Extra! November/December 1994

    A PBS Quiz

    Both are nationally recognized. Both have written best sellers. Both are articulate and at the top of their fields. Which woman did PBS choose to host a show? Charlayne Hunter-Gault or Peggy Noonan One has 16 years of PBS experience. The other has no PBS experience. One is an award-winning journalist. The other is a partisan political flak. One has been identified with universal human rights. The other has been identified with narrow Republican politics. One came to national attention as a civil rights hero. The other came to national attention as a Reagan-Bush speech writer. One has a show, ...


    Is the Entire Press Corrupt?

    Editor's Note: George Seldes is one of the premier journalists and press critics of the 20th Century. In his reporting on World War I, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Fascism and the Spanish Civil War, he always displayed a commitment to telling the whole truth -- which often got him into trouble. From 1940 to 1950, he published In fact, the first American magazine of media criticism, which inspired I.F. Stone's Weekly. A member of FAIR's advisory board, Seldes at 103 years of age is still raising hell. A collection of his writings, The George Seldes Reader, has just ...


    Coverage of Women in Sports:

    "When I was growing up," says Tara VanDerveer, "the only female athlete I remember reading about was Billie Jean King, but I kind of always felt that there would be something more, eventually, for women." VanDerveer, 41, has been a basketball coach at Stanford for 10 years (winning two national championships), and before that she was at Ohio State. She coached the United States national team to a gold medal this summer at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, and many expect her to be selected to coach at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In the Game, an ...


    Media Turned Population Debate Into Pope vs. Veep

    "The Cairo Conference will probably be remembered as the Great Abortion Showdown," exclaimed a Wall Street Journal report (9/13/94) as the International Conference on Population and Development drew to a close this September. But whose fault is that? For all the "isn't it a shame" tone of journalistic commentary, most of the mainstream media allowed that debate to dominate coverage of Cairo. United Nations conferences are bureaucratic affairs; the anti-contraception dogma of the Pope against a most-of-the-world, pro-choice chorus provided a dramatic angle on the "Clash of Wills in Cairo", headlined Time magazine (9/12/94); "Population Wars", U.S. News & World ...


    Fraudulent Reporting

    The August 21 Mexican elections, which the U.S. media have characterized as "generally fair and clean" (New York Times, 9/27/94) despite widespread protests to the contrary, have presented establishment media in the U.S. with a serious problem: how to make people believe that a ruling party, which could only win elections through massive fraud in good times, could suddenly win an honest election by a landslide -- after reducing workers' real wages by 30 percent in the six-year administration of incumbent President Carlos Salinas, as the New York Times itself has quietly acknowledged in articles in its Business section (9/27/94). ...


    Trade Reporting's Information Deficit

    It would be hard to imagine more inaccurate and biased economic reporting than the coverage of international trade issues. Those who get their information on trade issues solely from the major media outlets are almost certainly more misinformed and confused than those who never pay any attention to trade issues at all. This is not a situation where reporters can claim that the complexity of the underlying issues makes it difficult for a non-expert to follow the debate. Mainstream reporting has failed due to outright deceptions (by either reporters or their sources) and insufficient familiarity with arithmetic and simple logic. ...


    'Workplace' Coverage No Substitute for Real Labor Reporting

    As corporate concentration of media ownership has increased, the labor beat has all but disappeared in the U.S. press. Very few media outlets have a reporter dedicated to regularly covering workers' issues, unions and the labor movement. When working people do find their way into mainstream news, it's often in the form of "workplace" coverage -- a brand of soft, nonpolitical reporting that describes the problems workers face as lifestyle issues, not as economic disputes. Many people, grateful to see workers mentioned at all, think workplace stories are better than nothing. But this style of coverage has serious drawbacks. Take, ...


    Back-Talk Radio

    From Rush Limbaugh to G. Gordon Liddy, commercial radio has long been a megaphone for right-wing talk-show hosts. And even NPR mostly mirrors mainstream news (Extra!, 4-5/93). But now some left/populist static for Limbaugh and his ilk is as close as your AM dial. We the People with Jerry Brown airs the renegade former California governor and three-time presidential candidate live from Oakland, Monday through Friday, 6-8 p.m. Pacific time. Syndicated by Talk America, it's now heard on 26 stations nationwide following its January debut. Hightower Radio, hosted in Austin by feisty former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, premiered May ...


    David Broder and the Limits of Mainstream Liberalism

    Several years ago, a Central America activist asked the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer: Who on his opinion page was the leftist who offset his regular offerings of George Will and Charles Krauthammer? David Broder, the editor replied. Broder himself would quite properly deny this designation of "leftist." But it is true that in the spectrum of opinion of leading syndicated columnists he is on the left. In Sound and Fury: The Washington Punditocracy and the Collapse of American Politics, Eric Alterman points out that "Broder is the only non-right-wing pundit who begins to challenge the circulation numbers of the ...


    A Question of Fairness: Will FCC Let Both Sides Be Heard on Smoking Initiative?

