In This Issue
Still Looking for Liberal Labels; NewsBites: Maniacal TIME; Revolving Door: Bucks for the Duke; New York Times Reporters Attack Reagan Policy; More Misleading Economic Reporting; Another Castro Whitewash; Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Brady's Bunk
Still Looking for Liberal Labels
Past MediaWatch studies on think tanks, environmentalists and abortion activists proved that reporters tinker with the credibility of political groups by regularly identifying conservative groups as conservative but refusing to label liberal groups as liberal.
This time, MediaWatch selected a broad sample of smaller groups in specific issue areas, surveying every news story on 14 liberal groups and seven conservative ones from 1988, 1989, and 1990 in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post. Analysts found 29 labels in 1182 stories on liberal groups (2.5 percent), and 65 labels in 179 stories on conservative groups (36.3 percent), a ratio of 14 to one.
Child Care. The Children's Defense Fund, the leading lobby for a national child care program and a vocal advocate for welfare spending hikes and defense spending cuts, is a media favorite. Despite an approach so ideological that it criticized liberal Reps. Tom Downey and George Miller for being insufficiently committed, it received only three liberal labels in 228 news stories (1.3 percent). Two of the labels came from the Los Angeles Times, which also used "nonpartisan" once. The Washington Post applied no labels except "bipartisan" in 106 stories.
In contrast, conservative groups were labeled in 48 of 99 stories (48 percent). Reporters tacked conservative labels on the Family Research Council, founded in 1987 by Reagan White House adviser Gary Bauer, in 14 of 39 stories (36 percent). Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum drew even more labels, in 34 of 60 articles (57 percent). One Los Angeles Times story mentioning Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America reported: "Those two groups, while describing themselves as nonpartisan, generally are considered to be conservative activists."
Defense. In three years of news stories on eight liberal anti- defense lobbies, reporters assigned ideological labels seven times in 601 stories, barely one percent. Six of the seven were applied to two far-left disarmament lobbies. SANE/Freeze led with four labels in 56 articles (7.1 percent), and Physicians for Social Responsibility came next with two labels in 62 mentions (3.2 percent). The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an originator of the nuclear freeze proposal and a leader in the fight against the B-1 bomber, went label-free in 167 stories.
The Defense Budget Project drew only one label in 60 stories (1.6 percent), and was never identified in a news story as part of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Only The New York Times issued a "liberal" label, but it also used "nonpartisan" once. The Washington Post aggressively avoided an ideological label, calling the Project "bipartisan" once and "nonpartisan" three times. Typically, Post reporter Molly Moore called the Project "a nonpartisan Washington research organization that has been critical of Reagan Administration defense spending policies." If reporters refuse to call Eagle Forum nonpartisan because they're conservative, shouldn't the same apply to liberals?
The SDI critics at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) escaped unscathed by labels in 132 stories, despite being described as "critics of the [SDI] missile defense program." By not labeling scientist groups, reporters imply that the criticism is purely scientific, not political. But in three years of articles, FAS defense expert John Pike called Reagan SDI budget requests "wildly inflated and clearly dead-on-arrival," cheered that "they have finally broken the ice and said they would accept some limits on SDI testing," and declared "In an era of stable deterrence, the B-2 bombers have a mission we definitely do not want." These are not scientific judgments, but political ones. But then, Pike is not a scientist, and you don't have to be a scientist to be a FAS member.
You also don't have to be a scientist to join The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), but the newspapers didn't point that out for either group. In fact, The Washington Post called UCS a "nonprofit group of scientists working to alert society about the ill effects of technology" and burnished their environmental statements by calling them a "nonprofit group that includes many scientists involved with environmental issues." The UCS had nary an ideological label in 69 stories, even though reporters used "vociferous" twice to describe their opposition to nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Also in the zero column: the Arms Control Association, unlabeled in 48 stories, and the Center for Defense Information, mentioned in only seven stories.
By contrast, conservative groups were labeled in 14 of 55 stories (25.5 percent). The Center for Security Policy, headed by former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney, was tagged as conservative in 12 of 37 pieces. The New York Times carried no labels in 11 pieces, but The Washington Post assigned the conservative tag in 8 of 15 stories.
The American Security Council went one for two. High Frontier, the premier supporters of SDI, drew no labels in nine stories. The now-defunct Center fr Peace and Freedom, another pro-SDI outfit, was labeled once in seven mentions.
