[Note: This piece is a sidebar to "Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?"]
The NewsHour features a weekly Friday debate which purports to pit a commentator from the right against one from the left. As a regular segment featuring NewsHour employees rather than outside sources, the segment was not included in the study, but it deserves mention, as it reinforces the NewsHour’s preference for right and center opinions over those from the left.
Just as he praised the NewsHour for its supposed balance, CPB ombud Ken Bode (CPB.org, 9/1/05) has singled out the weekly debate as a notable part of that “balance”: “Over the years, the regular NewsHour commentators, Mark Shields vs. Paul Gigot or David Gergen or, now, David Brooks, are a clear balance of liberal vs. conservative. But these commentators know how to disagree without being disagreeable. A balanced, civil dialogue.”
While it might be civil, it’s hard to support the claim that the debate is balanced. Over the years, the NewsHour’s “right” chair has been filled by movement conservatives. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and former editor for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, currently holds down the conservative chair. When Brooks is unavailable, Rich Lowry, the even more staunchly conservative editor of the National Review, often substitutes for him. Paul Gigot, one of Brooks’ predecessors, was also an editor for the Journal editorial page. Even David Gergen, questionable in the eyes of some conservatives because of his work for the Clinton administration, was hired by a triangulating Bill Clinton for his solid Republican credentials: heading Richard Nixon’s speechwriting team, acting as a special counsel to President Gerald Ford and serving as communications director for the Reagan White House.
The NewsHour’s “left” chair is a different matter. For years, these movement conservatives have been pitted against Mark Shields, a moderate whose own publicity once boasted that he was “free of any political tilt” (Extra!, 7-8/90). Shields’ most frequent substitute on the NewsHour is mildly liberal Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant.