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MediaWatch: July 13, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 11

Why Did CNN, Time Push Gaseous Lies?

Media Claim It’s All About Ratings, Ignore the Liberal Bias

CNN’s and Time’s retraction of their unsubstantiated NewsStand documentary charging U.S. special forces used nerve gas on U.S. "defectors" in Laos in 1970 stirred a new debate in media circles. What fueled this fiasco? Despite the fact that network meltdowns in the 1990s have been aimed at liberals’ villains (GM, Food Lion, the U.S. military), liberal bias wasn’t blamed. It was the demand for juicy ratings-grabbing magazine shows on a 24-hour news channel.

Quoting establishment expert Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski relayed the majority view on July 3: "So what’s going on? Media critics claim the explosive growth in 24 hour news outlets has created an unhealthy competition."

On ABC’s World News Tonight, Carole Simpson talked with Harvard’s Marvin Kalb, formerly with CBS and NBC, about how ratings lust is to blame. She offered another theory: "Older people are leaving. Do you think young people are lacking some of the wisdom that the old heads could provide, because they’re not there in the newsroom anymore?" That’s odd considering the advanced ages of reporter Peter Arnett, fired producer Jack Smith and CNN President Rick Kaplan, who created the NewsStand concept.

If CNN had simply been competing for a Nielsen bonanza, why not focus on Princess Di or JonBenet instead of a war that seems ancient to many viewers? CNN didn’t spice up its promos with the explosive charge of Americans killing Americans: "A tightly held military secret of the Vietnam War now exposed.... American warriors with the lethal weapon the U.S. swore never to use." In bragging up the "multiply sourced" report, CNN’s Jeff Greenfield only told Don Imus on his MSNBC/radio show: "All I can tell you at this point is that both the target of the mission and the means used to try to carry that mission out are really most disturbing."

One leading media figure was willing to acknowledge the fiasco at least aided the liberal bias argument. ABC This Week host Cokie Roberts said July 5: "This plays into the whole conservative view of the liberal media, which is that it’s a fundamental view of an America that is essentially anti-American. It is saying that the American military is such an evil institution that it will go out and do this to its own people." CNN’s Vietnam revisionism doesn’t bode well for their upcoming project: a 24-part documentary on the Cold War produced with consultants from the leftist National Security Archive.