MediaWatch: June 1991

Vol. Five No. 6

NewsBites: The Self-Employed Unemployed

THE SELF-EMPLOYED UNEMPLOYED. When the unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in April, ABC, NBC, and CNN treated it as one of many encouraging signs that the recession may be bottoming out. But on the May 3 CBS Evening News, business reporter Ray Brady warned that "today's figures may be misleading and the economy still in trouble."

What's behind the deception? "Experts say two trends help push the unemployment rate down," Brady explained. "Many of the jobless have simply stopped looking." And -- horror of horrors -- "others go into business for themselves. That means they're simply dropped off the unemployment rolls, making the jobless rate look lower."

YOUR MONEY WELL SPENT. Just a day after Memorial Day, PBS stations aired The '90s, an hour-long collection of far-left, anti-U.S. foreign policy videos. Included in the package were two films allegedly showing civilian casualties in Iraq during the Gulf War: first, the video by freelancer Jon Alpert that NBC considered too misleading to air, and second, a film by Andrew Jones, a member of the "Gulf Peace Team" that traveled through Iraq during the war. Curiously, The '90s also included footage from a 1979 anti-war protest. In USA Today, the program's Executive Producer, Tom Weinberg, urged people to "Check us out -- especially after the patriotic, knee-jerk, jingoism of the Memorial Day weekend."

LOOK, DON'T LISTEN. ABC's World News Tonight focused on the working poor in rural America on its May 30 "American Agenda" segment. "Empty farm-houses. Deserted schools. Failing businesses. Dying towns," reported Rebecca Chase, "It is a common story in rural America today."

Chase then profiled an Iowa family living in crowded conditions. "This old farmhouse is home to Penny Sheely, her three children and five grandchildren," Chase said as the camera panned Sheely's house in which viewers could see a 25-inch console television set, a VCR, a coffee maker, a microwave oven and no less than six rifles on a bedroom gun rack. Nonetheless, Chase insisted "Penny and her family live on the edge of homelessness."

TODAY'S HOMELESS TOMORROW. Last year the Census Bureau sent out an unprecedented 15,000 workers to count the homeless and found a total of 230,000. The news media have chosen to ignore this figure, however, in search of a more acceptable, if not accurate, total. NBC Today show co-host Bryant Gumbel opened a May 20 interview: "More than two million people will be homeless by the end of this year and a half million of them will be children." Where did Gumbel get his figure? The National Alliance to End Homelessness, which arrived at two million by extrapolating a national guesstimate from homelessness studies done in Chicago and Washington, DC. Gumbel better get going; he only has six months to find another 1.7 million homeless.

DENIABLE RIGHTS. The news media are among the first to scream about anything less than the most sweeping interpretation of the First Amendment, but the Second Amendment is a different story. On the May 23 World News Tonight, reporter Chris Bury reported on the National Rifle Association's threatened lawsuit against the Chicago Public Housing Authority for banning gun ownership in its projects. Bury concluded: "And tenants here wonder why the gun lobby chose such a curious and crime-ridden target. In a place so mean and so violent that dodging bullets is a part of growing up, few here can fathom how anyone could consider more guns an answer to anything." Apparently, the poor don't have a right to protect themselves.

SPOOKING CBS. President Bush's May 14 selection of Robert Gates to head the CIA was well received by leaders of both parties, but you'd never know that from watching CBS reporter Eric Engberg. Instead, he linked Gates to the Iran-Contra affair through tabloid-style innuendo: "During the time when William Casey was secretly overseeing the sale of arms to the Iranians and aid to the Contras, as laws were broken and money flowed, his loyal number two at the CIA was Robert Gates." Engberg put on Tom Blanton of the (unlabeled) leftist National Security Archive (NSA) to proclaim: "The worst case is that Bob Gates participated in a coverup. The best case is that Bob Gates is a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil bureaucrat who watched all this information come through his office and looked the other way."

On the next day's CBS This Morning, Engberg brought on another NSA Contra-basher, former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, identifying him on screen as an "Iran-Contra Scholar." The irony is even Iran-Contra inquisitor Sen. Daniel Inouye supports Gates. As Inouye told Knight-Ridder: "We investigated the allegations against him very carefully. I'm convinced he's qualified and he'll do a good job."

NBC DOES ANC'S PR. On May 18, as violence spread in South Africa, NBC correspondent Robin Lloyd and anchor Garrick Utley continued to blame only one side, as if the African National Congress (ANC) bore no responsibility. As Utley explained in his introduction: "The ANC said [the violence] has got to stop, that the white government has got to stop it and that there will be no talks about South Africa's future until it does stop."

