Often I check out newscasts from several sources, not just in print and on the Internet but also on radio and TV.
One place I check regularly is Public Broadcasting Service TV’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” mainly because I am curious how a program funded to a considerable extent from money taken in taxes handles controversial topics. After all, the taxes are taken from all Americans who have a wide variety of viewpoints about the news while the “NewsHour” has limited resources and time and obviously cannot give all these viewpoints an equal chance to be represented.
Not surprisingly, then, nearly all treatments of controversial matters are decidedly biased on this program. And while one can say the same about NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox, those are all privately funded, and they aren’t taking money from people and covering stories in ways these people may very well find seriously objectionable.
PBS has an obligation to do a creditable job of representing the wide variety of viewpoints, while those privately funded organizations do not other than in a professional sense, as journalists.
PBS’ responsibility is a political one, not only a professional one, because it is funded by all taxpayers.
There is no doubt about the bias on the “NewsHour.” For example, only two commentators are invited to offer opinions on various issues, David Brooks and Mark Shields, day after day, without a break other than when one goes on vacation. Needless to note, there is a far greater variety of opinions on the various topics in the country than what Brooks and Shields provide. These two represent mainstream conservatism and liberalism, at best, although even there many conservatives and liberals would probably find their views never see the light of day.
But the bias is evident elsewhere, perhaps even more. This is when one of Lehrer’s reporters brings in two or three economists, foreign policy experts, educators, business professionals and the like, again mostly lukewarm mainstreamers without a scintilla of a seriously challenging opinion coming from any of them. It is mostly people who would be offered space on the op-ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. Now and then a Wall Street Journal reporter or editor is invited, but rarely.
Even apart from the selection of “experts” in the various fields being discussed on the air, there is also the more blatant bias of some of the news reporters. For instance, in a recent report on the way President Obama’s stimulus plan is being viewed around Washington, reporter Kwame Holmes made reference to some doubts about this policy by referring to “fears that President Obama’s economic plan may not be enough...” He didn’t mention fears that the president’s plan may be wrongheaded.
Of course, hundreds, even thousands, of critics can be found across America’s universities and think tanks who do find the plan misguided, wrongheaded and so forth.
Has Jim Lehrer ever let anyone on the program who pointed out that President Obama grossly misrepresented whether there exists a consensus among academic economists concerning his stimulus policy? No.
No one has appeared on the program, one paid for in part by all Americans, voicing criticism of the Obama policy apart from some Republicans who could then be dismissed as being purely partisan, without any scholarly credentials.
Bias on PBS-TV and National Public Radio abounds, and one could do a doctoral dissertation ferreting it out.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com