In This Issue
ABC Friday Segment Often Used As Vehicle for Unbalanced Praise; NewsBites: What A Great Book; Revolving Door: Bode Moves to PBS; Schieffer Asks 26 Questions About Lying, But No Such Questions for Dems; Media Suffer Memory Lapse; Not My Fault; ABC First to Hire Religion Reporter; Janet Cooke Award: PBS Program on Campaign Finance Laws Boasts Nine Opponents, No Supporters
ABC Friday Segment Often Used As Vehicle for Unbalanced Praise
"Person of the Week" Celebrates Liberals
Two years ago, MediaWatch examined ABC's weekly "Person of the Week" segment. In an analysis of the Friday World News Tonight feature from January 1988 through December 1991, our study found a liberal tilt: in 181 segments aired over the four-year period, ABC saluted 27 left-leaning political officials or advocates, but only five who could be labeled conservative.
Last fall, World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings conceded in TV Guide that ABC's regular "American Agenda" segments had "revolved around a liberal axis," but promised to "pay more attention to what conservatives are saying." But ABC has not shown the same concern for their "Person of the Week" pieces.
This month, MediaWatch analysts reviewed the Person of the Week choices from January 1992 through December 1993. In 99 segments, 21 identifiably ideological figures were honored. These individuals were classified either as political officials or activists. During the two-year period, liberal or Democratic officials outnumbered conservatives or Republicans by a margin of 7 to 2. Among activists the margin grew, with liberals holding a 10 to 2 advantage. Overall, liberals outnumbered conservatives 17 to 4.
The seven liberal political figures chosen were U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, Harry Truman, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former Sen. William Fulbright, Hillary Clinton, Clinton campaign manager James Carville, and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez. The two who could be labeled conservative were Lynda Owens, a black GOP candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, and Evan Kemp, former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Ironically, ABC chose Kemp for his work in gaining passage for the Americans with Disabilities Act, a measure opposed by most conservatives for its regulatory burden.
Among the Democratic pols chosen by ABC, Roll Call recently ranked Waters as the most left-wing member of the House. On May 15, 1992, Peter Jennings lauded her role in the riots in Los Angeles, introducing her as "a woman who will not go unheard, with good reason." As Waters explained, "The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, riot is the voice of the unheard."
On February 12, 1993, Jennings lamented Fernandez's dismissal. His "Rainbow Curriculum" guide which told teachers to "include references to lesbians/gay people in all curricular areas" was opposed by parents and school board members. Jennings concluded, "and so we choose Joseph Fernandez, who has certainly helped us to understand what a challenge improving education and understanding really are, which is why he makes a difference."
In praising Hillary Clinton on September 24, 1993, Jennings credited the citizenry for finally coming around: "Earlier this week, it occurred to us that this particular individual had come an awfully long way in the last year or so. And then we thought, no, maybe it's the country which has come a long way."
Activists. ABC chose an array of activists. Of the 12 identified, only two could possibly be classified as right of center. Clint Eastwood, the former Republican Mayor of Carmel, California, was praised on August 7, 1992 for is work in Unforgiven, a film acclaimed by liberals.
Walter Annenberg was honored on June 25, 1993 for awarding millions of dollars to schools. Jennings mentioned his father's newspaper campaign against the New Deal and imprisonment for tax evasion before quipping, "and whether he is atoning for his father's sins or not, he honors his father's memory by giving his vast fortune away."
The ten identifiably liberal activists received no such scrutiny. In fact, elements of controversy and disagreement were absent, particularly in segments on environmentalists. On February 14, 1992 Jennings introduced "a man to whom every man, woman and child owes a great debt of thanks." Sherwood Rowland, the alarmist scientist warning of drastic ozone depletion, was chosen "because he was right. The Popular Science magazine once referred to him as `The Man Who Saved the Planet -- Maybe.' Maybe -- now the world is listening." ABC aired no criticism of Rowland's dubious assertions, as if none existed.
On June 5 of the same year, Jennings praised "the world's most tireless cheerleader for the planet," Earth Summit organizer Maurice Strong. Jennings proclaimed: "Strong warns delegates from the industrialized nations that the cost in the short term to clean up the mess we have made and change the way we do business will be much less than the price we will all pay if we don't."