Central America. "Liberal" may be too charitable a description for the five groups in this category, but they were assigned labels in only 19 of 353 news stories (5.4 percent), and 17 of them were "liberal."
To reporters, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) merited only two ideological labels in 92 stories even though they support the Marxist FMLN guerrillas in El Salvador. The Los Angeles Times used "pro-left" once in 40 stories. The New York Times described CISPES as FMLN supporters on four occasions, but The Washington Post never did and never used a label, instead calling them "peace activists."
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a group of far-left lawyers which defended CISPES in their legal action against an FBI investigation, was labeled eight times in 126 stories (6.3 percent). The Washington Post called them "liberal" once, and the Los Angeles Times once described notorious CCR attorney William Kunstler as a "radical lawyer." The New York Times carried the other six labels, all "liberal."
The Christic Institute, which charged that a "Secret Team" of Reagan Administration officials were running drugs with the Contras, was labeled "liberal" nine times in 86 articles (10.5 percent).
Drawing a zero were the Nicaragua Network and Witness for Peace (WFP), two veteran Sandinista support groups. The Los Angeles Times relayed that WFP "describes itself as a politically independent organization which opposes United States support for the war against Nicaragua while not taking sides in internal political issues."
On the conservative side, the Council for Inter-American Security (CIS) received only 13 mentions, most of them about the party they threw for the Bush Inauguration. They were labeled only twice, but the Los Angeles Times once called them "ultraconservative." To use such a label for CIS and never use "far-left" for groups like the Christic Institute is a stunning example of imbalance.
Readers don't have time to research the ideological perspective of every group they see quoted in news stories. They rely on reporters, but the news media's failure to identify liberal groups risks leaving readers uninformed about the intentions and agendas behind those commenting on policy options.
NewsBites: Maniacal TIME
Time magazine's obsession with maligning Ronald Reagan is growing ridiculous. The television advertisement offering "The Most Important People of the 20th Century" video as a subscription premium begins: "Who would you choose? A President, a Prime Minister, a national hero or a maniacal villain?" At the word "President" the ad shows John Kennedy; at "Prime Minister" a picture of Winston Churchill; and at "national hero" a movie clip of John Wayne. For "maniacal villain" Adolf Hitler appears, followed by a smiling Ronald Reagan.
After the Soviets shot down KAL-007 in 1983, the media gave widespread attention to numerous theories absolving the Soviets of blame. Even five years after the incident, on the July 4, 1988 CBS Evening News, the late reporter Robert Schakne asserted: "The Soviets mistook the Korean Airlines 747 for an American Air Force reconnaissance plane on a spying mission over secret Siberian bases."
A new interview with the Soviet pilot who fired the fatal shots proves this and other "blame America" theories were wrong. As recounted by author James Oberg in an April 23 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Lt. Colonel Gennadi Osipovich told Izvestia he knew the plane was not a RC-135, and that "he was instructed to lie about the encounter: to claim that he had radioed it on an emergency channel although he had not, that the target plane's lights were off although he had seen them on, and that he had fired tracers although his cannon had not such shells." Osipovich told Seoul's MPC television he knew he was firing at a commercial plane, the Associated Press reported April 28.
How did the rest of the media react to revelations the U.S. government had told the truth all along? The Washington Post, which devoted a lengthy 1986 story to charges the plane was on a spying mission, gave it a few paragraphs in its "Around the World" column. The New York Times, news weeklies and the networks, however, have so far refused to correct the historical record.
The television networks frequently report there are millions of homeless people. Two recent examples: "All across the country Americans are becoming increasingly less tolerant of homeless people, now estimated to number as many as two million," ABC's Carole Simpson announced on March 30. "In New York there are an estimated 70,000 homeless people, three million across America. A problem that got a lot worse during the boom times of the '80s," reporter Harold Dow claimed on the March 26 CBS Evening News.
But when the Census Bureau found just 230,000, ABC, CBS and NBC were silent. Only CNN reported the April 12 finding from the 1990 count, conducted by 15,000 census workers. The bureau conceded it might have missed some people, but in order to reach Dow's claim it would have to had missed more than nine of ten.
