Networks Ignore Treaty Violations & Fawn Over Gorbachev
FALLING OFF THE SUMMIT
The media's admiration for Mikhail
Gorbachev overrode a serious look at arms control issues during the late
July Moscow Summit. Amid the toasts to Gorbachev, the ongoing record of
Soviet treaty violations was ignored.
Last year, the Soviets moved thousands of
weapons east of the Ural Mountains so they wouldn't be counted in the
Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. After the INF treaty was signed,
the Soviets were still passing banned intermediate-range missiles to
their Warsaw Pact allies. But neither of these violations came up in
broadcast network stories on the START treaty.
Only CNN interviewed any START critics,
such as Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. But on July 29,
CNN "Special Assignment" reporter Mark Feldstein explained:
"Gorbachev realized that his country couldn't afford to carry this
huge military burden indefinitely. So he radically redefined the
military's mission. His strategy: less guns, more butter. He changed the
Soviet military posture from offensive to defensive." But the
Heritage Foundation reported that the Soviets are still annually making
3,400 tanks (four times U.S. production) and 20,000 artillery pieces
(ten times U.S. production).
The networks also pushed for aid to
Gorbachev. Before the summit, on the July 16 CBS Evening News,
Dan Rather dramatically asked: "Is it time to lend a hand or turn
our backs?" Rather added the decision will "tell us a lot
about ourselves." On cue, CBS News consultant Stephen Cohen chimed
in: "Now that that moment has come, if we close our arms, if we
push them away, it tells us something terribly profound about ourselves.
It's something rather sad and historians will judge us terribly harsh if
we're indifferent or unable to do now what should be done." As
Cohen speechified, CBS ran close-ups of sad Russian peasants.
ABC just coasted along with Gorbachev's
PR apparatus. On Nightline July 29, Peter Jennings recounted:
"Suddenly, from about half the way across the square, I heard this
'Peter, Peter, come, I want you to meet some people'...it was clear to
me that in touching these people...it was clear that he wanted us to see
that here were people who on a one-to-one basis really felt positively
Just how much these images had been
manipulated became clear at the end of the July 31 Evening News,
when Rather found out how the peasants really felt: "We came to
this village called Spinoria, 40 kilometers outside Moscow, to measure
as best we could the impact that Gorbachev has had on the lives of these
Russian peasants....No one we talked to had anything positive to say
about Gorbachev. They hold him responsible for their struggle."
Allen and Alar.
The Powell Adams & Rinehart public relations firm has a new Senior
Associate: Paul J. Allen, a veteran of the media and
politics. Allen joined National Public Radio (NPR) in 1979 as an
Associate Producer for Morning Edition and All Things
Considered. In 1982 NPR promoted Allen to Foreign Editor, a post he
held until jumping to politics in 1985 as Press Secretary to liberal
Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat. After a two year stint with
Dodd, Allen moved to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) where
he served as Director of Communications until this summer. At the NRDC
he coordinated publicity for the left-wing environmental group's
misleading campaign against the Alar pesticide.
Schmoozing for Schaefer.
After a year as National Desk Manager for the Fox News Service, provider
of video and news stories to Fox affiliates, Frank Traynor
has signed on with Maryland Governor Donald Schaefer as the Democrat's
Press Secretary. Traynor's a veteran of local news operations, serving
as Executive Producer for CBS affiliate WBAL-TV in Baltimore when tapped
by Fox. Previously, he was Producer of WTTG-TV's 10 O'Clock News
in Washington D.C., a position he assumed in 1985 after leaving NBC
affiliate KYW-TV in Philadelphia where he had been Executive News
Producer. Earlier career stops included the ABC affiliates in Houston
and San Antonio.
New Time Chief.
Laurence Barrett, Time's Washington Bureau Chief, has returned
to his former position, National Political Correspondent. Replacing
Barrett is Senior Writer Margaret Carlson, Special
Assistant to the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
during the Carter Administration. Carlson joined Time's
Washington bureau in 1988.
