If I Do Say So Myself
Fox News’ commentary on George W. Bush’s second inaugural address (1/20/05) included Weekly Standard editor William Kristol praising Bush for “a very eloquent speech…one of the most powerful speeches, one of the most impressive speeches, I think I’ve seen an American president give.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer was also on hand to call the speech “revolutionary” and compare Bush to John F. Kennedy. Somehow both Kristol and Krauthammer forgot to mention that they had been called in as advisers to help craft the speech they now marveled at as a work of genius, as the Washington Post pointed out (1/22/05).
Answering a letter-writer that accused his show of leaning to the right–citing frequent appearances by conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris and Tony Snow–Fox News‘ Bill O’Reilly retorted (2/17/05), “As opposed to Juan Williams, Ellis Henican and Lanny Davis? Come on. We balance things out here. Everybody knows that.” It’s an odd definition of balance; looking at transcripts of the O’Reilly Factor from November 1, 2004 until February 17, we found those three conservative guests appearing 26 times, including three stints by Snow as guest host; O’Reilly’s liberals showed up 13 times, or half as often.
A poll on Bill O’Reilly’s website found that 97 percent of his online fans think CNN has a left-wing bias. O’Reilly thought this made perfect sense (2/17/05), “because they don’t have a conservative commentator on CNN that anybody can remember.” Hmm… Bob Novak, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, Kate O’Beirne, Mary Matalin, Lynne Cheney, Victoria Clarke, Jonah Goldberg…and on and on. Perhaps none of them are as memorable as Bill O’Reilly. But who is, really?
No Politics Is Local
TV news producers must have never heard former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s axiom that “all politics is local.” A study sponsored by the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California found that in the month before last November’s election, local news broadcasts devoted eight times as much time to car wrecks and other accidents as they did to U.S. congressional, state legislative and other local races. Only 8 percent of local news broadcasts in that month mentioned any of these races (New York Times, 2/14/05).
Avoiding the Whole Point
Just before declaring that her current three-year term would be her last, PBS president Pat Mitchell announced an internal inquiry into why the children’s show Postcards From Buster featured a segment including lesbian mothers–because, she said, PBS “wants to avoid confusion and controversy.” Apparently she’s forgotten that, as described by the Carnegie Commission that provided public broadcasting’s mandate, PBS was intended to “provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard” and to “be a forum for debate and controversy.”
In an article comparing a new Russian television network produced by the Russian Defense Ministry to “Soviet-like agitprop,” New York Times Moscow correspondent Steven Lee Meyers (2/11/05) distinguished the Russian military channel from the Pentagon’s Armed Forces Network, which, he pointed out, broadcasts only “to service members on bases abroad.” Someone should tell Meyers about the Pentagon Channel, the Defense Department’s new network for and about the military, carried since February 8 by the Dish Network–and thus broadcasting to domestic American audiences. The military channel’s lineup includes shows such as Studio Five, featuring conversations with Department of Defense officials, and Focus on the Force, highlighting military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Dish Network describes the offering as “public interest”–which apparently is another way of saying “state television.”
Who Are “They”?
“Not since they tore down that famous statue of Saddam Hussein has Iraq experienced something so powerful, so dramatic,” ABC‘s David Wright said of the elections in Iraq (ABC World News Tonight, 1/31/05). It’s an odd comparison, since the statue-toppling has been exposed as a stunt staged by a U.S. Army psychological operations team to look like a spontaneous Iraqi expression of liberation. “Ultimately, a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain,” an L.A. Times article reported (7/3/04), “but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.”
“All across America, news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions. Long gone are the days of fast-talking, whiskey-swilling Murray Kempton peers eloquently filling columns with daily dish on government scandals, mobsters and police corruption. The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism, the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person’s apartment in mid-January.”
—Newsday reporter Laurie Garrett, explaining in a memo to her colleagues why she was leaving the paper (Romenesko, 2/28/05)