In This Issue
Networks Select One "Year of the Woman" Over Another; NewsBites: Clinton Tilt; Revolving Door: Too Randy; Post-Election Economic Numbers Embarrass Negative Media; Post-Election Gushing; Martin's Money; Herbert's Hunger Hype; Janet Cooke Award: Gumbel Consults Only Far-Left TransAfrica
Networks Select One "Year of the Woman" Over Another
1990: YEAR OF THE IGNORED WOMAN
Pundits dubbed 1992 "The Year of the Woman," and the national media hailed the new phenomenon, spurred by the outrage "many women" felt over the Senate Judiciary Committee's treatment of Anita Hill and her unproven testimony. The number of women did swell noticeably in both houses of Congress, but this wasn't the first "Year of the Woman." In 1990, seven Republican women and two Democrats made the ballot in November for the U.S. Senate. That's almost the opposite of 1992, when ten Democrats and one Republican ran.
Did media outlets pay more attention to women Senate candidates in 1992 than they did in 1990? To find out, MediaWatch analysts surveyed campaign stories on four evening newscasts (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's Prime News or World News, and the NBC Nightly News), and the three national morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today). The difference was stunning. In 1992, the evening newscasts aired 29 stories exclusively devoted to women Senate candidates. In 1990, there was one, on election night. In 1992, the morning shows interviewed women Senate candidates on 26 occasions. In 1990, there were no interviews.
Beside the partisan differences between the two slates, increased news coverage in 1992 could be partially explained by the heightened news value of the 1992 Senate primaries. Both Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois and Lynn Yeakel in Pennsylvania achieved stunning upsets over male opponents. Barbara Boxer's come-from-behind win in California provided the historical opportunity of the first two-woman Senate delegation.
By contrast, the Republican women running in 1990 faced little or no primary opposition. In addition, 1992 boasted a presidential campaign, while 1990 was an off-year election in the wake of a major budget accord and the massive deployment of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.
In 1990, women Senate candidates couldn't buy themselves a news story. The only story devoted to the trend of female candidates came on the November 5 CBS Evening News. Reporter Edie Magnus spotlighted five women, four of whom were Democrats. Jim Wooten filed a report on Illinois that same night, noting at the very end that Democratic incumbent Sen. Paul Simon was "comfortably ahead" of then-Rep. Lynn Martin, a Republican.
Two days earlier, CBS reporter Bob Schieffer did mention GOP candidates Martin, Patricia Saiki, and Claudine Schneider, but only to note how they were endangered by anti-Republican sentiment. On October 29, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell devoted a whole story to one female candidate -- Rep. Jill Long (D-IN).
Women weren't completely ignored. The gubernatorial campaigns of Democrats Dianne Feinstein in California and Ann Richards in Texas drew six and seven evening news stories, respectively. But while Republican women were ignored by reporters, David Duke's Senate campaign received 12 evening news reports; Ohio Congressman Buz Lukens and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Jon Grunseth, both derailed by charges of sexual abuse, gained another 11 stories, which might say something about the Republican image the networks prefer to project.
In 1992, women Senate candidates were much more visible. In addition to their 26 morning appearances, they also made four appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows, and one on ABC's Nightline. They gained visibility from the party conventions. In addition to the Democrats' Tuesday night spotlight of their candidates, the networks also interviewed them on seven occasions during convention coverage. Three of them -- Carol Moseley Braun, Patty Murray, and Gloria O'Dell -- appeared on CNN's Inside Politics.
This left only one question: where was Charlene Haar? The only Republican woman running for the Senate in a long-shot race against Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Haar made one appearance on Inside Politics, but otherwise went ignored by the networks.
CBS aired segments on women candidates twice without a Republican, on the June 11 CBS This Morning (Rep. Barbara Boxer, Lynn Yeakel, and Jean Lloyd-Jones), and the Sept. 6 Face the Nation (Braun, Feinstein, and Yeakel). One qualifying note: A closer look at the morning show appearances by the female Senate candidates also showed the majority of their appearances -- 15 of 26, or 58 percent -- occurred in the wake of their primary or general election victories.
