Nowhere to be found in MRC’s analysis, for instance, are these statements by network reporters, all of which present administration positions critical of environmental regulation: “[T]he report also suggests an upside. Growing seasons in northern areas could last longer, crops and timber become more plentiful, therefore cheaper. Fuel bills could be lower. There could be more warm weather for construction or recreation,” said NBC’s Robert Hager.
And, according to MRC, Plante “was the only correspondent who included a conservative criticism.” But MRC fails to note that Moran didn’t include quotes from anyone, including environmentalists, in his short report for ABC.
Also, it reveals that its criticism is actually extremely narrow: “None of the networks even hinted at the wide array of scientists who still reject that premise [that climate change is real and caused by human activity].” But CBS did quote an oil industry executive who said, “It’s not wise public policy to go to the most extreme outcome and say that’s reality.” Given that NBC also included quotes from Rush Limbaugh, who called the report “gloom and doom” and mocked it by saying, “George W. Al Gore, anyone?” it’s clear that MRC’s headline claiming that the networks whitewashed the debate is blatantly untrue. The only factual claim MRC can back up is that the criticism didn’t come from scientists.
A recent media advisory from FAIR reaches exactly the same type of misguided conclusion about media coverage of the aborted coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Titled “U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move,” the piece selectively quotes from numerous newspaper editorials to make it appear that they supported a coup against Chavez, much as the Bush administration was initially accused of having done. But most examples singled out for scorn by FAIR were ambiguous at best.
FAIR criticized the Chicago Tribune, for instance, for editorializing that “It’s not every day that a democracy benefits from the military’s intervention to force out an elected president” and characterizing the paper as “excited by the coup.” While this quote on its own might give such an impression, FAIR omits the Tribune’s extensive criticism of Chavez for his antidemocratic policies. “Chavez, however, had gone to great lengths since gaining [the presidency] in 1999 to forfeit his legitimacy,” the editorial stated, noting that he “weakened the opposition-controlled congress, politicized the military, stripped the judiciary of its independence, and curbed the press.” In that context, it’s clear the quotation selected by FAIR far from indicated “excitement” by the Tribune.
Even more maliciously, FAIR slams a follow-up editorial in the Tribune two days later by saying that the paper “seemed to suggest that the coup would have been no bad thing if not for ‘the heavy-handed bungling of [Chavez's] successors.’” The entire quote, however, reads, “Chavez had managed to alienate most Venezuelans before Friday, and his resurrection owes much to the heavy-handed bungling of his successors.” The Tribune was explaining how the bungled coup made Chavez’s return to power possible, not that it “would have been no bad thing.”
Long Island’s Newsday is similarly taken to task, accused of “offer[ing] a number of reasons why the coup wasn’t so bad,” in an April 13 editorial. Again, however, the paper was simply criticizing Chavez’s policies – it called coups “a lamentable Latin American tradition.”
And the one newspaper that actually apologized to its readers for not condemning the coup was still criticized by FAIR. The New York Times admitted that its first editorial on the coup “overlooked the undemocratic manner in which [Chavez] was removed” and slapped itself hard on the wrist: “Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer.” Yet this was characterized as “half-apologizing” by FAIR. It even describes the Times’ hope that Chavez’s policies will improve — “We hope Mr. Chavez will act as a more responsible and moderate leader now that he seems to realize the anger he stirred” — as the paper “[standing] its ground … on the value of a timely military coup for teaching a president a lesson.”
FAIR and MRC also mirror each other when it comes to the frequent alerts they send to readers. FAIR’s “action alerts” call for readers to contact the media asking for more balanced coverage on stories the group deems biased, while MRC’s near-daily CyberAlerts are advertised as “tracking liberal media bias since 1996.” Often, however, these alerts don’t prove bias; they simply prove that the media sometimes interviews people or makes comments that FAIR and MRC don’t like.
FAIR, for instance, recently took National Public Radio to task in an “action alert” titled “NPR’s One-Sided ‘Liberal Media’ Debate.” It notes, “Though the program cited a poll suggesting that [claims of conservative and liberal media bias] are believed by substantial numbers of Americans (36 percent see a rightward slant, vs. 46 percent who see a tilt to the left), only one of those points of view got a full hearing on NPR.”
FAIR fails to make the obvious point, though, that the NPR piece it criticizes was focused on two recent books criticizing the media for being too liberal, one of which, Bernard Goldberg’s “Bias,” was a bestseller. The first segment of the show featured the two authors (Goldberg and William McGowan, author of “Coloring the News”), while the second featured two longtime reporters discussing Goldberg and McGowan’s perspective, disagreeing with parts and agreeing with others based on their own experiences. FAIR’s complaint that NPR did not include “progressive media critics with an opposing view” therefore holds little water. How is it unfair to feature the authors of two books that criticize the media for being too liberal and then interview two journalists to seek their perspective?
In “tracking liberal bias,” meanwhile, MRC’s “CyberAlerts” often do little more than present evidence of anything liberal ever said in the media, as if all liberal statements are evidence of liberal bias. For instance, a CyberAlert about media coverage of the recent arrest of Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al Muhajir, for allegedly planning to detonate a dirty bomb leads with this:
“Terrorists had a plan to detonate a dirty nuclear bomb, but CNN’s Aaron Brown was much more interested in the rights of the captured suspect. Brown’s lead: ‘An American citizen, Abdullah al Muhajir, is being held in a military brig with no access to a lawyer, none of the other rights afforded to a citizen …’ CBS’s Dan Rather fretted about John Ashcroft’s motives: ‘The arrest was made May 8th. It’s not clear why Ashcroft chose to reveal this a month later with great fanfare while traveling in Russia.’”
These statements are insufficient as evidence of bias on their own, yet MRC presents them as such. Both present legitimate political issues being debated at the national level. And MRC admits later in the alert that the other networks did not present similar reports, writing that Rather had a “hostile attitude toward the story not displayed by ABC or NBC.” The entire case, then, that coverage of the Padilla case is biased is that two of four major news stories framed the story in ways that MRC didn’t like.
It appears that both groups’ real beef is that perspectives they disagree with are aired at all.
Perhaps the worst part of all this is that the methods of these ideological media watchdogs are spreading, with more and more commentators adopting their tactics of selective quotation, and lumping together all reporting they don’t like under the rubric of “media bias.” This is not only lazy; it is intellectually dishonest.
One is forced to conclude that FAIR and MRC are falling well short of their self-professed goals to, respectively, “invigorate the First Amendment” and “bring balance and responsibility to the news media.” The American press, so desperately in need of less ideology and more objectivity, is worse off for their failure.