MediaWatch: January 1994

In This Issue

Conscientious Objectors to Trooper Allegations Jumped on Tower, Thomas, Nancy Reagan; NewsBites: Bryant Confesses; Revolving Door: Talbott Promoted at State; Friend of Bill Takes Over at ABC; Fascists, Communists on "Right"; Boxing Helen Thomas; TV Truth Squads Take the Day Off; Janet Cooke Award: Newsweek Celebrates 60th Anniversary with Mostly Liberal Historical Essay

Conscientious Objectors to Trooper Allegations Jumped on Tower

"Holier-Than-Thou" Hypocrisy

The revelations of four Arkansas state troopers who declared that then-Gov. Bill Clinton used them to set up liaisons with women received a nearly identical amount of coverage as Clinton's last "bimbo eruption." The Gennifer Flowers story drew only 14 stories on the four network evening news shows in a six-day period. Likewise, the trooper story attracted only 22 stories in a 12-day period, nine of them on CNN.

Liberals often fend off charges of bias by suggesting critics are conspiracy theorists. When David Brock's American Spectator article spurred the Los Angeles Times to publish its trooper story, it was Times Washington Bureau Chief Jack Nelson who cried foul on the PBS show Washington Week in Review on December 24: "There was a conspiracy, in my opinion, by right-wingers, including some right-wing journalists, to press this newspaper into running this story before it was ready to." Nelson named ABC's Brit Hume and New Republic writer Fred Barnes: "They were all promoting this story."

Some media outlets tried to avoid the story as tasteless and unsourced. Many of those conscientious objectors had taken a decidedly different approach when the targets of leaks and gossip were conservatives.

Media outlets did not ignore unproven charges of personal behavior made against Sen. John Tower in his failed nomination for defense secretary; or Kitty Kelley's gossipy book about Nancy Reagan and her sex life, including lesbian affairs, fellatio with Hollywood directors, and supposed White House liaisons between the First Lady and Frank Sinatra; or Anita Hill's charges against Justice Clarence Thomas, despite, as Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot put it, "Ms. Flowers now has more corroboration than Anita Hill ever did." Here's a small sample of the hypocrisy:

CBS. CBS Evening News failed to mention the story until Mrs. Clinton denounced it, two days after the other networks, and then only in passing. Executive Producer Erik Sorenson downplayed the story because he found it was just "circumstantial evidence. No women have come forward. I don't want to put these guys on the air because everyone else is doing it." He told The Boston Globe December 23: "I don't want to act holier-than-thou, but the walls are definitely tumbling down."

But on March 2, 1989, CBS Evening News aired allegations of John Tower fondling women and abusing alcohol based solely on a source, Bob Jackson, who was discharged from the military for "mixed personality disorder and anti-social and hysterical features." On April 8, 1990, CBS reporter Mark Phillips did an entire story on Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan book, concluding: "Is the stuff in the book true or just vindictive tales? Who knows? Who cares?"

Last August, CBS This Morning interviewed, Susan Trento, whose book contained a footnote about a dead ambassador who guessed George Bush had an affair. CBS This Morning did mention the trooper story in an interview with political experts Bob Beckel and Fred Barnes, but did not secure any of the principals for an interview.

The New York Times. As in the Gennifer Flowers case, the Times initially buried Clinton's sex scandal in small wire stories on the back pages. Washington Bureau Chief R.W. Apple proclaimed "The New York Times is not a supermarket tabloid." But the Times ran a front-page Maureen Dowd story the day before the release of Kitty Kelley's book -- without any of Kelley's critics, or any attempt to prove Kelley's allegations. The Times also ran a 1991 Fox Butterfield article which revealed the name of William Kennedy Smith's accuser and described her "wild streak," her fondness for drinking, and her speeding tickets.

The Wall Street Journal. Washington Bureau Chief Alan Murray also disdained the story. "It's two troopers who are trying to get a book deal. Without a great deal more corroboration, we wouldn't touch it." Indeed, the Journal buried the scandal deep within stories on other subjects. But they didn't spike the Hill story. Two of Murray's reporters, Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, have sold movie rights to their forthcoming book on the uncorroborated charges against Clarence Thomas, titled Strange Justice.

