Reporters Mourn Collapse of Communism
The Marxist economic system which
crippled Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is crumbling, but that has
not made network correspondents optimistic about the future. Several
think capitalism is even worse.
"Communism is being swept away, but
so too is the social safety net it provided," CBS reporter Bert
Quint warned from Poland on the May 9 CBS This Morning.
"Factories, previously kept alive only by edicts from Warsaw, are
closing their doors, while institutions new to the East, soup kitchens
and unemployment centers are opening theirs," he charged. Who will
profit from Poland's new freedom? "A few slick locals, but mostly
Americans, Japanese, and other foreigners out to cash in on a new source
of cheap labor. And for the Poles, where are they for this first
springtime of freedom? Somewhere, it seems, at the start of a long, hard
road to nobody really knows where."
Steve Hurst, CNN's Moscow reporter,
doubted whether Soviets with "no collective memory of
capitalism" can ever adapt: "Can the people here deal with
free markets at all, gradual approach or no? "Two days later, on
the May 24 PrimeNews, Hurst contrasted the benefits of
communism with the looming threat from capitalism: "Soviet people
have become accustomed to security if nothing else. Life isn't good
here, but people don't go hungry, homeless; a job has always been
guaranteed. Now all socialist bets are off. A market economy looms, and
the social contract that has held Soviet society together for 72 years
no longer applies. The people seem baffled, disappointed, let down. Many
don't like the prospect of their nation becoming just another capitalist
CBS' Barry Petersen saw no appeal in
Soviet capitalism May 14, since "people don't want to give up their
cheap prices in a land where a loaf of bread costs about three cents,
where a street car ride is less than a penny, and a phone call costs
even less than that." To change all this he concluded, "means
abolishing state subsidies, and accepting higher prices, unemployment
and uncertainty in a country which has always guaranteed cradle to grave
security for its people."
Assertions that communism prevents hunger
and homelessness were shattered by the May 20 installment of Washington
Post reporter David Remnick's "Vast Landscape of Want"
series. "To describe the Soviet Union in terms of overwhelming
poverty is no longer the work of fire-breathing ideologues from abroad.
Now even the press organs of the Soviet Communist Party ruthlessly
survey the wreckage of everyday life. Nothing, it seems, poisons
ideological purity more thoroughly than an empty shelf."
ABC's Democratic Lobbyist.
After nearly 20 years with ABC, Eugene Cowan has retired from his
position as Vice President in Washington. Cowan was a Deputy Assistant
to President Nixon for congressional relations from 1969 to 1971.
Cowan's been replaced by his deputy, Mark MacCarthy, Vice President for
government affairs at Capital Cities/ABC. Before moving to ABC in 1988,
MacCarthy worked for seven years as a professional staff member for the
House Energy and Commerce Committee where he focused on communications
policy for Chairman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.
Texas Ties. Glenn Smith,
the Campaign Manager for Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards, the
Democratic nominee for Governor, spent several years as a newspaper
reporter before going into politics. Smith was a Houston Chronicle
State House reporter until becoming Austin Bureau Chief for the Houston
Post in 1985. Two years later, when Texas Lt. Governor Bill Hobby
promoted Saralee Tiede from Press Secretary to Executive Assistant,
Smith took the Press Secretary position. He stayed on the Democrat's
payroll until joining the Richards campaign last year.
Tiede jumped to politics after working as
a State House reporter for both the Fort Worth Star Telegram
and Dallas Times Herald, a job she took after reporting from
Washington for the Dallas Morning News.
Turning Through Turner.
Nell Payne, Director of Government Affairs in D.C. for Turner
Broadcasting System (TBS), parent company of CNN, has accepted a White
House job: Special Assistant to the President for legislative affairs.
Before jumping to TBS in 1987 she served as Chief Counsel to the Senate
Budget Committee's Republican staff. Replacing Payne at TBS is Peggy
Binzel, Legislative Director for U.S. Representative Jack Fields (R-TX)
for the last five and a half years.
A Judicious Move. In the
wake of an inquiry into who confirmed an embarrassing CBS News story
about an investigation of Demoratic Whip Bill Gray, Attorney General
Richard Thornburgh has reassigned some officials. David Runkel, a former
Philadelphia Bulletin reporter who ran the public affairs
department since 1987, has become Communications Director for the
Justice Department. A Washington bureau reporter from 1980 to 1982,
Runkel covered the State House and City Hall in the 1970s for the now
New to the Hill. Two new
staffers for Democrats on Capitol Hill used to have media jobs. Jo-Anne
Goldman, the new Deputy Press Secretary for Senator Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ), worked for the past year or so as a free-lance news writer and
producer for CNN and National Public Radio, Roll Call recently
reported....Brian Keane, who joined the office of U.S. Representative
Les Aspin (D-WI) in April as a Legislative Assistant handling
environmental and educational issues, spent the previous few months as a
staff assistant in the CBS News Boston bureau.
If Charles Dickens were alive today, he
certainly would have found his modern day Artful Dodger in Time
magazine art critic Robert Hughes. In his June 4 article on National
Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding, Hughes crafted a relentless attack
on conservatives while gingerly dodging the compelling issue in the
debate: the indecency and obscenity in previous NEA-funded projects. For
that, he receives the June Janet Cooke Award.
Last Fall, conservatives led by Sen.
Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) attempted to
establish standards for NEA grantees. According to Rohrabacher, the
amendment, before liberals watered it down, would have barred "tax
dollars from continuing to be spent for obscene, indecent, or
anti-religious 'art.'" It would also have prevented funding of art
"used to denigrate, debase, or revile a person, group, or class of
Outright Opinion. Time
has received this coveted award three times before. Each time we
singled out the magazine's blatant editorialization in its
"news" sections. It was no different with Hughes'
"Nation" section article titled "Whose Art Is It
Anyway?" You only had to look at the Table of Contents teaser to
see there would be no pretense of balance: "Jesse Helms is leading
a right- wing assault on the NEA. But his anti-obscenity campaign
threatens to stifle free expression and many worthwhile projects."
The subtitle of the article itself resounded: "Desperate for an
enemy, the radical right accuses Washington of subsidizing obscene,
elitist art. The facts paint a different picture."
Hughes argued the U.S. is spending too
little: "Last year the U.S. Government gave the NEA $171.3
million...Compared with the arts expenditures of other countries and
with the general scale of federal outlays, this is a paltry sum."
And what would happen without the NEA? Hughes gave the "vaporings
of antifunders," such as Rohrabacher and the Cato Institute's
Douglas Bandow, a few sentences. They pointed out that the private
sector could adequately fund the arts and that it is inherently unfair
to ask lower income Americans to pay for productions or exhibits
"frequented primarily by the wealthy." But he dismissed those
points out of hand, claiming "small, marginal, obscure"
projects would not attract corporate dollars. He even invoked the class
consciousness sloganeering of Karl Marx: "The idea of an American
public culture wholly dependent on the corporate promotion budgets of
white CEOs, reflecting the concerted interests of one class, one race,
one mentality, is unthinkable."
How would Hughes solve the crisis?
"Plenty of folk on Capitol Hill have been sandbagged into acting as
though a vote for the NEA is a vote for blasphemy, pederasty, and
buggery. They should think again....The real 'silent majority' on this
issue is the millions of Americans who believe in the value of the arts
-- and it is time they spoke out."
Attacks On Conservatives.
Hughes began the article: "Helms knows as well as anyone in
Washington how strong the know-nothing streak in America is and how to
focus its rancor....Only this can explain why thousands of people who
don't utter a peep when the President pulls billions from their wallets
to bail out crooks and incompetents in the savings and loan industry
start baying for the abolition of an agency that indirectly gave $30,000
to a now dead photographer."
