First Lady Called "Candid" and "Responsive" After She Evades Questions
Three Cheers for Slick Hillary
Reporters were happy when Hillary Rodham Clinton took
their advice and held her long-awaited Whitewater press conference on
April 22. They could finally ask hopefully as New York Times
reporter Linda Greenhouse did on Washington Week in Review: "Is
this basically the end of Whitewater?"
But in reality, the end is nowhere in sight because
many questions were left unaddressed. As columnist Tony Snow wrote, she
"answered precise questions with lawyerly evasions [such as]
'There's really no evidence of that' ....and she invoked the amnesia
defense more often than Ronald Reagan did in the days of
Iran-Contra," saying "I don't remember" at least six
The media ignored her lack of specificity, grading her
instead on style. NBC's Tom Brokaw gave her high marks: "She was
cool, articulate, and for the most part very responsive to all
questions." ABC's Peter Jennings repeated Mrs. Clinton's charge
that attacks on her show "the country is having some difficulty
adjusting to a working woman in the role of First Lady."
CNN's Jill Dougherty praised the First Lady on that
evening's World News: "It was an extraordinary
performance...[she] answered questions for more than an hour, for more
than 100 reporters."
"A riveting hour and 12 minutes in which the
First Lady appeared open, candid, but above all unflappable. While she
provided little new information...the real message was her attitude and
her poise," Time's Michael Duffy enthused in the May 2
issue. On CNN's Capital Gang, Time columnist Margaret Carlson
touted the triumph: "Her explanations were perfectly reasonable,
something else might come out, she didn't answer every question, but,
hey, she came across fine."
An "A double-plus" was the grade Newsweek's
Eleanor Clift gave her on The McLaughlin Group, explaining
"She's been re-zoned back into the stratosphere...She really was
convincing and sincere."
Of the network reporters, only ABC's Brit Hume
suggested "Mrs. Clinton may not have answered all the questions
about the family's financial dealings." Some papers explored the
questions left hanging, such as why did the Clintons, 50-50 partners
with the McDougals, bear less of the debt for Whitewater? How did Mrs.
Clinton avoid receiving margin calls on her cattle futures trades?
The Washington Post ran an article inside
headlined "First Lady's Explanations Yield Little Information"
and even The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, who called it
"an exceptionally polished and calibrated performance,"
conceded later that "she never fully resolved the central questions
of Whitewater and the commodities trades."
A recent interview and profile have revealed that two
top ABC News staffers toiled for left-wing politicians in the 1960s. On
CNBC's Equal Time February 17, co-host Mary Matalin asked 20/20
correspondent Sylvia Chase why she left politics.
Chase responded: "Because I had two Kennedys sort
of shot. I had been involved in both those campaigns and I, it was a
very sobering experience for me, actually, the second one. And I was at
the hotel, and I had organized Southern California volunteers and
committees. And I felt it was time to move on and also in that time
career opportunities for women had opened up finally in
Chase rejoined 20/20 in 1990 after a four-year
stint as an anchor with KRON-TV in San Francisco, a job she took after
ABC refused to air a segment she reported which romantically linked John
and Robert Kennedy to Marilyn Monroe. She reported for CBS News from
1971 until jumping to ABC in 1977.
In 1968, an April 12 Washington Post profile
revealed, World News Tonight Executive Producer Richard Kaplan
worked as "an advance man" for Democratic presidential
candidate Eugene McCarthy. During that campaign he met Susan Thomases
and in 1980 she introduced him to Bill Clinton. Kaplan soon became a
While Executive Producer of Prime Time Live in
1992, he advised Clinton on how to control damage from the Gennifer
Flowers story. In February, Knight Ridder's Marc Gunther reported that
in 1992 "Kaplan and Clinton stayed up late playing cards and
talking about how to deal with" an upcoming talk show appearance.
Last year, Gunther noted, Kaplan played golf with the President and
stayed overnight in the Lincoln bedroom.
