MediaWatch: May 1992

In This Issue

Favoring "Abortion Rights"; NewsBites: No Homeless Hype; Revolving Door: Brown Bombast; Looting a Rational Response to a Decade of Greed; Blackmail and Intimidation of Sources: OK with PBS; Actually Backed Thomas; ABC and PBS Act as Co-Conspirators; A Half Million Here?; Janet Cooke Award: PBS on the October Surprise: Oops

Favoring "Abortion Rights"

Abortion resurfaced on the national agenda in April, from the April 5 pro-abortion march on Washington to the Operation Rescue protests in Buffalo. In the wake of April's abortion headlines, MediaWatch analysts surveyed every abortion story during the month on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and the NBC Nightly News. In 49 stories, the networks not only favored pro-abortion spokesmen, but continued to present its coverage in the language and symbolism of the pro-abortion movement. Among the findings:

TALKING HEADS. Pro-abortion soundbites outnumbered anti-abortion soundbites by a count of 55 to 31, or 64 percent in favor of the pro-abortion camp. CNN's soundbite count actually tilted in favor of those opposed to abortion, a close 14 to 13. The Big Three networks favored pro-abortion sources by more than 2 to 1. CBS skewed the count the most, 13 to 4, or 76 percent of its sound-bites; ABC, 13 to 5, or 72 percent; and NBC perfected the 2 to 1 ratio with a head count of 16 to 8. This imbalance occurred even though the networks aired more stories prompted by the two-week Buffalo protest than the one-day pro-abortion march.

LABELS. Since the 1989 Webster decision, reporters have echoed the arguments of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Before Webster, the buzzword was "choice" and the adjective was "pro-choice"; since Webster, the buzzword is "rights," and the adjective became "abortion-rights." The 1989 Washington Post Deskbook on Style marked the change: "The terms right-to-life and pro-life are used by advocates in the abortion controversy to buttress their arguments. They should generally be used as part of an organization's title and in quotations, but not as descriptive adjectives in the text. Use abortion-rights advocates for those who support freedom of choice in the matter, anti-abortion for those who oppose it." (Italics theirs.)

Of 52 labels showered on the pro-abortion side, 41 were "abortion rights." Now out of fashion is "pro-choice" with nine mentions, except at CBS, which used the label seven times. Only CNN slipped from politically correct terminology, using the term "abortion supporters" once and "pro-abortion" once. By contrast, the pro-life forces were completely denied their most favored labels. "Pro-life" and "right-to-life" were never used by the networks in April. (A 1989 MediaWatch study found the two terms applied 27 times in the last four months of 1988.) Instead, "anti-abortion" reigned, with 36 mentions out of 45. On six occasions, reporters used the terms "anti-abortion rights," "against abortion rights," and "opposed to abortion rights," which is the semantic equivalent of "anti-choice."

GRAPHICS. In the book Unreliable Sources, left-wing media critics Martin Lee and Norman Solomon charged: "On TV, when an anchor reports the latest abortion news, a common background graphic is a well-developed fetus...The logo is in sync with tendencies to push women out of the mental pictures we have of the abortion issue." But network graphics in April 1992 did the opposite: they emphasized women and deemphasized the fetus. In 47 stories, 21 used graphic screens next to the anchor. Of those, 17 featured a feminist symbol, the gender sign for female, a circle with a cross underneath. None pictured a fetus. NBC used the female symbol in introducing eight of its nine stories; CNN, in seven of 18 (and not in an eighth story); and ABC, in 2 of 9.

CENSORSHIP. Some of the same networks that decried how the "Nintendo" war in the Persian Gulf didn't show enough footage of corpses censored Indiana candidate Michael Bailey's campaign ad showing dead fetuses. Three networks aired stories on April 20 (NBC passed), but didn't all treat it the same.

The most dramatic was CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews: "Michael Bailey, an anti-abortion candidate for Congress in Indiana today began airing what cold be the most tasteless ad ever shown on television. What's more, he's a candidate, protected against censorship, no one can stop him." CBS tried to stop him by censoring the fetus pictures. Andrews continued: "TV stations in Indianapolis and Louisville are questioning whether Bailey is abusing the law, whether under FCC rules, any zealot with a candidate's filing fee can put anything on TV...Tastelessness in television may not be new, but this case is unique." Like CBS, CNN also censored the pictures of fetuses with a big gray screen.

