Written 206 pm Feb 4, 1991 by greenbase in cdpmideast.media GREENPEACE PUNDIT WATCH #2 PUN
Written 2:06 pm Feb 4, 1991 by greenbase in cdp:mideast.media
GREENPEACE PUNDIT WATCH #2
PUNDIT WATCH 2, Second in a Series of Reports on News Coverage of
the Persian Gulf War.
Contact: Greenpeace Media, 202-462-1177.
Outrage was appropriately quick when Iraq dumped a huge amount of crude oil
into the Persian Gulf. Had reaction been similar to the kinder, gentler waste
of oil that's occurred in the West for decades, we might not now be at war
with an oil power.
In Pundit Watch 2, we'll examine the dynamics of oil -- both oil in the Gulf,
and oil in our lives. Also, we'll explore the cliches and pejoratives used to
describe war opponents.
THEY GET SMARTER EVERY WEEK: The McLaughlin Group episode taped 2/1 offered
these revised predictions: Fred Barnes, "Five weeks from now" (holding steady
from last week's "six weeks"); Morton Kondracke, "the end of February" (up
from a "three weeks" prediction on Jan. 25); Jack Germond, "A couple of
months" (last week's wisdom was "six weeks and maybe longer"); Father
McLaughlin weighed in with "March 1." (Last week's guess was for April Fool's
Day or later); Arnaud DeBorchgrave, editor of Rev. Moon's Washington Times,
was Pinch Pundit for Pat Buchanan this week, and offered "six weeks from now."
By Wednesday 2/6, the longest of the group's original January 17 war-length
predictions will have elapsed. McLaughlin's "One on One" show also added to
the list of Felon/Pundits this week with an interview of former National
Security Advisor Robert McFarlane. McFarlane has also shown up on CNN, giving
the cable network the lead in total Felon/Pundits with two. (Richard Secord,
whom CNN identified only as an air war expert, turned up last weekend.)
"I'm not very tolerant of any dissent to what we stand for: freedom," Everett
McConnell, a 60 year-old retired Air Force sergeant told the Philadelphia
"Give peace a chance." This "reminiscent-of-the-Vietnam-era" refrain could
be directed as aptly toward the media coverage of the opposition movement to
the Gulf war as it does to the policymakers staging the war.
In assessing the new peace movement, the press often seems to go out of its
way to marginalize war opposition. Evocations of the 1960's are used to
disparage opponents of the war, branding them as irrelevant and out of touch
with the 80 percent of "real" Americans who support the war in the 1990's. On
television, isolated incidents of flag burning are portrayed as if it were
endemic of the movement. Divisions within the ranks are used to indicate
weakness and pre-write the epitaphs of 90's peace activists.
The subhead of the Miami Herald article story on the Jan. 19 rally in D.C.
read "75,000 jam D.C. in 60's Like Scene" The Herald described the American
anti-war movement as "a collection of minorities and military mothers, aging
'60s veterans and fresh-faced protesters." The Baltimore Sun's Washington
Bureau Chief Ernest B. Furgurson trotted out his best Love-it-or-Leave-it
rhetoric for a syndicated column: "The protesters run true to type, some
looking as if they just emerged after 20 years in a time capsule, or under a
rock. Rummage-sale sartorial fashions and pothead hair styles remind of the
days when the chant was "Hey, hey LBJ! How many kids have you killed today."
Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post's Style section (1/17) conceded that
in fact the new movement represented a broader coalition: "What has been most
distinctive has been the presence of so many people lacking distinction at
all, what you might perilously call regular folks. Men in suits and ties have
chanted 'no blood for oil' in unison with angry members of the America-is-
always-wrong brigade." Were the well-groomed "regular" folks really just the
usual suspects disguised in suits?
But while Achenbach was as scornful of the movement's diversity as he is of
its message, Newsweek's Vern E. Smith and Annetta Miller did one of the most
thorough profiles of the new voices of opposition. "Though the antiwar
activists defied popular sentiment, they were not just rebellious kids," they
wrote. "Compared with the Vietnam protests, which at the outset were
overwhelmingly the work of students, opposition to the gulf war enlists a much
broader constituency. Its leaders are veterans of the various peace movements--
Vietnam, Central America, nuclear disarmament --many of them now middle-aged
and middle class. The heads of unions, including the United Auto Workers and
the Communications Workers of America signed an anti-war advertisement in the
week before hostilities began. Families of servicemen and women play a bigger
role now than they did in the '60s. So do churches. And so do minority members
...Even mainstream Republican figures like John Connally and H. Ross Perot
have expressed opposition a Gulf War in recent weeks. The protesters are
people who don't have a reason to be radicalized or estranged from their
US News Columnist John Leo (Feb 4) tarred war opponents with many different
brushes. "The anti-war movement is ... home to an alliance of mostly far-right
anti-Semitic groups (including) the Liberty Lobby, the Lyndon LaRouche
organization, and Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam."
