FAIR helps define the PBS “LiarHour”

Paul Mueth, co-host of News from Neptune (all cards on the table: I was the technical director of this show), frequently refers to the Lehrer NewsHour on PBS as the “LiarHour”. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting gives us another installment to indicate why; updating their work from 1990, FAIR’s 2006 survey of the PBS news program concludes that numerous identifiable biases exist within the program. Two of the most interesting are the following (all emphasis is theirs):

  • At a time when a large proportion of the U.S. public already favored withdrawal from Iraq, “stay the course” sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5-to-1. In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq.
  • Among partisan sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by 2-to-1 (66 percent vs. 33 percent). Only one representative of a third party appeared during the study period.

In the first point, it’s pretty obvious that the NewsHour, like other corporate media, is a cheerleader for the war. Take a look at who is “underwriting” the NewsHour and you’ll see why I call it corporate media (don’t forget agribusiness corporate criminal Archer Daniels Midland). When the show has some of the same masters as the people interviewed on the show, it’s no surprise why you see FAIR draw the conclusions they do. Corporations don’t like close scrutiny (thus, no outsiders) and they want to cast their own message (thus, plenty of insiders or “elites”). Underwriting itself is a sham; many of the spots you see for underwriters are comparable, if not the same, as the spots used during commercial breaks for the same organizations. A slight change in the tone of the voiceover, no mention of any specific product or price, and an underwriting spot is made. I saw the same cognitive dissonance at a local so-called community radio station where I worked which considers itself commercial-free. Similar are the differences between “trailers” before movies (which some say they miss when absent) and ads for other products besides movies (which people seem to object to). The “trailers” (so called because they used to appear after the main feature) are often the same ads you’d see on TV and probably turn away from. But blow up the picture and turn up the volume on the audio, and an ad becomes a desired part of the moviegoing experience for some.

The interesting part in the second point isn’t the bold print. That’s not news to anyone who follows the parties on the issues; the two major American political parties are overwhelmingly in support of one another’s points on money matters. Third parties and independents get almost zero coverage on TV (and can’t get into so-called “debates” to cast their own message). C-SPAN, which is riddled with pro-war speakers and libertarian coverage of money issues, occasionally puts someone from a third party or an independent candidate on their shows. Every time I’ve seen third party candidates for office in the past 8 years, it’s been on one of the C-SPAN channels. Their lack of commentators is much more to my liking than any other coverage of political events (including anti-war news sources), but their selection of whom to cover leaves much to be desired and doesn’t strike me as what FAIR calls “diverse” programming.