In This Issue
CBS Stands Apart from Other Networks In Promoting Clinton Stimulus; NewsBites: Eleanor and Evidence; Revolving Door: Stern Justice; Networks Ignore Protest Platform, Explicit Sex Talk, and Hate Speech; Today's Double Standard; Eye on School Choice; Save Papers by Making Them Liberal; Janet Cooke Award: CNN's Ken Bode Throws Allegations At GOP Without Airing Response
CBS Stands Apart from Other Networks In Promoting Clinton Stimulus
Selling the "Job Creation Bill"
The Republican defeat of President Clinton's stimulus package drew a great deal of media attention, but the defeat was hardly unique: the Democrats did the same to George Bush and his "stimulus" tax cut proposal in his first year.
To compare the TV treatments of the blocked Bush and Clinton proposals, MediaWatch analysts reviewed every evening news story (on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's Prime News or World News, and NBC Nightly News) and morning news report (on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) from the House passage of the bills to their deaths on the Senate floor (from September 28-October 26, 1989 for Bush, and March 19-April 23 for Clinton).
Analysts found that in 1989, the Bush plan was never described as a "jobs bill," but simply as a "capital gains tax cut." So, in 1993 did the networks call the Clinton bill an "emergency spending-increase bill." No, they were more promotional: 46 percent of stories used the Democratic term "jobs bill" to describe the plan, and only 15 percent explained the GOP opposed the bill as pork-barrel spending.
Unlike Clinton, Bush had not made the capital gains cut a major initiative (and ultimately dropped it instead of fighting for it), and it received less attention than Clinton's plan. Only 17 morning and 16 evening reports mentioned it. But the tone was unmistakable: Bush and the Republicans wished to shower money on the rich.
CBS eagerly played up the class-war angle. On September 28, 1989, the night the House passed the tax cut, anchor Dan Rather announced: "A vote to support President Bush's idea to cut the capital gains tax cut for the wealthy. Sixty-four Democrats bucked their own House leaders, abandoned them, and joined the Republicans to support the measure. Mr. Bush says that cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy will boost the economy and create jobs. Opponents don't believe that and call it simply a tax giveaway for the wealthy."
On October 5, Rather reported the House passed a spending bill to "cut capital gains taxes for the wealthy." When the Bush plan failed on October 25, Rather noted the cut "would benefit mostly the wealthy."
Of the 33 network reports on the Bush plan, only two used statistics. Both CBS and NBC relied on Democratic estimates of who would benefit. On September 28, 1989, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell made the Democratic charge that taxpayers making $200,000 a year would typically receive $25,000 in tax breaks, while those making $50,000 would get $300. CBS This Morning also attacked the proposal in an October 5 segment with its then- "political columnist," Christopher Matthews. Matthews' self- described "sermonette" claimed 80 percent of the cut would go to those making over $100,000. Neither mentioned the cut's potential to create jobs.
Compare that record to 1993. The volume of stories is larger -- 63 evening reports and 117 on the morning shows. In the April 19 edition of Newsweek, Eleanor Clift reported: "Watching reports on CNN, a top aide noted that the network flashed `Jobs Bill' on the screen each time the impasse was discussed. `We'll take it,' he smiled, knowing a debate framed by jobs was one Clinton could win."
Once again, CBS set the pattern for bias. While the other networks described the Clinton package as a "jobs bill" or "job creation bill" in 31 percent of news stories, CBS used the terms in 83 percent. The evening and morning totals were nearly identical.
CBS repeatedly portrayed the heroic package's holdup as a tragedy. On April 6, reporter Bill Plante hit the GOP: "At an unemployment office in Fairfax, Virginia, they don't understand why politics is getting in the way of helping people find work." On April 21, Dan Rather said: "Clinton's big jobs bill is still being held prisoner in Congress tonight."
