In This Issue
Subtly Shifting the Spectrum Leftward; Newsbites: Gore's Goofs; Revolving Dooor: Kaplan's Clinton World; Dismissing Monica's Predecessors; Hunger in America; Racial Realities; Casting the First Stone; Janet Cooke Award: Abortion: Not Available Enough
Subtly Shifting the Spectrum Leftward
Over the last decade, studies of ideological labeling in print reporting have revealed that journalists often identify conservative groups as conservative, but rarely call liberal groups liberal, which suggests that reporters are sending their readers a subtle warning of partisanship about one side and a subtle reassurance of nonpartisanship about the other. Does this pattern of suggesting political battles are fought between conservatives and nonpartisans extend to the abortion debate?
As abortion advocates celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, MediaWatch analysts explored the labeling of groups active in the abortion debate. Using the Nexis news data retrieval system, analysts located every news story in 1995 and 1996 on four pro-life groups, and compared them to stories on four abortion advocacy groups in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. In 1,050 news stories, the pro-life groups were described as "conservative" or some variant in 178 out of 378 news stories (47 percent), while abortion advocates were labeled "liberal" or a similar term in only 19 of 682 stories (2.8 percent).
The pro-life groups’ labeling percentage was lowered by the National Right to Life Committee, whose self-explanatory name might have contributed to its comparative lack of labeling, with only seven ideological labels in 119 news stories (6 percent). USA Today did not apply a conservative label in 22 stories. One label came in a Washington Post story on activist Kay Coles James, who "became nationally known as a champion of conservative family values" during stints with the NRLC and the Bush administration.
With the NRLC sample removed, the three pro-life groups remaining were labeled "conservative" or "religious right" in 171 of 259 news stories, or 66 percent. The Family Research Council attracted 115 conservative labels in 183 stories (63 percent). The June 17, 1996 USA Today carried a story by Richard Benedetto on how Bob Dole might create "a nasty confrontation with those on the right who see no room for compromise [on abortion] — Pat Buchanan and the Family Research Council’s Gary Bauer among them." Benedetto added: "Many moderate and independent voters already believe the GOP is caught in the grips of extremist elements hard to the right."
Concerned Women for America was tagged with an ideological label in 17 of 24 news stories about them (71 percent). The October 12, 1995 Washington Post noted "In 1989 and 1993, the Democratic Party used state law to stop the distribution of [voter] guides by conservative groups that included Concerned Women for America."
Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum drew the most ideological warnings, in 39 of 52 news stories (75 percent). USA Today labeled Eagle Forum in all ten news stories on the group. The Washington Post noted Schlafly was part of the "conservative alliance that challenged Dole’s tolerance language, the group that became better known as the ‘fearsome foursome.’"
By contrast, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) drew the highest percentage of "liberal" labeling, with seven tags in 131 news stories (5 percent). The New York Times never employed a liberal label in 47 stories. Five of NARAL’s seven labels came from The Washington Post. A May 18, 1995 USA Today story by Richard Benedetto noted NARAL as one of the "liberal lobbies which the [Christian] coalition has jousted with from time to time."
Only one New York Times story kept the Feminist Majority Foundation from going unlabeled in 38 stories (2.6 percent). A March 2, 1995 New York Times story was headlined "Defending Affirmative Action, Liberals Try to Place the Debate’s Focus on Women." The Washington Post gave FMF no label in eight stories despite calling them "a group that advises abortion clinics on security."
Despite being the nation’s largest provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood was described as liberal in only seven stories out of 315 (2.2 percent). USA Today never applied in a liberal label in 64 stories, even as the newspaper noted Planned Parenthood’s New York affiliate bought an ad charging conservative evangelist Pat Robertson "broadcast the words which have caused a rampage of anti-choice terrorism." Two of the liberal labels referred to spokesman Ann Lewis, who came to Planned Parenthood from the Democratic National Committee. New York Times religion reporter Peter Steinfels called Planned Parenthood an "obvious nominee" for the "life-style left."
