Media Beat, Nov. 8, 1992
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Media Blind Spots in Campaign '92

The road to the White House has been littered with media cliches.

But this year some words and phrases were scrupulously avoided by mainstream journalists. Here are few of them:

ANTI-TRUST: Big media provided scant ink or air time for the view that corporations have grown too large and powerful. After Jerry Brown made Tom Brokaw sweat on an NBC-televised debate early this year by slamming the network's owner General Electric, the candidate was depicted as a ridiculous pitchman with an 800-number.

In contrast, Paul Tsongas was a media darling who mentioned "anti-trust" only to urge a further retreat from trust-busting. Nary a pundit's eyebrow rose when Tsongas insisted that, "American companies should be released from anit-trust constraints in areas which impact on their capabilities in international trade."

Megamedia seem uninterested in asking politicians where they stand on monopolization, a process that hurts consumers and workers. Is it any coincidence that so many cities have only one local daily newspaper, while a few news corporations are carving out large chunks of the media pie for themselves?

POVERTY: Although news media frequently calls for a "war on drugs," there is no such enthusiasm for an official battle against poverty.

It's true that "major" (media-anointed) candidates haven't done much to focus on poverty. But media failure to raise this issue lets candidates off the hook. And this year's election reportage endorsed the notion that poor people don't merit the same rhetorical attention lavished on "the middle class."

A welcome exception came Oct. 27 with a CBS evening news report that offered insights about the "hard-working poor." Correspondent Bruce Morton ventured below the official poverty line - out of the usual bounds of this year's campaign trail.

RACISM: Except for sensational coverage of the Los Angeles riots last spring and some thoughtful retrospectives since then, most news media have relegated issues of racial discrimination and unequal opportunity to a back burner. Like the raisin in the sun described by Langston Hughes' famous poem, the hopes of many people still burn to a crisp while mass media keep cool.

There was nothing cool about a remarkable two-hour PBS television special - "The Issue is Race" - aired in October. Moderated by Phil Donahue, the program provided a spirited debate about relations between blacks and whites. Such programming is virtually absent from commercial network TV.

WORKERS' RIGHTS: Major media outlets have encouraged the Democratic Party to back away from labor unions.

In early fall, when Bill Clinton momentarily balked in his support of a free-trade pact with Mexico that could cost U.S. manufacturing jobs, media pundits asked whether he was "too controlled by organized labor." In all the previous months that Clinton supported Mexican free trade, pundits did not suggest he was "too controlled by big business."

In the media industry itself, mergers and economic recession have helped undermine the bargaining power of workers. In many media workplaces, management's hostility toward unions is obvious. That atmosphere can affect the tone and content of news coverage.

Public broadcasting has been little better in presenting the perspectives of workers. Regular PBS shows that deal with economic matters are presented from the standpoint of investors - Louis Rukeyser's "Wall $reet Week," "Adam Smith's Money World" and the "Nightly Business Report" - not employees.

It isn't the fault of news outlets when politicians try to dodge certain topics. But journalists have a responsibility not to let politicians define the limits of electoral discourse.

The end of the '92 campaign is a relief for many journalists. But they have more reason to be weary than satisified. Their profession has given short shrift to key issue that will remain central to our lives long after Election Day.

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