Media Reality Check

H abitual news watchers remember the networks' panicked reports on exploding homelessness in the 1980s. For example, CBS This Morning anchor Charles Osgood relayed on April 19, 1989: "It is estimated that by the year 2000, 19 million Americans will be homeless unless something is done, and done now." On August 8, 1989, CNN anchor Lou Waters topped that wild estimate with a Rutgers University report: "There now are up to 40 million Americans living on the knife edge of homelessness, just one paycheck, one domestic argument from the streets." In 1990, a partial count by the Census Bureau estimated... continue reading
A BC political reporter Linda Douglass worried in Wednesday's Washington Post about her reaction to Sen. John McCain's frank interview style: "I have never seen a candidate allow himself to be videotaped at length like that, with no aides watching, listening, taking notes or telling you to cut. He's clearly winning us all over, and we have to be careful about that." But ABC's morning show hasn't been careful about its feelings for McCain: Since August 16, Good Morning America has offered the McCain campaign nine interviews - six with the candidate, one with wife Cindy, and two with campaign... continue reading
A BC News fired veteran reporter Bob Zelnick in 1998 because he refused to break a contract with Regnery, the publisher of his Al Gore biography. When The New Yorke r noted that Zelnick reported a story on Gary Aldrich, a fellow Regnery author, ABC News President David Westin wrote to Zelnick his story "held up to ridicule that our reporting is influenced by views you/we have formed about the individual involved." But USA Today reported today that ABC reporter John Cochran is hosting a dinner party for Al and Tipper Gore tonight at his home. Was Cochran fired? No,... continue reading
A s the presidential ad campaigns pick up, will the media's advertising watchdogs bark? So far, none of the most recent advertising controversies are drawing much network attention. Hillary's Soft-Money Slickness. The Democrats' first ads for Hillary Clinton were paid for with "soft money," which Democrats say they'd like to ban. But ABC's November 11 Good Morning America is the only network show to offer comment. Diane Sawyer noted a New York Times editorial demanded the ads be withdrawn, and asked George Stephanopoulos: "Did this cross a line?" He replied, "Probably not. This ad is probably legal...the question is, even... continue reading
N ovember 13 marks the 30th anniversary of a unique political speech. On that date in 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew questioned the network news divisions' domination of the political debate, and the "narrow and distorted picture of America [that] often emerges from the television news." Despite the current lack of social strife compared to anti-war and racial protests of the late 1960s, much of what Agnew said then remains a compelling critique of TV news today: Setting the Agenda: "We cannot measure this power and influence by traditional democratic standards. They can make or break - by their coverage... continue reading
B ryant Gumbel told Tim Russert last weekend that complaints about his liberal bias reminded him "of someone who once told me that our Founding Fathers guaranteed everyone the right to be heard. It said nothing about being taken seriously." But the early word on The Early Show is it's seriously biased to the left. Gumbel's Monday interview with the President was very soft: "The two people who have been closest to you for seven years are about to get out there on the campaign trail while you stay at home and deal with the issues. Is that terribly frustrating?"... continue reading
B ryant Gumbel begins a new career as a morning show host with the Monday debut of The Early Show on CBS. The Boston Globe reported, "Gumbel demanded and received assurances from his bosses that he wouldn’t get ‘called into the principal’s office every morning’ for speaking his mind." When Gumbel used NBC’s Today to speak his mind on race, he often found America was hopelessly racist, especially conservatives: "Blacks have looked at the past eight years and seen this administration retreat from civil rights, retreat from affirmative action, make South Africa no priority, continue to see a greater disparity... continue reading
N ews outlets declared that Al Gore's decision to air ads on a nuclear test-ban treaty was brilliant politics. Newsweek 's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" cooed: "Cuts quick ad blasting GOPs [ sic ] on nukes. Even manages to look a little presidential." Time 's "Winners and Losers" called Gore a winner: "Tin man cuts smart nuke ad." In the ad, Gore declared: "This vote goes against the tide of history...I've worked on this for 20 years because, unless we get this one right, nothing else matters." But wouldn't that leave the impression that Gore has had the same opinion for... continue reading
I magine a press conference where Ronald Reagan or George Bush didn't just criticize the Democrats, but accused them of "not knowing very much." (See box.) Would that be seen as the act of a "master politician"? No, but that's the compliment Bill Clinton earned yesterday. Right after the live broadcast on CNN, The Washington Post 's David Broder declared: "There is no better politician in the country today than Bill Clinton. I thought it was a masterful performance." (He did note the Republicans don't trust him with the national interest.) Several other trends were obvious: While reporters let Clinton... continue reading
S everal journalistic practices are sending a clear signal that Republicans are disobeying media wishes on health legislation. Begin with the almost automatic recitation of the liberal term for their litigation scheme: "the patients' bill of rights." Few reports have even placed "so-called" in front of it. These same media outlets ignore conservative terms (for example, "partial-birth abortion" becomes "a certain type of late-term abortion," or on rare occasions is preceded by "what opponents call"). The other practice is heavy-handed linking of "bill of rights" opponents with the narrow financial self-interests of insurance companies. No opponent could have a sincere... continue reading