In This Issue
TV's Top Ten Undercovered Stories; NewsBites: Not Inn the News; 15 Years of Liberal Advocacy; Illegal Taping of GOP; Paula Jones in Reverse; Taxes for Teamsters; NewsConsumers Turn to the Internet; Janet Cooke Award: Comparing Boston to Rwanda
TV's Top Ten Undercovered Stories
As Bill Clinton's first term ends and the campaign becomes raw material for historians, how did the media cover Clinton scandals before Election Day? To find out, MediaWatch analysts reviewed evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC, as well as the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning shows to determine the top ten undercovered scandals, in date order:
Paula Jones. The Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against the President received only eight full evening stories and three stories on the morning shows in all of 1996. Three of the evening stories and two morning stories focused on the RNC ad ridiculing Clinton legal claims that he could not be sued since he's on active military duty as commander-in-chief. The other five merely relayed court actions without elaborating on the charges.
The Iran-Bosnia Scandal. In an echo of the Iran-Contra affair, the Los Angeles Times uncovered on April 5 that the Clinton administration conducted a secret foreign policy encouraging the Iranian government to arm the Bosnian muslims at the same time the administration publicly supported the U.N. arms embargo of Bosnia. Despite the deception of Congress and the American people, and seven front page stories in the Los Angeles Times,ABC and CNN each aired only one anchor brief on the evening news, and CBS and NBC never mentioned the story before the election. The morning shows aired only four anchor briefs the day the first Times scoop broke.
Mike Espy. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz's investigation surrounding illegal gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy received no network attention in 1996. Among the developments the networks ignored were the June indictment and September conviction of the large California fruit and nut company Sun Diamond Growers for influence peddling; the July bank fraud indictment of Espy's brother Henry; and the indictment of lobbyist Richard Douglas, a college roommate of Espy's, which also alleged that Espy lied to FBI agents about tickets he got from Quaker Oats.
The FBI Files. Filegate received 64 full stories on the evening news shows and 52 full stories/interview segments on the morning shows. But the networks were slow to pick up the story. On June 7, the White House admitted collecting FBI files on 338 files on past GOP appointees. Only NBC mentioned it in a brief item. ABC, CBS and CNN failed to mention it that night, and all the morning shows passed the next morning.
They were also quick to drop it. Since June 30, the networks aired only six evening news stories and seven morning reports. On July 25, Rep. William Clinger claimed the notes of an FBI agent who interviewed then-White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum in 1993 suggested Hillary Clinton was instrumental in bringing FBI file keeper Craig Livingstone into the White House, directly contradicting the First Lady's denials.
Only ABC's Jackie Judd reported the story, concluding on World News Tonight: "The controversy over the FBI files, to the frustration of Republicans, has stalled out. They believe with this new piece of information, it may be revived." The other networks ignored the story.
On September 25, Sen. Orrin Hatch revealed a six-month gap in the log which listed who at the White House was accessing FBI files on Republicans. On October 4, Hatch released the deposition of White House aide Mari Anderson, who verified that pages of the log were missing. Anderson also said Craig Livingstone and others knew they were procuring the FBI files of Republicans, refuting the White House line of an innocent "bureaucratic snafu." The only coverage was a CNN anchor brief on both days, and a single Good Morning America brief.
White House Drug Use. On July 17, Secret Service agents told the House Government Oversight Committee that the White House instituted a drug testing policy for 21 employees who had not received security clearances because of past drug use. NBC and CBS reported it; ABC and CNN did not. On October 4, Dennis Sculimbrene, the senior FBI agent assigned to the White House from 1986 to April 1996, told The Wall Street Journal that around June 1993 he estimated "about 25 percent of the incoming administration, about one out of four cases, had a problem with illegal drugs. Not just casual experimentation, but a pattern of usage, which to me indicated lack of good judgment and a disregard for the law." No coverage.
The FDIC Report. On September 23, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's inspector general concluded Hillary Clinton had drafted a real estate document with the intent to "deceive" federal regulators. That transaction later cost taxpayers $4 million in the bailout of Madison Savings and Loan. Only CNN's Bob Franken devoted half a story to the report (a day later), followed by an NBC mention 11 days after that.
