In This Issue
The Most Common Politically Motivated Statistical Exaggerations; NewsBites: Conservative Corporations?; Revolving Door: City Hall Calling; Reporters Insist Budget is Half Tax Hikes, Half Cuts; Globe Concedes Liberal Tilt; Limousine Liberals; Insists No 'Left-Liberal Line' in Essays; Janet Cooke Award: Discovery Channel Series Starts Out As Slanted As CBS
The Most Common Politically Motivated Statistical Exaggerations
The Media's "Fabricated Five"
In the heat of political battles, both sides often march with their own statistics, and it's up to the journalist to present both sides of the debate. Statistical claims are complex things to present in a 90-second TV story, and even print journalists can be too quick to present statistics without real proof. When that happens, debates can be distorted, and federal spending can jump billions of dollars to address media-manufactured crises with little statistical foundation.
To underline the worst examples of the media's biased number-crunching, MediaWatch has listed five of the most common statistical exaggerations, dubbed "The Fabricated Five." Some of these fractured factoids appear daily, others only occasionally, but they all affect billions of dollars in tax money.
1. Medicare and Medicaid "cuts." This is a daily error. On CNN's Inside Politics June 22, reporter Wolf Blitzer suggested White House aides know a budget deal "won't be easy, given the difference on such sensitive matters as the form of an energy or gasoline tax and the amount of cuts in Medicare and other social programs." Reporters also made that mistake in 1990. On October 1, CBS reporter Susan Spencer claimed "Medicare took a direct hit in this agreement -- $60 billion in savings, half the domestic spending cuts."
In fact, Medicare and Medicaid are among the biggest and fastest growing programs in the budget. From 1989 to 1993, Medicare grew from $85 billion to $146.4 billion, up 72 percent; Medicaid rose from $34.6 billion to $80.3 billion, a 132 percent jump. (Inflation rose only 16 percent.) But reporters imply spending is going down. Occasionally, reporters stumble into accuracy, like Michael Wines of The New York Times on June 24: "Most of those cuts will come from limiting the explosive rise of Medicare spending."
2. Mushrooming homelessness. On the June 10 NBC Nightly News, reporter John Gibson guessed: "Nationwide now, there are up to three million homeless people, a problem that seems to defy easy answers." On January 9, weekend Today co-host Jackie Nespral claimed: "Nationally, right now, five million people are believed to be homeless...and the numbers are increasing." ABC and CBS claimed "three million" or more in the days after Christmas 1992. In 1989, CNN anchor Lou Waters cited a study on "40 million Americans living on the knife edge of homelessness."
In 1990, the Census Bureau conducted a one-night partial count of America's homeless population, employing 15,000 enumerators, the largest effort ever to count the homeless. The Census Bureau counted 220,000. When they announced the number on April 12, the networks and news magazines ignored it.
Instead, media outlets continue to use 3 million. Of 83 estimates examined by the General Accounting Office in a 1988 study, only the late activist Mitch Snyder claimed a number as high as 3 million, and it was not one of the 27 studies the GAO considered "useful."Snyder told Congress in 1984: "These numbers are in fact meaningless. We have tried to satisfy your gnawing curiosity for a number because we are Americans with Western little minds that have to quantify everything in sight, whether we can or not." Despite the lack of hard proof of mushrooming homelessness, housing assistance grew 120 percent from 1989 to 1993.
3. The coming explosion of heterosexual AIDS. On the June 11 CBS Evening News, reporter Dr. Bob Arnot warned: "Heterosexual AIDS among Americans is growing faster than any other risk group, up thirty percent in 1992 alone...Heterosexual AIDS...is exploding." Last November 12, CNN's Susan Rook said "It's just a matter of time before AIDS becomes widespread among heterosexuals."
Michael Fumento, author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, told MediaWatch the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found "cases attributed to heterosexual transmission increased 17 percent in 1992, down from a 21 percent rise in 1991." But dire predictions keep the cash coming: AIDS receives 20 times as many federal research and education dollars per death as cancer.
