In This Issue
"Civil Rights"; NewsBites: News Fools Tonight; Revolving Door: To Kennedy's Defense; Reporters Can't Resist Lumping Republicans With Nazis; Middle Class Mythology; DoonesBury's Pet Perjurer; Abortion Manipulation; NBC's Hatchet Job; Janet Cooke Award: Philadelphia Inquirer or National Enquirer
STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
Do you know the full story about the "civil rights" bill? By championing racial preferences, the "civil rights" groups are campaigning against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Not only that, the "civil rights" bill would deprive defendants of one of the most basic civil rights: the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
If you didn't know that, it's because it wasn't on the network news. To determine the depth and slant of civil rights reporting, MediaWatch analysts reviewed every ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC evening news story on the civil rights bill from June 1989 through November of this year. The bill's technical substance wasn't the only thing that was down-played: so were conservative sources. In 131 stories, reporters tilted the debate to the left, airing 221 talking heads in support of the bill to only 128 in opposition, a margin of almost two to one. Twenty-two stories aired no opponents of the bill, compared to only six stories with no supporters.
In selecting expert sources, the networks preferred liberal activists and scholars over conservatives. Most often, opponents of the bill were Administration spokesmen and congressional Republicans. Liberal legal scholars or activists (such as Ralph Neas of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights) outnumbered conservative scholars or activists (such as Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice) by a margin of 65 to 7. Like their coverage of the environment, network reporters barely acknowledge that conservative activists and scholars exist.
Reporting on the bill relied on a liberal vocabulary. For example, NBC stated the Supreme Court had "weakened" and "eroded" civil rights, "abolished" minority gains, "rolled back civil rights law" and "turned back the clock." The liberal bill "focused on helping minorities," would "protect women," and restore "civil rights protections."
Much like their reporting of last year's budget deal, the networks focused mostly on the jockeying for political advantage. Reporters repeated that conservatives thought the bill would require employers to use quotas as a defense against lawsuits, but they ignored the legal underpinnings that caused the courts to revise civil rights law in the first place. Instead, reporters let "civil rights" leaders assert that the courts were "eroding" civil rights without argument. Among the concepts reporters ignored:
Wards Cove. One of the Supreme Court decisions that supporters of the "civil rights" bill intended to overturn was Wards Cove v. Atonio (1989). In that decision, the Court found that the Court's earlier ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) directly contradicted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which explicitly prohibits racial preferences. But none of the networks explained this, and no network reporter ever mentioned either Wards Cove or Griggs by name.
Instead, they presented the quota bill as the natural next step in minorities' progress, not as an unnatural reversal of the original text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Accordingly, the standard network definition of the civil rights bill did not refer to the Civil Rights Act, but only that the bill "would make it easier for women and minorities to sue." The networks defined the bill in this "easier to sue/harder to sue" framework in 31 stories.
Burden of Proof. How many stories mentioned that the "civil rights" bill overturns one of the most basic civil rights -- the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? None. All the civil rights bills under consideration would have reversed Wards Cove by removing the burden of proof from the suing employee (the plaintiff) and placing it on the employer (the defendant).
CBS legal reporter Rita Braver devoted half of her June 5 report this year on how only "the Democrats' bill changes the balance of power in lawsuits." None of the networks focused on the civil rights erosion that would result, and both ABC and NBC only mentioned "burden of proof" once, as an afterthought. On June 3 of this year, Tom Brokaw casually (and incorrectly) reported: "The President prefers his version, which would put the burden of proof on employees." (NBC did allow one employer to complain: "You cannot write a law presupposing everyone's guilty.")
Unintentional Discrimination. How many times did reporters explain that the entire debate concerned not intentional bigotry, but unintentional discrimination? Twice. NBC's Andrea Mitchell referred to "job requirements that unintentionally discriminate against minorities and women;" and CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews mentioned that the Bush administration argued against "stacking the legal system against employers even where discrimination was unintentional."
