MediaWatch: December 1994

In This Issue

Networks Assail Proposition 187 As "Racist" and "Inhumane," Ignore Proponents' Arguements; NewsBites: Rather on Race; Revolving Door: Another Journal Entry; Media Outlets Scold "Rabid Attack Dog...Darling of the Ultra-Right"; An "Intolerant Bigot"?; Capitol Hill Waste; Newt: Time's Reagan Replacement; Janet Cooke Award: CBS Packs Story with Emotional Anecdotes, Dire Predictions, Liberal Advocacy Research

Networks Assail Proposition 187 As "Racist" and "Inhumane," Ignore Proponents' Arguements

California, There You Go...Again

No ballot proposal received more national attention this fall than California's Proposition 187, the initiative to deny illegal aliens the right to welfare, free non-emergency medical care, and public education. But what kind of attention did it receive?

To determine if the networks gave equal coverage to both sides, MediaWatch analysts reviewed the 30 Proposition 187 stories which aired on the four network evening news shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly News) from October 16 to the end of November. More than 75 percent of the stories aired were anti-187. Talking heads who opposed 187 outnumbered proponents by more than 2 to 1.

Arguments. Analysts counted the number of arguments made for or against the measure in each story, along with the number of talking heads in support or opposition. Stories with a disparity of greater than 1.5 to 1 in favor of the arguments and/or talking heads of one side were categorized as pro- or anti-187. Stories closer than the ratio were classified as neutral. Opponents of of Proposition 187 argued: it was racist, immoral, inhumane or led to fear in immigrant communities; it would lead to a loss of federal funds or an increase in poverty, homelessness, juvenile crime or public health hazards; and that denying services to illegals was unconstitutional.

Among the arguments forwarded by those in favor of Prop. 187: that illegal aliens are not entitled to the same benefits available to citizens or legal immigrants; that costs are soaring to provide welfare, health care, and incarceration for illegal immigrants; that states are burdened with the costs to educate the children of illegal aliens; that schools are also burdened (e.g., overcrowded classrooms, multilingual education).

Of the 30 stories analyzed, 23 (77 percent) were categorized as anti-187. Three stories fell into the neutral category, and only four stories were categorized as pro-187. Overall, arguments mentioned in opposition of 187 outnumbered those in favor by almost 5 to 1 (48 to 10). Not one network questioned whether illegal immigrants are entitled to the same benefits as legal residents, presented any arguments about the possible fiscal impact of continued illegal immigration, or mentioned the term "unfunded mandates."

Talking Heads. Overall, talking heads opposed to passage of Proposition 187 outnumbered those in favor 63 to 30. Eight stories (more than 25 percent) featured only anti-187 soundbites.

Among the networks, CBS ran the most decidedly negative campaign. All five stories were anti-187, with arguments running 10 to 0 against, and a talking-head ratio of more than 2 to 1 against. Of the seven stories aired on CNN, six (86 percent) were anti-187. Arguments against 187 ran ahead of those in support by a count of 8 to 1, and anti-187 talking heads enjoyed a 3-to-1 advantage.

ABC aired the most stories (10), but nine were dominated by the opponents of 187. Opponents were given three times more soundbites than supporters (17-5) and five times the arguments (15-3). NBC provided by far the most balanced airing: three pro-187 stories, two neutral, and three anti-187. While NBC came close to giving equal access to opponents and proponents (17-15), arguments against 187 ran ahead of those in favor by a margin of greater than 2 to 1.

Before the Vote. Unlike TV coverage of health reform, which focused almost exclusively on the effects of doing nothing, pre-election Prop. 187 coverage focused on the disastrous effects passage would have on illegal immigrants. In 13 stories, arguments against passage outnumbered those in favor by 18 to 8. Talking heads ran more than 2 to 1 against.

