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From the August 1988 MediaWatch

Dirty Double Standard

Page One

In late July a reporter asked Michael Dukakis about the Pentagon scandal. The Democratic presidential candidate shot back: "Well, there's an old Greek saying, 'the fish rots from the head first.'" TV network reporters portrayed the remark as a bold, decisive statement on a popular topic, not as an improper personal attack on Reagan's integrity.

On July 30 CBS News correspondent Bruce Morton told viewers "Dukakis sharpened his attack" since "the Reagan Administration has been scandal plagued, and Democratic strategists say ethics is a good issue." ABC's Joe Bergantino reported a "big and enthusiastic" crowd made Dukakis "feel confident and self-assured" so "he took a risk, and pounced." On NBC Nightly News Bob Kur explained that "at every stop the Governor's pitch on ethics is one of the most well received."

Four days later the President responded to a question on whether Dukakis once saw a psychiatrist by jokingly referring to him as an "invalid." Suddenly, the same reporters became indignant at the "dirty" turn in the campaign. An alarmed Dan Rather warned viewers "about a nasty campaign getting nastier." This "is a story about a rumor and how the news media were forced to cover it," Morton complained. "Between now and November," he concluded, "we may see a lot of dirt."

Even though the charge first appeared in the liberal The Boston Globe, on Good Morning America ABC's Bergantino laid the blame on "rumors reported in this conservative Sun Myung Moon owned newspaper, The Washington Times." The "key question now," Bergantino asked, "is whether the Republicans have deliberately helped keep these rumors alive, and if so, is this just a preview of how downright dirty this campaign will get."

With all this pious self-examination and discussion of media ethics underway, the networks could go a step further. They might consider issuing apologies to others they've impugned by repeating unsubstantiated allegations, such as Ed Meese, Oliver North, Ray Donovan, Robert Bork, etc.


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