In This Issue
Networks Blackout Clinton's Bad News; NewsBites: Extreme Agreement; Revolving Door: Clinton: Moral Leader; Clinton's Character Off Limits; Media Scoff at Far Right...But Buy Wacky Left; Impartial on Partial-Birth; Media Actually Admit Bias; Janet Cooke Award: Clinton Doesn't Get Enough Credit
Networks Blackout Clinton's Bad News
On September 26, the House ethics committee announced it would expand an investigation of Speaker Newt Gingrich's college course "Renewing American Civilization." ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC reported the story, ultimately adding up to eleven broadcast network morning and evening segments in five days.
The next morning, NBC's Today led off with an interview with NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, who proclaimed: "It's awful, it's serious, it's potentially devastating." On October 8, Today's Matt Lauer asked Gingrich six questions about ethics, including two about whether Gingrich would resign. But a MediaWatch review of recent scoops on the Clinton administration's character shows a much different approach to stories which could damage Democrats.
September 23: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's inspector general concluded that Hillary Clinton had drafted a real estate document with the intent to "deceive" federal regulators. That real estate transaction, a sham deal selling a property named Castle Grande to a straw buyer, later cost taxpayers $4 million in the bailout of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.
The Washington Post put the news on its September 24 front page. Network coverage? Nothing -- until October 4, when NBC's Jim Miklaszewski mentioned it in a Nightly News story on a speech by independent counsel Ken Starr: "Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr was invited to appear by outspoken Clinton critic Pat Robertson and the audience was very conservative. The White House claims that's proof Starr is out to get Clinton for political reasons, but Starr says he'll stay the course."
(ABC and CNN did report the story last February 29, when the FDIC released a more favorable assessment, recommending the FDIC not seek legal recourse against Mrs. Clinton or the Rose Law Firm.)
September 24: A House committee held hearings on charges that the administration has let criminals become citizens. The Washington Times story the next day began: "Immigration workers yesterday told a House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee of rampant abuses in the Citizenship USA program that apparently let thousands of immigrants with criminal records become citizens." The networks? Zilch until the October 18 CBS Evening News.
Also on September 24, a federal jury convicted Sun Diamond Growers, one of the nation's largest producers of fruits and nuts, of illegally showering former Clinton Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy with nearly $6,000 in gifts, a conviction for Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz. The story made The Washington Post front page the next day. Network coverage? Nothing, but The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS did a brief anchor-read item.
September 25: Sen. Orrin Hatch revealed a six-month gap in the log which listed who at the White House was accessing FBI background files on Republican White House employees. The Washington Times bannered the news across page one the next day. Coverage? A CNN World Today story and a mention on ABC's Good Morning America.
Also on the 25th, the Times reported that Rep. John Mica (R.-Fla.) sent a letter to Clinton's "drug czar" demanding release of a four-month-old Institute for Defense Analysis report that concluded Bush's interdiction policy was far more effective than Clinton's emphasis on drug treatment. Network coverage? Nothing until a story by David Martin on the October 15 CBS Evening News.
September 26: Three days after President Clinton refused to rule out pardons for Whitewater figures on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 170 members of Congress, including three Democrats, sent a letter to the White House demanding Clinton promise not to pardon anyone. The September 29 Washington Times reported that House Democrats were prepared to shut down the government if Republicans demanded a vote on a resolution calling for President Clinton to renounce pardons. Network coverage? With the exception of one general question on the 29th about pardons from CBS Evening News Sunday anchor John Roberts to commentator Laura Ingraham, absolutely nothing until Dole raised the subject later.
October 1: The White House claimed executive privilege to withhold from House investigators a memo to President Clinton from FBI Director Louis Freeh said to be highly critical of federal drug policy. Network response? Zero.
October 4: Sen. Orrin Hatch released the deposition of White House aide Mari Anderson before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anderson verified that pages of the log used to record the taking of FBI files were missing. Anderson also asserted, in contra- diction to White House aide Craig Livingstone's assurances, that he knew they were procuring the FBI files of Republicans. Even The Washington Post put this story on its front page the next day. Network coverage? Only CNN, in two Linden Soles anchor-briefs on The World Today, mentioned the news. (ABC's World News Tonight didn't report it, but the revelations were raised in an interview on the October 6 This Week.)
Also on October 4, former FBI Special Agent Dennis Sculimbrene, who was the senior agent assigned to the White House from 1986 to April 1996, told The Wall Street Journal: "There were senior people as well, senior aides and advisers to the President who used drugs recently -- people in policy positions, or say, the director of an office...Some senior people even said they had used drugs as recently as the Inaugural." Sculimbrene estimated that "about 25 percent of the incoming administration, about one out of four cases, had a problem with illegal drugs. Not just casual experimentation, but a pattern of usage." Network coverage? Zero.
October 10: A House panel investigating the Clinton administration's secret foreign policy initiative to encourage the Iranian government to arm the Bosnian Muslims asked the Justice Department to probe administration officials for possible criminal charges for false statements. Since the Iran-Bosnia secret foreign policy emerged in the Los Angeles Times April 5, CBS and NBC have aired absolutely nothing on the evening news about the story. CNN and ABC aired only anchor briefs, only in the first days of the story. Network coverage for the latest development? Zero.
On CNN's Crossfire Sept. 20, Chicago Tribune reporter Ellen Warren declared: "Reporters want nothing more, this year and four years ago, to have a horse race. That's what we're in love with, is the fight, the close call....So it's in our interest to make it look close, to make Bob Dole look good."
The omissions documented here suggest otherwise.
NewsBites: Extreme Agreement
Extreme Agreement. Tagging Republican House freshmen as extremists is Democratic mantra. And, it's an assessment endorsed by CBS News. On the October 10 Evening News, Bob Schieffer examined the Ohio re-match between GOP rookie Frank Cremeans and the man he beat in 1994, Democrat Ted Strickland.
Schieffer found a GOP official who thought Newt Gingrich had gone "too far" and asked him a question that incorporated the Democratic spin on last year's budget showdown: "Where did he make his mistake? In shutting down the government?"
Strickland insisted that "people want moderation and when extremes are presented, whether they be from the left or the right, I think people have a tendency to turn away from that." Schieffer then concluded by endorsing the "extreme" assessment: "Obvious perhaps, but as Fall comes to the heartland and the election draws near, dozens of Republican freshmen are running scared, wondering if it's a lesson they learned in time."
Crediting Clinton. For the media, bad news is usually good news. Right? Well, not when the good news helps Bill Clinton. On June 30, The New York Times reported that "the share of national income earned by the top five percent of households grew at a faster rate than during the eight years of the Reagan administration, which was often characterized as favoring the rich." ABC's World News Tonight ran no story. But on September 26, when the Census Bureau reported that median income had risen as poverty fell, who got the credit? Bill Clinton.
Reporter Barry Serafin reported that median income grew 2.7 percent, but remained lower than 1989. Serafin started his story: "The number of Americans living in poverty fell. There were 36.4 million people below the poverty level, 1.6 million fewer than the year before. The poverty rate for African-Americans dropped to its lowest level since 1959, 29.3 percent. What does it add up to?"
Following a soundbite from Clinton, Serafin continued: "Citing the income gains, the President declared that the country is on the right track. He heralded progress on narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest Americans." Serafin used a single expert source for his story, a professor from MIT. Whom did the professor credit? Clinton and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Serafin closed the story: "All in all the new numbers added to a very good day for Bill Clinton." Thanks to ABC.
Gore: Too Important to Criticize. If you are powerful enough to get between a microphone and Clinton then you're personal hypocrisy doesn't matter. At least that's what a CBS story portrayed.
