In This Issue
Networks Rarely Cover Church News, Ignore Religious Concerns on Social Issues; NewsBites: Aborting the Mother; Revolving Door: Tara Helps Tony; Media Ignore Sexual Harassment Charges -- When Made Against Clinton; Crying Over Spilt Milk; Waste Watchdogs; Reviewers Ignore Gulf War Record; Janet Cooke Award: ABC's Strait, Compton, Kast, Gregory, and Burns Tout Benefits of Clinton Health Plan
Networks Rarely Cover Church News, Ignore Religious Concerns on Social Issues
Television's Deaf Ear to Religion
How do the networks cover religion? To determine the amount and tone of religion news in 1993, MediaWatch analysts reviewed every evening, morning, and magazine news story on religion and its relation to social issues in 1993, and found that TV coverage of religion reported only a small number of religion stories; failed to find the concerns of religious opponents of abortion and homosexuality newsworthy; and sensationalized false charges of sex abuse against Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
The five evening programs studied (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, NBC Nightly News, and The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour on PBS) reported only 211 stories out of more than 18,000 in 1993, and just 134 of them were reporter- based stories. (The other 77 were brief anchor reads.)
The Catholic Church was the subject of an overwhelming majority of the stories -- 79 of the 134 reporter-narrated segments (59 percent), and 47 of the 77 anchor-read stories (60 percent), most of them from Pope John Paul's visit to America. Other major news events like the Waco siege and the World Trade Center bombing were not included, excepting the few stories dealing primarily with religious themes.
On the networks' morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) religion was the subject of only 197 stories out of more than 23,000, and only 87 (44 percent) were interviews or reporter-based stories. Of the 197, 73 stories (37 percent) came in the eight days of the papal visit, and 39 of the 87 reporter-based or interview segments (45 percent) came in this brief period. Accordingly, 48 of the 87 long segments (55 percent) focused on Catholics, as did 90 of the 110 anchor-read briefs (82 percent).
Religion stories were especially scarce on the burgeoning number of magazine shows, including ABC's Day One, Prime Time Live, and 20/20, CBS' Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, 48 Hours, 60 Minutes, and Street Stories, and NBC's Dateline and Now. Analysts added the Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week with David Brinkley, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press) to further expand the sample. In all of these hours of programming, only 18 segments in 1993 covered religion. That includes four segments from one edition of ABC's This Week.
Ten of the 18 stories focused on Catholics, but with the exception of an August 12 Prime Time Live story on the papal visit, the six evening magazine show segments on the Catholic Church dealt either with sex abuse by priests or the church's "rigid" doctrine on celibacy for priests, which is often blamed for causing clerical sex abuse.
Abortion. In a year in which two abortionists were shot and one killed, the networks reported heavily on the controversial tactics of some pro-life activists. The network evening shows devoted 78 stories to the topic, the morning shows 67 and the magazine shows five long segments. While the networks reported a total of 150 stories on harassment and violence at abortion clinics, they never focused a story on the violence of abortion itself in America. None of the networks even mentioned the national estimate of abortion -- 1.6 million a year.
The only mention of abortion as violence appeared on the August 5 CBS Evening News, when anchor Connie Chung introduced an Allen Pizzey story on Bosnian women having abortions: "The war in Bosnia has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. Thousands more have been wounded. Then there are the casualties who can't be counted: children who will never be born."
On the other hand, on the June 18 20/20, ABC's Lynn Sherr described self-performed abortions as "similar to the way abortions are done with vacuum suction machines, but, say the proponents, kinder and gentler."
When liberals introduced a bill defending abortion clinics against violence (and most protest), the networks did 15 stories on the bill. Then, Sen. Orrin Hatch inserted a provision extending legal protections to obstruction and violence against church services. Gay activists lobbied the Democrats to kill the bill. None of the networks reported on that story.
