Media Outlets Scold "Rabid Attack Dog....Darling of the Ultra-Right"
Jesse Helms, "Prince of
The media's gaffe patrol has saddled up
to ride again, branding conservatives as "outrageous" and
"reckless" while ignoring similar statements by liberals. This
month's target was Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Since the election, he's
been tagged as "archconservative" in U.S. News and Newsweek,
while Time preferred the more cuddly
"ultraconservative." A recent Washington Post profile
of new committee chairmen called him "the avenging angel of extreme
conservatism." But nothing could prepare Helms for the thrashing he
took from reporters after he said Bill Clinton wasn't up to the job of
Commander in Chief and joked Clinton may need a bodyguard when visiting
On November 23, NBC Today
co-host Bryant Gumbel editorialized: "Helms is slated to be the new
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a prospect that is
embarrassing to many Republicans. His two most recent outbursts against
the President are just the latest in a long line of outrageous remarks
that have earned Helms the disrespect and disgust of people from coast
Gumbel introduced reporter Jim
Miklaszewski, who also unloaded on Helms: "He's called the Prince
of Darkness. A darling of the ultra-right, he's been a rabid attack dog
against anything liberal....Critics call him a bigot, sexist, and
homophobe, and he seems to wear it like a badge of honor." Newsweek's
Conventional Wisdom box gave Helms a down arrow: "If you'd said it
in an airport, you'd be in a straightjacket by now."
The Big Three networks did nine stories
on the Helms remarks. CBS actually led off the Evening News
November 22 with two stories. But in November 1988, Sen. John Kerry
(D-Mass.) joked to a businessman's breakfast in Massachusetts that
"the Secret Service is under orders that if George Bush is shot, to
shoot Quayle." Did the networks denounce him? Did it lead the CBS
Evening News? No, the only coverage was one brief NBC story read by
anchor Tom Brokaw.
As for Helms' suggestion that Clinton
isn't fit to lead our military, Time's Richard Lacayo wrote on
November 28 that Helms' remark "was widely regarded, even by some
of his ideological brethren, as very nearly unpatriotic." In the
next issue of Time, Michael Duffy saw a silver lining in the
remarks for Clinton: "Helms' blast -- the second reckless salvo
from the archconservative in four days -- offered Clinton a chance to
point out how extremist Republicans can be."
But the media may have misjudged what the
people find extreme or unpatriotic. A December 6 CNN poll asked
Americans if they agreed with Helms that Clinton isn't up to the
Commander in Chief job: 49 percent agreed, 47 percent disagreed.
Another Journal Entry
The huge Democratic losses at the ballot
box failed to dissuade a second Wall Street Journal reporter from
joining the Clinton foreign policy team. Daniel Benjamin, a reporter in
the paper's Berlin bureau since 1992, became a foreign policy
speechwriter under the direction of Bob Boorstin, a one-time New York
Times reporter. Before jumping to the Journal, Benjamin reported for a
couple of years from Germany for Time, a foreign post he filled after
spending the late 1980s as a New York-based staff writer. This fall,
fellow Wall Street Journal reporter Kenneth Bacon, a 25-year veteran of
the Washington bureau, became Assistant Secretary of Defense for public
Meanwhile, Tara Sonenshine, Deputy
Director for Communications for the National Security Council, has quit
to spend more time at home with her child. A producer for 12 years in
the ABC News Washington bureau, in early 1994 she jumped from Nightline
to the White House.
Erwin Knoll, Editor of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Progressive since
1973, passed away November 2. A frequent panelist in recent years on the
MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, he spent a decade in the mainstream media
before becoming Washington editor of the far-left magazine in 1968. His
Washington Post obituary noted that he joined that paper in 1957 as a
reporter and rose to Assistant World Editor. He covered the White House
for the Newhouse News Service from 1963 to 1968.
Liberal Leave Leader
One of the Clinton Administration's first liberal achievements, passage
of the family leave bill, will have a former ABC News and CNN reporter
overseeing its implementation. The administration picked Susan King as
the first Executive Director of the Commission on the Family Medical
Leave Act. The Washington Post reported that it will "review how
the law is being implemented and make recommenda- tions for
changes." The law forces private businesses to hold a job open for
employees who decide to take an extended period off.