By contrast, ABC and reporter Chris Bury served as a model of balance, airing the ad in its entirety, getting a statement from both sides, and ending: "When it comes to politics, truth in advertising is not for the government or TV stations to determine. That is a matter for opposing candidates to debate and for the voters to decide." That kind of fundamental balance is exactly what's often missing in network coverage of abortion.

A HALF MILLION HERE? The National Organization for Women's April 5 pro-abortion rally drew 500,000 people, the networks reported based on a D.C. police estimate. But the U.S. Park Police, whose counts are usually used by the media, released their estimate a day late: 250,000.

But some reporters ignored the count even after its release. On the April 6 NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Kur asserted: "This year, with freedom to choose threatened as never before, yesterday there were more marchers than ever before: half a million." (The April 27 Newsweek called it "one of the largest mass demonstrations in this country's history.")

NewsBites: No Homeless Hype

NO HOMELESS HYPE. In the 1980s the media repeatedly passed along homeless activist Mitch Snyder's assertion that there were three million homeless people. Now, one member of the media has acknowledged they bought a PR gimmick. In the April 6 Newsweek, reporter Jay Mathews came to a new conclusion: "The figure of 3 million homeless in the United States, used by advocates and the media in the 1980s, has little basis in fact. A 1988 Urban Institute report found there were no more than 600,000 homeless people on any night."

In the last few years, Newsweek itself used the three million number as a legitimate estimate in at least five stories. Maybe other news organizations will now retract their overstatements. Don't hold your breath.

ENVIRONMENTAL BULL. Cows cause global warming. That's what radical Jeremy Rifkin argues. Time considered his claim serious enough to justify a two page review of his book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. In the April 20 article, reporter Madeleine Nash explained: "The symbiotic bacteria that swell in every cow's gut enable grazers to break down the cellulose in grass. As a by-product, these bacteria produce considerable amounts of methane" which "periodically gusts forth from grazing herds in the form of rumbling postprandial belches."

Speaking of belches, Nash couldn't end her story without returning the blame to humans: "The environmental cost of beef is just one aspect of the multiplying burdens of producing food for an exploding human population. The real threat to the carrying capacity of planet Earth, dear Jeremy, comes not from our cattle but from ourselves."

TAX MY GAS, PLEASE. Time magazine may have a brand new design, but it's the content that needs changing. The perfect example of Time's preachy liberalism: its often-proposed hike in the gas tax. Seldom has a "news" magazine crusaded so long and so hard for an idea: Time has called for an increased gas tax more than 16 times in the last four years.

The latest outbreak of tax hype occurred in March. In the March 23 edition, Time suggested: "Tsongas' higher gasoline tax would help curb America's energy use and would provide funds for mass transit and rebuilding roads and bridges and would reduce the budget deficit." As an example of Bush's environmental "inaction," the March 30 Time cited: "Refused to consider higher energy taxes." Then, on April 6, in the first new issue, reporter Dan Goodgame suggested: "Increase excise taxes on gasoline, alcohol, and tobacco...Larry Summers, an economics professor on leave from Harvard, for example, calculates that a tax directed at halving the growth of carbon dioxide emissions would raise $16 billion a year, while increasing the price of gasoline only 5 cents a gallon."

GANNETT'S GREEN GRADES. The April 17-19 edition of Gannett's USA Weekend magazine put together a panel of "environmental experts to study candidates' environmental records." But the panel only polluted the debate, using left-wing politics as standards to grade the presidential candidates.

The panel included such noted scientists as Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice, and old-age hippie Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Predictably, the panel gave Jerry Brown A's and B's, allowed Bush to squeak by with D's, and trashed Pat Buchanan, giving him mostly F's.

Why were no market-oriented environmental experts included? Although USA Weekend summarized the business view in a 182-word sidebar, Assistant Editor Kathy McCleary told MediaWatch they had asked Russell Train, head of Nixon's EPA, to be a panelist representing the conservative point of view. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Kent Jeffries told MediaWatch he wasn't contacted, and was surprised when told USA Weekend had asked Train, a green fellow-traveler, to represent the conservatives. This shouldn't be surprising: USA Weekend considered the owner of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream an "environmental expert."

