CyberAlert -- 08/19/1997 -- Clinton's Celebrity Vacation; CBS Salutes the NEA

Clinton's Celebrity Vacation; CBS Salutes the NEA

  1. Two Hollywood stars met Clinton's plane in Martha's Vineyard, and he'll spend his vacation palling around with celebrities.
  2. CBS's Sunday Morning broadcast a tribute to the NEA which disparaged conservative arguments against the arts agency.

1) With his last election behind him, President Clinton can put his annual "average guy" vacation charade aside and vacation with Hollywood and other celebrities. When he arrived on Martha's Vineyard Sunday night, in fact, two Hollywood stars were there to meet the plane designated Air Force One. As The Washington Post's Peter Baker reported in an August 17 dispatch for the August 18 edition:

"Just a year ago, the image would have been the stuff of nightmares for his political consultants. As President Clinton and his family disembarked from Air Force One tonight for the start of their summer vacation, there to welcome them were television stars Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson.

"The Clintons greeted them like the old friends they are. But the picture of the First Family hobnobbing with celebrities in this sanctuary for the rich and famous was precisely the vision that led his advisers to keep him away from here for the last two years.

"After two poll-approved August outings in the mountains of Wyoming, the election is history, and the President and Hillary Rodham Clinton are again summering on this Massachusetts island with friends from Harvard and Hollywood..."

Steenburgen and Danson will host a 51st birthday party for the President this week, Washington Times reporter Paul Bedard noted in an August 18 story. Other celebrities the President is expected to visit during his three weeks on the island, Bedard listed: "The homes of retired Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham, singer James Taylor, Mr. Taylor's former wife and singer Carly Simon, author and arts champion Sheldon Hackney, TV lawyer Alan Dershowitz, author William Styron and Vineyard tour guide and Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan."

2) Even during slow summer days with no political events to drive news reports there's always one show you can count on to deliver liberal bias: CBS's Sunday Morning. This past Sunday, August 17, the cover story explored the National Endowment for the Arts. But instead of an even-handed look at arguments for and against the agency, CBS provided an eleven minute tribute to the wonders of the NEA which shot down every conservative contention. CBS suggested the NEA is the only thing preventing the "dumbing down" of America and warned that eliminating the agency would lead to "casualties."

Charles Osgood introduced the cover story:
"The state of the arts will be on the line very soon in the United States Senate, perhaps as early as the second week of September. That is when Senators will have to decide whether to follow the lead of their colleagues in the House and cut off the flow of federal money to the arts. Whether or not you think the arts are important enough to warrant official support, the issue is important because in an era of so-called 'dumbing down,' it says so much about what sort of society we want America to become. Our cover story is reported by Martha Teichner."

As transcribed by just hired MRC news analyst Eric Darby on his first day on the job, Martha Teichner began by emphasizing how little the NEA costs as she showed the budget signing ceremony:

"It was a regular orgy of self-congratulation. Democrats and Republicans celebrating their balanced budget deal. A package that amounts to $1.7 trillion dollars a year, tied up as neatly as a Christmas present. Not nearly so neat and pretty, the fight over less than one one-hundredth of one percent of that budget."

After airing soundbites from Republican leaders and then allowing NEA Chairman Jane Alexander shoot them down, Teichner revealed that one conservative argument really annoyed her: "But the all-time favorite, the one that won't go away, is that the NEA funds obscenity."

Teichner proceeded to talk with the Christian Action Network's Martin Moyer about his display of obscene art funded by the NEA. Moyer asserted that the public is "shocked that the endowment has funded this." Teichner countered: "Except that in many cases the NEA didn't, it gave money to museums that 'happened' to of exhibited the works."

CBS spent the last few minutes looking at the wonders of the NEA in Washington State, home of the Senator who chairs the subcommittee which oversees the NEA and could save it from the irresponsible House Republicans. Teichner explained:

"From Washington State, Slade Gorton, Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee is a key player in what happens to the NEA. Senator Gorton was not always the enthusiastic supporter he is now."

Senator Slade Gorton: "It's always been my view that the NEA required delicate surgery, but not death. And so two or three years ago when it was engaged in some activities that I found offensive myself, and know my constituents found to be offensive. I worked very hard to see to it that that didn't happen in the future, and helped set up some of the conditions under which it operates today."

Teichner lectured about the NEA's value:
"The NEA couldn't find a better place to argue its cause than Senator Gorton's home state. The Seattle Opera got $100,000 this year, sounds like a lot, but that's $60,000 dollars less than it got before the NEA budget was cut. Because arts groups use NEA grants to solicit matching funds the Opera estimates that its real loss was $300,000 dollars. Opera director Spate Jenkins is on the National Council for the Arts, which reviews NEA grant applications."

Spate Jenkins: "I can promise you, last year I read every single grant that the NEA gave and I'm just one of many, many, many people who check this out, so we are very careful and that's what they asked us to be. And I think this money is extremely well spent."

Teichner: "Twenty thousand dollars from the NEA helped to bring performers to a children's theater festival in Seattle. Attended by 42,000 kids from all over Washington State, many who'd never see a live performance anywhere else. It's an example of how the NEA justifies big grants in major cities. Their seismic ripple effect is felt far from the source. About as far from a big city as you can get, at the Spitcomish Indian reservation, traditional twana basket weavers are working to prepare for the annual Washington State basket makers gathering in October. A $22,000 dollar NEA grant will help pay fees and travel expenses for participants."

Now cue up the violin music as you read Teichner's concluding words:

"It is a popular argument that without the NEA the arts would do just fine. It's an argument they don't buy at the Centrum Arts Education and Performance Center located at an old Army base in Port Townsend, a remote coastal town of 8,000. On the centrum campus, in an old balloon hanger, the Seattle Youth Symphony practices and performs. It too gets NEA money for scholarships. Some of these young musicians wouldn't be here without the NEA's help. Would the youth symphony survive if the National Endowment for the Arts were abolished? Would other arts organizations? We asked. The answer invariably was yes, but, there would be casualties."

In this case professional reporting standards were a casualty. Three times this year Martha Teichner has earned the monthly Janet Cooke Award from MediaWatch. (To see these examples of her biased work, check the January, February and June Cooke Awards at: Maybe we should re-name it the Martha Teichner Award.

-- Brent Baker