In This Issue
CNN's Liberal Fantasy Campaign '96; NewsBites: Berating Burton; Revolving Door: Battling for Boy George; Paula Jones: Still No Anita Hill; Welfare Deformed; Turn Out the Lights; Pouncing on Powers; Janet Cooke Award: Alger Hiss, Beneficiary of TV Laziness
CNN's Liberal Fantasy Campaign '96
Apparently, the campaign was so boring to the folks at the CNN Web site they had to make up wild stories to amuse themselves. "President 96" was an interactive game on the CNN AllPolitics website that allowed the participant to give advice to "fictional" candidates after reading fictional news stories.
While the Democratic Party had some skirmishes such as pro-life Democrats fighting for the soul of their party, they were not embroiled in ridiculous scandals faced by the ersatz GOP candidates: nominee Senator Bill Dickey (the Bob Dole character), and runner-up Robert Libbey (a composite Pat Buchanan/Rush Limbaugh character described as "the host of the most popular syndicated radio talk show" who "has literally been the voice of the Republican revolution.") CNN's fantasy headlines and stories from the campaign trail sometimes echoed biased themes from their real campaign coverage:
"Gun Lobbyist Arrested for Shooting Death" -- March 6, 1996: "The arrest this week of gun lobbyist Mary Beaton for the shooting death of a mentally disturbed man outside her Washington home has proven something of a challenge for the presidential campaign of Senator William Dickey (R-Iowa), whose campaign finance chairman is her husband, Robert Beaton."
"When Mrs. Beaton, 36, a senior official of the United Gun Owners, shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Hector Davis 19, with an unregistered handgun and deadly, `Black Ripper' bullets, she set off a controversy that has proven an embarrassment to the Dickey candidacy. Though a traditional Republican conservative, the Senator has resisted pressure to endorse some of the UGO's more extreme positions."
"Libbey Named in Drug Investigation" -- May 15, 1996: "Presidential candidate and right-wing talk show host Robert Libbey has been named as a target in the Robert Kenyon drug investigation. Kenyon, a local lawyer with political ties to both parties, key local industries, and the glitterati of Los Angeles and the Northeast, was arrested last week for the production and distribution of methamphetamines. Facing the threat of life in federal prison, Kenyon has reportedly named people he has had dealings with during his career. Inside sources at the Justice Department have informed the Daily Dispatch that Libbey's name was high on Kenyon's list."
"GOP Sued for Race, Sex Discrimination" -- June 5, 1996: "In a suit filed in Federal District Court in Washington DC, three black and Hispanic female office workers are charging the Republican National Committee allowed a `hostile work environment' to be created in their Capitol Hill offices. The suit alleges several supervisors touched women in a sexual manner and implied that sexual favors would result in promotions. Repeated racial, ethnic, and sexual comments were also tolerated by the supervisors."
"Delegates Approve Hard-line GOP Platform." -- August 13, 1996: "The 1,984 delegates to the Republican Convention approved a tough, conservative platform last night, with a solid consensus on every issue but that of U.S. foreign policy." (It should be noted that the platform was voted on by actual gameplayers on the Republican campaign "advice" page.)
"Hispanic Protest Turns Ugly; Stuart Fails to Calm Violent Crowd." -- August 14, 1996: "A scheduled protest of Mexican-American activists at the protest area four blocks from the convention center turned into a near-riot when the crowd marched on the convention center without a permit. Police had to use tear gas and specially-trained tactical force troops to contain the growing demonstration, spurred by calls by local leaders yesterday after Sen. Walter `Runner` Tyler's (R-Ind.) keynote speech to the Republican convention." Tyler's fictional speech disparaged immigrants and accused the Democratic Party of treason.
