Stacking the Deck

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Ever had the feeling you were being preached to by only one side of the choir?

That's what's happening on some of the Sunday morning talk shows.

A new study by Media Matters for America says the right continues to dominate the Sunday gabfests, where administration officials and their supporters apparently get free rein to spout the party line.

For example, on the Sunday after last year's fall elections, in which Democrats took control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years, viewers tuned in to Meet the Press to hear what the Democratic win meant for the country, only to discover that Tim Russert chose not to invite any Democrats onto the show. Instead, his guests were Republican Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman, who ran as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary.

That kind of tilted perspective is on view almost every Sunday, especially on NBC and CBS, according to Media Matters, which calls itself a "progressive research" organization dedicated to "correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

But Media Matters also goes after news organizations that conservatives believe are liberal. Current postings on the Media Matters Web site criticize stories on CNN and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and Time magazine.

The current report about Sunday shows analyzed ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting's Fox News Sunday, classifying by party or ideology each of more than 2,000 guests in 2005 and 2006, as well as guests since the midterm elections.

David Brock, president of Media Matters, says the "all-important Sunday shows are largely out of step with what's happening in Washington and across America. The deck is still stacked in favor of conservatives. This is a serious problem for the networks, one that compromises their integrity and threatens to taint political discourse across the country."

This is happening despite previous claims by the networks that a conservative advantage existed on the Sunday shows simply because Republicans controlled Congress and the White House.

Ironically, while Fox News Sunday continues to favor Republican and conservative guests overall, it has hosted a balance of Republican and Democratic elected officials since the election, a feat Meet the Press and Face the Nation are far from achieving.

"When an overtly unbalanced program like =Fox News Sunday manages to have more balance between Republican and Democratic officials than Meet the Press and Face the Nation, there is obviously a serious problem," Brock said.

ABC's This Week has also been relatively even-handed, balancing between both political spectrums since the midterm elections, the report said.

But all four shows interviewed more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives overall, and interviewed more Republican elected and administration officials than Democratic officials. They also hosted more conservative journalists than liberal journalists, held more panels that tilted right than tilted left, and gave more solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives.

There's always been a tussle over bias in media. For years, it's been a right-wing mantra that the mainstream media was a cabal of liberalism, a charge that ignored the positions of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the New York Post and Fox News.

One of the interesting things that came out of the Scooter Libby trial was that Dick Cheney's staff believed that by getting him booked on Meet the Press they could get their message out without any trouble from Tim Russert.

That may do a disservice to Russert's long record as a probing journalist, but, if the Media Matters report is true, the Cheney people may not have been entirely deluded.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan