In this Issue
Study: Election Year Economic Doom and Gloom; NewsBites: Selective Examination of Justice Selection; Revolving Door: Reason for Frontline's Liberal Line; Networks Come to the Aid of Dukakis; September Cooke Award Recipients Reply; Rather Gems; Are You Better Off; Janet Cooke Award: Bush Bashing: CBS News
Study: Election Year Economic Doom and Gloom
"Americans believe the state of the economy is the most important issue in the presidential campaign," announced Peter Jennings in opening ABC's World News Tonight on September 21. Reporter Ken Prewitt then reviewed the state of the economy, concluding: "When you look at the overall economy, the average American voter is doing fine....and that makes economic issues a difficult pitch for the Democrats." But that didn't prevent numerous other network reporters from emphasizing economic themes matching the Democratic campaign pitch. A MediaWatch study has determined that despite the continuing economic boom, the networks have depicted an overwhelmingly unhealthy economy.
Of 60 feature length stories analyzed from ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews, and NBC Nightly News, from when the primaries ended in early June through October 15, 40 stories, (67 percent), stressed weaknesses in the economy. Only 11, (18 percent), focused on economic strengths, while another nine stories were mixed or neutral in their assessment of the economy. Moreover, the networks have aired more than three times as many negative reports that reinforce Dukakis campaign themes as reports echoing Bush campaign themes.
Stories considered mixed included an August 5 Evening News look at the growing number of temporary workers. Reporter Terry Drinkwater gave both sides: "Companies say the temporaries give them flexibility; some workers agree...But for many other temporaries, the insecurities are so severe, they use their free time to look for a permanent job." CNN's Chris Abel gave a mixed picture of the economic impact of dropping oil prices, concluding: "There are ten states hit hardest by the oil slide... But while the economies in oil-producing states worsen, experts say the oil price drop will mean good news for consumers."
Forty percent of the negative pieces emphasized themes pushed by Dukakis, such as the supposed growth of low pay jobs at the expense of higher paying ones, increasing income inequality, and the inability of the middle class to afford a home. For instance, ABC's Kathleen deLaski vigorously attacked the Reagan legacy on August 31. She announced the census report showing an increase in family income to $31,000 per year, but quickly added, "most of the additional income went to those who were already well off." After interviewing Bob Greenstein of the liberal (though not identified as such) Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, deLaski highlighted the 15.5 percent poverty figure, concluding "the report gives Michael Dukakis some evidence that the poor and middle class are losing ground."
Three days later deLaski was at it again, featuring a group of economic "losers": this time, "urban migrants," workers who have only been able to find jobs far away from home. "So they are being forced to the great outdoors, because their paychecks cannot put a roof over their heads." Her examples included a man who claimed he could not afford housing for his family on an $11 per hour construction income. DeLaski explored only liberal solutions: "public or subsidized housing." Back on June 7 ABC aired back to back stories on how "the dream of owning a home is fading in the 1980's" as values increase far faster than incomes, a theme repeated two months later by CBS.
A trade deficit study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) on October 15 prompted CNN's Patricia Ochs to warn: "One of Ronald Reagan's thorniest economic problems has cost millions of jobs in manufacturing and related industries." With a clear political angle that echoed Dukakis's promise of "good jobs at good wages," Ochs continued: "The jobs lost are good ones; about half pay more than $400 a week." Ochs didn't mention that Labor Department figures show more than two thirds of the jobs created since 1982 pay $20,000 per year or more. Ochs wrapped up with a leading conclusion: "The study is expected to fuel arguments by...Michael Dukakis and other Democrats, that the trade deficit is a growing burden on the U.S. economy, and Americans are already paying."
Viewers could have put the story in better perspective if Ochs mentioned a key fact about EPI: It is headed by Jeffrey Faux, listed by Business Month as an advisor to the Dukakis campaign.
Even when the news was unabashedly good, CBS and CNN managed to add a sour note. On October 7 Dan Rather quickly reported the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percent to 5.4 percent, but then turned to Ray Brady who spent a minute and a half bemoaning the relative decreasing productivity of the American worker. The next day CNN's Dan Blackburn lamented: "Many of the jobs are in the clerical field, or they may involve the hiring of laborers on a daily basis..." Blackburn worried about the future assessment: "For most American workers....the unemployment figures offer at least some assurance. But many economists warn that the 1990s could bring trouble."
Other negative stories did not overtly reflect major Dukakis themes, though a few quoted him. An increase in the discount rate, said Ray Brady, "is the kind of move that is seldom made during an election year, and today Michael Dukakis blamed it on the economic policy followed by the administration." CNN's Lou Waters chimed in: "The move is meant to curb consumer spending and it could pose political problems for Vice President Bush if voters blame Republicans for tighter credit."
NBC, however, was the gloomiest network, with all six of its feature length economic reports accentuating the negative. Reporter Irving R. Levine felt the modest 0.2 percent increase in unemployment for August was misleading, compelling him to inform viewers what he termed the "reality" of the situation. If the Labor Department counted discouraged workers and those who "work part time because they can't find a full-time job," as out of work, "the unemployment rate would not be 5.6 percent," but much more.
A more realistic picture occasionally slipped through. On October 7 ABC's Ken Prewitt offered viewers a rare positive analysis of the employment situation. Prewitt explained that one in six people counted as unemployed are briefly unemployed between permanent jobs; half find jobs in less than six weeks. Five of the eleven positive stories analyzed reinforced themes like this, topics Bush highlighted: the record percentage of people employed, low inflation and rising family income. On October 5, Brady had offered this encouraging assessment: "Labor experts say, if you're just starting out....this is the best time to be looking for work in 20 years."
A CBS News/New York Times poll showed voters, by a margin of 51 to 38 percent, preferred Bush over Dukakis as the man to help the economy most and a September Gallup poll showed 54 percent of Americans believe they personally will be better off a year from now. But with the media distorting and misrepresenting the national picture, small wonder that only 24 percent believe the country as a whole will be better off.
NewsBites: Selective Examination of Justice Selection
Selective Examination of Justice Selection. NBC News asked law correspondent Carl Stern to compare the effect of a Bush versus a Dukakis presidency on the Supreme Court.
Noting "three of the four liberal justices" will "be in their eighties and unlikely to remain through the next presidency," Stern offered this analogy to predict the standard Bush will apply when selecting new justices: "Bush broke a tie vote in the Senate to confirm Appeals Court Judge Daniel Manion, an obscure conservative opposed by the deans of 44 law schools."
As for Bush's opponent, Stern was more assuring in his October 10 story: "Dukakis, as Governor of Massachusetts, used a non-partisan advisory commission in naming judges, and says he would do the same as President."
Bush League Evaluation. NBC's Robert Bazell wasn't about to let George Bush claim the environmental high ground. For the October 12 Nightly News Bazell reviewed the environmental record of the two presidential candidates. Emphasizing an endorsement Dukakis received from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Bazell then went on to give the LCV's report card on the presidential contenders. Dukakis earned a 'B', but the LCV slapped Bush with a 'D' for his "actions as chairman of President Reagan's Task Force on Regulatory Reform." But Bazell never identified the LCV's liberal agenda, instead he described it as "a non-partisan political action committee representing several environmental groups."
A quick look at the annual congressional ratings the LCV issues shows that the Congressmen who garner perfect 100 ratings from the LCV are liberals, such as Barney Frank, Patricia Schroeder, and Henry Waxman.
On the other hand, Jack Kemp, Orrin Hatch, William Armstrong, Trent Lott and other conservatives who balance economic costs with environmental benefits only get a 20 or less. Bush's grade on the environment can't be any lower than Bazell's mark for fairness.
POST's Predictable Preference. The Washington Post, which backed Mondale in 1984, refused to endorse either Dukakis or Bush. But just over a week before the election the Post's Ombudsman confirmed what any reader already realized about the paper's reporting staff.