FAMILY MATTERS. While conservatives talk of giving parents more options and decision-making power, liberals talk about increasing taxes, spending more money and adding more layers of bureaucracy. On the April 4 NBC Nightly News, John Cochran measured Bush's performance by the liberal standard, declaring the President's record of support for the family "spotty."

Cochran explained: "He has been generous in supporting the pre- school Head Start program, but educators complain that he has been tight-fisted with other school programs...Bush vetoed a parental leave bill, forcing employers to give workers time off to deal with newborn babies and other family emergencies. Bush urged firms to grant paid leave voluntarily, if they can afford it....Instead of building day car centers, Bush insisted on tax credits for parents, who are free to employ relatives or neighbors as babysitters."

ADORING ANNA. When New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, it made NBC's Today so happy that they interviewed her twice -- in one week. Mary Alice Williams, co-host of Sunday Today, and Katie Couric, co-host of Today, each took a turn celebrating feminism's newest heroine. For example, Williams' April 12 introduction: "A number of brilliant writers this week won the grand slam of journalism, the Pulitzer Prize. But only one of them produces the kind of work that people tear out of the paper and tape to the 'fridge." She described her guest as "one of the most influential journalists in America" and "a woman who's always exercising her intellect." Williams' idea of a tough question: "You have it all! Don't you just hate that?"

On April 8, Couric told Quindlen "So often I read [your] things and I think: 'Yes!' Now obviously you're convincing me or reaffirming some of my beliefs." What is it about Quindlen's columns that so delights Couric and Williams? Maybe such profound 'Quindlenisms' as, on January 24, 1991: "Sunday, the Super Bowl will be played in Tampa and so, inevitably, my thoughts turn to abortion." Or, on November 2, 1991: "This is what it is like to be a New Yorker, to have to stop and constantly acknowledge pain." And a quick sample of her "middle ground" analysis of politics, from April 8, 1992, "Ronald Reagan needed TV to abet a fantasy. Mr. Clinton needs it to communicate his reality."

ARTS ALLIES. The networks are still trying their best to prop up the National Endowment for the Arts. On the March 31 NBC Nightly News, Mike Jensen presented an entirely one-sided report, ending with a pro-NEA conclusion: "By its very nature, art goes beyond convention. Beyond reality. It pushes the boundaries. But the art world knows, and the government knows, that without taxpayer help, the richness and diversity of art in America could disappear."

"The National Endowment for the Arts has had an overwhelmingly wholesome influence in a thousand American communities," Charles Kuralt asserted in introducing Terence Smith's April 12 CBS Sunday Morning cover story. Smith only featured one critic of the NEA, Congressman Dick Armey, who was allowed 39 seconds of comment. By contrast, Smith allowed five NEA supporters time to comment, including ex-NEA head John Frohnmayer; Marlon Riggs and Martha Wilson, two NEA grant recipients; NEA backer Rep. Pat Williams (D-MT); and Brian O'Daugherty, an NEA media director. They were allowed 164 seconds of airtime to promote the NEA, an almost 5 to 1 ratio over NEA critics.

PENTAGON PAIN. Anyone who assumes liberals want to cut the defense budget would have been shocked by the March 29 Meet the Press. The three panelists assaulted Defense Secretary Dick Cheney for having the nerve to hurt people by cutting defense spending. Host Tim Russert, a former aide to Mario Cuomo, accused Cheney of heartlessness: "Isn't the problem here...that you're going to dump out into the unemployment lines about a million people?" Russert argued: "I think the concern is that the Constitution says 'provide for the common defense' and 'the general welfare.' And they [defense contractors] see the Administration cutting, in terms of the common defense, but not providing for the general welfare of these people."

NBC Pentagon correspondent Fred Francis got personal: "You've got weapons systems designed for the Cold War, born of the Cold War. Would you prefer to have those weapons systems or hurt the little people, the guy in uniform who just came back from the Persian Gulf?...SDI. You've got over $5 billion in the budget next year....That's something that can be cut." Later, Francis contradicted his earlier statements: "Many people say...that you're not bringing it [the US military presence in Europe] down enough...When Mardi Gras is over, people leave New Orleans. And we're staying there." Cheney responded: "I am amazed...It's as though my friends on Capitol Hill, who like to cut the budget deeply, are amazed that that's going to have an impact on people."

