TV, Magazines Avoid Covering Clinton Finances
SHILLING FOR BILL AND HILLARY
While reporters mourned the
rough-and-tumble media coverage Bill Clinton received from the New York
tabloids, they continued to cover for Clinton. On March 20, The
Washington Times reported that contrary to Hillary Clinton's claim
that she never got "one dime" from state business, she
received $2,000 a month in legal fees for at least 15 months for
defending business partner James McDougal's failed Madison Savings &
Loan before a state agency. This charge has been totally ignored, while Time
and Newsweek wrote apologetic articles about unfair scrutiny of
working political wives.
Hillary's critics came under fire from
the media. As returns came in March 17, NBC commentator John Chancellor
took sides: "Jerry Brown's inaccurate attack on Hillary Clinton's
legal fees did not work." On March 23, after The Washington
Times report appeared, ABC's Chris Bury asserted: "Brown
repeated claims that Clinton made money by directing state business to
his wife's law firm. Those claims have never been proven."
Even reporters who specialize in
critiquing the media ignored the Washington Times story. In a
March 27 story complaining about unfair scrutiny of Clinton, Washington
Post reporter Howard Kurtz suggested Hillary "generally
declines her share of fees from clients with state business." In
the April 6 Newsweek, Jonathan Alter argued: "Jerry Brown
was grossly wrong about Clinton 'funneling money' into his wife's law
practice....Hillary Clinton takes no share of state fees, but if she
did, it would be peanuts."
The same pattern happened earlier in the
month. On March 8, The New York Times first reported on the
partnership with McDougal. One week later, The Washington Post reported
on Hillary's law firm and its dealings with state agencies. In both
cases, the networks aired snippets of arguments, but did nothing to
investigate the claims independently From March 8 to 31, the four
networks did only five full stories and mentioned the financial
questions in only nine stories.
NBC aired only one story, on the 16th.
CBS made a brief mention of the New York Times story on the
8th, and then dismissed financial questions on the 16th. Reporter
Richard Threlkeld portrayed it as an invasion of privacy: "And now,
as Hillary Clinton is asking, must a wife sacrifice her career if it
might interfere with her husband's? Not the sort of campaign issue the
voters were expecting."
The newsmagazines were even less
interested. In their March 23 editions, Newsweek devoted one
clause; Time reported nothing; and U.S. News & World
Report, which did a big report on the dealings of presidential son
George W. Bush the week before, left the Clintons alone.
Fox Guarding the Democratic Coop.
The Democratic National Committee has called in an expert to help it
best showcase this July's convention: Garth Ancier,
Vice President for programming at Fox Broadcasting. Electronic
Media's Wayne Walley reported March 16 that Ancier is advising
Smith-Hemion Productions, the convention organizer, "on such
diverse elements as set construction and message delivery to help the
political event excite younger viewers and voters." Ancier spent
seven years in NBC's programming department before helping to launch the
Fox network in 1986 as head of programming. In 1989 he began a tour as
President of television production for Walt Disney Television. Last year
he returned to NBC as Executive Producer of the short- lived Sunday
Best series, rejoining Fox last fall.
Tsongas Tsays. Two
newspaper veterans climbed aboard the Paul Tsongas presidential campaign
just a few weeks before he dry docked it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
reporter Jon Sawyer went on leave in early February so
he could sign up as an adviser. A foreign policy and defense reporter in
the Washington bureau since 1980, Sawyer told MediaWatch
that before returning to the bureau he hopes to write a book on his
campaign experience. In mid-February Philip Lentz
became the Press Secretary. Most recently Deputy Press Secretary to N.Y.
Lt. Gov. Stan Lundine, Lentz handled press for New York City Democratic
mayoral candidate Richard Ravitch. Until jumping to politics in 1989,
Lentz spent seven years with the Chicago Tribune, the last
three as New York bureau chief. Lentz spent the fall of 1988 covering
Back for More. Peggy
Noonan, a speechwriter for President Reagan, author of President Bush's
1988 convention acceptance speech, and the person who coined the
"Read my lips, no new taxes" phrase, has returned to the White
House as a speechwriter charged with "message development."
Reportedly Noonan, who wrote radio commentaries for Dan Rather in the
early 1980s, will move to the campaign staff in June.
Bye-Bye Betty. After 16
years with Today, NBC News decided not to renew the contract
for consumer reporter Betty Furness. She made her last
appearance on March 18. Before joining New York City's WNBC-TV in 1974,
Furness held several political jobs. First she served President Lyndon
Johnson as Special Assistant for consumer affairs, followed in 1970 by
an appointment by Governor Rockefeller as Executive Director of the New
York state Consumer Protection Board. She became Commissioner of the New
York City Department of Consumer Affairs under Democratic Mayor Lindsay
Senator Wyche Fowler, a Georgia Democrat, has brought aboard a new Press
Secretary with network television experience. Norm Kurz
was Research Director for the News Election Service, a New York area
election information service, in 1980 and worked for ABC's election unit
during the 1982 campaign. In the mid-'80s Kurz put in a Press Secretary
stint with U.S. Representative Les Aspin (D-Wisconsin).
CBS on CBO:
The media's class war continues. On March
5, The New York Times topped its front page with an article
headlined "Even Among the Well-Off, the Richest Get Richer."
According to the Times, the top one percent of earners garnered
60 percent of the income gains in what it called "the 80s,"
from 1977 to 1989. But the Times took five paragraphs to cite
their source, the Democrat- appointed Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
CBS took the Democrats' study and created another one-sided,
emotion-loaded, hate-the-rich commentary in the guise of a news story,
earning the April Janet Cooke Award.
The New York Times story, by
economics reporter Sylvia Nasar, at least included conservative
economists and reported that the rich declared more of their income to
the IRS in the '80s and paid more taxes because of lower tax rates. All
nuance was lost on the March 5 CBS Evening News. Dan Rather
introduced the story: "In America in the 1980s, what former
President Reagan and those who support him call the Reagan revolution
put more money in the pockets of the rich. We already knew that. But a
new study indicates that those who did best of all by far were the very
richest of the rich."
Bob Faw began: "The new figures
compiled by the Congressional Budget Office show that in the 1980s, for
Americans of privilege, the music was very sweet." To support the
CBO, Faw aired soundbites of Robert Greenstein of the liberal Center for
Budget and Policy Priorities and Bill Clinton waving around the front
page of The New York Times.
Faw attempted to appear balanced by
including Pat Buchanan, who decried the politics of envy, but this is
how he introduced Buchanan: "But today, when toes were being
lovingly tended to on Miami's Gold Coast, and where shopping bags were
bulging on Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive, there were voices which argued
good times for the rich can mean good times for others, too." Faw
ended by showing video of a debutante ball: "The issue of tax
fairness will be front and center in the presidential campaign, even
though it wasn't on the agenda here."
Faw explained: "The numbers show the
rich did get richer, while the bottom 40 percent of families saw their
income decline during the Carter-Reagan years, and the typical American
family saw its income creep up just four percent. For that top one
percent, incomes exploded, up 77 percent."
Wrong. Census Bureau
data shows that average family income grew in every fifth of earners
from 1977 to 1989, except during 1979-80, when every fifth declined. The
CBO's tall tales of trickle-down aren't even close to the Census data.
From 1980-89, the middle fifth of earners gained 8 percent, according to
the Census numbers. CBO found a 0.8 percent decline for the middle
But according to the CBO's numbers, the
middle fifth (or third quintile) of earners, a truly middle-class group,
saw their after-tax incomes decline 5.3 percent from 1977 to 1989. Those
same numbers say 4.5 percentage points of that number (or 85 percent of
the decline) occurred from 1977 to 1980. So the study Clinton is touting
on the campaign trail really proves that the last time Democrats held
both the White House and the Congress, the middle class went in the
tank. CBS and The New York Times avoided that interpretation.
On March 27, CBO Director Robert
Reischauer issued an eight-page memo claiming its data were
misinterpreted. Reischauer backed away from the claim about the top one
percent getting 60 percent of the gains, saying it was not a CBO
statistic, but an analysis of CBO data by economist Paul Krugman.
Instead, he claimed that by the most accurate measure, the top one
percent actually gained 44 percent of the income gain from 1977-89,
meaning the Times front-page chart reveals at least a 36
percent error. The Times didn't report the CBO's back-pedaling.
But Chris Frenze, a Republican economist
for the Joint Economic Committee, told MediaWatch that
according to the CBO's own memo, the top one percent received 44 percent
of the income gain from 1977-89, but only 38 percent of the gain from
1980-89. "For there to be a six-point discrepancy between those two
numbers, the top one percent would have had to make something like 63
percent of the income gains in the Carter years," Frenze concluded.
Frenze later discovered that CBO's own data suggested that the top one
percent got 100 percent of the income gains from 1977-80, since no other
group gained. Will CBS correct its story? Repeated phone calls to Faw
and CBS press representative Donna Dees went unreturned.
The CBO is becoming the statistician's
equivalent of the corrupt House Post Office and House Bank. But instead
of treating CBO claims to scrutiny or balancing them with other
statistics, major media outlets burnish their credibility by passing
them along unquestioned, while their statistical screw-ups have been
covered up or ignored. This latest fraud may get as much press as the
CBO's ridiculous errors in projecting capital gains, missing in its
estimates by more than 100 percent. The major media have yet to report
A BOOK GONE WRONG.
If it sells, who cares if it's accurate? That seems to be the view of
Andrews and McMeel, the book publisher which just released America:
What Went Wrong, the paperback form of the October 1991 Philadelphia
Inquirer series by the same name. As documented in the December and
February issues of MediaWatch, reporters
Donald Barlett and James Steele used misleading or inaccurate statistics
to portray the middle class as decimated by tax cuts and deregulation.
asked Donna Martin, editorial director at Andrews and McMeel, if the
firm had checked the book's statistical assertions for accuracy.
"No," she responded before noting that she was pleased that
the book "reflects the public mood" and is the basis of some
April episodes of Bill Moyers' Listening to America PBS series.
So much for fact checking.
FUDGING THE BUDGET. Even
though the 1990 budget agreement has failed to control spending as its
backers promised, it is still being trumpeted as a success by the media.
In a March 6 "news analysis," Washington Post
reporter Steven Mufson charged: "Today, with another election at
hand, Bush seems willing to borrow a little more from young people's
futures to protect his own." Mufson suggested: "Many of the
President's own supporters were dismayed at his renunciation of the hard
won budget compromise. And many economists criticized Bush's apparent
renewal of his 1988 'read my lips' campaign pledge." Mufson didn't
include any critics of the budget deal.
In the March 16 issue of Time,
Washington reporter Michael Duffy complained: "Rather than telling
Americans why he wants another four years and what he intends to do with
them, Bush is repudiating one of the few domestic accomplishments of his
first term -- a successful budget compromise that cut and capped
spending, raised taxes and reduced government borrowing by nearly $500
What country's budget is he referring to?
In a February 10 Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Heritage
Foundation's Daniel Mitchell reported domestic spending under Bush has
risen twice as fast as under Carter.
REGARDING HENRY. It's
not too hard to see which side of the NEA controversy Time has
taken. In the March 9 issue, art critic William A. Henry III wrote that
Bush's NEA has "allowed the right wing to misrepresent culture as a
hotbed of the unpatriotic, the irreligious, the sexually permissive, and
perverse." He bemoaned the fact that even media figures, such as
ABC's Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, have called for the NEA's
"Rather than a pluralist tolerance
in which one seeks only to ensure that one's side is heard, anti-NEA
campaigners seem to seek a monopoly in which no other values can be
affirmed by the government," Henry charged. He failed to explain
that the values he wants the NEA to affirm are those of the
chocolate-covered, half-naked, lesbian performance artist.
Henry instructed readers: "In a
heterogenous society there are other, often antagonistic points of view
with equal entitlement to respect." So Michelangelo's David
and Andres Serrano's Piss Christ are worthy of equal respect?
NO PROBE FROM STROBE. Time
Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott has made no secret of his affection for
his former Oxford housemate Bill Clinton. In the April 6 Time, Talbott
defended Clinton's draft record: "At issue is what lawyers call
state of mind: How real was Clinton's concern that he might be drafted?
The surmise that he had nothing to worry about is based on more than 20
years' hindsight...In the autumn of '69, no one who was at the mercy of
the draft knew for sure who would be called up when and according to
While the April 6 issue was still on the
newsstands, the news broke that Clinton admitted receiving a draft
induction notice in the spring of 1969, something he'd avoided
telling most people, apparently even his friend at Time.