Outrage was not based on morality, but on
politics: "There has been plenty of method in the anti-NEA
demagoguery. At its root lies a sense of lost momentum, a leakage of
power, in the far American right. The cold war thawed out after 40 years
and left its paladins standing with wet socks in the puddle....Casting
the NEA as the patron, if not of Commies, then of blasphemers, elitists,
and sickos. The arts grant becomes today's version of the Welfare
Neglecting The Issue of
Obscenity. Hughes praised the NEA for supporting the Harlem
School for the Arts, the Center for Puppetry Arts, and the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, but he refused to describe or let readerssee the works
of art he so viciously attacked conservatives for criticizing. He simply
claimed: "The grant to Mapplethorpe and artist Andres Serrano,
creator of the notorious Piss Christ, were two controversies in 25 years
that caused a big public outcry. Two out of 85,000 is statistically
But the June 5 Village Voice
described the NEA portfolio and included pictures: "...the coolly
unregenerate S&M images in Robert Mapplethorpe's 'XYZ
Portfolios"; urine, semen, and menstrual blood in Serrano's
photographs; the demystified female body in Annie Sprinkle's
performances; the frankly homosexual body in David Wojnarowicz's
paintings/writings..." (In a side bar, Time's Richard
Lacayo did describe the NEA-funded art of Karen Finley: "She fills
the stage with shrieks and spit, sometimes stripping off her clothes and
smearing food across her body. In a now legendary piece that she
introduced several years ago, she slathered yams around her
Reached by MediaWatch,
Hughes denied that the art was obscene, but perhaps Serrano's work was
"blasphemous." So why not run the photos? He skirted the
issue: "The situations of pictures in a gallery and in an open
circulation magazine are not analogous." As for ignoring
conservative views, Hughes dismissed Rohrabacher as "a little
opportunist" and said of Helms: "I do have respect for Helms,
although I do think he's a political ass." So how could Time
expect a person with such strong opinions to provide a balanced picture?
Simple. Hughes told us he never tried: "It was a highly opinionated
article. I make no bones about that. My whole purpose for being employed
at Time is to offer my opinion." Terry Zintl,
"Nation" editor, declined to be interviewed on why Time
presents opinion as news.
The decision of California voters to double the state's gas tax renewed
media hopes for higher taxes. Time's June 18 issue gleefully
concluded that "after more than a decade of sharply reduced
services, Americans have at least grudgingly acknowledged the need to
pay for badly needed improvements." Time was so excited it
listed five methods politicians could employ to convince voters of the
need for higher taxes. Among them: "If all else fails, try
leadership." Time's model? New Jersey Democratic Governor
Jim Florio, who proposed massive increases in his state's income tax.
Florio's picture appeared under a red graphic that read "Facing
Newsweek agreed: "In the
post-Reagan era, more states are facing up to the need to raise
taxes...Some states have no choice but to raise taxes." Anchoring
the June 6 CBS Evening News Ed Bradley worried: "For all
the talk of hiking taxes and reversing the trend of more than a decade,
there is a question tonight if that would come in time to help the
nation's beleaguered public school system."
BRYANT GRUMBLES. Every
day under a Republican President is a bad day for NBC Today
co-host Bryant Gumbel, but some, like May 9, are worse than others.
During the show's introduction, Gumbel groused about the budget summit:
"The bottom line is more tax money is going to be needed. Just how
much will be the primary issue on the agenda....It's a Wednesday
morning, a day when the budget picture, frankly, seems gloomier than
ever. It now seems the time has come to pay the fiddler for our costly
dance of the Reagan years."
