In This Issue
The Media's More-Spending Bias; NewsBites: Defund the Nonpartisans?; Revolving Door: White House Fall; Reporters Love Pontiff's Message for the Poor, Not the Unborn; Watching the Detectives?; Recalling the Gulag; Audience Not "Angry White Males"; Janet Cooke Award: Potter's Press Release Presentation
The Media's More-Spending Bias
The media play an important role in what political scientist James Payne calls "the culture of spending." Like many other Washington players, reporters have a bias in favor of more activism by the federal government, with an emphasis on more spending. This leads to a very distorted difference in the way Republican and Democratic spending proposals are reported.
In 1993, when President Clinton proposed a "$500 billion deficit reduction package," reporters promoted a vision of serious deficit reduction without mentioning a planned dramatic expansion of entitlement spending -- the Clinton health plan, which the public was told would require very little in new taxes or spending. With this year's Republican budget proposals, they provided hostile word-pictures of "slashing" and "bloodletting," even as spending is projected to grow well beyond the rate of inflation.
In the Bush years alone, Medicare grew 72 percent, and Medicaid jumped 132 percent. Republicans have proposed to reduce the growth of federal spending on Medicare from over 10 percent a year to about 7 percent. Spending per recipient is projected to increase from $4,800 per recipient to $6,700. For Medicaid, the Republicans plan to send the program's administration back to the states, but also plan a 39 percent increase over seven years, from this year's $89.2 billion to $124.3 billion.
But reporters have sounded the alarm in frightful tones. "March madness has begun on Capitol Hill, and almost as predictable as a B horror film, the slashing has begun," warned CNN's Judy Woodruff on March 16. When the Republicans sought to pass an overall budget, CNN's Bob Franken announced on May 9: "The House Republican budget bloodletting will infuriate lots of people. Besides the Medicare cuts, Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor, loses $184 billion."
In September, the formal introduction of a Medicare reform plan drew more of the same. Bryant Gumbel charged on Today September 15: "Republicans in Congress are beginning to detail how they intend to cut $270 billion from the Medicare budget." Five days later, Dan Rather declared on the CBS Evening News: "There's no doubt that Medicare spending will be cut. The question is how much and for how many." The next day, Rather announced for effect: "Republicans in Congress today unveiled their long-awaited and potentially most explosive proposal of all -- to cut Medicare spending increases by more than a quarter trillion dollars."
CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn warned on September 29 that "The Republican plan to slash $270 billion from Medicare cleared its first hurdle in a Senate committee last night." On PBS, anchor Robert MacNeil reported October 2 that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle proposed a Medicare plan that "would cut $89 billion over seven years, a third of what the Republicans have proposed to slash."
But when Clinton introduced a budget plan in April 1993 which included no estimates of how much his proposed health plan would cost in the coming five years, media reaction was not hostile. Most reporters touted the fiscal solidity of a budget with a massive magic asterisk in the middle, with no estimate of the increased costs of adding 37 million Americans to a nationalized health program.
NBC's Lisa Myers declared on the April 30 Today: "The President deserves great credit for having the courage to come up with a deficit reduction plan and we shouldn't lose sight of that." On May 28, CBS This Morning's Paula Zahn asked Ross Perot: "Do you acknowledge that this is at all better than anything the Republicans attempted over the last 12 years?" This is the same person who accused the Republicans of "slashing" Medicare. Reporters also claimed inaccurately that the new budget (which completely excluded new spending on health care for the uninsured) would actually lower overall spending. The Clinton budget clearly stated the budget would grow from $1.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion by 1998.
"Three months after Mr. Clinton outlined his plan to lower the deficit, by a combination of lower spending and higher taxes, the tax portion has passed its first important test on Capitol Hill," announced Peter Jennings on the May 13, 1993 World News Tonight. Declared CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer on May 23: "It is a plan which raises taxes and reduces government spending to bring the deficit into line."
When the initial numbers of the health plan were introduced in September 1993, reporters continued to present the White House line that health reform would require no massive tax increases. ABC's Jim Angle touted savings on World News Tonight September 2. "Though many analysts are skeptical of the administration's numbers, they say universal care will save the government money....In all, some $31 billion a year could be saved by shifting insurance costs for the working poor and elderly from the government to their employers."
On the September 15, 1993 CBS This Morning, Linda Douglass explained: "They have a very elaborate plan to pay for this revolution in health care. It doesn't provide for much new in the way of taxes, just a sin tax, cigarette tax. They claim the money's going to come from savings in spending."
