In This Issue
Government Watchdogs' Spring Siesta; NewsBites: Schieffer Goes Soft; Revolving Door: Hubbell's Friend; Imaginary Accomplishments; Worries About Welfare Victims; Frontline Finally Arrives; Liberals Rule Newsrooms; Janet Cooke Award: Volunteerism: A Scam to Mask "Cuts"
Government Watchdogs' Spring Siesta
President Clinton's twisted knee may have caused him great pain, but the media effects were salutary. Scandal coverage was relatively intense in the wake of Al Gore's clumsy March 3 press conference until news of Clinton's injury came the night of March 11. Then in April, the Big Three coverage of new fundraising revelations lost all momentum with only CNN showing signs of staying with the emerging storyline.
MediaWatch analysts reviewed all March and April fundraising stories on the evening programs of ABC, CBS, CNN (The World Today), and NBC, as well as morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC.
Fully 75 percent of the Big Three's network fundraising reports in March came in the first 12 days. Those evening shows aired a combined 52 full reports and 20 anchor briefs in March, but 39 of those reports and 8 briefs came in the first 12 days. Matching what we found in February coverage, for a majority of broadcast days in March, ABC (19), CBS (14), and NBC (16) aired no evening story on the fundraising beat. CNN beat the other networks in intensity with 27 full reports and 25 anchor briefs. The morning shows aired 50 full segments and 46 anchor briefs but aired 37 of the segments and 36 briefs in the first 12 days. Combined, the morning shows had 48 days without a fundraising report.
In April, coverage dropped dramatically. The Big Three evening shows aired only 13 full reports and 6 anchor briefs. ABC led with nine reports and two briefs, CBS had three of each, and NBC just one of each. (Nonetheless, Tom Brokaw insisted in a May/June Columbia Journalism Review article on the softening of the NBC Nightly News: "There are no important stories we have missed.") The networks aired 71 evening newscasts without a fundraising story.
While CNN did more reports than the other three combined, their numbers fell to 17 full reports and 15 anchor briefs. The morning totals also plummeted, with 22 full segments and 14 briefs, adding up to a combined 72 mornings without a story.
That disinterest did not spread to Republican stories. When Democratic lobbyist Mark Siegel told The Washington Post in the March 19 edition that Rep. Dan Burton, Chairman of the House committee probing DNC fundraising, had "shaken him down" for $5,000 in donations from friends of Pakistan, all the networks aired full reports.
The networks leaped on the story of Newt Gingrich's $300,000 loan to reimburse the House ethics committee from Bob Dole. But when John and Alice Martin, the Florida Democratic activists who illegally taped and distributed a cellular phone call of Gingrich and other GOP leaders, agreed to plead guilty to wiretapping charges, the networks did nothing. Neglecting Democrats continues:
March 20: The Boston Globe reported: "On January 15, 1996, John Huang...received an extraordinary memo. It spelled out how to 'convert' Democrats to back favorable trade status for China. And, most mysteriously of all, it included a handwritten notation that the strategy was being discussed 'with the embassy,'" presumably the Chinese embassy. Network coverage? Zero.
March 21: USA Today explained the DNC may have to return another $200,000 in donations, as the paper had identified another 36 improper contributions: "In one case, a donor considered legitimate by Democratic auditors listed a used car lot as his home. In other cases, donors gave the address of a Buddhist temple as their address." Network coverage? Zero.
March 27: The Boston Globe wrote that Lebanese businessman Roger Tamraz "received support from Clinton for the general concept of his oil pipeline proposal in October 1995." Tamraz contributed $180,000. The Globe noted before its story "it has not been reported that Clinton announced support for a position sought by Tamraz after the businessman made his contributions." TV coverage? Zero.
March 30: The Boston Globe struck again with a Bob Hohler report that "27 corporations that sent executives on trade trips with the late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown obtained part of a multi-billion-dollar commitment in federally guaranteed assistance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation...what has previously gone unnoticed is the massive amount of OPIC support given to companies that traveled with Brown and donated money to the Democrats." Network coverage? Zero.
