In This Issue
National Public Radio Anchor's Liberal Year at Weekend Today; NewsBites: Tax Revolt?; Revolving Door: Whiplash; Clinton's "Serious" Deficit Cuts; Hubbell's "Perception" Problem; Myers on Euro-Pork; Post's Ideological Double Standard; Janet Cooke Award: Hard News Hillary's Pliant Press
National Public Radio Anchor's Liberal Year at Weekend Today
Scott Simon's Simple Sermons
Most Americans spend their weekends relaxing, but NBC's Scott Simon, co-host of the weekend Today shows, has spent his pursuing a special hobby -- indoctrination. Each Saturday, the former National Public Radio anchor has shared his "personal thoughts," the only commentary aired by the show, while also acting as a reporter.
A MediaWatch review shows that since Simon's debut last August, his self-described "pompous, tortuous essays," have reflected the left-liberal line on nearly every issue, from social spending to gay rights, from El Salvador to Columbus. So with his June 6 departure from Today, we have compiled a sampling of his bias -- words to remember him by.
COMMUNISM. Perhaps the most glaring examples of liberal tilt occurred in Simon's all-too-frequent attempts to rewrite the history of the Cold War, finding America as public enemy number one. Take El Salvador, where Simon could find no good in preventing a communist coup. In a December 20, 1992 report Simon declared: "The United States paid the sticker price for continuing most of the war years when we saw El Salvador as another domino in Cuban or Soviet designs, close to a billion dollars. But Salvadorans paid the real, incalculable costs...For twelve years, most of us, U.S. taxpayers, who helped finance the fighting, risked nothing real to keep it going. It was a good policy to pay for a war we were willing to watch but did not want to risk ourselves."
Simon concluded: "As the war ended this week in a world which has gone on to other crises, you might wonder why the treaty Salvadorans celebrated couldn't have been signed twelve years ago, before 75,000 people died; before, as Oscar Romero said, people whose pockets are heavy with gold paid poor people to fight for food and clothes."
Following the release of a controversial United Nations report on El Salvador (which he accepted without question), Simon opined on March 20: "How could American officials not know about the army to which they gave such expensive weapons, weapons which were turned on Salvadoran civilians?... The army we supported tried to win the hearts of its nation with cruelty and steel. But each life taken by torture, by murder, or massacre gave the rebels new life for their cause."
Simon's willingness to condemn U.S. policy while ignoring the Soviets and their allies was also evident in an October 17 report on Vietnam: "For many Americans, including many who served there, the war in Vietnam wasn't to defend the United States, but to prop up a corrupt and brutal South Vietnamese dictatorship."
On May 15, Simon even touted a biography of Walt Disney, refuted by his family, which alleged that Disney "was an informant for the FBI, that he furnished J. Edgar Hoover information on some of his own employees he thought politically suspect during the McCarthy era." Simon relied on the liberal proposition that the Cold War was overblown, a part of the `paranoia' of the time, as fodder for his wit: "Did Mr. Disney believe Donald Duck's peculiar, scratchy speech contained insidious messages only to be decoded in Moscow?...When Bambi's mother disappeared, was it because Uncle Walt turned her over to the House Un-American Activities Committee?"
COLUMBUS. Unable to contain his revisionism to this century, Simon excoriated Christopher Columbus on October 11: "For Native Americans, the people who hardly felt discovered, Columbus' landing commenced a holocaust. There's really no other word for the death delivered by settlers, as they scattered, enslaved, and obliterated Indian nations on their own sacred lands."
GAY RIGHTS. Simon's frequent bashing of conservatives occurred in his reporting too. This was certainly evident after the Republican convention in Houston, when Simon pressed the "intolerance" issue with Pat Buchanan on October 3: "Mr. Buchanan, some surveys have suggested that your speech at the Republican convention, in which you specifically denounced gay rights, and some other speeches there have promoted a lack of tolerance, an incivility, a lack of manners in a sense, among certain Republicans that has not gone over well with American voters, not just gay Americans, but people who feel homosexuals rights is a basic civil rights issue. Have you hurt the Republican ticket with those remarks this year?"
Opening the show from Washington before the April 25 gay and lesbian march, Simon claimed: "The largest demonstration in U.S history is gathering now...They're here to step out of the closet and onto the main stage of American history." Simon did not correct himself when the Park Police estimated attendance at 300,000, far from the largest protest in U.S. history.
ECONOMICS. The free enterprise system, of course, did not emerge unscathed from Simon's commentary. Discussing new economic ties between the U.S. and Russia on April 3, Simon took a gratuitous swipe at the free market: "Some of the same economists whose belief in a undiluted free market seem to run to permitting many Americans to free fall into unemployment came to Moscow to tell President Yeltsin only shock therapy could snap Russia into prosperity."
He saw the opening of fast food restaurants in Moscow, unthinkable just a few years ago, as a metaphor for the "quality of the over-the-counter economic advice we've been giving them. Fast-fix assembly line fast food that still leaves the store shelves empty....the opportunities for Americans in Russia should be something more than just the last vast market for our most precious products or political theories. Helping Russia to be free ought to mean helping the Russians to be free to find another way."
On September 5, Simon trashed the 1980s: "We elected politicians who gave voice to our grievances and reduced what government could regulate and guarantee ...The financial wealth of the United States has doubled, but the number of poor people has stayed the same. Instead of trickling down, apparently that wealth mostly stayed in the tight fists of those who became richer."
REPUBLICANS. Finally, what self-respecting alumnus of National Public Radio could refrain from a few attacks on Reagan and Bush? On January 16, as viewers saw video of Bush's `Willie Horton' commercial, Simon asserted: "And then there was the George Bush who could be churlish, almost a child-like bully when he campaigned. Commercials arousing fear and speeches veering into the absurd." After President Clinton's staff asked an interviewer to apply make-up to the President, Simon stretched to include Reagan in his jibes of May 29: "Reporters were never asked to make up former President Reagan, although, it often seemed, they were willing to shine his shoes."
NewsBites: Tax Revolt?
Tax Revolt? "Tax revolt. You probably haven't heard that phrase in years, not since the anti-tax wave that started in California and swept the nation a full decade ago. Well, it could be starting up again in a somewhat different form," Dan Rather declared on the May 19 CBS Evening News. But CBS' idea of a "tax revolt" isn't taxpayers pushing politicians to lower taxes. A tax revolt for CBS means bureaucrats trying to escape budget cuts by scaring taxpayers into accepting tax increases.
In the May 19 piece on California, reporter John Blackstone stated: "Tina Kirschbaum was the victim of a budget cut when she was stopped by carjackers...The sheriff's station Kirschbaum raced to in a Los Angeles suburb had been closed by budget cuts." On May 14, reporter Bill Whitaker found "California law enforcement is the latest victim of the state's bruising recession and the citizen's refusal to pay higher taxes. All across the Golden State, thieves, drug offenders, non-violent criminals of all stripes are due to go free."
Herbert's On-Air Column. Bob Herbert, NBC reporter and newly named New York Times columnist, believes throwing more money at American cities will solve their myriad problems. On the April 30 Nightly News "America Close-Up" segment, Herbert stated: "The neglect of the cities accelerated mightily in the 1980s." Worse, according to Herbert: "Clinton's first modest attempt to help the cities failed when Congress refused to pass his economic stimulus package. For urban America, it was a terrible sign." Because of this failure, "The tragedy of the cities goes on. The Clinton Administration has no specific urban policy and scarce funds seem to be going elsewhere. If Los Angeles was a wakeup call, America must have rolled over and gone back to sleep."
Herbert ignored cities such as Raleigh, San Jose, and Arlington, Texas which, while others declined, grew dramatically because of lower taxes and smaller city government, not liberal "urban policy." He also ignored an unpleasant fact cited by Stephen Moore in a February Cato Institute study: "Since 1989, domestic spending across the board, including spending on urban aid, has exploded...In real terms, cities and states received more federal money in 1992 than in any previous year."
