In This Issue
Protecting Bill Clinton; NewsBites: Capitol Coverups; Revolving Door: Novel Reality; Media Pretend Skeptical Scientists Don't Exist; More Unreliable Liberal Statistics; Wrong on Dependency; Greens See Red; Koppel Contradiction; Janet Cooke Award: NBC: News By Kevin Phillips
Protecting Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton's popularity with the major media's political reporters is becoming legendary. In the March 9 New Republic, Senior Editor Hendrik Hertzberg wrote of the Clinton boomlet: "The group of people I'll call The Press -- by which I mean several dozen political journalists of my acquaintance, many of whom the Buchanan Administration may someday round up on suspicion of having Democratic or even liberal sympathies -- was of one mind as the season's first primary campaign shuddered toward its finish. I asked each of them, one after another, this question: If you were a New Hampshire Democrat, whom would you vote for? The answer was always the same; and the answer was always Clinton. In this group, in my experience, such unanimity is unprecedented."
Hertzberg went on to explain why: "Almost none is due to calculations about Clinton being 'electable'....and none at all is due to belief in Clinton's denials in the Flowers business, because no one believes these denials. No, the real reason members of The Press like Clinton is simple, and surprisingly uncynical: they think he would make a very good, perhaps a great, President. Several told me they were convinced that Clinton is the most talented presidential candidate they have ever encountered, JFK included."
So, has this overwhelming preference had any impact on campaign coverage? To determine the answer, MediaWatch analysts compared the coverage of four evening news shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, as well as CNN's Prime News from 1988 and World News from 1992,) during times when Clinton and Quayle were under scrutiny over possible draft evasion and other personal issues.
In the ten days following revelations about the two candidates, 1988 Quayle stories outnumbered 1992 Clinton stories by a margin of almost four to one. In the first ten days of Quayle's National Guard controversy (August 18-27, 1988), the four networks did 51 news stories solely on Quayle's National Guard service. (This counts only evening news, not any of the 158 times the networks raised questions about Quayle's controversies during the prime time coverage of the Republican Convention.) By contrast, in the first ten days of Clinton's draft flap (February 6-15), the four networks aired only 13 stories.
When the February 6 Wall Street Journal broke a story questioning Bill Clinton's draft record, how did the networks react? ABC made it story number five. CBS and NBC completely ignored the story. Two days later on the CBS Evening News, reporter Bruce Morton declared: "When attacks are made on character, the press ought to report them and then let the voters decide who's right and who's wrong." (Memo to Morton: watch your own newscast.) By contrast, on August 18, 1988, the four networks aired 15 stories on Quayle. ABC did three stories, and CBS and NBC each broadcast five. The Quayle news led all four evening newscasts.
On February 12, one of Clinton's ROTC officers, Clinton Jones, released a 1969 letter from Clinton thanking the ROTC for "saving me from the draft." The response was again protective. None of the evening newscasts began with it, and each aired only one story. CBS outdid the others: reporter Richard Threlkeld referred to Clinton blaming the Republicans for leaking the letter four times, even though the other three networks corrected him by reporting that Jones sent the letter to ABC, not GOP officials. The CBS Evening News never corrected its misinformation.
But the other networks aren't blameless. On February 15, CNN replaced its 10-11 PM (ET) World News with a special titled The Battle to Lead. Political reporter (and former Morris Udall aide) Ken Bode narrated an eight-minute profile of Clinton. Though Bode reviewed Clinton's personal history, he completely omitted the draft scandal.
ABC reporters seemed apologetic for having to report the controversial aspects of Clinton's record. On February 14, Chris Bury reported: "In the campaign's final crunch, questions of Clinton's character, his personal life, and the draft are pursued daily, almost always by the press. And that is the trouble for Clinton: the press hounds him about his character; voters seem more worried about other things." Again, Bury must not have watched his own newscast, which did just four stories in ten days.