Among the artists celebrated was dancer Katherine Dunham, praised on March 20, 1992 for her hunger strike protesting Bush policy toward Haitian refugees. Diane Sawyer introduced "Susan Sontag, author, essayist, theater director" on August 27, 1993. With no mention of her activist past, Sontag was commended for directing a play in war-torn Sarajevo. ABC never noted Barbara Bush's later humanitarian mission to Bosnia.
ABC also selected Inaugural poet Maya Angelou, the former adviser to Malcolm X, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who wrote an essay and edited a book attacking Clarence Thomas and praising Anita Hill. Activist Fran Visco was celebrated because, Sawyer reported, she "organized women to target the male-dominated government...which hasn't spent nearly as much time and money fighting breast cancer as diseases which are more deadly to men."
Also celebrated by ABC were liberal New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, and TV regulation activist Peggy Charren. Forrest Sawyer saluted former Stride Rite CEO Arnold Hiatt on May 29, 1992 for achieving success "with a conscience, unlike some of the leaders of American industry in the 1980s." ABC then showed a clip of the Gordon Gekko character in Wall Street.
ABC's Person of the Week selections still retain a liberal bias. In spite of Jennings' promises about other features, this one has remained a vehicle for celebrating liberals without the inconvenience of criticism.
NewsBites: What A Great Book
"What A Great Book!"
In a saccharine Sunday Today interview, co-host Jackie Nespral gushed over 1984 Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Nespral began by promoting Ferraro's new book, Changing History: Women, Power, and Politics, exclaiming: "What a great book!" Ignoring the inconvenient fact that the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost the women's vote to Reagan by 56 to 44 percent, Nespral suggested sexism in the election results: "When you were a candidate for Vice President, you were heavily scrutinized. What do you think happened? Do you think America was just not ready for a woman Vice President?"
Though Nespral never asked Ferraro about her contentious (and failed) 1992 Senate bid, she ended by tossing her a softball about the First Lady: "Hillary Rodham Clinton...she has a lot of power in Washington, do you think she's paving the way for a brighter future for women?" With tough questions like that for liberal Democrats, Nespral must have her eyes on Bryant Gumbel's job.
The Gaffe Gap
On June 15, 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle attended a spelling bee in New Jersey where he misspelled the word potato. Over the next four days CNN, NBC and CBS ran six stories about the gaffe and countless newspaper articles have since recounted the incident.
On January 6 this year, Al Gore gave a speech in Milwaukee, comparing the city's ethnic background to the Latin phrase on U.S. coins. Gore erroneously said America "can be e pluribus unum -- out of one, many." No network mentioned the incident. The only major newspaper to run the story was The Washington Post. In a January 10 article Al Kamen pointed out, "No Al, that's the Soviet Union. We're out of many, one."
But on January 27, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw told America about Quayle's upcoming Super Bowl potato chip ad, noting: "It's about eating potato chips, not spelling them. After all, everyone knows how to spell potato chip don't they? C-H-I-P-E." The next night, CBS Evening News anchor Connie Chung quipped: "If you can't spell it, sell it."
Three Strikes Stink
Despite polls supporting the idea of life imprisonment for a third violent felony conviction, ABC reporter Chris Bury dismissed it as pandering. On the January 26 Nightline, Bury asserted "a giant gap exists between what politicians are demanding and what professionals and scholars in the field believe will work. The problem is, they say, mandatory sentences and longer prison terms have been a reflexive answer to crime for 20 years, yet violent crime has only grown worse." He concluded: "Washington has yet to demonstrate it can be tough and smart. The legacy of get-tough politics has filled up the prisons, all right, but hasn't made the streets any safer."
While host Ted Koppel went on to interview three opponents of mandatory sentencing, he left out the idea's supporters. Take Professor Morgan Reynolds, who wrote in a 1992 study for the National Center for Policy Analysis: "Since the early 1950s, the expected punishment for committing a serious crime in the United States (measured in terms of expected time in prison) has been reduced by two-thirds." For example, in 1990, a murderer "could expect to spend only 1.8 years in prison," a rapist, just 60 days. Bury claimed prisons are overcrowded, and each prisoner costs "$4,000 more than a year at Harvard." He didn't mention the cost of criminals loose in society, estimated at $430,000 per year by a Rand Corporation survey, which found the average career criminal committed 187 to 287 crimes per year, at an average cost of $2,300 each.