NPR: No Putrid Republicans. In the May 14 Washington City Paper, former Washington Times reporter Glenn Garvin recounted listening to National Public Radio in one week in mid-April during the boiling stimulus battle. "During the first three days of the week, NPR ran 11 stories on Clinton's campaign for the package, all of them centered around speeches by the President or Al Gore...It wasn't until the afternoon of April 15, the fourth day I listened to the network, that I heard a Republican voice on the subject of the filibuster." Even then, Garvin reported, the GOP analyst wrongly conceded defeat. NPR (and ABC) reporter Cokie Roberts found "more than a little racism" in anyone who opposed the package's aid to the cities.
Garvin discovered that Roberts also found racist code words in a special congressional election in Mississippi. Roberts reported: "This is where you really see the words 'city' or 'inner city' become something of a code word for race. The white candidate, who's a Republican, is saying that his opponent is a liberal from the city, as opposed to himself, who's a conservative from the country. And that's just sort of a way of letting people know that the opponent is black." Garvin called Roberts "ridiculously wrong," pointing out the district was majority-black, and the winning Democrat, Bennie Thompson, ran on the idea that only a black could represent a majority-black district.
Smith's New Math. CBS has goofed again, decrying nonexistent immunization budget "cuts." Two years ago on Face the Nation, then-host Lesley Stahl blamed a measles outbreak on "Reagan-era budget cuts." On the May 2 Sunday Morning, reporter Terence Smith asserted: "In 1989, after nearly a decade of federal budget cutbacks for immunizations, the previously successful measles vaccination program broke down." The Centers for Disease Control reports spending actually rose from $32 billion in 1980 to $186 billion in 1990, and $257 billion in 1992. Some "cuts."
Medical Masquerade. In the raging debate over health care, CNN is giving voice to all sides of the issue -- from the left to the far left. In a May 24 story on Hillary Clinton's task force, CNN's John Holliman included two interviews: "health care expert" Bob Brandon of Citizen Action, and the ubiquitous Ron Pollack of Families USA, which Holliman identified as a "consumer group." In reality, both men represent groups pushing a Canadian-style system of government rationed health care that outlaws insurance companies. With such objective expert analysts, who needs conservatives?
Colorado Dreaming. NBC reporter Roger O'Neil has played along with gay activists' anecdotal evidence in his coverage of Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibits localities from enacting "gay rights" legislation. On the May 24 Nightly News, O'Neil quoted a lesbian couple who "have felt the discrimination of hatred" and "says the discrimination, although mostly subtle, has gotten much worse since Colorado voters decided seven months ago to ban gay rights laws at the state and local level." Without offering any evidence to support that generalization, O'Neil concluded with another anecdote: "Kris...is afraid if gay rights are not protected in Colorado, she and other homosexuals might be forced back into the closet again, to protect their jobs."
On November 14, 1992, another O`Neil story featured speculation about the effects of Amendment 2, again without any statistical proof. He said: "Business owners have reported that gay bashings have been on the rise since the vote." In contrast, The Washington Post, no haven for gay-bashers, reported on May 30: "Gay-bashing reports in Colorado have dropped since passage in November of a measure against gay rights protections, state authorities said in announcing 54 anti-gay hate crimes were reported...In the same period last year, 61 attacks with 86 victims were reported."
Dream or Reality? When Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced his decision to redirect funding for SDI to a ground-based Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the media cheered the end of ignorance. ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings began smugly on May 13, "with the end of a dream, some would argue a pipe dream, that the United States could leapfrog its enemies and become invulnerable to nuclear attack...In simple language, Star Wars is dead." The same day, CNN's Jamie McIntyre reported that, "In the end, Star Wars was simply an idea whose time came and went." Daniel Schorr reported on National Public Radio on May 15, "President Reagan's impossible dream of ten years ago, the impenetrable shield is dead 30 billion dollars later."