ABC's Judy Muller announced on the October 27 World News Tonight: "In the last couple of weeks, opponents of Proposition 187 have pounded away at their message; that the measure is inhumane, racist and a threat to public safety." On October 19, CNN's Judy Woodruff weighed in on World News: "[Gov. Pete] Wilson is ahead in the polls with less than three weeks to go, but his embrace of Prop. 187 has made him a target for its opponents. They argue that it would deny immigrants basic health services, raise the risk of communicable diseases spreading, deny children an education, and deplete a critical low-wage labor pool." Neither presented arguments for 187.

After the Vote. Network coverage after the election focused on fear among immigrants, despite the fact courts had blocked most of its implementation. On the November 17 NBC Nightly News, David Bloom reported: "The City of Los Angeles today joined the ranks of those fighting the measure, the city attorney saying Proposition 187 will cause more homelessness, more crime, more poverty."

CBS reporter Sandra Hughes assailed the measure on the November 23 Evening News: "Most of Proposition 187 hasn't been enacted because of a temporary restraining order, but advocates for the immigrant community claim that hasn't stopped people from using the voter mandate to harass and intimidate....It may take years to sort out the legal issues, but some feel the damage from 187 is already done, and the result is a climate of fear for many in the immigrant community."

ABC's Brian Rooney, on the November 24 World News Tonight, also fo- cused on the fear: "A California judge has stopped, for now, the enforcement of most of Proposition 187, but many people in the community are still afraid. The illegal immigrants who do come [to public health clinics] say their friends and family would rather risk illness than being deported."

In an October 27 CBS Evening News story on referendums, Hughes complained: "People are taking the government into their hands this election season through ballot initiatives -- proposed laws written directly by citizens or special interest groups without the intervention of legislators. And now voters have to figure it out....the result is often poorly written initiatives."

Ironically, when the media had the opportunity to explain the arguments both for and against Proposition 187 and help the voters "figure it out," they failed to explore any of the legal or political reasoning behind it. The result was poorly produced news stories.

NewsBites: Rather on Race

Dan Rather needs time to learn how to deal with Republicans. In an interview with new House Majority Leader Dick Armey on the December 1 CBS Evening News, Rather cited unnamed critics who share his unmistakable flair for bizarre conclusions: "There are plenty of people around who say if you take the Congressman's ideas for reducing the federal budget, you're going to inevitably increase racial tensions in this country because many of the people who are going to suffer first will be minorities."

On November 28, Rather asked Newt Gingrich: "I believe in the Congress that's now ending, there are at least 20 committee chairs or subcommittee chairs who are either black or Hispanic. In the incoming Congress, will there be any?" When Gingrich responded with a no (since none of the GOP's five minority members were elected before 1989), Rather reacted incredulously: "But I want to make sure I understand. You think we may have a situation in the new House in which there will not be a single committee or subcommittee chairman who's black or Hispanic?"

Elections Stink
Tom Brokaw also struggled with the results of blacks' failure to run as Republicans on November 23: "The Republican landslide also changed the face of justice in the Houston area in ways that are raising questions about how judges should be chosen." Reporter Jim Cummins explained: "All eight black incumbent judges...were voted out of office because they are Democrats who were swept away by Republicans who voted a straight ticket in a county-wide election." Cummins concluded: "There are growing demands to change the system in Texas, either appoint judges or create smaller judicial districts by the next election, so that the men and women sitting on the bench reflect the people they are passing judgment on." Didn't the elections reflect the people's judgment?

Nervous Nightline
When the media clamor for "change," it's the kind of change exemplified by the Clintons' vision of reform, not the Republicans. While the media heralded Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it," ABC's November 23 Nightline asked the question: "Does the Republican plan for welfare go too far?" Host Chris Wallace noted "the number one thing they [voters] want to change is welfare." But he cautioned: "House Republicans have come out with a plan that can only be called radical." He quoted a study by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which "talks about the human cost. It predicts two and a half million families and at least five million children would stop getting benefits, causing increases in homelessness and hunger."

Wallace then focused on a single provision in the GOP bill, asking Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.), "the plan anticipates...orphanages. Isn't that like something out of Charles Dickens?" Ignoring Talent's assertion that states given block grants will make their own arrangements, Wallace devoted five more questions to orphanages.

