In This Issue
The Anita Hill Coverup; NewsBites: Unfair to Anita; Revolving Door: ABC's Bush Campaign; PBS Omnipresence Scowls at Charges of Bias; Charlotte Observer Runs Cooke Award; There They Go Again; Nina Destroys Evidence; Hill Shills; Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Sunday Mourning Michigan
The Anita Hill Coverup
On February 2, network television's top-rated news program, 60 Minutes, aired an interview with Anita Hill. CBS spokesman Roy Brunett told MediaWatch that 60 Minutes did no investigation of Hill beforehand, and it showed. The story was 12 days early: in their Valentine, CBS noted that Hill had received "more than 30,000 letters of support," and the interview was just as tough. Instead of employing its normal take-no-prisoners interview style, 60 Minutes treated her not like a controversial political figure, but like a celebrity to be adored. In fact, they were actually tougher on Barbra Streisand earlier this season than they were on Hill.
60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley began by asking Hill: "You've been described as someone who is conservative in your positions. Is that a fair description of you?" In a roundabout way, Hill agreed: "I think I am conservative to a number of people because I do have a religious background. I do go to church. I'm very close to my family. I have a strong belief in the family structure. And I work in a very conservative profession. As a law professor, generally, it's a conservative profession, so I think in that sense it is fair to say that on some issues or in some respects I am conservative."
Bradley pushed further: "How would you describe yourself politically?" Hill admitted "I'm a Democrat." That's the only revelation the interview produced. During the hearings, liberal activists asked what Hill would have to gain from testifying against Thomas, since she was a conservative. One of Hill's witnesses stressed that Hill supported Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court. But when Hill publicly contradicted that conservative image, Bradley failed to probe Hill about Bork, or about Roe vs. Wade, the primary obsession of the first Thomas hearings.
Instead, Bradley queried: "I'm told you have a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt on your office wall, with a quote from her that says: `You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do things you think you cannot.' Is that...you do have that?"
Bradley followed up with softball questions: "What were the costs to you?....Do you think that's what in essence happened to you, that you came forward, and they didn't believe you? That in some ways you were made to be the culprit?....Do you think you got a fair hearing?....You think it would have been different if there would have been a woman on the committee?....Do you think this becomes an issue in the upcoming election?....Are you going to have any kind of role in that?" During these questions, Bradley refrained from interrupting, letting Hill speak as long as she wished. In conclusion, Bradley handed Hill a question that sounded more like a Barbara Walters question to a movie star: "When someone looks at you and sees Anita Hill, what do you want that to mean?" What could 60 Minutes have asked Hill about?
The American Spectator Exposé. Investigative reporter David Brock filed an astonishing exposé on Anita Hill in the March issue of The American Spectator that suggests Hill's story may have been built on false testimony. Brock's best investigative scoop came from the Senate Judiciary Committee's depositions of Susan Hoerchner, the California judge who testified on behalf of Hill during the televised hearings. According to Brock, "In her [Senate] staff deposition and on another occasion, Hoerchner told interviewers that the call in which Hill said she was being sexually harassed occurred before September 1981, i.e., before Hill had gone to work for Thomas." After consulting with her lawyer, Hoerchner changed her story, telling Senators she could not remember the precise date when Hill called.
Brock detailed many other revelations. A former Education Department official told Brock that then-Education Secretary Terrel Bell "received several allegations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill during the time she worked at the department... directed at Education officials other than Clarence Thomas."
And: "According to Hill's former co-workers at the EEOC, she knew [Democratic Sen. Howard] Metzenbaum aide James Brudney quite well. They say that Hill spoke often of going out with Brudney, and of having spent weekends at his apartment when she worked there....More than any other Hill staffer, Brudney...made it his aim to defeat Clarence Thomas." These revelations may be less ironclad than Hoerchner's lying to Congress, but they do cast large doubts on Hill's credibility -- and the media's.
