In This Issue
ABC's Liberal of the Week; NewsBites: Great Gorebasm; Revolving Door: On the Democratic Trail; Welfare Wailing, Factual Failing; PBS Shows Match Democratic Agenda; Mayoral Payola; CBS Errs on Senate; Post Corrects Itself; Warren Brookes; Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Romance With France
ABC's Liberal of the Week
Most Friday evenings ABC's World News Tonight awards "Person of the Week" honors to the individual who, in the network's eyes, has "made a difference" in the world that week. Often ABC chooses an entertainer, sports figure, or youngster who has caught the public's attention. But when the award goes to a politician or a political activist, the producers at ABC reveal their liberal stripes.
MediaWatch analysts reviewed the Person of the Week segments from January 1988 through December 1991. In those four years, out of 181 segments, sixteen American political officials were chosen. Eleven of those could be classified liberal or Democratic, while only five could be labeled as conservative or Republican. When ABC selected political activists, the disparity was even more pronounced. During the same four-year period, 16 liberal political activists were selected Person of the Week. Not a single conservative activist made the cut.
Among the liberal and Democratic officials: Jimmy Carter, Senator Jay Rockefeller, former Senator William Proxmire, Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, former U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, Senator Sam Nunn, California Education Superintendent Bill Honig, Washington D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder and former Colorado Governor Roy Romer. The conservative and Republican office holders chosen were Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, President Bush (twice) and former Education Secretary William Bennett.
ABC took an unusual approach with Bennett, airing three anti-Bennett soundbites and only one pro-Bennett soundbite. This was a sharp contrast to their normal method of lavishing the Person of the Week with only flattering talking heads. For example, the segment on Senator Rockefeller had no opposing talking heads and even implied that conservatives liked him.
In celebrating left-wing activists, ABC didn't even mention the radical agendas of some of its honorees. On October 18, 191, right after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, ABC chose the feminist law professor Catherine McKinnon. Anchor Peter Jennings insisted she "deserves her reputation as the country's most prominent legal theorist on behalf of women, whose dedication to laws, which serve men and women equally, has made it better, though not yet perfect for women in the work place." But Jennings failed to inform viewers that McKinnon once said, "compare victims' reports of rape with women's reports of sex. They look a lot alike....Feminism stresses the indistinguishability of prostitution, marriage, and sexual harassment."
ABC went green on April 20, 1990, choosing Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes. Jennings fawned: "[Hayes is] the true believer whose reverence for life has always been a calling, never a fashion, who millions of Americans owe a vote of thanks." Again, Jennings didn't mention Hayes' radical agenda. In Hayes' own words about Earth Day 1970: "I suspect that the politicians who are jumping on the environmental band wagon don't have the slightest idea what they're getting into. They are talking about emission control devices on automobiles, while we are talking about bans on automobiles."
On July 15, 1988, the eve of the Democratic National Convention, ABC picked 1960s radical Tom Hayden, who was a DNC delegate. Jennings explained, "we choose him to show how far he and much of his generation have traveled, since they stood outside the convention twenty years ago, shaking their fists at society...[he is] not afraid to admit mistakes, but confident that his generation made a difference."
But just how far has Hayden traveled? Hayden wrote a column for the December 30 Los Angeles Times in which he defended Oliver Stone's new movie JFK. Hayden wrote, "Now comes Oliver Stone as an incarnation of the 1960s who cannot be dismissed. Like an Id from our past, he terrorizes the official subconscious with the fear that a new generation will be infected with a radical virus that was supposed to have been eradicated....[American democracy] was a system threatened by invisible elites, illegal conspiracies and faceless killers, some of them officially connected." Are these the words of a changed man?
Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman got the nod on March 29, 1991 because she's "always on Congress' back for coming up with too little money...from her point of view, as you hear, it is a matter of the whole country's future. The children are fortunate to have such an advocate." But Jennings didn't tell viewers Edelman's opinions on defense. "We must curb the fanatical military weasel and keep it in balance with competing national needs," she wrote in her 1987 book, Families in Peril.
Jennings also endorsed the views of feminist leader Betty Friedan, announcing: "And so we choose Betty Friedan, because she had the ability and the sensitivity to articulate the needs of women, which means she did us all a favor." Jennings honored education activist Jonathan Kozol on September 6, 1991: "He has once again done a masterful job of making us think more clearly about some of the inequities in American education." About AIDS activist and journalist Randy Shilts, Jennings opined: "Shilts has opened some eyes in America, warning a lot of us about what was coming, helping to make people rethink some of their basic assumptions."
