MediaWatch: January 1991

Vol. Five No. 1

NewsBites: Post Bombs


POST BOMBS. The Washington Post has never used the term "freedom fighter" to describe Oliver North, according to a Nexis news data system search. But when two women were sentenced December 6 on charges of conspiracy in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Capitol, the Post's first eight words were: "Laura Whitehorn and Linda Evans, self-described freedom fighters." Is there a lesson here? Perhaps Ollie should have declined to testify before Congress and bombed it instead.

McNAMARA NONSENSE. Introducing a December 4 report on Senate hearings on Iraq, ABC's Peter Jennings described the testimony of Robert McNamara: "Words of caution on the Gulf today from the man who helped to get America so deeply involved in Vietnam, a war, he said, he later came to regret."

Reporter Jim Wooten described him as "a cold warrior for Kennedy and one of Johnson's hard-eyed hawks, always telling Congress there was light at the end of the Vietnam tunnel. But a generation later, Robert McNamara was on Capitol Hill today counseling patience and prudence in the Persian Gulf, warning the Senators against slipping easily into war." In truth, McNamara, who constantly criticized Ronald Reagan's defense build-up, has been an outspoken dove for years. By ABC's reasoning, the late Whittaker Chambers should still be called a communist.

PRESS RELEASE POST. Ever willing to please its liberal soulmates, The Washington Post served as a bulletin board for the American Civil Liberties Union on December 17. The ACLU began soliciting government employees to give Congress classified information detailing "government misconduct" in the Persian Gulf crisis.

How did Post reporter Ruth Marcus begin the story? "Wanted: a few good whistle-blowers." The Post followed with four paragraphs explaining the text of the ACLU ad, four paragraphs of quotes from ACLU Washington chief Morton Halperin, and an announcement of the ACLU's news conference later that day. Did the Post leave anything out? Yes, any opposing voice that might call the ACLU's campaign a handy way of compromising national security and helping out Saddam Hussein.

MARXIST OF THE YEAR. Although Nelson Mandela didn't make Time's Man of the Year, Time was quick to point out that he was a runner-up. Reporter Scott MacLeod wrote in the January 7 edition, "In the space of one extraordinary year, South Africa has moved from its nightmare of eternal racial conflict to a hopeful dawning of racial reconciliation -- and that is largely due to Mandela's statesmanship." What about President F.W. de Klerk, the man who freed Mandela, legalized the ANC and reformed the South African government? No mention.

FEEDING THE MOUTH THAT BITES YOU. As 1990 ended, Time Managing Editor Henry Muller made another plug for Mikhail Gorbachev, Time's Man of the Decade. In a December 24 "From the Managing Editor" column, Muller ran a letter from Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky. The inch-high headline summed up Voznesensky's message: "Feed Perestroika!" In case anyone was interested in making sure the Red Army eats well this winter, Time ran the addresses and 800 numbers of groups aiding the Soviets.

POOR REPORTING. The unemployment rate jumped 0.2 percent in November, prompting the CBS Evening News to devote an entire story to "some critics" who say "the picture is even grimmer." Reporter Richard Threlkeld summarized the argument: "Whether it's those without a job or without a home or without money, there are millions of forgotten men, women and children in this country -- people in economic pain who've been officially defined out of existence....people who work in low paying jobs, but are not counted because, critics charge, the government's using an out-dated system to count the poor. You're poor, says the government, if you make less than three times the cost of a week's groceries, or about $13,000 a year for a family of four." He then turned to an economist, who without citing any studies, asserted 20 percent of Americans really live in poverty. "For now though," Threlkeld concluded, "the message to the mothers and children...who've been systematically overlooked by Washington is 'you don't count.'"

Now, before you fall for Threlkeld's guilt trip over the plight of those above the poverty line, consider some facts compiled by the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector on those below it. The Census Bureau does not even count Medicaid and food stamps as income. Poor people in the U.S. live in a larger house or apartment than the average West European. Nearly a third of the poor today own a home and are more likely to own refrigerators than the average American family in the 1950s. Rector told MediaWatch, "as living standards for all improve, people forget what poor really used to mean."