All the networks have so far failed to do any investigative work of their own on Clinton, and have offered no new details. But in 1988, the networks not only reported on Paula Parkinson, but also questioned the truth of Quayle's resume and whether personal influence helped his admission to law school. These investigations caused another 13 stories on Quayle's personal life during the ten-day study period. (From January 24-30 this year, the four networks did 14 stories on Gennifer Flowers.)
Clinton's draft record isn't the only story the networks are ignoring: the networks have whistled by the New York Post report that Clinton's campaign has a two-million dollar credit line from Jack Stephens, who's been linked to the BCCI scandal. Of all the major media, only Reuters reported it, and The Boston Globe let Tom Harkin raise the issue. But AP and UPI, the major newspapers, the news magazines, and the networks passed. On February 28, The Washington Post devoted a story to Bush campaign aide James Lake's ties to BCCI, but left Clinton out of the story.
Similarly, the media have ignored new details about Gennifer Flowers. New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams interviewed a Flowers roommate named Lauren Kirk. Kirk says she shared an apartment with Flowers from 1983 to 1985, and that Flowers entertained Clinton there three times. In the Dallas Morning News, reporter David Jackson found another Flowers roommate, Marilyn Roberts, who also insisted: "It's true." If Clinton were treated like Clarence Thomas, Kirk and Roberts would be "corroborative" witnesses demonstrating that Clinton lied.
Bias by omission can make an enormous difference in campaign season. At a Columbia University seminar in February, CBS reporter Betsy Aaron explained the dangers: "We're always going to have this argument between 'do we have an opinion, don't we have an opinion' -- we have an opinion because we're breathing, and the largest opinion we have is what we leave out. I mean, it sounds simplistic, but I always say worry about what you're not seeing. What you are seeing you can really criticize because you are smart and you have opinions. But if we don't tell you anything, and we leave whole areas uncovered, that's the danger."
NewsBites: Capitol Coverups
CAPITOL COVERUPS. The media's double standard on scandal -- executive branch yes, Congress no -- continues. The Washington Times discovered cocaine dealing in the House of Representatives' post office. Unlike the networks, most major papers and wire services ran a couple of stories by February 6. The next day, the Times reported House postmaster Robert Rota's charge that Speaker Foley's wife, Heather, had told him to cover up the scandal. The national media's response: nothing to date.
There's more. The February 2 London Sunday Times reported a 1983 memo from KGB chieftain Victor Chebrikov, who told Yuri Andropov that Ted Kennedy wanted a meeting to discuss how to counter Reagan's arms buildup. Wrote the Times: "It appeared [the Soviets] understood it as an attempt to boost Kennedy's own political fortunes with their assistance." Just as they ignored recent evidence of Democrats plotting strategies with the Sandinistas, the major media are ignoring Kennedy's indiscretions.
BOND BROADSIDED. Long-time GOP operative Rich Bond became an instant network target upon being named new Republican National Committee Chairman. Both NBC and CBS painted Bond, labeled a mild-mannered moderate in 1988, as the new party piranha, in part because he refused to repudiate the use of tough tactics in the 1988 presidential campaign. "People are now calling you a flame thrower," claimed NBC's Katie Couric on Today February 5, "Will we see you incorporating some of Lee Atwater's strategies in this campaign, such as Willie Horton?"
Later that week, CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer portrayed Bond as the 500-pound gorilla of the GOP. "And as a protege of Lee Atwater, the late master of hardball politics, [Bond] makes no apologies for the bare-knuckle Republican tactics in 1988. No apologies," reported Schieffer. "Some people say that your return means that Willie Horton is back. That dirty politics is back, the kind of campaign that was waged in 1988. What d you say to that?"
Bond replied, "I say that I'm sick and tired of hearing about Willie Horton....when we talk about Willie Horton, this is what I want to talk about. Willie Horton was a no-good murdering rapist, and that's the point. And Mike Dukakis worked in the system, and defended the system that let [Horton] out on the streets." Schieffer shot back: "What did that have to do with running the United States of America?"
