In This Issue
A World Destroyed by Capitalism in Need of Higher Taxes, More Government; NewsBites: Embarrassing Eleanor; Revolving Door: Baer To the Rescue; No Such Media Concern During Iran-Contra, Wedtech, Sununugate...; America, Full of Hatemongers; Good Money After Bad; Times Says Post Suspended Reporter; Janet Cooke Award: All Four Networks, Newsweek Distort Studies of Hunger in America
A World Destroyed by Capitalism in Need of Higher Taxes, More Government
Charles Kuralt: On the Road to Serfdom
After 37 years with CBS News, Charles Kuralt signed off from Sunday Morning for the last time on April 3. The avuncular Kuralt will popularly be remembered for his "On the Road" pieces and the artsy, unhurried morning show he created 15 years ago. But all this masks his other side, one which peeked out from under his folksy demeanor throughout his career: a committed liberal. For his retirement, MediaWatch collected the political wisdom of Charles Kuralt.
Environment. During the early '90s environmental craze, Kuralt, who ended Sunday Morning every week with a nature video, was in the vanguard. He espoused the view that technological advancements only bring environmental destruction. On Sunday Morning's May 31, 1992 broadcast, Kuralt introduced a report by saying, "Our motor cars free us and foul the air. Our factories supply us with everything we need and poison the water. Every time humanity makes a great leap forward, we land deep in toxic mud."
Tax More/Spend More. Kuralt repeatedly stressed that if only people had the will to pay increased taxes, government could spend more on our country's problems and quickly solve them. Introducing a January 12, 1992 Sunday Morning piece on Michigan's welfare reforms, Kuralt heaped shame on the state for its lack of "compassion." He began with a parable: "You know the old saying about giving a hungry man a handout -- he'll just be hungry again after he's eaten. But if you teach him to fish, the saying goes, why, then he'll always be able to feed himself. A lot of states are thinking along these lines, trying to reduce their budgets by cutting dependence on welfare, telling a lot of people, in effect, to go fishing."
Yes, for Kuralt, caring equaled spending. He looked toward Europe with envy in an August 1991 Sunday Morning monologue. "A report last week compared health care for children in the United States with health care in the ten countries of Western Europe. Really there isn't any comparison. Nearly all children in Europe are able to see a doctor when they're sick. A lot more of them are immunized, a lot fewer of them die in infancy. Do Europeans care more about their children than we do? There's a simple answer: yes."
On the September 6, 1992 Sunday Morning, Kuralt discussed the plight of the poor in America. "According to guidelines established by the federal government, a family of four can be classified as living in poverty if its cash income is $13,924 a year or less. $13,924 a year for four of you comes to $9.54 per person per day. Can anybody live on that?...One nation under God is what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but the Pledge was written long ago, and has never been adjusted for inflation. With 36 million Americans in poverty now, perhaps the Pledge ought to be brought up to date to read: two nations under God." But he conveniently ignored that assets and non-cash benefits of the poor are not included in the poverty measure.
Last August, Kuralt thought Americans had been failed by their representatives. Not because of corruption or waste, but because the politicians didn't have the guts to raise taxes enough: "Last week after much posturing and fretting, the elected representatives of the people decided how much sacrifice we should make for a civilized society. By the narrowest possible margin in both houses of the Congress, they agreed, in the interest of deficit reduction, that we could afford: four cents. A rise of just over four cents a gallon in the federal tax on gasoline...In the land of the free and the home of the brave, ordinary citizens might have been brave enough to make a real sacrifice for the economic health of their country. But now we won't know. The politicians weren't brave enough to find out."
Kuralt has also served as a cheerleader for the left in the cultural war. On the May 2, 1993 Sunday Morning, he applauded the Clinton administration decision to put women in combat as a victory for equality. "Les Aspin said last week that he means to clear the way for women in the armed forces to fight in combat. That is a milepost, of course, and an advance of considerable importance to women.... The least sane enterprise upon which human beings ever embark will thus be made non-sexist. Women have always suffered the madness and horror of war. Now at least they will do so with a gun in their hands."
