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Whatever happened to balanced coverage?

Moments before I began writing this, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts began the ABC broadcast by saying the network has team coverage of Barack Obama's trip to Europe and the Middle East. That coverage included criticisms by John McCain's campaign that Obama's trip is little more than a photo opportunity by a presidential candidate trying to beef up his foreign policy resume and reputation. Regardless of if you agree with the McCain campaign's assessment of the trip, you do have to wonder about the over-the-top coverage of the trip and, indeed, Obama's campaign in general, by the mainstream media.

CNN's Jack Cafferty noticed the disproportionate coverage. In his blog yesterday he pointed out that 200 journalists have asked to travel with Obama overseas and that all three broadcast networks will send their main anchors to cover the story. Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric did not join McCain on any of his three foreign trips in the last four months. Cafferty also points out that since June, the networks have devoted almost three times as much coverage to Obama as McCain. I agree with Cafferty's assessments, including historical significance, about why Obama garners more coverage, but it doesn't make it OK.

You may ask if there is a law or regulation that requires news agencies to use balance in their coverage. Yes and no. It all has to do with the so-called Equal Time Rule, which dates back to the Radio Act of 1927. Congress was concerned, perhaps rightfully so, that broadcasters may use the airwaves to skew an election through unbalanced coverage. Over time, though, the rule has evolved/devolved. Eventually Congress, likely trying to protect the ability of incumbents to get better coverage than their opponents, established certain exemptions from the Equal Time Rule, which mainly applied to news coverage. In other words, a news program could show a candidate without being worried about having to give opponents equal time, but other formats outside of news would trigger the rule. For instance, when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor in California, his movies were pulled from the airwaves, because showing Terminator on a LA station would mean the station would have to give all his opponents the same amount of time.

Even though we are excluded from a governmental requirement to balance our coverage of candidates, a sense of ethics should dictate we do a better job. It is our job as journalists to serve the public interest and provide fair coverage of issues, including elections. While I agree with the exception that allows us to cover an incumbent doing his or her official work and not having to worry about giving equal time to an opponent, I do not agree with giving one candidate a free ride for something purely related to a campaign, as seems to be happening with Obama's foreign trip.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

Other Media Coverage Barometers

Well hello old friend... I understand your thoughts here. When it comes to presidential candidates, we need to strive for equal coverage, but volume can't be the only barometer we measure our media coverage by. One may have more volume in coverage than the other for a variety of reasons, but if the coverage is more negative toward one, that also needs to be taken into account. The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, which has studied network news since the 1980's, analyzed coverage on CBS, ABC, and NBC, and found that when reporters, anchors, and analysts expressed any opinion, they were significantly more negative toward Obama..... so of the on-air statements made about each candidate, 72% of comments made toward Obama were negative, while 57% of comments toward McCain were negative. On the flip side, 28% of comments made toward or about Obama were positive compared to McCain at 43%. So according to this non-partisan study, media coverage has been 15% more negative toward Obama. And just to back up the legitimacy of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a 2006 study found networks giving far more positive coverage to Dems than Reps, a finding which right wing hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck praised... so this group is hardly "in the bag" for Democrats. Another interesting tidbit is that the situation was reversed during the primaries... Obama 62% positive, mccain 34% positive... and Obama 38% negative, mccain 66% negative.

Fairness in news coverage?

I used to work in broadcast news many years ago, and back then we were held to a standard of fairness, particularly when it came to political campaigns and candidates. You made sure ALL candidates got a fair chance in front of the microphone, and there was a feeling among newspeople of an obligation to the public to try, as much as possible, to get the different views out in the open. That was back when news was reported in newscasts, and entertainment was left outside the newscasts. Now, on the local level, the evening news (usually 90 minutes worth)is more fluff and a toned-down "Entertainment Tonight" program than it is real journalism. They have more time to devote to stories, to develop stories and give real information to the viewing/listening public, but it's wasted, time and time again. As for fairness, it's gone out the window. Again, even on the local level, candidate "debates" aren't true debates of issues, they're simply mudslinging contests. Sad, sad, sad. Like one of the other folks responding to this piece, I too get my news from more than one source, always have. I read and listen to the left and the right, figuring the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Journalists and ethics?

Kevin, by now you should have realized that you chose the wrong field if you wanted an occupation known for its ethics. Oh, I'm not saying that all journalists are inherently UN-ethical, but that they push ethics to the back burner when they stand in the way of a political agenda. I remember a story from back in the early Nineties, when the left was going crazy about "assault weapons." Tom Brokaw reported in depth about a shipping container filleds with Chinese-made ammunition seized by U.S Customs in Long Beach. He went on and on about the hundreds of thousands of rounds kept off the streets, how the ammunition was for AK-47s, "the choice of street gangs," blah, blah, blah.... The next week, when U.S. Customs said, "Oops," and released the shipping container to the importer who DID have the proper license and documentation, not a word was mentioned on NBC Nightly News. After all, the critical point wasn't really accurately reporting about that ammunition seizure, it was a chance to spread the left's line on the evil nature of assault weapons. Right now, NPR is presenting a series that is playing up the "total wonderfulness of national healthcare," by describing every nationalized health care system known to man, and how superior it is to what we American Neanderthals are willing to live with. Of course, they never mention the horror stories, such as a third of colo-rectal cancers progressing to untreatable and terminal in the UK while patients wait for space to open in National Health chemotherapy schedules. They don't bring up the patients who fly to the United States to pay out-of-pocket for an artificial joint, rather than face the two to three year wait Canadians face. They also seem to barely mention the insane income tax rates that support these national healthcare systems. Heck, I'd just appreciate a story on any radio or TV network that plays up the fact that five out of six Americans DO have health insurance, and asks if we're ready to mess around with most people's healthcare for the sake of that one other person. It's like patriotism and love of country. Journalists probably don't hate America, but journalist is the only occupation I know of where you place your occupation ahead of your own country, as evidenced by the stories coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Killing two-hundred targeted Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters will be mentioned in the fouth or fifth paragraph of a story entitled "American Airstrike Kills Three Civilians." Don't take it personal, Kevin, but your occupational choice truly does have you lying with dogs. I do hope you escape the fleas and hang on to your ethics as long as you can. If you ever move to network, however, be prepared to check those ethics at the door every day when you get to work.

balanced coverage?

Balanced Coverage???? There has not been any balanced coverage on the ABC, NBC, or CBS in years. They continually push THEIR AGENDA onto the American people, as if they hope to accomplish mass brain washing to get the candiate of their choice voted into office. I resent the way they start covering the election results long before all the states have had a chance to vote. By the time the west coast states get around to voting all they hear is how the Democratic candiate is leading. In case memories are short, remember the Gore and Bush election? I saw how they actually had Gore as President hours before all the citizens had a chance to vote. How shocked the news reporters were when Bush actually won. I have lost faith with the media to ever do any objective reporting. I watch the local news for the weather. I don't watch the national news, I get my news from other sources that I feel are more objective. It is a known fact that ABC, NBC, CBS and some newspapers are controlled by left wingers that want to push their agenda onto the American people, be it the elections, scares of second hand smoke and global warming, drilling for oil in the USA or scares about what food we should or should not eat. Hmmmm, reminds me of some books I read, named "1984" and "Animal Farm".

You need a vacation badly.

You need a vacation badly. We all do.

news media

I agree with guest3. I have no respect for the national news media anymore. I view the Obama coverage as free advertisement for his campaign. I believe, when the election is held this year, the news media will again be surprised. They underestimate the American People who will go and vote for the person THEY feel is best to lead this country. It's an insult to every voter when they have the liberal left distorting the election. I voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the last election, but I am so turned off by the distortion of facts by the democrats this election, I will vote straight Republican this time around. They don't have a right to point a finger at George Bush anymore. They have stooped below his level.

give me a break

Sounds like a few of you folks need to switch back over to your fair and balanced Fox News channel after you listen to Rush and Hannity all day on the radio. While the coverage Obama is getting is more than McCain's coverage, I would think its because of the historical relevance of the first time a black man has been this close to becoming the next president of our great country. Perhaps it is a bit excessive, but I'm not paranoid enough to believe its due to the fact that the "left" controls the airwaves. If that was the case we wouldn't even know who the republican candidate is.

Look, I'm a democrat, born

Look, I'm a democrat, born and raised and secret service cleared to a level to work alongside Pres candidates in the campaign. Yet I, too, think the Obama-craze is a bit much. This is the first year I have lacked enthusiasm about an election. It's disappointing to me. I want to like Obama... he's my candidate, right? It's really hard, though, to jump on board with someone so many poorly informed individuals hail as a hero. He is not a tremendous candidate and if more people knew the difference between rhetoric and substance... they would be as frustrated with the situation as those of us in the know. For the record, not even everyone in Obama's camp feels great about the level of coverage. It can easily backfire. Underdogs in any competition (McCain) have a special sort of nostalgia in American culture. Did I support another candidate? Yes. Is that why I'm critical of the folks "drinking the Obama kool-aid?" No. I just want to see an honest election where someone actually has the guts to stand up and share their platform with me on an honest intellectual level. Not someone who just says what they assume will garner the most raucous roars from the crowd. Rock on democrats, rock on Obama, but do it with some reverence for the position we hope you ascend to in 2009. You are not any different from any other flesh and blood human being right now... but you have the potential for GREATNESS if you remain humble and accept the responsibility of carrying our dreams... not your dreams... on your shoulders.

don't tell everything

Look, I'm a democrat, born and raised... I don't think I would've told that.

OK, 1 break coming up

"historical relevance of the first time a black man has been this close to becoming the next president of our great country." Obama is half white but leans black to pander for their vote based on race. Most of the other networks and newspapers lean so far left that Fox and Rush do offer a balance.

"Most of the other networks

"Most of the other networks and newspapers lean so far left that Fox and Rush do offer a balance." You are kidding, right?

Not at all

NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NY Times, Wilmington Star Times... have for many many years towed the party line for the Democrats.

Uh... you can scratch CBS

Uh... you can scratch CBS off that list, maestro. I'm sure you're aware of Couric's recent interview with McCain in which an answer he gave was edited out and replaced with an answer he gave to a previous question. In his original answer, he gave an inaccurate portrayal of the timeline regarding the "Surge" and "Sunni Awakening," and in the answer which was edited in to replace this flub, he gives a negative statement that attacks Obama's character... "He'd rather lose a war than lose an election." Included in statement offered by CBS... "Mistakes happen." Well, those of us in the business, whether a reporter, photographer, or editor... we know mistakes of that magnitude don't just happen. It takes intention to go in and clip out one answer and actually insert another one... especially with such a high-profile interview... now who made that call is the question. Was it Couric, a producer, or higher? I haven't seen such irresponsible journalism on a national level ever, excluding FOX NEWS, of course.