Labor activist Cesar Chavez also caught Jennings' fancy: "The effects of his struggle have been widely felt, from the bargaining table to the kitchen table...Today the issue is pesticides...He says he's fasting as an act of penance for those who, as he put it, collaborate with an industry that cares little about its workers." And when the notorious Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) forced the FBI to suspend its investigation of potential terrorist threats from the leftist Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Jennings said of CCR President Margaret Ratner, "there's no doubt in our mind that what she and her colleagues accomplished is good for all Americans."
The people at ABC do fine when they stick to dancers, actors and football coaches for their Person of the Week segments. But by repeatedly picking liberal (often radical) political activists and Democratic politicians, while for the most part ignoring conservatives, they betray their political bias.
NewsBites: Great Gorebasm
GREAT GORBASM. After a long history of praising Gorbachev, NBC correspondent Bob Abernethy issued one last tribute to his hero on the December 24 Nightly News. "Well, let me say how I hope history will judge him. Perhaps in time with help and work, people here will improve their everyday lives and remember Gorbachev's accomplishments, and that would seem to me fair. I remember not only the end but the beginning of the Cold War, and the forty years of fear Gorbachev more than anyone else ended. He seems to me to have done more good in the world than any other national leader of my lifetime." So the man who worked to save communism won Abernethy's favor over champions of democracy like FDR, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan.
PETER'S PALESTINIAN PALS. How well Peter Jennings knows Palestinian leaders might surprise you. According to the December 30/January 6 issue of U.S. News & World Report, Jennings dated Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi in the early 1970s. He served as ABC's Beirut bureau chief when she was a graduate student. Jennings told U.S. News: "Anyone who has known Hanan as long as I have is not surprised to see her emerge as a persuasive spokesperson for the Palestinians."
This might help explain ABC's Middle East reporting. A new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that World News Tonight coverage in the eight months since the end of the Gulf War had a distinctive, pro-Arab, anti-Israeli tilt. While all three networks were highly critical of Israel, "opinions expressed on ABC were seven to one negative compared with five to one negative at the other networks....By contrast, nearly three out of five ABC assessments (58%) supported the various Arab proposals, compared to a minority (45%) at the other networks."
JOAN'S NOW BOW. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the champion of radical feminists. To mark the occasion, on January 7 Good Morning America co-host Joan Lunden interviewed NOW President Patricia Ireland and liberal columnist Ellen Goodman.
Since ABC failed to bring on a critic, you'd think Lunden might have challenged her guests. Instead, she threw softballs such as, "Where do you see the greatest accomplishments?" At other times Lunden gave up questioning and endorsed Ireland's assertions. "Interesting," she responded, "you almost have to take the role of bad girl, so that you can make the noise, so you can open up that door so the more moderate ones can go through." When Ireland insisted that young women appreciate the feminist movement, Lunden agreed: "They recognize, Patricia, that you've stuck your neck out there and worked really hard over all these years."
PYONGYANG PRATTLE. Quick, name a hard-line communist country still remaining. Though many might name North Korea, New York Times reporter Steven Weisman probably wouldn't be one of them. In a Dec. 3 article, he reported: "But here in Pyongyang, random conversations over a day and a half revealed only the mildest signs of distress, and there are no discernible signs of dissent. Indeed the uniformity of political opinions makes it appear that Pyongyang is a city for the loyal elite, who are well-treated." After decades of portraying the Soviet people as contented, reporters still mistake silence for satisfaction instead of the secret police doing its job.
Weisman also noted the pampering the residents receive: "There seems to be plenty of diversions for the people of Pyongyang. There are public baths where men can relax and get a massage and an enormous array of sites for sports. At the city's big ice rink, a group of high school speed-skating teams were competing as a small crowd shouted. Two huge `Children's Palaces' -- closed this winter, perhaps because of fuel shortages -- contain dozens of rooms for after-school studies and such activities as singing, dancing, painting, and music making." Makes you want to pack your bags.
TIME STANDS STILL. Time magazine continues its crusade to solve perceived environmental problems with big government, anti- business policies. In the January 6 issue, staff writers labeled John Sununu's resignation the year's "Best" environmental news. The article called Sununu "notorious for his hostility to environmentalists and their agenda," and claimed, "if it was good for the earth but bad for business, Sununu's opposition generally persuaded the President." Time hailed the "derailing" of the Johnston-Wallop energy bill because it "downplayed conservation, boosted nuclear power and called for oil exploration in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
Time listed the White House wetlands policy as one of the "Worst" environmental events, calling it "all wet....during his presidential campaign, George Bush promised `no net loss of wetlands.' But under pressure from business, his administration proposed a new definition of a wetland that would open at least [30 million acres] of off-limits land to development." Time failed to explain why it's such a great idea to violate the Bill of Rights, which prohibits the government's taking of property without compensation.
NO SAINT PATRICK. During the December 22 CNN Year in Review special, moderator Bernard Shaw warned: "I hope that throughout our work in covering campaign '92, we in the news media do not give Pat Buchanan a free ride." Not to worry. In Time magazine December 23, Washington reporter Margaret Carlson didn't exactly salute: "For Buchanan, Bush is insufficiently Buchanan-like -- not nativist, rightist, homophobic, authoritarian or anti-Israel enough. Like many ultraconservatives, Buchanan is unfailingly kind and generous to people regardless of their background. But he can be just as cruel to the groups to which they belong."
In a December 11 NBC Today interview with Buchanan, Bryant Gumbel asked: "What do you say to the idea that any President must be President of all the people and your written record of insensitivity toward blacks, Jews, gays, Latins, Asians, et cetera makes Pat Buchanan wholly unqualified?" On Nightly News the day before, reporter Lisa Myers charged "the landscape is littered with his, at best, insensitive remarks about blacks, gays and Jews." This came from the same reporter who, on October 3, was a cheerleader for Democrat Bill Clinton: "A star since first elected Governor at age 32, Clinton is less driven by ideology than by what works...Name a problem, Clinton probably has a solution."
TOO LEGIT TO OMIT. There's no doubt where The Washington Post stands on taxes. On December 12, their headline read "Economists Advise Against Rushing to Cut Taxes." Staff writer Eric Pianin reported how "prominent economists and financial experts" were against tax cuts. In case readers missed the Pianin article, Steven Mufson rewrote the story as a "news analysis" for the December 18 edition, with the headline: "Economists Take Dim View of Using Tax Cuts to Stimulate the Economy."
Who were some of the economists and "financial experts" the Post quoted? The first story highlighted John Kenneth Galbraith, who in 1984 observed that "the Soviet economy has made great progress in recent years." Guess what he advised: more federal spending "regardless of the impact on the deficit." Most of the experts were liberals: Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office, which neither reporter identified as Democrat-controlled; Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute; George Korpius, Vice President of the AFL-CIO; and Roy Ash and Dean Phypers from the liberal Committee for Economic Development. Neither reporter gave space to the many economists who support tax cuts.
JASON'S BACK. How bad is the recession? On December 12, The New York Times pushed the panic button with the headline: "A Growing Choice: Housing or Food." The story, by Times reporter Jason DeParle, focused solely on a study by two liberal groups, the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities and the Low Income Housing Information Service, without one word from any conservative or critical source.
DeParle promoted the study's results: "The report said 47 percent of the nation's poor renters pay more than 70 percent of their income for shelter." But he failed to point out that the liberal groups get this number only by excluding the value of food stamps and other non-cash government subsidies. DeParle's own story focused on chef's assistant Harold Coleman: "He rings home $596 a month. He pays about $480 in rent and utilities for an apartment." But later in the story, DeParle pointed out: "Mr. Coleman, as earnest as he is poor, feeds the family on $323 a month in food stamps." Reporters like DeParle aren't satisfied with portraying social problems honestly. Instead, they distort the truth by excluding everything the government's already doing for the poor.
NO NOBEL FOR BROKAW. Tom Brokaw's not much of an economist. Take this little story from the December 11 NBC Nightly News: "A congressional study tonight, by the way, says that richest Americans will pay lower taxes next year than in 1980, an average of $16,000 less. Meanwhile, taxes on the middle class in this country? Well, they're up and their income in the middle class has fallen."
