MediaWatch: September 1997

In This Issue

ABC Morning Anchor Leaves a Legacy of Cheerleading for Socialism and Feminism Joan; NewsBites: Targeted Droughts; Admiring Diana but Hitting Mother Teresa; DNC Chairman Downplayed, National Security adviser Ignored by Nets; Espy's 39 Indictments? Yawn What Sleaze Factor; Caldwell's Gospel; Defining Away Bias; Janet Cooke Award: "Dumbing Down" the NEA Debate

ABC Morning Anchor Leaves a Legacy of Cheerleading for Socialism and Feminism Joan

Joan Lunden: Not Molinari’s Role Model

After waking up Americans for the past 17 years as co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America, Joan Lunden decided to move on to prime time with her final appearance on September 5. Her final show was no more than a video collage of her tenure on the morning news show, with goodbyes from former Presidents and celebrities, but a MediaWatch review of her work over several years found Lunden taking a liberal view on many issues and rarely challenging the positions of her liberal guests.

The European Example. When American reporters travel to Europe, they often report on the benefits of "free" day care and other government-funded programs. This was definitely the case when GMA traveled to Scandinavia in May of this year. In Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 12, Lunden started the week with a celebration of socialism: "Yes, Scandinavia has a very unique approach to life, and at the center of it all is an extremely progressive set of social systems, and I think people would be surprised at just how much they provide."

The next day in Bergen, Norway, Lunden kept right on going as she interviewed former Labour Party Prime Minister and Socialist International member Gro Harlem Brundtland: "Scandinavia has really been known, all these countries, for their innovative and their progressive social systems. But when it comes to protecting women’s rights and children’s rights, Norway could really teach most other countries a thing or two. They are the top priorities here."

After gushing about one year of paid maternity leave the government provides to new mothers, Lunden concluded the interview: "And they also have the lowest crime rate in the world. This is a very, very interesting country that we could learn a little bit from. Hopefully, we can get some of these programs instituted in America. Thank you for having us here."

But Lunden’s love of government-funded social programs didn’t come recently. On June 21, 1994, Lunden talked about family leave with Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute. Once again, Lunden dreamed of Europe: "We’re only kind of at the tip of the iceberg. We have a long way to go before we match up to European countries, don’t we?

Day Care. Lunden’s desire for taxpayer-subsidized day care on this side of the Atlantic was apparent in July 1989, when GMA brought four proponents on for an hour-long look at the liberal Act for Better Child Care (ABC) bill. Perpetuating the liberal claim of a day care crisis, Lunden stated: 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.

Lunden complained: "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." Lunden concluded the interview with the standard liberal line: "Of course, its something where the federal government is going to have to become involved. Where is the ABC bill at this point?

Child Welfare. When GMA traveled to Philadelphia at the end of April for the volunteer summit, they didn’t leave their liberal ideas in New York City. Lunden used it as an opportunity to grill politicians, mostly from the left, about how the new welfare reform bill makes necessary the call for more volunteerism. Interviewing Colin Powell on April 28, Lunden asked: "Some of the things though have to also be done by the government. I mean, you know the criticism, it’s the cutbacks in government programs that’s now bringing this big call for volunteerism about. Are there some areas where the government really has to do more?"

On June 1, 1996, the liberal Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) held its Stand for Children march in Washington. Lunden was already gearing up for the march when she interviewed CDF chief Marian Wright Edelman on May 30. Speaking like the public relations coordinator for the march, Lunden opined: "But it seems like there’s more money being spent for the environment, or for the gun lobby, there are a lot of different groups together, not always in agreement. The federal government’s talking about turning over a lot of the social programs to the states. What kind of programs, what do you think is the best way to approach this?" After challenging none of Edelman’s claims, Lunden ended the interview by glowing: "Gotta get the message out there and get people to rally around one of our most important problems."

Gun Control. Lunden is a fan of gun control. On August 19, 1994, in an interview with then-gun control lobbyist Carolyn McCarthy on the crime bill, Lunden was not interested in challenging her guest: "Nice to have you here. Hopefully we’ll see that crime bill passed."

