In This Issue
Network News Dominated by Arguements and Soundbites Against the GOP Contract; NewsBites: Brownout; Revolving Door: Burke's Back; McVeigh: Newt's Protege?; Hosts Blamed For Bombing; Welfare Reform Ripoff; Today Sounds Like Talk Radio?; Janet Cooke Award: Sticking Up for Regulatory Overkill
Network News Dominated by Arguements and Soundbites Against the GOP Contract
Fighting the First One Hundred Days
The election of the first Republican Congress in over 40 years gave the media an opportunity to cover a wide new range of issues in the Contract With America. With the House Republicans promising votes on all ten provisions in the first 100 days, what kind of treatment did the Contract receive?
To learn if the networks gave equal coverage to the arguments of both sides, MediaWatch analysts reviewed all policy stories on the Contract which aired on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's World News from January 1 to April 8. (Policy stories addressed a specific provision in the Contract, or the likely effects of passage. Stories updating a bill's progress or focusing on personalities were excluded.)
Soundbites: In 229 total policy stories, talking heads opposing the Contract outnumbered supporters by 442-330, or 58 to 42 percent.The count obscured how the networks especially cheered for pet programs like Clinton's AmeriCorps and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Arguments: Analysts counted the number of arguments made for or against the Contract in each story, and the number of talking heads in support or opposition. Stories with a disparity greater than 1.5 to 1 in the arguments or talking heads of one side were categorized as pro- or anti-Contract. Stories within the ratio were classified as neutral.
In the most controversial items of the Contract (the Balanced Budget Amendment and spending cuts; welfare reform; tax cuts; the crime bill; regulatory and legal reform), stories dominated by opponents and their arguments outnumbered those tilted in favor by 127 (56 percent) to 21 (9 percent), and 81 were neutral. (Since almost all stories on term limits focused on the legislative battle, they were classified based on who was blamed for its failure.)
Balanced Budget: The media derided Republican efforts to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, and attacked efforts to reduce spending. Stories asserting a balanced budget would hurt the poor or defending government spending totaled 34, while each network aired just one story on the need to downsize government. In the face of the election results, only two stories focused mainly on taxpayer demands for smaller government. ABC was the most one-sided, with 14 stories defending spending or displaying "victims" of cuts, to one positive look at the GOP Medicare reform plan.
A typical defense of spending came from Carl Rochelle on the March 18 CNN World News. He examined a Great Society program eliminated by Republicans, claiming the Job Corps "helped hundreds of thousands of people," and aired three supporters of the program, including Labor Secretary Reich and inner city participants, to one critic.
CBS defended the NEA on March 31, with Connie Chung noting some "call it a taxpayer subsidy for wacky or tacky artists who play to a cultural elite. Is that really where the money goes?" John Blackstone visited Louisiana and concluded: "While the budget cutters sharpen their ax, the folks at the Piney Woods Opry say the value of this music can't be measures in dollars. It can only be felt."
Welfare Reform: Coverage tilted heavily to the left, with 45 of 68 stories (66 percent) devoted to liberal arguments. Conservative policies merited just 10 reports (15 percent), and 19 percent were neutral. Reports on school lunch "cuts" outnumbered reports covering reforms in states like Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Michigan and New Jersey by 18 to 5. Amazingly, in 68 stories, welfare fraud was covered once, on a February 10 ABC report by Ron Claiborne.
The plan to fold food programs into block grants to the states drew fire. Of 17 school lunch stories, reporters in 15 claimed Republicans would "cut" lunches. On March 21, Bob Schieffer of CBS claimed: "Republicans want to wipe out some heretofore untouchable federal programs; such things as aid to poor single mothers with children, school lunch programs, foster care, and aid to disabled children."
Only NBC's Joe Johns mentioned Republicans were slowing the lunch program's growth rate from 5.3 percent to 4.5 percent. CNN's Eugenia Halsey was the only one to note that any student is eligible, not just the poor. Even so, she concluded February 23: "The GOP must battle the perception that the Contract with America is a contract against children."
Tax Cuts: Both the $500 per child tax credit and the capital gains tax cut were scorned: 18 stories detailed liberal arguments that tax cuts went to the wealthy or were too expensive. Just three highlighted public demand for tax cuts. Talking heads opposing tax cuts prevailed over tax cut supporters by a 3-2 margin, 58-39. Only CBS's Ray Brady, on April 4, explained how high capital gains taxes inhibited investment by ordinary people.
Regulatory Reform: Sixteen stories dealt with legislation to overhaul regulations and reduce government takings. Eight stories cited intrusive regulations as evidence for reform, but 14 stories (88 percent) warned that loosening regulations would harm the environment. Soundbites from environmentalists outnumbered reformers by 23-16 (59 to 41 percent).
Legal Reform: In nine stories on attempts to reduce liability suits, eight were dominated by the liberal agenda. Talking heads opposed reform by a more than 2-to-1 ratio (17-8). ABC's Tim O'Brien declared on March 7: "According to the National Center for State Courts, there is no litigation explosion." O'Brien passed on that after reform,"most consumer groups insist only the wealthy could sue."
Crime Bill: In rewriting the Clinton crime bill, reporters favored administration claims. Five stories cited the loss of Clinton's "prevention" programs, but only one story (by ABC's John Cochran) noted GOP complaints about waste in such programs. Just as in the 1994 debate, in 13 stories the net- works uncritically passed along the Democrats claim of putting 100,000 cops on the street, 57 percent of crime bill stories. Soundbites were skewed towards the liberal agenda, with 30 Contract supporters (39 percent) against 46 opponents (61 percent).
Term Limits: Even though 82 percent of Republicans voted for a term-limits constitutional amendment, versus 19 percent of Democrats, in 12 stories reporters blamed Republicans for its loss, Democrats were blamed six times. Just three of 17 stories (18 percent) noted the vote was the first ever held on term limits in the House.
Newt Gingrich's book deal received 27 evening news stories in the six weeks ending February 1, more than they devoted to regulatory reform, legal reform, or term limits in 100 days. The networks, which claim to favor change, defended the existing welfare state, and attacked the document which confronted the status quo.
Brownout. Los Angeles Times reporters Sara Fritz and Rich Connell revealed on April 9: "Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown has effectively concealed his personal investment in a trouble- plagued, low-income apartment complex that is part of the rental empire of a Los Angeles businessman whom federal officials consider a notorious slumlord."
Brown is not the first prominent Democrat revealed to have ties to "notorious slumlord" -- and Democratic Party contributor -- A. Bruce Rozet, who's been accused by HUD officials in both the Bush and Clinton administration of abusing low-income housing programs. On February 3, 1990, The New York Times reported "The Reverend Jesse Jackson repeatedly sought meetings with Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp last year" on behalf of Rozet. The networks were silent then, and five years later, nothing's changed. The network evening news shows failed to run a single story on the Brown revelations.
Burying the Big Story. Years after the Cold War ended, anti-anti- communism still rules. Last year, CBS canonized Edward R. Murrow in a special hosted by Dan Rather in which he labeled the 1950s as "a time of blacklists and witch-hunts and red-baiting." CBS Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood attacked the FBI file on conductor Leonard Bernstein: "It is a milepost, I think, to be reminded how irrationally suspicious and fearful we once were."
Now the new book The Secret World of American Communism, by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, using recently released secret documents from Soviet archives, demonstrates the extensive financial and political links that the Communist Party USA, Armand Hammer, and even journalists had with the Soviet Union. The Boston Globe put the story on the front page April 11. The Washington Post picked up on the story on page A6 the next day with Michael Dobbs underlining that "The documents provide corroboration from Moscow's side to back up the view that the Soviet Union succeeded in using left-wing front organizations such as the American Communist Party to penetrate U.S. government agencies." But The New York Times, home for "all the news that's fit to print," didn't note it until two weeks later. The April 26 story by Serge Schmemann failed to even mention the author's names or any details of the charges, such as Soviet funding of U.S. communists. Instead, the Times focused on debates about the reliability of the archives.
