ABC, CBS, and
Time Continue Campaign of Fear and Class Warfare
Contract on America's Poor?
As the House passed bills to reduce spending, taxes
and regulations, the media promoted the liberal spin. "The new
Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative
agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them
designed to help children and the poor," Dan Rather declared March 16,
referring to $17 billion in cuts.
"The most drastic measures are not expected to survive
in the Senate," ABC World News Saturday anchor Catherine Crier noted
before a March 25 story, ominously intoning "but congressional tinkering
with welfare is creating fear all across America."
An April 5 ABC story on the property rights bill,
which provides compensation when regulations diminish land value, ended
by echoing the fears of liberal environmental activists. Warned Barry
Serafin: "In the rush to change, reform or reject regulations, little
time has been spent in the new Congress sorting out the arguments or the
To Time, tax cuts are an evil. "For Republicans, tax
cuts are becoming a kind of deadly virus, threatening to cripple any GOP
measure they infect," Michael Duffy wrote April 3. Welfare reform
"should have been a slam-dunk," but the GOP "somehow allowed tax cuts --
the passion of campaign contributors -- to get in the way."
Even if the $500-per-child tax credit were cut, Duffy
insisted, "an enormous tax break for the wealthy would still loom."
Without citing any contrasting numbers, he reported "Democrats charge
that more than 50 percent of the remaining $85 billion in tax benefits
in the Contract would go to the ten percent of families whose incomes
exceed $100,000." A Joint Economic Committee report cited studies
showing that before the rate was hiked in 1985 "fully three-quarters of
the value of all capital gains went to taxpayers earning less than
$100,000" and 70 percent "reporting capital gains had income of less
What's the public's verdict? For the April 6 NBC
Nightly News Bob Faw traveled to the Nashville Speedway and found "most
here regard the first hundred days the way an old-fashioned mother
regards breakfast, as a good beginning. And most hope the big engines in
Washington keep right on running."
But ABC's Jackie Judd noted the same night that a poll
showed while most "endorse the general themes of the Contract, they're
not so happy with the specifics." Judd aired three negative soundbites
before concluding: "One of the most personally troubling aspects of the
survey for Speaker Gingrich may be the large number of people who said
he doesn't understand their problems. Gingrich views himself as a man of
the people. The survey result raises the question -- what people?"
"Balanced" Bill Moyers?
In February promotional spots NBC promised: "Bold,
clear, balanced and fair. Now NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw has a new
dimension -- Bill Moyers." So what has the Press Secretary to Lyndon
Johnson offered in his twice a week commentaries?
A picture of politics subverted by evil corporate
interests. From the first on February 14 through April 6, seven
advocated a liberal view vs. just one, on March 21, which offered a
conservative take. In it he looked at welfare: "It doesn't seem quite
fair that" women who can't afford a child "should be paying for someone
else to have several children....[The Republican's] reforms may be
flawed but not as flawed as welfare itself."
February 14 on the line item veto: "But the bill has a
loop hole. The President can veto tax breaks or giveaways to small
groups of people and to small companies, but he can't do anything,
anything, about special tax breaks or giveaways Congress keeps slipping
to the big guys, like the billions of dollars to huge drug companies a
couple of years ago. How come?....Well, those big companies are among
the biggest contributors to political campaigns, including a lot of
politicians who are crazy about the line item veto, but not that crazy,
so corporate welfare gets the loophole."
February 23 on Henry Foster: "No one can speak for all
Baptists, but in the last decade, the Southern Baptist Convention was
captured by a political posse allied with the Republican Party. Their
hierarchy wants to impose conformity on the churches. Suddenly, the 39
legal abortions performed by Henry Foster, which he says he did
reluctantly, are a theological sin and a political opportunity."
March 7: "Gingrich uses words as if they were napalm
bombs....He sent conservative candidates a long list of words to smear
their opponents -- words like `sick,' `pathetic,' `traitors,' `corrupt,'
`anti-family,' `disgrace.' With talk radio quoting it all back to us,
our political landscape is a toxic dump."
March 14 on the Contract's property rights plank: "Now
it's pay-back time" for business donors, "and environmental safeguards
are being suspended to make way for a massive raid on public lands. The
House is about to revoke laws protecting national forests from excess
logging. This could mean a fortune for the timber companies," which
means "the arsonists are finally in charge of the fire department."
March 23 on Gingrich: "A majority of people say they
don't like what they're learning about his Contract. They know the
difference between reforming the welfare state and replacing it with the
corporate state....Some of this stuff...could only get through hidden in
the hubcaps of a juggernaut."
April 6 on the tax bill: "Big winners won this round
-- corporations, investors, people with high incomes," but, he cited
trade-offs. "One, it invites the return of mischievous tax shelters that
distort the economy. Two, you can't be sure of its results. The 1981 tax
cuts were followed by the biggest economic downturn since the Great
Depression. Three, by encouraging consumption over savings the tax bill
risks inflation. Four, it stirs sleeping cynics. How come so many tax
breaks are proposed for wealthy individuals and corporations who've been
pouring money into party coffers at the rate of $123,000 a day?"
Handicapping the GOP in '96
Journalists see a 1996 GOP presidential field of a few
pragmatists and a gaggle of unsavory conservatives. In the March 6
Newsweek, Senior Editor Joe Klein thought the field lacks charisma:
"Eight lumpen pachyderms who performed their first casting call for the
massed New Hampshire GOP on President's Day eve. Their inelegant,
passionless pokiness was a surprising turn for a party that, from Reagan
to Limbaugh to Gingrich, has been the prime incubator of vehemence in
As usual, liberal Republicans garnered the better
coverage. Sen. Arlen Specter's 1992 National Tax Limitation Committee
rating was 50 (out of 100) and his Children's Defense Fund rating that
year was 90. But Time's John F. Dickerson claimed March 13: "Specter
offers a mix of fiscal conservatism and social libertarianism." After
being booed in Iowa, "he was convinced by that rebuke that the social
extremism that had so disturbed him during the 1992 GOP convention had
taken control of the party." Time said Specter's "biggest plus" is that
he is "pro-choice." On March 6, Newsweek's Jon Meacham and Andrew Murr
found Pete Wilson's problem: "Another political liability is that Wilson
is no antigovernment zealot....Wilson's record underscores how the GOP's
turn right makes it difficult for pragmatists to campaign in the
Republican primaries. That's because saying what it takes to win
(government must shrink) is not always what it takes to govern."
Sen. Phil Gramm received the worst press, best
demonstrated by Time Austin reporter S.C. Gwynne's personal attack in
the March 13 issue. "Maybe he just can't help himself. Phil Gramm, the
Robespierre of the Republican right and a man with a startlingly real
shot at the presidency, just can't seem to avoid making people mad....He
is driven, instinctive and fanatically goal-oriented; he is often
insensitive to appearances and unwilling to listen to his peers."
Gwynne added that Gramm is "ill-suited to national
exposure. He is, by his own description, `ugly.' He speaks in a deep
drawl that calls to mind the often grating cadences of Lyndon Johnson.
Combine that with his certain endorsement by many right-to-life groups,
and an image emerges of an ungainly, deep-fried reactionary with little
chance of carrying the moderate vote on Election Day."
NBC's Giselle Fernandez Declares An "Alarming"
Growth in Homelessness as the GOP Cuts
Emotional Anecdotes Over Evidence
The networks' occasional concern for the national debt
or the rapid growth of entitlements never matches the intensity of
network campaigning against spending cuts. As House Republicans passed a
"recisions bill" reducing previously approved spending for fiscal 1995
by $17 billion (less than a tenth of the year's deficit), the networks
went looking for pain, not the fiscal gain.
For asserting without much statistical evidence that
Republican reductions would cause a dramatically growing homeless
problem to worsen, NBC's Giselle Fernandez earned the April Janet Cooke
As anchor of the Sunday Nightly News on March 12,
Fernandez told the story of four homeless children killed in a fire at a
Philadelphia shelter: "The tragedy of that blaze sheds light on the
fastest growing homeless population in the country, in our Focus
tonight, women and children without a home and with nowhere to go. As
Republicans and Democrats fight over a solution, we take a look at the
feminization of homelessness."
Fernandez began her report: "They're crowding shelters
in cities across the nation in alarming numbers. Single mothers with
children." After airing a few soundbites of homeless mothers, Fernandez
aired liberal advocate Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless:
"It's just simply the most visible sign of very deep-rooted poverty in
this country. If you're just looking at the family population, it's
skyrocketed; and those families are typically headed by young women,
without a husband, who are flooding the shelter system." Fernandez
asserted: "Across the nation there are an estimated 20,000 homeless
families. And social workers worry the crisis will only worsen if the
new Congress keeps its promise and makes deep cuts in bedrock social
programs and especially in public housing."
Fernandez did not give a source for her numbers, but
the national office of Coalition for the Homeless has done no formal
academic count of homelessness to back up Brosnahan's claims of a
"skyrocketing" population of homeless families. While Fernandez claimed
there were 20,000 homeless families in the country, Brosnahan's group
claimed without proof in the February 23 Newsday that there are 20,000
homeless people in New York City alone, and that cuts will double that
NBC also failed to provide a statistical breakdown of
the percentage of homeless people who are women with children. Even
liberal groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which regularly
reports dramatic growth in homelessness, found that 56 percent of the
homeless were individual adult males, and individual adult females
account for another 25 percent. This hardly suggests that families
dominate the homeless population, although women with children, who
naturally inspire more sympathy than individual men or women, assume a
central place in homeless activists' publicity.
Fernandez continued: "Most blame a lack of jobs and
affordable housing and child care for their plight. But there are no
stereotypes. Becky McDaniel lives with her son in this California home
for families. Like 40 percent of homeless women, she fled to a shelter
to escape domestic violence." NBC cited no source for this claim either.
Fernandez added: "Sister Kristin runs the St. Joseph's family shelter in
New Jersey and works first-hand with homeless mothers and their
children. If the cuts go through, she says, more families will be on the
streets than ever before."
In the midst of nine soundbites of homeless people and
liberal activists, Fernandez found time for only one conservative voice:
"But Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, lobbying for the cuts this week
as part of his Contract with America, says welfare reform is imperative
-- not to hurt the children but to save them."
Fernandez immediately countered: "But Democrats say
cuts will only further harm this most vulnerable population. Housing
Secretary Henry Cisneros says, in fact, they'll force 32,000 more
families into shelters....And that frightens homeless mothers like
Angela Draughn at the St. Joseph's Shelter in New Jersey. Every morning
as she gets her kids ready for school, she worries that once she gets
back on her feet, there won't be enough low-income housing to move
into...As Washington debates heat up over deep cuts in social programs,
mothers like Angela just keep trying to survive." Fernandez concluded:
"Congress is scheduled to vote Thursday on $17 billion in budget cuts.
Of that total, $7 billion would come from the federal Department of
But NBC left out any sense of federal spending on homelessness. The
media reported last June that the Clinton administration planned to
spend $2.1 billion in fiscal 1995 on homeless aid, three times the $555
million spent on homeless aid in the last year of the Bush
administration. Can reducing this dramatic increase qualify as a "deep
cut," as NBC suggested?
Fernandez also did not specify whether cuts in Housing
and Urban Development funding were for homelessness. For example, $2.7
billion came out of rental assistance for poor families, and $1.1
billion came from funds for repairing damaged public housing projects.
NBC also left out that the $7 billion cut was aimed at paying for $7
billion of disaster relief, mostly for Southern California earthquake
victims. Those victims were not included in NBC's story. NBC weekend
producers failed to return repeated phone calls.
NBC aired no conservative commenting on the estimates
aired in NBC's report. Cassandra Moore, an adjunct fellow at the
Competitive Enterprise Institute who has worked on the federal
government's Interagency Task Force on Homelessness, told MediaWatch:
"Sensationalism is the hallmark of media coverage, which only makes is
more difficult to deal rationally and solve the problem."
Heritage Foundation housing analyst Ron Utt told
MediaWatch the actual structure of the housing budget can obscure the
debate: "They never explain what the funding is -- is it authority or is
it outlays? The consequence is you can make up whatever you want." Utt's
argument is bolstered by a November/December 1990 American Enterprise
article by John Cogan and Timothy Muris, which studied liberal claims
that housing funds dried up in the Reagan years: "While budget authority
for subsidized housing programs declined by nearly 77 percent (from
1981-1989), the number of subsidized units and the number of families
living in those units increased by one-third."
Why do the networks report on homelessness without the
most elementary documentation? What NBC delivered was not credible
information, but unsupported perceptions -- style over substance. When a
network prefers the methods of activists to the methodologies of
statisticians, they can hardly be surprised when the idea that they are
only honest brokers of information falls on deaf ears.
Poor, Poor Gorby
Returning to an old habit of glorification, the CBS
Evening News bemoaned the obscurity in which former communist leader
Mikhail Gorbachev now dwells. Bob Schieffer began: "On this date a
decade ago, the Soviet Union gained a bold young leader who made us all
learn the words perestroika and glasnost." Reporter Jonathan Sanders
lamented: "Ten years after he began the revolution that brought down the
Soviet Union, his entourage consists of a translator and a few Western
journalists...Once he stood at world stage center, ending the arms race,
finishing off the Cold War. Today Mikhail Gorbachev has been relegated
to the periphery."
Sanders claimed: "At home, Gorbachev gave his people
freedom from fear...And freedom of religion, for believers of all
persuasions." He left out any mention of the brutal 1990 killings to
prevent Lithuanian independence. Sanders allowed CBS consultant Stephen
Cohen to proclaim: "Gorbachev's significance in the context of Russia is
that he was the first Russian ruler ever to cross the Rubicon from
dictatorship to democracy."
Shot with the Starting Gun.
When Republicans run for the presidency, network
reporters lambaste them with extremist labels like "far right" and
"ultraconservative." On February 19, NBC Today weekend co-host Giselle
Fernandez introduced moderate Sen. Arlen Specter as the candidate "who
casts himself as an alternative to the far right fringe." The next
morning, on ABC's Good Morning America, Bob Zelnick noted that beside
Dole and Gramm "other candidates include" Lugar, Specter, former
Education Secretary Alexander, "and ultra-conservative columnist Pat
Dan Rather got into the act on the March 3 CBS Evening
News: "While others in the GOP pack are running as Mr. Right, or Mr. Far
Right, Senator Lugar is stressing his foreign policy expertise." On
CNN's Larry King Live March 13, King asked Pat Buchanan: "Are you the
majority?...That would be considered the far right, right?" Six days
later, CNN World News reporter Gene Randall greeted Buchanan's
presidential announcement with the title "champion of the far right."
In 1994, when Democrats controlling the House
Judiciary Committee held hearings on an assault weapons ban, ABC, CNN,
and CBS replayed emotional testimony for the ban on their evening
newscasts. Emphasizing the guns used, not the criminal, CNN's Linden
Soles declared on the April 26, 1994 World News: "Relatives relayed
horror stories of how assault weapons devastated their families." Soles
relayed the Clinton position: "The Attorney General put it bluntly --
assault weapons are made to kill people and should not be available to
civilians." Only ABC mentioned testimony against the ban.
This year, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary
subcommittee on crime heard testimony on March 31 from those claiming
guns had saved their lives. According to the April 1 Washington Times,
the panel included "a grandmother from Waterford, Michigan, who used a
handgun to wound an assailant who had shot and killed a clerk in her
store...[and] a gun merchant, who defended himself with firearms during
the 1992 Los Angeles riots." ABC and NBC ignored the self-defense
testimony, CNN gave it an anchor-read brief on World News, featuring
witnesses on both sides. CBS ran a clip of each side a week later in a
story on the NRA expecting a "payback" for its donations.
Sesno Soft on Hillary.
Deviating from the confrontational nature of most
Sunday talk shows, CNN's Frank Sesno dared not lay a glove on Hillary
Clinton when she granted a rare hour-long live interview on the March 19
Late Edition. Sesno gave the First Lady free rein to accuse the
Republicans of being extremists and targeting children, yet did not
follow up her accusations with any tough questions. Mrs. Clinton
quipped: "I wish we would have our debates on the issues and that
everybody would be factual in their presentation of the information so
that the American public could know what the debate was about." She
added that her husband "tries to bring people together, not to divide
them, and that's what the world needs right now." So why didn't Sesno at
that point challenge her to the defend her earlier statement on the show
about "extremists in the Republican Party who go too far"?
He also could have questioned her about divisive
comments coming from the administration and other Democrats, including
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who accused Republicans of
trying to "literally take away meals from kids," and Representatives
John Lewis and Charles Rangel comparing Republicans to Nazis.
Interestingly, Sesno queried Mrs. Clinton about the baseball strike well
before Whitewater, which wasn't mentioned until the very last minutes of
Kurtz's Collapsing Canons.
