PBS "Balances" Castro Documentary with Landau Lovefest
PRISONERS VS. PROPAGANDISTS
Americans rarely get the full picture
when the media spotlight turns to Cuba. Few have heard the testimony of
Alcides Martinez, Castro's prisoner for eight years, who explains his
suffering well: "There were five to eight in one cell. We had to
take turns lying down. And there were no sanitary facilities. In a few
days, we were on a scum of maggots and excrement...the world was unaware
or didn't want to know. It was 1967." Viewers finally got to see
Martinez in the searing documentary Nobody Listened, by Jorge
Ulla and Nestor Almendros, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer, on
PBS August 8.
Despite worldwide critical acclaim, PBS
refused to air the film for two years. Marc Weiss, producer of P.O.V.,
a series dedicated to films with a point of view, rejected the film
twice for "presenting point of view as fact." Frontline was
no better. According to Washington Times critic Don Kowet, one
producer told Almendros that "Frontline does not
co-produce anti-communist programs."
PBS finally allowed Nobody Listened
on the air when Minneapolis affiliate KTCA "balanced" it with The
Uncompromising Revolution, a film by Saul Landau, Senior Fellow at
the radical Institute for Policy Studies. Landau made no bones about the
source of his inspiration: "There is no doubt who is directing this
revolution, or this film." Landau followed Castro around the
countryside, describing how the "force of nature" gave Cuba
"action-packed decades of experiments in collective survival and
socialist living." Landau tingled his way through the hour like an
overaged groupie: "Fidel touched this young machine adjuster and
the man enjoyed a mild ecstasy. I know the feeling."
At the end of the back-to-back
broadcasts, Landau told an interviewer "if the United States would
practice self- determination in its sphere of influence as the Soviet
Union did in Eastern Europe, Cuba could open up and experience glasnost,
perestroika, and God knows what else." As if Castro was a U.S.
puppet, Landau complained this would not happen "as long as the
United States continues its control, or its desire to impose its
control, on Cuba."
The program's segues supported Castro.
National Public Radio anchor Scott Simon began by insisting "If you
make the trip from Mexico, you might notice first the well-fed,
well-cared-for children, and the absence of beggars and shanty towns in
contrast to so much of the rest of Latin America." He ended with a
call for normalizing relations: "Perhaps as the Cold War closes
down, more Americans may feel it is time to open up to Cuba."
Hedley Donovan, Editor-in-Chief of all Time Inc. magazines from 1964
until he joined the Carter White House as a Senior Adviser in 1979, died
in early August at age 76. Time's August 27 remembrance noted
that Donovan had taken over from Henry Luce, whose "Republican
prejudices had poisoned Time's political coverage. Then came
his pledge: 'The vote of Time Inc. should never be considered to be in
the pocket of any particular political leader or party.' With that
declaration Time came of age." That pledge passed away
long before Donovan.
Off to the Gulf We Go.
The August 27 "From the Publisher" column in Time proudly
reported that Washington bureau reporter Jay Peterzell represented
magazines in the Pentagon's Desert Shield pool. "The assignment was
a welcome one for Peterzell, a specialist in military and intelligence
affairs," wrote publisher Louis Weil in a cursory reference to
Peterzell's past. Weil failed to tell readers Peterzell became a
"specialist" by working for a left-wing foundation. Before
joining Time in 1987 he was a lawyer and Research Associate for
the Center for National Security Studies (CNSS), a project of the
American Civil Liberties Union and the Fund for Peace.
While at CNSS he contributed articles to The
Nation, such as "Unleashing the Dogs of McCarthyism," and
wrote Reagan's Secret Wars, a book in which he argued
"that a fascination with covert action had led the administration
to initiate programs that have often been aimless or counterproductive
or that threaten to lead the United States into war" in such places
as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Libya and Nicaragua. He also represented CNSS
in its successful effort to win a court order forcing the CIA to release
documents about "covert" activities in Central America.
Changing Houses. ABC
News has a new Director of News Information: Sherrie Rollins, Assistant
Secretary for Public Affairs under HUD Secretary Jack Kemp since early
last year. Rollins replaces Alise Adde, a former Assistant Press
Secretary to Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-LA). Reporting to Rollins at ABC:
Scott Richardson, Manager of News Information and a former Deputy Press
Secretary to Bob Dole; and World News Tonight Press
Representative Arnot Walker, who has worked for Vice President Mondale
and New Jersey's Jim Florio. Rollins handled state press for the 1984
Reagan-Bush campaign and TV network support for the 1988 Republican
Jackson's Journalists. The
Jesse Jackson Show has added another network veteran to its ranks.
Ken Walker, who covered Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign for ABC
News, has signed on as Senior Producer of the weekly Time-Warner program
set to begin in late September. He'll be working under Co-Executive
Producer Van Gordon Sauter, President of CBS News from 1981 to 1983 and
again from 1985 to 1986. Walker will continue as a panelist on Fox's Off
the Record discussion show. Walker joined ABC from The
Washington Star in 1981, working as a White House correspondent
from 1986 until moving to Gannett's ill-fated USA Today: The
Television Show two years.
WHITE HOT LIBERAL
In July, Time named Jack White
Senior Editor in charge of the "Nation" section. Publisher
Louis Weil noted that White, a Time staffer since 1972,
"was convinced by the civil rights movement in the 1960s that
journalism could play a part in making America's ideals a reality."
White's work reflects more than the noble cause of eliminating racism;
it also reflects liberal political views.
White's biases were evident in his
questions during 1984's vice presidential debate. White blasted
Geraldine Ferraro from the left for supporting tuition tax credits and a
ban on forced busing, views "opposed not only by your running mate
but by just about every educational and civil rights organization in the
White's questions for George Bush
continued the same theme: "Many critics of your administration say
that it is the most hostile to minorities in recent memory." White
declared that "many recent studies have indicated that the poor and
the minorities have not really shared in the new prosperity generated by
the current economic recovery. Was it right for your administration to
pursue policies, economic policies, that required those at the bottom of
the economic ladder to wait for prosperity to trickle down from people
who are much better off than they?" How much more liberal Time's
"Nation" section can become is anyone's guess.
Time's August 27 "Grapevine" section asked the
question "Who's Boycotting Whom?" Noting that "the
shop-till- you-drop tendencies of America's consumer society have lately
been checked by an activist counterimpulse," Time's list
included left-wing boycotts only: the National Organization for Women's
campaign against Esquire magazine; "peace groups"
boycotting Folgers for importing coffee from El Salvador and thereby
"fortifying the right-wing regime;" black groups' refusal to
hold conventions in Miami to protest the city's failure to honor Nelson
Mandela; gay groups' ban on Philip Morris-owned Miller beer, since the
company contributed to Jesse Helms' re-election campaign; and Jesse
Jackson's Operation PUSH trying to pressure Nike into hiring more
minorities. Newsweek gave the Nike story two pages the same
Notably excluded by both magazines: The
Christian Action Council's successful boycott of AT&T, and its
current boycott of American Express and 41 other companies (including
the New York Times Company) which fund the abortion lobbyists at Planned
Parenthood. The council did, however, spur debates at both Today
and CBS This Morning.
JUDD SLINGING. Political
candidates are all style and no substance, reporters commonly complain.
But on Prime Time Live, ABC's Judd Rose was not interested in
substance when he looked at the Texas gubernatorial race. His August 16
story, "Texas Crude," repeatedly mocked the style of
Republican candidate Clayton Williams, portraying him as a southern
Diane Sawyer's lead set the tone for the
piece: "The man now swaggering down Main Street is running first
and foremost as a cowboy and making a lot of Texans ponder that old Will
Rogers saying, 'Things aren't like they used to be, and probably never
Skillfully skirting the issues, Rose
attacked Williams for being out of touch. "Williams' critics worry
that he hankers a little too much for the old ways, that his mistakes
reveal a disturbingly narrow view of the modern world. For instance, in
an age when candidates routinely court the gay vote, Williams has no use
for gays, and no apologies."
"It's a dirty campaign and getting
dirtier all the time," Rose reported. Among his examples: Williams
criticized Richards for accepting money from gays and Jane Fonda.
"Why not?," Rose asked sarcastically, "It works. In 1988
the Bush campaign linked Michael Dukakis with Willie Horton...The rest
is history. And as it happens, the White House is keeping an active hand
in this campaign."
DOVE DRIVEL. Time
Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott continues to attribute the collapse of
communism to the forces of appeasement and disarmament. In a July 30
article, Talbott declared: "It would do [German Chancellor Helmut]
Kohl no harm to acknowledge a debt to a courageous and controversial
predecessor. In 1969 Willy Brandt launched his Ostpolitik of
reconciliation and rapprochement with the East. It was the first major
sustained breakthrough of the cold war in Europe. Brandt went a long way
toward allaying Soviet fears by signing a renunciation-of-force treaty
with Moscow." No doubt the Soviets quaked in fear of a German
invasion before then. To Talbott, Brandt's "most important"
decision came when he "formally recognized the German Democratic
Staff Writer Lisa Beyer tried to polish
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's record on the same issue.
"Genscher's renegade view of the Soviets, once derided by his
allies as being 'soft' on communism, has proven visionary."
Thankfully, the Germans have a better understanding of the Cold War's
end than Time does.
GOOD SAMARITAN REPORTING.
The political motives of an American group in El Salvador escaped New
York Times reporter Lindsey Gruson in his August 15 article,
"Suspicion Keeps a Hospital From Salvadorans." Gruson detailed
the efforts of Medical Aid for El Salvador to get hospital equipment
into the country. The only background on the group's sympathies came
from Medical Aid associate director Jody Williams, who asserted,
"We favor neutrality and we're in favor of a negotiated settlement
to the war. We don't support the guerrillas."
Funny how Gruson never mentioned group
founder Bill Zimmerman's explanation of the group's goals: "Medical
Aid for El Salvador has two purposes. One is to deliver medical
assistance for the alleviation of the suffering in El Salvador, and two,
to protest the involvement of our government in the struggle, because
that involvement is creating more victims in need of medical care."
Zimmerman was also the founder of Medical Aid for Indochina, which sent
aid to the Vietcong, North Vietnamese, Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge during
the Vietnam War.
TAXACHUSETTS TAXERS. The
Massachusetts Miracle toted by Governor Michael Dukakis during his 1988
presidential campaign is well over. But liberal Democrats whose
tax-and-spend policies culminated in July with a huge $1.2 billion hike
in gasoline, sales and income taxes were not to blame. In fact,
according to a July 28 NBC Nightly News story, Dukakis and his
political allies are the state's saviors.
Reporter Stephen Frazier blamed the
downturn on cutbacks in defense spending, before asking "the
Governor and some economists [to] put the changes in perspective."
Dukakis claimed "that kind of white-hot economic growth couldn't be
sustained indefinitely." A local economist insisted: "This
state, contrary to popular opinion, is not a particularly high-tax
That settled, Frazier showed video of
people rallying for a tax repeal referendum which would return taxes to
their 1988 level. Turning again to a Democrat, Frazier warned:
"That would throw the state budget way out of balance, the Speaker
of the Massachusetts House said today." Frazier concluded: "He
hopes the referendum fails, and, he said, when people realize it could
mean even deeper cuts in programs for the elderly and safeguards for the
environment and in education, they'll stick with the budget that was
passed today." What about those opposed to more taxes? Frazier
didn't talk to any of them.
SDI SKEPTICS. Much of
the media have jumped to the conclusion that an impenetrable shield
against incoming missiles is a scientific impossibility, though the
scientific community is far less conclusive. Time reporter
Bruce Van Voorst dismissed any progress in the SDI program in his August
13 article bemoaning investment in SDI: "After seven years of
research, it is clear that no antimissile system can provide the
impenetrable shield against incoming missiles that Ronald Reagan
envisioned in 1983."
NBC Nightly News reporter Henry
Champ concurred in his August 4 piece on Star Wars cutbacks:
"Senators today finally turned their backs on a dream of the Reagan
era: that somehow a space-age security blanket could hover above the
world, an impenetrable network of American lasers and missiles."
Champ pretended SDI funding has never been cut by Congress, noting
"It was the first time Star Wars suffered cutbacks since its
inception and followed months of severe attack from various government
agencies and the scientific community."
SPIES LIKE US.
Introducing her August 2 Prime Time Live interview with KGB
chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, Diane Sawyer wanted to clear up any
misconceptions about the Soviet secret police. "It's most difficult
for most Americans to understand a government organization that monitors
everything, that has tentacles reaching into all aspects of Soviet life.
But keep in mind the KGB is like a combination of the CIA, the FBI, of
the National Security Agency, the Secret Service, and the Coast Guard,
"From Lenin to Stalin to Gorbachev,
it's members have been a proud corps of the national elite, intelligent,
talented, and fully in control," Sawyer swooned. As to whether
their talents lie more with torture or terrorism, Sawyer did not
specify, but she did give them credit for their political enlightenment:
"The officers of the KGB, in fact, decided reform was necessary
long before Gorbachev came to power."
MUTING MANDELA'S MARXISM.
Since most reporters have ignored the symbiosis of the South African
Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC), they
faced an interesting problem when Nelson Mandela addressed the first
SACP rally in 40 years on July 29.
The ANC magazine Sechaba
declared in 1985 that "the ANC and the SACP are two hands in the
same body...they are two pillars in our revolution." In How to
be a Good Communist, Mandela explained: "The aim is to change
the present world into a communist world where there will be no
exploiters and exploited, no oppressor and oppressed, no rich and
poor." ABC's Richard Sergay ignored all the evidence, declaring:
"While Mandela made it clear today the ANC is not a communist
movement, he said for decades they have shared an important goal, a
NBC reporter Charles McLean took a
similar line on Sunday Today: "Although not a communist
himself, Mandela will address today's rally and speak in support of his
allies in the Communist Party." Andrea Mitchell continued the trend
on the Nightly News." [Mandela] said his African National
Congress is not communist, but would fight for the party's right to
exist," Mitchell announced as the camera showed Mandela singing the
communist anthem, the "Internationale," as he stood next to
SACP leader Joe Slovo.
Project Censored, Sonoma (CA) State University's yearly list of the top
ten "undercovered" stories of the year, has just released
their 15th annual report. The 15- judge panel, which included three
major media representatives, took a decidedly loony leftish line on what
The top ten included critiques of U.S.
foreign policy ("The Holocaust In Mozambique" and
"Guatemalan Blood on U.S. Hands") and the depredations of
American capitalism ("The Chicken Industry and the National
Salmonella Epidemic"). Even juicer topics were selected for the 15
runner-up stories, such as "The U.S. Is Poisoning the Rest of the
World With Banned Pesticides"; "The U.S. Presence Is
Destroying the Environment in Central America"; "Faulty
Computers Can Trigger World War III"; "U.S. Congress Ignored
Soviet Plea for Nuclear Test Ban"; "The Oppression and
Exploitation of Native Americans," and our favorite, "Media
Reliance on Conservative Sources Debunks Myth of Liberal Bias." But
none this year matched a 1987 winner: "Oliver North's Secret Plan
to Declare Martial Law."
The project's panel of judges included Newsweek
Senior Writer Jonathan Alter, PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers and former Washington
Post editor Ben Bagdikian, as well as left-wing media gurus Noam
Chomsky, George Gerbner, Frances Moore Lappe, and Herbert Schiller.
Here's another helping of stories from the William Brennan Fan Club. On
July 23, USA Today reporter Tony Mauro claimed: "Brennan
was the engine who, more than any other individual, drove the court in
the last 30 years to declare new rights, to protect new minorities, to
bring more of the dis-favored into the safe harbor of the U.S.
Constitution." In the August 2 Christian Science Monitor,
Managing Editor Curtis J. Sitomer hailed Brennan as a hero for his
"philosophy of individual rights and fundamental choice which
government cannot, and should not take away or abridge," which was
"the hallmark of Justice Brennan's more than three decades on the
Supreme Court." Sitomer warmly recalled: "In his early years
on the bench, Justice Brennan's liberal voice blended with those of
former Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Hugo Black,
William Douglas, Abe Fortas, Arthur Goldberg, and [Thurgood] Marshall as
keepers of the flame of individual rights."
Last month's MediaWatch included highlights of
David Shaw's Los Angeles Times series on the pro- abortion
agenda of the major media. Shaw revealed that Jack Rosenthal, editorial
page editor of The New York Times and Meg Greenfield, who fills
the same slot at The Washington Post, were unaware of the
police brutality suffered by Operation Rescue protesters. To them and
other journalists cocooned from reality, we recommend some good reading.
In the August 23 U.S. News &
World Report, Senior Writer John Leo gave first-hand accounts from
members of Operation Rescue who suffered at the hands of police. Though
some still feel physical pain a year later, Leo noted their story is
rarely given media attention since "journalists, who are generally
unsympathetic in the first place, tend to assume that cries about brutal
treatment are just part of the show." After an account by an
elderly woman bloodied by police assault, Leo concluded: "There are
many such horror stories...[Operation Rescue's] occupation is very much
like that of a civil-rights sit-in. Would we want pain holds used on
Martin Luther King, or would we shout about on-the-spot torture doled
out to stop an unpopular political movement?" Hopefully, the media
can help answer that question.
LESSONS FROM IRAQ
The American media are usually quick to
criticize U.S. military actions around the world, but coverage of the
Persian Gulf crisis offered a pleasant surprise. Because of the
fast-paced, daily escalation of events, the media have had little time
for "analysis" stories to interject opinion. Indeed, coverage
has for the most part been straightforward.
But when reporters did have some time for
"analysis," the media's conventional wisdom was again liberal.
Reporters had three lessons to teach America about the Iraq crisis: (1)
The Reagan- Bush free market energy policy failed, so we need government
intervention; (2) Reagan's defense build-up was misspent; and (3) Arab
support for Saddam Hussein is perfectly rational.
Lesson #1: We Need A National
The media lesson here: involvement in the
Persian Gulf could have been averted if, during the 1980s, the U.S. had
continued to follow Jimmy Carter's national energy policy.
NBC's Lisa Myers: On the
August 15 Nightly News, Myers asserted: "The problem is
that slow and steady progress on energy conservation came to a
screeching halt in the mid-1980s, which is a big reason Iraq has us over
a barrel today. What derailed the conservation effort? Two things: a
sharp drop in oil prices and the Reagan Administration....In some cases,
Reagan actually turned back the clock, relaxing auto efficiency
requirements, delaying appliance efficiency standards, scrapping
research on new energy technologies."
Who were Myers' sources? Two liberal
energy experts. The Alliance to Save Energy's James Wolf reiterated:
"They were a disaster! President Reagan's Administration fought on
the wrong side of the energy efficiency wars. They opposed every
initiative to improve energy efficiency."
Myers asked: "What can the U.S. do
in the short-term to significantly reduce oil consumption?" She
turned to Philip Verleger of the Institute for International Economics,
who told viewers: "The single most effective way would be the most
painful way which is to boost gasoline prices. The price probably has to
go to $1.60 a gallon." Myers concluded: "And that would just
be the beginning. In the end, real energy conservation means much higher
prices, smaller cars, and driving less. And history tells us it may be
easier to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait than to get Americans to give up
their love affair with the automobile."
On August 23, Myers' target was George
Bush: "Almost daily, the President is out on a gas guzzling
cigarette boat which gets one and one half miles to the gallon. Saving
energy is not something he even likes to talk about." Myers
claimed: "Energy analysts call the lack of action irresponsible.
George Bush does not have a strong record on energy policy. When he
became Vice President, the United States imported 34 percent of its oil.
Today it's 45 percent."
This time, Myers did mention energy
sources that have become controversial, such as nuclear power and
domestic oil drilling, and allowed an energy analyst to charge: "I
find it intolerable that politicians put the mating habits of the
caribou ahead of human life in the gulf." But instead of attacking
environmental extremists who hold energy policy hostage, Myers concluded
conservation through government intervention was still the best policy:
"Eighty-seven percent of Americans favor tough conservation
measures. But two-thirds oppose the most effective way to force
conservation, which is to raise oil and gas prices a lot."
CBS and Time: New
taxes are needed to protect us "from being hostage to the whims of
faraway nations," Time's Richard Hornik insisted in a
August 20 article. He concluded: "Americans pay too little for
energy generally and for gasoline in particular. A 50 cent per gallon
gasoline tax phased in over five years would encourage conservation and
raise $50 billion in revenues."
It took CBS until August 26 to call for
new taxes. James Hattori summed up his Evening News story:
"Experts say the one thing which will guarantee conservation and
accelerated research into more efficient cars is perhaps the least
likely course of action -- a tax making gasoline in the U.S. as costly
as in many other countries, $2 to $3 a gallon."
Lesson #2: Reagan Undermined Our
Reporters spent much of the past decade
berating Ronald Reagan's defense buildup, so NBC's Andrea Mitchell
couldn't concede it worked. Without bothering to explore the impact of
congressional cuts, she blamed Reagan on August 16 for all the problems
associated with the Gulf deployment: "We've been training to fight
a desert war for years, while buying weapons to fight the Cold War in
Europe. Instead of building fast ships to move troops and equipment to
the Persian Gulf, the Navy spent billions on Trident submarines and
warships. As a result, the Pentagon can move only one division at a time
to the Middle East....It's the legacy of Ronald Reagan's trillion dollar
defense buildup. Critics say the Pentagon was thinking richer, not
Lesson #3: Support For Saddam
Hussein Is Perfectly Rational.
The swift condemnation of Hussein by
Egypt, the Gulf States and the Arab League dispelled much of the talk of
Saddam Hussein's popularity among Arabs. But some reporters bought
Hussein's "Haves vs. Have Nots" theory. On the August 7 CBS
Evening News, reporter Bob Simon told viewers of sentiment among
migrant workers in Jordan: "The Kuwaitis, they say, have billions
of dollars invested abroad, while there's hunger here and in many parts
of the Arab world....The Kuwaitis built a wall around their perfume
garden, only let other Arabs in to keep it green. When Saddam Hussein
broke it down he acted out the secret dream of every Arab who'd ever
worked there. And the Arab world is now rising in anger against the
Questioning Arab support for American
involvement, he concluded: "While Americans say they're moving
tonight in defense of little nations, that's not how it will be
perceived or described over here. From the poor people in these little
nations, Americans will hear these old phrases, old accusations: gun
boat diplomacy, imperialism, the arrogance of power."
On the August 11 NBC Nightly News,
Dennis Murphy echoed Simon: "Young Moslems made their choice for
Saddam Hussein and a holy war against the Westerners. The chants, the
emotions, the religious fervor to save Arab pride are running hot
through the desert valleys here and in Amman. Westerners are seeing the
people pull behind the Iraqis across all classes of society. Saddam
Hussein is winning over the masses."
Four days later, NBC's Garrick Utley
reinforced the theme: "Saddam Hussein is seen less and less in the
eyes of most Arabs as a villain for having invaded Kuwait and more and
more as the champion of an Arab cause for standing up to the West,
standing up to the United States. So, as time goes by, as more American
troops come into Saudi Arabia, his image of champion only grows."
Interesting. On August 25, Utley warned: "If Saddam Hussein decides
to become his own television salesman, he will have better personal
tools of communication than the more faceless emirs and kings of the oil
states we are defending. How are we to react to that? Every time he
appears on our television screens we are going to have to make an extra
effort to look behind the face and the words." Too bad Utley didn't
tell the public and his colleagues that earlier.
