Reporters Can't Resist Lumping Republicans with Nazis
DUKE: GOP POSTER CHILD?
Despite Republican rejection of David
Duke, reporters continue to insist that the entire Republican Party
specializes in racist campaign tactics. In the November 25 Time
magazine, Washington reporter Dan Goodgame announced: "Demagogues
don't yell `nigger' or `Jew boy' anymore. They've learned
better...[Duke] traded in his bigoted rhetoric for a slick new glossary
of coded appeals to racial resentment, market tested over the past two
decades by mainstream conservative politicians."
On NBC's Today show November 13,
reporter Lisa Myers charged all the recent Republican Presidents with
race-baiting: "Since , every Republican presidential
candidate has run on some issue that raised racial overtones. Richard
Nixon preached law and order in the wake of the Watts riots....Ronald
Reagan told the story of the welfare queen ....George Bush was accused
of playing racial politics when he made a national figure out of this
Massachusetts convict [Willie Horton]." Myers ended with this
befuddling comment: "But win or lose, the politics of race
Conservative Kirk Fordice scored a
stunning upset in the Mississippi governor's race, but reporters simply
lumped him with Duke. On November 6, NBC's Andrea Mitchell asserted:
"Although George Bush led the cheering today for Fordice's victory,
he won partly by playing the race card, appealing to some of the same
white fears David Duke is exploiting in neighboring Louisiana."
In the next morning's Wall Street
Journal, reporter James Perry seconded that emotion: "In
Mississippi, Mr. Fordice, the GOP winner, rode to victory by echoing Mr.
Duke's rhetoric in Louisiana, attacking job quotas and calling for
`workfare, not welfare.'" Time reporter Michael Duffy's
November 18 election wrap-up read: "Fordice's anti-liberal,
anti-quota, anti-welfare campaign had a strong racial undercurrent that
could prove embarrassing to the national GOP. An article on the next
page suggested Fordice "played the oldest card in Southern
politics, the racial resentment of whites."
Mississippi's local media criticized the
national media's repeated Duke comparisons. The Meridian Star
editorialized on November 10: "The national `spin' on Mississippi's
gubernatorial election has spun out of control, and the result has been
an unfair likening of our race to Louisiana's....This newspaper endorsed
[Ray] Mabus, but we are not blind to the political shortcomings and
strategic mistakes that contributed to his defeat. The national analysts
would do well to delve a little deeper into the factors behind that
defeat rather than make unfounded and largely uninformed
To Kennedy's Defense.
Before retiring this past summer, Barbara Gamarekian
spent 25 years in the Washington bureau of The New York Times,
a job she took after toiling in the Kennedy White House press office.
With a Kennedy in trouble, she's come to the rescue. The Kennedy family
hired her to serve as press relations representative for William Kennedy
Smith, who went on trial for rape in Florida in early December. In the
November 7 Boston Globe, correspondent Christopher Boyd
summarized Gamarekian's PR line: "She has told interviewers that he
attends Mass, is a handyman around the house, and enjoys playing with
his six-week- old puppy, McShane."
As the battle over National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding raged
the last few years, Allan Parachini covered it for the Los
Angeles Times. One part of the struggle he wrote about: a 1990
lawsuit against the NEA by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf
of four "performance artists" denied federal subsidies.
Parachini reported that one plaintiff, Karen Finley, "has received
broad critical acclaim" for an act in which she had "her body
smeared with melted chocolate and alfalfa sprouts to symbolize
denigration of women by forcing them to wallow in excrement and
In October, Parachini decided to become
more than just an observer. The Times reported that the paper's
veteran reporter of 12 years was "named to the newly created
position of Director of Research and Public Affairs for the American
Civil Liberties Union of Southern California." Parachini's personal
views had already slipped into his Times copy: A June 18, 1990
"news analysis" was titled: "Some Observers Say the
Uproar Over 2 Live Crew and the NEA Controversy Represent a Much Larger
and More Alarming Trend."
