Networks Campaign for Higher Spending & Taxes
"Many in Congress and elsewhere
doubt that President Bush can deliver on his campaign promises for
vastly improved quality of life programs, at the same time reducing the
huge federal deficit and stick to his no new taxes pledge," Dan
Rather told viewers on February 9, just hours before Bush delivered his
budget address to Congress. Sure enough, over the next week the media
did its best to make Rather's case.
The morning after Bush's speech, the
figure for inflation at the wholesale level increased, leading a couple
of large banks to raise their prime interest rate. "All this
undermines the rosy economic scenario that President Bush presented last
night, a scenario based on low inflation and declining interest
rates," NBC's Mike Jensen warned on Nightly News.
"President Bush sees more people and companies earning more money
and paying more taxes without an increase in the tax rate," Jensen
continued. "But," NBC's business correspondent countered,
"most experts say that's not likely to happen."
Jensen laid out a scenario that ended in
a tax hike: "Inflation will force Alan Greenspan of the Federal
Reserve to push interest rates higher. Loan rates would go up. That
would slow down housing...and then the economy as a whole. And with
that, the government would collect less money in taxes and the budget
deficit would grow. It would take new taxes to reduce it." CNN's
Frank Sesno relayed the same figure that alarmed Jensen, but noted
"some economists say it's a fluke and underlying inflationary
pressure remains moderate."
Simultaneously, CBS started the drumbeat
for more social spending. "Since 1981," Bob McNamara lamented,
"budget cuts have taken school lunches away from two million
children and nutrition experts today fear that if President Bush's
budget doesn't add up, food assistance to children will be cut
again." The next day CBS' Wyatt Andrews reported Bush proposed
spending "a billion dollars, in total, for the homeless," but
"the director of this home says that's nothing compared to the $30
billion the government used to spend on actual housing." Neither
gave anyone from the administration a chance to respond.
What's the root cause of this supposed
spending restraint problem? The February 20 Time magazine
reiterated the position held by many reporters: "The Bush campaign
strategists--with the candidate's active complicity--burdened the new
President with an obdurate stance on taxes."
Week in Review View.
An early February shake-up of New York Times editors moved Erik
Eckholm from science and health editing responsibilities to control of
the "Week in Review" section. In 1979 and 1980 Eckholm served
on the State Department policy planning staff. He helped formulate
Carter Administration international oil and energy policy.
In the Morning Again.
Bob Ferrante, Director of Communications for the Democratic National
Committee from 1986 until the party released him just before its 1988
convention, has joined National Public Radio as Executive Producer of
morning news. He'll oversee the weekday Morning Edition and
Saturday and Sunday Weekend Edition. Ferrante's worked similar
hours before. In 1983 he was Executive Producer of the CBS Morning
News, becoming Senior Producer of the CBS election news unit the
A Little Move.
Christopher Little, Newsweek magazine President, has resigned
after 16 months to be President of Cowles Magazines Inc,. publishers of Country
Journal and Bow Hunter, among others. During the late
1960's Little was the top aide to U.S. Representative Bob Eckhardt, a
Not So New at The New
Republic. After the departure of Charles Krauthammer The
New Republic (TNR) offered two former staffers a return engagement.
Hendrik Hertzberg, TNR Editor from 1981 to 1985 and Mickey Kaus, the
magazine's West Coast reporter in the early 1980's, have become Senior
Editors. Hertzberg was a Newsweek reporter in the 1960's and
later wrote speeches for President Carter. Kaus, a Senior Writer at Newsweek
since mid-1987, drafted speeches for Democratic Senator Ernest
Hollings in 1983-84. In a 1988 Newsweek article Kaus boasted:
"I was a long-haired Ivy League leftist in the late '60's, and I'm
still basically proud of what I did then."
Bush Workers. Kristin
Clark Taylor, a member of the USA Today editorial board and a
Gannett business reporter between 1982 and 1987, is now Director of
Media Relations at the White House....Loye Miller, a Newhouse news
service White House and political reporter from 1979 to 1985 who
previously worked for Knight Ridder, is now Director of Public Affairs
for the Justice Department. He served as Press Secretary for Education's
Bill Bennett until last Fall....Richard Burt, national security
correspondent for The New York Times from 1977 to 1981, travels
from Bonn, where he was Reagan's Ambassador to West Germany, to Geneva
where he'll be chief strategic arms negotiator....Edwin Dale, a long
time Times reporter who was Assistant Director of the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) until he left in 1987 for a Commerce
Department position, is back at OMB as Director of External Affairs.
