Waited Months to Correct "Inappropriate" Reporting
NBC: How Sorry Are They?
Twice in February, NBC became the target
of TV comedians after being forced to admit fabricating parts of earlier
stories. In both cases, NBC characterized its reporting as
"inappropriate" and said that it regretted the incidents. But
NBC didn't bother telling viewers about its errors until threatened by a
lawsuit and public ridicule.
When challenged over the accuracy of a
test crash in the now famous Dateline NBC story on pickup
trucks, NBC News President Michael Gartner avoided any admission of
guilt: "We remain convinced that taken in its entirety and in its
detail, the segment...was fair and accurate." Gartner insisted the
"sparking" devices NBC hooked to the GM truck were to
"simulate sparks which would occur in a collision," so weren't
The next day, at the conclusion of the
February 9 Dateline NBC, the story changed. Jane Pauley
conceded "that what we characterized in the November Dateline
segment as an unscientific demonstration was inappropriate and does not
support the position that GM CK trucks are defective. Specifically,
NBC's contractor did put incendiary devices under the trucks to insure
that there would be a fire if gasoline were released from the truck's
gas tank." Added co-anchor Stone Phillips: "We deeply regret
that we included the inappropriate demonstration in our Dateline
report. We apologize to our viewers and to General Motors." This
concession occurred 84 days after the November 17 segment aired, and a
day after GM held a news conference to show NBC's fabrications and to
announce a lawsuit against NBC.
Still, some journalistic icons praised
NBC. On the Feb. 14 Meet the Press, Washington Post
Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward explained "How many people
in news organizations when they make a mistake...never come out with
that. They try to fudge and get defensive, and so [NBC] faced the fact
that they made a mistake."
Fifteen days after the GM correction, on NBC
Nightly News, Tom Brokaw conceded that in a January 4 story on how
timber clear- cutting in Idaho was killing fish "we inadvertently
used footage of dead fish from another forest further south" and
showed fish that appeared to be dead, "in fact, they were not. They
had been stunned." This correction took 50 days and came the same
day Sen. Larry Craig took to the Senate floor to denounce NBC's
How sorry is NBC? On March 2, the same
day Gartner resigned over the GM story, the network announced it was
hiring Michael Moore, the producer-star of the movie Roger & Me,
which contained fabrications about GM.
Newsweek White House
correspondent Clara Bingham has left the beat she
covered since late 1991 to write a book on women in Congress. Part of Newsweek's
Washington team since 1989, Bingham was Tennessee Communications
Director for the Dukakis presidential campaign in 1988. In February's Harper's
Bazaar, she penned a glowing profile of Marian Wright Edelman, head
of the left-wing Children's Defense Fund (CDF). In an editor's note to
the article, Bingham oozed: "Her energy and idealism are
infectious. After spending two hours with her, I felt like giving up
writing and finding a cause to devote my life to."
The article reflected Bingham's
enthusiasm. She described Edelman as "America's universal
mother" and "the most respected voice for children in the
nation." Never calling CDF liberal, she noted that Edelman is
criticized by the "ultraconservative Eagle Forum."
In a particularly gushing paragraph,
Bingham wrote: "Edelman is intense. She identifies herself so
closely with her cause that she speaks in the first person plural. It's
as if she wants to remind us that we -- you, too -- have an obligation
to the nation's children. Congressmen who have crossed swords with her
in legislative battles call her `arrogant,' `a bully.' But what Edelman
really is is fearless. Not everyone can meet her high standards. The
selfish, the uncommitted, the cynical, and the self-satisfied need not
Despite evidence (reported in past issues
of MediaWatch) that CDF figures are often
inaccurate, Bingham insisted: "While most Washington lobbyists
exert their influence with money, Edelman's currency is facts."
Planned Parenthood & Co.
When Catherine Crier left CNN last fall
to join ABC's 20/20, her Crier & Co. show was
re-named CNN & Co. so different reporters could host it.
For the month of March CNN went outside the reporter ranks to sign
former Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton to
host the daily half-hour discussion show. Wattleton left Planned
Parenthood last year to launch a Tribune-distributed daily TV talk show,
but it never got off the ground.
Nightline's Clinton Line
Signing up as a speechwriter for
President Bill Clinton: Carolyn Curiel, a Nightline
writer and producer for the past year. Before joining ABC News in
Washington, Curiel was an editor with The New York Times for
four years and at The Washington Post for the previous two
During the Carter Administration, Rick
Inderfurth served as a Special Assistant to the National
Security Adviser and later as Deputy Staff Director to the
Democrat-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From 1981 to
1991 Inderfurth held various reporting assignments with ABC News.
Now, with a Democrat back in the White
House, Inderfurth's back in the administration. President Clinton has
nominated him for a position as top deputy to United Nations Ambassador
Madeleine Albright, a NSC colleague from the Carter days. At ABC,
Inderfurth served as Pentagon correspondent, national security affairs
reporter and finally Moscow reporter from 1989 to 1991.
White House Helpers. The Clinton White
House is providing positions for at least a few media veterans. Anne
Edwards, Director of the White House Television Office for Jimmy Carter,
is back in the press office. Since her last trip through the White House
gate she spent four years as a CBS News Washington bureau assignment
editor, followed by a stint with the Mondale-Ferraro campaign. Mondale's
loss sent her back to the media as a Senior Producer with National
Public Radio. Last year she headed the Clinton-Gore press advance
Signing on as a Deputy Press Secretary,
Arthur Jones, a long-time Boston Globe reporter who spent the 1980s as
Press Secretary to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and Boston
Mayor Ray Flynn.
Goodbye, American Way
CBS Plugs Europe
CBS News reviewed the wonders of European
tax and infrastructure policies. "No, President Clinton is not on 60
Minutes Sunday, but we hope he'll be in the audience. Lester Thurow
has the best explanation yet of what's wrong with us." That's how
CBS promoted its February 14 piece on European-style socialism. Reporter
Steve Kroft traveled with the MIT Professor to Germany where Thurow
peddled some of his proposals to model the U.S. after Europe.
Thurow argues that the U.S. doesn't spend
as much money on infrastructure as Europe. Kroft accepted the premise,
asking: "Why hasn't the American government been investing in
According to the Hudson Institute's Alan
Reynolds, the U.S. has spent quite a lot. In 1991 federal, state, and
local infrastructure expenditures totaled $139 billion. In National
Review, Reynolds explained the U.S. private sector "takes care
of much of the investment that is left on the taxpayers' backs in many
other countries, where governments mismanage national telephone
companies, airlines, universities, hospitals..."
60 Minutes should have explored
Thurow's previous predictions. In 1982, prior to Reagan's boom, he
wrote: "The engines of economic growth have shut down here and
across the globe, and they are likely to stay that way for years to
A few days later CBS suggested how to pay
for all of Thurow's spending: a Value Added Tax (VAT). On the February
19 CBS Evening News, Tom Fenton promoted the tax on the
increase in value of a product levied at each stage of production:
"Consumption taxes are nothing new in Europe. They help pay for
high-speed trains that cruise at almost 200 mph; German highways that
are so well built they have no speed limit; and social benefits that
will pay this unemployed Frenchman two-thirds of former salary for the
next two years."
Fenton briefly noted a VAT's
regressiveness and that such a tax in the U.S. could "slow consumer
spending and stall the economic recovery," but he asserted: "A
VAT does help provide social benefits to everyone, rich and poor alike.
That even includes treatment at health spas at government expense....A
mere five percent VAT could raise a hundred billion dollars a year. That
would knock a big hole in the deficit."
Networks Trashed Bush
for Asserting Clinton Would Raise Middle Class Taxes
What If The "Wrong" Ad
Last year, Bush ads contended that Bill
Clinton would raise taxes on the middle class. Reporters pledged to
monitoring campaign accuracy called them "wrong" or
"misleading." But once Clinton took office, he called for a
tax hike on the middle class. That raises a question that "ad
watch" advocates didn't consider: What happens when the
"wrong" candidate turns out to be right? For their misleading
"Ad Watch" features, all four news networks earned the
February Janet Cooke Award.
On October 1, the Bush team released an
ad with specific estimates of how much in new taxes middle-class
Americans "could" pay under a President Clinton. All four
networks called the ad misleading. But take a look at the five
assumptions for the ad, as reported October 2 by Howard Kurtz of The
"That Clinton will raise just $1
billion, not $45 billion by improving tax collection from foreign
companies operating in this country." Budget director Leon Panetta
concedes it will be hard to get $3 billion.
"That Clinton will not enact the $60
billion in tax relief he has promised for families earning less than
$90,000." That's been abandoned.
"That Clinton's plan to raise $150
billion in new revenue over four years will fall short, forcing him to
raise taxes on individuals with taxable incomes about $36,000."
That has been proposed, with the Social Security and energy tax hikes.
"That Clinton has proposed $58
billion in `phony' spending cuts." Among those cuts: $9.8 billion
in savings over four years from enacting the line-item veto, which also
has been abandoned.
"That Clinton's health care plan
will cost $117 billion more than what he says." Actually, the Bush
campaign claimed that Clinton would have to raise taxes $117 billion to
pay for his health plan. This isn't true yet, but reporters now estimate
taxes will have to be raised at least $30 billion a year, or $120
billion over four years. To find out what the networks might do now to
remedy their accuracy patrols, MediaWatch
asked reporters for their response:
ABC. On October 2, Jeff
Greenfield attacked ads from both campaigns, but said of the Bush ad:
"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." On Nightline, Greenfield called the ad "very
misleading, to say the least," which suggested Bush was lying.
Greenfield told MediaWatch
that the MRC was "sloppy" in characterizing his reporting as
"wrong," claiming the Bush campaign said its numbers came from
the assumption that taxpayers over $36,000 would pay a new top rate of
"The Bush campaign ad that I was
criticizing was specifically aimed at their use of apparently accurate
numbers based on an assumption that even Clinton's [current] tax plan
comes nowhere near doing. Clinton is not raising middle class tax rates
anywhere near a marginal rate of 36 percent," Greenfield argued.
"Did Clinton mislead the middle class? Absolutely. Did many of us
point that out, both in print and on the air? Absolutely. Was the Bush
campaign commercial therefore accurate in accusing Clinton of planning a
marginal tax rate of 36 percent on the middle class? No way. Lesson:
Intellectual dishonesty is not the province of the left or right in
campaigns. It is endemic."
CBS. On October 5,
reporter Eric Engberg asserted: "The tax figures jump from the
screen 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 [campaign] 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." Engberg
asked: "The stacking up of assumptions like this, there's a word we
use for that." Cracked Steven Colford of Advertising Age:
"I think it's lying."
When asked if CBS would air a story on
how Bush's "lying" is coming true, producer Randy Wolfe
responded "I don't know...We've done several very tough `Reality
Checks' on President-elect Clinton and President Clinton. But you all
always ignore those, just as you did during the campaign." MediaWatch
did not find one critique of Clinton ads from September 1 to October 5,
but Engberg took on Clinton radio ads on October 19.
CNN. On Oct. 2, reporter
Brooks Jackson took a different angle on the specific-numbers ad,
critiquing the Bush ad on its health care tax assumptions: "Clinton
says his proposed controls on health costs will save enough to pay for
gradually extending health insurance to all 35 million uninsured
Americans. No taxes required."
Jackson then pronounced "A
nonpartisan group that did study both the Bush and Clinton health plans
sides with Clinton." Jackson's "nonpartisan" expert was
Ron Pollack of Families USA, a left-wing group.
Jackson was surprised when MediaWatch
called Families USA partisan: "You think of them as partisan? Well,
I hadn't heard anybody say that before. They certainly favor
governmental action in the health arena." But the February 6 Washington
Post reported the group "hired eight field representatives to
wage a health care reform campaign of its own in 60 `swing'
congressional districts where support for Clinton's general themes...is
not considered firm." Can they be honestly labeled
"nonpartisan"? Jackson explained: "It was my first
contact with the group, and I think as a legal matter, they're
nonpartisan," since they're tax-exempt. Jackson insisted: "I
don't claim to be perfect, but I sure try to be fair."