In his weekly column for the October 30 "Outlook" section, Richard Harwood wrote: "The huge newsroom staff, thought (by me) to be viscerally Democratic and L------ in its sympathies, lurks in the wings as sort of a silent, nonvoting regiment of Jiminy Crickets, peering, in a metaphorical sense, over the shoulders of the editorial custodians of the newspapers's 'soul.' They would, if given a vote, go like a shot, I suspect, for Dukakis."
HOLLYWOOD's Campaign. Left-wing activist Tom Hayden, better known as Jane Fonda's husband, decided to organize a celebrity bus caravan to register voters. The "Star Spangled Caravan" traveled from rally to rally in California, Oregon and Washington to sign up Democrats to vote for Dukakis.
TV and movie stars on the bus included: Justine Bateman and Michael Gross of Family Ties, Goldie Hawn, Eddie Albert, Howard Hessman of Head of the Class, Morgan Fairchild, Lloyd Bridges, John Ratzenberger of Cheers, Moonlighting's Bruce Willis, and "ratpackers" Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson. Several other stars, including Sally Field, Richard Gere and Daryl Hannah have accompanied Dukakis during California campaign swings.
The George Bush campaign managed to find a few celebrities willing to publicly back his candidacy. Among them: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Telly Savalas and Cheryl Ladd. The liberal culture that predominates Hollywood helped Dukakis out in other ways. Burt Lancaster along with Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of L.A.Law volunteered to star in pro-ACLU ads. But the Bush campaign had to scrap counter ads. Why? Because, as Bush entertainment liaison Rene Henry explained in the October 17 Los Angeles Times, "some very big names" declined, for fear of being blackballed for going after an institution considered sacred by the Hollywood Left.
Media Issue. Politicians from both sides of the aisle had plenty of complaints about how the media, especially the networks, covered and influenced the presidential campaign. Their most frequent criticisms: First, TV stories focused too much on soundbites at the expense of probing "the issues." Second, self created news, namely polls that became the lead story on the network which commissioned them. Indeed, only CNN reported the results of polls conducted by their competitors. Newsweek realized the media had become a major issue. Five of 15 questions in a presidential campaign poll published in the October 31 issue concerned the media's role. One finding: More Americans blame the media than the candidates or their managers for "negative aspects of this year's campaign."
Taking Civil Liberties. George Bush used Michael Dukakis' status as a self-professed "card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)" as proof the Massachusetts Governor held liberal views. At various times Bush pointed out that the union's policy guide asks that the private movie rating system (PG, R etc.) be eliminated, demands a ban on public display of nativity scenes and the menorah, urges an end to tax exemptions for churches, and calls for the legalization of drugs. All positions which most Americans find abhorrent.
But the same media outlets that demanded Reagan judicial appointments repudiate affiliations with discriminatory clubs, didn't see anything for the ACLU or Dukakis to be ashamed of; in fact they ignored those positions and portrayed the ACLU as a non-political group fighting for those oppressed by government action. An October 10 Newsweek article offered this innocuous description: "The organization is devoted to upholding the rights of any individual -- no matter how odious his or her views."
NBC Nightly News devoted an entire story to the ACLU. On September 27 Carl Stern gave Robert Bork a few seconds to denounce the union, but most of the piece presented it as a group that upsets all segments of society equally: "More than 60 years ago it sided with John Scopes when he was prosecuted for teaching evolution. More than 40 years ago it opposed World War II internment of Japanese Americans. Ten years ago it defended the rights of American Nazi's to march in Illinois and currently it is defending the fair trail rights of Oliver North."
In fact, a recent direct mail letter put together before the campaign furor erupted and signed by Executive Director Ira Glasner began: "If you thought the eight year struggle against the right-wing extremists of the Reagan era was already won... THINK AGAIN." So much for political neutrality.
Dumping on the Environment. Is the environment getting better or worse? If you rely on ABC News you may be confused. In a September 8 Special, "Burning Issues: "The Poisoning of America," host Hugh Downs warned it was time to "sound an alarm" on the problem of toxic waste.
