Clinton Ally's Coalition-Building with Louis Farrakhan
Reserving Rebukes for Buchanan
When the liberal Center for Public Integrity released
a report February 15 showing Larry Pratt, co-chairman of the Pat
Buchanan campaign, had attended and spoken before meetings of white
supremacists and anti-semites, it led all the network evening newscasts.
Some made Buchanan guilty by association. "Pat Buchanan was caught today
in his own crossfire with accusations that he is running a campaign of
hate and bigotry," declared Phil Jones on CBS.
But five days later, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore
attended the swearing in of Kweisi Mfume as President of the NAACP, the
networks refused to make an issue of Mfume's links to the Nation of
Islam's Louis Farrakhan. The four network evening shows didn't even
mention the event.
As New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel
pointed out February 29, Mfume "helped forge the 1993 `Sacred Covenant'
between the Congressional Black Caucus, which Mfume chaired, and Louis
Farrakhan's Nation of Islam." Surely, asked Breindel, "the fringe-right
groups with which Larry Pratt associates are no more pernicious than the
Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, immediately took
a leave of absence from the Buchanan campaign. "Mfume, by contrast,"
Breindel noted, "hasn't manifested any inclination to distance himself
from Farrakhan....the ex-Congressman hasn't even been asked to do so."
Not even after Farrakhan praised the leaders of Libya, Iraq and Iran
during a world trip. Farrakhan accepted a $1 billion pledge from Libyan
dictator Moammar Gadhafi for his separatist organization to "mobilize
`oppressed' minorities to influence this year's U.S. elections," The
Washington Post reported February 17, three days before Clinton stood
Back in the U.S., Farrakhan offered some fresh anti-semitism.
In a clip shown February 29 on Rush Limbaugh, he said: "When you bring
me before Congress, I'm going to call the roll of all the Congressmen
who are honorary members of the Israeli Knesset and get contributions
from the Zionist AIPAC, and then I want you to register as a foreign
power! Every year you give Israel $46 billion of the taxpayers' money
and you haven't asked the taxpayers one damn thing. Who are you an agent
Did reporters demand Clinton explain his support of
Farrakhan backer Mfume? No, they were too busy tarnishing Buchanan. In a
February 23 NBC Nightly News piece, Gwen Ifill proffered to Buchanan:
"People say that you are a sexist, a racist, an anti-semite." Ifill
concluded that "Buchanan fancies himself a trench-fight-er, a warrior
for a new conservatism of the heart. But increasingly he's being judged
by the company he keeps." That's not a judgment reporters made of
Coming Aboard Bill's Team
Two network veterans have joined the effort to
re-elect President Clinton. In the Clinton-Gore campaign office, Roll
Call reported that Joseph Lockhart, who bounces between Democratic
presidential campaigns and network slots, has bounced again, this time
into the national press secretary slot. Lockhart was an assistant press
secretary to Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in 1984, then Press
Secretary to Senator Paul Simon until becoming assignment editor for ABC
News in Chicago in 1985. He put in a stint as a deputy assignment editor
at CNN before joining the 1988 Dukakis-Bentsen campaign as a traveling
press aide. Stuart Schear, the off-air health and science reporter until
last year for the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, has joined the White House
press office as coordinator of local and national TV interviews with the
President, The Washington Post reported. For the July/August 1995 Mother
Jones, Schear wrote "a consumer guide to the health insurer's new,
overheated advertising campaigns."
Politics in All News
ABC and Fox have chosen political operatives to head
their future all-news cable channels. ABC News President Roone Arledge
went left, hiring back former ABC News executive Jeff Gralnick from NBC
News where he's been Executive Producer of the NBC Nightly News since
1993. In 1971 Gralnick served as Press Secretary to liberal Senator
George McGovern (D-S.D.). After promoting the future presidential
candidate, Gralnick jumped to ABC, where by 1979 he had risen to
Executive Producer of World News Tonight. He oversaw all election
coverage for ABC since 1980, becoming Vice President and Executive
Producer of special events in 1985.
Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch went to the right, naming
Roger Ailes, President of CNBC since 1993, as the chief executive of the
Fox All News Network as well as of the Fox broadcast news operation.
