MediaWatch: July 1997

In This Issue

Gun Rights Forces Outgunned on TV; NewsBites: Camel Canard; Revolving Door: Sidney's Clinton-Loving Slant; Hearings? What Hearings?; They All Do It; Nolanda's Non-Story, Religion and Rehabilitation; Kurault as Liberal Advocate; Janet Cooke Award: Another Frontal Assault on Objectivity

Gun Rights Forces Outgunned on TV

Network reporters feared a wave of criminals storming gun stores when the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Brady Bill as unconstitutional. On the June 27 CBS Evening News, Jim Stewart left viewers with this fearful conclusion: "No matter who does the checking, supporters of the Brady law say one lesson from this is very clear. If no background check is done anyone can walk into a gun store and purchase a weapon, including the nearly quarter of a million felons who tried to and were turned away the four years the Brady law was in effect."

Stewart neglected the National Rifle Association's view that the 250,000 number is completely exaggerated, especially considering that only 20 states are still subject to the Brady law, and there are only "three individuals who've seen the inside of a prison cell under the Brady Act."

To examine if CBS's tone reflected how the networks covered the gun control debate, MediaWatch analysts reviewed every gun control policy story on four evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's The World Today, and NBC Nightly News) and three morning broadcasts (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) from July 1, 1995 through June 30, 1997. In 244 gun policy stories, those favoring gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control by 157 to 10, or a ratio of almost 16 to 1 (77 were neutral). Talking heads were slightly more balanced: gun control advocates outumbered gun-rights spokesmen 165 to 110 (40 were neutral).

Story Angle. Analysts counted the number of pro- and anti- gun control statements by reporters in each story. Pieces with a disparity of greater than 1.5 to 1 were categorized as either for or against gun control. Stories closer than the ratio were deemed neutral. Among statements recorded as pro-gun control: violent crime occurs because of guns, not criminals, and gun control prevents crime. Categorized as arguments against gun control: gun control would not reduce crime; that criminals, not guns are the problem; Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms; right-to-carry concealed weapons laws caused a drop in crime. The finding that the story-angle numbers are much more lopsided than the talking-head contrast reveals that the reporters' own statements have a demonstrable pro-gun control spin.

Evening News. Gun rights advocates were treated like clay pigeons in a skeet-shooting contest. Out of 103 evening news segments, pro-gun control stories outnumbered anti-gun control stories by 70 to 6, along with 27 neutral reports. ABC was the most slanted (29 pro-gun control to five anti-, only six neutral), followed by CNN (17-1, and only six neutral). NBC reporters promoted gun control in 13 (60 percent) of 22 gun segments. CBS had the highest percentage of balanced stories but still advocated gun control in 11 (65 percent) of 17 gun control-related segments, to six neutral stories and zero opposing segments.

Pro-gun control talking heads were televised 99 times on evening shows, to just 67 anti-gun control spokesmen and 24 neutral soundbites. Once again ABC (35-20, five neutral) led the way in pushing for gun control, followed by CBS (24-13, six neutral). CNN (16-13, four neutral) NBC (24-21, and nine neutral) came closest to balance.

Morning Shows. In 141 morning-show gun policy segments, stories loaded in favor of gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control 87 to 4. (Fifty were neutral.) ABC's advocacy against gun owners carried over to Good Morning America (36 pro-gun control stories, zero opposed, 16 neutral). NBC came next (35-3, with 20 neutral). CBS set their sights against gun owners in 16 stories, but came closest to balance with 14 neutral segments (but only one story favoring gun rights).

The talking head count on morning shows also followed the pro-gun control trend: 66 pro-gun control to 43 against and 16 neutral. Again, ABC had the largest slant (26-15, and eight neutral), followed by NBC (23-12, six neutral). CBS's talking heads came out almost even: 17 in favor of gun control, 16 opposed and two neutral.

