In This Issue
Clinton's Incredible Shrinking Ideology; NewsBites: Living in a Radio-Free Cave; Revolving Door: Clinton's CBS Adviser; Nap Time for Network News; Abortion Only Splits GOP?; Burned on Asbestos; Nightline's Selective Constitution; Janet Cooke Award: The Magazine That Cried Wolf
Even In Stories Using the "L Word," Reporters Resisted Labeling the Candidate and President
Clinton's Incredible Shrinking Ideology
Why did the voters make such a dramatic turn in the 1994 elections away from the 1992 victory of Bill Clinton? Or did the voters perceive the dramatic turn was not theirs, but Clinton's? The national media presented candidate Clinton as a far cry from the liberals nominated by the Democrats in 1984 and 1988, but the presidency didn't follow that story.
To document the ideological labeling of Clinton, MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to identify only the stories with the words "Clinton" and "liberal" within 25 words of each other from January 1, 1991 through December 31, 1994 in the news magazines Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, and news stories in USA Today. Within this sample of stories using "Clinton" and "liberal," reporters were more than twice as likely to deny Clinton's liberalism as admit it.
In 1991, no story identified Clinton as liberal, while 26 stories in the sample claimed he was not liberal. In the 1992 sample, the ratio of reporters' not-liberal labels to liberal labels grew to 84-11. In the first year of Clinton's presidency, the ratio shifted to the left, 19 not-liberal to 20 liberal. By 1994, reporters only attempted to deny the liberal label four times, compared to 26 liberal labels. In total, not-liberal descriptions still more than doubled liberal labels, 133-57.
1991. Without a single liberal label, the news magazines and USA Today presented him before the primaries in 26 stories as a moderate, even a conservative.
U.S. News & World Report's Matthew Cooper thought Clinton might be too conservative in the July 22, 1991 issue: "Clinton has youth and vigor but a minimal Democratic base -- and he sounds too much like a Republican to be nominated." U.S. News writer Donald Baer, who joined the Clinton White House as chief speechwriter in 1994, added on October 14, 1991: "Once, he was a liberal who became the nation's youngest Governor; now at 45, Clinton is the innovative darling of disaffected moderates."
In Newsweek, Ginny Carroll announced on September 30: "Clinton's expected entry into the race next week gives Democrats a chance to break the liberal lock on the party." Newsweek moved on to the inside story on November 25: "Aides to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton called Cuomo `the ultimate Big Government liberal' and the perfect foil for Clinton's `New Paradigm' candidacy." Two weeks later, the same story repeated: "Aides to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton have already begun referring to Cuomo as `the last of the Great Society candidates.'" Little did the public know this "moderate" would become the President who sold his health care plan as the logical extension of the New Deal and the Great Society.
At Time, Michael Kramer found on October 14, 1991 that "Many of Clinton's ideas...are viewed by liberal Democrats as neo-Republican." Then-Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Margaret Carlson suggested on welfare policy, "Clinton, the moderate Southerner, is yin to Cuomo's northeastern liberal yang."
The '92 Campaign. The trend of trumpeting Clinton's centrism intensified in 1992. Eleanor Clift explained in the February 10, 1992 Newsweek: "Truth is, the press is willing to cut Clinton some slack because they like him -- and what he has to say. He is a policy wonk in tune with a younger generation of Democrats eager to take the party beyond the liberal stereotype." USA Today's Adam Nagourney and Bill Nichols wrote on March 18: "This moderate Southerner benefited from the fact the Democrats seem finally to have kicked their addiction to nominating liberals doomed to failure against Republicans."
In fact, USA Today turned out the most lopsided sample in 1992: 40 denials of liberalism to one Tony Mauro story arguing that Clinton's views on legal issues could be "more liberal" than the Bush administration. Time came closest to balance with a denial-to-admission ratio of 13-4, compared to 15-4 for Newsweek and 16-2 for U.S. News. Some liberal tags came in Clinton's campaign against Paul Tsongas. While Newsweek's Jonathan Alter explained on March 16 that Clinton had moved "beyond liberal orthodoxy," he explained: "While `reinventing government' is still a part of Clinton's approach, he's now running more as Hubert Humphrey than Sam Nunn."
