MediaWatch: July 1988

Vol. Two No. 7

Dukakis the Moderate

"George Bush wants to convince voters that Michael Dukakis is a big spender who will raise taxes, coddle criminals and disarm America. In other words, a 'liberal.' But does the dreaded 'L' word stick to Dukakis? Probably not." That's how the July 4 issue of Newsweek portrayed the Democratic presidential candidate.

In the weeks before the Democrats convened in Atlanta, national media outlets described the Massachusetts Governor as a "moderate" with a growing audience receptive to his message, while emphasizing Republican George Bush's alleged shortcomings.

On defense and foreign policy, Dukakis opposes aid to the Contras, favors a nuclear freeze, wants to kill the MX and Midgetman missiles and stop production of aircraft carriers. Yet, when he outlined these proposals on June 14, CBS News political correspondent Bruce Morton labelled it "a mostly traditional foreign policy speech." As NBC's Bob Kur realized, "defense cuts advocated by Dukakis go beyond those supported by even moderate Democrats."

On the economic front, CBS' Jacqueline Adams travelled to Ohio a week later where she found "even rock-ribbed Republican farmers are having second thoughts about Bush." Her reasoning? The drought will decide the election because "the pain of their 'job drought' is still fresh" and they "blame Ronald Reagan and his political heir."

But when Dukakis brought his theme of "jobs and economic opportunity" to the same state on July 1, Bill Whitaker of CBS found "it's a message voters here in the struggling rust belt seem ready to hear." He concluded: "It's a message that's neither liberal nor conservative in the traditional sense."

Whitaker failed to note his record in Massachusetts. Dukakis opposed every tax reduction proposal and the number of state employess jumped an astounding 65 percent since 1984 under his leadership. What could make liberals any happier? Indeed during the primary campaign, Dukakis called himself "a liberal Democrat." The same day Whitaker was praising Dukakis, Adams again found Bush's message less than compelling. It is his "challenge," she charged, to convince "workers displaced in the changing American economy that he can put compassion into Reaganomics."

Adams was at it again five days later. As Bush campaigned for Hispanic votes, she couldn't resist countering his efforts: "The statistics show that the Reagan-Bush years have not been good for them. Nationwide, the Hispanic poverty rate is up. Their high school drop out rate is nearly 50 percent. And their unemployment rate is twice that of most other Americans." In delivering her indictment, Adams forgot to check the facts. Hispanic disposable income rose over 12 percent under Reagan and the percentage completing high school jumped from 36 to 48 percent. More have jobs now than at any time since such record keeping began in 1973.

NBC also offered a double standard in scrutiny. On June 29 Dukakis claimed "we don't have a deficit" in the Bay State. Reporter Lisa Myers let that go unchallenged even though the state has a $400 million deficit. But a few seconds later she countered Bush's promise to hold the line on taxes, arguing: "Good politics, but perhaps not good economics. Many experts believe that whoever is elected President will have to raise taxes." The next day, Myers focused on the gender gap. "In 1980, when he ran for President the first time, Bush didn't have problems with women," Myers asserted. "But then he became Reagan's Vice President and changed positions on key women's issues." Now he supports "an amendment banning abortion" and opposes the ERA. Myers failed to cite any polls to support her contention nor note that feminist Ferraro didn't get very far in 1984.

Eager to foucs in on Bush's problems, major media reporters ignored controversies surrounding Dukakis. Outside of CNN, Dukakis' controversial furlough program and prison site questions went virtually unnoticed in June.