Under the Griggs ruling, plaintiffs didn't have to charge intentional discrimination. Instead, the plaintiff only had to prove that some hiring test or qualification (like a skills test or a high school diploma) had the effect of creating a work force that is statistically out of sync with the racial makeup of the surrounding community. This theory, known as "disparate impact," went completely unexplained by the networks. Reporters might have asked: For all of the breast-beating about racism, why is the number one civil rights fight about unintentional discrimination?
Business Necessity. This was the concept behind most of the struggle for a compromise. But you wouldn't know that from watching the networks. ABC, CBS and NBC mentioned the concept -- in one story each. Under Griggs, employers could not use any hiring procedure that caused a statistical disparity in their work force, unless they proved a "business necessity" for the practice. A restrictive definition could force employers to hire drunk drivers to be drivers if they were minorities or women. [See sidebar article on right.]
The networks preferred nasty soundbites to substance. Take Rep. Pat Schroeder, who described the Supreme Court for ABC on June 24, 1989: "They're just down there ripping up everything, makin' confetti out of all the stuff that's been goin' on since the Civil War!" Reporters may decry the "code words" apparently used by Republicans, but the networks never went beyond crude symbolism to explain the technical details behind the conservative position on civil rights. When the networks blame someone for the trivialization of politics, they might start with themselves.
NewsBites: News Fools Tonight
NEWS FOOLS TONIGHT. Just how careful are reporters? A recent gaffe by ABC's World News Tonight offers a revealing insight. In a November 5 story, Peter Jennings reported that the Soviet Union was going to sell the corpse of Lenin to raise money. The next day USA Today ran the story, based on ABC's word.
But the story was fiction. It came from the November Forbes FYI, a supplement to Forbes magazine that specializes in parody. The FYI story included a humorous picture of people at a cocktail party beside a glass case with Lenin inside. The caption read, "The ultimate conversation piece, and minimal maintenance." ABC bought it and ran the story without calling the Soviet Embassy, Forbes or any other knowledgeable source. This puts ABC's "October Surprise" investigation in perspective.
TURNER VS. HITLER. Why, if CNN had existed before World War II, the world never would have known the terror of Hitler. At least that's what CNN President Ted Turner would like the world to believe. In a PBS Talking with David Frost interview on October 25, Turner criticized the U.S. government's use of censorship of the media during the Iraqi war. "We've only seen what the U.S. government wanted us to see, just like we did over there. We were manipulated just as much and controlled by the U.S. government and the U.S. armed forces, the whole media was, as we were by the Iraqis."
When David Frost responded, "But the Iraqis were the enemy," Turner replied: "Whose enemy? They were the enemy of the United States. But CNN has had, as the international global network, to step a little beyond that...I think, had CNN been there before [World War II], had it been there in 1930, had it been all over the world, Hitler would have never risen to power."
HELPFUL HAFEZ. CBS reporter Steve Kroft believes all Lebanon needed was a ruthless dictator. Reporting from Beirut on November 6, Kroft rhapsodized: "For the first time in fifteen years there is someone in charge, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. His picture and his soldiers are everywhere, invited in by the Lebanese to disarm them and to keep themselves from killing each other and to stop the kidnappings. So far it's worked."
Worked for whom? The human rights group Freedom House reports a different view of Syrian occupation of Lebanon in their 1990 edition of Freedom in the World: "Beirut, divided by Christian East and Muslim West, became the sight of intense artillery barrages and shelling...The city was destroyed, over 830 persons, mainly civilians, were killed and over 3,000 wounded. Well over a million persons fled Beirut during the fighting. Faced with a land blockade by Syrian troops, Christians fled the city nightly by boat under shell fire."
THE HOMELESS AND THE HOPELESS. The Census Bureau sent out 15,000 enumerators to count the homeless population and produced a count of 230,000. But network reporters are still ignoring the Census figure and passing on the less-scientific claims of homeless activists. On October 27, ABC reporter Sheilah Kast told World News Tonight viewers: "These are homeless children. There are at least half a million in this country, and a quarter of them don't go to school at all." On November 7, ABC anchor Peter Jennings relayed numbers from the National Coalition for the Homeless without even citing his source: "It is widely believed [veterans] may account for a third of the population of homeless men, at least 175,000 of them." That would mean 525,000 homeless men alone.
