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CyberAlert -- 12/19/1997 -- ABC's Labeling Disparity; Lawrence Lies; Sam's Sociology

ABC's Labeling Disparity; Lawrence Lies; Sam's Sociology

Corrections: The last CyberAlert carried the right day, but wrong date: It was the Wednesday, December 17 edition, not December 15. And MRC analyst Adam Pogach's name was misspelled. Hey, I was just one letter off and he's only worked at the MRC a few months -- it takes me at least a year to learn people's names.


1. ABC promoted a liberal group's numbers, but failed to provide a liberal label. They are not so reticent with conservatives.

2. On Bill Lann Lee ABC's language favored liberal spin as the network referred to his support for "affirmative action" instead of for "preferences" or "quotas."

3. ABC also misreported that Larry Lawrence would have qualified for burial based on his ambassadorial service; CBS, CNN and Reuters put scandal burden on Republicans; crediting Huffington?

4. FBI's Freeh revealed that only in Mafia cases have so many fled as in the fundraising scandal, but the nets didn't run that soundbite.

5. Sam Donaldson contended that we cannot expect athletes "from the streets" to be civilized. Imagine if a conservative said that.


1) Wednesday's World News Tonight on ABC promoted class warfare analysis from a liberal group, but failed to provide an ideological label. For the second story on December 17 anchor Peter Jennings highlighted a report from the far-left Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, though he mangled the name:

"The other major story today, a new study out which highlights the winners and the losers in the current economy. The report, from the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities makes absolutely clear what people can already feel. The top 20 percent of the country's wage earners are managing to take full advantage of a booming service economy and they've done very well in the stock market. The rich are getting richer and the bottom 20 percent, on the other hand, in a declining manufacturing sector have seen their salaries stay the same or go down."

As usual, the network ignored the flip side of the story -- how the wealthy are punished by paying far more than their share of the tax burden. ABC failed to run a story when the Tax Foundation a few weeks ago released a report titled "Latest Income Tax Data Shows Top 1% Paying Over 30% of Total Federal Individual Income Tax Collections." The Tax Foundation study of 1995 data discovered:

"The top one percent of income earners made 14.6 percent of all incomes in 1995, but paid 30.2 percent of all federal income taxes....In contrast, the bottom 50 percent earned 14.5 percent of all income in 1995 but paid only 4.6 percent of federal individual income taxes that year."

(MRC news analyst Gene Eliasen reminded me that ABC News is not always so reluctant to issue labels. On the December 4 Nightline on the Arlington Cemetery controversy, Ted Koppel referred to "when a conservative magazine published a story last month..." Reporter Chris Bury referenced "the conservative magazine Insight" and explained how "the story would ricochet from a small conservative magazine to the talk radio circuit." Introducing another segment from Bury, Koppel repeated Bury's point, explaining how the story leapt "from the pages of a conservative magazine to the airwaves of some of America's best known conservative talk shows.")


2) Senate Republicans opposed Bill Lann Lee's nomination for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights because he backs racial preferences, a policy a majority of Americans oppose. But Monday night, after President Clinton named him to the post in an "Acting" capacity, ABC's World News Tonight avoided terms like "preferences" and "quotas." Instead, the December 15 show stuck to the much more favorably viewed term "affirmative action," which most people probably view simply as making an effort to reach out to minorities.

Peter Jennings asserted: "Mr. Lee's nomination has been blocked in the Senate because of his support for affirmative action..." In his story reporter John Donvan charged: "...But his nomination was doomed once Republicans in the Senate began to focus on Lee's solid support for affirmative action. In his confirmation hearings he criticized state laws that limit affirmative action...."


3) Before we put the Arlington Cemetery flap to rest, a few more examples of biased reporting: distorted claims that Larry Lawrence would have qualified for burial based solely upon his ambassadorial service; CBS, CNN and Reuters put scandal burden on Republicans; and failing to give a conservative columnist credit for doing the media's job for them.

Concluding a December 5 Nightline piece on how the evil ways of Washington turned Larry Lawrence, in Ted Koppel's words, "into a political football," Michel McQueen asserted:

"Larry Lawrence may well have been eligible for burial at Arlington because he died while serving as an ambassador. But in the rancorous atmosphere of Washington, the facts may be almost beside the point."

The following Monday, December 8, when it became clear his body would be moved, Linda Douglass concluded a World News Tonight story:

"Ironically, the cemetery officials say that Lawrence may well have been entitled to burial at Arlington simply because he was an ambassador but over the last several days all kinds of questions have been raised about his resume and record. Questions, for example, about whether or not he embellished his academic credentials. So the White House, in the end, says it will not oppose removing his body."

Reality Check, from a December 6 Los Angeles Times story by Paul Richter:

"Government documents show that of six ambassadors granted burial waivers for Arlington National Cemetery, three died violently in the line of duty while two had records far more distinguished than that of the sixth -- M. Larry Lawrence, whose waiver by the Clinton administration is under intense review....

"The list of burial waivers granted ambassadors covers the years since the 1960s, when the cemetery was forced to impose new entrance requirements because of rising demand for space in its 200 acres. The three ambassadors who died violent deaths were Cleo A. Noel Jr., killed in March 1973 when Palestinian terrorists struck an embassy in Sudan; Adolph A. Dubs, killed in 1973 when Afghan police stormed a hotel room where he was being held by a terrorist gunman; and Arnold L. Raphel, who died in 1988 when a plane carrying Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq crashed. Sabotage by Zia's enemies was widely believed responsible for the crash..."

CBS Evening News viewers never learned of Lawrence's made up resume. The December 4 World News Tonight and December 5 NBC Nightly News featured full stories of the lack of proof that Lawrence ever served in the Merchant Marine. CNN also ran a story and all three updated viewers the next week about his body being removed. But CBS never told viewers the specifics for the disinternment.