Newsweek. Newsweek ran the trooper story, but accompanied it with attacks by the magazine's "Conventional Wisdom Watch," which said David Brock "swallows any pond scum that fits his right-wing agenda," called Cliff Jackson an "obsessed Clinton hater," and the troopers "slimy fibbers peddling stale fascinatin' tales. One-third true?" Columnist Joe Klein suggested: "As long as the peccadilloes remain within reason, the American people will have great tolerance for a President who has not only seen the sunshine of Oxford, but the dusky Dunkin' Donuts of the soul."

On The McLaughlin Group, Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift denounced the Brock article: "It is full of innuendo and bias... You have to look at the credibility and the motives of the people making the charges instead of just the President's credibility."

But Jonathan Alter, Newsweek's media critic and "Conventional Wisdom" writer, wrote a long cover story on Kitty Kelley's book on April 22, 1991, concluding: "If even a small fraction of the material amassed and borrowed here turns out to be true, Ronald Reagan and his wife had to be among the most hypocritical people ever to live in the White House." In Newsweek the week before, Clift hailed the Kelley book: "If privacy ends where hypocrisy begins, Kitty Kelley's steamy exposé of Nancy Reagan is a contribution to contemporary history."

PBS/NPR. National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg, who publicized Hill's unproven charges, decried the trooper story on Inside Washington December 25. "You get allegations that are printed in a fringe magazine, or at least a magazine with a very definite political agenda, and then you long it takes the rest of the press to come and bite." Paul Duke, the moderator of Washington Week in Review, declared on December 31: "One of my losers of the year is David Brock, who wrote that slimy magazine article that revived all those old charges about Bill Clinton's personal behavior, and I regarded that as journalism which is truly out of bounds."

But during PBS coverage of the Hill-Thomas hearings on October 12, 1991, when Sen. John Danforth criticized the role of liberal groups in pressing Anita Hill to come forward, Duke disagreed: "There's criticism being directed at these groups but it seems to me this is in the American spirit. This is in the oldest American tradition of lobbying, where people organize for their causes and they band together....and so I think some of the critics are off base when they condemn this so strenuously, because these groups are representing significant segments of the population."

NewsBites: Bryant Confesses

Bryant Confesses
Today co-host Bryant Gumbel rarely lets an opportunity pass to deride Reaganomics. But on the PBS talk show Charlie Rose January 4, Gumbel expressed a lack of confidence: "I always feel least qualified when I'm dealing with economics...for the life of me, it's just not one of those things that adheres to me. I'm not very good at it, and I don't feel wholly comfortable arguing about it." Lack of knowledge didn't hold Gumbel back when he falsely claimed in 1989: "Largely as a result of the policies and priorities of the Reagan Administration, more people are becoming poor and staying poor in this country than at any time since World War II."

Gumbel vs. Gumbel
In the same interview, Gumbel revealed his contradictory standards on politicians and personal lives -- tough on Republicans, easy on Democrats. When Rose brought up the Arkansas state troopers' story about Clinton, Gumbel responded: "When Bill Clinton was elected, I think some of us probably felt, 'Hey, you know what, the American public has finally grown up and maybe that fascination is passé, and it's fading.' But the recent round of what's been going on with the same person leads me to think that no, that was wishful thinking on many of our parts."

But in 1991, Gumbel did three straight mornings of interviews with Kitty Kelley on her book of unsubstantiated allegations about the Reagans. On CNN's April 24, 1991 Larry King Live, Gumbel declared: "I'm one of those people who generally has liked Kitty's writing in the past. I know all of the research she does. I'm aware of the fact that for all the things she's written that are controversial, she has yet to lose a lawsuit...Kitty is a very brave woman."

