Thursday, February 24, 2011

K"Nightly News": Objectivity on NBC?

This week we turn our attention to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  On the whole, this program does a good job keeping objective, but I find fault in some areas.

                This story focuses on the current rebellion in Libya, President Muammar Gaddafi and the military’s reaction to the chaos.  Anchor Brian Williams begins the piece by describing how Libya has fallen into a state of civil war.  He then details a speech given by Gaddafi on Tuesday.  Williams says that the speech, “sounded as bizarre as it looked,” referring to the bombed out residence at which the address took place.  Before sending the report over to Richard Engel, Williams pointed out that the situation is “violently slipping away” from Gaddafi.
                As far as Williams’ part goes, it seems as if he is playing into the mystique of Gaddafi, a leader known to be a bit bombastic.  The media likes to dismiss him, but now may be the time to listen to what the leader is saying, as his words can drastically and quickly alter the lives of the Libyan people.  Williams does a good job of making the situation in Libya seem dire.  This is not the revolution that happened in Egypt, nor should it be treated as such.  Whereas Egypt’s protests were peaceful (for the most part), Libya is bleeding.  NBC makes this clear.
                The danger of the revolt is solidified by Richard Engel’s report via video-phone.  Engel starts by reiterating the idea that Gaddafi’s control of the country is “tenuous.”  Reporting from eastern Libya, Engel details his journey from the Egyptian border to Tobruk, Libya.  He describes how no one, not even the military, is supporting Gaddafi.  Engel visits a military barracks and watches the soldiers distribute heavy weaponry to the citizens.  The army refuses to “fire on their brothers and sisters,” and believes that they are one with the citizenry.  Engel also speaks of how there is an idea that Gaddafi has brought in foreign mercenaries to commit atrocities on the citizens.  He is quick to note that these claims are unproven.  Engel ends his report by noting that 30 percent of all Libya is rebelling and not following Gaddafi now.
                Engel provides a good look at the situation in eastern Libya.  His use of video interspersed in the package punctuates the point about the military and the citizens fighting together.  It was quite scary, actually, to see the military just handing out grenade launchers.  If that is how they plan to win freedom, it will be a long road.  Engel also is smart to point out that this is no Egypt.  The people are militant. However, it is clear, once again, that NBC is siding with the citizens.  Whether this is because a rebelling nation makes a good story or whether NBC has a vested interest in whether or not the rebellion succeeds cannot be known.  There is that bias, though.

                This feature is about the proposed legislation in Wisconsin to cut union benefits and the effect it is having within the state and across the nation.   Williams opens the package by stating that the legislation will “strip workers of their collective bargaining rights.”  This seems like too harsh of language for the opening line of a news story.  He could have worded it better, as to not stir the fires of controversy so early in the piece. 
The report then goes to correspondent Mike Taibbi.  He describes the scene at the state senate where once again no vote was made on the bill.   The sponsor of the act is Governor Scott Walker, R-Wis.  Walker appeared on MSNBC earlier this week and stated that “Wisconsin is broke.”  Tiabbi shows video of hundreds of protestors within the state capitol, chanting and demanding their benefits stay intact.  He also discusses other protests around the country.  Tiabbi talks about how the idea to cut union benefits is a common one and is being considered by many states.  These other states’ senators have used the same tactic employed in Wisconsin: they leave the capitol in order not to vote and extend debate.  The report ends with Tiabbi citing Walker as saying that if the legislation does not go through, layoffs will happen next week.
                I take issue with the fact that NBC never considers the benefit of making the union cuts.  Walker says that the cuts are needed in order to bring Wisconsin out from under a financial rock, but his comments are taken out of context.  NBC makes Walker look like a bad man for wanting to take away benefits for some in order to help the whole.  The objectivity of the network declines by doing this.  As far as good things, Tiabbi’s use of the video of the protestors is stunning.  There were tons of people in the capitol.  That video serves as a stirring image of American democracy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Even-keeled "Evening News"

Keeping with the networks, this week I viewed the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”  Here is the link: 
Here are my thoughts:


