NBC News advanced unsubstantiated claims of liberal bias in public broadcasting

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN & TERRY KREPEL

In a May 25 NBC Nightly News report, correspondent Campbell Brown reported claims of liberal bias in public broadcasting by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and Cliff Kincaid, an editor at the conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media (AIM), but the report provided no evidence to support these allegations and offered no assessment about whether they are credible.

Brown's report quoted Tomlinson saying that he is seeking "balance" in public television and reported that his "chief target" is the PBS program NOW, which he complained has featured mostly "left-wing" guests. But Brown provided no evidence to support or refute Tomlinson's claim. In fact, Tomlinson's claim is based on a content review of NOW he reportedly commissioned in 2004 at a cost of $10,000 to taxpayers. But Tomlinson has never released this review to the public or to the CPB board, and Media Matters for America has been unable to find any report on the identity of the firm that conducted it.

Brown's report also featured AIM's Kincaid stating that "the bias is noticeable" in public broadcasting. But Brown provided no specific evidence for this assertion -- either from Kincaid or elsewhere. She merely parroted conservative complaints that "from public radio stories that look critically at Israel's policies in the Mideast to television stories on the negative effects of oil drilling in environmentally protected areas ... what you see and hear is far too liberal." Nor did Brown note that AIM is a conservative group with questionable credibility. Since right-wing economist Reed Irvine founded AIM in 1969, the group -- and especially Kincaid -- has repeatedly advanced unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories:

  • During the 1999 war in Kosovo, Irvine and Kincaid accused the Clinton administration of "demonizing" then-Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic -- currently on trial at the Hague on charges of genocide and war crimes. Irvine later defended Yugoslavia as "a sovereign state that was trying to suppress a secessionist rebellion" and accused President Clinton of starting the war to divert attention from various scandals surrounding him [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/30/99; Washington Times, 7/11/99].
  • AIM is a longtime promoter of the conspiracy theory still popular among some conservatives that Clinton White House counsel Vincent Foster was murdered, despite numerous reports, including an investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, concluding that Foster committed suicide.
  • A February 1 "AIM Report" repeated misleading allegations that "officials of the United Nations ... started a campaign blaming the U.S. for being 'stingy' and 'slow' to respond to the Asian tsunami disaster." In fact, the U.N. official who made the "stingy" remark, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Jan Egeland, was referring to Western countries as a whole and never singled out the United States.
  • A February 25 commentary by Kincaid falsely claimed that the controversy over Jeff Gannon, a Republican activist posing as a White House reporter, began because the "liberal-dominated" White House press corps "went ballistic when Gannon's pointed question to the President was picked up by Rush Limbaugh." In fact, Limbaugh did not "pick up" Gannon's question; on the contrary, Gannon's question was based on a false statement Limbaugh had already made about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Limbaugh later bragged that he inspired Gannon's question. Kincaid also defended Gannon's scant journalistic credentials, claiming that "Gannon actually passed through a journalism training program at the Leadership Institute." In fact, the conservative Leadership Institute's "journalism training program" is a $50 two-day seminar with a stated mission to train "conservatives who want a career in journalism." In a February 28 commentary, Kincaid defended Gannon's work and the idea that his softball questions were encouraged by the Bush White House: "Why wouldn't the White House want to support conservative-style journalism? Only the far left finds this repugnant."

AIM received nearly $3.8 million in funding from conservative foundations between 1985 and 2003, much of it from foundations controlled by conservative billionaire financier Richard Mellon Scaife.

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