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From the September 1991 MediaWatch

Reporters Undergo A "Liberation Conversion"

Page One


After decades of giggling at terms like "captive nations" and "evil empire," insisting that communist subjects actually preferred dictatorship to democracy, and sympathizing with Gorbachev as his troops murdered Baltic separatists, the media have undergone a sudden "liberation conversion." Several reporters attacked the new post-coup democratic leadership and defended the liberties of the communists who had denied them to everyone else.

Some media figures even insisted that it was wrong to throw the coup plotters out of their positions of power. On CNN's Capital Gang on August 24, National Public Radio news anchor Linda Wertheimer complained: "A purge is a purge, and even if it's Boris Yeltsin conducting the purge and the coup plotters who are purged, I think that's a setback for the Soviet Union, because in a country where people can't walk out of office and into their own homes and expect not to be shot or arrested, that's not a country that's really free." In fact, no one has been shot since the coup except those who died defending the Russian Parliament building.

Tara Sonenshine, Editorial Producer of ABC's Nightline, wrote an op-ed in the September 6 Christian Science Monitor titled "Witch Hunting in the Soviet Union." She claimed the "witch hunt" began with persecution of the coup plotters: "The most prominent member of the newly depicted coven of witches includes the members of the Emergency Committee." By Sonenshine's reasoning, the Nuremberg trials were a "witch hunt," therefore Nazi criminals should not have been prosecuted.

On Good Morning America August 26, former New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith also presented the democrats as more dangerous than the communists: "There is a danger that the forces of democracy, as they are called, will now go too far. There is a spirit of revenge in the air."

CBS News consultant Stephen Cohen took the same line on CNN's Crossfire August 23: "There is a grave danger stalking the streets. It's witch hunting." When asked by co-host Pat Buchanan if he was bothered by people surrounding Communist Party headquarters, Cohen answered yes and even complained about statues of Lenin being torn down: "I was bothered by that scene ....I was bothered by the scenes of the crowds moving through the streets looking for symbols upon which to wreak their vengeance." Cohen told Buchanan: "Now you are lending your voice on a kind of witch hunt. You will see a bloodbath in Russia like you have never seen before." Worse than Stalin?


Revolving Door

Free-Market Teaching from Dukakis? Well, almost. Tom Herman, Deputy National Issues Adviser for domestic policy to the 1988 Dukakis presidential campaign, is now advising U.S. firms on how to enter the Central and Eastern European business market. After Dukakis lost, Herman joined CNN as a European field producer where he helped put together coverage of the Berlin Wall's collapse. Herman now offers his advice out of a Boston firm, the Brown Rudnick Freed & Gesmer Consulting Group.

Democrat Helps Bush Aide. During the 1990 campaign season Mary Fifield, Producer of the CBS News program Face the Nation in 1985 and 1986, was Director of Communications for the Democratic State Committee of Massachusetts. This past spring she started handling public relations for the Boston law firm Mintz Levin Cohen Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, a job that put Fifield to work for the other side.

The law firm represents Bush White House political aide Ron Kaufman. So, when the Democratic State Committee dropped its lawsuit against him for allegedly engineering a picketing line outside the Democrat's convention site, the July 18 Boston Globe noted it was Fifield's job to pass out "a press kit containing Kaufman's statements and outlining the GOP operative's case against the Democrats."

Liberal Manager. The Washington Journalism Review has hired a National Public Radio (NPR) and left-wing magazine veteran as its new Managing Editor. Elliott Negin, a foreign and Washington news editor for NPR, served as Editor of Nuclear Times, a bi-monthly "devoted exclusively to reporting on the grass-roots disarmament movement," until it folded in 1989. Earlier in the 1980s he edited Ralph Nader's Public Citizen magazine.

Passed Away. In mid-August, long-time NBC News correspondent Douglas Kiker passed away at his Cape Cod summer home. Before joining the network in 1966, Kiker reported from Washington for the New York Herald Tribune, a position assumed after a political stint. For the first two years of the Kennedy Administration, Kiker served as Director of Information for the Peace Corps.

Stationary Cloud. Last month's Revolving Door column reported that Margaret Carlson had replaced Laurence Barrett as Time magazine's Washington Bureau Chief. MediaWatch dropped a key word. Barrett had been Deputy Bureau Chief, the position Carlson now holds. Stanley Cloud remains firmly ensconced as Bureau Chief.


Page Three

More Attacks on Reagan, Bush, Conservatives


PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers stooped to character assassination in a September 1 Washington Post Magazine interview with Eric Alterman. Moyers played his own race card, charging President Bush "and his kind hated the right wing, yet he caters to it now. I followed his trail through the South in the 1984 election, and what I heard was George Wallace refined, making sure the good ol' boys knew he was one of them keeping 'other people' in their place. There's a mean spirit in him that often acts the bully and usually towards those weaker than him."

Later, Moyers added: "The right gets away with blaming liberals for their efforts to help the poor, but what the right is really objecting to is the fact that the poor are primarily black. The man who sits in the White House today opposed the Civil Rights Act. So did Ronald Reagan. This crowd is really fighting a retroactive civil rights war to prevent the people they dislike because of their color from achieving success in American life."

Moyers also insisted that the Reagan recovery destroyed the standard of living: "I was with a group of construction workers recently who were bemoaning their diminished standard of living between 1980 and now. 'How many of you voted for Reagan?' I asked. Every one raised his hand. They were betrayed." He complained: "Ronald Reagan will be up on Mount Rushmore and George Bush will be carved into the stadium at Texas A&M before the next generation wakes up and says, 'Who did this to us? Who stole our standard of living?'"


Janet Cooke Award


If elections were held in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party would win by a landslide, because the Soviet people want "security" and "order," not freedom. Sound like Pravda before Gorbachev? Actually, it's American network news before the August coup.

Nearly everyone was surprised by the coup, but when reporters spent the preceding years claiming that the Soviet people did not aspire to freedom, that they were fully satisfied with communism or only wished it were harsher, they were not only wrong: they were insulting the many thousands who resisted the coup, repudiated the Communist Party and demanded freedom and democracy. For their misstatements, the journalists quoted here all share the September Janet Cooke Award.

On March 4, 1986 CBS Evening News reporter Bernard Goldberg announced that "The Soviets call it a worker's paradise. Americans call it a police state. And we think if only the Iron Curtain were lifted, they'd be at the border in a New York minute. Well, we'd be wrong." Instead, "Freedom to most Russians is living in a country where the unemployment rate is zero, where state health care costs nothing, where nobody is homeless and crime is not epidemic....Security is one of this nation's highest ideals. Not freedom, security. They may look like us, but they are not like us." He concluded: "They have made a deal with their rulers: Take care of us from cradle to grave, and we will be satisfied."

CBS continued this string of lucid analysis with reporter Bruce Morton, who told the country on November 12, 1986 that Soviet workers "are satisfied people" who are "less free than workers in the West, but more secure." Dan Rather followed up on July 17, 1987: "Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy."

ABC reporter Walter Rodgers naysayed freedom for the Soviet people on December 23, 1986: "The problem is many Soviets don't want Western-style human rights, which they tend to equate with anarchy."

Then-CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Stuart Loory wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal published on February 3, 1986: "I can say without reservation that if the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were to submit itself to the kind of free elections held in South Vietnam in the 1960s or El Salvador in the 1980s, it would win an overwhelming mandate. But that's not saying much. If suddenly a true, two-party or multi-party system were to be formed in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party would still win in a real free election. Except for certain small pockets of resistance to the communist regime, the people have been truly converted in the past 68 years." Reached in Moscow by MediaWatch, Loory disavowed the quote: "Let's not get into that. Obviously that's out of date." But when asked if he believed he was right at the time, he responded "That's correct." Loory is now a CNN Vice President and the Turner Broadcasting System's Executive Director of International Relations.

Even after Eastern Europe was liberated in late 1989, reporters still insisted the Soviet people preferred totalitarianism. In a February 9, 1990 column, USA Today founder Al Neuharth asserted "Marx and Lenin are still revered heroes. Never mind that communism as they conceived it didn't work. Most Soviets don't want to dump it, just improve on it." Two days later, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes calmly pronounced: "Many Soviets viewing the current chaos and nationalist unrest under Gorbachev look back almost longingly to the era of brutal order under Stalin."

On May 24, 1990, CNN Moscow reporter Steve Hurst assured viewers: "Soviet people have become accustomed to security if nothing else. Life isn't good here, but people don't go hungry, homeless; a job has always been guaranteed. Now all socialist bets are off. A market economy looms, and the social contract that has held Soviet society together for 2 years no longer applies. The people seem baffled, disappointed, let down. Many don't like the prospect of their nation becoming just another capitalist machine."

In the last issue of 1990, Time reporter Bruce W. Nelan predicted: "There may be even more significant backers for a crackdown: the general public. After five years of waiting for perestroika to bear fruit, most Soviet citizens have lost faith. Appalled by the disintegrating economy and the sharp rise of violent crime, convinced that the country is falling into the hands of the black market mafia and fearful that the dissolution of the union will bring deeper chaos and poverty, they are ready to sacrifice -- or at least postpone -- the pursuit of lofty democratic goals so that order can be restored."

As in Eastern Europe, reporters wrongly believed that what the people were willing to say publicly represented their true views, as if they could speak freely without fear. But don't expect any apologies. These reporters are counting on the public's short memory.



CLUBBING CLARENCE. Two days before the Clarence Thomas hearings began, NBC's Sunday Today told viewers they were providing the pros and cons of Thomas. Their pro-Thomas argument consisted of one question in a profile of Rep. Gary Franks (R-CT) in which Garrick Utley presented Franks as dishonest: "Like Clarence Thomas, Gary Franks went to Yale under an affirmative action program. Yet today, he battles against the Democratic civil rights bill in Congress, echoing the President's insistence that, even though it outlaws quotas, it is a quota bill."

But when they turned to the anti-Thomas side, Sunday Today gave NBC reporter Bob Herbert two minutes to deliver an unopposed editorial: "Who is this guy, Clarence Thomas, and why should we want him on the Supreme Court? I can't think of any good reasons. The man is not distinguished and he doesn't seem to have a heart." He concluded: "Let's be straight about this. Clarence Thomas is a tool of the rich and powerful. His supporters include Dan Quayle, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms. Even David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan leader, is crazy about Clarence Thomas. Make no mistake, old people, poor people, black people, women, forget about it. Clarence Thomas is not your friend."

FLOUTING THOMAS. As his hearings approached, The Boston Globe continued its one-sided reporting on Clarence Thomas. "The Constitution envisions the Supreme Court as the neutral arbiter of disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government, but Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas has often expressed a one-sided view on the issue," reporter Walter V. Robinson began an August 15 "news" story. He quoted legal scholars Cynthia Farina and Erwin Chemerinsky, who called the idea of an encroached executive "troubling, almost silly." Robinson didn't make room for a conservative legal scholar to defend Thomas.

When the liberal People for the American Way finished its search for Thomas travel "scandals" during the Reagan years, the Globe was the first paper to report it on September 7.

Robinson didn't give readers the source of the report until the eighth paragraph, after the story had jumped from the front page to page 17. Washington Post staff writer Ruth Marcus, in contrast, started her September 8 story with the partisan source of the report. People for the American Way knew where to send its press release.

WICHITA WAILING. Guess which side CBS News came down on in the Wichita abortion controversy. In an August 5 Evening News segment reporter Scott Pelley found time to quote anti-Operation Rescue Judge Patrick Kelly, Peggy Jarman of the Pro-Choice Action League and Kevin Wray, a member of a group upset by police overtime costs, but had no time for anyone on the pro-life side.

CBS reporter Bruce Morton, in an August 17 Evening News commentary supporting civil disobedience, nevertheless took a swipe at the protesters. "Some, on videotape, have seemed to want to scuffle with police," Morton claimed. But the videotape playing as he spoke showed protesters being wrestled to the ground by police officers, and he did not mention that no one has been charged with fighting the police. "Some have sent their children toward police lines and barricades and cars. The civil rights people never stooped to that." But his own videotape showed teenagers protesting. Are these "children" old enough to get free condoms in school but not old enough to protest abortion?

DEREGULATION DOUBTERS. The announcement that Pan Am sold most of its major routes allowed ABC's Bob Jamieson to perpetuate airline deregulation myths on World News Tonight. On August 12 he reported, "Some industry analysts say the real problem is the 1978 deregulation...designed to promote competition, lower fares and better service. But critics say deregulation has done just the opposite." Bunk, according to two sources Jamieson ignored, the Air Transport Association (ATA) and the Brookings Institution.

