MediaWatch: April 1989

Vol. Three No. 4

Hopeful vs. Hopeless

Hopeful  vs. Hopeless. NBC apparently thought little of democracy in El Salvador, but the network was quite impressed by the recent elections in the Soviet Union. On March 19 Garrick Utley led off Nightly News: "The results are coming in from election day in El Salvador. Not the vote, but the dead." NBC reporter Ed Rabel told Utley "the polarization has already begun." Later on the same broadcast, Utley grew more upbeat: "Now we want to show you something truly extraordinary that happened in the Soviet Union today." After the report, Utley commented: "And who would have ever thought that it would get this far in the Soviet Union?"

Third-Degree Burnes. On West 57th the night before El Salvador's elections, CBS correspondent Karen Burnes painted another pessimistic portrait of the nation's troubles. Burnes began by showing "El Salvador's elite" laying by the side of a swimming pool and attending a small rally for the ARENA party. "Their mood is buoyant: they are confident they will triumph in this presidential election." Burnes then reported the FMLN's line, sympathetically saying that they have "no choice but to fight to break out of a system that enriches a tiny minority while the rest struggle for food and shelter." Her main source was leftist Father Ignacio Martin-Baro, who predicted more U.S. aid would only bring "more destruction, more death."

While Burnes concentrated on the FMLN and their insurgency in the cities, she ignored their assassinations of mayors and attempts already begun to disrupt the free and fair elections. The left in El Salvador captured a whopping 4 percent of the vote.

Charlie's Angles. The morning after ARENA's victory, Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson interviewed William Walker, the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. Gibson focused on a single theme: "Given the fact that...ARENA was actually running the vote in some areas, is this a meaningful and valid election?" Gibson proceeded to ask if "the United States [can] work with ARENA," "Is it a defeat for U.S. policy?" "Is this a democratic force, is this a group that works for human rights?" "Who really runs the ARENA party...Mr. Cristiani or...Roberto d'Aubuisson?" Former New Left leader turned conservative David Horowitz appeared bit later in the same show. He objected to Gibson's line of inquiry: "Every question that you asked was designed to delegitimize the ARENA Party, if it wins, and the election process. I mean, that is the Left mentality which we wanted to sow: doubt about the good will of America, about its place in the world, and about its democratic allies."