Up from Today.
Margie Lehrman, Washington Producer of Today since 1983, is the
new Deputy Washington Bureau Chief under Tim Russert, a former aide to
New York's liberal Governor Mario Cuomo. Lehrman worked as a press
assistant to Republican Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan, before
joining NBC News in 1979 as a researcher.
Janet Cooke Award
CBS & CNN:
Easing the Soviets Out
On February 15, the Soviet Union finally
ended their nine-year occupation of Afghanistan. But in the course of
almost a decade the Afghan people learned a bitter lesson -- the price
of freedom can be very high. It was a victory for the mujahideen freedom
fighters and Western military support, but since the 1979 invasion 1.25
million people, mostly innocent civilians, have died. The Soviet
presence caused more than five million Afghans to flee their homeland:
two million others live within the boundaries as internal refugees, with
virtually no means of support or subsistence. In short, more than half
of the pre-war population has been either killed or displaced by the
The recent State Department Report on
Human Rights documents frequent cases of political killing,
disappearances, torture, cruel and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest
and detention over the nine year occupation.
As for the future, it will take years to
rebuild. War has savaged the country's infrastructure. More than half of
the country's 20,000 villages and communities have been destroyed, many
falling victim to the retreating Soviet army's scorched earth policy.
Afghanistan's roads, irrigation system, and medical facilities have been
gutted. Those that fled the war are reluctant to return: ten to 30
million mines laid by the Soviets and the Afghan regime are sure to maim
tens of thousands more even after the war has officially ended.
But the bitter lesson that Afghans
learned was not the lesson two TV networks relayed. Coverage of the
atrocities and brutal nature of the occupation escaped most CBS
Evening News and CNN PrimeNews stories in the weeks
leading up to the pullout. Instead, CBS and CNN spent much of their
airtime looking upon the Soviet occupation uncritically while impugning
the freedom fighters. For this they earn the March Janet Cooke Award.
While the Soviets had engaged in weeks of
saturation bombing and offenses against civilian villages before their
pullout, just four of 14 CBS stories made any reference to these
offenses. But plenty of time was given to supposed "rebel"
indiscretions. On January 31 reporter Barry Petersen ignored Marxist
atrocities, offering instead scenes of the mujahideen executing
government recruits. His conclusion: "Afghan soldiers will face a
situation as brutal as any the Soviets are leaving behind....Many fear
this is just a taste of what is to come once the Soviets are gone."
How did Petersen view the mujahideen's
efforts and American support? On February 14, Petersen didn't see the
struggle as a fight for freedom but as one more battle in the
"Great Game" that conquering nations have played in
Afghanistan: "The Americans have given millions of dollars in
sophisticated weapons to the mujahideen, an easy way for America to make
the Soviets bleed that may now backfire. For any government to succeed
here it must be...fiercely independent, unwilling to follow the lead of
any other country. That may be all that American' millions will
The same pattern held for CNN. Of 38
stories or anchor reads, only seven made any reference to Soviet
atrocities. Moscow Bureau Chief Steve Hurst produced ten reports on the
Soviet withdrawal that aired on PrimeNews. Hurst made three
passing references to Soviet bombing and abuses. His February 3 report
did document mujahideen claims that the Soviets have dropped exploding
toys meant specifically to maim young children.
But most of his reporting time was
devoted to how "the rebels keep up their harassing attacks,"
including how "rebel" ambushes and blockades of supply convoys
bound for Kabul are causing hardship for the Afghan people, and
"rebel" rocket attacks that are hurting civilians in Kabul.
In two pieces he even lent legitimacy to
the Soviet invasion. On January 27 he reported that the invasion was
"instigated partly out of fear of this kind of fundamentalism on
the Soviet borders with its own Moslem republics."
On February 9 Hurst worried that the fall
of the Marxist regime would be detrimental to women's rights. Ignoring
the repression of the past eight years, he concluded: "The army has
controlled this beautifully rugged landscape with the help of women
right from the revolution. It's the women of this country who have the
most to lose if this Marxist revolution fails -- if the government falls
to the fundamentalist Moslem rebels. A woman's place in such a society
would be back under the head to toe covering of the shaderi, cooking and
Reached in Moscow by MediaWatch,
Hurst stood by his story, defending it as a legitimate point of view to
express: "All I said was...that these women who support the
Marxists and are opposed to the fundamentalist society are the people
who have a great deal to lose."