The book also provides corroborating evidence supporting the conviction of Alger Hiss, yet CBS, which last year suggested Hiss was simply "accused" of being a spy, ignored it -- as did ABC, CNN, NBC, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and the Los Angeles Times.
Only Angry White Males? ABC reporter Julie Johnson provided the Angry White Male update on the April 2 World News Sunday: "Republicans have found an issue they can sink their teeth into -- ending affirmative action." Johnson said opposing quotas "resonates with white men. An ABC News poll shows that more than 80 percent of them oppose preferences for women and minorities. That's too many potential voters to write off."
In a column in the April 14 Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer pinpointed Johnson's report as "a textbook case of willful distortion by way of a fact. Yes, 81 percent of white men oppose preferences. But what ABC omitted is that the same ABC poll showed that practically the same percentage of white women (77-79 percent) oppose preferences as well" -- 77 percent against preferences for women, 79 percent against preferences for minorities. The poll also showed "three out of four Americans said they opposed affirmative action programs that give preference to minorities to make up for past discrimination, and a virtually identical proportion felt the same way about programs for women...more than two out of three said those programs should be changed or eliminated."
More Ned Dread. Scientific evidence to the contrary, the media continue to trumpet dire warnings of global warming and press for government intervention. On the April 5 World News Tonight, ABC devoted the "American Agenda" to what Peter Jennings called "new evidence that man may be turning up the thermostat." Reporter Ned Potter cited oceanographers worried about declining plankton, and warned: "The ocean is giving a signal of global warming -- the much-debated prediction that industrial air pollution will trap the sun's heat and warm the Earth in coming decades." Potter claimed: "There is evidence, tentative but increasing, that the climate has already begun to change, affecting people's lives in a range of ways." He wondered: "Polar ice, tropical disease, dying oceans -- do these prove a warming pattern?...Among the believers is the White House."
Potter noted the Clinton Administration "promise to protect the global climate could not come at a more chilly political climate," even as environmentalists continue "building up evidence that the world's climate may already be changing." But John Merline provided a less hysterical scenario in the April 21 Investor's Business Daily. He quoted a study released April 3 by the George C. Marshall Institute (and ignored by ABC) which said "a growing body of scientific evidence shows global warming is not a serious threat." Merline pointed out "concerns about global warming rest on computer simulations of the Earth's climate," but "the study concluded that these simulations are unreliable as a source of solid information." Merline found "highly accurate satellite data show that global temperatures haven't budged in the past 16 years."
Paving the Everglades? CBS reporter John Roberts rode a boat through the Everglades on the April 16 Sunday Morning to mark Earth Day and warn of the new Congress: "There are some areas of the country where things aren't getting better. They're getting progressively worse....The Everglades is a perfect example.... environmentalists are now worried that Republican-sponsored legislation in Congress could be the final nail in the coffin."
Roberts quoted liberal representatives from the Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Friends of the Everglades, as well as Al Gore. The only anti-regulation view in the 10-minute segment was two sentences from a former Republican Congressman. Roberts painted a simplistic picture of helpful regulators versus harmful developers, although historically, the federal government has not been a friend of the Everglades. Jonathan Tolman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told MediaWatch "the Department of Agriculture has an incredible tariff scheme for imported sugar. They restrict imports so that the price for domestic sugar is twice the price of international sugar," encouraging use of the Everglades for sugar production. "They can grow it there because the Army Corps of Engineers drained the Everglades in the '50s. They took the Kissimmee River that meandered and channeled it so it ran straight."
But almost everyone Roberts talked to was convinced that the government was the Everglades' only hope: "Conservation activists fear that the new Republican-dominated Congress is well on its way toward implementing policies that would inflict great damage to the environment....pushing through all of these policies under the heading of regulatory reform."
