MediaWatch: February 1992

Vol. Six No. 2

NewsBites: Unfair to Anita

UNFAIR TO ANITA. In a Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) poll of 100 journalists, 74 percent thought that the "press's handling of the leak that broke the Anita Hill story was fair and reliable," but just 31 percent thought that coverage of the William Kennedy Smith rape allegations "has been fair and without bias." Clearly the poll in the January/February issue proved reporters don't view things the same way as the public. Overall, the CJR poll found that 77 percent of reporters think news outlets "deal fairly with all sides." Compare that to a 1989 Times Mirror survey. It found that 68 percent of the public believes the media "tend to favor one side."

SCARY CLARENCE. Now that Clarence Thomas has written four opinions for the Supreme Court, legal reporters are warning of his conservatism, and worse. On January 18, Los Angeles Times reporter David Savage suggested Thomas "may be showing the first signs of being a conservative hard-liner ready to sharply restrict the protections of the Constitution."

In USA Today ten days later, reporter Tony Mauro issued a one- sided salvo on Thomas' decision in an Alabama case in which the court ruled against a black county commissioner. Mauro quoted a lawyer for the NAACP, the plaintiff's lawyer, and liberal black judge A. Leon Higginbotham, who lectured Thomas for not appreciating what the civil rights movement accomplished for him. Mauro questioned his blackness further: "But during his confirmation hearings, Thomas sought to convince the Senate he would not forget his roots. As soon as he was sworn in, though, doubts re-emerged: Thomas hired four white males as law clerks."

Legal expert Terry Eastland told MediaWatch these reporters expect Thomas to rule in favor of blacks regardless of the wording of the laws, concluding: "By this standard, Antonin Scalia would always have to rule favorably for Italian plaintiffs, and Sandra Day O'Connor would always have to rule in favor of women."

SO CONSERVATIVE THEY SING. In 1978 Stephen Hess surveyed White House reporters and found 42 percent considered themselves liberal, 39 percent said they were middle-of-the-road and only 19 percent said they were conservative. Thirteen years later, the Brookings Institute Senior Fellow did another survey of the White House press corps. This time 42.4 percent said they were liberal, 24.2 percent said middle-of-the road and 33.3 percent called themselves conservative.

Hess concluded: "Thus the White House press corps might best be characterized as liberal and considerably more conservative than it used to be." But what is conservative by Washington media standards? Hess cited ABC White House Correspondent Brit Hume's observation that he has seen fellow reporters sing the national anthem. "That is new," Hume remarked.

TASTE OF MILWAUKEE. WISN radio talk show host Mark Belling has provided MediaWatch with telling proof of how Bill Moyers operates: If the evidence contradicts his liberal thesis, then he simply ignores it. Last fall, two producers from Moyers' production company filmed an hour of Belling's afternoon show during which callers discussed their attitudes toward their work and jobs. The producers assured Belling they "had no idea of the tone of their piece since they hadn't begun to dig into it yet."

It turned out the producers were working on Minimum Wages, a January 8 PBS special analyzed in last month's MediaWatch. Belling remembered his show: "Caller after caller eloquently and poignantly talked of their experiences. Virtually all were positive. Many were former factory workers who lost jobs in the '80s but recovered and are now doing much better than they were before." Naturally, he continued, "my show ended up on the editing room floor." Instead, Moyers painted a portrait of Milwaukee's middle class as decimated during the 1980s as workers were unable to replace high-paying factory jobs with anything but minimum wage positions.

PC PANDERING. The standard leftist line is that Political Correctness (PC) doesn't really exist. That's also the theme of Washington Post reporter Michael Abramowitz's January 3 one-sided press release on the annual convention of the very PC Modern Language Association (MLA).

Abramowitz repeated the MLA's assertions: "One group of prominent scholars...held an organizational meeting here to begin correcting what its leaders term misinformation propagated by right-wing scholars, think-tanks and commentators." And: "A common complaint heard at the convention was that the media have endlessly recycled what one scholar termed 'shamelessly over-simplified scare stories' to paint a dire, inaccurate picture of a radicalized academe."

Abramowitz didn't ask what kind of scholarship MLA considers worthy. The 1989 convention produced papers titled "Literary and Critical Theory from Lesbian Perspectives" and "The Muse of Masturbation." One wonders what this year produced.

HEALTH HYPE. If health care is the issue, then more government is NBC's answer. As part of Today's week-long "State of America" series, Robert Hager reported on January 23: "This is a nation aware it has a problem providing health care but not quite sure how to do it. But it has to do something. Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen Health Research Group warns of disaster." As a loyal employee of Ralph Nader, Dr. Wolfe predicted: "Our health care system is going to be bankrupt by 1997, when the Commerce Department estimates we'll be spending a trillion, almost a trillion and a half dollars."

Hager continued: "Many have suggested we look to Canada, which has a national system of care. No Blue Cross, no private insurance. There is one insurer, the Canadian government. Canada spends forty percent less per person for health care than we do. The lines are not long and Canadians visit their doctors more than we do."

