Reporters Tout Gantt's Liberal Campaign
THE JESSE HELMS HIT SQUAD
Political reporters have spent the last
two years complaining about the injection of race and the lack of
substantive issues in political campaigns. But when Senator Jesse Helms
(R-NC) ran a series of ads questioning opponent Harvey Gantt's record on
abortion and taxes, ads that had nothing to do with race, reporters
avoided their substance and labeled them racist.
On America Tonight November 1,
CBS' Lesley Stahl charged "some candidates are out with new TV ads
appealing not so subtly to racism, reminiscent of the Willie Horton
ads." She showed one which raised Gantt's record of supporting tax
hikes and another which played a video clip three times showing Gantt
supporting sex-selection abortions, the third time in slow motion to
emphasize the point. Stahl's guest, Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson,
concluded: "Helms is trying to play out any racist fears you might
have about Harvey Gantt. Ask yourself: What is the stereotype of a deep,
slow-speaking, hence not too bright, very dark man." Stahl
marveled: "That's outrageous!" That was before Helms even
aired an ad on Gantt's support of quotas.
When reporters did talk about issues,
they diminished Helms' social issues and polished Gantt's liberal
agenda. NBC's Andrea Mitchell exemplified this on Today October
30: "Helms' attack on what he calls pornography has a lot of appeal
here, especially in rural areas. But most people say they are more
concerned about the things that affect their lives more directly, the
economy, education, the environment. North Carolina is almost dead last
in scholastic aptitude tests, has the worst infant mortality rate in the
nation. Those are Gantt's issues."
After Helms beat Gantt by eight points,
reporters became sore losers. From Gantt's election-night party,
Mitchell reported: "This has really been a heart-breaking
race....What happened here was a very strong racial message from Jesse
Helms in the closing ten days of the race and it focused on something
that we've found, found previously in Louisiana with the David Duke
USA Today also linked Helms to
the Klan: "Some observers saw Helms as part of a Southern
conservative fringe -- along with Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, a Republican
who was also re-elected, and Louisiana state Rep. David Duke -- that
relied on tactics born in a deep South many thought had vanished." Boston
Globe reporter Michael Frisby grieved: "A mass of faces, black
and white, young and old, seemed to fill with tears at once...These were
abortion- rights activists, environmentalists, and traditional Democrats
who saw their hopes and dreams crushed by the negative, race- baiting
Speaking for the Speaker.
After four years as Los Angeles and San Francisco Bureau Chief for Newsweek
magazine, Michael Reese jumped into the middle of California's
political battles. In August he became Director of Communications for
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a liberal Democrat who helped lead the
unsuccessful battle against two term limitation referenda. Reese took
over from Susan Jetton, a Charlotte Observer and San Diego
Union reporter who left California last Spring to serve as Press
Secretary for Harvey Gantt's losing Senate campaign. Before moving to
Los Angeles in 1984, Reese spent several years in Newsweek's
Chicago and Washington bureaus.
Morning Man. Is Rupert
Murdoch's Fox television network planning to produce a national daily
news program? The first sign: the July launch of the Fox Morning
News, a two and a half hour news and interview show aired daily on
Washington's WTTG-TV. Among the staff Fox has put together: Editorial
Producer Charles (Chip) Reid, an off-air ABC News reporter in Washington
in 1988 and 1989, who was General Counsel to the Joe Biden for President
Committee in 1987. From 1982 to 1986, Reid served as Chief Investigator
for the Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic Senators.
Back to the Tube. Former
Florida television reporter David Snepp, who came to Washington, D.C. in
1989 as Press Secretary to Congressman Alex McMillan (R-NC), has decided
to return to his former career. He's taken a reporter slot in the Cox
Broadcasting Washington bureau. Snepp now files stories for Cox network
affiliates in Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and Pittsburgh as well as for
San Francisco's Fox station. Roll Call reported Snepp covered
McMillan's 1984 and 1986 campaigns for Charlotte's CBS affiliate before
moving to Tampa's ABC affiliate.
At least three former members of the media are putting their experience
to work for liberal environmental groups. David Goeller, media
coordinator for Environmental Action since June, 1989, spent 20 years
with the Associated Press, the last four covering the environment. In
September, Environmental Action released its annual "dirty
dozen" list. As usual, all but one were Republican, including
Senators Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Senator Jesse
Helms earned a "lifetime achievement award" for thwarting
"efforts to protect our air and water"....
At the Environmental Defense Fund, a
group promoting controversial global warming predictions, Allan
Margolin handles media relations out of New York City. Until
1988 Margolin was an Associate Producer for ABC's Good Morning
America....Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Vice President
of the World Resources Institute (WRI), another group demanding more
government action on global warming, wrote editorials for The
Washington Post from 1979 to 1981. From 1977 to 1979 Mathews was
Director of the Office of Global Issues for the National Security
Council. Op-ed pieces by Mathews, which have castigated Bush's
environmental policies and called for a higher gas tax, appear at least
once a month in the Post.
Newspaper Under Attack
The conservative Dartmouth Review
was subjected to another round of media hostility when someone sabotaged
the paper's front-page credo and replaced it with a quote from Adolf
Hitler. Dartmouth officials failed to investigate the controversy,
declaring the Review guilty of intentionally publishing the
quote, as did a number of reporters. In his October 7 story, New
York Times reporter Fox Butterfield allowed Times readers
to get the impression the Hitler insertion was intentional, letting
seven paragraphs elapse before allowing the Review to respond.
The Times and The Washington
Post tried to build a case that the Hitler incident represented the
latest in a long line of Review offenses against Jews, blacks,
homosexuals, and women. Butterfield asserted the Review
"sponsored a free champagne-and- lobster feast to coincide with a
campus fast for the world's hungry." Wrong, former Review
editor Dinesh D'Souza told MediaWatch. After
publishing an article on how the fast's sponsor, Oxfam America, had used
its money to finance political movements, the Review held a
dinner to raise money for a real charity. Butterfield also asserted that
in 1981 the Review "published a list of members of the
school's Gay Students Association." Wrong. D'Souza said the Review
published a list of the group's officers, who were required to list
themselves to apply for student funds.
ABC's 20/20 took on the
controversy on October 12, calling the Review
"radical," "radical conservative," and
"ultra-conservative." ABC's Bob Brown allowed two professors
to attack the Review, but aired no comments from faculty
defenders. But by letting Review editor Kevin Pritchett and
former Dartmouth music professor William Cole to speak at length, ABC
offered the most comprehensive view of the controversy n print or
broadcast. After the story, Hugh Downs and reporter Bob Brown solemnly
criticized the Review. "What a strange atmosphere to find
in a place of higher learning, where you'd expect tolerance and
openness," said Downs. Brown agreed: "I can't think of a worse
place to operate in an atmosphere of confrontation than a university
campus." Tell that to the students of the '60s.
Janet Cooke Award
Sometimes a story is so one-sided and
misleading that it deserves to be seen in its entirety. So, MediaWatch
has printed below the unedited transcript of this month's Janet Cooke
Award winner: an October 16 CBS Evening News story by Richard
"Elected officials from President Bush on down are now trying to
tap into and deflect voter outrage over the national debt and tax mess.
At stake for the public in the final budget deal: whose taxes will go up
and whose benefits will get chopped. For some perspective and context on
the public's perception of a raw deal in the making, correspondent
Richard Threlkeld is here tonight with the first of looks we'll be
taking at the tax tangle and who pays. Richard?"
"Dan, taxpayers always get mad when taxes go up, but what really
gets taxpayers mad is when they suspect they've been paying more than
their fair share. For a long time they accepted the conventional wisdom
that if you cut taxes for the rich, the benefits would trickle down to
everybody. But all the latest polls now show that most taxpayers have
finally come to suspect otherwise."
Man on street:
"I don't think the rich people pay what's equivalent to their
wealth. I think that the poor people are taxed more and they make
there's some evidence to prove their suspicions. Largely because of tax
changes in the '80s, the income of the richest five percent of Americans
has gone up by almost 50 percent while their tax rate's gone down about
10 percent [on-screen visual: Income Up 45%; Taxes down 10%]. Meantime,
the income of the poorest 10 percent has gone down 10 percent and their
tax rate has gone up by more than a fourth [on-screen visual: Income
Down 10%; Taxes Up 28%]. While Congress was vainly trying to balance the
new budget, millions of taxpayers were having the same problem balancing
their budgets and finally figured out why: taxes."