Is there any part of this story that isn't wrong? Nope. First, Brokaw (and his congressional sources) assume that rich people would dutifully report the same amount of income whether the rate stands at the current 28 percent or at the pre-Reagan 70 percent level. Higher tax rates cause the rich to evade taxes with shelters. In fact, the Census Bureau reported that the share of taxes paid by those making more than $50,000 a year (in constant 1989 dollars) rose from 21.6 percent in 1981 to 29.0 percent in 1989. As for middle class incomes declining, may we repeat: average family income went up across the board. The middle class gained.
ALL TO WALES. Tom Brokaw opened the January 6 NBC Nightly News, "Here at home, the three R's have been jolted by a fourth, recession. Fewer teachers, fewer custodians, larger classrooms." So, out of 15,376 school districts nationwide, where did NBC find these conditions? In Wales, Mass. (pop. 1,500). That's the same one-school town which Giselle Fernandez focused on for the CBS Evening News four days before. She found "kids from different grade levels... crammed together on one classroom." For anchor Connie Chung, Wales showed how "Hard times are fueling a growing taxpayer revolt around the country. People...are refusing to pay more, even at the expense of their own children."
But Wales is anything but typical. As The Boston Globe noted on January 5, voters turned down a tax hike in part because "property taxes in Wales rose about a third last year." Then again, if Wales were typical, network crews wouldn't have driven for hours to find the rural town.
Revolving Door: On the Democratic Trail
On the Democratic Trail. Some media veterans have decided to put their talents to work on behalf of Democratic presidential candidates. Wally Chalmers, Political Editor for CBS News during the 1984 campaign, is aiding Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. Chalmers, who works for Cassidy & Associates, told MediaWatch he helped obtain donations for a fundraising dinner last fall and continues to do fundraising when he has time....
Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton is getting advice from two media veterans. Robert Shapiro, an Associate Editor of U.S. News & World Report from 1985-88, and George Stephanopoulos, who had a brief stint with CBS News. Shapiro, who was Deputy Issues Director for Michael Dukakis in 1988, is offering advice from his VP perch at the Progressive Policy Institute. Stephanopoulos was Floor Assistant to Majority Leader Dick Gephardt until becoming Clinton's Deputy Campaign Manager last fall. He served as Associate Producer for two 1985 CBS specials on the famine in Sudan.
Anita Stuffer. At the annual Christmas lunch for current and former ABC News public relations workers, Kitty Bayh brought some stocking stuffers. The Director of News Information in Washington for ABC News from 1978 to 1983 distributed pencils with the words "I Believe Her" printed on them. Before joining ABC, she spent nine years with the Democratic National Committee. "I had them printed up after the Clarence Thomas hearings, not even thinking about the William Kennedy Smith trial," Bayh told The Washington Post on December 24. Bayh realized: "I should have put `I Believe Anita' on them."
Night Moves. Deborah Leff, a Senior Producer for ABC's World News Tonight since 1989 and previously for Nightline, has taken the same title with 20/20. For the last two years of the Carter Administration, Leff was Director of Public Affairs for the Federal Trade Commission....At the end of November CBS ceased production of Nightwatch, its overnight interview show. The decision left Executive Producer Deborah Johnson without a position to return to after her maternity leave was to end in February. She ran Nightwatch since leaving NBC in 1986 where she had been Foreign Producer of the Nightly News. In 1975 she helped found the left-wing Mother Jones magazine.
JFK: The Flacker. Just before JFK opened, Frank Mankiewicz arranged a Washington public relations blitz for its left-wing director/producer/writer Oliver Stone. The President of National Public Radio from 1977 to 1983 played political favorites. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz reported that Mankiewicz, a veteran of the Robert Kennedy and George McGovern presidential efforts, allowed only The McLaughlin Group's liberals into an advance screening of the movie which argues a grand right-wing conspiracy murdered President Kennedy. Jack Germond and Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift were welcomed, but not Fred Barnes, John McLaughlin or Morton Kondracke.
Welfare Wailing, Factual Failing
Supposed federal welfare cuts have been newsworthy for ten years, while state welfare budgets have been exploding. But when a few governors tried to pare down the rate of increase in welfare spending, the march of the welfare cut victims began again.
