In This Issue
A Look at Peter's Politics; NewsBites: Post Bombs; Revolving Door: Another Decade, Another Job; Magazines Call Bush a Captive of Conservatives; No Controversy in Collaborating with Communists; Reporters Slight Conservative View on Scholarships; Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Civil Wrongs
A Look at Peter's Politics
ABC's World News Tonight has finished first in the network evening news ratings ever since it surpassed CBS in 1988. At the forefront of this rise is Peter Jennings, ABC's urbane anchorman. The Canadian native's unpretentious delivery might lead viewers to consider him the least political of the three anchors.
Over the years, however, Jennings has revealed hints of the driving force behind his journalism. When self-declared Marxist muckraker I. F. Stone died in June of 1989, Jennings declared: "He generally found something useful to say...For many people, it's a rich experience to read or re-read Stone's views on America's place in the world." MediaWatch has gathered a representative collection of opinions delivered by Jennings over the past three years. These quotes demonstrate that Jennings holds liberal views on a wide range of issues and provide insights into the mind of an anchor.
Foreign Policy: From Cambodia to Cuba, Jennings has argued the case of America's enemies. On February 27, 1989, he declared that leftist students in South Korea "represent the leading edge of a more general discontent...many Koreans believe the U.S. is standing in the way of a reunified nation," ignoring the fact that U.S. forces remain in South Korea because Koreans realize the North remains a threat.
On April 3, 1989 Jennings anchored from Cuba. "Castro has delivered the most to those who had the least. And for much of the Third World, Cuba is actually a model of development," he proclaimed. Jennings ducked the human rights issue and praised Cuban society: "Education was once available only to the rich and the well connected. It is now free to all....Medical care was once for the privileged few. Today it is available to every Cuban and it is free....Health and education are the revolution's great success stories." Jennings concluded by repeating the words of a Cuban woman: "For me, [Castro] is God. I love him very much."
During the February 1990 Nicaraguan elections, Jennings put his money on the wrong horse again, predicting a Sandinista victory. On February 20 he declared: "For the Bush Administration and the Reagan Administration before it, the [ABC News/Washington Post] poll hints at a simple truth: after years of trying to get rid of the Sandinistas, there in not much to show for their efforts."
Globe-trotting Jennings took his anti-American show back to Asia in April 1990 with a prime-time special on Cambodia, From the Killing Fields. The issue was simple for Jennings: "The United States is deeply involved in Cambodia again. Cambodia is on the edge of hell again." By not backing the Communist Hun Sen regime, Jennings concluded, "The United States is in danger of being on the wrong side of history." That comment led New York Times reviewer Walter Goodman to note that the phrase "might have been borrowed from Marxist texts, [and] seems a touch dated after the anti-communist upheavals of 1989."
Picking Presidents: Which American politicians interest Jennings? Jesse Jackson, for one. Appearing on NBC's Later with Bob Costas on January 12, 1989, Jennings rated Jackson as "probably the most important Democrat that ran in the year....you could see a man who cared, whatever else you may think about him, bringing people's attention to focus on something in a way that in my view no other politician in the country can do it." Of course, Jackson wasn't the only Democrat he found fascinating. Jennings praised Bruce Babbitt on the day he ended his 1988 campaign: "When he entered the race nearly a year ago he had the courage to say that as President he would probably have to raise taxes. And he never recovered from his courage." Presenting Jimmy Carter as Person of the Week on May 12, 1989, Jennings noted that since leaving the White House Carter "continued his life with distinction, considerable grace, and with a very strong commitment to peace and justice."
Environmentalism: Not all of Jennings' heroes are career politicians. During the Earth Day hysteria in April 1990 Jennings named Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes Person of the Week, lauding him as "the true believer whose reverence for life has always been a calling, never a fashion, who millions of Americans owe a vote of thanks."
Jennings' frequent environmental pronouncements suggest the topic is close to his heart. On May 17, 1989, for example, he called a decision to raise fuel efficiency standards as "a victory in Washington today," never mentioning that when the standards are increased the number of traffic fatalities climb. Evaluating Bush's Clean Air Bill on July 27, Jennings only wondered, "does the Bush plan do enough?"
The ABC anchor also wasn't afraid to engage in occasional hyperbole. During a September 12, 1989 Capitol to Capitol special Jennings ranted: "We are destroying the global home in which we live....We are literally in the process of choking ourselves to death." Later, Jennings asked Rep. Claudine Schneider if we could "alter our lifestyles, use more mass transit, use less electricity, recycle more, procreate less?"
