for Victims in the Wake of Second Budget Stalemate
The Shutdown Soap Opera
December brought a second shutdown of the federal
government, and with it came the networks' ratings-grabbing specialty:
hanky-waving sob stories of shutdown "victims."
On December 22, a week into the shutdown and before
paychecks were delayed, Jack Smith mourned on World News Tonight: "The
shutdown now has a human face. Joe Skattleberry and his wife Lisa both
work for the government. Both have been furloughed. They can't afford a
NBC's John Palmer warned on the December 29 Today:
"The shutdown is affecting more people's lives every day in places like
Grand Teton National Park, where furloughed park employees worried about
mortgages, car payments, and credit card bills have begun filing
unemployment benefits. In California and in dozens of other states,
serious cutbacks in food programs are threatened unless the budget
crisis is resolved soon." Later, David Bloom added: "The shutdown
continues. The pain spreads. The pressure grows for Washington to end
America's worst budget crisis."
On January 2, CBS Evening News reporter Scott Pelley
compared budget negotiators to bombers: "In April, terrorists tried to
kill them. Today, politicians stopped their paychecks. In Oklahoma
City's Social Security office, they're being ordered to work for
nothing....The bomb broke Beverly Rankin's ankle. Politics is breaking
That night NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw mourned:
"Far from the marbled halls of Congress and the elegant furnishings of
the White House, this government shutdown is about a lot more than
politics. It's about people and their real needs."
NBC's George Lewis found an Indian health clinic in
San Diego: "Two-thirds of the clinic's budget, $95,000 a month, comes
from the federal government. Without that money, the clinic can't meet
its payroll. The people who run this clinic fear that if it has to close
its doors, many of the 4,000 patients who seek treatment here will not
look elsewhere. Ron Morton says traditionally, Native Americans do not
like to accept handouts." But didn't NBC just say the clinic is
two-thirds funded by the federal government? Morton later asserted that
"if this budget is not signed there are people who are going to die."
Bryant Gumbel preached at the start of the January 4
Today: "Although some politicians have foolishly suggested the fact that
we are going on about our business despite the absence of the workers
says maybe they weren't needed anyway, we will show you how some average
Americans are suffering each and every day as a result of what is now 20
days of the government shutdown."
If You Can't Boost 'Em...
Just weeks after writing a piece for The New Republic
denouncing Republican efforts to shut down AmeriCorps, Newsweek Deputy
Washington Bureau Chief Steven Waldman decided he could do more good
helping run the government program than he could as an external
advocate. In mid-January he became senior adviser for policy planning
and evaluation for former Senator Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), the new
Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National Service,
overseer of AmeriCorps and VISTA.
Waldman "explained that the program's recent change in
leadership convinced him that the move would be ethical even though he's
written extensively about the program," National Journal reported.
"Republican attacks on AmeriCorps have been bizarrely
hyperbolic," Waldman charged in the November 13 New Republic. "The GOP
has also practiced gross statistics-abuse in order to portray AmeriCorps,
inaccurately, as a boondoggle." He predicted that "when Republicans calm
down and start picking bits of safety net from their teeth, they will
undoubtedly feel silly. They will realize that AmeriCorps -- which gives
college scholarships to young men and women who do full-time community
service -- was the solution to their dilemma of how to dismantle the
welfare state without seeming cruel."
Earlier in 1995 Waldman, part of Newsweek's Washington
bureau since 1987, wrote The Bill, a book detailing the creation of
AmeriCorps. It grew out of a "behind-the-scenes" look at the program for
the September 20, 1993 Newsweek, in which he concluded: "John F. Kennedy
attracted to his Peace Corps a narrow group of mostly white,
well-educated Americans. Clinton's plan is far more ambitious, seeking
to regenerate fragmented American communities and break down rock-hard
barriers of the heart. Because Clinton must confront the emotional
issues of race and class, he is more likely to fail. But should he
succeed, Clinton will have accomplished something far more significant
than his hero ever did."
AmeriCorps is hardly the only area in which Waldman
has been a liberal advocate. He co-authored a September 19, 1994 piece
headlined, "The Lost Chance" with the subhead, "The Clintons: Newsweek
reveals how they set out to reform a broken health care system -- and
squandered a historic opportunity." One impediment: those who spent
money "on blatantly untrue advertisements meant to scare the public."
A few issues later his byline accompanied a story on
the Contract with America: "The problem is that the Contract's main idea
has already been tried and discredited. House Republicans are now
pledged to tax cuts, increased defense spending, and a constitutional
amendment to balance the budget. Sound familiar? `This was a dopey
political move,' [Rep. Fred] Grandy says. `We were holding the high
ground on welfare, foreign policy, so why would we go back and shoosh
down the Laffer Curve? This is like giving the Democrats a nuclear
A CNN veteran is the new Deputy Press Secretary to
Senator Frank Lautenberg. Ken Jaques, an off-air reporter in the CNN
political unit from 1992 to 1994, has come aboard the New Jersey
Democrat's staff, Roll Call reported December 21.
Today Gushes Over Hillary
"Really Terrific" Book
As questions swirled around Hillary Clinton's veracity
on Whitewater and the travel office, NBC News gave her a gift: a January
16 Today interview by Maria Shriver, who campaigns for and donates to
her uncle Ted Kennedy's Senate campaigns. Shriver served more as
political flack than journalistic inquisitor. Shriver opened the show by
calling Clinton's new book, It Takes a Village, "really terrific."
Her first question: "What's this last week and a half
been like for you personally?" She followed up about daughter Chelsea:
"What has she said to you about these attacks?...This is beyond the
territory....This is your mom that someone's talking about." After
wondering if she'd be willing to testify before the Senate and posing
one question about the travel office, Shriver showed sympathy for
Clinton's plight: "Whitewater, I know you've been answering questions on
this subject for four years, thousands of pieces of documents have been
handed over, but they still want even more. As you look back on this, do
you wish you'd never worked for Madison Guaranty?"
Shriver did ask: "Regarding these billing records that
came about that had been subpoenaed two years ago, people say, `Gosh,
how could a woman as smart and politically savvy as Hillary Clinton not
know where these records were these past two years? Why didn't she make
that her priority to find them, particularly when they were found in her
own home, under an assistant's desk?'"
Shriver returned to softballs: "You also quote a
letter in there that Nelson Mandela wrote to one of his daughters while
he was in prison, and I'm paraphrasing a bit, but he wrote that there is
no personal misfortune that one cannot turn into a personal triumph if
one has the iron will and the necessary skills. You clearly have an iron
will, you clearly are skilled. How are you going to turn this personal
misfortune into a personal triumph?"
Shriver then stumped for liberalism: "You think
government should do a lot more than it's doing in terms of making
children a priority, doing things for kids. We're clearly living in an
age where people are anti-government. How do you get across the message
that we all need to see everybody's kids as our own, we need to have
more programs, the government needs to be more involved?"
Janet Cooke Award
CNN Describes Speaker as "Too Extreme" and
"Scary," A "Clown Prince" with "Fits of Pique"
Newt Gingrich, Political Liability?
Time selects its Man of the Year not by picking its
favorite person, but the person with the most historical impact in that
given year. In 1995, certainly, Newt Gingrich had a powerful impact on
America's political debate. But that didn't mean Time had to like him --
and neither did CNN in producing a December 17 CNN Presents to announce
the pick. For maligning the Speaker as a politically damaged and morally
questionable figure after celebrating Time's choice of Bill Clinton in
1992, CNN earned the Janet Cooke Award.
CNN split its show between interviews with Gingrich
and documentary segments. In the first segment, host Judy Woodruff used
loaded language to describe Gingrich's "Path to Power," calling his
ambition to be Speaker "An obsession that shaped almost every decision,
every alliance, what some saw as every betrayal on his path to power."