Homosexuality. In morning show segments focusing on non-military aspects of gay rights, the networks regularly failed to offer a religious perspective to counter the gay viewpoint. The networks invited 69 gay-rights advocates to only 23 opponents. Only one (Kerrie Harrison of Concerned Women for America) was a conservative activist. None was a member of the clergy.
Despite 150 stories on anti-abortion intimidation and violence, the networks did nothing on gay intimidation and violence. When U.S. Navy Airman Terry Helvey confessed to beating fellow sailor Allen Schindler to death, all the networks covered the story. But weeks later, on June 4, New York Times reporter Larry Rohter wrote a story on the sentencing of two Navy homosexuals for raping soldiers in Jacksonville, Florida. The networks failed to report it.
On September 19, parishioners of the Hamilton Square Baptist Church in San Francisco, which had invited Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition to speak, found 75 to 100 gay protesters pounding at the entrances of the church. Church members claimed the activists obstructed the entrances and threw rocks at the church. The protest was even video-taped. The networks did nothing.
Bernardin. All the networks ran reports on the charges made against Joseph Cardinal Bernardin by 34-year-old AIDS patient Steven Cook, who claimed after hypnosis that he was sexually abused 17 years before, provided no firm evidence, and filed a $10 million lawsuit.
The Bernardin controversy drew a total of 25 morning and evening news stories or segments. The evening news programs reported it in 11 stories (six on CNN), and it led both CNN's and NBC's news on November 12. Unlike the President's personal life, all three morning shows devoted interview segments to the Bernardin story. NBC aired 10 anchor-read segments over three days that said nothing new.
NewsBites: Aborting the Mother
Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, strongly criticized abortion and its supporters at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 3. Mother Teresa delivered her condemnation before an audience which included President Clinton, Vice President Gore and congressional Democrats. She explained: "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because Jesus said, `If you receive a little child, you receive me.' So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus."
Such a strong rebuke in the President's presence by the world's best-known missionary would, with the presence of conflict and a compelling picture, qualify as great TV. But while The Washington Post and The New York Times covered it, the networks did not.
Gold Medal Gush
Olympics coverage usually inspires an examination of the host country's customs, and this year was no exception. On CBS This Morning February 24, co-host Paula Zahn played the role of advocate: "Children here are not only considered yours, but citizens of Norway, with the same rights as grown-ups, the right to free education and free health care, and the right to have their questions and concerns heard by those in power."
Zahn said Norway provides a year of paid parental leave for mothers or fathers and, "to ease the financial burden of raising a family, the state pays an allowance of about...120 dollars per month for each child, regardless of family income." But "free" education and health care and state allowances come at a cost that Zahn failed to mention: Norway is among the highest-taxed nations in the industrialized world, extracting over 50 percent more in revenues per capita than the United States.
Undeterred, Zahn then sung the praises of the Norwegian educational system, which does away with grades until the seventh grade. Talking with a group of children, Zahn lamented, "Some children in our country would love that, because we do get grades at some schools and it makes it very competitive." Following the report, Zahn's counterpart Harry Smith was giddy for the Norwegian system: "Paula, you and I have been talking about, we want to send our kids, we want to, want to move here and put our kids in school here, the kids are, are treated so well. I think we have a lot to learn from these folks."
National Nanny. Is government spending on child care the best determinant of its quality? According to Good Morning America co-host Joan Lunden, the best Governors "put their money where their mouth is." On February 10, Lunden showcased Working Mother magazine Editor Judsen Culbreth, and her list of "Governors who get it." These Governors, all Democrats, included Bruce King (N.M.), Barbara Roberts (Ore.), Gaston Caperton (W. Va.), Roy Romer (Colo.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.). Culbreth listed her six "worst" states for child care: "Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Virginia." The problem? Not enough government. Culbreth claimed "They have lax standards, very little regulation, and they put little money behind child care."
