In This Issue
Pro-Abortion Bias Detailed by L.A. Times; NewsBites: The Untouchables; Revolving Door: Gannett's Big Gun; Reporters Bemoan Loss of Court's Liberal Activist; Bashing Buthelezi, Mouthing Mandela; Reporters Agree on Pro-Abortion Bias; Reporters Discuss "Subversive Mission"; Janet Cooke Award: A&E: Woman in War
Pro-Abortion Bias Detailed by L.A. Times
How the political beliefs of editors and reporters influence news coverage is seldom a concern raised by the national news media. That's what made Los Angeles Times media reporter David Shaw's July 1-4 four-part front-page series on abortion bias so extraordinary.
Shaw noted that abortion opponents believe "media bias manifests itself, in print and on the air, almost daily." Shaw confirmed that belief: "A comprehensive Times study of major newspaper, television, and newsmagazine coverage over the last 18 months, including more than 100 interviews with journalists and with activists on both sides of the abortion debate, confirms that this [pro-abortion] bias often exists."
A number of major reporters whose primary beat is abortion agreed with Shaw's conclusion. "I think that when abortion opponents complain about a bias in newsrooms against their cause, they're absolutely right," Boston Globe legal reporter Ethan Bronner told Shaw. (See additional admissions in box on page 7).
When Bronner wrote a story explaining how an abortionist would be "destroying" the fetus by "crushing forming skulls and bones," Bronner recalled an editor told him "As far as I'm concerned, until that thing is born, it is really no different from a kidney; it is part of the woman's body." To talk about "destroying" it or about "forming bones," the editor said, is "really to distort the issue."
Indeed, reporters' personal views favoring abortion have an impact upon what the American people learn about the debate. Reporters have ignored stories that would cast doubt on the fundamental case upon which "abortion rights" are based. Bob Woodward, The Washington Post's star investigator of Republican wrongdoing, discovered the media's reflexes a few years ago when he revealed a 1973 memo between liberal justices admitting they were "legislating policy and exceeding [the court's] authority as the interpreter, not the maker of law" in deciding Roe v. Wade. No one picked up the story. Woodward told Shaw: "There are more people in the news media than not who agree with the [Roe] abortion decision and don't want to look at how the sausage was made." Shaw also learned:
"The media's language consistently embraces the rights of the woman (the primary focus of abortion-rights advocates), not the fetus (the primary focus of abortion opponents)." When the Louisiana legislature passed an anti-abortion bill, it was the nation's "harshest," and most "restrictive," not, as abortion opponents believe, the kindest, to the unborn child, or the most protective. Reporters "have referred to those who oppose abortion 'even in cases of rape or incest' (circumstances under which most people approve of abortion). But the media almost never refer to those who favor abortion rights 'even in the final weeks of pregnancy' (circumstances under which most people oppose abortion)."
"Abortion opponents are often described as 'conservatives'; abortion-rights supporters are rarely labeled as 'liberals.' Abortion opponents are sometimes identified as Catholics (or fundamentalist Christians), even when their religion is not demonstrably relevant to a given story; abortion-rights advocates are rarely identified by religion. Abortion opponents are often described as 'militant' or 'strident'; such characterizations are seldom used to describe abortion-rights advocates, many of whom can also be militant or strident -- or both."
"Cynthia Gorney, who covers abortion for The Washington Post, says she's troubled by the media's tendency to portray the anti- abortion movement as 'dominated by religious crazies' and to 'ignore what I think are the very understandable and reasonable arguments that are put forth by the pro-life side.' Susan Okie, medical reporter for the Post, says she herself 'had sort of a mental image of the anti-abortion groups as all being extremists' before she began writing much about them."
"Like most newspapers, the [Milwakee] Journal had long used 'pro-choice,' without any complaint from the staff that it was unfair. But when Sig Gissler, editor of the Journal, wrote in a column that the paper would also begin using 'pro-life,' more than 80 reporters and editors petitioned him in protest before the column was even published."
"The media rarely illustrate stories on abortion with photographs of aborted fetuses -- or even, generally, of developed fetuses -- claiming that to do so would be in bad taste and might offend readers. But no such concern inhibits the media from showing photos of starving, tragically bloated children in Ethiopia."
