Reporters Mourn End of Subsidies for Abortion Counseling
CURBING THE CALLOUS COURT
The Supreme Court upheld a regulation
that federally funded "family planning clinics" cannot provide
abortion counseling, ruling that abortion's legality "does not give
rise to a constitutional duty to subsidize it." Network reporters
disagreed, presenting the May 23 decision as an assault on poor women
and free speech.
On NBC Nightly News, reporter
Carl Stern concluded: "As of now, affluent women will continue to
have full access to abortion services, but poor women who rely on
government services will not." In the next report, Lisa Myers
echoed: "A cutoff of federal aid would mean less health care for
millions of poor women who depend on these clinics." Why? Because
Planned Parenthood said it would rather sacrifice its other services
than give up advising abortions, a point NBC ignored. The next night's CBS
Evening News story focused exclusively on the reaction of
"abortion rights activists."
The news magazines also saw the poor as
victims. Newsweek's June 3 story began: "In the sad heart
of the South Bronx, choices don't seem to be one of the luxuries for
pregnant teenagers." Time Associate Editor Jill Smolowe
claimed that "The court's ruling in Rust v. Sullivan made
little medical or intellectual or moral sense," and warned that
"Another result of the decision could be a further exaggeration of
a two-tiered health-care system: one that provides affluent women with
the full range of options and offered poor women either skewed
information or a range of services severely constrained by funding
Newsweek Washington reporter
Eleanor Clift made the most ridiculous analogy on the May 26 McLaughlin
Group: "This sets a different standard of health for poor
people. To me, it's as egregious as the 'colored-only' signs on water
fountains in this country."
Two leading media figures took another
tack, denouncing the Court for not creating a constitutional right to
subsidized speech. In a May 29 USA Today column, NBC News
President Michael Gartner called that aspect of the ruling
"outrageous, and scary and wrong." David Brinkley was so upset
that instead of ending This Week on May 26 with his usual
folksy anecdote, he delivered an angry lecture against the "absurd
view that medical personnel paid with government money lose their right
to free speech. The Constitution says no law shall abridge freedom of
speech, no law. Could it be that the Court hasn't read that part?"
Brinkley also directly criticized new justice David Souter: "Was he
able and willing to read the Constitution as a member of the Court?
Would he be willing to abide by it? Well, now we know the answer. It's
Taking Us to Court.
July 1 is the launch date for the Courtroom Television Network, a cable
channel devoted to showing court room trials and hearings. Offering
analysis and anchoring the live action: Fred Graham, a
CBS News legal affairs reporter from 1969 to 1987 and speechwriter to
Willard Wirtz, President Kennedy's Secretary of Labor. The channel's a
joint venture of Time-Warner, NBC and Cablevision Systems.
UPI Rotation. After a
year in Philadelphia and two in Washington as a reporter for United
Press International, last December Carole Fleck fell
victim to a round of budget-cutting layoffs. Fleck soon landed a job
with Senator Alan Cranston as Deputy Press Secretary to the liberal
Californian. Now the National Journal reports she's back with
the wire service, this time as a news writer for the UPI Broadcast
Service, provider of news copy to radio and television stations around
RNC to ABC. Three years
after ABC News closed its Washington press office, the network has
decided to reopen it. As Manager of News Information, Daphne
Polatty will handle publicity for ABC's Washington produced
shows, including This Week with David Brinkley and the weekend
editions of World News Tonight. Polatty has spent the last six
years at the Republican National Committee, most recently with the
conventions and meetings office.
From Board to Board.
Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under
President Kennedy, decided not to seek another term on the Board of
Directors of CBS Inc. when his term expired in May. Most famous for his
1961 "Vast Wasteland" speech about the state of commercial
television, in May Minow was also elected to the board of the Tribune
Company, owner of The Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV. Minow
continues to serve as Director of the Annenberg Washington Program in
Communications Policy Studies of Northwestern University.
Granite State to Lone Star State.