More Gruel, Newt?
On the December 5 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather declared: "Only in America. The newest debate about reforming welfare is focused not on Newt Gingrich's actual idea to bring back orphanages for kids of welfare mothers, but on a Hollywood movie." Reporter Anthony Mason examined the controversy over Boys Town, the 1938 movie based on an orphanage, which Newt Gingrich cited after Hillary Clinton blasted GOP welfare reform. Mason noted: "Gingrich says his new orphanages would be voluntary, for unwanted children." Then Mason asserted, "with plans for widespread welfare cuts poor parents may be left little choice." He wondered: "Is a 56 year-old movie image a blueprint for America's future? For decades the American welfare system worked to phase out orphanages on the strength of another lingering image." As Mason spoke viewers saw video from Oliver Twist in which an orphan begs for more gruel.

Guilt By Non-Association
The media and pundit campaign to discredit The Bell Curve co-author Dr. Charles Murray continues. Unwilling to dispute his conclusions, ABC World News Tonight's Bill Blakemore tried to construct a connection between Murray and the Pioneer Fund, a controversial foundation which gives money to researchers investigating links between race and intelligence. In his November 22 "American Agenda" piece, Blakemore stated, "Close to half the footnotes citing authors who support The Bell Curve's most controversial chapter that suggests some races are naturally smarter than others, refer to Pioneer Fund recipients."

When asked about this allegation, Murray told Blakemore off-camera that he knew very little about the Pioneer Fund, "had never taken [Pioneer Fund] money and knew of only two researchers cited in his book who had." But Blakemore wasn't about to let the facts ruin his report: "Nonetheless, controversy around The Bell Curve is focusing attention on this obscure fund."

Herr Kessler's Merit Badge
"Focused, intense, sincere, with the scruples of a Boy Scout. And if federal bureaucrats aren't supposed to change the world, somebody forgot to tell David Kessler." Thus began Steve Kroft's puffy profile of the FDA Commissioner titled "Crusader" on 60 Minutes December 4. Kroft minimized Kessler's negatives by portraying them as complaints from greedy big industry, which can no longer market unsafe products. Kroft marvelled at the scope of FDA's regulatory power: "There are few federal agencies with influence as pervasive as the FDA...its jurisdiction extends into nearly every port into every refrigerator and medicine cabinet in the country." He touted Kessler's "army of inspectors and scientists" who on his orders "analyze, squeeze, and sniff" products to judge their safety.

Never mentioned is that Kessler's FDA has slowed the already glacial speed of the approval of new, potentially life-saving drugs for the American market. It takes 14 years on average from drug development until FDA approval. A Tufts University study found that 80 percent of FDA-approved drugs made it to market in other countries in just eight years. The regulations have driven up the average cost to develop drugs in the U.S. to over $230 million. Nowhere in Kroft's report did he mention that the FDA's slow and costly regulators are killing people who may benefit from new drugs.

Instead, Kroft celebrated Kessler's use of raw power, especially his seizure of perfectly good reconstituted orange juice with the word "fresh" on the label: "He had U.S. Marshals seize 15,000 gallons of Procter and Gamble orange juice. It was a message to big companies and the special interests that the FDA could no longer be ignored."

The Thomas-Hating Media
CBS This Morning never interviewed David Brock, author of The Real Anita Hill. But that didn't stop co-host Paula Zahn from promoting Wall Street Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, authors of the pro-Anita Hill book Strange Justice, on November 7. Zahn tossed softballs: "You make it pretty clear in the book that it was politics, basically, that changed the way this case was viewed by the American public and you even go so far as to say that the White House skirted laws to launch a campaign against Anita Hill. Do you think they broke any laws in the process?"

The Boston Globe and Newsweek joined The Wall Street Journal in excerpting the Abramson-Mayer book. After its November 14 excerpt, Newsweek hailed the book in an article by new contributing editor on legal issues, Lincoln Caplan. He touted the book: "The real value of the book, aside from its compelling readability is in the psychological portrait it draws of Clarence Thomas." (The authors never interviewed Thomas.)