Health and Welfare: Various forms of socialized medicine are also in vogue with Jennings. When Congress repealed the catastrophic insurance program on September 18, 1989, Jennings bemoaned the end of the experiment, which heavily taxed a few people and redistributed their money to a large group: "Because five million elderly people are angry, as many as 18 million others may suffer." When the American College of Physicians supported national health insurance in April 1990, Jennings declared: "Others have been saying for quite some time that what the U.S. needs is what already exists in Canada."
Jennings has used his position to lobby for federally-funded child care. The November 22, 1989 American Agenda focused on "the system which is acknowledged to be the best outside the home... The Swedish system is run and paid for by the Swedish government, something which many Americans would like to see the U.S. government do as well." When Congress considered such a program in March 1990, Jennings complained: "It leaves the issue of child care standards up to the individual states, and according to virtually every child care expert, that is a mistake."
Abortion has gotten Jennings' attention. During his November 1, 1990 special, The New Civil War, Jennings presented the entire debate through the lens of the "right to choose" side: "There are millions of us in the country who have not yet made up our minds about how much government interference in our lives there should be, either to protect a woman's ability to have an abortion, or to make it even more difficult, even illegal."
Jennings has injected his views into news stories with surprising frequency. More Americans may get their news from ABC News than from any other source, but they might do well to pay more attention to Jennings' substance than his style.
NewsBites: Post Bombs
POST BOMBS. The Washington Post has never used the term "freedom fighter" to describe Oliver North, according to a Nexis news data system search. But when two women were sentenced December 6 on charges of conspiracy in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Capitol, the Post's first eight words were: "Laura Whitehorn and Linda Evans, self-described freedom fighters." Is there a lesson here? Perhaps Ollie should have declined to testify before Congress and bombed it instead.
McNAMARA NONSENSE. Introducing a December 4 report on Senate hearings on Iraq, ABC's Peter Jennings described the testimony of Robert McNamara: "Words of caution on the Gulf today from the man who helped to get America so deeply involved in Vietnam, a war, he said, he later came to regret."
Reporter Jim Wooten described him as "a cold warrior for Kennedy and one of Johnson's hard-eyed hawks, always telling Congress there was light at the end of the Vietnam tunnel. But a generation later, Robert McNamara was on Capitol Hill today counseling patience and prudence in the Persian Gulf, warning the Senators against slipping easily into war." In truth, McNamara, who constantly criticized Ronald Reagan's defense build-up, has been an outspoken dove for years. By ABC's reasoning, the late Whittaker Chambers should still be called a communist.
PRESS RELEASE POST. Ever willing to please its liberal soulmates, The Washington Post served as a bulletin board for the American Civil Liberties Union on December 17. The ACLU began soliciting government employees to give Congress classified information detailing "government misconduct" in the Persian Gulf crisis.
How did Post reporter Ruth Marcus begin the story? "Wanted: a few good whistle-blowers." The Post followed with four paragraphs explaining the text of the ACLU ad, four paragraphs of quotes from ACLU Washington chief Morton Halperin, and an announcement of the ACLU's news conference later that day. Did the Post leave anything out? Yes, any opposing voice that might call the ACLU's campaign a handy way of compromising national security and helping out Saddam Hussein.
MARXIST OF THE YEAR. Although Nelson Mandela didn't make Time's Man of the Year, Time was quick to point out that he was a runner-up. Reporter Scott MacLeod wrote in the January 7 edition, "In the space of one extraordinary year, South Africa has moved from its nightmare of eternal racial conflict to a hopeful dawning of racial reconciliation -- and that is largely due to Mandela's statesmanship." What about President F.W. de Klerk, the man who freed Mandela, legalized the ANC and reformed the South African government? No mention.
FEEDING THE MOUTH THAT BITES YOU. As 1990 ended, Time Managing Editor Henry Muller made another plug for Mikhail Gorbachev, Time's Man of the Decade. In a December 24 "From the Managing Editor" column, Muller ran a letter from Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky. The inch-high headline summed up Voznesensky's message: "Feed Perestroika!" In case anyone was interested in making sure the Red Army eats well this winter, Time ran the addresses and 800 numbers of groups aiding the Soviets.