Taxes weren't the only issue on Gumbel's
mind, however, as he moved on: "Family leave. It's an employee
right guaranteed through-out the world, but not in the United
States." Mad that Bush threatened to veto a bill to
"correct" the situation, he grilled John Sloan of the National
Federation of Independent Business. For Gumbel, regulation is the only
solution: "How else then do you claim that a worker might get the
minimum standards? Should he just depend on the good wishes of his
SUMMIT SLANT. Profiling
budget summit participants on May 14, USA Today reporters Paul
Clancy and Johanna Neuman described Democrats more favorably than
Republicans. While Democrat Dick Gephardt was "a consensus builder
who thrives on long meetings and eye-glazing detail," Republican
Newt Gingrich was "an ardent conservative" who "often
blasts Democrats." Clancy and Neuman called Democratic Whip William
Gray a "master of budget politics" who has "steered a
middle course" and Sen. Wyche Fowler a "rising star in the
Senate." At the White House, John Sununu, "no stranger to
controversy," was the one who "shook environmentalists"
when he toned down a Bush speech on global warming.
A DEMOCRAT TO SAVE DIXIE.
New York Times Washington Editor Howell Raines recently
traveled home to Alabama. "While neighbors have flourished,"
he announced in a June 3 Times Magazine article, "weak
leadership and excessive perks for business have kept the state in a
Wallace-era time warp, dirt-poor and backward." The solution? Elect
a liberal Democrat, preferably an Ivy League graduate. "For years,
Alabamians comforted themselves by making fun of their backward
neighbors. But Louisiana and Arkansas elected polished young Ivy
Leaguers as governors while Alabama wallowed along with Gov. Guy Hunt, a
former Amway salesman," Raines sneered.
After detailing how the entrenched
political establishment ruined the state, Raines noted that "behind
his [Hunt's] back, Alabama's educators and lawyers laugh at his table
manners and grammar," missing the point that the people laughing
are the establishment which Republican Hunt upset in 1986 by wresting
control of the State House from a century of Democratic rule.
Still, Raines urged voters to replace
Hunt with one of the three liberal Democrats then facing off in an early
June primary: "It is clear that [Attorney General Don] Siegelman
and [Congressman Ron] Flippo, as well as [union boss Paul] Hubbert,
could provide worthy leadership on the New South model. These three men
may represent Alabama's only chance to escape a long siege of dynastic
MEANER AND HARSHER ATTACK.
"Judging from several of his actions, it has been difficult to
imagine in recent days that during his 1988 campaign, President Bush
called for a 'kindler and gentler' presidency," Boston Globe
Washington reporter Stephen Kurkjian began a front page diatribe,
labeled "news analysis." Bush's opposition to further child
care regulation and a bill forcing employers to give their employees
three months of leave for family illnesses, Kurkjian's May 16 article
charged, "have been seen as a reversal of his campaign
pledge." Bush "also faces the political fallout from the gap
that has evolved between his campaign rhetoric on the environment and
Oval office reality.
In short, "some Democrats believe
Bush is finally beginning to pay the political price of running a
campaign that was based on high rhetoric but little substance."
Kurkjian didn't bother to quote anyone pleased with Bush's resistance to
MAO'S MILLER TIME. As
the one-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approached,
NBC reporter Keith Miller's interests laid elsewhere. His May 28 report
focused on the revival of Chairman Mao's cult of personality. "The
number one train to Shaoshan in south central China is running full
these days, loaded with pilgrims to the holiest of China's revolutionary
shrines," he declared. "The birthplace of Mao Tse-tung is at
the heart of the national campaign to renew the spirit of Chinese
communism." Miller claimed that "Some people come here because
of nostalgia." Fond memories, no doubt, of Mao's purges and mass
executions. Miller told viewers that "Mrs. Mao" of Mao's
Restaurant "cried when [she] met [Mao]...they were tears of
happiness. She says people miss the Chairman because he knew how to take
care of the Chinese people."
Why is Mao's cult returning now?
