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From the October 1990 MediaWatch

Reporters Despise Anti-Dukakis Candidate

Page One


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 won.

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 fame.

"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.


Revolving Door

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.

Jane's Jaunt. 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 America.

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 government.

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 correct."




ECONOMY SOCKED. 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 billion.

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 under five.

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 being "cut."

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?

UNBEARABLE ARMS. 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 Church.

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 condoms."

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.


Page Five

Sad Farewells to European Communism & Socialism

WALL-WISHING. As 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 denounce reunification."

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 from outsiders."

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 rate."

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 years."

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 left-wing bias.


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