Thomas Gorey, Washington reporter for the Salt Lake
Tribune since 1981 and for the Union Leader of Manchester
N.H. since 1982, has returned to Capitol Hill. He's now a speechwriter
for Senator Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican. From 1977 to early 1981,
Gorey served as Press Secretary to former Congressman Morgan Murphy
Resume Additions. Tom
Johnson, President of CNN and a former Executive Assistant to President
Lyndon Johnson, has been appointed to the Board of Visitors of the
University of Maryland College of Journalism, Editor & Publisher
reported. The Board meets twice a year to review curriculum, advise the
dean and meet with students....Richard Burt, a national
security reporter for The New York Times during the late 1970s,
ended his State Department career in April. Ambassador to the Federal
Republic of Germany from 1985-89, Burt was serving as Chief Negotiator
for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START).
Poland's people struggled during the '80s
to resist an oppressive communist regime. Its mostly Catholic people
looked for inspiration to Pope John Paul II. Now that the struggle
against communism is largely over, the people and the Church are working
to establish a new society.
In early June, the Pope visited Poland
for the fourth time. Instead of delivering an even-handed account of the
new tensions in Poland, CBS reporter Bert Quint ended his June 1 Evening
News report by suggesting the new society in some respects may be
inferior to the old: "But most of his fellow countrymen do not
share John Paul's concept of morality....many here expect John Paul to
use his authority to support Church efforts to ban abortion, perhaps the
country's principal means of birth control. And this, they say, could
deprive them of a freedom of choice the communists never tried to take
away from them." For his imbalanced accounts, Quint earned the June
Janet Cooke Award.
On the June 3 CBS This Morning,
Quint began: "The Pope today attacked one principle communism
brought to Poland that most of his fellow countrymen want to keep:
separation of church and state." Obviously, many Poles are troubled
with the Church's opposition to separation of church and state. But the
"principle" the communists brought was not separation of
church and state, but suppression of the church by the state. Catholic
priests and believers were imprisoned and killed by the communists, not
granted freedom of worship.
Reached by MediaWatch
at the CBS Warsaw bureau, Quint acknowledged that the communists did not
intend to protect both church and state, as the Western model does.
"Obviously, they were communists. It was meant to protect the
state, not the Church." If he recognized the difference, why didn't
he stress that difference to the viewers?
Quint painted a picture of a Polish
people threatened by Catholic doctrine. On the June 3 CBS Evening
News, he began: "John Paul finally tackled the issue that
obsesses the Polish Church and frightens millions of Poles. He didn't
mention the word, but when the Pope said that the Church should become
more involved in the affairs of state and every child, born or unborn,
is a gift from God, it sounded like a call for the Polish parliament to
declare abortion a crime....They're trying to push through a tough anti-
abortion bill with little regard for economic or emotional
circumstances." Quint concluded: "Already, it's more difficult
to obtain abortions in state hospitals and most people can't afford
private ones...The Polish Pope is determined to lead his people in a
crusade of Catholic morality that, like the battle against communism,
won't stop at Poland's borders."
While Quint interviewed average Poles who
supported his view-point, his three stories included no one who was
inspired by the Pope's visit or who opposed abortion, and perhaps more
importantly, no Poles who shared the Pope's morality but opposed its
imposition by government. When asked why viewers heard only one side of
the story, Quint told MediaWatch "We are
not an opinion-sampling organization. When we went out and interviewed
people at random, [most] made comments like the one we put on the
air." A "random" sampling of the hundreds of thousands
who attended the Pope's rallies could have shown just the opposite.
This isn't the first time Quint compared
post-communist Poland unfavorably to the old regime. On February 24,
1990, Quint reported: "It's the new Polish capitalism, replacing
the old communist system where people couldn't lose their jobs."
Quint found a textile factory employing mostly blind people, deaf-
mutes, and mentally retarded girls, where half the work force had been
laid off by the government, and ended with a twist: "But Poland is
learning what survival of the fittest means and there are those who
begin to wonder if capitalism is really better than what they had."