"Despite Stuart, GOP Women feel Forgotten" -- August 16, 1996: "The nomination of Texas Governor Anne Stuart is being seen as a great victory for Republican women sort of...`It's great that there's a woman running for Vice President,' said Jean Van Thorpe, a businesswoman and Nicholas Russell delegate. `Too bad, her agenda's not more pro-woman.' In many ways, Stuart personifies the complex, somewhat ambiguous position of women in the Republican party. While individual Republican women hold positions of power, the party, as a whole, has favored a conservative agenda that favors traditional roles for women, and advocates strict pro-life policies that a majority of American women disagree with.'"
"Minority Delegates Decline from 1992" -- August 16, 1996: "Willie Dalton, a black California State Senator in San Diego as part of the Democratic party's truth squad, scoffed at this idea [of a big-tent GOP]. `I'm surprised brownshirts weren't marching around the Convention Center yelling 'Auslander Raus' (`foreigner out,' a German slogan used by neo-Nazi skinheads),' he said."
"Stuart and the Girls Have a Night on the Town" -- August 16, 1996: "Bill Dickey's new running mate, Texas Governor Anne Stuart, found a new place to raise money or at least Cain yesterday night, when she and some of her female cronies spent the evening at a notorious local male strip joint...While [a spokesman] categorically denied reports that Stuart participated in the more outrageous antics at the club, performers dispute this. `You could hear laughing real hard,' said stripper Mingo Jackson, 22, who portrays a ranch hand in his routine. `She was really into it. I could hear her yelling when I took off my cowboy hat. She also sang along with `The Streets of Laredo.' Another performer, Davey Smith, 24, said he saw Stuart stuffing bills into Jackson's G-string."
"San Diego: What Really Happened?" -- August 16, 1996 (Editorial): "Two things are clear after the dust has settled: Bill Dickey goes into the fall campaign with his moderate base in danger; and the conservatives have complete control of the candidate selection process in the GOP....The power of Ivan Palmer and his legions in the Christian Duty Alliance came as a shock to many moderates, but only because they thought they were still a force in the party....the GOP platform is closer to a militia meeting manifesto than to traditional GOP positions."
"Hamilton Takes It!" -- November 6, 1996: "The Democrats are back in the White House: that's the big news ....Democratic Vice President Ben Hamilton's victory was based on the loyalty of the key constituencies of the Democratic Party in key states...To the surprise of many, it is the voice representing the liberal alternative that will hold the White House for the next four years." That result has a more than passing resemblance to reality.
NewsBites: Berating Burton
Berating Burton. In the December 9 issue, Time reporter James Carney profiled the new head of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Carney claimed: "On the other side of Capitol Hill, the President's chief inquisitor on such issues as the Democratic fund-raising scandal will be a man who has never pretended to be impartial."
Time underlined their spin with the headline: "In the House, a Zealot Talks Softly." So who does Time think is a zealot? Could a liberal be one? Not really. A Nexis search of Time since January 1992 looking for the word "zealot" found 39 references to the word, 37 of which were used to describe a conservative or right-wing point of view. In most cases, "zealot" was used to describe the Christian right or pro-life movements, such as references to "religious zealots," "anti-choice zealots," "Gingrichian zealotry," "capitalist zealots," and one reference claiming that "Not long ago, America's Christian right was dismissed as a group of pasty-faced zealots."
Missing Militias. Every network has reported numerous stories on the "right-wing" militia movement, from the Freemen to more obscure outlets like Arizona's Viper Militia and the Phineas Priesthood. But when it comes to left-wing militias, it's a very different story. Dan Rather reported on the November 12 CBS Evening News: "Police in Brooklyn discovered a huge cache of arms in a quiet apartment complex. They seized 25 lbs. of gunpowder, 45 weapons including submachine guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Police also found a web of tunnels linking the apartments. Tonight, police said 38 people are in custody and the group was part of an organization calling itself the Provisional Party of Communism." Other network coverage of a story right in their own backyard? None.
Two days later on the Evening News, reporter Art Rascon offered this story on one cause of riots in St. Petersburg, Florida: "Police now say they know who was responsible for the rioting. This man: Omali Ushelton, the founder of the National Uhuru Movement. He admitted encouraging racial unrest just before going underground earlier this week...The Uhurus are a loosely organized, small but potent group with chapters nationwide. Its leader has not only incited riots in this city, he has also called for the assassination of the mayor and the police chief.