Old Habits Die Hard
Washington Post Ombudsman Richard Harwood lambasted his own paper in May 1990 for unequal abortion coverage. An April 1990 pro-abortion rally received front-page treatment, generating dozens of stories and taking up to 15 columns of space. A pro-life rally a few weeks later received a scant two stories in the Metro section. Harwood wrote the disparity "left a blot on the paper's professional reputation." What's happened since Harwood's scolding? The Post covered the January 1993 pro-life march above the fold on page one. But this year, the Post once again exiled the annual march to the Metro dustbin with one story a day for three days.
One possible reason for the continued difference in coverage may be the composition of the Post staff. At a Center for Communication panel discussion reported in the December 11 Editor & Publisher, Post New York correspondent Malcolm Gladwell said "If you have a staff that is totally unrepresentative of the national divide over abortion as ours is, you'd have to have a rule about not marching in a pro-abortion protest because the whole staff could conceivably be there."
Why Not Impeachment?
Seven years and $40 million later, The New York Times mourned the end of Iran-Contra. On January 19, the day after Lawrence Walsh released his final report, a "news analysis" by David Rosenbaum argued: "Presented so starkly, these matters seem grave enough to bring down a government, but they were basically lost on the American public. Under the glare of television lights, the congressional inquisitors came across as bombastic bullies, and two primary offenders, Oliver L. North and John M. Poindexter, were seen as patriots."
The primary question Rosenbaum thought needed answering was why Reagan wasn't impeached: "When the Iran-Contra case developed, Mr. Reagan was a short-timer, in the third year of his second term. One reason impeachment was never even considered was that proceedings could not possibly have been completed before he was out of office anyway. Then, Mr. North, Mr. Poindexter and others refused to testify before Congress unless they received grants of immunity. For all intents and purposes, that meant they could never be successfully prosecuted and, indeed, their convictions were overturned on appeal because of the immunity grants."
Rosenbaum admitted that "one reason that miscreants were turned into martyrs in the public eye was that Mr. Walsh's investigation seemed at times to be so mismanaged." But the Times did no "news analysis" on Walsh's election-eve reindictment of Caspar Weinberger, or Walsh's documented financial extravagance.
Which Gender Suffers?
Discrimination against girls in public schools was Lisa McRee's subject on the new cable show Lifetime Magazine, produced by ABC News. On January 23, McRee promoted a new study by American University professors Myra and David Sadker illustrating the negative effects of gender bias in the classroom. According to McRee, gender roles, "even among 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds, reflect society as a whole. The Sadker study shows that white males dominate classrooms. Minority males get the second most attention. White females place third when teachers call on students." Until this bias is eliminated, McRee contended, "girls in coed classes will continue to be second-class citizens in school."
In building her victimization story, McRee failed to note the actual record of success among these "second-class citizens." As John Leo reported in the February 7 U.S. News & World Report, "Women now account for 55 percent of all college students and 59 percent of those in master's programs." Further, "Girls are overtaking boys in one area after another. They now complete more high school courses than do boys in chemistry, algebra, biology and geometry." Rather than find a critic to question the Sadker study, McRee asserted "boys are taught differently than girls." In an ironic way, she may be right.
New Year's Eve Bash
Two segments on the December 31 MacNeil/ Lehrer NewsHour veered from the show's usual balance and honored a PBS tradition: slamming the 1980s. A repeat of a 1992 report by Paul Solman offered a simplistic and sometimes silly analysis of the alleged decline in real income in the Reagan years.
Using the wages of Archie Bunker's TV family as an example, Solman traced the drop's origin to the '70s, but argued things really fell apart under Reagan. "For the well-dressed and well-heeled, the data are pretty clear. In general the higher their income when the decade began, the greater their share of the economic gains of the 1980s. For awhile, many in the bottom 60 percent or so believed that the wealth would trickle down to them. But...it became harder and harder for folks like the Bunkers to maintain their real income." Solman ignored the fact that median family income increased every year from 1982 to 1989. Typical of '80s myth perpetuation, he aired the "greed is good" film clip of Michael Douglas as corporate raider Gordon Gekko, and concluded, "The go-go '80s, they were called. But the only direction the All in the Family guys were going was down."
Happy New Year
Later that night, Robert MacNeil moderated a year-in-review discussion with the NewsHour's left-loaded panel of "essayists," with predictable results. Anne Taylor Fleming began: "I...feel much more optimistic than I felt last year. It seemed to me that every year for the last twelve when I would come to the end of a year, during the Reagan-Bush years, it was with a sense of dread." Roger Rosenblatt chimed in, saying he was "much, much more optimistic. I think it has a lot to do with the Clinton administration versus the last two." Fleming's joy differed from her dismal view of the '80s. "I mean, during the last twelve years, the country was arming itself to the teeth, the deficit was growing, the economic classes were being wrenched apart...Reaganism essentially estranged everybody from everybody, rich and poor."
Hands Out Across America
ABC's "American Agenda" segment on January 24 featured stories from four regions of the country that the reporters argued have one thing in common: a need for more federal money. Aaron Brown reported on the Northeast's crumbling infrastructure: "Federal dollars are needed to rebuild. The jobs they create can help make the old Northeast new." Down South, Linda Pattillo found a tortilla factory in Fort Worth whose 44 uninsured minimum-wage workers faced possible job loss from the Clinton health plan. "They're afraid they will have to close [the factory] if President Clinton forces small businesses to begin paying for workers' health insurance," Pattillo noted. But when discussing education, she echoed Aaron Brown: "Schools here want federal money to give their children a better education, an equal education. It is something we heard throughout the South."
In the Midwest, Erin Hayes found that "folks here want national health care reform to bring good health care closer to everyone throughout the Midwest." Out West, Ken Kashiwahara lassoed an anti-government view from a Nevada rancher, who accused the administration of excessive regulation. But Kashiwahara also carried a plea for federal dollars: "Still reeling from military base closings and defense cutbacks, states such as California and Washington want more federal dollars to retrain thousands of defense workers whose jobs have disappeared with the end of the Cold War." California is also seeking federal aid to shoulder the costs of illegal immigrants. "It comes under the category, if the federal government mandates something, it should help pay for it, a sentiment expressed by states throughout the West," he concluded. But ABC failed ask why federal money should pay for basic state responsibilities, such as roads and schools.
Those Conservative Media Owners...
General Electric, NBC's parent company, not only supported the Clinton tax increase, it's now "leaning toward" the Clinton health plan. The February 6 New York Times reported that GE joined other large companies in pressing the Business Roundtable to "neither endorse nor oppose any plan."
Revolving Door: Bode Moves to PBS
Bode Moves to PBS
In early March Paul Duke, moderator of Washington Week in Review on PBS for 20 years, will retire. Taking his place on the Friday night show: Ken Bode, an aide in Democrat Morris Udall's 1976 presidential campaign. Bode was NBC's Chief Political Correspondent from 1979 to 1989, contributing to CNN's special assignment unit since 1990. He'll leave CNN, but remain Director of the Center for Contemporary Media at DePauw University.
The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) has tapped Karen Schneider, a Detroit Free Press Washington correspondent, as its Communications Director. In addition to reporting for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, since 1991 Schneider's Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service stories have appeared in major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News.
Liberal Legal Beagles
The National Public Radio (NPR) legal team is filling Clinton Administration slots. Lois Schiffer, NPR general counsel from 1984 to 1990, who has been serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Environment and Natural Resources Division since last Spring, has now been nominated to fill the slot. For six years ending in 1984, she served as special litigation counsel in the same division, a position she took after leaving the Center for Law and Social Policy. She has served on the boards of the liberal Women's Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU's Washington chapter.
Named general counsel at the National Endowment for the Arts: Karen Kay Christensen, assistant general counsel at NPR.
Another ABC Pentagon Pick
After 20 years of working for liberal politicians on Capitol Hill, William Blacklow has joined the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for public affairs. Roll Call's Peter Spiegel reported that in 1969, Blacklow was a production assistant for ABC's old Issues and Answers Sunday interview show, "moving up to assistant to the producer in 1970. In 1971, Blacklow became a writer for ABC's Howard K. Smith, but he left in 1972 to become New Jersey and Pennsylvania Press Secretary for" George McGovern's 1972 campaign.
For the past five years Blacklow's been Press Secretary for Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a position he assumed in 1988 after four years in the same role for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). Prior to Miller, he spent seven years as Administrative Assistant and Press Secretary to then-Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.). At Defense he'll work with another ABC News veteran: Kathleen deLaski, chief public affairs officer.
Ginny Moves Up
Six months after becoming Director of Public Affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts, Ginny Terzano moved to the White House in late 1993 as Deputy Press Secretary. Following stints with the Gary Hart and Al Gore presidential campaigns, in 1988 she joined the CBS News election unit as a researcher. At the White House, she takes over for Lorraine Voles, who replaced Marla Romash, departed Press Secretary to the VP. In the mid-'80s Romash was a Good Morning America Associate Producer.