THE WILLIE HORTON AGENDA? In an attempt to offer voters more substantive, informative campaign news, the Markle Foundation has donated money to CNN to fund a "pioneering venture," a series called "The People's Agenda." But instead of substance, CNN is loading these longer stories with emotional portraits and maudlin piano music. Instead of more information, CNN is taking all the same cheap short cuts to make liberal points.
In the February 13 segment, titled "The Racial Divide," correspondent Ken Bode reported, "David Duke's exploitation of white working class fears about blacks echoes a theme from the 1988 election. This is the Maryland State Penitentiary. Inside resides the most politically notorious convict in America. William Horton, Jr., the focal point of a major national campaign designed to exploit white fear of black crime." Bode claimed: "The Horton case illustrates the readiness of political leaders to exploit the racial divide."
Bode then turned convicted murderer and rapist Horton into an authority on race relations by interviewing him for the story. Horton concluded: "I think this country, in my opinion, should not be governed by crime or race in a presidential election." The "poor Willie" approach harkens back to the ABC Prime Time Live of March 29, 1990, when Sam Donaldson asked Horton, "If Lee Atwater should walk through that door tomorrow and say,'Mr. Horton, I think I did you wrong, I'd like to say something about it,' what would you say to him....would you forgive him?"
MISLEADING MYERS. Several columnists have accused reporters of going soft on Pat Buchanan's campaign. They must have missed NBC reporter Lisa Myers on the February 28 Nightly News. She reported that "Buchanan insists that he is not a bigot or racist. Yet many of his remarks are seen as hostile to blacks." As viewers saw Buchanan placing flowers by a headstone, Myers continued: "In the South, he pays tribute to Confederate heroes, who fought to preserve slavery." Myers' indictment would have carried less weight if she noted that Buchanan had simply visited the grave of his great grandfather. If leaving flowers at the grave of an ancestor who fought in the Confederate army makes someone hostile to blacks, then every native Southern politician, liberal or conservative, should be condemned.
Myers later charged that Buchanan is "now fudging his position" on the Gulf War. To illustrate, she showed a clip of retired Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley saying Buchanan opposed Desert Storm. "Buchanan claims that Bush ad is false," Myers insisted, declaring: "In fact, Buchanan vehemently opposed the Gulf War." CNN reporter Brooks Jackson thought differently the same night. He called the Bush ad "misleading" since "Buchanan did oppose the use of military force in Kuwait, but only before any shots were fired. That was during Desert Shield. Buchanan supported Desert Storm and the American military the moment hostilities began, even before." To prove his point, Jackson showed a clip of Buchanan on CNN's Crossfire from January 15, 1991 declaring his support for the war effort.
NO SECOND OPINION. On February 6, ABC's Nightline had a National Town Meeting on the health care problem. ABC Medical Editor Dr. Timothy Johnson summed up the prevailing mood of the panel: "I think maybe the one thing the government can do well is to run an insurance program. Social Security is a model for retirement." Two hours into the show, a small businessman in the audience finally challenged the zeitgeist. He explained he couldn't afford health insurance, but didn't want government intervention. "Look at VA hospitals," he pointed out, "that's your government universal coverage, universally hated."
Did he stimulate debate? Hardly. Johnson retorted: "I think it's very confusing to throw in words like `nationalized' and `socialized.' Nobody's advocating a system wherein the government owns and operates medical care in this country. What some people are talking about is a national health insurance program that still allows private doctors and private hospitals to provide care....We shouldn't be so arrogant as Americans to dismiss learning from other countries."
STEALTH CARE. It is an unquestioned assumption of the American media that the Canadian system of nationalized health care is cheaper than the U.S. private system. This premise leads to articles like the February 13 New York Times piece by reporter Clyde Farnesworth. He argued: "Although Mr. Bush assailed the high cost of nationalized health care, Canadian doctors and health officials pointed to studies that have shown much lower administrative costs here than in the United States." Similarly myopic, Newsweek's Tom Morganthau wrote: "Canada spends less on health care than the United States -- about 9 percent instead of 13 percent."
