MediaWatch: June 1988

In This Issue

Study: Primary Concerns; NewsBites: ABC's Anti-Bush Campaign; Revolving Door:Carolyn Gorman; Harvey and Maybeth Go Left; Janet Cooke Award: Front Line: Joining the Christic Cause

Study: Primary Concerns: Playing Up Economic Gloom

"History," explained NBC business correspondent Irving R. Levine one night in May, "tells us the pocketbook issue should prevail" in determining the winner of the 1988 presidential election.

Nearly eight years of Reaganomics have created 67 months of consecutive growth, a modern peace-time record, as inflation and interest rates rest at half their 1980 level, creating 15 million new jobs in the process. So, just what kind of verdict have the TV networks rendered on Reaganomics?

A MediaWatch Study has determined that network stories relaying good news about the economy never credited Reagan's policies. In contrast, 75 percent of the reports focusing on negative economic news blamed Reagan's policies and suggested these bad economic conditions would help Democratic candidates.

To conduct the study, MediaWatch examined all ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN PrimeNews and NBC Nightly News stories of at least 30 seconds which dealt with economic issues. The study ran from February 1, a week before the Iowa caucuses, through California primary day, June 7. The four networks ran a combined 35 stories. Seventeen focused on the health of the economy, of which 13 were prompted by the release of government figures showing good news, like falling unemployment which hit 14 year lows. Six stories included a mixture of good and bad news, or tempered the good news with warnings of an imminent downturn. Another 12 stressed perceived economic weaknesses.

CNN most closely reflected reality, running seven positive stories and refraining from airing any purely negative ones. ABC followed a similar pattern. Serving as partisan cheerleaders for Democrats trying to disparage Reaganomics, CBS and NBC ran more than twice as many negative than positive pieces.

Anchor Peter Jennings' February 15 look at booming New Hampshire stood out as the only such positive story aired before a primary. Other good news stories included a May 6 Levine piece telling of a New York town where unemployment remained so low that businesses were concerned about the possibility of labor shortages. On the same day, CNN's Deborah Marchini reported that even formerly depressed areas, such as Texas, are rapidly creating new jobs. Mixed news stories included an April 30 ABC story by reporter Chris Bury who found both the "winners and losers of Reaganomics" in Cincinnati.

Not by coincidence, when it came to reporting on the economic status of regions facing presidential primaries, CBS and NBC political reporters found only sour economic news. CBS chief political correspondent Bruce Morton weighed in with stories on weak regional economies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, each timed to air shortly before their primaries. Before the April 15 New York primary, Morton traveled to Buffalo to find the state's highest unemployment rate and union members "talking Dukakis."

From Clareton, Pennsylvania, on April 22, Morton began: "Clareton is a dying town with dying steel mills." Morton focused on a small, chronically depressed population and endorsed the Democratic agenda, declaring: "This election is about their lives." He then showed a series of laid off steel workers praising Jackson and Dukakis. One explained: "We've suffered a lot in the valley. Three Republican regimes, and they just forgot about us." Referring to past heavy union votes for Reagan, a local Democratic leader said he believed "they learned their lesson." But Morton neglected to note the state unemployment rate rested at 4.8 percent, below the already low national average.

A week later, as the Ohio primary approached, Morton reported from the state: "Reminders of jobs lost twist slowly in the wind." Again, Morton ignored the big picture: Ohio's unemployment rate fell a whopping 1.4 percent in April alone. Two days before the "Super Tuesday" southern primary, NBC's Douglas Kiker, called 1988 a "hard times election." On March 7, Tom Brokaw profiled Georgia textile workers "hurt" by the Reagan years. Just before the March 13 Illinois primary, NBC's Tom Petit was in East St. Louis and Hillsboro, Illinois, towns described as "urban ruins" with voters eager to vote for Jesse Jackson and Paul Simon. Petit then moved to western Pennsylvania on April 24, where he found steel workers "down and out." Reporting from Erie the next day, Ken Bode made a clear dig at the GOP. "Morning," he announced, "is not what came to Erie."

CBS and NBC political reporters hunted out pockets of bad economic news, giving viewers an overall impression that Reaganomics failed, a conclusion that flies in the face of reality. If reporting so far serves as a preview of what's to come, expect at least NBC and CBS to become active partners in Mike Dukakis' effort to distort the economic boom of the past five years.

NewsBites: ABC's Anti-Bush Campaign

ABC'S Anti-Bush Campaign. Three days before the June 7 California primary ABC's Jim Wooten declared that George Bush's close connection to conservative Reagan Administration policies means big trouble for the Vice President.

