Back by popular demand, here are the third annual P.U.-litzer Prizes — recognizing some of the stinkiest media performances of the year.
This isn't one of the awards that recipients boast about in the newsroom.
THE BEAUTIES OF BIAS PRIZE — ABC's John Stossel
This fall, TV correspondent John Stossel acknowledged that he sees his job more as a promoter of "free-market" ideology than as a reporter. Known for ABC News specials and 20/20 segments deriding consumer protection and environmental regulations, Stossel told the Oregonian newspaper: "I started out by viewing the marketplace as a cruel place, where you need intervention by government and lawyers to protect people. But after watching the regulators work, I have come to believe that markets are magical and the best protectors of the consumer. It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market."
LOST IN SMOKE AWARD — Weekly Reader
In October, sixth-graders read a Weekly Reader cover story reporting that "taxes and bans have caused many tobacco growers and workers to lose their jobs." Playing down the health effects of cigarettes, the article was illustrated by a photo of tobacco workers holding "No More Taxes" and "Freedom of Choice" placards. The 11-year-old readers weren't told that the rally pictured was organized by tobacco companies — nor that Weekly Reader is owned by a communications division of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co., the largest investor in the RJR Nabisco tobacco firm.
MOST SIMPLE-MINDED SCAPEGOATING — Newsweek's Jonathan Alter
Competition in this category was fierce, with pundits frequently bashing low-income single mothers throughout the year. But Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter surged to a year-end victory with his Dec. 12 column, clinching the honor with a single sweeping sentence: "The fact remains: every threat to the fabric of this country — from poverty to crime to homelessness — is connected to out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy." Every threat? The export of manufacturing jobs to cheap-labor countries? Toxic pollution? Bigotry? The megabillion dollar S&L rip-off?
MEDIA HYPOCRITE OF THE YEAR — Rupert Murdoch
Magnate Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Star TV global satellite network, has hailed the democratic power of new media technologies as a "threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere. Satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information-hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled television." But to appease Chinese authorities — who were upset over Star TV's transmissions of BBC News reports on China's human rights abuses — Murdoch's network obligingly dropped the BBC from its broadcasts aimed at China. Too bad for "information-hungry residents."
DEMOCRATIC APARTHEID AWARD — The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
In a June 3 discussion about the effectiveness of economic sanctions... Pundit Mark Shields: "The one place where there seems to be a success story and a lot of other factors converging on it for sanctions was South Africa." Anchor Margaret Warner: "Where, of course, it was a democratic government." Shields: "That's right." So democratic that the vast majority of people couldn't vote.
THE OSCAR FOR CENSORSHIP — PBS, Lifetime Achievement
Year after year, Oscar-winning documentaries have been declared unfit for national airing on PBS: For example, The Panama Deception about the U.S. invasion of Panama, and Deadly Deception about General Electric's nuclear record. This year, no sooner had Defending Our Lives (about battered women) won an Oscar than PBS rejected it — on the grounds that the movie's co-producer was a leader of the battered women's group featured in the film.
PBS guidelines are remarkably flexible, however. Last year, PBS won a P.U.-litzer for airing a glowing documentary about a New York Times columnist that was funded by the Times and produced "in association with The New York Times" by a member of the family that owns the Times.
DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE AWARD — New York Times et al.
During a summer of historic anniversaries (the Moonwalk, Woodstock, Nixon's resignation, etc.) with profuse media reminiscences, major news outlets dodged the 30th anniversary of the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin crisis. The 1964 White House deception was swallowed by the national press, and ushered in the full-blown Vietnam War. In August 1994, on the very weekend of Tonkin's anniversary, The New York Times devoted a full-page spread to roughly three dozen anniversaries, including Chappaquiddick (25 years ago), Barbie dolls (35 years) and the bikini (50 years). No mention of Tonkin.
TWO-FACED TABLOID PRIZE — Ted Koppel
Although he has criticized the tabloidization of TV news, Ted Koppel began 1994 in the glitz lane with a focus on a story of global importance: the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan saga. In about seven weeks (Jan. 24 to March 16), Nightline devoted five entire broadcasts to the figure skaters — over 13 percent of total air time. During that period, Nightline offered no programs on such issues as unemployment, declining U.S. wages, world hunger or nuclear proliferation.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE PRIZE — Rush Limbaugh
On Jan. 28, Limbaugh told his TV audience: "All of these rich guys — like the Kennedy family and Perot — pretending to live just like we do and pretending to understand our trials and tribulations and pretending to represent us, and they get away with this!" Limbaugh's income this year is estimated at $18 million.
Thankfully, that's all the prizes that space permits. Nominations for 1995 P.U.-litzers will soon be open. Please submit them in scented envelopes.