In This Issue
Study: Liberals in Control of Campaign Coverage; Study Bites; NewsBites: Rabel's Nicaraguan Fable; Revolving Door: David Burke; Dukakis the Moderate; No Hedging On Bentsen; Janet Cooke Award: CBS' American Profile
Study: Liberals in Control of Campaign Coverage
With the 1988 presidential campaign season now well under way, MediaWatch decided to review our "Revolving Door" list of former media people to determine just how many are involved in the campaign. The results of the Study: There are four times as many reporters, producers and executives shaping Big Media coverage with ties to liberal candidates and causes than to Republicans of any kind. Key executives with ABC, CBS and NBC worked for liberals before changing careers. These include ABC's Executive Producer of campaign coverage, the Political Editor at CBS News and two NBC News Vice Presidents. No one with similar power has ties to Republicans.
Jeff Gralnick: Vice-President and Executive Producer of campaign coverage
- Press Secretary, Senator George McGovern, 1971
Rex Granum: Atlanta Bureau Chief and Democratic Convention podium producer
- Deputy Press Secretary, President Carter Jeff Greenfield: Political Correspondent
- Speechwriter, Senator Robert Kennedy
Richard Pollock: Washington Segment Producer, Good Morning America
- Director of Critical Mass, an anti-nuclear power group formed by Ralph Nader, 77-81
David Burke: President of CBS News (Executive Vice President of ABC News until July 31)
- Chief of Staff, Senator Ted Kennedy, 1965-71
*Tom Donilon: Consultant for campaign coverage
- Senior adviser, Joe Biden for President Committee, 1987; Deputy Manager, 1984 Mondale-Ferraro campaign
Deborah Johnson: Executive Producer, Nightwatch (Foreign Producer, NBC Nightly News, 1984-86)
- Founder, Mother Jones magazine, 1975
Dotty Lynch: Political Editor
- Pollster for Gary Hart and Mondale-Ferraro in 1984 and Ted Kennedy in 1980
*Christopher Matthews: Washington Bureau Chief for the San Francisco Examiner and Political Columnist, CBS News This Morning - Chief of Staff, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, 1981-86
- Speechwriter for President Carter
Lesley Stahl: National Affairs Reporter; Floor Reporter, 1988 Convention
- worked in late 1960's for New York Mayor John Lindsay
Ken Bode: Chief Political Correspondent
- Aide to Morris Udall's presidential campaign, 1976
*John Chancellor: Commentator
- Director of the Voice of America, Johnson Administration
Thomas Ross: Senior Vice President
- Defense Department, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Carter Administration
Tim Russert: Vice President for editorial content
- Counselor and media strategist for N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo, 1983-84; Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Moynihan, 1977-1982
Maria Shriver: Co-Host, Sunday Today
- worked for Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign, 1980
*Mark Shields: Campaign Analyst, MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour
- Speechwriter, Senator Robert Kennedy
Bill Moyers: Anchor, PBS Campaign Specials
- Press Secretary, President Johnson
Jonathan Alter: Newsweek, Senior Writer
- Helped produce "Selecting a President: A Citizen Guide to the 1980 Election," a report sponsored by Ralph Nader
Kathryn Bushkin: Director of Editorial Administration, U.S. News & World Report
- Press Secretary, Gary Hart presidential campaign, 1984
Mickey Kaus: Newsweek, Senior Writer
- Speechwriter, Senator Ernest Hollings(D-SC), 1983-1984
Judith Miller: News Editor, New York Times Washington Bureau
- Washington reporter in mid 70's for The Progressive magazine
Timothy Noah: Newsweek National Affairs reporter, now covering the 1988 campaign
- Issues Director for Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend campaign for Maryland U.S. House seat, 1986
Harrison Rainie: Assistant Managing Editor, National News, U.S. News & World Report
- top aide to Sen. Moynihan, (D-NY), 1987
Walter Shapiro: Senior Writer for Time, covering the 1988 campaign