In case Caplan's aversion to Thomas wasn't clear, his January 1995 Playboy profile compared Thomas unfavorably to Thurgood Marshall, calling him "the anti-Marshall, voting consistently to weaken strong decisions his predecessor invested his life to secure." Caplan concluded: "The story of the self-hating black man is not new in American life, but it has rarely had a protagonist whose anger has been so costly to many other blacks."

Covert Christians
Informed voters are the Democrats' worst enemy, at least to Christopher John Farley of Time. In the November 21 issue, Farley attacked the Christian Coalition for their role in distributing voter information fliers which listed the candidates' positions on term limits or health care. Farley called the fliers part of a "covert operation," even though the Coalition announced its nationwide distribution on the weekend before the vote .

Farley described a conspiracy where "pamphlets were slipped onto car windshields...and distributed so close to the election so [Rep. Dan] Glickman couldn't effectively protest them, [and] gave the Congressman negative ratings." Two weeks earlier, James Carney sounded the alarm, noting that Christian Coalition voter guides helped defeat Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) in a primary election.

Farley complained that the guides "don't endorse office hopefuls but are designed to put candidates the group opposes in a bad light." He cited the Pennsylvania Senate race, where the guide "boiled down the complex subject of the Clinton health-care plan by saying that Democratic incumbent Harris Wofford supported `Federal Government control of health care.'" That's misleading?

Berlin Walsh
One unfortunate side effect of the fall of communism has been a cottage industry of nostalgia. In the October 18 Los Angeles Times, correspondent Mary Williams Walsh remembered East German social services: "Some have come to the arresting conclusion that they are worse off today than they were under communism. Many men have lost their jobs. Women have lost child-care centers that cost 20 cents a day; practically all households are paying many times more for rent and sustenance. And even the eastern Germans who now have `made it' of a certain something that is missing from their lives." Shootings at the Wall, perhaps? On November 1, Walsh, formerly of The Progressive, recalled a laid-off mechanic: "The end of East German communism has spelled for him not opportunity but a chain reaction that started with the loss of his good factory job and ended up with life in a doubly shocking in a society where vagrants and bag ladies were until recently unknown."

The Hate-Filled Competition
Just before the election CBS grew alarmed about "a lot of anger in the air these days," meaning talk radio. Claiming "it's part and parcel of rush hour all over America," reporter Richard Threlkeld's "Eye on America" warned of "a kind of air pollution as close as your car radio." His evidence of this widespread danger? One conservative afternoon host on a New York City station and one incident "a couple of years ago" on a St. Louis FM rock station's morning drive show. "A daily dialogue of hate and anger that's become big business, and a big target of those who want to shut down hate radio for good," Threlkeld ominously intoned, offering as proof: "Bob Grant hosts the most popular afternoon drive time show in New York. He regularly insults gays, liberals, the homeless, not to mention blacks."

However, as Minoo Southgate pointed out in the December 5 National Review, Grant's critics "are curiously quiet about bigotry when it doesn't come from white conservatives." She explained that two black-oriented radio stations in New York City "promote anti-white racism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories." One host has even threatened the lives of white journalists. But Threlkeld failed to mention any hate from the left on the radio, making it clear that for CBS, only conservatives are capable of dispensing hate.

Revolving Door: Another Journal Entry

The huge Democratic losses at the ballot box failed to dissuade a second Wall Street Journal reporter from joining the Clinton foreign policy team. Daniel Benjamin, a reporter in the paper's Berlin bureau since 1992, became a foreign policy speechwriter under the direction of Bob Boorstin, a one-time New York Times reporter. Before jumping to the Journal, Benjamin reported for a couple of years from Germany for Time, a foreign post he filled after spending the late 1980s as a New York-based staff writer. This fall, fellow Wall Street Journal reporter Kenneth Bacon, a 25-year veteran of the Washington bureau, became Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs.

Meanwhile, Tara Sonenshine, Deputy Director for Communications for the National Security Council, has quit to spend more time at home with her child. A producer for 12 years in the ABC News Washington bureau, in early 1994 she jumped from Nightline to the White House.