On April 11 of last year, Quint reported:
"This is Marlboro country, southeastern Poland, a place where the
transition from communism to capitalism is making more people more
miserable every day....No lines at the shops now, but plenty of some of
the first unemployment centers where socialism used to guarantee
everybody a job." Nearly a month later, on May 9, Quint added:
"Communism is being swept away, but so too is the social safety net
it provided...Factories, previously kept alive only by edicts from
Warsaw, are closing their doors, while institutions new to the East,
soup kitchens and unemployment centers, are opening theirs."
Quint, who knew he had received the Media
Research Center's 1990 "Bring Back the Iron Curtain Award" for
his creative reporting, complained he had been wrongly pigeonholed:
"I'm really tired of just hearing that communism sucks. When there
is one aspect where the people were better off before, and I report
that, I'm accused of promoting communism. I'm not here to be a spokesman
for capitalism or communism. If you want my personal opinion, I think
they both suck."
THE SELF-EMPLOYED UNEMPLOYED.
When the unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in April, ABC, NBC, and
CNN treated it as one of many encouraging signs that the recession may
be bottoming out. But on the May 3 CBS Evening News, business
reporter Ray Brady warned that "today's figures may be misleading
and the economy still in trouble."
What's behind the deception?
"Experts say two trends help push the unemployment rate down,"
Brady explained. "Many of the jobless have simply stopped
looking." And -- horror of horrors -- "others go into business
for themselves. That means they're simply dropped off the unemployment
rolls, making the jobless rate look lower."
YOUR MONEY WELL SPENT.
Just a day after Memorial Day, PBS stations aired The '90s, an
hour-long collection of far-left, anti-U.S. foreign policy videos.
Included in the package were two films allegedly showing civilian
casualties in Iraq during the Gulf War: first, the video by freelancer
Jon Alpert that NBC considered too misleading to air, and second, a film
by Andrew Jones, a member of the "Gulf Peace Team" that
traveled through Iraq during the war. Curiously, The '90s also
included footage from a 1979 anti-war protest. In USA Today,
the program's Executive Producer, Tom Weinberg, urged people to
"Check us out -- especially after the patriotic, knee-jerk,
jingoism of the Memorial Day weekend."
LOOK, DON'T LISTEN.
ABC's World News Tonight focused on the working poor in rural
America on its May 30 "American Agenda" segment. "Empty
farm-houses. Deserted schools. Failing businesses. Dying towns,"
reported Rebecca Chase, "It is a common story in rural America
Chase then profiled an Iowa family living
in crowded conditions. "This old farmhouse is home to Penny Sheely,
her three children and five grandchildren," Chase said as the
camera panned Sheely's house in which viewers could see a 25-inch
console television set, a VCR, a coffee maker, a microwave oven and no
less than six rifles on a bedroom gun rack. Nonetheless, Chase insisted
"Penny and her family live on the edge of homelessness."
TODAY'S HOMELESS TOMORROW.
Last year the Census Bureau sent out an unprecedented 15,000 workers to
count the homeless and found a total of 230,000. The news media have
chosen to ignore this figure, however, in search of a more acceptable,
if not accurate, total. NBC Today show co-host Bryant Gumbel
opened a May 20 interview: "More than two million people will be
homeless by the end of this year and a half million of them will be
children." Where did Gumbel get his figure? The National Alliance
to End Homelessness, which arrived at two million by extrapolating a
national guesstimate from homelessness studies done in Chicago and
Washington, DC. Gumbel better get going; he only has six months to find
another 1.7 million homeless.
