In This Issue
Nader's Media Evaders; NewsBites: Closing the Book; Revolving Door: Acting Up; PBS Producers Recall Korea Through Northern Sights; Post Reporters Love Cuomo and Jackson, Dislike Dukakis; More Hot Air from PBS; Janet Cooke Award: PBS: Planet Panic
Nader's Media Evaders
Perhaps no public figure in the last twenty years has been less subject to journalistic scrutiny than Ralph Nader. Despite a career of "public interest" lobbying for full public disclosure and strict government regulation, Nader has never been pressed by the news media to disclose even his street address.
Not only do the media publicize Nader studies and lawsuits with a minimum of investigation or criticism, they describe his liberal groups the way they want to be described. In fact, some of the organizations from which Nader has tried to disassociate himself are almost never identified as Naderite.
To document these trends, MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to locate every 1987, 1988 and 1989 story on some of the most well-known Nader groups (Center for Study of Responsive Law, Public Citizen, the Public Interest Research Groups, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest). Sources included three magazines (Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report) and three newspapers (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post). In 1,267 news stories, the groups were labeled liberal five times (0.3 percent), and were identified as Nader groups in only 246 stories, or 19 percent.
Nader readily identifies himself with the Center for Study of Responsive Law (CSRL), the central core of his many enterprises, which usually stays out of the limelight. In every one of its 17 mentions, the Center was identified with Nader, though it was never tagged with a liberal label.
But the more Nader tries to distance himself from one of his organizations, the less reporters identify them with him. In 1989, he told The Washington Post he "no longer has a formal link" to Public Citizen, his flagship lobbying group. In 621 stories, Public Citizen's array of subsidiary groups received three liberal labels (0.5 percent) and 211 Nader identifications (34 percent). Public Citizen, when listed by itself, was identified as a Nader group in just 46 percent of stories. Print reporters identified Public Citizen's subgroups with Nader even less. Congress Watch, Nader's "good-government" group, was linked to Nader in 32 percent of its mentions and the Litigation Group, active in the fight against the Bork nomination, was identified in 30 percent of its mentions. The Health Research Group (21 percent) scored even lower.
Reporters often replaced what should have been a liberal label with a Nader reference. "Some of the 'friends of the court' in this case would not be friends anywhere else, like Ralph Nader's Public Citizen and the conservative Washington Legal Foundation," declared The New York Times on December 15, 1989. The newspapers repeated that formulation on stories covering the Nader- Washington Legal Foundation alliance five times.
The Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRGs, were rarely described as Naderite. Created in 1970 with funds from Nader's personal income, according to Dan Burt's expose Abuse of Trust, PIRGs operate both nationally (with the Washington-based U.S. PIRG) and locally through groups that were organized in the 1970s by a National PIRG Clearinghouse. But since at least the early '80s, Nader spokesmen have claimed there are "no common projects or informational connections" between Nader and the PIRG chapters. Since Nader withdrew from association with PIRGs, so did reporters' descriptions. In 375 stories, reporters employed only two liberal labels (0.5 percent) and 18 Nader identifications (5 percent).
All this disassociation has a tendency to get out of hand. An April 13 story in the Los Angeles Times reported: "The overall goal of the campaign is being supported by a wide-ranging coalition that includes Public Interest Research Groups, Public Citizen, and Clean Water Action." This "wide-ranging coalition" was really three Naderite groups. (According to Nader spokesmen quoted by Burt, Clean Water Action began as a Nader "task force"). The Times easily misled the public.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was incorporated in 1971 by former employees of Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law, including Michael Jacobson, who still serves as CSPI President. An April, 1990 MediaWatch study found CSPI was never labeled liberal and its Naderite origins were never disclosed in 254 stories.
That April study also measured the frequency that reporters used terms denoting advocacy ("lobbying," "activist," and so on). Despite the very activist nature of all of Nader's organizations, the groups studied were described by advocacy terms in only 219 of 1,267 stories, or 17 percent. CSPI led with 25 percent, but Public Citizen only received activist labels 13 percent of the time, and CSRL stories never used the terminology. Even when they did use advocacy terms, reporters sometimes called Nader groups "pro-environment," "good-government" or "health" advocates, or in a triumph of having it both ways, The New York Times called PIRG "nonpartisan advocates."
