All the News That's Fit to Stink
By Norman Solomon
JANUARY 11, 1999: For the seventh year in a row, I have worked with Jeff Cohen of the media watch group FAIR to sift through the many entries for a P.U.-litzer Prize--the annual award that pays tribute to this nation's smelliest media offerings.
The competition to win a P.U.-litzer was never more fierce. Now, after long and careful deliberations, we are ready to reveal the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 1998.
Too many winners to name
Fox News Channel
and MSNBC (tie)
and MSNBC (tie)
In January, Fox News asked the public to rule on Monica Lewinsky: "average girl" or a "young tramp looking for thrills"?
After seven months of focusing on little else besides Clinton's (sexual) morals, MSNBC announced a poll question in August. "Clinton's morals: Should it be a political issue, or should it remain a private concern?"
Despite the fact that cars are the planet's leading source of smog, Time allowed the Ford Motor Co. to be the exclusive sponsor of its environmental series "Heroes for the Planet." A Time editor admitted the arrangement was "fairly unusual."
A letter from Coke's ad agency to magazines demanded that Coke ads not appear next to articles on the following "inappropriate" topics: "hard news; sex-related issues; drugs (prescription or illegal); medicine (chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, AIDS); health (mental or physical medical conditions); negative diet information (bulimia, anorexia, quick weight loss); food; political issues; environmental issues; articles containing vulgar language; religion." In other words, magazines should be as empty of nutrients as Coke is.
Charles Grodin's nightly talk show on CNBC was known mainly for fixations on O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky. Once every blue moon, however, Grodin veered from CNBC-preferred subjects to issues of consumer rights and the impact of draconian drug laws on poor people. These occasional, off-key topics were apparently too much for network bosses. In June, when CNBC cancelled the show, Variety reported: "One insider says the network finally got fed up with Grodin's nightly denunciations of the capitalist system." Grodin later returned to TV, confined to weekends on MSNBC.
Frustrated with the lack of bloodshed after confrontations between the United States and Iraq, columnist Krauthammer waxed apoplectic in a Nov. 30 Time magazine article. He derided U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "the head of a toothless bureaucracy that commands no army, wields no power and begs for revenue." What's worse, Annan's diplomacy stalled the U.S. war machine. "It is perfectly fine for an American president to mouth the usual pieties about international consensus and some such," Krauthammer wrote. "But when he starts believing them, he turns the Oval Office over to Kofi Annan and friends."
The New York Times
Continuing the tradition of empathy for the brutal Indonesian dictator Suharto that it had maintained for a third of a century, The New York Times repeatedly put the best face on the tyrant as pro-democracy forces challenged his grip on power last spring. According to the Times, Suharto was a "profoundly spiritual man" and a "reforming autocrat." The Times offered this rationale for the mass murderer: "It was not simply personal ambition that led Mr. Suharto to clamp down so hard for so long; it was a fear, shared by many in this country of 210 million people, of chaos."
Al Hunt od the Wall Street Journal
Hunt, usually about as leftward as anyone gets on CNN's "Capital Gang," enthusiastically endorsed the renaming of Washington's National Airport after Ronald Reagan. In a Jan. 15 Wall Street Journal column, Hunt praised Reagan for busting the air traffic controllers' union: "In the first month of the Reagan presidency, the controllers illegally went on strike ... . The president alone hung tough, contending simply that an illegal action couldn't be countenanced. This was a man very comfortable and secure with himself, which arguably is the single most relevant consideration in choosing a president."
In its June 29 cover story--"Is Feminism Dead?"--Time magazine bemoaned the alleged fading of authentic feminism. Meanwhile, Time's top editors were pushing its strongest feminist writer out the door. After years as a regular columnist for Time, Barbara Ehrenreich found that her eloquent talents were no longer wanted there.
Michael Barone of Reader's Digest and Larry King of CNN
On CNBC's "Hardball" program in August, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman noted that Monica Lewinsky appeared to be a consenting adult. An irate Barone exclaimed: "Basically, we've established the feminist movement in the United States, we've now found what profession they're in and the only question is their price."
A few weeks later, on "Larry King Live," feminist leader Patricia Ireland said that she disapproved of Clinton's conduct with Lewinsky but didn't think it warranted impeachment. King responded: "If you were a highway-builder in Germany in 1936, you would have said, 'Let's keep Hitler because he built highways.' You're a highway man."
On March 2, Limbaugh advised Madonna how to have a second child: "Well, Madonna, if this is what you want to do, just do what you did. Take a walk in the park. Stake out some gang-member type guy who looks like a hunk to you. Pay the guy some money. Bring him into the apartment on Central Park West, bed him and it can happen all over again just like it did the first time." The father of Madonna's first child, Carlos Leon, is a Latino. He has no known connection to any gang activity. When he met Madonna, Leon was a fitness trainer; Limbaugh's current wife had been an aerobics teacher.
In a September story on consumer reactions to the stock market plunge, USA Today reported that "signs of some fallout have begun to appear." The signs? Reduced sales of Manhattan real estate, San Francisco yachts, Beverly Hills mansions and St. Louis Cadillacs, Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches. There was no mention of any impact on Americans who don't drive their Mercedes to the yacht club.
Norman Solomon is co-author of Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News and author of The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.
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