In This Issue
Clinton Thought He Had It Tough; NewsBites: Jack White, Smear Artist; Revolving Door: Coming Aboard Bill's Team; Reserving Rebukes for Buchanan; Poor, Poor, OSHA; Tendentious Tenure; CBS Spikes Goldberg for His Honesty; Janet Cooke Award: McNamara Tries Guilt by Association
Clinton Thought He Had It Tough
Reporters don't like ideological labeling, at least when it's applied to them. Last November, Dan Rather told Denver radio host Mike Rosen he hated "to be tagged by someone else's label. I try really hard not to do that with other people, particularly people who are in public service and politics."
So do reporters use labeling in campaign coverage? MediaWatch analysts compared media coverage of the primaries in 1992 with those in 1996. Analysts reviewed evening news coverage of the four networks (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's The World Today and in 1992 World News or Prime News) for 19 days, starting with the Tuesday before the New Hampshire primary.
For 1992, the days studied were February 11-29; in 1996, February 13-March 2, the day of the South Carolina primary. Both were periods when voters and reporters winnowed down the presidential field.
The study found the Democratic candidates or their supporters were labeled "liberal" only four times, none suggesting extremism. In 1996, GOP candidates or their supporters were labeled 73 times, 45 of the labels suggesting extremism. Analysts also looked at campaign controveries. Five stories investigated the finances of Republicans, compared to no investigations of the Democrats. Charges of bigotry by Pat Buchanan were featured in 20 stories.
Reporters used only four liberal labels to describe the Democratic candidates, all in the first two days of the 1992 study period. On February 11, NBC's Andrea Mitchell used two labels, calling Tom Harkin "a pure liberal and proud of it" with "old-fashioned liberal solutions." That same night, ABC's Judy Muller noted: "If Kerrey's health plan strikes some voters as too liberal, his more conservative proposals for dealing with the recession seem to strike a chord with voters trying to make ends meet." The next night, Muller said Harkin calls himself "an unabashed liberal."
Even when the ideology seemed obvious, reporters stressed candidates were not liberal, but part of the mainstream. On February 12, 1992, ABC reporter Chris Bury reported on Jerry Brown: "To those who hear him, Brown's appeal is his idealism, his calls for political reform, universal health care, and environmental activism." Despite that left-wing agenda, Bury underlined: "Some voters seemed surprised Brown did not sound so radical." The closest thing to a Clinton label came from ABC's Jack Smith, who told viewers a week later that Clinton's economic message "runs counter to so much traditional liberal ideology." (Did reporters eschew labeling in 1992? No. Stories during the study period on the 1992 GOP race used the word "conservative" or "from the right" on 77 occasions, with four references to extremism.)
In 1996, Republicans and their voters were labeled on 73 occasions. The networks employed 18 conservative descriptions, six moderate labels, and even four liberal tags (all of them from reporters quoting Buchanan's attacks on his rivals). On the 18th, NBC's David Bloom said Lamar Alexander was "trying to bolster his conservative credentials." But extreme terms were applied on 45 occasions -- all but one to describe Pat Buchanan. (The exception: Bloom called Alexander a "moderate Republican with a radical plan of devolution.") Among references to extremism, 36 used the terms "extreme" or "extremist," but analysts included the terms "ultraconservative," "too conservative" or "out of the mainstream."
CBS led the networks with 19 references to Buchanan's extremism (compared to 12 for CNN, nine for ABC, and five by NBC). On six occasions, CBS underlined their perception of Buchanan's ultraconservatism by referring to the networks' Voter News Service exit poll question asking if Buchanan was too extreme. In a February 18 interview with Sen. Phil Gramm, Dan Rather asked: "There is a perception that Buchanan has around him people with extremist views on race. Do you agree?" On February 25, CBS weekend anchor John Roberts asked CBS consultant Joe Klein: "Some call Buchanan an extremist. Others call him as American as apple pie. What is this fellow's appeal?" Klein replied: "He is both. He is an extremist and as American as apple pie."
Reporters were not interested in the Democratic candidates' finances in 1992, airing no stories during the study period. When Whitewater first came to light on March 8, 1992, NBC aired only one story, eight days later. CBS made a brief mention on the 8th, and then dismissed financial questions on the 16th. Reporter Richard Threlkeld portrayed Whitewater questions as an invasion of Hillary Clinton's privacy. All together, the networks did just five full stories on the Clinton finances in 1992.
In 1996, CBS and NBC combined for five stories in just 19 days touching on Republican candidate finances. NBC investigated the sweetheart deals of Lamar Alexander on February 13, and mentioned them again February 18. CBS investigated the Alexander deals on February 15, then added another look at Honey Alexander's and Elizabeth Dole's financial moves on February 17. On March 2, CBS suggested hypocrisy in Buchanan's stock ownership of Fortune 500 corporations. On February 21, CBS reporter Rita Braver claimed Lamar Alexander had "some financial dealings in his past that might put Whitewater to shame."
Sparked by the disclosure that Buchanan campaign co-chair Larry Pratt spoke at forums shared by white supremacists, the networks aired twenty stories raising the allegation that Buchanan was bigoted against blacks or Jews. CBS reporter Phil Jones concluded: "Buchanan has been talking and writing like this for years. Then, he was on the fringe. Now, he's on the front line and Americans are starting to take a closer look at Pat Buchanan's America." The story count didn't include isolated soundbites, like one voter on the March 2 CBS Evening News: "Buchanan scares me. He reminds me of a little guy over in Germany with a mustache."
In September 1992, Bill Clinton claimed: "Nobody's had a tougher press than I have. No candidate in history has." Some of this year's candidates may beg to differ.
NewsBites: Jack White, Smear Artist
In an attack uglier than any of this year's attack ads, Time national correspondent Jack E. White announced the culprits behind black church burnings in the South. After blaming Pat Buchanan's "ugly rhetoric" in the March 18 issue, he broadened the smear: "In fact, all the conservative Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Pete Wilson, who have sought political advantage by exploiting white resentment should come and stand in the charred ruins of the New Liberty Baptist Church in Tyler [Alabama]...and wonder if their coded phrases encouraged the arsonists. Over the past 18 months, while Republicans fulminated about welfare and affirmative action, more than 20 churches in Alabama and six other Southern and Border states have been torched."
White noted the current lack of evidence of a racist conspiracy in the bombings, yet concluded: "But there is already enough evidence to indict the cynical conservatives who build their political careers, George Wallace-style, on a foundation of race-baiting. They may not start fires, but they fan the flames."
Rooting Against Rush.
Tom Brokaw may have engaged in wishful thinking on the February 14 Nightly News when he devoted the "NBC News Online" to the alleged fall of Rush Limbaugh. Brokaw claimed "Election results are one way to tell who's hot in politics. Then there are the ratings in this business." Brokaw charged that Limbaugh's "radio and television ratings have tumbled, and his books, once huge best-sellers, now are in the discount bins." He added a plug for the book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot by Al Franken, a fellow NBC employee: "And a book about Limbaugh, by the comedian Al Franken, is riding high, it's number two behind Hillary Clinton's book and rising fast."
But as Talkers magazine Editor Michael Harrison noted in the March 3 Washington Times, Limbaugh's ratings "dropped a marginal, insignificant amount" in the fall. "The guy belches in ratings, and everyone runs around as if the witch is dead," Harrison said. He noted Limbaugh is on 650 radio stations, with a total audience more than double his closest political talk show competition.
Linda Cecere of the Rush Limbaugh television show told MediaWatch there are 8.9 million copies of Limbaugh's two books currently in print, and noted the books have spent a total of 114 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (hardcover and paperback). His first book spent 24 weeks at the #1 spot. Brokaw ignored how virtually all bestsellers with a big press run are eventually discounted.
With Friends Like These....
During the usually contentious primary season the media focused on Republican rifts, but ignored Democratic divisions over their party leader. With two exceptions the networks failed to report attacks on President Clinton from two prominent Democrats. In an interview with Washington Post reporter Martha Sherrill in the January issue of Esquire magazine Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) insisted: "Clinton's an unusually good liar." Kerrey's extraordinary admission received very little coverage. Tim Russert, prompted by a Washington Times article, asked Colorado Gov. Roy Romer about the Kerrey quote on the February 4 Meet the Press.