The National Organization for Women drew the lowest percentage with four labels in 198 news stories (2 percent). In a May 5, 1996 Washington Post story, reporter Thomas B. Edsall wrote that North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, "claiming the backing of the AFL-CIO, NOW, most black organizations and gay interest groups, is carrying the banner for the liberals." A story in the March 19, 1995 New York Times contrasted an unlabeled NOW with new conservative allies: "Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, which is working with conservative groups that oppose the welfare cutoffs."
The Times didn’t add a label in a story on an April 1996 "Fight the Right" rally at which NOW founder Gloria Steinem sounded the alarm: "An extremist ultra right-wing has taken control of one of the two major centrist political parties. They are racist, they are sexist, they are homophobic."
The lack of newspaper labeling came despite millions of dollars in the last election cycle on behalf of liberal Democratic candidates by the political action committees run by NARAL, NOW, and Planned Parenthood. Journalists have dissected the Republican rift over abortion as pro-life "conservatives" vs. "moderates" who support even partial-birth abortions. In addition, the newspapers’ pattern of labeling presents the pro-life movement as "conservative" (or "ultra-right") and the advocates of abortion on demand as moderate or nonpartisan. All in all, this labeling inequality represents a dramatic media-induced leftward shift in the political spectrum.
Newsbites: Gore's Goofs
Gore’s Goofs. When Vice President Dan Quayle made the occasional error, reporters couldn’t wait to assail his intelligence. But when Al Gore made two goofs in December, the networks didn’t find it newsworthy.
In a recent Time article by Karen Tumulty, Gore boasted that he and wife Tipper were the inspiration behind Ryan O’Neal’s and Ali McGraw’s characters in the book and movie Love Story. On the December 15 Today show, NBC’s Stan Bernard cleared the record: "[author Erich] Segal told The New York Times he was befuddled by the Time magazine story. He said only one aspect of the O’Neal role was inspired by Gore. The rich kid with a controlling father. But the ‘tough, macho guy who’s a poet at heart,’ was inspired by [actor Tommy Lee] Jones." While it generated derision on the weekend talk shows, none of the other Big Three network evening or morning news shows mentioned Gore’s false boast.
The December 24 Washington Times noted that while Gore attempted to promote the administration’s homeless policies, he remarked: "And speaking from my own religious tradition in this Christmas season, 2,000 years ago a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child in a manger because the inn was full." (Joseph and Mary weren’t homeless, just inn-less: they traveled from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem.) No network reported the blunder. On December 23, ABC’s Good Morning America showed a clip of Gore’s homeless speech without airing the error.
Lying Ira. When government officials are caught in a lie it is always big news, right? Not if you’re in the Clinton administration. On December 18, Judge Royce Lamberth fined the Clinton Administration $286,000 because White House officials lied under oath regarding the large membership of the Clinton health care task force. Network evening and morning show coverage? Zero.
In 1993, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons sued to open secret meetings of Hillary Clinton’s health care working group to the public. According to federal law, advisory panels that include non-government employees must always meet in public. To keep the panels closed, Clinton health care "czar" Ira Magaziner swore in court documents that they were composed of federal employees only.
Lamberth discovered Magaziner must have known he was lying under oath, since the task force included employees of Magaziner’s own private consulting firm. In his opinion, he rebuked the White House, writing "It is clear that the decisions here were made at the highest levels of government and the government itself is — and should be — accountable when its officials run amok." The networks also failed to pick up on House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Archer‘s (R-Texas) letter demanding that taxpayers not be responsible for the fine. The story got its only network air time ten days after Lamberth’s decision, when Tim Russert asked Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel about it on Meet the Press.
Your Pal Bill. When President Clinton announced his new $22 billion government-funded child care plan on January 7, the media obediently heralded the plan as deliverance for beleaguered parents. On ABC’s World News Tonight Peter Jennings remarked: "From President Clinton, another proposal for Congress to consider when it gets back to work. This one to help more working parents find and pay for child care. The total cost to the government if Congress agrees: $21 billion." Jennings apparently forgot that it is not government but taxpayers — including those working parents with child care needs — who will bear the cost of any government child care program.
CBS and NBC also ignored the taxpayer angle, focusing on Clinton as an advocate for working parents. On the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reported: "President Clinton today proposed a centerpiece of his policy agenda: federal help for working parents who need safe and affordable child care." On the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw proclaimed: "The dilemma of every working parent is front and center tonight at the White House, President Clinton unveiling a multi-billion dollar plan to provide more and better care for America’s children." CBS reporter Scott Pelley implied the sense of a personal crusade in Clinton’s initiative, saying to Rather: "Dan, the President was raised by a single mother who left him with his grandparents when she went off to school. Today, Mr. Clinton proposed what may be the largest increase in child care funding in the nation’s history." The networks never questioned the necessity of federal child care subsidies or whether federal programs might in the end result in more costs for working parents.
As Darcy Olson, entitlements policy analyst at the Cato Institute discovered, parents are happy. Citing The National Child Care Survey, 1990, Olson wrote, "ninety-six percent of parents are ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ with their child care arrangements — a finding that did not vary with the employment status of the mother, the type of care used, family income, age of the child, or race."
Cool to Differing Opinions. On January 8, government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claimed that 1997 was the warmest year on record. The networks all presented the NOAA study as proof that global warming is a reality, while all but CNN ignored evidence that 1997 was actually quite cool.
On World News Tonight Peter Jennings relayed the bad news, "1997 was actually the warmest year since scientists began keeping records...Nine of the warmest years this century have occurred in the last 11 years. And only a little of the warming last year was apparently due to El Nino according to scientists." CBS reporter Eric Engberg declared on the Evening News: "Government weather experts today declared 1997 the warmest the world has experienced in 100 years with temperatures averaging three-fourths of a degree above normal. Part of the cause: pollution."
On NBC Nightly News, reporter Robert Hager insisted that the findings were above politics: "Today the government’s best climatologists, experts with no agenda to influence debate on public warming, had dramatic news. Worldwide, 1997 was the hottest year of this century." PBS’s Jim Lehrer offered the NOAA claims as fact as well: "1997 was the hottest year on record researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today....The rise was attributed to human activity such as factory and auto emissions, as well as natural causes including warming ocean currents." Although CNN treated the story as proof of global warming, Carl Rochelle’s piece did mention that "some groups say that atmospheric temperatures taken by satellites conflict with NOAA’s data." ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS all ignored that.
In a January 8 press release, the Science and Environmental Policy Project revealed: "Temperature readings taken from U.S. Weather satellites, the most reliable and only global temperature data available, put 1997 among the coolest years since satellite-based measurements began in 1979. With December readings finally in, the year ranked 7 out of 19, with 1 being the coldest."
Center for Budget Bias. In the mainstream media’s continuing effort to promote class warfare, ABC and CNN reported on a liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities study which argued that the gap between rich and poor is growing. Both networks ignored conflicting evidence on the wage gap.
On the December 17 World News Tonight Peter Jennings touted "a new study out which highlights the winners and the losers in the current economy. The report, from the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (sic) makes absolutely clear what people can already feel. The top 20 percent of the country’s wage earners are managing to take full advantage of a booming service economy and they’ve done very well in the stock market, the rich are getting richer. And the bottom 20 percent, on the other hand, in a declining manufacturing sector have seen their salaries stay the same or go down." CNN’s Joie Chen at least alluded to the politics of the CBPP in her story: "A liberal-leaning research group says that over the last 20 years, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country has gotten wider."
Some perspective on "wage stagnation" would have been nice. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute argued: "Many of the households that show up as ‘poor’ in the Census Bureau statistics are senior citizens who are income ‘poor’ but asset rich...wages, when properly measured, are not falling. They are higher than ever before. The National Center for Policy Analysis has provided invaluable information showing that because of the increasing value of fringe benefits — such as health care coverage, pensions and more leave and vacation time — median hourly worker compensation has doubled since the mid-1950s and is up by 20 percent since 1980."
Top Secret Smaltz. A federal investigator who wins convictions, indictments and millions of dollars in fines on behalf of the people of the United States deserves attention, right? Not if he’s dealing with a former member of the Clinton administration. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz’s most recent accomplishments have gone unnoticed. On November 26, Smaltz announced he’d won the conviction of Richard Douglas, the Vice President of Sun Diamond Growers, for giving $7,600 in illegal gifts to Espy. On December 2, Smaltz won a conviction of Ronald Blackley, Espy’s top aide at the Agriculture Department, for lying to investigators about receiving $22,000 from companies with business before his department. Neither received any network coverage.
On December 29, Tyson Foods agreed to pay a $6 million fine for its illegal gifts to Espy. CBS Evening News and CNN’s Prime News gave it a brief mention as did ABC’s Good Morning America, but there was nothing on NBC or on ABC’s World News Tonight. The networks were AWOL on yet another conviction in January when two top-level employees of Tyson Foods, Inc. were charged with giving illegal gifts to Espy. AP’s Curt Anderson explained: "The charges against Archibald L. Schaffer III, the Tyson executive, and lobbyist Jack L. Williams involve the same $12,000 in gratuities that Tyson pleaded guilty in December to giving Espy: playoff football tickets, tickets to a Presidential inaugural dinner, travel to an Arkansas party and a scholarship for Espy’s girlfriend." Why is this not shocking? In the two years and 11months between his indictment on 39 counts of accepting illegal gifts, the networks aired two full stories on the Smaltz probe.
Revolutionary Retirees. CNN Impact host Stephen Frazier began a December 28 tribute: "During this year-end holiday, on a weekend when so many families gather to celebrate, we thought it timely to hear next from some people we can thank for the idea of the weekend — people who devoted their lives to improving the lot of workers."
Frazier explained: "They are radicals whose lifelong activism was no holiday, whose work for labor reform and social reform left them blacklisted, red-baited and shunned by neighbors." Frazier visited the Sunset Hall retirement home in Los Angeles, profiling a group of residents who "formed their own community, a refuge where the glory days of the American political left can live on." One resident claimed socialism was more "broad-minded," while another proclaimed "capitalism stinks!"
CNN panned the retirement home’s library: "A portrait of Vladimir Lenin graces the top shelf of the library, where the 36 residents of this Los Angeles retirement home meet. An unlikely hero, perhaps, for most Americans, but these are the foot soldiers of the American political left, radicalized, they say, by the events of their youth." CNN said nothing about the many victims of Leninist regimes who never made it to the retirement home.
Revolving Dooor: Kaplan's Clinton World
CNN’s new President once hired Hillary Clinton to work for ABC News 12 years after he toiled as an operative for a Democratic presidential candidate. Those are just two of the revelations from a January Vanity Fair profile of Rick Kaplan, a Clinton friend. Here are some excerpts from David Margolick’s piece:
Conservatives are Liars: "Right-wing critics such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media and columnist Brent Bozell have charged that Kaplan let his friendship with the President cloud his news judgment at ABC, and will now turn CNN into the ‘Clinton News Network.’ Kaplan brushes Irvine and Bozell aside contemptuously. ‘If they weren’t such liars they wouldn’t make whatever money they make,’ he said. ‘There’d be no purpose for them on the planet’..."
Rescued from Boring ‘88 Speech: "When, in the 1980s, Clinton considered trading politics for a million-dollar job on Wall Street, he sought out Kaplan’s advice. It was Kaplan’s shoulder Clinton cried on, over Chinese takeout in Nightline’s New York studio, following his much-ridiculed 32-minute speech-a-thon at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta. ‘He was sitting there saying, ‘My career is over. I’ll never be anything,’ Kaplan recalled. ‘And we all said, ‘You know, have a sense of humor about it. If you joke about it first, everyone else will joke about it.’ Then he ended up going on The Tonight Show, and, by being great, he actually vindicated himself.’"
Hired Hillary for ABC: "If anything, Kaplan was at least as close to Hillary, who shares his Chicago roots; he even hired her to work on coverage of the 1980 Democratic convention. When Chelsea Clinton was searching for a 49th-birthday present for her dad, Kaplan sent along a titanium golf club fashioned from a melted down Soviet missile."
Promoted McCarthy: "Kaplan was born in the Rogers Park section of Chicago. His childhood was filled with friends and Democratic politics; Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and John F. Kennedy were icons in his home. He envisioned a life of political activism and joined the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy as an advance man. A week later, when Bobby Kennedy won the California primary, Kaplan prepared to switch sides, and headed to Kennedy’s hotel to meet him. He ended up that night alone on a Santa Monica beach, watching the waves, listening to radio reports about Kennedy’s slow death. He contemplated a radically altered future outside politics."
Spiked Anti-Clinton Stories at ABC: "In late October 1994 [while Executive Producer of World News Tonight], Kaplan killed Jim Wooten’s exclusive interview with an Arkansas state trooper who claimed a Clinton aide had tried to muzzle him; after that, Wooten refused to do any more pieces on Whitewater. Wooten clearly likes his former boss, whom he called ‘a character in an age without them.’ But on Clinton, he said, Kaplan had ‘a blind spot.’ "Also convinced that ‘the bar kept getting higher’ for putting Whitewater stories on the program, Chris Vlasto, World News Tonight’s investigative producer for Clinton-related stories, would sometimes shop them around to other ABC News shows. True, in February 1994, World News Tonight devoted an extraordinary 18 of its 22 minutes to a primer on Whitewater. But that segment had been held for a month, and ran only after Nightline tried to run it first."
Dismissing Monica's Predecessors
As the allegations erupted that President Clinton told White House intern Monica Lewinsky to lie about their sexual relationship, the combination of sex and perjury charges jolted the media into action. But when questions of Clinton lying about his sex life arose in the past, the media suggested that whether Clinton was telling the truth was beside the point.
When the Gennifer Flowers story arrived in Time in 1992, writer Lance Morrow scolded: "If the public is going to behave like an idiot on the subject of sex, the candidate will naturally do almost anything to avoid telling the truth about any behavior less than impeccable." Morrow added: "Given the size of the job that needs to be done, it is time for America to get serious. At the very least, turn off the television set. And grow up about sex."
After the election, Morrow crowed in Time that Clinton "served to rehabilitate and restore the legitimacy of American politics" and that a Bush victory would have rewarded the use of "irrelevant or inflammatory issues...or dirty tricks and innuendo."
In December of 1993, The American Spectator broke the story of then-Governor Clinton using state troopers to secure sexual conquests. National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg noted: "When the American people hired Bill Clinton for this job, they knew he was no saint. He virtually told them he was a sinner." Newsweek’s Joe Klein argued: "As long as the peccadilloes remain within reason, the American people will have great tolerance" for Clinton.
Paula Jones’ 1994 allegation of earlier sexual harassment by Clinton got 16 seconds on ABC’s World News Tonight; zilch on CBS and NBC. Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift complained on C-SPAN: "It seems to me that the discussions about Bill Clinton’s sexual life came up during the campaign."
When Jones filed suit in May of 1994, Tom Brokaw defended NBC’s three-month smothering of the story by echoing Eleanor Clift, insisting on CNBC’s Tim Russert: "It didn’t seem to most people, entirely relevant to what was going on at the time. These are the kind of charges raised about the President before. They had been played out in the Gennifer Flowers episode." Had the American voters clairvoyantly known that Clinton would be accused of sexual harassment?