Woodruff relayed a rumor about Gingrich's first wife, Jackie: "It has
become part of the Gingrich legend that he would later go to her
hospital room where she was being treated for cancer to discuss a
Woodruff described how Gingrich first came to the
capital's attention: "In late-night tirades on C-SPAN, he needled
then-House Speaker Tip O'Neill, painting ruling Democrats as corrupt
thugs." Woodruff called him "a clown prince of an out-of-favor group."
She concluded: "His self-ordained mission to save Western civilization
is becoming overshadowed by a barrage of accusations that the most
powerful Speaker in history illegally used political money." While CNN
followed with Rep. David Bonior charging Gingrich's ethics are "in the
toilet," Woodruff did not explain any of the charges, most of which were
dismissed by the House ethics committee days later.
Another segment, titled "Homefront," explored
Gingrich's hold on his constituency in Georgia: "Cobb County -- the soul
of Newt country, Republican, white, well-educated, and affluent. The man
who would wield the federal budget ax represents a county that exploded
into suburban sprawl because of billions of federal dollars.
Unemployment is low here, at 3.4 percent. It's well below the national
average. And only a scant five percent of Cobb's population is on public
assistance. The social fallout of the Contract with America if it passes
will have little consequence here, but those hit will be hit hard."
CNN talked mostly to social service providers, liberal
activists, and projected victims: "For the Hogan family, some cutbacks
are the wrong thing to do. Daughter Kimberly, disabled from birth, has
spent most of her life in a hospital. Thanks to Medicaid, this year has
been different." Protesters held up signs reading "Newt: Your Plan Will
These documentary segments were heavily salted with
Gingrich opponents: "The Path to Power" featured five negative talking
heads (including three from Rep. Pat Schroeder and one of Bonior) to
only three positive. "Homefront" featured twelve anti-Gingrich
soundbites to four defenders. A segment called "Report Card" focusing on
his future balanced the talking heads six to six, which included Bonior
predicting that Gingrich's ethics problems were "so severe" he wouldn't
be in office much longer.
If that hostility weren't enough, there were
Woodruff's interview questions to the Speaker: "There's something we saw
that was kind of interesting, the latest CNN-Time poll, they asked
people what they thought about you and a lot of people said, most people
said, very intelligent. A number of them said he has a vision for the
future, but they also said -- a large number of those same people said,
and I thought this was interesting, they agreed you were too extreme, 66
percent -- and out of touch, 52 percent, and even scary 49 percent.
Where does that come from?"
When Gingrich suggested that things like being
portrayed as Scrooge on the cover of Time didn't help, Woodruff replied:
"But there's also been, in addition to that, what many people look at as
the effect of the Republican budget cuts, and most of the people -- what
they see is that most people, according to the studies we've seen, who
would lose under the combined budget cuts and tax changes are the very
poorest Americans, and people have a hard time understanding that."
Gingrich challenged that spin, but Woodruff reacted:
"The study I'm referring to came out I think in the last week or so, by
the Urban Institute, highly respected group, supposed to be nonpartisan
-- and they set aside Medicaid and Medicare, they just looked at the
budget cuts separate from Medicare and Medicaid and tax changes, and
their conclusion was that the families that would lose under the
Republican plan, two-thirds are in the poorest fifth of the population."
The Urban Institute has often disseminated research that concludes with
the need for more federal social spending.
Woodruff concluded the program with a decidedly
negative spin: "He couldn't have envisioned the blizzard of ethics
charges or the stir his fits of pique would cause. Now that they've
gotten to know him, more than half of all Americans say they don't like
him. More than half say they don't trust him. The irony is that Time's
Man of the Year may wind up the biggest liability to the revolution he
This program was a 180-degree change from the show CNN
aired on December 26, 1992, when Bill Clinton was named Time's Man of
the Year. The 30-minute show featured at least 18 positive talking
heads, including Clintonites Robert Reich, Ron Brown, Dee Dee Myers, and
Betsey Wright, Democratic Reps. Tom Foley and Lee Hamilton, Democratic
consultant Bob Squier, and black academic Henry Louis Gates. Only one
soundbite from conservative Arkansas editorialist Paul Greenberg offered
The narration by CNN's Lou Waters and Natalie Allen
said nothing about Clinton's troubled private life, nothing about
ethics, nothing about overweening ambition. Allen began the show with a
quotation: "He was not born a king, but a child of the common people who
made himself a great persuader, therefore, a leader by dint of firm
resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance." Chimed in Waters:
"The words were written by Horace Greeley a century ago to describe
Abraham Lincoln. They apply as well to this persevering young man from
Arkansas, now leader of the Free World." Allen continued: "The election
of 1992 was a leap of faith in a sour and unpredictable year. American
voters were angry and disgusted and often afraid of the future. They
took an enormous risk and made a fascinating choice."
