In This Issue
Newsweek Removes Noted Clinton Sycophant from the White House Beat; NewsBites: Sticking to the Issues; Revolving Door: Matalin's Matchmaker; Reporters Club Contract with America with False History of the 1980's; Who lost Socialized Medicine?; Health Risk Hype; Relentless Russert; Janet Cooke Award: ABC Environmental Reporter Loads Cairo Story with White House-Favored Spokesmen
Newsweek Removes Noted Clinton Sycophant from the White House Beat
Eleanor Clift's Fond Clinton Memories
In August, Newsweek announced Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Eleanor Clift would be moved from her White House beat. Bill and Hillary Clinton will be losing one of their biggest supporters in the White House press corps. Clift's editors have always denied an agenda on her part. Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas told Tim Russert on CNBC in April, "I don't think she's an administration apologist...She is probably more liberal than most journalists, but in the pages of Newsweek she plays it straight." But the record speaks for itself.
All Aboard the Bandwagon. Clift first hopped aboard the Clinton bandwagon in 1992: "I think Gore and Clinton could be the all-generational change ticket, and I suppose if they lose, they could do cameo appearances on Studs or something," she said on the July 4 McLaughlin Group, referring to the Dating Game - like Fox show. She may have been attracted to more than just their ideologies. "I must say, I was struck by the expanse of their chests. They may have to put out their stats," she gushed on the July 10, 1992 Inside Politics. "Looking at some of that footage, it looks like the all-beefcake ticket," she remarked on that same week's McLaughlin Group. Post-convention, Clift was still bestowing hosannahs: "They got more positive coverage on this bus tour than the Beatles got on their first tour of America. More reporters were oohing and aahing. It was almost embarrassing. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to do it until now."
The Clinton Agenda. During the battle over the budget, she saw promise in the "Slick Willie" epithet in the February 8, 1993 Newsweek: "Clinton is much craftier than George Bush in avoiding the kind of 'Read My Lips' vow that allows no maneuvering room. He can rewrite his promises to adjust to reality. That opens him up to 'Slick Willie' catcalls. It also leaves him the option to do the right thing." That week on The McLaughlin Group she pronounced the budget "one for one (tax hikes to spending cuts) and it's gutsier than any Republican President has done in 12 years of feel-goodism. This is going to be politically courageous and you're going to hear a lot of screaming." Three months later, she claimed "It's the first serious attempt to cut the deficit in this country."
All Apologies. A constant in Clift's view of the Whitewater scandal is that the Clintons may be the most well-intentioned, ethical humans to ever inhabit Washington. In a December 1993 McLaughlin Group she challenged the idea that the Clintons may have used their political connections to make money: "It runs counter to the notion about the Clintons, somehow the fact that they are somehow in this for personal or financial gain, doesn't ring true." A few weeks later she returned to this point on the same show: "The beauty of the special counsel law is that he or she has to prove criminal wrongdoing, and not only criminal wrongdoing, but criminal intent, and I think, you know, everyone is certain that doesn't exist with the Clintons."
She reached new heights in creative rationalization when defending the Clintons' ethics. To the contention that Clinton played fast and loose with the truth, on the September 12, 1992 McLaughlin Group she countered: "There is no evidence that Bill Clinton has ever lied. He's done nothing illegal. He has what I would call the politician's disease. He has tailored the truth to adapt to the reality of running in a conservative southern state."
She also tried to turn Hillary's ethical lapses on her still murky commodities deals from negative to positive. In an April 11, 1994 Newsweek story with Mark Miller, Clift wrote: "Bill Clinton evoked sympathy and understanding by acknowledging marital problems on the famous 60 Minutes interview. She could benefit from admitting that she, too, has occasionally yielded to temptation and made the wrong choices. The public might even be tickled to discover that the prim and preachy First Lady has a gambler's streak. Hillary's brief fling in commodities was possibly reckless, but it shows a glimmering of a more credible, if more flawed, human being."