But in the February 17 National Review, Jacques Krasny, a Canadian health care consultant, revealed hidden costs in Canada and unusual U.S. circumstances that make up for the difference cited by the reporters. Krasny disclosed that Canada's hospitals were built by the government, and so the capital costs were not included in Canadian statistics. The Canadians also don't count the cost of health benefits for health care workers, don't have to care for so many Vietnam veterans, and have a smaller percentage of elderly citizens. (The elderly, 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for more than 50 percent of our health care costs.) And get this: Money spent by Canadians coming to America for state of the art technology is counted toward American costs.
FETUS FRACAS. In 1988, the Reagan Administration placed a ban on federal funding of fetal tissue research, since the tissue was taken from aborted babies. But when Today co-hosts Bryant Gumbel and Katherine Couric examined the issue on February 5, the debate focused on only one side: the beneficiaries, not the victims. Gumbel presented the heart-tugging story of Faye Day, a victim of Parkinson's disease who has been helped by fetal tissue. NBC could have aired a pro-life advocate, who would object to the taking of a developing baby's life for medical research. Instead, they found a conservative Baptist minister who favored fetal research since he lost children to a genetic disease. (That night, NBC Nightly News pulled the same stunt with conservative Senator Strom Thurmond, who has a diabetic daughter.)
Couric interviewed Dr. James Mason, director of the Public Health Service, but instead of questioning him, she debated him: "But clearly, Dr. Mason, many of these programs are in desperate need of federal dollars to help them conduct the research." In a long critique of Mason's arguments, Couric twice called Mason's views "simply unrealistic." Instead of having guests debate each other, more and more Today has its hosts make the liberal argument.
NAZI SPECIALTIES. What would be the perfect part-time retirement job for a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz? If you said abortionist, you would be correct, according to recently released archival documents in Argentina. New York Times correspondent Nathaniel Nash wrote on February 11 that "Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz death camp doctor known as the `Angel of Death' for his experiments on inmates, practiced medicine in Buenos Aires for several years in the 1950s. He `had a reputation as a specialist in abortions,' which were illegal."
But most media outlets weren't too anxious to let you in on this, and quietly let the story drop. The Los Angeles Times story on the same day omitted any reference to Mengele's abortion practice. The Washington Post announced the pending release of the files on February 4, but ran no story when the files came out.
BUNGLING THE DEATH MATH. The Cold War is over, but some of the media still think the communists could do no wrong. On the February 2 NBC Nightly News correspondent Robin Lloyd reported on the El Salvador peace accords: "The war's end has rekindled hopes for freedom and justice. Hopes that twelve years ago died with the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a victim of right-wing deaths squads. More than 70,000 deaths followed; 800 death squad victims a month." Charles Lane of Newsweek also cited the 800-per-month figure in the January 27 issue: "By 1980, 800 death-squad victims a month were being dumped on the dusty streets."
Why was there no mention of the murders committed by the communist FMLN? According to the National Center for Public Policy Research, in their last major offensive alone, in late 1989, the communists attacked three cities having no military garrisons. The FMLN killed or wounded 200 unarmed civilians, including a six-year old girl and a 75 year-old woman. But Lane and Lloyd couldn't even get their misinformation mathematically correct. Since Romero's murder in 1980, 800 deaths a month would total 115,200 deaths, not the 70,000 claimed as the total death toll. If reporters have to mimic the left's claims as news, they should at least get the math right.
HURRAY HAVANA HOSPITAL. While health care reform was heating up as a hot election year topic in the U.S., NBC's Joe Garagiola and correspondent Robert Bazell found a model the U.S. could adopt during Today's visit to Cuba, February 12-13. Garagiola began: "Among Cuba's successes is its health care; it's progressive and it's free." Bazell continued without dispute: "Cuba's health care system is world class. In a neo-natal intensive care unit; on a burn ward; or in a clinic to treat epilepsy one can find equipment and procedures equal to those in the U.S. and only a few other countries....the quality of care remains high and it is free. Health, a guarantee of socialism, billboards proclaim. The Castro government has always been obsessed with health, starting with improving sanitation."
