Accuracy in Media

George Will has written something that we at AIM have been saying for years-public broadcasting must be freed of its federal subsidies. Let’s see if it can survive on its own. It used to be the case, Will notes, that the Public Broadcasting Service claimed it was needed because it contributed to diversity in programming. “Now,” he says, “PBS is airing some HBO films. There is a nifty use of tax dollars-showing HBO reruns.”

The case for terminating PBS is bolstered by an article by Chris Baker in the Washington Times on Terence Smith, a former CBS News correspondent, who now postures as a media watchdog on public television.  “I absolutely do not believe anyone at CBS or ’60 Minutes’ comes to its reporting with a political bias,” Smith says. “By and large, the people I have worked with at newspapers and TV really have tried to be objective.”

Smith’s statement is ridiculous. Has he ever heard of CBS whistleblower Bernard Goldberg, who wrote two books about the bias at CBS and the other networks? The Baker article says that, “Mr. Smith is surprised that he is still the only TV reporter working the media beat.” We are surprised, too. And we’re surprised that someone who fails to recognize liberal media bias has a job like that. But then again, he works for public broadcasting, which has a bias of its own.

Over at National Public Radio, we discovered that Linda Fasulo, their U.N. correspondent, had taken $26,000 from the U.N. lobby to write a pro-U.N. book. NPR implicitly acknowledges that taking the money was inappropriate because it has announced that their reporters will not be able to accept such subsidies in the future.  Fasulo’s acceptance of the money violated the ethics code that is supposed to govern the activities of NPR employees.

The NPR News Code of Ethics and Practices requires that its reporters avoid “actual and apparent conflicts of interest or engaging in outside activities, public comment or writing that calls into question our ability to report fairly on a subject.” In Fasulo’s case, she was reporting on the U.N. for NPR as she was accepting money from Ted Turner’s U.N. Foundation to do her pro-U.N. book. 

While Smith may be the only TV reporter working the media beat, there are other media watchdog shows. We have criticized one of them, Fox News Watch, on several occasions for getting facts wrong and failing to correct errors.  On the March 12 edition of the show, panelist Neal Gabler returned to the CBS Memogate affair, saying that the panel report into the scandal had only challenged the “methods” of the CBS journalists. The report, he claimed, “never discredited the story itself.” This is so off-base as to be laughable.

Remember that the thrust of the CBS program was that President Bush got preferential treatment to get into the Texas Air National Guard so that he could avoid going to Vietnam. But the report notes evidence-not used on the air-that there was no waiting list to get into the Guard as a pilot and Bush, therefore, didn’t need any special treatment. What’s more, the report found that CBS producer Mary Mapes was in possession of evidence that Bush actually volunteered to be a pilot in Vietnam. Bush was rejected because there were other more experienced pilots available.

No political bias at CBS? Perhaps Terence Smith stayed too long at Dan Rather’s network.

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