In This Issue
More Media Money Moves Left; NewsBites: Free Enterprise? Oh No!; Revolving Door: New Racket for Brackett; Networks Ignore Mendela's Unpleasant Past; Environmentalists Get All The Time; Other Networks on Nicaragua; Goldberg Scolds Media; Janet Cooke Award: NBC News: Sandinista Surrogates
More Media Money Moves Left
Last year, MediaWatch brought to light for the first time a new measure of the media's political tilt: the well-worn trail of media money directed toward liberal activist groups. Through a number of philanthropic arrangements, mainly company foundations and private foundations funded by past publishing profits, media companies and their executives have funneled millions of dollars to their favorite political causes. Out of the $1.75 million in political grants that we identified last year, more than 90 percent ($1.579 million) went to liberal groups.
To underline the results of last year's study, MediaWatch once again examined annual reports and foundation records at the Foundation Center in Washington. This time, we looked at the foundations of national newspaper chains (Gannett, Knight-Ridder, and Hearst), and two large metropolitan newspapers with a national reputation (The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune). Once again, out of the $2.2 million in grants we identified, 90 percent ($1.978 million) went to liberal groups. This imbalance not only disproves the myth of corporate conservatism among media companies, it raises serious questions about media impartiality.
GANNETT FOUNDATION: The company foundation of the publishers of USA Today and more than 85 other daily newspapers (including the Des Moines Register, Detroit News, and Louisville Courier- Journal), the Gannett Foundation followed a predictable path in the years 1982-89, donating heavily to minority activists who lobbied for liberal policies like affirmative action and increased welfare spending. Do the readers of Gannett's family newspapers know their subscription dollars supported the Canadian group Prostitutes and Other Women for Equal Rights?
Liberal: $903,718 (98.0%)
$ 6,000 Center for Law and Social Policy
$ 7,300 Central American Refugee Center
$ 5,000 Delaware Lesbian and Gay Health Advocates
$ 6,000 International Institute for Environment and Development
$ 15,000 King Center for Nonviolent Social Change
$ 25,600 LULAC
$ 5,000 Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 200,000 National AIDS Network
$ 16,000 National Council of LaRaza
$ 5,000 National Council of Negro Women
$ 7,500 National Puerto Rican Foundation
$ 15,000 National Women's Political Caucus
$ 45,000 NAACP
$ 10,500 NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 325,000 Planned Parenthood
$ 6,000 Project on Military Procurement
$ 7,618 Prostitutes and Other Women for Equal Rights (POWER)
$ 12,500 Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 5,000 Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project
$ 117,200 Urban League
$ 55,000 Urban Institute
$ 5,000 Wilderness Society
$ 1,500 Women's Equity Action League
Conservative: $18,500 (2.0%)
$ 8,500 Manhattan Institute
$ 5,000 Media Institute
$ 5,000 Rockford Institute
KNIGHT FOUNDATION: Endowed in 1950 by profits from the Knight- Ridder chain (which currently includes the Miami Herald, Seattle Times, and Philadelphia Inquirer), the Knight Foundation declined to fund conservative groups from 1982-89. In a letter to MediaWatch, Foundation President Creed C. Black insisted the foundation "is wholly separate from and independent of Knight- Ridder, Inc." Technically yes, but Knight-Ridder Chairman Alvah Chapman and CEO James K. Batten both serve on its board of trustees, and the foundation tries to make grants only in cities where Knight-Ridder newspapers are published. Black also said "we make no grants in support of any candidates or partisan organizations." Again, for tax purposes, he is technically correct; but tax-exempt lobbies like the Urban League and Planned Parenthood were heavy hitters in the fight against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.
