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MediaWatch: November 1989

Vol. Three No. 11

NewsBites: Doug's Donors

DOUG'S DONORS. In his successful attempt to become the nation's first black Governor, Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder received a bonanza of positive national publicity in his race against Republican Marshall Coleman, particularly on the issue of abortion. Some in the national media even decided to put their money where their free air time is. Ed Bradley of CBS' 60 Minutes and MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour anchor Charlayne Hunter-Gault contributed to Wilder's campaign. Hunter-Gault gave $700, and Bradley pitched in $500.

As columnist Cal Thomas noted in mid-October, CBS prohibits employees from becoming "publicly associated with any candidate," and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions (MLP) insists that their staffers not "engage in any activity that would compromise or appear to compromise MLP's commitment to unbiased reporting." Yet neither reporter has been publicly reprimanded.

ALL WOMEN NOT CREATED EQUAL. Which women's groups' meetings rate network coverage? Only liberal ones. In July, 1,500 pro-choice National Organization for Women delegates in Cincinnati drew evening news coverage from ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. Nightly News sent Lisa Myers, a leading political reporter, to cover the story. When the leftist National Women's Political Caucus met in St. Paul in August, ABC, CBS, and CNN carried the story on their evening broadcasts. CBS had Chief Political Correspondent Bruce Morton on the scene.

On November 4, the conservative Concerned Women for America celebrated its tenth anniversary with a national convention linked by satellite to 180 cities across the country. 50,000 members participated, and they heard speeches from George Bush, Pat Buchanan, and William Bennett. But you wouldn't know that from watching the network news: none bothered to cover a mass gathering of non-liberal, pro-life American women.

HOME PRICE HYPE. On the October 12 Evening News, CBS economics reporter Ray Brady proved he can find the cloud round any silver lining.

In 1988, the CBS Evening News aired two stories on the rapid rise of home prices. In August, David Dow cited growing demand and low unemployment as reasons for price increases of up to 20 percent per year. Last October, Bruce Morton followed then-candidate Michael Dukakis to a home where a college educated couple lived with parents because despite good jobs, they couldn't afford a home.

Now, home prices are falling, so Brady is naturally focusing on the laments of the sellers. Brady's current analysis: "In the past, the American dream of owning your own home always had a sequel: live in it, then sell it at a huge profit...another dream has faded."

WEDTECH WATCH. Whenever the opportunity arises, some journalists are still out to bash Reagan. A good case in point: recent ABC and Time magazine coverage of the WedTech fraud and conspiracy convictions. On October 17, ABC anchor Peter Jennings declared "Another personality associated with the Reagan Administration is going to prison. E. Robert Wallach was sentenced to six years today." Wallach, Jennings explained, "was an associate of the former Attorney General Edwin Meese." The October 30 Time pointedly called Wallach "a longtime crony" of Meese.

However, when New York Democratic Congressman Robert Garcia was convicted on October 20, did ABC and Time bother to identify Garcia as an "associate" of the corrupt House leadership or even as a Democrat? Nope. World News Tonight substitute anchor Ted Koppel simply noted that "a Congressman from New York City was convicted today of conspiracy and extorting more than a 175,000 dollars in payoffs." For Time, Garcia was an "embattled Bronx Congressman."

WHAT'S NEWS? As pro-life activists introduced legislation to restrict abortions in many states in the post-Webster era, the national media have selectively judged the importance of the results. When subcommittees in the Florida House blocked all of Governor Bob Martinez' initiatives in early October, all networks paid close attention.

ABC, NBC, and CNN led their October 10 newscasts with the story, with CBS giving it sixth billing. The following night ABC, NBC, and CBS included the story in the opening segments of their newscasts. Their morning shows also filled a good portion of air time predicting, reporting, and analyzing the pro-abortion victory. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning each had 13 stories or interviews on the legislation in a four-day period. NBC's Today was only slightly less impressed, airing 12 stories. All of the networks described the votes as indicative of a national pro-abortion shift.