But viewers were reminded of the 1989 blockage only once. On April 5, ABC's Brit Hume recalled: "For the record, four years ago, Senate Democrats filibustered to block a measure George Bush said would stimulate the economy -- a cut in the capital gains tax. The White House claimed the bill would, that's right, create jobs. Senate Democratic leader Mitchell, who now complains about this filibuster, led that one, which succeeded."
In only 28 stories (15 percent), the networks related that the GOP claimed to oppose "pork" or "wasteful" spending. NBC (63 percent of its evening stories, 35 percent overall) far outdid second-ranking CBS (20 percent). In only four stories (3 percent), reporters cited examples of pork items in the stimulus bill, three of them by NBC's Lisa Myers. On the March 30 Nightly News, Myers read from "wish lists of mayors" including "swimming pools in eight states, tennis courts in four cities."
On April 7, CBS reporter Bill Plante cited two examples, reporting that while Clinton sees the projects as "good for jobs and people, Republicans see [them] as frivolous." This was the only story in 180 to include the GOP contention that 20 projects would create no jobs, and another 103 would create 10 or less jobs each.
Though they outscored ABC (8 percent) and CNN (10 percent) in mentioning pork, CBS sounded Democratic notes. On This Morning April 8, co-host Harry Smith asked Sen. Al D'Amato: "Isn't the pork a small part? Aren't we talking about money for jobs programs that could be used effectively in New York City?" CBS also sent Eric Engberg to attack GOP Sen. Phil Gramm as a hypocrite for opposing pork, but supporting projects in his state. CBS never savaged Democrats in 1989 who opposed a broad- based capital gains cut, but supported individual tax breaks for the wealthy in their districts, made famous by ousted House Speaker Jim Wright.
NewsBites: Eleanor and Evidence
Eleanor and Evidence. Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift, a passionate defender of President Clinton on The McLaughlin Group, penned an April 5 story deploring improper Secret Service gossip about catfights between the Clintons: "There is no evidence to support any of the stories...living in the fishbowl is hard enough without worrying about a Secret Service that can't keep mum."
This is a very different Eleanor than the one who lavishly praised Kitty Kelley's book of unproven gossip about Nancy Reagan in the April 15, 1991 Newsweek: "If privacy ends where hypocrisy begins, Kitty Kelley's steamy exposé is a contribution to contemporary history. The revelations about the First Lady's `promiscuous' lifestyle as a Hollywood starlet, her `intimate relationship' with Frank Sinatra and her eagerness for daughter Patti to undergo an abortion expose the cracks in the Reagans' family-values veneer."
Hillary Hilarity. According to Boston Globe reporter Nathan Cobb, jokes at Dan Quayle's expense are fine, but Hillary Clinton jokes reflect male anxiety. On the front page of the April 6 Globe, Cobb posited: "Not since the days of Dan Quayle -- has it really been two months already? -- has a national political figure been such a triple star of joke, one-liner and song as is Hillary Clinton." He then warned: "Not everyone thinks it's funny. Hillaryesque humor is seen by some people as a comment on how many Americans, from TV monologists to water-cooler wiseguys, are made uncomfortable by a powerful and ambitious woman."
Cobb added: "Patricia Ireland is not amused." Cobb then quoted the NOW leader: "They're trying to take a threat, and their fear of it, and make a joke. Many men are threatened by strong women." So, women in the media who derided Quayle were insecure in their femininity?
Patients' Paradise. On the April 5 CBS Evening News, Tom Fenton gave American health care reformers, who often look north to Canada for a role model, another system for the U.S. to emulate: Germany. "When it comes to health care, Germany does more for less." How? "Early diagnosis saves money. So does the bargaining power of the big nonprofit drug companies," reported Fenton. "Everybody has really free access to medical care," declared German doctor Bernd Dyckhoff. And the best part? Fenton asserted: "Germans get full medical and dental care without ever seeing a bill."
