ABC News Argues
Voters Don't Really Want Contract with America
Anchor Peter Jennings set the tone for ABC's coverage
of the new Congress in a November 14 radio commentary, blaming the
election on "a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage ....The
voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don't
have to be dirty words." He apologized December 5 to outraged listeners,
saying: "The change in Washington is surely exhilarating. But it's a lot
more difficult to build and to govern."
With Congress debating the Contract with America, ABC
attacked its premise, citing voters as the problem -- for not realizing
how many government benefits they receive.
On the January 5 World News Tonight, Aaron Brown
reported from "Knox County, Tennessee...In November, it voted
Republican, 2-1. Then and now, it likes the message of smaller
government." After quoting residents unhappy with taxes and spending, he
opined: "That's a pretty common complaint around here... It is also dead
wrong. In fact, Knox County gets back much more from the federal
government than its residents pay in." He castigated voter hypocrisy:
"When people in Knox County talk of smaller government and less
spending, they may mean it, they probably do. But do they want to lose
this bus? Or this highway? Or this tunnel? Do they want to lose this
lab? This cop? This teacher? Do they really want to make that choice at
Linda Pattillo found on February 3 that "the people of
Seattle and King County send $10.5 billion dollars in all kinds of taxes
to Washington....and get back roughly $10.5 billion dollars, the same
amount. In everything from bridges to retirement benefits, they break
even." Pattillo said if the people "want to send less money to
Washington, they may have to give up some of what they get back. Bridges
or babies, shipyards or small business loans, transportation or tourist
development, benefits no one here is offering to give up."
ABC assumed since a jurisdiction receives funds,
taxpayers who may not get any benefits have no right to complain. But
even by ABC's reasoning, a recent Harvard study found states like New
Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Delaware pay far more in federal
taxes than they get back.
Jennings presumed the popularity of the Contract's
welfare reform was based on naivete and racism. "The welfare debate has
been getting more intense, ever since President Reagan regularly
vilified what he referred to as the `welfare queens,'" he claimed
January 12. "Attitudes about people on welfare are sometimes based more
on myth than reality. Most welfare mothers have only one or two
children. Most welfare mothers had their first child when they were
adults, not teenagers. Most people on welfare are not black."
NBC Goes Left with Moyers
Three months after the electorate rejected liberal
policies, NBC News decided to hire Bill Moyers, a Democratic political
activist and left-wing crusader on PBS since leaving CBS News in 1986,
to offer commentary on its third place Nightly News. A Deputy Director
of the Peace Corps and Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson,
Moyers began his new duties on February 14, though he will continue his
PBS work. NBC has no plans to provide a conservative counter-weight.
The New York Times relayed February 1 that NBC News
President Andy Lack dismissed questions about Moyers' liberal bias at
PBS, insisting "that perception is inside the beltway, and perhaps
inside about ten blocks of New York and ten blocks of L.A. I don't think
the American people give a whit about it." The same day the Baltimore
Sun quoted Moyers: "I'm not in politics. I have no agenda. I'm not
pushing a platform. I have no ideology." Really? In a 1989 Esquire
profile Moyers tagged Newt Gingrich "Joe McCarthy with a southern
accent." Some other non-ideological quotes:
From a March 1991 address to the Democratic Issues
Conference: "I was raised on mother's milk and Roosevelt speeches, and
over the years, I still cherish the party's defining stands." Taking on
Democrats from the left, he charged: "By the 1980s, when the Democrats
in Congress colluded with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans to revise
the tax code on behalf of the rich, it appeared the party had lost its
In comments during the 1992 PBS press tour: "What
liberalism is, is a belief that a democracy like ours has to be
tolerant. Has to open itself to ideas, that the answer to a bad idea is
a better idea. Civility. I mean, I'd like to think that's what
liberalism is. I define myself in that sense as a liberal." On
conservatives: "I find it very hard to have intelligent conversations
with people on the right wing because they want to hit first and ask
questions later. And I just simply don't let that criticism set my
From a September 1991 Washington Post Magazine
interview: "The right gets away with blaming liberals for their efforts
to help the poor, but what the right is really objecting to is the fact
that the poor are primarily black. The man who sits in the White House
today [George Bush] opposed the Civil Rights Act. So did Ronald Reagan.
