study the situation inside the federal maximum security prison in
Marion, Illinois. Without mentioning the crimes committed by those
incarcerated, Faw's February 1 Evening News story focused on
the prison's "barbaric design," including a 23-hour a day
lockdown policy, and strict rules for behavior that prisoners call
unfair. "Everything that Marion controls now will explode
later," Faw concluded after interviewing several inmates who
complained of alienation and critics who warned the "slow
torture" is "creating violent people."
In building sympathy for the men, Faw
neglected to mention that most are repeat offenders who have disrupted
other prisons. Indeed, 38 percent have killed or tried to kill. In a
letter of protest to CBS News obtained by MediaWatch,
Federal Bureau of Prisons Director J. Michael Quinlan explained that of
the inmates Faw interviewed one had planned a sniper-assisted escape and
another had helped kill a correctional officer. Quinlan called the
violence-creating assertion "patently false" since the
"inmates are far more dangerous," before entering Marion
"than the Alcatraz population ever was."
Radio Report and Second Newsletter. In late December MediaWatch
began a weekly radio commentary narrated by Publisher L. Brent Bozell
III. Distributed by Radio America, a Washington based radio syndicate
service, early returns show the MediaWatch
Radio Report is carried by over 100 stations nationwide.
The Media Research Center started
publishing Notable Quotables in mid-February.
A bi-weekly report from MediaWatch, the two
page newsletter lists the latest examples of media bias in an easy to
scan, brief paragraph format. Each issue offers readers quotes from TV
network reporters and demonstrates the political slant of newspapers by
comparing headlines on current issues. For a free copy, write to the
address at the bottom of page 8.
Conservatives Prefer Shaw.
Attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
consider CNN PrimeNews anchor Bernard Shaw to be the "Most
Objective Anchorman." In the First Annual CPAC Media Poll conducted
by MediaWatch at the mid-February convention
in Washington, D.C., Shaw edged out ABC's Peter Jennings for the honor.
Poll respondents overwhelmingly picked Dan Rather as the "Most
Biased TV Anchorman" and 76 percent decided the CBS Evening
News is the "Most Biased Network News Show." With 43
percent, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour barely beat out PrimeNews
which 42 percent favored as the "Most Balanced Network News
About two-thirds predictably chose Sam
Donaldson as the "Reporter Most Hostile to Conservatives." His
closest competitor: Lesley Stahl of CBS with 11 percent. The poll
determined conservative activists believe ABC's Brit Hume is the
"Most Fair and Balanced Political Reporter." Hume got more
than twice as many votes as the second place finisher, CNN's Frederick
Allen. Respondents also identified CNN's Crossfire as the
"Most Informative TV Talk Show."
It's All Meese and
Almost since the day he took office back
in February, 1985 liberals in Congress have been hurling charges of
improper conduct toward Attorney General Ed Meese. With the disclosure
of the Iraqi pipeline memo in late January, his opponents received
plenty of help from the media in their quest to raise a cloud of
suspicion. Over the past year equally serious questions have also been
raised about the ethical conduct of the most powerful Democrat in the
nation, House Speaker Jim Wright, including influence peddling and
campaign money laundering. But, a MediaWatch
Study has found that while major media outlets jump on any rumor of
misconduct by the Attorney General, they virtually ignore questions
about Wright's behavior.
Using the Nexis news data retrieval
system, MediaWatch determined The New York
Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek,
Time, and U.S. News & World Report, during just
January and February of this year, ran a total of 103 news stories
focused on Meese's ethics. Another 73 made passing reference. The CBS
Evening News, NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight
ran 26 reports. In all of last year and the first two months of 1988,
however, the print publications carried a mere six stories focused on
Wright's ethical problems while 23 others made passing reference. The
print media covered Meese 17 times more often than Wright in one-seventh
the time. Incredibly, in the 14 months ending in February the networks
never aired a story on Wright's problems.
Nearly 46 percent of the 103 Meese
stories in the newspapers and magazines dealt with old controversies,
including how he supposedly used his influence to obtain a federal
contract for Wedtech, and possible conflict of interest concerning stock
he owned in telephone companies. So far, nothing has been proven
illegal. On January 28 the Los Angeles Times claimed Meese may
have acted improperly by not reporting that a memo from a friend made
reference to a plan to "bribe" Israeli officials who opposed
the oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan. While vague, the media pounced on
the story, looking for a way to turn the development into a scandal.
During the following month, the print media outlets ran 56 stories
exclusively on Meese's role with the pipeline, accounting for 54 percent
of the Meese articles. Another 33 pipeline stories concentrated on other
players, but made a passing reference to the Attorney General.
A few weeks later, ABC's Dennis Troute
reported that a key player in the pipeline project said the memo
"shows no technical violations of the law by the Attorney
General," but Troute still didn't hesitate to pick up the anti-Meese
agenda, concluding on February 12: "His critics will point to it as
another example of what they call 'a blind spot to ethical concerns' on
the part of Mr. Meese." When Meese released the memo on February 22
in order to clear his name, NBC reporter James Polk declared: "This
is still likely to loom as the most embarrassing crisis yet for the
beleaguered Attorney General."
While some of the allegations of
wrong-doing against Wright date back to 1979, several new questions
arose in 1987. These included: 1) His profiting from a business
relationship with a Ft. Worth developer he helped get federal money. 2)
His intervening with federal officials to prevent the closing of a
debt-ridden Texas savings and loan owned by a big Democratic
contributor. 3) Charges Wright laundered campaign contributions for his
personal use through a publisher who reportedly paid Wright $54,000 in
book royalties while the company received $68,000 in 1986 campaign
funds, a year he ran unopposed and paid just $100 in campaign staff
These questions prompted U.S. Rep. Newt
Gingrich (R-Georgia) to call for an investigation. Virtually every media
outlet ignored Gingrich's February 19 press conference which generated
just a two paragraph story in the Los Angeles Times and a
passing reference in an unrelated Post story. But the record of
the networks is even more atrocious. Newsweek on June 29 and
the Post on September 24, considered the allegations serious
enough to merit lengthy stories. But the networks didn't pick up these
pieces as they often did when it came to Meese. The only mention
occurred during a January 25, 1988 NBC profile. Wright told reporter Bob
Kur he never did anything worth investigating.
What might account for this disparity? At
least some of the reason is institutional: the national media,
especially the TV networks, consider the Executive to be the most
significant of the three branches of government. That's why, for
instance, ABC viewers see a lot more of White House reporter Sam
Donaldson than Capitol Hill correspondent Brit Hume. As Hume explained
to MediaWatch, that short shrift naturally
"leads the media to become soft on Congress, its leaders
especially." But, as one of the few solid conservatives left in the
cabinet, it's hard to avoid concluding a more important reason is that
reporters don't mind emphasizing anything that makes the Meese look bad.
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