In This Issue
Chopping at the Competition; NewsBites: Festering Foster; Revolving Door: Gergen: Still a Clintonite; Media vs. a Balanced Budget; Gramm Should Die?; The 800-Word Antidote; Networks Ignore Foley, Gephardt Nipping at Newt...Again; Janet Cooke Award: Mainstreaming the Million Man March
Chopping at the Competition
Even before the elections of 1994, some reporters were turning up the heat of accusation on talk radio. On November 4, CBS Evening News anchor Connie Chung complained: "There is a lot of anger in the air these days. If you have any doubt tune in to talk radio, where there's often more shouting than conversation." Reporter Richard Threl-keld proceeded to impugn talk radio as "a kind of air pollution as close as your car radio" which consists of "a daily dialogue of hate and anger."
Is this attack on the competition typical? MediaWatch reviewed ev-ery 1995 news story on political talk radio on four evening news shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly News). Stories with a disparity greater than 1.5 to 1 in the reporter's statements of one side or the other were categorized as pro- or anti-talk radio. Stories within the ratio were called neutral.
The MediaWatch study found that of the 22 stories in the time frame, negative stories aired about three times as often as positive ones: 14 were negative, five were positive, and three were neutral. ABC aired a neutral piece and two negative attacks after the Oklahoma City bombing. CBS was the most negative, with six negative stories to one positive, beating out NBC which had a ratio of three negative to one positive and one neutral. The most balance came from CNN with three positive, three negative, and one neutral story.
The study confirmed that Threlkeld represents how the networks portray the rise of talk radio: Not as a positive development which has provided a forum for many divergent voices, including those of conservatives who feel their views are ignored or disparaged by the networks, but as a divisive source of hate and negativity. On January 3 NBC's Bob Faw provided time for promoters and detractors, but did include this zinger: "The issue is whether what's going out over the airwaves here and elsewhere is fanning the flames, is making the situation worse, that talk radio is not democracy in action, but democracy gone amok."
That week a San Francisco station decided to replace its liberal hosts with conservatives, prompting negative stories from two networks. CNN's Rusty Dornin declared: "KSFO radio dumped its talk show mix last week and made a switch to the far right of the dial -- all attitude, all the time."
"It is not just Congress that is taking a sharp turn to the right. The surge to the right on Capitol Hill is making waves all over the country on openly politically partisan and sometimes racist radio," Dan Rather announced January 4. CBS reporter John Blackstone, equating conservatism with anger, then intoned: "Even San Francisco, famous for its left-wing sympathies, took a harder edge this week." Blackstone concluded with the discovery that the station wasn't conservative, just greedy: "Should Americans feel comforted or betrayed, knowing that at least some of those angry and committed voices on the air may be committed mainly to a dollar?"
Just two days later CNN's Bruce Morton allowed talk hosts to defend themselves, as he presented both sides: "Some say talk shows are America's newest political town meetings. Certainly they can influence issues, can produce floods of mail to congressional offices. Critics say truth is the first casualty on talk shows and that the hosts have an agenda."
January also brought the only upbeat CBS story, a look at positive audience reaction in Boston to libertarian-conservative host David Brudnoy's revelation that he has AIDS. But even that story drew this introduction from Dan Rather: "The hottest thing on the radio these days is the call-in talk show. Most of the hosts are self-described conservatives, what their opponents call reactionaries, and their topics are about what you might expect. Well, something quite unexpected happened on one of these programs, and perhaps the only thing more surprising than the host's revelation was the audience reaction."
The Oklahoma City tragedy led the President on April 24 to denounce "promoters of paranoia" on the "airwaves." Peter Jennings relayed: "Clinton did not say so specifically but he clearly had the words of many ultra-conservative talk radio hosts in mind. All you have to do is listen to some of them to hear how they react to those with whom they do not agree."
