New York Times Reporters Attack Reagan Policy
THE THREE AMIGOS
During the 1980s the Reagan
Administration assisted democratic forces battling communist movements
in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But new books and articles by three New
York Times reporters who covered Central America in the 1980s
reveal they still believe the U.S. backed the wrong side.
Writing in the America and the World
1990/91 issue of Foreign Affairs, current Mexico City Bureau
Chief Mark Uhlig declared that "hostility toward the Nicaraguan
regime" had produced "domestic disaffection and ineffective
policies. Moreover, the conflict had driven and distorted American
relations...as the White House searched for the means to justify and act
on its obsession." Communism "had never been sufficient to
explain or understand the complex conflicts confronting U.S. policy in
Latin America," but, in a familiar refrain of the left, Uhlig
argued it had actually obfuscated the real issue: "Social justice
had taken second place to mighty clashes of ideology." Uhlig called
for a "rethinking of past policies" toward democratic El
Salvador, where the U.S. had been "trainer and quartermaster to one
of the most demonstrably bloodthirsty regimes in the hemisphere."
Former Nicaragua Bureau Chief Stephen
Kinzer, now based in Germany, followed a similar premise in his new
book, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. Kinzer
charged that Oliver North and Reagan "placed the United States in
the role of a cruel bully, waging a dirty war to defend security
interests that even its closest allies did not believe were truly
threatened." Kinzer found Nicaragua superior to its neighbors:
"The Sandinista regime was undemocratic, though it never resorted
to the kind of savagery common in nearby countries. But by destroying
the repressive apparatus of the Somoza family, the Sandinistas at least
provided a basis on which a genuine democracy could be built....Had they
done nothing more than that, they would deserve a place of historic
honor." Kinzer praised the regime for realizing "that
government's greatest responsibility was to the poor and
dispossessed," gushing: "Ultimately they showed themselves
worthy of the legacy of Nicaragua's heroes."
Clifford Krauss covered the region for
UPI and The Wall Street Journal before becoming the Times'
State Department reporter last year. In Inside Central America,
he complained: "Obsessive, ideological fears clouded Reagan's
vision, as was all too often reflected in his apocalyptic public
speeches in support of his beloved 'freedom fighters.'" Krauss
noted the "happy, liberated feel" of rebel-held areas in El
Salvador. Krauss admitted that the Sandinistas are Marxists, but
revealed that while covering the 1979 revolution for UPI, "My
intention was to cheer on the new Sandinistas and to help stop the next
Bucks for the Duke.
Newsweek gave its April 8 "My Turn" page to Osborn
Elliott, whom it described as its former Editor-in-Chief,
former Deputy Mayor of New York and a professor at the Columbia Graduate
School of Journalism. Newsweek failed to mention another resume
entry: member of the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign's finance
committee. In a June 1988 New York Times op-ed Elliott recalled
how he also handled pro-Dukakis "spin control" after one
debate and supplied the candidate with some "thematic material and
rhetoric...drawing from The Grapes of Wrath."
Elliott used the Newsweek
article to spread the same liberal gospel: "Now that the Gulf War
is behind us, it's time to start planning history's greatest March on
Washington, a huge parade of protest by the cities of this land against
a national government that has betrayed them." How? The Editor of Newsweek
from 1961 to 1976 claimed: "Brutal cutbacks in federal aid for
schools, housing, food stamps, mass transit and social services have
taken a terrible toll" such as "a child left by her mother in
the trunk of a car for lack of proper day care."
Elliott, who was Dean of the Columbia
School of Journalism from 1979 to 1986, asserted: "It is no
coincidence that homelessness has soared as federal subsidies for
low-cost housing have been slashed by 80 percent." In fact, an
article in the November/ December American Enterprise showed
the number of subsidized units and the number of families living in
those units increased by one-third during the 1980s.
Said What Simon Said. In
1987 U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor and chief of
domestic bureaus Jim Killpatrick joined Senator Paul
Simon's presidential campaign as the Democrat's Press Secretary. After
the campaign ended, Killpatrick accepted an editing position with
Washington D.C.'s suburban Journal newspapers. In April he was
promoted to Managing Editor of three Virginia dailies. He'll oversee the
Fairfax Journal, Alexandria Journal and Arlington Journal.
Other Side of Supply-Side.
Boston Globe economics columnist and New Republic
regular Robert Kuttner is out with a new book arguing
for increased government intervention in the economy, The End of
Laissez-Faire: National Purpose and the Global Economy After the Cold
War. Widely billed as a blueprint for Democrats to follow, the
book's jacket includes endorsements from Lester Thurow, John Kenneth
Galbraith and Mario Cuomo.
A founding co-editor of The American
Prospect, a self described "journal for the liberal
imagination," Kuttner put in a stint in the early 1970s on The
Washington Post's national staff and was a frequent contributor to The
New York Times Magazine. Later in the decade Kuttner served as
Chief Investigator for the Democrat- controlled Senate Committee on
Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The Washington Post Writers Group
distributes Kuttner's weekly column.
The media's Reagan-haters like to
characterize the former President's method of argument as one part
anecdote, one part misleading factoids. But that better describes the
CBS News method of economic reporting. For again distorting the Reagan
record with misleading anecdotes and flimsy statistics on the April 23 CBS
Evening News, Ray Brady earns the May Janet Cooke Award.
For his "Eye on America"
report, Brady traveled to Waterloo, Iowa to find an example of hard
times: "For Carol and John Bernard, peace comes only at Sunday
services. The rest of the week they and their six children, like
thousands of other working Americans, try to survive on incomes that
have been dropping since the 1970s." Times may be rough for the
Bernard family, but Brady's implication -- that incomes have been
dropping every year since the 1970s -- is demonstrably false. In fact,
Census Bureau statistics show that since 1982, median family income has
increased every year except one, and median household income has
increased every year without exception.
Brady then charged: "Nationwide, the
number of working people under the poverty level is up 28 percent since
1978." But what didn't Brady tell viewers? Chris Frenze, a staff
economist with the Joint Economic Committee, told MediaWatch
that according to Census Bureau data the percentage of
people under the poverty line with year-round full-time jobs in 1989 was
six percent. Nor did Brady explain that the population has increased 16
percent since 1978.
Brady claimed wages have declined
nationwide: "Across America, employers, hit by competition, falling
profits, and hard times, have been cutting wages to the point where most
Americans are worse off now than they were in the early 1970s. In fact,
if you adjust for inflation, since that time their paychecks have fallen
by 17 percent." Brady's claim roughly matches Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS) figures, but the BLS numbers exclude certain earners,
including self-employed and supervisory employees. Data from the Social
Seurity Administration, (which includes the workers BLS excludes), show
an increase in average wages in the '80s. This flies in the
face of Brady's emotionally overwrought conclusion: "For many
working families, the pain is knowing all hope for a better life is
shrinking as fast as the American paycheck."
During a Nightwatch interview a
few hours later Brady claimed benefits are declining: "Around the
country, more and more companies that are saying to those who are still
working: 'You've got to pay twenty percent of your benefits. We're not
picking up the whole tab. You've got to pay forty percent of your
benefits. And in many cases, you see companies that are simply not
paying benefits at all anymore."
Many companies may be requiring their
employees to pay a higher share of their benefits, but according to the
BLS Employment Cost Index, employers have increased their spending on
benefits for the last ten years in a row.
Nightwatch host Deborah Potter
asked Brady: "What are the nationwide trends in terms of the
availability of good-paying jobs? Are they just gone? Have they left
America?" Brady responded: "Well, yes, a lot of them have left
America, Deborah." But as columnist Warren Brookes recently pointed
out, "Labor Department data showed that over 40 percent of the new
jobs created from 1983 forward were in its highest skill category...
while less than 11 percent were in so-called service jobs."
