In This Issue
Today Co-Host Uses NBC Morning Show as Personal Political Soap Box; NewsBites: Retiring the L Word; Revolving Door: Influencing the World; The "Slash and Burn" Supremes; Changing Standards for Gramm; ABC, Meet ABC; So Popular She Lost at the Polls; Janet Cooke Award: Engberg's Latest Republican Conspiracy
Today Co-Host Uses NBC Morning Show as Personal Political Soap Box
Bryant Gumbel, Angry Black Male
When asked in the June 17 TV Guide which three women with whom he would choose to host Today if Katie Couric and Jane Pauley were excluded, Bryant Gumbel chose his wife June, Oprah Winfrey, and "Hillary Clinton, just to tick off the right-wing extremists." A MediaWatch review of the last four years found Gumbel's editorializing focused noticeably on right-wing extremists, race relations, and his ongoing hatred of Ronald Reagan.
Right-Wing Extremists. Gumbel regularly puts conservatives on an unrespectable fringe, especially social conservatives. On February 9, 1993, he asked consultant Roger Ailes about the Republicans: "Rich Bond. As he stepped down as RNC Chair he had some parting shots for the religious right and fringe fanatics like Phyllis Schlafly. What did you think of his remarks?" On July 14, 1994, the Today co-host announced: "We're back in just a moment to talk about the President's problems with the extremists of the religious right."
The day after the 1994 vote, Gumbel challenged Rep.-elect J.C. Watts: "You're aligned to a party which owes many of its victories to the so-called religious right and other conservative extremists who are historically insensitive to minority concerns. That doesn't bother you?" The next day, he asked Jack Kemp: "The so-called Christian Coalition, as you know, is claiming a great deal of credit for GOP victories across the board. Are you not at all concerned about where their brand of some would say extremism or intolerance may yet try to take your party?"
Eight days later, he interviewed Sonny Bono: "You're a moderate, pro-choice Republican. Are you totally comfortable with some of the extremists and ideologues that seem headed for the 104th Congress and may dominate the Republican Party?" On November 23, the NBC star proclaimed: "With Republicans taking control of Congress in January, Senator Jesse Helms is slated to be the new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a prospect that is embarrassing to many Republicans. His two most recent outbursts against the President are just the latest in a long line of outrageous remarks that have earned Helms the disrespect and disgust of people from coast to coast."
Race. Gumbel took a strident line on race. The L.A. riots provoked the co-host's anger about the 1980s on April 30, 1992: "We keep hoping for some good to come out of this. Maybe it might help in putting race relations on the front burner, after they've been subjugated so long as a result of the Reagan years." The next day, Gumbel repeated himself: "During the `80s nobody even talked about it. It was like everything was fine. If we shut up, it would all go away...Taking their cues from Washington, most Americans over the past dozen years have chosen to ignore the issue of civil rights and the growing signs of racial division."
Seventeen days later, he shifted slightly: "George Bush has been at the focal point of incidents that have exacerbated race relations in this country...the Willie Horton affair, for example; making affirmative action a front-and-center proposal; constantly discussing welfare as a problem in this country -- things that really separate the races rather than bring them together."
But Gumbel didn't believe in peace, telling Knight-Ridder's Marc Gunther on May 13, 1992: "Everyone is quick to want you to condemn them but some of us are sitting in that position feel uncomfortable being asked to do that...When the violence was being perpetrated on these people on an ongoing basis, did America see it? Certainly not...Black people are being killed by the handfuls in that area on an ongoing basis, and basically America doesn't care."
On April 15, 1993, Gumbel retained that violent attitude with Rep. Maxine Waters: "If I'm a young black man in South Central L.A., where poverty is rampant and unemployment is skyrocketing, I see that Washington's promises of a year ago have gone unfulfilled. I see that perhaps for a second time, the court's inability to mete out justice in a blind fashion, why shouldn't I vent my anger?" He lionized the Black Panthers on February 19, 1993: "The Panthers took up arms in the midst of the Sixties struggle for social justice. They preached self-determination...They also preached self-defense, and to that end took on policemen who brutalized blacks."