Jackie Judd blurred regular commercial hosts with shortwave broadcaster, Mark Koernke, whose violent rhetoric attracted Timothy McVeigh, the accused bomber. Judd summed up the medium: "On talk radio shows today across the country, it was a free-for-all of anger and fingerpointing. In Detroit, a caller actually claimed the administration benefited from all this...Talk show host G. Gordon Liddy advised listeners to shoot first and ask questions later...Liddy, one of radio's most militant hosts, said even in the
aftermath of Oklahoma, he has no responsibility to cool the rhetoric." Judd did not explain that Liddy meant shooting in self-defense.
Tom Brokaw said Clinton appeared to aim at "talk radio programs that cater to the far right of the political spectrum" and that talk had "achieved a machine gun reputation in recent years." NBC's positive story came on April 25, in which Ollie North, Rush Limbaugh and Phil Gramm were allowed to criticize Clinton's assertion.
A CBS promo featured G. Gordon Liddy: "The words are shocking... What he says may not be illegal, but is it dangerous? Has free speech gone too far? Hate radio under fire, and firing back -- the story tomorrow on the CBS Evening News." Introducing that story the next day with a visual that read "Hate Radio," Rather once again tainted an entire profession: "Even after Oklahoma City, you can turn on your radio in any city and still dial up hate talk: extremist, racist, and violent rhetoric from the hosts and those who call in. President Clinton, among others, suggests that all this violent talk risks encouraging violent action. But is there any law to stop them from pumping out that venom?" Anthony Mason concluded: "Many people are saying it's time to turn down the volume on talk radio."
When talk hosts convened in late June, CBS focused only on an award Liddy received. Rather began: "The big game is a convention of big mouths. They're all in a twitter about an award to one of their members. He's the former convicted Watergate felon who's now on the air promoting the shooting of government agents."
Reporting from the convention for CNN, Lisa Price discovered "Staight talk. Lively conversation. Talk radio and a rapidly growing nationwide audience." But that was the exception to the rule in 1995, as the networks were not disposed to see talk radio as just another way of informing the public in a democracy: they saw it as an enemy which must be discredited.
NewsBites: Festering Foster
Several new developments renewed questions about White House actions related to the Travel Office firings and the death of Vince Foster. But you wouldn't know it from watching network news. On October 24 the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee released a May 14, 1993 memo from then-White House aide David Watkins in which he said the First Lady told him to replace career Travel Office employees with a private firm partially owned by a friend. That contradicted statements made by White House officials over the past two years. The next day, three handwriting experts asserted that Vince Foster's suicide note was a forgery, thereby implicating White House employees in a grand deception.
With the exception of a brief mention on NBC's Today on October 29 the networks were silent. Today co-host Jack Ford asked Tim Russert about "new questions raised about the death of Vince Foster" which "curiously didn't get much coverage at all, the idea now that some experts are questioning the legitimacy of that suicide note."
In a November 2 hearing, Senators questioned the First Lady's top aide Maggie Williams and friend Susan Thomases about early morning phone calls placed two days after Foster died. Phone records show Williams called the First Lady in Arkansas and then a call was made from the Arkansas number to Thomases, who then called then White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum. That day Nussbaum reneged on an agreement to allow Justice Dept. officials to examine files in Foster's office. Network coverage: CBS Evening News aired a full story from Bob Schieffer, CNN's World News ran a brief anchor-read item, but no story appeared on the ABC or NBC evening newscasts.
Afraid of Change?
CBS launched two attacks on Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), which allows Medicare recipients to buy a high-deductible catastrophic insurance policy with government funds. Any remaining money would be used to open a tax-free savings account to pay for medical expenses below the deductible. With the goal of motivating people to spend their health care dollars wisely, recipients are able to keep unspent money.
Linda Douglass warned on the September 28 CBS Evening News that critics insist only "healthy seniors who don't expect to need much medical care would be attracted to the savings accounts. That means those who stay in the traditional Medicare system are likely to be sicker people...By one estimate that could increase Medicare costs by nearly $3 billion over seven years, just the opposite of what Republicans want."
On October 9, Eric Engberg suggested the movement to "anoint medical savings accounts as a miracle solution owes much to one businessman's well-financed political crusade...which could bring rich rewards to his company." Engberg cited a CBS News study that found J. Patrick Rooney and others connected to Golden Rule Insurance gave $1.2 million to Republican campaigns in the last four years. "Gingrich insists he likes MSAs because they work," Engberg conceded. But he quickly added "Democratic opponents smell an influence buy."
