ABC Pollster Criticizes Network TV's 1988 Agenda
MARGIN OF ERROR FOR REPORTERS?
A network news executive recently exposed
the political agenda television network reporters brought to their
coverage of the 1988 presidential campaign. At an October 20 Ripon
College forum broadcast by C-SPAN, Jeff Alderman, Chief Polling Analyst
for ABC News, charged that network reporters focused on Bush's negative
campaigning, Iran/Contra, Ed Meese, and Dan Quayle's background, all
issues of concern to liberals, and ignored what actually motivated
people to vote for Bush in 1988.
"The old style, herd
journalists....told us about many cutting issues that polling told us
weren't cutting at all," he recalled. "I found it dismaying
that the good information we and other media pollsters developed about
the dynamics of the campaign beyond the horse race, so rarely made it
into the reports of political correspondents. They chose, for the most
part, to focus on either meaningless day-to-day events on the campaign
trail, or to presume that non-issues, such as Meese and Iran-Contra,
must be important to the voters, and then say that they were."
"The clear issue in the campaign,
and it leaped out at you from the data, was that the election was about
whether the public thought we were in good times or bad," Alderman
explained. "Bush and the Republicans, and the relatively healthy
economy, convinced the voters that they didn't want to switch horses.
But the press chose to focus on the so-called negativism of the Bush
campaign, and missed the real Bush message in the vast pre-ponderance of
his advertising and public appearances: no new taxes, and no new nothing
else. And that's, in the end, what the public wanted."
ABC's polling expert defended poll
coverage, asking "What other type of news report do you know of
which carries a methodology and a margin of error? I'd like to be able
to assign a margin of error to David Broder or Ken Bode."
Alderman suggested a disclaimer network
anchors could read: "This report is based on the thoughts and life
experiences of our political reporter, who's a liberal Democrat, went to
Swarthmore in the '60's, and has a collection of dead cats in his
garage. Most of the report was based on stuff he picked up from other
reporters on the campaign trail. Since a study of our reporter's past
material indicates he inserts a liberal bias into much of his material,
viewers should note that we are currently assigning a margin of error of
plus or minus 50 to his reports." That's not such a bad idea.
WETA's Democratic Pick.
The Board of Trustees for WETA-TV and radio elected Democratic Party
official Sharon Percy Rockefeller President and Chief Executive Officer
of the Washington, D.C. PBS stations. Appointed to the Board of
Directors for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1977 by
President Carter, she served as Chairman from 1981 until Reagan
appointees managed to replace her in 1984. She "lobbied
against" any outside content analysis of public television
programs, Broadcasting magazine noted when she left CPB in 1987
and assumed the chairmanship of the WETA board.
In 1986, The Washington Post
reported Percy Rockefeller spoke at a Democrats for the '80s fundraiser.
The wife of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and daughter of former
Senator Charles Percy, a liberal Republican from Illinois, she resigned
in September as a member of the Democratic National Committee. She will
succeed Ward Chamberlin, who built WETA into the third largest producer
of PBS programming, on December 1.
Producing Jackson's Voice.
Next Fall Warner Brothers plans to syndicate a new weekly talk show
hosted by Jesse Jackson. The Co-Executive Producers of the hour-long Voices
of America with Jesse Jackson: record producer Quincy Jones and
former CBS executive Van Gordon Sauter, who spent 18 years with the
network. Sauter served as President of CBS News from 1981 until moving
up to Executive Vice President of the CBS Broadcast Group in 1983. From
1985 to late 1986 he also held the CBS News President title again. In
the meantime, Jackson has begun writing a weekly newspaper column
distributed by the Los Angeles Times syndicate.
Courtroom to Newsroom.
CNN discovered a fresh face to join Bernard Shaw in co-anchoring The
World Today, the cable network's new 6 PM Eastern news show:
Catherine Crier, a District Court Judge in Texas. First elected in 1984
and then re-elected in 1988 on the Republican ticket, Crier heard civil
cases before the Dallas court until her sudden career change.
Dumping Group W. Polly
Kreisman, Press Secretary to liberal Congressman Mel Levine (D-Calif.)
in 1985, has been named Washington Bureau Chief for Ackerley
Communications Inc. Previously she was Washington correspondent for
Group W/Westinghouse Broadcasting, owner of network TV stations in
Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Ackerley
owns television outlets in Syracuse, Bakersfield and Colorado Springs.
In 1983 and 1984 Kreisman reported from Washington for San Francisco's
NBC affiliate, KRON-TV.
Delegate to the Republic.
Jacob Weisberg, an alternate delegate to the 1984 Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, has filled a new Associate Editor slot at The
New Republic where he toiled as a reporter/researcher in 1984-85.
Since then Weisberg has studied at Oxford and spent time reporting from Newsweek's
Washington and London bureaus.
Janet Cooke Award
TO SPEND MORE
We read with interest Washington
Deputy Bureau Chief Laurence Barrett's article "Dog Bites Dog
Journalism" in the October 30 Time. Barrett accused us of
distorting the facts in awarding Time the July Janet Cooke
Award over the controversy surrounding Lee Atwater and the now famous
Foley memo. In a vindictive spirit (we suppose), Barrett asserted in the
October 30 piece: "MediaWatch's
conviction is that the national press corps is a left-wing cabal bent on
Countering the media's frequent
attacks on conservatives and their policies is fundamental to our
mission. As important is the need to stem the media's peddling of the
liberal public policy agenda. As for "left-wing cabal" -- nice
choice of words...
So to what part of the left-wing cabal
are we awarding the Janet Cooke Award this month? None other than Time
for an article in its October 23 issue. Few would argue with the title,
"The Can't Do Government." More and more, there is agreement
on both right and left that the federal government has ground to a halt,
lacking the consensus, mandate, and moral fiber to accomplish much of
anything. The writer, Washington Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud, was right,
too, when he called today's government "a costly irrelevancy,"
"a bloated, inefficient, helpless giant," and claimed,
"Americans may wonder whether government...can govern at all
But while conservatives blame a bloated
federal budget and a spending frenzy by liberal Democrats for the crisis
that envelops Washington today, Cloud advocates even bigger government
to solve the nation's ills. He opened the article: "'Government
isn't the solution; it's the problem.' As a candidate and a President,
Ronald Reagan loved that line. But Reagan seemed simply to be indulging
in harmless hyperbole or offering his version of the time-honored
aphorism that government is best when it governs least. Surely he did
not seriously propose to dismantle an institution that had brought the
U.S. through two world wars, restored stability during the Depression
and played a major part in developing one of the highest standards of
living on earth."
Cloud attacked the "hypocrisy"
of Congress and the Administration. He noted they conspire to
"mask" the actual size of the budget deficit by taking several
billion dollar programs off budget. Yet the supposedly objective
journalist is guilty of his own hypocrisy by proceeding to tout the
liberal line on a tax increase and domestic spending issues. Cloud
claimed a capital gains cut "is aimed at well-to-do executives and
wealthy investors in the Republican electoral coalition." In fact
the cut would aid all income brackets, with the greatest savings going
to the middle class.
On health care, he backed taxing the more
wealthy aged to help pay for the program. An illustrated box declared:
"Pressure is mounting for reform of the nation's increasingly
expensive, inefficient health-care system. Yet Congress buckled under
special-interest lobbying from wealthier senior citizens and repealed
catastrophic health insurance to help the needy."