CNN prepared a response to MediaWatch questions, but
it did not arrive by press time. It will appear next month. CNN may have
contributed to the effect its polls have noticed: viewers were
instructed that the Speaker was politically extreme, even scary, while
Clinton was Honest Abe.
The Silent Veto
Bill Clinton vetoed the welfare reform bill late on
January 9, in an apparent attempt to avoid that night's news coverage.
His concern was understandable; the veto would be an admission that he
was breaking his famous campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it."
Clinton worried needlessly: None of the network's
January 10 evening news shows mentioned Clinton's veto, even after
possible GOP opponent Bob Dole took to the Senate floor to criticize
Clinton's betrayal. Although the media properly focused on criticism
when George Bush broke his "no new taxes" campaign pledge, there was no
focus on criticism of Clinton. The media missed another opportunity when
Clinton held a press conference January 11. He was peppered with 18
questions, but not one raised the issue of his breaking his welfare
promise, the crux of his effort to portray himself as a "New Democrat."
At first glance, Steve Forbes' presidential campaign
would seem to fulfill the media's standards for a proper Republican
candidate: One with sufficiently soft stands on social issues to avoid
the "divisive" label. Unable to attack Forbes as extremist (he has
suitably "tolerant" stands on such issues as abortion and immigration),
in the December 4 Time, Senior Writer Richard Stengel charged that "for
all his patrician good humor, Forbes' message and his campaign have
begun to show a hard edge." Stengel exploited a tenuous link between
Forbes and Senator Jesse Helms' racially-tinged campaigns: "While Forbes
generally shuns the politics of exclusion, he has nonetheless attracted
to his organization two veterans of Jesse Helms' race-baiting
He also attacked Forbes' centerpiece flat tax
proposal: "Despite his frequent protestations that he understands the
needs of the average Joe, his flat-tax proposal would reward wealthy
investors while leaving the burden on middle-class families." He added
the plan would "do little to disabuse taxpayers of the notion that the
rich get a better deal from the tax system." He cited data from the
"generally liberal" Citizens for Tax Justice, stating a seventeen
percent flat tax would produce a revenue shortfall of $200 billion. The
group also claimed Dick Armey's similar flat tax plan would raise taxes
on middle class families, estimating increases in the $1,740-$4,600
range on families earning between $45,000 and $85,000.
Stengel didn't quote a conservative expert, but for a
balancing view he could have referred to Time's very own flat tax
analysis of April 17, when a CPA estimated how much tax a hypothetical
family of four making $50,000 could expect to pay under the Armey plan.
Time found the family's taxes would be cut by almost half, from $4,249
under the existing system to $2,244 under the Armey plan.
Twice in December, The New York Times provided a
platform for reporter Jason DeParle's personal crusade against
Republican welfare reforms. In the December 17 New York Times Magazine
he depicted a post-welfare reform nightmare. DeParle wrote his story as
an encyclopedia entry from the year 2015 that took a look back at the
history of welfare.
The fictitious excerpt presented welfare reform as an
initial success when left to the states until a recession hit in 1999:
"Faced with declining revenues and rising aid requests, states slashed
their payments....With families crossing borders in search of aid, the
`race to the bottom' ensued, with each state trying to be as tough as
its neighbors." DeParle described an almost apocalyptic state where
mothers were "arrested each year for locking their children in cars as
they worked." DeParle predicted a million families would be "lining up
at shelters, stealing into abandoned buildings and begging on street
corners." DeParle continued his gloomy forecast: "Some became more
reliant on abusive boyfriends, and reports of domestic violence rose.
