Mar
18
2003

In Iraq Crisis, Networks Are Megaphones for Official Views

Network newscasts, dominated by current and former U.S. officials, largely exclude Americans who are skeptical of or opposed to an invasion of Iraq, a new study by FAIR has found.

Looking at two weeks of coverage (1/30/03-2/12/03), FAIR examined the 393 on-camera sources who appeared in nightly news stories about Iraq on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. The study began one week before and ended one week after Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation at the U.N., a time that saw particularly intense debate about the idea of a war against Iraq on the national and international level.

More than two-thirds (267 out of 393) of the guests featured were from the United States. Of the U.S. guests, a striking 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. Only one of the official U.S. sources-- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.)-- expressed skepticism or opposition to the war. Even this was couched in vague terms: "Once we get in there how are we going to get out, what’s the loss for American troops are going to be, how long we're going to be stationed there, what’s the cost is going to be," said Kennedy on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03).

Similarly, when both U.S. and non-U.S. guests were included, 76 percent (297 of 393) were either current or retired officials. Such a predominance of official sources virtually assures that independent and grassroots perspectives will be underrepresented. Of all official sources, 75 percent (222 of 297) were associated with either the U.S. or with governments that support the Bush administration's position on Iraq; only four out of those 222, or 2 percent, of these sources were skeptics or opponents of war.

Twenty of the 297 official sources (7 percent) represented the government of Iraq, while a further 19 (6 percent) represented other governments-- mostly friendly to the U.S.-- who have expressed doubts or opposition to the U.S.'s war effort. (Another 34 sources, representing 11 percent of officials, were current or former U.N. employees. Although members of the U.N. inspection teams made statements that were both critical of Iraq's cooperation and supportive of further inspections, because of their official position of neutrality on the question of war they were not counted as skeptics.) Of all official sources, 14 percent (43 of 297) represented a position skeptical or opposed to the U.S. war policy. (Sources were coded as skeptics/critics if either their statements or their affiliations put them in that category; for example, all French government officials were counted as skeptics, regardless of the content of their quote.)

The remaining 96 sources-- those without a current or former government connection-- had slightly more balanced views; 26 percent of these non-official sources took a skeptical or critical position on the war. Yet, at a time when 61 percent of respondents in a CBS poll (2/5-6/03) were saying that they felt the U.S. should "wait and give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more time," only 16 of the 68 U.S. guests (24 percent) who were not officials represented such views.

Half of the non-official U.S. skeptics were "persons in the street"; five of them were not even identified by name. Only one U.S. source, Catherine Thomason of Physicians for Social Responsibility, represented an anti-war organization. Of all 393 sources, only three (less than 1 percent) were identified with organized protests or anti-war groups.

Overall, 68 sources, or 17 percent of the total on-camera sources, represented skeptical or critical positions on the U.S.'s war policy-- ranging from Baghdad officials to people who had concerns about the timing of the Bush administration's war plans. The percentage of skeptical sources ranged from 21 percent at PBS (22 of 106) to 14 percent at NBC (18 of 125). ABC (16 of 92) and CBS (12 of 70) each had 17 percent skeptics.

ACTION: Please urge ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS to broaden the sources they rely on in coverage of the Iraq crisis.

CONTACT:

ABC World News Tonight

Phone: 212-456-4040

PeterJennings@abcnews.com

CBS Evening News

Phone: 212-975-3691

evening@cbsnews.com

NBC Nightly News

Phone: 212-664-4971

nightly@nbc.com

PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer

Phone: 703-998-2150

newshour@pbs.org