In a count separate from the study's overall findings, Clinton was described as liberal 57 times in attributed or quoted remarks, mostly from Republican opponents. That's less than the 133 reporter denials of Clinton's liberalism, and all but one of the attributed mentions came after June 1. By November 2, Kenneth T. Walsh of U.S. News concluded: "As [Bush] roams the battleground states attacking Bill Clinton as an untrustworthy liberal who will raise taxes and expand government, his message strikes many voters as hopelessly stale and irrelevant."
1993. White House liberalism arrived, and ideological labels nearly vanished. Newsweek's ratio of not-liberal to liberal mentions fell to 6-3, Time's to 3-2. USA Today (5-7) and U.S. News (5-8) used liberal labels more than not-liberal ones. On February 8, U.S. News columnist David Gergen described his future boss: "He has come down decisively in favor of a new age of liberal rule, picking up where Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson left off."
Moderate mentions only surfaced in stories about image makeovers. A headline in the June 14, 1993 Newsweek read: "A Hard Right Turn: As part of a calculated effort to dispel his liberal image, President Clinton withdraws the nomination of controversial civil-rights lawyer Lani Guinier."
1994. The not-liberal to liberal ratio continued to shift right: Time 1-3, Newsweek 1-8, U.S. News 2-9, USA Today 0-6. On October 10, USA Today's Bill Nichols was writing: "Not only did the Clinton health-care plan fail, but it was almost universally perceived as a bureaucracy-laden liberal expansion of government." Eight days later, Nichols explained: "Voters really believed Clinton was much more conservative than his Democratic predecessors and feel his agenda has been a liberal ruse." Nichols, like his colleagues, did not take any responsibility in the story for his part in that ruse before the 1992 election.
NewsBites: Living in a Radio-Free Cave
A small item up front in the February 20 U.S. News & World Report read: "Until word leaked last week that former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo will soon have a weekly radio show, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower's show was a lone liberal outpost in the conservative world of syndicated talk radio." Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and Michael Reagan may attract the most listeners, but Hightower is not the only liberal syndicated talk host. Liberals with daily national shows include Tom Leykis, Alan Colmes and Jerry Brown, to say nothing of moderates, such as Jim Bohannon and Gil Gross.
With Republican presidential candidates promising to end affirmative action, the networks have taken to heart Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas's post-election lament: "This is a rotten time to be black."
Carole Simpson targeted the Republicans on the February 19 World News Sunday: "Today three leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm and Lamar Alexander, all said they would eliminate affirmative action as it's now practiced. Affirmative action is under attack, not just in Congress, but in the courts. ABC's Jim Angle looks at how one decision devastated one business community." Angle surveyed the damage in Virginia: "Richmond is more than 50 percent black, and in the early 1980s had set aside a third of city contracts for minorities. But in 1989, the Supreme Court said that figure was arbitrary and, therefore, unconstitutional....Now [Richmond] has a 16 percent goal for minority contracts. But in the four years without guarantees, minority share of city contracts plunged from 35 percent to one percent."
According to Angle, black businessmen just can't make it without government: "Without government setting an example, these businessmen say the private sector will simply ignore them." He continued, "Minority businessmen here say their experience makes it clear that without affirmative action, even those who want to work will be left on the outside looking in." Angle failed to note that in Richmond, blacks are on the inside, not the outside: the city manager is black, and of the nine members of the City Council, three are white and six are black, including the Mayor, who also serves on the Council.
Nightly Parade of Victims
In his March 2 radio commentary, ABC anchor Peter Jennings lectured listeners: "A Balanced Budget Amendment, even if passed and ratified, wouldn't really cut a single penny of spending...That would require difficult choices." World News Tonight isn't helping by running four almost or totally one-sided stories on the "victims" of proposed budget cuts.
On January 25, reporter Bill Blakemore debunked Republican arts cuts: "In Kentucky, money from the National Endowment for the Arts means thousands of kids pay only $4 instead of $20 to see a live symphony....Most of the NEA's $167 million budget goes to such programs that make art accessible to ordinary Americans." As for public broadcasting, he added "cutting federal support would jeopardize many programs about Kentucky life, and 6,000 hours of instructional broadcasts."
Reporter Ken Kashiwahara defended student aid on February 14, summarizing the plight of the James family: "no federal help -- no college." Kashiwahara concluded the family was "praying not only that [daughter] Lindsay will qualify for student loan programs, but that the programs will still exist." Michele Norris reported February 24: "Public housing programs were hardest of those hit when Republicans took the axe to federal spending." She quoted an angry public housing resident and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and listed the benefits cut because "the Republicans carved out nearly $17 billion dollars."
On March 4, World News Saturday anchor Barry Serafin warned: "Budget cutting fever inspired by Speaker Gingrich and the new Republican Congress has infected government at all levels." Reporter Ned Potter focused on New York state, where "many small programs are getting lost in the shuffle, programs that may actually save money in the long run." He interviewed two recipients of state programs, and dismissed charity: "At this church food bank, organizers worry they will be overwhelmed with hungry people if government programs die."
Hailing Clinton's Helper
In eulogizing former Senator J. William Fulbright, reporters embellished some aspects of his record, while failing to report others. In a February 20 Newsweek article titled "A Politician of Principle," Jonathan Alter declared that Fulbright, "whose withering questions during televised hearings helped to change the mind of the nation, will be remembered for his principled opposition to U.S. policy in Vietnam."
What in Alter's mind made him so principled? Alter wrote: "He was right on Joseph McCarthy (denouncing him early), embarrassingly wrong on civil rights (the major blemish on his record) and prescient on world affairs." So prescient that he opposed efforts to fight communism both at home and abroad.
While all the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN) and the major news magazines (Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report) mentioned Fulbright's connection to Clinton, none reported what David Maraniss wrote in his biography on Clinton, First in His Class: "Lee Williams, Fulbright's chief aide, a graduate of the University of Arkansas Law School, had several contacts there and worked the telephone from his Capitol Hill office trying to arrange Clinton's enrollment (in the ROTC program)," which Maraniss noted had become a "safe haven for students looking to avoid the draft."
Right-Wing Radical Nuts
Equating the lethargy of past Democrat-controlled Congresses with "governing," Time and Newsweek have denounced the energetic pace of newly-elected House Republicans. Describing attempts by Republican freshman to include a three-fifths vote for tax increases under the Balanced Budget Amendment, the magazines exhausted the thesaurus for negative labels. In the February 6 issue, under the headline "The `Shiites' of the House," Newsweek's Thomas Rosenstiel declared: "The Gingrich Republicans won control of Congress with the hot rhetoric popular on talk radio. Now they can't help but govern the same way."
Rosenstiel summarized the freshmen: "Most....aren't as bombastic as [Rep. Bob] Dornan or as bitter as [Majority Leader Dick] Armey...But they tend to be fiercely ideological and unyielding." Rosenstiel claimed the "real threat" to the Amendment were "dogmatic freshmen," the "radicals" and "renegades" insisting on a three-fifths vote for higher taxes. Rosenstiel called freshmen attempting to repeal the assault weapons ban "gun zealots."