Classified Comedy
Boston Globe reporter John Aloysius Farrell, in his December 25 "Washington Notebook" column, portrayed The American Spectator as hypocritical for airing allegations of President Clinton's Arkansas womanizing, despite being "the butt of jokes here for its classified advertisements for mail-order Chinese brides." Farrell added: "The sudden sympathy for exploited women seems out of place for the Spectator, a conservative journal that routinely delights in savaging Hillary Rodham Clinton, Anita Hill, Susan Faludi, and other feminists." Farrell remarked that an "ad for `Attractive Oriental Ladies seeking correspondence, marriage' appeared in the December issue" and "in October, a Spectator ad for a Hawaiian company promised: `Thai-Asian-Worldwide Ladies Desire lifemates.'" To Farrell, such ads "stir up images of retired colonels in leather chairs at stuffy men's clubs, dreaming of submissive Asian servant girls."

Using Farrell's standard, how should classified ads in liberal magazines be judged? In The Nation on November 15, an ad by "Eva" offered "taboo fantasies discussed with integrity, intelligence." He didn't imagine the kind of reader who would respond to this Mother Jones ad, inviting "heterosexual crossdressers [to] join a social support group." When liberal magazines run stories about conservatives' personal lives, will Farrell use the same test?

Firearm Frenzy
The Boston Globe and USA Today have reduced the crime problem to one cause -- guns. In a December 29 USA Today cover story, reporter Tony Mauro claimed: "A consensus has formed that something must be done to reduce the availability of guns. On every street corner, at the workplace, in the classroom. It is a consensus born of fear." He cited "poll numbers in favor of gun control, hovering close to 90 percent," though a USA Today poll showed stricter gun control ranked fifth as a solution, and support for a handgun ban was the lowest since 1959. Mauro admitted: "In the newsroom of USA Today, which prides itself on drawing its staff from a cross-section of the nation, it was hard to find editors and reporters who had ever pulled a trigger."

The December 19 Boston Globe devoted a front page story to reporter Gregg Krupa's assertions that "a sharp increase in murders involving handguns coincides with the retooling of the industry and the expansion of its markets. As sales and profits have grown, the number of handgun-related homicides in the United States has jumped by nearly 50 percent since 1986." Krupa added the NRA has "insulated gun manufacturers from any involvement in the national debate over firearms...a mutually beneficial relationship in which the NRA pushes for a free flow of guns and the manufacturers reap profits in open and expandable markets." So far, no Globe story on how Planned Parenthood does the same for abortion providers.

Where's the Footnote?
Exaggerated stories about homeless and hungry children never seem to lose their appeal to the media. On December 2, CBS reporter Giselle Fernandez began her Evening News holiday season hard-luck story: "Tonight, thousands across the country hope to light up the nation's conscience, and spotlight the tragedy of more than a million kids living homeless on the streets." Without mentioning a source for her figure, Fernandez reported the "struggle to survive the streets every night" of three New York youths. Anecdotal evidence aside, a review by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences found that "studies seeking to provide an estimate of the number of homeless children...are nonexistent."

On December 20, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw reported: "It's estimated there are five million kids in America who go hungry every month." But in August, a dubious Tufts University study (also cited by Brokaw) claimed only that 12 million children were hungry at some time during 1991. Brokaw's new claim even exceeded that. He concluded flippantly: "Whatever the number, in a country with these resources, it's still hard to believe." It sure is.

I Am Bernie, Hear Me Roar
CNN anchor Bernard Shaw used the platform of the annual Frank E. Gannett lecture before the Freedom Forum on December 8 to attack American men: "Most American males are wimps in the battle against sexism and sexual harassment." Sounding like a spokesperson for NOW, Shaw parroted feminist arguments on pay discrimination: "Ladies and gentlemen, women now constitute more than 50 percent of the United States' work force. Yet, where they work full-time they barely earn an average of 75 cents of the dollar taken home by their male co-workers. Why? Where in our Constitution or ethics does it say women must pay a gender tax?"

Shaw went on to attack men's lack of concern for women's health: "Because of attitudes, most women speak in very low voices about these life and death matters, and wouldn't dare try to engage husbands and boyfriends in discussions about this. And frankly 99.9 percent of us males wouldn't want to hear it anyway. We're not that sensitive yet...And yet, when we men get sick or are troubled by recurring medical problems, we insist that the world stop. Halt!" Shaw's advice for men? "Our attitudes must change in some very basic ways. Example: My boss is Ted Turner. When we are together, I don't greet him by saying, `Hi Ted, honey, or darling, or sweetie.' I don't have fondling thoughts and wandering hands with him." Jane will be glad to hear that.