After McCarthy was elected to the House in 1996, Lunden interviewed her on the November 6 GMA. Lunden enthusiastically welcomed the anti-gun guest: "McCarthy turned her rage over the availability of assault weapons into political activism and last night this ultimate outsider, a former nurse and homemaker, defeated incumbent Daniel Frisa and Carolyn McCarthy joins me now. Good morning. Congratulations! What are your thoughts as you sit there? I mean, a little fear, excitement? Hopes? What are your thoughts?"

At the end of the interview, Lunden encouraged McCarthy’s gun- control crusade: Well, we wish you the very, very best of luck and congratulations to you."

Feminist Sisterhood. Lunden has also been a supporter of feminist causes. When the National Organization for Women (NOW) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1992, Lunden interviewed NOW President Patricia Ireland and liberal columnist Ellen Goodman on the January 7 GMA.

Not only did Lunden fail to bring on any critics, she failed to challenge her guests, lobbing softballs such as, "Where do you see the greatest accomplishments?" Responding to Ireland’s comments, Lunden endorsed some of her approaches: "Interesting. You almost have to take the role of bad girl, so that you can make the noise, so you can open up that door so the more moderate ones can go through."

A couple of months later, Lunden interviewed radical feminists Gloria Steinem and Susan Faludi, the then-Wall Street Journal reporter who had just written Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. Like the NOW interview, Lunden agreed with her guests rather than challenge them: "Isn’t it nice to have something to just blame all these things on...From reading Susan’s things, I mean, I really feel you feel there is a very strong backlash. Do you agree?"

NewsBites: Targeted Droughts

Targeted Drought. Those darn famines keep hitting communist countries, but Marxist economics has nothing to do with it. That’s what viewers learned from a September 10 CBS Evening News "exclusive." Peter Van Sant described his trip with AmeriCares to North Korea, opening with video of malnourished babies in an orphanage.

Van Sant explained: "Government overseers watched our every move, but gave us unlimited access to the babies. Dr. Diane Staves is a member of the AmeriCares team who has come to witness first hand how two years of catastrophic floods and this year’s unrelenting drought are pushing millions into starvation." After a soundbite from the doctor, Van Sant noted: "Today, the babies received their first real food in days, but for most it’s too little too late." Van Sant never even hinted at the role of government policy, preferring to stick to emotional video. It’s amazing how the flood and drought hit only the portion of the Korean peninsula north of the 38th parallel.

Murdoch Killed Her. Many commentators blamed paparazzi photographers for Princess Diana’s death. But CBS blamed Rupert Murdoch, the man CBS considers a conservative ogre. Dan Rather introduced the piece on the September 3 CBS Evening News: "What about the businessmen, the media moguls of tabloid sleaze who pay these photographers big bucks for what they do?"

Reporter Richard Threlkeld zeroed in on just one businessman: "Until Murdoch the paparazzi business was just small potatoes." Andrew Neil, a former Murdoch employee now with The European newspaper in London, asserted: "In this country, Murdoch set new rules. He was prepared to pay big money for these pictures." Threlkeld then constructed the chain: "Murdoch stuck the pictures on the front pages of his London tabloids, The Sun and News of the World. He made a fortune and used it to buy the New York Post, TV Guide, 20th Century Fox, Fox-TV and Sky-TV." Neil responded: "There would be no Rupert Murdoch empire in America if it hadn’t been for the money from the Sun and the News of the World in Britain."

While CBS decried the tabloids, the network broadcast the same tabloid pictures snapped of Princess Diana while she vacationed with Dodi al-Fayed. At least Rupert Murdoch paid for them. Threlkeld didn’t mention that since the CBS News staff was off for the Labor Day weekend the night of Diana’s crash, CBS had to feed affiliates live coverage from another source -- Murdoch-owned Sky-TV.

