In This Issue
Still Not Enough Time For Religion News; NewsBites: Boobs on the Tube; Ignoring Philadelphia; Yawning at Webster's Wallet; Rosenberg's Guilt; Ameridrain; Media Reputation Slides; Janet Cooke Award: If John Major's "Sleazy" What's Clinton?
Still Not Enough Time For Religion News
For the last four years, the Media Research Center has conducted an annual survey of the quantity and quality of religion news coverage by the networks. The landscape remains surprisingly unchanged: year after year, the networks continue to fail to significantly break the one-percent barrier of total news content, neglecting religion in their everyday reporting.
In the last four years, from 1993 through 1996, the networks have aired an estimated 72,000 evening news stories, and an estimated 104,000 morning show segments. But only 955 of those 72,000 evening news stories were devoted to religion; and only 830 of those 104,000 morning news segments covered news of religion.
Evening Coverage. Of the thousands of segments last year on the five network programs evaluated (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today, NBC Nightly News, and The News-Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS) the networks devoted only 269 stories to religion in 1996, a slight increase (eight percent) from 1995. But only 130 of these were full stories (compared to 131 anchor briefs), a decrease of 13 stories from 1995's full story total.
ABC's World News Tonight again aired the highest number of religion stories with 76, up 11 stories from 1995. ABC was trailed by CNN's The World Today with 64, one less than in 1995. NBC followed with 53 stories, up ten from 1995. CBS aired 49 stories, down one story from 1995. For the fourth straight year, The News-Hour lagged far behind the others with 27 stories, one more than 1995.
Morning Coverage. Despite a full two hours daily for news and interviews, adding up to more than 26,000 segments in 1996, the major network morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) devoted 258 morning show stories to religion in 1996, an increase of 34 segments (15 percent). Unlike last year, the networks were not roughly equal in their amount of coverage. NBC led again with 112 segments, up from 80 in 1995 and 52 in 1994; and ABC aired 97 segments, up from 70 segments in 1995 and 50 in 1994. CBS, however, dropped from 74 stories in 1995 to 49 in 1996, and only 17 of those were full reports or interviews. (In late July, CBS went to a slimmed-down This Morning, offering more of its first hour to local affiliates.)
Magazine/Interview Coverage. The blind spot to religious news remains especially noticeable on Sunday morning interview shows and prime-time magazine programs. Analysts reviewed the Sunday shows (ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press) as well as the prime-time magazine lineup (ABC's Prime Time Live and 20/20; CBS's 48 Hours, and 60 Minutes; and NBC's three-night, even in some weeks, four-night Dateline format). Out of roughly 400 shows, the number of religion stories rose to 19. That's up from 15 in 1995. Out of roughly 150 shows between the three networks, not a single Sunday morning interview program focused on religion.
Stories Missed. The relative dearth of TV religion coverage did not result from a lack of interesting religion news events and feature ideas in 1996. Religion reporters at the nation's print outlets unearthed a number of stories that network producers could have developed for their own broadcasts. For example:
The Templeton Prize. First awarded in 1972, the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion is the world's largest monetary award, with the winner receiving $1.2 million, more than the better-recognized Nobel Prizes. Network coverage: zero.
The Evolving Evolution Debate. Two academics challenged the orthodoxy of Darwinian theories of evolution in 1996. Lehigh University biology professor Michael Behe wrote the book Darwin's Black Box, which argues the human body is a machine of "irreducible complexity" that would have had difficulty evolving into a cohesive whole. David Berlinski, author of the book A Tour of the Calculus, wrote a cover story in the June issue of the journal Commentary noting facts in favor of Darwinian theory "have been rather less forthcoming than evolutionary biologists might have hoped." Network coverage? Zero.
Religious Liberty Abroad. In response to pressure from human rights activists and religious leaders, the State Department appointed a panel of 20 religious leaders and scholars to monitor the oppression of religious believers abroad. TV coverage? Zero.
Military Chaplains. The networks didn't consider the angle of military chaplains and their role in ministering to soldiers in trying times. The networks also ignored a lawsuit in 1996 demanding the Department of Defense allow chaplains the freedom to be politically active, stemming from an Air Force ban on chaplains organizing a postcard campaign against partial-birth abortions.
The Role of Faith-Based Charity. As the political debate centered around social problems like welfare reform or abortion, the networks failed to ask where faith-based charities can help solve problems. This year, the debate over the explicit federal support for religious charities in the Watts-Talent bill before the House of Representatives has yet to be explored. The role of crisis pregnancy centers in saving babies from abortion is a largely faith-based movement that is almost as large as the network of abortion providers, but the networks have paid no attention to them.
One of the reasons religion is undercovered by the networks may be the lack of a religion specialist to learn about and report on what's going on in religion. ABC hired Peggy Wehmeyer early in 1994, and she remains the only explicitly assigned religion reporter at the networks. Wehmeyer reported 15 stories in 1996. CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS have yet to hire even a part-time religion correspondent who could match the quantity of Wehmeyer's coverage.
Not all the news was bad: ABC's World News Tonight devoted three of its weekly Friday "Person of the Week" segments to religious figures in 1996. But the networks have yet to demonstrate that religion will ever break out of its ongoing ghetto of disinterest.
NewsBites: Boobs on the Tube
Ed Bradley interviewed Paula Jones on the March 16 60 Minutes -- but strangely edited out the substance of her sexual harassment charges against President Clinton. When Jones began to describe the specifics of how Clinton harassed her, Bradley's voice-over narration drowned her out. Bradley explained: "What she says happened next and what she says caused her to leave the room is spelled out graphically in her lawsuit. As a matter of taste we opted not to include it." For 60 Minutes, serious allegations against the President of the United States are in bad taste. What isn't in bad taste? A film clip of Julie Andrews baring her breasts in the 1981 movie S.O.B. which they flashed during a Mike Wallace profile of the actress in October 1995.
Lauer's Cover Story
The cover of the March 24 issue of National Review grabbed the attention of NBC's Today when it caricatured the Clintons as Asians, but when the liberal Emerge magazine defaced conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Today ignored it.
On the March 21 Today, co-host Matt Lauer opened the segment: "Asian-Americans are calling the current cover of the National Review magazine offensive and racist. As you can see the cover depicts the President and First Lady as narrow-eyed, buck-toothed Chinese dressed in Mao suits serving tea. The cover story is about the Asian connection to the Democratic Party campaign fundraising controversy."
Daphne Kwok, representing the Organization of Chinese Americans decried the magazine cover, while National Review editor John O'Sullivan was invited to defend the caricatures. Lauer questioned O' Sullivan's sensitivity: "Mr. O' Sullivan you are part of a committee that commissioned a drawing for the front of the magazine. What was the message you were trying to get across?....Didn't you know though that there would be a lot of people who would think this was very offensive?" Today didn't make an issue last November of a derogatory Emerge cover depicting Justice Thomas as a lawn jockey with the title "Clarence Thomas: Lawn Jockey of the Far Right." Thus, George Curry, editor of the left-leaning magazine, escaped questioning by NBC's sensitivity police.
Pay Up -- or No Tornado Warnings
All the networks portrayed a tiny reduction in the National Weather Service's $400 million annual budget as a major impending disaster. For example, the March 22 NBC Nightly News report by Robert Hager began: "The National Weather Service faces hard times, says it must cut 200 jobs and put off replacement of outdated equipment. All because of a $27 million budget cut ordered by Congress and the administration."
Hager outlined some of the dire consequences that have occurred: "Already, after Florida growers were caught off guard by a sudden, disastrous freeze in January, some weather service managers blamed budget cuts -- and blamed them, too, for a failure to forecast high waves off the Washington coast, which capsized a Coast Guard vessel and drowned three crewmen in February." But an April 6 Washington Post article by Stephen Barr quoted an unnamed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration source denying these events are connected with the budget cuts: "Repair crews had not been able to reach the malfunctioning buoy for two weeks because of high winds and seas, the official said. As for the crop loss, the official said, `We blew the forecast. Sometimes it happens.'"
Rather Wrongs Rebels
Dan Rather found some GOP heroes on March 20, when 11 House Republicans jumped ship to block a bill funding House committees, including the Government Operations Committee's investigation of illegal DNC and White House fundraising techniques.
Rather cast the dissenters as Clinton defenders: "For the second time in two weeks Republicans have revolted against their leaders over the investigation into political campaign finances. By the narrowest of margins, 213 to 211 [sic], the House tonight refused to approve the money to finance the work of 19 committees. Many Republicans did not go along with their leaders who want the investigation to focus only on the Clinton White House."
