MediaWatch: September 1989

Vol. Three No. 9

Janet Cooke Award: The ABC's of Day Care

David Blankenhorn, President of the non-partisan Institute for American values, dispels one of the ever growing day care crisis myths espoused by the media this way: "To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the traditional family have been greatly exaggerated."

Karen Geers, Congressional Liaison for the largest women's group in the U.S., Concerned Women for America, has worked long hours in support of the Toddler Tax Credit bill. In her view, it is the fairest proposal: "American families do not need a new national child care program. They need tax relief."

The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector agrees. His ideas were the driving force behind the Toddler bill sponsored by Reps. Clyde Holloway (R-LA) and Richard Schulze (R-PA). The plan is similar to one backed by President Bush. Rector notes: "Despite what the media have reported, the majority of Americans are happy with their day care situation and support a Bush-type plan."

If you're surprised to hear an alternative exists to the Democratic party-backed Act for Better Child Care (ABC), in a way you should be. By distorting and manipulating the facts, the media have lobbied hard for the ABC bill, which would establish a system of federally-subsidized, secular day care centers. Consequently, other plans have been attacked and supporters of alternatives ignored.

To show just how far much of the media have gone in support of ABC, look at the July 31 Good Morning America (GMA) hour-long focus on the status of American day care, the winner of this month's Janet Cooke Award. In addition to co-host Joan Lunden, GMA brought on the following to perpetuate several myths associated with day care in America:

-- T. Berry Brazelton, Pediatrician, Harvard University.

-- Rhae Perlman, star of NBC sitcom Cheers.

-- Representative Patricia Schroeder, (D-CO).

-- Gail Christopher, Director, Family Resource Coalition.

No alternative voice appeared at anytime during the hour. Blankenhorn, Geers, and Rector all told MediaWatch they would have been happy to appear if asked. In an effort to counter the myths, MediaWatch asked these three experts to react to the program. Here's a sampling of the Myths furthered by GMA and the Facts on day care in America.

Myth #1: There's A Crisis In Day Care.

Lunden: "I don't know if [Americans] truly understand what a national crisis it is. Let's talk about what are the dangers if things just stay status quo and we don't do something... It's kind of become a political football now to get this ball rolling as far as a national day care system...

"Earlier this year in a Harris poll, parents with children under age six were asked how the system of child care was working in America. Well, only 8 percent could say it was doing very well...

"The opinion polls show that, I think it's by three to one, people want some kind of regulations to come in and try to solve this problems and yet we still don't have any kind of policy."

Perlman: "The reality is that too many children spend everyday in overcrowded, unlicensed homes where the television serves as teacher and where a baby's cry often goes unanswered."

Fact #1: There Is No Crisis But There Are Things We Can Do. If Rector had appeared on GMA, he would have noted Lunden twisted the Harris poll numbers: "The entire poll was misrepresented. The majority of the people in the Harris poll were mildly or strongly satisfied with their day care. The media have distorted perceptions. Other polls, as well, show in individual circumstances, Americans are happy with their day care choice."

He would have pointed out that polls show parents least prefer the secular day care centers that the ABC bill would fund and expand. Less than one in ten American families say it is their first choice. Nine of ten children are still cared for by parents, relatives, or in other informal environments.

Myth #2: The Traditional Family Is Largely Extinct.

Lunden: "Today, two-thirds of all mothers spend their time working outside the home... Nine million pre-schoolers [are] spending their days in care outside their homes because their parents must go out to work."

Fact #2: The Traditional Family Is Largely Intact. Though not a conservative, Blankenhorn would have come down hard on the media: "The notion that traditional families are anachronistic and no longer exist unfortunately has become a governing theme in the media's coverage of family issue. There is a trend towards maternal employment, but the idea that the traditional family of homemaker mother and breadwinner father is extinct is simply wrongheaded."

Blankenhorn and Rector would have Census Bureau statistics to disprove Lunden's contention that two thirds of mothers are working. The figures show only 29 percent of mothers with pre-school age children work full-time. 17 percent work part-time and 54 percent do not work at all.

How did Lunden and GMA come up with such outrageous statistics? Blankenhorn would have explained: "They boost the number of 'working' families by merging full time and part-time maternal employment despite basic differences between the two types of employment, which relate directly to child rearing and family." The statistics used also bring in non-child families and newlyweds to distort the picture further.

Myth #3; The ABC Bill Is The Solution.

Lunden: "Of course, it's something where the federal government is going to have to become involved. Where is the ABC bill at this point?"

Schroeder: "This is where people out there can really help us. You've got two things. You've got the President saying he's just going to give a tax deduction to people... It doesn't do anything about child care. [ABC} deals with the child development, the quality, all the things we're talking about... We ought to do both and even more than that. So if people will really start helping us, talking to their elected leaders about this I think we can see some action."

Fact #3: ABC Would Not Help. It Would Hurt The Majority of American Families. The ABC bill would mean increasing the tax burden on those who can least afford it. Geers would have labeled it discriminatory: "Traditional families are making the financial sacrifice of a second income. They make fifty percent less than two income earners. Funding a national day care system would force these families to pay for others. We support the Toddler Tax bill because 9 out of 10 families would benefit. Polls show the majority of mothers would rather be home if they could afford to. Tax relief, especially for the lower income families, would allow them to stay at home or choose the day care they wish."

Rector explained the Toddler Tax Credit bill would abolish the current dependent care credit and offer parents an all-purpose tax credit for day care for each child under age 7. Whether a mother worked or wished to stay home raise her child, the family could receive a tax break. The credit could be about $1,000 for those earning up to $20,000, with the credit dropping gradually and ending when the family's income hits $50,000.

MediaWatch asked GMA Publicist Cathy Rehl if anyone would talk about why no alternative day care measure were featured. She responded: "We have five minute segments. We don't have large chunks of time to be able to do things." No producer responded to request.

At one point in the program, substitute co-host Morton Dean remarked to Lunden that the child care debate is of concern to all: "No matter what the income of a woman. And that's something you have to be concerned about. You're a working mother with young children." Lunden's response: "Absolutely, you bet." Given Lunden's income, ABC might have to cut her $1 million salary before she really understands what the average American family goes through. Don't hold your breath in either case."