Workfare Whining. "The work is hot and sweaty. Nasty too," declared reporter Jacqueline Adams in yet another profile of a "victim" of welfare reform. But as usual, not a word in this August 23 CBS Evening News piece about the working people in this country who have been victimized by paying for welfare over the years. Adams continued with her sob story from New York: "Fatima Austin has no choice. To continue receiving her weekly $145.50 in welfare she must spend 20 hours a week scrubbing the walls and stairwells in this public housing complex. When a mandatory six month stint is over, she’ll have two weeks to find a real job or it’s back to workfare again. Even if she never finds a permanent job at the end of two years, she’s on her own." Workfare enrollee Austin, seemingly just before she called Amnesty International, cried out: I’m a human being and I have rights too and this is not right."

 Adams grudgingly noted New York City has reduced its welfare rolls significantly. But the tone of her piece shouted a typical liberal response: more people are off welfare, but at what price? When Mayor Rudolph Giuliani insisted that workfare taught the invaluable lesson of work discipline, Adams shot back: "The Mayor needs to think that, because crunch time for him is just around the corner. To comply with Mr. Clinton’s welfare reforms, this city is going to have to double the number of workfare slots without eliminating a single permanent city job."

Chung Change. The August 19 NBC Nightly News featured Tom Brokaw’s interview with DNC fundraising figure Johnny Chung, touted as an "exclusive" interview. But Chung’s revelation that he bought access to a Cabinet official didn’t appear to be newsworthy to other networks, or the rest of NBC’s news programs, for that matter.

Chung told Brokaw he approached the Energy Department about setting up a meeting with Energy Secretary O’Leary for five Chinese energy executives. An Energy Department official suggested that Chung make a donation to O’Leary’s favorite charity, Africare. Chung gave $25,000 and got his meeting. Big news, buying access, right? Wrong. Later that evening, Dateline NBC ran a longer version of the interview but not the August 20 Today, which never mentioned the scandal. The story was completely ignored by ABC, CBS and CNN. But CNN did air a full report from Brooks Jackson on the 19th on how documents given to CNN showed that back in 1992 the Christian Coalition coordinated efforts with the 1992 Bush campaign, such as discussing voter guide distribution.

Simple Susan. CNN reporter Susan Reed was persistently wrong on California Proposition 209, the anti-racial preference bill passed by Californians and recently upheld by a federal court. Back on April 8 Reed reported: "The battle in California over ending affirmative action is now closer to a resolution. A federal appeals court has upheld Proposition 209, the first state law to end thirty years of affirmative action programs."

 Reed issued two reports on August 28 concerning the anti-Prop 209 protest on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Reed again falsely stated that affirmative action had been banned in California (Proposition 209 banned racial preferences only in government hiring and contracting). On that day’s Inside Politics she stated: "This is a raucous crowd, it’s fired up. You think they’d be celebrating a victory, instead of the first full day of affirmative action being banned in California...This is a very divisive issue here in California. As you may remember, only fifty-four percent of the population passed the ban on affirmative action." By this standard, Clinton’s 1996 California electoral win was divisive, since he garnered just fifty-one percent of the vote on the same ballot where Prop 209 passed.

Reed also characterized Governor Pete Wilson’s attempt to make local government agencies obey the law in the worst possible light: "Governor Wilson [is] threatening municipalities that say they will not enforce [Prop 209] with punitive crackdowns that will involve lawsuits that could cost these municipalities millions of dollars. Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, is saying that federal affirmative action laws should take precedence." On the August 28 The World Today, Reed continued to borrow language from the civil rights era, putting a "civil rights" patina over the liberal interest groups marching behind Jesse Jackson: "To some it looked like a civil rights era protest, to others it looked like a wake, to mark the day affirmative action died in California." Significantly, Reed left out the "third" side of this formulation: The majority of Californians who voted for Prop 209.

The Carey Conspiracy. Print reporters for the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and The New Republic uncovered charges as long ago as July that the Teamsters agreed to donate nearly $1 million in PAC contributions to Democratic National Committee affiliates in exchange for a "commitment" to help Ron Carey’s campaign for union chief. But the networks first bypassed this news and then offered White House spin without comment when they did finally report the story.