- speechwriter for 1976 Carter campaign and Press Secretary for Carter Labor Secretary Ray Marshall
Douglas Waller: Newsweek Washington Bureau reporter
- Legislative Assistant to Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), 1985-88
National Public Radio:
Douglas Bennet: President and Chief Executive Officer, NPR
- Director, Agency for International Development, Carter Administration; Senior Aide to Sen. Tom Eagleton
Anne Edwards: Senior Editor, (Assignment Editor, CBS News, Washington Bureau, 82-84)
- Mondale-Ferraro campaign scheduler, '84 CONSERVATIVES/REPUBLICANS**
*John Buckley: CBS News political campaign coverage consultant
- Press Secretary for the Jack Kemp Campaign, 1987-1988
*David Gergen: Editor, U.S. News & World Report and Campaign Analyst, PBS MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour
- White House Communications Director, Reagan Administration
Ron Nessen: Vice-President for News, Mutual Broadcasting System
- Press Secretary, President Ford
*William Safire: New York Times Columnist
- Speechwriter, President Nixon
Diane Sawyer: CBS 60 Minutes Reporter; 1988 Convention Podium Reporter
- Press Assistant, Nixon Administration
Dorrance Smith: ABC News Executive Producer, Washington Bureau
- Staff Assistant to President Ford
*George Will: ABC News Commentator; Political Analyst, 1988 Conventions
- Aide to Senator Gordon Allot (R-CO); Washington Editor National Review, early 1970's
* = Commentators and analysts. List only includes those with an ongoing contractual relationship.
** = ABC News Vice President Joanna Bistany worked for
David Gergen at the White House, but she oversees syndication of ABC News features, not news content.
Political Activists Covering Campaign '88:
Liberals/Democrats: 27 of 34 = 79%
Conservatives/Republicans: 7 of 34 = 21%
Dukakis Connections. Besides former Knight-Ridder reporter Patricia O'Brien who served as the Dukakis for President Press Secretary last year, reporters have not yet begun signing up with the Dukakis campaign, something sure to happen if he wins.
But two 1974 workers have moved into the media. New York Times Central America reporter Stephen Kinzer worked on that year's successful campaign for Governor. The Producer of CBS Face the Nation until 1986, Mary Fifield, also toiled as Press Secretary to Dukakis back then.
Back to Politics. There are also few people who used to work for CBS News who are now active in partisan politics. Wally Chalmers, Political Editor during the 1984 campaign is now the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In 1980 he helped run the Kennedy campaign. The Senior Producer of Election News in 1984, Bob Ferrante, was Director of Communications for the DNC until early July.
Peggy Noonan, who wrote Dan Rather's CBS radio commentaries until 1984, went on to a White House job. Now, she writes speeches for George Bush.
NewsBites: Rabel's Nicaraguan Fable
Rabel's Nicaraguan Fable. When the Sandinista regime expelled the U.S. Ambassador, jailed political opponents, and closed down La Prensa and Radio Catolica, NBC's Ed Rabel still managed to portray the Sandinistas sympathetically.
On July 12, he concluded his Nightly News story: "For months the Sandinistas have been trying to influence favorably U.S. public opinion by being flexible, permitting democracy. But now the Sandinistas simply say flexibility is not working and they will adopt a harder line."
The same night, ABC's Beth Nissen agreed the United States is to blame for Sandinista actions: "The U.S. has historically been used as a scapegoat here, but for many Nicaraguans the U.S. is a genuine enemy. American support for the Contras has lead to reflexive distrust, has engendered hatred."
Not Very Rosy For Bush. "It turns out our rosy forecast wasn't rosy enough. The economy is doing even better than we expected," Beryl Sprinkel, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers declared in revising the 1988 growth forecast upward from 2.4 to 3 percent. Good news for George Bush? Not to NBC.