Revolving Door: Novel Reality
Novel Reality. A just-published novel, A Candidate's Wife, chronicles the tribulations of the wife of a presidential candidate after her husband's infidelity is revealed by a tabloid newspaper. The author: Patricia O'Brien, a Knight-Ridder Washington bureau reporter in the mid-1980s who put in a seven month stint in 1987 as Press Secretary for the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign.
Clinton Clan. The direct mail firm that holds the Bill Clinton presidential campaign account has enlisted a political reporter to open a Washington office. National Journal reported that Tom Oppel is one half of a new two person office for Ambrosino & Muir, a Democratic direct mail firm based in San Francisco. A Jackson Clarion-Ledger political reporter for six years until 1986, Oppel earlier reported from New Hampshire for United Press International.
Florida Democrat. Carter Administration veteran Eileen Shanahan has returned to the newspaper business after five years as Executive Editor of Governing, a Congressional Quarterly Inc. published magazine. She's now a Washington-based economics reporter for the St. Petersburg Times of Florida. Shanahan served as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HEW during the Carter years. A Transportation Department press aide for the Kennedy Administration, Shanahan was a New York Times Washington bureau reporter from 1962 to 1977 and Assistant Managing Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the early 1980s.
Down the Hill. Charles Seigel, Press Secretary to U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and the Democratic Caucus Hoyer has been chairing for the past two years, has left Capitol Hill to help run an adult education program at the University of Phoenix. From 1980 to 1983 Seigel was a reporter for Denver's Rocky Mountain News....Across the aisle, Republican Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) has lost Rob Rehg, his Director of Communication. A Hearst newspapers reporter since 1981, he spent 1988-89 reporting from Washington for the chain's newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Mondale Aide Passes Away. After a battle with cancer, Roger Colloff, Vice President and General Manager of New York's WCBS-TV since 1984, passed away in early February. A Legislative Assistant to then-Senator Walter Mondale for three years, in 1975 Colloff became Director of Governmental Affairs in Washington for CBS Inc. When Carter won the presidency he joined the transition team, subsequently holding various Carter Administration posts until jumping back to Black Rock in 1979 as Vice President and Assistant to the President of CBS News. In 1981 Colloff was named CBS News Vice President for public affairs broadcasts, a post which put in him charge of Face the Nation and 60 Minutes until he switched back to the corporate side of CBS in 1983.
Media Pretend Skeptical Scientists Don't Exist
HOLES IN THE OZONE STORY
Reporters like to pose as watchdogs of the government, claiming they are not stenographers to the powerful. Unless, of course, they agree with the government's policy. Case in point: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's press release on ozone depletion, issued on February 3. Reporters treated it not as a questionable government agency assertion, but a confirmation of their own views on the greenhouse effect.
On the February 8 NBC Nightly News, anchor Garrick Utley announced: "The protective ozone layer is getting thinner over the northern hemisphere and the White House finally agreed that the chemicals responsible should be phased out more quickly."
Six days later on World News Tonight, Peter Jennings echoed Utley: "This week, President Bush ordered American manufacturers to end, by 1995, all production of those chemicals which the Administration finally agrees are destroying the ozone layer even faster than had been imagined."
Jennings devoted his February 14 "Person of the Week" valentine to Sherwood Rowland, a scientist behind the ozone panic: "And so we choose Sherry Rowland because he was right. The Popular Science magazine once referred to him as 'The Man Who Saved the Planet -- Maybe.' Maybe -- now that the world is listening."
Time magazine devoted its February 17 cover to "Vanishing Ozone: The Danger Comes Closer to Home." Keeping Time's commitment to one-sided coverage, Associate Editor Michael D. Lemonick warned: "This unprecedented assault on the planet's life-support system could have horrendous long-term effects on human health, animal life, the plants that support the food chain, and just about every other strand that makes up the delicate web of nature. And it is too late to prevent the damage, which will worsen for years to come."
