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From the August 1988 MediaWatch


Abortion Distortion. As Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis campaigns around the country he's frequently confronted by pro-life demonstrators.

On the July 24 World News Sunday, ABC's Joe Bergantino noted the presence of anti-abortion protesters as Dukakis attended church. Instead of portraying his pro-abortion stand as a liability with ethnic Catholics, Bergantino declared it is: "Just one of several positions that helps him with women voters."

Bergantino explained how Dukakis is courting "disgruntled working class, Catholic voters" who "he says bought the Reagan message and found it bought them little in return."

Contra Attack? "The Sandinistas today blame the Contras for an attack on a river boat that killed two people and wounded 27, including an American clergyman," CBS' Dan Rather announced on August 3.

Reporter Juan Vasquez reviewed the "terrifying" cruise, explaining "the Sandinistas were quick to seize the propaganda advantage by blaming" the Contras. Since all the other networks ignored the charge, the Sandinista ploy worked only with CBS. Though Rather mentioned "the Contras denied any involvement," Vasquez dismissed the Contra version, concluding: "Since they're counting on the U.S. Congress to bail them out of an increasingly desperate situation, the attack on civilians on Rama River could not have come at a worse time."

Laying the Blame on the Mujaheddin. On the July 23 NBC Nightly News reporter Peter Kent told viewers who is at fault for the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. The Soviets who invaded in 1979? No, the Afghan freedom fighters struggling to liberate their nation. Reporting from Kabul, Kent charged Mujaheddin rockets killed "at least 17 civilians" in a week, claiming: "The problem is the Mujaheddin still want an unconditional victory over the communist regime in Kabul when the Soviet troop withdrawal is completed next year."

ABC's Missing Meese Piece. On July 25 Attorney General Edwin Meese told the National Press Club luncheon audience a criminal probe of his activities could have been avoided had two former Justice Department officials first conducted a competent investigation. CBS, CNN and NBC all ran stories on Meese's view.

The next day those two officials, the former Deputy and Assistant Attorneys General, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and claimed the department turned into "a world of Alice in Wonderland" under Meese, prompting them to resign in protest. ABC, which couldn't find time for Meese's side of the story the night before, made these charges the lead item on World News Tonight. So much for balance.

Britannica Turns on Turner. Encyclopedia Britannica has canceled plans to market to schools an educational package based on "Portrait of the Soviet Union." A glowing look at Soviet society, "Portrait" aired in March on Ted Turner's cable superstition, WTBS, and earned the "Janet Cook Award." Britannica planned to sell a series of videotapes and study guides for elementary, middle and high school students based on the series.

The Media Research Center (MRC), publisher of MediaWatch, mobilized nationwide conservative opposition to the pro-Soviet propaganda. An early August syndicated column by William F. Buckley Jr. alerted parents to the content, prompting a Britannica official to announce the cancellation. The reason given: "Test marketing of the 'Portrait' series indicated there was insufficient demand." Translation: it bombed.

A Feminist Mistake. After reciting the gains made by women since the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, NBC's Betty Rollin concluded her July 25 Nightly News story by repeating a myth pushed by feminists. "Women's earning are still only 70 percent of men's. And women...may rise to the middle of a corporation, but seldom to the top," she announced.

Researchers at Concerned Women for America were quick to explain to MediaWatch that women are 11 times more likely than men to leave and re-enter the labor force, and women are much more likely to choose flexible jobs with transferable skills. These patterns largely account for slower promotions and lower earning. Women aged 20-24 make 89 percent of what their male counterparts earn, and the wages of women are expected to improve relative to men's for the rest of the century.

How could Rollin have missed this? Perhaps it was her choice of sources. In nine minutes over two nights, Rollin featured only one expert: radical feminist Friedan.

Quint-Essential Reasoning? Apparently convinced Mikhail Gorbachev is dedicated to religious freedom, one CBS reporter has found the real villain behind Soviet religious repression. While Gorbachev has promised for five years to allow free worship, still today few churches have been allowed to reopen. The Ukranian Catholic Church was nearly obliterated under Stalin and remains under-ground today.

