Pro-Choice Celebrated and Pro-Life Ignored
TWO MARCHES, TWO STANDARDS
Last year's pro-abortion rally by the
National Organization for Women (NOW) captured the media's attention.
ABC anchor Sam Donaldson began the April 9, 1989 World News Sunday
by claiming: "Not since the height of the Vietnam War have so many
people marched in Washington as did today in the name of legalized
abortion. Organizers placed the number at 600,000. Police said 300,000,
but whichever, it was a giant outpouring of sentiment by the pro-choice
movement." Kathleen DeLaski reported: "They flooded the
streets of Washington. Thousands marched and chanted ....This march is
the cornerstone of a new offensive by the pro- choice forces....There
was little sign of the opposition....The march and rally were bigger
than even the organizers predicted."
But when pro-life forces rallied this
April 28, ABC anchor Carole Simpson gave a completely different spin:
"Anti-abortion forces staged a major demonstration today here in
Washington to draw fresh attention to their cause and to try to
recapture their momentum in the political struggle over abortion rights.
Organizers claimed 700,000 people attended today's Rally for Life.
Police say there was a much smaller crowd of 200,000." DeLaski
reported that the organizers "called it the largest rally ever
against abortion," but told viewers that "opponents of this
movement say these people don't have any momentum, and that this rally
is a desperate act....More politicians have found it safer to support
the other side, abortion rights."
The Washington Post provided
equally imbalanced coverage. The NOW rally dominated the front page,
generating a dozen stories taking up 15 columns of space. The pro-life
rally got two stories in the "Metro" section. Ombudsman
Richard Harwood took the Post to task on May 6, charging the
coverage "left a blot on the paper's professional reputation."
Harwood noted the less-populated Earth Day rally attracted 77 columns of
space, with 44 pictures and drawings.
Though reporters are "pigeonholed
fairly" as "liberal Democrats," Harwood attributed the
disparity to the biases "we carry around as members of a social
class whose magnetic pole is the metropolitan East Coast."
According to Harwood, Post Managing Editor Leonard Downie
recalled "a pervasive awareness of [the NOW march] among editors
and reporters here: people in the newsroom, many of our relatives, and
many of our friends were geared up to participate. Like Earth Day 1990,
it was an 'in' thing to do." Harwood revealed the pro-life rally
was not even mentioned at Downie's weekend planning meeting. Said a Post
weekend editor: "I didn't even know this was anything
New Times Projects.
The New York Times has two new projects editors. Eric Eckholm,
a State Department policy planning staff member during Jimmy Carter's
last two years, is now projects editor for enterprise reporting. For the
past year Eckholm has edited the Sunday "Week in Review"
section. Martin Gottlieb was a New York Times reporter until
becoming Editor of the trendy left-wing weekly Village Voice in
1986. Now he's back at the Times. Before he joined the paper of
record in 1984, Gottlieb spent eight years reporting for the New York Daily
Podesta Associates, a Democratic political consulting firm has brought
aboard a new Associate: Michelle Baker, a reporter and researcher in the
Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau from 1987 until late last
year. Brothers John and Tony Podesta, both veterans of numerous liberal
causes, teamed up in 1988 to form the firm. Most recently, John directed
the Opposition Research and Quick Response Office for the Dukakis
campaign. Tony was President of the liberal People for the American Way
until the Dukakis campaign asked him to run its California operation. Legal
Times reported that in 1987 Tony advised Sen. Ted Kennedy on how to
derail Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination. John did the same for
Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Good Morning OMB. As a
Good Morning America Associate Producer in Washington from 1986 to 1988,
Kimberly Timmons Gibson booked guests for ABC's morning show, a job she
left to join the Bush campaign where she spent the last months of 1988
as a researcher in the surrogate campaign department. Since Bush took
office she's been Deputy Director for External Affairs for the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB). In March, OMB Director Richard Darman added
the role of Spokeswoman to her duties.
Post Time. Myra
Dandridge, a Legislative Correspondent since late 1987 for liberal U.S.
Rep. Sam Gejdenso (D-CT), has decided to apply her research and writing
talents to journalism. In May Dandridge reported to The Washington
Post where she is now a news aide for the "Metro"
NBC Executive Moved Moynihan
Left. In the 1970s, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan worked for
President Nixon and was considered a leading neoconservative thinker.