"The government is promoting this revival of all things connected
with Mao Tse-tung as a way to restore traditional communist
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's caution during uncertain world events
has made him a target for network reporters on the Pentagon beat. Fred
Francis began an April 26 NBC story: "Secretary Cheney enhanced his
image as a cold warrior today by trimming only two and half billion
dollars from a defense budget that many critics say ignores the prospect
ABC's Bob Zelnick unloaded on Cheney in a
May 15 World News Tonight story: "Cheney's attitude
towards Moscow has him out of step in Washington...Cheney has often
appeared out of sync with the administration, Congress, and military
leaders inside his own building." Zelnick offered no on-air
opinions defending the Defense chief, but included clips of Senator Sam
Nunn, Lawrence Korb of the Brookings Institution, and Gordon Adams of
the Defense Budget Project. The latter two organizations have each
called for defense cuts in excess of 100 billion dollars.
As his one example of Cheney's alleged
"political weakness," Zelnick implied that the Marines lobbied
for the V-22 Osprey helicopter because of Cheney's lack of clout. In
fact, as Cheney has tried to kill the Osprey, he's battled the pork
barrel spending process. Cheney can't win: when he tries to end wasteful
programs, he's called politically weak, but his "fight against
drastic cuts...continues to erode his influence," according to
FLAGS FOR FASCISTS. When
the fight over flag burning reached the Supreme Court on May 14, NBC's
Carl Stern noted that the defendants were "the same activists who
last year won a Supreme Court decision that they could not be prosecuted
for flag burning," but never mentioned they were members of the
Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Only a caption under Gregory
Johnson's name noted his affiliation. Stern's treatment of the RCP's
opponents wasn't so generous: "There were also counter-
demonstrators, even American Nazis."
ABC's John McKenzie took the fascism
argument to a more global level, noting: "In Britain and most other
democratic countries, people don't take their flag that seriously."
As viewers saw black and white video of Nazis, McKenzie declared,
"In Europe, many experienced what happened when a flag was once
considered sacred, when it so symbolized a nation's identity."
HIDING HUDSON. When the
liberal Economic Policy Institute released a study condemning the U.S.
for ranking 14th in education spending as a percentage of national
income among industrialized nations, The New York Times, The
Washington Post, USA Today, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor
and Time all gave coverage to their recommendations. Yet
when the conservative Hudson Institute rebutted the EPI report,
concluding that "restructuring education does not require bigger
budgets but different priorities," none of the above gave any
mention. The Hudson Institute study noted the U.S. ranks second in per
capita education spending, slightly behind Sweden.
SHOOTING BLANKS AT LIBERALS.
USA Today "Inquiry" Editor Barbara Reynolds and
reporter Shrona Foreman loaded the deck in conducting interviews on gun
control May 16. Gun control opponent Stephen Halbrook was asked direct,
accusatory questions such as, "Since thousands of deaths are caused
yearly by handguns, why do private citizens need guns?" and
"In London, where guns are banned, the murder rate is only a
quarter of the USA's. Doesn't that make a strong case against
guns?" and "Why do citizens need the right to bear the kind of
assault rifles that Patrick Purdy used to mow down children in a
Stockton, Calif., schoolyard?"
On the other hand, gun control advocate
Joshua Horwitz got softball, open-ended questions: "Why is
gun-control legislation so important to you personally?" and
"What do you think of the NRA's power to block gun-control
FALLING SHORT. Covering
the April 28 Rally for Life, National Public Radio reporter Paz Cohen
gave NPR's liberal listenership an overly triumphant account. In NPR's
first feed of Weekend All Things Considered at 5 p.m., Cohen
reported: "The organizer of today's rally, J.C. Willke, head of the
National Right to Life Committee, had tied his movement's political
future to its ability to turn out greater numbers of people today to
those who marched in defense of abortion rights a year ago...But the
number present at the anti-abortion rally fell far short of those of
last year's abortion rights march by police count. Today's crowd was
estimated at 60,000. The abortion rights march had drawn some
When contacted by MediaWatch,
Cohen explained she revised later reports to the final police count of
200,000, as well as the organizers' estimate of 700,000. But that hardly
excuses making convenient political conclusions before the final
attendance figures were even released.
