MediaWatch: August 1995

In This Issue

Media Bridge Over Silent Waters; NewsBites: Opposed to Infants and Lepers; ABC Goes Goofy; Time: Conservatives Are Stupid; Pushing Quotas, Spiking Critics; Rotten to the Corps; Worrying About Rosty, Not Newt; Janet Cooke Award: Professor Jenning's Fractured Fairy Tale

Media Bridge Over Silent Waters

Networks Show Little Zeal to Cover Revelations from New Hearings on Whitewater

The weekend after Whitewater hearings began, on the July 23 World News Sunday, ABC anchor John Cochran insisted the hearings were examining charges "that have been the subject of countless television, newspaper and magazine reports." Really?

Last summer the Democrats held narrowly focused hearings on White House contacts with the Treasury Dept. Over two weeks the four network evening shows (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and NBC Nightly News) devoted 40 reporter-based stories to the Democratic show.

On July 18 this year Whitewater hearings under Republican control of Congress began. An August 14 Washingon Post news analysis reported the hearings drew "a more comprehensible picture of the controversy than has ever been presented before in a public arena" as "they made a strong case that the first family has not told the complete story of its relationship with former business partner James McDougal." Would the networks give equal or greater weight to these revelations in areas avoided by Democrats?

MediaWatch analysts reviewed the same four evening shows from July 16 (two days before the Senate hearings began) to August 10. The time frame covered the four weeks of Senate hearings and one overlapping week of House hearings. For the three morning shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today) MediaWatch reviewed through Aug. 4.

The study found that anyone relying on network news would have missed significant discoveries and contradictions. In the evening, the networks offered 24 reporter-based stories, almost half of what aired last year. This year they ran another 25 anchor-read briefs. In the morning, the Big Three aired only seven reporter-based stories, on six morning shows it made an anchor-read brief, and Whitewater was raised at least once in seven interview segments.

CNN and NBC barely noted the hearings, each airing just three even-ing reporter-based stories compared to ten and seven respectively last summer. CBS led with ten reporter-based segments (12 last year) and five items read by the anchor in the evening, plus another six morning reporter-based or interview segments and three anchor briefs. But CBS also appeared the most hostile to the hearings. On July 17, Dan Rather introduced a preview story: "From another offensive wave on Whitewater to a sweeping rollback of federal regulations on health, safety, and the environment, it's a political carpet-bombing attack, wall to wall, House to Senate." And nine days later: "The Republicans' all-out offensive on Whitewater today featured contradictory testimony."

ABC came in second with eight reporter-based stories (11 last year) and two anchor-read briefs on World News Tonight, as well as four reporter or interview items and two days with anchor briefs in the morning. Not until the House opened hearings on August 7 did CNN's World News air its first reporter-based story. CNN offered eleven anchor-read items. NBC Nightly News aired only three reporter-based segments and four anchor-read briefs. Today had four reporter or interview segments and anchor briefs on two other days.

NBC wins for going to any length to avoid Whitewater. On August 8 the other three networks did full stories on RTC investigator Jean Lewis telling the House that after Clinton became President officials tried to obstruct her investigation of Madison Guaranty that found McDougal involved in "rampant" fraud and check kiting to siphon money to the Whitewater project and Clinton campaign. NBC led with the O.J. trial and devoted three minutes to a convention of Elvis "scholars," but gave Lewis 13 seconds.

What revelations did evening news viewers miss?

July 19: Patsy Thomasson, a friend of the President, who did not have security clearance, sat at Vince Foster's desk hours after his death while the FBI and Park Police were denied access to his office. ABC and NBC: no story. CBS did a story on bungling the night of the death, but failed to note this news. When Dan Rather asked "what in terms of substance have they come up with?" Bob Schieffer responded: "Well, not a lot really." CNN dedicated two and a half minutes to a photo exhibit of movie kissing scenes, but just 18 seconds to Whitewater without mentioning Thomasson.

