Accuracy in Media

In a column on coverage of Iraq, Michael Getler of the Washington Post mentions the ABC Nightline show on U.S. war dead in Iraq and notes that it was “commented upon critically by Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes on April 28 in a way that drew rebukes from some readers?”  De Moraes was a sharp enough TV reporter to note that the Nightline show was airing during a “sweeps” period when advertising rates and profits for the network are determined.  Getler doesn’t explain why people would object to her factual observation.

The liberals who objected to that piece of information may not want to believe that Ted Koppel or his producer, Leroy Sievers, would ever consider the issue of how many people actually watch their show.  The fact is, as reported, ABC “cashed in on the death show.”  The popular Internet website disclosed that the controversy over ABC’s “Nightline” program was a ratings boon.  Though the numbers from Nielsen were preliminary, they showed Ted Koppel beating the previous Friday’s “Nightline” by 22 percent, and the rating was up 29 percent compared to other nights the same week.

Ratings don’t matter?  Tell that to longtime ABC News employee Sam Donaldson, whose syndicated radio show has gone down the tubes.  Over the years, Donaldson used to play the liberal in the conservative vs. liberal debates held at annual Conservative Political Action Conferences.  He was an entertaining character, but it’s obvious that people didn’t want to listen to his monologues on radio.

Meanwhile, the liberal radio network called “Air America” is running into still more problems.  Three of its top officials have resigned and another has been fired.  To make matters worse, the network failed to make payroll, leaving 100 employees unpaid.  The network has had trouble getting and keeping affiliates because the liberal programming has very little appeal.

It seems obvious that Koppel, or at least his producer, Leroy Sievers, understood that Nightline’s ratings were lagging and that they needed a publicity stunt to generate interest.  That’s why they aired their show on “The Fallen,” exploiting U.S. war dead in Iraq.  Fox News Sunday countered with a tribute to America’s war dead on May 9th that highlighted why they have died, and what they have died for, rather than just the fact that they died.  Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, said that Nightline’s program didn’t provide “the context of what they went halfway around the world to do.”

William Kristol said on Fox News that Koppel’s motive may have been other than ratings.  He suggested that Koppel is trying to emerge as a latter-day Walter Cronkite, the former CBS Newsman who likes to boast that he played a role in America’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War.  If Koppel was trying to turn America against the Iraq war, he will fail?primarily because even with the higher ratings for that particular show, he doesn’t have that big an audience.  It’s been reported in the past that Koppel has been interested in leaving journalism to become a U.S. Secretary of State.  Perhaps he was auditioning for that post in a Kerry administration.

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