MediaWatch: August 1989

Vol. Three No. 8

NewsBites: Cuomo in '92

CUOMO IN '92. Last year the Newspaper Guild, the union representing over 25,000 reporters across the country, endorsed Michael Dukakis for President. At this year's national convention in Albany the reporters made clear who they favor for 1992. "Hundreds of newsmen shelved their objectivity," began a June 21 United Press International story, "and gave a standing ovation to New York Governor Mario Cuomo who appeared dumbstruck when one reporter...shouted 'Mario in '92.'" Another reporter repeated the phrase a bit later, "triggering yet another outburst of applause."

Disappointed Guild President Charles Dale introduced Cuomo: "I wish I had the permission to introduce him today as the next President of United States, but I don't."

The reporters had a politically active meeting. Media columnist Cliff Kincaid reported that the Guild "passed a resolution supporting abortion rights and it joined the ACLU and other groups in a brief attacking the Missouri law restricting abortions recently upheld by the Supreme Court."

SMOKESCREEN ON CLEAN AIR. When President Bush announced his Clean Air Program on July 21, CBS and NBC presented liberal environmentalists as the only legitimate critics of the plan. Saying "critics call it a bill right out of the Reagan Administration," NBC's Jim Miklaszewski claimed environmentalists thought Bush "had bowed to industry pressure to dilute it." On CBS the same day, Lesley Stahl echoed that complaint: "The President watered down his plan by compromising with industry on car emissions, the major contributor to urban smog." Stahl added: "But overall, the critics charge, the bill isn't strong enough to achieve healthy air by the year 2000." The two stories included seven comments from Congressmen. Only one defended Bush's plan.

In a column the same week, economics writer Warren Brookes analyzed the estimated cost to industry: about $400 billion over the next 20 years. But CBS and NBC never contemplated the effects on American business and the inevitable loss of jobs: not one industry spokesman got time to comment.

HOUSING HOKUM. "A gloomy report today on housing for the nation's poor and minorities," Dan Rather intoned on the July 10 CBS Evening News. "It's a simple equation, and a recipe for disaster," reported CBS correspondent Mark Phillips. "A study by a Washington research group has shown that while in the 1970's, there were roughly enough low-rent housing units for the poor, through the '80s, the number of poor has increased by 25 percent while low rent units have dropped by 20 percent."

But according to page 10 of this "gloomy report" by the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the number of low-rent units declined 19 percent since 1970, not 1980. "It should be noted that the decline...was greatest between 1970 and 1978," the report stated. When asked to explain the discrepancy, Phillips told MediaWatch that "the base points of the study were not identical," so "we kind of fudged" the statistics to "stay honest to the general trend."

CATERING TO NADER. "Ralph Nader is a legend, perhaps the only universally recognized symbol of pure honesty and clean energy left in a culture that, after being shot through with greed, cynicism and weariness, is oddly proud of its hardened self," Marc Fisher wrote in a fawning July 23 Washington Post Magazine profile story. "Two decades after he slew General Motors," the Post reporter gushed, Nader "is a reminder of what we once hoped to be." Fisher made no effort to contain his admiration. "He might as well be Moses, judging from the reception he gets on the road," began one paragraph. "Ralph Nader is a simple old- fashioned man," he declared a bit later, adding, "he may be the only person in the country who uses carbon paper."

"Now the nation's voice of honest progress is looking homeward," Fisher began the last paragraph. "Ralph Nader's America is a paradise lost, a nation that has taken the simple, good ways of its past and poisoned them with greed and evil."

Earlier Fisher explained that "if Nader's work is his wife, reporters are his mistresses. Nader says little of what he has accomplished could have happened without committed newspeople who spread his message." Fisher should know.

THE L.A. REALITY DODGERS. For a textbook example of the excesses of front-page "news analysis," check the July 8 Los Angeles Times. Correspondent Michael Parks announced that "With the same vigor and vision with which he has set about reforming the Soviet Union, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is now embarked on reshaping Europe for the 21st Century."

To Parks, this does not mean reshaping Western Europe into Eastern Europe. In fact, Parks reported, "He has no blueprint for the new Europe, no plan for what he calls 'the common European home,' not even an agenda for negotiations beyond broad topics such as disarmament, environmental protection, and economic cooperation...What Gorbachev is offering is his own relentless energy." In between sentences like these, Parks quoted paragraph after paragraph from Kremlin officials and Gorbachev speeches. It begs the question: Does repeating Soviet rhetoric without looking at Soviet reality qualify as "analysis" -- or demonstrate the lack of it? "Deeds, not words," some skeptics may demand, but for some reporters, words alone will do.

IOWA EMBARRASSMENT. After the gun turret on the USS Iowa exploded ABC and CBS repeatedly talked with Admiral Gene LaRocque of the Center for Defense Information. On the April 20 Good Morning America he called the 16-inch guns antiquated, just like "the old-fashioned muskets in the Revolutionary War." LaRocque was also featured on ABC's World News Tonight and Nightline. The next morning, Admiral LaRocque reversed himself on CBS This Morning, claiming the Iowa's aging technology was "too complicated for new crews to operate." The only consistency the networks seemed to care about was LaRocque's criticism of the naval equipment.

On July 18, NBC's Fred Francis was the only network correspondent to report what an official naval investigation had determined: "The Navy has ruled out mechanical malfunctions, accidental detonations, electrical flaws, and all other technical reasons for the tragedy." Francis said the Navy found "compelling circumstantial evidence that the horrific explosion was an act of suicide." Not surprisingly, ABC and CBS ignored the report.

DUPE FOR KOOP. With Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's stay in Washington at an end, ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson produced a fawning review of his favorite enlightened conservative. Throughout his July 14 20/20 story, Johnson focused on Koop's clashes with the "far right." In fact, Johnson refused to refer to conservatives who disapproved of Koop's actions concerning AIDS and abortion as anything but "far right."

Concerning Koop's report on AIDS, which encouraged the use of condoms to avoid the disease, "the reaction from the far right was predictable. To this day, Dr. Koop is astounded by the vehemence of the reaction." Johnson wondered "why couldn't the far right see the distinction you were making between [homosexuals] and the activity?" Koop's answer was that there is "a true hatred of homosexuals" among conservatives.

STAHL'S ALL FOR TAXES. "Won't it become necessary to raise taxes? Isn't that just a bald truth?" CBS News White House correspondent Lesley Stahl posed those questions to Office of Management and Budget Director Richard Darman on the July 23 Face the Nation. "All we keep doing," Stahl complained, "is cutting the domestic budget because taxes aren't being asked for."

Stahl's tax advocacy can't be dismissed as mere goading by a sharp interviewer. Three days later, reporting the "news" from the White House lawn, Stahl pushed the tax button again. "Pressure for increased spending," Stahl charged on the July 26 Evening News, leads to the "inevitable question: will the President be forced to go to the public and say 'we have to pay for what we owe?'" Guess what Stahl said "that means." You guessed it: "taxes."

LEFTY LINDSEY. Lindsey Gruson's July 21 New York Times report mourning the dim prospects for collective farming in El Salvador cast the proposed free-market reforms in a leftist light. Headlined "For the Peasants of El Salvador, Promised Land Seems to Recede," Gruson reported fears that "the oligarchy, a tiny group of intermarried families that have traditionally run El Salvador as a personal profit center, will be allowed to reimpose its iron-fisted control over the agricultural-based economy."

Gruson's bias was also apparent in his use of labels: "President Cristiani and extreme rightists blame land redistribution for the drop in agricultural output." Land owner Orlando de Sola is "a pillar of the oligarchy and one of the country's most extreme rightists...who sometimes calls himself a monarchist." Gruson pointed out that de Sola's estate is patrolled by machine-gun carrying guards, maintaining "The brewing campaign against the land program reflects the newfound confidence of the often violent right."