Jamieson claimed: "A single carrier now dominates airports in 16 of our largest cities," and that "fares are 27 percent higher at these airports." But ATA studies show competition is increasing in the airline industry, with average prices at two-thirds of the nation's hub airports declining between 1984 and 1988. In fact, the Council of Economic Advisors calculated consumers have saved a whopping $100 billion since 1978 due to cheaper ticket prices and service improvements.

Jamieson ended by claiming "Deregulation has cost the loss of 40,000 jobs this year alone." Actually, since deregulation, the airline industry has boomed, setting new traffic records for five consecutive years, with annual traffic soaring from 275 million passengers in 1978 to 447 million in 1987. There are 39 percent more people now employed by the airlines than before deregulation.

WHERE'S WELD? Notably absent from media reporting on governors grappling with budget problems is Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld. Maybe that's because Weld has balanced his state's budget not by raising taxes, but by cutting spending. Meanwhile, California Governor Pete Wilson and Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker receive accolades for their tax-and-spend tendencies.

In the March 12 issue, Time magazine's Priscilla Painton seemed encouraged by more state taxes, noting, "In Connecticut, where the idea of a state income tax has been practically banned from political discourse, incoming Governor Lowell Weicker, Jr. has boldly called for one." In the July 15 Time, reporter Jordan Bonfante nearly canonized Wilson: "On one side are die-hard anti-tax conservatives. On the other are moderate pragmatists like Wilson....Putting his state on the road to fiscal sanity would burnish Wilson's credentials as a can-do politician with the guts to cast aside ideology for the sake of better government." On the August 25 Fox Off the Record, Boston Globe reporter Michael Frisby declared: "My star of the week is Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker. He forced the legislature to institute an income tax for the first time in that state."

But according to columnist Warren Brookes, Weld has cut $770 million from the state budget and slashed the state payroll by 7,000 employees, while 1992 should see a net surplus in state coffers, all without tax increases. But no reporters are making Weld a "star of the week."

SCHOOL REFORM BLUES. Curiously, network reporters seem convinced that federal education spending is on the decline. "Educators faced with doing more with less say...in the end improving standards will take money," asserted CBS reporter Mark Phillips on September 3. Phillips' only experts were three educators demanding more money, and he ignored all other solutions, concluding: "And money, or the lack of it, seems to be making a big difference in the education of those going back to school this week." The same night, NBC's Andrea Mitchell finished her report: "With federal cuts, states and cities just don't have money, parents are copping out and kids are falling further and further behind."

But the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported that education funding has been rising steadily since 1985. President Bush's 1992 budget called for a 4 percent increase, a hike of almost $1.2 billion. But more spending didn't stop Scholastic Aptitude Tests from slipping last year in verbal scores and, for the first time in 10 years, in math scores.

Phillips and Mitchell failed to mention the President's 1992 budget included $690 million to implement education reform strategies. Both House and Senate Democratic leaders have stalled the President's spending pro-grams until liberal alternatives can be offered.

JUDGING JESSE. Conservatives may have fallen out of their chairs when they read Gloria Borger's latest story in the August 26/September 2 edition of U.S. News & World Report subheadlined, "Jesse Helms is right: Move in outside judges." Outlining the debate over whether judges should be brought in to review Senate ethics cases, Borger did what few reporters have done -- she agreed with Helms. "Members of Congress often fail miserably when passing judgment on their own. They would do better to pass the buck instead -- handing ethics rulings over to retired judges or to former members not interested in re-upping or lobbying."

Borger concluded, "Senators Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and Donald Riegle of Michigan, two of the members most involved with Keating, got off with rebukes for poor judgment. Their defense: This is the way Washington works. Now Cranston is looking to avoid censure with the same argument, one that Helms refuses to accept. The committee is still wavering. Any reputable panel of outside judges would have dispensed with the matter long ago."

LABOR PAINS. When Labor Secretary Lynn Martin announced results of a Labor Department study on the so-called "glass ceiling," the level at which women are no longer promoted, CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews quickly blamed the administration for being soft on business. On the August 8 Evening News, he asserted "Business groups...were delighted with Martin's handling of this today. And why not? She proposed no new laws or regulations. In fact, Martin refused to name any company by name, cited no one for discrimination, but did say she got nine of those secret companies to sign promises they wouldn't do it again."

