In This Issue
Dan Rather's Greatest Liberal Hits; NewsBites: Gumbel's Blame Game; Revolving Door: Brokaw Balks at Babbitt; Media Ignore Politicized Clinton Justice Department; ABC Reports on Bias; Toilet Troubles; Gumbel Wants it Both Ways; Janet Cooke Award: Still Fighting the Salvadoran War
Dan Rather's Greatest Liberal Hits
In 1988, Dan Rather repeatedly hammered then-Vice President George Bush about his role in the Iran-Contra affair. How did Rather treat Clinton in his first interview with him as President? During the special March 24 White House tour and interview on 48 Hours, Rather never questioned Clinton about false statements he has made: claiming that Republicans, not he, made gays in the military an issue during his first week in office; that he never asked Kimba Wood to be Attorney General; and that his stimulus package did not contain any pork-barrel projects.
Instead, he asked: "Mr. President, it's my unfortunate duty now to ask the tough questions you don't want to hear. Number one: do you have a favorite in the Oscar race for the Academy Awards?"
A review of Rather's opinions both on and off the air over the past few years suggests a reason for the disparity -- He agrees with Clinton: the 1980s were a decade of greed, Reagan's tax cuts were unfair, Soviet citizens weren't opposed to communism. He's been on the liberal frequency for a long time.
COMMUNISM. Rather embarrassingly misread the aspirations of the Soviet people: "Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy," he pronounced on the June 17, 1987 CBS Evening News. On May 27, 1988, Rather insisted: "The reality is that even if the communist state were to protect individual rights aggressively, many of its people are not prepared to tolerate diversity...It points to a basic problem within society: schooled in intolerance for so long, many Soviets equate non-conformity with treason."
Like many in the Western media, Rather never blamed the abysmal economic conditions in communist countries on communism. On the May 16, 1989 Evening News Rather said, "It is the size of China that's such a barrier for economic reform. That, and cultural traditions bred through the centuries." The next night, he cited "one big problem that underlies everything else here in China [is] a population of more than a billion...Today's communist rulers know there's no way to meet the rising expectations of a billion Chinese until and unless the population time bomb is somehow defused."
HEROES. Rather had a long-distance love affair with Gorbachev. He gave this glowing assessment of the last Soviet dictator in a speech quoted in the May 10, 1990 Seattle Times: "He has, as many great leaders have, impressive eyes...There's a kind of laser- beam stare, a forced quality, you get from Gorbachev that does not come across as something peaceful within himself. It's the look of a kind of human volcano, or he'd probably like to describe it as a human nuclear energy plant."
When Gorbachev met Pope John Paul II in 1989, Rather seemed confused as to which one was the holy man. On November 29 he mused: "This week's meeting of Pope John Paul and Mikhail Gorbachev brings together two traditional enemies, both of whom have shown, time and again, that they can rise above the hatreds of history...The meeting, said one priest in Rome, is like the lion lying down with the lamb, but in this case, he said, it's hard to tell who's the lion and who's the lamb."
Rather's crush on Gorby was dwarfed by his worship of Nelson Mandela. His name, Rather said upon Mandela's release from jail in February 1990, "has an almost mystical quality." On the June 27 Arsenio Hall Show, Rather lapsed into revolutionary rapture while paying tribute to the man who embraced terrorism.
"The power of Nelson Mandela is the power of the idea and the ideal. Nelson Mandela knows what he's literally willing to die for, and that carries with it tremendous power, and it radiates from him as it did from Martin Luther King, as it does from Mother Teresa, as it did from Golda Meir. There's tremendous power in that, and when we say accurately I think, that Nelson Mandela is a worldwide hero -- people of all races and nationalities look up to him -- think that's why."
Rather lapsed into slang, continuing: "You talk about a bad boy. Nelson Mandela had a reputation all of his life of being a bad boy. A lot of people tried to get the world to believe that this man was a radical, terrorist, killer, psychological killer -- all bullbleep, because they feared him. Because he knew what he believed in and was prepared to die for."
As the Democrats' convention began last July 13, Rather joined the Jesse Jackson fan club. "Jesse Jackson is one American politician who consistently speaks for the poor and downtrodden. One of the few national leaders openly advocating aid to the cities."