HMOs Then and Now.
Back on September 22, 1993, NBC's Jim Maceda listed "myths" about the Clinton health plan. One "myth" was "the specter of managed care, something good for those so-called socialist countries abroad, but not us. But guess what? American health care is already largely managed...Managed care already works in ten states, and, the reformers insist, is saving money."
Two years and one election later, NBC had a different view. On the October 16 Nightly News, the prospect of seniors opting for managed care under GOP Medicare plans was cause for concern. Tom Brokaw asked, "Under the reforms now before Congress, many more would be encouraged to do the same thing, but will they really save money?" Reporter Robert Bazell warned that "experts" expected that use of HMOs would result in "increasing costs for the traditional Medicare program as it covers more of the sickest people, and at least for now, big profits for the companies that run HMOs."
Tax Hike or Welfare Cut?
Lisa Myers' calculator must have been on the fritz when she called a reduction in the Earned Income Tax Credit a tax hike on the poor. In her October 12 NBC Nightly News report, Myers claimed: "Under Republican plans to balance the budget, some 17 million working poor families face tax increases of as much as $7 billion a year." An October 2 Newsweek article noted, "They're about to raise taxes on 18 million families."
In her piece, Myers profiled two women who supposedly would be hurt by the GOP reforms. Myers found a receptionist who earned "barely enough to take care of her two children." Myers went on to say that she was supposed to get back $2,200 through EITC, "but Republicans would cut that by $400, which amounts to a tax increase." Myers interviewed a woman who feared that the GOP would force her out onto the streets: "71-year-old Edith Fader of New York City, and others who live in subsidized housing, face rent increases of about seven percent. She says she already lives on tuna fish and can't pay any more." Myers did not answer the question of how you can call the EITC change a tax increase when many recipients receive more in the refund than they pay in taxes.
Myers and Newsweek also did not mention that the Republicans' proposed $500 per child tax credit relieves the tax burden of many lower income American families. According to the Tax Foundation, a two-earner family with two children making $27,400 will see their income tax liability drop from $3,999 to $3,103. While families earning less than $15,000 will see a smaller payment from EITC, thanks to the child credit, they will still be better off than they were before the EITC became more generous in 1993.
Got Mugged? Blame ABC.
The debate over racism in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict provided the perfect opening act for the latest study from the left-wing group the Sentencing Project, which predictably blamed the criminal justice system and not the criminals. On the October 4 World News Tonight, ABC's Barry Serafin passed on the liberal group's report without any critics: "The report says inner cities are targeted for drug arrests...And crack cocaine carries a harsher punishment than powdered cocaine. One answer, says the report, is less money spent on law enforcement and more on prevention and treatment." Michael Fumento gave a different view in an October 25 Washington Times op-ed: "Arrest and conviction data suggest that violence and participation in drug selling are more strongly associated with crack." Serafin indicted the politicians: "But Congress has proposed less money for prevention, more for block grants and prisons. In the meantime the new report reinforces the view held by many African-Americans of an unequal justice system."
Unlike ABC, Tucker Carlson of The Weekly Standard did some digging for the October 23 issue. In a report to one New York locality, the Project recommended ways to let criminals out of jail early, and disdained "setting bond to assure the safety of an alleged spousal abuse victim." They suggested judges not set bail at all, and find "means other than incarceration for providing community safety." Who funds this liberal advocacy? The Clinton Justice Department. But the Project's Marc Mauer told Carlson: "I have a stack of news clippings this high from reporters covering our report, and not a single one of them asked about our funding sources."
"Clinton Knows Everything!"
Former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee's tour for his new book A Good Life included a September 25 stop at the PBS chatfest Charlie Rose. Discussing Reagan, Bradlee complained he "had kind of a magic sway over this country." Sensing sarcasm, Rose invited Bradlee to elaborate: "He had something, didn't he?" Bradlee replied: "He sure did. And it really was stunning because I haven't seen the evidence that he knew that, you know, he knew what was going on. He really didn't. I mean, they didn't bother to tell him, they didn't have to tell him. Interesting, they didn't have to tell him. And yet when he got up and sort of cocked that smile and said, `Well, you newspaper men always get it wrong,' the whole country bought it. And so it's awesome."
