CyberAlert -- 06/13/1996 -- Bias "Drained Out" of Brokaw

Bias "Drained Out" of Brokaw

One item today:

In an appearance Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Tom Brokaw claimed that people who think the media are biased "kind of like the status quo" and are upset because the media are "out there on the cutting edge of change on a daily basis." Referring to himself and Jim Lehrer of PBS, Brokaw asserted that their 35 years in journalism is "some small tribute" to the "fact that we've worked very hard to drain the bias out of what we do." We'll compare his assurance with some of his reporting.
Also, Jim Lehrer admitted he never heard of the Freedom Forum poll results.

In a National Press Club luncheon address on Tuesday (June 11) shown by C-SPAN, Tom Brokaw and Jim Lehrer discussed the NBC/PBS plans for joint convention coverage this summer. As they did in 1992, most nights NBC and PBS staff will appear together on PBS from 8 to 10pm ET. At 10pm, they'll split and each will do their own broadcast.
MRC intern Diane Lewis transcribed the highlights. I've put a + at the left side of key parts of these excerpts. In the Q & A time they were asked about the Freedom Forum poll revealing 89 percent of Washington reporters voted for Clinton. Brokaw responded:
"I think you'd have a hard time finding anybody in the Clinton White House right now who believes that the press is leaning the way of this President. I mean it's a common complaint among those people who are in the public arena. We wouldn't have it any other way. We don't intend to lean one way or the other. We hope to lean toward, as much as we can, at finding the facts about what's going on on any given day and over a course of time. I do think as well that in the case of Bob Dole, when you're behind and when you're trying to get something going, it's one of the ways you can kind of mobilize your troops. Someone said to me on the way in here today, in fact a couple people have, and I'm seeing one of them in the audience now, that there's not enough outrage out there about the FBI files, for example, that have ended up in the Clinton administration and the Clinton White House, at the moment. It's not because the press hasn't publicized this. It was a major point of discussion on Tim Russert's Meet the Press on Sunday. The other Sunday talk shows, it was a major piece last night by Brian Williams. It was covered on NBC on Friday night when we first heard about this. So there's been an extraordinary amount of exposure of the fact that these FBI files in fact, were taken from the FBI and left in the White House by what they're calling a lower-level army functionary."


Brokaw Reality Check:
-- Day the story broke on the front page of the Washington Times: Thursday, June 6. Brokaw's show waited until Friday.
-- Number of stories on NBC Nightly News Wednesday night June 12 about the files, a day in which Clinton and Dole traded charges about the FBI files: Zero.


Now back to the press club. Jim Lehrer then showed how clued in he is, conceding he never even heard of the poll: "On the specifics of just the voting question, I can honestly tell you, in 36 years now in this business, print and television, I have never had a conversation with a colleague, either internally, in other words in the organization I worked for, or in any other journalism organization, about how he or she or I were going to vote. It's not a subject of discussion. I'm surprised that people would even participate in a survey like that. I know the complaint, as Tom said, and we have them from everybody who's subject to the news. That particular thing, I hadn't seen the survey, it surprises me."
Asked about bias in news in general, Brokaw explained:
"You know Jim and I agree on almost everything. We both married our trophy-wives the first time around. We both have been the beneficiaries of having lived in households with four extraordinarily strong, gifted women, who had no hesitation about putting us in our place the moment we walked through the door. We could get a lot of attention under the bright lights and from all the attendants we have at the places we work until we arrived home, and then, there was kind of a leveling influence on the part of our families. And I think that it's fair to say that even that common experience, we also have a common attitude about this business of bias in the press. You know the old the cliche that we've all used over the years is that bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and we're out there on the cutting edge of change on a daily basis. That's what news is all about. That's the essence of news. What's new? What's different? What's changed from yesterday to today? The people, by and large, who are the recipients of that news, kind of like the status quo for the most part. They're comfortable. They've learned to deal with it and they don't want to adapt to the change. Therefore they have to learn to blame someone in some regard and they think therefore since we brought them the news of the change that somehow we are biased of favor of the change or biased in favor of what it is that we're reporting.
"The long and the short answer is that Jim couldn't be doing what he's been doing as long as he's been doing it. I couldn't doing it. None of the people that we've introduced here today. If everyday we woke up and thought, either individually or collectively, 'How are we going to sell our bias today? What's the little PBS conspiracy that we want to put out there and impose on this audience in either subtle or in not so transparent terms?' We just wouldn't survive. There's a give and take to all of this. But over the long-haul the audience either trusts us or it doesn't. It either has a sense of our fairness and our sense of integrity or it doesn't, and I think the fact that we're still standing, this day, 35 years after we both entered this business, is some, immodestly, some small tribute the fact that we've worked very hard to drain the bias out of what we do and to try tell you what in fact is going on, what's important for you to know, not just today but in the long-haul, to make informed decisions about your life."
Lehrer then said that he thinks there is too much commentary and analysis "in the news columns of newspapers, and maybe in prepared pieces on television. And I think a very simple solution is to just quit doing it."


Brokaw Reality Check. He claims to have "worked very hard to drain the bias out" of his reporting and people who think he's biased are those who favor the status quo. So, given that he says the media are "out there on the cutting edge of change," how has Brokaw reported on GOP efforts to bring about change? Let's go to the back issues of Notable Quotables:
-- Brokaw on the night the Contract with America was unveiled, from the September 27, 1994 NBC Nightly News: "Today, GOP congressional candidates were summoned to Washington and given a battle plan. However, as NBC's Lisa Myers tells us tonight, it is long on promises and short on sound premises."
-- Brokaw from the March 22, 1995 NBC Nightly News: "When NBC Nightly News continues: in Washington, if they cut food stamps, who doesn't eat?"


In his press club talk Brokaw went on to disparage talk radio and dismiss Rush Limbaugh. This message is getting a bit long, so I'll send those comments in the next e-mail.

-- Brent Baker