On March 15 the Sandinistas invaded
neighboring Hondurasin an attempt to destroy Contra base camps before
any cease fire talks. But some network reporters excused the Sandinista
action, preferring to portray the U.S. as the real villain.
The next night ABC's Peter Jennings told
viewers: "When the Contras retreated over the border with Honduras,
the Nicaraguans followed. The White House calls that 'an
invasion.'" What else it could be considered, Jennings did not
A day later Reagan dispatched troops to
defend Honduras from the assault. Dan Rather opened the CBS Evening
News by presenting the case of liberal Democrats. Rather reported
the action "raised protest and questions" such as whether
Reagan "is trying to stampede Congress into spending more money for
aid to the Contras, and whether he is perhaps trying to distract
attention away from the criminal indictments against some of his former
top aides." The same night, only ABC's Brit Hume realized "not
all Democrats share that cynical view" as Senators Nunn and Boren
expressed support for the deployment.
By March 21 some reporters began
portraying Honduras as another ally abused by the U.S. Although
"the so-called 'Sandinista invasion of Honduras'" might help
the Contras get more aid, CNN's Lucia Newman complained that "as in
the past, the Hondurans are unlikely to benefit." Newman failed to
mention that since 1983 Honduras has received $550 million in economic
and food aid.
Three days later, ABC's Beth Nissen told
an even more one-sided story. "More and more Hondurans say there is
a cost to having" U.S. forces, "a cost to Honduran
sovereignty" and "self-esteem." Now, she cautioned,
"a new generation of Hondurans is learning to be wary of the
U.S." since a history book at one school has "a carefully
updated chapter on Yankee imperialism." As troops departed on March
28 ABC's Gary Shepard found "several hundred Hondurans gathered in
a demonstration of support for the GI's." They were probably among
the 81 percent of Hondurans who backed the U.S. Contra policy in a 1987
Gallup Poll, all of whom Nissen somehow missed.
Legislative Director for liberal Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) until
1985, and Legislative Assistant to Senator William Proxmire
(D-Wisconsin) for the past three years, joins the Washington bureau of Newsweek
as a foreign affairs reporter.
So far he's contributed articles urging
the U.S. to cease making plutonium for nuclear weapons because of
current over supply and criticizing the Reagan Administration's
Michael Kinsley, Editor
of the New Republic and fill-in liberal debater on Crossfire
and McLaughlin Group, has gained another outlet for his views.
He's started contributing opinion pieces for Time magazine's
National Public Radio's
(NPR) evening news show All Things Considered (ATC) has yet to
replace conservative commentator Cal Thomas. In
January, ATC Executive Producer Neal Conan dropped Thomas, calling him
"too predictable" and "stylistically anachronistic."
Thomas offered the only regular
conservative response to the daily commentary of liberal former CBS News
reporter Daniel Schorr. NPR President Douglas Bennet,
Director of the Agency for International Development in the Carter
Administration, has assured complaining listeners in a form letter that
the federally supported network "relies on a wide spectrum of
In a mid-March column, Thomas wrote that
in reality the current "stable of NPR commentators, analysts and
even reporters would get a 100 percent liberal rating from the Americans
for Democratic Action if these people were in Congress and not on the
air." Thomas suggested the program change its name to: "Not
Quite All Things Considered." In the past Thomas has criticized the
efforts of conservatives who track liberal media bias, downplaying the
depth of the problem. Maybe he has a different view now.
Janet Cooke Award
"Portrait of the Soviet Union"
"When first contact was made with
the Soviets to discuss Ted Turner's idea to produce a documentary
series, it was never imagined that he would be awakening a sleeping
giant. It was never imagined that he would be initiating the most
revealing and comprehensive look ever inside the Soviet Union."
With this self-indulgent, glowing review of its own work, Atlanta cable
superstation WTBS opened the late March seven hour-long series,
"Portrait of the Soviet Union." But, Washington Post
media critic Tom Shales realized exactly how shallow the series was. His
March 19 review summed up the show: "It's more like a post card
from Binky and Biff at Camp Whitewash."