Bringing Helms to Baer
Last month MediaWatch reported the move
of U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor Donald
Baer to the White House as Director of Speechwriting. An April 9 National
Journal profile divulged that this wasn't Baer's first spin through
the revolving door. "In 1972," James Barnes wrote, "he
attended the Democratic National Convention in Miami as a junior aide to
ex-Gov. Terry Sanford's token presidential bid." By 1981 Baer had
became a lawyer in New York City. When North Carolina Governor James
Hunt, a Democrat, opposed Senator Jesse Helms in 1984, Baer
"organized a $75,000 Manhattan fundraiser for Hunt." Three
years later, he joined U.S. News.
James Cannon, a Time and Newsweek reporter
in the 1950s and 1960s, has written a new book titled Time and
Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment with History. Cannon can offer
some first-hand observations: He served as domestic policy adviser to
Following the Korean War, Cannon spent two years with Time
before switching to Newsweek. By the time he jumped into politics
in 1969 as an adviser to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, The
Washington Times noted April 19, he had risen to the position of
Chief Political Correspondent for Newsweek. When the liberal
Republican became Vice President, Cannon moved with him to Washington,
later joining Ford's staff. Following Ford's loss he became Chief of
Staff to Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker, Jr.
Vanishing Liberal Bloc?
The Blackmun Blues
Reporters split into two camps upon the retirement of
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun: those who hailed him as a liberal
and those who failed him as not liberal enough.
Blackmun was "widely regarded as the conscience
of the court," Bryant Gumbel told April 6 Today viewers.
Reading from the same script that afternoon on CNN's Inside Politics,
anchor Judy Woodruff proclaimed Blackmun's "fierce protection of
individual rights led some to anoint him the moral conscience of the
court." The next day, Los Angeles Times reporter David
Savage asserted Blackmun "slowly transformed himself into an
outspoken liberal and a champion of justice and fairness."
In an April 7 Associated Press story reporter Laurie
Asseo wrote that Blackmun traveled a "philosophical journey that
brought him a new sensitivity toward the human beings behind the legal
issues." On April 11, The Boston Globe called him an
"increasingly passionate advocate of the oppressed and
The April 18 Time honored Blackmun as someone
who "underwent a highly public evolution from conservative to
liberal jurist, becoming one of the court's most passionate defenders of
constitutional liberties for ordinary citizens."
Newsweek's David A. Kaplan led the other camp
the same week in an article titled "Why the Court Needs a
Liberal," which complained: "John Paul Stevens will be about
the closest thing to a liberal that the Supreme Court has left....Blackmun's
`liberalism' was apparent only against the right-wing backdrop at the
court that emerged in the '80s." The solution? Clinton "should
pick an unabashed liberal for the court...because it would enhance the
court's prestige for the long term. There hasn't been a liberal
nominated since 1967." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch
supporter of abortion rights and opponent of the death penalty, didn't
New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse told
colleagues on the PBS show Washington Week in Review: "As
for Harry Blackmun's liberalism, you know, it's everything in context. I
think that the last true liberals on the court were Justice Brennan and
Justice Marshall." Steven Roberts of U.S. News replied: "Is
this the end of the liberal bloc on the court?"
NBC's Ann Curry Offers Dire Scenario of Overpopulation Without Citing Sources
Desperately Seeking Science
Every spring, the networks turn their attention to
environmental issues, and every spring, viewers see another set of
warnings that the planet is in crisis. Perhaps the most overdone story
is the threat of "overpopulation." Despite decades of failed
predictions of planetary doom (like Famine 1975!), reporters continue to
present the doomsayers' side with no rebuttal from the optimists. For
continuing this one-sided and inaccurate pattern, NBC's Ann Curry earned
the May Janet Cooke Award.
Substitute anchor Jon Scott introduced Curry's April 3
NBC Nightly News story: "In Focus tonight, overpopulation
and poverty. Beginning tomorrow at a conference sponsored by the United
Nations, delegates will begin discussing the need for a world population
policy and the consequences if none is developed."
