Newt-Bashing TV Reporters Spend February Ignoring Democratic Scandals
Nap Time for Network News
The networks devoted 27 stories to Newt Gingrich's
book deal in the six weeks ending February 1, to only three on Commerce
Secretary Ron Brown. February brought fewer Gingrich stories, but
Democratic scandals were barely touched. Except for Brown, no Democratic
ethics issue got more than one story on any one of the four evening news
Ethical questions about Gingrich's "Newt Inc."
conglomerate of political enterprises generated five stories, two from
NBC's Lisa Myers. On February 23 and 24, ABC's John Martin filed lengthy
reports totaling over six minutes, and on February 23 CBS's Bob
Schieffer focused on Gingrich's college course getting free time on a
All four covered the Justice Department's February 16
opening of an investigation into Brown's finances. Dan Rather sounded
almost regretful: "New legal trouble tonight for a widely respected
member of President Clinton's cabinet." But curiosity quickly ebbed. NBC
followed up with two stories, CBS and CNN World News with a story each.
In all, the networks devoted eight stories to Brown in February. Even
the revelation in the February 25 Washington Post that NBC had forgiven
a $10 million loan defaulted on by a partnership including Brown failed
to pique their curiosity, although questions about federal regulation of
Fox drove the Gingrich book story.
Only CBS reported on the new Bill Clinton biography by
Washington Post writer David Maraniss, which confirmed what The American
Spectator revealed about women and state troopers over a year ago. The
release of the list of contributors to Clinton's legal defense fund was
noted briefly by NBC (CBS's Bill Plante also mentioned it in his
Maraniss story.) Only CBS updated the case against Agriculture Secretary
Mike Espy on February 12.
Despite a 60 Minutes story to which Senate Minority
Leader Tom Daschle issued a 31-page denial on February 17, the networks
continued to ignore allegations that he intervened with federal airline
regulators on behalf of a friend's company that suffered a deadly crash
At month's end, a grand jury indicted Neil Ainley,
former President of an Arkansas bank, for concealing 1990 Clinton
gubernatorial campaign withdrawals. CNN aired a Wolf Blitzer piece on
February 28, but no other network noted the Whitewater development.
CBS, CNN, and NBC did highlight Reagan Interior
Secretary James Watt being charged with perjury and obstruction of
justice February 22. That same day, a grand jury indicted former Rep.
Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) for check-kiting at the House Bank. Only CNN
ran a brief anchor-read story.
Clinton's CBS Adviser
What do you do after running a network news division?
If you're former NBC News President Michael Gartner you write a weekly
USA Today column espousing liberal views. If you're David Burke,
President of CBS News from 1988 to 1990 and Vice President of ABC News
for the 11 years before that, you travel the country dispensing advice
to liberal politicians.
Last October The Boston Globe reported that Burke was
"traveling with" Senator Ted Kennedy "on the campaign trail and advising
him on strategy." Now he's helping President Clinton. A February 28 Wall
Street Journal piece explored how Clinton "is searching outside the
White House for savvy advice on ways to counter Republicans on issues
from the Contract with America to affirmative action." Reporter Michael
Frisby noted that in a February trip to California, Clinton "brought
along former CBS News chief David Burke to provide political and
communications tips." Burke's returning to his Democratic roots: from
1965 to 1971 he served as Chief of Staff to Senator Kennedy.
ABC's of Job Creation
When former ABC News correspondent Kathleen deLaski
went on maternity leave last September, the Department of Defense hired
Kenneth Bacon, a Wall Street Journal reporter, to replace her. He filled
her slot as Chief Public Affairs Officer until Secretary William Perry
eliminated it and Bacon became Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
With her old position effectively taken, the February 17 Washington
Times relayed a Defense Week story about how deLaski created a new one
for herself as Deputy to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Liaison. She told the defense weekly that she worked "two to four hours
a week" during maternity leave to set up the shop. At ABC deLaski held
an on-air spot in the Washington bureau from 1988 through the Spring of
Back to Brinkley
The first Sunday in February marked the start of
Dorrance Smith's second run as Executive Producer of This Week with
David Brinkley. The Executive Producer of This Week when it was launched
in 1981, Smith ran the show through 1989, when he took the same title at
Nightline, where he remained until jumping to the White House. From
early 1991 through the end of Bush's term, Smith served as Assistant to
the President for Media Affairs.