Sounding like a member of Hillary's task force, Fenton concluded: "As Americans search for a better system, the lesson from Germany is that private health care can be made available to everyone, provided all pay their fair share." But earlier he reported that not everyone does: "The taxpayer pays the premiums for the unemployed, the elderly, and the poor." It seems Germans really do see a bill, except it's presented by the government instead of private doctors.
Raise Taxes I. "Scratch an Average American and you'll find someone who believes himself, or herself vastly overtaxed; never mind that the United States pays far less of its income in taxes than other advanced countries," argued Marc Levinson in an April 26 Newsweek piece on "why it's so hard to talk straight about new taxes." Days after people filed their taxes, Levinson claimed that "many Americans pay far less than they think" in taxes. Sound familiar? In an April 13, 1992 article titled "April 15 could be worse: Believe it or not, Americans' taxes aren't that bad," Levinson told taxpayers that they "don't have much to complain about" and in fact "have it pretty good." Levinson also asserted "Taxophobia has been fanned by an enduring myth" as supply-siders "sold America on the notion that lower tax rates mean faster economic growth." Levinson insisted "the purported relationship between taxes and growth doesn't exist."
Raise Taxes II. Also aboard the "new taxes can't hurt" band wagon is Knight-Ridder Washington reporter Robert Rankin. On April 18, he assured Charlotte Observer readers: "You are probably not going to believe this, but your tax burden is not getting heavier year after year....As a share of your income, your taxes have remained remarkably stable for decades." Rankin insisted "that modern political rhetoric often has overstated the impact taxes [at the national level] have had on the nation's economic vitality."
How to overcome the public's anti-tax attitude? Rankin advised: "Clinton could cite statistical evidence showing how tax burdens have remained constant until now, and he could argue that even after his increases they really aren't so high compared with other advanced nations. But Americans have proved impervious to such arguments for decades, perhaps because the truth about the United States' tax burden is hard to comprehend."
Raise Taxes III. MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour marked April 15 by focusing on a California town "suffering anxiety over raising taxes, despite the obvious need to repair the infrastructure." KQED reporter Spencer Michaels blamed the problem on the 1978 passage of Proposition 13: "Today, many politicians blame the measure for a whole litany of civic problems that fester because of a lack of money....In San Anselmo, officials worry they will have to cut back fire protection, laying off firemen or closing the fire station because of a $300,000 shortfall."
Communism Disguised. When the leader of the South African Communist Party, Chris Hani, was assassinated, the networks eulogized him as a democrat and buried his communist ties. On the April 14 CNN World News, reporter Mike Hanna declared: "At risk now is the very thing that in life Chris Hani stood for, the peaceful achievement of a democratic majority rule government in which all the country's people are represented." Allen Pizzey claimed on the April 18 CBS Evening News, "Chris Hani preached peace, his legacy may yet be violence."
Preached peace? Hani had been involved in revolutionary violence since 1967, and in 1982 was named Army Political Commissar of the ANC, according to A Future South Africa by Peter Berger and Bobby Gadsell. Reporters ignored Hani's endorsement of necklacing, the practice of placing burning tires onto the necks of blacks suspected as `collaborators', and only six of the 25 network stories on Hani even mentioned that he headed the South African Communist Party at the time of his death, hardly advocates of "majority rule."
U.S. Ruse. Since Clinton-friendly economist Paul Krugman left the staff, U.S. News & World Report economics writer David Hage has taken up cheering for Clintonomics. Hage described the tax-and- spend Clinton program as not liberal or conservative, but "a third way that counts on free markets and fiscal restraint to deliver prosperity while using government to help the disadvantaged earn their fair share." In the April 26 story, Hage wrote that Clinton's model is John F. Kennedy, who helped spur economic growth in the 1960s with broad-based tax cuts, but Clinton "cannot simply install JFK's fiscal policies" because deficits are "forcing Clinton to build his growth strategy around deficit reduction." What reduction? Clinton's projected deficits are still larger than Reagan's.