DENIABLE RIGHTS. The
news media are among the first to scream about anything less than the
most sweeping interpretation of the First Amendment, but the Second
Amendment is a different story. On the May 23 World News Tonight,
reporter Chris Bury reported on the National Rifle Association's
threatened lawsuit against the Chicago Public Housing Authority for
banning gun ownership in its projects. Bury concluded: "And tenants
here wonder why the gun lobby chose such a curious and crime-ridden
target. In a place so mean and so violent that dodging bullets is a part
of growing up, few here can fathom how anyone could consider more guns
an answer to anything." Apparently, the poor don't have a right to
SPOOKING CBS. President
Bush's May 14 selection of Robert Gates to head the CIA was well
received by leaders of both parties, but you'd never know that from
watching CBS reporter Eric Engberg. Instead, he linked Gates to the
Iran-Contra affair through tabloid-style innuendo: "During the time
when William Casey was secretly overseeing the sale of arms to the
Iranians and aid to the Contras, as laws were broken and money flowed,
his loyal number two at the CIA was Robert Gates." Engberg put on
Tom Blanton of the (unlabeled) leftist National Security Archive (NSA)
to proclaim: "The worst case is that Bob Gates participated in a
coverup. The best case is that Bob Gates is a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil,
speak-no-evil bureaucrat who watched all this information come through
his office and looked the other way."
On the next day's CBS This Morning,
Engberg brought on another NSA Contra-basher, former Washington Post
reporter Scott Armstrong, identifying him on screen as an
"Iran-Contra Scholar." The irony is even Iran-Contra
inquisitor Sen. Daniel Inouye supports Gates. As Inouye told
Knight-Ridder: "We investigated the allegations against him very
carefully. I'm convinced he's qualified and he'll do a good job."
NBC DOES ANC'S PR. On
May 18, as violence spread in South Africa, NBC correspondent Robin
Lloyd and anchor Garrick Utley continued to blame only one side, as if
the African National Congress (ANC) bore no responsibility. As Utley
explained in his introduction: "The ANC said [the violence] has got
to stop, that the white government has got to stop it and that there
will be no talks about South Africa's future until it does stop."
Lloyd added: "But violence is not
the only issue. The ANC is also demanding that the government release
thousands of political prisoners. The conviction of Winnie Mandela has
caused tensions to grow. Bomb attacks in central Johannesburg over the
last few days were the latest signs of crumbling hopes for a peaceful
transition to end white rule." One could argue that Winnie's
antics, the release of ANC terrorists and the increase in bomb attacks
since Mandela's release indicate that the ANC might be part of the real
problem. Instead, Lloyd concluded: "Today's announcement means that
trend will continue until the government does more to bring an end to
the brutal violence here."
SUICIDE HOKUM. For AC
correspondent Jerry King, East Germany has become a pretty glum place
since the communists were shown the door. On the May 20 World News
Tonight, King, speaking for an eastern German mechanic, intoned:
"People used to laugh and whistle. Now that's all over. Look around
on the streets, he says. All or most people walk around with their heads
hung low." King informed viewers that East Germans are so dejected
over unification that the suicide rate has risen: "The unification
of Germany brought the loss of jobs for many people, brainwashed into
believing their lives revolved around their work. That's one reason why
some psychologists blame unification for the increase in the number of
But a May 20 Boston Globe
article noted that before unification, the suicide rate in East Germany
was at least twice that of West Germany, according to Boston University
and U.S. National Center for Health Statistics calculations. It seems
the East Germans were already plenty depressed.
OMINOUS FAIRNESS. In the
wake of debate over the "civil rights" bill, the Fair
Employment Coalition aired radio ads decrying the Democrats' quota bill.
But some reporters made the campaign sound ominous. The May 19 Washington
Post headline read "Business Lobby Reemerges as Rights Bill
Opponent: Critics Describe Advertisement Used in Campaign as
Race-Baiting, Potentially Explosive." Reporter Gary Lee emphasized
"the keynote of the campaign is an advertisement that critics say
is race-baiting and potentially explosive."