SAME OLD MEDICINE. Once
again, ABC's "American Agenda" series has urged increased
government regulation and control as the answer to America's health care
problems. Health correspondents George Strait and Dr. Tim Johnson spread
the myth that socialized health care is free. "In Canada, families
never have to struggle to pay for medical care," Johnson claimed
April 30. "In the U.S., the most sophisticated care is readily
available for the wealthy and the insured...In Canada...no one who needs
reasonable care is left out in the cold." Some may prefer the U.S.
system, but Peter Jennings asserted, "others have been saying for
quite some time that what the U.S. needs is what already exists in
On May 3, Strait lauded Hawaii: "In
this state, health care is a fundamental right." He suggested other
states could imitate Hawaii's mandated benefits system: "They too
could start and copy what makes the system here work: One set of rules,
one set of benefits, equally and universally distributed among all
citizens." Dismissing the failure of similar programs in California
and Massachusetts under Michael Dukakis, he claimed "those failures
do not mean the Hawaii model is a fantasy that cannot be
duplicated." Indeed, Strait suggested Hawaii offers "a glimpse
of what the rest of America could be, if it chooses."
TV'S GREENHOUSE DEFECT.
The networks have a strange way of reporting on the greenhouse effect:
promote studies confirming it, and ignore studies challenging it. For
example, when the United Nations issued a report May 25, all three
networks reported the story and used it to prod President Bush into
On World News Tonight, Peter
Jennings introduced "A new warning today about global warming and
one likely to put considerable pressure on President Bush. The President
has been skeptical of research predicting a warming trend, calling
always for more studies before he takes any action. Now the most
prestigious panel yet has reported in." ABC reporter Ned Potter
took it from there: "[Scientists] say the administration has lost
its excuse not to take more action...One environmentalist says the only
real uncertainty about global warming is what President Bush will do
But two days earlier, when a U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) study of nearly 1,000 official weather
station records showed that the nation has cooled by one-third of a
degree since 1920, the networks were silent. Data that contradicted the
media- friendly theme of dramatic global warming was better left
GREENHOUSE PAPER TRAIL.
The same was true for newspapers. The UN report made page 1 of The
Washington Post, covered by Post reporters Michael
Weisskopf and William Booth. The Boston Globe ran the Post story
on the front page. The New York Times ran a story by Craig
Whitney on page 6. But none of the papers found the USDA study important
enough to assign their reporters to it and the placement was quite
different: The Post ran a brief AP dispatch on page A16;
the Globe buried a Knight-Ridder brief inside; and the Times,
the paper of record, ignored it.
When Science magazine released a
study showing no warming trend March 29, only The Boston Globe
assigned a reporter to the story and put it on the front page. The Post
reported the study with an AP dispatch on page A26. The Times
again ignored it completely. But USA Today has been most
one-sided, ignoring both skeptical studies while pushing its front-page
panic button last December 5: "Scientists now fear global warming
and ozone depletion could have the same impact on health as a nuclear
DOW DOUBT AFTER DOUBT.
"Dow defies doubters, hits new high" read the June 5 USA
Today "Money" section headline. USA Today should
know about doubters. Just take a look at some of its worry-wart
headlines in the midst of May's bull market: "April stock dip
likely to go on" (May 1); "Uncertainty paralyzes stock
market" (May 7); "But sudden surge may be short-lived"
(May 15); "Individual investors getting wise to Wall Street
rallies" (May 17); "Dow's high still leaves some
skeptics" (May 18); and "High-tech slump may doom rally"
(May 29) and our favorite, "Dow may hit potholes on road to
3000" (June 4).
