How Power Shapes the News
Fear & Favor is FAIR’s annual review of incidents that reflect the range of pressures on reporters to use something other than journalistic judgment in deciding what goes in the news and what gets left out. The year 2001 presented special challenges in this regard. The horrific September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the ensuing declaration by the Bush administration of an open-ended “war on terrorism,” meant incredible pressure on the press corps to present U.S. actions and policy in the best light; incidents of outright censorship occurred, and even more self-censorship, as many outlets confused independent inquiry with a lack of patriotism.
At the same time, there was no let-up in pressure from the more usual sources: media owners and advertisers. Corporate media owners increasingly see using their media outlets to promote their other businesses and the perspectives they favor as simply standard business practice; and advertisers, in a time of recession, appear to feel freer than ever to demand a favorable context for their ads, which are, after all, media’s main revenue source. Further consolidation in the industry, abetted and encouraged by a deregulatory FCC, only promises more to come.
Surveys of journalists have noted such problems for years. A 2001 survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (Columbia Journalism Review, 11-12/01), for example, found that 53 percent of local news directors “reported advertisers try to tell them what to air and not to air and they say the problem is growing.” Such pressures, PEJ’s report indicates, are not unusual but constant.
As we noted last year, this report is in no sense comprehensive. It is an attempt to add specificity to growing concerns about various pressures that push and pull media to serve other than the public interest. Not included here are other kinds of conflicts that doubtless also affect coverage. A number of newspaper companies refused to carry an ad critical of major advertiser Home Depot, with Massachusetts-based Community Newspaper Co. explaining, “We don’t want to upset them” (Ascribe Newswire, 11/20/01). Cable companies, including industry dominant AOL/Time Warner, refuse to run ads for potential broadband Internet rivals. Media consumers are right to question whether such policies are restricted only to the ad department or affect news decisions as well.
It’s a journalistic truism that integrity is a media outlet’s main asset; even the appearance of a conflict of interest undermines readers and viewers trust. Evidence of the creeping abandonment of such basic premises abounds. But Fear & Favor sticks to discrete cases of demonstrable influence from outside the newsroom — influence that has shaped the news.
We gladly acknowledge that there are still many journalists who, faced with pressure, vague or overt, carrot or stick, from sponsors or powerful community members or their own corporate HQ, nevertheless stand firm and produce reporting that is hard-hitting, independent and honest. It is to those journalists who work “without fear or favor” that this report is dedicated.
In Advertisers We Trust
Corporate advertising is central to U.S. mainstream media, the fuel that makes media run. Programs without sponsors quite simply do not air, and print media rely on advertising, not subscriptions, for the bulk of their income. In fact, advertisers are so comfortable flexing their muscles with regard to content, and that influence is so accepted, that sponsors now talk openly of simply creating the programming that will best meet their needs–cutting out the middleman, if you will (Los Angeles Times, 1/15/02). Meanwhile, the “traditional” relationship between sponsor and news division can be troubling enough.
- NBC made an eyebrow-raising deal with Amazon.com: NBC, CNBC and MSNBC agreed to run ads for Amazon during certain programs, including news programs like Today, that would steer viewers to Amazon to buy books mentioned on the show; 10 percent of the book sales generated would be kicked back to NBC, according to TV Guide’s J. Max Robins (11/26/01), who wrote about the scheme. That’s how it worked on November 8, Robins reported, when Weekend Today interviewed William Bennett, who was stumping for his book, The Broken Hearth. But neither the segment nor the special Amazon webpage told viewers about the behind-the-scenes deal, which NBC president Randy Falco described as a “trial program” to “see if there are new ways we can service an advertiser.”Critics didn’t disagree with the definition, but took issue with its impact on journalism: Robins cited Deborah Potter of the research group NewsLab, who said that such arrangements may make news shows “even less likely than they already are to discuss a book that may cover important matters but that has less sales potential [compared with] something else.”
- “The dirty little secret is we are beholden to advertising,” an Arlington Star-Telegram reporter told the Fort Worth Weekly (7/19/01). The Texas daily had just declined to publish a story by reporter Tanya Eiserer about Dillard’s department store. Dillard’s, a major Star-Telegram advertiser, had been involved in lawsuits charging store security guards with excessive force and racial profiling; a Dillard’s guard had killed a man in Arlington in June 1999, and there had been other deaths in Texas and Tennessee.But Dillard’s had shown it was quick to retaliate against negative coverage, pulling ads from CBS after 60 Minutes ran a segment in March 2000. Star-Telegram reporters who spoke to Fort Worth Weekly reporter Jeff Prince had little doubt that that was what was on editors’ minds when the story, described by those who read it as comprehensive and fair, was killed. They also described an over-rigorous editing process, in which Eiserer was forbidden to focus on Dillard’s and pushed to make the piece “an overall story about shoplifting.” Said one outraged Star-Telegram reporter (all those who spoke with the Weekly did so on condition of anonymity): “Since when is it our job to protect advertisers? When you have to start worrying if your stories are conflicting with the ad department, you’re fucked.”
- The XFL, a professional football league run by NBC and the folks who bring you the World Wrestling Federation, debuted in February 2001 and enjoyed plenty of media coverage before folding after its first season. But one media outlet — WZZN, aka the Zone, a Disney-owned sports talk radio station in Chicago — wasn’t talking about them, for all the wrong reasons.According to a February 15 report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the station removed all references to the XFL from Chet Chitchat’s commentary on February 9. (Chitchat is the alter ego of local sports anchor Bruce Wolf.) The order not to mention the XFL seemed to apply to other station programming as well. Why? According to the station program director Bill Gamble, the XFL had promised to buy ads on the station then backed out. In other words, if you don’t buy ads, you don’t get covered.As Gamble explained, “There’s nothing sinister about it…. We got behind the XFL and promoted them because they said we were going to get a buy. Then they told us the Zone wasn’t right for them and didn’t buy us. So we decided we shouldn’t waste our time talking about them.” Nothing sinister at all — if you think that businesses should have to pay media to get news coverage.
- Recent retiree and proud curmudgeon Arlene Silverman contributed a story about her budding consumer advocacy to Newsweek’s “My Turn” column. The magazine ran it in the May 14 issue, but with one significant change. According to Inside.com (5/22/01) — a media-business website that folded last year — Silverman’s original column hinged on an anecdote about her returning an unsatisfactory mattress (“hard as…liquor-store ice”) to a store. Unfortunately, the ad Newsweek had planned for the space beside the column was for a mattress company. Rather than moving the ad, a fairly common practice in cases of unfortunate juxtaposition, Newsweek asked Silverman to change her story. In the published version, the unsatisfactory product was pillows. Called on the switch, a Newsweek spokesperson acknowledged, “The top editors didn’t know about it, and it should not have happened.” Silverman was reluctant to discuss her foray into journalism. “Whatever Newsweek says is fine by me, but I don’t want to talk about it,” she told Inside.com. “It reflects badly on Newsweek.”
- New York’s Daily News learned the cost of upsetting advertisers: The paper lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads from supermarkets, and some stores stopped selling the paper, after it ran a hard-hitting investigative series about safety and sanitary concerns at New York City groceries (5/3/01-5/6/01).Although a Daily News spokesperson declared publicly that “we stand by the story” (New York Times, 6/14/01), the paper obviously learned its lesson. In June, the Daily News ran a highly unusual four-page advertorial, written by a freelancer at the paper’s expense, effusively extolling the virtues of the supermarket industry. The same spokesperson explained that the supplement was “part of a package of advertorial, advertising and value-added marketing that we hope will bring supermarkets back into the newspaper.” Sample copy: “When the block associations stage their annual parties on 138th Street and 139th Street, they know they can count on the neighborhood Met Food and C-Town Supermarkets for juice, soda and buns.” While alarming critics, the overture also failed to sway all of its intended audience: Declared one unmollified supermarket exec: “I’ll go back if they fire the reporter and his editor.”
