Oct
04
2006

Study Finds Lack of Balance, Diversity, Public at PBS NewsHour

Public TV's flagship news program offers standard corporate fare

(NOTE: Please see the Activism Update regarding this alert.)

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, PBS's flagship news program, touts its "signature style—low-key, evenhanded, inclusive of all perspectives"; Corporation for Public Broadcasting ombud Ken Bode called it "the mother ship of balance." But a new FAIR study finds that the NewsHour fails to provide either balance or diversity of perspectives—or a true public-minded alternative to its corporate competition.

To evaluate the NewsHour's evenhandedness and commitment to the public interest, Extra! studied its guestlist during the six-month period spanning October 2005 through March 2006.

Among the most prominent findings:

  • Public interest groups accounted for just 4 percent of total sources. General public—"person in the street," workers, students— accounted for only 14 percent, while current and former government and military officials totaled 50 percent of all sources.
  • Male sources outnumbered women by more than 4-to-1 (82 percent to 18 percent). Moreover, 72 percent of U.S. guests were white males, while just 6 percent were women of color.
  • People of color made up only 15 percent of U.S. sources. African-Americans made up 9 percent, Latinos 2 percent, and Asian- Americans and people of Mideastern descent made up one percent each. Alberto Gonzales accounted for more than 30 percent of Latino sources, while Condoleeza Rice accounted for nearly 13 percent of African-American sources.
  • Among partisan sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by 2-to-1 (66 percent vs. 33 percent). Only one representative of a third party appeared during the study period.
  • At a time when a large proportion of the U.S. public already favored withdrawal from Iraq, "stay the course" sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5-to-1. In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq.
  • Segments on Hurricane Katrina accounted for less than 10 percent of all sources, but provided nearly half (46 percent) of all African-American sources during the study period. Those African-Americans were largely presented as victims rather than leaders or experts: In segments on the human impact of the storm, African-Americans made up 51 percent of sources, but in reconstruction segments, whites dominated with 72 percent of sources; 59 percent of all African-American sources across Katrina segments were general public sources.

The findings confirmed the results of FAIR's 1990 study of the NewsHour, which found that the PBS news program offered less diversity than ABC's Nightline.

PBS's editorial guidelines emphasize that "the surest road to intellectual stagnation and social isolation is to stifle the expression of uncommon ideas." With at least 15 years on that road, the NewsHour has utterly failed the public it exists to serve.

ACTION: Tell the NewsHour to diversify its guestlist and include more public interest voices.

CONTACT:

PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Phone: 703-739-5000

onlineda@newshour.org

Michael Getler

PBS Ombudsman

Phone: 703-739-5290

Web form: http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/feedback.html

The complete report can be read here: Are You on the NewsHour's Guestlist? (Extra!, 9-10/06) By Steve Rendall and Julie Hollar.