DNC Donorgate. The Wall Street Journal broke the story of John Huang on October 8, but the networks took six days to begin reporting. From October 14 to November 5, the networks aired 26 investigative evening news stories, plus 30 stories reporting charges from the campaign trail. Individual stories were still lost. The Buddhist temple fundraiser attended by Vice President Gore never drew a full story before the election, just a few passing mentions. Only ABC reported that Yogesh Gandhi gave $325,000 to the DNC but claimed pauper status in a divorce filing.
Jorge Cabrera. On October 19, the Democrats returned a $20,000 contribution from convicted Miami cocaine smuggler Jorge Cabrera. None of the networks reported the story that night. ABC's Brian Ross did a full report on October 22. CNN and NBC followed on the 24th. CBS did not. Two Today anchor briefs were the only morning show mentions of Cabrera.
Nussbaum and Starr. On October 25, a panel of judges asked independent counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate if former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum lied about Hillary Clinton's role in the hiring of Craig Livingstone. Three days later, NBC's Tim Russert insisted on Today: "I don't know how we can dismiss it nine days before an election." But ABC and NBC only had anchor briefs. CBS aired nothing. Only CNN's Bob Franken filed a full report. Other than one Bob Kur anchor brief on Today, the morning shows aired nothing.
Grigori Loutchansky. On November 3, the Associated Press reported Republicans and former Clinton CIA Director R. James Woolsey criticized Democrats for inviting foreign businessman Grigori Loutchansky to a 1994 DNC dinner, where he was photographed with the President. Clinton's own CIA Director, John Deutch, had testified that Loutchansky's company, Nordex, is "associated with Russian criminal activity." The networks did nothing.
NewsBites: Not Inn the News
Appearing on CNN's Larry King Weekend on January 4, NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell suggested one Clinton scandal resonated with the public, but she never told them about it.
The Washington Post reported in its Sunday editions on December 15 that the Democrats rewarded large donors with an overnight White House stay. When it came up on CNN, Mitchell explained: "I've been working on that story and I kind of think that even though Republicans in the past have had their big contributors and have abused the soft money contributions, the money that doesn't have to be accounted for, people understand the selling of the Lincoln Bedroom. You know, when the Lincoln Bedroom becomes the Motel 6, that resonates with the American people."
But NBC's Today didn't mention it the morning of the Post story or even the next day. Football bumped Sunday's NBC Nightly News, but nothing appeared the next night. In the three weeks from the Post story's publication through her CNN appearance, Nightly News carried three Clinton scandal pieces, all from Mitchell. None of the stories contained a word about this payback policy she claimed to be "working on."
A Plane Outrage
While the Motel 6 story went untold, NBC did have time to report the "scandal" of outgoing Rep. Bob Dornan's recent ride in a Marine fighter plane. On the December 10 Nightly News, Tom Brokaw announced: "Say you're a long-standing member of Congress whose support for defense programs is so legendary your colleagues nickname you B-1 Bob, for the bomber. And say your constituents just voted you out of office. What are you going to do? Well if you're Bob Dornan, the Republican firebrand from Orange County, California, you take one last spin in a Marine Corps F/A-18 fighter jet like this one...How much did this final ride cost taxpayers? Somewhere between two and four thousand dollars."
Earlier in the day on Inside Politics, CNN's Bernard Shaw also took up the story: "Republican Bob Dornan may have lost his congressional seat but he can still wrangle a perky elite seat from the U.S. military. Dornan has taken one last fast fling before his congressional privileges dry up...The public interest group, the Center for Defense Information, says that one hour flight cost about $4,000." While CNN promoted the liberal CDI's press release without explaining their politics, Shaw at least sought the whole story, adding: "A Marine spokesman says the flight didn't set taxpayers back. They say it would've taken place with or without the Congressman from California."
Pumping Up Poverty
If poverty doesn't appear widespread enough to justify more federal spending, just change the definition of the problem. A liberal group did and ABC fell for it. On the December 11 World News Tonight, anchor Peter Jennings announced: "There is a study today by a private research group called the National Center for Children in Poverty which believes that the government's official poverty level is too low." Reporter Rebecca Chase began: "During the last 15 years this study found the number of children under the age of six living in poverty grew from 3.5 million to 6.1 million. That's one in every four children. And when families living on the edge of poverty are included, using a cutoff of $28,000 a year for a family of four, nearly half of all young children are living in or near poverty. This means the United States has the highest child poverty rate among industrialized nations."