Talbott's tale of tragedy turned to farce. He quoted Clinton writing a
friend in the fall of 1969: "I am resolved to go to England come
hell or high water and take my chances." Asked by Washington
Times reporter John Elvin if he would revise his apologia, Talbott
NOW COVER-UP. Months
after other newspapers and magazines broke the story, The New York
Times has seen fit to announce that Patricia Ireland, President of
the National Organization for Women (NOW), has a female companion in
addition to her husband. In December, The Advocate interviewed
Ireland, who admitted to the affair. On March 3, reporter Jane Gross
penned a New York Times Magazine profile of Ireland, suggesting
Ireland's admission wasn't voluntary: "But her hand was forced by The
Advocate, a gay-and-lesbian publication that threatened to 'out'
her if she did not cooperate with an interview, Ireland says."
Not quite. On January 15, Washington
Post columnist Judy Mann reported that when Ireland "was asked
[last July] about her family, she disclosed the information. The New
York Times did not print it. The story merely said that she was
married and the couple had no children."
Instead of coming clean about the Times'
self-censorship, Gross celebrated her subject: "Ireland has a
winsome smile, a perfectly sculptured pageboy and a sleek wardrobe
accumulated in her days as a partner in a Miami law firm....And her
voice is sweetly modulated, especially when she is trying to win a point
or have her way." Gross didn't even bother to identify NOW as
liberal, just "hard-edged." But she did label another woman:
"Beverly LaHaye, President of the right-wing anti-abortion group
Concerned Women for America."
FEMINIST FORUM. In
January, MediaWatch reported on Good
Morning America co-host Joan Lunden's tribute to feminism when she
interviewed NOW President Patricia Ireland and liberal columnist Ellen
Goodman. On March 19, the tribute resumed when she interviewed Gloria
Steinem and liberal reporter Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The
Undeclared War Against Women.
Once again, Lunden engaged in a feminist
lovefest rather than a debate. Lunden's questions included: "Why
this backlash? Because a lot of women are talking about it now and
feeling it," and "Isn't it nice to have something to just
blame all these things on...From reading Susan's things, I mean, I
really feel you feel there is a very strong backlash. Do you
agree?" Lunden even criticized the media: "You're talking
about these messages, these media messages that are all of a sudden
coming out; that if you sit and look at them you can say, wait a minute,
you know, this does seem...anti-woman." She ended: "We could
go on and on about this, as they do at many, many dinner parties, I'm
sure at many tables, but I gotta jump out of here."
POTTER SAVES THE PLANET.
As June's U.N. "Earth Summit" nears, some in the media are
doing their best to fan the "global warming" hysteria. Take
Ned Potter's completely imbalanced March 12 report on ABC's World
News Tonight. Potter, noting the Bush Administration's reluctance
to give in to the green lobby, fumed: "At stake [at the Earth
Summit] is a treaty to control the industrial gases, like carbon dioxide
from oil and coal, that trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere and
threaten to warm the world." As usual, Potter left out scientists
like MIT's Richard Lindzen, who do not believe warming is occurring.
But Potter's real villain was John Sununu.
Potter exalted, "Sources say what's allowed this debate to take
place is the departure of John Sununu as Chief of Staff. They say he was
so anti-environment and so intimidating that nobody dared tangle with
him...Staff members complain that John Sununu held them up for two
years. Now they only have two months to get a proposal together."
Potter's the intimidated one: if Sununu's arguments were so weak, why
was Potter so afraid to cite them?
UNGAGGED OPINION. The
Bush Administration revised the so-called gag rule to allow doctors to
give limited abortion counseling at federally-funded clinics, but
network reporters still weren't satisfied. On the March 20 NBC
Nightly News, reporter John Cochran told Tom Brokaw: "I think
there will be more abortion counseling, because, along with these
guidelines, an unwritten signal is being sent that the thought police
will not be watching very carefully what's going on in these
ABC News reporter Al Dale followed on
March 30: "But thousands of other clinics more dependent than
Planned Parenthood on federal money may have to obey the rules, leaving
many women who cannot afford private care with no place to turn for
qualified medical advice on abortion." Neither reporter discussed
the difference between the legal right to abortion and the demand that
taxpayers subsidize the promotion of abortion.
On March 21, ABC correspondent Karen
Burnes reported: "According to a recent ABC News poll, most
Americans favor a woman's right to choose an abortion under certain
circumstances; only 10 percent oppose it." Burnes avoided polls on
issues before the Supreme Court., such as a January Gallup survey that
showed 70 to 86 percent support for restrictions like parental consent
and spousal notification.
ENGBERG ERRS AGAIN.
"The way America treats its children from newborns to teens has
deteriorated to danger levels according to a new study out today,"
Eric Engberg breathlessly declared on the March 23 CBS Evening News.
Engberg treated the study, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the
Center for the Study of Social Policy, as the gospel truth, a
threatening crisis beyond dispute.
But CBS excluded critics like Heritage
Foundation analyst Robert Rector, who told The New York Times the
report was "pure mental rubbish" that "ignores $150
billion in welfare; so it doesn't look at the children's
standard-of-living conditions." Census Bureau statistics don't
consider substantial non-cash welfare benefits such as housing
assistance and Medicaid. Engberg also reported that child poverty
increased 22 percent in the 1980s. But the Children's Defense Fund, a
left-wing lobby for increased welfare dependency, calculated that the
percentage of children in poverty declined from 22.3 percent in 1983 to
19.6 percent in 1989.
Without citing any statistical source,
Engberg insisted "social workers have encountered more homeless
children." For emotional impact, he turned to a social service
worker who explained how homeless kids "forget how to laugh, they
just sit, they cry a lot. We have a lot of kids that cry. They've lost a
sense of trust." The poorest thing in Engberg's story was the
LANE COMPLAINS. Newsweek
reporter Charles Lane, who reported from El Salvador from 1987 to
1990, took issue with an item in last month's MediaWatch.
In the January 27 Newsweek, Lane wrote on the Salvadoran war:
"By 1980, 800 death-squad victims a month were being dumped on the
dusty streets." We responded that such a sentence ignores the
killings of the communist FMLN at that time and throughout the war. In a
letter, Lane called our article "a patently specious attack." MediaWatch
replied: "Your formulation, that the war's deaths are somehow
appropriately measured only by the presumed killings of one side, is
Wrote Lane: "In my three years in
Salvador, some of my leftier colleagues in the press corps used to
excoriate me for allegedly harping on FMLN abuses. Now you guys are
slamming me for allegedly doing the opposite. In both cases the charges
are bogus." In a later phone conversation, Lane also told MediaWatch:
"I had the Salvadoran air force threaten me, I had the FMLN
threaten me, I had the FMLN ban me from their territory because they
were spreading the rumor that I was a CIA agent. And to have you accuse
me of bias on the subject of El Salvador, after I have wrestled with
that experience, after I have wrestled with those issues for five years,
trying to come to some semblance of truth about that place, which is a
damned difficult place to understand, is a cheap shot. And it's not
worthy of your publication, which on many occasions I think properly
skewers the press for its real biases."
Reporters Take Cue
from Left-Wing Class War Specialists
ALL FLAT ON THE FLAT TAX
Democratic presidential candidate Jerry
Brown's surprise win in the March 24 Connecticut primary led the
networks to examine the only conservative policy he espouses: replacing
virtually all current federal taxes with a flat income tax and Value
Added Tax (VAT), both at 13 percent. Every story looked at the idea from
the left, relying on loaded figures released by Citizens for Tax Justice
(CTJ). The day after the primary, NBC's Lisa Myers began the crusade:
"Brown portrays himself as the champion of the little guy. Yet, his
flat tax would cut taxes on the rich and increase them on everyone
else." Myers then cut to CTJ President Robert McIntyre.
On World News Tonight, Bob Jamieson
asserted: "The group's study ...says Brown's plan would hurt middle
and low income families." After citing some figures, he continued:
"The group says the business tax would be passed on to consumers.
That would hit low income families hardest, because they spend a higher
percentage of their income on essential goods and services."