Time Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame announced in the September 20, 1993 issue: "The Clinton plan is surprisingly persuasive in supporting the longtime claim of the Clintons, and their top health care strategist, Ira Magaziner, that reform can be almost entirely from savings, without broad-based new taxes and with enough left over to reduce the federal budget deficit." Not every reporter found the fantasy alluring. In the September 20, 1993 issue, Newsweek economics correspondent Rich Thomas charged: "It is the biggest exercise in wishful thinking since President Reagan promised to cut taxes, increase defense spending, and balance the budget."
The Congressional Budget Office eventually calculated the Clinton plan as costing $1 trillion a year by 1998. Since Clinton had no balanced budget deadline, reporters never reported that as a "seven-trillion-dollar health plan over the next seven years." The public relies on the national media for accurate information about the federal budget, but it often doesn't get it. Will next year's budget really spend less than last year? Will Medicare spending actually go down? Reporters know that the pollsters have found that the word "cuts" helps the Democrats, but "slowing the growth" does not. They seem more interested in curbing Republican budget balancing plans than providing the most basic statistical information, finding numerical calculation less necessary than political calculation.
NewsBites: Defund the Nonpartisans?
The Washington Post devoted a September 19 front-page story to the Republican bill aiming to stop activist groups from using taxpayer money to lobby for more government. But the bill's liberal critics never were identified as liberal. Reporter Stephen Barr listed "the bill's harshest critics -- including Independent Sector, a coalition of more than 800 corporate and nonprofit groups, and OMB Watch, a public interest group." Barr also introduced without a label the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the American Association of Retired Persons, the Aspen Institute, and Georgetown law professor David Cole, who Barr didn't mention is active in the far-left Center for Constitutional Rights. But Barr ended his story by turning to Leslie Lenkowsky of the "conservative Hudson Institute."
Mother of All Assaults.
As Congress prepares to vote on allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and logging in the Tongass National Forest, environmentalists are launching a counter-attack. Their weapon of choice? The media.
Reporter Martha Brant took aim at Alaska's Republican delegation in an October 2 Newsweek piece titled "The Alaskan Assault." Rep. Don Young, described by Brant as a "hot-tempered trapper," and Senators Ted Stevens (who's "given to sudden fits of rage") and Frank Murkowski (who lacks Young's "menacing flair") have been shepherding the legislation to supposedly destroy Alaska and kill all the caribou through the committees they control.
Brant set the debate: "Environmentalists try to depict the current conflicts as a morality play that pits helpless animals and sparkling streams against rapacious developers. The problem is that these lawmakers -- arguing that jobs for loggers and oil drillers outweigh traditional preservation worries -- are happy to wear the black hats."
Just how big is this "assault" on Alaska's natural resources? It's tiny, Steve Hanson, Communications Director for the House Resources Committee told MediaWatch. The Tongass National Forest is 17 million acres large. Only 1.5 million acres of Tongass can be harvested for wood. Since 1952, the most wood harvested in a single year was 13,997 acres. The ANWR is 19 million acres, the size of South Carolina. Hanson pointed out that "the actual footprint of the oil facilities is about 12,000 acres."
Clinton's Brilliant Achievements.
The media buildup for the 1996 Clinton campaign is beginning. An August 20 Knight-Ridder story was headlined in one Pennsylvania newspaper, "Polls Show that Clinton's Tough Stance is Gaining More Public Support." Washington bureau reporter Robert Rankin detailed Clinton's popularity-earning moves: "Ordered sweeping regulation over sale and marketing of cigarettes and chewing tobacco to children," "restricted lobbyists' access to executive branch officials," and appointed two proponents of "clean government" to "spearhead campaign-finance reform."
In addition, Rankin reported that over the summer Clinton "Ordered his Education Department to notify every school in America about the religious rights of students, and his Justice Department to defend students whose religious rights are infringed upon." Glowing phrases like "flexing his executive muscles" and "the public seems to like the newly assertive Clinton" permeated the story. To show the popularity of all this plus moves like ordering "equal access to security clearances for homosexuals in government" and defending "affirmative action programs as unequivocally necessary," Rankin cited poll numbers showing Clinton beating Bob Dole.
But according to a poll in the October 2 U.S. News and World Report, "only 40 percent of the voters approve Clinton's job performance and 46 percent disapprove -- no change from last November."