POOR REPORTING. The unemployment rate jumped 0.2 percent in November, prompting the CBS Evening News to devote an entire story to "some critics" who say "the picture is even grimmer." Reporter Richard Threlkeld summarized the argument: "Whether it's those without a job or without a home or without money, there are millions of forgotten men, women and children in this country -- people in economic pain who've been officially defined out of existence....people who work in low paying jobs, but are not counted because, critics charge, the government's using an out-dated system to count the poor. You're poor, says the government, if you make less than three times the cost of a week's groceries, or about $13,000 a year for a family of four." He then turned to an economist, who without citing any studies, asserted 20 percent of Americans really live in poverty. "For now though," Threlkeld concluded, "the message to the mothers and children...who've been systematically overlooked by Washington is 'you don't count.'"
Now, before you fall for Threlkeld's guilt trip over the plight of those above the poverty line, consider some facts compiled by the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector on those below it. The Census Bureau does not even count Medicaid and food stamps as income. Poor people in the U.S. live in a larger house or apartment than the average West European. Nearly a third of the poor today own a home and are more likely to own refrigerators than the average American family in the 1950s. Rector told MediaWatch, "as living standards for all improve, people forget what poor really used to mean."
EASTERN EUROPEAN ENTREPRENEURS. Time Central Europe correspondent John Borrell offered an intriguing new interpretation of Eastern Europe's economies on December 3: "Under communism few grew rich, but few went hungry; in many cases people enjoyed surprisingly high levels of prosperity. In Poland, for example, wealthy entrepreneurs were able to afford Western luxury automobiles; in Czechoslovakia ownership of second homes was common. Now many may no longer be able to afford such extravagance."
Borrell also equated blaming the communists for Eastern Europe's repressive past with looking for "scapegoats" and conducting "witch hunts," asserting: "East Europeans are now worrying about jobs, rising prices, their very futures. Some our looking for scapegoats, turning on minorities and seeking retribution from former communists....[Havel] opposes witch-hunts against former officials similar to the purges the communists mounted on taking power in 1948." If Borrell had been reporting at the end of World War II he might have described the Nuremberg trials as "looking for scapegoats."
WORSE THAN COMMUNISM? Communism may not have been great for the women of Eastern Europe, but Boston Globe reporter Jonathan Kaufman discovered "the region's women have found democracy a less than liberating experience." Why? Kaufman's December 27 article quoted a feminist in Warsaw: "There is no sex education in the schools. The new Parliament canceled all subsidies for family planning."
"In both Poland and eastern Germany, the right to abortion has come under attack," Kaufman wrote. "Even more troubling to many Eastern European women is the resurgence of traditional -- some would even say sexist -- attitudes in societies that once enshrined at least a patina of equal rights for women in their propaganda and official statements."
If communism is a friend to women, who's the enemy? "Part of the reason many women feel let down by their revolutions is the emergence of conservative forces, including the Catholic Church, following the toppling of communist regimes."
NBC'S LOSER. In a December 2 New York Times Magazine story, reporter John Tierney outlined a bet between NBC Today show regular Paul Ehrlich, the doomsaying author of The Population Bomb, and Julian Simon, economist and author of The Ultimate Resource. In 1980, Ehrlich bet Simon $1,000 that the price of five metals would rise over a ten-year period, believing population growth would inevitably drain the earth's resources. Instead, all five metals declined in price, and Ehrlich lost. The only question remaining: Will NBC continue to rely on Ehrlich's unmatched record of incorrect predictions or will they switch to the winning side and give Julian Simon his own series of Today reports?
STAHLINOMICS. Will Lesley Stahl ever stop whining about Reaganomics? In a December 16 Face the Nation interview with HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, Stahl charged: "There's a new analysis that says the American family is worse off today than it was in 1973. After ten years of Reaganite, supply-side economics that you so passionately advocate, and that old question that Reagan used to ask about Carter, 'are we better off,' apparently families are worse off. Do you really think the American people buy supply- side anymore? Don't they just think it was debt accumulation?"
Who twisted together the numbers Stahl used? On America Tonight three days later, Stahl's source revealed himself. Liberal economist Lester Thurow stated: "If you take people that the Department of Labor classifies as non-supervisory workers, they have an income in 1989 that's 17 percentage points below where it was in 1973. And in terms of reversion, we're almost back to the real earning capacity of about 1958, '59. And so, when you put all that together, you've got about three decades with no growth in earning capacity."
