- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Did you know there is too much opinion and not enough reporting of the facts in the news you’re getting? This shocking information comes from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an affiliate of Columbia University.

The study’s focus on 250 stories mainly looked at how the cable TV networks and Internet bloggers addressed those stories. It concluded such outlets represent a “journalism of assertion” that favors personal opinion over reporting.

The Fox News Channel (where I work and no one has asked me to write about this survey) is singled out for alleged imbalance on such stories as the Iraq war, where the study finds twice as many “positive” as “negative” stories. Seven in 10 stories on FNC were said to include opinions not attributed to reporting.

Reporting on the study, the Los Angeles Times referred to “the model for the mainstream media,” which it said are “taking the time to gather and scrutinize each piece of information.”

But the mainstream public does not perceive that the “mainstream media” take the time to check facts and eschew opinion in their “reporting.” According to the Pew Center for the People and the Press, only 35 percent of Americans think the media get the facts right.

This distrust and the perception of bias on the part of the so-called “mainstream media” have fueled the rise of alternative information sources. It has also fueled the angst of the big media boys, who are being held accountable for their biases for the first time. They don’t like such accountability and so they react by attacking cable TV and Internet bloggers.

Were it not for these alternate sources of information, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth might never have found a way to be heard about John Kerry, and Dan Rather might still be the CBS anchor instead of being held accountable for misreporting on President Bush’s National Guard records.

What should amuse and amaze many people is the sudden “discovery” of opinion journalism in the media. The Media Research Center for years has chronicled liberal bias on the broadcast networks and in newspapers and newsmagazines. But MRC is largely ignored by the big media or dismissed as “conservative” or “right-wing,” implying its work cannot be trusted. (For full disclosure: I’m an unpaid emcee for the Media Research Center’s annual Media DisHonors Awards in April.)

If “opinion journalism” is now regarded as something to be avoided, how about beginning the purge at the broadcast networks? On the CBS Evening News last March 31, Mr. Rather suggested American civilians volunteered to work in Iraq because “In this economy it may be, for some, the only job they can find.” Is that opinion, or reporting? No source was cited or interview held with anyone who said such a thing.

In December 2003, Peter Jennings told the “ABC World News Tonight” audience, “Iraqis keep telling us life is not as stable for them as it was when Saddam Hussein is in power.” Viewers might have concluded Mr. Jennings had slipped in his personal opinion because no survey was presented and no person interviewed to justify such a conclusion.

CNN’s Aaron Brown delivered what a fair-minded viewer might have concluded was a personal opinion on his Nov. 10, 2004, “NewsNight” program. He referred to criticism of John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans and whether Mr. Kerry deserved the three Purple Hearts and an early out from Vietnam. Mr. Brown said, “Look at this picture here [in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper], if you can. ‘Troops’ bravery honored in Iraq.’ These are all Purple Heart winners. Some day, one of them will run for president and someone will say they didn’t earn the Purple Heart. Welcome to America.”

Commenting, not reporting, on the number of moderate speakers at Republican National Convention in New York last summer, CNN’s Judy Woodruff wondered, “Can the Republicans get away with putting moderate speakers up there?”

During past Republican Conventions, the networks have questioned if the GOP could “get away” with having so many “right-wing” speakers. One might reasonably conclude these reporters and anchors are troubled not by the wing so much as the Republican Party itself. They make no similar remarks about the ideology of Democratic Convention speakers.

The problem for the mainstream media (which isn’t mainstream anymore) is that its denial of its own biases has caused the rise of bloggers and cable news, especially Fox. If they had been truly reporting and not indoctrinating, there would be no Fox and no bloggers to study.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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