Please Push NRA to the Left, Mr. Heston
Network Appetite for School Shootings Leads to
In the aftermath of recent school
shootings the media assumed the National Rifle Association faced a
public relations nightmare, as if they were responsible for the actions
of psychotic children. In their coverage of the NRA's annual convention
in Philadelphia, network reporters fixed their crosshairs squarely on
On the June 5 CBS Evening News Dan Rather
marveled at the possibility Heston might be picked to lead the NRA,
offering this loaded intro: "Members of the gun lobby, taking heavy fire
for a spate of shooting sprees by children with guns, are set to meet
and vote in their next President and this time it appears the far and
away favorite is a high caliber name out of Hollywood."
Reporter Jim Stewart charged Heston's
ascendency "comes at a time when the actor's own politics is under fire.
Last December, Heston stunned some of his old friends with a speech
filled with bitterness for some minorities." In fact an anti-Heston Web
page set up by the anti-NRA liberals at the Violence Policy Center had
highlighted the quote, not "old friends."
On the morning shows reporters emptied
their rounds of liberal questions on Heston. On the June 8 Good Morning
America, ABC's Lisa McRee put Heston on the defensive: "But how much of
a public relations crisis have the shootings in schools across this
country caused for you this year?"
Mark McEwen blasted Heston with both
barrels on CBS This Morning: "A new Harris poll shows almost 60 percent
of Americans favor stricter gun control laws. In the wake of recent
shootings, of children shooting children in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Pearl,
Mississippi, and other places, what kind of policy will [you] be looking
to be pushing forward as President of the NRA?" McEwen then distorted
the NRA's position, "A lot of parents are concerned about the facts that
people who aren't adults, let's say they're under 21, can get guns
easily. What about trigger locks, what about gun locks? The NRA is
against both of those." In actuality the NRA opposes mandated use of
Heston's refusal to adopt the media's
platform disappointed reporters. Reciting how the NRA believes "that
what the country really needs to reduce crime is not tougher gun laws,
but tougher enforcement of criminal laws," on the June 8 World News
Tonight ABC's Antonio Mora sighed, "Which sounds as if the NRA under
Heston will offer the same message it's always offered."
Ads for Aliens. As part of the
1996 welfare reform law, food stamps were cut for adult legal
immigrants. On the May 31 The World Today, CNN anchor Laurie Dhue
introduced a one-sided virtual ad for renewing the handout: "There is a
disturbing follow-up report to the federal government's decision to cut
off food stamps to legal immigrants who are not U.S. citizens...a
California study finds that hunger has become a way of life for many
people new to America."
Susan Reed presented a California Food
Policy Advocates (CFPA) study, but failed to name the group. CFPA
claimed to find that 40 percent of immigrant households in L.A. and 32
percent in San Francisco experience "moderate to severe hunger," but
Reed refused to provide any conflicting arguments from conservative
critics. Instead, she supplemented CFPA's point: "Studies have shown
that children who are hungry are less able to learn and have a greater
chance of becoming anemic. Which means they will be less able to grow
and fight infection."
Reed explained that food banks were set
up to deal with the extra demand created by the food stamp cuts, but
that only a third of those eligible are using them. Why? "Welfare
officials say that for many of the immigrants food banks are just too
difficult to access." Reed closed: "Both the U.S. Congress and the
California Assembly are considering legislation to give food stamps back
to adult immigrants, who need them."
Ferris's Day Off. Despite the
views of budget-cutting conservatives, NBC portrayed Bill Ferris, the
new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, as a savior
of southern culture and hero to the humanities. On the May 16 Nightly
News Bob Dotson emphasized how Ferris spent his life, "chronicling
the art of the common man," including quilt making, painting and the
Dotson oozed: "Dr. Ferris' notion of the
arts may make some highbrows cringe, but then his sense of culture
includes those who are often omitted: women, minorities and the poor."
Dotson continued with a thumbs up from B.B. King: "I don't think there
is anybody more qualified than he is." No conservative critics of the
NEH were aired. Dotson's report amounted to a three minute plug for
Ferris and the NEH.
With Ferris strumming a blues riff in the
background, Dotson ended with this endorsement: "Culture for Bill Ferris
does not just come in museums. It is rooted in everyday lives. His
mission in Washington is to think about all of our culture. This man who
has seen so much is trying to help us from seeing too little."
Newt vs. Peace? When Newt Gingrich
visited Israel in late May, he wrote in the Jerusalem Post that "Israel,
and Israel alone, must define the requirements of Israeli security," and
he reaffirmed the position of the U.S. Congress and the Israeli
government that the capital of Israel should be Jerusalem. ABC lambasted
him for possibly ruining the peace process. But when Hillary Clinton on
May 7 voiced her approval for a Palestinian state, going against the
policy of both the U.S. and Israel, her motives remained unquestioned by
On the May 24 World News Tonight,
Richard Gizbert asserted: "Some people think Gingrich is hurting the
peace process, because he may have another agenda. Recent friction
between President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu has left a
potential political opening for Gingrich and the Republican Party, which
he appeared to exploit when he paraded the Prime Minister through
Congress during his last visit to Washington."
Gizbert questioned if this alleged
partisan ploy would work: "Many American Jews are critical of
Netanyahu's hardline policies. It's therefore unclear if latching onto
Prime Minister Netanyahu will lead Newt Gingrich and his Republican
Party to the political promised land back home."
On the May 27 Good Morning America,
David Ensor scolded: "It's beginning to look as if the days when
American partisan politics ended at the waters' edge may be over." Had
Ensor forgotten when House Speaker Jim Wright wrote to Nicaraguan
communist leader Daniel Ortega opposing U.S. policy in the 1980s?
Perhaps a President's foreign policy is beyond reproach only when he's a
Chinese Missiles Aren't Very Sexy
The Monica Lewinsky saga is completely
unique in the annals of Clinton scandal coverage. Even after disparaging
Ken Starr's focus on what Dan Rather insists is the President's
"personal life," the networks have shown much more interest in
Monicagate than the ongoing fundraising scandal. As NBC's Claire Shipman
explained in February, "Who's thinking about Buddhist nuns when the
issue is illicit sex in the White House?"
The fundraising scandal returned in the
evolving story of Chinagate. On April 4, The New York Times noted
President Clinton's waving through missile technology transfers by Loral
to the Chinese government, and the related fact that Loral CEO Bernard
Schwartz was the Democratic National Committee's leading donor. The
networks (except for Fox News Channel) said nothing, in the morning or
On May 15, the Times revealed that
Clinton fundraiser Johnny Chung told investigators he gave the DNC
thousands of dollars from China's People's Liberation Army. Despite
these bombshells, the Monica story has continued to take the lion's
share of network scandal coverage. To document disinterest in the policy
scandal, MRC analysts reviewed evening newscasts (ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today at 10pm ET, and NBC
Nightly News) and morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This
Morning, and NBC's Today) in the three weeks from May 15 to June 5.
Overall, the Monicagate story drew more than twice as much coverage as
the Chinagate story on the evening news, and more than six times as many
stories on the morning shows.
In the evening, the networks offered 38
full stories (featuring reporters in the field) on Monicagate to only 15
on the Chinagate angle, and seven of those were on ABC. (The disparity
in brief items from the anchors was 15 to 10). ABC's World News Tonight
went against the grain in airing six full stories on the Lewinsky case
versus seven full stories on the China connection.The tone was not
always critical, or even objective. On May 21, reporter Linda Douglass
deflated the China issue by underlining partisan glee: "Republicans hope
to make a big show of their hearings over the summer, and lay the ground
work for a scandal that they can talk about during the fall election."
CBS Evening News aired eight full stories
on the Lewinsky probe to three on Chinagate. Their first full Chinagate
report came on May 20, five days after the second New York Times story
appeared. NBC Nightly News (with 12 stories on Monicagate, and only two
on Chinagate) didn't air its first China report until May 21. CNN's The
World Today (with a story ratio of 12 to 3) jumped on the May 15 Times
story, but hasn't pursued the China angle, not running a piece since May
The Big Three morning shows focused much
more on Lewinsky, airing 40 full segments (21 reports and 19 interviews)
on Monicagate to only six (four reports, two interviews) on Chinagate.
(The disparity in anchor-read items was 32 to 4.) As with the evening
shows, ABC's Good Morning America aired the most on Chinagate, with two
full reports and the only two interviews on morning TV, including a
Memorial Day panel with Rep. Christopher Cox and Chinese human rights
activist Harry Wu. ABC aired more than twice as many segments on Monica,
four reports and six interviews.
CBS and NBC each aired only one full
report on Chinagate - no interviews, and no brief items from anchors.
CBS This Morning aired nine reports and one interview on Monica, but
only touched on China with a Sharyl Attkisson report on Memorial Day.
NBC's Today had the widest disparity of coverage with 20 Monica segments
(including 12 interviews), to just one David Bloom report, also on
Memorial Day, the morning after Loral CEO Bernard Schwartz and other
Chinagate players appeared on the Sunday talk shows.
Since May 15, Chinagate developments have
continued to tumble out with little network followup. On May 22, the
White House briefed reporters on Chinagate, which led to major newspaper
stories the next day. On June 7, NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert
underlined the importance of the briefing when he asked NBC White House
correspondent David Bloom: "The issue of Chinese money and whether or
not national security was compromised. David Bloom, how concerned is the
White House about this issue getting legs and resonance with the
Bloom answered: "I think deeply
concerned, and I think that the evidence of that was the fact White
House immediately came out and made available to those of us who were
reporting at the White House all the internal, top secret documents that
the White House used in order to make their decision on whether that
satellite technology from Loral should indeed go to China. They've never
done that before with us. They brought us all in and said 'look at all
the evidence.' They don't do that unless they think there's a problem."
But on May 22, NBC led with the Secret Service ruling, and didn't
mention Chinagate. CNN ran a full report and CBS aired a couple of
sentences. ABC provided a full story the next night, but not NBC.
The New York Times followed up on June 1.
Reporters Jeff Gerth and John Broder noted from their review of the
documents that Bush and Clinton both approved satellite waivers with
little debate, but the Loral waiver "was not routine," since Loral was
under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. National
Security Adviser Sandy Berger learned the State Department found Loral's
offenses to be "criminal" and "knowing" of the damage it could cause.
The Pentagon told the NSC that Loral provided "potentially very
significant help" to Beijing's ballistic missile program, although a
White House official claimed the NSC never received the official
In a June 4 front-page article ignored by
the networks, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz revealed "U.S.
intelligence agencies are tracking a Chinese ship carrying weapons
materials and electronics destined for Pakistan's major nuclear weapons
laboratory." Clinton administration actions may have increased the
possibility of a south Asian nuclear conflagration and may have resulted
in increasingly accurate Chinese missiles aimed at American cities, but
the networks still prefer the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal they've
repeatedly emphasized that the American people don't care about. They
ought to pursue both scandals.
Rest in Peace,
Network correspondents managed to condemn
Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" line
when he died, but not the infamous "daisy" ad that suggested he'd start
a nuclear war. Only CNN and FNC tied the launch of Ronald Reagan's
political career to his speech for Goldwater.
The day he passed away, May 29, Dan
Rather displayed the very liberal bias which so upset Goldwater backers
in 1964, declaring on the CBS Evening News: "Goldwater was born
89 years ago in Arizona, before it was a state. CBS's Richard
Schlesinger remembers the man who turned the GOP hard to the right."
Schlesinger insisted Goldwater's
convention speech did more harm than good: "When Goldwater was nominated
for President in 1964 his speech defined him and haunted him for the
rest of his career." Viewers heard the first half of his famous line -
"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" - but not the second
half about how "moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue."
Schlesinger moved to the ad in which a
little girl pulls petals from a daisy matching a countdown which ends
with a nuclear blast: "Lyndon Johnson jumped at the chance to portray
Goldwater as a loose cannon in the nuclear age. What might have been the
first negative TV ad in history hammered home the point."
ABC matched CBS, letting viewers hear
only the first half of Goldwater's comment. Anchor Peter Jennings
introduced the "extremism" line: "To his conservative political
supporters he was a savior. In your heart, they said, you know he's
right." After the Goldwater clip Jennings continued: "To his opponents,
including President Johnson who he ran against, he was a dangerous
extremist. In your heart, they said, you know he's nuts." Then, over
video of the daisy ad, Jennings announced without judgment: "With
political ads like this one, that suggested Goldwater would get the
nation into war with the Soviets, President Johnson buried him."
CNN's Bernard Shaw also refrained from
condemning the daisy ad: "Vietnam became a campaign issue, but President
Johnson defended himself by successfully painting Goldwater as a
right-wing kook who couldn't be trusted to have his finger on the
nuclear button. This commercial ran once and voters got the message."
The media may have delivered another
round of biased coverage, but the media message against Goldwater three
decades ago did not go unnoticed. On A&E's Biography This Week,
narrator Richard Schlesinger of CBS News noted how liberal Republicans
attacked Goldwater in '64, adding: "The press joined the charge. There
were insinuations that he was a Nazi." Viewers then saw a CBS News story
by Daniel Schorr, now with NPR.
On the Bright Side
Donald Smaltz, who indicted
ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy last year and will try him this fall,
emerged from network TV oblivion when the PBS series Frontline
presented "The Secrets of an Independent Counsel" on May 19.
Correspondent Peter Boyer, a co-writer of two other recent Frontline
films on the Whitewater and fundraising scandals, began by noting the
creation of the independent counsel law in the 1970s, and the Clintons'
changing positions: "Now, two decades later, the nation is having second
thoughts, real doubts about whether there should be any more. The
political generation now in power, which once exalted the independent
counsel, now seems determined to destroy it."
Boyer told Smaltz's story of having his
investigation frustrated and constrained by the Clinton Justice
Department, but also gave plenty of time to Smaltz's adversaries at
Justice and lawyers for the men and companies he convicted. He noted
that the Justice Department declared Smaltz could not pursue the
allegations of Joe Henrickson, the Tyson Foods pilot who claimed he flew
envelopes of cash from Tyson to then-Gov. Bill Clinton. The Justice
Department claimed it would investigate, but Boyer noted Henrickson has
never been contacted by them.
Frontline not only told the story
the other networks have failed to report, but corrected the program's
own record: Frontline's only signficant mention of a Clinton
scandal in the first term was an investigation of the Agriculture
Department called "Is This Any Way to Run a Government?" which portrayed
Espy as a force for reinventing government who "sees himself as a victim
of his own reforms."
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