Little more could be expected from
liberal television guru Turner, whose affinity for Mikhail Gorbachev and
the Soviet Union is well-known. Among other things, Turner created the
Better World Society and started his "famed" Goodwill Games
which have done much to improve Mikhail Gorbachev's image around the
world. To Turner, "Portrait" was yet another vehicle to
convince Americans that they have nothing to fear from the Soviet Union.
In a Washington Post TV Week article on the show, he proudly
boasted: "It's exactly what I hoped it would be. We're friends with
them. I've been hunting and fishing with their leaders and had dinner
with them in Moscow. They are very nice people. You know, if I go
looking for a friend, that's what I find. You smile and they smile back.
You find what you go looking for."
Sadly, the American public never got a
truly insightful look into Soviet society. They got a glossy
pro-communist travelogue instead. In a promotional clip Turner summed up
the series before it even aired, making this witty, but outlandish
claim: "Beach resorts, cowboys, rock concerts, independent business
-- life in the U.S.? Nope! Life in the Soviet Union!" After 3.5
million dollars and two and one half years, "Portrait" found
no political dissent, or persecution, or oppression. After 50,000 miles
of travel and 45 miles of film, "Portrait" found only happy
and content Soviet citizens "bound together by a dream...of a
socialist nation marching toward the first communist state." TBS
bragged of unprecedented access and of no Soviet interference. But there
was no need to interfere since the Kremlin couldn't have done a better
Indeed, "Portrait" legitimized
some of the greatest myths of the communist system. Narrator Roy
Scheider declared: "Once the Kremlin was the home of czars. Now, it
belongs to the people." While Siberia evokes thoughts of barbaric
gulags and prisoners of conscience, "Portrait" saw the tundra
region as a land of opportunity for loyal youth brigades: "It used
to be a one-way ticket to exile, it's now a chance for young Soviets to
do something for their country."
The series was divided into seven parts,
but all had a common theme -- uninhibited national groups, liberated
from backwardness, living together in a socialist utopia. In the ethnic
Russian republic, Scheider spoke of a Russian people that voluntarily
"submerged their ethnic identity in the interest of forging the new
Soviet state." While ethnic unrest and opposition to communist
attempts to obliterate Moslem religion has reached explosive levels in
the republics of Central Asia, "Portrait" claimed that
"there seems to be little racial tension....(and) the republics of
Central Asia have generally welcomed the progress." Ethnic unrest
in the Caucas republics was never mentioned either. Despite months of
rioting between Armenians and Azerbaidzhanis over territory, Scheider
again painted the rosiest of pictures: "Armenians have at last
found stability under the Soviet wing." In the Baltic republics,
"Portrait" pushed the same theme. Scheider noted "as
independent countries, they cease to exist. As peoples, they are as
strong as ever." But why do the Baltic nations cease to exist and
why do many in the Baltic region abhor Soviet control? Because of the
1942 Soviet invasion of the independent Baltic states, another fact that
Turner's broadcast failed to mention.
This year marks the millennium of
Christianity in Russia and many journalists have noted that religious
persecution and barriers to worship are still common.
"Portrait," as usual, had something different in mind,
claiming "the Church, for so long a misfit in an atheist state,
seems to be gaining a new recognition." Scheider gleefully added:
"Atheist though the state may be, freedom to worship as you please
is enshrined in the Soviet constitution."
"Portrait's" true political
message was clear during the concluding hour, titled "Country of
the Revolution." Scheider began by praising the 1917
Marxist-Leninist coup: "Freedom from the oppression of all czars
was now, finally, a reality ...The great experiment in social
engineering was about to begin. To make it work, the party needed to
mold a new kind of citizen, one who would embody all the virtues of the
socialist ethic....the citizen who would submerge his individuality into
that of the team effort." How does "Portrait" describe
the Soviet Union's ultimate goal of communism? Unable to divorce
romantic theory from 70 years of evil reality, Turner's team of writers
labeled it "a highly developed people giving freely all they can to
a society and in return taking back all they need."