TAXES. When Rather mentions a capital gains tax cut, rest assured the words "for the wealthy" aren't far behind. On September 28, 1989, Rather hit a triple by using the phrase "for the wealthy" as a suffix for the capital gains cut three times: "A political showdown vote in the U.S. House of Representatives today on economics. A vote to support President Bush's idea to cut the capital gains tax for the wealthy. Sixty-four Democrats bucked their own House leaders, abandoned them, and joined the Republicans to support the measure. Mr. Bush says that cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy will boost the economy and create jobs. Opponents don't believe that, and they call it simply a tax giveaway for the wealthy."
Rather's not only against tax cuts just for the wealthy, but for everybody. He reported the rejection of new taxes as a defeat for Louisiana on the May 2, 1989 Evening News. "A new jolt today to the Louisiana state economy...Saturday, voters of Louisiana rejected Governor Roemer's tax-overhaul package. Today, as CBS News correspondent Peter Van Sant reports, the people of Louisiana found out what that could cost them."
REAGAN LEGACY. Whenever a liberal "study" was released that made the Reagan years look bad, it made Dan Rather's broadcasts. On March 1, 1989, Rather introduced a Susan Spencer story on health threats posed to poor kids by asserting "children are already suffering from cutbacks during the Reagan Administration."
Liberal reports were spun to make the facts look worse even than the activist group claimed. When the little-known left-wing Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released a "study" on child hunger CBS made the FRAC study the number one story on the March 26, 1991 Evening News. Rather began: "A startling number of American children are in danger of starving...Good evening. One out of eight American children is going hungry tonight." Starving? Not only did FRAC not claim their "hungry" children were hungry every night -- just at least once a year -- the study didn't even focus on starvation or clinical malnutrition. Rather exaggerated.
NewsBites: Gumbel's Blame Game
Gumbel's Blame Game. Bryant Gumbel doesn't miss a beat blaming Ronald Reagan for anything. On the March 26 Today, co-host Gumbel talked with Tom Brokaw about illegal immigration, asking: "Is the problem that the laws are basically ineffective, or the laws can't be carried out because this bureau, like every other, is understaffed, underfunded, a victim of the Reagan cutbacks?" Less than a week later, on March 31, Gumbel asked Dr. Richard Corlin of the American Medical Association: "In the greedy excesses of the Reagan years, the mean income of the average physician nearly doubled, from $88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?"
Zahn's Zinger a Zero. CBS This Morning anchor Paula Zahn showed a surprising lack of understanding about the plight of the minority party in Congress. In a March 19 interview with Rep. Richard Armey (R-TX) about debate in the House of Representatives on the Clinton budget, Zahn asked "Were you silenced in this debate?" Armey replied "We had one or two members that went to the Rules Committee and were denied access to the process. This is routine, it happens on every bill that comes to the floor." Zahn jumped on that statement: "The Democrats would say, would argue that happens for them as well. That they can't offer the amendments they want to offer."
As every congressional observer knows, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives controls the House Rules Committee, which sets the rules about debate and amendments for every bill that comes to the House floor. The Republicans have no such power.
RFK Revamped. The media's Kennedy worship continues. On the March 9 CBS This Morning Paula Zahn listed several of Robert Kennedy's many political accomplishments: RFK's career moved "like a meteor...serving as a Senate lawyer in the '50s, Bobby was at his brother's side running JFK's presidential campaign in 1960... Robert Kennedy served a Attorney General and fought several hard fights over civil rights in the early '60s." She neglected to mention that as a "Senate lawyer" he worked for one of the liberals' favorite demons, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Later, when extolling his civil rights record as Attorney General, she neglected to mention that he also ordered Martin Luther King's phone lines tapped.
The piece coincided with the kick-off of a series of conferences commemorating Kennedy's life. Zahn interviewed Robert Kennedy's oldest child, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, and asked her such tough questions as: "One of the things that people who have long admired your father often talk about is....his great compassion and sensitivity towards people who had less. Your father had a privileged upbringing. Where did that sensitivity come from?"
Simon Split. Scott Simon's weekly commentaries on the Saturday Today continue to hew to the left-wing line. On March 20, Simon opined on Reagan's El Salvador policy: "How could American officials not know about the army to which they gave such expensive weapons, weapons that were turned on Salvadoran civilians?" He accepted the controversial results of the recent United Nations report blaming government soldiers for almost all the killing without question, and concluded: "The army we supported tried to win the hearts of its nation with cruelty and steel. But each life taken by torture, by murder, or massacre gave the rebels new life for their cause."