Meet the Cuomo Press. In
another effort to cut costs, NBC News transferred the Sunday Today
staff from Washington to New York so its production could be merged with
the weekday show. As a result, Meet the Press moderator and Sunday
Today co-host Garrick Utley will stop commuting to Washington,
leaving the Meet the Press slot open. Utley's replacement as of
the December 8 broadcast: Tim Russert, former counselor
and strategist to Mario Cuomo. Russert will continue to serve as NBC's
Washington Bureau Chief. As far as MediaWatch
knows, it's the first time a political activist turned journalist has
been named permanent moderator of a Sunday show.
Hollywood Liberal. Marylouise
Oates, who covered the Hollywood party and society scene for
the Los Angeles Times during most of the 1980s, is out with her
first novel. Making Peace follows a group of activists
preparing for a 1967 anti-war protest. It's a topic Oates learned
first-hand, as Deputy Press Secretary to 1968 Democratic presidential
candidate Gene McCarthy and later as a press aide for the Vietnam
Moratorium. She remains politically active. In November 1989 Oates and
her husband, Robert Shrum, former Press Secretary to Senator Ted
Kennedy, hosted a fundraising party at their home for Patrick Kennedy, a
Democratic Rhode Island Assemblyman.
INQUIRER OR NATIONAL
On October 20 The Philadelphia
Inquirer launched a nine-part series, "America: What Went
Wrong." Reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele promised they
would prove that "we are in the midst of the largest transfer of
wealth in the nation's history. It is a transfer from the middle class
to the rich, and from the middle class to the poor." For providing
little more than a sea of specious statistics, the series, which has
since appeared in numerous other papers (including the Detroit Free
Press and Arizona Republic), earns the December Janet
Cooke Award. A few of the Inquirer's arguments:
Assertion: A dramatic
front page chart showed a 13-inch high stack of dollar bills labeled
"Increase in the salaries of people earning more than $1 million:
2,184 percent." In contrast, a quarter-inch high stack reflected
the 44 percent growth in salaries of those making $20,000 to $40,000.
Reality: Barlett and
Steele's numbers reflected the total, non- inflation adjusted, dollars
earned by everyone reporting an income over $1 million, not the
"increase of salaries of people earning more than $1 million."
Translated: In 1983, 10,800 households reported an income of over $1
million, for a total of $24 billion. By 1988, millionaires reported $172
billion in income. But that's because the number of households reporting
a $1 million-plus income soared six-fold to 65,300. As Joint Economic
Committee economist Chris Frenze explained to MediaWatch,
the 1986 tax reform cut the marginal rate from 50 to 31 percent, leading
the wealthiest to take money out of shelters and report it as income.
upon a time, membership in the middle class was open to everyone. Now it
is severely restricted. And existing memberships are being
revoked." Their proof: "The middle income group accounted for
35 percent of all tax returns showing income from a job in 1989. That
was down from 39 percent in 1980."
columnist Warren Brooke told MediaWatch that
the greatest drop in per capita personal income, even worse than in the
Great Depression, occurred between 1979 and 1981. In constant 1989
dollars, Census figures show the percent of families earning $15,000 to
$50,000 fell from 58 percent in 1981 to 53 percent in 1989, but Brookes
explained that's because many got richer -- the number of those earning
more than $50,000 jumped from 21 to 29 percent.
Assertion: A large table heading declared
"Fewer rich pay the minimum tax." The table below showed the
number of $200,000 to $500,000 taxpayers fell 70 percent, from 46,874 in
1986 to 14,112 people in 1989. The accompanying table showed that for
the same income category the average tax paid dropped 61 percent, from
$23,237 to $9,037.
Reality: The table
reflected the "alternative minimum tax." Fiscal Associates
Vice President Gary Robbins explained to MediaWatch
that the tax was meant to get money from those avoiding income taxes. So
when the 1986 reforms lowered the top rate from 50 to 31 percent and
eliminated loopholes, the rich started paying regular taxes. As Brookes
noted in the Oct. 7 National Review, "revenues from the
rich soared at their fastest rate in history. In 1988, total income
taxes rose a surprising 12.7 percent, or nearly $7 billion. Of that
increase, $36 billion, or 77 percent, was paid by the top 2.3 percent of
asked Barlett why he failed to make Brookes' point or note that the
share of income tax collections paid by the top one percent of taxpayers
grew from 18 percent in 1981 to more than 27 percent in 1988. Barlett
responded with a non sequitur: "If you follow that to the logical
extent at some point they [the top one percent] will account for 80
percent of the tax revenue because all the rest of the people won't have
any money to pay taxes.... that's not a plus, that's a terrible thing.
