MediaWatch: November 1988

Vol. Two No. 10

NewsBites: Selective Examination of Justice Selection

Selective Examination of Justice Selection. NBC News asked law correspondent Carl Stern to compare the effect of a Bush versus a Dukakis presidency on the Supreme Court.

Noting "three of the four liberal justices" will "be in their eighties and unlikely to remain through the next presidency," Stern offered this analogy to predict the standard Bush will apply when selecting new justices: "Bush broke a tie vote in the Senate to confirm Appeals Court Judge Daniel Manion, an obscure conservative opposed by the deans of 44 law schools."

As for Bush's opponent, Stern was more assuring in his October 10 story: "Dukakis, as Governor of Massachusetts, used a non-partisan advisory commission in naming judges, and says he would do the same as President."

Bush League Evaluation. NBC's Robert Bazell wasn't about to let George Bush claim the environmental high ground. For the October 12 Nightly News Bazell reviewed the environmental record of the two presidential candidates. Emphasizing an endorsement Dukakis received from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Bazell then went on to give the LCV's report card on the presidential contenders. Dukakis earned a 'B', but the LCV slapped Bush with a 'D' for his "actions as chairman of President Reagan's Task Force on Regulatory Reform." But Bazell never identified the LCV's liberal agenda, instead he described it as "a non-partisan political action committee representing several environmental groups."

A quick look at the annual congressional ratings the LCV issues shows that the Congressmen who garner perfect 100 ratings from the LCV are liberals, such as Barney Frank, Patricia Schroeder, and Henry Waxman.

On the other hand, Jack Kemp, Orrin Hatch, William Armstrong, Trent Lott and other conservatives who balance economic costs with environmental benefits only get a 20 or less. Bush's grade on the environment can't be any lower than Bazell's mark for fairness.

POST's Predictable Preference. The Washington Post, which backed Mondale in 1984, refused to endorse either Dukakis or Bush. But just over a week before the election the Post's Ombudsman confirmed what any reader already realized about the paper's reporting staff.

In his weekly column for the October 30 "Outlook" section, Richard Harwood wrote: "The huge newsroom staff, thought (by me) to be viscerally Democratic and L------ in its sympathies, lurks in the wings as sort of a silent, nonvoting regiment of Jiminy Crickets, peering, in a metaphorical sense, over the shoulders of the editorial custodians of the newspapers's 'soul.' They would, if given a vote, go like a shot, I suspect, for Dukakis."

HOLLYWOOD's Campaign. Left-wing activist Tom Hayden, better known as Jane Fonda's husband, decided to organize a celebrity bus caravan to register voters. The "Star Spangled Caravan" traveled from rally to rally in California, Oregon and Washington to sign up Democrats to vote for Dukakis.

TV and movie stars on the bus included: Justine Bateman and Michael Gross of Family Ties, Goldie Hawn, Eddie Albert, Howard Hessman of Head of the Class, Morgan Fairchild, Lloyd Bridges, John Ratzenberger of Cheers, Moonlighting's Bruce Willis, and "ratpackers" Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson. Several other stars, including Sally Field, Richard Gere and Daryl Hannah have accompanied Dukakis during California campaign swings.

The George Bush campaign managed to find a few celebrities willing to publicly back his candidacy. Among them: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Telly Savalas and Cheryl Ladd. The liberal culture that predominates Hollywood helped Dukakis out in other ways. Burt Lancaster along with Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of L.A.Law volunteered to star in pro-ACLU ads. But the Bush campaign had to scrap counter ads. Why? Because, as Bush entertainment liaison Rene Henry explained in the October 17 Los Angeles Times, "some very big names" declined, for fear of being blackballed for going after an institution considered sacred by the Hollywood Left.

Media Issue. Politicians from both sides of the aisle had plenty of complaints about how the media, especially the networks, covered and influenced the presidential campaign. Their most frequent criticisms: First, TV stories focused too much on soundbites at the expense of probing "the issues." Second, self created news, namely polls that became the lead story on the network which commissioned them. Indeed, only CNN reported the results of polls conducted by their competitors. Newsweek realized the media had become a major issue. Five of 15 questions in a presidential campaign poll published in the October 31 issue concerned the media's role. One finding: More Americans blame the media than the candidates or their managers for "negative aspects of this year's campaign."

Taking Civil Liberties. George Bush used Michael Dukakis' status as a self-professed "card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)" as proof the Massachusetts Governor held liberal views. At various times Bush pointed out that the union's policy guide asks that the private movie rating system (PG, R etc.) be eliminated, demands a ban on public display of nativity scenes and the menorah, urges an end to tax exemptions for churches, and calls for the legalization of drugs. All positions which most Americans find abhorrent.

But the same media outlets that demanded Reagan judicial appointments repudiate affiliations with discriminatory clubs, didn't see anything for the ACLU or Dukakis to be ashamed of; in fact they ignored those positions and portrayed the ACLU as a non-political group fighting for those oppressed by government action. An October 10 Newsweek article offered this innocuous description: "The organization is devoted to upholding the rights of any individual -- no matter how odious his or her views."

NBC Nightly News devoted an entire story to the ACLU. On September 27 Carl Stern gave Robert Bork a few seconds to denounce the union, but most of the piece presented it as a group that upsets all segments of society equally: "More than 60 years ago it sided with John Scopes when he was prosecuted for teaching evolution. More than 40 years ago it opposed World War II internment of Japanese Americans. Ten years ago it defended the rights of American Nazi's to march in Illinois and currently it is defending the fair trail rights of Oliver North."

In fact, a recent direct mail letter put together before the campaign furor erupted and signed by Executive Director Ira Glasner began: "If you thought the eight year struggle against the right-wing extremists of the Reagan era was already won... THINK AGAIN." So much for political neutrality.

Dumping on the Environment. Is the environment getting better or worse? If you rely on ABC News you may be confused. In a September 8 Special, "Burning Issues: "The Poisoning of America," host Hugh Downs warned it was time to "sound an alarm" on the problem of toxic waste.

Reporter Greg Dobbs relayed the expected dire media line: "Victims of Love Canal in New York, stamped forever on our memories and on our environment. Forgotten old buried waste, toxic fumes, chromosome damage in 30 percent of the citizens tested....And, from Times Beach, Missouri, dioxin-tainted oil to coat the dusty roads. It spreads in a flood: a chance of cancer in a community."

But that completely contradicted a segment last month on the same network's 20/20 show. Downs introduced a report with another kind of warning. He asked: "Have fear and hysteria replaced common sense?" Consumer reporter John Stossel provided this answer: "Now the EPA says dioxin may be 16 times less dangerous than they thought during the Times Beach scare....And then there's the most famous case, Love Canal....Everyone was certain that toxic waste there had already caused birth defects and cancer....But several years later, the Center for Disease Control did a more scientific assessment of the dangers and said the cancer rates of Love Canal residents were no higher than average." Dobbs told MediaWatch he was "not familiar with Stossel's report." Nonetheless Dobbs described his work as "accurate." Stossel also stands by his version. Who is right? As Stossel explained to MediaWatch: "There are plenty of stories out there that say 'isn't it awful we're all dying.' I don't know how well researched any of them are."

Better World for Abortion. TBS Chairman Ted Turner delved into politics in 1985 by forming the Better World Society (BWS), a group whose Board of Directors includes several well-known world communist leaders. Just last year, Turner invited Communist China's Vice Chairman of the State Family Planning Association, Zhou Boping, to join. So it's no wonder that Zhou Boping's group, an official arm of the communist regime, received one of BWS' Better World Medals this year.

The award, to be presented at a gala event in New York City in late November, was earned for China's "work at the grassroots level in educating and motivating communities to adopt the government's family planning policy." Sounds harmless enough. But what did BWS neglect to mention? The agency oversees the one-child population control policy which has led to death for over ten million unborn children each year through the regimes's forced infanticide program.