Liberal: $394,000 (100%)
$ 50,000 Center for Environmental Education
$ 10,000 Izaak Walton League
$ 5,000 NAACP
$ 65,000 Planned Parenthood
$ 15,000 Urban Coalition
$ 249,000 Urban League
HEARST FOUNDATIONS: Also endowed by the personal profits of newspaper chain chieftains, the Hearst Foundation and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation grant lists strike more of a balance. Although Hearst has sold some of its major newspapers, its diversified holdings (Cosmopolitan, King Features Syndicate, Boston ABC affiliate WCVB-TV) insure substantial influence. Like the other foundations, the Hearst Foundations took a liking to minority advocacy groups active in the fight against Bork, but they also funded conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institution, and corrected some of their funding of the judicial left by supporting newly formed conservative legal foundations in the years 1982-89.
Liberal: $541,400 (72.6%)
$ 10,000 Audubon Society
$ 10,000 Brookings Institution
$ 5,000 Child Care Action Now
$ 15,000 Children's Defense Fund
$ 10,000 Coalition for the Homeless
$ 15,000 Educators for Social Responsibility
$ 15,000 Foreign Policy Association
$ 20,000 Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 15,000 National Council of LaRaza
$ 75,000 National Puerto Rican Coalition
$ 70,000 NAACP
$ 91,400 NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 85,000 National Urban Coalition
$ 25,000 Native American Rights Fund
$ 40,000 Urban League
$ 15,000 Women's Action Alliance
$ 25,000 Women's Legal Defense Fund
Conservative: $205,000 (27.4%)
$ 10,000 American Enterprise Institute
$ 70,000 Hoover Institution
$ 40,000 Institute for Contemporary Studies
$ 10,000 Institute for Educational Affairs
$ 5,000 National Legal Center for the Public Interest
$ 20,000 Mid-American Legal Foundation
$ 5,000 Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research
$ 45,000 Pacific Legal Foundation
BOSTON GLOBE FOUNDATION: While it's heavily involved in local charitable and arts programs, when the Globe's foundation gave to political groups from 1982-88, it gave decisively to the Left. Globe grant recipients included the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the group behind the Alar apple scare, and the Grey Panthers, the senior citizen champions of left-wing causes. For grants targeted toward "public policy/advocacy," the Globe gave to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which advocated the diversion of defense spending to social programs long before talk of a "peace dividend." Its 1988 Children's Defense Budget reported that on CDF positions, Ted Kennedy scored a 90.
Liberal: $110,350 (100%)
$ 3,000 American Friends Service Committee
$ 3,000 Children's Defense Fund
$ 1,500 Grey Panthers
$ 3,000 Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
$ 15,000 Massachusetts Audubon Society
$ 27,500 NAACP
$ 17,500 NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
$ 10,000 National Public Radio
$ 1,500 Natural Resources Defense Council
$ 26,000 Oxfam America
$ 350 Physicians for Social Responsibility
$ 2,000 Women's Equity Action League
CHICAGO TRIBUNE FOUNDATIN: Although it's involved in community affairs like the Globe Foundation, the Tribune Foundation also contributed to liberal groups like the Brookings Institution, which has received at least $149,500 from media foundations. In looking at its 1985 and 1986 giving, they also funded the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which has fought successfully to increase funding of the Left through the federal government and corporate giving programs.
Liberal: $29,125 (93.6%)
$ 5,000 Brookings Institution
$ 4,500 Council on Foreign Relations
$ 3,000 National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
$ 3,125 Northeast-Midwest Institute
$ 13,500 Urban League
Conservative: $2,000 (6.4%)
$ 2,000 Media Institute
NewsBites: Free Enterprise? Oh No!
FREE ENTERPRISE? OH NO! No matter how good the news for freedom around the world, some reporter will always find the dark side. Poland has enthusiastically launched a massive restructuring of its economy toward a productive free market. But on the February 24 CBS Evening News, reporter Bert Quint managed to unearth some people hurt by the switch: deaf-mutes and mentally retarded girls. To anchor Bob Schieffer, layoffs of these workers from an inefficient textile factory reflected "a painful lesson in the reality of capitalism." Quint described it as "the new Polish capitalism, replacing the old communist system where people couldn't lose their jobs."
Quint concluded: "Poland is learning what survival of the fittest means, and there are those who begin to wonder if capitalism is really better than what they had."