On Veterans Day, CNN World News anchor Bernard Shaw read the story like a press release: "As Americans observe Veterans Day, there was a sobering report from the National Coalition for the Homeless. Veterans of the United States military comprise a third, perhaps more, of all homeless men." Reporter Carl Rochelle continued with the press release: "The report, entitled Heroes Today, Homeless Tomorrow, says 150 to 250,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and up to a half million veterans are homeless at some time during the year." None of these stories mentioned the Census figures or explored how the homeless activists arrived at their numbers. For all viewers know, they made them up.
TAKE MY MONEY, PLEASE. Never one to back away from advocating more government intervention, Time magazine was in usual form for its November 25 cover story on rising health care costs. Reporter Janice Castro warned that health costs "flow from a surreal world where science has lost connection with reality...The prices, like the system that issues them, are out of control."
So, is the solution to increase market forces? Forget it. Castro suggested: "Establish a universal health care plan covering basic preventive treatment for all Americans who cannot pay for their own insurance...To help pay for it, Congress should eliminate the $53,400 income cap on the payroll tax that funds Social Security. While this would sharply increase payroll taxes for the wealthiest, such a change represents a more equitable way of apportioning the burden, which now falls more heavily on lower-income workers...Congress should then shift the entire federal Medicaid budget to the universal-health program, which would give it a generous $115 billion in its first year." America has a $350 billion deficit, so why not create another government spending sinkhole?
AUTO REVERSE. On October 28, both NBC and ABC reported on a press conference called by the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, two Ralph Nader groups. At the conference, the Nader groups denounced a Department of Transportation video which showed a small car getting mangled by a larger one in a head-on collision. The video had been used in advertising by the auto industry's Coalition for Vehicle Choice to dramatize its contention that higher mileage requirements would shrink the size of cars and lessen auto safety. The Nader groups charged that the government was conspiring with the auto industry to mislead the public into thinking small cars were more dangerous.
ABC's Ned Potter concluded: "Fuel economy will be a bruising battle in the Senate, with both sides saying the arguments are based more on politics than on facts." So is the reporting: a November 1 Wall Street Journal article cited eight examples of Naderite literature warning that small cars were less safe. While NBC and ABC reported on the press conference, neither mentioned the Naderites' flip-flop.
EDUCATION ALLOCATION. NBC's Fred Briggs believes in solving social problems the liberal way: throw money at them. "The White House balks at any federal bailout of poor school districts," Briggs claimed on the November 5 Nightly News. "It says it's up to the states, to the districts to do it. Critics say that's passing the buck." Holyoke, Massachusetts needs a tax increase, he reported. "Voters in Holyoke are being asked to raise taxes today, something they refused to do twice in the past year.... It's one of the poorest school districts in the state."
But others saw it differently. "School administrators stubbornly maintained special programs for poverty-stricken and disruptive students while cutting back programs for the majority of children," wrote Wall Street Journal reporter William Bulkeley on November 25. "Some voters are angry at school administrators they consider uncommunicative and wasteful."
Is more money the answer? No, according to a Winter 1990 Policy Review article by Patricia Summerside. She spotlighted South Dakota, ranked 51st in teacher salary and 43rd in spending per pupil. "South Dakota's 1988 ACT scores rank fifth among the 28 states that take the test. Its high school graduation rate ranks second."
KRAMER'S FRAMERS. Pro-lifers may be on the losing side at next year's Republican National Convention, Time's Michael Kramer wrote in the November 25 issue. "A majority of the 1988 GOP delegates were pro-choice," wrote Kramer, "they supported the pro-life position out of loyalty to Bush." But Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice "hopes this time they will vote their conscience." Kramer told MediaWatch that Stone provided the "majority" numbers. "She used two sources that sounded credible," he explained, "and I was on deadline. I took her word for it."
Stone told MediaWatch one of her sources was a Planned Parenthood exit poll, a highly questionable source. Surveys provided by NBC, CBS, and the Los Angeles Times do not support Kramer's theory. CBS asked, "Should federal money be appropriated to enable poor women to have abortions?" and 68 percent of delegates said "no." When asked "Do you personally believe abortion is wrong or not?," by NBC, 65 percent said "yes." Delegates split 50-50 when the Los Angeles Times questioned directly from the GOP platform: "Do you support a constitutional amendment which would ban abortions?" But delegates could have disagreed with that federal solution and still be considered anti-abortion.
POPULATION BOMB BUNK. Third World population growth isn't only an awful problem, it's America's fault for not paying for abortions. Or so reported Mike Wallace in a one-sided November 3 60 Minutes segment.
Dr. Sharon Camp of the Population Crisis Committee, who, except for another anti-population activist, had the whole segment to herself, blamed the "crisis" on the White House: "We know governments around the world want to slow population growth. It's a matter of getting together the political will. And the biggest obstacles are not here in Mexico City where they've got strong leadership, they're in Washington, they're in the White House.... He [President Bush] is not willing to rile up the hard right in order to deal with the world population problem."
And Wallace's reply? "Certainly not before election time. As we said earlier, nobody from the White House would respond to any of this." Wallace could easily have located an expert to rebut Camp's claims about the economic dangers of "overpopulation." Professor Julian Simon, for instance, has noted "The standard of living has risen along with the size of the earth's population since the beginning of time."
SUNUNU SOURCE ABUSE. How did Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy unravel White House Chief of Staff John Sununu? With lots of anonymous sources. Even Washington's City Paper, a free alternative weekly, ridiculed Devroy's reporting. Its editor, Jack Shafer, pointed out that a November 17 story contained 24 anonymous sources, but only two sources on the record.
Devroy also wrote front-page Sununu stories on November 30 and December 3, the day Sununu resigned. In these two stories, unnamed sources outnumbered on-the-record sources by 19 to 5. Shafer took the Post to task: "They have a lot of explaining to do.... Just because the stories arrive at the truth, that Sununu was about to resign, is no excuse for using so many blind sources. The skeptical reader begins to ask: is this journalist carrying out a hidden agenda?"
KOPPEL CALLS BACK. Ted Koppel, reacting to a story in last month's MediaWatch, did call Publisher L. Brent Bozell this month to discuss Nightline's investigation of the Anita Hill leaking controversy. During an October Nightline Bozell asked Koppel if he would devote as much time to the Hill investigation as he did to the "October Surprise" investigation. Koppel assured Bozell that Nightline was following the story, but could not do a program until he had gathered enough information to justify a report.
In the meantime, none of the networks' evening news broadcasts has followed up on the story as the Senate leak investigation flounders. In addition, the evening news broadcasts have aired 27 news stories on the "October Surprise" theory -- that the Reagan campaign delayed release of the Iranian hostages to win the 1980 election -- but none have followed up since the theory was unraveled in two magazine exposés published in November. None. Koppel did not retract his earlier reporting on the theory, but did devote the November 12 Nightline to the new revelations and interviewed one of the exposé writers, CNN's Steven Emerson, along with "October Surprise" theorist Gary Sick.
Revolving Door: To Kennedy's Defense
To Kennedy's Defense. Before retiring this past summer, Barbara Gamarekian spent 25 years in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, a job she took after toiling in the Kennedy White House press office. With a Kennedy in trouble, she's come to the rescue. The Kennedy family hired her to serve as press relations representative for William Kennedy Smith, who went on trial for rape in Florida in early December. In the November 7 Boston Globe, correspondent Christopher Boyd summarized Gamarekian's PR line: "She has told interviewers that he attends Mass, is a handyman around the house, and enjoys playing with his six-week- old puppy, McShane."