But Hage reliably bashed the '80s: "The richest fifth of American families saw their incomes rise by a solid 13.9 percent, while the incomes of all other U.S. families stagnated or declined. And despite Ronald Reagan's radical tax cuts, economic growth subsided even further, to 2.5 percent annually." Hage's math failed to explain how the income of the bottom 80 percent declined when the median family income (the average of all incomes) increased from 1982-89. While Hage cited 2.8 percent growth for the 1970s, he didn't note that the growth rate for 1982-89 was also 2.8 percent, and inflation as much lower. Why lower growth in the 1980s than the 1960s? Consider federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product: it grew from 18.2 percent in 1960 to 22.3 percent in 1980. Under Reagan, it declined slightly to 22.1 percent by 1989. Under Bush, it roared back to an estimated 25.2 percent in 1992. Clinton's "fiscal restraint" won't lower that number any time soon.
Arnot, Dr. Bob. Infant health is a serious issue, but Dr. Bob Arnot of CBS isn't too serious about accuracy. On the April 13 CBS Evening News he charged: "In all of North and South America, only Haiti and Bolivia have worse records than the United States for vaccinating young children. As many as half of the two-year- olds in America are not fully vaccinated." Arnot neglected to mention that full immunization in the U.S. consists of five separate vaccines that are injected in over 15 doses from birth to age 6. Ken Allman, a health adviser at the Centers for Disease Control, told MediaWatch definitions of "fully vaccinated" vary, with most countries using a lower standard than the U.S.
To exaggerate another problem, Arnot excluded the majority from his statistics: "For infant mortality, America couldn't do much worse. Excluding white newborns, America ranks 70th in the world, roughly the same as Mongolia." According to the National Center for Health Statistics, infant mortality for black children was 18.6 deaths for every 1,000 children in 1989, over twice the rate of white children which was at 8.1. When all races are combined the U.S. mortality rate was 9.1 infant deaths for every thousand births for 1989, ranking the U.S. at 21st.
Armed Inequality. On April 28, Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced an end to the ban on women in combat. That night, the praise was nearly unanimous. CBS Evening News Pentagon correspondent David Martin profiled female pilots who may be flying in combat roles soon. "Lt. Jeannie Flynn will be the first..until now she has been restricted to this trainer [plane]. But next month she'll start flying the top of the line F-15E. For the first time, her sex makes no difference." Martin concluded: "For the first time, women in uniform have a chance to be treated as equals."
But sex does make a difference. Martin failed to note all branches of the military have different physical requirements for men and women. The Washington Times reported the Army requires men to do 40 push-ups in 2 minutes, while women only have to do 16. In the Air Force, men must run 1.5 miles in 13 minutes 20 seconds. Women are fit if they make it in 15 minutes and 30 seconds.
Advocacy Ads. Time can't stop promoting the Green agenda, even when promoting itself. In the February 22 Sports Illustrated, Time had a two-page ad featuring pictures of polluted skylines, garbage dumps, oil wells, and traffic jams. Under each photo ran lyrics from the song "America, the Beautiful." The ad text at the bottom claimed:
"Maybe it's time we changed our tune. The U.S. seemed oddly off key at the Earth Summit in Rio last June. With only 5 percent of the world's population, our country uses 25 percent of the world's energy and emits 22 percent of all CO2 produced. Yet of the 178 countries present, we were the most reluctant to make meaningful changes." It's not the first Time ad with ideology. In Sports Illustrated's April 22, 1992 issue, Time's ad declared "Nature has a cure for everything, except the spread of Western civilization. Until recently cultural genocide has been a quietly accepted practice. But times change and so does Time."
Pam's Parties. When Pamela Harriman, the widow of Averell Harriman and a Democratic patron, was named US ambassador to France, Beth Brophy of U.S. News & World Report raved about her "unique qualifications": "She lived in Paris twice: during finishing school in the `30's and again in the `40's and `50's." If that weren't enough, Brophy burbled: "Harriman does have an important ambassadorial attribute: She throws great dinner parties."
