MediaWatch: August 1989

Vol. Three No. 8

The Time - RNC Saga Continues

Last month MediaWatch awarded its Janet Cooke Award to Time magazine for its vicious, double-barreled assault on Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater. An article titled "How to Spread a Smear" by Senior Writer Margaret Carlson blamed Atwater for the now famous Foley memo. Both the press and congressional Democrats charged the memorandum was a smear on Foley's character because it compared his liberal voting record to self-proclaimed gay representative Barney Frank. An accompanying editorial insert box "Sorry Is Not Enough" called Atwater a "muck maven" and demanded that President Bush "sack" him. Senior Editor Terry Zintl told MediaWatch that National Correspondent Larry Barrett penned the un-bylined editorial.

Since that time, MediaWatch has learned more about the story. Its competitors, U.S. News and Newsweek, were spending hours on the phone interviewing both Atwater and RNC Chief of Staff Mary Matalin, but not one Time reporter ever bothered to call the RNC to discuss the Foley memo. And there's more: when asked if she had spoken with anyone at Time after the June 19 article came out, Matalin told MediaWatch: "Yes, both Lee and I spoke with Barrett who said 'Had I been there [in Washington], this would never have happened.'" That's before she knew Barrett had written the editorial box. "Barrett definitely tried to lead Lee and me to believe he had nothing to do with the articles. No question about it," Matalin stated.

Barrett declined to talk to MediaWatch about the specifics of the editorial: "That's between them and me, rather than them, and you, and me." Did he mislead Atwater and Matalin? Barrett claimed: "When they complained to me later about the lack of contact, I did tell them had I been there it would have been different. I did not tell them that the tone of the finished product or products would have been different."

That Atwater was never interviewed is poor journalism. That Barrett would write an unsigned editorial and subsequently try to convince his target he had nothing to do with it, is unethical. So much for openness and honesty at Time.