THE PROSECUTION NEVER RESTS. Not pleased with the way the Iran- Contra affair turned out, PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers took the taxpayers' money to conduct his own personal impeachment proceedings in "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" on Frontline November 27. Assisted by "consulting reporter" Scott Armstrong (formerly of The Washington Post) and Armstrong's liberal National Security Archive, Moyers set out to impeach Reagan for conducting a "coup" against the Constitution.
Moyers' entire constitutional lecture rested on the Boland Amendments, which many find unconstitutional, but Moyers couldn't spoil the party by pointing that out. You also wouldn't know from watching Moyers that many consider the independent counsel unconstitutional. Moyers and the rest of the disgruntled souls at PBS are free to continue their quixotic crusade, but why give them taxpayer money for it?
BALANCE DOWN THE TBS TUBES. In his ongoing campaign to promote abortion, Ted Turner's TBS cable channel aired a follow up to his 1989 special Abortion for Survival, titled, Abortion Denied: Shattering Young Women's Lives. As the title implied, this half hour produced (again) by the Fund for a Feminist Majority, offered no pro-life voice, though TBS insisted (again) that it was not propaganda.
The December 7 program attacked parental consent and notification laws. "Will parental consent laws for abortion lead to parental consent laws for contraception?" asked the horrified narrator, actress Christine Pickles. She also expressed a particular disgust that a "small percentage of these desperate young women will resort to placing their babies for adoption." That view is not so surprising given the list of sponsors: Planned Parenthood, NOW, and several left-wing population activist groups such as the Center for Population Options and the Population Crisis Committee.
What about a post-broadcast discussion with pro-life voices? "The program is sufficiently authoritative and fair in its presentation so that we don't think a panel is necessary to follow this program," TBS Executive Vice President Bob Levi told the Los Angeles Times. "We believe that the program is good enough that it stands on its own and that viewers can make up their own minds."
TWO ANCHORS AND A LADY. In NBC's December 30 special, 1990: Living on the Edge, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel spouted their opinions between video clips. At one point Gumbel stated: "But don't you think the pro-lifers now, Tom and Jane, don't you think that they are, if anything now, a little reticent to make it an issue because experience has shown that when they make it an issue they lose." Brokaw replied: "Yeah, they have not done well politically and if nothing else they are a smart political movement."
In the January American Spectator, Fred Barnes took issue with Gumbel's absurd analysis: "But 1990 was hardly a big pro-choice year. The lesson is that pro-life Republicans and Democrats, if they don't flinch or flip-flop, are not hindered at all. In Pennsylvania, Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, won re-election with 68 percent of the vote against a pro-choice Republican...In Kansas, Joan Finney, a pro-life Democrat who attracted the wrath of the National Organization for Women, handily defeated pro-choice Republican Governor Mike Hayden, despite being outspent $2 million to $300,000."
BORDERLINE JOURNALISM. Government-funded PBS hailed more government as the cure-all in Borderline Medicine, a December 17 documentary which paraded Canadian health care as morally superior to the American system. Narrator Walter Cronkite concluded, "America must shape its own health care system, but we can't afford to ignore the Canadian lesson: that it's possible to cover everyone and still control costs. At its best, American medicine is the most clinically innovative and technologically sophisticated system on Earth. But for increasing numbers of Americans who are shut out, America's health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system." Really?
In the December 12 Wall Street Journal, John Barnes reported on Canadians crossing the border to save their lives. In one incident, Barnes recalled, two-year-old Joel Bondy, in need of cardiac surgery, was repeatedly put on waiting lists in Canada. Bondy's parents finally contacted an American hospital to perform the surgery. Barnes explained: "Embarrassed by media coverage of the Bondys' plight, Ontario officials informed the family that Joel could have his operation immediately -- in Toronto. After Joel endured a four-hour ambulance ride, a hospital bed was not immediately available. The family had to spend the night in a hotel room. The delay was fatal. Joel Bondy died the next day, four hours before he was to enter the operating room."
MIRACLE ON 57th STREET. Last year, a ten-year, $500 million study including the research of 700 leading scientists concluded that acid rain was causing no discernible damage to crops or forests at present levels of acid rain emission. Since the results completely contradicted conventional environmental wisdom, the media made it a big story, right? Wrong. The study, released by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP), was virtually ignored until 60 Minutes, purveyors of the Great Alar Apple Panic of 1989, did penance by devoting a segment to it on December 30.