Curry warned: "This baby in Mexico City is one of
1.8 million born each week into a world now severely threatened by rapid
population growth...Today's population has already set off an
environmental spiral, depleting the world's forests and contributing to
overfishing and overgrazing. Soil is being eroded, which in turn is
hurting crop production, leading to starvation, and often, political
But Curry's only "experts" in the story came
from the left: Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Joseph Speidel
of Population Action International, and Tim Wirth, the former liberal
Senator turned State Department appointee. NBC did not look for another
point of view, like that of University of Maryland economist Julian
Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource. MediaWatch
asked Curry's producer at NBC, Tom Dawson, why he wasn't contacted.
"I'd love to talk to Simon," he said. But did he? "No, I
did not call him."
Other network producers have argued that Simon doesn't
deserve to be interviewed, claiming the majority of scientists disagree
with him. Dawson agreed: "That is generally my feeling. I've run
across him in several issues I've dealt with...his views are not shared
by very many, if any, serious academics."
Simon told MediaWatch:
"My research is the mainstream now. In 1986, the National Academy
of Sciences came out with a report nearly reversing its earlier and more
alarmist conclusions. It said `The concern about the impact of rapid
population growth on resource exhaustion has often been exaggerated.' It
found positive and negative consequences. The scientific community has
made a dramatic U-turn. But my views are not shared by the press and the
community of academics who are not specialists on population economics
-- biologists, sociologists, physicians." Simon said Speidel is
"a physician. How is he a scientist on population growth?" As
for Lester Brown, "one percent of his professional group agrees
with Brown. But he gets 99 percent of the press."
Curry didn't cite any actual sources or studies for
any of the dramatic claims in her story. When MediaWatch
asked why television stories on science often fail to cite any research,
Dawson responded: "The whole problem is not as simple as it's
presented on television. The problems of soil erosion are different in
different parts of the world for different reasons. In some parts,
they're having to deal specifically with deforestation. Some parts they
don't. It's a matter of trying to take a very complex issue and
simplifying it in such a way that it is accurate and
MediaWatch challenged Dawson
to prove his report, asking if he could confidently produce data to
prove that world starvation is increasing. His response? "Off the
top of my head, I can't answer that question. Simon bases his thing on
the green revolution," a new crop of agricultural products and
technology. Dawson continued: "The green revolution has increased
grain production. But the experts are now saying that the green
revolution is reaching its limits, and no new technologies have
developed to create an increase in production."
Dawson's views came through clearly in Curry's script:
"Through- out the world, family size has shrunk significantly, down
a third the last forty years. But the change comes too late to prevent
an explosion. At the current rate of growth, the population would still
soar from 5.7 billion to 22 billion in 55 years. Food production isn't
keeping pace, and experts say that means food prices will rise worldwide
because of the increasing demand."
NBC didn't cite U.S. Department of Agriculture and
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization measures of world food
production per capita from 1951 to 1990. For forty years, the measure
has steadily increased in every decade with no significant downturn.
This doesn't support NBC's claim of decreasing crop production and
Simon insisted every one of NBC's claims was
demonstrably wrong. "I have a wager for NBC. Pick any measure of
human material welfare -- from nutrition to the number of cars per
capita -- in any country in the world. I will bet the measure will show
improvement rather than deterioration. If I win, the money will go to
Curry concluded: "Monday, the UN begins studying
the next decade's priorities on population. The main issues are how to
develop poor countries and whether increasing the status of women would
slow the birthrate. Most countries agree family planning should be a top
priority, even though it would cost billions every year...According to
the experts, the world finds the will to bring down the population now,
or its children pay later."
Curry's only expert here was Speidel, who recommended
spending an additional $10 billion on international family planning.
Dawson told MediaWatch: "That was the
dream figure of someone at the State Department...Tim Wirth. It's what
he thought it would take to educate the world on family planning."