While a few reporters acknowledged the symbolic value SDI had in arms negotiations, none acknowledged the arguments of conservatives such as Angelo Codevilla who, in the May 10 National Review, argued it was political and bureaucratic obstacles, not technological impossibilities, that prevented the deployment of a system. Codevilla wrote: "If God grants us a year or so to react, our country will not lack the technologies for self-defense."
NBC's Bad Trip. NBC's Today show dropped in on 1968 for the week of May 10. Throughout the week they paraded leftist activists across the screen as a fair representation of a "turbulent year," as if conservatives weren't alive in the year Richard Nixon won the White House.
On May 12, Jamie Gangel interviewed "three people who thought they could change the world, and one graduate of the class of 1968 who just might." Gangel interviewed Eric Foner, a leader of the Columbia protest who is now a professor in the building he occupied; Sharon Cohen, a student protester at the University of Wisconsin, now a Vice President at Reebok in charge of funding "human rights organizations"; Tommy Smith, who is best remembered for his Black Panther salute at the Mexico City Olympics; and President Clinton.
The next day, Bryant Gumbel interviewed former Black Panther leader and Congressman Bobby Rush and NAACP lawyer Elaine Jones. The one exception was their May 11 coverage of the Vietnam War, with former New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan and General William Westmoreland. Jamie Gangel said the joke about the 60's was "if you remembered it you didn't live through it." Thanks to NBC, we got a good view of what we never missed.
Healy Squeals. Add former Boston Globe Executive Editor and Washington Bureau Chief Robert Healy to the list of New Republic Clinton-Gore Suck-Up Award candidates. Gore accepted a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Earth in the Balance. In a May 17 column on Gore's speech, Healy was beside himself with praise. Gore was introduced by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "who noted that there was a time in American history when it was the norm to have distinguished vice presidents such as Adams and Jefferson. After a period of less-than-distinguished men in the office, it is good for the nation to have a literate one."
Healy went on to praise the Clinton administration as almost divine. "Clinton and his staff might be better off taking a day off. As one of the comics said about the Clinton staff, even God rested on the seventh day." Taking a parting shot at former President Reagan, Healy admitted the Clinton staff may be arrogant, but "It is better for the nation that it deal with the arrogance of youth, which will be tempered with experience, than a President who falls asleep right after lunch."
Editors Concede Bias. Several surveys over the past decade have proven members of the media are liberal and/or Democrats. MediaWatch has come across a survey with a twist: It found newspaper editors and publishers realize those personal views impact news coverage. Last September the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) commissioned a poll of 94 editors, 89 publishers and 22 executives carrying both titles. The NAA asked: "Do you believe there's bias in the general media's political coverage?" Yes, responded a slight majority of 51.7 percent. Those who responded affirmatively were then asked "toward which agenda, onservative or liberal?" 70.8 percent said liberal. Just 7.5 percent said conservative.
Analyzing their own segment of the media, however, they saw less bias. The NAA question: "Do you believe there's a bias in newspapers' political coverage?" This time, 59.5 percent responded no and only 37.1 percent said yes. Of those who said yes, 61.8 percent saw a liberal slant, 25 percent said bias went against both agendas and 13.2 percent claimed the bias favored the conservative agenda.
Blocking Brock. Some remain unshaken in refusing to cover David Brock's book The Real Anita Hill. At U.S News & World Report, reporter Ted Gest, who wrote a piece summarizing Tim Phelps' pro-Anita Hill book Capitol Games last year, told MediaWatch he rejected the notion "that because we wrote about Phelps, we have to write about Brock...We covered both sides of the story in our big article last fall, and Brock wouldn't talk to us at that time."
ABC's Good Morning America spokesperson Kathy Reif told MediaWatch the crew spent two weeks in Australia and New Zealand, and a Brock interview would now be too dated. Reif also argued that Phelps' appearance (a tough interview with Charles Gibson) came because his book was first, and he'd been leaked the Hill story. When asked if Phelps' book was better than Brock's on merit, Reif answered "we don't consider things like that."
