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From the September - October 1988 MediaWatch


Putting Up Their Dues for Duke. The Newspaper Guild, a union representing 25,000 reporters across the country, has endorsed Michael Dukakis for President. The Wire Services Guild, the local made up of AP and UPI reporters, however, abstained from the endorsement. The Newspaper Guild has a history of supporting liberal Democrats. In 1972 the union backed George McGovern and in 1984 it supported Walter Mondale. The question is, if reporters are trying to appear impartial, why do they continue to pay dues to such a politically active union?

Gender Gap Gap. All summer long viewers of TV network news repeatedly heard about Bush's "gender gap," the preference women showed for Dukakis over the Vice President in polls. For instance, back on June 8 CBS reporter Bob Schieffer devoted an entire story to how women are "a big problem for George Bush because" they "don't seem to like him much." Schieffer cited a CBS News/New York Times poll which found "women favor Dukakis overwhelmingly, 53 to 35 percentage points, what some call a 'gender gulch.'"

But when the Bush gender gap started disappearing, so did the issue from TV screens. A September 13 CBS News poll determined Bush led among women 43 to 41 percent.

Men preferred Bush by 53 to 37, nearly the identical margin Dukakis held with women in June. How did the CBS Evening News cover the Dukakis gender gap among men? Correspondent Lesley Stahl summarized the poll but didn't consider the Dukakis problem worthy of mention.

Accuracy Irrelevant. "George Bush dismissed as 'irrelevant' unemployment figures released by the Labor Department today" which found the rate rose 0.2 percent to 5.6 percent in August, NBC anchor Connie Chung stated on Nightly News. What did Bush really say about the September 2 development? ABC and CNN aired his comment in context: "More people are at work than at anytime in history, a greater percentage." Then plane noise drowned out some of his reaction, but quieted in time for viewers to hear, "statistically, almost irrelevant."

Taking Sides. Michael Dukakis wants to convince voters the Reagan Administration has created "low wage service jobs" at the expense of higher paying positions. In his quest he has at least one ally in the media: CBS economics correspondent Ray Brady. Since both are "twisting statistics," on the September 5 Evening News Brady reviewed the economic views of the two candidates: "Economists think both Bush and Dukakis are partially right. There have been millions of new jobs created since 1982, but many are in low paying service jobs." He then added: "One study found the number of $32,000 a year manufacturing jobs has been dropping."

In trying to boost the Dukakis view Brady did just what he accused the candidates of doing: "twisting statistics." As the usually liberal Robert Samulson explained in the September 19 Newsweek, "the job gap is fictitious." Federal figures show the number of jobs in the highest paying category has jumped 34 percent since 1982 while low paying jobs had fallen by six percent.

Bush War. In August questions were raised about the past mental health of Michael Dukakis. CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather complained about a "nastier campaign getting nastier" as his colleagues debated the ethics of repeating the unsubstantiated allegations. But less than two weeks later, Rather had no qualms about legitimizing a charge George Bush lied about his war experience. On August 12 the anchor announced:

"A squadron mate of George Bush during World War II spoke out today. He pointed out Bush has told different stories about the time his plane was shot down. Some newspaper accounts quote him as saying that Bush could have saved the lives of the crew members had he not decided to bail out. That's not exactly what he told CBS News."

The source for the story? An article in the New York Post, not an authority on which CBS often relies. Reporter Richard Schlesinger explained how charges made by Chester Mierzejewski that the Bush plane was not on fire when it went down contradict the effort to erase Bush's "wimp" image. Near the end of his piece Schlesinger noted "official Navy records back up Bush's version of events." Mierzejewski "denies any political motivation," Schlesinger assured viewers, "and says he doesn't know yet who he'll vote for." In contrast, CNN's Carl Rochelle questioned the allegations, while ABC and NBC refused to play a part in the story which just happened to break the Friday before the Republican National Convention.

One Shipyard, Three Spins. On September 6 George Bush was repeatedly booed and heckled by a crowd of Oregon shipyard workers. That's about all stories filed by ABC, CBS and NBC reporters that night agreed upon. On NBC Nightly News reporter Lisa Myers portrayed the confrontation as symbolic, concluding: "Bush has been having problems winning over blue collar Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan. If today's reception is any indication," she warned, "that task may be even more difficult than he thought."

ABC's Brit Hume came to the opposite determination: "Part of Bush's challenge has been to hold on to the votes of working people who voted for Ronald Reagan. He appeared to make few of any converts here today, but few of those here today said they'd ever voted for Reagan, or any other Republican." Hume also interviewed a worker who thought that by shouting back at taunters Bush "stuck up for himself." So, Hume concluded, the worker reacted just "as Bush strategists no doubt hope a nation seeing the TV pictures will."

Not so, according to Bob Schieffer of CBS who saw the day as a disaster for the Vice President. Schieffer declared: "At the Bush headquarters tonight an exasperated official said only, 'we are trying to figure out how this got on the schedule.'" It just shows how easy it is for reporters to use the same basic facts to support their preferred angle.


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