Carlson is not the only Time
staffer who once worked for a Democratic politician. Senior Writer
Walter Shapiro was Press Secretary to Carter Administration Labor
Secretary Ray Marshall and later wrote speeches for President Carter.
Kenneth Banta, now a London bureau reporter, left the magazine in 1984
to spend several months as an issues adviser for Democratic presidential
candidate Gary Hart.
The stinging electoral rejection of
liberal politicians like Michael Dukakis and Harvey Gantt is still
smoldering in the breasts of liberals and reporters alike. Three years
after the Dukakis loss and one year after Gantt's downfall, some
reporters are still replaying the campaign commercials and insisting
that the Democrats lost, not because their ideas were unpopular, but
because the Republicans used negative ads that exploited racial fears.
Boston Globe congressional
reporter Michael K. Frisby exemplified the passion behind liberal
resentment in his July 14 Boston Globe Magazine cover story.
For his one-sided treatment of Republican campaign controversies and his
refusal to offer a conservative opinion on them, Frisby earned the
August Janet Cooke Award.
From the story's title, "The New
Black Politics," readers might have assumed Frisby would deal with
the broadening spectrum of black opinion and black officialdom,
especially in the wake of Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme
Court. But Frisby's story dealt more with how liberal candidates have
been cheated out of office by Republican race-baiting.
Frisby began by describing how Gantt,
"a tall, eloquent black man, basked in the cheers of black and
white students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte that
day, proving that Southerners could indeed look past the color of his
skin to support a candidate who espoused their interests." But
"Republicans, say analysts, have found the Achilles' heel for black
candidates they want to defeat: Deploy race as a weapon. Gantt was a
victim last year, when his campaign nose-dived as Helms put an important
issue, such as jobs, in black and white terms."
Then Frisby mourned: "The more often
that working-class blacks and whites are pitted against each other, the
harder it becomes for Democrats to patch the two sides together in a
winning coalition. And the tactic takes a heavy toll on the victims.
Susan Jetton, a former Gantt aide, watches the Helms ad on her VCR from
time to time. It still brings tears to her eyes." When asked by MediaWatch
about this maudlin imagery, Frisby laughed: "That's good emotion. I
thought that was well put."
In the midst of this crusade against
slimy Republican campaigning, Frisby also had the chutzpah to quote
Donna Brazile: "First it was Reagan talking about welfare mothers
buying drugs with food stamps, then it was Horton, and now we have
quotas -- the same thing, just different tactics."
But Frisby didn't tell readers that
Brazile was the infamous Dukakis campaign aide who got fired after she
suggested reporters follow up on rumors that George Bush had been
sleeping around. Asked why he didn't feel the need to tell his readers
about Brazile's role in the 1988 campaign, Frisby told MediaWatch:
"Donna does bring an interesting point of view to it, which is
probably why I used her. In retro, should I have pointed out that she
got thrown out? I don't know, maybe. If I'd had the space. I didn't
think it was that big a deal." This article went on for nine pages.
Frisby added: "If we were talking
about someone who was buried, who was ostracized from the political
strategist community for what she had done, it might be one thing. But
we're dealing with a situation where I think most people think the
Dukakis people were wrong to fire her. I don't think there's any doubt
that she's one of the leading black political strategists in this
country." Note the lack of outrage over Brazile's campaign tactics.
Her firing was a one-day story, but Willie Horton remains.
Introducing the Horton issue, Frisby
reported: "The [Republican] party seems intent on driving a wedge
between working-class blacks and whites by deploying race-baiting
tactics. It turned William Horton, a black man who raped a white woman
while he was on prison furlough, into a symbol of the Democratic Party's
flaws in the 1988 campaign."
