Reporters Despise Anti-Dukakis Candidate
SILBER WIN SHOCKS MEDIA
John Silber, on leave as President of
Boston University, took on cherished liberal nostrums during his
campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In questioning
liberal welfare policies, criticizing radical feminists and equating
abortion with homicide, he became the object of liberal disgust, and
naturally the candidate most despised by the media. Despite trailing
badly in polls from June to days before the September 18 primary, Silber
Back on May 24 a poll showed Silber
slightly ahead of his two liberal opponents. The Boston Globe
jumped to action, running a front-page story the next morning, "Silber's
Style, Effectiveness as BU Chief Challenged." Two days later the Globe
attacked again. Under the headline "A Stark Campaign, A Grim
Vision," reporter Curtis Wilkie began: "John Silber's
insurgent campaign is essentially a joyless exercise, evoking grim
visions of gangland violence, welfare mothers 'spaced out on crack' with
neglected infants in soiled diapers, 'simple-minded' politicians and
economic disaster." Turning personal, Wilkie asserted "the
stark message is usually delivered in a monotone, virtually stripped of
emotion," before concluding Silber "seemed the sternest public
figure in Massachusetts since Cotton Mather" of Salem Witch Trials
"Archie Bunker with a PhD" read
the June 18 Newsweek headline. Reporter Mark Starr focused on
how "Silber has offended most of the key constituencies in the
Democratic Party." All summer long the media highlighted these
"Silber shockers," culminating in a mid-September reference by
Silber to residents of a poor area as "drug addicts" which Washington
Post reporter David Broder claimed created "a firestorm of
controversy" that "has seemingly doomed his challenge."
Silber reacted angrily when dogged by the remark during TV interviews,
prompting Globe television critic Ed Siegel to write on
September 13: "Silber once had a golden opportunity to be Governor
of Massachusetts and today [he] might have a difficult time beating
Dukakis if he were running."
Wilkie agreed, calling it "the
self-immolation of his campaign ...almost as sensational and ruinous as
the acts of Buddhist monks in Saigon who once set themselves on fire in
front of cameras in an ultimate statement of protest. By reaching a
white- hot intensity, Silber probably frightened away voters who
represented his last possibility to win new support." USA Today
insisted he "has been his own worst enemy" by "wounding
himself." In the September 19 Post, reporter Christopher
Daly wrote: "Silber gave a voice to the more conservative and
disaffected Democrats but wounded himself repeatedly through a series of
intemperate remarks." That was in a story reporting his victory.
Next Stop Cuomo Campaign?
Two years of what Electronic Media described as
"continuing strife with top executives at CBS" forced CBS News
President David Burke to leave in late August. Burke lasted almost
exactly two years in the job he took after spending eleven years with
ABC News. He's been replaced by Eric Ober, a CBS executive since the
1960s. Burke, Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1965 to 1971,
"may be planning to re-enter politics," the Los Angeles
Times reported. "His name has often been mentioned in
connection with a possible presidential bid by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo,
a good friend," wrote Times reporter John Lippman. Watch
this space for any announcements.
Biographies and profiles of Jane Pauley often note that after she
graduated from Indiana University in late 1971, she accepted a position
with the Indiana Democratic State Committee. An August 20 Time
profile of Pauley revealed something less publicized. In the Spring of
1972, she went to work for the presidential campaign of former New York
City Mayor John Lindsay, a liberal Republican who had turned Democrat a
few years before.
Talbot's Return. David
Talbot has taken the Managing Editor slot at Image, the San
Francisco Examiner's Sunday magazine. Back in 1986 he left Mother
Jones, where he was a Senior Editor since 1981, to join Image for
a few months. Last year he co-authored Burning Desires: Sex in
Public Radio's Business. The
American Public Radio network hired John Dimsdale to open a Washington
bureau for Marketplace, its daily half-hour international
business show. Since 1988, Dimsdale has been a spokesman for
Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Bob Casey, working out of the
commonwealth's Washington office. From 1975 to 1979 he was an Associate
Producer at National Public Radio.
