MediaWatch: January 1989

In This Issue

Study: Networks Prefer "Pro-Choice," Not "Pro-Life"; NewsBites: Predictable Planetary Panaceas; Revolving Door: NBC Promotes Cuomo Aide; Reporter Admits He's A Marxist; Castro's 30th

Study: Networks Prefer "Pro-Choice," Not "Pro-Life"

"Pro-choice groups said today that their battle is not over," NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw announced on November 10. Reporter Andrea Mitchell then proceeded to detail the actions of "anti- abortion activists" and "abortion opponents" in election day referenda on public abortion funding. "Pro-choice activists," she said, were "very worried about Bush and Quayle." NBC's story, and its use of labels to describe the two sides in the abortion debate, typified network news coverage of the issue during the last four months of 1988.

Objective reporting dictates that journalists adhere to balance in their use of labels. For example, use "pro-life" and "pro-choice," or "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion," or offer an equal number of positive and negative labels on each side. But a MediaWatch study reveals that when it came to stories on abortion, the networks ignore all standards of objectivity.

MediaWatch reviewed all stories that discussed abortion aired on ABC World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews, and NBC Nightly News.

MediaWatch found 49 stories that included labels. With 87 mentions, the "anti-abortion" tag was used most often by reporters or anchors, with another 5 references to "abortion foes." The terms "pro-life" or "right to life" were used only 24 times, less than one-third as often.

How did they label abortion supporters? The networks' were far more sympathetic. Only once were those groups called "pro-abortion." Instead, they were called the term they prefer, "pro-choice," 19 times. Thirteen other times, they were given euphemistic labels such as "abortion rights advocates," "family planning advocates" or "birth control advocates." In other words, the "pro-choice" forces wee designated by their preferred label 97 percent of the time. The "pro-life" forces were afforded their desired label only 21 percent of the time.

Some networks were less objective than others. For instance, NBC used the "anti-abortion" label 17 times, while using the "pro-life" label just once. When it came to abortion proponents, htough, NBC reporters dubbed them "pro-choice" three times, "abortion rights" once, and "family planning advocates" twice. No one at NBC used the term "pro-abortion." CBS used "pro-life" labels most often -- 38 percent of the time -- but still gave a great advantage to abortion supporters, using positive, euphemistic terms to describe them 92 percent of the time.

Most abortion labels arose in three areas:

1) Judicial Decisions: On Nov. 11, CBS' Rita Braver informed viewers that a court ruling against federal abortion funding would please "anti-abortion" activists. Anchor Dan Rather characterized Roe vs. Wade as the Supreme Court's 15 year old ruling on "abortion rights." In a Dec. 20 report by NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, Jack Fowler of the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life was captioned as an "anti-abortion activist." But in Andrea Mitchell's Nov. 10 report, pro-abortion spokeswoman Dottie Lamm was labeled simply as "wife of former governor" Richard Lamm.

2) Abortion Demonstrators: When pro-lifers taunted Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis on September 6, the networks presented the protestors as "anti-abortion activists." CNN's Tom Mintier called the demonstrators "pro-life," but only after a lead-in by anchor Bernard Shaw labeled them "anti- abortion" three times. That same night, NBC's Chris Wallace outlined the candidates' positions on abortion. Bush, he said, "opposes abortion," while Dukakis is "pro-choice."

The efforts of Operation Rescue protestors did not go unnoticed by the networks, but again the labeling favored abortion advocates. On October 4, NBC's Kenley Jones followed anchor Tom Brokaw's introduction about the arrest of "anti-abortion protestors" by remarking that "abortion rights advocates" believed the demonstrators had little effect. CBS' James Hattori gave perhaps the most even-handed report on October 29, referring to the two sides as "pro-life" and "pro-choice."

3) Medical Developments: ABC's George Strait remarked without irony that an abortifacient pill, opposed by "anti-abortion groups," could be "a lifesaver" in the Third World. On Sept. 15, CBS' Susan Spencer characterized the debate over fetal research as a battle between "science" and the "anti-abortion movement."

A controversial social issue such as abortion demands even-handed treatment. The networks have proven themselves incapable of this task. By their biased use of labels to characterize the two sides of the issue, reporters have unfairly colored the national debate on abortion.

