Strange Problems in Distant Lands
Some shows have given an unchallenged platform to extremists.... Conservative clerics have used the airwaves to reinforce prejudice and even urge violence against minorities. Editorial independence is sometimes curtailed by the businessmen who own the stations and unashamedly use them to peddle their interests.
Controversy also surrounds the anchors, some of whom view themselves as players on the national stage rather than impartial observers of its machinations.
—New York Times (6/18/12) on how “the television revolution has...in some respects been bad news for Pakistan”
A Stacked Deck for Obamacare Discussion
After the Supreme Court mostly upheld the Affordable Care Act, PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff (6/28/12) introduced a panel discussion as a chance to get “some reaction and assessment from those who will deal with the law or had worked to overturn it.” And the panel was as narrow as that set-up suggests: At the table was Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobby that fought healthcare reform efforts (Bloomberg, 11/17/10); former Republican Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who sued the White House over the law; and Donald Palmisano, whom PBS host Ray Suarez described as “both a physician and an attorney...who teaches at Tulane Medical School,” but not as the head of the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights, an anti-ACA group tied to a corporate PR firm that specializes in creating fake grassroots organizations (Think Progress, 7/28/09).
There was also one supporter of the law—Ron Pollack of Families USA, an advocacy group that has been criticized (FireDogLake, 6/16/11) for working too closely with corporate health interests, including the drug lobby PhRMA and Ignagni’s AHIP (MotherJones.com, 3/25/10).
And Now, an Interview With Our Sponsor
Launching a PBS NewsHour “series about teachers, testing and accountability in public schools,” anchor Jeffrey Brown (6/4/12) announced, “Our first part includes the views of one of the more outspoken reformers and players in this debate.” That would be Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—which necessitated this awkward disclosure from NewsHour reporter Hari Sreenivasan:
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both funders of this program, are sponsoring the American Graduate initiative to help improve the nation’s high school graduation rates.
Would Gates have been chosen as NewsHour’s lead expert on education if she weren’t a funder of the program? Consider this claim from her interview as a gauge of her expertise:
If you look back a decade ago, when we started into this work, there wasn’t even a conversation across the nation about the fact that our schools were broken, fundamentally broken.
Actually, claiming that U.S. education is “fundamentally broken” goes back at least to the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk by Ronald Reagan’s education commission—an argument that was brilliantly debunked by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle in their 1996 book The Manufactured Crisis. This is not a conversation that started "a decade ago," when Gates entered the field.
We Report—From a Parallel Universe
Fox co-host Eric Bolling (Five, 6/6/12) condemned a lawsuit against the New York Police Department's religiously targeted spying program, saying that in the last 15 years, “Every terrorist on American soil has been a Muslim.” In fact, Muslims are responsible for a tiny fraction of terrorism in the U.S.; as a Rand study pointed out in 2010 (Extra!, 5/11), of the “83 terrorist attacks in the United States between 9/11 and
the end of 2009, only three...were clearly connected with the jihadist cause.”
Bolling has a habit of broadcasting false information about terrorism in the U.S. Last year (7/13/11), he bizarrely claimed there hadn’t been any terrorism on American soil while George W. Bush was in office. He later (7/14/11) amended that to say “in the aftermath of 9/11”—which was equally untrue (FAIR Blog, 7/15/11).
‘Sensitive’ Reporting on Wealthy’s Taxes
When the New York Times (6/7/12) described the idea of having wealthy people pay a greater share of taxes by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire as “politically sensitive,” what did it mean? Reporter Jonathan Weisman explained: “A majority of voters say the federal budget deficit should be tackled with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich.” But that would make taxes on the rich “popular,” not “sensitive,” wouldn’t it?
Weisman digs himself deeper when he backs up that sentence with this polling data: “In an April New York Times/CBS News poll, 56 percent favored boosting the economy by spending on education and infrastructure while raising taxes on the wealthy, against 37 percent who favored cutting taxes and spending." How does a 19-point advantage for stimulus spending combined with progressive taxes translate into voters preferring “a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich”? Maybe that’s a sensitive question.
Bias Toward the Middle
“I don’t see the liberal bias—and I’m trying to—that I hear about. What I do see is a bias toward fairness, a bias toward neutrality, a bias toward false equivalency. That if a Republican has lied, it’s important that we find a Democrat who’s lied and make them equal, whether they are or not.
“Most of us have been raised to believe that there are two sides to every story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And that’s simply not always the case. Sometimes there are five sides to a story, but sometimes there’s just one. Sometimes the truth doesn’t lie in the middle, it lies squarely on one side or the other. [But] you’ll never hear the word ‘lie’ on network news when something is plainly a lie.”
—Aaron Sorkin, creator of HBO’s The Newsroom