This crowd is really fighting a retroactive civil rights war to prevent
the people they dislike because of their color from achieving success in
After Mario Cuomo's 1992 Democratic convention speech,
he declared on CNN: "It's worth dying prematurely so you can hear
someone else do your eulogy if that someone is Mario Cuomo." Following a
1989 PBS re-broadcast of his 1982 CBS Reports: People Like Us, he
insisted: "The documentary has held up as both true and sadly prophetic.
While Congress restored some of the cuts made in those first Reagan
budgets, in the years since, the poor and the working poor have born the
brunt of the cost of the Reagan Revolution. The hardest-hit programs
have been welfare, housing and other anti-poverty measures. Even
programs that were not cut have failed to keep up with inflation.
Meanwhile, rich people got big tax breaks. And the middle class kept
most of their subsidies intact. As a result, the Reagan years brought on
a wider gap between rich and poor."
In his 1992 PBS show Listening to America, he asked
candidate Bill Clinton: "What do you think the American people get for
their government? We have no universal health care, we have no federal
guarantee of higher education...The regulatory agencies in many cases
have been gutted...Why not just say `We will have universal health care
and we will raise taxes to pay for it?'" Sounds like he'll feel quite
comfortable reporting to NBC Nightly News Executive Producer Jeff
Gralnick, Press Secretary to then-Senator George McGovern in 1972.
A Platform for "Pagan Tart"
The Tyrannical Pope
Mike Wallace painted the usual media
picture of the Catholic Church on the January 22 60 Minutes: an
oppressively narrow-minded organization that's out of touch with the
modern world. The piece focused on Call to Action, a left-wing group
campaigning to change Church doctrine. "Among the things they challenge
is the Pope's position on birth control, on women becoming priests, and
on priests being able to marry," Wallace asserted, "There's no denying
that for many American Catholics, those teachings have lost their
It's easy to conclude that when Wallace
included 25 soundbites from dissenters while not broadcasting one
pro-doctrine soundbite. Wallace later conceded to the Catholic newspaper
Our Sunday Visitor that "interviews with Harvard law professor Mary Ann
Glendon and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center,
prominent lay Catholics who support Church teaching, were not used
because producers felt the material was too dissimilar to work with
footage from the Call to Action conference."
Wallace characterized the people he
interviewed as "hardly wild-eyed radicals, these people from Call to
Action. They're sober church-workers, nuns and priests, and just plain
concerned Catholics...their ideals formed in the heady age of change
back in the '60s." These "sober" people said some shrill unsober things.
He recalled that one, Edwina Gately, "was described as a devout Catholic
with the tongue of a pagan tart." Gately replied, "Well I'm OK with the
`pagan tart,' it's the `devout Catholic' that worries me."
Wallace reminded her that she once said
"the Vatican is the only tyranny left in the world today." Wallace
talked to Father Mike Flager, who called the Church "spiritually
bankrupt." Activist Joan Chitester said "the Church is becoming more
Wallace also misstated Call to Action's
views, explaining that "In many ways, the people at Call to Action
admire the Pope: his battle against communism, his attacks on
materialism, his demand for justice for the Third World."
But when the communist Sandinistas ruled
Nicaragua in the 1980s, a Call to Action press release touted its
sending $300,000 in food, clothing, and medical supplies to Nicaragua
each month through Quest for Peace to help prop up the bankrupt
Interviews Seven Liberals on the President's Lack of Ideological Resolve
PBS: Clinton Fails the Liberal
The PBS series Frontline promotes itself
with a quote from the Cleveland Plain Dealer describing it as "the crown
jewel and standard-bearer for the mission of public television." But it
is often the crown jewel of the argument that PBS uses taxpayer money to
promote radical-left political analysis at the expense of conservative
A 1993 MediaWatch study of three years of
Frontline found that in seven programs on the environment and eight
programs on race relations, no conservative view was represented. Add to
that history of exclusion the January 31 edition, titled "What Happened
to President Clinton?," which in airing only seven liberal analysts,
earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Frontline has treated Clinton very
differently than Reagan and Bush. In the 1980s, Frontline aired two
programs echoing the claims of the now-defunct Christic Institute, which
claimed a "secret team" ran U.S. foreign policy which carried out the
assassination attempt on Contra leader Eden Pastora and drug running for
the Contras. The Christic claims were thrown out of court as a
"frivolous lawsuit," but Frontline never apologized, even when Pastora's
real assassins were discovered in 1993.
