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Rather and Auletta Discover Media Bias...On Fox News Channel --5/20/2003


1. Rather and Auletta Discover Media Bias...On Fox News Channel It's always amazing that establishment media figures, who are unable to discern any liberal bias at any mainstream media outlet, are so easily able to recognize conservative bias on the Fox News Channel. The latest examples: CBS's Dan Rather and the New Yorker's Ken Auletta, who has just written a story about FNC. "It's not fair and balanced," Auletta declared Monday night on CNBC before charging: "Many of their anchors are biased, they're people who express opinions throughout the newscast, be it 'axis of weasels' to describe France but never describing what France's position was." Rather told Auletta his take on the Rupert Murdoch- owned FNC: "By any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda."

2. Moyers Features Left-Wing Rants on Abortion, Texas Legislature A super-sized double dose of left-wing advocacy from PBS's Now with Bill Moyers on Friday night. First, viewers were treated to 18 uninterrupted minutes of a taped story about the conspiratorial "assault" on abortion rights. Second, Moyers spent about 12 minutes with far-left columnist Molly Ivins who, egged on by Moyers, blasted Texas Republicans and conservatives as uncaring louts in the wake of the walkout from the legislature by nearly all the Texas House Democrats in order to stop a GOP redistricting plan, a flight to another state which Moyers justified by claiming it was done "to foil the Republicans' coup."

3. "Pinch" in '94: Diversity "the Single Most Important Issue" From the MRC's TimesWatch.org, "'Pinch' Flinches From Owning Up to Blair Facts." Newsweek's Alan Sloan suggested that Times Publisher Arthur Sulzburger Jr. get a pay cut and the New York Post's Eric Fettmann recalled how in 1994 Sulzberger decreed that "ensuring greater racial, gender and sexual-orientation diversity at the paper was 'the single most important issue' facing the Times." Plus, Newsweek's Seth Mnookin observed that it's become increasingly clear Raines' autocratic management style since taking over in September 2001 has driven away talent.

4. CNN Concedes, Sort of, Distorted "Assault Weapon" Demonstration Reeling from NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre charging CNN with fabricating and "deliberately faking" a story last Thursday to demonstrate how a banned "assault weapon" has much more dangerous firepower than a legal model, on Monday's Wolf Blitzer Reports, substitute anchor Miles O'Brien didn't go so far as to offer a retraction, but he did concede CNN's demonstration needed further amplification.


Rather and Auletta Discover Media Bias...On
Fox News Channel

CBS's Dan Rather It's always amazing that establishment media figures, who are unable to discern any liberal bias at ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS, the news magazines and major newspapers, such as the New York Times, are so easily able to recognize conservative bias on the Fox News Channel. The latest examples: CBS's Dan Rather and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, who has just written a story about FNC for that magazine.

Auletta's article is not online, but the DrudgeReport.com over the weekend relayed from it Rather's take on the Rupert Murdoch- owned FNC: "He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There's nothing wrong with this. It's a free country. It's not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda...primarily because it fits his commercial interests." Presumably, that "political" agenda is conservative. For Drudge's item: www.drudgereportarchives.com

Back in 2001, Bernard Goldberg recounted how Rather considers the New York Times editorial page to be "middle of the road." Goldberg recalled in a May 24, 2001 Wall Street Journal op-ed: "In 1996 after I wrote about liberal bias on this very page, Dan was furious and during a phone conversation he indicated that picking The Wall Street Journal to air my views was especially appalling given the conservative views of the paper's editorial page. 'What do you consider the New York Times?' I asked him, since he had written op-eds for that paper. 'Middle of the road,' he said." www.mediaresearch.org

Monday night on CNBC's The News with Brian Williams, MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth observed, Williams asked Auletta: "They're very proud slogan is 'Fair and Balanced.' In all of your research, have you been able to come to a conclusion if they are either or both?" Auletta told Williams the slogan is a fraud:
"'Fair and balanced' is a political slogan that like many political slogans doesn't accurately capture what Fox News does. Fox News is lively, it is interesting, it tries to mend some of the liberal biases that they complain about. But it's not fair and balanced....and it's not fair and balanced in several different ways." He argued: "If you look at the commentators, the commentators tend to be stacked to the right. That is to say, you have many more conservative commentators than liberal commentators."