Bradlee had a much higher opinion of Bill Clinton: "I think he's an enormously interesting man and I don't think any President I've known has been brighter than he. I've yet to hear him say, `I don't know,' and it seems to me I remember Kennedy saying `I don't know' all the time. Whenever Sarah McClendon would ask him these questions about some dam in Southwest Texas that he'd never heard of he'd say, `I don't know, Sarah, but I'll find out,' but Clinton knows everything. I'm very impressed."
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Joseph Rotblat of the Pugwash Institute gave journalists another opportunity to glamorize the strategically incorrect -- those who insisted a defense buildup would lead to disaster, when it led to victory. All three networks honored the choice, but didn't explain that Rotblat dropped out of the Manhattan Project when he learned the bomb might be used against the Soviets. On the October 13 CBS Evening News Dan Rather labeled Rotblat "a little-known, but highly respected veteran foe of nuclear weapons." ABC's Peter Jennings applauded Rotblat as "Person of the Week" that night: "Their purpose was to educate the world to what they saw as a disastrous course."
In the October 23 Time, Senior Writer Michael Lemonick declared: "Too often such courageous behavior is not rewarded." He saluted Pugwash's work in the 1980s: "The Pugwash organization was considered especially influential...when Ronald Reagan began pushing his Star Wars program, it gave scientists an unofficial channel through which to discuss the tricky arms-reduction issues."
Eric Breindel had a different spin on Pugwash in the October 30 Weekly Standard. In 1982, Pugwash met without protest in communist Poland during martial law. In 1983, the supposedly anti-proliferation group condemned Israel's attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility, destroying Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program, a position they did not retract after the Gulf War. Breindel wrote the group conducted "an all-out campaign against Star Wars...Happily Ronald Reagan wasn't listening, either to Pugwash or to Mikhail Gorbachev, who advanced the identical argument at the Reykjavik summit in 1986."
FDR and the Reds.
Translated documents recently released by the National Security Agency show many of the warnings about communist efforts to infiltrate the government during the Cold War were true. The documents show Franklin Roosevelt may have been surrounded by KGB spies. On October 13, The Washington Times reported the documents suggest the KGB intended to recruit Eleanor Roosevelt by using the wife of a wealthy American. But, as reporter Bill Gertz wrote, the documents are "inconclusive about whether the KGB ever attempted or succeeded in recruiting the wife of a President."
Another entry is a reference to a KGB spy code-named "Agent 19." The text suggested this agent was a close confidant of FDR's who attended his meetings with Winston Churchill. Analysts believe "Agent 19" was either Vice President Henry Wallace, who later ran for the presidency on the socialist Progressive Party ticket, or FDR aide Harry Hopkins, who was fingered as a Soviet spy by a former KGB officer in 1990. Who covered these stunning historical revelations? Other than the Times, the AP filed a story which the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune picked up. But the rest of the media remained silent on the subject.
Revolving Door: Gergen: Still a Clintonite
A year after leaving the Clinton Administration where he served as Counselor to the President and then Counselor to the Secretary of State, David Gergen has been taken back by his old employers. This fall he re-joined both U.S. News & World Report as Editor-at-Large and the newly named NewsHour with Jim Lehrer where he now conducts a weekly interview. Gergen was Director of Communications during the early Reagan years and held the title of Editor of U.S. News in 1986-88.
Though he's spun both ways, his November 13 back page editorial made clear that he views politics from the left: "But in their eagerness to satisfy one principle, fiscal responsibility, the Republicans would ask the country to abandon another, equally vital, principle -- fair play. This is a false, cruel choice we should not make....Congress now seems intent on imposing new burdens upon the poor, the elderly and vulnerable children while, incredibly, delivering a windfall for the wealthy. Proposals passed by the House and Senate would rip gaping holes in the nation's social safety net, already low by standards of advanced nations and once considered sacrosanct."
