MediaWatch: September 1989

Vol. Three No. 9

NewsBites: Doom But Not Boom

DOOM BUT NOT BOOM. "They're starting the happen: plant closings, worker layoffs," reporter Ray Brady ominously began the July 27 CBS Evening News. Brady droned on with more bad news, noting, "consumers have cut back on their spending, another factor hitting the economy by slowing up housing and driving autos into a slump." And what did these trends reflect? A government report pegging GNP growth at a relatively low 1.7 percent.

But on August 29, the revised government figure showed GNP actually grew at a healthy 2.7 percent clip. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer read the news as the ninth story of the night. The reasons behind the growth: consumer spending way up, new home sales up over 14 percent. By September, auto sales had jumped 22 percent. Neither Brady nor CBS bothered to tell viewers any of this.

NOT TOO FRANK. Washington's pack journalism has turned into pack avoidance over the Democrats' latest ethical embarrassment, the male-prostitution scandal of Rep. Barney Frank. Broken wide open by The Washington Times on August 25, most of the media provided only obligatory coverage in the scandal's first few days, then let the matter drop.

The Washington Times has led the pack in uncovering the seamy details in the day-to-day coverage. Washington scandals usually rate in The Washington Post when the subjects are conservative (a la Meese). Meanwhile, the Post, the master of page one political warfare, could muster only seven stories over the subsequent three weeks, most buried on inside pages. Only four stories each appeared in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, "the newspaper of record." In fact, the Post and the Times, the networks' favorite papers, did not do one news story on Frank in September until the 12th, when the House ethics committee announced it would investigate.

The three networks were even less interested, leaving a vacuum in evening news coverage from August 26 to September 12, when CBS and NBC (but not ABC) mentioned the ethics committee decision in brief anchor reads. But the prize goes to the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor, which completely ignored the Frank scandal until it finally ran a news story on September 5.

NO GOOD NEWS IS NEWS. When former White House Political Director Lyn Nofziger was convicted of violating a federal ethics law and sentenced to prison in 1988, Time found it newsworthy. When his conviction was overturned in June, Time didn't. Only after an angry letter from Nofziger in which he asked, "Shouldn't newsmagazines also have a code of ethics?," did Time respond. In its July 31 Letters To the Editor section, Time conceded, "The answer is yes. Mr. Nofziger's point is well taken, and we apologize."

DISARMAMENT RACE. The Defense Department recently experienced snafus in testing the B-2 Bomber and Trident II missile, prompting Newsweek to gleefully proclaim the score, "Pentagon: 0, Glasnost: 1." In an August 28 article, General Editor Elaine Salholz and Washington reporter Douglas Waller, a former aide to Sen. William Proxmire, argued "that distaste" for defense spending "has only intensified with the spread of glasnost fever."

"Some day soon," they noted wistfully, "budget deficit woes may converge with international gamesmanship, putting a crimp in some of the best-loved programs of the Reagan defense buildup." Bolstering their point with quotes from liberals Gordon Adams of the Defense Budget Project and John Pike and Thomas Longstreth of the Federation of American Scientists, the two reporters asserted that troubled weapons may be too costly and unnecessary since Gorbachev has "undercut the rationale for the nuclear buildup."

Only one unnamed Navy spokesman got an opportunity to defend the Trident II. Newsweek concluded, "The score at the weekend: two down for the Pentagon, one up for glasnost."

BLAMING THE BIG TEDDY BEAR. Why does the U.S. harbor such hostility toward the Soviet Union? Could it be mass oppression, death camps, tanks in the streets of foreign capitals? Naah. After consulting psychologists, Newsweek has come up with a novel reason: "When a child observed at play stumbles and hurts herself, she immediately accuses her teddy bear, as if it were the bear who tripped her. If she is scolded for misbehaving, she turns and scolds her doll. In infancy, we are just beginning to develop a sense of where we are and where others begin. Unable to tolerate the 'unpleasurable' parts of ourselves, we 'externalize' them onto others. Although our attitudes mature as we age, we never quite outgrow this self-versus-other mindset," Senior Writer David Gelman explained in the August 28 edition.

Gelman suggests anti-communism is something some people never outgrow. "Human beings do love to hate. Having enemies fulfills an important human need, as evidenced by children forming rival packs in a playground or nations stockpiling nuclear weapons." te Gelman concluded: "In the long run, indeed, the hope for a global glasnost may depend on how much the adults who run nations can surrender their childhood need to hate." MediaWatch did not make this up.

ZEALOT WATCH. Psychologists could better investigate the journalistic split personality at The Wall Street Journal: conservative editorial page staff on one side of the brain, conventional liberal news reporters on the other. Journal reporters held up their end of the psychosis with Gerald Seib and Kenneth Bacon's August 17 report, headlined "Right-Wing Zealots Still Wield Power Over Bush Appointees" and "Nomination of Robert Fiske, Hailed by Most, Is Victim of Conservative Activists."

Seib and Bacon wrote an entire story on rejected Bush nominees based only on Fiske and the pro-life campaign against Health and Human Services nominee Robert Fulton, who they asserted was dropped "on grounds that were tenuous at best." As chairman of the American Bar Association's judicial nominations panel, Fiske helped sandbag conservative nominees by sending their names to liberal lobbying groups before the ABA made recommendations.

The two reporters failed to recognize how ironic it sounded to assert that "Mr. Fiske's experience is a case study of how single-minded political activists can distort Washington's nomination-and-confirmation process." The Journal reporters made no mention of Robert Bork or of Bill Lucas, certainly no less the victims of distorted confirmation processes, whose hardiest defenders were--the Journal's editorial page staff.

DIRTY CLEAN AIR REPORTING. The environment is one of the hottest topics on the liberal agenda, it's also at the top of ABC's "American Agenda." On July 25, Ned Potter traveled to Camel's Hump Mountain in Vermont to illustrate the dire need for federal action. Potter asserted a comparison of pictures from 1963 and the present revealed that "40 percent of the trees were dead." Potter blamed the devastation on the fact "clouds that blow in here carry sulfur, lead and more." In early August, however, Yale University tree expert Tom Siccama told syndicated columnist Warren Brookes the problem arose from a "very severe drought followed by an especially killing winter" in 1962.

Potter also contended: "Doctors think 50,000 Americans a year die prematurely because of the fumes that cause acid rain." According to Brookes, "the 50,000 figure came from one extreme theoretical estimate in an analysis where half the experts estimated zero health effects" from the sulfur dioxide emissions that create acid rain. Nonetheless, Potter insisted this specious figure demonstrates "why a new Clean Air Bill is so urgent."

CLIMATE NONSENSE NETWORK. On August 1, CNN joined forces with environmental extremists by airing Climate in Crisis. Narrated by Headline News anchor Don Harrison, the show spent an hour presenting apocalyptic visions of an uncertain future in an attempt to popularize the increasingly discredited global warming theory. Harrison asserted: "People across the world will be chased from places they call home as the thermometer rises. Sea levels may climb more than three feet over the next 50 or 60 years...that's enough to wipe out an entire nation." Harrison claimed the Maldives are "the world's first endangered nation" and threatened "a tidal wave of greenhouse refugees." At the same time, however, Harrison warned of a "rapid increase" in temperatures turning "farm into desert."

Harrison proclaimed that "solutions will require major shifts in economies and lifestyles...Citizens of affluent nations like the United States are not likely to accept big cuts in their standard of living. But if dramatic action isn't taken, the crazy summer of '88 may seem moderate when compared to the turbulent weather that's likely to follow." Forgotten were the record cold temperatures in Alaska the following winter. Harrison urged viewers to "push our leaders for policies that are more environmentally sound. If we fail to act, there may be hell to pay in a hotter world." Critics of global warming theory were completely absent from the special. Summing up the show Harrison declared, "Global warming is not a fact, just a widely held theory. The problem is if man waits for proof, it may be too late."

