MediaWatch: October 1990

Vol. Four No. 10

NewsBites: Economy Socked

ECONOMY SOCKED. CBS This Morning economics reporter Robert Krulwich found definitive evidence the U.S. is in a recession: a study on men's clothing sales. Said Krulwich on September 27: "This year there has been a sharp, dramatic drop in men's clothing purchases. In category after category, men are simply not replacing the clothes they have. The last time this happened, more than ten years ago, was right after the second OPEC oil shock and the very next year we had a recession."

To add a visual touch, Krulwich pranced across a runway with a fake mustache modeling last year's clothes, everything from raincoat to socks. "So your clothing indicator says the recession is here now," CBS This Morning co-host Harry Smith concluded. Krulwich responded: "Well, if not here, almost. Because if you multiply all the socks not being sold, the shirts not being sold, pants not being sold. At this point that's so much business not being done, that suggests that you either are on the verge of a recession or the mere act of not buying so much could create the recession all by itself."

CUTTING UP CAPITAL GAINS. Conservatives want the capital gains tax rate reduced to spur economic growth in the face of recession. Liberals see it as a giveaway to the rich, and that's how many reporters have portrayed it. "The latest sticking point" in budget negotiations was "President Bush's insistence on cutting the capital gains tax for mostly wealthy Americans," Dan Rather declared on September 18. "That's a goody for the rich, isn't it?" Lesley Stahl asked Senator Dole on the September 23 Face the Nation. In making the liberal case, Time Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Laurence Barrett wrote that "No one would argue" with Bush's "insistence that the mix of spending cuts and tax hikes 'must be fair; all should contribute.' But when the President got to specifics, fairness became scarce. In the name of promoting economic growth, Bush renewed his support of six tax giveaways that would cost the Treasury an estimated $30 billion over five years. The most notable of these would cut the maximum levy on capital gains from 33% to 15%."

FLORIO FLACKS. Reporting on ways to improve our school system, CBS polished the apple of the liberals who equate higher spending with better education. In a September 6 CBS Special Report, America's Toughest Assignment: Education, headmaster Charles Kuralt lectured on one solution to America's education problems: "In a nation which prides itself on equality of opportunity, [our] method of financing the schools has created enormous differences in what schools can provide. We believe this imbalance isn't fair; we think all our children should go to good schools equally financed." Correspondent Mike Wallace gave New Jersey Governor Jim Florio an A+ for raising taxes since "His radical approach of shifting resources from rich districts to poor has him being compared to Robin Hood."

But in an October 15 New Republic cover story on negative reaction to Florio's tax hikes, even leftist writer John Judis disputed the "more money equals better education" philosophy: "The educational research of the last decade has revealed, almost without exception, that increased funding has not improved education. Education cost per capita has doubled in the last decade, while by any standard measure, educational achievement in public schools has slightly declined." And voters sure aren't comparing Florio to Robin Hood. Florio's approval rating has plunged to below 30 percent since the tax hikes.

ADVERSARY PRESS? Budget coverage proves the networks' Washington reporters have spent too much time in Washington. Reporting on the supposedly dire consequences of a sequester, no reporter pointed out that a full sequester would force $85 billion in "cuts" out of a budget $91 billion larger than the year before. In other words, the government would be "paralyzed" even though it could spend an additional $6 billion.

ABC's panicked reporters were typical. On the September 23 This Week with David Brinkley Jim Wooten warned: "A sequester of that size, David, would be as they call it up here, a genuine train wreck." That night, anchor Carole Simpson concurred: "Everyone agrees that would be a disaster."

Reporters also failed to investigate how government employees misrepresent spending cuts with the old "close the Washington Monument" dodge, protecting non-essential employees and programs by shutting down the most visible services. "Tough" Washington reporters took the bureaucratic maneuver hook, line, and sinker.

On the September 26 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer asked four government bureaucrats to analyze the impact. They warned of clogged airports, patients turned away at Veteran's Hospitals, and closed Head Start day care centers. "In Los Angeles," Schieffer warned, "it is a question of what happens when thousands of children cannot be vaccinated because of cutbacks in public health funds." Dr. Caswell Evans of the Los Angeles County Health Dept. told Schieffer: "We would not be able to provide services to at least 150,000 school-age children, and we would expect possibly another 15,000 cases of measles against infants and children." The county has had 2,600 cases this year among children under five.

MISSING MEDICARE MATH. For one-sided budget coverage, look no further than CBS reporter Susan Spencer on October 1: "Medicare took a direct hit in this agreement, $60 billion in savings, half the domestic spending cuts." Spencer devoted the whole story to the growing opposition, quoting five opponents of the "cuts," and none in favor. But Spencer failed to honestly report the budget math. On September 13, Washington Post reporters Steven Mufson and John E. Yang got to the nitty gritty: "Budget negotiators have focused on Medicare because its cost has ballooned to $105.4 billion a year and it is the fastest growing part of the federal budget. Without any changes, Medicare would grow at 12 percent to 13 percent during the next fiscal year." A 12 percent increase in a $105.4 billion budget is more than $12 billion, which multiplied over five years, is more than the $60 billion that's being "cut."

ABC'S ENERGY AGENDA. ABC reporter Ned Potter is still crusading for a top-down government energy policy. "After 3 jolts in 17 years, the U.S. still has no comprehensive plans, no overall strategy that would break its addiction to Middle East crude," Potter preached in a September 18 World News Tonight report.

But Potter didn't discuss how U.S. dependence on foreign oil was heightened by policies like the Windfall Profits Tax, which impeded domestic oil production, or efforts by anti-nuclear activists to eliminate nuclear power as an alternative energy source. In fact, he criticized the drive for more domestic oil: "Despite the lip-service paid to conservation, the real priority at the White House is producing more domestic oil." 

As usual, Potter only presented one view as reasonable: the liberal environmentalist view. "The ultimate goal, through clean fuels and conservation is to get away from oil. They call for cars that get 40 miles a gallon, a gas tax to discourage driving, and an adequately funded program for alternative energy sources." Just what kind of "adequately funded programs" is Potter talking about? In an August 27 World News Tonight story, Potter championed a Canadian government program for cars powered by natural gas: "It costs $2,300 to add extra tanks to Arsino's van, but Canadian government subsidies paid for almost all of it. That is far more than the American government has done."

NIXED NUKE NEWS. The Washington Post, New York Times and AP took notice when the National Cancer Institute released a report on Sept. 19 which dismissed any link between cancer deaths and living near a nuclear power plant.

The story didn't do so well on television, however: only NBC's Robert Hager reported the story. "The study found that in counties near nuclear plants, there was no pattern of increased cancer deaths after plants were built and no pattern of increased cancer deaths compared to other counties far from nuclear plants," Hager noted, concluding, "One of the nuclear industry's biggest problems has been the public fear of health risks. Today's report isn't the final word, but it could help nuclear advocates on that point." Maybe that's why ABC and CBS ignored it.

CARLSON CAMPAIGN. Senior Writer Margaret Carlson suggested in the September 10 Time that the White Male Candidate (or WMC, as she called them) can no longer stoop to the usual negative campaign tactics when facing a female or black opponent, though she knows of a few exceptions.

One is Texas GOP gubernatorial hopeful Clayton Williams, who "seems to be less worried about being too insensitive than about not being insensitive enough." Another uncooperative WMC is Senator Jesse Helms. Time's caption pared "ultra-right conservative" Helms with "former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt." Time could have called Gantt an "ultra-left liberal," but why be fair?

UNBEARABLE ARMS. Apparently not all constitutional rights are equally worthy. In his weekly commentary "The Record of Who We Are" on August 31, CBS This Morning's Harry Smith complained that America is "overflowing with firearms...thanks in large part to the gun lobby, which makes sure just about anybody can get their hands on just about any kind of gun they want." Smith blamed not the criminals or just guns for violent crimes, but lobbyists for law-abiding gun owners. "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."

Smith blamed "a constitutional right which gun lovers have lorded over us for years....Constitutional rights? Ask the parents of the children who were shot this summer about the right to bear arms. They bear only the pain of their loss." What about those whose reputations have been destroyed by freedom of the press "lorded over us" by Smith and his colleagues? We're waiting for a commentary on that.

NBC'S NICARAGUA. "The streets of Managua were filled today with thousands of protesters angry about what they call an attempt by the government to starve Nicaragua's people," Tom Brokaw announced October 1. Brad Willis then focused on how "Daniel Ortega warns that reversing the gains of the revolution will not be tolerated. The people are not willing to be starved, he says, as a sacrifice for democracy." Willis failed to point out that these "thousands of protesters" were Sandinista supporters, who obviously don't have the support of the people. They lost the election, but have refused to turn over the reins of government. Instead, Willis concluded by echoing the views of the Sandinista hooligans: "They chant 'not one step backwards,' but since democracy has come to Nicaragua, it has seemed impossible to take one step forward."

SOFTBALL I. Today co-host Bryant Gumbel has decided that the best question for a liberal guest is a leading one. For example, Gumbel made it easy for Speaker of the House Tom Foley to push his budget agenda during a September 17 appearance. Gumbel muddied the issue of Democratic foot-dragging of capital gains ("Would it be fair to characterize the stalemate, then, as an impasse rooted in fairness?") and questioned Bush's tactics: "[T]he President continues to talk kinder, gentler and at the same time some of his Republicans are going out and engaging in some pretty nasty name calling. Are you satisfied with the amount of White House leadership you're getting on this?"

SOFTBALL II. When Gumbel wanted expert opinion on the visit of South African President de Klerk on September 24 he turned to Randall Robinson, the head of the pro-ANC TransAfrica lobby. Noting the many casualties caused by black-on-black violence, Gumbel wondered: "President de Klerk assured President Bush that the fight against violence is being, he says, carried out by security forces in an impartial manner. Do you think that's a lie?"

Gumbel didn't pass up the chance to bash Bush: "Do you think [Bush] cares any less about the freedom of, oppression of, blacks in South Africa than he does say, about whites in Eastern Europe?" Robinson's response was no shock: "Well absolutely he cares less. We don't, we haven't had Kurt Waldheim in the White House. He doesn't ask Arafat to the White House. He doesn't ask Qaddafi to the White House." Gumbel didn't mention that Arafat and Qaddafi are allies of the ANC.

CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FARCE. Using the recent United Nations children's summit as a chance for another round of hand-wringing over America's perceived social ills, several interviewers failed to challenge the idea that more spending is the only logical solution. Today co-host Bryant Gumbel, on September 28, and Face the Nation host Lesley Stahl, on September 30, interviewed nationalized child care advocate Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund. The segments were more pep rally than interview. Gumbel asked, "The goal of your organization is to encourage this country to invest in its children before the bad things happen to them. In that regard, are we going backwards?"

Lesley Stahl was even better at prompting Edelman to call for more spending: "[Bush] is signing the United States on to a new declaration, as I understand it, that commits us to meeting certain goals on infant mortality and prenatal care. That's obviously going to take billions of new dollars that they're not putting in, won't it? Won't it take much more money?" As if this weren't enough, Stahl asked Edelman to "be an analyst for us. You've been working on behalf of children now for years and years. What happened in our country where we can watch children going hungry, pregnant women not getting the proper care. And we don't seem to care as a society. How did we get here?"

FANCY FOOTEWORK. Up until now, health officials and AIDS activists have been telling us that unscrupulous sexual practices or intravenous drug use are the only ways to contract the deadly virus. But in Ireland, Newsweek reporter Jennifer Foote has discovered a more serious cause -- the Catholic Church.

Foote's September 24 article, "Ireland, AIDS, and the Church" opened with 24 year-old "Vicky," whose family has been racked by AIDS. Both of Vicky' brothers, and her husband, were drug abusers who contracted AIDS. Her sister, according to Vicky, "caught it from a fella."

So how's the Catholic Church to blame? "In the worldwide war against AIDS, education has been one of the few weapons that work. Irish AIDS activists, however, are coming up against deep-rooted denial and ignorance. Doctors who try to spread the word about safe sex face a formidable obstacle in the Roman Catholic Church, which condemns homosexuality and contraception -- including condoms."

Foote conceded that the schools in Ireland do have access to information about AIDS, but took issue with how students are taught: "This year, schools offer AIDS education materials, but the prescriptions for prevention are abstinence, chastity, and fidelity in marriage."

AMERICA'S HOLOCAUSTS. Newsweek General Editor Peter Plagens compared modern America to Nazi Germany in his September 10 review of Heinz Jost's photographic exhibition "A Day In The Warsaw Ghetto." Plagens noted "There are those who say that to measure any other barbarism against the Holocaust is to trivialize the unequaled tragedy that befell the Jews." But he trivialized anyway: "Looking at these pictures, however, it is hard not to be struck by resemblances that suggest that the horror of the Holocaust has not been obliterated, but simply broken up, crushed into powder, and raked into the soil of contemporary life."

Plagens preached: "Even in our very rich country, the number of tattered beggars, slumped in despair on city streets, grows steadily greater. The bearded, skull-like heads of the Warsaw Ghetto's interned are remindful of AIDS victims in the last stages of the plague. And it is almost impossible not to realize that we have seen, and still see, pictures of bodies of innocents lying dead under perversely meaningless advertising signs, at the feet of blase soldiers who think they're just doing their jobs." MediaWatch is offering a free year's subscription to the first reader to figure out that last sentence.