In This Issue
Trial? What Whitewater Trial?; NewsBites: TIME and TIME; Revolving Door: Snow on Sunday; Media Clique Clap for Clinton; CNN vs the GOP; NBC: Tough on Criminals?; Hugh Downs' Hate Radio; Janet Cooke Award: Legal Services or Liberal Services?
Trial? What Whitewater Trial?
On Sunday, April 28, President Clinton videotaped testimony in the fraud trial of James and Susan McDougal, his business partners in Whitewater Development, and Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Recognizing the gravity of a President testifying for the defense of his business partners, most of the networks covered the story that night. But what about the rest of the trial?
To determine how much coverage the Whitewater trial and related stories generated, MediaWatch analysts reviewed network morning news and evening news programs on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC from February 29, a few days before the trial began, to April 30, as the trial neared its end. Analysts also reviewed corresponding news magazine coverage in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report from issues dated March 4 to May 6. In nearly two months of the trial, the four networks aired only 16 reporter-based Whitewater stories on the evening news shows -- an average of less than four per network over a two-month period. Seven of the 16 (44 percent) were on the President's testimony. Although Time carried a long cover story excerpting James Stewart's Whitewater book Blood Sport, the news magazines devoted fewer pages to the Whitewater trial than to the Jackie Onassis auction.
Some significant stories barely or never made the air. On February 29 and again on March 7, Senate Democrats blocked votes extending the tenure of the Senate Whitewater Committee. The Democrats upheld further hearings until agreeing to a deal on April 18. One Jackie Judd report on ABC's World News Tonight and an anchor brief on ABC's Good Morning America and on CNN's The World Today were the only coverage of the Democratic filibuster until hearings resumed April 24. Jennings introduced the Judd story by calling it the "endless Whitewater saga."
On March 15, a federal appeals court removed Judge Henry Woods from the Jim Guy Tucker case and reinstated four fraud counts struck down by Woods, finding the judge was too close to the Clintons. Despite several network stories and a Nightline on the integrity of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, the networks never covered this story.
On March 24, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 52 percent of respondents believed the First Lady was not telling the truth about Whitewater and 49 percent said they thought she acted illegally. While the Post published the poll on page A16, ABC never reported it. When word leaked on April 29 that the FBI found Hillary Clinton's fingerprints on the long-missing Rose Law Firm documents discovered in the White House, it drew only four anchor briefs. To break down the coverage by network and show:
Evening News. The most stunning lack of coverage came from NBC Nightly News, which did not air a single reporter-based story in two months -- and only two anchor briefs. (Due to NBA basketball coverage, NBC had no newscast the night of Clinton's testimony.) CNN's The World Today aired six reporter-based stories, one of which was followed with analysis by CNN legal expert Roger Cossack. ABC's World News Tonight aired six reporter-based stories from Jackie Judd. CBS Evening News aired four reports, including an April 24 story by Phil Jones questioning the integrity of Starr. (The evening shows aired 25 anchor briefs, 16 of them on CNN.)
Morning Shows. The three network morning shows aired only 12 reporter-based stories and five interviews in two months. Again, around half the coverage (seven of the 12 stories and two of the five interviews) concerned Clinton's testimony. Here, surprisingly, NBC's Today did the most, airing four reports and two interviews with Blood Sport author James Stewart. CBS This Morning and Sunday Morning aired four reports and one interview with Stewart. ABC's Good Morning America aired three reports and an interview with ABC's Cokie Roberts and Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson on Blood Sport. (The shows ran 26 anchor briefs.)
Magazine/Interview Stories. None of the magazine shows covered Whitewater -- but then, from 1992 forward, the magazine shows combined have aired only two segments on it.
In the last two months, CNN's Late Edition did the most, asking one question to Sen. Al D'Amato on March 24, and airing a Bob Franken report on April 28, followed by five questions to guests. NBC's Meet the Press had four Whitewater questions on two shows. ABC's This Week with David Brinkley asked Leon Panetta one question on April 28 about Clinton's testimony. Whitewater never came up on CBS's Face the Nation.
Nightline, which did five shows on Whitewater in January, posed one question to Bob Dole on whether Whitewater should be wrapped up, and an April 24 program on the "controversy raging" around Ken Starr.
News Magazines. Time set itself apart from the competition with its 15-page excerpt of Stewart's book in the March 18 issue. But Time did no reporting on its own. Its only coverage of any length came in two Margaret Carlson columns pooh-poohing the scandal's importance.
U.S. News & World Report reviewed the upcoming trial in two pages on March 4, but did no other article a page or longer. The March 11 issue had a brief on the hearings debate headlined: "Whitewater: Time for the Curtain?" U.S. News owner and Editor-in-Chief Mortimer Zuckerman wrote a two-page editorial attacking "The Silly Hillary Pillory" on April 1. Newsweek ran one-page pieces on aspects of Whitewater on March 4 and 11, but nothing substantial after that. In their May 6 editions however, Newsweek devoted six pages to the Jackie Onassis auction. Time made it its cover story and gave it eight pages. U.S. News kept its Jackie O coverage to two pages.
Zuckerman may have captured the media's collective death wish for Whitewater on CNBC's Cal Thomas show March 24: "I don't think there's anything there unless Kenneth Starr does come up with anything. And the fact that there is a trial going on, I think is not going to be relevant to what the elections are going to be all about. You can't run an election based on attacking the President's wife."
NewsBites: TIME and TIME
Time and Time Again. "Raise Gas Taxes Now!" blared the headline over a May 13 Time piece by contributing editor Matthew Miller. The subhead: "The U.S. pays a huge price for still-too-cheap gasoline. Higher fuel taxes can clean the air and lower the deficit." The gas tax debate allowed Time to return to old form. Back in 1993 MediaWatch determined that at least 24 times in the previous for years the magazine had demanded a gas tax hike.
Miller argued: "At roughly a billion dollars a penny in annual revenue, a 50 cent gas tax would slice a quarter off our budget deficit by 2000, while still leaving prices 20 percent below their 1981 high and less than half what motorists abroad pay." He decried a stingy public: "In 1993 Americans found 4 cents on top of $1.20-per-gal. gas almost too much to bear, even while we bequeath our children dirtier air, the continued risk of war over oil and a trillion dollars in fresh debt every four years. Now Dole’s trying to get that nickel back for us. He ought to know better."
Faw Pas. NBC's Bob Faw surprised Today viewers April 10 with footage of Bill Clinton leaving a memorial service for Ron Brown. Clinton laughed until he spotted a camera -- and then dropped his head and began to wipe phantom tears from his eyes. NBC was the only network to air the video but even Faw tried to soften Clinton's moment of fraudulence: "Rituals like this do matter, while they hardly define a presidency or make up for its shortcomings, they help a nation heal, and in the process they shed light on whether a president is compassionate, an actor, or both."
But journalists would rather eat their own than criticize Clinton. The media panel on CNN's Reliable Sources unanimously bashed Faw on April 14. Martin Schram of Scripps-Howard scowled: "I used to think that the low for television was that in-your-face journalism, when they would put a camera and a microphone in a guy's face and chase him down the street. This is worse, this is in-your-head journalism." PBS’s Ellen Hume added: "In this case Bob just went way overboard, and he went into territory he has no idea what was genuine and what wasn't."
In a spin-control job the White House would envy, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz made up a new scenario: "You could be at the funeral of a friend and you could be talking and accepting condolences, and then when you go up to make a speech, you kind of choke up because you're emotional about it. What's so crazy, what's, what's noteworthy about that?" Host Bernard Kalb concluded: "How does a reporter trivialize the President's emotions or the President's sincerity? I don't know where the starting point is for that sort of journalism, but I find it, as you do, Ellen, clearly unacceptable."
The Very White House. President Clinton's trip to a Miami public school to announce his salvo in the war on drugs set off controversy. According to an AP story in the May 3 New York Times, "At issue was a decision by a White House aide to reject a local group's recommendation that Mr. Clinton be introduced at an anti-drug event by a black teenager and to request a white speaker instead." But the race-conscious "mainstreaming" received no network coverage. Neither did Hillary Clinton's racial gaffe in a speech to the liberal women’s PAC Emily’s List. On April 27, Los Angeles Times reporter John Broder noted she affected a black accent to recount San Francisco mayor Willie Brown asking who is this "Emily List":"She's supportin' all these people. She's supportin' Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She's supported Sen. Barbara Boxer....She supported everybody. Why won't she support me?"