On December 8 Dan Rather took 22 seconds to report:
"The wife of Larry Lawrence is asking now that his body be removed from Arlington National Cemetery. This follows questions about his military service and qualification to be buried at Arlington. Lawrence was once U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. This is all part of the fallout from unsubstantiated accusations that the Clinton camp was selling burial rights at Arlington to political friends."

That followed Rather's 17 second announcement back on November 21:
"There's been considerable publicity lately about accusations that President Clinton quote, 'perhaps provided burial space at Arlington National Cemetery to major campaign donors,' unquote. Spokesmen for President Clinton flatly and unequivocally denied this today to CBS News and they called it 'a deliberate political smear,' unquote."

Rather wasn't the only reporter to put the burden on Republicans even after the discovery of Lawrence's resume enhancement. Here's how CNN World Today anchor Leon Harris introduced a December 4 story: "Republicans are also busy rekindling a controversy over Arlington National Cemetery and whether the Clinton Administration gave a plot to a non-veteran as a political favor..."

A Reuters reporter refused to treat Lawrence as a scandal for Clinton. In a wire story caught by MRC news analyst Clay Waters (and cited by Rush Limbaugh), Jonathan Wright opened a December 9 dispatch: "Republicans refused Tuesday to call off their campaign to embarrass the Clinton administration with revelations about a dead ambassador who may have lied about his past to secure a prime burial site..."

We may never have learned of Lawrence's made up WWII story if it were not for Arianna Huffington doing what any good reporter would, but didn't: make some calls to see if his resume matched reality. She first contacted Norma Nicolls, a former aide to Lawrence, and learned that he had asked Nicolls to track down details about WWII ships. The New Yorks Times got around to her story on December 12, two weeks after Huffington. But instead of crediting the columnist, the Times story asserted that Nicolls "agreed to an interview only because she had already been interviewed by congressional investigators." Of course Huffington talked to her before the congressional investigators.

But one member of the media was willing to give credit. Recounting how the story unfolded, CNN's Bill Schneider gave her the "Political Play of the Week" on the December 12 Inside Politics:
"Then columnist Arianna Huffington came out with a startling revelation, based on an interview with Lawrence's former personal assistant....Within a few days, Lawrence was exposed as a liar...Suddenly the White House was singing a different tune. ...This week, his widow asked President Clinton to have her husband body's removed from Arlington and reburied elsewhere.... The truth is, Lawrence was a phony. The truth is, he got special treatment by the White House because of his campaign contributions. The truth came out because an enterprising columnist looked behind the spin and embarrassed the entire administration....Arianna Huffington dug up the truth and the body in the Political Play of the Week..."


4) Here's a soundbite I bet you never knew FBI Director Louis Freeh uttered during his appearance last week before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Steve Allen of the Internet Political Report (www.politicalreport.org) alerted me to this exchange which occurred a bit past 4pm ET on December 9:

Dan Burton:

"Mr. Freeh, over 65 people have invoked the Fifth Amendment or fled the country in the course of the committee's investigation. Have you ever experienced so many unavailable witnesses in any matter in which you've prosecuted or in which you've been involved?"
Louis Freeh, FBI Director: "Actually, I have."
Burton: "You have? Give me a rundown on that real quickly."
Freeh: "I spent about 16 years doing organized crime cases in New York City. And many people were frequently unavailable."

So, the FBI Director compares Democratic fundraisers and donors fleeing the country or refusing to talk to how the Mafia react to investigations. You'd think that would make a great, provocative soundbite. But none of the networks, not ABC, CBS, CNN, or NBC, not even the NewsHour on PBS, showed it, the MRC news analysts reported.

(At least a few people do care about the fundraising scandal as the Fox News Channel gained viewers by sticking with the December 9 hearing into the late afternoon when CNN and MSNBC cut out at 12:30pm ET. As John Carmody reported in the December 11 Washington Post: "So for the afternoon, FNC rose to a 0.5 rating (110,000 cable homes), tying CNN with its 0.5 (representing, however, 388,000 cable homes) and outright beat MSNBC, which did a 0.2 (or 61,000 cable homes)."


5) Sports stars, and by implication, young black males, cannot be expected to behave properly and follow civilized rules. So argued Sam Donaldson in a December 7 discussion on ABC's This Week about Latrell Sprewell, the NBA player suspended for choking and threatening to kill his coach. And in the context of Donaldson's analysis it is relevant to note that Sprewell is black. Here's what Donaldson contended, as transcribed by MRC analyst Gene Eliasen:

Sam Donaldson:

"Obviously, he needed to be disciplined. Obviously, what he did could not be condoned. But it's striking that we have taken these sports figures and in other walks of life, too, and we've made them larger than life. We throw all the money in the world at them, the adulation, the people waiting in the aisles. And then when they do not act as if they know that the dessert spoon goes in front of the plate, well, we say, 'Well, that's horrible! That's terrible!'"
George Stephanopoulos: "Sam, he choked his coach!"
Cokie Roberts: "But this is a little different from etiquette."
Donaldson: "I'm not condoning it, but these guys, these guys did not come up through finishing schools and we know it. Most of them, many of them clawed their way up from the streets. It's one thing they can do in life and I don't think we can all expect them to have learned all the mores that all of us say we know."

Imagine if a conservative made such a condescending remark about the ability of a minority group to behave or perform as well as the rest of society because of their cultural background. Actually, you don't have to imagine it. Recall reaction to Charles Murray's book or how Bryant Gumbel disparaged anti-admissions-by quota Texas law professor Lino Graglia (for that one, see the December 5 CyberAlert.)

-- Brent Baker