HUNTING DOWN RED OCTOBER. "Will there be any reviews aside from this one that don't begin or end with the observation that the Cold War is over and that therefore this movie is anachronistic?" asked Wall Street Journal film reviewer David Brooks. The answer is no as far as The Washington Post is concerned. In the March 2 "Style" section Hal Hinson wrote: "The Hunt for Red October, the new Sean Connery movie based on the Tom Clancy novel, is a leviathan relic of an age that no longer exists....And that it lurches into view as a Cold War anachronism is, in fact, the picture's most fascinating feature. It makes it irrelevant in an astoundingly up-to-date way."
"If you're miffed because the Cold War's over, Ceaucescu's dead, the Sandinistas lost the election in Nicaragua and it seems like there's no one around to hate any more, then maybe The Hunt for Red October is just the thing," Desson Howe began sarcastically in the "Weekend" section. Howe added: "This is a Reagan youth's wet dream of underwater ballistics and East-West conflict." Funny, we don't recall the Post calling Born on the Fourth of July anachonistic.
YOU LISTEN TO WHAT YOU ARE. A year ago National Public Radio (NPR) asked Gallup to poll Morning Edition listeners. The results, which MediaWatch recently obtained, are not too surprising. Nearly 70 percent of listeners who also contribute money to NPR stations and 58 percent of "randomly selected listeners" considered themselves liberal. Virtually no NPR listeners (3 percent) believed Morning Edition was "presented from a conservative perspective" and 66 percent called it pretty balanced. The remaining 30 percent called it liberal. Those 30 percent were asked whether "this is good or bad." Good, said 55 percent. Bad, said 17 percent.
GRIPE OVER PIPES. Newsweek used a stable of Soviet experts for its February 19 focus on "Life Without Lenin," but only the conservative needed an ideological description. The magazine quoted "Jerry Hough, a Duke University Kremlinologist," "Alexander Motyl, an expert on Soviet nationalities at Columbia University," and "British Soviet specialist George Walden." But Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the magazine warned, is "a longtime anti-Soviet hardliner."
EASY ON JESSE. The TV network news decisionmakers don't think all scandals are created equal. When President Bush's son, Neil, was implicated in the savings and loan mess on January 26, ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC each featured the story on their nightly newscasts. But when Jesse Jackson's connection with the HUD scandal (lobbying on behalf of a builder under investigation) was revealed on the front pages of The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times on February 3, the networks were silent.
POST TOASTS JIMMY. "Down the winding mountain road came Jimmy Carter's caravan of conscience," began a highly sympathetic February 22 Washington Post "Style" section profile, "Citizen Carter: In Nicaragua and Beyond, the Peacemaker's Moral Mission." Post reporter Art Harris described Carter's ex-presidential role as "diplo-evangelist and counselor to the world," heaping praise on the ex-President: "When Carter speaks, Latin America listens," and "In a sense, fair play at the polls -- and the importance of Carter's verdict -- is a measure of Citizen Carter's moral clout in the world."
Attempting the impossible (saving Carter's historical reputation), the Post explained that Carter's tenure of foreign humiliation and domestic disaster made him a "victim of history." Harris wrote: "In retrospect, however, Jimmy Carter has become a moral presence, running harder than ever to recast his legacy with good deeds and making an impact in a way historians say few ex-Presidents have even tried...Now, a decade out of office, he appears to be on a popularity roll."
The Post ended by quoting a college student from Cameroon: "As President, he was so far ahead of what the American people think, but he was restrained by the system. If he could have won another term, he could have been like Gorbachev. But he was too revolutionary for the people."
CONSUMERISM, CBS STYLE. The major media have latched onto the cause of what the Left calls "ethical consumerism," buying products with a political or social goal in mind. For example, on the February 6 CBS This Morning, correspondent Erin Moriarty focused on the leftist Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), described only as "nonprofit." Their recent book, Shopping For A Better World, "rates companies according to their corporate policies." Which policies? Well, CBS paraded on air the negative ratings given to the makers of Advil, Dole pineapple juice, and Pine Sol for their failure in "promoting minorities" and "advancing women," (i.e. affirmative action) and for investing in South Africa.