Abortion rates hit record levels and so did arrests for prostitution,
leading several cities to decriminalize the practice in specified
DeParle's Other Platform. Two weeks earlier in a Times
"Week in Review" piece, DeParle charged: "While the Republicans promise
that the poor will prosper, the evidence does not. Indeed, most suggests
the opposite: whether the economy or poor people are ultimately to
blame, most will fail to replace their lost benefits. If the past is a
guide, less will not mean more. Less will mean less, for those who
already have little."
DeParle criticized the GOP plan to let states run
welfare, taking on supposed GOP arguments such as "The programs don't
help much anyway," and "Earnings will improve with time." DeParle even
refuted the notion that the poor actually "will be better off by
working," answering: "Or will they? No one knows how many of the five
million women of AFDC will be able to find and keep work. Many have few
skills and lead the kinds of chaotic lives that interfere with full-time
work: sick kids, dangerous neighborhoods, abusive boyfriends, broken
Newt the Destroyer?
ABC previewed the Democratic strategy to hang
Republican Tom Campbell with the "Newtoid" tag, but when the strategy
backfired ABC ignored the results. In Carol Lin's December 10 piece for
World News Sunday she highlighted Democrat Jerry Estruth's effort to
defeat Republican Campbell in a special congessional election to replace
retiring Democrat Norman Mineta. Anchor Carole Simpson introduced the
story: "For all of Mr. Gingrich's power on Capitol Hill, opinion polls
show his star is fading with American voters. So much so that one
congressional candidate in California is using the Gingrich image to
beat down his once-popular Republican opponent."
Lin reported Campbell at one point had enjoyed a
43-point lead over Estruth. "Yet this political novice has managed to
cut his popular Republican opponent's lead in half. By redefining the
enemy. Estruth launched an ad campaign attacking House Speaker Newt
Gingrich. And labeling Tom Campbell as a Gingrich clone." Lin pointed
out that Campbell was more moderate than the Speaker on many issues,
"But the strategy seems to be working. With more than a million dollars
in donations pouring in." Lin continued, "Democrats hope Gingrich's
negatives will be the central issue that can turn election campaigns
across the country," before concluding: "Campbell is still the front
runner in this race but only by a narrow margin. Democrats say that
alone is still a victory for their party. Because they found their
weapon. The man who started the Republican revolution may give
frustrated voters reason enough to bring more Democrats back to office."
So, did ABC make it a big story when Campbell trounced
Estruth by 23 points on December 12? No, not a word about the result on
World News Tonight.
Hot Media Air.
CBS and ABC have recently portrayed House Republicans
as the catalysts to impending global doom, but have ignored scientific
studies which back the GOP. "Some House Republicans are objecting to the
global agreement to ban industrial chemicals widely believed to be
depleting the earth's ozone layer," Dan Rather intoned on the November
23 CBS Evening News. Eric Engberg explained "that 150 countries have
signed a treaty banning production of ozone depleting chemicals," but
"to the number three Republican in the House, it's Chicken Little
Stuff...Time out! Not proven? Didn't this year's Nobel Prize in
chemistry go to Dr. Mario Molina and two others who discovered ozone
Over a month later, ABC's January 4 World News Tonight
ran another alarmist warning. Peter Jennings began: "Two thousand
scientists from all over the world agree the earth is getting warmer all
the time, in part because the United States is not practicing what it
has been preaching." Ned Potter followed, "scientists say if they
[temperatures] keep going up as they have heat waves will spread across
North America. A third of the world's glaciers will melt, flooding
coastlines in dozens of countries. Tropical diseases will spread,
exposing large parts of the U.S. to malaria." Potter charged that the
Clinton administration "gave in to the petroleum and auto industries"
and then he allowed Vice President Al Gore to blame the House GOP.
But the need for action isn't so clear. Washington
Post science writer Boyce Rensberger reported January 8 that of the
three major studies of global temperatures during 1995 one reported an
increase in average temperature, one called 1995 "ordinary," and one
found some cooling. Guess which two the networks have ignored?