Good Liberals/Bad Conservatives. Kuralt served as a commentator for CBS News during the political conventions in the summer of 1992. The perspectives he delivered for CBS' coverage were glowing assessments of the liberals and condemnations of the conservatives. At the Democratic Convention in New York, Kuralt breathlessly praised Gov. Mario Cuomo's partisan attacks on George Bush: "I'm still in the glow of that Cuomo speech. Mario Cuomo is like one of those three-way lightbulbs...he said he was going to stay on dim so as not to put Bill Clinton in the shade. And then he stepped up here tonight and delivered a genuine 250-watter. A speech bright enough and hot enough to fill up this dark room. I think tonight was Cuomo's night, as last night was Jesse Jackson's."
At the Republican Convention, Kuralt felt the thoughts expressed by some speakers deserved condemnation. On August 17, 1992 he was especially tough on Pat Buchanan, declaring: "I thought the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it, especially there at the end, take back our culture, take back our country. I think that was an appeal to racism."
Earlier that day, following the media zeitgeist, he slammed the GOP platform as extreme. "This platform the Republicans adopted today reminds me of another Republican platform and another convention, the one of '64, the one that nominated Barry Goldwater, [when] the party's farthest right-wingers took over for the first time and drove through a breathtakingly conservative platform...Those folks were not so interested in winning the election as in humiliating Nelson Rockefeller and the other moderates of their own party." Kuralt continued: "They lost in a landslide. Republicans with long memories might have noticed that something like that was going on here today."
He concluded by attacking Christian Right delegates. "The only excited, demonstrative delegates any of us could find were the ones from the religious right, Pat Robertson's God and Country rally. They remind me of those Goldwater delegates of 28 years ago, far more interested in imposing ideological purity on this party than they are on winning the election...They got the platform they want. No room for a pregnant woman to make any decision [on abortion] at all, even if she was raped. It's tough on welfare, tough on taxes and guns and gays and pornography, tough even on public radio and public television."
NewsBites: Embarrassing Eleanor
The White House hoped for a puff piece on Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Clift came through. "I guess the only thing I see comparable [between Whitewater and Watergate] is that a lot of people want to launch careers based on finding something," Clift asked in the interview for the March 21 Newsweek. "How angry are you about the way this has mushroomed from a little land scandal into an allegation that you and your husband are corrupt?"
Clift also fed excuses to Mrs. Clinton: "My theory is that you have a thing about privacy....The attacks against you are really about more than Whitewater. They really go to the role that you're taking on and whether you can be the spouse of a president and a policymaker....Edward Bennett Williams used to say that Washington likes to burn a witch every three months." In an April 4 Washington Post story on Clift's Clinton apologist reputation, an anonymous Newsweek staffer told reporter Howard Kurtz: "I think she takes it too far...A lot of people find it embarrassing."
The Two Faces of Eleanor
On the February 18 C-SPAN Journalists Roundtable, Eleanor Clift tried to explain why Anita Hill was big news but Paula Jones, who claims that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her in 1991, is unnewsworthy -- timing. Clift said of Jones and alleged mistress Sally Perdue: "This rather reeks of exploitation, if these women had, you know, serious concerns, why didn't they speak out then? Why didn't they come forward earlier? There is no way to check whether they are credible, and it seems to me that a responsible press doesn't automatically just put people on the front page because they've made a charge."
Compare this to her defense of Hill: "She, in fact, was reluctant to come forward as she was encouraged to do, so when the information was leaked on the Hill...she then did not deny it. She also came forward at a time when the confirmation of the person that she was making these allegations against, Judge Thomas, was still in question. It seems to me that the discussions about Bill Clinton's past sexual life came up in the campaign. "
Makes Me Wanna Puke
Bryant Gumbel never fails to claim that racism pervades American society. On the March 22 Today, Gumbel talked to Nathan McCall, a Washington Post reporter who served time in prison for attempted murder, to discuss his new book Makes Me Wanna Holler. McCall said he wrote his book because news accounts "fail to get behind the stories, the incidents, and deal with some of the larger social issues that lead to that kind of behavior." Gumbel added: "It's too easy to put a black face on the problems of crime, of drugs, of poverty, and just say it's a lost cause and walk away from it."