On CBS' Nightwatch on February 23, CEP's Alice Tepper Marlin added another way to be ethical: staying away from firms dealing in national defense or nuclear energy products. She hoped consumers were supporting "companies with a better social record and staying away from the companies with a bad social record." What CBS (and Time, U.S. News and USA Today before it) are promoting is not consumer advocacy -- it's political advocacy.
LESLEY'S PRIORITIES. "I hope I'm not coming off as a defense expert," CBS' Lesley Stahl demurred while interviewing Dick Cheney on the February 4 Face the Nation. She needn't have worried: her comments spoke volumes. The White House reporter repeatedly demanded that Cheney respond to an Atlantic Monthly study which urged eliminating the B-2, the Trident missile, and the Midgetman while halving money for SDI to increase federal spending on health insurance, education, and foreign aid. Her "expert" proposal for U.S. troop levels in Europe: "What about 50,000? That's a presence." Meanwhile she lambasted the Bush plan as "enormous...all we're doing is creating enormous resentment from the people there...and we're going to be a target and they're going to hate us."
Stahl's shrillness resurfaced three weeks later. Moderating a debate between Reagan official Martin Anderson and 1980s-bashing economist Gary Shilling, Stahl unloaded a barrage: "...the Reagan economic planning. Was it too free-wheeling? Was it, there was too much laissez-faire economics involved?...Why can't we afford anything? ...Are you ready to say we need some more regulation after all?" Reaching new lows, she also claimed that federal spending under Reagan "was all on military...It was all military ...it was huge...it was military and debt."
WAR NO MORE. "The Soviets are in a hurry to disarm, by themselves and through negotiations. They need the money saved for their failed civilian economy. Also, President Gorbachev believes modern weapons make war too dangerous to fight." Thus began a glowing February 1 review of Mikhail Gorbachev's groundbreaking efforts for peace by NBC Moscow correspondent Bob Abernethy.
Conveniently overlooking ongoing Soviet policy toward Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and all of its satellite nations, Abernethy presented Gorbachev's vision as if his sincerity were beyond doubt, saying, "Gorbachev's objectives in negotiations are ...an eventual ban on all nuclear weapons...all chemical weapons and nuclear weapons tests. And Gorbachev argues all forces should be defensive only. No country should have troops on the territory of another."
FINDERS KEEPERS. The notion of Lithuania escaping from its Soviet occupiers has few critics, but CBS' Barry Petersen is a rare naysayer. "Talk is cheap, but independence could be very expensive," Petersen began his February 6 Evening News report. Because of "Lithuania's dependence on Moscow...Electric lines and generating plants, Moscow owns them. The trains that bring in virtually all of Lithuania's raw materials are state-owned, too." To the Moscow correspondent, "Lithuania is learning that even in independence, the country it most hates is the country it will most need." Petersen didn't consider that Moscow has no right to "own" anything since it stole Lithuania's entire economy when it annexed the country during World War II.
BACKING UP BORK. Did Robert Bork get the short end of the media stick during the circus over his 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court? Yes, says ABC legal correspondent Tim O'Brien in a March 1988 letter to Bork published in the forthcoming book Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork, by Patrick McGuigan and Dawn Weyrich. "[A] good deal of our reporting was sloppy and simply inaccurate," O'Brien admitted. "Sometimes we journalists take great joy and pride in challenging (or attempting to challenge) the statements of high government officials. I feel it is quite clear that we failed to challenge many of those who made statements regarding your nomination."
Conceding the shortcomings of television news reporting, O'Brien added that "writing a story for a network news broadcast is somewhat akin to writing a majority opinion. We have half a dozen editors who feel they have not earned their salaries unless their two cents worth of editorial wisdom appears in every story. Most of what we write is often written in haste. And, as with occasional opinions at the court, sometimes the finished report produces neither heat nor light, only smoke."
