In This Issue
Christian Coalition Regularly Places on the Right, NAACP Almost Never on the Left; NewsBites: Dumping on D'Amato; Revolving Door: Price to Urban League; Reporters Portray Religious Right as Extreme, Take Moderates' Side; CBS Mourns Spies, Traitors; Peggy on Prayer; Dared to Call ABC News Liberal; Janet Cooke Award: Liberal Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pays for Pro-Clinton Health Care Special
Christian Coalition Regularly Places on the Right, NAACP Almost Never on the Left
Religious Right vs. "Civil Rights"
Political action sizzled on both sides of the ideological divide in June. Republican convention victories in Virginia, Texas, and Minnesota spurred a new look at the dedication and muscle of social conservatives. On the left, Ben Chavis, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), convened a summit of radical black leaders that included the anti-white, anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
But the main difference between the two unfolding stories was that reporters portrayed the social conservatives as the "religious right" or even the "far right," while the NAACP, instead of being criticized for legitimizing black racists like Farrakhan, was portrayed as not being liberal enough, of trying to shake itself out of a "moderate" cast.
CBS Evening News promos charged "Dolly Madison McKenna is a moderate Republican. But hold on: she feels like a stranger in her own party. Far-right conservatives want to stall her candidacy. So ask yourself this: can a middle-of-the-road Republican make it in today's GOP?" The June 13 story by Bob McNamara aired a Texas Republican calling religious conservatives "more dangerous than the threat of communism."
In that same newscast, reporter Jacqueline Adams portrayed the NAACP negatively -- not as extreme, but as not liberal enough. Adams said "this venerable civil rights organization seems to have lost many who seem to still need its help" and was struggling to "retain its relevance." Adams concluded that the summit was "a far cry from marching on Washington or pushing through voting rights legislation. But participants believed their summit has symbolic value...Sadly, the leaders concede that hope is perhaps the most this summit will produce."
To study the divergence in labeling, MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis data retrieval system to review every news story on the Christian Coalition and the NAACP from the start of 1991 to the end of June in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. Reporters were 150 times more likely to label the Christian Coalition "conservative" than tag the NAACP "liberal."
In 157 of 328 stories (47.9 percent), the Christian Coalition drew a conservative label. When reporters didn't label the Christian Coalition as "conservative" or "religious right," they often referred to the group as "Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition," mentioning the Robertson link in 171 stories (52.1 percent).
By contrast, in 2,707 stories, reporters described the NAACP as liberal only 8 times (0.3 percent). Analysts reviewed 281 news stories on the separate NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (or as they abbreviate it, LDF), which was labeled liberal only once (0.35 percent).
Reporters weren't always satisfied with the term "conservative" to describe the Christian Coalition. The Washington Post used "far right" once, "hard right" once, and "religious zealots" once. The Los Angeles Times called them "right-wing extremists." The New York Times found them to be "hardliners." USA Today turned to the adjectives "zealous" and "vociferous" once each.
So did reporters classify the NAACP as "left-wing zealots"? After all, in April, Chavis invited 50 black radicals to a meeting, including rapper Sister Souljah, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Professor Leonard Jeffries, who calls whites "ice people" who are inferior to blacks, and Angela Davis, the two-time vice presidential candidate of the Communist Party USA. Chavis and Davis have led the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a legal defense arm of the Communist Party USA, as reported by Steven Schwartz in last August's American Spectator. None of the newspapers reported that.
Reporters never used any label of extremism for the NAACP. In fact, the NAACP's liberal labels were balanced by reporters describing them as moderate or mainstream. The Washington Post identified them as "liberal" twice (counting Clarence Thomas seeking support from "more liberal NAACP members"), and cited the group's official claim they're "nonpartisan" twice. The Los Angeles Times described the NAACP as "liberal" twice, but also as "moderate" once and "mainstream" once. USA Today countered its two labels (including "largely liberal") with one "nonpartisan."
