Mar 1 1998

In Hot Pursuit–or in Heat?

"Sex sells" has become a journalistic principle

MSNBC, the cable news channel, has a headline for its breathless, round-the-clock coverage of the Clinton sex scandal: “The President in Crisis.” A better headline might be: “The News Media in Heat.” In the media environment of 1998, when it comes to a sex-related scandal, many national news outlets can’t seem to avoid binge coverage. It’s possible that President Clinton has a sex addiction–but it’s clear that much of the mainstream news media do. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a bit off-target in blaming a right-wing conspiracy. If there’s a conspiracy driving the story, it’s a cabal that combines a ratings-hungry, […]

Mar 1 1998

‘Are You Sure You Want to Ruin Your Career?’

Gary Webb's fate a warning to gutsy reporters

Imagine this: You’re an investigative reporter with nearly 20 years experience. You publish a multi-part investigative series in a reputable daily paper. The story electrifies the public and sends the country’s premier newspapers scurrying to find fault with it. After exhaustive examination involving dozens of journalists at several major papers, the original story is found–except for a few details and overstatements–to be basically sound. Yet you find yourself ostracized. Your follow-up stories go unpublished. After being transferred and taken off the investigative beat, you leave journalism. Is this how today’s newspapers reward gutsy investigative reporting on politically sensitive topics? It […]

Mar 1 1998

Selling Social Insecurity

Stossel Embraces Pinochet’s Pension Privatizer

Early last year, ABC News asked me to participate in a “town meeting” at the right-wing Cato Institute. It was for a piece that ABC’s 20/20 was doing on José Piñera, Cato’s guru of Social Security privatization. The Harvard-educated economist–who also owns a lucrative world-wide consulting business–axed Social Security in his native Chile in 1981, while serving as minister of labor for the Pinochet military dictatorship, and now argues for the U.S. doing the same thing. Having written extensively on Chile’s privatized, individual pension account system, I accepted the opportunity to warn millions of Americans about the danger Piñera represents […]

Mar 1 1998

Sex Panicked

Women Unheard in Sexuality Debates

The topic of sexuality received unprecedented news media attention in the 1990s–in part due to the AIDS crisis, in part because of a national fight to bring down centuries of legal, social and cultural bias against people who are bisexual, transgendered and/or lesbian and gay. In many year-end round-ups, the media remembered 1997 as a high-point for the acceptance of homosexuality–epitomized by the success of the ABC sitcom Ellen, which stars an out-lesbian actress in an out-lesbian role. In some other world, all the talk about the diversity of human sexuality and the damage done by demonizing difference might have […]

Mar 1 1998

Inside the 700 Club

Pat Robertson's former co-host speaks out

Many people have heard of Pat Robertson, but few can say they know him, even among his limited number of close friends. To the general public he is an enigma–a Baptist minister, a televangelist, a would-be kingmaker behind the Republican Party, the founder of the powerful Christian Coalition, a businessman, a broadcast mogul, a defender of the faith and a failed presidential contender. As the host of his own nationally syndicated television show, the 700 Club, Robertson has also called himself a broadcast journalist, interpreting and commenting on the news of the day. Aired on his own Christian Broadcasting Network, […]

Mar 1 1998

Muddying Mr. Clean

Shallow coverage turned Carey campaign scandal into cartoon

It’s easy to imagine why corporate-owned media might be eager to report the political downfall of Ron Carey–the man who in August 1997 led the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union in the most prominent and popular strike in recent memory. The sudden media fascination with union politics is a little suspicious; many a tainted Teamsters election, in particular, has passed without occasioning so much ink. But Carey is a public figure, and the lamentable dealings that led to his being disqualified for re-election and potentially barred from the union deserve scrutiny. It’s just that they deserved much more thoughtful and informed […]

Mar 1 1998

Media Zapped

Journalists swallow food irradiation PR

When the federal Food and Drug Administration last month approved irradiation of red meat, government scientists cited the need to beef up efforts to combat a new, deadly strain of E. coli bacteria. No scientific explanation, however, has been forthcoming for the way the FDA’s decision seems to have zapped the critical faculties of the mainstream media. Virtually without exception, reporters and editorial boards from Long Island Newsday to the San Francisco Chronicle lined up to swallow the irradiation industry’s hype, with headlines like “Say Yes to Irradiated Foods” (Chicago Tribune, 12/4/97). Even normally skeptical journalists have been loath to […]