Wooten's evidence: the views of two liberal Democrats. "San Francisco's former mayor, Diane Feinstein," Wooten stated, "doubts Reagan's current muscle and insists Bush's environmental record will hurt him here."

Then Wooten found Democratic House Speaker Willie Brown who "says Bush isn't helped by his past." Brown charged Bush's "almost servant-like attitude toward the Reagan policies on civil rights and what have you, doesn't play well in California." Wooten failed to mention Brown was Chairman of Jackson's California campaign.

On June 6 ABC's Joe Bergantino described Michael Dukakis, who has a well established record of promoting liberal policies as Governor of Massachusetts, as a "seemingly moderate, passionless, East Coast politician." Bergantino credited his "finely crafted combination of issues and image-making" for his popularity.

These issues include the economy. According to Bergantino "California's lingering unemployment problem makes the Dukakis message of economic opportunity especially appealing here." Since California's unemployment rate has been hovering around five percent all year, well below the national rate, it's a little difficult to understand what "problem" so concerned Bergantino.

Not Posted. Talks between the Sandinistas and Contra leaders broke down on June 9. The following day Contra leader Adolfo Calero held a press conference to condemn the Sandinistas for violating the Sapoa accords. The Post ignored the news. On Sunday June 12 the Post carried a front page story from Managua describing how Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega blamed the U.S. for the collapse.

Two days later Contra leaders Calero, Alfredo Cesar, Ernesto Palazio and Enrique Bermudez held a press conference at the National Press Club. They offered evidence of Sandinista intransigence, describing how they were intimidated and harassed by negotiators. Cesar recounted how Defense Minister Umberto Ortega threatened their lives.

The Washington Times and New York Times carried the Contra side of the story the next day. But not the Post. The only mention of the Contras was a one sentence "Personalities" column reference to Calero attending the same book party as a Nicaraguan Embassy official.

One Reporter Tells on Ortega. Last month's MediaWatch Study revealed how TV network viewers have seen more than five times as many stories portraying the Sandinistas as trying to develop a pluralistic society than more frequent instances when they reaffirmed their totalitarian nature.

One example of what all the networks ignored: In a May Day speech, Nicaraguan dictator Ortega threatened to put the Contras before "a firing squad." Just as MediaWatch went to press, an ABC News reporter broke the media's self-imposed embargo on such developments. On the May 19 World News Tonight Peter Collins summarized the May Day speech and reported: "The Sandinistas are arresting strikers and imposing restrictions on news media, despite promises of freedom of the press." So far, however, no other network reporter has followed Collins' lead.

Rambling Ridicule for Rambo. Sylvester Stallone has released his third "Rambo" movie. And, once again, Big Media reviewers haven't been satisfied just to criticize the excessive violence or make fun of Rambo's superhuman exploits. They also ridiculed the anti-communist theme of "Rambo III" in which "John Rambo" travels to Afghanistan in order to rescue a friend captured by a sadistic Soviet Colonel. The movie portrays the freedom fighters as noble warriors and shows the Soviets machine-gunning innocent peasants and torturing prisoners, both well documented activities.

Writing in the May 30 Time, Richard Schickel complained about the film's "ludicrous cold war stereotype--the Soviet as gibbering sadist." Hal Hinson of The Washington Post went even further in disparaging its political message:

"Having an Afghan rebel speechifying about the barbarism of the Soviets just as their troops are pulling out has its downside, as does the film's idealization of the mujaheddin (who are characterized here as 'freedom fighters'). To claim that Rambo films have a political attitude is to dignify what is essentially a kind of reactionary paranoia."

To Russia With Love. "Oh, Mr. Gorbachev! You are so different from all the other boys! I think I'm falling in love with you!" The Hungarian pop singer featured on the May 26 NBC Nightly News couldn't have better summed up the media view of Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost. On June 1 NBC anchor Tom Brokaw described Gorbachev as "once again a masterful example of the new Soviet politician." Here are a few examples of media attempts to foster an image of Gorbachev as a true reformer:

On Abuse of Dissidents in Psychiatric Hospitals (ABC, May 23) -- David Ensor outlined charges that dissidents are held in psychiatric hospitals, but still concluded: "Opening up the psychiatric wards to Western reporters and more importantly to Western doctors is a major concession for this secretive society. It could go a long way to clear up one of the main human rights grievances against the Soviet Union."

