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MediaWatch: October 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 10

NewsBites: Suspect Schieffer

Suspect Schieffer. During the hearings on IRS abuses of taxpayers, CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer continually questioned the motives behind them. On the September 24 This Morning, Schieffer told anchor Jane Robelot: "Republican leaders in the Senate have sent out fundraising letters soliciting donations by saying, ‘Your support will help us to end the reign of terror of the IRS.’ So, while it’s true there are certainly some reforms needed in the IRS, I think because these fundraising letters have been sent out, a lot of people think these hearings are suspect."

On that weekend’s Face the Nation, Schieffer conceded his bias in a question to Senator Orrin Hatch: "I think one reason that a lot of people in Washington, and I include myself in that group, did not take these hearings all that seriously in the beginning is that the Republicans sent out some fairly odious, in my view, fundraising letters where they said, you know, send us ten dollars and we’ll help bring pressure to get rid of the IRS. And I think people, in some cases, saw these hearings as just a part of a Republican fundraising effort...But do you think it’s not such a good idea in retrospect to be, trying to raise money on the idea of eliminating the IRS?"

Sheila Who? On the October 2 World News Tonight, ABC’s Sam Donaldson asked: "Remember Sheila Heslin, the former White House National Security Council official who told the Senate committee how she did her best to keep the notorious oil pipeline entrepreneur and big bucks Democratic contributor, Roger Tamraz, from obtaining a private meeting with President Clinton?"

How could you remember Heslin if you were a loyal viewer of World News Tonight? ABC hadn’t introduced her. When Heslin testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs committee on September 17 about how she was pressured to give Tamraz a personal meeting with President Clinton, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called it "the most compelling evidence so far of just how far the Clinton administration would go to raise money for its campaign." But NBC was the only broadcast network to air Heslin’s story.

Donaldson revealed the Justice Department has decided not to pay Heslin’s legal bill "which amounts to thousands of dollars." He continued: "It is said that virtue is its own reward. But having to pay for the honor of possessing it would probably strike most people as grossly unfair and the betting here is that one way or the other Uncle Sam will eventually pick up the tab."

One America? The networks portrayed the President’s national racial advisory board as America’s last great hope for racial healing and open-mindedness. But if the networks closely examined the diversity board’s members they would have discovered the opinions of the board are anything but diverse.

In the October 13 National Review, Evan Gahr highlighted the very narrow and liberal views of the board’s members. Gahr noted board member and California lawyer Angela Oh justified the criminal actions during the Los Angeles riots of 1992. "There is no way in hell that the events of the past several days can be placed on our shoulders, black or Korean...The chaos was the result of much larger failures — political, economic, and social."

Gahr revealed panel chairman John Hope Franklin’s monolithic version of diversity in describing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: "You always have such people in any group...I suspect they may be Judases of a kind...betrayers, opportunists, immoral opportunists. It’s very tempting, I suppose, for people of weak character to be co-opted by the majority that can use them." Franklin also blamed GOP critics of quotas: "In an atmosphere of tolerance of racial bigotry parading under the banner of racial neutrality, white students have been encouraged to intimidate, terrorize, and make life miserable for African-American students at many of our institutions."

On the June 13 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw overlooked all this when he announced the new Clinton panel: "President Clinton tonight launched a campaign to try to narrow this country’s racial division. He held a meeting with his newly appointed task force on race relations, which is headed by historian John Hope Franklin. And tomorrow the President will give a major speech on the subject in San Diego. The theme here: promoting racial healing to create, what he calls, one America."

Honesty: Not the Best Policy. When University of Texas (UT) law professor Lino Graglia spoke out against racial quotas in college admissions, saying they lead to the admission of blacks and Hispanics who "are not academically competitive with whites," it caused an uproar among the liberal student body and the liberal networks. Good Morning America devoted a segment to the controversy. NBC’s Today aired a debate between Graglia and a Latino student, preceded by a Jim Cummins news story. NBC showed Graglia in sinister-looking slow motion accompanied by Cummins: "Michael Sherlott, Dean of the University of Texas Law School, says Graglia’s remarks are regrettable." After a Graglia soundbite from his news conference ("I’m afraid there is no way that I can avoid being called racist"), Cummins concluded: "A subject for discussion, perhaps, in the course he teaches on race relations."

On the September 16 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather introduced the story as "a new reminder tonight of our racial problems." Reporter Bob McNamara opened "At the University of Texas, where a white law professor’s remarks about minority students stunned a campus, Reverend Jesse Jackson came wading into the fray," followed by a soundbite of Jackson urging a boycott of Graglia.

 Without debating the substance of Graglia’s remarks, McNamara focused on student outrage and calls for Graglia’s ouster, claiming "the furor over the remarks is part of the fallout of a federal court ruling outlawing affirmative action recruiting programs at all colleges in Texas." McNamara warned darkly: "Administrators promise an investigation, and until the findings are known, Professor Lino Graglia remains ‘professor non grata.’"