More Right-Wing Radical Nuts
Time's February 6 headline on the freshmen read: "A zealous crop of House freshmen wants to yank the agenda rightward." Senior Writer Richard Lacayo singled out "the shock troops of the revolution, they were hard to the right and unbeholden to the new order. Almost half of them had never held office of any kind before." Lacayo called Republicans who opposed a supermajority to raise taxes "moderates," while tagging those who tried to make it harder to raise taxes "radicals" and "the Jacobins of this revolution." Incumbents weren't immune from labels either. Profiling Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) in the February 27 Time, Karen Tumulty wrote that freshmen seeking to cut government spending "learned their radical ideas were not quite as radical as the chairman's." Reporters who find opposition to raising taxes so "radical" could also be labeled -- as liberals.
Women Weren't Oppressed?
The fallen communist governments of Eastern Europe are best remembered for oppressing their citizens, yet some in the media have engaged in historical revisionism to denigrate the area's new regimes. The latest example came from Boston Globe staff reporter Elizabeth Neuffer, whose February 12 article on the progress of women declared: "As people from eastern Germany to Hungary reel under the impact of their move to capitalism, which has produced double-digit inflation and unemployment, it is women who are feeling that transition's sharpest bite."
What made the communist era special? According to Neuffer, "Women were expected to work, so were guaranteed jobs. They were also to produce children, so were given a vast array of social services." About one of those social services no longer available, Neuffer wrote: "Abortion had been freely available in place of contraception. Now, in Poland, a woman has the right to an abortion only if she is raped or her life is in danger. In Germany, the former East and West are still quarreling over the issue."
Neuffer concluded: "Across Eastern Europe, women find that from abortion rights to economic status the world in which they live and work is not what they anticipated five years ago. While few want a return to communism, most are convinced that capitalism is still essentially a man's world."
Best in the Business?
The March American Journalism Review (AJR) included its annual "Best in the Business" awards. Selected by a survey of 1,000 subscribers to the magazine read by reporters, editors and producers, the list of winners reads more like the "Best of the Left." Newly installed NBC News commentator Bill Moyers won "Best White House Press Secretary (Ever)" for his work as Lyndon Johnson's mouthpiece. He beat out Pierre Salinger, the former Kennedy Press Secretary and ABC News reporter. Last year The American Spectator uncovered Troopergate and Paula Jones, and exposed Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson's book on Anita Hill as a fraud. But the media readers of AJR chose the left-wing Mother Jones as the "Best Magazine for Investigative Journalism." PBS' Frontline won second prize for "Best TV Newsmagazine." In the past, it provided a platform for the discredited October Surprise and Christic Institute "secret team" theories. The award for the "Best Nationally Syndicated Columnist" was bestowed upon the Texas liberal Molly Ivins, who specializes in ridiculing conservatives.
It's So Great!
Famously perky Today co-host Katie Couric led the cheers for government-subsidized child care in a February 15 segment with liberal Working Mother editor Judsen Culbreth and North Carolina state official Robin Britt. Couric used pessimistic projections on state run child care for 1994: "Day care standards differ from state to state and it seems that most of them are doing a pretty poor job. A major study found only one in every seven children are in a day care environment that is nurturing and prepares that child adequately for school."
Couric hailed Britt for his state's new spending spree: "What motivated North Carolina to really get on the stick, if you will?...This is costing the state of North Carolina big bucks, is it not?" Britt replied: "We're making that investment, Katie, we're spending $41 million a year now, and we're asking the General Assembly for $21 million more for 12 new counties next year. We have 32 counties currently participating in Smart Start." Later, Couric asked "Why aren't more states doing what North Carolina is doing? It's so great to hear this." Culbreth lamented: "I don't think they understand and appreciate the problem. I'm glad there's so much news on child care now, to bring out how poor it is in some places." Couric ended with the one-sided conclusion: "Amen....Hopefully a lot of states will follow North Carolina's lead."
Revolving Door: Clinton's CBS Adviser
What do you do after running a network news division? If you're former NBC News President Michael Gartner you write a weekly USA Today column espousing liberal views. If you're David Burke, President of CBS News from 1988 to 1990 and Vice President of ABC News for the 11 years before that, you travel the country dispensing advice to liberal politicians.