Gumbel sympathized with former criminal-turned-reporter Nathan McCall on March 22, 1994: "Those who say `just lock them up, throw away the key, incarcerate them, warehouse them,' whatever, do you think they are even conscious of just how racist this country is?" He also asked: "It's been written that being black in America is like being a witness at your own lynching. Why didn't your experiences make you more resentful than you are today?"
Reagan vs. Clinton. Gumbel's lasting hatred for Ronald Reagan has been matched by a promotional tone for Bill Clinton. On January 15, 1992, he said: "Few people personify the greedy me-first attitude of the Reagan years more than Donald Trump." A week later, he asserted: "In the Reagan years, economic erosion set in, so much so that the middle class now finds itself in ever-deepening trouble." Gumbel asked on March 31, 1993: "In the greedy excesses of the Reagan years, the mean income of the average physician nearly doubled, from $88,000 to $170,000. Was that warranted?"
On February 18, 1993, Gumbel asked Al Gore if he would "remind the nation that it was Ronald Reagan who quadrupled the deficit?" He repeated the line to Bob Dole on March 2, 1993: "Are you not guilty of holding President Clinton to a tougher standard than you did two Republican Presidents who over the last 12 years quadrupled the national debt?" Gumbel told economist Irwin Kellner on June 2, 1993: "The Reagan Administration used to boast they created a lot of jobs. Most of those were menial jobs that were quickly dissipated by a quadrupled budget deficit."
Gumbel asked author Gerald Swanson in 1993: "I'm not sure there's a grade low enough for the next one: Ronald Reagan. He spoke regularly of balancing the budget, but he broke the bank. In return for his own personal popularity he spent eight years in office and ran up $1.34 trillion in deficits." He then followed up: "It's early yet, but for at least trying to address the deficit in a more serious fashion than anyone in 12 years, what kind of early marks do you give Bill Clinton?"
Gumbel defended Clinton before far-left Mother Jones Editor Jeffrey Klein on January 7, 1994: "Do you give Bill Clinton credit for addressing serious issues that went untouched for 12 years -- deficit reduction, gun control, world trade, health care? He has certainly taken on tough questions and made them not a question of if, but how much."
NewsBites: Retiring the L Word
Reporters have finally begun to describe the American Association of Retired Persons as a powerful lobby with a vast tax-exempt business empire. But reporters still refuse to put together the words "AARP" and "liberal." (From 1990 to 1992, not one of 196 stories in four major newspapers attached a liberal label.) The latest example: USA Today reporter Richard Wolf's June 13 article teemed with labels for conservative groups, but lacked one for the AARP. Wolf referred to the AARP's "conservative rivals" three times, and quoted "James Martin, chairman of the 60-Plus Association, another of the AARP's smaller, right-wing rivals."
Kings of Pain.
CBS News is quickly becoming the grand marshal in the parade of spending cut victim stories. Two features on the June 25 CBS Evening News detailed the destruction of spending cuts, one on federally funded summer jobs and the other on surplus food programs.
First, anchor John Roberts explained in his "Sunday Cover" segment that "by next summer, 600,000 teens who turn to the government for work may find a dead end. Republican members of Congress want to cut summer jobs funding." He questioned whether teens can find jobs in the private sector: "Are there really plenty of jobs available for teens?...Even in Boston, organizers who aggressively seek out summer jobs for kids in the private sector say they can't make up for the proposed federal cuts." Teens looking for work may find it in the fast-food sector. Over six million people work in it, and it is predicted to grow at 2.5 percent a year in the next few years, Tracy Thompson reported in the July 2 Washington Post. It's a plentiful source of jobs but quite demanding compared to the make-work jobs many teens receive through the federal program.
A story by Diana Gonzalez the same evening focused on the USDA's surplus food program. Roberts warned: "Time is running out for another government program, one that gives surplus food to people in need." Gonzalez predicted congressionally mandated cutbacks in the program and interviewed people who will have to get their food elsewhere. She ended on this somber note: "The government says there are other assistance programs available. But that help might not come soon enough for those being served at this distribution center, one of many slated to close at the end of this month."
Better Dead Than Well-Read.
In another instance of lionizing anti-anti-communism, most of the networks marked the passing of former U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith with praise. On May 29, Katie Couric intoned on the NBC Nightly News: "Smith, a Republican, was the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate. She's remembered for being a voice of conscience during the anti-communist fervor that gripped the nation in the 1950s."
Couric and others in the media have yet to acknowledge Harvey Klehr's book The Secret World of American Communism. Klehr and other researchers dug into the Comintern and CPUSA's Moscow archives, using the Communists' own files, to illustrate that the Soviet Union used the CPUSA as a front for espionage against the United States. But that kind of information might lead the viewer to conclude some "anti-communist fervor" was justified.
Whose Free Ride?
Time Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson dove into the budget battle with his June 5 advocacy piece titled "Why the Pentagon Gets a Free Ride." He argued: "As anxious advocates for the poor and elderly fight to stave off budget cuts, the Pentagon seems immune." The word "immunity" did not match the accompanying chart, which showed a real decline in 1996 dollars from just over $400 billion in 1985 to about $275 billion in 1995. That's quite a contrast to programs "for the poor and elderly" like Medicare and Medicaid, which grew 72 and 132 percent in the Bush years alone.
Kindling for the Class War.
In a May 29 front page story subheaded "Tax, Spending Cuts May Add to Inequality," The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein claimed that "For the last 15 years, the gap between rich and poor in America has been growing wider." Pearlstein argued "The tax and spending cuts now moving through Congress are likely to reduce the after-tax incomes of American families at the bottom of the economic ladder...while leaving incomes of wealthy Americans largely unchanged." He declared: "Government data show that since the late 1970s the share of national income earned by the richest households has been rising steadily while almost everyone else's shares have declined."
But in the May 10 National Review, Economics Editor Ed Rubenstein noted that "Americans are all getting richer." He continued: "Since 1967 the share of households earning $75,000 and above per year (in 1993 dollars) has more than doubled, from 5.1 per cent to 12.5 per cent. Middle-income households, far from being squeezed, have been pushed up." Rubenstein also noted that "real income per person has soared 60 per cent since 1967."
Karen Arenson of The New York Times took to the front page June 4 to make the case against Newt Gingrich's call for dismantling the welfare state and handing its duties to private charities: "The Speaker's ideas are unworkable because his vision of what charities do and how they are financed is a page out of Norman Rockwell, a far cry from reality." Arenson contended that "while most charities depend on volunteer labor and on billions of dollars in donations from the public, they are even more dependent on government money for their survival." She repeatedly quoted heads of charities dependent on government subsidies who "contend that government not only has the responsibility to continue to meet the human needs of society, but that in many fields, is the only entity capable of assuming that burden."
Arenson claimed "some of the tax plans that are under the most active discussion in Washington now, like a flat tax or a consumption tax, would actually raise the cost of giving, by reducing the tax incentive that occurs when donors take their charitable contributions as deductions on taxes." Arenson noted "charitable contributions grew in the 1980s, when government cuts were threatened," but didn't finish the story. Professor Richard McKenzie noted in The Right Data: "The annual rate of growth in total giving in the 1980s was 55 percent higher than in the previous 25 years....This occurred at a time when real tax payments, part of which were intended to serve charitable goals, were on the rise, and at a time when, because tax rates fell, the after-tax cost of giving rose."
All Wet on Clean Water.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which fooled the nation with the Alar hoax in 1989, remains popular with the the networks. On March 14 Robert Hager promoted a NRDC study and called them "highly respected." On June 1 Today's Bryant Gumbel hosted NRDC lawyer Eric Olson. Gumbel summarized: "In the past year, one in five Americans routinely drank water that failed to meet EPA standards, and that as many as seven million Americans are getting sick each year from water-born infections."
