Breaking Promise Keepers; Hyping Anita Hill's Tale
- NBC focused
on how women's groups say the "warm and fuzzy ideology"
forwarded by the Promise Keepers "is a mask for something
- Anita Hill
showcased favorably by NBC's Dateline and Today which assumed her
story was true. Katie Couric wondered: "What do you hope will
be the enduring lesson of your experience?"
1) The big
Promise Keepers rally will take place on Saturday in Washington, DC.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning NBC became the first broadcast
network to look at the group's goals, though ABC and CBS are sure to
pick up on the event before Saturday. (CNN ran a story on Impact. More
on that in the next CyberAlert.)
NBC put Promise Keepers on
the defense, using complaints from left-wing groups as the hook for
the story. On Tuesday's Nightly News, though reporter Jim Avila
relayed the points of those in favor of Promise Keepers he ended by
endorsing the charge by critics that the group is hiding a right wing
Tom Brokaw introduced the
September 30 "In Depth" segment:
"They call themselves
the Promise Keepers. It's a fellowship of Christian men bonding over
their religious beliefs and their commitment to their families. It's
a movement that started with a gathering of 72 men seven years ago.
It is expected to draw at least 700,000 men to Washington for a
rally this weekend. The Promise Keepers and their charismatic leader
have drawn plenty of attention over the years -- not all of it
positive. In fact, some women's groups feel that Promise Keepers,
their warm and fuzzy ideology, is a mask for something more
sinister. We begin our In- Depth reporting tonight with NBC's Jim
Avila, as transcribed by MRC
intern Rebecca Hinnershitz, opened on an up note:
"They hug. They cry.
They bond. But mostly they pray. The Promise Keepers. They say their
god is a man with a capital 'M' and so are they."
Following a soundbite from
Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, Avila explained:
University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, still called
coach, but now filling stadiums with prayer and men who promise to
pursue relationships with Jesus and with other men, promise to go to
church and build strong marriages. It's an appealing message to
some. The Promise Keepers have grown to 2.6 million in just seven
years. It's the second largest revival group in America, right
behind Billy Graham."
Avila ran a soundbite from
Joseph Stowell of the Moody Bible Institute before picking up:
"And now the crowning
event. As many as 700,000 Promise Keepers may converge on
Washington, D.C. this Saturday. In the shadow of the Washington
Monument a dramatic and historic setting. The Washington Mall a mile
of men. The Capitol as a backdrop, but no women -- just a sea of
masculinity the Promise Keepers say will make it safe for men to
bend their knees and weep openly in public."
At this point Avila switched
to the negative, stating as fact what Promise Keepers opponents
"But there will be
protestors too and as their fundamentalist doctrines become better
known, donations are dropping and rally attendance falling."
Indeed, a September 29
Washington Post story noted that "attendance at rallies, which
peaked at 1.1 million last year, has dropped to fewer than 600,000
this year." But instead of endorsing the anti-Promise Keepers
take, the Post considered two possibilities: "This could mean
that interest is dwindling, or it could reflect PK's decision to
travel to smaller venues such as Birmingham and Fresno."
Back to the NBC story,
leading into a soundbite from NOW's Patricia Ireland, Avila intoned:
"Many women think the
Promise Keepers are frightening. It's not just about returning to
family and church -- it's about controlling women."
After Ireland, Avila
ominously warned: "And critics say there is more dangerous
doctrine in the Promise Keepers agenda that to some looks more right
wing than religious. Bill McCartney spoke at anti-abortion rallies,
calls homosexuality a sin, and his group has received money and
support from Jerry Falwell, the Christian Coalition, and Pat
Alfred Ross of the Center
for Democracy declared: "Men supremacy is simply no more
acceptable in our society than racial supremacy."
Avila put a damper on the
fear he had just emphasized: "But is this mixed message of
macho ideology and family responsibility something to fear?
Freelance writer Donna Minkovitz [sp?] went undercover disguised as
a man to find out, a feminist writing for Ms. magazine she mingled
with 50,000 Promise Keepers at their rally in Tampa."
Minkovitz found them less
than terrifying: "The thing that most surprised me about the
Promise Keepers rally was how much it moved me personally."
But Avila concluded by
emphasizing the feminist spin that PK wants men to rule, not the
PK's contention that they just want men to fulfill their
responsibilities to their families and wives: "But not
everyone is a convert, and as the Promise Keepers face their biggest
weekend ever, they're finding that returning to a world where man
has the final word will take more than a promise and a prayer."
Up next, Nightly News ran an
In Their Own Words piece from wife of a Promise Keepers participant.
"Although she's not
going to the rally, she will be supporting him and the other men
which have become a way of life for her."
Wednesday's Today featured a
discussion about the Promise Keepers rally. NOW's Patricia Ireland was
outnumbered two-to-one by a supportive minister and Gary Bauer of the
Family Research Council, but as MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens
observed, interviewer Matt Lauer made up for that.
"What is it about this
group that you find so attractive?" Lauer first asked Bauer. His
second question: "You say though that these men want to keep
their promises; they want strong families. If it's important to teach
these lessons, why not teach men and women the lessons together and
Lauer brought Ireland and the
pastor into the conversation with a nice question to each, but he did
once challenge Ireland: "If many wives of Promise Keepers are
saying they're very happy with the changes they're seeing in their
husbands, then why isn't the proof in the pudding?"