On Freedom of Speech (ABC, May 27) -- Peter Jennings portrayed Sergei Grigoryants, editor of underground magazine "Glasnost" as symbolic of the new openness in both the state and underground press. Jennings concluded: "Both [are] beneficiaries of the new mood in Soviet society. They both say they need Mr. Gorbachev. Because of him, they can go on sparking the Soviet imagination. Because of him, they can give their fellow Soviets a closer look at the truth." (But as Dan Rather noted the same evening, Grigoryants was recently jailed for "resisting authorities." Also omitted by Jennings: Soviet authorities confiscated Grigoryants' production equipment to put "Glasnost" out of business.)

On Human Rights Criticism (NBC, June 2) -- Sandy Gilmour covered several American disarmament and homeless activists who visited Moscow to praise Gorbachev. Gorbachev used the spectacle to defuse Western criticism of his human rights abuses; Gilmour went even further: "These scenes clearly satisfied Gorbachev and they indicated the extent to which his policies and personality have been able to attract not only his own people but foreigners as well."

Providing and Afghan Cover? It should have been seen as a victory for the brave mujaheddin freedom fighters in Afghanistan. After eight and one half years of occupation, one million civilian deaths, and millions of displaced citizens, the Soviets were finally withdrawing some of their 115,000 troops and getting out of Afghanistan. But most in the media viewed the event in a different light -- praising the Soviets as peacemakers and condemning the rebels for continuing their struggle.

ABC's David Ensor did his best to rally behind the Soviet cause. Reporting on May 15, Ensor legitimized the eight year occupation: "Some say the Soviets are retreating because they cannot win the war in Afghanistan, but they got a hero's welcome from the Afghan regime in Kabul today and they certainly seemed to feel like departing heroes." Reporting from Moscow, NBC's Garrick Utley singled out Mikhail Gorbachev as the true peacemaker in the Afghan situation. While Gorbachev in November 1987 reaffirmed his dedication to communist domination throughout the world, Utley misleadingly declared: "We should note again that the decision to pull out of Afghanistan was a major one for Mikhail Gorbachev and a clear signal...that Gorbachev's number one priority here is not foreign adventures but solving problems here at home."

Only Desmond Hamill of British TV, appearing on CNN, and CBS' Allen Pizzey actually visited mujaheddin areas. Hamill clearly outlined the only demand the resistance has, saying: "They do not want a communist government in Kabul, whether or not the Soviets are there." The Soviet government clearly wished to save face and manipulate U.S. press coverage of the withdrawal. So the Kabul regime denied CBS News access to ceremonies there. CBS Evening News foreign editor Don DeCesare suspects that it was because of the coverage CBS News has given the resistance over the years. A recent congressional study shows that in 1986 CBS Evening News gave twice and three times as much attention to Afghanistan as NBC or ABC did, respectively.

Disregarding the Truth. Regardie's, a small-circulation publication which bills itself as "the magazine for Washington business" is rapidly gaining a reputation as sloppy, dishonest, and biased against conservatives. A recent cover story, "Messing in Action," illustrates the point. Andrew Messing, Executive Director of the National Defense Council Foundation, took free-lancer Alicia Mundy on a trip to El Salvador to cover his humanitarian aid efforts. When the article appeared in Regardie's, Messing documented 41 factual errors in the piece. Some resulted from sloppy reporting. Others resulted from the article's effort to distort the truth. Still others were total fabrications. An example: Mundy opens the story describing a vicious firefight between Marxist guerrillas and Salvadoran soldiers who were escorting Messing and her. According to Messing, no such battle ever occurred -- a total lie.

Forced Wright. On February 19 conservative Congressman Newt Gingrich called for an investigation of ethical violations by House Speaker Jim Wright. All the TV networks ignored the story. Exactly three months later the liberal "citizens lobby" Common Cause called for the same thing. Suddenly, the issue became newsworthy. ABC's Ann Compton delivered a lengthy report that night and CNN PrimeNews gave it a brief mention. Five days later, on May 24, CNN's Pam Olson provided viewers with a full length story.

But the first peep from NBC didn't occur until May 26 when anchor Tom Brokaw devoted ten seconds to over 70 House Republicans demanding an official investigation. Though the CBS Evening News found time for six stories about the problems of Attorney General Ed Meese during the month of May, they waited until May 28 before broadcasting anything on the growing controversy surrounding Wright.

When the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct agreed on June 9 to launch an investigation, Wright charged the Reagan Administration with trying to distract attention from Meese. Within a couple of days some reporters were dutifully aboard the bandwagon, portraying Wright as the victim of the Reagan Administration "sleaze factor." The best example came from Candy Crowley during the June 11 PrimeNews:

"If Attorney General Ed Meese were not under investigation for alleged unethical behavior, if Reagan intimate Mike Deaver had not ben convicted of perjury, if former Reaganite Lyn Nofziger had not been convicted for ethical violations, would

House Speaker Jim Wright now be the subject of a preliminary House investigation into some of his activities? A lot of Wright supporters say no, and some experts agree."

Let Freedom Sing? "It will be remembered as an unprecedented international political spectacular," boasted NBC's Peter Kent on June 11. He was speaking of the star-studded "Freedomfest" concert in London, a ten hour 70th birthday tribute to jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader, Nelson Mandela. The TV networks quickly glorified Mandela without exploring the terrorist activities of his communist-controlled ANC.

ABC's Jim Hickey described the concert as "perhaps the most spectacular tribute of its kind to a living political figure." ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC all featured celebrities saluting the "moral and just cause." CBS' Martha Teichner trumpeted: "The who's who of the world's most famous rock stars glorified Nelson Mandela -- as political prisoner and hero of the anti-apartheid struggle."

Of the five stories on the day of the event, none explained that South Africa has offered to release Mandela as soon as he renounces violence. None mentioned that more than half of the ANC leadership belong to the Communist Party. Nor did they document any of the ANC's terrorist activities, including car bombings and "necklacing," a fire torture tactic used by militant blacks on those considered sympathetic to the government. Teichner dismissed such concerns, making passing reference to how the South African government "brands him as a terrorist." Kent gave a British MP a few seconds to denounce the ANC, but a CNN and two ABC stories failed to raise the issue.

Revolving Door:Carolyn Gorman

Carolyn Gorman, who ran broadcast and satellite services for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, is now Chief of the just opened H&C Communications Washington bureau, owner of network TV affiliates in six cities, including Houston, Nashville, Des Moines and Orlando.

The "H" in H&C stands for Democrat Bill Hobby, Lt. Governor of Texas, and co-owner of the stations with Henry Catto Jr., Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs from 1981-83 under Caspar Weinberger.

Harrison Rainie, briefly the top aide to Senator Patrick Moynihan, (D-NY) in 1987, promoted from Senior Editor for political news at U.S. News & World Report to Assistant Managing Editor. Now he oversees all national news coverage.

In late May Nicaraguan Interior Minister Tomas Borge charged that a Sandinista "counterintelligence agent," Maria Lourdes Pallais, infiltrated the CIA. From August 1978 to November 1979 Pallais worked for the Associated Press New York bureau and as a Latin American service editor.

Bob Ferrante, Director of Communications for the Democratic National Convention Committee let go "amid complaints from the news media about inadequate preparation for July's convention," the United Press International reported. Before joining the Democratic Party staff in 1986 Ferrante ran the CBS News election unit in 1984.

Leslie Gelb, Deputy Editor of The New York Times editorial page since 1986 takes over responsibility for the Op-Ed page. Between earlier Times jobs, Gelb served the Carter Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

Harvey and Maybeth Go Left

Cagney and Lacey, the CBS show about two New York City women detectives regularly mixes trendy liberal causes with entertainment. So it's no surprise that a two-part season finale probed the evils of a conspiracy to cover-up the true depth of the Iran/Contra affair.

The May plot went like this: "Mary Beth Lacey," played by liberal political activist Tyne Daley and her partner, "Christine Cagney," are told "Mr. Wright," a bank president, was part of a scheme to embezzle hundreds of millions for the Mafia. They are asked to escort him back from upstate New York for trial. In the car, "Wright" explains how "at the request of our government" he loaned Argentina money to buy missiles for the battle over the Falkland Islands, but the FBI didn't catch on to his secret money transfers until "the Iran/Contra thing" exploded.

"Wright" becomes afraid for his life after a local sheriff tries to kill him. He then explains he's actually FBI agent "Thomas Duggan," set up as a decoy for those, presumably CIA agents, out to kill the real "Wright" because of all he knows.

Men driving an evil looking black car chase them, leading to a farm yard shoot out where "Duggan" is killed. The duo return to New York and are told the real "Wright" committed suicide. But "Lacey's" not fooled. She tells her partner: "We're into some cover-up here that makes Watergate look like a fraternity prank." "Lacey" whines about how they were used by the government: "Nobody said CIA, Christine. Nobody said, hey, we're in the spy trade, weaseling our way around the Congress of the United States of America. Nobody said what we were doing pays for bombs to kill innocent little children."

Sound like a script written by Daniel Sheehan of the far-left Christic Institute, the group promoting charges that a CIA old boy alliance has been running an international drug and terrorist network? Well, that may not be far off the mark. In an episode originally aired in January and repeated June 6, "Lacey's" husband "Harvey" praises his work and calls Sheehan "my hero."