$28,000? According to the Department of Commerce, in 1995 the poverty level for a family of four was $15,569, barely half the figure used in the study. Obviously, the higher you make the poverty level, the more children you can claim live in poverty. Using a 15-year study period also obscures positive trends: for example, the Census Bureau's measure of child poverty declined in the Reagan years, from13.9 million in 1983 to 12.6 million in 1989.
Jack E. White Noise
Maybe the reason why there is so much liberalism in the media is because it is so often rewarded. In the December 23 Time, President Bruce Hallett boasted: "Last month the New York Association of Black Journalists honored us with four awards....Jack E. White for the second consecutive year received two prizes: one for `overall excellence in writing and reporting,' the other for his column, Dividing Line."
White described his philosophy: "The goal in my column and in other stories is to examine and expose some of the nonsense that Americans continue to believe about race. Generally, whites tend to downplay the extent of their racism -- and blacks tend to overplay it. We could use a lot more openness and honesty." But White has regularly overplayed it. On March 18 he blamed black church burnings on conservatives. White brought his "honesty" to the issue by blaming "all the conservative Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Pete Wilson, who have sought political advantage by exploiting white resentment...Over the past 18 months, while Republicans fulminated about welfare and affirmative action, more than 20 churches in Alabama and six other Southern and Border states have been torched...There is already enough evidence to indict the cynical conservatives who build their political careers, George Wallace-style, on a foundation of race-baiting. They may not start fires, but they fan the flames."
In the September 30 Time, White refused to downplay speculation the CIA had introduced crack to the inner city: "Black Americans have been the targets of so much hostility that many of them would not put it past their own government to finance the war against communism by addicting thousands of people."
When the National Association of Scholars (NAS) commissioned a poll of full-time college professors by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research in October to assess professors' attitudes on quotas, the results were surprising. Sixty percent opposed race or sex-based preferences in faculty hiring practices and 56 percent were against preferences for admissions. The poll contradicted the images of college protests against California anti-affirmative action Proposition 209.
Bradford Wilson and Peter Warren of the NAS brought this discrepancy to light in a January 2 column in The Washington Times, noting that "the NAS thought these findings noteworthy enough to warrant the attention of the Associated Press." But, AP polling editor Howard Goldberg said that "since NAS is on the record as being skeptical of preferences, `We would have to put in the story that the survey was funded by an organization that opposed affirmative action.'" So, no AP story.
Yet Linda Seebach, editorial editor of the San Ramon Valley Times, opined in her New York Times News Service column, "What stories does the AP consider worth doing? We published one just last week, about graduate students and faculty in the English department at Berkeley who signed a public letter condemning Proposition 209 as an abuse of civil rights discourse."
There is an epidemic at NBC Nightly News. The main symptom is use of the word "epidemic" in the most bizarre of contexts. Over the past two years the program has used it 32 times, describing everything from AIDS, to asthma, to -- job anxiety? The year 1996 brought 15 "epidemics." Of those references, only three fit the traditional definition of an epidemic as a swiftly-spreading, contagious disease (those three concerned the spread of AIDS). Breast cancer and skin cancer were also labeled epidemics on March 26 and May 2, respectively, although neither one is a contagious disease. On October 29 health correspondent Robert Bazell said of obesity, "As an epidemic, it's no joke. Obesity is after smoking the second leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States."
Some references were bizarre: On January 4, anchor Tom Brokaw claimed that job anxiety was an "epidemic sweeping the country." In the summer NBC found an epidemic of black church burnings. On June 10 Pete Williams warned that the "epidemic spread to Texas." Bob Dotson contracted the virus June 13, reporting of the burnings: "This epidemic is worse than a conspiracy." Pete Williams caught the bug again December 3 while covering the constitutionality of the Brady Bill: "But nationwide, many sheriffs and police chiefs willingly do the background checks believing the law helps reduce an epidemic of handgun violence."
In 1995 the show warned of an "epidemic" 17 times, covering such diseases as overmedication, asthma, the fear of urban violence, alcoholism among the elderly, domestic violence, and two references to a child abuse epidemic. Only 6 of those 17 "epidemics" referred to actual contagious diseases.
It's impossible to over-estimate the lengths the networks will go to find victims of welfare reform. On the December 1 Good Morning America, ABC's Kevin Newman reported on the plight of Laotian Hmong refugees on welfare. Newman opened his piece: "This morning's Cover Story is a Thanksgiving tale of sorts. It's about charity and of people who performed a valuable wartime service for America." Newman profiled a community of Hmong living in Minneapolis "buried now in the parkas and fur hats of a Minnesota winter, with a story as bitter as the air."
