NBC Refuses to Learn From Nicaragua
CLAPPING FOR CASTRO
In February, NBC News correspondent Ed
Rabel confidently predicted the U.S. invasion of Panama would insure a
Sandinista victory. Even before Nicaraguans could count the vote he
insisted "the topic of the day is: how will a freely elected
Sandinista government be treated by the United States?" Rabel's
misreporting must not have disturbed his NBC bosses too much. A month
later, when the Bush Administration cranked up TV Marti, Rabel was on
the scene in Cuba to champion Castro's popularity.
"Fidel Castro's Cuba is not about to
go the way of Eastern Europe, according to Cuba experts in the United
States" Rabel began March 30, during the first of two NBC
Nightly News stories. "Cubans devoted to Castro far outnumber
opponents," Rabel continued. Just one Cuban Rabel talked to said
anything negative about Castro. Rabel noted that "many young people
freely complain about deficiencies," such as "the lack of
consumer goods," but Rabel dismissed the development.
"Youthful discontent, diplomats in Cuba say, must not be confused
with the dissatisfaction that led to popular change in Eastern Europe.
There, they say, socialism was imposed by the Russians. Here, Cubans
adopted socialism for themselves." Rabel concluded that Castro
"remains Cuba's number one hero: A man who still can challenge the
United States and get away with it."
Rabel continued focusing on Cuba's young
people on April 1, asserting "they are the healthiest and most
educated people in Cuba's history. For that, many of them say they have
Castro and his socialist revolution to thank." Again, Rabel
insisted: "If they are bored with Castro's rigid Marxist-Leninist
doctrine, or if they long for the sweeping changes occurring in Eastern
Europe, they are not saying so publicly...There is no movement here for
change, they say, because the revolution in Cuba is too strong." A
young Cuban declared: "We have the best leader in the world, Fidel
Castro. We love him, that's all...Socialism or death, that's our
When asked by anchor Garrick Utley
whether the revolution could survive after Castro, Rabel replied,
"The revolution is 31 years old. It is institutionalized. It can
survive Castro." Rabel refuses to learn the lesson of Nicaragua:
that despite what they may say in fear to a camera crew, people don't
hesitate to oust a communist regime when given a chance. "On a
sunny day in the park in the city of Havana, it is difficult to see
anything that is sinister," Rabel wistfully reported in 1988. Two
more years of repression and the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe
still haven't led Rabel to see the light.
CNN has set up a new investigative unit. Ken Bode, a former Morris Udall
aide and Chief Political Correspondent for NBC News, has signed on as a
contributing correspondent. Bode will remain Director of the Center for
Contemporary Media at DePauw University while covering the White House
for CNN. Wall Street Journal Washington reporter Brooks Jackson
also leaves the print world for the CNN unit. Replacing Jackson on the Journal's
lawyer and lobbying beat: Timothy Noah, a Newsweek reporter
until last year who was Issues Director in Democrat Kathleen Kennedy
Townsend's unsuccessful 1986 campaign for Congress.
Archive Removal. Scott
Armstrong, a Washington Post reporter from 1977 to 1984, set up
the National Security Archive in 1986 as a depository for classified
government documents he managed to obtain through Freedom of Information
Act requests. After four years Armstrong has moved into academia as a
visiting scholar at American University's Washington Center for
International Journalism. Armstrong once worked as an investigator for
the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Practices, better
known as the Watergate committee.
From Observer to
Participant. Two Charlotte Observer veterans have
jumped into activist politics on the side of Democrats. Susan Jetton
spent most of the 1970's reporting for the Observer. Now she's
Press Secretary to former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the leading
Democratic candidate in the race to oppose Senator Jesse Helms this
fall. For the past four years Jetton's held the same title in the office
of Willie Brown, Speaker of the House in California, a job she took
after working from 1979 to 1986 as a San Diego Union political
Ken Friedlein, Executive National Editor,
has been named Press Secretary to North Carolina's junior Senator, Terry
Sanford. Friedlein also served as political editor, metro editor and
assistant business editor since joining the Observer in 1979.