Publication of Lou Cannon's new book, President Reagan: Role of a Lifetime, provided two media heavyweights with an opportunity to do some more Reagan bashing. NBC News President Michael Gartner reviewed the book in the April 21 Washington Post: "Cannon starts off by proclaiming that Reagan is not a dunce, a point that can be questioned by the very fact that it has to be made, a point we all want to believe but a point that Cannon tends to undercut every few pages...Not a dunce, maybe, but not a diplomat, either. Or a politician. Or a manager. Or a policymaker. Or a learner." Gartner argued: "Still the nation needed more than inspiration in the 1980s. It needed leadership -- moral leadership, intellectual leadership, political leadership. It needed a manager, not a cheerleader. It needed a statesman, not a star. It needed answers, not anecdotes. It needed ideas as wells as ideals. And Ronald Reagan wasn't up to that task."
Laurence Barrett, Time's Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, was no less gracious on April 15: "What the country did not need was the surfeit of feel-good illusions Reagan sold so successfully. Every politician peddles hope in bright ribbons. The saddest and scariest conclusion one takes from this book is that Reagan fully believed his spiels even at their most outlandish. That gut sincerity and his actor's skills let him ring up record sales in the '80s. Paying the bills is America's hellish task in the '90s and perhaps beyond."
THE MEDIA'S PET KITTY.
The media have a responsibility to confirm allegations about public figures before reporting them. But that's not what happened when it came to Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. The April 7 New York Times carried a long front-page story by Maureen Dowd which did not challenge one Kelley claim. Dowd defended the book in the May 13 New Republic: "Of course, the book is tawdry. Of course the book is, in some spots, loosely sourced and over the top....Of course, there are mistakes in it...The point, however, is that Kelley's portrait is not essentially untrue." Dowd was only disappointed that Kelley did not write more on the First Lady's "tempering" of the President's "more Neanderthal tendencies."
Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter, who by his very position should know better, embarrassed himself by defending Kelley's professionalism in the April 22 issue: "In a narrow sense, Kelley is an effective reporter." Later he added: "Despite her wretched excesses, Kelley has the core of the story right," and "however twisted, the bulk of Kelley's stories seem to at least be based on real events." Alter preferred assaulting the Reagans' reputation: "If even a small fraction of the material amassed and borrowed here turns out to be true, Ronald Reagan and his wife had to be the most hypocritical people ever to live in the White House."
The networks weren't much better. NBC interviewed Kelley for three days in a row on Today. CBS reporter Mark Phillips typified the media's smirking abandonment of duty at the end of his April 8 Evening News report: "Is the stuff in the book true or just vindictive tales? Who knows? Who cares?"
TEDDY, OUR HERO.
While reporters were eating up Kitty Kelley's allegations about the Reagans, Time reacted a bit differently to Senator Ted Kennedy's Palm Beach troubles. The April 29 issue carried a three-page spread praising the Democrat. Senior Editor Lance Morrow wrote: "He is a lightning rod with strange electricities still firing in the air around him -- passions that are not always his responsibility but may emanate from psychic disturbances in the country itself. America does not have a completely healthy relationship with the Kennedys."
Morrow continued his toast to Kennedy: "Once, long ago, he was the Prince Hal of American politics: high-spirited, youthful, heedless. He never evolved, like Prince Hal, into the ideal king. Instead he did something that was in its way just as impressive. He became one of the great lawmakers of the century, a Senate leader whose liberal mark upon American government has been prominent and permanent...The public that knows Kennedy by his misadventures alone may vastly underrate him."
Morrow spent much of the article countering suggestions that the Democrat is an alcoholic, noting: "Kennedy is a hardworking and successful U.S. Senator with a busy schedule and a heavy load of intellectual labor that he apparently performs well. His mind is nimble and sharp, except when he has been drinking a lot." Sort of a Catch-22.
PBS HELD HOSTAGE.
Frontline is promoting yet another left-wing conspiracy theory -- this time, that the 1980 Reagan campaign bought off the Iranians to delay the release of the hostages. After six months of taxpayer-subsidized searching and a meandering hour of unsubstantiated claims about meetings in Paris, the PBS audience learned only that "conclusive proof is elusive." But this investigation has gone on longer than six months: the show's main conspiracy theorist, ex-Newsweek and AP reporter Robert Parry, has spent six years trying to prove the Reagan Administration guilty of some wrongdoing.
Mark Hosenball, a producer for NBC's Expose, attacked Parry's thesis in the April 21 Washington Post (and earlier in The New Republic of June 13, 1988). Hosenball specifically punctured Parry source Richard Brenneke, reporting that congressional investigator Jack Blum deemed him an unreliable witness. Blum recently told the Village Voice that Brenneke should have been jailed for perjury. But in the April 27 Post, Parry responded: "Blum also concluded that much of what Brenneke said was true." Parry did not tell Post readers that in the midst of devoting almost five minutes of Frontline time to Brenneke's testimony, he and co-writer Robert Ross told viewers that his "credibility remains in question."
