Reporters Undergo A "Liberation Conversion"
"WITCH HUNT" WARNINGS
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
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
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?
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
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.
More Attacks on
Reagan, Bush, Conservatives
BILL MOYERS, MUDSLINGER
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?'"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
More Pre-Coup Media
WAS THE COLD WAR OVER?
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."
LABELING LEFT AND
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
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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