Coverage of Ralph Nader is only one of the more glaring examples of the national media's habit of handing liberal groups all the subtle privileges of media favoritism. While the corporations Nader attacks are assailed for their undeserved influence and lack of public disclosure, Nader can rest confident in the glow of knowing he'll probably never be challenged by the media on his own terms.
NewsBites: Closing the Book
CLOSING THE BOOK. Book reviewers for major newspapers greeted An American Life, Ronald Reagan's autobiography, with near-uniform hostility. The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley concluded Reagan led the public "into the conviction that there is a free lunch and we are entitled to it; the price we will end up paying for that little lesson in self-indulgence is only now beginning to come clear, as is the understanding that we will be paying it for generations, if not until kingdom come."
Maureen Dowd, a Time Washington reporter in the early 1980s who now covers the White House for The New York Times, also took a whack at it. "Reading the former President's memoir, I found it impossible to escape the thought that a better title would be The Mannequin Speaks," Dowd wrote in her November 18 Times review. Reagan gave "gauzy treatment of the role his administration played in encouraging a decade of greed and narcissism" which created "an embarrassing discrepancy between rich and poor."
QUOTA QUEENS. NBC's Lisa Myers and Newsweek's Eleanor Clift were horrified by the GOP refusal to roll over on the issue of hiring quotas. Writing for the December 3 Newsweek, Clift theorized that by resisting quotas, "Republicans may have found the sequel to Willie Horton...When jobs are threatened, tolerance takes a holiday." Making use of the quota issue, Clift declared, "will reveal how desperate the party is for ideas."
Myers' December 1 Nightly News report was even more strident. She insisted that "The story of Republicans and blacks is a story of contradictions. The party elects the first black Republican Congressman in 55 years at the same time some party leaders seem eager to exploit racial divisions." Myers denounced Jesse Helms for "appeals to racial prejudice to defeat his black opponent." Alarmed that many young people are opposed to the reverse racism of quotas, Myers proclaimed they were "too young" to understand the complexities of civil rights: "Many of them don't understand the magnitude of past injustices that these programs are designed to remedy." In other words, the right kind of discrimination is acceptable.
HERE'S TO YOU, MRS. ROBINSON. Leave it to ABC's Peter Jennings to herald a left-wing feminist as Person of the Week. "It is true that the Irish presidency is largely symbolic," conceded Jennings during the November 16 World News Tonight, "but with social reformer Mary Robinson, the day of the figurehead President in Ireland may be drawing to an end."
What did Jennings find so remarkable in Robinson? "In a country that is 90 percent Catholic, Robinson, herself a Catholic, has fought vigorously for a woman's right to have an abortion, although she herself is personally opposed." Jennings also cited her role as "a feminist in the political world of male cronyism, radical in a conservative society."
BERKELEY BARB. Barbara Ehrenreich is on a roll. Time made her an essayist, which led to appearances on the CBS late-night show America Tonight and Donahue. What neither the TV programs, which labeled her a "Time columnist," nor Time find worth telling the public is that Ehrenreich has also been co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America, a fervent backer of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, a resident fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies, and a regular contributor to Ms., Mother Jones, and Zeta.
But maybe Time readers can guess Ehrenreich's persuasion when they read essay passages like this: "Today, with the health-care situation moving rapidly beyond crisis to near catastrophe, the age-old and obvious solution had the tone of a desperate whine: Why can't we have national health insurance -- like just about everybody else in the civilized world, please?"
JOURNALISTIC MALPRACTICE. The Washington Post's "Health" section often promotes liberal medical activists and ideas. The latest example: a November 27 cover story entitled "Should the U.S. Copy Canada?" Reporter Constance Matthiessen profiled Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, two Harvard hippies who founded Physicians for a National Health Program. "When [Woolhandler] begins to speak, the aspiring doctors are suddenly quiet -- struck not just by her powerful voice, which is softened by a rich Louisiana accent, but by her devastating critique of the health care system they are about to enter." Matthiessen ended: "[One] medical student is insistent: 'Do you really think someone on welfare should have the same health care as someone who has money?' Before Woolhandler can answer, other soon-to-be doctors in the auditorium turn and answer with an emphatic 'Yes!'"
Why such favorable treatment? Matthiessen works for the Center for Investigative Reporting, a left-wing group that has also provided stories for Mother Jones, 60 Minutes and 20/20. Co- founder David Weir told Newsweek in 1982: "We don't consider investigative reporting to be something that includes investigating welfare mothers." Although she mentioned the Heritage Foundation as part of a "consensus that the system is badly in need of reform," Matthiessen didn't devote one sentence to conservative health reform proposals.
TRUTH OUT IN THE COLD. Reporting on liberals upset about the plight of housing for the poor on November 3, NBC's Ed Rabel portrayed Ronald Reagan's alleged budget cuts as the cause of all the despair. Weekend Nightly News anchor Garrick Utley got things rolling: "In the 1980s, the Reagan years, the amount of government money spent to build low-income housing was cut drastically. Then the homeless began to appear on streets and in doorsteps and housing became a visible, human problem." Rabel then presented the evidence of '80s neglect toward the poor: "During the Reagan years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, housing programs for the poor were slashed by billions of dollars: an 80 percent cut over eight years."
Rabel's fraudulent conclusion was based on congressional accounting tricks. They can produce "an appearance of budget cutting while the total amount available to spend has been maintained or even increased," according to an article in the November/December issue of American Enterprise by John F. Cogan and Timothy J. Muris. The authors pointed out: "While budget authority for subsidized housing programs declined by nearly 77 percent (from 1981-1989), the number of subsidized units and the number of families living in those units increased by one-third." Let's hope somebody increases NBC's housing budget. Then they can make room for all the facts.
NEVER ENOUGH. To some in the media, the child care debate centers solely on how much the federal government should pay, not whether the government should pay at all. During an October 29 NBC Today report on a new, more expensive child care bill, co-host Deborah Norville portrayed the U.S. as behind the times: "One often hears that the United States and South Africa stand alone as the only two industrialized nations in the world not to have a national child care policy. Does this constitute a child care policy?"
Interviewing Dana Friedman of the Families and Work Institute, Norville's questions revealed her dissatisfaction with current child care spending levels: "Is there the possibility that because the feds have stepped in and done this that it'll go beyond that? That it could be expanded, or is this all [recipients are] gonna get for the moment?...This sounds like it's a drop in the bucket." Norville concluded: "Well, twelve million kids need some sort of child care. 750,000 will get it as a result of this. As you said, Dana Friedman, it's a start."
BALANCE ABORTED. Yet another Time reporter has revealed that her work has little to do with objective journalism. According to a University of Michigan Law School newspaper article sent to MediaWatch, Time reporter and Michigan Law alumnus Andrea Sachs revealed her views on a subject she has covered for Time: abortion.
In the article, Sachs is quoted as admitting to marching "in a pro-choice demonstration a year and a half ago, but after a reporter from The New York Times was criticized for doing the same thing, Sachs 'reluctantly decided...that I have to relinquish the right to participate [in abortion marches] and debate, since I'm writing when we cover abortion issues.'" Asked "whether her decision was based on a need to remain objective or to be perceived as objective, Sachs responded that it was the latter."
In the December 5, 1988 Time, Sachs called abortion "a right that in the course of just 15 years many Americans have come to regard as no less inalienable than freedom of religion or expression." Other articles to be "perceived as objective": "Here Come the Pregnancy Police," and "To Hell with Choice; A Cardinal turns excommunication into a political weapon."
REVERSE SEXISM. Time wasn't shy about making policy judgments in its Fall special issue, "Women: The Road Ahead." What's the answer to the child care problem? "Sweden, for instance, provides parents 90% salary reimbursement for the first nine months after birth...What's to be done? Subsidized child care and tax credits would ease the pressure on parents to leave home before they want to." Never mind that Sweden is moving away from its inefficient system.
In another article, Margaret Carlson boasted: "At last, not being one of the boys looks like an advantage. It's the boys, after all, who are responsible for the federal deficit, nuclear waste dumps and the savings and loan debacle, to name but a few of the disasters proliferating in the national In basket." Which political women were held up as role models? Three Democrats: Dianne Feinstein, Pat Schroeder, and Geraldine Ferraro.