Texas Travel. Last year
Wendy Benjaminson left United Press International's Washington bureau to
become Press Secretary for Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly (D-CT). Now
Benjaminson, who National Journal reported has run the national
desk at night in the Associated Press Washington bureau since May, has
gone South to the AP's Houston bureau.
Meet the Boss. Tim
Russert, Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News,
last month signed a new three-year contract which includes an additional
duty: occasional panelist on Meet the Press. The former
counselor to potential 1992 presidential candidate Mario Cuomo promised
NBC News President Michael Gartner that he'd remain Bureau Chief through
the 1992 election season.
Janet Cooke Award
With the worldwide collapse of communism,
we had hoped that rewriting history would soon become a thing of the
past. But leave it to Time magazine -- once again a Janet Cooke
Award recipient -- to quash that hope. It was clear when Time
made Mikhail Gorbachev "Man of the Decade" that the magazine's
sympathies for communist leaders were quite profound, but few envisioned
an October 1 tribute to Polish communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski
titled "The Man Who Did His Duty."
Central Europe correspondent John Borrell
crafted a picture of a Polish nationalist savior, not a totalitarian. He
asked: "Was he a Moscow stooge back in 1981 or a Polish patriot
making an unpopular move to prevent the bloodbath of a Soviet invasion?
Was he as pivotal a political player during the 1980s as trade-union
leader Lech Walesa, or was his just a walk-on part that will quickly
fade in memory?"
Borrell's answer: "It seems likely
that historians will judge him more kindly than many of his
contemporaries do. He may even find his way into Poland's pantheon of
20th century heroes, joining Walesa and Josef Pilsudski as men who
marched briskly to the tattoo of their times." Borrell justified
Jaruzelski's crackdown: "Much of the judgment will rest on what
actually happened in late 1981, when spreading unrest had made Poland
almost ungovernable. Brezhnev was in power in Moscow, and the doctrine
he had formulated allowed the Soviet Union to intervene militarily...
Borrell claimed Jaruzelski fled to
Lithuania when the Nazis attacked Poland, and that he was deported to
Siberia for three years of forced labor before being recruited into
Stalin's "Polish" army. Borrell concluded: "Having lived
through a nightmare, he went to some lengths to spare others....His 1981
crackdown did not lead to witch hunts or secret trials, as the 1956
invasion did in Hungary. There was none of the petty vindictiveness of
Czechoslovakia's Soviet-backed communist clique."
But Slawomir Gorecki of Tygodnik
Solidarnosc (Solidarity Weekly) told MediaWatch
that Jaruzelski did not suffer the hardships Borrell wrote about.
Jaruzelski never served in a Siberian labor camp. In fact, he spent many
years as a political officer in the Soviet army. As a member of the
Polish communist party politburo he oversaw the brutal suppression of
the 1956 and 1970 uprisings which caused numerous deaths.
Gorecki characterized Jaruzelski's reign
as brutal. Hundreds died in the first weeks of martial law. Thousands of
Solidarity activists were detained in the first months. Thousands more
were forced underground for a decade. Gorecki estimates 700,000 passed
through Polish prisons from 1981-1989, including Adam Michnik and
Zbigniew Bujak. The 1984 murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko is further
testament to the bloody side of the regime. He was beaten to death and
dumped in a river by the secret police.
Borrell portrayed Jaruzelski as a popular
figure and player in recent reform: "Vilified then as the man who
imposed martial law in 1981 and outlawed the Solidarity trade-union
movement, Jaruzelski gazed calmly from the sidelines last year as the
revolt against communism gathered steam. He acknowledged Solidarity's
election victory in June, and then won, with just a single ballot to
spare, a parliamentary vote for a six-year presidential term."
Actually, the General only begrudgingly agreed to elections. Even then
he guaranteed the communists and their collaborators two-thirds of the
Sejm, the lower house, so he could be appointed President.
Further misleading readers, Borrell
asserted: "Jaruzelski seems to view himself as someone shaped by
history, a proud vision borne out by one of his last acts in office.