The New York Times learned nothing from the Tiananmen Square massacre. In an April 14 article, reporter Nicholas Kristof praised Chinese communism: "In recent decades, China has engineered a remarkable health-care revolution, one that has increased the odds that her infant will be alive in the latter half of the next century. While the communists have yet to deliver on promises to provide Chinese with lives that are prosperous and free, they have achieved the remarkable feat of offering their people lives that are long and healthy."
Kristof quoted University of North Carolina professor Gail Henderson: "There's no question that in a time when people are despondent about what's happening in China, the health-care system really is a shining light from the Maoist era that continues to shine to this day. It's a model for the developing world." Notably absent from the story: mention of China's forced abortion policy.
Meanwhile, the Times gave Chinese capitalism a much dimmer view. In an April 21 article, Kristof's wife, reporter Cheryl WuDunn, asserted: "It is an open secret that here in Shenzhen, a special economic zone just across the border from Hong Kong, economic progress has brought with it the seedy side of the free market: prostitution, corruption, smuggling and even drug trafficking. Shenzhen is China's best-known boomtown, and it is renowned throughout the country for its economic growth, high salaries, modern fashions, and adherence to 'bourgeois' morals, if any. To many people in the rest of China, Shenzhen is a lawless place."
MISLEADING MEDICARE MATH.
Some media outlets continue the misleading policy of reporting budget "cuts" that are really just reductions in the rate of spending growth. On April 18, The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press dispatch by Alan Fram: "The House yesterday approved a Democratic-written $1.46 trillion 1992 budget that rejects President Bush's plan to slash Medicare and other benefit programs." On the same day, Washington Post reporter Tom Kenworthy wrote that Bush's proposal "included such politically painful aspects as a five-year, $25 billion cut in the Medicare program. The Bush budget ...included a total of $46.6 billion in reductions in Medicare and other entitlement programs over five years."
Neither reporter told readers that the $100 billion-plus Medicare budget is automatically scheduled to increase up to 15 percent per year, and that "slashing" $25 billion over five years would have left a spending increase of more than $50 billion. And what about the other $21 billion in "entitlement" cuts? They're also cuts in increases, but they're not all social programs. Under this budget's definition "entitlement" programs include outdated boondoggles like the Rural Electrification Administration. The same media that preaches about the deficit continues to keep an accurate picture of spending growth out of the news columns.
BIRDS & BEES & BERGANTINO.
It's hard to imagine a reporter advising the government to hand out bullet-proof vests to children as the cure to inner city violence. In an April 16 story for World News Tonight, reporter Joe Bergantino portrayed the distribution of condoms in schools as the way to stop the spread of pregnancy and sexual disease among teens. Bergantino bemoaned a national "epidemic" of teen pregnancy. However, the national teen birthrate has been dropping since 1957, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Bergantino declared that "Two studies, including one conducted by the Center for Population Options (CPO) involving six different schools, have concluded condom availability does not encourage sex." Later, Bergantino cited three other studies to make the case for condoms. ABC spokesman Arnot Walker told MediaWatch two of those studies appeared in Family Planning Perspectives, published by the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Alan Guttmacher Institute. Of course, asking CPO or the Guttmacher Institute about the hazards of condoms is like asking the Tobacco Institute about the hazards of smoking.
GO WITH GRACE.
To celebrate Earth Day during the week of April 22, the networks repeated last year's imbalance on a much smaller scale, tilting the guest list toward the left-wing environmentalists and shutting the free-market environmentalists out completely. On the NBC Nightly News, reporter Bill Lagattuta did a story including leftist luminaries Tom Hayden, Gaylord Nelson, and Gene Karpinski from Ralph Nader's U.S. Public Interest Research Group. CNN reporter Greg Lefevre followed the Turner pattern of environmental bias by selecting David Weir of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Randy Hayes of the Rainforest Action Network.
The morning shows were even worse. NBC led the way by airing another three-part "Assignment Earth" series on Today by Paul Ehrlich, the discredited Famine 1975! devotee. Good Morning America interviewed anti-technology activist Jeremy Rifkin, and in a bow to science, CBS This Morning selected someone with more scientific credibility than Ehrlich and Rifkin combined: rock star Grace Slic.