The number two White House reporter under
Sam Donaldson in 1981, King covered the first year of the Reagan
Administration before becoming a general assignment reporter. In 1982
she moved to NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington as a reporter and anchor,
later jumping to ABC affiliate WJLA-TV where she remained until 1993.
Over the past year she's Worked as a weekend reporter for CNN and
frequent co-host of CNBC's Equal Time.
Left Wing Watchdog
"Don Hazen entered journalism as a political organizer, a veteran
campaign manager for New York City Democrats whom Newsweek hired in 1978
to oversee its philanthropic activities and to give advertising space to
public interest groups," began an October 8 National Journal
profile. Since 1991 Hazen, Publisher of Mother Jones from 1985-91, has
been Executive Director of the Institute for Alternative Journalism (IAJ),
a group dedicated to getting left wing views into the media. "The
right wing is masterful at creating an infrastructure of media groups
and think tanks," Hazen said, "We want to make sure our
journalists can compete." Working with the far-left Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting, IAJ has created an on-line "expert"
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tapped a local and
network television news veteran in September to head its communications
division in the office of the Assistant Secretary for public affairs.
They hired Jackie Nedell, whom National Journal reported "was most
recently a freelance television reporter based in Washington" for
Fox and the NBC News Channel where her stories appeared on Nightside. At
HHS she's working nearby former Los Angeles Times reporter Victor Zonana,
the Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS for public affairs.
When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette selected a new Executive Editor in
June 1992, an October American Journalism Review story revealed it chose
a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. Taking the helm in
Little Rock just as Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination,
Griffin Smith Jr. who spent the previous five years running the paper's
TV Tirades on Gingrich
Reporters have pounced on every
"controversial" utterance from House Speaker-elect Newt
Gingrich, instead of providing a sober look at the substance of his
On the November 13 This Week with David
Brinkley, Sam Donaldson claimed: "A lot of people are afraid of
you, they think you're a bomb thrower. Worse, you're an intolerant
bigot. Speak to them." Donaldson identified Newt's problem:
"It's the way you talk. You talk about the Clintons as members of
the counterculture, the elitists, the left-wingers, how can you have an
accommodation with the President when you read him out of 'the
Americans,' as you put it?" Donaldson charged: "When you talk
about people, you don't talk about it just in terms of the differences,
and arguments over policy, or theology, or philosophy, but you talk
about it in terms of the American way, your way, and their way, which
you suggest isn't American."
On that night's CBS Evening News, Joe
Klein noted "like [basketball star] Charles Barkley, Gingrich also
has a tendency to get carried away, to throw elbows." Citing
Gingrich's comments that the Great Society was a "disaster,"
Klein contended: "political insiders were wondering...would Newt's
new responsibilities make him more statesmanlike, more responsible, less
Tom Brokaw got personal in the first
network magazine profile of Gingrich, on the November 15 Dateline NBC,
focusing on the "archconservative" Speaker's
"controversial" statements, personal life, and ethics. For
refusing to discuss his divorce, Brokaw found hypocrisy: "Gingrich,
who makes so much of family values, is touchy on this issue."
Brokaw delved into Gingrich's religious life: "He was more
combative, perfecting his trademark scorched-earth tactics. That change
caused a split between Gingrich and his Baptist minister." Brokaw
called Gingrich's criticism of FDA Commissioner David Kessler as
Ignoring the Republicans' prior status as
the minority party, Brokaw maintained that "Gingrich has
distinguished himself, not for his legislative record, but for carrying
the conservative torch and burning Democratic initiatives." Brokaw
failed to consider that "burning Democratic initiatives" may
have been the legislative record voters preferred.
CBS Packs Story with
Emotional Anecdotes, Dire Predictions, Liberal Advocacy Research
Are We Starving the Elderly to
The holiday season is a dependable
launching point for media reports on hunger in America -- and so is a
Republican resurgence in Congress. A wave of hunger stories hit the
media in late November, underlining the need for more federal spending
despite the lack of definitive national estimates on the problem. For a
dissent-free Sunday Morning sermon on the need for more funding for
federal food programs, CBS reporter David Culhane earned the December
Janet Cooke Award.
