Accuracy in Media

Liberal media bias is a fact of life. But when the issue involves the business of journalism, the bias gets so bad as to be deliberately dishonest. Consider the slanted coverage of the recent Senate Judiciary hearing into a proposed federal media shield law. The bill would shield the media from identifying their sources in criminal and certain national security cases.

On July 20, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote a story about a hearing that waited until the ninth paragraph to disclose that the Washington Post was one of the “news giants” supporting the bill.

Kurtz noted that Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr.’s opposition to the bill was “a disappointment to lawmakers and news media advocates who have been negotiating with Justice officials and this week scaled back the bill to meet administration objections.”  What are “news media advocates?” That’s a new term describing behind-the-scenes lobbyists for Big Media companies.

Can you imagine reporters referring to lobbyists for the nuclear power industry as “energy advocates?”

Kurtz also reported, “Scheduled witnesses at today’s hearing include Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who narrowly avoided jail by testifying last week in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, and Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine, who surrendered Cooper’s notes in the case after losing in the courts.”

This was true, but he didn’t tell the full story. We did. In a press release, we noted that AIM, the nation’s oldest media watchdog group, was denied an opportunity to testify at the hearing and that the witnesses were stacked 9-0 in favor of the bill. Comey was scheduled to appear and provide testimony against the media shield legislation, mainly on national security grounds. But he had a scheduling conflict and had to submit his testimony in writing. If he had appeared, the hearing would have been stacked “only” 9-1.

In his next to the last paragraph, Kurtz noted that Comey’s testimony says the shield law measure, as originally drafted, “would cover criminal or terrorist organizations that also have media operations, including many foreign terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda.”

This was the really big news from the hearing. And here’s what Comey said:

“The definition of a ‘covered person’ contained in subparagraph 7(1)(A) of the bill raises several distinct concerns. Most significantly, it would extend the bill’s protections well beyond its presumably intended objective, that is, providing special statutory protections for the kind of news-and information-gathering activities that are essential to freedom of the press under the First Amendment. For example, ‘covered persons’ protected by the bill include non-media corporate affiliates, subsidiaries, or parents of any cable system or programming service, whether or not located in the United States. It would also include any supermarket, department store, or other business that periodically publishes a products catalog, sales pamphlet, or even a listing of registered customers.

“Far more dangerously, it would cover criminal or terrorist organizations that also have media operations, including many foreign terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda (which, from its founding, maintained a media office that published a newsletter). Indeed, the inherent difficulty of appropriately defining a ‘covered person’ in a world in which the very definition of ‘media’ is constantly evolving, suggests yet another fundamental weakness in the bill. What could be shielded here is not so much the traditional media-which already is protected adequately by existing Justice Department guidelines-as criminal activity deliberately or fortuitously using means or facilities in the course of the offenses that would cause the perpetrators to fall within the definition of the media under the bill.”

The Post wasn’t the only news organization that failed to cover the hearing objectively. In fact, the Kurtz story was better than most, since he at least mentioned how his employer backed the shield law.

Other news organizations completely ignored how the Big Media were backing the bill.

On July 20, the CBS News website ran an AP story about the hearing. The story failed to disclose that CBS is one of the media companies supporting the bill.

On the same day, the Los Angeles Times ran a story by Johanna Neuman about how Comey had submitted testimony to that hearing opposing the shield bill. She reported, “Some 80 media groups have formed a coalition to support a shield law to prevent other reporters from going to jail.” But she failed to report that the Tribune Company, which owns the L.A. Times, was one of them.

The New York Times ran a story the same day about the hearing. Reporter Maria Newman failed, however, to mention that the New York Times Company is one of the media organizations supporting the bill.

The Washington Post website ran a separate story about the hearing on its website on June 21 from Bloomberg news. The story failed to mention that the Washington Post supports the bill.

The website of Fox News ran a July 20 story about the hearing. It failed to mention that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, supports the bill.

CNN ran a story about the hearing. It, too, failed to mention that CNN supports the bill.

Get the picture?

Please don’t ever tell me that the media are not biased.

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