In This Issue
Newt News Triples Clinton; NewsBites: Rooting for Rubin; Revolving Door: Following Fallows; Two Standards on Nonprofits; Making Excuses for Fundraising; Science Spinners; ABC Refuses to Debate Accuracy; Janet Cooke Award: CBS Makes Nice, Not News with Hillary Clinton
Newt News Triples Clinton
On December 19, Newt Gingrich admitted he misled the House ethics committee, which led off the newest burst of network Newt coverage. How did that burst compare in quality and quantity to emerging news on the Clinton fundraising scandal?
MediaWatch analysts reviewed evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, as well as morning news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from December 15 to January 31. On both morning and evening news, the Gingrich story almost tripled coverage of the Clinton story.
The Gingrich storyline drew 73 full stories and 29 anchor briefs on the evening news programs, compared to 31 full stories and eight anchor briefs for the Clinton money story. On the morning shows, Gingrich received 63 full segments (28 news reports and 35 interviews), as well as 69 anchor briefs; Clinton attracted only 19 full segments (15 reports, 4 interviews) and 11 briefs.
Comparing scandals can be like comparing apples and oranges. Journalists might suggest the disparity comes from differing storylines: the approaching Speaker's election in the House on January 7 left Gingrich's political future in doubt, while a safely re-elected Clinton faced congressional and FBI investigations on a less frantic schedule.
But the quality of journalism on the two storylines was also vastly different. Reports on Gingrich were a drip-drip-drip sequence of repetitive horse-race stories wondering if Gingrich would resign, with little new information. By contrast, the print scoops on Clinton broke new substantive ground, but the networks alternated between spurts of intensity and weeks of disinterest. Especially noticeable is the gap in morning show interview segments about Gingrich and Clinton. CBS aired five interviews about Gingrich, but none about Clinton, and ABC (14-2) and NBC (16-2) were more lopsided. (If you count three interviews on other topics which each included one question on fundraising, NBC's ratio was 16-5).
The difference in drama might explain why the network evening news shows led off 18 broadcasts with Gingrich's ethics, and only three with Clinton's. But a closer look at individual developments demonstrates the differing intensity and substance of TV coverage.
December 15: The Washington Post reported on Page One that the Democrats rewarded large donors with an overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Network coverage: Nothing on ABC or CNN. CBS This Morning's Bill Plante filed a report eight days later. NBC noted it January 21.
December 20: The Washington Post reported on its front page that Wang Jun, a Chinese arms dealer, was welcomed to a White House fundraising coffee. Coverage: CBS was the only network to air a full story. NBC ran an anchor brief. ABC did nothing. Of the morning shows, only NBC's Today mentioned it.
December 26: The DNC released a huge pile of documents on their fundraising activities. In the next four days, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today all published articles. But the networks never aired a story summarizing the documents. CBS did lead off the news with a report on Thai donor and Clinton coffee attendee Pauline Kanchanalak on the 26th (repeated on This Morning the next day), and added another Thai story on the 27th, as well as a story on White House Asian-American liaison Doris Matsui on the 28th. CNN aired two similar stories. NBC aired nothing. ABC did nothing, but did find time for a John Cochran report on Gingrich losing support.
December 30: A single Republican Congressman, Michael Forbes of Long Island, announced he would not vote for Gingrich. All four networks aired full reports.
January 10: The New York Times reported on its front page the contents of a cellular phone conversation between Republican leaders they reported came from a Democrat, later identified as Rep. Jim McDermott, ranking member of the House ethics committee. Republicans demanded an investigation of McDermott for breaking federal privacy laws.
This was one Gingrich story the networks didn't like. ABC and NBC aired no evening story until the 13th, and neither used the word "illegal" in that night's report. CNN aired three anchor briefs and one full report (which did not mention McDermott) from the 10th to the 14th. CBS aired a full report on Gingrich on each of those five nights. On the 10th, Dan Rather suggested the Times story "raises new ethics questions about Gingrich," with no mention of Democratic illegality. Lawbreaking surfaced briefly on the 11th, but Sharyl Attkisson's report on the 12th focused only on some Republicans "urging Gingrich to step aside." When McDermott's role emerged on the 13th and 14th, on both nights Dan Rather complained the focus was shifted away "from what Gingrich actually said." Reporter Wyatt Andrews added the brouhaha "sidetracked substantive ethics charges against the Speaker."
January 15: The Washington Times and USA Today carried the AP report that Al Gore confessed he used "a poor choice of words" in describing a fundraiser at a Buddhist temple as a "community outreach event." Before the event, Gore sent the DNC a memo explaining the event should "inspire political and fundraising efforts." Coverage: A full story by CNN's Brooks Jackson, followed ten days later by one Today show question to Gore and an evening report by Andrea Mitchell. ABC and CBS aired nothing.
January 16: The Los Angeles Times reported that documents show that contrary to White House assertions, controversial fundraiser John Huang helped shape Asia policy at the Commerce Department. The Boston Globe reported Huang helped convince Clinton to make a major shift in immigration policy wanted by Asian-Americans. And The Washington Post found a couple of attendees at White House coffees had criminal records. Network coverage? Zero. But CNN had time for a live update from Bob Franken on the still-unreleased special counsel report on Gingrich.
January 23: The Washington Times reported Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry admitted senior adviser Bruce Lindsey knew in 1994 the Lippo Group had paid a reported $250,000 to former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell after he resigned in disgrace, raising questions if Lippo paid Hubbell hush money. The Washington Post followed the next day. TV coverage: Five days later, after it came up in a press conference, NBC reported it on its evening and morning shows. ABC, CBS, and CNN: zero.
January 25: Gingrich told a town meeting in his district the liberal media uses a double standard to attack him and ignore liberal groups like the Sierra Club. All four networks covered this story, suggesting Gingrich's contrition wasn't genuine.
NewsBites: Rooting for Rubin
All that's good about the economy can be credited to Clinton's Treasury Secretary, two reporters have gushed. On Sunday Morning February 9 Charles Osgood asked CBS reporter Ray Brady who is responsible for the "almost perfect" economy. Brady replied: "I happen to think we have one of the best Treasury Secretaries we have ever had in Bob Rubin. He got long term interest rates down, short term rates came down, that's speeding up the economy, it's keeping it going on an even keel."
During election night coverage Tom Brokaw asked NBC's Brian Williams: "You've been covering the Clinton White House for some time. Do you think that there is any more heroic figure, however not very visible, than Bob Rubin, who is Treasury Secretary?"
Dancer, Jokester, Hypocrite.
In a January 24 profile that played up Al Gore's sense of humor and dancing skills, NBC Today co-host Katie Couric asked about a subject the show glossed over last year: Gore's 1996 convention speech, in which he cited his sister's death from lung cancer as the motivation for his opposition to the tobacco industry. She asked: "You're aware that you were criticized for the speech because your family was involved in the growing and selling tobacco until the late `80s. Correct?" Gore sidestepped the issue but Couric countered: "I noticed that your mom seemed to be in visible pain as you were talking about this, and, led me to wonder if you felt you were exploiting your sister's death for political gain at all?"
While Couric noted Gore's family roots in tobacco she overlooked Gore's exuberant exultation of the Tennessee cash crop in a 1988 campaign speech. "Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I've hoed it. I've dug it. I've sprayed it, I've chopped it, I've shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it."
Couric's questions were missing in NBC's pre-election coverage. The morning after Gore's speech, Bryant Gumbel opened the August 29 Today: "The hall fell silent as the Vice President recalled his sister's death from lung cancer after more than three decades of smoking. It was an emotional attempt to build support for the administration's anti-smoking efforts." Jim Miklaszewski added: "Gore was most effective in his shot at Dole's record on tobacco. Political but poignant, Gore invoked the memory of his sister, a cigarette smoker who had died of lung cancer."