Frisby didn't address the media
misperception that the Bush campaign aired ads featuring Willie Horton's
name or face, which they did not. But he did allow his sources to charge
Reagan and Bush with racism without allowing anyone to respond. Frisby
quoted Roger Wilkins of the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (IPS):
"Reagan was just an ignorant, old guy with old-time bigotry, and he
didn't even know how racist he was. Bush has no excuse....He still comes
across as an unprincipled bigot....if he wanted all that Willie Horton
stuff to stop, it would have stopped." Frisby agreed with Wilkins
about Bush: "I think that's true. I think that the nominee does
have enough pull with the independent organizations that if he wants
something to happen, it happens, and if he doesn't want something to
happen, it doesn't."
Historical analysis wasn't Frisby's
strong point, either. After quoting former Black Panther Bobby Rush on
the need for black financial power, Frisby found a solution in
redistribution: "Many historians agree. The United States, they
note, was run by aristocrats until Andrew Jackson, considered to be a
representative of the poor, became President in 1829, but Jackson was
unable to transfer much wealth to his constituents."
In his entire article, Frisby used three
quotes from conservatives: two from Republican National Committee
Political Director Norm Cummings, and one from J.C. Watts, the first
black Republican to be elected statewide in Oklahoma. On the other hand,
Frisby relied on liberals for 20 quotes, including six from IPS Senior
Fellow Roger Wilkins. When asked by MediaWatch
about his slighting of black conservative opinion, Frisby joked:
"We'll do that story next time." Then he explained: "The
article itself was about black politics, and I think that the number of
blacks who think that way is a very, very minute number. Therefore,
that's why it's not expanded upon."
Frisby suggested he was simply practicing
journalism by quota: "I think the black conservatives in my story
are quoted proportionately to their numbers in the black
community." Frisby's lucky the Globe didn't use that kind
of reasoning, or they would have scrapped the article, since blacks are
less than 12 percent of the American population.
Frisby found it easy to charge
Republicans with exploitative politics, but he failed to discuss why
issues like the Dukakis furlough program or the recent quota bills
resonate with voters. Is it only the manipulation of irrational fears?
Frisby's reporting is too much like the political ads he condemns: it's
quick, it's nasty, and it doesn't explore the issues. Black
conservatives could have provided liberals with tough questions, like
how politicians claiming to represent working-class blacks can release
violent criminals like Horton that judges allowed no parole. They might
have challenged the traditional "civil rights" leadership and
suggested they were out of touch with blacks on the issue of racial
preferences. But Frisby's method of reporting says: sorry, minorities
On the Today show August 1, Larry Wideman of KPRC-TV in Houston
reported on the rapid increase in murders during robberies in Texas.
Wideman gave an example of what a small businessman once did to solve
the problem: "More than twenty years ago a chain of dry cleaners
used a shotgun squad to deter robbers. It worked. They went 18 months
without a holdup. The private investigator who ran the squad says it's
time to do it again."
But when the segment ended, Bryant Gumbel
began editorializing about gun control. "You gotta make it tougher
to get a gun. It's plain and simple. How about they look at the
numbers," Gumbel complained. Well, the numbers, according to
Handgun Control Inc., a pro-gun control lobby, indicate that more than
80 percent of guns used in crimes are not purchased over the counter
legally. Gumbel didn't explain how small businesses, like the Houston
dry cleaner chain, would be protected if guns were made harder to
NAKED LIBERALISM. ABC's
Diane Sawyer has revealed her immodestly liberal side. Sawyer used the Vanity
Fair cover featuring pregnant actress Demi Moore posing nude to
focus on women's issues on the July 18 Prime Time Live.
"Not bad, when you think it's been about, oh, fifteen thousand
years since a pregnant body was last an object of public veneration.
This is the cave version of Demi Moore," Sawyer explained as
viewers saw a wall carving. "No face, of course, just a sacred baby
container. But when the Jews and Christians came along they saw it
differently. Women were temptation. The only pregnancy you could
celebrate was the one that didn't need sex."
Time's socialist essayist
Barbara Ehrenreich and Boston University sociologist Dorothy Wertz
joined in. Wertz noted: "The only thing that might shock people
more than this cover is a picture of a pregnant woman flying a fighter
jet. Now that's going to be the shock ten or twenty years from
now." Sawyer concluded: "Or how about another break-through, a
real one, like better maternity benefits for women who work?"