Is that the kind of society you want, in which 80 percent of the
population doesn't have enough money to pay taxes and the other 20
Assertion: During the
1980s "the job growth was centered in the retail trade and services
sectors, which pay the lowest wages. Higher-paying jobs in manufacturing
disappeared at a rate unmatched since the Great Depression."
Department figures reveal the manufacturing share of the GNP grew from
21 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 1990. Since 1983, Marvin Kosters
showed earlier this year in American Enterprise, nearly half of
new jobs have been "professional and managerial." Compare that
to the 1970s, when just 23 percent fell in this category.
Assertion: Part 5 was
headlined "The High Cost of Deregulation: Joblessness, Bankruptcy,
Debt." Barlett and Steele claimed "Competition would create
jobs, drive down prices and benefit consumers and businesses alike.
That's the theory. The gritty reality...is a little different." The
duo concluded "deregulation has meant fewer airlines and higher air
fares, more unsafe trucks on the highways, and your tax money diverted
to pay for the S&L debacle." Instead of exploring the
conservative view that a lack of deregulation made the S&L crisis
worse (i.e., continued federal insurance no matter how poorly the
S&L is run), the reporters returned to the theme laid out in part
one, concluding: "There are more rich people than ever before.
There are more poor people than ver before. And the ranks of those in
between are shrinking, their standard of living falling."
Reality: More poor than
ever? The poverty rate is less than half what it was after World War II.
Barlett stood by his assertion: "I don't think there's any doubt
about that....The numbers are clearly up." As Census figures prove,
real pre-tax incomes of all classes rose from 1981 to 1989, it's just
that top groups did better than the middle.
Assertion: Using a
soaring airplane for dramatic effect, a chart shows the price of an
airline ticket from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh has risen from $86 before
deregulation in 1978 to $450 today. The chart included "prices of
other goods, had they risen as steeply as the plane ticket," such
as a pound of coffee at $14.59 and 19" TV set at $1,977.
Reality: Prices have
risen 110 percent since 1978, so an $86 ticket should now cost $185. In
small type the Inquirer chart noted a ticket bought 14 days in
advance now costs $118. That's half the inflation rate. A seven-day
advance purchase costs $178 to $198, or about the same, adjusting for
inflation. The Air Transport Association (ATA) reports that more than 91
percent of all airline passengers buy a discounted ticket.
than 50,000" airline "employees lost their jobs."
Reality: Many did as
inefficient carriers went bankrupt. But many more jobs were created by
the expansion of other airlines. ATA figures show 329,000 Americans were
employed by the commercial airlines in 1978. Today, 545,000 are.
Barlett told MediaWatch
"there are different ways to look at things and you're looking at
it a different way. I don't have any trouble with that. I obviously just
don't agree with it." He insisted: "We don't set out to prove
a point. We didn't spend two years trying to prove a point....We go out
and collect information, the information we collect we just follow that,
whatever it shows." That's not what his series shows.
NEWS FOOLS TONIGHT.
Just how careful are reporters? A recent gaffe by ABC's World News
Tonight offers a revealing insight. In a November 5 story, Peter
Jennings reported that the Soviet Union was going to sell the corpse of
Lenin to raise money. The next day USA Today ran the story,
based on ABC's word.
But the story was fiction. It came from
the November Forbes FYI, a supplement to Forbes
magazine that specializes in parody. The FYI story included a
humorous picture of people at a cocktail party beside a glass case with
Lenin inside. The caption read, "The ultimate conversation piece,
and minimal maintenance." ABC bought it and ran the story without
calling the Soviet Embassy, Forbes or any other knowledgeable
source. This puts ABC's "October Surprise" investigation in
TURNER VS. HITLER. Why,
if CNN had existed before World War II, the world never would have known
the terror of Hitler. At least that's what CNN President Ted Turner
would like the world to believe. In a PBS Talking with David Frost
interview on October 25, Turner criticized the U.S. government's use of
censorship of the media during the Iraqi war. "We've only seen what
the U.S. government wanted us to see, just like we did over there. We
were manipulated just as much and controlled by the U.S. government and
the U.S. armed forces, the whole media was, as we were by the
When David Frost responded, "But the
Iraqis were the enemy," Turner replied: "Whose enemy? They
were the enemy of the United States. But CNN has had, as the
international global network, to step a little beyond that...I think,
had CNN been there before [World War II], had it been there in 1930, had
it been all over the world, Hitler would have never risen to
HELPFUL HAFEZ. CBS
reporter Steve Kroft believes all Lebanon needed was a ruthless
dictator. Reporting from Beirut on November 6, Kroft rhapsodized:
"For the first time in fifteen years there is someone in charge,
Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. His picture and his soldiers are
everywhere, invited in by the Lebanese to disarm them and to keep
themselves from killing each other and to stop the kidnappings. So far
Worked for whom? The human rights group
Freedom House reports a different view of Syrian occupation of Lebanon
in their 1990 edition of Freedom in the World: "Beirut,
divided by Christian East and Muslim West, became the sight of intense
artillery barrages and shelling...The city was destroyed, over 830
persons, mainly civilians, were killed and over 3,000 wounded. Well over
a million persons fled Beirut during the fighting. Faced with a land
blockade by Syrian troops, Christians fled the city nightly by boat
under shell fire."
THE HOMELESS AND THE HOPELESS.
The Census Bureau sent out 15,000 enumerators to count the homeless
population and produced a count of 230,000. But network reporters are
still ignoring the Census figure and passing on the less-scientific
claims of homeless activists. On October 27, ABC reporter Sheilah Kast
told World News Tonight viewers: "These are homeless
children. There are at least half a million in this country, and a
quarter of them don't go to school at all." On November 7, ABC
anchor Peter Jennings relayed numbers from the National Coalition for
the Homeless without even citing his source: "It is widely believed
[veterans] may account for a third of the population of homeless men, at
least 175,000 of them." That would mean 525,000 homeless men alone.
On Veterans Day, CNN World News
anchor Bernard Shaw read the story like a press release: "As
Americans observe Veterans Day, there was a sobering report from the
National Coalition for the Homeless. Veterans of the United States
military comprise a third, perhaps more, of all homeless men."
Reporter Carl Rochelle continued with the press release: "The
report, entitled Heroes Today, Homeless Tomorrow, says 150 to
250,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and up to a half
million veterans are homeless at some time during the year." None
of these stories mentioned the Census figures or explored how the
homeless activists arrived at their numbers. For all viewers know, they
made them up.
TAKE MY MONEY, PLEASE.
Never one to back away from advocating more government intervention, Time
magazine was in usual form for its November 25 cover story on rising
health care costs. Reporter Janice Castro warned that health costs
"flow from a surreal world where science has lost connection with
reality...The prices, like the system that issues them, are out of
So, is the solution to increase market
forces? Forget it. Castro suggested: "Establish a universal health
care plan covering basic preventive treatment for all Americans who
cannot pay for their own insurance...To help pay for it, Congress should
eliminate the $53,400 income cap on the payroll tax that funds Social
Security. While this would sharply increase payroll taxes for the
wealthiest, such a change represents a more equitable way of
apportioning the burden, which now falls more heavily on lower-income
workers...Congress should then shift the entire federal Medicaid budget
to the universal-health program, which would give it a generous $115
billion in its first year." America has a $350 billion deficit, so
why not create another government spending sinkhole?
AUTO REVERSE. On October
28, both NBC and ABC reported on a press conference called by the Center
for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, two Ralph Nader groups. At the
conference, the Nader groups denounced a Department of Transportation
video which showed a small car getting mangled by a larger one in a
head-on collision. The video had been used in advertising by the auto
industry's Coalition for Vehicle Choice to dramatize its contention that
higher mileage requirements would shrink the size of cars and lessen
auto safety. The Nader groups charged that the government was conspiring
with the auto industry to mislead the public into thinking small cars
were more dangerous.