Substitute anchor Garrick Utley opened the June 23 Nightly News by mentioning the new high growth, low inflation forecast and then ominously added: "But behind that is a disturbing figure. The federal deficit is deeper than the law allows, and NBC News has learned that automatic cuts in government spending across the board look likely."
White House reporter Andrea Mitchell followed with a detailed story which tacked on an anti-Bush spin, declaring: "Since many domestic programs cannot be cut, the savings would have to come from popular new programs, such as AIDS research and drug prevention. If that happens, the biggest loser could be George Bush."
Rating Reagan. The people who conduct The Washington Post/ABC News poll set out to determine how Americans rate President Reagan's performance in office. Those polled were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements about Reagan. Here's a sampling: "President Reagan was unfair to the poor," "He was a rich man's President," "He had a negative view on women's rights," "He was unfair to blacks," "He didn't know what he was doing," "He was unfair to the middle class," and "He was unfair to old people."
What about some conservative agenda statements? They could have asked: "Reagan helped the poor and elderly by cutting inflation," or "He created economic opportunity for blacks," or "He helped return Constitutional values to the judiciary." But they didn't.
Instead, the "favorable" statements were mainly non-ideological assertions, including: "He kept his campaign promises" and "He stuck to his principles." Incredibly, the poll still found "most Americans now say the country is better off because of the Reagan presidency."
Faulty Kal Parallel. As the July 4th holiday weekend drew to a close, the investigation had just begun into what led the U.S. Navy to accidentally shoot down a civilian Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf. But that didn't deter CBS News from making specious comparisons to the Soviet shoot down of KAL-007 in 1983.
On July 4 reporter Robert Schakne took the Soviets at their word, stating as fact: "The Soviets mistook the Korean Airlines 747 for an American Air Force reconnaissance plane on a spying mission over secret Siberian bases." Those more skeptical of Soviet honesty suggest that after tracking the plane for two hours the Soviets either knew what they were shooting down, or didn't care. But Schakne failed to present that view. Nor did he mention that the Soviets closed off the crash area so the truth could never be learned.
Schakne conceded "there was one important difference," that the U.S. had four minutes to make a decision in a war zone. Still, he concluded by equating the two incidents: "There are differences, but it's hard to escape the parallels. Both sides shot without clearly identifying the targets, and both sides blamed the civilian plane for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Too Soviet A Portrait. Ted Turner's seven-hour documentary series "Portrait of the Soviet Union," which MediaWatch analyzed in April, has begun to receive criticism from the most unlikely of places -- the Soviet government itself. While Turner has defended his series as accurate, Soviet higher-ups felt that it would be too much for even the Soviet people to stomach. According to a June 1 Financial Times article, when the Soviets aired "Portrait" it was introduced with the disclaimer "that the film gave an excessively glamorous portrait of the country and failed to reflect the ferocious self-criticism currently underway." Even the Soviets don't agree with Turner's glasnost.
Little TIME for Wright. On June 9 the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct agreed the evidence against House Speaker Jim Wright warranted an official investigation. The June 20 Newsweek devoted a two-page spread to the Speaker's ethical problems. U.S.News & World Report gave the story three-fourths of a page. But Time buried the development, offering only a three paragraph item in the "American Notes" section. A week later, Senior Writer George Church came to Wright's defense, asserting:
"The GOP response will be to rebut Meese with Wright...This line, however, assumes not only that both men are equally guilty or innocent, but also that the charges against them are equally grave. And they are not. The accusations against Wright, though serious, are not quite so weighty as those against Meese, and Wright has by far the better defense."
Don't Confuse Me With the Facts. Last month, MediaWatch's Janet Cooke Award described a landmark lawsuit brought by the left-wing Christic Institute. Their theory received prominent coverage over the past few years, culminating with two PBS Frontline programs mimicking Christic claims that a secret team of current and former government figures teamed up in assassinations, gun running and drug smuggling in support of the Contras.