Newsweek contributor Gregg Easterbrook is no conservative. National Journal reporter Paul Starobin wrote in the September 2 edition that "he volunteered at a recent lunch with EPA administrator Carol Browner to endorse the Clinton Administration's environmental agenda." Then why has A Moment On the Earth, Easterbrook's book on the environment, been greeted with such hostility on the liberal environmental beat? Because Easterbrook's thesis is that the environmental news today is basically good, a theme insufficiently gloomy for some statist environmental journalists: "Not only Easterbrook's science, but also his motive and credentials, have been questioned in a raucous, at times petty, spat that has important implications for the direction of policy."
Starobin noted Time reporter David Seideman penned a poisonous book review for the Los Angeles Times. Seideman wrote that the book "sinks beneath a landfill of falsehoods and sophistries." In an interview Seideman called him a "bully" who "makes caricatures of environmentalists...I'm absolutely appalled by what
he's writing but in awe of his [publicity] skills. He's very good at playing the provocateur -- maybe we're all unwittingly playing into his hands." A second Times review said the book was "powerfully persuasive, both in detail and in perspective."
Also angry is Philip Shabecoff, the ex-New York Times environmental reporter, who accused Easterbrook of sending "a jarringly wrong message to environmental journalists." And what's the correct message? Shabecoff wrote in a recent newsletter of the Society of Environmental Journalists: "Our role is to probe beneath the veneer placed over our continuing environmental ills by industrial political and ideological propaganda," not "feel-good fluff."
Shabecoff told Starobin his big worry was a "corporate culture in the media that looks askance at environmental reporting." In his 1993 book A Fierce Green Fire, Shabecoff cited approvingly the "valuable role" professional activists play in environmental journalism as "intermediaries between the scientific community and reporters." Starobin noted that "[Shabecoff] left the Times in 1991 after he was pulled off the environment beat by editors who, he said, told him that his coverage was pro-green -- an accusation that he disputes."
Back and Roth.
Senator Bob Packwood's resignation led to some confusion in the media. Reporters worried about the loss of another moderate as they went searching for a label for Senator William Roth, his successor as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
On the September 8 Good Morning America's 7:00 a.m. news summary, correspondent Bob Zelnick anointed him moderate: "Bill Roth, the Republican of Delaware, will take over, a moderate but not quite the power Packwood is." Thirty minutes later, however, anchor Morton Dean changed the label: "The moderate Packwood leaving the Senate and giving up the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and favored to replace him, the more conservative William Roth of Delaware."
U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts worried in the September 18 edition that Roth's ascension would leave "fewer GOP moderates, more hardline conservatives and a Senate where compromises are harder to reach." Specifically, he described Roth as "a more timid lawmaker who is far less likely to assert his independence from conservative orthodoxy" than Packwood. If Dean or Roberts had checked they'd have learned that Roth is hardly a hard-line conservative. In 1994 he earned a 35 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and a 68 from the American Conservative Union which gave Packwood 67 percent approval.
The U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing gave the media a convenient hook to hang their large feminist hats, celebrating abortion as women's liberation and the good old days of gender equality under communism. ABC World News Tonight reporter Beth Nissen suggested September 3 that American women shared the plight of the Third World: "American women are still underrepresented among those who enforce the law, who make the law," she said, describing America as "a society that often fails to treat women equally, fairly, or well."
Eight days later, on September 11, ABC's Jim Laurie noted the Beijing conference was "making important breakthroughs," among them a sexual rights manifesto "likely to urge the decriminalization of abortion around the world. With such strides in women's rights, said one delegate, disputes between George Bush and Bella Abzug are unfortunate diversions." But neither Nissen nor Laurie discussed the victims of these "rights," as China's forced abortion condemns many infant girls to death.
In the August 24 Los Angeles Times, reporter Robin Wright noted approvingly that "China's constitution is among the few that openly pledges `women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.'" Wright lamented women's lack of good authoritarian opportunities in the new, freer societies: "Opportunities have actually diminished for females in many of the formerly socialist countries that are embracing democracy and free markets. East European governments have far fewer women than their communist predecessors. And China admits that women hold limited positions of influence in the government and Communist Party -- and none in the Politburo."
