Reporters Heap Heaving Helpings of Mush, Ignore Substance of Testimony
Hurrays for Hillary on the Hill
The unveiling of Hillary Rodham Clinton's
health plan and her testimony before Congress unleashed a chorus of
uncritical raves for her effort to place one-seventh of the economy
under government control.
ABC named the First Lady "Person of
the Week" on September 24. Peter Jennings gushed: "This
particular individual had come an awfully long way in the last year or
so. And then we thought -- no, maybe it's the country which has come a
long way." He explained "Mrs. Clinton's passion for health
care is undeniably deep. She worked tirelessly for healthier children in
Arkansas," though the American Public Health Association ranked
Arkansas 46th in "adequate prenatal care."
Nevertheless, Jennings referred to her as
"Hillary, the problem- solver" and added she "has been
positively liberated" by her experience. ABC aired five soundbites
-- all positive. Jennings ended by noting her 1969 commencement address:
"She said in that speech the challenge was to practice politics as
the art of making possible what appears to be impossible. In attempting
to completely revolutionize the American health care system, she and her
husband are attempting just that."
The tendency to report on Hillary's
personality or her sales job overshadowed the plan's substance. Bob
Schieffer described the scene on the September 28 CBS Evening News:
"Seldom referring to notes, she argued that much of the system is
broken and must be fixed. There seemed no detail she did not know, no
criticism she had not considered...It was a boffo performance.
Republicans were impressed, Democrats just loved it."
On the September 29 Inside Politics,
CNN reporter Candy Crowley found "more rave reviews for Hillary
Rodham Clinton, who put in yet another virtuoso performance." While
acknowledging the testimony was "an exchange of philosophical views
and some broad generalities," Crowley crowed "this is a lady
who knows her stuff, and how to use it...it has all worked very well.
Pro and con on the issue, lawmakers seem unanimously ga-ga."
Other reporters were even less concerned
with the details. On the October 1 C-SPAN Journalists' Roundtable,
The Boston Globe's Peter Gosselin recalled how a teapot sat at
her table. "She had tea, particularly in the afternoon, while she
was testifying...It was, again, this nice touch. `I'm just, I'm just
sitting here having tea, and we're just talking about health
A triumph of image over substance? No, he
maintained: "I was terribly impressed that she was able to marry
some of the traditional images of the First Lady with the policy
technocrat that she really is."
CNBC's New Chief
NBC President Robert Wright tapped
Republican political consultant Roger Ailes to take the
presidency of CNBC, the NBC-owned cable channel.
The Senior Media Adviser during Bush's
1988 campaign, Ailes produced many of Bush's TV ads. Outside of politics
Ailes has a lengthy list of television credits, from Executive Producer
of the old Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s to helping Paramount
launch the Maury Povich Show in 1992. At NBC, Ailes will also
oversee the 1994 creation of America's Talking, an all-talk show cable
Wright's decision disturbed Jon Margolis,
chief national political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune
from 1973 to 1988. In a September 7 column he complained: "Ailes is
a smart person with extensive television experience. He is also an
ideologue. Years ago, it was considered acceptable to have ideologues
run news organizations. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, was
run by one. Now, it is not considered acceptable, at least not by honest
people in the news business."
Margolis failed to mention that Ailes
reports to Tom Rogers, President of NBC Cable since 1988. From 1981 to
1986 Rogers worked for then-U.S. Rep. Tim Wirth, a liberal Colorado
Democrat. MediaWatch asked Margolis why he has
not criticized any liberals who have accepted media positions. Margolis
conceded that "your point is well taken, what's sauce for the goose
should be sauce for the gander," but insisted that a statute of
limitations should apply to those out of politics for many years, such
as NBC's May appointment of a former aide to George McGovern as
Executive Producer of NBC Nightly News.
Offering an example of the kind of
ideological job switching that's "questionable for the health of
the country," Margolis called NBC's hiring of Tim Russert (now VP
and Washington Bureau Chief) directly from Mario Cuomo's office "a
questionable decision." Margolis explained that he highlighted
Ailes because "people are now more aware of the impact" of the
revolving door between media and politics.
Bushie to CBS
In 1988 Ceci Cole McInturff
directed voter outreach for the George Bush presidential campaign, a
campaign highlighted by Bush's CBS Evening News confrontation
with Dan Rather. In September she began lobbying on behalf of the
financial interests of CBS Inc. as Vice President for federal policy.
McInturff served from 1985 to 1987 as Special Assistant to the President
for political and intergovernmental affairs.
Former New York Times reporter Christopher
Lydon lost his bid to become a Democratic Mayor of Boston,
placing sixth in the September 14 primary. Lydon was a news anchor on
Boston's PBS affiliate for 14 years after leaving the Times
Washington bureau in 1977. The Boston Globe reported that
Lydon's public safety plan called for "a ban on the sale,
manufacture and possession of handguns." He asserted that "it
is absurd to think that the country's mayors and police chiefs, backed
by millions of impassioned citizens, cannot mount a lobby in Washington
much more powerful that the National Rifle Association and its
lobbyists." Among contributions to his campaign: $500 from former Newsweek
reporter and current New Yorker Editor Hendrik Hertzberg.
`Kiss Ass, Move with
the Mass' s
Rather's `Powder Puff' Hypocrisy
The night the President unveiled his
health reform plan, Dan Rather anchored a 48 Hours special,
with an interview of Hillary Clinton as the main attraction. Rather
tossed the First Lady slow-pitch softballs like: "When you walked
in, it was pretty clear you were excited, but also a little nervous. Am
I right about that?" And: "You've been working hard already to
introduce this plan to people, sell this plan to people. Are you having
fun with this or is it all just hard work? It looks to be very hard
Rather's questions were sometimes thinly
disguised tributes: "I don't know of anybody, friend or foe, who
isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I'm not
surprised because you have been working on it so long and listened to so
many people. Is it possible, and I'm asking for your candid opinion,
that when this gets through, whether it passes or not, that we will have
reached a point when a First Lady, any First Lady, can be judged on the
quality of her work?"
Instead of asking tough original
questions about the vague details that were released, Rather reiterated
the points of the plan as questions: "Let me run down a
checklist....just give me a yes or no answer. Will every resident of the
United States be covered under this?...Will this entail any major
increase in taxes?...Will this help reduce the deficit, perhaps by as
much as $91 billion?" Rather ended his interview with a shameless
plug: "Are you prepared to pay the ultimate price and go on David
Just one week later, Rather lambasted the
press in a September 29 speech to the Radio and Television News
Directors Association convention in Miami. Rather, who either has a
short memory or a twin, stated: "They've got us putting more and
more fuzz and wuzz on the air." He went on to complain that
reporters "Do powder puff, not probing interviews. Stay away from
controversial subjects. Kiss ass, move with the mass and for heaven and
ratings' sake don't make anybody mad -- certainly not anybody you're
covering, and especially not the Mayor, the Governor, the Senator, the
President or the Vice-President or anybody in a position of power. Make
nice, not news."
NBC's Jim Maceda
Attacks Conservative "Myths" About Health Care
Correcting the Clintons' Critics
In the Reagan era, reporters applied a
skeptical eye to the administration's legislative proposals. With a
Democrat in the White House, that skepticism is being trained on the new
administration's critics. For a one-sided exploration of the
"myths" surrounding the Clinton health plan, NBC's Jim Maceda
earned the October Janet Cooke Award.
On the September 22 Today,
co-host Bryant Gumbel described Maceda's story as a look at "a few
common misconceptions." But Maceda selected only one myth-buster:
Dr. Arthur Caplan of the University of Minnesota, a liberal.
Asked why Caplan was the only expert,
Maceda told MediaWatch: "It was done not
as a news report, it was done as an essay. I had freedom to do what I
wanted. It was a more subjective piece, and I tried to be
thought-provoking, rather than simply informative ...[Caplan] happens to
be one of the best I know to raise those issues. Obviously, he is a
reform advocate, and I say that throughout." But Caplan was never
identified as a liberal or "reform advocate" in the story, and
NBC never told viewers that they were seeing an essay or commentary.
NBC's first "myth" was
"The Family Doctor." This might be a surprise to millions of
Americans who have one, but over video clips of the old TV shows Dr.
