MediaWatch: October 1995

Vol. Nine No. 10

NewsBites: Defund the Nonpartisans?

The Washington Post devoted a September 19 front-page story to the Republican bill aiming to stop activist groups from using taxpayer money to lobby for more government. But the bill's liberal critics never were identified as liberal. Reporter Stephen Barr listed "the bill's harshest critics -- including Independent Sector, a coalition of more than 800 corporate and nonprofit groups, and OMB Watch, a public interest group." Barr also introduced without a label the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the American Association of Retired Persons, the Aspen Institute, and Georgetown law professor David Cole, who Barr didn't mention is active in the far-left Center for Constitutional Rights. But Barr ended his story by turning to Leslie Lenkowsky of the "conservative Hudson Institute."

Mother of All Assaults.

As Congress prepares to vote on allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and logging in the Tongass National Forest, environmentalists are launching a counter-attack. Their weapon of choice? The media.

Reporter Martha Brant took aim at Alaska's Republican delegation in an October 2 Newsweek piece titled "The Alaskan Assault." Rep. Don Young, described by Brant as a "hot-tempered trapper," and Senators Ted Stevens (who's "given to sudden fits of rage") and Frank Murkowski (who lacks Young's "menacing flair") have been shepherding the legislation to supposedly destroy Alaska and kill all the caribou through the committees they control.

Brant set the debate: "Environmentalists try to depict the current conflicts as a morality play that pits helpless animals and sparkling streams against rapacious developers. The problem is that these lawmakers -- arguing that jobs for loggers and oil drillers outweigh traditional preservation worries -- are happy to wear the black hats."

Just how big is this "assault" on Alaska's natural resources? It's tiny, Steve Hanson, Communications Director for the House Resources Committee told MediaWatch. The Tongass National Forest is 17 million acres large. Only 1.5 million acres of Tongass can be harvested for wood. Since 1952, the most wood harvested in a single year was 13,997 acres. The ANWR is 19 million acres, the size of South Carolina. Hanson pointed out that "the actual footprint of the oil facilities is about 12,000 acres."

Clinton's Brilliant Achievements.

The media buildup for the 1996 Clinton campaign is beginning. An August 20 Knight-Ridder story was headlined in one Pennsylvania newspaper, "Polls Show that Clinton's Tough Stance is Gaining More Public Support." Washington bureau reporter Robert Rankin detailed Clinton's popularity-earning moves: "Ordered sweeping regulation over sale and marketing of cigarettes and chewing tobacco to children," "restricted lobbyists' access to executive branch officials," and appointed two proponents of "clean government" to "spearhead campaign-finance reform."

In addition, Rankin reported that over the summer Clinton "Ordered his Education Department to notify every school in America about the religious rights of students, and his Justice Department to defend students whose religious rights are infringed upon." Glowing phrases like "flexing his executive muscles" and "the public seems to like the newly assertive Clinton" permeated the story. To show the popularity of all this plus moves like ordering "equal access to security clearances for homosexuals in government" and defending "affirmative action programs as unequivocally necessary," Rankin cited poll numbers showing Clinton beating Bob Dole.

But according to a poll in the October 2 U.S. News and World Report, "only 40 percent of the voters approve Clinton's job performance and 46 percent disapprove -- no change from last November."

Gang Green.

Newsweek contributor Gregg Easterbrook is no conservative. National Journal reporter Paul Starobin wrote in the September 2 edition that "he volunteered at a recent lunch with EPA administrator Carol Browner to endorse the Clinton Administration's environmental agenda." Then why has A Moment On the Earth, Easterbrook's book on the environment, been greeted with such hostility on the liberal environmental beat? Because Easterbrook's thesis is that the environmental news today is basically good, a theme insufficiently gloomy for some statist environmental journalists: "Not only Easterbrook's science, but also his motive and credentials, have been questioned in a raucous, at times petty, spat that has important implications for the direction of policy."

Starobin noted Time reporter David Seideman penned a poisonous book review for the Los Angeles Times. Seideman wrote that the book "sinks beneath a landfill of falsehoods and sophistries." In an interview Seideman called him a "bully" who "makes caricatures of environmentalists...I'm absolutely appalled by what

he's writing but in awe of his [publicity] skills. He's very good at playing the provocateur -- maybe we're all unwittingly playing into his hands." A second Times review said the book was "powerfully persuasive, both in detail and in perspective."

Also angry is Philip Shabecoff, the ex-New York Times environmental reporter, who accused Easterbrook of sending "a jarringly wrong message to environmental journalists." And what's the correct message? Shabecoff wrote in a recent newsletter of the Society of Environmental Journalists: "Our role is to probe beneath the veneer placed over our continuing environmental ills by industrial political and ideological propaganda," not "feel-good fluff."

Shabecoff told Starobin his big worry was a "corporate culture in the media that looks askance at environmental reporting." In his 1993 book A Fierce Green Fire, Shabecoff cited approvingly the "valuable role" professional activists play in environmental journalism as "intermediaries between the scientific community and reporters." Starobin noted that "[Shabecoff] left the Times in 1991 after he was pulled off the environment beat by editors who, he said, told him that his coverage was pro-green -- an accusation that he disputes."

Back and Roth.

Senator Bob Packwood's resignation led to some confusion in the media. Reporters worried about the loss of another moderate as they went searching for a label for Senator William Roth, his successor as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

On the September 8 Good Morning America's 7:00 a.m. news summary, correspondent Bob Zelnick anointed him moderate: "Bill Roth, the Republican of Delaware, will take over, a moderate but not quite the power Packwood is." Thirty minutes later, however, anchor Morton Dean changed the label: "The moderate Packwood leaving the Senate and giving up the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and favored to replace him, the more conservative William Roth of Delaware."

U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts worried in the September 18 edition that Roth's ascension would leave "fewer GOP moderates, more hardline conservatives and a Senate where compromises are harder to reach." Specifically, he described Roth as "a more timid lawmaker who is far less likely to assert his independence from conservative orthodoxy" than Packwood. If Dean or Roberts had checked they'd have learned that Roth is hardly a hard-line conservative. In 1994 he earned a 35 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and a 68 from the American Conservative Union which gave Packwood 67 percent approval.

Beijing Memories.

The U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing gave the media a convenient hook to hang their large feminist hats, celebrating abortion as women's liberation and the good old days of gender equality under communism. ABC World News Tonight reporter Beth Nissen suggested September 3 that American women shared the plight of the Third World: "American women are still underrepresented among those who enforce the law, who make the law," she said, describing America as "a society that often fails to treat women equally, fairly, or well."

Eight days later, on September 11, ABC's Jim Laurie noted the Beijing conference was "making important breakthroughs," among them a sexual rights manifesto "likely to urge the decriminalization of abortion around the world. With such strides in women's rights, said one delegate, disputes between George Bush and Bella Abzug are unfortunate diversions." But neither Nissen nor Laurie discussed the victims of these "rights," as China's forced abortion condemns many infant girls to death.

In the August 24 Los Angeles Times, reporter Robin Wright noted approvingly that "China's constitution is among the few that openly pledges `women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.'" Wright lamented women's lack of good authoritarian opportunities in the new, freer societies: "Opportunities have actually diminished for females in many of the formerly socialist countries that are embracing democracy and free markets. East European governments have far fewer women than their communist predecessors. And China admits that women hold limited positions of influence in the government and Communist Party -- and none in the Politburo."

As if that weren't enough demonstration of a blind eye to the reality of communism, a week later, Los Angeles Times reporter Maggie Farley blandly recounted how Shen Huiqin reminisced about her "good old days when they were young women at the forefront of China's Cultural Revolution two decades ago. `I was a Red Guard then, and we had power.'" Indeed, those at the "forefront of the Cultural Revolution" from 1966 to 1976 are estimated to be responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million men and women. But Farley never mentioned that -- only that "most of the gains made by Chinese women" came during that murderous decade. Farley wistfully noted: "Now, as communism gives way to capitalism, in many ways women are bearing more than half the burden of change."

Respect for Life?

Newsweek Senior Editor Melinda Beck wrote without irony about home abortion methods in 1989: "Sadly, many home remedies could damage a fetus instead of kill it." In the same style, Debra Rosenberg, Michelle Ingrassia, and Sharon Begley returned to the subject in the September 18 issue, graphically describing a few women's experiences using RU-486 to abort babies.

They recounted how after one women took the drug, she went into the bathroom, yelling to her boyfriend: "Richard! Come here -- look at this!" Newsweek described the scene: "There is a fist-size glob of red and white at the bottom of the toilet. Becky can see the curled-up fetus, the size and color of a cocktail shrimp. `Look at that, honey,' Becky says to Richard. Its hands are curled into tiny fists. `It's sad. It's sad,' Becky murmurs, turning away." Another woman had a different experience: "Unlike Becky, Sarah has not expelled the fetus within 24 hours...nine days after the misoprostol -- she is taking a shower when she suddenly expels the pregnancy sac. It doesn't go down the drain. She scoops it up, wraps it carefully in toilet paper and flushes it away. `It really emotionally hit me,' she says later."

Newsweek related the story of "Claudia, a 23-year-old computer programmer from Connecticut who lives with her boyfriend, had an experience starkly different from Sarah's: the night after taking the drug at the Planned Parenthood clinic she passed the fetus, without even taking the contraction-inducing misoprostol. She had never had an abortion before. `At first I cried,' she says. `It's a mourning process. It's respect for life.'"