But the very next day Washington Post reporter Guy Gugliotta had a more accurate account: "The key votes to block yesterday's funding resolution were cast by the 11 conservatives because it included increases in committee budgets. The dissenters insisted that their votes did not imply disapproval of the campaign fundraising investigation...Republican conservatives began to grumble about the funding resolution...because it increased the budgets for 18 standing committees by 14 percent."
That evening, Rather failed to correct himself: "House Republicans settled their differences today and voted to provide nearly four million dollars for an investigation of mostly if not entirely Democratic campaign fundraising during the last Presidential election."
But Aren't They Too Expensive?
As investigations into campaign fundraising begin on Capitol Hill the calls for an independent counsel are getting louder, but not from the broadcast media. On the March 31 World News Tonight, ABC's John Martin used the "Your Money" segment to look at how much various independent counsels have cost taxpayers. Funny, ABC never bothered while Iran-Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh ran up a $40 million tab.
Martin opened: "They are legal lions conducting monumental investigations. Leon Jaworski looking into Watergate. Lawrence Walsh looking into Iran-Contra. Kenneth Starr looking into Whitewater. But today's GAO report shows that many cases are far from monumental and the time and money spent on them are far from inconsequential. Example, the investigation of whether former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy repaid corporate favors worth perhaps a few thousand dollars." After airing a quote from Donald Smaltz, the independent counsel on the Espy case, Martin continued: "But that was two and a half years ago and so far Smaltz has spent $6.6 million."
Martin might have had a better appreciation for Smaltz's work if he had reported his convictions. Since the beginning of 1995, the evening news shows have aired only two full stories and one anchor brief on the Espy investigation, while Smaltz has piled up six convictions. Martin failed to note that a federal jury convicted a California agribusiness company of illegally showering Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts and that this past March, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods was convicted of lying to investigators who were looking into allegations that Tyson had given gifts to Espy, his girlfriend and another high-ranking department official. ABC skipped both developments.
On the March 20 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw teased viewers into sticking around for a story about a modern-day Utopia: "Later, where women rule the land. A place where family matters are a national priority." And where was this magical paradise of which Brokaw spoke? None other than socialist Finland.
Reporting from Helsinki, the site of the Yeltsin-Clinton summit, Ron Allen found that the Finnish Speaker, one-third of the parliament and nearly half the cabinet are women. Noting that women got the vote in Finland 90 years ago Allen asserted: "Today, 90 percent of Finnish women work. It's 74 percent in the U.S. And the gap between what women and men earn is smaller in Finland. By some measures, Finnish women are smarter than the men. They earn more than half the college degrees. It's all meant family-friendly government-paid programs, like affordable day care...And parents can take three years off to care for a newborn without losing their jobs, thanks, they say, to mothers in government. Abortion is legal and free. Teen pregnancy rates are the lowest in the world. A law like America's failed Equal Rights Amendment passed long ago."
What Allen failed to point out is the cost of such burdens -- such as an astronomical unemployment rate. According to the Finnish Ministry of Finance the latest figures put the unemployment rate above 15 percent, or three times greater than that of the United States.
Walter's War on Israel
It might be the only government housing project the liberal media have ever opposed: The Jewish settlements being built on Har Homa in Jerusalem, angering Palestinians who say the building is a violation of the "peace process." In two reports on the project and the Palestinian terrorist acts that followed, CNN's Walter Rodgers portrayed the attacks as a natural response to the Jewish building, while ignoring clear PLO violations of the Oslo peace accords.
Charles Krauthammer's April 4 Washington Post column noted that "Arafat's aides admit his own Fatah faction organized the anti-Israeli rioting of the last 14 days." Oslo also calls for the PLO to change its charter calling for the destruction of Israel, which Arafat has refused to do. Yet when Israel builds Jewish settlements in Jersualem, a subject on which Oslo is silent, they are blamed for wrecking the peace process.
On CNN's The World Today April 6, Rodgers stated: "The Palestinians say Mr. Netanyahu is no longer negotiating peace, he's trying to dictate its terms...militant Palestinians now burn U.S. and Israeli flags, asking what became of American assurances Israel would not expand Jewish settlements during the peace process." But Krauthammer's column pointed out: "Israel's building Jewish housing on Har Homa in East Jerusalem....is routinely cited as a violation of Oslo. The real Oslo, however, is very explicit in treating Jerusalem as a separate entity from the West Bank...Jewish housing was built in East Jerusalem throughout Yitzhak Rabin's stewardship of the Oslo process."