Cloud characterized Bush as
"handcuffed by his simplistic 'read my lips' campaign rhetoric
against a tax increase." He complained that "the President's
recent 'education summit'...produced some interesting ideas...but little
about how to pay the costs of helping public schools meet them." As
for housing, Cloud admonished the "Reagan-era mismanagement and
scandal," while an accompanying box promoted a spend-spend
mentality: "As Republican influence peddlers milked the Reagan
Administration's housing programs, the plight of the homeless grew
When it came to spending money for
defense, however, Cloud predictably questioned Reagan's national
security rationale: "Yet the government does still spend mightily
where it has a mind to. The Pentagon has done some tactical trimming but
remains the biggest government consumer of all. Defense Secretary Dick
Cheney is determined to retain as much as possible of the $2.4 trillion
As if his liberal position was not
abundantly clear, Cloud concluded: "But Reagan's approach, once he
was elected, was fundamentally flawed. So is George Bush's. Government
was not the problem. The problem was, and still is, that the country was
being governed badly. The conservative complaint that only liberal
elitists think Washington must actually do something is self-evidently
silly. Of course, the government must do something. That is why it
exists: to act in ways that improve the lives of its citizens and their
security in the world. The list of missed opportunities and ignored
challenges is already much too long. The sooner government sets about
doing its job again, the better."
Cloud refused to discuss the article with
MediaWatch: "It's a no win proposition to
be interviewed by you guys. You come at things with a definite point of
view. You pick the things that you want to out of an interview. You want
to attack us, attack us. I'm not going to help you." Who does Cloud
think we are? Time magazine?
DOUG'S DONORS. In his
successful attempt to become the nation's first black Governor, Virginia
Democrat Douglas Wilder received a bonanza of positive national
publicity in his race against Republican Marshall Coleman, particularly
on the issue of abortion. Some in the national media even decided to put
their money where their free air time is. Ed Bradley of CBS' 60
Minutes and MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour anchor Charlayne
Hunter-Gault contributed to Wilder's campaign. Hunter-Gault gave $700,
and Bradley pitched in $500.
As columnist Cal Thomas noted in
mid-October, CBS prohibits employees from becoming "publicly
associated with any candidate," and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions (MLP)
insists that their staffers not "engage in any activity that would
compromise or appear to compromise MLP's commitment to unbiased
reporting." Yet neither reporter has been publicly reprimanded.
ALL WOMEN NOT CREATED EQUAL.
Which women's groups' meetings rate network coverage? Only liberal ones.
In July, 1,500 pro-choice National Organization for Women delegates in
Cincinnati drew evening news coverage from ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. Nightly
News sent Lisa Myers, a leading political reporter, to cover the
story. When the leftist National Women's Political Caucus met in St.
Paul in August, ABC, CBS, and CNN carried the story on their evening
broadcasts. CBS had Chief Political Correspondent Bruce Morton on the
On November 4, the conservative Concerned
Women for America celebrated its tenth anniversary with a national
convention linked by satellite to 180 cities across the country. 50,000
members participated, and they heard speeches from George Bush, Pat
Buchanan, and William Bennett. But you wouldn't know that from watching
the network news: none bothered to cover a mass gathering of
non-liberal, pro-life American women.
HOME PRICE HYPE. On the
October 12 Evening News, CBS economics reporter Ray Brady
proved he can find the cloud round any silver lining.
In 1988, the CBS Evening News
aired two stories on the rapid rise of home prices. In August, David Dow
cited growing demand and low unemployment as reasons for price increases
of up to 20 percent per year. Last October, Bruce Morton followed
then-candidate Michael Dukakis to a home where a college educated couple
lived with parents because despite good jobs, they couldn't afford a
Now, home prices are falling, so Brady is
naturally focusing on the laments of the sellers. Brady's current
analysis: "In the past, the American dream of owning your own home
always had a sequel: live in it, then sell it at a huge profit...another
dream has faded."
WEDTECH WATCH. Whenever
the opportunity arises, some journalists are still out to bash Reagan. A
good case in point: recent ABC and Time magazine coverage of
the WedTech fraud and conspiracy convictions. On October 17, ABC anchor
Peter Jennings declared "Another personality associated with the
Reagan Administration is going to prison. E. Robert Wallach was
sentenced to six years today." Wallach, Jennings explained,
"was an associate of the former Attorney General Edwin Meese."