- On September 5, CNN carried live footage of the close of the NASDAQ stock exchange. It’s not an especially exciting event, but CNN producers had what they believed was a good reason to cover it: orders from above. As New York’s Daily News (9/6/01) revealed, CNN general manager Sid Bedingfield sent staffers an email not long before the 4 p.m. closing, instructing them to cover both the opening and the close of the NASDAQ — that day and every day: “It’s important we do that starting today,” the message said.Just hours before, Bedingfield had himself received a memo from CNN Networks/USA president Jim Walton explaining just why it was important that CNN begin covering the NASDAQ. The exchange is a major advertiser on the network, and CNN chair Walter Isaacson and head of ad sales Larry Goodman had an upcoming meeting with them. “Walter and Larry are meeting with the NASDAQ client on Friday,” the internal memo obtained by the Daily News explained. “Larry wants to take a tape with him showing them how we cover the opening and closing of the markets.”Having been caught blatantly ordering the news division to cater to an advertiser, CNN reversed itself, and Isaacson acknowledged that the directive had been “a mistake”: “We should cover the markets based on editorial judgments and viewer interest and we will make no commitments to advertisers that would have us do otherwise,” he said (Daily News, 9/7/01). It was a far cry from the network’s official response just a day earlier, which stated that the network “always covered the financial markets, including the NASDAQ, and it makes perfect sense to now cover the opening and closing bells.” What a difference exposure makes.
- A box in the March 8 edition of Riverside, California’s Press-Enterprise went right to the point (Columbia Journalism Review, 9-10/01): “More than 125,000 daily Press-Enterprise readers have eaten at a Mexican restaurant in the past 30 days. Advertise your restaurant in Riverside and San Bernardino for under $250.00 and get a free feature story.”The Boss’s BusinessFor mega-corporations, cross promotion is just good business, as is ignoring or downplaying the work of corporate rivals. A company like AOL/Time Warner admits freely (to shareholders, anyway) that using some of its media holdings to promote other properties is a prime marketing strategy. The trouble is, readers and viewers can’t discern why certain things are selected as newsworthy; they think news is news, not covert corporate self-promotion, and they have an ever-shrinking number of places to go for news that isn’t dominated by such conglomerates.
- When ABC News’ Diane Sawyer was asked how she got an exclusive interview with Dr. Jerri Neilsen, the doctor who detected her own breast cancer while she was stuck in Antarctica and wrote a book about the experience, Sawyer chalked it up to sheer journalistic effort. “Everyone involved knew the passion I had for this story,” she said.But TV Guide’s J. Max Robins (3/10/01) reported that Sawyer’s supposed scoop, for ABC’s PrimeTime Thursday, might be more plausibly attributed to the fact that Jerri Neilsen’s book, Ice Bound, was published by Talk/Miramax Books, which like ABC News is owned by the Disney corporation. And Talk/Miramax had Ice Bound pretty locked up: The book was excerpted in Talk magazine (2/01), and the movie rights are owned by Miramax. As one of Robins’ sources says, “Once you have a deal like that in place, it’s a no-brainer that the TV piece will end up at ABC News. That’s part of what Disney is paying for when Talk/Miramax spends a bundle on a hot property.” Diane Sawyer denied that ABC had any corporate advantage.For their part, Talk/Miramax said they only went with ABC for publicity because they offered the best deal; they claimed that part of the sweetener was the promise of three segments on ABC’s Good Morning America. That sounded a little fishy to TV Guide’s Robins, who noted that NBC’s Today show gets 2 million more viewers a day than its ABC rival, and NBC claimed they offered 5 segments on Today, plus a Dateline. Sounds more like horsetrading than journalism, doesn’t it?
- It’s no secret that at a huge media conglomerate, one hand often washes the other: A Disney movie, for example, can count on promotional assistance from other Disney-owned properties. But what happens to Disney’s competitors in that kind of media environment? One indication is the megacompany’s treatment of the animated film Shrek, produced by Disney rival DreamWorks. According to Inside.com (4/30/01), Radio Disney affiliates received the following instruction in the April 16 issue of their in-house newsletter, “Ear All About It”: “We are being asked not to align ourselves promotionally with this new release.” At least five affiliates in Radio Disney’s network — in San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Phoenix and Seattle — were ordered by top management to cancel previously scheduled promotional screenings of the film.
