MediaWatch: January 1991

Vol. Five No. 1

Reporters Slight Conservative View on Scholarships


CBS wasn't the only media outlet to portray the minority scholarship ruling as an issue without two sides. "The ruling was almost universally condemned," reported USA Today. In a story that quoted six opponents and no supporters, Time claimed: "It was hard to find anyone last week in the education world who did not express dismay." Most media coverage of the controversy reflected that belief. A MediaWatch study of sources quoted on the ruling revealed a startling imbalance: 100 opposed the ruling to only 30 in favor, for a liberal advantage of more than three to one.

MediaWatch analysts studied every story on the controversy from December 12 to 22 on the three network evening news shows and CNN's Evening News, Time and Newsweek (December 24 edition), and four newspapers (The Boston Globe, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post). The Post led the pack in getting sources in favor of the ruling, quoting 20 in favor and 32 opposed. Post reporters balanced liberal sources like Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP and Ralph Neas of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights with legal analyst Bruce Fein and the Washington Legal Foundation's John Scully, who's filed lawsuits against race-based scholarships.

The Boston Globe, on the other hand, didn't seem to care about two sides: opponents outnumbered supporters by a shocking margin of 23 to 1. The Globe not only quoted Hooks, but added Keith Geiger of the National Educational Association, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), whose call for Williams' resignation made the first paragraph of the Globe's December 20 story.

Network reporters also preferred critics, 16 to 4. Even the usually balanced CNN ran a story by Charles Jaco that included six opponents and no supporters. But the imbalance of sources was nothing compared to the imbalance of reporters. Take NBC reporter Jim Miklaszewski's December 17 report: "Throughout his political career, Bush has courted blacks and donated personally to minority scholarships. Despite that, he vetoed the civil rights bill and he refused to condemn the racial tactics in the Jesse Helms campaign...Some White House officials say that technically the Education Department's ruling was legally correct, but they acknowledge that politically, and perhaps even morally, it was a loser." This was the media's problem, exactly: shaping the political outcome was a greater concern than the actual content of the law.