April 1: The Wall Street Journal broke a big story: "Charlie Yah Lin Trie, a central figure in the controversy over foreign contributions to the Democratic Party, received a series of substantial wire transfers in 1995 and 1996 from a bank operated by the Chinese government. The transfers from the New York office of the Bank of China, usually in increments of $50,000 or $100,000, came at a time when Mr. Trie was directing large donations to the Democratic National Committee." Network coverage? Nothing.
April 4: The New York Times discovered cocaine smuggler Jorge Cabrera "was asked for a campaign contribution in the unlikely locale of a hotel in Havana by a prominent Democratic fundraiser." When he returned to the U.S. days later, Cabrera gave $20,000 to the DNC from an account including proceeds from cocaine smuggling into America. Network coverage? Zero.
April 7: Developing further an April 3 USA Today story that Tipper Gore hosted a fundraiser that spurred a $25,000 donation from tobacco giant Philip Morris, CNN business reporter Kelli Arena announced "tobacco executives tell CNN Financial News they were solicited repeatedly by Democratic fundraisers. Two companies, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, complied when the national party told them to write their checks to state parties to avoid press scrutiny." On April 11 The Washington Postdeveloped the story further, noting the Democrats "channeled millions in contributions to state Democratic parties last year, effectively hiding contributions from tobacco, gambling and other special interests." Despite the networks' laser-beam focus on the tobacco industry, this scoop of Democratic hypocrisy got no story from ABC, CBS, and NBC.
April 8: The Washington Post reported the White House supplied "top-secret intelligence information to the Democratic National Committee to block a Latvian businessman with alleged ties to organized crime from attending a $250,000 fundraising dinner...The effort was successful, and the businessman, Grigori Loutchansky, who had been formally invited to attend the DNC fundraising dinner in 1995, was abruptly disinvited." Network coverage? Zero.
April 30: Attorney General Janet Reno faced a tough Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on why she failed to appoint an independent counsel in the fundraising scandal. But CBS and NBC devoted more time to Chelsea Clinton's college choice than Janet Reno's testimony. CBS gave Reno 19 seconds, NBC nothing.
NewsBites: Schieffer Goes Soft
When Oliver North announced he was running for the Senate in Virginia in 1994, CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer assaulted him with 26 questions about lying in 17 minutes: "How can I know when you are telling the truth?...What's the criteria to know that Oliver North is telling the truth? Only under oath or all the time?"
So how would Bill Clinton fare on the same show April 27? Schieffer asked only 18 questions in the whole show, and didn't ask about Clinton scandals until 20 minutes in. Schieffer never once asked Clinton about lying about anything.
Larry, Meet Lanny. If the White House ever needs a new spokesperson, they could always call Larry King. King did nothing but defend the White House when he had James McDougal and Hillary Clinton as guests on his CNN program.
On April 21, McDougal and King spent time discussing McDougal's claim that President Clinton attended a meeting where he urged David Hale to grant an illegal $300,000 Small Business Administration loan to Susan McDougal. King repeatedly spewed out the best White House spin possible, asking McDougal: "But that day, in that office, wasn't he helping your wife when he said give her the help with that loan, wasn't he doing you a favor?...No matter what the reason, wasn't he doing something nice for your wife?...But that gives you no less feeling about turning the tide?" Later, King asked: "Do you think Mr. Clinton might say President Clinton might say you know, Jim, got me started in this whole thing to begin with. He's the one that called me about Whitewater. I don't know from land deals McDougal took me down this stream."
Things were no different six days later with the First Lady. On possible hush money given to Webster Hubbell, King asked: "A couple of things that you may not want to talk about, but we'll ask them. Mr. Hubbell were you just being a friend?" Later King wondered: "The fundraising, did that surprise you how far the DNC went or were you did you was it knowledgeable to you?"
Pity for Plunderers. Susan McDougal is incarcerated on a contempt of court charge. She could be released tomorrow if she agreed to appear before a grand jury to answer specific questions about Clinton's Whitewater role. You'd think the media would portray her as someone blocking Ken Starr's attempts to get at the truth. Instead, the media portray McDougal as a martyr.