During the Democratic convention in Chicago Vice President Al Gore was widely praised by reporters for his emotional attack of tobacco by highlighting his sister's death from lung cancer in 1984. On CBS Bob Schieffer called it "a barnburner." However, reporters failed to recognize that in 1988, four years after his sister died, Gore made an enthusiastic appeal to voters in tobacco states by stressing his own efforts in growing tobacco.
The October 3 CBS Evening News included a profile of Gore by Rita Braver. For the first time, CBS viewers heard about Gore's hypocrisy, but Braver excused him."He's in on every key White House meeting and decision. Just last month in his role as environmental guru, Gore convinced the President to create a controversial national monument in Utah. Of late, Republicans have attacked him for making a convention speech about his sister's death from lung cancer caused by smoking...While for several years after her death he let tobacco be grown on land he owned." But instead of seeing this as a character flaw, Braver relayed Gore's spin about how he "dismisses that attack as politics, an attempt to sully a man so close to the President he feels free to interrupt him." Viewers then saw video of Gore stepping in front of Clinton at a microphone.
Media to Dole: Just Stay Home. Is it wrong for a presidential candidate to address an ideological political organization? Only if it's a conservative one.
When Bob Dole spoke September 14 to the Christian Coalition, on the NBC Nightly News David Bloom was concerned: "Dole decided only this morning to speak to the Christian Coalition despite worries inside his campaign that a bow to the religious right might send the wrong message to moderate, swing voters... Clinton's campaign spokesman said in a statement: 'Watching Bob Dole arm in arm with Pat Robertson speaks volumes to the extreme agenda being pursued by the Dole-Kemp-Gingrich team.' A top Clinton campaign official was all smiles, saying, 'if you see Dole, tell him thanks for me.'"
But although Clinton was not criticized for refusing to speak at the same Coalition meeting, NBC cast in racial terms Dole's July 10 decision to decline the NAACP's speaking invitation. Back then reporter Jim Miklaszewski claimed the group considered it "an insult to African-American voters...By not showing up here, Bob Dole may reinforce those racial divides along party lines and fuel the anxiety among some Republicans that in this presidential campaign, Bob Dole may not be up to the challenge."
Christian Contradiction. Following David Bloom's piece chastising Dole's Christian Coalition speech, Brian Williams claimed the Coalition was "no longer the lone voice for conservative Christians." What new group of conservative Christians had NBC discovered?
Bob Abernethy described a group "uncomfortable" with the Coalition's "partisanship and with what seems to many critics its divisiveness and its neglect of the poor." Abernethy described the new group's agenda as a "new kind of political action that defends the poor and brings people together." But at their convention, they "heard from children right's advocate Marian Wright Edelman," and Christian Marxist Jim Wallis.
The group, Call To Renewal, hardly fits Williams' "conservative" label. Yet Abernethy didn't apply a single liberal label, even though "children's advocate" Edelman's speech garnered applause for this line: "Let's guarantee a job. Let's guarantee health care and children care. Let's turn this welfare repeal into real welfare reform."
Abernethy simply described Wallis as "Reverend," but in the past Wallis has voiced hope that "more Christians will view the world through Marxist eyes." By failing to disclose Call To Renewal's ideological agenda, Abernethy committed sin by omission.
Media Flew the Koop. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop endorsed the Clinton health care scheme early on, making him a ubiquitous presence on the networks. Koop made news again when he criticized Bob Dole for suggesting nicotine is not addictive. He appeared on Good Morning America and was featured in stories on other networks castigating Dole. In the infamous July interview in which Dole and Katie Couric sparred over liberal bias, Couric cited Koop: "C. Everett Koop is pretty nonpartisan wouldn't you say? He criticized you quite severely for your comments. You're saying the liberal media had a problem but even Dr. Koop had a problem."
But when Koop criticized President Clinton for vetoing in April the partial-birth abortion ban passed by Congress, he fell into TV's memory hole. The former Surgeon General did not appear on any network to talk about his condemnation of the President. The lesson? When a nationally known figure announces he is for a liberal proposal, he is much in demand by the media. When the same figure comes out in support of a conservative cause, the media silence is overwhelming.
Dole Behind: Blame Conservatives. Conservatives argue that Bob Dole's lack of identity with issues that excite conservatives explained why he failed to early on secure his Republican base. But more than a month before the election, ABC's Dean Reynolds instead assigned Dole's low standing in the polls to his being "too conservative." For the September 23 World News Tonight Reynolds traveled to Lansing, Michigan where he found that "many of the voters we spoke with blame Gingrich for last year's government shutdown, for a mean-spirited attitude generally, and for attempts to trim Medicare specifically." Then while interviewing a "lifelong Republican" Reynolds asked, "Your party, did it move too far to the right?"
Reynolds next talked with Republican women in a restaurant who opposed Dole on abortion. Of the eight talking heads aired from Lansing, seven were anti-Dole and only one offered "lukewarm" support for Dole.
Speedy Judgments. When the Republican Congress obliterated the 55 mph national speed limit last year reporters warned of the coming carnage on the nation's highways. "As Congress moves toward allowing states to raise the limit," CBS' Bob Orr sounded the alarm in a June 20, 1995 piece, "safety regulators warn highway fatalities will climbDoctors say if only lawmakers could see what goes on each day in trauma rooms, they would keep the lid on speed." On November 28, 1995, the day President Clinton signed the bill to raise the speed limit, Bob McNamara intoned on the CBS Evening News: "Raising the speed limit may be popular with the public, but there could be a deadly downsideSoon, politicians here may find out that sometimes giving the public what it wants could be a fatal mistake."
Now the statistics are in: Many states have actually seen their traffic fatalities decline. In the August 26 USA Today, Carol J. Castaneda reported that newspaper's review of states that increased their speed: "Three states reported decreases ranging from 4 percent to 28 percent within a five- to eight-month period after limits were raised. Fatalities remained relatively the same in four states." Six states saw increases, but in "California and several other states [that saw increases], it was unclear whether fatalities occurred on highways where the speed limit was raised."
Grand Canyon Gap. On September 18, 1991, when President Bush visited the Grand Canyon, ABC and NBC used it as an opportunity to review his record on the environment. On World News Tonight, anchor Peter Jennings announced that Bush "promised that he would be the environmental President and today he went to the Grand Canyon. It was a trip critics charged was nothing more than grand standing." Reporter Ann Compton opened her story: "This morning there was only a slight haze drifting through the Grand Canyon, so the South Rim was a picture perfect spot for President Bush to claim an environmental victory, but on many days smog from a nearby power plant makes it impossible to see across to the Canyon walls just two miles away." Who did Compton use for a soundbite? Then Senator Al Gore.
What a difference a President makes. When President Clinton and Vice President Gore visited the Grand Canyon exactly five years later to designate 1.7 million acres in Southern Utah as a national monument, no network used this photo op as a chance to tear apart Clinton's environmental record, quite the contrary. On the CBS Evening News, reporter Rita Braver started her story: "With Al `Earthman' Gore by his side, the President signed a bill designating 1.7 million acres of land 70 miles away in Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument." ABC's Sam Donaldson was no different: "Dressed in appropriate western attire, boots and blue blazers, the top guns of the Democratic team came to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to make points as conservationists."
Revolving Door: Clinton: Moral Leader
The chief White House speechwriter got his job because candidate Bill Clinton so liked his reporting. In the September 23 Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell relayed why chief speechwriter Donald Baer, who had been Assistant Managing Editor of U.S. News, was tapped in 1994: "Clinton liked the articles Baer contributed to U.S. News during the 1992 campaign" since "Baer wrote with extreme empathy about Clinton's background."
Caldwell quoted a journalistic colleague: "'Being of the South and still being rooted there, yet being driven and ambitious enough to prove oneself in the larger world -- the two of them have a lot in common.' While Baer has always been a loyal Democrat, he's not necessarily a liberal. Like Clinton, he has an idiosyncratic, instinctive, generally progressive politics that winds up at beyond-left-and-rightism."