California Civilities. As the battle over National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding raged the last few years, Allan Parachini covered it for the Los Angeles Times. One part of the struggle he wrote about: a 1990 lawsuit against the NEA by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four "performance artists" denied federal subsidies. Parachini reported that one plaintiff, Karen Finley, "has received broad critical acclaim" for an act in which she had "her body smeared with melted chocolate and alfalfa sprouts to symbolize denigration of women by forcing them to wallow in excrement and sperm."
In October, Parachini decided to become more than just an observer. The Times reported that the paper's veteran reporter of 12 years was "named to the newly created position of Director of Research and Public Affairs for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California." Parachini's personal views had already slipped into his Times copy: A June 18, 1990 "news analysis" was titled: "Some Observers Say the Uproar Over 2 Live Crew and the NEA Controversy Represent a Much Larger and More Alarming Trend."
Meet the Cuomo Press. In another effort to cut costs, NBC News transferred the Sunday Today staff from Washington to New York so its production could be merged with the weekday show. As a result, Meet the Press moderator and Sunday Today co-host Garrick Utley will stop commuting to Washington, leaving the Meet the Press slot open. Utley's replacement as of the December 8 broadcast: Tim Russert, former counselor and strategist to Mario Cuomo. Russert will continue to serve as NBC's Washington Bureau Chief. As far as MediaWatch knows, it's the first time a political activist turned journalist has been named permanent moderator of a Sunday show.
Hollywood Liberal. Marylouise Oates, who covered the Hollywood party and society scene for the Los Angeles Times during most of the 1980s, is out with her first novel. Making Peace follows a group of activists preparing for a 1967 anti-war protest. It's a topic Oates learned first-hand, as Deputy Press Secretary to 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Gene McCarthy and later as a press aide for the Vietnam Moratorium. She remains politically active. In November 1989 Oates and her husband, Robert Shrum, former Press Secretary to Senator Ted Kennedy, hosted a fundraising party at their home for Patrick Kennedy, a Democratic Rhode Island Assemblyman.
Reporters Can't Resist Lumping Republicans With Nazis
DUKE: GOP POSTER CHILD?
Despite Republican rejection of David Duke, reporters continue to insist that the entire Republican Party specializes in racist campaign tactics. In the November 25 Time magazine, Washington reporter Dan Goodgame announced: "Demagogues don't yell `nigger' or `Jew boy' anymore. They've learned better...[Duke] traded in his bigoted rhetoric for a slick new glossary of coded appeals to racial resentment, market tested over the past two decades by mainstream conservative politicians."
On NBC's Today show November 13, reporter Lisa Myers charged all the recent Republican Presidents with race-baiting: "Since , every Republican presidential candidate has run on some issue that raised racial overtones. Richard Nixon preached law and order in the wake of the Watts riots....Ronald Reagan told the story of the welfare queen ....George Bush was accused of playing racial politics when he made a national figure out of this Massachusetts convict [Willie Horton]." Myers ended with this befuddling comment: "But win or lose, the politics of race works."
Conservative Kirk Fordice scored a stunning upset in the Mississippi governor's race, but reporters simply lumped him with Duke. On November 6, NBC's Andrea Mitchell asserted: "Although George Bush led the cheering today for Fordice's victory, he won partly by playing the race card, appealing to some of the same white fears David Duke is exploiting in neighboring Louisiana."
In the next morning's Wall Street Journal, reporter James Perry seconded that emotion: "In Mississippi, Mr. Fordice, the GOP winner, rode to victory by echoing Mr. Duke's rhetoric in Louisiana, attacking job quotas and calling for `workfare, not welfare.'" Time reporter Michael Duffy's November 18 election wrap-up read: "Fordice's anti-liberal, anti-quota, anti-welfare campaign had a strong racial undercurrent that could prove embarrassing to the national GOP. An article on the next page suggested Fordice "played the oldest card in Southern politics, the racial resentment of whites."
Mississippi's local media criticized the national media's repeated Duke comparisons. The Meridian Star editorialized on November 10: "The national `spin' on Mississippi's gubernatorial election has spun out of control, and the result has been an unfair likening of our race to Louisiana's....This newspaper endorsed [Ray] Mabus, but we are not blind to the political shortcomings and strategic mistakes that contributed to his defeat. The national analysts would do well to delve a little deeper into the factors behind that defeat rather than make unfounded and largely uninformed assumptions."
Middle Class Mythology
MIDDLE CLASS MYTHOLOGY. Some media outlets continue to insist that the Reagan years were awful for the middle class, despite evidence to the contrary. On the November 20 NBC Nightly News, commentator John Chancellor asserted: "For the last 18 years, the average voter has been mugged by the American economy. People of all races have seen their incomes decline. From 1972 to 1986, the real after-inflation wages of all workers dropped more than 10 percent -- 1972 to 1986 and it's still going on. In the 1980s, the rich got the headlines and the rest of the country got the shaft."
Wrong. After inflation, the Social Security Administration's average wage did not decline 10 percent. In 1989 dollars, earnings in 1972 were $19,923; in 1986, it was $19,587. Wages rose every year from 1982 to 1988, when earnings stood at $20,265.
In a December 1 "Outlook" section article, Washington Post pollster Richard Morin contended: "Economists now report that the boom years of the 1980s were a bust for fully half of all Americans...despite the lingering buzz about those Golden '80s, half of all Americans saw their income erode, not improve, during the past decade."
Wrong. The math is simple: median family income grew throughout the Reagan years. In fact, average family income grew for every segment of wage-earners, which is usually divided in fifths. So how could half of Americans lose in income?
In the November 4 Newsweek, Assistant Managing Editor Rich Thomas noted that "middle-income Americans have actually received a modest increase in their cash pay -- a 1 percent annual rise through the 1980s, after adjusting for the broadest index of inflation, the gross national deflator. Of course, rich Americans have done even better. But any claim that the middle class is doing poorly simply because the rich are doing better is based on jealousy, not facts."
DoonesBury's Pet Perjurer
No one in the media believed convicted drug dealer Brett Kimberlin (also known as "The Speedway Bomber") when he told them that he sold marijuana to Dan Quayle in the '70s. Not NBC News, not even Nina Totenberg, who leaked Anita Hill's allegations. No one thought Kimberlin's story was worth telling, until, of course, Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" series handed the media a convenient "news hook."
Kimberlin is suing former Bureau of Prisons chief Michael Quinlan and former Justice Department spokesman Loye Miller for "violating his constitutional rights" by putting him in solitary confinement. But any airing of Kimberlin's case should include the full truth about his past. In their recent coverage, The Washington Post and The New York Times omitted some rather important facts about Kimberlin:
He was convicted of perjury in 1974 for lying about -- drugs.
He has a reputation for litigiousness. This is at least Kimberlin's fourth lawsuit. In fact, after being convicted of the Speedway, Indiana bombings, he sued the widow of one of his bombing victims for "violating his constitutional rights."
The high-powered law firm Arnold & Porter took the Kimberlin case last year on a referral from Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Litigation Group. If Nader's lawyers had filed suit for Kimberlin, it might have been exposed as a transparent political maneuver to hamper Quayle's efforts against excessive regulation. But partisan political intrigue, a theme so common in Washington reporting, excited nobody at the Times or the Post.
On Halloween night, ABC's Prime Time Live tried to scare viewers about pro-life crisis pregnancy centers pregnancy centers. ABC used hidden cameras to get footage inside the centers, which offer pregnant women advice and counseling instead of abortions. In fact, all three networks used hidden cameras to "expose" the centers by having female staffers walk in and lie about whether they were pregnant. What caused this wave of anti-anti-abortion investigations?
The National Coalition of Abortion Providers Executive Director Ron Fitzsimmons wrote in a September 4 memo: "I went to the ABC program Prime Time several weeks ago and they immediately agreed to do an 'expose' on the issue of crisis pregnancy centers.
Fitzsimmons boasted to MediaWatch about his manipulation of the story. "[Prime Time producer] Ben Sherwood is mad at me about that memo, those words I used. It looked like I was directing that whole show. But I was on the phone every day. I gave him all of that stuff. I gave him all of those names and clinics. Ben would call me every day and ask me about the situation in certain states. This story would not have been possible without the hearing," he said, "and that was my idea." All three networks used a congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Ron Wyden as a news hook for their investigations. Fitzsimmons added: "Certainly I had the sense that they were very sympathetic."