Revolving Door: Stern Justice
Attorney General Janet Reno's choice to deliver her message to the public: Carl Stern, long-time NBC News Supreme Court and legal affairs reporter. In early April, Reno named Stern Director of Public Affairs, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Stern's been with NBC News in Washington since 1967.
He should fit in well with the new Democratic administration. In 1988 Stern referred to William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun as "liberal justices," but to Antonin Scalia as "ultra-conservative." When Bush nominated David Souter in 1990, Stern reported "Judge Souter's given high marks for intellect, but marks that are not so high for a rather narrow view of constitutional rights...there are a number of cases that some groups will regard as troubling, in the church-state area, in the women's rights area, in the age discrimination area, a certain insensitivity will certainly be explored at length in the Senate hearings."
As MediaWatch reported last month, former Bush Administration Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams joined NBC News just before Stern left. In true revolving door fashion, Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert (former counselor to Mario Cuomo) assigned Williams to cover Stern's old beat at the Justice Department.
NBC's hiring decision didn't sit well with Newsday TV critic Marvin Kitman. In a March 29 column, Kitman charged: "Williams was one of the architects of the most reprehensible press censorship policies we've ever had....He was a champion of those two Georges -- Bush and Orwell." A bit later, Kitman raved: "It's a natural fit in a way. Here is a network news division that has blown up a truck in a story that winds up making GM look innocent. And in one of its first public acts after drafting a list of reforms to restore its credibility, hires a man who was paid for seven years to lie to the public."
Still raving, Kitman concluded: "The oddest thing is that nobody batted an eyelash at the hiring announcement on March 18. The most reprehensible act of the decade, and nobody protests or even cares. The barbarians are in the gate, for Pete's sake."
MediaWatch called Kitman to ask whether he was similarly enraged when David Burke, Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy during Chappaquiddick, was named President of CBS News in 1988. Or when Tom Johnson, Deputy Press Secretary to Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, became President of CNN in 1990. Kitman's assistant said she didn't recall any such columns, but would pass along the message. Kitman did not call back.
White House Advancement
Anne Edwards, Director of the White House Television Office for Jimmy Carter, is back in the White House press office. She now oversees the press advance operation, making press arrangements for presidential trips.
Since her last trip through the White House gate she spent four years as a CBS News Washington bureau assignment editor, followed by a stint with the Mondale-Ferraro campaign. Mondale's loss sent her back to the media as a Senior Producer with National Public Radio. Last year she headed the Clinton-Gore campaign press advance operation.
Networks Ignore Protest Platform, Explicit Sex Talk, and Hate Speech
Gay "Civil Rights" March Sanitized
The networks, which focused on the supposedly "extreme" and "divisive" speeches during the Republican convention, had a clouded lens when covering the April 25 gay march. Instead of examining its content and demands, reporters emphasized the mainstream elements and adopted the liberal view of it as a "civil rights" march.
Indeed, ABC World News Sunday anchor Carole Simpson called it "one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations ever staged in the nation's capital." On MacNeil-Lehrer, Judy Woodruff said they gathered "to demand freedom from discrimination." NBC's Linda Vester echoed the official line on Nightly News: "Organizers had a long list of demands. The top three: civil rights protection, an end to the ban on gays in the military, and more funding for AIDS research."
Among platform demands the networks ignored: "The re-definition of sexual re-assignment surgeries as medical, not cosmetic, treatment," and in schools, a "culturally inclusive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies program ...at all levels of education."
Those watching C-SPAN saw the "diversity" of march-sanctioned entertainers. A male duo, one wearing a dress, sang about the Army. "It's as if they're afraid we're going to be demanding blow jobs in the showers...It's blow dryers we want" asserted one as the other sang: "Obey orders, and be disciplined!" A "big dyke" comedian had a deaf translator sign an orgasm, and another imitated cunnilingus. All but CNN Prime News, which showed a man in drag, ignored this.
But what about the bigotry that came from speakers? Akiko Carver, an ACT-UP activist, offered this invective: "This is the military that...killed, raped, and tortured thousands in Vietnam, as well as Korea and Grenada, and bombed and placed inhumane sanctions on Iraq that killed over 200,000 people. So if this is your country, it's because you're white." Racist? As for "extremism," she exulted: "We won't fight for true liberation because that would mean fighting against capitalism."
Gay activist Urvashi Vaid attacked "Christian supremacist leaders" like Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, and former Quayle aide William Kristol (who's Jewish): "On one side are the values that everyone here stands for. You know what those values are? Traditional American values of democracy and pluralism. On the other side are those who want to turn the Christian church into the government....Our opponents believe in monotheism. One way, theirs....One nation supreme, the Christian white one."
ABC's Jack Smith conveniently found: "What brought homosexuals to Washington...was the gay-bashing at last year's GOP convention."
Today's Double Standard
Brock Book Bias
Last July 5, NBC Sunday Today co-host Mary Alice Williams interviewed Newsday reporter Timothy Phelps, one of two reporters who outed Anita Hill's unproven allegations against Clarence Thomas, about his new book on the hearings, Capitol Games.
Williams did not challenge Phelps, but asked him to explain how Thomas was unqualified for the Supreme Court: "Everyone remembers the sexual harassment charges, the racism charges. Were any of Clarence Thomas's real qualifications ever examined?" And: "In your book, you say that the White House organized women's groups to support Thomas and that that was somehow manufactured. Can you tell us about that?"
On May 3, 1993, Today co-host Katie Couric interviewed David Brock, who has picked Hill's case apart in a new book, The Real Anita Hill. But instead of having him on alone like Phelps, Today forced Brock to share the ten-minute segment with Hill defender Charles Ogletree, who trashed the book: "It's a great piece of fiction, but he doesn't deal with fact. He makes countless errors of fact, he tells outright lies, he refers to statements that have been proven false. And it's a dupe. I think the most important thing is that journalists should take a look at David Brock's book and find out about the real David Brock."
Today co-host Katie Couric also questioned Brock's bias: "You do, though, Mr. Brock, have some innate biases, don't you? I mean The American Spectator [where Brock's revelations first appeared] is an ultraconservative magazine, and it seems as if you are an advocate for Justice Thomas in the book. Is it really fair to call yourself an objective journalist?"
Mary Alice Williams never asked Phelps that question, even though his book Capitol Games used terms like "far right," "radical right," and "ultraconservative" to describe Thomas and his supporters on 82 occasions.
Phelps also appeared with fellow leak beneficiary Nina Totenberg on Today's two-hour Hill-Thomas special last October 6, but Brock was not invited. In fact, Today interviewed no defender of Clarence Thomas in the studio during the program.
Eye on School Choice
In an April 13 "Eye on America" segment, CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews explained the predicament of inner-city parents locked in a fight against school bureaucracies: "Like thousands of parents who find the public school lacking, the Jenkins want school choice, the system where parents get publicly funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools. What's unique is that the Jenkins are part of a wave of recent lawsuits in which poor, inner-city parents are suing to get their money out of the school system."
Andrews detailed the desolation of urban schools that has caused parental action: "These inner-city parents are arguing that even after years of attempted reform, these inner-city public schools are still hopeless, that many of them are unsafe, that most eighth graders still don't read at grade level, and that the dropout rates are horrific."
The segment also showed the reaction school choice receives from both sides: the education bureaucrats with their predictions that vouchers will destroy the public schools, and the parents who responded, "All this foolishness about it's going to destroy the public schools. The school system is already destroyed." Pointing out the hypocrisy of some who oppose school choice, Andrews noted: "In this era where President Clinton himself has kept his child out of public schools, the Jenkins will now ask the Illinois Supreme Court to declare it is their civil right to do the same."
