In This Issue
Critics Love Tongues United; NewsBites: Gumbel's Guns; Revolving Door: Allen and Alar; Networks Ignore Treaty Violations and Fawn Over Gorbachev; Boston Globe Recycles Article From The Nation; Still More Controversey Over P.O.V.; Janet Cooke Award: Willie Horton Hysteria
Critics Love Tongues United
When PBS created the P.O.V. (Point of View) series, the aim was to give independent producers an opportunity to get their work on PBS. In addition to funding from PBS ($300,000) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($215,000), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provided $250,000 of the P.O.V. series' annual $1.1 million budget.
Combine the NEA with P.O.V. and what do you get? Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied, an hour of performance art parading the homo-sexual lifestyle. [Readers should be aware that this article will include sexually graphic descriptions and language.] With its profanity, frontal nudity, large caricatures of penises, and gay lovers in bed, Tongues Untied displayed graphic language and images of sex that no TV documentary on heterosexuality would ever have been allowed to show.
Some PBS station executives got cold feet: 18 of the top 50 markets declined to run it, but it did air in an estimated 60 percent of public TV markets. Television critics loved it. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, reporters hailed it for its stand against "ignorance and prejudice," and attacked those criticizing PBS for selecting it.
The Washington Post's David Mills, writing on July 19, insisted that "The only thing Tongues Untied promotes is a deeper under-standing of the world...Viewers who think they simply can't deal with the sight of two shirtless men rolling around in bed in slow motion, well, perhaps they should consider this an instructive dose of reality." Mills didn't offer Post readers the voiceover which accompanied the scene: "Grinding my memory, humping my need...Been waiting for your light bulb to glow for me, waiting to exchange hard-ass love, calloused affection...wet me with the next slide, the resounding refrain of grown men in love."
At one point, Riggs begs, "Anoint me with cocoa oil and cum so I speak in tongues twisted so tight they untangle my mind." A chorus of voices joined in at another point with the refrain, "Let me suck it, let me lick it, let me taste it, let me suck it."
Later, a Washington man described a conversation overheard on a D.C. public bus: "Suddenly, from the back of the bus, a voice wailed, 'You my bitch.' 'Nuh uh. We bitches!' 'No, you listen here. I ain't wearing lipstick. I fucked you! You my bitch.'" The discussion ends with one gay proclaiming: "I'm a 45 year old black, gay man who enjoys taking a dick in his rectum. I am not your bitch. Your bitch is at home with your kids!" To which the man added: "We are now entering the fifth dimension of our sexual consciousness. The ride is rough. There is no jelly for this."
Many of the critics expressed rage at the choice of many stations not to air Tongues Untied. CBS Sunday Morning critic John Leonard was the most outspoken in this regard on June 30: "But why shouldn't we be shocked? The shock of recognition is what public television ought to be about...We ought to watch public television as we read difficult novels: to imagine the other, to hear strange music, to discover scruple. What is happening instead with the cutbacks and timidity is a squeezing out of local programming, a freezing out of independent producers, and a sycophantic pandering to corporate fat boys and middlebrow taste."
Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrapped up his July 15 article by observing: "One station manager who rejected Tongues Untied called it pornographic. He's wrong. The film isn't pornographic, the charge is." The same day, however, Ed Siegel of The Boston Globe pushed even further, advocating a blacklist of the politically incorrect: "If this were a rational world, we would be talking today about rounding up all the station managers who banned Tongues Untied and stripping them of their right to run a public television station."
For all the efforts of people like Leonard and Siegel to make it into something noble, the film itself undercut them at every turn. Early on, Riggs described why he was called names as a child: "It wasn't because I played sex with the other boys. Everybody on the block did that. But because I didn't mind giving it away. Now other boys traded. 'You can have my booty if you give me yours. Mmm-mmm. But wait a minute now, if I go first... You went first last time...But I want to be the daddy...You the daddy all the time...I want to be the daddy...I'm the daddy'... Mmm-mmm...Not me. I gave it up for free."
Riggs showed a long scene of a drag queen patrolling the street, while a male voice slowly declared: "While I wait for my prince to come, from every other man I demand pay for my kisses. I buy paint for my lips, stockings for my legs, my own high-heeled slippers and dresses that become me. When he comes I will know how to love his body. Standing out here on the waterfront curbsides I have learned to please a man."