Already, this peace movement has gained momentum and turned out more people
in the first two weeks of Desert Storm than in the first several years of
Vietnam. But many news accounts have suggested that the 1990's peace movement
will have the staying power of the Nehru Jacket. Just days before more than
100,000 demonstrated against the war, The New York Times treated us to
"Protesters Face Conflict in Their Ranks as They Try to Gain Momentum" (1/21).
The Miami Herald ran the same piece under the headline "Anti-War Drive Hits
Resistance." The Washington Post in an article the day before the rally said
"The Anti-War Movement Facing Test, D.C. Protest Saturday May Indicate Whether
Sentiment is Growing."
The movement passed the "test" with turnout exceeding Park Service
expectations. That success was unseen in USA Today (1/29). In "Peace Marchers
Fight Disenchantment", Elizabeth Snead describes the hundreds of thousands
that have taken to the streets in "scenes reminiscent of the 60s" and tells us
that "some are already disillusioned." The Post (1/29) followed up with a
piece about how disappointed some demonstrators were because the police
refused to arrest them for civil disobedience.
For his part, President Bush alluded to Christian tolerance of pro-peace
demonstrators during a 1/28 speech at (where else?) a religious broadcasters'
convention. Chief of Staff John Sununu was positively docile in his remarks on
protests on the 1/27 ABC "This Week with David Brinkley."
On the whole, newspapers did a far better job than TV in attempting to give
protesters a fair shake. Mary McGrory reported in her 1/29 syndicated column
that "CBS gave equal time to the 300, at most, pro-war demonstrators and the
75,000 at least, peace demonstrators. NBC limited its coverage to remarking
that the turnout of 75,000 had been accurately predicted by the police
department." CNN ran a relatively thoughtful pre-rally profile of war
opponents, but TV was largely a victim of its own self-imposed stereotypes of
the marchers. A newsroom staffer at Washington's, WJLA-TV (ABC) explained the
equal time given a few hundred pro-war demontrators with, "We give everyone
equal coverage. That's what we are supposed to do." When asked if a pro-war
demo with two people would merit coverage they responded, "sure." WRC-TV (NBC)
responded by saying "I'm being blasted for giving the anti-war any coverage at
all." The best assessment of TV's inherently shallow approach came from an
eminently qualified source. Reagan imagemaker-turned-journalist David Gergen,
who told a journalists' forum at Columbia University, "TV is inherently a
medium of simplicity."
What's in a Poll
Since the outset of the Persian Gulf crisis public opinion polls have been
used by politicians to further US policy and by the media and war supporters
to belittle and dismiss the opposition. In building support for an attack on
Baghdad, President Bush grossly exaggerated the Iraqi threat of nuclear
weapons capability after polling showed it played well to the American public.
Since the beginning of the war, virtually every reference to demonstrators is
qualified with a flippant 80% percent support level for the war.
However, questions or polls that show that the "overwhelming" support is
softer than it appears have been generally been underplayed. A NPR-Harris Poll
released Jan. 27 showed that 59% of the public would be willing to accept only
"rather light" or no casualties, yet 76% of those surveyed said they expected
"moderate" to "heavy" casualties. In an ABC/Washington Post Poll done just
before the 16th, support for war with Iraq plummeted to around 40% when 1,000
American casualties were figured in.
Washington Post pollster Richard Morin did a revealing piece in the Post
(1/14) casting doubts on the accuracy of polls gauging public opinion. Morin
showed that just prior to the 16th, support for a U.S. war with Iraq varied by
nearly 15% depending on how leading the questions were. At the Jan. 26 rally,
The Post made a first-ever attempt at polling members of a demonstration in
progress. A sampling of the marchers showed that a vast majority of them were
not first-timers and were overwhelmingly "liberal" in their politics. The
revelation that the 700 Club and the Republican National Committee were
underrepresented in the march may not have deserved a front page story. But
the Post deserves credit for what Morin told PW was its effort to "go beyond
traditional reporting." Earlier, Post polling had underscored the divergence
from national opinion by D.C. residents, who oppose the war by a roughly 60-40
But an important argument against the value of daily polling comes from the
pollsters themselves. Every Gallup poll which has appeared includes the
statement "rally round the flag effect"," the often short-lived upsurge in
popularity following the outbreak of crisis or war. This little 5 word-waiver
was largely ignored in news reports.
GREENPEACE'S PICKS FOR BEST ANTI-WAR PLACARDS:
1. If You Really Want to Destroy Iraq, Send Over a Team of Our Experts to Set
Up an S&L for them.
2. George, We're sorry we called you a wimp. We promise we won't do it again.
3. Kuwaitus Interruptus. George, Pull out Now
OIL ADDS TO TROUBLED WATERS
While oil is flowing in untold quantities into the Persian Gulf, stateside
oil company profits for 1990's fourth quarter are gushing. The nine largest
U.S. oil companies are expected to total $7.2 billion in profits for the final
quarter of 1990, up 69 percent from 1989.
With gasoline prices finally returning to pre-war levels, the price of crude
oil dropped significantly after the start of the war and is now as low as 1989
figures of about 40 cents a gallon. At present rates, an oversupply would
lower crude prices more as the war continues.
So as not to sound "unpatriotic" in this time of war, oil company executives
have taken great pains to play down huge profit increases and are rushing to
speculate that the trend can't last. On Jan 16, Mobil, which listed a 46
percent rise in fourth-quarter earnings of $651 million, opted to freeze
prices for U.S. petroleum products in what Mobil CEO Allen E. Murray called
"a show of support for American policy and a demonstration of our
determination to do our part in the national effort during this critical
juncture in American history." This price freeze held gasoline prices at a
relatively high level while the price of crude continued to drop, allowing
Mobil to profit.
Murray asked customers to limit gasoline use and "join Mobil in its pledge
not to profit from the uncertainties that now exist in the worldwide oil
market. We pledged to show restraint at the time Iraq invaded Kuwait and we
can do no less now," he said. By way of apology, Murray added that while price
rises helped Mobil, the company reported "depressed profit margins in
marketing and refining" and an outlay of $40 million to pay for future
environmental cleanups at U.S. service stations.
Mobil took its profits case to the public in its January 6 weekly ad. It
featured excerpts from a letter responding to Congressional questions about
Mobil's price system and profits. Why did consumers not feel the significant
drop Mobil passed on to consumers? The December 1 five-cent increase in the
Federal gasoline tax for which Congress was responsible. Mobil said that a
look at gasoline and crude oil price changes from July to December should
"Refute the ill-conceived notion that there has been any 'price gouging' on
our part," except Mobil's 46 percent increase in quarterly earnings.
In another Mobil ad (NY Times, Jan 31) the company provided a detailed chart
decrying federal, state and local taxes which burden their customers. With the
national average of these taxes in mind, Mobil claims consumers are paying
some "$35 billion a year in direct taxes" for their gasoline.
But in its January 24 ad the company pulled out all the stops with an
economics lesson on the difference between profits and profitability. Lest we
forget the difference, Mobil reminds us that "No matter how many pennies there
are in our profit total--and, because of our size and sales volumes, there are
a lot of them--bare numbers never tell the whole story."
Matt Wald's article in the 2/3 New York Times "Week in Review" challenged the
oil industry's benign self-portrait. Wald quoted oil analysts at John S.
Herold, Inc.: "For shareholders in most major oil companies, total returns --
capital gains plus dividends -- were higher than for the Dow Jones index as a
whole for the last five years."
SIDEBAR - PAYING THE PAPER
MOBIL's message is distributed weekly through opinion page ads in most of
America's largest newspapers and newsweeklies. The company's message has not
missed a Thursday on the New York Times op-ed page in years. While neither the
Times nor Mobil would cite the cost of these ads, standard rates for similar
weekly space in the Times costs $939,000 annually, according to numbers
provided by a Times salesperson. (An account executive for a major Washington
ad agency termed that figure "conservative.") Mobil's largesse is not limited
to the ad coffers of major news organizations -- it's also second only to AT&T
in Public Broadcasting Service program grants.
