MediaWatch: June 1989

Vol. Three No. 6

NewsBites: Not Right to Blame Wright

Not Right to Blame Wright. Charges of ethical misconduct led House Majority Whip Tony Coelho and Speaker Jim Wright to resign near the end of May. Who is to blame for the fact "the Washington atmosphere has turned as bitter as anyone can remember," as CBS anchor Bob Schieffer put it during the Memorial Day Evening News? Could it be the Democrats whose continual attacks drove Richard Allen, Ray Donovan and Ed Meese from office? Or kept Robert Bork off the Supreme Court? Of course not. CBS reporter Eric Engberg went all the way back to 1988 to find the culprit: "It evolved from a nasty presidential campaign that featured the GOP's famous Willie Horton ad."

Pious Peter. How do major media figures spend their time off? ABC's Peter Jennings goes to church. On April 30, Jennings preached at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Diocesan Center for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Jennings used the opportunity to urge the flock to meet such challenges as the homeless, the environment, and AIDS. "We must find the ingredients to do more, much more."

According to the Baltimore Sun, Jennings "was particularly critical of the United States for spending too much on defense and comparatively little on the nation's many other serious problems. He noted, for instance, that Congress was considering a $300 billion defense appropriation request, but said agencies responsible for environmental protection, housing or schools received only a fraction of that amount."

Forcing Family Planning? CBS correspondent Susan Spencer joined Dan Rather in insisting China's "very future may depend" on the success of state-imposed family planning. Spencer outlined China's infamous "one-child" policy, conceding that couples who violate the policy by becoming pregnant a second time are threatened with loss of income or housing, but adding "experts say reports of actual forced abortions are rare today."

Rare? Last November 24, CBS News reporter John Sheahan told Evening News viewers "the government does admit that some women have been forced to have abortions." Sheahan's expert from the U.S. Census Bureau said: "China's national government requires the local cadres to succeed in family planning, and therefore the cadres cannot get away with allowing all the unauthorized births to take place."

Peltier's Pravda. "To the American Indian, Leonard Peltier is their Nelson Mandela," said CBS West 57th correspondent Steve Kroft leading off the April 28 show. Peltier, a South Dakota Sioux Indian convicted of the murder of two FBI agents in 1976, is "the man the vast Soviet propaganda machine believes to be the best living example of American injustice." So, Kroft told viewers "In the spirit of glasnost, we thought it was time someone examined his case."

Kroft's entire report built support for the Soviet contention, eloquently referring to Peltier as a political prisoner, one of the "ultimate symbols of governments gone astray: men or women with dangerous or unpopular ideas who may have been unfairly tried and imprisoned for who they are and what they believe, and not necessarily for the crimes they're supposed to have committed."

Kroft said "Americans are used to looking abroad for them [political prisoners], though much of the world believes they exist right here." Much of the world may fall for Soviet propaganda, but that doesn't mean CBS should help legitimize it.

NATO Peace. The West Germans aren't the only ones lulled into complacency by Soviet "peace initiatives." Two network reporters have the same ideas. The fact that the East bloc retains the world's largest defense establishment makes no difference to them.

On April 20, ABC 's Bob Zelnick cheerily reported, "after 40 years of dealing with the Soviet military threat, NATO must now come to grips with the idea of peace."

NBC's Arthur Kent used the strategy of the unnamed critic to attack the U.S. policy of non-negotiation on short-range missiles. "There have been suggestions," he reported on April 30, "that President Bush could help [prevent squabbling in NATO] by leading the search for compromise rather than following the Thatcher hard line."

Church of Arms Control. Gorbachev's had a hard time getting Bush to buy his arms control proposals, but Time magazine was not such a hard sell. Senior Writer George Church attacked Bush in the May 15 issue, condemning him as "recklessly timid, unwilling to respond with the imagination and articulation that the situation requires." The real danger is not the "highly overrated" forces of the Warsaw Pact, he wrote, but "that the U.S., in taking a purely reactive attitude, will undermine its own interests by continuing to leave all the initiatives to Gorbachev." Church concluded that "a smiling Soviet leader who speaks of peace and fellowship poses a greater challenge to U.S. leadership than a rocket-rattling blusterer. George Bush has not yet figured that out."

"Tactical nuclear weapons have never made sense," Time's D.C. Bureau Chief Strobe Talbott proclaimed in a commentary for the same issue. Denouncing "the dark faith" of "the NATO catechism," Talbott wrote that "Once the Bush Administration stops cursing Kohl under its breath, it will probably do what he is asking... Too bad the U.S. will have been dragged kicking and screaming into a decision that it should have reached on its own."