An October 12 Washington Post story on Hillary Clinton's weekly column for the Creator's Syndicate divulged who puts words to paper for the First Lady: a former Washington Post reporter. Mrs. Clinton tapped staff speechwriter Alison Muscatine, a sports reporter and Metro section editor in her 12 years with the Post, to write the column begun in late July.
Post reporter Lloyd Grove recounted the writing process: "Some weeks, according to aides familiar with the column-writing process, Muscatine works from Mrs. Clinton's handwritten drafts or sits down with her to flesh out anecdotes and ideas; other weeks, when the First Lady is pressed for time, Muscatine cobbles the column together from speeches, plugging in facts and figures as she goes."
No Bills for Bill
A prominent network television veteran has offered free help to the Clinton-Gore re-election effort, a short item in the October 14 National Journal revealed. The magazine reported that Pierre Salinger, the Chief Foreign Correspondent for ABC News from 1983 until last year, is among "a group of Democratic public relations bigwigs in Washington" who have offered their services gratis. "In a July memo, the honchos outlined what they could do as `an extension of the Clinton/Gore '96 reelect effort.' The proposal has been well received. Ann Lewis, Deputy Campaign Director for Clinton/Gore '96, said that `we're always glad to hear from our friends.'"
Salinger, Press Secretary to President Kennedy and briefly an appointed Democratic Senator from California, is now Vice Chairman of Burson-Marsteller.
Jumping to PBS in September as Director of Communications and Public Relations: Tom Epstein, a Special Assistant to President Clinton for the past two plus years in the White House political office. The Los Angeles Times reported he "served as the administration's eyes and ears for California issues and helped arrange presidential itineraries during Clinton's numerous visits to the state."
Media vs. a Balanced Budget
Under GOP House plans spending per Medicare recipient will soar from $4,800 to $6,700 by 2002, or six percent per year. Considering this slight slowing of the previously planned increase a "cut," reporters spent October aiding liberal efforts to turn people against the GOP plan to balance the budget.
Indeed, The Washington Post reported October 29 that polls for the House leadership "showed that the public reacted negatively when told that Republicans would cut Medicare, but positively when informed that spending would increase but at a slower rate."
On the October 12 Good Morning America, news anchor Morton Dean claimed "The Republican plan would cut $270 billion in Medicare spending over seven years." Opening the October 14 Today, Giselle Fernandez promised "we're going to get to the very latest on Republicans' plan to slash the Medicare budget." Five days later on CBS This Morning news anchor Jane Robelot said Democrats were attacking the bill "which slashes $270 billion in Medicare spending." That night, NBC's Tom Brokaw referred to "big cuts in Medicare." Linda Douglass insisted on the October 20 CBS Evening News that the President "promised to veto the Republican plan to cut Medicare."
Newspapers were no better. Under the October 15 Philadelphia Inquirer headline "GOP's Budget Plan Is Seen as Cutting Poor to the Quick," Knight-Ridder's David Hess falsely asserted: "The biggest single cut in the budget-balancing drive would be $270 billion in future spending for Medicare."
The scaremongering work-ed. Today aired a story October 20 from Miami in which reporter Kerry Sanders observed "senior citizens gathered around the big screen TV to watch the House vote on Medicare cuts. They did not like what they saw....there's concern about the planned cuts." After four soundbites predicting disaster, he concluded: "Seniors say they'll show their anger by voting against Republicans in 1996."
A New York Times poll provided respondents with misinformation and then trumpeted the result on page 1 on October 26: "Americans Reject Big Medicare Cuts, A New Poll Finds." The poll asked which people preferred, "balancing the federal budget" (27 percent), "or preventing Medicare from being significantly cut" (67 percent).
But Medicare isn't the only budget issue on which reporters could not pass a second grade math quiz. Today co-host Jack Ford asserted that the budget included "huge cuts in social programs." The day before Halloween Robelot announced the "plan would slash spending." But as Tim Russert noted on Meet the Press October 29, under the seven year plan overall "spending goes up 22 percent."
Gramm Should Die?
The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin put "hate talk" back in the news. On the November 7 Dateline NBC, former New York Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal warned that the First Amendment may need some retooling: "I think that American society, and I think other democratic societies, have to review their tolerance toward dissemination of hatred which inevitably will lead to death." Dateline reporter Dennis Murphy transferred the issue from Israel to America, citing "words nurturing hate, hate turning murderously explosive," while flashing pictures of a neo-Nazi rally and the bombing in Oklahoma City.
Al Hunt joined the global leap from "right-wing" Israelis to "right-wing" American politicians in his November 9 Wall Street Journal column: "Most of the hate rhetoric in American politics today comes from the right, not infrequently under the pretenses of religion. It is Pat Robertson who has accused feminists of encouraging women to `kill their children.'"
But when "hate speech" comes from Democrats against Republicans, it's not seen as part of an all-encompassing "climate" of global anti-conservative hatred, but barely makes a blip on the news screen. White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said in front of a roomful of supposedly gaffe-loving White House reporters October 26 that Republicans would like to see Medicare "just die and go away," adding, "that's probably what they'd like to see happen to seniors, too, if you think about it."
Although Gingrich demanded McCurry be fired, only CBS and CNN covered the incident the day it happened. ABC mentioned it on Good Morning America and in a question on Nightline. Despite a White House apology to Gingrich, NBC ignored it.
A New Hampshire AFL-CIO convention newsletter dated October 29 contained this advice for conference participants: "Drive home safely and remember: If you must drink and drive, try to do it when Phil Gramm is crossing the street." Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times picked up the story, but The New York Times and The Washington Post did nothing. The networks completely ignored it, despite the presence of Vice President Al Gore as the main speaker. None demanded that Gore distance himself from such a hateful remark.
The 800-Word Antidote
"Al Capone of Apple Juice"
On November 17 the new CBS Evening News feature "Bernard Goldberg's America" showed a country whose government has lost all sense of proportion. Goldberg focused on Ben Lacey, 73, a Virginia business owner who makes sparkling apple cider. He is also a convicted felon. He could be sent to prison for up to 24 years, longer than most convicted murderers, and fined up to $2 million. Goldberg noted, "He's even been called `the Al Capone of apple juice.'"
What could he possibly have done to face such prison time? Goldberg explained: "Ben Lacey is in big trouble, not because he killed anyone or robbed a bank. No, it's a lot worse than that: Ben Lacey has been convicted of falsifying environmental reports. Each month he had to fill in numbers, numbers about how much oxygen and nitrogen and ammonia was in the apple juice run-off and the bathroom waste water that was being discharged into this tiny stream behind the plant. The government found seven wrong entries that it said Lacey intentionally falsified. Seven out of thousands."
Lacey says the incorrect entries were mistakes, not intentional. Goldberg found that even a local environmental group agreed the stream was not polluted. But the bureaucrats won't bend: "The government says Lacey's no victim, he's a big time polluter who years ago was fined for violating labor laws involving his apple pickers...So whether he's the monster the government says he is, or whether he's the victim of a bureaucracy run amok, Ben Lacey could face 24 years in prison, and while no one really thinks the judge will give him the maximum, at 73 he faces the possibility of some time behind bars and a stiff fine."
Wehmeyer: Faith Works
Every once in a while the media admit that sometimes the private sector is more efficient than government bureaucracies. Even less often do they admit that religion can accomplish something that government cannot. On the November 7 World News Tonight, anchor Peter Jennings made a startling discovery: "In Texas there is a faith-based program which has been remarkably effective in dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. It does not cost the taxpayers a cent."
ABC religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer asserted: "At 130 Teen Challenge centers across the country, addicts are taught that Jesus Christ, not Prozac or psychiatrists, can help free them from addiction....A recent University of Tennessee study showed that 70 percent of Teen Challenge graduates were drug free after six months," compared with a state-funded rehab specialist's suggestion that a 25 percent rate would be "very good." Despite their success, Wehmeyer found Texas state auditors are looking at revoking their license over, among other things, the accreditation of the counselors: "Teen Challenge doesn't want to pay for training they don't believe in. They use their own reformed addicts as counselors."