EASTERN EUROPEAN ENTREPRENEURS. Time Central Europe correspondent John Borrell offered an intriguing new interpretation of Eastern Europe's economies on December 3: "Under communism few grew rich, but few went hungry; in many cases people enjoyed surprisingly high levels of prosperity. In Poland, for example, wealthy entrepreneurs were able to afford Western luxury automobiles; in Czechoslovakia ownership of second homes was common. Now many may no longer be able to afford such extravagance."

Borrell also equated blaming the communists for Eastern Europe's repressive past with looking for "scapegoats" and conducting "witch hunts," asserting: "East Europeans are now worrying about jobs, rising prices, their very futures. Some our looking for scapegoats, turning on minorities and seeking retribution from former communists....[Havel] opposes witch-hunts against former officials similar to the purges the communists mounted on taking power in 1948." If Borrell had been reporting at the end of World War II he might have described the Nuremberg trials as "looking for scapegoats."

WORSE THAN COMMUNISM? Communism may not have been great for the women of Eastern Europe, but Boston Globe reporter Jonathan Kaufman discovered "the region's women have found democracy a less than liberating experience." Why? Kaufman's December 27 article quoted a feminist in Warsaw: "There is no sex education in the schools. The new Parliament canceled all subsidies for family planning."

"In both Poland and eastern Germany, the right to abortion has come under attack," Kaufman wrote. "Even more troubling to many Eastern European women is the resurgence of traditional -- some would even say sexist -- attitudes in societies that once enshrined at least a patina of equal rights for women in their propaganda and official statements."

If communism is a friend to women, who's the enemy? "Part of the reason many women feel let down by their revolutions is the emergence of conservative forces, including the Catholic Church, following the toppling of communist regimes."

NBC'S LOSER. In a December 2 New York Times Magazine story, reporter John Tierney outlined a bet between NBC Today show regular Paul Ehrlich, the doomsaying author of The Population Bomb, and Julian Simon, economist and author of The Ultimate Resource. In 1980, Ehrlich bet Simon $1,000 that the price of five metals would rise over a ten-year period, believing population growth would inevitably drain the earth's resources. Instead, all five metals declined in price, and Ehrlich lost. The only question remaining: Will NBC continue to rely on Ehrlich's unmatched record of incorrect predictions or will they switch to the winning side and give Julian Simon his own series of Today reports?

STAHLINOMICS. Will Lesley Stahl ever stop whining about Reaganomics? In a December 16 Face the Nation interview with HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, Stahl charged: "There's a new analysis that says the American family is worse off today than it was in 1973. After ten years of Reaganite, supply-side economics that you so passionately advocate, and that old question that Reagan used to ask about Carter, 'are we better off,' apparently families are worse off. Do you really think the American people buy supply- side anymore? Don't they just think it was debt accumulation?"

Who twisted together the numbers Stahl used? On America Tonight three days later, Stahl's source revealed himself. Liberal economist Lester Thurow stated: "If you take people that the Department of Labor classifies as non-supervisory workers, they have an income in 1989 that's 17 percentage points below where it was in 1973. And in terms of reversion, we're almost back to the real earning capacity of about 1958, '59. And so, when you put all that together, you've got about three decades with no growth in earning capacity."

THE PROSECUTION NEVER RESTS. Not pleased with the way the Iran- Contra affair turned out, PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers took the taxpayers' money to conduct his own personal impeachment proceedings in "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" on Frontline November 27. Assisted by "consulting reporter" Scott Armstrong (formerly of The Washington Post) and Armstrong's liberal National Security Archive, Moyers set out to impeach Reagan for conducting a "coup" against the Constitution.

Moyers' entire constitutional lecture rested on the Boland Amendments, which many find unconstitutional, but Moyers couldn't spoil the party by pointing that out. You also wouldn't know from watching Moyers that many consider the independent counsel unconstitutional. Moyers and the rest of the disgruntled souls at PBS are free to continue their quixotic crusade, but why give them taxpayer money for it?

BALANCE DOWN THE TBS TUBES. In his ongoing campaign to promote abortion, Ted Turner's TBS cable channel aired a follow up to his 1989 special Abortion for Survival, titled, Abortion Denied: Shattering Young Women's Lives. As the title implied, this half hour produced (again) by the Fund for a Feminist Majority, offered no pro-life voice, though TBS insisted (again) that it was not propaganda.