In 1990, New York Times reporter Tim Weiner, then with the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote Blank Check, a book about the Pentagon's "black budget." In a chapter titled "Laws and Lies," he condemned a failed attempt by Oliver North to win the freedom of U.S. hostages in Iran: "No one in the Reagan administration told Congress about the DEA caper, the arms sales to Iran or the weapons shipments to the contras. The failures to notify Congress were flagrant violations of law. The law governing congressional notification of covert action -- the 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act -- explicitly covers every agency in the government. To say, as North and [National Security Adviser John] Poindexter did, that the National Security Council or the Drug Enforcement Agency could run covert operations with the CIA's help but without congressional approval, without appropriated funds, was to sever constitutional and legal control of covert action."
But to judge by his February 3 Times profile of Anthony Lake, Clinton's National Security Adviser and troubled nominee to head the CIA, Weiner has undergone a confirmation conversion. The failure to inform Congress, when applied to Clinton's secret foreign policy encouraging the Iranians to arm the Bosnian Muslims, is apparently no longer objectionable. Weiner wrote of Lake's confirmation hearings: "But things could get ugly. [Sen. Richard] Shelby sent out a fax on Thursday night saying that the hearing would be delayed so that the Justice Department could fully investigate accusations by House Republicans that Mr. Lake was `lying' about the Administration's tacit approval of Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia's Muslims. Mr. Lake did not notify Congress about the decision. He arguably did not have to, but now concedes he should have." Weiner seemed more bothered by Senate Republican attempts to find the truth. That's quite a conversion.
GOP Apocalypse Now
As the new year began overly descriptive doomsayers at the Los Angeles Times predicted Republican reforms would bring devastation to the environment and welfare recipients. In a January 1 front page story on California's welfare reform, reporters Carla Rivera and Hector Tobar fashioned this scary scene: "Like an ominous storm blown in from the East the reality of welfare reform has descended with relentless and unsparing force on thousands of families like that of Parris who begin the new year today with less cash to live on and the prospect of a welter of new rules aimed at restricting their access to government aid." Rivera and Tobar offered this analysis: "Many who are against the cuts argue that the welfare overhaul does little to address the fundamental causes of poverty, but is instead based on long-standing myths and prejudices."
The hyperbolic imagery continued the very next day. James Gerstenzang opened a story on congressional Republicans and environmental issues this way: "When environmentalists looked west across the continent from Capitol Hill two years ago, they saw chain saws on the march. They were haunted by the specter of species of feathered, finned and furry creatures left to fall inexorably toward extinction by an assault on the Endangered Species Act. There too in the distance were dumps left untended. Such were their fears at the start of what became known as the Republican revolution." After quoting Greg Wetstone of the liberal Natural Resources Defense Council stating the current Congress is "more friendly" to the environment, Gerstenzang warned: "But those who would protect the forests -- and the skies, streams and rivers, for that matter -- are not out of the woods yet."
The networks ignored The Washington Times when its June 26, 1996 front page declared: "Secret System Computerizes Personal Data. "Insight magazine Editor Paul Rodriguez detailed how the White House Office Data Base (WHODB) tracked personal information on those who visited the Clintons, including DNC donation records. Only CNN's Inside Politics carried a story at the time. Seven months later, when Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times "discovered" the Insight story, the database finally gained network attention. The January 30 Los Angeles Times story reported that a government-owned database could not be used for unofficial purposes, but the White House did as "staff frequently retrieved data on large political contributors and turned it over to the Democratic National Committee to help raise money for the President's re-election."
ABC aired nothing that night, but NBC Nightly News devoted its "Fleecing of America" segment to the database. Reporter Lisa Myers tied the database to the First Lady: "The White House tried to keep the database secret. An early memo to Hillary Clinton, who pushed the project hard, noted that precautions should be taken or the database would be open to public scrutiny and inquiry."