                This feature dealt with President Obama’s speech on the 2011 budget and the deficit, along with other comments made at Tuesday’s news conference.  The story began with anchor Katie Couric reading off poll results which show over half of the American public believing the recession to be ongoing.  Other polls revealed that Americans think fixing the deficit will require taking money out of their pockets.  A final poll acknowledged the feeling that people earning six-figure incomes will be taxed more.  Couric also reported Obama’s current approval rating, which stands at 48 percent.  Correspondent Chip Reid then began speaking of how the president feels that his budget cuts are needed, but not too drastic.  This was compared to Republican sentiment that more reductions are needed.  Reid reported that Obama wants to make meaningful reductions which will not endanger the economic recovery.  Once again, this was contrasted against Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., talking about his view of the 2011 budget.  Reid was swift to note that the Republicans as a whole have not responded to the budget.  The story concluded with a quote from Obama detailing how America dealt with Egypt correctly.  This opinion was seemingly mirrored by CBS, as poll results showing 50 percent of Americans agree with the actions of the United States during the crisis.
                On the whole, this was an objective report.  There was no unnecessary lauding of the president for revealing his budget, nor was there any unwarranted commentary on the Republican response.  Reid did a good job creating a balanced package which brought in both sides.


                This story focused on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s recent corruption charges revolving an underage prostitute.  Couric opened the package by giving an brief overview of Berlusconi’s past dealings with the law and calling him a “Teflon politician.”  Reporter Mark Phillips provided detail to the story by giving some background on the underage girl in question.  He reports that she is Karima El Mahroug, known professionally as “Ruby Heartstealer.”  This Moroccan-born girl was in Italy to attend one of the prime minister’s all night "bunga bunga" parties.  A record of the prime minister’s past corruption charges was provided for reference and context.  Phillips then brought up the current charges against Berlusconi: abuse of power and “paying for sex with an underage prostitute.”    Integral to this story is the fact that Berlusconi gave $8,000 to Heartstealer.  Whether this was a gift or payment is what is in question.  The story ended with Phillips saying that time will tell whether or not Berlusconi escapes prosecution, as he will be tried by “three female judges” in April.
                CBS was not objective here.  They portrayed Berlusconi as a man of poor judgment who went around having sex indiscriminately.  CBS also cast doubt on the prime minister’s credibility by making his arguments seem weak.  Rather than use a translator, Phillips summarized Berlusconi’s statement about the charges, thus making Burlusconi's defense sound bad.  In doing so, Phillips added his own inflections and opinions into the prime minister’s words.  Also, CBS showed a women’s group protesting against Berlusconi, but did not mention any efforts to refine or support the prime minister’s image.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Viewing the "World News"

                Shifting away from the cable news networks, this week I critique ABC’s "World News with Diane Sawyer."  Watch the episode here:


                The top story from the broadcast I viewed focused on the Toyota auto-acceleration debacle which scared drivers last year.  The report began with an overview of the issue, detailing the accidents and injuries caused by accelerating Toyota vehicles.  It was then revealed that the “mystery” behind the acceleration had been solved.  Citing a ten month survey of nine Toyota cars, Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood declared that there was no electronic cause for the malfunctions.  Instead, the survey revealed that the involuntary acceleration was caused by floor mats which pinned down the accelerator and “sticky pedals.”  Both anchor Diane Sawyer and reporter Brian Ross made a big deal out of the fact that NASA scientists were asked to help with this survey.  While it is interesting that NASA did aid in the investigation, Toyota had already figured out that floor mats were causing the trouble and recalled millions of cars to fix this problem.   Sawyer and Ross’s awe for the NASA engineers discounted Toyota’s initial findings and subsequent actions.  As to the “sticky pedals,” Toyota has already been fined heavily by the federal government for not revealing this danger sooner.  Ross mentioned how Toyota may be facing more lawsuits about the “sticky pedal” issue beyond the federal fines.  By highlighting how badly the company was fined and how it may be sued in the future casts Toyota in a bad light.  This is a good story for the Japanese automaker, yet ABC portrays the company unnecessarily negatively.  On the whole, the story sticks to the facts and reports the new findings in an objective manner.  The remainder of the piece is tainted, probably due to the negative reporting which took place over the past year.  Old habits die hard.


                Egypt continues to be in a state of upheaval.  After being told to stop protesting and go back to work, the demonstrators have “caught their second wind.”  This was another day of Egyptian revolt in the saga which has gripped the world.  Thousands of protestors filled Liberation Square to express their sentiments about the government under President Hosni Mubarak.  Nevertheless, the positive slant toward the protestors remained in this report by ABC News correspondent Terry Moran.  Moran said that Mubarak “staged” another press conference and that the people are the “real power.”  Frankly, the real power lies with whomever the military sides, but this point was overlooked.  Moran constantly depicted the revolutionaries as great people who only want to escape an evil regime.  He also focused on Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who had organized many of the protests.  The story featured Ghonim’s release from detainment and the Egyptian people’s reaction to his return.  ABC did not stay objective here.  Yes, everyone loves to have clear-cut good guys and bad guys, but to choose for the public which side to agree with is bordering on unethical journalism.  Also, using words like “staged” to describe Mubarak’s actions portrays him as a dictator who wants to hide from the spotlight. 
                I was happy that ABC covered the economic aspect of this uprising.  Since the protests began on Jan. 25, 2011, tourism has shut down.  The pyramids at Giza are under military guard, and no tourists may enter the area.  Egypt’s economy depends on the tourism industry.  Only time will tell how long the economy can survive with its workers on strike and no tourists pumping money into the country.   The economic consequences are not well covered elsewhere, so kudos to ABC for finding this story beneath the larger Egyptian issue and for staying objective in this section.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going "On the Record"