The Post-Newsweek Coverup. Newsweek dispatched Supreme Court reporter Bob Cohn to investigate Hill. But for all Cohn's effort, Newsweek only printed a tiny one-sided December 2 "Periscope" item on how "Republican leaders tried to dig up information that would discredit Anita Hill and applied strong-arm tactics to witnesses reluctant to come forward against her."
Cohn later summarized his investigation in The New Republic (January 6 & 13 issue). In it, Cohn reported revelations similar to some of Brock's findings: "I tracked down Lawrence Shiles, who had signed a [Judiciary] committee affidavit describing events that occurred while he was enrolled in Hill's legal writing class in 1983. In the three-page affidavit and subsequent interview, Shiles said -- get this -- that he and two male friends found a dozen short black pubic hairs inside papers returned by Hill." The Shiles affidavit was signed on the last day of the Hill hearings, but no one reported it.
Cohn also found: "The former students seemed to share an aversion to Hill. All complained she was an incompetent professor whose liberal views infected her teaching. Several said off the record that she represented, as one put it, 'the worst case of affirmative action.'"
Like Brock, Cohn mentioned the testimony of a fundraiser for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), who told him that NARAL head Kate Michelman told her: "This will not be a difficult job. We have Anita Hill. She's agreed to come forward. We've been working with her since July." Since Hill assured Senators that she had not been in contact with liberal interest groups, it would show Hill to be a perjurer. But Newsweek refused to print any of this, forcing Cohn to turn to The New Republic.
Similarly, Lally Weymouth, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post "Outlook" section, submitted her investigation of Hill to the Post, but they rejected it. Instead, the daughter of Post and Newsweek owner Katharine Graham offered it to The Wall Street Journal, which printed the story last November 20.
Weymouth revealed that Hill served as an adviser to a feminist group at the University of Oklahoma, the Organization for the Advancement of Women. Susan Stallings, a former member of that group, told Weymouth: "Anita Hill is a liberal...she was for such things as `comparable worth.' At our meetings, if it wasn't Reagan-bashing, it was Bush-bashing. They were terrified of Roe v. Wade being overturned."
Ironically, Brock told MediaWatch that Cohn and Weymouth appeared to be the only other national reporters on Hill's trail, and their stories were both rejected by their employer. Brock saw no sign of the other national media outlets, which spent months trailing Thomas tidbits, but apparently wouldn't think of investigating the "Rosa Parks of sexual harassment." Perhaps avoiding the appearance of insensitivity is now more important than the pursuit of truth.
For all of the media's pious declarations of moral indignation over Oliver North lying to Congress, their failure to investigate Anita Hill's credibility reveals a blind eye to corruption of the political process by liberals.
NewsBites: Unfair to Anita
UNFAIR TO ANITA. In a Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) poll of 100 journalists, 74 percent thought that the "press's handling of the leak that broke the Anita Hill story was fair and reliable," but just 31 percent thought that coverage of the William Kennedy Smith rape allegations "has been fair and without bias." Clearly the poll in the January/February issue proved reporters don't view things the same way as the public. Overall, the CJR poll found that 77 percent of reporters think news outlets "deal fairly with all sides." Compare that to a 1989 Times Mirror survey. It found that 68 percent of the public believes the media "tend to favor one side."
SCARY CLARENCE. Now that Clarence Thomas has written four opinions for the Supreme Court, legal reporters are warning of his conservatism, and worse. On January 18, Los Angeles Times reporter David Savage suggested Thomas "may be showing the first signs of being a conservative hard-liner ready to sharply restrict the protections of the Constitution."
In USA Today ten days later, reporter Tony Mauro issued a one- sided salvo on Thomas' decision in an Alabama case in which the court ruled against a black county commissioner. Mauro quoted a lawyer for the NAACP, the plaintiff's lawyer, and liberal black judge A. Leon Higginbotham, who lectured Thomas for not appreciating what the civil rights movement accomplished for him. Mauro questioned his blackness further: "But during his confirmation hearings, Thomas sought to convince the Senate he would not forget his roots. As soon as he was sworn in, though, doubts re-emerged: Thomas hired four white males as law clerks."