Previously he worked for the Winston-Salem Journal, Raleigh
Times and Durham Morning News.
Getting Educated. Andy
Plattner, a U.S. News & World Report Associate Editor since
1985 who most recently covered Congress, has opted for a career in the
executive branch. Plattner's gained an appropriately bureaucratic title:
Special Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Education for educational
research and improvement.
Surfacing for Politics.
As a Navy Times reporter in 1983, Tom Burgess, according to Roll
Call, "was the first reviewer to pan Tom Clancy's Hunt for
Red October." Seven years later Burgess has joined the staff
of U.S. Representative Jim Bates as Administrative Assistant and Press
Secretary for the liberal San Diego Democrat. In between he spent four
years covering the military for the San Diego Union, a subject
he knows something about: Burgess was a nuclear submarine weapons
officer from 1979 to 1981.
"THE RECORD OF WHO WE ARE"
The Harry Smith/CBS This Morning
1. The best phrase(s) to sum
up the decade of the '80s:
(a) the decade of greed
(b) the junk bond and national debt
(c) dirty air and the homeless
(d) the age of opportunity and
2. Apartheid is a system of
racial prejudice practiced in:
(a) South Africa (b) the United
3. States that rule by the
barrel of the gun include:
(a) the United States
(b) South Africa
(c) the Soviet Union
4. The recent "Second
Coming" refers to:
(a) the victory of Violeta Chamorro
(b) the reappearance of Christ
(c) Jesse Helms' decision to run for
re-election to the Senate
(d) the release of Nelson Mandela
from prison in South Africa
1. -- all but (d)
2. -- both (a) and (b)
3. -- all but (c)
4. -- (d) only
Even before CBS dumped Kathleen Sullivan
from CBS This Morning, co-host Harry Smith was being groomed
for the limelight with the introduction of his weekly series titled
"The Record Of Who We Are." Smith has consistently used the
Friday analysis to promote liberal themes and solutions. For that, Smith
receives the April Janet Cooke Award.
The Eighties. Since the
series' inception on December 22, three reports evaluated the '80s --
and all focused on greed. On December 29, Smith told us that 1989 was a
year in which "we saw the icons of American politics bow down to
the almighty dollar. And we threw one last party to celebrate the end of
the decade of greed. Yet we continue to dirty our planet like there was
On February 23, he was still preoccupied
by the past decade: "The '80s are almost the good old days. It's
too bad there won't be much to remember them by....The greedy, gaudy
'80s are fading fast. In a few years, when we look back, we shouldn't be
surprised to find nothing there."
Bush's State of the Union.
On Feb. 2, Smith sounded much like Bush's 1988 challenger: "We
would like to believe the State of the Union address is the time when
the President tells the American people the way it is. But no one really
wants to hear that, so the President keeps reality down to a minimum.
The President was remarkably upbeat for a man who runs a country with a
monstrous national debt, huge balance of trade problems, a crumbling
infrastructure, dirty air, countless homeless people, a coast-to-coast
drug epidemic, and a faltering self-image. The country's that is, not
his." Over audio of "Don't Worry Be Happy," he intoned:
"Just remember George Bush's unofficial campaign theme song."
Smith revisited the state of the nation
theme on March 16, recalling John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.
"Booms and busts move folks from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt and
back again...Mostly we chose not to hear or see the suffering of the
dispossessed. It helps us sleep better at night. What's happened to them
must be their fault. What's happened to them can't be our
Black America. On March
2, Smith argued that "Twenty-three percent of the young black men
in America are behind bars, on probation, or on parole. As surely as an
assembly line, America turns thousands of innocent black children into
cast-offs. It's one of the accomplishments of America's system of
What caused this? "A racism ripened
by a society that has changed its public policies but not its private
feelings. Whites and blacks are still separate in this country,
economically if not legally. The chasm that separates whites and poor
blacks in our country is as significant as any wall of barbed wire or
Death Penalty. Smith
admitted Americans overwhelmingly support the death penalty, but he
disparaged the idea. On March 23, he asked sarcastically, "Now
there are two political litmus tests: abortion and the death penalty.