    As this issue of Extra! reaches subscribers, Californians will be going to the polls, voting not only for political candidates but on a variety of ballot initiatives. One of these initiatives, Proposition 188, was placed on the ballot by a group with the healthy-sounding name of "Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions." But don't let the name fool you: These "anti-smoking" Californians are a front for the Philip Morris Company -- displaying the same flair for packaging that it shows when it markets the Marlboro Man. Philip Morris' initiative would eliminate local smoking ordinances, replacing them with a watered-down statewide standard. ...


    SoundBites

    Fund-Raising Tall Tales "If you enjoyed Tales of the City and you'd like to see more programming like that, please become a member," host Rafael PiRoman declared during a fund drive for New York PBS affiliate WNET (9/13/94). PiRoman didn't mention that PBS, in the face of right-wing attacks, has refused to fund the sequel to Tales of the City, the popular drama about San Francisco life -- gay and straight -- in the '70s. Nor did he say that Tales fans might be better off saving their money to pay for cable: The show's producers had just announced (Boston ...


    Editor's Note

    Who's to blame for the failure of healthcare reform? Robin Toner, who wrote a post mortem on the debate for the New York Times (9/25/94), likened the situation to Murder on the Orient Express, where every suspect had a hand on the knife: "a divided Democratic Party on Capitol Hill, an overreaching Clinton administration, a fiercely partisan class of Republicans, an insatiable collection of interest groups." While naming candidates who do deserve their share of blame, Toner overlooks one of the likeliest suspects: the opinion-shaping media, led by the New York Times. Before Bill Clinton was even elected, a New ...


    Felons on the Air

    General Electric's ownership of the NBC TV network has been in the news in recent months. As Extra! went to press, companies like Time Warner, Disney, ITT and Turner Broadcasting have reportedly been negotiating to either buy NBC outright or enter into some kind of partnership with GE. But a little-noted aspect of communications law raises questions about GE's ownership of NBC's broadcast licenses -- and its ability to sell those licenses to another company. Shady Characters The Federal Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the airwaves, which are considered public property. The act states ...


    Enemy Ally

    Usually when the U.S. military intervenes overseas, the U.S. press demonizes the enemy. But in the case of the Haiti occupation, many media reports have spent more time demonizing the U.S.'s ostensible ally, deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Newsweek (9/26/94) described Aristide as "an anti-American demagogue, an unsteady left-wing populist who threatened private enterprise and condoned violence against his political opponents." An editorial in the liberal New York Newsday (9/21/94) proclaimed: "Aristide seems bent on proving his critics' claims: that he's a fickle ideologue, a rabble-rouser with a messianic complex essentially uninterested in the pragmatic realities and possibly incompetent to be ...


    The Case of the Disappearing Elections

    On June 12, the Washington Times ran an editorial noting that presidential elections had been scheduled to take place in Russia that day, but were in fact not going to be held. "So, the Russians will not be going to the polls today," it began. "After the turmoil of the past year, it's unlikely that many of them will be sorry to see that opportunity slip." A search of the Nexis database found no other stories in U.S. newspapers noting this non-event. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post ignored the occasion. As Bernard Gwertzman, foreign editor at ...


    Corrections

    The article "The 'Stolen Feminism' Hoax" in the September/October '94 issue of Extra! misstated the number of seats on the National Council on the Humanities board. There are 26 seats on the board. President George Bush made eight appointments to the board, of whom three were members of the National Association of Scholars. The September/October issue also stated that the U.S. Constitution was written in 1789. It was actually written in 1787, and ratified in 1789. In the same issue, a City Paper reporter was incorrectly identified. His name is Bill Gifford. Extra! November/December 1994


    Wines' World: The Tie-Dyed Clinton

    The front page of the New York Times Week in Review section is a platform that both reflects and helps set the conventional wisdom. Michael Wines, one of the Times' top political reporters, used that space on September 11 to amplify the claims by "Mr. Clinton's loyal critics in Congress and Democratic research circles...that only a basic change of direction will revive his political fortunes." Wines' unnamed sources call on Clinton to "govern from the center." "They fear that his handling of many major issues has enabled Republicans to persuade the public he is the sort of tie-dyed, union-label liberal ...


    The 'Hush Rush' Hoax

    "I, Rush Limbaugh, the poster boy of free speech, am being gang muzzled." The broadcaster was crying censorship (Limbaugh Letter, 10/93) over congressional efforts in 1993 to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine -- which he labeled "The Hush Rush Bill," "The Get Limbaugh Act" and "The Rush Elimination Act of 1993." Limbaugh's daily on-air crusade generated thousands of calls to Washington, and helped derail congressional action. As usual, Limbaugh's followers were mobilized through misinformation and deception. The Fairness Doctrine--in operation from 1949 until abolished in 1987 by Ronald Reagan's deregulation-oriented Federal Communications Commission--calls on broadcasters, as a condition of getting their ...