Valerie Helmbeck of Gannett News Service added to the critical accolades on July 11: "In a society that glorifies homophobic behavior, the mere mention of homosexuality or the gay lifestyle is enough to send fundamentalists and the sexually insecure scurrying for the comfort of their scripture or firmly entrenched ideology of the acceptable and the unacceptable." But the entire 60 minutes was a plea for acceptance, an expression of outrage over public rejection, a therapy session for the sexually insecure.
How ironic it is that the Public Broadcasting Service now perceives its mission not as serving the public, but as thumbing its nose at it, taunting the public for being backward and "uneducated." Sadly, television critics, who are supposed to lead viewers to the best in television, are instead easily enthralled by almost any program that either bores or offends the masses.
NewsBites: Gumbel's Guns
GUMBEL'S GUNS. On the Today show August 1, Larry Wideman of KPRC-TV in Houston reported on the rapid increase in murders during robberies in Texas. Wideman gave an example of what a small businessman once did to solve the problem: "More than twenty years ago a chain of dry cleaners used a shotgun squad to deter robbers. It worked. They went 18 months without a holdup. The private investigator who ran the squad says it's time to do it again."
But when the segment ended, Bryant Gumbel began editorializing about gun control. "You gotta make it tougher to get a gun. It's plain and simple. How about they look at the numbers," Gumbel complained. Well, the numbers, according to Handgun Control Inc., a pro-gun control lobby, indicate that more than 80 percent of guns used in crimes are not purchased over the counter legally. Gumbel didn't explain how small businesses, like the Houston dry cleaner chain, would be protected if guns were made harder to legally obtain.
NAKED LIBERALISM. ABC's Diane Sawyer has revealed her immodestly liberal side. Sawyer used the Vanity Fair cover featuring pregnant actress Demi Moore posing nude to focus on women's issues on the July 18 Prime Time Live. "Not bad, when you think it's been about, oh, fifteen thousand years since a pregnant body was last an object of public veneration. This is the cave version of Demi Moore," Sawyer explained as viewers saw a wall carving. "No face, of course, just a sacred baby container. But when the Jews and Christians came along they saw it differently. Women were temptation. The only pregnancy you could celebrate was the one that didn't need sex."
Time's socialist essayist Barbara Ehrenreich and Boston University sociologist Dorothy Wertz joined in. Wertz noted: "The only thing that might shock people more than this cover is a picture of a pregnant woman flying a fighter jet. Now that's going to be the shock ten or twenty years from now." Sawyer concluded: "Or how about another break-through, a real one, like better maternity benefits for women who work?"
KISS ME, KESSLER. Despite Time's August 12 cover story decrying "busybodies and cry-babies," a few issues earlier the magazine's government-lovers couldn't contain their excitement over David Kessler, the new chief busybody at the Food and Drug Administration. Kessler impressed the pro-regulation crowd with his daring seizure of crates of Citrus Hill orange juice that were unfairly labeled "fresh." Horrors! Time reporter Dick Thompson anointed him "almost certainly the most capable person ever put in charge of the Food and Drug Administration."
Time's July 15 cover story cooed: "Throughout the past decade, federal food watchdogs napped to the sounds of this cacophony of false claims," but now "the sleeping sentry has been awakened." Yes, "suddenly, the gospel of deregulation lost its allure, and the idea of uniform national standards came to be regarded as a form of salvation."
"Kessler is waging a crusade for the 1990s: it involves no new money." Of course, "The relabeling effort may cost food manufacturers $600 million during the next two decades." But who's counting what the government can force businesses to shell out for mandates? Then again, if Time were really interested in truth in labeling, why would it call itself "the weekly news magazine"?
THE GREENSTEIN EFFECT. Add the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and its chief, Robert Greenstein, to the list of liberal media darlings. "The income gap between rich and poor widened in the 1980s," began Washington Post reporter Spencer Rich in a July 24 news story on the latest study by the CBPP. Rich had a funny idea of "the '80s," reporting in the next paragraph that the CBPP measured the years 1977-1988.
As usual, Rich waited until the second-to-last paragraph to let Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector quickly point out that the study's source, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) doesn't include $130 billion in non-cash government benefits in its calculations. But Rich completely ignored another case against CBO: that its measure of wealth does not index capital gains for inflation and that it only counts capital losses up to $3,000. This means the rich look richer and the poor look poorer than they really are.
USA Today reporter Andrea Stone also jumped on the liberal publicity bandwagon with a July 9 cover story: "Government programs for the poor are in critical condition...the USA's new and chronically poor are getting less help from a retreating federal government and states financially crippled by the rising costs of providing assistance." Conservative analysts could have pointed out that "retreating federal government" spends more on welfare programs every year. But Stone used no sources except bureaucrats and Greenstein, whom she quoted four times.
DARMAN'S DEFICITS. Everyone remembers all the media wailing and hand-wringing over the "Reagan deficits" and how they were going to bring the country to the brink of financial ruin. But when Bush budget director Richard Darman told Congress on July 15 that the administration's estimate of the fiscal 1992 deficit would soar to a new high of $348 billion, the network evening news shows were absolutely silent.
Economics columnist Warren Brookes pointed out that in January 1990, Darman forecast that the total deficit from fiscal 1991 to 1995 would be $62.3 billion. This July, the same figure has exploded to $1,081.9 billion. Brookes quoted New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum: "The economists and political scientists who filled the nation's op-ed pages last year with doomsday columns about the deficit have turned their attention elsewhere." Brookes added: "Mainly to new spending."
ARNETT SELLS OUT AMERICA. Well, he finally said it. On CNN's August 2 Crossfire, Peter Arnett admitted he considers his job as a reporter more important than the safety of U.S. troops in the field.
Host Pat Buchanan tossed Arnett an easy question: If Arnett had learned vital information that could cost many American soldiers their lives, would he have relayed that information to American authorities? Arnett's blithe response: "No, I wouldn't have done that. I'm not a spy." An incredulous Buchanan asked again, "If there was information that could have saved scores, hundreds of American lives, you wouldn't have transmitted that information?" For a second time, Arnett shrugged, "I wouldn't have transmitted that information. I was in Baghdad because I was a correspondent for CNN, which has no political affiliations with the U.S. government, thank goodness."
Buchanan offered Arnett yet another chance to extricate himself: "Your allegiance to CNN comes before your allegiance to the United States?" But Arnett remained adamant: "In terms of journalistic matters, yes."
CENSUS TAKERS AND FAKERS. It took little time for the media to pounce on Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher for his July 15 decision not to revise the 1990 census. In a July 16 USA Today article, Haya El Nasser wrote that "all over Monday, big city officials were figuring the cost of Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher's decision not to adjust the 1990 Census." Nasser then quoted five critics of the decision, but no supporters.
Similarly, in a July 21 CBS Evening News segment Edie Magnus reported that "[blacks] claim the Census undercounted minorities, thereby crippling funding for inner city programs." Reporter Juan Vasquez did an entire story quoting liberals at the National Urban League convention, but had no time for supporters of the decision, who argued that computerized adjustments could worsen the inaccuracy of the census.
On the July 15 CBS Evening News, Wyatt Andrews noted, "big city mayors say Mosbacher is simply playing small town Republican politics." Like the rest of his colleagues, Andrews failed to explain that the proposed adjustment would have shifted at least two congressional seats fro more Democratic states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to more Republican states such as Arizona and California.
MADRICK'S MAGICAL MATH. In a July 14 Nightly News segment NBC News reporter Jeff Madrick and anchor Garrick Utley waxed romanticl over affirmative action programs. Utley asked Madrick: "We see how affirmative action can work when a company like Xerox wants to make it work, but there's also another way this is coming, through the force of demo-graphics, the changing composition of the work force, isn't it?" Madrick answered: "No company will have any choice after a while. Already a minority of workers, 47 percent, are white males. Over the next decade only 15 percent of the work force will be white males."
Wrong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Projections Division projects that white males will make up 39 percent of the work force by 2000, more than double Madrick's number.
Also, according to a study by Lawrence Mishel and Ruy Teixeira of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, 66.8 percent of those entering the work force in this decade will be white men and women. As Mickey Kaus of The New Republic suggested, "the work force will become a bit less white. But its majority won't become a minority anytime soon, if ever."
LES COVERAGE. Last month, MediaWatch pointed out how The Washington Post had run 27 stories on the junkets of John Sununu and none on House Armed Services chairman Les Aspin (D-WI), even though both had a pattern of using military planes for routine business.
The Post finally ran a front-page story on Aspin's travels July 24 by reporter Charles R. Babcock, waiting until the story jumped to page A14 before admitting Aspin's travels were "similar to the travel habits of another powerful Washington figure -- White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu." But unlike the Sununu story, the Post did one obligatory story and let the matter drop.
That's one story better than the rest of the media, which lapped up every detail of the Sununu controversy, but didn't pick up the Post's Aspin revelations. The network evening newscasts did nothing (although ABC's Good Morning America did mention it that morning). Neither did the three news magazines, nor did The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Next time the scandal machine gets rolling, we can only hope they'll avoid yet another double standard.
LOADED QUESTIONS. Time magazine provides a special newsletter as a bonus for subscribers. "Time Plus" features a Readers' Advisory Panel which polls readers on public policy issues. When it comes to the environment, however, Time can't keep its opinions out of its questions any more than it can out of its articles. One question asked, "1990 was the warmest year in recorded history, and the seven warmest years since 1880 have all occurred in the past 11 years. However, scientists warn that this may be merely an atmospheric glitch. How seriously should we worry about global warming?"
Although some climatologists are extremely skeptical about global warming and some would even question Time's temperature claims, readers were never given the option of saying so in Time's responses: (A) "We should be seriously concerned", (B) "We should be seriously concerned, but it's not an urgent priority" and (C) "We have many more pressing environmental problems." Option (A) won easily with 53 percent, which is not too surprising given Time has pushed that argument for years while lobbying for "solutions" such as a dollar-a-gallon tax on gasoline.
READING LOWELL'S LIPS. Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker has vetoed three state budgets this summer because they did not contain a state income tax. The desire for a new tax earned Weicker the title of idealist from New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson. In a July 3 story, Johnson lionized Weicker as a politician who "has emerged as a bare-knuckled idealist willing to use all the maneuvers of traditional politics to achieve the individual idiosyncratic goals of a maverick."
Of course, the media's definition of "idealism" often means a willingness to break campaign pledges about taxes. The Waterbury Republican-American recalled that Weicker promised last year not to push for an income tax: "During his campaign, Weicker compared implementing an income tax on the Connecticut economy to 'pouring gasoline on a fire.' He ruled out such a move in the first year of his administration."
GARTNER'S LIBERAL PRIORITIES. While most of the world celebrated the Allied victory of the Gulf War, NBC News President Michael Gartner, one of those supposed corporate conservatives running the networks, mourned the waste of tax dollars on weapons in a July 9 USA Today editorial. In berating the world for spending so much money on the military, Gartner used as his authoritative source the annual liberal peacenik manual World Military and Social Expenditures, compiled by Ruth Leger Sivard.
Gartner concluded: "So as you've celebrated yet another Independence Day, as you've toasted the great victory in Iraq one more time, as you've marveled at the success of the $4.4 million tanks (88 times costlier than their World War II counterparts) and the $28 million bombers and the $106 million Stealth fighters, you might also think for a moment about how some -- just some -- of the $880 billion the world put out for the military last year might have otherwise been spent. On things like health. And the environment. And education."
ANC OUTNUMBERED. When it comes to South Africa, even the most basic facts can get buried under politically correct pro-African National Congress publicity. CNN's Ralph Begleiter offered a good example during a July 5 report on the ANC's selection of Nelson Mandela as its new President: "Nelson Mandela, South Africa's best known anti-apartheid activist, is now President of the largest anti-apartheid group in te country." Two days later, ABC anchor Forrest Sawyer reported: "The rapid pace of change in South Africa is forcing that country's largest black political organization to soften its approach to racial reform."
But ANC membership levels are dramatically lower than Chief Buthelezi's anti-apartheid Inkatha Freedom Party, according to David Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research. Ridenour notes that while Inkatha's multi-racial membership now numbers 1.5 to 2 million, even the ANC claims only 500-700,000 recruits.
CASTRO'S COMRADE. The three networks gave plenty of air time to reports on the de Klerk government's assistance to Chief Buthelezi's anti-apartheid Inkatha Freedom Party, but none of them reported on ANC President Nelson Mandela's visit to an old ally and source of support for the ANC: Cuba. The print media did better: the July 28 Los Angeles Times ran a picture of Mandela and Castro arm in arm on page 1 followed by a lengthy article a few pages later. According to the Times, Mandela praised the Cuban revolution as "a source of inspiration to all freedom- loving people." Winnie Mandela agreed, proclaiming, "Cuba is our second home." Mandela "thanked Castro's government for supplying arms to the ANC in the early 1960s and said the writings of Che Guevara, the guerrilla hero of the Cuban revolution, had inspired him during his 27-year imprisonment."
The Washington Post also reported the visit, but reporter Lee Hockstadter remarked: "For the 64-year-old Castro, isolated internationally and under fire for his refusal to liberalize Cuba's one-party communist system or allow public dissent, the embrace of the Cuban leader by a leader of Mandela's moral authority seemed a defense against Castro's critics."
PAN AMATEURS. Here's one reason why ABC Sports commentators should stay in the locker room and out of politics: the ABC Sports July 27 special, Fidel Castro, One on One. The special aimed to acquaint viewers with Cuba, the site of the 12th annual Pan Am Games broadcast by ABC, but resulted in rehashing the tired left-wing canards about Cuba that have been sloshing around for 32 years.
Brent Musburger gave Cuban communism a hurrah, noting: "There are many Cubans who find their lives much better here than before the Revolution. Medical care is free. Education is also state-funded. Cuba's 97 percent literacy rate is among the highest in the world."
In an interview with El Jefe himself, Jim McKay simply flattered Fidel: "You have brought a new system of government, obviously, to Cuba but the Cuban people do, I think, think of you as their father. One day you're going to retire. Or one day, all of us die. Won't there be a great vacuum there, won't there be something that will be difficult to fill? Can they do it on their own?"
Revolving Door: Allen and Alar
Allen and Alar. The Powell Adams & Rinehart public relations firm has a new Senior Associate: Paul J. Allen, a veteran of the media and politics. Allen joined National Public Radio (NPR) in 1979 as an Associate Producer for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In 1982 NPR promoted Allen to Foreign Editor, a post he held until jumping to politics in 1985 as Press Secretary to liberal Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat. After a two year stint with Dodd, Allen moved to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) where he served as Director of Communications until this summer. At the NRDC he coordinated publicity for the left-wing environmental group's misleading campaign against the Alar pesticide.
Schmoozing for Schaefer. After a year as National Desk Manager for the Fox News Service, provider of video and news stories to Fox affiliates, Frank Traynor has signed on with Maryland Governor Donald Schaefer as the Democrat's Press Secretary. Traynor's a veteran of local news operations, serving as Executive Producer for CBS affiliate WBAL-TV in Baltimore when tapped by Fox. Previously, he was Producer of WTTG-TV's 10 O'Clock News in Washington D.C., a position he assumed in 1985 after leaving NBC affiliate KYW-TV in Philadelphia where he had been Executive News Producer. Earlier career stops included the ABC affiliates in Houston and San Antonio.
New Time Chief. Laurence Barrett, Time's Washington Bureau Chief, has returned to his former position, National Political Correspondent. Replacing Barrett is Senior Writer Margaret Carlson, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission during the Carter Administration. Carlson joined Time's Washington bureau in 1988.
Carlson is not the only Time staffer who once worked for a Democratic politician. Senior Writer Walter Shapiro was Press Secretary to Carter Administration Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and later wrote speeches for President Carter. Kenneth Banta, now a London bureau reporter, left the magazine in 1984 to spend several months as an issues adviser for Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart.
Networks Ignore Treaty Violations and Fawn Over Gorbachev
FALLING OFF THE SUMMIT
The media's admiration for Mikhail Gorbachev overrode a serious look at arms control issues during the late July Moscow Summit. Amid the toasts to Gorbachev, the ongoing record of Soviet treaty violations was ignored.
Last year, the Soviets moved thousands of weapons east of the Ural Mountains so they wouldn't be counted in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. After the INF treaty was signed, the Soviets were still passing banned intermediate-range missiles to their Warsaw Pact allies. But neither of these violations came up in broadcast network stories on the START treaty.
Only CNN interviewed any START critics, such as Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. But on July 29, CNN "Special Assignment" reporter Mark Feldstein explained: "Gorbachev realized that his country couldn't afford to carry this huge military burden indefinitely. So he radically redefined the military's mission. His strategy: less guns, more butter. He changed the Soviet military posture from offensive to defensive." But the Heritage Foundation reported that the Soviets are still annually making 3,400 tanks (four times U.S. production) and 20,000 artillery pieces (ten times U.S. production).
The networks also pushed for aid to Gorbachev. Before the summit, on the July 16 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather dramatically asked: "Is it time to lend a hand or turn our backs?" Rather added the decision will "tell us a lot about ourselves." On cue, CBS News consultant Stephen Cohen chimed in: "Now that that moment has come, if we close our arms, if we push them away, it tells us something terribly profound about ourselves. It's something rather sad and historians will judge us terribly harsh if we're indifferent or unable to do now what should be done." As Cohen speechified, CBS ran close-ups of sad Russian peasants.