Last October The Boston Globe reported that Burke was "traveling with" Senator Ted Kennedy "on the campaign trail and advising him on strategy." Now he's helping President Clinton. A February 28 Wall Street Journal piece explored how Clinton "is searching outside the White House for savvy advice on ways to counter Republicans on issues from the Contract with America to affirmative action." Reporter Michael Frisby noted that in a February trip to California, Clinton "brought along former CBS News chief David Burke to provide political and communications tips." Burke's returning to his Democratic roots: from 1965 to 1971 he served as Chief of Staff to Senator Kennedy.
ABC's of Job Creation
When former ABC News correspondent Kathleen deLaski went on maternity leave last September, the Department of Defense hired Kenneth Bacon, a Wall Street Journal reporter, to replace her. He filled her slot as Chief Public Affairs Officer until Secretary William Perry eliminated it and Bacon became Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. With her old position effectively taken, the February 17 Washington Times relayed a Defense Week story about how deLaski created a new one for herself as Deputy to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Liaison. She told the defense weekly that she worked "two to four hours a week" during maternity leave to set up the shop. At ABC deLaski held an on-air spot in the Washington bureau from 1988 through the Spring of 1993.
Back to Brinkley
The first Sunday in February marked the start of Dorrance Smith's second run as Executive Producer of This Week with David Brinkley. The Executive Producer of This Week when it was launched in 1981, Smith ran the show through 1989, when he took the same title at Nightline, where he remained until jumping to the White House. From early 1991 through the end of Bush's term, Smith served as Assistant to the President for Media Affairs.
Nets Hire Republicans
What a difference an election makes. Weeks after the November returns came in, ABC and NBC hired aides to retiring House Minority Leader Bob Michel to lobby for them in Washington. Capital Cities/ABC named William Pitts, Chief of Staff to Michel and a 25-year GOP Capitol Hill veteran, as Vice President for Government Affairs. Pitts replaced Mark MacCarthy, formerly a professional staff member in the 1980s for the Democratically-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee....
NBC tapped Bob Okun, floor assistant and Senate liaison for Michel, as Vice President for Government Relations. Roll Call recited Okun's Republican resume: Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the Department of Education under Lamar Alexander; Executive Director of the House Republican Conference, the House Republican Policy Committee, and the House Republican Research Committee.
When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette selected a new Executive Editor in June 1992, an October American Journalism Review story revealed it chose a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. Taking the helm in Little Rock just as Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, Griffin Smith Jr. who spent the previous five years running the paper's travel section.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tapped a local and network television news veteran in September to head its communications division in the office of the Assistant Secretary for public affairs. They hired Jackie Nedell, whom National Journal reported "was most recently a freelance television reporter based in Washington" for Fox and the NBC News Channel where her stories appeared on Nightside. At HHS she's working nearby former Los Angeles Times reporter Victor Zonana, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS for public affairs.
Nap Time for Network News
The networks devoted 27 stories to Newt Gingrich's book deal in the six weeks ending February 1, to only three on Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. February brought fewer Gingrich stories, but Democratic scandals were barely touched. Except for Brown, no Democratic ethics issue got more than one story on any one of the four evening news shows.
Ethical questions about Gingrich's "Newt Inc." conglomerate of political enterprises generated five stories, two from NBC's Lisa Myers. On February 23 and 24, ABC's John Martin filed lengthy reports totaling over six minutes, and on February 23 CBS's Bob Schieffer focused on Gingrich's college course getting free time on a cable channel.
All four covered the Justice Department's February 16 opening of an investigation into Brown's finances. Dan Rather sounded almost regretful: "New legal trouble tonight for a widely respected member of President Clinton's cabinet." But curiosity quickly ebbed. NBC followed up with two stories, CBS and CNN World News with a story each. In all, the networks devoted eight stories to Brown in February. Even the revelation in the February 25 Washington Post that NBC had forgiven a $10 million loan defaulted on by a partnership including Brown failed to pique their curiosity, although questions about federal regulation of Fox drove the Gingrich book story.
