"Media Matters," week ending October 22; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

"Listen, I have to say this -- I had to protect my family, this is my fault. I was stupid, and I'm not a victim, but I can't allow certain things to happen. And I appreciate your support, we get thousands of letters, but I'm not -- I am stupid. I am a stupid guy, and every guy listening knows how it is. That we are very stupid at times." -- Bill O'Reilly, on the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him

Week ending October 22, 2004
www.mediamatters.org
action@mediamatters.org

This week:

Under pressure from MMFA, shareholders, and general public, Sinclair abandoned plans to broadcast Stolen Honor -- but will proceed with "news" program anyway

Misplaced media priorities: Kerry's Mary Cheney remark got more coverage than Bush's bin Laden falsehood

Right-wing pundits turn increasingly hateful and angry

CNN repeatedly reported pro-Bush polling numbers, while ignoring numbers that favor Kerry

Can't get a flu vaccine? Conservatives blame trial lawyers -- but NIH official says they're wrong

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

"Listen, I have to say this -- I had to protect my family, this is my fault. I was stupid, and I'm not a victim, but I can't allow certain things to happen. And I appreciate your support, we get thousands of letters, but I'm not -- I am stupid. I am a stupid guy, and every guy listening knows how it is. That we are very stupid at times."

-- Bill O'Reilly, on the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him

Under pressure from MMFA, shareholders, and general public, Sinclair abandoned plans to broadcast Stolen Honor -- but will proceed with "news" program anyway

Under pressure from Media Matters for America and a wide array of organizations, media critics, advertisers, and concerned citizens, Sinclair Broadcast Group backed down from plans to air an anti-John Kerry film, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, in its entirety. But Sinclair still plans a "news" broadcast, focusing largely on Kerry's Vietnam-era activities, set to first air October 22. It remains to be seen how "balanced" the broadcast -- which is preempting regular prime-time programming -- will be. But the mere act of Sinclair forcing its stations to air, little more than a week before Election Day, a special broadcast focused on allegations against one candidate suggests a partisan political motive. MMFA will have more on Sinclair's broadcast, A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media, after it airs.

Sinclair's decision not to air Stolen Honor came after MMFA offered to underwrite a shareholder action against Sinclair, demanding that the company offer equal time to people with views opposing those expressed in Stolen Honor. Glickenhaus & Co., with help from MMFA, noted that Sinclair's partisan actions were hurting shareholders; the company lost more than $100 million in shareholder value after announcing it would broadcast Stolen Honor.

Misplaced media priorities: Kerry's Mary Cheney remark got more coverage than Bush's bin Laden falsehood

In a near-perfect illustration of everything wrong with the media today, Senator John Kerry's accurate and respectful reference to Mary Cheney's sexuality during the last presidential debate got far more media scrutiny than President George W. Bush's inaccurate denial that he had ever said he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden.

Kerry, in noting Mary Cheney's sexuality, was merely echoing her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, who discussed the topic in answering a question about gay marriage at an August campaign event. Bush, in attacking Kerry for "one of those exaggerations," wasn't telling the truth: as widely noted, Bush did say in 2002 that he was "truly not that concerned" about bin Laden.

But the debate didn't spark serious discussion and scrutiny in the media of Bush's false attack on Kerry for "exaggerating," or his dishonesty in denying having made a comment that was readily available on video, or (most importantly) why the president of the United States isn't concerned about the man who orchestrated the most devastating attack on American soil since the Civil War and who is still at large.

No, instead, the media focused on ... Mary Cheney's sexuality -- which was already known, which had already been discussed in public by her father, the vice president, and which was the topic of respectful comments by Kerry.

A Media Matters for America review of the six days following the debate found that the Kerry quote appeared in nearly four times as many news stories as the Bush quote, and was referred to in nearly three times as many.

Right-wing pundits turn increasingly hateful and angry

Nearly three months ago, Media Matters noted:

In recent weeks, conservative commentators and pundits have become increasingly angry, shrill, and nasty. Perhaps depressed, perhaps desperate, or perhaps just mean, right-wing pundits from Bill O'Reilly to Michael Savage to Tucker Carlson have increasingly resorted to petty insults, name-calling, and hate speech.

MMFA launched a flash ad illustrating the hateful, angry rhetoric coming from right wing pundits.