Progressive Loss
Erwin Knoll, Editor of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Progressive since 1973, passed away November 2. A frequent panelist in recent years on the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, he spent a decade in the mainstream media before becoming Washington editor of the far-left magazine in 1968. His Washington Post obituary noted that he joined that paper in 1957 as a reporter and rose to Assistant World Editor. He covered the White House for the Newhouse News Service from 1963 to 1968.

Liberal Leave Leader
One of the Clinton Administration's first liberal achievements, passage of the family leave bill, will have a former ABC News and CNN reporter overseeing its implementation. The administration picked Susan King as the first Executive Director of the Commission on the Family Medical Leave Act. The Washington Post reported that it will "review how the law is being implemented and make recommenda- tions for changes." The law forces private businesses to hold a job open for employees who decide to take an extended period off.

The number two White House reporter under Sam Donaldson in 1981, King covered the first year of the Reagan Administration before becoming a general assignment reporter. In 1982 she moved to NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington as a reporter and anchor, later jumping to ABC affiliate WJLA-TV where she remained until 1993. Over the past year she's Worked as a weekend reporter for CNN and frequent co-host of CNBC's Equal Time.

Left Wing Watchdog
"Don Hazen entered journalism as a political organizer, a veteran campaign manager for New York City Democrats whom Newsweek hired in 1978 to oversee its philanthropic activities and to give advertising space to public interest groups," began an October 8 National Journal profile. Since 1991 Hazen, Publisher of Mother Jones from 1985-91, has been Executive Director of the Institute for Alternative Journalism (IAJ), a group dedicated to getting left wing views into the media. "The right wing is masterful at creating an infrastructure of media groups and think tanks," Hazen said, "We want to make sure our journalists can compete." Working with the far-left Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, IAJ has created an on-line "expert" service.

Healthy Communication
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tapped a local and network television news veteran in September to head its communications division in the office of the Assistant Secretary for public affairs. They hired Jackie Nedell, whom National Journal reported "was most recently a freelance television reporter based in Washington" for Fox and the NBC News Channel where her stories appeared on Nightside. At HHS she's working nearby former Los Angeles Times reporter Victor Zonana, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS for public affairs.

Hometown Carterite
When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette selected a new Executive Editor in June 1992, an October American Journalism Review story revealed it chose a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. Taking the helm in Little Rock just as Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, Griffin Smith Jr. who spent the previous five years running the paper's travel section.

Media Outlets Scold "Rabid Attack Dog...Darling of the Ultra-Right"

Jesse Helms, "Prince of Darkness"

The media's gaffe patrol has saddled up to ride again, branding conservatives as "outrageous" and "reckless" while ignoring similar statements by liberals. This month's target was Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Since the election, he's been tagged as "archconservative" in U.S. News and Newsweek, while Time preferred the more cuddly "ultraconservative." A recent Washington Post profile of new committee chairmen called him "the avenging angel of extreme conservatism." But nothing could prepare Helms for the thrashing he took from reporters after he said Bill Clinton wasn't up to the job of Commander in Chief and joked Clinton may need a bodyguard when visiting military bases.

On November 23, NBC Today co-host Bryant Gumbel editorialized: "Helms is slated to be the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a prospect that is embarrassing to many Republicans. His two most recent outbursts against the President are just the latest in a long line of outrageous remarks that have earned Helms the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."

Gumbel introduced reporter Jim Miklaszewski, who also unloaded on Helms: "He's called the Prince of Darkness. A darling of the ultra-right, he's been a rabid attack dog against anything liberal....Critics call him a bigot, sexist, and homophobe, and he seems to wear it like a badge of honor." Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom box gave Helms a down arrow: "If you'd said it in an airport, you'd be in a straightjacket by now."

The Big Three networks did nine stories on the Helms remarks. CBS actually led off the Evening News November 22 with two stories. But in November 1988, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) joked to a businessman's breakfast in Massachusetts that "the Secret Service is under orders that if George Bush is shot, to shoot Quayle." Did the networks denounce him? Did it lead the CBS Evening News? No, the only coverage was one brief NBC story read by anchor Tom Brokaw.

As for Helms' suggestion that Clinton isn't fit to lead our military, Time's Richard Lacayo wrote on November 28 that Helms' remark "was widely regarded, even by some of his ideological brethren, as very nearly unpatriotic." In the next issue of Time, Michael Duffy saw a silver lining in the remarks for Clinton: "Helms' blast -- the second reckless salvo from the archconservative in four days -- offered Clinton a chance to point out how extremist Republicans can be."

But the media may have misjudged what the people find extreme or unpatriotic. A December 6 CNN poll asked Americans if they agreed with Helms that Clinton isn't up to the Commander in Chief job: 49 percent agreed, 47 percent disagreed.

An "Intolerant Bigot"?

TV Tirades on Gingrich

Reporters have pounced on every "controversial" utterance from House Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich, instead of providing a sober look at the substance of his policies.

On the November 13 This Week with David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson claimed: "A lot of people are afraid of you, they think you're a bomb thrower. Worse, you're an intolerant bigot. Speak to them." Donaldson identified Newt's problem: "It's the way you talk. You talk about the Clintons as members of the counterculture, the elitists, the left-wingers, how can you have an accommodation with the President when you read him out of 'the Americans,' as you put it?" Donaldson charged: "When you talk about people, you don't talk about it just in terms of the differences, and arguments over policy, or theology, or philosophy, but you talk about it in terms of the American way, your way, and their way, which you suggest isn't American."

On that night's CBS Evening News, Joe Klein noted "like [basketball star] Charles Barkley, Gingrich also has a tendency to get carried away, to throw elbows." Citing Gingrich's comments that the Great Society was a "disaster," Klein contended: "political insiders were wondering...would Newt's new responsibilities make him more statesmanlike, more responsible, less flagrant? Naah!"

Tom Brokaw got personal in the first network magazine profile of Gingrich, on the November 15 Dateline NBC, focusing on the "archconservative" Speaker's "controversial" statements, personal life, and ethics. For refusing to discuss his divorce, Brokaw found hypocrisy: "Gingrich, who makes so much of family values, is touchy on this issue." Brokaw delved into Gingrich's religious life: "He was more combative, perfecting his trademark scorched-earth tactics. That change caused a split between Gingrich and his Baptist minister." Brokaw called Gingrich's criticism of FDA Commissioner David Kessler as "very ominous."

Ignoring the Republicans' prior status as the minority party, Brokaw maintained that "Gingrich has distinguished himself, not for his legislative record, but for carrying the conservative torch and burning Democratic initiatives." Brokaw failed to consider that "burning Democratic initiatives" may have been the legislative record voters preferred.

Capitol Hill Waste

In two CBS Evening News "Reality Checks," Eric Engberg turned a rare spotlight on congressional perks. On October 20, he showcased one of the secret weapons of incumbency -- the franking privilege, the right to mass-mail to constituents using taxpayer money. Engberg targeted freshman Democrat Eric Fingerhut, who "ran two years ago as a reforming perk-buster." Engberg quoted him as calling the franking privilege "the most egregious remaining perk that Members [of Congress] are able to use...clearly a re-election tool."

Engberg replied: "Time out! Once elected, reformer Fingerhut papered his Ohio district with fliers to the tune of 146,000 taxpayer dollars." He revealed a trick Congressmen use to evade rules designed to prevent abuse of the frank: "They can't mail 500 but they can mail up to 499, over and over. Congressman Esteban Torres of California did just that in the last election, 65 times. So, the next time your friendly Congressman plops official mail in your mailbox, remember, you paid for it, and it's one of the reasons why incumbents win 88 percent of the time."

On October 23 Engberg cited, David Letterman style, various perks that could be eliminated: "Number 10: The Flag Office: It moves flags up and down the pole for a few seconds so Congressmen can bestow them on constituents. Taxpayer cost: Well over $300,000." Others cited by Engberg as egregious include accruing frequent flier miles and handy private parking at the airport. "Congressmen are touchy about being photographed there," Engberg noted, to the image of Rep. Joseph Kennedy rapidly backing away from a prying camera. He concluded: "And the number one change the new bosses can make to fix the Congress: Stop this! Every day a bucket of ice is delivered to every Congressman's office, where they all have refrigerators. Little wonder so many incumbents were put on ice this year."

Newt: Time's Reagan Replacement

Ebenezer Gingrich?

The frustration of media liberals over the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives isn't confined to network reporters. The December 19 Time renewed the cannonade against the new majority and its newly elected leader.

In his column, titled "Newt's Believe It or Not," Time special political correspondent Michael Kramer bashed a number of conservative heroes. "In outlook, in prescription, and also in his penchant for shaving the truth by the clever manipulation of easily grasped images, Newt Gingrich is Reagan's true heir."

After listing his Gingrich "gaffes," Kramer added an attack on Rush Limbaugh: "Like Rush, it doesn't seem to matter that a lot of what Newt says is mostly not true. Audiences love it -- as they loved Reagan -- even when they know that what they're hearing is often baseless. For many who applaud Gingrich and Limbaugh, the catchy rantings are acceptable caricatures of a caricature they already despise -- government."

This disdain for inaccurate caricatures appeared in the same issue in which Time's cover carried a sour-faced caricature of Gingrich with the words "Uncle Scrooge: 'Tis the season to bash the poor. But is Newt Gingrich's America really that heartless?" In the cover story, "Down on the Downtrodden," Time Associate Editor Richard Lacayo, fresh from a November 7 cover story attack on Gingrich, resumed fire: "In the months to come, Scrooge is a role Gingrich and his followers won't be afraid to assume. The only question is how many Americans will applaud the performance."

Time found the Republicans too radical: "House Republicans have come to Washington promising not just to remake welfare but to pull down the entire edifice of federal poverty their unbridled willingness to go after immigrants and the poor, the new House firebrands may be getting out ahead of the public mood."

Lacayo complained: "When all the benefit slashing is over, who picks up where government leaves off?...A large population of the poor, cut off from government help and thrown onto the meager capabilities of private charity -- it's not a pretty picture." But is that a realistic picture? Time spent the 1980s lamenting the "ax" of social spending cuts -- as social spending continued to increase, now costing billions more. Where was the ax? Reporters like Lacayo don't seek to describe a new Republican reality of spending cuts as much as to prevent it -- again.

Janet Cooke Award: CBS Packs Story with Emotional Anecdotes, Dire Predictions, Liberal Advocacy Research

Are We Starving the Elderly to Death?

The holiday season is a dependable launching point for media reports on hunger in America -- and so is a Republican resurgence in Congress. A wave of hunger stories hit the media in late November, underlining the need for more federal spending despite the lack of definitive national estimates on the problem. For a dissent-free Sunday Morning sermon on the need for more funding for federal food programs, CBS reporter David Culhane earned the December Janet Cooke Award.

Host Charles Osgood struck a religious theme introducing the November 27 segment: "A verse from the Bible would not be out of place considering the day of the week and the hour. This is from the Psalms. `Cast me not off in this time of old age. Forsake me not when I am grown weak.' Are we casting off the old among us? You might think at first it would not be necessary even to ask such a question."

Culhane then promoted his upcoming story: "In this nation of vast resources, the stark truth is that millions of elderly citizens are going hungry or are malnourished because they are poor or too weak to shop and cook, here in Fort Worth, Texas and around the country. This Sunday morning we will see the grim reality of waiting lists for Meals on Wheels for the very first time because federal funding has not kept up with the rising cost of food and the swelling population of older people."

Unfortunately, Culhane and Osgood raised more questions than they answered. Who is casting off the elderly? How many are clinically malnourished? Culhane never provided any statistics on federal Meals on Wheels funding or the inflation rate for food. He didn't prove that Meals on Wheels programs have never had a waiting list until now, or any proof of clinical malnutrition. Culhane also left out critics of more spending, devoting 14 soundbites to bureaucrats and beneficiaries of food programs.