KISS ME, KESSLER.
Despite Time's August 12 cover story decrying "busybodies
and cry-babies," a few issues earlier the magazine's
government-lovers couldn't contain their excitement over David Kessler,
the new chief busybody at the Food and Drug Administration. Kessler
impressed the pro-regulation crowd with his daring seizure of crates of
Citrus Hill orange juice that were unfairly labeled "fresh."
Horrors! Time reporter Dick Thompson anointed him "almost
certainly the most capable person ever put in charge of the Food and
Time's July 15 cover story
cooed: "Throughout the past decade, federal food watchdogs napped
to the sounds of this cacophony of false claims," but now "the
sleeping sentry has been awakened." Yes, "suddenly, the gospel
of deregulation lost its allure, and the idea of uniform national
standards came to be regarded as a form of salvation."
"Kessler is waging a crusade for the
1990s: it involves no new money." Of course, "The relabeling
effort may cost food manufacturers $600 million during the next two
decades." But who's counting what the government can force
businesses to shell out for mandates? Then again, if Time were
really interested in truth in labeling, why would it call itself
"the weekly news magazine"?
THE GREENSTEIN EFFECT.
Add the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and its chief,
Robert Greenstein, to the list of liberal media darlings. "The
income gap between rich and poor widened in the 1980s," began Washington
Post reporter Spencer Rich in a July 24 news story on the latest
study by the CBPP. Rich had a funny idea of "the '80s,"
reporting in the next paragraph that the CBPP measured the years
As usual, Rich waited until the
second-to-last paragraph to let Heritage Foundation analyst Robert
Rector quickly point out that the study's source, the Congressional
Budget Office (CBO) doesn't include $130 billion in non-cash government
benefits in its calculations. But Rich completely ignored another case
against CBO: that its measure of wealth does not index capital gains for
inflation and that it only counts capital losses up to $3,000. This
means the rich look richer and the poor look poorer than they really
USA Today reporter Andrea Stone
also jumped on the liberal publicity bandwagon with a July 9 cover
story: "Government programs for the poor are in critical
condition...the USA's new and chronically poor are getting less help
from a retreating federal government and states financially crippled by
the rising costs of providing assistance." Conservative analysts
could have pointed out that "retreating federal government"
spends more on welfare programs every year. But Stone used no sources
except bureaucrats and Greenstein, whom she quoted four times.
Everyone remembers all the media wailing and hand-wringing over the
"Reagan deficits" and how they were going to bring the country
to the brink of financial ruin. But when Bush budget director Richard
Darman told Congress on July 15 that the administration's estimate of
the fiscal 1992 deficit would soar to a new high of $348 billion, the
network evening news shows were absolutely silent.
Economics columnist Warren Brookes
pointed out that in January 1990, Darman forecast that the total deficit
from fiscal 1991 to 1995 would be $62.3 billion. This July, the same
figure has exploded to $1,081.9 billion. Brookes quoted New York
Times reporter David Rosenbaum: "The economists and political
scientists who filled the nation's op-ed pages last year with doomsday
columns about the deficit have turned their attention elsewhere."
Brookes added: "Mainly to new spending."
ARNETT SELLS OUT AMERICA.
Well, he finally said it. On CNN's August 2 Crossfire, Peter
Arnett admitted he considers his job as a reporter more important than
the safety of U.S. troops in the field.
Host Pat Buchanan tossed Arnett an easy
question: If Arnett had learned vital information that could cost many
American soldiers their lives, would he have relayed that information to
American authorities? Arnett's blithe response: "No, I wouldn't
have done that. I'm not a spy." An incredulous Buchanan asked
again, "If there was information that could have saved scores,
hundreds of American lives, you wouldn't have transmitted that
information?" For a second time, Arnett shrugged, "I wouldn't
have transmitted that information. I was in Baghdad because I was a
correspondent for CNN, which has no political affiliations with the U.S.
government, thank goodness."