ABC just coasted along with Gorbachev's PR apparatus. On Nightline July 29, Peter Jennings recounted: "Suddenly, from about half the way across the square, I heard this 'Peter, Peter, come, I want you to meet some people'...it was clear to me that in touching these people...it was clear that he wanted us to see that here were people who on a one-to-one basis really felt positively about him."
Just how much these images had been manipulated became clear at the end of the July 31 Evening News, when Rather found out how the peasants really felt: "We came to this village called Spinoria, 40 kilometers outside Moscow, to measure as best we could the impact that Gorbachev has had on the lives of these Russian peasants....No one we talked to had anything positive to say about Gorbachev. They hold him responsible for their struggle."
Boston Globe Recycles Article From The Nation
TAKING CLARENCE TO THE CLEANERS
In the absence of any other scandal involving Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, The Boston Globe based two stories in mid-July on an article by David Corn in the far-left magazine The Nation. On July 19, Globe reporter Mark Muro completely recycled the charges from The Nation in an attempt to paint Thomas as an extremist for his advisory board position for the Lincoln Review.
Despite Thomas' own contributions to the journal, including an article praising his Catholic school teachers, reporter Mark Muro described the Review as publishing "eyebrow-raising polemics" that are "often well to the right of the conservative mainstream, and sometimes unabashedly extremist." Some of these included espousing self-help for blacks, replacement of the Martin Luther King holiday with a commemorative coin, and free enterprise, not minimum wage laws, as the solution to poverty. In other words, views which only the liberal left sees as extremist.
Muro condescendingly dismissed Review Editor J.A. Parker as "a Washington PR man who holds only a high school diploma." True to the liberal leanings of the Globe, the Lincoln Review was "an ultraconservative black quarterly" espousing "hard-line Reaganism" and M.E. Bradford was "a 'hard-core' conservative" who was Senior Editor of the "right-wing journal Modern Age." But The Nation, quoted three times by Muro, went unlabeled, as if it were some kind of unbiased news source.
Still More Controversey Over P.O.V.
STOPPING ACT UP. On August 12, PBS announced that it would not air the 23-minute documentary Stop The Church, a film about the radical gay group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and their 1989 raid of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. The film by ACT UP member Robert Hilferty had been approved for the P.O.V. series by Glenn Dixon, the network's Director of News and Public Affairs Programming. But P.O.V. Chief Executive David Davis said PBS executives made the decision because of the "tremendous stress" Tongues Untied had already put on its affiliates. On August 13, the P.O.V. series continued with Metamorphosis: Man Into Woman, an hour-long film about a man getting a sex-change operation.
P.O.V. is also planning to air Maria's Story, a documentary on a female guerrilla with the FMLN, the Marxist rebels in El Salvador. Series producers showed their ideological colors when they placed ads for a new communications director: the ad appeared in the August 12/19 edition of The Nation.
Janet Cooke Award: Willie Horton Hysteria
The stinging electoral rejection of liberal politicians like Michael Dukakis and Harvey Gantt is still smoldering in the breasts of liberals and reporters alike. Three years after the Dukakis loss and one year after Gantt's downfall, some reporters are still replaying the campaign commercials and insisting that the Democrats lost, not because their ideas were unpopular, but because the Republicans used negative ads that exploited racial fears.
Boston Globe congressional reporter Michael K. Frisby exemplified the passion behind liberal resentment in his July 14 Boston Globe Magazine cover story. For his one-sided treatment of Republican campaign controversies and his refusal to offer a conservative opinion on them, Frisby earned the August Janet Cooke Award.
From the story's title, "The New Black Politics," readers might have assumed Frisby would deal with the broadening spectrum of black opinion and black officialdom, especially in the wake of Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. But Frisby's story dealt more with how liberal candidates have been cheated out of office by Republican race-baiting.
Frisby began by describing how Gantt, "a tall, eloquent black man, basked in the cheers of black and white students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte that day, proving that Southerners could indeed look past the color of his skin to support a candidate who espoused their interests." But "Republicans, say analysts, have found the Achilles' heel for black candidates they want to defeat: Deploy race as a weapon. Gantt was a victim last year, when his campaign nose-dived as Helms put an important issue, such as jobs, in black and white terms."
