In This Issue
Study: Contra-Dictiction, Media Style; NewsBites:Sam's Slanted World Skew; Revolving Door: Richard Pollock; Bettering the World?;Janet Cooke Award: Today on Angola
Study: Contra-Dictiction, Media Style
The Contras "should be thankful that we're not offering them the guillotine or the firing squad, which is what they deserve," Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega proclaimed in his May Day speech. The city of Managua, Ortega sneered, would have to be "disinfected" after the Contra negotiators left. But virtually every major media outlet, including all four TV networks, ignored Ortega's mockery of the Central American "peace process."
In late March, however, when the Sandinistas were touting the Sapoa accord promises of free speech, amnesty for the Contras, and the release of political prisoners, ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews and NBC Nightly News all covered the story. In fact, a MediaWatch Study reveals that the four network evening newscasts have routinely covered Sandinista promises for reform since last fall. In contrast, official Sandinista pronouncements and actions which show contempt for the peace process or human rights are routinely ignored.
To conduct the Study, MediaWatch examined how the networks covered six official Sandinista statements promising compliance with peace accords versus ten instances when the regime violated peace plan agreements or publicly rejected democratic reforms. News about pledges for improvement were covered by at least three of the four networks every time, but actions which contradicted those pledges were either barely mentioned or completely ignored. Consequently, viewers saw more than five times as many stories portraying the Sandinistas as earnestly trying to develop a pluralistic society than instances when they reaffirmed their totalitarian nature. Demonstrating what concerned the media, all 13 feature length stories by reporters in the field dealt with Sandinista moves to comply with peace process. Contempt for the accords never received such substantial coverage.
Some examples. When the opposition newspaper La Prensa was finally reopened last year, anchor Sam Donaldson led the September 19 World News Sunday with the announcement. In April, when the Marxist government withheld newsprint from La Prensa, forcing it to close again, the TV newscasts remained silent. On September 22 ABC, CBS, and NBC carried a story that Radio Catolica could resume broadcasting. However, when Radio Catolica was censored a month later the networks ignored the story.
On December 13 Ortega vowed to "never give up power." Tom Brokaw overlooked that in announcing on December 14 that Sandinistas had plans for a Christmas cease-fire if the Contras would also agree. CNN's Lou Waters chose to report Ortega's charge that the U.S. is "not interested in peace." In January the networks all reported that the Sandinistas lifted the state of emergency, which again supposedly ended all radio censorship. But on May 1, The Miami Herald's Sam Dillon reported that Interior Minister Tomas Borge "punched on the forehead and chin" anti-government radio operator Jose Castillo. The networks once again failed to pick up on the contradiction.
The Arias group monitoring commission released a report on January 4 detailing Sandinista non-compliance. On February 21, The Washington Times carried a front-page story quoting Ortega's vow to "crush the Contras." Television news ignored both stories. The Sandinistas have pledged to free 10,000 political prisoners; 985 were let go on November 22 and 100 more were released on March 27. The networks faithfully covered the events. But in early March, when Sandinista mobs attacked a peaceful march by mothers protesting the military draft, no network even mentioned it. In another obvious display of oppression, hoodlums threw rocks and violently disrupted a meeting of opposition leaders on January 23. Only NBC's Ed Rabel found time to make a brief reference to this incident.
Even an apparent exception to this trend reinforces MediaWatch findings. When Ortega asked Cardinal Obando y Bravo to mediate Contra-Sandinista talks, CNN, NBC, and ABC ran on-location reports to tell the November 6 story. But when Ortega fired the cardinal on March 3, CBS, CNN, and NBC anchormen gave it brief mention. ABC, which had sent John Quinones to Managua to report on Obando's appointment, spiked the story completely.
NewsBites:Sam's Slanted World Skew
Sam's Slanted World Skew. Coverage of May Day events worldwide offered a tremendous opportunity for political labeling. On May 1, ABC's World News Sunday anchor Sam Donaldson referred to "Soviet leader Gorbachev" and "Cuban leader Fidel Castro."
In an earlier report on rioting and demonstrations in Poland, David Ensor spoke of "Poland's leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski."
But when it came to political unrest in Chile, ABC suddenly changed its tune and used far more descriptive language. Donaldson declared: "In Chile, a country ruled by military dictator Augusto Pinochet, demonstrators opposing his rule drew police tear gas and other riot control measures."
Chancellor's Answer. From Canada to Mexico to El Salvador and Honduras, "anti-American feelings" are growing. So argued John Chancellor in a May 3 NBC Nightly News commentary. Who is to blame for this? The U.S. of course which, in the interest of good neighborly relations, should just sit back and let the Soviets achieve a base on the continent. Chancellor explained: "Diplomacy has been replaced in recent years by sloganeering and belligerence. Instead of making deals with the Sandinistas, the President said he wanted them to 'cry uncle.'"
Stahl Account. How liberal is CBS News national affairs correspondent Lesley Stahl? Appearing on Howard Cosell's since canceled Speaking of Everything interview show on April 10, Stahl repeated the ritual liberal argument "that the big tax cut, coupled with the increase in military spending, was an unhealthy thing for our country," insisting, "you simply have to raise taxes."
She expressed "surprise" Reagan "has not been an advocate of civil rights," concluding "the record is abysmal." On foreign policy she termed Reagan's performance at Reykjavik, where he rejected Soviet demands to drop SDI, "a disaster." Stahl and MacNeil-Lehrer reporter Judy Woodruff, who also appeared on the program, agreed things did improve after the administration "got rid of all the ideologues" like Caspar Weinberger.
Leftist Heading of the Class. ABC has allowed liberal actor Howard Hessman to use Head of the Class, a situation comedy, as a forum for his political views. The latest example occurred during the May 4 program when "Mr. Moore," the high school history teacher played by Hessman, asked his advanced placement students to predict what life might be like in 2038. One student, "Maria," castigated another for looking positively on the assignment, complaining, "What is fun about toxic waste, or acid rain, or even nuclear war?" She successfully depressed the class by warning: "Economic collapse is right around the corner. There's depression, there's famine, there's war."
Then scientific whiz "Dennis" chimed in, delivering this polemic: "Science today is just a tool in the hands of the superpowers. All they want to do are build things like Star Wars and lasers and beam weapons in space...I have just come to the realization that those people out there are using me, using me for their evil ends. Well, I'm not going to have any part of it."
A few episodes earlier, "Mr. Moore" spent a show praising the goals of 1960's protesters who were "trying to end the war" and "make the world a better place" because "they cared." One student tried to convince "Mr. Moore" he had achieved the proper level of reverence for the era by organizing a cafeteria sit-in to protest chemicals in the food. In an obvious swipe at the Reagan Administration, another student, "Darlene," complained "we're dealing with people who consider ketchup a vegetable."
Creating the News. The Sunday, April 24 Washington Post lead headline declared: "SDI Faulted in 2-Year Hill Study." The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported the supposedly bi-partisan congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) claimed: "President Reagan's proposed missile defense system likely would 'suffer a catastrophic failure' the first--and therefore only--time it was used to protect the United States against a Soviet nuclear attack." Smith added: "The OTA report's overall conclusion is that, despite five years and $12 billion worth of scientific research, 'many questions remain about the feasibility of meeting SDI goals.'"
A little investigation shows how contrived the Post attack on SDI truly was. The Post didn't bother to check with the Pentagon about this report, which has not yet been released and has been delayed almost a year. Presidential arms control adviser Edward Rowney has since outlined the numerous inaccuracies of the 900 page OTA report. Significant technological progress has been made since the OTA report was filed almost a year ago, something the Post didn't bother to report.
But they also ignored the portions which matched Reagan Administration concerns. OTA noted that the first phase of SDI would be deployable between 1995 and 2000, but that significant parts of the program would be slowed or aborted if Congress continued cutting budget requests.
The unpublished report could be considered newsworthy. But the April 25 Washington Times reported the preliminary version the Post "discovered" had been around for two months. The night the Post story ran NBC Nightly News picked up on the "revelation" with reporter Jim Miklaszewski concluding: "SDI is already under budget and arms control pressures...and this latest report certainly won't help." It just shows how easy it is for the Post to create news matching their liberal agenda.
Planting the Closing Line. On April 21 the U.S. House passed a massive trade bill. It included a provision Democrats hope to turn into a campaign issue: 60 days notice before any layoffs, or pay stiff financial penalties. Almost immediately the networks joined the Democratic bandwagon.
Without debating the issue of its effect on job creation, reporters dramatized its desirability by presenting anecdotal looks at the suffering of laid off workers. That night CBS News economics reporter Ray Brady weighed in with a story from the point of view of two Iowa Pork employees let go without notice. Six days later the Senate passed the bill. Brady dropped all pretense of balance and took up the cause, beginning his April 27 story: "At plants around the country they're fighting mad. Workers saying why shouldn't they get 60 days notice when fired executives get fortunes for leaving." Brady ignored the other side of the story. As economist Murray Weidenbaum explained on World News Tonight, it encourages companies to close marginal plants "because if you guess wrong, and you have to close it without notice, you're going to be socked with all kinds of sanctions."