But by the early 1980s, the Democrat had moved left and become a staunch
advocate of liberal policies. Who influenced this shift? "Moynihan's
leftward turn," former Washington Post reporter Martin
Schram wrote in the April Washingtonian, "coincided with
the rise on his staff of a young fellow Irishman named Tim Russert."
That Irishman, who later worked for Mario Cuomo, is now NBC's Washington
"Russert saw that the only thing
standing between Moynihan and a career of landslides was the prospect of
primary challenges by liberals," Schram explained in his profile of
Moynihan, noting: "The turning of the USS Moynihan from starboard
to port was slow but steady. Russert handled the politics, Moynihan the
Without Ronald Reagan to kick around
anymore, why not slam Margaret Thatcher? Elected before Reagan, the
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has embarked on an 11-year battle
to dismantle socialism instituted by a series of Labor governments in
the '60s and '70s. She has accomplished many goals by selling off
inefficient state-run industries, re-implementing free enterprise,
monetarist principles, and reforming huge social spending programs.
So it's no surprise that when a
controversial poll tax for local services went into effect in England,
many American reporters derided Thatcher and her decade-long
conservative tenure. London-based ABC News reporter Barrie Dunsmore was
by far the most tendentious, employing misinformation and untruths. For
his April 12 World News Tonight report, he earns this month's
Janet Cooke Award.
Dunsmore ostensibly was reporting on
rioting caused by the new tax, but his true target soon became the
British Prime Minister and her policies: "The worst riot in central
London in this century, sparked by a new tax here called the poll tax.
Because rich and poor will pay the same in each municipality, the taxes
seem, even by many of the well-off, as intrinsically unfair. But many in
Britain believe the riots were also an expression of anger about a
decade of Margaret Thatcher's policies." Mimicking a line that
could be pulled out of any media report on Reagan's economic legacy,
Dunsmore continued: "The division between haves and have nots has
Dunsmore accused Thatcher of pitiful
governance: "Since World War II, the government here has promised
the people of Britain that it will provide the minimum requirements in
shelter, education, and health care. Mrs. Thatcher's growing
unpopularity appears to be directly related to the number of people who
feel that she has broken those promises." He described the National
Health Service (NHS) as "once the model for Europe: high quality
health care free for everyone. Now patients are treated in hospital
corridors. There are acute shortages of beds, doctors, and nurses. More
than a million people are now waiting for admission."
Next on Dunsmore's list was the school
system: "60 percent of British school children leave school at the
age of 16. That compares to ten percent of Germans or Americans."
On the homeless and welfare issues, he was the most harsh: "The
sight of large numbers of people living on the streets is new in
Britain. A national organization for the homeless says there are a
million people now without permanent homes. These people, and the
permanently unemployed, are part of a growing underclass in Britain, a
class the Prime Minister does not even concede exists." The report
had this exchange:
critics are likely to say very often that your policies have created an
underclass in this country."
Thatcher: "I think
their analysis is totally wrong. I do not recognize an underclass. It is
a new word and I think it is a commentator's word. I don't think it ties
in with reality at all."
Dunsmore added: "In recent years,
the government has stopped making support payments to anyone under
18." A homeless activist claimed: "They can't vote because
they don't have an address. They don't get any welfare payments. They
have nothing to lose." Dunsmore concurred: "Which may account
for the very unBritish behavior in last month's riots, and for the fears
that there may be more to come."
asked three British policy experts to analyze the report. All
characterized it as extremely misleading and, at times, untruthful.
Simon Clark, Director of the Media Monitoring Unit in London, pointed
out that the riots were organized by prominent far-left groups,
including communists and Trotskyites. Andrew Hubback, Research Director
for the International Freedom Foundation-UK, noted that rich and poor
certainly do not pay the same poll tax: "People on low incomes can
claim rebates up to 80 percent."
Peter Allum, Secretary for Economic
Affairs at the British Embassy in Washington, countered Dunsmore's
argument that the gap between rich and poor is growing. Real average
male earnings have rocketed up 38 percent from 1978 to 1990. Even those
making half the average male earnings saw their real wages go up 32
percent. This compares to a real drop of one percent in average male
earnings during the Labor Administration in the '70s.
Hubback added that the NHS budget
"has been doubled since 1979 -- an increase in real terms of 30
percent." Thatcher succeeded in cutting back the bureaucracy,
leaving more money for proportional increases in the number of doctors
and nurses on staff. Thus, Hubback remarked, "the NHS now treats
one million more patients a year than in 1979." In late 1989, Allum
pointed out, waiting lists for in-patient hospital care was down seven
percent from 1979 levels.
Social Security benefits were cut for
those under eighteen to discourage dropping out of high school. Clark
pointed out that Thatcher introduced the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) to
teach dropouts to work in the private sector. If there are young people
living on the street, Clark insisted "they are there by
choice." As for the homelessness, it is not one million. A quick
call to London's Department of the Environment put the figure at no more
than 93,000 in late 1989 -- 88,000 of whom were being housed by local
programs. According to Clark, the one million homeless figure (that
would be one out of every 56 people) probably comes from a well-known,
left-wing group called Shelter.
Dunsmore did not want to discuss his
story nor defend his sources or statistics. Reached in London, he would
only say: "I think not. As a general proposition [ABC] takes the
attitude that we do our reports and do not comment on them. People
either like them or they do not." It's safe to say, critics of
Reagan in the United States liked what Dunsmore had to say about
Thatcher and British conservatism.
REDS LIKE TED.
Soviet Life magazine recently gave its first Glasnost award to
CNN founder Ted Turner. The May cover story explained: "A new era
in East-West relations has erupted from the seeds of glasnost that were
planted just a few short years ago by leading visionaries of our time.
One such visionary is famed entrepreneur and media titan Ted
Turner is now shooting for the Chairman
Mao Publicity Award for his defense of the Tienanmen Square massacre. As
Tom Brokaw reported during the May 10 NBC Nightly News,
"[Turner] said he would not criticize China, adding the
demonstrators violated Chinese law despite repeated warnings. Said
Turner, 'We bleed in our hearts for the students, but we also bleed for
the government and the soldiers who felt like they were being forced to
take this action.'"
DEBORAH LOVES DAN.
Deborah Norville, the much-ballyhooed new co-host of NBC's Today
show, took the network to a new low in a fawning April 24 interview with
Daniel Ortega in Managua. "For a man who for ten years was
applauded and admired by thousands of Nicaraguans, rejection at the
polls has required Daniel Ortega to become philosophical about
politics.... Ortega's statesmanlike acceptance of the voters' decision
has prompted some in Washington to call the Sandinista leader a champion
of democracy." MediaWatch tried to ask
NBC who used this description, but NBC didn't return our calls. NBC also
wouldn't reveal the source of this Norville question: "We talked to
one observer who told us if he were awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, he
would nominate Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Ortega. What do you think of
When Norville's questions weren't thinly
disguised compliments, her questions came from Ortega's left:
"There are some members of the FSLN who say you've sold out. How do
you respond to that?" Despite Ortega's 15-point loss after a
campaign of government intimidation, Norville asserted: "His
personal magnetism which helped bring him to te fore remains
undiminished." Ortega's cult of personality was rejected by his
countrymen, but it's still going strong on American TV.
BABYSITTING BLUES. A
child care bill passed by the U.S. House provides $30 billion to
subsidize child care. But that's not enough government intervention for
ABC's Peter Jennings. Introducing a March 28 "American Agenda"
story on the subject, Jennings complained, "It leaves the issue of
child care standards up to the individual states, and according to
virtually every child care expert, that is a mistake."
Reporter Rebecca Chase lined up a
selection of child care educators in favor of federally imposed
standards, concluding with a sweeping declaration: "So the experts
are unanimous. The nation needs higher and uniform standards when it
comes to child care." Chase noted Congress probably will reject
this "unanimous" advice, prompting her to warn: "Experts
fear that without mandatory standards nothing will change, leaving most
parents without any assurance that their children are in good
MISSING MANDELA'S ADMISSION.
When Nelson Mandela was released in February, reporters hanged on his
every word. At one point NBC anchor Tom Brokaw exclaimed, "Now we
can watch him eat his dinner, and help lead South Africa to a new
age." However, reporters were less attentive two months later when
Mandela was forced to concede that his African National Congress (ANC)
had tortured dissident members.