Reporter Greg Dobbs relayed the expected dire media line: "Victims of Love Canal in New York, stamped forever on our memories and on our environment. Forgotten old buried waste, toxic fumes, chromosome damage in 30 percent of the citizens tested....And, from Times Beach, Missouri, dioxin-tainted oil to coat the dusty roads. It spreads in a flood: a chance of cancer in a community."
But that completely contradicted a segment last month on the same network's 20/20 show. Downs introduced a report with another kind of warning. He asked: "Have fear and hysteria replaced common sense?" Consumer reporter John Stossel provided this answer: "Now the EPA says dioxin may be 16 times less dangerous than they thought during the Times Beach scare....And then there's the most famous case, Love Canal....Everyone was certain that toxic waste there had already caused birth defects and cancer....But several years later, the Center for Disease Control did a more scientific assessment of the dangers and said the cancer rates of Love Canal residents were no higher than average." Dobbs told MediaWatch he was "not familiar with Stossel's report." Nonetheless Dobbs described his work as "accurate." Stossel also stands by his version. Who is right? As Stossel explained to MediaWatch: "There are plenty of stories out there that say 'isn't it awful we're all dying.' I don't know how well researched any of them are."
Better World for Abortion. TBS Chairman Ted Turner delved into politics in 1985 by forming the Better World Society (BWS), a group whose Board of Directors includes several well-known world communist leaders. Just last year, Turner invited Communist China's Vice Chairman of the State Family Planning Association, Zhou Boping, to join. So it's no wonder that Zhou Boping's group, an official arm of the communist regime, received one of BWS' Better World Medals this year.
The award, to be presented at a gala event in New York City in late November, was earned for China's "work at the grassroots level in educating and motivating communities to adopt the government's family planning policy." Sounds harmless enough. But what did BWS neglect to mention? The agency oversees the one-child population control policy which has led to death for over ten million unborn children each year through the regimes's forced infanticide program.
Revolving Door: Reason for Frontline's Liberal Line
Reason for Frontline's Liberal Line? The October 23 Washington Post TV Week profile of Sherry Jones, Senior Producer of Frontline on PBS, contained a telling revelation about her background. Her first job in Washington: press aide to then Senator Fred Harris, an Oklahoma Democrat, back in 1971. She's worked on numerous PBS productions with Bill Moyers. Her Frontline shows include the 1987 anti-Contra diatribe "War on Nicaragua."
Jones also just finished producing a program for Ted Turner's Better World Society (BWS). A co-production with the far-left Union of Concerned Scientists, "Mandate from Main Street: Americans Advise the Next President" aired twice before the election on cable's Superstation TBS. The purpose of the show? According a BWS newsletter: recognize "that the next President must treat deep, far-reaching arms reductions as his highest priority."
The Post's Duke. Christopher Edley Jr., Issues Director for the Dukakis campaign, helped formulate the positions of The Washington Post as an editorial page writer in 1983-84. A Harvard University law professor since, he worked for Carter's re-election team and as an assistant to HHS Secretary Patricia Harris.
On the Conservative Side. Robert Bork Jr., son of the Supreme Court nominee and a former U.S. News & World Report Associate Editor for economic news, has landed a new job in politics. He's begun writing speeches for Senator Gordon Humphrey, a New Hampshire Republican. For the past year Bork's been a Visiting Fellow with the Heritage Foundation.
Hunt for Capital Gang. When Bob Novak left McLaughlin Group to start CNN's Capital Gang he called upon two journalists to hold down the liberal side of the Saturday evening talkshow: Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt and Washington Post columnist Mark Shields, once a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy. Helping him out on the right: Pat Buchanan, co-host of Crossfire. MediaWatch commends CNN for creating another opportunity for viewers to hear both conservative and liberal analysis of political events. Maybe the other networks should consider following CNN's lead. Initial ratings show a more than 30 percent jump for the timeslot.