Witty Guy? Washington Post reporter Guy Gugliotta devoted his April 12 "Capital Notebook" feature to a sarcastic attack on conservatives for proving corporations fund liberal causes. As a prelude to his assault, Gugliotta wrote: "As House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey pointed out in a March 24 letter to GOP House colleagues, Forbes 250 corporations have an irritating habit of giving money to liberal organizations, the lefties who think big government is the solution to everything....To bolster his claim, Armey enclosed copies of the Capital Research Center's Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy, a conservative publication that rates corporations according to the ideology of their philanthropy each year."
Gugliotta explained: "For the GOP, the welfare state thus appears to have replaced the Soviet Union as the source of almost everything bad that happens, whether it's drug trafficking, the 32-cent stamp or Elvis's untimely disappearance. Nobody knows exactly what the welfare state is, but it's always easy to blame." Gugliotta then took a swipe at CRC: "Patterns said Monsanto in 1992 donated $10,000 to the Children's Defense Fund, which the GOP suspects of links to COMINTERN (just kidding), and also kicked in for American Lung Association ($250), the Humane Society, of Greenville, S.C. ($1,100), the NAACP of East St. Louis, Ill. ($500) and other allegedly dangerous groups." If Gugliotta took his job of reporting more seriously, he could have explained CRC has monographs documenting how these groups lobby for liberal causes.
ABC on Drugs. "Legalize it!" was the mantra on the April 6 ABC special America's War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions. Host Catherine Crier promoted European drug policies: "The main goal is to keep addicts functioning in society. Give them treatment, not punishment. Give them clean needles. Legalize marijuana. And even, under supervision, give hard-core addicts their drugs."
Crier claimed Dutch experiments with legalization of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin were a success. But as former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano pointed out in a New York Post op-ed, from 1982 to 1992, marijuana use soared 250 percent among Dutch teens. Crier said Dutch coffee houses, where marijuana can be legally sold and used, allows the Dutch to "spend very little money policing the coffee shop scene because, they say, there's virtually no crime associated with the use of marijuana." But Crier ignored that because these shops have become havens for dealers of heroin and cocaine, Amsterdam will soon prohibit any more from opening. Crimes to fund drug use have skyrocketed in the Netherlands as well: 43 percent of burglars describe themselves as drug users. Crier declared America's "striking lack of success" in combating drugs. "There's not much disagreement that we're losing it," she said. But Califano again corrected her: the number of cocaine users has dropped 75 percent in the last 10 years, and the number of teens trying marijuana has also dropped dramatically.
Wallace's Rerun. In January, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment focusing on the left-wing group Call to Action's criticism of Catholic doctrine. Mike Wallace aired 25 soundbites from dissenters and not one soundbite defending Church teaching. Prompted by letters of complaint about his report, Wallace took a second look at the debate in the Catholic Church. His new piece was not much better.
On the April 16 60 Minutes, Wallace interviewed Catholic spokeswoman Helen Alvare and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony. In both, Wallace promoted Call to Action's agenda items: ordaining women, allowing contraception and abortion. Wallace peppered the Cardinal: "Why shouldn't women be ordained?....It has nothing to do with equality as far as you and the hierarchy are concerned. It has a great deal to do with equality with a lot of women who give their lives to the Church."
Wallace said of Mahony's liberal actions like opposing Proposition 187: "Just when you think it would be hard to be more conservative than the Cardinal, you run into archconservative Catholics so outraged by the Cardinal's actions that they've been picketing these annual [conferences]." Wallace added "archconservative" once more, and "far right." Wallace used no labels for the longtime Sandinista supporters of Call to Action, who were "hardly wild-eyed radicals...They're sober church workers, nuns and priests, and just plain concerned Catholics."
Revolving Door: Burke's Back
Former CBS and ABC News executive David Burke, described by John Carmody in the April 28 Washington Post as a "longtime Democratic adviser and confidant," has revolved back into politics. President Clinton nominated Burke, President of CBS News from 1988 to 1990, to serve as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for the International Bureau of Broadcasting. According to the Post, the board is "responsible for policy and budgetary oversight for all non-military and international broadcasting services under the U.S. Information Agency."