Rather than ask McCall how he turned away from crime, Gumbel focused on blame: "Those who say, `just lock them up, throw away the key, incarcerate them, warehouse them,' whatever, do you think they are even conscious of just how racist this country is?" Gumbel also asked: "It's been written that being black in America is like being witness at your own lynching. Why, why didn't your experiences make you more resentful than you are today?"
Joan's Love Canal
The 1978 media hysteria over Love Canal showed the danger of reporting "disasters" without evidence. Good Morning America's Joan Lunden revived the allegations on March 18 in a one-sided interview with two former residents. Lunden claimed: "The name Love Canal became synonymous with environmental disasters. Love Canal was a quiet, upscale suburb of Buffalo, New York until the poison below the ground began to seep out. The Hooker Chemical Company had dumped 20,000 tons of toxic waste under the land where homes were later built. Families were devastated by illness."
Lunden asked former resident Lois Gibbs: "Were any members of your family made ill by the buried waste?" Gibbs said her daughter developed leukemia. Lunden noted Occidental Petroleum would "have to pay off this 350 million dollars in cleanup costs," and asked the other resident: "You think that's enough?"
Michael Fumento's book Science Under Siege explained that in 1953 Hooker "was joined in the [legal] dumping by federal government agencies." She didn't mention that, or note that Hooker sold the land in 1953, meaning Occidental must stand trial for a 41-year- old, then-legal activity. Concluded a 1981 study in Science: "Data from the New York Cancer Registry show no evidence for higher cancer rates associated with residence near the Love Canal toxic waste burial site." Fumento quoted a New York Times editorial of June 20, 1981: "It may turn out that the public suffered less from the chemicals there than from the hysteria generated by flimsy research irresponsibly handled."
NRDC's Teflon Reputation
On February 26, 1989, 60 Minutes promoted a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council concluding that Alar, a synthetic growth regulator used by apple farmers, posed an "intolerable risk" of causing cancer in children. CBS reporter Ed Bradley called Alar "The most potent cancer-causing agent in our food supply." Five years later, the Alar scare has been scientifically debunked by, among others, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health noted: "Distinguished physicians, scientists and regulatory groups have determined that there was never any risk," and suggested "Perhaps, then, both consumers and the media will be more cautious before believing the next `cancer of the week' scare."
Perhaps not. On the March 14 NBC Nightly News, Robert Hager, undaunted by the Alar hoax, began his report: "Today a report from the highly respected environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, says most towns and cities are depending on crumbling water systems built shortly after World War I, and using technology from the Victorian Era." Start boiling the water.
Victims of Progress?
Add U.S. News & World Report contributing editor Emily MacFarquhar to the list of those disappointed by the end of the Cold War. In a March 28 cover story, "The War Against Women," she reminisced about the good old days for women: "The collapse of communism, unlamented almost everywhere, has hurt women in unexpected ways. Gender equality was always more rhetorical than real under Marxism, but women have been hard hit by the implosion of old command economies, the end of guaranteed employment and the unraveling of the social safety net." Under the heading "Victims of democracy," MacFarquhar noted: "The new democratically elected assemblies of Eastern Europe have far fewer women members than their puppet predecessors did." This war, it seems, is best ended by a return to the liberation of command economies and puppet governments.
When the media announced an alarming new increase in reported cases of heterosexual AIDS, they left out the "why." The March 21 Newsweek reported: "The government has news for anyone who still thinks AIDS is a gay disease. Last year, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gay men accounted for fewer than half of the nation's new AIDS cases -- and heterosexual cases rose more sharply than did any other category." The March 21 Time stated: "The number of new AIDS cases surged unexpectedly last year, more than doubling, owing to a jump in infections among heterosexuals."