Revolving Door: Whiplash
David Gergen, Editor-at-Large for U.S. News & World Report since 1988 and a former Nixon, Ford and Reagan aide, has spun back through the revolving door. On May 29, Bill Clinton named him Counselor to the President. Gergen will coordinate the White House communications apparatus. Chief Speechwriter for Richard Nixon in 1973-74, Gergen became Director of Communications for Gerald Ford, a title he later held under Reagan from 1981-83. In 1986-88 he was Editor of U.S. News.
For six years, Gergen's been the "conservative" MacNeil-Lehrer commentator. But he long ago showed that he's no conservative. In a 1990 U.S. News opinion piece, he argued that to kick the oil import habit, "there are several cures, but the fastest and surest is a 50-cent federal tax on every gallon of gas at the pump, phased in over five years."
During PBS coverage of last year's Democratic convention, he declared: "I must confess to a Tsongas bias," explaining that Tsongas and Senator Warren Rudman "want to go to the country with something like Common Cause and build a citizen's movement for change...pushing for shared sacrifice." A month later, he aligned himself with liberals, charging that "intolerant" Republicans were introducing "a sort of poison in our dialogue that it seems to me is inappropriate." And in his first press room appearance, he conceded he voted for Clinton.
McGovernite at NBC
In the wake of the Dateline NBC fiasco, NBC selected CBS Street Stories Executive Producer Andrew Lack as its new President. Among Lack's first decisions, naming a NBC Nightly News Executive Producer. His choice: Jeff Gralnick, Press Secretary during most of 1971 for former Senator George McGovern.
For 12 years before, Gralnick was a producer and Vietnam reporter for CBS News. Following his McGovern stint, Gralnick joined ABC News, rising to Executive Producer of World News Tonight by 1979. In 1985, Gralnick became Vice President and Executive Produer for special events. He's overseen all ABC election coverage since 1980.
Around the Cabinet
Journalists are taking up residence as Clinton Administration PR flacks in several agencies. Los Angeles Times reporter Victor Zonana, who FEC records show contributed $100 last year to Clinton, was named Deputy Assistant Secretary for public affairs at the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). A founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Zonana's been a New York City-based business reporter since he moved from the San Francisco bureau in 1990....
David French, CNN Washington reporter and weekend anchor since the early 1980s, has assumed the title of Deputy Director of Communications at the CIA....
At Education, the new Director of Communications is Kathryn Kahler, the Justice Dept. correspondent for Newhouse News Service. In Jan. 1991 she assumed the presidency of the National Press Club....
After four years as Press Secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Ginny Terzano has moved to the National Endowment for the Arts as Director of Public Affairs. In 1987 and early 1988 she worked for presidential hopefuls Gary Hart and Al Gore. When Gore quit, she jumped to the CBS News Election Unit as a researcher.
Clinton's "Serious" Deficit Cuts
Candidate Bill Clinton harpooned GOP Presidents for adding $3 trillion to the national debt in the last 12 years. President Clinton's budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will add $1 trillion to the debt in the next four years. Would reporters fault Clinton like they did Reagan and Bush?
No, they praised him. On CBS This Morning on April 30, co-host Harry Smith asked Sen. Bob Dole: "Yesterday you came out and said `Let's give the President an E for effort.' Shouldn't he get a better grade for at least passing a budget that takes the deficit seriously for the first time?" On May 28, This Morning's Paula Zahn asked Ross Perot: "Do you acknowledge that this is at all better than anything the Republicans attempted over the last 12 years?"
On NBC, reporter Lisa Myers agreed on the April 30 Today: "The President deserves great credit for having the courage to come up with a deficit reduction plan and we shouldn't lose sight of that." Two days later on Meet the Press, NBC White House reporter Andrea Mitchell complained that Clinton's image was all wrong: "This is the first President in a generation who had the guts to try to do something about deficit reduction and to take on health care, and he's somehow not selling that. He's still being perceived as an old-style Democrat." Declared Bob Schieffer on the May 23 Sunday Morning: "It's a plan that calls for massive cuts in federal spending."
The canard continued in the news magazines. Time Chief Political Correspondent Michael Kramer saluted Clinton on May 3: "Great salesman that he is, Clinton can be viewed as a victim of his own success. His insistence on deficit reduction -- and his cajoling of Congress to support a multi-year plan to accomplish it -- is the very definition of courage in modern American politics."
U.S. News & World Report Editor-in-Chief Mor Zuckerman crowed on May 17: "The political climate has changed in large measure because of Clinton's determination to address the deficit seriously for the first time in 12 years."
The staunchest Clinton defense came from Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift on the May 15 McLaughlin Group: "Essentially, the plan maintains the balance which undoes the '80s: 70 percent of the taxes fall on wealthier people. He does have a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases. It's true...It's the first serious attempt to cut the deficit in this country."
In the June 2 Washington Times, Heritage Foundation analyst Daniel Mitchell showed the package consists of $301 billion in tax increases and $20 billion in actual cuts in projected spending increases, making the real ratio of tax hikes to spending "cuts" 15 to 1.
Hubbell's "Perception" Problem
Apparently there are different standards of behavior for Democrats and Republicans. In February 1992, former Washington Post reporter Sidney Blumenthal wrote in The New Republic "While George Bush -- all whiteness -- talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery." Is this attitude an aberration?
When Clinton Justice Department nominee Webster Hubbell's membership in a whites-only country club threatened to derail his nomination, the evening news shows said nothing. Apparently using Blumenthal's logic, the networks thought belonging to a racially exclusive club was not troubling for a liberal Democrat who had supported civil rights in the past. That's despite the fact that members of the Little Rock NAACP charged Hubbell with lying when he claimed blacks were solicited to join the club.
The networks also ignored Jerry Seper's May 18 Washington Times scoop that Little Rock investment banker Roy Drew charged that Hubbell may have used inside information to score a quick $3,500 profit in 1983. Hubbell ordered Drew to buy 500 shares of stock in the Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Company (Arkla). Hubbell's college friend, White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty, was named President of Arkla a month after Hubbell's purchase. Insider trading accusations may have been a hot story in the Reagan years, but the networks weren't biting.
ABC's Peter Jennings reflected the ho-hum attitude toward liberal hypocrisy. During the May 19 World News Tonight, Jennings reported: "Another lesson today in how important perceptions are in politics. President Clinton's nominee for the number three job at the Justice Department, Webster Hubbell, told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that he resigned from a country club in Little Rock, Arkansas, a club which admitted its first black member only in December. Mr. Hubbell said he did not want to appear insensitive on racial matters." The same night, CBS's Dan Rather dismissed Hubbell's resignation as only meaning "he did not want anyone to think he was insensitive to racism." NBC and CNN evening shows ignored the Hubbell nomination.
Myers on Euro-Pork
NBC's Lisa Myers has again rooted out Congress' servings of pork. On the May 4 Nightly News, she exposed extravagant waste at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, funded by U.S. tax dollars: "In the last three years, thanks to Congress, the bank has received $200 million of your tax dollars. That money was supposed to provide loans and investments to help Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union...So far the bank...has spent $300 million on its own operations, and only $240 million on loans." She cited the $80 million dollars spent to outfit its headquarters, and noted: "The marble in the lobby wasn't good enough, so it was ripped out and replaced with the world's finest. The cost, more than a million dollars."
Closer to home, Myers examined the U.S Department of Agriculture, where "bureaucrats with nothing to do find ingenious ways to justify their existence." Questioning the need for a USDA office in one of America's wealthiest suburbs she found the office had given $3,500 to a "ritzy hunt club, where taxpayer money went to build a loading dock, for horse manure."
Engberg's Clinton Check
After a fall attacking George Bush's ads and mostly ignoring Bill Clinton's, CBS reporter Eric Engberg's "Reality Check" has turned to the new incumbent. On the April 17 Evening News, Engberg reported the Clinton campaign paid many of its young workers as "independent contractors," paying no Social Security taxes on them, a la Zoe Baird. The other networks and the news magazines ignored the scoop.
On May 24, Engberg suggested that Vice President Gore's government waste review start with his five offices, including a Carthage, Tennessee office with a paid staff of three. On May 28, Engberg took viewers inside the Clinton tax deal to see what legislators received in exchange for their yes votes, including a tougher Haiti policy and a new tariff on peanuts. Little tidbits like these gave viewers a better grasp of the details lost in the big picture.
Post's Ideological Double Standard
The Washington Post must think no two lisps are exactly alike. On March 18, the Post ran a front page story focusing on a Virginia GOP roast where Oliver North imitated a homosexual calling the White House, complete with lisp. Condemnation quickly followed, much of it from Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder. Yet on May 8, Post staff writer Donald Baker reported that Wilder donned his own lisp. Responding to a reporter's question concerning his future marital plans, "the Governor [Wilder] feigned a lisp and a limp wrist in replying, `Oh Don, you shouldn't have.'" While North made Page 1, the Post revealed the Wilder incident at the end of Baker's story on Page D7, in the Metro section.
Why the differing coverage for two comparable acts? "If Doug Wilder and Oliver North and the lispings in which they were involved, are peas of a pod, there's something odd about that pea patch," wrote former Post Ombudsman Richard Harwood on May 18. Harwood claimed, "if intent matters, these were not parallel cases. North spoke, with a political purpose, at a public meeting and invited press coverage." Harwood added, "Wilder on the other hand, has been so contrite that he lied about the episode, denying that it occurred."
Rich vs. Day
On May 9, reporter Spencer Rich passed on the findings of the Democrats' Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that a single-payer Canadian-style health system abolishing private insurance companies would save $24.3 billion in administrative costs. Despite the odd conclusion (government-run health care will save on paperwork), Rich quoted no critics of the CBO report.
Twelve days later, reporter Kathleen Day covered a health report from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) estimating one million Americans would lose their jobs if employers were forced to provide insurance for their employees. But Day spent more than half the story quoting critics and quibbling with the conclusions, saying the study "did not take into consideration" the health portion of workers' compensation may be paid by government, and "focused only on the short-term effects" of mandated health coverage.
Janet Cooke Award: Hard News Hillary's Pliant Press
How are the media covering the new First Lady? On CNN's Reliable Sources, Time White House reporter Margaret Carlson claimed: "At Time magazine we cover her just the way we cover the President... I think actually we try to cover her as hard news." For the kind of reporting actually offered, one-sided hailing of Hillary and a caricature of conservatives, Carlson, along with Washington Post reporter Martha Sherrill, earned the June Janet Cooke A-ward.
Carlson's May 10 Time cover story was a dizzying parade of compliments: "Every witness has his or her horror story about getting sick, and Hillary listens as if hearing such woe for the first time...Ever the best girl in class, there seems to be no fact she hasn't memorized...When she briefed the committee, the clarity of her pitch opened a few eyes...When the President's economic address to Congress was scraps of paper on the conference table in the Roosevelt Room, she stepped in and pasted it back together again...She goes through paperwork like butter, scribbling in the margins of the mail, trying not to touch the same piece twice...Friends say Hillary fenced off a park of privacy right after the notorious broadcast on 60 Minutes, when almost every frame of tape showing her at her best was left on the cutting-room floor...She has taken to her role like a student, reading 43 White House biographies and numerous histories."
Carlson concluded: "As the icon of American womanhood, she is the medium through which the remaining anxieties over feminism are being played out. She is on a cultural seesaw held to a schizophrenic standard: everything she does that is soft is a calculated coverup of the careerist inside; everything that isn't is a put-down of women who stay home and bake cookies."
But is Hillary Clinton benefitting from a different double standard -- heading a task force doing the hard-news work of redesigning one-seventh of the economy while riding a wave of soft news? The accompanying interview with Mrs. Clinton had 20 questions, three on health care and 17 on her personal life. Carlson asked about the President doing crossword puzzles: "Does he ask you for a six-letter word for a river in Germany?" And: "Do you get a chance to exercise?...Do people stop talking about issues long enough to date?...You give the President lots of support. Who supports you?"
Carlson relegated the hard-news controversy over Hillary's violation of the open-meetings law to one paragraph out of 40: "A group of doctors and industry insiders sued the White House to open the meetings, arguing that Hillary's presence as a non-government employee entitled them to attend as well. A federal judge ruled some of the meetings had to be open. The Administration appealed, contending it was only trying to keep lobbyists at bay."
After declining to discuss most of the article on the record, Carlson was willing to tell MediaWatch about that law: "It's not exactly on point here. The purpose of the [Federal Advisory Committee] Act was to keep out lobbyists and special interests... we looked at that ruling several times in the magazine in different ways. We haven't used it as a vehicle for doing this because it isn't so on point that it works. I think people look around for a way to challenge something and they find a statute that might help them. It's not as clear for journalistic purposes as you might think...By the time you explain what this is, you've used up thirty lines."
As for the interview, Carlson explained that Time wanted to include the questions that no one else had asked: "We have a lot on the record about health care, and three questions out of 20 about something we have her on the record for seemed enough when you can get in stuff that nobody'd ever seen."
Sherrill told MediaWatch she's no Hillary supporter and no Margaret Carlson type (she called Carlson's articles "press releases"), but her May 4 Washington Post "Style" section article on the inner Hillary's political and spiritual influences did not hold back on praise: "In the midst of redesigning America's health care system and replacing Madonna as our leading cult figure, the new First Lady has already begun working on her next project, far more metaphysical and uplifting." Hillary's mission: "redefining who we are as human beings in this postmodern age." Sherrill added: "She has goals, but they appear to be so huge and so far off -- grand and noble things twinkling in the distance -- that it is hard to see what she sees."
Sherrill told MediaWatch "People assumed immediately that [the Madonna reference] was praise. I didn't see it as such. I don't think the White House was thrilled by this piece." Like Carlson, Sherrill believes her editors are sour on Hillary: "In the context of the paper, if you say anything positive about Hillary Clinton, and there are positive things to say -- she's an admirable woman. She believes in a politics, and she's worked hard for them, so why are we shooting her down?"
Sherrill wrote in the Post: "She is both impersonal and poignant -- with much more depth, intellect, and spirituality than we are used to in a politician." She admitted that was praise: "Well. I've interviewed a fair number of politicians, and this is stuff they don't usually talk about."
Both reporters caricatured the conservative criticism of Mrs. Clinton as extreme and unthinking. Wrote Sherrill: "All this children business, children business -- keeps reminding the far right of communist youth camps, early indoctrination, Marxist brainwashing." Despite claiming she voted for Reagan twice, had an aunt in the John Birch Society, and is "the only Republican in the Post building," Sherrill told MediaWatch "This is something I got from a couple of people, and I'm not going to say who they were, conservatives. I think [conservative criticism] comes from a lot of emotion and not very much thinking."
Carlson also caricatured the Right: "In a state where Gloria Steinem was considered by some a communist, Hillary started out being regarded as a stuck-up feminist from Wellesley and Yale who wouldn't change her name and ended up being a popular and admired First Lady." Asked by MediaWatch who considered Steinem a communist, Carlson confessed: "That was overly glib, and I regret it now. But 20 years ago, a woman came from Yale Law School and the House Judiciary Committee and kept her own name. This was a very conservative group of people, and she was deep in a hole. She had to prove herself."
Both Carlson and Sherrill explained that they would have preferred to have done these articles after the health care task force released its plan. That remains the real test: Will Hillary ever become hard news, or remain a feminist icon and cult figure to be celebrated, not investigated?