As if that weren't enough demonstration of a blind eye to the reality of communism, a week later, Los Angeles Times reporter Maggie Farley blandly recounted how Shen Huiqin reminisced about her "good old days when they were young women at the forefront of China's Cultural Revolution two decades ago. `I was a Red Guard then, and we had power.'" Indeed, those at the "forefront of the Cultural Revolution" from 1966 to 1976 are estimated to be responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million men and women. But Farley never mentioned that -- only that "most of the gains made by Chinese women" came during that murderous decade. Farley wistfully noted: "Now, as communism gives way to capitalism, in many ways women are bearing more than half the burden of change."
Respect for Life?
Newsweek Senior Editor Melinda Beck wrote without irony about home abortion methods in 1989: "Sadly, many home remedies could damage a fetus instead of kill it." In the same style, Debra Rosenberg, Michelle Ingrassia, and Sharon Begley returned to the subject in the September 18 issue, graphically describing a few women's experiences using RU-486 to abort babies.
They recounted how after one women took the drug, she went into the bathroom, yelling to her boyfriend: "Richard! Come here -- look at this!" Newsweek described the scene: "There is a fist-size glob of red and white at the bottom of the toilet. Becky can see the curled-up fetus, the size and color of a cocktail shrimp. `Look at that, honey,' Becky says to Richard. Its hands are curled into tiny fists. `It's sad. It's sad,' Becky murmurs, turning away." Another woman had a different experience: "Unlike Becky, Sarah has not expelled the fetus within 24 hours...nine days after the misoprostol -- she is taking a shower when she suddenly expels the pregnancy sac. It doesn't go down the drain. She scoops it up, wraps it carefully in toilet paper and flushes it away. `It really emotionally hit me,' she says later."
Newsweek related the story of "Claudia, a 23-year-old computer programmer from Connecticut who lives with her boyfriend, had an experience starkly different from Sarah's: the night after taking the drug at the Planned Parenthood clinic she passed the fetus, without even taking the contraction-inducing misoprostol. She had never had an abortion before. `At first I cried,' she says. `It's a mourning process. It's respect for life.'"
Revolving Door: White House Fall
In moving personnel around in preparation for the 1996 campaign, the White House has shifted three media veterans. Donald Baer, Assistant Managing Editor (AME) of U.S. News & World Report until becoming President Clinton's chief speechwriter last year, has taken the title of Communications Director. While a lawyer in 1984 he organized a $75,000 fundraiser in New York City on behalf of Democrat James Hunt, the unsuccessful nominee that year against North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms. He joined U.S. News in 1987 as an Associate Editor...
At the Labor Department, Clinton will nominate Susan King as Assistant Secretary for public affairs. She spent the first half of the year as the presidentially appointed Executive Director of the Commission on the Family Medical Leave Act. In the early '80s King was a White House and general assignment reporter for ABC News until taking an anchor slot at NBC's station in Washington, D.C.... In Foggy Bottom, The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Warren Christopher has gained a new Senior Adviser: Bob Boorstin, a New York Times metropolitan reporter in the '80s who has spent the last year writing speeches for NSC chief Anthony Lake.
"Andie Tucher is editorial producer of the ABC News Twentieth Century Documentary Project," read the identification tag on an article in the Summer issue of the Freedom Forum's Media Studies Journal. In the piece exploring the media's unpopularity, Tucher and co-author Dan Bischoff recalled their positions when attending MTV's inaugural ball: "One of us had toiled as a speech writer in the Clinton campaign's War Room...and the other was then political editor of the Village Voice." A check with Nexis found that Bischoff worked for the Voice, leaving Tucher, a writer and producer of Bill Moyers documentaries in 1991-92, as the Clintonite.
The duo argued in their article that "the rampant dissatisfaction with the `fairness' of the media may well stem from one fundamental misunderstanding: People seem to believe that the definition of objectivity is `agreement with me.'"
USA Today's Carter Column
To beef up its presidential campaign coverage USA Today has brought aboard a Carter Administration veteran. Walter Shapiro, Press Secretary to Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and later a speechwriter for President Carter, has begun "Hype & Glory," a weekly news section column that will appear twice a week starting November 22. Shapiro, a Senior Writer for Time from 1987 until Clinton's inauguration, when he became Esquire's White House correspondent, will remain in that slot for the monthly.