July 27: Foster's family lawyer testified, The Washington Times reported, that White House lawyer Clifford Sloan "saw torn pieces of a yellow legal pad" in Foster's briefcase "two days after the deputy counsel's July 1993 death but made no effort to retrieve them and later told FBI agents he never saw any scraps." At the time then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum had "declared the briefcase empty." Four days later Foster's torn suicide note on yellow paper was found. ABC, CBS and NBC: no story. CNN's 17 second anchor brief failed to note this new charge.

August 2: Former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann charged that Nussbaum betrayed a promise to allow a joint review of documents in Vince Foster's office. CNN ignored the story, but found time for a piece on the health benefits of tofu. After two weeks without a reporter-based piece, that day NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reported an "In Depth" segment on the history and political impact of Whitewater, but NBC relayed nothing about Heymann's testimony.

August 10: A second Justice Dept. lawyer, David Margolis, backed Heymann by testifying that Nussbaum had reneged on an agreement to let investigators review documents in Foster's office before they were moved to the White House residence. CNN and NBC: no story, but CNN had time to report on Joe Namath donating to Planet Hollywood pantyhose he wore in a TV ad. NBC squeezed in video of a tie-dyed flag flown in honor of the late Jerry Garcia. CBS ignored Margolis as Rather reported "the Whitewater tag team offensive by Republicans in Congress is winding down, at least for now. In the Senate more heat but no real new light today" as Nussbaum "denied any law breaking or cover-up on his part."

NewsBites: Opposed to Infants and Lepers

In attacking efforts to reduce the deficit, ABC's Carole Simpson and George Strait used sensationalistic examples on the July 9 World News Sunday to shame the public into continued funding for lessening problems.

Strait led the charge, claiming that "commitment to reducing infant mortality is threatened by congressional budget cuts, which public health officials say would make a bad problem worse." Minutes later in the same program, Simpson introduced a report on the nation's last leper colony by clucking at efforts to close it down. Simpson, ignoring the fact that the disease is treatable and no longer requires isolated sanitariums, lashed out: "For more than 100 years Louisiana's Guillis W. Long Center, known as Carville, has been both a prison and a safe haven for people with leprosy. It's the last treatment center of its kind and now federal budget cutters want to close it down."

Flat Wrong on Flat Tax.

USA Today reporter William M. Welch's July 7 article on income tax reform included a table comparing Rep. Richard Gephardt's plan and Rep. Dick Armey's flat tax with current law. The problem? Instead of providing figures by advocates of each plan or an independent source, USA Today used the figures of Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) to critique each plan. Welch termed the liberal, union-funded CTJ "a non-partisan citizens group" and "a group advocating tax fairness."

The CTJ table claimed that at a 17 percent rate under Armey's plan, a family of four with an income of $25,000 would pay a total of $3,600 in taxes, with over $1,800 of that coming from income taxes and $1,160 in business sales taxes. The table insisted that the same family would get a $240 refund under Gephardt's plan. But as economist Dan Mitchell pointed out in MediaNomics, "A family of four pays absolutely no tax on the first $33,300 of income ($22,700 personal allowance for a married couple and $5,300 allowance for each child). To somehow claim, as Welch did, that this family will pay $3,600 of taxes clearly involves a gross misrepresentation of the plan." A more independent analysis by the Tax Foundation showed that even at a 20 percent flat rate, Armey's plan would reduce the tax burden for those in the $20,000 to $50,000 range.

The Meat-Poisoning Party.

Instead of explaining the reasoning behind opposition to more burdensome USDA meat inspection rules, CBS focused on how Republicans would unleash E. coli on the unsuspecting public. On the July 9 Evening News, reporter Sharyl Attkisson highlighted a seven-year-old victim of E. coli. "With the promise of safer meat threatened by delay, consumers are frustrated," she said leading into a soundbite of the victim's mother, who insisted: "When it happens to you it makes you realize how important having safe meat inspections and regulations are." Attkisson then concluded: "And those who have learned by near tragedy the dangers of unsafe meat don't want to be forgotten in the debate."