In the midst of all this bad news, Brady
did find someone celebrating: "Well I hate to use the term,
Deborah, but the upper one percent in this country are making out like
bandits because their incomes have shot up enormously. Perhaps even the
upper two or three percent, because you've had all these LBOs and these
takeovers and a booming stock market, and that has enabled the very,
very upper economic class to really make fortunes during the
Brady shares the assumptions of the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which concluded that the income of
the top one percent grew 87.3 percent from 1980-1990. But economist
Chris Frenze told MediaWatch that CBO income
data skews the actual income of the rich by refusing to index capital
gains income for inflation. Additionally, CBO excludes net capital
losses over $3,000, thus overstating gains and understating losses.
Last month, Face the Nation
Executive Producer Marianna Spicer-Brooks cared enough about viewer
reaction to spend more than a half-hour talking to MediaWatch
about her show's use of statistics. But Brady refused to discuss his
story or the source of his figures. "I'm very sorry, I don't have
time, I'm on a deadline. Sorry." When asked if there would be a
better time to talk, Brady responded by hanging up. "News"
stories like Brady's are perfect examples of what's wrong with
television news: too much drama and not enough evidence. By using
anecdotes to misrepresent the national economic picture, CBS is all
style and no substance.
Time magazine's obsession with maligning Ronald Reagan is growing
ridiculous. The television advertisement offering "The Most
Important People of the 20th Century" video as a subscription
premium begins: "Who would you choose? A President, a Prime
Minister, a national hero or a maniacal villain?" At the word
"President" the ad shows John Kennedy; at "Prime
Minister" a picture of Winston Churchill; and at "national
hero" a movie clip of John Wayne. For "maniacal villain"
Adolf Hitler appears, followed by a smiling Ronald Reagan.
After the Soviets shot down KAL-007 in 1983, the media gave widespread
attention to numerous theories absolving the Soviets of blame. Even five
years after the incident, on the July 4, 1988 CBS Evening News,
the late reporter Robert Schakne asserted: "The Soviets mistook the
Korean Airlines 747 for an American Air Force reconnaissance plane on a
spying mission over secret Siberian bases."
A new interview with the Soviet pilot who
fired the fatal shots proves this and other "blame America"
theories were wrong. As recounted by author James Oberg in an April 23 Wall
Street Journal op-ed, Lt. Colonel Gennadi Osipovich told Izvestia
he knew the plane was not a RC-135, and that "he was instructed to
lie about the encounter: to claim that he had radioed it on an emergency
channel although he had not, that the target plane's lights were off
although he had seen them on, and that he had fired tracers although his
cannon had not such shells." Osipovich told Seoul's MPC television
he knew he was firing at a commercial plane, the Associated Press
reported April 28.
How did the rest of the media react to
revelations the U.S. government had told the truth all along? The
Washington Post, which devoted a lengthy 1986 story to charges the
plane was on a spying mission, gave it a few paragraphs in its
"Around the World" column. The New York Times, news
weeklies and the networks, however, have so far refused to correct the
The television networks frequently report there are millions of homeless
people. Two recent examples: "All across the country Americans are
becoming increasingly less tolerant of homeless people, now estimated to
number as many as two million," ABC's Carole Simpson announced on
March 30. "In New York there are an estimated 70,000 homeless
people, three million across America. A problem that got a lot worse
during the boom times of the '80s," reporter Harold Dow claimed on
the March 26 CBS Evening News.
But when the Census Bureau found just
230,000, ABC, CBS and NBC were silent. Only CNN reported the April 12
finding from the 1990 count, conducted by 15,000 census workers. The
bureau conceded it might have missed some people, but in order to reach
Dow's claim it would have to had missed more than nine of ten.
Publication of Lou Cannon's new book, President Reagan: Role of a
Lifetime, provided two media heavyweights with an opportunity to do
some more Reagan bashing. NBC News President Michael Gartner reviewed
the book in the April 21 Washington Post: "Cannon starts off
by proclaiming that Reagan is not a dunce, a point that can be
questioned by the very fact that it has to be made, a point we all want
to believe but a point that Cannon tends to undercut every few
pages...Not a dunce, maybe, but not a diplomat, either. Or a politician.
