CyberAlert -- 07/24/1996 -- CBSer Donates to Gantt

CBSer Donates to Gantt; Misreporting Medicare "Cuts"

Two items today:

1) Among contributors to Harvey Gantt, the Democratic challenger to Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina: former CBS News reporter Charles Kuralt. But it's not really much of a surprise given the views Kuralt expressed on the air.

2) The study in the July MediaWatch documents how six media outlets falsely referred to Medicare "cuts" 1,060 times in just 18 months. (And now reporters complain about Joe Klein's lies.)


As brought to my attention by MRC analyst Tom Johnson, Tuesday's (July 23) New York Times reviewed major contributors to Helms and Gantt. In addition to getting $1,000 from Barbra Streisand, the Times noted that Gantt "had an eclectic collection of celebrities on his fundraising rolls, including Michael Jordan, the basketball star; Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM; James Garner, the actor; and Charles Kuralt, the journalist."

Before he retired last year, Kuralt failed to separate his personal ideology from his reporting. On August 17, 1992 during live coverage of the Republican convention, Kuralt declared:
"The only excited, demonstrative delegates any of us could find were the ones from the religious right, Pat Robertson's God and country rally. They remind me of those Goldwater delegates of 28 years ago, far more interested in imposing ideological purity on this party than they are on winning the election. They were happy today. They got the platform they want. No room for a pregnant woman to make any decision at all, even if she was raped. It's a platform tough on welfare, tough on taxes and guns and gays and pornography, tough even on public radio and public television. They cheered Dan Quayle this afternoon and they will cheer Pat Buchanan and Ronald Reagan tonight, but will they help elect George Bush? It's almost as if they haven't thought of that, Dan."
A bit later he asserted: "I thought that the Buchanan speech had ugly elements in it, especially there at the end, take back our culture, take back our country. I think that was an appeal to racism."


The July MediaWatch study compiled by Associate Editor Tim Graham documents how three major newspapers and the three newsweeklies regularly misled their readers over the past 18 months about budgeted Medicare spending. While it will soar far faster than inflation, they focused on "cuts." The July MediaWatch is at the printer and should go into the mail in a few days.
Here's an excerpt from what will appear in MediaWatch:

No subject inspires more daily journalistic fabrication than the federal budget. For the last 15 years, as federal spending mushroomed, journalists told a story echoing liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith, of a squalid public sector starved of its necessary funds. No program benefitted more from the statist illusions of baseline budgeting than Medicare, which reportedly suffered "deep cuts" as it expanded -- 72 percent in the Bush years, for example.
In the last 18 months, reporters have made Medicare "cuts" an essential part of its method of underlining the "extremism" of the Republican Congress. The GOP's balanced-budget plan called for a $270 billion reduction in projected Medicare increases over seven years (with spending per recipient scheduled to increase from $4,800 to $7,100), but "cuts" remained the most popular paradigm of reporting.
To determine the accuracy of Medicare coverage, MediaWatch analysts reviewed 1,134 news stories in three newspapers (The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today) and three news magazines (Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report) from January 1, 1995 to June 30, 1996. Employing the Nexis news data retrieval system to secure every news mention of "Medicare" within 10 words of "cut," "reduce," "slash," "scale back," and "savings," analysts found 1,060 examples of journalists describing Medicare "cuts."
Analysts counted multiple references within stories, but only references to overall Medicare spending growth, and did not include references to specifics, such as smaller reimbursements to doctors and hospitals. Also omitted were references to "saving" Medicare, which do not refer to spending. Analysts did include descriptions that did not match the search terms ("gut," "trim," "shrink," "chop," "slice," "curtail").
Other less harsh and inaccurate terms were also used. References to "savings" were most common, with 439 mentions. "Cuts in the growth" of Medicare spending drew 347 uses, and "cuts in projected spending" appeared 115 times. But the 901 uses of these terms were outnumbered by the 1,060 uses of "cut" variants. In this sample of stories inaccurate terminology drew more than half (54 percent) of journalistic declarations of Medicare's up-or-down fiscal fate....

To arrange an interview or to get a full copy of the study, you can call Keith Appell at (703) 683-5004 or call or e-mail me. -- Brent Baker