MediaWatch August 1993

Vol. Seven No. 8

NewsBites: It's His Fault

It's His Fault. Why did President Bill Clinton have trouble getting his tax and spend budget passed? Could it be because Clinton broke his promise to reduce spending and provide a middle class tax cut? No, it's You Know Who's fault. In a front page story on August 1, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief R.W. Apple explained: "To understand why it has been so hard for Clinton to achieve his has to hark back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the political atmosphere he created. It is still with us, and it makes Clinton look like Sisyphus on a bad day."

The notion that "most federal programs were bad, taxes were bad, spending was bad," Apple argued, "continues to exert a hold over a broad section of the American electorate. As a result, politicians are terrified to wear the awful label, `tax and spend,' however much their constituents need government money for health care or roads."

A Hungry Globe. Just a month and a half after a Boston Globe story insisted "most readers would agree that the Globe's liberal bias has been toned down in news stories," the July 25 Sunday Globe allocated four full pages to Stan Grossfeld's photos and article under the title of "Wasting Away: America's Losing Battle Against Hunger." Citing Larry Brown of the left-wing Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, Grossfeld asserted: "Widespread hunger in the United States was virtually eliminated in the 1970s, according to Brown, but hunger increased dramatically and steadily during the 1980s. To put it simply, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer."

Grossfeld charged that "during President Reagan's first term, $12 billion was cut from the food stamp and school meal programs." In fact, as detailed in a 1986 column by the late Warren Brookes, in constant 1984 dollars food stamp spending grew 1.5 percent between 1981 and 1984 as the number of qualifying recipients fell. In nominal dollars, National School Lunch Program spending grew from $2.28 billion in 1980 to $2.58 billion in 1985.

Grossfeld noted that "the number of food stamp recipients reached an all-time high of 27.4 million in June. One in 10 Americans is now eating courtesy of government handouts." What was his answer to the hunger problem? Even more spending, urging passage of the $7.3 billion Leland Hunger Relief Bill. And under the heading of "What You Can Do," he suggested: "1. Support legislation to fully fund existing federal food programs."

Brainy, Brave Moseley-Braun. During the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg, USA Today's Jessica Lee reported on July 23 that liberal Senator Carol Moseley-Braun "showed how racial diversity can have an impact. an apology from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah." Lee explained: "While questioning Ginsburg, Hatch equated the interpretation of a `fundamental right' in the Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling to that in the 1857 Dred Scott case upholding slavery. Interrupting, Moseley-Braun called Hatch's line of questioning `personally offensive.' Hatch promptly apologized." In fact, Hatch replied: "I apologize if I was inarticulate in what I was saying, but I don't think I was."

In contrast to the triumph of "racial diversity" described by Lee, the same day reporter Joan Biskupic of The Washington Post corrected Moseley-Braun's condemnation of the Utah Republican. "In fact, Hatch was not providing a `rationale' for slavery. He compared the two cases as examples of `judicial activism,' calling Dred Scott the `all-time worst' court ruling."

Cold War Communists. NBC weekend Today host Mike Schneider noted the 40th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on June 20: "Today's kids may have a difficult time understanding what it was like during the Cold War, especially back in the `50s. There were fears of atomic bombs falling from the sky, of communists lurking behind the scenes, almost everywhere. They told us we were in great danger, all of us in great danger, and they also, sometimes told us who to blame -- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg...Forty years later, some still wonder, did the Rosenbergs really betray their country and endanger the lives of millions? Or were they victims of a witch hunt, innocents who paid the ultimate price?" To answer that question, Schneider interviewed only Robert Meeropol, the Rosenbergs' son, who still maintains his parents' innocence.

Jacob Cohen of Brandeis University thinks otherwise. In the July 19 National Review, Cohen reviewed the allegations against the Rosenbergs: "It now seemed strongly possible that Julius Rosenberg was a central player in far-flung espionage activities, covering the years 1943-1950...who, except the Soviets, could have told Rosenberg about the secret work at Los Alamos, including details about the A-bomb itself, before [Los Alamos technician and Julius Rosenberg's brother-in-law David] Greenglass knew anything about it?"

Turner's Page Turner. For the past five years, CNN employees have been treated to the State of the World report from Lester Brown's Worldwatch Institute. In a recent "Dear Colleague" memo, Ted Turner explained his reasons for distributing the new edition: "The 1993 State of the World gives the information needed to make intelligent environmental decisions that can make a difference. I hope that you find it as illuminating, useful, and ultimately hopeful, as I have." The Institute, however, can hardly be described as hopeful, as anchor Jeanne Meserve proved in a July 17 World News report: "The world's population growth is showing clear signs of outpacing the food supply. That's according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute."