Legal expert Terry Eastland told MediaWatch these reporters expect Thomas to rule in favor of blacks regardless of the wording of the laws, concluding: "By this standard, Antonin Scalia would always have to rule favorably for Italian plaintiffs, and Sandra Day O'Connor would always have to rule in favor of women."
SO CONSERVATIVE THEY SING. In 1978 Stephen Hess surveyed White House reporters and found 42 percent considered themselves liberal, 39 percent said they were middle-of-the-road and only 19 percent said they were conservative. Thirteen years later, the Brookings Institute Senior Fellow did another survey of the White House press corps. This time 42.4 percent said they were liberal, 24.2 percent said middle-of-the road and 33.3 percent called themselves conservative.
Hess concluded: "Thus the White House press corps might best be characterized as liberal and considerably more conservative than it used to be." But what is conservative by Washington media standards? Hess cited ABC White House Correspondent Brit Hume's observation that he has seen fellow reporters sing the national anthem. "That is new," Hume remarked.
TASTE OF MILWAUKEE. WISN radio talk show host Mark Belling has provided MediaWatch with telling proof of how Bill Moyers operates: If the evidence contradicts his liberal thesis, then he simply ignores it. Last fall, two producers from Moyers' production company filmed an hour of Belling's afternoon show during which callers discussed their attitudes toward their work and jobs. The producers assured Belling they "had no idea of the tone of their piece since they hadn't begun to dig into it yet."
It turned out the producers were working on Minimum Wages, a January 8 PBS special analyzed in last month's MediaWatch. Belling remembered his show: "Caller after caller eloquently and poignantly talked of their experiences. Virtually all were positive. Many were former factory workers who lost jobs in the '80s but recovered and are now doing much better than they were before." Naturally, he continued, "my show ended up on the editing room floor." Instead, Moyers painted a portrait of Milwaukee's middle class as decimated during the 1980s as workers were unable to replace high-paying factory jobs with anything but minimum wage positions.
PC PANDERING. The standard leftist line is that Political Correctness (PC) doesn't really exist. That's also the theme of Washington Post reporter Michael Abramowitz's January 3 one-sided press release on the annual convention of the very PC Modern Language Association (MLA).
Abramowitz repeated the MLA's assertions: "One group of prominent scholars...held an organizational meeting here to begin correcting what its leaders term misinformation propagated by right-wing scholars, think-tanks and commentators." And: "A common complaint heard at the convention was that the media have endlessly recycled what one scholar termed 'shamelessly over-simplified scare stories' to paint a dire, inaccurate picture of a radicalized academe."
Abramowitz didn't ask what kind of scholarship MLA considers worthy. The 1989 convention produced papers titled "Literary and Critical Theory from Lesbian Perspectives" and "The Muse of Masturbation." One wonders what this year produced.
HEALTH HYPE. If health care is the issue, then more government is NBC's answer. As part of Today's week-long "State of America" series, Robert Hager reported on January 23: "This is a nation aware it has a problem providing health care but not quite sure how to do it. But it has to do something. Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen Health Research Group warns of disaster." As a loyal employee of Ralph Nader, Dr. Wolfe predicted: "Our health care system is going to be bankrupt by 1997, when the Commerce Department estimates we'll be spending a trillion, almost a trillion and a half dollars."
Hager continued: "Many have suggested we look to Canada, which has a national system of care. No Blue Cross, no private insurance. There is one insurer, the Canadian government. Canada spends forty percent less per person for health care than we do. The lines are not long and Canadians visit their doctors more than we do."
But in a January 26 Washington Times article titled "Canadian System Near Financial Abyss," reporter Joyce Price found, "As many members of Congress are pointing to Canada's health plan as a model for the United States, Toronto health management consultant Fred Holmes says the system is on the verge of financial collapse." Holmes told Price: "Medicare in Canada is poised to disintegrate due to the enormous costs...Even if it were fiscally sound...he doubts most Americans would be willing to accept the average six-month waits for coronary bypass surgery or hernia repair."