Nets Hire Republicans
What a difference an election makes. Weeks after the
November returns came in, ABC and NBC hired aides to retiring House
Minority Leader Bob Michel to lobby for them in Washington. Capital
Cities/ABC named William Pitts, Chief of Staff to Michel and a 25-year
GOP Capitol Hill veteran, as Vice President for Government Affairs.
Pitts replaced Mark MacCarthy, formerly a professional staff member in
the 1980s for the Democratically-controlled House Energy and Commerce
NBC tapped Bob Okun, floor assistant and Senate
liaison for Michel, as Vice President for Government Relations. Roll
Call recited Okun's Republican resume: Assistant Secretary for
Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the Department of Education
under Lamar Alexander; Executive Director of the House Republican
Conference, the House Republican Policy Committee, and the House
Republican Research Committee.
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 travel section.
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.
The Foster Disaster
Most reporters smelled a GOP gambit to
avoid the issue that's always a sure loser in the media conventional
wisdom: "That's a question that's allowed the President's political
opponents to steer clear of the sensitive issue of abortion, to focus
instead on credibility," Cokie Roberts intoned on the February 8
NBC Today's Jim Miklaszewski weighed in
on February 9: "Clinton aides admit they...would ultimately win the war
of public opinion over choice and help push Republicans further right
from center." On February 15, as Foster's nomination began to slip,
Connie Chung declared it a disaster -- for the GOP. "Republican use of
the abortion issue against Dr. Henry Foster's nomination as Surgeon
General seems to be backfiring tonight. The deep stress cracks over
abortion policy are now starting to show inside the Republican Party."
Some reporters simply reserved stories
for Foster's supporters. On the February 10 World News Tonight, ABC's
George Strait said "Today, physicians around the country joined that
fight, defending him, saying his record has been badly misrepresented."
If anyone did that, it was the media.
In another unanimous story on February
13, Gwen Ifill asserted "Foster is known as a distinguished physician
who helped rescue Meharry Medical College from the brink of extinction
and helped found `I Have a Future,' a program designed to discourage
teenagers from having babies....His supporters are bewildered that the
church-going pillar of the community they know has somehow become a
national symbol in the battle over abortion."
Never reported was the ob-gyn program at
Meharry lost its accreditation in 1990 while Foster was at its helm. The
"I Have A Future" program is also in question. The director refused to
provide statistics to prove its success to The Washington Times.
Time Decries "Elimination" of Nutrition
Programs as Actual Spending Continues to Soar
The Magazine That Cried Wolf
The March 2, 1981 issue of Time magazine came with a
cover that read "The Ax Falls." In the 14 years since that metaphorical
ax fell, symbolizing deep Reagan budget cuts, the annual federal budget
has increased by $1 trillion. But the panicked tone of coverage -- that
federal programs will be gutted, even eliminated -- remains the same.
The March 6, 1995 Time recycled the tone of the early
Reagan era. Under a heart-tugging picture of a tot in a grocery cart,
Time's headline asked "To Be Leaner or Meaner? A congressional proposal
to eliminate nutrition programs raises an outcry." For obscuring the
actual increases in federal nutrition spending under anti-conservative
hype, Time earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Senior Writer Elizabeth Gleick began the article with
anecdotes of poor children who didn't get breakfast until they arrived
at school, followed by a school administrator warning: "If they cut this
program, I don't know what [the children] are going to do."
Acknowledging free-market economist Milton Friedman's maxim "there's no
such thing as a free lunch," Time asserted: "But the costs of the
National School Lunch Act, passed in 1946, also yields real benefits. It
enables around 14 million children to eat nutritious lunches for free or
reduced prices at a total cost to taxpayers of $4.454 billion. But not
since the notorious condiment incident of 1981, when the Reagan
administration attempted to reclassify catsup and pickles as vegetables,
has this aid been in such jeopardy."
Time allowed that "Republicans contend that truly
needy children will continue to receive benefits," followed by a quote
from Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.): "The American public expects us to cut
spending...but I don't think they expect us to make war on kids." For
maximum effect, Time highlighted Obey's quote in large letters under a
picture of two school girls eating.
Gleick emphasized: "The flaws in the proposal,
children's advocates insist, are many and terrifying....In addition to
removing the nutrition programs from federal supervision, the proposed
changes also sharply slice the total amount of money available by $860
million in fiscal 1996 and $7 billion over five years."
But that doesn't match the actual GOP plan, which The
Washington Times reported increases the school lunch program from $4.5
billion to $4.7 billion next year, and adds $200 million each year
through 1999. The "cut" is a drop in the rate of growth from 5.2 percent
to 4.5 percent for 1996. How can this be compared to the question of
"leaner or meaner," the plan to "eliminate nutrition programs," to "make
war on kids"?
Time also played a subtle game in labeling their
sources: the liberals in the story -- Rep. David Obey, the Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities, and Larry Brown -- were "advocacy groups
for the poor" and "children's advocates," while the Heritage
Foundation's Robert Rector was a "conservative" bent on "retrenchment."
The article quoted Susan Steinmetz of the "welfare-reform division at
the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, an advocacy group for the
poor. `One couldn't find a more ill-advised proposal. It's amazing.'"
Gleick continued: "Retrenchment, however seems to be precisely the idea.
Conservatives contend that free food has done little to solve the
problems plaguing the nation."
Heritage analyst Robert Rector told Time: "Go into any
housing project and you don't see kids bent over with rickets. You see
strong young men who are a danger to themselves and their community."
Rector has written that by selling a false picture of
starving children, liberal groups are distracting public attention from
the real problems of poor kids: family breakdown, crime, no role models.
But Time omitted Rector's more relevant argument: that Agriculture
Department studies have found that rich children and poor children have
very similar nutritional intakes, and that the top nutrition-related
problem with poor children is obesity. Instead, Gleick used liberal
activists to paint an entirely different picture: "The idea that these
gains may be rolled back has alarmed some children's advocates.
Predicted J. Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger, Poverty, and
Nutrition Policy at Tufts University: 'We're going to see levels of
damage that we have not seen in 40 or 50 years.'" Time failed to note
that Brown's Tufts center has estimated the number of hungry American
children at 12 million, twice as high as previous liberal activist
estimates, citing as a source the Census Bureau, which has completed no
studies of hunger in America.
"That's pretty outrageous," Rector told MediaWatch
about Time's claim of billion-dollar cuts in nutrition programs. "They
didn't cut anything. Time is part of that Washington abuse of the
language that perpetually confuses the voters. WIC [Women's, Infant's,
Children's food subsidies] actually received an increase, too. What they
don't tell you is these programs are eligible to people making 185
percent of the poverty line, or $27,000 for a family of four. That
family will pay $6,000 in taxes. Why not let them keep that money,
instead of taking it and giving it back?"
As for the school lunch program, Rector told
MediaWatch: "These programs are lavish subsidies to middle-class
schools, even children of millionaires. Twenty or thirty percent of the
funds are going to children of those who make more than $30,000 a year.
They are extraordinarily inefficient in their targeting. Every time the
Republicans propose to fix that, the school lunch managers fight it,
because more affluent schools will drop out of the program."
