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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Nets v. Bush
Don’t Believe Everything You See on TV...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 9/30/04

CBS and its news anchor, Dan Rather, were obviously trying to ride out the storm over Rather’s use of bogus documents in a transparent effort to discredit George W. Bush by raising issues regarding his National Guard service on the widely watched “60 Minutes.” The television viewing public should not permit CBS to get off so easily. They should demand more than the terse apologies that the network and Mr. Rather reluctantly offered after some initial stonewalling.

Millions of Americans take whatever they see and hear on the network news telecasts as gospel. The big three news anchors have celebrity status and are among the most popular figures in America. At the same time, newspaper and news magazine readership is declining as a percentage of the population. Blame it on declining reading skills, increasing time demands on households or the easy convenience of TV; whatever the reason, greater numbers of Americans are turning to the TV networks for their news

Far less mental effort is involved in watching the news than in reading it. In newspapers and news magazines, you can pick and choose from many pages and columns. With TV, you take what the producers and editors choose to present in a tightly constrained time frame. Busy parents, after a day’s work can absorb some of the key stories while performing other tasks in the kitchen or pretending to listen to the kids. The problem is that they get only the highlights that the producers want them to get in a half hour news “show”, much of which is devoted to commercials. The viewer is exposed to as much product information as news.

Television treatment of national and international news is superficial at best. Newspapers and news magazines can devote pages or an entire section to a story. The TV networks can devote only a few moments to it, sandwiched between commercials for products promising relief from erectile disfunction, headache, clogged arteries and arthritis. Choice of images and sound bites is critical to setting the overall tone and thrust of a particular story. They can and do influence the viewers’ perception of a particular candidate, issue or the war. For millions of Americans, this is their only news source.

To counteract criticism that TV news coverage is shallow, there are the so-called TV news magazines like “60 Minutes” and “20/20” where “in-depth” coverage is attempted. The producers and editors select the stories and source material, of course. Much of the viewing public believes that the investigative reporting they are watching is fearlessly objective and that the chips are allowed to fall where they may. If you believe that is the case, then you will surely believe me when I tell you that I am really Elvis Presley.

Consider these facts. At the height of a hotly-contested presidential campaign, CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran a story which reflected adversely upon President Bush’s National Guard service over 35 years ago, a subject that had previously been raised by Bush’s critics in the last election in an unsuccessful attempt to discredit him. CBS based its story on documents, later discredited, obtained from a single source widely known to be a Bush critic. The source later admitted that he had misled CBS.

The remarkable thing here is not that CBS was duped. Rather (no pun intended) it is that CBS relied on a single source whose objectivity was clearly suspect because of his previous criticisms of the president and then failed to authenticate the documents or verify the facts. The network and Rather then stood by the story until the ensuing backlash forced an admission and grudging apology. Can anyone truly believe that there was any other motive here but to influence an election campaign?

Major network news shows like “60 Minutes” feign objectivity but are anything but that. The major TV networks are not alone in their liberal leanings, of course. A1996 Roper survey of 139 Washington correspondents revealed that 61% acknowledged being liberal or liberal-to-moderate while less than one-tenth described themselves as republican or moderate-to-republican. However, the liberal bias in the major TV networks is far more pervasive and effective than that in the print media, since the latter is more often balanced with opposing viewpoints.

Watch the evening news on the major TV networks and you will see the news filtered through the biases of the producers and editors. You will also see an abundance of images from Iraq suggesting that things there are going very badly for us there but you will rarely see footage on the progress being made in the two-thirds of the country that is relatively peaceful. If these news “shows” comprise your sole source of national and international news, then you are truly missing a lot. CRO

copyright 2004 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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