That has only caused hostility and division within the black community." Other network coverage of this story? None.
Can't Afford a Movie? When a congressionally appointed panel reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) overstated inflation, leading to excessive entitlement payments, the networks automatically took the victims angle -- not of the taxpayers who forked over hyperinflated payments for decades, but for the beneficiaries. On the December 4 World News Tonight, ABC's Peter Jennings opened: "We begin tonight with money. Maybe a little less for you, depending on who you are, and certainly a little more for Uncle Sam." Reporter Lisa Stark noted: "One-third of the federal budget is tied to the CPI, so cutting the official inflation measurement 1.1 percent would lower all government payments based on the cost of living, saving the government a trillion dollars over the next 12 years. But cutting those payments would affect 60 million Americans, including seniors who stand to lose an average of $100 a year in Social Security." Only in Washington (and in newsrooms) could a smaller-than-projected increase be a loss or a "cut."
Dan Rather had the same spin on that night's CBS Evening News: "A plan officially proposed in Washington today could affect the incomes of millions of Americans, especially those older or at the lower end of the economic scale." Reporter Ray Brady illustrated: "Take the average Social Security check: It will rise from $724 to $745 a month in January, but it would rise to just $737, a difference of eight dollars if the congressional commission has its way." Brady spoke to a woman at a senior center who illustrated how this would affect her: "For many people who come here, eight dollars a month is a big loss. That may be the only eight dollars they have to ever go to the movies."
Another Favorite Victim. CBS White House reporter Rita Braver mourned Hillary Rodham Clinton's domestic woes as the First Lady traveled through Asia. On the November 25 Evening News, Braver noted sympathetically: "But throughout this Pacific journey she has taken a higher profile than she has at home of late. And she seems more comfortable overseas, where her popularity has not been diminished by problems like Whitewater."
Casting the First Lady as a trailblazer for the oppressed souls of past First Ladies, Braver added: "Perhaps Mrs. Clinton best expressed her own awkward situation when she told an Australian audience that the only way for a First Lady to escape criticism is never to express opinions or ideas." The notion that it's those ideas rather than her gender that make the First Lady worth discussing didn't surface in Braver's story -- as it hasn't in many others.
Hillary Clinton: Icon, Saint. Newsweek Washington bureau Chief Evan Thomas pulled together numerous reports from the magazine's correspondents to provide a fresh, behind-the-scenes look at major players in the Presidential and congressional campaigns for its Campaign `96 wrap-up in the November 18 issue. But when it came to Hillary Clinton, Thomas had nothing to offer but the same old suck-up schtick Newsweek has offered since her arrival on the national scene in 1992.
Thomas lovingly wrote that "The Chicago convention promised to be a moment of liberation for Hillary Clinton. It has been a bumpy year for her -- in many ways a bumpy four years. In the world beyond the Beltway, she was something of an icon, even a saint, for many women; thousands flocked to see her in her travels in America and abroad, teetering on folding chairs in crowded halls just to catch a glimpse. But back home in Washington, she felt trapped inside her caricature as a pushy Yuppie overachiever who would bend the rules and sacrifice her friends to have her way.
Her split image `beflummoxed' her, an aide said, though she herself seemed at times to make it worse with her lawyerly caginess under fire."
In an article about Whitewater and the campaign, Thomas ruminated: "Was she really hiding something? Or was she just embarassed to be seen having tried to make a fast buck? In 1992, the Clintons had campaigned against the excesses of the `80s, the get-rich-quick schemes of the Reagan era. It would hardly do for Mrs. Clinton, advocate of the rights of poor children, to look like a greedy Yuppie who tried to use her husband's office to cash in on land deals and cattle futures. Or maybe Mrs. Clinton really believed what she said: that her private finances were none of the press's business."
