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MediaWatch: May 1989

Vol. Three No. 5

NewsBites: Morton's Line on Crime

Morton's Line On Crime. What's the story behind the record rate of drug-related crime in Washington, D.C.? On the April 10 Evening News, reporter Bruce Morton explained. Corrupt city government? Lax law enforcement? Decline in moral values? Of course not. "We may be paying for past mistakes. Welfare benefits down since 1972. Nationwide Head Start enrollment down. Gap between richest and poorest Americans wider."

TIME's Green Piece. At the end of a seven-page April 17 cover story on the Alaskan oil spill, Time senior writer Michael Lemonick told readers "finding more oil is not the answer to energy needs; a coherent policy encouraging fuel conservation is."

What's the Time agenda on the environment, as promoted in this "news" story? "The time has come to get tough about conservation. The first step should be an immediate increase in the federal gasoline tax...The second obvious step is to raise the auto industry's fuel-economy requirements."

Educating Eric. On the April 6 CBS Evening News, correspondent Eric Engberg reported that in 1985 then Vice President George Bush "carried promises of U.S. aid to the military dictatorship in Honduras." Although Bush was shown embracing Honduras' democratically elected civilian President, Roberto Suazo Cordova, this eluded Engberg. Since 1981, the fledgling democracy of Honduras has been electing its leaders under a constitutional government.

Frelimo Line. Thousands of people will die from hunger in Mozambique this year. Some blame the Marxist FRELIMO government which has savaged the nation's economy for years, but not ABC's Richard Serge. Instead, Serge's target throughout his April 10 Nightline story was the anti-communist RENAMO rebels.

Referring to RENAMO as the source of "the man-made disaster," Serge said "RENAMO has been charged with using brutality and torture." His source? A member of FRELIMO's army accusing the rebels of human right abuses.

During the discussion which followed, Ambassador Oumarou Youssoufou of the Organization of African Unity voiced support for the Marxist FRELIMO government and hoped "that RENAMO will eventually lose its support." The report and following discussion included nary a glimpse of a RENAMO supporter or a word of criticism for FRELIMO. So much for balance on Nightline.

Kathleen Misses the Union Label. On April 11, when CBS This Morning guest Frank Borman, former head of Eastern Airlines, blamed the airline's troubles in part on "irresponsible union leadership," anchor Kathleen Sullivan seemed surprised. She responded: "That's the first time we've really heard that. What do you mean, irresponsible union leadership?"

High and Mighty On SDI. Here's a beauty. The pro-SDI Center for Peace and Freedom recently obtained an internal "farewell memo" from former SDI chief, Air Force Lt. General James Abrahamson. In mid-March the memo, which urged development of the "Brilliant Pebbles" defense system, was released to the press.

ABC News Pentagon reporter Bob Zelnick immediately shot off a letter to the conservative group, declaring: "The day you or anyone else believes that you can influence my coverage by what you decide to parcel out is the day you have lost touch with reality in more ways than in the strategic system you endorse."

Zelnick explained that ABC's failure to report the story "reflected my judgment that we have more important things to cover than Abe's seat of the pants judgment about a virtually untested technology which no one is about to deploy in the foreseeable future." And then this bombshell: "I shall continue to cover that subject [Star Wars] and other matters related to military affairs as completely and objectively as I possibly can."

The night of April 27, CBS, CNN and NBC all covered the successful test firing of the "Brilliant Pebbles" system. ABC didn't.

Whitney Witch Hunt. New York Times correspondent Craig Whitney filed reports from London on March 10 and 11 that Angolan resistance leader Jonas Savimbi had accused opponents of being "witches" and had them burned in public bonfires. In response to these and a battery of other charges, UNITA's Free Angola Information Service in Washington released a seven-page refutation of the charges in Whitney's stories, calling them a "propaganda offensive" by the ruling Marxist MPLA.

So who is telling the truth? Whitney's source was Fred Bridgland, author of the sympathetic biography Jonas Savimbi: A Key To Africa. Bridgland said he had specifically refused to speak to the Times because their Angola coverage had been "consistently skewed." After being pressed by Times writers, Bridgland agreed to talk if they would pledge to keep it off the record. Whitney's report not only broke the pledge, but used statements Bridgland later said "I have simply not subscribed to. Most of them are fabrications." Bridgland told the Times they had "wildly overstepped the bounds of journalistic ethics."

No Rights for Reagan. Some people believe the U.S. Civil Rights Commission is no place for conservatives. A lengthy April 11 piece on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour shows PBS apparently agrees.

Correspondent Kwame Holman reviewed the history of the commission. Holman's ten-minute report relied heavily on former chairman Arthur Flemming, whose commission attacked Reagan's first budget, charging "huge cuts in social programs amounted to a massive retreat on civil rights." Holman called Flemming one of "the first casualties of the Reagan Administration's effort to place on the commission people who adhered to Reagan's conservative ideology." He found that "many on the Hill said Reagan had gone too far in replacing the Civil Rights Commission's moderate and liberal members with hand-picked conservatives."

The result? "For many, today's Civil Rights Commission is a poor reflection of what was intended by those who laid the groundwork for civil rights 25 years ago." For all the controversy over Reagan's conservative appointees, Holman couldn't find the time in his ten-minute report to interview a single one.