Networks Ignore Foley, Gephardt Nipping at Newt...Again
Acting on a story in the October 23 New York Daily News, CBS reported on that night's Evening News that bulk sales of Newt Gingrich's book To Renew America may have violated House ethics rules. That same night, CNN Prime News anchor Linden Soles introduced a Bob Franken story: "This could be a case of what goes around comes around," referring to former Speaker Jim Wright's bulk book sales. Franken also mentioned Wright and noted that on a visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Gingrich "slipped into a back room and autographed books, 100 books, purchased on the orders of Liberty President Jerry Falwell."
The next day, Washington Post reporter John E. Yang brought up Wright: "Gingrich also sought to refute comparisons with the bulk sales of a book by then-House Speaker Jim Wright."
None of these stories compared the dramatic differences between the two deals. Wright had an unusually high royalty of 55 percent from a publisher who was a former employee (Gingrich earned the standard 15 percent). Wright's book Reflections of a Public Man was never sold in bookstores -- it was offered instead almost exclusively in bulk to lobbyists like the Fertilizer Institute in order to get around House limits on honoraria income. Wright was charged with 69 counts of ethics violations and resigned in disgrace before being indicted. Gingrich's book was a genuine commercial property, a 12-week number-one bestseller with sales approaching the half-million mark. Yet two networks and The Washington Post ran stories on five bulk orders totalling just over 500 books.
The media missed two scandals involving leading Democrats Dick Gephardt and Tom Foley. Paul Rodriguez detailed in the August 28 Insight that a "review of how Gephardt wound up with a luxury beach house worth more than $700,000 suggests that the Democratic leader may have violated various banking and tax laws, as well as financial reporting requirements of the Ethics in Government Act. As a result, the 10-term Congressman could end up under close scrutiny by the House ethics committee."
But he's had no scrutiny from the press. Gephardt, an avid opponent of capital gains tax cuts, effectively avoided the tax by swapping a property he owned for a vacant lot in a beachfront community. He later reported it as rental property, a possible violation of the terms of the swap.
The October 3 Boston Globe reported the SEC fined an investment firm $100,000 for giving friends preferential treatment with new stock offerings, one being former Speaker Tom Foley. Small investors like Foley are generally not privy to initial public offerings (IPOs), which allow large investors to purchase new stock before it reaches the trading floor. Roll Call noted in 1993 that Foley had made money on eleven out of twelve IPOs offered him the previous year. Except for a single story on CNN's Inside Politics on July 26, 1993, the networks ignored the story both then and now. But ABC did devote a full story to IPOs in June 1994 -- when the beneficiary was Republican Sen. Al D'Amato.
Janet Cooke Award: Mainstreaming the Million Man March
When it comes to left-wing protest marches, the networks often prefer public relations to reality. The marches are "mainstreamed" -- purged of extreme rhetoric, hate speech, and other public opinion-crashing embarrassments.
For example, two January 1991 marches against the Gulf War featured flag-burning and cheering for Iraq, but the networks aired average Americans speaking in moderate tones. ABC producer Juliet Cassone admitted to MediaWatch: "We were looking for mainstream demonstrators."
If Americans followed the October 16 "Million Man March" on C-SPAN, they would have seen the whole picture -- inspirational calls to self-reliance, fatherhood and community service, as well as angry attacks on whites and Jews and bizarre numerology theories. For ignoring the extremism and hate speech of Farrakhan's march, a dramatic contrast from its coverage of conservative events, ABC's World News Tonight earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Littered among the positive messages from the podium were negative ones. A young girl ended a Farrakhan-amended poem by calling blacks "God's divine race." Greenpeace's Damu Smith blamed "rich white men in power" for "wreaking havoc on our community," including "rolling back voting rights" and "putting toxic waste in our communities." Former U.S. Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) declared: "Blacks should atone not for our anger, but for not being angry enough at the growing racism and incipient fascism of white America. We should atone for not developing more political independence, more cultural identity, and more control of our economy, in defiance of white power, in defiance of Jewish influence....White dreams have crippled many black children and white values have maimed many black families because the selfishness and greed of whites do not serve us well."
