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The Enron scandal

On the Media fights public bias

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David Kestenbaum Knows who was Sending the Anthrax Letters

Date: 1/22/02
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

As the two anthrax letters sent to the Hill were both addressed to Senate Democrats (majority leader Tom Daschle and chairman Patrick Leahy) it was only a matter of time that NPR would come up with a right-wing connection.

Well, sort of.

Today on Morning Edition, NPR's science reporter David Kestenbaum proudly proclaimed that he had found the missing link:

Two of the anthrax letters were sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both Democrats. One group who had a gripe with Daschle and Leahy is the Traditional Values Coalition, which, before the attacks, had issued a press release criticizing the Senators for trying to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the oath. The Traditional Values Coalition, however, told me the FBI had not contacted them and then issued a press release saying NPR was in the pocket of the Democrats and trying to frame them. But investigators are thinking along these lines. FBI agents won't discuss the case, but the people they have spoken with will.

Kestenbaum then went on to interview Ann Glaser of Planned Parenthood, apparently one of those reliable sources that know exactly what the FBI is thinking. That Glaser could be biased because her group and TVC are on opposite sides of the abortion issue probably never occurred to Kestenbaum.

David Kestenbaum   On assignment (unattributed)

If you want to hear for yourself what evidence Planned Parenthood has to implicate the Traditional Values Coalition in the terrorist attacks, you're out of luck. NPR removed the audio file from their archives and posted an apology — well, sort of an apology:

[…] a story last week about the ongoing anthrax investigation mentioned the Traditional Values Coalition. Reporter David Kestenbaum contacted that group to ask if it had been contacted by the FBI. The TVC said it had not, since there is no evidence that it was or should be investigated. The TVC said it was inappropriate for it to be named on the air. The NPR editors agree.
An update

Today, David Kestenbaum was at it again. This time, he didn't blame abortion foes for the anthrax scare, he blamed guys in general — no, wait, it could have been a girl too. But then, he finally concludes, it is more likely that a guy sent the letters because, after all, girls don't do such violent stuff.

Befitting the French theatre of the absurd, he introduced his piece with the information that the FBI believes that the perpetrator is a twice-fired male scientist from a governmental lab. The same day, the FBI released a statement denying rumors that they had already a main suspect.


On the Media fights public bias

The Enron Scandal: A Smoking Mushroom Cloud?

Date: 1/26/02
Show: Weekend Edition-Saturday (NPR)

Enron energy trader   Enron trademark

In his never-ending quest to tar the Bush administration with a scandal, NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr found a smoking gun, no, a smoking Howitzer, no, a smoking mushroom cloud: contributions that the failed energy trader Enron made to the Bush 2000 Presidential campaign. Never mind that the amount ($114,000 in PAC and individual contributions during 1999-2000, plus $100,000 for the 2001 presidential inauguration) was rather small for the size of the company (before its demise, Enron was the seventh biggest US corporation), never mind that there was no indication that anyone in the White House did anything improper to help the struggling company.

Of course, Schorr fails to mention that of the 2.4 million in total campaign contributions about one third went to Democratic candidates and that the only politician on record to have lobbied the White House on behalf of Enron was a former cabinet member of the Clinton administration.

On other occasions, Schorr insinuates that campaign contributions helped Enron to escape paying corporate income taxes, that legislation proposed by Bush would have earned Enron more than 200 millions in unearned tax rebates ($254 million, to be exact), and that the White House allowed Enron chairman Kenneth Lay to write his own slate of regulators overseeing the industry. None of these charges have any basis in fact, however.

While it is true that campaign contribution can buy you access to the White House (remember the Coffees and Overnights?), Enron chairman Kenneth Lay didn't have to pay for access to the President: as a friend of the Bush family and chairman of one of the largest corporations in the country, Lay had all the credentials he needed. Moreover, he was a key supporter of George Bush's 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns: if that doesn't give you access, then nothing will.

The fact that Enron didn't pay much taxes over the last years is easily explained: the company didn't make any money. At the time Enron filed for bankruptcy protection, the company had 30 billion dollars in debts but only 15 billion in assets. In fact, the alternative minimum corporate income tax passed by a Democratic Congress contributed to the bankruptcy. To repeal the tax and issue refunds to companies was a proposal of the House Way and Means Committee which was not endorsed by the White House and has since been abandoned.

The charge that the White House invited Lay to write his own slate of regulators is equally without merit. The administration received lists with names of candidates from all sorts of interested parties; as chairman and CEO of one of the largest energy companies in the world, Lay would have been derelict in his duties not to submit his own recommendations. Two on his list were eventually appointed by Bush.

It borders on the absurd when NPR tries to pin the Enron debacle on the Bush White House: after all, the administration was still in its infancy (10th month) when Enron filed for chapter 11 protection. The transformation from a small local utility to the world's foremost energy trader took place in the nineties. Whatever cozy relationship may have existed between Enron and federal officials, it did so under a Democratic administration. But even then, there is no shred of evidence for an unbecoming "quid pro quo" or any other kind of a smoking something.