Refocusing the segment on the
threat posed by the Promise Keepers, Lauer twice demanded that Bauer
respond to Ireland's charges:
"What are your views
on the concerns of Ms. Ireland who says that this group does not
promote equality -- it promotes dominance of men over women?"
"But Mr. Bauer, Ms.
Ireland seems to be saying that all this talk about love and respect
and faithfulness is more of a smoke screen for a right-wing
political and social agenda. Why don't you agree with that?"
2) NBC made a
deal with the publisher of Anita Hill's new book to feature her
prominently in exchange for getting her first. And they did, running
two pieces on Dateline and two interviews on Today. Now that her
exclusive deal is done, you can expect to see her on many outlets
talking about her book titled, Speaking Truth to Power. In fact, she
got an hour on Wednesday's Larry King Live.
In her NBC appearances Jane
Pauley and Katie Couric assumed her story of sexual harassment was
true as they never raised any of the contradictions, time line
problems or fabrications documented by David Brock in his 1993 book,
The Real Anita Hill. Instead, the two news personalities portrayed
Hill as the victim.
In the interest of space,
today's CyberAlert will cover the Today show interviews. Tomorrow's
CyberAlert will look at Dateline.
Katie Couric's questions got
easier and easier for Hill as the interviews progressed. Couric began
by observing how Hill had broken a promise:
Couric's next two questions
appeared to cast doubt on her story, but they led to a third question
in which Couric endorsed Hill's reasoning for keeping in touch with
DeConcini, one of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
said, 'If you're sexually harassed you ought to get mad about it, do
something about it, and you ought to complain instead of hanging
around a long time and then all of a sudden calling up anonymously
and say 'Oh I want to complain.' I mean where is the gumption?' Some
people still think why didn't she come forward sooner? Why did she
put up with it?"
"But for some people
it still begs the question why you didn't complain about the
harassment and why, this of course has dogged you I know for the
last six years, why you followed Clarence Thomas from the Department
of Education where you experienced sexual harassment to the EEOC."
"And you felt you
didn't want to be penalized by Clarence Thomas' bad behavior. Thus
the phone calls after you two parted ways?"
Couric last question on day
one: "Before we go, how do you feel about Clarence Thomas today
when you read about him?"
Though Couric never once
described Hill as liberal, Hill's answer showed she's no conservative:
"Well, I think when I
read the opinions, what I'm looking for, what I'm trying to find in
those opinions is some compassion. It was a concern I had expressed
even before I appeared on the scene in terms of the claims that I
had made. I wanted to see in those opinions some compassion for the
Hill: "I have
Couric concluded by promising
to discuss why Thomas's "high-tech lynching" comment so
Hill returned for part two on
the October 1 Today. Couric's introduction clearly painted Hill as the
"It's been six years
since she testified on Capitol Hill against Clarence Thomas but
Anita Hill remembers exactly how she felt as she faced what she
described as 14 white men dressed in dark grey suits, the members of
the Senate Judiciary Committee. In her book, Speaking Truth to
Power, she formally asks those men to apologize to her parents for
their treatment of her and for what she calls their lack of will to
address the issue of sexual harassment."
Couric's questions to Hill:
"We left off by
talking about the use of high-tech lynching by Judge Thomas during
confirmation hearings. You found that particularly galling,
"It played on the
collective guilt of white America very, very well didn't it?"
"You talk in your book
about your treatment by the African American community. I mean
obviously it's not one community, there are many, many different
opinions and viewpoints within that community. But you talk about
feeling fairly isolated by the people there. And in particular I'm
fascinated by the way African American women viewed you and your
"You write in your
book that you were surprised that Clarence Thomas didn't admit that
his behavior was immoral, I'm paraphrasing here. Were you really
that surprised. Didn't you know that would completely scuttle his
Up next, Couric turned
personal, arguing that a question she posed to Hill in an earlier
interview was in Hill's "best interest" to answer. In the
midst of her lengthy question, Couric made the only mention during the
two interviews of David Brock's name, only to tag him twice with an
ideological label, a service she failed to provide with Hill:
"You as I mentioned
took a little shot, not that big a shot, you say an observation at
an interview that we did. And that's perfectly okay with me because
goodness knows I'm not perfect. But we were doing an interview about
a Supreme Court decision about sexual harassment. And during the
course of that interview I asked you about a book that had been
written that at the time was getting a great deal of attention by a
very conservative writer, right wing writer named David Brock,
called The Real Anita Hill that brought some attention to your
credibility. And I asked you to respond to it and you say you were
angry and disappointed. 'Ms. Couric's question reminded me that no
matter what the breakthrough in law and in our understanding of the
problem of sexual harassment there will always be those who want to
reduce us to talking about the salacious and the sordid.'
"a:) Do you think it
would have been journalistically sound not to give you an
opportunity to respond to what had been written about you. And b:)
Why wouldn't it be in your best interest to at least have an
opportunity to comment?"
Couric's parting inquiry: "Twenty,
thirty, forty fifty years down the road when kids in school read
about you, what do you hope will be the enduring lesson of your
After reading Couric's
questions, consider Hill's bizarre view of media coverage. In an
excerpt of her book available on the MSNBC Web site, the MRC's Tim
Graham noticed, Hill asserted that "throughout the process, an
independent press went along with the Republican perspective." (
http://www.msnbc.com/news/113770.asp) They sure didn't then and
are not now.