Wallace's Liberal Flashback
Mike Wallace took a trip back to a turbulent time in our history, when everyone in America was protesting against Vietnam, the white power structure, and the Miss America Pageant. You didn't? The history in the December 22 CBS Reports: 1968 may be very different from how most people remember it.

The special focused on major events like the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. But some news of 1968 was strained through a liberal filter. The victorious Nixon campaign took up only 25 seconds in the one-hour broadcast, while the short McCarthy campaign of that year was allotted 85 seconds, and an obscure feminist protest outside the Miss America Pageant was given two minutes and 15 seconds. All 14 people who remembered 1968 were liberals, ranging from radical activist Tom Hayden to Johnson Administration official Joseph Califano to former Black Panther Bobby Rush. Conservatives? None made the cut.

Designing Women's Issues
"Women's Agenda Advanced/A `Productive Year' in Capitol," read the headline in the December 3 USA Today. Reporter Leslie Phillips claimed that "more laws benefitting women and families passed Congress this year -- and were signed by President Clinton -- than any previous first year of a congressional session." While most of the issues Phillips mentioned wouldn't find much opposition, two of them are controversial: mandated family leave and abortion. "Women in the House lost, by a surprisingly large margin, on the `Hyde amendment,' which bans government money from being used for Medicaid abortions, [Rep. Pat] Schroeder said." Conservative women? They weren't quoted.

Why have the "women's issues" done so well? "Schroeder attributed the 1993 legislative record to a President who supports the women's agenda and increased sensitivity and recognition by male politicians that female voters are a powerful interest group." Since Phillips chose only Schroeder's views, a better headline might have been "One Woman's Agenda Advanced."

The Great States
Hawaii and Vermont are two states which are "ahead" of Washington on health care "reform," reported USA Today. On November 15, reporter Judi Hasson filed two stories on Hawaii. One found Hawaiians who love their health plans, including: "I didn't realize how good I had it," "It's pretty good," and "It's been wonderful. I even got to choose a doctor." The only negative quote came from an uninsured woman who qualified for Medicaid but never applied. The other story interviewed state health director John Lewin who believes "Hawaii is `living proof' that employer mandates work." After 17 paragraphs of Lewin's liberal views, she quoted mandate opponents Sam Sloan of Small Business Hawaii and Rep. Jim Cooper, whose health plan avoids employer mandates.

On November 30, the headline read "Message from Vermont: Health Reform Easy to Swallow." Reporter Richard Wolf lauded Vermont: "While most of the country is just learning the lexicon of reform, more than a half-million people here are marching in relative lockstep toward a brave new health-care world. Their message to Washington: Watch us." Wolf explained: "While Clinton may be forced to scale back his ambitious plan, [Governor Howard] Dean's is considered moderate here in the face of broad support for a government system like Canada's." Wolf quoted only Dean, Ted Kennedy, state Senator Peter Shumlin and Jenny Carter, Naderite staff attorney for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Voices of opposition to the potential plan: None.

A Tale of Two Tailhooks
Accusations of sexual abuse made by Lt. Paula Coughlin in June 1992 against rowdy sailors at the Tailhook convention were closely followed by the media. But there's been little press interest in Lt. Coughlin's own behavior at the convention.

In December, The Washington Times reported Dr. Karye LaRocque, a civilian Tailhook attendee married to a naval officer, testified to a military court that she saw Coughlin "chugging champagne from the bottle," "groping and grabbing" men and rubbing her "crotch" and breasts against some of them. Only one report, an August 17, 1993 piece by CBS reporter Jim Stewart, mentioned Coughlin's drinking, but no one covered LaRocque's revelations.

Tailhook defendant Lt. Rolando Diaz testified last summer that he ceremonially shaved Coughlin's legs during the drunken party at Tailhook. In exchange she autographed a banner he had advertising leg shavings. According to the Navy's Tailhook report, consensual leg shaving is conduct unbecoming an officer, but her illegal action has never been mentioned by the networks.