While the show admitted that this
wonderful goal has not yet been reached, it managed to offer a stunning
appraisal of the revolution's success thus far: "The revolution has
given [the] young the chance to succeed in a wider world -- the kind of
opportunities their grandparents fought for them to have." To TBS
the future is even brighter, due to "new and enlightened
leader" Gorbachev who is "not afraid to reinterpret the words
of Marx and Lenin in light of a changing world."
Gorbachev's radical reforms also mean
that the outside world can now "understand and cease to fear."
Why? Because, "the early aim to spread the socialist revolution
worldwide" is over. Scheider assured viewers "the Soviets say
these are things of the past. Times have changed." To imply this,
as "Portrait" did, stands in the face of official Soviet
policy. During the 70th anniversary of the Marxist revolution last year,
Gorbachev reaffirmed his country's expansionist desires: "In
October of 1917, we parted with the Old World, rejecting it once and for
all. We are moving toward a New World, the World of Communism. We shall
never turn off that road."
While Turner's political predisposition
made "Portrait" an imbalanced presentation, ignorance and
gullibility may have played an equally critical role. Even after 28
trips and 11 months in the Soviet Union, Executive Producer Ira Miskin
was still ignorant of many basic historical and social facts. When
discussing the show with MediaWatch, Miskin
demonstrated only a sketchy understanding of the Soviet people. His
knowledge of the persecution of the Lithuanian Church and the ethnic and
religious turmoil in Central Asia was all but non-existent.
How did Miskin and producers gather their
facts and impressions? As Miskin said, "we went by what we
saw." But what about the dissidents and disgruntled citizens that
were never featured? Miskin, unable to garner specifics, could only say:
"It was not part of the mandate of what we wanted to do and film
there. We did not go in to report what is already known in the
news." Turner Broadcasting's educational arm, Turner Educational
Services, in cooperation with Encyclopedia Britannica, have announced
ambitious plans to market the series to secondary schools throughout the
nation. "Portrait of the Soviet Union" might just be one of
the most dangerously misleading programs to ever reach the American
The March unemployment rate fell by another tenth of a percent to 5.6
percent, the lowest level in almost nine years. Great news, right? Not
to ABC and NBC. They tried to explain away the figure announced on April
On ABC's World News Tonight Sam
Donaldson warned that "the steady drop in unemployment over the
last year is probably nearing an end." NBC Nightly News
anchor Connie Chung dug up another way to discount the news, complaining
that "this low unemployment rate is not entirely good news. Fewer
people are looking for work." Will they ever be satisfied?
TIME to Raise Taxes.
"Any attempt to close the deficit strictly through spending cuts
would be unworkable and unwise," therefore, "substantial tax
increases" are needed. An excerpt from a Mike Dukakis speech? No,
it's the solution offered by Time magazine in a February 29
"special report" on how to balance the budget. Conservative
groups like the Heritage Foundation have offered plans that refrain from
raising taxes by cutting spending and adopting Grace Commission reforms.
Time obviously had no intention of presenting such views since
they only consulted liberal "experts" from the Urban
Institute, Brookings Institution, the Center on Policy and Budget
Priorities and the Center's Defense Budget Project, an anti-defense
Recommending further defense cuts, Time
charged: "The U.S. is building more weapons systems than are
necessary to ensure the national defense." What about other
spending? The magazine claimed: "Most non-defense programs have
already been slashed relentlessly during the Reagan years."
But the facts prove differently. Reagan
failed to follow through on campaign promises to eliminate the
Departments of Energy and Education and spending on virtually every
entitlement program has soared well above the inflation rate. Spending
on Medicaid and Medicare, for instance, is 70 percent higher now than in
Haunted Housing. When
the Commerce Department announced new home sales fell nine percent, the
news so alarmed CBS that it led the Evening News. On March 2
Ray Brady warned viewers: "Today's figures are not just bad news
simply for homebuyers. Housing's a giant industry, and when it slows
down so do other industries supplying everything from plumbing to
furniture. And that could be trouble for the entire economy."