During the Bush years, Frontline ran two
shows asserting the Reagan campaign conspired in 1980 to delay release
of the Iranian hostages to prevent an "October Surprise." Later, the
House and Senate both found the charges were groundless, but Frontline
never apologized. Executive Producer David Fanning claimed the show did
not aim to investigate Republicans, but the regime in power. In the
Clinton era, Frontline's investigative nose for the high and mighty has
gone cold. Despite the wealth of investigative scandal stories --
Whitewater, the travel office, the sex scandals, the Foster suicide, the
commodity trading, and especially the conspiracy theory of Contra drug
running with Clinton's consent in Mena, Arkansas -- Frontline has aired
nothing. One program on October 25 investigated the Agriculture
Department, but presented disgraced Secretary Mike Espy as a force for
reinventing government who "sees himself as a victim of his reforms."
Frontline was less than hard-boiled in "Hillary's Class," exploring the
lives of the First Lady's Wellesley classmates since the 1960s.
To address the Clinton presidency,
Frontline did no investigation, but simply interviewed seven liberals:
journalists Elizabeth Drew, William Greider, Gwen Ifill, David Maraniss,
and Bob Woodward, as well as political analysts Garry Wills and Kevin
Phillips, whose book The Politics of Rich and Poor was a Democratic
Party bestseller. PBS focused on how Clinton had failed to be liberal
enough in three areas: gays in the military, campaign finance reform,
and government "investments" in job training. Coming three months after
a dramatic conservative electoral wave, Frontline's lament displayed how
out of sync it is with the public.
PBS aired no legitimate conservative
analysts, airing only a ranting talk-show host proclaiming of the
President: "He was yellow 25 years ago, and he is a bright shade of
urine maize tonight." A caller then stated: "Lee Harvey Oswald, where
are you? I don't know how else to say it."
Narrator Will Lyman, reading the script
of Sherry Jones, a Frontline veteran and former Democratic Party
activist, answered the program's title question: "In 1992, the American
people elected a man who had campaigned as an outsider. They expected
change. What has happened to Bill Clinton is not about draft-dodging or
Whitewater, but the political choices he made at the beginning. He had
promised to change the money politics of Washington, to reform how the
Congress does business. But within days of his election, the Democratic
barons would travel from Washington to Little Rock to argue their view
of what was possible."
Woodward explained: "You have the old
hands in Washington saying `Look, don't worry about a reform
agenda'...There is a simple reality that campaign finance reform and any
kind of meaningful reform agenda goes over with the odor of a case of
dead skunks in the Congress." Frontline didn't consider the conservative
position, that "campaign finance reform" means preventing
taxpayer-subsidized elections -- less federal involvement, not more.
Jones didn't return MediaWatch calls for comment.
Frontline also lamented: "The conflict
over gays in the military would prove to be a perfect example of
Clinton's method, one which had repeated itself time and again in
Arkansas...He has promised gays he was with them, deferred to the Joint
Chiefs when they appeared. In the end, he would please no one." Garry
Wills argued: "He should have just issued an executive order as
Commander-in-Chief because then anybody who fought with him had to say
`I'm going to disobey' and in our country, luckily, up to now, that's a
fight the President can't lose."
PBS moved on to the "jobs" programs:
"Early on, out of public view, he had thrown away a rare window of
opportunity to do something real about campaign finance reform and out
of public view, he had also thrown away the means to do something real
about jobs...Left out of the [first State of the Union] speech were the
details of a series of crucial decisions that had begun in the weeks
before he was sworn in, compromises that would subvert the promise of
William Greider happily contradicted
eight years of rising median income in the 1980s, declaring Clinton "was
the very first nominee from either party to look directly in the eyes of
the American people and say `I know your wages have been declining for
the last 15 years.'" Frontline explained: "He had confronted the
unhinging of American prosperity and so pledged to steer spending toward
investment in job training and education, to create the kind of economic
growth ordinary people could feel."
But here, too, the left felt betrayed, as
did Frontline: "Surrounded by warring advisers and conflicting advice,
he would postpone his campaign pledge to invest in training and jobs and
side with the financial markets, who wanted the deficit reduced." Still,
Frontline managed some sympathy for Clinton: "`There must be something
nightmarish,' Garry Wills has written, `for a man who wants so badly to
please to find himself so thoroughly hated.' He had created a national
service corps for young people, provided tax credits for the working
poor, cut the deficit so it was no longer growing faster than the
What was truly nightmarish was
Frontline's lack of investigative focus on the Clintons' "money
politics": Whitewater, commodities, or even selling health stocks short
in the White House in early 1993. Why is the only product after two
years a collection of disappointed liberal talking heads? Unlike Reagan
and Bush, Clinton has been given a pass by PBS.
Partisans and Pansies.
The Los Angeles Times saw two very different parties
in its January 1 preview of the new congressional leadership. Senate
Majority Leader Bob Dole is "a feisty partisan," and Majority Whip Trent
Lott will be "the political enforcer who does whatever it takes," which
he "clearly relishes." The "pugnacious" Al D'Amato will "serve as grand
inquisitor" in Whitewater hearings. Newt Gingrich "redefined what it
means to be a partisan warrior," while Majority Leader Dick Armey's
"instincts are perhaps the most aggressive of any Republican in the
But the Democrats were a different breed entirely.
"Mild-mannered" Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle "would seem to be the
least likely person to send into the political ring to battle assertive
Senate Republican leaders like Dole and Lott, who excel at partisan
sparring." House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's "style within the party
tends to be consensus-oriented," while Gingrich-bashing Minority Whip
David Bonior is "a team player with a knack for parliamentary tactics."
Serge at Helms.
Washington Post reporter Serge Kovaleski faxed 16
questions to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) on January 5, including: "What do
you say to Democrats who are happy that you are in such a visible role
because they plan to use you as an example of how the GOP is laden with
extremists who are out of touch with the country?" And, "Why have you
chosen to be so virulent and controversial in language and tone in your
attacks on such issues as homosexuality, AIDS, the arts, and U.S.
involvement in Haiti. Isn't there an approach you could take that would
be viewed as less offensive to some groups and give you more
credibility?" Helms replied: "The tone of your question emphasizes why
so many citizens neither respect The Washington Post nor believe very
much of what the Post reports."
Kovaleski also queried: "Because the chairmanship is
such a high-profile position, will you be more conscious, if not
restrained, about the public comments you make?" Helms retorted, "I'll
be at least as restrained as a U.S. Senator as The Washington Post is as
Minimum Debate on Wages.
Who works for minimum wage? CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews
led viewers to believe it's mostly working adults. In a January 20
Evening News segment, Andrews reported: "When you work at the minimum
wage or just above it, when you are a sewing factory worker like Joanne
Meyers or Theola Ward, 35 more dollars a week is real money....Joanne
and Theola are the kind of low-skilled working adults the Clinton
Administration wants to help." Yet, the Employment Policies Institute,
ignored by CBS, has contended: "More than 50 percent of those working at
the minimum wage are between 16 and 24 years old. Thirty percent are
teenagers while more than 63 percent work only part time."
Andrews later declared: "The truth is, this minimum
wage debate isn't about economics anymore. This is straight politics.
This is a clash between Republicans and Democrats over whose vision
creates the most prosperity for America's middle class."
Whose vision did CBS support? While Andrews allow-ed a
factory manager to note that a hike would lead to layoffs, liberal
economist Jeff Faux, who along with Labor Secretary Robert Reich created
the Economic Policy Institute, defined the debate: "The Democrats see an
issue that can win back the poor and frightened voter...while the
Republican appeal, he says, is aimed at the top." Opposing economists?
None. Instead, Andrews asked which vision Ward preferred. She answered:
"Give me the 35 dollars."
Liberal? Who Me? CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather
took offense at being labeled a liberal in a column in the Rochester
[MN] Post-Bulletin written by Professor Thomas Ostrom. Rather responded
in a letter to Ostrom: "As far as your labeling of me as a liberal, I'm
not sure where you (or anyone else) get such ideas, since I've never
discussed my politics in public or private except to say that I voted
for Eisenhower twice. I suspect that such labels -- in my case as well
as others' -- are less the product of what I've said than of what others
have said about me."
Let's refresh Rather's memory with this quote from the
February 1989 Evening News. "President Bush said last night our first
obligation is to the most vulnerable: infants, poor mothers, children
living in poverty. Those sentiments clash with the reality of a decade
which has found the federal government offering school children less
food for thought." Not sounding like an Eisenhower voter, Rather
authored a partisan attack for The Nation's April 11, 1994 issue: "Gays
and lesbians are beaten to death in the streets with increasing
frequency -- in part due to irrational fear of AIDS but also because
hatemongers, from comedians to the worst of the Christian right, send
the message that homosexuals have no value in our society. Sometimes
that message has a major-party affiliation and a request for a campaign
contribution. In the post-cold war era, gays have been drafted to
replace communists as the new menace to the American way."
Slandering a Movement.
The murder of two abortion clinic workers by John
Salvi in late December led re- porters to lump violent criminals with
nonviolent pro-life activists. Jane Pauley teased a Jan. 3 Dateline NBC
piece: "Still ahead, the latest round of bloodshed and violence at
abortion clinics. The anti-abortion movement has been creeping to the
edge of bloody fanaticism for a decade."
ABC's Linda Pattillo promoted the theory of a national
anti-abortion conspiracy -- "an organized campaign of domestic
terrorism" -- on the January 20 World News Tonight. "Abortion rights
advocates say this night, 15 months ago, was a turning point when the
national debate over abortion turned into a war. They call it the night
of the living dead -- an abortion protest outside the home of a
Milwaukee doctor that ended in death threats." But Pattillo had to
conclude: "The federal government has yet to prove a nationwide
conspiracy exists." Despite the disappointing lack of facts, CBS
reporter David Culhane presented a new poll on the January 8 Evening
News: "Three out of four Americans say the protest tactics of some
anti-abortion activists can be blamed for leading to the recent
shootings at several abortion clinics." Culhane didn't consider the
impact the media had on public opinion by smearing the pro-life movement
with a broad brush.
Contract on the Contract.
Newsweek's newest feature is the "Contract Watch," a
weekly scorecard about Congress' work on the GOP's Contract with
America. The January 23 issue examined the impact of passing the
Balanced Budget Amendment. A chart listed each state, alongside the
percent of the state budget received from the federal government, and
the "percentage taxes would increase to maintain services." For example,
the chart listed Michigan as receiving 30 percent of its state budget
from the federal government. Newsweek's chart shows it will have to
increase taxes 13.2 percent to maintain services.
Newsweek's speculative math assumed raising taxes is
the only way to make up for decreasing federal cash. But the February 6
U.S. News & World Report looked at the fiscal health of the states and
found many "finished last year with their biggest budget surpluses since
1989. State tax revenues are expected to rise by $14 billion, or a
healthy 5.6 percent, in 1995. And 22 states felt rich enough to cut tax
rates this fiscal year." In fact, it lists Michigan as having a 13.1
percent budgetary surplus. Even if Michigan maintained its spending
level, it would hardly have to raise taxes as Newsweek's chart insists.
Newsweek never published a chart citing the percentage taxes would
increase in each state to fund the Clinton health plan.
Joe Slovo, Communist Hero.
The peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa came
about despite a half-century of communist attempts to provoke an armed
revolution. That didn't stop ABC from lionizing one of South Africa's
communist leaders as a democrat. On January 15, Carole Simpson
proclaimed: "South Africa buried a hero today. Joe Slovo, who died of
cancer at the age of 68 earlier this month. Slovo was a white man who
spent a lifetime fighting to abolish apartheid, and he lived to see his
dream come true." Reporter Nathan Thomas, while admitting that Slovo was
a communist, labeled him "a hero to black South Africans," and after
listing problems with the Mandela government, maintained: "Slovo's
burial in a Soweto cemetery is a reminder of one more problem --
mortality...the new South Africa will have to learn to get along without
the old guard of the revolution."
