In This Issue
Conservatism Gets Little Credit After Election-Night Tradition of Blaming it For Losses; NewsBites: Liberal of the Week; Revolving Door: On the Campaign Trail; The New House Speaker's Journalistic Welcome Wagon; Media Get One Wish in Senate; Stossel's Stunner; Reporters Believed Clinton's Sex Tales; Janet Cooke Award: ABC Devoted Almost Two Hours to New Book Full of Sexual Allegations Against Thomas
Conservatism Gets Little Credit After Election-Night Tradition of Blaming it For Losses
The Non-Ideological GOP Landslide?
November 8, 1994 may become known in Democratic circles as "Bloody Tuesday," the historic day in which they lost eight Senate seats and 52 House seats to a new GOP majority in both houses of Congress. Not one Republican incumbent lost in House, Senate, or gubernatorial contests. Could it be a repudiation of Clinton's liberal policies, or a vote for conservative policies in the Contract with America, as Republicans claimed? Or was it a surly electorate voting against incumbents in favor of generic "change" as Democrats asserted?
To determine the media's initial reaction, MediaWatch reviewed seven hours of CNN on election night, broadcast network prime time [portions shown on Washington, D.C. affiliates] as well as the special Nightline, plus the three broadcast network morning shows Nov. 9. The networks failed to portray the sweep as a GOP or conservative mandate. Overall, the four networks portrayed it as a result of voter anger or of their non-ideological anti- Clinton feelings, not an affirmation of their desire for con- servative policies or a rejection of Clinton's liberal policies.
In the past reporters haven't hesitated to blame conservative policies for causing GOP losses. During CBS coverage of the 1990 mid-term election, Ed Bradley declared: "If there's anything that we heard at the polls today, it was the sound of Reaganomics crashing all around us. If there's anything left of Reagan's trickle-down theory, Dan, it seems to be anxiety which seems to be trickling down through just about every segment of our society." In 1992 on CNN Catherine Crier, now with 20/20, offered this analysis of Bush's loss: "We remember the convention in Houston, the Patrick Buchanans and the very conservative movement that took over -- looks like it may have hurt the President."
This year the network take matched the Democratic spin 20 times: On ten occasions reporters and anchors blamed an angry electorate. Four times they blamed an "anti-incumbent" or "anti- Washington" mood. In six instances, three from CNN analyst Bill Schneider, reporters read the results to mean the public voted for bipartisan cooperation. In addition, generic "anti-Clinton" attitudes were cited 12 times.
In contrast, on just five occasions did reporters specifically raise voter concern about Clinton's liberal policies, usually health care. During NBC's prime time coverage, Tim Russert suggested that "in the eyes of the American people" Clinton's health care proposal was "a large, liberal program" and "tonight the voters have been saying, `No, we don't want that. We want to check that and we want more modest and incremental programs.'"
Only ABC explicitly suggested, in a comment from George Will on Nightline and in a question from Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, that the results showed the public wished for more conservative policies. Other than Cokie Roberts noting how one winner "was so proud of the Republican contract," and Brit Hume noting on GMA that "Mr. Gingrich was right" about its popularity, the networks failed to credit the Contract. In fact, reporters criticized it more often. On Today, Lisa Myers asserted: "It doesn't add up Katie, there's no way that they can pass all of it or implement it." Some representative comments:
Angry Electorate. Dan Rather to Bob Dole during prime time: "Obviously there's a lot of anger and frustration out there. Republicans have tailored their campaigns, nothing wrong with that, around that. How do you transform all that anger into something positive for the country?"
Paula Zahn to Bob Dole on CBS This Morning: "It is interesting that you have so many victories to celebrate this morning, but at the same time, our exit polling shows that people are more angry at politicians than they are excited about having Republicans back in power in both houses."
NBC's Gwen Ifill on Today: "They're dissatisfied with the idea that nothing happened. In fact, Bill Clinton did a lot of things, he kept a lot of his promises. But there's a real surliness afloat out there of people who feel as if things they were entitled to didn't come to them. We talked a lot this morning about the angry white male, the people who feel like they had been pushed aside and other people are benefitting." A few minutes later Katie Couric asked Senator-elect Olympia Snowe: "What do you think is behind the so-called surliness of the voters that Gwen just described. Why do you think they're so angry?"
