In recent days, Brit Hume, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck have all asserted that media bias was to blame for a dearth of coverage on the controversy surrounding Sen. John Kerry's "botched joke." To the contrary, the story has consistently been the top story on network- and cable-news broadcasts and has been the subject of front-page stories in most major newspapers.
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As the national media focused intently on the uproar over Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) "botched joke" in recent days, Fox News host Brit Hume chose to criticize how prominently major newspapers presented their stories on the controversy. Hume has paid particular attention to The New York Times, noting on November 1 that the newspaper failed to offer a "front-page headline" on the Kerry flap and falsely claiming on November 2 that the Kerry flap has "failed to crack" its front page. In fact, contrary to Hume's accusation that the Times has not given front-page coverage to the story, the Times ran a Page 1 article on November 1 that focused primarily on the unfolding controversy, although it did not put Kerry's name in the headline.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck have joined Hume in criticizing the media over their treatment of the Kerry story. On the November 1 edition of his show, O'Reilly devoted a full segment to a discussion of how the media are purportedly covering the Kerry controversy only reluctantly. And on the November 2 edition of his program, Beck noted that Fox News "was running news alerts, like, every two minutes" on the Kerry story, while on CNN: "[N]ot so much." But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, news outlets have offered extensive coverage of the Kerry flap in recent days, while ignoring entirely separate stories that are clearly damaging to the Bush administration.
According to a Media Matters survey of November 1 television coverage, all three network news programs -- NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, and the CBS Evening News -- led with reports on the Kerry controversy, as did each of their morning shows -- Today, Good Morning America, and The Early Show, respectively. The November 1 programming of Fox News' cable-news competitors also featured prominent reports on the story. Indeed, the Kerry flap was the lead story in each of 16 consecutive hours of news programming on MSNBC (from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.). Similarly, the controversy represented the first or second story reported by CNN in 14 of its 16 hours of programming on November 1 (from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., excluding Larry King Live). While CNN's daily international news program, Your World Today, did not feature a report on the story at the top of the hour, CNN did devote 16 minutes of the show to live coverage of the White House press briefing, the bulk of which was devoted to questions regarding the controversy. Meanwhile, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both published front-page articles on the story.
Despite such extensive coverage of the Kerry flap on November 1, during that day's edition of Fox News' Special Report, Hume chose to focus narrowly on the print media's wording of headlines and placement of their articles on the subject. Indeed, he led off the "Political Grapevine" segment by criticizing the fact that The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, failed to offer "a single front-page headline" on the story that day. While it is technically true that the Times did not offer a "front-page headline" that referred explicating to the Kerry controversy, the newspaper did run a front-page article -- headlined "As Vote Nears, Stances on War Set Off Sparks" -- that focused primarily on the story. Hume went on to highlight a recent study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) that purports to show that the network news programs have, in recent weeks, offered a disproportionate number of "positive" stories about Democrats. Hume further noted that ABC News political director Mark Halperin had recently claimed that "over 70 percent" of those working on ABC's political coverage "are liberal."
The following night on the "Political Grapevine," Hume conceded that the print media "did better" in their coverage of the Kerry story that day. But Hume then went a step further in his criticism of the Times, falsely claiming that the topic has "failed to crack the front page of The New York Times."
On the November 1 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly hosted conservative radio host Laura Ingraham to discuss the media's treatment of the Kerry controversy. In introducing the segment, O'Reilly depicted mainstream news outlets as grudgingly covering the story because they "can't run, they have to report it." As support for this premise, O'Reilly then aired a clip of CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric wondering if the GOP would inject the issue of Kerry's remarks into individual political campaigns nationwide. He followed with a clip of ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson referring to the phenomenon in which "an idle political remarks gets seized upon, becomes fodder for the talk shows, the blogs, and the politicians." Finally, O'Reilly played a clip from the October 31 edition of CNN's The Situation Room in which CNN host Paula Zahn asked commentator Jack Cafferty whether the Kerry story will be "dismembered" by Election Day. Cafferty responded, "If we have our way with it, it will be."
In his subsequent discussion with Ingraham, O'Reilly cited the CMPA study as well, which he said "proves ... the mainstream media wants the Democrats to win" and claimed immediately afterward that media figures were "stunned" by Kerry's remarks. Ingraham then asserted that the media -- in contrast to their treatment of controversial comments from former House Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh -- had declined to "crucif[y]" Kerry, instead acknowledging questions of "nuance" and "context." In fact, as Media Matters noted, numerous news outlets failed to note the full context for Kerry's remarks while reporting on the uproar.
Ingraham later asked, "[W]hy is it that when the troops themselves feel maligned and they feel condescended to, why aren't their sound bites put on the evening news last night? Why aren't their sound bites and their interviews all over television today?" But in arguing that the media have downplayed the Kerry flap and its effect on the troops, O'Reilly and Ingraham ignored that, amidst the widespread coverage of this controversy, news outlets have largely ignored several separate stories that could potentially damage the Bush administration and the Republican Party. Among the topics that media have failed to adequately cover in recent days:
The Bush administration's decision on October 31 to dismantle military checkpoints in Baghdad intended to aid in the search for a U.S. soldier believed to have been abducted -- a development that blogger and former Iraq war supporter Andrew Sullivan argued amounted to "abandoning him to the enemy."
House Majority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) November 1 statement to CNN host Wolf Blitzer: "[L]et's not blame what's happening in Iraq on [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld" because "the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge." In response to Boehner's comment, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) issued a statement demanding an apology from Boehner for "blaming our troops for failures in Iraq," rather than casting blame on "the Bush Administration's failed policy" and the Republican congressional leadership that "ha[s] rubberstamped" it.
Bush's November 1 pledge to keep Rumsfeld as defense secretary until the end of his presidency, despite widespread, bipartisan criticism of Rumsfeld's management of the Iraq war.
Bush's statement during an October 30 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity that the U.S. is committed to capturing Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, such as "the number-three guy, whoever he is."
Moreover, O'Reilly's use of the October 31 Situation Room clip misleadingly suggested that Cafferty had asserted that the media intend to squash the Kerry controversy by Election Day -- a prediction that, if accurate, would support O'Reilly's claim that media figures have reluctantly reported on the story. In fact, according to the full exchange between Cafferty, Zahn, and Blitzer, Cafferty's point was the exact opposite -- that the media will capitalize on the controversy as much as possible prior to November 7. Indeed, Cafferty described the Kerry story as "tailor-made for the media." He added, "We get so sick and tired of, you know, running sound bites of the candidates that when somebody comes along and does something that's even this much out of ordinary, we pounce on it like cats on a mouse and drag it around until it's dismembered on the living-room floor." Zahn then asked whether the story will be "dismembered" by next week," to which Cafferty responded, "If we have our way with it, it will be."
Further, on the November 2 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, Beck suggested that CNN had provided scant coverage to the Kerry controversy. Alongside on-screen text reading "Media Bias," he asked, "How is it that two news organizations like Fox and CNN can report the day's news completely differently? Regarding the John Kerry thing, Fox was running news alerts, like, every two minutes. CNN -- not so much." Beck added, "Why? Because whether they want to admit it or not, journalists are not gods; they're human beings with a point of view." Beck went on to interview CMPA president Robert Lichter about the organization's recent study showing that the media's pre-election coverage has been slanted in favor of Democrats. Like Hume, Beck highlighted Halperin's claim that 70 percent of ABC's political news division is liberal. "You want affirmative action?" he went on to say. "How about putting some conservatives in the newsrooms?"
From the November 2 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: John Kerry's apology for remarks interpreted by many as demeaning U.S. troops in Iraq did better in the major newspapers today -- with Page One coverage in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.