Culbreth's study measured only government-financed child-care, so big spenders dominated her list. In a new study, Cato Institute economists Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel graded governors on their taxing and spending performance and found only two of Culbreth's "Governors who get it" earned a "B" grade, Bayh and Romer. Roberts, Caperton, and King all received a "D" for excessive taxing and spending, while James Hunt of North Carolina got an "F." Moore and Stansel said "Hunt's pro-spending philosophy threatens to disrupt a decade of strong economic performance in North Carolina." When Culbreth concluded "the federal government has given $2.5 million dollars to the states to implement programs," Lunden interjected: "We'll end on that good note there."
The Gore Details
Ted Koppel announced a new way of news gathering at ABC on the February 24 Nightline. Koppel explained that Vice President Al Gore had presented him with some hit-squad research on the "anti-environmental movement" which showed it was funded by Sun Myung Moon, Lyndon LaRouche, and the coal industry. Koppel explored the charges against global warming skeptics and found them true. So did Koppel ever consider airing opposition research from say, Dan Quayle?
But Koppel also gave warming skeptics more air time in a half hour than they've gotten in years of network newscasts, and delved into the reliability of computer models in forecasting global warming. He even aired footage of an old Nightline about the atmospheric effect of the 1991 Kuwaiti oil fires. Skeptical climatologist Dr. Fred Singer predicted the smoke would dissipate quickly; Carl Sagan predicted massive environmental damage. Koppel announced: "The record shows that in this instance Dr. Sagan was wrong and Dr. Singer was right."
Koppel concluded the show: "There is some irony in the fact that Vice President Gore, one of the most scientifically literate men to sit in the White House in this century, that he is resorting to political means to achieve what should ultimately be resolved on a purely scientific basis." What Koppel did not tell viewers was that the "most scientifically literate" Gore has refused to debate Dr. Singer live on television.
Pick A Number, Any Number
Once again, the press is accepting the largest numbers dealing with the homeless without question. On the February 6 CBS Sunday Morning, David Culhane reported: "Homelessness is a national scandal with an estimated two million people on the streets this year."
On February 17, Jason DeParle of The New York Times revealed a new homeless plan written by HUD's Andrew Cuomo: "A draft of the Administration's plan...says the problem is `far larger than commonly thought' and calls for spending large, though unspecified new sums on housing, mental health and tax credit programs." He continued: "Republican Administrations had said that about 600,000 Americans were homeless on any given night, with the majority suffering from drugs, drink or mental illness. The Administration's report, by contrast, endorses recent estimates that as many as seven million Americans were homeless in the late 1980s." CBS, NBC, and CNN each did stories on the seven million guesstimate without noting any lower estimates.
Compare these stories to the type of coverage that the 1990 Census report received. In a count using 1,500 enumerators, the Census Bureau found there were less than 230,000 homeless nationwide. It was ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC, and when newspapers picked it up, they attacked the number as too low.
Rush the Racist?
What does Rush Limbaugh have in common with Louis Farrakhan and Khalid Abdul Muhammad? According to Time staff writer Christopher James Farley, they are all racists. In a February 7 article on the pressure being put on black leaders to distance themselves from Farrakhan and Muhammad following a hate-filled speech Muhammad made at Kean College, Farley remarked: "What rankles some blacks is that some whites feel a need to make all black leaders speak out whenever one black says something stupid...Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern make questionable racial remarks, and yet President Bush invited Limbaugh to the White House, and Senator Alfonse D'Amato attended Stern's book party."
In his speech, Muhammad called Jews "hook-nosed, bagel-eatin', lox eatin' impostors." He attacked Pope John Paul: "The old no-good Pope...somebody need to raise that dress up and see what's really under there." He even attacked black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates: "Who let this Negro out of the gate?" Farrakhan has called Judaism a "gutter religion." How many comparable quotes by Limbaugh did Farley cite? Zero.
The media settled on the "fact" that Tailhook accuser Lt. Paula Coughlin was the victim in the 1991 sex scandal. When Coughlin announced her resignation from the Navy, all the networks did stories with feminist outrage; Tom Brokaw's intro on the February 10 NBC Nightly News summed up the angle: "The Navy's Tailhook scandal in this country may be coming to a close without one conviction, without a single court-martial."
None of the reports explored whether the lack of convictions was due to an overzealous, politically-tinged prosecution. The networks didn't interview Center for Military Readiness expert Elaine Donnelly, who wrote in the March 7 National Review: "The [Navy] brass allowed themselves to be bullied into capitulation to feminists [like Rep. Pat Schroeder] on procedural and policy issues, at the expense of legal safeguards and sound military policy. The farce came to a humiliating end...when a Navy judge blasted Defense Dept. officials for bungled, amateurish witness interview reports that could not stand up in court, and threw out the last of the three pending courts-martial."
Donnelly explained that many airmen resigned or accepted fines and career-destroying disciplinary actions because of improper investigative methods. Prosecutors bluffed airmen into believing they had been implicated by fellow Tailhook attendees, gave dishonest interview reports, and asked "intrusive polygraph questions about sexual histories and practices." All this while many women who were active Tailhook partiers, like Lt. Paula Coughlin, who asked a man to shave her legs, were never charged for their infractions. All these facts are available in the public arena. But, like the Anita Hill controversy, sometimes the cause is more important than the truth.
Labelphobia. Descriptive labels affixed to individuals and groups can speak volumes about a reporter's political perceptions. No one should be surprised that conservatives frequently end up with a negative label. In Newsweek's February 14 article titled "Homophobia," Senior Editor John Leland wrote: "Gays are finding increased visibility is a double-edged sword. They have greater political clout and social acceptance, but their newfound confidence has energized the far right."
But further into the article, Leland labeled radical agitators ACT-UP and the Lesbian Avengers "confrontational gay rights groups," not "far left" activists.
From the people-who-live-in-glass-houses department, Newsweek Senior Writer Jonathan Alter complained January 24 that some reporters were overplaying Whitewater details: "News organizations are routinely conveying misimpressions, including the notion that Whitewater files were secretly removed from Foster's office at night (they were removed in daylight in the presence of the FBI)." Alter didn't point out that ex-Counsel Bernard Nussbaum wouldn't let the FBI see the files, which are still off limits to the public and Congress.
As for conveying misimpressions, take a look at Alter's April 6, 1992 Newsweek column complaining that the media's focus on Whitewater "crosses the line from examination to vivisection... Jerry Brown was grossly wrong about Clinton `funneling money' into his wife's law practice...Hillary Clinton takes no share of state fees, but if she did, it would be peanuts." All the major papers have now repeated Jerry Seper's March 1992 Washington Times story that Mrs. Clinton was awarded $2,000 a month to represent Madison S&L before state agencies. Alter's column asserted that while George Bush's sons "make Hillary Clinton's activity look like one of those tea-and-cookies parties she disparages....the less convincing Arkansas stories [will continue], because of their daily drip-drip quality and the willingness of Jerry Brown to exploit them."
Revolving Door: Tara Helps Tony
A well-traveled path is getting worn over the five blocks between ABC's DeSales Street bureau and the White House Complex. The latest to make the trip: Tara Sonenshine, an ABC News Washington producer for 12 years, most of them with Nightline. At the National Security Council she'll be Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for communications. The Washington Post's Al Kamen reported that she'll handle "longer-term projects, which some uncharitably call an effort to make NSC chief Anthony Lake more TV-genic."
A guest booker for Nightline until becoming a Pentagon producer in 1987, since 1991 she's held the title of Editorial Producer at Nightline. For a couple of years before rejoining Nightline, she toiled for Koppel Communications Inc., the namesake's now-defunct company which produced several specials for ABC. Her byline appeared on a June 1991 Financial Times story detailing the paper's joint "investigation" with Nightline of the October Surprise theory. The one-hour June 20 special promoted the since-discredited allegations of Gary Sick.