Culhane began the story like a commercial: "Meals on Wheels, certainly one of the most successful programs ever designed to help older people in need. Last year alone, some 827,000 elderly people had a hot meal delivered, people too infirm to shop and cook for themselves, often too poor to buy their own food. Since the program combining federal and private funds was fully mobilized more than two decades ago, there's been a general assumption that no old people had to go hungry. But that is no longer the case. For the first time, across the country there are waiting lists for Meals on Wheels."

Clinton HHS Undersecretary Fernando Torres-Gil enhanced the sense of crisis: "We are literally talking about people's lives, whether they will become sick and die because of malnutrition and poor health all because they couldn't get at least one meal or have adequate nutrition. This is a life and death matter." Later, Culhane repeated that tone: "Carla Jutson, the executive director of Meals on Wheels here [in Ft. Worth], keeps track of each case. She thinks her decisions are like military triage."

CBS also interviewed Martha Burt of the liberal Urban Institute, "which first documented the growing crisis of hunger among older people. She thinks other forms of aid would help relieve their hunger." Burt plugged for more spending on other programs: "So if we paid for prescription drugs for the elderly, then they would have the money they now use for medications to buy food. If we paid more for housing for people who are still paying for housing, who will be the poorest people, and the renters, they could then use that money for food."

Culhane forwarded the Urban Institute study: "Current estimates indicate that as many as 4.9 million older citizens are either going hungry or are malnourished to some extent and that at least two thirds of needy older people are not being reached by federal food assistance programs." Culhane concluded: "The political forecast now warns of a storm of budget cutbacks, perhaps even for core hunger programs. Those who are trying to help ask us to remember that we are not just talking about today's older people."

The CBS story succeeded in creating an emotional wallop in favor of food programs, but omitted a number of facts that are important to the story. First, none of the bureaucrats in the field have statistical knowledge quantifying the number of elderly people suffering from hunger. The Urban Institute study, the only proof cited in the story, was conducted by mail, which is much less scientific than most polls since the participants select themselves. As Newsweek's Laura Shapiro admitted to MediaWatch earlier this year: "Your basic point, that all of these studies lack a lot of scientific depth, is true." Culhane also left out the Urban study's funder: Philip Morris, which owns Kraft Foods.

CBS obscured the definition of hunger and malnutrition. Culhane claimed up to 4.9 million are "going hungry or are malnourished to some extent." But Burt's study did not actually measure malnutrition, but "food insecurity." As Burt explained: "Some people never show the long-term physical signs of malnutrition, yet experience the physical and emotional stresses of hunger." Burt hailed the idea to "go beyond very restrictive medical definitions of malnutrition" to a "social definition" of hunger, "even if the shortage is not prolonged enough to cause health problems."

Burt's report found 2.5 to 4.9 million may suffer "food insecurity." If, among other questions, respondents answered "yes" to whether they had to choose between buying food or paying for rent, utilities, or medicine at any time in the previous six months, they had "food insecurity."

Torres-Gil had no study on which to base his comments on how this is "a life or death matter," or, as he later asserted: "The development of waiting lists have probably occurred most dramatically in the last couple of years." Culhane did not explain that Torres-Gil's office is waiting for proof from a study from Princeton University expected next summer.

Despite his rhetoric about starving old people, Torres-Gil actually wants to expand the federal elderly hunger programs to the non-needy. There are no income requirements to receive Meals on Wheels, although rules currently target the neediest and some contribute for their meals. A November 4, 1993 story in The Orlando Sentinel quoted Torres-Gil telling the National Association of Social Workers that the passage of the Clinton health plan meant "That problem [of income requirements] is erased because with the new home and community-based program, anyone is eligible regardless of income." Torres-Gil is not merely seeking to add the needy to his waiting lists, but the rest of the elderly.

Culhane did not answer repeated calls from MediaWatch. But this kind of reporting -- emotional anecdotes, dire predictions, and the flacking of liberal advocacy group research -- serves only to advertise for an increased government burden. It propagandizes, but it fails to inform.