In This Issue
Patriots Prove Media Myopia; NewsBites: Kudos for Quayle; Revolving Door: War Talkers; More Concerned About Selves Than Soldiers; Jennings Just As Wrong; Legitimizing Propaganda; Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Sanitized Protest
Patriots Prove Media Myopia
The world witnessed a dazzling display of American technological mastery when our Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) related Patriot missiles intercepted Iraq's Scud missiles. This success should cause great embarrassment to those in the media who spent years trying to discredit the centerpiece of Ronald Reagan's military modernization program. According to the conventional wisdom in the media, SDI was a waste of money that would never work.
ABC Pentagon correspondent Bob Zelnick was typical. In March 1989 the Center for Peace and Freedom asked Zelnick to report on former SDI chief Lt. General James Abrahamson's memo urging development of the system. Zelnick responded: "The day you or anyone else believes that you can influence my coverage by what you decide to parcel out is the day that you have lost touch with reality in more ways than in the strategic system you endorse... we have more important things to cover than Abe's seat-of-the- pants judgement about a virtually untested technology, which no one is about to deploy in the foreseeable future."
Zelnick was notably silent after the Patriot's initial successes, as was colleague Ted Koppel, who gave his analysis of SDI on the October 30, 1987 edition of Donahue: "I think that what is being proposed for expenditures on Star Wars, for example, is absolute nonsense."
Time advocated the dismantling of SDI in order to fund more worthwhile causes, like a trip to Mars. On July 24, 1989, Time declared that "if the President comes out strongly for the mission [to Mars] Congress should be able to find a way to fund it. One option: to siphon the money from Star Wars and other questionable defense programs." When the Bush budget, which included defense cuts, was released in January 1990, Time concluded: "Yes, Bush is finally cutting defense. But with a clearer vision of America's responsibilities in the changing world, he could save even more. Research for the Strategic Defense Initiative could be cut from 4.5 billion dollars to 3 billion dollars a year."
In the January 1, 1990 issue of U.S. News & World Report, Senior Editor Harrison Rainie charged that "the [Reagan] Administration spun the nation out of its torpor with such fantasies as supply side economics, the nuclear weapons `window of vulnerability,' and the Strategic Defense Initiative."
Last summer, the media were prepared to bury SDI once and for all. When the Senate cut a billion dollars from the program, NBC's Henry Champ gleefully reported that "Senators today finally turned their backs on a dream of the Reagan era" and let SDI critic John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists conclude: "I think the epitaph of Star Wars is going to be that we spent 20 billion dollars chasing an impossible dream, and we're finally waking up to the reality of the waste of this effort." In an August 13, 1990 article, Time reporter Bruce Van Voorst dismissed any progress in the SDI program: "After seven years of research, it is clear that no anti-missile system can provide the impenetrable shield against incoming missiles that Ronald Reagan envisioned in 1983."
Reporters regularly dismissed SDI by associating the program solely with an "Astrodome" space-based defense (and degrading it with the nickname "Star Wars"). Because the program's highest aims were not immediately attainable, the steps on the way to the ultimate goal, including ground-based missile defenses, were treated as equally far-fetched.
In a June 11 article titled, "Remember Star Wars? Now It's a Program in Search of A Rationale," U.S News reporter Bruce Auster eulogized that "with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) succumbing to tighter budgets, reduced military tensions, and a dose of technological reality, both the U.S. and the Soviets have an interest in letting Reagan's dream die a quiet death." He asked: "Can Iraqi missiles save SDI?" He answered no, because "shooting down low-tech missiles in the Middle East may prove as difficult as destroying modern Soviet inter-continental missiles in space." Why? "Ground-based tactical ballistic missile defenses like the U.S. Patriot...would use radar to track an incoming missile. That poses a dilemma. Larger radars increase effectiveness, but also make an easier target for radar-seeking missiles and impede mobility...Given the technical challenge of shooting down tactical ballistic missiles in combat, are missile defenses worth-while?" Auster again said no: "If missile defenses are not practical, or affordable, some countries may conclude that the only way to avoid being hit is to hit first."
The media's revisionists may now be arguing that only a small percentage of SDI funding went to land-based theater missile defenses, but reporters spent the 1980s assaulting the entire concept of strategic defense as damaging to the cause of arms control. In retrospect, arms control might have been more dangerous than the "arms race." Time Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott denigrated the entire modernization effort last February 12: "So far the Administration's position in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) is, in one respect, still mired in the past. It is designed to preserve, in its redundant entirety, Ronald Reagan's so-called strategic modernization program...the kind of military overinsurance the public was willing to pay for a decade ago looks like wretched excess now."
