In This Issue
Hush Little Hubbell, Don't You Cry; NewsBites: Like A Good Neighbor?; Revolving Door: Repudiating Molinari; Sandbagged on the Flood Bill; Lunden's True Love; Uninformed Utah and Job Training That Works; What Are You? Switzerland?; Janet Cooke Award: Ode to a Communist's Lawyer
Hush Little Hubbell, Don't You Cry
Think back to the unfolding of Iran-Contra ten years ago. Imagine that instead of testifying before Congress, Oliver North suddenly made $500,000 in "jobs" from Reagan-friendly corporations and announced he would not cooperate with Lawrence Walsh or congressional investigations. Would the liberal media have yawned?
Not exactly. So where is the media firestorm around Webster Hubbell? One of Bill Clinton's best friends, the former number three official in the Justice Department resigned in disgrace in early 1994. Months later, he pled guilty to embezzling almost a half million dollars from the Rose Law Firm, where he worked with Hillary Clinton, including work on Whitewater deals. Hubbell might have considered telling all to Ken Starr to lighten his legal woes. Instead, as national newspapers have pieced together, the White House campaigned to enrich Hubbell with phony "jobs" during this crucial period. White House denials of a fund-Hubbell campaign crumbled with each new story in print outlets but the networks ignored most of them.
To document network Hubbell coverage, MediaWatch analysts reviewed evening news on four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN's The World Today), as well as the morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC. From January 1 through May 31, the Big Three networks combined aired only 10 full reports and eight anchor briefs on the Hubbell story. CNN didn't do much better, with six full reports and ten anchor briefs. The morning shows followed with only four full reports, two interviews, and 14 anchor briefs combined. Among the underplayed print revelations:
January 22: Associated Press reported that Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry admitted an error in suggesting Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey had "no discussion of and no knowledge of" Hubbell's $100,000 salary from the Indonesian Lippo Group. Network coverage? Zero. On January 29, the morning after Clinton was asked about Hubbell at a press conference, Tim Russert briefly discussed Clinton's "lawyerly" denial and noted McCurry's admission.
February 9: Time magazine reported Ken Starr was exploring whether Hubbell got hush money, including a "job" with Time- Warner. TV coverage? All four networks aired one evening story over the next four days. CBS This Morning aired a full report and ABC's Good Morning America aired one anchor brief.
February 24: Hubbell refused to cooperate with House and Senate fundraising inquiries, exposing him to potential contempt of Congress charges. Network coverage? On CBS, Dan Rather read two sentences. On NBC, Jim Miklaszewski threw in two sentences. ABC did nothing and neither did the morning shows.
February 25: The Los Angeles Times reported on page one "In private, the Clintons have quietly stayed in touch with Hubbell through a trusted White House aide who acted as a confidential go-between." The aide, Marsha Scott, visited Hubbell frequently in prison and traveled to Little Rock to meet with him when he first appeared before a Whitewater grand jury. Did Scott influence Hubbell's Whitewater testimony? TV coverage? Zero, even on CNN.
March 5: The Washington Post carried a front-page story reporting that Ken Starr subpoenaed the White House for information on "20 individuals and entities connected to an Indonesian conglomerate that made a payment to former associate attorney general, Webster Hubbell." Network coverage? CNN and CBS This Morning each aired one anchor brief.
March 6: The New York Times first pegged Hubbell's payments at "more than $400,000 from about a dozen enterprises, including the organizers of a multibillion-dollar development in China that received the endorsement of the Clinton administration." CBS Evening News aired a Phil Jones story on the $400,000, but did not pick up the China angle. ABC and NBC did zero.
March 20: The New York Times noted Lippo boss James Riady had five days of visits to the White House, shortly after which he paid $100,000 to Hubbell. Network coverage? Nothing. Three nights later, ABC gave it a sentence.
April 1: Former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and current Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles admitted soliciting "jobs" for Hubbell. All three networks devoted anchor briefs to the development: CBS gave it 33 seconds, ABC and NBC 39. ABC was the only one to note Hubbell payments "amounted to more than $500,000," and are "a major focus" of Ken Starr.