In their repetitive descriptions of the outrage "many women" felt at the 98 percent-male Senate, none of the networks explained that two of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic members, Sen. Paul Simon and Sen. Herb Kohl (WI) were challenged by woman candidates in their last election. Neither woman candidate merited one entire network news story during their campaigns. It's failures like this that suggest the networks care as much about the party of the candidate as their gender.
Now, the network newscasts have failed to follow up on the new Senators' campaign promises. After all the outrage over the all-male Judiciary Committee, none of the new female Senators wanted to be named to it, preferring committees like Appropriations to secure money for their home states, just like the men. Despite the TV hype, it seems these "agents of change" are conducting business as usual. Unfortunately, so are the networks, promoting the fortunes of Democrats rather than being tough on both parties.
NewsBites: Clinton Tilt
Clinton Tilt. Add Washington Post Ombudsman Joann Byrd to the growing list of those conceding the media favored Bill Clinton over George Bush. Reviewing "73 days of the Post ending election day," Byrd discovered: "Of 813 pictures, headlines and news stories, 184 were negative either for or about Mr. Bush or, I thought, more negative than positive. (Also record that almost as many -- 175 -- were positives.) But against that, 195 elements were positive, or mostly so, for Gov. Clinton, and only 52 were negatives." That's more than four times as many negatives about Bush than Clinton.
In her November 8 column, Byrd also reported: "Of 138 elements about George Bush on the front page, 80 -- 58 percent -- were negatives. Mr. Clinton was the main focus of 61 pictures, headlines and stories on the front page, and only 17 -- 28 percent -- were negatives."
More Media Liberals. Another year's gone by and yet another poll of journalists has proven the profession is more liberal than the rest of society. A survey of 1,400 journalists across the country found 44 percent consider themselves Democrats, up from 38 percent in 1983 and 35 percent in 1971 as determined by similar surveys. In contrast, the Freedom Forum-sponsored poll by Indiana University professors David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit found the number of Republican reporters fell from 25 percent in 1971 to 16 percent this year. Another 34 percent call themselves independent. Compared to the general population, that makes journalists 5 to 10 percentage points more likely to be Democrats and 10 to 15 points less likely to be Republicans.
Weaver and Wilhoit found "minorities are much more likely to call themselves Democrats than are white journalists, especially blacks (70 percent), Asians (63 percent) and Hispanics (59 percent). There is a wide gender gap for political party identification, with women journalists (58 percent) being much more likely than men (38 percent) to prefer the Democratic Party."
Time's French Kisses. Time magazine still thinks public spending equals compassion, therefore socialism must be love. In the November 9 edition, Associate Editor Jill Smolowe's "Where Children Come First" compared France and the United States on social policy. Guess which won? "Instead of just talking about family values, France offers a wide range of programs from the cradle to the grave to promote a more stable, equitable, and caring society."
Then Smolowe shamed Americans for not loving their children the French way -- through confiscatory tax rates and big-spending, socialized government: "French workers pay 44 percent of each paycheck to ensure the wide range of family-related services... The French are more willing than Americans to put their money where their values are, largely because they have a heightened sense of their children as conservators of their family traditions and culture."
And to complete the article, Smolowe implied opposition to welfare spending is rooted in racism: "The American tendency to discredit such assistance as welfare handouts owes much to its ethnic diversity...Because the population in France and other European countries tends to be more racially and culturally homogeneous, there is less of an us-vs.-them mentality."
Everyone Knows... "Everyone knows the rich got richer in the 1980s. Now a new study shows how dramatic the change was," Dan Rather began a brief October 29 Evening News story. The next morning on Today, Margaret Larson promoted the same study, referring to the "non-partisan Economic Policy Institute" whose "independent study" revealed that during the 1980s "the top one-half of one percent of this nation's families received 55 percent of the total increase in wealth. The concentration of wealth is seen as the most extreme since 1929."
Though data from the Census Bureau clearly refute the EPI's findings, no such counterpoint was provided on either CBS or NBC. Deceptively, neither network properly identified their source. One of the Economic Policy Institute's founders, economist Robert Reich, advised Governor Clinton on economic policy during the election. Reich currently heads the Clinton transition's economic policy team, and is expected to be a key economic adviser in Clinton's administration. Jeff Faux, a founder and the current president of the Economic Policy Institute, acted as an advisor on economic policy to Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign.