CBS reporter Steve Kroft captured the media's panicked, unscientific approach to environmental questions by asking NAPAP scientist Ed Krug: "The New York Times reported recently that over the last ten years, while NAPAP has been doing its study, the number of lakes turned into aquatic deathtraps multiplied across New York, New England, and the South. Stretches of forest along the Appalachian spine from Georgia to Maine, once lush and teeming with wildlife, were fast becoming landscapes of dead and dying trees. True?"
Krug replied: "I don't know where they got that from. It appears to be another assertion, unsubstantiated, because we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars surveying the environment to see if that was occurring and we don't see that occurring." Now if only 60 Minutes would recruit an equally credible group of scientists to put its Alar coverage to the test.
WE CRIPPLE CBS. The combined viewership of the three network evening newscasts fell four percent between the fourth quarter of 1989 and the end of 1990, A.C. Nielsen reported. Specifically, ABC's World News Tonight was up one percent, NBC Nightly News dropped five percent and the CBS Evening News fell an astonishing ten percent. It so happens that during 1990 MediaWatch criticized ABC the least in our Janet Cooke Awards and Newsbites. CBS was hammered the most. Once again, MediaWatch's incisive analysis has done more to cripple CBS News than Kathleen Sullivan ever could.
Revolving Door: Another Decade, Another Job
Another Decade, Another Job. Two reporters who became political operatives in the 1980s have changed careers for the 1990s. Both have set up public relations firms. J. Wilson Morris, Director of Information for the Democratic Steering Committee under former House Speaker Jim Wright, has helped create Bailey, Morris & Newhall. From 1972 to 1978 Morris was a Washington Post reporter....
William Kling, News Director for Paul Weyrich's conservative Free Congress Foundation and Coalitions for America since 1986, left last year to create Kling Communications. From 1959 to 1971 Kling was a Washington-based national political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In 1979 he became Press Secretary to U.S. Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican. Before jumping to Weyrich's operation, Kling spent four years reporting for The Washington Times.
Post's Kind of Republicans. In November, MediaWatch recounted a survey which found that every Washington Post reporter or editor registered to a political party, but one, was a Democrat. Well, a November Washingtonian story revealed you can work for the Post after working for a Republican, so long as he was liberal. Editorial writer Patricia Shakow was a Legislative Assistant to the late Senator Jacob Javits of New York from 1964 to 1977....
Colbert King, who joined the editorial writing staff last summer, served as Republican Staff Director to the Senate District of Columbia Committee under then Senator Charles (Mac) Mathias in the mid-1970s. King soon reformed himself, however, becoming Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for international legislative affairs in 1977 for Jimmy Carter. Two years later President Carter appointed King U.S. Executive Director of the World Bank.
Museum Work. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has hired a media relations director, Roll Call reported. Elizabeth Rose, Press Secretary to liberal Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) since she left the Dukakis presidential campaign, will coordinate media for the museum set to open in 1993 on Washington's Mall. In 1986-87 Rose worked in the Public Broadcasting Service national headquarters as an editorial associate.
Burke's Back. David Burke, long-time ABC News Vice President and President of CBS News from 1988 until last September, has joined the Dreyfuss Corporation as Chief Administrative Officer. It's a return engagement for Burke. He worked for the New York investment firm for a few years after he left Senator Ted Kennedy's office in 1971 where he had been Chief of Staff.
Magazines Call Bush a Captive of Conservatives
PUSHING THE PRESIDENT LEFT
Since George Bush broke his pledge on taxes, there has been a conservative revolt over his domestic policies, but you wouldn't know that from the mid-term evaluations of Time and Newsweek. Both agreed Bush's domestic policies are still much too conservative and he must move further left to succeed.
Time awarded the "Men of the Year" title to the two faces of George Bush -- his resolute foreign policy versus his "feckless approach to America's ills." Washington reporter Michael Duffy attributed Bush's domestic shortcomings to "his almost pathological fear of the GOP's right wing."
Now, Duffy continued, "Bush is under pressure from the right again, this time to adopt its new 'reform' agenda, a campaign for tax cuts and term limits on members of Congress and against affirmative action....There are indications that Bush may try to mollify the right for two more years, even if that means returning to the racially divisive themes that helped elect him in 1988." Duffy asserted: "Even as he sought to convince Americans that he was a kinder, gentler incarnation of his predecessor, he was straining to appease conservatives by opposing most gun-control efforts and proposing a constitutional amendment against flag burning."