Steve Haworth, CNN's Vice President for Public Relations, told MediaWatch the report was distributed to "inform rather than to influence the editorial content of the newscasts. Our environmental coverage has always been fair and balanced and will continue to be so." Yet when asked if Turner planned to pass out materials with other viewpoints, Haworth pointed to Turner's personal relationship with Lester Brown and suggested that the news employees are "amply able" to gather opposing viewpoints. As for other resources CNN could use, conservative economist Julian Simon suggested the fashionably liberal United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization annual report, which shows calorie production per capita continuing to increase, as it has annually since 1950.

Psychologists Call It Denial. As a few media heavies like NBC's Tim Russert ask what went wrong with the 1990 budget deal, The Washington Post suggested nothing's wrong. On July 18, reporter John E. Yang argued that although the annual deficit is $60 billion higher than 1990, "that's not because the 1990 budget agreement failed, analysts say. The tax increases in that package have generated additional revenue and the spending limits have curbed the growth of federal discretionary spending."

But as Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot pointed out, IRS revenue estimates show tax revenues fell in 1991, the first decline since 1983. Even though "the rich" were "soaked" by tax hikes in 1990, revenues from those earning $200,000 or more fell 6 percent, while for everyone else, revenue rose 3.3 percent. And discretionary spending curbed? "Nonsense," says Republican economist Stephen Moore. "Discretionary spending has been going up eight percent every year, twice the rate of inflation."

Yang continued: "The unhappy lesson of the 1990 budget battle is that it was overwhelmed by unexpected developments: a recession that was deeper than forecast, a war in the Persian Gulf, natural disasters from Hurricane Andrew to Typhoon Iniki and so on." But the government was mostly reimbursed by allies for the Gulf War. "We ended up spending maybe $5 billion," Moore told MediaWatch. And a recession following a tax hike? That's only unexpected by liberals.

Invasion of the Bible-Thumpers. A "nationwide Christian fundamentalist movement to take over public school boards." Is this a new movie plot? No, it's ABC's "American Agenda" on Pennsylvania education reforms. On the June 30 and July 1 World News Tonight, reporter Bill Blakemore targeted Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE), run by Dr. Robert Simonds. Blakemore questioned the tactics of the group: "There is nothing illegal about the organized approach the CEE is taking to get people on school boards. But Simonds' opponents charge that candidates inspired by him often hide their real agendas until after they're elected." He also spoke to parents who "believe that the Christian right needs to be exposed," and found a minister who called the practices "stealthful." 

Blakemore discussed Pennsylvania's Outcome Based Education (OBE), a new program that sets up state-dictated guidelines or "values" that all students should have. Religious activists opposed to the program were twice identified on-screen as "anti-reform" leaders. Blakemore asserted that reform leaders believe attacks to their plan are a "smokescreen for a hidden Christian fundamentalist agenda." And they think Oliver Stone is paranoid.

Not Even a Brief Briefing. Despite Bill Clinton's siding with "those who work hard and play by the rules," the media ignored an August American Spectator expose of hypocrisy in the Clintons' own finances. Lisa Schiffren discovered that while the President threw nominees overboard for not paying taxes on nannies, the Clintons never paid taxes in 1980 on their state-funded nanny, Dessie Sanders. In 1981 and 1982, when Clinton was out of office, they claimed a child care exemption for Sanders' services, but still didn't pay any Social Security taxes for her.

Schiffren also revealed that contrary to the media myth, Bill Clinton did not earn only $35,000 as Governor. His expenses were often paid out of various state funds, including a $51,000 "food allowance" and a $19,000 "public relations" fund, never claimed as income. Schiffren also revealed Hillary Clinton's aggressive tax deductions, including more than $1,000 a year for used clothing donations, such as $3 for Bill's used undershirts and $1 a pair for Bill and Chelsea's underwear. A month after Schiffren's story appeared, the media which grilled Nancy Reagan for keeping donated evening gowns had yet to mention it.

ABC's Missing Connection. Evidence connects both Afghan fundamentalists and Nicaraguan Sandinistas to the World Trade Center bombing. Which one got network coverage? ABC blamed America first. Nightline focused its June 16 show on the U.S.-funded Afghan rebel connection, mentioning it on June 24, 25 and July 1. Then on July 12, Day One sent John Hockenberry to Afghanistan to explore "The Afghanistan Connection." Forrest Sawyer introduced the piece: "One nation did, in fact, unwittingly pay to train some of these people and at one time supplied them and others like them with billions of dollars in weapons. That nation is the United States, and it all goes back to the U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan war."

Two days later, Douglas Farah wrote a front page story for The Washington Post detailing how an explosion in Managua uncovered a Sandinista-owned "guerrilla arsenal" housing "tons of weapons, including 19 surface-to-air missiles...documents detailing a Marxist kidnaping ring...and hundreds of false passports and identity papers." Farah noted that "fraudulently obtained Nicaraguan passports were discovered in March at the home of a suspect arrested in New York in connection" with the Trade Center bombing, Ibraham Elgabrowny. This development led the U.S. Senate to vote overwhelmingly on July 29 for a one-year moratorium on aid to Nicaragua. ABC's response? No story.