A tip of the garbage can lid to smelly journalism of '97 P.U.-litzers: From tabloid tyrants to the New York Times, a selection of the year's worst from television and the press.

January 11, 1998|By NORMAN SOLOMON

The P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of America's smellies achievements. Although journalists do not covet these annual awards, the competition remains fierce.

Each year, I sift through hundreds of entries with my colleague Jeff Cohen, who heads the media watch group FAIR. In 1997, many news professionals were deserving, but only an elite few walked off with a P.U.-litzer:

'Not on TV' Award

CBS, NBC and ABC networks

Thanks to thousands of ads urging consumers to buy this or that, TV networks are hugely profitable. But even a single ad urging people not to buy is apparently one too many. That's what anti-consumerism activist Kalle Lasn learned when he offered $15,000 for a network ad promoting "Buy Nothing Day," a 24-hour shopping moratorium on the day after Thanksgiving. The ad points out that "the average North American consumes 30 times more than a person from India." NBC rejected the ad, saying it doesn't "take any advertising that's inimical to our legitimate business interests." CBS' rejection letter said that Buy Nothing Day is "in opposition to the current economic policy in the United States."

Vulgar Excess Prize

Columnist Frank J. Prial

In his "Wine Talk" column published by the New York Times, Prial declared: "The $100-a-bottle wine, once an example of vulgar excess, is now an everyday occurrence." Everyday occurrence for whom?

Three days later, a chart in the Times' business section showed that only 3 percent of California wines retail for more than $14; 59 percent sell for under $3.

Tabloid Tyrant Prize

Publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman

During the height of Dianamania in September, Mort Zuckerman exercised his prerogative as owner of New York's Daily News by firing the top editor, Pete Hamill. The problem? Hamill tried to cut back celebrity and gossip coverage. His last battle with management was over the use of a crude, revealing photo of Princess Diana exiting a car. Hamill lost the fight and the job.

Satanic America Prize

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Washington Times

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the founder and funder of the Washington Times, the daily newspaper preaching conservative-style American patriotism. But Moon, leader of the Unification Church, has developed enormous contempt for the United States.

In a May 1 speech, according to the Washington Post, Moon said: "The country that represents Satan's harvest is America." In another recent speech, he proclaimed that women in the United States are worse than prostitutes, that "God hates the American atmosphere" and that "Satan created this kind of Hell on the Earth." (None of these comments was reported in the Washington Times.)

Right-wing Diversity Award

Public Broadcasting Service

This fall, the Public Broadcasting Service moved to diversify its schedule, which already includes a half-dozen weekly political shows featuring conservatives such as William F. Buckley, John McLaughlin, Ben Wattenberg and James Glassman. So, a new PBS series, "National Desk," will have rotating hosts: White conservatives Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke are joined by black conservative Larry Elder. Now that's diversity.

Ultimate Headline

New York Daily News

"Princess Di Knew O.J. Would Walk"

Public-goes-private Award

Bill Baker, president of PBS affiliate WNET TV in New York

Speaking at a corporate luncheon for representatives of ad agencies, Bill Baker extolled the trends at the Public Broadcasting Service: "Welcome to the new PBS. Corporate messages on PBS get more creative every year. You can show products. You can use slogans." Maybe PBS now stands for the Privatized Broadcasting Service.

Media McCritic Award

Marshall Loeb

A former editor at Fortune magazine, Marshall Loeb became the editor of Columbia Journalism Review, the prestigious mainstream periodical of media criticism. But alarm bells went off about Loeb's standards when he told a gathering of retired journalists: "USA Today is the greatest newspaper in America today."

Off The Charts Awards

The New York Times

Last September, an elaborate chart in the New York Times appeared under a somber headline: "Making War on Israelis: A Deadly Rhythm Since Arab Autonomy." The chart was filled with a list of fatal attacks on Israeli civilians during the previous three years.

Omitted was any mention of the killings of 144 Palestinian civilians by Israeli police and soldiers during the same period.

No Longer Needed Prize

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

From 1993 through early 1997, British correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was known as one of the wildest Clinton-bashing journalists in Washington. His reporting for the London Sunday Telegraph - widely circulated in the United States via the Internet and conservative talk radio - sought to link Bill Clinton to every imaginable conspiracy, from Arkansas drug dealing to Vincent W. Foster Jr.'s "mysterious death."

When Evans-Pritchard headed home to England last spring, he gave this reason for leaving Washington: "Bill Clinton has become such a right-wing president that my services are no longer needed."

Well, the sixth-annual P.U.-litzer Prizes are history. But more competition will soon be under way. And contestants begin 1998 with a clean slate.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books are "Wizards of Media Oz" (co-written with Jeff Cohen) and "The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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