A month later housing sales jumped over
20 percent. Brady and CBS completely ignored the report. Dan Rather did
mention a rise in the leading economic indicators, finally conceding
that "analysts called today's report a sign that the nation will
avoid a recession," but then looking to the future, added after a
dramatic pause, "this year."
Going After Meese, Piece By Piece.
When two top Justice Department officials resigned, citing concerns
about the appearance of impropriety on the part of Attorney General Ed
Meese, some TV network reporters used the development as another
opportunity to pass judgment on Meese. Even after the special prosecutor
disclosed he had not found any evidence of indictable activity, the
reporters couldn't admit they were wrong. "There's a building
fear," ABC's Dennis Troute warned the day of the resignations,
"that the ongoing Wedtech investigation will turn up incriminating
evidence." The next day NBC Nightly News commentator John
Chancellor claimed "the final months of the Reagan presidency are
being dishonored by Ed Meese's continuing troubles" and urged him
"to resign now, before the law works its way through his tangled
On April 1, "recent media
reports" prompted independent counsel James McKay to announce he
had no plans to indict Meese. But that didn't satisfy Troute. He
predicted the investigation "may yet produce evidence of ethical
violations by Meese that fall short of criminality." NBC's Carl
Stern also refused to give Meese a fair break, declaring that "one
expert said professional standards require that Meese step aside, at
least temporarily," and "one Senator," liberal Carl
Levin, "conducted a lengthy investigation of Meese's finances and
said Meese was too ethically sloppy to stay at all."
Wyatt's Wavering Views.
As the CBS News Moscow correspondent, Wyatt Andrews tended to display
healthy skepticism toward Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. On
many issues, including human rights, arms control and Afghanistan,
Andrews usually saw what many ignored. At the December Reagan-Gorbachev
summit, while many touted pre-summit reunification of divided families
as a genuine improvement in Soviet human rights, Andrews saw through the
Kremlin charade, declaring on December 3: "By now, this is all a
predictable pre-summit process. Joyful reunions one day. Little
rejections the next. And no fundamental change on the Soviet side."
But since recently being reassigned to
the State Department, Andrews has become far less skeptical. Because the
Soviets have, for the last three years, repeatedly broken promises to
withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. demanded stringent
verification at the latest round of peace talks. Questioning the firm
stand, Andrews concluded on March 31: "The irony is that after
eight years of demanding that the Soviets simply leave Afghanistan, a
simple yes answer hasn't been enough."
Not Much Light Put on Wright.
"Wright Aide Tried His Own Arms Deal" read the March 28 front
page Washington Times headline over an Associated Press story
revealing how Richard Pena, a top aide to House Speaker Jim Wright,
"tried to sell weapons to the Nicaraguan resistance through Lt.
Colonel Oliver North's private network." Another Iran-Contra
"revelation" for the major media outlets to jump on? Not this
time. ABC, CBS and NBC could not find time for the development on their
evening newscasts. Just CNN considered it newsworthy, though only for a
brief mention by anchor David French. The Washington Post chose
to ignore the March 27 AP wire story. But, apparently embarrassed by the
prominence The Washington Times gave the news, Post
editors changed their minds, and on March 29 ran their version, buried
in the middle of page 12. The New York Times did not run the
story at all.
Rather Enraged at Reagan.
On March 25 President Reagan said those indicted in the Iran-Contra
affair "are going to be found innocent because I don't think they
were guilty of any law-breaking or any crime." That night the
network TV stars could hardly contain their indignation. An outraged Dan
Rather gave this less than even-handed assessment:
"President Reagan suddenly threw
himself back into the middle of the weapons for Iran criminal case
today, raising questions about potentially damaging presidential
interference in the judicial process. Before Oliver North and three
other key defendants have even gone on trial, Mr. Reagan declared that
they are not guilty and will be found innocent of charges they defrauded
the United States government and stole millions of taxpayer
On NBC Nightly News Andrea
Mitchell claimed "the President plunged into legal controversy by
praising Oliver North as a hero." Unable to find anyone who agreed
with Reagan, she turned to Arthur Liman, chief counsel to the Senate
Iran committee, who explained how "wrong" Reagan was, followed
by Sen. Alan Cranston, who long ago convicted North. Cranston complained
that Reagan's remarks "contributed to a prejudicial climate."