AMOCO, the nation's largest natural gas producer and the fifth largest
refiner of gasoline, reported a 69 percent jump in their fourth-quarter
earnings of $538 million thanks to the crisis in the Middle East. Company
executives ducked criticism that those earnings were made by high gas prices
by stating that the boom would cease when the world returned to business as
usual. Texaco, the nation's third largest oil company, showed a 35 percent
increase over last year's earnings with fourth-quarter profits of $388
CHEVRON: Chevron USA Chair Kenneth Derr (USA TODAY, 1/15) said
his firm's profits were "going to be high, and they're going to
create a lot of flack. When oil prices go up we make more money."
Chevron came in at $688 million for the fourth quarter, over a
reported quarterly loss of $883 million a year earlier.
Exxon: A 121 percent jump in quarterly earnings over the fourth
quarter of 1989, when a horde of 11,000 Alaskan rock-wipers
assaulted the company's profit margins.
ARCO: An increase of 40.4 percent in earnings to $566 million. Phillips: 46.5
percent rise in quarterly earnings over 1989. Shell: A 68.9 percent jump in
quarterly earnings over 1989. Unocal: 54.2 percent rise in profits for the
SOURCES: NY Times, Wall St. Journal, Associated Press, Reuters.
President Bush made a passing reference to conserving energy in his State of
the Union speech. But Energy Secretary James Watkins was more forthright about
Administration plans, stating "If I thought that there was one element that
was critical to the nation('s energy strategy) it is the opening of the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge." (Reuters, 1/23).
Greenpeace experienced a fleeting moment at the gates of Pundit Heaven for
the worst of all reasons. The paucity of information on the war -- and the
number of military pensioners willing to comment on it -- had an environmental
parallel during the first days of the oil spill. Environmentalists, including
our own, were called on to float theories on the damage despite the lack of
solid spill information. While we tried our best to cite the theoretical
damage to the Gulf based on the effects of past spills, we also tried to
stress the most relevant fact of the spill's potential: We just don't know how
bad it will be. No one else does, either. Retired Generals, please take note.
KEEPING HOPE ALIVE FOR ALTERNATIVE VOICES?
Former Reagan Arms Control Chief Ken Adelman, Former NBC News reporter and
State Department mouthpiece Bernard Kalb, and the Brookings Institute's
William Kaufman: Persian Gulf "expert" guests on Firing Line? No, just some of
the predominantly white, male, and conservative guests on the 1/27 Jesse
Jackson Show. Other panelists included conservative counterterrorism expert
Neil Livingstone, George Washington U. Economics Professor Robert Dunn (who
declared war "good for the economy"); and member to George Bush's Middle East
Task Force Joy Starr, who stated that war was needed to "stabilize" the Middle
VIETNAM WINS AGAIN: According to a Congressional Quarterly report cited on
Fox TV's "Off the Record," (1/27) Vietnam was invoked in the pre-war
congressional debate on Iraq 413 times. Adolf Hitler finished second with 198
mentions, while Winston Churchill was the show-horse with 46. His predecessor
and the right wing's favorite historical lesson for everything, Neville
Chamberlain, finished out of the money with 45. President Bush has also played
the name-dropping game, prompting Christopher Hitchens to tell his "Off the
Record" pals, "If George Bush quotes Churchill once more, we're going to throw
up everything we've ever eaten."
FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS: London's Birkbeck College distributed tips to
American students on how to avoid drawing terrorist attacks. The pamphlet
cautions against appearing overly American. Students should thus avoid
McDonald's and the Hard Rock Cafe, and should not "conspicuously purchase or
carry USA Today." (Washington Times, 1/29).
SADDAM PARTS THE PERSIAN GULF, Film at Eleven: NBC Consultant Edward Peck
explained on 1/16 that Americans had a New Testament heritage of "turning the
other cheek," while Iraqis were "an Old Testament people."
AN EXTRAORDINARILY LARGE POLLING SAMPLE: The Washington Post reported (1/30)
that "millions of Americans have told pollsters they support the US
OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK:
"Q: Suddenly, it seems we have more military analysts than Elvis
impersonators. Who are these so-called experts?
A: Same people as the Elvis impersonators."
-- J. Taylor Buckley, USA TODAY (2/1).
Next Week in Pundit Watch: Has the dominance of TV news coverage in the Gulf
made newspapers irrelevant to public opinion?
Pundit Watch 2 was written by Peter Dykstra, Blair Palese, and Andrew Davis.
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