Dawson added that he would have liked to focus more on China, whose
forced abortion policies were called "harsh" in the NBC
report, saying they're one of the few countries with the
"grass-roots institutions capable of intervening in people's
lives" to curtail population growth.
Year after year, the alarmist conclusions of reporters
have failed to come true. Reputable scientists opposing gloomy scenarios
have been regularly more accurate than the doomsayers. When will network
reporting on environmental "crises" consider them worthy of
getting their 10 seconds of argument in a news story?
In a 1990 Public Interest article, Simon
wrote that despite his reputation for optimism, he was "extremely
pessimistic about the short-run likelihood that people in the West will
get the chance accurately to assess the issues discussed here, and hence
avoid the great losses of life and wealth that faulty assessments of the
impact of population growth will ensure...there will be innumerable
avoidable tragedies because the good news goes unreported. How sad that
Newsweek Loves the Times
Newsweek's Larry Reibstein and Nina Archer Biddle sent a late
Valentine to the new editors of The New York Times in an April
18 article on personnel changes at the paper. Retiring Executive Editor
Max Frankel was "cerebral and decent." New Executive Editor
Joseph Lelyveld was called "an uncommonly graceful writer"
whose "brilliance is noted as frequently as his shyness." New
Managing Editor Eugene Roberts "brilliantly covered the civil
rights movement for the Times" and is "loved in his
newsroom" for his "Columbo-like, disheveled personality
[which] has endeared reporters for decades." Brilliant, cerebral,
loved, decent -- Newsweek usually reserves these adjectives for
Eleanor Clift's stories on the Clintons.
Gumbel's Dumbbell Questions
The crime bill before Congress, containing provisions to deny
weightlifting equipment and expensive college grants to convicts, came
under fire from Bryant Gumbel, citing the need for
"rehabilitation." On the April 18 Today, Gumbel
claimed that for prisoners, weightlifting was "one of the few
recreational activities still available to them." He asked Rep.
Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) if she was "just kissing off the idea of
rehabilitation?" Gumbel added: "If you're really worried about
a convict's muscles when he gets out, why don't you do a better job of
rehabilitating him, rather than depriving him of something because of
what they might do when you've failed to do that?"
Gumbel also taunted her: "Should we not educate
them, because they might become smarter criminals?" Gumbel mocked
Pryce's claim that weights could be used as weapons: "Utensils are
used more as weapons. Should we make them eat with their hands so they
don't have silverware?" On April 21, after Pryce's legislation
passed, Gumbel acted as if prison weightrooms were an entitlement,
snapping "I guess they just want them [prisons] to be
It's been a long time since the media caricatured the 1992 Republican
convention as a "festival of hate and fear." So pardon The
New York Times for its recent reminder. On March 27, reporter
Richard Berke focused on "How Houston's Angry Din Still Haunts
Republicans." Berke claimed: "The aura of negativism, even
intolerance, that seemed to encase the Astrodome that week in Houston,
still hangs heavy over the Republican psyche." He added, "The
gathering is remembered for the vituperative orations in prime time of
Patrick J. Buchanan, Pat Robertson and Marilyn Quayle." By whom?
Berke asserted "the fallout from Houston
especially recalls that of the Democratic convention in 1984," when
Walter Mondale promised to increase taxes. But CBS News exit polls found
few 1992 voters based their decision on the conventions. During election
coverage CBS correspondent Ed Bradley even stated, "I think in past
years the conventions were very important how they played on
television....This year they fell at the bottom of the list."
Still, Berke concluded, "It may be a long time before that week in
Houston is forgotten. Consider the best face that [William] Bennett
could put on the event: `It wasn't as bad as people remember it.'"
Racist Redistricting? The Supreme Court recently rejected North
Carolina's oddly-shaped congressional districts, designed to elect more
minority members to Congress, with Justice O'Connor citing "an
uncomfortable resemblance to...apartheid." CNN's Bruce Morton
suggested other ways to play racial politics. On the April 3 Late
Edition, he charged: "Usually, sadly, whites don't vote for
blacks, so if blacks are to sit in Congress, the rules have to change
somehow. If drawing funny district lines is out, something else will
have to be tried." Morton ignored the victories of Virginia
Governor Doug Wilder in a state which is 77 percent white, or Rep. Gary
Franks (R-Conn.) who has won two terms in an 88 percent white district.
Morton declared "you have to tinker with one-man, one-vote somehow
because it just isn't that simple" and mentioned that "Lani
Guinier...suggests cumulative voting."
To ABC anchor Peter Jennings, redistricting for
minorities "created districts next door which caused all sorts of
problems." Jennings outlined the "problem" on the April
18 World News Tonight: "When you draw up a district for
blacks, you create ultraconservative white districts right next door to
The Same Green Routine
Another Earth Day, another set of stories dominated by the left. In an
April 21 "American Agenda" report, ABC's Ned Potter sought an
answer to Peter Jennings' introductory question: "The President
said today, as he said so many times before, 'We have the responsibility
to pass on a better environment to our children.' But is this
administration doing its part?" Potter consulted Carl Pope of the
Sierra Club, Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund and Albert
Meyerhoff of the National Resources Defense Council before concluding
that, "many groups say...the administration has not used enough of
its muscle to protect the earth."
Similarly, Washington Post reporter Gary
Lee's April 22 story cited only Eric Olsen of the National Resources
Defense Council, Steve Kretzman of Greenpeace, and the newsletter
Greenwire as critics of the administration. And from the right? Not a
single free-market environmentalist.
Pauley Pummels Protesters
On April 26, Dateline NBC profiled teen pro-life protesters,
and while anchor Jane Pauley allowed the teens and their parents to
explain their positions, she didn't hesitate to step in and refute them.
One teen had passed out pro-life literature at a high school, Pauley
suggested she place her energies elsewhere: "Why aren't you out
there passing out information about contraception, because that
guarantees that there won't be a baby aborted?"
Another teen veteran of clinic protests explained that
children have more leeway when demonstrating because of lenient juvenile
laws. Pauley was amazed: "That, some people are going to say, Josh,
that is a cold and cynical political strategy. That you have found a way
to maximize the bodies on the front lines by making them children who
can cycle in and out of the justice process quickly." The pro-life
movement didn't invent this tactic. It's been used by the left in
anti-war protests during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars and by ACT-UP
demonstrators today. Where are the NBC reports on these protesters'
"cold and cynical" political strategies?
Back in July 1992, Dateline reporter Deborah
Roberts described laws allowing girls seeking an abortion to secure a
judge's permission instead of parental notification
"humiliating" and a "grueling ordeal for a
teenager." For Dateline, it seems teens are old enough to
get an abortion without parental notification, but too young to protest
The last bastion of misogyny appears to be America's hospitals and
medical schools. In an April 13 "American Agenda" report, ABC
reporter Jackie Judd explained: "To hear women talk it's as if the
women's liberation movement made barely a mark on
medicine....Slow-to-change attitudes have helped to keep women in the
dark. Even today, some women complain that doctors don't take them
seriously." How could this happen? To Judd, the answer was simple:
"The chaos, perceived and real, is the result of decades of
neglect, lingering discrimination and the imprecision of science."
As Judd pointed out, "A few years ago, women
agitated and they did get more research dollars devoted to their health,
including a $625 million federal study covering everything from
osteoporosis to heart disease. But women are still behind the
curve." Her report, however, neglected other results-oriented
statistics. For example, the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics
has found female life expectancy increased at a faster rate than males
over the last 20 years. Women are more likely to be covered by medical
insurance than men, according to the Census Bureau. The 1994 National
Institutes of Health spending estimate includes $262.9 million for
breast cancer as opposed to $55 million for prostate cancer, or 3.5
times more funding for each new case of breast cancer as opposed to
prostate cancer. Peter Jennings ironically introduced Judd's segment,
"The medical establishment in the United States, when it comes to
treating men and women, often has a double standard." Maybe so.
