By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
It's time now to reveal the winners of the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 1996.
This annual award recognizes some of America's most foul media achievements. Every year, for the past half-decade, we have pored through hundreds of submissions. In 1996, we've found many deserving entries. But only a few journalists can win a P.U.- litzer.
DEFAMING THE INFIDELS AWARD -- Mort Zuckerman, owner and editor- in-chief, U.S. News & World Report
The head of U.S. News & World Report has excelled at casting aspersions on the Islamic faith. But Zuckerman reached a new low in his June 10 column, declaring that rhetoric by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat "echoes the doctrine of the prophet Muhammad of making treaties with enemies while he is weak, violating them when he is strong." Offended Muslims pointed out to the magazine that the Koran requires the faithful to keep their pledges.
JUMPING THE GUN PRIZE -- Clyde Haberman of the New York Times
With scant information on what caused the deadly TWA explosion near Long Island last summer, Haberman wrote a July 19 Times news article that began: "This may seem to be jumping the gun, since so much is still not known about what brought down Trans World Airlines Flight 800. But it is probably time for Americans to accept terrorism as a fact of life requiring certain impositions, like personal searches in public places, to preserve communal safety." In other words, it's never too soon to jettison some liberties.
CHAMPION OF THE OVERDOG PRIZE -- ABC TV correspondent John Stossel
In a September speech to a group of conservative attorneys, Stossel -- whose recent specials and "20/20" segments have targeted unions, consumer lawyers and government regulation -- spoke of why he'd moved away from consumer reporting: "I got sick of it. I also now make so much money I just lost interest in saving a buck on a can of peas." Stossel, who now functions as ABC's televangelist for what he calls "the beauties of the free market," told his audience: "I certainly would encourage any of you who knows somebody who buys advertising on television to say, `Please buy a couple of ads on those Stossel specials.'" Markets certainly are things of beauty.
TALK RADIO BOMBS-AWAY AWARD -- John Dayl of KFYI, Phoenix
In July, on Arizona's second-biggest talk station, host Dayl offered these words about U.S. government employees targeted in terrorist bombings like Oklahoma City: "These people who work in those buildings are not innocent victims. If they work in the Federal Building, they're the very people that are typing the letters, that are making the phone calls, that are getting our land taken away from you, that are calling you up on Internal Revenue Service, that want to confiscate all of your guns. These are the same people who womp up charges against you. These are the very same people that are all involved, every one of them.... These people are not innocent victims."
TALK RADIO FIRE-AWAY AWARD -- Rollye James of KLBJ, Austin
Agreeing with a caller who praised the bumper sticker, "Where is Lee Harvey Oswald when you need him?," talk host James added that Vice President Al Gore would also have to be shot, "perhaps with the same bullet." Wishing for a magic bullet cost James her job at KLBJ. Ironically, the radio station is owned by the family of Lyndon B. Johnson.
REVOLVING DOOR PRIZE -- Patrick Buchanan and CNN
Buchanan, who has revolved between media and politics several times already, may well run for president again in four years. No sooner had he conceded defeat at the '96 convention than he was on CNN being beseeched by Larry King about his plans to return to that network: "Will you come back to `Crossfire' in November?" When Buchanan demurred, King even relayed an on-air invitation from CNN president Tom Johnson: "It's official -- he wants you back on `Crossfire.'" Thanks to CNN, Buchanan can wage his never-ending presidential campaign nightly on national television.
DEATH BY CENSORSHIP PRIZE -- CNN's Susan Rook
In November, on CNN's "Talkback Live" hosted by Susan Rook, a caller asked a panel that included comedian Al Franken about the invisibility in mainstream discourse of leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky -- currently one of our country's most prolific writers and most requested lecturers.
FRANKEN: "Susan, we never answered the question about Noam Chomsky. Why do you think you don't see enough Noam Chomsky on CNN?"
ROOK: "Are you asking me?"
ROOK: "Isn't he dead?"
FRANKEN: "No, no he isn't."
ROOK: "I thought he was dead."
NUZZLE THE HAND THAT FEEDS AWARD -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times book critic
In a largely negative review of "Up From Conservatism," Michael Lind's recent book about why he quit the right-wing movement, Bernstein objected to the book's criticisms of some well-funded conservative scholars. Lind is "disagreeable," Bernstein wrote -- "disagreeable especially in his dismissal of a group of distinguished thinkers as little more than the hirelings of an evil system.... For Mr. Lind, the conservatives are a dishonest bunch who decree doctrine irrespective of the evidence, misrepresenting things on the orders of their monied patrons." Two of the monied patrons lambasted by Lind's book are the Bradley Foundation and the Smith-Richardson Foundation. In his review, Bernstein neglected to mention that those two funders had financed Bernstein's research for his 1994 book attacking multiculturalism.
WINE-TO-VINEGAR PRIZE -- Public TV station KQED, San Francisco
Top managers at KQED were so eager to produce a documentary about California winemaker Robert Mondavi that they arranged to get $50,000 in seed money from a Mondavi-funded center for the wine industry -- and lined up $150,000 more from the same source if work on the documentary pleased the center. A public uproar forced cancellation of the project in mid-November. Although independence from commercial sponsors is supposed to be a key reason for public TV's existence, the station still insists there was nothing wrong with the scheme.
LET THEM WATCH ADS AWARD -- Local TV News
Just two weeks before the November election, Rocky Mountain Media Watch conducted a same-day survey of 68 local TV newscasts across the country -- and found very little news about state and local races. About half of the newscasts contained no such news. Sixty-one percent of the 173 election stories that aired on "local" news were about the national presidential race. Since most Americans say they get their news from TV, what they got primarily was political ads: There were nearly three times as many commercials about local and state races as news stories.
FLIPPING FOR BIG MACS AWARD -- Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist
In a pair of December columns (datelined from the McDonald's world headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.), Friedman argued that the fast-food chain exemplifies the beneficent potential of a globalized economy. He hailed McDonald's for showing sensitivity to various cultures and "democratizing globalization so that people everywhere feel some stake in how it impacts their lives." For Friedman, apparently, relishing the corporatization of the planet is an acquired taste.
Space limits preclude honoring more contestants. But competition for the 1997 P.U.-litzer Prizes begins soon -- on New Year's Day.
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