Conscience for Justice? In the November 23 issue, Newsweek Senior Writer David A. Kaplan advised how to pick the next Attorney General. In "No More Hacks or Cronies," Kaplan told of when current Massachusetts Gov. William Weld worked at the Justice Department, he hung a picture of Robert F. Kennedy on his office wall. "For Weld (a Republican), RFK was the model A.G. -- committed to law, animated in temperament and able to manage the mammoth bureaucracy." Kaplan noted Meese disapproved: "It figures. Meese ran a Justice Department that was the Land of Hackdom -- little more than an agency to service the needs of President Reagan and, occasionally, of the A.G. himself. His four-year reign was the archetype of politics over conscience, ideology over law." Kaplan urged "Clinton, for a change, should pick an Attorney General who is above politics."
"I think it's odd for anyone to hold up Kennedy as a model." former Reagan Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland told MediaWatch. Newsweek carried a picture of RFK captioned "Conscience of justice." But Kaplan failed to mention this is the same conscience that bugged Martin Luther King's hotel rooms.
Crying Over Colorado. The anti-gay rights referendum in Oregon generated a lot of media attention in the weeks before it lost. But a similar, little-noticed Colorado measure passed, much to the distress of NBC.
On the November 14 NBC Nightly News, Roger O'Neil reported from Denver: "Stunned and angered at voters who said no to homosexual rights laws here, gay rights activists are urging others to boycott Colorado...Business owners have reported that gay bashings have been on the rise since the vote...A place of hate, or a place of understanding? Tonight, that question is still being debated in Colorado." O'Neil's report highlighted the protest effort against the vote, and allowed five gay rights supporters, which included noted author and activist Armistead Maupin, two leaders of homosexual activist groups, and a member of the Denver Human Rights Division, to speak on camera. Despite the fact that the referendum passed the state with a surprising majority, O'Neil could not seem to find even one person who supported the vote.
Another AIDS Scare. The campaign to frighten the public about AIDS continues. When a new study of sexual activity funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health and Aging was released, CNN reacted with a mixture of misused statistics and hype.
"It's just a matter of time before AIDS becomes widespread among heterosexuals. That's the conclusion of the largest national sex survey in more than 40 years," anchor Susan Rook predicted on the November 12 World News. Reporter Brian Jenkins warned: "Most sexually active American adults may be turning their backs on warnings about the spread of AIDS." He continued: "Researchers questioned more than 10,000 Americans...The study found that among the 7 percent of adults who said they had multiple sex partners, only 17 percent used condoms all the time...Some people find those figures stunning."
On closer inspection, the study questioned 10,630 people. In that group, 7 percent said they had multiple sex partners, which whittles the group down to 744 people. Of that sexually hyperactive group, 83 percent said they didn't use condoms all the time. So Susan Rook based her frightening "just a matter of time" statement of an impending epidemic not on clinical evidence, but on the responses of 618 people in a telephone poll.
In a piece about AIDS and the media in the August 10 New Republic, Michael Fumento pointed to a declining rate of infection. "The number of reported AIDS cases this year is running 4.5 percent ahead of last year. Reported cases last year were a mere 5 percent higher than the year before. These encouraging figures have not been reported." Not "stunning" enough?
Sticking Up for Hiss. During the last week of October, Russian General Dmitri Volkogonov reported that he found no evidence that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. Newsweek crowed that "Alger Hiss is still on trial in America. Was he a spy, a member of a secret Communist cell who passed along confidential State Department reports to the Soviets? Or was he a statesman framed by the fanatical Right, a wanton sacrifice to the careers of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Rep. Richard Nixon?" On the October 31 Today, co-host Scott Simon lectured: "This week's revelations about Alger Hiss may help us remember how vulnerable something as real as a reputation may be...So Mr. Hiss may have lived long enough to feel vindicated, but no one lives so long that they have years to give away to suspicions and mistakes."
Former USIA official Herbert Romerstein, in the November 28 Human Events, pointed out a key detail that the media failed to report: "Although the [New York] Times had reported that General Volkogonov had inspected 'all Soviet files,' the historian subsequently revealed that he had done no such thing." Romerstein confronted the General after his testimony before the Senate: "I asked [Volkogonov] what archives he examined to draw his conclusion that Hiss was innocent...His response...was that he had not examined any archives. Instead, he had asked Yevgeny Primakov, the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (formerly the KGB), to provide him with the information." Columnist William F. Buckley added: "The overwhelming case against Alger Hiss is documented by Professor Allen Weinstein in his book Perjury...judged as dispositive of the Hiss case by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who was not a McCarthyite."
Tamposi Tempest. Just like they crucified John Sununu, The Washington Post spent October and November prodding the rest of the media with front-page non-stories about Elizabeth Tamposi, a Sununu ally. Tamposi led the State Department search of Bill Clinton's passport records. The Post dedicated twelve front page stories to the Tamposi story from October 14 to November 19, On November 14, The Post led their front page with the scoop that Tamposi had passport files brought to her at home.
But what about special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's election-eve reindictment of Caspar Weinberger? The Post has done only one front-page post-election Walsh story and it cribbed heavily from the previous day's Washington Times. The Post has yet to launch its own investigation into the Walsh story. They also downplayed the General Accounting Office's (GAO) report on Walsh's financial practices earlier this year, including his dual offices and large expense-account tab (including $75 breakfasts at the Watergate). This could still be a good story, but the Post must think it's more fun hounding the loser.
Revolving Door: Too Randy
Sexual harassment charges led former CBS News reporter Randy Daniels to decline the nomination for a Deputy Mayor position under New York City Mayor David Dinkins. Before his late October decision, Daniels was about to take over as media and political adviser to the Democratic Mayor. A CBS News correspondent in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Daniels helped cover the 1979 hostage crisis from Tehran.
After helping set up a television operation in Nigeria and teaching at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, in 1986 he joined the staff of New York City Council President Andrew Stein as Press Secretary.
Replacing Mrs. Rollins
Ed Rollins' decision to sign-on with the Ross Perot campaign prompted his wife, Sherrie Rollins, to resign her position as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison, a job she took after leaving ABC News where she had been Director of News Information. At the Perot campaign, husband Ed Rollins hired Liz Noyer Maas to handle press relations.
Now, after a six month vacancy, Maas has replaced Rollins at ABC. In 1988 Maas was Deputy Director of Pete DuPont's presidential campaign in New Hampshire, a duty she accepted after two years as an assistant to Marlin Fitzwater, then Press Secretary to Vice President Bush. In 1990 Maas handled press for Bay Buchanan's unsuccessful run for Treasurer of California.
Crier to 20/20
After three years with CNN, anchor Catherine Crier will join ABC in January as a correspondent for 20/20. A Republican-elected civil district court judge in Texas, Crier had no TV news experience when she joined the network in October 1989. She handled her final CNN anchoring duties for Crier & Company, Inside Politics, and The World Today just before Thanksgiving.
Moyers Revolves Back?
PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers seems to have returned to his role as a Democratic political adviser. A Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson and a commentator and reporter for CBS News for over a decade, Moyers hosted the weekly Listening to America series on PBS this year.
On November 17, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz described how Moyers "went at Clinton's invitation" to Little Rock "to discuss ways to 'revitalize' the White House, the President-elect told a news conference yesterday. (The two men also caught Robert Redford's new flick, A River Runs Through It, and Moyers spent the night at the Governor's Mansion.)" Moyers told Kurtz that Clinton "wanted to know about decisions Johnson made on Vietnam, how the staff system worked. I found him a really good student."
When it was revealed that George Will had coached Ronald Reagan before a 1980 debate, a firestorm of media criticism erupted. No such reaction this year from the journalistic community.
Helping out with the transition effort: Marla Romash, an Associate Producer for Good Morning America in the mid-'80s. Press Secretary to Senator Al Gore since 1989, she's now Deputy Director of press for the transition's Washington office.
@RDHEAD = Oakland Editor.
On December 1 the Oakland Tribune became part of the Alameda Newspaper Group, a division of the MediaNews Group, the publisher of the Houston Post. On the same day, the owner of four Oakland area dailies named Pearl Stewart the Editor of the Group's newly acquired Tribune. Since the beginning of 1992 Pearl served as an aide to Democrat Mary King, President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. For 12 years ending in 1991, Pearl covered the East Bay for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Post-Election Economic Numbers Embarrass Negative Media
THE CLINTON BOOM BEGINS?
The November outbreak of good economic news came too late for President Bush. But it didn't come too late to embarrass media bigwigs for the excuses they offered for improving pre-election economic figures.
On November 25, the networks dutifully reported that the economic growth in the third quarter (July to September) had been revised upward from 2.7 percent to a strong 3.9 percent. When the 2.7 number was announced on October 27, the media had rushed to downplay it. On World News Tonight, ABC anchor Peter Jennings asserted: "That is more than economists had projected, but in many cases, less than meets the eye."
The next night, Jennings pressed his point again: "The President may complain about the news media, but the economic growth figures which he is so pleased about are not that definitive, according to a great many independent economic analysts."
The Washington Post also rushed out with economist naysayers on October 28: "But many independent economists, who had expected about a 1.5 percent growth rate, said the U.S. economy cannot keep up such a pace."
In its November 23 issue, Time Senior Writer John Greenwald concurred: "Most economists agree that the U.S. recovery is far weaker than the recent 2.7 GDP growth spurt indicates. `That was a nice number, but not sustainable,' said Lea Tyler, manager of U.S. economic forecasting for Oxford Economics."
In the December 7 issue, Time took a different tone: "Gross domestic product leaped up at an annual rate of 3.9 percent in the third quarter, returning total output of goods and services to the pre-recession pace of mid-1990. Strong increases were registered by consumer spending, business investment, orders for durable goods, sales of existing houses and consumer confidence."
None of the outlets that downplayed the pre-election economic numbers admitted their errors. When consumer confidence rose in October, the Post (and others) didn't cite the growth number as a reason for new confidence. They cited the election of Bill Clinton.
The New York Times went the furthest, topping their front page November 30 with an article by reporter Sylvia Nasar. She accentuated the positive statistics from July forward and attributed the uptick to Clinton, citing anecdotal approval from a few business executives as proof of Clinton's effect. The story's headline -- "Is The Clinton Expansion Here?" -- said it all.
CLINTON, SEX GOD
As the new President speeds toward inauguration, political reporters are piling on the puff pieces. Time Senior Writer Walter Shapiro crowed in the November 16 issue: "At a moment when the American libido seems to oscillate between Puritanism and rampant exhibitionism, how significant is it that for the first time in more than 30 years the nation has elected a President with sex appeal?....Cheryl Russell, Editor of The Boomer Report, a monthly newsletter on consumer trends, captures a new dimension in the national psyche when she confides, 'Every woman I know is having sex dreams about Bill Clinton.'"
In the November 23 U.S. News & World Report, writer Matthew Cooper cooed: "The President-elect's unique trait is a mix of cunning and kindness; he uses both to learn from others in order to make his own decisions...One presidential precedent that Clinton -- and perhaps the country -- can take comfort in is the fact that the last Democratic challenger to win by a healthy margin shared these traits of ideological expediency and diffuse authority. In his day, Franklin Roosevelt had what might be called a Slick Frank reputation."
The puff pieces are also trickling down to Clinton's staff, especially spokesman George Stephanopoulos. In Time November 30, Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson oozed: "This brooding, dark presence has a quiet authority. His power whisper makes people lean in to him, like plants reaching toward the sun." Cooper of U.S. News swooned: "Like the President he will serve, Stephanopoulos is the ultimate political meritocrat.... Those who know him best cherish his decency and thoughtfulness."
On November 23, Washington Post reporter David Maraniss betrayed the reporters' selfishly syrupy desire for access to key sources in the new White House: "Of all the aides surrounding Clinton, Stephanopoulos is the one everybody seems eager to learn more about these days, partly because of his newfound power and attractiveness, but also because he seems to have more depth and complexity. Here is the student of theology making a living in the spiritual void of inside politics. Here is the cheerful countenance with the brooding soul. Here is a fellow who looks so young and dresses so hip yet behaves with such maturity."
In contrast to the typical media call for increased government spending to solve every problem, ABC's weekly World News Tonight "Your Money" segment by John Martin has assailed wasteful, pork barrel government spending since it began October 5.