Revolving Door: New Racket for Brackett
New Racket for Brackett. "I decided if I couldn't win in politics, I was going to try a new line of work. I was interested in social change," MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Brackett told the Chicago Tribune on February 11, "so I decided to switch careers and try journalism." Brackett's resume shows the type of change she desires. Back in 1972 she ran for delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Then in 1975 after working in the unsuccessful Chicago mayoral campaign of a Democratic Alderman, she ran and lost a bid to become 43rd Ward Democratic Committeeman.
The third defeat prompted her career change. In 1977 WBBM-TV, Chicago's CBS-owned station, made her a researcher. Brackett soon moved up to an on-air reporting job with WGN-TV and in 1983 went to ABC-owned WLS-TV where she remained until shortly after talking into her umbrella handle, instead of the microphone, during a live shot one night. She's been a regular contributor to MacNeil-Lehrer since early 1984.
The ABC's of Politics. If you haven't worked in politics, don't bother applying for a public relations job with ABC News. Just look at the background of some ABC flacks on the move. Alise Adde, Director of News Information since 1988 has moved down to Washington as Vice President of industry communications for the National Cable Television Association. Adde was Assistant Press Secretary to Senator J. Bennett Johnston, a Louisiana Democrat, before beginning her ABC career in 1983 as News Information Coordinator in D.C. When she moved up to New York as press representative for World News Tonight in 1985, Joyce Kravitz, a press aide at the Democratic National Committee and in the Carter White House, took her D.C. job.
Filling Adde's ABC slot is Joanne Berg, Manager of News Information. Scott Richardson, Deputy Press Secretary to Senator Bob Dole until he became press representative for World News Tonight in 1988, moves into Berg's old position. Replacing Richardson: Arnot Walker, press aide since 1985 to New York University President and one-time Democratic Congressman John Brademas. Arnott's political career highlights include advance work for Vice President Mondale, Democrat Jim Florio's 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial campaign and the 1984 Ferraro vice presidential effort. In addition, he handled scheduling for Frank Lautenberg's 1982 Senate campaign and was Deputy Press Secretary in John Glenn's 1984 presidential try.
Nickles' News Director. As head of the Radio-Television News Directors Association since 1981, Ernie Shultz was a leader of the successful battle to repeal the Fairness Doctrine. A couple of months ago Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma hired Shultz as his new Director of Communications. Shultz has plenty of experience communicating with Nickles' constituents: Roll Call reported that between 1955 and 1980 he served as a reporter, producer, anchorman and finally News Director at KTVY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City
Networks Ignore Mendela's Unpleasant Past
SPREADING THE MANDELA MYTH
After years of hyping Nelson Mandela as the poster child of the South African sanctions lobby, it's not surprising the press paid so much attention to his release from prison. But while coverage had plenty of volume, it had little depth. As Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales realized, "Instead of hard facts or insights, reporters competed to see who could heap the most praise on Mandela, as if to establish their credentials as right-thinking libertarians."
The media described Mandela as a "political prisoner," even as "the world's most famous political prisoner" (CBS, CNN). But the hardly conservative Amnesty International declared in 1985 that "Mandela had participated in planning acts of sabotage and inciting violence, so that he could no longer fulfill the criteria for the classification of political prisoners."
The media also failed to take a look at Mandela's leftist ideology. Instead, reporters spoke of his commitment to "one-man, one-vote." Dan Rather said, "I'd classify him moderate." A MediaWatch review of evening news coverage during the first three weeks of February found that no network labeled him a communist and only CNN referred to Mandela as a terrorist. Sam Donaldson dismissed the link between the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) during the February 4 This Week with David Brinkley: "Well, they call [the ANC] communist, but, in fact, it's nationalist. It's not communist."
Look at Mandela's own words. After his release, Mandela praised SACP General Secretary Joe Slovo as "one of our finest patriots ...The alliance between ourselves and the party remains as strong as it always was." In How to be a Good Communist, Mandela wrote, "Under a Communist Party government, South Africa will become a land of milk and honey." In 1953, Mandela addressed the need "to fight against the war policies of America and her satellites."