The October 30 Time pointedly called Wallach "a longtime
crony" of Meese.
However, when New York Democratic
Congressman Robert Garcia was convicted on October 20, did ABC and Time
bother to identify Garcia as an "associate" of the corrupt
House leadership or even as a Democrat? Nope. World News Tonight
substitute anchor Ted Koppel simply noted that "a Congressman from
New York City was convicted today of conspiracy and extorting more than
a 175,000 dollars in payoffs." For Time, Garcia was an
"embattled Bronx Congressman."
WHAT'S NEWS? As pro-life
activists introduced legislation to restrict abortions in many states in
the post-Webster era, the national media have selectively judged the
importance of the results. When subcommittees in the Florida House
blocked all of Governor Bob Martinez' initiatives in early October, all
networks paid close attention.
ABC, NBC, and CNN led their October 10
newscasts with the story, with CBS giving it sixth billing. The
following night ABC, NBC, and CBS included the story in the opening
segments of their newscasts. Their morning shows also filled a good
portion of air time predicting, reporting, and analyzing the
pro-abortion victory. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS
This Morning each had 13 stories or interviews on the
legislation in a four-day period. NBC's Today was only slightly
less impressed, airing 12 stories. All of the networks described the
votes as indicative of a national pro-abortion shift.
WHAT'S NOT NEWS? The
Pennsylvania House passed restrictions on abortion two weeks later on
October 25. But the media just couldn't find time to focus on the
pro-life triumph. The three morning shows mentioned the vote only nine
times, as opposed to the 38 devoted to the Florida session. The evening
newscasts buried the outcome, with ABC placing the story seventh in
their rotation and CBS relegating it to 12th billing. Both networks
dismissed the importance of the vote, citing the state's heavy Catholic
NBC went even further, failing to mention
the pro-life victory until the following day, when Andrea Mitchell
managed one sentence in a report on the House's failure to override
President Bush's veto of Medicaid funding for abortion. Despite the twin
setbacks, Mitchell concluded "the pro-choice movement believes it
has won public support and a powerful weapon to use against the
The networks also virtually ignored the
Michigan Senate's vote to require parental consent for teenage
abortions. CNN made it the third story on October 25, but NBC and
Mitchell allowed only a token sentence in the Medicaid report. ABC and
CBS managed to fill their newscasts without even mentioning the Michigan
GUMBEL'S FUMBLE. NBC's Today
Co-host Bryant Gumbel, in the Dan Rather tradition of respectful
interviewing, recently assaulted Rev. Ralph Abernathy for his new book, And
the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Attempting to downplay Abernathy's
revelations of Martin Luther King's sexual adventures, Gumbel first
taped, but never used, an Abernathy interview without once discussing
the sex controversy.
Then, after black leaders began
renouncing Abernathy as the 'Judas' of the movement, Gumbel conducted a
live interview on the October 17 show which focused entirely on those
four pages. He repeatedly tried to get Abernathy to renounce or
apologize for his accounts, running over the next two planned segments
in order to get enough time to continue his line of questioning.
When Abernathy noted that King's exploits
were "common knowledge," Gumbel retorted, "It would
better stated, perhaps, to say that it was common accusation." He
claimed that those pages "just as easily could have been left
out...one could argue that your writings prove nothing." Abernathy
explained that he included the unflattering sections because, "our
Bible tells us very, very clearly, 'he shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you free'...I was trying to tell the true story that
would not diminish the authenticity of my book." Gumbel chose
instead to quote a movie line: "When the truth collides with a
legend, print the legend." When Abernathy criticized his
detractors, such as Jesse Jackson, Gumbel sputtered incredulously,
"I don't think I'm hearing all this." Gumbel's hearing likely
would have been fine had Abernathy fed him the traditional liberal
"civil rights" fare.
GREEN EUGENE. The
editors at Time continue their self-proclaimed advocacy of what
they call "the gospel of environmentalism." In an October 23
"Endangered Earth" article, New York-based correspondent
Eugene Linden preached prevention of the yet-to-be- proven
"greenhouse effect" without using one official source.
Who did he cite? Lester Brown of the
Worldwatch Institute, the Environmetal Policy Institute, and the World
Resources Institute -- all left-leaning prophets of environmental
catastrophe. There is no shortage of climatologists and environmental
experts skeptical of grim greenhouse forecasts. It's too bad the news-
consuming public has never heard of them.
ABC'S ANC. How would you
describe a gang of ruthless international terrorists which kills women
and children with car bombs and burning 'necklaces' while working (with
Moscow's backing) to overthrow a Western government and replace it with
a Soviet-leaning one? If you're ABC's Peter Jennings you call them a
"black nationalist movement which has led the fight for equal
rights in South Africa since 1912." That's how he described the
African National Congress on the October 16 World News Tonight.
The story's hook was the unconditional
release of Walter Sisulu and six other ANC leaders from prison which ABC
correspondent Richard Serge covered in more detail. Neither Jennings nor
Serge mentioned Sisulu's membership in the ANC's terrorist wing,
Umkhonto we Sizwe, or the fact that Sisulu was convicted of planning
sabotage and revolution. Instead, Serge simply noted, "the veteran
leader told school children in Soweto they needed to get a good
education so they can play a meaningful role in building a new South
Africa." Serge didn't mention the ANC often trains children as
young as 13 to murder political opponents.
THE AD FAD. As political
battles depend more and more on the exchange of television commercials,
the ads have become the news. But the networks have been giving the
advantage to liberal ads on the news, in effect giving liberal campaigns
an advantage in free advertising.
Take, for example, the race for Governor
of Virginia, where ads extolling Democratic candidate Douglas Wilder
were balanced by ads for Republican candidate Marshall Coleman only
twice, on ABC's World News Tonight November 5 and 6.
But Wilder ads were aired by the networks
seven times on the nightly news without airing a Coleman ad in response.
Among the culprits were CNN's Eugenia Halsey and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski
and Lisa Myers, who did it twice. CBS Chief Political Correspondent
Bruce Morton did it three times, running one in a November 2 report, and
using two in a report on election night before the polls closed.
RACIST, SEXIST RIGHT WING.
The news staff at The Wall Street Journal redefined the
ideological spectrum in an October 30 story headlined "Reagan Era
Young Hold Liberal Views." The source of this supposed sea change,
a University of Chicago study, admitted the younger generation are
"indeed somewhat more pro-Reagan and pro-Republican that other
adults," but argued that this "does not translate into support
for conservatism in general or into conservative positions on feminist
and civil rights issues."
The Journal reported the Reagan
generation are "firmly liberal on race and gender" because 66
percent of the young people surveyed opposed racial discrimination in
housing. Another 70 percent disagreed with the statement "men are
emotionally better suited to politics than women." So conservatives
believe the opposite?
PANIC PAYS. Panic won
the day when the far-left Christic Institute and Jeremy Rifkin's
anti-technology Foundation on Economic Trends filed suit to block the
launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. Grabbing headlines and camera time
with wild scenarios of radiation catastrophe, the groups got maximum
news coverage with minimum challenge.
During the peak of media attention in the
second week of October, none of the networks investigated the history of
the plaintiffs or identified the groups as leftist or even liberal.
Generic terms prevailed: NBC preferred "environmentalists,"
while ABC, CBS, and CNN used "anti-nuclear activists." (The
September 28 Los Angeles Times was the champion in generic
labeling, describing the Christic Institute as a "Washington-based
public interest law firm.")
When the case was dismissed as
scientifically baseless, none of the networks noted it was the third
time this year the Christics have been thrown out of court for a
frivolous lawsuit. By giving the leftists serious coverage, the networks
demonstrated that scientific scares can play well in the media, even if
they don't play so well in court.
ELLERBEE ABORTS SPEECH.