Kevin Phillips, 'Republican
Political Analyst': "People who were losing during the
1980s didn't know quite what was happening, they couldn't explain how it
happened, but they began to see that they could buy less, that their
standard of living was either stagnating or declining."
last week when Congress and the White House first came up with a deficit
plan that seemed to give the rich still another tax break, that was the
Woman on street:
"If you have more money, then you should pay more money, and that's
how I feel."
Man on street: "Target
the rich. I'm not one of them."
Carol Cox, 'Cmte. for a
Responsible Fed. Budget':"When people from working class
families see their taxes go up, they'd like to see people that they
think are better off than they have their taxes go up as well."
the Democrats have gotten the message. For the first time in a decade
they are not only unafraid to use the T word as in taxes, but they're
even using the R word, as in soak the rich."
Rep. Barbara Boxer, 'D-Budget
Committee': "Democrats are working for budgets that are
fair so the Helmsleys and the Donald Trumps at last will pay their
if and when they do sort out that deficit mess it's likely the rich are
going to get soaked, at least a little, to make up for the soaking they
avoided in the '80s, Dan."
What's wrong with this report? Not only
were his sources totally one-sided in favor of raising taxes on the
"rich" (inserting soak-the-rich "Republican analyst"
Phillips is not an attempt at balance), his statistics were cleverly
twisted to paint the worst possible picture of 1980s tax policy,
specifically the 1981 and 1986 tax rate reductions.
Threlkeld did not attribute his
statistics to any source, but they matched a March 26 Congressional
Budget Office (CBO) report, Tax Progressivity and Income
Distribution. And Threlkeld didn't even report the CBO figures
honestly. While he said the bottom ten percent's taxes went up 28
percent from 1980-90 (as noted on page 30 of the report), he skipped
over the next column in the CBO table: the bottom ten percent's tax
share went down 15 percent from 1985-90.
Further, the big increase in taxes on the
poor in the early 1980s was largely due to Social Security increases
passed by President Carter in 1977 and expanded by bipartisan consensus
in 1983. Christopher Frenze, a staff economist on the Joint Economic
Committee, pointed out to MediaWatch that page
15 of the same CBO report showed effective income tax rates for the
lowest 20 percent were -0.4 percent in 1980 and dropped further to -1.5
percent by 1990. But their social insurance tax rates (for Social
Security and Medicare) rose from 5.4 to 7.6 percent over the decade, a
41 percent jump. If Threlkeld were really interested in pinning blame
for rising taxes on the poor, he would have noted these trends.
Threlkeld also played with the numbers by
insisting the top five percent's income went up "largely because of
tax changes in the '80s," but he used the figure 45 percent, which
according to page 28 of the CBO report, is the increase in pre-tax
income, not after-tax income. If Threlkeld had made any effort to
present a balanced story, he could have also mentioned some other
Economist Warren Brookes recently
summarized IRS figures: "The real income taxes paid by 90 percent
of Americans fell by 10 percent from 1981 to 1987 while the real income
taxes paid by the richest 5 percent rose by nearly 43 percent."
The Census Bureau's 1989 Money Income
of Families report demonstrated that while the rich did get richer
during the 1980s, so did everyone else. The bottom fifth of families saw
their median income fall nine percent from 1973 to 1981 and then rise in
real terms six percent from 1981 to 1989.
The Census Bureau's Current
Population Survey on after-tax income distribution showed the
bottom 20 percent of U.S. households held 4.7 percent in 1986. By 1989,
after the tax reform act, that level rose to five percent. In contrast,
the income share received by the top 20 percent fell from 45.7 percent
to 44.1 percent.
When contacted by MediaWatch,
Threlkeld asked that we facsimile our questions. On November 6, he
replied: "Ref your fax on our CBS Evening News piece
of Oct. 18th [sic], are you suggesting that there is a substantial body
of economic opinion that holds that during the 1980s that richer
Americans were taxed more heavily than before and that poorer Americans
were taxed less heavily than previously? If so, it seems to have escaped
the attention of the Congress and the White House, not to mention the
"Those in the top bracket saw
their income (pre-tax) increase app. 45%. A good many economists and
other attribute that increase, or much of it, to tax changes in the
'80s. So? What's the point? The figure for the poorest of those who
filed was, if memory serves, for the whole decade, not the latter part
"I've no doubt there are
economists who will blame President Carter for what many seem to see as
the present inequity of the tax system. I regret we didn't have the
opportunity to include the views of the economist you talked to. So many
economists, so little time."
Viewers deserve a full report on the
effect of tax changes of the 1980s, the kind of reporting that balances
the contentions and statistics of the liberal argument with those of the
conservative side. Instead, CBS replayed the same political attack video
on Reaganomics that they and their colleagues have been playing for 10
SAM IN SWIM TRUNKS.
We don't normally praise Sam Donaldson. In fact, we never have. But on Prime
Time Live October 25, Sam and his PTL producers, Sheila
Hershow and Rick Nelson, gave viewers an educational behind-the-scenes
look at a congressional junket in action. Posing as tourists with
hand-held cameras, ABC filmed some House Ways and Means Committee
members during a five-day April stay in Barbados to discuss Caribbean
The PTL crew did plenty of
digging to determine that the Barbados excursion cost at least $42,000,
including $689 worth of booze and a $1,176 per diem allowance for food
and lodging claimed by all the legislators, even though they received a
number of free meals. Over five days, the lawmakers spent seven hours in
meetings. Donaldson also showed how Rep. Tom Downey (D-NY) and Rep.
Marty Russo (D-IL) sponsored bills favoring lobbyists who accompanied
the delegation on the trip. This kind of reporting on Congress is far
DEN OF DEMOCRATS.
Washington's City Paper recently investigated the voter
registration records of top editors, columnists and reporters of The
Washington Post. Only one was registered as a Republican: columnist
Tony Kornheiser, who quickly explained that he and his wife split in
party registration so they would get campaign literature from both
sides. We knew the Post liked Democrats, but we didn't know
they were Democrats.
City Paper identified 25
declared Democrats at the Post: "Reporters Charles
Babcock, Patrice Gaines-Carter, Michael Isikoff, John Mintz, Eric Pianin,
Walter Pincus, Eleanor Randolph, Michael Specter, Elsa Walsh, Michael
Weisskopf, and Juan Williams; columnists Richard Cohen, Chuck Conconi,
Dorothy Gilliam, Mary McGrory, William Raspberry, and Jonathan Yardley;
[Executive Editor] Ben Bradlee, ["Metro" Editor] Milton
Coleman, ["Style" Editor] Mary Hadar, and [Foreign Editor]
David Ignatius; editor/reporters Hobart Rowen and Bob Woodward; and
ombudman Richard Harwood."
POVERTY OF DIVERSITY.
The Census Bureau announced that the percentage of families living in
poverty fell from 13 percent in 1988 to 12.8 percent in 1989. The
September 27 Washington Post headline? "Poverty Remains
High Despite U.S. Expansion," followed by the subhead:
"Recession Could Push Millions Below Line." Piling on the
negative analysis, Post reporters Spencer Rich and Barbara
Vobejda wrote, "Economists across the political spectrum said
yesterday the current economic picture could mean an even greater rise
in poverty." Next came quotes from Isabel Sawhill of the Urban
Institute and Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution. That's what
passes for "across the spectrum" at the Post: two
HOMELESS LIVING AT HOME.
When is someone who lives in a home actually homeless? When CBS News
economics correspondent Ray Brady needs a suitably dire topic for an Evening
News story. On October 31, Brady profiled Sally Carlson,
"manager of a successful leather repair store" who has
"been forced to move in with her mother" and "keep her
hope chest in her mother's garage." But Sally's not alone:
"Thousands of other tax paying, hard working Americans of all ages
must live with family or double up, unable to afford a home of their
own. They're among America's hidden homeless."