On the April 23 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather introduced their interview: "Susan McDougal says special prosecutor Kenneth Starr is trying to pressure her to lie and implicate the Clintons. She's been jailed for refusing to talk to the grand jury and can be kept as long as the grand jury exists." Reporter Phil Jones conducted the interview via cell phone while standing outside Los Angeles' Sybil Brand Prison because the sheriff allegedly would not let the CBS camera crew inside.
While never explaining why McDougal is being held in California (to face embezzlement charges in a non-Whitewater case), Jones dwelled on her living conditions inside the jail: "She claims she's in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day...There are 12 cells, housing women on charges including murder. McDougal is in cell five. It has an upper and lower bunk, a closet, a sink, and a toilet." Jones noted, hinting at a conspiracy, that a "local judge has issued orders for McDougal to be moved to better facilities, but it never happens." Jones didn't get to the substance of her imprisonment until story's end, and CBS interviewed no one to counter McDougal's self-serving description of her predicament.
Agitators vs. Philanthropists. The April 21 issue of Timemagazine featured its list of the "25 Most Influential" people of 1997. According to Time, if you're a millionaire and you help conservatives, you're contributing to the breakdown of society. If you're a billionaire who gives solely to liberal causes, you're seen as a savior.
On one page Time profiled Richard Scaife, whom the magazine labeled a "Conservative Agitator." His bio began: "If conservative thinkers like Bill Bennett and Paul Weyrich are the brainpower behind the resurgent American right, the horsepower comes from Richard Mellon Scaife. For close to four decades, the 64-year-old Pennsylvanian has used his millions to back anti-liberal ideas and their proponents." Later, Time added: "He controls the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which helps subsidize rabidly anti-Clinton magazines as well as conservative social-policy projects." If Scaife is considered a "conservative agitator," it would follow that George Soros would be tagged a "liberal agitator," but Time's subhead labeled him a "philanthropist." Soros' bio read: "And he has been stirring controversy by directing his dollars to an array of hot-button political causes tied to his personal ideal of an 'open society' and by writing an iconoclastic critique of free-market capitalism." Among the projects promoted by this "philanthropist," Time noted: "$1 million to help pass initiatives in California and Arizona last year that legalized medicinal use of marijuana," and "$50 million for a fund to help legal immigrants" overcome welfare reform.
Planet-Savers vs. Partisans. On Earth Day, both The Washington Post and New York Times focused on conservative Michael Sanera's criticism of left-leaning environmental "education" in schools. But when it came to labeling, it was the same slanted story: Liberals were apolitical "environmentalists," while those favoring more balance were "conservatives." The Post's Joby Warrick described the Sierra Club as simply "the environmental group," echoed by "the California-based Center for a Commercial-Free Public Education." But Sanera's and Jane Shaw's Facts Not Fear was a book "hailed by conservatives."
New York Times reporter John Cushman also cited Sanera as "a policy analyst at the Claremont Institute, a conservative research organization in California" and was complemented by "a conservative research center in Washington, the George C. Marshall Institute." But Cushman left off the labels for Sanera's critics: "Environmentalists argue that nothing short of the future of the planet is at stake." Liberal Environmental Defense Fund activist Michael Oppenheimer called the Marshall Institute document "a distortion," but was not labeled as liberal. Neither was the Wilderness Society, cited merely as a "leading national environmental organization."
A Smoking Double Standard. When Bob Dole gave House Speaker Newt Gingrich a $300,000 loan to cover the Speaker's ethics penalty, Democrats called it a sweetheart deal and some reporters joined the Democratic chorus. On the April 17 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer noted the reaction: "It set off a row on the House floor when Democrats noticed a newspaper story that Dole was joining a law firm that works for tobacco companies." Schieffer then aired a soundbite from Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.): "We now have the chief lobbyist for Big Tobacco financing the payoff of the Speaker's fine for lying to the Congress." Schieffer continued: "Ignoring that allegation, Dole called it a personal gesture."
Substitute anchor Paula Zahn introduced the next report: "The suggestion of some kind of tobacco connection to the Gingrich-Dole loan deal comes as the tobacco industry is reportedly working on a $300 billion deal to settle government and private health lawsuits." The CBS duo failed to note the Washington Post report that the firm Dole joined is "stocked with several heavy-hitting Democrats," including former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former Texas Governor Ann Richards and former Treasury Secretary and VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen.
Easy on Al Gore. CNN's Claire Shipman, soon to join NBC's White House correspondent team, totally ignored the Democratic Party's tobacco connections when she lobbed softballs at Vice President Al Gore on the April 25 Inside Politics. She even left it out of a question on the government's latest tobacco ruling: "First, on the tobacco ruling. That would seem a significant, at least partial, victory for you. But on the advertising front, the fact that the judge says the federal government can't control the tobacco company's advertising, that seems to be a loss, because of course that would have a major impact on influencing young kids to start smoking. Are you disappointed? What can you do about that at this point?" Shipman made no mention of the hypocrisy of Gore's speech at the 1996 Democratic convention claiming he'd fight tobacco to the death as the DNC was soliciting tobacco funds for his campaign.
Shipman worried that Gore's image had been soiled in the fundraising scandals, as if he's an innocent spectator to what happened: "Are you frustrated at all at the impact this seems to be having both the China stories and the campaign finance stories on your own popularity and approval rating? Do you think that that's going to continue to be a problem for you personally, especially as the hearings come up?"
Lovable Hostage-Takers? After the dramatic rescue of hostages at the Japanese Embassy by Tupac Amaru terrorists in Lima, Peru, The Boston Globe sympathized not with the hostages, but with one of the slain terrorists, a young woman named Luz Dina Villoslada. "From a Sense of Injustice to a Rebel's Death: Peruvian Dreamed of a Career as Nurse, but Died in Raid" read the headline. Reporter Steve Fainaru wrote of an ambitious girl who ran with the wrong crowd: "Luz Dina was the only person in her family to graduate from high school."
For years, "she believed a career in nursing would help her to lift her family out of the poverty and violence that had ravaged their village." But "her plan changed dramatically four years ago" after her sister was raped and no charges were filed. "Luz Dina, then 16, joined the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement."
Fairanu asserted Villoslada's life story "provides, if only from the biased perspective of loved ones, an inside portrait of the Tupac Amaru rebels, many of whom were recruited as teenagers, lured by promises of steady cash and payback for injustices committed by the government." He mentioned "the violence that surrounded her," but only detailed government violence: "Relatives said they were often harassed by Peruvian security forces. Soldiers and local police officers sometimes extorted money and were involved in beatings of local farmers."
A less starry-eyed view of Tupac Amaru comes from Mark Falcoff, an American Enterprise Institute Latin America scholar, who detailed in the February 26, 1996 Weekly Standard how they are "a terrorist group that, in recent years, has been involved in assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and attacks against innocent people, many of them poor."
Byrd on Dogs. A major fuss erupted April 15 when a blind aide to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was denied access to the Senate floor with her guide dog, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
CBS anchor Dan Rather announced: "An unidentified Senator's complaint, apparently kept this blind congressional aide, Moira Shea, from entering the Senate chamber yesterday because of her guide dog. Well today she and her dog, Beau, were officially invited in for a brief visit." NBC and ABC named the impeding Senator. NBC's Lisa Myers noted: "Robert Byrd, a zealous guardian of Senate rules, objected." ABC's Peter Jennings also put the best spin on Byrd's objection, saying Byrd is "well known as a stickler for Senate privilege and procedure." One fact skipped by the networks Byrd is a Democrat, a fact not likely ignored if a conservative had been as insensitive.
