MediaWatch: March 1993

Vol. Seven No. 3

NewsBites: Profiles in Courage

Profiles in Courage. On the February 16 NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw introduced a report on governors "who have raised taxes, cut programs, and yet politically survived." According to reporter Bob Herbert, New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio took a tough stand once elected: "Immediately, he raised taxes." Citing Florio's improving but still dismal popularity ratings, Herbert asserted: "The good news for Clinton is that Florio has at least survived. The bad news is that other governors have tried to impose tough economic medicine, and they're not doing too well." Not surprisingly, the "tough economic medicine" Herbert referred to included tax hikes by Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker and California Gov. Pete Wilson. Preceding soundbites from Weicker, Wilson, Florio, and Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles on the merits of taxation, he insisted "the governors say Clinton should stick to his guns."

But can't Clinton learn from governors such as John Engler of Michigan, or Bill Weld of Massachusetts, who balanced budgets by cutting spending, not raising taxes? Herbert didn't mention them.

Panther Pride. On February 19, Today co-host Bryant Gumbel lionized the Black Panther Party, which he claimed in the 1960s and early 1970s "preached revolution as an appropriate response to American racism." Gumbel theorized this preaching "got to" then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. "The Panthers took up arms in the midst of the Sixties struggle for social justice. They preached self-determination....They also preached self-defense, and to that end took on policemen who brutalized blacks. It was the intensity of that effort that made the Black Panthers the focus of Hoover's undeclared war. A war that eventually killed at least 19 Panther Party members."

Not all remembered the Black Panthers in the same light. Peter Collier, who worked with them as an editor of the '60s left-wing magazine Ramparts, told MediaWatch: "To pretend the Panthers were another civil rights organization is absurd." He rejected Gumbel's "self-defense" claim, citing the murder of their own dissidents. He compared the Panthers to Al Capone's Murder Inc., "at war with pimps and drug dealers over turf." Regarding the FBI, Collier asserted, "if anything, there should have been more surveillance" and added, "the figures of Panther deaths were bogus."

Later, Gumbel mused "though the same racist conditions that gave rise to the party back then still in great part exist, African- Americans today don't seem inclined to organized resistance." Collier responded: "The idea of `no progress since the '60s' is trivializing," and that Gumbel "glorified the Panthers on TV is disgusting."

Reed's School Read. Reporter Reed Galin's February 2 "Eye on America" report on the CBS Evening News focused on a big problem in the U.S. -- dumb kids. He reported teachers describe these kids as "the ones who are distracted. Can't tell left from right or dial a phone. Can't say where they live or speak in complete sentences." Galin pointed to the cause: "Surveys indicate 30 percent of their parents never read to their pre-school children. Forty percent do not teach them numbers or letters. Most parents do not tell stories to their children, engage them in arts and crafts or teach them songs or music."

Galin's solutions to the problems were more federal programs, claiming "few federal programs exist, and those few, like Head Start, can only help a fraction of those eligible." Conservatives would say these programs allowed parents to escape responsibility for their child's early development, and the programs that exist don't always work. In a February 19 Washington Post article, Mary Jordan described the criticisms of the $2.8 billion Head Start program, including the reservations of its founder, Yale professor Edward Zigler. Although still agreeing with the Head Start concept, Zigler "recommended against puttin more money into it unless it is improved. He cited a new report by the [HHS] inspector general that calls many of the programs poorly administered and unsuccessful in giving youngsters even basic care."

Time for Reform. Time Associate Editor Michael S. Serrill's February 15 article "Law and Disorder" criticized the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments for being too politicized. While conceding this happened in many other administrations, Serrill charged it reached new heights during the Reagan and Bush years. "What is different about the Justice Department that Clinton is inheriting is the depth to which politicization has seeped into the bureaucracy...Traditionally, career bureaucrats at Justice formed a strong middle-management layer that protected the department against the excesses of political appointees. But under Reagan and Bush, even the lowliest attorney had to pass an ideological litmus test."

Serrill then approvingly listed parts of Clinton's plan for the Justice Department. "Transition officials have some clear ideas about the general direction of reform. First, they want to root out the `true believers' from the Reagan-Bush years." Quite a reform: Root out the Reagan-Bush ideologues and replace them with Clinton ideologues. In a era when taxes are called contributions, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Time calls this reform.

Kramer, Still In Love. The almost-nomination of Kimba Wood as Attorney General created some interesting ethics questions for her husband, Time Senior Political Correspondent Michael Kramer. After Clinton dropped the nomination, Time staffers told The Washington Post that they were worried that the punting of Kramer's wife would cause his writing to grow more critical of Clinton. "He must have something of an ax to grind," one said. But Time Managing Editor Jim Gaines told the Post he is "completely confident that [Kramer] can put aside an personal feelings he has and write objectively about the Clinton administration." Question: did Kramer write objectively about Clinton before?