When asked for comment, Gleick referred MediaWatch to
Washington bureau reporter Ann Blackman, who failed to return repeated
phone calls. Ironically, in 1981, the Reagan administration had proposed
a 29 percent reduction in school lunch funds instead of the present plan
for increases, but in the October 12, 1981 Time, reporter George Church
wrote "the school program has now grown to the point where it benefits
students who are in little danger of starving," and cited examples like
affluent Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where "the school board knows that
more than a few parents lied about family income or exaggerated the
number of their dependents in order to qualify for free or reduced-price
But in 1995, Time's journalistic approach is not about
balance, and it's not about exploring the nuances of a program to make
it work more efficiently. It's about intimidating Republicans out of
reducing federal spending (as if they were doing that in this case) by
showing heart-tugging pictures of grade-school victims and quoting
"children's advocates" warning of massive "damage." It's the kind of
journalism that warns of an ax falling, but the ax never falls.
Living in a Radio-Free Cave
A small item up front in the February 20 U.S. News &
World Report read: "Until word leaked last week that former New York
Gov. Mario Cuomo will soon have a weekly radio show, former Texas
Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower's show was a lone liberal outpost
in the conservative world of syndicated talk radio." Rush Limbaugh, G.
Gordon Liddy, and Michael Reagan may attract the most listeners, but
Hightower is not the only liberal syndicated talk host. Liberals with
daily national shows include Tom Leykis, Alan Colmes and Jerry Brown, to
say nothing of moderates, such as Jim Bohannon and Gil Gross.
With Republican presidential candidates promising to
end affirmative action, the networks have taken to heart Newsweek
Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas's post-election lament: "This is a
rotten time to be black."
Carole Simpson targeted the Republicans on the
February 19 World News Sunday: "Today three leading contenders for the
Republican presidential nomination, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm and Lamar
Alexander, all said they would eliminate affirmative action as it's now
practiced. Affirmative action is under attack, not just in Congress, but
in the courts. ABC's Jim Angle looks at how one decision devastated one
business community." Angle surveyed the damage in Virginia: "Richmond is
more than 50 percent black, and in the early 1980s had set aside a third
of city contracts for minorities. But in 1989, the Supreme Court said
that figure was arbitrary and, therefore, unconstitutional....Now
[Richmond] has a 16 percent goal for minority contracts. But in the four
years without guarantees, minority share of city contracts plunged from
35 percent to one percent."
According to Angle, black businessmen just can't make
it without government: "Without government setting an example, these
businessmen say the private sector will simply ignore them." He
continued, "Minority businessmen here say their experience makes it
clear that without affirmative action, even those who want to work will
be left on the outside looking in." Angle failed to note that in
Richmond, blacks are on the inside, not the outside: the city manager is
black, and of the nine members of the City Council, three are white and
six are black, including the Mayor, who also serves on the Council.
Nightly Parade of Victims
In his March 2 radio commentary, ABC anchor Peter
Jennings lectured listeners: "A Balanced Budget Amendment, even if
passed and ratified, wouldn't really cut a single penny of
spending...That would require difficult choices." World News Tonight
isn't helping by running four almost or totally one-sided stories on the
"victims" of proposed budget cuts.
On January 25, reporter Bill Blakemore debunked
Republican arts cuts: "In Kentucky, money from the National Endowment
for the Arts means thousands of kids pay only $4 instead of $20 to see a
live symphony....Most of the NEA's $167 million budget goes to such
programs that make art accessible to ordinary Americans." As for public
broadcasting, he added "cutting federal support would jeopardize many
programs about Kentucky life, and 6,000 hours of instructional
Reporter Ken Kashiwahara defended student aid on
February 14, summarizing the plight of the James family: "no federal
help -- no college." Kashiwahara concluded the family was "praying not
only that [daughter] Lindsay will qualify for student loan programs, but
that the programs will still exist." Michele Norris reported February
24: "Public housing programs were hardest of those hit when Republicans
took the axe to federal spending." She quoted an angry public housing
resident and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and listed the benefits cut
because "the Republicans carved out nearly $17 billion dollars."
On March 4, World News Saturday anchor Barry Serafin
warned: "Budget cutting fever inspired by Speaker Gingrich and the new
Republican Congress has infected government at all levels." Reporter Ned
Potter focused on New York state, where "many small programs are getting
lost in the shuffle, programs that may actually save money in the long
run." He interviewed two recipients of state programs, and dismissed
charity: "At this church food bank, organizers worry they will be
overwhelmed with hungry people if government programs die."