After pointing out the NRDC's "new" study is simply publicly available EPA data, Jonathan Tolman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute told MediaWatch that the EPA methodology misses the point: "The biggest problem is that many of these water systems are not adding enough chlorine. In fact, 43 million of last year's 57 million violations were coliform violations [coliform is a harmless, easily detectable bacteria that is often an indicator of the presence of harmful pathogens] which are easily cured through chlorination. What the EPA is passing regulations on is totally irrelevant to the real health concerns of people. The EPA has a list of over 80 contaminants they check for, things that 99 percent of the water systems never even see in their water. And the EPA must come up with 25 more contaminants every three years. They just keep adding more and more bizarre chemicals to the list while ignoring the number one problem, the coliform violations."
But Gumbel suggested Republicans were forcing Americans to boil water: "This comes at a time when Republicans are looking to gut the Clean Water Act and also the Safe Drinking Water Act. What are our options? Are we now forced to boil water because bottled water is not an economically feasible option for a lot of people?"
Seven years after the Willie Horton ad, it's still getting saturation play from some liberals. On the June 1 Today, Bryant Gumbel interviewed David Anderson, author of a book on the ad, Crime and the Politics of Hysteria. Gumbel's introduction left no doubt where he stood: "An extremist supporter of Republican presidential candidate George Bush bankrolled this political ad. Its gut-level attack played to America's racial fears." Anderson defended Massachusetts' furlough system, which allowed the rapist and murderer Horton to get out of prison on a weekend pass. Gumbel approved: "So the policy was good but Willie Horton was a bad candidate....You spent a lot of time for this book talking with William Horton. Is the man you found an awful lot different than Willie Horton of the infamous ad?"
Gumbel managed to out-liberal his liberal guest by asking a question he thought he knew the answer to: "The facts of race and crime in this country are pretty clear, but was the ad pretty racist, did it try to capitalize on racist fears?" When Anderson paused, Gumbel added: "Let's put it this way -- if William Horton had been white?" When Anderson answered that Bush supporters still would have used it, a shocked Gumbel asked "You do? Would it have had the same impact?" Gumbel ignored the findings of Washington Post pollster Richard Morin, who in 1992 cited "substantial evidence [negative ads] didn't work four years ago. Bush's poll numbers in 1988 didn't budge during or after the Willie Horton ad controversy."
For the March 31 CBS Evening News "Eye on America," John Blackstone focused on how House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R.-La.) would cut National Endowment for the Arts funding, which might cancel a grant to his district's Piney Woods Opry: "Without financial help to keep the show running and keep the recorders turning, they say these songs will soon be gone, along with those who play them."
But a June 12 Washington Times editorial revealed that CBS knew the opposite. Opry sponsor Jonathan Bachrack of Abita Lumber Company explained: "I was interviewed by CBS for a half-hour. I didn't say what they wanted to hear. They wanted me to say that we need the federal government's money, and that Bob Livingston is a hypocrite." Bachrack said he "told the people from CBS that we don't need the federal government to run a local concert."
Nina's Next Assignment.
Nightline devoted its June 7 program to the sex discrimination lawsuits filed against the "old-boy network" at the Central Intelligence Agency. For its initial report, ABC chose as its reporter Nina Totenberg, the National Public Radio reporter who also broke the story of Anita Hill's unproven charges.
ABC and Totenberg have ignored another sex discrimination lawsuit against a federally-funded agency: NPR. The May 25 New York Times noted that NPR reporter Katie Davis filed a $1.2 million lawsuit, adding that "in the 1980s, at least two employees, including Mara Liasson, the current White House reporter, had threatened to file sex discrimination cases against the network, but settled with the network out of court." As Davis told the Times: "They run around and report all the time on discrimination. But they don't look hard enough at their own situation."
Revolving Door: Influencing the World
The desire to influence public policy convinced at least one college student to pursue a career in journalism. Specifically, Lissa Muscatine, a Washington Post metro and sports reporter for 12 years who in 1993 became a speechwriter for President Clinton.
Discussing her career in the June American Journalism Review, Muscatine admitted: "I got into journalism because I was interested in advocacy." She further explained: "I grew up in Berkeley in an activist family. I saw journalism as my way to influence the world, or at least some small part of it." But apparently the Post didn't afford her the level of influence she wanted, so after 12 years, she realized "temperamentally, I was moving in a direction that I wanted to be more directly involved in making policy. I wanted to be a participant and not an observer."
Clintonite to Newsweek
For 12 years Tara Sonenshine served as an ABC News producer in Washington. Now, six months after leaving her position as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for communications for the National Security Council, Sonenshine has revolved back into the media. She's now covering national security issues for Newsweek. A Nightline and then ABC Pentagon producer before spending a couple of years with Koppel Communications, Sonenshine held the title of Editorial Producer for Nightline when she departed in early 1994.
Having a reporter cover the policies of those she had as colleagues just months earlier isn't seen as a problem by Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas, but a benefit. He told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "I wanted to get her under our tent because she's got good connections and a feel for that world. I don't have any worries about a conflict."
Sonenshine is not the only member of Newsweek's Washington bureau with a Democratic background. Douglas Waller, who has covered national security, defense and foreign affairs since 1988, spent 1985 to 1988 as a Legislative Assistant to then Senator William Proxmire (D-Wis.). Previously, he was Legislative Director for Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Two from Hill to CNN
The Cable News Network took a bi-partisan approach to filling two openings in its Washington bureau. Rebecca Cooper, a congressional producer since 1993, was named weekend field producer. From 1988 to 1991, Cooper told MediaWatch, she put in a stint with former Senator David Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat, as a Legislative Assistant for trade and education issues. After leaving the Hill she worked in NBC's Washington bureau....
CNN tapped the office of retiring Republican Senator Hank Brown to fill a producer/guest booker slot, The Washington Post reported. Jennifer Martin, who had been the Coloradan's Press Secretary, will book guests for Inside Politics and The World Today.
On May 5 Richard "Max" McCarthy, a Democratic Congressman in
the 1960s and Washington Bureau Chief for the Buffalo News
from 1978 to 1990, passed away at age 67. First elected to the U.S.
House in 1964 from the Buffalo area, McCarthy lost a Democratic
primary for Senate in 1970.
The "Slash and Burn" Supremes
Disappointment with the Supreme Court's latest decisions permeated media coverage as June drew to a close. "The United States Supreme Court unloaded several pre-Fourth of July bombshells today," Dan Rather began the June 29 CBS Evening News. "One of the biggest, a ruling that will make it harder for African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities to win elective office and a share of political power."
Time's Richard Lacayo expressed dismay in the July 10 issue: "When in a single day the court can rule against a black-majority voting district and in favor of public funding for a Christian student magazine -- and for good measure approve a cross erected by the Ku Klux Klan in a public park -- it can't be much fun anymore to be a liberal justice."
Some reporters claimed there weren't any liberal justices on the court. Washington Post reporter Joan Biskupic wrote on June 25: "In the current court makeup it is difficult to call any of the justices liberal, compared to William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun."
On July 3, USA Today Supreme Court reporter Tony Mauro agreed, claiming "Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer form the moderate wing of the court, with none of them qualifying for the `liberal' label."
On June 28, Mauro called David Souter "a moderate who votes sometimes as a conservative, other times as a liberal." Ginsburg "replaced moderate Byron White with a similarly moderate vote." Breyer "is no liberal; he voted in favor of drug testing." But these same justices voted regularly on the liberal side of the major 5-4 decisions -- for racial gerrymandering and set-asides, against term limits and funding religious publications.
Conservatives remained menacing. Lacayo wrote that swing votes Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy "met up with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, the slash-and-burn conservatives."
Time National Correspondent Jack E. White attacked Thomas in a column titled "Uncle Tom Justice." White wrote: "The scariest of all hobgoblins may well be a fellow African American....Thomas has emerged as the high court's most aggressive advocate of rolling back the gains Marshall fought so hard for."
In a less emotional review on June 19, Los Angeles Times reporter David Savage noted Thomas's statement that the court took a "wrong turn" in 1937 when it used the interstate commerce clause to justify the New Deal's broad expansion of federal power: "To modern ears, his view sounds quaint, even bizarre."
Changing Standards for Gramm
Pouncing on "Porn"
The Washington Post claimed it needed three months to research the accuracy of Paula Jones' charges of sexual harassment against Bill Clinton before it could run a story. But when The New Republic charged that Sen. Phil Gramm was a "porn broker," the Post jumped on the story on May 18. On June 6, the Post publicized a brand new article from the far-left magazine Mother Jones charging Gramm intervened to parole drug dealer William Doyle in 1979. Neither required months of fact-checking.
ABC also waited three months before airing a full report on the Paula Jones story. But on May 17, Peter Jennings jumped on the Gramm "porn" story, beginning the newscast: "Political and legal problems for three influential politicians in Washington....We begin in Washington tonight, where the personal and professional lives of three important politicians are making news. One is the presidential candidate Phil Gramm. There are questions about a film in which he invested." After stories on both Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's new independent counsel and Sen. Bob Packwood's sexual harassment troubles, Jim Wooten's story put The New Republic's "Porn Broker" headline on screen for a full 18 seconds.
Newsweek trashed Paula Jones, using terms like "Dogpatch Madonna," but ran a Gramm story headlined "Senatorial Skin Flicks" that dominated page 44. In a two-inch-high box at the bottom, Newsweek devoted three paragraphs to Ron Brown receiving $400,000 since taking office from an FDIC-cheating friend.
A number of media outlets described the unmade Gramm film as a "porn" project, including CNN, PBS, Newsweek, Reuters, Knight-Ridder, the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, Boston Herald, Sacramento Bee, and the San Francisco Examiner.
But The New Republic's primary source, former Gramm brother-in-law George Caton, repudiated the magazine's spin in the May 19 Houston Chronicle: "Where this story has gone haywire is there was no pornography at all." Mark Lester, the director of the followup film project, an anti-Nixon spoof titled White House Madness, told CNN on May 17: "I have to laugh. There's no pornography at all in it...I never made a soft-core movie or a pornographic film."
ABC, Meet ABC
MediaWatch gave the May Janet Cooke Award to ABC's Ned Potter for his April 3 story critiquing House GOP stories of regulatory excess, such as a rule that requires dentists to keep a log of white-out bottles they dispose. Two months later, on the June 7 Prime Time Live, Sam Donaldson offered his own anecdotes, asking: "You want to know who has the power in Washington to really control your life? Not the Republicans or the Democrats, but the bureaucrats who write and administer federal regulations."
Donaldson claimed that "regulations protect us," but "there are thousands of regulations in the books and many of them don't work right, which cost people a lot of time and money." A tree care company was forced to buy 10 gas cans at $230 each because of three Department of Transportation regulations and one
OSHA regulation. Donaldson added: "Fair enough, but look here, this five gallon gas can won't fit in a lot of standard chain saws, so half the gas spills to the ground. And it won't fit in the carrying compartments in the truck. Now comes the clincher -- it turns out there was no need to buy these expensive cans after all."
Donaldson found an obscure loophole that allowed a can that sold for $23.99 to comply with the standards, "but who knew it?" Apparently not even the agencies that wrote the regulations: "It took DOT three days to come up with the loophole. It took OSHA six days." Donaldson ended his story applauding the movement Potter ridiculed: "The House plans to devote one day a month to rolling back regulations that don't work. The first such `corrections day' is expected to be held soon. Help is on the way."
Unreported Human Rights
Although the media cover human rights abuses in communist China, the country's one-child policy of forced abortion and sterilization is usually either ignored or given tacit approval as a weapon in the global fight against "overpopulation." On January 19, Peter Jennings lamented that China would reach one billion people in February: "There are laws in China against having more than one child, but the laws are widely ignored."
