In This Issue
Study: Reporting Follows Media Money; NewsBites: Not Right to Blame Wright; Revolving Door: Jackson's Flack Bites Back; Today's Earth Watch; Forrest Forecasts; Janet Cooke Award: NBC News: Saluting Socialized Medicine
Study: Reporting Follows Media Money
Last month MediaWatch published a study of the media's philanthropic foundations, demonstrating a pattern of financial support for liberal groups. When the foundations studied gave to political groups in the 1980s, they allocated 89.7 percent of their donations to liberal organizations and only 10.3 percent to conservative ones.
This month we have taken the research a step further, using the Nexis news data retrieval system to survey all news stories on selected political grantees from 1987 and 1988 in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. The foundations connected to them are, respectively, the New York Times Company Foundation, the Times Mirror Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund.
MediaWatch selected three issue areas that were supported most by media foundations: environmental groups, judicial groups opposed to the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and political think tanks. The study found that newspapers whose foundations donate money to a group also give that group more coverage. Think tanks that benefitted from media funding got less ideological labeling than newspapers connected to foundations that did not contribute.
Environmental Groups: A good example of the differences in coverage emerged in stories on the environment. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a recipient of $21,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, had 123 mentions in The New York Times. By comparison, non-contributing media companies covered EDF markedly less: 70 mentions in the Los Angeles Times, and 46 in The Washington Post. The National Audubon Society, given $8,000 by the New York Times Company Foundation and $90,000 by Times Mirror, was a subject of 72 stories in The New York Times and 69 stories in the Los Angeles Times. The Philip L. Graham Fund gave no money, and The Washington Post mentioned them in only 27 stories. The World Wildlife Fund-Conservation Foundation, which took in $157,000 from Times Mirror and $13,000 from The New York Times, appeared in the Los Angeles Times on 66 occasions and The New York Times on 61 occasions. The Graham Fund did not contribute, and the Post included them in only 27 articles.
Bork Opponents: A second area of marked difference in coverage was among judicial interest groups who opposed the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the most active anti-Bork lobbies, took in $20,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund in 1987 and $4,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation over four years. Times Mirror did not provide any financial support. In 1987 and 1988, The Lawyers Committee was a subject in 50 Washington Post stories, 14 in The New York Times, but only 7 in the Los Angeles Times.
The Women's Legal Defense Fund (WLDF) was granted $30,000 by the Philip L. Graham Fund, and was mentioned in 25 stories in The Washington Post. Compare that to 16 mentions in The New York Times, and 5 in the Los Angeles Times, which refrained from giving. The Graham Fund has given to WLDF's domestic violence project in Washington and not ostensibly for their liberal judicial agenda, but when the D.C. police department decided to make arrests in domestic violence cases, the Post placed the story on the front page and referred to WLDF four times, using their statistics.
The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) received $2,000 from the Washington Post Company and $10,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation. CDF tallied 86 mentions in The Washington Post and 51 in The New York Times. The Los Angeles Times, which did not give, was last with 41. The Feminist Press has received $15,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, but nothing from Times Mirror or the Philip L. Graham Fund. In 1987 and 1988, the Times mentioned the Feminist Press in 15 book features, compared to two each in The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The Post's "Book World" gave two brief mentions to Feminist Press books in its "New In Paperbacks" section. The Los Angeles Times reviewed one book and mentioned another in passing. But The New York Times gave them an entire feature story, two mentions in their "New and Noteworthy" section, and nine full-fledged reviews of 12 Feminist Press books.
Think Tanks: Differences are obvious in the coverage of two think tanks the media have identified as conservative: the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation. AEI received $32,500 from Times Mirror, $6,000 from the New York Times, and $10,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. Heritage received no money. AEI was mentioned in 478 stories to Heritage's 385. Of those mentions, 58.7 percent tagged Heritage and 17.2 percent labeled AEI. Heritage managed to place 18 editorials and book reviews in the three newspapers, while AEI had 64, not including editorials from moderate AEI political analyst William Schneider, a regular Los Angeles Times columnist.
The liberal think tanks that received media money were even less labeled than conservative groups that were funded. The Urban Institute has received $115,000 from Times Mirror, $5,000 from the New York Times Foundation, and $50,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. While AEI was labeled 17.2 percent of the time, the Urban Institute received only three labels in 140 stories (2.1 percent). The liberal Brookings Institution obtained $29,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, $55,000 from the Times Mirror Foundation, and $10,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. Brookings was mentioned in 737 stories, but labeled only 10 times (1.4 percent).
It's hard to imagine any direct orders from corporate management to reporters demanding more coverage for grant recipients, but the pattern that emerges reveals very interesting, if merely coincidental, correlations. A media company which feels that a group is impressive enough to deserve funding seems to feel it is impressive enough to deserve their publicity.
NewsBites: Not Right to Blame Wright
Not Right to Blame Wright. Charges of ethical misconduct led House Majority Whip Tony Coelho and Speaker Jim Wright to resign near the end of May. Who is to blame for the fact "the Washington atmosphere has turned as bitter as anyone can remember," as CBS anchor Bob Schieffer put it during the Memorial Day Evening News? Could it be the Democrats whose continual attacks drove Richard Allen, Ray Donovan and Ed Meese from office? Or kept Robert Bork off the Supreme Court? Of course not. CBS reporter Eric Engberg went all the way back to 1988 to find the culprit: "It evolved from a nasty presidential campaign that featured the GOP's famous Willie Horton ad."
Pious Peter. How do major media figures spend their time off? ABC's Peter Jennings goes to church. On April 30, Jennings preached at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Diocesan Center for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Jennings used the opportunity to urge the flock to meet such challenges as the homeless, the environment, and AIDS. "We must find the ingredients to do more, much more."
According to the Baltimore Sun, Jennings "was particularly critical of the United States for spending too much on defense and comparatively little on the nation's many other serious problems. He noted, for instance, that Congress was considering a $300 billion defense appropriation request, but said agencies responsible for environmental protection, housing or schools received only a fraction of that amount."
Forcing Family Planning? CBS correspondent Susan Spencer joined Dan Rather in insisting China's "very future may depend" on the success of state-imposed family planning. Spencer outlined China's infamous "one-child" policy, conceding that couples who violate the policy by becoming pregnant a second time are threatened with loss of income or housing, but adding "experts say reports of actual forced abortions are rare today."
Rare? Last November 24, CBS News reporter John Sheahan told Evening News viewers "the government does admit that some women have been forced to have abortions." Sheahan's expert from the U.S. Census Bureau said: "China's national government requires the local cadres to succeed in family planning, and therefore the cadres cannot get away with allowing all the unauthorized births to take place."
Peltier's Pravda. "To the American Indian, Leonard Peltier is their Nelson Mandela," said CBS West 57th correspondent Steve Kroft leading off the April 28 show. Peltier, a South Dakota Sioux Indian convicted of the murder of two FBI agents in 1976, is "the man the vast Soviet propaganda machine believes to be the best living example of American injustice." So, Kroft told viewers "In the spirit of glasnost, we thought it was time someone examined his case."
Kroft's entire report built support for the Soviet contention, eloquently referring to Peltier as a political prisoner, one of the "ultimate symbols of governments gone astray: men or women with dangerous or unpopular ideas who may have been unfairly tried and imprisoned for who they are and what they believe, and not necessarily for the crimes they're supposed to have committed."
Kroft said "Americans are used to looking abroad for them [political prisoners], though much of the world believes they exist right here." Much of the world may fall for Soviet propaganda, but that doesn't mean CBS should help legitimize it.
NATO Peace. The West Germans aren't the only ones lulled into complacency by Soviet "peace initiatives." Two network reporters have the same ideas. The fact that the East bloc retains the world's largest defense establishment makes no difference to them.
On April 20, ABC 's Bob Zelnick cheerily reported, "after 40 years of dealing with the Soviet military threat, NATO must now come to grips with the idea of peace."
NBC's Arthur Kent used the strategy of the unnamed critic to attack the U.S. policy of non-negotiation on short-range missiles. "There have been suggestions," he reported on April 30, "that President Bush could help [prevent squabbling in NATO] by leading the search for compromise rather than following the Thatcher hard line."