But what did the ad say? "They're at
it again, trying to pass a bill that would require employers to hire and
promote by quota... Under H.R. 1, Main Street businesses across the
country would have to hire and promote by quotas...Some Congressmen want
to throw skill, ability, and experience out the window. They want to
force businesses to hire by quota or face big-ticket lawsuits." The
ad ends by urging the public to "Tell them you want equal treatment
for everyone, not special preferences for a few." This is explosive
PC PLATFORM. ABC
correspondent Jackie Judd won the February Janet Cooke Award for
portraying anti-war demonstrators as typical Middle Americans while
ignoring the professional protesters of the radical left. On the May 13 Nightline,
in contrast, Judd presented both sides in the passionate debate over
"PC," or political correctness on campuses. Judd paired Yale
Dean Donald Kagan and embattled Berkeley professor Vincent Sarich versus
pro-PC students and Stanford professor Renato Rosaldo, who told Judd:
"You could compare it, not totally facetiously, to an all-male
locker room, and suddenly you bring a group of women into the all-male
locker room. And the men, because the women are there, will say 'Gee,
there are all kinds of things we used to say that we feel pretty
inhibited about saying now.'"
Judd ended by asking: "On the face
of it, who could argue with the proposition to rid education of
prejudices? Still, the question has become at what point does
politically correct thinking change the university from a marketplace of
ideas to a center of intellectual intimidation and censorship?"
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.
Last month MediaWatch noted that though the
Soviet newspaper Izvestia conducted an extensive investigation
disproving Soviet government claims about the Soviet shootdown of
KAL-007, U.S. media outlets were ignoring the story. Since then, some
have picked up on the Izvestia investigation.
CNN devoted a daytime interview segment
to the subject and The New York Times ran a story on page 12 on
May 19. Nightline dedicated the entire May 22 show. Ted Koppel
led off with the admission, "For the first time there is hard
evidence that much if not most of what the Soviet government claimed
eight years ago was a tissue of lies." Reporter Rick Inderfurth
announced: "Now for the first time there is real evidence that the
Soviets did in fact lie about what happened to the Korean airliner...The
Soviets have never said they found the Korean Airlines Boeing 747. They
Covering the same Izvestia piece
on May 26, Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs further
questioned the Soviets' claims: "The Kremlin's failure to make
propaganda use of the black boxes, or even acknowledge that they are in
Soviet hands, suggests that no evidence was found to prove the espionage
allegations." So far, however, no reporter has apologized for
giving credibility to the anti-American spy plane theories for eight
BRAVELY BACKING BRADY.
Before the May 8 vote on the Brady gun control bill, TV reporters seemed
confident that it would help end gun violence. Last August 31 Harry
Smith ranted on CBS This Morning: "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. Constitutional rights. Ask the parents of the
children who were shot this summer about the right to bear arms."
On the CBS Evening News after
the vote, however, correspondent Doug Tunnell reported from Florida,
"Here, very few experts, from criminologists to cops, think a gun
control bill would save many lives or make much difference at all...For
seven years Dade County has required all gun purchasers to wait at least
three days before picking up their new gun. It is intended to stop so-
called crimes of passion, but there have been no conclusive studies at
all whether the cooling off period has worked." Now they tell us.
KURTZ'S COVERUP. The
Washington Times skewered The Washington Post for its May
21 treatment of the new Watergate expose, Silent Coup. The book
presents evidence that Watergate wunderkind Bob Woodward
briefed Alexander Haig when he served in the Navy, and later used him as
a source for his Watergate stories. Times reporters Michael
Hedges and Jerry Seper noted that "the Post story doesn't
mention Mr. Woodward until paragraph 12, although his role was a
prominent part of stories done by the Associated Press, Reuters, and
TV's Good Morning America."
Hedges and Seper reported that Post
media reporter Howard Kurtz "did not quote from transcripts of
tape-recorded interviews the authors released Monday in
which...witnesses [former Joint Chiefs head Thomas Moorer and former
Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim] back the authors' allegations about
Mr. Woodward. Mr. Kurtz now says he wasn't aware of the transcripts when
he wrote his story, even though a Post reporter attended the
news conference at which they were released."
The Times duo also noted that
"Mr. Kurtz's story in the Post quoted no one in support of
the book." Kurtz told the Times: "I personally
interviewed [Nixon historian] Roger Morris, and had several quotes from
him in the story. As it went through the editing process, for space
reasons...they were cut." How ironic. Now who's covering up?
THE TOXIC TRUTH.
Congratulations to ABC for reporting a St. Louis Post-Dispatch
story on how the famous dioxin scare and evacuation of Times Beach,
Missouri, may have been unnecessary. Ever since the Environmental
Protection Agency ordered the community evacuated in 1983, environmental
reporters have referred to the incident when urging tougher regulations
and additional EPA spending. The Post-Dispatch and ABC's May 23
World News Tonight story quoted Dr. Vernon Houk, a senior
official with the Centers for Disease Control, who said that based on
his current knowledge of the dangers of dioxin, he never would have
recommended that Times Beach be evacuated. The other networks have yet
to retract their previous reporting on Times Beach and dioxin.
BOOSTING THE REGULATORS.
Then again, ABC reporter Bill Greenwood worried that the budgets of EPA
and other regulatory agencies aren't big enough. On the May 15 World
News Tonight Peter Jennings began: "Since Ronald Reagan became
President, the agencies that are supposed to protect the public from a
whole range of hazards have had their budgets take a beating."
After bemoaning small, slow funding
declines for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the
Federal Trade Commission, Greenwood warned: "The problem is
critical even at the Environmental Protection Agency, which Americans
depend on for clean air and safe water. During the past decade, the EPA
staff has grown by 11 percent, but its work load has more than
doubled." But as the people of Times Beach learned, burgeoning
bureaucracy does not always translate into better protection of the
HUGH DOWNS SDI. Tom
Dearmore, former editorial director at the San Francisco Examiner,
recently sent MediaWatch an amazing March 18
ABC Radio commentary by Hugh Downs. The ten-minute harangue included
sophisticated budget analysis like "The Reagan-Bush years took
America from the heights of a rich creditor nation down to a pit of the
world's worst debtor nation. The reason was weapons purchases. No other
expense came close." In fact, defense spending accounted for only
28 percent of the budget, and weapons purchases were only a fraction of
Downs specifically attacked the Strategic
Defense Initiative. "In 1984 Ronald Reagan touted Star Wars as if
it was easily and quickly obtained," Downs announced. "All SDI
needed was hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars." John
Cunningham of High Frontier told MediaWatch
that in the last eight years SDI has cost only $21 billion.
"But Star Wars gets worse,"
Downs charged, "Once an aggressor seizes space for military
purposes, then space could be filled with more Star Wars weapons. Any
laser battle station proficient enough to destroy missiles on the
ground, would also be able to incinerate whole cities. This kind of
destruction has not been seen since Dresden, Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Star Wars could make such holocausts simple and easy, even casual."
The man who signs off 20/20 with "We're in touch, so you
be in touch" has lost touch with reality.
More Statistical Spin
TIMES DEFENDS THE
DEMOCRATS. Last year, reporters forwarded the Democrats' claims
that Reaganomics made the rich richer and the poor poorer, and cited
statistics from the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Last month, when Congressman Dick Armey (R-TX) circulated a report
discrediting those statistics, his report was covered in only one major
Armey's report showed that CBO has
overstated the income of the rich by failing to index capital gains
income for inflation or include net capital losses over $3,000. In fact,
CBO hugely overestimated capital gains income in 1989 by $75 billion.
Armey asked that the Green Book, an annual economic report by the House
Ways and Means Committee, be amended to alert policy makers to CBO's
But New York Times reporter
Jason DeParle, who came to the Times from the neoliberal Washington
Monthly, spent a May 26 "Week in Review" story
trivializing Armey's findings: "Among the Congressman's complaints
is that Table 19 on page 1,306 should at the very least have included an
asterisk." The Times underlined its attack on Armey with
the headline "Richer Rich, Poorer Poor, And a Fatter Green
Book." The Census Bureau shatters that cliche: since 1983, the poor
have also gotten richer.
DeParle reassured readers that "Mr.
Armey's attack on the Green Book's intellectual integrity has not
attracted a large following." In support, DeParle quoted Marvin
Kosters of the American Enterprise Institute. That's interesting:
Kosters told MediaWatch he had not seen the
Armey report, but said "Armey's arguments are correct."
DeParle ended by quoting another conservative, Lawrence Mead of New York
University. Mead told DeParle: "I'm not saying the numbers [in the
Green Book] are wrong. It's a very important source." But Mead told
MediaWatch he hadn't seen the Armey report,
and when asked about CBO's treatment of capital gains, he said "I
don't know about that."
CITIES' SLICKER SPENDERS.
With many of the nation's cities, especially those run by liberal
Democrats, in severe economic distress, who do reporters blame? Ronald
Reagan, of course. CNN got the ball rolling in a May 12 World News
segment. "Many U.S. cities have the budget blues these days,"
anchor Brian Christie began, "and while they have their hand out to
Washington, Uncle Sam apparently has his back turned."
Reporter Pam Olsen's story only included
comments from five Democratic officials, including New York Mayor David
Dinkins, who complained that the federal share of New York's budget had
dropped from 20 percent in 1980 to ten percent now. "Ever since the
Reagan Administration cities have been getting fewer and fewer federal
dollars," Olsen asserted. But CNN's May 29 Crossfire
revealed that big city budgets have increased 96 percent since 1980,
nearly twice the inflation rate. In a Cato Institute study, Stephen
Moore noted that federal aid to states and cities jumped seven percent
in 1990 and nine percent in 1991.
But on the May 29 Today, NBC's
Katherine Couric returned to the usual suspect: "Cuts in urban aid
began in the Reagan Administration. How much should former President
Reagan shoulder the blame?"
COVERING CRIME AND
When President Bush announced his crime
bill in early May, stories on ABC and NBC emphasized criticism for its
focus on punishment, not treatment. To determine whether this was an
isolated incident or part of a pattern, MediaWatch
analysts examined a year of ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage of
crime. Analysts found that stories which portrayed treatment as the best
solution to America's crime problem outnumbered pro- punishment stories
by a ratio of almost four to one.
Between June 1, 1990 and May 31, 1991,
analysts found that NBC Nightly News carried 243 crime stories,
followed by the CBS Evening News with 196 and ABC's World
News Tonight with 163. Analysts isolated those stories which dealt
with the punishment/ treatment policy debate and found the networks
devoted between nine and 13 percent of all crime coverage to this
debate. With 21 stories, ABC dedicated the greatest percentage of
coverage, CBS' 19 stories came in second and NBC came in third with 22
out of 243 stories. These pieces were classified as either pro-treatment
or pro-punishment if two-thirds or more of the sources and statements by
the reporter advocated one position of the two positions. The remaining
stories were classified as balanced.
Overall, of the 62 policy stories
studied, almost half (30) favored treatment, 24 were balanced and eight
favored punishment. At 63.8 percent, NBC was the most pro-treatment,
followed by ABC at 42.9 percent. Although just 36.8 percent of CBS
reports argued for treatment, that's twice the number that favored
The networks made little effort to
conceal their slant. Anchor Tom Brokaw, for instance, introduced a
November 15, 1990 story by Lisa Myers by declaring: "About half the
criminals sent to America's prisons have drug problems. Treating them
behind bars could be about the best way to reduce drug-related crime,
but the system is only now beginning to deal with their
addictions." Myers added that "Studies indicate that once
released [addicts] are even more dangerous than the typical
ex-con....Perhaps not a magic pill, but consider the alternative."
A presumably addicted criminal then asked "Have you any idea how
much I cost the general public in one year?" Myers threatened:
"And he will get out."
Reporter Ed Rabel lashed out at Bush's
crime bill during an April 11, 1991 story. "A drug bust in south
Florida. Police action to arrest and jail drug users: a violent
hammering method emphasized by the Bush Administration in its war on
drugs. Officials here denounced the tactics as absolutely
unworkable," Rabel charged. "While Washington spends billions
to fight drugs like it fights a war, officials here must scrounge,
begging money from traffic fines and the defendants themselves."
On May 5, NBC News reporter Bill
Lagattuta dismissed get-tough efforts: "President Bush, in his new
crime bill, is proposing to spend a billion and a half dollars to build
new federal prisons. It may not make the streets safer, but it's the
kind of get- tough, lock-em-up philosophy many crime-weary Americans
want to hear....No one disagrees that violent, repeat criminals should
be locked away, but what's driving the increase in the prison population
today are mandatory sentences for drug offenders. Another mistake,
ABC offered similar arguments. On
September 5, 1990, correspondent Beth Nissen opined: "Most of the
ten billion dollars the administration wants to spend on the drug war in
1991 will still go to enforcement. That will mean more arrests, maybe
more deterrence, but not much more relief for the walking wounded."
An April 23, 1991 report by Mark Potter
on Bush's crime bill sounded like an old broken record: "Officials
and residents say a crime bill that stresses punishment over prevention
and ignores the underlying causes of crime does not go far enough and is
doomed to fail...What has to give, critics and residents say, is the
government's failure to address the poverty, unemployment and
hopelessness that cause crime." Potter's critics "also believe
punishment has little deterrent effect, especially in the crime-ridden
inner cities....Dancing around the edges of a problem that even police
say cannot be punished away."
It turns out crime coverage is no
different than most political issues: many reporters and anchors take it
upon themselves to arrive at a solution and attack programs that don't
reflect their own philosophy.
As Incarceration Rises,
PANNING THE PRISONS
NBC's John Chancellor used his May 15 Nightly
News commentary to ridicule the idea of punishing crime. Chancellor
queried: "Has any of this worked? The police and the prosecutors
certainly have been filling up the prisons but violent crime is
increasing. The rate of murder, robbery, rape and aggravated assault
went up a full 10 percent last year. The overall crime rate has dropped
only slightly, but not the crimes that kill and maim. Maybe we ought to
think this out again. Doubling the number of people in prison hasn't
made us any safer; maybe it's time to think about what causes criminals
and what puts criminals on the streets. Time to do something about that.
More police, prosecutors and prisons sounds reassuring, but it clearly
The only problem is it's not true.
Columnist Warren Brookes reported a Justice Department study found
"While the violent crime victimization rate has fallen only
slightly, the long upward trend in victimization of the 1960s and early
1970s has been stopped and reversed." Brookes quoted Justice
statistician Patrick Langan: "What is clear is that, since 1973,
per-capita prison incarceration rates have risen to their highest levels
ever, while crime rates measured by the National Crime Survey have
gradually fallen to their lowest level ever."
Two Views on Brutality
At ABC, police brutality isn't always
police brutality. Consider two cases in California. When Los Angeles
police beat Rodney King, ABC had devoted 23 stories to the case by the
end of May and the incident was portrayed as part of a national problem.
Reporter Mark Potter declared on the
March 20 World News Tonight: "Analysts say some officers
may be more frustrated now because they face criminals that are better
armed and more violent... Civil liberties activists blame some police
chiefs and recent court rulings for giving officers too much
But the coverage was far different on
April 16, 1990, when Peter Jennings introduced a story on nunchuks,
"a new weapon in the police arsenal which is extremely
effective." Reporter Brian Rooney explained that "It creates
leverage officers just can't get with their hands....It hurts a lot,
which is partly why it's so effective" and showed video of a
pro-life protest to make his point.
As ABC showed activists, including women
and priests, enduring the pain caused by the nunchuks, Rooney calmly
narrated: "The nunchuks are supposed to cause pain without
permanent damage, although some of the San Diego demonstrators say they
hurt too much...But that's the idea." Perhaps the pro-lifers'
political incorrectness prevented the media solidarity that comes with
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