Carlson quoted psychologist Carol Gilligan, who declared, "women have greater moral strength, a stronger ethic of car and over-riding concern for making and maintaining relationships -- all qualities of a good politician." Clearly if Carlson and Gilligan's sexist statements were reversed to favor men they would generate protest. Will Time readers do any less in this case?
GOTTA LOVE THE LEFT. NBC News field producer Susan Farkas loved Unreliable Sources, the new book from the left-wingers at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). They think Sen. Chris Dodd doesn't represent the liberal point of view. "You gotta love these guys," Farkas began her review in the December Washington Journalism Review (WJR). She found the book "is at its best describing the successful Republican manipulation of the media in the 1980s. The fawning over Ronald Reagan was unseemly... Reagan's regressive tax program was mislabeled 'tax reform' and his 'misstatements' were frequently reported without challenge on the front page while corrections ran on inside pages."
Farkas praised FAIR, which "has provided a valuable counterweight to the ultra-right, ill-named Accuracy in Media and has documented the conservative bias of ABC's Nightline and PBS talk shows." WJR has yet to review Profiles of Deception, a book from the "ultra-right, ill-named" group. FAIR's charges that corporations like General Electric, NBC's owner, are manipulating the news in a conservative direction look a little silly when NBC producers are swooning over ill-named, ultra-left groups.
ROWAN MISSES AGAIN. "Our country is wallowing in a miasma of political and class conflict, of greed and special interest, with regard to budget deficits, inflation and rising unemployment, the threats of both a bloody war and a devastating recession," syndicated columnist Carl Rowan charged when accepting the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism from the University of South Dakota. Neuharth, the former chairman of Gannett, is a USD alumnus, and Rowan serves on the Gannett board of directors. "How did we get into this mess?" Rowan asked in the address printed by Editor & Publisher. "Because the press, during the 1980s committed one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. The media took a dive, caved in, and did not tell the American people the price they would eventually pay for Reaganomics." Claiming the media were too soft of Reagan: That's the kind of analysis the journalistic community honors.
ABORTION MADE SAFE. The decreasing number of doctors performing abortions pleases pro-life advocates, but distresses pro-abortion forces. ABC's November 29 American Agenda took the pro-abortion point of view. Peter Jennings asked: "Because of political pressure, are there enough doctors still willing to perform abortions on women who want them?"
Dr. Tim Johnson provided a sob story on the only doctor in South Dakota who performs abortions: "Often lost in this picture is the harassment endured by the doctor who performs the procedure...Dr. Williams is one of a diminishing number of older physicians who say they are haunted by memories of the days when women had only the choice of an illegal procedure or worse." The real problem, as Johnson saw it, was that more doctors aren't coerced into abortion training. "Only one quarter of all OB-GYN residency programs require abortion training," he complained, "and openings at abortion clinics are increasingly difficult to fill."
Suggesting a solution, Johnson lauded a Vermont clinic where abortions are performed, "not by doctors, but by physicians' assistants." He concluded: "The rest of the country may have to follow Vermont's example, if abortions are going to continue to be not only available, but safe."
WORLD OF KURTZ. The Washington Post's new reporter on the news media, Howard Kurtz, demonstrated his media reporting technique in an article in the May Columbia Journalism Review. Kurtz worried over reporters' failure to emphasize the corporate backing of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH),one of the few organizations to question the science behind the panic over pesticides. Kurtz noted the ACSH was one of several corporate-supported groups to use "neutral-sounding names to peddle an ideological message." Earlier on the same page, Kurtz quoted Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest without the slightest bit of irony. He failed to identify its leftist ideology or its driving force: Ralph Nader.
Revolving Door: Acting Up
Acting Up. In December, 1989 members of the militant AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) threw condoms and screamed obscenities at parishioners in order to disrupt Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Among those facing charges: Ann Northrop, a former Good Morning America, CBS Morning News and 60 Minutes producer who is now active with ACT-UP, a group which uses radical tactics to demand massive government spending on AIDS. Northrop, who departed CBS in 1988, "trains fellow activists to deliver pithy soundbites," the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
Moving On. David Shapiro, an off-air national security reporter for the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour from 1983 to 1988, has left his position as Press Secretary to Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). Shapiro has set up Media Strategy Associates, a firm that works with non-profit groups.....Kristin Clark Taylor, Director of Media Relations at the White House since George Bush moved in, has quit to fill the same spot in BellSouth's Washington office. Between 1982 and 1988 she was a USA Today reporter and editorial writer....Scott Richardson, Manager of News Information at ABC News, has become Vice President of corporate communications for the Arts & Entertainment (A&E) cable network. For most of the 1980s Richardson was Deputy Press Secretary to Republican Senator Bob Dole.