Kildare and Marcus Welby, M.D., Maceda remarked: "The
rock-solid father figure. Images of the family doctor we as a nation
still cling to. Only the stuff of dreamy fiction, say health care
Caplan lectured: "That you and your
doctor are going to go together as a team through the universe of health
care, hand in hand, down some path that leads to a golden old age where
you part company with a fond farewell to one another, and the only
problem is, there are three or four insurance officials and government
bureaucrats blocking the path. Marcus Welby left the health care system
Maceda moved on to the choice
"myth": "But many of us do have private doctors, even if
they're not Marcus Welbys, they are our doctors. We chose them,
On came Caplan: "I think I can
nominate as the mother of all myths about American health care the idea
that choice exists. What you've got is consumers who get no information
about their doctor, about their hospital, about their hospice, about
their mental health facility. They don't know whether it works or it
doesn't work. They have no idea who is doing things to them, whether
they're any good, what the costs are, what the prices are." Maceda
added: "But that hasn't stopped the media blitz from health
providers, insurance companies, warning us that reform could threaten
our power to choose."
In other words, choice does not exist
because people are too stupid to make choice a meaningful concept. MediaWatch
asked Maceda how health care is different from say, auto repair, where
consumers often don't know the competence of the mechanic who fixes
their car. Maceda responded: "That's correct. That's the point...We
don't have choices. We don't know most of the time. I can't tell you how
many times I've gone to a doctor not knowing who he or she is,
absolutely starting from scratch ...It happens all the time, and that's
the point I think we needed to raise." By that standard, we should
have socialized auto repair.
If Maceda had interviewed Michele Davis,
an economist with Citizens for a Sound Economy, she would have offered
another view: "President Clinton stated explicitly that reform
should empower consumers -- not the government -- to make health care
choices. But under the Clinton plan, the federal government would tell
all Americans what health insurance benefits they must buy, where to buy
them, and how much to pay for them. It's a restriction of choices."
Maceda then addressed the "Managed
Care" myth: "Also looming, the specter of managed care,
something good for those so-called socialist countries abroad, but
surely not for us. But guess what? American health care is already
largely managed...Managed care already works in ten states, and, the
reformers insist, is saving money."
care, through health maintenance organizations (HMOs), does exist, but
not top-down government- managed care. As for the declaration that
managed care "already works," Michele Davis contended:
"One survey of 17,000 patients showed that patients prefer
fee-for-service medicine to HMOs in every category -- competence,
personal qualities, waiting time, and explanations of their
Maceda then took on the "myth"
of "Rationed Care" under the Clinton plan: "In its
attempt to economize on our health costs, will President Clinton's
reform plan ration our health care?" Caplan declared: "It's
not only a myth, it's propaganda. It's basically being used as a scare
technique to frighten people out of wanting to change the health care
Michele Davis told MediaWatch. "With caps
on insurance premiums, Clinton's health alliances will have to ration
care. If costs grow 10 to 12 percent a year, and you could only raise
premiums five percent -- at the same time that you're actually expanding
the demand for care by covering the uninsured -- the only way they can
survive is by restricting care."
Maceda's story muddied the point by
insisting: "These doctors say rationing -- by ability to pay -- has
been going on for decades." MediaWatch
asked: would it be better or fairer for Americans of all incomes
to be denied care? Maceda replied: "That's something I would have
liked to go into if I had more time."
Maceda concluded: "Before Clinton
gets the maximum bang out of health care's buck, he'll have to address
all the lingering myths and fears, but none more than this one: that
reform will mean giving up what we've already got."
Unknown. How can Maceda
claim it's a "myth" that Americans will have to give up what
they have when the Clinton plan hasn't been enacted yet? "I didn't
say giving up something, I said giving up everything. If I recall, I
said starting from scratch, losing all the good things." After MediaWatch
read Maceda the transcript, he replied: "Okay, in context, giving
up everything we've already got is what that means, giving up and going
plunging into the unknown." Won't people have to give up what they
have for the new plan? Maceda admitted: "Sure, people will have to
sacrifice. Of course."
Maceda's "myths" weren't errors
or falsehoods, but partisan attacks on the notion that conservative
criticism matters. If the Clinton plan reduces the choice of doctors,
then choice didn't exist; if it leads to government-managed care, people
already have managed care; if it leads to system-wide rationing,
rationing already exists. NBC shouldn't mislead viewers by pretending
such a story is balanced news; it's liberal commentary.
Watching the Ad Watch.
CBS This Morning reporter Hattie Kauffman took a less than
objective peek at the crop of health care ads to uncover what special
interests were producing them. In her September 22 piece, she judged the
accuracy of the ads with Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack.