Buchanan offered Arnett yet another
chance to extricate himself: "Your allegiance to CNN comes before
your allegiance to the United States?" But Arnett remained adamant:
"In terms of journalistic matters, yes."
CENSUS TAKERS AND FAKERS.
It took little time for the media to pounce on Commerce Secretary Robert
Mosbacher for his July 15 decision not to revise the 1990 census. In a
July 16 USA Today article, Haya El Nasser wrote that "all
over Monday, big city officials were figuring the cost of Commerce
Secretary Robert Mosbacher's decision not to adjust the 1990
Census." Nasser then quoted five critics of the decision, but no
Similarly, in a July 21 CBS Evening
News segment Edie Magnus reported that "[blacks] claim the
Census undercounted minorities, thereby crippling funding for inner city
programs." Reporter Juan Vasquez did an entire story quoting
liberals at the National Urban League convention, but had no time for
supporters of the decision, who argued that computerized adjustments
could worsen the inaccuracy of the census.
On the July 15 CBS Evening News,
Wyatt Andrews noted, "big city mayors say Mosbacher is simply
playing small town Republican politics." Like the rest of his
colleagues, Andrews failed to explain that the proposed adjustment would
have shifted at least two congressional seats fro more Democratic states
such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to more Republican states such as
Arizona and California.
MADRICK'S MAGICAL MATH.
In a July 14 Nightly News segment NBC News reporter Jeff
Madrick and anchor Garrick Utley waxed romanticl over affirmative action
programs. Utley asked Madrick: "We see how affirmative action can
work when a company like Xerox wants to make it work, but there's also
another way this is coming, through the force of demo-graphics, the
changing composition of the work force, isn't it?" Madrick
answered: "No company will have any choice after a while. Already a
minority of workers, 47 percent, are white males. Over the next decade
only 15 percent of the work force will be white males."
Wrong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics'
Employment Projections Division projects that white males will make up
39 percent of the work force by 2000, more than double Madrick's number.
Also, according to a study by Lawrence
Mishel and Ruy Teixeira of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, 66.8
percent of those entering the work force in this decade will be white
men and women. As Mickey Kaus of The New Republic suggested,
"the work force will become a bit less white. But its majority
won't become a minority anytime soon, if ever."
LES COVERAGE. Last
month, MediaWatch pointed out how The
Washington Post had run 27 stories on the junkets of John Sununu
and none on House Armed Services chairman Les Aspin (D-WI), even though
both had a pattern of using military planes for routine business.
The Post finally ran a
front-page story on Aspin's travels July 24 by reporter Charles R.
Babcock, waiting until the story jumped to page A14 before admitting
Aspin's travels were "similar to the travel habits of another
powerful Washington figure -- White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu."
But unlike the Sununu story, the Post did one obligatory story
and let the matter drop.
That's one story better than the rest of
the media, which lapped up every detail of the Sununu controversy, but
didn't pick up the Post's Aspin revelations. The network
evening newscasts did nothing (although ABC's Good Morning America
did mention it that morning). Neither did the three news magazines, nor
did The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Next time the scandal machine gets rolling, we can only hope they'll
avoid yet another double standard.
LOADED QUESTIONS. Time
magazine provides a special newsletter as a bonus for subscribers.
"Time Plus" features a Readers' Advisory Panel which
polls readers on public policy issues. When it comes to the environment,
however, Time can't keep its opinions out of its questions any
more than it can out of its articles. One question asked, "1990 was
the warmest year in recorded history, and the seven warmest years since
1880 have all occurred in the past 11 years. However, scientists warn
that this may be merely an atmospheric glitch. How seriously should we
worry about global warming?"
Although some climatologists are
extremely skeptical about global warming and some would even question Time's
temperature claims, readers were never given the option of saying so in Time's
responses: (A) "We should be seriously concerned", (B)
"We should be seriously concerned, but it's not an urgent
priority" and (C) "We have many more pressing environmental
problems." Option (A) won easily with 53 percent, which is not too
surprising given Time has pushed that argument for years while
lobbying for "solutions" such as a dollar-a-gallon tax on
READING LOWELL'S LIPS.
Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker has vetoed three state budgets this
summer because they did not contain a state income tax. The desire for a
new tax earned Weicker the title of idealist from New York Times
reporter Kirk Johnson. In a July 3 story, Johnson lionized Weicker as a
politician who "has emerged as a bare-knuckled idealist willing to
use all the maneuvers of traditional politics to achieve the individual
idiosyncratic goals of a maverick."
Of course, the media's definition of
"idealism" often means a willingness to break campaign pledges
about taxes. The Waterbury Republican-American recalled that
Weicker promised last year not to push for an income tax: "During
his campaign, Weicker compared implementing an income tax on the
Connecticut economy to 'pouring gasoline on a fire.' He ruled out such a
move in the first year of his administration."
GARTNER'S LIBERAL PRIORITIES.
While most of the world celebrated the Allied victory of the Gulf War,
NBC News President Michael Gartner, one of those supposed corporate
conservatives running the networks, mourned the waste of tax dollars on
weapons in a July 9 USA Today editorial. In berating the world
for spending so much money on the military, Gartner used as his
authoritative source the annual liberal peacenik manual World
Military and Social Expenditures, compiled by Ruth Leger Sivard.
Gartner concluded: "So as you've
celebrated yet another Independence Day, as you've toasted the great
victory in Iraq one more time, as you've marveled at the success of the
$4.4 million tanks (88 times costlier than their World War II
counterparts) and the $28 million bombers and the $106 million Stealth
fighters, you might also think for a moment about how some -- just some
-- of the $880 billion the world put out for the military last year
might have otherwise been spent. On things like health. And the
environment. And education."
ANC OUTNUMBERED. When it
comes to South Africa, even the most basic facts can get buried under
politically correct pro-African National Congress publicity. CNN's Ralph
Begleiter offered a good example during a July 5 report on the ANC's
selection of Nelson Mandela as its new President: "Nelson Mandela,
South Africa's best known anti-apartheid activist, is now President of
the largest anti-apartheid group in te country." Two days later,
ABC anchor Forrest Sawyer reported: "The rapid pace of change in
South Africa is forcing that country's largest black political
organization to soften its approach to racial reform."
But ANC membership levels are
dramatically lower than Chief Buthelezi's anti-apartheid Inkatha Freedom
Party, according to David Ridenour of the National Center for Public
Policy Research. Ridenour notes that while Inkatha's multi-racial
membership now numbers 1.5 to 2 million, even the ANC claims only
CASTRO'S COMRADE. The
three networks gave plenty of air time to reports on the de Klerk
government's assistance to Chief Buthelezi's anti-apartheid Inkatha
Freedom Party, but none of them reported on ANC President Nelson
Mandela's visit to an old ally and source of support for the ANC: Cuba.
The print media did better: the July 28 Los Angeles Times ran a
picture of Mandela and Castro arm in arm on page 1 followed by a lengthy
article a few pages later. According to the Times, Mandela
praised the Cuban revolution as "a source of inspiration to all
freedom- loving people." Winnie Mandela agreed, proclaiming,
"Cuba is our second home." Mandela "thanked Castro's
government for supplying arms to the ANC in the early 1960s and said the
writings of Che Guevara, the guerrilla hero of the Cuban revolution, had
inspired him during his 27-year imprisonment."
The Washington Post also
reported the visit, but reporter Lee Hockstadter remarked: "For the
64-year-old Castro, isolated internationally and under fire for his
refusal to liberalize Cuba's one-party communist system or allow public
dissent, the embrace of the Cuban leader by a leader of Mandela's moral
authority seemed a defense against Castro's critics."