Or a manager. Or a policymaker. Or a learner." Gartner argued:
"Still the nation needed more than inspiration in the 1980s. It
needed leadership -- moral leadership, intellectual leadership,
political leadership. It needed a manager, not a cheerleader. It needed
a statesman, not a star. It needed answers, not anecdotes. It needed
ideas as wells as ideals. And Ronald Reagan wasn't up to that
Laurence Barrett, Time's Deputy
Washington Bureau Chief, was no less gracious on April 15: "What
the country did not need was the surfeit of feel-good illusions Reagan
sold so successfully. Every politician peddles hope in bright ribbons.
The saddest and scariest conclusion one takes from this book is that
Reagan fully believed his spiels even at their most outlandish. That gut
sincerity and his actor's skills let him ring up record sales in the
'80s. Paying the bills is America's hellish task in the '90s and perhaps
THE MEDIA'S PET KITTY.
The media have a responsibility to confirm allegations about public
figures before reporting them. But that's not what happened when it came
to Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. The
April 7 New York Times carried a long front-page story by Maureen
Dowd which did not challenge one Kelley claim. Dowd defended the book in
the May 13 New Republic: "Of course, the book is tawdry. Of
course the book is, in some spots, loosely sourced and over the
top....Of course, there are mistakes in it...The point, however, is that
Kelley's portrait is not essentially untrue." Dowd was only
disappointed that Kelley did not write more on the First Lady's
"tempering" of the President's "more Neanderthal
Newsweek media critic Jonathan
Alter, who by his very position should know better, embarrassed himself
by defending Kelley's professionalism in the April 22 issue: "In a
narrow sense, Kelley is an effective reporter." Later he added:
"Despite her wretched excesses, Kelley has the core of the story
right," and "however twisted, the bulk of Kelley's stories
seem to at least be based on real events." Alter preferred
assaulting the Reagans' reputation: "If even a small fraction of
the material amassed and borrowed here turns out to be true, Ronald
Reagan and his wife had to be the most hypocritical people ever to live
in the White House."
The networks weren't much better. NBC
interviewed Kelley for three days in a row on Today. CBS reporter
Mark Phillips typified the media's smirking abandonment of duty at the
end of his April 8 Evening News report: "Is the stuff in the
book true or just vindictive tales? Who knows? Who cares?"
TEDDY, OUR HERO.
While reporters were eating up Kitty Kelley's allegations about the
Reagans, Time reacted a bit differently to Senator Ted Kennedy's
Palm Beach troubles. The April 29 issue carried a three-page spread
praising the Democrat. Senior Editor Lance Morrow wrote: "He is a
lightning rod with strange electricities still firing in the air around
him -- passions that are not always his responsibility but may emanate
from psychic disturbances in the country itself. America does not have a
completely healthy relationship with the Kennedys."
Morrow continued his toast to Kennedy:
"Once, long ago, he was the Prince Hal of American politics:
high-spirited, youthful, heedless. He never evolved, like Prince Hal,
into the ideal king. Instead he did something that was in its way just
as impressive. He became one of the great lawmakers of the century, a
Senate leader whose liberal mark upon American government has been
prominent and permanent...The public that knows Kennedy by his
misadventures alone may vastly underrate him."
Morrow spent much of the article
countering suggestions that the Democrat is an alcoholic, noting:
"Kennedy is a hardworking and successful U.S. Senator with a busy
schedule and a heavy load of intellectual labor that he apparently
performs well. His mind is nimble and sharp, except when he has been
drinking a lot." Sort of a Catch-22.
PBS HELD HOSTAGE.
Frontline is promoting yet another left-wing conspiracy theory --
this time, that the 1980 Reagan campaign bought off the Iranians to
delay the release of the hostages. After six months of
taxpayer-subsidized searching and a meandering hour of unsubstantiated
claims about meetings in Paris, the PBS audience learned only that
"conclusive proof is elusive." But this investigation has gone
on longer than six months: the show's main conspiracy theorist, ex-Newsweek
and AP reporter Robert Parry, has spent six years trying to prove the
Reagan Administration guilty of some wrongdoing.
Mark Hosenball, a producer for NBC's Expose,
attacked Parry's thesis in the April 21 Washington Post (and
earlier in The New Republic of June 13, 1988). Hosenball
specifically punctured Parry source Richard Brenneke, reporting that
congressional investigator Jack Blum deemed him an unreliable witness.
Blum recently told the Village Voice that Brenneke should have
been jailed for perjury. But in the April 27 Post, Parry
responded: "Blum also concluded that much of what Brenneke said was
true." Parry did not tell Post readers that in the midst of
devoting almost five minutes of Frontline time to Brenneke's
testimony, he and co-writer Robert Ross told viewers that his
"credibility remains in question."
The New York Times learned nothing from the Tiananmen Square
massacre. In an April 14 article, reporter Nicholas Kristof praised
Chinese communism: "In recent decades, China has engineered a
remarkable health-care revolution, one that has increased the odds that
her infant will be alive in the latter half of the next century. While
the communists have yet to deliver on promises to provide Chinese with
lives that are prosperous and free, they have achieved the remarkable
feat of offering their people lives that are long and healthy."
Kristof quoted University of North
Carolina professor Gail Henderson: "There's no question that in a
time when people are despondent about what's happening in China, the
health-care system really is a shining light from the Maoist era that
continues to shine to this day. It's a model for the developing
world." Notably absent from the story: mention of China's forced
Meanwhile, the Times gave Chinese
capitalism a much dimmer view. In an April 21 article, Kristof's wife,
reporter Cheryl WuDunn, asserted: "It is an open secret that here
in Shenzhen, a special economic zone just across the border from Hong
Kong, economic progress has brought with it the seedy side of the free
market: prostitution, corruption, smuggling and even drug trafficking.
Shenzhen is China's best-known boomtown, and it is renowned throughout
the country for its economic growth, high salaries, modern fashions, and
adherence to 'bourgeois' morals, if any. To many people in the rest of
China, Shenzhen is a lawless place."
MISLEADING MEDICARE MATH.
Some media outlets continue the misleading policy of reporting budget
"cuts" that are really just reductions in the rate of spending
growth. On April 18, The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press
dispatch by Alan Fram: "The House yesterday approved a
Democratic-written $1.46 trillion 1992 budget that rejects President
Bush's plan to slash Medicare and other benefit programs." On the
same day, Washington Post reporter Tom Kenworthy wrote that
Bush's proposal "included such politically painful aspects as a
five-year, $25 billion cut in the Medicare program. The Bush budget
...included a total of $46.6 billion in reductions in Medicare and other
entitlement programs over five years."
Neither reporter told readers that the
$100 billion-plus Medicare budget is automatically scheduled to increase
up to 15 percent per year, and that "slashing" $25 billion
over five years would have left a spending increase of more than
$50 billion. And what about the other $21 billion in
"entitlement" cuts? They're also cuts in increases, but
they're not all social programs. Under this budget's definition
"entitlement" programs include outdated boondoggles like the
Rural Electrification Administration. The same media that preaches about
the deficit continues to keep an accurate picture of spending growth out
of the news columns.
BIRDS & BEES & BERGANTINO.
It's hard to imagine a reporter advising the government to hand out
bullet-proof vests to children as the cure to inner city violence. In an
April 16 story for World News Tonight, reporter Joe Bergantino
portrayed the distribution of condoms in schools as the way to stop the
spread of pregnancy and sexual disease among teens. Bergantino bemoaned
a national "epidemic" of teen pregnancy. However, the national
teen birthrate has been dropping since 1957, according to the National
Center for Health Statistics.
Bergantino declared that "Two
studies, including one conducted by the Center for Population Options (CPO)
involving six different schools, have concluded condom availability does
not encourage sex." Later, Bergantino cited three other studies to
make the case for condoms. ABC spokesman Arnot Walker told MediaWatch
two of those studies appeared in Family Planning Perspectives,
published by the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Alan Guttmacher
Institute. Of course, asking CPO or the Guttmacher Institute about the
hazards of condoms is like asking the Tobacco Institute about the
hazards of smoking.
