Every profession likes to honor special merit within its field by handing out annual awards. That's especially true for journalists, who have the bonus of guaranteed publicity--apt to be particularly lavish on the airwaves or in the pages of the winning media outlet.
The following awards do not recognize winners so much as losers--the media consumers. We call these awards "P.U.-litzers," highlighting some of the sorriest and smelliest media performances of 1992. Don't expect the "winning" outlets to crow about these awards.
BEST JOURNALIST IN A SUPPORTING ROLE--ABC's Ann Compton
Near the end of the '92 campaign, President Bush appeared at a Waffle House restaurant to convey that Bill Clinton "waffles" on the issues. When Bush's speech neglected to mention waffling, a big-league TV correspondent had this reaction, according to the Washington Post: "Ann Compton of ABC News moves urgently from one [Bush] staffer to another.... She tells each one: If you want Waffle House, we need Bush to say something about waffling!" In TV news lingo, Compton wanted a soundbite to go with her photo-op.
Bush finally alluded to Clinton's waffling, but Compton was unsatisfied. "It's still not quite right," she complained to the Bush campaign's press secretary. Here was a reporter helping the president package an attack on his opponent.
PRIZE FOR ABILITY TO DIVINE IMMIGRATION STATUS--KABC-TV in Los Angeles
During the L.A. riots, while live cameras showed some Latinos looting a store, a KABC-TV anchor asked his on-the-street reporter if they looked like "illegal aliens." The reporter replied, "Yes."
DUBIOUS SOURCES--New York Times, CNN (TIE)
An April 20 New York Times news article on domestic violence against men prominently featured George Gilliland Sr., a "men's rights" advocate who argued that the system is biased in favor of abusive women. The article failed to mention that this source had a violent history, and that several of his ex-wives sought court protection from him.
On Jan. 31, CNN featured perennial foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger, arguing that the U.S. was overly concerned about human rights in China. CNN viewers were not told that the Kissinger & Associates consulting firm specializes in "opening doors" for companies planning to invest in China. Nor that Kissinger headed China Ventures, a company aimed at launching joint ventures with China's state bank.
LEAVE EDUCATION TO BEAVER AWARD--Too Many Winners To Name
When the Children's Television Act passed, TV stations across the country rushed to comply with the law's requirement for educational programming...by explaining how their existing shows (such as "Leave It to Beaver," "The Flintstones," "G.I. Joe") were in fact educational.
One station cited a cartoon in which "good-doer Bucky fights off the evil toads," explaining that "issues of social consciousness and responsibility are central themes of the program." Another station cited the educational value of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," which "answers some of the mysteries, myths and questions surrounding the legend of Santa Claus."
[In March 1993, the Federal Communications Commission finally indicated it would not accept the claims of TV broadcasters that cartoons featuring the likes of Fred and Wilma fit the "educational" bill.]
QUICKEST TV ABOUT-FACE SINCE GOMER PYLE-- Rush Limbaugh
From his Sept. 14 premiere until Election Day, Rush Limbaugh used his syndicated TV show--in some of the most partisan broadcasts in television history-- for 22-minute monologues in support of President Bush's reelection. He regularly questioned the intelligence of anyone planning to vote for Clinton- whose policies, Limbaugh said, would wreck the country. No sooner did Clinton win the election than Limbaugh reversed course, telling his TV audience to cheer up: Clinton, after all, had won because he enunciated solid conservative principles.
BEST COMMENTARY WITH CLASS --Robert Novak, Mona Charen and New York Times (TIE).
In the midst of a Democratic campaign that received more corporate backing than any in party history, the Democrats published a platform extolling free enterprise: "We honor business as a noble endeavor." The platform was instantly critiqued on CNN as "anti-capitalist" by Robert Novak and as "mildly socialist" by Mona Charen.
Ever wary of uncharted waters, the New York Times editorialized (June 3) that the Perot campaign "may portend a scary future, leading away from the certitudes of two-party politics to a system open to manipulation by the super-rich." Thank God for today's certitudes: two-party politics full of manipulation by the super-rich.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR? NOT!--Financial Analyst Graef Crystal
For years, Graef Crystal was the expert who estimated the income levels of corporate execs for Fortune magazine. In 1991 he was pressured out of his job after calculating that the head of Time Warner, which owns Fortune, had earned $78 million the previous year in salary and stock options. Crystal made a comeback with Financial World magazine. But he was fired this February after advertisers complained about Crystal's reporting on the exorbitant pay of their chief executives.
"YOU'LL NEVER REVIEW IN THIS TOWN AGAIN"--Variety and Washingtonian (TIE).
Writing in Daily Variety, movie critic Joseph McBride attacked Paramount Pictures' $42 million political thriller, "Patriot Games," as "an expensive stiff" that was "mindless, morally repugnant and ineptly directed." Days later, Paramount pulled its advertising from the publication. Variety editorial director Peter Bart also took action: He apologized in a letter to the studio, rewrote the offending review, and promised that McBride "will not review any more Paramount films."
Movie critic Pat Dowell quit her post at the Washingtonian after the magazine's editor spiked her positive mini-review of Oliver Stone's "JFK," which linked official Washington to an assassination cover-up. Editor Jack Limpert defended the censorship in a letter to his former reviewer: "My job is to protect the magazine's reputation and it seemed to me that Stone's film went to the heart of what kind of city this is."
BACK TO THE CLOSET AWARD-- Writer Sally Quinn
After the National Organization for Women's president Patricia Ireland disclosed her bisexuality, Sally Quinn wrote a Washington Post column warning that the women's movement would be seen as "a fringe cause, with overtones of lesbianism and man-hating." Quinn elaborated on her column in an interview: "I agree with everything that gay rights supporters think. I'm just saying you should keep it to yourself if you're a lesbian."
SEE-NO-HOLOCAUST JOURNALISM-- Business Week
A Sept. 7 short in Business Week sought to explain why proposals by the National Commission on AIDS had not been adopted. Only one source was quoted, Albert Jonsen of the University of Washington: "The impact of AIDS is not great enough to mobilize the kinds of energies that those recommendations require." Because AIDS has mainly affected gays and "marginalized, ghettoized communities," said Business Week's sole source, "the social impact has not been very great."
Well, these are the winners of this year's P.U.-litzers. The competition was fierce.
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