Last fall The Boston Globe learned that Burke, Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1965 to 1971, was pitching in as an adviser to the Senator's re-election effort. In February, Burke, who served as VP of ABC News for 11 years before jumping to CBS, accompanied Clinton on a trip to California in order to "provide political and communications tips," The Wall Street Journal revealed.
Too Irrelevant to Stay?
Several Clinton officials with media ties have decided to move on. At the State Department, Douglas Bennet Jr., Asst. Secretary for International Organization Affairs, resigned to become President of Wesleyan University in July. President of National Public Radio for a decade from 1983 until Clinton tapped him, Bennet headed the Agency for International Development in the Carter administration....
Over at the Defense Department, Vernon Guidry Jr., a policy assistant to Deputy Secretary John Deutch, has left to form a lobbying and PR firm. Former Defense Secretary Les Aspin brought Guidry, a defense reporter for the Baltimore Sun from 1980 to 1987, with him to the Pentagon from the House Armed Services Committee where he had been Staff Director under Chairman Aspin....
Closer to the White House, Thomas Ross, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Public Affairs at the National Security Council, is moving to the private sector in New York, The Washington Post reported. Thomas, Senior Vice President of NBC News from 1986-89, had been Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun Times until President Carter named him Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Speechwriter Eliot Brenner is now pounding out the words for his third boss since leaving United Press International. After handling the defense beat for UPI, in late 1991 he signed on with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. In 1993 he moved across the Potomac to the Treasury Department where he toiled for Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. Clinton's second Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, has decided to keep Brenner as his speechwriter.
Jack Kole, Press Secretary to Democratic Congressman David Obey since 1989, has moved to the Appropriations Committee to serve as Press Secretary for the minority side. From 1964 to 1989 Kole was the Washington Bureau Chief for the Milwaukee Journal....David Beckwith, Press Secretary to Vice President Quayle and Communications Director for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for the past two years, has left the Texan to run the government affairs office in Washington for EDS Corp. For most of the 1980s Beckwith covered politics and the White House for Time magazine.
McVeigh: Newt's Protege?
It took just two days after the FBI tied Timothy McVeigh to the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing for conservatives to be blamed. Sam Donaldson asked Morris Dees on This Week April 23: "To what extent, if any, do you think the political rhetoric to which you just referred has helped cause a climate in which people could go in that direction...rhetoric which says, not just against big government, or liberal government, or dishonest government, but `government is the enemy?'"
On CNN's Capital Gang that night, The Washington Post's Juan Williams argued: "You have angry white men here, sort of in their natural state, and you know, gone berserk.... some fanatic extreme, and I will grant you that. But it's the same kind of idea that has fueled so much of the right-wing triumph over the agenda here in Washington."
"Public antagonism toward government," Boston Globe D.C. Bureau Chief David Shribman wrote on page one April 25, "has been voiced and amplified by the new Republican House, which just this month completed its 100 days of action, much of it aimed at paring back the growth of the federal government. But now that an attack on a government building has left scores dead, including children, the allure is coming off the anti-government rhetoric."
Michael Kramer held Newt Gingrich culpable in Time on May 1: "Gingrich recently praised incendiary language as a key to winning elections." He noted "there is of course no straight line between any of this and Oklahoma," but Kramer nonetheless charged: "If the perpetrators...really view government as the people's enemy, the burden of fostering that delusion is borne not just by the nut cases who preach conspiracy but also to some extent by those who erode faith in our governance in the pursuit of their own ambitions."
"Can GOP candidates keep the support of the powerful far right and still repudiate its scary fringe?," read the subhead over a May 8 Newsweek piece. But reporters implied there's little difference between Republicans and anarchists. Exactly one week before the bombing, Bernard Shaw asked presidential candidate Bob Dornan on Inside Politics: "What do you say to people who say that you are an extremist, that you're a right-winger, that you're a nut, that you're a bomb-thrower?"