Part of CNN's imbalance stems from where
they broadcast. All of Hurst's reports originated from
communist-controlled territory. Jonathan Mann reported twice from
Pakistan on a conference to form an interim government and once on the
refugee problem, but did not accompany the rebels in the field. CBS did
much the same. Hurst told MediaWatch that he
spent over three weeks trying to get into the mujahideen countryside and
admitted "if I had been in the rebel-controlled areas obviously my
pictures and my reports would have been entirely different."
"I believe the stories about
atrocities committed by the Soviets," declared Hurst, "But I
was not where the Soviet atrocities happened...How can you expect me to
report something I don't see?" Were Hurst's stories balanced? He
argued:"I do not think I was biased. I do feel access I had
prevented me from seeing what was going on on the other side. However, I
made reference whenever I could to what I knew was going on on the other
But ABC and NBC did manage to gain access
to mujahideen areas and as a result their coverage was thorough and
significantly more balanced. NBC's Rick Davis filed seven reports from
non-Soviet areas and presented a humane, just view of the mujahideen.
That was not the characterization of the "rebels" from the
Kabul regime, and it showed on CBS and CNN. Even worse, both networks
failed to inform viewers their reporters were restricted to
communist-controlled locations, which inevitably skewed their
CBS News valiantly resists the testimony of their own polls in
describing the popularity of Republican Presidents among women. On
January 22 anchor Susan Spencer reported that the latest CBS/New
York Times poll found that three out of five women believe
President Bush cares about their needs.
Nonetheless CBS gave reporter James
Hattori two minutes to air the views of "many women who feel
disenfranchised by the Reagan years." Hattori charged that
"Bush, like President Reagan before him, doesn't appeal to women as
much as men. In fact, he attracted only half of all women voters last
November," as if that were not enough. (The CBS/Times poll
showed Bush won the women's vote, 50 to 49 percent.)
Past surveys by Hattori's own network's
demonstrate the speciousness of his argument. According to CBS/Times
poll figures, Reagan won the women's vote in 1980 (47 percent to 45 for
Carter, 7 for Anderson) and won even more dramatically in 1984 (56
percent for Reagan to 44 for Mondale), even though Mondale selected a
woman as his running mate.
Stahl's Towering Source.
"Some of the President's own advisors say the Tower situation is
being poorly managed at the White House," Lesley Stahl proclaimed
during the February 8 CBS Evening News, "and they blame
chief-of-staff John Sununu." Stahl's source, however, was a man who
could hardly be considered an advisor to President Bush: Jody Powell,
President Carter's Press Secretary.
Stahl immediately followed her accusation
against Sununu with Powell, who explained, "One of the things you
always want to do if you possibly can in a situation like this is keep
the President out of the line of fire. President Bush, unfortunately,
now seems to be in the line of fire."
Disdain for Capital Gains.
NBC Nightly News examined Bush's proposed capital gains tax
rate reduction on February 18. Here's how anchor Connie Chung introduced
the story: "If you lower the tax rates for investors, everyone will
prosper, or at least that's the philosophy that President Bush, and a
lot of wealthy people espouse. This would be achieved in the form of
lower capital gains taxes, and everyone would prosper, if it weren't for
the fact that a lot of people believe it won't work." Who said NBC
News is biased?
Ethics Police. "Ethical
questions are muddling the central message of Mr. Bush's first thirteen
days in office," CBS' Lesley Stahl charged on February 2.
"This is an administration that started out with a President
talking very seriously about ethics," ABC's Brit Hume announced the
same day, "only to have three nominees about whom questions of
ethics and propriety are immediately raised." President Bush
emphasized the importance of ethics in government, and within days the
networks were trying to embarrass the new administration.
Aside from Tower, who were the nominees
the reporters saw as sources of embarrassment? Hume and Stahl made an
issue of $67,000 in speaking fees new H.U.D Secretary Jack Kemp earned
above congressional limits. Although Hume admitted Kemp solved the
problem by returning the money, the story still presented Kemp as
Both also focused on HHS Secretary Louis
Sullivan's request to remain on the payroll of Morehouse College.