None of the hyped stories on the NASA "study" mentioned that NASA's findings have not undergone peer review from other scientists, a crucial step in determining the validity of any scientific study; and none of the stories included scientists who disagreed with NASA's conclusions, such as Patrick Michaels or Fred Singer. The average reader or viewer might have concluded none exist.
More than 40 atmospheric scientists issued a statement on February 27 criticizing the NASA study and the science behind the global warming hype, but the media ignored it. Instead, panic ruled. ABC predicted 300,000 skin cancers a year, despite what Michaels recently wrote: "An entire network of ground-based Ultraviolet-B meters (the wave lengths that cause skin cancer)...showed a decline in irradiance since they started up in 1974."
More Unreliable Liberal Statistics
CAPITAL GROANS. Why are the media covering the debate
over the capital gains tax by relying on estimates which have
been proven to be more than 100 percent wrong? On February 7,
Rep. Dick Armey, the ranking Republican on the Joint Economic
Committee, and Chris Frenze, one of Armey's staff economists,
revealed that the Democrat-appointed Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
admitted its forecast for capital gains of $254 billion for 1990
missed the mark by $134 billion, or an error of more than 105
percent. The media's response: nothing.
Why the silence? Because the major media covering the capital gains debate routinely rely on estimates of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which relies on the faulty CBO numbers for its calculations. When, for example, the February 10 Time cites that "families that earn more than $200,000 a year would save an average of $18,000 as a result of lower capital gains rates," it's citing the completely bogus calculations of the JCT. Many reporters are using these estimates without any concern for their accuracy, but they haven't asked why the CBO refuses to admit its errors to the media or Congress. If editors make no corrections, it proves they prefer a class war fought over fake statistics to an honest debate.
Wrong on Dependency
NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, a former aide to Mario Cuomo, appeared on C-SPAN's January 31 Journalists' Roundtable to comment on President Bush's State of the Union address: "The one part that troubled me more than anything is when he began to suggest that welfare was a narcotic, that people were somehow addicted, and we had to break those bonds."
Russert asserted: "The fact is less than ten percent of the people on welfare are on for longer than a year. Then, two paragraphs later, the President said 'Why are we so divided in this country along the lines of race?' And I said, Mr. President, because you just reinforced a stereotype which would play to that."
On the February 5 CBS Evening News, reporter Bob McNamara seconded Russert, suggesting that "most of the four and a half million families on welfare stay with the system less than eighteen months."
Wrong, says Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector, who told MediaWatch that Russert and McNamara aren't considering recipients who regularly go on and off Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). According to the House Ways and Means Committee's "Green Book" of income statistics (a favorite liberal source), if you factor in repeat recipients, only 30 percent stay on less than two years. In fact, 72 percent of women on AFDC spend more than seven years on the dole.
If one was to consider only current AFDC beneficiaries, a mere seven percent will stay on less than two years. None of these scenarios comes close to McNamara's "most people" or Russert's "less than ten percent."
Greens See Red
Time Senior Writer Eugene Linden, one of the magazine's regular storm troopers for Mother Earth, complained in the February 3 issue about the dangers of recognizing property rights: "Advocates for the wise use movement have come up with some pretty loopy ideas...But one of their radical notions has been getting a friendly hearing from the courts, Congress and the Bush Administration."
What is this radical idea, that Linden feared "could ultimately cost state and federal governments billions"? Compensating property owners when governments devalue their land through environmental regulations such as the EPA's wetlands policies.
Linden dreaded the Supreme Court's coming decision in Lucas vs. South Carolina Coastal Council. Developer David Lucas bought two beachfront lots in 1986 for more than a million dollars to build two houses. Two years later, the state forbade any building on his property, declaring it was too close to the ocean. The court will decide: must the state reimburse Lucas for devaluing his lots?
Linden dismissed the loss: "A broad decision by the Supreme Court would be disastrous for the principle of environmental regulation." That "principle" is that the government may rule over property without paying a penny. Opponents of that "principle" cite the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. But Linden warned: "Some conservative legal theorists and their supporters within the Administration would welcome a reinterpretation of property rights that would also open the way to eviscerating health, safety, and zoning as well as environmental regulations."