"It is a time-tested journalistic ritual that in the
heady aftermath of victory, the hot new pol enjoys a period of
hagiography," wrote Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz in the
February 26 Post Magazine. Kurtz suggested "14 rules of media behavior."
Under Rule 2, "Politicians on the rise are invariably portrayed in
glowing terms," Kurtz declared: "The pattern was particularly striking
in Gingrich's case because the very same elements of a career that had
drawn so much derision were now cast in a more admiring light...The
unusual twist in Gingrich's case is that the gushing profiles took a bit
longer than usual to develop."
How long? Kurtz recalled: "First there was a wave of
stories with ominous headlines, like Newsweek's `How Normal is Newt?'
and `The Gingrich That Stole Christmas' and Time's `Uncle Scrooge.'" He
also noted that Sam Donaldson told Gingrich on ABC's This Week: "A lot
of people are afraid of you. They think you're a bombthrower; worse,
you're an intolerant bigot. Speak to them." In relating Gingrich's anger
at a January Washington Post article, Kurtz wrote: "Gingrich got his
licks in all right, but a not terribly surprising thing happened: The
press made him the issue. `Newt Gets Nasty,' blared the cover of
Newsweek. Inside, in a story headlined `Gingrich Goes Ballistic,' the
piece began: `Was Newt Gingrich experiencing meltdown? Last Friday it
looked and sounded that way.'" When can Gingrich expect the "glowing
Bryant and Ted's Excellent Interview.
Many reporters complain there's too much partisanship
in American politics, but they may be one of the causes. Bryant Gumbel's
interview with Sen. Ted Kennedy on March 15 serves as a good example.
Gumbel's questions were more partisan than Kennedy's answers. The Today
co-host asked: "You've talked about the Republicans declaring war on
working families and war on children. Are there enough moderate
Republicans in the Senate to tone down some of the harshest cuts that
are certain to come out of the House?"
Gumbel also queried: "Are you disappointed that the
public seems to -- I don't know if care so little is the appropriate
term -- but not seem to care as much as they have in the past?" Gumbel
mused to Kennedy that minority Cabinet members seem to have ethics
problems not because of their actions, but because of racism. "Do you
think, Senator, they are being held to a higher standard in Washington
than their white predecessors?"
Outrage or Not...
When is a slur not a slur? When it's done by a liberal
Democrat. On March 21, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) took to the House floor
against the Contract with America and paraphrased a famous statement
against the Nazis during World War II: "They're coming for our children,
they're coming for the poor, they're coming for the sick, the elderly,
and the disabled." NBC's Jim Miklaszewski aired Lewis's remarks on the
March 22 Today, then quoted Republican Clay Shaw calling them "an
outrage." Miklaszewski suggested the point was up for discussion:
"Outrage or not, Democratic attempts to paint Republicans as heartless
budget cutters are beginning to hit home." The closest thing to network
criticism of Lewis's remarks came from Miklaszewski and CBS's Bob
Schieffer describing the debate as "nasty." On ABC's Good Morning
America, Bob Zelnick called it "emotional."
Compare that to Dick Armey's January controversy over
the name of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), which got big coverage from CBS
and ABC. It led the CBS Evening News January 27. Bob Schieffer called it
a "slur." The same night, Catherine Crier on ABC's World News Tonight
asked: "Was it a slip of the tongue or a sign of deep prejudice? ....Mr.
Armey wields enormous power over all kinds of legislation, including
laws that deal with discrimination and civil rights. What Mr. Armey says
O'Brien for the Defense.
When House Republicans enacted legal reform as an
element of the Contract, they also took on one of Washington's most
powerful lobbies -- the trial lawyers. ABC's legal correspondent Tim
O'Brien also sided with the lawyers, devoting three World News Tonight
reports to debunking the Republican position. Introducing a March 9
story on huge punitive damage awards, Peter Jennings warned of
"misinformation on this subject." O'Brien wondered: "Are the courts
flooded with such potentially devastating suits, as some proponents of
change claim?" He replied: "It is simply not true, according to the
American Bar Association," an opponent of limiting damages. O'Brien
labeled liberal advocacy groups like Public Citizen "consumer groups who
insist the mere threat of punitive damage awards benefits the public."