But The Weekly Standard noted Graglia’s remarks matched what UT official Mark Gergen wrote in a 1989 memo: "It is impossible to make meaningful distinctions between Black and MA [Mexican- American] applicants without some sort of quota as a reference, for compared to our Anglo applicants, virtually none would get in. In prior years I could rationalize what I did as admitting all who had a decent chance of succeeding in law school. Experience proves many of those I voted for could not compete."

No Extremists on the Left. Greenpeace is an organization that defines itself by radical politics — and radical tactics. They chain themselves to ships, trespass and show little respect for property rights, a sort of green militia. But the media don’t present them as extreme. On September 16, Peter Jennings began: "One of the world’s most familiar organizations has acknowledged it is in terrible trouble. The environmental group Greenpeace, which has led the way in confronting those who they regard as doing harm to the environment, has been obliged to reduce its American operation dramatically."

Positive Greenpeace spin also came from anchor Aaron Brown on the August 16 edition of World News Tonight: "These are difficult days for the environmental group Greenpeace, probably the best known, and most active of all the environmental groups."

Greenpeace was described as "familiar," "active," and "well known." But consider a conservative group that’s faced declining membership — the NRA. On May 19, 1995, Peter Jennings began World News Tonight: "We begin tonight with the National Rifle Association, one of the most feared, most criticized, and most resilient lobbying groups in the nation." Or try Carole Simpson introducing a NRA story on the May 5, 1997 World News Tonight, run right after a look at the Republic of Texas militia: "It is extremist groups, like the one in Texas, that the National Rifle Association hopes to distance itself from."

But the spin does not end with the anchors. Take ABC reporters on why the groups lost support. In 1995, Judy Muller found extremism: "The NRA’s recent reputation as a group representing more radical elements has resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of membership dues among some high-profile resignations." For Greenpeace, reporter Ned Potter noted tactics, but not ideology: "Maybe that confrontational image backfired...But Greenpeace disagrees. Sure, maybe it needs some leaner management, it says, but you save more oceans by making picturesque protests than by lobbying like everyone else." Potter concluded warmly: "Greenpeace will keep going, but it’s having to reexamine itself at a time when it says the world’s problems are as urgent as ever."

Importing New Welfare Victims. After Congress passed a law limiting food stamp eligibility for immigrants, for the September 28 Evening News CBS found a sympathetic "victim" of the new policy. Anchor John Roberts introduced Sharyl Attkisson’s story: "In this country many poor legal immigrants are now being forced to live without food stamps. Tough new welfare rules are limiting who gets federal help. And as Sharyl Attkisson reports, the immigrant community is struggling to cope."

Her story focused on legal immigrant Moises Sapiro, a recent Russian emigre who doesn’t work, can’t speak English and gets $15 a month of food stamps "to help him survive in America," aid halted by the new law. Attkisson saw Sapiro as just one example in an onrushing wave of imperiled immigrants: "About a million legal immigrants are losing their food stamps, so the states are being forced to step in. Eleven already have started new food aid programs." But she didn’t question how losing fifty cents a day would imperil Sapiro’s "survival."

Attkisson did allow Rep. Bob Goodlatte to explain that the law simply insisted that newly legalized immigrants hold up their end of the bargain by supporting themselves: "It is...a very fair thing to do, to simply say, this is the agreement you reached when you came into this country." But Attkisson countered by visiting a church deacon who fretted over his ability to feed the expected onslaught of hungry immigrants, noting: "It’s too soon to know how many will be looking for new help. But food banks across the country run by charities are already strained." She concluded by relaying fear of impending horrors: "For those who are seeing their grocery money slashed, there’s a real anxiety about where they’ll get their next meal."

Scary Harry. In a September 28 60 Minutes profile of calypso singer Harry Belafonte, Ed Bradley described him as "a singer, actor, producer, and ambassador for human rights." Really? So why does Bradley’s human rights ambassador back the Cuban dictatorship? In 1992, he was listed as a supporter of the worldwide rallies sponsored by Peace for Cuba International Appeal. Flyers distributed by rally organizers stated: "The Pentagon is practicing invasion exercises while Bush attacks Cuba for resisting his ‘new world order.’ A strong rally will let Bush and the Pentagon know that they don’t have a free hand to make war against Cuba."

On Donahue in 1994, Belafonte did not blame the failure of "democratic" Marxism in developing nations on Marxism, but on the U.S.: "Whether it’s Aristide, or it’s [Salvador] Allende in Chile...or it’s [Patrice] Lumumba [in the Congo], everywhere you look, when...people have had miserable consequence [sic] in their efforts of trying to become democratic, you find America at the center of it all."

Bradley saw no irony in a man who rails against anti-communist policies, but when reflecting on what the U.S. has afforded him, stated: "Life has been overwhelmingly rewarding for me. And I’ve looked at it and I’ve said my God, to have come from abject poverty and to now be told that I am a national treasure, wow what a journey."