MediaWatch: December 1990

Vol. Four No. 12

NewsBites: Closing the Book

CLOSING THE BOOK. Book reviewers for major newspapers greeted An American Life, Ronald Reagan's autobiography, with near-uniform hostility. The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley concluded Reagan led the public "into the conviction that there is a free lunch and we are entitled to it; the price we will end up paying for that little lesson in self-indulgence is only now beginning to come clear, as is the understanding that we will be paying it for generations, if not until kingdom come."

Maureen Dowd, a Time Washington reporter in the early 1980s who now covers the White House for The New York Times, also took a whack at it. "Reading the former President's memoir, I found it impossible to escape the thought that a better title would be The Mannequin Speaks," Dowd wrote in her November 18 Times review. Reagan gave "gauzy treatment of the role his administration played in encouraging a decade of greed and narcissism" which created "an embarrassing discrepancy between rich and poor."

QUOTA QUEENS. NBC's Lisa Myers and Newsweek's Eleanor Clift were horrified by the GOP refusal to roll over on the issue of hiring quotas. Writing for the December 3 Newsweek, Clift theorized that by resisting quotas, "Republicans may have found the sequel to Willie Horton...When jobs are threatened, tolerance takes a holiday." Making use of the quota issue, Clift declared, "will reveal how desperate the party is for ideas."

Myers' December 1 Nightly News report was even more strident. She insisted that "The story of Republicans and blacks is a story of contradictions. The party elects the first black Republican Congressman in 55 years at the same time some party leaders seem eager to exploit racial divisions." Myers denounced Jesse Helms for "appeals to racial prejudice to defeat his black opponent." Alarmed that many young people are opposed to the reverse racism of quotas, Myers proclaimed they were "too young" to understand the complexities of civil rights: "Many of them don't understand the magnitude of past injustices that these programs are designed to remedy." In other words, the right kind of discrimination is acceptable.

HERE'S TO YOU, MRS. ROBINSON. Leave it to ABC's Peter Jennings to herald a left-wing feminist as Person of the Week. "It is true that the Irish presidency is largely symbolic," conceded Jennings during the November 16 World News Tonight, "but with social reformer Mary Robinson, the day of the figurehead President in Ireland may be drawing to an end."

What did Jennings find so remarkable in Robinson? "In a country that is 90 percent Catholic, Robinson, herself a Catholic, has fought vigorously for a woman's right to have an abortion, although she herself is personally opposed." Jennings also cited her role as "a feminist in the political world of male cronyism, radical in a conservative society."

BERKELEY BARB. Barbara Ehrenreich is on a roll. Time made her an essayist, which led to appearances on the CBS late-night show America Tonight and Donahue. What neither the TV programs, which labeled her a "Time columnist," nor Time find worth telling the public is that Ehrenreich has also been co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America, a fervent backer of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, a resident fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies, and a regular contributor to Ms., Mother Jones, and Zeta.

But maybe Time readers can guess Ehrenreich's persuasion when they read essay passages like this: "Today, with the health-care situation moving rapidly beyond crisis to near catastrophe, the age-old and obvious solution had the tone of a desperate whine: Why can't we have national health insurance -- like just about everybody else in the civilized world, please?"

JOURNALISTIC MALPRACTICE. The Washington Post's "Health" section often promotes liberal medical activists and ideas. The latest example: a November 27 cover story entitled "Should the U.S. Copy Canada?" Reporter Constance Matthiessen profiled Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, two Harvard hippies who founded Physicians for a National Health Program. "When [Woolhandler] begins to speak, the aspiring doctors are suddenly quiet -- struck not just by her powerful voice, which is softened by a rich Louisiana accent, but by her devastating critique of the health care system they are about to enter." Matthiessen ended: "[One] medical student is insistent: 'Do you really think someone on welfare should have the same health care as someone who has money?' Before Woolhandler can answer, other soon-to-be doctors in the auditorium turn and answer with an emphatic 'Yes!'"

