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The 1,242nd CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Tuesday March 12, 2002 (Vol. Seven; No. 41)
Printer Friendly Version

Upset Bush Not Focusing on Osama; Media Money Goes to Politicians; Concerned About Conservative Bias & Jingoism; Dave Praised Koppel

1) ABC obsessed with Osama bin Laden. Claire Shipman complained about President Bush's speech: "The most wanted terrorist in the world didn't figure into the speech at all." After Condoleezza Rice insisted that she and Bush don't talk about bin Laden regularly, an incredulous Shipman asserted: "It is hard to believe that the President of the United States and his National Security Adviser aren't discussing bin Laden with some regularity. This is the man who perpetrated September 11th."

2) Last Thursday on CNN's Inside Politics, Howard Kurtz took up how the networks, which ignored the defeat of a campaign finance reform provision which would have hurt the bottom lines of the local stations they own, are large contributors themselves to House and Senate members.

3) On three occasions during his PBS NewsHour look at the cable networks, Terence Smith raised the topic of FNC's conservative bias, yet he never suggested CNN or MSNBC might be liberal. The transcript of his interview with CNN chief Walter Isaacson shows, that in a portion not aired, Smith worried about whether the media "went overboard" with "jingoism."

4) David Letterman realized that compared to terrorist attacks, "what I'm talking about here tonight...is trivial, pointless and downright silly." In announcing that he's staying at CBS, he praised Ted Koppel for symbolizing "the absolute highest echelon of broadcast achievement" and argued that "at very least," he "deserves the right to determine his own professional future."

5) Tonight on ABC's NYPD Blue: An abortion clinic bombing.


ABC's Osama bin Laden obsession. While the other networks on Monday night reported on how in his speech Monday morning on the South Lawn President Bush predicted the war on terrorism is far from over as he warned about nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists and terrorist states, ABC uniquely focused its entire story on what Bush didn't say.

     "Noticeably absent from that update, one name," Claire Shipman noted, "Osama bin Laden." She drove home her point: "The most wanted terrorist in the world didn't figure into the speech at all." After National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice insisted that she and the President don't talk about bin Laden regularly, an incredulous Shipman asserted: "It is hard to believe that the President of the United States and his National Security Adviser aren't discussing bin Laden with some regularity. This is the man who perpetrated September 11th."

     In contrast, Dan Rather, for instance, set up the CBS Evening News story: "At somber White House ceremonies President Bush issued another warning that the war on terrorism is far from won and that there's more sacrifice ahead. CBS's John Roberts reports the President said the war will be judged by its finish, not by its start."

     Shipman began her March 11 World News Tonight report: "The President offered a progress report today on the war on terrorism. He says that with Afghanistan no longer a hospitable climate for terrorists, the hunt will now go global. But noticeably absent from that update, one name: Osama bin Laden." After a clip of Bush she stressed: "But the most wanted terrorist in the world didn't figure into the speech at all, part of a strategy to downplay Osama bin Laden."

     Shipman asked Rice: "How often do you and the President discuss Osama bin Laden these days?"
     Rice: "The President and I discuss Osama bin Laden very rarely. We are very focused, the President, in particular, is very focused on the network."
     Shipman acted incredulous: "But it is hard to believe that the President of the United States and his National Security Adviser aren't discussing bin Laden with some regularity. This is the man who perpetrated September 11th."
     Rice: "We are not fixated on Osama bin Laden."

     Shipman continued, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "The silence on bin Laden, a marked contrast to what the President was saying last fall."
     First Bush clip: "There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'
     A second Bush clip: "His heart has been so corrupted that he's willing to take innocent life.
     A third Bush clip: "I consider bin Laden an evil man."
     Shipman explained why bin Laden is being downplayed, as she insisted he's the one "preoccupied" with him: "Some in the administration worried that too much talk about bin Laden would be risky, would make him the only measure of success in a complicated operation. But whatever the President says or doesn't say in public, sources tell us he remains preoccupied with bin Laden. It's the first thing he wants to hear about in his daily intelligence briefings. And behind the scenes, the hunt is also a top priority. Sources, in fact, tell ABC News that there is what is called a special bin Laden and al-Qaeda leadership cell, or special unit, at the CIA staffed by hundreds with an unlimited budget, and most interestingly, Peter, the ability to act almost instantaneously if agents believe that they have bin Laden in their sights."

     Maybe ABC's priorities had something to do with ABC's the then-upcoming prime time special, The Hunt for Osama bin Laden.


Last Thursday on CNN's Inside Politics, in a piece which also aired Saturday night in an abbreviated form on Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz took up how the networks, which ignored a campaign finance reform provision which would have hurt the bottom lines of the local stations they own, are large contributors themselves to House and Senate members.

     Picking up on how during the appearance of Enron executives at a House hearing CNN had put on screen how much the Congressman speaking had received from Enron, Kurtz observed: "House Energy Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin does not think it's fair for CNN to be suggesting, implying, or insinuating that there's something wrong with taking corporate contributions. In fact, he says, he's gotten plenty of money from big media companies as well, more than $70,000 since the last election cycle."
     Tauzin told Kurtz: "Well, your network has been a big supporter of mine over the years. And so has NBC and ABC and CBS. Did we hammer you when we thought you were wrong? See, the bottom line is, it doesn't matter whether you have been a friend or foe."
     Kurtz explored his thesis: "The Congressman is right on this point: The networks are big-time givers. Since the 2000 election cycle, NBC's owner, General Electric, has given $3.1 million in federal races; ABC's owner, the Disney Company, $2.6 million; CBS's owner, Viacom, $1.6 million; Fox's owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., $1.4 million; Chicago's Tribune Company, which owns numerous TV stations, $112,000. CNN's parent, AOL Time Warner, has doled out $5.6 million, including the period when America Online and Time Warner were separate companies.
     "What do these media giants get for their money? The House recently took up an amendment, pushed through the Senate by Robert Torricelli, to force networks and local stations to give deeper advertising discounts to federal candidates at election time. But the National Association of Broadcasters, which has donated $525,000 in the last three years, put on a full-court press. And the House voted overwhelmingly to cut the amendment from the campaign finance bill. Billy Tauzin voted to kill the ad discount [on screen: Got $15,000 from National Association of Broadcasters]."

     Kurtz concluded his March 7 story, the transcript of which the MRC's Ken Shepherd checked against the tape: "Why haven't you heard about this? NBC, ABC and CBS have not carried a word. And cable has barely mentioned the amendment. It seems like we ought to do a better job to make sure that corporate money and media money keep popping up into the story."

     Of course, the fact that those in the newsrooms, whom overwhelmingly favor greater campaign speech regulation, don't mention how their corporate parents will benefit or not from a particular provision is no surprise since they independently pursue a liberal agenda without regard for what their owners are up to. The corporate executives have no day-to-day say over the content of news programs. They may set budgets, but they don't decide what a Capitol Hill reporter will report. Network owners come and go, but the same news division personnel remain -- Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer are working for their fourth owner, ABC's news staff under Peter Jennings is under its third owner and neither GE with NBC or Time Warner with CNN has done anything to alter the make-up of the newsroom ideology.


More on PBS's slanted look at the cable news networks. The March 7 CyberAlert recounted how Terence Smith fretted on PBS's NewsHour over FNC's conservative bias. Part of his proof, that Andrew Tyndall found that of six analysts featured by FNC "three were from explicitly right-wing publications and three were from mainstream publications. None was from an explicitly left-wing publication." Amongst those from the mainstream: Newsweek's Eleanor Clift.

     For details on that point: http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2002/cyb20020307.asp#5

     At the end of that item, I promised more on the PBS assessment, and now I'm finally getting to it. The big picture: After never doing a story on how ABC or CBS or NBC or CNN or MSNBC or even PBS itself might possibly be sort of left of center, Smith discovered nefarious conservative bias at FNC. (In January the NewsHour did bring on Bernard Goldberg to debate liberal bias with Marvin Kalb, but that was not equivalent to news story about the bias on the networks.)