After the invasion of Kuwait, thousands of stories were produced on the impending Gulf war, but none of the three major networks aired a story on the potential of SDI or SDI-related systems to save American or Allied lives in the face of Iraqi missile launches. Only CNN broached the subject with a September 22 report by Alexander Kippen. The story even discussed Iraq's Scud missiles, and concluded: "This may be the first defense budget of the post-Cold War era, but as it becomes easier for Third World countries like Iraq to buy longer-range ballistic missiles, SDI and other controversial holdovers designed for the Cold War are likely to remain on the front line of the defense debate."
Even now that the evidence is in, as some reporters stationed in Saudi Arabia were being protected by the Patriot missile system, journalists continued to denounce SDI. On the January 20 edition of ABC's This Week with David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson complained: "Well, we spent billions of dollars for these Star Wars systems, and I haven't seen a Star Wars system in Iraq, George. I haven't seen a B-2 Bomber in Iraq." Countered George Will: "I'm sorry, Sam. When you see a Patriot shooting down an incoming missile, you are seeing strategic defense, and you are seeing Star Wars technology protecting little old you....And there's more to SDI than the Patriot, as you will learn to your pleasure sooner or later." Donaldson still concluded: "So far there's been about seven billion dollars to SDI and fortunately the Congress is about to cut that off."
NewsBites: Kudos for Quayle
KUDOS FOR QUAYLE. Dan Quayle played an important role in pushing the Patriot missile through to completion. If you rely solely on the networks or the major wire services, that should be news to you. Gannett News Service reporter Richard Whitmire wrote on January 22: "It was Quayle who fought the funding battle inside the conference committees, say Senate staffers who were involved. And it was Quayle who worked to make sure the Pentagon followed through with the projects." USA Today ran a reduced version of the Whitmire story on the same day. The Los Angeles Times mentioned Quayle's role twice, but the story never made The New York Times, The Washington Post, AP, UPI, or the networks.
MORE WAR GORE. Add Walter Cronkite to the list of media manipulators who want graphic pictures of grotesque death so that Americans will be sickened out of supporting the Gulf War.
On January 24, Cronkite told the Chicago Tribune about Vietnam: "During that war, we were getting complaints from viewers that 'We don't want to see all that bloodshed at dinner time...Well, my attitude about that is if we've voted to send our young men into battle, we've got a duty to watch what they do. It ought to be almost compulsory to sit in front of the television set and have to view the horror that they're enduring. The military and the politicians don't like that kind of domestic exposure. If we start seeing, live, on the air, people dying in combat, it's going to have one terrible effect."
That's funny. We don't recall any media figures demanding pictures of aborted fetuses so people can better understand that issue. Nor any reporters demanding pictures appear of the randier artistry of Robert Mapplethorpe and his band of urinators, which could add something to the NEA debate.
BLOOD SACRIFICE. Cronkite also told the Chicago Tribune he understood the military's interest in keeping the networks away from providing troop movement information to the enemy. "I don't understand how the military can be expected to permit that kind of coverage," he said, but "I think the networks will attempt it. I think the networks ought to attempt it as a matter of making arrangements with the military to cover as much as they can."
So: American soldiers might be killed by the hundreds thanks to the networks, but hey, it might get the Pentagon to loosen those restrictions. And while the soldiers die, Cronkite no doubt hopes we all see it live.
JORDANIAN TWIST. When Allied pilots bombed a number of Jordanian trucks on the road from Iraq to Jordan, CBS portrayed the drivers killed as innocent victims. "Jordan buried its first war dead today: three truck drivers whose vehicles were attacked by Allied warplanes on a highway in Iraq," began CBS reporter Doug Tunnell in a February 5 Evening News segment. "They were all civilians from a nation that is officially neutral in the Gulf War."
Between January 30 and February 4, CBS aired eight Evening News and This Morning reports that failed to mention that the Jordanians were driving oil trucks, or question why a "neutral" country was blatantly violating the U.N. sanctions.
Paula Zahn finally asked the million dollar question February 5: "Weren't the Jordanians violating the U.N. sanctions in the first place by bringing in oil from Iraq?" Reporter Betsy Aaron dutifully replied: "Some people think that that's the case, but the Jordanians don't think that they're violating any of the sanctions. They think that they were given an exemption. They're not paying the Iraqis for any of this oil. The Iraqis owed them a lot of money and this is just a payoff of the debt, so no money is really changing hands."
WAILING WALLACE. February's Commentary magazine cover story is must reading for devotees of Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes. Jerusalem Post editorial editor David Bar-Illan's article painfully exposes Wallace's manipulative December 2 report on the Temple Mount incident point by point. Most importantly, Bar-Illan contends that 60 Minutes ignored evidence that Israeli police did not fire on the assembled Palestinian crowd until a riot began.
Bar-Illan also demonstrates the story was simply the latest evidence of Wallace's anti-Israel bias. The Commentary article includes transcripts of Wallace's fawning interviews with PLO chief Yasser Arafat and Syrian President Hafez Assad. In a letter responding to Bar-Illan's criticism of a 1989 Arafat interview, Wallace avoided the subject, defending himself with a transcript of a tough interview he did with Arafat in 1979. Equally entertaining is a letter from 60 Minutes producer Barry Lando, who admitted that his crew traveled to Israel just before the Temple Mount incident not to report the news, but to present "the Palestinian side" of the Arab-Israeli story.
WAR MONEY WASTED. As the war continues, some reporters are finding new reasons to oppose it. In the words of CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews, the war "will wipe out any chance of a peace dividend, and reduce the chance of any new fully-funded domestic programs."
The night of President Bush's State of the Union address, ABC's World News Tonight aired four stories urging Bush to adopt liberal domestic policies. Carole Simpson began the third piece: "National family welfare experts agree on what should be the number one family issue on President Bush's domestic agenda: parental leave." Since it would not propose new spending programs, Simpson lamented, "The Bush Administration is expected to have little to say to the nearly 32 million poor Americans."
Over on NBC Nightly News, reporter Lisa Myers dedicated a story to how supposed federal budget cuts have devastated cities. She concluded: "Some argue that when the Gulf War is over, the United States should embark on the equivalent of a Marshall Plan. Not to re-build Iraq or Kuwait, but to re-build this nation's cities."
DEMOCRACY DOUBLESPEAK. Christian Science Monitor writer John Battersby has a rather fluid idea of what democracy means. In a December 28 article on transforming Angola from a Marxist thugocracy into a democracy, Battersby quoted Methodist Bishop Emilio Miguel de Carvalho: "A multiparty system is not the African method of conducting politics." Battersby noted: "The outspoken bishop, a committed advocate of peace, reflects a broad skepticism here about the desirability of multiparty rule."
However, in a January 14 piece headlined "Cleric May Be Angola's Bridge to Democracy," Battersby proclaimed that "As Angola reaches out toward democracy, the enduring values that de Carvalho represents could provide a vital bridge between the old order and the new...and [he] could emerge as an honest broker as this tragic land begins to heal itself." But Battersby also called de Carvalho "an independent voice in a Marxist-Leninist state" while de Carvalho praised the Cubans ("The Cubans have made a tremendous contribution to Angola since 1975 -- both in education and military assistance -- in a way no other country has done") and denounced the UNITA freedom fighters ("Nobody trusts UNITA because they kill"). Orwell would be proud.
NOBEL NOT NOBLE. On January 13, Yelena Bonner, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Andrei Sakharov, wrote the Nobel Committee requesting that her husband's name be stricken from the list of laureates. Why? According to UPI, Bonner declared: "I deem it impossible that [Sakharov's name] be ranked alongside the name of the Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who as head of state is responsible for the bloodshed [in Lithuania]."
A search of the Nexis news data retrieval system determined Bonner's letter was reported by AP, UPI, Reuters, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times and U.S. News & World Report. Bonner's brave stand went unnoticed by the networks' evening news. Time, continuing to stand by their Man of the Decade, passed over Bonner without a word.
SPIKING THE RIGHT. In response to the left-wing slant of Sonoma State University's "Project Censored," an annual list of "underreported" news stories, Joseph Farah, Editor of the Sacramento Union, asked several conservative media observers help him create "Operation Spike."
On his list of underreported stories: "Why SDI Is More Necessary Than Ever -- In the midst of war with Iraq and the danger to American lives, few reports raised the issue of how Saddam Hussein's potential nuclear capability was a perfect argument for completing and deploying the Strategic Defense Initiative." Also included in the list were the absence of free-market environmentalists from Earth Day coverage; the fact that reported federal budget "cuts" were not really cuts; and that supply-side economics successfully increased government revenues.