KOPPEL CONTRADICTION. On February 12, Ted Koppel interviewed Clinton over the letter he wrote in 1969 about avoiding the draft. Koppel announced at the outset: "It is, as Governor Clinton himself described it today, the account of a conflicted and thoughtful young man. It is quite a remarkable letter, actually, eloquent and revealing."
Koppel never charged Clinton with hypocrisy or dishonesty. In fact, Koppel appeared to absolve Clinton, suggesting that his actions at the time are no longer relevant: "And indeed, if we were electing that 23-year-old man, what he said and thought and felt at that time would be germane. Now, however, it is what the 45- or 46-year-old Bill Clinton thinks." Koppel didn't challenge Clinton when he asserted "all I've been asked about by the press are a woman I didn't sleep with and a draft I didn't dodge."
Compare this to Koppel's treatment of Dan Quayle on August 18, 1988, after questions first surfaced of Quayle's National Guard service. Koppel loaded this Nightline with long, accusatory questions, such as:
"Jeff Greenfield used the term 'elitism.' Let me use another term. How about hypocrisy? Here's a man who has really, since the age of 17, when he was an unabashed Barry Goldwater supporter, very early, precocious young man, politically active, he has been a hawk. He was very much in favor of the war in Vietnam and yet, as Jeff has just put it, leaves this image now of having said, 'here, I'll hold your coat, you go and fight in Vietnam, I'm going to join in the National Guard,' which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, but is also something that you do because you know you probably won't have to go to Vietnam and fight."
Janet Cooke Award: NBC: News By Kevin Phillips
In these recession-plagued '90s, you would think the boom years of the 1980s might be looked on with a sense of nostalgia. By now, the same critics of a "decade of greed" might be wondering how to repeat the Reagan recovery. But the media's ritual critique of the '80s lives on. For the latest installment in the networks' encouragement of class warfare, NBC earned the March Janet Cooke Award.
On the February 7 Nightly News, Tom Brokaw introduced Keith Morrison's story: "The fact is, for many American families, the economy has been stuck in neutral for more than two decades. In terms of 1990 dollars, the average yearly income for median families has been stalled since the 1970s." NBC aired a graph which read: "1970s, $34,300; 1980s, $33,900; 1990s, $33,350."
Misleading. Lumping median income data into decades obscures both the bad news (the dramatic income decline after Carter's inflationary binge) and the good news (the persistent income growth of the Reagan years). Using constant 1990 dollars, in 1980, the last year of the Carter presidency, median family income fell a record $1,209, the largest one-year decline since World War II. But median family income increased in every year but one from 1982 to 1989, rising a total of 13 percent.
Morrison's '80s fable featured real estate guru Mike Glickman: "He is the image of the '80s, super-entrepreneur, who by the time he was 25 had built a huge and gaudy real estate empire...And he was the prince of laissez-faire who could do no wrong." But Glickman went bankrupt. By selecting him as an example, NBC begs the question: so what happened to the "rich" in the 1980s? Did they get richer or did they fail? In fact, dramatic social mobility in the last ten years, in which about 33 percent of the population rose or fell into other income classes in each year, belies the notion that a certain stratified "rich" are gaining and an immobile "poor" are perpetually losing.
Morrison continued his social gospel: "Oh, there was a party alright, one of the biggest, most avaricious displays of ostentation in a hundred years. But who threw it?" Who did Morrison select to answer his question? Kevin Phillips, professional Reaganomics-basher and the media's favorite "conservative," whose book The Politics of Rich and Poor tops the Democrats' reading list. Said Phillips: "The party in the '80s was thrown for and by people in the top one or two or three percent." Why did Morrison rely on Phillips? He told MediaWatch: "I got the idea for the story after reading Kevin Phillips' book."
