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A Biased Report On Media Bias

Reported by Ellen - October 16, 2005

Thursday night's (10/13/05) Hannity & Colmes featured a segment with Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center (MRC), to discuss a just-released study "proving" liberal bias in the network news coverage of Iraq. The conclusion was based on the "disproportionate" number of negative stories reported on the war. The discussion never considered whether the actual events in Iraq have been disproportionately negative nor what the standard of newsworthiness should be. Instead, Bozell seemed to think that any negative news about Iraq was liberal bias that needed balance with good news. Not even Sean Hannity seemed to buy into that premise. Astoundingly, "liberal" Juan Williams did.

Alan Colmes suggested that because MRC is a conservative advocacy group, their study could not be fair and objective.

As Media Matters points out,

Colmes was half-right: The MRC's work is neither fair nor balanced -- but not because its researchers are conservative advocates. Having an ideological perspective does not preclude the production of work that is transparent, that is rooted in fact, and that makes a clear distinction between fact and opinion; but the MRC simply chooses not to do so. As Media Matters has detailed, the MRC's primary method of operation is to produce "studies" purporting to show the skew of news coverage by defining anything that does not repeat conservative spin as evidence of "liberal bias."

Bozell said that the study made a point of noting that a lot of bad news has to be reported "but the point is, in 1388 stories, you can only find 9% of the stories today are positive about the war. There is no attempt at balance."

So how many positive stories about the war is a balanced press obligated to report? Is every assertion of fact to be countered with an opposing view or just the ones that go contrary to the Bush Administration's? What about the stories that don't get covered, such as the number of Iraqis killed or the photographs of soldiers returning in caskets or the billions of dollars in spending the government can't account for? None of that seemed to be factored into the study (which I read in its entirety).

That might have made for an interesting discussion but Bozell seemed more interested in attacking than in explaining. When Colmes said that the study didn't point out the lack of critical coverage leading up to the war, that "a number of studies" show that many Iraqis want the US out and that the American media did very little reporting on such matters, Bozell snidely claimed that Colmes' statement proved he had not read the study because it only focused on 2005 reports. (Colmes insisted he had.) Bozell also made the false claim that "If you look at any study that we've ever done, no one's ever questioned the findings we've come up with." See Media Matters detailed report on May 11, 2005 proving otherwise.

Hannity quickly changed the subject when it was his turn to question Bozell. Hannity has never been one to let the facts get in the way of his argument so the sudden shift hints that he had some doubts of his own about Bozell's study. Rather than dwell on liberal bias at the networks, Hannity started in on two of his favorite scapegoats, Senators Kennedy and Durbin, for "undermining" the war effort with their critical comments.

Comment: Hannity never criticizes Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for his critical comments: "The White House is completely disconnected from reality" and "the reality is that we're losing in Iraq." He also said the U.S. death toll has continued to rise "at a very significant rate -- more dead, more wounded, less electricity in Iraq, less oil being pumped in Iraq, more insurgent attacks, more insurgents coming across the border, more corruption in the government. ...The casualties we're taking, the billion dollars a week we're putting in there, the kind of commitment we've got -- we're not going to be able to sustain it."

Colmes asked Juan Williams, the supposedly liberal counterpart to Bozell that night, to comment on what Colmes called "a lack of critical coverage in the American media" and the "terrible job" it has done "challenging this administration on the war." I had hoped that Williams would have at least mentioned the possibility that maybe the negative reporting is due to the fact that the war is actually going badly. Instead, Williams said, "I think it's a pretty good study. I was impressed by it."

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