If she needs help on projecting national security policy, she can turn to the Defense Department's chief public affairs officer -- former ABC reporter Kathleen deLaski. Or, for international advice, a deputy to UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright -- former ABC reporter Rick Inderfurth. And if she wants aid in finding the right phrase, there's White House speechwriter Carolyn Curiel, a former Nightline colleague.
Another Arts Lover
The National Endowment for the Arts has also tapped a former ABC News producer to fill a slot -- Director of Public Affairs. In February Cherie Simon replaced Ginny Terzano, a CBS News election unit researcher in 1988, who recently moved to the White House as Deputy Press Secretary. Simon served as an operations and broad-cast producer for World News Tonight in ABC's Washington bureau from 1982 until becoming Washington Bureau Chief for King World's Inside Edition in 1989. During 1992 Simon handled press relations for EMILY's List. Simon's press releases for the liberal PAC regularly noted that it had "raised over $6 million for 44 Democratic women candidates who favor abortion rights."
A low-profile federal agency has picked up a long time European- based Associated Press correspondent. Sydney Rubin, an AP reporter from 1983 to 1992, is now Director of Media Relations for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
From 1983 to 1985 she reported from Texas, moving to New York for a couple of years before landing in Europe in 1987. Over the next five years her byline appeared above stories from all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including London, Prague, Timbuktu, Karachi, Paris and Amman. In 1993 she returned to Texas, assuming the Press Secretary duties for Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock.
Susan Lindauer, a reporter with U.S. News & World Report from 1990 to 1991, has switched Democratic offices within the Oregon congressional team. She's jumped from the office of Peter DeFazio, where she had been Press Secretary, to handle the same duties for Ron Wyden.
Media Ignore Sexual Harassment Charges -- When Made Against Clinton
Paula Jones: She's No Anita Hill
At a 1991 ABC News Christmas party, former ABC spokeswoman and Democratic Party veteran Kitty Bayh brought pencils that read "I Believe Her," based on the Hill-Thomas hearings. But since William Kennedy Smith was then on trial for rape, she told The Washington Post: "I should have put `I Believe Anita' on them."
In that same spirit, which insists less on the feminist maxim of believing the woman first than on believing the Democrat first, the national media chose to ignore the story of Paula Corbin Jones, who told a Washington press conference on February 11 that President Clinton, as Governor of Arkansas, had sexually harassed her in 1991.
According to Jones, while working for an Arkansas state agency at a conference, troopers delivered her to a hotel room to meet Clinton. There, he asked her to perform fellatio on him, and even exposed himself. Jones has offered two affidavits by corroborating witnesses, and threatened to sue if she does not get an apology from the White House.
A major scandal? Hardly. Three networks ignored it. ABC's World News Tonight gave it 16 seconds and The New York Times a few paragraphs. Three days later in a "Style" piece on the "primal scream" of hatred for Clinton expressed at a conservative conference, The Washington Post's Lloyd Grove discounted it as "another ascension of Mount Bimbo."
Why no stories from the same media which made the uncorroborated Anita Hill a heroine and sexual harassment the gravest political sin? In the March 7 New Republic, former Newsweek reporter Mickey Kaus described the scene at the Jones press conference: "Afterward...reporters conferred with each other to try to figure out whether what they'd just seen was `a story' and...whether anybody was going to report it. The consensus was that if CNN carried it the networks would carry it, which meant The New York Times might carry it, in which case it would be a big story."
Kaus explained why that didn't happen: "Clinton is also the best President we've had in a long time. That is the unspoken reason the sex charges haven't received as much play as you might expect. Reporters are patriots, too; it's their dirty little secret...Few journalists want to see the President crippled now that he is making some progress in cracking large, intractable domestic problems."