Brady reported ominously: "To older
Americans, this is disturbingly reminiscent. In the depression of the
1930s, Americans lived five, six and more to a room in a land of vacant
houses and empty apartments." The ludicrous comparison caught the
attention of Newsweek economics columnist Robert Samuelson, who
labeled it "an especially misleading report" on people
"who live, often comfortably, with relatives. Having invented a new
category of homeless, he then compared today's situation with the 1930s
(a decade when unemployment averaged 18 percent)."
PRAISING THE PRIZE WINNER.
The decision to award Mikhail Gorbachev the Nobel Peace Prize prompted
glowing reviews for all the wonderful changes he's supposedly caused. On
October 16 Boston Globe reporter Paul Quinn-Judge called
Gorbachev "a true believer in democratic socialism" who
"replaced class conflict by 'common human values' that transcend
class boundaries. And he emphasized the interdependent world where
environmental and health problems could only be solved by all countries
"Beginning with his withdrawal of
Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Gorbachev did indeed change the
world," oozed NBC's Bob Abernethy. By "barnstorming
Europe," Abernethy reported on October 15, Gorbachev "became a
CHANCELLOR CHANT. Voters
rejected (or scared from running) Governors who had raised taxes, but NBC
Nightly News commentator John Chancellor still found a mandate for
higher taxes in the election results. "For ten years,"
Chancellor asserted the day after the election the American people have
"been told by Reagan Republicans and conservative Democrats that
the U.S. government can get along nicely with lower tax revenues."
Failing to note that tax revenue grew faster than inflation during the
1980s, but spending soared even quicker, he declared: "It didn't
work, of course. The federal debt went from $900 billion in 1980 to
almost $2.5 trillion in 1990." As for cutting spending,
"foreign aid is down to the bone" and "politicians won't
cut Social Security or Medicare because the elderly would throw them out
of office." So, "the fact is that most government spending
cannot be cut." The solution? Raise taxes. Chancellor concluded:
"There's encouraging news in the returns from yesterday's
elections. Six states from Massachusetts to California rejected measures
designed to limit taxation. Can it be that the great tax revolt of the
1980s is coming to an end? If true, maybe the country can get on with
the business of balancing its books in a sensible and logical way."
"Unprompted answers to a question about what it means to be a
Republican showed the most frequent response is that Republicans are for
the 'rich, powerful, monied interests.' Such descriptions were
volunteered by 51 percent of those interviewed this year, compared to
just 18 percent in 1987." So wrote David Broder in a September 19 Washington
Post news story on a Times Mirror poll finding also highlighted by The
New York Times the same day. An October 6 Post front page
story cited the number as evidence of Democratic success in portraying
Republicans "as interested in only one thing -- giving tax breaks
to the rich."
So what's the problem? In mid-October,
Times Mirror reported a computing error. Just 21 percent, not 51
percent, mentioned "rich, powerful, monied interests" when
asked about Republicans. The Post noted the error in its
"Corrections" box. The Times never corrected it.
FLORIO THE HERO I.
Governor Jim Florio may be an ogre in New Jersey, but he is a hero to
the networks. "Convinced that cutting services alone would not
close the gap, Florio took the daring step of raising taxes, raising 11
separate sales and income taxes," lauded ABC's John McKenzie on the
October 4 World News Tonight. A pollster then wondered:
"Can someone talk rationally, logically, to the public about this
issue and have them respond and be supportive?"
"In New Jersey, the answer so far is
no," McKenzie answered. "Faced with the largest tax increase
in New Jersey's history, residents here demonstrated through the summer
and into the fall, close to a million petitioned the Governor to hold a
referendum on taxes."
FLORIO THE HERO II. On
the November 2 CBS This Morning, co-host Harry Smith refused to
fault Florio: "Some of the blame for this 'have everything
attitude' could easily be placed on the Reagan Administration and a
compliant Congress....Face reality, like Governor Jim Florio has in New
Jersey, and you've got a revolt on your hands. The recession has cut
revenues there, so he's trying to raise taxes in order to still deliver
the services the people in New Jersey say they want. hat, of course, is
FLORIO THE HERO III
"What happens when an elected leader says, 'This is what we have to
do, this is what it will cost' and then he goes out and does it? Will
the people support that kind of leadership?" asked NBC's Garrick
Utley on the October 28 Sunday Today. "Example: New Jersey
and its new Governor Jim Florio. He raised taxes and we can hear what
happened." Utley conceded that Florio promised not to raise taxes,
but his questions were less than challenging: "Why did you do it?