Going where the "pro-choice" media fear to tread, John Roberts explored China's policy on the May 28 CBS Evening News, focusing on an emigrating couple in the United States. "The couple is claiming asylum based on China's family-planning policies. Chen says officials aborted her third pregnancy, sterilized her, then tried to sterilize her husband. As Congress has documented, such practices are typical." Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said: "Forced abortions are often performed very late in pregnancy, even in the ninth month. The baby gets an injection of formaldehyde or some other poison into the baby's cranium." Roberts added: "The Clinton Administration does not consider forced abortion and sterilization to be grounds for asylum, a reversal from the Reagan and Bush years. Advocates say the Administration has even tried to block asylum hearings for political reasons."
So Popular She Lost at the Polls
Ann Richards, NBC Darling
In her new role as weekend co-host of Today, Giselle Fernandez has acted as if she is also local chairman of the Young Democrats. On May 20, she asked Labor Secretary Robert Reich: "Why are we leaving such critical decisions up to the Republicans? Why didn't we come up with another more, perhaps, realistic deficit reduction budget plan?"
On June 18, Fernandez led a syrupy tribute to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. "Despite her soaring popularity and role as queen of the Democratic Party, she was ousted from office in the nation's sweep to the right. Today, more than half a year since her surprising defeat, she remains as popular as ever." Fernandez did not reconcile "soaring popularity" with defeat at the polls. Fernandez showed Richards' famous 1988 "silver foot in his mouth" attack on George Bush, but instead of condemning it as divisive or mean-spirited, Fernandez followed the clip by claiming: "It was her tell-it-like-it-is candor and winning charisma that not only charmed the hearts of the nation but made her a powerful force in Washington."
Her loss only made her more endearing, proclaimed Fernandez: "Six months after her defeat, the light of this Lone Star legend doesn't seem to have dimmed one bit." Pocketing thousands for filming a Doritos commercial wasn't cashing in on her fame: "If she's not hosting talk shows, she's talking to schools or making Super Bowl ads that prove she has no chip on her shoulder."
Janet Cooke Award: Engberg's Latest Republican Conspiracy
Experience CBS News: "I'm Watching You Like a Hawk, You Lying Little Worm"
Thomas Jefferson wrote that "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." Conservatives seek to reform the government's tendency to award grants to left-wing groups who use taxpayer money to lobby for more government. For describing this effort as a spiteful plot to "silence" opponents, CBS reporter Eric Engberg earned the Janet Cooke Award.
Dan Rather introduced the June 14 story: "The majority Republicans in Congress believe they've found a new way to silence their opponents. They plan to do it by cutting off funding for certain nonprofit groups. CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg has been investigating for tonight's CBS Evening News Reality Check."
Engberg began: "From mega-battles like Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination to irritants like the disruption of a Newt Gingrich speech, nonprofit activist groups are often on the cutting edge of Washington policy disputes. It infuriates Republicans that many of these groups are liberal in outlook....It infuriates them more that many are getting federal money."
He continued: "House Republicans now have a pet plan for striking back called `defunding the Left.' They're drafting a bill to severely restrict lobbying by any activist group that gets federal grant money....Targets include unions, the National Council of Senior Citizens [NCSC], Planned Parenthood, and environmental activists, all regarded as opponents of the GOP agenda."
CBS did not explain the extent of the funding. The NCSC takes 96 percent of its money from the federal government, $68.7 million, and yet contributed $183,779 to 60 Democrats running for federal office in the last election cycle. The American Association of Retired Persons, which fights any entitlement cuts, received $73 million from the government.