ABC and CNN ignored his April 14
revelation and CBS weekend anchor Susan Spencer only gave the story a
brief mention. Only NBC devoted serious attention to the admission of
the ANC's record of brutality, but did so with regret. "It was not
a pleasant thing to say, but Mandela said it today in South
Africa," NBC's Garrick Utley declared, adding "It is one more
problem Mandela certainly does not need." Reporter Robin Lloyd
agreed: "It was a political embarrassment." One thing NBC
failed to mention: Winnie Mandela's participation in torturing several
CHARADE. Parade, the Sunday newspaper supplement, had
a strange way of looking at the abortion debate, commissioning abortion
advocate Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan to write a piece presenting
the arguments of both sides. Sagan and Druyan spent little of the April
22 cover story attacking the assumptions of the pro-choice movement,
devoting most of the article to knocking down the pro-life argument by
stretching its technical basis to ridiculous conclusions.
For instance, they wondered if
masturbation or menstruation is murder because of the potential of eggs
and sperm to create a human being. The article also claimed "there
is no right to life in any society on Earth today," irrelevantly
noting how often and remorselessly "we destroy forests; pollute
rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for
sport." They concluded: "We find Roe v. Wade to be a
good and prudent decision addressing a complex and difficult issue"
REBUTTING RABEL. Last
month MediaWatch detailed NBC reporter Ed
Rabel's coverage of Cuba. During a two-part series on March 30 and April
2, Rabel insisted that the demise of communism couldn't spread to Cuba:
"If they're 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 is too strong."
More observant reporting came the
following weeks from CBS' Juan Vasquez, a reporter not known for being
particularly tough on Marxists in Central America. On April 4, he noted:
"After 31 years of revolution, Castro senses that Cubans,
especially the young, may be losing some of their revolutionary
fervor." Six days later, Vasquez again delved below the government
line. "There are signs that Cuba's people see the handwriting on
the wall: enrollment in advanced English classes has tripled...The
appeal of a western-oriented consumer society may yet prove stronger.
After 31 years of sacrifice, Cubans are getting tired of being on the
outside looking in."
REPEATING RABEL. TV
network news reporters aren't the only ones susceptible to the Cuban
government's public relations. Take, for example, Frank Wright's
two-part Minneapolis Star Tribune front page series April 29
and 30. "There is no sign of substantial organized resistance, and
indeed, popular support remains strong for Castro and the revolution's
provision of health care, education, employment, and other basic needs
over the years."
Despite being "the best and most
broadly educated younger generation in its history," Wright
explained why Cuba's young just aren't appreciative: "Many are
apathetic, others disaffected. They aren't old enough to remember the
bad old days, and satisfying just their basic needs isn't good enough
for them." Other countries like Vietnam may have "inched
toward concessions that smell of capitalism," wrote Wright, but
"communism won't go into the tank so easily ." One of Wright's
sources, Manuel Lopez, President of Cuba's biggest cooperative, insisted
"It is one of the fairest systems Cuba ever had." Wright's
series relied heavily on communist Cuba's officials and "Cuba
specialists" like Carter diplomat Wayne Smith, but how many
sentences did Wright dedicate to the thoughts of Cuba's dissenting
voices? Not one.
DON'T BOETTCHER LIFE ON IT.
"What a pretty picture, if it were true. The foreign worker
laboring happily at the side of an East German. For four decades
communists proclaimed their state free of the prejudice that afflicted
the West. The picture was a lie," Mike Boettcher began an April 14 NBC
Nightly News story exposing the facade of interracial harmony the
East German communists have for so long declared was the norm.
"When a young Vietnamese student attempted to climb from East to
West," for example, "he was grabbed by East German police.
East German bystanders applauded the rough treatment he received."
But after so conclusively discrediting
the communist propaganda line, Boettcher concluded the piece by echoing
that same propaganda: "East Germany's guests quietly endure their
ordeal and patiently wait for what reunification will bring. They knw
it's bad here, but they've heard it's not much better out West."
CHEMICAL MIX-UP. From
gun control to unilateral dis-armament, the left has shown an inability
to distinguish between the possession of a weapon for defense and the
use of that weapon to commit a crime. A classic display of this theme
was Jeanne Meserve's dig at efforts to modernize U.S. chemical weapons
stockpiles during the March 27 World News Tonight.
