Nov
01
2005

Face-Off

[Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Failing At Its No. 1 Goal."]

Although occasionally Washington Journal will have on two or more guests at one time, debates between guests are a rarity. In the first years of its decade-long run, however, the show hosted more such debates—and FAIR routinely criticized C-SPAN for the show’s habit of pitting right-wing guests against centrists or mainstream reporters. An April 26, 1996 letter to C-SPAN from FAIR’s Jeff Cohen explained the problem:

It’s fine to pair an advocacy journalist of the left with a journalist of the right (e.g., Joe Conason vs. National Review’s O’Sullivan on April 26), but often C-SPAN pairs a partisan rightist with a centrist. Many times this involves an advocate from a conservative publication (like the Weekly Standard) facing off against a mainstream daily reporter who may shy away from unbridled advocacy due to codes of objectivity. Or it involves advocates from rightist policy groups or publications facing off against centrists. (Recent examples: the Washington Times’ Arnaud de Borchgrave and former reporter Dan Oberdorfer on April 8; rightist M. Stanton Evans and Marvin Kalb on January 15.)

Others made similar observations, including one Washington Journal guest who brought up the problem during her appearance. On May 16, 1997, Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser debated right-wing media critic Brent Bozell. Noting the awkward pairing, she grilled C-SPAN host and founder Brian Lamb: “Do you typically have a conservative and then somebody who is just a journalist? Is that the typical match-up?”

Now that one guest at a time seems to be the rule, imbalance on Washington Journal is harder to spot anecdotally. But as Extra!’s study of the show indicates, Washington Journal still falls short of its declaration of balance in several departments.