On June 23 Miami Federal District Judge James Lawrence King unceremoniously dismissed the suit, saying he could find absolutely no substance to any of the claims against the 29 defendants, including Contra leader Adolfo Calero, retired General John Singlaub, General Richard Secord, Robert Owen, and former CIA deputy director Ted Shackley. On July 15, liberal Sen. John Kerry, a promoter of Contra drug smuggling theories, said that he did not believe the recent Senate testimony of convicted money launderer Ramon Milian-Rodriguez. He was a prime source for both the Christic case and Frontline.
Despite both developments, Frontline is still unwavering in defending their programs. Declared Senior Producer Mike Sullivan: "My position hasn't changed very much. I think our witnesses were credible and we thought we presented credible information."
Walters' Fonda Fonda. Remember Jane Fonda's propaganda trip to Hanoi in 1972? Remember how she giggled delightedly while perched atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American pilots? Well, the past is finally catching up with the latter-day queen of video workouts. Vietnam veterans have mobilized to stop Fonda from shooting a film in Connecticut. To head off the protests, Fonda asked ABC's Barbara Walters to give her a chance to explain on 20/20.
Walters soft-peddled the controversy now surrounding Fonda. Her first question: "Why do you think it is that when so many people protested the war, and so many did go to North Vietnam, why are your actions today still being criticized?" Maybe because Fonda did not just protest the war like millions of Americans, but enthusiastically supported the cause of the communist enemy. She called the Viet Cong "the conscience of the world," and proclaimed: "If you understood communism...you would pray on your knees that we would someday be communist." Walters never raised any of these issues.
Even after 20/20 aired a Vietnam era film clip of Fonda calling all U.S. servicemen war criminals, Walters left this explanation unchallenged: "We helped end the war. And what that meant was that the POWs came home sooner, that the killing stopped sooner, so I feel that we played a part in bringing them home." But when returning POWs recounted episodes of torture, Fonda called them "liars." When that issue came up, Walters again allowed Fonda to give a meek excuse -- that her statements were fueled by her anger and "patriotism." Fonda has never recanted her support for the communist regime. Still, Walters praised her, telling viewers: "She is sincerely trying to heal those wounds. She didn't have to say what she said tonight." That wasn't much.
Revolving Door: David Burke
David Burke, Legislative Assistant and later Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy between 1965 and 1971, will be the new President of CBS News.
Currently the Executive Vice President of ABC News, he served as Chief of Staff to New York Governor Hugh Carey, a Democrat, before moving to ABC in 1977. Burke takes over CBS News on August 1, just in time to oversee GOP Convention coverage.
Dan Noyes, an ABC World News This Morning producer and the off-air reporter covering the Bob Dole presidential campaign, promoted to an on-air position. He's now a general assignment reporter. In 1977 he helped launch the Center for Investigative Reporting, a San Francisco group affiliated with the far-left Mother Jones magazine.
Scott Richardson, Deputy Press Secretary to Senator Bob Dole since 1982, hired by ABC News as Press Representative for World News Tonight.
Martin Franks, Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1981-86, became Vice President of CBS Inc., Washington, in June. He'll direct the network's Capitol Hill lobbying. He served as Issues Director for the Carter-
Mondale campaign in 1980 after leaving a position with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).
Franks will report to Jay Kriegel, Senior Vice President for external relations. A friend of CBS CEO Laurence Tisch, Kriegel was Chief of Staff to New York Democratic Mayor John Lindsay in the early '70's.
Franks replaces Bob McConnell who was Assistant Attorney General for legislative and intergovernmental affairs under William French Smith until joining CBS in 1984. In the early 1970's, McConnell served as a Legislative Assistant to U.S. Representative John Rhodes (R-Arizona).
Also on the lobbying front, Paul Myer, Vice President and Director of government relations for Capital Cities/ABC Inc., has left for similar job with Northern Telecom. Before moving to ABC News in 1977, Myer served as Associate Director for congressional relations of the White House Domestic Policy Council during the administration of President Ford.
