In This Issue
Conventional Wisdom: Newsweek (Down) Bias (Up); NewsBites: Ray and Frances Shop for Bad News; Revolving Door: USA Today's Oregon Trail; Media Slate "Peace Dividend" for Social Spending; DHL Defends Sponsorship of PBS Show; Janet Cooke Award: Today:Earth to Ehrlich
Conventional Wisdom: Newsweek (Down) Bias (Up)
Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" (CW) feature just celebrated its second birthday, and only liberals enjoyed the party. Since the election of George Bush, this 'wisdom' has specialized in bashing Bush, Republicans, and their policies while Democrats and liberalism have escaped largely unscathed. Almost every time the CW dealt with politicians, Newsweek has presented its readers with toe-the-line liberalism in the guise of enlightened political analysis.
In a conversation with MediaWatch, Senior Editor Jonathan Alter, a former Ralph Nader worker who authors the CW, claimed innocence for the disparity. He said he was merely reporting what he saw as the CW, "the Beltway thinking" of the "elites, pundits, bureaucrats, observers, hacks, etc." After reading the CW, the question arises: is Newsweek capable of detecting any conservative opinions to use in its appraisal of the CW? The facts say no.
A MediaWatch study found substantial evidence of a liberal slant in the 39 political CW's from the 1988 election until the recent February 5 issue. Republicans from the Bush Administration, Congress, and elsewhere made 68 appearances but a paltry 14 were positive, as opposed to 43 "Down" arrows and 11 "Even" ratings. Although the CW included Democrats only 38 times, about half as often, they received the same 14 "Up" grades, with only 15 negative and 9 ambivalent ratings. Nearly all of these criticisms came at the expense of 'leaders' embroiled in ethics disasters, whereas Republicans rated poorly simply for conservative policies.
Amazingly, as Americans judged Bush more and more successful, Newsweek went 17 ratings in a row without a single positive CW from January 30, 1989 until January 22, 1990. When told how his appraisal of the CW repeatedly bashed the President, Newsweek's Alter said, "I'm really surprised by that," and noted that the string was recently broken. True, but the reason was Bush's "goofy good luck" (1/22/90). Among the many gems of CW partisanship in the President's 22 appearances: March 20: "Down: Holds press conference to deny he is Jimmy Carter"; April 17: "Down: Huge Ollie spill spreads Iran-contra goo toward Kennebunkport"; July 24: "Even: Still on a lucky streak but missed chances in Europe. He's no JFK in Berlin." And the abortive Panama coup inspired a CW box comment, "It was Dukakis who was said to be vulnerable to foreign-policy fiascos" (10/16/89).
Called "Pin-striped retreads" (1/16/89), Bush's Cabinet and staff have fared no better in the CW, with only 5 "Up" arrows out of 24 ratings. Dick Cheney's three positive showings were offset by a "Down" arrow apiece for Richard Thornburgh, C. Boyden Gray, Brent Scowcroft, and William Bennett. Nicholas Brady and James Baker were each twice a victim, as was John Sununu, savaged in a off- base CW introduction: "...Those CW meisters who predicted he'd last only six months believe they're right on schedule" (3/6/89). Combative Republicans always raise the ire of the liberal establishment: Lee Atwater was no exception. The Republican National Committee memo on Tom Foley caused the CW to get downright partisan: "Atwater: Down:...New CW: adolescent Joe McCarthy"..."Bush: Down: Refusal to fire Atwater confirms 'kinder, gentler' line was a hoax" (6/19/89). And predictably, Dan Quayle hit the CW chart seven times without a single "Up" arrow.
Meanwhile, Democrats were garnering a nearly even distribution of ratings. Somehow, the CW found space to praise suspects like Mario Cuomo, Tony Coelho -- "Up:...New CW: martyr to the cause of decency" (6/12/89) -- and Jimmy Carter: "Even: If only he could have been as good a President as he is ex-President" (11/6/89). After the RNC memo, Newsweek deified Foley: "Up: Deft handling of GOP slurs confirms he'll be the greatest Speaker since Sam Rayburn" (6/19/89). Since many prominent targets such as Ted Kennedy never faced CW analysis, Alter felt obliged to explain the dearth of Democratic appearances: "The CW doesn't care about the Democrats. They're not important."