Moyers On Wages. PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers returned
to Milwaukee for the December 19 Frontline to visit two families who
suffered layoffs in 1991 at the motor company Briggs and Stratton.
Moyers complained: "Good-paying jobs are heading south or out of the
country and workers like Tony Neumann are searching desperately for new
jobs that will support their families...In the early '90s, families like
the Stanleys and Neumanns were thrown into a emerging new economy built
on light manufacturing and service jobs. It was a time when unemployment
hit record lows. But many of the new jobs offered only part-time work
and no benefits, and they paid lower wages." Moyers concluded the show:
"For working people all over America, real wages continue to decline."
But in a review on the morning before the show, a
sequel to the 1992 program Minimum Wages, Washington Post reporter
Steven Pearlstein told a story Moyers didn't: "In fact, today there are
12,000 more manufacturing jobs in the Milwaukee area than there were in
the fall of 1991 when Claude Stanley and Tony Neumann were laid off,
while the average hourly wage in manufacturing has climbed from $12.54
an hour to $13.98, just about keeping pace with inflation." Pearlstein
added that Briggs and Stratton motors are now cheaper for consumers and
the company is making money for its stockholders.
Rather Embarrassed. While on Denver's KOA talk radio
host Mike Rosen's program, Dan Rather tried to defend himself and his
network against charges of bias. Rosen questioned Rather's repeated use
of the word "cut" when describing the Republican Medicare plan on the
CBS Evening News. Rather shot back, "Some of the time we use the
language, `Medicare cuts,' which is what the Democrats insist these are,
and some of the time we use that these are, `cuts in the rate of growth
for Medicare,' which is what the Republicans prefer. We try to walk that
line, we try to call it one way one time, one way the next time."
A review of Evening News broadcasts from September 20,
the night before the Republicans unveiled their Medicare plan, to
November 28, when Rather appeared on Rosen's program, shows the CBS
anchor should pay closer attention to what comes out of his mouth.
During this period, Rather used the Democratic spin term `cuts' eight
times such as when Rather announced as fact on September 20: "Democrats
and Republicans in Congress late today came close to actual physical
blows over proposed cuts in Medicare. That's the separate U.S.
government health care coverage for 37 million older Americans of all
income levels. There's no doubt that Medicare spending will be cut, the
question is how much and for how many." On October 25 he claimed that
"Republicans vowed to press for huge cuts in government spending and
$245 billion in tax cuts. President Clinton vowed to veto it as too
radical and extreme."
He applied the phrase that best described reality,
"reducing the rate of growth," or "reducing spending" three times. He
relayed the Republican spin, "making the plan solvent" just once; hardly
the "one way one time, one way the next time" which Rather claimed.
Networks Mourn Victims of Second Shutdown,
Single Out Republicans for Blame
Same Liberal Song, Second Verse
As a second partial government shutdown descended on
Washington, network coverage once again favored President Clinton's
arguments over those of House Republicans. Last month, MediaWatch
examined coverage during the November 13-20 shutdown and found not a
single story noted how much more than the GOP Clinton wanted to spend.
No story questioned his rhetoric about "destroying" Medicare even though
the GOP plan called for hikes. Reporters conveyed the Democratic spin
about the disastrous impact upon federal workers and the public.
As a new budget impasse began in mid-December,
MediaWatch analysts reviewed all 131 budget-related stories on evening
newscasts (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News,
and CNN's World News) from the evening before the shutdown (December 14)
through the day it ended (January 5).
After President Clinton vetoed several spending bills,
not one story blamed Clinton for the shutdown, but nearly two dozen
declared the GOP culpable. Furloughed workers and other "victims" were
featured in half the stories while no story explored the "Washington
Monument" strategy or the financial boost offered by a balanced budget.
Blame. To fund the government, Congress passes
appropriation bills which the President must then sign. Clinton vetoed
spending bills on December 18 and 19 that would have kept open six
cabinet departments. But on the question of who caused the shutdown,
reporters exclusively pointed a finger at the Republicans. In the 48
stories in which reporters allocated blame, 23 assigned blame to the
Republicans, but not one held Clinton culpable (25 blamed both).