He criticized an ad by the Coalition for
Health Insurance Choices for concealment: "It's the Health
Insurance Association of America's money that's behind that so-called
coalition. That, I think, is unethical to the worst degree." (The
HIAA is also listed at the ad's end.) But before allowing Pollack to
pass judgment on "unethical" concealment, Kauffman should have
told viewers about his outfit, which she called "a health-care
consumer group." The February 6 Washington Post reported
that at Clinton's request, Families USA "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." Question: how fair is the debate
when the judge is on one of the teams?
Altering Armey. Hillary
Clinton's performance in front of congressional committees drew rave
reviews from virtually every reporter, but one got so carried away that
she lost touch with reality. On September 29, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.)
promised the First Lady "to make this debate as exciting as
possible." Here's how Washington Post reporter Dana Priest
recounted the subsequent exchange: "`I'm sure you will do that, you
and Dr. Kevorkian,' Clinton shot back, in a sharp reference to Armey's
recent comment comparing the administration plan to a `Dr. Kevorkian
prescription' that would kill American jobs....`I have been told about
your charm and wit,' Armey said. `The reports on your charm are
overstated, and the reports of your wit are understated.' His face
bright red, Armey laughed and shook his head. Then he left the
The only problem: As any C-SPAN viewer
knows, a far from flustered Armey did not leave. He then asked a
question and listened to the answer.
Reinventing Gore. When
Bill Clinton and Al Gore announced their National Performance Review
(NPR) plan on September 7, reporters trumpeted a shift to the right.
The Washington Post headlined its story: "Post-Vacation
Clinton Swims Toward Mainstream." The Boston Globe
headline read "With Plan to Shrink Government, Clinton Nods to the
Right." The Globe's Michael Kranish wrote: "The plan
is expected to include efforts to merge government agencies, streamline
bureaucracies, reduce regulation and eliminate wasteful programs...In
contrast to Clinton's controversial plans on gays in the military and
tax increases, this plan sounds as Republican and conservative as
anything Clinton has proposed."
But the reporters must not have looked
very closely at the plan. None mentioned aspects that are anything but
conservative- sounding: Of the $108 billion Gore said he would squeeze
out of government, The Washington Times reported only $36.4
billion would come from actual cuts, while $8.3 billion of
"savings" are generated by increased taxes. The plan also
fails to touch programs at the top of any conservative list, such as
A Citizens for a Sound Economy analysis
by Dan Murphy found the Gore plan softens the current practice of
requiring the Office of Management and Budget to perform a cost-benefit
analysis of all new regulations to "only significant
regulations." Reporters also ignored Al Gore's record of supporting
ever-larger government programs. The National Taxpayers Union rated Gore
the biggest spender in the Senate in 1992, the third time in four years.
Killer Kids. The recent
tourist murders in Florida prompted the media to focus on juvenile
crime. Without any attribution, on the September 8 Now Tom
Brokaw charged: "In every community in this country, juvenile
violence is on the rise. A recent survey found that one in ten kids has
been shot at during the past year." The Census Bureau counts 70
million kids, so 7 million youngsters were shot at during the
last year? Now that's news.
Others see the problem as a lack of gun
control rather than evil teenage behavior. Dan Rather overstated the
novelty of one solution on the September 13 CBS Evening News.
"In Denver, Colorado's Governor gave final approval to the first
state law in the nation that cracks down on handguns for juveniles.
Passed by a special session of the legislature, this Colorado law makes
it illegal in almost all cases for people 18 or younger to carry
handguns." But Washington, D.C. and New York City have had a total
ban on gun possession for everyone, not just juveniles, for years. And
with the homicide rate growing every year, the ban hardly decreased the
crime rate in those cities.
Career Criminals? Unable
to resist the temptation to compare the Rodney King case with the
Reginald Denny case, ABC's Brian Rooney explained on the September 28 World
News Tonight: "[Damian] Williams and [Henry] Watson face the
possibility of life in prison while just yesterday, the police convicted
of violating Rodney King's civil rights won a two week delay to appeal
their case before going to jail. What troubles some people is that the
two white officers have been treated as though their crime was just a
mistake they might never repeat, while the two black defendants have
been prosecuted as though they are career criminals who might be
dangerous the rest of their lives." Rooney repeated himself on the
next day's Good Morning America: "Williams and Watson are
being prosecuted like career criminals while the police officers...have
been treated like two honest men who made a mistake."
Treated like career criminals? Of course.
Rooney ignored police records documenting the criminal pasts of Williams
and Watson. An avowed gang member, Williams, whose confession to the
Denny beating was not allowed in court, has an arrest record that
includes charges of battery, robbery and hit-and-run. Watson boasts a
record that includes an arrest for carrying a concealed weapon and
involvement in an armored car hold-up.