Rosenblatt Responds. The September MediaWatch Revolving Door item, "Reagan-Basher for Editor," reported how Roger Rosenblatt, new U.S. News & World Report Editor, called the Reagan Administration "a dangerous failure." In a letter to MediaWatch Rosenblatt argued that a look at "several essays in Time of the past eight years" would "discover as many instances of my admiration for the President as examples of my displeasure." He concluded: "My point is not to complain about your phrase, which is based on a complete quotation, accurately reported. I merely wanted to assure your readers that U.S. News is in the hands of someone who intends to take an even-handed approach on all issues, political and otherwise." MediaWatch will keep reading.
Networks Come to the Aid of Dukakis
Mad at the Ads
In the final weeks of the campaign the television networks focused attention on the "dirty" campaign led by "divisive" and "negative" Bush commercials. Reporters debated why Dukakis let the charges "go unanswered" for so long, but when Dukakis labeled Bush campaign assertions he's soft on defense and crime "garbage," several network correspondents moved quickly to help the Democratic candidate discredit the ads.
On October 19 ABC rushed Richard Threlkeld onto World News Tonight to correct all the alleged errors in an anti-Dukakis spot best known as the "tank" ad. Over video of a tie-clad Dukakis riding in a tank, the Bush ad began: "Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we developed." Threlkeld countered: "In fact, he supports a range of new weapons, including the Trident II missile." The commercial continued: "He opposed four missile systems, including the Pershing Two missile deployment." Not so, "Dukakis opposes not four systems, but two, as expensive and impractical, and never opposed Pershing Two," Threlkeld charged. "Dukakis opposed the Stealth bomber," the announcer asserted. "In fact," Threlkeld insisted, "Dukakis has supported the Stealth bomber."
So who was telling the truth? A week later NBC's Lisa Myers referred to a Bush press conference where "the campaign provided quotations from Dukakis to show he once opposed all those weapon systems as the ad states." Did ABC balance the Threlkeld story by citing this documentation? No, viewers received just this vague reference from reporter Brit Hume: "The Bush campaign sent out a team Bush spokesmen to display what they claimed was documentation for all of Bush's TV ads."
The Bush campaign also provided evidence to back up their prison furlough ads. But that had little effect. Within days CBS Evening News was back to portraying the Dukakis program and Willie Horton's release as typical. On the November third reporter James Hittori declared: "In Texas, George Bush's adopted home state, 5,000 inmates, including hundreds convicted of murder and manslaughter, have received furloughs over the past two years under a Republican Governor." Like virtually every other network story on the policy, CBS ignored the fact Dukakis fought against changing the provision that made the unique Massachusetts program a campaign issue: It was the only state to furlough first degree murderers sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
September Cooke Award Recipients Reply
Two ABC reporters received the September Janet Cooke Award for stories on Sen. Dan Quayle's background. Each, however, reacted far differently to the honor.
In a letter to MediaWatch, Nightline correspondent Judd Rose agreed "the depiction of what I said and who I spoke with was, by and large, accurate," but complained "the comments that I made to [MediaWatch] on the phone were out of context and certainly not faithful to the spirit of what I was saying."
Rose cited several examples before concluding with this colorful rebuke: "Taking a quote out of context is something that has happened before, and no doubt, will happen again. But since you squeaky-clean watch-dogs at MediaWatch are so concerned about our conduct, I wonder why you aren't more conscious of your own... Again I'm flattered that your publication would honor me with this dubious award. But forgive me, gentlemen. Having only been in Washington for a bit under one year, I'm not as accustomed as some of my colleagues to your narrow, neanderthal, and slanted perception of what you see in the news media. Consider me educated."
ABC News colleague John Martin noted what he felt was one omission in our story, but felt the article was balanced and fair: "I've just read your piece giving me the Janet Cooke Award. While I don't relish receiving the award, and don't believe I deserve it, I wanted you to know I felt you did a good job. You took the time to ask my views; you obviously spoke with [former Indianapolis News Editor M. Stanton] Evans at length; you attempted to assess both sides; you included my side of the story. That's all a journalist asks."
Here is a sampling of the insights Dan Rather offered viewers when he anchored CBS News election night coverage.
"In Georgia, Bush has cut through Dukakis's hopes like a jackknife through peaches."