CNN's Bernard Shaw briefly mentioned the quote on the February 6 Inside Politics, and added the remarks of Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) who joked of Clinton's poll ratings: "If they get up to 60 percent, his people tell me Bill can start dating again." Shaw also relayed a Hollings quote from a South Carolina paper: "Clinton's as popular as AIDS in South Carolina." The Hollings quotes received no coverage in the usually AIDS-sensitive television networks of ABC, NBC and CBS. By contrast, in December 1994 when Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) joked that Clinton was so unpopular that he had better bring bodyguards if he visited any military bases, the Helms remark generated nine stories on the three broadcast network evening news shows.
Our Sweet Little Terrorist Helper
In the weeks following the Oklahoma City bombing, the news media were quick to portray suspect Timothy McVeigh unsympathetically as a violent extremist, as well they should. But when 26-year-old Lori Berenson was sentenced to life in prison by a Peruvian military tribunal for being closely involved with the Marxist terrorists of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the news media tried to portray her sympathetically as a concerned American who went to Latin America to work for the poor.
Although she admitted to being affiliated with the MRTA, the January 22 Time didn't feel that was important: "Her friends and relatives know Lori Berenson as a compassionate idealist, an innocent waylaid by her concern for the poor and oppressed of Latin America." Time concluded: "But Berenson's real passion was always to help the downtrodden; as a teenager she donated time to a soup kitchen." A February 4 Washington Post headline read: "Little Girl Lost. American Lori Berenson, 26, Was a Good Daughter, A Good Worker, a Good-Hearted Person. In Peru, She Got Into Trouble. Bad Trouble." On February 21, ABC Prime Time Live reporter John Quinones used the same approach in a story titled "To Love A Country": "In the 8th grade, Lori volunteered to work at a soup kitchen. Later that year she was selected to narrate a commercial for CARE, an appeal to feed needy children."
This theme was countered by a Mark Falcoff article in the February 26 issue of The Weekly Standard: "But let the record show that she is charged not for her views, but for her involvement with a terrorist group that, in recent years, has been involved in assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and attacks against innocent people, many of them poor."
The networks continue to ignore ethics complaints against Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives. In early February, the networks saw no need for a story when Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) filed a complaint with the House ethics committee suggesting House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt may have evaded capital gains taxes on a land swap.
The February 23 Washington Times reported that Gephardt dumped his share of ownership of the vacation home on North Carolina's Outer Banks. George Archibald wrote that Gephardt, who is an avid opponent of capital gains tax cuts, "claimed for financial-disclosure purposes that his condo was not a rental property the year he sold it for $183,000. He simultaneously claimed it as a rental property for tax purposes to escape capital gains taxes of about $17,000 in 1991." Archibald struck again with a March 6 piece in the Washington Times noting that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) formally requested the Justice Department undertake a criminal probe of Gephardt's tax situation. Neither story piqued the networks' curiosity.
On March 6, the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation filed a complaint against House MinorityWhip David Bonior, the ethical scold of Speaker Newt Gingrich, for misusing his congressional staff to write a 1984 book on government time. The networks didn't cover that either.
"This morning we're taking a close look at the problem of child care, a problem some countries are solving," co-host Harry Smith announced on the February 21 CBS This Morning. The country with the solution? France and its expensive, old-style socialist system.
Smith marveled at the state-mandated benefits: "Like all new mothers in France, Helene took a 16-week paid maternity leave from her job. In addition, mothers who work for larger companies can take off two more years unpaid, with the guarantee their jobs will still be there when they get back." To support this system, Smith admitted that taxes are "much higher in France than in the United States...and that may be why they're going through some of their own economic problems." But, incredibly, he also referred to the system as free: "When Jeanne leaves day care, she can attend a completely free, good quality, state-run pre-school where she stays until she is six and primary school begins." Smith followed the segment with an interview of Ellen Galinsky of the liberal Families and Work Institute. His first question was more accusation: "In the United States, are we just not willing to pay for child care?"
