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This week, Media Matters released the results of an exhaustive study of the guests who have appeared on the three major Sunday morning political shows since 1997. The study, covering former President Clinton's second term, President Bush's first term, and 2005, shows classified nearly 7,000 guests by political party and ideology and found that Republicans and conservatives have far outnumbered Democrats and progressives on the Sunday shows.
The study, "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An Analysis of the Sunday Talk Show Guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005," was supervised by Media Matters Senior Fellow Paul Waldman, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and the author of, among other books, The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World (Oxford University Press, 2002), which he co-wrote with media researcher Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Among the key findings:
- The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton's second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush's first term, Republicans/ conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005, the figures were an identical 58 percent to 42 percent.
- Counting only elected officials and administration representatives, Democrats had a small advantage during Clinton's second term: 53 percent to 45 percent. In Bush's first term, however, the Republican advantage was 61 percent to 39 percent -- nearly three times as large.
- In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, conservative journalists were far more likely to appear on the Sunday shows than were progressive journalists. In Clinton's second term, 61 percent of the ideologically identifiable journalists were conservative; in Bush's first term, that figure rose to 69 percent.
The study also provides new evidence of the unprecedented positive media coverage from which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) benefits. Media Matters found that McCain has been by far the most frequent Sunday show guest over the past nine years, making 124 appearances -- 50 percent more appearances than the runner-up, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE). McCain has been granted 86 solo interviews -- more than Biden's total appearances, and nearly twice as many solo interviews as anyone else during the past nine years.
Media Matters' report drew an immediate response from NBC and CBS.
NBC responded by challenging our methodology and calling the study "intellectually dishonest," suggesting that we cherry-picked the time frame included in the study (nine consecutive years) in order to skew the results. Setting aside the question of why one would consider Meet the Press' guest list "balanced" if you have to go back more than nine years to find data supporting that conclusion, it's worth noting that NBC's own data confirms our findings.
NBC's claim that we cherry-picked data is simply amusing in light of the fact that, as Media Matters explained, it pulled a bait-and-switch in its response to our report:
In addition, you write of your figure of 56 percent Democrats to 44 percent Republicans during Clinton's first term: "How different is that from the first term of President Bush? Well, it's basically the same -- according to Media Matters' own findings -- Republicans accounted for 58 percent of all guests on Sunday shows in President Bush's first term and Democrats accounted for 42% of appearances." But here you are comparing not just apples to oranges, but Granny Smiths to Clementines. Those figures -- 58 percent Republicans/conservatives to 42 percent Democrats/progressives during Bush's first term -- represent all guests on all shows, not simply Democrats and Republicans on Meet the Press. The figure for Republicans and Democrats on Meet the Press during Bush's first term, to repeat, was 62 percent Republicans to 38 percent Democrats, a difference of 24 percentage points, twice as large as the figure you offered for Meet the Press during Clinton's first term.
So, NBC argued that Meet the Press' guest list during the first Clinton term was tilted towards Democrats to the same degree that it tilted towards Republicans during Bush's first term. But in so arguing, NBC used data for all Sunday show guests during Bush's first term, not for Meet the Press guests, thus minimizing the actual disparity.
The response by CBS News Public Eye weblog editor Vaughn Ververs was even more curious. Ververs took issue with the entire premise of Media Matters' study, arguing that "the most obvious and troubling" problem with the study is the "intra-party dynamic." Ververs explained:
For example, while Media Matters says it classified former Democratic Senator Zell Miller as a "conservative" for his role as an outspoken critic of his own party, the study also makes much of the fact that Republican Senator John McCain has appeared 174 times in the period covered. There's no doubt whatsoever that Miller supported President Bush's re-election and appeared on these programs as an advocate of his policies, particularly on the war. There's also no doubt that John McCain has built his career largely on being a "maverick" within his own party and someone the media traditionally turns to for Republican-on-Republican criticism.
In other words, in challenging Media Matters' conclusion that the Sunday show guest lists skew to the right, Ververs points to the frequency with which McCain appears on the programs.