Daring to Cut the Cheese. Back in 1981 the Reagan Administration launched a program to distribute surplus dairy products to the needy. Advocates of the poor and more than a few reporters ridiculed the idea. Now, as the surpluses dry up forcing the government to phase out the program, CBS is indignant. On the April 30 Evening News reporter Lynn Brown argued: "With no assistance, no food stamps, and now no cheese and powdered milk, working poor families could find it even more difficult to put protein on the table." A mother of four "can't understand why the government has to stop" the distribution.
Anchor Susan Spencer then introduced University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson to offer his solution: "I think we need to pay particular attention to the type of legislation before Congress put there by people like Paul Simon calling for a guaranteed jobs program. We can't wait for creation of jobs in the private sector."
Unemployment Plunges, But, But. . . The unemployment rate fell 0.2 percent in April to 5.4 percent, the lowest level in 14 years. How did the networks play the May 6 story? Here are two examples. On World News Tonight, ABC's Sheilah Kast announced: "[It's] good news for Republicans running for office, but there are some worries. At least one-fourth of the new jobs are part-time only and 800,000 people are still searching unsuccessfully for work after more than six months." Tom Brokaw opened the NBC Nightly News by reporting the development is "obviously good news, but you guessed it, it may mean bad news in the form of higher inflation."
Jacksonomics Over Reaganomics. How does The Washington Post compare Reagan's conservative economic policies to Jesse Jackson's far-left economic agenda? In an April 4 front page story reviewing Jackson's "bold" economic ideas, Paul Taylor wrote: "Jackson has said repeatedly that it is necessary to correct eight years of 'reverse Robin Hood,' during which Reaganomics 'has made the rich richer and the poor poorer.' On that claim, Jackson is well grounded in statistics."
Taylor is anything but "well grounded" in giving credibility to such a specious charge. Inflation, which hurts the poor the most, has been reduced to a barely noticeable level under Reagan and 14 million jobs created. And taxes? An April 5 Treasury Department report told the real story. When the top income tax rate stood at 70 percent in 1981, people making over $100,000 paid 15 percent of all taxes collected by the IRS. By 1986, with the top rate down to 50 percent, that level doubled to nearly 31 percent. Over the same period, the share paid by those earning less than $50,000 fell from 67 percent to 46 percent. So much for Robin Hood in reverse.
Rushing to Battle. On the first page of his new book, The Coming Battle for the Media, Curbing the Power of the Media Elite, William Rusher lays out his thesis: "In recent decades the principal media in the United States, responding to intellectual trends once dominant but now less so, have allied themselves with those political forces promoting liberal policies...and have placed news reportage at the service of those policies." In the following chapters he presents a persuasive case. Rusher outlines specific instances of bias and reviews the findings of numerous academic studies documenting one-sided coverage of major issues. Using some examples collected by MediaWatch, Rusher demonstrates the ease with which liberal activists obtain media jobs.
Rusher traces the evolution of modern day "attack journalism," arguing the media long ago stopped serving as a balanced check on government power. He contends the media has transformed itself from "objective observers of the political conflict" to "highly partisan participants in it" and "will have to be recognized, challenged and defeated as such." Rusher cautions that if reporters continue to censor conservative views, the American people may be motivated to demand stricter enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine and other limitations on their power. The thorough examination of the danger a politically aligned media poses to the political system is published by William Morrow.
Latching Onto Another Liberal Cause. The economic recovery achieves its 66th month of consecutive growth, a modern peace-time record of prosperity as the percentage of Americans employed continues to reach record high levels. Desperate, liberal Democrats are turning to exaggerations of the extent of hunger and homelessness to create a campaign issue. And they're getting plenty of help from the media. Newsweek Senior Editor Tom Mathews promoted their cause in a March 21 "news" article: "As a practical matter, the homeless won't get very far unless they can persuade a Republican to break with Ronald Reagan's policies--or elect a Democrat."
The entertainment divisions of the networks have also joined the crusade. In late March a CBS "Schoolbreak Special," a "powerful family special" on NBC, and an ABC prime-time movie dramatized the plight of homeless and hungry families. In ABC's "God Bless the Child" a social worker complained: "If they gave me what it cost to build just one of those, I could feed more people than that missile could kill." As economic columnist Warren Brookes wrote, "the networks had to resort to fiction" to make their case since there is no evidence hunger is on the rise and authoritative federal studies show the number of homeless is about one tenth what the CBS show claimed. As for blaming Reagan, federal housing assistance under Reagan has skyrocketed by 174 percent as nutritional program outlays have grown by 50 percent in constant dollars. But why let facts get in the way of emotional, politically charged drama?
Turner Turns to Teaching. The April "Janet Cooke Award" went to Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, owner of Superstation WTBS, for its seven-hour pro-Soviet documentary series "Portrait of the Soviet Union." Among its many false pronouncements, the show declared that the Soviet Union has freedom of religion and freedom of the press. The program credited the revolution with giving the young "the chance to succeed in a wider world--the kind of opportunities their grandparents fought for them to have."
Now Ted Turner has announced a cooperative agreement with Encyclopedia Britannica to market the series to U.S. school systems. The joint venture is already underway with three educational packages planned. Geared toward middle and high schools, the first package, seven 50-minute videocassettes with study guides, is already on its way to schools. The two other packages, ten slide shows and three films, will be in schools by September. These are targeted for elementary and middle school students. If Turner and Britannica have their way, this one-sided, pro-Soviet series will be the first glimpse school children will receive of the Soviet Union. The Media Research Center (MRC) is developing a nationwide campaign to stop this infiltration of Soviet propaganda into schools. If you would like an action kit, please write the MRC at the address below.
Hickory, Dickory, Crockran. On April 14 the Afghanistan peace accords were signed in Geneva. But before the day was over NBC's John Cochran was already complaining of U.S. violations: "Pakistan's President Zia has secretly promised President Reagan he will ignore that part of the agreement. The Pakistani leader will continue to allow the U.S. to use Pakistan as the conduit to smuggle arms and other aid to anti-communist rebels inside Afghanistan." Cochran concluded: "Some American officials privately concede they are open to charges of cynicism, by guaranteeing an agreement they fully expect to violate, at least technically."
But there was nothing "cynical" or "secret" about the American actions. If Cochran had bothered to follow the negotiations, or watch NBC News, he would know that the Soviets also planned to violate the agreement. On April 7, NBC's Chris Wallace noted that the Soviets had agreed to a policy of symmetry, explaining "if the Soviets can continue sending arms to the Afghan regime, the U.S. will continue sending arms to the rebels." Four days later, Andrea Mitchell of NBC noted: "And the Soviets told the White House this weekend 'no moratorium on arms to either side.'" Cochran is the one open to charges of cynicism, preferring to blame America first.
Revolving Door: Richard Pollock
Richard Pollock, former Director of Critical Mass, Ralph Nader's anti-nuclear power group, has begun work as a Washington-based Segment Producer for ABC's Good Morning America.
Leaving Nader in the early 1980's, Pollock formed a public relations firm catering to liberal causes. In 1985 he coordinated the anti-Strategic Defense Initiative television ad campaign of the Peace Media Project.
Trying to bring a little balance to the network, CBS News asked Jack Kemp's Press Secretary, John Buckley to be a political campaign coverage consultant. Buckley put in his first on-air appearance during the CBS Pennsylvania primary special.
But Buckley is still outgunned. Two liberals also hold the title of consultant: Tom Donilon and Harrison Hickman. Donilon helped run Walter Mondale's 1984 campaign and Joe Biden's short-lived effort last year. Hickman heads a Democratic polling firm. Among his past clients: liberal Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, Gary Hart's first try in 1987 and then the Paul Simon campaign.
Meanwhile, CBS This Morning has decided to bring aboard Christopher Matthews, former top aide to House Speaker Tip O'Neill as a "political columnist." He's providing viewers with campaign insights "at least twice a month."
Ira Allen, who left United Press International (UPI) in January after 18 years, became Press Secretary for liberal Congressman Chester Atkins (D-Mass.) in April. For the past four years he helped cover the White House for the wire service.
John Hanrahan, a Washington reporter for UPI until early 1987, named Executive Director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism. In 1982 and 1983 he served as Senior Editor of Common Cause Magazine. Hanrahan was a Washington Post reporter from 1968 to 1976.
Former CBS News President Ed Joyce's new book, Prime Times, Bad Times, reveals an interesting bit of background information about the CBS News executive in charge of the 1982 documentary on General William Westmoreland
Roger Colloff, Vice President for public affairs broadcasts in 1981 and 1982 served as an aide to then Senator Walter Mondale before joining the Carter Administration as Special Assistant to Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger.
He's held a variety of high-level positions with CBS since 1979, including Vice President of the Broadcast Group, becoming General Manager of New York's WCBS-TV in 1984, a job he still holds.
Bettering the World?
Cable broadcasting mogul Ted Turner has crafted a clever way to spread his leftist and pro-Soviet views to the American public. Through his Atlanta cable superstation WTBS and CNN, Turner airs many ads and documentaries produced by the communist-backed Better World Society (BWS). Turner founded BWS in 1985 and serves as Chairman.