Engberg reported: "Right-leaning advocacy groups would be largely untouched by the legislation because they receive little federal aid and often have deep-pocketed backers in the business world." CBS showed video of the Heritage Foundation, the Christian Coalition, and the Free Congress Foundation. But do conservative groups dominate the corporate giving agenda? The Capital Research Center's 1993 Patterns in Corporate Philanthropy reports that Planned Parenthood received $425,000 from the top 250 corporations, and the National Audubon Society received $311,800. The chart is topped by the National Urban League ($2.6 million) and the NAACP ($1.6 million). The Heritage Foundation received $262,000 from these top 250 corporations.
Heritage analyst Marshall Wittman told MediaWatch: "The greatest inaccuracy is that we receive `little' federal aid. Heritage and the Christian Coalition -- both have been my employers -- don't receive a penny. As for corporate money, that's only eight percent of the Heritage budget, and the Christian Coalition -- we're talking de minimus." Free Congress spokesman Brad Keena told MediaWatch corporations account for only seven percent of its budget.
Engberg then aired "government watchdog" Gary Bass: "This is nothing more than a backdoor witchhunt. I think it's devious, I think it's disingenuous, and I think it's dangerous." Engberg did not explain that Bass heads OMB Watch, which the Heritage Foundation charges is linked with a group called the Unison Institute (awarded $285,000 last year by the EPA), which shares the same address and fax number as OMB Watch.
Engberg added: "The GOP faces opposition not just from left-leaning groups, but also many well-regarded charities," and aired Alfred Munzer of the American Lung Association. But in his book Health Research Charities: Image and Reality, James T. Bennett found the ALA also has a liberal lobbying agenda -- such as subsidized catastrophic health care and large cigarette tax hikes. Bennett found the ALA regularly spent less than 4 percent of its budget on research to cure disease, spending "more than eight times as much on management and fundraising than it does on research."
Engberg did include two soundbites from Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.), but introduced him like this: "As Vice President Quayle's anti-regulation hatchet man, McIntosh tangled with many of the groups he now wants to muzzle." Engberg charged "Notes from a strategy session leaked to CBS News quote one congressional aide, `spin is crucial, this can't just look like an enemies list.'" Jon Praed, chief counsel to McIntosh's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, said of CBS's "notes": "Until and unless the handwritten notes are produced, I believe the memo is a pure fabrication."
Wittman told MediaWatch he was puzzled by Engberg's methods: "I talked to him twice. Once, he asked if I used the word `spin' in the meeting. I said no. Then he said 'What if I told you I have ten people who said you used the word `spin' in that meeting?' I said no again, and he replied: `Well, I didn't have ten people anyway.'"
Engberg ended his story: "One Republican was asked if `defunding the Left' is about government reform or settling old scores. He replied, `Oh, I'd say it's about 40-60.'" When called to defend the integrity of his story, Engberg instead yelled insults at MediaWatch associate editor Tim Graham, referring twice to "your stupid little newsletter." When asked if conservatives ever used words like "silence" or "muzzle," Engberg replied: "I thought it was a fair characterization."
Engberg fumed at a Graham letter to the editor in the May American Journalism Review: "You little geek, in this letter you have lied about me. You are a liar." Graham wrote: "In the 1992 campaign, Engberg regularly attacked the Bush campaign's political ads, using ungentlemanly words like `lying,' but only produced one story critiquing Clinton commercials."
On October 5, 1992, Engberg critiqued Bush's ad on what Americans "could pay" in higher taxes under Clinton. Off camera, Engberg suggested to Steven Colford of Advertising Age: "The stacking up of assumptions like this, there's a word we used for that." Colford replied: "Uh, I think it's lying." Engberg complained: "I never used the word lying. I said `there's a word we use for that.' I was trying to get him to say `that's dissembling.'"
Engberg then read salary figures for Graham and others from the Media Research Center's IRS forms: "Is this really all you're making from all of Bozell's operations, Timmy?" He added: "I'm watching you like a hawk, you lying little worm." Before Graham could finish his questions, Engberg said "You are not only a liar, you are an incompetent," and hung up.
As Wittman noted: "His story never went to a liberal group and asked them if they're lobbying for more government with taxpayer money. We're uncovering this big scam, and instead of investigating the scam, he's investigating the investigators."