On December 16, when the government's temporary
spending authority ran out, Bob Schieffer led off the CBS Evening News
like a disappointed father: "Well, they've done it again. Nine days from
Christmas, Republicans have forced another partial shutdown of the
government because they cannot come to an agreement with the White House
on how to balance the budget." The next night, ABC's Jerry King also
blamed the GOP. "There's no indication from House Republicans, whose
budget-cutting zeal started all of this, that they are ready, Christmas
season or not, to end it."
During the negotiations that followed the vetoes,
reporters repeatedly blamed Republicans for not compromising. On
December 23 CNN's Wolf Blitzer pined for an earlier time: "In the old
days, the two sides would simply have split the differences, but House
Republicans say they are proud to be revolutionaries...From the White
House perspective there's still one very big wild card: the most
militant House Republicans say they're in no mood to compromise. The
question remains whether Speaker Gingrich can reign them in, or wants
Even as Clinton delayed agreement by breaking his
promises to release a seven-year balanced budget, the networks still
blamed the GOP. ABC's Peter Jennings intoned on January 4, "We begin in
Washington tonight, where the Republicans and the Clinton administration
may be inching their way towards a partial resolution of the government
shutdown. President Clinton and the Republican leaders in Congress have
been meeting almost daily this week, but today the Republicans
apparently felt the need to reassess their position, which has kept a
quarter of a million government employees off the job."
Spending. None of the 131 stories compared the higher
levels of spending both sides proposed. Only two mentioned the levels of
spending in the President's plan or the Republican plan, one coming not
in a news story, but in a CBS commentary by Joe Klein.
Federal Workers. Only 280,000 workers were placed on
furlough, just 15 percent of the work force. Still, the media focused on
the issue in nearly half the stories (62), while only three reports
focused on overburdened taxpayers. ABC's John Martin examined those
angry at the de facto paid vacation on December 18: "This time
government workers have an added worry -- Congress has been hearing from
people who do not want to pay furloughed workers as they were paid after
last month's shutdown."
"Victims." Sixty-seven of 131 stories mentioned a
victim of the shutdown. Thirty stories called attention to families
being turned away from National Parks or Smithsonian Museums. On
December 22, CBS looked at how the stalemate canceled a re-creation of
an Olde English Christmas banquet. John Blackstone reported, "For
thousands of people, a Christmas dream is a traditional Christmas in
Yosemite National Park. But the budget stalemate has closed the park
gates and Yosemite's old fashioned Christmas is slipping away....The
valley has somehow been drained of a seasonal joy it's known for almost
70 years." Although not by a reporter, in this story both sides were
blamed as one of the participants wrote a poem about the cancellation in
which she referred to Newt Gingrich as "slimebucket" and Clinton as
"Washington Monument." Not one report brought up the
"Washington Monument" game being played when high profile services, like
national parks and passport offices are closed in order to maximize
inconvenience. No report questioned why these services were stopped even
though, as The Wall Street Journal found, one-third of the federal
workers at the Interior Department and two-thirds of State Department
employees were considered essential and thus were on the job.
Upside to the Shutdown. If you relied exclusively on
the evening news, you would never have thought there was an upside to
the shutdown. Only twice did a report call attention to a positive
effect of the shutdown. Both were on CNN and dealt with the airline
ticket tax expiring at the end of 1995. Anchor Linden Soles announced on
January 1, "Washington's budget battle has reaped a windfall for air
travelers," saving these travelers $12 million a day. But NBC anchor
Brian Williams saw just the opposite the same day: "We have this
footnote to the mess here in Washington tonight, because of it a tax on
domestic airline tickets expired at midnight so while the budget
negotiators are arguing about the best way to save money, the government
is actually losing money."
Similarly, never mentioned were the benefits of a
balanced budget. The Washington Post reported January 4 that experts
estimated a balanced budget would give $1,000 annually to families
through lower interest rates.