BETTER IN EL SALVADOR? On Today January 22, co-host Bryant Gumbel and reporter George Lewis teamed up to discredit the conservative economic policies of the 1980s. "In the Reagan years economic erosion set in, so much so that the middle class now finds itself in ever deepening trouble," Gumbel began. Lewis then aired sound-bites of Democratic candidates Bill Clinton, Robert Kerrey and Tom Harkin, liberal economist Philip Mattera and "conservative columnist" Kevin Phillips. President Bush got one sentence.
Lewis talked with a woman who immigrated from El Salvador, but "when the defense plant where Elena had been working laid her off, she had to take a lower paying job," a problem Lewis called "typical." Lewis noted that she now wants to return to El Salvador, prompting him to conclude with this gem: "A definite measure of middle class discontent -- when people in America begin talking about El Salvador as the land of opportunity."
MARILYN VS. HILLARY. Time has extended its liberal double standard to political wives. In the January 20 issue, Associate Editor Priscilla Painton reported that as First Lady, Marilyn Quayle "would make Americans long for Nancy Reagan -- taffetas, tyrannies and all." Painton included only one quote from a mostly positive Washington Post series on the Vice President and his wife. The quote came from an unnamed "Quayle associate," who said, "Nancy would be considered a woman of the people" compared to Mrs. Quayle. Ignoring her work for breast cancer research and disaster relief, Painton called Quayle a "controlling" woman, a "grudge-bearing campaigner" and a "watchdog of a wife with an ambition as long as her enemies list."
But the next week, Time wrote a love letter to Hilary Clinton, whom writer Margaret Carlson painted as an "amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa and Oliver Wendell Holmes," a woman who "discusses educational reform....then hops into her fuel- efficient car with her perfectly behaved daughter for a day of good works." Clinton won praise for wanting a "big city law practice," chairing the left-wing Children's Defense Fund and her past work on the McGovern campaign. Carlson made excuses for Hillary Clinton's often barbed remarks: "Running an official mansion that attracts 20,000 visitors a year can be wearing.... she occasionally tires of the fishbowl."
CENSORSHIP OKAY? As long as it's done by the Iraqi government, according to CNN's Bernard Shaw. In a look back at Desert Storm on January 16, Shaw sniped, "some say Desert Storm coverage was distorted by a government intent on keeping the real story away from the public." But he was talking about the U.S. government, not the Iraqi dictatorship. He made no mention of the blatant censorship and misinformation peddled by the Iraqi government or how often these untruths ended up on CNN.
Instead, he asked Newsday's Patrick Sloyan, "Who was behind this intense campaign by the government to keep the media in check?" Sloyan charged it was "a Bush decision implemented by Cheney." Shaw asked Sloyan, "Did the media sufficiently tell people they weren't getting the whole story?" and questioned at the public's intelligence, asking, "Does the public adequately know the role of news media in a democracy?" As the discussion came to an end, Shaw claimed "the people's right to know suffers when government imposes that kind of censorship" and then huffed, "I wonder if people really care?"
CASTRO THE MAESTRO. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall some reporters are still insisting "the people" want communism. On the January 21 MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, Canadian Broadcasting's David Halton reported: "In the '80s, Cubans had gotten used to one of the best living standards in the Third World. Now suddenly they seemed to be plunged back into the kind of poverty they thought they left behind."
But this "plunge" under Castro did not occur suddenly. According to the Latin American Statistical Abstract, decline in living standards has been consistent during Castro's rule. For example, infant mortality in Cuba in 1969 had risen to 46 per thousand from a pre-Castro figure of 32 per thousand.
Although Halton interviewed both dissidents and Castro supporters, he seemed to have his mind made up: "But what is remarkable with the Quimares family like many other Cubans we talked to, is that even in the face of their hardships, they're still supporting Fidel Castro. Castro, they say, is close to his people, unlike the old guard of communist leaders who were kicked out in Eastern Europe. Castro's socialism, they claim, won't collapse because it is rooted in national pride and social justice." Jose Cardenas of the Cuban American National Foundation responded: "One has to only look at Costa Rica to determine that dictatorship is not 'necessary' to improve the social conditions of a country."
NPR BEWITCHED. Guess what you're missing if you don't listen to taxpayer-funded National Public Radio? Margot Adler, self- proclaimed witch, NPR reporter and author of Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers and Other Pagans in America Today. In a profile of Adler, New York Times reporter Georgia Dullea wrote, "of the many neo-pagan groups, Ms. Adler said she feels most sympathetic to the newest: the goddess spirituality movement, which reveres matriarchy."
Adler also said: "What matters is that goddess spirituality is meeting the needs of women and some men. People are using the goddess as a metaphor for feelings of creativity, strength and empowerment." But apparently she's not empowered enough to feel comfortable going public. U.S. News & World Report writer John Leo noted in the January 27 issue that Adler refuses to be photographed with a broom.
Revolving Door: ABC's Bush Campaign
ABC's Bush Campaign. Before leaving the Department of Housing and Urban Development in mid-1990, Sherrie Rollins held the title of Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs under Jack Kemp. Now, after a year and a half as Director of News Information for ABC News, she's re-joined the Bush Administration as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs. In her new post, Rollins will be working with another ABC veteran, Dorrance Smith, the long-time This Week with David Brinkley Executive Producer who toils in the White House communications office.
Newsday News. Long Island's Times Mirror-owned Newsday and its companion New York Newsday have named Elaine Kamarck, an occasional contributor for four years, "special correspondent." Kamarck's a veteran Democratic operative. In 1988 she was Deputy Campaign Manager for Bruce Babbitt. In 1984 she handled delegate selection for Walter Mondale and in 1980 she directed special projects for Jimmy Carter. A Newsday press release says Kamarck "will spend the next year reporting and commenting on the presidential campaign." Kamarck remains a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute which also employs former U.S. News & World Report Associate Editor Robert Shapiro, now an economic policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
Right Moves. Fox News Service has named Cissy Baker its Vice President and Managing Editor. In 1982 Baker made an unsuccessful run for Congress as a Republican. Baker spent most of the 1980s as a CNN Washington reporter and then Managing Editor at the network's Atlanta headquarters....Andy Plattner, an Associate Editor of U.S. News & World Report from 1985 to 1990 and Director of Communications for the Office of Educational Research at the Department of Education ever since, has jumped back to the private sector. He now handles press for the National Center on Education and the Economy wich evaluates student skills and the Public Education Fund Network, a group dedicated to getting business support for schools.
Moving to Moscow. After a decade of reporting for ABC News, former Democratic Senate aide Rick Inderfurth is leaving the network. A Moscow correspondent from early 1989 through mid-1991, Inderfurth has decided to move back to Moscow to "get involved in rebuilding the former Soviet Union." Inderfurth told The Washington Post he's looking at several options and "there's nothing firm yet."
During the first two years of the Carter Administration Inderfurth served as Special Assistant to the National Security Council Director, becoming Deputy Staff Director for political and security affairs for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1979. When the Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981, ABC News hired him to cover the Pentagon. As national security affairs reporter from 1984-89, Inderfurth became a familiar face on World News Tonight and Nightline.
PBS Omnipresence Scowls at Charges of Bias
BILL "I HAVE NO AGENDA" MOYERS
Poor Bill Moyers. He spends his life serving as the moral umpire of the national conscience, dishing out criticism of our leaders' failures. But he can't take it. Witness Moyers' appearance at the annual PBS press tour on January 6 in California. In one press conference, Moyers protested "I have no agenda," "I tell you that I have no agenda," " I don't think I have an agenda," " I can't say that I have a political agenda," and finally, "I have no agenda."
After publicly declaring his supposed nonpartisanship, Moyers resentfully scowled at suggestions of liberal bias: "Anybody who looks at the bulk of my work over the last 20 years knows that it's a fallacious attack to find in it a left-wing agenda... they've been able to offer no substantive analysis of my work that would confirm their desire to label me, as I think he [conservative David Horowitz] said yesterday, 'a left-wing Democrat.'"
This comes from the man who spoke affectionately to a gathering of Democrats last March: "Down there in Texas, I was raised on mother's milk and Roosevelt speeches, and over the years, I still cherish the party's defining stands." Moyers even claimed: "Many of you have seen programs I've done which have been quite critical of Democrats." Yes, from the left. Take this criticism from last year's speech: "By the 1980s, when the Democrats in Congress colluded with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans to revise the tax code on behalf of the rich, it appeared the party had lost its soul."
Moyers offered reporters a new definition of liberalism: "Liberalism is not another program. What liberalism is, is a belief that a democracy like ours has to be tolerant. Has to open itself to ideas, that the answer to a bad idea is a better idea. Civility. I mean, I'd like to think that's what liberalism is. I define myself in that sense as a liberal." But the oh-so-tolerant Moyers also groused: "I find it very hard to have intelligent conversations with people on the right wing because they want to hit first and ask questions later. And I just simply don't let that criticism set my agenda." Earlier, Moyers had declared: "I have very strong opinions. Strong opinions mean strong enemies, and I have strong enemies, people who dislike my opinions, who don't believe they should be on public broadcasting." This from the man with no agenda.
Moyers topped all this off by announcing he would base two or three new programs this spring on the nine-part Philadelphia Inquirer series on how the middle class lost ground in the 1980s. The series won our December Janet Cooke Award for its liberal manipulation of statistics. Said Moyers: "I urge you all to read the 11-part [sic] Philadelphia Inquirer series."
Charlotte Observer Runs Cooke Award
The Charlotte Observer has gone where no news outlet has gone before: it's published a MediaWatch Janet Cooke Award that dissected a story the paper had carried. The December award went to The Philadelphia Inquirer for a nine-part series that supposedly proved the poor and middle class were big losers in the 1980s. Instead, as MediaWatch documented, the series was built on a sea of specious statistics. The Observer ran a condensed version of the series, prompting Thomas Ashcraft, U.S. Attorney for the Western Distict of North Carolina, to send the Cooke Award article to Observer Editor Rich Oppel.
In a letter to Ashcraft, Oppel wrote that "the series was heavily debated in the newsroom before it was published. At least one editor argued against publishing it. I decided it should run." Still, Oppel opted to run the Cooke Award critique in the Sunday "Viewpoints" section on January 19. Oppel's willingness to provide a forum for pointed criticism deserves congratulations. Hopefully, in the future some of Oppel's colleagues will show the same openness toward balancing one-sided news stories.
There They Go Again
The Philadelphia Inquirer hasn't learned anything. Far from being embarrassed by its shameless manipulation of emotions through misleading generalities in last fall's "America: What Went Wrong" series, the Inquirer did it again. On February 2 the same two reporters, Donald Barlett and James Steele, wrote a front page story on the unfairness of a capital gains tax cut.
Again, the duo made no attempt at balance. They charged that a cut "would continue the legislative practices of the last two decades that have tilted the economic rules in favor of the few at the expense of the many" and would "encourage another round of corporate takeovers, such as the ones in the 1980s that led to the closing of plants and the elimination of jobs."
Building on the class envy theme, the reporters argued that "if you were one of the 2.6 million individuals and families living in New Jersey who earned less than $50,000 a year, it would have taken every dollar that all of you paid in federal taxes to offset the tax cut planned for people with incomes of more than $1 million." Really? In a 1990 study cited by the late Warren Brookes, economist Allen Sinai, no friend of Reaganomics, predicted a rate drop from 28 to 15 percent would create "a substantial tax revenue increase of $30 billion to $40 billion over five years."
The duo also claimed that "an Inquirer analysis of the 70-year history of the capital gains preference shows no evidence linking the tax to the creation of jobs." Well, Sinai pointed out that "from 1982 to 1986 following the reduction of the capital gains rate to 20 percent in 1981...new business formations rose 5.7 percent." After the '86 hike to 28 percent, they fell by 3 percent.
Nina Destroys Evidence
With no help from the media, the Anita Hill myth continues to fall apart. In the March Essence magazine, Hill denied that she was ever a conservative.
She explained: "There is this sense that I was an absolute staunch conservative, that I was opposed to affirmative action, that I supported Robert Bork. A lot of that has been misunderstood. First of all, I have never been against affirmative action, and while I was extremely uncomfortable with the way the hearings were conducted, I did not support Robert Bork on the issues. My position is that the man should not be judged on his personality. We decided we didn't like him as a person, that he was strident, arrogant, and therefore he was not a good person for the Supreme Court position. My position was that he should stand or fall on the issues." Hill also told Essence that at the EEOC, she "was often antagonistic to the position of the Reagan Administration."
Meanwhile, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg offered this lecture on the February 25 CBS This Morning: "Our job is to make sure the information is accurate, legitimate, a story." Just what she failed to do.
Asked about new stories on Hill such as The American Spectator exposé detailed last month in MediaWatch, Totenberg told TV, etc.: "I had heard a good deal of that and did not consider it proven.... My standards for what is good enough to put on the air are high, and I have not found anything to date sufficient to put on." And when Totenberg told investigators that she destroyed documents to protect her sources, a practice that ignited the media during Iran-Contra, The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times did not consider it newsworthy.
HILL SHILLS. The Washington Post Company empire took a much harsher look at Gennifer Flowers' claims against Democrat Bill Clinton than they did Anita Hill's. Take Post television critic Tom Shales on Gennifer Flowers' press conference January 28: "You'd almost think Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon has collaborated to produce dialogue like that."
But last October 12, it was a different Shales: "What about the fact that Hill maintained such dignity and stamina in such sordid and sleazy surroundings? It had to occur to some viewers as they watched the way she handled herself that she would have made a much better Supreme Court nominee than Thomas does."
Post Company-owned Newsweek noted seven inconsistencies in Flowers' story in its February 3 issue. But Hill's story was beyond reproach. Last October, reporter Eleanor Clift wrote that Sen. Alan Simpson's suggestion that "stuff" would come out on Hill was "the lowest of many low points in the Clarence Thomas hearings." Clift declared Hill had "done nothing to suggest she has a credibility problem."
Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Sunday Mourning Michigan
In the past few months, network news watchers have seen increasingly manipulative stories on welfare spending cuts. Often, reporters stress an emotional portrait of the abandoned poor and skip over the real statistics. Last month, MediaWatch noted how CBS reporter Bob Faw dishonestly presented a Connecticut welfare mother with four kids as the victims of approaching cuts. But the Connecticut legislature considered nothing to reduce benefits to families.
On January 12, CBS became a repeat offender. Sunday Morning aired a heart-tugging profile of welfare cuts in Michigan. The story ignored many details that would have contradicted its portrait of conservatives kicking helpless poor people. For that report, CBS earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Charles Kuralt began with an indictment of Michigan's lack of compassion: "You know the old saying about giving a hungry man a handout -- he'll just be hungry again after he's eaten. But if you teach him to fish, the saying goes, why, then he'll always be able to feed himself. A lot of states are thinking along these lines, trying to reduce their budgets by cutting dependence on welfare, telling a lot of people, in effect, to go fishing. Trouble is, as David Culhane reports in our cover story, in Michigan as elsewhere, the fishing isn't very good right now."
Culhane began: "They are praying for people here in Flint, Michigan, whose general assistance welfare benefits have been cut off. They are praying for people looking for jobs in the face of an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent in the city, almost 10 percent in the state, a state reeling from layoffs in the automobile industry...Even so, beginning in October, Michigan stopped welfare payments to 80,000 single adults across the state. And critics say the overall social services budget has been cut by 20 percent."
Wrong. Chuck Peller, a research analyst in Michigan's Department of Social Services, told MediaWatch: "In real dollars, the budget increased. It's the biggest budget ever." The total budget, including state and federal dollars, added up to $5.8 billion, up from $5.1 million in fiscal 1990. State spending slowed, but an increase in federal aid has meant the budget has continued to grow.
When asked by MediaWatch about his figures, the producer of the segment, Jim Houtrides, couldn't say exactly where they came from: "We got this from several people, including some people on the welfare services or whatever that thing is called, committee in Lansing. And we said 'critics say' because you can look at those figures and add them up any which way."
Later, Culhane moralized: "Many of the people who are taken off general assistance in Michigan are in fact not able to work because of medical or psychological reasons. Critics ask: Is it morally wrong to withdraw their aid? And is it morally wrong to withdraw aid from people eager to work when there are no jobs, people like George Mongene. He's been sleeping outside in Flint for twelve nights."
Misleading. Culhane failed to tell viewers that Republican Governor John Engler set up a $3 million contract with the state's Salvation Army, which guaranteed that no state resident should sleep on the streets. The Salvation Army answers an 800 number, and if no shelter is available, they put the homeless in motels.
Nowhere in the report did Kuralt or Culhane cite anything that would make Governor Engler's case. Take the elimination of the general assistance program for single adults. CBS failed to note that the average general assistance benefit ($145 a month) was well below the average welfare program. CBS left out the damning fact that in the months preceding the cuts, an unprecedented 25,000 people voluntarily left the general assistance rolls. CBS also skipped the fact that 6,700 general assistance recipients with medical or psychological problems have been added to the disability fund.
When asked about these statistics, Houtrides told MediaWatch he hadn't known any of them. Then, he denied it was his job to provide the other side: "The Governor could have made his own case if he thought it was significant that 25,000 had dropped off the rolls."
CBS not only aired just five soundbites of their 25-minute interview with Engler, they insured that Engler's point of view would be outnumbered by more than three to one. Seventeen soundbites expressed gloom or outrage over Engler's proposals. For example, Culhane reported: "State Representative David Hollister says the Engler administration...should also be giving unemployed adults aid and job training so that they're better able to find work."
Misleading. Engler isn't against giving training to adults. Culhane did not report that Governor Engler proposed (but the legislature rejected) a basic education initiative to pay a $100 a month stipend for those seeking training. When asked about this, Houtrides again responded: "I don't know the specifics of that."
Culhane aired a clip of social worker Peppy Rosenthal: "I'm a survivor of the Holocaust, and you know, in my wildest dream, I never dreamt I would come to this country and have to protect children from going hungry and homeless."
Misleading. This is not about children (or the Holocaust). Families with children were excluded from cuts, as was the state's Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program. In 1990, before Engler won the gubernatorial race, Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard signed a 9.2 percent cut in all state cabinet departments, including a 17 percent reduction in the ADC program. Under Engler, funding has been slowly restored, eight percent in July 1991, another seven percent in November. On January 1, the majority of ADC cases got another grant increase under a new system. The typical grant to a family of three: $459 a month. But Houtrides didn't know anything about these funding hikes, either: "I don't know if that's, in fact, true, perhaps it's true, perhaps not. I don't think it's true."
Houtrides also objected to the charge that outnumbering Engler 17 to 5 was unfair: "It is probably a mistake to add up poor people and Holliste and Peppy Rosenthal as one side and Engler as the other side. I think the Governor of the state of Michigan carries with him great weight because he's the Governor."
He also admitted that CBS edited out Engler comparing his record on welfare to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton: "He kept comparing Michigan's positive welfare programs, constantly with, and only with, Arkansas." But while CBS made Michigan look like the nation's number one welfare welsher, the state currently ranks eighth in welfare spending per capita.
In all of its reporting from Michigan, CBS (like other media outlets) avoids asking questions from the taxpayer's point of view. Reporters ask: Is it morally wrong to withdraw welfare? They don't ask: Is it morally wrong to take money from those who have earned it? Reporters focus on the burdens of the nonworking poor, but not the tax burdens of the working poor and middle class. The tax burden in Michigan has been rising steadily, driving business out of the state, but the government is seen as the protector of the unemployed, not the destroyer of jobs. But CBS not only wallowed in liberal assumptions: it utterly failed to check the most basic information that might have challenged the liberal case.