Later, her line of defense changed. Instead of asserting Clinton's innocence, she declared he shouldn't be judged on his personal ethics, but by the good he's trying to do. "Bill Clinton has been in office for a year and a half, and he's got a number of legislative proposals by which we can judge his public character. To go back and measure the man by whether money might have gone into his 1984 gubernatorial campaign through a failed land adventure, to me, even if it turns out to be the case, and there's no evidence that this is even the case, that there are many other ways to measure the character of this man. He is working for us every day in office," she oozed on CNBC's July 26 Rivera Live.
Barney and Wonder Woman. When Clift wrote about the Clintons, the loving prose flowed. In Newsweek's August 9, 1993 issue, she wrote: "Clinton is giving the best evidence yet of his approach to leadership. It's about understanding, not threats; accommodation, not confrontation; about getting people (or at least Democrats) to sing the same song. The style is reminiscent of another patient, nonjudgmental figure given to hugging in public: Barney the Dinosaur."
One Newsweek staffer told The Washington Post her March 21, 1994 Newsweek interview with Hillary was "embarrassing." In the "interview," Clift suggested: "I guess the only thing I see comparable [between Whitewater and Watergate] is that a lot of people want to launch careers based on finding something." Then she asked: "How angry are you about the way this has mushroomed from a little land scandal into an allegation that you and your husband are corrupt?" Clift fed excuses to Hillary: "My theory is that you have a thing about privacy...The attacks against you are really about more than Whitewater. They really go to the role that you're taking on and whether you can be the spouse of a President and a policymaker."
Clift has also shown the different standards she applies to Hillary and others when dealing with rumors. In an April 5, 1993 Newsweek story on Secret Service gossip about the Clintons, Clift wrote: "There is no evidence to support any of these stories...living in the fishbowl is hard enough without worrying about a Secret Service that can't keep mum." But writing in Newsweek two years earlier, Clift had lavishly praised Kitty Kelley's book of gossip about Nancy Reagan. "If privacy ends where hypocrisy begins, Kitty Kelley's steamy exposé is a contribution to contemporary history."
Of course, when The American Spectator ran an article in December 1993 about Hillary's less-than-intimate sexual relationship with her husband, Clift attacked the source on the McLaughlin Group: "The [David] Brock article appears in a publication with very ideological leanings of the conservative persuasion. It is full of innuendo and bias." She should know.
NewsBites: Sticking to the Issues
Sticking to the Issues?
Always eager to enlighten voters on key issues like crime, education, and the economy, NBC discovered a new issue: the "wildlife misdemeanor." Through early October, Today has aired only one story on the Texas Governor's race. Instead of addressing issues that voters find important, Jim Cummins dedicated his time to a dead bird, inadvertently shot by the GOP candidate during a hunting trip.
George W. Bush, son of the former President, is running against Gov. Ann Richards, and in an annual ritual, the two candidates went dove hunting on the first day of the season with the press in tow. Unfortunately, the GOP hopeful mistakenly shot an endangered killdeer. Recognizing he bagged the wrong bird, Bush admitted his mistake to the game warden and announced his desire to pay the fine.
Cummins concluded by warning: "His misdeed with a shotgun is going to cost the Republican candidate for Governor a lot more than that [$130 fine] before election day. One Democrat joked about Bush, `A guide told him to shoot and he did. That's typical of George -- he only does what he is told and he often hits the wrong target.'"
Trying Out for Dee Dee's Job
"In less than two years, Bill Clinton has already achieved more domestically than John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush combined. Although Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan often had their way with Congress, Congressional Quarterly says it's Clinton who had the most success of any President since Lyndon Johnson." Is this shameless bit of promotion a White House press release? No, it's Jonathan Alter's article in the October 3 Newsweek.
Alter laid out how Clinton should be judged: "The standard for measuring results domestically should not be the coherence of the process, but how actual lives are touched and changed. By that standard, he's doing well." A handful of liberal programs and tweaks of government operations are cited as Clinton's successes: procurement reform, "reinventing government," parental leave, national service, more government subsidized student loans, and an increased Earned Income Tax Credit. Alter suggested the EITC is "a hell of a lot more relevant to assessing Clinton's real record than, say, gays in the military." It's not suggested that the public may see the same old liberal proposals in new packages: more welfare, more subsidies, and more government spending.
Nobel Weakness Prize
Jimmy Carter's reputation for appeasement at the expense of U.S. interests was reinforced when he visited North Korea in July and called Kim Il Sung, the communist dictator responsible for the Korean War, "a great leader in the last 50 years." Still, after his mission to Haiti, where the former President embraced the military leaders President Clinton decried for human rights violations, the media clamored to award Carter the Nobel Peace Prize. On the September 19 Today, NBC's Lisa Myers summed up the Haiti mission: "It certainly looks good for Jimmy Carter. I think even before this people considered him a model ex-President and I think he enhanced his reputation further." The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt chimed in: "Let me just add one more thing there. I think Jimmy Carter's become the frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize. It would be well-deserved if he got it." On September 20, USA Today reporter Juan Waite ascribed Carter's foreign policy "successes" to "what his admirers say is his stubborn determination and firm Christian belief that there's always an alternative to war -- whether in stopping North Korea's communist rulers from acquiring nuclear weapons or convincing Haitian coup leaders they must give up power."
Waite claimed: "Above all is his commitment to human rights. It didn't always pay off in the presidency but it gives him a rare moral authority as a statesman." Similarly, on Today, NBC's Sara James fawned over his failed presidency: "When asked to sum up his presidency, Mr. Carter once said that he tried hard, attempted to do the right thing but wasn't always successful. And yet 13 years after leaving the White House, Jimmy Carter finds himself in a position many sitting Presidents would envy -- lauded at home and abroad as a diplomat and peacemaker."
For the National Air and Space Museum's proposed exhibit of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, curators questioned the need to drop the bomb, ignored Japanese war crimes, and even painted the U.S. as the aggressor, writing of World War II that "for most Japanese [it] was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism." The media raised an outcry about historical revisionism -- not the academic revisionism of the curators, but by veterans groups who protested the distorted history.
Stone Phillips referred to the veterans on the August 30 NBC Nightly News: "Alex Haley once wrote that history is written by the winners. Tonight, the story of some people who would like to keep it that way." On the September 21 World News Tonight, ABC's John Martin cited a leftist historian as authoritative: "Who is distorting history? Historian and political scientist Gar Alperovitz has been studying original documents for 30 years. He says War Department papers...back up a revised view of whether the bomb was needed." Martin concluded that view was "inspiring and troubling to a public that thought for 50 years it knew very well why America dropped the bomb."
While Martin claimed the museum "tried from the beginning to cooperate with veterans groups to be sympathetic to their views," and CBS's Jim Stewart charged on September 25 that "veterans are nitpicking the whole thing," Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle noted "the museum chose to conceive and shape the initial script in isolation not only from military historians, but from anyone with any real-life experience with either World War II or that era in this country." Ringle quoted project advisor Richard Hallion, who offered suggestions to the script, but found the curators had "great reluctance" in balancing the exhibit by including Japanese aggression and atrocities.
In exploring why a rising number of women are attending all-female colleges, CBS Evening News endorsed a discredited feminist study about how girls are intimidated by men in the classroom. On September 25, Edie Magnus suggested "some credibility for the popularity in women's colleges goes to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Wellesley graduate." But Magnus gave more credit to "a revival fostered in part by a 1992 report on gender bias. A study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found girls do not get the same quality of education that boys do in coed classrooms." Magnus then let study author David Sadker explain: "Males get more attention, more precise attention, more encouragement. They are more likely to call out, they're more likely to be heard."
As Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?, noted in the October 3 Wall Street Journal: "What the celebrated AAUW study relies on, instead of verifiable science, is bogus inference and shoddy methodology." While Magnus conceded that "single-sex schools are not a panacea for gender bias nor are they for everyone," she concluded that "for young women like Christy Smith, who want an education where they feel they're the priority, a women's college can quickly feel like home." But as Sommers pointed out, Science News found that "the majority of scholars in the field of adolescent development see no significant gender difference in self-esteem." Indeed, Sommers found that an Education Department survey found a higher percentage of girls than boys said the "teachers listened to what I have to say."
A First Second Look
Has the press been unfair to President Clinton? Dateline NBC thought so. The program took a "second look" at the Clinton Air Force One haircut scandal on its September 21 edition. Anchor Stone Phillips introduced the exercise in self-flagellation: "It seems like every day there is another poll out about President Clinton's job performance. Have you ever wondered about how much of the public's perception is based on the reporting about him and how much of that reporting is accurate? We decided to go back and take a look at one of the big stories that President Clinton took a lot of heat over." Reporter Jon Scott reviewed evidence that showed Clinton's plane may have held up one flight for two minutes while stylist Cristophe tended to his coif. Scott concluded: "So in hindsight, the story of the haircut holding up air traffic doesn't hold up."
But Bill Clinton wasn't the first politician to take a hit on a half baked story. In February 1992, in a widely repeated front- page New York Times story, former President Bush was accused of being amazed at the workings of a supermarket scanner. But as ABC News correspondent Brit Hume revealed in the January 1993 American Spectator, that story was "almost wholly untrue." Hume explained: "Bush's wonder was mostly politeness and the scanner, far from being ordinary, was a new and different device of which the company was especially proud." Interestingly, NBC's concern about how reporting may negatively effect presidential poll ratings seems to be a Clinton-era development.
Toeing the Turner Line
When it comes to covering environmental issues, CNN owner Ted Turner is definitely the leader of the pack at his network. During an address at the National Press Club on September 27, Turner exclaimed: "I mean, that the world's too crowded! That's the simple -- it's getting more crowded all the time. We live in a finite world with an infinitely increasing number of people. It's easy to see and one out of five of those people lives in abject poverty....We in the rich world consume, I don't know, 50 times as much as somebody from the poor world."
The September 11 CNN Presents toed the Turner line. Reporter Peggy Knapp claimed: "There's enough to go around but it doesn't go around. That's why the world has more than 202 billionaires, more than 3 million millionaires and more than 100 million homeless. There are some, including people who are very hungry, who feel that some people aren't sharing their toys very well." Knapp concluded: "There are many who believe that industrialized countries have used up the resources of the developing world, that we've mined their ores, cut down their forests to build our cities and industries. They believe we broke their toys, and now we won't share ours. That would get you a time out in any day care center in the world."
Washington Oops in Review
Print advertisements for the PBS show Washington Week in Review tout its strength as "journalism." But a little more journalism might be in order. On the September 9 show, host Ken Bode was skeptical about Democrats losing many seats in the midterm elections: "I remember the last midterm election, 1990, when the public was angry, term limits were on the ballot around the country, the check-bouncing scandal was going on, every incumbent was an endangered species, and 95 percent of them won re-election." Unfortunately for Bode, the House Bank scandal occurred in 1992, as did the 15 state ballot initiatives on term limits. (Only Colorado voted on congressional term limits in 1990.)
Two weeks later, New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman, declared on the program: "Rush Limbaugh's out there every day against GATT." In fact, despite questions about American sovereignty under the proposed World Trade Organization, which he told listeners were answered by Robert Bork, Limbaugh has not used air time to argue against GATT.
Revolving Door: Matalin's Matchmaker
Mary Matalin and James Carville got together thanks to Meet the Press Producer Colette Rhoney, an aide to Carville a decade ago. In their new book, All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President, the now-married campaign managers for George Bush and Bill Clinton described Rhoney's efforts.