Faw's Afghan Flaws. CBS News reporter Bob Faw blames the ongoing war in Afghanistan not on the Soviets who invaded, but on the U.S. Reporting from Kabul May 1, Faw claimed: "With Soviet troops now withdrawn, many here blame the slaughter on the U.S. In the market place and in the mosques, 'Why,' they ask, 'is the U.S. still providing guerrillas with weapons which prolong the war?'" Faw charged that "as rockets made in the USA keep falling here... resentment towards the United States grows." Describing the anti-communist mujahedeen, Faw said "they are regarded by some of their countrymen as bloodthirsty bandits." Faw concluded, "For many here, what is bleeding now is America's image."

But on May 7, New York Times reporter Donatella Lorch, after spending a week under cover in Kabul, found "the rebels say an increasing number of Kabul residents are turning to the under-ground." In contrast to Faw's anti-U.S. sources, Lorch quoted an Afghan woman who placed blame differently. "The communists have torn our families to pieces," she said. According to Lorch, the image of the mujahedeen as "bloodthirsty extremists" is "a description the [communist] government has emphasized." So did CBS.

Blame Anything But Communism. What's behind China's abysmal standard of living? Dan Rather had two answers. On the May 16 Evening News, he said, "it is the size of China that's such a barrier for economic reform. That, and cultural traditions bred through the centuries."

The next night, communism again escaped blame. Rather reported "one big problem that underlies everything else here in China," is "a population of more than a billion." From the Forbidden City, Rather announced, "Today's communist rulers know there's no way to meet the rising expectations of a billion Chinese outside these walls until and unless the population time bomb is somehow defused."

Makes you wonder: With reports like these, why did the Chinese authorities bother to censor CBS?

Thrashing Thatcher. With Reagan out of office, some reporters think his friend Margaret Thatcher should go, too. During a May 3 story on Thatcher's ten years as Prime Minister, NBC's Peter Kent charged that "Thatcher has ruthlessly applied her conservative solutions."

ABC's John Laurence agreed during World News Tonight the same evening, noting "Mrs. Thatcher has imposed her conservative convictions on British society" and alleged that in doing so "she converted 10 Downing Street into what's been described as an elective dictatorship." Laurence supported his assertion by then putting on Anthony Sampson, who said Thatcher's problem washer "astonishing autocracy."

Laurence failed to mention Sampson's involvement in the leftist Social Democratic Party and that his book, The Changing Anatomy of Britain, has been described as "highly authoritative" by Soviet commentator Nikolai Gorshkov. And neither report mentioned Thatcher's overwhelming re-election victories, which allowed her to undertake those "ruthless" conservative solutions.

Summer Camp Kemp. Jack Kemp's "sturdy forehead" of conservative doctrine needs a slap from "the 2-by-4 of intractable reality," New York Times correspondent James Traub concluded in a profile of the HUD Secretary in the May 7 Times Magazine. "There was something potentially ludicrous in this voyage to the heart of inner-city misery by the new HUD Secretary," Traub asserted, "with his earnest manner and polystyrene hair, his sunny, summer- camp enthusiasm and his devout faith in free enterprise. It looked like a cartoon...It's been a long time, as Kemp himself acknowledges, since the Republicans 'got real' about poverty."

Traub said Kemp wanted to change radically "the Reagan era thesis of neglect and defunding," but "the question housing professionals ask is: Will Jack Kemp accept that the reality of the situation, his free-enterprise model notwithstanding, demands federal spending, not only to stimulate new construction but also to modernize public housing and provide increased housing subsidies to the poor?"

Enberg's Iran Contra Complex. On May 4, the day the verdict on Oliver North was handed down, CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg engaged in a full fledged attack on the conduct of the administration, especially President Reagan. Dan Rather prefaced Engberg's report as an investigation of "the use of secrecy, lying, and deception as instruments of ideology and policy." Engberg then paraphrased unnamed "scholars," predicting that to avoid the same problem in the future, Presidents must "accept the need to compromise with Congress."

Engberg insisted that "critics remain skeptical" about Reagan's ignorance of the diversion of funds to the Contras. Engberg's sole "critic" was liberal Democratic consultant Clark Clifford, who asserted his experience leads him to believe that the decision on diverting funds from the arms sales was "not taken without authority at the highest level at the White House."

Garrick Throws A Curve. At the end of the May 7 Meet the Press, NBC "reporter" Garrick Utley used an abstract sports anecdote to portray Oliver North as a liar and a fool. Utley recalled a briefing session Tom Brokaw attended "several years ago" conducted by North.

While exhibiting evidence on the Cuban presence in Nicaragua, Utley claimed North noted reconnaissance photos of "baseball diamonds dotting the landscape." North went on to say that "Cubans play baseball, Nicaraguans don't." Utley contradicted North: "The fact is, Nicaraguans do play baseball; it is the national sport there."

Utley used this supposed miscue to justify a sweeping charge that North was either "deliberately trying to mislead a journalist and through him the public or he was ignorant of such a basic fact and therefore not fully competent to do what he was in fact doing." The anecdote, Utley sarcastically concluded, "is one of the best at summing up the question that runs through the entire enterprise: Who were they trying to kid?"

Carter Rehab. He has rehabilitated homes. He tried to rehabilitate the Panama Canal Treaty. And now Jimmy Carter is being rehabilitated himself -- at least by ABC's Peter Jennings, who named the former President "Person of the Week" May 12.

Jennings began by citing Carter's life of "distinction, considerable grace and...very strong commitment to peace and justice." He said Carter "sets an example by rolling up his sleeves on a regular basis, building homes for the poor;" that is, when he's not traveling "in search of peace in the Middle East and better ways to understand and develop the underdeveloped world."

The public's inability to realize Carter's international contributions troubled Jennings: "In the public mind, the scales were never balanced. Carter's success in foreign affairs: peace between Egypt and Israel, renewed respect for the United States in Latin America, have always been outweighed in the public mind by the hostage crisis."

Were You Watching, Kathleen? On May 12, when U.S. troops were sent to Panama to protect U.S. interests, CBS This Morning co-anchor Kathleen Sullivan queried National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. She asked what the Soviets would think of U.S. actions, because "Mikhail Gorbachev, when he was on his trip to Cuba, made gestures in pulling out of Central America, and now we're doing the opposite." Scowcroft curtly told Sullivan: "He didn't make any gestures in pulling out of Central America; in fact, quite the contrary."

Sullivan ought to have known better, since she and the rest of CBS This Morning broadcast live from Havana during the Castro- Gorbachev summit. And even left with egg on their faces after falsely predicting that Gorbachev would then announce his withdrawal of aid to the Sandinista regime.

Van Sant's Louisiana Slant. Whether it's Washington, D.C. or Baton Rouge, La., when government spending is at issue, you can bet your last tax dollar which solution, budget cuts or tax hikes, the media will advocate.

On the May 2 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reported "a new jolt today to the Louisiana state economy...Saturday, voters of Louisiana rejected Governor Roemer's tax-overhaul package. Today, as CBS News correspondent Peter Van Sant reports, the people of Louisiana found out what that could cost them." Van Sant then related how "voters resoundingly rejected new taxes, digging Louisiana's already-troubled economy ever deeper in debt and forcing reform-minded Gov. Buddy Roemer to scramble his way out of a new financial crisis." Van Sant added that "the massive cuts will be felt across virtually all income levels. The poor will see dozens of vocational schools disappear, and several charity hospitals that treat the penniless shut down."

On May 14, Washington Post reporter Thomas B. Edsall concurred, writing "Were Louisiana forced to reduce the deficit solely through program cuts, it would devastate not only such institutions as the faltering network of public colleges and universities and the Louisiana system of charity hospitals, but the entire economy of the state."

Sojourners Truth. A recent direct mail letter from a far-left magazine highlighted an endorsement from NBC News Moscow Bureau Chief Bob Abernethy. "To find in one magazine both excellent reporting and commentary, and also deep Christian commitment, is inspiring," Abernethy oozed. "Sojourners' ability to serve as a caring observer is a model for all of us." Sojourners Editor Jim Wallis, who once said he hoped "more Christians will view the world through Marxist eyes," argued in the May issue that "because of the war" by the Contras, "justice requires American reparations to Nicaragua."

Fire Sale. "Last Summer's devastating forest fires focused attention on Yellowstone Park. But environmentalists believe the greatest damage had already been done -- by the Reagan Administration." With that opening, PBS' May 9 Frontline kicked off an hour-long protest against the sale of federally-owned public lands, which encompass a third of the United States.

Under Reagan, Frontline complained, "the federal government would add fewer lands to the national park system than any administration in history," and "sold off more public land than any other Interior Department in history." Selling land is more dangerous than letting it burn? It becomes the environmentalists' version of the Brezhnev Doctrine: once the feds have acquired public land, it must never be relinquished to "private ownership."