MediaWatch: August 1991

Vol. Five No. 8

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?"