"In the national vote...if those margins stayed that way, it would be an absolute tee-total-me-mortal blowout for George Bush."
"George Bush, out of the blocks about as fast as Flo-Jo, our great runner in the Olympics."
"Our CBS News estimate is that incumbent Republican Senator William Roth has beaten off the challenge of Lieutenant Governor S.B. Woo. Who? Woo."
"For Michael Dukakis, it isn't over for him, but his back's to the wall, his shirt tail's on fire, and the bill collector is at the door."
"In Nebraska, George Bush turns out to be the best milker on the farm getting the 5 electoral votes out here."
"Fish have to swim, birds got to fly, and Republicans have to win in Arizona, George Bush does, gets its 7 electoral college votes."
"Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, seeking a third term, has beaten back lawyer Robert McMillan. We say 'beaten back McMillan,' a lot of people thought that McMillan had as much business in this race as a moose in a phone booth."
"Well Bob [Schieffer], correct me if I'm wrong, but Wyoming's had a, both Senators been a Republican since well before Trigger was a colt."
Are You Better Off?
TIME Says No
"For much of the middle class," Time headlined an October 10 article on the Reagan years, "the answer is no." Senior Writer George Church argued "the gap between rich and poor is still growing -- to its wildest point in 40 years, according to the calculations of some liberal economists. And that trend is alarming" since it threatens "the American dream itself." The middle class "has been shrinking" Church wrote, "as some of its members fall into poverty and others acquire wealth."
Church charged: "Reagan's tax cuts only worsened the skew. Though income tax rates were reduced in all brackets, the cuts were toward the upper income end of the scale." His authority: a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study showing "only the top ten percent of the population received a significant net tax cut between 1977 and 1988" while "the poorest tenth of workers saw 20 percent more of their income swallowed by taxes."
How solid is the Time case for class resentment? Figures from other authoritative sources prove opposite trends. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, released in June, determined: "America's middle class has been shrinking since 1969, but mainly because more families have moved to the upper class."
In short, syndicated economics columnist Warren Brookes pointed out, the middle class "is vanishing upward even as the percent in the lower class is declining." Brookes explained that "means since 1981 America has finally returned to its traditional pattern of strong upward mobility--a pattern that was in fact in the 1970s by soaring inflation and taxes."
Why didn't the CBO analysis used by Time reflect that? It distorted post 1980 trends by not treating 1977-81 and 1981-86 separately. IRS figures show that under Carter the shares of taxes paid by the top one percent fell as the percent paid by the poor shot up 15 percent. Thanks to the tax cuts, the share paid by the poorest group fell 14 percent as the burden for the richest jumped from 18 to 26 percent.
Time offered the usual liberal solution: Raise taxes to pay for middle class aid programs while "making the wealthy pay a large share." An accompanying article by Associate Editor, Richard Stengel, asserted that to save the "underclass" a "new agency is needed, a revitalized Jobs Corps along the lines of a Works Projects Administration."
Janet Cooke Award: Bush Bashing: CBS News
George Bush has been on the receiving end of plenty of disparaging stories. CBS News correspondent Bob Faw, however, earns the November Janet Cooke Award for a particularly one-sided and misleading Evening News piece which parroted the Dukakis campaign line on Bush's inexperience and inability to lead.
"George Bush has talked up the many jobs he's held in government as one reason he'd be good at the top job as President," Dan Rather told viewers on September 25, cautioning, "Bob Faw has been checking the facts on Bush's resume." Faw began with eight month old Bob Dole primary campaign commercial which stated: "They call them footprints, these marks of achievement. Isn't it interesting that George Bush has never left a single footprint behind."
Faw picked up on the theme: "Bush's detractors say it's still true. While Bush showed up for work, he really didn't get that much done, scarcely made an impression at all." To support his claim, Faw brought on two prominent Democrats, Senator Howell Heflin and Carter CIA Director Stansfield Turner. Heflin sarcastically asserted that Bush has left footprints -- "tippy-toe" ones. Turner, who Faw failed to label a Democrat, characterized Bush as "a lightweight" and a man who "had not absorbed any of those details." Faw quoted a Washington Post survey of 200 "Bush associates" which concluded that Bush was "a nice guy who was often detached, who rarely tried to master the subject matter."