WHAT'S NOT NEWS? The Pennsylvania House passed restrictions on abortion two weeks later on October 25. But the media just couldn't find time to focus on the pro-life triumph. The three morning shows mentioned the vote only nine times, as opposed to the 38 devoted to the Florida session. The evening newscasts buried the outcome, with ABC placing the story seventh in their rotation and CBS relegating it to 12th billing. Both networks dismissed the importance of the vote, citing the state's heavy Catholic population.

NBC went even further, failing to mention the pro-life victory until the following day, when Andrea Mitchell managed one sentence in a report on the House's failure to override President Bush's veto of Medicaid funding for abortion. Despite the twin setbacks, Mitchell concluded "the pro-choice movement believes it has won public support and a powerful weapon to use against the President."

The networks also virtually ignored the Michigan Senate's vote to require parental consent for teenage abortions. CNN made it the third story on October 25, but NBC and Mitchell allowed only a token sentence in the Medicaid report. ABC and CBS managed to fill their newscasts without even mentioning the Michigan legislation.

GUMBEL'S FUMBLE. NBC's Today Co-host Bryant Gumbel, in the Dan Rather tradition of respectful interviewing, recently assaulted Rev. Ralph Abernathy for his new book, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Attempting to downplay Abernathy's revelations of Martin Luther King's sexual adventures, Gumbel first taped, but never used, an Abernathy interview without once discussing the sex controversy.

Then, after black leaders began renouncing Abernathy as the 'Judas' of the movement, Gumbel conducted a live interview on the October 17 show which focused entirely on those four pages. He repeatedly tried to get Abernathy to renounce or apologize for his accounts, running over the next two planned segments in order to get enough time to continue his line of questioning.

When Abernathy noted that King's exploits were "common knowledge," Gumbel retorted, "It would better stated, perhaps, to say that it was common accusation." He claimed that those pages "just as easily could have been left out...one could argue that your writings prove nothing." Abernathy explained that he included the unflattering sections because, "our Bible tells us very, very clearly, 'he shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'...I was trying to tell the true story that would not diminish the authenticity of my book." Gumbel chose instead to quote a movie line: "When the truth collides with a legend, print the legend." When Abernathy criticized his detractors, such as Jesse Jackson, Gumbel sputtered incredulously, "I don't think I'm hearing all this." Gumbel's hearing likely would have been fine had Abernathy fed him the traditional liberal "civil rights" fare.

GREEN EUGENE. The editors at Time continue their self-proclaimed advocacy of what they call "the gospel of environmentalism." In an October 23 "Endangered Earth" article, New York-based correspondent Eugene Linden preached prevention of the yet-to-be- proven "greenhouse effect" without using one official source.

Who did he cite? Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, the Environmetal Policy Institute, and the World Resources Institute -- all left-leaning prophets of environmental catastrophe. There is no shortage of climatologists and environmental experts skeptical of grim greenhouse forecasts. It's too bad the news- consuming public has never heard of them.

ABC'S ANC. How would you describe a gang of ruthless international terrorists which kills women and children with car bombs and burning 'necklaces' while working (with Moscow's backing) to overthrow a Western government and replace it with a Soviet-leaning one? If you're ABC's Peter Jennings you call them a "black nationalist movement which has led the fight for equal rights in South Africa since 1912." That's how he described the African National Congress on the October 16 World News Tonight.

The story's hook was the unconditional release of Walter Sisulu and six other ANC leaders from prison which ABC correspondent Richard Serge covered in more detail. Neither Jennings nor Serge mentioned Sisulu's membership in the ANC's terrorist wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or the fact that Sisulu was convicted of planning sabotage and revolution. Instead, Serge simply noted, "the veteran leader told school children in Soweto they needed to get a good education so they can play a meaningful role in building a new South Africa." Serge didn't mention the ANC often trains children as young as 13 to murder political opponents.

THE AD FAD. As political battles depend more and more on the exchange of television commercials, the ads have become the news. But the networks have been giving the advantage to liberal ads on the news, in effect giving liberal campaigns an advantage in free advertising.

