CyberAlert -- 05/14/1997 -- Conservative Bias?; Post Reporter's Conservative Budget Bashing

Conservative Bias?; Post Reporter's Conservative Budget Bashing

1. Another day, another day of ignoring the China angle.

2. NBC's Lisa Myers provides a conservative spin on the Family Friendly Workplace Act.

3. Washington Post reporter Eric Pianin's stories match the liberal take on the budget. His new book shows he favors Clintonomics over "disastrous" Reaganomics pushed by "radical" conservatives.

1) Update on the China connection story. Yesterday's CyberAlert noted that ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News all ignored Monday's Los Angeles Times story on how the FBI is investigating a Democratic donor, who sat next to Clinton at a fundraiser, as a possible agent for China. Ditto for CNN's World Today. While CNN reported the story on Inside Politics, the network excluded it from its 10pm ET news show. Tuesday's morning shows also failed to pick up on the LA Times revelation.

2) A bit of conservative bias on NBC News? In an unusual twist, a story on Tuesday's (May 13) NBC Nightly News concluded with a conservative spin. Reporter Lisa Myers looked at the Republican-sponsored bill to allow employers to offer hourly employees paid comp time instead of overtime pay for working extra hours.

Myers began with Andrew and his single mother who is a paralegal and would appreciate the new flexibility. Next, Myers noted that federal employees are already able to take advantage of another provision of the bill, flexible hours which let an employee work 30 hours one week and 50 the next. Republicans named the bill the Family Friendly Workplace Act, but Myers noted that Democrats call it a "farce." After a soundbite from Senator Tom Harkin complaining the bill would just let companies pay people less, Myers referred back to the paralegal's situation as she concluded:

"The bill is now stalled in the Senate, with Republicans and business lined up for it, Democrats and labor unions against and the President threatening a veto. So for now Andrew's karate classes and swimming lessons will have to wait. His mom's work schedule won't allow it."

3) Summarizing the budget deal in the May 3 Washington Post reporters Eric Pianin and John Harris emphasized how the plan includes "Medicare savings totaling $115 billion..." A few sentences later the duo reported that "Defense spending will closely mirror Clinton's request, with roughly $45 billion more of cumulative spending authority over five years than the current spending level."

An interesting switch in approaches. An approach that matches how a liberal would see the budget: Medicare will be cut while defense spending will rise. In fact, both will increase. Very few numbers are available, but looking at the OMB's 1998 proposed budget tables and comparing 1997 Medicare spending to the amount projected for each year through 2002, I calculate Medicare is now on track to spend $295 billion more in total than it would if spending were held to 1997's $191 billion annual level. Take out the $115 billion in "savings" and you still have $180 billion more spending, or more than three times the plan's allocation for increased defense spending.

Pianin's liberal views are quite clear in a new book he co- authored with the Congressional Quarterly's George Hager, "Mirage: Why Neither Democrats Nor Republicans Can Balance the Budget, End the Deficit, and Satisfy the Public." Writing about the 1995 budget battle, the authors disparaged the conservative position on Medicare reform: "If Republicans were guilty of anything, it was duplicity. They insisted they wanted to preserve traditional Medicare when their policies were aimed at slowly starving it to death."

That's just one of many liberal quotes MRC news analyst Clay Waters picked out as he read through the book. Below are some others Clay caught from Pianin and Hager reflecting the view that responsible deficit cutters -- those who raise taxes -- are never appreciated:

-- "Yes, Clinton and the Democrats passed a real plan that actually reduced the deficit (a better record than Ronald Reagan or George Bush, for that matter). But for what? Polls showed most voters believed the Democrats had done nothing or had raised the deficit -- a big ingredient in the evil soup of disappointments that led voters to throw Democrats out of office in 1994 in record numbers."

-- "From 1981 through 1986, when Republicans controlled the Senate for the first six years of the Reagan presidency, Dole served as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and then as Majority Leader. Back then, he had been a key lieutenant in the Reagan revolution. In 1981, he helped Reagan cut taxes deeply, only to unleash huge deficits; when he tried to stanch the red ink, first with tax increases and finally with cuts in Social Security and other key programs in 1985, what he got for his trouble was a voter backlash that turned the Senate back to the Democrats and put Dole in the minority again."

-- "When [Republican Senator Pete Domenici] saw the happy-face supply-side economics embodied in the House Republican's Contract with America, it was deja vu. The Contract promised to balance the budget while cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. Had no one learned anything? He had been swept along once already in a conservative economic movement with promises too good to be true; he wasn't about to repeat those mistakes."

-- "One of the paradoxes of Reagan's presidency is that despite everything he did to frustrate efforts by Dole, Domenici, Stockman, and others who tried to bring the deficit down, the deficit wound up dropping sharply during the last three years Reagan controlled the budget....Defenders of Reaganomics take this as proof that Reagan's core supply-side policies actually had begun to work -- an analysis that collapses under scrutiny. The drop in the deficit came about largely in spite of anything Reagan did and often due to policy changes he fought."

-- Recalling how Newt Gingrich had opposed the Bush budget deal that raised taxes and that Gingrich suggested a tax cut instead, Pianin and Hager intoned: "Hardheaded budget analysts thought this was simply nuts. It was as if Gingrich had learned nothing from the disastrous experience in 1981, when precisely the formula he was now advocating -- small spending cuts, big tax cuts -- had helped unleash monstrous deficits."

-- On why Bob Dole lost: "Dole could never overcome the public's lingering distaste for the radical Republican conservatism that had triggered a government crisis the year before."

-- "For Dole and his friend Pete Domenici, deficit hawks who had spent years trying to tame the monstrous problem they helped unleash in 1981, it was another bitter loss, all the more galling for the fact that the deficit was now down to its lowest level in years, and the President who had frustrated and obstructed them was taking the credit."

-- The reporters also showed their left of center perspective in how they applied labels. They referred to "the archconservative Heritage Foundation" and Democrat Paul Tsongas who wanted a huge gas tax hike as "a conservative, pro-business former Senator." But when it came to a liberal group, it was just "explained Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice."

Pianin's liberal views have come through before in his news stories. In an August 6, 1995 Post story, cited in the August 14, 1995 Notable Quotables, Pianin insisted:

"Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole has deftly shifted far to the right on the tax issue....Dole shepherded President Ronald Reagan's supply-side tax-cut proposals through Congress in 1981, and then, as an act of contrition, spent years trying to reverse the steady rise of red ink fueled by a recession, Reagan's peacetime defense buildup, and the impact of the tax cuts."

MediaWatch Associate Editor Tim Graham reminded me that the November 1990 MediaWatch relayed a party registration survey conducted by the City Paper. The alternative weekly in DC identified 25 registered Democrats and one Republican on The Washington Post news staff. Among the registered Democrats: Eric Pianin.

Instead on contributing money to the party, Pianin contributes his reporting.

-- Brent Baker