Sullivan, however, had only asked to be exempted from one of the
administration's own internal guidelines, an action that can hardly be
viewed as grossly improper.
The charge against Clayton Yeutter,
Bush's Agriculture Secretary was even more trivial. Yeutter, Stahl
claimed, had "apparently violated ethics rules when he was the
guest of honor at a reception hosted by Philip Morris, the Tobacco
A Rather Flawed China.
When President Bush arrived in China on February 25, two network anchors
could hardly contain themselves as they heaped praises on the Chinese
regime. "Today's China," ABC's Carole Simson gushed, "is
new, improved and a lot more American." Dan Rather declared:
"This is a vastly different China. A huge portrait of Mao still
hangs from the front gate of the Forbidden City. Mao's successors have
kept the picture, but disregarded the policies." CBS' Bruce Morton
discussed "new freedom in the arts," symbolized by an artist
who "is showing a sculpture made of condoms in an avant-garde show
the police first closed, then let re-open."
NBC's Tom Brokaw and CNN's Gene Randall,
however, shed light on the real China by interviewing the communist
regime's leading dissident, Fang Li Zhi. ABC and CBS didn't mention Fang
until the next night when officials blocked him from attending a banquet
for President Bush, providing them with an opportunity to embarrass
Bush. According to Jacqueline Adams of CBS: "After tonight's
incident, George Bush may wish he'd spent more time criticizing leaders
here than courting them."
Strait Talk on Health Care?
As part of its "American Agenda" series, ABC's World News
Tonight looked at the problem of health care for uninsured
Americans. Their suggested solution? Canadian-style socialized medicine,
a "model" explained by reporter George Strait who left viewers
confused. He said the Canadians have "a system that works."
But then he told of shortages, closed city emergency rooms, and waiting
lists "so long that those who can afford it go to the U.S. for
treatment." Demand for health care, Straight noted, has sent
"costs skyrocketing," but he later claimed "the Canadian
system is being looked as a way of controlling costs in the U.S."
Despite the drawbacks, Strait asserted
that "for the vast majority," of Canadians, "when it
comes to routine care, there is no waiting and there are few
complaints." Strait praised the Canadian solution: "It's a
source of pride and comfort. They tolerate the flaws....because health
care is seen as a social commitment in Canada, a commitment that America
is not yet ready to make."
Far East Fetched Fears.
In the midst of TV network focus on Japanese culture and society during
Bush's trip to the nation, ABC's World News Tonight offered
viewers a scary look at Japanese investment in the U.S. "America is
in hock to the Japanese in a big way," reporter Richard Threlkeld
warned on February 20. Citing the $50 billion in Treasury bonds bought
by Japanese investors every year, he wondered: "Could our Japanese
creditors someday subject America to a kind of economic blackmail?"
Threlkeld featured liberal Congressman
Charles Schumer, who predicted: "If we keep spending more than we
save, the Japanese will own us, and we'll have no one to blame but
ourselves." Threlkeld added: "And then, when Japan says
'jump,' America will have to say, 'how high?'"
It's ABC News that's doing all the
jumping -- to paranoid conclusions. Between 1982 and 1987 the leader in
foreign purchases of U.S. corporate assets was Great Britain, which
bought 40 percent, compared to a mere five percent purchased by Japan.
Unfair Flogging of the FBI.
USA Today on TV began its January 30 broadcast with an alarming
story about "the FBI and what it may know about you." The FBI
keeps tabs on suspected subversive activity by both extremes of the
political spectrum. But USA Today really wasn't concerned about
the average U.S. citizen, just the most seemingly innocent left-wing
activists who have been investigated.
From 1983-1985, the FBI opened over 700
terrorist files on those it suspected were connected to groups involved
in terrorist activities, especially pro-Sandinista organizations. USA
Today did its best to sanitize these leftist activists as
"nuns, members of Congress, and college students."
Continuing to discredit FBI policy, USA
Today featured two people who were interrogated by the FBI,
including a professor who traveled to Nicaragua complained "we were
telling people that our government was carrying on a war...that are
killing civilians. That's all we said."
Magnus noted that the FBI "claims it
only investigates people suspected of breaking a law," but
countered: "these examples, if true, would certainly contradict
that." Apparently, USA Today believes that working on
behalf of a hostile foreign power should be above government suspicion.