Pro-abortion bias on the campaign trail: "There were races in which the media said an abortion-rights advocate's victory showed the political strength of that movement when, in fact, most of the votes in the race actually went to anti-abortion candidates. That was the case in Republican Tricia Hunter's narrow victory in a special Assembly primary in San Diego last summer....But Hunter actually received only 30% of the vote; the other 70% was divided among five anti-abortion candidates, one of whom finished fewer that 200 votes behind her, with only 20% of the registered voters going to the polls. The Washington Post was one of the few major news organizations to note all these mitigating factors."
Noting the difference between coverage of Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton and Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry: "Time magazine headlined its profile of Wattleton last December 'Nothing Less Than Perfect' and said she was 'self- possessed, imperturbable, smoothly articulate,' 'imperially slim and sleekly dressed...a stunning refutation of the cliche of the dowdy feminist.'"
"....But Terry is almost always described as 'a former used car salesman'; the Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Newsweek, among many others, have all referred to him that way."
Boston Globe reporter Eileen McNamara, who admitted using the phrase to describe Terry, said "most reporters 'try to be fair,' but most support abortion rights, and 'I think we were delighted to find out that he sold used cars.'"
In some cases, editors aren't even keeping up on the anti- abortion side. Witness the ignorance of two major newspaper editors on special "pain-compliance" techniques that police have used against pro-life activists, a story the national media have mostly ignored. Shaw found that "Coverage of abortion protesters' problems has been so slight" that Jack Rosenthal, editorial page editor of The New York Times, and Meg Greenfield, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, "said they had never heard of the 'pain-compliance' practices and resultant charges of police brutality."
When it came to the questionable indictment of pro-lifers on supposed violations of the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Rosenthal said "he didn't even know RICO was being used against abortion protesters until told of it in the course of an interview for this story."
These admissions cut to the very core of complaints about media bias. Today, editors are not simply favoring the side they prefer, they're failing to report the activities and concerns of the side they oppose. In other words, they're not doing their job.
NewsBites: The Untouchables
THE UNTOUCHABLES. Once again, the myth of runaway, uncontrolled defense spending has hit the airwaves. On the July 13 Good Morning America, newsman Mike Schneider reported at 7:30 that the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to cut "one billion dollars from the previously untouchable Space [sic] Defense Initiative program, also known as Star Wars." At 8:30, he reported that the committee "worked throughout the night to lop...a billion dollars from the previously untouchable Star Wars program."
But this untouchable program has never been fully funded once: the administration's budget has been slashed at least 18 percent by the Congress every year. Since 1985, SDI has received 18.3 billion dollars, only 74 percent of the amount requested. So much for untouchable.
A JUNGLE OUT THERE. When hundreds of Albanian refugees rolled into a small military camp in Brindisi, Italy, they found it a "paradise" compared to life back home in Europe's "poorest, most politically backward country," ABC's World News Tonight reported July 14.
But if these refugees think Albania was bad, wait till they meet the free-enterprise system as portrayed by reporter Mike Lee. First, Lee showed how enthusiastic the refugees were about their new-found freedoms, how they enjoyed uncensored newspapers, fresh pasta, John Wayne movies, and modern medical care at the refugee camp.
Then Lee pointed out the "realities" of a capitalist system. "These refugees have been told little about the realities of life in the West, including the fact that some people sleep on the street," said Lee ominously, to which one young Albanian woman sensibly wondered, "Why? Don't they work?" Undaunted, Lee continued his forecast of doom: "They will soon learn that jobs are hard to find, consumer goods expensive, relatives in Albania will be missed. Many refugees, according to experts, will suffer from depression and in some cases drug abuse."
These Albanians have no idea what they're getting into.
LEAVE OPPONENTS LEFT OUT. When President Bush vetoed a family- leave bill June 29, several reporters didn't quote anyone opposed to the bill as unfair to small businesses or harmful to job growth. On that night's CBS Evening News, Wyatt Andrews simply showed "victims" of the veto, employees laid off for taking extended leave. Andrews mysteriously ended by portraying the veto as a sop to the rich: "The veto will help frame election-year questions of wealth and privilege. Mr. Bush, who vetoed the bill just before taking a long weekend off, defends the veto as an act to protect jobs. Democrats ask what happened to kinder and gentler."
The next day, The Boston Globe's Renee Graham devoted an entire article to proponents of the bill. "President Bush's veto of the family leave bill resulted from his failure to recognize the changing face of the American work force and could cause the nation to regress into a 'third world country' in terms of business acumen, opponents of the veto said yesterday." In 22 column inches, Graham allowed no Bush official or Republican opponent of the bill to respond. USA Today's June 29 piece quoted only Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, and Rep. Marge Roukema, a Republican sponsor of the bill.