On the CBS Evening News that night, Dan Rather stated: "Republicans have again attacked the White House for using a database containing 350,000 names. The Republicans say that this was a blatant fundraising operation and that taxpayers were stuck with a $1.7 million tab to create it. Correspondent Rita Braver reports why that could be a problem for President Clinton." It might have been more of a problem if it had been reported before the election.
Watts, We Worry
The selection of black conservative Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) to respond to Clinton's fifth State of the Union address on February 4 would not go unpunished by CBS. On that night's CBS Evening News, reporter Rita Braver noted that Clinton would "recycle a line from his Inaugural, asking Americans to join him in becoming repairers of the breach." Dan Rather then used the metaphor as a handy tool to whack Watts: "One breach that apparently needs repairing already involves the man chosen by Republicans to give their official response to the President's address." Reporter Bob Schieffer explained: "A real sour note was struck in the Republican effort to reach out to black voters today Watts has stirred up a furor when he was quoted in The Washington Post today speaking of his contempt for `race-hustling poverty pimps' like Jesse Jackson and Marion Barry, whose careers depend on keeping black people dependent on government.'"
Watts later denied referring specifically to Jackson and Barry, but the story didn't include that denial. Watts made the evening news, but Jesse Jackson's own outbursts in December 1994 didn't spark a story at CBS. During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Jackson slurred the Christian Coalition, claiming it "was a strong force in Germany. It laid down a suitable, scientific, theological rationale for the tragedy in Germany. The Christian Coalition was very much in evidence there." Weeks later, Jackson was at it again in Britain, in remarks broadcast Christmas Day, 1994: "In South Africa the status quo was called racism. We rebelled against it. In Germany it was called fascism. Now in Britain and the U.S., it is called conservatism."
Then there's Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.), who wrote a letter on November 20, 1996 to fellow Congressional Black Caucus members in which he referred to a black Republican, outgoing Connecticut Rep. Gary Franks, as a "foot-shuffling, head-scratching `Amos and Andy' brand of `Uncle Tom.'" Clay also said of black conservatives: "The goal of this group of Negro wanderers is to maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of...ultraconservative white racists." CBS didn't report that, either.
CBS Discovers Bias -- On Fox
When one of their own network reporters, Bernard Goldberg, accused CBS reporter Eric Engberg of liberal bias in his campaign coverage, he was disdained and ostracized. CBS News President Andrew Heyward declared: "To accuse Eric of liberal bias is absurd." But CBS, unable to locate any bias in its decades of reporting, found what it called conservative bias on the four-month-old Fox News Channel.
On the January 19 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace reported on the long running Ted Turner-Rupert Murdoch feud. The feud stems from Turner's attempts to keep the fledgling Fox News Channel, a CNN competitor, off New York City cable systems. Wallace insisted that "On Murdoch's new cable channel the news also comes with a conservative spin...Ted Turner disdains all this. He believes Murdoch's political bias contaminates his news coverage." Turner insisted: "He looks down his nose at do-good, honest journalism. He thinks that his media should be used by him to further his own goals."
Wallace left out Turner's propaganda. In 1988, Turner produced Portrait of the Soviet Union, with narrator Roy Scheider making bizarre claims such as "Once the Kremlin was the home of Czars. Now it belongs to the people." The Financial Times later reported that Soviet TV aired the series with a disclaimer saying the film gave an "excessively glamorous portrait." In 1991, Turner's TBS aired Portrait of Castro's Cuba, calling the country "defiant, spirited, free." Turner's approach to environmental reporting was summarized by CNN and TBS producer Barbara Pyle: "I feel that I'm here on this planet to work in television, to be the little subversive person in television. I've chosen television as my form of activism. I felt that if I was to infiltrate anything, I'd do best to infiltrate television."
Revolving Door: Following Fallows
U.S. News & World Report Editor James Fallows, a former speechwriter for President Carter, continues to shore up the liberal talent at the top of the magazine so that now the top three editors directing news coverage once toiled for Democrats.