Reporters didn't just ignore Mandela's past, they declared he looked "like a chief of state" (Bob Simon, CBS) and "a kind of philosopher king" (Tom Brokaw). Others used religious terms. He was "an almost god-like father figure" (Carole Simpson, ABC), his name "has an almost mystical quality" (Dan Rather). ABC's Jim Hickey noted he walked "in the manner of Pope John Paul II when he visits stadiums." CBS This Morning's Harry Smith raved, "It was indeed the second coming. Pilgrims came from across the countryside to see and hear the man the South African government had all but crucified."
Why are the media selling a revolutionary as a "moderate"? Apartheid must end, but the media is failing to do its job by ignoring Mandela's full agenda.
Environmentalists Get All The Time
SUNUNU'S NO NEWS. Whatever environmentalists want done, the networks consider it beyond debate. The latest example occurred when White House Chief of Staff John Sununu dared to tone down a February 5 presidential address on global warming. "Almost immediately environmentalists attacked it, saying it proposed too little," announced CBS anchor Bob Schieffer. White House correspondent Wyatt Andrews asserted "a call for more research on global warming is not exactly the aggressive approach George Bush seemed to promise when he ran for office." Andrews concluded that "gambling with the ecology, then, rather than with the economy, is largely the work of Chief of Staff John Sununu."
When Bush created an Alaskan loophole in federal wetlands policy the same week, CBS reporter Deborah Potter spent a whole story explaining why "to environmentalist groups, it's a symbol of what they call the broken promises of the Bush Administration." Potter goaded Rep. Claudine Schneider, asking "So he [Sununu] is a road-block?" Potter's wrap up: "As for the administration's claim that things are much better now than in the Reagan years, one environmentalist sniffed 'let's face it, there was nowhere to go but up.'" Neither CBS report gave Sununu time to respond.
SOLID SOURCES ON SUNUNU. New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd wrote an impressively flimsy February 15 front-page story describing the rift between Sununu and EPA chief William Reilly. In 30 column inches, she relied almost entirely on unnamed sources, including "people familiar with the relationship" between Reilly and Sununu, "officials," "those close to Reilly," "Mr. Reilly's aides," "Mr. Reilly's long-term supporters," "one environmental lobbyist," "an EPA official," "administration supporters," "White House officials," "some environmentalists," "some party analysts," "some in the Bush inner circle," and "one Bush insider." If records for sloppy journalism were kept, this one would top the list.
SUNUNU'S VIEWS. Wall Street Journal reporter Gerald Seib was one of the few who actually described Sununu's reservations about environmentalist demands. In a March 2 feature, Seib gave Sununu equal time, reporting that Sununu believed "other government officials don't demand sufficient scientific proof that environmental proposals are feasible before agreeing to them." Sununu told Seib: "If you're going to make a trillion-dollar decision, if you're going to make a decision that's going to affect a million jobs, you ought to make it on the basis of what you know and not on the basis of what your emotions may lead you to feel."
Other Networks on Nicaragua
Ortega's Big Win. In addition to NBC's Ed Rabel, ABC also tried to sell viewers a Sandinista victory. "For the Bush Administration and the Reagan Administration before it," Peter Jennings intoned, the ABC-Washington Post poll "hints at a simple truth: after years of trying to get rid of the Sandinistas, there is not much to show for their efforts."
During a February 23 Nightline devoted exclusively to how the U.S. would normalize relations with the victorious Sandinistas, Ted Koppel predicted: "Almost certainly, the Sandinistas will still win." Reporter Forrest Sawyer claimed "Every independent poll shows him far ahead," although almost half of the polls taken in the months before the election had Chamorro in the lead.