Janet Cooke Award: Front Line: Joining the Christic Cause

It's an historic case and is now set to go to trial in Miami on June 27. It's not landmark in nature because of the whopping $23.8 million sought by the plaintiffs, but because of what it could mean to the national security interests of our nation. The radical left Christic Institute, an "inter-faith" non-profit organization filed the case on behalf of radical pro-Sandinista American journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey.

Their conspiracy theory: the CIA and several government agencies teamed up with an "old boy secret team network" to engage in 25 years of global assassination, international terrorism, drug smuggling, and gun running. Specifically, the institute claims the 27 defendants, including Contra supporters General John Singlaub, Rob Owen, former CIA deputy director Ted Shackley, planned and financed the attempted 1984 assassinations of Contra military leader Eden Pastora and U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs.

The Christic case is wrought with innuendo, hearsay, and the testimony of convicted drug dealers, but thanks to a sympathetic press tremendous harm has already been inflicted on the anti-communist movement. Since the filing of the suit in May of 1986, the Christics have received mention in 99 articles in The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the two major wire services. Newsweek's Robert Parry and Rod Nordland, UPI's Brian Barger, ABC's Richard Threlkeld, and PBS' Bill Moyers have led the fight to discredit covert operations and support for the Contras. But recently, PBS went to the forefront in endorsing the left-wing conspiracy theory. Two recent one-hour programs earn its series Frontline the June Janet Cooke Award.

"Murder on the Rio San Juan," aired on April 19, mirrored Christic claims that a secret network and the CIA were responsible for the assassination attempt on Pastora, which killed nine and injured Avirgan. Featured throughout the program were Avirgan, Honey, Christic general counsel Daniel Sheehan, and liberal Democratic Senator John Kerry. Only five minutes of the show were dedicated to any rebuttal of the unsubstantiated claims. Less time was given to what even program producer Charles Stuart admitted to MediaWatch was "the most logical theory" -- that the Sandinistas, through the international communist terror network, wished to see Pastora dead.

Stuart claimed that all possible theories were "unearthed," but former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Curtin Winsor, one of the few sources allowed to dissent from the scenario, saw it another way: "The show was violently distorted and gave far too much credibility to the Christics." Indeed, Barger is listed as a reporter. Barger told MediaWatch he has nothing to do with the lawsuit, but Christic spokesman Rob Richie confirmed that he supplied information for the complaint and may be called as a witness.

The May 17 program, produced by Leslie Cockburn, a long-time foe of U.S. Central America policy, took the conspiracy theory one step further, linking support for the Contras to drug running. In fact there exists a strong link between Cockburn and the Christics. As a West 57th producer and in her book, Out of Control, Cockburn used a number of key Christic sources to further her scenario, including convicted criminals Jesus Garcia, Michael Tolliver, George Morales, Peter Glibbery, and Ramone Milan Rodriguez. As well, Cockburn championed Sheehan in her book. Sheehan, in a conversation with MediaWatch, touted her investigation as "independently affirming what our case has set out to prove." In a November 1987 eleven page report, the Christic Institute cited Cockburn's "independent" account 12 times. Cockburn will also be called as a witness. The Christic case links Contra drug running back to the Vietnam War. Curiously, Cockburn also begins there. Without concrete evidence, Cockburn claimed the same network began operating in support of the Contras: "By 1981, six years after leaving Laos, the CIA was fighting another secret war, this time in Central America. The secret army were the Contras--fighting to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. Once again they were trained and equipped by the CIA. It was time for the old hands to go to work again." According to Cockburn, the Colombian drug cartel laundered millions to support the Contras by using "banks (and) obscure fish companies located in out of the way Miami shopping centers or in provincial port towns of Costa Rica." The 1987 Christic document is strikingly similar: "Contra narcotics smuggling stretches from cocaine plantations in Colombia, to dirt airstrips in Costa Rica, to pseudo-seafood companies in Miami...."

Two Congressional committees -- notably the Democrat-controlled House Select Committee on Narcotics and the Iran-Contra Committee -- have cleared the Contras and U.S. agencies of any involvement in drug running. Cockburn preferred to feature the allegations of Senator Kerry. She failed to mention that Kerry has been accused of illegally aiding or bribing several key witnesses in Costa Rica.

Dismissing the undeniable link between Cockburn and the Christics, Frontline Senior Producer Mike Sullivan declared: "We certainly view it as legitimate journalism. Leslie Cockburn is one of the most independent thinking producers I've ever run into." So critics of Contra support and covert action can rest assured they have an ally in the media. Some leftist "journalists" will undoubtedly continue to give credence to this left-wing conspiracy theory under the guise of objectivity and independent inquiry.