Andrews concluded his report: "The political pattern here sounds just like the controversy over the civil rights bill. Here again is an administration loudly trumpeting the evils of discrimination, while still opposing moves that might make it lucrative for victims to sue."

Ken Prewitt of ABC's Good Morning America offered a different spin on August 26: "And the Feminist Majority Foundation says the old boy network has held women to just 2.6 percent of the top jobs in corporate America. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that's because women didn't enter the corporate world until the 1970s and are jut now becoming eligible for the top jobs."

CENSORSHIP SNAFU. You'd think that after all of the media posturing against "censorship" by the Department of Defense during the Gulf War, news executives would be the last to practice censorship, right?

Wrong. During the war, CBS' Walter Cronkite fumed: "Sanitizing the war for the purpose of keeping American morale, interest in the war, support for the war high is almost criminal."

Funny how times change. In the August 28 New York Post some local news chiefs claimed it is justifiable to edit and censor anti- Semitic comments made by the Reverend Al Sharpton and other radical black activists during the recent rioting in New York. WCBS-TV news director Dean Daniels explained, "We are cautious to air anything that is attacking a group of people. We feel pressure not to make a bad situation worse." And WNBC-TV news director Bret Marcus reasoned, "While we are journalists we are also citizens of this community who are trying to encourage peace and a lessening of tensions."

MISSING MANDELA'S MONEY. Last month, MediaWatch described how the networks avoided African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela's trip to Cuba to celebrate the anniversary of Castro's revolution. They did, however, air 22 stories on the "Inkathagate" scandal, in which the South African government supplied $90,000 to the two-million-member, pro-democracy, anti- apartheid Inkatha Freedom Party and more to Inkatha-affiliated unions. Reporters also discussed South African aid to Namibian anti-communist parties.

But Namibia, through its self-proclaimed Marxist President, Sam Nujoma, gave one million rand ($390,000) to its ANC comrades on January 31 of this year. Although the story appeared on the wire services, none of the networks carried a single story on this substantial source of ANC funding.

On the July 20 CBS Evening News, reporter Martha Teichner charged that the Inkatha revelations "raise questions about South Africa's real commitment to end apartheid." Teichner didn't ask whether Mandela's acceptance of aid from Nujoma and Castro raised questions about the ANC's commitment to democracy and freedom.

CLOAK THE RICH. Here they go again. Last month ABC's Cokie Roberts and CBS' Bruce Morton sang the usual refrain that passes for analysis about the 1980s. In a September 4 Evening News "Eye on America" segment, Morton asserted, "In fact the rich have gotten richer and the middle-class is shrinking. The question is can the Democrats make that case against a popular incumbent President?" No, the question is: can Morton add? As columnist Warren Brookes recently explained, the share of those making $50,000 or more, in constant 1989 dollars, has jumped from 21.6 percent in 1981 to 29 percent in 1989. The middle-income shift was 58.6 percent to 52.9 percent, but the lower-income share fell from 19.9 to 18 percent. So the middle-class did shrink. People moved up!

On the discussion segment of This Week With David Brinkley August 18, Roberts took the tax fairness track: "The rich are paying smaller taxes than they were at the beginning of the 1980s, when you paid 70 percent on unearned income and 50 percent on earned income. Now that is way down from there, so rich people are paying less." Well, not exactly. Again, Brookes showed that when the tax rate for the rich dropped, their money came out of shelters so the amount collected by the IRS from the upper ten percent leaped by nearly 70 percent in real terms from 1981 to 1988.

ALL WET ON WETLANDS. President Bush's decision to reconsider the definition of a wetland drew easy condemnation from environmentalists, and from their supporters at the networks. On World News Tonight, ABC reporter Ned Potter predictably focused his August 9 report on criticizing Bush: "The White House says not all wetlands are genuinely valuable. Business groups say that's a step in the right direction." Potter concluded: "George Bush gets reminded on days like this that he pledged to be the environmental President. He's likely to face stiff opposition from some Congressmen who says he's just caving in to business."