The latest addition: In February he brought aboard Steve Waldman, a Clinton Administration operative, as Assistant Managing Editor (AME) for national news. For the past year Waldman's been promoting AmeriCorps as policy adviser for planning and evaluation to Harrison Wofford, the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National Service. Until January of 1996 Waldman was Newsweek's Deputy Washington Bureau Chief.
Just after taking the top editorial position last September, Fallows promoted AME Harrison Rainie to Managing Editor, the number two slot at the magazine. Before jumping to U.S. News in 1988 Rainie served as Chief-of-Staff to Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan.
An on-air ABC News veteran has traveled with Madeleine Albright, the United Nations Ambassador and newly confirmed Secretary of State, from New York City to the State Department in Foggy Bottom. Rick Inderfurth covered national security, the Penatgon and Moscow for ABC News between 1981 and 1991. At the U.S. Mission to the UN Inderfurth held one of three Ambassador slots under Albright who has named Inderfurth Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.
Inderfurth has now worked for virtually every foreign affairs-related government operation. In the 1970s he toiled for Carter's National Security Council staff and later became Deputy Staff Director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, jumping to ABC when the GOP took control of the chamber.
Inderfurth's not the only journalist implementing Clinton policy. Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State and former Time Washington Bureau Chief, "intends to remain in that job," USA Today reported February 12. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Talbott will stay "well beyond this summer and well into the future."
Clinton's Contented Clique
At least three other media veterans are sticking with the White House staff. Communications Director Donald Baer, an Assistant Managing Editor at U.S. News before leaping to the White House in early 1994, will stick around through July. He was planning to leave, The Washington Post reported, "but agreed to stay after appeals from" Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and Bill Clinton....
Tara Sonenshine, who went from a producer at ABC's Nightline to Clinton's National Security Council where she handled press relations, then to Newsweek's Washington bureau -- all in two years -- has spun through the revolving door again. She's back at the NSC "working on identifying foreign policy priorities for the second term," reported The Washington Post....
Clinton-Gore 1996 campaign Press Secretary and former ABC News and CNN staffer Joe Lockhart has landed in the White House as Senior Adviser for special projects in the press office. Lockhart put in a stint as an ABC assignment manager in Chicago before moving to CNN as a deputy assignment editor until joining the 1988 Dukakis-Bentsen presidential effort as a traveling press aide.
Two Standards on Nonprofits
Dan Rather began the January 21 CBS Evening News on a serious note: "The House of Representatives voted today to reprimand and fine Speaker Newt Gingrich for low ethics -- specifically, using money from tax-exempt foundations to fund his partisan college course." Special counsel James Cole claimed that Gingrich benefited from tax-exempt groups -- classified as 501(c)(3) in the IRS code -- which are barred from advocating the election of specific candidates or parties.
But the networks failed to respond when the February 9 Los Angeles Times showed how in 1996 then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and the DNC "steered would be campaign contributors to a tax-exempt and supposedly non-partisan voter registration group that in reality has close ties to the Democratic Party."
The Times found "the primary beneficiary was Vote Now '96," whose "efforts generally were focused most-heavily in black communities that tend to...vote overwhelmingly Democratic." The group was run by former Democratic Party fundraisers, and Labor Secretary designate Alexis Herman helped arrange a White House reception where Clinton honored the group.
Another "nonpartisan" group Ickes recommended was the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation. Executive director James Ferguson told the Baltimore Sun in January 1996 the group "has targeted 83 House districts that African American voters can help elect Democrats -- enough to wrest control of the House away from the GOP."
The rudiments of the story broke a week earlier in the February 10 Newsweek, leading to one evening story on every network except NBC. The stories focused on the charge that a memo from Ickes told a potential $5 million contributor where to donate his money. It's illegal for a federal worker to raise campaign funds. The stories noted that Ickes recommended the names of tax-exempt groups, but failed to say mixing 501(c)(3) groups and partisan politics is improper.