By contrast, communist guerrilla Joaquin Villalobos, a spokesman for the often violent left, was introduced simply as "the senior rebel commander" and the author of a recent article in the American journal Foreign Policy.

GUNNING FOR TIME. Trying to prove that the pen really is mightier than the sword, Time magazine used its First Amendment rights to attack the Second Amendment. The July 17 cover story, "7 Deadly Days," presented 464 pictures on 25 pages of Americans who died from gunshot wounds during the week of May 1-7, along with two pages of interpretation.

"I remembered back in 1969 Life magazine did a similar project with Vietnam," Senior Editor Terry Zintl recalled during the July 11 Good Morning America, "It brought home the human cost of that war, and I thought that this would be a very good way of bringing home the human toll of guns....I hope it'll get some other people angry about the number of gun deaths." Time compared the gun deaths to the 48,700 deaths annually from automobile accidents: all 'victims' of inanimate objects. But were the 464 gun deaths all 'victims' of inanimate objects? In fact, 216, (about 47 percent) of the dead committed suicide, a very deliberate, conscious act. Whose fault is this? Time quoted the son of a woman who committed suicide, "Mom died that day because of the totally irresponsible attitude that we Americans have developed about gun use and ownership." Time agreed, adding, "Every week, more American families are exposed to that irreversible lesson."

GOOD GRIEF AMERICA: NOT THE BIBLE! Don't expect to hear or see much of the Bible on Good Morning America, at least judging by the experience of conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. In June Thomas wrote a column on the San Francisco "domestic partnership" law. GMA producer Sue Hester read the piece (in which Thomas quoted one Bible verse) and invited him to appear to discuss the new law conferring legal status to homosexual couples. As Thomas was about to leave home for the show, Hester called Thomas to say ABC had chosen someone else to appear. Hester explained a more senior producer "was concerned you might quote some Bible verses." Thomas called this producer, Rickie Gaffney, who refused to deny Hester had quoted her accurately.

ROONEY TUNES. 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney thinks communism has gotten a bum rap: "Communism got in with a bad crowd when it was young and never had a fair chance," Rooney wrote in a June 26 Op-Ed piece for The New York Times.

According to Rooney, "the original communist philosophy may have been wrong, but they didn't plan it as a totalitarian system... Communist governments have been dominated by men, not Marxist ideals." Rooney explained that the "communist idea of creating a society in which everyone does his best for the good of everyone is appealing and fundamentally a more uplifting idea than capitalism."

Rooney conceded that "communism's only real weakness seems to be that it doesn't work," but Rooney had less kind words to say about capitalism: "It seems sad and sort of a spiritual defeat for us all that an economic system based on doing it for No. 1 is more successful than one based on a noble ideal." Unthreatened by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 threat, "We will bury you," Rooney confidently contended, "Mr. Khrushchev didn't mean anything more evil than that communism would be the winner over capitalism in the competition to do the best for the most people in the world." Besides, Rooney concluded, "They aren't burying us; we're burying them. But it's no reason to gloat."

SELECTIVE SOURCES. Speaking of Rooney, ever wonder why reporters select liberal groups as sources? Look to the July/August Washington Journalism Review (WJR) and its annual "Directory of Selected News Sources." Listed under Magazines: The New Republic and The Nation (but not National Review). Under Medical/Health Care, National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood of America, Inc. (but not any pro-life groups).

Under Women/Minorities: the National Organization for Women and the Women's Legal Defense Fund (but not Concerned Women for America). Under Special Interest/Social Issues: Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Children's Defense Fund, Handgun Control Inc., the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way, SANE/FREEZE, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (but only two conservative organizations, the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Committee).

What criteria does WJR use to choose its listings? Advertising Coordinator Lisa Jordan told MediaWatch that WJR does its own research, takes referrals from its editorial staff, and accepts some requests that are sent in. Jordan explained inclusion is based on "how beneficial the source would be for a working journalist." Why are there so few conservative groups? Says Jordan, "A lot of the time we just don't have space available." Not even for the Heritage Foundation, the largest conservative think tank? "It's evidently not one we are familiar with."