MORE PHILLIPS FAWNING. Add the name of Robert Raskin, a Washington-based economics reporter for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, to the list of reporters endorsing Kevin Phillips' thesis that Reagan widened the income gap. Reviewing Phillips' book for The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 22, Raskin declared that "countless lesser studies by liberal analysts over the last five years have documented time and again how Reaganomics delivered a feast to the greedheads and starvation to the poor," but "never before has the case been laid out so accessibly...and built into such a sweeping indictment of Reaganomics and all it wrought."
Phillips saw parallels between the 1980s and the Gilded Age of the late 1800s and the Roaring '20s. Raskin concurred: "Both eras were marked by the same kinds of excesses as the 1980s -- gross concentrations of wealth in the hands of a tiny privileged elite, achieved primarily by deliberate Republican policies that left most Americans behind while debt, greed and conspicuous consumption roared out of control." The other two eras ended in crashes that "triggered populist political uprisings." Raskin hoped for a repetition: "All that's needed, [Phillips] suggests, is the fertilizing rain of a new economic crisis."
NED'S NEW TAXES. ABC's Ned Potter continues to push for a better planet through higher taxes. Introducing a July 10 World News Tonight story following the economic summit, Ted Koppel announced "Six of the seven nations already are working to reduce the pollutants they emit in such vast quantities, pollutants that many scientists say are warming the planet...the one nation out of step is the United States."
Potter admitted that "from atmospheric research to tree planting, the White House says it is doing plenty," but insisted that "scientists say that is much less than what Germany and Holland are doing, and they are already twice as energy efficient as America." Potter never mentioned that the European environment requires drastic steps just to catch up to where the U.S. is now.
What are the Europeans doing? "Most dramatically, putting tremendous taxes, as much as ten times American levels, on anything that burns oil or coal. Those taxes sound crippling, but they may have an economic benefit: they have already pushed business to seek alternatives." Without such bludgeoning of the free market, Potter feared, "America may find itself alone with the temperature rising."
MOURNING MITCH. Homelessness has been a favorite media vehicle to denigrate the Reagan-era economic boom. The death by suicide of activist Mitch Snyder in early June brought on another round of calls for massive federal spending.
On July 7, ABC World News Saturday anchor Carole Simpson lamented: "Snyder's death could not have come at a worse time for the nation's homeless. It comes when public attitudes toward the homeless have been changing, and for the worse." In what way? "Declining sympathy for the homeless," which Simpson saw as synonymous with a poll which found fewer people "would pay more taxes to provide shelter for the homeless."
That same night, NBC cited similar polling data that prompted a comment from anchor Garrick Utley: "The antagonism against the homeless is growing, isn't it?" Reporter Jamie Gangel then gave a typical Snyderesque diatribe: "A third are families who have lost their homes either because housing is too expensive or because of federal cuts in housing assistance...families and children are the fastest growing group and they say that the other groups are much smaller...advocates say what's really needed is a federal master plan starting with more housing. The truth is that on the federal level, except for rhetoric, the homeless are way down the list of priorities."
TAX HIKE HEROES. Jodie Allen's comments on the July 29 broadcast of Money Politics will resolve any doubts about how much journalists want new taxes. While most of New Jersey is outraged with Governor Jim Florio for substantial hikes in the state income tax, the editor of the Washington Post "Outlook" section hailed him as a hero: "It takes a tough man to do a dirty job, but there is a dirty job to be done here. We've been living for ten years borrowing and spending."
Allen compared Florio's future place in history to Thomas Jefferson's: "The problem for Florio is that, as history has shown, when you step up and are a leader, people often don't like you. And it can take a long time, even centuries, for history to look back and say that was a good guy. They didn't start liking Thomas Jefferson until this century." In "the history books," Allen predicted, "Florio will go down as the first, I hope not the last, brave man of the '80s and '90s." Maybe if those histories are written by reporters.
OH NO, DOW HITS HIGH. "A record setting day on Wall Street. Today, the Dow Jones average reached an all-time high," announced reporter Mark Phillips on the July 12 CBS Evening News. Even though the market responded positively to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan's decision to lower interest rates, Phillips turned to dependably dour economist Gary Shilling, who disagreed with the market's reaction to Greenspan: "It's very bad news for the economy, in that the Fed is finally admitting what some of us have thought for some time, and that is that the economy is already in a recession."