Revolving Door: Hubbell's Friend
Former NBC News reporter Carl Stern would loan money to Web Hubbell, the former Associate Attorney General who served 18 months for stealing law firm funds. Michael Isikoff, in an April 14 Newsweek story, discovered: "Though he is the highest-ranking Justice official to go to prison since Watergate conspirator John Mitchell, few of his former colleagues speak bitterly about him. 'If Web Hubbell walked in the door today and asked to borrow $100, I'd give it to him,' says Carl Stern, the department's former spokesman."
Before joining the Justice Department in early 1993 as Director of Public Affairs, Stern spent 25 years as a Washington reporter for NBC News, covering the Supreme Court and Justice Department in the 1980s.
I'm Doing Good for Bill
"I like knowing that I'm doing something that will help make a difference in a good way," Clinton speechwriter Carolyn Curiel told a meeting of student reporters at the American Society of Newspaper Editors' (ASNE) convention in April.
Curiel, an editor at the New York Times and Washington Postbefore jumping to television in 1992 as a Nightline producer, long ago wanted to write speeches for a President, but she faced an impediment. As recounted in a report on the ASNE Web site, Curiel "was at The Washington Post when she first confessed to a colleague her interest in a White House speechwriting job. The only problem was that Ronald Reagan was President."
NSC to NBC
NBC News tapped a Clinton Administration spinster to fill the slot of Vice President of Communications. Julia Moffett, Director of Communications for the National Security Council, joined the network news division in April.
Moffett leaves behind a network veteran: Tara Sonenshine, an ABC News producer in Washington for twelve years until coming aboard Clinton's NSC in 1994 as Deputy Director for Communications. In 1995 she revolved back into the media to cover national security issues for Newsweek until spinning back to the NSC again earlier this year to help with the second term transition.
Democratic Pollster for CBS
CBS News has just promoted Dotty Lynch, Political Editor since 1985, to take over the division as Senior Political Editor in charge of the Washington staff of three. On May 8 The Washington Post's John Carmody reviewed her background: "Lynch began her political research career as a researcher for the NBC News election unit in 1968, went on to become Vice President of Cambridge Survey Research, which did polling for the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter...then served as Director of Survey Research for the Democratic National Committee in 1981-83."
Carmody could have added that Lynch also handled polling for Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential run and the 1984 Mondale-Ferraro effort.
ABC's Liberal Web Master
In charge of ABCNEWS.com, ABC's Web site launched in mid-May: Jeff Gralnick, a one-time aide to former liberal Senator George Mc-Govern. Back in 1971 Gralnick toiled as Press Secretary for McGovern. Gralnick soon joined ABC News, rising to Executive Producer of World News Tonight by 1979 and Vice President in 1985. He jumped to NBC in 1993 to serve as Executive Producer of NBC Nightly News. ABC lured him back last year to run their since- scuttled all-news cable channel.
The "balanced budget" plan, Tom Brokaw explained on the May 16 NBC Nightly News, "contains $325 billion dollars in savings from cuts in defense and domestic programs. There will be some new spending involved as well, $32 billion dollars, most of it will go for education and health care.... NBC's David Bloom is telling us tonight the administration's financial analysts are already saying the tax cuts may be too generous for the savings in the budget if they want to keep it all in balance."
Brokaw encapsulated the most common misreporting on the budget deal. A viewer would conclude that the plan cuts spending, with about one-tenth of the amount saved allocated for new spending, leaving tax cuts as a threat to a balanced budget. Wrong on all counts, but Brokaw was not alone. "Spending cuts will include defense, Medicare, Medicaid and housing," insisted Phil Jones the same night on the CBS Evening News.
In fact, as Heritage Foundation budget analyst Scott Hodge discovered, "non-defense discretionary spending will grow by a cumulative $73 billion over the next five years, and defense spending will receive about $23 billion in new funding." As for the promised tax cuts, they amount to "less than one penny for every dollar taxpayers will send to Washington" as taxpayers "will receive only 67 cents in tax relief for every new dollar of spending."
Yet, tax cuts most worried NBC's David Bloom on May 2, the night the plan was un-veiled: "This balanced budget deal was on again, off again over the last 48 hours, but today when Republican leaders in Congress agreed that the tax cuts in the plan would not explode over the next five to ten years, well the deal got done."
The next day, NBC's John Palmer focused on the "worries" of liberals. "There will be money for broader health care coverage and expansion of the Head Start program for pre-schoolers, but critics say that's not enough." He concluded: "Congress still has to vote on the actual appropriations that will directly effect people's lives. And there could be trouble, from those who worry that the budget is weighted too much in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor."
In a surreal report, on the May 3 World News Tonight, ABC's Karla Davis intoned: "The plan calls for $115 billion savings in Medicare. It's the biggest reduction in a social program ever endorsed by a President. Even President Reagan, painted by critics as the destroyer of the social safety net, didn't rein in Medicare spending. It grew from $45 billion to $90 billion during his two terms."
But Davis had just made the same error. Medicare was projected to soar 54 percent over the next five years. The new plan reduces that to 46 percent. Quite a "reduction."
Worries About Welfare Victims
Here's a radical idea for reporters covering welfare: Cover it from the perspective of those paying for it. NBC typically ignored taxpayer concerns in favor of a sob story from a welfare recipient. On the April 10 NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw ominously warned: "In Southern California, the welfare reform requirements could have a disastrous effect. That's the conclusion of a university study out today. Too much expected too soon of too many."
As viewers saw video of an overweight woman walking up some stairs, reporter George Lewis asserted: "April Boyd is a single mom with six children. Because of a hip injury suffered in a car accident she says she's unable to work. Boyd is one of a half a million Los Angeles-area residents who could lose part or all of their welfare benefits."
After airing Boyd's desperate claim that she can no longer work anymore Lewis explained that a USC study predicted welfare reform would "put thousands of people deeper into a life of poverty and overwhelming personal problems." Lewis reeled off some of the dire numbers about unsupported disabled children and how 21,000 more children will end up in foster care.
Although the Census Bureau's 1990 homeless count estimated 235,000 nationwide, Lewis preposterously charged: "And homelessness could rise by as many as 190,000 people. Economically depressed neighborhoods, like L.A.'s skid row, will be hit the hardest. But the prediction is that the economic impact for the entire community could go as high as a billion and a half dollars a year."
Lewis did toss in that Governor Pete Wilson "predicts that most people kicked off welfare rolls will find work," but countered that "April Boyd is not so sure." Boyd said that "if you don't walk in a person's shoes such as myself you'll never know how we feel and what we going through."
NBC never considered what taxpayers are going through. Instead, over more video of a supposedly disabled Boyd going up steps unassisted, Lewis concluded by portraying her and other takers as the victims: "Most everyone thought that overhauling the welfare system would be a good idea. Now, there are new concerns being raised about the human consequences of doing that."
Frontline Finally Arrives
More than four years in, the PBS documentary series Frontlinefinally aired its first program investigating a Clinton administration scandal. In the April 15 program "The Fixers," correspondent Peter Boyer plowed new ground on the Asian fundraising connection of Eugene and Nora Lum of Hawaii.
Boyer explained how the Lums were major Democratic fundraisers among Asian Americans during the 1992 campaign, and came to know party chairman Ron Brown. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, utility regulators with the state Corporation Commission were uncovering a regular pattern of bribery and corruption in the awarding of natural gas contracts, including bribery by Arkla Gas led by Mack McLarty, soon to become White House Chief of Staff.
One gas supplier sued to bring the corruption into the open. In came the Lums, offering to buy the supplier if they'd drop the suit. Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony told PBS the Lums had "no experience, no reserves, and they end up getting a contract to sell enormous volumes of natural gas over a 10-year period of time, and their biggest claim to fame seems to be their political connections....Mack McLarty had a motive and an interest in seeing that these lawsuits and the discovery and the public disclosure go away."
This story was compelling enough to provoke (at least in part) the expired independent counsel probe of Ron Brown, whose son was enriched by the Lums. Boyer is the first TV correspondent to shed any light on these forgotten scandals. Will the other networks care to follow?