Ed Rollins didn't get the same benefit of the doubt when he spoke at a May 1995 Brown roast, when Brown was Speaker of the California Assembly. Rollins, putting words into Brown's mouth, said that if elected Mayor of Los Angeles, Brown "could show those Hymie boys Berman and Waxman [Democratic Congressmen] who were always trying to make Willie feel inferior for not being Jewish." CNN devoted five stories to Rollins' remark (with Jill Dougherty calling it a "slur") and his subsequent resignation from the Dole campaign.
Morales Boosters. Victor Morales and Al Salvi surprised their respective party establishments during recent Senate race primaries, with Morales winning the April 9 Democratic nomination in Texas and Al Salvi gaining the GOP nomination in Illinois on March 19. But judging by network coverage, the similarities ended there. After Morales' victory, he garnered in-studio guest slots on CBS This Morning and ABC's Good Morning America, as well as CNN's Inside Politics. NBC's Today show had already profiled Morales in March, before any votes were cast. In all, Morales' win garnered six network stories.
Meanwhile, Al Salvi, who shocked moderate Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra, only made the CNN show Inside Politics. Even in the mostly favorable "Play of the Week" story by CNN’s Bill Schneider, Salvi was labeled a "very conservative" surprise who demonstrated how conservatives can lose "the nasty edge a lot of conservatives seem to have these days." Schneider referred to Salvi's conservatism five times. The Big Three completely ignored the race.
Rosty Dearest. On April 9, former Illinois Congressman and Ways and Means Committee boss Dan Rostenkowski pled guilty to two felony counts of corruption while in Congress. The night of and morning after the plea, the Big Three networks read anchor-briefs on his conviction. Time, U.S. News and World Report, and Newsweek also kept the conviction to tiny one- or two-paragraph blurbs in their April 22 editions (although Newsweek broke the plea story the week before).
ABC’s Cokie Roberts was the only network reporter to address the story. On the April 14 This Week, Roberts hurled a softball to Rosty about his good intentions. She recalled that in 1992 she asked him, "'Why are you running for re-election when you could just go home and have this money.' You said 'I want to get healthcare done, I want to hang that scalp on my wall.' Here it is four years later, you've spent $2 million in legal fees, you're about to go to jail and health care isn't done. What are you feeling?"
Invisible Cardinals. On April 1, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a candlelight vigil with two Cardinals outside the White House to urge Clinton to sign the partial birth abortion ban, but the broadcast networks ignored it. Today gave 11 seconds to the protest, but didn’t mention the Cardinals. Only CNN gave it a full story plus Crossfire.(ABC's This Week with David Brinkley later interviewed Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston on April 21.) The vigil got even less publicity in print; no major newspaper or news magazine touched the event.
It was another story when President Clinton vetoed the bill on April 10. That received front-page coverage in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post. The Post’s Ann Devroy wrote: "The veto came in an emotional Roosevelt Room ceremony where five women sometimes tearfully described having had such abortions." NBC's Tom Brokaw also described the ceremony as "emotional." Every evening news program reported on the veto ceremony, but ABC's World News Tonight was the only network to include comments from pro-life advocates.
But when the bishops criticized GOP welfare reform in march 1995, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN’s Inside Politics and NBC Nightly News aired full stories.
What Liberal Judges? Bob Dole's insisted that Bill Clinton names liberal judges. "Are Clinton Judges Too Liberal?" asked USA Today's May 7 front page. The answer in the subhead: "Dole May Be Out of Order." Tony Mauro asserted: "Studies indicate that the 187 men and women Clinton has placed on the bench are markedly moderate."
The Washington Post's Joan Biskupic felt so strongly Dole was wrong she wrote a Sunday Outlook section editorial on April 28 charging "Dole's characterization of the judiciary is way out of date." In a March 9 news story, Biskupic had insisted "the 'liberal' justices appointed by President Clinton are hardly extreme...[Pat] Buchanan often targets [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, who was appointed in 1993 and on the Rehnquist court is comparatively liberal." Later she found ideology in Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him "distinctively brash, opinionated and far to the right in his view of constitutional limits." Other reporters agreed on Clinton's moderate picks. On March 23, New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse found "the Clinton nominees compromise a moderate, mainstream group." Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Barrett argued on April 3: "the White House angered liberal activists by picking many moderates and steering away from some strongly ideological liberals."