Phillips told viewers that "economic signs are not good. Consumer spending has been down for three months in a row, the first time that's happened since the recession of the early '80s." What led to all of this? Phillips concluded: "The excesses of the '80s -- the S&L crisis, bad debts to the Third World, junk bonds, empires built on credit, like Donald Trump's -- these are all coming home to roost. If, as the saying goes, greed was good for the '80s, its cost, Dan, has been a credit squeeze that threatens the prosperity of the '90s."
READER BEWARE. A recent study by Professor Adrienne Lehrer of the University of Arizona should put some holes in consumer confidence in the "news" industry. Lehrer's study, published in Journalism Quarterly and highlighted in the Washington Journalism Review, measured the percentage of quoted remarks in 24 articles that turned out, when checked against tape recordings to be verbatim. The results: in news stories by professional journalists, 10 percent; in interview stories by professional journalists, 3 percent; in articles by student journalists, 18 percent.
OLLIE'S ALLIES. Dan Rather hinted at conspiracy July 20 in explaining why a federal appeals court overrode one conviction against Oliver North, and asked for further review of the other two convictions.
"Believed to be the lead, or guiding judge in this particular case: Laurence Silberman, named to the court by Ronald Reagan. Siding with Silberman for North, David Sentelle. Sentelle also named to the appeals court by Ronald Reagan. Sentelle is a long- time supporter of Jesse Helms, and it reportedly was Helms who got Reagan to appoint Sentelle to the appeals court." The three- judge panel's dissenting voice was appointed by Jimmy Carter, but Rather didn't presume any political motives in her decision.
Revolving Door: Gannett's Big Gun
Gannett's Big Gun. Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan joined the Board of Directors of the Gannett Company, owner of USA Today and several major TV stations, in late June. In the 1960s Rowan served Kennedy and John-son as Ambassador to Finland and Director of the U.S. Information Agency.
Presidential Selection. Ted Turner has picked Tom Johnson, a close aide to President Lyndon Johnson, to replace Burt Reinhardt as President of the Cable News Network. Currently Vice Chairman of the Times Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Newsday, Johnson reported to Atlanta in early August. Johnson began his White House career in 1966 as an Assistant Press Secretary under Bill Moyers. He was promoted to Deputy Press Secretary in 1967 and then to Special Assistant to the President in 1968. When the President left office in 1969, Johnson followed him to Texas as his Executive Assistant. Johnson soon left politics for journalism, becoming Executive Editor and subsequently Publisher of the Dallas Times Herald. Starting in 1977 he held various Times Mirror executive posts, most notably, Publisher of the Times from 1981 to 1989.
Capitol Hill to Capital Cities. A couple of months ago former Nixon aide Eugene Cowan retired from his post as Vice President in Washington for ABC/Capital Cities. Mark MacCarthy, his deputy and a former communications policy aide to liberal Democratic Congressman John Dingell, filled the open slot. Now ABC has hired a replacement for MacCarthy. Charlene Vanlier, general counsel to the Republican leader of the U.S. House since 1988, is ABC's new Washington counsel. Roll Call reported she previously held minority counsel positions with the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Camelot and the Court. Fred Graham covered legal affairs for The New York Times from 1965 until he jumped to CBS News in 1972. During the next decade and a half his distinctive Southern accent became a fixture on the CBS Evening News. In his new book, Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman, Graham revealed what he did before taking up journalism. He spent two years simultaneously writing speeches for two liberal Democrats: Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, a man Graham described as "a Harvard liberal," and in "an unusual, if not unique relationship," drafted addresses for Kennedy-nominated Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.
Newsletters to Newspapers. Patrick McGuigan, Editor of the Free Congress Foundation's Family, Law, and Democracy Report, in addition to Initiative & Referendum Report and Judicial Notices, which merged in 1988, is returning home to the Sooner state this summer as Chief Editorial Writer for the Daily Oklahoman. For several years he's been the unofficial conservative point man on judicial appointments. This Spring he co-authored Ninth Justice, the Fight for Bork...Joseph Farah, Editor of between the lines (btl), a conservative media watchdog, just named Sacramento Union Editor. Farah, Executive News Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in the mid-1980s, still runs btl.