Of course, a trio of discredited leaders, Jim Wright, Marion Barry, and Barney Frank, accounted for almost all of the Democratic criticism. Pressed to name Democrats the CW criticized who weren't stained by ethics violations, Alter pointed to Richard Gephardt's 1988 campaign, saying, "he got his share of down arrows." Wrong: Gephardt was the CW favorite son then, with eight "Up" arrows in 11 tries during his campaign.
The foreign policy of the CW could have been written by Jesse Jackson. Note the matter-of-fact adjective in this snippet: "John Tower was not rejected for his central role in a flawed military build-up" (3/20/89). Anti-peacenik leaders Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl felt the CW wrath, as did Reagan's peace through strength commitment: "Rambo: Down: Hang up your rocket launchers, tough guy. We won the Cold War without them" (12/25/89). The October 2 CW knocked Bush diplomacy toward the Soviet Union: "Down:...'Watch and wait' is too little, too late." And Panama provided some insipid analysis, as Pres-ident Endara's election victory didn't matter in a post-invasion appearance: "Down: This is the face of Panama's democratic future? Where's his support?" (1/1/90).
Not surprisingly, Mikhail Gorbachev was idolized while Ronald Reagan headed to the CW dustbin of history. Reagan's CW after the Bush Inaugural wondered, "...will history's arrows always point up?" But not even his 1989 arrows did: "Down:...HUD scandal. Thank God for the 22nd Amendment" (7/24/89). Meanwhile, Gorbachev basked in the CW sun, "Down" only once since the birth of the CW. It had "another Gorbasm" (12/19/88), and noted on the Berlin Wall collapse that, "Up: Mr. Bold doesn't try to take credit. The CW believes he deserves it" (11/20/89). The outlandish comparisions culminated in the 1980's finale: "Reagan: Down: Great politician, great guy-- just like Warren G. Harding"..."Gorbachev: Up:... ain't no arrow high enough. A true 20th-century hero" (12/25/89).
It appears the Conventional Wisdom isn't changing, as the February 5 issue took CW potshots at Bush's son, his plane, his drug policy, his carpet, and his abortion stance. As Alter admitted, Newsweek has found it fun to present the liberal CW that specializes in criticizing Republicans. But since the CW judgments could have hardly been more wrong, perhaps Newsweek's readership would be better served if occasionally they branched out with a CW that examined other opinions, instead of repeatedly trotting out the tired formula of inside-the-Beltway liberalism.
NewsBites: Ray and Frances Shop for Bad News
RAY AND FRANCES SHOP FOR BAD NEWS. CBS business correspondent Ray Brady thinks government economic statistics only matter when they're bad. When inflation, which Dan Rather described as "up only slightly over the previous two years," was insufficiently gloomy on January 18, Brady began with this query: "Why do so many Americans question the government statistics?" These "many Americans" turned out to be one Frances Kessler, a shopper who relied on her memory to claim dramatic single-item price increases.
Cornflakes in hand, Kessler complained, "$1.99. I think the last time I bought this, it was $1.59. That's a big increase. It's ridiculous." Armed with a box of Kleenex, Kessler charged, "I just finished a box at home. The price was 99 cents. This is $1.29. That's 30 cents. That's a 30 percent increase. Ridiculous." The ridiculous label belongs to Brady.
SEMPER FIDEL. Given events in Eastern Europe, Fidel Castro must be struggling hard to keep hope for communism alive. The Washington Post's Julia Preston, once a writer for the pro-Castro North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), is just the person to give Fidel a helping hand. In a front-page article January 22, Preston asserted that "Cubans today do not compare their conditions to those of Western Europe, as do many East Europeans, but to those of Latin America. From that perspective, they see that socialism offered them exceptional advances."
Preston claimed that "Castro inspires Cubans who admire how he transformed the island nation of 10.5 million into a power that could stand off the nearby Yankee giant...Castro, 63, with tireless energy and political passion, is still popular with many Cubans. Although no accurate measure of Cuban opinion is available, analysts say fidelistas far outnumber devoted Communists."
LEFTIST EXPERTISE. The CBS Evening News keeps turning to liberal experts to get an understanding of Soviet events. On the January 22 broadcast, Dan Rather claimed "Bruce Morton sampled the debate in this country." But Morton's "sampling" ranged from left to left: Ellen Mickiewicz of the Jimmy Carter Center, Ed Hewitt of the Brookings Institution, William Hyland of the liberal journal Foreign Affairs, and CBS consultant and Nation contributor Stephen Cohen.
