MediaWatch: October 1989

Vol. Three No. 10

NewsBites: CBS Stonewalls

CBS STONEWALLS. CBS has proven it doesn't have to live by its own rules. In an attention-grabbing September 27 front page story, New York Post charged that the network aired fake Afghan footage in 1985. Asked for comment, CBS News stonewalled all inquiries for an entire week, claiming it needed to locate freelance cameraman Mike Hoover, who was filming caves in New Zealand. Even when Hoover denied he staged scenes on October 4, CBS News President David Burke refused to take calls, releasing only an internal memo to network staff. What hypocrisy. CBS News would never tolerate stonewalling like this from a President or Congressman or corporate official.

WNBC-TV anchor and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow co-host Chuck Scarborough summed it up best on CNN's Larry King Live September 29: "I can't for the life of me understand why CBS has a policy of not commenting on stories. And of all organizations, I think it shows a particular arrogance to assume that your organization is immune from criticism and you ought not respond. We're in the business of soliciting response."

SCHIEFFER SHAPES THE AGENDA. The Bush Administration's reluctance to rush into an arms agreement "perplexes some arms control experts," CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer worried on September 16. Which experts? The liberal ones. Former Ambassador Paul Warnke, Brookings Institution analyst Ed Hewett, and Jack Mendelssohn of the Arms Control Association. "Even some on the Republican right who were the most dubious about Soviet-American cooperation are now suggesting a new superpower summit to talk arms reduction," Schieffer reported.

Schieffer's only example from the Republican right was former Reagan official Ken Adelman. But a clip then showed Adelman saying something quite different than what Schieffer asserted. "It can be a getting-to-know-you summit," Adelman suggested. Being called an advocate of arms-control summitry is "absolutely wrong," he told MediaWatch. In fact, Adelman's recent book, The Great Universal Embrace: Arms Summitry, A Skeptic's Account, specifically says that summits, which thrust the President into being the chief arms negotiator, can be downright dangerous.

CATASTROPHIC CANADIAN. Last year Congress implemented a catastrophic health care plan paid for through a surtax on middle and high income senior citizens. In effect, the plan penalized those who prudently planned ahead and purchased their own long-term care insurance. But that's not how ABC anchor Peter Jennings saw it. He presumed everything one earns belongs to the government. After a September 18 "American Agenda" review of the subject, Jennings added his opinion, complaining to viewers that "because 5 million elderly people are angry, as many as 18 million others may suffer."

OUT TO LUNCH. A September 7 Los Angeles Times story on Vice President Quayle's views on SDI caused a small uproar. In a lunch with Times editors and reporters in Washington, Quayle said the concept of an "impenetrable shield that was going to be completely the semantics of let's say, political jargon, that that was acceptable. But it clearly was stretching the capability of a strategic defense system."

The front-page Times account, however, carried the headline "'Star Wars' Goal Cut, Quayle Says" with the sub-headline "Defense Role to Be Limited; Calls Reagan's Plan 'Political Jargon.'" The article began: "Conceding that former President Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' plan was only 'political jargon,'" Quayle said SDI had been revised into a program "without the pretense of being able to deflect a massive Soviet first strike." Times staff writer Norman Kempster also reported that "The Vice President was once a staunch supporter of the proposal, officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative...But Quayle admitted Wednesday that the plan was never realistic."

Thus, Kempster inaccurately inferred that Quayle was no longer an SDI supporter, and manufactured Quayle "admissions" out of thin air. Using the term "never realistic" illustrates the laughing-at-the-Wright-Brothers approach SDI opponents apply to the program. While both the Reagan and Bush Administrations have honed in on a new "Brilliant Pebbles" defense, the shield concept remains, as White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater explained, "the theoretical concept under which the SDI program operates."

CBS & THE NATION'S EXPERT. "If the United States and the Soviet Union must compete, let us do so not in an arms race that threatens everyone and benefits no one but on a compassion race to improve the lives of our respective peoples and those less developed countries. Let us compete to demonstrate in deeds, rather than provocative ideological assertions, which is the more caring system, American democratic capitalism or the Soviet socialism with a human face of which Gorbachev speaks," wrote Princeton professor Stephen Cohen in one of his "Sovieticus" columns for The Nation on October, 1988.

On September 25, 1989, with rumors of a Soviet-American summit swirling around Washington, Evening News anchor Dan Rather turned to the CBS News "consultant on Soviet affairs," Stephen Cohen. Cohen had more glowing words for Gorbachev, claiming he's "made 75 to 80 percent of the major concessions to keep the [arms control] process going." Referring to Bush's proposal on chemical weaponry, Cohen complained "It'll help, but I don't think it's enough. For almost five years, Gorbachev has called for an American President who would be a partner in getting rid of these armaments." Maybe if CBS gleaned consultants from pages other than those of far-left magazines like The Nation, the network would be able to provide viewers with a more balanced assessment.