But Simon grilled liberal Calif. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in a March 13 interview on the impact of military base closings. He noted, "Many Representatives and Senators who have called for reductions in the defense budget over the years are now saying `not in my backyard.'" He asked the self-proclaimed `peace activist': "While you and other political progressives spent all those years saying that the U.S. military budget must be cut, did you really think it could be done without costing jobs in your state?"
Stimulus Support. U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Susan Dentzer extolled the virtues of the Clinton stimulus package in her March 15 "On the Economy" column: "Amid a broader economic plan that has its share of flaws, Clinton's well-crafted stimulus is a piece worth keeping." Her reasoning? "The reason to pass a stimulus package is to chart a smoother course for the economy, boosting it toward full employment that much faster." To any skeptics, she scoffed "It's no Depression-style program of hiring workers to paint murals at the post office" and stated "The sorts of spending the President has picked -- for example on education or on long-planned highway projects -- tend to create lots of jobs, many of which carry high wages and benefits."
In contrast to Dentzer's ebullience, Donald Lambro of The Washington Times observed that jobs created "would cost an average of $89,013 per job. Compare that with the 365,000 jobs the private sector created in February alone without any spending stimulus." As for "high wages and benefits," Detroit News columnist Tony Snow noted: "As part of his `Summer of Opportunity' proposals...the President seeks $4 billion in additional unemployment insurance" and "wants another $1.5 billion, more `summer money' to cover delinquent student loans." At least post office murals are more visible than the $28 million allocated to reduce the District of Columbia's deficit.
Credible King? On March 9, Rodney King admitted under cross- examination that he didn't really remember whether the police had used racial slurs while beating him. If he couldn't remember this widely reported allegation, what about the credibility of the rest of his testimony? CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith asked lawyer F. Lee Bailey on March 10: "Sounds like [King's] first day went with a certain degree of credibility. What is your fear for him now as cross-examination really gets under way?" In the same interview Smith underlined this point, asking "You've got the videotape. You've got a seemingly credible victim on the stand in Rodney King. What do you have left to fight this if you're representing the policemen?"
The next day, co-host Paula Zahn also downplayed the discrepancy in King's testimony. Zahn asked defense attorney Ira Salzman: "Mr. King also testified that the officers had used racial slurs. I know under cross-examination that story changed a bit, but don't you think the jurors will have some sort of empathy with Mr. King's statements?" Changed a bit?
White Men Can't Edit. Newsweek's March 29 cover story on "White Male Paranoia" wasn't "news," but a rambling liberal editorial chock full of cobwebbed cliches. Newsweek's David Gates wrote: "White guys should have realized things were starting to slip at the time of the Clarence Thomas hearings, when Anita Hill testified about being sexually harassed and the white male senators looked like a bunch of oinkers who just didn't get it."
Gates made overgeneralizations about white men: "He hates the word womyn, and anything with the suffix-centrist. He worries that he's becoming a fascist. He has been thinking about buying a gun." Gates concluded: "Generations of white males judged women and minorities not by what they did but by what they were. Turnabout is fair play. White men are now beginning to say: only fair play is fair play. It figures that they'd think of that now."
Name That Budget Cut. Network reporters regularly blame woes on budget cuts, but can they back up their assertions with facts? On March 13, CNN's Jim Hill reported on California-based churches increasing their efforts to assist the needy. Hill praised the efforts of churches to assist the "poverty stricken," with programs such as free condom distribution. Hill cited the need of expanding church based social service projects to "make up for governmet cutbacks."
Hill added: "As problems like gang violence continue to rise and government budgets continue to fall churches of all faiths continue to try and fill the void." Hill failed to cite any figures. Maybe that's because, according to a Cato Institute report, during the Reagan years, "aid to poor people living in cities increased."
False Start. Apparently $2.5 trillion is not enough for CBS News reporter Terence Smith. That's how much the government has spent on the "War on Poverty" since the late 1960s. Yet, on the February 28 Sunday Morning, Smith advocated more spending as the only solution for America's inner cities. Promoting a Milton Eisenhower Foundation follow-up to the 1968 Kerner Commission, Smith suggested we should spend another $300 billion on urban programs over the next ten years.
"Funding is the key, the report says. And funding on a scale to the dimension of the problem," Smith said. As an example of success, he noted: "The report cites Head Start as a model, as the nation's most successful program to help the inner cities." However, "Head Start has never been fully funded, and only a quarter of all the eligible lower income children are enrolled," he complained. Despite increases in crime, welfare dependency and other signs of social decay in inner cities, Smith failed to mention any solution other than more money, asserting: "Head Start is not enough. The report stresses that to be effective, similar support systems need to be extended to schoolchildren, teenagers, and young adults."
Flattering Fidel. Diane Sawyer traveled to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro for the March 4 Prime Time Live, but only once did Sawyer raise the issue of human rights abuses and political prisoners. Upon the dictator's denial, she dropped the matter completely. The remainder of the interview had the coziness of a People profile: "He grew up a first-rate baseball player. Married once. Divorce once. But was mainly driven by his burning desire to crush Cuba's American-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista. It began with a daredevil attack on the military barracks. Jail. His exile. Then a death-defying two-year fight in the mountains of the Sierra Maestre. He and his small band of soldiers endured and won only because of Castro's invincible certainty of their destiny."
Sawyer even praised Castro's leadership: "Even critics praise Cuba's health care, education, scientific research....Cubans say privately he is still a hero, even as a lot of his people dream of a free economy and country....And what about those recent elections? A lot of new young faces were brought into the Party."
How I Learned to Love Taxes. On the March 14 Good Morning America Sunday, Newsweek Senior Editor Jonathan Alter displayed his liberal attitudes in a satirical commentary: "Every time the Democrats get ready to defend President Clinton's budget, they always start by saying `Of course, no one likes taxes.' Even when they're about to raise them again, it's always `Of course, no one actually likes taxes.' Well, I'm a little different, I guess. I like taxes. That's right, I like them.
"This tax on millionaires? I say soaking them isn't enough. Dunk them! Energy tax? Great idea! Cuts consumption and we all have more to live on. The cigarette tax is the best one of all. It's like taxing death! But millionaires, smokers and gas guzzlers aren't the only ones who should get slapped around a little. There are a lot of other highly taxable Americans. They tax our patience. Let's tax their income." He proceeded to urge tax hikes on these irritating people and things: lawyers, bad husbands, infomercials, hotels that overcharge for phone calls and models who don't gain weight, among others.
We nominate a certain Newsweek media critic who likes tax hikes.
Revolving Door: Brokaw Balks at Babbitt
In turning down an offer from Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to run the National Park Service, NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw endorsed the Clinton Administration's environmental policies. Brokaw told Washington Post reporter John Carmody that he considered the offer "very seriously," but decided to reject it because of the turmoil at NBC. "We need more parkland....I have a lot of friends in the environmental movement. I'm not an Earth Firster but I feel strongly, given my Western roots, in a reasonable dialogue on the issues; I think I'd be reasonably good at that," Brokaw asserted.
In the March 20 article Carmody explained that "Brokaw is among those who believe the park system faces a crisis, as mining, oil, lumber and ranching activity crowds to the very edge of such wilderness areas as Yellowstone National Park, threatening their ecosystems even as development and maintenance of the parks is hampered by budget cuts and increasingly large visitor counts."
But a 30 Rock veteran still might take over the agency. Among those under consideration: Roger Kennedy, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. During the 1950s he was a reporter for NBC News.
The last time a Democrat controlled the White House Douglas Bennet served as Assistant Secretary of State for congressional relations and then as Director of the Agency for International Development, a State Department agency. With a Democrat back on Pennsylvania Avenue, Bennet will soon be back at State. President Clinton has nominated him for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for intergovernmental organizations.
So what did the Democratic partisan do when the Republicans were in power? Bennet ran National Public Radio (NPR) as its President from 1983 until Clinton chose him. Before working for Carter, Bennet served as top aide to two Democratic Senators: Abraham Ribicoff and Tom Eagleton.
NBC's Defensive Move
During the Persian Gulf War Pete Williams' daily televised briefings from the Pentagon made him famous. Now he'll be a regular fixture on NBC News. Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs during the Bush Administration, Williams became a national correspondent in early April, working out of the Washington bureau.
Williams is not new to television reporting. From 1976 to 1985 he was an anchor and reporter for KTWO-TV in Casper, Wyoming. After four years as Press Secretary and Legislative Assistant to U.S. Representative Richard Cheney, he followed the Republican to the Pentagon.
David Beckwith, a Time Washington correspondent for eight years before becoming Press Secretary to Vice President Dan Quayle, has landed a temporary job. He's Press Secretary to Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican candidate to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by Lloyd Bentsen. No matter what the outcome of the May 1 election (and possible subsequent run-off), Beckwith told The Washington Post he plans to return to journalism when the campaign ends.
Media Ignore Politicized Clinton Justice Department
Democratic "Land of Hackdom"?
In the last 12 years, reporters criticized the Justice Department for its partisan service to the White House. Both Time and Newsweek recently maligned GOP Justice Departments. Newsweek's David Kaplan wrote: "[Attorney General Ed] Meese ran a Justice Department that was the Land of Hackdom -- little more than an agency to service the needs of President Reagan, and occasionally, the A.G. himself. His four-year reign was the archetype of politics over conscience, ideology over law."
Now that Clinton's Justice Department has served the White House's partisan interests, did the networks and newsweeklies cry "hack"? No. In fact, the Democrats' machinations aren't much of a story:
On March 10, Judge Royce Lamberth ruled Hillary Clinton's task force violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires open meetings for task forces that include non-federal employees. Only ABC did a story before the judge ruled. All four networks reported the ruling, but CBS only did a brief anchor- read story. Time called it a "victory" for the Clintons.
The Washington Times scooped the yawning competition on March 26 by pointing out many task force members Clinton claimed as federal employees were not, violating the FACA. When the White House released a list of 511 names that day, the Times noted the list "did not meet the [General Accounting Office] request for dates of employment, salaries, and detailed backgrounds." The network reaction? None.
Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), on trial for bank fraud, lobbied the Clinton Justice Department to demand the seated jury be rejected and replaced by one selected by race. The Justice Department caved, prompting the prosecuting U.S. Attorney to resign in protest. CNN did a story on Inside Politics. The other three? Zilch.
Attorney General Janet Reno fired all 93 U.S. attorneys, a very unusual practice. Republicans charged the Clintonites made the move to take U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens off the House Post Office investigation of Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. The network response: ABC and CBS never mentioned it. CNN's World News and NBC Nightly News provided brief mentions, with only NBC noting the Rosty angle. Only NBC's Garrick Utley kept the old outrage, declaring in a March 27 "Final Thoughts" comment: "Every new President likes to say `Under me, it's not going to be politics as usual.' At the Justice Department, it looks as if it still is."
Applying the same standards to coverage of Clinton's administration as they applied to Reagan and Bush is a major test of the media's fairness. So far they're failing.
ABC Reports on Bias
Viewers Decry Slant
Breaking out of the old formula, ABC's Prime Time Live explored a rare topic: the media's own biases. After calling for viewer examples of bias in November, ABC aired the results on March 11: 8,000 people flooded the network with examples, and nine of ten letter writers thought election coverage was slanted against the Republicans.
"We found no grand conspiracy, but we did find some surprising examples of what seemed to be some less than objective journalism," declared reporter Judd Rose. He embarrassed Chicago Tribune editor George Langford, who defended a front-page photo from Associated Press showing President Bush with his back to the camera, standing next to a sign that read "Danger -- Keep Away." When Langford said it was the best they had, Rose showed him four very positive AP photos of Bush that were available the same day.
Rose pointed out that George Stephanopoulos' "random" call to George Bush on Larry King Live right before the election went to the CNN control room, and producers made sure it got on. Hardly random.
Rose even critiqued Prime Time itself. In interviews with candidates the week before the election, Sam Donaldson told viewers to watch for Bush backing off a tax pledge, then concluded a segment on Clinton: "They're talking about a whirlwind trip around the country. That's commitment." According to Rose, "Sam says he added that remark after our Executive Producer expressed concern that the tone of the Clinton interview was too hostile."
This suggests one theory about the real reason for ABC's story: It's penance for Prime Time Executive Producer Rick Kaplan, who would not deny a Spy magazine report that he attended Clinton campaign staff meetings and boasted of setting up the Clinton press office during the primaries. In a recent issue of The Washington Post Magazine, reporter David Finkel quoted Kaplan as he watched Donaldson's interview with Clinton. "I'd just like to do this one over again...I'm getting angry watching this...You're making fun of him ....You didn't treat Bush this way."
On the March 12 20/20, ABC correspondent John Stossel illustrated how big government and liberal groups can prevent private enterprise from solving a problem. Stossel focused on the attempt by a French company to install pay toilets on New York City sidewalks: "After New York City was sued by a homeless organization, it did try to bring these to America. But then it ran into American rules. First, city lawyers said `You can't bring pay toilets here. They're illegal in New York State. They discriminate against women.' Why? Because women have to use stalls and men don't. In addition, thirteen separate city agencies must grant approval before anything can be built."
More controversy followed: "Several organizations for the disabled say they will sue because there won't be enough wheel- chair accessible toilets." He added: "New York wants many more of these toilets installed. But to get legal permission may take years....No one knows if they will ever return to the city. The disability issue is only one of the many hurdles. The Transportation Department has a 100-page contract that must be worked out. The Art Commission must approve the toilets' `aesthetic merits.' Endless mazes of rules exist everywhere."
Stossel concluded with a personal experience: "Everywhere there are these crazy rules. Not far from my house there's a high school that built a very expensive swimming pool. They can't use it because the word `feet' is abbreviated....I think we've gone beyond NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] to BANANA -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody. Individually, it's funny. Collectively, it cripples the economy."
Myers Finds Pork
Unlike many of her colleagues, NBC's Lisa Myers has questioned the congressional and presidential commitment to real budget cuts. In a March 3 story she allowed Scott Hodge of the Heritage Foundation to point out some wasteful spending not even touched by the President's budget. Her March 19 Nightly News analysis of the stimulus package found: "The Fish and Wildlife Service gets money to compile fish atlases, and study sicklefin chub. The National Science Foundation gets money for projects killed by Congress last year, including one on mating behavior of swordfish." She reported GOP claims that grants to cities were wasteful, pegged "for everything from a golf course to a parking garage on the beach."
Myers concluded a March 25 story on Senate "budget-cutting" by cautioning: "For all the rhetoric about cutting spending, an independent analysis of the President's plan indicates that most money for deficit reduction is to come from tax increases. The Senate plan calls for spending cuts totaling $111 billion and tax increases of $295.7 billion...that amounts to $2.66 in tax increases for every dollar in spending cuts."
Gumbel Wants it Both Ways
Too Much, But Not Enough
Today co-host Bryant Gumbel tries to have it both ways: blaming Reagan for underfunded programs while criticizing Reagan for deficit spending. On March 17, he discussed presidential budget deficit performance with the author of Bankruptcy 1995. Gumbel asserted: "I'm not sure there's a grade low enough for...Ronald Reagan. He spoke regularly of balancing the budget, but he broke the bank. In return for his own personal popularity, he spent eight years in office, and ran up $1.34 trillion in deficits."
The day after, Gumbel declared: "Faced with declining levels of assistance from Washington over the last twelve years, long- standing urban problems have been aggravated, leading to increases in decay, business failures, and crime, and shortages of housing, school funds, and self-help programs." Just which way is it?
In "The Myth of America's Underfunded Cities," Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel of the Cato Institute pointed out "Cities have a multitude of problems, but too little money is not one of them." Moore and Stansel stated: "While direct federal aid to cities was cut in the Reagan years, aid to poor people living in cities increased. Federal social welfare spending -- on education, training, social services, employment, low-income assistance, community development, and transportation -- rose from $255 billion to $285 billion in real dollars from 1980 to 1992. These figures exclude Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- programs that have exploded in cost and significantly benefitted inner-city residents as well."
Janet Cooke Award: Still Fighting the Salvadoran War
Ed Bradley Ignores Critics In Tribute to New York Times Reporter
Still Fighting the Salvadoran War
The war in El Salvador may be over, but Ed Bradley and CBS are still fighting it. On 60 Minutes March 14, Bradley revisited the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, and used it as a forum to attack Reagan Administration officials and media critics who questioned the quality of reporting from El Salvador. For attacking media critics without giving them any time to respond, CBS earns the Janet Cooke Award.
60 Minutes timed the story to air the day before the release of the United Nations "Truth Commission" report. It claimed the Salvadoran government was responsible for a majority of the deaths in the grisly ten-year civil war, including El Mozote. Bradley used the new charges to vindicate two reporters, Raymond Bonner of The New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of The Washington Post, who first wrote the El Mozote story.
Bradley focused his complaint on critiques of Raymond Bonner's story from El Mozote: "An ultra-right wing media newsletter [Accuracy In Media's AIM Report] said he was worth a division to the communists in Central America. Time magazine also attacked Bonner, as did a Wall Street Journal editorial which called him overly credulous." Bradley revealed his bias when he called AIM "ultra-right" but labeled El Salvador's Cuban-inspired communist guerrillas simply "left-wing."