While producer of the Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s, Ailes met Richard
Nixon and left the show to become media adviser to the 1968 Republican
candidate's successful run. He spent the next two decades devising media
and ad strategies for GOP candidates, including Ronald Reagan and George
Bush. In 1992 he took the helm of the Rush Limbaugh TV show as its
Raking in the Dough
Six media veterans are making out pretty well at the
White House, a June 26, 1995 payroll report shows. The March 1
Washington Times ran the list of salaries of 407 White House staffers
released by the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on the
Treasury, Postal Service and general government.
The list shows that speechwriting head Donald Baer, a
former U.S. News Assistant Managing Editor, earns $125,000 a year. Wall
Street Journal and Time reporter turned speechwriter Daniel Benjamin
gets $80,000, as do speechwriters Carolyn Curiel, a former Nightline
producer, and Alison Muscatine, a former Washington Post reporter who
also helped write First Lady Hillary Clinton's book It Takes a Village.
Deputy Press Secretary Virginia Terzano, a CBS News election unit
researcher in 1988, pulls down $66,000. At the bottom end lies Anne
Edwards at $50,000, a former CBS News assignment editor and Senior
Editor for NPR who now runs the press advance operation.
TV to Computer Screen
First she reported the news, then she spun the news.
Now Kathleen deLaski will do both in cyberspace. America Online has
named her general manager of its politics section. In 1988 she became an
on-air report-er in Washington for ABC, jumping to the Clinton team in
1993 as Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Department of Defense where
she remained through late 1994. For the past year she's been Deputy to
the Undersecretary for Policy Liaison.
Post Redefines Deregulation
Poor, Poor OSHA
The Congress may have failed so far to pass a
regulatory reform bill, but The Washington Post is warning of the
consequences of "deregulation" nonetheless. In a four-part February
18-21 series titled "De Facto Deregulation," Post reporters didn't so
much describe "deregulation" as they did the frustration of regulators
and their political allies at their inability to implement additional
In the first story, reporter Cindy Skrzycki did
feature opinions from the "libertarian" Cato Institute and the
"conservative" National Center for Public Policy Research, but leftist
Ralph Nader was simply a "consumer activist." Despite their prominence
in the series, liberal groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) were not described as liberal.
Stephen Barr's story on the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) read like a bureaucrat's newsletter,
beginning with the headline "Cuts Frustrate OSHA Plans to Improve Worker
Safety." Barr mourned the agency's 15 percent budget reduction and
trotted out the OSHA line that it has far too few inspectors to enforce
its regulations in every business across the nation. Barr passed on OSHA
complaints that it hasn't enough money for its office redesign plans and
computer networking operations. Barr added that its employees "likely
will lose part of their salaries through unpaid furlough days....The
possibility of layoffs has flattened morale at OSHA and left many OSHA
employees feeling anxious about their futures."
Barr didn't address the philosophical point of new
congressional oversight -- that for decades, regulatory agencies had no
check or balance in the legislative branch -- or the obvious
counterpoint that OSHA's actions have often caused economic frustrations
and anxieties to businesses.
In the last article of the series, reporter Gary Lee
mourned the failure to implement new revisions from the 1990 Clean Air
Act reauthorization. As David Hawkins of the NRDC complained in the
series' last paragraph: "We'll never be able to get clean air in areas
like [Baltimore or Houston] without stricter enforcement of the act."
Apparently to the Post, "deregulation" doesn't mean the repeal of
regulations, but merely slowing down the juggernaut of ever-increasing
Janet Cooke Award
CBS Reporter Smears Pat Buchanan by Connecting
Him to the Ku Klux Klan
McNamara Tries Guilt by Association
After newscasts highlighted the story of Larry Pratt,
the Pat Buchanan campaign co-chairman who resigned to combat the
discovery that he spoke in a number of forums where racists and other
bigots appeared, liberal Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant loaded his
February 20 column with friendly fire: "For liberals to be silent simply
because this filth is being directed at a creature of the Right who
happens to be on a political roll is intolerable." If the networks
wished to investigate the charge of bigotry against Buchanan, they had a
library of columns and an archive of video clips to spend weeks hunting
through for examples. Instead of doing the hard work of combing the
minutiae of his paper (and TV) trail, the networks decided to practice
guilt by association, suggesting his campaign appeal is too
indiscriminate, too likely to appeal to bigots.
In a February 23 Nightline, ABC's Ted Koppel refined
the issue: "It's not that Pat Buchanan today is associated with overtly
anti-Semitic or racist acts or statements, but rather that he has
created an image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or
statements by others." Koppel not only suggested Buchanan's father was a
regular listener to the anti-Semitic radio show of Father Coughlin (he
later apologized when the family denied this), he even stooped to
accusing Buchanan's little brothers of having beaten up Jewish kids in
the 1950s. This is odd coming from Koppel, who said of Bill Clinton's
1969 draft-dodging thank-you letter: "If we were electing that
23-year-old man, what he said and thought and felt at that time would be
Koppel ended his show with a pro-Buchanan letter from
Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky charging Israel controls
America's finances "through American Jews or Negroes." Koppel concluded:
"It's not that Buchanan hasn't expressed some of the views that
Zhirinovsky echoed, but perhaps he'd never realized how ugly they
sounded until he heard them in the mouth of a genuine bigot." For a
desperate search for damaging Buchanan allies, the other networks could
not match CBS. For finding Buchanan guilty by association with people
he's either repudiated or never heard of, CBS reporter Bob McNamara won
the March Janet Cooke Award. On the February 28 Evening News, Dan Rather
began the story: "For his part, Buchanan vowed to come back big in the
next phase of primaries and immediately, quote, `lit into' Forbes during
a southern campaign swing today, lit into Forbes as too liberal. At the
same time, Buchanan is trying to deflect criticism that he is an
extremist, who, at the very least, uses code words to attract voters
with racist, bigoted views. Buchanan flatly denies this. Correspondent
Bob Mc- Namara has been looking into it."
McNamara moved quickly to the issue of Buchanan's
fans: "They were waiting 3,000 strong for Pat Buchanan outside Atlanta
last night. They say they've been waiting for years... Here, his call to
take back the country is a crowd pleaser. But outside the campaign,
critics charge that Buchanan's rhetoric is making this race about race.
And the man and his ideas are now beginning to be judged by the company
McNamara explained: "Lurking in the shadows of last
month's Louisiana campaign, there was former Klan leader David Duke."
Duke told CBS: "I let the word out to all my supporters in the state
that I supported Patrick Buchanan, and if Patrick goes on to win the
nomination, I guess part of the credit will have to go to us." McNamara
allowed a perfunctory rebuttal: "It is not an endorsement Buchanan
wants, and today his backers took pains to distance their man from
charges of extremism on economics and immigration, race, and religion."
CBS aired Buchanan backer Rabbi Aryeh Spero: "This is a guilt by
association, which is very dangerous to our whole political system."
Focusing on racism, McNamara countered: "Today, even
in the New South, old ideas have not been completely laid to rest. And
for people uncomfortable with the way the world has changed, Buchanan's
message is hitting home....Danny Carver is a roofing contractor, a
Christian, and a lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan. He says he and
Buchanan speak the same language." Carver told McNamara: "About
everything he says we agree with....When he's talking about affirmative
action he has to be talking about women and niggers, I guess." McNamara
asked: "Do you think Buchanan would want to hear that you support him?"
Carver replied: "He would want to hear it, but he don't want it on TV."
CBS didn't explain how Carver came to their attention.
He's not an unknown, but a self-promoting semi-regular on Howard Stern's
syndicated radio show. Stern, who's Jewish and calls Carver a "lunatic,"
has featured him as the butt of humor on his Butt Bongo Fiesta video
(where he struck out in the game "Guess Who's the Jew"), and as a judge
of the topless "Miss Howard Stern" contest in a 1993 New Year's Eve
McNamara concluded: "The Buchanan campaign said
tonight that it adamantly rejects all forms of racism as immoral, saying
that their campaign is, quote, `populated by people who embrace the
sense of justice in the Old and New Testament.' But he has become a
candidate battling a political Catch-22. A man who says what he means
and means what he says and now must fight the embrace of people who
think they know exactly what he is talking about." CBS News spokeswoman
Kim Apgar told MediaWatch "I can't speak to this. You need McNamara."
But CBS could not locate a number where McNamara could be reached.
While CBS attempted to connect Buchanan with neo-Nazis
and the KKK, they have been critical of any look at the associations of
Bill Clinton. In October 1992, The Washington Times and others
investigated Clinton's role in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Father
Richard McSorley's book Peace Eyes recounts Clinton's role as an
organizer of a protest service that ended in a march to the U.S. embassy
with white crosses, left "as an indication of our desire to end the
agony of Vietnam." McSorley reported the protest's organizers were
"Group 68 (Americans in Britain)," which "had the support" of the
British Peace Council, a Soviet front group.
After Clinton's anti-war involvement came up in the
first presidential debate, CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith declared
on October 12: "Clearly, that red-baiting junk didn't work last night."
The networks aired no stories questioning "the company Clinton keeps" or
suggesting "It's not that Clinton has signaled through acts or
statements his support for the Soviet Union, but that he created an
image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or statements."
They called it a smear. Guilt by association is clearly a game reporters
play on only one side.
Jack White, Smear Artist.
In an attack uglier than any of this year's attack
ads, Time national correspondent Jack E. White announced the culprits
behind black church burnings in the South. After blaming Pat Buchanan's
"ugly rhetoric" in the March 18 issue, he broadened the smear: "In fact,
all the conservative Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Pete Wilson, who
have sought political advantage by exploiting white resentment should
come and stand in the charred ruins of the New Liberty Baptist Church in
Tyler [Alabama]...and wonder if their coded phrases encouraged the
arsonists. Over the past 18 months, while Republicans fulminated about
welfare and affirmative action, more than 20 churches in Alabama and six
other Southern and Border states have been torched."
White noted the current lack of evidence of a racist
conspiracy in the bombings, yet concluded: "But there is already enough
evidence to indict the cynical conservatives who build their political
careers, George Wallace-style, on a foundation of race-baiting. They may
not start fires, but they fan the flames."
Rooting Against Rush.
Tom Brokaw may have engaged in wishful thinking on the
February 14 Nightly News when he devoted the "NBC News Online" to the
alleged fall of Rush Limbaugh. Brokaw claimed "Election results are one
way to tell who's hot in politics. Then there are the ratings in this
business." Brokaw charged that Limbaugh's "radio and television ratings
have tumbled, and his books, once huge best-sellers, now are in the
discount bins." He added a plug for the book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat
Idiot by Al Franken, a fellow NBC employee: "And a book about Limbaugh,
by the comedian Al Franken, is riding high, it's number two behind
Hillary Clinton's book and rising fast."
But as Talkers magazine Editor Michael Harrison noted
in the March 3 Washington Times, Limbaugh's ratings "dropped a marginal,
insignificant amount" in the fall. "The guy belches in ratings, and
everyone runs around as if the witch is dead," Harrison said. He noted
Limbaugh is on 650 radio stations, with a total audience more than
double his closest political talk show competition.
Linda Cecere of the Rush Limbaugh television show told
MediaWatch there are 8.9 million copies of Limbaugh's two books
currently in print, and noted the books have spent a total of 114 weeks
on the New York Times bestseller list (hardcover and paperback). His
first book spent 24 weeks at the #1 spot. Brokaw ignored how virtually
all bestsellers with a big press run are eventually discounted.
With Friends Like These....
During the usually contentious primary season the
media focused on Republican rifts, but ignored Democratic divisions over
their party leader. With two exceptions the networks failed to report
attacks on President Clinton from two prominent Democrats. In an
interview with Washington Post reporter Martha Sherrill in the January
issue of Esquire magazine Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) insisted:
"Clinton's an unusually good liar." Kerrey's extraordinary admission
received very little coverage. Tim Russert, prompted by a Washington
Times article, asked Colorado Gov. Roy Romer about the Kerrey quote on
the February 4 Meet the Press.
CNN's Bernard Shaw briefly mentioned the quote on the
February 6 Inside Politics, and added the remarks of Sen. Ernest
Hollings (D-S.C.) who joked of Clinton's poll ratings: "If they get up
to 60 percent, his people tell me Bill can start dating again." Shaw
also relayed a Hollings quote from a South Carolina paper: "Clinton's as
popular as AIDS in South Carolina." The Hollings quotes received no
coverage in the usually AIDS-sensitive television networks of ABC, NBC
and CBS. By contrast, in December 1994 when Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
joked that Clinton was so unpopular that he had better bring bodyguards
if he visited any military bases, the Helms remark generated nine
stories on the three broadcast network evening news shows.
Our Sweet Little Terrorist Helper
In the weeks following the Oklahoma City bombing, the
news media were quick to portray suspect Timothy McVeigh
unsympathetically as a violent extremist, as well they should. But when
26-year-old Lori Berenson was sentenced to life in prison by a Peruvian
military tribunal for being closely involved with the Marxist terrorists
of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the news media tried
to portray her sympathetically as a concerned American who went to Latin
America to work for the poor.