Rodgers' March 31 report on The World Today forwarded more Palestinian public relations: "The agenda at the White House may have been restarted in the Middle East peace process, but in the Middle East there was no spirit of reconciliation. Only cries for revenge. This as Palestinians paraded through the streets, shouting, `we were not born to lead lives of humiliation.' That humiliation is felt deeply here. Witness these Israeli Arabs marching in solidarity with Palestinians. Both commemorating Land Day, marking decades of Israeli confiscation of Arab lands."
Earlier Rodgers had claimed that Israel was moving "to protect bulldozers on land Israel took from Arabs in the 1967 War." Yet the land in question was gained after Arab countries attacked Israel in 1967. During the battle, Israel gained the territory and retained it as a buffer zone -- hardly the clear-cut "confiscation" of Rodgers' imaginings.
Voters Cause Pedophilia?
When ABC's Prime Time Live reported on pedophiles preying on young Mexican boys in Balboa Park in San Diego, reporter John Quinones didn't blame the police department, the Border Patrol, or even the pedophiles themselves. He blamed California voters that supported Proposition 187 in 1994.
Quinones forwarded the liberal spin as fact: "In California, the problem has been made only worse by the passage of Proposition 187. It specifically says that no public funds can be used to provide social services to anyone who's in this country illegally. That means that even if social workers for the city or the state wanted to help the boys of Balboa Park, they couldn't. It would be against the law. Proposition 187 is now being challenged in court, but its message is clear."
So, pedophilia wasn't a problem before 1994?
When poet Allen Ginsberg died April 5, network liberals displayed their continuing romance with the 1960s, praising the "Beat Generation's Poet Laureate" while whitewashing the more sordid parts of Ginsberg's cultural legacy.
Ginsberg's death actually led the NBC Nightly News that night. Anchor Brian Williams began with a fulsome tribute: "The man who died in a New York hospital room this morning didn't just watch times change in the '60s as much as he helped change our times." Reporter Rick Davis called Ginsberg a "guru with a showman's grace." Davis aired left-wing spokesmen hailing his place in history. Norman Mailer called him a "genius" and said "I knew he was going to make a revolution in the consciences of his time." Tom Hayden described Ginsberg as "a prophetic figure and poet like an Old Testament figure combined with a hippie."
The next day on CBS Sunday Morning, host Charles Osgood also raised Ginsberg to Biblical status: "It is with the righteous wrath of an Old Testament prophet that Allen Ginsberg denounced the greed and grasping and the superficiality and the complacency that he believed he saw all around him in this country in 1956....if we are suspicious now of the material world, and sometimes our souls burn a little for the ancient connection to the `starry dynamo in the machinery of the night,' we have Allen Ginsberg, angry on the page but mild and thoughtful otherwise, to thank for that."
On ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Aaron Brown enthused on April 5: "Two often overused words seem to describe Ginsberg best to us: Genius and controversial....His sexuality -- he was gay -- was often the center of both his art and his politics. And if his causes weren't yours, and his poetry sometimes left you confused, then you could still appreciate his candor, and his courage, and his energy."
Yet the networks omitted the darker aspects of that sexual milieu, ignoring Ginsberg's membership in the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), which supports the repeal of age of consent laws and advocates "consensual" sexual relations between men and young boys. According to the Queer Resources Directory web site, Ginsberg defended his affiliation: "I'm in NAMBLA because I love boys too -- everybody does, who has a little humanity." Though it was central to his work, NBC didn't even mention that Ginsberg was gay.
And although reporters found Ginsberg's art and sexuality honest and courageous, they weren't courageous enough to quote revealing examples, like this excerpt from Ginsberg's "Come All Ye Brave Boys": "Come heroic half naked young studs, that drive automobiles through vaginal blood/Turn over spread your strong legs like a lass, I'll show you the thrill to be jived up the ass/Come sweet delicate strong minded men, I'll take you through graveyards and kiss you again."
Or this, from an interview in Seconds magazine: "If you just take a walk through the Vatican, you could say everybody loves the slightly erotic emanation of nude prepubescent bodies."
The networks ignored the "mild and thoughtful" Ginsberg's political statements as well, such as his 1994 suggestion to The Progressive magazine: "I have no doubt that if Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan or Ollie North ever got real power, there would be concentration camps and mass death."
Yawning at Webster's Wallet
Did former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell get "hush money" from Clinton associates concerned he would tell what he knows about Whitewater? The White House claimed they were just helping a friend after his March 1994 resignation amidst charges he stole from his law partners. But viewers heard little about evidence that officials knew of Hubbell's importance to the Whitewater probe.
After Hubbell left prison, the February 25 Los Angeles Times noted that "the Clintons have stayed quietly in touch with Hubbell" through aide Marsha Scott, who visited him in prison and later traveled to Little Rock to confer as he went before a grand jury. Coverage? Zilch on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News.
A bit more than a week later, the March 6 New York Times first pegged Hubbell's payments at "more than $400,000 from about a dozen enterprises." CBS aired a piece, but not the ABC and NBC evening shows. The New York Times was back on March 20: "In late June of 1994, the Indonesian businessman James T. Riady saw President Clinton and some of his aides in five days of White House visits ending on Saturday. Early the next week, one of Mr. Riady's companies paid $100,000." Nothing on ABC, CBS and NBC that night.
On April 1 former Chief-of-Staff Mack McLarty and Erskine Bowles, who now holds that slot, admitted soliciting deals for Hubbell. The networks all ran brief items on their insistence they were just helping a friend in need.
That spin soon collapsed. White House lawyer Jane Sherburne wrote "monitor cooperation" by Hubbell's name on a 1994 Whitewater memo, the Los Angeles Times disclosed April 6. The next day, The Washington Times reported that two weeks before Hubbell quit in 1994, White House lawyer Neal Eggleston forwarded to the First Lady a memo noting Hubbell's Whitewater testimony to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). On April 10, The Washington Times discovered the First Lady asked the RTC in 1993 to keep her aware of any media interest, "including inquiries on Webster Hubbell's ties to suspected criminal wrongdoing."
"White House Knew in '94 that Hubbell Was Focus of Inquiry," read an April 12 New York Times story on how officials knew when Hubbell quit that he "had already emerged as a crucial witness." Coverage of all of these revelations? Nothing on ABC, CBS or NBC.
San Diego Padres owner John Moores told the April 12 Los Angeles Times that he paid Hubbell $18,000, but that Hubbell "did not provide him with an accounting of any services he provided." The networks also failed to provide viewers with an accounting.
A former Soviet KGB agent, with firsthand knowledge of the events, has come forward to confirm what the right has always maintained and the left has always denied: Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet spy. Rosenberg's old handler said the man he considered a "hero" passed along information on military electronics, including components of the atomic bomb. Two networks conceded that Julius Rosenberg was a spy, but instead of treating this as confirmation that the left was wrong, they re-spun the story to emphasize how the agent's revelation showed the Rosenbergs were wrongly executed.
On the March 16 World News Sunday, ABC reporter Jim Wooten maintained that "There's no longer much debate over whether Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet spy. But after all these years, a few questions still remain. Did he pass on atomic secrets? Was his wife Ethel involved? Was their execution justified? No to all three answers, says Alexander Feklisov, a former KGB agent, in a documentary to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel next Sunday."
After a soundbite from Feklisov, Wooten added: "Fifty years ago Feklisov was the Soviet contact for Rosenberg and a network of other agents in New York City. He says Rosenberg did hand over important military material, but not atomic secrets."
On the next day's CBS This Morning, anchor Jose Diaz-Balart reported "A retired KGB agent who worked with Julius Rosenberg says Rosenberg and his wife Ethel were not the top spies they've been made out to be. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953 for giving the Soviets blueprints for the atomic bomb. The former KGB agent says Julius Rosenberg did pass some secrets to Moscow, but nothing useful for building the bomb."
A March 16 Cox News Service story by Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel showed Rosenberg did pass useful items along to the Soviets. Rosenberg gave Feklisov "a hand-drawn diagram of a lens mold used in making the U.S. atomic bomb." Rosenberg also passed along a proximity fuse, an item a scientific historian called "one of the four most important" American breakthroughs during World War II. This type of fuse was later used in the bomb that shot down Gary Powers' U2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in 1960.
A program which gets young Americans to volunteer to serve their community, from renovating houses for the homeless to cleaning up parks. How could anyone oppose such a well-meaning Clinton initiative? Conservatives know it's not so simple.
On the March 13 NBC Nightly News Lisa Myers scrutinized Americorps, the federal program that in essence pays students to be volunteers. Myers examined the pros and cons of President Clinton's favorite government initiative that so far has received a passing grade from the media. Myers opened the segment by interviewing enthusiastic students but asked: "So Americorps is supposed to be the essence of the American spirit: lifting people up and helping the community. But is it?" Myers went to a soundbite from Republican Senator Charles Grassley condemning Americorps as "a financial mess."