ABC's Ned Potter concluded: "Fuel
economy will be a bruising battle in the Senate, with both sides saying
the arguments are based more on politics than on facts." So is the
reporting: a November 1 Wall Street Journal article cited eight
examples of Naderite literature warning that small cars were less safe.
While NBC and ABC reported on the press conference, neither mentioned
the Naderites' flip-flop.
NBC's Fred Briggs believes in solving social problems the liberal way:
throw money at them. "The White House balks at any federal bailout
of poor school districts," Briggs claimed on the November 5 Nightly
News. "It says it's up to the states, to the districts to do
it. Critics say that's passing the buck." Holyoke, Massachusetts
needs a tax increase, he reported. "Voters in Holyoke are being
asked to raise taxes today, something they refused to do twice in the
past year.... It's one of the poorest school districts in the
But others saw it differently.
"School administrators stubbornly maintained special programs for
poverty-stricken and disruptive students while cutting back programs for
the majority of children," wrote Wall Street Journal
reporter William Bulkeley on November 25. "Some voters are angry at
school administrators they consider uncommunicative and wasteful."
Is more money the answer? No, according
to a Winter 1990 Policy Review article by Patricia Summerside.
She spotlighted South Dakota, ranked 51st in teacher salary and 43rd in
spending per pupil. "South Dakota's 1988 ACT scores rank fifth
among the 28 states that take the test. Its high school graduation rate
Pro-lifers may be on the losing side at next year's Republican National
Convention, Time's Michael Kramer wrote in the November 25
issue. "A majority of the 1988 GOP delegates were pro-choice,"
wrote Kramer, "they supported the pro-life position out of loyalty
to Bush." But Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice "hopes this
time they will vote their conscience." Kramer told MediaWatch
that Stone provided the "majority" numbers. "She used two
sources that sounded credible," he explained, "and I was on
deadline. I took her word for it."
Stone told MediaWatch
one of her sources was a Planned Parenthood exit poll, a highly
questionable source. Surveys provided by NBC, CBS, and the Los
Angeles Times do not support Kramer's theory. CBS asked,
"Should federal money be appropriated to enable poor women to have
abortions?" and 68 percent of delegates said "no." When
asked "Do you personally believe abortion is wrong or not?,"
by NBC, 65 percent said "yes." Delegates split 50-50 when the Los
Angeles Times questioned directly from the GOP platform: "Do
you support a constitutional amendment which would ban abortions?"
But delegates could have disagreed with that federal solution and still
be considered anti-abortion.
POPULATION BOMB BUNK.
Third World population growth isn't only an awful problem, it's
America's fault for not paying for abortions. Or so reported Mike
Wallace in a one-sided November 3 60 Minutes segment.
Dr. Sharon Camp of the Population Crisis
Committee, who, except for another anti-population activist, had the
whole segment to herself, blamed the "crisis" on the White
House: "We know governments around the world want to slow
population growth. It's a matter of getting together the political will.
And the biggest obstacles are not here in Mexico City where they've got
strong leadership, they're in Washington, they're in the White House....
He [President Bush] is not willing to rile up the hard right in order to
deal with the world population problem."
And Wallace's reply? "Certainly not
before election time. As we said earlier, nobody from the White House
would respond to any of this." Wallace could easily have located an
expert to rebut Camp's claims about the economic dangers of
"overpopulation." Professor Julian Simon, for instance, has
noted "The standard of living has risen along with the size of the
earth's population since the beginning of time."
SUNUNU SOURCE ABUSE. How
did Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy unravel White House
Chief of Staff John Sununu? With lots of anonymous sources. Even
Washington's City Paper, a free alternative weekly, ridiculed
Devroy's reporting. Its editor, Jack Shafer, pointed out that a November
17 story contained 24 anonymous sources, but only two sources on the
Devroy also wrote front-page Sununu
stories on November 30 and December 3, the day Sununu resigned. In these
two stories, unnamed sources outnumbered on-the-record sources by 19 to
5. Shafer took the Post to task: "They have a lot of
explaining to do.... Just because the stories arrive at the truth, that
Sununu was about to resign, is no excuse for using so many blind
sources. The skeptical reader begins to ask: is this journalist carrying
out a hidden agenda?"