Daniel The Great. CNN's Lucia Newman burnished Ortega's reputation, reporting on February 23: "The last time he went on the campaign trail, he looked like the serious and shy revolutionary that, according to friends, he's always been." Newman found an old neighbor who told her how "the Ortega boys had their father's patriotism in their blood." Newman continued: "No one has ever called Ortega charismatic, but his unquestionable dedication to his revolutionary principles, and enviable work capacity, has won him admiration of his friends and even some of his foes."
CNN's Ronnie Lovler remained impressed after he lost. "One observer commented that Ortega will look back on this day as a turning point in his life, when he demonstrated to the world that the one-time guerrilla had truly become a statesman and a leader of his people."
To CBS reporter Juan Vasquez, Ortega was "part populist, part Bruce Springsteen, selling an image, and for this do-or-die campaign, the Sandinista leader has not only changed his appearance, he even claims to have renounced communism. 'I never said the Sandinistas were a Marxist party,' he told CBS News. 'We're nationalists with a universal ideology.'" Right.
Goldberg Scolds Media
"There are too many reporters out there who work the 'Victims America' beat. They specialize in uncritical stories about the 'downtrodden.' They act more like social workers than journalists," CBS 48 Hours correspondent Bernard Goldberg observed in a Feb. 2 New York Times op-ed.
"So what if many of the homeless are truly drug addicts or alcoholics or simply lazy?" Goldberg asked. "When the Victims America correspondent gets on the case, the plight of the homeless turns out to be society's fault....If only they hadn't cut the budget in Washington. If only the educational system hadn't discriminated against them. If only, if only. Journalism by sentiment means always having to say you're sorry."
Then Goldberg asked: "How many stories have you seen on TV -- in your entire life -- that attempt to find out how many...laid off workers took school seriously?...How many, in short, brought about their own economic mess by not preparing for life in the real world?"
Goldberg's questions could have been triggered by the January 18 48 Hours on New York's homeless. No one asked a seven-year "resident" of a public park why he wasn't working. Dan Rather was too busy asking a burglarized businessman, "what happened to the idea that I am my brother's keeper?" Rather ended by citing a survey that found homelessness was no longer one of the subjects that interest Americans most. Maybe viewers are tired of journalism by sentiment. As Goldberg concluded, "there's so much to gain by being compassionate. And only our credibility to lose."
Janet Cooke Award: NBC News: Sandinista Surrogates
When someone makes a mistake he should be willing to admit it. That's especially true for those in the news media, on whom Americans rely for an understanding of world events. But look at the media's coverage of the recent Nicaraguan election. Reporters misled readers and viewers in the days before and after the Nicaraguan election, and have yet to apologize. Case in point: the recipient of this month's Janet Cooke Award, NBC's Ed Rabel, for his reports before the February 25 vote.
The Nicaraguan people overcame what was an unfair and often brutal electoral environment to elect National Opposition (UNO) candidate Violeta Chamorro as President. The stunning victory was a clear mandate for democratization and free enterprise in the be-leaguered country. But if Nicaraguans had been listening to NBC News throughout the historic campaign, the outcome may have been quite different.
NBC News largely dismissed Sandinista fraud and mass intimidation. Instead, the network told Americans that the election would be free and fair, that the Sandinistas were sure winners, and -- amazingly -- that American policies turned Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega into a popular hero.
U.S. Policies Translate Into A Sandinista Victory.
Ed Rabel made that ridiculous charge on NBC Nightly News four days before the election. "This is the man, pollsters say," Rabel began as the camera panned Ortega, "who will be elected overwhelmingly this weekend....The man President Reagan promised would cry uncle. The United States spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Contras, the so-called freedom fighters, to do the job. They failed."
Putting the blame decisively on the U.S., Rabel continued: "The election observers say the Bush Administration may have itself to blame for Daniel Ortega's rise in popularity among the voters. The reason, they say, is the U.S. military invasion of Panama. That was a move that was widely denounced here in Nicaragua. It was a close race until the U.S. invaded."