Then Frisby mourned: "The more often that working-class blacks and whites are pitted against each other, the harder it becomes for Democrats to patch the two sides together in a winning coalition. And the tactic takes a heavy toll on the victims. Susan Jetton, a former Gantt aide, watches the Helms ad on her VCR from time to time. It still brings tears to her eyes." When asked by MediaWatch about this maudlin imagery, Frisby laughed: "That's good emotion. I thought that was well put."
In the midst of this crusade against slimy Republican campaigning, Frisby also had the chutzpah to quote Donna Brazile: "First it was Reagan talking about welfare mothers buying drugs with food stamps, then it was Horton, and now we have quotas -- the same thing, just different tactics."
But Frisby didn't tell readers that Brazile was the infamous Dukakis campaign aide who got fired after she suggested reporters follow up on rumors that George Bush had been sleeping around. Asked why he didn't feel the need to tell his readers about Brazile's role in the 1988 campaign, Frisby told MediaWatch: "Donna does bring an interesting point of view to it, which is probably why I used her. In retro, should I have pointed out that she got thrown out? I don't know, maybe. If I'd had the space. I didn't think it was that big a deal." This article went on for nine pages.
Frisby added: "If we were talking about someone who was buried, who was ostracized from the political strategist community for what she had done, it might be one thing. But we're dealing with a situation where I think most people think the Dukakis people were wrong to fire her. I don't think there's any doubt that she's one of the leading black political strategists in this country." Note the lack of outrage over Brazile's campaign tactics. Her firing was a one-day story, but Willie Horton remains.
Introducing the Horton issue, Frisby reported: "The [Republican] party seems intent on driving a wedge between working-class blacks and whites by deploying race-baiting tactics. It turned William Horton, a black man who raped a white woman while he was on prison furlough, into a symbol of the Democratic Party's flaws in the 1988 campaign."
Frisby didn't address the media misperception that the Bush campaign aired ads featuring Willie Horton's name or face, which they did not. But he did allow his sources to charge Reagan and Bush with racism without allowing anyone to respond. Frisby quoted Roger Wilkins of the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (IPS): "Reagan was just an ignorant, old guy with old-time bigotry, and he didn't even know how racist he was. Bush has no excuse....He still comes across as an unprincipled bigot....if he wanted all that Willie Horton stuff to stop, it would have stopped." Frisby agreed with Wilkins about Bush: "I think that's true. I think that the nominee does have enough pull with the independent organizations that if he wants something to happen, it happens, and if he doesn't want something to happen, it doesn't."
Historical analysis wasn't Frisby's strong point, either. After quoting former Black Panther Bobby Rush on the need for black financial power, Frisby found a solution in redistribution: "Many historians agree. The United States, they note, was run by aristocrats until Andrew Jackson, considered to be a representative of the poor, became President in 1829, but Jackson was unable to transfer much wealth to his constituents."
In his entire article, Frisby used three quotes from conservatives: two from Republican National Committee Political Director Norm Cummings, and one from J.C. Watts, the first black Republican to be elected statewide in Oklahoma. On the other hand, Frisby relied on liberals for 20 quotes, including six from IPS Senior Fellow Roger Wilkins. When asked by MediaWatch about his slighting of black conservative opinion, Frisby joked: "We'll do that story next time." Then he explained: "The article itself was about black politics, and I think that the number of blacks who think that way is a very, very minute number. Therefore, that's why it's not expanded upon."
Frisby suggested he was simply practicing journalism by quota: "I think the black conservatives in my story are quoted proportionately to their numbers in the black community." Frisby's lucky the Globe didn't use that kind of reasoning, or they would have scrapped the article, since blacks are less than 12 percent of the American population.
Frisby found it easy to charge Republicans with exploitative politics, but he failed to discuss why issues like the Dukakis furlough program or the recent quota bills resonate with voters. Is it only the manipulation of irrational fears? Frisby's reporting is too much like the political ads he condemns: it's quick, it's nasty, and it doesn't explore the issues. Black conservatives could have provided liberals with tough questions, like how politicians claiming to represent working-class blacks can release violent criminals like Horton that judges allowed no parole. They might have challenged the traditional "civil rights" leadership and suggested they were out of touch with blacks on the issue of racial preferences. But Frisby's method of reporting says: sorry, minorities don't count.