Hailing Clinton's Helper
In eulogizing former Senator J. William Fulbright,
reporters embellished some aspects of his record, while failing to
report others. In a February 20 Newsweek article titled "A Politician of
Principle," Jonathan Alter declared that Fulbright, "whose withering
questions during televised hearings helped to change the mind of the
nation, will be remembered for his principled opposition to U.S. policy
What in Alter's mind made him so principled? Alter
wrote: "He was right on Joseph McCarthy (denouncing him early),
embarrassingly wrong on civil rights (the major blemish on his record)
and prescient on world affairs." So prescient that he opposed efforts to
fight communism both at home and abroad.
While all the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN) and
the major news magazines (Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report)
mentioned Fulbright's connection to Clinton, none reported what David
Maraniss wrote in his biography on Clinton, First in His Class: "Lee
Williams, Fulbright's chief aide, a graduate of the University of
Arkansas Law School, had several contacts there and worked the telephone
from his Capitol Hill office trying to arrange Clinton's enrollment (in
the ROTC program)," which Maraniss noted had become a "safe haven for
students looking to avoid the draft."
Right-Wing Radical Nuts
Equating the lethargy of past Democrat-controlled
Congresses with "governing," Time and Newsweek have denounced the
energetic pace of newly-elected House Republicans. Describing attempts
by Republican freshman to include a three-fifths vote for tax increases
under the Balanced Budget Amendment, the magazines exhausted the
thesaurus for negative labels. In the February 6 issue, under the
headline "The `Shiites' of the House," Newsweek's Thomas Rosenstiel
declared: "The Gingrich Republicans won control of Congress with the hot
rhetoric popular on talk radio. Now they can't help but govern the same
Rosenstiel summarized the freshmen: "Most....aren't as
bombastic as [Rep. Bob] Dornan or as bitter as [Majority Leader Dick]
Armey...But they tend to be fiercely ideological and unyielding."
Rosenstiel claimed the "real threat" to the Amendment were "dogmatic
freshmen," the "radicals" and "renegades" insisting on a three-fifths
vote for higher taxes. Rosenstiel called freshmen attempting to repeal
the assault weapons ban "gun zealots."
More Right-Wing Radical Nuts
Time's February 6 headline on the freshmen read: "A
zealous crop of House freshmen wants to yank the agenda rightward."
Senior Writer Richard Lacayo singled out "the shock troops of the
revolution, they were hard to the right and unbeholden to the new order.
Almost half of them had never held office of any kind before." Lacayo
called Republicans who opposed a supermajority to raise taxes
"moderates," while tagging those who tried to make it harder to raise
taxes "radicals" and "the Jacobins of this revolution." Incumbents
weren't immune from labels either. Profiling Budget Committee Chairman
John Kasich (R-Ohio) in the February 27 Time, Karen Tumulty wrote that
freshmen seeking to cut government spending "learned their radical ideas
were not quite as radical as the chairman's." Reporters who find
opposition to raising taxes so "radical" could also be labeled -- as
Women Weren't Oppressed?
The fallen communist governments of Eastern Europe are
best remembered for oppressing their citizens, yet some in the media
have engaged in historical revisionism to denigrate the area's new
regimes. The latest example came from Boston Globe staff reporter
Elizabeth Neuffer, whose February 12 article on the progress of women
declared: "As people from eastern Germany to Hungary reel under the
impact of their move to capitalism, which has produced double-digit
inflation and unemployment, it is women who are feeling that
transition's sharpest bite."
What made the communist era special? According to
Neuffer, "Women were expected to work, so were guaranteed jobs. They
were also to produce children, so were given a vast array of social
services." About one of those social services no longer available,
Neuffer wrote: "Abortion had been freely available in place of
contraception. Now, in Poland, a woman has the right to an abortion only
if she is raped or her life is in danger. In Germany, the former East
and West are still quarreling over the issue."