Morrison had just been warming up: "The amazing thing is most people seem content to believe that almost everybody had a good time in the '80s, a real shot at the dream. But the fact is, they didn't. Did we wear blinders? Did we think the '80s left behind just the homeless? The fact is that almost nine in ten Americans actually saw their lifestyle decline."
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Census Bureau's data shows median family income increased in all income classes from 1981 to 1989, usually measured in fifths (or quintiles). By contrast, they fell for nearly every fifth from 1973 to 1981. Morrison told MediaWatch he got the figures from Phillips' book, but he conceded that it didn't measure just the 1980s, but 1973 to 1988.
But Phillips' own book proves Morrison wrong. Appendix C contains a Census table on median family income from 1973 to 1987. In 1973, median family income was $30,820 in constant 1987 dollars. In 1987, it was $30,853, after dipping to a low of $27,591 in 1982. Any reporter who knows math cannot claim that nine of ten Americans lost incomes if median income gained.
Morrison added: "A median income in the '80s? George Hooker earned one, still does in the store he runs." Hooker declared: "You still make the same amount. It's just harder to get by now than it was then. It's just slowly, gradually getting worse." He followed with another soundbite of Phillips: "What you had in the 1980s was the top one percent really making out and opening up a gap, but the average person didn't realize how much of the gap was there yet."
Wrong. Morrison (and Phillips) get their claims from the liberal Congressional Budget Office, which says the income of the top one percent went up 87.3 percent from 1980-90. But CBO refuses to index capital gains income for inflation and excludes capital losses over $3,000, and thus overstates gains and understates losses.
Liberals also ignore the effect of tax changes. In the 1980s, the government simplified the tax code and cut marginal tax rates dramatically. In the 1970s, prohibitive income tax rates (up to 70 percent), inflation, and a myriad of shelters led the rich to hide their income, while the reforms of the 1980s caused the rich to come out into the open and declare more income. So the "rich getting richer" may not simply be an increase in wealth, but an increase in declared wealth.
Morrison suggested that the American people didn't really gain in the '80s, but they didn't hear that gloomy reality in TV ads. Morrison introduced ad executive Paul Donaher: "What you found was, is that a lot of ads were very image-based and not particularly rational. We thought imagery perhaps as well as ostentatiousness was a way to sell a product." Actually, "image-based and not particularly rational" is a good description for network economics reporting.
Morrison concluded: "And of course what they [the advertisers] sold was debt. Here's an eerie echo. Sixty years ago, the Secretary of Commerce wrote about the '20s: 'It was a decade of easy wealth for a few, inadequate income for the majority and a mountain of debt that crushed the economy.' Sound familiar? And if the pattern holds, the '90s will be defined the way the other eras were, a backlash by the middle class against the rich." By coincidence (?), Morrison's conclusion almost exactly echoes the dominant theme of Phillips' book.
When asked by MediaWatch about the tone of his story, Morrison replied: "There are so many different ways of looking at the current economic situation. I think all you can rely on is a range of opinion, and you try to report on a range on opinion." After MediaWatch pointed out that he had no range of opinion in his story, Morrison wryly responded: "I would have, except -- here comes the line that you're going to love -- I wanted to say something with a point of view. I set out to do that. And I think quite reasonably so. I would not for a moment suggest that that should be everybody's point of view, or that that will be the next reporter's point of view."
Morrison explained: "It wasn't even that I was making a case against Reaganomics. It was that -- look at what we have today, isn't it amazing given that we were all so optimistic in the '80s? We're all so pessimistic now. The fact is that in the '80s, we weren't as well off as we thought we were, and maybe now we're a little better off than we think we are."
Morrison sounded congratulatory: "You can go back and tell them `He was out there making a f---ing statement!'" But where are conservatives making a one-sided statement for the Nightly News? Morrison responded: "Now there's a very good point. Maybe we should pursue that. I'll tell you why. I was thinking about that yesterday, when Bush went to see Reagan, you know, get the warning that a lot of people aren't that happy. That seems like a pretty good cue to go into the conservative community and do kind of a non-candidate-related story." We'll be watching and waiting.