Revolving Door: Talbott Promoted at State

Time's Number 2

As the year ended, the Clinton Administration nominated Strobe Talbott, Ambassador-at-Large to the former Soviet Republics, to the number two State Dept. slot. The new Deputy Secretary served as Time's diplomatic correspondent until becoming Washington Bureau Chief in 1985. Four years later he took the Editor-at-Large title.

Talbott's thinking matches the liberal world view. A January 1, 1990 essay carried this headline: "Gorbachev is helping the West by showing that the Soviet threat isn't what it used to be -- and what's more, that it never was."

On the September 21, 1991 Inside Washington, he asserted that Reagan made zero difference in the Cold War: "The difference from the Kremlin standpoint...between a conservative Republican administration and a liberal Democratic administration was not that great. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended almost overwhelmingly because of internal contradictions and pressures within the Soviet Union and the Soviet system itself. And even if Jimmy Carter had been reelected and been followed by Walter Mondale, something like what we have now seen probably would have happened."

Indeed, Talbott opposed Reagan's successful policies. In the May 21, 1984 Time, he insisted: "The Reagan Administration has made a bad situation worse in two ways: First, by convincing the Soviet leaders that the U.S. no longer accepts military parity as the basis for relations with Moscow; second, by challenging the legitimacy of the Soviet regime, calling the USSR an `evil empire' doomed to fail."

Talbott even suggested there was little difference between the Gulf War and Soviet soldiers quashing the liberation of the Baltic states, writing in the January 28, 1991 edition: "There was a bizarre similarity between what Gorbachev and Bush felt compelled to do last week. Each was resorting to force in the name of law and order."

On the home front, Talbott's a true FOB. After the 1990 G-7 economic summit, he wrote: "The U.S. has the lowest tax level of any country among the seven represented in Houston last week. That is a distinction that should inspire neither pride nor optimism in America."

During the 1992 campaign Talbott used his position at Time to help his friend and Oxford roommate, Bill Clinton. In the April 6 edition, in the midst of Clinton's draft evasion scandal, Talbott declared the time had come for "full disclosure," and asserted Clinton came to London in the fall of 1969 unsure whether he'd be drafted. But days after the magazine came out, Cliff Jackson, a former Friend of Bill, produced a letter documenting how Clinton had received a draft induction notice in April of 1969, proving Talbott wrong.

In the fall of 1992, Jackson wrote a letter to Time Managing Editor Henry Muller: "I know that Strobe was one of the chief architects of Bill Clinton's scheme to avoid his draft notice." Jackson continued: "I have a crystal clear recollection of Strobe and Bill standing in my office door at Republican State headquarters in the summer of 1969 and discussing the plan, devised by Bill with the able assistance of friends, to kill his draft notice and secure a deferment." Muller refused to publish the letter, and the media have ignored Jackson's story.

Friend of Bill Takes Over at ABC

Less than a year after naming Emily Rooney Executive Producer of World News Tonight, ABC replaced her in early January with Rick Kaplan, a Bill Clinton friend who twice helped rescue his presidential campaign.

In a September 27 Electronic Media story Rooney stated: "I think we are aware, as everybody who works in the media is, that the old stereotype of the liberal bent happens to be true, and we're making a concerted effort to really look for more from the other, without being ponderous and lecturing or trying to convert people to another way of thinking."

The Washington Post attributed her removal to "clashes" with Peter Jennings and to creating a "chaotic atmosphere" by having stories "edited and re-edited by three or four different editors." But the Post's Ellen Edwards also noted "she raised a further ruckus this fall when she said in interviews... that the broadcast would take a closer look at conservative views in order to counteract the `liberal bent' of the media."

Rooney's exit may not eliminate the effort she began. Last fall, Jennings conceded in TV Guide that the American Agenda had "revolved around a liberal axis," but promised to "pay more attention to what conservatives are saying."

But Kaplan, Executive Producer of Prime Time Live since 1989, advised Clinton in 1992. When the Gennifer Flowers story broke in February, "Clinton called Kaplan for advice," Los Angeles Times reporter Tom Rosenstiel recounted in his campaign book Strange Bedfellows. On the way to the airport, Clinton made another call to Kaplan and the "night ended for Kaplan at 4am, when Clinton called one last time."