NBC. Like Greenfield,
Lisa Myers critiqued both campaigns on October 2, but called 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." But last August 30, a Clinton ad claimed:
"Those making over $200,000 will pay more. The rest of us get a
break." Only CNN critiqued the ad. Why didn't the other networks?
Myers told MediaWatch: "Well, we can't
read the guy's mind. It was a reasonable assumption [Clinton would raise
taxes]. But based on his program, what Bill Clinton said was
reasonable...We tried to deal with the ads that were most clearly over
the line in some respect."
In 1992, reporters called the Republicans
inaccurate for predicting that Clinton would raise taxes. Before 1996,
they should watch the tax returns of the people in the Bush ad who
"could" pay more under Clinton. If their tax burdens meet or
exceed the Bush commercial, all the networks should admit it was they
who misled the voters, not the Bush campaign.
Profiles in Courage.
On the February 16 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw introduced a
report on governors "who have raised taxes, cut programs, and yet
politically survived." According to reporter Bob Herbert, New
Jersey Gov. Jim Florio took a tough stand once elected:
"Immediately, he raised taxes." Citing Florio's improving but
still dismal popularity ratings, Herbert asserted: "The good news
for Clinton is that Florio has at least survived. The bad news is that
other governors have tried to impose tough economic medicine, and
they're not doing too well." Not surprisingly, the "tough
economic medicine" Herbert referred to included tax hikes by
Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker and California Gov. Pete Wilson.
Preceding soundbites from Weicker, Wilson, Florio, and Florida Gov.
Lawton Chiles on the merits of taxation, he insisted "the governors
say Clinton should stick to his guns."
But can't Clinton learn from governors
such as John Engler of Michigan, or Bill Weld of Massachusetts, who
balanced budgets by cutting spending, not raising taxes? Herbert didn't
Panther Pride. On
February 19, Today co-host Bryant Gumbel lionized the Black
Panther Party, which he claimed in the 1960s and early 1970s
"preached revolution as an appropriate response to American
racism." Gumbel theorized this preaching "got to"
then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. "The Panthers took up arms in
the midst of the Sixties struggle for social justice. They preached
self-determination....They also preached self-defense, and to that end
took on policemen who brutalized blacks. It was the intensity of that
effort that made the Black Panthers the focus of Hoover's undeclared
war. A war that eventually killed at least 19 Panther Party
Not all remembered the Black Panthers in
the same light. Peter Collier, who worked with them as an editor of the
'60s left-wing magazine Ramparts, told MediaWatch:
"To pretend the Panthers were another civil rights organization is
absurd." He rejected Gumbel's "self-defense" claim,
citing the murder of their own dissidents. He compared the Panthers to
Al Capone's Murder Inc., "at war with pimps and drug dealers over
turf." Regarding the FBI, Collier asserted, "if anything,
there should have been more surveillance" and added, "the
figures of Panther deaths were bogus."
Later, Gumbel mused "though the same
racist conditions that gave rise to the party back then still in great
part exist, African- Americans today don't seem inclined to organized
resistance." Collier responded: "The idea of `no progress
since the '60s' is trivializing," and that Gumbel "glorified
the Panthers on TV is disgusting."
Reed's School Read.
Reporter Reed Galin's February 2 "Eye on America" report on
the CBS Evening News focused on a big problem in the U.S. --
dumb kids. He reported teachers describe these kids as "the ones
who are distracted. Can't tell left from right or dial a phone. Can't
say where they live or speak in complete sentences." Galin pointed
to the cause: "Surveys indicate 30 percent of their parents never
read to their pre-school children. Forty percent do not teach them
numbers or letters. Most parents do not tell stories to their children,
engage them in arts and crafts or teach them songs or music."
Galin's solutions to the problems were
more federal programs, claiming "few federal programs exist, and
those few, like Head Start, can only help a fraction of those
eligible." Conservatives would say these programs allowed parents
to escape responsibility for their child's early development, and the
programs that exist don't always work. In a February 19 Washington Post
article, Mary Jordan described the criticisms of the $2.8 billion Head
Start program, including the reservations of its founder, Yale professor
Edward Zigler. Although still agreeing with the Head Start concept,
Zigler "recommended against puttin more money into it unless it is
improved. He cited a new report by the [HHS] inspector general that
calls many of the programs poorly administered and unsuccessful in
giving youngsters even basic care."
Time for Reform.
Time Associate Editor Michael S. Serrill's February 15 article
"Law and Disorder" criticized the Reagan and Bush Justice
Departments for being too politicized. While conceding this happened in
many other administrations, Serrill charged it reached new heights
during the Reagan and Bush years. "What is different about the
Justice Department that Clinton is inheriting is the depth to which
politicization has seeped into the bureaucracy...Traditionally, career
bureaucrats at Justice formed a strong middle-management layer that
protected the department against the excesses of political appointees.
But under Reagan and Bush, even the lowliest attorney had to pass an
ideological litmus test."
Serrill then approvingly listed parts of
Clinton's plan for the Justice Department. "Transition officials
have some clear ideas about the general direction of reform. First, they
want to root out the `true believers' from the Reagan-Bush years."
Quite a reform: Root out the Reagan-Bush ideologues and replace them
with Clinton ideologues. In a era when taxes are called contributions,
it shouldn't surprise anyone that Time calls this reform.
Kramer, Still In Love.
The almost-nomination of Kimba Wood as Attorney General created some
interesting ethics questions for her husband, Time Senior
Political Correspondent Michael Kramer. After Clinton dropped the
nomination, Time staffers told The Washington Post
that they were worried that the punting of Kramer's wife would cause his
writing to grow more critical of Clinton. "He must have something
of an ax to grind," one said. But Time Managing Editor Jim
Gaines told the Post he is "completely confident that
[Kramer] can put aside an personal feelings he has and write objectively
about the Clinton administration." Question: did Kramer write
objectively about Clinton before?
In the October 19 edition Kramer wrote:
"The Republicans, it is clear, see nothing wrong with extending the
Me Decade indefinitely; no matter that Reagan's trickle-down nostrums,
which were supposed to lift all boats, lifted only yachts....the core of
Clinton's economic vision is distinguishable from the President's and is
best described as a call for a We Decade." Time staffers
shouldn't worry. After the Kimba Wood fiasco, Kramer hailed Clinton's
budget as "the definition of courage in American
politics...Clinton's economic plan deserves to be known as a new New
Deal, and Congress should pass it quickly."
FAIR's Feminist Fraud.
Before the Super Bowl, reporters fell for the feminist news
"hook" that studies showed domestic violence increased during
and after NFL football games. In a news conference called by the
far-left media critics Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Sheila
Kuehl of the California Women's Law Center cited an Old Dominion
University study, claiming violence against women increased 40 percent
after Washington Redskins games. But of all the reporters who covered
the story, only Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle called the
author of the Old Dominion study, who said "that's not what we
found at all."
Ringle also pointed out that FAIR
representative Linda Mitchell claimed she knew Kuehl was misrepresenting
the Old Dominion study, but declared: "I wouldn't [challenge] that
in front of the media...She has a right to report it as she wants."
Ringle also revealed that The Boston Globe cited "one
study of women's shelters out West...showed a 40 percent climb in
calls" to shelters on Super Bowl Sunday. Globe reporter
Lynda Gorov told Ringle she never saw the study, but had been told about
it by FAIR. That's an interesting picture of the media news chain: from
liberal activist's mouth to front-page story with no fact checking.
Liberated by Communism.
Democratic reforms in the former Soviet Union continue to bother some
reporters. On February 21, the Los Angeles Times' Elizabeth
Shogren reported from Moscow that "The women of Russia are less
liberated, in the feminist sense, than they were when the Communist
Party ruled their country." Under the friendlier communist system,
Shogren asserted, "Equality for women was legally mandated, and
women as well as men were required by law to work. Although this
emancipation-by-decree failed to create many female factory directors or
top politicians, women made up more than half the workforce,"
allowing women the freedom to enjoy such jobs as "jackhammer
Toeing the sensitivity line, Shogren
stated that forced equality "did not, however, change the public
consciousness of a woman's role at home." Today many women
"are being forced out of professional jobs, sexual harassment is
considered business as usual," and horror of horrors,
"increasingly, young women believe that freedom means enjoying
traditional female roles." Personal freedom is fine for women, it
seems, but only if they exercise it in the politically correct way.
ABC's Of Tolerance.
Parental outrage convinced the New York City School Board to fire
Chancellor Joseph Fernandez on February 10. Parents were upset by two
Fernandez programs: The distribution of condoms in high schools and
teaching elementary children about homosexuality. Just two days later, ABC's
World News Tonight honored Fernandez as its "Person of the
The controversial curriculum book Children
of the Rainbow caused Fernandez's downfall. According to Peter
Jennings, the curriculum "includes teaching first and second
graders tolerance of gays and lesbians....[He] has certainly helped us
to understand better what a challenge improving education and
understanding really are. Which is why he makes a difference."
Similarly, NBC's Bob Herbert claimed Fernandez was doomed by his
"call for tolerance of gay men and lesbians."
But the chancellor's program went a bit
beyond tolerance. Insight magazine reported the curriculum
guide told teachers "classes should include references to
lesbians/gay people in all curricular areas" and encouraged them to
teach first graders to "respect" and "appreciate"
homosexuals through "creative play, books, visitors..." The
guide also claimed that ten percent of the students would grow up to be
homosexuals. The bibliography included Heather Has Two Mommies
and Daddy's Roommate.
Secret Hillary Update.
Last month, MediaWatch reported the lack of
media attention paid to Hillary Rodham Clinton's violation of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding meetings of the President's
Task Force on Health Care Reform in secret. The law requires any
presidentially appointed committee that includes non-governmental
employees, like the Presidential Partner, to make its meetings open to
the public. Only The Washington Times had reported the
A day after MediaWatch
went to press, The Washington Post reported the criticisms of
Hillary's closed-door meetings by Rep. William Clinger (R-PA). On
February 25, three groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the task force from
meeting until it opened its sessions. The suit and a complaint from the
AMA prompted stories in The New York Times, Washington Post,
and from ABC's Brit Hume, while the other networks noted it in unrelated
stories. Many, including ABC's Ned Potter, suggested conspiracy when Dan
Quayle's Competitiveness Council legally met in private. But this time,
reporters don't seem to care. NBC's Tom Pettit didn't mention it in a
Feb. 27 profile of the group. "I'm all for secrecy,"
volunteered Newsweek D.C. Bureau Chief Evan Thomas on Inside
Washington. "For one thing, that's the only way they are going
to get it done."
Mentioned 1990 Deal, Phony Spending "Cuts," Budget
More Badly Biased Budget
Despite the talk about the new media
being in touch with the people, the old news media are still more in
touch with the politicians. Harvard professor Timothy Cook has theorized
that inside-the-beltway reporters often practice "top-down
policymaking: instead of bringing public opinion to official Washington,
the news disseminates the views of Washington across the country."
This is especially true in coverage of
the federal budget. In 1990, MediaWatch
analysts reviewed a month of evening news stories during the conclusion
of the budget deal and discovered network reporters had failed to
explore the most elementary topics. Reporters never explained that the
projected fiscal 1991 budget was a full $100 billion more than the
fiscal 1990 budget; never explained that many spending "cuts"
were only cuts in projected increases; never explored the savings from
cutting government waste; and never pointed out that the planned
across-the-board Gramm-Rudman spending cuts, which the budget deal was
designed to avoid, would have still left the budget $15 billion higher
than the year before.
Two years later, the fiscal results of
the 1990 budget deal are clear: Instead of reducing the deficit by $500
billion, the 1991-95 debt is projected to increase by $500 billion over
To revisit network budget coverage, MediaWatch
analysts reviewed every evening news story (ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and the
NBC Nightly News) on the Clinton budget from February 14 to 28. In
total, 93 news stories were reviewed to determine:
How many times did reporters
mention that the 1990 budget summiteers also claimed they would reduce
the deficit by $500 billion? Zero. For
a group that has been forcefully critical on the state of the economy,
it's surprising that TV reporters aren't relaying the failure of the
last major agreement pledged to cut the deficit. But maybe that's
because the deal raised taxes.
To determine if this trend also held sway
on the network morning shows, MediaWatch analysts
reviewed every morning news story and interview on the budget (ABC's Good
Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) on
February 17, 18 and 19. Out of 62 stories and interviews, only three
references to the 1990 deal appeared, all on ABC. Charlie Gibson asked
Vice President Gore: "A major foundation in Washington said it was
four tax increases in the last ten years that were designed for deficit
reduction -- in each year, the deficit has gone up. So why should people
believe there'll be any change in the deficit this time?" Gibson
asked the same question to Paul Tsongas, and Joan Lunden asked it to
Clinton budget director Leon Panetta the next day.
How many times did reporters
point out that many spending "cuts" were actually cuts
in projected increases? Zero. Again, you would think
reporters had been humbled by the last budget deal. For example, on
September 30, 1990, ABC reporter Ann Compton declared: "Tonight,
both sides say that unlike budget deals of the past, these cuts are
real." But reporters continued to describe planned reductions in
dramatically growing programs like Medicare as "cuts." On
February 14, CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews suggested: "The
Administration wants to cut $35 billion from Medicare costs."
The networks were repeating print media
mistakes. The Washington Post ran a story headlined
"Proposed Medicare, Medicaid Cuts Total $62.6 Billion Over Five
Years." But the story reported: "The measures announced today
are intended to slow the projected annual increase in Medicare from 12.3
to 10.5 percent and in Medicaid from 14.2 percent to 13.8 percent."
How many times did reporters
point out the discrepancy between the $493 billion in deficit reduction
promised in White House briefing materials and the $325 billion in
reduction promised the next day? Three. CNN anchor
Patrick Greenlaw simply labeled it "confusion," and CBS and
NBC simply broadcast the new number without comment. Only ABC harped on
the point. On World News Tonight January 18, reporter
Brit Hume showed Leon Panetta citing "$500 billion in deficit
reduction," and declared: "According to the official Clinton
budget document, though, that's misleading," since $168 billion in
spending hikes were not included.
ABC was also the only network to mention
the discrepancy in the morning. Reporter Ann Compton referred to it in
one report. In an interview with Panetta, Joan Lunden asked if the
President was aware of the discrepancy when the White House released
budget documents citing the $500 billion figure before the President's
speech. Panetta responded: "He was very aware." Although all
four networks were quick to critique the "misleading" ads of
the Bush campaign, misleading budget documents weren't news to some
According to Cato Institute budget
analyst Stephen Moore, the 1991-95 deficit "will be $1.3 trillion
higher than it would have been if Congress had summoned the will to meet
the Gramm-Rudman target and had never held a budget summit." Until
the networks marshal the real numbers about spending "cuts"
and review the record of past "deficit reduction," viewers
will have to find other sources to learn how Washington really works.
For now, the networks are as absorbed in the Capital's convenient budget
illusions as the politicians themselves.
"Offering a new direction for the
country, President Clinton today begins selling his tough budget-cutting
program to the American people." -- CBS This Morning
co-host Harry Smith, February 18.
"I think regardless of what you
think of the specifics of the program, the President deserved great,
great credit for having the courage to come forward with a plan to deal
responsibly with the deficit. Yes, there are flaws....But I think that
Bill Clinton really set the nation on a new course last night in trying
to deal responsibly with our problems, and make the tough choices."
-- NBC's Lisa Myers on Today, February 18.
"If Republicans don't cooperate, are
you prepared to make it tough on them, and remind the nation that it was
Ronald Reagan who quadrupled the deficit, and cast the Republicans as
the architects, new architects of gridlock?" -- Today
co-host Bryant Gumbel questioning Vice President Gore, February 18.
"Wasn't it the Republican Party
under the leadership of Ronald Reagan especially, and George Bush who
put the country in the fix it's now in?" -- Tom Brokaw to Rep. Mike
Crapo (R-Idaho), Feb. 17 Nightly News.
the Bright Side
Morgan on Medicaid Raids
In a sharp and valuable investigative
series on February 7, 13 and 28, Washington Post reporter Dan
Morgan exposed how state governments circumvent federal Medicaid rules
to fund projects unrelated to medical aid for the poor and elderly.
On the 28th, Morgan showed how Republican
legislators in New Hampshire used a Medicaid loophole to make up for
revenue lost by a downturn in the state. "We're funding our state
judicial system, our state highway program, and everything else out of a
Medicaid loophole, which is being funded out of the deficit," said
GOP lawmaker Douglas Hall.
Morgan also noted that of the New
Hampshire hospitals handling large numbers of Medicaid patients,
"few if any of the hospitals have used the Medicaid windfall to
reduce rates to private patients and insurers. Yet hospital officials
acknowledge those rates already include some or all of the cost of
caring for indigent patients." Reporters covering the forthcoming
health care "reform" should follow Morgan's lead.
The Straight Scoop on Gays
The gay rights movement has long claimed
that 10 percent of Americans are homosexual. This figure, based on
decades-old research of Alfred Kinsey, has been used as a major piece of
ammunition in the battle over gay rights. In the February 15 Newsweek,
Senior Editorial Assistant Patrick Rogers took issue with this
oft-quoted figure: "Policymakers and the press... adopted the
estimate [of 10 percent] despite protests from skeptical conservatives
-- citing it time and again."
Rogers wrote that "ideology, not
sound science has perpetuated a 1-in-10 myth. In the nearly half century
since Kinsey, no survey has come close to duplicating his findings. Most
recent studies place gays and lesbians at somewhere between 1 and 6
percent of the population. While experts say these survey results are
biased by underreporting from reticent participants, the gap is still
significant. Some gay activists now concede that they exploited the
Kinsey estimate for it tactical value, not its accuracy."
Rogers referred to the 1992 version of
the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center's (NORC)
General Social Survey to further skewer Kinsey's data: "Between
1989 and 1992, the [NORC] added two sex questions...The results have
been consistent. Among men, 2.8 percent reported exclusively homo-sexual
activity in the preceding year; women registered 2.5 percent."
Clinton Kiddie Clan
In the last 12 years, many in the media
complained about manipulative White House photo opportunities. Yet, on
February 20, ABC created one for Bill Clinton. Peter Jennings hosted a
two-hour program from the White House which provided a forum for the
President to take questions from children.
Some reporters saw this for what it was
-- a 120-minute photo op. In the February 21 New York Times,
reporter Michael Kelly wrote that "The children's questions, which
were rehearsed in the White House by ABC News Friday night, included the
cute (`Is Chelsea single?'), the soft (`Why did you want to become
President?') and the politically pointed (`As a country, we are very
biased towards homosexuals; what are you going to do to help America
Kelly questioned ABC about the White
House rehearsals: "ABC News chose the children to `show a cross
section of America' and to illustrate such specific issues as the
environment and homelessness, said an ABC News spokesman, Arnot Walker.
Mr. Walker said the network knew in advance the general nature of the
questions that would be asked...but did not rehearse the questioners. He
said the children used during a technical rehearsal at the White
House...were different from those shown on the program."
But an ABC staffer told Kelly "The
child who got the program's biggest laugh by asking Mr. Clinton if his
daughter, Chelsea, were single, had first asked that question as a
member of the rehearsal audience and had been invited to return and ask
On World News Saturday that
night, reporter Tom Foreman raved: "As one parent put it: `There is
no better way to make me change my opinion than to change the world for
my child.' With nothing more than a listening ear, that is what Bill
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