O'Brien critiqued plans to make losers pay legal costs
in certain suits on March 7: "According to the National Center for State
Courts, there is no litigation explosion...making the loser pay the
winner's legal expenses may reduce the number of lawsuits, but most
consumer groups insist only the wealthy could sue."
On March 13, O'Brien featured a man who went to a
Tampa hospital, "to have a severely infected foot amputated....[but]
doctors amputated the wrong foot." O'Brien stated that the GOP would cap
pain and suffering awards at $250,000, and concluded lawyers "say
Congress should be working to make doctors more accountable for their
mistakes, not less." But Manhattan Institute senior fellow Theodore
Olson wrote in the March 27 Wall Street Journal that the amputee "was
losing both legs...the question was in what order they would go." Hardly
the malpractice horror story portrayed by ABC and the trial lawyers.
Go Away, Mohair Muckrakers!
Remember ABC's Sam Donaldson yelling questions to
President Reagan, grilling guests on This Week with David Brinkley, or
ambushing evil doers on PrimeTime Live? When a March 16 Wall Street
Journal story revealed that Donaldson received federal mohair subsidies
for his New Mexico ranch, Donaldson got some of his own treatment.
Journal reporter Bruce Ingersoll found that according to USDA data,
Donaldson "is the third-largest recipient of wool and mohair payments in
Lincoln County....Over the last two years, $97,000 in subsidy checks
have gone to Mr. Donaldson's address in the Virginia suburbs of
Donaldson responded March 19 on This Week with David
Brinkley, declaring: "This isn't a tax dodge for me. I operate that
ranch within the system that exists, and it's a system that depends on
farm subsidies, which if you watch this show, you know I've opposed, and
opposed repeatedly. We need to reform them." But Donaldson didn't show
his typical reformist zeal when New York Post reporters tried to reach
him for comment. Donaldson told the Post: "To ask me to help cooperate
in my own daily execution is not realistic." Upon learning a Post
reporter with a camera had approached his ranch, he warned: "We are
going to call the sheriff and have them arrested if they persist." A
sheriff's deputy did confront the reporter. Just the sort of reaction
Donaldson decried as a journalist.
CNN demonstrated that even labeling is considered
name-calling -- when the label is denigrating to a Democrat. After his
speech to the nation April 6, Newt Gingrich did an interview with CNN
during which he called the Democratic leadership "a small, left-wing
clique." That offended Bob Franken, who asked Gingrich: "Why would
somebody want to sit down with you -- and this gets to basic Newt
Gingrich -- why would someone want to sit down with you who you call
names, you call left-wing, for instance...."
RACE AND THE GOP.
Are Republican calls to cut government hostile to
blacks? Newsweek's Thomas Rosenstiel thought so, writing in the
magazine's March 6 issue: "There are signs that significant numbers of
Hispanics and African-Americans are becoming more conservative. But
judging from the actions taken by House Republicans last week, the
policies of Gingrich's party seem destined to drive minorities right
back to the Democrats." Rosenstiel cited $17 billion in recissions the
House passed "fell on the poor, a disproportinate number of whom are
minorities... Democrats called the one-sided cuts 'unconscionable.'"
Rosenstiel also suggested Phil Gramm's and other conservatives' calls to
eliminate affirmative action programs are just cynical ploys for white
votes: "Attacking affirmative action, they know, will please angry white
male voters who abandoned the Democrats in the 1994 congressional
On March 20, Time ran a similarly themed article by
Jeffrey Birnbaum. Titled "Turning Back the Clock," Birnbaum saw
Republican reforms as dangerous to blacks. "Coming on top of GOP efforts
to balance the federal budget by cutting programs for the poor, the
latest broadsides against affirmative action are being viewed as
insiduous -- and potentially dangerous -- by the minority community."
Amount of Coverage Declines Noticeably on
Morning Progams, Magazine Shows
Religion on TV News: Still Scarce
In mid-November, President Clinton and the GOP
Congress disagreed over federal spending levels, causing a brief partial
shutdown of the federal government. Clinton objected to what he called
GOP cuts in education and Medicare and a hike in Medicare premiums.
Republicans countered that they were actually increasing spending and
the premium in their plan was merely $11 per month higher than
Did the networks give equal weight to both sides?