Only CBS reported on the new Bill Clinton biography by Washington Post writer David Maraniss, which confirmed what The American Spectator revealed about women and state troopers over a year ago. The release of the list of contributors to Clinton's legal defense fund was noted briefly by NBC (CBS's Bill Plante also mentioned it in his Maraniss story.) Only CBS updated the case against Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy on February 12.
Despite a 60 Minutes story to which Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle issued a 31-page denial on February 17, the networks continued to ignore allegations that he intervened with federal airline regulators on behalf of a friend's company that suffered a deadly crash last year.
At month's end, a grand jury indicted Neil Ainley, former President of an Arkansas bank, for concealing 1990 Clinton gubernatorial campaign withdrawals. CNN aired a Wolf Blitzer piece on February 28, but no other network noted the Whitewater development.
CBS, CNN, and NBC did highlight Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt being charged with perjury and obstruction of justice February 22. That same day, a grand jury indicted former Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) for check-kiting at the House Bank. Only CNN ran a brief anchor-read story.
Abortion Only Splits GOP?
The Foster Disaster
Most reporters smelled a GOP gambit to avoid the issue that's always a sure loser in the media conventional wisdom: "That's a question that's allowed the President's political opponents to steer clear of the sensitive issue of abortion, to focus instead on credibility," Cokie Roberts intoned on the February 8 Nightline.
NBC Today's Jim Miklaszewski weighed in on February 9: "Clinton aides admit they...would ultimately win the war of public opinion over choice and help push Republicans further right from center." On February 15, as Foster's nomination began to slip, Connie Chung declared it a disaster -- for the GOP. "Republican use of the abortion issue against Dr. Henry Foster's nomination as Surgeon General seems to be backfiring tonight. The deep stress cracks over abortion policy are now starting to show inside the Republican Party."
Some reporters simply reserved stories for Foster's supporters. On the February 10 World News Tonight, ABC's George Strait said "Today, physicians around the country joined that fight, defending him, saying his record has been badly misrepresented." If anyone did that, it was the media.
In another unanimous story on February 13, Gwen Ifill asserted "Foster is known as a distinguished physician who helped rescue Meharry Medical College from the brink of extinction and helped found `I Have a Future,' a program designed to discourage teenagers from having babies....His supporters are bewildered that the church-going pillar of the community they know has somehow become a national symbol in the battle over abortion."
Never reported was the ob-gyn program at Meharry lost its accreditation in 1990 while Foster was at its helm. The "I Have A Future" program is also in question. The director refused to provide statistics to prove its success to The Washington Times.
Burned on Asbestos
U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Peter Cary detailed the extensive costs that the Environmental Protection Agency places on the economy, particularly when it comes to regulations dealing with asbestos. In the February 20 issue, Cary chronicled the cost excesses of asbestos removal: "Much of the money, though, is probably being spent in vain....No one has ever determined how much asbestos in the air is unsafe, and there is now broad consensus among scientists and physicians that asbestos in public buildings is not much of a threat to health."
Detailing the EPA's failings, Cary wrote, "Less understandable is the role of government agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, which created a public panic on the basis of paper-thin scientific information." He discovered that while EPA reports "did not command that asbestos be torn out, their dire admonitions -- plus the availability of federal funds for asbestos removal only -- pushed schools into many needless removals. An asbestos-remediation industry sprang up overnight; it would gross $4 billion to $5 billion annually." But in 1990, the EPA admitted its regulations may have indeed caused an even greater health hazard. According to Cary, "the EPA acknowledged that low levels of asbestos in school and office buildings meant low overall risk. It pointed out that the dust created by improper removal could actually increase the danger."
