May 1 2011


NBC’s Dodgy Coverage of GE’s $0 Tax Bill

When General Electric paid no taxes to the U.S. government in 2010 on worldwide profits of $14 billion (New York Times, 3/25/11), the news was at first ignored by NBC, the network that GE owns 49 percent of. On cable’s MSNBC, also co-owned by GE, host Lawrence O’Donnell (3/25/11) did criticize his employer’s tax avoidance—but the much larger audience for NBC’s broadcast news was left in the dark, though Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on the Today show (3/24/11) found time to mention that GE was offering a special Prince William/Kate Middleton-themed refrigerator.

After questions were raised about NBC’s non-coverage (Washington Post, 3/30/11), NBC Nightly News (3/31/11) finally took a look at the story—in a report that mainly provided an opportunity for GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to rebut criticism. “Today Immelt defended GE, saying taxes were unusually low in the last two years because of losses during the financial crisis,” said correspondent Lisa Myers. “Immelt says that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, including GE, and that the corporate tax code needs to be reformed to make it more competitive and eliminate loopholes.”

Yes, NBC allowed its boss to argue that the fact that GE pays no taxes is a reason to lower its tax rate.

USA Today’s Advertiser-Friendly Future The AP (3/23/11) describes USA Today’s new business plan:

The nation’s second-largest newspaper is expanding its coverage of advertising-friendly topics, designing content for smartphones and tablet computers and refreshing the look of its print edition, whose circulation has fallen by 20 percent over the past three years…. For readers, it means lots of travel tips, gadget reviews, sports features, financial advice and lifestyle recommendations.

The AP notes that USA Today also promises “to produce more hard-hitting coverage from an expanded team of investigative reporters.” As long as they keep doing deceptive stories about how public workers are paid too much (Extra!, 1/11), that could be pretty advertiser-friendly too.

Ending a War & Other ‘Trivial Pursuits’

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (3/20/11) skewered House Republicans for calling an “emergency meeting”: “Republicans, in an urgent budget-cutting maneuver, were voting to cut off funding for National Public Radio. All $5 million of it—or one ten-thousandth of 1 percent of the federal budget.” But the rules of centrist journalism require any criticism of the GOP to be balanced by criticism of the Democrats: “Democrats would have been in a good position to point out the Republicans’ lack of seriousness, except they were engaged in their own trivial pursuit.”

And what was this foolishness? “On Thursday, the same day the Republicans were doing battle with Diane Rehm, the House was also debating a bill by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) ordering full withdrawal from Afghanistan by year’s end.” In Milbank’s view, eliminating public radio to save 0.0001 percent of the federal budget and ending a nine-year war opposed by nearly two-thirds of Americans are equally “trivial.”

Hearts, Minds and Dead Children

A U.S. helicopter killed nine Afghan boys out gathering firewood in Kunar province on March 1—an attack Gen. David Petraeus said he would “personally apologize” for (AFP, 3/2/11). This story merited only two reports on the nightly network news: An 80-word item on NBC Nightly News (3/2/11), and a brief ABC World News Sunday (3/6/11) report on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s “harsh words for the U.S.” after the “mistaken killing.” On the PBS NewsHour, the nine children received two brief mentions (3/2/11, 3/7/11) during the “other news of the day” segment, while NPR, MSNBC and Fox News did not mention the story, according to a search of the Nexis news database.

CNN’s coverage included this exchange (3/2/11) between anchor Don Lemon and correspondent Michael Holmes:

MICHAEL HOLMES: I mean, just another terrible thing. We’ve seen this happen before.

DON LEMON: Yes. Sad all the way around. He [Petraeus] did apologize, but still.

HOLMES: It does a lot of damage to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. You don’t win hearts and minds that way.

LEMON: Absolutely. Thank you, Michael.

NYT’s Retro Rape Reporting

Blaming the victim is a longstanding problem in rape coverage (Extra!, 3-4/91), and a New York Times piece (3/9/11), about Cleveland, Texas, a town where 18 men and boys were charged in the gang-rape of an 11-year-old girl, suggests how little progress has been made. The Times’ James McKinley reported that the East Texas town was asking itself “how could their young men have been drawn into such an act,” and provided this as part of the answer:

Residents…said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

After widespread complaints about the piece’s tone (Mother Jones, 3/9/11), and a column by the paper’s own ombud (3/11/11) saying “the outrage is understandable,” McKinley and another Times reporter returned to the story, producing a piece (3/29/11) that put the focus where it belonged—on the crime and its

aftermath, not on the child victim’s appearance.

Who’s Heaped With Scorn?

Under the headline “Teachers Wonder, Why the Heapings of Scorn?,” a New York Times article (3/3/11) reported that “education experts say teachers have rarely been the targets of such scorn from politicians and voters.” Politicians, maybe (see Extra!, 4/11), but does the general public really hate teachers? Evidence suggests they’re far from the most despised profession: A recent Gallup poll (11/19-21/10) asked people how they viewed the “honesty and ethical standards” of various professions. Elementary school teachers’ ethics were rated “very high” or “high” by 67 percent; 22 percent gave those ratings to newspaper reporters.