Myers expounded on the Senator's point: "In fact, two private accounting firms found that Americorps' books can't be audited, millions unaccounted for. Beyond that, there is an even bigger issue. Critics concede that Americorps does change lives, but they question the cost. A new government report finds that at some locations the cost for each young person who actually ends up going on to college can be staggering. Congress' General Accounting Office found that 39 percent of kids drop out of Americorps, and that so far only about half, 54 percent, of those who do finish, actually go on to college or vocational schools." Myers pointed out the "principal aim@ of the program is to get students through college but the cost per student is very high. Myers noted: "One program in California costs about $32,000 per student who may go on to college. Others, like the Casa Verde program in Austin, Texas, cost far more. Here, it's about $100,000 per student."
Former Democratic Senator Harris Wofford was quoted in the piece defending the program. He claimed Americorps students rehabilitated neighborhoods and received tutoring. However, Myers concluded: "Still congressional critics say Americorps has one more year to get itself on track or they'll go all out to kill it, well-intentioned or not."
Media Reputation Slides
The public is increasingly rejecting the media and a close look at a recent poll shows liberal bias is a key factor.
Of those polled for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 67 percent said that "In dealing with political and social issues" news organizations "tend to favor one side." That's up 14 points from 53 percent who gave that answer in 1985. Those who think the media "deal fairly with all sides" fell from 34 percent to 27 percent. Republicans, Pew discovered, "are more likely to say news organizations favor one side than are Democrats or independents (77 percent vs. 58 percent and 69 percent, respectively)."
Over the same time period the percentage who felt "news organizations get the facts straight" fell from 55 percent to 37 percent while the ratio of news consumers who believed news stories "are often inaccurate" soared from 34 percent to 56 percent.
Which side do reporters favor? Asked whether the "news media helps society to solve its problems" or whether "the news media gets in the way of society solving its problems," 57 percent chose the latter. Of those, when asked why they were dissatisfied, 25 percent pointed to sensationalism, but 23 percent responded with variations of what Pew categorized as Abiased/liberal/slanted/one-sided reporting/offer their own opinions and views." Another nine percent said reporters "distort the facts." None cited a conservative bias.
Public displeasure has driven people away from the mainstream media, the survey released March 21 found. The percent who said they "enjoy watching TV news a great deal" plummeted from 42 percent in 1985 to 26 percent this year. Those who "look forward to reading the paper very much" dropped from a statistically identical margin, from 42 percent to 27 percent.
Of respondents with an unfavorable view of network TV news, 50 percent couldn't give a reason for their dissatisfaction, leaving "news is biased" as the most cited reason at 14 percent. Another seven percent listed "give opinions not facts," and three percent gave "too liberal" as their response. Those three reasons totaled 24 percent while conservative bias didn't make the list.
Janet Cooke Award: If John Major's "Sleazy" What's Clinton?
The term "sleaze" is not a word the national media employs in the Clinton era. In the decade beginning with its coinage by Walter Mondale in the 1984 campaign through May 1994, a MediaWatch study of major newspapers and news magazines found reporters used the term "sleaze factor" 114 times in news stories to refer specifically to the Reagan administration or the Republicans, and only on eight occasions to the Democrats. Never in that period had it been applied to Bill Clinton.
That same imbalance of "sleaze" labeling surfaced on the April 1 NBC Nightly News. For highlighting the "sleaze" of Britain's Conservative Party after years of avoiding the "sleaze" label on Bill Clinton, NBC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Tom Brokaw announced: "In Britain tonight, the national election campaign formally got under way. And if you think American campaigns are too much about candidates' personal lives, check the Conservative Party -- in power for 18 years, and a P.R. man determined to get rid of all of them."
Reporter Ron Allen began: "In Britain, it's a single-issue campaign: sleaze. Charges of adultery, indecency, bribery. Three disgraced members of the Conservative Party quit the race in one week. They're the party in power who say they stand for family values."
On came left-wing publicist Max Clifford: "They will be remembered for one thing: that's being sleazy." Allen explained: "Tennis isn't Max Clifford's game -- he plays hardball kiss-and-tell, selling scandals to London's tabloids for big fees." Clifford added: "It gives me a chance to show up people that I believe should be shown up for what they really are -- hypocrites."
Allen continued: "Scandal is making the race a stroll for the man who wants to be Prime Minister, Tony Blair of the Labor Party. Twenty points behind and mired in sleaze -- the incumbent, Conservative John Major. Clifford says the Conservatives are ruining Britain. In one sleaze attack, he gave the tabloids letters a Conservative lawmaker wrote to his underage gay lover...He then helped a 17-year-old waitress expose another Conservative lawmaker." Allen went on: "Sleaze didn't start with the current campaign, it's been dogging the Conservatives for years. Since the last election in 1992, at least 16 senior officials with the ruling party have left office clouded in scandal. And it's not just sex. Some are accused of pocketing thousands of dollars in bribes....David Leigh wrote the book on sleaze. The corruption he goes after is about cash, not the steamy sex tales of Max Clifford."
Leigh asserted: "We've had one party for 18 years whose slogan has been `greed is good'....We're looking at someone who's operating in a very sleazy area of the market itself." Allen concluded the story: "Clifford says there's more sleaze he's ready to sling, and the election here is still a month away."
No one from the Conservative Party was put on to defend their reputation. No one appeared in the story to object to the findings or partisan leanings of Clifford or Leigh, a writer for the left-wing Observer newspaper, a sister publication to the notoriously left-wing Guardian newspaper. When MediaWatch called NBC's London bureau for comment, Ron Allen was on assignment in Zaire, but producer Carol Grisanti claimed there was a simple reason for the story's one-sidedness: "No one could speak to us. No one from the Conservative Party would. There's a moratorium on speaking to the press until after the election is over. That's what we were told." But shouldn't NBC have sought out the Conservatives' side of the "sleaze" charges elsewhere, or at least explain they weren't talking to the press? "Well, we didn't find that necessary. It was about fact."
Clearly, NBC could have at least forwarded actual, existing criticisms of Laborites and their media allies from newspaper accounts. Critical barbs about Leigh's book ("poses as many questions as it answers," wrote the Sunday Telegraph, parts of it were "fantasy," said The Mail on Sunday) were ignored. Clifford, who the London Daily Telegraph reported Conservatives call "a front man for those in charge of Labor's dirty tricks" and the Labor Party "totally condemns" as a profiteer, was not identified by Allen as the man who brought O.J. Simpson to Britain for an image-polishing. Couldn't NBC find one person in London to bash Clifford? "We tried that as well," Grisanti told MediaWatch. Only pasting the "sleaze" label on the Conservative Party made the air.
Now this is not the approach NBC has used in recent American campaigns. Take NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams when the Clinton White House was caught with Republican FBI files, a clear offense against good government. Instead of putting the onus on a sleazy White House, he scorned the opposition: "The politics of Campaign '96 are getting very ugly, very early. Today, Bob Dole accused the White House of using the FBI to wage war against its political enemies, and if that sounds like another political scandal, that's the point." A massive violation of privacy was cast as just another partisan food fight.
Or take Dateline NBC's July 26, 1994 feature on American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell. At the opening of the show, Stone Phillips declared: "The Whitewater hearings opened today, and this man couldn't be happier. He's the conservative bad boy who's having a field day going after President Clinton," immediately followed by Clinton flack James Carville saying: "He's just another scumbag in Washington that wants to turn a buck."
Minutes later, in previewing stories still to come, Phillips added: "He pummels the President, he skewers the First Lady, and he's having the time of his life doing it....He's declared war on every Democrat and liberal in Washington." Carville again followed immediately: "He's willing to ruin people's lives, and lie and engage in anything to do it."
When the actual story arrived, Phillips announced Tyrrell "has declared war on the White House. Its policy is strictly scorched earth: leave nothing and no one standing." Reporter Lisa Myers questioned the tone and accuracy of Tyrrell and the Spectator. Tyrrell puckishly defended the magazine and then Myers turned to liberals like Carville and academic Kathleen Hall Jamieson for a bracing critique. Myers' story was tough, but two-sided, with a sympathy toward respect for the President and First Lady and some privacy in their personal lives.
Allen's story was almost exactly the opposite: a completely one-sided attack on "sleazy" Conservative Party politicians with no questioning of their attackers in the press, and no sympathy or respect for governing authorities or their personal lives. There's plenty of facts available on Clinton sleaze, but NBC doesn't bother with that. Instead, it spends its time compiling dirt on conservatives in a foreign country.