In an unpublished letter to The New York Times, Michael Fumento, author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, explained the new definition "changed everything. First, it added three new indicator diseases that, when accompanied by HIV, will prompt an AIDS diagnosis. Those diseases -- pulmonary tuberculosis, recurrent pneumonia, and invasive cervical cancer -- tend to be found far more often in non-homosexuals than in homosexuals. Cervical cancer, of course, is strictly a disease of women. The other part of the new definition, which classifies a person as having AIDS if the level of a certain white cell in their blood falls below a certain level, disproportionately expanded non- homosexual cases." But in the March 11 New York Times, Lawrence Altman reported: "The new definition does not affect the rate of increase by heterosexual transmission." In fact, Fumento's subsequent letter noted, "Because of the addition of these new indicator diseases, it was a foregone conclusion that the portions of the epidemic made up of non-homosexuals would increase."
Peter Jennings traveled to Detroit to broadcast ABC's World News Tonight from the March 14-15 "jobs summit." Jennings went to an auto plant to show the effects of technology: "Everyday machines are becoming so efficient that fewer workers are needed to do a great many jobs. Just take a look at this assembly line at Cadillac. Imagine the effect when it gets to your work place, if it hasn't already." Jennings ignored that during the '80s, when personal computers and faxes revolutionized the workplace, 20 million jobs were created.
Jennings also charged: "Good jobs began disappearing to automation or to competition overseas in the 1970s. Make more with less became the new business slogan. Hundreds of thousands of higher wage workers were pushed into the low-wage service sector." But as Robert Samuelson noted in the March 14 Newsweek, "since 1900, our incomes have quadrupled....Higher living standards are the fruit of higher productivity."
In a 30-minute Feb. 23 special, CNN's Bernard Shaw introduced us to America's newest sweetheart: "He hurts inside. He's changed outside. Slimmed down, his 210 pounds resembling those of a pro football wide receiver. He leads his family with serious focus...The past for him has drawn an unwanted spotlight of troubles." Olympic champion Dan Jansen? No, Rodney King. After leading police on a high speed chase in March 1991, and failing to cooperate with the arresting officers, King was violently subdued. Two passengers in King's car, also black, surrendered and were not harmed. Still, Shaw reported: "Rodney King says his nightmare -- the beating -- was an awakening to the world of racism." Shaw noted King, the focused family man, has since been arrested at least twice for drunken driving, again "after his wife called police to say she had been injured in a domestic dispute and feared for her life," and for "the alley incident with Hollywood vice police, who claimed King tried to run them down after allegedly picking up a transvestite male prostitute." None of this deterred Shaw, whose tribute began with a walk on the beach where, "He searches for solitude because Rodney King is trying to find Rodney King," and went on to show King frolicking with his family. Shaw concluded with King reading a poem he'd written about "his culture," entitled "Special People."
The Misery Dairy Farm
Tom Brokaw opened the March 28 Nightly News with the plug: "TV talk shows bring in big money for milking human misery." But what about his own show? Before that story, a graphic teasing the lead story on South Africa read "Carnage!" Brokaw began: "In South Africa tonight, the price of democracy is running high and bloody," showing riots, gunfire and corpses. The next two stories focused on destruction from weekend tornadoes, one from an Alabama town where "two out of three people are now either hurt or dead."
Then, two stories on two students killed during a Los Angeles carjacking, including a 13-second soundbite of the dead students' faculty adviser bursting into tears. The eighth report showed what Brokaw described as "graphic pictures that are just surfacing of that political assassination in Mexico." No "milking human misery" here.
Revolving Door: Baer To the Rescue
U.S. News & World Report has made its second contribution to the White House staff. Nine-year veteran Donald Baer has taken the title of Director of Speechwriting and Research. Baer held the title of Associate Editor until becoming a Senior Editor in 1988. Since late 1991 he's been an Assistant Managing Editor in charge of the up-front "Outlook" section. Last May, U.S. News Editor-at- Large and former Editor David Gergen became counselor to the President. Also working in Baer's shop: Carolyn Curiel, a former Nightline producer and New York Times editor, and Alison Muscatine, a former sports and metro news reporter for The Washington Post.
NBC's Re-Run Ross
When President Carter took office, Thomas Ross abandoned his position as Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times to become Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs. With the election 12 years later of another Democratic President, Ross is back in politics. He's signed on as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for public affairs at the National Security Council.
From 1986 to 1989 he served as Senior Vice President of NBC News in charge of planning. Since leaving NBC he's been at the Hill & Knowlton public affairs firm as Senior Vice President and global director of media relations. At the NSC he'll work with Tara Sonenshine, Deputy Director for Communications and a Nightline producer for most of the 1980s.
Joining ABC News in April as a New York-based editorial producer at large was Mark Robertson, a Senior Vice President in Hill & Knowlton's Washington office. Robertson once worked for Senator David Pryor, Common Cause magazine reported last year. Robertson told MediaWatch that he handled scheduling and wrote speeches for the Arkansas Democrat from 1980 to 1982. According to The Washington Post, Robertson will be "working primarily with Diane Sawyer," a former Nixon press assistant. Under her new $7 million contract, Sawyer will have a role with Day One and Turning Point, in addition to co-hosting Prime Time Live.
Margaret Carlson, Special Assistant to the Director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the Carter years, has started writing a regular Time column under the heading of "Public Eye." She's been a Time Washington reporter since 1988. Carlson's cover story last May 10 called Hillary Clinton an "icon of American womanhood"....
Following Les Aspin's departure, Miranda Spivack, a public affairs specialist at the Defense Department since last summer and previously a Washington reporter for The Hartford Courant, has revolved back into the media. She's now Editor of a Maryland chain of suburban newspapers owned by The Washington Post Company....
Speaking of Aspin, Fred Kaplan, a Legislative Assistant to then-Rep. Aspin in the late 1970s, is now The Boston Globe's Moscow Bureau Chief. He's been a Globe reporter since 1982... Betty Furness, who retired in 1992 after 16 years as Today's consumer reporter, passed away at age 78 on April 3. She served as Special Assistant to President Johnson for consumer affairs.
No Such Media Concern During Iran-Contra, Wedtech, Sununugate...
The Whitewater Wimp Factor
Presidents Reagan and Bush had to live through numerous media- driven scandals that distracted each from pursuing their agenda. Then the Whitewater scandal erupted on President Clinton. The media reaction? A sudden concern for overdoing it and its detrimental impact upon Clinton's policies.
"The press is on a rampage," complained U.S. News Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman in his April 11 issue: "We cannot afford a failed presidency, especially if it is falsely damaged by innuendo, speculation and hyperinflated interpretation of events a decade or more ago."
A month earlier, on March 11, Boston Globe Washington Bureau Chief David Shribman called Whitewater "a cheap dime-store novel transformed into a Washington page-turner" by an inept White House staff and the Vince Foster suicide. The next day, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz wrote a front-page story titled "Media Awash in Whitewater, Some Critics Warn," noting the disapproval of old CBS hands Walter Cronkite ("definitely overheated") and Marvin Kalb ("There is a rushing to judgment that is unprofessional and distasteful"). On CNBC's Talk Live March 30, NBC's Bryant Gumbel described Whitewater coverage as "too much, off-target."
In a March 28 CNN Inside Politics story, Bruce Morton claimed "the trouble with Whitewater may be that there is less there there: no crime, as far as is known, no broken promise to the voters, either."