But the Free Congress foundation’s Thomas Jipping managed to learn, as he noted in the May 20 National Review, "some of Clinton’s appointees...have ruled for the defendant in every criminal-law opinion they have written."
Fine Distinctions on the Left...The national media were quick to connect the dots between the Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh and conservative talk radio hosts and politicians, blurring any distinctions. But the discovery of Unabomber suspect Ted Kaczynski led reporters to draw precise distinctions between the Unabomber and his sympathizers.
On the April 17 World News Tonight, Peter Jennings ignored the Unabomber's trail of deaths: "A small but determined group of rejectionists traces its roots to the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. English workers, in that case, who destroyed the machinery they thought would rob them of their jobs. Today's movement is kinder and gentler." After talking to people from both sides of the anti-technology spectrum, reporter Ned Potter insisted: "In truth, anti-tech sentiment runs the gamut, from extremists like the Unabomber to radical environmental groups like Earth First to ordinary people, uncomfortable with the pace of the modern world."
New York Times reporter Dirk Johnson also excluded the Unabomber in an April 15 piece on a Luddite gathering: "Today's Luddites differ from their forebears in other important ways as well. For one, they oppose violence....The Unabom case has focused more attention on antipathy toward the advances of technology. In fact, the Unabomber's published manifesto included references to Luddism. While nobody here agreed with the actions of the bomber, several people said his fears were rational."
...No Distinctions on the Right. Reporters still weave a conspiracy between talk show hosts, the militia movement, the NRA, and Newt Gingrich for the Oklahoma City bombing. NPR’s Mara Liasson asked on the April 19 Washington Week in Review on PBS: "When the President went out to Oklahoma City last year and made those comments about loud and angry voices, he also made some other comments about certain conservative talk show hosts, that was very controversial. Do people in Oklahoma City connect the loud and angry voices with what happened to them?" Gloria Borger of U.S. News & World Report replied: "Yes, they're not happy about the G. Gordon Liddys of the world. They're not happy about the name calling that goes on on talk radio....We used to be able to passionately disagree about issues without threatening each other." When Borger noted the need to "lower the decibel level," host Ken Bode interjected: "Well, one of the people who has got to take some of that advice is the Speaker of the House."
CNN's Marc Watts made a similar connection to Oklahoma City on the April 19 Inside Politics: "After that tragedy the NRA was accused of promoting the anti-government sentiment that may have spurred the bombing...The organization said it was all a misunderstanding and it denies any involvement in the blast."
Who said the NRA was "involved"?
Revolving Door: Snow on Sunday
To moderate its new Sunday morning public affairs show, Fox News Sunday, the network tapped Tony Snow. Those hired by the media who have liberal ties don't raise a concern in the journalistic world. But the selection of the conservative Snow prompted some reporters to question the slant of the show, although Marty Ryan, former Executive Producer of NBC's Today, will hold the same title with Fox News Sunday. "A rabidly conservative columnist and former speechwriter for President George Bush, Snow knows that his right-wing image may put off lefties," declared Philadelphia Inquirer television reporter Gail Shister on April 8. Shister explained that "as for some critics' contentions that Snow could be `tainted' by his Bush connections, he says: `I've worked for half as many politicians'" as Meet the Press host Tim Russert, who toiled for former Governor Mario Cuomo and Senator Daniel Moynihan, both New York Democrats. The show, which premiered April 28, is aimed at younger viewers and will include questions sent via the internet.
Filling the Slate
Michael Kinsley, Editor of Microsoft's new online publication, Slate, has built his team. Among those tapped by the liberal former co-host of CNN's Crossfire: Jodie Allen, Editor of the Washington Post Outlook section since 1990, who served under President Carter as Deputy Secretary of Labor for policy evaluation and research. For Slate, to debut May 31 on the internet, she'll be the Washington editor.
First she reported the news, then she spun the news. Now Kathleen deLaski will do both in cyberspace in a post which involves covering Clinton's re-election effort. America Online, the on-line computer service, National Journal reported March 16, "has hired deLaski to direct campaign coverage for its politics channel." In 1988 she became an on-air Washington reporter for ABC News. She jumped to the Clinton team in 1993 as Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Defense Department. For the past year she's been Deputy to the Undersecretary for Policy Liaison.