Anti-Incumbent Mood. Ted Koppel to Tony Coelho on Nightline: "To what degree does this represent not so much perhaps a rejection of President Clinton, or even Democratic programs, but just this sort of cycle of frustration that has the American voter every year two years throwing out whoever is in?"
CNN's Schneider election night on why Senator Jim Sasser lost: "Because the top issue in Tennessee was the voters felt it was time for a change. That was the top issue and almost all of them voted for the Republican candidate, Bill Frist." Schneider on Democrat Bob Carr's loss in Michigan: "Carr has been on the defensive in this, because he's been depicted by [Spencer] Abraham as a Washington insider."
Tom Brokaw offered this bizarre explanation as to why the more conservative candidate won the Texas gubernatorial race: "George W. Bush, a lot of people believe, including some friends of the former President himself, that Texans are in a way paying back the family because, after all, George and Barbara Bush did move back down to Houston. A lot of other folks think that maybe the women in Texas took a look at Barbara Bush and thought that her son was running, `We can help her out this time.'"
A Vote for Bipartisanship. Schneider on election night: "I think the American people were actually sending a message and it wasn't a partisan message. They voted for a Democrat for President, now they voted for a Republican Congress. Could the American people be saying `We want bipartisanship, we want to put an end to bipartisanship'? That could be the message in the election returns from 1992 and 1994." And a half hour later: "The cynics would say this was a vote for gridlock, but I think it's easier to say, and the data points to the conclusion, that it was a vote for bipartisanship, for centrism."
Bad News for GOP! Late on election night, CNN's Mary Tillotson managed to twist the news back onto the "Festival of Hate" GOP: "My memory after that '92 convention the Republicans held in Texas, is that a lot of people, even Republicans, said `Good Lord, what have we done?' because the party seemed to have skewed to the right. Well the whole country gets to see that now. It's at least conceivable they set up their own defeat in '96, isn't it?"
NewsBites: Liberal of the Week
Liberal of the Week
From January 1988 to December 1993 ABC's World News Tonight awarded 44 identifiable liberals or Democrats with the title "Person of the Week" while only nine conservatives received the same acclaim.
On October 14, the tradition continued when Forrest Sawyer heaped praise on Fred Wertheimer, President of Common Cause. "For 24 years, he has been Washington's most visible and, arguably most powerful ethics watchdog....and has nothing nice to say about Republicans Bob Dole or Newt Gingrich." Sawyer explained that Wertheimer "wants to free our politicians from the purse strings of special interest groups," forgetting that Common Cause is itself a lobbying organization for federal funding of congressional elections, another reach into taxpayers' pockets.
Another Erroneous Rush
Under the headline of "The Wicked Late Night Ways And Bad Advice of Rush Limbaugh," Washington Post economics columnist Hobart Rowen did just what he condemned Limbaugh for doing: spreading disinformation. Noting that a recent panel discussion explored how "radio and TV talk shows have become a chief source of disinformation for the public," Rowen charged: "No one is more responsible for that trend than Rush Limbaugh."
Rowen recalled how Limbaugh, on his TV show, "ran a brief segment of the first TV debate between Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in which the Senator's voice was slowed so much that it sounded like he was talking guttural nonsense. He played it over and over, and his studio audience loved the childish exercise."
It's hard to imagine how a professional reporter could confuse a debate in ornate Faneuil Hall with a Kennedy rally in a high school gym, crowded with people including a clapping Bill Clinton, but that's just what Rowen managed to do. On October 25, in a show taped hours before the Senate debate even occurred, Limbaugh ran a clip of Kennedy speaking a week earlier as his words became unintelligible. For a bit of humor Limbaugh suggested what Kennedy may have uttered, scrolling across the screen: "We're gonna start on the '96 campaign to elect Bill Clinton as unelectable as any of us are." Maybe Rowen should stick to promoting liberal economic policies.