MediaWatch analysts reviewed all of the stories on evening newscasts
(ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, NBC
Nightly News) about the budget impasse from the day before the
government shutdown (November 13) through the day after its end
(November 20). Of the 104 stories during the study period, not a single
one mentioned the actual levels of spending in either the President's
plan or the Republican plan. Not a single story questioned the
President's rhetoric about "destroying" Medicare, when Republicans were
proposing Medicare increases.
The study also found that reporters promoted the
Democratic spin on the impact of the shutdown on federal workers and the
Spending. Not one of the 104 stories pointed out that
Republicans were proposing to spend $2.6 trillion more over the next
seven years than had been spent over the last seven, going from $9.5
trillion to $12.1 trillion. None reported that under the GOP plan, the
annual budget in 2002 would be $267 billion higher than in 1996.
No story pointed out that on Medicare alone,
Republicans would spend $86 billion more in 2002 than in 1995, allowing
the program to grow more than 6 percent annually. None reported that
spending per Medicare recipient would soar from $4,800 to $7,100. Only
one story mentioned that the difference between the two parties on
Medicare premiums -- the reason Clinton gave for his veto -- was only
$11 per month.
Instead viewers heard about "cuts." Dan Rather
reported on the 16th: "Republicans were still pumping out a stopgap
budget certain to draw another presidential veto, a bill containing what
President Clinton called tonight, quote, critical cuts in Medicare and
The next day, Tom Brokaw announced: "The House today
did pass a bill to balance the budget in seven years with major cutbacks
in big government programs and a tax cut of $245 billion." On the same
show, Lisa Myers said "the President has promised to veto the bill
because of what he calls extreme cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid,
education, and the environment."
Federal Workers. There was near-universal sympathy for
furloughed federal workers. In all, there were 29 soundbites from
laid-off federal workers. CBS's Bob McNamara asserted: "There is
frustration, too, for the people who get paid to solve these kinds of
problems, the federal workers sent home to cool their heels while
Congress and the President bicker over the budget."
According to NBC's John Palmer on November 18, "To
Tony Chapello and his pregnant wife Kelly, both furloughed by the Social
Security office in Kansas City, the shutdown is more than an
inconvenience." She told viewers: "I worry about the medical bills, and
I want to do the baby's room." Unlike the private sector, laid-off
government employees are later paid. Only CNN's Brooks Jackson, on
November 13, accurately described the time off: "In effect a paid
Services. There were 24 stories about the effect of
the shutdown on public parks and public services. All but one of them
highlighted inconveniences to the public. None explored whether
bureaucrats, in deciding what services to shut down, had pursued a
"Washington Monument strategy" of stopping high-profile public services
to increase public outrage.
Most reporters simply assumed the shutdown was a
problem for the public. CNN anchor Kathleen Kennedy, the night before
the shutdown, warned that "the echoes of a government shutdown would be
felt from coast to coast. The gates of Lady Liberty at New York would be
closed. The same will happen at many other tourist attractions,
including the Washington Monument, Bunker Hill, and many national parks.
A lot of tourist plans will have to be changed if a shutdown occurs."
On November 17 ABC's Peter Jennings opined that "as is
evident to a lot of you, a lot of people around the country are already
paying deeply for this budget impasse." According to Brokaw on November
17: "While the shutdown of the federal government goes on, it is
beginning to have a major ripple effect well beyond Washington....Around
the country a lot of people were feeling the pain that even a partial
shutdown is bringing."
Over at CBS, Linda Douglass, in addition to national
parks, found a unique angle: killer toys. "Imported Christmas toys,
which could be unsafe, are not being examined by safety inspectors," she
fretted on the 16th. Bob McNamara insisted that "for Americans inside
and outside the federal bureaucracy, this week has been a hard lesson on
what happens when big government goes away." Other reporters, such as
ABC's John Martin and NBC's Lisa Myers, focused on passport offices
being closed. Martin complained on November 13: "Journalists won't be
able to ask questions at a State Department briefing, which will be
cancelled without electricians to light the room."
No story explored why it was that these high-profile
services came to be deemed non-essential. Why were passport offices and
the State Department's press office deemed non-essential when, according
to The Washington Post, about 70 percent of State's employees were
considered essential and ordered to work? Or why were some parks not
closed until the third or fourth day of the shutdown? Could it be for
visuals of angry tourists?
