Mar 1 2003

Another Stealth Assault on Liberties?

Muted media response to Ashcroft's proposed Patriot Act II

The Department of Justice has secretly drafted a sweeping sequel to the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Despite the draft legislation’s authoritarian provisions–including one that would empower the government to strip Americans of their citizenship if they participate in the lawful activities of any group that the attorney general labels “terrorist”–mainstream U.S. media have responded with only a handful of news stories. The news was broken on February 7 by the Center for Public Integrity, which obtained and published a full copy of the DOJ’s draft “Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003” or “Patriot Act II” legislation. According to the […]

Mar 1 2003

Fear & Favor 2002 — The Third Annual Report

How power shapes the news

Introduction It would be hard to overstate the impact of news media in shaping public opinion, on issues from healthcare to plans for war. With media such an influence on us, it’s crucial that we understand who’s influencing media. FAIR’s annual Fear & Favor report is an attempt to chart some of the pressures that push and pull mainstream journalists away from their fundamental work of telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may. These include pressures from advertisers, well aware of their key role in fueling the media business; from media owners, who frequently use their […]

Mar 1 2003

The Stossel Treatment

Selective editing and other unethical tactics

Sometimes John Stossel’s technique is no different from the sensationalism of any other tabloid TV entertainer. Witness his report on “dwarf tossing” (20/20, 3/8/02), in which he professed indignation at “busybodies” who want to stop the practice. “Dave Flood is a dwarf who is angry because his rights are being violated,” declared Stossel. “He wants to be tossed.” But Stossel’s approach can transcend the merely embarrassing, becoming careless or unethical. His reports are billed as news, but they sometimes rely on questionable methods such as deceptive editing that distorts arguments made by interviewees, the exclusion of facts that might conflict […]

Mar 1 2003

Disrespect, Distortion and Double Binds

Media treatment of progressive black leaders

It is appropriate for reporters and pundits to challenge, criticize and disagree with public figures of all races; indeed, it is a central part of their jobs. At the same time, media commentators should avoid name-calling, stereotypes and other distractions from substantive discussion about ideas or proposals; represent people’s ideas and statements fairly; and portray their actions and beliefs accurately. Sadly, when it comes to African-American leaders who challenge the status quo, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and professor and author Cornel West, these standards are frequently violated–including, in some cases, by African-American commentators. Discussing […]

Mar 1 2003

‘A Chapter From Tomorrow’s History Books’

In reporting on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation on Iraq at the U.N. Security Council, many media outlets gave more credence to his allegations because Powell is considered by media insiders to be both supremely trustworthy and a reluctant warrior. As a USA Today headline put it (2/6/03), “Case Is Stronger When ‘Biggest Dove’ Makes It.” Or as Time magazine gushed (2/17/03): “Powell, we sometimes forget, is a phenomenon, a chapter from tomorrow’s history books walking right in front of us. It isn’t just the unique resume that demands respect; it’s also the presence and the personality–the unforced authenticity […]

Mar 1 2003

CNN’s Reliably Narrow Sources

Media show's exclusive guestlist reinforces biases

In a nation where news media are criticized from every imaginable direction, it’s reasonable to assume that a media criticism show would include guests offering a wide range of critical viewpoints. With that in mind, FAIR took a look at CNN‘s Reliable Sources, studying its guestlist to see how many critical voices were heard on the program that claims to “turn a critical lens on the media.” Airing weekly for more than a decade, Reliable Sources is hosted by Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz. Built around guest interviews, with an average of three or four guests each week, the […]

Mar 1 2003

Give Us a Break

The world according to John Stossel

ABC News reporter John Stossel enjoys a special position in broadcast network news: Though not usually often identified as a commentator, Stossel is routinely allowed to use his one-hour primetime specials and his regular “Give Me A Break” features on 20/20 to explicitly promote his personal ideological agenda–from singing the virtues of corporate greed to attacking child labor laws–a perspective that is distinctly different from the generally muted centrism that pervades broadcast TV news. While there is a long and honorable tradition of U.S. journalists with definite points of view who hoped that their reporting would have a political impact–from […]