MediaWatch: November 1997

In This Issue

A Day in the Media's Warming Crusade; NewsBites: Cuddly Killer; CNN Touts Paris Over D.C.; Chinese Intelligence Brags of "Thwarting" Thompson Hearings; Big Government Solutions; Where's Charlie Trie?; Huaung Scored Better Than Thompson; Janet Cooke Award: Washington Week in Revisionism

A Day in the Media's Warming Crusade

President Clinton must have found the coverage of his October 22 speech on global warming’s dangers to be very heartwarming. With grim unanimity, the Big Three networks and CNN dutifully ran stories that conjured a chilling future of environmental degradation due to global warming. While each network took the most frightening premises of liberal environmental activists as truth, they gave more skeptical views the cold shoulder.

MediaWatch analyzed the six full stories on global warming that aired on the October 22 evening news shows and discovered a fourfold advantage (12-3) for soundbites from talking heads that supported Clinton’s global warming hypothesis. Of the 12, five featured Clinton himself, and another four were spokesmen from left-wing environmental groups, two of whom claimed Clinton’s plan did not go far enough.

All three opposing soundbites came from business sources, whose profit motives are easily questioned. Not a single skeptical scientist appeared, and while reporters relayed environmentalist claims about melting glaciers and rising sea levels as fact, they ignored alternative data on those claims, as well as polls which show that climatologists don’t believe mankind has fueled warming.

ABC’s World News Tonight. Anchor Peter Jennings introduced John Donvan’s report with the most distorted view of scientific opinion, insisting that the "overwhelming majority of scientists" agree that global warming was caused by man. Donvan’s soundbites tilted to the left 3-0, featuring Clinton, Les Brown of the left-wing Worldwatch Institute, and Clinton aide Gene Sperling.

Leading into ABC’s next segment, Jennings put the blame on greedy Western ways: "To do something about global warming, we will have to come to grips with the fact that North Americans are increasingly driving the kinds of cars and trucks that do the most damage." Reporter Barry Serafin concluded his story by relaying how "environmentalists say along with technology there has to be some pain." For consumers, Serafin suggested, "fees imposed on the purchase of gas guzzlers. And for manufacturers, mandatory higher annual fuel economy standards to try to break the bigger-is-better vehicle habit." Serafin included comments from Clinton, an industry representative and an official from the leftist Natural Resources Defense Council. ABC’s soundbites tilted 5-1 toward warming advocates over two stories.

CBS Evening News. Anchor Dan Rather cast the debate as a battle not between scientific formulations but between dueling agendas: "Reactions tonight from environmentalists and industry are equally heated over whether the real threat is catastrophic climate change or catastrophic change for the economy."

Reporter Scott Pelley then retraced Clinton’s recent South American tour route. Standing on a mountain in Argentina, Pelley proclaimed, "It’s up here, near the roof of Patagonia, that you can see some of the best evidence that the world is warming. The glacier on the peak behind me and all the other glaciers of the Andes have been is happening all around the world — the Earth’s glaciers have been receding at an increasing pace over the last 100 years."

Pelley’s two soundbites both came from the left: Clinton and Tom Karl of the National Climactic Data Center. Although Pelley did point out "some scientists believe the warming is natural, part of a centuries-old cycle," he quickly added, "it is clear that pollution at least hastens the trend. Fumes from this morning’s rush hour will linger for 100 years."

NBC Nightly News. Anchor Tom Brokaw’s summary left science behind: "President Clinton today joined that debate and managed not to satisfy the environmentalists or the industrialists." David Bloom put his wading boots on to deliver this warning from the deep waters of environmental hysteria: "The goal is to stop global warming, which some scientists predict could flood American cities such as Washington, D.C., and south Florida, if the oceans rise just three feet." Bloom’s soundbites went 2-1 for global warming, with Clinton, a Sierra Club leader and a coal mine operator.

CNN’s The World Today. Reporter Carl Rochelle opened: "With cars, trucks, and smokestacks belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at every increasing rates, President Clinton used the National Geographic Society as a forum to reveal his proposal to curb what some scientists say is a cause of global warming."

Although both Rochelle and Bloom declared "some" scientists believe in warming, neither cited what the majority of scientists thought. Rochelle quoted Michael Oppenheimer of the liberal Environmental Defense Fund: "If we don’t act we’re going to have record heat, record drought..."

Anchor Leon Harris subsequently noted European criticism that the proposal wasn’t drastic enough and then, over satellite photos, presented "proof that pollution is gnawing away at the Earth’s ozone layer is becoming even more pronounced." Next, Sharon Collins reported on businesses selling cleaner technology. In the two full stories, CNN soundbites favored global warming advocates by 3-1.

Reality Check. Nearly 100 climate scientists signed the Leipzig Declaration in 1996, expressing doubts about the forecasting accuracy of computer models. No network cited that fact nor a poll highlighted in a May 23 report from the National Center for Policy Analysis which sank Jennings’ assertion of what the "overwhelming majority" of scientists think: "A Gallup poll found that only 17 percent of the members of the Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Society think that the warming of the 20th century has been a result of greenhouse gas emissions."

Networks also failed to consider arguments suggesting warming fears are misplaced: While David Bloom foresaw a D.C. underwater, the May 23 NCPA analysis noted sea levels have risen more than 300 feet over the last 18,000 years, a trend far predating mankind’s Industrial Revolution (and industrial pollution).

While CBS’s Scott Pelley relayed scary anecdotes about melting glaciers, Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project added context in a September 2 analysis: "Glaciers have been retreating for more than 10,000 years, a phenomenon generally regarded as a good thing."

Singer added, "There was a strong warming trend between 1850 and 1940, as the world recovered from the Little Ice Age. But there has been no significant global warming since 1940 and, according to weather satellite data, none at all in the last two decades." Singer’s focus on long term temperatures would have provided a valuable point of view from a scientist with long work in the field of climatology.

NewsBites: Cuddly Killer

Cuddly Killer. Sure, we all know the public side to Jiang Zemin: he can force abortions on his population, torture Christians for their beliefs and crush democratic movements before lunch. But did we ever get to know his cuddly, sensitive side? During Jiang’s recent trip to America, a few reporters got to know him better. On October 26, New York Times reporter Seth Faison insisted the Chinese despot’s "penchant for unexpectedly displaying his artistic talents — Mr. Jiang also likes to play piano and recite poetry — points to an unpredictable, wacky side as well."

The next day, The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson wrote in a profile: "He reads novels by Mark Twain as well as Leo Tolstoy. He plays Chinese folk tunes on a Chinese string instrument called an erhu and American show tunes on the piano. He sang ‘Love Me Tender’ with Phillipine President Fidel Ramos and warbles Chinese opera for guests. He likes American films of the late 1940s and early 1950s." On the Slate Web site, Scott Shuger put this journalistic practice of humanizing communist leaders in perspective: "Homework assignment: find a single front-page piece in the entire history of the [New York Times] emphasizing Hitler’s fondness for animals and children."

The Raw Deal. The CBS Sunday interview show Face the Nation touts its "Real Deal" segment as a look behind the big story in Washington. But in recent weeks, the "Real Deal" has turned into a raw deal for congressional Republicans. Of the six segments run from September 1 to November 9, five took on Republican politicians or policies.

For example: on the October 26 show, host Gloria Borger called the GOP’s IRS reform plan a fake: "Experts say that if the burden of proof shifts to the agency, it will be forced to require even more information from taxpayers. That’s certain to make dealing with the IRS even more annoying. They predict it will result in a loss of revenue and create a whole new class of tax cheaters. The Real Deal here, Bob [Schieffer], is that the new fix may be a fake."

On November 2, Borger insisted Rep. Dan Burton’s check as to whether the White House coffee tapes were altered was a boring waste of time, and "Senate Republicans even hired Paul Ginsburg, a well-respected technical expert, to dissect those videotapes. Ginsburg spent weeks comparing the raw footage of the coffees to the composite greatest-hits version handed over to the Congress. Committee sources say that Ginsburg will report next week there was no smoking gun or altered tape for that matter. And Ginsburg tells us that the tapes were like watching the cocktail hour at a wedding: not very illuminating, unless you’re the bride or groom."

Will the NRA Fail? Network reporters played up the battle in Washington state over a ballot initiative cracking down on gun rights by demanding owners take courses and manufacturers include locks. On the October 16 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw began: "Here in the state of Washington, the front lines have been drawn in the deadly battle over gun control. It started in the grass roots as anger exploded over the hundreds of children in this state killed or hurt by guns. It’s now a full-blown political war."

ABC’s World News Tonight promoted the Washington "war" on November 2. Anchor Carole Simpson announced: "As ABC’s Judy Muller reports, the vote could have important repercussions for the National Rifle Association and the nation." Muller added: "More than 1 million of Washington’s 5 million residents own a handgun. If this measure wins in this gun friendly state it could spell trouble for the NRA elsewhere."

When 71 percent of Washington voters rejected the measure, network producers anticipating an embarrassing loss to the NRA were caught with their guard down. What certainly would have been a lead story if the measure passed on an otherwise Republican day became an afterthought on the networks. On the November 5 Nightly News NBC’s Gwen Ifill blamed the NRA’s cash advantage for the defeat: "In Washington state the National Rifle Association spent $2 million to derail a measure that would have forced gunmakers to put safety trigger locks on guns for sale in the state and require new gun owners to take a safety test in order to get a license." The ABC morning and evening shows only offered brief sentences simply stating the measure failed.

Redneckville? When Republicans made a clean sweep of the November 4 elections the media portrayed it as a vote for the status quo. ABC’s World News Tonight ran one full story, but instead of focusing on the anti-tax sentiment felt by the voters, ABC highlighted the one liberal result of the day. Anchor Peter Jennings declared: "And in Houston voters chose to keep in place an affirmative action program that steers city contracts to companies owned by women and minorities. The Houston decision seems to buck a trend developing in the country to reverse course on affirmative action."

ABC’s Dean Reynolds opened with a pro-quota spin: "It has been the goal here in Houston to award about 20 percent of all city contracts to firms owned by women and minorities. The city says that number is only a goal, not a rigid quota. But opponents of the policy, spurred by the success of the anti-affirmative action campaign in California said the policy was biased and the time to end it had come." Reynolds noted how the initiative won: "But Houston Mayor Bob Lanier got the city council to re-phrase the language in the proposition making it clear that a yes vote would end the city’s affirmative action program." He ended his report by disparaging the anti-discrimination view: "Mayor Lanier said the choice for Houston was clear: people here had to decide whether they wanted to be viewed as a cosmopolitan, diverse, international city or, as he put it, ‘Redneckville.’"

No Licking Whitey’s Boots! Thousands of black women converged on October 25 for a "Million Woman March," and the networks painted a harmonious picture. The next day on Good Morning America, ABC’s Bill Redeker declared: "People power, that celebrated a common goal, unity and the desire to collectively make life in their community better, safer." On Today, NBC’s Susan Campos declared: "Keynote speaker Winnie Mandela underscored the theme of the Million Woman March with a strongly worded call to power. She told the mostly black gathering in Philadelphia that women have a shared responsibility to save the world from those, she said, who want to destroy it. The rally was aimed at building political, economic, and social unity among black women."

While many at the "Million Woman March" were inspired by that ideal, the theme of unity wasn’t advocated by everyone at the podium. As National Public Radio reporter Eric Westervelt pointed out in the November 17 New Republic, Ava Muhammed from the Nation of Islam "told the crowd that black women must not sleep with white men, lest they become ‘traitors to the cause of liberation. We have thousands of long-tongued Uncle Toms lookin’ for a boot to lick...and who’ll sell our soul for a job and to have lunch with white people!’" Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) "warned of white plots to destroy blacks," such as the CIA importing crack into Los Angeles.

Winnie Mandela also didn’t exactly embody the themes of peace and unity: in her own country of South Africa, she was convicted in the 1988 kidnapping of Soweto child activist Stompie Seipei and is under investigation for her involvement in his murder. With the exception of an oblique reference to controversial speakers Waters and Mandela by NBC’s Jodi Applegate, the big three networks ignored any hint of controversy.

Clinton’s "Correction." When the stock market took a sharp dive in October, the networks repeated the optimistic proclamations of the Clinton administration, a stark contrast with the commentary offered on "Black Monday" in 1987, which reporters declared was the natural culmination of Reagan’s failed economic policies. As pointed out by James W. Michaels in the November 3 Forbes, back in 1987 this is how Time described the crash: "What crashed was more than just the market. It was the Reagan Illusion...he stayed a term too long...his dream of painless prosperity has been punctured." In the November 3, 1997 Time, the headline read "Catching the Asian Flu," and concluded: "Increasingly, when Asia sneezes, as it did last week in Hong Kong, America will catch cold."

The same difference in approaches plagued television news. In an October 20, 1987 commentary NBC’s John Chancellor opined: "Everybody knew these chickens were coming home to roost...The party was nice while it lasted, but this was the week when the bill arrived." The next night, Chancellor continued his assault: "Ronald Reagan said a tax increase ‘over my dead body’ and that was popular with the voters. In 1984 Fritz Mondale said he’d raise taxes and carried only Minnesota and the District of Columbia. So, without enough money coming in, government had to borrow to pay its way...which raises an interesting question, which would have been better: a stock market disaster or a tax increase which might have prevented the disaster?"

In an October 22, 1987 report, CBS economics correspondent Ray Brady warned: "Wall Street’s been talking about the optimistic statements issued by President Hoover during the 1929 stock crash and comparing them to President Reagan’s upbeat messages this week." Reporter Bill Plante warned "some in financial circles are afraid that President Reagan will repeat his pledge of no new taxes tonight and further upset the markets."

What a difference a decade makes — on October 27, 1997, CBS anchor Dan Rather proclaimed: "The market closed a half hour early after prices plummeted. The Dow lost 554 points, the biggest one day point drop ever closing at 7715. Over on the NASDAQ...the index plunged 115 points...President Clinton is urging calm and reason, saying the U.S. economy remains very strong."

North Korea’s Decades of Bad Luck. Prime Time Live host Diane Sawyer traveled to North Korea to tape an emotional piece on children starving in that nation. But instead of blaming the communists’ policies, in her October 8 story Sawyer blamed someone else: Mother Nature. Sawyer did, however, note the regime’s restrictions on reporters and on free speech: "You dare not express opposition if you dare think it. Nor dare ask the question: Why do perhaps as many as five million North Koreans face malnutrition or starvation this winter?"

Sawyer continued: "There’s the propaganda about the North Korean harvests, abundant with granaries overflowing, though Prime Time commissioned a study using satellite images and found huge areas of farmland damaged by flood and drought and overall productivity at rock bottom, a result of the country’s failing agriculture system." But instead of seeing through the regime’s propaganda she bought into it: blaming uncontrollable natural occurrences. Sawyer failed to connect the nation’s "failing agriculture system" to the repressive policies of the isolated nation which refuses to let anyone leave.

Two weeks later, a producer read a history book before writing the intro for the October 23 Nightline. Anchor Chris Wallace began: "It is part of communism’s tragic legacy that three of this century’s worst famines all took place under communist regimes. Millions died in Stalin’s Russia in the ‘30s. The worst famine ever, more than 30 million dead, came in Mao’s China some 35 years ago. And now, in North Korea, it is happening again. The most telling indication of just how desperate the situation is may be that it has forced this proud and repressive regime to open up, to let some outsiders in so they can tell the rest of the world how much North Korea needs help."

CNN Touts Paris Over D.C.

Socialism Works

CNN’s weekly magazine show Impact filed a three-part series between October 12 and 26 called "Tale of Two Cities." Reported by Kathy Slobogin and Jim Bitterman, it compared the quality of life in Paris to that of Washington, D.C. Predictably, Washington suffered in comparison, portrayed as a victim of the media’s usual suspect: Not enough government spending.

The October 12 show compared social services in the two cities. From Washington, Slobogin blamed "bad management" and middle- class flight as the cause of the city’s troubles. But in Paris, Bitterman noted approvingly "It all costs money, and some who’ve lived in both capitals believe there’s a different attitude toward spending it here." He concluded: "Have Americans paid the price for that ambivalence [toward spending] in their capital city?"

The October 19 Impact focused on child care. Bernard Shaw introduced Bitterman’s report: "It is often said that the true gauge of the health of any society is how well children are raised. If that’s the case, there’s an unhealthy gap between French and U.S. and management go a long way in explaining the differences between the capitals."

From Paris, Bitterman praised French-style socialism where everything is "free." He gushed, "France takes a lot of things seriously, but probably none more so than child rearing...From even before birth, the free universal health care system constantly monitors a child’s progress. A log book is maintained on the health and illnesses of each one of them; it is required for admission to schools and camps and youth organizations." Bitterman did note that the French pay more in taxes, "two-thirds more than Americans do."

Slobogin took the opposite tack, pointing out Washington spends more per capita on schools with some of the nation’s worst results, while racking up "an astonishing record of mismanagement and waste."

On October 26 the focus was on crime and other social ills. In Washington, Slobogin again stressed bureaucratic corruption, but Bitterman’s report implied money mattered most. After citing French support of gun control as a factor in the low crime rate, he continued: "As serious as their problems might appear to Parisians, they pale in comparison to Washington or other big cities. Mainly because of some fundamental structural differences." Michel Beaujour of the Institute of French Studies explained what Bitterman meant: "Here, practically everything is subsidized or paid for by the equivalent of the federal government."

Bitterman continued: "Not only does the national government stand by its capital city, but so too do its residents. Paris is not a city that has been abandoned by the middle class the way Washington has." Bitterman refused to cite possible reasons why Washington residents might have abandoned the city, such as high taxes and mammoth, inefficient bureaucracies.

Co-host Stephen Frazier summed up the series as if he hadn’t watched Slobogin documenting Washington’s financial waste, fingering lack of money as the culprit: "It is belief, our correspondents say, that will bring Washington’s quality of life closer to Paris’s. A belief that Washington should symbolize the nation, not just showcase its history. After belief, they say, the leadership and the money for improvement will follow."

Chinese Intelligence Brags of "Thwarting" Thompson Hearings

Media Also Have Boasting Rights

When Senator Fred Thompson folded his Governmental Affairs Committee hearings into the fundraising scandal on Halloween, the media coverage that night wasn’t treated any differently than any other scandal development. ABC gave it only 19 seconds, and CBS 30 seconds.

NBC aired a two-minute piece, but reporter Lisa Myers concluded: "It didn’t help that while Republicans railed about misdeeds of the Clinton administration, their leaders opposed anything outlawing the huge contributions that helped create the scandal. And few believe these hearings will really fix anything." Developments after that were mostly ignored:

• A strange twist in the Whitewater case arrived on November 6: Whitewater documents, including an uncashed check for more than $20,000 made out to Bill Clinton, were found in an abandoned, tornado-damaged car. Today gave it 17 seconds, NBC Nightly News got to it four days later. ABC and CBS never did.

• The next day, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee continued its hearings, with White House Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills admitting she and former Counsel Jack Quinn decided to withhold (for a total of 15 months) a White House staffer’s memo suggesting Clinton wanted the White House Office Data Base shared with the Democratic Party, an improper action. TV coverage? Zero.

• On November 13 and 14, that House committee investigated mysterious donor Johnny Chung, who gave $366,000 in suspicious donations to Democrats and made 51 visits to the White House. Despite Chung testifying in closed session, the hearings were ignored both days. ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News have yet to notice the House hearings since they began in early October.

• On November 14, Washington Post investigator Bob Woodward revealed another breakdown in the fundraising probe: "The FBI has acknowledged overlooking key intelligence information gathered as far back as 1991 that investigators believe shows further Chinese efforts to buy political influence in the United States."

A "senior official" told Woodward documents indicated that Democratic fundraiser Maria Hsia (organizer of the Buddhist temple event) was "doing the bidding" of Beijing as a Chinese agent. Woodward said the FBI found the Chinese equivalent of the CIA boasted it had "thwarted" the Thompson hearings.

CBS gave the story 29 seconds, but ABC and NBC did nothing, even though ABC’s Forrest Sawyer kissed the hearings goodbye on October 31 by noting "Thompson conceded he had not proven his charge that the Chinese government tried to influence the American elections."

Big Government Solutions

Hillary’s "Crisis"

On the night of the October 23 White House conference on the child care "crisis," the three major networks generated public anxiety and rallied support for big government solutions. On NBC, Tom Brokaw began: "It is one of the fundamental changes in America: working mothers, and their most fundamental need is inadequate, inconsistent, expensive and getting more so all the time. It is child care...We begin with the promise of better times. It came from the President and Mrs. Clinton today."

At CBS, Dan Rather declared: "We turn now to this country’s most important investment and two stories that raise the question — who’s watching America’s children? The President and First Lady Hillary Clinton convened a conference today to address what they called ‘the silent crisis’ of American child care."

ABC’s Peter Jennings worried: "Anybody in the country who has small children and has to go to work is faced with a common problem and it doesn’t always matter whether you’re rich or poor. What do you do about getting the kind of quality child care that you think your family deserves. Which is why the First Lady decided today, it was necessary to have a debate." That’s funny: none of the networks included a single conservative counterpoint to the crusade.

All three networks recounted the plight of "victims" of inadequate government involvement in child care. ABC and NBC turned to possible models for change, both involving big government. On ABC, Michele Norris outlined the Clinton model as found in the United States military: "Each center must follow a long list of regulations that covers everything from surprise inspections to the size of each classroom."

NBC’s Tom Brokaw turned to France: "So, how does the United States, the most prosperous nation in the world, stack up against other nations when it comes to child care. Tonight, the French way. Jean Slayman is an American computer expert, married to a Frenchman, living in Paris with her two children. Her French experience tonight, in her own words."

But what of the high taxes used to pay for the system? Slayman explained: "People here don’t seem to be as upset about high taxes. For them, children are a priority."

Where's Charlie Trie?

The leader of the country implicated in funneling money into U.S. elections comes to America. Several figures in the fundraising scandal, including Charlie Trie, flee to China in order to evade subpoenas.

But other than one 15-second item on Good Morning America on how Clinton had asked China’s Jiang Zemin about funneling money into the U.S., the morning and evening shows skipped the subject. Today’s Matt Lauer interviewed National Security Adviser Sandy Berger on October 30, but didn’t say a thing about fundraising. The night before, however, Ted Koppel did press Berger.

When Berger deflected Koppel’s question about what Clinton asked Zemin, by saying the Chinese deny the allegations, Koppel pushed: "No, I understand that. My question was did the President raise it and how forcefully?" Berger claimed Zemin said "he would cooperate." Koppel interjected: "Including sending Charlie Trie back to the United States or anyone else who may be sitting over there with information?" That led to this exchange:

Berger: "I have no idea whether they have control or know where Charlie Trie is or not."

Koppel: "Oh, I’ll bet you they could find him if they wanted to and I think you know that, too."

Berger: "No, I think this is an investigation being conducted by the Justice Department, being conducted by congressional committees, not the..."

Koppel: "I’m simply asking did the President or anyone in his behalf ask the Chinese would they send Charlie Trie back?"

Berger: "The President said will you cooperate with investigations and the Chinese said yes."

Koppel: "But is it your understanding that when that sort of broad question is raised that that includes within it, I mean would Chinese cooperation include returning to the United States people who are being sought here under subpoena for questioning by Congress?"

Berger: "Well, if that is something that is part of the investigation."

Koppel: "Well, I think it is. Don’t you?"

Huaung Scored Better Than Thompson

Networks Helped Clinton

Not only were the Senate fundraising committee hearings buried by the deaths of Versace and Diana, but a new study from the Center for Media Public Affairs (CMPA) discovered that Democrats got much better press than Republicans. The CMPA story count matches previous MediaWatch studies which determined that network stories on Versace outnumbered ones on fundraising by six-to-one and pieces related to Diana outdistanced fundraising by seven-to-one.

CMPA looked just at the 35 days when hearings were held and found that on the broadcast network evening news shows in July "there were nearly twice as many stories on serial killer Andrew Cunanan (67) as there were on the hearings (37)." The second round "produced fewer than one fourth as many stories (19) as the death of Princess Diana (88)."

The President fared better than anyone else in the few stories which did air. CMPA "noted every positive and negative evaluation about all individuals involved in the controversy" whether from a reporter or in a soundbite in order to measure "each individual’s success or failure in getting the media to carry his/her side of the story."

"No one was more successful in this endeavor than Bill Clinton," the September/October edition of the group’s newsletter documented. "Just as we found in our 1994 report on the Whitewater controversy, the President fared better than either his political opponents or other members of his own administration in getting his side of the story out over the airwaves. Three out of every four evaluations of Mr. Clinton were favorable or supportive of his behavior, a far higher positive proportion than any other individual received."

In fact, Clinton collected the least negative press (at 25 percent) of all those measured. He rated far better than Fred Thompson who got 79 percent negative versus 21 percent positive press. Even John Huang did slightly better than Thompson: 69 percent negative to 31 percent positive. And Charlie Trie fared only a little worse than the Senator, as 17 percent of network assessments of the fugitive were positive. Al Gore went 50-50 and ex-Energy Secretary O’Leary garnered 36 percent positive press, 15 points better than Thompson.

As CMPA explained: "Democrats on the whole fared better than Republicans in defending their motives and behavior over the airwaves. Overall, members of the Clinton administration received nearly balanced coverage (46% positive to 54% negative)." In contrast, "evaluations of Republicans were 70 percent negative overall, and Republicans in Congress fared even worse — 74 percent negative."

Janet Cooke Award: Washington Week in Revisionism

PBS cut its teeth on the Nixon administration by running live coverage during the day and repeats at night of the Watergate hearings. It ran Iran-Contra hearings live from start to finish. But the network with the motto "If PBS won’t do it, who will?" went AWOL on the fundraising hearings.

Instead, the Friday night PBS show Washington Week in Review recently took the unusual step of devoting parts of four shows to an analysis of campaign funding. But instead of focusing on illegal fundraising, host Ken Bode promoted campaign finance "reform" — private-money restrictions followed by government- funded elections. For diverting attention from Democratic wrongdoing to promoting liberal "reform" proposals, Washington Week in Review earned the Janet Cooke Award.

In his first taped segment on October 17, Bode began with a state-level reform model: "Kentucky — where America’s favorite vices are big business, fine tobacco, bourbon whiskey, and politics lubricated with lots of hard, cold cash. There was so much loose money in the legislature that the FBI couldn’t help but notice."

An FBI sting caught 18 legislators and lobbyists, including the Speaker of the state House. Bode turned to Joe Wright, until recently the Majority Leader of the state Senate, who said: "The politicians gonna have to get ahead of the curve on this issue. They know what the problem is. They’re a part of the problem. It’s gonna be because of the result of some great scandal, and the kind of which we seem to be on the edges of now — in both parties, for that matter."

Bode asked: "You seem to be saying overall that it’s — the problem is not what’s illegal. The problem is what’s legal." Replied Wright: "Sure it is. Legal contributions to campaigns are the greater problem than anything that anyone has found that was illegal, as far as I’m concerned."

Wright pushed through a "reform" bill that qualified candidates for Governor for $1.2 million in taxpayer matching funds once they raised $600,000. Bode asked: "How about the fact that many voters have doubts about using public money for political campaigns?"

Wright replied: "What the public has to understand: Their tax dollars are already being spent on the politicians. People are spending large sums of their personal money to have access. They get the special tax breaks through the legislation that’s passed. Their tax dollars are already being spent. It’s just not itemized as it would be if we had campaign finance reform." Bode added: "And it’s probably costing them more this way than it would the other way."

In the first test of the new system, the 1995 gubernatorial race, both major candidates accepted restrictions and government funding. Declared Bode: "At least by the numbers, it was a success. The cost of the gubernatorial campaign dropped from $24 million to $10 million. So there was a lot less money for television ads."

Bode did not explore why the reduction of TV ads is self- evidently good, although it’s obvious TV ads can dilute the power of media outlets to define elections on their own terms.

In between interviews with three crusading reporters and Wright, Bode brought on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, "the leading opponent of campaign finance reform," to declare Kentucky’s law "an abysmal failure...As a result of not raising enough money, the Republican candidate was simply unable to do the kind of advertising that he needed to do to win the race. I’m sure the Democrats love the system."

Bode came out of the segment declaring: "In Kentucky, it wasn’t the people who cared, it was the political class that got tired of the way politics was done in the state. They got ahead of the people and did it."

On October 24, Bode listed some of the Senate hearings’ revelations, and then returned to criticizing Republicans for hypocrisy: "For all the headline-grabbing excesses of the Clinton-Gore campaign, the Republican Party won the soft-money race hands down. In fact, Republicans have raised and spent more soft money than the Democrats in every single presidential campaign, and they remain the most vocal opponents of campaign finance reform."

On October 31, Bode turned to another state model, Vermont: "Like native son Calvin Coolidge, Vermonters are unpretentious and thrifty. It just seemed wasteful to spend all that money to run for public office. So the new law requires that candidates for Governor accept strict limits on what they can raise and spend. To qualify for public funding, candidates can only accept contributions of $50 or less."

Again, after filling the segment with "reform" activists, Bode allowed one soundbite from one opponent from the Vermont Right to Life Committee. On the Washington Week Web site, Bode declared in "Bode’s Notebook" that Vermont presented "a good start for a small state and an important starting point for dozens of other states."

On November 7, Bode returned to those hated TV ads, critiquing an ad conservatives ran against Montana Democratic House candidate Bill Yellowtail. Bode brought in liberal academic Kathleen Hall Jamieson to denounce it: "This is guerrilla warfare in a political context in which a group with no accountability, including no require to disclose [sic], can walk into a television station, put money down on the table, and if the television station is not vigilant, can air something which is unfair, untrue, get it on and off the air before the press even has time to find it or to scrutinize it."

He also screened a positive DNC ad that clearly promoted Clinton which noted "Republicans in Congress cut Medicare by $270 billion dollars," which was criticized for playing "fast and loose with the rules" — but not for its inaccuracy.

While Bode was busy promoting states he thought were models for liberal reforms, he did not report states with fewer "reforms." Virginia has virtually no contribution limits yet just held a scandal-free statewide vote. The Canadian province of British Columbia provides a preview of where Bode’s rules might lead. As David Frum considered in the November 17 Weekly Standard, opponents of the socialist government were fined without trial for buying small ads denouncing the government’s tactics. Can campaign "reform" lead to government policing of nonprofit groups in their attempts to persuade the public? PBS didn’t ask.

The Washington Week Web site noted the special "reform" focus of the four shows was funded by the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Schumann Foundation, all liberal philanthropies heavily involved in the fight to drain private contributions from elections. If campaign funding unfairly influences politicians, how does liberal foundation funding affect public TV programs? That’s another money question never asked on PBS.