The next day, CBS's Connie Chung announced that Dornan "claims he's the right man for the job, as in far right." The day before the bombing, Today looked at a Colin Powell candidacy. Bryant Gumbel wondered: "Is it realistic to think that angry white males and far-right extremists, who are now so politically active, would ever vote for a black man for President, no matter how qualified?"
Hosts Blamed For Bombing
Blasting Talk Radio
Even before President Clinton criticized radio talk shows, reporters had targeted hosts for culpability in the April 19 Oklahoma bombing. Just four days later, on the April 23 Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer asked White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta: "There's been a lot of anti-government rhetoric, it comes over talk radio, it comes from various quarters. Do you think that somehow has led these people to commit this act? Do they feed on that kind of rhetoric?"
When Clinton articulated his criticism the next day, ABC's Peter Jennings surmised "he clearly had the words of many ultra- conservative talk radio hosts in mind." Jackie Judd then showed excerpts of "anger and fingerpointing" on shows before concluding that "President Clinton's plea to lower the volume seemed lost today in all of the cross talk."
On April 25, Today's Bryant Gumbel slyly noted that "while no one's suggesting right-wing radio jocks approve of violence, the extent to which their approach fosters violence is being questioned by many observers, including the President."
Two papers weighed in. In a Washington Post column that morning, political reporter David Broder was more specific: "The bombing shows how dangerous it really is to inflame twisted minds with statements that suggest political opponents are enemies. For two years, Rush Limbaugh described this nation as `America Held Hostage' to the policies of the liberal Democrats, as if the duly elected President and Congress were equivalent to the regime in Tehran. I think there will be less tolerance and fewer cheers for that kind of rhetoric."
In an April 26 front page Los Angeles Times "news analysis," Nina Easton declared: "The Oklahoma City attack on federal workers and their children also alters the once-easy dynamic between charismatic talk show host and adoring audience. Hosts who routinely espouse the same anti-government themes as the militia movement now must walk a fine line between inspiring their audience -- and inciting the most radical among them."
Time's Richard Lacayo added in the May 8 issue: "In a nation that has entertained and appalled itself for years with hot talk on the radio and the campaign trail, the inflamed rhetoric of the '90s is suddenly an unindicted co-conspirator in the blast."
Welfare Reform Ripoff
Tom Brokaw put the fraud in one welfare program in perspective on the April 12 Dateline NBC: "Imagine enough real money to pay for five aircraft carriers, or, as some investors did just today, to make a bid to take over the entire Chrysler Corporation. That's the kind of money the government says it lost over the last two decades because of mistakes and cheating on just one program: the Earned Income Tax Credit."
The problem has only grown in the Clinton years, Brokaw revealed: "The EITC has become the cornerstone of President Clinton's welfare policy. Since he took office, refunds have more than doubled to $23 billion a year....The increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit led to a whole new class of tax cheats." Brokaw found fraud stems from not taking into account net worth, allowing well-off people with low yearly incomes to collect, and some file for multiple refunds. Estimated total cost:$25 billion.
On the April 19 Nightly News, Kelly O'Donnell reported on San Luis, Arizona where "thousands of Mexican residents rent post office boxes here and use them as American addresses to collect welfare checks and food stamps and to enroll their kids in U.S. schools." She also found an EITC connection: "The IRS put a hold on 5,500 tax returns this year after detecting widespread abuse of the Earned Income Credit."
ABC's John Stossel exposed the shoddy statistics produced by activist groups, and the willing media that promote them, on the March 31 20/20. Stossel talked to Wall Street Journal reporter Cynthia Crossen, author of the book Tainted Truth, and Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? "[Sommers] found some wildly inaccurate claims, like `150,000 women a year die of anorexia.' The real number's closer to 1,000. Then there's `domestic violence causes more birth defeats than all medical causes combined.' The news reports say they come from the March of Dimes." But the March of Dimes issued no such study.