Times Shifts. James Greenfield, Editor of The New York Times Magazine since 1987, has retired. Greenfield served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for public affairs under President Kennedy, moving up to Assistant Secretary of State during President Johnson's years. A Times Assistant Managing Editor since 1977, Greenfield was foreign editor from 1969 to 1977... Leslie Gelb, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for the past two years, has replaced just retired Flora Lewis as foreign affairs columnist. Deputy Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs in the Carter Administration, Gelb covered national security issues until 1986 for the Times.
Jacking Up Jackson. Jesse Jackson, the weekly public affairs talk show produced by Quincy Jones Entertainment, is quickly becoming a haven for broadcast journalists from every network but NBC. After an early November housecleaning swept out four producers from Fox's America Most Wanted, Adam Clayton Powell III took over the Executive Producer slot. From 1987 until February, 1990 Powell served as Vice President for news programming at National Public Radio. Joining Powell as Co-Executive Producer: Randy Douthit, Executive Producer of CNN's Crossfire since its 1982 creation, and Senior Producer of CNN's Larry King Live since 1985.
Supervising Producer Heidi Berenson has held various producer positions with CNN's Crossfire, CBS News Nightwatch and ABC's Good Morning America. Former ABC News White House reporter Kenneth Walker holds the title of Senior Producer. Guest Producer Florence Squassi did the same for Good Morning America as segment producer and then editorial producer between 1988 and early 1990.
PBS Producers Recall Korea Through Northern Sights
NOT EXACTLY SEOUL BROTHERS
It took PBS 12 hours to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War, but the Korean War took only six. Korea: The Unknown War, aired in 3 two-hour segments beginning November 12, provided a strange mix of fact and fantasy with a pronounced anti-American slant. Jon Halliday wrote the series with the help of Bruce Cumings, the program's principal historical consultant.
Halliday praised North Korea's Stalinist leaders for rebuilding "the North's powerful industries. They improved the position of education and women." How did the USSR and U.S. become involved in Korea? "In early August the Russians fought their way into northern Korea as liberators. The U.S. decided it should occupy part of Korea." Why did China enter the Korean War? "Facing what they perceived as a threat to their security, the Chinese crossed the Yalu River and attacked the two U.N. armies divided by mountains."
To place blame for 102 children who were killed by grenades, the program put on a North Korean, who declared: "I renew my resolution to get revenge on the Americans, a hundred and a thousand fold." For Cumings the incident illustrated how the U.S. was no less guilty than the communists: "In the West we tend to think that it was the North Koreans who were the most atrocious and the South Koreans who were bad and the Americans didn't do anything, but in fact all three parties committed unforgivable atrocities." A U.S. Sergeant served as an expert on the North's treatment of U.N. POW's. Not until the last show were viewers told he was one of 22 prisoners who moved to China after the war.
That's no surprise considering the views of Cumings and Halliday. Cumings boosted North Korea in a 1981 New York Times op-ed: "North Koreans are proud of their 'workers paradise' and its economic accomplishments....North Korea is a proletarian country pursuing self-reliant development, yet Mercedes sedans abound in the city...Kim Il Sug provides 11 years of compulsory, free education. The virtues that are inculcated are hard work, self- reliance, diligent study -- all familiar to Americans." Cumings wrote in a 1986 Nation article: "U.S. leaders are by no means Nazis. Nonetheless, when all the extenuating circumstances and special pleading are over and done with, a few generations hence, it will be seen that Americans visited mass slaughter on the Korean and Vietnamese peoples."