Take, for example, the race for Governor of Virginia, where ads extolling Democratic candidate Douglas Wilder were balanced by ads for Republican candidate Marshall Coleman only twice, on ABC's World News Tonight November 5 and 6.

But Wilder ads were aired by the networks seven times on the nightly news without airing a Coleman ad in response. Among the culprits were CNN's Eugenia Halsey and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Lisa Myers, who did it twice. CBS Chief Political Correspondent Bruce Morton did it three times, running one in a November 2 report, and using two in a report on election night before the polls closed.

RACIST, SEXIST RIGHT WING. The news staff at The Wall Street Journal redefined the ideological spectrum in an October 30 story headlined "Reagan Era Young Hold Liberal Views." The source of this supposed sea change, a University of Chicago study, admitted the younger generation are "indeed somewhat more pro-Reagan and pro-Republican that other adults," but argued that this "does not translate into support for conservatism in general or into conservative positions on feminist and civil rights issues."

The Journal reported the Reagan generation are "firmly liberal on race and gender" because 66 percent of the young people surveyed opposed racial discrimination in housing. Another 70 percent disagreed with the statement "men are emotionally better suited to politics than women." So conservatives believe the opposite?

PANIC PAYS. Panic won the day when the far-left Christic Institute and Jeremy Rifkin's anti-technology Foundation on Economic Trends filed suit to block the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. Grabbing headlines and camera time with wild scenarios of radiation catastrophe, the groups got maximum news coverage with minimum challenge.

During the peak of media attention in the second week of October, none of the networks investigated the history of the plaintiffs or identified the groups as leftist or even liberal. Generic terms prevailed: NBC preferred "environmentalists," while ABC, CBS, and CNN used "anti-nuclear activists." (The September 28 Los Angeles Times was the champion in generic labeling, describing the Christic Institute as a "Washington-based public interest law firm.")

When the case was dismissed as scientifically baseless, none of the networks noted it was the third time this year the Christics have been thrown out of court for a frivolous lawsuit. By giving the leftists serious coverage, the networks demonstrated that scientific scares can play well in the media, even if they don't play so well in court.

ELLERBEE ABORTS SPEECH. The Austin chapter of the Texas Women's Chamber of Commerce invited former NBC and ABC reporter Linda Ellerbee to speak in October, but she declined. Why would this outspoken feminist refuse to address a gathering of successful businesswomen? USA Today reported on October 12 that Ellerbee was offended by the Chamber's decision to rescind an invitation to Phyllis Dunham, member of the Texas Abortion Rights Action League, since they did not want to give any hint as to where they stood on the issue. Ellerbee explained: "I would not want my coming to be mistaken as an endorsement of an anti-choice stand in any way."

IN REHNQUIST'S FACE. Roger Wilkins, a member of the Pulitzer Prize Award selection committee from 1981 to 1989, thinks little of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, judging by an article in the November Mother Jones. Wilkins, a senior fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies, derided the Senate for ignoring a "plentitude of evidence suggesting Justice Rehnquist was a moral incompetent."

Wilkins complained: "Now, in the abstract, cruel, and triumphant voice of William Rehnquist's Court, the country is proclaiming the re-enthronement of white male hegemony." In Pulitzer Prize winning fashion, Wilkins wrote, "though William Rehnquist is in my face, my great-grandparents, my children, and my great grandchildren are in my heart." Wilkins recommended: "We must pay our debts to the past and meet our obligations to the future by fighting the Rehnquist Court and everything it represents."

STANLEY FREED. We are glad to report that in late October American journalist W. Scott Stanley was released pending trial by Namibian authorities. Stanley, a former Editor of Conservative Digest and Editor-in-Chief of the wire service American Press International, was in Namibia to testify on behalf of a free press there when he was arrested and had his passport confiscated on October 3.

Las month, MediaWatch wondered "how many of those who regularly champion free speech" would protest. Well, many did, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which sent a telex to South African President F. W. deKlerk declaring: "World opinion condemns governments that try or imprison journalists who are acting in accordance with internationally recognized rights providing for freedom of expression."