Does it confuse anyone when a candidate is both pro-death and pro-life
at the same time?" Smith concluded: "America is about the only
developed country that still kills criminals."
The Soviet Union.
Smith's foreign policy analysis didn't sway much from liberal rhetoric
either. On December 22, he characterized Mikhail Gorbachev as "this
Christmas' star in the East [who] ironically enough is an atheist."
The Soviet leader, Smith told us, made it clear that "ruling by the
barrel of a gun is no longer the rule of the day."
On February 9, Smith questioned the rush
for freedom in the Soviet Union: "Yes, somehow, Soviet citizens are
freer these days, freer to kill one another, freer to hate Jews, freer
to express themselves....Doing away with totalitarianism and adding a
dash of democracy seems an unlikely cure for all that ails the Soviet
Nelson Mandela. The
release of African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela in
South Africa allowed Smith to become truly poetic: "Nelson Mandela
walked out of prison this week, and suddenly the world wondered out loud
if South Africa could be born again....It was indeed the second coming.
Pilgrims came from across the countryside to see and hear the man the
South African government had all but crucified."
a lot to tell Harry Smith about The "Real" Record Of Who We
Are and requested an interview through CBS This Morning
publicist Terry Everett. Neither Everett nor Smith ever replied to our
wanted to tell Smith we are fast approaching our 90th straight month of
economic growth. That unemployment rests at a low 5.2 percent. That
apartheid does not exist in the U.S. That Census Bureau statistics show
that the '80s were a boom time for the vast majority of black Americans.
That the number of upwardly mobile black families has grown by more than
a third, with unemployment down by 25 percent. That ABC's John Martin,
reporting on the results of a poll last year, told us: "America is
a more integrated and more tolerant place today than just eight years
That if it's confusing to be pro-life and
pro-death penalty, it is more confusing to be pro-abortion and
anti-death penalty. That the Soviets are indeed "ruling by the
barrel of a gun" as Soviet tanks roll through the streets of
Vilnius. That while Nelson Mandela lives under racist rule, he leads a
communist, terrorist organization. On Feb. 2, Smith stated that
"President Bush delivered his State of the Union address this week
and chances are that it had even worse ratings than, fill in the blank,
C-SPAN, maybe, not that bad certainly." Has Smith checked his
ratings -- last place -- recently? Chances are, until Harry Meets
Reality, they'll stay that way.
ALL FOR ADVOCACY.
Anyone who thinks TV reporters do not allow personal passions to decide
what becomes news must not have watched NBC's April 1 Sunday Today.
Left-wing activism was the theme that day. Consecutive stories were
aired about a priest fighting to end U.S. aid to El Salvador and liberal
consumer advocate Ralph Nader. As the show ended, host Garrick Utley
noted, "We're talking a lot about activism, getting involved...
everybody should do it." Reporter Katherine Couric responded
"Sometimes I think the best way for us to get involved is to do
stories that we want to draw attention to." Utley replied:
ISSUE ONE: WHERE'S THE LEFT?
Heaven forbid any talk show not provide a forum for far-left views.
That's the opinion expressed by Eric Alterman in his piece on The
McLaughlin Group. He writes regularly in Mother Jones, but
this article appeared as the March 18 Washington Post Magazine
In the midst of bashing host John
McLaughlin, Alterman also ripped into the show's conservatives. While
demeaning Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak as stock characters -- "the
tough Irish cop" and "Joe Six-Pack, a beer-bellied tough
guy" -- "centrist" Jack Germond "was by far the most
attractive character of the lot." Ignoring the likes of Germond,
Kenneth Walker, and Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, the article
complained "by keeping true liberals off the show, McLaughlin
helped to delegitimize liberal solutions to national problems...Ronald
Reagan's brand of genial reactionary politics was made to appear
downright reasonable. Centrist solutions became 'liberal' by virtue of
the show's political landscape." The program's current lineup, to
Alterman, "has done little to moderate the show's jingoist
orientation... America is good, foreigners are bad."
Noting the unpopularity among readers of Time's decision to
make Mikhail Gorbachev "Man of the Decade," the weekly trade
publication Media Industry Newsletter recently reported that Time's
1988 decision to slant the news may be cutting into its subscriptions.
The newsletter speculated that given Time's outspoken editorial
stances, "the decline in its circulation and rate base in two bites
of 300,000 each in the past 12 months (while the competition grew) makes
ON THE ROAD WITH CBS.
Dan Rather's network took immediate offense on March 8 when the Bush
Administration released its plan to shift some transportation costs to
state and local governments. Jerry Bowen's report included no one in
favor of the President's federalist plan, but quoted three local
officials and a lobbyist upset that local governments might actually
have to pay for roads. Bowen described traffic jams as "ghostly
reminders of a system straining to make it. And Mr. Bush's new
transportation policy, say critics, doesn't seem likely to." Bowen
insisted "it's argued that more, not less, federal money is
MARIAN'S MINIONS. U.S.
News & World Report falls into the trap of liberal advocacy
less often than its competitors. But it fell hard in its March 26 lead
story on Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense
Fund (CDF). Described as "a leading liberal voice against Reagan
Administration budget cut proposals for the poor," Edelman has
adamantly refused to abandon her far-left views in order to compromise
with liberal Congressmen George Miller and Tom Downey. Nonetheless,
reporter Joseph Shapiro made Edelman's case: "If to some critics
that means she is stuck in the 1960s, so be it. As Edelman sees it, she
is simply laying the groundwork for getting real help to all the
children in pain."
To U.S. News, Edelman has been
"a vital source for lawmakers dealing with children's issues and
journalists writing about them. She bent entire government agencies, it
seemed." And her organization "has become indispensable in
helping America understand the disturbing facts about its
children." Ignoring the many conservatives against federal
regulation of babysitters, Shapiro asserted: "There is hardly a
soul in Washington now who doesn't believe that the federal government
must help families secure decent child care. The dispute is over how
best to do it."
NO NEWT IS GOOD NEWT.
When the House ethics committee announced March 8 that it could find
"no adequate basis" for investigating Minority Whip Newt
Gingrich's finances, the networks, which found plenty of time to air the
allegations, were conspicuously quiet. Gingrich was reprimanded for two
minor rules violations, neither of which was the focus of an expensive
investigation requested by Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Arkansas).
The March 9 Boston Globe
reported that Alexander was admonished by the committee for
"assertions [of] pure speculation." ABC and CBS ignored
Gingrich's vindication. A brief piece on NBC Nightly News
hardly cleared Gingrich's name, and omitted criticism of Alexander. Tom
Brokaw noted Gingrich "led attacks that forced Speaker Jim Wright,
a Democrat, to resign," and called the committee's decision a
"vindication for Gingrich, of a sort. The House ethics committee
said it is dropping its investigation of Gingrich, but it criticized him
for abusing his free mailing privileges and for failing to report a real
MUM ON MITCHELL. When
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell condemned President Bush for
sending his aides to China shortly after the Tienanmen Square massacre, The
Washington Post and the rest of the media gave it up-front
attention. But when Post reporter Charles Babcock uncovered the
Majority Leader's hypocrisy -- Mitchell had sent his aide Sarah Sewall
to China during the same period on the Chinese government's tab -- the Post
ran the story in its first two suburban editions on February 23, then
spiked it in later editions. The spiked story, brought to light by Bangor
Daily News Washington bureau reporter John S. Day, was pulled for a
story on AIDS in Islamic countries and Eastern Europe. Post
national editor Robert Kaiser told Day he found the story itself and the
comparison between Bush and Mitchell "marginal." So did the
rest of the media: none of the news magazines or networks bothered to
USA TODAY AND THE NEA.
USA Today Inquiry Editor Barbara Reynolds' unchecked liberalism
is regularly displayed in her From the Heart column. It also came
through in her March 28 Debate feature questions on the National
Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Reynolds saved her toughest questions for
Phyllis Schlafly, representing the case against subsidized obscenity:
"Isn't it possible, though, that artists with great potential might
never get the training or the backing to develop successfully?...You've
mentioned communist countries which impose censorship. What makes your
proposals any different from what they are doing?"
But when talking to NEA Chairman John
Frohnmayer, USA Today tossed up softball after softball,
including: "Isn't it similar to what happened through history --
some of what we consider classics caused great outrage when they were
introduced?...You say that the attacks are almost totally without merit.
How does that make you feel?"
JOHN CHANCELLOR RIGHT.
In March, NBC commentator John Chancellor offered some views rarely
heard on a network newscast. On March 22 he put aside Gorbymania:
"The Soviets have been modernizing their submarine fleet for the
last ten years, and [it] has continued under Gorbachev...more than 900
missiles are on Soviet subs. Each missile contains several warheads,
which means that thousands of nuclear weapons are aimed at American
cities right now...The Soviets have kept the world's largest submarine
fleet in place within striking distance of American targets."
Chancellor was equally surprising on
Central America, where the networks often samba past the misdeeds of the
left. He blasted Ortega March 9 as a "crook...[whom] Al Capone
would have cheered" when the Sandinistas voted themselves houses,
TV stations and immunity from future prosecution. Chancellor conclued,
"Anyone who thought that Daniel Ortega was a patriot fighting for
independence now must think again."
CHANCELLOR LEFT. Then
again, vintage Chancellor was on display March 8, yelping for more
government. For Chancellor the postage rate hike wasn't enough:
"Thirty cents is a bargain when you compare it to what other
countries charge....It is a little like the price of gasoline, which is
cheaper here than almost anywhere." Chancellor's recommendation:
"A bigger federal tax on gasoline would bring down the deficit, but
our leaders say it is politically impossible to raise the taxes."
Returning to the same theme on March 20,
Chancellor argued: "The federal government desperately needs more
revenue, but the Republican President has been saying no new taxes, and
the Democrats have been going along," Chancellor complained.
"West Germany and Japan have higher tax rates, and they're in
better shape than the United States. What is striking about this is that
some of the smartest, toughest people in the country say taxes ought to
be raised." Some of his smart people: Felix Rohatyn, Dan
Rostenkowski and Jimmy Carter.
RANDALL SCANDAL. Fresh
from its February tribute to Jimmy Carter, The Washington Post's
"Style" section celebrated Randall Robinson, Executive
Director of the radical group TransAfrica, on March 13. Post reporter
Donna Britt described how "Robinson's voice laps over you like a
warm wave...It's a voice particularly suited to taking the edge off
things, to making uncomfortable messages more palatable."
Among Robinson's more uncomfortable
messages: that Fidel Castro's Cuban occupation force "provided a
tremendous service to Angola," and his warm welcome of the dearly
departed communist dictator of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, as his guest at
TransAfrica's annual dinner in June 1983.
Britt explained that "Some of his
enemies have questioned Robinson's patriotism and have implied that he
is as Marxist as some of the governments with whose leaders he
communicates. (Actually, Robinson describes himself as
nonpartisan)." The same day, the Post reported on page A13
that Robinson was urging Secretary of State Baker to fund the Marxist
African National Congress (ANC) "in the same way we funded the
Solidarity movement [in Poland] and opposition parties in
ZERO FOR ZULU. For
anyone relying on the TV networks for South Africa coverage, this will
be the first you've heard of a visit to the U.S. by the leader of the
largest black organization in South Africa. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi,
head of the 1.5 million member Inkatha movement and leader of South
Africa's largest tribe, the Zulus, visited President Bush on February 28
to discuss prospects for peace in South Africa. Despite the importance
of this visit, the story was ignored not only by ABC, CBS, and NBC, but
also by The Washington Post. The New York Times
excerpted 71 words from an AP story on the visit.