"Ever since Iraq used poison gas on
Kurdish civilians, the United States has campaigned to stop the spread
of chemical weapons," Meserve declared, "but that campaign may
be undercut by the administration's efforts to buy the chemicals for
itself." Elisa Harris of the Brookings Institution chimed in:
"And this is perceived outside the United States as
Meserve concluded, "The Pentagon
says it will produce chemical weapons until they are banned worldwide
and it refuses to acknowledge any contradiction in pursuing the two
goals simultaneously." Apparently no one has ever explained
deterrence to Meserve.
AIRTIME FOR AIRLINE ATTACK.
"Federal deregulation has put the airline industry in a tailspin.
That's the word from a new study," CNN PrimeNews anchor
Susan Rook announced on March 28. Rook failed to mention what
organization released it: the Economic Policy Institute, a group founded
by some former Dukakis advisers, a fact that made the conclusions hardly
surprising. "The study concludes a little re-regulation may be the
ticket to better service."
Reporter Frances Hardin, who failed to
air an opposing view, claimed that the new study "confirms what
many airline passengers already know about services, fares and what seem
to be fewer and fewer direct flights." And what passenger
complaints would re-regulation solve? One passenger whined: "This
morning it was just a danish and coffee for breakfast; before, you used
to have your bacon and eggs." And to think this atrocity is all
blamed on federal deregulation.
VILNIUS VACUUM. Last
year, the presence of the foreign press exposed to the world the
atrocities committed in Tienanmen Square. In Lithuania, however, Mikhail
Gorbachev expelled Western reporters over the March 31-April 1 weekend.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Newspaper Guild, the Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of Newspaper
Editors protested the expulsion. But very little of this protest carried
over into network coverage, which only mentioned the expulsion in
CBS gave the story a brief reference
during an April 1 piece by Allen Pizzey. NBC's Rick Davis mentioned the
story on the March 31 and April 1 Nightly News. On March 31,
CNN's Jim Clancy warned, "The last members of the foreign press
were ordered to leave the Lithuanian capital over the weekend, raising
fears that the Kremlin planned to remove pro-independence politicians by
force, if necessary." ABC's Jim Hickey mentioned the expulsion in
his March 30, April 1 and April 2 stories from Vilnius, but ABC never
again told viewers why all subsequent stories came from Moscow.
South African and Israeli restrictions on
press coverage generated far greater reaction. The media aired entire
stories on the anti-press actions b those countries and referred to
restrictions at the beginning or end of many reports. Clearly this has
not been the case in Lithuania, which raises the possibility that the
media are more concerned with protecting Mikhail Gorbachev than telling
the full story.
CHIDING CUBA'S CHURCH.
Religious freedom is returning to Eastern Europe, but a number of
reporters argue that it will not happen in Cuba. During the April 12 CNN
PrimeNews, reporter Charles Jaco noted that "the number of
priests [in Cuba] has dropped from 1,000 in 1959 to around 200
now." Jaco blamed the Catholic Church, not Castro, for this
decline. "There's little indication Cubans are intensely religious
like people in Poland or Czechoslovakia. One reason: the Catholic Church
in Cuba has been historically conservative, often run by Spanish, rather
than Cuban, priests," Jaco asserted. That's ironic since Cuba has
been a haven for Marxist liberation theologians. Jaco used Jorge Gomez,
a member of the Cuban Central Committee, to support his claim:
"There does exist a separation between the Church and the people.
It is not a conflict with the party, and the Church must resolve that
conflict with the people themselves." Jaco downplayed the beating
and jailing of Cuban Christians, declaring, "Despite some
harassment from Castro's neighborhood revolutionary committees,
churchgoers say they are free to worship."
Jaco concluded that "the Vatican
indicated the Pope may come here in December. If he does it could put
the Church's stamp of approval on a government that until recently tried
to put the Church out of business." Did the Pope's visit to Austria
put his stamp of approval on Kurt Waldheim? Did his trip to Poland mean
he approved of that regime?
Conservatives as 'Anti-Poor'
LAUDING THE LEGAL LEFT
Reporters usually press government
agencies to perform their intended mission. Sometimes, however, they
help agencies press their critics instead. Case in point: Bob McNamara's
April 9 CBS Evening News report on the Legal Services
Corporation. "Legal aid for the poor is on hold," McNamara
began. "The Legal Services Corporation funds 325 local offices to
do the legal work of America's poor. But in the '80s came efforts to
abolish Legal Services...Today, local offices are surviving on 40
percent less in real dollars than ten years ago, a total budget not much
more than the cost of a single B-1 bomber."
