CyberAlert -- 02/05/1997 -- CBS Wacks Watts

MRC Alert: CBS Wacks Watts; Can't Find Liberals Anywhere

1. "A real sour note was struck in the Republican effort to reach out to black voters today," CBS charged in a reference to J.C. Watts.

2. A reporter who is suing NPR for racial discrimination once claimed that Newt Gingrich advocated "a more civil way of lynching people."

3. The Washington Post sees conservatives everywhere but can't locate a liberal anywhere from Washington to San Francisco.

1. Utter a personal attack on a black conservative and it's not news, but if you disparage the views of a liberal black leader, that will bring media condemnation. The State of the Union response-giver, Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, made a critical comment about Jesse Jackson. CBS treated it as a national crisis.

On Tuesday's CBS Evening News before the OJ verdict broke, Rita Braver concluded a piece, on what Clinton would say to Congress in a few hours, by noting that "he'll recycle a line from his Inaugural asking Americans to join him in becoming repairers of the breach."

Picking up of Braver's language, Dan Rather then intoned: "Well one breach that apparently needs repairing already tonight involves the man chosen by Republicans to give their official response to the President's address, Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. At issue, not what he's going to say, but what he's already said about one of Newt Gingrich's invited guests tonight. Bob Schieffer is tracking this controversy in Washington, Bob."

Schieffer began: "Well Dan a real sour note was struck in the Republican effort to reach out to black voters today. As you know, Speaker Gingrich had invited civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to sit with Ms. Gingrich tonight to hear the President's speech. Gingrich had also chosen a black Oklahoma Republican, J.C. Watts, to deliver the official Republican response to the President's speech. But Watts has stirred up a furor when he was quoted in the Washington Post today speaking of 'his contempt for 'race hustling poverty pimps' like Jesse Jackson and Marion Barry, whose careers depend on keeping black people dependent on government.'"

After explaining that Watts' office said he was not referring to anyone specifically and noting that Jesse Jackson was so upset he considered not attending, Schieffer concluded:

"But his son, Jesse Jr., who is a Congressman from Illinois was so outraged he sent a letter to Watts tonight calling his remarks 'uncivil,' 'immature,' 'ignorant.' and 'insensitive.' And he called for a public correction. This is clearly not what the Republicans planned when they started all of this, Dan."

Back on November 20, black Democratic Congressman William Clay disparaged outgoing Republican Congressman Gary Franks, who is also black, as a "Negro Dr. Kevorkian." The November 21 Washington Times quoted from a six-page letter Clay circulated on Capitol Hill critical of Franks' conservative views. Clay described Franks as "a pariah, who gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race."

Coverage on the CBS Evening News of this scathing personal attack? Not "sour" enough to get reported.

2. While on the topic of uncivil and insensitive language, a just reported racial discrimination lawsuit reminded me an attack a few years ago on Newt Gingrich. NPR's Cairo bureau chief has filed $2 million lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. Sunni Khalid, the February 1 Washington Times reported, "charged that he was often refused basic support for overseas work, such as translators, hazardous-duty pay and language training, for which white reporters are routinely compensated."

On C-SPAN's Journalists' Roundtable on October 14, 1994 Khalid asserted:

"I think there's a big difference when people told Father Aristide to sort of moderate his views, they were concerned about people being dragged through the streets, killed and necklaced. I don't think that is what Newt Gingrich has in mind. I think he's looking at a more scientific, a more civil way of lynching people."

3. Tuesday's Washington Post provides a case study of media bias through labeling. Reading the February 4 Post MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham observed how reporters were quick to tag conservatives but seemed oblivious to the ideas that anyone they quoted could be considered liberal. Here are the examples Tim forwarded to me:

-- On page one, reporter Thomas Lippman relayed that Sen. Jesse Helms "served notice yesterday that he will hold an international treaty banning chemical weapons hostage to his own foreign policy agenda....Supporters of the treaty said Helms has created the first big test of Lott's leadership, arguing that he should use his clout to win ratification of the agreement rather than letting Helms and his conservative allies control the agenda." Despite the fact that Lippman later insisted that "Helms, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other Senate conservatives have serious reservations about it," including "inadequate guarantees of Russian compliance," Lippman failed to label anyone who backed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as "liberal."

-- A story on page A4 reported that the American Bar Association, "the nation's largest and most influential organization of lawyers," voted to ask a halt to the use of the death penalty. The Post never tagged the ABA's policy-making committee or any members "liberal."

-- Also on page A4, an AP story reported how federal investigators are looking into Rep. Bud Shuster's (R-Pa.) role in aiding two campaign contributors involved in a dispute over a Boston highway project. The advocates for taxpayer-funded campaigns quoted in the story, the Center for Responsive Politics, and the Congressional Accountability Project, were not described as "liberal." Instead they were "a campaign finance research group" and "a Ralph Nader-affiliated group."

-- Another page A4 piece carried this headline: "Conservative Group Seeks Access to White House and DNC Data." Post reporter Toni Locy's lead: "A federal judge is considering whether to allow a conservative watchdog group to subpoena records from the White House and the Democratic National Committee regarding trade missions sponsored by the Commerce Department when the late Ronald H. Brown was Secretary."

-- On page A6 the Post headline announced: "Archbishop Kindles Outrage in Gay Community: San Francisco Activists View Stand on Spousal Benefits as Beginning of Conservative Tide." Reporter Peter S. Goodman began: When Archbishop William J. Levada arrived in San Francisco two years ago, many within this city's vast gay community saw it as an ominous sign. Levada was a rising and ambitious figure within the conservative ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The man he was replacing, John Quinn, had been hailed as a voice of moderation, a barrier against the increasingly traditionalist winds of the Vatican. This irreverent city braced for a conservative storm."

Goodman later noted Levada's controversial stand was to treat AIDS patients without being forced by the city government to have the Church recognize same-sex marriages, and added: "Back when Levada was named archbishop and the talk turned to his alleged conservatism, Herb Caen, the legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist who died last week, wrote that he heard an observer remark 'In San Francisco, a conservative cleric is one who wears flats instead of heels.'" The "activists" mentioned in the story were never labeled "liberal."

If you can't find a liberal in San Francisco where can you find one?

-- Brent Baker