The networks were also one-sided in selecting the
"people on the street" they aired about the shutdown. A USA
Today/CNN/Gallup poll, reported November 15 that 51 percent considered
the shutdown either a crisis (11 percent) or a major problem (40
percent). Forty-seven percent of the public considered the shutdown
either a minor problem (33 percent) or not a problem at all (14
percent). So about half of the citizens interviewed would not consider
the shutdown a problem, right? Wrong. Of the 74 "people on the street"
interviewed, 67 considered the shutdown to be a problem. Only seven
didn't consider the shutdown a problem.
Only on network newscasts would spending increases be
called cuts, would people paid to take the day off be portrayed as
victims, and would half the public's opinion be ignored during a
the Bright Side
Old Programs Never Die
After a series of reports bemoaning House Republicans'
$17 billion in spending cuts, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on March 20
found a glistening bucket of government fat neither party is willing to
cut, the Department of Veterans Affairs: "Paying benefits to America's
former servicemen and women -- including to people...whose ailments
aren't war-related -- now costs $38 billion a year. That's a big ticket
item, even for the Feds. But at a time when Washington is desperately
seeking spending cuts, the mere suggestion that taxpayers can't afford
such a high Veteran's tab summons one of the country's most effective
lobbies into action."
Isikoff found "the VA has spent nearly $2.8 billion
since 1990 on new hospitals, clinics and nursing homes to expand a
system that's actually underused," as the number of veterans declines,
from 28 million in 1980 to 23 million this year. Isikoff focused on the
VA hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, "a $29 million-a-year,
full-service medical center." Though admissions have fallen by a third
since 1990, and three other VA hospitals serve the state, Isikoff noted,
"VA facilities are among the government goodies hardest to take away --
Congress hasn't shut one down since the Johnson administration."
Values and Victims
U.S. News & World Report writer Wray Herbert took a
sobering look March 6 at what social critics are saying about the
breakdown of national identity. Herbert found that "a wide array of
cultural critics believe this public uneasiness reflects some gut-level
sense that the right relationship between citizen, state and civil
society has been distorted or perhaps even lost."
Citing liberal critic Christopher Lasch, Herbert
wrote, "the new elitists are often those who feel most free to espouse
traditional liberal values -- integrated schools, wealth redistribution,
preferential hiring policies -- even though those politics don't affect
their own daily lives. They then stand above the fray as different
groups of less privileged citizens fight over the very real consequences
of those policies, often dividing across racial lines."
Herbert got specific: "Schools, for example, have
become social-service agencies and self-esteem clinics and are so
overburdened with therapeutic tasks that they can't perform their
primary function -- teaching -- very well....Similarly, the institutions
of government spend less time governing and more time attending to the
bruised feelings of various classes of victims."
Computer Forums Reveal ABC Biases
Letting Down Their Hair
The ABC "On Demand" section on America Online is the
newest location for reporters to let down their liberal hair. In a
January 5 Online Auditorium, where subscribers can pose questions to an
ABC reporter, Carole Simpson warned: "I fear that the Contract with
America, if enacted, may be detrimental to the family, especially those
single women and their children...my fear is that Mr. Gingrich, given
his history, may increase what I see as a new mean-spiritedness in this
country...I would like to think that the American people care about poor
people, about sick people, about homeless people, and about poor
children. I am shocked by the new mean-spiritedness." Simpson also
claimed: "I think the coverage of the new Republican leadership has been
Day One reporter John Hockenberry also played the
worry wart on March 2: "I think American politics thrives on ignorance
today. I think American policy works without a backup plan as long as
people are so unrepentantly uninformed." Hockenberry added: "I think
that capitalism is inherently amoral and it is folly to expect that a
system run on greed will be able to adopt some virtuous precepts to
prevent the violations of human rights." Of Clinton's political
prospects, Hockenberry wrote: "Faced with the choice of a crowd-pleasing
fanatic trying to look like a Republican and about a hundred real Repubs...it
looks tough to me." Asked if the Contract with America would work, he
joked: "Yes. I'm moving to Switzerland."
In the March 23 online session, ABC News Capitol Hill
reporter John Cochran claimed: "Sen. Bob Packwood...is certainly
conservative on most issues. But Packwood is extremely dubious about any
tax cut until we are well on the road to balancing the budget."
According to National Journal's 1992 ratings, the socially liberal
Packwood drew a 54 percent conservative score on economic issues,
compared to 89 percent for Bob Dole.
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