John Scali, the ABC News reporter who became an intermediary in the Cuban Missile Crisis and later a part of the Nixon Administration, passed away on October 9. Scali gained fame after it became known in 1964 that in October 1962, a year after he joined ABC News, he had carried a critical message from a KGB Colonel to U.S. officials. He left ABC in 1971 to serve as a foreign affairs adviser to President Nixon, becoming U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1973. Scali re-joined ABC in 1975 where he worked until retiring in 1993.
Reporters Love Pontiff's Message for the Poor, Not the Unborn
Claiming a Piece of the Pope
Before Pope John Paul II landed in the United States, Washington Post Style writer Henry Allen suggested millions of American Catholics think he "speaks with the voice of a conservative crank when he stonewalls on abortion" and other Church doctrines. But when the Pope called on America to do more for the poor, reporters turned him into a star witness against the Republican Congress.
Robert McFadden covered the Pope's arrival for the October 5 New York Times: "Without naming names, or even mentioning the Republican-dominated Congress, the Pope also seemed to admonish the supporters of proposed laws to restrict immigration and dismantle many of the nation's programs for the poor. In doing so, he appeared to echo many of President Clinton's warnings."
The next day, after the Pope called legal abortion a "moral blight" on America, Times reporter Celestine Bohlen pronounced: "Though he mentioned the rights of the `unborn child' at Giants Stadium last night, his most striking statements...have been warnings against what he perceives as a rising movement to limit immigration, reduce subsidies for the poor and weak, and retreat to an isolationist position."
The same spin made its way onto television. On Good Morning America October 6, ABC reporter Bill Blakemore proclaimed: "He's striking a theme that runs directly counter to Republican plans to limit welfare programs for the poor."
On October 10, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff asked Pat Buchanan on Inside Politics: "How do you as a Catholic reconcile that with what your own party has done this year and is talking of doing with regard to cutting back programs for the poor in this country?" Neither ABC nor CNN asked Democrats how the Pope's pro-life message reconciled with their pro-abortion position.
NBC's appointed papal expert in three morning interviews, Andrew Greeley, a millionaire priest and author of sexually explicit novels, told Today co-host Giselle Fernandez on October 7: "The Pope has come to the United States when it's in a very mean-spirited period when it's bashing immigrants, bashing poor people, bashing minorities. And the Pope has come to say `Hey, stop that!' He isn't talking about specific legislative measures but he's certainly addressing himself to the spirit that elected and sustains the Gingrich-Dole Congress."
But when asked about Catholic reaction to the Pope's authority on sexual matters, Greeley replied: "Where they think the Pope really doesn't understand, they reserve the right to follow their own consciences and appeal to a God who does understand."
Watching the Detectives?
The official determination of suicide in the 1993 death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster led to much controversy. Some homicide detectives raised questions about inconsistencies with suicide in the park. Former FBI Director William Sessions called the investigation "compromised" from the beginning.
So when 60 Minutes decided to take a look you'd expect a serious examination of all the evidence. Instead, on October 8, Mike Wallace tried to debunk any notion of mysterious circumstances by taking potshots at a few of the less important questions. Wallace laid out the official story: "Vince Foster's family, the U.S. Park Police, the FBI, the Senate Banking Committee, and independent counsel Robert Fiske have all concluded that Vince Foster killed himself. But according to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans still are not sure. The question is: Why? In large part, because of the work of this man, investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy."
Wallace grilled Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, portraying him as part of a right-wing conspiracy: "Ruddy's paper is owned by a prominent conservative, Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife also supports a tiny conservative outfit that calls itself the Western Journalism Center (WJC) and they've turned Ruddy's stories into full page newspaper ads across the country. The ads ask for contributions to keep Ruddy investigating and Ruddy's reporting is the basis for two videotapes."
Wallace focused on two issues: A disputed quote from a medical examiner, Dr. Donald Haut, and Ruddy's initial mistaken reporting that Foster was left-handed. In a statement after the show, WJC wrote: "Wallace never mentions that it was the Boston Globe which first reported Foster was left-handed," and that Ruddy had been first to report the correct information.
Wallace talked to medical examiner Haut, who contradicted Ruddy about the amount of blood around the body. He told Wallace it was consistent with suicide. But that's not what Haut initially told Ruddy and the FBI. The WJC pointed out several major discrepancies raised by forensic scientists that Wallace never mentioned: powder burns on Foster's hand inconsistent with suicide, eyeglasses 19 feet from his body, missing car keys, and the lack of soil on his shoes.