Liberals Rule Newsrooms
Newspaper staffs have become even less conservative over the past eight years, a poll for the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) found. But the finding led a media think tank leader to pen an article titled, "The Myth of the Liberal Slant." Last fall, ASNE polled 1,037 journalists at 61 papers of all sizes. Released in April, The Newspaper Journalists of the '90sreport discovered:
"In 1996 only 15 percent of the newsroom labeled itself conservative/Republican or leaning in that direction, down from 22 percent in 1988" when the ASNE last conducted a comprehensive survey. Those identifying themselves as independent jumped from 17 to 24 percent while the percent calling themselves "liberal/Democrat" or "lean" that way held steady, down one point to 61 percent.
The bigger the paper, the more liberal the staff: "On papers of at least 50,000 circulation, 65 percent of the staffs are liberal/Democrat or lean that way. The split at papers of less than 50,000 is less pronounced: still predominantly liberal, but 51-23 percent."
"Women are more likely than men to fall into one of the liberal/Democrat categories," as just 11 percent said they were conservative or leaned that way. Minorities "tend to be more liberal/Democrat," with a piddling 3 percent of blacks and 8 percent of Asians and Hispanics putting themselves on the right. The least liberal: 20 percent of those 50-plus in age were conservative or leaned that way.
Ideological imbalance isn't a concern, however, to ASNE which believes skin color and sex has the most impact on reporting. The poll plugged in three groups as responders were asked "How would you describe your newspaper's commitment to...." The three: "ethnic and race diversity," "gender diversity," and "fairness on sexual orientation."
The January-February edition of ASNE's magazine, The American Editor, included a preview of the results as a sidebar to the cover story denouncing the very thought of liberal bias. Everette Dennis, Senior VP of the Freedom Forum, charged: "There is no convincing evidence that journalists infect their stories intentionally or otherwise with their own political prejudices." Then he dismissed evidence to the contrary: "While a few studies suggest such a link, most are the handiwork of right-leaning groups and critics whose research methods can't withstand scrutiny." Dennis failed to cite any shortcoming in a study by the MRC or any other group.
Ignorance fuels public perception of bias, as Dennis told editors they "need to explain these realities to the public: that the press is guided more by professionalism than by politics, that partisan viruses are often inoculated by the realities of the marketplace, that journalists do, in fact, police each other's behavior." And if that doesn't convince people, he urged more aggressive denial: "The credibility of the media is not suffering because of a liberal bias; it's suffering, in large part, because of the continuing charge of bias that has gone unanswered for too long."
Janet Cooke Award: Volunteerism: A Scam to Mask "Cuts"
The Philadelphia "summit" urging Americans to focus on volunteerism underlined the shallow approach of network news. Thrusting microphones into politicians' faces, the reporters demanded "Is this going to be more than a photo-op?," but the cameras did not arrive to chronicle what would be said as much as who would be there President Clinton, three ex-Presidents, Colin Powell, not to mention Oprah Winfrey.
ABC, CBS, and NBC may have avoided the substance of Clinton scandal coverage, but they did follow White House publicity wishes by making room for 24 evening stories and 45 morning segments in five days surrounding the volunteer summit. But a more political theme emerged, placing the media well to the left of Bill Clinton: volunteerism could never replace government action, and it wouldn't be so necessary if social programs hadn't been slashed over the last 15 years, with special scorn reserved for last year's welfare reform bill. For turning a summit supposedly about individual effort into another statistically challenged sermon for statism, ABC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
On the April 27 World News Tonight, ABC reporter Karla Davis declared: "The Presidents involved in today's summit are the very same people who are being blamed for the state of crisis that's facing the nation's children. Opponents say that a few days of goodwill will not make up for years of neglect. Critics are calling it 'Clinton's Cutback Summit.' Protesters from all over, Indiana, Georgia, New York, gathered in front of Independence Hall to deliver a message of their own."
Davis aired a snippet of Larry Holmes of the National People's Campaign: "Talking about volunteerism sounds like a substitute for the programs that you are cutting and instead of being a good thing, which volunteering should be, it amounts to an attack on social progress."
