CyberAlert -- 10/02/1997 -- Breaking Promise Keepers; Hyping Anita Hill's Tale

Breaking Promise Keepers; Hyping Anita Hill's Tale

  1. NBC focused on how women's groups say the "warm and fuzzy ideology" forwarded by the Promise Keepers "is a mask for something more sinister."
  2. Anita Hill showcased favorably by NBC's Dateline and Today which assumed her story was true. Katie Couric wondered: "What do you hope will be the enduring lesson of your experience?"

1) The big Promise Keepers rally will take place on Saturday in Washington, DC. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning NBC became the first broadcast network to look at the group's goals, though ABC and CBS are sure to pick up on the event before Saturday. (CNN ran a story on Impact. More on that in the next CyberAlert.)

NBC put Promise Keepers on the defense, using complaints from left-wing groups as the hook for the story. On Tuesday's Nightly News, though reporter Jim Avila relayed the points of those in favor of Promise Keepers he ended by endorsing the charge by critics that the group is hiding a right wing political agenda.

Tom Brokaw introduced the September 30 "In Depth" segment:

"They call themselves the Promise Keepers. It's a fellowship of Christian men bonding over their religious beliefs and their commitment to their families. It's a movement that started with a gathering of 72 men seven years ago. It is expected to draw at least 700,000 men to Washington for a rally this weekend. The Promise Keepers and their charismatic leader have drawn plenty of attention over the years -- not all of it positive. In fact, some women's groups feel that Promise Keepers, their warm and fuzzy ideology, is a mask for something more sinister. We begin our In- Depth reporting tonight with NBC's Jim Avila."

Avila, as transcribed by MRC intern Rebecca Hinnershitz, opened on an up note:

"They hug. They cry. They bond. But mostly they pray. The Promise Keepers. They say their god is a man with a capital 'M' and so are they."

Following a soundbite from Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, Avila explained:

"That's former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, still called coach, but now filling stadiums with prayer and men who promise to pursue relationships with Jesus and with other men, promise to go to church and build strong marriages. It's an appealing message to some. The Promise Keepers have grown to 2.6 million in just seven years. It's the second largest revival group in America, right behind Billy Graham."

Avila ran a soundbite from Joseph Stowell of the Moody Bible Institute before picking up:

"And now the crowning event. As many as 700,000 Promise Keepers may converge on Washington, D.C. this Saturday. In the shadow of the Washington Monument a dramatic and historic setting. The Washington Mall a mile of men. The Capitol as a backdrop, but no women -- just a sea of masculinity the Promise Keepers say will make it safe for men to bend their knees and weep openly in public."

At this point Avila switched to the negative, stating as fact what Promise Keepers opponents contend:

"But there will be protestors too and as their fundamentalist doctrines become better known, donations are dropping and rally attendance falling."

Indeed, a September 29 Washington Post story noted that "attendance at rallies, which peaked at 1.1 million last year, has dropped to fewer than 600,000 this year." But instead of endorsing the anti-Promise Keepers take, the Post considered two possibilities: "This could mean that interest is dwindling, or it could reflect PK's decision to travel to smaller venues such as Birmingham and Fresno."

Back to the NBC story, leading into a soundbite from NOW's Patricia Ireland, Avila intoned:

"Many women think the Promise Keepers are frightening. It's not just about returning to family and church -- it's about controlling women."

After Ireland, Avila ominously warned: "And critics say there is more dangerous doctrine in the Promise Keepers agenda that to some looks more right wing than religious. Bill McCartney spoke at anti-abortion rallies, calls homosexuality a sin, and his group has received money and support from Jerry Falwell, the Christian Coalition, and Pat Robertson."

Alfred Ross of the Center for Democracy declared: "Men supremacy is simply no more acceptable in our society than racial supremacy."

Avila put a damper on the fear he had just emphasized: "But is this mixed message of macho ideology and family responsibility something to fear? Freelance writer Donna Minkovitz [sp?] went undercover disguised as a man to find out, a feminist writing for Ms. magazine she mingled with 50,000 Promise Keepers at their rally in Tampa."

Minkovitz found them less than terrifying: "The thing that most surprised me about the Promise Keepers rally was how much it moved me personally."

But Avila concluded by emphasizing the feminist spin that PK wants men to rule, not the PK's contention that they just want men to fulfill their responsibilities to their families and wives: "But not everyone is a convert, and as the Promise Keepers face their biggest weekend ever, they're finding that returning to a world where man has the final word will take more than a promise and a prayer."

Up next, Nightly News ran an In Their Own Words piece from wife of a Promise Keepers participant. Brokaw explained:

"Although she's not going to the rally, she will be supporting him and the other men which have become a way of life for her."

Wednesday's Today featured a discussion about the Promise Keepers rally. NOW's Patricia Ireland was outnumbered two-to-one by a supportive minister and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, but as MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens observed, interviewer Matt Lauer made up for that.

"What is it about this group that you find so attractive?" Lauer first asked Bauer. His second question: "You say though that these men want to keep their promises; they want strong families. If it's important to teach these lessons, why not teach men and women the lessons together and not separately?"

Lauer brought Ireland and the pastor into the conversation with a nice question to each, but he did once challenge Ireland: "If many wives of Promise Keepers are saying they're very happy with the changes they're seeing in their husbands, then why isn't the proof in the pudding?"

Refocusing the segment on the threat posed by the Promise Keepers, Lauer twice demanded that Bauer respond to Ireland's charges:

"What are your views on the concerns of Ms. Ireland who says that this group does not promote equality -- it promotes dominance of men over women?"

"But Mr. Bauer, Ms. Ireland seems to be saying that all this talk about love and respect and faithfulness is more of a smoke screen for a right-wing political and social agenda. Why don't you agree with that?"

2) NBC made a deal with the publisher of Anita Hill's new book to feature her prominently in exchange for getting her first. And they did, running two pieces on Dateline and two interviews on Today. Now that her exclusive deal is done, you can expect to see her on many outlets talking about her book titled, Speaking Truth to Power. In fact, she got an hour on Wednesday's Larry King Live.

In her NBC appearances Jane Pauley and Katie Couric assumed her story of sexual harassment was true as they never raised any of the contradictions, time line problems or fabrications documented by David Brock in his 1993 book, The Real Anita Hill. Instead, the two news personalities portrayed Hill as the victim.

In the interest of space, today's CyberAlert will cover the Today show interviews. Tomorrow's CyberAlert will look at Dateline.

Katie Couric's questions got easier and easier for Hill as the interviews progressed. Couric began by observing how Hill had broken a promise:

  • "When you were testifying at those hearings back in 1991, Senator Howell Heflin asked you very pointedly, is his own incomparable way, do you plan to write a book about this and you said no."

    Next, two very nice questions:

  • "We'll get to the actual hearings in a moment, but I'm just curious, what have the last six years been like for you?"
  • "You spend a lot of time in your book talking about your family and your family tree, your family history, where you came from and what you're about. Why was it so important for you to do that?"

Couric's next two questions appeared to cast doubt on her story, but they led to a third question in which Couric endorsed Hill's reasoning for keeping in touch with Thomas:

"Senator Dennis DeConcini, one of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, 'If you're sexually harassed you ought to get mad about it, do something about it, and you ought to complain instead of hanging around a long time and then all of a sudden calling up anonymously and say 'Oh I want to complain.' I mean where is the gumption?' Some people still think why didn't she come forward sooner? Why did she put up with it?"

"But for some people it still begs the question why you didn't complain about the harassment and why, this of course has dogged you I know for the last six years, why you followed Clarence Thomas from the Department of Education where you experienced sexual harassment to the EEOC."

"And you felt you didn't want to be penalized by Clarence Thomas' bad behavior. Thus the phone calls after you two parted ways?"

Couric last question on day one: "Before we go, how do you feel about Clarence Thomas today when you read about him?"

Though Couric never once described Hill as liberal, Hill's answer showed she's no conservative:

"Well, I think when I read the opinions, what I'm looking for, what I'm trying to find in those opinions is some compassion. It was a concern I had expressed even before I appeared on the scene in terms of the claims that I had made. I wanted to see in those opinions some compassion for the powerless."

Couric: "Have you?"

Hill: "I have not..."

Couric concluded by promising to discuss why Thomas's "high-tech lynching" comment so upset Hill.

Hill returned for part two on the October 1 Today. Couric's introduction clearly painted Hill as the true victim:

"It's been six years since she testified on Capitol Hill against Clarence Thomas but Anita Hill remembers exactly how she felt as she faced what she described as 14 white men dressed in dark grey suits, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In her book, Speaking Truth to Power, she formally asks those men to apologize to her parents for their treatment of her and for what she calls their lack of will to address the issue of sexual harassment."

Couric's questions to Hill:

"We left off by talking about the use of high-tech lynching by Judge Thomas during confirmation hearings. You found that particularly galling, why?"

"It played on the collective guilt of white America very, very well didn't it?"

"You talk in your book about your treatment by the African American community. I mean obviously it's not one community, there are many, many different opinions and viewpoints within that community. But you talk about feeling fairly isolated by the people there. And in particular I'm fascinated by the way African American women viewed you and your allegations."

"You write in your book that you were surprised that Clarence Thomas didn't admit that his behavior was immoral, I'm paraphrasing here. Were you really that surprised. Didn't you know that would completely scuttle his nomination?"

Up next, Couric turned personal, arguing that a question she posed to Hill in an earlier interview was in Hill's "best interest" to answer. In the midst of her lengthy question, Couric made the only mention during the two interviews of David Brock's name, only to tag him twice with an ideological label, a service she failed to provide with Hill:

"You as I mentioned took a little shot, not that big a shot, you say an observation at an interview that we did. And that's perfectly okay with me because goodness knows I'm not perfect. But we were doing an interview about a Supreme Court decision about sexual harassment. And during the course of that interview I asked you about a book that had been written that at the time was getting a great deal of attention by a very conservative writer, right wing writer named David Brock, called The Real Anita Hill that brought some attention to your credibility. And I asked you to respond to it and you say you were angry and disappointed. 'Ms. Couric's question reminded me that no matter what the breakthrough in law and in our understanding of the problem of sexual harassment there will always be those who want to reduce us to talking about the salacious and the sordid.'

"a:) Do you think it would have been journalistically sound not to give you an opportunity to respond to what had been written about you. And b:) Why wouldn't it be in your best interest to at least have an opportunity to comment?"

Couric's parting inquiry: "Twenty, thirty, forty fifty years down the road when kids in school read about you, what do you hope will be the enduring lesson of your experience?"

After reading Couric's questions, consider Hill's bizarre view of media coverage. In an excerpt of her book available on the MSNBC Web site, the MRC's Tim Graham noticed, Hill asserted that "throughout the process, an independent press went along with the Republican perspective." ( They sure didn't then and are not now.

-- Brent Baker