The New York Times described the NAACP only as "liberal to moderate" and among "groups that exert great influence over liberal Democrats." But in news stories on April 10 and 16, 1994, Times reporter Steven Holmes referred to "conservatives and moderates within the NAACP" as objecting to new leader Benjamin Chavis, and that the "mainstream" organization was testing its relationships with "more radical groups." Holmes did explain about Chavis: "His closest advisers are a longtime legal counsel to...Louis Farrakhan and a former official of the Marxist government in Grenada." But in June, the Times wrote that the NAACP's secret "summit" spurred "rumbles inside and outside of the traditionally moderate organization." A Times Magazine article said the NAACP "represented largely middle-class, politically moderate blacks."
Newspapers preferred the term "civil rights group." On August 8, 1991, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (which includes the NAACP) opposed Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, and the New York Times story was headlined: "Another Rights Group Says No to Thomas." Six days later, the LDF's opposition drew the Times headline: "Another Rights Group Is Opposing Judge Thomas."
But on November 13, 1992, the Times announced in a headline: "Conservatives Set to Fight on Judicial Nominees." Reporter Neil Lewis wrote that Free Congress legal specialist Thomas Jipping "would work with such groups as the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, both with unyielding conservative social agendas." The Los Angeles Times couldn't even keep bias out of its TV listings on September 26, 1992: "Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition and Phyllis Schlafly, President of the Eagle Forum, discuss the views of the far right on Meet the Press."
In the summer of 1992, The Washington Post described the Christian Coalition when George Bush came to speak: "the group many credit, and many blame, for pushing last month's Republican National Convention dramatically to the right...According to polls, many voters have not taken well to the fiercely anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-feminist rhetoric typified by the Christian Coalition, the political arm of evangelist Pat Robertson."
NewsBites: Dumping on D'Amato
Senator Al D'Amato should start whining about how tough the media is on him. He might shame them into giving him Hillary Clinton's kid glove treatment. When the March 18 New York Times disclosed the $100,000 Mrs. Clinton made through commodities trades, the networks ignored it. On ABC, reporter Brit Hume mentioned it in passing one week later. World News Tonight, led by Executive Producer/Clinton golf buddy Rick Kaplan, didn't devote a whole piece to the commodities deal until fully 11 days after it was first reported. When Roll Call, a small-circulation newspaper about Congress, revealed on June 16 that D'Amato made $35,000 on stock in an initial public offering, the very next day World News Tonight devoted an entire story to it, reported by Jackie Judd.
Why Call Limbaugh?
In the June 16 Los Angeles Times, Mike Clary reported that "stagnant sales and a stepped-up national boycott" are "putting the squeeze on the state Citrus Commission to can" Rush Limbaugh's ads for Florida orange juice. Clary described Limbaugh's show as "bashing gays, environmentalists, and Democrats." Unfortunately, Clary managed to squeeze out Rush's side of the story as well. Rush told MediaWatch: "No one here was contacted by Mike Clary."
However, Clary let boycott organizer and NOW President Patricia Ireland excoriate Rush's "hateful, divisive fanatacism," and added a state senator who didn't want "people who will engender hate, disregard for minorities, or represent any political philosophy" to represent Florida citrus. The only dissent was a mild statement from a commission spokeswoman regretting the controversy. Clary reported that calls and faxes to the Florida Citrus Commission were running 4-1 against Rush, but failed to mention that Rush told listeners not to call.
Apparently realizing their error, the paper ran a follow-up article from Clary eight days later quoting Limbaugh on his June 17 radio show: "The temptation is great to give you the number and have you call...the objective is not generating phone calls; we know we can do that...the single best thing you can do is buy orange juice." It's nice the Times still believes in getting both sides of the story. Maybe next time they won't take eight days to do their job.
Putting Feminism First
Reporters rarely admit their political leanings, but on the network morning shows, the female anchors are never shy in identifying themselves as part of the feminist movement. The words "feminist" and "we" are often interchanged as in a June 2 Today interview when Katie Couric asked author of Who Stole Feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers, "what should we be using other than this angry rhetoric" in the feminist movement?
But a much more pernicious form of bias was revealed when the talk turned to statistics. Sommers is very critical of the now thoroughly discredited statistic that domestic violence increases after football games. Sommers thinks the misuse of statistics discredits the cause. But Couric suggested the feminist cause is more important than the truth: "Let's say, if one accepts your thesis, that these statistics are inflated or are used incorrectly. Aren't you worried about throwing the baby out with the bath water? So Super Bowl Sunday isn't the biggest day for men battering women, aren't you afraid that you're going to be dismissing the problem all together if you refute that, or if you constantly criticize that?"
Paula Jones made the rounds of major media interviews in June, and the liberals' reviews weren't exactly positive. While her Prime Time Live interviewer, Sam Donaldson, told The Washington Times "she tells a plausible story," Good Morning America co-host Charles Gibson didn't think so in a June 16 interview with Donaldson. "Sam -- `not trying to hurt the President?' Did she say that with a straight face?...Why does anyone care what this woman has to say?"
Time and Newsweek failed to use their interviews with Jones. "We're certainly under no obligation to print anything," Time Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame told The Washington Post. Instead, Time's June 27 issue ran a Michael Kramer column on "Why Paula Jones Should Wait," in which he touted Clinton's "impressive" case. Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas told the Post: "We didn't learn anything we didn't already know." Instead, Newsweek repeated its attack on Jones in the July 11 issue: "Former Clinton aides from Arkansas are depicting Paula Jones as a groupie, who, far from acting like a victim of harassment, hung around Clinton's office `giggling and carrying on' after her alleged hotel encounter."
Both Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine published articles identically titled "Reagan's Revenge," blaming the former President for leaving Clinton penniless and unable to implement his social agenda. In the June 19 Times Magazine, liberal historian Alan Brinkley accused Reagan of forcing the Clinton administration to consider "a kind of social cannibalism: raids on such hitherto sacrosanct liberal programs such as food stamps, Medicare, public assistance to legal immigrants and aid for the homeless."
Economic writer Rich Thomas declared in the July 4 Newsweek: "The reason Clinton's programs aren't passing -- at least on the grand scale he once envisioned -- is that there is no money....Bill Clinton's frustration is Ronald Reagan's revenge. The two-term Republican President, aided and abetted by a fiscally careless Congress, left the federal coffers so depleted that it will be years before any President has the funds to win passage of serious new policy initiatives."
OMB estimates show the budget is rising $80-100 billion a year. Thomas blamed "entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ...(the latter two are rising $32 billion this year)," but if Clinton held the line he could spend that $32 billion on his programs. Instead he proposed a new health care entitlement the GOP 1994 Joint Economic Report calls "the largest entitlement program and tax increase in U.S. history."
The current state of American cities a result of Reagan-Bush budget slashing? Time thinks so. John Dickerson's May 23 article propagated the myth of cities suffering from a funding drought during the '80s. Discussing the new breed of budget-cutting mayors, Dickerson noted grimly, "The mayors see little alternative. Since 1981, two-thirds of federal support for the cities has dried up." Dickerson told MediaWatch he got his statistics from the National League of Cities, a lobbying group for big-city mayors. Included in the NLC's tally are programs rejected by both parties, including revenue sharing and Urban Development Action Grants, which subsidized construction of five-star Hyatt hotels in inner-city Detroit.
The truth is more complicated. In "The Myth of America's Underfunded Cities," Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel of the Cato Institute showed that while direct aid to the cities went down, "Aid to poor people living in cities increased. Federal social welfare spending rose from $255 billion to $285 billion in real dollars from 1980 to 1992." In fact, "In real terms, cities and states received more federal money in 1992 than in any previous year."
Time's One-Party Ballot
Those who picked up the June 6 Time magazine found a postcard enclosed, addressed to Congress, asking the reader to give their preferred solution for the health care system. Billed as "A Chance to Be Heard," the reader's choices consisted only of three Democratic plans.
In a half-page summary of bills before Congress, Time included the Clinton plan; "an alternative...palatable to many conservatives, proposed by House Democrat Jim Cooper of Tennessee, would rely on improved market competition through voluntary purchasing cooperatives"; and finally, the "bill proposed by House Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington. Modeled on the single-payer Canadian system, it puts the government in charge of allocating health care resources."
Why no Republican health proposals? Perhaps Time's favoritism for Democratic reform plans reflects company policy. After all, corporate parent Time-Warner was the largest single donor to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over the past 21 months, according to Common Cause, adding $508,333 to DNC coffers.
Knocking Sam Brown Down
The same Time magazine that attacked Reagan and Bush nominees has now supported Clinton foreign policy nominees Morton Halperin, Strobe Talbott, and Sam Brown. In a June 6 article on Sam Brown's appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Time columnist Margaret Carlson began: "Why are good people reluctant to serve in government? All the civics student needs to know can be found in the saga of the nomination of Sam Brown." Carlson said of Colorado's Republican Senator: "No one understands why Hank Brown has decided to make Sam Brown his personal nemesis..Some think Hank Brown simply wants to zing the President, refight the Vietnam War and triumph over an old rival."
It could be about what the June 9 Washington Times termed "some very vociferous and anti-American comments and actions of Mr. Brown's over the years." In 1970 Brown declared: "Part of me wanted to blow up buildings, and I decided that those who have waged this war really should be treated as war criminals." In 1977, while a Carter Administration official, he proclaimed: "I take second place to no one in my hatred of the intelligence agencies." That same year he participated in a New York rally staged by the communist rulers of Vietnam. Yet Carlson claimed Brown "was at the suit-and-tie end of the antiwar movement and was inside the convention handling Senator Eugene McCarthy's delegates, nowhere near the Yippies."
East German Justice?
Stephen Wechsler is a U.S. Army deserter and unrepentant communist who returned from East Germany after 42 years to attend his Harvard reunion. To reporter Marc Fisher in a June 20 Washington Post "Style" profile, he's "a soft kid who dreamed of justice."
Fisher quoted Wechsler's recent "dream of a world without hunger...racist violence...where every nationality and every human being is equally regarded and equally secured from life's worst hazards," but didn't mention the East German hazard of getting shot while trying to escape. Instead, Fisher portrayed Wechsler as the victim: "Wechsler's decision to lie about his communist activities on his Army enlistment papers grew out of the intolerance of the McCarthy years....He decided to flee rather than fight against the ideological barriers and blacklists." Failing to quote anyone critical of his support for a murderous regime, Fischer found space to note that Wechsler informed a New York store clerk that "he had gone 30 years without seeing beggars, that he had never seen muggers or a joint."
Today co-host Bryant Gumbel took on the Lake County (Fla.) School Board policy stressing the superiority of America's heritage in the curriculum. During the May 27 interview, Gumbel threw softballs to Florida Secretary of Education Doug Jamerson, then became aggressive while questioning State Rep. Tom Feeney, who defended the curriculum. When Feeney said immigrants rush in because they think the U.S. is superior, Gumbel retorted: "Don't they come to this country because it affords them the kind of freedom from the very kind of superior attitudes you're espousing?" Gumbel concluded: "Well, if they are that superior, you shouldn't have to order people to teach it, it seems, either, Mr. Feeney."
Revolving Door: Price to Urban League
The National Urban League has named a PBS station executive as its new President. In March, the League selected Hugh Price, Senior Vice President and Director of Production at WNET in New York for six years ending in 1988. As one of public television's major production facilities for all PBS stations, Price oversaw WNET's daily creation of numerous PBS public affairs programs, including The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
Reginald Brack Jr., Chairman of the League's Board of Trustees and also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Time Inc., declared that Price "brings experience, vision, creativity and leadership to the Urban League at a time when the African American community is in great need of an effective advocate for equal opportunities and a defender of hard-earned civil rights."
Into the Wilderness
The Wilderness Society has enlisted two network radio veterans in its anti-property rights efforts, which include further restrictions of logging, higher mining rights fees and expansion of the endangered species list. Brenda Box, National Journal reported in June, has come aboard the national headquarters staff as Broadcast Director. An anchor for Westwood One's NBC Radio and previously for the UPI Radio network, Box will work with Jerry Greenberg, the Society's new Assistant Public Affairs Director who will handle print media. Greenberg's experience includes stints as a California-based reporter for the Associated Press Radio Network and National Public Radio.
A Wynning Team
Sharon McGill, a former ABC News producer, has replaced Sandy Moore, another television veteran, as Press Secretary to Congressman Al Wynn, a liberal Maryland Democrat. In the late '80s, McGill served as an Associate Producer in ABC's Washington bureau. Roll Call reported that during her four years with the network she worked on World News Tonight, This Week with David Brinkley and Nightline. McGill's predecessor, Moore, had come to Wynn's office from a TV reporting position at Hearst Broadcasting's Washington bureau....
On the GOP side, moderate Republican Amo Houghton of New York has signed up Chet Lunner, a Gannett and USA Today reporter, as his Press Secretary. A veteran of newspapers in New York and Maine, for the past few years he's been a general assignment reporter out of Washington for Gannett.
Today to Hillary to TBS
After 17 years as a reporter for NBC News and two working for the Clintons, Heidi Schulman served as co-writer and producer of A Century of Women, a six-hour, three-night, early-June tour de force of American feminist history on cable's TBS. Late last year Schulman signed a one-year programming consultant deal with the U.S. Information Agency. During the 1992 campaign she worked on Hillary Rodham Clinton's staff as a liaison with the Hollywood entertainment community. Other than Phyllis Schlafly talking about the ERA and a woman who spoke warmly of having been a '50s housewife, no one in the Jane Fonda-narrated show articulated a traditional viewpoint. The series also offered one-sided presentations on several controversial topics, including Roe v. Wade and the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.
Reporters Portray Religious Right as Extreme, Take Moderates' Side
Wishing Allen Quist Would Quit
When do the media side with Republicans? When they're liberals challenged by conservatives. Take coverage of liberal Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson's loss to religious conservative Allen Quist in a party convention. On the June 15 Inside Politics, CNN's Deborah Potter focused on the concerns of moderates: "To some moderate Republicans the Quists...and their supporters are extremist zealots who pack the party caucuses and shut out long-time Republican activists from the state convention."
ABC's Aaron Brown introduced a June 23 Nightline report by declaring: "What is called the religious right, the most conservative element in the Republican Party, staged a coup in Minnesota, a state where politics, Democratic and Republican, has almost always been defined by the words moderate and progressive." Brown claimed: "They have embraced politics with an energy and commitment and you will forgive both the word play and language, they are scaring the hell out of the Republican establishment."
Cokie Roberts continued the theme: "This man is sending chills through the Republican Party. Allen Quist, soybean farmer, managed to wrest the state party endorsement from the sitting Republican governor." Echoing the complaints of Carlson and his supporters, Roberts warned of "the possible McGovernization of the Republican Party, doing to the Republicans what the Democrats did to themselves, by being too far left through the primary process. The Republicans could easily end up being too far right."
Richard Lacayo painted Carlson as victimized by ideologues in the June 27 Time. He wrote: "[Gov.] Carlson, a fiscal conservative who eliminated the state's deficit, is a moderate on many social issues. That means he's out of favor with the troops of the religious right who have seized power in the state Republican Party."
Actually, Carlson's economic policies have angered Republicans. In "A Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 1994," the Cato Institute's Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel rated Democrat Douglas Wilder of Virginia highest, but gave Carlson a "D." They noted that Carlson "has created several new spending programs, including a universal health care program called HealthRight, which will cost state taxpayers $250 million a year...the income tax and sales tax have been raised by $650 per family in his first year alone."
Did the media blame Bush's 1990 tax hike deal for pushing Republicans too far to the left? No, but Lacayo opined "Christian conservatives did much to set the belligerent tone of the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston -- which, to put it mildly, was no great advantage to George Bush."
CBS Mourns Spies, Traitors
In the most recent media dose of Cold War revisionism, Dan Rather examined the TV confrontation between CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy in a special hour-long June 15 CBS Reports. Rather began by characterizing the 1950s as "a time of blacklists and witch-hunts and red baiting; a time that took Senator [Joseph] McCarthy's name -- `The McCarthy Era' -- a time when America trembled."
In a program filled with McCarthy detractors, admitted communists and fellow travelers, Rather glorified the "integrity and honor" of Murrow while failing to mention the atrocities that made the communist threat more lethal in the long term than even Hitler. Even a convicted spy raised hardly an eyebrow as Rather described Alger Hiss as "a former US State Department official accused of spying for the Soviets."
By contrast, columnist Jack Anderson intoned "Joe McCarthy looked more like he ought to be in prison, where he probably should have gone, than be in the United States Senate." Former Washington Post reporter Murrey Marder declared "McCarthy was the supreme fraud of all times."
Film director Edward Dmytryk and his lawyer Bartley Crum were held up as victims of McCarthy. Rather reported: "Bartley Crum committed suicide in 1959, but not before giving into the FBI and revealing the names of Communist Party members." Rather left out that Dmytryk was an admitted communist and, in the words of William F. Buckley, "Bartley Crum was a prominent fellow traveler who ardently defended the Communists, in print and in court...His suicide, two years after McCarthy's death, was unrelated to McCarthy."
Rather introduced Murrow as the dragon slayer: "The question was: Who would stand up to McCarthy? Many people did, but it was Edward R. Murrow's opposition on television that signaled the end of Joe McCarthy." According to Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi, however, "CBS's decision to air the show came well after McCarthy's power and influence had begun to wane." Ironically, Farhi wrote, at that same time, CBS "was engaging in McCarthyite `blacklisting,' preventing writers and actors suspected of communist sympathies from working on network programs."
Peggy on Prayer
Recently, reporting of conservative Christians has focused on their supposed "takeovers" of local school boards and the GOP. But seldom-used ABC religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer began a three part series of "American Agenda" segments examining the hostility which Christian children and their beliefs often face in public schools.
On the June 21 World News Tonight, she noted: "The courts banned school-sponsored prayer in 1962 and gradually raised the wall of separation between church and state. Now many believe the wall is too high, squeezing out religious expression that's protected by the Constitution."
Wehmeyer made an often-ignored distinction. "The First Amendment clearly protects the rights of students to pray and to express their religious beliefs at school as long as they've initiated it. It's the teachers or school authorities who aren't allowed to endorse religion." Citing three students afraid to show their faith in school, she realized "religion -- particularly conservative Christianity -- is often unwelcome in the public square" and added "Bill Bennett says anti-Christian bias is fashionable among the nation's elite -- intellectuals who shape the courts, media, and schools."
After airing an opposing viewpoint from liberal Barry Lynn, Wehmeyer concluded that "when...religion is forbidden altogether, children may get the troubling message that faith and spirituality are of no value." Equally troubling has been the rarity of news segments like Wehmeyer's on the networks.
France's Other Face
Running against the trend suggesting that America emulate France's massive government programs, Newsweek's Theodore Stanger and Marcus Mabry noted the other side of those guarantees in a June 20 story: "Labor costs are already higher than anywhere else except Germany...Total social-welfare costs equal nearly 45 percent of GNP, the highest share in the world." Stanger and Mabry concluded that the idea of new state-subsidized menial jobs "is not a solution. But it would be very French."
Dared to Call ABC News Liberal
Why Rooney Was Dumped
Recent comments from some ABC News staffers to The Boston Globe revealed that Emily Rooney's declaration that the media reflect a liberal bias was, in fact, a factor in getting her deposed in January from her position as World News Tonight Executive Producer. This month Rooney moved to Fox as Senior Producer of Front Page, a news magazine show returning in new form this fall.
In an address at Harvard in February, Rooney recalled how she had told Electronic Media last September that in assembling the American Agenda segments "there is an editing process that goes on intellectually in the newsroom that has to do with contrary point of view and largely -- people in the media, because of their activist point of view, are largely liberal. And my simple statement was that I wanted to be more inclusive without being ponderous and lecturing or trying to convert people to another point of view."
"It seemed honest and forthright and fairly tame to me, but it created a lot of waves," Rooney explained in an April 17 appearance on Lifetime's Clapprood Live. Indeed. "It was possibly the most brainless thing I ever saw in print," one unidentified ABC reporter told Boston Globe TV critic Ed Siegel in a June 12 article. The ABC reporter explained: "The `liberalism' of the press is something I get a lot in letters or lectures. For me and everybody in this business worth a damn, letting your point of view into a story is something you don't allow to happen...For her to suggest that's what we're doing -- I was incredulous, I thought she must have been misquoted. That was an insult to everybody on the broadcast."
Siegel explained the indignation: "It is one thing to be called a biased journalist by a right-wing talk show host...it is another to be called that by your new boss." But another quote cited by Siegel showed the problem may be that instead of examining ABC's content, staffers believe image over reality: "One ABC producer laughs at the notion of Arledge, Jennings or anyone else who has suasion over network news being liberal thought police. `These guys are millionaires driving around in fancy new cars and worrying about how much more money they have to pay under the Clinton tax plan. They're not liberals.'"
Janet Cooke Award: Liberal Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pays for Pro-Clinton Health Care Special
NBC Takes the Money and Runs...Left
NBC raised a lot of eyebrows by accepting $3.5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its two-hour, commercial-free June 21 health care special, To Your Health. Five foundation fellows served on Hillary Clinton's secret task force, and when that secrecy became an issue, the foundation spent $500,000 for four town meetings featuring the First Lady.
In 1991, foundation president Dr. Steven Schroeder told The Chronicle of Philanthropy: "We are very conscious that fundamental change [in health] is not going to happen without government...Many of our recent grants have been predicated on the idea that we would get government involved."
On CNBC's Tim Russert May 9, Tom Brokaw said: "I can assure you that I wouldn't be involved with that program in any fashion if it were being directed or if it were being engineered by a special interest group."
Several conservatives (including MediaWatch publisher L. Brent Bozell) wrote to NBC President Robert Wright charging the grant "constitutes an appearance of partisanship." In a phone conversation, David Bohrman, the show's Executive Producer, gave Bozell his word the show would be balanced and pursue all aspects of the debate. But NBC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
The special, a series of pre-taped segments followed by discussions with on-stage panels and an audience at Washington's Warner Theater, tilted in favor of pro-government spokesmen and failed to explore conservative policy options. Hillary Clinton was the sole guest for the first half-hour, referring to NBC's anecdotes as proof of the need for the Clinton plan. On-stage panelists leaned two-to-one in favor of the Clinton plan or single-payer. Speakers from the audience also leaned to the liberal side by two to one.
Bohrman told MediaWatch: "We went back and timed out everything in the broadcast. No matter how you add it up or take a look at it, it was very well-balanced." But when MediaWatch suggested the ratio was more like 2 to 1, Bohrman changed his spin: "Whenever any two people try to add it up, you get a different number...What adds to the perception may have been that there was such a large dose of Tom and Mrs. Clinton at the beginning."
The program's pre-packaged news features were mostly horror stories: uninsured parents of kids with dramatic medical problems, or a woman who couldn't fund home care for her mother. Those sufferers were brought into the theater to demand more government. Reporter Maria Shriver added to one victim's demand: "And you want it now!"
Shriver began her series of segments by declaring: "There are at any one time during the year as many as 58 million Americans who have no insurance." Cato Institute analyst Michael Tanner, one of the conservatives who spoke during the NBC show, told MediaWatch: "Shriver misstated that. According to the numbers everyone uses from the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the figure is 58 million at some time during the year, but 37 million at any one time. Of those 37 million, half of those go uninsured for four months or less; 70 percent for less than a year. The number who are uninsured and uninsurable is about one percent."
Later, Shriver presented a emotional profile of a dying man whose insurance company refused to pay for his cancer treatment because he had a pre-existing condition. But she then explained this victim filed a claim for cancer treatment just 15 days after he bought his insurance. Placing no blame on the man's failure to plan ahead, Shriver declared: "There are few safety nets for Alan and an estimated 81 million Americans under the age of 65 who suffer from illnesses that were diagnosed before their medical insurance went into effect."
Both the 58 million and 81 million estimates were used in Bill Clinton's 1994 State of the Union. On January 26, CNN's Jeanne Meserve monitored the President's speech for accuracy: "It's true that 58 million are without insurance for some part of the year, but often only for a few weeks as they switch jobs. The number of hardcore uninsured is much smaller. As for the claim that 81 million Americans have pre-existing conditions, impartial experts say they have never seen such a number and that it defies logic." But Bohrman told MediaWatch: "We feel very comfortable with the numbers."
Instead of exploring deregulation or medical savings accounts, which Tanner notes is in "at least 16 bills before Congress, with nearly 200 co-sponsors," NBC portrayed radio talk show hosts as rude partisan obstacles to a constructive solution. "It can get personal and it can get rough," said reporter Brian Williams. "Health care is what America is talking about up and down the AM dial. It's where to go for the thunder on the right...If most of the talk seems negative, that's because it is."
But a 1993 poll by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press contradicted the media stereotype: talk radio hosts preferred Clinton in 1992, 38 percent to 23 percent for Bush and 18 percent for Perot.
Williams spotlighted ideology: "They don't get any more conservative than Michael Reagan, son of the former President....conservative talk show hosts attract conservative listeners, many of them retirees and well-off financially." None of the left-wing spokesmen were labeled as "liberal" or "socialist," including Williams' story on single-payer activists in California.
NBC focused on the beneficiaries of insurance, not the payers. In one segment, reporter Brian Williams found one mother who repeatedly brings her child into emergency rooms: "She never sees a bill and she likes the convenience." NBC didn't ask: is she a victim, or the problem? Could our problem be most Americans don't pay for their care, so they don't have any incentive to economize?
But while Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain was challenged repeatedly to defend his failure to accept employer mandates, Brokaw did not follow up with Hillary Clinton or anyone else on other elements of the Clinton plan, such as community rating or price controls. Williams found mountains of paperwork erupt "largely because government and insurance company regulations designed to save money for patient care require a bureaucracy so large they end up costing more than they could ever save," but Mrs. Clinton was not asked how further government regulation would fix that. No horror stories focused on socialized systems such as Canada.
By show's end, a Kansas businesswoman who worried about the employer mandate at the start had come around: "I think there is a way to do it, but it's going to take everybody working together." Brokaw asked: "Will it take people not simply working together, but spending a little more of what they have?" The woman replied: Yes." The crowd applauded.
NBC repeatedly declared that the Johnson Foundation had no contact with the producers, but the foundation must have liked what it paid for: USA Today reported June 30 that it's "very interested in sponsoring another prime-time network special on health care." But for all of the money the foundation spent and all the time the network devoted to create an informative, balanced exploration of a complicated issue, NBC blew it.