When Yasser Arafat was awarded the Nobel Prize, Time magazine lamented that Arafat and past winners have engaged in violence. In the October 24 issue, the "Chronicles" section reminded readers that the "Nobel Peace Prize...often goes to leaders with less than Gandhi-like resumes." Among those listed, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, because "Kissinger and [North Vietnam's Le Duc] Tho played key roles in the prosecution of the war in Indochina. Total dead between 1965 and 1975: more than 2 million." Time also chastised a President on Mount Rushmore, claiming "as Vice President and President, [Theodore] Roosevelt promoted imperial adventures like the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Total dead: more than 205,000."
Notably absent -- Time "Man of the Decade" Mikhail Gorbachev, who dispatched tanks into Lithuania to crush their rebellion. Even Today's Bryant Gumbel, interviewing former Nobel Committee member Kaare Kristiansen on October 14, asked if Arafat had "any more blood on his hands than F.W. de Klerk, or Mikhail Gorbachev, who converted to peace only after years of oppressing others?"
Author, Scholar, Rich White Boob
With the release of The Bell Curve, co-author Charles Murray found himself the subject of much media scrutiny. Rather than keeping the focus on the book, some in the media, like NBC's Brian Williams, chose instead to dismiss Murray as less scholar than ideologue, a "darling of many on the political right." Others suggested he was just out of touch.
In an October 9 New York Times Magazine piece titled "The Most Dangerous Conservative," reporter Jason DeParle mused: "The man who would abolish welfare was flying to Aspen, Colo., sipping champagne in the first-class cabin and spinning theories about the society unraveling 30,000 feet below." He later added: "He will never be the country's most famous conservative, but he may well be the most dangerous." In a letter to the Times, Murray's wife revealed that her husband used frequent-flyer miles to bump himself and DeParle up to first class so that DeParle could "interview him in peace." ABC reporter Judd Rose went further on the October 27 Prime Time Live: "He lives well with his wife and children in a lovely home in a lovely area. From there, it's awfully easy to lecture the poor about being solid citizens."
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Sound like the media on the Reagan years? No, it's the state of the economy during the "Clinton recovery." But unlike coverage of Census poverty reports during the Reagan and Bush years, the media drew no tie to Clinton. On the October 6 Nightly News, NBC's Robert Hager noted: "The number of poor people living in America grew to a three-decade high of 39 million last year -- a year that was supposed to have been one of economic recovery...[and] compares to just 32 million in 1989." Hager also found that "Median household income dropped to $31,200." Rather than decry the Clinton administration's policies, Hager said meekly that "White House economic adviser Laura Tyson says this year should be better."
ABC and CNN both ignored the story, while CBS's coverage of the rise in poverty to the highest level in ten years consisted of a brief report by anchor Connie Chung, quickly followed by a story on increased car sales. But back in 1991, CBS led the newscast with the news of a rise in poverty. Reporter Richard Threlkeld claimed: "Over the past 20 years, the rich have been getting richer at the expense of the middle class" and asserted "the social safety net is the weakest it's been for any recession in the last 40 years." What happened to CBS's compassion for the poor?
Justice Savaged Again
In the October 9 Los Angeles Times Magazine, David Savage's cover story "Lone Justice" reprised the "silent, aloof and frequently dogmatic" Justice Clarence Thomas. Savage rehashed the old thesis of how an agenda-wielding right-winger in compassionate clothing lied his way onto the Supreme Court.
Savage wrote that after his confirmation hearings, "Thomas retreated into the silence that protects a judge who is even more rigid and dogmatic than his opponents feared. He has compiled the most conservative record on a conservative court and lambasted his opponents for refusing to go further in changing the law.... Some had expected him to show a special sensitivity because of his background, but instead he urged the court to overturn past rulings favoring blacks."
