Putting corporate “news” in perspective

Recently I had time to watch the Wednesday, March 12, 2003 Charlie Rose interview with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! (transcript, video). Despite Rose asking if she’d return to his show, Rose has not had her back. After watching this interview I think it’s readily apparent why: Rose’s arguments just don’t work out.

In that 2003 interview Goodman talked about how, during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, corporate news presented the American public with a “parade of retired generals” and a “military hardware show”.

In the years after this interview studies have found exactly what she was talking about:

  • May 2009: Amy Goodman interviewed David Barstow about his Pulitzer-prize winning corporate news exposé. As Goodman put it in February 2010, Barstow is “the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who exposed how dozens of retired generals working as radio and television analysts had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to military contractors that benefited from policies they defended.” (emphasis mine) Barstow, despite winning such a widely lauded prize, didn’t get interviewed much about his story.
  • February 2010: Goodman interviewed Sebastian Jones about his Nation cover story called “The Media-Lobbying Complex” summarizing it as “A four-month investigation into the covert corporate influence on cable news found that since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials have repeatedly appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure that they are paid by corporate interests.

In 2003 Rose tried to press home that nobody at NBC, CBS, or ABC headquarters dictated what their reporters say.

CHARLIE ROSE: […] The point I was making is it’s not dictated by with whoever the corporate ownership is. I promise you that””they are not dictating. They are not saying we want you to have more generals who are in favor of the war than you have generals who are in opposition to the war; that’s just not the way it works.

AMY GOODMAN: They don’t have to say that. They hire the people who will do just that.

The movie “Outfoxed” includes FOX newsreaders telling us that FOX does tell their newsreaders what to say in a daily memo. But we don’t know if that’s so at other corporate news outlets. So we don’t know if what Rose claims is true but how would their reporting be any different if they were being dictated to?

FAIR also provides research useful to challenge Rose’s above assertion that “They are not saying we want you to have more generals who are in favor of the war than you have generals who are in opposition to the war; that’s just not the way it works.”:

  • by looking at the two weeks of coverage surrounding then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation at the UN. FAIR’s conclusion:

    More than two-thirds (267 out of 393) of the guests featured were from the United States. Of the U.S. guests, a striking 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. Only one of the official U.S. sources”“ Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.)”“ expressed skepticism or opposition to the war. Even this was couched in vague terms: “Once we get in there how are we going to get out, what’s the loss for American troops are going to be, how long we’re going to be stationed there, what’s the cost is going to be,” said Kennedy on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03).

  • by looking at news coverage after the US began bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003. In a report titled “Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent” which begins (emphasis theirs):

    Starting the day after the bombing of Iraq began on March 19, the three-week study (3/20/03-4/9/03) looked at 1,617 on-camera sources appearing in stories about Iraq on the evening newscasts of six television networks and news channels. The news programs studied were ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer Reports, Fox‘s Special Report with Brit Hume, and PBS‘s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. [The study was conducted using Nexis database transcripts. At publicatoin time, transcripts for six World News Tonight dates and two NewsHour dates were unavailable.]

    Sources were coded by name, occupation, nationality, position on the war and the network on which they appeared. Sources were categorized as having a position on the war if they expressed a policy opinion on the news shows studied, were currently affiliated with governments or institutions that took a position on the war, or otherwise took a prominent stance. For instance, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a hired military analyst for CNN, was not categorized as pro-war; we could find no evidence he endorsed the invasion or was affiliated with a group supporting the war. However, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC analyst, was classified as pro-war as a board member of the Committee for a Free Iraq, a pro-war group.

    Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1.

Update (2011-10-24): Charlie Rose invited journalists Amy Goodman and Christopher Hedges to his program.

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