Accuracy in Media

Jed Babbin, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, has a point of view that is reflected in his book on the U.N. His point of view is captured in the title, Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe Are Worse Than You think. Needless to say, he is very critical of the world organization. Babbin has opinions and is paid to express them.

On the other hand, Linda Fasulo, the NBC News correspondent who covers the U.N., is supposed to be objective. Her job is to report facts, not her own opinions. But she produced a book that glorifies the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and puts the U.N. in an extremely flattering light. The book, An Insider’s Guide to the U.N., is so slanted that Fasulo ignores Annan’s role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Accuracy in Media recently noted that she received a grand total of $26,000 from pro-U.N. sources to produce this pro-U.N. book. The acceptance of that money by a straight-news reporter violates all accepted standards of journalistic ethics. Yet NBC has defended her and her acceptance of the money. New NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams should do something about that.

Fasulo has reported for NBS News and MSNBC, where we found one of her stories. Here’s how she reported Annan’s performance at the world body: “Annan has been working quietly to help facilitate a close working relationship with and among the leading members of the Security Council.  Many observers praise his diplomatic savvy.

As one U.N. official notes, Annan is a ‘people person?gifted as a schmoozer’ who keeps in touch with world leaders yet is widely recognized as a man of principle and long-term thinking.”

Fasulo packed a lot of positive coverage of Annan in those two sentences. Notice how an anonymous U.N. official is the source of the claim that Annan is great with people. How’s that for an unbiased source? Annan’s reputation as “a man of principle and long-term thinking” is attributed to no one, but is “widely recognized.” Tell that to the victims of the Rwanda genocide. Her story, dated March 16, 2004, reads like a U.N. press release. Now we know why. She was on the take from the pro-U.N. lobby.

Babbin told us, “Everybody knows where I stand on the U.N. But it seems to me that someone who is not an avowed opinion journalist should not be taking compensation from a group dedicated to lobbying for support for the U.N.” Babbin said the conflict of interest was similar to that of Paul Volcker, who is supposed to be conducting an independent inquiry of the U.N.‘s oil-for-food scandal but sat on the board of a pro-U.N. lobby, the Business Council for the U.N.

Babbin said Fasulo, who is not supposed to be an advocate of one side or the other, should not take compensation from one side of the issue. He added, “I really think this is an abuse of journalistic standards, such as they are.” 

Yes, “such as they are” is the critical phrase. By defending her payments from the pro-U.N. lobby, NBC has lowered its standards, such as they are, another notch.

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