Meanwhile, the February 7 Washington Times reported that Hill has made half a million dollars in lecture fees, and recently signed a two-book contract worth more than a million dollars. All this despite denying that she had any intention of gaining financially from her testimony, a flip-flop yet to be addressed by the rest of the media.
Crying Over Spilt Milk
Fear Over Science
A technophobe tries to inspire public fear over a baseless concern. How do the networks react? They publicize the PR stunt. On February 3 the Pure Food Campaign, a front for Jeremy Rifkin, staged protests over the FDA's decision to allow the sale of milk from cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). "There is a lot of concern around the country tonight about milk," declared Dan Rather. "Some dairy farmers are now giving their cows a growth hormone to produce more milk per cow. But many consumers say they won't drink it." ABC anchor Catherine Crier noted the FDA and AMA "insist it's perfectly safe, but not everyone is convinced."
ABC's Erin Hayes proceeded to explain that "consumer groups protested from coast to coast." Without ever identifying the organizer, on the CBS Evening News Dr. Bob Arnot insisted "consumers around the country were defiantly pouring" milk on the street since "consumers are angry over the government's go-ahead for BGH." Who were these "consumers"? Chicago Sun-Times reporter Neil Steinberg noted: "Protesters organized by the Pure Food Campaign dumped an old-fashioned milk can full of milk as part of a national effort to boycott genetically engineered foods."
Arnot allowed that "seven federal agencies concluded that BGH is safe and that milk produced with it is indistinguishable from milk that is not," but his conclusion left the impression it is something to fear: "Stores that say they won't carry it will have to rely on the supplier's word that their milk is really BGH- free. Consumers won't really know for certain whether the milk that they buy is a product of nature or science." Reading off the same script, Hayes warned: "With no way to actually test for BGH and no labels required for milk made with it, it will soon be anybody's guess as to whether their milk is a product of nature, or a byproduct of science."
In a Feb. 11 Washington Post column Charles Krauthammer revealed the agenda behind the hysteria, explaining that Rifkin is a "leading American Luddite, tireless crusader against bio- technology, `Stephen King of food horror tales'....He is among other things, anti-cow. His epic Beyond Beef is a 353-page polemic about the havoc wreaked by these flatulent, environ-mentally insensitive grass guzzlers." But viewers learned none of this.
Buried in the adulatory coverage of the "tightest budget in memory" has been the unpleasant fact that the pork keeps rolling. But ABC's John Martin and NBC's Lisa Myers both covered the routinely ignored annual release of the pork-barrel "pig book" by Citizens Against Government Waste.
On the February 16 World News Tonight, John Martin found the government "studying screwworms, which the group says no longer exist in the U.S., $34 million. Subsidizing small firms and tourism in Ireland, $19.6 million. Modernizing the Philadelphia Naval Yard, which is closing, $11.5 million." He noted "many in Congress turn aside questions on pork-barrel spending, preferring to deliver to their states projects the country can't afford, for votes they can't do without."
On the same night, Myers recounted the "usual eyebrow-raising projects: $2.2 million to build a parking garage for 18 federal employees in the district of Iowa's Jim Lightfoot; $120 million dollars for a new courthouse in Phoenix, dubbed the 'Taj Mahal of Justice,' courtesy of Senator Dennis DeConcini." Myers reported the pig book "found about $6 billion in pork-barrel projects last year, roughly the same as before all the rhetoric about cutting the budget."
Another Woman's Right
On the February 13 Lifetime Magazine, produced by ABC News, reporter Eileen Douglas focused on women forced to defend themselves with a gun. Douglas discovered "crowded self-defense classes make it strikingly clear -- more women are learning to shoot." Douglas found that for Noelle Miller, who shot an intruder, "taking one life has made her value her own." Laura Nazrini was confronted by a criminal and had to "kill or be killed." Douglas watched a safety and self-defense class where a female instructor "tells the women in her class that a gun is still an effective defense against an attacker, if they're willing to use it." The networks might learn that women's rights include self-defense.