On issues "where Bush has made improvements in the American condition," by abandoning conservative positions, "he has worked hard to keep them secret." Indeed, Time complained "Bush is leery of calling attention to anything that might upset conservatives. Despite the President's constant wooing, the hard right never seems satisfied."
Duffy concluded: "All too often Bush has found himself in the wrong corner. On issues like extending opportunities to minorities and cutting the deficit, for example, the President has permitted his indecision and fear of the right to overrule his better instincts." That's not a pattern, Duffy warned, that "will, as Bush promised in hs nomination speech of 1988, 'build a better America.'"
Newsweek followed suit. "What Jimmy Carter wanted to do but couldn't, George Bush could do -- but won't," wrote reporter Steven Waldman. "Right now it looks as if Bush will miss an opportunity, taking no bold action to reduce energy consumption," like hiking gas taxes. But to satisfy Newsweek, "he would have to take a few bold steps away from his business constituency, his conservative aides and his innate political cautiousness." Throughout his life, Time insisted, Bush "has demonstrated a willingness to compromise or jettison his positions to ensure conservative support." That's an ironic charge, since conservatives are looking for a candidate to oppose him in 1992.
No Controversy in Collaborating with Communists
ARMAND HAMMER & SICKLE
When Armand Hammer died, ABC and NBC went to work revising his controversial record. On the December 11 NBC Nightly News, reporter George Lewis noted that "[Hammer's] favorite hat was that of the humanitarian....Hammer, keenly aware of his place in history, wanted to leave a positive legacy." ABC's Peter Jennings claimed that "He will be remembered for many reasons: his campaigns for peace and against cancer, his long associations with Soviet leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev, his amazing success at business."
For ABC reporter John Martin, "Armand Hammer's life symbolized America's wildest dream." Martin praised Hammer for using "his access to American Presidents and Soviet leaders to promote peace," concluding Hammer was "one of the world's richest and most generous citizens." Neither Martin nor Lewis did much to upset Hammer's polished history. In fact, Hammer's conviction for concealing a contribution to Nixon's campaign was the only thing ABC and NBC considered controversial.
It's worth asking how Martin defines the American Dream. Is it the American Dream to help prop up the Soviet economy, supply the Soviets with sophisticated chemical technologies and build Soviet docking facilities that were deep enough for nuclear submarines? Another interpretation of Hammer's record could conclude he lived the definition of Lenin's "useful idiot."
Martin and Lewis both observed that Hammer's parents were Russian immigrants but neither mentioned that his father was a committed communist. Wrapping up Martin's story, Jennings noted the confusion between Hammer's name and the baking soda brand name. Jennings neglected to mention that Hammer's father named him for the Arm & Hammer, the communist symbols of the time.
Reporters Slight Conservative View on Scholarships
A LOPSIDED ROLODEX OF SOURCES
CBS wasn't the only media outlet to portray the minority scholarship ruling as an issue without two sides. "The ruling was almost universally condemned," reported USA Today. In a story that quoted six opponents and no supporters, Time claimed: "It was hard to find anyone last week in the education world who did not express dismay." Most media coverage of the controversy reflected that belief. A MediaWatch study of sources quoted on the ruling revealed a startling imbalance: 100 opposed the ruling to only 30 in favor, for a liberal advantage of more than three to one.
MediaWatch analysts studied every story on the controversy from December 12 to 22 on the three network evening news shows and CNN's Evening News, Time and Newsweek (December 24 edition), and four newspapers (The Boston Globe, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post). The Post led the pack in getting sources in favor of the ruling, quoting 20 in favor and 32 opposed. Post reporters balanced liberal sources like Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP and Ralph Neas of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights with legal analyst Bruce Fein and the Washington Legal Foundation's John Scully, who's filed lawsuits against race-based scholarships.
The Boston Globe, on the other hand, didn't seem to care about two sides: opponents outnumbered supporters by a shocking margin of 23 to 1. The Globe not only quoted Hooks, but added Keith Geiger of the National Educational Association, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), whose call for Williams' resignation made the first paragraph of the Globe's December 20 story.