For years, the media have complained about politicians
ducking the tough issues; debating slogans, not substance. Finally, a
substantive policy dispute presents itself. Unfortunately, the media
aren't able to overcome their biases and look beyond the very bumper
sticker politics they formerly decried.
the Bright Side
ABC News has never been eager to report the truth on
GOP efforts to reform Medicare. Good Morning America anchor Morton
Dean continually got the story wrong. On October 12 Dean relayed the
Democratic line: "The Republican plan would cut $270 billion in
Medicare spending over seven years." Exactly two months and scores of
inaccurate reports later, ABC finally told the truth with a December
12 Nightline dedicated to exposing President Clinton's demagoguery.
Chris Bury explained the game, "`Devastate, destroy,
dismantle` -- strong words, but in reviewing Mr. Clinton's performance
on Medicare, Republicans have another word in mind: deceptive...The
truth is, both President Clinton and the Congress want to spend more
money, not less, on Medicare."
Reviewing Hillary Clinton's 1993 appearance before
Congress, Bury showed the First Lady's testimony where she proclaimed
that her health plan reduced "the rate of growth in Medicare from
about 11 percent increase annually to about a 6 or 7 percent increase
annually." Then Bury added, "But this year, when Republicans proposed
to slow the annual growth of Medicare spending to 7.2
percent...President Clinton accused them of gutting the program."
Bury concluded his report: "Since August, when
President Clinton cast himself in the role of Medicare's protector,
his own standing in the polls has risen steadily, and though his
performance has been a smashing popular success, many critics believe
the price of admission has cost the country an honest debate."
A Woman on Welfare
When Republicans began to tinker with the welfare
system, reporters were quick to point out the millions who would end
up in poverty as a result. But on the November 19 60 Minutes, CBS'
Lesley Stahl offered a different take when she profiled "a woman who
knows as much about the subject as anyone. A woman on welfare? No, a
woman on the subject of welfare."
She was Eloise Anderson, head of California's
welfare division. Anderson knows what welfare is like; she was once on
it. She also supports Republican proposals. Stahl noted: "What
Anderson wants to get rid of are the cash payments that go directly to
welfare recipients, known as AFDC....It seems there's no argument for
AFDC that she agrees with. The problem, she says, starts with the way
welfare marginalizes men, because no poor man who makes the minimum
wage, can compete with it."
Stahl pointed out: "Her critics have called her
everything from mean-spirited to compassionless, but Anderson says
it's a question of fairness to low-income workers who pay taxes." As
for fears of disaster, "Anderson says there will be no excuse for not
taking a minimum wage job when the cash payments end, because poor
people will still get help; with food stamps, medical coverage, and
Brinkley Agrees Media are Liberal
Paula Zahn is "Overloaded"
In a December 7 appearance on CNBC's Cal Thomas, David
Brinkley reacted with dismay when read a quote from the MRC's Best
Notable Quotables of 1995: The Eighth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst
Thomas, one of the judges who voted on which quotes
deserved inclusion in the year-end issue, asked: "Could you get away,
for example, with asking a question like this, that was recently asked
by a major network anchor of Pat Buchanan...`You've got political
enemies out there calling you an isolationist, a bigot, you're anti-gay,
and some even go so far as saying your social stands are reminiscent of
Nazi Germany.' Now that's the kind of ideologically loaded stuff that
turns a lot of people off, isn't it?"
Brinkley agreed: "That is so loaded, it's overloaded
and it destroys itself in its own excess. Nobody would ever take that
question seriously, I wouldn't even bother to answer it." Though
Brinkley didn't know it, the quote, first runner-up for the "Damn Those
Conservatives Award," came from Paula Zahn's July 5 CBS This Morning
Earlier in the show the former NBC anchor and current
This Week host acknowledged liberal bias."Well, it's there and it
doesn't show itself in everything that is printed or broadcast but it is
there, and I think we're all used to it, we discount it. Some of the
press also is more conservative and it's just the way the action is in
this country and I don't know any way to change it. You just have to
live with it."
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