The left-wing Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) issued a 1991 child hunger study claiming one in four U.S. children was hungry or "at risk" of hunger. Stossel found: "Some reporters made the story even more alarming," showing Dan Rather claiming: "A startling number of American children in danger of starving tonight."
Crossen explained: "Their definitions of hunger were what I would call very loose -- `Have you ever had to limit the number of foods that you could chose from to serve a meal,' for example. Well, is that hunger?" Stossel asked FRAC's Robert Hersh: "`Do you ever cut the size of meals? Do you ever eat less than you feel you should?'....Isn't this silly? You were looking to get a result and you got it."
Today Sounds Like Talk Radio?
Bryant Invites Invective
As part of his April 25 indictment of talk radio's role in the Oklahoma bombing, Bryant Gumbel charged that right-wing radio hosts "take to the air everyday with basically the same format: detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people."
In a testy interview with Oliver North, who said he welcomed liberal calls, Gumbel charged: "You do give them an opportunity to speak up but then you basically shred them in the angriest tones." North shot back: "You know, Bryant, I don't think anybody ought to take themselves quite so seriously as you do every morning." Gumbel got angry: "Well, clearly not. Perhaps the oath should have been taken more seriously before lying to the government, too." When North complained the liberal media can't get the story right, Gumbel replied: "On people who were convicted like you."
But Gumbel's outrage was absent on March 22, 1994, when he interviewed Nathan McCall, a convicted armed robber turned Washington Post reporter. He asked: "It's just too easy to put a black face on the problems of crime, of drugs, of poverty, and just say it's a lost cause and walk away from it?" And: "It's been written that being black in America is like being witness at your own lynching, why, why didn't your experiences make you more resentful than you are today?" Near the end, Gumbel asked: "Those who say, `just lock them up, throw away the key, incarcerate them, warehouse them, whatever,' do you think they are even conscious of just how racist this country is?" Gumbel could have defined his own approach: "Detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people."
Janet Cooke Award: Sticking Up for Regulatory Overkill
Beware the network "truth squad," for their monitoring talents are designed almost solely for Republican arguments. In 1992, ABC and the other networks decried the "lying" of Bush ads claiming taxes would go up in a Clinton era. In 1994, anti-Clinton health plan ads drew the ire of ABC’s Tom Foreman. For again singling out the GOP as inaccurate, reporter Ned Potter earned the May Janet Cooke Award.
Peter Jennings began the April 3 World News Tonight story: "As Congress goes on debating the Republican Contract with America we’ve been hearing a lot of claims and counter-claims used to justify or oppose specific provisions. Tonight we’re going to create a regular segment where in the past we’ve done occasional reporting. The idea is to identify in the Congress what is truth and what is political rhetoric. We’re going to call it For the Record."
Potter explained: "This story is about stories told in Congress. Like the one about the regulators who wouldn’t let kids take their first baby teeth home from the dentist. . .Then there’s the tale of the pineapple pesticide. Congressmen complain every city has to test for it, even though it’s only used in Hawaii. . .Stories like those were common in Congress even before the Contract with America. But for the record, you sometimes find they’re not quite true."
Who said? "OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claims the tooth fairy story is simple: medial offices must follow safety rules against hepatitis and AIDS, but you can still give a child his own tooth. And as for that pineapple pesticide, it was a carcinogen used on 40 different crops. It’s still found above safety levels in 19 states."
Potter added: "Take the tale of the white-out bottle, told by Congressman John Mica." ABC showed a clip of Rep. Mica (R.-Fla.): "EPA rules force a dentist to keep logs for possession and disposal of white-out. Is that a good use of our resources?" Potter rebutted: "Not so, says OSHA. Its rules are meant to protect against major health risks, not against a bookkeeper using correcting fluid."