Bradley then turned to Bonner, who charged: "That [Wall Street Journal] editorial and the attacks that followed turned around the press...I think it made people more reluctant to report on human rights abuses by the government." Bradley left the completely false impression that media critics and Reagan officials were cynically criticizing his reporting because it was too painfully accurate. Bradley excluded anything that might suggest Bonner wasn't perfectly accurate.
Had Bradley aired a spokesman from AIM, they might have explained that their "worth a division" quote was based on 51 of Bonner's reports from El Salvador, not just the Mozote story. Wall Street Journal editorial writers could have told viewers that they praised the more measured stories of Washington Post reporter Alma Guillermoprieto, also featured in Bradley's story.
Time critic William A. Henry III, who is no conservative, might have explained the context of his brief comments about Bonner in a 1735-word article. Henry called Bonner "probably the most energetic and most controversial reporter on the scene. Some peers vigorously defend him; others say he is readier to believe the guerrillas than the government." But Bradley allowed no trace of nuance, and left important questions unanswered:
1. How qualified was Bonner as a reporter? Bradley didn't tell viewers, for example, that Bonner started his entire journalistic career with The New York Times in El Salvador, despite the Times' usual practice of hiring only experienced reporters. This was not so in the case of Bonner, an amateur journalist fresh from lawyering for Ralph Nader. Bonner was so green that the Times officially posted him on their metropolitan desk, and sent him into El Salvador only when the news heated up.
2. What about Bonner's feelings about the communists? Was Bonner too supportive or willing to accept guerrilla claims? Bradley didn't explore, for example, Bonner's reluctance to label the FMLN. Bonner said at one symposium: "I have always stayed away from calling groups `Marxist-led,' because I don't know exactly what that means...[even] calling them `guerrillas' has negative connotations...calling them leftists has negative connotations." Why did Bonner worry about negative U.S. public relations for the FMLN?
3. What about Bonner's credibility? All of Bonner's critics attacked a story Bradley didn't mention, an untrue story Bonner had to renounce. Bonner and the Times reported a gruesome story about teenagers tortured by Salvadoran soldiers on the basis of an unreliable Salvadoran army deserter named Antonio Gomez. Bonner misled the public with harrowing stories about torturing children based on one dubious source, the worst kind of yellow journalism. Bradley also left out that Bonner forwarded without challenge FMLN assertions that they got no weapons or training from Cuba or Nicaragua, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
4. How many people were murdered at El Mozote? None of the media critics claimed there was no massacre at El Mozote; but the size of the actual death toll is crucial to determining the credibility of Bonner's reporting. In his story from El Salvador, Bradley reported that forensic anthropologists found 146 bodies in one grave at El Mozote, but began by claiming "more than 700" were killed. Until the anthropologists can verify 700 skeletons, what proof does Bradley have of his estimate?
To this day, media reports vary from 200 to "almost 1,000," Bonner's favorite estimate, and one he used in his book Weakness and Deceit. The New York Times itself varied in its 1990s reports: on October 30, 1990, the Times cited "about 1,000"; on January 2, 1992, "at least 794"; "almost 1,000" again on November 1, 1992; "more than 200" in a caption on March 21, 1993. Bonner's reporting should not be hailed as "vindicated" if he doubled or tripled the actual death toll; it only underlines his credibility problem.
MediaWatch tried to contact Bradley's producer, David Gelber, for comment. Gelber replied: "Actually, I'm not in a position to do that right now. Can you call me tomorrow?" Despite repeated calls over the next week, Gelber failed to call back.
Bonner complained to Bradley: "Washington didn't want reports coming out of Central America that showed massacres by the Salvadoran government soldiers. And when the facts didn't fit, when the facts didn't fit the policy, when the facts that reporters, we in the field were sending back to our newspapers, television, then they engage in smear campaigns by charging people with having a leftist bias, a political agenda."
Instead of telling the whole story about the bulk of Bonner's reporting, Bradley seemed to be practicing the method Bonner attributed to conservatives: when the facts didn't fit, he engaged in smear campaigns by charging people with having an "ultra-right" bias, a political agenda.
Both sides in this journalistic tiff are biased, but the question isn't simply bias, it's evidence: How can you prove what you report? If Bradley had been interested in solid, balanced reporting, whether it came from CBS or The New York Times, he would have allowed Bonner's critics time to respond. But Bradley's report wasn't about setting the record straight; it was about getting even.