While ABC has allowed liberal groups and Democrats to denigrate conservatives as "extremists," they made no attempt to explain the National People's Campaign. Founded to attack the Contract with America in 1995, one of the group's most fervent passions is seeking the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. (ABC video showed Abu-Jamal's picture all over the protesters' signs). Isn't championing cop killers "an attack on social progress"? ABC had no time for that question.
Davis continued: "Protester Frank Alexander spent the morning as he does every Sunday feeding the homeless. Advocates for the poor report homelessness is increasing, since President Clinton signed a bill last year to cut welfare by $55 billion over six years." Alexander told the ABC audience: "It's just a hypocritical thing to eliminate social programs and cast millions of people into poverty at the same time you're calling for volunteers."
Davis chose to simply pass on the claims of "advocates for the poor," without asking elementary questions, such as: What social programs are being cut, and which have been cut by Bill Clinton? How can increased homelessness be attributed to last year's welfare reform bill which hasn't gone into effect yet?
While Davis aired a brief snippet of conservative summit backer Arianna Huffington, she had no time for a conservative counter-argument to the protesters' claims of "cuts." The Heritage Foundation argued that in 1996, federal and state spending on 70 means-tested welfare programs "reached over $400 billion, a historic high equaling 5.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Despite political promises to end welfare as we know it, the Clinton budget proposes to increase federal means-tested welfare spending by five percent per year, twice the rate of inflation."
On the next evening's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings continued to tout the theme of leftist protesters: "Among those who find fault with this summit, there is concern that all this enthusiasm for volunteering not be seen as a substitute for what government should do....We asked ABC's Tom Foreman to go to Wichita, Kansas, to see whether pure volunteerism is enough."
Foreman began: "If you ask many people in Wichita, they will say there are more volunteers that work here than ever before. Dozens of people every weekend, fixing up low-income neighborhoods....A hundred people a day delivering Meals On Wheels to the sick and elderly. But 15 years after the government first began retreating from social programs, some volunteers say they have been strained to their limits, especially when it comes to solving the most time- consuming, difficult societal problems."
Proclaimed Nick Mork of Wichita's Big Brothers and Sisters: "There needs to be some support from our government to help solve these problems. The problems are just too large." Foreman explained that after Mork's federal funding "dried up....The number of young people served was cut in half, and the agency has never fully recovered. Today, although 800 kids are being served, as many or more are on the waiting list."
Foreman then abandoned all pretense of news gathering and launched into an editorial: "Many hard-core social problems, such as inadequate health care for children, require a degree of skill, dedication and time most volunteers do not have or will not give....Volunteering for most people means running a bake sale or coaching a soccer team. And as useful as such things are, it is still clear that volunteers cannot shoulder the burden of society's more pressing concerns."
Like Davis, Foreman ignored the many poverty programs whose budgets have grown dramatically in the last five years. Cato Institute budget analyst Stephen Moore has noted that in constant 1995 dollars, all sorts of programs have grown: food stamps (up 53 percent), Medicaid (110 percent), housing assistance (67 percent), and a Clinton favorite, the Earned Income Tax Credit (up 150 percent). Foreman also ignored any substantive philosophical counter-argument from the right, for example, the notion that welfare dependency, not spending cuts, have worsened the plight of the poor; or that an ever-increasing tax burden (now an estimated $2.465 trillion in federal, state, and local taxes in 1997, according to the Tax Foundation) might cause people to work harder to make ends meet, leaving less time for volunteering. Neither Foreman nor Davis returned MediaWatch phone calls.
As if the leftists weren't advertised enough, Jennings repeated after Foreman's story: "Incidentally, there was another gathering on volunteerism here in Philadelphia today, not unimportant at all. Several hundred people attended a people's summit organized by union, government and religious leaders as a reality check on the President's summit, which they called a 'glorified Hollywood photo op.'" The protesters were right about the summit, but also about the summit coverage: for what is a lot of heart-tugging pictures of "cutbacks" without any statistical context but a "photo opportunity"?