The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004

CBS Promotes Fears of a New Military Draft

On the September 28 CBS Evening News, the network that had just been caught using forged documents in an anti-Bush news story decided to give legitimacy to Internet rumors by devoting one of its election-year “What Does It Mean to You?” segments to “fears” of a supposedly Bush-supporting mother that President Bush will impose a military draft. But the woman presented to viewers as an ordinary suburban mom is really an activist leader of a group called “People Against the Draft,” whose Web page is packed with left-wing screeds and links to far-left groups, and CBS reporter Richard Schlesinger never bothered to mention that the Pentagon opposes a new draft.

schlesinger100504Anchor Dan Rather intoned at the beginning of his broadcast, “A mother worries her son will be drafted. Does she have good reason?” In his report, Schlesinger focused his piece around how the mother, Beverly Cocco, “is petrified about a military draft, and she’s not alone. Mass e-mails are circulating among worried parents.” Schlesinger noted how both Bush and Kerry deny that they’d institute a draft, but the mother is “not buying it. She’s a Republican, but she’s also a single-issue voter.” The onscreen moniker CBS applied to Cocco: “Pennsylvania Voter.”

He asked her: “Would you vote for a Democrat?”

Cocco replied: “Absolutely. I would vote for Howdy Doody if I thought it would keep my boys home and safe.”

Schlesinger concluded with a warning: “She’s a Bush supporter today, but if she doesn’t like what she hears between now and November, Beverly could easily cross over.”

Earlier in his story, Schlesinger had given credence to the fears: “The machinery for a draft is already in place, and the acting director of Selective Service believes he could start drafting people quickly.”

Within hours, the duplicity of CBS presenting an activist as an ordinary voter was uncovered by bloggers, who revealed that Cocco is the Philadelphia-area contact person for “People Against the Draft.” In an interview with the blog, Schlesinger justified basing a story on the scare-mongering e-mails: “The fact is, they were going around. I know several people that got them, and it’s gotten people all riled up. Whether or not there’s any reality to there being a draft, is almost besides the point. Do I think there’s going to be a draft? No. But it’s an issue that people are talking about.”

Producer Linda Karas told the same blog: “The truth of the e-mails were absolutely irrelevant to the piece, because all the story said was that people were worried.” And she’s supposed to be in the “news” business?

On the Bright Side: NBC Offered Balanced Coverage

One day after the CBS Evening News touted fears of a new draft, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski explored those same worries, but properly included the Pentagon’s position opposing a new draft.

“Internet postings claim the Selective Service system has been given $28 million to prepare for a draft and is secretly hiring 10,000 people for draft boards nationwide,” Miklaszewski explained on the September 29 Nightly News.

“Pentagon officials call it bunk,” Miklaszewski reported, as NBC put the word “Bunk” on screen in large red letters. “Most Pentagon and military leaders actually oppose the draft because, they say, the all-volunteer Army is working. Generally, today’s soldiers are in the Army because they want to be. Drafted soldiers would be forced to serve, and then for only two years, barely enough time to train them for today’s high-tech force.”

Now, why couldn’t CBS have reported that?