MORE MEDIA $ FOR ABORTION. The Cowles Media Foundation recently came under fire from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). Cowles, which owns the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was embarrassed by a brief story in the paper's July 15 edition in which "The Cowles Media Foundation and the Minneapolis Star Tribune" jointly announced the foundation's half-million dollar grant budget, dominated by a $200,000 grant to Planned Parenthood.

Jan Schwichtenberg, contributions coordinator for the foundation, told the Twin Cities Reader that the Star Tribune item was inaccurate, claiming the foundation is totally separate from the newspaper. But MCCL points to the Star Tribune's proclamation of support as indicative of the liberal paper's pro-abortion bias.

Cowles joins the foundations of the New York Times, Gannett Newspapers, and Times Mirror (owner of the Los Angeles Times) in sending thousands of corporate dollars to Planned Parenthood, and not to pro-life groups.

ELECTION SELECTION. If you rely on the CBS Evening News, you'd never know about Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's victory in a special election for the seat of the late Democratic Congressman Claude Pepper. CBS felt the race was important enough to justify a story by Eric Engberg three days before the August 29 vote,but didn't mention the GOP victory when it happened. But back in March, only CBS reported the Democratic victory to fill the Republican House seat Dan Coats left to succeed Dan Quayle in the Senate.

POLL WITH A GOAL. When Time ran its July 17 story "7 Deadly Days" profiling 464 Americans killed by guns during one week in May, it included a poll for readers to mail in. Time conducted a unscientific, non-random sampling, loaded the questions and incorrectly identified the results. Under the headline "A Vote for Regulation," Time claimed 88 percent of readers who responded "support additional regulation" of firearms. But Time only asked whether readers supported waiting periods, registration and mandatory safety training. Such policies cannot be called "additional regulations," since these provisions are presently in effect in many states, and the vast range of "additional regulation" includes far more extreme measures (such as confiscation of all firearms) that very few readers would support.

Time's sloppy and lopsided poll sharply contrasts with the results of scientific polls. A study commissioned by the Justice Department found that 78 percent of those polled agreed that "Gun control laws affect only law-abiding citizens, criminals will always be able to find guns." When asked about the level of gun legislation, 13 percent thought there were too many laws and 41 percent thought there were about the right amount. So much for one of Time's current canned letters to readers insisting that the objective of Time's "interpretive reporting" is "to inform rather than to sway."

ABORTING COVERAGE. Since the Supreme Court allowed states to limit abortions, media coverage of special elections has emphasized winning pro-abortion candidates and ignored winning pro-life candidates. On August 8, for example, when Tricia Hunter, the pro-abortion candidate, won a Republican primary for a state Assembly seat in California, the ABC, NBC, and CBS evening newscasts reported the outcome. The Washington Post and New York Times both ran stories and the USA Today headline read: "California's win may be bellwether." The same day, right to life Republican Albert Lipscomb won a state representative seat in Alabama, but the networks, the Post and Times all ignored his victory. Only USA Today even bothered to mention the pro-lifer's victory in Alabama.

CHUNG'S CHOICES. On Sunday, August 13, Evening News anchor Connie Chung announced CBS would examine "alternatives to abortion." But in presenting two alternatives, CBS managed to criticize pro-lifers both times: first for impeding progress, then for being unrealistic.

The first story dealt with contraception. Chung featured three pro-contraceptive spokesmen, including one from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research project of pro-choice lobby Planned Parenthood. Only one "anti-abortionist" spoke. Chung never explained the chief objection of many pro-lifers to some kinds of contraceptive devices: IUDs and many birth control pills induce early abortion. Instead, Chung asserted "contraception should...reduce the need for abortions," and complained "support for basic contraceptive research, funded by the government, is drying up, partly because of pressure from the pro-life lobby." The result, said Chung, is that "experts believe that moving away from this research causes the U.S. to lag further behind" other countries.

Correspondent Christine Negroni followed with a report on a pro-life alternative, a home for unwed mothers, where counselors encourage abstinence from sex until marriage. But Negroni was quick to add: "Critics charge by teaching religion instead of birth control, maternity homes...don't really address the problem." Which "critic" did Negroni feature? Planned Parenthood's Faye Wattleton.