Halliday wrote for "Britain's radical New Left Review and was spokesman for the United Kingdom's Korea Committee, which wanted the West to withdraw its support of South Korea's 'repressive' regime," Washington Times reviewer Don Kowet reported. Among Halliday's historical efforts: editing the memoirs of the late Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
Post Reporters Love Cuomo and Jackson, Dislike Dukakis
THROW THE BOOK AT THEM
The sympathies of Washington Post political reporters came through loud and clear in two recent books on the 1988 campaign. In See How They Run, Post political reporter Paul Taylor explained how his personal feelings for Mario Cuomo kept him from letting go of his "Mario Scenario": "I figured the voters wanted someone who filled a room just by entering it; someone who knew the lift and lilt of a metaphor; someone whose notions of mutual obligation and shared sacrifice would be a balm for two decades of me, me, me...His refusal to take the plunge only made him more tantalizing. How many politicians of the first rank escape the clutches of their ambition long enough to ponder their worthiness?"
Taylor was also smitten by Jesse Jackson. "My guess is that no reporter -- no matter how disciplined or dispassionate -- who traveled with Jackson in 1988 will ever forget his campaign, and many of us will continue to have trouble keeping it in perspective. 'These are the sorts of things you want to save for your grandchildren,' David Rogers, The Wall Street Journal's congressional correspondent, mused to me once as we sat together on a Jackson bus. He was removing a cassette of that afternoon's Jackson speech from his tape recorder."
In Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War, former Post political writer Sidney Blumenthal criticized Dukakis for not being liberal enough on defense and foreign policy. "Dukakis' campaign was delighted with the effort to keep dangerous new thinking to a minimum....His conventionality led him to accept the deeply ingrained shibboleths that had kept the Democrats on the defensive for decades. He wound up operating on the premise that the Cold War was not over and he had to demonstrate his bona fides as a cold warrior."
More Hot Air from PBS
PBS added to the panic on November 21 by airing another special on the greenhouse effect, After the Warming, a co-production of Maryland Public Television and Film Australia. British author James Burke reported from 2050, looking back at all we did wrong.
The show began with a mock newscast: "By 2005, forty million are dead of starvation....epidemics rage in New York; toxic waste spills throughout Europe; evacuation is ordered from New Orleans; greater temperatures are still to come."
Burke told viewers: "It's a video-tape from 1990, and that was how they thought we'd turn out. Funny how they would miss some of the changes that we would really care about. I mean, do you remember hamburgers, traffic jams, log fires in winter, a place called Miami, a time when the Japanese weren't running everything?" Burke told The Washington Post: "None of this program is fantasy. It is all a result of serious studies."
Meanwhile, PBS refuses to air The Greenhouse Conspiracy, a devastating critique of the science of global warming theory. PBS officials have dismissed the acclaimed British documentary as "too one-sided."
But unlike Race to Save the Planet or After the Warming, which completely ignored opposing points of view, The Greenhouse Conspiracy devoted time to a number of greenhouse advocates, including Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. After a series of challenging questions, Schneider conceded in the film: "I don't put very much stock in looking at the direct evidence." Putting greenhouse theories to the test in a two-sided debate isn't "too one-sided" for PBS, it's not one-sided enough.
Janet Cooke Award: PBS: Planet Panic
Horror-movie scenarios of environmental destruction might have ratings appeal, but why does PBS, which prides itself on being above commercial influence, feel the need to stoop to hype in its documentaries? The ten-part PBS series Race to Save The Planet, which aired from October 7-11 and is continuing to air in reruns, urged viewers to support an "environmental revolution" of drastic government measures or face "enormous calamities in a very short time." For its one-sided campaign for government controls, Race to Save the Planet earns the December Janet Cooke Award.
1) The Problem: Man-kind. Based on the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World reports, a standard text for liberal activists, the series questioned the entire Western political and industrial system. The series' narrator, actor Roy Scheider, began by attacking the Industrial Revolution: "This new way of life brought the world many things: industrial diseases, the drudgery of factory work -- but above all, growth -- growth in wealth and in population, which nearly doubled in the 19th century, crowding into huge new industrial cities. This new urban and industrial world was a powerful threat to the natural world."
For expertise, the series relied on the usual cast of panic prophets, including Worldwatch Institute chief Lester Brown, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, climatologist Steven Schneider and alternative-energy guru Amory Lovins. In Florida, Biologist Larry Harris predicted that "the sea will come up about one foot within the next 25 to 40 years. That means that the edge of the sea we're standing on today will occur ten miles north of here by about the year 2010." Actress Meryl Streep declared: "By the year 2000 -- that's less than 10 years away -- the earth's climate will be warmer than it's been in over 100,000 years. If we don't do something, there'll be enormous calamities in a very short time." No scientist appeared to challenge these experts or to point out they predicted an ice age by the late 1970s.
