CyberAlert -- 08/18/1997 -- Public Couldn't Follow Hearings; Coverage Boosts Teamsters

Public Couldn't Follow Hearings; Coverage Boosts Teamsters

  1. Matching the media's priorities, a new poll discovered that few have heard anything about Clinton and fundraising and most did not follow the hearings.
  2. Actor Mel Gibson says he'll stop smoking in movies as soon as the Clintons "stop telling fibs."
  3. A new MRC study on the UPS strike found that the networks mis- reported the part-time work dispute and ignored the pension issue.

1) A couple of interesting findings in the latest monthly poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Released Friday, the poll of 1,213 adults showed that lack of television focus on the fundraising hearings is reflected in how much the public knows and follows the subject.

  • Asked "Can you recall anything you have heard about Bill Clinton in the news?" just three percent said "campaign finance," down from seven percent in the February Pew survey. "Whitewater" also plummeted from 18 percent in February to five percent this month. (To put this in some perspective, 41 percent could not recall hearing anything about Clinton in the news.)
  • Raising the chicken and the egg question, the topics the networks most focused upon were also the subjects most closely followed by the public:
"More than one in five Americans (24%) followed Versace's death and the search for suspect Andrew Cunanan very closely, and another 33% fairly closely. Similarly, 22% followed news about the exploration of Mars very closely and 36% fairly closely...
"As the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee began its first round of hears on improper foreign campaign contributions, public interest in the topic fell to its lowest point in eight months. Only one in ten Americans followed the hearings closely, more than one third (35%) paid almost no attention at all."
A total of 72 percent either "very closely" or "fairly closely" followed the Iran-Contra hearings, Pew's September 1987 poll determined. Of course, those hearings got a bit more attention from the television networks.
  • As any regular CyberAlert reader knows, a recurring theme from the pundits is that the public doesn't care about who did what in fundraising, just that the hearings lead to "campaign finance reform." Not so, Pew discovered. Asked "What should Congress and Clinton focus on next?" 15 times as many answered "education" as "campaign finance." Here's the rundown:

    Education: 30%
    Social Security: 29%
    Poverty: 18%
    Medicare: 12%
    Race relations: 4%
    Campaign finance: 2%

To read the MRC's special fax report study on lack of network attention to the hearings, go to: Or, directly to:

2) At least one Hollywood star has realized that the Clintons are not always truthful. A few weeks ago in her syndicated newspaper column, First Lady Hillary Clinton criticized Julia Roberts for smoking in her movie, My Best Friend's Wedding. Mrs. Clinton wrote that the Roberts character "smokes when she's upset. She smokes when she's tired. She smokes when she's happy. In fact she seems to smoke throughout the movie....Movie stars who puff away on the screen equate smoking with status, power, confidence, and glamour."

MRC research associate Kristina Sewell caught this reaction from actor Mel Gibson as aired on the August 5 edition of the syndicated Access Hollywood show:
"But you know so what. I mean hey, haven't they got something else to worry about? And you know okay, I'll stop smoking when they stop telling fibs you know."

3) Network coverage of the UPS strike matched the spin of Teamster head Ron Carey and liberals out to make part-time work the issue, a new study from the MRC's Free Market Project discovered. While the plight of small businesses got plenty of attention, the networks ignored the pension issue as well as the fact that almost half the part-timers at UPS are college students.

You can contact study author Tim Lamer, Director of the Free Market Project, at:
From the upcoming August issue of MediaNomics, the Issue Analysis:

Teamsters Strike Against United Parcel Service

Striking Out on UPS Coverage
Not many business stories get the amount of news coverage given to the Teamsters' union strike against the United Parcel Service (UPS). Network reporters could have seized this opportunity to go into depth about the issues involved in the strike.
Did they? Media Research Center analysts reviewed every story about the strike on ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News between August 3 and August 12. There were a total of 43 stories during this study period. For the most part, reporters frittered away the chance to look in-depth at the strike, rarely going below the surface. For example, two of the main issues of the strike were either misreported or ignored by almost all reporters:
-- Part-time workers. The networks made much of the plight of part-time workers at UPS. Twelve of the 43 stories focused on the union complaint that UPS relied too much on part-time help instead of full-time employees. The Teamsters "want more full-time jobs and a limit on subcontractors," reported NBC's Andrea McCarren on the August 3 Nightly News. "Part-timers now make up more than half of the UPS work force." Several of these reports included profiles of part-time workers who want to work full time.
But no story during the study period pointed out, as did the August 7 Investor's Business Daily, that many people want to work only part time, such as those "who have other commitments like kids to raise or a full load of classes." Specifically, none pointed out, as IBD did, that 42 percent of UPS part-timers are college students.
CBS Economics Correspondent Ray Brady twice used the UPS strike as an opportunity to rail against the economy in general for creating too many part-time jobs. On the August 4 CBS Evening News, he reported that "across America the number of part-time workers is skyrocketing." Brady focused on workers who "have no choice" but to work part time. Then, in an August 7 "Eye on America" report, he saw "signs of a backlash" against this trend. But as MSNBC Opinion Editor Phillip Harper points out, "According to the Labor Department, a full 80 percent of [part-time workers] aren't interested in full-time work. These are students, retirees and housewives who are quite content to put in a few hours at a service provider like UPS and then spend the rest of the day in some other pursuit." This number didn't make it into network stories about part-time work.
-- Pension benefits. Only two network stories during the study period focused on the company's desire to take over the workers' pension fund and the union's resistance to this proposal. (One was by ABC's Jackie Judd, the other was by Brady.)
No World News Tonight reporter even mentioned the word "pension" until Judd's August 10 story, a week into the strike. Brady's story didn't air until August 12. NBC Nightly News didn't air a full story about the pension issue during the study period. For the first full week of the strike, viewers didn't hear the argument that by funding the Teamsters' pension operation, UPS is forced to subsidize the pensions of non-UPS workers, many of whom work for far less profitable competing companies.
"As UPS has been trying to explain to its Teamster employees," the August 7 Wall Street Journal editorialized, "the company could boost their pension payments 50 percent if they didn't have to subsidize the pensions of other Teamsters."
This is not to say that there weren't any informative network stories or that all of the reporting was pro-Teamster and anti-UPS. Nineteen stories profiled companies that relied on fast shipping and thus were being crippled by the strike.
NBC's Jim Avila, on the August 5 Nightly News, used the strike to explain the emergence in many businesses of "just-in-time inventory," and how this efficient business practice depends on fast, reliable shipping. And some reports mentioned that many workers wanted a chance to vote on the UPS proposal, but weren't allowed to by their union.
But by neglecting some important details about part-time workers and union-dominated pensions, the networks missed an opportunity to tell viewers the full story.

The networks finally picked up on the pension issue over the weekend, but they gave the union a free ride for almost two weeks.

-- Brent Baker