In August, 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published its "Dark Alliance" series by reporter Gary Webb, revealing the links between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras and crack cocaine trafficking in the U.S. The series became a national controversy after wide transmission on the Internet and in independent and black-oriented news media--followed by a savage backlash against the series by national dailies like the New York Times and Washington Post that had spent years downplaying or distorting evidence of the contra-cocaine link (See "Snow Job," Extra!, 1-2/97). On May 11, 1997, as if displaying the white flag of surrender, Mercury News [...]
By the time you read this, the sober cynicism of summer will probably have settled in, but now, it's spring. I'm as excited about "Ellen" coming out as I am about the budding leaves. By summer, I'll remember that the obstacles to lesbian equality remain intact long after Ellen DeGeneres and her TV character said "I'm gay." Then again, anticipating autumn, I may even be ready to see the downside of the leaves. Obviously there were problems with the way the media covered Ellen DeGeneres and her TV character coming out. If you read Time or Newsweek (4/14/97) or tuned [...]
TV Reporters Talk About Advertiser Pressures
Sixty years ago, reporter and press critic George Seldes wrote in Freedom of the Press that advertisers, not government, are the principal news censors in the United States. Not only do advertisers pressure newspapers to kill or alter stories, he concluded, but newspapers censor stories out of deference "toward the sources of their money" without being told. Sixty years later, advertisers are still muscling newspapers. A survey of 55 members of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers at the society’s 1992 conference revealed that advertiser pressure was common. Eighty percent reported that the pressure was a growing problem, [...]
To PBS Frontline Producer, Scientists Critical of Nuclear Power Are 'Flat Earthers'
"Electricity from nuclear fission continues to be the most comprehensive source of energy available to meet growing U.S. demand," declared Richard Rhodes, beginning his 1993 book Nuclear Renewal. He ended it 126 pages later declaring "whether it will be or not depends on leadership and public education." Rhodes and John Palfreman made their contribution to this pro-nuclear power "public education" with an hour-long Frontline program, "Nuclear Reaction," broadcast on PBS on April 22—Earth Day. Rhodes served as correspondent, Palfreman as producer and writer. "Nuclear Reaction" was essentially a TV version of Nuclear Renewal. It maintained that irrational fear is the [...]
Exploring an Empty News Hole
American media seem never to run short of disillusioning experiences. When members of FAIR did a study of L.A. local TV news three years ago, we expected to find a lot of crime stories, and sure enough, we did. What we didn’t expect to find was zero campaign coverage only weeks before an election. So this spring as L.A.’s April 8 election approached, it seemed like it might be interesting to look specifically at how local TV would handle the upcoming election. Angelenos not only had to select a mayor, we also had a couple of city council district seats [...]
Why Images of Overweight Women Are Taboo
Fat has been a matter of huge media interest lately, if you’ll pardon the pun. As a nation, we’re wrestling with the fact that we’re getting fatter and fatter all the time—on average, we’ve gained eight pounds apiece in the past decade—and we don’t know what,if anything, can be done about it. The news about fat is confusing: On the one hand, some obesity experts say that even being a little chubby puts us at a greatly increased health risk; on the other, psychologists and exercise physiologists tell us that dieting can be damaging, exercise is what counts, and that [...]
Why Are Media Enlisting in the Government's Crusade Against Marijuana?
As America’s officially ignored death toll from overdoses of heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs and alcohol mixed with dope took another huge jump in 1995 (taking 10,000 lives, up 65 percent since 1992), America’s media raged with the threat to the republic posed by . . . sick people smoking marijuana to relieve pain. And ABC News teamed up in March with the private Partnership for a Drug-Free America to push a month-long "March Against Drugs," including hourly ads, numerous specials, and "Straight Talk About Drugs" appended to its evening news with a heavy focus on teenage marijuana use. Newsweek (11/25/96) [...]
Media Favored Conservative Institutions in 1996
Major news media continued to give greater prominence to conservative think tanks in 1996, according to a survey of major paper and broadcast media citations in the Nexis computer database. Of the 10 most-media-cited think tanks, six are conservative or right-leaning, three are centrist and one is left-leaning. More than half of the total citations of think tanks were to conservative or right-leaning institutions; only 13 percent cited progressive or left-leaning institutions. The centrist, establishment-oriented Brookings Institution regained the top spot among think tanks in 1996, ending the right-wing Heritage Foundation's one-year reign (Extra!, 5-6/96). Brookings' edging out of Heritage [...]