KOPPEL CALLS BACK. Ted
Koppel, reacting to a story in last month's MediaWatch,
did call Publisher L. Brent Bozell this month to discuss Nightline's
investigation of the Anita Hill leaking controversy. During an October Nightline
Bozell asked Koppel if he would devote as much time to the Hill
investigation as he did to the "October Surprise"
investigation. Koppel assured Bozell that Nightline was
following the story, but could not do a program until he had gathered
enough information to justify a report.
In the meantime, none of the networks'
evening news broadcasts has followed up on the story as the Senate leak
investigation flounders. In addition, the evening news broadcasts have
aired 27 news stories on the "October Surprise" theory -- that
the Reagan campaign delayed release of the Iranian hostages to win the
1980 election -- but none have followed up since the theory was
unraveled in two magazine exposÚs published in November. None. Koppel
did not retract his earlier reporting on the theory, but did devote the
November 12 Nightline to the new revelations and interviewed
one of the exposÚ writers, CNN's Steven Emerson, along with
"October Surprise" theorist Gary Sick.
MIDDLE CLASS MYTHOLOGY.
Some media outlets continue to insist that the Reagan years were awful
for the middle class, despite evidence to the contrary. On the November
20 NBC Nightly News, commentator John Chancellor asserted:
"For the last 18 years, the average voter has been mugged by the
American economy. People of all races have seen their incomes decline.
From 1972 to 1986, the real after-inflation wages of all workers dropped
more than 10 percent -- 1972 to 1986 and it's still going on. In the
1980s, the rich got the headlines and the rest of the country got the
Wrong. After inflation,
the Social Security Administration's average wage did not decline 10
percent. In 1989 dollars, earnings in 1972 were $19,923; in 1986, it was
$19,587. Wages rose every year from 1982 to 1988, when earnings stood at
In a December 1 "Outlook"
section article, Washington Post pollster Richard Morin
contended: "Economists now report that the boom years of the 1980s
were a bust for fully half of all Americans...despite the lingering buzz
about those Golden '80s, half of all Americans saw their income erode,
not improve, during the past decade."
Wrong. The math is
simple: median family income grew throughout the Reagan years. In fact,
average family income grew for every segment of wage-earners, which is
usually divided in fifths. So how could half of Americans lose in
In the November 4 Newsweek,
Assistant Managing Editor Rich Thomas noted that "middle-income
Americans have actually received a modest increase in their cash pay --
a 1 percent annual rise through the 1980s, after adjusting for the
broadest index of inflation, the gross national deflator. Of course,
rich Americans have done even better. But any claim that the middle
class is doing poorly simply because the rich are doing better is based
on jealousy, not facts."
No one in the media believed convicted
drug dealer Brett Kimberlin (also known as "The Speedway
Bomber") when he told them that he sold marijuana to Dan Quayle in
the '70s. Not NBC News, not even Nina Totenberg, who leaked Anita Hill's
allegations. No one thought Kimberlin's story was worth telling, until,
of course, Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" series handed the
media a convenient "news hook."
Kimberlin is suing former Bureau of
Prisons chief Michael Quinlan and former Justice Department spokesman
Loye Miller for "violating his constitutional rights" by
putting him in solitary confinement. But any airing of Kimberlin's case
should include the full truth about his past. In their recent coverage, The
Washington Post and The New York Times omitted some rather
important facts about Kimberlin:
He was convicted of perjury in 1974 for
lying about -- drugs.
He has a reputation for litigiousness.
This is at least Kimberlin's fourth lawsuit. In fact, after being
convicted of the Speedway, Indiana bombings, he sued the widow of one of
his bombing victims for "violating his constitutional rights."