Revolving Door: Bucks for the Duke
Bucks for the Duke. Newsweek gave its April 8 "My Turn" page to Osborn Elliott, whom it described as its former Editor-in-Chief, former Deputy Mayor of New York and a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Newsweek failed to mention another resume entry: member of the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign's finance committee. In a June 1988 New York Times op-ed Elliott recalled how he also handled pro-Dukakis "spin control" after one debate and supplied the candidate with some "thematic material and rhetoric...drawing from The Grapes of Wrath."
Elliott used the Newsweek article to spread the same liberal gospel: "Now that the Gulf War is behind us, it's time to start planning history's greatest March on Washington, a huge parade of protest by the cities of this land against a national government that has betrayed them." How? The Editor of Newsweek from 1961 to 1976 claimed: "Brutal cutbacks in federal aid for schools, housing, food stamps, mass transit and social services have taken a terrible toll" such as "a child left by her mother in the trunk of a car for lack of proper day care."
Elliott, who was Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism from 1979 to 1986, asserted: "It is no coincidence that homelessness has soared as federal subsidies for low-cost housing have been slashed by 80 percent." In fact, an article in the November/ December American Enterprise showed the number of subsidized units and the number of families living in those units increased by one-third during the 1980s.
Said What Simon Said. In 1987 U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor and chief of domestic bureaus Jim Killpatrick joined Senator Paul Simon's presidential campaign as the Democrat's Press Secretary. After the campaign ended, Killpatrick accepted an editing position with Washington D.C.'s suburban Journal newspapers. In April he was promoted to Managing Editor of three Virginia dailies. He'll oversee the Fairfax Journal, Alexandria Journal and Arlington Journal.
Other Side of Supply-Side. Boston Globe economics columnist and New Republic regular Robert Kuttner is out with a new book arguing for increased government intervention in the economy, The End of Laissez-Faire: National Purpose and the Global Economy After the Cold War. Widely billed as a blueprint for Democrats to follow, the book's jacket includes endorsements from Lester Thurow, John Kenneth Galbraith and Mario Cuomo.
A founding co-editor of The American Prospect, a self described "journal for the liberal imagination," Kuttner put in a stint in the early 1970s on The Washington Post's national staff and was a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine. Later in the decade Kuttner served as Chief Investigator for the Democrat- controlled Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The Washington Post Writers Group distributes Kuttner's weekly column.
New York Times Reporters Attack Reagan Policy
THE THREE AMIGOS
During the 1980s the Reagan Administration assisted democratic forces battling communist movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But new books and articles by three New York Times reporters who covered Central America in the 1980s reveal they still believe the U.S. backed the wrong side.
Writing in the America and the World 1990/91 issue of Foreign Affairs, current Mexico City Bureau Chief Mark Uhlig declared that "hostility toward the Nicaraguan regime" had produced "domestic disaffection and ineffective policies. Moreover, the conflict had driven and distorted American relations...as the White House searched for the means to justify and act on its obsession." Communism "had never been sufficient to explain or understand the complex conflicts confronting U.S. policy in Latin America," but, in a familiar refrain of the left, Uhlig argued it had actually obfuscated the real issue: "Social justice had taken second place to mighty clashes of ideology." Uhlig called for a "rethinking of past policies" toward democratic El Salvador, where the U.S. had been "trainer and quartermaster to one of the most demonstrably bloodthirsty regimes in the hemisphere."
Former Nicaragua Bureau Chief Stephen Kinzer, now based in Germany, followed a similar premise in his new book, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. Kinzer charged that Oliver North and Reagan "placed the United States in the role of a cruel bully, waging a dirty war to defend security interests that even its closest allies did not believe were truly threatened." Kinzer found Nicaragua superior to its neighbors: "The Sandinista regime was undemocratic, though it never resorted to the kind of savagery common in nearby countries. But by destroying the repressive apparatus of the Somoza family, the Sandinistas at least provided a basis on which a genuine democracy could be built....Had they done nothing more than that, they would deserve a place of historic honor." Kinzer praised the regime for realizing "that government's greatest responsibility was to the poor and dispossessed," gushing: "Ultimately they showed themselves worthy of the legacy of Nicaragua's heroes."