Boring Boettcher's Mozambique
Monotone. Few media outlets consider the ongoing civil war in
Mozambique between the Marxist FRELIMO regime and the RENAMO resistance
important enough to warrant even occasional coverage. But NBC
Nightly News regularly provides Mike Boettcher with an opportunity
to inform the American public about the struggle. Unfortunately all he
offers is the same one-sided views month after month.
On March 27, Boettcher repeated the
Marxist government's unsubstantiated claim that 400 people were killed
by RENAMO in the village of Homoine last July. Boettcher declared that
"their reputation as marauders who have massacred and looted"
has kept the Reagan Administration from giving them military aid."
Boettcher's reports regularly parallel the Marxist government's
propaganda aimed at discrediting the democratic resistance by blaming
them for civilian hardship. Just seven weeks earlier, on February 4,
Boettcher reported: "But the havens the refugees have sought have
become targets for anti-government rebels who steal food supplies and
destroy what they can....[The refugees] have run for so long from those
rebels that their bodies are little more than skeletons." On
January 9, Boettcher reported much the same: "Roads and rail lines
that lead to them [villagers] are controlled by anti-government rebels
who have attacked food convoys."
While Boettcher traveled to Marxist
areas, CNN's Gary Strieker went to neighboring Malawi and discovered
something very different. His March 30 report on refugees fleeing the
civil war included complaints of ill-treatment by the rebels, but found
the Marxist regime responsible for the atrocities. "The
refugees," Strieker reported, "describe how [FRELIMO]
government soldiers brutalize and kill civilians after the rebels run
From his embrace of Yasir Arafat and
communist dictators like Fidel Castro, to his desire for a unilateral
U.S. nuclear freeze, Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson
holds radical views that place him well to the left of liberal
candidates like Michael Dukakis. But a MediaWatch
Study has determined the evening newscasts of the four networks rarely
reported Jackson's extremist positions. When it came to Republican Pat
Robertson, however, the same TV reporters considered many of his beliefs
"controversial" enough to report.
To conduct the Study, analysts examined ABC
World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews and NBC
Nightly News stories beginning the week before each candidate
became a formidable force. For Robertson, the Study ran from the week
before his "surprise" finish ahead of George Bush in Iowa
through his poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. For Jackson, the
study began a week before his strong Super Tuesday showing and continued
to the end of March, as Jackson battled Mike Dukakis for front-runner
status. After eliminating "horserace" stories, MediaWatch
identified 13 pieces on Robertson and 37 on Jackson that entirely or
predominantly focused on either candidate.
Jackson has expressed plenty of radical
ideas that place him well outside the American political spectrum. These
include: praising PLO terrorist leader Yasir Arafat as "educated,
urbane and reasonable," calling Zionism a "poisonous
weed," and standing arm in arm with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro
chanting "Long live Fidel Castro, long live Che Guevara." Only
24 percent of all stories in the month of March mentioned any
controversy related to Jackson's candidacy. Just three stories, or 8
percent, contained reference to Jackson's pro-PLO stand. Viewers may
never have learned of his Arafat sympathies if not for candidate Al
Gore. Two stories near the end of the month included brief clips of Gore
denouncing Jackson's desire to radically alter U.S. Middle East policy.
Only 14 percent of the stories alluded in
even the most obscure way to his Castro connection. Two of these five
consisted of brief film clips of Jackson standing with Castro. On March
2, ABC's Rebecca Chase made passing reference to how "Jackson has
practiced a form of foreign policy by photo opportunity." The same
day, NBC's Bob Kur didn't see it as a negative either, referring to
Jackson "meeting with world leaders." At the end of March,
NBC's Ken Bode gave time to conservative Democrat Ben Wattenberg to
express concern about the Castro alliance. CBS once showed Gore
complaining. Only one time in any of the 37 stories did a reporter utter
the name "Castro." During a March 11 interview, Tom Brokaw
asked Jackson about his visit to Cuba, but let Jackson's answer go
unchallenged: "Positions I have been taking in foreign policy, in
Latin America, in the Middle East, are now mainstream American political
thought in foreign policy."