Blaming America for a
Return to the Killing Fields
ABC'S CAMBODIAN CRUSADE
Americans do not follow Southeast Asia
very closely, which made ABC's April 26 special, From The Killing
Fields, even more influential. Peter Jennings painted a simple
picture: the United States, mentally trapped in the Vietnam War, has
allied itself with China in support of the Khmer Rouge (which killed
over one million of their fellow Cambodians between 1975 and 1978) in
revenge for losing Vietnam. Jennings charged that aid passes through the
non-communist resistance to the Khmer Rouge. As Jennings saw it,
"the United States is deeply involved in Cambodia again. Cambodia
is on the edge of hell again."
Former West 57th producer Leslie
Cockburn, who also produced a Frontline segment, "Guns,
Drugs and the CIA," co-wrote the special. Tom Yellin, the other
writer, was a West 57th Senior Producer when the CBS show aired
Cockburn's conspiracy pieces linking the CIA, the Contras and drug
ABC's sources were no less ideologically
committed. Rep. Chester Atkins (D-MA) declared, "[U.S. policy] is a
policy of hatred." Jeremy Stone, the son of Marxist journalist I.F.
Stone, has written many articles attacking U.S. policy on Cambodia,
several of which were co-authored by former CIA Director William Colby,
another source. Both Stone and Colby advocate supporting the
Vietnam-installed Hun Sen regime. Jennings used Assistant Secretary of
State Richard Solomon as a token advocate of the U.S. policy of
supporting the non-communists while shunning the Khmer Rouge.
Jennings questions revealed an implicit
slant: "Why isn't the U.S. outraged about all this?" and
"Why does the United States, the Bush Administration, have anything
to do whatsoever with the Khmer Rouge?" The questions implied the
U.S. isn't outraged and supports the Khmer Rouge. Both points were
vehemently denied after the special by politicians as ideologically
diverse as Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and U.S. Ambassador to the UN
Thomas Pickering, who declared, "I'm certainly appalled by what you
presented tonight....We are certainly not supporting the Khmer
Jennings view of the Marxist Hun Sen
regime's military situation seems odd since the Soviets heavily support
Hun Sen: "Hun Sen has the tanks which the Vietnamese left him, but
he does not have much of an army....The Defense Minister knows that his
troops alone, without the Vietnamese, have a real problem fighting
forces supported by two superpowers: the United States and China."
Jennings' conclusion revealed his worldview: "The United States is
in danger of being on the wrong side of history." As New York
Times reviewer Walter Goodman observed, that echoes "a phrase
that might have been borrowed from Marxist texts, seems a touch dated
after the anti-communist upheavals of 1989."
Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost
has given American reporters a chance to explore the tremendous dissent
lurking behind the fading happy face of the Soviet revolution. But the
new Soviet Union's comparative openness has also given the American
media the temptation to become overly generous in its assessment of
Soviet "journalism," too eager to make earnest noises about a
newly independent press in a country where criticism of Gorbachev is
Reporting during the May Washington
summit, NBC's Robert Hager asserted: "Tonight's Soviet news was
evidence of the new journalistic relaxation: a generally factual
account, heavy on reporting, light on commentary, and frank in dealing
with Soviet problems." As a perfect example of excessive
generosity, Hager extended this to "Vladimir Posner, the most
popular Soviet commentator," whose "nightly summit broadcasts
have included straightforward looks at issues like the effect of peace
on the U.S. defense industry."
Hager was not alone. To discover the way
Posner was described by other media, MediaWatch
analysts used Nexis to study all Posner mentions in six print sources (Time,
Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Los Angeles Times, The New York
Times, and The Washington Post) since Gorbachev's March
1985 ascension. Posner was described most often in unofficial terms. The
most popular was "commentator" (43 times). Other unofficial
terms included "journalist" (13 times), as well as
"correspondent," "talk show host," and "TV
personality." The most generous and mysterious label came from
Bruce Weber of The New York Times, who called the New
York-raised Posner a "Soviet- educated journalist and commentator
on East-West relations."
By contrast, reporters identified Posner
with the official term "spokesman" 21 times, as an
"official" three times and otherwise identified him explicitly
as a Soviet government bureaucrat five times. Only one out of 157
stories used the word "communist." The toughest label came
from New York Times TV critic Walter Goodman, who called Posner
"a Soviet official who specializes in shaping Soviet propaganda to
American tastes." Thus, Posner was described by unofficial terms,
which leave the impression of an independent analyst, twice as often as
he was described by official terms, which make it clear that he hews to
the government line.
The same pattern applied when American
journalists depended on Soviet officials for "independent
analysis." In January, CBS News hired Sergei Plekhanov to advise
the network and appear on the air as a CBS News consultant. Plekhanov's
second banana to long- standing Soviet spokesman Georgi Arbatov as
Deputy Director of the Soviet government's Institute on the USA and
Canada. MediaWatch analysts watched every
Plekhanov appearance from the beginning of 1990. Although every
utterance toed the Gorbachev line, CBS has repeatedly failed to properly
identify Plekhanov as an official of the Soviet government.
In his first appearance, on CBS This
Morning January 15, he was identified as Deputy Director of the USA
and Canada Institute, but the screen read "Soviet Expert."
When Dan Rather interviewed him right after Bush's State of the Union
address on January 31, the screen read "Institute on the USA."
The average viewer had no reason to believe the Institute was anything
other than a typical private think tank. CBS never noted it is an arm of
the Soviet government. In Plekhanov's seven appearances on the CBS
Evening News since his appointment as a consultant, CBS identified
him once as a "Soviet political scientist" and six times as a
"Soviet foreign affairs analyst." CBS did not once explicitly
identify Plekhanov as a government official until the June 4 Nightwatch,
when host Charlie Rose introduced Plekhanov as a "Soviet expert on
the United States," but his on-screen label read "Soviet
How ironic it is that the same media
establishment that vows daily not to be gulled by American government
spokesmen rom Marlin Fitzwater on down is so indulgent and unchallenging
to Soviet government spokesmen. While no one would or should portray
Fitzwater's comments as the independent opinions of an American
journalist, Soviet spokesmen like Posner are often solicited for their
"personal views" and described as "journalists" and
The attitude expressed by Boston
Globe reporter Jonathan Kaufman on June 3 demonstrated the Posner
media mystique: "Unlike old Soviet television shows on America that
harped relentlessly on poverty and discrimination against blacks,
Posner's shows on this summit have been positive, even glowing."
Kaufman must not have seen the six
minutes Ted Koppel gave Posner to air a Soviet TV report on the May 30 Nightline.
Their favorite Soviet "journalist" went looking for Washington
blacks willing to attack American society as racist, and when a few
didn't oblige, he found others that were "much more
forthcoming." One black woman told Posner what he wanted to hear:
"Racism is more overt ...I think before the Reagan years there was
somewhat of a tolerance as a result of what happened during the Johnson
Administration and what happened during the Kennedy years...The new
leadership threw everything out of the window. Every civil rights
movement, every step we made forward, we've made ten back."
Posner went on: "Washington is at
the top of the city murder rate list, and most of those murders are
drug-related and occur in black neighborhoods. Why?" The woman
replied: "Historically, when you put a group of people together
that are oppressed, they will destroy one another, and it has been
systematically done. It has not happened by accident." Posner
ended: "Nearly 130 years ago, President Lincoln fought a civil war
to save America. The issue was slavery: whether it was to survive or
were black Americans to enjoy equality. Today, 130 years later, if I
could, I would turn to Lincoln and ask: Mr. President, will that
equality ever arrive?"
American journalists need to apply at
least the same amount of skepticism to Soviet "journalists"
and "news consultants" that they apply to American government
spokesmen. Until they do, Americans will be hard pressed to realize the
difference between propaganda of those in power and truly independent
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