It shouldn’t have been surprising that the media’s most desperate Clinton defenders stuck to the same voters-don’t-care mantra in the Lewinsky case. On January 21, Clift defended Clinton in live coverage on MSNBC: "Well, he’s been elected twice with people knowing that he has had affairs. Now is the fact that this woman is 21, I mean she’s still of age I suppose." Besides, Clift argued, "libido and leadership is often linked."
Hunger in America
A recent study focused on a country where hunger has increased over 800 percent in the last 12 years. War-ravaged, famine- stricken Ethiopia? Stalinist North Korea? Nope. According to the Conference of Mayors annual report, it’s America.
This year it was ABC that fell for the annual holiday-timed report. Farai Chideya reported on the December 14 World News Tonight: "According to a new study of Philadelphia and 28 other cities, [the] need is greater than ever. Requests for emergency food assistance in those cities rose by 16 percent, the biggest increase in five years. Two major reasons, according to the study, are low wages and high housing costs. About 20 percent of the time, people who asked for food didn’t get it."
She continued: "Ironically, the rise in urban hunger comes at a time when much of the economy is booming. Unemployment is at the lowest level in years, and many employers can’t find enough workers for the Christmas rush. That’s little consolation for Americans left hungry during the holidays."
Chideya didn’t question the veracity of the findings from big city, mostly Democratic mayors, although a quick bout with a calculator indicates that if the report’s annual findings from 1985 are to be believed, hunger in America has mushroomed by a staggering 861 percent since then. In no year has there been less than a nine percent jump in "demand for emergency food."
On January 11 NBC focused on welfare reform as the root cause of increased hunger. Nightly News Sunday anchor Dawn Fratangelo introduced a Roger O’Neil story: "One reason for the balanced budget is welfare reform. While many former recipients may be working, often there is not enough money for one basic need: Food."
Bucking liberal claims that most people spend only brief periods on welfare, O’Neil found a man who had been dependent for 14 years: "For the new working poor like James Bobo this is the dark side of welfare reform." O’Neil surveyed food banks in Colorado, Georgia and Virginia and found nothing but trouble: "The demand for food is now greater than the supply. Those who serve the poor worry about empty shelves if welfare reform continues to leave the working poor hungry, even if they have a job."
During last year’s racial preferences debate many in the media feared a return to the days of de facto segregation. On June 8, Meet the Press Tim Russert declared: "California and the state of Texas ended affirmative action for college and law school applications. This year, at California Berkeley, California UCLA law schools, the number of black students in the fall class is down 80 percent, number of Hispanics, 50 percent. The University of Texas....This fall, zero blacks enrolled. That is the result of the affirmative action policies in California and Texas."
But a December 5 U.S. News & World Report article detailed what really happened in those states. Julian Barnes noted the results of a U.S. News survey: "Most Texas and California public universities that ended affirmative action have seen black and Hispanic enrollments hold steady, or actually increase. The University of Texas-Austin enrolled 163 black freshmen this fall, one more than the year before, and 807 Hispanics, 35 more than the year before. The University of Texas-Dallas registered 29 black freshmen, four more than last year, and new Hispanic enrollment stayed steady at 38. At the University of California medical schools, new black and Hispanic enrollments remained roughly the same. Black enrollment in the system’s graduate academic programs increased slightly."
Barnes cited a reemphasis of non-race-based standards as the reason for steady minority enrollment by "giving more importance to applicants’ leadership skills and community work." Barnes went on to quote Proposition 209 opponent Ward Connerly as saying it was "absurd" for schools to rely on grades and test scores alone. In the article Connerly boiled the issue down to one of individual merit and not skin color. "You owe it to these kids to give them an individual review."
