In This Issue
Time Toes the Liberal Line; NewsBites: CBS Stonewalls; Revolving Door: A Vance Degree in Journalism; Media Promote Liberal Anti-Tax Cut Position; Update on Past Cooke Awards; One-Party PBS; Conceding the Obvious; Janet Cooke Award: Homeless Hype: CBS, CNN, NBC
Time Toes the Liberal Line
Last year Time Magazine led its October 17 issue with a letter from Managing editor Henry Muller telling readers of Time's plans "to better serve the needs of busy, curious, intelligent readers." Muller explained that "Time's responsibility more than ever is to deliver understanding beyond the sound bites and headlines." What exactly did that vague statement portend? A couple of months later Time publicist Brian Brown conceded to MediaWatch the new format meant the magazine would be "more provocative" and "opinionated."
That's putting it mildly: A review by MediaWatch analysts found that over the past year magazine reporters and editors have aggressively promoted a liberal political agenda in its news pages. Here are some examples:
Campaign Politics. Time began its crusade just as the election season came to an end, when liberal political analyst Garry Wills (identified as a "noted historian") filed a seven-page review of the presidential campaign for Time's Nov. 21 issue. He dismissed the conservative ideology of some Republicans (The Rev. Pat Robertson was a "laughing stock" who "staggered from one kookiness to the next") but lauded the Rev. Jesse Jackson ("Economists called Jackson's economic policies the best and most complete program being offered by any candidate") Dukakis lost because "On the Pledge he did not angrily grab the flag back and say it belongs to all Americans... On the ACLU he did not get indignant that the honor of good people was being impugned." As a result, "Bush won by default, and by fouls. His 'mandate' is to ignore the threats to our economy, sustain the Reagan heritage of let's pretend, and serve as figurehead for what America has become, a frightened empire hiding its problems from itself."
Time especially savaged Bush Campaign Manager and Republican party chief Lee Atwater. In the March 20 edition, Time referred to how he "downplayed his role in devising the crypto-racist Willie Horton ads that helped Bush win the White House." In a box titled "Sorry Is Not Enough" accompanying a June 19 report on the so-called "Foley memo," National Political Correspondent Larry Barrett delivered a broadside: "Atwater's fouling the civic atmosphere with vicious misinformation is bad enough; compounding that with White House hypocrisy is too much. If Bush really wants to prove himself a political environmentalist in search of a kinder, gentler America, he should sack Atwater."
The Environment. Since the election, Time has repeatedly promoted liberal solutions to real or imagined environmental problems. In its "Planet of the Year" issues (Jan. 2), editors called for, among other things, raising the gasoline tax by 50 cents per gallon; by ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty; making the environmental problem the "No. 1 agenda item" at the Paris Economic Summit; and an immediate restoration of aid to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In "The Two Alaskas," (Apr. 17) Associate Editor Michael Lemonick decided "the time has come to get tough about conservation." The first stop should be "an immediate increase in the federal gasoline tax...The second obvious step is to raise the auto industry's fuel economy requirements." In a follow-up report, ("Fishing for Leadership," May 22) Washington reporter Dick Thompson displayed impatience with Bush: "Several signals, include Bush's slow response to the Alaska oil spill and his refusal even to consider an increase in the gasoline tax, have raised concern that he is not the kind of forceful, decisive leader the country needs to deal with the growing environmental crisis."
On September 18, Lemonick suggested Americans could "go far" in assuaging the developing world by "atoning for their environmental sins." His recommendations: "Further stiffening of fuel-economy standards for new American cars, for example, would send a strong signal. So would an increase in federal gasoline taxes to bring U.S. fuel prices closer to those in Brazil and the rest of the world."
Taxes and Spending. Time's insistence on a gas tax increase was not an isolated recommendation, but reflected the magazine's across the board liberal ideas on spending and tax policy. Senior Writer Walter Shapiro dismissed Bush's budget proposal to Congress as "an incoherent philosophy that might be dubbed Reaganomics with a human face," clearly assuming Reaganomics was bad policy. "The borrow and spend policies that Ronald Reagan presided over have bequeathed to his chosen successor a downsized presidency devoid of the resources to address long neglected domestic problems. Bush's campaign strategists -- with the candidate's active complicity -- burdened the President with an obdurate stance on taxes," Shapiro complained in the February 20 story in which he also denigrated Bush's capital gains tax cut proposal as "another miracle grow elixir."
"If the President comes out strongly for the mission" to Mars, Time declared July 24, "Congress should be able to find a way to find a way to fund it. One option: to siphon the money from Star Wars and other questionable defense programs."
Foreign Policy. Time's pronouncements on foreign policy would make the Institute for Policy Studies proud. In a lengthy report on Central America ("No Winners, Only Losers," Nov. 21) Associate Editor Jill Smolowe bluntly rejected Reagan Administration policies in Nicaragua as "wishful thinking" wrought by "ideological zeal." Since "the Contras are never going to topple the Sandinistas," Time proposed a new strategy: "Rather than try to undo the Sandinista revolution, the new administration in Washington should acknowledge the legitimacy of the Managua regime and resume direct negotiations that address U.S. security concerns...The U.S. might spearhead and international consortium of aid that would be applied to social reform and economic growth." Nine months later, Smolowe reported: "The [Central American] Presidents negotiated the dissolution of the Nicaraguan Contras, a force that to many Central Americans symbolized U.S. arrogance and interference during the 1980's."
In Time's May 15 cover story on U.S./Soviet relations ("Do-Nothing Detente") George Church blasted Bush, who "finally thinks he has a policy toward Moscow -- hang tough and see what happens -- but U.S. allies fear he is missing a historic chance for not wanting to embrace Gorbachev's offers. Bush seems almost recklessly timid, unwilling to respond with the imagination and articulation the situation requires." The pictures for the article told it all. With the caption "Instruments of War and Peace," the first photo showed a U.S.-made Lance missile; the second showed balloons and flowers in Moscow's Red Square on May Day.
In an accompanying article, then-Washington Bureau Chief Strobe Talbott announced Bush had "restored a degree of credibility and seriousness to the American conduct of arms control that has been missing for a decade." In contrast, Ronald Reagan and his "cadre of ideologues" promoted "obstinate policies," and spent their time "fantasizing about a perfect space-based defense." The accompanying picture for this article included full facial shots of Jimmy Carter and George Bush, with a partial shot of Reagan between them, being squeezed out of the bottom of the picture. The caption: "Restoring a degree of credibility."
A year ago Muller assured readers: "Time is above all a newsmagazine." It's hard to tell anymore.
NewsBites: CBS Stonewalls
CBS STONEWALLS. CBS has proven it doesn't have to live by its own rules. In an attention-grabbing September 27 front page story, New York Post charged that the network aired fake Afghan footage in 1985. Asked for comment, CBS News stonewalled all inquiries for an entire week, claiming it needed to locate freelance cameraman Mike Hoover, who was filming caves in New Zealand. Even when Hoover denied he staged scenes on October 4, CBS News President David Burke refused to take calls, releasing only an internal memo to network staff. What hypocrisy. CBS News would never tolerate stonewalling like this from a President or Congressman or corporate official.
WNBC-TV anchor and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow co-host Chuck Scarborough summed it up best on CNN's Larry King Live September 29: "I can't for the life of me understand why CBS has a policy of not commenting on stories. And of all organizations, I think it shows a particular arrogance to assume that your organization is immune from criticism and you ought not respond. We're in the business of soliciting response."
SCHIEFFER SHAPES THE AGENDA. The Bush Administration's reluctance to rush into an arms agreement "perplexes some arms control experts," CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer worried on September 16. Which experts? The liberal ones. Former Ambassador Paul Warnke, Brookings Institution analyst Ed Hewett, and Jack Mendelssohn of the Arms Control Association. "Even some on the Republican right who were the most dubious about Soviet-American cooperation are now suggesting a new superpower summit to talk arms reduction," Schieffer reported.
Schieffer's only example from the Republican right was former Reagan official Ken Adelman. But a clip then showed Adelman saying something quite different than what Schieffer asserted. "It can be a getting-to-know-you summit," Adelman suggested. Being called an advocate of arms-control summitry is "absolutely wrong," he told MediaWatch. In fact, Adelman's recent book, The Great Universal Embrace: Arms Summitry, A Skeptic's Account, specifically says that summits, which thrust the President into being the chief arms negotiator, can be downright dangerous.
CATASTROPHIC CANADIAN. Last year Congress implemented a catastrophic health care plan paid for through a surtax on middle and high income senior citizens. In effect, the plan penalized those who prudently planned ahead and purchased their own long-term care insurance. But that's not how ABC anchor Peter Jennings saw it. He presumed everything one earns belongs to the government. After a September 18 "American Agenda" review of the subject, Jennings added his opinion, complaining to viewers that "because 5 million elderly people are angry, as many as 18 million others may suffer."
OUT TO LUNCH. A September 7 Los Angeles Times story on Vice President Quayle's views on SDI caused a small uproar. In a lunch with Times editors and reporters in Washington, Quayle said the concept of an "impenetrable shield that was going to be completely leakproof...in the semantics of let's say, political jargon, that that was acceptable. But it clearly was stretching the capability of a strategic defense system."
The front-page Times account, however, carried the headline "'Star Wars' Goal Cut, Quayle Says" with the sub-headline "Defense Role to Be Limited; Calls Reagan's Plan 'Political Jargon.'" The article began: "Conceding that former President Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' plan was only 'political jargon,'" Quayle said SDI had been revised into a program "without the pretense of being able to deflect a massive Soviet first strike." Times staff writer Norman Kempster also reported that "The Vice President was once a staunch supporter of the proposal, officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative...But Quayle admitted Wednesday that the plan was never realistic."
Thus, Kempster inaccurately inferred that Quayle was no longer an SDI supporter, and manufactured Quayle "admissions" out of thin air. Using the term "never realistic" illustrates the laughing-at-the-Wright-Brothers approach SDI opponents apply to the program. While both the Reagan and Bush Administrations have honed in on a new "Brilliant Pebbles" defense, the shield concept remains, as White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater explained, "the theoretical concept under which the SDI program operates."
CBS & THE NATION'S EXPERT. "If the United States and the Soviet Union must compete, let us do so not in an arms race that threatens everyone and benefits no one but on a compassion race to improve the lives of our respective peoples and those less developed countries. Let us compete to demonstrate in deeds, rather than provocative ideological assertions, which is the more caring system, American democratic capitalism or the Soviet socialism with a human face of which Gorbachev speaks," wrote Princeton professor Stephen Cohen in one of his "Sovieticus" columns for The Nation on October, 1988.
On September 25, 1989, with rumors of a Soviet-American summit swirling around Washington, Evening News anchor Dan Rather turned to the CBS News "consultant on Soviet affairs," Stephen Cohen. Cohen had more glowing words for Gorbachev, claiming he's "made 75 to 80 percent of the major concessions to keep the [arms control] process going." Referring to Bush's proposal on chemical weaponry, Cohen complained "It'll help, but I don't think it's enough. For almost five years, Gorbachev has called for an American President who would be a partner in getting rid of these armaments." Maybe if CBS gleaned consultants from pages other than those of far-left magazines like The Nation, the network would be able to provide viewers with a more balanced assessment.
FAKE NAME, TO BOOT. For years William Boot, identified only as a "contributing editor," wrote the "Capital Letter" column and other stories for the Columbia Journalism Review. In a November/ December 1986 article Boot complained that President Reagan "plays fast and loose with the facts" as "the White House press conference has been converted by Ronald Reagan into a forum for inaccuracy, distortion, and falsehood." Boot saw the Iran/Contra affair as "a load, jarring echo of Watergate -- a case in which White House officials saw fit to break the law or bend the Constitution because, in their view, the end justified the means."
So what's the story here? William Boot is not really William Boot because there is no William Boot. The September/October issue revealed that's just the pen name for Christopher Hanson, then a State Department reporter for Reuters. Hanson has recently become the Washington correspondent for the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
FOOD FIGHT. The Washington Post recently proved it's even incapable of preventing its liberal bias from seeping into its special service sections. Take for example, an October 4 story in the Wednesday "Food" pages headlined "Who's Minding the Store? Everybody But Uncle Sam Seems to Be Setting Food Policy." The piece served as a telling demonstration of the company-town Big Government mindset that permeates the Post. "Someone is directing food safety and nutrition policy in this country, and it doesn't seem to be the federal government," concerned Post staff writer Carole Sugarman whined. "Increasingly, supermarkets, food companies, states and private organizations appear to be running the show," she worried.
Sugarman concluded: "As for the future of private intervention into federal policymaking, an FDA official who asked not to be identified said he believes it will get worse so long as the federal government doesn't play a more active role." The voluntary pursuit of consumer safeguards by private businesses intrudes on the federal government's duties? Consumer Reports, Underwriters Laboratory--call your office.
KHMER RUSE. Those who doubt that truth is a rare commodity in media coverage of Southeast Asia need only look at reports of the Vietnamese pullout from Cambodia. On September 24, ABC reporter Mark Litke summed up the Vietnamese puppet government as "popular and pragmatic."
Ignoring the fact that Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam, which remains among the most repressive Marxist dictatorships in the world, Litke declared that "though Cambodia is still desperately poor, a thriving free market economy here has breathed new life into this shattered land."
Dan Rather's September 25 assessment was even stranger. "Like the Soviet Union in Afghanistan," Rather stated, "communist Vietnam failed in its effort to set up a puppet regime in Cambodia." Rather should look more closely at who's ally in still in Kabul. CBS reporter Bob Simon's report was a little closer to the mark. "So glad you could come, so glad you have to go. Flowers and fond farewells today," Simon wistfully mused, "as the Vietnamese drove away from their dream of an Indochinese empire."
EARTH DEARTH. The alarmist tone of environmental reporting has reached a fever pitch as reporters increasingly buy into the bizarre theories of environmental extremists. On NBC's September 14 "Assignment Earth" segment, Tom Brokaw described Africa as "The Crowded Continent...a vast space filling up with people. Too many people." NBC forgot Asia which, excluding Russia, holds approximately 3 billion people to Africa's 600 million. Robin Lloyd saw Marxist Zimbabwe's contraception program as Africa's ideal model and declared: "For Africa, the battle to control population growth is a high-risk game with nothing less than the survival of the continent in the 21st century at stake." Lloyd didn't explore the possibility that some African nations are starving because the Marxists governing them have ruined their economies.
FREE SCOTT STANLEY. It should be the next rallying cry for free press supporters of any stripe. Scott Stanley, a former editor of Conservative Digest and now editor-in-chief of the American Press International wire service, was arrested October 3 upon his arrival at the airport in Windhoek, the capital of the southwest African nation of Namibia. Stanley was later released from custody and placed under house arrest. He will not be allowed to leave the country until he has been tried for "denigration" of election committee head Brian O'Linn.
Stanley traveled to Namibia to testify for two Namibian newspapers on trial for publishing an article of his. In the July article, Stanley had quoted O'Linn as saying he had been a long-time supporter of the dominant Marxist South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and that his "special relationship" with the "people's liberation" movement would continue. "Obviously, they are trying to make a point...that nobody better criticize the election commission," said Henry Mark Holzer, Stanley's American attorney. It will be interesting to see how many of those who regularly champion free speech come out against Namibian injustice and express their support for Stanley.
GIVING US THE LIBERAL BUSINESS. It's not just political reporters that bring liberal views to the job. MediaWatch recently came across a survey that confirmed business reporters are just as liberal. Just before the 1988 presidential primaries began, The Journalist and Financial Reporting newsletter surveyed 151 business reporters for over 30 publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer to Money, Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and Barron's.
The New York-based newsletter found 54 percent identified themselves as Democrats, barely 10 percent as Republicans. Over 76 percent reported they opposed school prayer and 75 percent were against aid to the Contras, but an overwhelming 86 percent favored the "right to an abortion." Asked who they wish to see become President, 27 percent named liberal New York Governor Mario Cuomo, trailed by Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) with 20 percent and Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill) with nine percent. Senator Bob Dole was the most popular Republican, backed by just eight percent. At 44 percent, conservative Pat Robertson topped the list of those the reporters would "least like to see as President," followed by 19 percent who must be very upset now: they named George Bush.
About 52 percent evaluated President Reagan's performance as "poor" or "below average." Only 16.5 percent gave him an "excellent" or "good" and the remaining 19 percent considered him "average." No wonder they want the public to think Reaganomics failed.
Revolving Door: A Vance Degree in Journalism
A Vance Degree in Journalism. The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago has hired a new dean: Michael Janeway, a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance during the Carter Administration. Janeway's been Executive Editor of Houghton Mifflin, the book publishing company, since he left the Boston Globe in 1986. Janeway was Editor of the Globe Magazine from 1978 until becoming Editor of the entire paper in 1985.
Good Night Boston. Paula Lyons, consumer affairs reporter since 1979 for Boston ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, began the same role with Good Morning America in mid-September. Between 1974 and 1978 Lyons worked in several jobs for the city of Boston, serving as Press Secretary to Democratic Mayor Kevin White, Assistant Director of the Office of Federal Relations. Lyons will contribute a story at least once a week for ABC's morning show.
Hart's Beats. Last year Virginia (Ginny)Terzano did political research for the CBS News election unit. Her qualifications: a member of Senator Gary Hart's staff since 1983, she served as Deputy Press Secretary for his presidential campaign until it self-destructed. Then Terzano put in a stint with Senator Al Gore's presidential effort. This summer she went back to openly promoting liberal politicians, becoming Press Secretary of the Democratic National Committee.
Kissinger On Board. At its monthly meeting in September, the CBS Inc. Board of Directors elected Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon and Ford, to fill a newly created 15th seat. Kissinger isn't the only presidential advisor directing CBS policy. Harold Brown, Carter's Secretary of Defense, has been on the board since 1981.
Wilkins Off Board. Roger Wilkins, a Senior Fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies and a Senior Adviser to Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign, has been forced to relinquish his position on the Pulitzer Prize Board after serving the maximum limit of nine years. Wilkins was on the editorial boards of The New York Times and Washington Post in the 1970's. During the 1987-88 awards cycle, Wilkins served as Chairman of the Pulitzer Board.
Working Again. In February, ABC News closed the Washington News Information office, putting Joyce Kravitz, its Director and former Carter White house and Democratic Party press aide, out of a job. WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., put her to work again in August as Director of Public Relations.
Knight Move. Richard Capen Jr., a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and later Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for legislative affairs during President Nixon's first three years, is Knight-Ridder's new Vice Chairman for business information and cable television operations. Since 1983, Capen has been published of the Knight-Ridder owned Miami Herald.
Media Promote Liberal Anti-Tax Cut Position
Crying Over Capital Gains
Democratic leaders were not the only ones dismayed when the U.S. House passed a revenue spurring capital gains rate reduction similar to what President Bush promised voters. So were several major media figures.
A couple of weeks before the September 28 vote, on NBC's Meet the Press, Garrick Utley asked Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Al Hunt if the Democrats' class warfare theme had any appeal. Hunt summarized the Democratic leadership's hope: "I think fairness is still a big, big issue. And if the Democrats can make the issue that the rich are getting theirs and you're not getting yours... I think it has some resonance out there." That evening on the Nightly News, the liberal rhetoric became Utley's: "The debate is not just about economics, it's about fairness."
During the September 25 CBS Evening News story, economics correspondent Ray Brady wondered: "So would this tax cut, as some charge, really add up to a free lunch for America's fat cats, pushing up the already huge federal budget deficit?" For the answer, Brady consulted Bob McIntyre of the notorious soak-the-rich lobby Citizens for Tax Justice. "A better solution, say many Democrats," Brady concluded after citing figures alleging the cut would benefit only the rich, "would be to raise rates for some high-bracket taxpayers, and then bring back the individual retirement account, the IRA where everybody gets a tax for saving money."
CBS anchor Dan Rather defined the issue on liberal terms the night it garnered House approval, using "for the wealthy" as a suffix for the capital gains cut three times: "Good evening. A political showdown vote in the U.S. House of Representatives today on economics. A vote to support President Bush's idea to cut the capital gains tax for the wealthy. Sixty-four Democrats bucked their own new House leaders, abandoned them, and joined the Republicans to support the measure. Mr. Bush says that cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy will boost the economy and create jobs. Opponents don't believe that, and they call it simply a tax giveaway for the wealthy.
Time magazine was livid, headlining its October 9 "news story": "Bill Me Later: Once Again, Washington Chooses Voodoo Economics Over Responsibility." Senior Writer George J. Church bitterly complained that "once again," Washington had "lost itself in a politically irresistible orgy of tax reduction."
Newsweek's headline, "The Class Warfare Fizzles," reflected what really happened, but reporter Eleanor Clift couldn't resist a dig at conservative economics: "Budget director Richard Darman's dream of a far-reaching deal to solve the deficit crisis is becoming a nightmare as his President leads the charge in creating a tax break rather than confront a tax increase."
Update on Past Cooke Awards
BARRETT PROMOTED. The July Award went to Time magazine for its coverage of the RNC memo on House Speaker Tom Foley. An unbylined editorial box called RNC Chairman Lee Atwater a "muck maven" and demanded that President Bush "sack" Atwater in light of the incident. Initially, Barrett misled the RNC by claiming he had nothing to do with the coverage of the memo. Senior Editor Terry Zintl later admitted to MediaWatch that Barrett penned the editorial box. Barrett's career hasn't been hurt by his disingenuous behavior. In September, Barrett was promoted to Deputy Bureau Chief in Washington.
THERE HE GOES AGAIN. NBC reporter Fred Briggs, winner of June's Janet Cooke Award for his promotion of the Canadian national health system, took another shot at it on August 8. Briggs, who told MediaWatch he considered the Canadian system "very civilized," built the report around the "unthinkable" conversion of none other than Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca (never one to resist the government taking business expenses off his hands).
Briggs again recommended the Canadian health care system: "It keeps costs down and covers everyone. Two Harvard doctors say that system could be phased in here." Although Tom Brokaw insured viewers that Briggs would "look at the various options," Briggs explored only "universal health care" plans that "involve federal and state funds in one way or another," such as Ted Kennedy's mandated-benefits scheme. He mentioned no conservative or market-based alternative. To build the case for copying Canada, Briggs ended the report with some wild mathematics: "All sides agree that costs are out of hand, and getting worse. One sixth of the nation can't afford health care now. If its price continues to rise at twice the rate of inflation, only the rich may be able to pay for it by the end of the century."
The misguided moguls of public broadcasting continue to throw good money after bad political programming. The latest example is The Struggle for Democracy, a seven-part series narrated and produced by Canadian Patrick Watson. In the final episode that aired September 12, Watson contemplated the secret to successful democracies like... the one-party Marxist state of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe?
Yes, Watson found that "Compared with some African horror stories, Zimbabwe has to be a democratic success, despite the one-party state." During the hour-long broadcast, Watson called Zimbabwe an "independent legitimate nation," an "independent democracy," and an "independent multi-racial democracy."
This last appellation was the most humorous, especially since Watson mentioned that during taping of the series "the 20 seats reserved in the Assembly for whites were in the process of being eliminated." Watson didn't even blink when Didymus Mutasa, Speaker of Zimbabwe's Assembly, explained that "The idea of opposition doesn't really come into the thinking of the African," and those who disagree with the rules' edicts leave the country.
Another "democratic success" for Watson: New Zealand's refusal to allow America's nuclear battleships into port. "It's partly because of countries like New Zealand that Robert McNamara's "average citizen' has the confidence to oppose nuclear policies, Western or Soviet, that threaten us all," Watson proclaimed.
He further proved his inability to discern a difference between communist and democratic nations when he asked New Zealand's then-Prime Minister David Lange "What's the lesson for other countries trying to be independent in the face of superpower pressure? Jamaica? Nicaragua?
Conceding the Obvious
Wall Street Journal editor writer David Brooks culled some juicy admissions of media bias on environmental issues at a September 16 global warming conference at the Smithsonian Institution. In an October 5 Journal column, Brooks quoted Charles Alexander: "As the science editor at Time I would freely admit that on this issue we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy." The audience applauded. Of course, anyone who reads Time, with its "Planet of the Year" agenda and "Endangered Earth" bulletins, hardly needed the announcement.
NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Andrea Mitchell told the audience that "clearly the networks have made that decision now, where you'd have to call it advocacy." Mitchell could be referring to segments of ABC's "American Agenda" or NBC's own recent "Assignment Earth" series.
Janet Cooke Award: Homeless Hype: CBS, CNN, NBC
Staging news events has become a fact of political life in Washington. You see it every day as advocacy groups clamor to get media attention by calling press conferences. You see it in the halls of Congress from Senators and Congressmen. The President routinely stages events to get out his political message.
The media usually respond by covering the event, but question the positions articulated. The diversity of views that comes from this "devil's advocate mentality" may not be a bad thing for the domestic policy debate -- unless the mentality breaks down.
And break down it did when a contingent of Hollywood celebrities and radical political advocates came to Washington for the October 7 Housing Now! march to demand greater federal funding for homeless Americans. Many media outlets abandoned the established norms of reporting to trumpet a panorama of factual distortions and at times outright lies. Cases in point -- the October Janet Cooke Award recipients: CBS This Morning, CNN's PrimeNews, and NBC's Today. The three programs allowed the propaganda of Housing Now! to go unchallenged.
On CBS This Morning the day before the march, co-host Kathleen Sullivan interviewed singer Dionne Warwick and march organizer Carol Fennelley. She asked: "Dionne, what is the best way to take care of the homeless?" and "Carol I understand that the purpose of this march specifically is the decry the housing situation... Let's say from the beginning of the Reagan Administration in 1980, how was the housing situation different than it is today?"
Fennelley responded to Sullivan's softball question: "Well, over the last eight years, 75 to 80 percent, depending upon whose figures you use, of the housing budget has been decreased or cut. And when you take that much out of any budget, you are bound to see dramatic and devastating effects, which is what we are seeing right now. It's estimated that by the year 2003, if current housing trends continue, there will be 18.7 million homeless people in our country."
NBC Today co-host Jane Pauley repeated the same myth in an interview with organizers Mitch Snyder and Barry Zigas: "March organizers say it will take $25 billion dollars to build housing for the homeless and for the working poor, money they say was taken out of the housing budget during the Reagan Administration."
On CNN's October 7 PrimeNews, Candy Crowley cited yet another distortion homeless advocates tout as fact almost daily. Reporting on the day's march, Crowley concluded: "Spring-like temperatures on a Fall day made for a carnival-like atmosphere, but an occasional chilly breeze forewarned that winter is on the way and three million Americans have no place to call home."
Anchor David French, in an interview with Snyder, not only championed the activists' statistics, but also the spirit of the march: "The last President, Mr. Reagan, who I guess helped you get the shelter, your fabulous shelter here two blocks from the Capitol, he still said that in effect many homeless persons are that way by choice, that many of them are retarded or otherwise on the street for reasons like that." French sighed, "That's the attitude you've been fighting, isn't it?"
Snyder responded: "Those are the stereotypes and the images that bear no relationship to reality...of millions of human being living and dying on the streets... The reality is you've got to have a lot of money in America today to afford a decent place to live, and increasing numbers of Americans can't, and all of that's a consequence of $25 billion dollars a year just sliced out of the housing budget."
The networks denied access to any Administration or think tank officials to counter Snyder. Sullivan briefly referred to a Heritage Foundation report on the homeless situation, but it was quickly dismissed. It is not as if there is a shortage of experts or information countering Housing Now! claims. On October 5, columnist Warren Brookes corrected march participants' hysterical claim of three million homeless. He cited four major studies from the National Academy of Sciences, the Urban Institute, the General Accounting Office, and Harvard's Richard Freeman. No study, as late as 1988, put the number higher than 650,000.
Brookes also refuted the radical activists' allegations that Reagan had cut $25 billion from the housing budget. Brookes noted "Budget Authority" to build future housing was cut because of the massive commitment the U.S. made in the 1970's -- over $250 billion worth. Most of those units actually came on line in the 1980's. From 1982 through 1988, Brookes notes, an average of 19,000 units came on line. That compares to just average of 15,000 during the Carter Years. Brookes took a look at actual federal budget outlays. Since 1980, "Housing Assistance" has risen 172 percent, from just under $6 billion to over $15 billion a year. Actual HUD spending increased from $12.7 billion in 1980 to $20.4 billion in 1989, nearly double the inflation rate.
Heritage Foundation experts could have explained that and more. They might have also pointed to rent control and urban redevelopment projects that have actually cut the supply of low-income housing. The liberal Urban Institute (UI) cited other reasons for homelessness: drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, and serious criminal behavior. A UI study found that 71 percent of the homeless are afflicted with one or more of these problems.
The week before the march, the Media Research Center (MRC) sent out a letter to major press outlets urging "an equal forum" for conservative-minded alternatives to the increased federal spending demanded by Housing Now! The letter suggested the names of several housing experts to interview. While the letter was sent to 28 producers and executives (including 7 at CBS News, 5 at CNN, and 6 at NBC), just one producer, from Mutual Broadcasting's Jim Bohannon Show, contacted the MRC for help in finding a way to balance their presentation of the issue.
Bohannon provided one of the few balanced discussion by major media outlets. (Another: An October 16 U.S. News and World Report article which explained that the disintegration of the private, unsubsidized rental market: actually caused the housing crunch. Associate Editor David Whitman also pointed out: (1) federal housing expenditures have actually risen, and (2) drug abuse, mental illness, and alcoholism are major factors in homelessness that advocates refuse to talk about.) It seems most in the media did not mind helping legitimize a left-wing disinformation campaign by serving as a willing conduit for a staged news event.