But in a January 26 Washington Times article titled "Canadian System Near Financial Abyss," reporter Joyce Price found, "As many members of Congress are pointing to Canada's health plan as a model for the United States, Toronto health management consultant Fred Holmes says the system is on the verge of financial collapse." Holmes told Price: "Medicare in Canada is poised to disintegrate due to the enormous costs...Even if it were fiscally sound...he doubts most Americans would be willing to accept the average six-month waits for coronary bypass surgery or hernia repair."

BETTER IN EL SALVADOR? On Today January 22, co-host Bryant Gumbel and reporter George Lewis teamed up to discredit the conservative economic policies of the 1980s. "In the Reagan years economic erosion set in, so much so that the middle class now finds itself in ever deepening trouble," Gumbel began. Lewis then aired sound-bites of Democratic candidates Bill Clinton, Robert Kerrey and Tom Harkin, liberal economist Philip Mattera and "conservative columnist" Kevin Phillips. President Bush got one sentence.

Lewis talked with a woman who immigrated from El Salvador, but "when the defense plant where Elena had been working laid her off, she had to take a lower paying job," a problem Lewis called "typical." Lewis noted that she now wants to return to El Salvador, prompting him to conclude with this gem: "A definite measure of middle class discontent -- when people in America begin talking about El Salvador as the land of opportunity."

MARILYN VS. HILLARY. Time has extended its liberal double standard to political wives. In the January 20 issue, Associate Editor Priscilla Painton reported that as First Lady, Marilyn Quayle "would make Americans long for Nancy Reagan -- taffetas, tyrannies and all." Painton included only one quote from a mostly positive Washington Post series on the Vice President and his wife. The quote came from an unnamed "Quayle associate," who said, "Nancy would be considered a woman of the people" compared to Mrs. Quayle. Ignoring her work for breast cancer research and disaster relief, Painton called Quayle a "controlling" woman, a "grudge-bearing campaigner" and a "watchdog of a wife with an ambition as long as her enemies list."

But the next week, Time wrote a love letter to Hilary Clinton, whom writer Margaret Carlson painted as an "amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa and Oliver Wendell Holmes," a woman who "discusses educational reform....then hops into her fuel- efficient car with her perfectly behaved daughter for a day of good works." Clinton won praise for wanting a "big city law practice," chairing the left-wing Children's Defense Fund and her past work on the McGovern campaign. Carlson made excuses for Hillary Clinton's often barbed remarks: "Running an official mansion that attracts 20,000 visitors a year can be wearing.... she occasionally tires of the fishbowl."

CENSORSHIP OKAY? As long as it's done by the Iraqi government, according to CNN's Bernard Shaw. In a look back at Desert Storm on January 16, Shaw sniped, "some say Desert Storm coverage was distorted by a government intent on keeping the real story away from the public." But he was talking about the U.S. government, not the Iraqi dictatorship. He made no mention of the blatant censorship and misinformation peddled by the Iraqi government or how often these untruths ended up on CNN.

Instead, he asked Newsday's Patrick Sloyan, "Who was behind this intense campaign by the government to keep the media in check?" Sloyan charged it was "a Bush decision implemented by Cheney." Shaw asked Sloyan, "Did the media sufficiently tell people they weren't getting the whole story?" and questioned at the public's intelligence, asking, "Does the public adequately know the role of news media in a democracy?" As the discussion came to an end, Shaw claimed "the people's right to know suffers when government imposes that kind of censorship" and then huffed, "I wonder if people really care?"

CASTRO THE MAESTRO. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall some reporters are still insisting "the people" want communism. On the January 21 MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, Canadian Broadcasting's David Halton reported: "In the '80s, Cubans had gotten used to one of the best living standards in the Third World. Now suddenly they seemed to be plunged back into the kind of poverty they thought they left behind."

But this "plunge" under Castro did not occur suddenly. According to the Latin American Statistical Abstract, decline in living standards has been consistent during Castro's rule. For example, infant mortality in Cuba in 1969 had risen to 46 per thousand from a pre-Castro figure of 32 per thousand.

Although Halton interviewed both dissidents and Castro supporters, he seemed to have his mind made up: "But what is remarkable with the Quimares family like many other Cubans we talked to, is that even in the face of their hardships, they're still supporting Fidel Castro. Castro, they say, is close to his people, unlike the old guard of communist leaders who were kicked out in Eastern Europe. Castro's socialism, they claim, won't collapse because it is rooted in national pride and social justice." Jose Cardenas of the Cuban American National Foundation responded: "One has to only look at Costa Rica to determine that dictatorship is not 'necessary' to improve the social conditions of a country."

NPR BEWITCHED. Guess what you're missing if you don't listen to taxpayer-funded National Public Radio? Margot Adler, self- proclaimed witch, NPR reporter and author of Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers and Other Pagans in America Today.  In a profile of Adler, New York Times reporter Georgia Dullea wrote, "of the many neo-pagan groups, Ms. Adler said she feels most sympathetic to the newest: the goddess spirituality movement, which reveres matriarchy."

Adler also said: "What matters is that goddess spirituality is meeting the needs of women and some men. People are using the goddess as a metaphor for feelings of creativity, strength and empowerment." But apparently she's not empowered enough to feel comfortable going public. U.S. News & World Report writer John Leo noted in the January 27 issue that Adler refuses to be photographed with a broom.