Casting the First Stone
The January 8 Nightline warned viewers of the dangers of new media outlets found on the Internet, suggesting they lacked ethics and accountability. But the show failed to note the old media elite aren’t necessarily any better.
The piece, narrated by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, used cyberjournalist Matt Drudge, whom he dubbed the "poster boy for the alleged evils of the Internet," as a hook to denounce the Internet trend: "In one sense, Matt Drudge represents the triumph of the little guy, the fist-shaking critic shouting at the world through the World Wide Web."
Then, in front of a video board which showed, among others, pages from the Media Research Center Web site, Kurtz warned: "There are thousands of Drudges out there — political opinion mongers, college professors, neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists dissecting the death of Vince Foster, or more recently, of Ron Brown. They’re all folks that have broken the stranglehold of the big media corporations. But, and you knew a but was coming, there is a down side to this vast place called cyberspace, where the normal rules often don’t seem to apply. There are lots of words floating around out there and words can wound."
As a case study, Kurtz reviewed a tip Drudge distributed claiming that White House staffer Sidney Blumenthal beat his wife. The hot tip turned out to be false. Drudge retracted the story the next day and apologized for his error. Not good enough for Kurtz: "Drudge insists he was simply reporting that anonymous Republicans were spreading the Blumenthal rumor, as if that gets him off the hook."
Not mentioned: Nightline has been reckless in its reporting — and they never apologized for it. Back in 1991, Nightline latched on to the October Surprise theory dreamed up by former Carter White House staffer Gary Sick. According to Sick, the Reagan-Bush campaign struck a deal with Iran to delay the release of the hostages until after the election. The problem? There was no evidence. But the evening news shows broadcast 27 stories on the theory in 1991. On June 20, 1991, Nightline aired an hour-long report on it. Koppel interviewed Sick, whose credibility he tried to boost by referring to him as "serious, knowledgeable, Gary Sick."
In 1993, after a long investigation, Congress exonerated the Reagan-Bush campaign. The widow of William Casey, the late CIA director, demanded an apology from Nightline. Asked about the possible apology in 1993, ABC spokeswoman Laura Wessner told MediaWatch ABC wouldn’t apologize because "the congressional committee report did not contradict what we reported on the subject."
Janet Cooke Award: Abortion: Not Available Enough
Journalists love anniversaries, and the 25th anniversary of the "landmark" Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion promised to be no exception — until the latest charges of adultery and perjury against the President broke. But ABC’s World News Tonight celebrated early, devoting half of its January 16 show to abortion. For presenting the concerns of abortion advocates to the almost total exclusion of the pro-life viewpoint, ABC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
The only story addressing pro-life concerns that evening came at the end from religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer, who noted that Catholic women who’ve had abortions can seek forgiveness within the church through a program called Project Rachel. But even in that story, the network kept its focus on the woman who needs, wants, or had an abortion.
Politicians who seek to round the harsh edges of abortion call for them to be "safe, legal, and rare." But ABC’s coverage suggested more than a million abortions a year is not a tragedy, or even a social problem. A decline in abortions was scary, and a decline in abortion’s availability was a tragedy.
Peter Jennings began the series of reports: "We’re going to take a closer look at abortion tonight. It makes some people cringe, it makes some fighting mad. And ever since the Supreme Court guaranteed women a constitutional right to abortion 25 years ago in the Roe v. Wade case, it has been as divisive as any social issue the country has ever had cause to debate. And in recent years the places where a woman might go to have an abortion have often been under siege. It’s a year ago today that two bombs went off at an abortion clinic in Atlanta. Today, security at all of Atlanta’s abortion clinics is very tight. There has been intimidation, some of it violent, at clinics all over the country and the effect has been apparent. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the number of abortions went up, until in 1988 more than a million and a half woman had legal abortions. But with all this pressure on the clinics [video of corpses being covered by blankets], five people have been killed and others wounded during these campaigns to close the clinics down, it has made a difference."