Beyond ideology maybe, but not beyond idolizing Clinton. Caldwell learned: "This enthusiasm can appear like ideological non-commitment or caginess. One New Democrat who met Baer at a dinner last year described him as `bland beyond description, a fount of cliches. `Clinton was the moral leader of the Universe,' and all that.'"
Up and Out at U.S. News
James Fallows took the helm at U.S. News in late September. The new Editor promoted one veteran of Democratic politics while another decided to resign. Now in the number two slot as Managing Editor: Harrison Rainie, an Assistant Managing Editor since 1988 when he jumped from the office of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan where he had spent most of 1987 as the Democrat's Chief-of-Staff....
Deciding to depart: Kathryn Bushkin, Director of Editorial Administration since 1984 when she put in a stint as Press Secretary with Gary Hart's presidential effort. Bushkin has joined a PR firm.
NBC's on the Mark
A professional flack for a liberal Senator is the newest member of the on-air reporting team at the NBC News Washington bureau. Alexandra Marks, Press Secretary to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) from late 1993 to mid-1995, signed on in early September. Before joining Kerry and again since 1995 Marks worked as a Christian Science Monitor reporter. But she's not new to TV. Prior to flacking for Kerry, Marks reported for the Monitor's since-failed cable channel and for the 10 O'Clock News on WGBH-TV, Boston's PBS station.
Among the on-air talent brought aboard MSNBC, the new NBC News cable channel in partnership with Microsoft, were a Clinton speechwriter and an aide in a Democratic presidential run. Political correspondent Eric Liu composed speeches for Secretary of State Warren Christopher in 1993 before becoming, at age 25, the youngest speechwriter for President Clinton. The New York Times reported that Liu moved to the White House speechwriting office in November 1993 where he toiled until June 1994....
Chip Reid, hired to cover the White House and Capitol Hill, was general counsel in 1987 for Democrat Joe Biden's unsuccessful run. For the previous four years Reid had been chief investigator for the Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic Senators. After Biden, Reid accepted a producer slot with ABC News and was a reporter for Washington, D.C.'s ABC affiliate, WJLA, when tapped by MSNBC.
Clinton's Character Off Limits
The networks spent early October on referee patrol for Bill Clinton, ruling out of bounds anything critical or negative about him.
World News Tonight anchor Forest Sawyer announced October 3: "Bob Dole decided to step onto center stage with a harshly worded attack not only on the administration's work in the Middle East, but its entire foreign policy....The administration has so far answered softly." The "soft" response? ABC didn't show it, but Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry retorted that Dole advisers are "nattering naysayers of gloom."
MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams that night showed new ads from the Dole and Clinton campaigns: "We're going to begin with the latest ad from the Dole campaign which takes the campaign into a bit of nasty territory." Dole's ad simply showed clips of Clinton talking about taxes to illustrate he's really a liberal. Williams failed to tag the Clinton ad as "nasty," but it included this negative attack line: "Dole and Gingrich tried to slash school anti-drug programs. They'd take us back."
Bozo became the big news on October 8. A man in a crowd yelled at Dole that he should "get Bozo out of the White House." Dole shot back: "Bozo's on his way out." CNN's Bernard Shaw opened Inside Politics: "Was he borrowing the words of an over-enthusiastic supporter, or did Bob Dole lower the level of civility a notch in his contest with Bill Clinton?"
On the next morning's Today, Katie Couric asked NBC's Tim Russert: "As you've heard Tim it turned decidedly nastier in the Dole camp yesterday. He was talking about a moral crisis. He refused to answer a question if President Clinton was morally and ethically capable of being President. You heard that Bozo exchange. Effective strategy or is this going to come back to haunt him?"