Clifford Krauss covered the region for UPI and The Wall Street Journal before becoming the Times' State Department reporter last year. In Inside Central America, he complained: "Obsessive, ideological fears clouded Reagan's vision, as was all too often reflected in his apocalyptic public speeches in support of his beloved 'freedom fighters.'" Krauss noted the "happy, liberated feel" of rebel-held areas in El Salvador. Krauss admitted that the Sandinistas are Marxists, but revealed that while covering the 1979 revolution for UPI, "My intention was to cheer on the new Sandinistas and to help stop the next Vietnam."
More Misleading Economic Reporting
BRADY STRIKES AGAIN. The idea of an independent labor market with workers free to make contracts with employers repulses CBS News reporter Ray Brady. On the April 3 Evening News, Brady mourned the plight of striking workers who were replaced by those willing to work. "Captain Jim Gulley's family has worked these waters for a hundred years," Brady began. "But a strike pitted him against the management of the tugboat company he helped to build. Gulley and his shipmates were replaced. Out of the work they loved."
Endorsing the union's arguments, Brady said: "They note that in the past, strikes helped raise living standards for all Americans, because when unions got increases, white collar and other workers usually got them as well. Now, though, a strike can mean you've lost your job forever." Brady worried that "as strikes disappear, swamped by a wave of replacement workers, some wonder if a valuable American tradition is also being replaced." Brady quoted Gulley and other strikers several times, but management was given only one sentence and replacement workers none.
CRY ON AMERICA. The CBS Evening News recently started a new segment, "Eye On America," to focus more time on a single issue. But initial signs indicate the network's purpose is to deliver more liberal cliches without any statistics to back them up. On April 19, Dan Rather introduced a segment on "the growing ranks of America's hungry and the growing network of charity food banks straining to meet the need."
"It doesn't matter where you go...food banks have become a growth industry in America. What's going on?," asked reporter Bruce Morton. To find out, Morton only asked liberal Rep. Tony Hall and Tufts University's Larry Brown, who pronounced: "They are a larger reflection of the inhumanity of us as a nation." Morton continued: "Critics say the government should feed people who don't have enough...there are 20 million of those folks, reflecting a growing gap between rich and poor."
Morton didn't give a source for his 20 million figure or claim the government was spending less on fighting hunger. Maybe that's because federal nutrition spending has risen more than 50 percent in real terms since 1976 as food prices have fallen. But he did have space for one last bromide: "Food banks, now as American as apple pie."
SOAK THE POOR. Two public policy groups released studies in April on state taxes and their impact on the economy. One was the liberal group Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), which claimed the rich are not paying enough taxes; the other, the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, claimed tax increases drive away jobs. Which study made the news? You guessed it.
On the April 22 World News Tonight, ABC reporter Sheilah Kast relayed CTJ's findings on how "the poor are paying more than their fair share, "without airing anyone or anything to challenge it. So did USA Today in a front-page story the next morning. "Only two states, Vermont and Delaware, put the heaviest tax burdens on the wealthiest," wrote reporter Bill Montague. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both Vermont and Delaware are among the worst ten states for unemployment rates. Both Kast and Montague failed to make the connection. They also failed to explain how the poor are better off in high tax states like New York than in one of CTJ's "Terrible Ten" states, such as New Hampshire, which has no sales or income tax for anyone.
Another Castro Whitewash
More than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ted Turner still won't give up on communism. In Portrait of Castro's Cuba, a two-hour TBS homage on April 7, narrator James Earl Jones talked about a pro-Castro rally: "Attendance at this rally is, if not mandatory, then highly recommended. But this rally is more than just a way to maintain control. It's also a sincere demonstration of national pride and independence."
At a welcome home ceremony for Cuban troops returning from Angola, Jones intoned: "Incessantly involved in affairs around the globe, this island nation has won the respect, sometimes grudgingly, of countries twenty times its size. Castro's Cuba stands tall in the ranks of nations....Today is a passionate display of national pride. These men are symbols of all that Castro's Cuba has aspired to be. A nation to be reckoned with. A major player on the world stage. Defiant, spirited, free."
Free? A Cuban dissident might disagree, but the documentary didn't interview any. TBS relied on spokesmen for the regime. Jones pronounced: "The Sierras have become a testament to the revolution. Here is where the gains have been most dramatic. Clean water, electricity, telephones, and above all, education and medical care."