Now that Planned Parenthood's clinics are prevented by law from using their federal money to promote abortion, will the networks now send their hidden cameras into Planned Parenthood's clinics? Don't hold your breath.
NBC's Hatchet Job
For a glaring example of bias on the "civil rights" debate, check out the October 24 NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw reported that George Bush rejected Sen. John Danforth's compromise by "making a variety of claims many thought were more political than factual."
On to Andrea Mitchell: "When the President tried to persuade Republican Senators to support his civil rights bill yesterday, this two-page White House memo was on the table....The only problem --most of its claims are dead wrong."
Without giving Bush legal counsel Boyden Gray any airtime, Mitchell declared Gray was wrong to argue that the compromise would allow damage suits for unintentional discrimination, and that it could force trucking companies to hire drivers with drunk driving convictions.
But in the The American Spectator, former Reagan official Terry Eastland argued the Danforth bill defined "business necessity" so narrowly "that employers would have had to hire people capable of doing only the job at issue -- and little more. Thus, it was fair enough for the Bush Administration to say that under the Danforth bill, a trucking company would have to hire dock workers with drunk-driving convictions, even if it wanted dock workers who could be promoted as drivers."
On November 4, Legal Times reporter Stuart Taylor Jr. wrote: "News coverage of the civil rights battle has been marred by glaring inaccuracies as well as tendentious oversimplifications. One example: Andrea Mitchell's flagrantly biased report" on the 24th. Taylor found all of Gray's points were "arguably correct and within the realm of fair advocacy, if perhaps a bit overdrawn."
Janet Cooke Award: Philadelphia Inquirer or National Enquirer
On October 20 The Philadelphia Inquirer launched a nine-part series, "America: What Went Wrong." Reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele promised they would prove that "we are in the midst of the largest transfer of wealth in the nation's history. It is a transfer from the middle class to the rich, and from the middle class to the poor." For providing little more than a sea of specious statistics, the series, which has since appeared in numerous other papers (including the Detroit Free Press and Arizona Republic), earns the December Janet Cooke Award. A few of the Inquirer's arguments:
Assertion: A dramatic front page chart showed a 13-inch high stack of dollar bills labeled "Increase in the salaries of people earning more than $1 million: 2,184 percent." In contrast, a quarter-inch high stack reflected the 44 percent growth in salaries of those making $20,000 to $40,000.
Reality: Barlett and Steele's numbers reflected the total, non- inflation adjusted, dollars earned by everyone reporting an income over $1 million, not the "increase of salaries of people earning more than $1 million." Translated: In 1983, 10,800 households reported an income of over $1 million, for a total of $24 billion. By 1988, millionaires reported $172 billion in income. But that's because the number of households reporting a $1 million-plus income soared six-fold to 65,300. As Joint Economic Committee economist Chris Frenze explained to MediaWatch, the 1986 tax reform cut the marginal rate from 50 to 31 percent, leading the wealthiest to take money out of shelters and report it as income.
Assertion: "Once upon a time, membership in the middle class was open to everyone. Now it is severely restricted. And existing memberships are being revoked." Their proof: "The middle income group accounted for 35 percent of all tax returns showing income from a job in 1989. That was down from 39 percent in 1980."
Reality: Economics columnist Warren Brooke told MediaWatch that the greatest drop in per capita personal income, even worse than in the Great Depression, occurred between 1979 and 1981. In constant 1989 dollars, Census figures show the percent of families earning $15,000 to $50,000 fell from 58 percent in 1981 to 53 percent in 1989, but Brookes explained that's because many got richer -- the number of those earning more than $50,000 jumped from 21 to 29 percent.
Assertion: A large table heading declared "Fewer rich pay the minimum tax." The table below showed the number of $200,000 to $500,000 taxpayers fell 70 percent, from 46,874 in 1986 to 14,112 people in 1989. The accompanying table showed that for the same income category the average tax paid dropped 61 percent, from $23,237 to $9,037.