Lloyd added: "But violence is not the only issue. The ANC is also demanding that the government release thousands of political prisoners. The conviction of Winnie Mandela has caused tensions to grow. Bomb attacks in central Johannesburg over the last few days were the latest signs of crumbling hopes for a peaceful transition to end white rule." One could argue that Winnie's antics, the release of ANC terrorists and the increase in bomb attacks since Mandela's release indicate that the ANC might be part of the real problem. Instead, Lloyd concluded: "Today's announcement means that trend will continue until the government does more to bring an end to the brutal violence here."

SUICIDE HOKUM. For AC correspondent Jerry King, East Germany has become a pretty glum place since the communists were shown the door. On the May 20 World News Tonight, King, speaking for an eastern German mechanic, intoned: "People used to laugh and whistle. Now that's all over. Look around on the streets, he says. All or most people walk around with their heads hung low." King informed viewers that East Germans are so dejected over unification that the suicide rate has risen: "The unification of Germany brought the loss of jobs for many people, brainwashed into believing their lives revolved around their work. That's one reason why some psychologists blame unification for the increase in the number of suicides here."

But a May 20 Boston Globe article noted that before unification, the suicide rate in East Germany was at least twice that of West Germany, according to Boston University and U.S. National Center for Health Statistics calculations. It seems the East Germans were already plenty depressed.

OMINOUS FAIRNESS. In the wake of debate over the "civil rights" bill, the Fair Employment Coalition aired radio ads decrying the Democrats' quota bill. But some reporters made the campaign sound ominous. The May 19 Washington Post headline read "Business Lobby Reemerges as Rights Bill Opponent: Critics Describe Advertisement Used in Campaign as Race-Baiting, Potentially Explosive." Reporter Gary Lee emphasized "the keynote of the campaign is an advertisement that critics say is race-baiting and potentially explosive."

But what did the ad say? "They're at it again, trying to pass a bill that would require employers to hire and promote by quota... Under H.R. 1, Main Street businesses across the country would have to hire and promote by quotas...Some Congressmen want to throw skill, ability, and experience out the window. They want to force businesses to hire by quota or face big-ticket lawsuits." The ad ends by urging the public to "Tell them you want equal treatment for everyone, not special preferences for a few." This is explosive race-baiting?

PC PLATFORM. ABC correspondent Jackie Judd won the February Janet Cooke Award for portraying anti-war demonstrators as typical Middle Americans while ignoring the professional protesters of the radical left. On the May 13 Nightline, in contrast, Judd presented both sides in the passionate debate over "PC," or political correctness on campuses. Judd paired Yale Dean Donald Kagan and embattled Berkeley professor Vincent Sarich versus pro-PC students and Stanford professor Renato Rosaldo, who told Judd: "You could compare it, not totally facetiously, to an all-male locker room, and suddenly you bring a group of women into the all-male locker room. And the men, because the women are there, will say 'Gee, there are all kinds of things we used to say that we feel pretty inhibited about saying now.'"

Judd ended by asking: "On the face of it, who could argue with the proposition to rid education of prejudices? Still, the question has become at what point does politically correct thinking change the university from a marketplace of ideas to a center of intellectual intimidation and censorship?"

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. Last month MediaWatch noted that though the Soviet newspaper Izvestia conducted an extensive investigation disproving Soviet government claims about the Soviet shootdown of KAL-007, U.S. media outlets were ignoring the story. Since then, some have picked up on the Izvestia investigation.

CNN devoted a daytime interview segment to the subject and The New York Times ran a story on page 12 on May 19. Nightline dedicated the entire May 22 show. Ted Koppel led off with the admission, "For the first time there is hard evidence that much if not most of what the Soviet government claimed eight years ago was a tissue of lies." Reporter Rick Inderfurth announced: "Now for the first time there is real evidence that the Soviets did in fact lie about what happened to the Korean airliner...The Soviets have never said they found the Korean Airlines Boeing 747. They did."

Covering the same Izvestia piece on May 26, Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs further questioned the Soviets' claims: "The Kremlin's failure to make propaganda use of the black boxes, or even acknowledge that they are in Soviet hands, suggests that no evidence was found to prove the espionage allegations." So far, however, no reporter has apologized for giving credibility to the anti-American spy plane theories for eight long years.

BRAVELY BACKING BRADY. Before the May 8 vote on the Brady gun control bill, TV reporters seemed confident that it would help end gun violence. Last August 31 Harry Smith ranted on CBS This Morning: "While our children are being gunned down by thugs and criminals, we continue to allow ourselves to be bullied by a gun lobby which refuses to budge on issues which make simple common sense. Constitutional rights. Ask the parents of the children who were shot this summer about the right to bear arms."

On the CBS Evening News after the vote, however, correspondent Doug Tunnell reported from Florida, "Here, very few experts, from criminologists to cops, think a gun control bill would save many lives or make much difference at all...For seven years Dade County has required all gun purchasers to wait at least three days before picking up their new gun. It is intended to stop so- called crimes of passion, but there have been no conclusive studies at all whether the cooling off period has worked." Now they tell us.

KURTZ'S COVERUP. The Washington Times skewered The Washington Post for its May 21 treatment of the new Watergate expose, Silent Coup. The book presents evidence that Watergate wunderkind Bob Woodward briefed Alexander Haig when he served in the Navy, and later used him as a source for his Watergate stories. Times reporters Michael Hedges and Jerry Seper noted that "the Post story doesn't mention Mr. Woodward until paragraph 12, although his role was a prominent part of stories done by the Associated Press, Reuters, and TV's Good Morning America."

Hedges and Seper reported that Post media reporter Howard Kurtz "did not quote from transcripts of tape-recorded interviews the authors released Monday in which...witnesses [former Joint Chiefs head Thomas Moorer and former Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim] back the authors' allegations about Mr. Woodward. Mr. Kurtz now says he wasn't aware of the transcripts when he wrote his story, even though a Post reporter attended the news conference at which they were released."

The Times duo also noted that "Mr. Kurtz's story in the Post quoted no one in support of the book." Kurtz told the Times: "I personally interviewed [Nixon historian] Roger Morris, and had several quotes from him in the story. As it went through the editing process, for space reasons...they were cut." How ironic. Now who's covering up?

THE TOXIC TRUTH. Congratulations to ABC for reporting a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story on how the famous dioxin scare and evacuation of Times Beach, Missouri, may have been unnecessary. Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the community evacuated in 1983, environmental reporters have referred to the incident when urging tougher regulations and additional EPA spending. The Post-Dispatch and ABC's May 23 World News Tonight story quoted Dr. Vernon Houk, a senior official with the Centers for Disease Control, who said that based on his current knowledge of the dangers of dioxin, he never would have recommended that Times Beach be evacuated. The other networks have yet to retract their previous reporting on Times Beach and dioxin.

BOOSTING THE REGULATORS. Then again, ABC reporter Bill Greenwood worried that the budgets of EPA and other regulatory agencies aren't big enough. On the May 15 World News Tonight Peter Jennings began: "Since Ronald Reagan became President, the agencies that are supposed to protect the public from a whole range of hazards have had their budgets take a beating."

After bemoaning small, slow funding declines for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, Greenwood warned: "The problem is critical even at the Environmental Protection Agency, which Americans depend on for clean air and safe water. During the past decade, the EPA staff has grown by 11 percent, but its work load has more than doubled." But as the people of Times Beach learned, burgeoning bureaucracy does not always translate into better protection of the public.

HUGH DOWNS SDI. Tom Dearmore, former editorial director at the San Francisco Examiner, recently sent MediaWatch an amazing March 18 ABC Radio commentary by Hugh Downs. The ten-minute harangue included sophisticated budget analysis like "The Reagan-Bush years took America from the heights of a rich creditor nation down to a pit of the world's worst debtor nation. The reason was weapons purchases. No other expense came close." In fact, defense spending accounted for only 28 percent of the budget, and weapons purchases were only a fraction of that.

Downs specifically attacked the Strategic Defense Initiative. "In 1984 Ronald Reagan touted Star Wars as if it was easily and quickly obtained," Downs announced. "All SDI needed was hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars." John Cunningham of High Frontier told MediaWatch that in the last eight years SDI has cost only $21 billion.

"But Star Wars gets worse," Downs charged, "Once an aggressor seizes space for military purposes, then space could be filled with more Star Wars weapons. Any laser battle station proficient enough to destroy missiles on the ground, would also be able to incinerate whole cities. This kind of destruction has not been seen since Dresden, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Star Wars could make such holocausts simple and easy, even casual." The man who signs off 20/20 with "We're in touch, so you be in touch" has lost touch with reality.