Schieffer Asks 26 Questions About Lying, But No Such Questions for Dems
Oliver North Faces the Nation
Oliver North brings out the anger in the national press. CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer reflected the media's bloodlust in a hostile January 30 interview. In just 17 minutes, Schieffer asked the just-announced U.S. Senate candidate 26 questions about lying.
He badgered North: "How can I know when you are telling the truth? You said that I told the truth once I took the oath [before Congress]. Is a person allowed not to tell the truth when he's not under oath?....What's the criteria to know that Oliver North is telling the truth?....Only under oath or all the time?"
Schieffer switched topics, only to ask North 11 questions about one sentence in one of North's fundraising letters. After quoting the sentence, "An arrogant army of ultrafeminists opposed to traditional family values has captured the political process," Schieffer asked incredulously, "Do you believe that? I mean, should we take that literally?"
Schieffer then announced he was shifting the discussion to Russian aid, but asked: "Let's suppose the Congress says no. Do you think the President would then be justified to have someone on his staff try to assemble a team to figure out how to go around the Congress, because that's what you did as a member of President Reagan's staff."
This is the same Bob Schieffer who in the past year never asked a Clinton Administration official about the President's statements on the draft or womanizing, not even after David Brock's story appeared in December. He never raised either issue during a January 9 appearance by Al Gore.
Twice in 1993 Schieffer interviewed Rep. Dan Rosten-kowski, but you wouldn't know the charges against him in the House Post Office scandal because Schieffer steered clear of the specifics, tamely asking one question on February 7: "Mr. Chairman, I'd be remiss if I did not ask you... you've been investigated by a U.S. Attorney now for I don't know how many months. Can you tell us if you've been given any indication if that is about to conclude?" On Rostenkowski's May 16 appearance, Schieffer asked nothing about the probe.
Schieffer asked Commerce Secretary Ron Brown only three neutral questions on November 21 about Brown's false statements about not meeting with a Vietnamese businessman. He failed to find fault with any Democratic Party direct mail letters sent during Brown's tenure as Chairman.
Last year, Schieffer described the Clinton budget as "calling for massive cuts in government spending." In reality, the CBO reported that spending would increase by $328 billion in five years. So how do viewers know when Schieffer is telling the truth?
Media Suffer Memory Lapse
Better Off Before?
Last month, MediaWatch highlighted how the media label as "right-wing" both fascists and communists in Russia. So it was cause for celebration when, on the January 23 Nightly News, NBC's Bob Abernethy (one of those mentioned) declared: "In last month's election there was massive support for Vladimir Zhirinovsky on the far right and the communists on the far left."
While it is noteworthy that Abernethy correctly put communism on the left, he also stated: "Boris Yeltsin's moves towards free markets brought painful inflation, conspicuous poverty, unpopular Western influences, flashy new wealth for a few, and all but uncontrolled crime." This was typical of the coverage President Clinton's trip to Moscow received, as reporters portrayed life in Moscow today as far worse than under Soviet communism.
On the January 14 Good Morning America, ABC's Morton Dean reported: "For more than 70 years, Russia dreamed the Soviet dream: the dream of a classless society, the dream of a workers' paradise. The classless state is now a state with a growing population of haves and an exploding population of have-nots. For many the workers' paradise has become a homeless hell."
As if economics were the only measure of one's well-being, that same night Dan Rather announced on the Evening News: "For the first time in my experience here....there is a rising anti-Americanism building out there which has to do with saying `Listen, we've done everything you told us to do and we're even worse off than we were under the Soviet system.'" Network reporting failed to acknowledge the relative lack of political persecution, or execution, in the new Russia.
Ironically, Mikhail Gorbachev, under whose reign the Soviet economy collapsed, is still celebrated. On the January 14 NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw proclaimed: "The man who started it all here in Russia, the man who cracked the wall of communist rule in this country, now works quietly at his foundation on two floors of a Moscow building. Mikhail Gorbachev, driven from power, but still a compelling figure. We met today in his offices. His prosperity from Western lecture tours has not dulled his political analysis."
Not My Fault
CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg has spent the last year exploring America's cultural decline with unique pieces on Eye to Eye with Connie Chung. He's explored political correctness, defining deviancy down, and welfare's harmful effects on its recipients.
