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MediaWatch: November 1989

Vol. Three No. 11

Janet Cooke Award: Time to Spend More

We read with interest Washington Deputy Bureau Chief Laurence Barrett's article "Dog Bites Dog Journalism" in the October 30 Time. Barrett accused us of distorting the facts in awarding Time the July Janet Cooke Award over the controversy surrounding Lee Atwater and the now famous Foley memo. In a vindictive spirit (we suppose), Barrett asserted in the October 30 piece: "MediaWatch's conviction is that the national press corps is a left-wing cabal bent on discrediting conservatives."

Countering the media's frequent attacks on conservatives and their policies is fundamental to our mission. As important is the need to stem the media's peddling of the liberal public policy agenda. As for "left-wing cabal" -- nice choice of words...

So to what part of the left-wing cabal are we awarding the Janet Cooke Award this month? None other than Time for an article in its October 23 issue. Few would argue with the title, "The Can't Do Government." More and more, there is agreement on both right and left that the federal government has ground to a halt, lacking the consensus, mandate, and moral fiber to accomplish much of anything. The writer, Washington Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud, was right, too, when he called today's government "a costly irrelevancy," "a bloated, inefficient, helpless giant," and claimed, "Americans may wonder whether government...can govern at all anymore."

But while conservatives blame a bloated federal budget and a spending frenzy by liberal Democrats for the crisis that envelops Washington today, Cloud advocates even bigger government to solve the nation's ills. He opened the article: "'Government isn't the solution; it's the problem.' As a candidate and a President, Ronald Reagan loved that line. But Reagan seemed simply to be indulging in harmless hyperbole or offering his version of the time-honored aphorism that government is best when it governs least. Surely he did not seriously propose to dismantle an institution that had brought the U.S. through two world wars, restored stability during the Depression and played a major part in developing one of the highest standards of living on earth."

Cloud attacked the "hypocrisy" of Congress and the Administration. He noted they conspire to "mask" the actual size of the budget deficit by taking several billion dollar programs off budget. Yet the supposedly objective journalist is guilty of his own hypocrisy by proceeding to tout the liberal line on a tax increase and domestic spending issues. Cloud claimed a capital gains cut "is aimed at well-to-do executives and wealthy investors in the Republican electoral coalition." In fact the cut would aid all income brackets, with the greatest savings going to the middle class.

On health care, he backed taxing the more wealthy aged to help pay for the program. An illustrated box declared: "Pressure is mounting for reform of the nation's increasingly expensive, inefficient health-care system. Yet Congress buckled under special-interest lobbying from wealthier senior citizens and repealed catastrophic health insurance to help the needy."

Cloud characterized Bush as "handcuffed by his simplistic 'read my lips' campaign rhetoric against a tax increase." He complained that "the President's recent 'education summit'...produced some interesting ideas...but little about how to pay the costs of helping public schools meet them." As for housing, Cloud admonished the "Reagan-era mismanagement and scandal," while an accompanying box promoted a spend-spend mentality: "As Republican influence peddlers milked the Reagan Administration's housing programs, the plight of the homeless grew worse."

When it came to spending money for defense, however, Cloud predictably questioned Reagan's national security rationale: "Yet the government does still spend mightily where it has a mind to. The Pentagon has done some tactical trimming but remains the biggest government consumer of all. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is determined to retain as much as possible of the $2.4 trillion Reagan-era buildup."

As if his liberal position was not abundantly clear, Cloud concluded: "But Reagan's approach, once he was elected, was fundamentally flawed. So is George Bush's. Government was not the problem. The problem was, and still is, that the country was being governed badly. The conservative complaint that only liberal elitists think Washington must actually do something is self-evidently silly. Of course, the government must do something. That is why it exists: to act in ways that improve the lives of its citizens and their security in the world. The list of missed opportunities and ignored challenges is already much too long. The sooner government sets about doing its job again, the better."

Cloud refused to discuss the article with MediaWatch: "It's a no win proposition to be interviewed by you guys. You come at things with a definite point of view. You pick the things that you want to out of an interview. You want to attack us, attack us. I'm not going to help you." Who does Cloud think we are? Time magazine?