Hearty Heil Kesslers. Food and Drug Adminstration chief David Kessler's surprise resignation clearly disappointed his fans at the networks. While conservatives derided Kessler for an overzealous regulatory overreach in areas like tobacco and food product regulations, NBC's Robert Hager gave a big thumbs-up on the November 25 Nightly News: "Kessler was controversial from the start, loved going after the big guys, set the tone immediately six years ago by telling Procter & Gamble to get the word 'fresh' off its frozen orange juice. When the company ignored him, Kessler began seizing the product...And he was bipartisan too, appointed by the Republican Bush, kept on by the Democrat Clinton."
Hager aired a soundbite from Newt Gingrich criticizing Kessler for being too slow in approving drugs but offered no examples of how Kessler's agency may have overreached. "But all this was prelude to his landmark decision to go after big tobacco, some of the nation's wealthiest corporations. Call cigarettes a drug, he said, and regulate them." Hager oozed Kessler was "leaving history to judge the difference he may have made in American health."
Hager was not alone in admiring Kessler's cause of saving Americans from themselves. CNN's Jeff Levine bemoaned Kessler's loss on The World Today: "When David Kessler was sworn in as commissioner six years ago, his agency was plagued by scandal and low morale. Now Kessler says he's quitting after setting the US Food and Drug Administration on a new course...It was clear from the beginning that under David Kessler it would not be business as usual. Whether it was seizing orange juice that didn't live up to its freshness claim or requiring food to carry labels informing consumers of nutritional content or pulling silicone gel-filled breast implants off the market until they could be proven safe, Kessler was not afraid to act when he thought it was in the public interest."
Neither reporter noted how Kessler seized Fresh Choice orange juice for being misleading though the cartons were labeled "from concentrate." Nor did they note how he refused to reverse his ban on silicone breast implants even after studies proved they were not dangerous.
Last Digs at Dornan. The defeat of conservative Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Calif.) by Democrat Loretta Sanchez generated stories on all the networks portraying the result as a shocker in the "conservative" 46th District. On the November 13 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer reported: "It's a win all the sweeter for Democrats coming as it does in heavily conservative Orange County at the expense of Congress's leading Clinton-basher."
On ABC's Good Morning America the next morning, reporter Carol Lin asserted: "For the last 12 years this heavily Republican district has been represented by Bob Dornan's conservative opposition to abortion, communism and gay rights. And his unrelenting support of the military and bombastic attacks against President Clinton." On NBC's Today that same morning, co-host Katie Couric interviewed Sanchez: "As you know your district, which includes Orange County, is considered a bastion of Republican conservatism. How do you think a Democrat was able to get elected?" Couric did note that "the Democrats have steadily been making gains through the years in your district, isn't that right?" But then she wondered about a larger message: "You like the message that this sends out to the rest of the country about Orange County. What kind of message do you think it sends?"
Only CNN's Bernard Shaw offered a reality check on the November 14 Inside Politics: "It long has been considered a bastion of white conservative Republicans, but Census figures show nearly half of the voters in Dornan's Orange County Congressional District are Hispanic, a group that leans Democratic." None of the networks news stories mentions that, far from being the inevitable product of a conservative district, Bob Dornan defeated an incumbent Democrat for his seat in 1984.
Gullible Brooks? "One of the more bizarre episodes of the campaign may have gotten a little less bizarre today," CNN's Brooks Jackson announced on the December 6 Inside Politics. A Buddhist nun, who had once told The Wall Street Journal that the $5,000 she gave at a temple fundraiser attended by Al Gore had come from a donor who didn't want to be identified, changed her story. Jackson reported that she told the FEC "the money was hers all along." Why the initial story? She didn't know how to handle a call from a reporter "and told what she hoped...was a harmless lie."
The December 2 Wall Street Journal suggested another explanation, reporting that after the Journal's story last summer Democratic lawyer Peter Kelly contacted the nun. She "then left her temple for a retreat overseas, from which she did not return until after the election. She now won't talk to reporters, referring all calls to Mr. Kelly."
Revolving Door: Battling for Boy George
ABC, CBS and CNN fought to land top Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, but ABC News won the battle. The just-departed Senior Adviser to the President will have a far greater role at ABC than Bill Kristol, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle.
While the Clintonite will spar with conservative Kristol in discussions on This Week and Good Morning America, The New York Times noted he also "is expected to do some reporting as a correspondent." He'll work with This Week Executive Producer Dorrance Smith to produce longer pieces for GMA. Smith has also been through the revolving door, having put in a White House stint advising President Bush on media matters.
How far were the other networks willing to go? As with ABC, well beyond any position offered to former Reagan or Bush administration political operatives. "A CNN source said yesterday," The Washington Post's John Carmody reported December 12, "the cable network had been prepared to offer Stephanopoulos his own weekend half-hour program and some other `innovative programming ideas.'" CBS News proposed a slot on Face the Nation and a role in its upcoming Eye on People cable channel.
Carmody noted that ABC hopes "that if things go well, Stephanopoulos's role can be expanded to include doing some full-length programming for ABC-owned cable channels like Arts & Entertainment and, particularly, the History Channel, where, said Senior News Vice President Joanna Bistany yesterday, `he can explore the issues.'" If that's not enough, he'll "be available in 1998 for political coverage."
This isn't the first time Stephanopoulos, who served as floor assistant to then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt before joining Clinton campaign, has worked for a network. Back in 1985 he was behind the camera as an Associate Producer for two CBS News specials on the famine in Sudan.
Over for Ovitz
Just as George Stephanopoulos comes aboard ABC, the network has lost the executive who helped raise the money that enabled Stephanopoulos to push liberal policies. Michael Ovitz stepped down in December as President of the Walt Disney Company, ABC's owner. He held the slot for 16 months. In the 1993-94 election cycle the Hollywood agent donated to just one Republican, but gave at least $36,000 to Democrats. In 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported, Ovitz "hosted and organized" a fundraiser for Clinton and the Democratic National Committee which raised $450,000. BPI Entertainment Wire relayed that he urged the celebrity crowd to give Clinton "the time he needs to build a consensus and to enact change."
Colette Rhoney, Producer of NBC's Meet the Press and CNBC's Tim Russert, has quit so she can do some traveling. She "had a key role in the network's coverage of the last three election cycles," The Washington Post reported November 25. In 1984 she worked for the unsuccessful Texas Senate campaign of Lloyd Doggett, a liberal Democrat.....
Marla Romash, a Good Morning America Associate Producer in the mid-1980s and Communications Director for Vice President Al Gore in 1993, served as an adviser this fall to Jeanne Shaheen, the successful Democratic candidate for Governor of New Hampshire.
Paula Jones: Still No Anita Hill
Tim Russert asked Mary Matalin on the November 24 Meet the Press about Supreme Court arguments coming up in January in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case: "How big of a political story and a media story is that going to be?"
An odd question coming from the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News who had not yet assigned a story he thinks might be "big." Other than a mention in one ABC story, the networks have not aired a story in the two months since The American Lawyer released the piece by former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Stuart Taylor charging, "Paula Jones's allegations of predatory, if not depraved, behavior by Bill Clinton is far stronger than the evidence supporting Anita Hill's allegations of far less serious conduct by Clarence Thomas."
Admitted Taylor: "I say this as one who voted for President Clinton in 1992 and who may do so again (with multiple misgivings), and as one who lamented Justice Thomas's confirmation to the Supreme Court, and who disagrees deeply with much of his arch-conservative jurisprudence."
Taylor's article spurred William Powers, the new media columnist for The New Republic, to ask in his December 16 cover story: "If Clinton may well have to stand trial for sexual harassment during his second term, and if the case against him is strong...isn't that relevant information the voters should have had as they cast their votes?"