ABC vs. the First Amendment
A special interest group wants to use the coercive power of the government to silence the opposition. ABC News naturally comes down on the side of free speech, right? Not quite. Here's how Peter Jennings introduced a February 14 World News Tonight story: "Supporters of gun control, who had no success convincing a Republican Congress to pass stronger gun control legislation, have adopted a new tactic. They have asked the Federal Trade Commission to stop certain advertisements by gun manufacturers."
Lisa Stark explained that the ads "sell safety and security, offering guns as a way to protect loved ones, to guard home and family. But critics say this picture is deceptive and misleading." After a soundbite from Sarah Brady, Stark elaborated: "Gun control advocates point to tragedies you won't find in the ads. In Texas, a teenager shot and killed, mistaken for a burglar by her father; in California, a four-year-old shoots himself," and a 15-year-old "killed by his best friend."
Stark asserted that "scientific studies show handguns are more likely to hurt family members than protect them." ABC aired three soundbites from opponents of the gun ads, but only one from Tanya Metaksa of the National Rifle Association. Metaksa was only allowed to defend the right to air ads, not to counter the liberal statistics about gun accidents. If Stark had any interest in balance, she could have noted that Dr. Arthur Kellerman, a fervent gun control advocate, explained in the August 14, 1994 U.S. News & World Report that "Studies such as ours do not include cases in which intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm." Last year in his book Guns, David Kopel noted that bicycle and swimming pool accidents kill more children annually than do guns. If ABC wants the FTC to regulate advertisements from weapon manufacturers, then who will regulate the network's own gun control ads disguised as journalism?
The Episcopalian Inquisition?
The word inquisition brings to mind torture sessions in dark castles in medieval Europe where unbelievers were strapped to the rack until they swore allegiance to the church. Recently, the networks used the word to describe whether the Episcopal Church should allow a practicing homosexual minister to lead church services.
Peter Jennings led off the rhetorical overkill about Bishop Walter Righter on the February 27 World News Tonight: "This next story in the news tonight may conjure the Spanish Inquisition for some but the dateline is Wilmington, Delaware. A retired bishop could become the second Episcopal priest in the two hundred year history of the U.S. Episcopal Church to be tried for heresy, the most serious breach of Christian faith. His offense: ordaining a practicing homosexual five years ago."
On the same night's CBS Evening News, reporter Richard Threlkeld referred to the trial as something "right out of the middle ages" and stated that "critics charge Bishop Righter's the victim of a conservative inquisition." The idea that conservative bishops inside the Episcopal Church wanted to enforce church doctrine left Threlkeld scratching his head: "It's ironic that something so medieval should be happening within the Episcopal Church, one of the more tolerant of Protestant denominations."
Revolving Door: Coming Aboard Bill's Team
Two network veterans have joined the effort to re-elect President Clinton. In the Clinton-Gore campaign office, Roll Call reported that Joseph Lockhart, who bounces between Democratic presidential campaigns and network slots, has bounced again, this time into the national press secretary slot. Lockhart was an assistant press secretary to Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in 1984, then Press Secretary to Senator Paul Simon until becoming assignment editor for ABC News in Chicago in 1985. He put in a stint as a deputy assignment editor at CNN before joining the 1988 Dukakis-Bentsen campaign as a traveling press aide. Stuart Schear, the off-air health and science reporter until last year for the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, has joined the White House press office as coordinator of local and national TV interviews with the President, The Washington Post reported. For the July/August 1995 Mother Jones, Schear wrote "a consumer guide to the health insurer's new, overheated advertising campaigns."
Politics in All News
ABC and Fox have chosen political operatives to head their future all-news cable channels. ABC News President Roone Arledge went left, hiring back former ABC News executive Jeff Gralnick from NBC News where he's been Executive Producer of the NBC Nightly News since 1993. In 1971 Gralnick served as Press Secretary to liberal Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.). After promoting the future presidential candidate, Gralnick jumped to ABC, where by 1979 he had risen to Executive Producer of World News Tonight. He oversaw all election coverage for ABC since 1980, becoming Vice President and Executive Producer of special events in 1985.
Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch went to the right, naming Roger Ailes, President of CNBC since 1993, as the chief executive of the Fox All News Network as well as of the Fox broadcast news operation. While producer of the Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s, Ailes met Richard Nixon and left the show to become media adviser to the 1968 Republican candidate's successful run. He spent the next two decades devising media and ad strategies for GOP candidates, including Ronald Reagan and George Bush. In 1992 he took the helm of the Rush Limbaugh TV show as its Executive Producer.
Raking in the Dough
Six media veterans are making out pretty well at the White House, a June 26, 1995 payroll report shows. The March 1 Washington Times ran the list of salaries of 407 White House staffers released by the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service and general government.
The list shows that speechwriting head Donald Baer, a former U.S. News Assistant Managing Editor, earns $125,000 a year. Wall Street Journal and Time reporter turned speechwriter Daniel Benjamin gets $80,000, as do speechwriters Carolyn Curiel, a former Nightline producer, and Alison Muscatine, a former Washington Post reporter who also helped write First Lady Hillary Clinton's book It Takes a Village. Deputy Press Secretary Virginia Terzano, a CBS News election unit researcher in 1988, pulls down $66,000. At the bottom end lies Anne Edwards at $50,000, a former CBS News assignment editor and Senior Editor for NPR who now runs the press advance operation.
TV to Computer Screen
First she reported the news, then she spun the news. Now Kathleen deLaski will do both in cyberspace. America Online has named her general manager of its politics section. In 1988 she became an on-air report-er in Washington for ABC, jumping to the Clinton team in 1993 as Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Department of Defense where she remained through late 1994. For the past year she's been Deputy to the Undersecretary for Policy Liaison.
Reserving Rebukes for Buchanan
When the liberal Center for Public Integrity released a report February 15 showing Larry Pratt, co-chairman of the Pat Buchanan campaign, had attended and spoken before meetings of white supremacists and anti-semites, it led all the network evening newscasts. Some made Buchanan guilty by association. "Pat Buchanan was caught today in his own crossfire with accusations that he is running a campaign of hate and bigotry," declared Phil Jones on CBS.
But five days later, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore attended the swearing in of Kweisi Mfume as President of the NAACP, the networks refused to make an issue of Mfume's links to the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan. The four network evening shows didn't even mention the event.
As New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel pointed out February 29, Mfume "helped forge the 1993 `Sacred Covenant' between the Congressional Black Caucus, which Mfume chaired, and Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam." Surely, asked Breindel, "the fringe-right groups with which Larry Pratt associates are no more pernicious than the Farrakhanites."
Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, immediately took a leave of absence from the Buchanan campaign. "Mfume, by contrast," Breindel noted, "hasn't manifested any inclination to distance himself from Farrakhan....the ex-Congressman hasn't even been asked to do so." Not even after Farrakhan praised the leaders of Libya, Iraq and Iran during a world trip. Farrakhan accepted a $1 billion pledge from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi for his separatist organization to "mobilize `oppressed' minorities to influence this year's U.S. elections," The Washington Post reported February 17, three days before Clinton stood beside Mfume.
Back in the U.S., Farrakhan offered some fresh anti-semitism. In a clip shown February 29 on Rush Limbaugh, he said: "When you bring me before Congress, I'm going to call the roll of all the Congressmen who are honorary members of the Israeli Knesset and get contributions from the Zionist AIPAC, and then I want you to register as a foreign power! Every year you give Israel $46 billion of the taxpayers' money and you haven't asked the taxpayers one damn thing. Who are you an agent of?"
Did reporters demand Clinton explain his support of Farrakhan backer Mfume? No, they were too busy tarnishing Buchanan. In a February 23 NBC Nightly News piece, Gwen Ifill proffered to Buchanan: "People say that you are a sexist, a racist, an anti-semite." Ifill concluded that "Buchanan fancies himself a trench-fight-er, a warrior for a new conservatism of the heart. But increasingly he's being judged by the company he keeps." That's not a judgment reporters made of Clinton.
Poor, Poor, OSHA
The Congress may have failed so far to pass a regulatory reform bill, but The Washington Post is warning of the consequences of "deregulation" nonetheless. In a four-part February 18-21 series titled "De Facto Deregulation," Post reporters didn't so much describe "deregulation" as they did the frustration of regulators and their political allies at their inability to implement additional rules.
In the first story, reporter Cindy Skrzycki did feature opinions from the "libertarian" Cato Institute and the "conservative" National Center for Public Policy Research, but leftist Ralph Nader was simply a "consumer activist." Despite their prominence in the series, liberal groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) were not described as liberal.
Stephen Barr's story on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) read like a bureaucrat's newsletter, beginning with the headline "Cuts Frustrate OSHA Plans to Improve Worker Safety." Barr mourned the agency's 15 percent budget reduction and trotted out the OSHA line that it has far too few inspectors to enforce its regulations in every business across the nation. Barr passed on OSHA complaints that it hasn't enough money for its office redesign plans and computer networking operations. Barr added that its employees "likely will lose part of their salaries through unpaid furlough days....The possibility of layoffs has flattened morale at OSHA and left many OSHA employees feeling anxious about their futures."
Barr didn't address the philosophical point of new congressional oversight -- that for decades, regulatory agencies had no check or balance in the legislative branch -- or the obvious counterpoint that OSHA's actions have often caused economic frustrations and anxieties to businesses.
In the last article of the series, reporter Gary Lee mourned the failure to implement new revisions from the 1990 Clean Air Act reauthorization. As David Hawkins of the NRDC complained in the series' last paragraph: "We'll never be able to get clean air in areas like [Baltimore or Houston] without stricter enforcement of the act." Apparently to the Post, "deregulation" doesn't mean the repeal of regulations, but merely slowing down the juggernaut of ever-increasing government interference.
The national news media continually call for increased funding of public education, but they rarely ask if teachers' unions could be the problem.
A February 16 20/20 report and the February 26 U.S. News & World Report both looked at the declining quality of public education, and came to the same conclusion: Teachers unions are at the heart of the problem. In a cover story entitled `Why Teachers Don't Teach,' U.S. News summed it up: "The nation's future lies in its classrooms. But teachers' unions are driving out good teachers, coddling bad ones and putting bureaucracy in the way of quality education."
Both reports allowed unionized teachers to explain how they believe tenure protects them from unfair firings, but reporter Lynn Sherr revealed: "It often takes so long, it's so expensive and usually so unsuccessful at getting rid of allegedly bad teachers, some boards of education have thrown up their hands at even trying." Sherr continued: "Most elementary and secondary school teachers in this country have tenure...they have lifetime employment. It is virtually impossible to get rid of them." Sherr recounted the story of a school board in Connecticut that had to spend $250,000 in taxpayer money to fire an inadequate teacher who was later reinstated even though she was found partially incompetent.
While the media constantly warn voters of the Republican Party's pandering to the NRA and the Christian Coalition, U.S. News pointed out the political power of the National Education Association: "But teachers unions have used their resources to fight reform -- and their resources are vast."
The union spent $52 million to renovate their Washington headquarters, which U.S. News called: "A testament to its power in national politics, where the NEA has wedded itself to the
Democratic Party. The union handed out $8.9 million to congressional candidates between 1989 and 1995, only a fraction of it to the Republicans."
CNN's Brooks Jackson was first out of the gate to critique the presidential candidates in their ads and speeches. On the April 1 Inside Politics he critiqued Republican charges that Clinton judges were soft on crime. But in a surprising turn Jackson has also slammed Clinton's newest set of ads. His April 4 "Spin Patrol" segment challenged each claim made in the Democratic National Committee ads.
CNN aired the ad: "The President proposes a balanced budget protecting Medicare, education, the environment. But Dole is voting no. The President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans. Dole votes no."
Jackson replied: "Dole voting no to a balanced budget and tax cuts? Let's see that again...True, Clinton's latest budget would balance in 7 years on paper, but experts are skeptical." Jackson used moderate-to-liberal Carol Cox Wait of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Robert Reischauer of the Brookings Institution.
Jackson found the ad's claim "The President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans" was "Not the whole story." He pointed out that the Clinton administration arrived at the 40 million number through the 1993 budget bill's expansion of the earned income tax credit to "15 million low wage families, 40 million if you count their children." Jackson countered they also raised taxes on 1.5 million high-income families and 5 million Social Security recipients, not to mention higher gas taxes for everyone.
Another ad claimed Republicans cut school lunches. Jackson: "Not so. The Republican Congress appropriated more money for school lunches this year....And the Agriculture Department says it has increased the number of children served."
The same ad charged the GOP cut Head Start: "Money for the Head Start pre-school program has been cut four percent this year, temporarily. But Republican leaders have agreed to a one percent increase once a permanent appropriations bill is passed. Meanwhile not a single child has been affected. In fact Head Start enrollment is up this year."
And the DNC's claim that Republicans "cut child health care" did not go unchallenged. Jackson explained that Republicans only reduced the rate of Medicaid growth and that there is not much difference between the GOP and Clinton's proposal.
CBS Spikes Goldberg for His Honesty
Blew the Wrong Whistle
What a difference the message makes. After 60 Minutes last fall spiked part of an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, the ex-Brown & Williamson cigarette company executive, CBS reporters were angry and embarrassed that Wigand's confidentiality pledge prevented him from blowing the whistle on his former employer. On February 4, CBS overcame the legal hurdle and aired the spiked charges about manipulated nicotine levels. On PBS's Charlie Rose February 6 Dan Rather said that story "was gutsy, great reporting."
Fast forward a week and CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg blew the whistle on CBS, detailing in a February 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed how colleague Eric Engberg's story on the flat tax "set new standards for bias." Goldberg explained that "The old argument that the networks and other `media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore."
So did journalists trumpet this whistle-blower? Hardly. "It's such a wacky charge....I don't know what Bernie was driving at. It just sounds bizarre," Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer told The Washington Post. "To accuse Eric of liberal bias is absurd," sniffed CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "The test is not the names people call you or accusations by political activists inside or outside your own organization," Rather told the New York Post in an insult to Goldberg's professionalism, insisting "I am not going to be cowed by anybody's special political agenda."
USA Today's Peter Johnson reported March 11: "Some colleagues supported him privately. But many others stopped talking to him, dismissing him as dead wrong, an ingrate, a nut or all of the above. Mostly, the big chill set in. Not-so-coincidentally, none of his commentary segments on the News, `Bernard Goldberg's America,' has aired since the day his piece came out."
Johnson concluded that CBS has decided to bully the messenger: "Goldberg has spent the past month lying low, hoping animus toward him would die down. It hasn't, and all signs around CBS News are that it will continue until Goldberg shows interest in eating a healthy serving of humble pie."
The March 13 New York Post reported that Goldberg apologized to Engberg and is sorry if he "hurt anyone's feelings." But Goldberg felt he had to go public since, as he explained to the Post's Josef Adalian, he "tried for years and years to discuss this issue," but was "met with varying degrees of `Who cares?'"
Janet Cooke Award: McNamara Tries Guilt by Association
After newscasts highlighted the story of Larry Pratt, the Pat Buchanan campaign co-chairman who resigned to combat the discovery that he spoke in a number of forums where racists and other bigots appeared, liberal Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant loaded his February 20 column with friendly fire: "For liberals to be silent simply because this filth is being directed at a creature of the Right who happens to be on a political roll is intolerable." If the networks wished to investigate the charge of bigotry against Buchanan, they had a library of columns and an archive of video clips to spend weeks hunting through for examples. Instead of doing the hard work of combing the minutiae of his paper (and TV) trail, the networks decided to practice guilt by association, suggesting his campaign appeal is too indiscriminate, too likely to appeal to bigots.
In a February 23 Nightline, ABC's Ted Koppel refined the issue: "It's not that Pat Buchanan today is associated with overtly anti-Semitic or racist acts or statements, but rather that he has created an image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or statements by others." Koppel not only suggested Buchanan's father was a regular listener to the anti-Semitic radio show of Father Coughlin (he later apologized when the family denied this), he even stooped to accusing Buchanan's little brothers of having beaten up Jewish kids in the 1950s. This is odd coming from Koppel, who said of Bill Clinton's 1969 draft-dodging thank-you letter: "If we were electing that 23-year-old man, what he said and thought and felt at that time would be germane."