PAN AMATEURS. Here's one
reason why ABC Sports commentators should stay in the locker room and
out of politics: the ABC Sports July 27 special, Fidel Castro, One
on One. The special aimed to acquaint viewers with Cuba, the site
of the 12th annual Pan Am Games broadcast by ABC, but resulted in
rehashing the tired left-wing canards about Cuba that have been sloshing
around for 32 years.
Brent Musburger gave Cuban communism a
hurrah, noting: "There are many Cubans who find their lives much
better here than before the Revolution. Medical care is free. Education
is also state-funded. Cuba's 97 percent literacy rate is among the
highest in the world."
In an interview with El Jefe himself, Jim
McKay simply flattered Fidel: "You have brought a new system of
government, obviously, to Cuba but the Cuban people do, I think, think
of you as their father. One day you're going to retire. Or one day, all
of us die. Won't there be a great vacuum there, won't there be something
that will be difficult to fill? Can they do it on their own?"
Boston Globe Recycles
Article From The Nation
TAKING CLARENCE TO THE CLEANERS
In the absence of any other scandal
involving Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, The Boston Globe
based two stories in mid-July on an article by David Corn in the
far-left magazine The Nation. On July 19, Globe reporter
Mark Muro completely recycled the charges from The Nation in an
attempt to paint Thomas as an extremist for his advisory board position
for the Lincoln Review.
Despite Thomas' own contributions to the
journal, including an article praising his Catholic school teachers,
reporter Mark Muro described the Review as publishing
"eyebrow-raising polemics" that are "often well to the
right of the conservative mainstream, and sometimes unabashedly
extremist." Some of these included espousing self-help for blacks,
replacement of the Martin Luther King holiday with a commemorative coin,
and free enterprise, not minimum wage laws, as the solution to poverty.
In other words, views which only the liberal left sees as extremist.
Muro condescendingly dismissed Review
Editor J.A. Parker as "a Washington PR man who holds only a high
school diploma." True to the liberal leanings of the Globe,
the Lincoln Review was "an ultraconservative black
quarterly" espousing "hard-line Reaganism" and M.E.
Bradford was "a 'hard-core' conservative" who was Senior
Editor of the "right-wing journal Modern Age." But The
Nation, quoted three times by Muro, went unlabeled, as if it were
some kind of unbiased news source.
CRITICS LOVE TONGUES
When PBS created the P.O.V.
(Point of View) series, the aim was to give independent producers an
opportunity to get their work on PBS. In addition to funding from PBS
($300,000) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($215,000), the
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provided $250,000 of the P.O.V.
series' annual $1.1 million budget.
Combine the NEA with P.O.V. and
what do you get? Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied, an hour of
performance art parading the homo-sexual lifestyle. [Readers should
be aware that this article will include sexually graphic descriptions
and language.] With its profanity, frontal nudity, large
caricatures of penises, and gay lovers in bed, Tongues Untied
displayed graphic language and images of sex that no TV documentary on
heterosexuality would ever have been allowed to show.
Some PBS station executives got cold
feet: 18 of the top 50 markets declined to run it, but it did air in an
estimated 60 percent of public TV markets. Television critics loved it.
From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, reporters hailed it for its
stand against "ignorance and prejudice," and attacked those
criticizing PBS for selecting it.
The Washington Post's David
Mills, writing on July 19, insisted that "The only thing Tongues
Untied promotes is a deeper under-standing of the world...Viewers
who think they simply can't deal with the sight of two shirtless men
rolling around in bed in slow motion, well, perhaps they should consider
this an instructive dose of reality." Mills didn't offer Post
readers the voiceover which accompanied the scene: "Grinding my
memory, humping my need...Been waiting for your light bulb to glow for
me, waiting to exchange hard-ass love, calloused affection...wet me with
the next slide, the resounding refrain of grown men in love."
At one point, Riggs begs, "Anoint me
with cocoa oil and cum so I speak in tongues twisted so tight they
untangle my mind." A chorus of voices joined in at another point
with the refrain, "Let me suck it, let me lick it, let me taste it,
let me suck it."