Network reporters also preferred critics, 16 to 4. Even the usually balanced CNN ran a story by Charles Jaco that included six opponents and no supporters. But the imbalance of sources was nothing compared to the imbalance of reporters. Take NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski's December 17 report: "Throughout his political career, Bush has courted blacks and donated personally to minority scholarships. Despite that, he vetoed the civil rights bill and he refused to condemn the racial tactics in the Jesse Helms campaign...Some White House officials say that technically the Education Department's ruling was legally correct, but they acknowledge that politically, and perhaps even morally, it was a loser." This was the media's problem, exactly: shaping the political outcome was a greater concern than the actual content of the law.
Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Civil Wrongs
In the current lexicon, "civil rights" no longer describes the promise of equal treatment before the law; instead, it applies only to special treatment of some races. Education Department official Michael Williams created a firestorm December 12 with a ruling that, under the current "civil rights" laws, race-based scholarships awarded by governments or colleges are discriminatory and therefore illegal.
Reporters didn't simply describe the firestorm, they played a large part in fueling it. Most spent more time analyzing the political opposition to the decision -- roasting Williams and the vacillating Bush Administration -- than explaining the decision's legal rationale. For its one-sided reporting of the ruling, CBS News earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Williams didn't call for a ban on race-based scholarships out of spite: the "Civil Rights Restoration Act," passed by liberal Democrats over Ronald Reagan's veto in 1988, mandated that federal aid would be denied to any college that discriminated on the basis of race in any program. Thus, minority activists and college officials were objecting to a law they lobbied hard for only two years ago.
On the night following the announcement, reporter Eric Engberg's CBS Evening News story focused only on critics, who "said the new policy will devastate the chances for minority students to get a college degree," such as NAACP chief Benjamin Hooks, Notre Dame's Theodore Hesburgh, and a financial aid officer. CBS also featured potential victims: "Tony Fletcher...is going to Columbia University on a minority scholarship. Without it, he says, he'd be in a bind." Engberg concluded: "The American Council on Education, the umbrella group for colleges, vowed to fight today's ruling. Officials said they would tell member colleges the Department of Education is dead wrong on the law." No conservative was allowed to challenge these statements.
Following Engberg, Chief Political Correspondent Bruce Morton did air a soundbite of former Reagan official Terry Eastland saying: "It is an unjustified use of race. They count by race, they divide by race, they reward by race. They're bad for everyone involved, though." But Morton dismissed the view: "That's a philosophical point. But with the country in recession, with people worried about their jobs, the quota issue taps both racial resentment and economic fear. David Duke used it...in Louisiana."
Morton repeatedly confused the concepts of civil rights, quotas and "affirmative action" without ever defining their meanings. "Democrats [say] 'We're not for quotas, we're for affirmative action, and the Bush Administration has endorsed that in a lot of federal programs. The quota issue is a Republican attempt to blame somebody else for the recession they've created.'"
A few hours later, America Tonight began with this alarmist synopsis: "Across America tonight -- A blow to civil rights as minority scholarships are ruled illegal." CBS wrongly implied minority scholarships as a whole were "ruled illegal." Williams' ruling clearly did not include scholarships from private sources, only those from government or college treasuries. It also did not exclude scholarships awarded to minorities based on merit or financial need -- only those based solely on race. To top it all off, notice the abuse of the term "civil rights": Do minority students now have a right to taxpayer money for college?
Lesley Stahl interviewed liberal U. of Wisconsin Chancellor Donna Shalala and former Reagan official William Bradford Reynolds. Although Reynolds carefully reviewed the legal rationale behind the decision, Stahl ignored the legal debate and sank to demagoguery: "I want to ask you one fast final question: Are you sure this is not politics? Someone said to me today 'This is Willie Horton goes to college.'"
Over the next week, the Evening News ran two more stories by Engberg, which included three more opponents of the ruling. He did interview one black conservative, Alan Keyes, but only in the capacity usually reserved for conservatives to criticize the President's vacillation. Another black conservative, David Bernstein of the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, told MediaWatch that CBS This Morning producer Christine McHenry interviewed a student from his group late in the controversy, but the interview never aired.
CBS Evening News producer Bill Skane told MediaWatch that getting interviews from anyone in the immediate aftermath of the ruling was difficult: "Everybody we got was a hard get that day, because of the timing involved, and when we decided to do it, among other things. It wasn't until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Everybody was hard to find...I think by the second or third day of it, Eric had more that he could do." That hardly excuses putting on just one supporter versus seven opponents over a week long period. Even if CBS could not find any sources to support the ruling on the first day, professionalism dictated two possible courses of action. One, not air soundbites from either side; or two, summarize the conservative position. Engberg did neither.