  • Enron's corporate web site
  • Daniel Schorr tries to pin the Enron debacle on the Bush White House:
    audio fileEnron Hearings [All Things Considered, 1/23/02]
    audio fileThe Week in Review [WE Saturday, 1/26/02]
    audio fileThe Week in Review [WE Saturday, 2/2/02]
    audio fileExecutive Privilege [WE Sunday, 2/3/02]
    audio fileEnron's Political Impact [All Things Considered, 2/4/02]
    audio fileThe Week in Review [WE Saturday, 2/9/02]
    audio fileEnron [All Things Considered, 2/18/02]
    audio fileOpen Letter to Vice President Cheney [All Things Considered, 3/27/02]
    audio fileSecrecy [WE Sunday, 5/26/02]: A particular vicious attack in which Schorr repeats the unsubstantiated charge that Enron had a "big hand" in writing Bush's energy policy and appointing regulatory officials


Irish firefighters

On The Media Fights Conservative Public Bias

Date: 2/9/02
Show: On the Media (NPR)

Most Americans believe that the media have a liberal bias. However, if you'd ask the people in the media, you might get a different answer: that they are unbiased, that they call it as they see it, or — as Brooke Gladstone, host of NPR's "On the Media," recently observed in an interview with Bernard Goldberg — that the public at large is guilty of a bias:

GLADSTONE: I, I think it's been said for years that the population at large is too the right of the population of the major networks. I also think that the center is a moving target. The sorts of issues that Richard Nixon held on to in the '70s would be regarded as wildly liberal today.

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think he was our last liberal president.

GLADSTONE: And yet he was considered very right wing at that time, and I think it's a lot to ask that the people in the news media constantly shift to reflect the political leanings of the public at large. I think that both of those tend to shift with relation to each other across the decades.

Listening to Gladstone and her cohost Bob Garfield one gets the impression that the center lies somewhere between the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Black Panthers Party. Daniel Ellsberg, icon of the American New Left and leaker of the Pentagon papers, is celebrated as a hero of free speech, but journalists who reveal details about Bill Clinton's relationships with women are accused of conducting a witch hunt.

Media bias   Best-seller "Bias"

The bias of the show is evident from the way its guests are treated. Goldberg who considers himself a liberal, but made the mistake of writing a book about media bias, is confronted with editorializing questions. The interview is followed by a piece that makes fun of his suggestion that pundits should identify their political leanings. In stark contrast, leftist maverick and America hater Noam Chomsky receives the white glove treatment. Talking about treason charges filed against his publisher in Turkey, OTM throws a softball:

GARFIELD: And in the universe of seditious materials, pretty, pretty benign. Did you say that we should not forget that the United States itself is a leading terrorist state?

CHOMSKY: Of course we should not forget that. The fact that the U.S. is a leading terrorist state, it's not controversial. I mean Osama bin Laden is a murderous terrorist but he doesn't have anything like the capacities of any state, and that's true of most states.

In the same show, OTM producer Mike Pesca reprimands CNN's Wolf Blitzer for being too easy on members of the Bush administration. His crime? When foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice refused to comment on a quote from Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Blitzer backed off and changed the subject. Gladstone reminds her listeners that this is Blitzer's second violation in just two weeks.

Of course, Gladstone and Garfield are not the only journalists with a left, liberal bias. According to a survey conducted by the Washington Press Corps, 91% of their members voted for Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, only 7% for George Bush.

An update

Old Habits Die Hard

Apparently stung by the charge in one of John Leo's columns that the liberal media tried to ignore Bernard Goldberg's New York Times #1 best-seller "Bias", NPR's Morning Edition devoted a two-part series to the allegations of media bias.

In the first part, Juan Williams interviewed Goldberg and William McGowan, author of yet another best-selling book about liberal bias in the media. Williams actually did a fine job interviewing, displaying no animus towards Goldberg or McGowan, but pointing out that many in the news business disagree with their view. The next day, Williams interviewed two critics of Goldberg and McGowan, again doing a fine job.

Before you turn off the light and dream a sweet dream, knowing that NPR has changed its evil ways, you should ask yourself: when was the last time that Morning Edition talked to the author of a #1 best-selling book, only to follow this up — the very next day — with interviews of two of his most vocal critics? You may have to look long and hard.

  • audio fileInterview with Bernard Goldberg and William McGowan [Morning Edition, 3/20/02]
  • audio fileInterview with Jack White and Ed Fouhy [Morning Edition, 3/21/02]
  • John Leo in Jewish World Review: With bias toward all
  • Bias: A CBS insider exposes how the media distort the news, by Bernard Goldberg [ISBN 0895261901]
  • Coloring the News: How crusading for diversity has corrupted American journalism, by William McGowan [ISBN: 1893554287]
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Revised 1/29/04