MediaWatch: July 1989

Vol. Three No. 7

NewsBites: Newsroom Liberals

NEWSROOM LIBERALS. Every few years a pollster asks reporters about their political views. Every time the answer is the same: most are liberal. A just completed American Society of Newspaper Editors survey of 1,200 reporters and editors at 72 newspapers across the country is the latest example. Nearly three times as many identified themselves as "Democrat or liberal" or "independent, but lean to Democrat/ liberal" (62 percent) as "Republican or conservative" or "independent, but lean Republican/conservative" (22 percent).

MANGLING MAGGIE. ABC's Barrie Dunsmore thinks "Thatcher's ultra- hard line is no longer so much in fashion at home or abroad." Dunsmore's June 1 World News Tonight story included clips of interviews with 7 people, all of whom criticized Thatcher. "On European issues," Dunsmore claimed, "Thatcher is opposed to everything from cancer warnings on cigarette packs to strict pollution controls on cars to teaching two foreign languages in schools." Gerald Kauffman, an "Opposition Spokesman," naturally supported Dunsmore's assertions, characterizing Thatcher as "shrill, obstinate, inflexible, unsympathetic."

To demonstrate her unpopularity in Europe, Dunsmore spoke to a French woman who said "She's not very European." Sounding like a Labor Party advertisement, Dunsmore reported that "the satirists have always made fun of her lack of compassion...Now the people on the street are saying it." One man declared "she's a very uncaring person," followed by another who agreed "she lacks compassion." Dunsmore admitted Thatcher "remains popular with the middle class Conservatives who elected her," but he concluded his diatribe against Thatcher, "the 'Iron Lady' is beginning to show signs of metal fatigue."

TEARS FOR TEENS. On June 20, NBC Nightly News commentator John Chancellor intoned: "We can and should agonize about the dead students in Beijing, but we've got a bigger problem right here at home." What's the "bigger problem," according to Chancellor? A Carnegie council report that says middle-school students are in "impersonal factories that don't meet the educational or emotional needs of teenagers."

So here's the news from the world according to Chancellor. While Chinese parents are mourning their children gunned down, run over by tanks, or executed in show trials, American parents should despair all the more. Their poor kids have to go to "impersonal factories" that don't meet their "emotional needs."

RIPPING REAGAN. Writing in the June 12 issue, Time's D.C. Bureau Chief Strobe Talbott mourned Jimmy Carter's Salt II agreement as the last strategic arms treaty and praised President Bush's recent arms control proposal for "restor[ing] a degree of credibility and seriousness to the American conduct of arms control that has been missing for a decade." A photograph accompanying the article showed pictures of Carter and Bush squeezing out Reagan with a caption reading "Restoring a degree of credibility." Denouncing Reagan and his "cadre of ideologues," Talbott charged that the threat to peace is not Gorbachev, but "the American right wing, which is ever vigilant against backsliding into the bad old days of detente."

PETER'S PUFFERY. When I.F. Stone, Marxist author, journalist, and publisher of I.F. Stone's Weekly died on June 18, his passing drew attention from all four network news shows. The next night Peter Jennings took time to pay special tribute to Stone's career at the end of World News Tonight. Although Stone had called himself "half a Jeffersonian, half a Marxist," and had supported every leftist cause from Stalin to the Sandinistas, Jennings declared: "He generally found something useful to say...For many people, it's a rich experience to read or re-read Stone's views on America's place in the world, on freedom, on the way government works, and sometimes corrupts."

Jennings found Stone's novel definition of what journalism "was all about" particularly meaningful and recited it approvingly: "To defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind in the hope of someday bringing about a world in which men will enjoy the differences of the human garden, instead of killing each other over them." So much for objective journalism.

TWO VIEWS ON INTERVIEWS. "The Chinese may have sunk to new lows," reported anchor Susan Spencer on the June 17 Evening News. How? By "using pictures stolen off a satellite feed as evidence of a crime." Chinese students were American TV news sources one day, convicted criminals the next. "Stealing TV pictures off satellites may be the most sophisticated manipulation of the press so far," Spencer charged.

Concern about "manipulation of the press" is new to CBS News. Three years ago, CBS made a deal with the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry. According to a November 4, 1986 UPI story, the network agreed in advance to provide the Sandinistas with a copy of a 60 Minutes interview. The subject was American pilot Eugene Hasenfus, shot down during a Contra resupply mission. The communist regime used that videotape as evidence to convict Hasenfus.

AMNESTY YOU AIN'T. In a June 3 report, CBS West 57th correspondent Steve Kroft described Guatemala as "the most brutal of all Central American countries," "one of the most brutal in the world," with "an army that has been described as the most brutal in Central America." Kroft, soon to move up to 60 Minutes, asserted that "Guatemala, a loyal U.S. ally in the fight against communism, also has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere." Whatever happened to Nicaragua?

Not only did Kroft's sense of comparison suffer, but so did his mathematics. Kroft claimed 1,000 people had been murdered for political reasons in the last year. In phone interviews with MediaWatch, human rights groups generally cited a figure under 500 for 1988, but noted it can be very difficult to measure whether deaths occurred for political reasons. Anne Manuel of the left-leaning Americas Watch told MediaWatch the West 57th team was in close contact with her group during preparation of the segment, but said "I remember watching that and wondering 'where did he get that figure?'"

ECONOMY OVER TROUBLED WATERS. The doomsayers in the media are specialists at finding the dark side of good news, and Lou Waters of CNN raised that practice to an art in a recent report on the unemployment rate. On Friday, June 2, the government announced a dip in the May rate to 5.2 percent. But Waters stressed that "the number of new jobs sputtered to a three year low." Although the economy added 101,000 new jobs in May, Waters described that performance as "anemic," since "that's well below the monthly average of 275,000, and the worst the country has seen since March of 1986."

TED COMES DOWN FROM THE MOUNT. The spiritual leader of the largest cable TV empire in the country, Ted Turner, has issued his political creed. According to the May 26 Washington Times, at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's May 9 "Newsmaker" luncheon, Turner delineated the principles from which his TBS and TNT political productions emanate.

Known as the "Ted Commandments," Turner promises "to treat all persons everywhere with dignity, respect and friendliness. That worked with the Soviets for me." Respect thy mother and father? Well, not quite: "This is controversial for a man that has five children, but I had them 20 years ago, before I realized that they were the population problem. I promise to have no more than two children, or no more than my nation suggests."

Turner believes we should preserve this overcrowded world by using "as little toxic chemicals, pesticides and other poisons as possible, and to work for their reduction by others." Not only is Turner against killing, but he "rejects the use of military force, and backs United Nations arbitration of international disputes." To curb the harmful effects of any possible war, the cable mogul wants to see the "elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction." Not forgetting the importance of recycling for our endangered planet, Turner pledged to "use as little non-renewable resources as possible."

LESS THAN HIGH ON SDI. On May 13, the Los Angeles Times showed their distaste for SDI enthusiasts, presenting a story headlined "New 'Star Wars' Chief: The Right Man for the Job--at the Right Time." The story focused on Air Force Lt. Gen. George L. Monahan and the man he replaced, Reagan SDI head Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson. Times Pentagon correspondent John Broder described Abrahamson as "a 'Star Wars' zealot and missionary who sold--some say oversold--the program as a talisman against nuclear holocaust. Monahan, by contrast, modestly describes himself as merely a 'program manager' who says that his job is not to be a promoter for 'Star Wars' but to run a 'sanity check' on the costly and controversial program."

E&P: LABEL US LIBERAL, TOO. The May MediaWatch study documenting the tendency of media foundations to earmark the vast majority of their political grants to liberal groups merited a story in the June 3 edition of Editor & Publisher. But a week later, an editorial in the magazine for newspaper executives proclaimed "We do resent...on the part of all the media--both print and broadcasting--efforts of that organization to pigeonhole media and media personalities as being 'liberal' or 'left-wing' and attaching a stigma to it." (Of course, the point of the study was not to attach any "stigma" to liberal groups, but to point out that media company political donations are flagrantly imbalanced.)

The editorial also attacked MediaWatch Publisher L. Brent Bozell III. "When he labels the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Audubon Society, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU Foundation, and others like these, as having a liberal bias to be deplored, then include us in the list--we'll accept the liberal stigma too."