While dining at U.S. News & World Report columnist Michael Barone's home, Matalin asked Rhoney if she knew Carville, a man Matalin had seen profiled in The Wall Street Journal. "She said, `Have I? I worked on a campaign with him....He's so cool! I'll call him for you.'" Carville confirmed that "Colette was my assistant on the [Lloyd] Doggett race down in Texas," referring to the losing 1984 Democratic candidate against Republican Phil Gramm.
Matalin recalled: "Colette is a real little Miss Matchmaker and she kept following up on it. I bumped into her at Tim Russert's Christmas party and she said. `Have you talked to James yet?' I told her we'd been playing phone tag. She and I had both had a couple of drinks and she said, `Let's give him a call right now.'" A few weeks later they met.
Rhoney explained to MediaWatch that during her senior year at George Washington University she interned with Peter Hart & Associates, a Democratic polling firm. After graduation, she spent the fall working as a Doggett staffer under campaign manager Carville.
Following a few years in The Washington Post marketing and business departments, in 1987 reporter David Broder made her his researcher. In 1989 she moved to NBC as a researcher for Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, taking the Meet the Press slot in 1992. She's now also producer of CNBC's Tim Russert and is "very involved" in coordinating NBC political coverage. Rhoney emphasized to MediaWatch that she's chosen journalism as her career and "closed the door behind me to partisan politics and I have no interest in going back."
In & Out of Clinton
One Washington-based Wall Street Journal reporter moved into the Clinton Administration just as another left to join the paper. Defense Secretary William Perry nominated Kenneth Bacon, a 25-year Journal veteran who once served as economic and financial features editor in D.C., to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs. The position must be recreated by Congress since former Secretary Les Aspin abolished it. In the meantime, he's replaced Kathleen deLaski, the Pentagon's chief public affairs officer, who went on maternity leave. When deLaski, an ABC reporter until last year, returns, she's expected to take a spot in the policy office....
In September, the National Journal reported that Chris Georges, an aide to since-resigned Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, joined the Journal to cover the budget and economic beats. Georges told MediaWatch that he spent the summer writing speeches for the official at the center of questions about the White House and RTC oversight of Madison Guaranty. Previously an editor at The Washington Monthly, Georges wrote two Washington Post Style section stories on young Clinton staffers, worked for the Post Outlook section, and was among the original Washington staffers of CNN's investigative unit when it formed in 1990 under the direction of Ken Bode, an aide in two Democratic presidential campaigns.
Reporters Club Contract with America with False History of the 1980's
Architects of Gridlock Gone Bad?
Throughout the first half of Bill Clinton's term, the GOP minority in Congress has routinely been portrayed as "architects of gridlock" and "obstructionists." How did the media react when the Republicans put forward a positive agenda? Over 300 House candidates signed the Contract with America on September 27, promising to vote on tax cuts, term limits, a balanced budget amendment, a revised crime bill, and legal reform if put in the majority, but were attacked for recycling Reagan policies.
U.S. News & World Report's Gloria Borger set the tone in the October 3 issue: "Republicans do not actually promise to pass anything; that would smack of governing, which they eschew." She continued: "[GOP leader Newt] Gingrich's list is just a collection of GOP golden oldies that pander to the public's desire to get something for nothing" and concluded: "House Republicans may come to regret it. The voters might actually make them honor their contract."
NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw introduced the contract that night as "long on promises but short on sound premises." Reporter Lisa Myers asserted: "An independent budget expert called it standard political bunk." Myers also poked at term limits, noting Newt Gingrich "already has served 16 years...Gingrich said any term limit bill will apply only to future members of Congress." While no state has passed retroactive term limits, Myers mused: "And politicians wonder why voters are cynical."
In an October 2 Washington Post news analysis, reporter Clay Chandler wrote Republicans were "hoping to bribe the electorate." Chandler accused them of "betting that voters have short memories. They may assume that few will recall -- let alone care -- that the Reagan experiment with supply-side economics quadrupled the federal deficit and left average Americans saddled with higher taxes."
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter proclaimed in an October 10 news story that the contract has "already been tried and discredited. House Republicans are now pledged to tax cuts, increased defense spending, and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Sound familiar?"
Yet economist Ed Rubenstein noted in The Right Data: "Since 1980, aggregate federal tax revenues have grown 111 percent. Had revenues grown at the rate of inflation, the government would have collected 225 billion fewer dollars in 1992. Congress spent the additional money, and then some." The 1992 Joint Economic Report stated: "During the expansion [1982-1989], real median family income increased 12.6 percent," while the income tax payments of all but the top 5 percent of earners fell during the 1980s.
Who lost Socialized Medicine?
Health Blame Game
Petulant over the death of Clinton-style big-government health reform, reporters are passing out the blame. Newsweek headlined a September 19 story: "The Lost Chance -- The Clintons: Newsweek reveals how they set out to reform a broken health-care system -- and squandered a historic opportunity."
The Clintons got their share for exhibiting "hubris and poor judgment." But Newsweek targeted a variety of other culprits: "special interests," "saboteurs," "scare-tactic advertisements," and that "cranky Senate GOP leader...obstructionist," Bob Dole. They even jabbed the press, which was "confused and negligent," and the networks, which "amazingly, refused to give Clinton time for a final plea to the public in August."
"What went wrong?" asked authors Steven Waldman and Bob Cohn, before letting Hillary Clinton provide the answer: "Mrs. Clinton blames the special-interest groups, and not without reason... Much of this money was spent on blatantly untrue advertisements designed to scare the public."
On September 22, reporters found another reason to blame Big Money in a new report from the left-wing group Citizen Action. ABC's Jackie Judd claimed on World News Tonight: "The campaign to defeat or alter the President's reform plan has put a record $46 million dollars in the campaign treasuries of congressional candidates since last year....The watchdog group, Citizen Action, says they got their money's worth."
On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer declared: "Determined to kill the legislation, the health care industry flooded key members of Congress with more than $46 million in campaign contributions, according to a report released today by a nonpartisan watchdog group."
How nonpartisan is Citizen Action? Citizen Action advocates a nationalized Canadian-style "single payer" health system. Yet, in print coverage from January 1990 through June 1993, only 10 out of 240 news stories bothered to label Citizen Action "liberal." As the media heralded Citizen Action for disclosing the role of money in the health debate, reporters failed to note the group doesn't practice what it preaches: Citizen Action refuses to disclose any financial information.
Health Risk Hype
Los Angeles Times reporter David Shaw took on media fear- mongering over environmental risk in a September 11-13 series, "Living Scared: Why Do the Media Make Life Seem So Risky?" He demonstrated how the media overstate health risks in everything from caffeine to nuclear power.
He cited John Graham of the Center for Risk Analysis at Harvard: "Less than 5 percent of human cancer can be traced to causes that are within the jurisdiction of" the EPA. Yet stories cite man- made chemicals more than any other cause of cancer, according to a study. Shaw looked at heterosexual AIDS: "Although the media have played up the threat of AIDS in the heterosexual community, only 6 percent of all AIDS cases have involved heterosexual contact."
Reporters treat suggestions that there are costs to pursuing safety with disdain: "Conservatives have largely co-opted the cost/benefit argument, though, and since they are largely seen as being pro-business, many in both the news media and the political arena tend to dismiss their arguments out of hand, looking only at their ideology, not at their science or their economics."
Shaw explained: "Too often, critics say, the media provide not just essential information and legitimate warnings but un-warranted alarms for an increasingly susceptible audience, one willing to see risk in almost everything." Perhaps the media low point was what Shaw termed "The Great Alar Apple Scare," involving the alleged-cancer causing pesticide. "Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes initiated a nationwide panic in 1989 by airing a report on the dangers of the chemical Alar." But "after Alar, [New York Times writer Keith] Schneider says, he began asking newer, tougher questions about risk issues and proposals for eliminating risks." 60 Minutes has yet to correct its story.
Defrocked Dope Smuggler?
As U.S. troops prepared to give their lives to restore power in Haiti to Jean-Bertrand Aristide ("a man of peace," according to Bryant Gumbel on September 30), ABC's Jim Angle reported un-pleasantries about the media's favorite "democrat." On September 18, he found "the DEA had uncovered allegations that Aristide, while in office, took payoffs from the Pablo Escobar cocaine cartel. And law enforcement sources told ABC News that when agents asked to question Aristide, Washington killed the idea."
An informant said "Franz Biamby, a cousin of the army chief of staff, saw Aristide take a suitcase filled with several hundred thousands dollars in payoffs," said Angle. "The administration was hoping to repeat what the U.S. did to Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega -- build a drug case against Haitian leaders... But the only information implicating them also implicates Aristide."
Meet the Press host Tim Russert went on a tirade against Newt Gingrich on October 2, demanding eight times that he name budget cuts. Pulling out a chart showing how the budget will be allocated in 2002, Russert queried: "Could you explain to our viewers what areas of the budget you would seek cuts in?"
After Gingrich set Social Security aside, Russert shot back: "So, if we're talking a deficit of $319 billion, you've taken away Social Security. Defense -- if you'll give me a specific number....If you take 50 percent of all domestic spending, that would be the FBI, drug enforcement, breast cancer research, that would get it down to about 150 billion, which would mean about a 20 percent cut in Medicare....tell me, specifically, where you'd cut."
Between 1980 and 1992, Russert noted, "Entitlements went up 54 percent," adding "There's a new book out called Dead Right.... which says that Ronald Reagan never cut...a major social program." But thanks to a lot of shoddy reporting on victims of non-existent cuts, many blame Reagan for social ills. Given the media's defense of spending, politicians are naturally reluctant to suggest cuts.
Look at Russert's colleagues. In the late 1989 special The Eighties, Tom Brokaw falsely asserted over video of homeless people: "Social programs? They suffered under Reagan. But he refused to see the cause and effect." Last year Bryant Gumbel stated: "Faced with declining levels of assistance from Washington over the last 12 years, long-standing urban problems have been aggravated, leading to increases in decay, business failures, and crime, and shortages of housing, school funds." While direct aid to cities fell, social program spending in cities rose from $255 to $285 billion in real terms from 1980-1992.
Janet Cooke Award: ABC Environmental Reporter Loads Cairo Story with White House-Favored Spokesmen
Potter's Pessimistic Population Portrait
For many years, the media have presented one view of population growth: the panicked one. In the September/October American Enterprise, demographer John Wilmoth described his review of 544 articles on population in popular magazines from 1946-1990. Not one of the stories presented population growth as advantageous from 1966-80, while the share of stories portraying population as a grave threat peaked at 80 percent. From 1986-90, the percentage of negative stories was higher than 60 percent, while five percent were positive.
A review of TV population stories from January 1, 1991 to April 15, 1994 by the MRC's Free Enterprise and Media Institute showed the trend intensified on television: Of 36 stories, "only two looked into the positive effects of population growth; 34 focused on negative consequences, often with reporters using vitriolic language typically reserved for partisans." The networks returned to form in September, when the United Nations convened in Cairo. For presenting yet another story reserved for the partisans of doom, ABC's Ned Potter won the Janet Cooke Award.
Potter's September 6 "American Agenda" story on World News Tonight began by lamenting a cancer of people: "Carl Sandburg wrote the words. He called us the little family of man clutching the tiny ball of earth. And it's a pity he was wrong. For the little family is now approaching 6 billion people, and more and more they struggle for a place at the table. Somalia, Ethiopia, China, Rwanda."
Potter theorized that overpopulation leads to war: "Many scholars and, increasingly, American leaders believe the real threat from increasing population is not that people will starve, but that they will fight for farmland, clean water, and other essentials. Governments will collapse or crack down on their citizens when they can't keep control. People will flee their homelands. And the U.S., the world's one superpower, will be called constantly to the rescue."