                Greetings.  This week I look at the Fox News Channel program “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” I have included any video of the program which was available online.
               Miss Van Susteren began her program with a story about the situation in Egypt.  Recent student riots calling for the overthrow of current President Hosni Mubarak have thrown the Middle Eastern country into political chaos.   The show started with a phone interview of Fox News reporter Dominic Di-Natale and live video of the ongoing protests in Cairo, Egypt’s capital. Beginning in this manner allowed the viewer to instantly be immersed in the story.  As to the nature of the reporting, Di-Natale seemed to follow the recently espoused view of the American government: that the students are correct and President Mubarak should leave office.  Di-Natale characterized the pro-government supporters as militaristic, aggressive, and focused only on how they were harming the students.  Not once did he or Van Susteren mention the plight of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.   Also, the anti-government group was depicted as the “good guys.”   Here, Fox News fell from its goal to be “fair and balanced.”  Even if President Obama sympathizes with the students, the media should cover the viewpoint of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.  Doing so would make the newscast more objective.

                Van Susteren’s program continued with the Egypt story by speaking with John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas.  The interview with Bolton centered on how the Egyptian military should react and how the United States should play a part, while Huckabee’s interview was focused on what the situation in Egypt means for Israel.  I always like hearing from John Bolton, as he provides keen insight that is usually free of bias.  Bolton continued to be neutral as he pondered whether or not the Egyptian military will side with President Mubarak or the students.  As far as U. S. foreign policy goes, Bolton felt that President Obama should not have said as much as he did.  While it was good to break America’s silence on the Egyptian issue, Bolton thinks siding with the students could put the United States in a tough position with its other allies in the region.  Bolton’s sentiments were shared by Huckabee, who had met with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu early on Wednesday.  It was good to see the Israeli component of the story covered, yet “On the Record” paid more attention to how President Obama may have made a mistake in his remarks. This angle would probably not have been covered with such fervor on other networks.   Huckabee mentioned how Israeli leaders are worried that the United States may treat their country in the same way as Egypt, another ally of America.  Huckabee let some of his own feelings about the Egyptian situation seep into his reporting, as he inflated the potential spread of revolt throughout the Middle East.  On the whole though, Bolton and Huckabee did a fine job addressing key points of the greater Egyptian revolt.  Van Susteren maintained a fairly neutral attitude for the duration of the Egypt story.  Her demeanor was a good counter to those of Di-Natale and Huckabee.  I enjoyed hearing how the American response could affect the situation.  One piece of the story that was not covered was the economic aspect, but I am sure “On the Record” and Fox have examined that angle elsewhere.

                Another key story of “On the Record” was on the progress of the potential repeal of the health care bill passed last year.  The Senate voted Wednesday along party lines, failing a proposed repeal movement. Van Susteren spoke with Senator John Thune, R-S.D., about the push for repeal and the vote.  Much of their conversation was about how there would have been no drive to repeal had the members of Congress and the President read the bill before passing it.  While making sense, statements such as these are considered to be more right-wing or conservative.  This Republican slant dominated the interview.  Van Susteren many times made allowances for the Republicans, saying that they cannot be blamed for wanting to repeal the health care bill.  Both Thune and Van Susteren expressed the idea that Democrats wanted to force the bill through Congress without much thought just so they could have something to say they did.    Fox News once again did not remain “fair and balanced,” as no Democratic senator was interviewed about the decision.  On the bright side, Van Susteren and Thune spoke of how the American public wants reform in the health care system.  Mentioning this generalized sentiment showed a glimmer of bi-partisanship and goodwill for the benefit of all U.S. citizens.   Also, the matter of the individual mandate’s constitutionality was discussed.  The individual mandate is one of the main arguments for why the health care bill is unconstitutional, so it was helpful for “On the Record” to provide evidence as to why judges across the country are finding fault with the bill.   This allows the viewer to go do his/her own research into whether or not the bill should remain a law.

-Zach Brown