Although she admitted to being affiliated with the
MRTA, the January 22 Time didn't feel that was important: "Her friends
and relatives know Lori Berenson as a compassionate idealist, an
innocent waylaid by her concern for the poor and oppressed of Latin
America." Time concluded: "But Berenson's real passion was always to
help the downtrodden; as a teenager she donated time to a soup kitchen."
A February 4 Washington Post headline read: "Little Girl Lost. American
Lori Berenson, 26, Was a Good Daughter, A Good Worker, a Good-Hearted
Person. In Peru, She Got Into Trouble. Bad Trouble." On February 21, ABC
Prime Time Live reporter John Quinones used the same approach in a story
titled "To Love A Country": "In the 8th grade, Lori volunteered to work
at a soup kitchen. Later that year she was selected to narrate a
commercial for CARE, an appeal to feed needy children."
This theme was countered by a Mark Falcoff article in
the February 26 issue of The Weekly Standard: "But let the record show
that she is charged not for her views, but for her involvement with a
terrorist group that, in recent years, has been involved in
assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and attacks against
innocent people, many of them poor."
The networks continue to ignore ethics complaints
against Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives. In early
February, the networks saw no need for a story when Rep. Jennifer Dunn
(R-Wash.) filed a complaint with the House ethics committee suggesting
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt may have evaded capital gains
taxes on a land swap.
The February 23 Washington Times reported that
Gephardt dumped his share of ownership of the vacation home on North
Carolina's Outer Banks. George Archibald wrote that Gephardt, who is an
avid opponent of capital gains tax cuts, "claimed for
financial-disclosure purposes that his condo was not a rental property
the year he sold it for $183,000. He simultaneously claimed it as a
rental property for tax purposes to escape capital gains taxes of about
$17,000 in 1991." Archibald struck again with a March 6 piece in the
Washington Times noting that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) formally requested
the Justice Department undertake a criminal probe of Gephardt's tax
situation. Neither story piqued the networks' curiosity.
On March 6, the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation
filed a complaint against House MinorityWhip David Bonior, the ethical
scold of Speaker Newt Gingrich, for misusing his congressional staff to
write a 1984 book on government time. The networks didn't cover that
"This morning we're taking a close look at the problem
of child care, a problem some countries are solving," co-host Harry
Smith announced on the February 21 CBS This Morning. The country with
the solution? France and its expensive, old-style socialist system.
Smith marveled at the state-mandated benefits: "Like
all new mothers in France, Helene took a 16-week paid maternity leave
from her job. In addition, mothers who work for larger companies can
take off two more years unpaid, with the guarantee their jobs will still
be there when they get back." To support this system, Smith admitted
that taxes are "much higher in France than in the United States...and
that may be why they're going through some of their own economic
problems." But, incredibly, he also referred to the system as free:
"When Jeanne leaves day care, she can attend a completely free, good
quality, state-run pre-school where she stays until she is six and
primary school begins." Smith followed the segment with an interview of
Ellen Galinsky of the liberal Families and Work Institute. His first
question was more accusation: "In the United States, are we just not
willing to pay for child care?"
ABC vs. the First Amendment
A special interest group wants to use the coercive
power of the government to silence the opposition. ABC News naturally
comes down on the side of free speech, right? Not quite. Here's how
Peter Jennings introduced a February 14 World News Tonight story:
"Supporters of gun control, who had no success convincing a Republican
Congress to pass stronger gun control legislation, have adopted a new
tactic. They have asked the Federal Trade Commission to stop certain
advertisements by gun manufacturers."
Lisa Stark explained that the ads "sell safety and
security, offering guns as a way to protect loved ones, to guard home
and family. But critics say this picture is deceptive and misleading."
After a soundbite from Sarah Brady, Stark elaborated: "Gun control
advocates point to tragedies you won't find in the ads. In Texas, a
teenager shot and killed, mistaken for a burglar by her father; in
California, a four-year-old shoots himself," and a 15-year-old "killed
by his best friend."
Stark asserted that "scientific studies show handguns
are more likely to hurt family members than protect them." ABC aired
three soundbites from opponents of the gun ads, but only one from Tanya
Metaksa of the National Rifle Association. Metaksa was only allowed to
defend the right to air ads, not to counter the liberal statistics about
gun accidents. If Stark had any interest in balance, she could have
noted that Dr. Arthur Kellerman, a fervent gun control advocate,
explained in the August 14, 1994 U.S. News & World Report that "Studies
such as ours do not include cases in which intruders are wounded or
frightened away by the use or display of a firearm." Last year in his
book Guns, David Kopel noted that bicycle and swimming pool accidents
kill more children annually than do guns. If ABC wants the FTC to
regulate advertisements from weapon manufacturers, then who will
regulate the network's own gun control ads disguised as journalism?
The Episcopalian Inquisition?
The word inquisition brings to mind torture sessions
in dark castles in medieval Europe where unbelievers were strapped to
the rack until they swore allegiance to the church. Recently, the
networks used the word to describe whether the Episcopal Church should
allow a practicing homosexual minister to lead church services.
Peter Jennings led off the rhetorical overkill about
Bishop Walter Righter on the February 27 World News Tonight: "This next
story in the news tonight may conjure the Spanish Inquisition for some
but the dateline is Wilmington, Delaware. A retired bishop could become
the second Episcopal priest in the two hundred year history of the U.S.
Episcopal Church to be tried for heresy, the most serious breach of
Christian faith. His offense: ordaining a practicing homosexual five
On the same night's CBS Evening News, reporter Richard
Threlkeld referred to the trial as something "right out of the middle
ages" and stated that "critics charge Bishop Righter's the victim of a
conservative inquisition." The idea that conservative bishops inside the
Episcopal Church wanted to enforce church doctrine left Threlkeld
scratching his head: "It's ironic that something so medieval should be
happening within the Episcopal Church, one of the more tolerant of
Networks on the GOP: Lard on the Labels,
Investigate Finances, and Charge Bigotry
Clinton Thought He Had It Tough...
Reporters don't like ideological labeling, at least
when it's applied to them. Last November, Dan Rather told Denver radio
host Mike Rosen he hated "to be tagged by someone else's label. I try
really hard not to do that with other people, particularly people who
are in public service and politics."
So do reporters use labeling in campaign coverage?
MediaWatch analysts compared media coverage of the primaries in 1992
with those in 1996. Analysts reviewed evening news coverage of the four
networks (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News,
and CNN's The World Today and in 1992 World News or Prime News) for 19
days, starting with the Tuesday before the New Hampshire primary.
For 1992, the days studied were February 11-29; in
1996, February 13-March 2, the day of the South Carolina primary. Both
were periods when voters and reporters winnowed down the presidential
The study found the Democratic candidates or their
supporters were labeled "liberal" only four times, none suggesting
extremism. In 1996, GOP candidates or their supporters were labeled 73
times, 45 of the labels suggesting extremism. Analysts also looked at
campaign controveries. Five stories investigated the finances of
Republicans, compared to no investigations of the Democrats. Charges of
bigotry by Pat Buchanan were featured in 20 stories.
Reporters used only four liberal labels to describe
the Democratic candidates, all in the first two days of the 1992 study
period. On February 11, NBC's Andrea Mitchell used two labels, calling
Tom Harkin "a pure liberal and proud of it" with "old-fashioned liberal
solutions." That same night, ABC's Judy Muller noted: "If Kerrey's
health plan strikes some voters as too liberal, his more conservative
proposals for dealing with the recession seem to strike a chord with
voters trying to make ends meet." The next night, Muller said Harkin
calls himself "an unabashed liberal."
Even when the ideology seemed obvious, reporters
stressed candidates were not liberal, but part of the mainstream. On
February 12, 1992, ABC reporter Chris Bury reported on Jerry Brown: "To
those who hear him, Brown's appeal is his idealism, his calls for
political reform, universal health care, and environmental activism."
Despite that left-wing agenda, Bury underlined: "Some voters seemed
surprised Brown did not sound so radical." The closest thing to a
Clinton label came from ABC's Jack Smith, who told viewers a week later
that Clinton's economic message "runs counter to so much traditional
liberal ideology." (Did reporters eschew labeling in 1992? No. Stories
during the study period on the 1992 GOP race used the word
"conservative" or "from the right" on 77 occasions, with four references
In 1996, Republicans and their voters were labeled on
73 occasions. The networks employed 18 conservative descriptions, six
moderate labels, and even four liberal tags (all of them from reporters
quoting Buchanan's attacks on his rivals). On the 18th, NBC's David
Bloom said Lamar Alexander was "trying to bolster his conservative
credentials." But extreme terms were applied on 45 occasions -- all but
one to describe Pat Buchanan. (The exception: Bloom called Alexander a
"moderate Republican with a radical plan of devolution.") Among
references to extremism, 36 used the terms "extreme" or "extremist," but
analysts included the terms "ultraconservative," "too conservative" or
"out of the mainstream."
CBS led the networks with 19 references to Buchanan's
extremism (compared to 12 for CNN, nine for ABC, and five by NBC). On
six occasions, CBS underlined their perception of Buchanan's
ultraconservatism by referring to the networks' Voter News Service exit
poll question asking if Buchanan was too extreme. In a February 18
interview with Sen. Phil Gramm, Dan Rather asked: "There is a perception
that Buchanan has around him people with extremist views on race. Do you
agree?" On February 25, CBS weekend anchor John Roberts asked CBS
consultant Joe Klein: "Some call Buchanan an extremist. Others call him
as American as apple pie. What is this fellow's appeal?" Klein replied:
"He is both. He is an extremist and as American as apple pie."
Reporters were not interested in the Democratic
candidates' finances in 1992, airing no stories during the study period.
When Whitewater first came to light on March 8, 1992, NBC aired only one
story, eight days later. CBS made a brief mention on the 8th, and then
dismissed financial questions on the 16th. Reporter Richard Threlkeld
portrayed Whitewater questions as an invasion of Hillary Clinton's
privacy. All together, the networks did just five full stories on the
Clinton finances in 1992.
In 1996, CBS and NBC combined for five stories in just
19 days touching on Republican candidate finances. NBC investigated the
sweetheart deals of Lamar Alexander on February 13, and mentioned them
again February 18. CBS investigated the Alexander deals on February 15,
then added another look at Honey Alexander's and Elizabeth Dole's
financial moves on February 17. On March 2, CBS suggested hypocrisy in
Buchanan's stock ownership of Fortune 500 corporations. On February 21,
CBS reporter Rita Braver claimed Lamar Alexander had "some financial
dealings in his past that might put Whitewater to shame."
Sparked by the disclosure that Buchanan campaign
co-chair Larry Pratt spoke at forums shared by white supremacists, the
networks aired twenty stories raising the allegation that Buchanan was
bigoted against blacks or Jews. CBS reporter Phil Jones concluded:
"Buchanan has been talking and writing like this for years. Then, he was
on the fringe. Now, he's on the front line and Americans are starting to
take a closer look at Pat Buchanan's America." The story count didn't
include isolated soundbites, like one voter on the March 2 CBS Evening
News: "Buchanan scares me. He reminds me of a little guy over in Germany
with a mustache."
In September 1992, Bill Clinton claimed: "Nobody's had
a tougher press than I have. No candidate in history has." Some of this
year's candidates may beg to differ.
the Bright Side
The national news media continually call for increased
funding of public education, but they rarely ask if teachers' unions
could be the problem.
A February 16 20/20 report and the February 26
U.S. News & World Report both looked at the declining quality of
public education, and came to the same conclusion: Teachers unions are
at the heart of the problem. In a cover story entitled `Why Teachers
Don't Teach,' U.S. News summed it up: "The nation's future lies
in its classrooms. But teachers' unions are driving out good teachers,
coddling bad ones and putting bureaucracy in the way of quality
Both reports allowed unionized teachers to explain how
they believe tenure protects them from unfair firings, but reporter Lynn
Sherr revealed: "It often takes so long, it's so expensive and usually
so unsuccessful at getting rid of allegedly bad teachers, some boards of
education have thrown up their hands at even trying." Sherr continued:
"Most elementary and secondary school teachers in this country have
tenure...they have lifetime employment. It is virtually impossible to
get rid of them." Sherr recounted the story of a school board in
Connecticut that had to spend $250,000 in taxpayer money to fire an
inadequate teacher who was later reinstated even though she was found
While the media constantly warn voters of the
Republican Party's pandering to the NRA and the Christian Coalition,
U.S. News pointed out the political power of the National Education
Association: "But teachers unions have used their resources to fight
reform -- and their resources are vast."
The union spent $52 million to renovate their
Washington headquarters, which U.S. News called: "A testament to
its power in national politics, where the NEA has wedded itself to the
Democratic Party. The union handed out $8.9 million to
congressional candidates between 1989 and 1995, only a fraction of it to
CNN's Brooks Jackson was first out of the
gate to critique the presidential candidates in their ads and speeches.
On the April 1 Inside Politics he critiqued Republican charges that
Clinton judges were soft on crime. But in a surprising turn Jackson has
also slammed Clinton's newest set of ads. His April 4 "Spin Patrol"
segment challenged each claim made in the Democratic National Committee
CNN aired the ad: "The President proposes
a balanced budget protecting Medicare, education, the environment. But
Dole is voting no. The President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans.
Dole votes no."
Jackson replied: "Dole voting no to a
balanced budget and tax cuts? Let's see that again...True, Clinton's
latest budget would balance in 7 years on paper, but experts are
skeptical." Jackson used moderate-to-liberal Carol Cox Wait of the
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Robert Reischauer of the
Jackson found the ad's claim "The
President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans" was "Not the whole
story." He pointed out that the Clinton administration arrived at the 40
million number through the 1993 budget bill's expansion of the earned
income tax credit to "15 million low wage families, 40 million if you
count their children." Jackson countered they also raised taxes on 1.5
million high-income families and 5 million Social Security recipients,
not to mention higher gas taxes for everyone.
Another ad claimed Republicans cut school
lunches. Jackson: "Not so. The Republican Congress appropriated more
money for school lunches this year....And the Agriculture Department
says it has increased the number of children served."
The same ad charged the GOP cut Head
Start: "Money for the Head Start pre-school program has been cut four
percent this year, temporarily. But Republican leaders have agreed to a
one percent increase once a permanent appropriations bill is passed.
Meanwhile not a single child has been affected. In fact Head Start
enrollment is up this year."
And the DNC's claim that Republicans "cut
child health care" did not go unchallenged. Jackson explained that
Republicans only reduced the rate of Medicaid growth and that there is
not much difference between the GOP and Clinton's proposal.
CBS Spikes Goldberg for His Honesty
Blew the Wrong Whistle
What a difference the message makes. After 60 Minutes
last fall spiked part of an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, the ex-Brown
& Williamson cigarette company executive, CBS reporters were angry and
embarrassed that Wigand's confidentiality pledge prevented him from
blowing the whistle on his former employer. On February 4, CBS overcame
the legal hurdle and aired the spiked charges about manipulated nicotine
levels. On PBS's Charlie Rose February 6 Dan Rather said that story "was
gutsy, great reporting."
Fast forward a week and CBS correspondent Bernard
Goldberg blew the whistle on CBS, detailing in a February 13 Wall Street
Journal op-ed how colleague Eric Engberg's story on the flat tax "set
new standards for bias." Goldberg explained that "The old argument that
the networks and other `media elites' have a liberal bias is so
blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore."
So did journalists trumpet this whistle-blower?
Hardly. "It's such a wacky charge....I don't know what Bernie was
driving at. It just sounds bizarre," Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer
told The Washington Post. "To accuse Eric of liberal bias is absurd,"
sniffed CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "The test is not the names
people call you or accusations by political activists inside or outside
your own organization," Rather told the New York Post in an insult to
Goldberg's professionalism, insisting "I am not going to be cowed by
anybody's special political agenda."
USA Today's Peter Johnson reported March 11: "Some
colleagues supported him privately. But many others stopped talking to
him, dismissing him as dead wrong, an ingrate, a nut or all of the
above. Mostly, the big chill set in. Not-so-coincidentally, none of his
commentary segments on the News, `Bernard Goldberg's America,' has aired
since the day his piece came out."
Johnson concluded that CBS has decided to bully the
messenger: "Goldberg has spent the past month lying low, hoping animus
toward him would die down. It hasn't, and all signs around CBS News are
that it will continue until Goldberg shows interest in eating a healthy
serving of humble pie."
The March 13 New York Post reported that Goldberg
apologized to Engberg and is sorry if he "hurt anyone's feelings." But
Goldberg felt he had to go public since, as he explained to the Post's
Josef Adalian, he "tried for years and years to discuss this issue," but
was "met with varying degrees of `Who cares?'"
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