Skip to comments.Networks Blamed for Using Political Activists as Repeat 'Victims'
Posted on 07/14/2003 2:53:49 AM PDT by kattracks
(CNSNews.com) - An elderly political activist who was repeatedly portrayed by CBS News as a typical victim of the high cost of prescription drugs, now admits the network "probably" should have disclosed her lobbying interests during her numerous on-air appearances.
Viola Quirion, who favors the Medicare reforms that would provide elderly Americans like herself with a federally subsidized prescription drug plan, might not be considered a typical senior citizen to many people - given her extensive political lobbying background, which includes advocating on behalf of the Alliance for Retired Persons.
But that's the way she was portrayed by CBS News on at least three occasions since 1999 -- most recently in May of this year.
When asked by CNSNews.com whether CBS News should have identified her as a political activist for reasons of fairness and accuracy, Quirion responded: "Well, probably."
Quirion has testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Alliance for Retired Americans. The group's stated goal is to "ensure social and economic justice" by "enroll[ing] and mobiliz[ing] retired union members and other senior and community activists into a nationwide grassroots movement advocating a progressive political and social agenda."
Quirion, who is a member of the Maine Council of Senior Citizens, also participated in the state of Maine's successful legal defense of its drug price control plan. Yet, CBS News never revealed any of Quirion's background when using her as a source in its news stories.
But Quirion maintains that her appearances on CBS News were benign.
"I just got interviewed and answered their questions and that's it," she explained.
When pressed as to whether she believed CBS News correspondents had any knowledge of her political and lobbying activities, Quirion responded, "Well, they didn't ask anything about it and I didn't mention anything."
In June, the Media Research Center (MRC), the parent organization of CNSNews.com , exposed the practice of network news programs recycling senior citizen activists for health care policy debates. The MRC revealed that both the CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight featured senior citizen Eva Baer-Schenkein in two separate broadcasts, two years apart, complaining about different ailments and why the Republican prescription drug plan was inadequate.
"Networks need to either find the truly apolitical victims, or else they have a duty to notify the viewers that this victim is bearing a partisan or political agenda," explained Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center.
'Same liberal activists'
CBS News appears to have repeatedly failed to reveal the backgrounds of its interview subjects, according to a new study conducted by the website, www.RatherBiased.com. The network featured the same seven elderly women 23 times during its coverage of the prescription drug subsidy debate without disclosing the political activist backgrounds of the women, the study alleged.
"Out of the 40 million people who are currently on Medicare, CBS News decided to turn to the same seven people on over 23 occasions," said Matthew W. Sheffield, co-director of RatherBiased.com. The website monitors CBS News anchor Dan Rather, whom it labels one of "the most politicized journalists of our time."
"It's bad enough that CBS News chose to air the same liberal activists over and over again as representative of public opinion, but added to that is they didn't bother to inform the viewer," said Sheffield. "It makes you wonder who's running things at CBS, objective journalists or the AARP." The AARP was formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.
CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told CNSNews.com that the network would "check it out," referring to the network's repeated use of the same senior citizen activists. However after several days of phone calls and e-mails, Genelius failed to respond to questions for this article.
Another senior citizen activist prominently featured on network newscasts is Pat Roussos, an AARP "Connecticut Community Coordinator" who "oversees the state's 72 chapters" according to an AARP Newsletter.
NBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell featured Roussos in a June 23, 2003 segment of NBC Nightly News . O'Donnell made reference to "... 77-year-old Pat Roussos of Connecticut, who suffers from arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure." O'Donnell went on to mention that Roussos' "out-of-pocket drug costs now are as much as $6,500 a year."
The MRC was quick to criticize NBC News for being "sneaky" in not identifying Roussos and her activist affiliation. The MRC called Roussos "part of a political lobbying campaign by a liberal group, the AARP, which consistently pushes for ever bigger government and more spending."
'I wasn't a ringer'
But Roussos fired back at the Media Research Center and defended NBC News for not identifying her as an AARP official.
"I got [the MRC report] off the Internet. I don't think it was fair at all. I think it was a tempest in a teapot," Roussos told CNSNews.com.
Roussos said despite her political affiliations, she has the same challenges that other American senior citizens face.
"I wasn't a ringer ... I don't get paid [by AARP], I am a volunteer ... I am a typical victim," Roussos explained. "[AARP] give[s] you a title instead of paying you. That's the way it goes," she added.
Roussos is also unconcerned about how the network newscasts presented her background to viewers.
"Whatever they want to do is okay with me," she said. The networks chose her over millions of other retirees, Roussos said, because she could articulate the prescription drug issue.
"I think the reason I get the [news] coverage I get is I don't stumble over things and I have a pretty clear idea of what I think, so I don't think it's particularly favoritism as far as AARP goes," Roussos explained. "We also have 35 million members so it's natural to look to [AARP] for people to react," she added.
But Graham of the MRC believes the network news broadcasts need to reform the way they present "victims" to the viewing public.
"Viewers believe these victims are utterly apolitical, average Joes and Josephines, with no connections to the lobbyists pushing for more government programs," Graham said.
But "the networks clearly contact the lobbyists who shop them the victims," Graham alleged.
Several attempts to contact NBC News spokeswoman Barbara Levin for comment were not returned.
'Dirty little secrets'
Sheffield of RatherBiased.com called the practice of using stealth activists as typical victims "one of the dirty little secrets of television news."
"Activist groups feed helpless looking people to the network and the networks are desperate for someone to tell a story in a television friendly way," Sheffield explained.
The news networks don't see the practice as a problem because "they don't see them as liberal activists," Sheffield said. "They just see them as people who have been wounded by the system."
Sheffield's study also found that CBS News has not featured a single conservative policy advocate during its coverage of the prescription drug debate since the beginning of the Bush presidency, an example, Sheffield said, of ongoing liberal media bias.
"At the very least the networks should disclose where the [activists] are from or talk to some conservative activists," he said.
Jim Martin, president of the conservative senior citizen group, the Sixty Plus Association, agreed.
"I have been called upon less than a half-dozen times by what is commonly referred to as the mainstream media," Martin told CNSNews.com , despite the fact, he said, that the Sixty Plus Association has received nearly a half million individual donations.
"The majority of those occasions when I have been called with reference to prescription drugs ... or health care or judicial nominations, the contact was typically made for purposes of accusation. It's always, 'Who are you fronting for?' types of questions," Martin added.
E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.
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The dark underbelly of the "greatest generation". They were great on foreign policy, without doubt. But domestically, for 50+ years, the WWII generation has consistantly voted for the architects of U.S. socialism.
Nice, ain't it?
OK .. Fine .. but who paying her to be a volunteer ??
So they see the problem also, they just are trying to hide it. Unbeliveable!
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Wow! I really need to figure a way to work this into my business plans... people will work for you for only a fancy title.
I have absolutely NO problems calling a person, who will maintain barb wire fences, Senior Engineer in Charge of Cattle Containment Division.
Same here. Same for a growing number of people. People watch and read the news to be informed. When CBS and the New York Time are caught manufacturing the news it drives more and more people to Fox, talk radio, and FreeRepublic.
If you cannot believe the news you are seeing then there is absolutely no reason watch it.
CBS and the NYT are losing customers that will never ever return to them.