McNamara's elaboration of the LSC
workload was poetic: "They call for help in custody cases, to stop
an eviction, or keep the lights on. But the lawyers of last resort have
seen the budget cuts take a toll....the human face of it is Amanda's. A
custody case Legal Aid has no time to help her mother fight....It's the
face of a tenant who fears eviction from her HUD-subsidized
apartment...And it's the face of a woman, wanting to adopt an orphaned
girl she's caring for, but Legal Aid is swamped...Today, regional Legal
Aid director meetings are gatherings of the battle-weary, full of talk
of witch hunts and politically motivated audits directed from
Washington, about new laws against defending illegal aliens and farm
If McNamara would have pursued an
opposing view, he might have heard that eviction and child custody
matters are going unaided because LSC lawyers have been busy filing
political suits: defending Central America protesters sending convoys to
the Sandinistas, gays seeking rent control protections in New York City,
and liberal and minority groups trying to target redistricting to their
advantage. Last year's Stenholm-McCollum reform bill would have mandated
that LSC spend a certain percentage of its time and resources handling
its real mission of service to the poor instead of service to the Left.
These are the "witch hunts" and "politically motivated
audits" of McNamara's imagination.
When McNamara finally noted "what
irks conservatives most is that government money might be funding a
liberal agenda," he discredited the idea by putting on Thomas
Smegal, a liberal former LSC board member. "There was just this
view," Smegal explained, "that somehow or other, taxpayers
should not bear the price of lawyer fees to obtain equal access to
justice." McNamara then concluded: "In a climate when
anti-poverty has at times meant anti-poor, perhaps those needing help
should feel fortunate the phones are answered at all."
EARTH DAY WITHOUT
In the television age, protests are no
longer simple expressions of democratic discontent; they're often
elaborately planned public relations mega-events. Most protest
organizers would settle for a small 24-hour news binge, but the
organizers of Earth Day on April 22 enjoyed a solid week of anticipatory
coverage and homage. Media outlets did much more than report on Earth
Day: they celebrated it.
In the midst of all the feel-good stories
about cleaning up roadsides and recycling beer cans, the networks failed
to investigate the radical views of Earth Day organizers. In 1970
organizer Denis Hayes explained the true Earth Day agenda: "I
suspect that the politicians and businessmen who are jumping on the
environment bandwagon don't have the slightest idea what they are
getting into. They are talking about emission control devices on
automobiles, while we are talking about bans on automobiles."
To see what kind of environmental
viewpoints the networks relied upon this Earth Day, MediaWatch
analysts watched all morning and evening news shows during
the week of April 16-22, in addition to Nightwatch, the CBS
overnight show. MediaWatch compared the amount
of time given to liberal environmentalists (Earth Day and major
environmental group staffers and ecologists like Barry Commoner) to the
time given to free-market environmentalists. We differentiated between
talking heads (people appearing in news stories) and in-studio
Liberal environmentalists were offered
more than 30 times as many opportunities to speak as their opponents,
tallying 68 talking head appearances, compared to two soundbites by one
free- marketeer. Interviews were just as heavily weighted: 26 liberal
environmentalists to one free-marketeer.
Although reporters relied heavily on
liberal environmentalists, they rarely questioned them about their
hostility to free enterprise or their advocacy of massive government
intervention. (In fact, not one environmentalist was described as
liberal.) Instead, most of the soudbites and interviews allowed them to
make generalizations about the precarious state of the planet and the
need for action. By providing them with an unchallenged platform in
which they simply appeared to be concerned citizens with reasonable
solutions, the networks made viewers more likely to believe drastic
government action is needed when they call for it on other occasions.