On January 27, he peered into an increasing problem: "What happens if this idea of blaming someone else really catches on and spreads like a virus through the American culture?" Goldberg asked. "Some people say it is already happening, that we are becoming a nation of finger-pointing crybabies. Officially our national motto is `In God We Trust.' But the critics say it might as well be `Don't blame me, it's not my fault.'"
He laid out his evidence: from people getting out of paying parking tickets to the recent criminal trials of the Menendez brothers, Lorena Bobbitt, and L.A. rioter Damian Williams. All admitted their guilt, but used the "it's not my fault because" defense. All got off with either light or no sentences.
Goldberg concluded, "While you could agree or disagree on any particular case, the critics say the real problem isn't a few high-profile criminal cases but that this don't-blame-me, knee-jerk response is infecting everybody, that it's becoming a dangerous national epidemic."
Keen on Whitewater
On consecutive World News "Focal Point" segments, CNN's Terry Keenan looked at new angles in the Whitewater story. For instance, how did the Clintons and McDougals buy property without putting down their own money? On January 12, Keenan found a $20,000 loan from Union Bank of Little Rock signed by Bill Clinton and Jim McDougal, a loan not paid back on time nor with any money from the Clintons. The loan officer, Don Denton, said he brought the loan to the Clinton campaign's attention in 1992. It's loans like this and "the Clintons' reluctance to turn over Whitewater papers [that] has many wondering just how deep Whitewater runs," reported Keenan.
The next night, Keenan told the story of Henderson Gaddy. In order to give his son a better life away from his drug-ridden neighborhood, Gaddy bought land from Whitewater Development, but Whitewater defaulted on the loan and the former owners sued for the property. Keenan reported: "In the midst of all this confusion, many land buyers didn't know where to send their mortgage payments, or if the money would ever be credited to their property, and some like Gaddy lost their land."
ABC First to Hire Religion Reporter
Repenting for Past Sins?
In January, ABC News named Peggy Wehmeyer, a local TV religion reporter in Dallas, to handle the same duties for World News Tonight. According to the January 26 USA Today, anchor Peter Jennings had urged ABC to hire a religion specialist for three years, saying that religion was "one of the great untapped areas in our national life." Wehmeyer added "that you don't have to be religious to be interested in people of faith."
Most in the media aren't very religious. In a 1980 poll by Professors Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman, 86 percent of reporters for major news outlets responded they "seldom" or "never" attended religious services. That vast cultural divide between the media and the public was exposed again last year when Washington Post reporter Michael Weisskopf wrote on February 1 that evangelical Christians were "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command." Last summer, CBS reporter Jerry Bowen cracked about Pope John Paul II: "There are some who say that he [the Pope] would have been more comfortable in the 5th century, but some theologians say that really, some of the fifth century Popes were more progressive than John Paul II."
On World News Tonight last August 13, ABC's Jeff Greenfield pondered why, aside from "protest or conflict or dissent...religion is so often the untold story?....Only 50 newspapers in America even have a full-time religion reporter. The major TV networks have none." Why? Greenfield explained: "The quiet, daily influence of faith is very hard to cover. Then there's the nature of media people -- more skeptical, more secular." He concluded: "The ongoing influence of religion in daily life goes all but ignored. This, in a country where on any given weekend there are more people in houses of worship than attend major league baseball games all year long." As the first network this decade to maintain a religion beat, perhaps ABC will lead the media from mockery to balance.
Janet Cooke Award: PBS Program on Campaign Finance Laws Boasts Nine Opponents, No Supporters
Bill Moyers Confirms "Pattern of Bias"
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, required by law to monitor PBS programming, declared to Congress on January 31 that "no glaring or egregious pattern of bias, social slant, or partisan predisposition has surfaced in CPB's year-long opinion soundings, including its statistically valid opinion survey."
But CPB's "opinion survey" didn't specifically ask about biased documentary series on PBS. CPB should take a look at the January 21 Bill Moyers' Journal before they rush to declare PBS free of bias. For loading an entire program with nine critics of current campaign finance laws, and no supporters, PBS earned the Janet Cooke Award.
At a 1992 press conference, Moyers claimed: "Anybody who looks at the bulk of my work over the last 20 years knows that it's a fallacious attack to find in it a left-wing agenda.... Many of you have seen programs I've done which have been quite critical of Democrats."
Moyers' latest show was critical of Democrats, particularly the Clinton administration's continued high-dollar fundraising and slowness on campaign and lobbying laws. But the critique came from the left, that campaign donations are a dangerous influence on democracy that must be curbed. Moyers began by suggesting that in 1992, "Millions of Americans had grown disgusted with how money buys access in this town; they resented the inside traders who rigged the status quo to benefit themselves, and they were infuriated, to say the least, with how the last word here often goes to big campaign donors instead of voters."
The show wasn't so much a documentary as it was a talk show. Moyers began with a supposedly balanced panel with "Republican" Kevin Phillips, author of The Politics of Rich and Poor, a Democratic favorite, and former Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor William Greider, author of the left-wing book Who Will Tell the People. Moyers asked: "Both of you talk about how Presidents surround themselves with the very interests that they had come to town to try to challenge. And the question is, can you win the war against the Mafia if you put the Godfathers in charge of that war?" Moyers also asked: "What does it mean when, as The Wall Street Journal says, on issue after issue, the Clinton administration, the government, comes down on the side of corporate America?"
Moyers then did a segment with Ellen Miller of the Center for Responsive Politics, a liberal campaign watchdog group. Miller, like all the other guests, dismissed the Democrats' current campaign finance bills as not radical enough: "What I see in the House and Senate versions of reform, in fact, is freezing into place the status quo. And I think it's ultimately a kind of hoax they're trying to pull on the American public."
The last third of the show was devoted to a panel of six activists for campaign finance "reform." Moyers claimed: "Represented here are Democrats and Republicans, conservative Christians and progressive labor people." For synthetic balance, Moyers included Jim Boutelle, a former Reagan-Bush supporter now working for Ross Perot's United We Stand. But the other five were left-wing activists supporting the elimination of private contributions to campaigns, leaving only the taxpayers to foot the bill for elections.
When Moyers suggested that polls show that a majority opposes public financing of elections, Maine activist Betsy Sweet replied: "When you package that with...[the idea that] people are going to take $5,000 to run and that's it -- they're going to get this money and that's it -- and you really do take everything out of it, then the numbers actually go up."
Activist Randall Kehler blamed Big Money on the demise of the nuclear freeze movement, "whose wishes for a halt to the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were thwarted because the big money interests, weapons manufacturers and their allies in Washington, had the ear of our representatives in a way that the majority of American people, who supported the freeze, did not." Moyers never asked for proof of Big Money conspiracies like these.
Moyers ended with a lecture: "As a football fan, I admire the referees who keep the game honest. They do their work in public to keep the playing field level. If it were okay for players, coaches, or owners to contribute to referees on the side, I'd stop trusting the game or watching the game. Supposedly, government is the arbiter between the competing claims of citizens. No one, no one should get a leg up from putting money in the umpire's pocket. When political donations lead to the selective enforcement of the rules, we can't trust government any more. Representation becomes determined by a clever form of bribery."
Moyers ended his hour of advocacy journalism with the suggestion: "You can work to challenge the system locally, as these folks have, and you can start by finding out who has bid what for whom. If you want to know where your members of Congress get their campaign funds, call this toll-free number for Project Vote Smart."
While Moyers did mention in passing a few arguments against finance limits -- such as the Supreme Court's decision in Buckley v. Valeo, linking donations to the exercise of free speech -- he did not raise other conservative arguments against campaign finance "reform." For example, Moyers didn't ask Sweet how a challenger would defeat an incumbent Congressman with a $5,000 budget. That entire argument -- that campaign finance limits might help incumbents -- went unmade. (Moyers has yet to devote an hour to term limits.) Most importantly, Moyers neglected to explore the argument that since government has expanded dramatically into more and more areas, those affected Americans have felt the need to band together and lobby for their own interests, acting as a check on government. If the government weren't so intrusive, the need for lobbies could be reduced.
When MediaWatch contacted Moyers' production company, Public Affairs Television, about the program's advocacy, Debbie Rubenstein responded: "I will have the producer speak with you, but I can tell you that we were surprised as well. We had anticipated different responses from our guests than the ones we got." A few days later, Rubenstein said Moyers and his staff would not be available for comment.
All the talk of "the inside traders who rigged the status quo to benefit themselves" apparently did not extend to Moyers' own company, which has made millions of dollars in royalties from his PBS Video cassettes -- without ever having to disclose any financial information to the taxpayers who fund the production of his shows. If Moyers is really on a crusade about insider deals, we might suggest a little public disclosure of his own. Or PBS might consider a Bill Moyers' Journal on Whitewater Development.