Did you know there is too much opinion and not enough reporting of the facts in the news you're getting? This shocking information comes from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an affiliate of Columbia University.
The study's focus on 250 stories mainly looked at the way the cable TV networks and Internet bloggers addressed those stories. It concluded that such outlets represent a "journalism of assertion" that favors the personal opinion of the person delivering the information more than reporting.
The Fox News Channel (where I work and where no one has asked me to write about this survey) is singled out for alleged imbalance on such stories as the Iraq war, where the study finds twice as many "positive" as "negative" stories. Seven out of 10 stories on FNC were said to have included opinions not attributed to reporting.
Reporting on the study, the Los Angeles Times referred to "the model for the mainstream media," which it said is "taking the time to gather and scrutinize each piece of information."
But the mainstream public does not perceive that the "mainstream media" takes the time to check facts and eschews opinion in its "reporting." According to the Pew Center for the People and the Press, only 35 percent of Americans think the media get the facts right.
It is this distrust and the perception that the so-called "mainstream media" is biased that has fueled the rise of alternative sources of information. It has also fueled the angst of the big media boys, who are being held accountable for their biases for the first time. They don't like such accountability and so they are reacting by attacking cable TV and Internet bloggers.
Were it not for these alternate sources of information, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth might never have found an avenue to make their voices heard about John Kerry, and Dan Rather might still be sitting in the CBS anchor chair instead of being held accountable for misreporting on President Bush's National Guard records.
What ought to amuse and amaze many people is the sudden "discovery" of opinion journalism in the media. The Media Research Center (www.mrc.org) has been chronicling liberal bias on the broadcast networks and in newspapers and news magazines for years, but the organization is largely ignored by the big media or dismissed as "conservative" or "right-wing," implying its work cannot be trusted. (In the interests of full disclosure, I'm serving as unpaid emcee for the Media Research Center's annual Media DisHonors Awards in April.)
If "opinion journalism" is now regarded as something to be avoided, how about beginning the purge at the broadcast networks. On the CBS Evening News last March 31, Dan Rather suggested that American civilians had volunteered to work in Iraq because "In this economy it may be, for some, the only job they can find." Is that opinion, or reporting since no source was cited or interview conducted with anyone who said such a thing?
In December, 2003, Peter Jennings told the ABC World News Tonight audience, "Iraqis keep telling us life is not as stable for them as it was when Saddam Hussein is in power." Viewers might have concluded that Jennings had slipped in his personal opinion because no survey was presented and no person interviewed to justify such a conclusion.
CNN's Aaron Brown delivered what a fair-minded viewer might have concluded was a personal opinion on his Nov. 10, 2004 "NewsNight" program. He referred to criticism of John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans and whether Kerry deserved the three Purple Hearts and an early out from Vietnam. Brown said, "Look at this picture here (in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper), if you can. 'Troops' Bravery Honored in Iraq.' These are all Purple Heart winners. Some day, one of them will run for president and someone will say they didn't earn the Purple Heart. Welcome to America."
Commenting, not reporting, on the number of moderate speakers at last summer's Republican National Convention in New York, CNN's Judy Woodruff wondered, "Can the Republicans get away with putting moderate speakers up there?"
During past Republican conventions, the networks have questioned whether Republicans could "get away" with having so many "right-wing" speakers. One might reasonably draw conclusions that for these reporters and anchors, it isn't the wing, so much as the Republican Party itself that troubles them. They make no similar remarks about the ideology of speakers at the Democratic conventions.
The problem for the mainstream media (which isn't mainstream anymore) is that its denial of its own biases has caused the rise of bloggers and cable news, especially Fox. If they had been truly reporting and not indoctrinating, there would be no Fox and no bloggers to study.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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