Host Charles Osgood struck a religious
theme introducing the November 27 segment: "A verse from the Bible
would not be out of place considering the day of the week and the hour.
This is from the Psalms. `Cast me not off in this time of old age.
Forsake me not when I am grown weak.' Are we casting off the old among
us? You might think at first it would not be necessary even to ask such
Culhane then promoted his upcoming story:
"In this nation of vast resources, the stark truth is that millions
of elderly citizens are going hungry or are malnourished because they
are poor or too weak to shop and cook, here in Fort Worth, Texas and
around the country. This Sunday morning we will see the grim reality of
waiting lists for Meals on Wheels for the very first time because
federal funding has not kept up with the rising cost of food and the
swelling population of older people."
Unfortunately, Culhane and Osgood raised
more questions than they answered. Who is casting off the elderly? How
many are clinically malnourished? Culhane never provided any statistics
on federal Meals on Wheels funding or the inflation rate for food. He
didn't prove that Meals on Wheels programs have never had a waiting list
until now, or any proof of clinical malnutrition. Culhane also left out
critics of more spending, devoting 14 soundbites to bureaucrats and
beneficiaries of food programs.
Culhane began the story like a
commercial: "Meals on Wheels, certainly one of the most successful
programs ever designed to help older people in need. Last year alone,
some 827,000 elderly people had a hot meal delivered, people too infirm
to shop and cook for themselves, often too poor to buy their own food.
Since the program combining federal and private funds was fully
mobilized more than two decades ago, there's been a general assumption
that no old people had to go hungry. But that is no longer the case. For
the first time, across the country there are waiting lists for Meals on
Clinton HHS Undersecretary Fernando
Torres-Gil enhanced the sense of crisis: "We are literally talking
about people's lives, whether they will become sick and die because of
malnutrition and poor health all because they couldn't get at least one
meal or have adequate nutrition. This is a life and death matter."
Later, Culhane repeated that tone: "Carla Jutson, the executive
director of Meals on Wheels here [in Ft. Worth], keeps track of each
case. She thinks her decisions are like military triage."
CBS also interviewed Martha Burt of the
liberal Urban Institute, "which first documented the growing crisis
of hunger among older people. She thinks other forms of aid would help
relieve their hunger." Burt plugged for more spending on other
programs: "So if we paid for prescription drugs for the elderly,
then they would have the money they now use for medications to buy food.
If we paid more for housing for people who are still paying for housing,
who will be the poorest people, and the renters, they could then use
that money for food."
Culhane forwarded the Urban Institute
study: "Current estimates indicate that as many as 4.9 million
older citizens are either going hungry or are malnourished to some
extent and that at least two thirds of needy older people are not being
reached by federal food assistance programs." Culhane concluded:
"The political forecast now warns of a storm of budget cutbacks,
perhaps even for core hunger programs. Those who are trying to help ask
us to remember that we are not just talking about today's older
The CBS story succeeded in creating an
emotional wallop in favor of food programs, but omitted a number of
facts that are important to the story. First, none of the bureaucrats in
the field have statistical knowledge quantifying the number of elderly
people suffering from hunger. The Urban Institute study, the only proof
cited in the story, was conducted by mail, which is much less scientific
than most polls since the participants select themselves. As Newsweek's
Laura Shapiro admitted to MediaWatch earlier this year: "Your basic
point, that all of these studies lack a lot of scientific depth, is
true." Culhane also left out the Urban study's funder: Philip
Morris, which owns Kraft Foods.
CBS obscured the definition of hunger and
malnutrition. Culhane claimed up to 4.9 million are "going hungry
or are malnourished to some extent." But Burt's study did not
actually measure malnutrition, but "food insecurity." As Burt
explained: "Some people never show the long-term physical signs of
malnutrition, yet experience the physical and emotional stresses of
hunger." Burt hailed the idea to "go beyond very restrictive
medical definitions of malnutrition" to a "social
definition" of hunger, "even if the shortage is not prolonged
enough to cause health problems."