Dr. Carl Jensen, director of Project Censored, responded to Farah's effort in the January 26 issue of Editor & Publisher: "I regret that Farah falls into the trap of accusing Project Censored of being a left-wing organization. We are apolitical." But among Jensen's top 25 this year were stories such as "Guatemalan Blood on U.S. Hands"; "The U.S. Is Poisoning the Rest of the World With Banned Pesticides"; and "The U.S. Presence Is Destroying the Environment in Central America." And who could forget an "apolitical" gem from 1987: "Oliver North's Secret Plan to Declare Martial Law."
APOCALYPSE NOW. Carl Sagan is back with a new book on nuclear winter. Although astronomer Sagan's theory has long been repudiated by climatologists, including global-warming guru Stephen Schneider, that didn't stop Good Morning America from giving him a chance to hawk his book.
Sagan told Joan Lunden on January 7: "It's the most serious threat to the human species that we face. It's more serious than AIDS, it's more serious than global warming." Asked how much of the world's nuclear stockpile should be cut, Sagan declared, "We're talking about something like a 99 percent cut. These obscene arsenals..." Lunden interrupted: "Is that realistic?" Sagan said: "Well, is it realistic to pose a threat to the human species and to global civilization?...Nuclear weapons are not snowballs."
Lunden limply queried: "There are critics who disagree with that. What do you say to them?" Sagan mocked them: "All the competent calculations worldwide have converged on the same answer, so I don't think this is a matter of dispute." Lunden ended with a plug for Sagan's book: "It's a bleak book that all the world leaders should have as required reading."
ACID RAIN ATE MY BRAIN. When asked why he didn't report on the landmark National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP), Washington Post environmental reporter (and hype specialist) Michael Weisskopf had a quick answer. According to a January 14 story by Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, Weisskopf "said he was on vacation when the report was released. But he said many people involved in the acid rain debate told him it had little news value." A ten-year government study that finds acid rain is causing no discernible damage to crops and forests has little news value?
Weisskopf doubly confirmed his loafer's approach to reporting in the next paragraph: "This is such a dynamic city, with so many pressure groups pushing their point of view, you don't have to do investigative reporting to find these reports. If they are truly important, they are promoted and put forward." (Read: I don't do stories that aren't flacked to me by environmental activists.) No doubt Weisskopf is still waiting for the Sierra Club press release.
CONDOM NATION. In an effort to deal with the issue of teenage sex, Time magazine has once again decided to throw more condoms on the problem. Referring New York City's plan to distribute condoms without parental consent in high schools, Time Associate Editor Susan Tifft wrote in a January 21 piece, "many teenagers do not use them properly or consistently. That makes it necessary for schools to step in to safeguard the public's health and that of their charges. Parental consent is desirable, but unrealistic."
Tifft scoffed at the idea of chastity, saying, "There is little evidence...that sexual abstinence is an attractive option for students." Going one step further, Tifft testified that the condom distribution in schools would be "attractive" for parents too: "In fact, many parents seem relieved to have the issue taken out of their hands."
Condom distribution in high schools was not enough for Tifft, who ended the article: "According to many experts, there is a growing need to make condoms available in junior high schools, where student sexual activity is on the rise."
CHIDING CHAMORRO. Assessing post-Sandinista Nicaragua, ABC reporter John Quinones turned tough on the new government, but offered only propaganda in his criticism. On the December 24 Nightline he proclaimed, "Ten months after free elections swept Violeta Chamorro to the presidency, the shiny gloss of capitalism is growing dull in Nicaragua. Today almost half of all Nicaraguans are jobless, the annual inflation rate has hit 11,000 percent...[In] Managua for the first time in years, there are beggars, drug addicts, and prostitution."
Quinones concluded: "The bottom line? Nicaragua's economy is now at least as bad off as it was during the worst years of Sandinista rule...today the war is over, the embargo is lifted, this new government has no one to blame but itself." Quinones cited no statistics from the Sandinista regime, which makes sense as they were even worse. For example, inflation at one point was 36,000 percent. And while playing taps for capitalism, Quinones neglected to mention that the Sandinistas still run the army and labor unions, and have done everything to undermine free-market reforms.