Reporters also overcount teens with AIDS. On April 11, 1992, NBC reporter Henry Champ claimed: "The statistics are frightening. A 77 percent increase in AIDS among teenagers in just two years. There are now 9,000 American teenagers with AIDS and many, many thousands more with the HIV virus." Three months later, Surgeon General Antonia Novello wrote in USA Today: "Through June, 872 cases of adolescents with AIDS were reported in the United States."
Stories on young children with AIDS were even worse. On the April 20, 1992 CBS Evening News, Edie Magnus asserted: "It's no secret that AIDS is ravaging the nation's very young. Up to 20,000 children have AIDS." On November 11, 1991, ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings claimed: "As many as a million and one-half other Americans have the AIDS virus, more than one-quarter [375,000] of them children." In June 1992, the CDC said the total number of people diagnosed with AIDS is 230,209. Of that, 3,898 are children age 12 and under.
4. Falling federal aid to states & cities. On June 19, CBS reporter John Roberts proclaimed: "Through 12 years of Republican administrations, payments to cities decreased 75 percent." On June 20, NBC anchor Garrick Utley interviewed the chairman of the Conference of Mayors: "Their concern: the major cuts in financial aid from the federal government that occurred in the 1980s... What, government spending, or subsidies from the Washington level were cut 50 percent in the 1980s?" Cato Institute economist Stephen Moore found federal aid to states and cities rose from $89.5 billion in 1989 to $142.8 billion in 1993 in constant 1990 dollars, a 60 percent leap. But reporters claimed federal neglect.
In the '80s, Congress sent money directly to the poor instead of the mayors. Wrote Moore: "While direct federal aid was cut in the Reagan years, aid to poor people living in cities increased." Still, the Census Bureau found total municipal spending rose 26 percent after inflation in the 1980s.
5. The rich grew richer, the poor grew poorer in the 1980s. In the April 26 U.S. News & World Report, writer David Hage argued: "The richest fifth of American families saw their incomes rise by a solid 13.9 percent, while the incomes of all other U.S. families stagnated or declined." On February 7, 1992, NBC Nightly News reporter Keith Morrison went further: "Did we wear blinders? Did we think the '80s just left behind the homeless? The fact is that almost nine in ten Americans saw their lifestyle decline."
Claims like these are classic Democratic campaign slogans, but Census Bureau data shows that average family income increased in every fifth of income earners from 1982 to 1989. Median family income increased in every one of those eight years, rising 13 percent after inflation.
NewsBites: Conservative Corporations?
Conservative Corporations? Dan Rostenkowski, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, put another hole in the theory that major media companies are conservative. Rostenkowski lined up more than 50 corporations to sign a statement of support for the Democrats' massive tax increase. Signing on the dotted line: Time Warner and General Electric, the parent company of NBC.
The Overspending "Myth." Boston Globe reporter Peter Gosselin doesn't think federal overspending is a problem. Gosselin based a June 20 article on one of the media's favorite Republicans, David Stockman, and his "myth" that Congress has been "beefing up already bloated bureaucracies, handing out pork-barrel projects, and distributing government benefits as if they were candy." Gosselin admitted "federal spending has risen steadily for at least the last two decades," but "much of the rise was the result of the huge tax cuts of the early 1980s, which had the perverse effect of stripping the government of a substantial fraction of its tax revenues, thus boosting borrowing, and with it, interest payments."
But figures from the Office of Management and Budget show that tax receipts increased an average of 7.27 percent per year between 1981 and 1990, while inflation averaged 4.68 percent for the same time period. By 1984-85, when the Reagan tax cuts were going into effect, tax receipts grew twice as fast as inflation, rising 11 percent in 1984 alone. Income tax revenue (after inflation) rose 22 percent between 1980 and 1989.
Summer Job Blues. Convinced that the only summer jobs available for teenagers are government jobs, the end of the school year has brought, in the eyes of Garrick Utley, nothing but hardship. On the June 12 NBC Nightly News, Utley focused his "Final Thoughts" on the President's summer jobs program, "an important symbol of the new investment in people. So Clinton put an extra one billon dollars for it in his stimulus package." Thanks to the GOP filibuster, "in New York City, 20,000 young people eligible for jobs won't get them. In Houston, 8,000 will be disappointed. In Memphis, 2,500."
Utley believed the jobs were lost because "Teenagers, frustrated for a lack of a summer job and an uncertain future, don't have a lobby -- at least not in Congress. Their lobby meets on a hot night, on a city street corner." The other side went ignored. On April 16, Denver Post columnist Michael Rosen pointed out: "The 219,000 new jobs promised this year -- half of which, it turns out, are just temporary summer jobs for kids -- will wind up costing taxpayers about $75,000 per job."
Herbert Heats Up. Perpetuating the myth of Ronald Reagan's incompetence has been a trademark of the journalism establishment during the past twelve years. It is also taught in the nation's top journalism school. In a June 21 National Review story, Stephanie Gutmann reported on last fall's orientation program at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. During the first panel discussion, NBC News reporter Bob Herbert lamented: "My generation had a better chance to do good journalism than any other generation in this country's history...I think the best evidence I can give that we do a lousy job covering politics is to look at the politicians: Ronald Reagan was President of us for eight years -- Ronald Reagan! Reporters should have been writing for the entire eight years of his reign that this man was gone, out of it...He should have been covered as a clown."
Herbert, also a columnist for The New York Times, was equally upset by his profession's failure to destroy Dan Quayle: "The Washington Post just did a long series on Vice President Quayle and he came out looking like a reasonably competent human being...That's not good...The Washington Post should not be covering Dan Quayle like that."
Braver's Labels. CBS legal correspondent Rita Braver has shown a penchant for labeling judicial conservatives as "far right" or "ultra-conservative" while soft-pedaling the ideology of liberals. When Supreme Court Justice Byron White announced his retirement on March 19, she said his "leaving will mean that the voting power of the far right will be greatly undercut." More recently, her labeling has shifted into overdrive with President Clinton's nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to replace Justice White.
On the June 14 CBS Evening News, Braver declared Ginsburg is "considered a moderate to liberal, but today she cited this guideline to judging from ultra-conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist." During the following weekend's Sunday Morning, Braver remarked: "You've got to remember this is an extremely conservative Supreme Court, so [Ginsburg's] not really going to be terribly liberal." This is the same "extremely conservative" Court which upheld abortion rights and ruled that breathing second-hand smoke constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" for prisoners.
Leaning Left for Lani. At President Clinton's announcement of Lani Guinier's appointment to be assistant attorney general for civil rights, The Washington Post reported that National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg hugged Guinier. So the decision to dump Guinier didn't please Totenberg. During NPR's All Things Considered on June 4, she complained the White House wouldn't let her help save Guinier: "I personally offered to do an interview, an on-the-record interview with her so that she could explain her views in these articles, because I have known her for some time, and I think she would have trusted me not to do a hatchet job on this. They were not interested in doing this. They were interested in burying her."
Poor Prosecution. Examining New Orleans' overworked public defender's office on June 14, ABC's Day One alleged New Orleans' courts dispense justice based on the defendant's wallet. "Here's what really happens in a court system so burdened and broken down that justice is forgotten and the issues of guilt and innocence become virtually irrelevant," host Forrest Sawyer began.
Instead of blaming criminals for their acts, reporter John Hockenberry charged: "The system encourages guilt and puts a premium on innocence, all the while churning out more and more defendants each year." Who are the victims of this "system?" Hockenberry argued: "On its way from separating the innocent from the guilty, this system separates the poor from everyone else."
So if you're poor, justice's menu is short. "Defendants weigh their choices: jail or pleading guilty to a felony. For the poor in New Orleans, this is justice enough for now," lamented Hockenberry. So who ends up behind bars? "The prison houses the guilty, the innocent, and -- most of all -- the poor," he mourned. A problem for New Orleans only? Hockenberry asserted "everywhere in the United States if you can't afford your own attorney, these are the choices you face."
Gay Rape Ignored. When U.S. Navy Airman Terry Helvey confessed to beating fellow sailor Allen Schindler to death, the case received national coverage. A heterosexual had killed a gay man in the middle of the gays in the military debate. All the networks, except NBC, reported Helvey's confession on May 24. On May 27, all four reported Helvey's life sentence. The major print icons followed suit. The Washington Post carried two stories by T.R. Reid on May 27 and 28, and The New York Times ran four consecutive stories by James Sterngold from May 25-28. Sterngold's May 28 article, like reports by ABC's Bob Zelnick on May 27 and CBS' James Hattori on May 24, raised gay activists' allegations of a Navy coverup to shield criticism of anti-gay bias in the military.
But where were the media when the violence was committed by gay soldiers? On June 4, the Times' Larry Rohter wrote a thorough story on the sentencing of two Navy homosexuals in Jacksonville, Florida. In separate incidents, the convicted gays had raped shipmates. The Post covered both cases in a brief blurb on June 9. And the networks? No story.
Spoon-Fed Hunger News. When does a press release become news? When it highlights yet another crisis requiring government action. Tom Brokaw intoned on the June 16 Nightly News: "Hunger in America. There are some startling facts tonight. A study conducted by the Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Research at Tufts University claims that 12 million American children are malnourished." Not simply occasionally hungry, but malnourished. The Tufts release included no methodology for the claim.
The next night, NBC's Sara James traveled to Los Angeles to relay anecdotes from advocates and recipients of government aid. She passed on this assertion from a hunger advocate: "Demand at food banks and soup kitchens jumped nearly 40 percent in Los Angeles last year." James followed with a soundbite from local Hunger Coalition head Caroline Olney: "The War on Poverty hasn't been fought in the last twelve years." Instead of explaining how spending for food stamps has grown 71 percent since 1989, James concluded: a "UCLA report recommends that the federal government spend an extra twelve billion dollars on food programs but admits that's a long shot given Washington's cost-cutting mood."
Transafrica Fan Club. Bryant Gumbel enjoyed guest-of-honor status at the annual benefit dinner June 4 for the far-left group Transafrica, which spent the 1980s defending communist governments in Grenada and Angola. Last year, Transafrica officials told MediaWatch that Gumbel twice flew to Washington to be briefed by the group's leader, Randall Robinson, before a week-long series of Today shows from Africa. At the dinner, Gumbel received Transafrica's International Journalism Award for -- surprise -- his shows from Africa.
At the dinner, Gumbel told WRC-TV: "I think it's important for people of color to be able to see an institution that basically represents their interests and represents the interests of those countries from which they hail, to which they feel a certain affinity or bond." Gumbel spoke at the reception for the group's Arthur Ashe library and the $175-a-plate dinner. Also attending the reception were ABC's Ted Koppel and CNN anchor Bernard Shaw. Time Warner gave $100,000 for Transafrica's new building.
Bryant Badgers Banker. On June 15, Today co-host Bryant Gumbel summarized a survey attacking greedy banks by the Naderite Public Interest Research Group: "Even as the cost is going up...the interest you get on a savings account is going down. From an average of 5.14 percent three years ago, to now just over 2 and 3/4 percent. While you suffer, bank profits are climbing dramatically."
While Gumbel threw softballs to the PIRG lobbyist, he ripped into his other guest, American Bankers Association head Donald Ogilvy, charging "these numbers seem a terrible indictment of your industry." Ogilvy argued the growing costs from federal regulations drove up account fees. He also explained profits allow banks to rebuild their capital and FDIC funds so stable banks can make loans to small businesses. Gumbel laughed, shooting back: "Well, except for small business isn't seeing that money."
Gumbel then returned to his interest rate canard: "An average savings account...cost is up a whopping 143 percent, but the rate paid [in interest] is down 53 percent." Ogilvy had to explain the obvious: "The cost, Bryant, and the rates have nothing to do with one another. The rates are down because overall interest rates are way down. The government has brought down interest rates."
Revolving Door: City Hall Calling
Christopher Lydon, a former New York Times reporter, has added his name to the crowded field of about a dozen Democratic candidates vying to replace Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. A September primary will narrow the field of those vying to replace the new Ambassador to the Vatican. Following several years with The Boston Globe, in 1968 Lydon moved to The New York Times Washington bureau, where he remained until jumping into television in 1977 with WGBH-TV, Boston's PBS outlet. Lydon anchored WGBH's 10 O'Clock News until its 1991 cancellation.
After 12 years with The Washington Post, Alison Muscatine has moved to the White House as a speechwriter for President Clinton. A sports reporter since 1990, Muscatine previously reported metro news and served as Maryland editor. At the White House, she has joined a writing team that already includes Carolyn Curiel, an editor at the Post in the mid-'80s.
Substituting for Brokaw
Tom Brokaw said no, but Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has found someone else with a NBC connection to say yes. Yes, to becoming Director of the National Park Service. In May, Roger Kennedy, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, accepted the job. The Washingtonian reported that Kennedy started his Washington career by working in the Eisenhower Attorney General's office, a job he took after losing a race for Congress against Eugene McCarthy. In the mid-1950s Kennedy was a Washington correspondent and producer for NBC News.
During an April 16 appearance on C-SPAN's Journalists' Roundtable, host Brian Lamb noted the political jobs once held by husband and wife Joe Albright and Marcia Kunstel, both Cox News Service reporters. They appeared as they were preparing to leave for a stint in Moscow. Lamb noted that Albright once toiled for Ed Muskie and Kunstel for Congressman Emilio Daddario. Kunstel worked in the Democrat's unsuccessful 1970 Connecticut gubernatorial campaign. A Cox foreign correspondent since 1988, Kunstel was a reporter for the Cox-owned Atlanta Journal from 1977 to 1982.
Albright told MediaWatch that he was Newsday's Washington Bureau Chief before jumping to politics as a Legislative Assistant to then Senator Muskie (D-ME) in 1971-72. He started in the Cox Washington bureau in 1976, becoming a foreign correspondent in 1983. Returning to D.C. in 1987, he has continued to concentrate on foreign reporting.
NBC's Narrow Diversity
NBC President Bob Wright, The Washington Post reported July 6, "has modified NBC's `performance appraisal' system to include a review of how individuals support diversity within NBC." Wright explained that NBC will attract "the majority of television viewers" by "diversifying our own workforce." He explained: "Diversity is about inclusion. It's not limited to race or gender. It encompasses religion, age, education, sexual orientation, work/family issues, cultural differences etc."
NBC has former aides to George McGovern, Lyndon Johnson and Mario Cuomo in top positions. So what about a little diversity through hiring more conservatives? Wright didn't mention it.
Reporters Insist Budget is Half Tax Hikes, Half Cuts
Siding with Clinton's Math
During the Senate debate over the Clinton budget plan, Republicans insisted the Democrats would raise at least three times as much money in taxes as they would save in spending cuts. The Clintonites countered that their plan offered half tax hikes and half spending cuts. Guess which side the media favored?
USA Today's Richard Wolf claimed on June 17 that Senate adjustments to Clinton's budget "gives his five-year, $500 billion deficit reduction package slightly more spending cuts than tax increases."
In the June 28 issue, Newsweek Senior Writer Joe Klein complained that "Republicans...have a curious way of calculating the spending-cuts-to-tax-increase ratio: they consider loophole closing -- like Clinton's proposal to reduce the deductibility of business meals from 80 to 50 percent -- a tax increase; thus, Bob Dole can say that the Clinton plan is 3-to-1 taxes to cuts."
U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor Gloria Borger also went to bat for the Clinton budget on the June 18 Washington Week in Review: "The Republicans argue that it's three dollars in tax increases for one dollar in spending cuts, but I think it's really more 50-50. That's an important thing to get out to the American public."
Borger's colleague, David Hage, agreed. In the July 5 issue he reported the ratio in the Democratic House and Senate bills "verge on a 50-50 mix of tax increases and spending cuts, according to U.S. News calculations." Among the "spending cuts" listed: "Debt service and other."
The networks also adopted the White House's one-to-one formula. On the June 23 World News, CNN's Susan Rook noted "the economic package now in the Senate reduces the federal deficit by more than $500 billion dollars with spending cuts and $249 billion in tax increases."
Reporters didn't cite the figures of the Democrats' Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which President Clinton declared to be the official number-crunchers when he introduced his budget in February. The CBO calculated the tax-hike-to-spending-cut ratio at about $2.50-to-$1.
Major media reporters also ignored the House Republican Conference analysis that detailed how $3.45 of the $5 in supposedly new spending cuts shouldn't count. One dollar is really projected debt service savings from projected low interest rates. Another $1.35 comes from unspecified cuts promised in the future, 30 cents from user fees. The final 80 cents represent cuts already approved in the 1990 budget deal, "leaving only $1.55 of true spending cuts in every $10 of deficit reduction."
Globe Concedes Liberal Tilt
Toned Down Bias?
The sale of The Boston Globe to the New York Times Company shook the newspaper industry. It also prompted an equally startling admission from the Globe: liberal bias permeates its news stories. In a June 13 story reviewing the Globe's history, reporter Charles Stein wrote that the Globe is "a paper that has become known -- not always fondly -- as a champion of liberal causes and social justice." Since Editor Tom Winship's 1984 retirement, Stein found "Business coverage has expanded; so has coverage of the arts. And most readers would agree that the Globe's liberal bias has been toned down in news stories."
Toned down? The headline over a Dec. 28, 1989 "Living" section review of the 1980s read: "The decade had its highs (Gorbachev, Bird) and the decade had its lows (Reagan, AIDS)." An October 2, 1990 front page story by Stein on the 1990 budget deal began: "The tax package hammered out last weekend continues a Washington policy established in the Reagan era: It takes a heavy bite out of the paychecks of working class Americans."
In a news story last August 18, during the Republican convention, Curtis Wilkie wrote: "Bush, the exponent of a `kinder, gentler' approach to government at the 1988 convention, was presented with a 1992 platform loaded with puritanical, punitive language that not only forbade abortions but attacked public television, gun control, homosexual rights, birth control clinics and the distribution of clean needles for drug users."
The morning after Bill Clinton's win with 43 percent, Wilkie asserted in a front page piece: "Bill Clinton called for change, but he never dared ask for a mandate as sweeping as the one he received last night. The magnitude of the Democratic triumph was so enormous that it ensures Clinton a strong alliance with Congress and an incentive to move quickly on his domestic programs. Clinton marched to victory in state after state."
In a March 26 news story this year, reporter Peter Gosselin declared: "Clinton has managed to dethrone Reagan's soaring vision of lower taxes as the national cure-all, and replaced it with a more pedestrian ideal, that of paying the nation's bills on time." It's good to know the bias has been "toned down."
Democrats attract voters by attacking the privileges of the rich, but in the June 7 U.S. News & World Report, Senior Writer Edward Pound and reporter Gary Cohen found two major Democrats lived high on the hog at the party's expense. In 1991 and 1992 alone, the Democratic National Committee spent $250,000 on limousine services. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown (then party chairman) and White House aide Alexis Herman (then Brown's chief of staff) were especially compensated.
A 17-day trip to sub-Saharan Africa to promote democracy cost the DNC $36,000, including a $10,000 advance to Brown. While the Democrats lambasted John Sununu for free corporate flights, Brown regularly used a six-passenger jet provided by the Sheet Metal Workers International Union. Herman, unsatisfied with her stay at the fancy Waldorf-Astoria hotel, moved to $4,000-a-month apartment while planning the Democratic convention, partially paid with tax dollars. Did other reporters leap on the DNC story as they jumped on Air Sununu? No. The story went nowhere.
WIN Can't Win
What happens when a self-proclaimed "pro-choice, Democratic" organization recruits prominent female journalists to be guests at a fund-raising dinner? In the May 29 National Journal, Paul Starobin chronicled the reaction when the Women's Information Network (WIN) did just that.
UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas refused, saying "wire service people have to be as impartial and objective as humanly possible." Six journalists initially agreed to the dinner, but when told it was a fund-raiser, five backed out. Bowing out were USA Today's Judi Hasson, National Public Radio's Mara Liasson, and The Wall Street Journal's Jill Abramson. The sole holdout was Dotty Lynch, political editor for CBS News, who had also been unaware of the abortion-rights character of WIN. Lynch noted "I don't know if they're aware that they have a pro-life person on their agenda." In the end, WIN canceled the event.
In a refreshing display of candor, one of the media's own criticized reporters during a commencement address at Williams College. On June 8, The Boston Globe's Cate Chant reported that Jim Lehrer, co-anchor of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, took his colleagues to task for "snide arrogance."
Lehrer even suggested that viewers boycott news media they find offensive. "Do not tolerate lousy, arrogant, snide journalism," he told the graduates. "If someone does it in the newspaper you read or on the TV news you watch...complain. Don't watch those programs." He even said journalists think they know more than everyone else. "There is a stench of contempt...only the journalists of America are smart enough to know what to do in Bosnia, about health care."
No 'Left-Liberal Line' in Essays
Responding to MediaWatch's June Review "Scott Simon's Simple Sermons," Simon wrote: "Thanks for the accurate quotations from my essays on Weekend Today over these past ten months. I do think, however, you overlooked instances in those essays where I expressed approval of former Presidents Bush and Reagan, and criticized old communist regimes and left-wing rebel movements."
He didn't identify when he criticized left-wing rebels, but he did explain: "When I `jibed,' as you put it, that `Reporters were never asked to make up former President Reagan, although, it often seemed, they were willing to shine his shoes,' the `jibe' was at my own profession, even at myself." Of course, thinking reporters were too kind to Reagan's policies reflects a liberal view.
Simon recalled: "My essays have defended George Bush on Iraq and assailed Bill Clinton over his inaugural spending, cabinet choices and for not standing by those cabinet choices; defended the millions of dollars spent to develop a toilet aboard the space shuttle, and criticized the firing of Mike Ditka. I proposed a few facetious plots for New Age Espionage stories....I ruminated over the significance of a railcar in the Holocaust Museum -- and asked if the crimes we recognize and revile thru the telescope of history aren't being revisited in Bosnia. Frankly, I don't detect the `left-liberal line' you see running thru this series of viewpoints. A skeptic might even call them contradictory, instead of consistent."
Janet Cooke Award: Discovery Channel Series Starts Out As Slanted As CBS
Cronkite's Industrial-Policy Informercial
Twelve years after leaving the anchor desk at CBS, Walter Cronkite is coming out of retirement -- just a little bit -- with a new quarterly series, The Cronkite Report, on cable's Discovery Channel. Will the series be balanced, or a chip off the old biased CBS block? The first installment on May 28, "Help Unwanted," looked more like the latter. For its imbalance of experts, mangled statistics, and liberal industrial-policy pleadings, Cronkite earned the Janet Cooke Award.
The show focused on American unemployment and how to shrink it. But Cronkite's central thesis -- "what this program was about was the inescapable tragedy of growing unemployment and the inescapable conclusion that there is a permanency to it that we are not addressing" -- isn't borne out by the facts. Unemployment stands at 7 percent, lower than much of the 1980s. As for permanency, Cronkite may want to debate economics columnist Robert Samuelson, who pointed out in the June 23 Washington Post: "In 1992, nearly half of Europe's jobless had been unemployed for more than a year; in the United States, only 6 percent were."
Cronkite disparaged market solutions to unemployment: "The free market. While the government helped build the trains and roads to help bring the United States into the 20th century, the economic philosophy of this country has been laissez-faire. Germany and Japan, on the other hand, give industry broad government support. The Japanese government invests 58 percent more than the United States in civilian research and development, Germany 42 percent. But American business always has fought a government-guided industrial strategy. They called it socialism. Now, many are calling it 21st century economics."
Samuelson pointed out that despite their industrial policies, Europe has more persistent unemployment -- Cronkite's central thesis -- than the United States. Wrote Samuelson: "Between 1965 and 1991, the European Community generated only 13 million new jobs, less than half the growth of the working population...In the same period, the United States created 46 million new jobs...In 1972, the EC's unemployment rate was 2.9 percent; by 1982, it was 9 percent." In Germany alone, unemployment surged from 0.5 percent in 1970 to 6.3 percent in 1987.
But Cronkite argued that the U.S. needs a European-style industrial policy, a public-private partnership of government-led investment in the economy. Cronkite's experts were all proponents of industrial policy -- Labor Secretary Robert Reich, MIT economist Lester Thurow, investment adviser Felix Rohatyn, Harvard historian Paul Kennedy, CEOs John Sculley of Apple and Akio Morita of Sony, Harley Shaiken of the University of California, and British official Gillian Shepherd. To round out the wonkfest, Cronkite interviewed Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Conservatives were ignored, but Cronkite did find many tearful unemployed workers and union bosses glumly worrying about their future.
In a long interview, Cronkite asked President Clinton if his industrial-policy solutions would pass: "To implement these programs, it's going to take the support of the people, and through them the Congress. And yet, as they're beginning to learn more of the details of the sacrifice necessary in taxes and so forth, some of the support for this is ebbing. Are you getting discouraged at all?"
Cronkite concluded with a speech laying out his liberal vision: "Today, government and industry, with the support of us the people ...must devise a long-term plan, a national strategy. It would require industry to invest more of its profits, to make better products, to improve research and development, to modernize tools and constantly retrain its work force. It would require all of us to invest more of our income -- that's taxes -- into preparing the next generation through education and training to give it a chance to live at least part of, and keep alive, the American dream. And we all would have to share more, to improve the lot of our disadvantaged, to narrow considerably the differences in opportunity that are rapidly and dangerously dividing America."
Cronkite sold his Clintonesque program with dubious figures: "In the last decade, 60 percent of American families saw their incomes decline despite the increase in working women. In 1980, 20 percent of young American men who worked full-time earned below the poverty line for a family of three. In 1990, that figure doubled to 40 percent."
In his interview with President Clinton, Cronkite repeated his charge: "The real income of the American family has been dropping for 20 years almost now...How do we restore the American dream?" Clinton subtly undercut Cronkite, acknowledging family income increased in the 1980s. In fact, Census Bureau data show that average family income grew in every fifth of earners from 1982 to 1989.
As for young men below the poverty line, Chris Frenze, senior Republican economist for the Joint Economic Committee, told MediaWatch: "That's a ridiculous measurement. It's not really meaningful for men aged 18-24 to have incomes to support families of three or four when most of them aren't married or have families to support." Frenze said one Census Bureau report did include numbers close to Cronkite's. But according to that same Census study, of the year-round full-time workers with earnings below the poverty line for a family of four, only 15.8 percent lived under the poverty line for their own family size in 1979. That fell to 12.9 percent in 1990. For husbands in married-couple families, the percentage under the poverty line fell from 35.7 percent in 1979 to 21.4 percent in 1990.
But Cronkite pretended the 1980s did not exist. He asked Al Gore: "Where do we get the large numbers to take care of our millions of unemployed?" He ignored that 18 million jobs were created in the 1980s, dropping the annual jobless rate from 9.5 percent in 1982 to 5.2 percent in 1989.
Despite Cronkite's stumbling with numbers, Jonathan Ward, Cronkite's production firm partner, told the Boston Herald that with the Cronkite cachet, "We have to be extremely careful about our facts, our figures and our approach." Ward failed to return a week of MediaWatch calls, but an assistant, Karen Gilmore, did call to see what we would ask. When told of the program's spurious claims on family income, Gilmore responded: "I think that difference is because of inflation." When told the Census figures were inflation-adjusted, Gilmore replied: "I'm sure there are many different ways of reading the statistics."
But Cronkite found no one who had a different way of reading statistics than he did. Cronkite's show wasn't a debate, but a one-sided lecture, too much like the journalism of the network he long represented.