Cary concluded: "So the asbestos madness continues. For fear of asbestos, in 1993 New York City ripped out tons of plaster from its schools, only to find that just 25 percent of it contained asbestos." And pointing to future regulations he warned: "With Congress and the EPA now considering regulations for lead and radon exposure, the 1992 EPA report on how it messed up its message on asbestos should be required reading. But that report is virtually impossible to find inside the EPA. Says one in-house expert, `I think it's been buried.'"
Nightline's Selective Constitution
Koppel's Advanced Attitude
A selective reading of the Consitution is a hallmark of liberalism, and ABC's Nightline is no exception. Ted Koppel offered a narrow view of the Second Ammendment on February 14, but devoted the next night's show to an expansive take on the Fourth Amendment.
Koppel reported on Texas legislation to allow citizens to defend themselves with concealed weapons. He revealed: "I was pleasantly surprised to learn that for the past 124 years, that you were not allowed, not only to carry a concealed gun in Texas, but not permitted to carry a concealed weapon of any kind in Texas." Koppel called the restrictions "an advanced attitude for the state of Texas to be taking." Questioning the bill's sponsor, Koppel maintained "in Florida...they passed such a law in 1987, and violent crime is up by 17.8 percent." Koppel harkened back to the Wild West: "It seems to me you're sort of wanting to go back to those bad old days."
But David Kopel, co-author with Clayton Cramer of `Shall Issue': The New Wave of Concealed Handgun Permit Laws, told MediaWatch that crime records of the "bad old days" showed a "per capita murder rate [that] was seven percent of modern New York City, the burglary rate was one percent, rape was unknown." He also refuted Koppel's statements on Florida, where the violent crime rose "less than the national increase, and not by [concealed weapon] permit holders." Kopel noted: "The homicide rate plunged in Florida, from 30 percent above the national average to slightly below the national rate." Kopel addressed the point which Nightline ignored: "Violent crime has been intolerably high for the past 25 years, and people have the right to protect themselves when the federal government can't."
On February 15, Koppel focused on the effort to limit the exclusionary rule, intoning: "We pay a significant amount of lip service to the Constitution, and to the Founding Fathers who drafted it. But, Lord only help them if they were alive today trying to foist their radical ideas off on the American public in its current mood." Koppel claimed when "society is frustrated...there is an inclination to increase the powers of the police and sacrifice some of that constitutional protection. That is in the process of happening."
Reporter Chris Bury warned: "A stampede to pass the crime package could trample that other Contract with America -- the Constitution." Where was Nightline when Democrats trampled the Second Amendment?
Janet Cooke Award: The Magazine That Cried Wolf
Time Decries "Elimination" of Nutrition Programs as Actual Spending Continues to Soar
The March 2, 1981 issue of Time magazine came with a cover that read "The Ax Falls." In the 14 years since that metaphorical ax fell, symbolizing deep Reagan budget cuts, the annual federal budget has increased by $1 trillion. But the panicked tone of coverage -- that federal programs will be gutted, even eliminated -- remains the same.
The March 6, 1995 Time recycled the tone of the early Reagan era. Under a heart-tugging picture of a tot in a grocery cart, Time's headline asked "To Be Leaner or Meaner? A congressional proposal to eliminate nutrition programs raises an outcry." For obscuring the actual increases in federal nutrition spending under anti-conservative hype, Time earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Senior Writer Elizabeth Gleick began the article with anecdotes of poor children who didn't get breakfast until they arrived at school, followed by a school administrator warning: "If they cut this program, I don't know what [the children] are going to do." Acknowledging free-market economist Milton Friedman's maxim "there's no such thing as a free lunch," Time asserted: "But the costs of the National School Lunch Act, passed in 1946, also yields real benefits. It enables around 14 million children to eat nutritious lunches for free or reduced prices at a total cost to taxpayers of $4.454 billion. But not since the notorious condiment incident of 1981, when the Reagan administration attempted to reclassify catsup and pickles as vegetables, has this aid been in such jeopardy."