Buthelezi has long opposed sanctions, an
issue he raised with Bush. As Buthelezi told AP, U.S. sanctions policy
"minimizes economic growth and maximizes black misery."
Instead of covering Buthelezi, ABC, CBS and NBC were busy covering
Mandela's visit to Zambia. Ironically, Tom Brokaw reported on March 1,
the day after ignoring the Buthelezi-Bush meeting, that Mandela had met
with a delegation of U.S. Congressmen and told them "that the
United States must continue its economic sanctions against South Africa,
despite recent reforms. He called the sanctions a tremendous
DR. DENTZER'S DECLARATION.
To U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Susan Dentzer,
the Declaration of Independence, written in resistance to the heavy hand
of government and the burden of overtaxation, would today become a
manifesto for national health insurance.
In an article on "America's
scandalous health care" in the magazine's March 12 edition, Dentzer
declared "If the Founding Fathers were engaged in statecraft today,
would they add the phrase health care to their stirring list of
unalienable rights? Americans squeezed out of the U.S. health care
system face a tyranny nearly as great as the one the founders
overthrew...A nation that leaves so many citizens unprotected from the
ravages of illness is clearly depriving them of the pursuit of happiness
-- and at times, even of life itself."
Dentzer then detailed how today, the
founding fathers would see the need for creeping medical socialism.
"Government could clearly devote several billion dollars a year --
not the millions spent now -- to research aimed at determining the
effectiveness of medical services." The government should
"expand Medicaid to finance care for far more children and
low-income families... next, the nation could construct a broader safety
net for the rest of the uninsured." To pay for it all, Dentzer
advocated hefty payroll tax hikes, not to mention hikes in estate taxes,
corporate taxes, and income taxes, placing herself on the wrong side of
Networks Miss Another
Standing By Socialism.
Nicaragua was not the only political shift to the right missed by the
media. Two days before the March 18 East German elections, as thousands
were fleeing to the West, ABC's Jerry King described the leftist Social
Democrats as "descendants of the communists [who] strike a
responsive cord when they claim to be the new social conscience of the
left." And why might they be popular? "East Germans are afraid
unification with West Germany will spell the end of their generous
social security programs."
NBC's Mike Boettcher saw the same
nonexistent trend on March 16: "The communists, pronounced dead
only a few months ago, have been resuscitated by fears that capitalists
might eliminate the benefits of East German socialism." Bob Simon
of CBS finished the triad, whining about the demise of "the whole
East German system which covered everyone in a security blanket from day
care to health care, from housing to education," bizarrely adding:
"Some people are beginning to express, if ever so slightly,
nostalgia for the Berlin Wall."
These reporters somehow managed to miss
the overwhelming sentiment for quick reunification that helped the
conservatives win. The day before the vote, Boettcher attributed the
wish for quick elections to worries that "East Germans might
rethink their support for democratic principles if they had more time to
think about the consequences of reunification." ABC's King cited
polls showing the conservative party "running a close second,
partly because it's pushing for a quick unification."
U.S. News & World Report's
Michael Barone explained the media have exaggerated the strength of the
left: "The voters are saying, in the slogan of the East German
winners, 'No more socialist experiments.'...History is not, it seems, an
endless move to the left." Mr. Simon, Mr. Boettcher, and Mr. King,
If you've noticed a distinct bias in
CNN's reporting from Central America, you're not alone. Late last year,
during the FMLN communist offensive in El Salvador, the State Dept.
called CNN's coverage "the least objective as well as the most
consistently wrong in points of fact." An early December cable
obtained by MediaWatch confirms that U.S.
officials in El Salvador contacted CNN about reporter Ronnie Lovler.