Missing Seoul. "We
stopped in Korea last weekend on our way to Japan," ABC anchor
Peter Jennings reported on February 27. "We found that when it
comes to the Korean-American relationship, there is room for
improvement, to say the least," Jennings declared as he narrated a
long report charging that rioting anti-American students "represent
the leading edge of a more general discontent." He detailed
supposed anti-Americanism, stating "many Koreans believe the U.S.
is standing in the way of a reunified nation," and "other
Koreans deeply resent what they believe is American interference in
Citing the Kwan Ju incident, in which 200
civilians were killed by South Korean troops, Jennings claimed "a
generation of Koreans has grown up holding the U.S. responsible....for
the worst abuses of their government."
But if Jennings had bothered to talk with
fewer anti-American sources, he might have produced a balanced story.
Daryl Plunk, the Heritage Foundation's expert on Korea, says the U.S.
troop presence is overwhelmingly supported, because Koreans still
understand the communist threat from the North. "Overall,"
Plunk explained to MediaWatch, "Korea is
an extremely pro-American society." When it comes to balanced
coverage of a loyal American ally, ABC News has room for improvement, to
say the least.
Louisiana Jones. When
former KKK leader David Duke was elected to the Louisiana State
Legislature, NBC's Kenley Jones went looking for a scapegoat to blame.
"The Republican party has threatened to censure Duke because of his
past association with the Klan and Nazi groups," Jones explained
during the February 20 Nightly News, "but one independent
political analyst says the Bush presidential campaign created a climate
which helped elect Duke." To support his position, Jones brought on
Joe Walker, an "independent political analyst", who claimed
"they ran a campaign that emphasized heavily the Horton spot, you
know, and there was clearly a racist overtone to that, I don't care what
But just how independent is Walker?
According to the Associated Press, the Democrats retained Joe Walker
during the 1988 presidential campaign to conduct a poll for the
Dukakis-Bentsen campaign in Louisiana.
Prime News for Soviet
News. CNN achieved a broadcasting milestone on February 27. PrimeNews
presented a story about the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan from Al Gurnov,
a Soviet TV reporter. Gurnov roamed Moscow observing, "The war in
Afghanistan is over, but at what price? Let's ask the people."
Included among the Muscovites' comments was a soldier who dutifully
spouted: "It was our internationalist duty...it was not an
invasion, it was an effort to help protect the revolution launched by
the people of Afghanistan." CNN is trying to offer viewers a better
perspective on world affairs than provided by the other networks, but
giving Soviet propagandists free air time?
Allied Rights. In its
annual report on human rights released February 7, the State Department
voiced muted criticism for U.S. ally Israel, including praise for its
democratic government and "vigorous free press." Each network
evening broadcast, however, highlighted the section on Israeli
infringements of human rights in the hostile occupied territories. CBS
ran two stories, one from the Arab perspective.
But the State Department report included
as many pages for the Soviet Union as for Israel, plus reports on all of
the East Bloc, Nicaragua, and Libya. On CBS Dan Rather noted State's
faint praise for the Soviets' "remarkable moves toward
freedom," neglecting to add that State also said there has been
"no fundamental shift in Moscow's approach to human rights,"
and that "the KGB has been subjected to only a modicum of glasnost
ABC ignored the Soviet abuses completely.
NBC mentioned the report and then offered a story on a tour of a Soviet
mental hospital taken by Sandy Gilmour. But no one at NBC mentioned what
CNN's Bernard Shaw alone noted: that the State Department reported
"there are still some Soviet citizens imprisoned as psychiatric
patients after political arrests." The next day Shaw noted
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter's concern for "the
world's worst human rights violators, namely North Korea, Cuba, and
Rights Wrongs in Print.
A quick read of the newspapers finds the same skew. Under the headline,
"U.S. says Israel Abridges Rights in the Territories," The
New York Times gave Israel 7 column inches. Beneath the subheading
"Liberalization by Moscow," the Times filled four
inches before mentioning "the Soviet Union still needed
'institutional guarantees'" of individual rights. The
Washington Post's February 8 headline read "U.S. Asserts
Israel Violates Palestinians' Rights." Twenty-one column inches
went to detailing Israeli violations, one inch to the Soviets. Both
papers slid bare mention of Nicaragua into their final paragraphs.
Wolf in Specialist's Clothing.
Richard Barnet of Washington's radical-left Institute for Policy Studies
made at least three network appearances recently, but viewers were never
alerted to his radical views. When he appeared on ABC's Good Morning
America on January 24 to discuss the nomination of John Tower, the
screen read only "Defense Specialist, Institute for Policy
In an Afghanistan story on the January 30
CBS Evening News, only "Institute for Policy Studies"
appeared under his name. About two weeks later on the February 14 Evening
News, CBS again failed to add an ideological label as Barnet
charged: "By giving them [the Afghan rebels] the weapons, we not
only prolonged the war, but we created a political condition that made
it less likely, much harder, to achieve a settlement."
In May 1986 the left-wing Christic
Institute brought a $24 million suit against a group of Contra leaders,
U.S. military officers and members of government agencies, alleging they
participated in assassinations, terrorism, drug smuggling and gun
running in Central America. The suit's damage to the public image of the
Contras was amplified by April 19 and May 17 PBS Frontline
shows last year which explained the Christic theory and thereby helped
legitimize their allegations. The programs earned the June 1988 Janet
Leslie Cockburn, a former CBS News
producer who put together the May 17 program, champions Christic
Institute lawyer Daniel Sheehan in her book, Out of Control: The
Story of the Reagan Administration's Secret War in Nicaragua, the
Illegal Arms Pipeline, and the Contra Drug Connection. Even when
Federal District Court Judge James King threw out the groundless suit in
June 1988, Frontline Senior Producer Mike Sullivan defended the
shows as presenting "credible information."
On February 3, Judge King awarded General
John Singlaub, Contra leader Adolfo Calero, General Richard Secord and
11 other defendants $1 million in attorney fees and court costs. King
decided the Christic suit was "based upon unsubstantiated rumor and
speculation." King accused Sheehan of "abuse of the judicial
process." Sheehan, the judge added, "must have known prior to
suing that they had no competent evidence to substantiate the theories
alleged in their complaint."
Will Frontline now make amends
by running a show revealing the lies and deceit of the Christic
Institute? Frontline has received a letter from MediaWatch
requesting just such an enlightening examination.
Looking for the
Washington political insiders may be able
to identify the ideological orientation of any group mentioned in that
morning's newspapers. But readers across the country who find their news
in national magazines and in reports distributed by major newspapers
rely on the labels applied by reporters. Labels enable the reader to
consider the ideological views of newsmakers' opinions and weigh them
with a grain of salt. By contrast, the absence of labels can give a
perception of objectivity and reliability.
To learn whether reporters with major
pring outlets apply ideological tags in a balanced manner, MediaWatch
used Nexis news data retrieval system to survey every 1987
and 1988 news story mentioning three groups each on the right and the
left. The MediaWatch Study included The
Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time,
and U.S. News & World Report. MediaWatch
analysts counted only ideological tags attached by reporters.
The results show an astonishing contrast
in the treatment of liberal and conservative organizations. Reporters
labeled the conservative Heritage Foundation more than 35 times as often
as the liberal Brookings Institution. The conservative Concerned Women
of America got tagged almost 20 times more frequently than the liberal
National Organization for Women. On judicial issues Ralph Neas, the
liberal head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights attracted less
than a tenth of the labels attached to the conservative Patrick McGuigan
of the Free Congress Foundation.
In total, the MediaWatch Study
found the three conservative groups were tagged an average of 58 percent
of the time while the liberals were labeled merely two percent of the
time. To put it another way, the liberal groups escaped identification
in 49 of 50 mentions.
Think Tanks: Heritage and
Brookings: Perhaps the national media's favorite source of
expert opinion, the Brookings Institution was labeled just 10 times in
737 news stories (1.4%). Five of those labels came from 152 Los
Angeles Times stories. The Washington Post applied a label
merely 3 times in 200 stories (1.5%). In 270 of 271 mentions (99.6%), The
New York Times failed to label Brookings. Time magazine
applied a label once in 39 stories, while U.S. News (45) and Newsweek
(30) never did.