ABC never mentioned Slovo's violent career. According
to Who's Who in South African Politics by Shelagh Gastrow, Slovo was "an
active member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) from the
1940's....one of the earliest members of the military wing of the ANC,
Umkhonto we Sizwe, [he] regularly attended meetings of its high
command." Slovo remained "Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe" though
the 1980s, as the group endorsed necklacing, the placing of burning
tires over the necks of political opponents. Fortunately for South
Africa, Slovo's violent vision of "revolution" never materialized.
Since the rejection of liberalism in last fall's
elections, the mainstream media have blamed "demagogues" on talk radio
for turning voters into mindless sheep who voted Republican. Dan Rather
declared on the January 4 CBS Evening News: "The surge to the right on
Capitol Hill is making waves all over the country on openly politically
partisan and sometimes racist radio." NBC's Bob Faw wondered January 3
if "talk radio is not democracy in action, but democracy run amok." The
cover of the January 23 Time asked "Is Rush Limbaugh Good for America?"
Inside, Richard Corliss began with a mock monologue from a liberal host:
"This is Rash Lambaste, the liberals' Limbaugh, with all the news you
need to know. Well, we just heard another beaut from Newt. The Speaker
hired a House historian who thought Nazism should be taught in schools.
That's good sound Republicanism: instead of condoms, let's distribute SS
Corliss claimed: "What's new is that today the radio
rightists are wired into the political process. In 1994 the scream rose
to the top. These fervent spiels, in which we heard America slinging,
stinging, cajoling, annoying, persuading, finally transformed the social
dialogue." Rather than praise voters for being energized by political
discourse on radio, he portrayed listeners as dupes: "Like the backyard
savants, barroom agitators, and soapbox spellbinders of an earlier era,
Limbaugh & Co. bring intimacy and urgency to an impersonal age." CNN's
Frank Sesno exemplified this disdain for alternate information sources,
claiming during CNN Presents on Jan. 22 that talk radio "injects more
heat than light into the political discourse. Call it Rush to judgement."
Perhaps voters were simply tired of the "social dialogue" and "fervent
spiels" favoring big government from the networks and news magazines.
SDI and Pizza Pie.
In the January 16 Time, in keeping with tradition, the
editors ran a piece in the Chronicles section criticizing the new
Congress for seeking to fund the Strategic Defense Initiative. "The
antimissile system has long been derided as a military-industrial
boondoggle, a locus of Pentagon waste and trumped-up test data." The
only positive effect Time could find was, "that the $30 billion the U.S.
has already invested...has generated a new type of plastic that will
keep home delivered pizzas `hot and crisp for two hours'...That works
out to $3.75 a pie." Time failed to note another product of SDI research
were upgrades in the Patriot missile defense system, which saved lives
in the Gulf War, not pizzas.
Try this quote from the September 28, 1989 Evening
News: "A political showdown vote in the U.S. House of Representatives
today on economics. A vote to support President Bush's idea to cut the
capital gains tax for the wealthy. Sixty-four Democrats bucked their own
House leaders, abandoned them, and joined the Republicans to support the
measure. Mr. Bush says that cutting the capital gains tax for the
wealthy will boost the economy and create jobs. Opponents don't believe
that, and they call it simply a tax giveaway for the wealthy."More
recently, Dan stamped himself with the liberal label by his comments to
President Clinton during a CBS affiliates meeting in May 1993. Rather
said, "If we could be one-hundreth as great as you and Hillary Rodham
Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk
away winners...Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her
and we're pulling got her."
Networks Which Ignored Wright Now Barely Touch
Tom Daschle and Ron Brown Scandals
The Newt-Centric Media Universe
Eric Engberg's February 1 CBS Evening News story could
turn out to be the reference work on Newt Gingrich book deal stories. It
had everything: The spectacle of Gingrich getting a taste of his own
medicine; comparisons of Gingrich's situation with the man he forced
into resignation, former Speaker Jim Wright; and allegations of
influence-buying from "old-style press baron" Rupert Murdoch, Gingrich's
publisher. After criticism from liberal Common Cause head Fred
Wertheimer (labeled a "government reform advocate"), Engberg put the
burden on Gingrich: "Speaker Gingrich, who could end the controversy by
scuttling the book deal, is standing fast." To determine the amount of
Gingrich book deal coverage compared to Democratic controversies,
MediaWatch analysts reviewed the four network evening news shows (ABC's
World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly
News) for the six-week period from December 22 to February 2. Analysts
identified 27 book deal stories (seven each for all but CNN which aired
six). That's a far different pattern of coverage from that given to then
Speaker Jim Wright, as well as many other Democratic scandals. Scandal
crowded out substance: the book deal drew more network coverage than the
Balanced Budget Amendment debate.