So how did Thomas, who "staked out a position on the far right," secure his seat? By misleading the Senate, of course. "There is ample reason to believe that he did not honestly describe his legal views in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee." Savage quoted University of Virginia law professor Pamela Karlan: "He's shown no capacity for growth....He clearly lied to them about legal issues. I think he perjured himself" when he said he hadn't discussed the legal issues behind Roe v. Wade. We await Savage's analysis of how David Souter's liberal record corresponds to his conservative confirmation statements.
In a fully-built, but yet to be opened, Denver International Airport has again become news, but the media continue to ignore the role of DIA's biggest backer, former Denver mayor and current Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. In an October 18 CBS Evening News report, Bob McNamara cited a "baggage system savaging suitcases, runways that are cracked, and questionable contract awarding...the litany of problems has led to [FBI and GAO] investigations." He concluded: "The new airport has become an expensive reminder that the old airport wasn't so bad." McNamara never mentioned Pena, but in the December 1993 American Spectator, Michael Fumento revealed Pena's opposition to an airport referendum, and his cronyism in awarding contracts. Though Clinton in nominating Pena declared "his legacy includes the new Denver International Airport," reporters continue to ignore Pena's role.
CBS, which hypes links between pesticides and cancer, took another angle when a new study suggested abortions lead to an increased cancer risk. On the April 20, 1993 Evening News, reporter Dr. Bob Arnot warned: "DDT could help explain the sharp increase in breast cancer over the last 20 years. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports today that high levels of DDT are linked to a four times greater risk of breast cancer, even if women weren't otherwise at risk....80 percent of cancer risks are unknown, but advocacy groups say contamination of the environment may be the biggest and most overlooked cause of today's epidemic."
When the new abortion study appeared in the same journal, Dan Rather grew cautious on the Oct. 26 Evening News: "A new medical study tonight indicates a possible connection between abortion and breast cancer," adding "The researchers say more study is needed to confirm the findings." NBC, ABC and CNN issued similar disclaimers. On CBS This Morning the next day, co-host Paula Zahn asked epidemiologist Janet Daling, who headed the study: "You hear this number, fifty percent increase in risk, and you say this sounds terrible. Put this number into perspective for us this morning. How big of a deal is it?"
Soured by the loss of health "reform," PBS omni-presence Bill Moyers explained "how media and money buried" Clinton's noble effort. In The Great Health Care Debate on October 7 Moyers theorized why the people's reform wishes failed: "The Clintons had brought forth a nightmarish creature from Jurassic Park, so frightening in size and strangeness that people panicked. Powerful forces, unwilling to share their turf, rained down boiling propaganda on the beast, and Republican holy warriors, eager to finish off the creature and bleed its master, too, scorched the earth with nuclear-tipped faxes."
Moyers and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, funded by the pro-Clinton Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, scorned Clinton's opponents, whose ads frightened people with "false" labels like "socialized medicine." Leading the list: Rush Limbaugh, who Moyers said "repeatedly resorted to fear and scare tactics....all of that talent, almost all of it, devoted to the politics of destruction." Jamieson complained: "For three hours you can listen to Rush Limbaugh and you don't get to listen to the other side." This being a Moyers show, it featured only liberals: Moyers, Jamieson, and Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.
CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer devoted his October 8 "Washington Notebook" feature to "The filibuster -- once the exception, now the Senate's favorite pastime.... Whoever's at fault, one thing is certain; filibusters are more popular than ever. There were only sixteen of them in the entire 19th century. In this session of Congress alone, there have been more than 60." If Schieffer had interviewed Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), he would have explained the 103rd Congress enacted 424 laws, 17 of them subject to filibuster, of which four were killed, three by the Republicans. But Schieffer, reflecting the media attitude that passing laws is always good, could only complain: "You have to wonder, though, if they ever wonder about [how] it makes the rest of us feel."
Revolving Door: On the Campaign Trail
On the Campaign Trail
A former network news executive and a top level reporter have pitched in to try to re-elect or elect a Kennedy. The Boston Globe relayed October 18 that David Burke, President of CBS News from 1988-90, "is spending the last few weeks of the fall campaign trying to help his old boss win another term." His old boss? Senator Ted Kennedy, for whom Burke served as Chief of Staff from 1965 to 1971. The Globe reported that Burke, Vice President of ABC News from 1977 until taking the Executive Vice President slot in 1986 for two years, took a leave from the Dreyfus Fund so he could begin "traveling with the Senator on the campaign trail and advising him on strategy."