Instead of simply stepping down, he asked Parliament last week to
introduce a constitutional amendment shortening his six-year term of
office. This way he can leave not as the leader who resigned under
pressure but as the President whose term was reduced by an act of
Parliament." Jaruzelski didn't plan to step down until populists,
led by Lech Walesa, demanded removal of all communists still in
Reached in Vienna, Borrell denied the
crackdown should be associated with witch hunts and secret trials:
"I certainly don't think you can say, compared to Hungary in '56
and Czechoslovakia in '68, that this was brutal repression....On a
Richter scale of East European repression in the communist era, it
wasn't as bad as others."
He admitted "large numbers of Poles
are not terribly well- disposed to Jaruzelski." So why let the
opposite theme go unchallenged? "History will judge Jaruzelski
probably a little more kindly than he's judged today," he
concluded, "and that was the purpose of it. It's not to say that
he's a wonderful guy. It's not to say that he couldn't have done
something differently during the 1980s. But it is simply to say that he
may not be as bad as many people, particularly Poles, have thought....I
don't suspect that I've pleased a lot of Polish people. But I don't
really see it as my job to necessarily accept a consensus to be
CBS This Morning economics reporter Robert Krulwich found
definitive evidence the U.S. is in a recession: a study on men's
clothing sales. Said Krulwich on September 27: "This year there has
been a sharp, dramatic drop in men's clothing purchases. In category
after category, men are simply not replacing the clothes they have. The
last time this happened, more than ten years ago, was right after the
second OPEC oil shock and the very next year we had a recession."
To add a visual touch, Krulwich pranced
across a runway with a fake mustache modeling last year's clothes,
everything from raincoat to socks. "So your clothing indicator says
the recession is here now," CBS This Morning co-host Harry
Smith concluded. Krulwich responded: "Well, if not here, almost.
Because if you multiply all the socks not being sold, the shirts not
being sold, pants not being sold. At this point that's so much business
not being done, that suggests that you either are on the verge of a
recession or the mere act of not buying so much could create the
recession all by itself."
CUTTING UP CAPITAL GAINS.
Conservatives want the capital gains tax rate reduced to spur economic
growth in the face of recession. Liberals see it as a giveaway to the
rich, and that's how many reporters have portrayed it. "The latest
sticking point" in budget negotiations was "President Bush's
insistence on cutting the capital gains tax for mostly wealthy
Americans," Dan Rather declared on September 18. "That's a
goody for the rich, isn't it?" Lesley Stahl asked Senator Dole on
the September 23 Face the Nation. In making the liberal case, Time
Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Laurence Barrett wrote that "No one
would argue" with Bush's "insistence that the mix of spending
cuts and tax hikes 'must be fair; all should contribute.' But when the
President got to specifics, fairness became scarce. In the name of
promoting economic growth, Bush renewed his support of six tax giveaways
that would cost the Treasury an estimated $30 billion over five years.
The most notable of these would cut the maximum levy on capital gains
from 33% to 15%."
FLORIO FLACKS. Reporting
on ways to improve our school system, CBS polished the apple of the
liberals who equate higher spending with better education. In a
September 6 CBS Special Report, America's Toughest Assignment:
Education, headmaster Charles Kuralt lectured on one solution to
America's education problems: "In a nation which prides itself on
equality of opportunity, [our] method of financing the schools has
created enormous differences in what schools can provide. We believe
this imbalance isn't fair; we think all our children should go to good
schools equally financed." Correspondent Mike Wallace gave New
Jersey Governor Jim Florio an A+ for raising taxes since "His
radical approach of shifting resources from rich districts to poor has
him being compared to Robin Hood."
But in an October 15 New Republic
cover story on negative reaction to Florio's tax hikes, even leftist
writer John Judis disputed the "more money equals better
education" philosophy: "The educational research of the last
decade has revealed, almost without exception, that increased funding
has not improved education. Education cost per capita has doubled in the
last decade, while by any standard measure, educational achievement in
public schools has slightly declined." And voters sure aren't
comparing Florio to Robin Hood. Florio's approval rating has plunged to
below 30 percent since the tax hikes.