Powers' most revealing episode was a lunchtime interview with New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Andrew Rosenthal. When asked why the Times had never given readers a thorough look at the Jones case, Rosenthal said "I don't have a very good answer to it." Rosenthal also compared Jones' charges of (non-consensual) sexual harassment charges with story of consensual adultery with Gennifer Flowers. Said Rosenthal: "We just don't think that that kind of private behavior is relevant to his public responsibility."
Asked if the culture of the Times, rocked by the front-page play of Kitty Kelley's unproven Nancy Reagan-Frank Sinatra sex allegations, affected their judgment, Rosenthal admitted: "Yes, there is a huge New York Times culture issue here..You will find, I hope, a great shortage of 'is under investigation' stories [in the Times]...and two, an aversion to personal behavior stories or whatever you want to call them. Sex stories."
Rosenthal eventually answered Powers: "Did we have a responsibility to remind voters of it [the Jones suit] before the election? I guess we did not." Powers noted Rosenthal added that if Clinton were found guilty in the Jones case, only "then it would be a story for The New York Times." Tell that to Clarence Thomas.
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated welfare reform will result in a seven percent annual increase in federal poverty spending over the next seven years. With inflation projected to average 2.8 percent a year, the nominal increase in federal poverty spending translates into an inflation-adjusted increase of more than four percent a year.
But CBS didn't serve up this figure on the Thanksgiving edition of the Evening News. Instead they offered up the usual holiday turkey, stuffed with labeling leftovers from the Medicare debate about nonexistent budget "cuts," and scary anecdotes about potential riots in the streets.
Anchor Harry Smith announced: "For the first time in decades the federal government will no longer guarantee open-ended help to the poor. Case in point, food stamps. As Diana Olick reports, this could mean hunger in America will grow, even in places famous for food and plenty of it."
From New Orleans, Olick introduced a welfare recipient who didn't seem to fit the usual liberal stereotype: "37-year-old Denise Lee has been on food stamps most of her life. She doesn't want to work, but she's now planning to get a job. She fears though that others will turn to crime instead to pay for food." While conservatives would paint Lee as the reason reform was needed, Olick didn't challenge Lee's self-serving vision of the future, with welfare checks as the only thing keeping America from anarchy. Lee charged: "They say times is hard, and crime is up, and this and that, but they ain't seen nothing yet."
Next Olick breezed through the CBS version of new math, claiming: "In the 35-year history of the food stamp program there has never been a cut this drastic." Although some people will no longer be eligible, overall spending will increase beyond the rate of inflation.
Olick did quote a pro-welfare reform source, Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio). But Olick concluded by seeming shocked that welfare reform would require recipients do what most people have done for years: "The cut in food stamps will force many people to go to work. But in New Orleans, where there are more people than jobs, some, like Denise Lee, are worrying how they will carry this new financial burden once the government stops carrying them."
Turn Out the Lights
Jacqueline Adams took a rare approach to new EPA rules on the November 27 CBS Evening News: what do they cost, and what is the benefit? She focused on a New Hampshire bronze craft foundry: "Workers fear their jobs are in jeopardy. The new EPA rules would eliminate the most microscopic particles of dust. And the expense for this factory could be astronomical."
One worker worried: "I have a baby due in July and if we get shut down I'm in trouble." Adams explained that to comply with EPA rules the company has switched "to cleaner electric power, installed vents and vacuums and spends $800 a year to monitor each employee for environmental hazards. As of today, all that may not be enough."
"The workers here still don't buy the environmentalists' claims that without tougher rules, 64,000 Americans will die prematurely each year from lung disease," Adams noted before ending: "At least two generations of pourers, and machine operators, and polishers have made a good living at bronze craft. For all their skill and dedication, time may not be on their side. The new EPA rules may force them to turn out the lights, forever."
I Spy Reality
Alger Hiss, the spy who became a poster child for the liberal elite, died November 15. That night CNN's Tom Watkins called him a "victim of Cold War paranoia," and NBC's Tom Brokaw declared that Hiss was innocently "caught up in a spy scandal."