A little to the south, former ABC News foreign correspondent Pierre Salinger has put his money behind Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. The October 23 Washington Post listed Salinger, the Press Secretary to President Kennedy, as a contributor to the campaign of Robert Kennedy's daughter.
Clintonite to Nightline
After contributing two producers to the White House staff, Nightline is finally getting one in return. Dianna Pierce, Special Assistant to the Counselor to the President, David Gergen, in November became an Associate Producer of the ABC show. An Administrative Editor at U.S. News & World Report starting in 1990, where she worked for then Editor-at-Large Gergen, in mid-1993 she left with Gergen for the White House. A few months ago, Gergen and Pierce moved over to the State Department. Gergen will begin teaching political science at Duke University in January.
As she tries to book guests, Pierce will have some administration contacts with a soft spot for the show to call upon. Tara Sonenshine, an editorial producer for Nightline until February, is now a Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Communications for the National Security Council. Another Nightline producer through 1992, Carolyn Curiel, currently writes speeches for the President.
A Frank Church Republican?
The new Executive Producer of CNBC's Equal Time, the nightly show hosted by George Bush campaign aide Mary Matalin, has worked both sides of the aisle, but only one has her heart. Susan Morrison, who has spent the last three years with the PBS female talk show To the Contrary, served as Deputy Communications Director for the 1980 Bush presidential campaign.
She took the job after two years as Director of Communications for the Democratic National Committee. But she hardly had a change of heart. "It was more selfish than any job I've ever taken. I did it to see a presidential campaign from the inside, period," she told The Washington Post. The 1980 story recalled that "there were moments... when Morrison is clearly troubled by the ideological tenor of the Bush campaign. After a speech in Concord, N.H., in which Bush waxed particularly Reaganesque, Morrison confessed, 'I started thinking about issues today. I got depressed.'"
During the 1980s, Morrison, the field coordinator for Frank Church's 1976 presidential attempt, served as political assignment editor for ABC News, assignment manager for CBS News and political reporter for the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour.
The New House Speaker's Journalistic Welcome Wagon
Newt Gingrich, "Radical Geek"
The dramatic Republican takeover of both houses of Congress delivered to Washington a brand new Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Before the deluge, reporters shuddered at the very thought of it.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs found that in political stories on the networks between Labor Day and October 20, Gingrich drew 100 percent negative evaluations from reporters and talking heads.
CBS Evening News reporter Eric Engberg stayed negative on November 2: "From the start, modesty was not his style. Rejecting the House's gentlemanly ways, he waged such constant guerrilla war against the Democrats he was attacked for McCarthyism."
Engberg sounded like a negative ad: "It's a record filled with contradictions: the family values candidate who divorced his ailing first wife, the avowed enemy of dirty politics who bounced 22 checks at the House Bank, and runs a big-dollar political action committee that won't disclose its contributors." Engberg concluded: "Gingrich himself, bombastic and ruthless, would be the most dramatic change imaginable, a change the administration can only dread."
On the Nov. 4 World News Tonight ABC's Jim Wooten said the Georgian's "slash-and-burn rhetoric against Democrats has made him the poster boy for political resentment and rage, and he's proud of it."
Time's November 7 cover story argued: "Gingrich has been perfecting his ability to disrupt the majority and move the opposition into an increasingly radical position on the right." Richard Lacayo found Gingrich less intellectual than obnoxious: "His ideas, which don't often come to grips with the particulars of policymaking, may be less important than his signature mood of righteous belligerence."