Reporters called those favoring more regulation "consumer advocates," instead of liberals. The next night reporter Bob Schieffer referred to liberal Public Citizen activist Joan Claybrook as a "consumer advocate." Newsweek's Sharon Begley did the same in a July 24 story on victims: "But smack in the middle of the Senate debate came news that five children in Tennessee had gotten E. Coli poisoning...Such outbreaks, say consumer groups, will become ever more common if Dole gets his way."

Contradicting these sensationalistic stories, in a July 13 Washington Times column David Ridenour pointed out that the regulatory agencies failed: "The regulations lobby will always be able to produce their `victims' to press their case for additional regulations because there is no such thing as a risk-free world...the victims they cite were not spared by the 64,914 pages of regulations on the books, backed up by 130,000 federal bureaucrats."

AIDS Tirade.

Senator Jesse Helms sparked a furor among Washington reporters after a July 5 New York Times interview with reporter Katherine Seelye. He argued that AIDS funding under the "Ryan White Care Act" should be reduced since AIDS sufferers brought the disease on themselves. Seelye sought to refute Helms' assertion that AIDS accounted for more federal dollars than diseases that killed more people: "Public Health Service figures show that when all federal money, including Medicaid and Medicare, is taken into account, total annual federal outlays on heart disease and cancer dwarf those on AIDS."

That night, CBS Evening News reporter Bill Plante aired two Helms critics, but no one supporting Helms' view. "Ryan White's mother says it's unfair of Senator Helms to blame the victims." Plante added: "Helms also maintains...[AIDS] receives greater funding than diseases which kill many more people. That's not true, says the administration's director of AIDS policy."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby quibbled with the media's take, reporting the Associated Press "calculated that the U.S. government was spending about $79,000 for every American who died of AIDS -- as against only $7,300 for every death from cervical cancer, $6,300 for diabetes, $2,800 for breast cancer, $800 for prostate cancer, and $600 for stroke." Jacoby also pointed out that the U.S. Public Health Service says the federal government "will spend $2 billion a year on AIDS," compared to only $800 million on heart disease. It is estimated that heart disease will be responsible for 33 percent of American deaths this year, while AIDS will make up only 2 percent of American deaths.

Smolowe's Blows.

Time magazine got a little bit label happy in a July 10 story about religious conservatives. In the article, "Outfoxing the Right," Senior Writer Jill Smolowe repeatedly used labels such as "ultraconservative," and "right wing" to describe Christian activist parents. The subtitle of the story, "Moderates recapture a handful of school boards by publicizing the obsessions of ultraconservatives," set the tone for the entire piece.

Smolowe's angle in the one-page story was that the "moderates" were restoring sanity to the school board with their victories. Smolowe wrote, "moderates, many of whom stayed home when the first wave of ultraconservatives marched into office three years ago, are now mobilizing themselves....moderate teachers and parents parried with a simple the end moderates regained a majority, trouncing ultraconservatives."

The labeling tally in 13 references to Christians: five "ultraconservative," four "conservative," four "Christian right" or "religious right" and one "right wing." By contrast, Smolowe used only one "liberal" label, for People for the American Way (PAW) -- although the story also tagged PAW and the National Education Association as "moderate."

Et Tu, Harry Wu?

You would think someone brave enough to have repeatedly risked his life exposing child and slave labor, uncovering forced organ donation, and highlighting a corrupt system of political oppression would be a champion to reporters. But human rights activist Harry Wu has come in for some odd criticism as the media rationalized his arrest by communist China. Maybe Wu, a U.S. citizen, should have criticized the injustice of his adopted country instead.