Jackson's close ties to Muslim leader
Louis Farakkhan and "Hymietown" remark caused quite a bit of
controversy in 1984, but this year the networks have practically
forgotten them. Just seven stories (19 percent) mentioned either topic.
This year he's announced policies that go far left of anything proposed
by even liberal Democrats. For instance, he has called for unilateral
disarmament, saying he wants to cut defense spending by 25 percent and
end production of every nuclear weapons system, from the Midgetman
missile to Stealth bomber. Only three stories (8 percent) noted his
desire to radically alter American defenses, but none portrayed his cuts
as anything extreme. The toughest scrutiny came from CBS' Bob Schieffer:
"Jackson talks of cutting as much as $30 billion his first year
from the defense budget, which would mean more than just trimming
What did network coverage concentrate on?
Emphasizing how he has moderated his views and broadened his base. Over
half the stories dismissed concerns about Jackson's extreme and
controversial views. For example, without critical comment, NBC's Dennis
Murphy devoted an entire story to how Jackson is trying to "prove
he is a mainstream, electable candidate." ABC's Peter Jennings told
viewers on March 2: "It's eminently clear that the Jesse Jackson of
'88 is a much different man than the Jackson that first ran in
'84." Just two weeks later Jackson reaffirmed his desire to open
relations with Cuba, saying on the March 17 Nightline: "I
think in the case of Fidel Castro we would be wise to work out ways to
expand our influence into Cuba."
Just over 43 percent of the reports
contained statements characterizing the campaign as having a positive
impact on his constituency, for instance, CNN's reference to his
"promise of hope to the less fortunate." On March 15, Bruce
Morton of CBS delivered this glowing assessment: "Jesse Jackson
toured Chicago and brought tears and excitement wherever he went. Watch
him as he walks to the Robert Taylor project, home of some of this
city's poorest people. They gave him what they had, they gave him
Since Pat Robertson's Republican
opponents refrained from criticizing his beliefs, just as Jackson's
Democratic opponents did until the very end of March, you might think
the media would have given them equal scrutiny. But MediaWatch
discovered just the opposite. In 13 stories that appeared on Robertson,
ten (77 percent) negatively portrayed past Robertson statements that
network reporters considered controversial. Four reports reminded
viewers of Robertson's past religious life, including his faith healing,
claims he talks directly to God, and "speaking in tongues."
NBC's Chris Wallace was so concerned about Robertson's past that he dug
up a video tape in which Robertson said only Christians and Jews be
allowed to hold government office. Wallace declared on February 9:
"Robertson may be restricted on reaching out by years of
controversial statements." Unlike Jackson, who never renounced his
chant with Castro, Robertson has apologized for the remark. Wallace made
no mention of the fact.
While they ignored Jackson's recent Nightline
comment on his desire to improve relations with Cuba, the media were
quick to jump on Robertson for any statement liberals found
controversial. Seven stories focused on his comments about Soviet
missiles in Cuba, that Planned Parenthood is attempting to create a
"master race," and that he opposes sanctions on South Africa.
Jackson received almost twice as much positive coverage as Robertson; a
mere 3 stories (23 percent) referred positively to Robertson's strong
appeal among Christians. An even smaller 15 percent of the stories
talked about his campaign appealing beyond its base, to Catholics,
Democrats, and blue collar workers.
Fear of being charged with racism
partially explain why reporters refrained from producing stories that
might hurt the Jackson campaign. One unnamed network correspondent
admitted to The Washington Post: "It's absolutely clear to
me that if Jesse were a white man, he'd probably be getting kicked
around rather royally by the press." But another factor is at work.
Many reporters do not see Jackson as outside the mainstream. To many in
Big Media, it is Robertson who espouses radical views and they feel
obligated to alert the American public.
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