The L.A. Times story didn't generate any follow-up on the CBS Evening News or CNN's World Today. Nor did it even prompt an initial piece on NBC Nightly News. On ABC's World News Sunday February 9, Carla Davis gave a sentence to the initial Ickes controversy, but she ended: "White House Counsel Lanny Davis told ABC News today that Ickes did nothing improper since he did not solicit the contribution, only directed it. And, Davis says, there is no indication Ickes did anything else improper at any other time."
Network audiences never learned that liberal Democrats have trampled on the tax laws that got Gingrich scolded.
Making Excuses for Fundraising
Clinton as Victim
As the Democratic fundraising scandal grew, some reporters portrayed Bill Clinton not as a player but as a bystander, if not a victim.
In a lengthy interview published January 19, Washington Post reporters asked the President: "There's been a lot of talk lately, as you know, printed and so forth, about the Lincoln Bedroom and the people who stay here. And obviously a lot of them are your friends. And I don't think anybody would begrudge somebody having guests in their own house. Some of them, though, it seems apparently you didn't know quite as well. And we're wondering if you might feel let down a little bit by your staff or by the DNC in their zeal to raise funds?"
When the White House admitted throwing over 100 coffees for wealthy donors five days later, NBC's Tom Brokaw cast a wide net of condemnation: "Everyone in Washington agrees that the money game in that town is simply out of control for Republican and Democrat alike. And the more we learn, the greater the outrage. There's enough blame to go all the way around the country tonight. But the latest money trail, it turns out, is a four lane highway leading from the White House to almost every group in America. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell tells us now, the White House released the documentation. The Republicans are thrilled."
During the President's news conference the following week, newly-installed ABC White House reporter John Donvan asked Clinton: "In your Inaugural address eight days ago you outlined some quite lofty goals -- for example, the education proposals you were speaking about today. But in the days since, many questions in the press and in Congress have focused on issues like campaign fundraising. My question is whether you are worried that the well is being poisoned even now for the realization of these goals before you can get out of the gate, particularly on the issue of bipartisanship?"
When the press conference ended, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff pressed Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) on when the fundraising scandal would be finished: "The President acknowledged mistakes were made...How much more does the President need to say, to apologize, to say he wants to clear the air or however you want to put it?"
Polls put scientists among the most trusted professionals, but is what they say always true? That was the focus of a January 9 ABC News special Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So. Reporter John Stossel looked at salt, dioxins, breast implants and crack babies, where science has been manipulated to serve greed or a quest for power. Plus: "And we in the media, well, we're part of the problem too. We often take a grain of truth and run with it."
The report opened with salt, noting that government bureaucracies "don't like it when their ideas are challenged...Look at the empire built on salt." Stossel talked to Dr. Jeffrey Cutler of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the biggest advocate of cutting back on salt. Stossel declared: "They have the government churning out pamphlet after pamphlet. However, most experts we consulted don't agree with the government's message about salt."
After pointing out to Dr. Cutler that the Journal of the American Medical Association found that reducing salt in diet has little effect on blood pressure, Stossel stated: "What led him [Cutler] to conclude that less salt is good is that years of studies have found that eating less salt often leads to lower blood pressure. And we know that high blood pressure leads to heart disease. But this doesn't prove that less salt leads to less heart disease. If it did you could also argue say, that, since sunbathing gives you Vitamin D and Vitamin D's good for you, sunbathing's good for you."
ABC Refuses to Debate Accuracy
Fighting Food Lion
ABC devoted the entire February 12 Prime Time Live (PTL) and a 90-minute Viewpoint to the Food Lion verdict resulting from a 1992 undercover look inside the grocery chain. But ABC avoided exploring its accuracy and only briefly touched on the issues examined by a North Carolina jury which awarded the chain $5.5 million in punitive damages for ABC's deception and fraud to get jobs in the stores that they failed to perform.