In a July 10 piece, USA Today's Marilyn Greene suggested that China's trumped-up charges may have merit: "The Wu indictments, however, carry just enough validity to give the Clinton Administration pause as it expresses outrage over his detention to Beijing. Wu, 58, has used methods that could be described as shrewd at best, illegal at worst, to roam remote areas of China gathering incriminating evidence against the government."

Greene pronounced Wu guilty of the charges for which he may face the death penalty. "For example, his Chinese name is Wu Hongda. The name on Wu's passport is Peter H. Wu, his U.S. name. Beijing says this is an attempt to fool officials and enter China under a false name. And in a trip back to China last year, Wu gathered information for reports on the sale and export of human organs from executed prisoners."

L.A. Flaw.

The current talk in Los Angeles is not just about actor Hugh Grant's illicit misconduct on a famed Hollywood thoroughfare, but of how Los Angeles County may end up suffering from one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. The media's culprit as usual, was tax limitations, not the lack of spending limitations.

On the June 19 World News Tonight ABC reporter Brian Rooney suggested: "L.A. County's long fall may have begun with the passage of Proposition 13, the law to limit property taxes." In the July 10 issue, U.S. News & World Report Los Angeles reporter Betsy Streisand added: "No longer able to rely on the state to cover budget shortfalls brought on by Proposition 13, which drastically cut California property taxes, L.A. County for three years has made ends meet with lots of borrowed money."

Similar blame rang July 17, as CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn ignored the spending side in an interview with liberal County Supervisors Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and Gloria Molina. The supervisors blamed "a structural deficiency from Proposition 13" for the fiscal meltdown. Zahn asked helpful questions like "Who gets hurt the most if these cuts are enforced?" and stressed the need for more tax money: "I know you have a California congressional delegation that will meet with President Clinton, what is their expectation? Can they get $400 million?" Zahn concluded: "What is your greatest fear as you all try to lobby for more money, not only from the feds, but from your own state government?"

All three reports ignored soaring spending, specifically the public employee workforce. As John Barnes pointed out in the July 25 Investors' Business Daily, public employee pay outgrew pay increases in the private sector in the last decade, and L.A. County exemplified the trend: "Between 1980 and 1995, the number of public workers in the county jumped 15 percent to more than 88,000." In addition, employees got a 7.5 percent raise one year so now "no fewer than 2,230 employees -- nearly two percent of the work force -- make more than $100,000 a year in base salary."

Quitters Never Win.

When Wall Street Journal Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Jill Abramson co-authored Strange Justice, a book-length attack on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, she refused to do joint media appearances with opponents, such as David Brock, author of The Real Anita Hill. In an American Spectator review, Brock called the Abramson book "one of the most outrageous journalistic hoaxes in recent memory." Brock documented numerous misquotations, errors, and lapses in judgment, such as quoting Frederick Cooke as seeing Thomas with a triple-X movie though he refused to confirm or deny the allegation.

But when a caller to C-SPAN's Washington Journal on July 10 asked Abramson when she would rebut Brock, Abramson refused to defend her book: "This is a topic I'd like to skip. I do that rarely but I'm just....He's talking about a review in The American Spectator, which is an ideological tabloid publication here that attempted to criticize a book I wrote with [former Journal writer] Jane Mayer about the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. But it was so long ago that I think there are more current topics of interest to be talking about." An August 8 Washington Times editorial suggested a reason why: former White House lawyer Mark Paoletta demanded the book's publisher apologize for the suggestion that he'd broken an anti-lobbying law. The publisher apologized and will remove the passage from the paperback edition.

ABC Goes Goofy

Even before Capital Cities/ABC was purchased by Walt Disney, the network indulged in its own trip to Fantasyland. World News Tonight's July 12-14 American Agenda series on the environment conjured up a dystopia of dirty air, bad water and poisoned meat, all a result of GOP reform plans.

Peter Jennings foreshadowed the tone in a July 9 promo: "Next week on ABC's World News Tonight, a series of reports about our environment which will tell you precisely what the new Congress has in mind: the most frontal assault on the environment in 25 years." Of the eight stories aired over three nights, only one touched on job and property rights loss. The others consisted of defending the current system from efforts to "roll back," "weaken," or "gut environmental programs."

Jennings explained July 12 that Republicans "are engaged in the most dramatic overhaul or assault, some would say, on environmental legislation in 25 years." While there is "hostility toward excessive regulation in many parts of the country, there is no public rewrite environmental regulations."

Jennings set up Republicans as bullies: "The reason why the Republican plan has set off such a furious debate is that by many measures the environmental laws of the past 25 years have worked. During that time, the number of clean lakes has doubled, average smog levels are down a third, lead from auto exhaust has practically been eliminated." But if the reforms pass, he claimed, "the clean up of hundreds of toxic waste sites would become less of a priority" and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would be changed. ABC assumed the liberal policies have succeeded. But as the Heritage Foundation's John Shanahan noted, the Superfund program has only cleaned up 24 percent of the "worst" sites as the liability rules encourage costly litigation. On the ESA, David Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research noted, it "has been an abysmal failure because it actually encourages the destruction of species habitat." Fearful of having an endangered species identified on their land, property owners destroy their wildlife habitat.

On July 13, Jennings warned before an Erin Hayes report: "There is a strong clue to what [state environmental autonomy] may mean in the state of Washington, long considered progressive." To Hayes it meant dead shrimp. She interviewed Bill Taylor, a fisherman whose livelihood had been saved by rules making paper mills remove pollutants from their discharges. No one from the paper mill was interviewed, or anyone criticizing the regulatory burdens of the Clean Water Act.

Hayes ended: "There is concern that protection of natural resources could suffer if state and local governments, given too much freedom and under pressure to cut budgets, gut environmental programs. And that worries those like Bill Taylor, who know firsthand exactly what could be lost if environmental safeguards are rolled back too far."

On July 14 Catherine Crier focused on the evil of corporate lobbyists, as if left wing environmentalists never influenced laws: "Many Republicans say they're simply using lobbyists the way Democrats did for years. But few can remember lobbyists having such unprecedented power. And the price of that influence, some fear, could be weaker environmental protection." In this series, the only endangered species was journalistic balance.

Time: Conservatives Are Stupid

If Republicans succeed in reducing federal funding for cultural agencies, the move "will depress the quality of life for everyone, and it will undermine the kind of democracy America has always aspired to." So read the table of contents page describing Time's August 7 cover story by Senior Writer Robert Hughes, just below the moniker reading "the weekly newsmagazine."

The subhead for the eight pages of slurs and innuendoes, declared: "The conservatives' all-out assault on federal funding is unenlightened, uneconomic and undemocratic." About the GOP "ideologues... squeaking with Newtish zeal," Hughes charged, "These boys and girls aren't even cultural Neanderthals. They're Jurassic. On culture, the limbic forebrain can hold one sound bite at a time, courtesy of Rush Limbaugh or George Will."

Assuming culture equals what the government funds, Hughes contrasted these conservative cretins to the "dedicated" artists on the dole: "By what meanness, through what smug our Jacks-in-office decree that the arts and humanities are beneath the interest of the American people and unworthy of their collective support?" He added that "Losing the NEA would be a disgrace; but the loss of the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] as well would be a cultural tragedy for all Americans." This despite his admission that "corporate and foundation support for the arts outweighs federal support -- $16 to $1."

On federal interest in education, he offered this insult: "Other Americans, whether ordinary, short-sighted materialists or mere yahoos, have often opposed this noble idea." Going biblical, he painted opposition to arts funding as a "vengeful current of Fundamentalist apocalyptic religion" and with those who "have no idea that there is a vast, complex and valuable tract of images between Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving turkey and Andres Serrano's photo of a crucifix in urine." But he didn't deign to trace this trail.

If the cuts pass? "Some will not notice it; others won't care; ...perhaps the next generation won't know what happened. Partial lobotomies work that way. They favor Beavis and Butt-head. Is that the business of American government?"

Time has yet to devote a cover story to denouncing liberals, so why give Hughes a platform? His editor, Christopher Porterfield, explained in the publisher's letter that "we give him a little more leeway, as long as it's clear that what you're getting is Bob Hughes opinion." But Time did not label it in any way as opinion.

Newt Gingrich, Time's Nancy Traver wrote in 1989, takes on "his mission with a humorless holier-than-thou style that makes him easy to dislike." Hughes should know.

Pushing Quotas, Spiking Critics

Victims of Fairness

When it comes to affirmative action, it seems NBC and CBS favor only racial, not political, diversity. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw fired a warning shot on the July 18 Nightly News, accusing California Gov. Pete Wilson of "playing the race and immigration cards hard," by coming out against preference policies in the California university system. On July 19, both CBS's Jacqueline Adams and NBC's Gwen Ifill focused on potential victims of the loss of government preferences, while ignoring the real-life victims of the policy itself.

CBS's Jacqueline Adams cited AT&T as a former "white man's paradise" that had the courage to change, noting, "Publicly, that support," for affirmative action, "is shared by 81 percent" of Fortune 500 companies. "Many minority businessmen, though, suffer the costs of the private view." Adams spotlighted one such "victim," printer Frank Flores. "Over the last five years, he's had to fire almost half of his largely Hispanic workforce. One reason: a major beverage company no longer felt compelled to hire him." Ifill profiled Winston Chan, "who owes his success to affirmative took the federal government to jump start his ambitions with a program that set aside contracts for minorities and women." One soon saw why: Half the money Chan's company makes comes from government affirmative action contracts.

Without opposing comment, Ifill asserted that "a handful of studies conducted between 1977 and 1991, compiled by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, shows affirmative action programs have had a generally positive effect." The median black male income, she explain-ed, has risen from 60 to 74 percent of white income between 1964 and 1993.

But is improving black economic data simply a function of preferences or did other factors, like the Reagan boom, have their own impact? National Review's Ed Rubenstein cited Census Bureau data showing "from the end of 1982 to 1989, black unemployment dropped 9 percentage points (from 20.4 percent to 11.4 percent)....the median black family's income increased 15.7 percent....According to the Census Bureau, the number of black-owned businesses increased from 308,000 in 1982 to 424,000 in 1987, a 38 percent rise."

Rotten to the Corps

It was a busy week on the subsidy beat for NBC reporter Lisa Myers. First she revisited Clinton's pet program, AmeriCorps. Myers first questioned the youth service program's efficiency in a February Nightly News report. Her suspicions were later confirmed by the GAO, as she noted on her July 11 Nightly News follow-up: "It may not be a good deal for taxpayers....Last year AmeriCorps estimated the program would cost taxpayers $6.43 per hour of service to the community. But preliminary GAO findings say overhead and other costs have driven the price tag way up, to $15.65 per hour of service. Also, AmeriCorps had estimated costs at $17-18,000 per participant, most of the bill footed by taxpayers."

Myers noted wryly, "The highest costs occurred when AmeriCorps gave money to projects run by other federal agencies. Take this anti-hunger project in Vermont, run by the Agriculture Department. Cost? Almost $44,000 per job."

After soundbites from Senator Charles Grassley, a program critic, and AmeriCorps President Eli Segal, Myers concluded: "A big selling point for AmeriCorps was that as much as half the money for projects would come from private donations. But so far, GAO says, federal taxpayers are picking up 80 percent of the tab."

Three nights later on Dateline NBC Myers exposed the federal peanut program, which artificially boosts the price consumers pay for peanut products and restricts farmers' freedom to sell them: "In a free country you might think everyone has that right, but believe it or not, your government decides who can sell peanuts and who cannot."

After explaining that the subsidy, a Great Depression holdover, currently goes to many large farmers and high-income people, Myers disputed Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman's assertion that minorities benefit from the program: "Records from Glickman's own agency tell a far different story. While 13 percent of all quota holders are minorities, the government allows those minority farmers to grow just a tiny 4 percent of all peanuts sold in America. In fact, this is a program that almost systematically discriminates against minorities, because the right to grow peanuts was doled out in the 1930s, when white farmers owned most of the land. A lot of white farmers today inherited peanut quota from their grandfathers."

Myers interviewed House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a program critic, who is "among a growing number of Republicans and Democrats troubled by a program that enriched 76,000 farmers at the expense of 200 million consumers." She then queried Glickman: "When the Clinton administration was forced to choose between the interests of middle class families and the peanut farmers, you're essentially choosing the peanut farmers?"

Worrying About Rosty, Not Newt

A Tale of Two Schieffers

On February 7, 1993, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) appeared on CBS's Face the Nation. A very apologetic Bob Schieffer waited until the end of the interview to slip in a tepid question about an ongoing ethics investigation: "I'd be remiss if I did not ask you, your office has been investigated, you've been investigated by a U.S. Attorney now for I don't know how many months. Can you tell us if you've been given any indication if that is about to conclude and do you feel in any way if that's going to impede your authority to work on these economic problems?"

On the July 9, 1995 Face the Nation, Schieffer and U.S. News & World Report Senior Wri-ter Gloria Borger fired four questions at Speaker Newt Gingrich about his ethics.

This year Schieffer lacked the "when can we get on with business" tone. While he was concerned that a long investigation into Rostenkowski may have impeded his authority, with Gingrich it smelled of a cover-up: "Maybe this sounds as an odd question, but, you know, until the ethics committee announced on Friday that they were indeed going to call you and Rupert Murdoch, there had been charges, most of them from Democrats, that the whole thing was being, been dragged out. That the ethics committee had taken no testimony under oath, that they had subpoenaed no documents. Eric Engberg of CBS had reported that they hadn't even gotten a briefing from any relevant agencies. Do you think the ethics committee has been dragging its feet on this? And would you like to tell them to speed up to at least clear up all of this?"

Janet Cooke Award: Professor Jenning's Fractured Fairy Tale

ABC Special Contends U.S. Dropped the Bomb Unnecessarily to Stoke the Cold War

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum is currently exhibiting a newly refurbished Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima 50 years ago. But the museum's curators originally planned a confessional exhibit, displaying America's guilt and Japan's innocence in World War II. One museum passage would have read that for Americans, fighting Japan was "a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism."

That canceled leftist exhibit in a tax-funded museum became the center of ABC's July 27 Peter Jennings Reporting 90-minute special, "Hiroshima: Why the Bomb Was Dropped." ABC told viewers U.S. officials overstated the casualty estimates of an invasion of Japan; that the Allied demand for the dumping of the Japanese emperor delayed an imminent surrender; and that the U.S. dropped the bomb not to save lives, but to play a cynical Cold War game of intimidating the Soviets. For presenting a one-sided version of revisionist history much like the rejected exhibit, ABC earned the August Janet Cooke Award.

Jennings began by mourning the original Smithsonian vision, implying that the facts were no match for the politicians: "Many veterans insisted that by dropping the bomb, the U.S. avoided a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland. One million lives, they argued, had been saved. But when the Smithsonian responded that such a claim had no historical basis, the vets went to Capitol Hill. Eighty-one Congressmen took up their cause....the Smithsonian bent to pressure....There would be nothing on the decision to drop the bomb and there would be no pictures of the victims."

Jennings later repeated his claim of nonexistent estimates: "The most single enduring fiction...was the notion most of us have long believed, that one million American lives were saved by the bomb. There is no documentary evidence as to where the number came from." Jennings didn't deal with the questions: Since there was no invasion, how can there be an accurate estimate? And if the bomb only saved 200,000 U.S. lives, would that have been unimportant?

One expert ABC interviewed, Robert Maddox, a historian from Penn State University and author of the forthcoming Weapons for Victory, told MediaWatch: "They were flat wrong on that. I provided [ABC] with my manuscript on that. The figure did not come out of thin air, but from the Joint Chiefs of Staff on August 30, 1944, which told the President there could be 500,000 deaths and many more wounded. Herbert Hoover met with Truman, and in a later memorandum, Hoover suggested 500,000 to 1 million casualties. ABC said in a press release the morning of the show that the number `came out of thin air.' I called [producer] Elizabeth Sams and said `He's going to embarrass himself tonight.' But she said the show was already in the can, or something like that."

Maddox added: "The worst atrocity in the show is that they just jump over the bitter struggle in the Japanese government between August 7 and 15, because that would undermine the rest of the program. They pretend that retention of the emperor was the sole obstacle to peace, but hardliners still refused to give in after both atomic bombs and the Russians' entry into the war. So why would they surrender after a ground invasion? "

Jennings claimed that two days after Hiroshima, "In Tokyo, the shock that Russia had entered the war forced military hardliners to begin talking surrender. They were still arguing on the morning of August the 9th. At 11:02 A.M., the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. There might have been a moment when the bombing of Nagasaki could have been stopped or at least delayed. But no second order from the President was needed to drop the second bomb." ABC spent almost no time on Japanese atrocities (unlike CBS Reports a week later) and no time on how a Soviet invasion of Japan could have left them occupied like Eastern Europe.

Maddox was outnumbered by 10 revisionist historians including Barton Bernstein, who claimed invading Japan would have cost fewer than 50,000 casualties, despite estimated troop strength of almost 900,000 on the island of Kyushu alone, and Gar Alperovitz, who once claimed the bomb was "totally unnecessary." The revisionists spouted 39 soundbites to two non-dissenting informational quotes from Maddox. Other non-revisionist historians with new books, including Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen, writers of Code-Name Downfall, or Robert P. Newman, author of Truman and the Hiroshima Cult, were not included. Maddox told MediaWatch: "You didn't get the sense there was a defense [of the decision to drop the bomb] from legitimate scholars."

Senior Producer Martin Smith, failed to return repeated phone calls, but told The Washington Times: "I reject the notion that we used a small circle of historians. We talked with most of the leading historians of the field." Smith, a former Frontline producer, worked on two PBS documentaries on the October Surprise conspiracy, which was dismissed by Democrat-led House and Senate investigations.

But Smith was one of a cast of long-time liberal producers working on the special. David Gelber served as Executive Producer, but is best known as the 60 Minutes producer behind the hoax that tagged Alar as "the most potent cancer-causing agent in the food supply." Producers Sherry Jones and Elizabeth Sams are PBS Frontline contributors as well. Jones co-wrote the Hiroshima special with Jennings, and also wrote the January Frontline on "What Happened to Bill Clinton?" (Her answer: Clinton failed to be liberal enough).

The Jennings special was produced by Jones' firm, Washington Media Associates, which also contracts with Frontline. An end credit read: "A Production of Washington Media Associates for ABC News." "They certainly did work for us, but we had complete editorial control," ABC spokesman Eileen Murphy told MediaWatch. "We never take an hour and let them put their thing on the air."

Jennings ended the show with a gripe: "It's unfortunate, we think, that some veterans' organizations and some politicians felt the need to bully our most important national museum, so the whole story of Hiroshima is not represented here. That is not fair to history or to the rest of us. After all, freedom of discussion was one of the ideals that Americans fought and died for." ABC failed to air a free discussion.

Instead, Jennings employed the classic left-wing dictum that whenever the left loses a fight over publicly funded propaganda, free speech has been squelched. Jennings apparently did not think it was a violation of free speech to take millions of dollars from Americans who fought in World War II in order to denigrate them as pawns in an evil Western imperialist war machine that victimized the Japanese.