April 7: The Washington Times shattered the claim the Clintons had no knowledge in 1994 of Hubbell's wrongdoing, finding a memo notifying Hillary Clinton that Hubbell was under investigation by the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). Three days later, the Times added the First Lady's office ordered the RTC to advise her of all media questions about Hubbell. Also on the 10th, New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Stephen Labaton reported: "New interviews suggest that a wider circle of White House officials at various levels were intimately aware of the [Hubbell "jobs"] effort than has been previously known." Network coverage? Zilch. But all four evening shows noted Hillary Clinton's joke that the focus on Whitewater "reminds me of some people's obsession with UFOs and the Hale-Bopp comet."
April 12: New York Times reporter Stephen Labaton found the White House "knew [in 1994] that Hubbell had already emerged as a crucial witness" in the Whitewater case. Network coverage? Zero.
April 16: Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt discovered "Webster Hubbell had more than 70 meetings with administration officials" in the nine months between his resignation and his guilty pleas, showing "the extent of Hubbell's contacts within the upper reaches of the White House and the administration was much broader than previously known." Network coverage? Zero.
May 3: Washington Post reporter Sharon Lafraniere noted the White House conceded Bill and Hillary met with Hubbell four times in 1994. They had previously claimed only two meetings. Network coverage? Zero.
May 5: The New York Times reported Arkansas lawyer James Blair and Clinton's personal lawyer David Kendall both knew the seriousness of the charges against Hubbell. Blair warned the Clintons that Hubbell "needed to resign as quickly as possible." In the evening, only CBS addressed the story for 33 seconds. (NBC's Jim Miklaszewski mentioned it on Today on the 7th.) On the 6th, the New York Times reported the White House was now claiming "the Clintons and their aides did not 'fully' know the seriousness of the allegations" until the end of 1994. Network coverage? Zero.
May 22: USA Today revealed "Clinton Pal [Vernon] Jordan Got Hubbell Job," noting Hubbell made more than $60,000 from billionaire Ronald Perelman after Jordan introduced him in April 1994. TV coverage? Zip.
NewsBites: Like A Good Neighbor?
Like A Good Neighbor? When the Supreme Court ruled that Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit against President Clinton could proceed, all three evening news shows led with the story. But only NBC's Jim Miklaszewski told viewers: "This case is running into some big money. The President's lawyers have already billed more than a million and a half dollars, most of it paid by the President's insurance companies." But he didn't convey the potential scandal this encompasses.
In a June 1996 American Spectator story the networks skipped, Byron York questioned coverage from State Farm and the Chubb Group, suggesting the policies violated many normal insurance industry rules, making this look like a gift. With all the controversy about whether Bob Dole's loan to Newt Gingrich would create a conflict of interest, this lack of concern over insurance payments to Clinton is odd. While Clinton's legal defense fund won't accept corporate money, York noted: "When two giant corporations pitch in $900,000 for the same cause Clinton's legal defense no such ethics rules apply."
No Way, San Jose. Being a reporter means never having to admit you're wrong. Last August the San Jose Mercury News printed an expose from crusading reporter Gary Webb, charging the CIA with introducing crack cocaine into black L.A. neighborhoods during the '80s to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. The four networks devoted a total of 16 stories to the allegations and the resulting inner city anger, including all four networks' coverage of CIA Director John Deutch's town meeting in South Central Los Angeles.
The networks covered the story from the conspiracy-mongers' viewpoint. On October 1, 1996, CBS's Bill Whittaker warned: "There is no evidence directly linking the CIA to the drug sales and the CIA says its own internal investigation has found no connection. Yet here at Ground Zero of the crack explosion, the story simply won't go away." When Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos said in a May 11 editorial the series "fell short of my standards," the June 13 Dateline NBC was the only show to mention it. For the rest, the story did go away.