Because you had to do it?"
"Decisions, hard decisions, and what
Jim Florio is doing is making a big political calculation and
gamble...He has four years, property taxes will go down, you hope, come
four years the people will realize," marveled Utley as Mary Alice
Williams chimed in, "And he'll look like a hero."
HUSSEIN HYPE. CBS
doesn't know whether the Iraqis adore or abhor Saddam Hussein. On the
Sept. 17 CBS Evening News, Bert Quint said: "In his
speech, Mr. Bush tried to drive a wedge between Saddam and his people.
But it may have backfired. When the broadcast was over, thousands were
on the street denouncing the American President and praising Saddam. The
fact that these rallies are staged does not mean Saddam lacks genuine
support and by attacking him, President Bush could very well have
strengthened the garrison mentality of a nation that takes pride in
standing up against its enemy."
But on 60 Minutes October 7, Dr.
Sahib Al-Hakim, an exiled opponent of Saddam, had a different story for
Morley Safer: "All these things are prepared before his arrival.
They order all the shop owners to close their shops and come to the
streets. They push all the students outside the schools to demonstrate
and they, the bodyguards, and the security forces men start the
shouting, and preparing the banners."
PATRIOTS FOR PEACE? With
support for the U.S. mission still strong, a handful of activists in
several cities planned a rally on October 20 to protest American troops
in the Middle East. ABC and NBC rushed to the scene. NBC anchor Garrick
Utley wondered if they were "fringe groups which would protest any
military involvement," but concluded they represented much more:
"Clearly there is a major concern about war and you could hear that
today." On Nightline October 19, ABC's Jackie Judd warned:
"It would be easy to dismiss opponents of the build-up of oddball
fringe elements. It's happened before. One bitter lesson of the Vietnam
War is nobody paid attention to the critics until many thousands of
lives had been lost. Today's dissenters say they hope they don't witness
history repeat itself."
The "oddball fringe elements"
neither reporter identified in the protest were the Spartacist League
and the Workers World Party, a pair of Trotskyite-Marxist parties shown
toting signs in NBC's video. According to the Associated Press, two
other Trotskyite groups, the All People's Congress and the Socialist
Workers Party, were also part of the protests.
Oil and gas prices plummeted while thousands of new jobs were created in
the private package delivery and long distance phone industries, all
thanks to Reagan's deregulation policy. But Thomas Winship, Editor of The
Boston Globe for two decades ending in the mid-'80s, put on his
ideological blinders in reviewing the decade: "The press missed
completely the full impact and significance of Reagan's overarching
crusade to deregulate the federal government, and we all forget that
Vice President Bush was assigned to develop and to carry out that policy
by President Reagan. The book on the total cost of deregulation in lives
and dollars has yet to be written."
In an address printed in the October 6 Editor
& Publisher, Winship, now President of the Center for Foreign
Journalists, complained Washington reporters took a "long winter's
nap during the Reagan years when all those giant stories were missed or
botched -- the S&L heist, the HUD scandals, Iran-Contra, and the
pollution by radiation of 100 nuclear plants... and the biggest one of
all, the monitoring of what Reagan's sweeping deregulation policy was
doing to our distribution of wealth and to our fiscal solvency."
CALLING FOR QUOTAS.
Reporters moaned when President Bush vetoed Ted Kennedy's "civil
rights" bill, which would make employers guilty until proven
innocent in cases of "unintentional discrimination." On
October 17, NBC's John Cochran solemnly reported: "It started out
as such a promising courtship: a new President reaching out to
minorities, trying to show them that he is different from the old
President. But now its all gone wrong with civil rights workers saying
George Bush is as bad as Ronald Reagan."
When ABC's Nightline covered
Bush's veto on October 22, reporter Jackie Judd proclaimed that "To
hear veterans of the civil rights movement tell it, this was a day
uncomfortably reminiscent of battles fought over 20 years ago."