But on August 11, NBC Nightly News reporter Henry Champ went beyond the usual black hat-white hat story and presented a tide of wider public opposition to wetlands policy, and the facts behind their outrage at government intervention with their property: "Suddenly thousands of people who thought themselves bystanders saw themselves as victims: vacation homeowners, retirees, rural homeowners. For example, even though the Maryland coast is dotted with farms centuries old, building lots were now being reclassified as wetlands. This wooded lot, with housing on both sides, couldn't get a building permit -- all because the new Army Corps of Engineers regulations said land with any amount of water lying on the surface for seven consecutive days, or land with moisture found 18 inches below surface for the same seven days, was to be called wetlands." Potter should call Champ for reporting lessons.

SACRED SAGAN SCORCHED. Remember how the oil fires in Kuwait could cause a worldwide catastrophe? On January 20, Carl Sagan, the astronomer and self-appointed climatologist, told Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes about the fires' possible consequences: "That means the obscuration of the sun over large areas, maybe some ten percent of the northern hemisphere will last into the growing season." Wallace set Sagan up: "And people could conceivably starve." Sagan agreed: "You might have massive agricultural failures in the United States as a result of this."

More than seven months later, the fires still burn, but have had a miniscule impact on global climate, the sun has not been obscured, and massive agricultural failures have not occurred in the United States. Sagan compared the impact of the fires to the volcano at Mount Tambora in 1815, but that volcano is much like Mount Pinatubo this year. That eruption, with a force many times the Kuwaiti fires, did cause a global cooling. With Sagan now proven brazenly wrong, will the media continue to consult him for his opinion? Unfortunately, his disproven "nuclear winter" theories didn't stop him from appearing in January.


Page Five

More Pre-Coup Media Misinterpretations


Before the coup, reporters often talked about the potential threat of a coup against Gorbachev, but some reporters did not question what military or diplomatic implications a coup would have. For many, the liberation of Eastern Europe meant the cold war was over, and the Soviet threat was no longer important. But the coup proved a very real threat remained.

Boston Globe defense reporter Fred Kaplan exemplified this cavalier attitude in a dismissive "news analysis" on May 21, 1990: "One can imagine [Gorbachev] thinking something like this: 'Look, the cold war is over. Who cares how many cruise missiles you have or how far they can fly? There isn't going to be a war. These weapons aren't going to be used. Let's cut a deal and move onward to the new age.'" Less than two weeks later, on June 2, Kaplan added: "It simply no longer matters who has how many of what; such bean-counting exercises contribute little to a real-world calculus of power."

The coup also exposed the phony public-relations campaign waged around the world by the leadership of the KGB. On September 8, 1989, even Washington Post reporter David Remnick's highly skeptical news article on Vladimir Kryuchkov's publicity blitz nevertheless echoed the earlier stories on "closet liberal" Yuri Andropov: "Like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev before him, Kryuchkov has taken the personal route, talking of his fondness for Bellini's opera Norma. He swoons over the piano mastery of Van Cliburn, and hints that he would arrange a Moscow apartment for the pianist if he would only come here more often. Then he sighs over his exhausting workday at Dzerzhinsky Square: 'The KGB Chairman's life is no bed of roses.'"

In an August 2, 1990 Prime Time Live feature on the KGB, Diane Sawyer assured viewers: "The officers of the KGB, in fact, decided reform was necessary long before Gorbachev came to power." The September 9 Newsweek reported that "sources in Western intelligence" told them that "the masterminds of the coup were KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, 67, and Oleg Baklanov, 59, a leader of the Soviet military-industrial complex."




The Soviet coup caused a surge in the adjective "right-wing" to describe hard-line communists. Formerly reserved for conservative Americans and Latin military dictators, the reporters and columnists at The Washington Post picked the term "right wing" to describe the coup plotters 11 times in the first five days of the coup. On August 22, reporter Fred Hiatt called them a "right-wing junta." But when reformers like Boris Yeltsin quit the Communist Party to form a new party last July 13, reporter Michael Dobbs dubbed it "left-wing."

Why? In her last-page Newsweek column on May 12, 1989, Post Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield suggested: "Every time there is a confrontation in the world, we manage to dub the good guys liberals and the bad guys conservatives and pretty soon that is the common currency."

But does Greenfield's argument extend to the slightly different ideological terms "right-wing" and "left-wing"? To find out, MediaWatch analysts reviewed every use of the terms "right-wing" and "left-wing" by Washington Post reporters in news stories during the year 1990. The study determined that "right-wing" and "left-wing" were mostly saved by Post reporters for bad guys -- terrorists, guerrillas, or politicians that reporters feel safe presenting as undesirable or extreme, such as the members of Germany's neo-Nazi Republican Party.

