MediaWatch: March 1989
Table of Contents:
NewsBites: Gender Benders
Gender Benders. CBS News valiantly resists the testimony of their own polls in describing the popularity of Republican Presidents among women. On January 22 anchor Susan Spencer reported that the latest CBS/New York Times poll found that three out of five women believe President Bush cares about their needs.
Nonetheless CBS gave reporter James Hattori two minutes to air the views of "many women who feel disenfranchised by the Reagan years." Hattori charged that "Bush, like President Reagan before him, doesn't appeal to women as much as men. In fact, he attracted only half of all women voters last November," as if that were not enough. (The CBS/Times poll showed Bush won the women's vote, 50 to 49 percent.)
Past surveys by Hattori's own network's demonstrate the speciousness of his argument. According to CBS/Times poll figures, Reagan won the women's vote in 1980 (47 percent to 45 for Carter, 7 for Anderson) and won even more dramatically in 1984 (56 percent for Reagan to 44 for Mondale), even though Mondale selected a woman as his running mate.
Stahl's Towering Source. "Some of the President's own advisors say the Tower situation is being poorly managed at the White House," Lesley Stahl proclaimed during the February 8 CBS Evening News, "and they blame chief-of-staff John Sununu." Stahl's source, however, was a man who could hardly be considered an advisor to President Bush: Jody Powell, President Carter's Press Secretary.
Stahl immediately followed her accusation against Sununu with Powell, who explained, "One of the things you always want to do if you possibly can in a situation like this is keep the President out of the line of fire. President Bush, unfortunately, now seems to be in the line of fire."
Disdain for Capital Gains. NBC Nightly News examined Bush's proposed capital gains tax rate reduction on February 18. Here's how anchor Connie Chung introduced the story: "If you lower the tax rates for investors, everyone will prosper, or at least that's the philosophy that President Bush, and a lot of wealthy people espouse. This would be achieved in the form of lower capital gains taxes, and everyone would prosper, if it weren't for the fact that a lot of people believe it won't work." Who said NBC News is biased?
Ethics Police. "Ethical questions are muddling the central message of Mr. Bush's first thirteen days in office," CBS' Lesley Stahl charged on February 2. "This is an administration that started out with a President talking very seriously about ethics," ABC's Brit Hume announced the same day, "only to have three nominees about whom questions of ethics and propriety are immediately raised." President Bush emphasized the importance of ethics in government, and within days the networks were trying to embarrass the new administration.
Aside from Tower, who were the nominees the reporters saw as sources of embarrassment? Hume and Stahl made an issue of $67,000 in speaking fees new H.U.D Secretary Jack Kemp earned above congressional limits. Although Hume admitted Kemp solved the problem by returning the money, the story still presented Kemp as blemishing Bush.
Both also focused on HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan's request to remain on the payroll of Morehouse College. Sullivan, however, had only asked to be exempted from one of the administration's own internal guidelines, an action that can hardly be viewed as grossly improper.
The charge against Clayton Yeutter, Bush's Agriculture Secretary was even more trivial. Yeutter, Stahl claimed, had "apparently violated ethics rules when he was the guest of honor at a reception hosted by Philip Morris, the Tobacco Company."
A Rather Flawed China. When President Bush arrived in China on February 25, two network anchors could hardly contain themselves as they heaped praises on the Chinese regime. "Today's China," ABC's Carole Simson gushed, "is new, improved and a lot more American." Dan Rather declared: "This is a vastly different China. A huge portrait of Mao still hangs from the front gate of the Forbidden City. Mao's successors have kept the picture, but disregarded the policies." CBS' Bruce Morton discussed "new freedom in the arts," symbolized by an artist who "is showing a sculpture made of condoms in an avant-garde show the police first closed, then let re-open."