But on their Sunday morning shows, CNN and NBC corrected those implications of innocence. On the November 24 Late Edition Bruce Morton concluded: "Well, he was guilty. Any number of serious reporters investigated then and later and agreed on that. Hiss was guilty, there was at least one communist spy in the U.S. government. The witch hunts which followed smeared a lot of innocent people but there were real spies."
On Meet the Press, Tim Russert explained that earlier this year the CIA released the "Venona files, translations of actual intercepts of messages sent from the Soviet embassy in Washington back to Moscow. One, dated 30 March 1945, talks about the activities of a high level State Department official turned Soviet agent code named Ales. His travel schedule matched that of Alger Hiss. At the bottom of the cable there is a notation by an officer at the National Security Agency saying Ales was probably Alger Hiss."
Pouncing on Powers
CNN created the show Reliable Sources to critique the
news media, but time and again, its panelists gang up on
guests who dare draw attention to bias. The latest victim, on December
8: former Washington Post reporter William Powers, fresh from his inaugural media critique for The New Republic. CNN regulars Marty Schram of Scripps Howard, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and moderator Bernard Kalb, formerly of CBS, spent an entire segment arguing how preposterous they found his thesis.
In his December 16 cover story, Powers showed how "the mainline media did not focus intense, sustained attention on the stories that could have been most threatening to the President's chances of re-election." After detailing how Clinton staffers convinced network producers to not air some scandal stories, he explained why the White House "outreach" worked: "Simply put, because Clinton and his people are, to most journalists, culturally sympathetic. What every conservative press critic preaches, and almost every reporter denies, is largely true: the mainstream press is liberal. Most Washington reporters share with the Clinton aides a language, a value system, a set of buttons. Outrage at, say, 'partial birth infanticide' is not one of the buttons of this class. Outrage at 'right-wing abortion activists' is....Liberal bias flows from principles so deeply held they're mostly unconscious. All of which means that, had a Republican President been up for re-election this year, facing the same array of ethical problems Clinton faced, the scandals would have gotten more ink."
On CNN, Kalb asked Powers: "Would it have required President Clinton's defeat for you to be prepared to admit that there was adequate ethical coverage?" Kurtz claimed the press covered the scandals but the public didn't care. Schram said Powers committed "a sin" because "I think you had a pre-judgement." Schram insisted "the press did a heck of a job in breaking all of the information on to Indogate and all the other stuff. That's why we know about it because of the media pounding away."
Janet Cooke Award: Alger Hiss, Beneficiary of TV Laziness
The threat of expanding slavery and death under communism ended with the Soviet Union in 1991. But the network obituaries of Soviet spy Alger Hiss on the night of November 15 suggested that ignorance lasts forever. For inaccurately remembering Hiss that evening with tales of red-baiting hysteria and Russian-based vindications, ABC, CNN, and NBC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Since the statute of limitations for espionage had expired, Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950. His guilt was underlined in 1978 with the publication of Allen Weinstein's book Perjury, and then again this year with the National Security Agency's release of the Venona transcripts, which detailed the activities of a spy code-named "Ales" which mirrored the allegations raised against Hiss by Whittaker Chambers. Only CBS, which aired only a few seconds notice of Hiss's death, covered the Venona transcripts (in a March 5 story by reporter David Martin).
The other network obituaries had a very uniform structure, proclaiming Hiss was (1) a well-established, brilliant public servant; (2) until he was accused of spying by Whittaker Chambers and exploited for political gain by Richard Nixon; (3) who protested his innocence against the anti-communist insanity of his times; (4) then cleared by Russian officials of ever being a spy.
On ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings oozed sympathetically: "Alger Hiss was an accomplished lawyer and a diplomat until a man named Whittaker Chambers accused him of being a communist who passed state secrets to the Soviets. At congressional hearings he defended himself against a young Richard Nixon. Hiss was ultimately convicted of perjury. He lost his livelihood and his marriage. He protested his innocence until the very end, and last year, we reported that the Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that KGB files supported Mr. Hiss's claim."