On November 23, referring to the Liberty Science Center, a New Jersey educational center funded by over 100 corporations, Martin noted that "despite criticism that the money wasn't needed" the New Jersey congressional delegation "got Congress to add $15 million dollars to the Pentagon budget, and ordered it spent on Liberty."
Another Martin report, on October 19, exposed House Minority leader Bob Michel's exertions on behalf of his hometown of Peoria, arranging for the forgiveness of a $5 million federal loan to the city. Martin explained that Michel "wrote a bill that, in effect, gave Peoria the money it owed by forgiving the loan."
In other reports Martin brought to light wasteful government spending projects such as pickle research, federal honey subsides, Secret Service protection for ex-Presidents long out of office and their relatives, unneeded radio transmitters in Israel, and cost overruns on Army Corps of Engineers projects.
Herbert's Hunger Hype
Network reporters are still presenting statistically unsupported scare stories on hunger. On the November 26 NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Herbert compared the current economic time to those of the Great Depression: "Hunger in America was supposed to be a thing of the past. Soup kitchens. Bread lines. Modern times brought great prosperity, but something curious happened. Hunger never took the hint. It never went away....Hunger driven by hard economic times is once again on the march in America. Millions go hungry every day."
After providing testimony from Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) and J. Larry Brown of the liberal Center on Hunger Policy, Herbert continued: "Hunger is hitting millions of Americans who once thought they were solidly middle class," concluding that "during the presidential campaign, Bill Clinton described hunger in America as a terrible crisis. He was right."
Did Herbert base his report upon a startling new study? No. In fact, Herbert failed to cite any hard numbers. Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector told MediaWatch that Americans in the lowest one-fifth of the income ladder are eating better now than that group did in the 1950s. He added that there is "virtually no difference" in the average food consumption of poor children and that of middle class children.
Rector added that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture studies, the United States leads the other major industrialized countries in consumption of meat and the daily recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. Indeed, being overweight is the number one dietary problem of both rich and poor Americans.
Weekend Today co-anchor Scott Simon responded to the November MediaWatch article "Simon's Sermons," writing: "In an otherwise accurate excerpt of my Columbus Day commentary you do not place an end quotation after the words, "...many people have been asking, 'What's to commemorate in that?'" The sentence that follows -- "Of course race found its way into the discussion:" is not mine. The sentence after that should have the open quotation preceding the words, "He sailed just as Jews and Muslims were being expelled from Spain." Simon is correct.
The letter continued: "This small error does not misrepresent the commentary, but may cause some confusion." Simon added that "The essays are introduced as my own personal opinion, and I hope and believe none of them impair my ability to function as a fair journalist. I do not see them as hewing to any particular political line; several have been quite critical of liberals and Democrats, while admiring of Republicans, conservatives, and people and opinions of all stripes." A review by MediaWatch of all of Simon's commentaries since he joined NBC in August, found just one positive reference to a Republican, Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
By the way, Simon closed the letter, "I enjoy reading MediaWatch, and hope some day to find myself quoted on the On the Bright Side section." We'll be watching for something that qualifies.
Janet Cooke Award: Gumbel Consults Only Far-Left TransAfrica
NBC's AFRICAN ADVENTURE
In a history-making week of live broadcasts from Africa, NBC's Today show gave its viewers a look at the continent beyond the rare portraits painted on the nightly news. During the six weekday shows from November 13-20, viewers were treated to shots of wildlife, a showcasing of the continent's cultures and the various political and economic situations.
But co-host Bryant Gumbel's portrayal of some "one-party democracies" rang hollow. At the end, Gumbel thanked those who helped: "The cooperation of the Zimbabwean government was essential. The good folks of Zimbabwe Broadcasting, South Africa Broadcasting Corporation helped us a great deal. Also some of the people who helped us from behind the scenes: Africa News Service, TransAfrica, also Neal and Company."
TransAfrica as the only political source? Bryant Gumbel's use of TransAfrica for the Africa broadcasts explained the one-sided reporting which earns him this month's Janet Cooke Award.
Introducing the second show on November 16, Gumbel laid out his thesis: "[African] dreams of freedom got warped by global politics, as the aid they needed came tied to policies they didn't. Africans became silent prisoners of Cold War designs. The leaders were courted by Moscow and Washington, the people were not. So violence and economic ruin prevailed. Today, the hot struggles borne by the Cold War still burn in five African nations. But they are the exception in a continent where freedom is now the rule. The residue of oppression is now giving way to the dawn of democracy, shedding new light on the misnamed 'Dark Continent.'"