FAKE NAME, TO BOOT. For years William Boot, identified only as a "contributing editor," wrote the "Capital Letter" column and other stories for the Columbia Journalism Review. In a November/ December 1986 article Boot complained that President Reagan "plays fast and loose with the facts" as "the White House press conference has been converted by Ronald Reagan into a forum for inaccuracy, distortion, and falsehood." Boot saw the Iran/Contra affair as "a load, jarring echo of Watergate -- a case in which White House officials saw fit to break the law or bend the Constitution because, in their view, the end justified the means."

So what's the story here? William Boot is not really William Boot because there is no William Boot. The September/October issue revealed that's just the pen name for Christopher Hanson, then a State Department reporter for Reuters. Hanson has recently become the Washington correspondent for the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

FOOD FIGHT. The Washington Post recently proved it's even incapable of preventing its liberal bias from seeping into its special service sections. Take for example, an October 4 story in the Wednesday "Food" pages headlined "Who's Minding the Store? Everybody But Uncle Sam Seems to Be Setting Food Policy." The piece served as a telling demonstration of the company-town Big Government mindset that permeates the Post. "Someone is directing food safety and nutrition policy in this country, and it doesn't seem to be the federal government," concerned Post staff writer Carole Sugarman whined. "Increasingly, supermarkets, food companies, states and private organizations appear to be running the show," she worried.

Sugarman concluded: "As for the future of private intervention into federal policymaking, an FDA official who asked not to be identified said he believes it will get worse so long as the federal government doesn't play a more active role." The voluntary pursuit of consumer safeguards by private businesses intrudes on the federal government's duties? Consumer Reports, Underwriters Laboratory--call your office.

KHMER RUSE. Those who doubt that truth is a rare commodity in media coverage of Southeast Asia need only look at reports of the Vietnamese pullout from Cambodia. On September 24, ABC reporter Mark Litke summed up the Vietnamese puppet government as "popular and pragmatic."

Ignoring the fact that Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam, which remains among the most repressive Marxist dictatorships in the world, Litke declared that "though Cambodia is still desperately poor, a thriving free market economy here has breathed new life into this shattered land."

Dan Rather's September 25 assessment was even stranger. "Like the Soviet Union in Afghanistan," Rather stated, "communist Vietnam failed in its effort to set up a puppet regime in Cambodia." Rather should look more closely at who's ally in still in Kabul. CBS reporter Bob Simon's report was a little closer to the mark. "So glad you could come, so glad you have to go. Flowers and fond farewells today," Simon wistfully mused, "as the Vietnamese drove away from their dream of an Indochinese empire."

EARTH DEARTH. The alarmist tone of environmental reporting has reached a fever pitch as reporters increasingly buy into the bizarre theories of environmental extremists. On NBC's September 14 "Assignment Earth" segment, Tom Brokaw described Africa as "The Crowded Continent...a vast space filling up with people. Too many people." NBC forgot Asia which, excluding Russia, holds approximately 3 billion people to Africa's 600 million. Robin Lloyd saw Marxist Zimbabwe's contraception program as Africa's ideal model and declared: "For Africa, the battle to control population growth is a high-risk game with nothing less than the survival of the continent in the 21st century at stake." Lloyd didn't explore the possibility that some African nations are starving because the Marxists governing them have ruined their economies.

FREE SCOTT STANLEY. It should be the next rallying cry for free press supporters of any stripe. Scott Stanley, a former editor of Conservative Digest and now editor-in-chief of the American Press International wire service, was arrested October 3 upon his arrival at the airport in Windhoek, the capital of the southwest African nation of Namibia. Stanley was later released from custody and placed under house arrest. He will not be allowed to leave the country until he has been tried for "denigration" of election committee head Brian O'Linn.

Stanley traveled to Namibia to testify for two Namibian newspapers on trial for publishing an article of his. In the July article, Stanley had quoted O'Linn as saying he had been a long-time supporter of the dominant Marxist South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and that his "special relationship" with the "people's liberation" movement would continue. "Obviously, they are trying to make a point...that nobody better criticize the election commission," said Henry Mark Holzer, Stanley's American attorney. It will be interesting to see how many of those who regularly champion free speech come out against Namibian injustice and express their support for Stanley.

GIVING US THE LIBERAL BUSINESS. It's not just political reporters that bring liberal views to the job. MediaWatch recently came across a survey that confirmed business reporters are just as liberal. Just before the 1988 presidential primaries began, The Journalist and Financial Reporting newsletter surveyed 151 business reporters for over 30 publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer to Money, Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and Barron's.

The New York-based newsletter found 54 percent identified themselves as Democrats, barely 10 percent as Republicans. Over 76 percent reported they opposed school prayer and 75 percent were against aid to the Contras, but an overwhelming 86 percent favored the "right to an abortion." Asked who they wish to see become President, 27 percent named liberal New York Governor Mario Cuomo, trailed by Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) with 20 percent and Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill) with nine percent. Senator Bob Dole was the most popular Republican, backed by just eight percent. At 44 percent, conservative Pat Robertson topped the list of those the reporters would "least like to see as President," followed by 19 percent who must be very upset now: they named George Bush.

About 52 percent evaluated President Reagan's performance as "poor" or "below average." Only 16.5 percent gave him an "excellent" or "good" and the remaining 19 percent considered him "average." No wonder they want the public to think Reaganomics failed.