Guests. The morning shows were also far more likely to invite gun control spokesmen like Sarah Brady than 2nd Amendment defenders like the NRA's Tanya Metaksa. Pro-gun control spokesmen were able to advocate their side three times more than the anti-gun control speakers: 37 to just 12 opponents, and four neutral spokesmen. On NBC, advocates overwhelmed opponents 19 to 3, with no neutral observers, followed by ABC (6-3, one neutral) and CBS (12-6, three neutral).

Network guest bookers and reporters fell over themselves to feature anti-gun rights Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.). On the November 6, 1996 Today Katie Couric asked: "What do you think the lesson is for the National Rifle Association? Of course, one of the cornerstones of your campaign was to maintain the ban on assault weapons in this country."

That same day on Good Morning America, Joan Lunden also enthusiastically welcomed the gun rights opponent: "McCarthy turned her rage over the availability of assault weapons into political activism and last night this ultimate outsider, a former nurse and homemaker, defeated incumbent Daniel Frisa and Carolyn McCarthy joins me now. Good morning. Congratulations! What are your thoughts as you sit there? I mean, a little fear, excitement? Hopes? What are your thoughts?" She added: "Sounds like you really educated yourself, too. Are you at all daunted by this task that lies before you?"

At the end of the interview, Lunden cheered on McCarthy's anti- gun crusade: Well, we wish you the very, very best of luck and congratulations to you." Would Lunden and Couric have wished luck to a Congressman desiring to place restrictions on the First Amendment? Apparently network reporters regard some constitutional rights as more sacred than others.

NewsBites: Camel Canard

In their zeal to destroy the cigarette industry, some in the media resort to using addled research from liberal crusaders. In a July 10 World News Tonight story on R.J. Reynolds dropping the Joe Camel cartoon, ABCs Aaron Brown relayed this preposterous claim: "Kids loved Joe. Researchers in 1991 found more kids knew Joe Camel than knew Mickey Mouse."

Is it really logical to believe more kids know Camel than a widely replicated Disney movie character? The June 16 Weekly Standard demolished the "bogus" claim which appeared in a 1991 Journal of the American Medical Association article: "The Mickey Mouse result was derived from interviews with 23 children at a single Atlanta pre-school and couldn't be replicated on a broader scale."


Three Cheers, Green Militias!

Most Americans would agree that breaking the law is not something that should be taught to young people. The national media has tossed out many stories on the lawlessness of right-wing militia groups. But what about lawlessness on the left? That's different. On the June 22 World News Tonight and Nightly News, ABC and NBC profiled a group called the Ruckus Society, a left-wing group which, according to NBC anchor Sara James, trains its young campers "for the front lines in the battle over the environment."

NBC reporter Dan Lothian sounded like a representative for the camp: "This is a training camp for warriors, environmental warriors. Held in the southwest corner of North Carolina, just where the Appalachian Mountains end, it's a bare-bones existence. Tents dot a nearby forest, no burgers and fries here, only vegetarian fare...It's a nine-day course in civil disobedience, run by a group called the Ruckus Society. Pioneered by the conservation group Greenpeace, former camp graduates include Woody Harrelson, who climbed San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to protest redwood forest management."

Over at ABC, reporter Antonio Mora was no different: "At first glance, it looks like a pleasant retreat, but then it gets serious. This simulated confrontation is part of a four-day training camp in civil disobedience. It was organized by the Ruckus Society, a group of veteran Greenpeace and Earth First environmental activists, who want to make sure there's a next generation of protesters."


A CBS Diversion
.

The night before the Senate hearings opened, prompted by Democratic fundraising abuses, the CBS Evening Newsdevoted an extraordinarily long five minutes and 33 seconds to a story reflecting the "everybody does it" spin forwarded by liberals. CBS created a Web site especially to provide additional information about how Republicans were just as guilty.

