Friday, February 20, 2009

Bias at The News Hour

Tibor R. Machan

Often I check out newscasts from several sources, not just in print and on the Internet but also on radio and TV. One place where I check things out fairly regularly is PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) TV's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, mainly because I am curious how a program funded to a considerable extent from money taken in taxes handles controversial topics. After all, the taxes are taken from all Americans who have a wide variety of viewpoints about the news while The News Hour has limited resources and time and obviously cannot give all these viewpoints an equal chance to be represented.

Not surprisingly, then, nearly all treatments of controversial matters are decidedly biased on this program. And while one can say the same about NBC-TV, ABC-TV, CBS-TV, CNN TV and Fox TV, those are all privately funded and they aren't taking money from people and covering stories in ways these people may very well find seriously objectionable. PBS has an obligation to do a creditable job of representing the wide variety of viewpoints, at least to some extent, while those other privately funded organizations do not other than in a professional sense, as journalists. PBS's responsibility is a political, not only a professional one, because they are funded by all taxpayers!

There is, of course, no doubt about the bias on The News Hour. For example, only two commentators are invited to offer opinions on various issues, David Brooks and Mark Shields, day after day, without a break other than when one goes on vacation. Needless to note, there is a far greater variety of opinions on the various topics in the country than what Brooks and Shields provide. These two represent mainstream conservatism and liberalism, at best, although even there many conservatives and liberals would probably find that their views never see the light of day at all.

But the bias is evident elsewhere, perhaps even more, This is when one of Lehrer's reporters brings in two or three economists, foreign policy experts, educators, business professionals and the like, again mostly lukewarm mainstreamers without a scintilla of a seriously challenging opinion coming from any of them. It is mostly people who would be offered space on the Op Ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. Now and then a Wall Street Journal reporter or editor is invited but rarely.

Even part from the selection of "experts" in the various fields being discussed on the air, there is also the more blatant bias of some of the news reporters. For instance, in a recent report on the way President Obama's stimulus plan is being viewed around Washington, reporter Kwame Holmes made reference to some doubts about this policy by referring to "fears that President Obama's economic plan may not be enough...." He didn't mention fears that the president's plan may be wrongheaded, misguided, overblown, or the like--only that it may "not be enough," thus showing a bias in favor of just one way the plan might be improved, namely, by making the various bailouts even larger than what they are because as they stand they are too little.

In fact, of course, hundreds, even thousands of critics can be found across America's universities and think tanks who do find the plan misguided, wrongheaded, and so forth, as the list of them featured recently in a Cato Institute sponsored advertisement makes abundantly clear.

Has Jim Lehrer ever let anyone on the program who pointed out that President Obama grossly misrepresented whether there exists a consensus among academic economists concerning his stimulus policy? No. No one has appeared on the program, one paid for in part by all Americans, voicing criticism of the Obama policy apart from some Republicans who could then be dismissed as being purely partisan, without any scholarly credentials.

Bias on PBS TV and NPR (Nation Public Radio) abounds, of course, and one could do a doctoral dissertation ferreting it out but in a column I can only call attention to a few cases. Yet they should suffice to indicate that public television is anything but representative to the American public.

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