Instead, ABC focused on hidden cameras. Diane Sawyer opened PTL by portraying them as a guard against the triumph of evil. Intermixed with clips from previous shows, Sawyer asked: "Should we have used hidden cameras to track crooked car repairmen?...Is it spying? Is it lying? Is it right or wrong? This is footage of kids packing guns. Would you use hidden cameras this way? What if you heard some fast food restaurants were unsanitary? What if the mentally ill were being neglected, or children were being abused?"
Sawyer showed part of the 1992 Food Lion piece, including segments in dispute, and then talked with some jurors. Two had since seen PTL's story. "We wondered if it changed anyone's mind." One juror replied: "If I could have considered the broadcast, it probably would have changed my mind a bit in favor of ABC." But another juror was unconvinced.
Food Lion's Chris Ahearn got two minutes for rebuttal. She said PTL's story "was not true, and it wasn't good journalism. We know this because Food Lion has the 45 hours of hidden camera footage ABC shot in our stores. This footage shows that Prime Time Live staged scenes, violated our store policies and then deceptively edited the tapes."
An opportunity for some fascinating TV? ABC had time to show the PTL piece and Food Lion's video which showed how ABC inaccurately described several of the scenes. But Food Lion did not counter some other clips. So do they concede those scenes of food mishandling were accurate? How does ABC defend their editing or do they believe Food Lion's tape employed misleading editing?
Viewers will never know. ABC refused to consider that the story was anything less than perfect. When former Senator Alan Simpson noted on Viewpoint that the media have an "abhorrence of ever saying anything more than that marvelous phrase, we stick by our story," ABC News President Roone Arledge shot back: "Not true." But minutes later Arledge maintained: "The fact of the matter is the broadcast was true." On PTL, ABC chief David Westin declared: "We stand by the truth and integrity of our Food Lion report." Ahearn asked "Who is watching journalists?" Ted Koppel replied: "Journalists are watching journalists." But when another journalistic enterprise gave voice to Food Lion's side, ABC condemned them. On the day of the punitive verdict, Jan. 22, Fox News Channel ran Food Lion's video of clips from ABC's original footage. Westin was steamed: "I find it outrageously unfair that a news organization would proceed that way."
Janet Cooke Award: CBS Makes Nice, Not News with Hillary Clinton
Martha Makes Nice, Not News
In a September 1993 speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Dan Rather complained about the state of network news: "Do powder puff, not probing interviews. Stay away from controversial subjects. Kiss ass, move with the mass, and for heaven and ratings' sake, don't make anybody mad -- certainly not anybody you're covering, and especially not the Mayor, the Governor, the Senator, the Vice President, or the President, or anybody in a position of power. Make nice, not news."
A week earlier, Rather served as an example of his own speech in a make-nice interview with Hillary Clinton: "I don't know of anybody, friend or foe, who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I'm not surprised because you have been working on it so long and listened to so many people." He tossed softballs: "Are you willing to pay the ultimate price and go on David Letterman?" Just before Inauguration Day, Mrs. Clinton granted two interviews that aired on January 19 -- one to the deferential interviewers at C-SPAN, and one to CBS. C-SPAN's Steven Scully at least made news by asking Hillary if the media were biased, which she answered by suggesting there's no liberal media: "You've got a conservative and/or right-wing press presence with really nothing on the other end of the political spectrum."
CBS Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood hinted at their interviewer's long-standing friendship with the First Lady, begun in the 1960s at Wellesley College: "It happens that Martha Teichner has known the First Lady for almost 30 years, and was invited to the White House last week for another of many conversations she's had with Mrs. Clinton." For peppering the First Lady with nothing tougher than the notion she was a subject of relentless "bashing," CBS earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Instead of taking advantage of CBS's unique opportunity to question the First Lady on subjects she knows a lot about but is not forthcoming -- Whitewater, Travelgate, shredding documents during the 1992 campaign -- Teichner sought to soothe, noting: "The First Lady has become more and more uncomfortable and wary around the press." She had nothing to fear from Teichner, dressed all in black, peering out over half-glasses. Hillary appeared not only as the star of the piece, but as its director as well.