STAR WAR STORIES. A March 23 Newsweek article, "A Safety Net Full of Holes," told of how one SDI "whistle-blower" alleged officials "knowingly masked the program's failures and overstated its progress just to keep the money rolling in." Reporters Sharon Begley and Daniel Glick explained: "Engineer Aldric Saucier, who was fired by the SDI program last month, described...a conspiracy within SDIO worthy of an Oliver Stone movie. He accused SDIO [Strategic Defense Initiative Office] of 'systematic illegality, gross mismanagement and waste, abuse of power and the substitution of political science for the scientific method.'"

Newsweek went on to suggest an orchestrated attempt by Pentagon scientists to "criticize Saucier's work and even question his sanity." But those scientists may have had good reason to criticize Saucier. The Washington Post reported on April 14 that Saucier's past is full of holes. On his government employment form, he claimed he had a bachelor's degree in physics from UCLA and "told a reporter last November that he had a bachelor's degree in physics and 'an advanced degree in propulsion and nuclear engineering' from UCLA." Both academic claims are false. Saucier has no degrees from UCLA, or any school for that matter.

RUSH TO RIO. ABC is keeping up the media drumbeat for President Bush to attend June's "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. During the April 7 World News Tonight, Peter Jennings accused the Bush Administration of being "out of step with the rest of the industrialized world" on the issue of global warming. Instead of acting like a reporter and presenting both sides, Ned Potter resorted to hype that would make Chicken Little blush: "If the world is to head off the risk of global warming with its danger of massive crop failure, of rising sea levels, of spreading starvation in the poorest countries, then America -- the largest producer of the gasses that cause global warming -- is in the spotlight."

Potter failed to mention that there's no scientific consensus that carbon dioxide gases are causing any warming. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll showed two-thirds of the scientists in the American Meteorological Society and the American Geographical Union doubt that increased carbon dioxide causes global warming. But Potter didn't feel the need to explain why two-thirds of his potential experts aren't worth talking about: the drafters of the proposed Rio document, which all participants are expected to sign, have declared that the actual temperature record "does not matter." In other words, science takes a back seat to politics.

MEDIA WOMEN ON RUSH. In the May Vanity Fair, Peter Boyer showed that feminists in the media clearly don't get the joke when it comes to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. One of Limbaugh's jokes concerns a group of women who demanded admission to a men's club, and then asked for an exercise room of their own. Limbaugh, knowing how to zing feminists, joked that the club owners thought they should put in a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn said of Limbaugh's appearance: "If he mentions that washing machine line, he's not gonna survive his walk outside this studio."

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Susan Faludi slammed the Limbaugh audience: "It makes me wonder about the women [listeners], who clearly don't have their heads screwed on straight -- 'Put me down again.'"

Revolving Door: Brown Bombast

Brown Bombast. Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown hired a second Press Secretary in March to help handle added media focus prompted by his Colorado and Connecticut victories. His choice: NBC News investigative reporter Mark Nykanen, a veteran of two of the many NBC attempts at a news magazine show. In 1982-83 he reported for Monitor, which turned into First Camera in the Fall of 1983. Scheduled opposite 60 Minutes, NBC canceled the show less than a year later so Nykanen's stories appeared on Nightly News until he left the network in 1987.

Today in Congress. Marjorie Margolies, a reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington until 1990, won the April Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district in suburban Philadelphia. Margolies, who won the endorsement of the National Organization for Women, hopes to fill the open seat caused by the retirement of Republican Larry Coughlin. Married to Edward Mezvinsky, a Democratic Congressman from Iowa in the early 1970s, she worked for Philadelphia's CBS-owned WCAU-TV until joining WRC in the mid-'70s. During the '80s, her stories appeared occasionally on Today, including a 1991 piece on rising child homelessness.

Going For Perot. Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot is not only getting petitions signed, he's signing up media veterans to help run his campaign. In late April former Chicago Tribune Editor James Squires moved to Dallas to coordinate media relations for the billionaire Texan. Editor of the Tribune from 1981 to 1989, Squires had been Washington Bureau chief from 1974 until taking the helm at The Orlando Sentinel in 1977 for four years....In March, former CNN producer Pat Clawson launched Virginians for Perot. Clawson, who now runs his own business news service for trade journals and radio stations, worked in CNN's Washington bureau from 1986-88.

Kennedy's Mann. Bob Mann, Press Seretary to Senator Ted Kennedy from 1984 to 1986, has landed at Virginia's Roanoke Times & World News as its city editor. In the 1970s Mann was a reporter and editor with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and now defunct Dallas Times Herald as well as Chairman of the journalism department at Southern Methodist University in Texas. During the Carter Administration he worked for the Council on Wage and Price Stability and ran the FCC's public affairs operation.

Shaw's Newspaper Exchange. Florida Congressman Clay Shaw's office and the Ft. Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel must exchange resumes. Shaw's Press Secretary, Nancy Roman, joined The Washington Times early this year as its Supreme Court reporter. Before joining the Republican's Capitol Hill office in 1988, Roman had been a News and Sun-Sentinel reporter. Replacing Roman in Shaw's office is Amy Stromberg, a Washington correspondent for the Tribune Company-owned News and Sun-Sentinel who spent three years in Florida before moving north last year. Stromberg had earlier reported for the Dallas Times Herald.

Looting a Rational Response to a Decade of Greed


As South Central Los Angeles went up in flames, reporters didn't hold the individual perpetrators responsible. Instead, many tried to convince viewers that the rioting was a rational response to the conservative policies of the 1980s. Today's Bryant Gumbel blamed Ronald Reagan as soon as he could, asserting the morning after rioting began: "We keep looking for some good to come out of this. Maybe it might help in putting race relations on the front burner, after they've been subjugated for so long as a result of the Reagan years."

That evening, on the April 30 NBC Nightly News, John Chancellor discussed the impact of the '80s on blacks and whites: "Both groups have been shaped by American politics over the last dozen years. Politicians have fanned these flames with code words about `welfare queens,' `equal opportunity,' and `quotas.' Language designed to turn whites against blacks. With two-party politics that favored the rich and hurt everyone else." The next morning on Today, Gumbel claimed the violence was "fueled by the frustration and anger that accompanies feelings of inequality and despair." Gumbel also blamed the rest of the country: "Taking their cues from Washington, most Americans over the past dozen years have chosen to ignore the issue of civil rights, and the growing signs of racial division."

On C-SPAN's May 1 Journalists' Roundtable, Philadelphia Inquirer Washington reporter Alexis Moore agreed: "Somebody who is in elected office ought to have enough guts to say I know I may lose the election, but this is the result of the past ten, twelve, fifteen years of neglect, this is the result of putting selfish [sic] and greed ahead of the needs of us all." Moore insisted tensions "have been cynically exploited by the past two Presidents" who have "encouraged not only misbehavior by police officers, but misbehavior by people in higher office. When you allow those who are supposed to be protecting the law to break it, when you ignore people with briefcases stealing millions and millions of dollars in the form of the S&Ls, when you pretend that Iran-Contra really didn't happen, you are encouraging people to do anything they want to do as long as it benefits them."

USA Today reporter Richard Wolfblamed it all on a four year old television ad: "We mentioned Willie Horton earlier. That kind of ad obviously plays into this whole situation. When you have such a calculus going on in the political community about how to set one group against another, you can actually exacerbate racist feelings."

"What effect did the Reagan-Bush, then the Bush years, have on the lives of black Americans?" Peter Jennings asked on May 4. "It won't be easy for the Democrats to argue that it's simply a matter of spending the right amount of money," he added, but the following stories did just that. Using numbers from the liberal Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, Rebecca Chase argued that during the 1980s "While the numbers on welfare increased, the value of the assistance fell by more than 30 percent. During the same time, other federal spending in the cities also dropped. Subsidized housing fell 82 percent. Job training, 63 percent. And programs to develop new business, down 40 percent."

Next, George Strait charged: "In the last ten years, federal and state budget cuts have caused the whole medical infrastructure in America's inner cities to become unraveled. There are fewer dollars for immunizations; fewer hospitals, fewer clinics, fewer doctors, and fewer blacks have health insurance."

ABC failed to consider the argument that welfare spending has encouraged dependency. As to ABC's claims, The Washington Post noted on May 6 that federal spending on income security programs has jumped in constant 1991 dollars from $125 billion in the late 1970s to nearly $175 billion this year. Spending on immunization programs have grown from $32 million in 1980 to $186 million in 1990. And in the '80s, the percent of black families with real incomes over $50,000 jumped from 8.2 to 13.2 percent, while those under $15,000 fell from 40 to 38 percent.

What legacy will the media assign to the L.A. rioting? Well, on the May 6 Today, Katie Couric asked Pat Buchanan: "Many are afraid the L.A. riots are going to be the 'Willie Horton' of this campaign. Are you afraid they're going to have a very divisive effect? Does that concern you or are you playing that up?"

Clift demanded more spending: "We ought to pay attention to people that we have neglected through a dozen years of Repub-lican policies that have ignored the domestic agenda."

How about considering individual responsibility? During ABC's 20/20, Hugh Downs insisted: "We should avoid focusing exclusively on the rage and inappropriate behavior of oppressed and frustrated people who started these riots."

Finally, Bill Blakemore charged: "In a recent study, 44 percent of urban school buildings were judged simply too old and many of those have had virtually no maintenance since 1981. Between $100 and 160 billion would be needed just to bring school buildings up to minimum standards."

"President Bush does not have a great track record with many black Americans, beginning with the use of the controversial Willie Horton ads in the '88 presidential campaign through his initial veto of civil rights legislation. Mr. Bush will have to go a long way to convince skeptical blacks that he is concerned about the way America's criminal justice system treats them."

Gumbel: "During the 80s nobody even talked about it. It was like everything was fine. If we shut up, it would all go away."

"We live in a country where inner cities are increasingly black and Hispanic, where suburbs are increasingly white. Two Americas, each afraid and hostile to the other. So, it's not a big surprise that the jury in suburban Simi Valley sided with the white policemen, just as it's no surprise that the blacks in downtown Los Angeles rioted." Chancellor then identified the culprits.

Blackmail and Intimidation of Sources: OK with PBS

ROBOHM WRONGED. Frontline's journalistic standards also became an issue when Associate Producer David Marks and reporter Robert Parry called on Peggy Robohm. Only after combing through thousands of documents while helping Brenneke write a book did Robohm, an October Surprise enthusiast, discover the credit card receipts that proved Brenneke wasn't in Paris. Robohm told MediaWatch that Marks originally contacted her by misrepresenting himself as a Senate staffer, and when she asked to talk to his Senate higher-ups, Marks threatened her, telling her he had other ways of getting her information. He also didn't say he was involved in an "October Surprise" movie deal.

When Parry came to interview Robohm, he failed to tell her that Marks worked for Frontline or that Marks had a movie deal. Parry told MediaWatch: "You'd have to talk to Marks about that, but I asked him and he said he didn't. The thing is, he talked to her before he was working for us." But Frontline hired him anyway, although he was demoted in the credits from Associate Producer to "additional reporting." Parry told Frank Snepp, who debunked Brenneke with Robohm's help in the Village Voice, that he saw no problem with having a Frontline producer financially linked to the story under investigation. Parry denied the charge of misrepresentation: "She knew who we were...I don't think her comments have merit."

Frontline didn't take Robohm's criticisms lightly. She had been asked to join another Frontline team just beginning a project on JFK. But Robohm says Frontline reporter Scott Malone called and told her that to start work, the "issue" would have to be "resolved," meaning allowing the use of her documents and recanting her criticism of Parry. Robohm wrote Frontline on March 29: "What is the difference between this and extortion?....There is only one way for the 'issue' between us to be resolved: Fire Bob Parry and repudiate David Marks. Robohm added: "Unless I hear otherwise from you, I will assume that you are prepared to keep the series aligned with individuals who see nothing wrong with making movie deals with subjects they are covering, who use false pretenses to try and get information, who see no difference between advocacy and journalism, and who are ready, finally, to use the moral equivalent of bribery to get what they want."

Actually Backed Thomas


Democrat Lynn Yeakel's upset victory in the Pennsylvania Senate primary gave reporters another opportunity to insist that women are mad as hell over Anita Hill and aren't going to take a 98-percent male Senate anymore.

The morning after the election, USA Today reporter Judi Hasson wrote: "Yeakel now faces two-term Sen. Arlen Specter, who angered many women when he grilled Hill." Really? On the same morning, The New York Times reported that a state poll taken shortly after the hearings showed that 24 percent of the women said Specter's performance made them more likely to vote for Specter, while 23 percent said they were less likely.

In fact, polls showed more women supported than opposed Clarence Thomas. After the hearings, a USA Today survey found that 45 percent of women believed Thomas, while only 26 percent believed Hill; 55 percent of women wanted Thomas confirmed, compared to 29 percent who did not. But the night after the Yeakel win, CBS reporter Scott Pelley declared: "They are marked men, the Senators who confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual harassment." Pelley left out that NOW didn't support any of the seven moderate GOP women running for the Senate in 1990.

Reporters should remember the 1990 example of Pennsylvania State Auditor Barbara Hafer, who lost to pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, 68 to 32 percent. The day after that gubernatorial election, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported: "Hafer's hoped-for support from abortion-rights activists hardly helped her ABC exit poll reported that 66 percent of female voters opted for Casey."

ABC and PBS Act as Co-Conspirators


The misinformation and anti-free market vitriol of Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele continues to gain new audiences. Last December MediaWatch documented the numerous factual errors in the nine-part, 75,000 word "America: What Went Wrong" series, but supposedly responsible media outlets have continued to promote its claims.

Instead of fulfilling its stated role "to assess the performance of journalism," the Columbia Journalism Review ran an excerpt "meant as ammunition for reporters and editors who are trying to find out what the presidential candidates have in mind for the nation's economic future -- an aid to formulating some questions."

After the series was released in paperback book form, PBS devoted the April 14 and 21 episodes of Listening to America with Bill Moyers to reciting its claims, complete with emotional stories about people hurt in the '80s.

The book release got the duo an April 15 Good Morning America spot. Co-host Charlie Gibson failed to challenge any of their assertions, instead simply providing prompts for their recitations: "This from 1980-1990, people earning a million dollars or more, the total amount of money they earned went up over two thousand percent, is that right Jim?"

During a tour stop on Washington's WAMU radio, a caller asked the duo about MediaWatch's critique of just that assertion. Barlett responded: "MediaWatch completely misread the first chart that they zeroed in on, on salaries. They misread it as total income."

MediaWatch assumed they meant "adjusted gross income" since that's how they measured income changes throughout the series. But their statistical point remains fallacious. They failed to adjust for inflation or explain that the big jump did not so much reflect individuals making more, but that number of people reporting a $1 million plus salary jumped from 3,300 to 51,000.

So who in the media have cared enough to check Barlett and Steele's wild assertions? Just Philadelphia magazine Senior Editor Paul Keegan. In April he found: "Their series is so fundamentally flawed, its intellectual underpinnings so weak, that it actually says little about what went wrong with America, and everything about what went wrong with Barlett and Steele." Expressing the ultimate arrogance, Barlett told Keegan: "We are always so far ahead that people don't understand it. This series is five to ten years ahead of its time."

Philadelphia sent their article to GMA before the interview, but Gibson ignored it. And reporters wonder why people don't believe everything they read and hear.

A Half Million Here?

The National Organization for Women’s April 5 pro-abortion rally drew 500,000 people, the networks reported based on a D.C. police estimate. But the U.S. Park Police, whose counts are usually used by the media, released their estimate a day late: 250,000.

But some reporters ignored the count even after its release. On the April 6 NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Kur asserted: yesterday there were more marchers than ever before: half a million." (The April 27 Newsweek called it "one of the largest mass demonstrations in this country’s history.")

Janet Cooke Award: PBS on the October Surprise: Oops

Conspiracy has dominated the minds at PBS. When its lobbyists aren't constructing enemies lists of conservative critics (to which MediaWatch has been named), its producers are spending thousands of dollars investigating would-be scandals of the Reagan years. Now, for the second time, Frontline has investigated the "October Surprise," the theory that the Reagan campaign, headed by William Casey, delayed the release of the Iranian hostages in 1980. For its series, in which the second episode renounced some (but not all) of the liars they presented as credible experts in the first, only to offer more preposterous theories to explain their mistakes, Frontline earns the Janet Cooke Award.

BRENNEKE. In the second program on April 7, PBS admitted: "Some self-proclaimed witnesses to an arms-for-hostages deal have turned out to be not credible at all." The first and most notorious witness that PBS presented the second time around was Richard Brenneke. In the April 1991 show, Frontline announced: "Although Brenneke's credibility remains in question, government records show that he did work with European arms dealers supplying Iran during the 1980s. According to one document, Brenneke once informed a Pentagon intelligence officer about top secret TOW missile sales to Iran three days before President Reagan authorized them." The documentary tried to prove Brenneke's claims by arguing that Bush aide Donald Gregg lied about his role.

