- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Network snub

Rather than continuing to pursue maximum profit at the expense of an informed citizenry, the major television networks, as a civic responsibility, should once again begin to cover more of the presidential-election process.

“In 2004, what formerly was gavel-to-gavel network coverage of national conventions was reduced to three hours and three speeches for each convention by ABC, CBS and NBC,” says Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

“In 2000, for the first time, two networks, Fox and NBC, failed to cover at least one presidential debate in favor of baseball and entertainment programming, respectively,” notes Mr. Gans, adding that the 2000 and 1996 elections had the smallest amount of political coverage on the nightly news of any since television became central in American life.

For those who argue that cable news channels pick up where networks leave off, the average prime-time viewing audience for all the cable news providers combined is about 6 million. The average prime-time audience for the major networks is upwards of 30 million viewers — five times as many Americans who tune into cable.

It’s not any easier these days for the real “West Wing” to air in prime time. In fact, the office of the president seems to have lost its clout.

“Presidents can no longer command prime-time coverage for press conferences, save with respect to issues of war and terror, and must hold them in the afternoons to get three minutes on the nightly news — or risk getting no network coverage whatsoever,” Mr. Gans says.

As for networks losing profits: “The networks can clearly afford to provide the public with the information they need. General Electric, the parent company of NBC, recorded a 2003 net profit of $15 billion. Disney, which owns ABC; Viacom, which owns CBS; and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns Fox, all netted between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion.

“A few prime-time hours of convention, election night, debate, and presidential press conference coverage would not put even a scratch on their bottom lines,” he says.

Alternative air

Minus major network coverage, President Bush’s re-election campaign has recognized the importance of using alternative media to reach and strengthen its base of supporters.

That said, Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in recent weeks have noticeably increased the frequency of interviews granted to talk radio and cable television news.

Richard Viguerie, a veteran Republican political strategist, argues in his new book“America’s Right Turn” that effective use of new and alternative news outlets will determine the 2004 Election Day victor.

“Because this presidential race is so close, it is the candidate that caters to its base that will win in November,” he says.

Green environment

Wonder why they’re called “green” groups?

Public Interest Watch is calling for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate some of the top environmental charities for paying “enormous” salaries to their executives.

“These groups literally beg for donations, giving the impression that they cannot accomplish their mission unless the average citizen pitches in,” says Lewis Fein, the watchdog group’s executive director. “At the same time, they are quietly paying their executives huge six-figure salaries.”

How huge?

Mr. Fein says contributors, for instance, might be “shocked to learn that their financial sacrifice is — in part — funding an executive-compensation package for Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp that is in excess of $320,000 per year, as well as enormous six-figure compensation packages for other Environmental Defense executives.”

Muslims For Bush

Muslims For Bush have announced $10,000 in prizes for the best artwork, op-ed articles and TV commercials “that can demonstrate why all Americans, especially American Muslims, should re-elect President Bush.”

The top prize of $7,000 will go to the best 30- to 60-second commercial that could air a few weeks before the Nov. 2 election, says Muslims For Bush co-founder Muhammad Ali Hasan.

Patriotic strip

Minimum number of Americans who registered to vote at strip clubs so far this summer: 4,000.

Harper’s Index, September 2004

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]times.com.

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