On February 3, anchor Bob Schieffer's "Washington Notebook" segment rounded up another group of experts: Jack Mendelsohn of the liberal Arms Control Association, Raymond Garthoff of Brookings, and Daniel Hamilton of the Carnegie Endowment. Since no conservatives were included in either group, MediaWatch can only conclude that only liberals have sufficient "expertise" for CBS.
PRIME TIME PRAVDA. ABC's search for better ratings for Prime Time Live (PTL) finally led to the Kremlin. Sam Donaldson and Diane Sawyer squandered the rare opportunity to look behind the Kremlin's walls. PTL repeated the tired myth that communism made life better for Russians. Discussing the show on Good Morning America, Sawyer proclaimed, "you realize the weight of the oppression, really, of 400 years under the tsars...you also see the vast, the startling difference when the Soviets came into power." It's hard to claim the system that Lenin built lightened the weight of oppression.
The show also repeated the myth of Lenin's charisma. "The man himself retains an almost mystical hold on the Soviet people," Sawyer asserted, "back in 1917, it was Lenin who fired up an entire country with his bold dream of communist equality." That's why it took bloody civil war until 1925 to force all of the Russians under the yoke, and until World War II to get control of the Baltic nations.
GORBY GROUPIES. Since they named him Man of the Decade, Time's editors continue to stick up for Gorbachev, no matter how far they have to stretch the facts. A January 22 piece by Associate Editor Jill Smolowe on Gorbachev's trip to Lithuania offered a goo example. "He touched down in Vilnius the dignified statesman ...the Soviet President proved himself a master of street theater." Smolowe gushed: "Never had Gorbachev sustained such an energetic performance." For Smolowe, "Thomas Jefferson could not have asked for a better illustration of democracy in action." Not mentioned: the trip was a failure for Gorbachev.
An unattributed article following Smolowe's asked "Could Lithuania Go It Alone?" The author answered that "if the Baltic state were ever to declare its complete independence from the U.S.S.R., that freedom would carry a price." And what is that price? "Most of Lithuania's factories, buildings, highways, trains, communication systems -- pretty much everything except the kitchen sink -- belong to the Soviet state....presumably Lithuania would have to compensate Moscow in some way for what it takes away with it." Time might have suggested Gorbachev compensate Lithuania for invading and forcing Lithuanians to work in those factories in the first place.
SCHIEFFER'S SMOG. Recent CBS environmental reports have been long on hype and short on facts. Dan Rather introduced a January 22 CBS Evening News report: "In the words of one lawmaker it is 'a test of our ability as a society to come to grips with problems that are part of what is now the most dangerous threat to our nation and our species.'" Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer piped in that "in the '80s nothing much was done" since Reagan questioned "if cleaning up the air is a good idea." He applauded that "for the first time in a decade, major legislation designed to reduce auto and industrial emissions will be debated on the Senate floor."
Schieffer's story made viewers believe that since "nothing much was done" by the government, nothing improved without it. But CBS didn't mention a single fact about air quality, so we thought we'd highlight syndicated columnist Warren Brookes, who noted that since 1975, all indicators of air quality have improved, with sulphur dioxide carbon monoxide, suspended particles, lead, and ozone each down at least 20 percent, some much more.
Schieffer brushed over industry concerns about added costs, but didn't mention how they might hurt the effort to improve air quality. As Brookes explained, higher car prices from tighter emission controls result in less turnover of older cars, meaning longer lifespans for pre-1981 models, which cause nearly all the auto emissions that CBS is so worried about.
GOOD MORNING PYONGYANG. On January 25, Good Morning America co- host Charles Gibson discussed the future of U.S. troops in South Korea with two experts. One declared that the reason North Korea "has the posture they have is because they fear the power of the American forces, particularly the American nuclear forces, and the only way they think that they can counter that is to build up a very powerful offensive force of their own so they'd make the cost of any move into North Korea so great that we wouldn't do it."
When Gibson pointed out that the mentally "unstable" leaders of North Korea were working on nuclear weapons, the expert shot back, "Well what would you do if you faced American nuclear weapons? Wouldn't you try to develop your own nuclear weapons to counteract them?" Finally, Gibson was told that "there are hawks and doves in North Korea...and the problem for the United States is to do things that will strengthen the doves, not the hawks."
So who was this expert? Richard Barnet of IPS? Noam Chomsky? No, it was Selig Harrison, a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who served The Washington Post as a South Asia correspondent (1962-65), an editorial writer (1966-67), a North East Asia correspondent (1968-72) and finally as national affairs reporter (1972-74).
LET'S SPEND MORE. If you're a liberal and want greater spending on social programs, CBS will do your bidding. When the National Urban League released its annual report on black America, CBS' Mark Phillips use the January 9 Evening News to parrot the sound- bites of the Urban League President John Jacob: "By the Urban League's arithmetic, 50 billion dollars in saved military costs a year should be spent on education, housing, health care, and job training for American minorities."
CBS aired no one who doubted that this new "urban Marshall Plan" was needed because of "the hopelessness of those up against the wall here." Phillips concluded: "The Urban League calls the '90s a window of opportunity for equality at home and competitiveness abroad. But action, it says, is needed now, or that window will slam shut for good."
AND MORE. Correspondent Bob Faw tried to top Phillips' imbalance in a January 26 report on black college enrollment. Faw cited a ten percent decline in college enrollment over the last decade. Faw and every one of his sources saw these figures as "killing hope for a better life and helping to create a lost generation of Americans." Perhaps CBS News should examine the Census Bureau figures cited by Ben Wattenberg in the January 22 U.S. News & World Report, which showed that since 1980 the number of black college graduates has gone up 30 percent while doubling to over two million.
MY, HOW TIME SPIES. During his stint with Time during the Vietnam War, Boston Globe Assistant Editor H.D.S. Greenway became chums with fellow Time correspondent Pham Xuan An. In a January 21 Washington Post "Outlook" section piece Greenway reminisced on the old Vietnam days, and the friend that gave journalists insights into the enigmatic country in which they found themselves.
Greenway later learned, however, that An was a communist working for the Viet Cong, a dedicated operative purposefully undermining American efforts. An used his press pass to gain access inside the South Vietnamese military, then briefed the Viet Cong on U.S. strategy. But the revelation that his buddy was a subversive imposter did not disturb Greenway. Rather, he became irate at the "right-wingers [who] seized on the An story to say that the press had fallen victim to a fiendish disinformation plot." How else could you explain it?
LISA'S LIBERALISM. You can forget about getting both sides in the abortion debate from NBC News reporter Lisa Myers. On the January 20 Nightly News, Myers was in Missouri, where the Supreme Court's Webster decision made abortion illegal in public hospitals.
Myers' only sources to comment on the change: an abortion clinic staffer and a representative of Planned Parenthood. Latching on to "pro-choice" language, Myers lamented: "For poor women, who rely on public hospitals, an abortion is no longer even an option. The law means most must continue unwanted pregnancies."
On the January 22 Nightly News, Myers added her spin again in reporting on the decline in the number of doctors willing to do abortions. Myers wrapped up her story this way: "Some clinic operators say the growing shortage of doctors may be the biggest threat to the widespread availability of abortion. They warn that victories in the courts and statehouses will be hollow if the battle in the streets is lost." Of course, pro-lifers would be happy to have "hollow" victories for abortionists, but Myers didn't report their side of the story.
LEADING LABELS. Anti-abortion activists "call themselves pro- life," NBC anchor Tom Brokaw told Nightly News viewers on January 22. But coverage of the January 22 March for Life showed how reporters continued to use the negative "anti-abortion" label for one side of the debate while using the positive and euphemistic "pro-choice" label for the other.
NBC's Robert Hager covered the march in typical form: it pitted "anti-abortion demonstrators" vs. the "pro-choice side," as leaders of "pro-choice groups" held a counterdemonstration. At a nearby clinic, "anti-abortion demonstrators" were arrested while "pro-choice demonstrators" taunted them. The state legislatures, Hager said are divided into "anti-abortion" and "pro-choice" camps.
ABC's Jim Wooten related the day's events as a protest by "tens of thousands who oppose abortion" and a counter-protest by "advocates of abortion rights." John Martin of ABC also kept the positive side for the pro-abortion camp. In his report, "those who oppose abortion rights" were pitted against "those who favor abortion rights." Abortion "opponents" in Pennsylvania have "succeeded in getting restrictions on abortion" while "abortion rights advocates have gained victory after victory" in other states. Republicans, of course, "have taken the most restrictive position."
DOING BARNEY'S DUTY. For years liberals have been trying to repeal the McCarran-Walter Act, a fight most recently led by Barney Frank. Now, liberals have NBC on their side. A January 27 Nightly News piece looked at the act, enacted during the '50s to bar entry into the U.S. by those who expressed revolutionary and communist views. Anchor Garrick Utley called it "a law whose time has clearly passed...from the days when people were afraid of communists and true freedom of speech." The piece glibly called for its repeal, with reporter Henry Champ noting it caused America to be "ridiculed elsewhere in the world." Utley suggested that glasnost has made the law obsolete and Champ agreed, "Communism is just not a threat anymore here in America."
BETTER RED AND DEAD. The Washington Post can't even keep bias out of the obituaries. Last June, when a succession of McCarthy era figures died, including Owen Lattimore and Alger Hiss, they were described in headlines as "victims of McCarthyism" and never as communists.
The Post burnished its bad reputation on January 28 with a glowing news story on a memorial service for far-left defense attorney Leonard Boudin, who for many years was general counsel for the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a Communist front. "Civil Liberties Attorney Embraced Constitution," read the headline. Post reporter Paula Span ran an old Boudin quote: "I could never embrace an ism...I did embrace the Constitution." But Boudin, was fond of one "ism" the Post didn't report -- communism. He was a member of the Communist Party, USA.
The father of Kathy Boudin, in prison for a 1981 Weather Underground armed robbery, Boudin was remembered by the Post for defending "victims of McCarthyism" during "what has been called the American Inquisition of the late '40s and '50s." Span added that "More than once, he was referred to as having been the best constitutional lawyer in the United States."
BETTER RED AND DEAD II. The Soviet Union and abortion rights continue to dominate TBS and CNN Chairman Ted Turner's personal agenda. In October, his left-wing Better World Society awarded its annual Better World Medals. Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton garnered the "Population Stabilization" Medal, while Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded a medal for "Peace Advocacy and Arms Reduction." One of Turner's equally liberal media competitors, Time Inc., received the "Communications" award for 1989. Past recipients include: Communist China for "Population Stabilization" in 1988 and the team of Vladimir Posner and Phil Donahue for "Communications" in 1987.
Revolving Door: USA Today's Oregon Trail
USA Today's Oregon Trail. The December MediaWatch front page story, "Renouncing the Reagan Decade," analyzed an article by USA Today reporter Debbie Howlett. MediaWatch has since learned that Howlett spent four months in 1983 as Press Secretary to Oregon State Senator Margie Hendricksen, a Democrat who later opposed Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. The Almanac of American Politics blamed Hendricksen's loss on her "consistently liberal views" which, as The New Republic once noted, include favoring unilateral nuclear disarmament.
NBC's Carter Consultant. NBC News Senior Vice President Tom Ross has resigned to become Director of Media Relations for the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton, though he'll remain a consultant to NBC News throughout 1990. Ross was Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times when Carter appointed him Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Moving to Greener Pastures. Since Senator Terry Sanford's 1986 election, William Green Jr. has served as Senior Assistant to the North Carolina Democrat. In December he decided to retire and returned to Durham where he had worked as a Duke journalism professor when Sanford was President of the university. Green put in a one year stint as The Washington Post's Ombudsman during which he had to explain away the newspaper's 1981 Janet Cooke Pulitzer Prize fiasco.
Pressing for Democrats. Bonnie Piper, a production assistant for National Public Radio's Morning Edition from 1980 to 1984, recently became Press Secretary to U.S. Representative Bob Traxler, a moderately liberal Democrat from Michigan. Piper's spent the last few years working for Time-Life Books....Georgia Democratic Congressman Doug Barnard's new Press Secretary, Lanie Pryles, spent 1983 as a news writer for CNN in Atlanta.
Arkansas Shuffle. The Arkansas Democrat's Washington bureau has been a frequent rest stop for press secretaries between campaigns, judging by a recent National Journal item. Rex Nelson was Washington Bureau Chief from 1986 until last October when he headed west to Little Rock to join Republican Congressman Tommy Robinson's campaign for Governor. Back in 1984, when Robinson was still a Democrat, Nelson worked as Press Secretary to Judy Petty, his unsuccessful Republican opponent. Nelson took over the Washington bureau from Damon Thompson when Thompson became Press Secretary to Senator David Pryor, a Democrat. Before moving to D.C. for The Arkansas Democrat, Thompson served as Press Secretary to Pryor's 1984 Republican opponent, U.S. Representative Ed Bethune.