The December 7 program attacked parental consent and notification laws. "Will parental consent laws for abortion lead to parental consent laws for contraception?" asked the horrified narrator, actress Christine Pickles. She also expressed a particular disgust that a "small percentage of these desperate young women will resort to placing their babies for adoption." That view is not so surprising given the list of sponsors: Planned Parenthood, NOW, and several left-wing population activist groups such as the Center for Population Options and the Population Crisis Committee.

What about a post-broadcast discussion with pro-life voices? "The program is sufficiently authoritative and fair in its presentation so that we don't think a panel is necessary to follow this program," TBS Executive Vice President Bob Levi told the Los Angeles Times. "We believe that the program is good enough that it stands on its own and that viewers can make up their own minds."

TWO ANCHORS AND A LADY. In NBC's December 30 special, 1990: Living on the Edge, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel spouted their opinions between video clips. At one point Gumbel stated: "But don't you think the pro-lifers now, Tom and Jane, don't you think that they are, if anything now, a little reticent to make it an issue because experience has shown that when they make it an issue they lose." Brokaw replied: "Yeah, they have not done well politically and if nothing else they are a smart political movement."

In the January American Spectator, Fred Barnes took issue with Gumbel's absurd analysis: "But 1990 was hardly a big pro-choice year. The lesson is that pro-life Republicans and Democrats, if they don't flinch or flip-flop, are not hindered at all. In Pennsylvania, Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, won re-election with 68 percent of the vote against a pro-choice Republican...In Kansas, Joan Finney, a pro-life Democrat who attracted the wrath of the National Organization for Women, handily defeated pro-choice Republican Governor Mike Hayden, despite being outspent $2 million to $300,000."

BORDERLINE JOURNALISM. Government-funded PBS hailed more government as the cure-all in Borderline Medicine, a December 17 documentary which paraded Canadian health care as morally superior to the American system. Narrator Walter Cronkite concluded, "America must shape its own health care system, but we can't afford to ignore the Canadian lesson: that it's possible to cover everyone and still control costs. At its best, American medicine is the most clinically innovative and technologically sophisticated system on Earth. But for increasing numbers of Americans who are shut out, America's health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system." Really?

In the December 12 Wall Street Journal, John Barnes reported on Canadians crossing the border to save their lives. In one incident, Barnes recalled, two-year-old Joel Bondy, in need of cardiac surgery, was repeatedly put on waiting lists in Canada. Bondy's parents finally contacted an American hospital to perform the surgery. Barnes explained: "Embarrassed by media coverage of the Bondys' plight, Ontario officials informed the family that Joel could have his operation immediately -- in Toronto. After Joel endured a four-hour ambulance ride, a hospital bed was not immediately available. The family had to spend the night in a hotel room. The delay was fatal. Joel Bondy died the next day, four hours before he was to enter the operating room."

MIRACLE ON 57th STREET. Last year, a ten-year, $500 million study including the research of 700 leading scientists concluded that acid rain was causing no discernible damage to crops or forests at present levels of acid rain emission. Since the results completely contradicted conventional environmental wisdom, the media made it a big story, right? Wrong. The study, released by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP), was virtually ignored until 60 Minutes, purveyors of the Great Alar Apple Panic of 1989, did penance by devoting a segment to it on December 30.

CBS reporter Steve Kroft captured the media's panicked, unscientific approach to environmental questions by asking NAPAP scientist Ed Krug: "The New York Times reported recently that over the last ten years, while NAPAP has been doing its study, the number of lakes turned into aquatic deathtraps multiplied across New York, New England, and the South. Stretches of forest along the Appalachian spine from Georgia to Maine, once lush and teeming with wildlife, were fast becoming landscapes of dead and dying trees. True?"

Krug replied: "I don't know where they got that from. It appears to be another assertion, unsubstantiated, because we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars surveying the environment to see if that was occurring and we don't see that occurring." Now if only 60 Minutes would recruit an equally credible group of scientists to put its Alar coverage to the test.

WE CRIPPLE CBS. The combined viewership of the three network evening newscasts fell four percent between the fourth quarter of 1989 and the end of 1990, A.C. Nielsen reported. Specifically, ABC's World News Tonight was up one percent, NBC Nightly News dropped five percent and the CBS Evening News fell an astonishing ten percent. It so happens that during 1990 MediaWatch criticized ABC the least in our Janet Cooke Awards and Newsbites. CBS was hammered the most. Once again, MediaWatch's incisive analysis has done more to cripple CBS News than Kathleen Sullivan ever could.