On the Christmas Eve CBS Evening News, anchor Harry Smith warned that "fear is spreading that California might once again be a trendsetter" by controlling its burgeoning welfare expenditures. Reporter Jerry Bowen detailed how poor mothers would suffer under Governor Pete Wilson's "deep cuts in welfare" (from $663 to $597 a month). While Bowen let a few workers complain about their high taxes, he said nothing about the state's welfare budget, even after cuts.
USA Today reported California's budget for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) grew roughly twice as fast as inflation in the '80s, and the benefit level ($663 a month for a family of three) was the highest of the ten most populous states. Compare that to Virginia, where the same family would receive $291. As a result, the AFDC caseload grew four times as fast as California's population.
Reporter Bob Faw followed Bowen with a story heavy on moral intimidation but short on facts: "If the California plan takes hold in Connecticut, welfare recipients like 26-year-old Nieta Diaz, unmarried mother of four, will feel the pinch. That's just $800 a month to cover everything for five people. Cut that to levels of three years ago as some Connecticut lawmakers propose?" Said Diaz: "If I don't pay my rent next month, my landlord is going to kick me out, and then where am I going to go? Where am I going to go with my four kids?"
Faw continued: "Welfare recipient Kevin Mosley, permanently disabled, says he is also barely scraping by." Mosley warned: "If there was less money coming in, I'd be in trouble. I'd be in the street, to be quite honest with you. I'd be in the street." he added: "That prospect, though, has not stopped state legislators from slashing welfare spending more this year than any other since 1981." He concluded with an emotional appeal: "Spend less tomorrow, as the California plan envisages? `How we gonna live,' Diaz and others ask, `how we gonna live?'"
Faw's story came at a mysterious time: the state legislature had adjourned days before without passing any cuts. In fact, the only proposed cut was a $50 million reduction in general assistance, not the AFDC program. That means that Faw's unmarried mother of four faced no cuts, and Faw's comparison to California's AFDC proposals fell completely flat.
PBS Shows Match Democratic Agenda
Moralizing Moyers. PBS has announced its schedule of election season specials and it's clear that balance is of little interest to the tax funded network. For an hour each week from April through November, PBS will distributer Listening to America with Bill Moyers. NBC's liberal commentator John Chancellor will also host a two-hour look at health care.
In addition, PBS is providing a platform for three specials hosted by Democratic operative and PBS poobah Bill Moyers. The first, Minimum Wages, aired on January 8. Moyers spent the hour arguing that businesses are "creating a work force which can barely afford to buy the goods and services it produces....For more than a decade, changes in the global and domestic economies have lowered real wages, creating what some have called `a silent depression.'" Moyers continued: "Americans are dividing into two groups, one that works for a living and makes it and one that works for a living and can't make it. It's a division that threatens to leave hard-working people permanently poor."
Since official government statistics show average wages increased during the 1980s, Moyers resorted to anecdotes to support his liberal thesis. He profiled four Milwaukee citizens unable to replace their lost factory jobs with equally high-paying ones.
After an hour he concluded: "Today, making it in America means more family members working longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits. If the trend continues, it will change radically America's work force and America's future. Economic progress will come to fewer and fewer of us, the divisions among us will grow and millions will find that poverty and a paycheck go hand in hand."
Two more Moyers specials are on the way: a look at racial prejudice on February 5 and an examination of the "human services system" on March 25. Democratic candidates don't need campaign commercials. They have PBS.
The same networks that snubbed Census Bureau numbers on the homeless jumped all over the U.S. Conference of Mayors' December 16 report. On NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw intoned: "America's homeless situation is going from bad to worse. Hard times are pushing more people and more families out into the streets." On the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather moaned: "There's no joy in reporting it, but the ranks of homeless and hungry are up sharply and increasing."
CBS reporter Mark Phillips concluded: "The mayors got some tragic help to their appeal to official Washington. The other morning, the dead body of a homeless man was discovered less than a block from the White House. And the theme for the homeless children's Christmas show? They're acting out a series of funerals."
NBC aired four different stories on Today the next morning. Not one included any skeptics of the report to question its statistical soundness. More importantly, not one of the stories stated the obvious: mayors looking for more federal aid have an interest in high estimates of homelessness.