Reich vs. Reality. On the April 17 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw glowingly profiled former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and touted his new book Locked in the Cabinet as "an instructive and insightful account of his frustrations and his triumphs," and described Reich as "a physically small man with a big agenda for the working class." Reich may be short, but the tales he told were very tall.
In the May 29 edition of the online magazine Slate, Jonathan Rauch uncovered various inaccuracies in Reich's memoirs, including a February 1995 session with the Joint Economic Committee: "'The Republican attack machine is gearing up,' Reich writes, 'and I'm one of the targets.' Then he paints a scene in which committee Chairman Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) interrupts Reich's initial testimony and lights into him savagely starting with, 'Where did you learn economics, Mr. Secretary?' and then jumping up and down in his chair and crying, 'Evidence! Evidence!' while pointing to a chart."
Rauch checked the C-SPAN tapes: "Reich appears to have fabricated much of this episode for dramatic effect. Saxton was, in fact, decorous and polite. He did not jump up and down; he did not impugn Reich's education; he did not shout 'Evidence! Evidence!' Most of the lines that Reich attributes to Saxton starting with 'where did you learn economics, Mr. Secretary?' appear never to have been said at all." On the May 25 Meet the Press, Tim Russert moderated a debate over the accuracy of Gary Aldrich's book Unlimited Access. NBC has yet to do the same for Robert Reich's collection of embellished half-truths.
Flinn Spin. The media's obsession with military sex scandals continued with the saga of Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 pilot, who was charged in a court martial for adultery, lying, and disobeying an order. Network reporters attacked the Air Force for going after a woman, and turned a home wrecker into a victim.
Morley Safer started the odyssey with a sob story on the May 11 60 Minutes. Safer presented to the American public the quivering, tearful, lovestruck Flinn as an acclaimed pilot, a "warrior" from her evaluations who was now being chased out of the military for the "biblical offense" of adultery. Safer told Flinn's parents, "It's hard to believe someone of her ability and character could go to jail." Mocking military readiness, Safer asked an Air Force attorney, "the suggestion is that sex could be our undoing as a military fighting force?"
With that report the flood gates opened up. In the three weeks that followed, the three networks ran a combined 29 stories on the evening broadcasts. Twelve stories set her on a pedestal as the first female B-52 bomber pilot who was now under attack. CBS's Peter Van Sant on May 15 was typical: "She was the pride of the Air Force, making history as the first woman B-52 pilot." Van Sant falsely reported Air Force statistics: "Lieutenant Flinn's case has become an embarrassment to the Air Force because she is being prosecuted for crimes that are often overlooked or handled with counseling when the accused pilot is a man." The very next night NBC's Jim Avila set the record straight: "More men have been court-martialed than women, 363 men and only 21 women." In a service where 16 percent of the members are women, Avila's numbers show that only 5 percent of those charged with adultery are women.
Not that NBC didn't have a pro-Flinn spin. On May 22, Tom Brokaw blamed the men: "We began this evening with the story of Lieutenant Flinn, a woman caught in a tangled web of rules in what had been a man's world." The next night, NBC's Andrea Mitchell put the onus on the military, not on Flinn: "The Kelly Flinn case has ignited a national debate over whether the military can deal fairly with women."
Storm Over Strom. Quiz: Name the Senator who is A) the most senior member of his party and B) a former member of a violent racist organization? Hint: It's not Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Yet when Thurmond set the record for length of Senate service May 22, the networks focused squarely on the Senator's segregationist past. Without noting that he was a Democrat at the time, that night CBS's Bob Schieffer called him an "arch-segregationist who filibustered 24 straight hours against civil rights." NBC's Joe Johns noted he was once a "staunch segregationist." On Today the next morning, NBC's Lisa Myers asked: "You were once a segregationist. You voted against most major civil rights bills. Do you regret that at all?"