Reviewers Ignore Gulf War Record
Peter Arnett: The Best?
In the contest for "most congeniality," book reviewers of CNN correspondent Peter Arnett's Live From the Battlefield won hands down. Rather than question any of Arnett's Gulf War stories, New York Times reporter Bill Keller and Newsweek Senior Editor Russell Watson lauded Arnett as the "quintessential war correspondent of our half century" and "the best war correspondent of his generation," respectively in January reviews. Washington Post "Book World" Assistant Editor Marie Arana-Ward wrote: "He tells us exactly what he sees and so delivers a tale that captures the very essence of modern warfare correspondence."
But in February's American Spectator, David Andrew Price noted that the book "continues to present the conclusions of some of his more disputed reports [from Iraq] as simple matters of fact," adding: "For the European reporters who were with him, a different picture of Peter Arnett emerged."
One of his more disputed stories centered on the bombing of what Arnett called a "baby milk factory," in which he declared the plant was "innocent enough, from what we could see." Price reported that Alfonso Rojo of the Madrid daily El Mundo "reported to the Manchester Guardian shortly after the war that the `baby milk factory' was a secret location for nuclear weapons research and development," as officials claimed. Ironically, Price wrote: "After being grilled about the story by a stateside anchor, he [Arnett] recalls, `I felt that even my own news organization was doubtful of my ability to assess the facts.'"
Another questionable report involved the "Gulf Peace Team," a group of anti-war activists. Arnett interviewed American Anthony Lawrence, who denounced the war as an "imperialistic attempt to wrest the oil resources of this region." Arnett recalled: "Though I tried to balance his diatribe with pertinent questions, I got the worst of the exchange."
Disputing Arnett's account, Price wrote that "Duane Stanfield, a Scottish member of the team, remembered the episode differently in a letter to the International Herald Tribune: `To represent our views to the world, CNN's Peter Arnett chose an extremist American member of the camp. Later when I tried to get Mr. Arnett merely to read the policy statement of the camp's sponsoring organization which would have set the record straight -- he was not interested.'"
Janet Cooke Award: ABC's Strait, Compton, Kast, Gregory, and Burns Tout Benefits of Clinton Health Plan
Good Fawning America
On February 7, ABC's Good Morning America began a week long series "Closeup on Health Care." All five reports touted the desirability of the Clinton plan. None presented conservative alternatives, or even asked whether reform was needed in the first place. For a week of one-sided portrayals of the health care system, ABC earned the March Janet Cooke Award.
Reporter George Strait set the tone on Monday. He looked at two businesses, one for and one against the Clinton plan. Strait cited a truck company owned by the Wilsons, who provide insurance, and "look forward to health care reform, because they say it will lower their overall cost of doing business." Strait recognized that "many entrepreneurs are skeptical," and quoted furniture maker Dale Guilliland, who said: "The price is going to end up being more than anticipated, and that will be passed on to the small businesspeople." Strait ended by dismissing Guilliland: "Dennis Wilson remembers that same kind of fear when the government proposed increases in the minimum wage. He says the sky didn't fall in then, and predicts it won't when health care reform is passed, either."
But a much-cited study of the plan by Lewin-VHI found the insurance savings to all firms currently providing insurance would total just $300 million between 1996 and 2000, if it works exactly as planned. The study also found employer skepticism was justified: employers not currently providing insurance would pay an additional $107.4 billion dollars over the same four year period, and 67 percent of those firms would pay at least $1,000 per year per employee.
On Tuesday, Ann Compton found nothing but support for the Clinton plan among doctors. She declared: "Last year President Clinton complained that paperwork wastes a dime of every health care dollar. His plan's architects would fix that." She quoted three doctors: a member of the White House Health Care Task Force, and two doctors who "like the Clinton promise to manage care and costs the way HMOs do," though "neither one has confidence the proposed plans will go far enough."