CNN anchor Linden Soles lectured on PrimeNews: "Hiss was a Harvard-educated lawyer with a distinguished career in government when he was accused in 1948 of helping pass secret documents to the Soviets. The case attracted national attention and helped spurn a period of blacklisting and hysteria over the communist threat. Richard Nixon's political career got a major boost after his aggressive efforts in Congress against Hiss. Hiss was later convicted of perjury and spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name."
Over on the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw proclaimed: "He was a public servant of rising prominence in the 1930s and 1940s when suddenly he was caught up in a spy scandal and he was accused of being a member of the Communist Party. In 1948 he was charged with helping pass State Department secrets to the Soviets. His case drew unprecedented attention and he was pursued tenaciously by a freshman Congressman -- Richard Nixon. Despite the support of many prominent Americans, Hiss was sent to prison for almost four years. It's a case that still divides many people in this country, but at the end of his life, Hiss considered vindication a declaration by a Russian general who controlled the KGB archives, saying that Hiss had never been a spy."
(On NBC spinoff MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, anchor Brigitte Quinn announced Hiss "was a symbol of the Cold War and the McCarthy witch hunts that haunted that era....In 1987, a Russian general declared that Hiss was never a spy, but a victim of Cold War hysteria." Quinn was wrong: Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov made his declaration in 1992 -- and then admitted he hadn't thoroughly reviewed the files.)
Three days later, Tom Brokaw told viewers of Volkogonov's admission, without underlining Hiss's guilt: "Last week on this program we reported on the death of Alger Hiss, the establishment intellectual who was at the center of a bitter debate about his Communist Party credentials and suspected Soviet spy activity. Late in his life, we reported, he felt vindicated by a Russian general's claim that there were no records to support the claim that Hiss was a spy. However, the Russian general admitted he didn't have access to all records."
The next night, Peter Jennings retracted ABC's claims: "We have a clarification tonight...In the obituary of Alger Hiss, we reported that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had said that KGB files supported Hiss's contention that he had never spied for the Soviets, as he insisted all his life. It was actually a member of Yeltsin's staff, General Dmitri Volkogonov, who made the statement. He later said the evidence wasn't conclusive because there were other Soviet intelligence agencies whose files were not available." So two networks switched their reports on Hiss from vindicated to uncertain -- not to the truth that Hiss was a spy for a foreign power.
How is it that all these whitewashed reports echo one another in tone? Perhaps the best answer is a 334-word Associated Press dispatch labeled "Urgent" put out at 5:11 the night of November 15 with the headline "Alger Hiss, Nixon Nemesis, Dead at 92." It read: "Alger Hiss, the patrician public servant who fell from grace in a Communist spy scandal that propelled Richard Nixon to higher office, died Friday afternoon...Hiss' life can be neatly broken into two parts. The first was a stellar rise to a brilliant academic career, clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a series of important posts in the New Deal and the foreign policy establishment, foundation work. But on Aug. 3, 1948, a rumpled, overweight magazine editor named Whittaker Chambers alleged that 10 years earlier, Hiss had given him State Department secrets....For the rest of his life, he worked for vindication, both in court and in the court of public opinion. He proclaimed that it had come finally in 1992, at age 87, when a Russian general in charge of Soviet intelligence archives declared that Hiss had never been a spy, but rather a victim of Cold War hysteria and the McCarthy Red-hunting era."
By 9:26 PM, AP was distributing a longer story by Jerry Schwartz that mentioned the Venona files and the Volkogonov admission, but it was too late. ABC and NBC failed to return phone calls, but CNN spokesman James Holland told MediaWatch: "We did treat all aspects of the issue, with the weight of the evidence toward the mainstream, what the common thoughts are on this particular individual and his history."
Liberals insist conservatives see an organized conspiracy in media bias. What the Hiss TV stories prove is that sometimes, biased reporting just happens when lazy reporters can't manage to do more legwork on a world-historical story than walk across the room and rewrite a biased AP dispatch. Newspapers work up obituaries years in advance on major historical figures. Why couldn't the net- works do more?