OH WOW, MAN. PBS found the perfect way to compliment its trendy-left supporters: a six-part January 19-21 navel-gazing series titled Making Sense of the Sixties. Produced by Washington PBS affiliate WETA, viewers were treated to revelations like this: "You mean the spiritual impulses I have, these inklings -- I smoked the marijuana and I lay on the grass, and suddenly I realized: the grass is alive, the grass has a spirit. You mean this is political? This is political? What a mind-blower! What a mind-blower!"
Viewers also learned of the moonlighting Margot Adler, labeled "Correspondent, National Public Radio" in one soundbite, and described as a "Lecturer on Ecofeminism" in another. Author Annie Gottlieb theorized that "the Reagan era was paying us back for doing it in the streets, and next time, we'll try to make our revolution a little more serious and substantial and deal with social issues."
Many spent the '60s as "idealists," like a student leader who described Vietnam protests: "We're using the incredible might of the American military machine to destroy these people, and there was a sense of almost a lament about 'what are we doing?' It was like a pain, it was more motivated from pain and shame, and drawing back on Hitler times, and the Nazis. We don't want to be connected with something that's so evil." Try making sense of that.
Revolving Door: War Talkers
War Talkers. The Persian Gulf War created some new television and radio employment opportunities for a few old political hands. The Cable News Network made Bill Moyers, a Press Secretary for President Johnson, a frequent commentator during its war coverage. Starting on January 19, Moyers hosted a weekly CNN panel discussion series, The Press Goes to War.
The Mutual Broadcasting System has replaced its Sunday night "Best of Larry King" repeats with a live radio show hosted by Bob Beckel, Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign manager. Beckel remains moderator of Off the Record, Fox's answer to the McLaughlin Group.
Anthony "Tony" Cordesman, a defense and foreign affairs Legislative Assistant for conservative Senator John McCain (R-AZ) until the war began, provided political analysis for ABC News. Cordesman, who spent three years on McCain's staff, wrote a book on the Iran-Iraq War and teaches at Georgetown University.
Cissy's Best. Cissy Baker, Managing Editor of the Cable News Network since 1984, left at the end of 1990. She's now the Supervising Producer of Sunday Best, NBC's latest attempt to counter 60 Minutes. The program features a collection of entertainment show highlights, comedians reviewing the week's news and a look at old television shows narrated by Linda Ellerbee. Back in 1982 Baker was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress from Tennessee.
Republican at the Post? Yes, at least on the business side. For two months in the spring of 1987 Patrick Butler held the title of Executive Editor of Communications at the White House under newly installed Chief of Staff Howard Baker. Now he's joined the Washington Post Company as Vice President of Newsweek and Vice President of Legi-Slate, an electronic congressional data tracking service. Butler worked in President Gerald Ford's speechwriting office before becoming a Special Assistant to Republican Senator Howard Baker in 1978. Except for his brief White House stint, since 1985 he has been Vice President of Times-Mirror's Washington office where he's overseen publicity for the newspaper chain's Center for the People and the Press.
More Concerned About Selves Than Soldiers
MEDIA MAKE WAR ON PENTAGON
Modern satellite technology created a new challenge for the Pentagon: how to wage war when the TV networks can transmit information around the world, and to the enemy, in an instant. Sadly, in the Persian Gulf War, not all television executives, producers and reporters put the interests of the U.S. armed forces ahead of their self-interest in knowing everything.
Many reporters incessantly whined about press restrictions, arrogantly portraying themselves as the "conveyors of truth" who were better qualified than the Pentagon to decide what should and should not be reported.
ABC reporter Judd Rose took ten minutes of the January 24 Prime Time Live to criticize the press pool system. Rose pompously declared, "what's at issue here is the public interest." Rose complained that the Pentagon didn't let his pool go where it wanted and concluded: "While many people think that we as reporters are whining and that this is a time of war, we are really the conveyors of truth in a very critical time and people need to know that truth."
On CNN the next day, Walter Cronkite assumed the Pentagon would sugarcoat the war: "It is a political lesson they've learned, that if you show the public too much of the gore and the horror of war, they're going to turn against that war. Sanitizing the war for the purpose of keeping American morale, interest in the war, support for the war high is almost criminal." In a January 27 special, The Realities of War, Dhahran-based NBC reporter Arthur Kent pounced on Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams, demanding: "Why are you trying to put your hands so far into our business? We're not trying to tell you how to run the war. We're just trying to cover it. Why do you want to control us so completely?"