Aspin Roasts Weiner.
Relying entirely on four anonymous sources, The New York Times
ran a front page story on August 18 by Tim Weiner alleging
"Officials in the `Star Wars' project rigged a crucial 1984 test
and faked other data in a program of deception that misled Congress as
well as the intended target, the Soviet Union." One of Weiner's
anonymous sources told him a beacon had been installed in the target
missile to guide the interceptor missile to the point of impact,
creating the impression of a successful test. Taking Weiner's report as
gospel, a Times editorial the following day praised Weiner for
exposing "the Star Wars hoax." The story also spurred reports
on ABC, NBC and CNN on the night of August 18, as well as stories in Time
("The Ploy That Fell to Earth") and Newsweek ("Reagan's
Cold War `Sting'?").
On September 9, however, Secretary of
Defense Les Aspin reported the findings of a Pentagon inquiry into the
accusation. After rebutting the specific accusations, Aspin, who was
chairman of the House Armed Services Committee at the time of the test
and no SDI cheerleader, explained: "Our conclusion, then, is that
the experiment was not rigged and, in fact, could not be rigged by the
presence of the radar beacon." The Times reported this
rebuttal on page B-9 of the Metro section. NBC Nightly News
reported Aspin's finding, but not ABC, CNN, Time or
Funds Untied. "The
U.S. spends significantly less on the arts than many other Western
nations," claimed CNN anchor Linden Soles on CNN's September 2
World News. Reporter Cynthia Tornquist began her story with figures
from the National Endowment for the Arts: "The United States falls
short when it comes to public funding for the arts...Sweden spends 46
dollars per capita on the arts, Germany puts out 39 dollars...However,
the United States spends just 68 cents per person." Tornquist
broadcast a series of appeals for public funding from NEA acting Deputy
Chairman A.B. Spellman, playwright Terrence McNally, and arts advocate
Despite the advocacy for public
financing, Tornquist paradoxically concluded: "According to the
National Academy for the Arts, the arts has become a nine billion dollar
industry in the United States. Those who support the arts suggest that
with proper public funding, the arts can provide the public with
economic as well as cultural rewards." She might have been
referring to the 1992 Giving USA report on
philanthropy, which reported that private donations to the arts amounted
to $9.32 billion, or more than 50 times annual NEA spending. It's the
highest spending on arts in the world. But Tornquist ignored that.
Calling Off The Dogs. In
the aftermath of the 1992 campaign, George Bush fired State Department
appointee Elizabeth Tamposi for searching the passport files of Bill
Clinton and his mother, Virginia Kelley. The three network evening
shows, CNN's World News, and PBS' MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour
featured Tamposigate no less than 28 times, eight times as the lead
story, with 21 stories during the 16-day period from November 10-25. But
TV coverage of Clinton-era scandals remains rare.
A September 3 Washington Post
front page story revealed an investigation by the State Department's
Inspector General into allegations that the Clinton State Department
searched the records of 160 senior personnel appointees, including the
personnel file of Elizabeth Tamposi. How many times did these same
newscasts, during a similar 16-day period, cover this scandal? Zero.
Only CNN's Inside Politics felt it merited mention, mentioning
it on September 3 and again on September 10.
The networks also failed to cover the
story that former Clinton chief of staff and campaign aide Betsey
Wright, now a lobbyist, arranged for a White House meeting for the
American Forest and Paper Association. This meeting resulted in the
watering down of a proposed Clinton directive that would have required
the federal government to buy paper containing 25 percent recycled
materials. This is the sort of "insider lobbying" that Clinton
pledged to end, but the network news hounds don't have the nose for
hypocrisy that they used to.
Gannett's Semi-Free Press.
A recent incident in Vermont shows how political correctness leads to
censorship. A late August Albany Times-Union story detailed how
the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press fired reporter Paul
Teetor after he angered black activists by reporting that a white woman
was not allowed to speak and escorted out of a community meeting on
racial issues. What Teetor considered a carefully worded neutral report
incensed local black activists. Claiming the story should have focused
exclusively on minority complaints, they demanded the paper fire Teetor
and run a front page correction of the "racist" story. The Free
Press editors complied.
Gannett has a standing policy of
politically correct news coverage. Gannett Vice President for News Phil
Currie told the Times-Union about the chain's
"All-American Contest" that encourages its papers to hire
minorities and depict them in constructive ways. "Twice a year, he
said, each paper in the chain is evaluated and receives a score between
1 and 10. Scores in the contests, he said, could be a factor in
considering which editors are promoted." Therefore, editors are
discouraged from running anything that reinforce "black
stereotypes." How has Teetor's firing and Gannett's policy affected
the Free Press? The Times-Union reported that stories
dealing with racial issues are reviewed by top editors and
"anything that minorities might possibly consider offensive is
On Health, Network
Morning Shows Slant Left in Picking Guests, Slightly Right in Questions
Good Morning, Liberals
When Republicans controlled the White
House, liberal critics complained the GOP dominated the networks'
interviews. Now that the Democrats control the White House, no one can
argue there's a conservative slant.
analysts watched all interviews on health care reform on ABC's Good
Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today from
November 8, 1992, the day after the election, through the end of
September of this year. Guests were classified as "left" if
they supported the Clinton plan or an even stronger government role; or
classified as "right" if they wanted less government than the
In 51 segments, 45 interviewees (62
percent) came from the left; 19 (26 percent) came from the right.
Another nine (12 percent) represented medical industries -- doctors (6),
drug companies (1), insurance companies (1), and hospitals (1).
analysts went further, looking at the questions the networks asked.
Questions were categorized as informational, from the left or from the
right. Of the 356 questions asked, 228 were informational, 85 came from
the right-leaning agenda, and 43 came from the left. If morning show
hosts were playing the role of devil's advocates, left-leaning guests
should be asked a fair number of right-leaning questions. But hosts
didn't become truly adversarial, asking more right-leaning questions
than left, until the Clinton plan emerged in September.
Guests. The study period
is split into two parts: the 21 segments from November to August, and
the 30 interviews in September, as media interest picked up in the
release of the Clinton plan. Liberal bias reigned in the first part: the
guest lists slanted dramatically (21 left, 6 right, 5 industry). Only in
September did the overall guest list grow more balanced (24 left, 13
right, 4 industry).
Among those interviewed on the
"right" side were Sens. John Chafee, Arlen Specter, and Dave
Durenberger, all of whom have been receptive to the Clinton plan.
Stephen Elmont of the National Restaurant Association made the
"right" list, even though he told the NBC audience that he was
an active Democrat and Clinton fundraiser, because he opposed employer
Guests on the left were also sometimes
critical of the Clinton plan, as too conservative. NBC brought on Dr.
David Himmelstein twice and ABC invited Dr. Steffie Woolhandler. The two
doctors head Physicians for a National Health Program, a group favoring
a Canadian-style single payer system that would abolish insurance
companies. CBS invited single-payer advocate Sara Nichols of Public
Citizen. By contrast, the networks never interviewed sponsors of a House
Republican medical-savings-account plan or anyone who disagreed with the
notion of government-enforced universal coverage.
The three networks differed not only in
the balance of their guests, but in the amount of time they devoted to
the health issue. ABC did the fewest interviews (7), but had the most
politically balanced guest list (5 left, 4 right, no one from industry).
CBS came in second in segments (18), but first in guest imbalance (15
left, only 4 right, and 4 from industry). NBC did the most interviews
(26), and had much more balance in September (13 left, 8 right, 3
industry) than from November to August (12 left, 2 right, 2 industry).
categorized questions as informational, coming from the left (promoting
the Clinton or single-payer plans, or skeptical of the private sector)
or the right (promoting the private sector, questioning the effects of
To illustrate, "Why managed
competition?" is an informational question. From the left, take
Bryant Gumbel on March 31: "In the greedy excesses of the Reagan
years, the mean income of the average physician almost doubled, from
$88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?" From the right, take Joan
Lunden's September 24 question to Mrs. Clinton: "Some say this will
create a huge bureaucracy. How do you respond to that?"
Again, the study period splits into two
parts. From November to August, not only did the list of guests slant
left, but the agenda of questions was evenly divided (25 left, 25 right,
95 informational). In one of the most slanted interviews, NBC's Scott
Simon asked liberal professor Ted Marmor mostly liberal questions last
December 27: "Should we have the nerve...to say that maybe we have
to take private industry out of this. Maybe it has to be a
In September, the questions focused more
on the Clinton plan and its possible flaws (57 right, 17 left, 130
informational).The networks were especially concerned about patients
being able to choose doctors, the subject of 22 questions. Hosts also
asked about rationing (7), higher taxes (6), and more bureaucracy (5).
