Extra! July/August 1993

    Business as Usual After L.A. Verdict

    The “Rodney King riots” in Los Angeles last year prompted some journalists to think critically about their failure to fully cover the urban problems that lay behind the unrest. At the time, MacNeil/Lehrer’s David Gergen (5/1/92) admitted that there “has really been almost a conspiracy of silence within our political leadership and often with our press about what’s really happening in this country.” Gergen, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and now a Clinton adviser, spoke of “the division into two societies, the division by race, by haves versus have nots.” But after the second trial of the police officers ...


    Pseudo-Science at CBS

    The use of prime-time TV to sell the public a bill of goods hit a new low a little over a year ago, when, on May 15, 1992, CBS aired a two-hour primetime special called Ancient Secrets of the Bible. Produced by David W. Balsiger, the program claimed to present “startling and surprising evidence” to validate biblical stories viewed by many as myths. Ancient Secrets of the Bible reportedly did well in the ratings, and CBS has since aired two more Balsiger pieces, The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark (2/20/93) and Ancient Secrets of the Bible II (5/15/93). Each program ...


    Bosnia Update: The Great Debate?

    Between April 1 and May 29, 1993, at least 40 op-ed pieces in the New York Times dealt with Bosnia and the possibility of U.S. military intervention. Most of the regular columnists were in favor: Anthony Lewis, William Safire, Leslie Geib, Anna Quindlen. A.M. Rosenthal dissented, and guest columnists were split: Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), for example, wrote “Bomb the Serbs, Now” (5/18/93); Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) came out with “Air Strikes? Not Yet” (4/24/93). The nature of the debate was reflected in the Time (5/17/93) and Newsweek (5/10/93) cover stories. Both magazines portrayed the issue as a political or ...


    Separate but Equal for the Disabled

    From the outset, press coverage of New York City’s efforts to provide self-cleaning toilets on the streets has had a single spin: Disabled ideologues are ruining this good project for the rest of us. “The issue most likely to doom the plan is access for the handicapped,” wrote New York Times Metro reporter Celia W. Dugger in one of the earliest articles, headlined “New York: A City of Few Toilets and Many Rules” (5/21/91). Two years later (5/3/93), New York magazine repeated the charge in almost the same terms: “How a battle over handicapped rights is keeping these spotless wonders ...


    Alternative Media: Going Beyond Police Sources to Uncover Police Abuse

    For most mainstream papers, police reporting means relying mainly on police sources—a practice that contributes to the undercoverage of police brutality. The impact that an independent reporter can have by listening to unofficial sources points out the importance of alternative media —and the influence such outlets can have on the mainstream. On Nov. 15, 1992, 19-year-old Jerrold Hall was exiting a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Hayward, Calif., when he and a friend were stopped by Fred Crabtree, a BART police officer, on suspicion of stealing a $60 Walkman from another passenger. At the end of the confrontation, ...


    South Africa: Hani Killing Swells Black Anger, but Press Sees White Fears

    The assassination in April of African National Congress leader Chris Hani illustrated this truism yet again. While South African blacks reacted with rage and anguish to the killing of a popular and eloquent leader, U.S. media were more likely to respond: What will this mean for us white folks? For the murder of a major political figure—Hani was the top vote-getter on the ANC's executive council, and widely considered a possible successor to Nelson Mandela—coverage was remark­ably fixated on the effect it would have on political negotiations between the ANC and the white government. "Death of Popular Figure Raises Fear ...


    The New York Times and Environmental Cleanup

    There's good news and bad news, America. The good news is that toxics in the environment are much less dangerous than once thought; the bad news is the government's exorbitant over-regulation of chemicals. The solution? Wait patiently for more definitive data and then apply strict cost/benefit analysis. That's the growing consensus among a new "third wave" of environmental philosophy--according to the New York Times. The Times' 239-paragraph, five-part series "What Price Cleanup?" appeared the week of March 21, timed for the eve of renewal of major environmental initiatives including the "Superfund" toxic clean-up program. Prominently placed (three of the articles ...


    Three Mile Island: 'They Say Nothing Happened'

    According to the TV program What Happened?, broadcast on NBC earlier this year (3/16/93), "the system worked" during the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island (TMI). Although there were problems with "communication," the show reported, with the undamaged unit of TMI back in operation, most people in the area now live happily with the TMI facility. "Today in Harrisburg life goes on, the incident is now in the past and most people are comfortable that it could never be repeated," the narrator of the program, produced by Hearst Entertainment for NBC, declares. Then local resident Debbie Baker says, "I'm ...


    Lani Guinier: 'Quota Queen' or Misquoted Queen?

    In the media smear campaign against Lani Guinier, Clinton's nominee as assistant attorney general for civil rights, her views were not only distorted, but in many cases presented as the exact opposite of her actual beliefs. One of the most prominent themes of the attack on Guinier was her supposed support for electoral districts shaped to ensure a black majority - a process known as "race-conscious districting." An entire op-ed in the New York Times -- which appeared on the day her nomination was withdrawn (6/3/93) -- was based on the premise that Guinier was in favor of "segregating black ...


    Health Debate in Quarantine

    Back in 1990, the grassroots group Neighbor to Neighbor called for a boycott of Folgers coffee to protest human rights abuses in El Salvador, a country Folgers bought coffee beans from. When Neighbor to Neighbor tried to run ads publicizing this boycott, however, nearly every TV station turned the group down. The reason stations were reluctant to air the ad soon became apparent. One of the few stations that did accept the spot was Boston's WHDH, a CBS affiliate. In response, Folgers' parent company, Procter & Gamble, cancelled the $1 million it spent annually on advertising at the station. Three ...


    Healthcare Reform: Not Journalistically Viable?

    In an October 1992 editorial, the New York Times proclaimed that "the debate over healthcare reform is over. Managed competition has won." This outcome, the Times announced (10/10/92), was "delicious" and "wondrous." In fact, the debate over healthcare reform still goes on, but you might not know it from establishment media. While the New York Times and other elite outlets have rallied around "managed competition"--a system in which private insurance companies provide medical care through giant HMOs--grassroots activists continue to push for a "single-payer" system, similar to Canada's, in which insurance companies would be eliminated from the health care picture ...