Los Angeles Times reporter Ron Brownstein was unforgiving on the PBS chatfest Washington Week in Review May 23: "We shouldn't forget that this was a man who defined his identity and became a national figure by being on the wrong side of the most important issue America has faced since World War II....And no matter what else has happened since...that is something that lives as part of his record always and really shouldn't be forgotten." Host Ken Bode agreed: "Yes, that's true."
Thurmond's past is worthy of criticism, but when it comes to the segregationist history of Democrats who have adopted liberal civil rights stands, journalistic memories run short. How about the Ku Klux Klan record of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV)? The subject went unmentioned when Byrd achieved his own milestone of 14,000 Senate votes in July of 1995. Philip Terzian of the Providence Journal ran into the media double standard on the February 3, 1995 Washington Week: "The Democratic point man on the Balanced Budget Amendment is Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Retired Klansman, who really personifies transferring portions of the federal government to West Virginia...Is he the wisest choice to be leading the charge on this?" Steve Roberts, then of U.S. News & World Report, shot back: "I think calling him a retired Klansman was a little harsh. That was a long time ago in his past."
Still Crazy After All These Years. A recent survey for USA Todayfound that 22.4 percent of Americans believe the U.S. had its best leadership during the 1980's, second only to the 1960's. These Americans must not watch or read the national media, who continue to rewrite the history of the 1980's to match the liberal view that Reaganomics made the rich richer and the poor poorer, and tax cuts combined with defense hikes made the deficit soar.
On the May 4 C-SPAN Sunday Journal, Washington Post reporter John Yang used flawed assertions about the 1980's to discredit the current proposed tax cuts: "The way these tax cuts are structured, many Democrats fear that they will explode, the costs will sort of explode in the second five years and that we're getting ourselves into the same situation we got into with the 1981 tax cuts...I think there's concern that we're getting into a situation where we're going to have to pay for these tax cuts over the second five years from 2002 out, and that's gonna cramp the government, have even less money for spending and less money for programs."
As economist Daniel Mitchell argued in the Heritage Foundation's book Issues '96, "Tax revenues expanded from $599 billion in 1981 to $991 billion in 1989. Even after adjusting for inflation, revenues grew by 20 percent."
In a May 22 USA Today profile of Rep. Dick Gephardt, reporters Jill Lawrence and William Welch scolded him: "He voted for the 1981 Reagan tax cuts that were a windfall for wealthy Americans." But IRS figures show that the share of income tax collections paid by the top one percent of taxpayers grew from 18 percent in 1981 to more than 27 percent in 1988. The share paid by the top ten percent also rose as the percent paid by those earning less than $30,000 fell. Later, the two repeated Yang's error: "'This all started, in my view, back in 1981,' Gephardt said. He didn't mention that he had voted that year in favor of the deep Reagan tax cuts that fed the federal budget deficit."
Race Ranting. CBS launched a backlash against anti-affirmative action movements around the country. On the May 16 Evening NewsDan Rather compared the end of quotas to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Rather told viewers: "Earlier tonight we reported the President's apology for medical experiments that allowed black Americans to die of syphilis. The President noted how badly this hurt public trust in government, especially among minorities. The same criticism is being made today on another score. As CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports, it's the fallout from California's voter-approved ban on state affirmative action programs."
Blackstone focused on the decrease in black applications for admission to California's state sponsored medical schools asserting that "the main reason for the drop in medical school enrollment next year is that minority students have chosen not to apply. Many seem to believe no matter what their qualifications, the welcome mat has been pulled in at California's universities." Conservative anti-quota activist Ward Connerly appeared in the report, but he was drowned out by four pro-quota talking heads. Never mentioned in the piece is that the decline in enrollment may prove that without the preference, some minorities could not meet the standard set for everyone else. Also neglected is the idea that trust in government may increase now that the bureaucracy is no longer playing favorites according to the color of a person's skin.
On June 7, Saturday anchor Paula Zahn interviewed retiring Spelman College President and leftist activist Johnetta Cole. Instead of challenging Cole on her radical affirmative action views, Zahn lobbed softballs at her. Among her questions: "What do you think is the most insidious threat to women today: sexism or racism?"
Revolving Door: Repudiating Molinari
Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari's decision to resign from the House of Representatives this summer to slide into a co-host slot of a new fall show, CBS News Saturday Morning, raised indignant cries from journalists about the blurring of the line between the media and politics, worries not expressed when a liberal goes through the revolving door.
"The GOP News from CBS," read the headline over a May 29 New York Times editorial which argued that "CBS has reduced the wall," between news and politics "to dust." The CBS decision in April to hire former Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat who may become Molinari's co-host, failed to generate a condemnatory editorial. In fact, many more liberals than conservatives revolve between media and political slots. The MRC's Revolving Door count now stands at 323 liberals/Democrats versus just 83 conservatives/ Republicans. The latest liberal example came May 28, the same day as CBS announced Molinari's hiring: ABC News named Jim Williams, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's Press Secretary since 1992, as a correspondent.
Molinari is hardly the first political operative to join CBS News. While Molinari's influence would be limited to one show, Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch oversees the entire network. Lynch directed polling for George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, the Democratic National Committee and the 1984 Mondale campaign, all before joining CBS in 1985. David Burke, President of CBS News from 1988 to 1990, served as Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1965 to 1971. In 1995 President Clinton brought him along to California to, as the Wall Street Journal described, "provide political and communications tips." Last year Clinton named Burke to a board overseeing international broadcasting, but none of this raised a peep of protest.
Indeed, revolvers with the most influence are the ones the public knows the least about. In a May 30 Los Angeles Times story, reporter Jane Hall observed that "TV news executives argue that former politicians can provide viewers with valuable insights into the way government and politics really work." She then offered the recollection of CNN President Tom Johnson: "As Lyndon Johnson once said [about the group of Ivy League academics in his Cabinet], 'It would help if one of you had been elected sheriff.'" Shaw failed to mention that Johnson knows what Lyndon Johnson said because he once toiled as a Special Assistant to President Johnson. On the June 1 Fox News Sunday, National Public Radio's Mara Liasson complained: "I think it's disturbing. I mean, she's is not going to be a commentator or a part of a show where she's clearly identified with her partisan point of view she's going to be an anchor. And I think it means, it sends the message that there's no such thing as journalism anymore." Liasson's NPR colleague, Nina Totenberg, raged on Inside Washington: "This really makes me want to puke."
Neither bothered to mention that current NPR President Delano Lewis raised money for Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry; previous President Douglas Bennet headed the Agency for International Development for President Carter and left NPR for an Assistant Secretary of State slot under Clinton; and Bennet had replaced Frank Mankiewicz, an operative for George McGovern.
Sandbagged on the Flood Bill
Reporting on the disaster relief bill resembled the media's take on the government shutdown: ignore Clinton's role and blame the GOP.
On the June 6 ABC World News Tonight, John Cochran just blamed one side: "Flood victims in Grand Forks do not understand why Republican leaders refuse to pass an aid bill without strings attached." Victim Tomi Lundby declared: "The river took our home, our possessions, our neighbors, our neighborhood and we still have our spirit. But the government is taking our spirit and our strength. And that's what is going to kill us."
On the June 4 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer claimed that no bill meant no help: "As the television cameras rolled, the President and much of official Washington choppered in to inspect the damage. Congress was quick to promise billions in flood relief. But today, the waters have receded, the TV cameras are gone and, you guessed it, the flood relief aid never got there. It's still mired in a partisan congressional debate."
Today anchor Matt Lauer added on June 10: "Residents of the northern plains are up the creek without a paddle. President Clinton has vetoed an emergency disaster relief bill after Republicans added two unrelated amendments that he opposed. As a result, thousands of flood victims are still waiting for federal aid."
But Washington Post writer David Broder noted June 1: "No one has actually has been denied a warming cup of coffee or a replacement for a waterlogged carpet...About $2 billion is 'in the pipeline' for emergency assistance."
In a June 11 press release the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported: "More than 4,000 residents have received assistance through the Disaster Housing program and more than $8.5 million has been distributed. Seventy-eight percent of the Individual & Family Grant Program cases sent to the state have been closed....The Small Business Administration has approved $7,398,300 in loans to individuals and businesses." The networks also failed to explore whether victims had the foresight to purchase flood insurance, which costs about $300.
Reporters found the Republicans guilty of larding on unrelated riders. On June 10 Schieffer explained that both sides agreed to flood aid, asserting: "Up to that point, no problem. But then the Republican tacked on some other provisions that they knew the White House did not want."
But dropping riders banning the use of statistical sampling in the next Census and preventing government shutdowns would hardly result in a "clean bill." Clinton supported the inclusion of unrelated riders funding troops in Bosnia, more WIC spending, and Social Security dollars for disabled immigrants "strings" reporters ignored.
Lunden's True Love
Whenever American network reporters travel to Scandinavia, it is a good bet stories on the joys of parental leave, "free" day care, and other government "benefits" are soon to follow. Such was the case when ABC's Good Morning America crossed the Atlantic.
In Denmark on May 12, Joan Lunden gushed: "Yes, Scandinavia has a very unique approach to life, and at the center of it all is an extremely progressive set of social systems, and I think people would be surprised at just how much they provide."
Reporter Bill Ritter detailed how a Swedish father took five months off to care for his kids while still getting 75 percent of his salary. Ritter extolled the policy: "And that's the Scandinavian way, with family-oriented benefits, like maternal leave, guaranteed by both the government and by private industry." Ritter did note that the average income tax is over 50 percent. "While that kind of tax might make most Americans cringe, most people here say with the benefits to the family, the taxes are worth it."
The GMA crew swung up to Norway the next day, where Lunden equated government mandates on private employers with caring about children. She introduced her interview with the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland: "Scandinavia has really been known, all these countries, for their innovative and their progressive social systems. But when it comes to protecting women's rights and children's rights, Norway could really teach most other countries a thing or two; they are top priorities here." Lunden failed to identify Brundtland as the First VP of the Socialist International and member of the Labour Party.
Lunden was so excited she appeared ready to move to Norway, suggesting that when women hear of all the great benefits "most women" would "just want to pack up and come right over here." She oozed about paid maternity leave: "You realize that in America, a lot of women only have six or eight weeks off. I mean, a year paid leave, to go away, have your baby, and you're not penalized at work at all. And even the fathers are required to take about a month off, right?"
Lunden concluded by wishing that the U.S. would impose some of those great mandates: "Hopefully, we can get some of those programs instituted in America. "
Uninformed Utah and Job Training That Works
When President Clinton stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and dedicated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah on September 18, 1996, it was a star-studded grand slam. ABC's Sam Donaldson portrayed Clinton as a savior: "While Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, actor Robert Redford and others looked on from behind a fence, the President explained why he is protecting 1.7 million acres of federal land in Utah from commercial exploitation."
What ABC didn't tell you, however, was that this was an underhanded, back-door federal land grab. Ted Koppel made this the topic of the May 15 Nightline, from Salt Lake City: "While Washington did consult with some Democratic Governors in the region, while it did talk to the Sierra Club and Robert Redford, Utah's Governor and its congressional delegation were kept in the dark."
Koppel pressed Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt: "As the former Governor of Arizona, you've sat where Governor Leavitt is sitting now and I guess have cussed out the federal government yourself ....It does seem like a strange way of doing business and making friends." After Babbitt insisted that Congress debated the issue, Koppel shot back: "I suppose it wouldn't have been necessary to call the Governor of Colorado, either, or for that matter Robert Redford, but you did."
Job Training That Works
The May 4 60 Minutes devoted two whole segments to a successful private sector job training program in New York City called Strive. CBS's Lesley Stahl described it as "a program funded entirely with corporate and charitable donations that's part boot camp, part group therapy. It's not just for folks on welfare but for anyone who is poor and out of work. In the last twelve years, Strive has put more than 15,000 people into real jobs."
Strive's success seems to lie in their ability to break down bad work habits and bad attitudes. Stahl explained: "Many of these people see themselves as victims: victims of poverty. Sixty percent are on welfare. Victims of drug addiction, victims of racism. But the victim attitude isn't tolerated here."
Stahl pointed out that Strive finds work for 75 percent of its graduates, and of those "80 percent are still on the job two years later. That's partly because Strive follows up on them for two years." Strive Director Rob Carmona reported that the three- week program costs about $1,500 per person. Stahl added: "That's just a tiny fraction of what government job programs cost per person."
What Are You? Switzerland?
Some leading journalists see themselves as independent world players, above any consideration of protecting the U.S., which ensures the press freedom they'd endanger.
A May 26 New Republic "Notebook" item provided an emblematic example. It reported that Washington Post editor David Ignatius, at a luncheon celebrating his new spy novel A Firing Offense, floated a plot line: "In the book, a Washington Post reporter cultivates sources at the CIA, who later ask him for a favor. Will he, while traveling in China, pass a message to a scientist that could not only save the scientist's life, but possibly prevent China from developing a horrific new biological weapon?"
"At the lunch, Ignatius asked Bob Woodward what he would do. Considering the extraordinary circumstances, Woodward said he would pass on the message, as long as his Washington Post bosses approved. It just so happened that one of those bosses, Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., was also at the lunch, and Downie rather passionately announced that, far from approving Woodward's secret mission, he would resign from the paper rather than allow it to go forward. Downie...sees journalists as a priestly class above national security, citizenship, even life and death...'What if it were not the Chinese,' someone asked, but the Nazis? Downie held to his position, if wiltingly: 'Usually we look for alternatives...' Usually? How often does this question come up at the Post?"
Downie's view is hardly an aberration. During a 1989 PBS panel, journalists were asked what they would do if they learned the enemy troops with which they were traveling were about to launch a surprise attack on a U.S. unit. Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace agreed getting ambush footage for the news would come before warning the U.S. troops.
The moderator asked: "Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?" Without hesitating Wallace responded: "No, you don't have a higher duty ...you're a reporter."
Janet Cooke Award: Ode to a Communist's Lawyer
America may have won the Cold War. The Soviet archives may have proven that the Communist Party USA was an espionage tool of a foreign power, taking Soviet commands and Soviet money. The expansion of Soviet communism may have exported a system of mass murder and abject slavery to millions. But to the media, none of that packs the moral punch of a group of communist script writers and directors who couldn't get a job in Hollywood.
CBS keeps coming back to these blacklisted "Hollywood Ten." On June 15, 1994, CBS aired a one-hour CBS Reports special on McCarthyism as a tribute to the anti-anti-communist "integrity and honor" of CBS legend Edward R. Murrow. One of CBS's featured victims was Hollywood Ten lawyer Bartley Crum, whose daughter, Patricia Bosworth, blamed his 1959 suicide on anti-communism: "I don't think he ever got over that, the shock of what happened, the evils that were perpetrated by McCarthy."
Columnist William F. Buckley took exception: "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, but might have been related to Crum's past." Buckley noted one of the Ten, Edward Dmytryk (Crum's primary client), admitted in 1951 he was a member of the Communist Party, adding: "The idea that there were Americans around who defended, indeed applauded and in some cases spied for Josef Stalin and his gulag was thought treacherous and morally disgraceful."
Buckley's viewpoint was nowhere to be found on May 25, when CBS Sunday Morning reprised the accusations of Patricia Bosworth, who has now written a book on her father's life. For returning to that one-sided attack on anti-communism, CBS reporter Martha Teichner earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Host Charles Osgood introduced the segment: "In May of 1947, just a half a century ago, a congressional committee reported that hearings in Hollywood had yielded hundreds of names of communists who had infiltrated the movie business 98 percent of whom were writers. That was the start of what became known as the Hollywood witch hunts. Reputations were burned at the stake. Black lists were drawn up. Those accused, unless they themselves became accusers, were unemployable. And did no one defend these defamed people? Oh, yes. Some did, and found themselves defamed and in need of defense. 'A Man of Honor' is reported now by Martha Teichner."
Osgood's editorializing left an obvious question unanswered: how can we know if the Hollywood Ten were "defamed" if we don't know whether they were communists? How could Dmytryk be "defamed" as a communist when the charge was true? Imagine substituting the word "Nazi" for "communist" in Osgood's sermon. If the Nazis had agents or sympathizers writing movies in Hollywood, would CBS use this poor-tyrant-lover tone?
Teichner began: "Patricia Bosworth is reading from the book she has written about her father, Bartley Cavanaugh Crum. You might have heard of him. Bartley Crum was one of the lawyers for the 'Hollywood Ten,' directors and screenwriters who went to jail for refusing, exactly fifty years ago, to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee whether they were communists."
Bosworth exulted: "Men invariably surrounded him when he spoke. 'It was almost a sexual thing,' my mother said, 'because he exuded a real power in his prime.' He had an access to power: the White House, the media..." Teichner added to the legend: "Bartley Crum was a player in some of the major events of this century. His dazzling rise to prominence, matched only by his terrible fall....The picture looked so promising, so perfect then. Bartley Crum, the young corporate lawyer, an Irish Catholic Republican, who soon knew everybody in California politics...He became the confidant of a would-be President, Wendell Willkie. And the adviser to an elected one, Harry Truman."
Bosworth told of the wonderful dinner parties her parents threw, with guest lists studded with famous names William Saroyan, John Steinbeck, and so on. Teichner added: "The names in the party book were often names in the headlines: those of labor leaders, leftists. Their causes: the Spanish Civil War, the fate of concentration camp survivors stuck in displaced persons camps." CBS did not explain these partisans backed the communists in the Spanish civil war, and only cared for the survivors of Nazi camps, not Soviet ones.
Bosworth added more tributes: "Well, I think that he was certainly a crusader, a fighter for all sorts of causes. A lot of people said he was a fighter for lost causes. But he was very serious about it, and maybe more serious than he was about, sometimes about, taking care of us. But that's the way he was."
Teichner declared: "His adoring daughter saved all the clippings, all the photographs, all the clues to what was to come...And that was the 'Red Scare.' The hunt for communists began almost as soon as World War II ended, with the onset of the Cold War. It was led by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover." CBS aired a clip of Hoover testifying: "Communists have been, still are, and always will be a menace to freedom." These words represented the menace to CBS.
From there, Teichner again developed the thesis that anti- communists were responsible for the death of Bartley Crum: "When the House Un-American Activities Committee took on the film industry, Bartley Crum had no idea that representing the Hollywood Ten would destroy his career.... Bartley Crum was already under FBI surveillance, but from then on, surveillance became harassment." She asked Bosworth: "Then, these documents say that your father was a communist? But he wasn't." Bosworth replied: "No, he was never a communist. A Republican and a Catholic...I think he believed totally in the Constitution and the First Amendment. He thought he would be protected, he thought what he was doing would be constitutionally right, and so he was fearless. He felt the Constitution would protect him. It didn't, unfortunately."
Teichner then asked: "Even though he was personally ambitious and liked politics and liked power, he always went for the dangerous if he thought it was right." Boswell replied: "Yes he did." Teichner added: "Was it the right decision, knowing what it cost?"
Teichner did not return MediaWatch phone calls. CBS never attempted to explore the thorny paradox at the heart of its story: would America be weakened by granting every freedom to those who served lawless tyrannies who sought to crush that freedom? Aside from the total avoidance of objectivity, a better question for our times is this: How morally obtuse is a network that has long ignored the starvation of the Ukraine, the victims of the Gulag Archipelago, and the historic truths tumbling out of the Soviet archives, only to focus its sympathies on the suicide of a communist's lawyer?