Analysts made one exception in the
right-leaning category: questions critical of privately-run health
maintenance organizations (or HMOs) were sometimes categorized as right-
leaning, since the Clinton plan envisions using government to force more
Americans into HMOs. On September 23, ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson asked Dr. C.
Everett Koop: "We know there will be more emphasis on HMOs, where
their doctor may not be there. What's going to happen there?"
The networks rarely asked questions on
side issues that could cause trouble for Clinton. Of 356 questions, only
five focused on government-funded abortions, four by CBS co-host Paula
Zahn, who told Hillary Clinton "some hard-core groups [are] out
there saying they're going to derail this plan over the sole issue of
abortion." Only two asked about the plan's malpractice provisions,
and none mentioned health care for illegal aliens. As the debate rages
on , the networks should be pressed into covering these subjects as
the Bright Side
Wallace On U.N. Waste
Mike Wallace opened the door of the
United Nations on the September 19 60 Minutes and found
horrific waste. "Many in a position to know charge that disturbing
amounts from that U.N. budget are disappearing due to mismanagement or
corruption. So while we look to the U.N. as the world's policeman, its
ability to police itself is quite another matter."
Wallace examined one confidential audit
on the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Cambodia: "Tens of millions
of dollars have been wasted or ripped off due to the incompetence or
outright thievery of U.N. officials or contractors." He then
catalogued instances of U.N. fraud: phantom payrolls, contracts awarded
to a small number of preferred companies even though their bids were
higher than others, payment for work that was never done, construction
of huge conference centers, and sweetened consulting contracts for
former U.N. employees.
Wallace diagnosed the problem as a lack
of accountability built into the U.N. system: 184 countries make up the
General Assembly which appropriates money to projects, "and while
they get to run up the bills, just 13 of the more prosperous nations
have to foot 80 percent of the U.N. tab."
Breaking with the usual environmental
orthodoxy of the networks, NBC reporter Roger O'Neil reported on the
September 17 Nightly News that the spotted owl, whose welfare
spurred timber summits and lost jobs, was vastly undercounted by
government biologists. "In the forests of northern California,
despite what government scientists and environmentalists said three
years ago, there is nothing rare or threatened about the northern
O'Neil noted that new research "is
now proving many of the government's earlier assumptions wrong. For
example, it was assumed the owl lived only in old growth timber, forest
which has never been logged before." In fact, O'Neil
added,"thousands of so-called new owls have been found, almost
entirely on private timber company land which has been logged
Phil Dietrick of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Department told O'Neil "I believe you can design systems
to maintain owl populations within the contexts of managed timber."
O'Neil also noted that to environmentalists, "the spotted owl is
part of a bigger strategy -- stop the cutting of big old trees in
national forests," concluding, "some biologists agree now that
the politics of environmentalism got in the way of careful
What a Difference a
ABC Admits Bias
ABC got more than it bargained for when
selecting an outsider to take the Executive Producer slot for World
News Tonight -- a journalist who thinks the media tilt left. In
April, ABC hired Emily Rooney from ABC's Boston affiliate. In the
September 27 Electronic Media Rooney explained that in
assembling the American Agenda segments "we're trying to tap more
into a conservative point of view, the `heart of America' point of view,
rather than the traditional media liberal spin on programs. I think we
are aware, as everybody who works in the media is, that the old
stereotype of the liberal bent happens to be true, and we're making a
concerted effort to really look for more from the other, without being
ponderous and lecturing or trying to convert people to another way of
A 1989 MediaWatch
analysis of a year's worth of American Agenda stories proved Rooney's
contention. MediaWatch found that on health,
social and environmental issues ABC stuck to liberal themes "while
items on the conservative agenda were ignored."
Within a week, Rooney had convinced Peter
Jennings of the problem. He told the October 9 TV Guide that
American Agenda has "revolved around a liberal axis" because
"a lot of the activism in terms of the social issues we deal with
-- education, drugs, the family, health, welfare, and the environment --
has tended to emanate from liberal circles." He promised to
"pay more attention to what conservatives are saying."
How about Person of the Week? A 1992 MediaWatch
study found from 1988 to 1991, eleven political officials profiled were
liberals or Democrats, while only five were conservative or Republican.
In the political activist category, liberals were selected 16 times,
"but not one conservative made the cut."
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