He blamed the story on media competition and, though the biggest revelations came from The New York Times and The Washington Times, on "gossip. Poorly sourced stories that start out in the supermarket tabloids or on tabloid TV on Monday are in the mainstream press and the network newscasts by Tuesday. Gossip's a lot easier to write than tough, investigative pieces or stories about the health care debate."
Newsweek Senior Writer Joe Klein asked in the March 21 issue: "The time for Watergate comparisons may yet come, but what if it doesn't? Do we, the righteous guardians of the truth, admit that we blew this all out of proportion -- or do we continue to puff motes into dust storms in order to justify our investment? The Clintons have earned their isolation. But they deserve a more sober hearing than this lunatic cauldron."
Many reporters agree. The April 4 Time ran a chart showing 75 articles in a month in major outlets used both "feeding frenzy" and "Whitewater." But a Center for Media and Public Affairs analysis found that from March 1 to 20, the Big Three networks aired 86 Whitewater stories, or 4.3 per night, compared to 12.9 per night at the beginning of Iran-Contra in 1986, and 13.4 nightly during the eruption of Watergate in the spring of '73.
America, Full of Hatemongers
Dan Rather turned April into Guest Editorial Month. While Rather pulled punches on lifting the trade embargo against Vietnam in the April 4 National Review ("Only the President can answer whether he has kept faith" with the Vietnam dead), he fired both barrels in the April 11 edition of the far-left magazine The Nation.
Rather took a verbal bat to the religious opponents of homo-sexuality: "Gays and lesbians are beaten to death in the streets with increasing frequency -- in part due to irrational fear of AIDS but also because hatemongers, from comedians to the worst of the Christian right, send the message that homosexuals have no value in our society. Sometimes that message has a major-party affiliation and a request for a campaign contribution. In the post-Cold War era, gays have been drafted to replace communists as the new menace to the American Way: We're told gays corrupt youth and commandeer art and entertainment to win converts."
The CBS Evening News anchor found hatred across America: "North or south, east or west, you'll still see racism, violence, and inequality all over this country. Look at the white institutions outside the south that keep ethnic and racial minorities locked away in ghettos. American children of color are presented with an onslaught of lessons and images telling them they're not worthy."
Rather moved on to Indians: "The first Americans fare no better. A century after genocidal wars ended on the Western plains, Native Americans are still subjected to conditions of hopelessness, poverty, and disease that make a dent in white consciousness only when some germ crops up on the reservation and threatens to spread." As for making a dent on "white consciousness," how many CBS Evening News stories have focused on Indians since 1990? Four, and none yet this year.
He concluded the diatribe: "The list goes on and on: Vietnamese- Americans, Arab-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Americans from every corner of the globe are daily subjected to abuses of civil rights, to violence, hatred, and inhumanity. Across the country. Don't try to tell me or any other New Southerner that civil rights was and is a `Southern problem.' The Old South shared the worst of its legacy with all Americans."
Good Money After Bad
In order to improve school facilities and attract white students back into the inner-city schools, in 1986 a federal judge ordered the Kansas City public schools to correct, regardless of cost, funding disparities between urban and suburban districts.
In a February 27 piece on 60 Minutes, CBS reporter Lesley Stahl asked the question, "Is money the answer?" In Kansas City, with nearly 1.2 billion dollars, "Old schools were demolished all over town, and new ones built. They stocked them with the latest materials and thousands of computers. They gave teachers huge raises, and mandated that no class could have more than 25 kids. They did just about everything recommended by the reformers."
Seven years later, Stahl revealed: "To everyone's astonishment and dismay, academic achievement has hardly improved at all. Junior high and high school test scores in reading, writing, and arithmetic are exactly where they were before, way below national averages."
The spending jump has not succeeded in attracting more white students either. Stahl confronted the superintendent of schools: "You cannot deny that system-wide, the desegregation numbers are a disaster. I mean, there are...proportionately fewer whites than there were when the money started coming in." In closing, she pointed to a successful alternative: "One school in Kansas City that is making an impact is Martin Luther King Middle School, and they didn't spend through the roof. They didn't get a new building, just a facelift. There's no exotic theme, just a basic curriculum. But the kids wear uniforms...Test scores at King used to be the worst in the system, now they're just about the best."