Rather Differing Opinions. "Good evening," CBS News anchor Dan Rather began on April 14, "The man [Oliver North] Presidents Reagan and Bush branded an American hero was portrayed in court today as a liar and a thief."

Three days later, when the House ethics committee's formal statement of charges against House Speaker Jim Wright was announced, Rather had this to say: "You've just been seeing and hearing live coverage of their initial presentation of the accusations -- mark the word, please, the accusations -- against the Speaker of the House, Jim Wright. The quote, statement of alleged violations by the committee is a list of accusations which is roughly, roughly equivalent to the House's version of an indictment."

Koppel on Communists. Remember Loyalties, Carl Bernstein's book about his communist parents? Nightline's Ted Koppel endorsed the book, and in so doing exposed his liberal view of American history. Koppel praised the book as "a testimony to courage: the courage of some unabashed trade unionists and civil rights workers, Leftists and yes, American Communists, who fought for principles that we now take for granted." Principled, courageous Americans like Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, for example?

Feminist Agenda. "Sometimes society lies," lamented anchor Peter Jennings as he introduced the "American Agenda" segment on the April 12 World News Tonight. When does society "lie?" When it promises the happiness of marriage and children. In her report, Carole Simpson detailed the supposed woes of "displaced homemakers," who, because they do not work outside the home, are "one man away from poverty." Simpson championed Maine's government-funded program that helps these homemakers when divorced or abandoned. In his conclusion, Jennings said courts don't help women, who experience a 73 percent decline in living standards after divorce.

Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye told MediaWatch ABC ignored a key cause of the problem: no-fault divorce, which, she noted, "the feminist movement made so easy."

Bias By Choice. Over the last few months, MediaWatch has examined how the TV networks call those favoring abortion by their preferred tag, "pro-choice," while labeling those who'd prefer "pro-life" as "anti-abortion." Now, a MediaWatch survey of newspapers reveals a similar bias in their labeling. And it's being standardized by editors.

The Los Angeles Times' style book requires reporters to describe the two sides as "pro-choice" and "anti-abortion." On the abortion issue, Washington Post staff writer Charles Paul Freund reported on April 25, the Post has opted for "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion." The city editor of the Chicago Tribune best demonstrated the media's mindset, telling MediaWatch their labeling "depends on the event. If it's pro-choice, that's what we say. And if it's pro-life, we use 'anti-abortion.'"

CNN Takes A Look. Recent issues of MediaWatch have focused on the continuing double standard the media employ to label the combatants in the abortion debate. The February front page story, "Abortion Distortion," singled out CNN as especially blameworthy.

CNN reporter Jeanie Moos saw the article and decided to do a story on the subject. First, she interviewed spokesmen from both the National Right to Life Committee and Planned Parenthood. Then, as the camera panned the MediaWatch article, she reviewed the conclusions drawn by this newsletter.

Just as MediaWatch was especially critical of CNN, so too must we praise the network now for its willingness to explore true balance in its news reports.

Susan's Sunday Spots.  Having struck out once on the Willie Horton "race" issue, undaunted Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich wanted a second chance to defend her handling of the campaign. Fortunately for Estrich, she had an enthusiastic ally in The Washington Post Magazine, which obligingly published a six page cover story by Estich on April 23.

The Post Magazine headline summarized Estrich's theme: "The Hidden Politics of Race: When George Bush made Willie Horton part of his campaign team, the issue he was raising wasn't just crime -- it was racial fear." MediaWatch is waiting for the six page piece attacking Democratic campaign strategy by Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater.

Minimum Wage Vito. Network reporters have had little trouble finding evidence to support the efforts of liberal Democrats to raise the minimum wage as much as possible. On March 23, CNN's Candy Crowley claimed: "the only area of near unanimous agreement is that after eight years on hold, minimum wage earners deserve a raise." Dismissing Republican concerns about possible inflation, Al Dale of ABC asserted "Economist Joel Popkin argues that that's not enough people to have a significant effect on the economy." Can the minimum wage provide a decent standard of living? ABC's Cokie Roberts informed viewers on March 11 that an adult supporting one child on the minimum wage would make "about $1,100 less than the poverty level."

CNN's Robert Vito, on April 13, was the lone reporter to warn that "if the minimum wage bill becomes law, it could result in increased inflation and a loss of jobs because of cost cutting measures by employers." Countering the myth that minimum wage earners are usually a family's main breadwinner, Vito described most minimum wage earners as young people whose income is "hardly a necessity for survival." Asking a minimum wage earner to assess the affects of a possible increase, Vito said "she could survive unemployment, but poor people the minimum wage bill is designed to help, she says probably could not."

Minding His Own Business. Far-Left media critic Jeff Cohen complains that the networks are run by Big Business, who control the news content in their own interest. Indeed, in an April interview with The Washington Post's Tom Shales, corporate network chief Ted Turner admitted he influences the program content of his Cable News Network, Turner Network Television and "Superstation" WTBS. What kind of influence does he exert? On the Soviet Union, Turner told Shales, "I absolutely trust them with my life. They're not even an enemy anymore." Shales noted that Turner "started his Better World Society, a huge drain on company finances, to encourage pacifist programming. Part of Turner's stance "is to be sharply antinuclear." Turner also revealed he originated the idea last year for CNN's pro-disarmament series, "The Battle for Peace."