GO WITH GRACE.
To celebrate Earth Day during the week of April 22, the networks
repeated last year's imbalance on a much smaller scale, tilting the
guest list toward the left-wing environmentalists and shutting the
free-market environmentalists out completely. On the NBC Nightly
News, reporter Bill Lagattuta did a story including leftist
luminaries Tom Hayden, Gaylord Nelson, and Gene Karpinski from Ralph
Nader's U.S. Public Interest Research Group. CNN reporter Greg Lefevre
followed the Turner pattern of environmental bias by selecting David
Weir of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Randy Hayes of the
Rainforest Action Network.
The morning shows were even worse. NBC
led the way by airing another three-part "Assignment Earth"
series on Today by Paul Ehrlich, the discredited Famine 1975!
devotee. Good Morning America interviewed anti-technology
activist Jeremy Rifkin, and in a bow to science, CBS This Morning
selected someone with more scientific credibility than Ehrlich and
Rifkin combined: rock star Grace Slic.
BRADY STRIKES AGAIN. The
idea of an independent labor market with workers free to make contracts
with employers repulses CBS News reporter Ray Brady. On the April 3 Evening
News, Brady mourned the plight of striking workers who were
replaced by those willing to work. "Captain Jim Gulley's family has
worked these waters for a hundred years," Brady began. "But a
strike pitted him against the management of the tugboat company he
helped to build. Gulley and his shipmates were replaced. Out of the work
Endorsing the union's arguments, Brady
said: "They note that in the past, strikes helped raise living
standards for all Americans, because when unions got increases, white
collar and other workers usually got them as well. Now, though, a strike
can mean you've lost your job forever." Brady worried that "as
strikes disappear, swamped by a wave of replacement workers, some wonder
if a valuable American tradition is also being replaced." Brady
quoted Gulley and other strikers several times, but management was given
only one sentence and replacement workers none.
CRY ON AMERICA. The CBS
Evening News recently started a new segment, "Eye On
America," to focus more time on a single issue. But initial signs
indicate the network's purpose is to deliver more liberal cliches
without any statistics to back them up. On April 19, Dan Rather
introduced a segment on "the growing ranks of America's hungry and
the growing network of charity food banks straining to meet the
"It doesn't matter where you
go...food banks have become a growth industry in America. What's going
on?," asked reporter Bruce Morton. To find out, Morton only asked
liberal Rep. Tony Hall and Tufts University's Larry Brown, who
pronounced: "They are a larger reflection of the inhumanity of us
as a nation." Morton continued: "Critics say the government
should feed people who don't have enough...there are 20 million of those
folks, reflecting a growing gap between rich and poor."
Morton didn't give a source for his 20
million figure or claim the government was spending less on fighting
hunger. Maybe that's because federal nutrition spending has risen more
than 50 percent in real terms since 1976 as food prices have fallen. But
he did have space for one last bromide: "Food banks, now as
American as apple pie."
SOAK THE POOR. Two
public policy groups released studies in April on state taxes and their
impact on the economy. One was the liberal group Citizens for Tax
Justice (CTJ), which claimed the rich are not paying enough taxes; the
other, the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, claimed tax
increases drive away jobs. Which study made the news? You guessed it.
On the April 22 World News Tonight,
ABC reporter Sheilah Kast relayed CTJ's findings on how "the poor
are paying more than their fair share, "without airing anyone or
anything to challenge it. So did USA Today in a front-page
story the next morning. "Only two states, Vermont and Delaware, put
the heaviest tax burdens on the wealthiest," wrote reporter Bill
Montague. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both Vermont
and Delaware are among the worst ten states for unemployment rates. Both
Kast and Montague failed to make the connection. They also failed to
explain how the poor are better off in high tax states like New York
than in one of CTJ's "Terrible Ten" states, such as New
Hampshire, which has no sales or income tax for anyone.