But we didn't anticipate the level of hostility and offensiveness we've seen lately:

  • Ann Coulter said on October 20 that "Democrats want Saddam back" and referred to "oily Jews."
  • Sean Hannity angrily berated Senator Mary Landrieu, saying, "I think you're a lousy senator, okay?" and "You're not the vice president. And I doubt you ever will be."
  • Republican pollster and right-wing pundit Kellyanne Conway equated a reference to Mary Cheney's sexuality to saying "Your daughter is a slut."
  • Not to be outdone by some young upstart, veteran hate-monger Pat Buchanan said "homosexuality is an affliction, like alcoholism."
  • CNN Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson, meanwhile, compared homosexuality to adultery.
  • Similar to Buchanan, FOX News Channel FOX & Friends co-host E.D. Hill compared Kerry's comment about Mary Cheney to telling "an alcoholic's family ... '[T]hat kid of yours sure is a wino, but you know, you're really dealing with it well and I'm sure that he has no choice about being a wino.'"
  • FOX News Channel managing editor Brit Hume tried to support and defend the recent statement by Maryland comptroller and former governor William Donald Schaeffer that "people who have AIDS are a danger ... [and] they bring it on themselves."

CNN repeatedly reported pro-Bush polling numbers, while ignoring numbers that favor Kerry

CNN has repeatedly reported polls that show good news for President George W. Bush, while ignoring polls that are more favorable to Senator John Kerry -- even when they are more recent than the polls CNN reports.

On October 18, Inside Politics host Judy Woodruff gave an assessment of the presidential race by combining the results of five recent polls -- CNN/USA Today/Gallup, Newsweek, TIME magazine, ABC/Washington Post, and IBD/TIPP -- into a "poll of polls" of likely voters that showed Bush with a five-point lead. But, inexplicably, the "poll of polls" didn't include two fresh polls that showed the race tied: one by Zogby, one by Rasmussen.

That same day, a CNN graphic read "Polls: Bush's favorability rating rose from 51% to 55%." But that was a misuse of the plural, and a misleading claim: only one recent poll showed Bush's approval at 55 percent, while three others showed it between 49 and 51 percent.

The next day, CNN anchor Daryn Kagan claimed that a "comprehensive overview of five post-debate polls shows the Bush campaign having a bit more breathing room; it shows Bush with a four-percentage-point lead, just beyond the margin of error." But the "overview" wasn't "comprehensive" -- it omitted the most recent poll, as well as three other post-debate polls. Coincidentally, all four of the polls omitted from the "comprehensive overview" showed better results for Kerry than the polls used in the "overview" showed.

Kagan was also wrong about that "four-percentage-point lead" -- it wasn't "just beyond the margin of error," it was well within the margin of error. The on-screen graphic indicated that the margin of error was four points; what Kagan (or her CNN writers and producers) should know by now is that margins of error apply independently to both numbers. Thus, for a lead to be "outside" a four-point margin of error, the lead must be more than eight points.

Also on October 19, CNN host Rick Sanchez referred to a weeks-old poll that showed Bush with a seven-point lead in Ohio -- despite the fact that there were no fewer than five more recent Ohio polls, all of which showed a closer race and the most recent of which gave Kerry a two-point lead.

On October 21, Woodruff was at it again, reading a series of state polls, all of which were quite favorable for Bush. But for at least three of the states -- New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Michigan -- there was more recent polling that showed better results for Kerry.

Can't get a flu vaccine? Conservatives blame trial lawyers -- but NIH official says they're wrong

Following Senator John Kerry's recent criticism of President George W. Bush's alleged failure to anticipate the current nationwide shortage of flu vaccinations, conservative media figures have quickly echoed Bush's claim that medical liability is the major cause of the shortage. But, according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a division of the National Institutes of Health, fear of liability is "only a very small part" of the vaccine shortage.

In the October 13 presidential debate, Bush claimed: "Vaccine manufacturers are worried about getting sued, and therefore they have backed off from providing this kind of [flu] vaccine." Bush's claim was quickly repeated by The Weekly Standard, which declared that "Vaccines are the one area of medicine where trial lawyers are almost completely responsible for the problem." FOX News Channel hosts Bill O'Reilly and E.D. Hill, appearing on O'Reilly's radio show, also agreed with Bush.

But, as MMFA noted this week:

Fauci says that medical liability is "only a very small part of the problem," according to an October 20 Associated Press article. "More significant, he said, are the low profit margins vaccines provide, unpredictable demand and the complexity of the manufacturing process," the AP reported. Fauci declined to mention medical liability during a seven-minute interview on the October 19 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, though Hume asked him about the causes of the current shortage. According to his biography on the NIH website, "Dr. Fauci serves as one of the key advisors to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues, and on initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness against possible future bioterrorist attacks."

Similarly, Jim Young, president of MedImmune, Inc., which manufactures the intranasal vaccine FluMist, testified before the House Government Reform Committee that the lack of predictably high demand for the vaccine -- not the threat of legal liability -- posed the biggest deterrent to producing additional supplies, according to an October 19 report on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. In his prepared remarks, Young urged the federal government to raise demand by "universally recommend[ing]" flu vaccinations "for all Americans," which, he said, would "provide the impetus on the part of vaccine manufacturers to increase their production capacity."

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