Again, Jennings demonstrated the strange calculus of the pro- abortion journalist: five shootings of abortion doctors carried more moral impact than the killings of millions of the unborn. Jennings continued: "While it is still the law and woman do have a constitutional right to have an abortion, still in some places it is almost as difficult to get an abortion today as it was before Roe v. Wade. Here’s ABC’s Cynthia McFadden."
With the exception of one soundbite, McFadden’s whole story tilted toward portraying the lack of abortion access as a very ominous development: "Ketchum, Idaho, is a small town with most of the amenities of a big city — from the best wine to the best medical care. But there is one thing you cannot get in Ketchum: an abortion." Julie Caldwell claimed: "You can have anything you want, except the simple abortion procedure is not available here to the public."
McFadden explained: "Julie Caldwell runs the local abortion rights group, and while few people in Ketchum want to discuss abortion at all, she says if you need an abortion you must travel eight hours to Salt Lake City, or three hours to Boise...Doctor Ed Boas performs abortions in Boise. At 59, he’s younger than most providers. Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. providers are 65 years old or older....Which is part of the reason why there are fewer places to get an abortion today in Idaho than there were 15 years ago. Then there were 25; today there are four."
Then she focused on the threats and violence: "Doctor Boas’ first clinic was fire-bombed three times. He moved out of his next clinic because his landlord no longer wanted an abortion provider as a tenant. He asked us to not give out his newest address."
McFadden concluded: "What’s happening in Idaho is happening all across the country: 45 states have fewer providers today than they did 10 years ago. In fact, fewer doctors are being trained to perform them. Of all the OB-GYN training programs in the country, only 12 percent offer the training routinely. In part that’s because doctors are trained in hospitals and only seven percent of abortions are now performed there. State restrictions are making it more difficult to get an abortion. Last year alone, 31 states enacted laws to limit access to abortions in some way. Currently: 12 states have a mandatory waiting period, 29 states require parental notification or consent and 33 states prohibit using Medicaid funds for abortions. Idaho is one of 30 states with two or more of these restrictions." McFadden didn’t address why restrictions may be arriving: a majority of voters are deciding late-term abortions, taxpayer-funded abortions and abortions without parental notice are wrong.
After battling soundbites from pro-life state Sen. Sam Hawkins and the director of Planned Parenthood in Boise, McFadden concluded: "The latest trends suggest that in the future women who want an abortion may have to travel further, pay more, and wait longer to get one — quite different from what was predicted when Roe v. Wade became law 25 years ago."
Without noting any conflict with his earlier theme that violence drove down abortions, after an ad break Jennings noted how technology can impact how one see abortion. He showed a 16-week fetus as seen on a traditional sonogram, and then with a new 3-D view, but he reassuringly insisted: "This, by the way, is at a time when very, very few women ever, ever have an abortion. But it is partly because of such technology that people are having such an intense debate about late term abortion, which is after six months." Jennings turned to Cokie Roberts: "The Republican Party has tied itself in knots over this question of late term abortion. What’s happening?"
Roberts explained that a Republican National Committee meeting would soon vote on a proposal to deny campaign money to candidates who support partial-birth abortions: "It’s already a problem for the party. There was a primary election in California this week where the candidate who opposed partial birth abortion won over the establishment candidate of the Republican Party. So this is a tough one and Democrats are thrilled the Republicans are fighting because it’s even a tougher one for them."
At that point, just as Roberts broached the Democratic Party’s disunity, Jennings jumped in: "Okay, Cokie, you’ve covered all the ground I wanted to, thank you very much."
The bottom line: ten minutes of air time and not one story reflecting how a pro-lifer sees abortion 25 years after Roe v. Wade. ABC did not return MediaWatch calls for comment. The bias of a network which laments the lack of abortions and abortionists cannot be described as "pro-choice." It’s simply pro-abortion.