Church of Arms Control. Gorbachev's had a hard time getting Bush to buy his arms control proposals, but Time magazine was not such a hard sell. Senior Writer George Church attacked Bush in the May 15 issue, condemning him as "recklessly timid, unwilling to respond with the imagination and articulation that the situation requires." The real danger is not the "highly overrated" forces of the Warsaw Pact, he wrote, but "that the U.S., in taking a purely reactive attitude, will undermine its own interests by continuing to leave all the initiatives to Gorbachev." Church concluded that "a smiling Soviet leader who speaks of peace and fellowship poses a greater challenge to U.S. leadership than a rocket-rattling blusterer. George Bush has not yet figured that out."
"Tactical nuclear weapons have never made sense," Time's D.C. Bureau Chief Strobe Talbott proclaimed in a commentary for the same issue. Denouncing "the dark faith" of "the NATO catechism," Talbott wrote that "Once the Bush Administration stops cursing Kohl under its breath, it will probably do what he is asking... Too bad the U.S. will have been dragged kicking and screaming into a decision that it should have reached on its own."
Faw's Afghan Flaws. CBS News reporter Bob Faw blames the ongoing war in Afghanistan not on the Soviets who invaded, but on the U.S. Reporting from Kabul May 1, Faw claimed: "With Soviet troops now withdrawn, many here blame the slaughter on the U.S. In the market place and in the mosques, 'Why,' they ask, 'is the U.S. still providing guerrillas with weapons which prolong the war?'" Faw charged that "as rockets made in the USA keep falling here... resentment towards the United States grows." Describing the anti-communist mujahedeen, Faw said "they are regarded by some of their countrymen as bloodthirsty bandits." Faw concluded, "For many here, what is bleeding now is America's image."
But on May 7, New York Times reporter Donatella Lorch, after spending a week under cover in Kabul, found "the rebels say an increasing number of Kabul residents are turning to the under-ground." In contrast to Faw's anti-U.S. sources, Lorch quoted an Afghan woman who placed blame differently. "The communists have torn our families to pieces," she said. According to Lorch, the image of the mujahedeen as "bloodthirsty extremists" is "a description the [communist] government has emphasized." So did CBS.
Blame Anything But Communism. What's behind China's abysmal standard of living? Dan Rather had two answers. On the May 16 Evening News, he said, "it is the size of China that's such a barrier for economic reform. That, and cultural traditions bred through the centuries."
The next night, communism again escaped blame. Rather reported "one big problem that underlies everything else here in China," is "a population of more than a billion." From the Forbidden City, Rather announced, "Today's communist rulers know there's no way to meet the rising expectations of a billion Chinese outside these walls until and unless the population time bomb is somehow defused."
Makes you wonder: With reports like these, why did the Chinese authorities bother to censor CBS?
Thrashing Thatcher. With Reagan out of office, some reporters think his friend Margaret Thatcher should go, too. During a May 3 story on Thatcher's ten years as Prime Minister, NBC's Peter Kent charged that "Thatcher has ruthlessly applied her conservative solutions."
ABC's John Laurence agreed during World News Tonight the same evening, noting "Mrs. Thatcher has imposed her conservative convictions on British society" and alleged that in doing so "she converted 10 Downing Street into what's been described as an elective dictatorship." Laurence supported his assertion by then putting on Anthony Sampson, who said Thatcher's problem washer "astonishing autocracy."
Laurence failed to mention Sampson's involvement in the leftist Social Democratic Party and that his book, The Changing Anatomy of Britain, has been described as "highly authoritative" by Soviet commentator Nikolai Gorshkov. And neither report mentioned Thatcher's overwhelming re-election victories, which allowed her to undertake those "ruthless" conservative solutions.
Summer Camp Kemp. Jack Kemp's "sturdy forehead" of conservative doctrine needs a slap from "the 2-by-4 of intractable reality," New York Times correspondent James Traub concluded in a profile of the HUD Secretary in the May 7 Times Magazine. "There was something potentially ludicrous in this voyage to the heart of inner-city misery by the new HUD Secretary," Traub asserted, "with his earnest manner and polystyrene hair, his sunny, summer- camp enthusiasm and his devout faith in free enterprise. It looked like a cartoon...It's been a long time, as Kemp himself acknowledges, since the Republicans 'got real' about poverty."