After talking to a group of Hmong at a community center about promises the U.S. government made to them after the Vietnam War, Newman retorted: "Written proof of those promises is hard to find They were first moved to camps in Northern Thailand and eventually granted refugee status in America. That made them eligible for benefits which have helped many Hmong build new lives in cities like Minneapolis and Fresno, California. But now many of those benefits are being reduced or eliminated under the new welfare and immigration laws."
After stating that the Hmong could avoid the cuts by becoming U.S. citizens, which means having a basic competence in English, Newman again made their case: "For most refugees that's a simple test, but not for the Hmong But the language barrier is only the first that seems impossible to overcome. It's even harder to explain the concept of America's government. Or hardest perhaps to explain how that government which once counted on them now expects them to make it on their own."
David Watkins' place in the Clinton inner circle was verified in 1994 when The Washington Post discovered the Clinton campaign paid off (partially with federal funds) a sexual-harassment claim against him. The networks ignored that story. The spiking continued when the January American Spectator published Watkins' recollections, in preparation for a book deal that fell apart, about the Clinton White House. Rebecca Borders told readers that Watkins related personal conversations his wife Ileene had with Vince Foster intimates indicating Hillary Clinton was having an affair with Foster and that Mrs. Clinton was shunned by the Foster family at the funeral.
Watkins also told Borders that presidential aide Marsha Scott told Mrs. Watkins she was having an affair with the President in the White House. The Spectator supported this allegation with White House logs that showed Scott entered the White House residence at 12:50 a.m. with other aides on the night of Foster's death, but did not leave with them around 1:30a.m. When asked when she went home that night, Scott told congressional investigators: "It's a blur." Would the press use this story as a lead to reinvestigate the context of Foster's depression and death, or see if the Clintons broke their promise of faithfulness expressed in their 60 Minutes interview? Answer: No.
15 Years of Liberal Advocacy
After 15 years NBC's Today no longer provides a platform for Bryant Gumbel to spout his liberalism and attack conservatives. He retired from the show on January 3. USA Today noted that "conservatives dislike Gumbel so much that he's a regular in the Media Research Center's bi-weekly Notable Quotables."
Gumbel told the January 2 edition of the newspaper: "I don't know if I have a liberal bent...But it is fair to say it's very difficult for a black man in this country to be of a conservative bent. That's a fair statement. It's very difficult to be an African-American male, and have an African-American son who is going to be 18 years of age, and hear things like cops want to crack down and send more to prison, to hear calls for tougher statutes, less welfare, less programs for the poor, and less things for people of color. If that says I'm not conservative, so be it."
Yes it does. Take a look:
July 17, 1989: "Largely as a result of the policies and priorities of the Reagan administration, more people are becoming poor and staying poor in this country than at any time since World War II."
January 31, 1990: "It is certain the President won't mention the T word, and yet taxes are very much at the heart of what all our potential solutions are. How long can both sides pretend that a hike's not needed?"
April 20, 1990: "The missteps, poor efforts, and setbacks brought on by the Reagan years have made this a more sober Earth Day. The task seems larger now."
March 17, 1993, to a budget expert: "It's early yet, but for at least trying to address the deficit in a more serious fashion than anyone in 12 years, what kind of early marks do you give Bill Clinton?"
March 31, 1993: "In the greedy excesses of the Reagan years, the mean income of the average physician nearly doubled, from $88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?"
May 10, 1994: "We've got an awful lot to talk about this week, including the sexual harassment suit against the President. Of course, in that one, it's a little tough to figure out who's really being harassed."
January 4, 1995, to Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt: "You called Gingrich and his ilk, your words, `trickle-down terrorists who base their agenda on division, exclusion, and fear.' Do you think middle class Americans are in need of protection from that group?"
April 25, 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing: "Right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, and others take to the air every day with basically the same format: detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people. Never do most of the radio hosts encourage outright violence, but the extent to which their attitudes may embolden and encourage some extremists has clearly become an issue."
January 18, 1996, to Steve Forbes: "Isn't this a souped-up version of the same kind of trickle-down Reaganomics that we saw through already? Lower taxes were supposed to spur growth. Instead we got record deficits."
November 18, 1996, to Jimmy Carter: "You write that you prayed more during your four years in office than basically at any time in your life and yet I think it's fair to say...you are consistently viewed as one of the more ineffective Presidents of modern times....What do you think, if anything, that says about the power of prayer?"
Illegal Taping of GOP
Nothing So Good as Nailing Newt
On December 26 the Democratic National Committee released a big pile of embarrassing documents on their fund-raising activities, but two networks ignored it. Weeks later, when Democrats passed along a tape of a cellular phone call among top House Republicans, the networks worried it would divert attention from Newt Gingrich.
The fundraising papers showed how foreign donors got special access to the White House and the President. The New York Times ran a big piece on the December 27 front page. The December 26 CBS Evening News led with the revelations and followed up with another story the next night. But neither ABC's World News Tonight nor the NBC Nightly News uttered a word either night.
ABC did run a story December 27 on Gingrich losing support. John Cochran concluded: "Gingrich is fortunate that his troubles have come over the holidays when most Americans aren't paying much attention." But ABC wasn't paying attention to Clinton.
Examining the DNC papers in a front page USA Today story on December 30, reporter Tom Squitieri relayed how the Democrats planned to respond if questions arose about coordination of DNC, White House and Clinton-Gore campaign fundraising: "Those caught in scandals were advised `don't lie' in one DNC memo. Next they were to `announce an internal investigation, independent investigation or white paper to examine the matter' in order to buy time. Finally, they were to `impugn the source,' the DNC advised." Network coverage of this cynical plan? Zilch.
The January 10 New York Times ran a transcript of a cellular phone conversation they got from a Democrat, later identified as U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). But exploring this unethical and illegal leak didn't excite reporters. Dan Rather stuck to Gingrich that night, insisting that what was said on the tape "raises a whole new ethics question about Speaker Gingrich."
He kept that spin Jan. 13: "Now there's an added ethics allegation based on what Gingrich said, in what he thought was a secret telephone call, which Democrats say is proof that Gingrich violated a promise to the House ethics committee not to mount a political damage control effort. But Republicans tried to shift the focus today away from what Gingrich actually said."
The next night, CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews concluded by noting how those who recorded the call "could be charged with a crime. Congressman James McDermott, who leaked the tape, could be charged with a crime and ironically, in the ways of Washington, mini-tapegate has for five days sidetracked substantive ethics charges against the Speaker of the House."
Paula Jones in Reverse
The media largely dismissed the credibility of Paula Jones when she announced her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton in 1994. When Clinton's effort to delay the case went before the Supreme Court January 13, however, some acknowledged their misjudgment.
"Yes, the case is being fomented by right-wing nuts, and yes, she is not a very credible witness, and it's really not a law case at all...some sleazy woman with big hair coming out of the trailer parks...I think she's a dubious witness, I really do," proclaimed Newsweek's Evan Thomas on Inside Washington in 1994. Almost three years later he wrote "Americans who dismiss Paula Jones as a tawdry sideshow may be in for a surprise."
Why the change? Reporters credited the work of Stuart Taylor who reviewed the Jones complaint in the November American Lawyer. He found the case valid and her evidence credible. But the same reporters, including Thomas who wrote "Taylor's article was widely read in newsrooms and editors' offices, including those at Newsweek," didn't report on the article when first published in late October.
On the January 13 CBS Evening News reporter Rita Braver explained that "It was the women's vote that clinched the presidency for Bill Clinton...So the charges made by Paula Corbin Jones go straight to the heart of who Bill Clinton is," before noting "but last fall, in a groundbreaking article, respected law reporter Stuart Taylor tracked down several new witnesses whose testimony persuaded him that Jones was probably telling the truth." Still, CBS waited ten weeks to inform viewers this proof existed.
NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reported that Taylor, in a conclusion NBC waited two and a half months to report, determined the Jones case is "even stronger than Anita Hill's."
Newsweek's Thomas issued his mea culpa in the January 13 edition: "Arguably, the main reason more people don't take her story seriously is that the mainstream media have been skillfully spun by the White House and Clinton's lawyers. By playing on the class and partisan prejudices of reporters, as well as their squeamishness and ambivalence about printing stories about the sex lives of politicians, Clinton's operatives have done a brilliant job of discrediting Paula Jones and her case."
Taxes for Teamsters
During the 1996 campaign, the GOP complained that unions spent membership dues supporting Democrats though many members vote Republican. On the December 23 World News Tonight, ABC's John Martin discovered a way that organized labor gets taxpayers to foot the bill for their activities.
Martin's Your Money segment began: "They were all Teamsters Presidents: Dave Beck, Jimmy Hoffa and Roy Williams. And they all went to jail for turning the union into a source of money for the mob. This year, Ron Carey claimed victory as President, after a Teamster election run behind-the-scenes by the Justice Department and paid for with tax dollars. In 1989, the government won the right, in court, to take control of the ballot process, to rid the union of mob influence. The union paid for the 1991 election, but for this year's vote, the government agreed to pay, requiring taxpayers to furnish $21 million over three years."
After soundbites from both sides, Martin noted why the union got its way: "For a time, Congress refused to appropriate any more money. But the Clinton Administration insisted the government had a responsibility."
Focus on Welfare Fathers
NBC's Len Cannon cut through liberal rationalizations for welfare by depicting one obvious root cause of the plight of single mothers: absent fathers. In the December 27 Dateline Cannon followed four young fathers for a year after their kids were born.
Cannon grilled a father who'd been in and out of jail: "The last time we saw you, you said, `When I get out of here I have a choice to make. It's either the streets or my child.' And you seemed pretty convincing that you were going to try and do the right thing....It sounds like you got a million and one excuses for not being there." Cannon stuck to tough questions: "She gets child care and Medicaid because of taxes that I pay. I pay taxes because I'm being responsible. Should I provide for you through my taxes when you're not being responsible?"
Charles Dixon, a counselor that runs a support group for young fathers, said welfare can leave men unneeded by mothers. Cannon asked: "So if you get pregnant and you're unemployed and you're undereducated, `I know that the government is going to help me,' and that you think helps perpetuate this behavior?" Dixon agreed.
NewsConsumers Turn to the Internet
An End Run Around Bias
Post-election polls determined that most Americans realize the media favor liberal candidates and policies, leading many to turn to the Internet to get political news.
In a Washington Post poll taken immediately after the November election, 62 percent of Dole voters considered coverage of their candidate to be "too negative." But just 21 percent of Clinton voters felt the media were too negative on him while 71 percent said reporting on Clinton was "about right."
Just 33 percent believe the media "deal fairly with all sides" in social and political reporting found a November Louis Harris and Associates poll commissioned by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. Nearly three of four (74 percent) of the 3,000 people surveyed observe a "fair amount" or a "great deal" of political bias in the news. Asked to describe the media's political perspective, 43 percent called it liberal, 19 percent as conservative and 33 percent as middle of the road. Harris found that 58 percent believe the press exerts "too much influence."
As news consumers grow disturbed by the media's liberal tilt they are logging on. About 12 percent of Americans "go online to get information on current events, public issues and politics," found a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey released in December. These are the most politically savvy Americans. While 59 percent of the public overall "watched television news yesterday," 72 of regular online news consumers had seen TV news and wanted more.
Asked why they get election news online, 53 percent explained they "don't get all the information they want from traditional news sources," 45 percent said it's more convenient and 26 percent replied that online services provide "information not available elsewhere." But "the most popular destinations" for those dissatisfied with the media "remained the Web sites of traditional news organizations."
Not surprisingly, "Republicans and independents who lean Republican were more likely to cite the limitations of traditional news sources than Democrats and Democratic leaners (57 vs. 49 percent)."
Janet Cooke Award: Comparing Boston to Rwanda
The reality of poverty in America's inner cities never seems dramatic enough for the network news. The networks have even attempted to suggest poor children are suffering from clinical malnutrition -- the disabling kind of hunger news watchers might associate with sub-Saharan Africa. For filing another story on child hunger that relied on the evidence and advocacy of liberal lobbyists and avoided conservative experts, CBS Sunday Morning earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Charles Osgood introduced the December 8 story: "All children experience growing pains at one time or another. They are a natural accompaniment to natural physical and psychological growth and they're mostly unavoidable simply a part of growing up. But there is another sort of childhood pain that ought not to be a part of growing up, that is very much avoidable if only we could choose to make it so."
Reporter Martha Teichner began her sermon with a literate flourish: "Just before Thanksgiving, winter announced its arrival in the city of Boston with an insult, with a cold wet kiss of betrayal for the children of the city's poor. With winter's onset each year comes a phenomenon Dr. Deborah Frank has come to call `heat or eat.' A phenomenon that can actually be measured on the bodies of the patients she sees at her clinic for underweight children." She asked: "You literally either pay for the heat or pay for the food?" Frank replied: "Right, because food is the only discretionary income they've got. I mean they've got to pay rent or they'll be homeless and that's catastrophic. And they've got to pay utilities or they freeze. And so they stretch."
Teichner explained Frank's work: "By the time children are referred to the Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center, by their doctors or by a hospital emergency room, stretching has taken its toll...They are diagnosed with a condition called `failure to thrive,' in the vocabulary of social service-speak. When the same condition is referred to in Third World countries, it's called malnutrition. Yes, malnutrition not only exists but is a significant and growing problem in the United States, in spite of this country's wealth and abundance. Now before any of the changes in the welfare laws kick in, four million, that is one out of five, poor children under 12 goes hungry according to research accepted by the U.S. government. These are the kids most likely to end up at the Grow Clinic."
Are "failure to thrive" and malnutrition synonyms? Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health, told MediaWatch: "`Failure to thrive' is a phrase used when you're not really sure what's going on, but children aren't growing as well as you might expect. The child could be marginally malnourished, or suffering from an imbalance of nutrients. But it's not overt, severe malnutrition...not the stark, horrible things you see in the Third World."
And what "research accepted by the U.S. government" was CBS citing? Teichner did not return repeated MediaWatch phone calls, but these figures suggest a hunger "study" performed in Boston by Tufts University's Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy in June 1993 which claimed its analysis was "based on Census Bureau data for 1991." But Tufts analyst John Cook conceded to MediaWatch at that time: "There is no Census hunger data." The Tufts team extrapolated supposed hunger from Census Bureau poverty statistics. So how can Teichner use this unnamed study to claim malnutrition is a "significant and growing problem" in present-day America when it has no hunger data and its poverty data is five years old?
Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector told MediaWatch CBS is refuted by spending data: "Last year, the governments of the United States spent $205 billion assisting poor children. If you divide that by the number of children under 150 percent of the poverty line, around $23,000 for a family of four, you're talking about spending $9,000 a year per child. And these kids are still going hungry?" Rector's studies of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics on food consumption of children have shown poor children get the same levels of nutrition as wealthier children, and that the real health problem for poor children is obesity.
Teichner was more interested in Third World hyperbole: "But the way the world responds to this kind of emergency, in say, Rwanda and how Americans react to it at home, enrages Dr. Frank." Frank claimed: "If there was a virus, there would be a public outcry and a major social push to save our children. But when the problem is hunger people get very moralistic. They don't deserve it, their parents don't know how to feed them right. The problem is lack of political will and in fact, more than that, active disowning of public responsibility towards all American children."
The story moved on to a private fundraiser for the Grow Clinic at a fashionable Boston restaurant, which Teichner discounted: "No way, though, that donors' deep pockets can offset social services cuts beginning to take effect."
Teichner explained: "Welfare reform has turned Dr. Frank into an evangelist who doesn't mind courting controversy." Frank declared: "It is so unbelievably, not just cruel but stupid to put the burden of our society's economic problems on our youngest children." CBS did not explain the depths of that evangelism, that Dr. Frank is repetitively featured in Boston newspaper stories furiously lobbying against welfare reforms. Frank told Boston Globe columnist Alan Lupo on September 11, 1994: "We've got privileged white men running for office to see who's tougher on women and babies. We don't lack the resources to do what we have to do. We lack the political will. We need taxes to do this, and we need to tell people that this is a worthwhile use of taxes."
Teichner concluded: "She considers her 12-year track record at the Grow Clinic her license to speak out. But her program can help, at most, 200 kids a year. Its successes are small, measured a pound at a time against the enormous weight of a problem that is growing." She gave Dr. Frank the story's last word: "The safety net is shredding more and more, and more and more small bodies are falling through it. And the shredding isn't over."
CBS never specified where these "shreddings" were taking place in government programs. Rector told MediaWatch that total welfare spending has mushroomed from $183 billion when Ronald Reagan left office to $411 billion this fiscal year. "Spending has more than doubled. It's out of control, and yet the story never changes. It's like a mimeograph from eight years ago. This is truly the most absurd and ridiculous propaganda exercise of the 20th century." Teichner's story packs a propagandistic punch, but it lacked a balance of opinions, any definitive factual evidence for its grand assertions. Call it factual malnutrition.