Burt's report found 2.5 to 4.9 million
may suffer "food insecurity." If, among other questions,
respondents answered "yes" to whether they had to choose
between buying food or paying for rent, utilities, or medicine at any
time in the previous six months, they had "food insecurity."
Torres-Gil had no study on which to base
his comments on how this is "a life or death matter," or, as
he later asserted: "The development of waiting lists have probably
occurred most dramatically in the last couple of years." Culhane
did not explain that Torres-Gil's office is waiting for proof from a
study from Princeton University expected next summer.
Despite his rhetoric about starving old
people, Torres-Gil actually wants to expand the federal elderly hunger
programs to the non-needy. There are no income requirements to receive
Meals on Wheels, although rules currently target the neediest and some
contribute for their meals. A November 4, 1993 story in The Orlando
Sentinel quoted Torres-Gil telling the National Association of Social
Workers that the passage of the Clinton health plan meant "That
problem [of income requirements] is erased because with the new home and
community-based program, anyone is eligible regardless of income."
Torres-Gil is not merely seeking to add the needy to his waiting lists,
but the rest of the elderly.
Culhane did not answer repeated calls
from MediaWatch. But this kind of reporting -- emotional anecdotes, dire
predictions, and the flacking of liberal advocacy group research --
serves only to advertise for an increased government burden. It
propagandizes, but it fails to inform.
Rather on Race
Dan Rather needs time to learn how to
deal with Republicans. In an interview with new House Majority Leader
Dick Armey on the December 1 CBS Evening News, Rather cited unnamed
critics who share his unmistakable flair for bizarre conclusions:
"There are plenty of people around who say if you take the
Congressman's ideas for reducing the federal budget, you're going to
inevitably increase racial tensions in this country because many of the
people who are going to suffer first will be minorities."
On November 28, Rather asked Newt
Gingrich: "I believe in the Congress that's now ending, there are
at least 20 committee chairs or subcommittee chairs who are either black
or Hispanic. In the incoming Congress, will there be any?" When
Gingrich responded with a no (since none of the GOP's five minority
members were elected before 1989), Rather reacted incredulously:
"But I want to make sure I understand. You think we may have a
situation in the new House in which there will not be a single committee
or subcommittee chairman who's black or Hispanic?"
Tom Brokaw also struggled with the results of blacks' failure to run as
Republicans on November 23: "The Republican landslide also changed
the face of justice in the Houston area in ways that are raising
questions about how judges should be chosen." Reporter Jim Cummins
explained: "All eight black incumbent judges...were voted out of
office because they are Democrats who were swept away by Republicans who
voted a straight ticket in a county-wide election." Cummins
concluded: "There are growing demands to change the system in
Texas, either appoint judges or create smaller judicial districts by the
next election, so that the men and women sitting on the bench reflect
the people they are passing judgment on." Didn't the elections
reflect the people's judgment?
When the media clamor for "change," it's the kind of change
exemplified by the Clintons' vision of reform, not the Republicans.
While the media heralded Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we
know it," ABC's November 23 Nightline asked the question:
"Does the Republican plan for welfare go too far?" Host Chris
Wallace noted "the number one thing they [voters] want to change is
welfare." But he cautioned: "House Republicans have come out
with a plan that can only be called radical." He quoted a study by
the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which "talks
about the human cost. It predicts two and a half million families and at
least five million children would stop getting benefits, causing
increases in homelessness and hunger."
Wallace then focused on a single
provision in the GOP bill, asking Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.), "the
plan anticipates...orphanages. Isn't that like something out of Charles
Dickens?" Ignoring Talent's assertion that states given block
grants will make their own arrangements, Wallace devoted five more
questions to orphanages.
More Gruel, Newt?
On the December 5 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather declared: "Only in
America. The newest debate about reforming welfare is focused not on
Newt Gingrich's actual idea to bring back orphanages for kids of welfare
mothers, but on a Hollywood movie." Reporter Anthony Mason examined
the controversy over Boys Town, the 1938 movie based on an orphanage,
which Newt Gingrich cited after Hillary Clinton blasted GOP welfare
reform. Mason noted: "Gingrich says his new orphanages would be
voluntary, for unwanted children." Then Mason asserted, "with
plans for widespread welfare cuts poor parents may be left little
choice." He wondered: "Is a 56 year-old movie image a
blueprint for America's future? For decades the American welfare system
worked to phase out orphanages on the strength of another lingering
image." As Mason spoke viewers saw video from Oliver Twist in which
an orphan begs for more gruel.
Guilt By Non-Association
The media and pundit campaign to discredit The Bell Curve co-author Dr.
Charles Murray continues. Unwilling to dispute his conclusions, ABC
World News Tonight's Bill Blakemore tried to construct a connection
between Murray and the Pioneer Fund, a controversial foundation which
gives money to researchers investigating links between race and
intelligence. In his November 22 "American Agenda" piece,
Blakemore stated, "Close to half the footnotes citing authors who
support The Bell Curve's most controversial chapter that suggests some
races are naturally smarter than others, refer to Pioneer Fund
When asked about this allegation, Murray
told Blakemore off-camera that he knew very little about the Pioneer
Fund, "had never taken [Pioneer Fund] money and knew of only two
researchers cited in his book who had." But Blakemore wasn't about
to let the facts ruin his report: "Nonetheless, controversy around
The Bell Curve is focusing attention on this obscure fund."
Herr Kessler's Merit Badge
"Focused, intense, sincere, with the scruples of a Boy Scout. And
if federal bureaucrats aren't supposed to change the world, somebody
forgot to tell David Kessler." Thus began Steve Kroft's puffy
profile of the FDA Commissioner titled "Crusader" on 60
Minutes December 4. Kroft minimized Kessler's negatives by portraying
them as complaints from greedy big industry, which can no longer market
unsafe products. Kroft marvelled at the scope of FDA's regulatory power:
"There are few federal agencies with influence as pervasive as the
FDA...its jurisdiction extends into nearly every port into every
refrigerator and medicine cabinet in the country." He touted
Kessler's "army of inspectors and scientists" who on his
orders "analyze, squeeze, and sniff" products to judge their
Never mentioned is that Kessler's FDA has
slowed the already glacial speed of the approval of new, potentially
life-saving drugs for the American market. It takes 14 years on average
from drug development until FDA approval. A Tufts University study found
that 80 percent of FDA-approved drugs made it to market in other
countries in just eight years. The regulations have driven up the
average cost to develop drugs in the U.S. to over $230 million. Nowhere
in Kroft's report did he mention that the FDA's slow and costly
regulators are killing people who may benefit from new drugs.
Instead, Kroft celebrated Kessler's use
of raw power, especially his seizure of perfectly good reconstituted
orange juice with the word "fresh" on the label: "He had
U.S. Marshals seize 15,000 gallons of Procter and Gamble orange juice.
It was a message to big companies and the special interests that the FDA
could no longer be ignored."
The Thomas-Hating Media
CBS This Morning never interviewed David Brock, author of The Real Anita
Hill. But that didn't stop co-host Paula Zahn from promoting Wall Street
Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, authors of the pro-Anita
Hill book Strange Justice, on November 7. Zahn tossed softballs:
"You make it pretty clear in the book that it was politics,
basically, that changed the way this case was viewed by the American
public and you even go so far as to say that the White House skirted
laws to launch a campaign against Anita Hill. Do you think they broke
any laws in the process?"
The Boston Globe and Newsweek joined The
Wall Street Journal in excerpting the Abramson-Mayer book. After its
November 14 excerpt, Newsweek hailed the book in an article by new
contributing editor on legal issues, Lincoln Caplan. He touted the book:
"The real value of the book, aside from its compelling readability
is in the psychological portrait it draws of Clarence Thomas." (The
authors never interviewed Thomas.)
In case Caplan's aversion to Thomas
wasn't clear, his January 1995 Playboy profile compared Thomas
unfavorably to Thurgood Marshall, calling him "the anti-Marshall,
voting consistently to weaken strong decisions his predecessor invested
his life to secure." Caplan concluded: "The story of the
self-hating black man is not new in American life, but it has rarely had
a protagonist whose anger has been so costly to many other blacks."
Informed voters are the Democrats' worst enemy, at least to Christopher
John Farley of Time. In the November 21 issue, Farley attacked the
Christian Coalition for their role in distributing voter information
fliers which listed the candidates' positions on term limits or health
care. Farley called the fliers part of a "covert operation,"
even though the Coalition announced its nationwide distribution on the
weekend before the vote .
Farley described a conspiracy where
"pamphlets were slipped onto car windshields...and distributed so
close to the election so [Rep. Dan] Glickman couldn't effectively
protest them, [and] gave the Congressman negative ratings." Two
weeks earlier, James Carney sounded the alarm, noting that Christian
Coalition voter guides helped defeat Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) in a
Farley complained that the guides
"don't endorse office hopefuls but are designed to put candidates
the group opposes in a bad light." He cited the Pennsylvania Senate
race, where the guide "boiled down the complex subject of the
Clinton health-care plan by saying that Democratic incumbent Harris
Wofford supported `Federal Government control of health care.'"
One unfortunate side effect of the fall of communism has been a cottage
industry of nostalgia. In the October 18 Los Angeles Times,
correspondent Mary Williams Walsh remembered East German social
services: "Some have come to the arresting conclusion that they are
worse off today than they were under communism. Many men have lost their
jobs. Women have lost child-care centers that cost 20 cents a day;
practically all households are paying many times more for rent and
sustenance. And even the eastern Germans who now have `made it'...talk
of a certain something that is missing from their lives." Shootings
at the Wall, perhaps? On November 1, Walsh, formerly of The Progressive,
recalled a laid-off mechanic: "The end of East German communism has
spelled for him not opportunity but a chain reaction that started with
the loss of his good factory job and ended up with life in a
flophouse....is doubly shocking in a society where vagrants and bag
ladies were until recently unknown."
The Hate-Filled Competition
Just before the election CBS grew alarmed about "a lot of anger in
the air these days," meaning talk radio. Claiming "it's part
and parcel of rush hour all over America," reporter Richard
Threlkeld's "Eye on America" warned of "a kind of air
pollution as close as your car radio." His evidence of this
widespread danger? One conservative afternoon host on a New York City
station and one incident "a couple of years ago" on a St.
Louis FM rock station's morning drive show. "A daily dialogue of
hate and anger that's become big business, and a big target of those who
want to shut down hate radio for good," Threlkeld ominously
intoned, offering as proof: "Bob Grant hosts the most popular
afternoon drive time show in New York. He regularly insults gays,
liberals, the homeless, not to mention blacks."
However, as Minoo Southgate pointed out
in the December 5 National Review, Grant's critics "are curiously
quiet about bigotry when it doesn't come from white conservatives."
She explained that two black-oriented radio stations in New York City
"promote anti-white racism and anti-Jewish conspiracy
theories." One host has even threatened the lives of white
journalists. But Threlkeld failed to mention any hate from the left on
the radio, making it clear that for CBS, only conservatives are capable
of dispensing hate.
Proposition 187 As "Racist" and "Inhumane," Ignore
California, There You Go...Again
No ballot proposal received more national
attention this fall than California's Proposition 187, the initiative to
deny illegal aliens the right to welfare, free non-emergency medical
care, and public education. But what kind of attention did it receive?
To determine if the networks gave equal
coverage to both sides, MediaWatch analysts reviewed the 30 Proposition
187 stories which aired on the four network evening news shows (ABC's
World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly
News) from October 16 to the end of November. More than 75 percent of
the stories aired were anti-187. Talking heads who opposed 187
outnumbered proponents by more than 2 to 1.
counted the number of arguments made for or against the measure in each
story, along with the number of talking heads in support or opposition.
Stories with a disparity of greater than 1.5 to 1 in favor of the
arguments and/or talking heads of one side were categorized as pro- or
anti-187. Stories closer than the ratio were classified as neutral.
Opponents of of Proposition 187 argued: it was racist, immoral, inhumane
or led to fear in immigrant communities; it would lead to a loss of
federal funds or an increase in poverty, homelessness, juvenile crime or
public health hazards; and that denying services to illegals was
Among the arguments forwarded by those in
favor of Prop. 187: that illegal aliens are not entitled to the same
benefits available to citizens or legal immigrants; that costs are
soaring to provide welfare, health care, and incarceration for illegal
immigrants; that states are burdened with the costs to educate the
children of illegal aliens; that schools are also burdened (e.g.,
overcrowded classrooms, multilingual education).
Of the 30 stories analyzed, 23 (77
percent) were categorized as anti-187. Three stories fell into the
neutral category, and only four stories were categorized as pro-187.
Overall, arguments mentioned in opposition of 187 outnumbered those in
favor by almost 5 to 1 (48 to 10). Not one network questioned whether
illegal immigrants are entitled to the same benefits as legal residents,
presented any arguments about the possible fiscal impact of continued
illegal immigration, or mentioned the term "unfunded
Talking Heads. Overall,
talking heads opposed to passage of Proposition 187 outnumbered those in
favor 63 to 30. Eight stories (more than 25 percent) featured only
Among the networks, CBS ran the most
decidedly negative campaign. All five stories were anti-187, with
arguments running 10 to 0 against, and a talking-head ratio of more than
2 to 1 against. Of the seven stories aired on CNN, six (86 percent) were
anti-187. Arguments against 187 ran ahead of those in support by a count
of 8 to 1, and anti-187 talking heads enjoyed a 3-to-1 advantage.
ABC aired the most stories (10), but nine
were dominated by the opponents of 187. Opponents were given three times
more soundbites than supporters (17-5) and five times the arguments
(15-3). NBC provided by far the most balanced airing: three pro-187
stories, two neutral, and three anti-187. While NBC came close to giving
equal access to opponents and proponents (17-15), arguments against 187
ran ahead of those in favor by a margin of greater than 2 to 1.
Before the Vote. Unlike
TV coverage of health reform, which focused almost exclusively on the
effects of doing nothing, pre-election Prop. 187 coverage focused on the
disastrous effects passage would have on illegal immigrants. In 13
stories, arguments against passage outnumbered those in favor by 18 to
8. Talking heads ran more than 2 to 1 against.
ABC's Judy Muller announced on the
October 27 World News Tonight: "In the last couple of weeks,
opponents of Proposition 187 have pounded away at their message; that
the measure is inhumane, racist and a threat to public safety." On
October 19, CNN's Judy Woodruff weighed in on World News: "[Gov.
Pete] Wilson is ahead in the polls with less than three weeks to go, but
his embrace of Prop. 187 has made him a target for its opponents. They
argue that it would deny immigrants basic health services, raise the
risk of communicable diseases spreading, deny children an education, and
deplete a critical low-wage labor pool." Neither presented
arguments for 187.
After the Vote. Network
coverage after the election focused on fear among immigrants, despite
the fact courts had blocked most of its implementation. On the November
17 NBC Nightly News, David Bloom reported: "The City of Los Angeles
today joined the ranks of those fighting the measure, the city attorney
saying Proposition 187 will cause more homelessness, more crime, more
CBS reporter Sandra Hughes assailed the
measure on the November 23 Evening News: "Most of Proposition 187
hasn't been enacted because of a temporary restraining order, but
advocates for the immigrant community claim that hasn't stopped people
from using the voter mandate to harass and intimidate....It may take
years to sort out the legal issues, but some feel the damage from 187 is
already done, and the result is a climate of fear for many in the
ABC's Brian Rooney, on the November 24
World News Tonight, also fo- cused on the fear: "A California judge
has stopped, for now, the enforcement of most of Proposition 187, but
many people in the community are still afraid. The illegal immigrants
who do come [to public health clinics] say their friends and family
would rather risk illness than being deported."