- In June 2000, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchlaid out their editorial line on building a new stadium for the Cardinals baseball team. “The economic benefit to anyone but the owners is limited,” the paper told readers (6/26/00). “A study prepared for the mayor concluded that ballparks are not economic bonanzas for a city. More important, if other cities’ experience is any guide, ballparks are not the catalysts for urban development they’re often portrayed to be. A new ballpark will not revitalize downtown.”Fair enough. But little over a year later (11/11/01), the paper was singing a different editorial tune: “Keeping the Cardinals in downtown St. Louis is critical to the city’s future. Mayor Francis Slay believes that the departure of the Cardinals would be “catastrophic” and he has the figures to prove it. A strong economic case can be made for the ballpark and village project.”What changed? As the local Riverfront Times pointed out (11/14/01), the most conspicuous difference was the fact that the Pulitzer Company, which owns the Post-Dispatch, got a stake in the Cardinals in March 2001.
- A June 14 report in the Wall Street Journal was quite critical of Microsoft, in particular the company’s campaign against open-source software, which, the paper noted, Microsoft itself is dependent on. But a funny thing happened when the Journal story was posted on the MSNBC website, which is co-owned by Microsoft.According to the British Register newspaper (6/18/01), MSNBC doctored the Journal’s copy in a number of ways, some of them highly problematic. In one example, the network rewrote a sentence to omit a reference to Microsoft’s competitors. The Journal wrote: “Microsoft said that since last summer, Hotmail has been running on both Windows 2000 and the Solaris operating system from Sun Microsystems Inc.” But on MSNBC.com that sentence read: “Microsoft said Hotmail has been running on Windows since last summer.” Neat trick, huh?The Register pointed out that the concerns about such “creative” editing will only increase as Microsoft expands its media involvement.
- CNN’s makeover of Headline News featured a number of controversial elements, including erstwhile TV actors as anchors and a screen busy with, among other things, corporate logos. But it seems CNN’s marketing maneuvers also include using the newscast to plug other networks owned by CNN parent company AOL/Time Warner. On one August day, for example, Headline News headlines promoted an upcoming movie on the Turner Classic Movie channel; the next day it was something on the WB, and then something on TNT — all networks owned by AOL/Time Warner.”Chalk it up to early glitches,” a CNN spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times (8/20/01). “If it happened, it was inadvertent.” Headline News vice president Teya Ryan maintained that the show’s headlines feature “whatever producers think the audience would be interested in,” with no special effort to promote affiliated networks.But Ryan acknowledged that Headline News would never spotlight programs on MSNBC or Fox; those CNN rivals are off limits, regardless of whether producers think the audience would be interested or not. (No word on why promotions for upcoming TV movies qualify as news in the first place.)
- A March 12 Time magazine cover story on SAT tests caught the attention of Inside.com (3/12/01). Time’s story cited the Princeton Review SAT training course, mentioning it three times in the article and featuring it in a photo. What the article didn’t mention is that Time has a financial relationship with Princeton Review, co-producing an annual college guide with the company. Time also neglected to mention Kaplan, Princeton Review’s main competition, which puts out another annual guide in conjunction with Newsweek, Time’s major rival. (Both Kaplan and Newsweek are owned by the Washington Post Co.)When Inside.com asked about the piece, a Time spokesperson was less than apologetic, writing, “Time reporters interviewed three different test preparation programs, including Kaplan, but the quotes and information from Princeton Review suited our story in a way that the reporting from the other two programs did not.” The spokesperson added that “Time didn’t feel the need to state that we’ve produced a college guide with the Princeton Review.” Readers who might have felt the need to be so informed were out of luck.
- Fortune magazine raised a few eyebrows with an August cover story featuring “the smartest people we know” and their opinions on “The Future.” It seems that one of the smartest people the magazine knows was its own CEO, Gerald Levin. (Fortune is owned by AOL/Time Warner, which Levin will head until May 2002.) And of all those smart people, Levin was one of four to appear on the magazine’s cover.Using their editorial space to promote their own boss, and by extension themselves, was the result of an objective choice, Fortune’s managing editor explained to the New York Times (11/15/01). It wasn’t just that he’s one of the smartest people they know, said Rik Kirkland; Levin also fit the magazine’s strategy to “get some of the most famous.” Kirkland assured that it wasn’t just Levin’s employees who think he’s a genius: “He is a media visionary — blah blah blah. Look at the clips. That is the rap on him.” Despite Levin’s ability to inspire such praise, many media critics still felt Fortune should have looked beyond the boss’s office for icons of intelligence.