In the October 19 edition Kramer wrote: "The Republicans, it is clear, see nothing wrong with extending the Me Decade indefinitely; no matter that Reagan's trickle-down nostrums, which were supposed to lift all boats, lifted only yachts....the core of Clinton's economic vision is distinguishable from the President's and is best described as a call for a We Decade." Time staffers shouldn't worry. After the Kimba Wood fiasco, Kramer hailed Clinton's budget as "the definition of courage in American politics...Clinton's economic plan deserves to be known as a new New Deal, and Congress should pass it quickly."

FAIR's Feminist Fraud. Before the Super Bowl, reporters fell for the feminist news "hook" that studies showed domestic violence increased during and after NFL football games. In a news conference called by the far-left media critics Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Sheila Kuehl of the California Women's Law Center cited an Old Dominion University study, claiming violence against women increased 40 percent after Washington Redskins games. But of all the reporters who covered the story, only Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle called the author of the Old Dominion study, who said "that's not what we found at all."

Ringle also pointed out that FAIR representative Linda Mitchell claimed she knew Kuehl was misrepresenting the Old Dominion study, but declared: "I wouldn't [challenge] that in front of the media...She has a right to report it as she wants." Ringle also revealed that The Boston Globe cited "one study of women's shelters out West...showed a 40 percent climb in calls" to shelters on Super Bowl Sunday. Globe reporter Lynda Gorov told Ringle she never saw the study, but had been told about it by FAIR. That's an interesting picture of the media news chain: from liberal activist's mouth to front-page story with no fact checking.

Liberated by Communism. Democratic reforms in the former Soviet Union continue to bother some reporters. On February 21, the Los Angeles Times' Elizabeth Shogren reported from Moscow that "The women of Russia are less liberated, in the feminist sense, than they were when the Communist Party ruled their country." Under the friendlier communist system, Shogren asserted, "Equality for women was legally mandated, and women as well as men were required by law to work. Although this emancipation-by-decree failed to create many female factory directors or top politicians, women made up more than half the workforce," allowing women the freedom to enjoy such jobs as "jackhammer operators."

Toeing the sensitivity line, Shogren stated that forced equality "did not, however, change the public consciousness of a woman's role at home." Today many women "are being forced out of professional jobs, sexual harassment is considered business as usual," and horror of horrors, "increasingly, young women believe that freedom means enjoying traditional female roles." Personal freedom is fine for women, it seems, but only if they exercise it in the politically correct way.

ABC's Of Tolerance. Parental outrage convinced the New York City School Board to fire Chancellor Joseph Fernandez on February 10. Parents were upset by two Fernandez programs: The distribution of condoms in high schools and teaching elementary children about homosexuality. Just two days later, ABC's World News Tonight honored Fernandez as its "Person of the Week."

The controversial curriculum book Children of the Rainbow caused Fernandez's downfall. According to Peter Jennings, the curriculum "includes teaching first and second graders tolerance of gays and lesbians....[He] has certainly helped us to understand better what a challenge improving education and understanding really are. Which is why he makes a difference." Similarly, NBC's Bob Herbert claimed Fernandez was doomed by his "call for tolerance of gay men and lesbians."

But the chancellor's program went a bit beyond tolerance. Insight magazine reported the curriculum guide told teachers "classes should include references to lesbians/gay people in all curricular areas" and encouraged them to teach first graders to "respect" and "appreciate" homosexuals through "creative play, books, visitors..." The guide also claimed that ten percent of the students would grow up to be homosexuals. The bibliography included Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate.

Secret Hillary Update. Last month, MediaWatch reported the lack of media attention paid to Hillary Rodham Clinton's violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding meetings of the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform in secret. The law requires any presidentially appointed committee that includes non-governmental employees, like the Presidential Partner, to make its meetings open to the public. Only The Washington Times had reported the violation.

A day after MediaWatch went to press, The Washington Post reported the criticisms of Hillary's closed-door meetings by Rep. William Clinger (R-PA). On February 25, three groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the task force from meeting until it opened its sessions. The suit and a complaint from the AMA prompted stories in The New York Times, Washington Post, and from ABC's Brit Hume, while the other networks noted it in unrelated stories. Many, including ABC's Ned Potter, suggested conspiracy when Dan Quayle's Competitiveness Council legally met in private. But this time, reporters don't seem to care. NBC's Tom Pettit didn't mention it in a Feb. 27 profile of the group. "I'm all for secrecy," volunteered Newsweek D.C. Bureau Chief Evan Thomas on Inside Washington. "For one thing, that's the only way they are going to get it done."