More than a year after the fall of the
Berlin Wall, Ted Turner still won't give up on communism. In Portrait
of Castro's Cuba, a two-hour TBS homage on April 7, narrator James
Earl Jones talked about a pro-Castro rally: "Attendance at this
rally is, if not mandatory, then highly recommended. But this rally is
more than just a way to maintain control. It's also a sincere
demonstration of national pride and independence."
At a welcome home ceremony for Cuban
troops returning from Angola, Jones intoned: "Incessantly involved
in affairs around the globe, this island nation has won the respect,
sometimes grudgingly, of countries twenty times its size. Castro's Cuba
stands tall in the ranks of nations....Today is a passionate display of
national pride. These men are symbols of all that Castro's Cuba has
aspired to be. A nation to be reckoned with. A major player on the world
stage. Defiant, spirited, free."
Free? A Cuban dissident might disagree, but
the documentary didn't interview any. TBS relied on spokesmen for the
regime. Jones pronounced: "The Sierras have become a testament to
the revolution. Here is where the gains have been most dramatic. Clean
water, electricity, telephones, and above all, education and medical
To substantiate how Castro has improved
everyone's lives, TBS interviewed a government doctor who claimed:
"We have the things that are important in life to develop as a
human being. Because the blue jeans are not essential to live or a
sweater or a tape recorder. So what are the necessary things to be able
to live? Food, education, guaranteed health, not having to think that
tomorrow you will be without a job, or not having money to buy food, or
that I have to sell drugs to earn money. These are the things that are
necessary for living."
An armed militia member described how the
Cuban people feel about Castro: "These people grow stronger with
the difficulties to support Fidel, because here we want Fidel, he is our
father, he is the father of our people. The Revolution is our mother and
we feel proud."
STILL LOOKING FOR
studies on think tanks, environmentalists and abortion activists proved
that reporters tinker with the credibility of political groups by
regularly identifying conservative groups as conservative but refusing
to label liberal groups as liberal.
This time, MediaWatch
selected a broad sample of smaller groups in specific issue areas,
surveying every news story on 14 liberal groups and seven conservative
ones from 1988, 1989, and 1990 in the Los Angeles Times, New York
Times, and Washington Post. Analysts found 29 labels in
1182 stories on liberal groups (2.5 percent), and 65 labels in 179
stories on conservative groups (36.3 percent), a ratio of 14 to one.
Child Care. The
Children's Defense Fund, the leading lobby for a national child care
program and a vocal advocate for welfare spending hikes and defense
spending cuts, is a media favorite. Despite an approach so ideological
that it criticized liberal Reps. Tom Downey and George Miller for being
insufficiently committed, it received only three liberal labels in 228
news stories (1.3 percent). Two of the labels came from the Los
Angeles Times, which also used "nonpartisan" once. The
Washington Post applied no labels except "bipartisan" in
In contrast, conservative groups were
labeled in 48 of 99 stories (48 percent). Reporters tacked conservative
labels on the Family Research Council, founded in 1987 by Reagan White
House adviser Gary Bauer, in 14 of 39 stories (36 percent). Phyllis
Schlafly's Eagle Forum drew even more labels, in 34 of 60 articles (57
percent). One Los Angeles Times story mentioning Eagle Forum
and Concerned Women for America reported: "Those two groups, while
describing themselves as nonpartisan, generally are considered to be
Defense. In three years
of news stories on eight liberal anti- defense lobbies, reporters
assigned ideological labels seven times in 601 stories, barely one
percent. Six of the seven were applied to two far-left disarmament
lobbies. SANE/Freeze led with four labels in 56 articles (7.1 percent),
and Physicians for Social Responsibility came next with two labels in 62
mentions (3.2 percent). The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC),
an originator of the nuclear freeze proposal and a leader in the fight
against the B-1 bomber, went label-free in 167 stories.