Rosenstiel reported that Clinton "was considering doing 60 Minutes. If you do, Kaplan said, it should be with Mike Wallace or Morley Safer or Ed Bradley. Otherwise tell them forget it....[Voters] are going to remember that you stood up to Mike Wallace."

Two months later as Clinton's campaign floundered in New York, aides suggested an appearance on the Don Imus show. "The appearance was clinched," CNN producer Matthew Saal recalled in the January 1993 Washington Monthly, "when Rick Kaplan... called the radio show host to see if he could get the pair together. The answer was yes."

Kaplan's closeness has impacted coverage. In a March 11 Prime Time Live story, Sam Donaldson explained that he added a positive remark at the end of a pre-election Clinton interview because Kaplan said "the overall [interview] atmosphere was too tough." In the March 21 Washington Post Magazine, David Finkel quoted Kaplan as he watched Donaldson's interview: "I'd just like to do this one over again...I'm getting angry watching this...You didn't treat Bush this way."

Fascists, Communists on "Right"

Russian Labels Blur

In her Newsweek column of June 12, 1989, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield wrote: "Every time there is a confrontation in the world, we manage to dub the good guys liberals and the bad guys conservatives and pretty soon that is common currency." Nowhere is that statement more accurate than in the media's characterization of the 1991 communist coup and the 1993 success of fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

On the August 22, 1991 World News, CNN's Gene Randall characterized the coup as an "ill-fated right-wing junta." Likewise, an August 26 story by Los Angeles Times reporter John-Thor Dahlburg referred to "the right-wing coup."

Two years later labeling remained ubiquitous. On the December 13 World News Tonight, ABC's Mike Lee delivered the following one-liner: "The big winner is the ultra-conservative Liberal Democratic Party." Only in the media would the words ultra-conservative and liberal appear back-to-back. On the next night's CBS Evening News, Dan Rather declared: "Russia's next presidential election isn't scheduled until 1996, but the right wing now has a power base in parliament." The December 15 Today featured NBC's Bryant Gumbel referring to Zhirinovsky as "the popular new darling of the Russian right."

Yet it was NBC's Bob Abernethy who had the worst time distinguishing between the two events. In 1991 he referred to the communist coup as "the hard-line right." This year he described the fascists as "Zhirinovsky and his far-right ideas," "the right-wing extremism of Zhirinovsky," and "Russia's right-wing extremists."

Ironically, the same media that consistently label both communists and fascists as right-wing cried foul when it came to the labeling of Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party. In the December 13 Washington Post, the same Fred Hiatt who two years earlier reported on "the failed right-wing coup" by communists, alerted his readers to "Zhirinovsky's misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party." On the December 14 Nightline ABC's Ted Koppel commented: "His party, the Liberal Democrats, which may be the biggest misnomer since Adolf Hitler called his party the National Socialists, Zhirinovsky's party won and won big."

Boxing Helen Thomas

Asked "Do you sense a liberal bias in the press?" on the December 31 C-SPAN Journalists' Roundtable, UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas responded: "A liberal bias? I don't know what a liberal bias is. Do you mean do we care about the poor the sick and the maimed? Do we care whether people are being shot every day on the streets of America? If that's liberal, so be it. I think it's every- thing that's good in life, that we do care. And also for the solutions, we seek solutions and we do think that we are all responsible for what happens in this country."

A few minutes later Knight-Ridder Washington News Editor Stephen Smith explained: "I think Clinton was roughed up by the press this year. I don't think he got proper credit for a lot of the things that he did. But, oddly enough, I think that a lot of the criticism stemmed from disappointment. People, reporters who felt that Clinton was going to achieve certain things and had certain standards, and then felt let down by the way he performed in his stumbling phase; and they really pounced. Particularly after the campaign coverage, which I think had been puffy. I think that he did get a good campaign ride compared to Bush and then he paid the price later on."

Why the free ride during the campaign followed by disappointment once Clinton won? Smith suggested an answer: "I think if you went through the newsrooms of America and screamed out `will all Republicans please raise their hands,' you would go long and far without seeing many hands."