The Austin chapter of the Texas Women's Chamber of Commerce invited
former NBC and ABC reporter Linda Ellerbee to speak in October, but she
declined. Why would this outspoken feminist refuse to address a
gathering of successful businesswomen? USA Today reported on
October 12 that Ellerbee was offended by the Chamber's decision to
rescind an invitation to Phyllis Dunham, member of the Texas Abortion
Rights Action League, since they did not want to give any hint as to
where they stood on the issue. Ellerbee explained: "I would not
want my coming to be mistaken as an endorsement of an anti-choice stand
in any way."
IN REHNQUIST'S FACE.
Roger Wilkins, a member of the Pulitzer Prize Award selection committee
from 1981 to 1989, thinks little of Chief Justice William Rehnquist,
judging by an article in the November Mother Jones. Wilkins, a
senior fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies, derided the
Senate for ignoring a "plentitude of evidence suggesting Justice
Rehnquist was a moral incompetent."
Wilkins complained: "Now, in the
abstract, cruel, and triumphant voice of William Rehnquist's Court, the
country is proclaiming the re-enthronement of white male hegemony."
In Pulitzer Prize winning fashion, Wilkins wrote, "though William
Rehnquist is in my face, my great-grandparents, my children, and my
great grandchildren are in my heart." Wilkins recommended: "We
must pay our debts to the past and meet our obligations to the future by
fighting the Rehnquist Court and everything it represents."
STANLEY FREED. We are
glad to report that in late October American journalist W. Scott Stanley
was released pending trial by Namibian authorities. Stanley, a former
Editor of Conservative Digest and Editor-in-Chief of the wire
service American Press International, was in Namibia to testify on
behalf of a free press there when he was arrested and had his passport
confiscated on October 3.
Las month, MediaWatch wondered
"how many of those who regularly champion free speech" would
protest. Well, many did, including the American Society of Newspaper
Editors, which sent a telex to South African President F. W. deKlerk
declaring: "World opinion condemns governments that try or imprison
journalists who are acting in accordance with internationally recognized
rights providing for freedom of expression."
Janet Cooke Award Update
Martin's Merit. MediaWatch
presented the September 1988 Janet Cooke Award to ABC's John Martin for
his coverage of Dan Quayle. Now it's only fair to note an outstanding
report put together by Martin which demolished the liberal media's myths
of growing racial tension during the Reagan years. Martin used the
results of an ABC/Washington Post poll to show that
"America is a more integrated and more tolerant place today than
just eight years ago." The October 24 report examined in detail how
racial tensions had decreased, noting that "housing has become
somewhat more open" and that "two out of every three whites
and four out of every five blacks report friendships with people of the
other race." In conclusion, Martin remarked, "despite
continued conflict and fear on both sides, from what people tell us, the
country has moved slowly but steadily toward racial tolerance and
It's the Republicans'
QUAKING FOR A TAX HIKE
As aftershocks rumbled through the San
Francisco Bay area, media figures began calling for more taxes. On the
October 18 Nightline, Ted Koppel asked an agreeable Democratic
politician from California: "We all remember a few years ago
Proposition 13 which rolled back taxes. And at the same time the point
was made you roll back the taxes, that's fine, but that means there are
going to be fewer funds available for necessary projects. Any instances
where the money that was not spent because of the rollback of
Proposition 13 where money would have made a difference?"
The Wall Street Journal took
time to study the facts. An October 24 editorial noted:
"California's roads and bridges aren't funded by property taxes but
by state and federal gasoline taxes. Both have been raised at least 30
percent in recent years, even while the price of gasoline has fallen.
Dragging Prop. 13 into this story is a pretty long stretch."
Insomniacs watching Nightwatch
on CBS were treated to Jack Nelson, Washington Bureau Chief of the Los
Angeles Times, in the wee hours of October 24: "One of the
things it definitely means politically is that you're going to have to
do something in California about Prop. 13, which put a cap on real
estate taxes, and you're going to have to do something about the Gann
limit that put a limit on spending in California. There's no question
but you're going to have to do that. And I think you're going to have to
do something about taxes. My guess is...that you're going to have a real
momentum now for a gasoline tax increase, and maybe not just in
California, but I would think at the federal level."