The Defense Budget Project drew only one
label in 60 stories (1.6 percent), and was never identified in a news
story as part of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Only The New York Times issued a "liberal" label, but
it also used "nonpartisan" once. The Washington Post
aggressively avoided an ideological label, calling the Project
"bipartisan" once and "nonpartisan" three times.
Typically, Post reporter Molly Moore called the Project "a
nonpartisan Washington research organization that has been critical of
Reagan Administration defense spending policies." If reporters
refuse to call Eagle Forum nonpartisan because they're conservative,
shouldn't the same apply to liberals?
The SDI critics at the Federation of
American Scientists (FAS) escaped unscathed by labels in 132 stories,
despite being described as "critics of the [SDI] missile defense
program." By not labeling scientist groups, reporters imply that
the criticism is purely scientific, not political. But in three years of
articles, FAS defense expert John Pike called Reagan SDI budget requests
"wildly inflated and clearly dead-on-arrival," cheered that
"they have finally broken the ice and said they would accept some
limits on SDI testing," and declared "In an era of stable
deterrence, the B-2 bombers have a mission we definitely do not
want." These are not scientific judgments, but political ones. But
then, Pike is not a scientist, and you don't have to be a scientist to
be a FAS member.
You also don't have to be a scientist to
join The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), but the newspapers didn't
point that out for either group. In fact, The Washington Post
called UCS a "nonprofit group of scientists working to alert
society about the ill effects of technology" and burnished their
environmental statements by calling them a "nonprofit group that
includes many scientists involved with environmental issues." The
UCS had nary an ideological label in 69 stories, even though reporters
used "vociferous" twice to describe their opposition to
nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Also in the zero column: the Arms Control
Association, unlabeled in 48 stories, and the Center for Defense
Information, mentioned in only seven stories.
By contrast, conservative groups were
labeled in 14 of 55 stories (25.5 percent). The Center for Security
Policy, headed by former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney, was
tagged as conservative in 12 of 37 pieces. The New York Times
carried no labels in 11 pieces, but The Washington Post
assigned the conservative tag in 8 of 15 stories.
The American Security Council went one
for two. High Frontier, the premier supporters of SDI, drew no labels in
nine stories. The now-defunct Center fr Peace and Freedom, another
pro-SDI outfit, was labeled once in seven mentions.
"Liberal" may be too charitable a description for the five
groups in this category, but they were assigned labels in only 19 of 353
news stories (5.4 percent), and 17 of them were "liberal."
To reporters, the Committee in Solidarity
with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) merited only two ideological
labels in 92 stories even though they support the Marxist FMLN
guerrillas in El Salvador. The Los Angeles Times used
"pro-left" once in 40 stories. The New York Times
described CISPES as FMLN supporters on four occasions, but The
Washington Post never did and never used a label, instead calling
them "peace activists."
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR),
a group of far-left lawyers which defended CISPES in their legal action
against an FBI investigation, was labeled eight times in 126 stories
(6.3 percent). The Washington Post called them
"liberal" once, and the Los Angeles Times once
described notorious CCR attorney William Kunstler as a "radical
lawyer." The New York Times carried the other six labels,
The Christic Institute, which charged
that a "Secret Team" of Reagan Administration officials were
running drugs with the Contras, was labeled "liberal" nine
times in 86 articles (10.5 percent).
Drawing a zero were the Nicaragua Network
and Witness for Peace (WFP), two veteran Sandinista support groups. The Los
Angeles Times relayed that WFP "describes itself as a
politically independent organization which opposes United States support
for the war against Nicaragua while not taking sides in internal
On the conservative side, the Council for
Inter-American Security (CIS) received only 13 mentions, most of them
about the party they threw for the Bush Inauguration. They were labeled
only twice, but the Los Angeles Times once called them
"ultraconservative." To use such a label for CIS and never use
"far-left" for groups like the Christic Institute is a
stunning example of imbalance.
Readers don't have time to research the
ideological perspective of every group they see quoted in news stories.
They rely on reporters, but the news media's failure to identify liberal
groups risks leaving readers uninformed about the intentions and agendas
behind those commenting on policy options.
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