Embassy officials told Lovler they were
disturbed with her "notable lack of balance." The cable added
that in more than two weeks of coverage, Lovler "never once tried
to check personally with us to get our views or input." Lovler
claimed "she did not believe she was biased" and that she did
not attend several press conferences "because of her lack of crew
Citing glaring errors in her Nov. 30
report, embassy officials complained to International Editor Ethan
Jordan. The cable ended: "Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Ms.
Lovler returned to Managua over this past weekend and Charles Jaco was
brought into San Salvador to handle CNN coverage."
CNN spokesman Steve Haworth told MediaWatch:
"There's no significance to when she has gone in or out of El
Salvador." But privately, staffers say that Lovler was pulled out.
A State source contends her bias stems from her husband: "Mario
Tapia is a member of the Sandinista party and continues to be a
The cable added this anecdote: "When
a bus with American dependents left the U.S. AID compound Nov. 30, on
its way to the airport, it passed Ms. Lovler and a CNN crew filming
their departure. The Americans, who have been seeing the CNN coverage at
home via local cable systems, broke out in loud and spontaneous
TAGS NOT PLANTED
ON GREEN GROUPS
Coverage of the environment provides a
dramatic example of how the media's mindset prevents a balanced
discussion of both sides of an issue. Reporting on left-wing
environmental groups promotes their save-the-planet intentions as
non-controversial, indeed beyond dispute. Reporters ignore their
underlying liberal anti-industrial agenda: the same combination of
crippling regulations, prohibitive taxes, and government boondoggles
that stunted the economy and killed job opportunities in the late
The media's pattern of environmental bias
is vividly illustrated by a three-year study of ideological labeling of
environmental groups. MediaWatch analysts used
the Nexis news data retrieval system to review every story on ten
environmental groups in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times,
and The Washington Post in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Out of 2,903
news stories, we found 29 ideological labels, or less than one percent.
Of those, 22 were applied to Earth First!, five were given to Greenpeace,
and the other two went to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The
rest were label-free.
Not only did newspaper reporters fail to
identify their liberal tilt, but they usually failed to refer to them as
partisan political activists in Washington. Reporters used the words
"activist," "advocacy," "lobbying,"
"militant" or variations thereof, only 155 times (5.3
percent). The newspaper reporters also committed bias by omission --
four of the most active conservative environmental groups were mentioned
only 60 times (an average of 15 mentions apiece). By contrast, the ten
liberal groups merited about 290 stories each. That's almost 20 times
more attention than the conservative groups received. Among the liberal
organizations receiving special treatment:
Wildlife Groups. Cloaked
in a nonpartisan public image, the "defenders of wildlife" are
uncompromising liberals who have blocked a number of Reagan and Bush
Administration appointments. A memo from the editor of Audubon
Society magazine revealed in The Washington Post last May
31 described the environment as "being royally [expletive] by our
Environmental President (gag!). Maybe with a two-pronged attack (from
sportsmen and conservation groups) we can shorten Manny Luhan's [sic]
tenure at Interior." Still, the National Audubon Society suffered
no harsher reference to activism than "arch-advocates of bird
conservation," and no ideological labels in 457 stories.
The World Wildlife Fund, once run by Bush
EPA Administrator William Reilly, was referred to as
"mainstream" three times in 260 stories, even though they gave
a medal to doomsday ecologist Paul Ehrlich. The Wilderness Society,
counseled by Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and once home to Earth
First! founder Dave Foreman, also went unlabeled.
Self-Described Activist Groups.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) received no liberal labels in 355
stories and only 20 references to activism, 16 of them in The New
York Times. The Washington Post referred to EDF's activism
only three times and the Los Angeles Times just once, using a Post
account that described EDF as "strong clean-air advocates."