Later, a Washington man described a
conversation overheard on a D.C. public bus: "Suddenly, from the
back of the bus, a voice wailed, 'You my bitch.' 'Nuh uh. We bitches!'
'No, you listen here. I ain't wearing lipstick. I fucked you! You my
bitch.'" The discussion ends with one gay proclaiming: "I'm a
45 year old black, gay man who enjoys taking a dick in his rectum. I am
not your bitch. Your bitch is at home with your kids!" To which the
man added: "We are now entering the fifth dimension of our sexual
consciousness. The ride is rough. There is no jelly for
Many of the critics expressed rage at the
choice of many stations not to air Tongues Untied. CBS Sunday
Morning critic John Leonard was the most outspoken in this regard
on June 30: "But why shouldn't we be shocked? The shock of
recognition is what public television ought to be about...We ought to
watch public television as we read difficult novels: to imagine the
other, to hear strange music, to discover scruple. What is happening
instead with the cutbacks and timidity is a squeezing out of local
programming, a freezing out of independent producers, and a sycophantic
pandering to corporate fat boys and middlebrow taste."
Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles
Times wrapped up his July 15 article by observing: "One
station manager who rejected Tongues Untied called it
pornographic. He's wrong. The film isn't pornographic, the charge
is." The same day, however, Ed Siegel of The Boston Globe
pushed even further, advocating a blacklist of the politically
incorrect: "If this were a rational world, we would be talking
today about rounding up all the station managers who banned Tongues
Untied and stripping them of their right to run a public television
For all the efforts of people like
Leonard and Siegel to make it into something noble, the film itself
undercut them at every turn. Early on, Riggs described why he was called
names as a child: "It wasn't because I played sex with the other
boys. Everybody on the block did that. But because I didn't mind giving
it away. Now other boys traded. 'You can have my booty if you give me
yours. Mmm-mmm. But wait a minute now, if I go first... You went first
last time...But I want to be the daddy...You the daddy all the time...I
want to be the daddy...I'm the daddy'... Mmm-mmm...Not me. I gave it up
Riggs showed a long scene of a drag queen
patrolling the street, while a male voice slowly declared: "While I
wait for my prince to come, from every other man I demand pay for my
kisses. I buy paint for my lips, stockings for my legs, my own
high-heeled slippers and dresses that become me. When he comes I will
know how to love his body. Standing out here on the waterfront curbsides
I have learned to please a man."
Valerie Helmbeck of Gannett News Service
added to the critical accolades on July 11: "In a society that
glorifies homophobic behavior, the mere mention of homosexuality or the
gay lifestyle is enough to send fundamentalists and the sexually
insecure scurrying for the comfort of their scripture or firmly
entrenched ideology of the acceptable and the unacceptable." But
the entire 60 minutes was a plea for acceptance, an expression of
outrage over public rejection, a therapy session for the sexually
How ironic it is that the Public
Broadcasting Service now perceives its mission not as serving the
public, but as thumbing its nose at it, taunting the public for being
backward and "uneducated." Sadly, television critics, who are
supposed to lead viewers to the best in television, are instead easily
enthralled by almost any program that either bores or offends the
Still More Controversy
STOPPING ACT UP. On
August 12, PBS announced that it would not air the 23-minute documentary
Stop The Church, a film about the radical gay group AIDS
Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and their 1989 raid of New York's
St. Patrick's Cathedral. The film by ACT UP member Robert Hilferty had
been approved for the P.O.V. series by Glenn Dixon, the
network's Director of News and Public Affairs Programming. But P.O.V.
Chief Executive David Davis said PBS executives made the decision
because of the "tremendous stress" Tongues Untied had
already put on its affiliates. On August 13, the P.O.V. series
continued with Metamorphosis: Man Into Woman, an hour-long film
about a man getting a sex-change operation.
P.O.V. is also planning to air Maria's
Story, a documentary on a female guerrilla with the FMLN, the
Marxist rebels in El Salvador. Series producers showed their ideological
colors when they placed ads for a new communications director: the ad
appeared in the August 12/19 edition of The Nation.
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