Rewriting history, Judd declared that "When George Bush came into
office, he had fence- mending to do with black leaders, who were
suspicious of him, principally because of the notorious Willie Horton
ads." Like many other reporters, Judd could not accept that no ad
featuring the name or picture of Willie Horton was ever produced by the
Bush campaign. Judd concluded: "Killing a bill with support among
important voting blocs, such as blacks and women, could hurt the GOP at
the polls." Like in North Carolina, for instance?
A LONG WAY TO GO, BABY. Time's
special Fall issue, "Women: the Road Ahead," contained much
grousing about the lack of opportunity for women. Writer Janice Castro
noted: "Twenty years after women entered the professional ranks in
significant numbers, very few have broken through the middle ranks of
management to the top jobs." Assuming that's true, Time brass
should take note. Only 12 of its top 47 editorial positions are held by
women. In fact, only three women currently hold a job higher than
Associate Editor, the lowest position included in our count, and none of
the top 17 positions are held by women.
Network news correspondents often portray
themselves as the watchdogs of government, but in covering the recent
budget dealings, they served more as watchdogs for the
government. If viewers wanted to know the daily details about what the
White House and Congress were negotiating, the networks kept them
informed. But in the midst of determining the winners and losers of the
political maneuvering, the networks never reported that despite alleged
"cuts," federal spending continues to soar.
To document trends in budget coverage, MediaWatch
analysts watched every ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN
Evening News and NBC Nightly News story from the emergence of the
first budget bill September 24 to October 28, the day after a budget
passed. In total, 231 news stories were reviewed to determine:
How many reported the actual size
of next year's budget, compared to this year's budget? Zero.
The federal budget for fiscal year 1990 was $1.26 trillion. The latest
figures from the Office of Management and Budget project a 1991 budget
of $1.36 trillion. That's an increase of $100 billion in one year or an
8 percent increase, hardly the model of penny-pinching austerity. But
not one reporter managed to compare the overall budgets of 1990 and
1991. Instead, the reporters' emphasis on "getting a deal"
accepted politicians' promises to reduce the deficit at face value.
Reporters led viewers to assume the budget deal will reduce the deficit
by $500 billion over five years, or whatever the two sides claimed as
talks wound down to the finish. But bipartisan budget agreements were
passed in 1982, 1984, 1987, and 1989. In each case, promises were made
to curtail spending growth and politicians assured the people that the
revenues from tax increases would be used to reduce the deficit, and
instead, the spending went to new programs.
How many reported that many, if
not all of the budget's "spending cuts" were not spending cuts
at all, but cuts in projected increases? Zero. Reporters did a
number of stories on the disastrous effects of spending cuts,
particularly Medicare cuts, but not one reporter explained that the
"cuts" they were referring to were not cuts, but reductions in
spending increases. "Tonight both sides say that unlike
budget deals of the past, these cuts are real," emphasized ABC's
Ann Compton on September 30. Simply by reporting phony "spending
cuts" as real, the media participated in misleading the American
taxpayer. Since 1984, tax revenues have risen by an average of $78
billion a year. If spending had been held to the rate of inflation, we
would have had a surplus years ago. Federal revenues are projected to
rise $397.8 billion dollars over the next five years -- without the
coming tax hikes.
Medicare is a perfect example. Every
network told viewers Medicare would be "cut" $60 billion ad
devoted at least one entire story to "profiles in suffering."
All four networks ran stories on the fight against "cuts"
featuring liberal lobbyists like Ron Pollack of Families United for
Senior Action. Reporters didn't say that Medicare is the fastest growing
program in the budget, and without "cuts," is scheduled to
grow 12 to 13 percent a year. Over the five years of the new budget
deal, Medicare spending is still projected to grow from $105 billion to
$168 billion, a 60 percent increase.
How many reported the actual
effect of a full one-year sequestration on next year's budget? Zero.
Reporters also ignored the basic facts and figures on the sequester. A
full one-year sequester would have cut spending by $85.4 billion. As a
percentage of a $1.3 trillion budget, that's a 6.5 percent cut from
previously scheduled increases. Even after the sequester, overall
federal spending would increase $15 billion.
