In This Issue
Networks Promote Government-Directed Systems, Obscure Cost, Quality; NewsBites: Execution Exaggerations; Revolving Door: Democrat to Democrat to...; Newsweek Says Black Families Have Only One Savior; Post Finds "Extremists" on Right; Glassman Breaks Myth; Newsroom Ideology Stays Liberal; Janet Cooke Award: CBS Sunday Morning's Jerry Bowen Portrays Church, Pope as Out of Touch
Networks Promote Government-Directed Systems, Obscure Cost, Quality
Prescribing Nationalized Health Care
Four years ago on NBC Nightly News, reporter Fred Briggs pushed for the Canadian health care system: "When a baby is born in Canada it's given a birthright denied to U.S. citizens -- free health care, a lifetime of preventive and corrective medicine without ever getting a bill from a doctor or a hospital."
With President Clinton about to unveil his health plan, MediaWatch set out to learn if Briggs' report was typical. Analysts identified 20 health stories, aired between January 1, 1990 and July 31, 1993 from morning and evening shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, and evening shows on CNN. The stories profiled government-run or mandated health systems in five countries (Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan and Sweden) and two states (Hawaii and the proposed single-payer Vermont plan).
MediaWatch determined that 70 percent of the stories were decisively positive; talking heads favoring government-run systems outnumbered opponents by two to one; and most stories called the other systems free or cheaper than the U.S. system.
Story Angle. Analysts timed the length of positive and negative statements in each story. Pieces with a disparity greater than 1.5 to one were categorized as either negative or positive. Stories closer than the ratio were considered neutral.
Of the 20 stories analyzed, 14 clearly shed a positive light on single-payer or state-mandated health insurance systems. Four were considered neutral, while only two qualified as negative. None included a mention of a market-oriented approach to health reform.
ABC's George Strait typified the positive assessments. He concluded a May 3, 1990 World News Tonight story: "Hawaii had to make hard political and business choices to become the only state in the union which assures everyone equal access to health care. It is a glimpse of what the rest of America could be if it chooses." Tom Fenton ended his April 5, 1993 CBS Evening News report: "As Americans search for a better system, the lesson from Germany is that private health care can be made available to everyone, provided all pay their fair share."
Soundbites. Proponents of government-directed systems outnumbered the opponents 72 to 36, a two-to-one talking head ratio including both "experts" and "the man on the street" interviews. Among stories classified as positive, the ratio jumped to five-to-one, including eight stories with no negative voices and two with only one dissenter.
Free? In 13 stories (65 percent), the reporter directly stated or indirectly implied that health care came at no cost. Paula Zahn introduced a 1990 This Morning piece on Britain by noting "Many countries have a different approach, making sure no one has to pay for health care." Jeff Levine's May 28, 1992 CNN Prime News piece followed suit: "About 3,000 patients a year visit this community health center in Toronto and no one has to pay a penny."
Even in neutral or negative stories this myth persisted. In the first of a two-partner on Britain, classified as neutral, Dr. Bob Arnot said on the July 16, 1990 CBS This Morning: "Since it began in 1948, the National Health Service has promised universal access at no charge." In the next day's story, classified as negative, Arnot quipped: "It's always free."
Of these 13 stories, only five mentioned a source of payment. Four of those five cited the source of revenue as "the government," and only three mentioned the word taxes. In only one, Tom Fenton's April 5, 1993 report on the CBS Evening News, was a direct tax, in this case the average 13 percent payroll tax placed on German workers, mentioned. Ironically, Fenton reported this just seconds after declaring: "Germans get full medical and dental care without ever seeing a bill."
Cheaper and More Efficient? In 14 of the 20 stories (70 percent), reporters claimed that health care in these alternative systems cost less than in the United States. In a May 26, 1992 CNN Prime News report, Jeff Levine asserted that in the U.S. "yearly medical costs run about $800 billion -- nearly 13 percent of Gross Domestic Product. In contrast, Canada commits about $2,000 per citizen -- that works out to about 9.5 percent of its GDP."
No story mentioned that per capita spending on health care in Canada, relative to the United States, remained unchanged at 75 percent of the U.S. level even after 20 years of national health insurance. As John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis has pointed out, between 1967 and 1987 "real increases in health care spending per capita have been virtually the same in both countries."
Additionally, none of the stories mentioned the different accounting methods that skew the costs of health care. In Canada for example, the capital costs of health care, such as the building of hospitals, along with the cost of employee health benefits are part of the general costs of the Canadian government and are not counted as health care expenditures.
Just one story mentioned the indirect effects of mandated health. In a July 11 Evening News story this year on Hawaii, CBS reporter Bill Lagattuta observed: "Since state law requires companies to contribute for all who work at least 20 hours a week, some businesses are now limiting their workers to nineteen hours." Reporters didn't mention Hawaii's dropping wages, or the absence of job growth in western European countries.
Quality and Access? Fifteen of the 20 stories (75 percent) mentioned problems ranging from long waiting lines to shortages of hospital beds and medical technology. But these complaints were offset by qualifying remarks in 66 percent of those stories. On the May 28, 1992 CNN Prime News Jeff Levine opined, "High-tech procedures aren't as widely available here, as in the States, but Canadians point out that could be a plus." Bob Arnot echoed this aversion to technology in his July 16, 1990 report on Britain, declaring: "There's not the competitive pressure to have every new high-tech device in every hospital."
Similarly, after noting Canadian waiting lists and high tech equipment shortages in a 1992 Good Morning America piece, Greg Dobbs insisted: "But still, there seems to be less pressure on doctors to produce, and more time to simply practice medicine."
While some doctors may be pleased with these systems, only three stories pointed out that patients are not. CNN's Jeff Levine reported on May 29, 1993: "Some Canadians do cross over into the U.S. in search of medical care. In some cases, they're seeking high-tech treatments not readily available in Canada." Bob Arnot's 1990 CBS This Morning report outlined how centralized care inevitably leads to rationing: "British health care has become a two-tiered system, with money or connections you get to the head of the line, without them you wait. That fact is turning people sour."
NewsBites: Execution Exaggerations
Execution Exaggerations. The media have descended on Texas to cover the upcoming execution of convicted murderer (and current cause celebre of the left) Gary Graham. Vicki Mabrey's August 15 CBS This Morning report included a soundbite from Ashanti Chimurenga of the anti-death penalty group Amnesty International. Chimurenga claimed: "In some cases, Texas executes two to three people, at least two people per week. That rate of execution really precludes attorneys and other individuals from doing all that they should do to provide representation."
Thirty-two weeks have passed and at the rate of three executions per week, 96 people would have had their death sentence carried out in Texas this year. But in reality, Texas has executed only 68 people since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976, 17 years ago. No one in the report disputed the ridiculous Amnesty claim, nor did Mabrey correct the obvious exaggeration.
Lunden's Hunger Blunder. ABC has added to the growing list of reports that dramatically overstate the extent of hunger in American children. On Good Morning America August 18, co-host Joan Lunden asserted: "The Census Department's [sic] estimates are just as astonishing. More than eighteen percent of America's children -- that's twelve million youngsters -- go to bed hungry at night." There's just one problem: the Census Bureau has no such hunger studies, and no such number.
Asked where ABC found its Census "Department" estimate, GMA spokesperson Kathy Rehl quoted from a June 10 press release from the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy. Rehl told MediaWatch that the inaccuracy of Lunden's statement wasn't ABC's problem: "We didn't do the analysis. You should take it up with [Tufts]." At Tufts, researcher John Cook admitted to MediaWatch: "There is no Census hunger data." Cook also said Lunden was wrong to imply 12 million children "go to bed hungry at night," that is, every night. "Our findings only claim that 12 million children were hungry at some time in 1991." Lunden might have gotten this point clarified if her summary had preceded an interview with a conservative like the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, but GMA brought on two leftists: Brown and Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ellen Haas, until recently an activist with the group Public Voice for Nutrition and Health.
Warped Abortion Terms. The language of the pro-abortion movement is quickly becoming the standard way anchors and reporters describe the two sides in the abortion battle. For years one side has been termed "pro-choice," the other "anti-abortion." Recently, even stronger pro-abortion euphemisms began appearing in the media.
Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift claimed on the May 22 McLaughlin Group: "Therapeutic abortions will be in [the Clinton health plan] as a matter of reproductive health...It's part of a woman's reproductive health, it's not a euphemism."
On the August 20 World News, CNN anchor Susan Rook introduced a story on violence outside abortion clinics: "For years, women's clinics that perform abortions have dealt with [what] abortion rights advocates call the tyranny of the anti-choice minority. This year the violence has escalated, one doctor has been shot to death and another shot and wounded." There is also a change in how interviewees are tagged. CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn on August 23 interviewed two doctors who perform abortions. When their names flashed on screen, they were each labeled an "Abortion Provider."
Weisberg's White House. In the September issue of Vanity Fair, New Republic writer Jacob Weisberg turned the tables on the White House press corps when he got a chance to look behind the scenes. Weisberg found a few young corps members who believe in Clinton and "form a tight subculture within the White House press corps." Members include: Mark Halperin of ABC, Matthew Cooper of U.S. News & World Report, David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Birnbaum of The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, and Adam Nagourney of USA Today. "Politically, they're all liberal and, despite the emotional wounds of the campaign, far more sympathetic to Clinton than the press corps as a whole."
Then there is the case of Newsweek's openly gay reporter Mark Miller, who on the campaign trail "epitomized the closeness of journalists to Clinton." According to Weisberg, Miller "helped sensitize Clinton to the issue of gay rights." After Clinton took office, Newsweek editors asked him to toughen up on the administration. Early on, Miller reported that George Stephanopoulos was contemptuous of the press. Miller told Weisberg that Stephanopoulos "was really hurt. It was not pleasant for our friendship. I didn't want to be in the position of having to write something like that." Not long after, Miller "asked (Newsweek) to be taken off the beat and transferred to the magazine's Los Angeles bureau."
Defending the Deceased. Reporters are stepping up to defend late Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster's bad decisions, including his membership in an all-white country club. In a long August 15 article, Washington Post reporter David Von Drehle bemoaned: "But what was obvious politically was personal agony...Foster had to telephone his wife to tell her to cancel a tennis match that afternoon...Furthermore, in Little Rock society, many people were offended, according to one leading citizen, by the suggestion they were racists with whom it was damaging to associate. Though the issue passed in a blink on the public stage, privately it deepened the sense, for some Arkansans in Washington, of cutting ties to a life they loved." A life without blacks on the golf course?
In the August 23 Newsweek, media writer Jonathan Alter attacked The Wall Street Journal's editorials criticizing Foster: "The savagery is actually a throwback to an earlier era. The Journal editorial page resembles nothing so much as the rabidly partisan 19th Century newspapers that routinely -- often brilliantly -- slandered anyone on the other side of the barricades." Speaking of rabidly partisan, Alter wrote: "If Robert Bartley, the Journal's editor, hasn't been sleeping fitfully, he's even less of a human being than his worst enemies imagine." Funny -- we don't remember this sensitivity to criticism when it came to Republican officials like Ed Meese. Or Ollie North. Or Lyn Nofziger. Or....
Affirmative Action's Negatives. The unusually large number of D.C. police officers who have been convicted of crimes prompted Eye to Eye with Connie Chung to examine the causes. CBS correspondent Edie Magnus, who pointed out one of every 61 officers is under indictment or has a case pending before a grand jury, traced the problems back to the late '80s when the city's crime rate soared. "Congress ordered the city to beef up its police force -- fast."
In the August 12 piece, Magnus catalogued the problems this hiring blitz aggravated. "It wasn't only the failure to do background checks that let in the bad apples. Some of them were overlooked because of department policy. Policies that remain in effect today. Recruiters aren't allowed to look at an applicant's juvenile criminal record...Applicants are allowed to admit some previous drug usage...And preferential treatment is given to residents of the District."
But a Winter 1993 Policy Review article by Tucker Carlson shows Magnus skipped over one problem too politically incorrect to mention. Tucker cited the same maladies as Magnus, but concluded affirmative action shared some blame. Gary Hankins, former Fraternal Order of Police President, was distressed at the quality of recruits that were passing the police entrance exam in the '80s. Tucker wrote: "Hankins called Donna Brockman, an employee at the Office of Recruitment and Examining...Brockman told him that all test scores were `converted' on the basis of non-academic factors. She said the `conversion factors are sex, race, residency, and whether you went to D.C. schools.'" Hankins told Tucker that "Social engineering in the police department drove down standards and elevated irrelevant criteria."
Less Than FAIR? When the left-wing radicals at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) put out a study in August asserting conservatives were wrong about a liberal bias on PBS, the Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe were quick to publicize the story. But when the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) issued a study in March 1992 of PBS documentaries that found a liberal bias, neither the Times nor the Globe did a story.
Times reporter Sharon Bernstein compared the FAIR study to "a well-publicized conservative study of public broadcasting" by CMPA, even though the Times never publicized it. But on April 2, 1992, Bernstein did find space to report on another left-wing study by the Center for Media Education and the Center for the Study of Commercialism, two Naderite groups, on how corporate underwriting is destroying the integrity of PBS.
Frontline "Facts" Crumble. In 1984, former Sandinista war hero turned Contra commander Eden Pastora was the target of an assassination attempt at a news conference in La Penca. Three journalists and a number of Contras were killed. The bomb had been planted by a man posing as a Danish photographer using the false name of Per Anker Hansen. For nearly a decade, the leftist Christic Institute, bolstered by journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, maintained in a $24 million lawsuit that the bomb plot was part of a right-wing, CIA-sponsored attempt to frame the Sandinistas. The PBS series Frontline touted the Christic accusations in two 1988 episodes, one produced by former CBS News producer Leslie Cockburn.
Through the use of fingerprints, Miami Herald foreign editor Juan Tamayo has now identified the bomber as Vital Roberto Gaugine. A member of the ultraleftist faction of Argentina's People's Revolutionary Army, Gaugine worked for Sandinista counter-intelligence and was trained in Managua by a Cuban intelligence operative. In the September 6 issue of The Nation, Tony Avirgan acknowledged the identity of the bomber noting, "It turns out that he was not part of a right-wing cell or group." We await a retraction from Frontline and Cockburn. And an apology to General John Singlaub and Co.
Miami Lice. The media frequently exaggerate the number of homeless children in America, but NBC added the liberal "solution" to this "growing" problem -- higher taxes. NBC reporter David Bloom declared on the August 11 Today: "A report titled `No Way Out' shatters the image of the homeless. Yes, there are drunken men and mentally ill women, but the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty says that `families with children make up one-quarter to one-third of America's homeless.'" Bloom then asserted: "What's the answer? Homeless advocates say you might find it in Miami, where a new one percent tax on restaurant meals is expected to raise close to $8 million a year for homeless programs. Dade County's plan is being hailed as a national model...because it includes money for long-term subsidized housing."
Bloom quoted Dade County Commissioner Alex Penalas: "We are trying to accomplish...a long-term comprehensive solution to a problem that for many years has been piecemealed to death." Actually, housing assistance grew 120 percent from 1989 to 1993. Bloom only aired soundbites of homeless activists, local government officials, and the homeless themselves. A review by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences found that, contrary to Bloom, "studies seeking to provide an estimate of the number of homeless children...are nonexistent."
Revolving Door: Democrat to Democrat to...
When it came time for the National Public Radio (NPR) board to choose a new President, they stuck with tradition. They chose a Democratic operative: Delano Lewis, long time associate of former District of Columbia Mayor Mar-ion Barry. Lewis replaces Carter official Douglas Bennet, who has joined the Clinton Administration as an Assistant Secretary of State. Bennet had taken over in 1983 for Frank Mankiewicz, a veteran of George McGovern's presidential campaign.
Lewis, President of the C&P Telephone Co., had chaired Barry's 1978 transition committee and served as Co-Chairman of the finance committee for Barry's 1982 re-election. According to Washington Post stories, Lewis participated in strategy sessions after Barry's 1990 arrest for cocaine possession and contributed money to Barry's subsequent campaign for a City Council seat. In the early 1970s, Lewis was D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy's first Administrative Assistant, a position he assumed after serving as a Legislative Assistant to liberal GOP Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
Three West Coast Democrats have tapped media veterans to fill Press Secretary slots in their Capitol Hill offices, Roll Call reported. Oregon's Peter DeFazio chose Susan Lindauer, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report in 1990-91....California's Robert Matsui decided upon Carri Ziegler, a former Los Angeles Times reporter. Ziegler told MediaWatch that she's been out of journalism for a few years, but was with UPI briefly in 1985 following a couple of years at the Times....Norman Mineta, also from California, signed-up Emil Guillermo, weekend co-host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered from 1989 to 1991. Guillermo spent six years in the '80s as a reporter for KRON-TV, San Francisco's NBC affiliate.
Clinton's Healthy USA Today
A year ago, USA Today "Money" section reporter and assistant editor Kevin Anderson left the paper to run external relations for the Alliance for Health Reform, a group chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.). In August he jumped again, this time to the White House communications office. The ten-year veteran of USA Today will serve as spokesman for the Clintons' health care reform proposal.
Last month MediaWatch noted the Defense Department appointment of ABC News reporter Kathleen deLaski as its chief public affairs officer. As it turns out, she'll be surrounded by media veterans. Miranda Spivack will work under her as a public affairs specialist. Spivack will help spin stories on which she had reported just a few months ago. Part of the Hartford Courant Washington bureau since the early 1980s, as late as June she covered decisions on the Groton-built Seawolf submarine.... deLaski replaced Vernon Guidry, now a policy assistant to Secretary Les Aspin. Starting in 1980, Guidry covered defense for the Baltimore Sun. In 1987 Aspin hired him to handle press relations for the House Armed Services Committee where he rose to staff director ....Holding the title of Special Assistant to the Principal Deputy Undersecretary for policy, is Jonathan Spalter, a MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour reporter before becoming Maryland Press Secretary for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Newsweek Says Black Families Have Only One Savior
Government: The Only Solution
The black family in America may be suffering, but Newsweek's August 30 "Endangered Family" cover story suggested it's nothing that government -- and only government -- can't fix.
Newsweek General Editor Michelle Ingrassia wrote: "Emboldened by a sea change during the Reagan-Bush era, conservatives scolded, 'it's all your fault.' Dismissively this camp insisted that what blacks need are mainstream American values -- read white values. Go to school, get a job, get married, they exhorted, and the family will be just fine."
Newsweek argued "the breakdown of the African-American family resulted from rising unemployment, not falling values." In asking why black fathers are absent, Newsweek made excuses: "The biggest culprit is an economy that has locked them out of the mainstream through a pattern of bias and a history of glass ceilings." As the drug ulture grew, Ingrassia argued black men joined "as the legitimate marketplace cast them aside."
What economy is Newsweek talking about? The economy didn't swell in the Bush years, but blacks made tremendous gains in the 1980s. The liberal Joint Center for Political Studies estimated the black middle class grew by one-third from 1980 to 1988, from 3.6 million to 4.8 million.
In addition, black employment from 1982 to 1987 grew twice as fast (up 24.9 percent) as white employment. Real black median family income rose 12.7 percent from 1981 to 1987, 46 percent faster than whites. In other words, the '80s weren't a time of "rising unemployment" that "locked" black men "out of the mainstream" or where a "legitimate marketplace cast them aside."
In the same issue, Newsweek contributing editor Ellis Cose echoed Ingrassia: "Conservatives argue that government programs, by giving people something for nothing, eliminated the incentive to work in inner cities and created an amoral `culture of dependency.' That argument, I believe, is largely nonsense." Cose approvingly quoted a new study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies claiming: "Blacks cannot `create jobs on the scale needed; nor can we restore the economy to include more jobs of moderate skill and decent pay...This is pre-eminently the work of government.'" Cose concluded: "No other entity exists to deal with so many of the problems that the United States confronts."
Newsweek's poll on "what black adults think" showed blacks disagreed. The poll asked "Which one can do most to improve the situation for black families today?" The answer: 41 percent said "black families themselves," 26 percent said "churches," and 14 percent said "community organizations." Only 14 percent said "government."
Post Finds "Extremists" on Right
Farris Fear, Rush Gush
The Washington Post characterized conservative Christians as "poor, uneducated, and easy to command" in a February news story. A recent "Style" section profile of Republican candidate Michael Farris showed the Post still holds conservative Christians in contempt.
Under the August 5 headline, "Does He Have a Prayer of Becoming Virginia's Lieutenant Governor? Yes -- and Some Say That's the Problem," the Post examined Farris, head of the Home School Legal Defense Association and a Baptist minister. Reporter Jason Vest explained: "Given the way Farris has spent most of his public life, it's not hard to understand why some view him as an extremist...There's rhetoric from his past that might send shivers up some voters' spines. He's a candidate who looks like Bobby Kennedy but sounds more like Bob Roberts."
Vest emphasized the ideological definitions of Farris' critics. "I haven't ever experienced such radical beliefs as I have from Farris," one said. Others worried about "an extreme religious view" and described Farris as "somewhere beyond Pluto."
Compare that to the May 3 profile of Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Staff writer Mary Ann French fawned over the Black Panthers' former Minister of Defense turned Congressman. In the '60s and '70s, the Panthers murdered people, robbed banks and sold drugs to finance themselves. Rush went to prison on weapons charges. But the critics quoted by French mostly charged him with not being radical enough, for selling out or being absent when Panther leader Fred Hampton was killed in a shootout.
French gushed that Rush represented "just a clumsy siren call for social conscience. And a steady paddling toward his vision of justice. A gentle spirit shining through sad eyes...An unlikely folk hero."
She also lauded Rush as a "man who usually is careful to be cosmopolitan in his causes, multiracial in his motivations, and modulated in his tone." French didn't delve into Rush's past criminality, only briefly noting that during his 1992 campaign, "The race turned nasty when, as often happens, someone reached back into Rush's past." The Post saved its nasty look into the past for Farris.
Glassman Breaks Myth
Reporters and politicians keep talking about federal "budget cuts," but former Roll Call Editor James Glassman has proved that those claims are "essentially a fraud." In a July 30 Washington Post "Business" section analysis, Glassman explained the government calculates "budget cuts from an imaginary number called the baseline." The baseline is figured by factoring in population increases and other "technical" measures. A program could cost $50 billion one year, while baseline adjustments mean it will take $53 billion the next year to reach the same percent of the population. So if the budget for that program jumps to $52 billion, the media will consider that a $1 billion "cut."
Take the Clinton budget deal, for example. "The final hurdle was getting agreement on a cutback of $56 billion in Medicare, part of nearly $250 billion the plan promises to slash in everything from defense to social programs over the next five years," insisted CBS reporter Bob Schieffer on the August 2 Evening News. In fact, as Glassman explained, Medicare is one of the most "cut" programs because the baseline regularly calls for huge annual increases: "From 1993 to 1994, for example, the CBO's [Congressional Budget Office] Medicare baseline will rise by about $21 billion, or 14 percent. The budget will cut that increase by about $2 billion, but the hike will still be at least 12 percent. Thanks to baseline budgeting, oldsters are now screaming about planned reductions in Medicare spending, even though spending will rise at about triple the rate of inflation."
During the Pope's visit to Denver, ABC's Jeff Greenfield noted that 60 percent of Americans "say they consider religion very important in their lives." So, he asked on the August 13 World News Tonight, "Why is religion so rarely seen in the media?"
Greenfield told viewers: "Only 50 newspapers in America even have a full-time religion reporter. The major TV networks have none." He explained that "news and drama rely on conflict, action" which is why they focus on dissent and scandals in religion as opposed to the "quiet, daily influence of faith." Add to that "the nature of media people -- more skeptical, more secular." He also noted the absence of religious themes in entertainment television. Greenfield concluded: "The ongoing influence of religion in daily life goes all but ignored. This, in a country where on any given weekend there are more people in houses of worship than attend major league baseball games all year long."
Newsroom Ideology Stays Liberal
Diversity or Uniformity?
Diversity is the word of the day in journalism. It's the theme of the Society of Professional Journalists' upcoming 1993 convention. Coalitions of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and women have formed professional associations to push for more diversity in the newsroom.
These movements do not, however, include efforts to diversify the political ideology in newsrooms. As Art Carey, a magazine writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, told The Washington Post in an August 14 article about diversity seminars at his paper: "There's an emphasis on cosmetic, Benetton-ad diversity, but there's very little diversity of political opinion. You'd be hard pressed to find a half-dozen Republicans on our editorial staff."
The reality is that if you're a conservative, gaining access to the news media can prove difficult. The August 14 edition of Editor & Publisher reported that at this year's National Association of Black Journalists' convention, an overwhelming majority of members voted to bar the National Rifle Association from having a booth at the job fair. "This is how the NRA, in its wormy way...works its influence on us," said Los Angeles Times reporter Andrea Ford. The NRA joined a list of "wormy" groups barred from previous NABJ conventions that includes the FBI, the CIA, and the Voice of America.
Don't look for things to change in the near future. A 1992 Freedom Forum survey of 1,400 American reporters found minority journalists "are much more likely to call themselves Democrats" (Blacks 70 percent, Asians 63 percent, Hispanics 59 percent, women 58 percent) than the average journalist (44 percent), making this push for "diversity" a catalyst for more ideological uniformity in the media.
Janet Cooke Award: CBS Sunday Morning's Jerry Bowen Portrays Church, Pope as Out of Touch
Catholics: All Dissent and No Defense
Pope John Paul II's visit to Denver drew largely respectful treatment from the media, the kind of respect accorded to religious giants like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. But for many journalists, the papal visit sparked stories of a Church out of touch with a majority of Catholics, decrying the Church's "theological rigidity." As a result, the public saw defenders of Church tradition dramatically outnumbered by dissenters. For delivering the most slanted story and the biggest insult during the visit, CBS reporter Jerry Bowen earned the September Janet Cooke Award.
On the August 8 Sunday Morning, Bowen explained the Pope might celebrate Mass at the Mother Cabrini Shrine, where a vision of Mary was said to have appeared: "Some say the real miracle is the American Catholic Church itself: still intact, yet still at odds with the man from Vatican City." Bowen lined up 13 soundbites from dissenters to two from Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford. On the other side, Bowen salted the story with dissenting quotes. Church policies were questioned, but not explained.
Out of the hundreds of thousands of young Catholics in Denver to celebrate the Pope's message, Bowen found only dissenters: "I feel you do what you want to do. You can't, don't let anybody else tell you what to do. And I would, I want to take birth control, and I do." Another teen remarked: "You know, it's hard to understand what we're going through unless you're living it, and you know, there's so much pressure. So, and he keeps saying, you know, the, you know, all the rules of the Catholic Church, no birth control, no premarital sex, but it's so hard." Bowen asserted: "It may not sound like it, but sixteen-year-old Natalie, and her friends Julie and Aaron, are among the Pope's most devoted followers."
Bowen added a dissenting nun: "Sister Mary Luke [Tobin], a nun for 62 years, says the Vatican is out of step. The issue for her is the Church's refusal to let women become priests." Sister Mary Luke said the Church "won't be its best until it gets rid of this kind of patriarchy."
Other talking heads included divorced mother Leanna Day ("The compassion's not there. There's no room for deviation anywhere. It's real strict and real rigid, and we can't, we don't live a real strict and rigid life"); Day's liberal priest, Father John Burton ("The Church either changes with the world, or it's left as a museum piece"); and Jim Beeten, a former seminarian who stopped studying for the priesthood because he refused to remain celibate. On all these issues -- premarital sex, women as priests, divorce, and celibacy -- Bowen presented only the dissenters.
A MediaWatch analysis of network morning and evening news stories on internal theological debates demonstrated Bowen may have been the most slanted, but he was not alone. In 14 stories from August 8 to August 15, 57 soundbites challenged the theology of the church, while only 27 defended it.
Bowen cited polls showing a majority of Catholics in revolt: "Ninety percent of Catholics polled disagree with the Church ban on artificial birth control. And since John Paul was ordained 15 years ago, there's been a reversal on the issue of premarital sex, from 55 percent opposition to 55 percent approval."
After looking at the polls, Bowen referred to "heated disagreement over the relevancy of the Church which commands a substantial following on Sundays, but then is seemingly ignored the rest of the week when it comes to the most volatile social issues of the day."
But do the polls accurately represent the Church debate? As Newsweek religion reporter Kenneth Woodward explained on the August 12 Nightline: "These polls, including our own, tend to include about a third of Roman Catholics who are not practicing at all. If you include only people who have been to church at least once in the last month, they're far more open and receptive to what the church teaches."
The Newsweek poll, compiled by the Princeton Survey, shows that Church dissenters are often in the minority. While other media polls (like Gallup's for CNN and USA Today) did not divide respondents' answers by church attendance, the Newsweek poll found that among practicing Catholics (those who attend weekly), 62 percent have no problem with the Church's position on sexuality; 62 percent are satisfied with the Church's position on abortion; 57 percent support the Church's position on women in society. Add those who think the Church is already "too liberal" on these issues and the figures become 66 percent, 69 percent, and 61 percent. Where is the anti-Pope majority?
MediaWatch asked Bowen why his story slanted 13-2 against traditional Church teaching, wondering if perhaps the network's dissent-heavy stories on theological debates were meant to balance stories about the Pope's celebrations in Denver. Bowen didn't see the story as one-sided: "I think you need to go back and watch the story again. It was a very thoughtful story. It had not one side, it had a number of views of very devout Catholics, people who love their Church and love their Pope. It's not an anti-Pope story....I don't think there's any question it was representative of the debate within the Church."
When MediaWatch suggested it was one-sided since no one explained what official Church teaching is or why it's desirable, Bowen replied: "That's your observation and I'm not going to debate it with you. What you're trying to get me to say is that we have a master plan to say things against the Pope, and that's simply not true."
In case anyone wasn't fully convinced the Pope was out of touch with "modern life," Bowen returned to Sunday Morning on August 15 to tell host Charles Kuralt: "There are some who say that he would have been more comfortable in the 5th century, but some theologians say that really, some of the fifth century Popes were more progressive than John Paul II."
Could this be an observation based on 5th century Church history? That perhaps Rome wasn't as influential or insistent on church teaching at that time? Bowen said no, it was a joke: "These are comments made in less of a scholarly vein...I think it's a light- hearted observation. I didn't think of it as being anti-John Paul or anti-Pope."
Reporters would like to pretend their lack of faith doesn't slant their reporting (one poll found 50 percent have no religious affiliation, only 14 percent attend services), but their coverage puts a heavy thumb on the scale against traditional religion, glorifying and enlarging the influence of dissenters in America's churches. The networks need full-time religion reporters, not uninformed, "less scholarly" general assignment reporters, if they wish to present an accurate picture of religion in America today.