The mayors also decried a "backlash" against the homeless. On Today, reporter Keith Morrison suggested the homeless in cities like Santa Monica faced "public apathy and even anger. Are they supposed to disappear?" But the night before, Robert Hager reported that Santa Monica's "liberal policy toward the homeless has caused it to be overrun." In the December 23 U.S. News & World Report, David Whitman challenged the mayors' report and detailed how liberal mayors are reconsidering right-to-shelter laws over their potential to create increased local homelessness.
CBS Errs on Senate
Do women's groups really want women in government? Ask past female GOP candidates. On the November 30 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer reported: "The outrage that many women felt in the wake of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings is apparently causing more and more women to run for public office. And a record number of women are contemplating Senate campaigns."
Wrong. To date, there are eight women slated to run in primaries for U.S. Senate seats nationwide, down from nine in the 1990 general election. Schieffer highlighted only liberal candidates Geraldine Ferraro, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. But do women's groups back all women candidates or just ones who support their liberal agenda?
Since 1980, 22 women have mounted serious runs for U.S. Senate seats. If each had won, there would be 14 Republican women and 8 Democratic women in a Republican-controlled Senate. In 1990 nine women, seven Republicans and two Democrats, ran for the Senate. The National Organization for Women endorsed only the two Democratic candidates; the Women's Campaign Fund, two Democrats and one pro-choice Republican; and the National Women's Political Caucus, two Democrats and two liberal Republicans.
Feminist groups used the Thomas hearings to trumpet the need for more women in the Senate, but NOW and the National Women's Political Caucus backed Judiciary Committee members Paul Simon and Herb Kohl, not their Republican female opponents, Lynn Martin and Susan Engeleiter.
Post Corrects Itself
Three years after maligning Vice President Dan Quayle with undocumented falsehoods about his qualifications for office, The Washington Post has boldly gone where no media outlet has gone before: it's correcting the record.
In the third installment of a seven-part January series by Post heavyweights David Broder and Bob Woodward, the duo conceded: "Some serious charges made against Quayle -- including allegations of academic failure or dishonesty and manipulation of National Guard rules -- as well as descriptions of vast wealth appear to be false."
But the Post wasn't bold enough to admit that some of those false charges were its own. On January 12, The Washington Times took pleasure in pillorying its rival.
The Times found embarrassing Post falsehoods, such an August 17, 1988 news story by Broder and Helen Dewar: "Quayle is vastly wealthier than Bush, and stands to inherit a large share of a fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars." Now, Broder has reported: "Contrary to published assertions and speculation, Quayle does not stand to inherit part of the estate of his grandfather." But he didn't tell readers it was his error.
Meanwhile, other reporters responded to the Quayle series not by reporting the Post's corrections, but by joking about the Post going soft. The networks, which worked so hard to damage Quayle in 1988, have been mostly silent. ABC, which earned a Janet Cooke Award for its false reporting about Quayle's National Guard record, is especially guilty of failing to make retractions, even though they did interview Woodward on Good Morning America on January 13.
Just last month I called economics columnist Warren Brookes to discuss a Philadelphia Inquirer series that had earned MediaWatch's Janet Cooke Award. As always, Brooks offered several powerful statistics to counter the liberal distortion of economic performance during the 1980s. So it came as a great shock to learn he had passed away from pneumonia at his Lovettsville, Virginia home just three days after Christmas.
Brookes began writing columns for the then Boston Herald American in the mid-1970s, becoming nationally syndicated just after President Reagan took office. He always gathered together statistics to disprove conventional wisdom spouted by liberal politicians and the media, making his columns an invaluable resource. In the late 1980s Brookes turned his attention to radical environmentalism, quoting scientific studies to debunk dire claims about acid rain and global warming forwarded by regulators and environmental activists.
We've collected a stack of Brookes columns which are packed with persuasive numbers and arguments still relevant for future MediaWatch articles. That no more will be written will make our job much harder. That we and so many other became so reliant upon Brookes is a tribute to the quality of his work. -- Brent Baker, Editor
Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Romance With France
Equating caring with government spending is a time-honored liberal tactic. Conservatives have come to expect this kind of argument from liberal activists, but now it's coming from reporters. On December 3 and 5, ABC's American Agenda segments celebrated the top-down bureaucratic children's programs of France, equating their large government budgets with large hearts. For what amounts to a one-sided advertisement for French socialism, ABC's American Agenda earned the January Janet Cooke Award.