ADVERSARY PRESS? Budget
coverage proves the networks' Washington reporters have spent too much
time in Washington. Reporting on the supposedly dire consequences of a
sequester, no reporter pointed out that a full sequester would force $85
billion in "cuts" out of a budget $91 billion larger than the
year before. In other words, the government would be
"paralyzed" even though it could spend an additional $6
ABC's panicked reporters were typical. On
the September 23 This Week with David Brinkley Jim Wooten
warned: "A sequester of that size, David, would be as they call it
up here, a genuine train wreck." That night, anchor Carole Simpson
concurred: "Everyone agrees that would be a disaster."
Reporters also failed to investigate how
government employees misrepresent spending cuts with the old "close
the Washington Monument" dodge, protecting non-essential employees
and programs by shutting down the most visible services.
"Tough" Washington reporters took the bureaucratic maneuver
hook, line, and sinker.
On the September 26 CBS Evening News,
Bob Schieffer asked four government bureaucrats to analyze the impact.
They warned of clogged airports, patients turned away at Veteran's
Hospitals, and closed Head Start day care centers. "In Los
Angeles," Schieffer warned, "it is a question of what happens
when thousands of children cannot be vaccinated because of cutbacks in
public health funds." Dr. Caswell Evans of the Los Angeles County
Health Dept. told Schieffer: "We would not be able to provide
services to at least 150,000 school-age children, and we would expect
possibly another 15,000 cases of measles against infants and
children." The county has had 2,600 cases this year among children
MISSING MEDICARE MATH.
For one-sided budget coverage, look no further than CBS reporter Susan
Spencer on October 1: "Medicare took a direct hit in this
agreement, $60 billion in savings, half the domestic spending
cuts." Spencer devoted the whole story to the growing opposition,
quoting five opponents of the "cuts," and none in favor. But
Spencer failed to honestly report the budget math. On September 13, Washington
Post reporters Steven Mufson and John E. Yang got to the nitty
gritty: "Budget negotiators have focused on Medicare because its
cost has ballooned to $105.4 billion a year and it is the fastest
growing part of the federal budget. Without any changes, Medicare would
grow at 12 percent to 13 percent during the next fiscal year." A 12
percent increase in a $105.4 billion budget is more than $12 billion,
which multiplied over five years, is more than the $60 billion that's
ABC'S ENERGY AGENDA. ABC
reporter Ned Potter is still crusading for a top-down government energy
policy. "After 3 jolts in 17 years, the U.S. still has no
comprehensive plans, no overall strategy that would break its addiction
to Middle East crude," Potter preached in a September 18 World
News Tonight report.
But Potter didn't discuss how U.S.
dependence on foreign oil was heightened by policies like the Windfall
Profits Tax, which impeded domestic oil production, or efforts by
anti-nuclear activists to eliminate nuclear power as an alternative
energy source. In fact, he criticized the drive for more domestic oil:
"Despite the lip-service paid to conservation, the real priority at
the White House is producing more domestic oil."
As usual, Potter only presented one view
as reasonable: the liberal environmentalist view. "The ultimate
goal, through clean fuels and conservation is to get away from oil. They
call for cars that get 40 miles a gallon, a gas tax to discourage
driving, and an adequately funded program for alternative energy
sources." Just what kind of "adequately funded programs"
is Potter talking about? In an August 27 World News Tonight
story, Potter championed a Canadian government program for cars powered
by natural gas: "It costs $2,300 to add extra tanks to Arsino's
van, but Canadian government subsidies paid for almost all of it. That
is far more than the American government has done."
NIXED NUKE NEWS. The
Washington Post, New York Times and AP took notice when the
National Cancer Institute released a report on Sept. 19 which dismissed
any link between cancer deaths and living near a nuclear power plant.
The story didn't do so well on
television, however: only NBC's Robert Hager reported the story.
"The study found that in counties near nuclear plants, there was no
pattern of increased cancer deaths after plants were built and no
pattern of increased cancer deaths compared to other counties far from
nuclear plants," Hager noted, concluding, "One of the nuclear
industry's biggest problems has been the public fear of health risks.
Today's report isn't the final word, but it could help nuclear advocates
on that point." Maybe that's why ABC and CBS ignored it.
CARLSON CAMPAIGN. Senior
Writer Margaret Carlson suggested in the September 10 Time that
the White Male Candidate (or WMC, as she called them) can no longer
stoop to the usual negative campaign tactics when facing a female or
black opponent, though she knows of a few exceptions.
One is Texas GOP gubernatorial hopeful
Clayton Williams, who "seems to be less worried about being too
insensitive than about not being insensitive enough." Another
uncooperative WMC is Senator Jesse Helms. Time's caption pared
"ultra-right conservative" Helms with "former Charlotte
mayor Harvey Gantt." Time could have called Gantt an
"ultra-left liberal," but why be fair?
Apparently not all constitutional rights are equally worthy. In his
weekly commentary "The Record of Who We Are" on August 31, CBS
This Morning's Harry Smith complained that America is
"overflowing with firearms...thanks in large part to the gun lobby,
which makes sure just about anybody can get their hands on just about
any kind of gun they want." Smith blamed not the criminals or just
guns for violent crimes, but lobbyists for law-abiding gun owners.
"While our children are being gunned down by thugs and criminals,
we continue to allow ourselves to be bullied by a gun lobby which
refuses to budge on issues which make simple common sense."
Smith blamed "a constitutional right
which gun lovers have lorded over us for years....Constitutional rights?
Ask the parents of the children who were shot this summer about the
right to bear arms. They bear only the pain of their loss." What
about those whose reputations have been destroyed by freedom of the
press "lorded over us" by Smith and his colleagues? We're
waiting for a commentary on that.
NBC'S NICARAGUA. "The
streets of Managua were filled today with thousands of protesters angry
about what they call an attempt by the government to starve Nicaragua's
people," Tom Brokaw announced October 1. Brad Willis then focused
on how "Daniel Ortega warns that reversing the gains of the
revolution will not be tolerated. The people are not willing to be
starved, he says, as a sacrifice for democracy." Willis failed to
point out that these "thousands of protesters" were Sandinista
supporters, who obviously don't have the support of the people. They
lost the election, but have refused to turn over the reins of
government. Instead, Willis concluded by echoing the views of the
Sandinista hooligans: "They chant 'not one step backwards,' but
since democracy has come to Nicaragua, it has seemed impossible to take
one step forward."
SOFTBALL I. Today co-host
Bryant Gumbel has decided that the best question for a liberal guest is
a leading one. For example, Gumbel made it easy for Speaker of the House
Tom Foley to push his budget agenda during a September 17 appearance.
Gumbel muddied the issue of Democratic foot-dragging of capital gains
("Would it be fair to characterize the stalemate, then, as an
impasse rooted in fairness?") and questioned Bush's tactics:
"[T]he President continues to talk kinder, gentler and at the same
time some of his Republicans are going out and engaging in some pretty
nasty name calling. Are you satisfied with the amount of White House
leadership you're getting on this?"
SOFTBALL II. When Gumbel
wanted expert opinion on the visit of South African President de Klerk
on September 24 he turned to Randall Robinson, the head of the pro-ANC
TransAfrica lobby. Noting the many casualties caused by black-on-black
violence, Gumbel wondered: "President de Klerk assured President
Bush that the fight against violence is being, he says, carried out by
security forces in an impartial manner. Do you think that's a lie?"
Gumbel didn't pass up the chance to bash
Bush: "Do you think [Bush] cares any less about the freedom of,
oppression of, blacks in South Africa than he does say, about whites in
Eastern Europe?" Robinson's response was no shock: "Well
absolutely he cares less. We don't, we haven't had Kurt Waldheim in the
White House. He doesn't ask Arafat to the White House. He doesn't ask
Qaddafi to the White House." Gumbel didn't mention that Arafat and
Qaddafi are allies of the ANC.
CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FARCE.
Using the recent United Nations children's summit as a chance for
another round of hand-wringing over America's perceived social ills,
several interviewers failed to challenge the idea that more spending is
the only logical solution. Today co-host Bryant Gumbel, on
September 28, and Face the Nation host Lesley Stahl, on
September 30, interviewed nationalized child care advocate Marian Wright
Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund. The segments were more pep rally
than interview. Gumbel asked, "The goal of your organization is to
encourage this country to invest in its children before the bad things
happen to them. In that regard, are we going backwards?"
Lesley Stahl was even better at prompting
Edelman to call for more spending: "[Bush] is signing the United
States on to a new declaration, as I understand it, that commits us to
meeting certain goals on infant mortality and prenatal care. That's
obviously going to take billions of new dollars that they're not putting
in, won't it? Won't it take much more money?" As if this weren't
enough, Stahl asked Edelman to "be an analyst for us. You've been
working on behalf of children now for years and years. What happened in
our country where we can watch children going hungry, pregnant women not
getting the proper care. And we don't seem to care as a society. How did
we get here?"
FANCY FOOTEWORK. Up
until now, health officials and AIDS activists have been telling us that
unscrupulous sexual practices or intravenous drug use are the only ways
to contract the deadly virus. But in Ireland, Newsweek reporter
Jennifer Foote has discovered a more serious cause -- the Catholic
Foote's September 24 article,
"Ireland, AIDS, and the Church" opened with 24 year-old
"Vicky," whose family has been racked by AIDS. Both of Vicky'
brothers, and her husband, were drug abusers who contracted AIDS. Her
sister, according to Vicky, "caught it from a fella."
So how's the Catholic Church to blame?
"In the worldwide war against AIDS, education has been one of the
few weapons that work. Irish AIDS activists, however, are coming up
against deep-rooted denial and ignorance. Doctors who try to spread the
word about safe sex face a formidable obstacle in the Roman Catholic
Church, which condemns homosexuality and contraception -- including
Foote conceded that the schools in
Ireland do have access to information about AIDS, but took issue with
how students are taught: "This year, schools offer AIDS education
materials, but the prescriptions for prevention are abstinence,
chastity, and fidelity in marriage."
AMERICA'S HOLOCAUSTS. Newsweek
General Editor Peter Plagens compared modern America to Nazi Germany in
his September 10 review of Heinz Jost's photographic exhibition "A
Day In The Warsaw Ghetto." Plagens noted "There are those who
say that to measure any other barbarism against the Holocaust is to
trivialize the unequaled tragedy that befell the Jews." But he
trivialized anyway: "Looking at these pictures, however, it is hard
not to be struck by resemblances that suggest that the horror of the
Holocaust has not been obliterated, but simply broken up, crushed into
powder, and raked into the soil of contemporary life."
Plagens preached: "Even in our very
rich country, the number of tattered beggars, slumped in despair on city
streets, grows steadily greater. The bearded, skull-like heads of the
Warsaw Ghetto's interned are remindful of AIDS victims in the last
stages of the plague. And it is almost impossible not to realize that we
have seen, and still see, pictures of bodies of innocents lying dead
under perversely meaningless advertising signs, at the feet of blase
soldiers who think they're just doing their jobs." MediaWatch
is offering a free year's subscription to the first reader
to figure out that last sentence.
Sad Farewells to
European Communism & Socialism
unification celebrations swept East Germany, NBC's Mike Boettcher found
some people who liked things the way they were. "Once they were
Berlin's most vocal proponents of change," Boettcher's September 29
Nightly News story began, "A few thousand gay rights
activists, anarchists and supporters of dozens of other causes marched
through an abandoned checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin to
Boettcher profiled a singer who
"came to Berlin because there was an abundance of musicians with
whom she could sing. In a maze of basement rooms where many of them
rehearse, a new German saying is popular." What is that saying?
"I want my wall back." Boettcher concluded by showing the work
of an artist who "has made a symbolic last stand in the space where
the wall once stood...his final tribute to an old Cold War Berlin where
the Wall was both an evil symbol and a barrier which provided protection
OVERDOSE OF CAPITALISM.