Carlson on the Cardinal
After the sexual abuse lawsuit against Chicago's Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was dropped, Time's Margaret Carlson took the media to task for failing to check plaintiff Steven Cook's unsupported allegations. In her "Public Eye" column in the March 14 issue, she reported: "The plaintiff's lawyer had rushed to file the suit in hopes of having it included in an imminent CNN special on priests and sex." For the special, which aired November 14, "Cook's charges were added to the program and used to promote it."
Carlson explained: "CNN was not alone in giving Cook the oxygen of publicity. But when the only hook for a story is a lawsuit -- which only takes one person convincing one lawyer to go forward -- the media are under some obligation to check out the accusation." As for the allegations, Carlson noted: "Repressed memory is controversial to begin with, and the hypnotist who jogged Cook's memory is in the graphic artist business and not a licensed psychologist. The evidence is flimsy." As for the exonerated Cardinal, Carlson concluded "CNN gave the Cardinal a quarter-hour on Friday night to try to allow him to recover what was taken from him. Is it enough? Is it too late?"
Times Says Post Suspended Reporter
Paula Jones Story Fight?
Michael Isikoff was suspended from The Washington Post "for two weeks for insubordination after a heated confrontation with editors over the newspaper's handling of a story about sexual harassment accusations against President Clinton," according to Rod Dreher of The Washington Times. The March 25 story reported: "Two sources at the paper said Mr. Isikoff was upset because he thinks the Post is burying his findings about sexual harassment charges leveled at Mr. Clinton by Paula Corbin Jones, an Arkansas state employee, at a Feb. 11 news conference."
The next day, Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser countered in Howard Kurtz's Post Media Notes column that the Times story was wrong: "We do not discuss personnel matters of any kind out of respect for the privacy of our employees...But in light of the incorrect assertion in today's Washington Times, I'd like to say that no one here has been disciplined over the handling of a story about Paula Jones's allegations."
Kaiser explained: "Our role in a case like this is to examine an allegation made by a private citizen against a public official with some care...We have an obligation to the Post's readers to do our best to establish the truth and not simply to print damaging accusations the moment they are made." Really? Two years ago the Post had no problem putting on page one Anita Hill's uncorroborated allegations about Clarence Thomas. But two weeks after the Times story, the Post had still not printed a story on Paula Jones.
Janet Cooke Award: All Four Networks, Newsweek Distort Studies of Hunger in America
The Media's Eating Disorder
How is the problem of hunger in America quantified? Since the federal government conducts no national measure of hunger, liberal interest groups favoring more government food handouts have issued their own studies. Each in turn has become a national news story, featuring liberal experts, but no conservatives. In each case, the media overstated the findings.
The Food Research and Action Center contended on March 26, 1991 that 6 million children went hungry on at least one day in the previous year. Dan Rather began the CBS Evening News: "A startling number of children are in danger of starving...one in eight children is going hungry tonight."
Tufts University's Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition issued a press release on June 10, 1993, doubling the FRAC number to 12 million who were hungry at some time in 1991. On the June 16 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw reported to the nation: "Hunger in America. There are some startling facts tonight. A study... claims that 12 million American children are malnourished."
The Urban Institute claimed on November 16, 1993 that "between 2.5 and 4.9 million elderly Americans -- many living well above the poverty line -- suffer from hunger and food insecurity." CBS Evening News anchor Connie Chung cited "a disturbing report tonight about older Americans in this country. Millions of them, even some living above the poverty line, don't know from day to day where their next meal is coming from."
Second Harvest, a national network of food banks, issued a study March 8 claiming that 26 million Americans used a food bank at least once in an 18-month period (from June 1992 to December 1993). The networks again exaggerated the findings and ignored skeptical experts. All of the networks claimed 25 million or more people "rely on" or "need" food banks, not that the study counted a single trip in an 18-month period. For their misreporting of the hunger problem, all four networks and Newsweek earned the Janet Cooke Award.