Not all reporters were so arrogant. "The security review is just common sense review. It started off very restrictive and they boiled it down. Now it's just basically not talking about any-thing that would endanger Allied troops, which is basically the same restrictions we had in Vietnam. I don't find that's an obstacle to working here at all," Los Angeles Times reporter David Lamb explained on NBC's January 19 Saturday Today special.
Despite reporters' insistence they represented the public's "need to know," the public disagreed. "A 57 percent majority believes that the military should increase its control over reporting of the war," a late January Times-Mirror poll found. Another 78 percent said "they believe the military is not hiding bad news." A February 1 Good Morning America call-in poll asked: "Is the news media doing a responsible and fair job of covering the Gulf War?" No, said 83 percent.
Jennings Just As Wrong
PANNING PAST THE PODIUM SPEAKERS
Peter Jennings added to ABC's misinformation on the February 7 World News Tonight by again claiming: "There is no support for Saddam Hussein here." In the report, ABC aired 16 shots of anti- war activists, most from 12-day-old footage, without identifying one of them, including in-studio interviewees. Jennings was busy emphasizing that "at every anti-war demonstration they carry the flag high." But ABC Washington affiliate WJLA aired protesters burning the flag in Lafayette Park on the 19th. Jennings also asserted that "American troops in the Gulf have their support," ignoring the protest speakers who called the troops "fodder for U.S. imperialism." Like Judd, ABC producer Juliet Cassone admitted to MediaWatch there was an anti-American faction, but dismissed the idea of covering them: "We were looking for mainstream demonstrators."
One way the networks stuck with "mainstream" demonstrators: in all the evening news stories about the major anti-war protests on January 19 and 26, not one story included a soundbite from an actual podium speaker. The first shots of podium speakers from the 26th came in ABC's February 7 report.
The network's focus on large anti-war marches in Washington, New York, and San Francisco did not match the larger reality. Only three percent of Americans polled by Times Mirror had attended an anti-war protest, but nine percent said they had marched in support of the war effort. One exception to the network trend: CBS. It ignored the January 19 anti-war protest. Instead, the Evening News covered pro-Bush rallies.
ARNETT'S AIR WAR
In his reports from Baghdad, CNN's Peter Arnett has gone beyond what's required of a reporter under censorship, from merely transmitting enemy propaganda to commenting on how reasonable it seemed. When he reported that Iraq claimed Allied pilots had bombed a baby-milk factory, he added that the site "looked innocent enough, from what I could see." Arnett told Newsweek: "I think the U.S. just miscalled it...there was no doubt in my mind that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility" producing poisonous agents.
In a January 31 live report, Arnett described damaged civilian areas he saw in a government tour. Although he admitted to anchor Reid Collins that he had not seen the missiles land, he stated: "There was no doubt in my mind that the cruise missiles that came in, the two had obviously landed in these residential areas."
In early February, Arnett did a long story on how Iraqi infants would die from the lack of power to run incubators. He didn't mention that invading Iraqi troops took Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die on hospital floors.
On Larry King Live January 30, CNN Vice President Ed Turner preached: "You must avoid the appearance of cheerleading. We are, after all, at CNN, a global network. We have many nations to serve and it is part of our responsibility and our obligation to do so, if not as objectively as possible, as fairly as possible."
Another guest, Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg, wondered "does he ever confront a situation where he can no longer just be a dispassionate observer and become an American?" (For instance, if he sees U.S. POW's being abused.) No, responded Turner: "I would like to hope that Arnett would keep his own feelings to himself" and report as usual.
Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Sanitized Protest
Critics of Gulf War press restrictions have complained that the Pentagon is "sanitizing" the war effort. But here at home, the media are sanitizing the anti-war effort. Reporters have insisted that the entire protest movement is a mainstream coalition which supports the troops and opposes Saddam Hussein. For leading the way in lionizing the protest movement, ABC reporter Jackie Judd earned the February Janet Cooke Award.
On Nightline January 18, the evening before the first Washington protest against the war, Judd gave an overview: "The message of this movement is a simpler one than that of twenty-five years ago, when American soldiers were vilified and Ho Chi Minh was sometimes cheered. Today, no one is blaming the war on the warriors. Saddam Hussein is recognized as a menace. And the hope of today's opponents is that their message will have broader and broader appeal."
