Reporters Club Contract with America with False History of the 1980s
Architects of Gridlock Gone Bad?
Throughout the first half of Bill
Clinton's term, the GOP minority in Congress has routinely been
portrayed as "architects of gridlock" and
"obstructionists." How did the media react when the
Republicans put forward a positive agenda? Over 300 House candidates
signed the Contract with America on September 27, promising to vote on
tax cuts, term limits, a balanced budget amendment, a revised crime
bill, and legal reform if put in the majority, but were attacked for
recycling Reagan policies.
U.S. News & World Report's
Gloria Borger set the tone in the October 3 issue: "Republicans do
not actually promise to pass anything; that would smack of governing,
which they eschew." She continued: "[GOP leader Newt]
Gingrich's list is just a collection of GOP golden oldies that pander to
the public's desire to get something for nothing" and concluded:
"House Republicans may come to regret it. The voters might actually
make them honor their contract."
NBC Nightly News anchor Tom
Brokaw introduced the contract that night as "long on promises but
short on sound premises." Reporter Lisa Myers asserted: "An
independent budget expert called it standard political bunk." Myers
also poked at term limits, noting Newt Gingrich "already has served
16 years...Gingrich said any term limit bill will apply only to future
members of Congress." While no state has passed retroactive term
limits, Myers mused: "And politicians wonder why voters are
In an October 2 Washington Post
news analysis, reporter Clay Chandler wrote Republicans were
"hoping to bribe the electorate." Chandler accused them of
"betting that voters have short memories. They may assume that few
will recall -- let alone care -- that the Reagan experiment with
supply-side economics quadrupled the federal deficit and left average
Americans saddled with higher taxes."
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter
proclaimed in an October 10 news story that the contract has
"already been tried and discredited. House Republicans are now
pledged to tax cuts, increased defense spending, and a constitutional
amendment to balance the budget. Sound familiar?"
Yet economist Ed Rubenstein noted in The
Right Data: "Since 1980, aggregate federal tax revenues have
grown 111 percent. Had revenues grown at the rate of inflation, the
government would have collected 225 billion fewer dollars in 1992.
Congress spent the additional money, and then some." The 1992 Joint
Economic Report stated: "During the expansion [1982-1989], real
median family income increased 12.6 percent," while the income tax
payments of all but the top 5 percent of earners fell during the 1980s.
Mary Matalin and James Carville got together thanks to Meet the
Press Producer Colette Rhoney, an aide to Carville a decade ago. In
their new book, All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President,
the now-married campaign managers for George Bush and Bill Clinton
described Rhoney's efforts.
While dining at U.S. News & World
Report columnist Michael Barone's home, Matalin asked Rhoney if she
knew Carville, a man Matalin had seen profiled in The Wall Street
Journal. "She said, `Have I? I worked on a campaign with
him....He's so cool! I'll call him for you.'" Carville confirmed
that "Colette was my assistant on the [Lloyd] Doggett race down in
Texas," referring to the losing 1984 Democratic candidate against
Republican Phil Gramm.
Matalin recalled: "Colette is a real
little Miss Matchmaker and she kept following up on it. I bumped into
her at Tim Russert's Christmas party and she said. `Have you talked to
James yet?' I told her we'd been playing phone tag. She and I had both
had a couple of drinks and she said, `Let's give him a call right
now.'" A few weeks later they met.
Rhoney explained to MediaWatch
that during her senior year at George Washington University she interned
with Peter Hart & Associates, a Democratic polling firm. After
graduation, she spent the fall working as a Doggett staffer under
campaign manager Carville.
Following a few years in The
Washington Post marketing and business departments, in 1987
reporter David Broder made her his researcher. In 1989 she moved to NBC
as a researcher for Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, taking the Meet
the Press slot in 1992. She's now also producer of CNBC's Tim
Russert and is "very involved" in coordinating NBC
political coverage. Rhoney emphasized to MediaWatch
that she's chosen journalism as her career and "closed the door
behind me to partisan politics and I have no interest in going
In & Out of Clinton
One Washington-based Wall Street Journal reporter moved into
the Clinton Administration just as another left to join the paper.
Defense Secretary William Perry nominated Kenneth Bacon, a 25-year Journal
veteran who once served as economic and financial features editor in
D.C., to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs. The
position must be recreated by Congress since former Secretary Les Aspin
abolished it. In the meantime, he's replaced Kathleen deLaski, the
Pentagon's chief public affairs officer, who went on maternity leave.
When deLaski, an ABC reporter until last year, returns, she's expected
to take a spot in the policy office....
In September, the National Journal
reported that Chris Georges, an aide to since-resigned Deputy Treasury
Secretary Roger Altman, joined the Journal to cover the budget
and economic beats. Georges told MediaWatch
that he spent the summer writing speeches for the official at the center
of questions about the White House and RTC oversight of Madison
Guaranty. Previously an editor at The Washington Monthly,
Georges wrote two Washington Post Style section stories on
young Clinton staffers, worked for the Post Outlook section,
and was among the original Washington staffers of CNN's investigative
unit when it formed in 1990 under the direction of Ken Bode, an aide in
two Democratic presidential campaigns.
Who Lost Socialized
Health Blame Game
Petulant over the death of Clinton-style
big-government health reform, reporters are passing out the blame. Newsweek
headlined a September 19 story: "The Lost Chance -- The Clintons: Newsweek
reveals how they set out to reform a broken health-care system -- and
squandered a historic opportunity."
The Clintons got their share for
exhibiting "hubris and poor judgment." But Newsweek
targeted a variety of other culprits: "special interests,"
"saboteurs," "scare-tactic advertisements," and that
"cranky Senate GOP leader...obstructionist," Bob Dole. They
even jabbed the press, which was "confused and negligent," and
the networks, which "amazingly, refused to give Clinton time for a
final plea to the public in August."
"What went wrong?" asked
authors Steven Waldman and Bob Cohn, before letting Hillary Clinton
provide the answer: "Mrs. Clinton blames the special-interest
groups, and not without reason... Much of this money was spent on
blatantly untrue advertisements designed to scare the public."
On September 22, reporters found another
reason to blame Big Money in a new report from the left-wing group
Citizen Action. ABC's Jackie Judd claimed on World News Tonight:
"The campaign to defeat or alter the President's reform plan has
put a record $46 million dollars in the campaign treasuries of
congressional candidates since last year....The watchdog group, Citizen
Action, says they got their money's worth."
On the CBS Evening News, Bob
Schieffer declared: "Determined to kill the legislation, the health
care industry flooded key members of Congress with more than $46 million
in campaign contributions, according to a report released today by a
nonpartisan watchdog group."
How nonpartisan is Citizen Action?
Citizen Action advocates a nationalized Canadian-style "single
payer" health system. Yet, in print coverage from January 1990
through June 1993, only 10 out of 240 news stories bothered to label
Citizen Action "liberal." As the media heralded Citizen Action
for disclosing the role of money in the health debate, reporters failed
to note the group doesn't practice what it preaches: Citizen Action
refuses to disclose any financial information.
ABC Environmental Reporter Loads
Cairo Story with White House-Favored Spokesmen
Potter's Pessimistic Population
For many years, the media have presented
one view of population growth: the panicked one. In the
September/October American Enterprise, demographer John Wilmoth
described his review of 544 articles on population in popular magazines
from 1946-1990. Not one of the stories presented population growth as
advantageous from 1966-80, while the share of stories portraying
population as a grave threat peaked at 80 percent. From 1986-90, the
percentage of negative stories was higher than 60 percent, while five
percent were positive.
A review of TV population stories from
January 1, 1991 to April 15, 1994 by the MRC's Free Enterprise and Media
Institute showed the trend intensified on television: Of 36 stories,
"only two looked into the positive effects of population growth; 34
focused on negative consequences, often with reporters using vitriolic
language typically reserved for partisans." The networks returned
to form in September, when the United Nations convened in Cairo. For
presenting yet another story reserved for the partisans of doom, ABC's
Ned Potter won the Janet Cooke Award.
Potter's September 6 "American
Agenda" story on World News Tonight began by lamenting a
cancer of people: "Carl Sandburg wrote the words. He called us the
little family of man clutching the tiny ball of earth. And it's a pity
he was wrong. For the little family is now approaching 6 billion people,
and more and more they struggle for a place at the table. Somalia,
Ethiopia, China, Rwanda."
Potter theorized that overpopulation
leads to war: "Many scholars and, increasingly, American leaders
believe the real threat from increasing population is not that people
will starve, but that they will fight for farmland, clean water, and
other essentials. Governments will collapse or crack down on their
citizens when they can't keep control. People will flee their homelands.
And the U.S., the world's one superpower, will be called constantly to
ABC's decision to de-emphasize famine
prevented the damage good news might do to their reporting. As columnist
Tony Snow explained in the September 9 Washington Times:
"Worldwide food prices dropped 20 percent between 1990 and 1992 and
now stand at less than half their 1970 levels. The average resident of
sub-Saharan Africa consumes more than 2,100 calories a day, far beyond
subsistence requirements." But Potter overlooked food statistics,
claiming that Africa was "where the poorest countries happen to
have the highest fertility rates and some of the most wrenching
ABC couldn't even find good news from the
U.N. itself, as Newsday noted on August 18: "James G.
Speth, head of the U.N. Development Program, said, even as he introduced
the pessimistic 1994 report, that in the developing world average life
expectancy had in-creased by a third, that more than 70 percent have
access to health services and primary schooling, and that, where drugs
are available, mass killers like malaria have been brought under
Potter's story only aired Thomas
Homer-Dixon, whom Clinton has praised in two speeches, and State
Department Counselor Tim Wirth, who explained: "You have too many
people chasing too little land, too little food, too little forest
cover, too little water, and you're inevitably going to have
"Just look around the planet, says
the White House," Potter relayed. "Pick a trouble spot and you
will see how population has magnified its problems. Pick Haiti, for
instance, where Homer-Dixon says horrendous political problems are made
all the worse by crowding, where dense jungle cleared for farmland is
now badly overused."
What Potter did not explain is how
ancient his argument is. Wilmoth noted that in 1948, Newsweek
columnist Joseph Phillips explained how British foreign secretary Ernest
Bevin thought "lack of an outlet for surplus population was one of
the fundamental causes of the second world war." In 1969, Paul
Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb foresaw massive food riots
and wars that never occurred.
How do theorists prove that population
growth is a factor in war, as important as the rise of Hitler or the
overthrow of Aristide? Homer-Dixon noted the lack of data in the
February 1993 Scientific American: "For several decades,
some economists and environmental experts like Robert Heilbroner, Paul
Ehrlich, and Jessica Tuchman Matthews have warned that such scarcities
could spark violent civil or international conflict. But debate has been
limited by lack of carefully compiled evidence." Homer-Dixon
claimed new evidence, but none of it appeared in detail in Potter's
report, or in Scientific American. Even Alexander Cockburn of The Nation
called Homer-Dixon's work "data-free."
Homer-Dixon told Potter: "I think
that if we don't take very strong action in many of these areas within
the next ten or fifteen years, then it's quite possible the game will be
In the September/October American
Enterprise, Harvard scholar Nicholas Eberstadt noted some heavily
populated nations that aren't war-torn: "The United Kingdom as of
1981 would have been slightly more overpopulated than India; Japan today
would be more overpopulated than Indonesia; the continental United
States would be considerably more overpopulated than Africa."
Potter explained his viewpoint with a
metaphor: "One political scientist says it's a little like a
stretch limousine on the pot-holed streets of New York. Inside are the
wealthy countries with their air conditioning and their computers.
Outside is the rest of the world begging for food." The source?
Homer-Dixon, in Scientific American.
Potter's purloined metaphor sounds a lot
like U.N. rhetoric (rich nations are unjustly rich and should
redistribute their wealth to poor nations), but like the rest of
Potter's story it left out the Western view: that wealth is created, not
just stolen, and that the poor nations of the world, like Haiti, are
often the unfree nations, while the developed nations are free. Poor
nations don't require cash, but democracy and free enterprise.
called Potter, he declined comment by passing the call to ABC spokesman
Arnot Walker, who said Potter was "out and about," adding:
"You have a copy of the transcript, right? Well, that's it
Potter's story concluded: "But even
the darkest-sounding theorist says it does not have to be that way, as
long as ways can be found to help the world support its growing numbers
and keep the number from exploding. Then, every future child will be
able to make the same claim. I am, I have come through, I belong, I am a
member of the family." Potter only used the darkest-sounding
theorists. Optimists don't belong, aren't a member of the Ned Potter
Sticking to the Issues?
Always eager to enlighten voters on key issues like crime, education,
and the economy, NBC discovered a new issue: the "wildlife
misdemeanor." Through early October, Today has aired only one story
on the Texas Governor's race. Instead of addressing issues that voters
find important, Jim Cummins dedicated his time to a dead bird,
inadvertently shot by the GOP candidate during a hunting trip.
George W. Bush, son of the former
President, is running against Gov. Ann Richards, and in an annual
ritual, the two candidates went dove hunting on the first day of the
season with the press in tow. Unfortunately, the GOP hopeful mistakenly
shot an endangered killdeer. Recognizing he bagged the wrong bird, Bush
admitted his mistake to the game warden and announced his desire to pay
Cummins concluded by warning: "His
misdeed with a shotgun is going to cost the Republican candidate for
Governor a lot more than that [$130 fine] before election day. One
Democrat joked about Bush, `A guide told him to shoot and he did. That's
typical of George -- he only does what he is told and he often hits the
Trying Out for Dee Dee's Job
"In less than two years, Bill Clinton has already achieved more
domestically than John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George
Bush combined. Although Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan often had their
way with Congress, Congressional Quarterly says it's Clinton who had the
most success of any President since Lyndon Johnson." Is this
shameless bit of promotion a White House press release? No, it's
Jonathan Alter's article in the October 3 Newsweek.
Alter laid out how Clinton should be
judged: "The standard for measuring results domestically should not
be the coherence of the process, but how actual lives are touched and
changed. By that standard, he's doing well." A handful of liberal
programs and tweaks of government operations are cited as Clinton's
successes: procurement reform, "reinventing government,"
parental leave, national service, more government subsidized student
loans, and an increased Earned Income Tax Credit. Alter suggested the
EITC is "a hell of a lot more relevant to assessing Clinton's real
record than, say, gays in the military." It's not suggested that
the public may see the same old liberal proposals in new packages: more
welfare, more subsidies, and more government spending.
Nobel Weakness Prize
Jimmy Carter's reputation for appeasement at the expense of U.S.
interests was reinforced when he visited North Korea in July and called
Kim Il Sung, the communist dictator responsible for the Korean War,
"a great leader in the last 50 years." Still, after his
mission to Haiti, where the former President embraced the military
leaders President Clinton decried for human rights violations, the media
clamored to award Carter the Nobel Peace Prize. On the September 19 Today,
NBC's Lisa Myers summed up the Haiti mission: "It certainly looks
good for Jimmy Carter. I think even before this people considered him a
model ex-President and I think he enhanced his reputation further."
The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt chimed in: "Let me just
add one more thing there. I think Jimmy Carter's become the frontrunner
for the Nobel Peace Prize. It would be well-deserved if he got it."
On September 20, USA Today reporter Juan Waite ascribed
Carter's foreign policy "successes" to "what his admirers
say is his stubborn determination and firm Christian belief that there's
always an alternative to war -- whether in stopping North Korea's
communist rulers from acquiring nuclear weapons or convincing Haitian
coup leaders they must give up power."
Waite claimed: "Above all is his
commitment to human rights. It didn't always pay off in the presidency
but it gives him a rare moral authority as a statesman." Similarly,
on Today, NBC's Sara James fawned over his failed presidency: "When
asked to sum up his presidency, Mr. Carter once said that he tried hard,
attempted to do the right thing but wasn't always successful. And yet 13
years after leaving the White House, Jimmy Carter finds himself in a
position many sitting Presidents would envy -- lauded at home and abroad
as a diplomat and peacemaker."
For the National Air and Space Museum's proposed exhibit of the Enola
Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, curators
questioned the need to drop the bomb, ignored Japanese war crimes, and
even painted the U.S. as the aggressor, writing of World War II that
"for most Japanese [it] was a war to defend their unique culture
against Western imperialism." The media raised an outcry about
historical revisionism -- not the academic revisionism of the curators,
but by veterans groups who protested the distorted history.
Stone Phillips referred to the veterans
on the August 30 NBC Nightly News: "Alex Haley once wrote
that history is written by the winners. Tonight, the story of some
people who would like to keep it that way." On the September 21 World
News Tonight, ABC's John Martin cited a leftist historian as
authoritative: "Who is distorting history? Historian and political
scientist Gar Alperovitz has been studying original documents for 30
years. He says War Department papers...back up a revised view of whether
the bomb was needed." Martin concluded that view was
"inspiring and troubling to a public that thought for 50 years it
knew very well why America dropped the bomb."
While Martin claimed the museum
"tried from the beginning to cooperate with veterans groups to be
sympathetic to their views," and CBS's Jim Stewart charged on
September 25 that "veterans are nitpicking the whole thing," Washington
Post reporter Ken Ringle noted "the museum chose to conceive
and shape the initial script in isolation not only from military
historians, but from anyone with any real-life experience with either
World War II or that era in this country." Ringle quoted project
advisor Richard Hallion, who offered suggestions to the script, but
found the curators had "great reluctance" in balancing the
exhibit by including Japanese aggression and atrocities.
In exploring why a rising number of women are attending all-female
colleges, CBS Evening News endorsed a discredited feminist
study about how girls are intimidated by men in the classroom. On
September 25, Edie Magnus suggested "some credibility for the
popularity in women's colleges goes to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a
Wellesley graduate." But Magnus gave more credit to "a revival
fostered in part by a 1992 report on gender bias. A study by the
American Association of University Women (AAUW) found girls do not get
the same quality of education that boys do in coed classrooms."
Magnus then let study author David Sadker explain: "Males get more
attention, more precise attention, more encouragement. They are more
likely to call out, they're more likely to be heard."
As Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who
Stole Feminism?, noted in the October 3 Wall Street Journal:
"What the celebrated AAUW study relies on, instead of verifiable
science, is bogus inference and shoddy methodology." While Magnus
conceded that "single-sex schools are not a panacea for gender bias
nor are they for everyone," she concluded that "for young
women like Christy Smith, who want an education where they feel they're
the priority, a women's college can quickly feel like home." But as
Sommers pointed out, Science News found that "the majority
of scholars in the field of adolescent development see no significant
gender difference in self-esteem." Indeed, Sommers found that an
Education Department survey found a higher percentage of girls than boys
said the "teachers listened to what I have to say."
A First Second Look
Has the press been unfair to President Clinton? Dateline NBC
thought so. The program took a "second look" at the Clinton
Air Force One haircut scandal on its September 21 edition. Anchor Stone
Phillips introduced the exercise in self-flagellation: "It seems
like every day there is another poll out about President Clinton's job
performance. Have you ever wondered about how much of the public's
perception is based on the reporting about him and how much of that
reporting is accurate? We decided to go back and take a look at one of
the big stories that President Clinton took a lot of heat over."
Reporter Jon Scott reviewed evidence that showed Clinton's plane may
have held up one flight for two minutes while stylist Cristophe tended
to his coif. Scott concluded: "So in hindsight, the story of the
haircut holding up air traffic doesn't hold up."
But Bill Clinton wasn't the first
politician to take a hit on a half baked story. In February 1992, in a
widely repeated front- page New York Times story, former
President Bush was accused of being amazed at the workings of a
supermarket scanner. But as ABC News correspondent Brit Hume revealed in
the January 1993 American Spectator, that story was
"almost wholly untrue." Hume explained: "Bush's wonder
was mostly politeness and the scanner, far from being ordinary, was a
new and different device of which the company was especially
proud." Interestingly, NBC's concern about how reporting may
negatively effect presidential poll ratings seems to be a Clinton-era
Toeing the Turner Line
When it comes to covering environmental issues, CNN owner Ted Turner is
definitely the leader of the pack at his network. During an address at
the National Press Club on September 27, Turner exclaimed: "I mean,
that the world's too crowded! That's the simple -- it's getting more
crowded all the time. We live in a finite world with an infinitely
increasing number of people. It's easy to see and one out of five of
those people lives in abject poverty....We in the rich world consume, I
don't know, 50 times as much as somebody from the poor world."
The September 11 CNN Presents
toed the Turner line. Reporter Peggy Knapp claimed: "There's enough
to go around but it doesn't go around. That's why the world has more
than 202 billionaires, more than 3 million millionaires and more than
100 million homeless. There are some, including people who are very
hungry, who feel that some people aren't sharing their toys very
well." Knapp concluded: "There are many who believe that
industrialized countries have used up the resources of the developing
world, that we've mined their ores, cut down their forests to build our
cities and industries. They believe we broke their toys, and now we
won't share ours. That would get you a time out in any day care center
in the world."
Washington Oops in Review
Print advertisements for the PBS show Washington Week in Review
tout its strength as "journalism." But a little more
journalism might be in order. On the September 9 show, host Ken Bode was
skeptical about Democrats losing many seats in the midterm elections:
"I remember the last midterm election, 1990, when the public was
angry, term limits were on the ballot around the country, the
check-bouncing scandal was going on, every incumbent was an endangered
species, and 95 percent of them won re-election." Unfortunately for
Bode, the House Bank scandal occurred in 1992, as did the 15 state
ballot initiatives on term limits. (Only Colorado voted on congressional
term limits in 1990.)
Two weeks later, New York Times
reporter Thomas Friedman, declared on the program: "Rush Limbaugh's
out there every day against GATT." In fact, despite questions about
American sovereignty under the proposed World Trade Organization, which
he told listeners were answered by Robert Bork, Limbaugh has not used
air time to argue against GATT.
Newsweek Removes Noted
Clinton Sycophant from the White House Beat
Eleanor Clift's Fond Clinton
In August, Newsweek announced
Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Eleanor Clift would be moved from her
White House beat. Bill and Hillary Clinton will be losing one of their
biggest supporters in the White House press corps. Clift's editors have
always denied an agenda on her part. Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas
told Tim Russert on CNBC in April, "I don't think she's an
administration apologist...She is probably more liberal than most
journalists, but in the pages of Newsweek she plays it
straight." But the record speaks for itself.
All Aboard the Bandwagon.
Clift first hopped aboard the Clinton bandwagon in 1992: "I think
Gore and Clinton could be the all-generational change ticket, and I
suppose if they lose, they could do cameo appearances on Studs
or something," she said on the July 4 McLaughlin Group,
referring to the Dating Game - like Fox show. She may have been
attracted to more than just their ideologies. "I must say, I was
struck by the expanse of their chests. They may have to put out their
stats," she gushed on the July 10, 1992 Inside Politics.
"Looking at some of that footage, it looks like the all-beefcake
ticket," she remarked on that same week's McLaughlin Group.
Post-convention, Clift was still bestowing hosannahs: "They got
more positive coverage on this bus tour than the Beatles got on their
first tour of America. More reporters were oohing and aahing. It was
almost embarrassing. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to do it until
The Clinton Agenda.
During the battle over the budget, she saw promise in the "Slick
Willie" epithet in the February 8, 1993 Newsweek:
"Clinton is much craftier than George Bush in avoiding the kind of
'Read My Lips' vow that allows no maneuvering room. He can rewrite his
promises to adjust to reality. That opens him up to 'Slick Willie'
catcalls. It also leaves him the option to do the right thing."
That week on The McLaughlin Group she pronounced the budget
"one for one (tax hikes to spending cuts) and it's gutsier than any
Republican President has done in 12 years of feel-goodism. This is going
to be politically courageous and you're going to hear a lot of
screaming." Three months later, she claimed "It's the first
serious attempt to cut the deficit in this country."
All Apologies. A
constant in Clift's view of the Whitewater scandal is that the Clintons
may be the most well-intentioned, ethical humans to ever inhabit
Washington. In a December 1993 McLaughlin Group she challenged
the idea that the Clintons may have used their political connections to
make money: "It runs counter to the notion about the Clintons,
somehow the fact that they are somehow in this for personal or financial
gain, doesn't ring true." A few weeks later she returned to this
point on the same show: "The beauty of the special counsel law is
that he or she has to prove criminal wrongdoing, and not only criminal
wrongdoing, but criminal intent, and I think, you know, everyone is
certain that doesn't exist with the Clintons."
She reached new heights in creative
rationalization when defending the Clintons' ethics. To the contention
that Clinton played fast and loose with the truth, on the September 12,
1992 McLaughlin Group she countered: "There is no evidence
that Bill Clinton has ever lied. He's done nothing illegal. He has what
I would call the politician's disease. He has tailored the truth to
adapt to the reality of running in a conservative southern state."
She also tried to turn Hillary's ethical
lapses on her still murky commodities deals from negative to positive.
In an April 11, 1994 Newsweek story with Mark Miller, Clift
wrote: "Bill Clinton evoked sympathy and understanding by
acknowledging marital problems on the famous 60 Minutes
interview. She could benefit from admitting that she, too, has
occasionally yielded to temptation and made the wrong choices. The
public might even be tickled to discover that the prim and preachy First
Lady has a gambler's streak. Hillary's brief fling in commodities was
possibly reckless, but it shows a glimmering of a more credible, if more
flawed, human being."
Later, her line of defense changed.
Instead of asserting Clinton's innocence, she declared he shouldn't be
judged on his personal ethics, but by the good he's trying to do.
"Bill Clinton has been in office for a year and a half, and he's
got a number of legislative proposals by which we can judge his public
character. To go back and measure the man by whether money might have
gone into his 1984 gubernatorial campaign through a failed land
adventure, to me, even if it turns out to be the case, and there's no
evidence that this is even the case, that there are many other ways to
measure the character of this man. He is working for us every day in
office," she oozed on CNBC's July 26 Rivera Live.
Barney and Wonder Woman. When
Clift wrote about the Clintons, the loving prose flowed. In Newsweek's
August 9, 1993 issue, she wrote: "Clinton is giving the best
evidence yet of his approach to leadership. It's about understanding,
not threats; accommodation, not confrontation; about getting people (or
at least Democrats) to sing the same song. The style is reminiscent of
another patient, nonjudgmental figure given to hugging in public: Barney
One Newsweek staffer told The
Washington Post her March 21, 1994 Newsweek interview with
Hillary was "embarrassing." In the "interview,"
Clift suggested: "I guess the only thing I see comparable [between
Whitewater and Watergate] is that a lot of people want to launch careers
based on finding something." Then she asked: "How angry are
you about the way this has mushroomed from a little land scandal into an
allegation that you and your husband are corrupt?" Clift fed
excuses to Hillary: "My theory is that you have a thing about
privacy...The attacks against you are really about more than Whitewater.
They really go to the role that you're taking on and whether you can be
the spouse of a President and a policymaker."
Clift has also shown the different
standards she applies to Hillary and others when dealing with rumors. In
an April 5, 1993 Newsweek story on Secret Service gossip about
the Clintons, Clift wrote: "There is no evidence to support any of
these stories...living in the fishbowl is hard enough without worrying
about a Secret Service that can't keep mum." But writing in Newsweek
two years earlier, Clift had lavishly praised Kitty Kelley's book of
gossip about Nancy Reagan. "If privacy ends where hypocrisy begins,
Kitty Kelley's steamy exposť is a contribution to contemporary
Of course, when The American
Spectator ran an article in December 1993 about Hillary's
less-than-intimate sexual relationship with her husband, Clift attacked
the source on the McLaughlin Group: "The [David] Brock
article appears in a publication with very ideological leanings of the
conservative persuasion. It is full of innuendo and bias." She
the Bright Side
Health Risk Hype
Los Angeles Times reporter David
Shaw took on media fear- mongering over environmental risk in a
September 11-13 series, "Living Scared: Why Do the Media Make Life
Seem So Risky?" He demonstrated how the media overstate health
risks in everything from caffeine to nuclear power.
He cited John Graham of the Center for
Risk Analysis at Harvard: "Less than 5 percent of human cancer can
be traced to causes that are within the jurisdiction of" the EPA.
Yet stories cite man- made chemicals more than any other cause of
cancer, according to a study. Shaw looked at heterosexual AIDS:
"Although the media have played up the threat of AIDS in the
heterosexual community, only 6 percent of all AIDS cases have involved
Reporters treat suggestions that there
are costs to pursuing safety with disdain: "Conservatives have
largely co-opted the cost/benefit argument, though, and since they are
largely seen as being pro-business, many in both the news media and the
political arena tend to dismiss their arguments out of hand, looking
only at their ideology, not at their science or their economics."
Shaw explained: "Too often, critics
say, the media provide not just essential information and legitimate
warnings but un-warranted alarms for an increasingly susceptible
audience, one willing to see risk in almost everything." Perhaps
the media low point was what Shaw termed "The Great Alar Apple
Scare," involving the alleged-cancer causing pesticide. "Ed
Bradley of 60 Minutes initiated a nationwide panic in 1989 by
airing a report on the dangers of the chemical Alar." But
"after Alar, [New York Times writer Keith] Schneider says,
he began asking newer, tougher questions about risk issues and proposals
for eliminating risks." 60 Minutes has yet to correct its
Defrocked Dope Smuggler?
As U.S. troops prepared to give their
lives to restore power in Haiti to Jean-Bertrand Aristide ("a man
of peace," according to Bryant Gumbel on September 30), ABC's Jim
Angle reported un-pleasantries about the media's favorite
"democrat." On September 18, he found "the DEA had
uncovered allegations that Aristide, while in office, took payoffs from
the Pablo Escobar cocaine cartel. And law enforcement sources told ABC
News that when agents asked to question Aristide, Washington killed the
An informant said "Franz Biamby, a
cousin of the army chief of staff, saw Aristide take a suitcase filled
with several hundred thousands dollars in payoffs," said Angle.
"The administration was hoping to repeat what the U.S. did to
Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega -- build a drug case against Haitian
leaders... But the only information implicating them also implicates
Meet the Press host Tim Russert
went on a tirade against Newt Gingrich on October 2, demanding eight
times that he name budget cuts. Pulling out a chart showing how the
budget will be allocated in 2002, Russert queried: "Could you
explain to our viewers what areas of the budget you would seek cuts
After Gingrich set Social Security aside,
Russert shot back: "So, if we're talking a deficit of $319 billion,
you've taken away Social Security. Defense -- if you'll give me a
specific number....If you take 50 percent of all domestic spending, that
would be the FBI, drug enforcement, breast cancer research, that would
get it down to about 150 billion, which would mean about a 20 percent
cut in Medicare....tell me, specifically, where you'd cut."
Between 1980 and 1992, Russert noted,
"Entitlements went up 54 percent," adding "There's a new
book out called Dead Right.... which says that Ronald Reagan
never cut...a major social program." But thanks to a lot of shoddy
reporting on victims of non-existent cuts, many blame Reagan for social
ills. Given the media's defense of spending, politicians are naturally
reluctant to suggest cuts.
Look at Russert's colleagues. In the late
1989 special The Eighties, Tom Brokaw falsely asserted over
video of homeless people: "Social programs? They suffered under
Reagan. But he refused to see the cause and effect." Last year
Bryant Gumbel stated: "Faced with declining levels of assistance
from Washington over the last 12 years, long-standing urban problems
have been aggravated, leading to increases in decay, business failures,
and crime, and shortages of housing, school funds." While direct
aid to cities fell, social program spending in cities rose from $255 to
$285 billion in real terms from 1980-1992.
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