The series dated the genesis of the environmental revolution to Earth Day 1970, which Scheider claimed "appealed to everyone," an allegation the writers backed up with footage of children singing "Oil drops are falling on their heads/And that surely means that soon they will all be dead." What was Earth Day's lesson? Organizer Denis Hayes explained: "We began to recognize our finiteness, and ultimately our vulnerability, that this was really something we as a species could adversely affect in a way that could in fact bring about planetary death."
The producers saw only an either/or relationship between industry and the environment. For example, Scheider stated: "The seals died for this: the luxurious lifestyle which consumes the endless products of modern industry -- the lifestyle of affluence...The consumer lifestyle stretches around the world, but wherever it's found, the environment always pays the price."
The series indicted the entire human race. Streep mourned "plants and animals which have been forced to retreat into ever smaller patches of wilderness in the face of our relentless march across the globe." Scheider agreed: "Now just one of these species -- humans -- is putting the clock back...Where human beings once coexisted with nature, now we have come to master and destroy it."
Larry Harris only saw humans as an impediment when the floods cover Florida: "Animal species, of course, would normally be able to move up the peninsula, if there weren't human habitation and human blockage. But with all the interstate highways and the chain-link fences and barking dogs and golf courses, the wildlife will be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."
The series ignored all of the good things man has gained from technology. One series expert, Paul Papenek, even queried: "Do we have to have chrome, or petrochemicals, or benzene, or other chemicals in the environment? Instead of just saying 'Well, do more filters on the smokestack do the job for us? we really can take a step backward and day, 'Well in the first place, why are we making these things?...We're way beyond science at that point, we're into public policy." Scheider praised "A growing movement [which] has begun to demonstrate for better environmental enforcement and abandonment of destructive development projects -- dams, highways, and factories."
Scheider ended the first hour with a love letter to the caveman: "The environmental revolution had arrived, a revolution as powerful as the one which had transformed our hunting-gathering ancestors, who lived so lightly on the earth, into settled farmers, who used the earth more heavily, who began to find environmental limits, and whose numbers grew and grew until the industrial revolution; more growth, more people, the earth used more heavily still." He warned of the end of the world, declaring "Only the environmental revolution can save the planet from this fate."
2) The Solution: Government Controls. The series regularly advocated statist solutions, including the environmentalist's favorite: energy taxes. "Today, the prices of coal, oil, and gas are misleadingly low, because they don't include the potential cost of damage from global warming," Scheider declared, "But adding in this cost through a tax on fossil fuels would encourage conservation, and also give an economic advantage to alternative fuels which don't harm the atmosphere." Scheider advocated subsidized alternative fuels and compulsory car-pooling.
The series praised tired socialist models such as Sweden ("Life in Sweden may be the best that the modern world has to offer") and Zimbabwe. Streep pushed the "suggestion that money spent on defense could in the future go to help the environment....Maybe it's possible for us to think of national security in a new way, as no longer a question of military security but instead, of the security of a healthy environment."
When asked why PBS based a series on Worldwatch Institute reports, Senior Producer Linda Harrar explained to MediaWatch "When I was looking for an idea for Nova back in '84, I read the book State of the World. It did give me a view of the world which I had not had before and that was really the springboard for the proposal and indeed was the title of the series...for some time."
Why not air scientists who have challenged drastic environmental scenarios? Harrar claimed "We made no efforts to avoid particular points of view," but when MediaWatch suggested the series didn't include them at all, Harrar conceded: "I think that could come through...You could quarrel, certainly, with...what we chose to focus on." But Harrar defended the exclusion of balancing voices: "There are ways of confusing the public in putting ping-pong matches onto television which we did not particularly think was useful." Harrar repeated the point later: "I'm not sure it's useful to include every single point of view simply in order to cover every base because you can come up with a program that's virtually impossible for the audience to sort out." So: PBS thinks the public isn't smart enough to consider conflicting arguments in a policy debate which could change their entire way of life. Maybe during the next pledge drive, local PBS stations could use the slogan "PBS: You pay, we tell you what to think."