The May 1 National Review questioned ABC’s claims: "OSHA’s Blood Borne Pathogen Standard labels bodily tissues as biohazards. Teeth are considered tissue, and technically must therefore be placed in a red bag and picked up by a licensed disposer. Furthermore, because certain brands of white-out contain toluene, OSHA requires the Manufacturers Safety Data Sheets be kept in office files. Dr. Edward Stein, a health scientist at OSHA, says that white-out’s levels of toluene are far below those which concern OSHA and that the requirement does not pertain to offices with fewer than 10 people. However, he concedes that if an individual in an office with fewer than 10 people filed a complaint about white-out, OSHA would be free to investigate."
The story noted a dentist refused to return a tooth to a boy because he was concerned about the rules, but OSHA unofficially claimed this was unnecessary, despite the regulations.
Potter implies that OSHA, allowed two soundbites for rebuttal, had the monopoly on truth: "Some agencies feel so under attack that they’ve formed truth squads, churning out fact sheets and letters to shoot down false stories." Potter put no burden on OSHA for vague regulations that cost people a lot of time and money to follow, only to learn they are not to be taken seriously.
As for the pineapple pesticide, DBCP, which is "still being found above safety levels in 19 states," Potter failed to distinguish between municipal wells and private wells. Why? Jonathan Tolman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute told MediaWatch: "In November 1990, the EPA released its National Pesticide Survey. Not one community well exceeded EPA levels for DBCP. That’s why Ohio officials are complaining: ‘Why should we pay to test for a pesticide when we keep our wells clean?’"
But Potter claimed: "One group complained that Congress is legislating by anecdote: using all sorts of stories even after they’ve been refuted. Now that may be politics as usual, but several Congressmen privately admit that in the rush of these 100 days, it’s happening more than usual."
Why unnamed sources? It could be because "one group" issuing a report was the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which promoted the Alar scare in 1989, panicking parents and ruining apple farmers over a minute health risk — hardly Exhibit A in an accuracy lecture. Potter failed to answer repeated MediaWatch phone calls. ABC’s posturing against "legislating by anecdote" failed to consider the accuracy of their own anecdotes:
October 18, 1994: ABC promoted a study by the NRDC and the Environmental Working Group "challenging the drinking water that 14 million people drink every day." Months later, former EPA official LaJuana Wilcher called the study "misleading because 90 percent of the data points were from raw, untreated source water. . .No one in his right mind would drink water straight from the Mississippi River." ABC never explained that.
October 28, 1991: Potter reported that two Nader groups, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety, denounced as inaccurate a Department of Transportation collision video showing that smaller cars save gas, but are less safe. Potter concluded: "Fuel economy will be a bruising battle in the Senate, with both sides saying the arguments are based more on politics than the facts." ABC ignored a Wall Street Journal report days later siting eight examples of Naderite literature warning small cars were less safe.
July 25, 1989: Potter traveled to Camel’s Hump Mountain in Vermont to declare pictures from 1963 and 1989 revealed that "40 percent of the trees were dead." Potter blamed it on acid rain: "Clouds that blow in here carry sulfur, lead and more." But the late columnist Warren Brookes called the story a "fraud," citing Yale tree expert Tom Siccama, who said the dying trees all dated from before 1962, which saw "a very severe drought followed by an especially killing winter." But Potter cited the anecdote to underscore "why a new Clean Air Bill is so urgent."
Potter ended his 1995 story: "Ironically, many agencies concede there are too many rules. But if the debate is distorted, they say, useless regulations cannot be told from the ones the country really needs." Potter not only distorted the debate, but it’s not the first time he has fought regulatory review.
When Vice President Quayle tried to review useless regulations with his tiny Competitiveness Council, Potter conducted a two-part attack on August 4 and 5, 1992: "Its very presence makes regulators flinch. . .senior EPA officials. . .said the effect of the Quayle council on their day-to-day work has been devastating." Potter added: "Critics say the council. . .is unaccountable to Congress or the public and its actions may be illegal. . .Trimming regulations is one thing, but critics say doing it in secret is another."