Where the Jobs Are
Economics reporter Robert Krulwich answered a question many reporters are asking: Why isn't the economy creating more jobs? On the April 1 CBS This Morning he answered: It's the government, stupid.
Krulwich first suggested mandated benefits might be to blame: "Hiring new workers is expensive...If you hire a worker, like this yarn worker here, and you pay him $25,000 a year, after you've added in the standard benefit package -- Social Security, unemployment insurance, workman's comp, state training, retirement benefits, paid vacations, sick days, parental leave, and health -- this worker costs the boss $35,000. That's 40 percent more than his salary." But he concluded: "Benefits have been expensive for years and bosses have kept hiring people so something else is going on."
Krulwich then zeroed in on a big fear of business owners -- possible new taxes. "Bosses are watching the President and asking themselves, `What's going to happen when Clinton's plan goes through?' There's so many costs coming their way."
Krulwich pointed out "Clinton is proposing: higher corporate taxes, higher income taxes, higher energy taxes, higher minimum wage, higher working training costs, probably higher payroll taxes for health. When you look at this list what would you do if you were a boss? Logic says you wait, right? ...That is exactly what bosses are doing all over the country."
Save Papers by Making Them Liberal
The New Muckraking
The Washington Post Magazine of April 18 contained Post media reporter Howard Kurtz's suggestions for improving America's newspapers -- by making them more liberal. Among recommendations in the excerpt from his new book, replacing conservatives with liberals: "Liberate the Op-Ed pages...we need to restrict the soporific lectures of Henry Kissinger and Jeane Kirkpatrick and throw open the gates to new, vibrant, even radical voices."
He complained, "we swarm like bees into an agency like HUD after the place has been looted, then buzz off in search of the next calamity." Instead, Kurtz advocated the press "set the agenda" and cited those sacred liberal cows: "the Pentagon's $640 toilet seat, or John Sununu's frequent flying" as evidence the press must "unearth things the authorities don't want the public to know."
Newspapers must "Turn the writers loose...when Maureen Dowd of The New York Times cast a spotlight on sexism in the Senate during the Clarence Thomas hearings, it was an event that had everyone buzzing." One October 1991 Dowd story contained quotes from eight angry feminists, but none from Thomas supporters. That would explain Kurtz's troubling conclusion that papers should: "Break the shackles of mindless objectivity...If that amounts to activist journalism, so be it." The problem is, too many papers have already taken Kurtz's advice.
Janet Cooke Award: CNN's Ken Bode Throws Allegations At GOP Without Airing Response
"Politicized" Justice Department?
To take advantage of its all-day news schedule, CNN added a Special Assignment unit to prepare unique investigative reports. Unfortunately, some reports aren't unique or investigative, but long reports with the same faults as the other networks -- simplistic editorializations in ten minutes instead of two. Ken Bode's April 12 report was just such a failure, earning our Janet Cooke Award.
Bode selected an increasingly popular target, the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments: "For the last decade, the Justice Department was an ideological warehouse for conservative thinkers. At the same time, Justice became a political arm of the White House." Bode aired sound bites from Donald Ayer, a disgruntled former Justice official, and Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bode explained: "The Department of Justice will always reflect the policy priorities of a President, but the Reagan-Bush Department went further, undermining laws the administration opposed."
Former Justice official Paul McNulty replied to MediaWatch: "What about the 1960s? Was the Johnson administration politicized because it 'undermined' racist laws? In the 1980s, we wanted to bring on reforms as well -- to correct oppressive regulation, restore a sounder reading of the Constitution, question discriminatory civil rights laws. Every administration is suppose to advocate policies in legislation and in judicial advocacy."
Bode never mentioned that the Clinton Justice Department is seeking to "undermine" the Federal Advisory Committee Act, declaring that Hillary Clinton is not a "non-government employee" so her task force can meet in secret. When asked about this contrast, Bode told MediaWatch: "There's nothing wrong with trying to change the laws. But in the last 12 years, when they lost a test, they went shopping for jurisdictions to try again, and in the meantime, refused to enforce the laws, saying a challenge was pending."