In naming Denis Hayes ABC's "Person
of the Week," Peter Jennings simply echoed Hayes' frustration with
how the environment suffered since 1970, mostly under Reagan. He never
investigated Hayes' radical proposals, and concluded by lauding Hayes as
"the true believer whose reverence for life has always been a
calling, never a fashion, who millions of Americans owe a vote of
Liberal activists fielded questions like
this one posed to Meryl Streep by ABC entertainment reporter Chantal:
"The first Earth Day, of course, came out of the '60s, when people
were so concerned about changing the world and wanting to make it
better. I think a lot of people miss the '60s for just that reason. And
yet, we've just come out of a decade that was so materialistic, so
money-oriented. How do we show them what you're talking about?"
Bryant Gumbel questioned liberals by
criticizing conservative policies: "Well, you've all touched on it
a little bit, but the failure of the government, particularly the
problems encountered in the Reagan years, are very much with us and
prompt the question: Is government even equipped to take on these issues
or must we talk in local terms?"
The majority of morning show interviews
came on April 20. On CBS, Nightwatch interviewed eight
left-wing guests, including West German Green Party leader Petra Kelly,
anti-technology activist Jeremy Rifkin, and Washington Post
reporter Cynthia Gorney, who's writing for Mother Jones on how
to go green in "this grossly over-consumptive and wasteful
society." Rifkin told host Charlie Rose that "A radical
reduction in energy use is not a big sacrifice: it's just hanging
habits...convenience culture is destroying the planet."
In another segment, Rose questioned Jay
Hair of the National Wildlife Federation, Mike Roselle of the radical
group Earth First!, and Barry Commoner. Rose's comparatively probing
questions about free enterprise and the environment demonstrated the
kind of hostile rhetoric simmering beneath the feel-good coverage.
"It's the very principles of the free market, the free enterprise
system, that has caused this," Commoner stated. "That simply
won't work. We have got to get the common interest in environmental
stability into the decisionmaking process, and I'm afraid, when we do
that, it won't be a free enterprise system."
On ABC's Good Morning America,
co-host Charles Gibson introduced "three men with three different
approaches to environmental activism." Gibson's idea of a diverse
panel: polar explorer Will Steger, Howie Wolke of Earth First!, and
David Brower of the Earth Island Institute, a man too radical for the
staffs of both the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. When Gibson
asked a challenging question about probable job losses from
environmental proposals, Wolke replied: "Any time a transition is
made, there's going to be a loss of jobs during that transition period.
Let's face it: people were unemployed when they closed down
NBC's Today was the epitome of
imbalance. Bryant Gumbel interviewed Ellen Silbergeld of the
Environmental Defense Fund, rainforest advocate Thomas Lovejoy of the
Smithsonian Institution and Paul Ehrlich, notorious author of The
Population Bomb, which falsely predicted mass famines in the 1970s.
Rather than allow someone to challenge Ehrlich's lengthening record of
false predictions, NBC continued to legitimize Ehrlich. Earlier in the
week Today gave him his third unchallenged three-part series in the last
What the networks failed to do was offer
time to almost anyone who challenged the scientific, economic, and
political assumptions behind the entire Earth Day protest. The dominant
save-the-planet message was shared by nearly everyone, including all of
the 17 soundbites and interviews with celebrities and most of the 21
administration officials and 11 corporate spokesmen.
The only exception: meteorologist Patrick
Michaels of the University of Virginia, who joined the debate over
global warming on This Week with David Brinkley (clips of which
were later used once each on World News Tonight and Good
Morning America). Earth Day Alternatives, a coalition of
free-market environmental groups, held a press conference and made
numerous spokesmen available, but was shut out completely. News people,
who have prided themselves on always finding sources to counter any
conservative consensus over the past decade, preferred to let the Earth
Day consensus go unchallenged and allow the Earth Day organizers to
remain untainted by any hint of radical politics.
USA Earth Day. USA
Today editors gave Earth Day promoters more free space than they
ever could buy, especially in a 24-page Friday special section. Our
favorite public relations piece: "Earthlings, Take It From Your
Environmental Leaders," a half-page of features on left-wing
activists, including Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, Barry Commoner,
Greenpeace USA Executive Director Peter Bahouth, Environmental Action
Executive Director Ruth Caplan, National Audubon Society President Peter
Berle, and Lois Gibbs, head of the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous
USA Today also helped
environmental groups by staffing its Earth Day Hot Line with
representatives of Greenpeace and other groups, and printing their
addresses and phone numbers. The paper also put together an Earth Day
"reading roundup," recommending titles like Reweaving the
World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism.
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