NBC's Larry Carroll beat the competition with a February 22 news story on Second Harvest, claiming "there's 25 to 30 million Americans who go hungry at some point every month and need the services of not just public assistance like food stamps, but also private food banks and soup kitchens and so forth."
On the March 8 World News Tonight, ABC's Kathy Wolff did a brief story focusing on Richard Lohr-meyer, who lost a well-paying job selling software. "Today's study claims 26 million Americans rely on food banks -- a surprising number of them middle class."
CNN's Jeff Flock contended: "The largest hunger relief organization in the United States, Second Harvest, has for the first time surveyed hunger and found 25 million Americans -- that's one in ten -- who rely on food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters for food."
On CBS, Dan Rather announced: "The country's largest network of food banks is out today with a new survey on hunger in America. The study finds almost 26 million Americans -- that's more than one out of ten -- rely on soup kitchens or other food charities to eat." The next morning, CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith promoted the study: "A new study by a national network of food banks says hunger has spread to the suburbs and into the American working class. Second Harvest says children account for nearly half the 26 million Americans who rely on food pantries and other emergency feeding programs."
All of the networks also neglected to mention the study's funder -- Kraft Foods, a corporation with an obvious interest in increasing support for federal food subsidy programs. Kraft also funded the FRAC and Urban Institute hunger studies. None explained that Second Harvest is currently lobbying the Clinton administration to continue an $80 million program which sends surplus commodities to food banks.
MediaWatch called all four outlets. CBS didn't call back. World News Tonight spokesman Arnot Walker rebuffed our call: "If you want a quote, we'll say we stand by our report." At NBC, Carroll admitted "any of the numbers out there are non-specific," but credible: "What we discovered was there has not been an actual count of individuals using food banking services on an individual -by-individual basis. The 26 million is something of an extrapolation...which the Department of Agriculture acknowledges is probably correct."
CNN's Flock checked his script again and agreed the word "rely" may be too strong: "It does seem to be overcharacterizing the relationship. According to the numbers I'm seeing here, 40 percent have received food assistance for more than a year, so they count for `rely.' About 30 percent were between 3 months and a year, and that could arguably be `rely,' and another 30 percent were 3 months or less. That's certainly arguably not `rely'...you make a good point. They said `rely' in the press release. I looked at a transcript of our interview with the Second Harvest person, who characterized it that way. But the numbers I don't think bear it out completely."
The Newsweek story, authored by Laura Shapiro, avoided some of these pitfalls, noting that Second Harvest found that 26 million "now make use" of food banks. She also added some balance by quoting economist Robert Havemann ("I don't believe that many people are hungry") and Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector. He told MediaWatch: "The average poor child by age 18 is one inch taller and ten pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed Normandy. Poor children today are not malnourished, they're supernourished by historical standards."
Shapiro's article claimed "Second Harvest's results jibe with previous hunger surveys by organizations like the Urban Institute and the Food Research and Action Center, as well as poverty statistics." Shapiro did not note poverty statistics can't measure hunger, or question the FRAC and Urban Institute methodologies.
The FRAC study classified children as hungry if they answered "yes" to five of eight questions, including two which didn't deal directly with missing meals, and two that dealt with adult eating habits. The Urban Institute survey was conducted by mail, an obviously unscientific way of polling.
So isn't that piling up dubious study on dubious study? Shapiro told MediaWatch: "Your basic point, which is that all of these studies lack a lot of scientific depth, is true. I think that is why a very important story which I didn't include, and I wish I had space to include, is that there is now a whole move at the USDA to calculate hunger more scientifically. It's a picture that's very hard to get a hold of. I think the Second Harvest study provides one more perspective." When asked about why Kraft Foods wasn't mentioned, Shapiro conceded: "You know, I never put that together."