Recalling the Gulag
In a rare post Cold War look at the political oppression that existed in the Soviet Union, Newsweek's Andrew Nagorski reported about the horrors of Soviet prison camps in his September 25 piece, "Back to the Gulag."
He traveled to Perm, 700 miles east of Moscow, to relate the horrors of those who had been trapped in the gulag. "What most gripped the survivors was the memory of being hungry and cold. Their jail diet was watery soup, bread and weak tea -- meager at best, and often forsworn by prisoners on hunger strikes." Nagorski learned: "Prisoners lived in terror of catching a cold, because they were so weak that any illness could prove fatal...And guards played on that fear by often forcing prisoners to repeatedly submit to strip searches in the cold."
Nagorski noted that Soviet oppression ended only recently. "Several inmates died in Perm as late as 1985." He concluded that most former prisoners "aren't looking for retribution. But they do want some wider recognition of how they were wronged."
Death to Women
NBC's Lucky Severson took advantage of the UN women's conference in China to explore the danger women there face under communism. On the September 3 Nightly News he explained: "Hidden in this mass of humanity, there's an alarming statistic. By the year 2000, China will have eighty million more men than women." Why? "They're missing because China has strictly enforced a one child per family policy" which is "a death sentence for China's women."
Citing a human rights report, he asserted that women become "the silent victims of abortion, and murder, or they are simply abandoned" since a boy can work the fields. Now, "it is not uncommon to find the bodies of baby girls floating in a river." Ultrasound "was designed to save lives," but Severson said it "is the reason 97 percent of abortions in China are performed on female fetuses."
A Reagan Salute
After criticizing Ronald Reagan for years, Newsweek ran two upbeat articles October 2 on the ailing ex-President. The first was au-thored by Contributing Editor Eleanor Clift, who once praised Kitty Kelley's 1991 book about Nancy Reagan (that alleged she had a lesbian affair, performed oral sex acts on various men, and cheated on her husband) as "a contribution to contemporary history."
This time, she provided a largely touching portrait of a family brought together by tragedy, detailing the reconciliation of daughter Patti with her parents. Clift described how "Ronald Reagan has always believed in happy endings, and now, in a way, he is living one. The onset of Alzheimer's in the 84-year-old former President's brain has brought peace to his once-warring family." Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan's appreciation followed Clift: "Other Presidents have loomed large. Nixon loomed, but like a shadow. Reagan looms like a sun, lighting the stage on which the year's contenders [for the presidency] stand. But his light is so bright they squint in the glare and seem paler, washed out."
Audience Not "Angry White Males"
Talk Radio Realities
Countering those who dismiss talk radio as a forum for ignorant and angry white men, a new survey has determined that regular listeners are better educated than the general public and a minority are Republican. "Only 22 percent of those who listened to political radio talk shows `today or yesterday' are Republican men," found the poll of 3,035 people released in September by Adams Research Inc. The Arlington, Virginia firm is the publisher of a new fax newsletter, Talk Daily.
Talk radio has a vast audience, with 47 percent of adults saying they listen occasionally and 17 percent tuning in within the past 48 hours. Of these frequent listeners, 40 percent are women. Only 38 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 23 percent as Democrats and 39 percent as independents. Frequent listeners "are disproportionately better educated" as 39 percent have a college degree compared to 21 percent of all adults, and while 20 percent of Americans earn more than $60,000 annually 30 percent of talk show listeners take home that much.
On NBC Nightly News in January Bob Faw lashed out, asking if "talk radio is not democracy in action, but democracy run amok?" Re- porters may have reason to fear the rival: Asked "How important to you is talk radio as a source of political information and ideas," 67 percent said "very" or "moderately."
Janet Cooke Award: Potter's Press Release Presentation
The hyperbole bandwagon behind the theory of global warming has lost a lot of steam since its panicky debut in the summer drought of 1988. Gloomy scenarios of a fiery, dying planet have almost disappeared from the nightly news. But true believers in liberal environmentalism remain, and foremost among them is ABC reporter Ned Potter. For the second time this year Potter issued a one-sided warning of a greenhouse catastrophe, which has again earned him the Janet Cooke Award.
Back on the April 5 World News Tonight, Potter took to the sea: "The ocean is giving a signal of global warming -- the much-debated prediction that industrial air pollution will trap the sun's heat and warm the earth in coming decades...There is evidence, tentative but increasing, that the climate has already begun to change, affecting people's lives in a range of ways." ABC ignored a report two days earlier from NASA's George C. Marshall Institute which said "a growing body of scientific evidence shows global warming is not a serious threat."