CTJ's press release called the flat tax
"just another dose of 'trickle down' economics. It would be the
greatest thing for the rich and powerful since Andrew Mellon was Calvin
Coolidge's Treasury Secretary in the 1920s." But reporters failed
to identify CTJ's left-wing agenda. Instead, on the March 26 Prime
Time Live Sam Donaldson reported: "According to the
non-partisan organization Citizens for Tax Justice, an average American
family with an income of $32,000 now pays combined federal income,
Social Security, excise and gas taxes of $5,920. Under the Brown plan,
the same family would pay between $7,360 and $8,320 while the wealthy
one percent would get a tax cut of $86,000." On NBC Nightly
News on March 27 reporter Mike Jensen declared that "most
economists don't think it will work" and "that his plan would
help the rich, but hurt the poor and middle class." Jensen then
cited the CTJ figures, saying they came from "one independent
CNN attempted balance. Reporter Brooks
Jackson put CTJ's numbers into an on-screen table, but he also
interviewed two pro-flat tax economists, noting "most economists
say a flat tax would be simple, efficient and great for business."
Only CNN, in an earlier story, mentioned CTJ's interest in the debate:
Until becoming Clinton's campaign manager, David Wilhelm had been CTJ's
No reporter, however, explored the games
CTJ played. Brown's plan would let people deduct their rent, a factor
CTJ failed to estimate. To make the flat tax seem more burdensome on the
poor and middle class, CTJ's flat tax table added six percent for state
sales taxes and assumed the poor would pay the 13 percent VAT on their
entire income. But to measure the current situation, CTJ did not count
state sales taxes. In the April 20 New Republic, the Hudson
Institute's Alan Reynolds explained that "we already have a flat
tax that exceeds 15 percent. It is called the Social Security tax. And
it falls on the very first dollar earned. Because Brown would scrap that
tax, the net effect is to replace a 15 percent tax with a 13 percent
In a National Center for Policy Analysis
study, economists Gary and Aldona Robbins noted the flat tax would spur
job growth by shifting the tax burden from labor to capital and that
simply keeping the personal exemption would insure that the poor don't
pay more. As for reporter's contention that a VAT would further burden
individuals, they explained: "Those who believe that VAT taxes
would be passed on to consumers must also believe that Social Security
taxes, corporate income taxes and excise taxes are currently being
passed along to consumers -- since these taxes are also costs of doing
Look Who's Advising
Last year, PBS put a new twist on its Point
of View (P.O.V.) series by airing Tongues Untied, a
60-minute ode to black gays by Marlon Riggs. Many PBS stations didn't
air the film because of its coarse language and images of two men
rollicking in bed. Now, P.O.V. producers have announced this
summer's series will be kicked off on June 15 by Riggs' new film, Color
Adjustment, which argues that TV programs like Roots
aren't representative of the black experience.
Riggs won new celebrity from the Buchanan
campaign, which ran ads in the South attacking Tongues Untied.
In their zest to play "truth squad" with Buchanan's ad, at
least five news outlets (CNN, NBC, Time, Newsweek, and
The Washington Post) incorrectly reported that the federal
government only gave Tongues Untied $5,000 in 1988. The P.O.V.
series, however, received $250,000 from the NEA, $300,000 from PBS, and
$215,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1991.
Riggs is not only an NEA favorite, he's a
six-figure federal darling. In addition to being funded by NEA, PBS, CPB,
and the NEH, Riggs was just awarded $245,000 from the federally-funded
Independent Television Service (ITVS), the new welfare program for
He is also an appointed arbiter of public
taste: Riggs sits on the PBS Programming Policy Committee, an advisory
board to programming chief Jennifer Lawson. Appointed in 1989, Lawson
has a long left-wing history. In the late '60s, she worked for the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the National Council of
Negro Women. In the early 1970s, she worked for the one-party socialist
government of Tanzania, perfect training for the one-party mentality of
Thomas Trashed Again
Some Supreme Court reporters continue to
reduce complex legal issues to tabloid simplicity. In February, MediaWatch
reported how USA Today reporter Tony Mauro lambasted Clarence
Thomas for ruling against a black county commissioner in a voting rights
case. Mauro avoided the legal issues, instead focusing on race and who
In a March 10 article headlined
"Thomas Ultraconservative on Death Penalty Case," Mauro used a
different spin. Thomas issued the lone dissent from the Court's decision
that a white prisoner's membership in a racist prison gang could not be
used against him during sentencing. Thomas would look good to his
simplistic critics -- he'd ruled against a racist.
But Mauro wrote: "New Supreme Court
Justice Clarence Thomas has come under attack recently for his
near-total adherence to the views of the court's most conservative
members -- Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
But in a case handed down Monday, Thomas parted company with Scalia and
Rehnquist. He took a stand more conservative than theirs."
When liberal Judge Leon Higginbotham
wrote to Thomas accusing him of forgetting his roots, Washington
Post reporter Ruth Marcus subtly endorsed Higginbotham's view:
"But in a plea that has taken on added poignancy as Thomas's
initial votes on the court have placed him among the most conservative
justices, Higginbotham at moments sound almost beseeching as he urges
Thomas not to join a majority that `will continue to retreat from
protecting the rights of the poor, women, the disadvantaged, minorities,
and the powerless.'"
NETWORKS MISS PLENTY
Washington's most underreported story may
be the growing inattention the news media are paying to the workings of
Congress. According to a 1985 study in the Washington Journalism
Review, the number of Capitol Hill stories on the nightly network
news decreased by half between the late '70s and 1980-84. Increasingly,
Washington news is centered at the White House, heading east to the Hill
only for reaction to presidential initiatives. This goes double for
scandals. White House appointees have long been target practice for
investigative barbs, but the media have comparatively little appetite
for legislative scandal.
This is unmistakably illustrated by the
networks' lack of fervor in uncovering the House Bank scandal. The story
first surfaced on February 7, 1990, when the General Accounting Office
(GAO) reported it found $232,000 in bad House checks during the previous
12 months. Only The Washington Post (on February 8 and 21) and
the Los Angeles Times (reprinting the second Post
story on April 8) did stories on the GAO findings. The networks aired
On September 19, 1991, the Capitol Hill
newspaper Roll Call publicized the latest GAO report on the House Bank.
While newspapers followed the revelations, the networks reported nothing
for an entire two weeks, until October 3, when the House voted to shut
the bank down. All four networks then put on one story, and then dropped
the ball again until March 5, when the House ethics committee released
its report on the bank. Suddenly, the bank became a worthwhile story.
To study the tone and scope of the
coverage, MediaWatch analysts watched all
stories on the House Bank and House Post Office scandals from March 5 to
April 4 on the four network evening news programs (ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC
Nightly News). In that month, the networks aired 58 stories on the
House Bank scandal and its repercussions. Of these, 18 were short
anchor-read stories and three were NBC interviews. Twelve of the 58
stories followed Speaker Foley's agenda: executive and legislative
perks. As the scandal developed, charges flew, but the networks often
failed to go beyond airing the charges and investigate for themselves.
Among the stories that are still uninvestigated:
THE POST OFFICE. The
Washington Times uncovered a scandal at the House Post Office in
early February, including the bombshell that Speaker Thomas Foley had
told no one in the press or the Congress about possible criminal
activity, including cocaine selling. The networks were silent. Other
newspapers, such as The Washington Post, The New York Times,
and USA Today, began to follow up, but when Postmaster Robert
Rota implicated the Speaker's wife and unpaid top aide, Heather Foley,
in the coverup, even these papers dropped the ball. Of the 58 stories on
House operations, only nine have even mentioned the post office scandal,
and three of those were brief anchor-read stories. In fact, NBC, which
along with CNN, paid the most early attention to the scandal, reported
on it only once.
THE TOP 22'S SLEAZE FACTOR.
To date, the networks have refused to report that some of the top 22
check bouncers have resigned or been embarrassed by previous ethical
lapses. One of the top 22 check bouncers was former House Majority Whip
Tony Coelho. Among currently serving abusers, Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN)
has gone to trial for bank fraud over a $350,000 loan; Rep. Bill
Alexander (D-AR) took a $60,000 flight with his family to Rio de
Janeiro; and Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-OH) violated House rules when she
put a woman on her payroll who was living in New York. On April 4, The
Washington Post reported that Oakar resigned from a House task
force looking into the post office, and that the Cleveland Plain
Dealer alleged she had sponsored two "ghost" employees
who collected salaries but did not work.
In at least two morning network
appearances, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich charged Rep. Ron Colean
(D-TX), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, with securing a
$65,000 loan with a constituent who was also seeking a $6 million grant
before the committee. Network reporters failed to follow up on that
charge, even to prove Gingrich wrong.
LARRY HOPKINS. The
networks failed to examine early leaks of House check bouncers,
particularly the case of Rep. Larry Hopkins (R-KY). When Hopkins tried
to run for Governor in the fall of 1991, someone on Capitol Hill leaked
his House Bank records, and he lost. No one investigated why or how
Hopkins' name was leaked, or who had it done. (Only Newsweek
alluded to the partisan leak. On March 12, ABC's Prime Time Live
referred to Hopkins' loss, but not the possibly partisan leak.)
PETER KOSTMAYER. Last
October, the conservative weekly Human Events wrote a detailed
story on the check-bouncing abuses of Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-PA) from
1983 to mid-1985, including a check for $23,000 that left his account
overdrawn by $32,000. His account was overdrawn for six months at a
time. But none of the networks put the story on the air. Kostmayer
didn't make the top 22 abusers.
CAMPAIGN FINANCING. None
of the evening news shows has reported that some House members, in
violation of federal election laws, gave themselves loans from the House
Bank to help finance their campaigns. At least three Democrats,
including Charles Wilson (TX) and 1990 losers Doug Walgren (PA) and Jim
Bates (CA) admitted the practice. (The March 20 Today did carry
a story on this by NBC's Andrea Mitchell.)
MEDIA CHECK-BOUNCERS. To
date, nobody's reported that the sergeant-at-arms allowed reporters
to cash personal checks of $50 or less at the House Bank, some of which
have been held. The Democratic leadership is refusing to release the
names of media check-bouncers. Could it be reporters are afraid of
offending the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which operates the
House and Senate press galleries? This committee not only hands out
perks (such as parking spaces on the Capitol grounds) to journalists; it
will also help decide who gets the best credentials for the conventions
this summer. Nobody knows, because the networks haven't reported it.
The networks will have plenty of
opportunities to cover the House scandals now that the special counsel
is investigating. Indictments and convictions will probably follow. But
when executive branch scandals like Iran-Contra broke, the networks
didn't wait for the special prosecutor to publicly reveal what he had
uncovered; they dug for leaks and investigated on their own. If
Washington-based network reporters really want to be watchdogs of the
government, they ought to apply the same zeal to Capitol Hill.
THE WATCHDOG YAWNS.
Imagine the media defending Ronald Reagan for keeping the Iran-Contra
diversion secret for two years. Ridiculous? Then consider the spectacle
of the media defending Speaker Tom Foley, who hid the post office
scandal from reporters for months.
Take, for example, Today show
co-host Katie Couric interviewing House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich on
March 16: "You've charged that the Speaker sat on the report for
ten months linking drug sales to the post office. Yet he says he
immediately called in postal inspectors. Postal inspectors did come in
and there are indictments pending against the employees. So isn't this a
cheap shot?" Cheap shot? Foley not only hid the scandal from the
press, he hid it from everyone, including his fellow House Democrats.
On March 17, New York Times
reporter Clifford Krauss took it upon himself to defend the good name of
Werner Brandt, one of Speaker Foley's long-time top aides. "Now Mr.
Gingrich hurls an attack a day on national television and the House
floor with little regard for such niceties as evidence....he suggested
without offering any evidence that Werner W. Brandt, the newly appointed
acting sergeant-at-arms, 'may have been involved in actions stopping the
Capitol police from investigating cocaine selling in the post
office.'" In effect, Krauss told the reader Gingrich's charge was
baseless, but Krauss did not tell readers that Foley admitted that
Brandt was in on keeping the Post Office scandal from the public.
Investigating Brandt's role is the media's job, and nobody's doing it.
Some reporters simply yawned at the
possibility of House corruption. On Inside Washington March 14,
National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg dismissed the imbroglio:
"It has no merit as a really good scandal. There's no public money
involved...It was a lousily run bank and that's stupid and probably
someone should pay for it, but it is not that major." Such
dismissals came before any of the offenders or their records had been
disclosed; before the special counsel investigated possible crimes;
before any of the indicted House post office employees go to trial; in
short, before the full story is known.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe