Home Page
  30-Day Archive
  Notable Quotables
  Media Reality Check
  Press Releases
Media Bias Videos
  Free Market Project
  About the MRC
  MRC in the News
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  What Others Say
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
Contact the MRC
MRC Bookstore
Job Openings

Support the MRC



From the October 1992 MediaWatch

Markle Foundation Funds Slanted Campaign Coverage

Page One


In the hope of creating a better-informed electorate, the Markle Foundation made an unprecedented $3.5 million grant to the for- profit Cable News Network to fund election-year specials. But instead of informing voters with in-depth, investigative journalism, CNN abandoned its usual pattern of balance. Its first three Nation's Agenda specials, larded with melodramatic music and slow-motion visuals, replaced news with liberal sermonizing.

The first episode, "A House Divided," aired September 20 and examined race relations but resorted to the usual liberal reflex of blaming white America for all the ills of black America. One segment, titled "Apartheid in America," discussed the inner cities. In another, called "No Common Ground," Norma Quarles reported Detroit was an "American Dream turned into American nightmare. A ravaged mostly black city surrounded by indifferent, if not hostile, mostly white suburbs....This is what it looks like when white and black America divide. When white fear and flight leave behind black isolation."

"Pillars of Our Prosperity," broadcast September 27, concerned the economy. Ignoring history, correspondent Frank Sesno stated: "The explosion of debt is due largely to the policies of the Reagan Administration which slashed taxes while boosting military spending." Sesno blamed Congress for being "unable or unwilling to curb domestic spending" but returned to lay the blame at the feet of supply-siders: "Though the economy boomed in the mid- '80's, it never could grow its way out of the deficits as many had promised." Never mind that the deficit actually declined in the mid-'80's. In another myth put forth, Sesno claimed that the bottom 60 percent of Americans saw their incomes decline in the '80's. Actually, all five quintiles of earners saw their average income rise.

Sesno also offered a very telling solution to our economic ills: "Some say economic growth is still the way out. But increasingly, leaders from both parties and academia say it's time for the American public to be told the truth." And what is that "truth"? "Raise taxes," Sesno explained. "Advocates of this course observe the U.S. has the world's largest economy and among affluent nations, one of its lowest tax rates."

The last episode on October 4, "Government for the People," continued the series' advocacy for liberal solutions. Reporter Brooks Jackson observed, "Over the past 80 years or more other nations of the industrialized world have enacted comprehensive systems to pay for health care and control cost...But the U.S. has only a patchwork system of insurance and leaves prices to the private market. Result? Costs rising relentlessly and millions of people without insurance."


Revolving Door

Democratic Revolver Sees Bias. Philip Terzian, Editorial Page Editor for the Providence Journal Bulletin since 1989 and Assistant Editor of the editorial page at the Los Angeles Times from 1982-86, left Rhode Island this summer to become an Associate Editor working out of Washington, DC. During the Carter Administration, Terzian spent a year writing speeches for Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. A judge last year for the Media Research Center's annual Linda Ellerbee Awards, Terzian wrote in a late September column: "If Clinton has been harassed by the press on the subject of Gennifer Flowers, or his variable descriptions of his military career, it has escaped my attention. What he knew, when he knew it, what he did, and with whom are fundamental questions that have never been asked of the man who would be President. You can imagine the reaction if George Bush's purported mistress furnished tapes of their naughty chit-chat. Or if witnesses persisted in contradicting his stories about avoiding national service.

"And that is precisely the problem. For the most part, journalistic bias against Bush, and in favor of Clinton, is so obvious, so pervasive, so natural to the press corps, that it is scarcely worth noticing. There is good reason why journalists react churlishly to the charge: The evidence is so graphic."

Moving Around. ABC News has moved Rex Granum up to Washington from Atlanta to fill in during Washington Bureau Chief George Watson's extended medical leave. Atlanta Bureau Chief since 1986, Granum was a Deputy Press Secretary in the Carter White House.... At The New York Times, Jack Rosenthal, Editorial Page Editor since 1986, has taken command of the Times Magazine. During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, Rosenthal served as Executive Assistant to the Undersecretary of State and later as Assistant Director for public information at the Justice Department.

Schumer Shifts. Congressman Charles Schumer, a liberal Democrat from New York, has gained a media veteran just as he lost another to the Fourth Estate. John Wolf, a Washington producer for the Fox News Service for two years, has come aboard as Press Secretary. Before joining Fox, the National Journal reported that Wolf spent five years as an assignment editor and writer in CNN's New York bureau.....Meanwhile, NBC has hired James Rowe III, Chief Counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice chaired by Schumer, as the new Vice President and counsel for the network's Washington office.

Bye-Bye to Bonior. After two years as the Press Secretary in U.S. Representative David Bonior's House Majority Whip office, UPI veteran Michael Freedman has moved downtown to become Director of Public Information at George Washington University. Before coming to Capitol Hill, Roll Call reported that Freedman "was Vice President and Managing Editor for the broadcast division of United Press International in Washington where he planned and produced the radio network coverage of the 1988 Democratic and Republican National Conventions."


Janet Cooke Award


Pity the Heritage Foundation. Pity all the conservative groups and congressional staffers who work long hours year after year putting out studies on the economy, only to have them ignored by the "objective" media. But for their liberal counterparts -- the Children's Defense Fund, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Citizens for Tax Justice, the Families USA Foundation, or Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, to name some favorites -- almost every new "study" makes the papers, the news magazines, even the network news. To top it all off, the media (1) fail to identify these groups as liberal and (2) refuse to approach the conservative experts for comment on the liberal studies. By perfectly following this sorry formula and more, NBC reporter Jeff Madrick wins the October Janet Cooke Award.

On the September 7 NBC Nightly News, Madrick served as press agent for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), another media favorite, but he didn't tell viewers about the ideology of EPI. It's a liberal group founded by Dukakis and Clinton economic adviser Robert Reich, and headed by Dukakis adviser Jeff Faux, among others. To add insult to injury, Madrick passed on EPI's assertions without bringing on a conservative expert to rebut their claims. Madrick began: "A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that adjusted for inflation, 80 percent of all American workers are earning less today than they earned in 1979."

Misleading. As we've argued before, using 1979 as a starting point is a clever way of impugning the economic legacy of the 1980s. According to the Census Bureau, median male income did decline from $21,680 in 1979 to $20,461 in 1991. But 60 percent of that decline occurred in 1980, dropping to $20,736, and the figure dropped further to $20,367 in 1981. By 1991, it had climbed slightly to $20,469.

This looks lackluster compared to the median income for full-time female workers, which grew from $18,141 in 1981 to $20,553 in 1991. Putting the entire economy together, the Census found that median household income rose steadily throughout the 1980s, although it's fallen since Reagan left office. Economic policies of the Presidents on both ends -- Carter and now Bush -- have caused drops in income statistics. Starting at the 1979 figure and jumping to 1991 creates what Republican economists at the Joint Economic Committee call "the Democrat party line." Starting data in 1981 or 1982 (or even 1989) creates a much different impression.

Madrick also announced: "The new report on the working poor shows that one in five workers earned near poverty-level wages in 1973, one in four workers in 1979, and in 1991 it was almost one in three. The reasons: far fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs, partly because of foreign competition. Far more low-paying service jobs and a minimum wage that has not kept up with inflation."

Misleading. EPI's economic manual The State of Working America 1990-91 does claim that the share of workers earning less than the Census poverty line went from 25.7 percent in 1979 to 31.5 percent in 1987. But the chart doesn't differentiate between full-time and part-time workers, between major bread-winners and teenage minimum-wage workers. The EPI's source, the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), also does not include self-employed or supervisory workers in their wage surveys, skewing the numbers downward. The Average Wage Index put out by the Social Security Administration (SSA), however, which includes the employees the BLS excludes, shows that the average wage increased throughout the 1980s.

If Madrick had allowed a conservative economists to participate in his story, they might have explained that contrary to the conventional wisdom, even the BLS data 82 percent of the jobs created during the Reagan boom came in higher-paying, high- skilled jobs. From 1982-89, only 12 percent of the increase in employment came in low-paying jobs like fast-food workers.

As the NBC report continued, Madrick slipped from debatable statistics to completely anecdotal impressions "More and more working poor are joining the unemployed at food banks, like this one in San Jose, California." And, "Melissa Anderson, a California state employment counselor, says she's never seen it this bad for workers." Can these impressions be statistically proven or extrapolated nationwide? Or does this matter less than bringing everyday people into the story to make it interesting for viewers?

In a cordial conversation with MediaWatch, Madrick was asked why conservative experts weren't included: "I talk to conservative economists all the time. I know their point of view on that...To me, the main issue, of course, is direction, and I think it's virtually unmistakable what direction it took over a period of time." Madrick conceded the point about not labeling the EPI as a liberal group: "That wasn't my decision, and I don't have a good answer on that....To me, the EPI data in the particular cases I cited were pretty clearly the case...That wasn't my decision to put 'liberal think tank' in there, but I think that's a point. I think we often leave out 'conservative think tank,' too."

When asked to explain the claim about the number of workers making poverty-level wages, Madrick asserted: "It's mostly full- time workers, and their average hourly wage, but if you bring up that point, my gosh...Should we talk about the redistribution study of the Treasury Department, talking about young people and how much their income grew since they were 18? There are lots of quibbles. In all sincerity, to me, the direction is so clear that the absolute numbers in themselves aren't really the story, it's the direction of the numbers. And TV, since we have so few words, it tends to be hard to put in what in a print story I would certainly put in." Madrick concluded: "Let me try to assimilate the points you make and we'll see what I can do as time goes on."



ATTACKS OFF LIMITS? Responding to a question from Larry King on October 7, President Bush called for Bill Clinton to "level with the American people" about his activities during the Vietnam War, including his student trip to Moscow. Reporters went berserk. On The McLaughlin Group, Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift suggested: "This is in the finest McCarthy tradition, to suggest there was something suspicious with no evidence...I don't see how George Bush sleeps at night after stooping this low." On CBS This Morning October 12, co-host Harry Smith declared: "Clearly, that red-baiting junk didn't work last night." Instead of investigating the substance of the charge, reporters lashed out at Bush for dirty campaign tactics. CBS reporter Susan Spencer said "it all seems very familiar" to the Pledge of Allegiance issue in 1988.

THROWING STONES. Jeff Zucker, Executive Producer of NBC's Today show, recently declared they would not interview Richard Burke, the former aide to Ted Kennedy whose new book charges the Senator with drug use and sex with teenage interns. But when Kitty Kelley wrote a sleazy book about Nancy Reagan, Today gave her three interviews with Bryant Gumbel. Today's double standard -- no tabloid-style attacks unless the target's conservative (or related to one) -- continued on October 6 and 7, when Katie Couric interviewed Anita Hill, whose charges against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are no more proven than Burke's attacks on Kennedy.

Like the rest of the media, NBC has yet to report anything questioning "the patron saint of sexual harassment," and neither did Couric in her interview: "Twenty years from now, fifty years from now, when people look back at these hearings, how do you want them to think of you?"

GLASS HOUSES. Today left out that when it comes to sexual harassment, host Bryant Gumbel is also facing an accuser. In a September 14 TV Guide excerpt of the new book Inside Today, former NBC talent coordinator Judy Kessler wrote that Gumbel brought a "locker-room mentality" to the set: "There were women unit managers [Gumbel] claimed to have slept with, and he would say things like,'She's not even a good [expletive].' Then he had the habit of walking around the office and going up behind a lot of women and massaging their backs and shoulders. The other thing he would do was run his hand up their back to see if they were wearing a brassiere....He got a kick out of scaring women."

Kessler quoted a male member of the Today staff, who said: "Bryant was generally so aggressively nasty to women. He would give an assessment of everyone's bust size, and say things like,'You know, I could sleep with that one if I wanted to.'"

G.O.P. TIME? On August 9, The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley reviewed Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency of George Bush, by Time White House correspondents Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame: "These are the judgments not of Democratic partisans but of correspondents for Time, a magazine that over the years has been identified with precisely the same establishmentarian, Ivy League Republicanism with which Bush himself is most comfortable."

Really? Would a Republican magazine attack the Reagan years as a time of "gluttony and callousness," and declare: "Americans had grown weary of the Reagan era, with its trademark mismanagement of government and the environment, its shallow excesses, its legacy of debt....Bush and his Republicans fought like tigers to promote the interests of corporations, wealthy investors, and the upper-middle class....Bush has always done whatever he thought was necessary to win, even if that meant blatant pandering on taxes, thinly veiled race baiting, misrepresenting his opponent's record, and hinting that his rival is unpatriotic."

The book failed to impress ABC News White House reporter Brit Hume. In the October American Spectator, Hume suggested: "There is far too little original reporting and far too much reliance on secondary sources, even when those sources got things wrong. The explanation may be that Duffy and Goodgame haven't been known for spending too much time around the White House. Too busy writing this book, no doubt."

GROWING OPINION. Time isn't the only news magazine that allows opinions to creep into its news reporting. Newsweek increasingly has overheated rhetoric between its covers, as seen in its Republican convention coverage. The August 31 Conventional Wisdom Watch box said of Pat Buchanan: "Wows troops. Scares nation. Good '96 candidate...for South Africa." Senior Editor Joe Klein wrote "The whole week was double-ply, wall-to-wall ugly...The Republican Party reached an unimaginably slouchy, and brazen, and constant, level of mendacity last week."

CNN Reliable Sources host Bernard Kalb noticed the move toward opinion, too. During the September 5 show, he asked Newsweek writer Howard Finean: "Is Newsweek a magazine of objective reporting or an anthology of partisan columns?" Fineman said "no," that Newsweek remained objective but, "I think in retrospect, to be honest about it, we could have used a little more of a steady hand, in terms of weeding out the steady procession of stories...We overdid it a bit, and it would be silly to say otherwise."

Nor is this just found in Newsweek. Even newspapers are beginning to abandon straight news for "analysis." On the September 12 Reliable Sources, Knight-Ridder White House correspondent Ellen Warren conceded, "Increasingly we in the daily newspaper business are moving into kind of a daily newsmagazine approach. Not as opinionated, I don't believe, as the newsmags, but moving into an analytical journalism."

GAY BACKLASH. Newsweek devoted its September 14 cover story to warning America of an assault on the gay lobby: "Gay America's struggle for acceptance has reached a new and uncertain phase. A series of modest gains over the last several years -- in civil rights, national political clout, funding for AIDS research and visibility in popular culture -- has provoked a powerful backlash."

Who's to blame for this backlash? The Republican Party, of course. "For many gays, a symbolic low point came during the Republican National Convention in Houston last month, where repeated attacks on 'the homosexual lifestyle' evoked images of moral decay and unraveling family life. Conservative Doberman Pat Buchanan told delegates that gay rights have no place 'in a nation we still call God's country.'" But Newsweek didn't stop there, including a column from former Good Morning America producer Eric Marcus, who wrote: "The anti-gay campaign has nothing to do with telling the truth. Instead, it's about trying to scare Americans into thinking that if they vote for Bill Clinton, the awful homosexuals -- me included! -- will destroy America's family values."

GAGGING OVER GUAM. The American territory of Guam has made a rare appearance on the media's radar screen by passing a strong pro- life law that upsets pro-abortion activists -- and reporters. On the October 1 CBS Evening News, reporter Bob Faw began: "At every convention, they brag America's day begins here. What they don't trumpet is that something could also be ending on Guam -- the right of American women to get an abortion. Guam's legislature didn't just sing its national anthem. By a whopping unanimous vote, it enacted the most stringent anti-abortion rights bill ever passed in any American jurisdiction."

Faw went on to detail how Guam's Catholic archbishop sat in the Pacific island legislature's gallery during the debate suggesting excommunication for any Catholics who didn't support the bill. Faw suggested: "So talk all you want about separation of church and state back home. Just don't talk about it on this island, which is 96 percent Catholic." Faw asked the archbishop: "You're saying only one viewpoint will be permitted, only one set of beliefs is to be established. That's not the American way."

JENSEN'S OUTSIDER. On the September 29 NBC Nightly News, reporter Mike Jensen examined Bill Clinton's economic proposals: "Most people don't know much about Clinton's economic performance as Governor of Arkansas. But he gets generally good grades from outsiders....What do the experts think about Clinton? Of eight Nobel Prize winning economists interviewed by NBC News, five preferred the Clinton economic plan, three were for Bush."

Jensen proceeded to allow University of Pennsylvania Professor Lawrence Klein to speak in favor of Clinton's plan. He was the report's only talking head, and Jensen identified him only as a "Nobel Prize-winning economist." So why is that noteworthy? An August 10 Clinton campaign press release featured Klein as one of eleven economists endorsing Clinton's economic plan. The release urged the media to contact Gene Sperling, Clinton's chief economic adviser, to book Klein and the others for television appearances. Sperling's office in Little Rock confirmed that Klein serves as an "adviser on economic issues." Some "outsider."

CLINTON'S CONFORMITY COPS. Howell Raines, the departing Washington Bureau Chief of The New York Times, told the Columbia Journalism Review that "he made it a main job to warn against and protect his younger campaign reporters from the `Conformity Cops,' specifically [former Washington Post reporter Sidney] Blumenthal and Joe Klein of New York magazine and since the spring, of Newsweek." Since writing an adoring profile of Clinton in New York last year, Klein was not only added to the Newsweek staff, but to CBS News as a consultant as well. Warned Raines: "When reporters go around campaign planes criticizing reporters who refuse to cheerlead, that's unhealthy. That's part of what we've seen this year."

National Journal writer Jonathan Rauchis another victim of Clinton's conformity cops. In the September 28 New Republic, Rauch told a "prominent political reporter" that the Clinton economic plan has a "rich larding of sham and evasion," and the reporter responded: "You economic people aren't happy unless a candidate puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger." Rauch told MediaWatch he's not sure the reporter is a Clinton supporter, but was surprised he didn't want candidates held to a tough standard on their plans.

STAHL OFF BALANCE? For the second time this year, CBS has taken the time to investigate the growing "wise use" movement and its opposition to liberal environmentalism. But on 60 Minutes September 20, Lesley Stahl focused on an activist in Cincinnati who has received threats for speaking out against pollution in her neighborhood, and "wise use" activists who say "good" when they're told about the threats of violence. While Stahl gives vivid examples of these threats, and actual incidents of violence, she also points out that the activists are threatened by local employees who fear losing their jobs, not property- rights activists.

Stahl also lent more credibility to the liberal activists' side. When the Cincinnati mother told Stahl: "You look out the window and you see these children, and they're playing happily, and half of them are [coughing], and half can't even run because they can't catch their breath if they do," Stahl says she's "caught up in the movement, but she's not that far off. Local hospitals report that children in Lower Price Hill are up to five times as likely to suffer from respiratory diseases than children in other parts of Cincinnati." But when a wise use activist declared, "I think you can trace almost every piece of economic ruin to the environmental movement," Stahl didn't investigate the real costs of environmental regulations. She simply declared: "C'mon, you know that's just hyperbole." Speaking of hyperbole, Stahl defined tactics such as picketing or videotaping outside environmentalist meetings, both staples of liberal activism, as "harassment."

CONSERVATIVE VOICE. For balanced network reporting, we took note of ABC correspondent Bettina Gregory's coverage of the Census Bureau report on the number of poor Americans. For the past several years, network stories on the annual poverty rate have relayed the spin of liberal activist groups and excluded interpretations from conservative experts. On the September 3 World News Tonight, Gregory aired soundbites from both Clifford Johnson of the liberal Children's Defense Fund and Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. Leading in to Rector, Gregory explained: "Conservatives say all these government figures are misleading because they don't count welfare and other government benefits as income."


Page Five

Media Still Defend Aspiring First Lady


Just when you thought it was safe to pick up a magazine or turn on the television, the media have reprised the Hillary love-in. In the September 14 Time, Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson continued the misrepresentation of conservative criticism of Hillary's views as condemnation of all working women: "Hillary Clinton...is a remarkable woman....There is no doubt that she is her husband's professional and intellectual equal. But is this reason to turn her into 'Willary Horton' for the '92 campaign, making her an emblem of all that is wrong with family values, working mothers and modern women in general?"

Carlson also endorsed the Democratic reaction to the GOP quoting Hillary Clinton's writings: "The Republicans dug up -- and seriously distorted -- some of her old academic articles on children's rights...Seated on the couch in the living room of the Arkansas Governor's mansion last week, with Bill and Chelsea waiting to have a rare family dinner, Hillary responded to the Republican onslaught more in sadness than in anger." 

Why all of this fuss over Hillary? Carlson informed her readers: "To a large extent, the controversy today reflects a profound ambivalence toward the changing role of women in American society over the past few decades...At first, she seemed insufficiently aware that she was not the candidate herself. Instead of standing by like a potted palm, she enjoyed talking at length about problems and policies....Perhaps it's time to admit that 'two for one' is a good deal."

On September 8, Dateline co-host Jane Pauley asked Mrs. Clinton softball questions about conservative attacks: "When you hear yourself held up, as you were at the Republican convention, some people have used the word 'demonized,' does it make you hurt or does it make you mad....What was the worst thing you've heard said about you?....All right, what was the grossest distortion of your record?" Another tough question: "What don't you do perfectly?"

A week later, Dateline aired a tough investigation of Neil Bush, and how he used the Small Business Administration and a taxpayer- defrauding S&L for his personal gain. So why didn't Pauley ask Mrs. Clinton about her connection with a failed S&L? After all, she represented an eventually bankrupt S&L, Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, before state agencies in Arkansas looking to shut Madison down. That eventually cost taxpayers $50 million. Memo to Jane Pauley: Here's something Hillary didn't do perfectly.


Page FiveB

Time, Corporate Tool


CNN investigative reporter Steven Emerson has uncovered the truth behind Time magazine's April 27, 1992 cover "The Untold Story of Pan Am 103." Time veteran reporter Roy Rowan blamed the U.S. intelligence community for the terrorist bombing that killed 270 people. Rowan's story described a "conspiracy involving U.S. agents of the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who allegedly collaborated, wittingly and unwittingly, in a Byzantine plot in which terrorists and drug traffickers bombed Pan Am 103 on December 22, 1988." In short, Rowan charged that Syrian terrorists had bombed the plane in order to kill a U.S. military agent about to expose CIA involvement in drug trafficking.

In the September Washington Journalism Review, Emerson reported that Time was used as a tool of Pan Am defense lawyers fighting a multi-million dollar negligence lawsuit. Time's article relied heavily on two now discredited sources: Juval Aviv and Lester Coleman. Emerson found both men have lied extensively about their backgrounds and also had a personal financial interest in Time blaming the U.S. government for the bombing.

Emerson determined: "Time not only ignored evidence that contradicted key elements of its story, but also discounted information that disputed the credibility of its two main sources. The fact that both sources...were paid consultants for Pan Am attorneys fighting a multi-million dollar" lawsuit from the victim's families. "If Time's sources were correct in their contention that U.S. undercover agents could have prevented the bombing, Pan Am would not be found liable."

Emerson pointed out that Rowan never contacted witnesses with evidence damaging to their sources' credibility and didn't report that the FBI and Scotland Yard had dismissed many of the charges he repeated. Time also ran a picture of a man they identified as David Lovejoy, a former State Department security office turned U.S.-Iranian double agent accomplice to the bombing. Although Time reported he was still at large, Emerson identified the man as Michael Schafer, an Atlanta floor cleaning company owner and a former Christian Broadcasting Network cameraman in Lebanon in 1985. In fact, Emerson found no proof that David Lovejoy exists.


Page Six

Post's Deficit Solution


In late September, The Washington Post offered readers a three- part series on how the deficit grew dramatically in the last decade. The cause cited by reporter Steven Mufson? While Congress had a role, it was mostly Reagan's tax cuts. Recalling how tax cuts were supposed to increase revenue, Mufson countered: "The idea was, in the words of Harvard University economics professor Benjamin Friedman, 'a fairy tale.'" Mufson argued that tax receipts fell in 1983, and in 1984 "barely crept back to the levels of 1982." But he failed to note that from 1984 to 1989 receipts grew an average of eight percent a year, almost twice the inflation rate, while spending mushroomed faster.

Mufson blamed voters for not electing liberals: "In presidential campaigns, voters have not rewarded candidates who spell out how they plan to cut the federal deficit....Walter Mondale, the losing candidate in 1984, told voters that he would combine spending cuts and tax increases to cut the deficit....While Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis stressed that more debt was accumulated under eight years of the Reagan presidency than during the first 200 years of American independence, George Bush rode to victory promising 'no new taxes.'"

Tax hikes were Mufson's solution: "Though the nation's fiscal imbalance has rarely reached such a critical point, the failure of lawmakers to impose taxes in an attempt to curry favor with voters is a problem as old as the republic." Leading into a final paragraph long quote from the first Treasury Secretary, Mufson wrote, "more than 200 years ago...Alexander Hamilton appealed for Americans to recognize the need for taxes. Two centuries later, the plea retains its note of urgency."




Last month, MediaWatch reported that in August, the networks, especially NBC, aimed their correction squads exclusively at the Bush campaign, and ignored the claims of the Clinton campaign. Has the new media scrutiny actually improved voter understanding? Or does it continue to be used as a tool to promote the Clinton campaign and add to misunderstandings about campaign claims?

To investigate the "Ad Watch" patrols, MediaWatch analysts viewed every ad screening from September 1 to October 5 on four network news shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's Inside Politics, and the NBC Nightly News). Reporters again charged the Bush campaign with negativity and inaccuracy, while letting most of Clinton's ads and other campaign claims go unchallenged. What follows is a blow-by-blow analysis of the ad watch.

August 30: The Clinton campaign released an ad on his Arkansas record and his economic plan. The ad made several dubious claims about Clinton's record in Arkansas, and then asserted: "People making over $200,000 will pay more. The rest of us get a break." Only CNN's Brooks Jackson analyzed the ad. Even he did not point out that Clinton also says he will tax the top two percent, which begins below $90,000 for single taxpayers. While Clinton's plan claims it can raise $150 billion from the top two percent (and foreign corporations), only CBS reporter Richard Threlkeld (on September 10) let an economist say that Clinton might have a hard time raising $150 billion from such a small group.

But on September 8, ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield was still perturbed with Bush's convention claims: "Campaigns are not supposed to be exercises in objectivity. We expect them to put their own spin on facts and figures. But even in politics, some facts are more suspect than others...Where did that number [128 Clinton tax hikes] come from? The Bush campaign says it simply looked in the Arkansas legislative handbook and added up every tax and fee hike during Bill Clinton's governorship. But every independent examination of that statistic has called the Bush figures misleading, distorted, or false." But how false could Greenfield call it when Clinton's campaign listed 127 tax and fee hikes? At the same time, nothing in Clinton's ads seemed to warrant any scrutiny from the truth squad at ABC.

September 9: Clinton releases an ad on welfare reform, claiming that 17,000 Arkansans had been moved off the welfare rolls into jobs and training programs. State officials admitted that many of those 17,000 rotated back on to the welfare rolls, but none of the networks analyzed the ad's claims. September 22: The Clinton campaign releases an ad juxtaposing optimistic Bush statements on the economy with claims about his opposition to unemployment benefit extensions. The next day, CNN's Brooks Jackson did the only analysis, pronouncing the ad true, but noted the ad juxtaposes Bush statements with statistics from different months and even years.

September 24: The Bush campaign releases a humorous ad charging Clinton with raising the sales tax 33 percent in Arkansas. This marked the beginning of intense interest in the accuracy of Bush's ads. That day, CNN's Brooks Jackson asserted: "The total Arkansas tax burden is still low. In fact, it ranks 46 out of 50." But as a percentage of family income, Arkansas is rated 25th and rising. CNN listed their source as Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), but didn't mention the agenda of this liberal group, or that David Wilhelm, the Clinton campaign manager, was a leader of CTJ before the campaign began.

On September 23, Dan Rather announced: "The Clinton-Gore campaign began running new advertising today. The ads, airing in Texas, blame Mr. Bush for the loss of 160,000 jobs in the energy industry." CBS turned to reporter Eric Engberg, who not only didn't critique the Clinton ad, but picked on Bush's claims on the campaign trail. Engberg sounded like Clinton rhetoric: "It is true that the Arkansas sales tax has gone from 3 to 4.5 cents. Clinton had little choice, given a state constitution that effectively blocks income tax hikes. Bush didn't mention that Arkansas taxes are among the lowest in the nation."

Engberg also attacked Bush on his claim that Clinton didn't get a civil rights law passed: "Arkansas and Alabama are the only two states without a civil rights law, but time out: George Bush's civil rights record is less than pristine. He vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, and when he ran for the Senate in 1964, he campaigned against the Civil Rights Act. He built his 1988 campaign around the Willie Horton issue." Engberg left out that Bush signed a "Civil Rights Act" the next year, and failed to explain what Dukakis furloughing a murderer has to do with civil rights laws.

On September 26, NBC anchor Garrick Utley tried to correct the Bush claim of a 33 percent sales tax hike: "In fact, the increase was only from 3 to 4.25 percent. And Arkansas is still a low-tax state. Third lowest in the nation." NBC put up a big graphic reading: "Only a 1 1/4 % sales tax increase." Utley was wrong about the increase (to 4.5 percent) and wrong about Arkansas. On October 3, Utley was forced to correct himself: "We incorrectly labeled that a 1.25 percent increase. Indeed, some of you, pocket calculators at the ready, noted that the real increase was 41.6 percent." Concluded Utley: "The Bush campaign got its own numbers wrong."

September 30: The Bush campaign released an ad with specific estimates of the new taxes middle-class Americans could pay under the Clinton economic plan. On October 2, three networks fired up their ad watch patrols. CNN's Jackson did his most distorted correction report of the season, asserting that "A nonpartisan group that did study both the Bush and Clinton plans sides with Clinton." Jackson's idea of a "nonpartisan" group was the Families USA Foundation, a left-wing lobby headed by Clinton supporter Ron Pollack. Jackson concluded: "So the Bush ad is misleading...The Clinton campaign is worried. They produced this rebuttal ad Friday." Jackson did no analysis of that ad.

On ABC, anchor Peter Jennings said the Bush ad had "the Clinton campaign and some independent observers crying foul." Of Bush's claim about middle class tax hikes, Greenfield asserted: "The numbers don't come from Clinton's plan at all. They come from the Bush campaign's very questionable assumptions about Clinton's plan." Greenfield also pointed out that the Clinton response ad did not cite Bush proposals in claiming Bush was preparing a $108,000 tax break for millionaires: "That figure flows not from a specific Bush proposal, but from estimates of what would happen if his capital gains tax cut became law." Greenfield did not call Clinton's claim "very questionable," even though most capital gains taxpayers are not millionaires, and would receive much less of a tax break than $108,000.

On NBC, reporter Lisa Myers critiqued both campaigns, calling the Bush ad "misleading. In fact, Clinton has proposed cutting taxes for the sort of people in this ad. The tax increase that the ad claims could result under Clinton is based on leaps of logic about how he'd pay for his promises." Myers then added: "What Clinton doesn't tell you is that Democrats have committed the very same offense...Analysts say the Clinton campaign has a knack for skillful distortions." Myers didn't critique the capital gains claim, but a Clinton radio ad about supposed Social Security and Medicare cuts.

On October 5, CBS reporter Eric Engberg took a turn: "Feel-bad ads trying to drag down Bill Clinton are regarded as the only hope. In a multi-million dollar assault, Clinton is being portrayed as a duplicitous blobhead who governs a Hee Haw back-water where only the taxes soar. The ads are cleverly worded to suggest Clinton means more taxes." After a shot of the ad, Engberg refereed: "But the tax figures jump from the screens with fact-like exactness. They were provided not by Clinton, but by the Bush staff, which admits they are based on assumptions. They assume Clinton will fail to get his program through Congress, that his proposal to tax the wealthy won't raise enough money, and that he will then tax the middle class, which he says he won't." An off-air CBS producer said, "The stacking up of assumptions like this, there's a word we use for that." "Uh, I think it's `lying,'" filled in Steven Colford of Advertising Age magazine. How would Clinton provide health care for 35 million uninsured Americans without any increase in taxes? None of the networks asked.

Engberg continued: "Clinton's ad squad, aware that the unanswered attacks look true, struck back within 24 hours." While Engberg aired the Clinton claim that "George Bush has had the worst economic record of any President in the past 50 years," he did not critique that claim (What about Carter?) or anything else in the Clinton response.

CBS followed with a Mark Phillips history of negative campaigning which ended by portraying Bush as the sole offender: "Negative campaigning is a time-honored exercise in trying to avoid responsibility and shifting blame and fears on to the other guy. The fact that the Clinton camp has responded so quickly is a testament to how well this sort of campaigning has worked in the past."


Tell a friend about this site




Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314