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From the June 1991 MediaWatch

Reporters Mourn End of Subsidies for Abortion Counseling

Page One


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 limitations."

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 no."


Revolving Door

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 the country.

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 (D-Illinois).

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).


Janet Cooke Award


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 today."

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 protect themselves.

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 suicides here."

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 race-baiting?

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 did."

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 long years.

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 public.

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 that.

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.


Page Five

More Statistical Spin Control

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 newspaper story.

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 flawed methods.

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?"




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 punishment.

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, critics say..."

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.


Page Seven

As Incarceration Rises, Crime Falls


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 hasn't worked."

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."


Page SevenB

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 leeway."

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 victim status.


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