Auletta complained on the May 19 show: "The liberal commentators they tend to have -- like Alan Colmes, for instance - - seem as if they're sedated. They're no match for Sean Hannity, let's say. But in addition to that, the anchors -- and not just in the evening in prime time with people like Bill O'Reilly who have great ratings obviously, but all throughout the day -- many of their anchors are biased, they're people who express opinions throughout the newscast, be it 'axis of weasels' to describe France but never describing what France's position was. You could disagree with what France did, but a job of a journalist is to explain what they did and why they took the position they did, and not just dismiss them as 'axis of weasel.' But in addition to that, many times you'll see reporters who are biased in the sense that they're expressing a point-of-view, a sense of outrage about certain things that are being done. And usually it is a pro-Bush administration point-of-view. My only argument here is that, is in terms of a slogan, 'Fair and Balanced' is very clever. 'We Report, You Decide' is very clever. But it's not accurate."

The liberal Geraldo Rivera too "sedated"?

Auletta's comments to Williams match what he expressed in an online New Yorker interview about his profile of Ailes and FNC.

The New Yorker's Amy T'bke-Davidson asked: "You spent four months watching Fox News. What did you see?"
Auletta: "I saw a news network that was not, as advertised, free of bias and 'fair and balanced.' This is not to say that Fox News doesn't do some things well. It is to say that the network, like many political candidates, is not always what it claims to be. The network proclaims, 'We report. You decide.' But, too often, Fox both reports and decides. The anchors are opinionated throughout the day, not just in the evening hours, with Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. Too often, the commentators tilt to the right and don't provide both sides-certainly not the nonconservative side -- and many of the network's "liberal" commentators are somewhat meek. Many Fox reporters do offer opinions. In its desire to right the excesses of what it sees as liberal press bias, Fox often goes overboard."

T'bke-Davidson: "Who watches Fox News?"
Auletta: "The largest segment of cable-news viewers is made up of conservatives. According to a Pew Research Center poll, forty-six per cent of Fox viewers identify themselves as conservative, compared with forty per cent of CNN viewers. But, because Fox viewers are more intense, they watch seventy percent more cable news than CNN viewers do. This intensity of viewing on Fox helps account for its ratings success, since length of viewing and not just total number of viewers is counted by the Nielsen ratings service. Fox's core viewers are conservatives, and they would seem to identify with Fox as their club for news...."

For the entire interview: newyorker.com

For Auletta's look at FNC, pick up a copy of the May 26 New Yorker.

Moyers Features Left-Wing Rants on Abortion,
Texas Legislature

A super-sized double dose of left-wing advocacy from PBS's Now with Bill Moyers on Friday night. First, viewers were treated to 18 uninterrupted minutes of a taped story about the conspiratorial "assault" on abortion rights. Second, Moyers spent about 12 minutes with far-left columnist Molly Ivins who, egged on by Moyers, blasted Texas Republicans and conservatives as uncaring louts in the wake of the walkout from the legislature by nearly all the Texas House Democrats in order to stop a GOP redistricting plan, a flight to another state which Moyers justified by claiming it was done "to foil the Republicans' coup."

The premise of the abortion story was that "anti-choice" forces have secretly come up with, as Frances Kissling of Catholic for a Free Choice put it in the story, a "stealth strategy" to "make the fetus the equivalent of people" through laws which, for instance allow someone who kills a pregnant woman to be charged with two murders

PBS reporter Brenda Breslauer featured pro-choice Republican Congressman Jim Greenwood as her expert on the nefarious tactics of the anti-choice forces, fretted about how banning the partial- birth "medical procedure" only impacts a very few case each year, but then proceeded to profile a woman who would have been victimized by such a law.

In a humorous bit of hypocrisy, Breslauer maintained that the "the term 'partial-birth abortion' was invented by the anti- abortion community," and, therefore, is illegitimate, but just a bit later she adopted, without any concern, a term advanced by those on the pro-abortion side: "One of the President's first acts targeted international family planning organizations. He reinstituted a policy often called the 'global gag rule.'" In one case an "invented" term, in the other, a policy which is "often called."

In the subsequent session with Ivins, she cited the victims of GOP rule in Texas and the financial state in which George W. Bush left the state: "Poor children, old people, handicapped citizens. And I mean I wish I were exaggerating but this is the weakest, the poorest, the most frail, the youngest and the oldest Texans are the ones who are being hurt here."

With no transcript on the Now Web site or in Nexis, on Monday MRC analyst Patrick Gregory undertook the herculean effort of transcribing much of the two segments from the May 16 Now.

-- Abortion story. PBS and Breslauer allowed in a few words from James Bopp of the National Right to Life Committee, but his time was far outdistanced by the time given to four "pro-choice" advocates whose views the story advanced.

Some of the highlights:

Brenda Breslauer: "This new political agenda, apparent in everything from executive orders to regulations to proposed laws, is simply part of an overall pro-life strategy that is taking hold in policy, say pro-choice advocates. They cite these prominent examples coming from the White House alone: cabinet appointments of vocal abortion opponents such as Attorney General John Ashcroft and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, rejection of funding for research with new lines of stem cells derived from embryos, and the administration has allocated tens of millions in additional funding for abstinence-only sex education. To pro- choice advocates like Francis Kissling, this is all part of a strategy to get at abortion."

....

Breslauer, after the NRTL's Bopp got to suggest that only "fanatics" would be against protecting fetuses from criminals: "But Pennsylvania Congressman Jim Greenwood doesn't consider himself a fanatic. He's a pro-choice Republican who says this bill is actually an assault on abortion rights."

....

Breslauer, following a clip of Bush using the partial birth phrase: "The term 'partial-birth abortion' was invented by the anti-abortion community to describe a procedure in which a fetus is partially delivered outside the womb. Doctors don't even use the term. The closest medical procedure to so-called partial-birth abortion accounts for less than one quarter of one percent of all abortions in this country. So why such impassioned debate?"
Jim Greenwood, Republican PA Congressman: "This campaign, this 'partial-birth abortion' is all about politics, it's not about the real world."
Breslauer: "Congressman Jim Greenwood supports the President on most issues, but disagrees with him on abortion policy, and is one of the few Republicans fighting the bill. He says his opponents are playing political hardball."
Greenwood: "It's about stimulating the base, and that is to take the most conservative members of the Republican party, and giving them some red meat so that they rush out to the polls. And it's also about trying to marginalize and make appear extreme those members of either the Democratic Party or Republican Party who still want to stand up for the right of women to make these decisions for themselves and don't want abortion part of politics."
Breslauer: "In March, the partial-birth abortion bill passed in the Senate. It's about to be introduced in the House. If the bill passes, it will mark the first time the United States Congress has banned a specific medical procedure."
Dr. Paul Blumenthal, Johns Hopkins University: "What's being removed is my ability to work with my patient and solely with my patient to direct, to counsel her, to develop a plan of care that she and I arrive at. Not a legislative body, not a regulatory agency, my patient and me."
Breslauer: "Doctor Paul Blumenthal is a practicing OBGYN at Johns Hopkins University, and the former medical director of a Maryland Planned Parenthood chapter."
Blumenthal: "I think women justifiably are walking around thinking 'If I have a problem I'll be able to go to my doctor, well-trained, well-educated, and that my doctor will make the best clinical decisions that they know how to make with me in mind.' Now that's justifiable state of mind on the part of the patient. What they don't know is that's about to end."
Maureen Britell, Voters for Choice: "I've been there, I've had to make the difficult decision. I don't want my physicians' hands tied. I want them to do whatever procedure is best for me and my family."
Breslauer: "Maureen Britell went from pro-life to pro-choice when she felt she had no choice. Raised a Catholic, she was anti- abortion, even demonstrating outside abortion clinics."
Britell: "We were really committed to being anti-choice because that's all I ever knew. I only knew that those other kinds of girls had abortions."
Breslauer: "But when Britell was five months pregnant with her second child, a sonogram revealed a fetal anomaly called anencephaly. Her child would have no brain, and never survive outside the womb. She consulted with her family, and with her priest."
Britell: "We decided to end the pregnancy because it was condemning me to a death watch, which made no sense to me as a mom, for Samantha, to me as a wife, to me as a mom of the baby I was carrying. It just sounded so cruel."
Breslauer: "Her husband explained what was happening to their four year-old daughter, Samantha."
Britell: "I heard Andrew run and grab her, and then I could hear him in the room telling her that we think our baby was meant to be an angel and that we may be giving her the baby wings. Because how else do you describe it to a four year-old? [holding drawing] This was Sammy's rendition of what happened to me, there's Dalia in my belly, and then Dalia becoming an angel. And you know, she got it obviously."
Breslauer: "Now Britell is lobbying against the partial-birth abortion ban, because she fears it would outlaw abortions like the one she had."
Britell: "And, if it can happen to me, it could happen to anybody's neighbor, her sister, her cousin."
Breslauer: "But what's important to women like Britell has taken a backseat to politics, says Francis Kissling."
Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice: "This isn't about health, this isn't about morality, this debate, this war on women is about the Bush administration's political desire to pay back the conservative Christian right and conservative Catholics for their support for the Republican Party."
Breslauer: "Kissling says that payback began only two days after President Bush took office. One of the President's first acts targeted international family planning organizations. He reinstituted a policy often called the 'global gag rule,' first announced during the Reagan administration in Mexico City in 1984. The rule prohibits taxpayers funds from going to any organization overseas that has anything to do with abortion. That's not all. Last July, the U.S. took aim at the United Nations agency that promotes family planning, by withholding 34 million dollars it had promised."
Hilary Fyfe, Family Life Movement of Zambia: "The change that we have witnessed has been the closure of centers that we were working in because we benefitted from U.S. funding, and also the AIDS pandemic is going up because we can't reach the people that we needed to reach."
Breslauer: "Hilary Fyfe directs the Family Life Movement of Zambia. She's pro-life. She advocates sexual abstinence before marriage. But she also believes in condom distribution as a way to prevent AIDS. One quarter of the adult population in Zambia is HIV-positive. But the local Planned Parenthood organization faces a condom shortage. Why? Because the group refuses to sign on to the global gag rule, and U.S. government support has been cut off."