The Board of Directors boasts several communist officials, including Georgi Arbatov, Director of the Soviet Foreign Ministry's U.S.-Canada Institute. A recent addition is Communist China's Zhou Boping, Vice Chairman of the State Family Planning Association. Zhou oversees the one-child population control program which has led to death for millions of unborn and newborn babies through the regime's forced infanticide campaign.
BWS Associate Producer Mark Greenberg told MediaWatch the society is dedicated to "promoting East-West relations, lessening the tension of the nuclear arms race, reversing environmental degradation, and promoting population stabilization." But what do they really do? In 1987, BWS aired "Beyond Fear" on WTBS, a five program series aimed at countering "the hysterical 'Amerika' series on ABC." After the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty last December, BWS began running pro-ratification commercials on WTBS, CNN and Headline News.
In cooperation with the pro-abortion International Planned Parenthood Federation, BWS produced and broadcast "Increase and Multiply?" to present the case for more "family planning" throughout the world. In 1987 Turner also aired "Disarmament and Beyond." With whom did BWS create the one-hour panel discussion? None other than the Soviet government.
Two projects will be given top priority in 1988: an anti-SDI series and a program illustrating opportunities for U.S.-Soviet "cooperation." The latter program will be proposed as a joint venture with state-controlled Soviet television. Greenberg confirmed that airtime for all BWS ads and documentaries "is donated by Turner Broadcasting." Turner's extreme political antics only help destroy the credibility of his networks, including CNN.
Janet Cooke Award: Today on Angola
From April 18 to April 22, NBC's Today aired a five-part series on the continuing civil war in Angola. The 24 minute series was repeatedly billed as an objective analysis yet focused exclusively on the war from the communist government perspective. In fact, only once -- during the final moments of the last segment -- did the show even use the word "communist" to label the regime. This is just one of the many reasons why Today received the May Janet Cooke Award.
Today contributing correspondent Jon Alpert, of New York's Downtown Community TV, traveled to Angola in March. His entire series originated from the area controlled by the communist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Alpert painted a mostly negative picture of the pro-U.S. democratic resistance, The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Dr. Jonas Savimbi. Although it was the MPLA, with the help of Cuban troops and Soviet weapons, that seized power in 1975, Alpert described UNITA as the invader. In part one, Alpert claimed: "To stay in power, the Angolans have invited over 30,000 troops to come and defend their country. Recently, the UNITA forces along with South African troops have pushed into the southern part of Angola."
UNITA has repeatedly signaled its willingness to end the war at any time, by negotiating a cease fire and terms for free and democratic elections. Just May 11, according to Agence France-Presse, the Angolan Foreign Minister again delayed planned negotiations with South Africa over the presence of external forces in the country. But instead of blaming the continuation of the war on the MPLA regime, Alpert adopted the communist propaganda line, characterizing the resistance as the obstacle to peace.
Alpert portrayed a population on the run from UNITA: "The bombardment is constant. Day and night for the past three months, South Africa and UNITA have applied the pressure...and there's no end in sight....There are refugee camps all over Angola. Almost half the population has been displaced by the constant fighting...Ten thousand lost their legs to land mines last year." Alpert also relayed the communist propaganda line on UNITA human rights violations. Despite being in a MPLA-controlled village, he reported as fact that UNITA forces cut off the hands of a villager with a machete.
Much of the remainder of the series was devoted to daily life. Alpert claimed that because of the war "food production is down," and "half the babies in Angola die before five years old." Why? According to Alpert: "Most of Angola's money goes for military equipment and training." Alpert ignored the fact that vast oil reserves generate over $2 billion each year for the regime, but less than $60 million is spent on the people.
When contacted by MediaWatch, Alpert passed off responsibility to Today, declaring: "I told them we had been working on getting into [communist] Angola [only]." Asked why he never contacted UNITA to refute some of the charges, Alpert claimed he was unable to get a visa to South Africa in order to visit the UNITA areas. He later admitted that was two years ago. About ignoring well-documented evidence of torture and imprisonment within the MPLA areas, Alpert snapped: "In any one country there are thousands of things you do and others you can't. You can't cover everything. I think we were much harder than many on showing the inadequacies there. The totality of the coverage was balanced."
Alpert asserted Today ran a story on UNITA in November, a claim denied by Today spokesman John Bianchi. Asked whether a story from the UNITA perspective is planned, Bianchi responded: "I cannot comment on that." In fact, Alpert implied that he and NBC were more interested in giving the communist view, explaining: "People have seen UNITA; we were trying to give a side that few people have actually seen." Alpert noted NBC said "okay" to that slant.