Rabel energetically cited the mostly partisan pro-Sandinista polls that put Ortega far ahead in the race, but ignored a number of Latin American polling organizations which predicted the actual outcome. A poll released on January 27 by the Costa Rican polling firm of Borge and Associates gave Chamorro the lead, 37 to 33 percent. At about the same time, the Institute of Public Opinion in Venezuela (Doxsa) released similar numbers: 41 percent for Chamorro versus 33 percent for Ortega.
Ortega As Popular Hero.
Rabel concentrated much of his effort on presenting Ortega as a crusading, youthful figure. His Feb. 23 NBC Nightly News report read like an FSLN promo: "Daniel Ortega has undergone a dramatic transformation, taking on a fresh persona just as his government enters a brand new political era. Daniel Ortega on the campaign trail. Ortega the marathon runner. Ortega in designer jeans and wildly patterned shirts."
A Free And Fair Election.
Rabel thought so. On the February 23 Today, he noted that "behind the scenes, opponents say, there are Sandinista threats and intimidation. People being warned quietly, that they will lose their jobs or even their lives for voting against Daniel Ortega."
But Rabel dismissed the intimidation, assuring viewers that international observers guaranteed a free election: "Opponents of the government take to the streets. The Organization of American States has its team in place. Jan. 28th...former President Jimmy Carter, a key international election observer, concentrates his steely blue eyes on the excitable crowd....No rally escapes surveillance. No election ever has been so thoroughly watched." The Sandinistas, Rabel claimed, "have had the international observers looking over their shoulders the whole time." Rabel gave time to Carter aide Jennifer McCoy, who concluded: "We have seen a real commitment on both sides to carry out these elections."
In fact, most observer groups were sparsely staffed before the final days of the election. For most of the campaign, only McCoy was on the ground for Carter in Nicaragua and was not present at a December 10 rally at Masatepe where one person died and scores were injured. In his Today segment, Rabel noted "observers who saw it all produced no evidence implicating Sandinista or opposition leaders." Untrue. A bi-partisan Center for Democracy delegation (which included Democrats Peter Kelly and Robert Beckel) witnessed the event and unanimously concluded it was inspired by Sandinista mobs. At a press conference after the incident, the delegation gave footage documenting the Sandinista violence to media outlets, including NBC News.
Rabel mentioned that "the Sandinistas, by their own account, did spend millions more on their campaign than the opposition. And they had more resources at their command than their opponents." But he obviously failed to read observer reports, including Carter's, which documented the Sandinista monopoly of television, illegal use of state resources, harassment of UNO rallies, and Sandinista tactics to hold up U.S. money bound for the opposition until just before the election. Rabel's upbeat reporting led Tom Brokaw to conclude: "Now it appears that Ortega could win the Nicaraguan presidency in a fair and square election."
Rabel just couldn't believe the Nicaraguan people might think as little of the Sandinistas as Ronald Reagan or George Bush did. Indeed, by election day, it was a fait accompli for Rabel: "Polls won't close here for another thirty minutes, but the widespread belief that the Sandinistas will prevail has shifted thinking far beyond the ballot box." Even before the Sandinistas won (or lost), Rabel was telling us: "The topic of the day is: how will a freely elected Sandinista government be treated by the United States?"
Producer John Siceloff defended NBC's coverage: "In the whole body of our reporting, you will find the subjects of threats and use of government resources." He noted that a story filed in January discussed the holdup of funding bound for UNO. Siceloff claimed NBC owed no apology for calling the election wrong: "A large measure of our wrong call was admittedly due to the polls. It's not a question of an apology. We reported on polls and when polls were wrong we reported on why they were wrong." But twenty seconds in a February 27 report in no way made up for weeks of misreporting.
Washington Post Ombudsman Richard Harwood said it best on March 4: "When Ed Rabel of NBC relied on 'widespread belief' to support his election analysis, he might have been asked what is 'belief'?" Could Rabel's 'belief' have been his wishful thinking? As for an apology, Harwood wrote: "NBC will pay no price for that blunder...Do not expect Deborah Norville and Ed Rabel to don dunce hats and stand in the corner during tonight's production of NBC News." Too bad.