- On June 21, NBC Nightly News reported the unveiling of two airplanes of the future at the Paris Air Show — the Airbus A-380 and Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser. The Sonic Cruiser was described as “revolutionary” by NBC aviation reporter Robert Hager, who noted that thanks to the Cruiser’s speed — it travels almost at the speed of sound— a full hour could be saved in cross-country travel, an hour and a half on flights to London.Hager’s enthusiastic report left out strong criticisms many aviation experts had of the jet. According to the June 2 Wall Street Journal, details about the Sonic Cruiser “sparked some doubts in the industry regarding its technical and economic viability.” Environmentalists have noted that the Cruiser could consume between 20 to 35 percent more fuel just to go a bit faster; when critics argued that the plane’s poor fuel efficiency would do more harm than good, Boeing vice chair Harry Stonecipher rejoined that there’s “plenty of fossil fuel still around” (London Times, 6/19/01).Besides the criticism, Hager’s story left out something else: the fact that NBC parent company General Electric has plans to invest $1 billion over the next three years in the creation of the proposed jet’s engine.
Powerful Players & PR
“The media is separated into two categories. One is content and the other is advertising. They’re both for sale. Advertising can be purchased directly from the publication or through an ad agency, and the content space you purchase from PR firms.” This cold-eyed assessment comes from the pitch letter of a “media relations” firm that offers to generate content for its clients “so now you can buy the news stories just like you buy ads.” Few respectable outlets would admit that their “content” is for sale, of course, but as these items suggest, sometimes it sure looks that way. And some power figures, lobbies, and institutions don’t need firms to represent them; their influence is amply evident.
- Right-wing billionaire Richard Scaife makes no secret of his views; he was one of the chief funders of investigations into Bill Clinton’s Arkansas sex life, and a prime proponent of Vincent Foster conspiracy theories. But readers of the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review may believe they’re reading an actual newspaper, and not just a collection of News He Can Use. They might’ve been surprised, then, by some of the revelations of former Tribune-Review staffers in the now-defunct Brill’s Content(3/01).According to that account, editors at the Tribune-Review describe news subjects as either “FOD” (Friend of Dick) or “EOD” (Enemy of Dick) and make decisions about the publication or placement of stories accordingly. Former reporter Lynne Margolis notes that Scaife’s dislike of Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Penn.) is such that Specter was deleted from a story about a Senate hearing he chaired. “We’re not being accurate if a major focal point of the story is missing,” said Margolis.Former editor David House noted that Scaife “hates the mayor” of Pittsburgh, Democrat Tom Murphy. Says House: “Murphy’s fine on page one. As long as it’s something awful about him.”
At the same time, the Tribune-Review frequently quotes representatives of groups that Scaife funds, only rarely disclosing the connection to readers. The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, to which Scaife has given $2 million, appeared in more than 100 stories opposing a new baseball stadium for the Pirates.
Current Tribune-Review editor Frank Craig told Brill’s he’s “never felt constrained by our editorial opinion with regard to how we cover the news,” calling to mind what press critic George Seldes called the “most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism” — reporters who say they are never told what to write, because they write what they are supposed to without being told.
- Former L.A. Daily Newsreporter Jason Takenouchi thought he had a blockbuster story: a local hospital, Valley Presbyterian, was in so much trouble with state health officials that it risked losing its Medicare eligibility. One state audit found 22 significant deficiencies at the hospital, including staffing problems in the emergency room.Despite its significance, according to an account in New Times Los Angeles (11/22/01), the story was held pending a meeting between Takenouchi, his editors and the hospital board’s chair, David Fleming. Having been told that the story was “incomplete,” Takenouchi submitted a research memo to Daily News editor David Butler shortly thereafter. But three weeks later, Butler reportedly had not even read the memo, and, according to Takenouchi, indicated that the story was not “newsworthy.”The story was eventually killed, following a meeting between the paper’s editors and publisher Ike Massey and members of Valley Presbyterian’s board of directors. Some suspect that the discussion focused on something other than the journalistic merits of the piece; Massey and Fleming, according to New Times, are not exactly strangers, serving together on the boards of several organizations.
Unhappy with the decision to keep the story from public view, Takenouchi left the paper. The magazine Revolution, published by the California Nurses Association, printed the story in its September-October 2001 issue.
- Few instances of non-editorial influence are as overt as the case of the magazine Nevada Woman, which has a policy of flat-out selling its cover story. Chief executive and publisher Paige P. Fleming admitted the policy after the weekly Las Vegas CityLife (7/26/01) revealed that the magazine’s June 2001 cover feature, on Wells Fargo Bank Nevada president Laura Schulte, had been paid for by Wells Fargo. The unbylined profile included such nuggets as: “When it comes to employees, the super regional bank promises to care more about their people than anyone else. They hold true to the idea that their people are their advantage.”For Fleming, the advantage is money. “If opportunities arise that we can generate revenues off of our cover…then it helps me achieve my goal, which is basically to survive in this crazy business,” she told the New York Times (7/30/01). No surprise, then, that the Wells Fargo story was not an isolated incident; though Fleming wouldn’t reveal her “going rate,” a prospective client told CityLife that it was described as a “non-negotiable” $15,000. What about disclosure when an apparent news story is really something else? Fleming doesn’t think readers need it, and as for the stories’ (paying) subjects, “I don’t think these women would want to have that disclosed.”
- A new show called World Business Review has hit on a novel approach to both funding and newsgathering: make the guests pay to appear on the program. The show, hosted by former Secretary of State Al Haig, airs on some educational TV stations (including those of Purdue and Michigan State University), on in-flight airline programming, and even some public TV stations.According to a report in the New York Daily News (8/27/02), the show attracts prominent business leaders and government officials. The company responsible, Multi-Media Productions, produces 104 shows a year; in addition, the group produces short documentaries, hosted by 60 Minutes anchor Morley Safer, about companies that have paid for the privilege.How does this square with “old-fashioned” ideas about journalism? According to David Hazinski, a former NBC News correspondent who once co-anchored the show, it isn’t much of an issue, and the show provides a service. “There are thousands of companies that don’t get air time, no one ever heard of them,” Hazinski said. This way, “a couple executives go on a show without having to worry about someone beating the hell out of them.”
Government and Other ‘Official’ Pressure
With the ability to write laws or enact policy with direct impact on media owners, government officials are the ultimate power players. They can also restrict access to themselves or their meetings, leaving reporters without the information or quotes they may need for basic reportage on issues of public import. As much as many people may believe journalists exist to be a thorn in the side of official power, the reality is that reporters who regularly or seriously offend powerful officials often face a tough time, in the community and on the job.
In certain circumstances, as when the country is at war, many outlets don’t require coercion; they re-interpret their journalistic responsibility as presenting the administration’s “best case,” often silencing critics or dissenters in the process. 2001 saw both overweening government influence and media self-censorship in worrying abundance. (For a more comprehensive look at media and the “war on terrorism,” see Extra!, 11-12/01.)
- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice held a conference call with network executives from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox on October 10, where after the networks apparently acceded to her “suggestion” that any future taped statements from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group be “abridged,” and any potentially “inflammatory” language removed before broadcast.The question of how to present the words of bin Laden or representatives of Al Qaeda is certainly a valid one for journalists to consider. The statements require context and explanation of the kind journalists should use to bracket the remarks of any party in a major news story. But in the context of recent heavy-handedness on the part of the administration, Rice’s request suggests that the White House is actually asking for something other than simple journalistic judgment.Originally the administration expressed concern about the possibility of Al Qaeda members sending “coded messages” to their followers in the segments. But Rice’s main argument to the networks seems to have been that bin Laden’s statements had to be restricted because of their content. NBC News chief Neal Shapiro told the New York Times (10/11/01) that Rice’s main point “was that here was a charismatic speaker who could arouse anti-American sentiment getting 20 minutes of air time to spew hatred and urge his followers to kill Americans.”