Traub said Kemp wanted to change radically "the Reagan era thesis of neglect and defunding," but "the question housing professionals ask is: Will Jack Kemp accept that the reality of the situation, his free-enterprise model notwithstanding, demands federal spending, not only to stimulate new construction but also to modernize public housing and provide increased housing subsidies to the poor?"
Enberg's Iran Contra Complex. On May 4, the day the verdict on Oliver North was handed down, CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg engaged in a full fledged attack on the conduct of the administration, especially President Reagan. Dan Rather prefaced Engberg's report as an investigation of "the use of secrecy, lying, and deception as instruments of ideology and policy." Engberg then paraphrased unnamed "scholars," predicting that to avoid the same problem in the future, Presidents must "accept the need to compromise with Congress."
Engberg insisted that "critics remain skeptical" about Reagan's ignorance of the diversion of funds to the Contras. Engberg's sole "critic" was liberal Democratic consultant Clark Clifford, who asserted his experience leads him to believe that the decision on diverting funds from the arms sales was "not taken without authority at the highest level at the White House."
Garrick Throws A Curve. At the end of the May 7 Meet the Press, NBC "reporter" Garrick Utley used an abstract sports anecdote to portray Oliver North as a liar and a fool. Utley recalled a briefing session Tom Brokaw attended "several years ago" conducted by North.
While exhibiting evidence on the Cuban presence in Nicaragua, Utley claimed North noted reconnaissance photos of "baseball diamonds dotting the landscape." North went on to say that "Cubans play baseball, Nicaraguans don't." Utley contradicted North: "The fact is, Nicaraguans do play baseball; it is the national sport there."
Utley used this supposed miscue to justify a sweeping charge that North was either "deliberately trying to mislead a journalist and through him the public or he was ignorant of such a basic fact and therefore not fully competent to do what he was in fact doing." The anecdote, Utley sarcastically concluded, "is one of the best at summing up the question that runs through the entire enterprise: Who were they trying to kid?"
Carter Rehab. He has rehabilitated homes. He tried to rehabilitate the Panama Canal Treaty. And now Jimmy Carter is being rehabilitated himself -- at least by ABC's Peter Jennings, who named the former President "Person of the Week" May 12.
Jennings began by citing Carter's life of "distinction, considerable grace and...very strong commitment to peace and justice." He said Carter "sets an example by rolling up his sleeves on a regular basis, building homes for the poor;" that is, when he's not traveling "in search of peace in the Middle East and better ways to understand and develop the underdeveloped world."
The public's inability to realize Carter's international contributions troubled Jennings: "In the public mind, the scales were never balanced. Carter's success in foreign affairs: peace between Egypt and Israel, renewed respect for the United States in Latin America, have always been outweighed in the public mind by the hostage crisis."
Were You Watching, Kathleen? On May 12, when U.S. troops were sent to Panama to protect U.S. interests, CBS This Morning co-anchor Kathleen Sullivan queried National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. She asked what the Soviets would think of U.S. actions, because "Mikhail Gorbachev, when he was on his trip to Cuba, made gestures in pulling out of Central America, and now we're doing the opposite." Scowcroft curtly told Sullivan: "He didn't make any gestures in pulling out of Central America; in fact, quite the contrary."
Sullivan ought to have known better, since she and the rest of CBS This Morning broadcast live from Havana during the Castro- Gorbachev summit. And even left with egg on their faces after falsely predicting that Gorbachev would then announce his withdrawal of aid to the Sandinista regime.
Van Sant's Louisiana Slant. Whether it's Washington, D.C. or Baton Rouge, La., when government spending is at issue, you can bet your last tax dollar which solution, budget cuts or tax hikes, the media will advocate.
On the May 2 CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reported "a new jolt today to the Louisiana state economy...Saturday, voters of Louisiana rejected Governor Roemer's tax-overhaul package. Today, as CBS News correspondent Peter Van Sant reports, the people of Louisiana found out what that could cost them." Van Sant then related how "voters resoundingly rejected new taxes, digging Louisiana's already-troubled economy ever deeper in debt and forcing reform-minded Gov. Buddy Roemer to scramble his way out of a new financial crisis." Van Sant added that "the massive cuts will be felt across virtually all income levels. The poor will see dozens of vocational schools disappear, and several charity hospitals that treat the penniless shut down."
On May 14, Washington Post reporter Thomas B. Edsall concurred, writing "Were Louisiana forced to reduce the deficit solely through program cuts, it would devastate not only such institutions as the faltering network of public colleges and universities and the Louisiana system of charity hospitals, but the entire economy of the state."
Sojourners Truth. A recent direct mail letter from a far-left magazine highlighted an endorsement from NBC News Moscow Bureau Chief Bob Abernethy. "To find in one magazine both excellent reporting and commentary, and also deep Christian commitment, is inspiring," Abernethy oozed. "Sojourners' ability to serve as a caring observer is a model for all of us." Sojourners Editor Jim Wallis, who once said he hoped "more Christians will view the world through Marxist eyes," argued in the May issue that "because of the war" by the Contras, "justice requires American reparations to Nicaragua."
Fire Sale. "Last Summer's devastating forest fires focused attention on Yellowstone Park. But environmentalists believe the greatest damage had already been done -- by the Reagan Administration." With that opening, PBS' May 9 Frontline kicked off an hour-long protest against the sale of federally-owned public lands, which encompass a third of the United States.
Under Reagan, Frontline complained, "the federal government would add fewer lands to the national park system than any administration in history," and "sold off more public land than any other Interior Department in history." Selling land is more dangerous than letting it burn? It becomes the environmentalists' version of the Brezhnev Doctrine: once the feds have acquired public land, it must never be relinquished to "private ownership."
Revolving Door: Jackson's Flack Bites Back
Jackson's Flack Bites Back. Jesse Jackson delivered "constant unwarranted abuse" to his campaign workers, including purposefully stepping on their feet to stop them from talking, ABC News producer turned Jackson Press Secretary Elizabeth Colton claims in her new book. In the just released The Jackson Phenomenon: The Man, the Power, the Message, Colton explains, "I had been forewarned by many" about Jackson's disrespect for his staff, but took the job because "I had believed in his message and the historic importance of his campaign."
Colton brought plenty of media experience to the position she began in January 1988: She was an ABC News producer in the early 1980's and again before jumping to the campaign staff. In between she worked for Newsweek as a Middle East correspondent and as a National Public Radio reporter. Colton relinquished her press relations duties in April 1988 when Jackson "didn't think he needed any help" since "the media were eating out of his hand."
Chafee Again. Michael Healy left the office of Rhode Island Senator John Chafee in 1986 to become a political researcher for the CBS News Election Survey Unit. Now, he's back with the liberal Republican as a Legislative Assistant.
Writing Right. Bill McGurn, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for the Asian edition of The Wall Street Journal for the past three years, is the new Washington Editor for the conservative National Review magazine. McGurn, who previously wrote for the Journal's European edition and The American Spectator, replaced John McLaughlin.
McNamara Resigns from Post. Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson resigned from the board of The Washington Post Company during its May 11 annual meeting. McNamara had reached the Post Company's mandatory retirement age of 70.
On Kohl's Dole. Newly elected Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, has hired former Associated Press reporter Bill Ritz as his Communications Director. Ritz covered the 1972 Olympics in Munich for the wire service according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. He joined the Denver Post in 1978 where he remained an investigative reporter until 1984.
Taking the Prosecutor's Side. Washington Times reporter Mary Belcher has been covering independent counsel Lawrence Walsh's prosecution of Oliver North. Now, she's taken a side. Belcher has decided to work for Walsh. On June 19 Belcher becomes the Public Information Officer for the Office of the Independent Counsel.
She succeeds James Weighart, Editor of the New York Daily News before he put in a brief 1986 stint as Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy. This Fall Weighart takes over the Journalism Department at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Today's Earth Watch
For the NBC Today show's recent three-part "Earth Watch" series on the environment, producers went beyond their regular stable of correspondents to "put the world's environmental crisis in perspective." Whose perspective? Introducing the series, Jane Pauley explained "Our guide is Paul Ehrlich, the distinguished Stanford University biologist." Today gave Ehrlich a production and travel budget as well as free air time on three consecutive mornings starting May 3 to present his unique diagnosis of the world's problems.
Ehrlich's claim to fame is his 1968 book The Population Bomb, which began: "The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970's the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."
Ehrlich saw widespread famine as part of the solution to his theories of overpopulation. In what he called a "cheerful scenario," the U.S. government would decide in 1974 it would no longer send food to countries considered "beyond hope." Famine and food riots would ensue until 1985, "when it is calculated the major die-back will be over," that is, when enough millions have died to reduce Earth's population to some arbitrarily acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.
The Today reports were about as "cheerful," and Ehrlich's predictions as pessimistic about the coming decade. "We're going to see massive extinction," he warned, not to mention drought, erosion, and famine. Global warming is going to melt the polar ice caps, causing a flood in which "we could expect to lose all of Florida, Washington D.C., and the Los Angeles basin...we'll be in rising waters with no ark in sight." Thus, industrial nations will have to abandon their wasteful lifestyles using gas and electricity or risk global cataclysm. "Perhaps the most explosive social problem of the next 50 years will be that the ecosystems of the world cannot support the spread of the American lifestyle to the Third World or even to the next generation of Americans."
Ehrlich's sorry record of failed predictions and dire prescriptions was challenged by economist Julian Simon's 1981 book, The Ultimate Resource. Simon argued that resources are getting less scarce, that pollution and famine are decreasing as the food supply increases, and that population growth has long- term benefits. But Simon, who teaches economics at the University of Maryland at College Park, just a few miles from the studios and cameras of NBC's Washing-ton bureau, was never contacted by the network.
Forrest Forecasts. On May 18 ABC News presented its vision of the future through a one-hour special, The Electronic Time Machine: 1939-2039. Using the 1939 World's Fair as a model for seeing into the world of 2039, Paula Zahn promised: "You won't hear talk of ...global disaster." Really? Co-host Forrest Sawyer soon charged that "we're forced to ask a question we humans have never had to face before: are we going to get there  at all?" Sawyer claimed that "2039 will be a crowded world, the population twice what it is now and it will be divided, the rich enjoying the advances of science, the poor struggling to survive."
As the show came to a close, Zahn and Sawyer explained that "difficult choices" must be made. The two reporters then proceeded to lay these choices out one by one, supported each time by a clip of a liberal environmentalist. "The environment," Sawyer claimed, has been "devastated by human growth." Paul Ehrlich, a leftist professor who has made a living threatening global disaster [see page one article], explained that the sky is falling because "Humanity as a species is doing something that no wise family would ever do in its economics, that is, it is burning its capital."
Far-left activist and presidential candidate Dr. Barry Commoner later predicted "economic collapse long before 50 years from now" unless we stop using fossil fuels. Sawyer, worried about the lack of family planning, said "The world population will double by 2039 and right now 850 million do not have enough to eat." This belief was supported by Lester Brown, President of the Worldwatch Institute.
Zahn thought only one proposal, by Malthusian Dr. Garrett Hardin, was "controversial." He demanded Americans "stop sending gifts of food to a starving country. Just grit your teeth and tell them 'you're on your own and you've got to make your population match the carrying capacity of your land.'"
Three Sandinista Spins. The three major networks had three different spins on Mikhail Gorbachev's announcement that Soviet military aid would no longer go to Nicaragua. ABC's Bob Zelnick softpedaled Soviet aid, saying U.S. military officials are "encouraged by the fact that most of this year's equipment has consisted of non-lethal supplies and spare parts. The shipments this year have not included tanks, armed personnel carriers, air defense or anti-tank guns, artillery, or helicopters."
On CBS, Lesley Stahl reported "the Pentagon today estimated the Soviet bloc has already supplied Nicaragua with $80 million worth of military goods so far this year," and then aired a clip of Pentagon spokesman Dan Howard explaining that this leaves a stockpile of "150 tanks, 237 armored vehicles, 549 surface-to-air missile launchers, 772 air defense guns" and so on.
NBC's John Cochran used a number more than four times greater than referred to by Stahl: "According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Nicaragua has received up to $350 million worth of military hardware and spare parts in the first four months of this year." Noting the Bush Administration was "leery to say the least" of Gorbachev's announcement, Cochran concluded "the feeling around the White House is that Gorbachev has successfully sold some snake oil to the Western news media."
Janet Cooke Award: NBC News: Saluting Socialized Medicine
To help attract viewers to third-ranked NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, news executives exploited concerns about health care to boost their ratings. Beginning May 1, NBC News aired "America's Vital Signs," an "unprecedented month-long report on the nation's health" which would probe "life-and-death questions."
The series did not help NBC Nightly News' ratings, but it did give some insight into how the network would solve what it called "America's severely strained health-care system." The solution, according to reporter Fred Briggs, is a form of socialized health care similar to Canada's. Briggs' May 5 Nightly News report earns the June Janet Cooke Award.
Even before the Briggs report, it was obvious where NBC News was heading. In a pre-report "teaser," anchor Tom Brokaw stated: "And on 'Vital Signs' tonight, Fred Briggs compares American health care with the Canadian system. The differences just across the border are dramatic, cradle to grave."
Introducing the report, Brokaw showed no less enthusiasm: "Throughout this first week on 'America's Vital Signs,' we have seen the way that high medical costs are putting tremendous strain on American patients and American hospitals alike. One factor: insurance. Thirty-seven million Americans have no insurance at all. Many health experts believe that some sort of universal health insurance is the answer. The problem: how to pay for it. Well, you don't have to look far to see one system that seems to work well. NBC's Fred Briggs tonight on the Canadian way."
Briggs spent 90 percent of his report praising the Canadian government health system. He began: "When a baby is born in Canada it's given a birth-right 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."
Admiring the system, he continued: "Remarkably, most procedures cost from one-half to one-sixth of what would be charged in the United States." But do Canadians get lower costs and universal coverage by forfeiting high-tech equipment and quality health care? Briggs did weigh in with Canada's shortcomings: "There is a negative side to such cost control. Some doctors would like to see more high tech diagnostic equipment in hospitals and, above all, more beds. Many patients are put on waiting lists for surgery not considered to be urgent. And a few have died waiting for it." But he stopped there -- with just 25 seconds of the 4:15 report.
As Michael Walker, Executive Director of The Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia, points out in Health Management Quarterly (First Quarter 1989): "Canada's health-care costs may actually be altering the quality of health care provided." Briggs only alluded to problems with supplies of diagnostic equipment, but Walker spells it out. In Seattle, Washington, 17 CAT scanners are functioning. That's more than the whole province of British Columbia, claims Walker. In Vancouver, a city the size of Seattle, there are only seven CAT scanners. In all of Newfoundland, with a population of 570,000, there is only one functioning CAT scanner.
The waiting lists that Briggs' passed over so quickly are indeed frightening. According to Walker's Institute, urgent pap smears in Newfoundland currently take two months, sometimes up to five months. Mammograms take two and one half months; bone scans one and one-half months. Simple neurological procedures take up to five months. Country-wide, says Walker, heart patients wait months for surgery. In British Columbia, there is an average four week waiting time for elective and urgent general surgery.
Market forces ensure timely, quality health care in the United States; given caps on health spending, there seems no end in sight in Canada to waiting lists and inferior treatment. Still, Briggs was unabashedly supportive of the Canadian system in his conclusion: "In Canada, the young can grow old knowing injury or disease will never cripple them financially. Everyone is covered by a system that is more than a safety net, it's a security blanket."
Contacted by MediaWatch, Briggs defended his story as fair and balanced, but revealed he held a strong view: "You're coming from the standpoint that their system is a total failure. I totally disagree with that. I think it's a very successful system. And frankly I think it's a very civilized system."
As for critics of the system, Briggs dismissed Walker, saying: "I don't think he carries very much weight." Briggs denied his conclusion called for a Canadian-style health system for the United States: "I was not endorsing it. I'm telling you how Canadians feel about it. Polls reinforce that." He did concede that those who can afford it come to the U.S. for health care. Perhaps that is more indicative than any statistic, any poll.