The high-powered law firm Arnold &
Porter took the Kimberlin case last year on a referral from Ralph
Nader's Public Citizen Litigation Group. If Nader's lawyers had filed
suit for Kimberlin, it might have been exposed as a transparent
political maneuver to hamper Quayle's efforts against excessive
regulation. But partisan political intrigue, a theme so common in
Washington reporting, excited nobody at the Times or the Post.
On Halloween night, ABC's Prime Time
Live tried to scare viewers about pro-life crisis pregnancy centers
pregnancy centers. ABC used hidden cameras to get footage inside the
centers, which offer pregnant women advice and counseling instead of
abortions. In fact, all three networks used hidden cameras to
"expose" the centers by having female staffers walk in and lie
about whether they were pregnant. What caused this wave of
The National Coalition of Abortion
Providers Executive Director Ron Fitzsimmons wrote in a September 4
memo: "I went to the ABC program Prime Time several weeks
ago and they immediately agreed to do an 'expose' on the issue of crisis
Fitzsimmons boasted to MediaWatch
about his manipulation of the story. "[Prime Time
producer] Ben Sherwood is mad at me about that memo, those words I used.
It looked like I was directing that whole show. But I was on the phone
every day. I gave him all of that stuff. I gave him all of those names
and clinics. Ben would call me every day and ask me about the situation
in certain states. This story would not have been possible without the
hearing," he said, "and that was my idea." All three
networks used a congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Ron Wyden as a
news hook for their investigations. Fitzsimmons added: "Certainly I
had the sense that they were very sympathetic."
Now that Planned Parenthood's clinics are
prevented by law from using their federal money to promote abortion,
will the networks now send their hidden cameras into Planned
Parenthood's clinics? Don't hold your breath.
STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
Do you know the full story about the
"civil rights" bill? By championing racial preferences, the
"civil rights" groups are campaigning against the Civil Rights
Act of 1964. Not only that, the "civil rights" bill would
deprive defendants of one of the most basic civil rights: the
presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
If you didn't know that, it's because it
wasn't on the network news. To determine the depth and slant of civil
rights reporting, MediaWatch analysts reviewed
every ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC evening news story on the civil rights bill
from June 1989 through November of this year. The bill's technical
substance wasn't the only thing that was down-played: so were
conservative sources. In 131 stories, reporters tilted the debate to the
left, airing 221 talking heads in support of the bill to only 128 in
opposition, a margin of almost two to one. Twenty-two stories aired no
opponents of the bill, compared to only six stories with no supporters.
In selecting expert sources, the networks
preferred liberal activists and scholars over conservatives. Most often,
opponents of the bill were Administration spokesmen and congressional
Republicans. Liberal legal scholars or activists (such as Ralph Neas of
the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights) outnumbered conservative
scholars or activists (such as Clint Bolick of the Institute for
Justice) by a margin of 65 to 7. Like their coverage of the environment,
network reporters barely acknowledge that conservative activists and
Reporting on the bill relied on a liberal
vocabulary. For example, NBC stated the Supreme Court had
"weakened" and "eroded" civil rights,
"abolished" minority gains, "rolled back civil rights
law" and "turned back the clock." The liberal bill
"focused on helping minorities," would "protect
women," and restore "civil rights protections."