NewsBites: Predictable Planetary Panaceas

Predictable Planetary Panaceas. In lieu of the annual "Man of the Year," Time magazine chose "The Endangered Earth" as "The Planet of the Year." Time Publisher Robert Miller called it an "unorthodox choice." That may be true, but once chosen, the magazine's approach to their annual feature was anything but unorthodox -- it was typical.

In almost forty pages titled "What On Earth Are We Doing?" Time writers reviewed a multitude of liberal concerns, from toxic waste, fossil fuel pollution, deforestation, endangered species, the greenhouse effect, and the burgeoning global population problem.

What are the solutions "earth's vulnerability to man's reckless ways?" Time dropped all pretense of objectivity, calling upon the U.S. to implement the usual liberal panaceas: "Raise the Gasoline Tax," and "Encourage Debt-for-Nature Swaps." Criticizing the Reagan Administration for cutting off aid to international agencies that use abortion, Time demanded the U.S. "immediately restore the aid."

Surprise Verdict on Reaganomics. When Newsweek reviewed Reagan's economic legacy in the December 26 issue, MediaWatch expected the worst. But the magazine offered a refreshing surprise. Under the headline of "The Magic of Reaganomics," Chief Economic Correspondent Rich Thomas asserted that Reagan's "ideas have helped beat back inflation and produce real growth that for the past six years has surpassed that of any major nation except Japan."

After explaining how the theories of Milton Friedman and determination of John Wayne guided Reagan, Thomas concluded they "have helped Reagan compile the most impressive peacetime economic record of any modern President--a legacy of bold thinking and true grit."

Brady Bags Big Business. The liberal Citizens for Tax Justice released a report attacking 16 large corporations for not paying any taxes after the 1986 Tax Reform bill, CBS News reporter Ray Brady served as it's dutiful mouthpiece.

On the Sept. 22 Evening News, he reviewed some of the examples and informed people on the street of the study. They predictably complained about the unfairness. Brady concluded: "If all the companies in its survey paid the regular corporate tax rate of 40 percent, the government would have collected an extra $70 billion, enough to put a big dent in that huge federal deficit."

On December 9, The Washington Post published a story on a survey of 1,000 corporations by Tax Analysts, described as "a respected tax and information service." The study determined Big Business paid an average tax rate of 24.72 percent on their profits in 1987, up from 21.54 percent in 1986. MediaWatch called Mr. Brady to ask why he ignored the study. He hung up.

A Retail "Ho-ho?" NBC Says "Oh, No!" On December 16, NBC's Irving R. Levine took a look at Christmas sales. He didn't like what he found. "Merchants are pulling out all the stops to head off disaster, including early mark downs and gimmicks," he warned. "After six years without a recession, and heavy consumer spending, people are worried about the economy and prices are higher."

By Christmas Eve Levine realized his dire warning was off the mark, explaining: "Retailers were saved from a dismal shopping season by the calendar. This year there were two more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year." The day after Christmas Levine estimated sales would probably end up seven percent from 1987. "Not a boom business," Levine decided.

On January 5 ABC's Peter Jennings described the season as "a very merry Christmas for the nation's retailers" as "the largest in the country, Sears, had the biggest month in its 102 year history." Levine missed that.

Revolving Door: NBC Promotes Cuomo Aide

NBC Promotes Cuomo Aide. NBC News Vice President Tim Russert is back in Washington again. On Inauguration Day, January 20, he became Washington Bureau Chief. Russert last worked in Washington as Chief of Staff to Senator Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) until 1982 when he moved to New York to serve as counselor to liberal Governor Mario Cuomo. He jumped to NBC just after the 1984 election, soon gaining responsibility over the content of Today and Nightly News. NBC News President Michael Gartner is grooming Russert for bigger things. "After two years at the helm in Washington," Gartner announced, "Tim will assume new management responsibilities in New York."

In another part of Gartner's re-organization of the division he took over last summer, he put Senior Vice President Tom Ross in charge of a new strategic planning department. Ross worked for the Carter Administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

Voice Change. Just after the new year began Jonathan Larsen became Editor in Chief of the Village Voice, the trendy liberal weekly in New York City. Larsen was Time magazine's Saigon Bureau Chief from 1970-1971 and a Life Senior Editor earlier this decade. He succeeds Martin Gottleib, a New York Times reporter before moving to the Voice in 1986.

