Local coverage of the Michael Jackson verdict was substantial, to say the least.
WSMV-Channel 4 devoted the first seven minutes of its evening air time to the story the day the non-guilty verdicts were handed downor almost one third of its first half-hour broadcast. WKRN-Channel 2 gave us six minutes, and WTVF-Channel 5 four minutes.
But at least none of them used the tactic of the FOX network anchor, Shepard Smith, whose voice could be heard editorializing over video of the Jackson motorcade, screaming, "You're a freak! You're a freak!"
Meanwhile, The Tennessean ran eight stories about the verdict the next morning.
Apparently, market surveys show we can't get enough of Jacko, Brad and Angelina, Cruise and Holmes, the "Runaway Bride" and the latest "missing white girl."
By the way, the American military death toll in Iraq just surpassed 1,720.
When the "Tennessee Waltz" bribery scheme broke last month, WKRN-Channel 2 news broadcast a montage of pictures of the public officials caught up in the sting. Unfortunately, it included photographs of two people not involved in the operationstate Rep. Larry Miller of Memphis and Memphis Mayor Willie Herentonthough neither was identified by name.
Miller and his lawyer approached Mike Sechrist, WKRN's president and general manager, about a retraction and an apology. The station never heard from Herenton. But after discussions, Miller decided to accept an off-air and online apology.
"We made a bad mistake, and we admitted it," Sechrist says. "The pictures were on-screen for no more than two secondsnames never mentioned. We corrected the situation as soon as we could, the producer killed the montage and we put an apology on our website, where it ran for 24 hours."
Bias about bias
On Teddy Bart's Roundtable radio show recently, the subject of media bias (which for some reason always means liberal bias to Republicans) came up.
Despite conventional wisdom, there is far more conservative bias in the "news" media, and on the show I cited the fact that hundreds and hundreds (upwards of three-quarters) of daily newspapers are owned by Republicans and conservatives. Further, there is the overwhelming predominance of Republican, corporate-owned television networks. (GE owns NBC, Disney owns ABC, Rupert Murdock owns FOX, etc.)
But the conservative Republican guest on the program naturally fell back on a single example to make his point.
"What about NPR?" asked retired Rear Admiral Jerry Breast.
Even with almost total domination of radio (thousands of stations) by conservative, right-wing ownershipClear Channel, Cumulus, Sinclair and many othersthe Republicans complain about one moderate venue. Interestingly, polls have shown that only about 20 percent of respondents believe that National Public Radio is too liberal, while 10 percent believe it is too conservative. In other words, more than two out of three Americans believe NPR is balanced.
Most of the complaints about the alleged bias of public broadcasting centers on the public funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, meager though it is. But here's the irony: while Republicans claim to be dedicated to more local control, the chairman of CPB is being investigated for hiring a Republican lobbyist to kill a bill that would have given local public radio and television stations more representation on the board.
With a Republican chairman and GOP control of the board, expect moderation to change to conservatism. The chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who hired the lobbyist without telling the board, also seems to have hired a man to monitor the political leanings of Bill Moyers. In addition, the chairman wants to hire a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee to be the new president of CPB.
What all of this activity indicates is that conservatives and their evangelical runningmates are not interested in balanced information. They want dominion.
Speaking of lack of local involvement in the news media, FOX-Channel 17 news receives and passes through to viewers a steady diet of conservative opinion. And all of it comes from Sinclair Broadcast Group's national headquarters in Maryland.
The local anchors routinely cut to a taped feed from Sinclair HQ's Mark Hyman, a career military officer who offers hackneyed and predictable commentary. In his segment, "The Point," he walks from the shadows to bash The New York Times, blister Dan Rather and editorialize about whether condemned prisoners should be allowed to donate organs.
None of the other local television stations provides such knee-jerk insights. Must be that they're too liberal.
FOX 17 also provides a "national news" feed from Sinclair HQ labeled "Get This." It offers editorially slanted coverage of such topics as "pork barrel" spending in Alaska and the legislation in Texas that would have banned "sexy" cheerleading. (It failed.) Of course, inexplicably, they offered coverage of the latter story from a cheerleading camp in Alabama.
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