May 1 2000

U.S. Media Favor Radical Health Reform–for Canada

ABC, New York Times distort problems of single-payer system

When mainstream media report on widespread dissatisfaction with the HMO-driven U.S. healthcare system, reporters seldom mention proposals for funda­mental health reform; debate is usually limited to modest, incremental plans, like the “patients’ bill of rights.” But as Canada has struggled this year with a funding shortage for its much-admired public health system, ABC News and the New York Times have pounced on the story as an opportunity to declare the failure of that country’s system of universal healthcare. On February 3, ABC aired a report by correspondent Deborah Amos in Toronto, depicting a country “strug­gling with universal healthcare.” Most of […]

May 1 2000

In Rape Debate, Controversy Trumps Credibility

'Natural' sexual assault theory 'irresistible' to profit-driven media

When Taliban leaders claim women incite sexual assault by wearing clothing more revealing than a burkah or leaving their homes unchaperoned by male relatives, it’s not hard for U.S. reporters to recognize these statements as products of misogyny. But when two evolutionary psychologists recently put forth the same basic notion under the guise of objective science, they became highly sought-after media stars. Book excerpts in small science journals don’t tend to receive torrents of mainstream media coverage. But that’s what happened when The Sciences (1-2/00) ran an essay titled “Why Men Rape” by evolutionary psychologists Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer. […]

May 1 2000

The Commercialization of Children’s Public Television

PBS's ads sell toys, drugs and junk food to your kids

At the end of Sesame Street, the show traditionally announces that the episode has been brought to you by, say, “the letter Z and the number 2”–a daily reminder of the show’s commitment to non-commercial educational programming. But these days, the tradition has been co-opted for profit: Today after the show, you might hear an announcement that “Pfizer brings parents the letter Z–as in Zithromax.” Zithromax is the antibiotic promoted by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for treating ear infections and other ailments. “More information about Zithromax is just a click away,” the spot promises, accompanied by images of a zebra and […]

May 1 2000

Genetic Gambling

Media fail to present real issues of bioengineering

If the mainstream media had been doing their job, most Americans would not have been eating genetically engineered food every day for the last six years without their knowledge or consent. Nor would we have allowed 70 million acres of our nation’s farmland to be planted in bioengineered crops without significant public debate and honest scientific and regulatory scrutiny of their environmental impact. But they haven’t, and so we did. Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist with the Women’s Environmental Network in the United Kingdom, points out in a forthcoming book chapter from Zed Books that scientists actually know very little about […]

May 1 2000

Colombia’s Cocaine Shell Game

Media are leading the U.S. into a civil war in the name of the

After the crash of a U.S. Army reconnaissance plane in July 1999 that killed seven people (including five U.S. military personnel), the question of U.S. involvement in Colombia re-emerged on the media radar screen. Journalists wondered whether “the U.S. could wind up in a fight it doesn’t want” (NBC Nightly News, 1/16/00), with many reporters acknowledging a certain inattention to the story: “It may not be widely known, but the United States is already engaged in the Colombian civil war,” NPR reported (7/26/99). Early in 2000, Congressional debate has centered on a two-year, $1.7 billion aid package for the Latin […]

May 1 2000

Think Tanks: The Rich Get Richer

Think Tank Spectrum, 1998-99

Much like in the global economy, in the world of the think tanks that dominate the mass media, the rich have gotten richer. There has been little shuffling at the top of the most cited think-tank list, based on references to the group in major papers and broadcast transcripts in the Nexis database. Once again, the Brookings Institution led the way, with close to 3,000 citations among major newspapers and television and radio transcripts. While the Heritage Foundation once rivaled Brookings in prominence, Washington’s premier centrist think tank has separated itself from the rest of the pack, more than doubling […]

May 1 2000

Statistical Bias

Journalists find 'comfort' after the Diallo killing

When New Yorkers went into shock over the 41 bullets fired at Amadou Diallo, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert found “comfort”–her word–by recalling the sodomizing of Abner Louima. The business with the broomstick, she explained in the New Yorker (3/29/99), was not what we hire the police to do, whereas we do pay them to accost characters who fit a certain pattern. That fusillade, she said, “may not be racism at all but something new, a form of racial bias that is statistically driven and officially sanctioned.” She meant, of course, profiling, and it’s hardly new. Nor was there anything new in […]