Newsweek took the attack to another level with an article on Gingrich's personal life titled "How `Normal' Is Newt?" Reporter Mark Hosenball explained: "The answer is just as normal as many Americans -- at least the ones who see their marriages fail, change their views and don't always practice their professed beliefs." Hosenball unearthed such scoops as his student protests at Tulane in favor of "obscene" pictures. Newsweek captioned an old photo: "RADICAL GEEK." NPR's Sunni Khalid remarked on C-SPAN's Journalists Roundtable Oct. 14 that Gingrich was "looking at a more scientific, a more civil way of lynching people."
After all this, NBC's Tom Brokaw and CNN's Bernard Shaw asked on election night if Gingrich would "moderate" his tone. The next morning between 5:30 and 10, CNN employed the words "partisan bomb-thrower" three times, "combative" three times, and "fierce partisan" once.
Media Get One Wish in Senate
All Over Ollie North
The prospect of Senator Oliver North sent reporters into attack mode. With 19,000 troops in Haiti, North worried about the ability to adequately deploy to a second front. On October 12, Lisa Myers insisted on the NBC Nightly News: "North has been in hot water...since suggesting that Clinton has cut defense so much, U.S. forces could not stop another attack on Kuwait by Saddam Hussein....Most military experts say North is wrong."
Maybe, but Myers failed to check with one expert. AP reported on October 18 that Defense Secretary William Perry said in Beijing that the U.S. "is not yet ready to fight two wars nearly simultaneously, Perry added, because of shortcomings in strategic sealift and airlift capability and shortages of precision-guided weapons."
After Nancy Reagan and Al Gore criticized North, on the October 28 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather declared: "Despite these statements that North is a documented liar, North, according to the polls, has a strong chance of defeating incumbent Democrat and former Marine in Vietnam, Charles Robb....What's going on here?" Eric Engberg summarized North's life: "He's been fired! He beat felony jury convictions only on appeal! And, he's been condemned by leaders in his own party."
Engberg marveled: "As incredible as it may seem, many Virginians think this record of Oliver North's is actually a qualification to be a Senator." He noted North would benefit "from personal and public scandals that have touched the incumbent." Engberg failed to describe Robb's scandals, but warned: "A North victory...would hit Washington like a cavalry charge. North's first confrontation with Congress was an epic. To the Washington establishment, Senator North would be like Nightmare on Capitol Hill, Part Two: Ollie's Back."
Robb ads falsely claimed North would cut Social Security, driving 20 percent of the elderly into poverty, but the cover of the November 7 Newsweek blared "Down & Dirty" over a photo of North. On October 28, Gore claimed North's support came from the "the extreme right wing, the extra-chromosome right wing." Advocates for those with Down's syndrome, caused by an extra chromosome, reacted with outrage, The Washington Times reported. But Vice President Gore's remark was never reported by the networks.
In an October 26 special The Blame Game: Are We a Nation of Victims? ABC's John Stossel examined how traditional American precepts of self-reliance and responsibility have given way to dependence and victimology. Earlier this century, he noted, immigrants "risked their lives to get here...There was no welfare, no Medicare, no safety net except the kindness of friends. Nothing was offered them but freedom and opportunity. What they brought was their self-reliance, the sense that they were responsible for their destiny...the immigrants built the most successful, most prosperous society the world has ever seen." That era is gone.
Stossel explained: "If you steal money, mutilate your husband, kill your parents, it's because you're a victim. If you're caught smoking crack, you're a victim of a racist plot...If we're victims, we're not responsible for what we do...[and] lots of us turn to the government, where good intentions can lead to some pretty outrageous results."
Take the Americans with Disabilities Act. He exposed the "ADA we hear less about. This is a powerful law." He cited an $800 million suit by government workers claiming that because of 'multiple chemical sensitivity,' their building made them sick. Despite eight years and thousands of dollars in renovations, Stossel noted "there's debate in the medical community whether multiple chemical sensitivity even exists." Wondering "what is a reasonable accommodation?" he found "laws this vague invite so-called victims to be inventive." He added "the ADA is just the newest of five civil rights laws establishing special protections against discrimination for lots of other groups. And suing under these laws is now more lucrative than ever."