Viewers were virtually asked by Teichner to feel the First Lady's pain: "Heat doesn't begin to describe the firestorm that erupted when the President handed over health care reform to his wife." She asked: "Were you startled by the fact that it was as controversial an issue as it was, and that you became controversial?" What Mrs. Clinton actually did to create contoversy and failure -- a secret task force, a 1400-page plan, a failure to compromise on any point was not a subject for CBS.
Teichner continued with Hillary's woes: "Health care was just the beginning. She has been the subject of a non-stop, time-release litany of investigations. Three at the moment being conducted by Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. Speculation she may be indicted continues."
Hillary claimed: "I expect this matter to drag out as long as it is to anyone else's advantage to drag it out and then it will end. I mean no one likes to be accused of having done anything improper or wrong. It becomes frustrating when you know that people are saying things that aren't true, but you just learn to live with it and you just go on day after day and..."
Teichner jumped in: "But how do you do that, though, in the climate of a non-stop four- or even eight-year bashing?" Teichner added: "Her biggest gripe is that the positive is never what the public sees; that her media image as a First Lady under fire, edgy and defensive, belies the real Hillary Clinton, who has even been known to laugh."
If this had been an interview instead of a unchallenged listing of Hillary's gripes, Teichner might have challenged the notion the public "never sees" the positive side of Mrs. Clinton. The entire CBS story served as a refutation of that claim. The Center for Media and Public Affairs found that from January 20 to April 1, 1993, while Bill Clinton received only 42 percent positive network evaluations, Hillary's evaluations were 78 percent positive. This hardly parses with the Teichner thesis that her appointment as health care czar was greeted with an "eruption" of controversy.
CBS moved from Hillary's lovable giggly side to stressing Hillary's serious "sermons" on women's rights, and her upbringing of Chelsea, asking how her departure for college would be handled. The last part of the Teichner piece resembled a Jackie Kennedy White House tour: "One gauge of a First Lady's stamp on the White House is the art she chooses to display there. `Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City' by Henry Tanner is the first work acquired for the permanent collection by an African American artist. It now hangs in the Green Room." Viewers saw the White House garden, in Hillary's tenure, has become a sculpture garden, about which Teichner asked: "Do you ever just go there and sit?"
Was Teichner's failure to ask difficult questions about political failures or ethical controversies motivated by warm feelings of friendship, or the controlling grip of White House spin control? The July 1996 American Spectator noted that before an interview on Larry King Live the White House staff "faxed CNN a list of 20-30 questions the First Lady hoped to be asked -- and five `issues' she would rather not hear about." (The King show's idea of being tough consisted of politely sending over sample questions the First Lady should expect on Whitewater and Travelgate before the show.) Did Teichner bow to White House demands or celebrate Hillary without prompting? And if there were conditions, shouldn't CBS have notified viewers? Teichner did not return repeated MediaWatch phone calls.
In his 1993 interview with Mrs. Clinton, Dan Rather asked her if it would be possible one day, whether or not the health plan passed, "that we will have reached a point when a First Lady, any First Lady, can be judged by the quality of her work?" Whatever her reasons, Teichner suggested that aiding the First Lady's quest for personal fulfillment is a more important objective than investigating the quality (or integrity) of her work.
Reporters feel the need to focus on The Role -- the perceived sexist attitudes that have held Hillary back, her symbolic role as gender Rorschach test -- rather than what the First Lady has done with the role, just as reporters introduced her to the country as a brilliant lawyer without ever asking what kind of lawyering she did. Anyone looking for new revelations about what Hillary Clinton has done will need to consult someone other than the political sympathizers and bosom buddies who claim to be objective journalists.