More Homework for CNN?
Refuse to increase taxes and the education establishment raises public
alarm by threatening to cut popular programs. It's a ploy CNN bought
hook, line and sinker. "In some schools the three R's soon may be
all that's left as funding dries up. It's a problem across the nation, a
problem apparently having few solutions," lamented anchor Linden
Soles in introducing the April 8 World News segment. Reporter
Lisa Price explained: "Next fall, the voice of the BloomTrail High
School choir will be silenced. Spanish and other languages dropped from
the curriculum and competitive sports lose to a shrinking budget. A
small school district outside of Chicago cuts $5 million in spending
after voters fail to raise property taxes." Price later added:
"Educators are calling for the federal government to pay
CNN didn't speak to Angela Henkels of the Center for
Education Reform. Henkels documented that while education spending
tripled over the last 30 years, SAT scores have declined. Her
conclusion: "Billions of dollars continue to be wasted, absorbed by
layers of administration and countless regulations." Ironically,
Department of Education statistics show that in 1992-93, Illinois had
the highest teacher salaries as a percentage of expenditures in the
nation. No wonder they can't afford the choir.
Frazier Presents Poverty
The new show CNN Presents aired "One Paycheck from Poverty -- The
Working Poor" on April 10. Reporter Steven Frazier spoon-fed the
liberal slant on poverty statistics: "They're barring the door all
over the United States. The number of working poor in America went up 50
percent in the past 13 years, a development the Census Bureau called
`astounding.' Eighteen percent of full-time workers cannot make enough
to lift a family out of poverty. Incomes got worse for every group the
Census measures -- men and women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians,
young and old, college graduates and high school dropouts, rural and
inner-city. More rural in fact. But hard working people, all of
Frazier did not talk to Chris Frenze of the Joint
Economic Committee, who told MediaWatch this
1992 Census report was "scandalous and bizarre." More than 80
percent of the "working poor" counted in this study are not
below the Census poverty line when figured for family size. In other
words, if a single teenage male makes less than the poverty level for a
family of four, this report called him "working poor."
Adjusted for family size, the percent of working poor below the poverty
line actually fell from 15.8 percent in 1979 to 12.9 percent in 1990.
Frazier told MediaWatch: "We weren't
looking at the poverty rate, we were looking at the number of people who
were working year-round full time, yet were still poor." Census
figures show only four percent of people who worked for 50 or more weeks
in 1991 lived in poverty.
The House bank scandal keeps unfolding, but you'd never know it. Last
year most media ignored former House Sergeant-at-Arms Jack Russ's
embezzlement admission. On April 5, former Rep. Carroll Hubbard (D-Ky.)
pled guilty to channeling campaign funds through the House bank to help
his wife's political campaign. CNN and The Washington Post ran
full stories, and USA Today and U.S. News ran brief
mentions. But ABC, NBC, CBS, Time, Newsweek and The
New York Times ignored it.
Amount, Tone of Scandal Coverage Markedly Different Than During the Reagan Era
Why Clinton Can't Complain
Clinton defenders have reviled the media
"overplaying" of Whitewater revelations. At a National Press
Club panel on April 19, former Wall Street Journal reporter
Ellen Hume compared Whitewater coverage to "the hot wind of a mob
all shouting into each other's faces."
To determine how much Clinton supporters have to
complain about, MediaWatch analysts compared
the news coverage of Whitewater with previous reporting on scandals and
ethical problems, and discovered the networks have been much less
aggressive in pursuing the many tentacles of the Whitewater story.
1. No "Sleaze Factor."
Clinton has never been identified with the "sleaze factor." A
survey through Nexis of the term in Time, Newsweek, U.S.