But it again failed to crack the front page of The New York Times, which had only a passing mention of the apology in an inside-page story about President Bush's support of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. A subsequent column called Kerry a, quote, "punching bag" and blamed the flap on a, quote, "single word left out of a joke."
From the November 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: The John Kerry flap may have been the major political story yesterday -- even today -- but you might not have known that from the newspaper coverage. Not a single front-page headline in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. The Times cast it as a chance for the president to attack Kerry. Not until the 15th paragraph, on Page 18, does a reader learn what Kerry actually said. The Washington Post put the whole story on Page 8.
Both the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal put the Kerry flap on a par with the incident in which some of Virginia GOP Senator George Allen's supporters roughed up a heckler after an Allen event. And on ABC News, the Kerry flap was described as, quote, "an object lesson in how in this day and age an idle political remark gets seized upon."
Meanwhile the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs has analyzed the stories about the elections on the evening newscasts of the three broadcast networks during the seven weeks after Labor Day. It reports: Seventy-seven percent of on-air evaluations of Democratic candidates and members of Congress were positive, and 88 percent of the references to Republicans were negative. The study says there were 167 election stories during that time, compared to just 35 during the same period in 2002.
ABC News political director Mark Halperin says, by the way, well over 70 percent of the people working on his network's political coverage are liberal and would vote Democratic. Halperin tells radio host Hugh Hewitt that the preponderance of liberal thought in media organizations is an endemic problem, and he says it is why, quote, "for 40 years conservatives have rightly felt that we did not give them a fair shake," end quote -- Mark Halperin.
From the November 1 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: "Personal Story" segment tonight: While many Democrats are running away from the John Kerry controversy, as we said, the mainstream media can't run; they have to report it. Now, far-left publications like The Oregonian buried the story today, but the TV and radio people can't do that.
[begin video clip]
COURIC: Do you think Republican operatives are putting this -- this comment into political campaigns all over the country? "John Kerry insults the troops. Do we really want the Dems to take over?"
GIBSON: How, in this day and age, an idle political remark gets seized upon, becomes fodder for the talk shows, the blogs, and the politicians?
ZAHN: Will it be dismembered by election night is the question, Jack Cafferty?
CAFFERTY: If we have our way with it, it will be.
BLITZER: I'm sure there will be something else that will pop up between now and probably an hour from now.
CAFFERTY: One can only hope.
[end video clip]
O'REILLY: And joining us now from Washington -- syndicated radio talk show host, star, Laura Ingraham, author of the book, Shut Up & Sing, in paperback. And it's an interesting book, of course.
You know, you're right. I'm right. We both say that the -- and the study proves out of George Mason University that the mainstream media wants the Democrats to win. And then this comes up. And they're all going -- they were stunned. And what say you?
INGRAHAM: Well, look, every election cycle, the dinosaur media -- the old media -- gets more partisan than the election before. It's hard to believe that they actually could, but every time election rolls around, it gets worse. And every election cycle, I think the mainstream media's influence diminishes.
And they don't seem to understand the correlation, the reason why people are reading the New York Post, they're watching Fox, they're listening to talk radio, is because they know they're not going to get anything even approaching a balanced perspective from Couric, or from Brian Williams, or from Charlie Gibson, all nice people.
But, the point of the matter is, when Trent Lott made an offhand comment, when Rush Limbaugh made an offhand comment, they were hung up on crosses and crucified in the mainstream media. There was no question of nuance. There was no question of context.
And the way this comment by Kerry was treated is just yet one more example of how they don't understand the way the military thinks, because I've talked to a lot of military folks in the last couple of days, and they didn't think the joke was funny at all. They didn't think it was funny yesterday --
O'REILLY: Well, it wasn't a funny joke.
INGRAHAM: -- and they didn't think it was funny today.
