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From the December 1988 MediaWatch


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Dreaming of Gorbachev. Nightline host Ted Koppel could hardly contain his excitement over Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's appearance before the United Nations on December 7.

"Imagine," Koppel began his show, as John Lennon's song of the same name played in the background, "a world where everyone is guaranteed freedom of choice, where all nations work together with space technology to protect the environment, where poor countries are forgiven their debts, and where nations trust one another enough to unilaterally reduce their armed forces."

Koppel concluded the melodramatic introduction by asking: "Who would dare to dream such a dream?" The answer: Gorbachev, of course, who Koppel claimed "dropped a diplomatic bombshell by making a global appeal to peace."

Cronkite Comes Clean. "I know liberalism isn't dead in this country," former CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite assured diners at a People for the American Way (PAW) banquet, "It simply has, temporarily we hope, lost its voice."

A December 5 Newsweek "Periscope" item provided several quotes from the November 17 address by Cronkite, who stepped down in 1981 after nearly two decades as anchor. "We know that unilateral action in Grenada and Tripoli was wrong," he declared, adding: "We know that 'Star Wars' means uncontrollable escalation of the arms race. We know that the real threat to democracy is the half of the nation in poverty." As for abortion, "We know that no one should tell a woman she has to bear an unwanted child."

So what should liberals do to bring about a resurgence? Cronkite excitedly proclaimed: "Gawd Almighty, we've got to shout these truths in which we believe from the housetops. Like that scene in the movie 'Network,' we've got to throw open our windows and shout these truths to the streets and the heavens. And I bet we'll find more windows are thrown open to join the chorus than we'd ever dreamed possible."

Just after PAW completed its anti-Bork campaign last year, the liberal group gave its "Spirit of Liberty Award" to Cronkite. Now we know why.

Still On Quayle's Tail. Even after the Bush-Quayle ticket's resounding win, the networks continued to attack the Vice President-elect. On CNN's PrimeNews Frederick Allen judged Quayle "too adolescent to take over." Allen reported "there's also talk of making him head of the National Space Council," sarcastically adding, "though presumably not of sending him there."

The next day, November 11, NBC's Andrea Mitchell served as a conduit for Quayle's enemies, devoting an entire story to criticisms of the future Vice President. Bush aides, Mitchell claimed, "worry that he will listen too much to conservatives, and they worry about the influence of Marilyn Quayle," who, horror of horrors, is "more conservative than her husband." Mitchell concluded: "Bush advisors hope that Quayle will cooperate and become completely irrelevant."

Ethical Line. President Reagan pocket vetoed an ethics bill on November 23 on the grounds the overly broad measure would discourage people from taking government jobs. On ABC's World News Tonight reporter Jeanne Meserve had this to say: "The Reagan Administration has been repeatedly accused of playing loose with government ethics, and the announcement of this pocket veto while the country is distracted by the Thanksgiving holiday is bound to renew charges of sleaze."

Meserve is not the only reporter who expressed that view. The next day CNN's Larry Woods asserted "surveys say" trust in government "has been eroding throughout our entire political system and glaringly so during the Reagan-Bush Administration."

The Racist Review? Editors of the Dartmouth Review can attest that offending the liberal sensibilities of Dartmouth College not only threatens your status as a student, but also means 60 Minutes assumes you're guilty even before they arrive to film a story.

Here's the background: The Review published a transcript of a lecture by music professor William Cole, a rambling diatribe on life during which he called white students "honkies." Review staffers later approached Cole to offer him the opportunity to reply. Cole claimed he was attacked by the students who the college suspended for the incident.

The CBS News show sent Morley Safer to investigate the controversy surrounding the conservative student newspaper. So did he consider it a case of students trying to exercise their free speech rights? No, he bought the line of the administration, charging that "the perceived racism of the Review has made it an embarrassment to a lot of the faculty." Doing his best to whitewash Cole's conduct, Safer dismissed his classroom obscenities as "street language familiar to most students." Safer alleged during the November 13 broadcast that a description of Professor Cole's face as "crinkling up like a mudpie" represented "overt racial innuendo." Yet Safer didn't bat an eye when Professor Cole complained that one of the Review staffers was "in my aura space, you know, that inch or so away from your body."

How They Saw Sununu. When President-elect George Bush selected John Sununu as his Chief-of-Staff, the networks eagerly tagged him as a conservative. On the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather called the New Hampshire Governor a "champion of the hard-right." Leading off CNN PrimeNews, anchor Lou Waters described Sununu as a "hard-line conservative."

Nearly two weeks later Senate Democrats elected George Mitchell the new Majority Leader. But CNN and CBS failed to greet him with the same ideological labeling. On CBS reporter Phil Jones ignored Mitchell's liberal views, describing him as the "son of a janitor, a man who worked his way through law school to become a federal judge and Senator from Maine."

CNN's Pam Olson portrayed Mitchell as "the image of a younger, more aggressive person," who is "considered a thoughtful politician, an eloquent speaker who does well on television." ABC's Brit Hume, however, identified Mitchell as the "most Northern and most liberal of the candidates running," who "fought to impose steeper taxes on higher income, a classically liberal position."

Rather Fond of Richards. New York Daily News columnist Liz Smith reported "a gang got together" in New York City on November 18. They "speechified and gathered up money in buckets" for Texas Treasurer Ann Richard's probable 1990 run for Governor. "A goodly crowd of New York Texans and pals showed for Richards," Smith reported in her December 13 syndicated column.

Among them: CBS News anchor Dan Rather and wife Jean. Richards leaped into the national limelight after delivering a scathing personal attack against George Bush at the Democratic National Convention.

Shooting Down the Truth. "We are not interested in doing political diatribes," NBC Vice President for programming Alan Gerson promised The New York Times when asked about the political implications a prime-time TV movie on the KAL-007 downing.

But that is exactly what the November 28 movie "Shootdown" turned out to be: a two hour anti-U.S. government diatribe producers readily concede they based on the R.W. Johnson book, Shootdown: Flight of 007 and the American Connection. Johnson claimed the plane was deliberately sent over Soviet air space by the CIA.

NBC's picture chronicled the battle of "Nan Moore" (played by Angela Lansbury), whose son was killed when the Soviets shot down the 1983 flight, to learn "the truth." Judy Merl and Paul Eric Myers, who both wrote for the politically infused Cagney & Lacey series, made a left-wing conspiracy theorist a main character in putting together the "Shootdown" screenplay. During a lengthy lecture the theorist convinces "Moore" there "is no logical way to explain how Chun [the pilot] got where he did by accident."

A while later the character narrates a dramatic re-creation of KAL-007's last minutes. His explanation of "what happened" came right from Johnson's book: The pilot lied about his position and ignored repeated warnings from the Soviets. NBC insisted some opposing views get time, so producers added a brief Donahue scene of reporter Seymour Hersh arguing the plane went of course by accident. But these smattering references to other explanations are overwhelmed by the blame America conspiracy emphasized throughout.

One party the movie never blamed for the tragedy: the Soviet Union. No wonder the Soviet news agency Tass praised it as "the first attempt by U.S. film makers to tell the truth about the Boeing 747 flight."









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