ABC, CNN Focus on Industry Spending, Ignore Money from Unions, Liberals
Big Money Hijacks Democracy?
As health care reached the Senate floor
on August 8, Nightline host Chris Wallace asked: "Has big
money hijacked health care reform....will members of Congress respond to
the interests of voters or the influence of big money?" In search
of an answer, the media focused on only one side of the money equation,
those fighting Clintoncare, while ignoring those who lobbied on behalf
of the President and First Lady's plan.
ABC reporter Jackie Judd acknowledged
"There were groups friendly to the President, like labor unions and
senior citizens organizations," but overlooked the impact of monies
they spent. Judd reported only: "The National Federation of
Independent Business has spent $45 million in the last year to defeat
the employer mandate....The tobacco industry, a powerful lobbyist in
Washington....has contributed more than $800,000 to members who sat on
the three key House committees dealing with health care."
Judd saved her best for this year's media
scapegoat: "And then who could forget Harry and Louise....The ad
campaign cost the Health Insurance Association of America a
record-breaking $14 million."
On the August 10 Inside Politics,
CNN correspondent Brooks Jackson targeted the business community.
Jackson warned viewers: "Business lobbyists are now discussing the
possibility of a `super lobby,' a coalition of big business and small
business conducting a massive, nationwide grassroots campaign aimed at
killing health care legislation in this Congress."
But USA Today columnist Tony Snow
wrote on August 15 that as backers of Clinton-style reform, "Unions
have spent $29.9 million on direct and indirect political gifts"
since 1991, "nearly twice as much as any other type of group with a
direct interest in medical reform, and more than all the nation's
insurance companies, health care providers, administrators and medical
trade associations combined." That doesn't include the $12 million
spent by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote government-run
And what about the financial interests
Clinton allies have in the outcome? Snow disclosed the American
Association of Retired Persons "received $85.9 million last year
from U.S. taxpayers in the form of grants for employment programs,"
and the National Coalition of Senior Citizens "reported $71.6
million in income on its 1993 federal income tax forms, 96 percent --
$68.8 million -- of which came from Washington."
Snow concluded: "The real culprit
isn't Harry and Louise. If anything, it's Hooked on Phonics: Citizens
have read the fine print, and they don't like what they've seen."
National Journal reported that some shuffling in the office of
Senator Byron Dorgan has created a new space for Maureen O'Leary, a
former Associate Producer for 60 Minutes. Now a staff assistant
for communications in the office of the liberal North Dakota Democrat,
O'Leary told MediaWatch she worked for the news magazine
out of the Washington bureau for three years starting in mid-1990, after
some time as a production assistant in ABC's D.C. bureau.
For the last few months of his term, retiring Ohio Senator Howard
Metzenbaum has a new Chief of Staff: Nancy Coffey, his Press Secretary
since 1986. Before traveling to the Hill, Roll Call reported she was
news manager at WRC-TV, a NBC-owned station in Washington, D.C. Coffey
spent the late '70s and early '80s toiling for Group W, Westinghouse
Broadcasting. Her assignments included News Director at KDKA in
Pittsburgh, Executive Editor at all-news WINS in New York, and
Washington correspondent for all the Group W radio stations.
East Moves West
ABC has selected an East Coast-based veteran of Democratic politics
as its new West Coast public relations chief. Mark Johnson, Press
Secretary to Jim Wright when he resigned from the House Speakership in
1989, took over in early September as Vice President for Network
Communications for the ABC Television Network Group, which includes the
entertainment and children's programming divisions.
According to The Hollywood Reporter,
he'll also assist the New York-based news division. Johnson will report
to Sherrie Rollins, Senior VP for communications who ran the White House
public liaison operation for President Bush. During the 1987-88
presidential campaign, Johnson directed press relations for current
House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt's Democratic run. Earlier, he
handled press for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and
its then-Chairman, Tony Coelho, who is currently serving as an
"adviser" to the Democratic Party.
Bouncing Back in Beantown
After five years as Good Morning America's consumer reporter,
Paula Lyons has landed at WBZ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Boston. In the
1970s she worked for Kevin White, Boston's Democratic Mayor, as Press
Secretary and Deputy Director of the Office of Federal Relations....
Christopher Lydon, an unsuccessful 1993 Democratic candidate for the
Boston mayoralty, began hosting a new talk show on September 5. A
Washington correspondent for The New York Times from 1968 to
1977, Lydon's show airs from 10 to noon daily on WBUR, Boston
University's public radio station.
Two Veterans on The Hill
The forthcoming Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill has hired another
revolver, this time as a writer. Joining former Walter Mondale Press
Secretary and Knight-Ridder Washington reporter Al Eisele will be Jamie
Stiehm, an assignment editor for CBS News in London in 1987-88. Later in
1988 she became a field organizer in the San Jose area for the Michael
Dukakis campaign, and in late 1992 she slid east to join the staff of
Senator Joseph Lieberman as a speechwriter for the Connecticut Democrat.
Programs Over Punishment?
Law & Order Phobia
While Congress debated the crime bill,
NBC News continued portraying tough-on-crime proposals as expensive
failures. On Dateline NBC August 23, Brian Ross followed up on
criminals he profiled in a piece for the NBC Nightly News 17
years ago. Ross explained that in 1976, "In Waterloo, Iowa,
criminals were being given a second chance....And in New Orleans, the
District Attorney was getting tough on career criminals and Clarence
Williams was sent to prison for life after being caught with a stolen
Fast forwarding to the present, Ross
continued: "We found Clarence Williams not serving life in prison,
but back on the streets of New Orleans. A court set him free on a
technicality six years after he went to prison." Williams had been
convicted three times since his last prison stint. Ross asked longtime
New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick, "Is there any evidence
getting tough works, that it cuts down on crime?" Connick answered:
"Not as long as you have people at the other end of the system
undoing what prosecutors and police are doing."
Instead of exploring how Williams was
released, Ross judged the policy to be a failure: "Neither
Louisiana, nor any other state for that matter, has enough prisons for
all the people who could be considered career criminals. The talk of
getting tough on crime has been an empty threat."
Traveling to Iowa, Ross found something
to admire. "In New Orleans, Mark Fairbanks could have gone to
prison for life. In Waterloo, he was let out of prison to work at the
John Deere tractor factory by day, and by night, to participate in some
experimental group therapy." Ross praised the counseling program
because it "costs taxpayers a lot less than prison, with an
astonishing success rate for those in the program: 70 percent... commit
no further crimes for at least 5 years." He later called it
"one of the few success stories in the criminal justice
But wouldn't those locked in prison have
a 100 percent success rate for not committing new crimes? It certainly
held true for Clarence Williams. Did the reason one was judged a success
while the other a failure have more to do with the predilection of the
judges than with the actual merits of the policies?
CBS Promotes "Explosive" Story Questioning Integrity of New Whitewater Counsel
The Ken Starr Conspiracy
Both sides of the political aisle have
warned of conspiracy in the Whitewater investigation. Conservatives
charge the White House and its allies are covering up for the Clintons;
liberals suggest that Clinton's enemies are using Whitewater to destroy
the Clinton presidency. For promoting a one-sided story of conservative
conspiracy around the appointment of new independent counsel Kenneth
Starr, CBS Evening News earned the Janet Cooke Award.
On August 8, Dan Rather announced:
"There is growing controversy tonight about whether the newly named
independent counsel in the Whitewater case is independent, or a
Republican partisan allied with a get-Clinton movement. Among the
questions about Kenneth Starr are these: the involvement of anti-Clinton
activists in pushing for Starr's appointment to replace Robert Fiske.
Also, Starr's public stand actively supporting a woman's current lawsuit
against the President. This is a potentially important and explosive
story...Rita Braver has the latest."
Braver's story did include Starr
supporter Terry Eastland, but mostly stuck to the liberal script, with
soundbites from Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett and liberal Sen. Howard
Metzenbaum: "Democrats are raising questions about Starr, a former
federal judge, because of how he was picked. Under the new independent
counsel law, Chief Justice William Rehnquist chose fellow conservative
David Sentelle to head the three-judge panel that selects independent
counsels. Sentelle himself was appointed by President Reagan with
sponsorship from Senate conservative Jesse Helms, and Sentelle was
lobbied to replace Robert Fiske by constant Clinton critic Floyd Brown,
and congressional conservatives."
But for this Republican plot to work, the
Independent Counsel Act had to be reauthorized. That bill -- which
placed Rehnquist in charge, who picked Sentelle for the three-judge
panel, who picked Starr -- was supported 246-2 by Democrats in the
House. By contrast, seven of the ten Republicans who signed a letter to
the three-judge panel opposing Fiske voted against the bill which made
Starr's appointment possible.
Four days later, Rather returned to the
"explosive" story: "Questions abound about how and why
Republican Kenneth Starr suddenly came to be the new independent counsel
in the Whitewater case replacing Republican Robert Fiske. New
disclosures are fueling questions about whether or not Starr is an
ambitious Republican partisan backed by ideologically motivated
anti-Clinton activists and judges from the Reagan, Bush, and Nixon
years. Correspondent Eric Engberg has tonight's CBS Evening News
Engberg's story included no Clinton
critics, but aired three Democrats questioning Starr's integrity. He
began: "Kenneth Starr's history of partisan Republican activity is
not the only thing troubling Democrats. The way Starr got the job, which
bears the footprints of every Republican President from Nixon to Bush,
is also becoming a hot issue. Independent counsels are chosen by a panel
of three federal appeals court judges. By law the panel is selected by
Chief Justice Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court named
Chief Justice by President Reagan. Rehnquist chose Judge David Sentelle
of the D.C. Court of Appeals, a Reagan appointee, to head the three
judge panel. Sentelle is from North Carolina where he was an active
worker in the Republican organization run by Senator Jesse Helms, who is
among Mr. Clinton's fiercest critics. Sentelle owes his job on the
federal bench to Helms, who urged the Reagan White House to appoint him.
Sentelle's two most famous rulings overturned the Iran-Contra
convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter."
Engberg elaborated: "The Sentelle
panel last week decided to replace independent counsel Robert Fiske with
Kenneth Starr, saying a change was needed to insure the appearance of a
truly independent investigation. Nothing wrong with Fiske, the judge
said, just a perception problem. Time out." Engberg countered with
Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) charging that Starr was less independent than
Neither Braver nor Engberg described GOP
complaints about the inconsistencies in Fiske's report on the Vince
Foster suicide or appearance of a conflict of interest. Republicans
cited his law firm's representation of International Paper Company,
which sold land to Whitewater Development; his professional relationship
with former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum; and his representation
of firms involved with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, a
player in the Whitewater mess.
Engberg continued: "The appearance
problem got worse today when The Washington Post revealed that
Judge Sentelle had lunched at the Capitol with his old patron Helms and
Senator Lauch Faircloth, leader of the Republican dump-Fiske movement.
The lunch partners say the subject of the independent counsel didn't
come up." Engberg aired Rep. David Bonior (D.-Mich.) saying
Sentelle and the senators shouldn't have had lunch.
"In Ken Starr, the White House faces
a prosecutor who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations and is
often mentioned as a GOP Supreme Court nominee," Engberg declared,
supported by a soundbite from Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Engberg added:
"Starr has given more than $6,000 to Republican candidates in the
last year, one of whom has built his entire campaign around
Whitewater...Another Republican, Virginia congressional candidate Kyle
McSlarrow, lists Starr as a co-chairman. Former Attorney General Ed
Meese and William Barr were also co-chairmen...Senator Levin, whose
commitee oversees the independent counsel law, today asked Sentelle to
get a list of all of Starr's political activities and consider whether
to ask him to withdraw."
Since Engberg was recovering from
surgery, MediaWatch talked to producer Virginia Mosley,
who explained: "It wasn't a story on the independent counsel law
and how it came about, it was a story trying to explain why...to most
people, why Fiske was replaced by Ken Starr was a confusing story. If we
had ten minutes, we could have done the whole nine yards. This wasn't a
`Starr is appointed today' story. It was an attempt to explain how this
very complicated process works."
Engberg's story wasn't complicated enough
to answer the question: If Starr was so partisan, why did he make Janet
Reno's short list before she chose Fiske? As for Sentelle's
partisanship, CBS didn't talk to Mark Levin, a lawyer for Ed Meese. In
the September 1 Washington Times, Levin wrote that Sentelle
upheld Lawrence Walsh's right to deny Meese access to parts of his final
report. Wrote Levin: "If Judge Sentelle and the panel deserve
criticism, it is for supporting Walsh's extra-constitutional
conduct...To believe Judge Sentelle is not impartial in administering
his legal duties is to believe a contemptible lie."
The Case of the Missing 500,000
Reporters seldom show skepticism towards Hillary Clinton's statements.
On August 16, ABC's John Cochran reported: "The First Lady and
other supporters of universal coverage tried to push a bogged-down
Senate into action. Noting the Senate began debate last Tuesday, Mrs.
Clinton said more than 500,000 Americans have lost their coverage since
then." The same evening, CBS reporter Bob Schieffer relayed that
"Mrs. Clinton and a lobby group reminded Congress that every minute
the debate goes on, someone loses health insurance." The Today
show also cited the figures.
But NBC Nightly News viewers learned the real
story. Hillary's claim, gleaned from the liberal group Families USA,
only gave part of the story. The next night, NBC's Lisa Myers explained:
"The author of the study on which Mrs. Clinton's claim was based
estimates that about as many people gained health insurance last week as
lost it." ABC, CBS, and Today failed to correct their
Howard's My Hero
Retiring Senator Howard Metzenbaum received a warm send-off in the
August 1 Newsweek. Jolie Solomon's fond farewell described him as
a "self-made millionaire who fights for the union maid and a
mince-no-words man whose sense of humor and integrity has made
ideological foes such as Orrin Hatch and Alan Simpson into
Indeed, Solomon gave readers no reason to doubt the
integrity of this "renaissance liberal." But the 1994 Almanac
of American Politics by Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa noted: "Metzenbaum
himself in 1983 accepted a $250,000 `finders fee' for making a phone
call putting a prospective buyer in touch with the owner of Washington's
Hay-Adams hotel, returning the money only after the transaction was
revealed." The authors also noted a conflict of interest involving
Joel Hyatt, Metzenbaum's son-in-law and heir apparent to his Senate
seat: "He lobbied the Senate Finance Chairman on a tax break for
companies that pay for employees' legal services while his son-in-law
Joel Hyatt heads the nation's largest legal services firm."
Solomon also claimed he "challenges the equation
that an anti-business liberal is a big spender. By reading the fine
print of every bill to root out hidden tax breaks, colleagues say, he
has saved billions for taxpayers." However, the National Taxpayers
Union didn't find Metzenbaum's record much of a "challenge."
They gave him a grade of "F" for 1993, putting the Ohioan in
the "Big Spender" category.
USA Today reporter Mark Memmott has a history of championing Bill
Clinton's economic policies and trashing the `80s. Last November 3, he
predicted a growing economy: "Many of the major economic problems
that built up in the 1980s are finally becoming less daunting." So
it was hardly surprising when Memmott claimed in an August 8 article:
"President Clinton got back at all those who doubted his deficit
program would do the economy any good." His evidence? "A year
ago, it was expected the 1994 federal deficit would total $305 billion.
Now, it easily could come in under $220 billion. It looks to be headed
below $200 billion in '95."
Memmott didn't mention how Clinton's "deficit
reduction" was calculated. The Congressional Budget Office
estimated the 1994 deficit at $259 billion, not $305 billion as Memmott
wrote. An August study by the Joint Economic Committee attributed the
$50 to $60 billion in "deficit reduction" to "a swing in
deposit insurance outlays related to liquidation of S&L assets, and
better than projected economic growth pushing up revenues and
restraining some outlay growth."
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
ABC World News Tonight reporter Tom Foreman continued his
self-appointed role as truth monitor of health care reform, moving from
last month's Janet Cooke Award- winning attack on conservative TV ads to
correcting talk shows: "In cities and towns across the country,
radio talk shows are waging a rhetorical war on health care
reform....what is missing from these discussions too often is the
First, Foreman's August 16 story "corrected"
conservative Gary Bauer's charge that government spending would rise,
asserting: "Lewin-VHI, a private consulting firm...says overall
health spending will likely rise only about four percent." But
Foreman didn't really correct Bauer, since government spending is
projected to increase no matter what happens overall. Then Foreman
contested that "the cost of universal coverage as imagined by the
Democrats will balloon beyond anyone's wildest dreams, like Medicaid and
Medicare did." He quoted Rush Limbaugh: "[Medicare's] running
10 times the cost projections that Congress said it would." Foreman
responded: "Medicare is actually about seven times over
projections." But on September 29, 1993, NBC's Lisa Myers asserted:
"When LBJ proposed [Medicare], he claimed it would cost $8 billion
in 1990. The actual cost was $98 billion."
Foreman did critique two liberal claims, but concluded
oddly that politics doesn't need conflict: "Most often, it is talk
of conflict, not compromise. And for both sides in the health care
debate, that may be worse than no talk at all."
Worse Than Cuba?
NBC Sports anchors Ahmad Rashad and Bob Costas dove into the realm of
health reform when they hosted the "Health Care Olympics" for
Michael Moore's TV Nation on August 8. The sports team traced the
progress of patients with injured legs through hospitals in Cuba,
Canada, and the U.S. The three systems were rated on access, delivery,
After the patients were admitted, Rashad hailed
Canada: "Long waits are typically more characteristic of Canada
with rationing of services due to limited resources but...the patient...
practically sailed through the check-in process." Rashad critiqued
the U.S., where the wait was one hour less: "The U.S. really
struggled with access to medical care but that's one area Americans
always have been in trouble because of the 39 million citizens who are
uninsured." The Cuban was admitted directly to surgery.
NBC claimed Cuba cost the patient nothing, in Canada
just $15, and in America $450.70, as if such costs were not incurred
elsewhere. Canada took the gold for "over twenty years of universal
access." Rashad awarded Cuba the silver: "Cuba had some pretty
great moments and wins points for such a comprehensive medical
system...until they find a way out of economic isolation, it's going to
be hard to sustain the quality of the system." And the bronze?
"Unfortunately, it may take a while for the United States to make
its way through the insurance obstacle course and who knows what could
happen with reform...it came in third," announced Rashad. But if
free health care in Cuba is so superior, why aren't Americans rafting
Silly Old Anti-Communism
The Cold War might be over, but some journalists still miss the McCarthy
era. How else to explain Ralph Blumenthal's July 29 New York Times
article on the FBI investigation into composer Leonard Bernstein,
describing the '50s as a time of "blacklisting and redbaiting, when
cold war fears drove political passions." The FBI "obsessively
documented" the composer's ties to groups "listed as
subversive or communist." The word "listed" implies room
for doubt, when several of the groups were in fact communist fronts,
including the American Youth for Democracy, the formal successor to the
Young Communist League.
CBS Sunday Morning host
Charles Osgood cited the Times story two days later, conceding
Bernstein was "a liberal, and lent his name indiscriminately to any
cause that seemed to him to be worthwhile," including the Black
Panthers. If Osgood had read past the headline of the story, he might
have noted Bernstein's personal representative Margaret Carson, who told
the Times: "His closest political self-definition was that
he was a socialist."
Osgood maintained a tone of haughty indignation:
"It is a milepost, I think, to be reminded how irrationally
suspicious and fearful we once were." The "irrationally
suspicious" times look less so after the July 17 Washington Post
reported how Mao Zedong "was in some way responsible for at least
40 million deaths and perhaps 80 million," and Stalin for "30
million and 40 million." But Osgood mocked the FBI: "What did
the FBI think maestro Bernstein was going to do, leak symphonic secrets
to the Russians? Perhaps that was not a baton he held in his hand all
those years. Perhaps it was a signaling device of some kind."
Victim of His Own Good
In a July 31 New York Times Magazine article hated by the White
House, staff writer Michael Kelly portrayed Bill Clinton as a man unable
to tell the difference between truth and fiction. Yet rather than
condemn Clinton, Kelly painted him as a victim of his own desire to do
good: "What makes this sad, even tragic, rather than merely sordid,
is that Bill Clinton's predicament owes itself directly to Bill
Clinton's promise. The President's problems did not come about because
he was a cheap political hack. They came about because he was not. For
what has happened to Clinton has happened because he wanted, more than
anything in life, to get where he is today, and because he wanted this,
at least in part, in order to do good -- and because the great goal of
doing good gave him license to indulge in the everyday acts of minor
corruption and compromise and falsity that the business of politics
demands. Bill Clinton was perceptive enough to master politics -- but
not perceptive enough to see what politics was doing to him."
Kelly rationalized the 1969 letter requesting a
military deferment, saying it showed Clinton "at a crossroads...the
writer of the letter is obviously and passionately concerned with doing
and being good. But the letter also captures, with shattering clarity, a
young man learning to rationalize acts of deception and compromise as
necessary in the pursuit of that good -- which Clinton now regarded as
inseparable from his own political advancement."
Natural Born Killers
CNN did another story worrying about violence at abortion clinics on the
August 18 World News -- but, as usual, CNN ignored the 1.6 million
incidents of violence going on inside clinics each year. Reporter Pat
Neal described the "danger" pervading abortionist Randall
Whitney's day. In the 20-plus years since abortion became legal, three
people have been shot and killed outside clinics, so a doctor is more
likely to die in a car accident than be shot outside his office.
Neal hailed the doctor's bravery: "Whitney is the
only physician performing abortions in Brevard County. A county with
fervent protesters, a clinic dedicated to providing choices, and federal
marshals to watch it all...As the day ends, Dr. Whitney's concerns for
his safety remains, as do his concerns for his clinic's future, and the
future of women who believe abortion should be their choice."
Alicia Shepard found more lame excuses for delaying Paula Jones' story
in the July/August American Journalism Review. When Jones spoke out in
February, "We didn't run a story that night...because she was
making charges that could not be verified," said CBS News
Washington Bureau Chief Barbara Cochran. "Her making a claim
particularly of such a serious nature when she had not sought the legal
remedies available to her was just not appropriate to make a story out
of it." CBS had no qualms leading the news with Anita Hill five
nights in a row.
Washington Post reporter
Lloyd Grove told AJR "There's no way to assess [the charges] on the
basis of a dog and pony show...I just walked away with no firm belief
one way or the other about its veracity." But if Grove had "no
firm belief," why did he write in the Post that Jones' charges were
"yet another ascension of Mount Bimbo"?
Reporters Pushed Pork as "Prevention," Ignored Factors that Led Public Opposition
Criminal Gaps in Crime Bill Coverage
President Clinton's crime bill presented reporters
with a large target for their renowned cynicism. Supporters claimed the
bill contained funds to hire 100,000 new police and social spending
essential for "crime prevention" programs. Crime bill backers
maintained that conservative opposition to social spending was a veiled
attempt to defeat the bill's assault weapons ban. Opponents argued the
social spending was excessive, that the money allocated to pay 100,000
new policemen was insufficient, and that the assault weapons ban would
not inhibit violent crime.
To determine if the media gave equal time to both
sides' arguments, MediaWatch analysts examined the 82
crime bill stories which aired on four network evening shows (ABC's World
News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and
CNN's World News) during the month of August. Crime bill
supporters and their arguments dominated coverage, even though most
stories (58 of 82, or 71 percent) focused on the bill's political
fortunes, not specific provisions of the bill.
Among talking heads aired, crime bill supporters
outnumbered opponents by nearly a 2-1 margin, 192 to 97. CNN's coverage
proved the most one-sided, with 42 talking heads for the crime bill (70
percent), and just 18 (30 percent) opposed. On NBC, 43 of 62 (69
percent) favored the bill, while on ABC, 70 of 105 (67 percent) backed
the Democratic plan. The least slanted was CBS, where crime bill
proponents appeared in 37 of 62 soundbites (60 percent).
Prevention Or Pork? Stories referring to the
bill's "crime prevention" provisions surpassed stories on
"pork-barrel" spending by almost a 4 to 1 ratio, 19 to 5. On
August 13. ABC's Michele Norris informed viewers the bill contained
"crime prevention programs like midnight basketball." Another
10 stories mentioned both sides, usually without explaining where the
money went. NBC's Lisa Myers declared on August 25: "What
Republicans called pork was actually $6.1 billion for crime prevention
Rep. Jack Brooks' $10 million grant to Lamar
University was cited most often (five times) as a specific example of
pork, and was removed from the final bill, but reporters ignored the
bill's duplication of existing programs. Nor did a single story
publicize items like the creation of a task force to study
`non-indigenous plant and animal species' and their introduction to
Hawaii, which remained in the final bill, according to the House
Judiciary Committee's Minority Counsel.
Three of the four stories on a specific program to
receive crime bill funding explored the midnight basketball program, but
the stories glossed over the most questionable parts of the program.
CNN's Christine Negroni asserted on August 20: "President Bush
touted its crime prevention possibilities, because basketball is just
part of the program. There are rules, educational requirements, and
workshops where participants get help and advice....for inner-city
players, the game is a crucial part of their newly structured
Only ABC's Lisa Stark mentioned that many midnight
leagues are funded privately, and none pointed out that Bush had praised
the leagues as a privately funded "Point of Light," not as a
federal mandate. The stories also omitted complaints about bureaucratic
rules for the leagues, like the requirement that half of players must
live in public housing and a certain percent must reside in areas with
at least two percent HIV infection.
100,000 Cops? The Heritage Foundation
discovered: "The funds provided in the bill can keep at most just
20,000 permanent cops on the street over the next six years." But 7
of 10 stories simply passed on the White House claim of 100,000 cops.
CBS's Rita Braver claimed on August 11 that "the bill would have
added 100,000 new cops to the streets." CNN anchor Linden Soles
insisted that night it funded "100,000 new local police."
Just three stories mentioned the figure was in
dispute, most notably Jim Stewart's August 23 report on how Kansas City
leaders found "the crime bill itself only has enough cash in it to
put new cops on the streets for three years...not enough time to recruit
and train a rookie."
Whose Fault? Though nearly one-fourth of House
Democrats and most of the Black Caucus voted against the crime bill two
separate times, reporters blamed the bill's troubles on the National
Rifle Association and Republicans over Democrats and the Black Caucus by
a better than 6 to 1 ratio. In 32 stories where blame was assessed, 19
(59 percent) attributed setbacks to the GOP or the NRA, 10 stories (31
percent) to both sides, and just three (9 percent) faulted liberal
NBC portrayed the NRA and GOP as culpable in five of
eight stories. Andrea Mitchell accused 11 Republicans who voted for the
assault weapons ban previously of "hav[ing] caved in to pressure
from the gun lobby and Republican leaders, and have said they'll vote
against the bill...Members on both sides told NBC News the issue is
really guns and politics."
On August 15, CBS's Scott Pelley alleged "the
proposed ban on assault weapons did more than anything else to cut down
the crime bill," while ABC reporter Cokie Roberts opined on August
19 that "Some Republicans still hope to deprive the Democratic
President of a victory on crime." In contrast, NBC's Mitchell
described how liberal Rep. Charles Rangel had a principled motive:
"Ministers back home helped him overcome his moral objections to
the death penalty."
NBC's Tom Pettit blamed Congress for letting people
die on August 21: "Meetings on semi-automatic weapons went on. At
about the same time, there was a shootout in New York City, 45 shots
from a semi-automatic pistol, one dead, one wounded. Back at the
Capitol, Representatives were still debating attack weapons."
Only ABC's Tom Foreman wondered if the gun ban would
reduce crime. He found "there is no comprehensive nationwide data
to show how often assault weapons are used illegally, although it's
believed to be less than one percent." His story aired the day
after the crime bill passed.
the Bright Side
A Healthy Solution
Bucking the horror story trend of health care
reporting, the August 15 NBC Nightly News "America
Close-Up" segment focused on how one company is actually succeeding
in its fight to provide affordable health insurance to its workers.
Irving R. Levine looked at Forbes magazine,
where President Malcolm Forbes Jr. explained that health insurance costs
were soaring because "everyone felt that someone else was paying
for it. So there was no direct link with a person's behavior." So,
Levine reported, "three years ago Forbes came up with a
plan, offering employees personal profits to cut health insurance
costs." Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) are a concept that's
incorporated into several free-market oriented health reform bills
currently before Congress. Employees pay small medical bills out of
pocket through their MSA, thereby reducing the number of insurance
claims filed. Levine explained, "At the start of the year, Forbes
sets aside $1,300 for each employee, it's a year-end bonus if the worker
files no [health] insurance claims. When a worker does file a claim the
amount is deducted from the worker's bonus."
Levine noted, "The plan has resulted in big
savings for Forbes. Because of the drop in the number of claims,
the Cigna Insurance Company has reduced Forbes' premiums. The
savings amounted to $426,000, more than covering the $300,000 paid out
in health care bonuses." Giving a peek into how the threat of
government regulation can actually hinder health reform, Levine
cautioned: "Other companies are interested, but are waiting to make
sure that Congress, in voting on health care, doesn't rule out such
plans, even though at Forbes, everyone agrees it's a plan only
Clinton Doesn't Get
Reporters Side with Bill
When White House correspondents from the TV networks convened on CNN's Larry
King Live on August 18 to discuss press coverage of President
Clinton, three out of the four agreed Clinton was getting a raw deal.
Why? CNN's Wolf Blitzer fingered the usual suspects: "I think they
basically hate him, the elements of the extreme far right....They just
don't like his position on gut issues as far as the far right in
ABC's maverick Brit Hume suggested most reporters
basically side with Clinton's philosophy of governing: "There
exists still a rather widespread feeling among reporters in this town
that this President has set out to do the right thing, which they didn't
feel about Ronald Reagan or George Bush, and that if he is able to
accomplish even a fraction of this, there will be a tremendous round of
applause from the media in this town."
CBS's Rita Braver disagreed: "I think most
reporters think that there are problems in this country, such as the
fact that more Americans are losing health care everyday, and the fact
that crime continues to be a problem. And they're sympathetic to
somebody figuring out a way to solve these problems. That doesn't
necessarily mean they sign on to how he's going to do it."
Hume replied: "But to some, to many reporters,
and it's why they're drawn to covering government, life is a series of
problems to be solved by government. And all I'm saying about that is
that, for an activist President, that sentiment redounds to his
NBC's Andrea Mitchell proved Hume's assessment:
"He doesn't get credit for a lot of the good, positive things he's
done. Somehow he's the opposite of Ronald Reagan. The message is not
getting through... The economy is in better shape...He should be getting
some credit for the economy."
Indeed, on Larry King Live August 3, Los
Angeles Times Washington Bureau Chief Jack Nelson had argued:
"I think we make too much of polls...the economy's doing well, he's
accomplished a lot." Ted Koppel opened the August 16 Nightline:
"He is receiving little or no credit for his accomplishments. He
has after all, cut the deficit, slashed about a quarter of a million
jobs out of the federal bureaucracy, presided over a strong economy with
low inflation, and one would think, some points at least for boldness of
vision on welfare and health care reform."
But how does Clinton's treatment compare to Reagan? As
Ted J. Smith documented in his study The Vanishing Economy, as
the economy boomed from 1982 to 1987, the number of TV economic stories
dropped by two-thirds, and the negative tone intensified, from 4.9
negative stories per positive story in 1982-83 to 7 to 1 in 1986-87.
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