The following day, Fleischer took the administration’s campaign further and contacted major newspapers to request that they consider not printing full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages. “The request is to report the news to the American people,” said Fleischer (New York Times, 10/12/01). “But if you report it in its entirety, that could raise concerns that he’s getting his prepackaged, pretaped message out.”
While some outlets bridled at the White House interference, but others seemed actually to appreciate the pressure. “We’ll do whatever is our patriotic duty,” said Fox owner Rupert Murdoch (Reuters, 10/11/01). In an official statement, CNN declared: “In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities” (AP, 10/10/01). CNN chief Walter Isaacson added, “After hearing Dr. Rice, we’re not going to step on the land mines she was talking about” (New York Times, 10/11/01).
- ABC signed a $25 million deal in October to promote the U.S. military’s West Point Academy — through both advertisements and programming. The network is scheduled to air something called “Young America Celebrates West Point” sometime in June 2002. According to Associated Press (10/30/01), short segments called “West Point Minute” will air on news shows Good Morning America and Nightline — without being marked as advertisements. Other programming will be developed for additional Disney properties, like the History Channel and ESPN.Joseph Franklin, chief adviser for the alumni group West Point Project that is backing the ad campaign, told AP that it was a “wonderful coincidence” that the network will be showcasing West Point during wartime. It looks like it will be up to viewers to figure out where the news ends and the ads begin.
- When the San Francisco Chronicle wanted to interview Rep. Gary Condit (D.-Calif.), the paper’s executive editor Phil Bronstein assured Condit that “we have not called for you to resign, nor do we have any plans to do so.”The wording of Bronstein’s letter raised red flags for a number of other editors and newspaper professionals, according to the New York Times (9/10/01). To some, Bronstein was giving the appearance of trying to trade an editorial position for news access. Bronstein denied the charge, saying that there was “certainly no quid pro quo” in the offer, implied or otherwise. One hopes that journalists at the Chronicle wouldn’t settle for an answer like that when investigating conflicts of interest in other aspects of public life.
- Gerson Borrero, editor in chief of El Diario La Prensa, a New York-based Spanish-language daily, said he was removed from his radio show at New York City’s WADO-AM after he refused to tone down his criticisms of three local members of Congress. Borrero alleged that a vice president of the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, which owns WADO’s broadcast license, met in Washington in April with representatives José E. Serrano, Robert Menendez and Nydia M. Velézquez (New York Times, 6/21/01).After the meeting, Borrero said, the vice-president, David Light, told him that the officials warned that they could block the renewal of the station’s license if Borrero’s criticisms were not muted. Days later, the show was pulled off the air.Serrano, Menendez and Velazquez challenge Borrero’s account. They wrote in a statement, “We made it very clear that we did not care for WADO‘s journalistic standards and would not support its community programming.”
- Reporter Michele Locastro Rivoli of the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle put in 18 months reporting on the mishandling and dismissal of over 500 felony cases by the office of Monroe City District Attorney Howard Relin. Her stories sparked a state review, and her editors awarded her with a newsroom ceremony and a $125 check. They also pulled her off the story and killed several of her follow-up reports.”It’s not uncommon for a reporter working on a project to go back to their regular assignment and have another person take over. I don’t see anything out of order,” claimed Democrat and Chronicle editor Karen Magnuson (Washington Post, 10/20/01).What seemed out of order, to Rivoli and others, were the circumstances surrounding her being pulled from the story — an investigation of which she contends the “heart and soul” was still to be published. Just hours before heralding her publicly, Rivoli’s editors had sent her a memo saying “we need to cool down on the District Attorney story.” Editor Magnuson acknowledged that she had “received a complaint from the district attorney’s office about a reporter being unfair and inaccurate,” but said that had “no influence” on their decision.
Conversations Rivoli recorded with metro editor Bob Finnerty suggest otherwise. In one, Finnerty explained that Magnuson “doesn’t want it to be thought that Howard killed the story. We’ve got to do this for business reasons.” He then added, “You know, I mean for the journalism side of it.” In another conversation, an agitated Rivoli argued that the paper pulled her off the story “based on people Howard Relin asked you to call. How fair is this?” To which Finnerty responded, “No, it’s not just Howard. We called some other people, too.” He went on to criticize Rivoli for “getting just a little too close” to the story.