Environmental Action, a group that grew directly out of Earth Day 1970
and pre-dated Earth First! "ecotage" by teaching conscientious
types how to sprinkle nails on freeway interchanges in the 1970's,
received no labels and only six references to activism in 51 stories.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV)
was often described as "the political arm of the environmental
movement," but the print media refused to identify the League's
political slant. The LCV has endorsed Michael Dukakis for President, New
Jersey Gov. James Florio, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Sen. Joseph Lieberman,
and California gubernatorial candidate Leo McCarthy, to name just a few.
They gave President Bush a "D" report card in 1988. In 111
stories, the League was never given a liberal label. But they were
described twice as "nonpartisan."
Direct Action Groups.
Greenpeace, famous for disrupting Trident missile tests, had five
political labels in 426 stories. Four were "radical" and one
was "liberal-leaning." Despite Greenpeace's militant tactics,
reporters used activist references only 41 times, or less than 10
percent of the time. Earth First!, the self-proclaimed "ecological
saboteurs" renowned for advocating "tree-spiking," which
has severely injured several loggers, received the harshest treatment of
the lot. In 83 news stories (70 in the Los Angeles Times),
Earth First! was labeled 22 times, or about 26 percent of the time. The
New York Times called the group "radical" once, but also
referred to it as "conventional." The Los Angeles Times
employed "radical" or variants like "sometimes
radical" 20 times.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the anti-pesticide
activist group responsible for last year's apple panic, was the most
mentioned environmental group of those studied. Yet in 691 stories, they
were labeled only two times. One of those came in Andrew Rosenthal's May
25, 1989 New York Times article headlined "When Left of
Center Finds Itself in Mainstream." The Los Angeles Times
once called the NRDC "generally liberal," but it also
described them as "a group dedicated to saving the planet from
The Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI), a Ralph Nader spinoff also active in promoting
regulation of the food supply, never received a liberal label. The
group's Naderite origins were never disclosed in 254 stories. They did
have the highest number of activist references (64), but most were
positive-sounding, such as "consumer advocacy" and
On the other hand, the American Council
on Science and Health, a prominent opponent of NRDC and CSPI headed by
Elizabeth Whelan, received much more suspicious treatment. In 23
stories, reporters called them conservative only once, but referred to
them with adjectives like "industry-supported" or listed their
corporate donors seven times. Not one story in 2,90 mentioned the
industry funding of the liberal environmental groups.
Free-market environmentalists were not
only skeptically treated, they were comparatively ignored. The
Competitive Enterprise Institute, headed by former EPA official Fred
Smith, was mentioned only eleven times, and not once on an environmental
issue. The Reason Foundation, a California-based free-market think tank,
was mentioned 12 times in the Los Angeles Times. Of its three
mentions between the news sections of The New York Times and The
Washington Post, two were in obituaries. The Political Economy
Resource Center, an up-and-coming free-market environmental research
foundation based in Bozeman, Montana, merited only one mention. The
New York Times labeled it a "tiny, hard-core,
market-incentives think tank."
As environmental issues become more
prominent on the American political scene, the public would be better
served if reporters spent some time investigating the liberal,
anti-business agenda of most environmental groups, and provided more
than token attention to organizations that suggest market-based
Earth Day Evangelists.
Even the individual gurus who inspired Earth Day
avoided the liberal label, getting tagged only once in 211 stories. It
came in one of 123 stories mentioning Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation on
Economic Trends. Barry Commoner, the 1980 standard-bearer of the
far-left Citizens Party, received no ideological labels in 39 stories,
but was referred to as "one of the nation's foremost environmental
consciences" by the Los Angeles Times.
Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute
appeared unlabeled in 34 stories, but the Los Angeles Times did
call Worldwatch "respected" and "widely quoted," and
referred to Brown as "one of the world's most influential
thinkers." Paul Ehrlich, NBC's favorite doomsayer, went unlabeled
in 15 print accounts. But Julian Simon, author of the free-market
standard The Ultimate Resource, was not once consulted for news
stories in the three papers.
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