Then there was the hours-long address by Louis Farrakhan. Among his remarks: "In the middle of the mall is the Washington Monument, 555 feet high. But if we put a one in front of that 555 feet we get 1555, the year that our first fathers landed on the shores of Jamestown, Virginia as slaves. In the background is the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. Each of these monuments is 19 feet high. Abraham Lincoln is the 16th President. Thomas Jefferson is the 3rd President. And 16 and 3 makes 19 again." These were a few of Farrakhan's errors: the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials are much higher than 19 feet, and the first blacks arrived at Jamestown in 1619.
Farrakhan also claimed God told him to organize the march: "There is no prophet of God written of in the Bible that did not have a defect in its character. But I have never heard any member of the faith of Judaism separate David from the Psalms because of what happened in David's life, and you never separated Solomon from the building of the temple because they say he had a thousand concubines, and you never separated any of the great servants of God, so today, whether you like it or not, God brought the idea through me."
How would ABC have covered Pat Buchanan decrying "Jewish influence" or Pat Robertson claiming he was selected by God? After Buchanan's 1992 GOP convention speech, Jennings immediately suggested: "Took a number of shots at Hillary Clinton. Didn't get that altogether accurate, but that'll come out in the debate as time goes on." ABC's Prime Time Live investigated Pat Robertson's finances last October. By contrast, ABC didn't fact-check Farrakhan's address, or investigate his financial empire (documented last March by the Chicago Tribune), including $5 million from Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.
In devoting almost the entire October 16 World News Tonight to the march, Peter Jennings downplayed Farrakhan: "We begin here in Washington today with a massive demonstration of black togetherness that was much more, and perhaps much different, than its original speakers had intended...the hugely popular entertainer Stevie Wonder may have got this crowd's mood right when he said that this was bigger than any one leader." Minutes later, he repeated: "For most of the hundreds of thousands who came here today, the event far overshadowed the man who organized it." Jennings went on: "But Louis Farrakhan delivered the keynote address, if you can call it that, on the Mall this afternoon, and it made an enormous impression."
Reporter Ron Claiborne insisted: "The entire day was spiced with lavish praise for the Black Muslim leader, from the podium....praise from many in the crowd...But others insisted the occasion was more important that Farrakhan or any individual." Claiborne summarized that in a "sometimes rambling speech, Farrakhan urged black men to change their destructive behavior, behavior responsible for crime, drug abuse and broken families." ABC aired only Farrakhan calling for atonement and urging the audience to "join some church, synagogue, temple, or mosque that is teaching spiritual and moral uplift."
Jennings ended his show: "It would be astonishing if this public performance by Farrakhan were to end or even minimize the controversy which he inspires in the country as a whole, but it would be a terrible mistake not to recognize that here today he inspired many people, and in a broader sense, as one participant here after another has reaffirmed, this day, at this time and at this place, really did mean unity over division." That's odd, considering speakers like Gus Savage. Would ABC hail a march for white "unity" which disparaged blacks?
With the exception of President Clinton's cautious remarks, World News Tonight aired no one questioning Farrakhan in any of its nine stories. When asked by MediaWatch for comment, ABC spokesman Arnot Walker sent a transcript of a mid-afternoon breaking-news segment that included Farrakhan opponents Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) and David Friedman of the Anti-Defamation League. Asked why he wouldn't answer questions about ABC's coverage, Walker replied: "Until you start reporting by unbiased standards -- maybe we'll talk to you someday."
During the march, Jennings claimed: "We will, as always, put our confidence in the Park Police." But when Farrakhan complained the "racist" U.S. Park Police crowd estimate of 400,000 was false, ABC News took the unprecedented step of hiring an "expert" to challenge the Park Police: Farouk El-Baz of Boston University, a geologist who analyzes aerial photographs. El-Baz had never counted a crowd before, but estimated there were 870,000 attendees, with a margin of error up to a million.
From October 19-27, World News Tonight and Good Morning America hyped their own number in 12 stories. In promoting the march and its hate-spewing leader, ABC acted more like a publicity arm of the Nation of Islam than an "objective" news source.