In This Issue
Double Standard For Sununu; NewsBites: Touting Tito; Revolving Door: Democratic Convention Control; Marshall Loss, Thomas Gain Seen as Twin Threats; Liberals Admit Media Errors; Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Children's Crusade
Double Standard For Sununu
Since the days of Watergate, the national news media have assigned more importance to the executive branch than to the legislative. The media's logic is largely numerical: the President is elected nationwide, the legislators in much smaller groups. But this can lead to a double standard in news judgment concerning scandals, leaving perceptions of an executive "sleaze factor" while the transgressions of legislators are just local news.
This double standard is clearly illustrated in the recent hubbub over the travel of White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. From April 21, when The Washington Post published its investigation of Sununu's travel records, to the end of June, MediaWatch analysts found that the Post published 27 stories, and put 11 of those stories on the front page. Using the Nexis news data retrieval system, MediaWatch analysts looked at four recent controversies involving major abuses of travel privileges by key congressional leaders and found a glaring double standard:
1. WAYS AND MEANS BARBADOS JUNKET: On October 25, 1990, ABC's Prime Time Live
aired an investigative report on a House Ways and Means
Committee junket to Barbados, authorized by powerful Ways and
Means chairman Dan Rostenkowski. ABC estimated that the trip
cost the taxpayers at least $42,000. Two days later, the Post
mentioned the report in paragraphs 25 and 26 of a story on
Congress wrapping up its session. Reporter Tom Kenworthy
introduced the item with the sentence: "But not every piece of
business was so weighty as business adjourned." Two days later,
the Post ran a short 646-word piece on Page A13. Total number of entire news stories: one.
2. BILL ALEXANDER: When the House Democrats' then-Deputy Whip, Rep. Bill Alexander of Arkansas, cost the taxpayers an estimated $60,000 to fly with his family to Rio de Janeiro in mid-August 1985, the Post did one story -- on September 23, more than four weeks after the trip was first reported by the Associated Press. In fact, AP had already sent out 11 news stories on the trip before the Post got around to it. The New York Times ran three news stories and an editorial before the end of August. Total number of entire news stories: one.
3. LES ASPIN: On February 17, 1991, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-WI) returned from Denver to Washington with his girlfriend, Sharon Sarton. The military plane ride back from his ski trip cost the taxpayers $28,000. Aspin paid nothing in reimbursement; his girlfriend paid $178. The parallel to Sununu is remarkable, but the Post never wrote a word about it.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times both carried an Associated Press report on June 2 noting that Aspin, "who is leading efforts for more M-1 tanks than the Pentagon requested, is dating a steel executive [Sarton] whose company obtained more than $6 million in M-1 contracts." The Post didn't cover that story, either. Total number of entire news stories: zero.
4. PARIS AIR SHOW: Despite a number of knowing references to the annual Paris Air Show as a legendary congressional junket in the past 14 years, the Post only once put together an investigative story detailing the flight costs -- on June 15, 1989. (When the Post did target individual legislators, it mostly stuck to Republicans; for instance, an entire 1987 news story on Sen. Strom Thurmond.) But the Post also twice reported controversies involving Reagan Administration officials: an entire news story on Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler in 1985, and a mention of Deputy Transportation Secretary Darrell Trent in 1983. Total number of entire news stories in 14 years: four.
MediaWatch Publisher L. Brent Bozell III made these results public in a June 27 Washington press conference. In a "Style" section story the next day, Post media reporter Howard Kurtz looked at the study, but did not grasp the point -- that the MediaWatch study focused only on travel scandals.
Kurtz included quotes in the Post's defense from soon-to-be Executive Editor Leonard Downie, who noted that Post reporter Charles Babcock broke stories about Jim Wright's lucrative book deal and Tony Coelho's junk-bond purchases. But the Post had no day-after-day drumbeat after these revelations, either. Babcock broke the Wright story on September 24, 1987 -- and then didn't do another story on Wright for months. Congressman Newt Gingrich repeatedly raised the issue, but the Post didn't jump on the story until Common Cause focused on Wright in 1988. Babcock wrote only two investigative stories on Coelho -- on April 13 and May 14, 1989 -- before Coelho stepped down in late May.
The Post also noted that Babcock wrote a recent front-page story on congressional use of corporate jets. That makes it 27 to 1 in favor of the Sununu story in the last two months. Kurtz added that "Babcock's stories on travel abuses date to 1983, when he wrote about the 89th Military Airlift Wing providing flights to at least 34 senators and 200 House members." The February 8 story focused almost completely on Republicans. Babcock spent 18 paragraphs (including the first five) detailing junkets by Barry Goldwater. He worked in mentions of Rep. Jamie Quillen (paragraph 9), Sen. Paul Laxalt (paragraphs 12 and 13), Federal Aviation Administrator J. Lynn Helms (paragraph 20), and Sen. Jake Garn (paragraph 37). Babcock mentioned Democrats in paragraphs 36 and 39. That's hardly a convincing defense for the Post.
If Sununu's travels strike the Post as offensive, readers might expect them to report or editorialize on possible reforms in travel policy. In fact, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-MI) has been introducing a bill for years that would require all three branches of government to disclose travel information, but the Post has only given it one offhanded mention in the last two months. The Post's approach to Sunuu may be exemplified by retiring Executive Editor Ben Bradlee's 1989 opinion of how the New Hampshire Governor would be received in Washington: "A jack-leg Governor from a horse's ass state. How could he play with us in the big leagues?"
NewsBites: Touting Tito
TOUTING TITO. While the nations held together by communist force in Yugoslavia tried to break away as our own Independence Day approached, NBC correspondent John Dancy offered an intriguing history lesson. "Yugoslavia," he explained, "was patched together after World War I out of Balkan states with a history of independence. President Tito, Yugoslavia's war hero, held the country together through his personal charisma." So Tito had all those tanks and soldiers so he could impress foreign dignitaries with big parades?
WHAT CUTS? Since late June, reporters have repeatedly blamed federal budget cuts for state deficits, as if it were beyond argument. For example, on June 30 NBC's Bob Herbert charged: "New Yorkers struggled for more than a decade against the cuts in federal aid imposed by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Then like a knockout blow came the recession." On July 1 CBS reporter Bob Faw asserted: "America's cities are also caught between a rock and a hard place -- new problems, homelessness and AIDS, but fewer federal dollars to spend, forcing New York City to raise taxes."
Before you buy this cop-out from big states that spent every cent they received and more during the '80s, take a look at the facts. Federal aid to states and cities has gone up from $115 billion in 1988 to an estimated $171 billion for fiscal 1992. If these kinds of "cuts" continue too much longer, taxpayers won't have any money left.
INDECENT EXPOSURE. The Washington Post's tender loving care of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) even extends to "artists" rejected by the NEA. On June 22, critic Pamela Sommers described Tim Miller's "Sex/Love/Stories" performance as a "compelling journey" where "gay activist" Miller entertains the audience by describing "a million and one liaisons in graphic detail," including one with "a muscular literary type on a nude beach that provide him (and us) with ample entertainment."
Sommers added: "He yanks down his pants and has a rank, emotionally charged discussion with his bared anatomy about the importance of celebrating the flesh, especially in the midst of disease and censorship and death." The Post critic concluded that "he must also be lauded for his artistry and bravery in difficult times."
CANADIAN CANDOR. Media bias is not a problem limited to the United States. Former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reporter Barbara Amiel conceded that bias permeates the government controlled network.
Writing in the April 29 issue of Macleans, a Canadian newsweekly, she explained: "My association with the CBC goes back over 25 years when I began working there. A left-wing political bias existed when I was in news and current affairs during the 1960s and continues today. Back then, we selected program topics and participants with an eye to confirming our prejudices. Inevitably, this meant the most strident and foolish people were found to present the alternative view. We were anti-American, anti-big business and pro-feminist and accepted uncritically certain assumptions about the existence of racism and sexism in Canadian society. We took a relentless approach against apartheid and turned a blind eye to the tyrannies in independent Africa." If only American reporters were so honest.
HUME'S HONESTY. Well, one reporter is. In a July 9 interview with Washington Times reporter Don Kowet, ABC White House reporter Brit Hume charged "a great many reporters are liberal." Hume offered some examples. "Take the Kemp-Roth tax cut. That was regarded by reporters I knew on Capitol Hill as being out there along with the Bermuda Triangle and getting a telephone call from Elvis."
Another example: "I'm constantly hearing reporters say, 'Well, Bush says he wants to be the Education President, but he doesn't come up with any money.' In other words, they're starting from the premise that the best way to advance the cause of education is to spend a lot of money on it. They're taking sides on an important aspect of the debate before they start, adopting one side of the debate's measuring stick -- the amount of money spent -- as their 'neutral' gauge of how adequate Bush's policies are."
HEALTHY SOCIALISTS. For the third time in two years, NBC reporter Fred Briggs has shared his infatuation with Canadian national health insurance with viewers. On the June 6 Nightly News, Briggs compared the U.S. health care system to Canada's as he stood at the U.S.-Canada border in Maine. In one comparison Briggs stated, "The bottom line is that a serious illness or injury on that side of the border may cause a family emotional pain, but it won't break them financially. Here it can and often does." As if Canadians weren't taxed for the government-run system, Briggs reported, "To get into a hospital or doctor's office, Canadians only have to present this card. They're insured by their government, have been for 27 years."
Unlike his earlier stories, this time Briggs noted that Canadians sometimes die waiting for health care, but he concluded with an endorsement: "Jane Tuck works in a convenience store and wonders how Canada seems to do what we cannot do." Tuck told Briggs, "We can help other countries, we can help this one, that one. Let's help ourselves." Briggs followed, "To the Canadian system? Living so close to it makes it seem very attractive."
SAME OLD MOYERS. David Horowitz of the Committee for Media Integrity urged balance in public television in an April 15 Currents article, decrying the imbalance of PBS documentaries like the Frontline series and the omnipresent specials of the self-impressed Bill Moyers.
Moyers responded in the same magazine's May 25 issue, defending his Frontline documentary on the Iran-Contra hearings: "Far from being an editorial on Iran-Contra, High Crimes and Misdemeanors was a plea for renewed fealty to traditional values so disdained by men like Ronald Reagan, William Casey, Edwin Meese, Elliott Abras, John Poindexter and Oliver North."
Moyers extended his assault not only to Horowitz, but to all conservative critics of taxpayer-supported television: "Horowitz, you must remember, has his own agenda. He and his ilk do not want 'fairness and balance' -- they want unanimity. They don't want 'media integrity' -- they want media subservience to their ideology. To him and his reactionary allies, criticism equals subversion, opposition equals treason, and liberalism is a personal affront."
A NEW MOYERS? Has Bill Moyers gone through a drastic change of heart? In a June 18 PBS special, titled After The War, he attacked President Bush from the right. "It wasn't just Washington's indifference toward democracy that angered the Iraqi opposition. It was also the President's decision to let Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard escape," Moyers declared. "General Schwarzkopf later told David Frost what a few more days of fighting would have meant," he said before chastising Bush for "pulling back [U.S.] forces while Saddam Hussein was still strong enough to take his revenge" against the Kurds.
That's ironic coming from a man who, at a March 8 gathering of House Democrats, derided the war as "a triumph of overwhelming technology and unchallenged power over a country no bigger than Texas and with roughly the same amount of people, ruled over by a paranoid psychopath, who proved to be just a video tiger, all growl and no guts." Could it be that Moyers is just looking for a way, any way, to deride conservative foreign policy with taxpayers' money?
LACKING DIVERSITY. In a June 4 MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour segment Charlayne Hunter-Gault interviewed David Lawrence, President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and Publisher of the Miami Herald, about affirmative action.
Asked about his company's hiring policy, Lawrence stated, "We are the information medium for the American people. We are the filtering system, the prism, through which the people get their news and information and commentary. If it's all coming from one kind of person, it is going to be a very incomplete prism indeed. So, yes, I think more than any other institution in American society, we need to be a pluralistic, multicultural institution."
He was talking about hiring more minorities, but Lawrence inadvertently made a great case for hiring more conservatives. In a 1989 survey by Lawrence's own ASNE, 62 percent of newsroom employees overall and 87 percent of minority journalists boasted liberal leanings. Only 22 percent said they had a conservative bent. So why isn't Lawrence crusading to correct this distorted prism?
PRO-CHOICE POLLS? During the House debate on a bill about abortion counseling in federally funded clinics, reporters peddled the canard that most Americans unconditionally favor the abortion rights of Roe vs. Wade.
ABC's Cokie Roberts claimed on the June 26 World News Tonight: "President Bush must also worry about anti-abortion activists who have given the Republican Party so much support in the past. He's promised to veto this and all other bills supporting abortion rights and Congress is unlikely to override, meaning the President could win every battle on abortion rights but create problems for fellow Republicans come election day."
NBC correspondent Henry Champ on the June 23 Nightly News asserted, "Polls indicate Americans are pro-choice. They want or support the right to decide."
Well, not exactly. According to William Satelin of the electronic news service Hotline, polls say that though a plurality may be pro-choice, a majority favors abortion restrictions. In The Wall Street Journal, Satelin wrote: "When asked which of three statements best expressed their views 41 percent chose to say abortion should be 'generally available,' and an opposite 15 percent felt it 'should not be permitted,' but 42 percent chose positions favoring legal abortion with 'stricter limits'" for a grand total of 57 percent who favor either eliminating abortion or restricting it. Hardly a "pro-choice majority."
TED KOPPEL'S NON-STORY. On June 20, ABC's Ted Koppel devoted a one-hour Nightline special to the theory that former CIA Director and Reagan campaign manager William Casey met in Madrid in late July 1980 with Iranian officials to delay the release of the American hostages. Koppel thought he had smoking guns in the testimony of Iranian arms dealer Jamshid Hashemi, and in a 1988 New York Times story that mentioned Casey would be available for comment when "he returned from a trip abroad." The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and AP all reported the revelations the next day.
Then, at the very end of the June 26 Nightline, Koppel meekly noted that Casey was accounted for, in another country, during most of the time of the alleged meetings. Gulped Koppel: "We have spoken with several men who attended the Anglo-American Conference on the History of the Second World War. William Casey attended that conference at the Imperial War Museum in London."
The Post didn't reveal Casey's London whereabouts until they quoted Ed Meese in a July 8 news story. The Globe ran AP's week-late dispatch on July 3 with the headline: "1980 Casey Trip Draws Fresh Attention." A better headline: "Oops -- We Were Wrong."
RAY BRADY'S BITTER BUREAUCRATS. On June 7 the government announced the unemployment rate rose 0.3 percent in May to 6.9 percent. ABC's World News Tonight emphasized the positive side. "Economists say that the really important news lies elsewhere in the report. For the first time in nearly a year businesses hired more workers instead of firing them," Peter Jennings pointed out. Reporter Stephen Aug then explained how businesses hired 59,000 people. "At the Gould's pump factory near Los Angeles, business is booming, and they're hiring," Aug told viewers.
But over on the CBS Evening News, the focus was on the negative, as usual. "Amid all the talk and some evidence of economic recovery, unemployment hit a four year high," Dan Rather said. Reporter Ray Brady whined, "the unemployment numbers jumped last month partly because of workers like these Massachusetts state employees. They're protesting the cutbacks that pushed them into the ranks of the 370,000 Americans who lost their jobs last month. Workers like Marie Shamali, out of work from a job she thought she'd never lose." But according to Boston Herald editorial writer Jeff Jacoby, since late last year only 1,700 of the 12,123 state payroll jobs added by former Governor Dukakis in the last eight years have been cut.
MITCHELL MISSILES. Just what kind of "reporter" is NBC News congressional correspondent Andrea Mitchell? When NBC gives her the chance to vent her opinions, the liberalism comes through loud and clear. During a June 11 Today appearance, she charged: "While we see George Bush saying that he doesn't like the racist politics, boy, he's letting his White House staff play it full bore." The next week, President Bush criticized Democrats for failing to move on his transportation and crime bills. On the June 16 Sunday Today, Mitchell showed her displeasure: "I think that George Bush was terribly cynical and irresponsible in some of his criticism...that 100 day deadline just didn't make any sense on the highway bill."
"So just what has Congress been doing these past 100 days?" Mitchell wondered on NBC Nightly News on June 13. "For one thing," she answered, "living with the consequences of budget deal Congress made with the White House last fall. There is very little money for new social programs." Little money? Over half the $1.3 trillion federal budget goes to social programs and entitlements. But $700 billion plus isn't enough for Mitchell, who added, "With Congress and the President in gridlock and no money to spend, more and more responsibility is being dumped on state and local governments, adding to the taxpayer's dilemma." But Mitchell didn't report that federal aid to state and local governments has been going up.
CIVIL SLIGHTS. Several journalists have become cheerleaders and apologists for the Democratic version of the "civil rights" bill. ABC's Jim Wooten offered a typical analysis on the June 5 World News Tonight: "For better or worse, quotas have become a hot-button issue, easily exploited in the quick context of a television commercial. Look at this one from last year's Senate race in North Carolina. Republican Jesse Helms was narrowly re-elected, although his black opponent was as anti-quota as he." He was? In a March 17 New York Times op-ed, Helms' opponent, Harvey Gantt, argued that "quotas are as American as apple pie."
In the June 4 Los Angeles Times, staff writers William J. Eaton and Sam Fulwood III wrote, "discussions of the legislation, therefore, have centered on such abstractions as shifting the burden of proof from employers to employees, or vice versa, at various stages of litigation." Abstractions? If the presumption of innocence was taken away from criminals, would Eaton and Fulwood consider it an "abstraction"? No, they would probably call it what it is -- a civil right. One now shared by businessmen as well as rapists and murderers.
LAURELS FOR LANCE. The May MediaWatch called attention to Time Senior Editor Lance Morrow's April 29 puff piece on Senator Ted "PowerMaster" Kennedy. Morrow presented Kennedy as "one of the great lawmakers of the century, a Senate leader whose liberal mark upon American government has been prominent and permanent... The public that knows Kennedy by his misadventures alone may vastly underrate him."
University of Southern Mississippi Professor Glenn Wittig was moved to write Time regarding Morrow's article and forwarded Time's response to MediaWatch. Letters Department Deputy Gloria Hammond lauded Kennedy as "a figure whose name can conjure in the national mind hallmark images of modern political and social history, ad perhaps for that reason alone compels a willing-or- not fascination."
Hammond defended Morrow as a "writer with a singular reputation for applying his stimulating, penetrating and unmistakable style." Unmistakable alright. He's the same Time staffer who wrote "The skull is home. We fly in and out of it on mental errands....Home is the bright light under the hat."
CULT OR OCCULT? Time's May 6 cover story ripped into the Church of Scientology with an intensity usually reserved for the Reagan Administration. Time described Scientology as little more than "a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner." Although few people outside Scientology would disagree with Time's assessment, it's a bit silly coming from Time. After all, isn't this from the same company which profits from the Time-Life Books "racket" which pushes its "Mystic Places" books about astrology and space aliens landing on Earth with TV ads which once promised "power crystals" as a premium?
Revolving Door: Democratic Convention Control
Democratic Convention Control. In 1984 Anne Reingold helped produce CBS News election coverage. In 1992 she will direct media relations for the Democratic National Convention. Before then, Reingold will coordinate media planning for next year's primaries and will "manage the production of Democratic debates," Roll Call reported. During her eight years with CBS Reingold has worked for the Election and Survey Unit, covered the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson, and served as a special events producer.
Reingold will work with Ginny Terzano, the Democratic Party's Press Secretary who was a CBS News Election Unit researcher in 1988. In fact, Reingold is at least the fifth person to make the jump between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and CBS. Wally Chalmers, CBS News Political Editor during the 1984 campaign, served as the DNC's Executive Director from 1986 to 1988. Bob Ferrante, Director of Communications for the DNC under Chalmers, was the Senior Producer of the network's Election News Unit in 1984. Dotty Lynch, CBS News Political Editor since 1985, served as the DNC's Polling Director in 1981-82. During the 1988 Democratic Convention Ike Pappas, a CBS News reporter for more than three decades, set up and ran the Party's Convention Satellite News Service which provided interviews and pre-packaged news stories to local television stations.
Leaving Philly's Daily Grind. Long-time Philadelphia Daily News columnist and Senior Editor Chuck Stone will leave the Knight- Ridder-owned tabloid on August 1 to become a professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In the mid-1960s Stone served as a top aide to U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, a New York City Democrat forced from office by allegations he misappropriated House funds. Stone joined the Daily News in 1972 and gained the Senior Editor responsibilities in 1979. While in the Tarheel State, Stone will continue to write a weekly column syndicated by United Media, Editor & Publisher reported.
Post to Police Action. The controversy surrounding Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates has kept two of his most vociferous critics, liberal Democratic City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and his Press Secretary, Katherine Macdonald, quite busy. A former Washington Post reporter, Macdonald's been working for Yaroslavsky since last year. From 1978 to 1986 Macdonald served as a Los Angeles-based special correspondent for the Post, reporting on everything from earthquakes to California politics. She also frequently contributed to Post presidential election analysis. Before jumping to politics, she spent two years as a San Francisco Examiner reporter.
Lyons Lionized. The Consumer Federation of America presented its 1991 "Outstanding Consumer Media Service Award" to Good Morning America reporter Paula Lyons. Senator Joe Biden and U.S. Representative William Gray were also honored at the June awards dinner. Lyons held various posts under Boston Mayor Kevin White, a Democrat, in the mid-1970s.
Marshall Loss, Thomas Gain Seen as Twin Threats
THE RIGHT AGAINST "RIGHTS"?
The resignation of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the last of the Warren Court's unelected legislators, caused the media to wax nostalgic about the good old days of liberal rule by judicial fiat. Marshall was hailed as "legendary," a "legal giant," and a "fabled torch-bearer for civil rights."
Reporters voiced almost unanimous concern over the fate of "individual rights" and the twin threats posed by Marshall's loss and the nomination of a conservative, Appeals Court Judge Clarence Thomas. Conservatives would argue liberal justices like Marshall violated individual rights -- the rights of crime victims, of the unborn, and to do what you wish with your property, to say nothing about the aggrandizement of government regulatory powers. These rights were left unaddressed.
Anchoring the June 27 CBS Evening News, Charles Kuralt reported that "Justice Marshall, the sturdy old champion of individual rights, has grown increasingly lonely as a member of the dwindling liberal minority." The next day Christian Science Monitor staff writer Marshall Ingwerson concurred: "In practical terms, the Supreme Court's conservative bloc has already consolidated its majority in most areas of the law...Its effort to roll back some of the great expansions of individual rights under the Warren Court in the 1960s is well under way."
In a June 29 CBS Evening News commentary, Bruce Morton chastised the Court's "nanny conservatism," charging: "The Rehnquist Court is much more concerned with the rights of government, the state, authority. Government can tell the difference between good and evil in this philosophy and should encourage the one and forbid the other."
Thomas' nomination forced each network to air at least one story discussing the existence of black conservatives, and allowed several of them to challenge the mournings of the traditional liberal "civil rights" leadership. The nomination's impact on abortion, however, did not receive such balance. CBS reporter Rita Braver announced on July 1: "The thing that has most people worried, though, is the statement he once made about what are called unenumerated rights, the things like abortion that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution." But "most people" voted for Bush, who supported judicial restraint.
The next day, CBS This Morning brought on Planned Parenthood's Faye Wattleton. A day later Today devoted a segment to Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League. On July 6 NBC Nightly News granted an unusual live interview to NOW Vice President Patricia Ireland. Where were interviews with their pro-life opponents? Nowhere.
Liberals Admit Media Errors
FRAC FLACKS. In April, MediaWatch reported on a dubious child hunger study by the left-wing Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Mickey Kaus of The New Republic called it "crap." Dan Rather began the March 27 CBS Evening News: "A startling number of American children are in danger of starving." Boston Globe reporter Stephen Kurkjian insisted the study demonstrated one child in eight "goes hungry every day."
In a June 27 Christian Science Monitor profile of the Media Research Center, FRAC Executive Director Robert Fersh agreed that these two reports were wrong: the study made no claims about starvation and concluded only that one in eight children had been hungry at least once during a 12-month period. Fersh added: "I wasn't asked much [by reporters] to clarify it." Kurkjian told the Monitor: "It never entered my mind that they weren't hungry every day," conceding his "inattention" to the facts of the story.
Despite this, ABC promoted the claims on June 3. But while FRAC suggested 5.5 million children were "hungry," Jennings more than doubled that number in a June 18 report, saying 12 million children "do not have enough to eat."
Janet Cooke Award: ABC: Children's Crusade
In April, MediaWatch handed the Janet Cooke Award to CBS for relying on the loaded statistics of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a left-wing lobby for nationalized child care and increased welfare spending. In June, ABC's World News Tonight followed the same shameless formula, proclaiming: "The Children's Defense Fund...is widely recognized for keeping accurate statistics on children." For uncritical reports on the CDF and a week of one-sided stories on child poverty, ABC earned the July Janet Cooke Award.
THE '8Os. The first sign of ABC's affection for CDF came on June 2 and 3 when they promoted the CDF's latest report on child poverty not once, but twice. On June 2, reporter Kathleen DeLaski led off: "The report also says that while poverty rates for the elderly decreased in the '80s, poverty rates for children increased."
Misleading. Viewers could see for themselves that even the chart ABC displayed on screen clearly showed a decline since 1983. CDF used 1979 as a beginning yardstick, thus adding the last two Carter years to the statistics. By the CDF's own calculation of Census statistics, the number of poor children dropped from a high of 13.9 million in 1983 to 12.6 million in 1989. Likewise, they calculated that the percentage of children living in poverty has declined from 22.3 percent to 19.6 percent.
STEREOTYPES. The next evening John McKenzie again summarized the CDF charges, intoning, "The stereotype: a black child living in an inner city with a single mother on welfare and no man in the house. The Children's Defense Fund now says that stereotype is wrong."
Misleading. While CDF insists that only one in ten children fits that description, they also reported that one in three poor children is black and that 43.7 percent of black children are poor. They reported that 54 percent of poor families are female-headed. They reported that three times as many poor children live in metropolitan areas than live in rural areas. It's only when you add them all together to calculate the number of black, inner-city, single-parent children, that it appears like an unsupportable stereotype.
McKenzie continued: "The study found that most poor children come from families of just one or two children, and that most have older family members who are working." On June 18, Jennings added: "Most poor children in America have a wage-earning parent."
Wrong. In fact, the government classifies someone as working even if they only work one day a year. In The New Republic, Mickey Kaus took issue with the assertions made by liberal groups: "Less than half of poor families with children field even a quarter- time worker. Fully 40 percent do no work at all." In responding to Kaus, Robert Greenstein of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities insisted their group's study pointed out that only one-sixth of poor children live in a family with a full- time, year-round worker.
SPENDING. "The report blames the situation on bad economic times in general and government spending cuts in particular." -- McKenzie, June 3.
Wrong. In constant dollars welfare spending is at an all time high. CDF did decry the lessening value of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits, but those levels are set by the states.
NON-CASH BENEFITS. On June 18, the first day of special broad-casts from Ohio, Peter Jennings asserted: "A single mother with two children, a fairly typical example of a poor family, gets a little more than $550 a month in cash and food stamps from the government, which still leaves that family more than two hundred dollars a month below the government's official poverty line."
Misleading. Jennings failed to explain that the poverty line measure counts only cash assistance, so his calculation did not include non-cash benefits like housing assistance, Medicaid or school lunch programs. In fact, the government spends an average of $11,120 a year on non-cash benefits for every poor household, about 75 percent of all welfare expenditures. This was the only ABC/CDF contention that ABC allowed a conservative expert to challenge. In their June 3 report, the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector contended: "If you add up all the different welfare benefits from different programs, the average single parent on welfare with children has an income above the poverty level, not below it."
DAY CARE WELFARE. "Here in Franklin County, which pretty much matches the rest of the country, the number of families on welfare who have access to this kind of [child] care is ridiculously low. Only two and a half percent get any financial aid to pay for it." -- Jennings, June 19.
Misleading. AFDC recipients are entitled to day care reimbursement, and the 1988 Welfare Reform Act expanded the amount of money available for it. Only three percent of AFDC recipents per month claim the reimbursement because only eight percent of recipients have earned income.
HOMELESS CHILDREN. "Analysts often disagree about how many homeless children there are in America: maybe 100,000, maybe half a million. They do agree that children represent the fastest growing segment of the homeless." -- Jennings, June 20.
Wrong. CDF promotes the 100,000 figure, citing a 1988 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). But the NAS didn't do any original research to determine its number, using three other sources, including an August 28, 1985 front page story in The New York Times by Josh Barbanel. But the Times article cited no figures on the number or percentage of homeless children. The most comprehensive homeless count to date remains the Census Bureau figure of 230,000, which makes Jennings' numbers look a little inflated. By Jennings' estimation, then, either half of the homeless are children, or there are more than twice as many homeless children as the Census counted homeless people.
On June 20, Jennings went beyond editorializing to tossing sarcastic cheap shots: "When you get close to the poor, you recognize right away that very often the level of assistance doesn't even lift them up to the legal poverty line, let alone above it, which seems to say your Congressmen and your state legislators have failed to recognize that children and families in poverty are a national disaster. In your name, they often argue about other priorities and welfare cheats. Twelve million Americans who cheat." This came two days before Jennings' Friday "Person of the Week" segment on a ten-year welfare mother: "Three years ago, when most of the welfare money was going for booze, Lisa Krause decided: enough."
Despite all the passion, ABC never asked the question: couldn't all these programs be causing the further deterioration of poor families? A recent comparison showed that since 1950, the percentage of female-headed households has almost doubled while federal social spending has increased threefold as a percentage of GNP. ABC must consider these questions politically incorrect.
At ABC's request, we faxed a list of the points made in this article and asked for an item by item response. Instead of answering any point, World News Tonight Executive Producer Paul Friedman issued this statement: "We have accurately portrayed the problem of American children living in poverty. Your choice of data is not persuasive."