Gumbel's view might be explained by his heavy reliance upon the far-left lobby TransAfrica. Robert Winters wrote in the Capital Research Center's December 1989 Organization Trends newsletter: "The organization's financial relationships reveal an affinity for Marxist-Leninist regimes while calling into question its depndence and credibility." According to Winters, TransAfrica's contributors have included the governments of Cuba, Angola, and Libya.
Much of Today's rhetoric on African politics sounded like a TransAfrica press release. On the November 13 show, Gumbel referred to Zimbabwe's Marxist leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo as "freedom fighters," and the one-party revolution as a "war of liberation."
On Angola, Gumbel commented: "The ruling faction, the Marxist MPLA, bolstered by the Soviets and the Cubans, fought with the UNITA rebels, supported by the U.S. and South Africa. UNITA's Jonas Savimbi narrowly lost the presidential election in September. Now he's throwing the country into violent turmoil demanding a second vote monitored by the UN."
That's a distortion. A November 6 Washington Times editorial clarified the situation: "If anyone had doubts that the government of President Eduardo dos Santos and his MPLA had not been playing fair in the country's elections a little over a month ago, the brutal crackdown on the opposition ought to have dispelled them by now...Tanks, helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, all were put to use in Luanda's crowded suburbs. No one caught with a UNITA symbol was safe...All media access was controlled by the government...And not only did the [MPLA- dominated] national election council attempt to steer election observers to carefully selected polling stations, when the German observer team objected loudly, its car was confiscated."
Africa analyst Margaret Calhoun of the Washington-based International Freedom Foundation (IFF) pointed out that besides UNITA, 10 of the 13 opposition parties lodged complaints of massive voter fraud.
Regarding Namibia, Gumbel claimed the country's Marxist President Sam Nujoma had "worked for human rights for years." On November 20, he asserted: "Today Namibians of all colors are working together under a liberal constitution brokered by the United Nations two years ago. With a multiracial democracy and a remarkable willingness to forgie the past, Namibians are working toward the future."
IFF's Calhoun rejected Gumbel's assessment of the Namibian "democracy." In the March 21, 1990 Wall Street Journal, she wrote: "Namibia has been pressing for direct grants from foreign governments rather than private investment -- so long as these grants are available for use at [the ruling South West Africa People's Organization's] complete discretion...Although SWAPO has failed to welcome private investors, it is generating many new jobs in the public sector -- jobs that are available only to SWAPO party members...[This] may be intended to swell SWAPO's voting rolls in time for the upper chamber elections next year." Calhoun quoted Moses Garoeb, SWAPO's party boss, saying "the multiparty democracy prevailing in Namibia is not necessarily the true choice of the Namibian people."
MediaWatch contacted Today Executive Producer Jeff Zucker's office. Zucker's spokesman, Lynn Appelbaum, downplayed TransAfrica's influence, saying that the research for the show was "extensive" and Trans-Africa was only one of "a number of organizations" consulted. Appelbaum wouldn't comment on why the group warranted an on-air thank-you from Gumbel. When asked if MediaWatch could have a list of the sources NBC used, Appelbaum replied: "No...There have been so many researchers working on this...The list is so long...We believe our reporting was fair."
TransAfrica painted a different picture of their role. A spokesman told MediaWatch that Gumbel initially approached TransAfrica. He explained: "We suggested research that he should look at before he goes [to Africa]...[Gumbel] had discussions with Mr. Robinson...We gave him information on the human rights [and] political and economic situations...For this show he contacted us on different issues to see where he should go."
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that Gumbel made two visits to TransAfrica's D.C. offices. Gumbel knew TransAfrica from at least 1990, when he served on dinner committee during Nelson Mandela's tour of America. The event raised $340,000 for TransAfrica.
There is no evidence Gumbel consulted any conservative sources, such as the International Freedom Foundation or the National Center for Public Policy Research. Today should be applauded for attempting to educate the public about parts of the continent beyond South Africa. But by providing only one point of view, Today did more to propagandize than educate.