Compton ignored the controversies which surround HMOs. In the February 7 New Republic, Elizabeth McCaughey of the Manhattan Institute noted: "In HMOs, the ratio of physicians to members averages 1 to 800, about half the ratio of physicians to the general population. Specialists are particularly hard to see." She added: "Current HMO cost-cutting methods already are drawing criticism from Congress, government investigators and worried doctors. The Clinton bill's premium caps will compel HMOs to use even more stringent methods of limiting care."
As for paperwork, the Lewin-VHI study said administrative savings by providers and insurers will be a scant $1.9 billion in 1998, versus the $60.4 billion cut by spending limits imposed on Medicare and private insurers that year. Contrary to Clinton projections, the Lewin report stated: "Although managed care savings are intended to be the primary source of savings under the Act, the premium caps will...limit the growth in health spending."
On February 9, GMA viewers were given one side of the debate on the problem of the uninsured. Sheilah Kast visited the middle class Moodys, where the husband "does not get health insurance on the job, and can't afford to buy it privately." They were forced to pay out-of-pocket for a child's injury: "Advocates of the President's health care reform proposal say the Moodys are typical, that four out of five uninsured Americans live in families where someone works."
The Moodys are not "typical." Even the March 7 New Republic stated only "about half (52.4 percent) of the uninsured live in families with a full-time, full-year worker." Kast exaggerated the problem by 53 percent.
The Employment Benefits Research Institute determined nearly three-quarters are uninsured for eight months or less, and fewer than three percent are uninsured more than 24 months. Dr. Morgan Reynolds of the Joint Economic Committee calculated that of the 129 million workers in the country, 15 million were without insurance on any day in 1992, or 12 percent. Kast didn't assess the impact on the 85 percent who are insured.
Bettina Gregory addressed the elderly's drug costs on February 10, noting: "The American Association of Retired Persons says at least ten percent of seniors have to choose between buying food and buying drugs. Horror stories abound." Gregory listed the drug coverage offered by Clinton's plan, then added: "Because of these benefits, many seniors' groups heartily endorse health care reform proposals. Some believe the Clinton plan is the best blueprint for health care."
But the liberal AARP hasn't endorsed the Clinton plan, and a February 22 Investor's Business Daily editorial uncovered: "AARP polls show about half its members doubt they'd be better off under the Clinton plan."
In the week's final report, Karen Burnes pointed out that "most large corporations currently pay 90 percent of an employee's medical bills. Under the Clinton plan, they'll only be required to pay 80 percent, leaving people like the Taylors to pick up the extra ten...Should they want greater choice, or greater coverage, the employee will pay more." Quoting three supporters of Clinton and no critics, she also posited: "Under the plan, everyone will be covered: employed, unemployed, and suddenly laid off."
Burnes assumed the Clinton plan would achieve universal coverage. John Merline wrote in the February 22 Investor's Business Daily: "Hawaii [where universal coverage is guaranteed] has an uninsured rate equal to or greater than 16 other states according to the Urban League, and not too far below that of the U.S. as a whole."
Like ABC's reporters, soundbites were heavily skewed, with 12 of 18 (67 percent) supporting the Clinton plan. Four were neutral (22 percent), and only two were skeptical, both from the small businessman in Strait's story.
GMA Washington editorial producer Lynne Adrine told Mediawatch: "There was no pre-set idea going in." Why so many pro-Clinton soundbites? "I think it just worked out that way...I think it would have been a concern on the other hand if we were getting a certain type of response from the calls that we made, in terms of producing the stories, then saying `Oh my goodness, nobody's objecting to the Clinton plan enough,' and then really go out of our way to find more criticisms....You don't want to skew it one way or another."
Only Strait and Burnes mentioned the Clinton plan might have a negative impact, though both brushed aside criticism, citing the greater good. Burnes ended her story: "While some may gain and others lose, it is clear that we are all entering a new era in how we take care of each other."