Reality: The table reflected the "alternative minimum tax." Fiscal Associates Vice President Gary Robbins explained to MediaWatch that the tax was meant to get money from those avoiding income taxes. So when the 1986 reforms lowered the top rate from 50 to 31 percent and eliminated loopholes, the rich started paying regular taxes. As Brookes noted in the Oct. 7 National Review, "revenues from the rich soared at their fastest rate in history. In 1988, total income taxes rose a surprising 12.7 percent, or nearly $7 billion. Of that increase, $36 billion, or 77 percent, was paid by the top 2.3 percent of all taxpayers."
MediaWatch asked Barlett why he failed to make Brookes' point or note that the share of income tax collections paid by the top one percent of taxpayers grew from 18 percent in 1981 to more than 27 percent in 1988. Barlett responded with a non sequitur: "If you follow that to the logical extent at some point they [the top one percent] will account for 80 percent of the tax revenue because all the rest of the people won't have any money to pay taxes.... that's not a plus, that's a terrible thing. Is that the kind of society you want, in which 80 percent of the population doesn't have enough money to pay taxes and the other 20 percent does?"
Assertion: During the 1980s "the job growth was centered in the retail trade and services sectors, which pay the lowest wages. Higher-paying jobs in manufacturing disappeared at a rate unmatched since the Great Depression."
Reality: Commerce Department figures reveal the manufacturing share of the GNP grew from 21 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 1990. Since 1983, Marvin Kosters showed earlier this year in American Enterprise, nearly half of new jobs have been "professional and managerial." Compare that to the 1970s, when just 23 percent fell in this category.
Assertion: Part 5 was headlined "The High Cost of Deregulation: Joblessness, Bankruptcy, Debt." Barlett and Steele claimed "Competition would create jobs, drive down prices and benefit consumers and businesses alike. That's the theory. The gritty reality...is a little different." The duo concluded "deregulation has meant fewer airlines and higher air fares, more unsafe trucks on the highways, and your tax money diverted to pay for the S&L debacle." Instead of exploring the conservative view that a lack of deregulation made the S&L crisis worse (i.e., continued federal insurance no matter how poorly the S&L is run), the reporters returned to the theme laid out in part one, concluding: "There are more rich people than ever before. There are more poor people than ver before. And the ranks of those in between are shrinking, their standard of living falling."
Reality: More poor than ever? The poverty rate is less than half what it was after World War II. Barlett stood by his assertion: "I don't think there's any doubt about that....The numbers are clearly up." As Census figures prove, real pre-tax incomes of all classes rose from 1981 to 1989, it's just that top groups did better than the middle.
Assertion: Using a soaring airplane for dramatic effect, a chart shows the price of an airline ticket from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh has risen from $86 before deregulation in 1978 to $450 today. The chart included "prices of other goods, had they risen as steeply as the plane ticket," such as a pound of coffee at $14.59 and 19" TV set at $1,977.
Reality: Prices have risen 110 percent since 1978, so an $86 ticket should now cost $185. In small type the Inquirer chart noted a ticket bought 14 days in advance now costs $118. That's half the inflation rate. A seven-day advance purchase costs $178 to $198, or about the same, adjusting for inflation. The Air Transport Association (ATA) reports that more than 91 percent of all airline passengers buy a discounted ticket.
Assertion: "More than 50,000" airline "employees lost their jobs."
Reality: Many did as inefficient carriers went bankrupt. But many more jobs were created by the expansion of other airlines. ATA figures show 329,000 Americans were employed by the commercial airlines in 1978. Today, 545,000 are.
Barlett told MediaWatch "there are different ways to look at things and you're looking at it a different way. I don't have any trouble with that. I obviously just don't agree with it." He insisted: "We don't set out to prove a point. We didn't spend two years trying to prove a point....We go out and collect information, the information we collect we just follow that, whatever it shows." That's not what his series shows.