Applied to these terms, Greenfield's theory is at least half- correct: "right-wing" villains were plentiful. But left-wingers weren't good guys; they often didn't have a label at all. Post reporters used "right-wing" 394 times, but "left-wing" only 87 times, a ratio of about 9 to 2. When analysts studied "extreme" variants of these terms (such as "far right" and "extreme left"), Post reporters referred to the right 106 times, the left only 24.

Extremists bring out the labeling instinct in reporters, but the Post found most of its extremists on the right. Analysts calculated the number of mentions of "far right" (6), "extreme right" (30), "hard right" (3), "radical right" (1), "ultra-conservative" (7), "archconservative" (1), and "ultra-right" (2). On the opposite side, analysts added the labels for "far left" (7), "extreme left" (4), "hard left" (3), "radical left" (11), and "archliberal," "ultraliberal," and "ultra-left" (zero).

In fact, most designations of "right-wing" and "left-wing" are not applied in coverage of American politics, but in foreign stories. Out of 394 mentions of "right-wing," only 38 referred to the U.S. political scene. Post reporters described American liberals as "left-wing" only three times. But "radical left" appropriately accompanied four stories on the All Peoples' Congress, an affiliate of the Workers World Party, which supported the Tiananmen Square massacre. In U.S. stories, extreme right terms edged out extreme left terms, eight to seven. But the term "far left" appeared more often as an instruction in photo captions (19) than as a label in news stories (7).

By far, the largest number of labels come from Post coverage of Israel, written mostly by reporter Jackson Diehl. The Post applied the term "right-wing" 151 times, mostly to describe Yitzhak Shamir's Likud government. "Left-wing" appeared in 36 stories, mostly in reference to the opposition Labor Party. A similar contrast emerged in extreme terms: the Post tagged Israeli politicians as "far right" nine times and "extreme right" eight times, but never found anyone on the "far left" or "extreme left" in Israel, despite the radicalism of left-wing parties or the PLO.

In fact, Diehl reported a coming "narrow" right-wing coalition four times, and reporter Glenn Frankel explained what that meant: "Shamir will head a narrowly based government dependent for its survival on right-wing extremists and religious fundamentalists that will dramatically increase Jewish settlements and crack down harder on Palestinians -- moves that are likely to provoke more violence."

South Africa, reported primarily by David Ottaway ad Allister Sparks, came in second in the number of labels, but first in imbalance. The Post gave the "right-wing" label 71 times, but mentioned "left-wing" only once, and then to describe a white journalist. The African National Congress, often described as "the main anti-apartheid group," whose President posed for pictures with Fidel Castro, was never labeled.

On June 27, Ottaway reported that white right-wing leaders objected to negotiations with the "communist" ANC, with "communist" in quotes, despite its interlocking alliance with the South Africa Communist Party. But later in the same article, he cited "the growing militancy of extreme right-wing groups." Like Israel, Post reporters tossed the "far right" label 14 times, and "extreme right" four times, but never found anyone on the "extreme left" or "far left."

While Post reporters liked describing Soviet hard-liners as "right-wing" in the last month, only ten stories on the Soviet Union included the term last year, and used "left-wing" five times. The Post did once use "ultraconservative" to describe the anti-Semitic group Pamyat. But reporter David Remnick noted the problem of labeling on May 5, when he quoted Soviet legislator Ilya Zaslavski poking fun at Gorbachev adviser Alexander Yakovlev: "What does he mean by right-wing? I guess in the Western sense it is right-wing: pro-market, anti-communist. But here we call that left-wing, don't we?"

In her 1989 article, Meg Greenfield concluded: "My humble point is that in addition to new policies and initiatives, what this country sorely needs is a new political vocabulary and a revised political map." By that standard, the Post is already two years behind. Its reporters find "right-wing" an appropriate description not only for hard-line communists and staunch capitalists, but Israeli Zionists and Soviet anti-semites, apartheid-loving bigots and Clarence Thomas supporters. If the Post cannot define a proper label for the polar opposites on its "right," it should at east appropriately label its "left." Otherwise, they reinforce the suspicion that labels function as warnings to readers, and that the "right" is five times more worth fearing than the "left."


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