THE CAIRO CRANK
NBC's desperate search for Arab
"experts" in the wake of its shutout from Iraq led to some
mysterious interviews. On the August 12 Nightly News, Garrick
Utley interviewed Safynez Kazem, a Muslim theater critic from Cairo.
When asked her opinion of Saddam Hussein, Kazem told Utley: "I
consider him an American agent or Zionist agent because he is fulfilling
for America and fulfilling for Israel all their dreams. America wanted
to control the area, control our region."
Unfazed, even impressed, by Kazem's goofy
statements, Utley brought her back for a long profile on Sunday
Today August 19 and burnished her credentials as an
"expert." "Many people said they wanted to learn more
about her and her life. Well, she lived for six years in the United
States and because of her background, she is able to speak to us in the
West about the differences and the tensions between her world and
Kazem's years in America left her less
than impressed. "I do not belong to the Western civilization. I was
acting like a monkey." After returning to Egypt, she was imprisoned
over what she called her "love of principles...we are opposing all
measures against democracy." She then went on to applaud the
assassination of elected Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
"So we were very happy inside the prison and we felt that act --
it's not a personal act -- but this actually answered the public appeal
that this man should go." "It must have seemed very personal
to Sadat," Utley replied.
BAD NEWS BRADY
Reporting on the economic effects of the
Iraq invasion August 14, CBS News business correspondent Ray Brady
announced "more and more economists are saying the outlook will get
gloomier...All this means that a major change is hitting the American
economy, one that could make any recession longer and deeper." How
seriously should CBS viewers take this prediction? A MediaWatch
Study has discovered that whenever economic news is bad, Brady will
report that it's bad. And when economic news is good, Brady will also
report that it's bad.
To quantify the spin CBS is giving
viewers about the economy, MediaWatch analysts
reviewed every Evening News story from August 1, 1988 to July
31, 1990 in which Brady reported on economic indicators. That included
movements of the Dow Jones index as well as conventional government
statistics on topics from unemployment to inflation. Of the 41 stories
aired between August 1, 1988 and July 31, 1990, 73 percent were
negative, 20 percent left an ambiguous impression, and only 7 percent
contained a positive message. In 1989 Brady offered 16 negative stories
to one positive piece. This year all nine of his indicator reports have
Of the 74 soundbites from private
economists Brady used, 75 percent of the comments on the economy's
condition or future prospects were negative. By contrast, 14 percent of
their statements were ambiguous and only 11 percent were positive.
Brady's stories were designated negative,
positive, or ambiguous based on the information Brady selected to
report, the tilt of the sources interviewed, the predictions made, and
the conclusions Brady reached. If most sources made positive statements
or if Brady explained how the day's news had positive effects on the
economy, the story was classified as positive. If Brady balanced
positive and negative sources (as he did in a few stories during the
1988 campaign), the story was called ambiguous. In most cases, Brady
selected information that reflected badly on the economy, selected
sources that predicted recession or expressed fear of the future, and
concluded with a negative statement.
The economic boom that began in 1982 has
continued throughout the past two years, as unemployment has remained
low and GNP growth has posted uninterrupted gains. Brady reflected this
reality in just three positive stories. Back on August 5, 1988 he
reported a record number of Americans were working in the previous
month, as wages continued to increase in the midst of a labor shortage.
Brady concluded "labor experts say this is the best time to be
looking for work in 25 years."
Brady's usual operating procedure: Pick
out the negative sliver in the face of good news. On December 20, 1988,
Brady's story on the Christmas shopping season ended: "Retailers'
woes might not be over: if they have a good Christmas, many stores could
find themselves short of goods in the new year." On March 10, 1989,
anchor Charles Kuralt announced: "Ray Brady reports the high
employment rate is causing problems." Brady concluded: "With
289,000 new jobs created last month alone, many employers are having
trouble finding workers....Rising wages for scarce workers could add
fuel to an inflation rate that's already heating up." (It didn't.)
The Dow rose 19 points to 2158, its
highest point since Black Monday on October 18, 1989. Brady's spin:
15,000 Wall Street personnel were still out of work, "no one's
buying stock," and "prices probably will drop lower in months
to come." The next day the Dow fell, prompting Brady to end his
story by standing in a cemetery: "There's an old saying in the
financial community that Wall Street runs from the river to the
graveyard, this graveyard. And that about sums up Wall Street's
feeling." (The Dow flirted with a record 3000 before tumbling after
the Iraqi invasion.)
On October 26, 1989 when Dan Rather
reported that GNP growth had "breezed along" at 2.5 percent,
Brady described "a slowing economy." Brady put on Commerce
Undersecretary Michael Darby, who called it good news, but then noted
that "private economists take another view of today's report."
Irwin Kellner explained away the positive figures (they were pumped up
by advance auto sales), and Nancy Lazar actually called the report
"very discouraging." Independent economists Kellner, Lazar,
David Jones, Don Ratazcjak and Gary Shilling represented over a third of
Brady's sound-bites of economists. They had something in common: with
one exception, they offered only negative assessments.
On December 13, 1989, Dan Rather began
the night's economic report with the words "America's staggering
debt," and then reported the trade deficit was down 29 percent to
its lowest level in five years. To shed bad light on the good news,
Rather intoned: "Ray Brady reports European officials hope to cut
back this country's most successful long-run export." (Brady then
explained how the officials are trying to ban American TV programs.)
The 1989 annual inflation rate was up
only slightly from 1988, but on December 27 Dan Rather worried the
figures didn't reflect the fact "a product every family uses is
climbing with no end in sight...Ray Brady explains why that's
worrisome." (The product with a price out of control? Milk.)
Anchor introductions often demonstrated
te tenor of Brady's reports: On May 12, 1989, when the Dow climbed 56
points, Connie Chung announced "not everyone was thrilled, as Ray
Brady reports." On July 25, car sales were down for the year, but
up for the month. Rather's introduction? "Ray Brady reports on the
downside of the nation's auto picture."
Of course economic news is often good for
some while bad for others. Brady almost always manages to emphasize the
losers. On October 12, 1989, home prices were down. That's great news
for the buyers, but not for the sellers, so Brady focused on the
sellers: "In the past, the American dream of owning your own home
always had a sequel -- live in it, then sell it as a huge profit ...So
another dream has faded." On March 16, 1990, home prices were
rising, so the conclusion switched to the buyers: "So they keep
looking. Thousands of young couples like the Wares, looking for that
first house, looking for what used to be called the American
About the only thing Brady's reporting
proves is that if you keep reporting the same bad news over and over
again, eventually you'll be right. As the saying goes, even a broken
clock is correct twice a day. But a broken clock is usually harmless.
Misleading economic reporting is not.
RAY'S AVERAGE JOES
Ray Brady not only selected economists
who would reflect his own pessimism, but followed the same pattern in
choosing non-experts. Of 41 soundbites from such "man on the
street" interviews, 74 percent were negative, 8 percent were
positive, and 18 percent were ambiguous. Not one of the non-experts
aired in 1989 or 1990 said something positive.
Finding people to utter sufficiently
gloomy remarks has been helpful to Brady, especially when the government
figures were insufficiently gloomy. One memorable non-expert was shopper
Frances Kessler, who Brady followed around a supermarket for a January
18, 1990 story. Kessler held up a box of cornflakes and exclaimed
"$1.99. I think the last time I bought this, it was $1.59. That's a
big increase. It's ridiculous." Kessler told Brady "Prices
never come down. Once they're up, they're up. The up escalator works.
The down escalator is always out of service."
In another inflation story on February 21
this year, a woman complained: "I don't know how the average,
normal, moderate- living-income family is going to be able to make
In a July 18, 1990 piece on state
economies, a woman told Brady: "We eat at coffee shops, the few
that are left. Most of them have gone out of business."
Sometimes the soundbites created a sense
of desperation. On August 23, 1988, an elderly woman worried about
increasing food prices after the summer drought: "I'm 88 years old.
How can I afford to go on at the rate it's going?"
Brady's "average" people
weren't very representative. If they were, Michael Dukakis would be
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