Much like their reporting of last year's
budget deal, the networks focused mostly on the jockeying for political
advantage. Reporters repeated that conservatives thought the bill would
require employers to use quotas as a defense against lawsuits, but they
ignored the legal underpinnings that caused the courts to revise civil
rights law in the first place. Instead, reporters let "civil
rights" leaders assert that the courts were "eroding"
civil rights without argument. Among the concepts reporters ignored:
Wards Cove. One
of the Supreme Court decisions that supporters of the "civil
rights" bill intended to overturn was Wards Cove v. Atonio
(1989). In that decision, the Court found that the Court's earlier
ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) directly contradicted
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which explicitly prohibits
racial preferences. But none of the networks explained this, and no
network reporter ever mentioned either Wards Cove or Griggs
Instead, they presented the quota bill as
the natural next step in minorities' progress, not as an unnatural
reversal of the original text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Accordingly,
the standard network definition of the civil rights bill did not refer
to the Civil Rights Act, but only that the bill "would make it
easier for women and minorities to sue." The networks defined the
bill in this "easier to sue/harder to sue" framework in 31
Burden of Proof. How
many stories mentioned that the "civil rights" bill overturns
one of the most basic civil rights -- the presumption of innocence until
proven guilty? None. All the civil rights bills under consideration
would have reversed Wards Cove by removing the burden of proof
from the suing employee (the plaintiff) and placing it on the employer
CBS legal reporter Rita Braver devoted
half of her June 5 report this year on how only "the Democrats'
bill changes the balance of power in lawsuits." None of the
networks focused on the civil rights erosion that would result, and both
ABC and NBC only mentioned "burden of proof" once, as an
afterthought. On June 3 of this year, Tom Brokaw casually (and
incorrectly) reported: "The President prefers his version, which
would put the burden of proof on employees." (NBC did allow one
employer to complain: "You cannot write a law presupposing
How many times did reporters explain that the entire debate concerned
not intentional bigotry, but unintentional discrimination? Twice.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell referred to "job requirements that
unintentionally discriminate against minorities and women;" and CBS
reporter Wyatt Andrews mentioned that the Bush administration argued
against "stacking the legal system against employers even where
discrimination was unintentional."
Under the Griggs ruling,
plaintiffs didn't have to charge intentional discrimination. Instead,
the plaintiff only had to prove that some hiring test or qualification
(like a skills test or a high school diploma) had the effect of creating
a work force that is statistically out of sync with the racial makeup of
the surrounding community. This theory, known as "disparate
impact," went completely unexplained by the networks. Reporters
might have asked: For all of the breast-beating about racism, why is the
number one civil rights fight about unintentional
Business Necessity. This was the concept
behind most of the struggle for a compromise. But you wouldn't know that
from watching the networks. ABC, CBS and NBC mentioned the concept -- in
one story each. Under Griggs, employers could not use
any hiring procedure that caused a statistical disparity in their work
force, unless they proved a "business necessity" for the
practice. A restrictive definition could force employers to hire drunk
drivers to be drivers if they were minorities or women. [See sidebar
article on right.]
The networks preferred nasty soundbites
to substance. Take Rep. Pat Schroeder, who described the Supreme
Court for ABC on June 24, 1989: "They're just down there ripping up
everything, makin' confetti out of all the stuff that's been goin' on
since the Civil War!" Reporters may decry the "code
words" apparently used by Republicans, but the networks never went
beyond crude symbolism to explain the technical details behind the
conservative position on civil rights. When the networks blame someone
for the trivialization of politics, they might start with themselves.
NBC's Hatchet Job
For a glaring example of bias on the
"civil rights" debate, check out the October 24 NBC
Nightly News. Tom Brokaw reported that George Bush rejected Sen.
John Danforth's compromise by "making a variety of claims many
thought were more political than factual."
On to Andrea Mitchell: "When the
President tried to persuade Republican Senators to support his civil
rights bill yesterday, this two-page White House memo was on the
table....The only problem --most of its claims are dead wrong."
Without giving Bush legal counsel Boyden
Gray any airtime, Mitchell declared Gray was wrong to argue that the
compromise would allow damage suits for unintentional discrimination,
and that it could force trucking companies to hire drivers with drunk
But in the The American Spectator,
former Reagan official Terry Eastland argued the Danforth bill defined
"business necessity" so narrowly "that employers would
have had to hire people capable of doing only the job at issue -- and
little more. Thus, it was fair enough for the Bush Administration to say
that under the Danforth bill, a trucking company would have to hire dock
workers with drunk-driving convictions, even if it wanted dock workers
who could be promoted as drivers."
On November 4, Legal Times
reporter Stuart Taylor Jr. wrote: "News coverage of the civil
rights battle has been marred by glaring inaccuracies as well as
tendentious oversimplifications. One example: Andrea Mitchell's
flagrantly biased report" on the 24th. Taylor found all of Gray's
points were "arguably correct and within the realm of fair
advocacy, if perhaps a bit overdrawn."
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