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MediaWatch: April 1988

Vol. Two No. 4

NewsBites: April Fools

April Fools. The March unemployment rate fell by another tenth of a percent to 5.6 percent, the lowest level in almost nine years. Great news, right? Not to ABC and NBC. They tried to explain away the figure announced on April 1.

On ABC's World News Tonight Sam Donaldson warned that "the steady drop in unemployment over the last year is probably nearing an end." NBC Nightly News anchor Connie Chung dug up another way to discount the news, complaining that "this low unemployment rate is not entirely good news. Fewer people are looking for work." Will they ever be satisfied?

TIME to Raise Taxes. "Any attempt to close the deficit strictly through spending cuts would be unworkable and unwise," therefore, "substantial tax increases" are needed. An excerpt from a Mike Dukakis speech? No, it's the solution offered by Time magazine in a February 29 "special report" on how to balance the budget. Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation have offered plans that refrain from raising taxes by cutting spending and adopting Grace Commission reforms. Time obviously had no intention of presenting such views since they only consulted liberal "experts" from the Urban Institute, Brookings Institution, the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities and the Center's Defense Budget Project, an anti-defense spending group.

Recommending further defense cuts, Time charged: "The U.S. is building more weapons systems than are necessary to ensure the national defense." What about other spending? The magazine claimed: "Most non-defense programs have already been slashed relentlessly during the Reagan years."

But the facts prove differently. Reagan failed to follow through on campaign promises to eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education and spending on virtually every entitlement program has soared well above the inflation rate. Spending on Medicaid and Medicare, for instance, is 70 percent higher now than in 1980.

Haunted Housing. When the Commerce Department announced new home sales fell nine percent, the news so alarmed CBS that it led the Evening News. On March 2 Ray Brady warned viewers: "Today's figures are not just bad news simply for homebuyers. Housing's a giant industry, and when it slows down so do other industries supplying everything from plumbing to furniture. And that could be trouble for the entire economy."

A month later housing sales jumped over 20 percent. Brady and CBS completely ignored the report. Dan Rather did mention a rise in the leading economic indicators, finally conceding that "analysts called today's report a sign that the nation will avoid a recession," but then looking to the future, added after a dramatic pause, "this year."

Going After Meese, Piece By Piece. When two top Justice Department officials resigned, citing concerns about the appearance of impropriety on the part of Attorney General Ed Meese, some TV network reporters used the development as another opportunity to pass judgment on Meese. Even after the special prosecutor disclosed he had not found any evidence of indictable activity, the reporters couldn't admit they were wrong. "There's a building fear," ABC's Dennis Troute warned the day of the resignations, "that the ongoing Wedtech investigation will turn up incriminating evidence." The next day NBC Nightly News commentator John Chancellor claimed "the final months of the Reagan presidency are being dishonored by Ed Meese's continuing troubles" and urged him "to resign now, before the law works its way through his tangled affairs."

On April 1, "recent media reports" prompted independent counsel James McKay to announce he had no plans to indict Meese. But that didn't satisfy Troute. He predicted the investigation "may yet produce evidence of ethical violations by Meese that fall short of criminality." NBC's Carl Stern also refused to give Meese a fair break, declaring that "one expert said professional standards require that Meese step aside, at least temporarily," and "one Senator," liberal Carl Levin, "conducted a lengthy investigation of Meese's finances and said Meese was too ethically sloppy to stay at all."

Wyatt's Wavering Views. As the CBS News Moscow correspondent, Wyatt Andrews tended to display healthy skepticism toward Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. On many issues, including human rights, arms control and Afghanistan, Andrews usually saw what many ignored. At the December Reagan-Gorbachev summit, while many touted pre-summit reunification of divided families as a genuine improvement in Soviet human rights, Andrews saw through the Kremlin charade, declaring on December 3: "By now, this is all a predictable pre-summit process. Joyful reunions one day. Little rejections the next. And no fundamental change on the Soviet side."

But since recently being reassigned to the State Department, Andrews has become far less skeptical. Because the Soviets have, for the last three years, repeatedly broken promises to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. demanded stringent verification at the latest round of peace talks. Questioning the firm stand, Andrews concluded on March 31: "The irony is that after eight years of demanding that the Soviets simply leave Afghanistan, a simple yes answer hasn't been enough."

Not Much Light Put on Wright. "Wright Aide Tried His Own Arms Deal" read the March 28 front page Washington Times headline over an Associated Press story revealing how Richard Pena, a top aide to House Speaker Jim Wright, "tried to sell weapons to the Nicaraguan resistance through Lt. Colonel Oliver North's private network." Another Iran-Contra "revelation" for the major media outlets to jump on? Not this time. ABC, CBS and NBC could not find time for the development on their evening newscasts. Just CNN considered it newsworthy, though only for a brief mention by anchor David French. The Washington Post chose to ignore the March 27 AP wire story. But, apparently embarrassed by the prominence The Washington Times gave the news, Post editors changed their minds, and on March 29 ran their version, buried in the middle of page 12. The New York Times did not run the story at all.

Rather Enraged at Reagan. On March 25 President Reagan said those indicted in the Iran-Contra affair "are going to be found innocent because I don't think they were guilty of any law-breaking or any crime." That night the network TV stars could hardly contain their indignation. An outraged Dan Rather gave this less than even-handed assessment:

"President Reagan suddenly threw himself back into the middle of the weapons for Iran criminal case today, raising questions about potentially damaging presidential interference in the judicial process. Before Oliver North and three other key defendants have even gone on trial, Mr. Reagan declared that they are not guilty and will be found innocent of charges they defrauded the United States government and stole millions of taxpayer dollars."

On NBC Nightly News Andrea Mitchell claimed "the President plunged into legal controversy by praising Oliver North as a hero." Unable to find anyone who agreed with Reagan, she turned to Arthur Liman, chief counsel to the Senate Iran committee, who explained how "wrong" Reagan was, followed by Sen. Alan Cranston, who long ago convicted North. Cranston complained that Reagan's remarks "contributed to a prejudicial climate."

Boring Boettcher's Mozambique Monotone. Few media outlets consider the ongoing civil war in Mozambique between the Marxist FRELIMO regime and the RENAMO resistance important enough to warrant even occasional coverage. But NBC Nightly News regularly provides Mike Boettcher with an opportunity to inform the American public about the struggle. Unfortunately all he offers is the same one-sided views month after month.

On March 27, Boettcher repeated the Marxist government's unsubstantiated claim that 400 people were killed by RENAMO in the village of Homoine last July. Boettcher declared that "their reputation as marauders who have massacred and looted" has kept the Reagan Administration from giving them military aid." Boettcher's reports regularly parallel the Marxist government's propaganda aimed at discrediting the democratic resistance by blaming them for civilian hardship. Just seven weeks earlier, on February 4, Boettcher reported: "But the havens the refugees have sought have become targets for anti-government rebels who steal food supplies and destroy what they can....[The refugees] have run for so long from those rebels that their bodies are little more than skeletons." On January 9, Boettcher reported much the same: "Roads and rail lines that lead to them [villagers] are controlled by anti-government rebels who have attacked food convoys."

While Boettcher traveled to Marxist areas, CNN's Gary Strieker went to neighboring Malawi and discovered something very different. His March 30 report on refugees fleeing the civil war included complaints of ill-treatment by the rebels, but found the Marxist regime responsible for the atrocities. "The refugees," Strieker reported, "describe how [FRELIMO] government soldiers brutalize and kill civilians after the rebels run away."