To substantiate how Castro has improved everyone's lives, TBS interviewed a government doctor who claimed: "We have the things that are important in life to develop as a human being. Because the blue jeans are not essential to live or a sweater or a tape recorder. So what are the necessary things to be able to live? Food, education, guaranteed health, not having to think that tomorrow you will be without a job, or not having money to buy food, or that I have to sell drugs to earn money. These are the things that are necessary for living."
An armed militia member described how the Cuban people feel about Castro: "These people grow stronger with the difficulties to support Fidel, because here we want Fidel, he is our father, he is the father of our people. The Revolution is our mother and we feel proud."
Janet Cooke Award: CBS: Brady's Bunk
The media's Reagan-haters like to characterize the former President's method of argument as one part anecdote, one part misleading factoids. But that better describes the CBS News method of economic reporting. For again distorting the Reagan record with misleading anecdotes and flimsy statistics on the April 23 CBS Evening News, Ray Brady earns the May Janet Cooke Award.
For his "Eye on America" report, Brady traveled to Waterloo, Iowa to find an example of hard times: "For Carol and John Bernard, peace comes only at Sunday services. The rest of the week they and their six children, like thousands of other working Americans, try to survive on incomes that have been dropping since the 1970s." Times may be rough for the Bernard family, but Brady's implication -- that incomes have been dropping every year since the 1970s -- is demonstrably false. In fact, Census Bureau statistics show that since 1982, median family income has increased every year except one, and median household income has increased every year without exception.
Brady then charged: "Nationwide, the number of working people under the poverty level is up 28 percent since 1978." But what didn't Brady tell viewers? Chris Frenze, a staff economist with the Joint Economic Committee, told MediaWatch that according to Census Bureau data the percentage of people under the poverty line with year-round full-time jobs in 1989 was six percent. Nor did Brady explain that the population has increased 16 percent since 1978.
Brady claimed wages have declined nationwide: "Across America, employers, hit by competition, falling profits, and hard times, have been cutting wages to the point where most Americans are worse off now than they were in the early 1970s. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, since that time their paychecks have fallen by 17 percent." Brady's claim roughly matches Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, but the BLS numbers exclude certain earners, including self-employed and supervisory employees. Data from the Social Seurity Administration, (which includes the workers BLS excludes), show an increase in average wages in the '80s. This flies in the face of Brady's emotionally overwrought conclusion: "For many working families, the pain is knowing all hope for a better life is shrinking as fast as the American paycheck."
During a Nightwatch interview a few hours later Brady claimed benefits are declining: "Around the country, more and more companies that are saying to those who are still working: 'You've got to pay twenty percent of your benefits. We're not picking up the whole tab. You've got to pay forty percent of your benefits. And in many cases, you see companies that are simply not paying benefits at all anymore."
Many companies may be requiring their employees to pay a higher share of their benefits, but according to the BLS Employment Cost Index, employers have increased their spending on benefits for the last ten years in a row.
Nightwatch host Deborah Potter asked Brady: "What are the nationwide trends in terms of the availability of good-paying jobs? Are they just gone? Have they left America?" Brady responded: "Well, yes, a lot of them have left America, Deborah." But as columnist Warren Brookes recently pointed out, "Labor Department data showed that over 40 percent of the new jobs created from 1983 forward were in its highest skill category... while less than 11 percent were in so-called service jobs."
In the midst of all this bad news, Brady did find someone celebrating: "Well I hate to use the term, Deborah, but the upper one percent in this country are making out like bandits because their incomes have shot up enormously. Perhaps even the upper two or three percent, because you've had all these LBOs and these takeovers and a booming stock market, and that has enabled the very, very upper economic class to really make fortunes during the 1980s."
Brady shares the assumptions of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which concluded that the income of the top one percent grew 87.3 percent from 1980-1990. But economist Chris Frenze told MediaWatch that CBO income data skews the actual income of the rich by refusing to index capital gains income for inflation. Additionally, CBO excludes net capital losses over $3,000, thus overstating gains and understating losses.
Last month, Face the Nation Executive Producer Marianna Spicer-Brooks cared enough about viewer reaction to spend more than a half-hour talking to MediaWatch about her show's use of statistics. But Brady refused to discuss his story or the source of his figures. "I'm very sorry, I don't have time, I'm on a deadline. Sorry." When asked if there would be a better time to talk, Brady responded by hanging up. "News" stories like Brady's are perfect examples of what's wrong with television news: too much drama and not enough evidence. By using anecdotes to misrepresent the national economic picture, CBS is all style and no substance.