Neuffer concluded: "Across Eastern Europe, women find
that from abortion rights to economic status the world in which they
live and work is not what they anticipated five years ago. While few
want a return to communism, most are convinced that capitalism is still
essentially a man's world."
Best in the Business?
The March American Journalism Review (AJR) included
its annual "Best in the Business" awards. Selected by a survey of 1,000
subscribers to the magazine read by reporters, editors and producers,
the list of winners reads more like the "Best of the Left." Newly
installed NBC News commentator Bill Moyers won "Best White House Press
Secretary (Ever)" for his work as Lyndon Johnson's mouthpiece. He beat
out Pierre Salinger, the former Kennedy Press Secretary and ABC News
reporter. Last year The American Spectator uncovered Troopergate and
Paula Jones, and exposed Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and
Jill Abramson's book on Anita Hill as a fraud. But the media readers of
AJR chose the left-wing Mother Jones as the "Best Magazine for
Investigative Journalism." PBS' Frontline won second prize for "Best TV
Newsmagazine." In the past, it provided a platform for the discredited
October Surprise and Christic Institute "secret team" theories. The
award for the "Best Nationally Syndicated Columnist" was bestowed upon
the Texas liberal Molly Ivins, who specializes in ridiculing
It's So Great!
Famously perky Today co-host Katie Couric led the
cheers for government-subsidized child care in a February 15 segment
with liberal Working Mother editor Judsen Culbreth and North Carolina
state official Robin Britt. Couric used pessimistic projections on state
run child care for 1994: "Day care standards differ from state to state
and it seems that most of them are doing a pretty poor job. A major
study found only one in every seven children are in a day care
environment that is nurturing and prepares that child adequately for
Couric hailed Britt for his state's new spending
spree: "What motivated North Carolina to really get on the stick, if you
will?...This is costing the state of North Carolina big bucks, is it
not?" Britt replied: "We're making that investment, Katie, we're
spending $41 million a year now, and we're asking the General Assembly
for $21 million more for 12 new counties next year. We have 32 counties
currently participating in Smart Start." Later, Couric asked "Why aren't
more states doing what North Carolina is doing? It's so great to hear
this." Culbreth lamented: "I don't think they understand and appreciate
the problem. I'm glad there's so much news on child care now, to bring
out how poor it is in some places." Couric ended with the one-sided
conclusion: "Amen....Hopefully a lot of states will follow North
Even In Stories Using the "L Word," Reporters
Resisted Labeling the Candidate and President
Why did the voters make such a dramatic turn in the
1994 elections away from the 1992 victory of Bill Clinton? Or did the
voters perceive the dramatic turn was not theirs, but Clinton's? The
national media presented candidate Clinton as a far cry from the
liberals nominated by the Democrats in 1984 and 1988, but the presidency
didn't follow that story.
To document the ideological labeling of Clinton,
MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to
identify only the stories with the words "Clinton" and "liberal" within
25 words of each other from January 1, 1991 through December 31, 1994 in
the news magazines Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, and news
stories in USA Today. Within this sample of stories using "Clinton" and
"liberal," reporters were more than twice as likely to deny Clinton's
liberalism as admit it.
In 1991, no story identified Clinton as liberal, while
26 stories in the sample claimed he was not liberal. In the 1992 sample,
the ratio of reporters' not-liberal labels to liberal labels grew to
84-11. In the first year of Clinton's presidency, the ratio shifted to
the left, 19 not-liberal to 20 liberal. By 1994, reporters only
attempted to deny the liberal label four times, compared to 26 liberal
labels. In total, not-liberal descriptions still more than doubled
liberal labels, 133-57.
1991. Without a single liberal label, the news
magazines and USA Today presented him before the primaries in 26 stories
as a moderate, even a conservative.