After interviewing Al Sharpton, who claimed blacks were victims of a racist society, Stossel questioned Caribbean immigrants, "whose skin is just as dark, whose ancestors were also cruelly enslaved. They come to America with no money, sometimes even unable to speak English...the Census Bureau says they are more likely to find jobs, less likely to go on welfare." The difference? "Marcos [an immigrant] says the American welfare system creates dependency."
He concluded on a somber note: "We've come a long way since Ellis Island. To try to make America a kinder place we created huge bureaucracies to help every victim. We built a system that rewards victims. Unfortunately, when you do that, you get more people acting like victims."
Reporters Believed Clinton's Sex Tales
The Sultans of So What?
The media continue to snub allegations of Bill Clinton's sexual impropriety, documents a new book from the Center for Media and Public Affairs. In When Should the Watchdogs Bark? authors Larry Sabato and Robert Lichter found the allegations by Paula Jones and the Arkansas state troopers were "barely touched by most media outlets." From November 1993 to August 1994, CMPA found the network evening news shows broadcast 34 stories about Paula Jones and the troopers, compared to 277 stories about Whitewater. Still, scandal news accounted for only five percent of Clinton's network coverage.
Why the disparities? Many reporters were embarrassed by the allegations. Even after 10 hours of interviewing the troopers for a never-aired story, CBS reporter Scott Pelley told the authors: "'We just felt, not to sound pompous in any way, but it didn't rise to the level of something that we wanted to put on the Evening News." Many reporters who talked to the troopers believed them. The Los Angeles Times' Bill Rempel said, "When we were done reporting, we didn't have any doubt that the stories we heard were true in substance." ABC's Jim Wooten told the authors, "Yeah, I think [the troopers] were telling the truth," but "I don't have any interest in who he was sleeping with then or who he's screwing now."
Lichter and Sabato noted that while most believed the troopers, 77 percent of stories on them were negative. At the same time, "Almost half (49 percent) of all evaluations of Mr. Clinton's behavior in scandal-related news stories supported the President." Almost twice as many stories were broadcast about Jones' credibility than her accusations and her coverage was 67 percent negative. Compare that to a previous CMPA study which found Anita Hill received 66 percent positive coverage during the Thomas battle. The snubbing continues: Jones' October 25 press conference received only a brief mention on the NBC Nightly News.
Janet Cooke Award: ABC Devoted Almost Two Hours to New Book Full of Sexual Allegations Against Thomas
Another Rerun of I Believe Anita
For more than two years, the national media have insisted that the personal life of politicians, in particular Bill Clinton, have no relevance to their public careers, and have followed through on that belief by refusing to devote any substantial air time or column inches to the questions surrounding Clinton's personal life. The stories of Gennifer Flowers or the state troopers on Clinton's personal security detail have been downplayed, as have the sexual harassment claims of Paula Jones.
That is not a standard these same journalists feel compelled to uphold for conservative officials, proven most dramatically by the sexual harassment allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas. Six days before the November 8 elections, ABC News decided to promote a new book by Wall Street Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, Strange Justice, that argued that Democrats did not look hard enough into the sexual proclivities of Thomas before his confirmation. For boldly demonstrating a liberal double standard without the benefit of relevant new evidence against Thomas, ABC earned the Janet Cooke Award.
ABC's World News Tonight reported only three stories on Flowers in 1992, six stories on the trooper allegations in 1993, and nine so far on the Jones story in 1994. But ABC reported 15 stories in the first five days after Hill's 1991 allegations. While Good Morning America did interview pro-Hill reporter Tim Phelps on his book Capitol Games, it failed to interview pro-Thomas reporter David Brock on his book The Real Anita Hill. At the time, Media-Watch asked GMA spokesperson Kathy Rehl why. She said Phelps got an interview because his book came first. When asked if merit was considered, Rehl replied "We don't consider things like that."
ABC devoted not only 60 minutes of Turning Point and 30 minutes of Nightline on November 2, but also another three interview segments on Good Morning America November 2 and 3. But what did it have that was "news"? Forrest Sawyer began Turning Point by suggesting that Anita Hill was "breaking her long silence." In addition to making an estimated $500,000 on the lecture circuit, she has done at least eight network interviews since the hearings, the latest earlier this year. Sawyer called it the "untold story" of the unheard testimony of Angela Wright, Rose Jourdain, and Sukari Hardnett. But U.S. News touted the same "untold story" in 1992.