Hattori Unmasks Mao

CBS reporter James Hattori unmasked Mao Zedong's murderous reign, which has often been ignored by journalists while Mao was in power and after his death. The December 24 CBS Evening News piece marking the 100th anniversary of Mao's birth reported on official celebrations in China which "don't include Mao's shortcomings. No mention whatsoever of his failed economic and social policies which caused so much pain to countless millions of Chinese."

Unlike many reports on China, this one avoided interviewing any government officials. Instead, most of the talking heads in the piece were longtime political prisoners, American communist Sidney Rittenberg and author Nien Cheng. Mao's former doctor was also interviewed, charging that the Chairman was a philanderer.

Hattori described the war Mao waged against his people: "It was Mao's so-called `Great Leap Forward' to reform agriculture that resulted in massive starvation in the early 1960s, and as many as 30 million dead. Then he used his cult popularity to spark the `Cultural Revolution,' leaving millions more dead, purged, or imprisoned."

TV Truth Squads Take the Day Off

Entitled to Errors

"When President Clinton opened a day-long seminar on entitlement spending yesterday in Pennsylvania, he painted a somewhat distorted picture of trends in federal taxation, poverty, and his own deficit-reduction program...the President made statements that did not always match available statistics," reported Major Garrett in the December 14 Washington Times.

For example, Garrett wrote: "He [Clinton] said there had been `30 years of family [income] decline concentrated heavily among the poor.'" Census Bureau figures show median family income grew by one-half of 1 percent from 1970 to 1991, with the highest and steadiest period of income growth for all families occurring from 1983 to 1989. Garrett further reported: "The President touted cuts in entitlement spending for farm subsidies, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits." Garrett noted however that while the Clinton budget does include reductions in the growth of entitlement programs, in actuality, entitlement spending is projected to increase from $764 billion in 1993 to $1.3 trillion by 1998. So how did the networks and papers, which all covered the Pennsylvania conference and all regularly focused on Reagan's gaffes, react? They didn't.

In fact, only ABC's Brit Hume on the December 13 World News Tonight pointed out the contradiction in Clinton addressing an entitlement-reduction conference when "Clinton has, by his health care plan, proposed one of the biggest expansions of federal entitlement benefits in recent history." The fact checkers in the media obviously have a different set of standards for their fellow liberals.

Janet Cooke Award: Newsweek Celebrates 60th Anniversary with Mostly Liberal Historical Essay

Magazine of the News or the Left?

What is a news magazine these days? America's news magazines serve less as weekly news summaries and more as journals of opinion. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Newsweek, the magazine almost made the transformation complete, with a two-page essay on each decade from the 1930s to the 1990s. For selecting essayists who mostly rewrote history with a left-wing bent, Newsweek's January 3 issue earned the Janet Cooke Award.

Newsweek remembered the '30s with an essay by Tillie Olsen, who told of being oppressed and jailed for communist activities: "I'd been working at Armour's and now distributed leaflets to meatpackers at Swift's, in a near blizzard, for the Young Communist League. Plenty of communists then, before it got so bitter and confusing abroad. Pushing for a 10-cent-an-hour raise was `communist inspired.'" Olsen wrote of the Cold War: "Some of us, bruised by the Fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, were anticipating the conflict to come."

But to Olsen, the '30s were the glory days of FDR: "In 1932, we voted Franklin D. Roosevelt into office...images helped rouse us to act, to say that hunger is morally wrong and there must be another way....[Roosevelt] always, always said hunger is wrong, joblessness is wrong.'" Olsen said that with the arrival of FDR, industry "had to contend with a federal government that consistently intervened on the side of the people."

Newsweek turned right for the 1940s, summoning ABC's David Brinkley, who wrote the book Washington Goes to War. Brinkley remembered something different: "Americans [were] cranky and irritated after watching Roosevelt try one economic nostrum after another, all meant to end the Depression and create jobs. They all failed." Brinkley described how tax withholding was born during World War II: "Members of Congress were happy to find they now had a Niagara of money flooding into Washington, all ready for them to spend. Even when the war was long over, there was never any thought of ending the withholding tax."

