Looting a Rational Response to a Decade of Greed
BLAMING THE RIOT ON REAGAN
As South Central Los Angeles went up in
flames, reporters didn't hold the individual perpetrators responsible.
Instead, many tried to convince viewers that the rioting was a rational
response to the conservative policies of the 1980s. Today's
Bryant Gumbel blamed Ronald Reagan as soon as he could, asserting the
morning after rioting began: "We keep looking for some good to come
out of this. Maybe it might help in putting race relations on the front
burner, after they've been subjugated for so long as a result of the
That evening, on the April 30 NBC
Nightly News, John Chancellor discussed the impact of the '80s on
blacks and whites: "Both groups have been shaped by American
politics over the last dozen years. Politicians have fanned these flames
with code words about `welfare queens,' `equal opportunity,' and
`quotas.' Language designed to turn whites against blacks. With
two-party politics that favored the rich and hurt everyone else."
The next morning on Today, Gumbel claimed the violence was
"fueled by the frustration and anger that accompanies feelings of
inequality and despair." Gumbel also blamed the rest of the
country: "Taking their cues from Washington, most Americans over
the past dozen years have chosen to ignore the issue of civil rights,
and the growing signs of racial division."
On C-SPAN's May 1 Journalists'
Roundtable, Philadelphia Inquirer Washington reporter
Alexis Moore agreed: "Somebody who is in elected office ought to
have enough guts to say I know I may lose the election, but this is the
result of the past ten, twelve, fifteen years of neglect, this is the
result of putting selfish [sic] and greed ahead of the needs of us
all." Moore insisted tensions "have been cynically exploited
by the past two Presidents" who have "encouraged not only
misbehavior by police officers, but misbehavior by people in higher
office. When you allow those who are supposed to be protecting the law
to break it, when you ignore people with briefcases stealing millions
and millions of dollars in the form of the S&Ls, when you pretend
that Iran-Contra really didn't happen, you are encouraging people to do
anything they want to do as long as it benefits them."
USA Today reporter Richard Wolfblamed it
all on a four year old television ad: "We mentioned Willie Horton
earlier. That kind of ad obviously plays into this whole situation. When
you have such a calculus going on in the political community about how
to set one group against another, you can actually exacerbate racist
"What effect did the Reagan-Bush,
then the Bush years, have on the lives of black Americans?" Peter
Jennings asked on May 4. "It won't be easy for the Democrats to
argue that it's simply a matter of spending the right amount of
money," he added, but the following stories did just that. Using
numbers from the liberal Center for Budget & Policy Priorities,
Rebecca Chase argued that during the 1980s "While the numbers on
welfare increased, the value of the assistance fell by more than 30
percent. During the same time, other federal spending in the cities also
dropped. Subsidized housing fell 82 percent. Job training, 63 percent.
And programs to develop new business, down 40 percent."
Next, George Strait charged: "In the
last ten years, federal and state budget cuts have caused the whole
medical infrastructure in America's inner cities to become unraveled.
There are fewer dollars for immunizations; fewer hospitals, fewer
clinics, fewer doctors, and fewer blacks have health insurance."
ABC failed to consider the argument that
welfare spending has encouraged dependency. As to ABC's claims, The
Washington Post noted on May 6 that federal spending on income
security programs has jumped in constant 1991 dollars from $125 billion
in the late 1970s to nearly $175 billion this year. Spending on
immunization programs have grown from $32 million in 1980 to $186
million in 1990. And in the '80s, the percent of black families with
real incomes over $50,000 jumped from 8.2 to 13.2 percent, while those
under $15,000 fell from 40 to 38 percent.
What legacy will the media assign to the
L.A. rioting? Well, on the May 6 Today, Katie Couric asked Pat
Buchanan: "Many are afraid the L.A. riots are going to be the
'Willie Horton' of this campaign. Are you afraid they're going to have a
very divisive effect? Does that concern you or are you playing that
Clift demanded more spending: "We
ought to pay attention to people that we have neglected through a dozen
years of Repub-lican policies that have ignored the domestic
How about considering individual
responsibility? During ABC's 20/20, Hugh Downs insisted: "We should
avoid focusing exclusively on the rage and inappropriate behavior of
oppressed and frustrated people who started these riots."
Finally, Bill Blakemore charged: "In
a recent study, 44 percent of urban school buildings were judged simply
too old and many of those have had virtually no maintenance since 1981.
Between $100 and 160 billion would be needed just to bring school
buildings up to minimum standards."
"President Bush does not have a
great track record with many black Americans, beginning with the use of
the controversial Willie Horton ads in the '88 presidential campaign
through his initial veto of civil rights legislation. Mr. Bush will have
to go a long way to convince skeptical blacks that he is concerned about
the way America's criminal justice system treats them."
Gumbel: "During the 80s nobody even
talked about it. It was like everything was fine. If we shut up, it
would all go away."
"We live in a country where inner
cities are increasingly black and Hispanic, where suburbs are
increasingly white. Two Americas, each afraid and hostile to the other.
So, it's not a big surprise that the jury in suburban Simi Valley sided
with the white policemen, just as it's no surprise that the blacks in
downtown Los Angeles rioted." Chancellor then identified the
Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown hired a second Press
Secretary in March to help handle added media focus prompted by his
Colorado and Connecticut victories. His choice: NBC News investigative
reporter Mark Nykanen, a veteran of two of the many NBC
attempts at a news magazine show. In 1982-83 he reported for Monitor,
which turned into First Camera in the Fall of 1983. Scheduled
opposite 60 Minutes, NBC canceled the show less than a year
later so Nykanen's stories appeared on Nightly News until he
left the network in 1987.
Today in Congress.
Marjorie Margolies, a reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV in
Washington until 1990, won the April Democratic primary for
Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district in suburban Philadelphia.
Margolies, who won the endorsement of the National Organization for
Women, hopes to fill the open seat caused by the retirement of
Republican Larry Coughlin. Married to Edward Mezvinsky, a Democratic
Congressman from Iowa in the early 1970s, she worked for Philadelphia's
CBS-owned WCAU-TV until joining WRC in the mid-'70s. During the '80s,
her stories appeared occasionally on Today,
including a 1991 piece on rising child homelessness.
Going For Perot.
Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot is not only getting
petitions signed, he's signing up media veterans to help run his
campaign. In late April former Chicago Tribune Editor
James Squires moved to Dallas to coordinate media relations for
the billionaire Texan. Editor of the Tribune from 1981 to 1989,
Squires had been Washington Bureau chief from 1974 until taking the helm
at The Orlando Sentinel in 1977 for four years....In March,
former CNN producer Pat Clawson launched Virginians for Perot. Clawson,
who now runs his own business news service for trade journals and radio
stations, worked in CNN's Washington bureau from 1986-88.
Kennedy's Mann. Bob
Mann, Press Seretary to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1984 to 1986,
has landed at Virginia's Roanoke Times & World News as its
city editor. In the 1970s Mann was a reporter and editor with the Ft.
Worth Star-Telegram and now defunct Dallas Times Herald as
well as Chairman of the journalism department at Southern Methodist
University in Texas. During the Carter Administration he worked for the
Council on Wage and Price Stability and ran the FCC's public affairs
Shaw's Newspaper Exchange.
Florida Congressman Clay Shaw's office and the Ft. Lauderdale News
and Sun-Sentinel must exchange resumes. Shaw's Press Secretary,
Nancy Roman, joined The Washington Times early
this year as its Supreme Court reporter. Before joining the Republican's
Capitol Hill office in 1988, Roman had been a News and Sun-Sentinel
reporter. Replacing Roman in Shaw's office is Amy Stromberg,
a Washington correspondent for the Tribune Company-owned News
and Sun-Sentinel who spent three years in Florida before moving
north last year. Stromberg had earlier reported for the Dallas Times
PBS ON THE OCTOBER
Conspiracy has dominated the minds at
PBS. When its lobbyists aren't constructing enemies lists of
conservative critics (to which MediaWatch has
been named), its producers are spending thousands of dollars
investigating would-be scandals of the Reagan years. Now, for the second
time, Frontline has investigated the "October
Surprise," the theory that the Reagan campaign, headed by William
Casey, delayed the release of the Iranian hostages in 1980. For its
series, in which the second episode renounced some (but not all) of the
liars they presented as credible experts in the first, only to offer
more preposterous theories to explain their mistakes, Frontline
earns the Janet Cooke Award.
BRENNEKE. In the second
program on April 7, PBS admitted: "Some self-proclaimed witnesses
to an arms-for-hostages deal have turned out to be not credible at
all." The first and most notorious witness that PBS presented the
second time around was Richard Brenneke. In the April 1991 show, Frontline
announced: "Although Brenneke's credibility remains in question,
government records show that he did work with European arms dealers
supplying Iran during the 1980s. According to one document, Brenneke
once informed a Pentagon intelligence officer about top secret TOW
missile sales to Iran three days before President Reagan authorized
them." The documentary tried to prove Brenneke's claims by arguing
that Bush aide Donald Gregg lied about his role.
Frontline reporter (and
co-writer) Robert Parry defended Brenneke in the April 27, 1991 Washington
Post: "Brenneke's 1990 trial was the government's chance to
disprove the allegations once and for all. But the government failed to
convince even a single juror that Brenneke had lied. The tally on the
five-count indictment was Brenneke 60, the government zero. Despite
impressing the jury, Brenneke's credibility is still assailed by [NBC
producer Mark] Hosenball." Parry concluded: "Hosenball can't
seem to accept that government officials don't always tell the truth,
while sometimes unsavory characters do."
After the first show, former ABC News
producer Frank Snepp, who had used Brenneke as a source at ABC, wrote a Village
Voice article proving Brenneke was lying. Credit card receipts
placed Brenneke in Portland during alleged Paris meetings. In the second
show, Frontline (and Parry) ate their words: "Whether he
lied for personal gain or for some other motive, it's a mystery why he
presented his Paris story under oath to a federal judge in an unrelated
case four years ago."
In a recent letter to the Committee for
Media Integrity, Frontline Executive Editor Louis Wiley wrote
that Frontline's 1990 decision to start their investigation
"was based on two factors: (1) the acquittal of Brenneke and (2)
the shift in views of Gary Sick who, once skeptical, had come to the
conclusion a deal had been struck."
But Frontline was forced in its
second show to admit Brenneke's acquittal meant nothing. Sick's sudden
conversion is belied by a 1988 quote in the Rocky Mountain News:
"At first I dismissed this, but not any more. I'm convinced that on
the basis of what I heard that there were some meetings in Paris."
Sick is also questioned by Steven Emerson, a co-author of last fall's New
Republic exposé. Emerson has done a page-by-page, line-by line
critical analysis of Sick's book, and an excerpt is slated for a
forthcoming New Republic.
Frontline Senior Producer Martin
Smith told MediaWatch that even though
Brenneke lied about Paris, he might not be lying about everything:
"Calling somebody a liar is handy, but does that mean that
everything they say is a lie, and does it explain what their motivation
was? No. If you're solving a mystery, what does that give you? The fact
that he lies about his presence in Paris makes him somebody that, he's a
troubling character. Why the hell did he do this?...I hope someday we
can understand what, who he is, what he's about."
BEN-MENASHE. Ari Ben-Menashe
appeared three times in the first show, highlighted as an Israeli
intelligence officer. PBS reported that "Israeli intelligence
officer Ari Ben-Menashe says he was one of half a dozen Israelis sent to
Paris at Casey's request to help coordinate arms deliveries" and
"Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe claimed that he saw
intelligence reports about Casey's trip to Madrid." After Newsweek
and The New Republic published their exposés of the sources
pushing the October Surprise story, including the fact that Ben-Menashe's
wife called him a liar, Frontline's second program admitted:
"His credibility with reporters collapsed because some of his
assertions proved implausible, particularly his claim about George
THE HASHEMIS. While Frontline
disavowed Brenneke and Ben-Menashe, the producers stood by their belief
in the Hashemi brothers, Jamshid and Cyrus, a pair of Iranian arms
dealers. This despite the New Republic exposé, which declared
Jamshid Hashemi had "even worse credibility problems" than
Brenneke and Ben-Menashe; and the Village Voice placed Cyrus as
flying from Paris instead of to Paris on August 14, when the meetings
supposedly took place.
Since new evidence repudiated their theories about an October Surprise, Frontline
proceeded to offer up new ones. In the first show, Frontline
contemplated the horrible possibility that the Reagan campaign sought to
delay the release of the hostages. In the second, they completely
shifted course, investigating whether "Republican contacts with
Iranians did exist, but were intended not to delay a hostage release,
but to win their release as early as possible."
The broadcast ended with yet another
theory: that the CIA sent out Brenneke to lie and discredit October
Surprise investigations. "The allegation that Brenneke participated
in Paris meetings was not at first put forward by Brenneke
himself," but by a Mr. Razine, otherwise known as Oswald LeWinter.
"He claimed that he had been hired by four American intelligence
operatives to salt October Surprise allegations with enough false
information to discredit the whole story....If nothing else, the story
of Oswald LeWinter seems to epitomize the strange nature of the riddle
called the October Surprise." But it's not as puzzling as it would
seem: PBS aired a bunch of exposed liars, and nothing PBS found proved
an October Surprise.
Perhaps there's a better theory: Knowing
that PBS served as a haven for left-wing anti-CIA conspiracy theorists,
Casey decided to leave his calendar bare, so that after his death, PBS
documentary producers would embarrass themselves by spending hundreds of
thousands of dollars to prove nothing. It worked.
NO HOMELESS HYPE.
In the 1980s the media repeatedly passed along homeless activist Mitch
Snyder's assertion that there were three million homeless people. Now,
one member of the media has acknowledged they bought a PR gimmick. In
the April 6 Newsweek, reporter Jay Mathews came to a new
conclusion: "The figure of 3 million homeless in the United States,
used by advocates and the media in the 1980s, has little basis in fact.
A 1988 Urban Institute report found there were no more than 600,000
homeless people on any night."
In the last few years, Newsweek
itself used the three million number as a legitimate estimate in at
least five stories. Maybe other news organizations will now retract
their overstatements. Don't hold your breath.
ENVIRONMENTAL BULL. Cows
cause global warming. That's what radical Jeremy Rifkin argues. Time
considered his claim serious enough to justify a two page review of
his book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.
In the April 20 article, reporter Madeleine Nash explained: "The
symbiotic bacteria that swell in every cow's gut enable grazers to break
down the cellulose in grass. As a by-product, these bacteria produce
considerable amounts of methane" which "periodically gusts
forth from grazing herds in the form of rumbling postprandial
Speaking of belches, Nash couldn't end
her story without returning the blame to humans: "The environmental
cost of beef is just one aspect of the multiplying burdens of producing
food for an exploding human population. The real threat to the carrying
capacity of planet Earth, dear Jeremy, comes not from our cattle but
TAX MY GAS, PLEASE. Time
magazine may have a brand new design, but it's the content that needs
changing. The perfect example of Time's preachy liberalism: its
often-proposed hike in the gas tax. Seldom has a "news"
magazine crusaded so long and so hard for an idea: Time has
called for an increased gas tax more than 16 times in the last four
The latest outbreak of tax hype occurred
in March. In the March 23 edition, Time suggested: "Tsongas'
higher gasoline tax would help curb America's energy use and would
provide funds for mass transit and rebuilding roads and bridges and
would reduce the budget deficit." As an example of Bush's
environmental "inaction," the March 30 Time cited:
"Refused to consider higher energy taxes." Then, on April 6,
in the first new issue, reporter Dan Goodgame suggested: "Increase
excise taxes on gasoline, alcohol, and tobacco...Larry Summers, an
economics professor on leave from Harvard, for example, calculates that
a tax directed at halving the growth of carbon dioxide emissions would
raise $16 billion a year, while increasing the price of gasoline only 5
cents a gallon."
GANNETT'S GREEN GRADES.
The April 17-19 edition of Gannett's USA Weekend magazine put
together a panel of "environmental experts to study candidates'
environmental records." But the panel only polluted the debate,
using left-wing politics as standards to grade the presidential
The panel included such noted scientists
as Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. of the United Church of Christ's Commission
for Racial Justice, and old-age hippie Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice
Cream. Predictably, the panel gave Jerry Brown A's and B's, allowed Bush
to squeak by with D's, and trashed Pat Buchanan, giving him mostly F's.
Why were no market-oriented environmental
experts included? Although USA Weekend summarized the business
view in a 182-word sidebar, Assistant Editor Kathy McCleary told MediaWatch
they had asked Russell Train, head of Nixon's EPA, to be a
panelist representing the conservative point of view. The Competitive
Enterprise Institute's Kent Jeffries told MediaWatch
he wasn't contacted, and was surprised when told USA Weekend
had asked Train, a green fellow-traveler, to represent the
conservatives. This shouldn't be surprising: USA Weekend
considered the owner of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream an "environmental
FAMILY MATTERS. While
conservatives talk of giving parents more options and decision-making
power, liberals talk about increasing taxes, spending more money and
adding more layers of bureaucracy. On the April 4 NBC Nightly News,
John Cochran measured Bush's performance by the liberal standard,
declaring the President's record of support for the family
Cochran explained: "He has been
generous in supporting the pre- school Head Start program, but educators
complain that he has been tight-fisted with other school programs...Bush
vetoed a parental leave bill, forcing employers to give workers time off
to deal with newborn babies and other family emergencies. Bush urged
firms to grant paid leave voluntarily, if they can afford it....Instead
of building day car centers, Bush insisted on tax credits for parents,
who are free to employ relatives or neighbors as babysitters."
ADORING ANNA. When New
York Times columnist Anna Quindlen won the Pulitzer Prize for
commentary, it made NBC's Today so happy that they interviewed
her twice -- in one week. Mary Alice Williams, co-host of Sunday
Today, and Katie Couric, co-host of Today, each took a
turn celebrating feminism's newest heroine. For example, Williams' April
12 introduction: "A number of brilliant writers this week won the
grand slam of journalism, the Pulitzer Prize. But only one of them
produces the kind of work that people tear out of the paper and tape to
the 'fridge." She described her guest as "one of the most
influential journalists in America" and "a woman who's always
exercising her intellect." Williams' idea of a tough question:
"You have it all! Don't you just hate that?"
On April 8, Couric told Quindlen "So
often I read [your] things and I think: 'Yes!' Now obviously you're
convincing me or reaffirming some of my beliefs." What is it about
Quindlen's columns that so delights Couric and Williams? Maybe such
profound 'Quindlenisms' as, on January 24, 1991: "Sunday, the Super
Bowl will be played in Tampa and so, inevitably, my thoughts turn to
abortion." Or, on November 2, 1991: "This is what it is like
to be a New Yorker, to have to stop and constantly acknowledge
pain." And a quick sample of her "middle ground" analysis
of politics, from April 8, 1992, "Ronald Reagan needed TV to abet a
fantasy. Mr. Clinton needs it to communicate his reality."
ARTS ALLIES. The
networks are still trying their best to prop up the National Endowment
for the Arts. On the March 31 NBC Nightly News, Mike Jensen
presented an entirely one-sided report, ending with a pro-NEA
conclusion: "By its very nature, art goes beyond convention. Beyond
reality. It pushes the boundaries. But the art world knows, and the
government knows, that without taxpayer help, the richness and diversity
of art in America could disappear."
"The National Endowment for the Arts
has had an overwhelmingly wholesome influence in a thousand American
communities," Charles Kuralt asserted in introducing Terence
Smith's April 12 CBS Sunday Morning cover story. Smith only
featured one critic of the NEA, Congressman Dick Armey, who was allowed
39 seconds of comment. By contrast, Smith allowed five NEA supporters
time to comment, including ex-NEA head John Frohnmayer; Marlon Riggs and
Martha Wilson, two NEA grant recipients; NEA backer Rep. Pat Williams
(D-MT); and Brian O'Daugherty, an NEA media director. They were allowed
164 seconds of airtime to promote the NEA, an almost 5 to 1 ratio over
PENTAGON PAIN. Anyone
who assumes liberals want to cut the defense budget would have been
shocked by the March 29 Meet the Press. The three panelists
assaulted Defense Secretary Dick Cheney for having the nerve to hurt
people by cutting defense spending. Host Tim Russert, a former aide to
Mario Cuomo, accused Cheney of heartlessness: "Isn't the problem
here...that you're going to dump out into the unemployment lines about a
million people?" Russert argued: "I think the concern is that
the Constitution says 'provide for the common defense' and 'the general
welfare.' And they [defense contractors] see the Administration cutting,
in terms of the common defense, but not providing for the general
welfare of these people."
NBC Pentagon correspondent Fred Francis
got personal: "You've got weapons systems designed for the Cold
War, born of the Cold War. Would you prefer to have those weapons
systems or hurt the little people, the guy in uniform who just came back
from the Persian Gulf?...SDI. You've got over $5 billion in the budget
next year....That's something that can be cut." Later, Francis
contradicted his earlier statements: "Many people say...that you're
not bringing it [the US military presence in Europe] down enough...When
Mardi Gras is over, people leave New Orleans. And we're staying
there." Cheney responded: "I am amazed...It's as though my
friends on Capitol Hill, who like to cut the budget deeply, are amazed
that that's going to have an impact on people."
STAR WAR STORIES. A
March 23 Newsweek article, "A Safety Net Full of
Holes," told of how one SDI "whistle-blower" alleged
officials "knowingly masked the program's failures and overstated
its progress just to keep the money rolling in." Reporters Sharon
Begley and Daniel Glick explained: "Engineer Aldric Saucier, who
was fired by the SDI program last month, described...a conspiracy within
SDIO worthy of an Oliver Stone movie. He accused SDIO [Strategic Defense
Initiative Office] of 'systematic illegality, gross mismanagement and
waste, abuse of power and the substitution of political science for the
Newsweek went on to suggest an
orchestrated attempt by Pentagon scientists to "criticize Saucier's
work and even question his sanity." But those scientists may have
had good reason to criticize Saucier. The Washington Post
reported on April 14 that Saucier's past is full of holes. On his
government employment form, he claimed he had a bachelor's degree in
physics from UCLA and "told a reporter last November that he had a
bachelor's degree in physics and 'an advanced degree in propulsion and
nuclear engineering' from UCLA." Both academic claims are false.
Saucier has no degrees from UCLA, or any school for that matter.
RUSH TO RIO. ABC is
keeping up the media drumbeat for President Bush to attend June's
"Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. During the April 7 World
News Tonight, Peter Jennings accused the Bush Administration of
being "out of step with the rest of the industrialized world"
on the issue of global warming. Instead of acting like a reporter and
presenting both sides, Ned Potter resorted to hype that would make
Chicken Little blush: "If the world is to head off the risk of
global warming with its danger of massive crop failure, of rising sea
levels, of spreading starvation in the poorest countries, then America
-- the largest producer of the gasses that cause global warming -- is in
Potter failed to mention that there's no
scientific consensus that carbon dioxide gases are causing any warming.
In fact, a recent Gallup Poll showed two-thirds of the scientists in the
American Meteorological Society and the American Geographical Union
doubt that increased carbon dioxide causes global warming. But Potter
didn't feel the need to explain why two-thirds of his potential experts
aren't worth talking about: the drafters of the proposed Rio
document, which all participants are expected to sign, have declared
that the actual temperature record "does not matter." In other
words, science takes a back seat to politics.
MEDIA WOMEN ON RUSH. In
the May Vanity Fair, Peter Boyer showed that feminists in the
media clearly don't get the joke when it comes to radio talk show host
Rush Limbaugh. One of Limbaugh's jokes concerns a group of women who
demanded admission to a men's club, and then asked for an exercise room
of their own. Limbaugh, knowing how to zing feminists, joked that the
club owners thought they should put in a washing machine, an ironing
board, and a vacuum cleaner. CBS This Morning co-host Paula
Zahn said of Limbaugh's appearance: "If he mentions that washing
machine line, he's not gonna survive his walk outside this studio."
Former Wall Street Journal reporter Susan
Faludi slammed the Limbaugh audience: "It makes me wonder about the
women [listeners], who clearly don't have their heads screwed on
straight -- 'Put me down again.'"
Intimidation of Sources: OK with PBS
ROBOHM WRONGED. Frontline's
journalistic standards also became an issue when Associate Producer
David Marks and reporter Robert Parry called on Peggy Robohm. Only after
combing through thousands of documents while helping Brenneke write a
book did Robohm, an October Surprise enthusiast, discover the credit
card receipts that proved Brenneke wasn't in Paris. Robohm told MediaWatch
that Marks originally contacted her by misrepresenting himself as a
Senate staffer, and when she asked to talk to his Senate higher-ups,
Marks threatened her, telling her he had other ways of getting her
information. He also didn't say he was involved in an "October
Surprise" movie deal.
When Parry came to interview Robohm, he
failed to tell her that Marks worked for Frontline or that
Marks had a movie deal. Parry told MediaWatch:
"You'd have to talk to Marks about that, but I asked him and he
said he didn't. The thing is, he talked to her before he was working for
us." But Frontline hired him anyway, although he was
demoted in the credits from Associate Producer to "additional
reporting." Parry told Frank Snepp, who debunked Brenneke with
Robohm's help in the Village Voice, that he saw no problem with
having a Frontline producer financially linked to the story
under investigation. Parry denied the charge of misrepresentation:
"She knew who we were...I don't think her comments have
Frontline didn't take Robohm's
criticisms lightly. She had been asked to join another Frontline
team just beginning a project on JFK. But Robohm says Frontline
reporter Scott Malone called and told her that to start work, the
"issue" would have to be "resolved," meaning
allowing the use of her documents and recanting her criticism of Parry.
Robohm wrote Frontline on March 29: "What is the
difference between this and extortion?....There is only one way for the
'issue' between us to be resolved: Fire Bob Parry and repudiate David
Marks. Robohm added: "Unless I hear otherwise from you, I will
assume that you are prepared to keep the series aligned with individuals
who see nothing wrong with making movie deals with subjects they are
covering, who use false pretenses to try and get information, who see no
difference between advocacy and journalism, and who are ready, finally,
to use the moral equivalent of bribery to get what they want."
Actually Backed Thomas
Democrat Lynn Yeakel's upset victory in
the Pennsylvania Senate primary gave reporters another opportunity to
insist that women are mad as hell over Anita Hill and aren't going to
take a 98-percent male Senate anymore.
The morning after the election, USA
Today reporter Judi Hasson wrote: "Yeakel now faces two-term
Sen. Arlen Specter, who angered many women when he grilled Hill."
Really? On the same morning, The New York Times reported that a
state poll taken shortly after the hearings showed that 24 percent of
the women said Specter's performance made them more likely to vote for
Specter, while 23 percent said they were less likely.
In fact, polls showed more women
supported than opposed Clarence Thomas. After the hearings, a USA
Today survey found that 45 percent of women believed Thomas, while
only 26 percent believed Hill; 55 percent of women wanted Thomas
confirmed, compared to 29 percent who did not. But the night after the
Yeakel win, CBS reporter Scott Pelley declared: "They are marked
men, the Senators who confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court
despite allegations of sexual harassment." Pelley left out that NOW
didn't support any of the seven moderate GOP women running for the
Senate in 1990.
Reporters should remember the 1990
example of Pennsylvania State Auditor Barbara Hafer, who lost to
pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, 68 to 32 percent. The day after that
gubernatorial election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
"Hafer's hoped-for support from abortion-rights activists hardly
helped her cause...an ABC exit poll reported that 66 percent of female
voters opted for Casey."
Abortion resurfaced on the national
agenda in April, from the April 5 pro-abortion march on Washington to
the Operation Rescue protests in Buffalo. In the wake of April's
abortion headlines, MediaWatch analysts
surveyed every abortion story during the month on ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and
the NBC Nightly News. In 49 stories, the networks not only
favored pro-abortion spokesmen, but continued to present its coverage in
the language and symbolism of the pro-abortion movement. Among the
Pro-abortion soundbites outnumbered anti-abortion soundbites by a count
of 55 to 31, or 64 percent in favor of the pro-abortion camp. CNN's
soundbite count actually tilted in favor of those opposed to abortion, a
close 14 to 13. The Big Three networks favored pro-abortion sources by
more than 2 to 1. CBS skewed the count the most, 13 to 4, or 76 percent
of its sound-bites; ABC, 13 to 5, or 72 percent; and NBC perfected the 2
to 1 ratio with a head count of 16 to 8. This imbalance occurred even
though the networks aired more stories prompted by the two-week Buffalo
protest than the one-day pro-abortion march.
LABELS. Since the 1989 Webster
decision, reporters have echoed the arguments of the National Abortion
Rights Action League (NARAL). Before Webster, the buzzword was
"choice" and the adjective was "pro-choice"; since Webster,
the buzzword is "rights," and the adjective became
"abortion-rights." The 1989 Washington Post Deskbook on
Style marked the change: "The terms right-to-life and
pro-life are used by advocates in the abortion controversy to
buttress their arguments. They should generally be used as part of an
organization's title and in quotations, but not as descriptive
adjectives in the text. Use abortion-rights advocates for those
who support freedom of choice in the matter, anti-abortion for
those who oppose it." (Italics theirs.)
Of 52 labels showered on the pro-abortion
side, 41 were "abortion rights." Now out of fashion is
"pro-choice" with nine mentions, except at CBS, which used the
label seven times. Only CNN slipped from politically correct
terminology, using the term "abortion supporters" once and
"pro-abortion" once. By contrast, the pro-life forces were
completely denied their most favored labels. "Pro-life" and
"right-to-life" were never used by the networks in April. (A
1989 MediaWatch study found the two terms
applied 27 times in the last four months of 1988.) Instead,
"anti-abortion" reigned, with 36 mentions out of 45. On six
occasions, reporters used the terms "anti-abortion rights,"
"against abortion rights," and "opposed to abortion
rights," which is the semantic equivalent of
GRAPHICS. In the book Unreliable
Sources, left-wing media critics Martin Lee and Norman Solomon
charged: "On TV, when an anchor reports the latest abortion news, a
common background graphic is a well-developed fetus...The logo is in
sync with tendencies to push women out of the mental pictures we have of
the abortion issue." But network graphics in April 1992 did the
opposite: they emphasized women and deemphasized the fetus. In 47
stories, 21 used graphic screens next to the anchor. Of those, 17
featured a feminist symbol, the gender sign for female, a circle with a
cross underneath. None pictured a fetus. NBC used the female symbol in
introducing eight of its nine stories; CNN, in seven of 18 (and not in
an eighth story); and ABC, in 2 of 9.
CENSORSHIP. Some of the
same networks that decried how the "Nintendo" war in the
Persian Gulf didn't show enough footage of corpses censored Indiana
candidate Michael Bailey's campaign ad showing dead fetuses. Three
networks aired stories on April 20 (NBC passed), but didn't all treat it
The most dramatic was CBS reporter Wyatt
Andrews: "Michael Bailey, an anti-abortion candidate for Congress
in Indiana today began airing what cold be the most tasteless ad ever
shown on television. What's more, he's a candidate, protected against
censorship, no one can stop him." CBS tried to stop him by
censoring the fetus pictures. Andrews continued: "TV stations in
Indianapolis and Louisville are questioning whether Bailey is abusing
the law, whether under FCC rules, any zealot with a candidate's filing
fee can put anything on TV...Tastelessness in television may not be new,
but this case is unique." Like CBS, CNN also censored the pictures
of fetuses with a big gray screen.
By contrast, ABC and reporter Chris Bury
served as a model of balance, airing the ad in its entirety, getting a
statement from both sides, and ending: "When it comes to politics,
truth in advertising is not for the government or TV stations to
determine. That is a matter for opposing candidates to debate and for
the voters to decide." That kind of fundamental balance is exactly
what's often missing in network coverage of abortion.
A HALF MILLION HERE? The
National Organization for Women's April 5 pro-abortion rally drew
500,000 people, the networks reported based on a D.C. police
estimate. But the U.S. Park Police, whose counts are usually used by the
media, released their estimate a day late: 250,000.
But some reporters ignored the count even
after its release. On the April 6 NBC Nightly News, reporter
Bob Kur asserted: "This year, with freedom to choose threatened as
never before, yesterday there were more marchers than ever before: half
a million." (The April 27 Newsweek called it "one of
the largest mass demonstrations in this country's history.")
ABC & PBS Act As
INQUIRER MYTHS PROMOTED
The misinformation and anti-free market
vitriol of Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Donald Barlett and
James Steele continues to gain new audiences. Last December MediaWatch
documented the numerous factual errors in the nine-part, 75,000 word
"America: What Went Wrong" series, but supposedly responsible
media outlets have continued to promote its claims.
Instead of fulfilling its stated role
"to assess the performance of journalism," the Columbia
Journalism Review ran an excerpt "meant as ammunition for
reporters and editors who are trying to find out what the presidential
candidates have in mind for the nation's economic future -- an aid to
formulating some questions."
After the series was released in
paperback book form, PBS devoted the April 14 and 21 episodes of Listening
to America with Bill Moyers to reciting its claims, complete with
emotional stories about people hurt in the '80s.
The book release got the duo an April 15 Good
Morning America spot. Co-host Charlie Gibson failed to challenge
any of their assertions, instead simply providing prompts for their
recitations: "This from 1980-1990, people earning a million dollars
or more, the total amount of money they earned went up over two thousand
percent, is that right Jim?"
During a tour stop on Washington's WAMU
radio, a caller asked the duo about MediaWatch's
critique of just that assertion. Barlett responded: "MediaWatch
completely misread the first chart that they zeroed in on, on salaries.
They misread it as total income."
assumed they meant "adjusted gross income" since that's how
they measured income changes throughout the series. But their
statistical point remains fallacious. They failed to adjust for
inflation or explain that the big jump did not so much reflect
individuals making more, but that number of people reporting a $1
million plus salary jumped from 3,300 to 51,000.
So who in the media have cared enough to
check Barlett and Steele's wild assertions? Just Philadelphia
magazine Senior Editor Paul Keegan. In April he found: "Their
series is so fundamentally flawed, its intellectual underpinnings so
weak, that it actually says little about what went wrong with America,
and everything about what went wrong with Barlett and Steele."
Expressing the ultimate arrogance, Barlett told Keegan: "We are
always so far ahead that people don't understand it. This series is five
to ten years ahead of its time."
Philadelphia sent their article
to GMA before the interview, but Gibson ignored it. And
reporters wonder why people don't believe everything they read and hear.
A Half Million
The National Organization for Women’s
April 5 pro-abortion rally drew 500,000 people, the networks reported
based on a D.C. police estimate. But the U.S. Park Police, whose counts
are usually used by the media, released their estimate a day late:
But some reporters ignored the count even
after its release. On the April 6 NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob
Kur asserted: yesterday there were more marchers than ever before: half
a million." (The April 27 Newsweek called it "one of
the largest mass demonstrations in this country’s history.")
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