Swift network condemnation followed Dole's October 14 decision to raise the ethics issue. On NBC Nightly News David Bloom declared: "In his harshest, most personal attack yet on the President, Bob Dole today charged that the Clinton Administration is unethical, that Bill Clinton himself is slipping and sliding away from questions about possible illegal campaign contributions."
The next day Dole again discussed what he termed "public ethics," leading CBS reporter Phil Jones to worry that Dole "runs the risk of looking desperate and mean-spirited."
Dole's speech prompted Matt Lauer to begin his Today newscast on October 16, the morning of the second debate: "Bob Dole is not waiting for that debate to attack Bill Clinton's ethics. With more on a campaign that is now getting meaner, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell is standing by live."
Media Scoff at Far Right...But Buy Wacky Left
While the media are quick to dismiss crazy right-wing
conspiracy theories about black U.N. helicopters they granted credence
to the charge that the CIA introduced crack into black Los Angeles
neighborhoods as a way to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. The theory was
forwarded in an August San Jose Mercury News series by reporter
Gary Webb. The four major networks aired a total of 12 stories with CBS
laying claim to five. CNN ran three followed by ABC and NBC which aired
two stories each.
ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This
Morning brought on far- left U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. She pushed
the charge as proof that outside forces created urban drug addicts.
CBS's Bill Whitaker accepted the charge and placed the
plight of crack babies at the feet of the CIA. His October 1 Evening
News piece opened with a shot of woman holding a crying baby: "The
decade and a half crack epidemic has exacted a ruinous toll. For ten
years Eloise Dangerfield has been rescuing the littlest victims, crack
babies, from the death grip in which the drug has ensnared much of South
Central Los Angeles....So when L.A.'s black citizens heard of the
San Jose Mercury News reports claiming CIA backed Contras opened
the first pipeline for Colombian cocaine to their communities their
first reaction: shock. Their second: anger."
Whitaker aired a soundbite from Webb's source, a drug
dealer, but offered this ambiguous defense of the CIA: "There is no
evidence directly linking the CIA to the drug sales and the CIA says its
own internal investigation has found no connection. Yet here at Ground
Zero of the crack explosion the story simply won't go away." He ended
with more emotion over reason: "Eloise Dangerfield says it is all too
horrible to contemplate. Knowing might ease the pain, she says, but it
won't end the suffering."
In the September 30 Weekly Standard Tucker Carlson questioned Webb's reporting: "Webb came up with no evidence to support his claim ....Instead of actual evidence, Webb relies on a series of unrelated events to show a conspiracy was afoot." Carlson noted that Sen. John Kerry's two year investigation failed to prove CIA involvement. "Indeed ample evidence surfaced that CIA officials had worked to remove drug traffickers from the Nicaraguan resistance."
Impartial on Partial-Birth
Cutting through the rhetoric forwarded by both sides of the partial-birth abortion debate, in The Washington Post's September 17 Health section reporter David Brown found wanting some media- held assumptions about the issue.
Brown exposed inaccuracies in many abortion supporters' arguments. At the veto ceremony of the partial-birth abortion bill, Clinton said, these women "`represent a small, but extremely vulnerable group They all desperately wanted their children. They didn't want abortion. They made agonizing decisions only when it became clear that their babies would not survive, their own lives, their health, and in some cases their capacity to have children in the future were in danger.'" But Brown uncovered that "Doctors say that while a significant number of their patients have late abortions for medical reasons, many others perhaps the majority y do not."
Brown also examined the procedure from a perspective not usually focused on by the media: the baby's point of view. Since the partial-birth procedure is usually done in the second and third trimesters of gestation, is it possible the last minutes of the child's life are spent in excruciating pain? Brown determined the answer is not fully known: "Scientists must deduce pain's presence (or absence) by looking for the psychological signs of the sensation. Those include hormones and other biochemicals that appear in the bloodstream when pain is produced, as well as more subjective signs, such as facial grimaces or the movement of limbs. Nobody can say, for certain, however, whether these things denote pain in a developing human being."