In an October 27 CBS Evening News story
on referendums, Hughes complained: "People are taking the
government into their hands this election season through ballot
initiatives -- proposed laws written directly by citizens or special
interest groups without the intervention of legislators. And now voters
have to figure it out....the result is often poorly written
Ironically, when the media had the
opportunity to explain the arguments both for and against Proposition
187 and help the voters "figure it out," they failed to
explore any of the legal or political reasoning behind it. The result
was poorly produced news stories.
the Bright Side
Capitol Hill Waste
In two CBS Evening News "Reality
Checks," Eric Engberg turned a rare spotlight on congressional
perks. On October 20, he showcased one of the secret weapons of
incumbency -- the franking privilege, the right to mass-mail to
constituents using taxpayer money. Engberg targeted freshman Democrat
Eric Fingerhut, who "ran two years ago as a reforming
perk-buster." Engberg quoted him as calling the franking privilege
"the most egregious remaining perk that Members [of Congress] are
able to use...clearly a re-election tool."
Engberg replied: "Time out! Once
elected, reformer Fingerhut papered his Ohio district with fliers to the
tune of 146,000 taxpayer dollars." He revealed a trick Congressmen
use to evade rules designed to prevent abuse of the frank: "They
can't mail 500 but they can mail up to 499, over and over. Congressman
Esteban Torres of California did just that in the last election, 65
times. So, the next time your friendly Congressman plops official mail
in your mailbox, remember, you paid for it, and it's one of the reasons
why incumbents win 88 percent of the time."
On October 23 Engberg cited, David
Letterman style, various perks that could be eliminated: "Number
10: The Flag Office: It moves flags up and down the pole for a few
seconds so Congressmen can bestow them on constituents. Taxpayer cost:
Well over $300,000." Others cited by Engberg as egregious include
accruing frequent flier miles and handy private parking at the airport.
"Congressmen are touchy about being photographed there,"
Engberg noted, to the image of Rep. Joseph Kennedy rapidly backing away
from a prying camera. He concluded: "And the number one change the
new bosses can make to fix the Congress: Stop this! Every day a bucket
of ice is delivered to every Congressman's office, where they all have
refrigerators. Little wonder so many incumbents were put on ice this
Newt: Time's Reagan
The frustration of media liberals over
the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives isn't confined
to network reporters. The December 19 Time renewed the cannonade against
the new majority and its newly elected leader.
In his column, titled "Newt's
Believe It or Not," Time special political correspondent Michael
Kramer bashed a number of conservative heroes. "In outlook, in
prescription, and also in his penchant for shaving the truth by the
clever manipulation of easily grasped images, Newt Gingrich is Reagan's
After listing his Gingrich
"gaffes," Kramer added an attack on Rush Limbaugh: "Like
Rush, it doesn't seem to matter that a lot of what Newt says is mostly
not true. Audiences love it -- as they loved Reagan -- even when they
know that what they're hearing is often baseless. For many who applaud
Gingrich and Limbaugh, the catchy rantings are acceptable caricatures of
a caricature they already despise -- government."
This disdain for inaccurate caricatures
appeared in the same issue in which Time's cover carried a sour-faced
caricature of Gingrich with the words "Uncle Scrooge: 'Tis the
season to bash the poor. But is Newt Gingrich's America really that
heartless?" In the cover story, "Down on the
Downtrodden," Time Associate Editor Richard Lacayo, fresh from a
November 7 cover story attack on Gingrich, resumed fire: "In the
months to come, Scrooge is a role Gingrich and his followers won't be
afraid to assume. The only question is how many Americans will applaud
Time found the Republicans too radical:
"House Republicans have come to Washington promising not just to
remake welfare but to pull down the entire edifice of federal poverty
programs...in their unbridled willingness to go after immigrants and the
poor, the new House firebrands may be getting out ahead of the public
Lacayo complained: "When all the
benefit slashing is over, who picks up where government leaves off?...A
large population of the poor, cut off from government help and thrown
onto the meager capabilities of private charity -- it's not a pretty
picture." But is that a realistic picture? Time spent the 1980s
lamenting the "ax" of social spending cuts -- as social
spending continued to increase, now costing billions more. Where was the
ax? Reporters like Lacayo don't seek to describe a new Republican
reality of spending cuts as much as to prevent it -- again.
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