Bode caricatured the GOP record: "The Reagan-Bush agenda included a hard line on abortion, a rollback on civil rights -- trying to restore tax credits for segregated schools, for example -- also attempts to minimize affirmative action requirements." To explain this, Bode brought on liberal Ralph Neas of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He aired no one defending Reagan policies.
As further proof of politicization, Bode argued: "On the notorious S&L scandal, there was tough talk, but lax enforcement. A government audit [by the General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress] now shows that two-thirds of those S&L cases have been dropped by federal prosecutors or the FBI. Of the 850 fines the government won for bank fraud, it has collected less than five percent."
Bode aired no one to defend the GOP record. "They never gave us a chance on that," former Bush Attorney General William Barr told MediaWatch. "The GAO privately acknowledged they had to come up with something negative [on the S&L prosecutions]. The reason it took so long was because every time they had a theory, it was shot down."
As to Bode's charge of lax enforcement, Barr responded: "We were prosecuting thousands of people in a very short time. We had a good record of convictions. Just because there's a criminal referral doesn't mean there's a criminal case." And the fines? "That's a red herring. The very nature of the fraud was either the dissipation of assets or puffing up the value of assets that they didn't have. The nature of the fraud was lack of value. So how do you collect?"
When asked why Barr and the other Attorneys General weren't in his story, Bode said Ed Meese and Richard Thornburgh were called, but Barr was not, "at least as far as I know," since Bode said a number of producers worked on the story. "I'll admit that it should have been done."
Bode's story also charged the Republicans with a racist pattern of prosecutions: "Another tactic which politicized Justice -- selective enforcement of the law. Democrats, and especially black mayors and Congressmen, believe they were targets of Republican U.S. Attorneys with political motives." Bode cited (and aired) Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Rep. Floyd Flake, and even white Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. Bode brought on none of the prosecutors or former Justice Department officials for the other side of this conspiracy theory.
When asked why, Bode explained that he did a major special report for CNN and even a special Larry King Live on the subject "two years ago, and I gave ample time for the other side to defend themselves." When MediaWatch suggested that a two-year-old story doesn't balance last night's news, Bode responded: "We had a lot of arguments about this [section on racist prosecutions]. Producers here thought it was too long. You thought it was too short."
MediaWatch also pointed out that black Rep. Harold Ford pressed the Clinton Justice Department to dismiss the jury in his case, which they did, causing a U.S. attorney to resign in protest. Bode explained "Harold Ford was left out of the story because the trial was coming to an end at that time and we didn't want to conflict with other news stories on that subject."
Paul McNulty told MediaWatch: "What's missing here is that decision-makers in these prosecutions are career people. The Justice Department has 95,000 employees. Only 135 are Washington-based political employees. Another 200 are U.S. Marshals or U.S. Attorneys. All the investigators are career FBI agents or career assistant U.S. attorneys."
Bode's story moved on to Clinton: "Clinton's first public office was Attorney General of Arkansas. He was aggressive, high- profile, populist...If the Justice Department will reflect President Clinton's policies, expect the new attorney general to be much stronger on civil rights enforcement, pay attention to environmental laws, support the rights of children, and a continued emphasis on crime and public safety." Bode aired no one taking issue with Clinton's years in Arkansas or his present policies.
Bode ended on a properly even-handed note, suggesting that Janet Reno's firing of 93 U.S. attorneys "raises suspicions that the Clinton administration is willing to put politics above enforcing the law." Bode let fired U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens charge politics were involved in taking him off the investigation of House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. He also concluded that the Rostenkowski probe "has become a highly visible test of how political the Justice Department will be under Bill Clinton and Janet Reno." But Bode interviewed Reno and let her declare herself non-political in three soundbites. That's very unlike his treatment of Reagan-Bush officials, who were simply left out.