Since late last year Walter Shapiro, Press Secretary to Carter Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and a Time Senior Editor from 1987 to 1993, has penned a twice-weekly news section column for USA Today. 20 Shapiro began his April 12 "Hype & Glory," in which he fawned over Victor Morales, the Democratic Senate nominee in Texas, by recalling his own early partisan foray: "Nearly a quarter of a century ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, I was seized by the quixotic notion that anti-war students deserved representation in Congress." At the time he was a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan. Shapiro lost, but he noted "I did come within 1,400 votes of winning a six-way Democratic Primary. My partisan days are long behind me."
Willie Hortonizing CNN
CNN announced in March that Ken Bode, a top aide in Democrat Morris Udall's 1976 presidential run, will be a national political analyst. An April 26 Washington Week in Review look at Bob Dole's claim that Clinton has nominated liberal judges, offered a preview of Bode's analysis. From his perch as moderator of the PBS show, Bode asked: "So, federal judges are going to become this year's Willie Horton?"
Media Clique Clap for Clinton
When Americans went to the polls in 1992, 43 percent voted for Bill Clinton and 38 percent for George Bush. But the results were very different in another America, the news media's Washington bureaus. A poll of 139 bureau chiefs and congressional reporters discovered 89 percent pulled the lever for Clinton and seven percent picked Bush.
In mid-April the Freedom Forum released a report examining media-congressional relations. Buried in the appendix were "a few final questions for classification purposes only." These were part of a 58 question Roper Center survey completed by mail in November and December 1995.
Asked "How would you characterize your political orientation?" 61 percent said "liberal" or "liberal to moderate." Only nine percent labeled themselves "conservative" or "moderate to conservative." The poll also found that 59 percent considered the Contract with America "an election-year campaign ploy" while only three percent thought it was "a serious reform proposal." A decisive 85 percent admitted they were "very" or "somewhat" surprised by the 1994 GOP win.
So do these views affect the news? Study chief and former Chicago Tribune reporter Elaine Povich told the April 18 Washington Times: "One of the things about being a professional is that you attempt to leave your personal feelings aside as you do your work." Boston Globe Editor Matthew Storin insisted on CNN's Reliable Sources April 21: "I think, actually, those figures are a great endorsement for the professionalism of our business. Has anyone looked at the coverage of Bill Clinton's administration? I mean, it's been, almost from the get-go, negative."
On the April 28 Fox News Sunday Linda Chavez opined that people realize reporters' personal views influence their reporting, prompting Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt to coun-ter: "If that poll is correct, it basically reaffirms the argument that Linda just argued against. Which is, would anyone argue that Bill Clinton has gotten an easy press the last three years? If 89 percent voted for him, he's gotten an awfully tough press." Later he asked incredulously: "You think his health care proposals got a good press?"
One reporter on the CNN show realized the impact. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz explained: "Clearly anybody looking at those numbers, if they're even close to accurate, would conclude that there is a diversity problem in the news business, and it's not just the kind of diversity we usually talk about, which is not getting enough minorities in the news business, but political diversity, as well. Anybody who doesn't see that is just in denial." Indeed.
CNN vs the GOP
CNN Presents offered a perfect example of how the media help block anything that lessens federal power or control. The April 21 hour served up emotional anecdotes about the evils of House GOP reforms, combined with melodramatic music most reminiscent of Hard Copy and Inside Edition.
Depression-era photos of sad-looking children accompanied by gloomy music underscored Kathy Slobogin's opening: "Republicans want to end the 60-year federal responsibility, and give the power to run welfare back to the states. But some fear history may repeat itself, that when states face hard times, programs for poor people will be the first to go."
CNN's David Lewis then followed with a report on the Georgia state legislature. "Georgians across the political spectrum, worry that the state, by choice or by necessity, won't be able to do what the federal government has done. Putting those least able to care for themselves, people like Emily Clark, at the greatest risk."
Lewis asked the mother of Emily, a three-year-old epileptic: "What would happen if they [government programs] weren’t there?" She replied, "A shiver ran through me when you said that. I can't even imagine not only what her life would be, but what our life would be." Lewis asserted: "There are Emilys in every state. Their parents face an uncertain future."
Slobogin returned to accuse the GOP of risking disaster by challenging new regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in a sinister scheme to reward contributors: "OSHA, the federal agency that's supposed to protect workers...is under attack in the Republican Congress. UPS is leading the charge. Proposals in the House would slash OSHA's enforcement budget and keep it from cracking down on companies like UPS." As if it were anything new, she charged: "Especially galling to critics, a UPS lobbyist was invited to write a draft of the legislation weakening OSHA oversight."
An angle not broached: What really improves safety. A February National Association of Manufacturers survey of members found that when asked the sources they’ve used to identify and correct safety problems, 77 named insurance companies, 70 percent said "employee suggestions," but just 9 percent cited OSHA.
NBC: Tough on Criminals?
Any suggested link between crime and welfare dependency is usually dismissed by the media as Willie Horton redux. However, Elizabeth Vargas' March 26 Dateline report showed that current welfare rules pay scofflaws while keeping them safe from cops.
Vargas noted there are "more than 415,000 fugitives on the lam across the country, men and women wanted by the law for serious crimes." After a fruitless morning with an Ohio Sheriff’s department, knocking on doors searching for fugitives, she noted that "just a few blocks away from the sheriff's department is all the information those officers say they need. Here in this office are the names, addresses, phone numbers, even photographs, of some of those fugitives from justice. People fleeing from the law but not from the welfare department."
Vargas found the irony: "So, while one government agency spends your tax dollars to find fugitives from the law, another govern-ment agency gives more of your tax dollars, welfare, to fugitives in hiding." After local welfare director Joseph Garcia told Vargas the police were on a "fishing expedition" targeting the poor, Vargas noted that after the sheriff went public with his battle against privacy laws preventing welfare agents from sharing names and addresses, "deputies are getting some information."
Robert Hager probed the same politically incorrect line in his "Fleecing of America" report on the April 24 Nightly News, reporting the General Accounting Office findings of prisoners calling the Agriculture Department -- collect: "652 collect calls accepted from 18 prisons in all, in just the four months auditors sampled." Hager explained, "The prisoners had found dishonest employees at the Agricultural Department's Washington head-quarters, willing to forward on their calls long-distance to whomever the prisoners wanted to talk to, private individuals, anywhere, at taxpayers expense," -- even calls to sex lines in the Dominican Republic.
In 1931, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, prompted by white laborers who were upset that blacks were underbidding them on government contracts. Davis-Bacon sets a high wage level for contractors that build government buildings. On the April 12 20/20, ABC's John Stossel looked at how this regulation continues to cost taxpayers millions while benefitting unions.
Stossel started at the Labor Department, the agency that enforces Davis-Bacon: "Dozens of them [employees] here, and others in state and city labor departments, spend their time deciding what construction workers on government projects must be paid. The result? Government buildings cost more and poor people who want to work can't."
Stossel explained:"A side effect of fixing wages is that some workers end up being excluded." At Cabrini Green in Chicago, one of the nation's poorest housing projects, the government is doing repairs. Cabrini Green residents would like to do the work, but as Stossel learned: "They can't get hired because when contractors are forced to pay high Davis Bacon salaries even for the simplest jobs, they're not going to take a chance on inexperienced strangers."
Hugh Downs' Hate Radio
Hugh Downs may seem harmless hosting 20/20, but in the Spring Forbes MediaCritic Steve Kroll revealed another side -- a liberal ideologue in weekly commentaries for ABC Radio's Perspectives. From 1990: "The Reagan-Bush team did more than just support dictatorial rule around the world. It helped foster a climate of dictatorship at home." In 1994, on the Gulf War: "Nobody in his right mind would incinerate or blow up innocent children, but that's exactly what the United Nation's said that American bombs did in Iraq."
Downs had quite a conspiratorial view of the discredited October Surprise theory, which he said "has tentacles that reach deep into the empire of Manuel Noriega, into the scandal at BCCI, and into the...destruction of Iraq....For 11 years suspicions have grown that renegade intelligence officers illegally seized the American government....There is a growing number of reasons to believe that the October Surprise is true."