U.S. News & World Report's Matthew Cooper thought
Clinton might be too conservative in the July 22, 1991 issue: "Clinton
has youth and vigor but a minimal Democratic base -- and he sounds too
much like a Republican to be nominated." U.S. News writer Donald Baer,
who joined the Clinton White House as chief speechwriter in 1994, added
on October 14, 1991: "Once, he was a liberal who became the nation's
youngest Governor; now at 45, Clinton is the innovative darling of
In Newsweek, Ginny Carroll announced on September 30:
"Clinton's expected entry into the race next week gives Democrats a
chance to break the liberal lock on the party." Newsweek moved on to the
inside story on November 25: "Aides to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton called
Cuomo `the ultimate Big Government liberal' and the perfect foil for
Clinton's `New Paradigm' candidacy." Two weeks later, the same story
repeated: "Aides to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton have already begun
referring to Cuomo as `the last of the Great Society candidates.'"
Little did the public know this "moderate" would become the President
who sold his health care plan as the logical extension of the New Deal
and the Great Society.
At Time, Michael Kramer found on October 14, 1991 that
"Many of Clinton's ideas...are viewed by liberal Democrats as
neo-Republican." Then-Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson
suggested on welfare policy, "Clinton, the moderate Southerner, is yin
to Cuomo's northeastern liberal yang."
The '92 Campaign. The trend of trumpeting Clinton's
centrism intensified in 1992. Eleanor Clift explained in the February
10, 1992 Newsweek: "Truth is, the press is willing to cut Clinton some
slack because they like him -- and what he has to say. He is a policy
wonk in tune with a younger generation of Democrats eager to take the
party beyond the liberal stereotype." USA Today's Adam Nagourney and
Bill Nichols wrote on March 18: "This moderate Southerner benefited from
the fact the Democrats seem finally to have kicked their addiction to
nominating liberals doomed to failure against Republicans."
In fact, USA Today turned out the most lopsided sample
in 1992: 40 denials of liberalism to one Tony Mauro story arguing that
Clinton's views on legal issues could be "more liberal" than the Bush
administration. Time came closest to balance with a denial-to-admission
ratio of 13-4, compared to 15-4 for Newsweek and 16-2 for U.S. News.
Some liberal tags came in Clinton's campaign against Paul Tsongas. While
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter explained on March 16 that Clinton had moved
"beyond liberal orthodoxy," he explained: "While `reinventing
government' is still a part of Clinton's approach, he's now running more
as Hubert Humphrey than Sam Nunn."
In a count separate from the study's overall findings,
Clinton was described as liberal 57 times in attributed or quoted
remarks, mostly from Republican opponents. That's less than the 133
reporter denials of Clinton's liberalism, and all but one of the
attributed mentions came after June 1. By November 2, Kenneth T. Walsh
of U.S. News concluded: "As [Bush] roams the battleground states
attacking Bill Clinton as an untrustworthy liberal who will raise taxes
and expand government, his message strikes many voters as hopelessly
stale and irrelevant."
1993. White House liberalism arrived, and ideological
labels nearly vanished. Newsweek's ratio of not-liberal to liberal
mentions fell to 6-3, Time's to 3-2. USA Today (5-7) and U.S. News (5-8)
used liberal labels more than not-liberal ones. On February 8, U.S. News
columnist David Gergen described his future boss: "He has come down
decisively in favor of a new age of liberal rule, picking up where
Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson left off."
Moderate mentions only surfaced in stories about image
makeovers. A headline in the June 14, 1993 Newsweek read: "A Hard Right
Turn: As part of a calculated effort to dispel his liberal image,
President Clinton withdraws the nomination of controversial civil-rights
lawyer Lani Guinier."
1994. The not-liberal to liberal ratio continued to
shift right: Time 1-3, Newsweek 1-8, U.S. News 2-9, USA Today 0-6. On
October 10, USA Today's Bill Nichols was writing: "Not only did the
Clinton health-care plan fail, but it was almost universally perceived
as a bureaucracy-laden liberal expansion of government." Eight days
later, Nichols explained: "Voters really believed Clinton was much more
conservative than his Democratic predecessors and feel his agenda has
been a liberal ruse." Nichols, like his colleagues, did not take any
responsibility in the story for his part in that ruse before the 1992
the Bright Side
Burned on Asbestos
U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Peter Cary
detailed the extensive costs that the Environmental Protection Agency
places on the economy, particularly when it comes to regulations dealing
with asbestos. In the February 20 issue, Cary chronicled the cost
excesses of asbestos removal: "Much of the money, though, is probably
being spent in vain....No one has ever determined how much asbestos in
the air is unsafe, and there is now broad consensus among scientists and
physicians that asbestos in public buildings is not much of a threat to
Detailing the EPA's failings, Cary wrote, "Less
understandable is the role of government agencies, especially the
Environmental Protection Agency, which created a public panic on the
basis of paper-thin scientific information." He discovered that while
EPA reports "did not command that asbestos be torn out, their dire
admonitions -- plus the availability of federal funds for asbestos
removal only -- pushed schools into many needless removals. An
asbestos-remediation industry sprang up overnight; it would gross $4
billion to $5 billion annually." But in 1990, the EPA admitted its
regulations may have indeed caused an even greater health hazard.
According to Cary, "the EPA acknowledged that low levels of asbestos in
school and office buildings meant low overall risk. It pointed out that
the dust created by improper removal could actually increase the
Cary concluded: "So the asbestos madness continues.
For fear of asbestos, in 1993 New York City ripped out tons of plaster
from its schools, only to find that just 25 percent of it contained
asbestos." And pointing to future regulations he warned: "With Congress
and the EPA now considering regulations for lead and radon exposure, the
1992 EPA report on how it messed up its message on asbestos should be
required reading. But that report is virtually impossible to find inside
the EPA. Says one in-house expert, `I think it's been buried.'"
Nightline's Selective Constitution
Koppel's Advanced Attitude
A selective reading of the Consitution is a hallmark
of liberalism, and ABC's Nightline is no exception. Ted Koppel
offered a narrow view of the Second Ammendment on February 14, but
devoted the next night's show to an expansive take on the Fourth
Koppel reported on Texas legislation to allow citizens
to defend themselves with concealed weapons. He revealed: "I was
pleasantly surprised to learn that for the past 124 years, that you were
not allowed, not only to carry a concealed gun in Texas, but not
permitted to carry a concealed weapon of any kind in Texas." Koppel
called the restrictions "an advanced attitude for the state of Texas to
be taking." Questioning the bill's sponsor, Koppel maintained "in
Florida...they passed such a law in 1987, and violent crime is up by
17.8 percent." Koppel harkened back to the Wild West: "It seems to me
you're sort of wanting to go back to those bad old days."
But David Kopel, co-author with Clayton Cramer of
`Shall Issue': The New Wave of Concealed Handgun Permit Laws, told
MediaWatch that crime records of the "bad old days" showed a "per capita
murder rate [that] was seven percent of modern New York City, the
burglary rate was one percent, rape was unknown." He also refuted
Koppel's statements on Florida, where the violent crime rose "less than
the national increase, and not by [concealed weapon] permit holders."
Kopel noted: "The homicide rate plunged in Florida, from 30 percent
above the national average to slightly below the national rate." Kopel
addressed the point which Nightline ignored: "Violent crime has been
intolerably high for the past 25 years, and people have the right to
protect themselves when the federal government can't."
On February 15, Koppel focused on the effort to limit
the exclusionary rule, intoning: "We pay a significant amount of lip
service to the Constitution, and to the Founding Fathers who drafted it.
But, Lord only help them if they were alive today trying to foist their
radical ideas off on the American public in its current mood." Koppel
claimed when "society is frustrated...there is an inclination to
increase the powers of the police and sacrifice some of that
constitutional protection. That is in the process of happening."
Reporter Chris Bury warned: "A stampede to pass the
crime package could trample that other Contract with America -- the
Constitution." Where was Nightline when Democrats trampled the Second
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