Reporters Bemoan Loss of Court's Liberal Activist
THE BRENNAN FAN CLUB
Out came the Kleenex at the networks when word arrived that Supreme Court Justice William Brennan had resigned. In the midst of their tributes, reporters failed to consult one conservative on how Brennan achieved through the courts what liberals couldn't secure at the polls: the legalization of abortion, the erosion of property rights, the preference for criminals' rights over victims' rights, and the removal of religion from public life.
On July 21, the day after Brennan resigned, CNN's Candy Crowley warned "in civil rights circles, there is fear that a Supreme Court, with a philosophical scale weighted to the right, will no longer be a force for social change." Equating liberal judicial activism with "individual rights," Crowley worried: "Also seen at risk in a court without Brennan, the limits of individual freedom." Similarly, on ABC's World News Saturday, Tim O'Brien consulted liberals Ralph Neas, Robert Drinan, and Floyd Abrams, who agreed with O'Brien's assertion that "affirmative action programs which Brennan supported may now be doomed," as are "freedom of speech and press."
"He loved the flag clearly, and the Constitution, too," oozed reporter Bruce Morton in a sappy CBS Evening News tribute, quoting a Yeats poem about an old woman who walked like a young queen. "William Brennan loved and served two young girls who walked like queens -- his country and its highest court."
When President Bush nominated David Souter three days later, most reporters refrained from instant analysis. There were exceptions. CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather asked: "Senator Simon, is there any doubt in your mind that [Souter's] views pretty well parallel those of John Sununu's, which means he's anti-abortion or anti-women's rights, whichever way you want to put it?"
With little more than 90 minutes to evaluate Bush's nominee, NBC's Carl Stern jumped to his own conclusions: "Judge Souter's given high marks for intellect, but marks that are not so high for a rather narrow view of constitutional rights.... there are a number of cases that some groups will regard as troubling, in the church-state area, in the women's rights area, in the age discrimination area -- a certain insensitivity will certainly be explored at length in the Senate hearings."
The next morning on Today, Stern picked up where he left off: "As a bachelor, he showed spare concern for women's rights, taking a sometimes dim view of rape complaints....Souter seems just as bright as the other justices. The question seems to be his commitment to individual rights."
Bashing Buthelezi, Mouthing Mandela
SOUTH AFRICA? GATSHA COVERED
Given the choice between a moderate black who believes in democracy and capitalism, or a terrorist who doesn't, which one do the media portray as the best hope for South Africa? When NBC finally introduced viewers to moderate Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi July 14, reporter Robin Lloyd blamed him and not Nelson Mandela for violent clashes in Natal between Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha, Buthelezi's Zulu organization.
Lloyd declared: "Buthelezi's power and the ruthlessness of those who claim to be his followers is more apparent than ever in the three-year-old civil war in the province of Natal. Ever since Mandela's release in February, armed members of Buthelezi's militia have invaded neighborhoods loyal to Mandela and sharply escalated the fighting. Buthelezi claims his men aren't initiating the violence. Although there's no evidence that he personally ordered the attacks, many believe he's allowing them to continue." Lloyd ignored Buthelezi's repeated pleas with Mandela for a meeting to end the violence, which Mandela has refused.
Lloyd questioned Buthelezi's political motives: "Anti-apartheid militants consider Buthelezi a sellout....Buthelezi denies that he is planning an alliance with conservative whites, but he has held several meetings with President F.W. de Klerk and been outspoken in his opposition to blacks pulling together into one party." Mandela has met with de Klerk, and is closely allied with white Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, yet Lloyd didn't question his motives.
CBS, which ignored Mandela's violent past during his U.S. tour, finally brought up the subject of South African violence June 30, only to make Mandela's case. Reporter Harold Dow focused on the death of a black youth shot by police: "This is what Mandela says the struggle is all about. He's been telling audiences across the U.S. that the ANC cannot renounce its struggle against South Africa long as government forces remain violent." Dow made no mention of ANC-inspired violence, specifically black-on-black violence. He concluded: "Nelson Mandela leaves the U.S. with his goals achieved -- sanctions against South Africa remain in place, and millions of dollars have been raised so that the ANC can continue its struggle for freedom."
Reporters Agree on Pro-Abortion Bias
Reporters Agree on Pro-Abortion Bias. A few more quotes Shaw gathered: "I do believe that some of the stories I have read or seen have almost seemed like cheerleading for the pro-choice side." -- NBC News reporter Lisa Myers.