Time to Quayle. Vice President Dan Quayle has tapped David Beckwith, a Time correspondent since 1971 (with the exception of three years with Legal Times), as his Press Secretary. Beckwith covered economics and legal issues for the magazine until being assigned to the White House a couple of years ago. He followed the Bush campaign last year.

Reich at Night. CBS Nightwatch viewers got a surprise when they switched on the show just before New Year's Day. A CBS News reporter has always filled in when regular host Charlie Rose took vacation, but not on December 29, 30 and January 2. CBS selected Robert Reich, who identified himself only as a professor of political economy at Harvard University.

Over the three early mornings he proceeded to interview Democratic presidential aspirant Bruce Babbitt, whom he called "an attractive candidate;" moderated a discussion about Castro's achievements; and discussed Reagan's record with three liberal reporters, agreeing Reagan used to have "too simplistic a view of the Soviet Union." CBS never told viewers Carter appointed Reich to a high level Federal Trade Commission position, nor did it reveal he was a key economic adviser to the Dukakis campaign.

Reporter Admits He's A Marxist

"Eugene V. Debs may be my all-time favorite American and Karl Marx my all-time favorite journalist," former Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times reporter A. Kent MacDougall proclaimed recently. In November and December articles for the Monthly Review, "an independent socialist magazine," he explained that as a "closet socialist boring unobtrusively from within," he had little trouble promoting Marxist ideas in his news stories.

How did someone who also wrote articles for the American Socialist and communist Daily Worker manage this? MacDougall reasoned "that while newspaper owners and editors don't go out looking for stories that make the capitalist system look bad, the best don't flinch from running such stories if they meet mainstream journalistic standards for accuracy and objectivity."

During his days at the Journal from 1962 to 1972 MacDougal "took full advantage of the latitude Journal reporters have to pick their own feature story topics and report on them in depth." MacDougall proudly recalled how he "introduced readers to the ideas of radical historians, radical sympathetic page-one stories."

"I made sure to seek out experts whose opinions I knew in advance would support my thesis," he boasted, and "sought out mainstream authorities to confer recognition and respectability on radical views I sought to popularize."

In 1977 the Times hired MacDougall as a "special business correspondent" able to pick his own stories. "I lost no time making it obvious where my sympathies lay," MacDougall reported, noting that "of the first dozen stories I wrote for the Times, one profiled the leftist magazine Mother Jones and two others profiled Marxist economists."

In the early 1980's MacDougall got an opportunity to write a series that offered a Marxist explanation as to "why the United States is among the least equal of mature capitalist economies." Times editors nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize. MacDougall left the Times in 1987 to find a new vehicle for his views: "I picked up a pension (opposing the system is no reason to pass up an opportunity to make it work for one) and joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley" where "tenure gives me the luxury of coming out of the ideological closet at last."

Castro's 30th

January 1 marked 30 years of communist rule in Cuba, but the network evening news shows didn't view the anniversary as anything particularly newsworthy. Not one story was dedicated to Cuba's political repression. Some network morning shows and news magazines, however, took notice.

On the anniversary, NBC's Sunday Today rebroadcast segments of co-host Maria Shriver's trip to Cuba last February. The essence of her message: while there are problems with Cuba, Castro has been for the better and has provided for his people: "Schools, family doctors, hospitals...the level of public services was remarkable," she gushed, "free education, medicine, and heavily subsidized housing."

On January 4, CBS This Morning's Harry Smith picked up on yet another liberal line: the cause of disgruntled exiles who want reconciliation with Cuba. He did give some airtime to those who object to a rapprochement with Castro, but sympathized with liberal exiles: "[These] 30 years have been marked by limited contact between exiles and their homeland. And for some that isolation has become unbearable." He went on to feature Maria Herrera, whose views "last Spring cost her a corner of her home to a bomb."

Harry Reasoner gave a more balanced assessment on 60 Minutes. Though he repeated the distorted communist line on "strides in medicine, education, and housing," Reasoner noted that "over one million Cubans have fled," and that "many young people are yearning for a change and a chance to leave." Reasoner also sought out a prominent Cuban human rights activist to rebut government claims that it does not hold political prisoners.

ABC's Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson was the most willing to raise the horrid side of Castro's communist Cuba. On January 2, he asked liberal Congressman Robert Torricelli: "Fidel Castro gave a speech yesterday...It was as hard line as he's ever been. 'Socialism or Death!' 'Marxist-Leninism or Death!' Why should we cozy up to somebody like that?"