Even though the UPS strike was the most widely covered strike this decade the networks couldn’t find the time to highlight an incriminating memo mentioned in the pre-strike July 29, Wall Street Journal. The networks failed to mention a note outlining a DNC "commitment" to the union written by Democratic direct mail consultant Martin Davis, who wrote a memo telling Teamster DRIVE PAC political director Bill Hamilton to contact Richard Sullivan, the former DNC finance director who served as the Thompson hearings’ first witness.

On August 23 The Washington Post reported the Justice Department was investigating whether officials at the DNC improperly directed contributions to Carey’s campaign. All the networks did cover the story but on CBS and CNN it came wrapped in Democratic denials. On that night’s CBS Evening News, Bill Plante announced: "The Democratic National Committee did say it doesn’t believe that any commitments were made or any plan implemented. And the White House special counsel says that to the administration’s best knowledge, no one there was involved in any such deal." So it’s okay to conspire to break the laws, as long as the plan is not implemented?

On CNN’s The World Today, Jeanne Meserve led a lone brief with the White House denial: "A White House official tells CNN he has no knowledge of a [DNC] plan to help Teamsters President Ron Carey in his election last year. White House lawyer Lanny Davis says he has no ideas why a senior Clinton aide’s name is mentioned in notes describing such a plan."

Ad Watch Botch. As with their thousands of claims of Medicare "cuts" in 1995 and 1996, the media continue to be dishonest in refereeing the claims of Democratic campaign ads. Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia, is running an ad asserting his Republican opponent, Attorney General James Gilmore, supported a ninety million dollar cut in education." 

In a September 2 "Ad Watch," designed to aid the public in "evaluating the political message," Washington Post reporter Spencer S. Hsu claimed Beyer’s ad "accurately states Gilmore’s position, including his support of fellow Republican Gov. George Allen’s 1995 $2.1 billion tax cut plan that would have trimmed $90 million in increases in state spending for public health and higher education." (Italics ours.) Hsu contradicted himself in his own story; Gilmore did not support a "cut" in education. He supported a "trim" in increases in spending.

Thirteen days later, in another "Ad Watch" column, illustrated by a picture emphasizing Gilmore’s support for education "cuts," Hsu repeated his acceptance of Beyer’s inaccurate claim: "Beyer accurately states that Gilmore, as Attorney General, backed Republican Gov. George Allen’s failed 1995 tax-cutting budget, which would have reduced education spending by $90 million." Unlike the first piece, Hsu did not point out that to Beyer a "cut" is actually a decrease in planned increases on spending.

Hani the Hero? In a Newsweek article titled "Truth or Justice: A confession could free the killers of a hero," the "hero" referred to is deceased South African terrorist Chris Hani. Johannesburg correspondent Marcus Mabry wrote about testimony before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission about Hani’s 1993 assassination. Murderers who testify fully and truthfully before the Commission are given amnesty for their crimes.

In the August 25 piece, Mabry whitewashed history. He wrote as "the head of the Communist Party and former commander of the ANC’s armed wing, [Hani] denounced violence and became a powerful voice for peace....South Africa can only hope that Hani’s message of reconciliation didn’t die with him." But how peaceful was Hani’s record? According to the State Department’s 1991 Human Rights Report, Hani tried to reconcile with 30 former members of Umkhonto W Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing which he commanded, by ordering they be detained and tortured for "crimes against the movement." Hani should be remembered more as a powerful voice for violence in South Africa even if one liberal reporter’s rosy memory wont accept it.

Admiring Diana but Hitting Mother Teresa

Princess Diana’s death propelled non-stop, laudatory coverage for her life’s work, but ABC was not so reverential toward Mother Teresa when she passed away six days later.

The day Mother Teresa died, September 5, ABC’s World News Tonight led with Mother Teresa, but still spent more time on Diana. Peter Jennings closed the show by saying "it is not possible to compare" Diana and Mother Teresa, but then he did so. His analysis, however, relayed criticism of just one of the two:

"They were both so very famous and each would use their celebrity to advance the causes in which they believed. But whereas Diana has this week been seen by some as a unique example for her generation, Mother Teresa has always been absolutely clear that her work is God’s work. "It is not I who count," she once said, "I am but a small pencil in the hand of God." Mother Teresa was not immune from criticism for using her Nobel acceptance speech to speak out against abortion, for accepting honors from dictators and money without always questioning the sources."

During live coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana, the networks offered comments critical of the Royal family, but avoided airing anything derogatory about her life. ABC News followed another policy with Mother Teresa.

At about 2am ET, in the middle of the September 13 funeral mass, anchor Peter Jennings asked left-wing writer Christopher Hitchens: "Do you think that history is going to judge her more harshly than we have in the week of her death?"

Hitchens delivered a two-minute diatribe: "It will be recalled, for example, that when she got the Nobel Prize for peace, never having done anything for peace or claimed to have done anything for peace, that she said the greatest threat to peace in the world was abortion and she said that contraception was morally equivalent to the murder of abortion. It will be recalled as to how much time she spent with the richest of the rich and the sleaziest of the sleazy with people like the Duvalier family in Haiti whom she went to praise and from whom she received a medal and to whom she said they were lovers of the poor and not only that, even more blasphemously, that the poor loved them, the Duvaliers.

"It will be remembered that she took stolen money from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan and other Catholic fundamentalists who was giving her money that didn’t belong to him and she wouldn’t give it back when asked..."

Hitchens ended by complaining that she showed "a pseudo-humility that was actually very ostentatious, a kind of mock-modesty, and claimed an immunity from criticism which she’s had, in fact, for far too long."

Jennings then seemed sorry that he asked: "I appreciate hearing your point of view...it is a point of view which has been dealt with quite seriously in the Indian press and in the Western press as well in recent days. I was just going to make the point that I wasn’t sure that this was the right occasion for us to continue having a debate about Mother Teresa."

Just how genuine was Jennings’ regret? The Washington Post’s John Carmody reported September 16 that Jennings "stoutly defended the choice of Hitchens." Jennings told Carmody: "I thought it added immeasurably to our coverage. Some of the debate about Mother Teresa very much has focused on reported relationships with the rich."

DNC Chairman Downplayed, National Security adviser Ignored by Nets

Big Names Draw Big Zeroes

Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour’s July 24 appearance before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee drew the most TV news coverage of the July sessions, with the exception of the hearings’ first day. But when Barbour’s counterpart, Don Fowler, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, testified September 9, one evening show and all three morning shows ignored him. Fowler said he had no memory of assisting questionable donors like Lebanese oilman Roger Tamraz into White House events by defying the National Security Council.

MSNBC, which carried Barbour live all afternoon, aired nothing except brief updates on Fowler. CNN, which promised during its four and a half hours of live Barbour testimony that it would also air Fowler’s testimony, aired only 100 minutes of coverage before skipping out at 11:40am ET.

Fowler drew nothing on the next day’s morning shows, even though ABC and NBC each aired interviews on Barbour the morning after his testimony.

ABC’s Bill Ritter asked Cokie Roberts on the August 1 Good Morning America why the July Senate fundraising hearings got so little TV coverage. She replied: "The witnesses that have come so far have not been names that anyone in the media would recognize for the most part. There will be some of those close White House aides when they come back in September, and you can be sure we’ll be there."

The networks proved Roberts wrong on Fowler, and again two nights later, after the highest-ranking official to date, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, appeared before the committee. Berger admitted the White House had almost no screening of donors before inviting them to White House events. That night, ABC aired an 18-second brief, and CBS and NBC aired nothing. The morning shows had zero.

Newspaper scoops that underlined Al GoreÆs aggressive role in questionable fundraising practices also drew little network attention. On September 12, The New York Times revealed that talking points given to Gore for a 1996 fundraising meeting "appear to show him actively involved in not just the strategy, but the execution of an all-consuming fundraising effort. The statements contradict the portrait of a Vice President detached from the fine print of fundraising that his aides have drawn in recent weeks."

 The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times led that same morning with new details of the FBI investigation of a Chinese strategy to influence the 1996 elections, focusing on Chinese publisher Ted Sioeng, who sat next to Gore at the infamous Buddhist temple fundraiser. Network coverage of these stories? None.

Espy's 39 Indictments? Yawn What Sleaze Factor

On October 3, 1994, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy resigned after it became clear he had cashed in on his Cabinet position with frequent trips home to Mississippi and free football tickets and goodies from companies regulated by his department. The next morning, CBS reporter Bill Plante concluded: "White House officials hope now that with Espy’s resignation, this story will simply be over."

After Espy resigned, and each network did its obligatory single evening news story, the White House got its wish. Until Espy was indicted on 39 counts on August 27, the network evening news shows, combined, filed a grand total of two full stories on the Smaltz investigation of Espy and those who dangled favors before him.

To be specific, the full reports were a March 1995 Michele Norris update on Espy and then-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros on ABC’s World News Tonight; and a February 1995 Jim Stewart report on the CBS Evening News criticizing Smaltz for venturing beyond his original mandate. Smaltz was also singled out in part of an ABC "Your Money" segment by John Martin on March 31, 1997: "Today’s GAO report shows that many cases are far from monumental and the time and money spent on them are far from inconsequential. Example, the investigation of whether former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy repaid corporate favors worth perhaps a few thousand dollars.’ Martin emphasized that without any real results, Smaltz had already spent $6.6 million.

The morning shows were worse, airing no full story since the morning after Espy resigned at ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s This Morning, and NBC’s Today. Amazingly, CBS This Morning ignored the 39-count indictment as well.

CNN’s Inside Politics aired two full reports on the Smaltz inquiry in that same long period -- but one was a John Camp attack piece on Smaltz, the other a story on guilty pleas by Republican James Lake.

After Espy’s indictment, the networks again aired just a single story. Three of the four networks -- ABC, CNN, and NBC -- underlined that the Smaltz inquiry had so far cost $9 million. None of them noted civil penalties originating from targets of SmaltzÆs inquiry have amounted to more than $3.5 million.

Caldwell's Gospel

On the August 22 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw profiled a black minister who matched his faith with values of self-reliance and empowerment. Brokaw inducted the minister into his "American Spirit" segment: "He’s been called a bridge-builder, a visionary. However you chose to describe him, this much is certain: The Reverend Kirby John Caldwell is no ordinary preacher. What makes Caldwell unique is his message. A gospel that is equal parts religion and economic empowerment."

After airing a soundbite from a Wall Street friend recounting Caldwell’s call to the church, Brokaw recited the private-sector good works of the entrepreneur: "He started out as pastor to one of the poorest churches in Houston. Now almost 20 years later Caldwell has proven that his career change was no mere mid-life crisis, but a higher calling. The showcase for Caldwell’s ministry is called The Power Center. It was built with investment from the business community and financing arranged by Caldwell. It’s home to a health clinic, a bank, a community college and a private school. It’s emphasis is on self-reliance. The Power Center is transforming the neighborhood. 200 jobs have been created and over the next two years Caldwell expects millions to be pumped into the community. Not a bad investment."

Matthews vs. Morris

CNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews kicked ex-Clinton consultant Dick Morris off his show for religious insensitivity on September 12. Matthews was disturbed by how Morris made Jesus Christ sound less like a savior than a calculating social climber: "In the last analysis, what [ex-Gov. Bill] Weld is trying to do is become the poster boy for moderate Republicans, and he’s trying to get gaveled down, to be screwed over by Jesse Helms. It’s a little bit like getting to lead a church after being crucified."

Defining Away Bias

The August Washingtonian showcased a telling illustration of why the Washington media are baffled by the idea of liberal bias. In their world, the media are dominated by conservatives. That’s the conclusion you reach when you don’t consider Margaret Carlson, Al Hunt, Nina Totenberg or Eleanor Clift to be liberal.

Barbara Matusow, a veteran Washington writer about media affairs, summarized the magazine’s annual look at the top Washington reporters: "Of the 50 journalists on the list, only [columnists] E.J. Dionne, Bill Raspberry, and Clarence Page consistently take the liberal side. But neither Page nor Raspberry is particularly interested in ideology, and none of the three thunders from the left anywhere near as passionately as a [Charles] Krauthammer or a [Bill] Safire does from the right."

By Matusow’s reasoning if you are supposed to be balanced to do your job then you are balanced: "Four presumptive liberals -- Linda Wertheimer [of NPR], Robert Siegel [of NPR], Diane Rehm [NPR talk host], and James Fallows [Editor of U.S. News] -- work at jobs that require them to play it straight."

In fact, Washington journalists only recognize one, single liberal amongst them. "When we asked people if they could name any fire-breathing left-wingers in the Washington press corps, the only person most could think of was Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News, who brings a genuine sense of outrage to his work."

Meanwhile, on Sunday shows "fiery partisans like Bill Safire, Bill Kristol, Tony Snow, Tony Blankley, Charles Krauthammer, Bob Novak, Fred Barnes, and George Will are pitted against journalists like Evan Thomas, Al Hunt, Nina Totenberg, David Broder, Sam Donaldson, and Cokie Roberts, all of whom have centrist, mildly liberal, or ideologically unpredictable views." Matusow missed the obvious implication that journalists can supply the "mildly liberal" view but you have to go outside of journalism for a conservative.

She also refused to concede that the two most visible liberal advocates on talk shows really do justice to liberal positions: "When conventional journalists like Eleanor Clift and Margaret Carlson are forced to hold up the liberal side of the argument almost by default, they can never be as convincing as true believers like Bob Novak or Bill Kristol."

If Carlson and Clift are not liberal pontificators then Matusow is correct. There is no liberal media establishment.

Janet Cooke Award: "Dumbing Down" the NEA Debate

The old saw about the media serving as a government watchdog doesn’t apply to the National Endowment for the Arts. The agency is perpetually derided by critics not only as a funder of perverse art, but as an out-of-control bureaucracy where no one actually knows where the money goes. For glossing over these concerns in favor of liberal sales pitches, CBS reporter Martha Teichner earned the Janet Cooke Award.

Charles Osgood began the August 17 segment with the classic liberal approach, suggesting the cultural future of America rests in one tiny government agency: "The state of the arts will be on the line very soon in the United States Senate, perhaps as early as the second week of September. That is when Senators will have to decide whether to follow the lead of their colleagues in the House and cut off the flow of federal money to the arts. Whether or not you think the arts are important enough to warrant official support, the issue is important because in an era of so-called ‘dumbing down’, it says so much about what sort of society we want America to become.

Teichner quickly cast conservatives as the bad guys, the instigators of "the roughest bout yet in what has become an annual congressional blood sport," noting that the Senate hoped to save the NEA, but House conservatives would "take another whack" at the NEA in a House-Senate conference committee. In the midst of rebutting arguments against the NEA, Martha Teichner’s story left some key points undeveloped:

1. Private funding dwarfs the NEA. Teichner did not note private arts giving exceeds $9 billion a year. Instead, Teichner put on Alec Baldwin touting Harris poll numbers showing Americans respond favorably to a loaded question: would they spare a tax dollar or two each year for the arts? Baldwin said some respondents noted they’d pay five dollars a year. "As opposed to the 38 cents taxpayers pay now for the NEA," Teichner underlined. Laurence Jarvik, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation saw it another way, informing MediaWatch: "The $99.5 million that funds the NEA also represents the entire tax burden for over 436,000 working-class Americans." And the poll? Jarvik countered: "The question never mentions the NEA. It just vaguely talks about a federal role in the arts."

2. The NEA is a bureaucratic mess. Teichner briefly noted: "For Representative Peter Hoekstra, wastefulness is an issue." For a rebuttal, she only aired a sentence from NEA boss Jane Alexander’s House testimony about the NEA spending $21,000 per employee on computers: "This is our whole information management system and our grants management system."

Hoekstra aide Derrick Max told MediaWatch that Inspector General reports show grantees are not accountable. The NEA Inspector General’s report from March 1993 found 57 percent of NEA’s reported grants projects costs were not reconcilable with accounting records; 74 percent of personnel costs charged to grant projects were not supported by adequate documentation; and 79 percent of required independent audits were not in compliance with Office of Management and Budget guidelines, meaning in four of five cases, auditors did not test or report on the grantee’s compliance with the terms and conditions of their federal grants.

3. The NEA’s grant distribution is unfairly urban-centered. Teichner added "another frequent accusation," introducing a soundbite of Newt Gingrich: "There are 140 districts whose $24,000 a year taxpayers pay taxes to subsidize art. And that subsidy goes primarily to New York and California." Teichner rebutted indirectly with Sen. Slade Gorton (who claimed the NEA is now reformed) and his home state of Washington, where $20,000 from the NEA helped to bring performers to a children’s theater festival in Seattle. Attended by 42,000 kids from all over Washington stat, many who’d never see a live performance anywhere else. It’s an example of how the NEA justifies big grants in major cities. Their seismic ripple effect is felt far from the source."

Max told MediaWatch not only are hundreds of House districts getting no NEA funds, but that one-third of the NEA’s grants over the last ten years went to just five cities.

4. The NEA doesn’t fund obscenity by accident. Teichner took on "the all-time favorite, the one that won’t go away, is that the NEA funds obscenity." Teichner interviewed Martin Mawyer of the Christian Action Network, which has toured the country with offensive images funded by the NEA or NEA grantees. Mawyer declared of people touring the exhibit were "shocked that the endowment has funded this." Teichner rebutted: "Except that in many cases, the NEA didn’t. It gave money to museums that happened to have exhibited the works. Even if the NEA dollars didn’t pay for the shows, Martin Mawyer makes no distinction."

Teichner aired another clip of Alexander before Congress: "I think that the National Endowment for the Arts record should speak for itself, Congressman, in that what is little known is that out of the 112,000 grants that we’ve made in our 32-year history only about 45 have caused some problems for people. Now that is if you look at the ratio, that’s a pretty good success ratio."

Robert Knight, the Family Research Council’s Director of Cultural Studies, told MediaWatch that 45 is a laughably low number: "In every report on the NEA from Heritage, FRC and other groups, it is always clearly stated that the examples given are merely the tip of the iceberg and are chosen to illustrate, not to constitute an exhaustive list."

As for how accidental these grants are, Knight noted an interview Jane Alexander gave the gay-left magazine The Advocate, in which she said the NEA should "introduce people gently to gay themes across the country." When asked "What sorts of grants would you reject out of hand," Alexander answered: "Its hard to say at this point if there is any grant that I might reject."

Jarvik agreed by citing a recent New York Times report on the Franklin Furnace, a notorious New York "avant-garde center" frequented by porn star Annie Sprinkle and other pornographic performance artists. The center is selling its real estate for $500,000 to match a half-million dollar challenge grant from the NEA. With that money, they plan to create a video archive of all the notorious Franklin Furnace routines and post it on the Internet: "By preserving these performances, and putting them on the Internet, the NEA is saying ‘This is what we believe in.’"

 Teichner did not return MediaWatch calls for comment. She concluded by touting mainstream projects: "Would the youth symphony survive if the National Endowment for the Arts were abolished? Would other arts organizations? We asked. The answer invariably was yes, but there would be casualties." She didn’t mean taxpayers stuck with the bill for avant-garde disasters and anti-family propaganda.