News & World Report, The New York Times, and The Washington
Post found that since 1984, when the term was used by Walter
Mondale, 114 news stories containing the term referred specifically to
the Reagan administration or Republicans, and only eight times referred
2. Press Self-Criticism. When the
Iran-Contra story broke on November 25, 1986, the networks dived into
the story. ABC gave its entire World News Tonight that night to
Iran-Contra, and expanded Nightline to 60 minutes. CBS aired a
half-hour special, and NBC did an hour special. On December 18, ABC
devoted an entire 20/20 to the story. Sam Donaldson proclaimed:
"If Lt. Col. North is the evil genius of the present crisis, there
stands behind him a framework of ideological zeal, frustration,
inattention, and tone, that can be laid to only one doorstep -- the Oval
Office." NBC aired two one-hour special reports on December 15 and
January 6. After the Tower Commission report on February 26, CBS aired a
special called "Judgment on the White House." Combined, that's
at least seven hours of specials.
When the Whitewater story first broke on March 8,
1992, the networks barely touched it, with five stories on four networks
in that month. When the Whitewater story gained steam after he became
President, the only special was ABC's late-night Whitewater: Overplayed
or Underplayed? The only magazine show segments on Whitewater have been
an April 10 60 Minutes piece on the improbability of Mrs.
Clinton's commodity trading success, and two ABC Prime Time Live
segments, one an interview after Clinton's Whitewater press conference
with Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), and the
other on Garrison Keillor's attack on the media's Whitewater coverage.
By the time the Iran-Contra story turned to analysis,
media writers defended the media frenzy and blamed the White House for
its problems. Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter described
the ethos on December 15, 1986: "After six years of
state-of-the-art White House media manipulation and large-scale public
indifference to criticism of the President, reporting about his
shortcomings finally had found an audience." Washington Post
reporter Lou Cannon told Alter: "People are finally listening to
what's wrong with him." A month later, an Alter media column asked
"Was North pampered?"
"The American press can hardly be blamed for the
Iran-Contra scandal, since it deserves so little credit for unearthing
it," Time writer Thomas Griffith wrote in the March 30,
1987 issue. "The press was not so much overplaying the story as
playing catch-up in doing its job." Griffith noted "some in
the Washington press corps acknowledge that they had slacked off in
frustration from pursuing stories of the Administration's bumbling and
misdeeds. The public seemed either to ignore the stories or find them
carping...In some of the comment and columns out of Washington there is
now a patronizing note of we-tried-to-
tell-you-but-you-wouldn't-listen." Once the Whitewater story
achieved critical mass, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The
Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNN all ran stories on the
3. Whitewater Tributaries. While
Democrats complain the media have "overplayed" Whitewater, the
Center for Media and Public Affairs has shown that Whitewater received
one-third as much coverage as the early days of Iran-Contra or
Watergate. Perhaps because of this smaller load of stories, network
reports were often much less detailed than print stories. When the White
House released its Whitewater tax documents, the April 15 Los
Angeles Times found that while the Clintons claim they put $46,000
into Whitewater, "the tax records and supporting documents show
only about $13,000 in such payments by the Clintons." None of the
networks mentioned this.
The Washington Post reported on April 21 that
the Clintons' company made $50,000 by repossessing lots from 16
Whitewater buyers without any return of equity, even if the buyers paid
tens of thousands of dollars before defaulting. None of the networks
followed up (although Terry Keenan's January 13 CNN report focused on
foreclosures following Whitewater's forfeiture on the Lorance Heights
The May issue of Money magazine told the
story of "midwestern ranchers who allege that manipulation of the
futures market undermined the prices they got for their cattle...to this
day the ranchers remain convinced that [Thomas] Dittmer [the sole owner
of Mrs. Clinton's brokerage firm Refco] led to some of the financial
hardships they suffered." The ranchers have sued in federal court,
but the networks, usually so quick to do the hard-luck story in the
Reagan era, never touched this angle.
In fact, the four networks have done only 18 stories
between them on Mrs. Clinton's commodity trades. Despite The New
York Times breaking the story on March 18, none of the Big Three
evening newscasts reported the story until 11 days later. Twelve of the
18 stories appeared on the three days the White House released documents
or met the press: March 29, April 11, and April 22, after Mrs. Clinton's
the Bright Side
Stossel's Scare Special
Consumer reporters have often focused on allegedly
deadly chemicals, contaminated food, or a "dying planet." Even
if scientists found the fears overblown, the media had already moved
onto another exposť. In an amazing turnabout, ABC consumer reporter
John Stossel devoted an April 21 news special to the topic with a show
titled Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?
Examining the asbestos scare which paralyzed the New
York City schools last fall and cost taxpayers "almost $100 million
dollars," Stossel found "most scientists who research asbestos
and the dangers say closing the schools made no sense...what the kids
were exposed to in school wasn't a real risk." He cited Dr. Stephen
Levin, "an activist who usually advocates more safety regulations
....he says New York's attempt to remove asbestos probably spread more
into the air."
Stossel visited Aspen, Colorado, where "EPA
proposed to excavate thousands of truckloads of dirt from this
neighborhood, because there's lead in the soil. Blood tests done on
local children found no lead poisoning. In fact, lead levels were below
the national average."
He showed that statistically, everyday activities like
driving and common objects like water-filled buckets were more deadly
than "toxic" chemicals. Stossel wondered "what if simply
having so many regulations kills people?" He explained:
"Regulations act as a brake on the economy -- when it takes five
years for the factory to get a permit to open, fewer people are
employed. If pesticide use is restricted, food costs more and people
have less to spend on other things...there's a good chance we're
shortening lives by making more people poor. Yet we rarely take this
into account when we spend billions trying to squeeze the last ounce of
risk out of these smaller threats."
Unlike reporters which pass along the latest
environmental horror story without question, Stossel took the media, and
even himself to task. He recalled: "I was there when the government
evacuated the town of Times Beach, Missouri because there was dioxin in
the soil." At the time he claimed "dioxin is incredibly
deadly." He admitted the dioxin risk had been overstated:
"Years later, the government official who urged that the town be
closed said, well, he may have made a mistake...But that didn't get much
publicity. The media had moved on."
Stossel concluded with a rhetorical question:
"Today we're exposed to far more dangerous-sounding chemicals and
technologies than ever before -- pesticides, pollutants, bioengineering,
electromagnetic fields. And the result? We live longer than
ever....What's lengthened lifespans by 30 years just this century is the
very technology we now fear so much."
Washington Post's America of Cliches
Decimated by the Evil '80s
Frequent PBS Washington Week in Review
panelist Haynes Johnson traveled around America and found -- surprise --
that most people agreed with his liberal views. In his latest book, Divided
We Fall: Gambling with History in the Nineties, the former Washington
Post Assistant Managing Editor offered a series of platitudes:
"By the Nineties, there was no longer any doubt
about what had happened. The safety net had developed gaping holes, and
more and more Americans were falling through it. It wasn't only the
social welfare recipients who were suffering; every element of American
society was being affected by major cutbacks in police and fire
protection, schools, and hospitals. No area of the nation was exempt.
Everywhere I went I found examples of suffering, of worsening
conditions, of growing anger and fear."
"[Clinton] represents a departure. He is a
President with a sense of history, and one who asks himself what Lincoln
or Franklin Roosevelt or Truman -- the models he cites -- would have
done when faced with difficult judgments. At the least, he is the
President who challenged Americans to rethink their future. His
presidential agenda remains the most ambitious in decades. Despite the
difficulties of the first year, his record of legislative success was
the greatest since Dwight D. Eisenhower -- and...was achieved without
the use of a presidential veto. Not only is he gambling with history
when he attempts to reduce the deficit by simultaneously raising taxes
and cutting spending in a weak economy. He also rolls the dice in his
health care reform plan -- the boldest, most visionary domestic
initiative since the 1930s."
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