NBC's Tom Brokaw and CNN's Gene Randall, however, shed light on the real China by interviewing the communist regime's leading dissident, Fang Li Zhi. ABC and CBS didn't mention Fang until the next night when officials blocked him from attending a banquet for President Bush, providing them with an opportunity to embarrass Bush. According to Jacqueline Adams of CBS: "After tonight's incident, George Bush may wish he'd spent more time criticizing leaders here than courting them."
Strait Talk on Health Care? As part of its "American Agenda" series, ABC's World News Tonight looked at the problem of health care for uninsured Americans. Their suggested solution? Canadian-style socialized medicine, a "model" explained by reporter George Strait who left viewers confused. He said the Canadians have "a system that works." But then he told of shortages, closed city emergency rooms, and waiting lists "so long that those who can afford it go to the U.S. for treatment." Demand for health care, Straight noted, has sent "costs skyrocketing," but he later claimed "the Canadian system is being looked as a way of controlling costs in the U.S."
Despite the drawbacks, Strait asserted that "for the vast majority," of Canadians, "when it comes to routine care, there is no waiting and there are few complaints." Strait praised the Canadian solution: "It's a source of pride and comfort. They tolerate the flaws....because health care is seen as a social commitment in Canada, a commitment that America is not yet ready to make."
Far East Fetched Fears. In the midst of TV network focus on Japanese culture and society during Bush's trip to the nation, ABC's World News Tonight offered viewers a scary look at Japanese investment in the U.S. "America is in hock to the Japanese in a big way," reporter Richard Threlkeld warned on February 20. Citing the $50 billion in Treasury bonds bought by Japanese investors every year, he wondered: "Could our Japanese creditors someday subject America to a kind of economic blackmail?"
Threlkeld featured liberal Congressman Charles Schumer, who predicted: "If we keep spending more than we save, the Japanese will own us, and we'll have no one to blame but ourselves." Threlkeld added: "And then, when Japan says 'jump,' America will have to say, 'how high?'"
It's ABC News that's doing all the jumping -- to paranoid conclusions. Between 1982 and 1987 the leader in foreign purchases of U.S. corporate assets was Great Britain, which bought 40 percent, compared to a mere five percent purchased by Japan.
Unfair Flogging of the FBI. USA Today on TV began its January 30 broadcast with an alarming story about "the FBI and what it may know about you." The FBI keeps tabs on suspected subversive activity by both extremes of the political spectrum. But USA Today really wasn't concerned about the average U.S. citizen, just the most seemingly innocent left-wing activists who have been investigated.
From 1983-1985, the FBI opened over 700 terrorist files on those it suspected were connected to groups involved in terrorist activities, especially pro-Sandinista organizations. USA Today did its best to sanitize these leftist activists as "nuns, members of Congress, and college students."
Continuing to discredit FBI policy, USA Today featured two people who were interrogated by the FBI, including a professor who traveled to Nicaragua complained "we were telling people that our government was carrying on a war...that are killing civilians. That's all we said."
Magnus noted that the FBI "claims it only investigates people suspected of breaking a law," but countered: "these examples, if true, would certainly contradict that." Apparently, USA Today believes that working on behalf of a hostile foreign power should be above government suspicion.
Missing Seoul. "We stopped in Korea last weekend on our way to Japan," ABC anchor Peter Jennings reported on February 27. "We found that when it comes to the Korean-American relationship, there is room for improvement, to say the least," Jennings declared as he narrated a long report charging that rioting anti-American students "represent the leading edge of a more general discontent." He detailed supposed anti-Americanism, stating "many Koreans believe the U.S. is standing in the way of a reunified nation," and "other Koreans deeply resent what they believe is American interference in Korean affairs."
Citing the Kwan Ju incident, in which 200 civilians were killed by South Korean troops, Jennings claimed "a generation of Koreans has grown up holding the U.S. responsible....for the worst abuses of their government."
But if Jennings had bothered to talk with fewer anti-American sources, he might have produced a balanced story. Daryl Plunk, the Heritage Foundation's expert on Korea, says the U.S. troop presence is overwhelmingly supported, because Koreans still understand the communist threat from the North. "Overall," Plunk explained to MediaWatch, "Korea is an extremely pro-American society." When it comes to balanced coverage of a loyal American ally, ABC News has room for improvement, to say the least.
Louisiana Jones. When former KKK leader David Duke was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature, NBC's Kenley Jones went looking for a scapegoat to blame. "The Republican party has threatened to censure Duke because of his past association with the Klan and Nazi groups," Jones explained during the February 20 Nightly News, "but one independent political analyst says the Bush presidential campaign created a climate which helped elect Duke." To support his position, Jones brought on Joe Walker, an "independent political analyst", who claimed "they ran a campaign that emphasized heavily the Horton spot, you know, and there was clearly a racist overtone to that, I don't care what anybody says."
But just how independent is Walker? According to the Associated Press, the Democrats retained Joe Walker during the 1988 presidential campaign to conduct a poll for the Dukakis-Bentsen campaign in Louisiana.
Prime News for Soviet News. CNN achieved a broadcasting milestone on February 27. PrimeNews presented a story about the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan from Al Gurnov, a Soviet TV reporter. Gurnov roamed Moscow observing, "The war in Afghanistan is over, but at what price? Let's ask the people." Included among the Muscovites' comments was a soldier who dutifully spouted: "It was our internationalist duty...it was not an invasion, it was an effort to help protect the revolution launched by the people of Afghanistan." CNN is trying to offer viewers a better perspective on world affairs than provided by the other networks, but giving Soviet propagandists free air time?
Allied Rights. In its annual report on human rights released February 7, the State Department voiced muted criticism for U.S. ally Israel, including praise for its democratic government and "vigorous free press." Each network evening broadcast, however, highlighted the section on Israeli infringements of human rights in the hostile occupied territories. CBS ran two stories, one from the Arab perspective.
But the State Department report included as many pages for the Soviet Union as for Israel, plus reports on all of the East Bloc, Nicaragua, and Libya. On CBS Dan Rather noted State's faint praise for the Soviets' "remarkable moves toward freedom," neglecting to add that State also said there has been "no fundamental shift in Moscow's approach to human rights," and that "the KGB has been subjected to only a modicum of glasnost and perestroika."
ABC ignored the Soviet abuses completely. NBC mentioned the report and then offered a story on a tour of a Soviet mental hospital taken by Sandy Gilmour. But no one at NBC mentioned what CNN's Bernard Shaw alone noted: that the State Department reported "there are still some Soviet citizens imprisoned as psychiatric patients after political arrests." The next day Shaw noted Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter's concern for "the world's worst human rights violators, namely North Korea, Cuba, and Iran."
Rights Wrongs in Print. A quick read of the newspapers finds the same skew. Under the headline, "U.S. says Israel Abridges Rights in the Territories," The New York Times gave Israel 7 column inches. Beneath the subheading "Liberalization by Moscow," the Times filled four inches before mentioning "the Soviet Union still needed 'institutional guarantees'" of individual rights. The Washington Post's February 8 headline read "U.S. Asserts Israel Violates Palestinians' Rights." Twenty-one column inches went to detailing Israeli violations, one inch to the Soviets. Both papers slid bare mention of Nicaragua into their final paragraphs.
Wolf in Specialist's Clothing. Richard Barnet of Washington's radical-left Institute for Policy Studies made at least three network appearances recently, but viewers were never alerted to his radical views. When he appeared on ABC's Good Morning America on January 24 to discuss the nomination of John Tower, the screen read only "Defense Specialist, Institute for Policy Studies."
In an Afghanistan story on the January 30 CBS Evening News, only "Institute for Policy Studies" appeared under his name. About two weeks later on the February 14 Evening News, CBS again failed to add an ideological label as Barnet charged: "By giving them [the Afghan rebels] the weapons, we not only prolonged the war, but we created a political condition that made it less likely, much harder, to achieve a settlement."