A couple of years ago, then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw denounced me for seeking to do "as much damage, and I choose that word carefully, as he can do to the credibility of the news divisions," and then he pleaded for Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and himself: "These three aging white men are stuck somewhere in the middle trying, on a nightly basis, to give a fair and balanced picture of what's going on in the world."
If the credibility of the network news divisions is based on giving a "fair and balanced" picture of today's world, then ABC, CBS and NBC have done all the damage to themselves. To steal from Abraham Lincoln, it is beyond our poor power to add or detract. A case in point:
This past spring, major protests were organized to rally opposition to tougher control of the American border from the tide of illegal immigration. In "Election in the Streets," a new study by the Media Research Center, analysts poured through a staggering 309 network news stories in late March, April and May. The findings were jaw-dropping. The Big Three in no way sought to reflect what was going on in the world in a "fair and balanced" fashion. Ninety percent of the American public believes that illegal immigration is a serious national problem. The networks have sought to create -- not report, create -- the exact opposite of reality.
Rather than highlight the overwhelming opposition to illegal immigration, the networks put on the air a remarkable, distorted array of celebrated voices of "dissent" for illegal-alien "rights." There were almost twice as many soundbites dedicated to advocates of looser immigration laws than there were to border-control advocates (504 to 257). On the nights of the protests, the tilt was beyond outrageous. On April 10, the soundbite count on the three evening newscasts and ABC's "Nightline" featured 43 voices favoring illegal-alien "rights" and only two opposed.
And they mock Fox's motto of "fair and balanced." If the networks sought to reflect the opinion slant of the real world, the soundbite count would have been nine to one -- the other way.
The networks put on the air a pile of labels scorning the "conservative" base of the GOP (89 of them), but only three mentions of the word "liberal," all of them on ABC. (Do CBS and NBC reporters believe they'll get an electric shock for using the L-word?)
The standard network storyline on immigration politics was that Bush was split from his "hard line" conservative base, thus foretelling doom in the fall. Even this was inaccurate.
In the actual House roll call on the Sensenbrenner bill that "sparked" the protests, 17 Republicans broke ranks with the majority party -- while 36 Democrats dissented from their party's position. Put in percentage terms, 92 percent of Republicans voted yes, and 82 percent of Democrats voted no. Which party was more split? And more importantly, with polls showing a massive majority opposed to illegal immigration, which party was in more political danger? Once again, the networks were pushing the exact opposite of reality.
Give the leftists some credit. Their protests were impressively large and made for good visuals. But what really ought to matter to politicians is the voters in the booths in November, not merely the immigrants "emerging from the shadows" on the streets in April, so many of whom were illegal aliens and unable to vote in our elections. The networks completely jumped the gun in celebrating the "massive" demonstrations as the instant, microwaved making of "history." There is not a scintilla of evidence that this will advance the Democrats' agenda one iota. In fact, if the GOP ever got its act together, it could bury the opposition with this issue alone.
Despite all this evidence that made Tom Brokaw's claims of old-fashioned network devotion to fairness look farcical, one poll in Time (another poll number the networks ignored) found that more people were turned away from the illegal-alien agenda than turned in favor by the much-mediated protests. Perhaps never has so much media bias created as much of a thud of failure as this did. But you'll never catch a whiff of that political reality if you rely on the Big Three networks and their unfair and imbalanced fairytale picture of the world.