CBS had beaten the drum over the weekend
with an October 22 Evening News salvo from reporter Norman
Robinson. "The Democrats say what they have already learned about
the damage is enough to warrant tacking on a user tax to shore up the
nation's roads and bridges, a large number of them said to be in serious
disrepair." Robinson wrapped up the CBS story: "The
administration today stressed that the President can find the money to
pay for damages from existing revenue, and that he can keep his promise
of no new taxes. Democrats are warning that in the face of a mounting
deficit problem, that may not be realistic."
When ABC's "American Agenda"
debuted on November 11, 1988, Peter Jennings introduced the series:
"Most people would probably agree that there are some issues in our
national life which are more important than others, and therefore, worth
more of our attention: the economy, the environment, crime, and drugs,
particularly; education, health, and the family. Well, every night, at
about this same place in the broadcast, we will take a look at some of
the choices to be made on the 'American Agenda.'"
analysts reviewed all "American Agenda" stories on World
News Tonight for the past year and found that ABC often followed
liberal concerns in the day-to-day choice of subjects, while items on
the conservative agenda were ignored. Despite a wealth of ideas
generated by conservative policy experts, their policy suggestions were
never the main focus of an "American Agenda" story, while
liberal think tanks and politicians were often plugged by Jennings and
the ABC reporters.
found that of 154 stories broadcast through early November, education
came up 14 times, drugs were the subject of 12 stories, and crime only
four. (Defense was a topic only once.) Though it was the first topic in
Jennings' introduction, the economy did not qualify for one story, and
ABC Economics Correspondent Stephen Aug never appeared.
The network did cover business issues on
six occasions, but what was ABC's idea of a business story? Beth
Nissen's report on the excessive advertising of alcohol companies in
black neighborhoods (Dec. 29) and Bettina Gregory's profile of a Vermont
bank's "socially responsible" investment fund for left-wing
causes (Aug. 16) were just two examples. ABC never explored topics like
urban enterprise zones, higher food prices caused by subsidized
agriculture, the cost of regulation, or how the minimum wage can serve
as a barrier to employment for unskilled workers.
The majority, 92 stories, or 60 percent,
were spread among three dominant topics: health, wit 32 stories, social
issues (such as abortion, day care, and the homeless) came next with 31
stories, and 29 focused on the environment.
concentration on health issues made obvious sense in light of the
country's increasing health consciousness, not to mention the
demographic strength of the elderly in the nightly news audience. A
majority of stories addressed informational topics like cancer or
autism, but when the network took up the Big Picture on health care, the
solution was usually Big Brother. Twelve stories highlighted a liberal
approach favoring government solutions to health problems, and eight of
the 12 came from Health Correspondent George Strait. Among his reports:
favorable stories on a federal plan forcing employers to provide health
insurance (last Nov. 16) and on government fetal tissue research (Dec.
15). Looking for victims of a catastrophic health care repeal (Sept.18),
Strait went to some lengths to find a bedridden stroke victim and her
daughter suffering from multiple sclerosis. Although Strait reported the
two depended on Social Security, he solemnly warned that "they
could lose and lose big. They could lose their independence and end up
In a January 30 profile on Canada's
socialized medical system, Strait called it "a system that
works." Strait maintained that "health care is seen as a
social commitment in Canada, a commitment that America is not yet ready
to make." Strait repeatedly stressed that health care was a
"right," meaning a government obligation. In a year of health
reports, ABC never explored one conservative contention--the explosion
of government spending on health in an age of rising deficits, how
government health programs force market distorting price controls on
doctors, or how regulations and liability costs add to the price of
Most of Dr. Tim Johnson's reports
addressed less political topics and provided more straightforward
explanations. But in a June 29 segment on teen pregnancy prevention in
the U.S., Johnson suggested Holland's method of providing birth control
for teenage children with no parental notification, no pelvic exams, and
no warning about possible side effects. ABC apparently couldn't find one
parent in all of Holland who disagreed with their country's permissive
SOCIAL ISSUES. ABC's
coverage of the family sometimes openly insulted traditional family
values. In an April 12 report on divorced or widowed housewives, Peter
Jennings asserted that "our society encourages women to pursue such
a career with all those images of the happy homemaker. Well, sometimes
society lies." ABC added injury to insult by airing Carole
Simpson's report on abortion (Apr. 25), which began with a classic tale
of a drunken mechanic with grease under his fingernails performing
illegal "back-alley" abortions. Simpson told viewers "No
statistics were kept, but it's estimated that in the 1960's more
than a million women had illegal abortions each year, and as many as
5,000 died every year from complications." ABC compounded its
irresponsibility by putting the completely unconfirmed figures up on the
screen in large green letters.