Time allowed that "Republicans contend that truly needy children will continue to receive benefits," followed by a quote from Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.): "The American public expects us to cut spending...but I don't think they expect us to make war on kids." For maximum effect, Time highlighted Obey's quote in large letters under a picture of two school girls eating.
Gleick emphasized: "The flaws in the proposal, children's advocates insist, are many and terrifying....In addition to removing the nutrition programs from federal supervision, the proposed changes also sharply slice the total amount of money available by $860 million in fiscal 1996 and $7 billion over five years."
But that doesn't match the actual GOP plan, which The Washington Times reported increases the school lunch program from $4.5 billion to $4.7 billion next year, and adds $200 million each year through 1999. The "cut" is a drop in the rate of growth from 5.2 percent to 4.5 percent for 1996. How can this be compared to the question of "leaner or meaner," the plan to "eliminate nutrition programs," to "make war on kids"?
Time also played a subtle game in labeling their sources: the liberals in the story -- Rep. David Obey, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Larry Brown -- were "advocacy groups for the poor" and "children's advocates," while the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector was a "conservative" bent on "retrenchment." The article quoted Susan Steinmetz of the "welfare-reform division at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, an advocacy group for the poor. `One couldn't find a more ill-advised proposal. It's amazing.'" Gleick continued: "Retrenchment, however seems to be precisely the idea. Conservatives contend that free food has done little to solve the problems plaguing the nation."
Heritage analyst Robert Rector told Time: "Go into any housing project and you don't see kids bent over with rickets. You see strong young men who are a danger to themselves and their community."
Rector has written that by selling a false picture of starving children, liberal groups are distracting public attention from the real problems of poor kids: family breakdown, crime, no role models. But Time omitted Rector's more relevant argument: that Agriculture Department studies have found that rich children and poor children have very similar nutritional intakes, and that the top nutrition-related problem with poor children is obesity. Instead, Gleick used liberal activists to paint an entirely different picture: "The idea that these gains may be rolled back has alarmed some children's advocates. Predicted J. Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy at Tufts University: 'We're going to see levels of damage that we have not seen in 40 or 50 years.'" Time failed to note that Brown's Tufts center has estimated the number of hungry American children at 12 million, twice as high as previous liberal activist estimates, citing as a source the Census Bureau, which has completed no studies of hunger in America.
"That's pretty outrageous," Rector told MediaWatch about Time's claim of billion-dollar cuts in nutrition programs. "They didn't cut anything. Time is part of that Washington abuse of the language that perpetually confuses the voters. WIC [Women's, Infant's, Children's food subsidies] actually received an increase, too. What they don't tell you is these programs are eligible to people making 185 percent of the poverty line, or $27,000 for a family of four. That family will pay $6,000 in taxes. Why not let them keep that money, instead of taking it and giving it back?"
As for the school lunch program, Rector told MediaWatch: "These programs are lavish subsidies to middle-class schools, even children of millionaires. Twenty or thirty percent of the funds are going to children of those who make more than $30,000 a year. They are extraordinarily inefficient in their targeting. Every time the Republicans propose to fix that, the school lunch managers fight it, because more affluent schools will drop out of the program."
When asked for comment, Gleick referred MediaWatch to Washington bureau reporter Ann Blackman, who failed to return repeated phone calls. Ironically, in 1981, the Reagan administration had proposed a 29 percent reduction in school lunch funds instead of the present plan for increases, but in the October 12, 1981 Time, reporter George Church wrote "the school program has now grown to the point where it benefits students who are in little danger of starving," and cited examples like affluent Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where "the school board knows that more than a few parents lied about family income or exaggerated the number of their dependents in order to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches."
But in 1995, Time's journalistic approach is not about balance, and it's not about exploring the nuances of a program to make it work more efficiently. It's about intimidating Republicans out of reducing federal spending (as if they were doing that in this case) by showing heart-tugging pictures of grade-school victims and quoting "children's advocates" warning of massive "damage." It's the kind of journalism that warns of an ax falling, but the ax never falls.