Earlier, he was the top aide to former U.S Representative Herman Badillo, a liberal Bronx Democrat, and Director of Legislation for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Two liberal politicians got a chance to do some reporting during the Democratic Convention. Boston's ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV, used Geraldine Ferraro as a nightly analyst in Atlanta. The Scripps- Howard chain asked Gary Hart to write a daily column for their newspapers.
Hart has also found a newspaper willing to print his opinions year round. He's begun writing a column for the Soviet government daily, Moscow News.
Dukakis the Moderate
"George Bush wants to convince voters that Michael Dukakis is a big spender who will raise taxes, coddle criminals and disarm America. In other words, a 'liberal.' But does the dreaded 'L' word stick to Dukakis? Probably not." That's how the July 4 issue of Newsweek portrayed the Democratic presidential candidate.
In the weeks before the Democrats convened in Atlanta, national media outlets described the Massachusetts Governor as a "moderate" with a growing audience receptive to his message, while emphasizing Republican George Bush's alleged shortcomings.
On defense and foreign policy, Dukakis opposes aid to the Contras, favors a nuclear freeze, wants to kill the MX and Midgetman missiles and stop production of aircraft carriers. Yet, when he outlined these proposals on June 14, CBS News political correspondent Bruce Morton labelled it "a mostly traditional foreign policy speech." As NBC's Bob Kur realized, "defense cuts advocated by Dukakis go beyond those supported by even moderate Democrats."
On the economic front, CBS' Jacqueline Adams travelled to Ohio a week later where she found "even rock-ribbed Republican farmers are having second thoughts about Bush." Her reasoning? The drought will decide the election because "the pain of their 'job drought' is still fresh" and they "blame Ronald Reagan and his political heir."
But when Dukakis brought his theme of "jobs and economic opportunity" to the same state on July 1, Bill Whitaker of CBS found "it's a message voters here in the struggling rust belt seem ready to hear." He concluded: "It's a message that's neither liberal nor conservative in the traditional sense."
Whitaker failed to note his record in Massachusetts. Dukakis opposed every tax reduction proposal and the number of state employess jumped an astounding 65 percent since 1984 under his leadership. What could make liberals any happier? Indeed during the primary campaign, Dukakis called himself "a liberal Democrat." The same day Whitaker was praising Dukakis, Adams again found Bush's message less than compelling. It is his "challenge," she charged, to convince "workers displaced in the changing American economy that he can put compassion into Reaganomics."
Adams was at it again five days later. As Bush campaigned for Hispanic votes, she couldn't resist countering his efforts: "The statistics show that the Reagan-Bush years have not been good for them. Nationwide, the Hispanic poverty rate is up. Their high school drop out rate is nearly 50 percent. And their unemployment rate is twice that of most other Americans." In delivering her indictment, Adams forgot to check the facts. Hispanic disposable income rose over 12 percent under Reagan and the percentage completing high school jumped from 36 to 48 percent. More have jobs now than at any time since such record keeping began in 1973.
NBC also offered a double standard in scrutiny. On June 29 Dukakis claimed "we don't have a deficit" in the Bay State. Reporter Lisa Myers let that go unchallenged even though the state has a $400 million deficit. But a few seconds later she countered Bush's promise to hold the line on taxes, arguing: "Good politics, but perhaps not good economics. Many experts believe that whoever is elected President will have to raise taxes." The next day, Myers focused on the gender gap. "In 1980, when he ran for President the first time, Bush didn't have problems with women," Myers asserted. "But then he became Reagan's Vice President and changed positions on key women's issues." Now he supports "an amendment banning abortion" and opposes the ERA. Myers failed to cite any polls to support her contention nor note that feminist Ferraro didn't get very far in 1984.
Eager to foucs in on Bush's problems, major media reporters ignored controversies surrounding Dukakis. Outside of CNN, Dukakis' controversial furlough program and prison site questions went virtually unnoticed in June.
No Hedging On Bentsen
TV network reporters had no problem deciding how to classify Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. The Texan has consistently received ratings in the high 40's from both the American Conservative Union and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, making him the very definition of a moderate Democrat.
But on July 12, the day Michael Dukakis chose Bentsen, Dan Rather called him a "conservative" as did ABC's Sam Donaldson. NBC's Ken Bode, a former Morris Udall campaign aide, claimed "Bentsen comes from the same conservative, Democratic faction that produced Lyndon Johnson." In detailing "his traditional conservatism," ABC's Jim Wooten described Bentsen as "against abortion" despite the fact that he has opposed anti-abortion amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Janet Cooke Award: CBS' American Profile: Mourning in America
For the vast majority of Americans, the Reagan years have meant prosperity. More Americans than ever are working, disposable in-come continues to increase as the U.S. completes its ten straight month of economic growth. The double digit inflation of the Carter years, which trapped low and fixed income families, has been more than halved. Indeed, Reagan's policies promoting opportunity and limited government gave many the chance to move up the economic ladder of success.
But television viewers did not get that impression from watching the CBS Evening News series, "American Profile," a five part look at the social and economic future. Instead of looking ahead, the series gave viewers a negative and distorted review of the Reagan years. For that reason, CBS Evening News receives the July Janet Cooke Award.
The July 8-14 weekday series included reports on America's changing values, working women and day care, the elderly, and economic polarization. Senior Political Producer Brian Healy told MediaWatch "American Profile" was "not meant to be a score card on Ronald Reagan." Healy insisted: "Anytime I thought I saw a suggestion of that, I excised it." But each story did have the Reagan record as its opening focus. Case in point: in his introduction to the July 11 segment, Rather noted that "this presidential election will be a vote on visions we all shaped during the eight years of the Reagan presidency."
Two Bruce Morton reports proved to be the most one-sided. Morton's thesis: "the rich are getting richer...while the poor and middle class are getting poorer." Further, he asserts that average income has been stagnant since 1976. But Morton misled viewers. According to economist Warren Brookes, the gap between rich and poor has remained constant. Average income rose 8.7% in constant dollars during the Reagan years, only now making up for the 6.4% decline in the '70s. Minorities made even greater strides.
Morton found gloom wherever he turned: "But you don't have to drive very far...to find closed plants, worries about what kinds of jobs will be available...Skilled, well-paid? Or service, minimum wage?" But you'd probably have to drive pretty far, considering unemployment rests at 5.3 percent. Morton also ignored government figures that show only 8.3% of all the new jobs are low paying. His answer to these supposed problems? A return to Robert Kennedy-style liberalism. Morton hoped: "The emotions stirred by the anniversary of his murder may be another sign of the changing national conscience."
All five stories relied on liberal spokesmen, ranging from former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, to historian Arthur Schlessinger, to Dukakis adviser Robert Reich. CBS also relied on the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). Why didn't they speak with any conservative groups to add balance? Healy readily admitted they relied on liberal sources, but that didn't concern him as those comments "did not have a political cast to them." But many sources did say things of political consequence. Barbara Jordan claimed on July 8: "The country has changed. I believe we are ready to begin to care for each other again." Even Healy would admit there is a "cast" to that. So how else did liberal spokesmen shape the reports? Bob Faw's report on day care offered only a spending option, what one source called a "Marshall Plan for the family." Viewers missed the conservative alternative: taking the tax burden off one-income families by granting larger tax deductions for children.
By taking time to discuss the series with MediaWatch, Healy showed an all too rare willingness hear the complaints of conservatives concerned about liberal media bias. MediaWatch challenged Healy to air a report about the economic legacy of Reagan from the conservative perspective. Healy responded: "I expect to. I expect that as we approach the (Republican) convention we will use conservatives with more frequency."