ABC also did reports on
government-mandated parental leave programs (last Nov. 21), on how the
infant mortality rate is rising because of the lack of government
programs (Mar. 7), and on the California state government's version of
the New Deal "Citizens Conservation Corps" (Jan. 25). ABC
found it worthy of a report even though they mentioned the program had a
75 percent dropout rate.
By contrast, reporter Rebecca Chase often
broke with liberal dogma, filing a number of groundbreaking stories
exploring the reasons behind homelessness, such as family breakdown and
deinstitutionalization, that "homeless advocates" disdain. In
addition, on seven occasions, ABC's social coverage gave attention to
volunteer ideas, from midnight basketball leagues in the inner city to
hiring the retarded, without preaching the need for government action.
concentration on environmental stories reflected Jennings' feeling that
"We are destroying the global home in which we live...We are
literally in the process of choking ourselves to death." ABC
followed the agenda of environmental groups like the Sierra Club right
down the line. For example: oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge (Feb. 8), tree-harvesting in the Tongass National Forest (Oct.
10), Superfund and its right-to-know provisions (Nov. 23, Mar. 6), and
even promoting government money for solar power (Sept. 11). In an April
6 report plugging a bill by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) to force
automakers to raise federal fuel- efficiency standards, Jennings sounded
like Jimmy Carter: "This country has apparently forgotten the
lessons of recent history when it comes to the need for more
Most importantly, ABC has been an active
proponent of the greenhouse effect theory, warning in ominous tones of
global warming in eight separate "American Agenda" segments.
Ned Potter called it "the most urgent problem on the environmental
agenda," but ABC never investigated the loss of jobs or sacrifices
in lifestyle that would occur under an anti-greenhouse program. Despite
the admission of the EPA's climate specialists that there's an 80
percent chance that global warming will not occur, not one report was
dedicated to that possibility. Not one report even mentioned it.
Potter, who crossed the line into
advocacy in a good three- fourths of his reports, couldn't even cover
trash disposal (Dec. 2) without panicking: "The problem is that
what makes our life convenient is burying us...Is this our fate? To be
buried in our own debris?" When Potter wasn't scaring the viewer
with visions of environmental catastrophe, he was engaging in political
advocacy, promoting the anti-capitalist, pro-disarmament Green Party as
the wave of the future (July 13): "Europe is gray with pollution,
worse than America's. But Europeans have an option we do not. They can
vote Green." Potter reported that "In years past, Eurpe's
Green Party was a fringe movement. Today, Green has become a mainstream
attitude, pushing the world to clean up."
Only one environmental report promoted
private sector action, a Barry Serafin story last December 9 on how
groups like the Nature Conservancy purchase private land trusts to
preserve the land themselves at no cost to taxpayers.
The "American Agenda" series is
an effective antidote to media critics' most frequent complaint, that
television news only covers the surface of events. In that regard, the
series has become a praiseworthy vehicle for longer, more informative
reporting. But if the network is bold enough to break out of network
news conventions, it should be bold enough to challenge conventional
liberal wisdom, not just float along with it.
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