O'REILLY: I don't even think it was a joke. I think he just wanted to be sarcastic about -- if you know John Kerry -- and I've known him for decades -- he's a sarcastic guy. He says things all the time in a, you know, in that way. I don't think it was a punch line.
But I got a lot of calls on the radio, and I'm sure you did, too, from Kerry-haters -- you know, guys -- people that want to assign him the worst possible motivation. And when I asked [White House press secretary] Tony Snow, when I said to him, "Hey, look, do you think Kerry wanted to go in and demean the military?" Snow said no. What do you think?
INGRAHAM: But I don't think that's the question, Bill, with all due respect to you. I think the question is: Why is it that when the troops themselves feel maligned and they feel condescended to, why aren't their sound bites put on the evening news last night? Why aren't their sound bites and their interviews all over television today? They called into my show, the active duty men and women -- Camp Lejeune. Camp Pendleton. They're furious.
O'REILLY: Yeah, they called into my show. That's an excellent point. That's an excellent point. Right.
INGRAHAM: And it's not about John Kerry or what -- it's not even about him. It's about this undercurrent within the far left of the United States -- which I believe John Kerry is firmly ensconced -- the far left of the United States, academic settings, you know, the coffee klatches, where they think they're in comfortable territory. There is a sneering look at the men and women who decide to get -- dedicate themselves to this country by joining the military. It's there.
O'REILLY: They would never admit that, though, Laura. They -- you know, I've never heard --
INGRAHAM: Of course, they're never going to admit that.
From the October 31 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Now, some of our viewers think, Jack, that what John Kerry should have simply said, "You know what, I made a mistake. I screwed up that joke. I wanted to have the joke at the expense of the president. It came out at the expense of the U.S. military." Apologize for that -- let's move on, instead of letting this situation sort of escalate this quickly.
CAFFERTY: Well, we're probably helping it escalate. We're probably making a little more out of it than was actually there to begin with.
ZAHN: But, it's interesting to me that John Kerry didn't even mention his military -- own military record in great detail until the second time he came out today. The news conference wasn't as detailed to say, "Hey, look, I served and fought admirably for my country."
BLITZER: He was really stung by the swift-boating the last time.
BLITZER: I think he really wanted to come out swinging this time.
CAFFERTY: Well, it seems to have backfired on him, didn't it?
ZAHN: But took a day -- took a day and a couple of opportunities.
CAFFERTY: Of course, it's tailor-made for the media. We get so sick and tired of, you know, running sound bites of the candidates that when somebody comes along and does something that's even this much out of the ordinary, we pounce on it like cats on a mouse and drag it around until it's dismembered on the living-room floor.
ZAHN: Will it be dismembered by election night is the question, Jack Cafferty?
CAFFERTY: If we have our way with it, it will be.
BLITZER: I'm sure there'll be something else that will pop up between now and probably an hour from now.
CAFFERTY: One can only hope.
ZAHN: Thanks, Jack.
From the November 2 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:
BECK: The media keeps insisting that they're impartial, they're fair, they're balanced. That's not true. They're -- you know what? I'm not talking about the Al Frankens or the Rush Limbaughs of the world. They admit that they're liberal or conservative. They remind their audiences daily that they're approaching a story with an opinion. You know it. The real danger lies just beneath the surface, where it's all quiet and dark. Opinion cloaked as journalism. How is it that two news organizations like Fox and CNN can report the day's news completely differently? Regarding the John Kerry thing, Fox was running news alerts, like, every two minutes. CNN -- not so much. Why? Because whether they want to admit it or not, journalists are not gods; they're human beings with a point of view.
BECK: It is the collective. Again, I really don't think -- I think journalists, they try to do the right thing, just like I try to do the right thing. But I'll come at something with a different perspective. And then, if you have these newsrooms, like Mike -- Mark Halperin said, 70 percent of ABC News is liberal. It's -- it just is slanted because that's the way everybody thinks. You want affirmative action? How about putting some conservatives in the newsrooms?