Why such favorable treatment? Matthiessen works for the Center for Investigative Reporting, a left-wing group that has also provided stories for Mother Jones, 60 Minutes and 20/20. Co- founder David Weir told Newsweek in 1982: "We don't consider investigative reporting to be something that includes investigating welfare mothers." Although she mentioned the Heritage Foundation as part of a "consensus that the system is badly in need of reform," Matthiessen didn't devote one sentence to conservative health reform proposals.

TRUTH OUT IN THE COLD. Reporting on liberals upset about the plight of housing for the poor on November 3, NBC's Ed Rabel portrayed Ronald Reagan's alleged budget cuts as the cause of all the despair. Weekend Nightly News anchor Garrick Utley got things rolling: "In the 1980s, the Reagan years, the amount of government money spent to build low-income housing was cut drastically. Then the homeless began to appear on streets and in doorsteps and housing became a visible, human problem." Rabel then presented the evidence of '80s neglect toward the poor: "During the Reagan years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, housing programs for the poor were slashed by billions of dollars: an 80 percent cut over eight years."

Rabel's fraudulent conclusion was based on congressional accounting tricks. They can produce "an appearance of budget cutting while the total amount available to spend has been maintained or even increased," according to an article in the November/December issue of American Enterprise by John F. Cogan and Timothy J. Muris. The authors pointed out: "While budget authority for subsidized housing programs declined by nearly 77 percent (from 1981-1989), the number of subsidized units and the number of families living in those units increased by one-third." Let's hope somebody increases NBC's housing budget. Then they can make room for all the facts.

NEVER ENOUGH. To some in the media, the child care debate centers solely on how much the federal government should pay, not whether the government should pay at all. During an October 29 NBC Today report on a new, more expensive child care bill, co-host Deborah Norville portrayed the U.S. as behind the times: "One often hears that the United States and South Africa stand alone as the only two industrialized nations in the world not to have a national child care policy. Does this constitute a child care policy?"

Interviewing Dana Friedman of the Families and Work Institute, Norville's questions revealed her dissatisfaction with current child care spending levels: "Is there the possibility that because the feds have stepped in and done this that it'll go beyond that? That it could be expanded, or is this all [recipients are] gonna get for the moment?...This sounds like it's a drop in the bucket." Norville concluded: "Well, twelve million kids need some sort of child care. 750,000 will get it as a result of this. As you said, Dana Friedman, it's a start."

BALANCE ABORTED. Yet another Time reporter has revealed that her work has little to do with objective journalism. According to a University of Michigan Law School newspaper article sent to MediaWatch, Time reporter and Michigan Law alumnus Andrea Sachs revealed her views on a subject she has covered for Time: abortion.

In the article, Sachs is quoted as admitting to marching "in a pro-choice demonstration a year and a half ago, but after a reporter from The New York Times was criticized for doing the same thing, Sachs 'reluctantly decided...that I have to relinquish the right to participate [in abortion marches] and debate, since I'm writing when we cover abortion issues.'" Asked "whether her decision was based on a need to remain objective or to be perceived as objective, Sachs responded that it was the latter."

In the December 5, 1988 Time, Sachs called abortion "a right that in the course of just 15 years many Americans have come to regard as no less inalienable than freedom of religion or expression." Other articles to be "perceived as objective": "Here Come the Pregnancy Police," and "To Hell with Choice; A Cardinal turns excommunication into a political weapon."

REVERSE SEXISM. Time wasn't shy about making policy judgments in its Fall special issue, "Women: The Road Ahead." What's the answer to the child care problem? "Sweden, for instance, provides parents 90% salary reimbursement for the first nine months after birth...What's to be done? Subsidized child care and tax credits would ease the pressure on parents to leave home before they want to." Never mind that Sweden is moving away from its inefficient system.