Anchor John Roberts began the July 7 story: "In tonight's Eye on America investigation, a look beyond the questionable campaign fundraising practices that Congress will focus on starting tomorrow. Much of what Congress will look at is limited to Campaign 96 and especially money funneled to the Democrats." Whittaker opened with video of a 1992 GOP fundraising dinner, explaining the CBS discovery: "The biggest donor: an American businessman whose stunning $500,000 donation got him a seat up at the head table with President Bush. He's Michael Kojima. You remember him: The biggest donor turned out to be America's biggest deadbeat dad. When his name hit the papers, a former wife was shocked: he owed her more than $100,000 in child support."

Whittaker elaborated: "A CBS News investigation has revealed that if anyone had bothered to look back in 92, they would have found that Kojima didn't have his own money to give, but apparently was funneling foreign donations to the GOP -- which is illegal -- donations from Japanese businessmen seeking to benefit from Republican connections." But CBS is far from consistently concerned about foreign money. CBS, as well as ABC and NBC, failed to report an April 1 Wall Street Journal story on how Charlie Yah Lin Trie "received a series of substantial wire transfers in 1995 and 1996 from a bank operated by the Chinese government. The transfers from the New York office of the Bank of China, usually in increments of $50,000 or $100,000, came at a time when Mr. Trie was directing large donations to the Democratic National Committee."


Tough Liberal Questions.

While Clinton made the interview circuit in preparation for his much ballyhooed California speech on race relations, reporters challenged him with tough questions from the left. Charles Osgood interviewed Clinton June 15 on CBS's Sunday Morning show and questioned the wisdom of Clinton's call for a dialogue on race: "Is there risk in that, though, sir, if you have people speaking frankly, do you really want people to say what they think about others? We have something of that kind that goes on to talk radio all the time and people say what they think, but it's not always very constructive." Then he asked: "Do you think that today the United States is a racist country and is it mainly white racism?" Osgood mentioned the scandals only in passing, and even then he talked of Clinton as a passive victim, mentioning the "legal problems being thrust on you."

The next morning Gwen Ifill interviewed Clinton and asked another tough question from left field: "Is this welfare bill your great vulnerability on this subject [of race relations]? Your supporters, your critics, they all say that, perhaps, you are abandoning minorities and the poor." Do "all" of Clinton's critics really attack him for signing the welfare bill? Not his conservative critics. Ifill is apparently not familiar with them.


Brock vs. Brock
.

If you want to blast conservatives on the Todayshow, it's open mike morning. But attack a liberal and a symposium is required, with the liberal side well represented. After David Brock wrote an article for Esquire complaining the conservative movement had become a "neo-Stalinist thought police," Today gave him an unchallenged platform from which to attack. Matt Lauer set the scene on the June 18 show: "Brock details his fall from grace in the conservative community in the current issue of Esquire magazine." Lauer summarized Brock's argument: "Basically the problem is, you're saying, they look at you not as a journalist, who would tell a fair story, they looked at you as someone who would be a hit man for their cause."

Although Lauer asked Brock one challenging question about accusations of Brock being on a publicity hunt, Lauer vigorously pumped Brock for dirt on the conservative movement. After Brock said that he could no longer be on "that team anymore," Lauer asked, "Alright, when you say the team, give me names of the players....Like who?....Give me some other names that people will recognize." Brock dutifully named two boogeymen of the liberal imagination: Gordon Liddy and Oliver North. Today treated Brock quite differently when he was promoting his book The Real Anita Hill. On the May 3, 1993 Today segment devoted to Brock's book, his presence was "balanced" by that of a liberal, Charles Ogletree, who continually interrupted Brock and called him a liar.


No Gore Gaffes.

Harsh words are hardly new to politics, but the media feels a need to condemn them only when the speaker's a Republican. Case in point: when Vice President Gore attacked a Republican plan to bar new immigrants from the Social Security program as "un-American, simply un-American," the story could be found on the AP wire and in the June 20 USA Today and Los Angeles Times. But the Big Three networks did nothing. TV viewers had to wait for CNN's Inside Politics to see a clip of Gore making the comment late in its June 24 show, but only as part of a series of examples of "tart political talk this month from members of both parties."

But when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said on the June 15 edition of ABC's This Week that President Clinton was acting like a "spoiled brat" on tax cuts, Sam Donaldson quickly admonished him: "Well, now you've just called the President of the United States someone like a spoiled brat, so I mean, Senator, don't complain if others use highly inflammatory language." A few hours later, World News Tonight Sunday anchor Carole Simpson pondered: "The disaster relief bill is now signed and both sides have compromised on the budget, so why all the name-calling today?" CNN's Prime News also raised Lott's comments, as did the July 16 NBC Nightly News.

On Inside Politics June 16, Bernard Shaw began with "what some might call sticks-and-stones politics. The prospect of a bipartisan agreement on specific tax cuts remains caught today in some decidedly partisan crossfire." In an interview with GOP Reps. Joe Barton and Ernest Istook later in the show, Shaw asked, Does it serve your cause for the Senate Majority Leader to say that the President of the United States is acting like a spoiled brat?"


Pile on the Prosecutor.

Reporters are so anxious to bash Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr that when the Washington Postrevived a three-month-old Arkansas Democrat story revealing that agents working for him questioned Arkansas state troopers for the names of women with whom Bill Clinton may have had affairs, the media pounced.

His aim was legitimate: to find other acquaintances who may have overheard discussions about Whitewater. But Starr's use of a classic prosecutorial technique outraged reporters: "Critics charge that after three years and 30 million dollars, Starr's investigation is nothing more than a political witch hunt," conveyed NBC's Jim Miklaszewski on the June 25 Nightly News.

The next day, Today anchor Matt Lauer asked conservative Susan Carpenter-McMillan: "The fact that this line of questioning from Whitewater investigators has turned personal to the President's, or then Governor's sex life, does it show you that this investigation is desperate?" Over on Good Morning America, an exasperated Charlie Gibson asked Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff: "These troopers are saying they are being asked questions like did you ever see the Governor perform a sex act, did some woman bear a love child of the Governor's. What does that have to do with land deals?" For reporters who had no trouble asking about Clarence Thomas's personal life, their outrage seems to hinge on to whom the questions are being asked.


Another Improper Fundraiser.

When George Stephanopoulos signed on as a commentator for ABC News many saw this as yet another turn in the revolving door between politics and journalism. But an effort by Stephanopoulos to leave a foot on the politics side revealed that ABC is suffering from a case of selective ethics. In the June 26 Washington Post, media reporter Howard Kurtz found that Democratic New York City mayoral candidate Ruth Messinger invited supporters to a fundraiser featuring Stephanopoulos at Tavern on the Green. Kurtz wrote: "A $2,500 contribution, the invitation said, 'entitles couple to intimate dinner with Mr. Stephanopoulos and Ms. Messinger after the event.' When one of the invitations made its way to ABC News, it promptly nixed the idea." Kurtz continued: "It's against the rules,' said ABC Senior Vice President Richard Wald. 'I called George and said this is a no-no.' Anyone employed by ABC News 'should not be in active support of electoral politics,' Wald said. 'He made a mistake.'"

But ABC is hardly consistent when it comes to barring news staffers from lending their name to political causes. In 1994, correspondent and anchor Carole Simpson hosted a $175-a-plate fundraiser for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's 40th anniversary. What was the difference between that and Stephanopoulos? ABC's policy covers "groups with a political purpose" and ABC declared the NAACP doesn't fit that category.

Revolving Door: Sidney's Clinton-Loving Slant

Sidney Blumenthal, the former Washington Post, New Republic and New Yorker reporter, started his new White House job on July 1. He was picked to "work on major speeches and serve as an all-purpose message-meister," noted the June 7 National Journal. Blumenthal insisted in the Feb. 17, 1992 New Republic: "While George Bush -- all whiteness -- talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery."

Even his colleagues realized he's been a Clinton promoter. Observed the June 23 New Republic: "We are delighted to note that the noted Democratic journalist Sidney Blumenthal, having worked so long for the Clinton White House outside the Clinton White House, will now work for the Clinton White House inside the Clinton White House." The magazine quipped: "With any luck, one of his journalistic colleagues remarked, he'll get his back pay."

Indeed, Blumenthal told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "This is a chance to help change the country. I was always in journalism because I thought I could help make a difference." A June 29 Post story reported that while at the New Yorker he began "brainstorming sessions" with Dick Morris. "Morris said Blumenthal recommended ideas for staging Clinton at the Democratic National Convention and for using Clinton's appearances at the Atlanta Olympics to boost him politically."

Kurtz's June 16 profile included some illuminating anecdotes about Blumenthal's journalism:

"During the 1992 campaign, says Julia Reed, a Vogue magazine reporter, Blumenthal urged her at a party not to write a piece questioning Clinton's character. But what, she shot back, if it were true? 'It doesn't matter,' she recalls him saying. 'This is too important.'"

"Peter Boyer, a New Yorker writer, says Blumenthal tried to sabotage his story about the Travelgate affair last year. Boyer says he mentioned the piece to his colleague after learning that Blumenthal had lunched with Clinton's friend Harry Thomason on the day the Hollywood producer pushed for the firing of the White House travel office employees....Boyer says he was later told...that Blumenthal had warned them Boyer was anti-Clinton and planned to smear them."

"Blumenthal shied away from writing about his friend Hillary Clinton. 'That's where [Editor] Tina [Brown] finally said, 'This is untenable,' says a New Yorker writer. By 1995, Blumenthal was no longer writing the Letter from Washington. He was replaced by Michael Kelly, a fierce Clinton critic. Kelly ordered Blumenthal to stay away from the magazine's downtown office. 'I did not trust him...I felt his relationship...with the President and First Lady was such that I was not sure I wanted him around the office as I was working on stories.'"

Blumenthal has a mean-spirited streak, offering this assessment in the April 16, 1993 Boston Phoenix: "Bill Bennett is basically a schismatic heretic practicing his own contrived lunatic version of the Latin Mass in the basement. That's what Buchanan is doing, only with Confederate flags flying. You have Phil Gramm of Texas, an incredibly mean-spirited right-wing character backed by big- oil money. He is the kind of perverse version of Lyndon Johnson whittled down to his vices and exaggerated. Then you have Bob Dole: when he's most sardonic and cruel is when he's most sincere. I think that's the Republican Party right now."

Hearings? What Hearings?

Just as they had all spring, the networks offered spotty coverage at best of the hearings into Democratic fundraising abuses.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee convened to consider serious matters: charges that communist China plotted to illegally funnel money into U.S. politics, and John Huang may have committed espionage, or illegal fundraising as a Commerce Department official.

Unlike Watergate, Iran-Contra, or even the first stages of the O.J Simpson trial, the networks refused to provide live coverage, not even PBS. CNN and MSNBC coverage trickled to nothing within the first two days. But the networks had trouble summarizing the hearings in the evening.

Take ABC. In the first two weeks, World News Tonight aired only five stories and two anchor briefs. Only one story even aired a witness soundbite -- for three seconds.

On Wednesday, July 9, ABC subsumed the hearings into a piece touting President Clinton's new 64 percent approval rating. On July 10, ABC devoted almost twice as much time to Sen. Sam Brownback's perceived ethnic slur of John Huang ("No raise money, no get bonus") as to a vague 23-second hearings update.

On July 13, ABC's Deborah Weiner claimed Sen. Fred Thompson was overreaching, echoing a U.S. News story suggesting most of China's money went to legal lobbying. Next, anchor Carole Simpson plugged an upcoming "look at why average Americans seem to be paying so little attention to the campaign finance hearings." Maybe because the networks alternated between dismissing and ignoring them.

When Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Democrats agreed there was a Chinese plot, ABC skipped the story refuting its claims of a few days before. NBC's Tim Russert noted the bipartisanship on July 15, to which Tom Brokaw demanded: "When do you think we're going to begin to hear more from Republicans...about some of their transgressions?"

The ABC and NBC evening shows ignored the hearings two nights out of three during the second week. Nonetheless, ABC's Linda Douglass ended a July 18 story by noting that committee members are "wondering if the public is paying attention to any of this."

After a July 9 story on the opening statements, the hearings disappeared from CBS's This Morning without another mention for two weeks. Good Morning America and Today aired one discussion segment each in the first two weeks.

Observed Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel, which offered live coverage, in the July 15 Washington Post: "If this were Ronald Reagan accused of selling foreign policy to the highest bidder, it's a little hard to imagine this wouldn't have attracted more attention."

They All Do It

Imagine if during Watergate a reporter declared: "The system's the problem, this investigation really isn't about Nixon White House wrongdoing." Many reporters are approaching the hearings on the fundraising scandal not as a process to identify lawbreakers, but as a chance to argue for liberal campaign finance reform.

Indeed, previewing the appearance by former RNC Chair Haley Barbour on the PBS series Follow the Money July 18, Time's Viveca Novak hoped: "It will lay out there the fact that both the parties have this problem. Perhaps what we'll end up with is a very good case that both are were scrambling for money, both of them went overseas and the system lends itself to these kinds of abuses and maybe it really does need to be reformed."

Novak's Time colleague Margaret Carlson insisted on the July 12 Capital Gang: "It's never going to end until there's some kind of reform. And just because what Clinton did is, may be illegal, doesn't mean the whole thing doesn't have to be looked at. Because what's legal is corrupt as well."

The day the hearings began, July 8, a Boston Globe headline asserted: "U.S. Political System Itself to Face Scrutiny in Hearings." Washington Bureau Chief David Shribman contended: "At times it will seem as if an individual, or a presidential campaign, or a political party is being investigated. That's only partly true. What's really in the dock beginning today isn't any politician but the system that politicians built. What's important beginning today isn't what one party can show about the other, but what the campaign-finance system shows about our political system."

In other words, just as liberals believe, everybody does it and the answer is to install more regulations.

Shribman continued: "The hearings that begin this morning aren't really about John Huang and Charlie Trie or Abraham Lincoln's bedroom but about the political loophole -- unregulated 'soft-money' contributions to the parties, not to the candidates -- that makes them important."

He argued: "There are likely to be few spectacles like the spin of summer. In their effort to minimize any changes in the system, the two parties will attempt to spin viewers toward the conclusion that their rival, and not the system, is at fault."

Nolanda's Non-Story, Religion and Rehabilitation

ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross broke dramatic new ground on the June 18 Prime Time Live with an interview of Nolanda Hill, a friend and business partner of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Hill told Ross how financial troubles plagued Brown when he joined the Cabinet: "He was $7,000 in the hole when he woke up on Day One of any month." Ross added: "Which Nolanda Hill says would twice lead Brown into schemes involving under-the-table money. The first, an offer from the group claiming to represent the government of Vietnam, seeking to get American trade restrictions lifted."

Ross also highlighted Brown's connection to Gene and Nora Lum, the first people to cop a plea in the Justice Department's campaign finance probe: "In 1993, the Lums took over an Oklahoma gas company called Dynamic Energy Resources that sought special government contracts as a minority-owned business. Then the Lums hired Brown's 28-year-old son, Michael, and made him a well-paid officer of the company. A convenient way, Hill says, to move money to the father." Hill even alleged Brown smoked pot and once did a line of cocaine at her apartment.

The only problem with this story? Not one network or news magazine uttered a word about Hill's revelations, not even any other ABC show, until the July 17 CBS Evening News alluded to it.

Religion and Rehabilitation

On the July 3 World News Tonight "Solutions" segment, ABC religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer highlighted a criminal rehabilitation program going on in Texas: "The state, frustrated with failed efforts to reform repeat offenders, has just turned this prison unit over to the church. It's just like any other prison...from the guards to the work duty. But a religious group called Prison Fellowship is spending 1.5 million dollars of its own money on a rigorous 'moral' rehabilitation program."

Wehmeyer explained: "The program operates on the premise that in order to change a man's behavior, first you have to change his heart. And these prison officials say there's no better way to change a man's heart than through a spiritual transformation." Wehmeyer pointed out a study which shows that prisoners who participate in Bible studies are less likely to commit new crimes. Wehmeyer continued: "All of these inmates volunteer to participate and no taxpayers' dollars are used to fund the program

Kurault as Liberal Advocate

When veteran CBS newsman Charles Kuralt died on July 4, eulogies heaped praise on him for his folksy demeanor and stories about the common American. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales declared: "He didn't merely practice good journalism but came to personify it." But this same Kuralt abused his CBS News position to promote liberal views:

In a May 5, 1994 CBS special honoring his career, Kuralt told Morley Safer: "I think liberalism lives the notion that we don't have to stay where we are as a society, we have promises to keep, and its liberalism, whether people like it or not, which has animated all the years of my life. What on Earth did conservatism ever accomplish for our country?"

Kuralt was not always entranced by the American people. In an August 1991 Sunday Morning piece, he looked towards Europe with envy while scolding Americans: "A report last week compared health care for children in the United States with health care in the ten countries of Western Europe. Really there isn't any comparison. Nearly all children in Europe are able to see a doctor when they're sick. A lot more of them are immunized. A lot fewer of them die in infancy. Do Europeans care more about their children than we do? There's a simple answer: yes."

At the political conventions in the summer of 1992, Kuralt served as a commentator for CBS. At the Democratic Convention he breathlessly praised Gov. Mario Cuomo's nasty attacks on George Bush: "I'm still in the glow of that Cuomo speech. Mario Cuomo is like one of those three-way light bulbs...He said he was going to stay on dim so as not to put Bill Clinton in the shade. And then he stepped up here tonight and delivered a genuine 250-watter. A speech bright enough to fill up this dark room." But the next month at the 1992 Republican Convention, Kuralt was considerably tougher on speaker Pat Buchanan: "I thought the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it, especially there at the end, take back our culture, take back our country. I think that was an appeal to racism."

Janet Cooke Award: Another Frontal Assault on Objectivity

The arrival of the Republican Congress in 1995 led to panicked boob-tube predictions of environmental doom. A Peter Jennings promo plugged a series of reports "which will tell you precisely what the new Congress has in mind: the most frontal assault on the environment in 25 years. Is this what the country wants?" An NBC promo warned: "Safe food, safe water, safe air, safe transportation. You have this protection now, but you might be about to lose it."

Now, as Clinton's Environmental Protection Agency prepares draconian new air regulations its own advisory panels don't support, regulations that are opposed even by Democratic congressmen and big city mayors, why haven't the networks isolated the liberal environmental extreme as out of touch? Instead, network coverage of environmental issues echoes the activists on that extreme and all their statistical claims. For using the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Rio summit as another occasion for unanswered extremist propaganda, ABC and NBC earned the Janet Cooke Award.

On the June 22 NBC Nightly News, reporter Linda Fasulo declared: "Five years after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the goals of that meeting remain elusive." Christopher Flavin of the liberal Worldwatch Institute claimed: "The bold hopes and promises that were put forth by world leaders in 1992 -- to stabilize the climate, to protect natural areas, to slow population growth -- those promises have, unfortunately, not been fulfilled."

Fasulo continued: "At the Rio conference, 153 nations agreed to curb global warming, pledging to cut back emissions of so-called greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000. But these were only targets with no enforcement provisions. Today emissions are up nearly everywhere, including a six percent rise in the United States, the world's biggest contributor to the greenhouse effect. Burning of the Brazilian rain forest has actually increased. Rain forests are home to most of the world's species. Rio produced a treaty to preserve biological diversity. Since that agreement was ratified by 161 countries, but not the United States, at least 100,000 species have been lost."

Free-market environmentalists would quickly note that America may be the largest producer of greenhouse gases, but it's also the largest producer of goods and services consumed around the world. Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) told MediaWatch there was "no basis for the 100,000 species claim. Scientists don't know how many species there are, let alone how many are being lost."

CEI has also pointed out that since 1973, only 23 species have been removed from the Endangered Species list. Eight were listed in error, a court invalidated one listing, seven recovered, and seven actually became extinct. Fasulo allowed no one to explain why the U.S. didn't sign the "biodiversity" treaty. One reason: the treaty language demanded the U.S. hand out foreign aid to Third World countries with no conditions -- meaning it could not be designated to save plants and animals.

Fasulo concluded: "World leaders expect to reaffirm their commitment to sustainable development, but remain divided on the exact steps to take." Fasulo may have ended with the concept of a debate, but there wasn't anything resembling one in her story.

Two days later on ABC's World News Tonight, Bill Blakemore publicized a study by the liberal World Wildlife Fund (WWF): "For thousands of years, the ocean's been rising just over an inch every hundred years. That's normal after an Ice Age. But suddenly at the turn of the century, just as industry and coal and oil power were really taking hold, the rise in sea level accelerated from one inch to six inches in a hundred years, and this rise is still speeding up. Over the next 100 years, scientists predict a rise in sea level of one to three feet. In virtually every national park, scientists are seeing rapid, unnatural changes due to global warming, and the vast majority now agree that's due to gases from industry, power plants, even the planes we fly."

After airing two soundbites of the WWF's Adam Markham and publicizing his study without a challenge from conservatives, Blakemore concluded: "The delicate balances of nature here in the U.S. and around the world are now clearly being disrupted by global warming. The U.S., with only four percent of the world's population, produces nearly a quarter of its greenhouse gases, one reason President Clinton will be feeling political heat when he visits the U.N. conference here."

In dissent, Jonathan Adler told MediaWatch: "Satellites and weather balloons show no warming since 1979. If anything, there is slight cooling. Most (two-thirds) of 20th century warming occurred before 1950, prior to most industrial emissions."

As usual, Blakemore presented "scientists" as a monolith of politically correct opinion. But the National Center for Policy Analysis recently noted a Gallup poll showing that only 17 percent of members of the Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Society believed that warming in the 20th century has resulted from greenhouse gas emissions, mainly CO2 from burning fossil fuels. And only 13 percent of the scientists responding to a survey conducted by the radical environmental group Greenpeace said they believe current energy use patterns will result in catastrophic climate change.

Most important, the networks ignored the UN's own change on climate change: in 1995, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reversed its endorsement of computer climate models by suggesting dramatic warming predicted by the models "produced a greater mean warming than has been observed to date."

But then, a debate would only undermine the atmosphere of fear the networks try to build in these stories. ABC or NBC wouldn't consider airing good news, like Ronald Bailey's statement in his book The True State of the Planet: "In the United States, ambient levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, atmospheric ozone, and particulates in the air are decreasing. Industrial pollution has been largely eliminated as a source of contamination in most of America's rivers, lakes, and streams. Consequently, 95 percent of the nation's rivers are considered fishable."

Neither Fasulo nor Blakemore responded to MediaWatch calls for comment. Reports like theirs display no evidence they're the slightest bit serious about going beyond liberal press releases to investigate both sides of a rigorous scientific debate. Instead, they suggest that environmental issues evolve from a strange spectrum, with a set of Earth-hating extremists who deserve no air time at one pole, and an unassailable consensus of sweet reason at the other.