To CBS' Burt Quint, however, Gorbachev is not to be blamed. Quint absolved him, characterizing the Russian Orthodox Church as the true obstacle. In a June 13 report on the Pope's appeal for religious tolerance, Quint concluded: "The Russian Orthodox Church has resisted the granting of religious freedom to other Christians. It enjoys a near monopoly on legalized religion and would resent losing it. That poses a problem for Gorbachev."

Bronx Wars. NBC's Bronx Zoo, a show about life at an inner-city high school that stars left-wing activist Ed Asner, is at it again. An episode last season promoted birth control and abortion services. This season Asner used a new June 22 episode to denigrate a military career.

When teacher "Sara Newhouse" learns a student plans to enlist in the Marines, she becomes enraged. Insisting "these kids" need "to learn from our mistakes," she gets principal "Joe Danzig," played by Asner, to allow her to photocopy an anti-Vietnam War book not on the approved list. In discussing the situation with other teachers she bemoans her student's choice of a military career since he has "real potential and he's just going to chuck it all for the Marines." She also regrets anti-war sentiments "just aren't that fashionable anymore."

Head's Line on Firing Line. ABC's situation-comedy Head of the Class has, once again, served as a platform for liberal actor Howard Hessman to promote his political views. An episode repeated this summer satirized a TV talk show host described as an "intellectual, novelist, mountain-climber" and "the king of conservatism." The "Lawrence P. Whitney" character even impersonated the voice of William F. Buckley Jr.

Upon hearing "Whitney" wants to interview a member of the advanced placement class, high school student "Dennis" calls him a "right-wing, crypto-fascist, plutocratic sleaze bag." In a letter to the TV host, "Dennis" writes: "Your every appearance is living proof that the phrase conservative thinker is an oxymoron." As the program draws to a close teacher "Mr. Moor," (Howard Hessman) imagines what his appearance might be like. "Mr. Moore" gives viewers a lecture on the virtues of liberalism. "Whitney" naturally sees the light:

"How could I have been so blind. So, I can now at last say that liberalism may, nay let me go so far as to say does, have a profound and unequivocal value. Because of what you have said here today, I feel compelled to re-evaluate the thinking of my entire career."

A Healthy Tilt. Just how widespread is advocacy of the liberal agenda at The Washington Post? Judging by some recent cover stories, it even includes the weekly tabloid "Health" section which the newspaper uses to promote socialized medicine.

Back in March, Karen DeYoung looked at the popularity of Britain's National Health Services (NHS) on the 40th birthday of "the proudest achievement of Britain's post-war social reforms." DeYoung glossed over the well documented problems of an inefficient government run system, including long waits just to get a hospital bed, poor care and unlimited demand for a system without any incentives to control costs. Instead, DeYoung attacked conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for "undermining" NHS by refusing to raise taxes to fund the system.

Concluding the article, DeYoung described her policies as "niggardly and insulting to the citizens of a country that claims to have Europe's highest economic growth rate." An accompanying sidebar article by a Princeton University professor urged the U.S. to raise taxes and further regulate medicine in order to assure "universal entitlement to health care."

After Massachusetts Government Michael Dukakis signed a law forcing private companies to provide health insurance to those uninsured, a cover story asked hopefully: "As Massachusetts Goes, So Goes the Nation?" Back in April 1987 the "Health" section gave readers a six page tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy and his campaign for socialized medicine, praising him for becoming a "torch-bearer of change in domestic politics."

Moscow Meets Main Street. If you think you see more and more communist spokesmen and Soviet government officials on American television news, you're right. A new Media Institute monograph, "Moscow Meets Main Street," by Virginia Commonwealth University professor Ted Smith proves that the American networks increasingly consider official Soviet spokesmen credible source of information. The study of all network evening newscasts in 1981, 1983, and 1985 showed a drastic increase in Soviet on-camera appearance with each year. Smith found that in 1981, 291 stories used at least one Soviet source. By 1985, the Soviets gained unprecedented access to American viewers, as the number of stories with a Soviet appearance jumbed 64 percent to 477.

What explains this increased willingness to put Soviets on the air? Smith suggests the blame lies with the "intellectualization" of the elite journalists and their "culturally neutral" outlook on reporting. All too often the U.S. media, acting as neutral arbitrators above the East-West fray, give equal weight and credibility to Soviet communist policy and the words of leaders in the Free World.


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