Only one minute, or 29 percent, of the three and one half minute report touched on Bush's accomplishments. Senator Phil Gramm and Nixon confidant Leonard Garment were given just ten seconds together to support Bush. Liberal Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker got two ten second segments, one of which echoed Faw's anti-Bush theme. After listing the positions held by Bush: Vice President, U.N. Ambassador, CIA Director, Ambassador to China and Republican National Committee Chairman, Faw brought on Duke University professor James David Barber to present what Faw portrayed as an objective view. Barber said: "Another person, I think, in those jobs, would have defined them as a chance for major leadership of policy innovation, that Bush did not." Barber asked: "Is that plausible, that he's been a secret Superman with the shirt underneath his regular shirt, and now it's going to be revealed?" Barber answered his own question: "Don't put your faith in the idea that there's going to be a new Bush."
Who is Barber? Faw labeled him a "noted scholar of the presidency." Indeed, he has written extensively on the presidency, but even New York Times columnist R.W. Apple describes him as a "liberal presidential scholar." Barber has also played a prominent role in the "neoliberal" movement, attending a strategy session of prominent politicos in late 1983 designed to "match their evolving ideas with a constituency they feel is waiting to a mobilized," according to the New York Times.
In a March 9, 1987 Time interview, Barber charged that "Reagan has been guilty of misleading people," that he displays "indifference to the facts in significant areas of public policy," while his "rhetoric is far removed from reality." Barber admitted to MediaWatch that he is a registered Democrat, but denied there is ever any political motivation behind his television appearance or his writing: "I'm not coming on there as some sort of idealogue, but as a scholar."
Throughout the report Faw concurred with Barber and Bush's detractors. In between Barber soundbites, Faw observed: "No one doubts that Bush was a good soldier. The doubts are whether a good follower is necessarily a good leader."
His conclusion was just as powerful. With the use of an anonymous source. Faw dismissed everything Bush defenders said on the air: "His critics counter that what Bush did or didn't do in previous jobs speak louder than any words. 'We keep dreaming that someone who's 64 can change character,' said one, 'and we keep getting fooled.'" When MediaWatch spoke with Faw, he defended his characterization of Barber as a scholar: "I don't know anyone in America who would dispute the fact that he is a distinguished scholar of the presidency." Pressed about whether it was accurate to present Barber as objective given his liberal views and associations, Faw refused to yield: "To say that Barber is partisan is really reaching. If you're going to use that argument I guess you can't put anyone on the air."
Faw denied the piece mimicked the Democratic line or that he had any partisan intentions in reporting on Bush. Faw noted that Lesley Stahl did a piece earlier in the week that "tore apart" the Dukakis record in Massachusetts. That's not entirely true. Stahl tried to find out why the Governor was so unpopular in his won state. She found people upset about policies he implemented and resentment over his presidential run. In contrast to Faw's attack, she did not dig up partisan attacks on his character and fitness for office.
It seems Faw's litmus test for balance is simply that he put on Republican sources at times in the piece: "What we did was try to speak with a number of people who have either positive or negative things to say about the job that he did and that's exactly what the media ought to do. If I had gone on there to give just my opinion, brought up one side and not the other, which you're going to say we did so I don't know why we are having this conversation, but in any event it was what we thought was a balanced piece...It gave the chance for someone sitting at home to perhaps scratch his head and say "humph" and think about it."
Faw was right. We are going to say it: Faw promoted his own negative opinions about Bush. It's evident in the amount of time he gave to Bush detractors and his commentary throughout. A viewer couldn't help but come away scratching his head and having a negative impression of George Bush. Most indicative of how Faw really saw Bush and his record was his use of an anonymous source in his conclusion. Asked why he didn't name the person, Faw reached for this excuse: "I didn't think the people would recognize the name and at the time I didn't have the two or three seconds to name him."