     On three occasions during his March 5 piece, Smith raised the topic of FNC's conservative bias, yet in discussing with CNN chief Walter Isaacson how FNC had surpassed CNN in the ratings, instead of suggesting that maybe CNN is too liberal, he allowed Isaacson to proclaim that "when people really need the news, and they want journalism they can count on, they'll go to CNN."

     The posted transcript of Smith's interview with Isaacson reveals that he did raise a liberal tilt with Isaacson, only to wonder if "that makes any sense to you?" -- but that didn't make it onto the air. The question: "Surveys will also show that people regard CNN as liberal, somewhat to the left of center. Does that make any sense to you?" During that interview Smith was more worried about whether CNN and other outlets have been too "jingoistic" in war coverage.

     On the NewsHour, Smith relayed FNC's ratings success:
"In January, Fox attracted an average of 1,091,000 viewers in prime time, while CNN had 921,000. MSNBC trailed with 358,000. Small numbers compared to the broadcast networks, but influential in setting the national news agenda. And among viewers aged 25-54, much loved by advertisers, Fox again came out on top -- this, despite the fact that CNN is available in nine million more cable households than Fox."

     Smith soon turned to Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister for an explanation of FNC's rise. She suggested: "You could argue that viewers are clearly looking for an alternative to straight news, which is what CNN and also MSNBC, to a lesser degree, have been offering for years -- that viewers want more entertainment; they want more oomph in their news."
     Smith, however, sensed something more sinister: "But are they getting something more than oomph from Fox, such as a distinctly conservative slant on the news? At the corporate level, Fox denies that it is right of center, asserting that its product is 'fair and balanced. But anchor Brit Hume concedes that Fox saw an opening when it looked at the other channels."
     Brit Hume, FNC's Washington Managing Editor: "Surveys have shown, going back, you know, as long as you and I can remember, that people have perceived a leftward tilt in the basic coverage that they get on TV news from everywhere. There was therefore, we believed, a market that, if we could do a more balanced product, people would be attracted to that, if we could just let them know it's out there."
     Smith: "Walter Isaacson is chairman and CEO of CNN. He sees a real distinction between Fox's coverage and his network's."
     Isaacson: "It may not be as ideological or as edgy, and sometimes it may not be as sort of exciting as some other places, but when people really need the news, and they want journalism they can count on, they'll go to CNN. Sometimes it may pale in the ratings when people are looking for something flashy or more entertaining, but don't take your eye off the ball of this core mission, which is journalism."

     A bit later Smith returned to his concern: "Is Fox's appeal explained by its programming or its politics? To find out, the NewsHour commissioned Andrew Tyndall, the publisher of The Tyndall Report, a newsletter that monitors television news, to do a content analysis of the evening programming on the three cable news networks. He found sharp differences.
     Tyndall: "CNN is the reporters' network; Fox News Channel is the opinion makers' network; MSNBC is the confused network."

     Smith summarized Tyndall's take, mixed with network clips: "CNN, he found, adheres to what he called an 'objective and cool interviewing style.' By contrast, Tyndall found that the Fox house style is hot."
     Shepard Smith, FNC anchor: "Jihad Johnny is on his way back to the United States."
     Smith: "Many interviews are presented in a confrontational format."
     Hannity: "What if your little peace experiment while you're singing Kumbaya doesn't work and innocent people die again, how would you feel?"
     Smith: "Especially those in its talk shows which dominate the evening schedule and set a tone for the network."
     Bill O'Reilly: "So what do you want to do? Declare war on every country?"
     Smith: "Fox's top draw in the evening, Bill O'Reilly, asks questions in an opinionated and combative style, Tyndall found. Fox often favors interview guests with partisan, legal, and military backgrounds. Special Report with Brit Hume relies on a panel of frequently conservative in-house analysts, spending five times as many minutes per broadcast on such panels as CNN."
     Tyndall: "It's interesting that of the panel of six journalists, six print journalists that we saw appearing on that panel during the week we looked at it, three were from explicitly right-wing publications and three were from mainstream publications. None was from an explicitly left-wing publication."

     See the March 7 CyberAlert linked above for the decimation of that ludicrous analysis.

     Smith noted: "Tyndall discovered a pattern."
     Tyndall: "All through Fox's primetime programming, you can see deliberate, strategic decisions that have been made -- not the same decision in each program, but all the way through, different types of decisions which emphasize having an opinion, examining the ideology, knowing what the points of view are about news stories, rather than merely reporting the facts."
     Smith: "And you see it again and again?"
     Tyndall: "Yes, again and again."
     Smith: "Tyndall believes that Fox's loud style serves as a megaphone for an underlying ideology. Brit Hume sees it differently."
     Smith to Hume: "You referenced polls that have shown a public perception of a liberal or left-of-center tilt in television news. Do they then perceive a conservative or right-of-center tilt at Fox?"
     Hume: "They may very well, but what we hear people say is, 'Thank you for being fair. Thank you for being balanced.' So my sense of that is that within the media world, among my colleagues, the conventional wisdom is we're a right-wing network. I don't accept that view, and I don't think our viewers do either."

     I'd agree that Tyndall is on target about FNC's preference for prime time shows which discuss rather than report the news -- though the addition of Greta Van Susteren after Tyndall's study period gave a prime time hour to a liberal crusader. But there's a big difference between an opinion show like The O'Reilly Factor and an hour of news on Special Report with Brit Hume or the Fox Report. That's just like Crossfire does not accurately convey how CNN presents the news during NewsNight, though I believe recent CyberAlerts have documented quite convincingly how CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown pursues a liberal agenda on many nights.

     And while Tyndall may consider Larry King to be non-ideological, to whatever extent that's true it's because of the non-political topics the show often features, not because King isn't ideological. Just watch any show about a cutting issue with a left-right split. It's quite clear which side he favors. King refers to "right-wing wackos," but I've yet to hear him utter the phrase "left-wing wackos."

     Smith later got as close as he ever did to suggesting anything like bias at CNN: "CNN's Isaacson trooped up to Capitol Hill early in his tenure to meet specifically with Republican leaders in Congress, some of whom had criticized the fairness of his network."

     In the transcript of Smith's interview with Isaacson, as posted by the NewsHour, Smith gave him a chance to dismiss the thought of any liberal bias: "Surveys will also show that people regard CNN as liberal, somewhat to the left of center. Does that make any sense to you?"
     Isaacson insisted: "I think it's really important that we try to be straight and try to be fair, and, yes, you can look around and occasionally [ask] did we get that exactly in balance? And that's part of my job, is to keep pushing, to say, 'Are we fair? Are we showing all sides of this? Do we have our journalistic integrity?' And to me, that's the core role I'm supposed to be playing at this network, and every now and then, yeah. I say, 'Let's push back a little bit here, or push back there.' But it can come in a variety of forms."

     During a portion of the interview not shown by PBS, the MRC's Ken Shepherd noticed, Smith worried about whether the media "went overboard" with "jingoism" in war coverage: "One of the controversies after September 11th -- and I wonder what you think of it -- has been the suggestion of jingoism in the press, people wearing flag pins in their lapels, using language very supportive of the war effort and that sort of thing. And you had a memo that was published about balance. Tell me what you think about that, whether you think the news media went overboard and what you were trying to accomplish with that memo."
     Isaacson: "I think it's very important to have a sense of balance in covering the war, but you don't have to be morally neutral about terrorism. Terrorism is a horrible thing that is the great threat to civilization on our planet. So I wanted to make sure that even as we covered all aspects of the war, we kept in mind what had caused this war, which is an act of horrible terrorism."
     Smith pressed further: "When you looked at the media generally, did you see jingoism and flag waving that offended you or influenced you one way or the other?"
     Isaacson: "I was mainly looking to make sure that CNN captured the right tone after September 11th."
     Smith: "You didn't want to see any flag pins on CNN?"
     Isaacson: "I think that's up to the various anchors and the various people. We didn't decree any rules in that regard."

     Bottom line: When Terence Smith, a CBS News reporter during the 1980s and early 1990s who previously toiled for the New York Times, looks at the media he has two concerns: Conservative bias and too much nationalistic jingoism.

     No wonder he and his media elite colleagues are baffled by the success of the Fox News Channel.

     For the transcript of the Isaacson interview:

     For a transcript of the NewsHour story and video of it:

     For the NewsHour page on the cable news segment, with links to the above two items as well as a transcript of the Hume interview and Tyndall's full study results:


As I so presciently predicted last week, David Letterman will be staying on CBS -- leaving ABC with a very upset Ted Koppel.

     In making the announcement Monday night on the Late Show, Letterman put all the controversy in some perspective by noting that compared to the terrorist attacks, "I recognize that what I'm talking about here tonight...is trivial, pointless and downright silly." He also praised Ted Koppel for representing "the absolute highest echelon of broadcast achievement" and argued that "at very least," he "deserves the right to determine his own professional future. He deserves absolutely no less than that."

     Before getting to his more serious remarks, Letterman joked: "I figured out what I'm going to do. I'm going to get a face-lift then I'm going to Fox News. That is exactly what I am going to do."

     Letterman then observed: "I recognize that what I am going to talk about here tonight is ridiculous when you consider what happened on this day six months ago. Six months ago today New York City was attacked, Washington DC also attacked. I recognize that what I'm talking about here tonight, by comparison, is trivial, pointless and downright silly, but please bear with me."

     On potentially displacing Koppel, he stated: "I just need to say a word about Ted Koppel. Now Ted Koppel has been on this show 3 or 4 times and to me, personally, he's always been a gentleman, he's a great guest and he's very funny, I mean he's really funny. He might be actually too funny for a newsman. Very, very funny. Back in 1979 Ted Koppel began Nightline, and then, as you recall, it started out as a nightly report on American hostages being held in Iran, so that's 23 years ago. In 1979, coincidentally, that's when I had my first show business job -- I was running errands for Jim Nabors.
     "The point is that Ted Koppel -- what he has done and his contributions to American culture -- speak for themselves. He is one of a very small group of men and women who represent the absolute highest echelon of broadcast achievement, without question. I've never been in a situation like this in my life, the whole thing has made me dizzy. The one thing I know for a fact: Ted Koppel, at the very least, at the absolute very least -- because of his contributions and because of the kind of guy he is and the kind of show he runs and what he has done for this country and the world of broadcasting -- this guy, at very least, deserves the right to determine his own professional future. He deserves absolutely no less than that.
     "So what I have decided to do, and this has not been a very easy decision for me -- I have decided to stay here at CBS and I want to thank...[APPLAUSE] I know it sounds pretty good to you folks, but there goes the vacation to Disney World."

     He added: "I just want to say a word about the folks at ABC. I would rather ride naked on the subway than go through what these people had to go through the last couple of weeks. To me they were gracious and generous and very, very patient. Whatever you decide to do at 11:30, I wish you the best. And my personal hope is that it will continue to be occupied by Ted Koppel and Nightline for as long as that guy wants to have that job -- because that's just the way it ought to be."

     The above quotes were based on a transcript provided by Letterman's staff to the TV Barn site, (http://www.tvbarn.com/), but they won't match what you may see quoted elsewhere since I corrected them against what Letterman actually said on the show as aired.

     Going to the first commercial break, the Late Show used as a bumper a clip from a previous program of Letterman and Koppel out on West 53rd Street on roller blades.


A potential political edge on tonight's NYPD Blue on ABC. From the show's plot summary on ABC's Web site:
     "Sipowicz and Clark investigate the firebombing of an abortion clinic that resulted in the death of a security guard...."

     The Web page for NYPD Blue: http://abc.abcnews.go.com/primetime/nypdblue/index.html

     NYPD Blue airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST/PST, 8pm CST/MST.

     A week-and-a-half ago, CBS's First Monday had a plot revolving around death threats against an abortion doctor and threats against the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, including a dead rat or something in her school backpack. But on that show it turned out the abortion clinic's security guard was behind it all in an effort to generate sympathy for his employer.

     Let's hope NYPD Blue does not confuse criminal murderers who place bombs with those in the pro-life movement who work within the system to change minds and the law. -- Brent Baker


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