Koppel ended his show with a pro-Buchanan letter from Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky charging Israel controls America's finances "through American Jews or Negroes." Koppel concluded: "It's not that Buchanan hasn't expressed some of the views that Zhirinovsky echoed, but perhaps he'd never realized how ugly they sounded until he heard them in the mouth of a genuine bigot." For a desperate search for damaging Buchanan allies, the other networks could not match CBS. For finding Buchanan guilty by association with people he's either repudiated or never heard of, CBS reporter Bob McNamara won the March Janet Cooke Award. On the February 28 Evening News, Dan Rather began the story: "For his part, Buchanan vowed to come back big in the next phase of primaries and immediately, quote, `lit into' Forbes during a southern campaign swing today, lit into Forbes as too liberal. At the same time, Buchanan is trying to deflect criticism that he is an extremist, who, at the very least, uses code words to attract voters with racist, bigoted views. Buchanan flatly denies this. Correspondent Bob Mc- Namara has been looking into it."
McNamara moved quickly to the issue of Buchanan's fans: "They were waiting 3,000 strong for Pat Buchanan outside Atlanta last night. They say they've been waiting for years... Here, his call to take back the country is a crowd pleaser. But outside the campaign, critics charge that Buchanan's rhetoric is making this race about race. And the man and his ideas are now beginning to be judged by the company they keep."
McNamara explained: "Lurking in the shadows of last month's Louisiana campaign, there was former Klan leader David Duke." Duke told CBS: "I let the word out to all my supporters in the state that I supported Patrick Buchanan, and if Patrick goes on to win the nomination, I guess part of the credit will have to go to us." McNamara allowed a perfunctory rebuttal: "It is not an endorsement Buchanan wants, and today his backers took pains to distance their man from charges of extremism on economics and immigration, race, and religion." CBS aired Buchanan backer Rabbi Aryeh Spero: "This is a guilt by association, which is very dangerous to our whole political system."
Focusing on racism, McNamara countered: "Today, even in the New South, old ideas have not been completely laid to rest. And for people uncomfortable with the way the world has changed, Buchanan's message is hitting home....Danny Carver is a roofing contractor, a Christian, and a lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan. He says he and Buchanan speak the same language." Carver told McNamara: "About everything he says we agree with....When he's talking about affirmative action he has to be talking about women and niggers, I guess." McNamara asked: "Do you think Buchanan would want to hear that you support him?" Carver replied: "He would want to hear it, but he don't want it on TV."
CBS didn't explain how Carver came to their attention. He's not an unknown, but a self-promoting semi-regular on Howard Stern's syndicated radio show. Stern, who's Jewish and calls Carver a "lunatic," has featured him as the butt of humor on his Butt Bongo Fiesta video (where he struck out in the game "Guess Who's the Jew"), and as a judge of the topless "Miss Howard Stern" contest in a 1993 New Year's Eve pay-per-view special.
McNamara concluded: "The Buchanan campaign said tonight that it adamantly rejects all forms of racism as immoral, saying that their campaign is, quote, `populated by people who embrace the sense of justice in the Old and New Testament.' But he has become a candidate battling a political Catch-22. A man who says what he means and means what he says and now must fight the embrace of people who think they know exactly what he is talking about." CBS News spokeswoman Kim Apgar told MediaWatch "I can't speak to this. You need McNamara." But CBS could not locate a number where McNamara could be reached.
While CBS attempted to connect Buchanan with neo-Nazis and the KKK, they have been critical of any look at the associations of Bill Clinton. In October 1992, The Washington Times and others investigated Clinton's role in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Father Richard McSorley's book Peace Eyes recounts Clinton's role as an organizer of a protest service that ended in a march to the U.S. embassy with white crosses, left "as an indication of our desire to end the agony of Vietnam." McSorley reported the protest's organizers were "Group 68 (Americans in Britain)," which "had the support" of the British Peace Council, a Soviet front group.
After Clinton's anti-war involvement came up in the first presidential debate, CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith declared on October 12: "Clearly, that red-baiting junk didn't work last night." The networks aired no stories questioning "the company Clinton keeps" or suggesting "It's not that Clinton has signaled through acts or statements his support for the Soviet Union, but that he created an image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or statements." They called it a smear. Guilt by association is clearly a game reporters play on only one side.