The notion of McCain as "independent" and a "maverick" is so deeply ingrained in the minds of many reporters, they actually point to his frequent appearances on the Sunday shows as evidence there is not a rightward tilt to those programs. Never mind that McCain has run for president as a Republican, that he campaigned for George Bush, that he supports the Iraq war. Never mind that NARAL-Pro Choice America has given him a zero rating for the last decade. Never mind that he hasn't received a rating higher than 50 percent from the National Education Association in this century. Never mind that the right-wing John Birch Society gave him a rating of 90 in 2004, or that the Christian Coalition gave him an 83. Never mind his support for diverting taxpayer funds to religious schools, or his support for Social Security privatization. To Ververs, none of that seems to matter; John McCain is the Republican equivalent of Zell Miller.
Ververs went on:
And when it comes to categorizing journalists on the panels, I'm not sure how that works. I'll certainly buy columnist Bob Novak as a conservative, but I think you'd get some real arguments from Republicans by classifying David Broder as a "centrist."
We have no doubt some Republicans would really argue that Broder is a progressive rather than a "centrist" -- but those arguments could hardly be described as "real."
Media critic Eric Alterman had a more favorable reaction to Media Matters' study -- and effectively, though indirectly, refuted Ververs' complaints about our classifications:
What's more, despite its having been produced by a liberal think thank, the study's grading of the guests--where the rubber hits the road -- is extremely generous to the right-wing side, and therefore precludes any credible complaints that it's a product of liberal bias. For instance, liberal-hater Joe Klein, together with war-supporters Peter Beinart and George Packer, are coded "progressive," and Cokie Roberts and David Broder, who openly detest both Clinton and Gore while frequently apologizing for Bush--together with former GE chairman Jack Welch and Mrs. Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell--were classified as "neutral." (Remember how quick Mitchell was during the 2004 debates to accuse Kerry of "demagoguery" for daring to criticize her husband?)
Indeed, as far as critical commentary goes, with the occasional exception of E.J. Dionne, there's not a single unapologetic liberal on any of these shows, save perhaps an annual appearance as a kind of anthropological curiosity. Tune in to every show every week for a year, and you are unlikely to see Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Rick Hertzberg, Harold Meyerson or anyone associated with The Nation, The American Prospect, The Washington Monthly, The New York Review of Books, Salon, In These Times, Mother Jones or even the liberal remnant inside The New Republic.
When you think about it, it is a tribute to the American people that they remain as receptive to liberal arguments as they do, given how infrequently they hear them.
Media Matters' Sunday show study also drew the attention of conservative attack organizations. Desperate to maintain the imbalance in Sunday show guests that serves them so well, RightMarch.com -- a conservative activist organization with ties to Randall Terry and Lou Sheldon -- and other groups have lashed out at the Media Matters study. The well-funded RightMarch.com, which reportedly sent millions of emails to its list during the Terri Schiavo debate, has sent an email to its subscribers urging them to write letters to newspapers complaining about "how liberally biased the mainstream media is." The RightMarch.com email denounced Media Matters' study as "totally skewed" and "obviously WRONG" -- though not only did it offer no specific criticism of the study or its methodology, another study it touted as "a SERIOUS study on media bias" has been discredited.
Click here to counter this desperate and baseless attempt by RightMarch.com to undermine our study.
Last weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a man in the face after consuming alcohol earlier in the day, then refused to comment publicly about the shooting for several days.
And L. Brent Bozell III, president of the right-wing Media Research Center, led a chorus of conservatives denouncing the media for covering the story.
Remember: Bill and Hillary Clinton didn't shoot Vince Foster, and the media spent years covering the "story," at the prodding of Republican activists. Rush Limbaugh still brings up Foster's death a decade later. As recently as 2000, Bozell himself wrote of Hillary Clinton's then-planned memoirs, "Personally, I want to hear about Vince Foster."
But now, Bozell and many others don't think the media should have covered the fact that the vice president of the United States shot a man in the face. They thought Hillary Clinton not shooting Vince Foster was newsworthy, but they now think Cheney shooting a man is not.
Perhaps the oddest assessment of what is newsworthy and what is not came from Fox News. After days of silence, Cheney agreed to an exclusive interview with Fox anchor Brit Hume on Wednesday. After the interview, Hume dismissed the suggestion that Cheney chose Fox News knowing it would be a friendly venue: "If they want to say that, that's fine. Let people look at the transcript of the interview."
Without question, one of the most significant new revelations to come out of the interview was Cheney's acknowledgement that he had consumed alcohol at lunch before accidentally shooting his friend in the face.
Yet Fox News chose not to broadcast that acknowledgement, as Media Matters explained. Instead, Hume paraphrased Cheney's comments, thus sparing the Vice President the potential embarrassment of repeated television airing of a video clip of his acknowledgment that he was drinking before he shot his friend. Worse, the decision not to broadcast Cheney's acknowledgement that he had "a beer" but that "nobody was under the influence" deprived viewers of the opportunity to assess Cheney's demeanor and credibility as made the comments.
Fox even omitted that portion of the interview from the video it posted on its web page -- video it touted as the "full interview," even though it wasn't.
Hume also failed to ask Cheney some of the most obvious -- and important -- questions raised by the shooting incident and Cheney's handling of it. During the interview with Hume, Cheney took responsibility for the shooting, and absolved his victim of blame. Given Cheney's comments, an obvious -- perhaps the most obvious -- question would have been "If the shooting was your fault, why did you allow your designated spokespeople to spend three days saying it wasn't your fault and blaming your victim?" Perhaps followed by "Have you apologized to Mr. Whittington for allowing your surrogates to smear him?" Or "Did you surrogates blame Mr. Whittington on their own, or did you instruct them to?" Or "Have they apologized to Mr. Whittington?"
Hume asked none of these questions; asked nothing like them. He made no attempt to address the disconnect between Cheney's statement that he, and not Mr. Whittington, were at fault and the three-day blame-the-victim smear campaign launched on Cheney's behalf.
He did, however, ask Cheney if he hit the quail he was aiming for when he shot his friend in the face.
Good thing we got that cleared up.
Fox's strange decision not to broadcast Cheney's drinking admission isn't the only recent example of a television news organization deciding not to broadcast video that could be embarrassing for the Bush administration.
A Media Matters review found that television news outlets, cable and broadcast alike, have virtually ignored video of Bush lying about domestic spying.
In April 2004, Bush said, "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires ... a court order." That statement, as we now know, is demonstrably false: Bush himself has now admitted that he has ordered domestic wiretaps without court orders. Yet in the 66 days between the time White House press secretary Scott McClellan was first asked to explain Bush's 2004 remarks in light of current evidence that he was lying and February 13, CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, and CBS aired video of Bush's 2004 statement only 16 times.
By comparison, those same news outlets aired video of President Clinton's January 1998 statement denying a relationship with Monica Lewinsky 73 times in the 66 days after his August 1998 acknowledgement that, in fact, such a relationship had occurred.
Video of Clinton's lie about sex was broadcast nearly five times as often as video of Bush's lie about warrantless domestic spying.
In recent weeks, we've twice explored The New York Times' editorial board's decision to call for congressional oversight of the Bush administration rather than calling for a special counsel.
First, we explained that the Times called for special counsels to investigate Democratic president Bill Clinton rather than trusting his Justice Department or the Democratic congress to investigate him -- but now trusts the Republican congress to investigate the Bush administration's secret warrantless domestic spying operation:
Yet the Times does not call for a special counsel. Instead, it declares "Mr. Bush should retract and renounce his secret directive and halt any illegal spying, or Congress should find a way to force him to do it."
But what gives the Times reason to believe that Congress would do so even if it could? Five days later, another Times editorial described the relationship between the Bush administration and Congress: "Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues."
Why on earth would the Times dare to hope that a Congress under the "control" of Bush and Cheney would "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Just this week, the Times reported that the Bush Administration "declines" to provide the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee documents it has requested as part of its investigation of the administration's handing of Hurricane Katrina, and refused to make administration officials available for sworn testimony. What makes the Times think the Republican-controlled Congress will want to "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Or that it would be able to even if it wanted to?
What explains the Times' refusal to call for a special counsel in the case when it believes the Bush administration, led by the president himself, is acting illegally? Why was a special counsel more justified in 1994 than now?
Then, last week, we noted the increasing evidence that the Times' faith in the willingness and ability of a Republican-controlled Congress to exercise their oversight responsibilities is unfounded.
A series of news reports this week would seem to stamp out any remaining hope on the part of the Times editorial board that Congress can be trusted to do its job.
On February 14, The Washington Post reported:
Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday. [...] Sources close to [Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Jay] Rockefeller [D-WV] say he is frustrated by what he sees as heavy-handed White House efforts to dissuade Republicans from supporting his measure. They noted that Cheney conducted a Republicans-only meeting on intelligence matters in the Capitol yesterday.
And yet, The New York Times still does not call for a special counsel.
On February 15, the Times itself reported:
Four cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an Army general and the secretary of the Army were supposed to testify Tuesday morning at hearings on matters including Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration's proposed budget for foreign affairs.
But their invitations were rescinded and the hearings canceled when the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, scheduled a marathon series of 16 votes on amendments to a pending tax bill -- all of them, both parties agree, intended more to score political points than to make policy.
Ultimately, most of those votes were canceled.
They could have been held Monday night, but that did not work for Mr. Frist. He was holding a fund-raiser at his Washington home, with President Bush as the featured guest and some of his Republican colleagues on the guest list, including the Senate whip, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The event raised $3.5 million for Republican Senate candidates.
And yet, The New York Times editorial board still refuses to abandon the hope that the Republican Congress will exercise its oversight responsibilities.
On February 17, the Times reported:
Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that they had agreed to open a Congressional inquiry prompted by the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. But a dispute immediately broke out among committee Republicans over the scope of the inquiry.
Representative Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican and committee member who called last week for the investigation, said the review "will have multiple avenues, because we want to completely understand the program and move forward."
But an aide to Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who leads the committee, said the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself.
The same day, the Times editorial board weighed in:
Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?
For more than a year, Mr. Roberts has been dragging out an investigation into why Mr. Bush presented old, dubious and just plain wrong intelligence on Iraq as solid new proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was in league with Al Qaeda. It was supposed to start after the 2004 election, but Mr. Roberts was letting it die of neglect until the Democrats protested by forcing the Senate into an unusual closed session last November.
Now Mr. Roberts is trying to stop an investigation into Mr. Bush's decision to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without getting the warrants required by a 27-year-old federal law enacted to stop that sort of abuse.
Stifling his own committee without even bothering to get the facts is outrageous. As the vice chairman of the panel, Senator John Rockefeller IV, pointed out, supervising intelligence gathering is in fact the purpose of the intelligence committee.
A scathing indictment of congressional complicity in President Bush's "miserable" handling of intelligence matters, to be sure. But while denouncing Roberts' refusal to conduct meaningful hearings and investigations into the not insignificant matters of why President Bush used "just plain wrong intelligence" to take the country to war and whether the President broke the law in ordering warrantless domestic spying, The Times inexplicably stopped short of the obvious conclusion.
The Senate Intelligence committee, the Times noted, simply isn't doing its job. It isn't doing its job because its chairman is "willing to excuse and help to cover up" -- the Times' words, not ours -- the actions of the head of his political party. What possible reason could The Times have for continuing to hope that congress will conduct meaningful oversight? What possible reason could they have for not calling for a special counsel?
To be clear, this bizarre behavior isn't limited to the Times. As we've noted, The Washington Post was quick to call for special counsels when Clinton was president. The Post even ran one editorial in January 1994 that pointed out that "there has been no credible charge in this case that either the president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong" -- then, incredibly, a few sentences later, called for the appointment of an independent counsel anyway.
Now, the Post denounces Bush for "ignor[ing] a clearly worded criminal law" and for "show[ing] a profound disregard for Congress and the laws it passes." The administration "must be forced to explain itself comprehensively," the Post argued. Yet the administration is not being forced to do so -- and the Post's own reporting suggests that Congress can't be trusted to do anything to change that fact. Yet the Post -- the paper that once argued that, even absent credible charges of wrongdoing, an independent counsel was necessary to investigate Clinton -- does not call for an independent investigation.