Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Media and the Election: "What I've found inside TV news is a drunken exuberance for stories involving celebrity, lurid crime and sex scandal -- matched by a grim timidity and fear of offending the powers that be, especially if they're conservatives. The biggest fear is of doing anything that could get you or your network accused of being liberal.

"In 2002, I was an on-air commentator at MSNBC, and also senior producer on the 'Donahue' show, the most-watched program on the channel. In the last months of the program, before it was terminated on the eve of the Iraq war, we were ordered by management that every time we booked an antiwar guest, we had to book 2 pro-war guests. If we booked two guests on the left, we had to book 3 on the right. At one meeting, a producer suggested booking Michael Moore and was told that she would need to book 3 right-wingers for balance. I considered suggesting Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our studio couldn't accommodate the 86 right-wingers we would have needed for balance."

I've seen this phenomenon in the Australia TV media. Some years ago I recall Chomsky being interviewed on the Lateline program. It was ridiculous. He was framed by no less than 3 other guests. Chomsky is obviously one of the most important commentators in the world today, and has been for years, and he deserves the courtesy of allowing his views to be explicated and discussed, rather than buried. A more recent example was an interview by SBS Dateline with Michael McKinley. It was 'balanced' by an appearance from someone from the 'Lowy Institute'. As a result the interview was downright annoying. McKinley had some sharp and interesting things to say on the Powell resignation and other matters, but half the interview time was simply wasted by bland and inane interruptions from the pro-Bush stooge.

"When we look at the media's role in the 2004 election, we make a mistake to focus on election coverage per se. The basis for Bush's victory was in place way before 2004. At the end of last year, a huge study done by the University of Maryland's PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that most of those who got their news from the commercial TV networks held at least 1 of 3 fundamental "misperceptions" about the war in Iraq (and some held 2 or 3 of them):

* that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11
* that WMDs had been found in Iraq
* that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Viewers of Fox News, where I worked for years, were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all 3 questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.

"How can you have a meaningful election in a country where, according to polls, half or more of the American people don't know who attacked us on 9/11? They think Saddam Hussein was involved."

"Last month, PIPA released a new study that found majorities of Bush supporters, sometimes huge majorities, not only had major misunderstandings of the basic facts about Iraq, but they were misled on all sorts of other Bush positions. 74 percent of Bush supporters believed that Bush favors inclusion of labor and environmental standards in trade agreements.

"60 percent of Bush supporters said the US should not have initiated a war with Iraq unless evidence established that Iraq had WMDs and was supporting the Al Qaeda terrrorists. This should have been a bloc of Kerry voters. But they were unaware the evidence did not exist."

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