ABC's decision to de-emphasize famine prevented the damage good news might do to their reporting. As columnist Tony Snow explained in the September 9 Washington Times: "Worldwide food prices dropped 20 percent between 1990 and 1992 and now stand at less than half their 1970 levels. The average resident of sub-Saharan Africa consumes more than 2,100 calories a day, far beyond subsistence requirements." But Potter overlooked food statistics, claiming that Africa was "where the poorest countries happen to have the highest fertility rates and some of the most wrenching crises."
ABC couldn't even find good news from the U.N. itself, as Newsday noted on August 18: "James G. Speth, head of the U.N. Development Program, said, even as he introduced the pessimistic 1994 report, that in the developing world average life expectancy had in-creased by a third, that more than 70 percent have access to health services and primary schooling, and that, where drugs are available, mass killers like malaria have been brought under control."
Potter's story only aired Thomas Homer-Dixon, whom Clinton has praised in two speeches, and State Department Counselor Tim Wirth, who explained: "You have too many people chasing too little land, too little food, too little forest cover, too little water, and you're inevitably going to have conflicts."
"Just look around the planet, says the White House," Potter relayed. "Pick a trouble spot and you will see how population has magnified its problems. Pick Haiti, for instance, where Homer-Dixon says horrendous political problems are made all the worse by crowding, where dense jungle cleared for farmland is now badly overused."
What Potter did not explain is how ancient his argument is. Wilmoth noted that in 1948, Newsweek columnist Joseph Phillips explained how British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin thought "lack of an outlet for surplus population was one of the fundamental causes of the second world war." In 1969, Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb foresaw massive food riots and wars that never occurred.
How do theorists prove that population growth is a factor in war, as important as the rise of Hitler or the overthrow of Aristide? Homer-Dixon noted the lack of data in the February 1993 Scientific American: "For several decades, some economists and environmental experts like Robert Heilbroner, Paul Ehrlich, and Jessica Tuchman Matthews have warned that such scarcities could spark violent civil or international conflict. But debate has been limited by lack of carefully compiled evidence." Homer-Dixon claimed new evidence, but none of it appeared in detail in Potter's report, or in Scientific American. Even Alexander Cockburn of The Nation called Homer-Dixon's work "data-free."
Homer-Dixon told Potter: "I think that if we don't take very strong action in many of these areas within the next ten or fifteen years, then it's quite possible the game will be lost."
In the September/October American Enterprise, Harvard scholar Nicholas Eberstadt noted some heavily populated nations that aren't war-torn: "The United Kingdom as of 1981 would have been slightly more overpopulated than India; Japan today would be more overpopulated than Indonesia; the continental United States would be considerably more overpopulated than Africa."
Potter explained his viewpoint with a metaphor: "One political scientist says it's a little like a stretch limousine on the pot-holed streets of New York. Inside are the wealthy countries with their air conditioning and their computers. Outside is the rest of the world begging for food." The source? Homer-Dixon, in Scientific American.
Potter's purloined metaphor sounds a lot like U.N. rhetoric (rich nations are unjustly rich and should redistribute their wealth to poor nations), but like the rest of Potter's story it left out the Western view: that wealth is created, not just stolen, and that the poor nations of the world, like Haiti, are often the unfree nations, while the developed nations are free. Poor nations don't require cash, but democracy and free enterprise.
When MediaWatch called Potter, he declined comment by passing the call to ABC spokesman Arnot Walker, who said Potter was "out and about," adding: "You have a copy of the transcript, right? Well, that's it then."
Potter's story concluded: "But even the darkest-sounding theorist says it does not have to be that way, as long as ways can be found to help the world support its growing numbers and keep the number from exploding. Then, every future child will be able to make the same claim. I am, I have come through, I belong, I am a member of the family." Potter only used the darkest-sounding theorists. Optimists don't belong, aren't a member of the Ned Potter news family.