"Opposing abortion, in the opinion of most journalists...is not a legitimate, civilized position in our society." -- Boston Globe legal reporter Ethan Bronner.
"There have been times when I have felt that pro-choice organizations have easier access, that their...spin gets somewhat greater credibility than the spin from the pro-life community and that it sometimes does affect the sensibilities of coverage." -- Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz.
"The problem [with abortion coverage], pure and simple, is that the media's loaded with women who are strongly pro-choice." -- A "longtime network news executive" who asked not to be identified.
Reporters Discuss "Subversive Mission"
Earth First, Journalism Second. Preaching the gospel of liberal environmentalism is still taking precedence over journalistic standards of balance. From Minneapolis comes amazing testimony from a May 17-20 teach-in sponsored by the Utne Reader, the counterculture's Reader's Digest. American Spectator roving editor Micah Morrison first covered the conference, prompting MediaWatch to review a tape of a panel on "The Challenges and Limits of Advocacy Reporting."
The panelists agreed there should be no limits. Barbara Pyle, Turner Broadcasting's Vice President for Environmental Policy and Environmental Editor for CNN, told the gathering she "met a lot of resistance and was considered to be a real fringe lunatic for many, many years," but she continued undaunted. "I feel that I'm here on this planet to work in television, to be the little subversive person in television. I've chosen television as my form of activism. I felt that I was to infiltrate anything, I'd do best to infiltrate television."
Dianne Dumanoski, an environmental reporter for The Boston Globe, described how little her job had changed since her days at the left-wing alternative weekly The Boston Phoenix: "I've become probably even more crafty about finding the voices to say the things that I think are true rather than maybe putting some of that in my own voice. But essentially it's the same thing. I'm getting the same ideas into print and to a larger audience. That's sort of what I see my subversive mission as."
Dumanoski fondly recalled retired Globe Editor Thomas Winship, who "would stop by my desk and say 'what's that Watt guy up to now?' I'd sort of launch into a very long, involved answer about Watt's latest foolishness...and then he'd say 'okay, give him hell, give him hell.'" But she complained about the lack of reader outrage over her most radical pieces, including an Earth Day story on how the "global market economy" is causing the "slow chronic death" of the planet. She received only supportive mail, like "a card from somebody at Greenpeace saying 'I'm constantly amazed about all the subversive ideas that you can get in the mainstream press with no balancing idiotic other side.'"
Alexander's Encore. The panel also included Charles Alexander, who boasted at a Smithsonian Institution environmental seminar last year: "As the science editor at Time, I would freely admit that on this issue we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy."
This time, Alexander theorized "It would be undesirable and probably impossible to write perfectly balanced articles...We don't have to keep our conclusions out of our writing. We probably couldn't if we tried....A lot of our stories adopt points of view...Is this improper for a news magazine? I say no. After all, what is the mission of a newsmagazine or a newspaper merely to report events and what other people say about those events? Are we simply stenography services? Of course not." Alexander even suggested Time's readers wouldn't be able to figure out the news without reporter-inserted opinion: "Our readers depend on us to bring some expertise to our reporting, and to provide analysis and interpretation. If we don't, we will merely leave our readers confused."
Faced with an audience openly hostile to "irrational" capitalism, Alexander had to defend Time's failure to call for an end to the free market: "I don't think you'll be reading in Time that the market is the problem and that we must replace the market. If we did that, then half of our readers would think we've gone nuts ...What you'll see us doing is proposing specific market interventions to correct the failures of the market rather than just coming out and saying we've got to ditch the market economy. I don't think that that would influence many of our readers. We're trying to be a little more subtle."
Janet Cooke Award: A&E: Woman in War
When the Arts & Entertainment (A&E) cable network premiered Women in War in February and March of this year, host Pat Mitchell declared the reports on Northern Ireland, Israel, El Salvador and urban America would highlight women's "uncommon courage and commitment to make their voices heard from the front lines." A&E, owned by ABC, NBC and Hearst, was so pleased with the shows it rebroadcast them in July.
In the case of El Salvador, Mitchell found "courage and commitment" in the women fighting for the communist FMLN. The half-hour segment heaped praise on the rebels and attacked the democratically elected government of Alfredo Cristiani, earning Mitchell and A&E the August Janet Cooke Award.