Author John Updike ambivalently looked at the '50s: "As in the '20s, business interests reasserted control over government. Idealism retreated from the public sector; each man was an island." Updike found a "military rigor in its ticky-tacky housing developments and sternly boxy skyscrapers; a kind of platoon discipline in its swiftly assembled families" and "blacklists, congressional show trials and meaningless, redundant loyalty oaths for a time gave patriotism an ugly face." But he ended: "What one decade -- a bit of a fuddy-duddy, but no fool -- had carefully saved, the next recklessly spent."

But the last 30 years were reserved for the leftists. Former Time essayist Garry Wills defended the 1960s: "The '60s play the same role in modern conservative thought that the Fall of Man does in Christian theology. Prelapsarian America was an idyllic time before the Present Ugliness....It is odd to hear conservatives say that the '60s caused disrespect for authority -- this from people who applauded Ronald Reagan as he said, while in government, that government is the problem not the solution, that it must be starved and mocked. This position used to be called anarchism." Wills ended: "Insofar as the '60s are still a force in our present, we need more of them, not less -- more civil rights, more women's rights, more gay rights, more citizens' say in government, less censorship, and less hypocrisy."

The 1970s were reserved for former New York Times reporter Gloria Emerson, who celebrated protesting soldiers and veterans: "It was a group of Vietnam veterans who gave the last angry blow to the war and I loved them for it." As for the late '70s, Emerson ventured "some specifics were splendid: the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt welded by President Jimmy Carter; his human-rights policy too. But when the imperial Shah of Shahs, our protege in the Middle East, was deposed in Iran in 1979 and the Ayatollah Khomeini reigned, this decent man went down in flames."

Leftist Princeton professor Cornel West torched the 1980s as "Market Culture Run Amok," theorizing: "For the first time since the 1920s, the political Right -- along with highly organized conservative corporate and bank elites -- boldly attempted to reform American society." The result? "Increased crime, violence, disease (e.g. AIDS), tensions over race, gender, and sexual orientation, decrepit public schools, ecological abuse, and a faltering physical infrastructure. In short, Reaganomics resulted in waves of economic recovery, including millions of new jobs (many part-time), alongside a relative drop in the well-being of a majority of Americans."

Politically, West wrote, "A strategy of `positive polarization' (especially playing the racial card) has realigned the electorate into a predominantly white conservative Republican Party and a thoroughly bewildered centrist Democratic Party." The '90s were covered by humorist Dave Barry's essay making fun of both political parties.

Newsweek Senior Writer Jonathan Alter made the selections of essayists for the special issue. In an interview with MediaWatch, he explained the final liberal slant to the essays wasn't their original idea: "I wanted Tom Wolfe for one of those decades, and he wouldn't do it. He was too busy."

Alter added: "I would argue that [John Updike] wrote a conservative essay about the '50s, and a lot of people would have written about the sins of McCarthyism and the narrow-minded this and that. I'll tell you one other person who we wanted to get for this project, and unfortunately, we weren't able to get him...We wanted to get Richard Nixon on the '50s." Alter also mentioned: "I thought Brinkley made some interesting points...Of course you won't mention that."

When asked about the selection of Cornel West, Alter asserted: "There are a lot of different interpretations of the '80s, and we ran a cover story by George Will at the end of the '80s ["How Reagan Changed America," January 8, 1989] that I think would have been much more to your liking. We didn't have any kind of liberal reply at all to the '80s, and this was the other view, which we tried to offset, in at least in a minor way, with Jim Baker...We actually did a little bit of the Media Research Center's agenda by getting John Ehrlichman to do a media-bashing sidebar on the '70s." Baker and Ehrlichman expressed short views in small boxes that accompanied the essays. Other boxes solicited the views of liberals Daniel Inouye ('40s), Betty Friedan ('50s), Tom Hayden ('60s), and Randy Shilts ('90s).

The more news magazines like Newsweek and Time dwell on opinion to differentiate themselves from the rest of the news media, the more they blur into an echo of liberal opinion magazines. When will Newsweek decide: Is it a magazine of the news, or a magazine of the Left?