On World News Tonight December 3, Peter Jennings began the network's advocacy campaign: "On the American Agenda tonight, France. One of the things we have found with every subject we address on the Agenda...is how often there are lessons to be learned from other societies. It is one thing for the United States to spend less on children than almost any other country in the industrialized world. It is another to see what those countries get in return for their dollar, or in this case, their franc."
Reporter Carole Simpson then told the tale of the Rechantier family and their new baby. "The infant's mother...takes comfort in knowing she and her husband don't have to worry about whether they can afford Romaine's health care or day care or her education. That's because the Rechantier family lives in France. The French version of Social Security funds a wide array of government health and welfare programs targeted to families with children, all families, rich or poor. The money comes from considerable taxes on businesses and workers' salaries. Everybody pays and everybody benefits."
Simpson never specified what "considerable" meant. In fact, France's top income tax rate is a stifling 56.8 percent. When asked by MediaWatch about the cost of implementing a French-style program in America, Simpson cited Barbara Bergman of American University, who estimates a start-up cost of $217 billion. But Simpson left uncomfortable numbers out of the broadcast.
Simpson was more reckless with claims like this: "Like the United States, France has its share of poor people and a large immigrant population. But its poverty rate is one of the lowest in the world. Only five percent of children in France live in poverty compared to twenty percent in this country."
Simpson told MediaWatch her source was the liberal economist Timothy Smeeding, who has arrived at numbers like this by defining poverty as less than 40 percent of national median income. In a recent study for the Joint Center for Political Studies, Smeeding put the poverty rate for families with children at 17.5 percent for the United States, and 5.3 percent for France. But of course, the median income in France is below the median income in the United States, so many of the U.S. "poor" would not have been classified as such in France.
Liberal activists often skew perceptions of our all-around standard of living compared to other industrialized nations. For example, in 1980, 1.8 percent of poor families in the United States went without a flush toilet in their homes. By contrast, 17 percent of all families in France were without flush toilets in that year, a worse ratio than Spain, Italy, West Germany, and Britain.
Simpson went on to tell the story of two Lebanese immigrants who benefitted from France's "free" services. (Free? Tell that to French taxpayers.) She concluded: "Free universal health care for children and cash allowances for parents continue and even increase throughout children's lives, up to the age of twenty, as long as they stay in school. When you see how France cares for its children, you can't help but wonder why the United States can't do the same for our children. Americans continue to study and debate what to do about poor children and poverty, but the French decided long ago. Their system of social welfare is based on the belief that investing in the children of France is investing in the future of France."
Two nights later, anchor Sam Donaldson repeated Simpson's vague endorsement of the costly French welfare state: "In France, all families, rich and poor, share a wide variety of benefits. The price tag is high, but so is the quality of what they receive."
In this report, Simpson promoted France's statist day care system: "French parents have what few American parents have -- high quality day care at low cost, no matter what their income. That's because day care is regulated and subsidized by the French government. Five decades ago, with more and more women entering the labor force, France began instituting family support programs, including day care and preschool. The country made a national commitment to produce healthy, educated children and productive, working parents. Perhaps President Mitterrand put it best: he said France will be strong in its families and blossom in its children."
Simpson concluded the story: "The French system works so well that several American organizations are working to implement a similar national day care policy in the United States. The biggest barrier seems to be cost. But the French, with enviable results, have demonstrated their will to spend whatever it takes to care for their children."
Neither report included any critics. Simpson told MediaWatch that American Agenda segments are different than regular news: "They're not the standard news story where they have both sides and someone will say this is good and this is bad....There was never any desire or intention to include someone [critical]. Of course, there were many people who criticized, and I can tell you, and I've heard many of them, and there were criticisms in France among the French people, about how much taxes they were paying."
Simpson defended her slanted comparison of American and French poverty: "You do not see the grinding poverty in France...that I see on the west side of Chicago. The safety net is much more in place in France. There is no doubt about that." When asked if we need an expanded "safety net," Simpson replied "I think so." Asked if the Reagan and Bush administrations are part of the problem, she responded: "I have been on the record on that. I've said it on Brinkley, I have." At the end of our conversation, she joked: "Let me have it. Slam me. Blast me."
Okay, Carole, here it is: ABC's American Agenda is supposed to be an in-depth exploration of an issue, but there's nothing "in-depth" about providing only one side. Any political activist can do that. Journalists are supposed to do better.