Some reporters think forty years of communism is not most responsible
for East Germany's economic mess; unification is. On the October 1 World
News Tonight, ABC's Jerry King declared: "East Germany is
staggering toward unification, and may get there close to dead on
arrival, the victim of an overdose of capitalism."
King explained: "Under Communism,
every worker was guaranteed a job. Under capitalism the goal is profit
and companies like the old fashioned Brandenburg Steel Mill had too many
employees to be cost effective." As West German takeovers lead East
Germans to lose jobs and "free day care centers," King worried
"an economic domino is at work" that will only get worse after
the elections: "Political opponents say West German Chancellor
Helmut Kohl is trying to keep the unemployment rate low because of
elections coming up in December. But after the election, after the East
Germans have voted, virtually everyone here expects the government of a
unified Germany here to stop subsidizing short-time workers [those paid
80% of former salary] because of the expense."
SWEDEN'S NO EDEN. The
left-wing Utne Reader burst with home-town pride over a recent
front-page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined
"Socialism's Success in Sweden is a Model for Eastern Bloc."
Concerned that communism's collapse might make European socialism look
bad, "special projects reporter" Eric Black openly promoted
the Swedish system: "Under the socialism- doesn't-work hypothesis,
one would expect to find Swedes waiting in day-long lines for inferior
goods, oppressed by a one-party dictatorship, dreaming that the magic of
democracy and capitalism will rescue them. But in fact, Sweden is one of
the most prosperous, peaceful, and democratic nations in the world...
Compared with the United States, Sweden has a longer life expectancy, a
lower unemployment rate, higher voter participation, less crime, fewer
pupils per teacher, a lower infant-mortality rate and a higher literacy
But buried down in the last paragraphs of
the story, Black hinted at a completely different story: "The
growth of Sweden's GNP has fallen behind the European or U.S. average.
Sweden's inflation rate is higher than its neighbors' or the United
States'. The big Sweden-based companies are building new plants and
offices elsewhere in Europe, where costs are lower." Black also
admitted Sweden's social services are less than perfect: "more than
one- fourth of the children up to age 6 had no spots in the state-
provided or subsidized day care facilities...hundreds of people needing
nonemergency hip replacements have to wait eight to nine months.
Absenteeism in the workplace is the highest in the Western world, and
employers have blamed it on the generosity of sick pay." Black also
conceded Sweden is trying to reduce their top tax rate from 72 to 50
percent which sounds surprisingly like -- Reaganomics, anyone?
Journalists pride themselves on providing
history's first draft on a daily basis. As the accomplishments and
disappointments of Ronald Reagan's presidency fade into the past and
head for the yellowing pages of the history books, will reporters
provide a balanced account of accomplishments and disappointments, or
will they just replay the anti-Reagan soundtrack of the 1980s?
To answer this question, MediaWatch
analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to
locate every mention of certain terms describing the Reagan years
between October 1, 1989 and September 30, 1990. The terms: "Reagan
years," "Reagan era," "Reagan decade,"
"Reagan legacy," "Reagan record," "Reagan
Revolution," and "Reaganomics." The sample included major
newspapers (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The
Washington Post) and news magazines (Newsweek, Time and U.S.
News & World Report).
Out of 989 mentions of the Reagan terms,
negative assessments outnumbered positive ones by 555 (56 percent) to 79
(8 percent), a margin of almost 7 to 1. The other 355 mentions either
left a mixed impression or stated simple facts like "Lawrence Korb
was an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan years."