A Ritzy Switch. William Ritz, a Denver Post reporter from 1978 to 1984, has left his position as Press Secretary to Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) to become Director of Public Affairs for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a group headed by former Democratic Congressman James Roosevelt. Ritz was an AP reporter from 1974 to 1978.
Media Slate "Peace Dividend" for Social Spending
WAGING WAR ON DEFENSE
The new Bush budget hadn't even been released before the networks attacked the President for inadequate cuts in defense spending. On January 8, ABC News Pentagon correspondent Bob Zelnick got a jump on his colleagues, predicting: "Critics will likely claim that the Pentagon should have taken more account of this past year's dramatic changes in Eastern Europe."
Used to complaining about Republican "budget gimmickry," the network budget analysts did some cagey number-crunching of their own. Dan Rather led off the January 29 CBS Evening News: "President Bush came out with his election-year budget today. It calls for some cuts in defense spending, much bigger cuts in domestic programs." Lesley Stahl concurred: "While the budget does call for a two percent cut in military spending, the President would cut far more out of the domestic budget." Among "some of the big losers": education, "which gets slightly less than the amount needed to keep up with inflation." How the education increase is a "much bigger cut" than the actual cut in defense is anybody's guess.
On Nightline a few hours later, ABC's Jim Wooten told viewers of "the dreaded federal deficit, created, for the most part, by the most massive peacetime military buildup in America's history." That's some interesting math. Defense spending is a quarter of the budget and has decreased 16 percent in the past five years, while "entitlements" take half the budget and have grown sharply.
Time went to bat against Bush with the subheadline: "Yes, Bush is finally cutting defense. But with a clearer vision of America's responsibilities in a changing world, he could save billions more." How? "Research for the Strategic Defense Initiative could be cut from $4.5 billion to $3 billion a year," not to mention "The armed forces' 2 million manpower could be halved." Suggesting cuts "far deeper" than the Bush budget, a Time chart relayed the recommendations of the liberal Defense Budget Project and Brookings Institution.
Dazzled by the prospect of a "peace dividend" diverting tax dollars to the ever-growing demands of social engineering schemes, Jim Wooten was typical: "$150 billion in real money by 1999, badly needed for the alleviation of a lot of pressing problems in the country. Problems like homelessness and housing, for example, and health care for the elderly and day care for the children of working parents and what have you." Ignored by network reporters: any thought a "peace dividend" belongs to the taxpayers, not the federal government.
DHL Defends Sponsorship of PBS Show
America's Century Draws Criticism. The December Janet Cooke Award went to the Public Broadcasting Service for distributing America's Century, narrated by Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham. The series was originally produced and aired in Britain under the name American Power. Economist Milton Friedman was one of the few conservatives featured in the six-part series.
After reviewing a transcript of the program, Friedman told MediaWatch: "Lapham chose very selectively quotes of mine where he could either use them as things to attack or where, while entirely correct, they could be viewed as consistent with his own view....Many of my quotes are put in the context which gives a very erroneous impression....They are put in a context and used in a way so that anybody who heard the program would certainly not come away with a view I would want them to come away with."
In a letter to DHL Worldwide Express Chairman Patrick Foley, MediaWatch called the series "anti-American, largely factually inaccurate, and -- consequently -- devoid of any educational benefit." MediaWatch asked if DHL was still happy with their sponsorship and prepared to continue funding similar projects. Reacting to the letter, Director of Marketing Services Richard Rossi was unwavering in his support for the series: "I don't know what we will be doing in the future. We are happy with the show. I don't think Lapham is a traitor to his country. I can understand differences of opinion, but the vehemence of your reaction is puzzling."
Janet Cooke Award: Today:Earth to Ehrlich
Few causes inspire more passionate reporting than the environment. Perceived by journalists as a can't-miss opportunity to demonstrate their conscience (who is against the environment?), those who normally naysay charges of media bias concede -- even boast -- that they are pushing an agenda. Last year, NBC Capitol Hill correspondent Andrea Mitchell acknowledged that "clearly the networks have made that decision now, where you'd have to call it advocacy." NBC has been one of the most active advocates, airing a second three-part series of environmental reports by that left-wing "master of disaster," ecologist Paul Ehrlich.
As they did in May, in January Today gave Ehrlich a production and travel budget to narrate three completely unchallenged six-minute reports. In the eight months since the May series, Today has given no air time to a different point of view. For its repeat performance of imbalance, NBC earns this month's Janet Cooke Award.