Attacks on the Government. Mitchell, a former Today correspondent who now appears on CBS Sunday Morning, gave this overview of the origins of the revolution: "The landowners, or oligarchy, also control the government and military, who suppressed any signs of unrest among the peasants. The violence of the suppression is usually attributed to paramilitary groups known as death squads. In retaliation, the rebels armed themselves and began an offensive against the government." Mitchell continued: "The apparent impunity of the government and the military leaves little room for moderate responses, especially from those who would change the social and economic fabric of El Salvador."
Mitchell denounced the 1989 elections: "With Alfredo Cristiani as President, and with the backing of the oligarchy, this election was seen as a widening of the chasm between the political extremes that perpetuate the war." The war is rooted "in an economic system that benefits a small elite at the expense of the poor majority." She noted that ARENA, Cristiani's party, "won the elections in '89 by 30 percent of the electorate."
Actually, the elections reflected an outpouring of support for Cristiani from people of all walks of life. Of 1.8 million voting-age people, 1.3 million were registered and 900,000 cast ballots, a higher turnout than in recent U.S. elections. ARENA garnered 55 percent. More would have voted if the FMLN had not carried out sabotage and deadly intimidation to disrupt the balloting. Mitchell ignored these death squads.
Praise for Communists. Mitchell conceded the FMLN is backed by "Cuba, Nicaragua and the Soviet Union," but she never called them communist. It didn't matter what the rebels fought for, as long as they were women. Mitchell hailed FMLN Comandante Ana Guadalupe Martinez for her motherly nature: "Ana is a mother and that has strengthened her resolve to continue the fight." Martinez agreed, declaring "the combination of love for my children and the love for the people, is what obliges me to continue."
Mitchell's adulation for the FMLN's front groups was unbounded: "COMADRES, the Committee of Mothers of Political Prisoners, the Disappeared and Assassinated....[was] the first group on the streets protesting the repression of the Salvadoran government and military." Mitchell raved, "Still they march for peace with social justice. Recently, when some of the wounded rebel fighters, in need of further medical care, were evacuated to the metropolitan cathedral, COMADRES fed and cared for them."
Last Nov. 15, The Washington Post's Douglas Farah gave a different picture of these women. During the FMLN offensive, he noted: "Heavily armed women who have worked in the offices of various human rights offices long accused by the government of being front groups for the rebels appeared and greeted their acquaintances. 'We are no longer front groups,' said a woman. 'Now we are the FMLN.'"
The leftist labor union's head also captivated Mitchell: "Elizabeth Velasquez...chose the labor movement as her part of the struggle. As a young factory worker she emerged quickly as a leading voice for reform. She's now one of the directors of FENASTRAS, the coalition of labor unions in El Salvador....The socialist restructuring of the economy that the union proposes meets expected resistance from the government and there are violent confrontations between police and FENASTRAS marchers." Mitchell concluded by noting a November bombing killed Velasquez, "one of the most powerful voices on the frontlines, silenced forever."
The U.S. Department of Labor, however, reported FENASTRAS is allied with the FMLN and the communist World Federation of Trade Unions: "It distributes disinformation critical of the government of El Salvador and supportive of the FMLN guerrillas."
In a letter to MediaWatch, the Charge d'Affaires of the Salvadoran Embassy, Jose Luis Trigueros, complained: "By failing to point out that the FMLN is a self-declared Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group that is trying to violently overthrow a democratically elected government, A&E is betraying the public's trust."
In a conversation with MediaWatch, Mitchell denied there was any political agenda behind Women in War: "I didn't go there with a political agenda. I don't have one now. I am in the business of making documentaries for women and minorities. We're just trying to give a voice to those people who are not heard in the mainstream....I don't have a political opinion about any of these places."
Mitchell featured only one ARENA party legislator because "We went to ARENA, to the national legislature....We got absolutely no cooperation from them. We made a conscious effort to hear from as many different voices. What we found were women from what you would call the left and which are clearly to the left politically. They are the ones who came forward and talked with us."
But didn't Mitchell believe these women were members of communist front groups and didn't she have an obligation to say so? "It's totally immaterial what I believe. I didn't go there to prove my beliefs or even state my beliefs. We pointed out the direct way in which they are servicing the poor, the needy, the disenfranchised." A&E officials refused to discuss the show. So little concern for accuracy is a sad indictment of a network dedicated to presenting historical and contemporary documentaries.