The networks first reported the book deal on December
22. "We'll hear more about this one," CBS' Bob Schieffer promised. Of
the 27 book deal stories, six mentioned the case of Speaker Wright,
either by comparing Democratic attacks on Gingrich to Gingrich's attacks
on Wright, or by noting that both stories involved book deals.
Gingrich's comparison of his deal to Al Gore's book deal made it into
only two stories.
NBC led off the January 19 Nightly News with Lisa
Myers, who gave Wright's side of the story: "Former Speaker Jim Wright,
whom Gingrich helped bring down, said Gingrich has only himself to
blame." Myers quoted Wright's statement: "Gingrich has sewn [sic] the
seeds of hate whose weeds now threaten his own garden." ABC's John
Cochran reported January 20: "Gingrich defended himself, saying he has
nothing in common with former Democratic speaker Jim Wright, who
resigned after Gingrich led an attack on Wright's deal to write a book."
None of the six stories mentioning Wright detailed the
charges that forced him to quit. While Gingrich's deal was made with a
reputable publisher, HarperCollins, Wright's book was published by a
former campaign worker who gave Wright a royalty arrangement of 55
percent, four times the industry standard. Books were sold in bulk to
lobbying groups such as the Fertilizer Institute as a way around
congressional limits on honoraria income.
Washington Post reporter Charles Babcock broke the
Wright book story on September 24, 1987. A 1988 MediaWatch study (which
didn't include CNN) found the three networks ran no stories on the
allegations during the five months following, despite a Gingrich press
conference on February 19, 1988.
The pattern of evading Democratic scandals wasn't
limited to Wright:
House Bank: On February 7, 1990, The Washington Post
reported the General Accounting Office had discovered $232,000 in bad
checks at the bank, overseen by Speaker Thomas Foley. The four networks
did their first story on October 3, 1991, almost two years later, and
two weeks after the newspaper Roll Call set the print media afire with
House Post Office. In February 1992, The Washington
Times reported possible illegalities at the post office, including
exchanging stamps for cash and the selling of cocaine. In the entire two
years before Ways and Means Chairman Rostenkowski was indicted on
corruption charges in May 1994, the networks aired only 31 stories on
his possible crimes. Seven of those asked how the allegations might hurt
Clinton's agenda. On July 19, 1993 NBC's Lisa Myers lamented: "Formal
charges against Rostenkowski would be an ominous sign for President
Clinton's domestic agenda. Rostenkowski's formidable skills are critical
to passage of both deficit reduction and health reform." The Gingrich
agenda didn't receive similar concern. Of the 27 stories on Newt's deal,
only three noted any impact the controversy might have on passing the
Daschle. On October 16, 1994, New York Times reporter
Neil A. Lewis reported allegations against Senate Minority Leader Tom
Daschle, who has been accused of intervening with airline safety
regulators on behalf of a friend and contributor, Murl Bellew, owner of
B&L Aviation of Rapid City, South Dakota. He followed up on the story
three times. Yet from the Times story through February 6 none of the
evening shows touched it, even after Daschle became Senate Minority
Leader. CBS's 60 Minutes did run a tough Mike Wallace piece on February
Brown. The Jan. 14 Washington Post raised questions
about Commerce Secretary Ron Brown failing to report income from a
failed business bailed out by taxpayers. Despite numerous follow-up
stories and congressional demands that he resign, ABC, CBS and NBC aired
only one story, the first 13 days later on January 27. (CNN Prime News
did one piece, but World News did nothing through Feb. 2.)
Cisneros. On January 12, Attorney General Janet Reno
extended the deadline for indictment proceedings against HUD Secretary
Henry Cisneros, accused of lying to the FBI about the size of payments
he made to a mistress. The network evening news shows aired nothing.
(While CNN's Inside Politics aired the story January 12 and 13, they
also reported January 11 that Samuel Pierce, Reagan's HUD Secretary,
admitted some blame for the Reagan-era housing scandals.)
Yet the networks devoted ten stories to what Newt's
mother whispered to Connie Chung (including four anchor-read stories
marking Mrs. Gingrich's visit to the White House). That's more coverage
than all the current allegations against Democrats combined, which
generated just three.
The debate over the Balanced Budget Amendment merited
22 evening stories January 1-31. That's five fewer stories than the book
deal. Apparently, the media were preoccupied with that other contract.
The story was perfect for reporters looking for the old stereotype of
Newt Gingrich, partisan slasher. Bruce Morton employed it on the January
5 CNN World News: "So is he the New Statesman, or the old Mighty Morphin
Power Ranger of the GOP?"
the Bright Side
Regulation: A Burden?
Rather than the normal piece highlighting the need for
tougher regulations to protect people from evil corporations, CBS
reporter Terence Smith shed some light on how the government has
overburdened and overregulated society with ridiculous rules.
In a January 15 Sunday Morning piece Smith introduced
viewers to New York attorney Philip Howard whose new book "argues that
common sense is the principal casualty in regulatory law." The book,
Smith explained, supplies "a compilation of regulatory horror stories,
both outrageous and inane." Howard illustrated his point with several
stories, including one involving Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of
Charity, who wanted to rehabilitate an abandoned building in order to
provide a shelter for 64 homeless men. Yet, no one could waive a city
code requiring what would be an expensive and useless elevator in the
building, and so Mother Teresa went elsewhere.
Smith also told his audience the story of Lancaster,
New Hampshire, where "the federal government is insisting that the town,
population 3,500, spend twice its annual budget for a water treatment
plant that residents say they can't afford and don't need." The town
says it can install a simpler system to assure safe drinking water for
around $30,000. Allowing time for the other side, Smith gave EPA
administrator Carol Browner the chance to respond to the town planner's
charge that federal regulators wouldn't listen to him.
In an example of how overlapping regulations conflict,
Smith cited the case of the Parks Sausage Company of Baltimore:
"Agriculture Department regulations require this floor to be washed
repeatedly during the day. But occupational safety rules insist that it
be dry so workers will not slip."
Smith concluded: "By one estimate, the body of
regulatory law now totals some 100 million words. And whether it's
applied to small business, or small towns, common sense says, that's too
CNN's Bill Schneider on the Contract
Call Him Mr. Flip-Flop
To CNN political analyst William Schneider, the impact
of the GOP "Contract with America" seems to be whatever fits the
conventional wisdom of the day.
Two weeks after 350 Republicans signed the Contract,
Schneider suggested on the October 10 Inside Politics: "Newt Gingrich
may be doing the President a little bit of a favor....Instead of a
national referendum on Clinton, the Democrats want this to be a national
referendum on going back to Reaganomics. And I think the Contract with
America may play into their hands."
He seconded that emotion on the October 14 Inside
Politics: "Republicans did Mr. Clinton a favor....Democrats don't see a
lot to vote for in this election, but the Republicans have given the
next best thing to the Democrats which is something to vote against."
But after the historic GOP gains in the November 8
elections, Schneider awarded the Contract and its mastermind Newt
Gingrich with the political "Play of the Year." On the December 22 "Year
in Review" special on politics, he gushed: "It had all the qualities we
look for in a brilliant political maneuver. It was bold, it was risky,
the stakes were high, and, it worked. It was the House Republicans'
Contract with America...It was a great play and it had a great payoff.
The Contract not only brought the Republicans to victory, it also gave
them something President Clinton can no longer claim: a mandate."
Yet by the time Judy Woodruff asked him on the January
3 Inside Politics, "So what happened to that famous Republican mandate
we were hearing about in November?" he reversed his position yet again:
"Well Judy, consider this. Just a little more than one-third of the
public has ever even heard of the Republican Contract with America. Over
60 percent say they don't know anything about it. The Contract was not a
big factor in the election last November."
Finally, prior to President Clinton's January 24 State
of the Union address, Schneider flip-flopped once more: "There are a lot
of people who've noticed that the spotlight has shifted to Newt
Gingrich, as if he were the President. Newt Gingrich does have an
agenda, and he did get a mandate along with the House Republicans
because of the Contract with America out of the 1994 elections." We
await his next flip.
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