Media Actually Admit Bias
Sam Donaldson, USA Today's Richard Benedetto and the Chairman of CBS all agree: the media are biased.
With Brit Hume out ill for a few days, Donaldson returned to the campaign trail for the first time since Reagan's years. And he found things have changed, USA Today's Peter Johnson reported September 23: "Have the boys on the bus lost the fire in their bellies, the one that fueled their cries of `Mr. President! Mr. President!' during President Reagan's years in office? ABC's Sam Donaldson isn't saying, exactly, but suspects something's going on. Except for CBS' Rita Braver, `I have heard no reporter trying to ask the President any question,' Donaldson said....
"What's this, Sam? Reporters going easy on Clinton? `You're not going to get me in a fight with these guys. They're my friends,' said Donaldson, who covered the White House from 1977 to 1989. `But there seems to a change in attitude or a different attitude toward covering the President.'"
A USA Today reporter concurs. In his "Politics" column the same day, Richard Benedetto wrote: "As President Clinton's re-election campaign rolled through six states in four days last week, it did so virtually unimpeded by a White House press corps known for setting up roadblocks now and then....He was left free to make a string of feel-good speeches that won great play in the media and gave the desired impression that the Clinton campaign is on a roll....
"In 1992, a tough White House press corps rightly kept President Bush's feet to the fire on domestic issues he would rather have downplayed. But the 1996 crew appears less aggressive with Clinton."
The realization of media bias extends to the top of CBS. Michael Jordan, the Chairman of Westinghouse, parent of CBS, revealed in a magazine profile that he agrees with CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg's charge that network reporting tilts left.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed back in February Goldberg cited a specific CBS story to support his contention that "the old argument that the networks and other 'media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore." CBS reaction at the time: "It's such a wacky charge," commented a baffled Bob Schieffer. CBS News President Andrew Heyward called the charge "absurd," took Goldberg off the air for two months and then canceled his bylined CBS Evening News feature, "Bernard Goldberg's America."
In the Summer Forbes MediaCritic, Terry Eastland found that in a May USAir Magazine profile, Jordan sided with Goldberg: "I think his criticism is fair. I think all the networks can do a better job at providing a more objective and balanced perspective." Now, if only Jordan would put his concerns into action.
Janet Cooke Award: Clinton Doesn't Get Enough Credit
Civility was not the rule at PBS when Frontline asserted the Reagan administration had funneled drugs into American cities to fund the Contras, that Reagan's CIA attempted to kill Contra leader Eden Pastora, or that the 1980 Reagan campaign conspired to delay the release of the Iranian hostages. Congressional investigations later unraveled these conspiracy theories with no apologies from PBS.
But now that Bill Clinton is President, PBS has funded -- without any rebuttal -- Hedrick Smith's four-hour documentary on how Washington works, The People and the Power Game. For devoting his first hour on September 3 to his claim that Bill Clinton has been abused by an uncivil news media, Smith earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Smith began: "By focusing on scandal and conflict over substance, and by our increasingly negative tone, the media has distorted the nation's agenda and lost touch with the public we claim to serve."
But Smith made only two brief asides about coverage of conservatives: how reporters drilled Steve Forbes with personal or tactical questions on Meet the Press, while average people asked questions of substance; and Newt Gingrich complaining about the "childhood games" reporters played at his press conferences. Smith introduced Gingrich: "A politician on the make knows that the sure way to command press attention is with sensationalism and extremist polemics. Newt Gingrich, as a junior Congressman, built his power on media fireworks."
The rest of the hour brought example after example of scandalous Clinton coverage, from the supposed $200 haircut with Cristophe on Air Force One, to New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd: "President Clinton returned today for a sentimental journey to the university where he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted, and didn't get a degree."
Gennifer Flowers. Smith decried the networks "going with a questionable story that almost felled a future President." Smith never investigated the substance of the Flowers story, choosing instead to force anchors to defend themselves for even touching it. But Smith's version was at variance with the actual record.
