PBS NewsHour – NOT a bastion of diverse news perspectives

| October 8, 2006 | 1 Reply

The NewsHour is allegedly a “low-key, evenhanded [newscast], inclusive of all perspectives.

FAIR studied NewsHour’s guestlist from October 2005 through March 2006 (six months)  To evaluate NewsHour’s claim to evenhandedness and commitment to the public interest. Here’s what Extra found:

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.

Here are the other major findings of FAIR’s study:

At the beginning of the Iraq War, a FAIR study (Extra!, 5–6/03) of six national news shows including the NewsHour found that they featured war supporters almost 24 times as often as war critics: 71 percent of sources took an explicit pro-war stance, vs. 3 percent expressing opposition. Despite PBS’s mandate to offer an alternative to commercial media, the NewsHour in that study fell closely in line with its commercial competition, with 66 percent pro-war sources vs. 3 percent antiwar.

The current study found the NewsHour to have a continued aversion to antiwar voices. During the period studied, polls found a large proportion of the U.S. public to be in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops; according to the CBS News poll (10/3–5/05, 1/5–8/06, 1/20–25/06), those in favor of having “U.S. troops leave Iraq as soon as possible” ranged from 59 percent to 44 percent, while those who supported keeping troops there “as long as it takes” fluctuated between 50 percent and 36 percent.

But watching the NewsHour, viewers might think there was almost no debate on the issue, let alone a sizable constituency favoring withdrawal. Of the 276 NewsHour sources who discussed Iraq, only 53 expressed an opinion on the subject of U.S. troop withdrawal, and only eight of those sources argued in favor of a timetable for withdrawal. (None argued for immediate withdrawal.) Rep. John Murtha (D.-Penn.) accounted for five of those pro-withdrawal sources, meaning only three different voices were heard on the NewsHour advocating withdrawal.

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Category: American Culture, Iraq, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    In defense of the NewsHour, I'd like to point out that the right-wing bias that the FAIR study observed can perhaps be easily explained simply by the fact that the right-wing, as the party in power, is currently "making" more news than are people on the left. Thus, while a majority of guests on the NewsHour during the FAIR study were White Republican men, and relatively few guests were minorities, women, anti-war activists, etc., this likely simply reflects the current political situation in America and, especially, in Washington: White Republican men currently hold most of the power, make most of the big decisions and, thus, "make" most of the news. Logically, they would get most of the air time.

    Indeed, this reasoning would also explain why the NewsHour was accused of "liberal bias" during the Clinton Administration: because that was a time when Democrats were "making" more news — so news stories probably were featuring more viewpoints from the left.

    Accordingly, instead of viewing the FAIR survey results in isolation, we should ask the people at FAIR to do another study that examines NewsHour programming during the sixth year of the Clinton Administration, so we could test to what extent the NewsHour merely reflects the contemporaneous mix of powerbrokers in American politics, rather than some absolute "left-wing" or "right-wing" bias.

    We should, thus, ask what is meant by the term "balance." If warmongers, even without a majority of public support, are, in fact, the predominant powerbrokers at some given time, then perhaps a "balanced" news program would feature a predominant number of warmongers. Likewise, the reverse: if the predominant powerbrokers were peace activists, then perhaps "balance" means featuring more peace activists. If, instead, "balance" were to require the NewsHour to give equal time to every group's point of view, no matter how attenuated that group's actual influence might be at that time, then the program would risk becoming irrelevant; i.e., by reporting on viewpoints that, despite being provocative or even valid, are not actually going to matter.

    Bottom line: when warmongering, prisoner torturing, illegal wiretapping, hurricane victim neglecting, etc., all become _fait-accompli_, then what quantity of opposing viewpoint is needed to provide "balance," especially when the people who should be loudly protesting their opposing viewpoints (e.g., Congressional Democrats) have, by and large, muted themselves? Perhaps the current "right-wing" bias at the NewsHour merely echoes the silence we have heard from Congressional Democrats during most of Bush's tenure.

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