Finally, Kroll noted that Downs attempted to "liken Ronald Reagan to a communist dictator because he entertained the idea of repealing the 22nd Amendment, which limits a President to two terms. While Gorbachev attempts `to liberalize the Soviet Union by adopting Thomas Jefferson's democracy,' opined Downs, Reagan `in almost mirror-like fashion,' moves `toward absolute rule.'"
Janet Cooke Award: Legal Services or Liberal Services?
To convince Congress they deserve more funding, advocates of government programs regularly highlight examples of all those the program benefits. Reporters should look for the reality. For touting the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) as if he were on staff, CBS's Terence Smith earned the Janet Cooke Award. His April 28 Sunday Morning story focused on Legal Services of Greater Miami: "They deal mostly with bread-and-butter issues: housing, employment, custody, divorce. The concept of helping the poor with their problems would seem, on the face of it, to be something most Americans could agree upon. But Legal Services is one of those hot-button issues that divides people on political, practical, and ideological grounds." CBS did not present a balanced slate of proponents and opponents, with 18 soundbites of LSC backers and three from LSC opponent Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who revealed: "Many of the cases that I've seen are very extreme, radical areas that are being funded by the taxpayers...It is not the average elderly person being evicted from homes that you would have people believe that you defend. There's more of this radical view, I see, funded by the taxpayer." Smith never allowed Taylor to elaborate. For decades, the LSC has used its grants to fight against conservative policies. As LSC chairman, Hillary Clinton funneled taxpayer money into defeating a 1980 California ballot initiative (Proposition 9) to cut state income taxes in half. In 1983, the General Accounting Office cited the LSC for violating statutory bars against partisan activity. In 1994, The Washington Times reported the state of California was forced by the LSC-funded Western Center on Law and Poverty to revoke a 2.3 percent reduction in welfare payments, costing an estimated $5.6 million a month. They also filed successful suits to increase payments to MediCal, the state's Medicaid plan, and force the state to pay day been terminated by this particular time." 20 Smith moved on: "Barbara Goulsby is the Legal Services attorney for Damon Johnson, and 36 families who lost their possessions when Miami police suddenly evicted them from their apartment building in a drug-infested neighborhood. The city said the building was a center for drug activity." To complete the picture of victims, Smith added: "Daniel Barker, another Legal Services attorney, is helping Deborah Williams fight eviction from her apartment...He interceded with the public housing authority, which had accused her of having unauthorized persons living in the apartment." Smith asked Williams: "Where would you have been without Legal Services?...On the street?" Williams agreed: "Yes, exactly, okay?" CBS did not investigate whether LSC grantees use tax dollars to fight the eviction of drug dealers from public housing. The August 15, 1994 New York Times reported a group representing 500,000 New York tenants entered a case to back expedited eviction of drug dealers, only to be opposed by the Legal Aid Society, an LSC grantee. (New York public housing officials declared drug-related arrests in their complexes grew from 813 in 1973 to 11,092 in 1993). As Boehm testified to Congress: "A program determined to use public funds to keep drug dealers in public housing -- in the name of helping the poor -- is a program that's lost what it means to help the poor." Smith asked: "So what are the prospects for Legal Services, given the current political climate?...Charles Taylor wants to kill the program." Taylor declared: "We've been able to take it from $400 million down to 283, right at the moment. We need to take it to zero." Smith noted: "That won't happen this year. But last week Congress imposed new restrictions on Legal Service attorneys, barring them from bringing class-action suits, challenging welfare reform, and representing many immigrants." Smith did not explain why the new restrictions were necessary. Taylor's press secretary, Jack Cox, told MediaWatch the CBS story followed a formula: "Every single time we've done an interview, the reporter finds one local group, interviews a few nice little fuzzy cases where people say `I couldn't live without them,' and then they quote us saying `Zero it out.' They never let us give the justifications for zeroing it out. I sat in on the CBS interview for more than an hour. [Taylor] must have hammered home the drug-dealer issue about 40 times to get it into the piece." It didn't get in. Smith told MediaWatch he stood by his use of Taylor: "I would argue that's a very full description of his view of Legal Services." As for the story's imbalance, Smith declared, "Obviously, I think it was fair." When asked about drug-related evictions, Smith protested that he was unfamiliar with the New York case and insisted: "Taylor did not cite a single specific case. When I asked attorneys in Florida, they said they'd never represent a convicted drug pusher."