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From the November 1989 MediaWatch

ABC Pollster Criticizes Network TV's 1988 Agenda

Page One


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.



Revolving Door

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


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 discrediting conservatives."

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 anymore."

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 worse."

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 Reagan-era buildup."

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 scene.

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 home.

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 population.

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 President."

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 legislation.

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."


Page Five

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 integration."


Page Five B

It's the Republicans' Fault


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.'"

MediaWatch 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.

MediaWatch analysts 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.

HEALTH. ABC's 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 on welfare."

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 health care.

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 approach.

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.

ENVIRONMENT. ABC's 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 fuel-efficient cars."

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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