Instead of reporting the actual numbers,
reporters bought the government line that the allowed spending increase
required a shutdown, calling it a "disaster," a "train
wreck" that "cripples the country," in which
"everyone loses." NBC showed the least restraint , reporting
"it appears we are going over the precipice," "an awful
precipice," "the guillotine coming down," an
"alternative too horrible to contemplate," and "a long
nightmare with no morning." On October 6, ABC's Steve Shepard
warned: "This coming Tuesday, with government workers not on the
job, millions of Americans will experience frustration, and in some
How many reporters concentrated
on the savings from cutting government waste? Zero.
"Waste, fraud, and abuse" may sound like an empty catch
phrase, but Charles Bowsher, head of the General Accounting Office,
estimates there is $180 billion a year in waste, fraud, and
mismanagement. The networks ignored the hundreds of GAO reports
identifying waste, and even the $60 billion in annual savings identified
by the Congressional Budget Office. Citizens Against Government Waste
has issued a report calling for $305 billion in waste reduction over the
next five years. All these arguments were totally ignored.
The networks knew the issue of waste was
on the minds of taxpayers. "As for the public, an overnight ABC
News poll shows that 65 percent of Americans don't like the agreement,
mostly because they don't think it's necessary. They think the real
problem is government waste," Peter Jennings reported on October 1.
But ABC went on to do another story on the victims of Medicare
"cuts" and never aired a story on waste.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell did point out on
October 22 that legislators were including pet projects for their home
districts in the budget negotiations. After the budget passed, the
networks mentioned a few examples of pork-barrel spending. Most of
these were first reported in newspapers, like the $500,000 to renovate
Lawrence Welk's boyhood home. But no reporter devoted a story to the
annual pork parade before the budget passed, and no one looked into how
it could be stopped to reduce the deficit.
Just as the budget summit was an insular
process, so was media coverage. Of 523 soundbites, 365 (or 70 percent)
were of White House or congressional officials. When the networks went
to outside analysts on the politics and economics of the budget, liberal
analysts outnumbered conservatives 33 to 11. CBS did bring on
conservative economists such as Arthur Laffer and Lawrence Kudlow, but
they still preferred liberals 16-6, and often echoed their arguments.
When Bob Schieffer put on Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and
Policy Priorities October 18, he presented only Greenstein's figures to
show how the rich would win and the poor would lose under the proposed
The Washington budget process looks
increasingly unreal to the American people, and network budget coverage
only added to the unreality, reporting on nonexistent spending cuts and
their victims, and clucking abstractly about the deficit while ignoring
the huge annual increase in spending.
Budget coverage in the last few months is
merely the latest demonstration of how the national media don't bring
the concerns of the American people to official Washington, they bring
the concerns of official Washington to the American people. The network
anchors and reporters who covered the budget process have no right to
claim the mantle of government watchdog, since they reported the news
exclusively in the language of the government establishment.
BUREAUCRAT BIAS. When
Citizens Against Government Waste held a nationwide Taxpayers Action Day
protest on October 27, only CNN reported the story. But all four
networks repeatedly covered federal worker protests and each dedicated
at least one whole story to how spending "cuts" would hurt
federal workers. When the House passed the final budget compromise,
ABC's Judd Rose reported: "The intense partisan warfare, the
seemingly endless rhetoric, and the anxiety of federal government
workers came to an end today."
Reporters ignored the other side of the
story: that government workers have never suffered serious layoffs, and
face much less anxiety than the private sector. In fact, bureaucrats are
impossible to fire, and many work in obsolete offices. In his June Washington
Monthly article "How to Cut the Bureaucracy in Half,"
Scott Shuger found some astonishing stories, like this one from an
employee at HHS:
"We have enormous numbers of people
who don't do anything. And I mean anything. One sells real estate. I
spend an enormous amount of time on my volunteer work. There's a
tremendous amount of socializing. People fall into each other's arms
every day as though they had not seen each other for a year, catching up
on what they had for dinner the night before. It's very social."
Despite the financial burden of overstaffing, reporters didn't
investigate the millions that could be saved from personnel cuts.
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