In 120 magazine mentions, 53 percent made
negative judgments, compared to just 6 percent with positive
evaluations. In 524 mentions in newspaper news stories, reporters
presented the Reagan years in a negative light 263 times (50 percent),
compared to 43 (8 percent) which associated the Reagan years with
positive things. The critique was even harsher in 345 mentions in
newspaper editorials and book, film and television reviews: negative
mentions outnumbered positive ones by eight to one, 226 to 29. Often,
positive accounts managed only faint praise. A March 21 New York
Times editorial celebrating independence for Namibia called it
"a rare triumph of American diplomacy in Africa during the Reagan
News reporters routinely let their bias
against Reagan color their coverage. For exampe, New York Times
reporter David Rosenbaum told readers on February 18: "Many others
in Washington and around the country maintain that the United States now
has a golden opportunity to meet problems that were overlooked in the
tightfisted Reagan years." Newsweek Senior Writer Charles
Leerhsen suggested February 5: "The support-group movement may be
the only advance in the area of social services that was possible in the
era of Reaganomics." Leerhsen's colleague, Senior Writer Eloise
Salholz, told readers April 9 that "Reagan-era cutbacks and
recession pushed many Hispanics deep into poverty."
After Bush's State of the Union address,
the February 6 Los Angeles Times ran an AP dispatch that didn't include
a Democratic response -- it was the Democratic response:
"His message did not dwell on what many see as the biggest failures
of the Reagan years -- the record federal budget deficits and the huge
trade imbalances that transformed America from the largest creditor
nation to the largest debtor country."
Using their presumed adversarial role,
reporters often passed on liberal arguments without question. On the day
of the Housing Now! march last October 7, Washington Post
correspondent H. Jane Lehman reported: "The 80 percent cutback in
federal housing production programs during the Reagan years are often
cited as the driving force behind the lack of housing that is affordable
to low-income families."
The media enjoy having it both ways:
after Reagan is savaged for spending cuts, he's saddled with all the
blame for overspending. A November 5 New York Times Magazine
piece on speechwriter Peggy Noonan explained: "When she joined the
Reagan team in 1984, Reaganomics was producing federal budget deficits
of over $200 billion a year and saddling future generations with a
mountain of debt."
The gulf between reviewers and the public
was even wider than the gulf between reporters and the public. Reviewing
Benjamin Friedman's Day of Reckoning last October 29, New
York Times reporter Peter Passell decided: "Mr. Friedman, who
worked as an investment banker before he became a professor of economics
at Harvard University, does offer a devastating analysis of the likely
consequences of Reaganomics: permanently diminished living standards and
declining world influence."
On May 13, Los Angeles Times book
reviewer Charles Solomon delighted in the plot of Richard Condon's
latest work of fiction: "Charley initially is appalled at the
notion, but Ronald Reagan's legacy of corruption and malfeasance quickly
makes the former hit man feel right at home in Washington."
Looking at a lurid TV-movie on Jim and
Tammy Bakker April 5, Los Angeles Times television writer Diane
Haithman pointed out that "The director, writer, and actors agree
the Bakkers' rise and fall represents the fate of many caught in the web
of greed and materialism that characterized the Ronald Reagan era."
Film critics were the most creative. Time's
Richard Corliss let go in his Christmas cover story on Tom Cruise:
"From its plot synopsis, Risky Business (1983) promised
more of the lame same. An affluent high school senior has an affair with
a hooker (Rebecca de Mornay), dunks the family Porche in Lake Michigan,
turns his house into a brothel and still gets into Princeton. Sounds
like the Reagan era in miniature."
Washington Post film critic Rita
Kempley went ballistic in her December 31 review of 1980s cinema:
"If sensitive guys were the superegos, then action guys were the
ids, rediscovering jingoism and homoerotic savagery in tune with
Reaganomic red-baiting and their audiences' adolescent fear of
females." Vincent Canby of The New York Times was not to
be outdone, writing on June 3: "Though Sylvester Stallone's Rambo
movies didn't have a single coherent political thought in their
respective heads (or maybe for that very reason), they became emblematic
of the Reagan era."
Americans expect reporters to be at least
as tough with Reagan as with any former President. But the slant of the
stories has been so lopsided, and the criticism relayed with such
relish, that it goes beyond "toughness." No one should be
surprised that the Reagan legacy is being treated with as much hostility
in retrospect as it was treated in its own time, and no one should be
surprised when that treatment is used as proof positive of the media's
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