The "untold story" not only lacked much of anything new, but also anything truly damaging. None of this testimony offered direct evidence of Thomas harassing Hill. None of the women claimed Thomas had sexually harassed them. ABC's only new claims came from Kaye Savage, who only claimed that she had seen Playboy centerfolds and magazines in Thomas's apartment in 1983, and Edward Jones, who suggested Hill's claims sounded like the Thomas he knew in college.
Turning Point pretended to be balanced by airing comments from former White House counsel Boyden Gray, Republican Sens. John Danforth, Alan Simpson, and Hank Brown, and former minority counsel Thomas Dadou. A few soundbites defended Thomas. But ABC focused only on evidence against Thomas; any refutation of that evidence or focus on Hill's credibility was omitted or ridiculed -- by a Republican.
McQueen asserted: "Behind the scenes, Thomas's allies were organizing an aggressive attack on Hill's credibility." Anti-Hill affidavits were described by GOP staffer Dadou: "Letters from former students of hers with outlandish and outrageous allegations...They all sounded similar. They all had allegations of pubic hairs in blue book exams. I read them and I just thought they were ridiculous and I threw them in the garbage."
Later, McQueen reported that the four women stood by while attorney John Doggett testified against Hill. McQueen again turned to Dadou: "The women staffers were just, you know, sort of howling at the idea of this nymphomaniac going around. It just seemed ridiculous." On the other hand, ABC promoted the anti-Thomas witnesses never called. David Brock mentioned all but Savage in The Real Anita Hill, especially Wright. Like Hill, Wright did not come forward voluntarily, but unlike Hill, she denied she had been sexually harassed. ABC noted Wright had been fired by Thomas, but not that she had been fired by Rep. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.), by the Republican National Committee, and the Agency for International Development (AID), where she accused supervisor Kate Semerad of racism when Semerad appeared before the Senate for confirmation. Former AID Deputy Administrator Jay Morris wrote the Judiciary Committee saying "I am struck by the startling parallels between what Ms. Wright did then and what she is doing now. She vowed vengeance on a former supervisor for dismissal on the basis of competence."
The woman who "corroborated" Wright, Rose Jourdain, was also fired. While ABC mentioned the firings, it omitted Brock's finding that "the details in Jourdain's statement...were not contained in Wright's own statement." Diane Holt, Thomas's assistant, told Brock that Jourdain "was writing a book, and she worked on her book all day. She never did any work." Jourdain told pro-Hill reporter Tim Phelps she was fired over political differences with Thomas.
Sukari Hardnett's statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee plainly declared "I am not claiming I was the victim of sexual harassment." She claimed there was a "sexual dimension" to the office, but provided no specifics. Barbara Lawrence, who shared an office with Hardnett, told Brock that Thomas "spent a lot of time trying to help her. But I know there was nothing more than that. I saw them every day." Hardnett also tried to interest the liberal group Alliance for Justice in her allegations when Thomas was nominated, according to David Savage's book Turning Right.
ABC refused to return repeated phone calls. But David Brock contacted ABC when he learned of the program, and received a letter from McQueen dated November 2 that read: "We are not doing a `survey of the literature' and thus we did not interview you; or Timothy Phelps of Newsday; or Nina Totenberg, who occasionally contributes to Nightline; or Toni Morrison, who edited a fine collection of essays from the hearings; or the authors of several academic papers....We focused on the principals, who are the Senators and some staff members, and potential witnesses."
But ABC also refused to interview pro-Thomas witnesses from the EEOC like Armstrong Williams or Phyllis Berry Myers. "They did not want to disturb their story line," Brock told MediaWatch. "It's a lot like ABC's hour on the October Surprise [on Nightline June 20, 1991]: they invested two years in it, they had nothing, but they had to air it anyway."