So when the United Nations issued another report on global warming, ABC returned to the subject, but kept ignoring the skeptics -- and the real positive message buried in the report. Peter Jennings began the September 18 World News Tonight story: "And here is a weather problem that has an effect on the entire globe, which is why they call it global warming. After years of debate a consensus is forming. A United Nations report presents persuasive evidence that the earth is already growing warmer because of man."
Potter began: "Larger and more frequent hurricanes, longer and more intense droughts, coastal cities slowly flooded by rising oceans. This is the worst case scenario of global warming. The United Nations convened thousands of scientists to argue over the problem. Instead, in a new report, they agree that the earth is warming partly in response to human activities."
The story turned to Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the most prominent advocates of an approaching catastrophe: "For the first time, the scientific community has stated clearly that human beings are a probable cause of much of the warming that's occurred over the last century." Potter added NASA's Cynthia Rosenzweig to echo Oppenheimer.
Skeptics reject the notion of scientific consensus. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, testified to Congress on September 20: "I want to state clearly that there is no scientific consensus on ozone depletion or its consequences. `Consensus' is a political concept, not a scientific one. It is used mainly to gain reassurance for an ideological position and to avoid having to examine scientific arguments in detail. Consensus has also been claimed on the global warming issue."
The one time Potter allowed an opposite point of view -- on June 9, 1992 -- he identified Fred Singer as "a scientist who often defends industries like coal and oil, which are less concerned about the climate than about drastic economic measures being proposed to protect it."
Potter continued his September story with exposition: "When coal and oil are burned in cars and factories, they release gases like carbon dioxide that can trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere and warm the earth. Scientists say the earth's average temperature has increased about one degree in the last hundred years and could increase in the next hundred by another one to six degrees. That may not sound like much but scientists say it could mean dramatic changes, with food shortages in some places and oceans drowning low lying areas as they rise a foot and a half."
Potter ended by underlining the need for onerous government action: "Industry is worried that it may be forced to make drastic changes, closing down coal-fired power plants or switching cars from gasoline to much more expensive batteries. But with scientists so clearly labeling industry as part of the problem, politicians may not give companies a choice."
Potter would have gotten the opposite message if he'd interviewed Patrick Michaels, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, who told MediaWatch: "This is another example of a reporter ostensibly reporting on science who has not critically read or investigated the subject of his report. It is astounding to me that a person who has followed this issue as closely as Potter did not read between the lines in this report." Michaels explained: "The real story is not that it implicates humans in climate change. It is that the United Nations now says the climate model that best tracks the past, and is therefore most reliable in the future, is one that predicts very little future warming."
The U.N report cited an August 10 paper in the journal Nature by a British team of scientists led by J.F.B. Mitchell, which begins: "Climate models suggest that increases in greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere should have produced a larger global mean warming than has been observed in recent decades, unless the climate is less sensitive than is predicted by the present generation of coupled general circulation models."
Michaels told MediaWatch: "That's a polite way of saying the so-called cynics were right." He explained that the British team's model projects that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause an increase in global temperatures of 2.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, lower than most models. But the model also includes the offsetting cooling effect of sulfate aerosols, which reduces warming by a third, leaving a net warming of only 1.7 degrees from 1900 to 2100.
Michaels added: "Mitchell's model accurately projects a 0.4 degree warming `since the 1930s and 1940s,' which should have been more specific. But if you subtract that four-tenths from the 1.7 degrees the model predicts, we would only see 1.3 degrees warming by the year 2100."
How does this make scientific "cynics" right? In his 1991 book Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming, Michaels predicted: "The warming that will have occurred between 1900 and the time CO2 effectively doubles in the next century will be on the order of 1.0 to 1.5 degrees Celsius." Michaels told MediaWatch: "The media's attempt to create policy and subsidies in the latest spasm of global warming apocalyptism is so transparent. But if this U.N. report doesn't kill the issue before this Congress, I don't know what will."
As usual, Potter failed to return repeated MediaWatch phone calls. In a 1993 Nightline, Ted Koppel concluded the show with what would be good advice for Potter: "The measure of good science is neither the politics of the scientist nor the people with whom the scientist associates. It is the immersion of hypotheses into the acid of truth. That's the hard way to do it, but it's the only way that works."