Dec 1 1994


Glass Houses

Extra! noted last issue (“Felons on the Air: Does GE’s Ownership of NBC Violate the Law?”, 11-12/94) that GE‘s criminal record could potentially cost GE-owned NBC its broadcast licenses. The possibility has been hinted at in a bitter feud between NBC and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV. After Fox tried to get an NBC affiliate to switch networks, NBC operatives began hinting that “Australian-born Rupert Murdoch and his Down Under-based company News Corp. may be in violation of federal regulations preventing foreign ownership of TV stations,” Variety reported (10/24/94). But Fox executives retorted: “We don’t spend our time talking about how they’re controlled by a company that has a long history of fraud convictions.”

Ask a Stupid Question

A New York Times “Week in Review” article by Richard Bernstein (10/16/94) opened with a hypothetical question: Does a “small, tight-knit community of churchgoing Christians” have a right to stop gays from moving in? “Should the state be able to compel you to accept your gay neighbors?” Bernstein asked. He went on to say that “the Colorado Supreme Court last week gave an answer to those questions.” But as his piece later acknowledged, the case the court decided was not about whether local communities had the right to discriminate — it said that the state couldn’t take away local communities’ right to pass anti-discrimination laws. Further down, Bernstein purports to summarize the dispute with a supposedly objective question: “Should those who see homosexuality as sinful be forced into non-discrimination?” In fact, the question addressed by the Colorado court was: Should those who see homophobia as hateful be forced to accept discrimination?

Inquiring Minds

The National Enquirer (10/25/94) profiled media hoaxter Joey Skaggs, talking about some of the elaborate ruses he’s gotten news outlets to fall for — ranging from “The Fat Squad,” bodyguards you could hire to keep you away from your own refrigerator, to a pet brothel he called a “cathouse for dogs.” “I’m trying to teach people to beware of slipshod and deceptive journalism,” Skaggs told the supermarket tabloid –which boasted, “He’s bamboozled newspapers and television stations (but he’s never caught out the Enquirer).” Not until now, anyway: The paper accompanied its article with three pictures of someone it says is Skaggs –but is really an impostor who looks nothing like him.

Broader Interests

The Wall Street Journal‘s “Labor Letter” column has long been less about labor issues and more about the depoliticized trivia associated with the “workplace beat.” That reality was recognized with a name change on October 18, with the weekly column relabeled “Work Week” –“to reflect a broader interest in all aspects of the workplace,” an editorial note claimed. That “broader interest” was in evidence in that first “Work Week” column: One item described how workers want “praise and personal gestures,” not money, from their employers; another featured “gyrating waitresses …clad in skimpy red, white, blue and yellow tanktops and red shorts” at a California hot dog stand.

To Reiterate

To the Contrary was launched as a PBS public affairs show that would showcase the perspectives of women, who are often shut out of male-dominated talkshows. Unfortunately, the spectrum of viewpoints featured has seldom differed from the center-right spectrum of other mainstream shows, weighted toward conservatives like Linda Chavez and the Heritage Foundation’s Kate O’Beirne. Apparently the show wasn’t enough like the rest of TV, so it’s adding a feature called “Equal Opportunity”, which will offer the underrepresented voices of men. The first man up? Ubiquitous right-winger Pat Buchanan. Why don’t they just call it To Reiterate?

Smoke Signals

“Do Cigarettes Have a Future?” a Weekly Reader cover asked (10/14/94, 6th Grade edition), illustrated by tobacco workers carrying signs saying “No More Taxes” and “Freedom of Choice.” “Taxes and bans have caused many tobacco growers and workers to lose their jobs,” the cover noted. The article inside played down the health risks of smoking — and didn’t mention that the demonstration pictured had been organized by the tobacco industry. Nor did it mention that Weekly Reader is owned by K-III Communications — a division of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co., which is the largest investor in tobacco giant RJR Nabisco.

‘Controversial’ Radio

The ABC Radio Network recently rejected an ad for Mother Jones that the magazine wanted to run on the Jim Hightower show, which ABC distributes. The ad pointed to some of the magazine’s investigative successes, such as uncovering NASA radiation experiments, Justice Department evidence shredding and the explosive Ford Pinto. The network’s Standards and Practices division called the ad “too controversial” and “defamatory.” This is the same Standards and Practices department that bleeped out a doctor’s statement on ABC TV’s Home show that cigarette companies were selling “death-causing drugs to children” (L.A. Times, 3/19/94). It’s also the same radio network whose flagship station, New York’s WABC, features Bob Grant, a talkshow host who refers to African-Americans as “sub-humanoids, savages, who really would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari or the dry deserts of eastern Kenya.”