By dramatic contrast, Heritage was
accurately described as "conservative" or a similar term in
217 of 370 stories (58.6%). The Los Angeles Times attached a
conservative label the most, 71 times in 79 stories (89.9%). Time
was second with 13 labels in 19 stories (68.4%), followed by The New
York Times (74 out of 126, or 58.7%), U.S. News and World
Report (7 out of 14, or 50%), and the Post (51 out of 129, for
39.5%). Newsweek refrained from issuing a label in all three
mentions of the think tank, but did describe Heritage as an
"ideological guerrilla outfit" which could advance
"politically outlandish proposals." Time writers
Richard Hornik and Michael Duffy best demonstrated the double standard
in a December 5, 1988 story: "Neither Bush nor the nation will risk
serious damage if he ignores the recommendations of groups ranging from
the archconservative Heritage Foundation to the Brookings
Women's Groups: National
Organization for Women (NOW) and Concerned Women of America (CWA):
The liberal NOW also escaped categorization, labeled a mere 10 times in
421 stories (2.4%). The Los Angeles Times issued six labels in
166 stories, five "liberal" and one "mainstream." In
124 stories, the New York Times never once placed a liberal
label on NOW. Out of 100 stories in the Post, two included the
term "liberal." Among magazines, Time used no labels
in 10 stories, while Newsweek in 9 and U.S. News in 8
applied "liberal" once each.
On the other hand, CWA got labeled 25
times in just 61 news accounts (41%). The Los Angeles Times
issued the lions share of labels, describing CWA as
"conservative" five times, "right-wing" on four
occasions, and "New Right" once. In six labels over 16 stories
in The New York Times, three were "conservative," two
were "strongly conservative," and one was "New
Right." In 17 Post stories, all eight labels were
"conservative." Though NOW claims 160,000 members CWA about
600,000, it's worth noting reporters mentioned the liberal group four
times more often.
Judicial Experts: Patrick
McGuigan and Ralph Neas: The Bork fight made McGuigan and Neas
often-quoted sources, but reporters were far from balanced in adding
ideological tags to each. Less than four percent of pieces referring to
Neas, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) described
him as "liberal." McGuigan of the Free Congress Foundation,
however, was identified as conservative nearly 75% of the time.
The New York Times in 39 stories
and the Post in 50 reports never called Neas
"liberal." In fact, both papers referred to him as
"Republican" on one occasion. The Los Angeles Times
identified Neas as "liberal" just once in 23 stories. U.S.
News called Neas "liberal" once in 5 stories, Time
labeled the LCCR "liberal" once in four stories, and Newsweek
avoided any labels whatsoever in 4 pieces.
Yet, in 42 stories mentioning McGuigan,
either he or Free Congress was labeled conservative, 15 times more
frequently than Neas or LCCR. The Los Angeles Times added a
"conservative" label in all six mentions. U.S. News
did the same, four times in four stories. The Post, which never
saw a need to label Neas, labeled McGuigan 15 times in 19 stories. Newsweek's
only mention referred to him as part of the "religious right."
This imbalance demonstrates that
reporters are unable to issue ideological labels in a rational manner.
If reporters call conservative groups "conservative" then it's
only logical that they label liberal groups "liberal." Until
they do, reporters will continue to distort the public's perception of
sources quoted in "news" stories.
checked two other smaller groups and found similar results.
- The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS),
a think tank considerably to the left of Brookings, was labeled only
17 times in 62 mentions (27.4%). In 31 stories, New York Times
reporters attached a label to IPS five times; "liberal"
accounted for four of them and "of liberal orientation"
the fifth. In 23 stories, the Washington Post labeled IPS on
merely five occasions.
Reporters felt compelled to issue a
"conservative" label every time they mentioned the Center
for Judicial Studies, another group that received attention during the
Bork hearings. The Post went 4 for 4, U.S. News 2 for 2,
The New York Times 4 for 4, and the Los Angeles Times 1
- An interesting measure for think tank
influence is the number of editorials and book reviews they get
published in the major newspapers. Brookings has a wide lead in
published editorials with 72, followed by IPS with 22 and Heritage
The Washington Post published
articles with Brookings bylines 17 times, compared to 9 for IPS and 2
for Heritage. Of the 17 Brookings articles, the Post relied on
14 different authors. The New York Times also printed 17
Brookings produced articles from 14 authors, in addition to 6 from
Heritage and 2 from IPS.
The Los Angeles Times relied on
Brookings for 38 editorials and book reviews, IPS was second with 11
followed by eight for Heritage.
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