In another article, Margaret Carlson boasted: "At last, not being one of the boys looks like an advantage. It's the boys, after all, who are responsible for the federal deficit, nuclear waste dumps and the savings and loan debacle, to name but a few of the disasters proliferating in the national In basket." Which political women were held up as role models? Three Democrats: Dianne Feinstein, Pat Schroeder, and Geraldine Ferraro.

Carlson quoted psychologist Carol Gilligan, who declared, "women have greater moral strength, a stronger ethic of car and over-riding concern for making and maintaining relationships -- all qualities of a good politician." Clearly if Carlson and Gilligan's sexist statements were reversed to favor men they would generate protest. Will Time readers do any less in this case?

GOTTA LOVE THE LEFT. NBC News field producer Susan Farkas loved Unreliable Sources, the new book from the left-wingers at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). They think Sen. Chris Dodd doesn't represent the liberal point of view. "You gotta love these guys," Farkas began her review in the December Washington Journalism Review (WJR). She found the book "is at its best describing the successful Republican manipulation of the media in the 1980s. The fawning over Ronald Reagan was unseemly... Reagan's regressive tax program was mislabeled 'tax reform' and his 'misstatements' were frequently reported without challenge on the front page while corrections ran on inside pages."

Farkas praised FAIR, which "has provided a valuable counterweight to the ultra-right, ill-named Accuracy in Media and has documented the conservative bias of ABC's Nightline and PBS talk shows." WJR has yet to review Profiles of Deception, a book from the "ultra-right, ill-named" group. FAIR's charges that corporations like General Electric, NBC's owner, are manipulating the news in a conservative direction look a little silly when NBC producers are swooning over ill-named, ultra-left groups.

ROWAN MISSES AGAIN. "Our country is wallowing in a miasma of political and class conflict, of greed and special interest, with regard to budget deficits, inflation and rising unemployment, the threats of both a bloody war and a devastating recession," syndicated columnist Carl Rowan charged when accepting the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism from the University of South Dakota. Neuharth, the former chairman of Gannett, is a USD alumnus, and Rowan serves on the Gannett board of directors. "How did we get into this mess?" Rowan asked in the address printed by Editor & Publisher. "Because the press, during the 1980s committed one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. The media took a dive, caved in, and did not tell the American people the price they would eventually pay for Reaganomics." Claiming the media were too soft of Reagan: That's the kind of analysis the journalistic community honors.

ABORTION MADE SAFE. The decreasing number of doctors performing abortions pleases pro-life advocates, but distresses pro-abortion forces. ABC's November 29 American Agenda took the pro-abortion point of view. Peter Jennings asked: "Because of political pressure, are there enough doctors still willing to perform abortions on women who want them?"

Dr. Tim Johnson provided a sob story on the only doctor in South Dakota who performs abortions: "Often lost in this picture is the harassment endured by the doctor who performs the procedure...Dr. Williams is one of a diminishing number of older physicians who say they are haunted by memories of the days when women had only the choice of an illegal procedure or worse." The real problem, as Johnson saw it, was that more doctors aren't coerced into abortion training. "Only one quarter of all OB-GYN residency programs require abortion training," he complained, "and openings at abortion clinics are increasingly difficult to fill."

Suggesting a solution, Johnson lauded a Vermont clinic where abortions are performed, "not by doctors, but by physicians' assistants." He concluded: "The rest of the country may have to follow Vermont's example, if abortions are going to continue to be not only available, but safe."

WORLD OF KURTZ. The Washington Post's new reporter on the news media, Howard Kurtz, demonstrated his media reporting technique in an article in the May Columbia Journalism Review. Kurtz worried over reporters' failure to emphasize the corporate backing of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH),one of the few organizations to question the science behind the panic over pesticides. Kurtz noted the ACSH was one of several corporate-supported groups to use "neutral-sounding names to peddle an ideological message." Earlier on the same page, Kurtz quoted Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest without the slightest bit of irony. He failed to identify its leftist ideology or its driving force: Ralph Nader.