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From the March 1999 MediaWatch


No Fine Print

As Washington debates the fate of the surplus, President Clinton declares save Social Security first, and now Medicare as well. How will he save Medicare, scheduled to go broke in 2009? By expanding the program to cover prescription drug costs.

On the February 25 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather promised a look "beyond the photo-op to the fine print." Instead, Scott Pelley supported Clintonís plan with emotional pleas from an elderly lady.

He began: "In Tucson the President called for a revolution in Medicare, not only to save the insurance program, but also to expand it....Medicareís lack of prescription benefits is a quiet crisis." Pelley found a woman dressed in a pink bathrobe with an oxygen tube in her nose. "Peggy Halpert cannot afford all of the medicine she needs to breathe." Halpert explained she would rather receive tax money than support from her children: "I refuse to take my grandchildrenís college money...I refuse to take their money to support me."

While Pelley noted Medicare could claim a quarter of the budget in 20 years, and more if they add prescriptions, he let Halpert envision more government: "I think if Medicare paid for my drugs, it would leave funds for me at the time when Iím going to need more help to come in and do things for me." Pelley strangely suggested: "Youíre fighting for your independence." Halpert affirmed, "And Iíll fight to the day I die for that."


Tax Flacks
NBCís Tom Brokaw also framed the budget in Clintonian terms on the February 17 Nightly News: "Bill Clinton has about a year and a half left before a new President is elected, and he has a lot of ground to make up after last year. Heís hoping youíll help by turning your back on a big tax cut. Does that sound like the world has been turned upside down? It is the new battleground after impeachment: Social Security and Medicare for the future or fewer taxes right now?"

Dan Rather issued a similarly disingenuous report on that nightís Evening News: "Thereís no cooling off period, either, about the Presidentís plan to save Social Security by bankrolling it with money from the U.S. budget surplus. President Clinton was out today trying to sell it to what could be a tough-sell audience on the nationís campuses. Republicans in Congress favor using the surplus for across-the-board tax cuts."

Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May took exception to the network misrepresentations: "Every Republican in Congress has said that 2/3 of the surplus should be reserved for Social Security and that the fight was over whether the remainder should be spent by government or given back to the taxpayers."


Good News?
Putting scandal aside, ABCís World News Tonight got back to promoting liberal causes on February 17 with two consecutive stories.

The tide began with a report on several campus protests by students who want their colleges to toughen up regulations of sweatshops that produce clothing sold on campus. Peter Jennings noted in his introduction that a "college administrator said that after so many years of apathy, it was nice to know that college students care about something other than basketball and bonfires." Then Bill Blakemoreís opening line set the tone of reminiscence: "It feels like the Ď60s: students occupying administration buildings, campus protests on a matter of principle."

Jennings continued: "There is another issue that is causing some controversy at colleges and at high schools. The Justice Department has launched its first investigation into whether mascots with Indian themes violate the civil rights of Native Americans." Bob Woodruff began with Erwin High School in Asheville, North Carolina, with the team names "Warriors" and "Squaws."

Woodruff concluded: "The Justice Department is not telling them to change, it is gathering facts, trying to find a solution that both sides can live with." U.S. News columnist John Leo noted in the March 8 issue that Erwin officials say "gathering facts" will "take staff 12 full working days to provide it. One of the requests is for the names and racial identifications of all students who have performed as student mascots."



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