Democrats: No Ties to "Merchants of Death"?

Democrats: No Ties to "Merchants of Death"?
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 24, 1997

Big Tobacco is to the 1990s what Big Oil was to the 1970s: the media's Public Enemy Number One. The networks breathlessly lead the newscasts with details of the latest negotiations between Big Tobacco and the Attorneys General of 23 states seeking Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

Tim Lamer of the Media Research Center's Free Market Project did the mathematics on this issue last year: from August 1, 1995 to July 31, 1996, tobacco and smoking were the subject of 413 morning and evening news stories, and the networks are proceeding in 1997 with at least that much intensity.

Is tobacco a newsworthy issue? Sure - but only if handled objectively. That's (surprise!) not what we're getting from the so-called news networks, which like to use the issue as a weapon to attack (surprise!) Newt Gingrich.

CBS, for example, went at it when Gingrich accepted Bob Dole's offer of a loan. Conventional wisdom cud-chewer Bob Schieffer reported: "it set off a row on the House floor when Democrats noticed a newspaper story that Dole was joining a law firm that works for tobacco companies."

Schieffer showed an angry Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) claiming: "We now have the chief lobbyist for Big Tobacco financing the payoff of the Speaker's fine for lying to Congress!" Without commenting on the incredible charge, Schieffer continued: "Ignoring that allegation, Dole called it a personal gesture."

Then, anchor Paula Zahn segued to the next report: "The suggestion of some kind of tobacco connection to the Gingrich-Dole loan deal comes as the tobacco industry is reportedly working on a $300 billion deal to settle government and private health lawsuits."

Now wait a minute. Isn't this where huffing and puffing Eric Engberg's "Reality Check" comes in? I mean, how exactly is Dole, the "chief lobbyist for Big Tobacco"? To put it bluntly, Miller's comment was a flat-out lie. Over on CNN, Candy Crowley explained: "Dole has just joined a law firm, and while there are tobacco accounts, the point people are former Senator George Mitchell and former Governor Ann Richards, both Democrats."

But anyone watching CBS wouldn't know that. CBS, as well as ABC and NBC, are guilty of ignoring other connections about the tobacco companies and hypocritical liberal Democrats who claim to be their adversaries. They all ignored the USA Today scoop that Tipper Gore hosted a fundraising coffee that attracted a $25,000 donation from tobacco giant Philip Morris. Then on April 7, CNN's Kelli Arena reported that while Al Gore made his convention speech recounting the death of his sister from cancer and asserting his abhorrence of the tobacco industry, "tobacco executives tell CNN Financial News they were solicited repeatedly by Democratic fundraisers. Two companies, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, complied when the national party told them to write their checks to state parties" to avoid press scrutiny. Despite their laser-beam focus on the tobacco industry, the Big Three were very strangely silent.

This silence is even worse considering Lamer's study found 85 network stories focused on the courageous White House attack on Big Tobacco. For example, here's CBS morning anchor John Roberts on August 10, 1996: "President Clinton is stepping up federal efforts to harness smoking against teenagers. He'll detail some tough new measures today that are sure to put him at odds with the powerful tobacco lobby." Fairness and balance would dictate a like-number of stories exposing the ultimately fraudulent campaign by the White House. Instead, nothing.

As the networks tie only Republicans to Big Tobacco's merchants of slow-motion death, they reliably fail to tie Democrats to another, more urgent killing business: the abortion industry. Total network silence greeted the story of Washington Post reporter Lorraine Adams on Wichita abortionist George Tiller, one of the country's few specialists in grisly third-trimester dismemberment. Dr. Tiller gave $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee, but Adams noted "he wanted a chance to personally thank President Clinton for 30 months of door-to-door protection by the U.S. Marshals Service...Tiller got his wish and last June 17 was one of 13 guests at an intimate coffee hosted by the President."

Shortly after the Wichita Eagle and a local TV station reported Tiller's donation to Clinton, the marshal protection abruptly ended. But Adams found that Tiller had the means for his own security service: "Tiller built an 18-room, 8,500 square-foot house in Wichita assessed at $732,000. He owns his clinic, which is assessed at $502,000. He owns four cars, including a BMW convertible." It's a difficult life, providing women with deadly "choices" after the babies are viable outside the womb.

Could the networks' bias by omission be any more outrageous? Why don't they just call it "The CBS Evening Democratic News"? Or say "More people are kept in the dark by ABC News than by any other source"? But that would require honesty, a commodity in short supply at the networks these days.