NBC provided an unrebutted platform for Ehrlich's apocalyptic views. In so doing Today encouraged people's worst fears, making them more receptive to massive government intervention favored by liberals. It's not just a matter of ideological bias, but of attributing respect to a discredited record of doomsday predictions. It's not just a clash between objective and advocacy journalism, but between science and politically motivated pseudoscience.
Ehrlich authored the 1968 panic manual The Population Bomb, which began: "The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970's the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."
The Ehrlich series kicked off January 9 with a story on "how man is destroying the entire ecological system with something that appears to be completely harmless." What was this global threat? The cow. "The dog may be man's best friend, but cows are family
...our dependence on the cow is destroying the world environment. "Overgrazing turned American public lands into severe desert, Ehrlich exclaimed. "Under the best of circumstances, it would have taken hundreds of years for the land to regenerate itself." But later in the report, he praised a private ranch where "scientists have measured fantastic improvements" in just 20 years. Not only did Ehrlich contradict himself, he missed the distinction. Public lands are treated carelessly, while private lands flourish with a mindful property owner.
The January 10 report used overpopulation as an argument to discontinue capitalism: "What concerns ecologists is that these [Third World] countries look to the United States, Germany, and Japan as models of development. They think the only way out of poverty is to industrialize."
Ehrlich continued: "But the foundations of our survival -- the world's forests, soils, water, and air -- have already been badly overexploited as a result of vast overpopulation in the industrial nations, who do, after all, use 80 percent of the world's resources to keep the standard of living high for less than 20 percent of the world's population. The most explosive social reality of the next century is that the world's ecosystems cannot support the spread of the American lifestyle to the underdeveloped nations of the world." How ironic that Ehrlich singles out Western democracies, whose citizens have demanded comparatively stringent pollution controls, while ignoring the heavy polluters of the Soviet bloc. As the world abandons command economies for cleaner service economies, Ehrlich proposes turning the clock back to the pre-industrial age.
Greenhouse hysteria dominated the January 11 segment. Repeating frantic forecasts of global warming, Ehrlich solemnly declared: "There is an even greater threat that scientists can only speculate about. As global temperatures rise, they may cause the massive West Antarctic ice sheet to slip more rapidly. Then we'll be facing a sea-level rise not of one to three feet in a century, but of 10 or 20 feet in a much shorter time. The Supreme Court would be flooded. You could tie your boat to the Washington Monument. Storm surges would make the Capitol unusable. For Today, Paul Ehrlich in Washington, DC, on the future shoreline of Chesapeake Bay."
A more earthbound assessment recently came from the American Geophysical Union. In the case of a 3-to-4 degree warming, they reduced estimates of expected sea-level rise to 12 inches, down from an estimate of 25 feet in 1980. Of course, scientists are not even unanimous about that much warming. As University of Virginia environmental scientist Patrick J. Michaels said, "The question scientists should now be asking is not how much it will warm over the next 50 to 100 years, but why has it warmed so little during the major carbon dioxide buildup?"
When asked about the Ehrlich series, Today spokesman Mary Neagoy told MediaWatch "We're real happy with what he's done for us." Neagoy admitted that Ehrlich had a definite point of view, which is why Today put him on the air. Neagoy claimed Ehrlich was only one "among a lot of people we used," but no one else was given a travel budget and eighteen minutes of solo airtime. When asked why Ehrlich was used as an NBC reporter, Neagoy said "all kinds of news organizations use all sorts of people as reporters. Doctors are medical reporters. Lawyers are law reporters. It's common practice." But it's not common practice to sign up partisan doctors like Benjamin Spock or lawyers like William Kunstler who advocate a particular political cause, without providing an opposing viewpoint.
Julian Simon, professor of economics at the University of Maryland and author of The Ultimate Resource, a fact-filled refutation of Ehrlich's contentions, told MediaWatch: "On just about every point where his statements can be tested against evidence, Ehrlich is wrong. Indeed, he has been wrong across the board since the 1960's. Every one of his predictions has been falsified. How many times does a 'prophet' have to be wrong before he stops being a prophet?"
NBC may want to show off its environmental conscience, but Ehrlich's long-discredited reputation should be an embarrassment to the network. But his role as NBC's number one environmental expert continues. They have announced he will be "among the people" they plan to use for their upcoming coverage of Earth Day. They apparently agree with Bryant Gumbel's on-air assessment at the end of the series: "That's good stuff."