But in The Washington Post the morning of the protest, reporter Paul Valentine quoted Sahu Barron, a "founding organizer" of the rally's sponsor, the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. Barron, a prominent local member of the Trotskyite Workers World Party, "said the idea of Saddam Hussein as a 'bad guy' or a 'mad man' is 'comic book politics.'" Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan quoted coalition member Star Curliss on January 20: "I see Saddam Hussein as a man doing what he needs to do."
In the January 29 Village Voice, Sarah Ferguson reported on the January 19 protest: "The speakers' podium was dominated for the most part by Third World internationalists, Palestinians, and old-line leftists who soundly trashed American imperialism abroad. Most of the speakers did not denounce Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait." Ferguson also mentioned a banner reading "Defend Iraq: Defeat U.S. Imperialism."
Even the January 26 protest in Washington, described as more mainstream, was populated with many of the same people. A Washington Post survey taken at that protest found that 65 percent of the protesters had marched in a previous Persian Gulf protest, and that 91 percent had marched in other protests before. In Washington's alternative City Paper of February 1, Alex Heard wrote: "'We need to remember this is not a war about oil,' one woman said. 'It's a war about the U.S. trying to re-establish the might of U.S. imperialism against the Third World peoples of Iraq. We need to proclaim victory for the people of Iraq!' A large part of the crowd cheered that heartily."
Of course, the protest movement is a diverse lot: a large number (56 percent, according to the Post poll) were pacifists who claimed to oppose all war; some objected to the war's diversion of funds from domestic spending; some questioned fighting for feudal kingdoms. But the large January 19 protest was not simply attended by members of the Workers World Party, it was organized by them. On December 27, Reuters reported that the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East was "affiliated with the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party." Interestingly, Judd only aired organizers from the "more moderate" Committee for Peace in the Mideast, even though their protest was eight days off.
This was not the first time Judd promoted the protest movement. On Nightline last October 19, Judd proclaimed: "It would be easy to dismiss opponents of the buildup as oddball fringe elements. It's happened before. One bitter lesson of the Vietnam War is nobody paid attention to the critics until many thousands of lives had been lost. Today's dissenters say they don't hope history repeats itself."
Among the "oddball fringe elements" that have been a regular fixture of anti-war protests are Trotskyite groups such as the Spartacist League, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Workers World Party, not to mention the Revolutionary Communist Party, those fun-loving Maoists who went to the Supreme Court for the right to burn the flag.
Judd repeatedly aimed to separate these protesters from the Vietnam protesters: "Unlike the '60s, this fledgling movement is not confined to the young and the alienated. Though a definite minority, it is more a cross-section of America." But the Post poll found that 40 percent of the marchers identified themselves as "liberal" and 41 percent called themselves "very liberal." Just two percent described themselves as "conservative." That's hardly a cross-section of America.
Judd also suggested that "Almost every major Christian denomination is on record as opposing the war." The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant denomination in the country, has not opposed the war. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod issued a statement in support of the President: "We are witnessing an act of aggression that must be corrected."
Officials at the U.S. Catholic Conference told MediaWatch the concept of the Catholic Church being "on record" against the war is "too blanket a statement." Some major church officials have spoken out in support of American action. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said peace "is not fulfilled at the price of granting tyrants and aggressors an open field to achieve unjust ends."
Judd's story included no critics of the protesters. After Judd, Ted Koppel interviewed George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, but the interview was cut short for a war update and never resumed. Judd told MediaWatch the interview balanced the show as a whole. "I don't feel like I have to defend myself against this piece. I stand by it."
About the Workers World Party and other radical parties, Judd said her story focused on "the makeup of the movement: who is involved, their motivations, their intentions," but "There are probably also some members of this movement who are members of the Republican Party, and I didn't mention that either....I think most reporters would tend to talk about who is part of the mainstream of the movement. I think the judgments of people in the movement and the judgments of outsiders looking in are probably that the majority are not Trotskyites." Right, but they were the organizers of one of the big protests. Judd later added: "You go to the people who are most important to the movement, who are sort of the largest building blocks of it...I included the people who I thought were important to this and representative of it."
It is certainly not the media's job to denigrate the protesters or make them appear unattractive, but it is the media's job to report on all the important factions of the protest movement, not just the attractive or "mainstream" ones. Excluding the views of a large number of organizers and speakers at the protests was nothing less than dishonest. If a conservative demonstration included David Duke supporters, racist skinheads or any other unattractive extremists, would ABC's story ignore them because they were not "representative"?