Frontline reporter (and co-writer) Robert Parry defended Brenneke in the April 27, 1991 Washington Post: "Brenneke's 1990 trial was the government's chance to disprove the allegations once and for all. But the government failed to convince even a single juror that Brenneke had lied. The tally on the five-count indictment was Brenneke 60, the government zero. Despite impressing the jury, Brenneke's credibility is still assailed by [NBC producer Mark] Hosenball." Parry concluded: "Hosenball can't seem to accept that government officials don't always tell the truth, while sometimes unsavory characters do."

After the first show, former ABC News producer Frank Snepp, who had used Brenneke as a source at ABC, wrote a Village Voice article proving Brenneke was lying. Credit card receipts placed Brenneke in Portland during alleged Paris meetings. In the second show, Frontline (and Parry) ate their words: "Whether he lied for personal gain or for some other motive, it's a mystery why he presented his Paris story under oath to a federal judge in an unrelated case four years ago."

In a recent letter to the Committee for Media Integrity, Frontline Executive Editor Louis Wiley wrote that Frontline's 1990 decision to start their investigation "was based on two factors: (1) the acquittal of Brenneke and (2) the shift in views of Gary Sick who, once skeptical, had come to the conclusion a deal had been struck."

But Frontline was forced in its second show to admit Brenneke's acquittal meant nothing. Sick's sudden conversion is belied by a 1988 quote in the Rocky Mountain News: "At first I dismissed this, but not any more. I'm convinced that on the basis of what I heard that there were some meetings in Paris." Sick is also questioned by Steven Emerson, a co-author of last fall's New Republic exposé. Emerson has done a page-by-page, line-by line critical analysis of Sick's book, and an excerpt is slated for a forthcoming New Republic.

Frontline Senior Producer Martin Smith told MediaWatch that even though Brenneke lied about Paris, he might not be lying about everything: "Calling somebody a liar is handy, but does that mean that everything they say is a lie, and does it explain what their motivation was? No. If you're solving a mystery, what does that give you? The fact that he lies about his presence in Paris makes him somebody that, he's a troubling character. Why the hell did he do this?...I hope someday we can understand what, who he is, what he's about."

BEN-MENASHE. Ari Ben-Menashe appeared three times in the first show, highlighted as an Israeli intelligence officer. PBS reported that "Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe says he was one of half a dozen Israelis sent to Paris at Casey's request to help coordinate arms deliveries" and "Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe claimed that he saw intelligence reports about Casey's trip to Madrid." After Newsweek and The New Republic published their exposés of the sources pushing the October Surprise story, including the fact that Ben-Menashe's wife called him a liar, Frontline's second program admitted: "His credibility with reporters collapsed because some of his assertions proved implausible, particularly his claim about George Bush."

THE HASHEMIS. While Frontline disavowed Brenneke and Ben-Menashe, the producers stood by their belief in the Hashemi brothers, Jamshid and Cyrus, a pair of Iranian arms dealers. This despite the New Republic exposé, which declared Jamshid Hashemi had "even worse credibility problems" than Brenneke and Ben-Menashe; and the Village Voice placed Cyrus as flying from Paris instead of to Paris on August 14, when the meetings supposedly took place.

SHIFTING STORIES. Since new evidence repudiated their theories about an October Surprise, Frontline proceeded to offer up new ones. In the first show, Frontline contemplated the horrible possibility that the Reagan campaign sought to delay the release of the hostages. In the second, they completely shifted course, investigating whether "Republican contacts with Iranians did exist, but were intended not to delay a hostage release, but to win their release as early as possible."

The broadcast ended with yet another theory: that the CIA sent out Brenneke to lie and discredit October Surprise investigations. "The allegation that Brenneke participated in Paris meetings was not at first put forward by Brenneke himself," but by a Mr. Razine, otherwise known as Oswald LeWinter. "He claimed that he had been hired by four American intelligence operatives to salt October Surprise allegations with enough false information to discredit the whole story....If nothing else, the story of Oswald LeWinter seems to epitomize the strange nature of the riddle called the October Surprise." But it's not as puzzling as it would seem: PBS aired a bunch of exposed liars, and nothing PBS found proved an October Surprise.

Perhaps there's a better theory: Knowing that PBS served as a haven for left-wing anti-CIA conspiracy theorists, Casey decided to leave his calendar bare, so that after his death, PBS documentary producers would embarrass themselves by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove nothing. It worked.