He reported ABC's Jim Wooten asked Clinton about the Star's Flowers story on Thursday, January 23, but decided not to air a story. ABC's local affiliates did -- as did Nightline, which booked three guests decrying the story as tabloid trash. Smith claimed: "By the next day, ABC's World News Tonight, lagging behind its own affiliates, decided to broadcast the story." Smith asked Peter Jennings: "In this instance, you tried it [to check the story out] on the first day, and on the basis of that standard, you didn't run it...With not much different facts the second day, you did run it." Replied Jennings: "Yeah. I think that's a fair and slightly painful characterization for me. But the truth of the matter is that by the second day, we were pretty much swept along by events."
Smith then interviewed Dan Rather: "I said `Gosh, I don't have the stomach for doing that. And the first day, even the second day, we said `Nah, not for me.' I mean, frankly, I don't care, and I don't think most viewers care. And then somebody came in and said `Look at this. Last night, one of our major competitors, they went with it, they went with it strong,' and that bridges over from the sleazy press into the mainstream."
But any look at the tapes of ABC's World News Tonight demon-strates that they aired no story on January 24, the day after Nightline, but waited until the 27th -- after the Clintons had appeared in an exclusive post-Super Bowl interview on 60 Minutes. And for Rather's version of events -- that a competitor "went with it strong" -- seems strange since he waited until 60 Minutes did the story. Only NBC's Lisa Myers made passing reference to the Flowers story before that.
Brit Hume. Smith claimed: "The once-cozy relationship between the President and the White House press corps has dissolved into permanent combat...Increasingly, critics argue, the balance is out of whack, and the traditional skepticism of the White House press corps has slid into cynicism, where a President's thoughtful deliberation is seen as indecision and compromise as backsliding."
What kind of cynical question did Smith have in mind? When Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court after long considering Stephen Breyer, ABC's Brit Hume asked Clinton: "We may have created an impression, perhaps unfair, of a certain zig-zag in the decision making process here. I wonder if you could walk us through it and perhaps disabuse of any notions we might have along these lines. Thank you."
Eric Engberg. The CBS reporter may have been criticized by colleague Bernard Goldberg for attacking Steve Forbes' flat tax, but Smith was only concerned about Clinton: "Critics contend that Engberg's Reality Checks have gone beyond investigative journalism and become saturated with opinion, almost always negative...Just seven days after Clinton's inauguration, for example, Engberg was on the air with a Reality Check declaring the infant administration a failure."
But Engberg's actual report never came close to "declaring the infant administration a failure." Engberg noted Clinton had not followed through on promises to have plans on the economy and energy available "on the first day" of his presidency. Engberg also brought up news reports that the White House was considering a gas tax, recalling Clinton ruled out raising taxes on the middle class in 1992. Engberg concluded: "Overall, the first week showed the President willing to jump into controversies that can slice away some of his early support. The promise to focus on the economy like a laser seemed to come unstuck in the Washington centrifuge."
CBS's State of the Union. Smith declared: "CBS and others in the Washington media were criticized for relying on inside-the- Beltway punditry in their coverage of Clinton's State of the Union address." The program quoted Joe Klein saying: "It was a very, very long speech. This guy loves to give long speeches." He left out Klein's next sentence: "But it was also a very effective one."
Smith rebutted Klein: "But polls showed the public loved it." Where would Smith have learned that polls showed the public loved it? CBS aired its instant poll results showing that 85 percent "approve of the President's proposals," that 74 percent "now have a clear idea what President Clinton stands for" and 56 percent said Clinton "better understands the major problems facing the country today" than the GOP. Rather signed off by repeating all the pro-Clinton poll results.
Taxpayers fund public broadcasting to be offered an alternative to the commercial networks. Smith's program shows taxpayers aren't getting an alternative, but are paying for PBS to scold the media on how they're not liberal enough.