....

Breslauer: "In fact, International Planned Parenthood uses only a tiny fraction of its budget for abortion services, less than one percent according to the group. Most of it's resources go to conventional family planning, like contraception. Advocates note that if clinics in developing countries cannot provide contraception, the result will be more unwanted pregnancies, and more abortions."
Fyfe: "I think America is being very insensitive to the rest of the world. A women's right is a human right, and they're taking it away."
Breslauer: "Taking rights away from women overseas is a prelude to taking them away at home, say pro-choice advocates. But James Bopp says the government is merely doing what we elected it to do."
James Bopp, National Right to Life Committee: "It is the first duty of government to protect human life, and we biologically have a human life in the womb, and therefore in our view it should be protected. That's not a religious view. That is a view about the proper role of government."
Greenwood got the last word: "I believe that a country that has the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of religion, and I think that means that you don't get to take your religion and put it in a law book, and make my daughters, or my neighbors' daughters believe, conduct themselves as if they were a member of your religion. That's not America."

That ended the segment.

For Now's page on that story: www.pbs.org

-- Next, Moyers interviewed former New York Times reporter turned left-wing columnist Molly Ivins.

Moyers set up the segment: "To foil the Republicans' coup, more than 50 Texas House Democrats did a drastic thing, they headed for Oklahoma to hide out there until the clock ran out on the legislative session."

Ivins soon opined: "It's a heart-rendering saga. The last living, elected Democrats in Texas forced to free their native heath from the terrible oppression of the Republican majority. It's just a dreadful situation....Tom Delay wanted to send in the U.S. Marshals and the FBI to get them. And-"
Moyers condescendingly intoned: "But I thought these guys were supposed to protect us from foreign terrorists. Does a Texas Democrat become a foreign terrorist the moment he crosses over the line in Oklahoma?"
Ivins: "You know that could well be, I've not thought through the implications of this, but you know if you're not with Tom Delay, you're supporting the terrorists, so this could well be."
Moyers: "You mentioned Tom Delay; he is a national Republican, not a state Republican. What's he got to do with this?"
Ivins: "Well, he's just inserted himself into the process in a rather obtrusive way and that's part of what got the Democrats so upset."

....

Ivins: "Governor George W. Bush went off and first of all, he did two huge tax cuts when he was Governor, and then he walked off to Washington and left the state broke with no money in the rainy day fund. Now if we had six or seven billion in the rainy day fund, which is what states set aside for exactly this kind of downturn, we'd be a lot better off; we wouldn't be in such real pain. But getting ten billion dollars out of the state budget is real pain."
Moyers: "Whose pain?"
Ivins: "Poor children, old people, handicapped citizens. And I mean I wish I were exaggerating but this is the weakest, the poorest, the most frail, the youngest and the oldest Texans are the ones who are being hurt here. And I really think that if Texans knew who was getting hurt and how much, they'd be willing to pay some more in taxes. And there are ways to pay taxes, increase taxes. The Republicans should know this. You know the old joke is 'Let's don't tax you, let's don't tax me, let's tax that man behind the tree.' Well there are lots of men behind trees in Texas. That is to say lobbyists over the years have inserted so many loopholes in the tax laws that they look like doilies. I mean you wouldn't have to introduce a new tax law, all you'd have to do is close the loopholes in some of the old taxes and you could raise enough revenue. "
Moyers: "But the guys behind the tree who benefit from those tax loopholes have made the big political contributions to the politicians who are supposed to do, find the money."
Ivins: "That's right. They make the big political contributions, they come to the legislature and lobby, and the whole system becomes more and more corrupt by the year."
Moyers: "In fact, even as we talk here the President, President George W. Bush, former Governor of Texas is getting his second tax cut in three years. There are people who say that Texas under George W. Bush was the blueprint for the nation under George W. Bush. Do you think that's an apt comparison?"
Ivins: "I think the whole country's been turned into Texas. And Texas has always been the national laboratory for bad government. I mean if you want to see a bad idea, try it, we've tried it. But Texas public policy is kind of like Hungarian wine, it does not travel well. You should not try taking it across the Red River."
Moyers: "I want to put this on the screen so our viewers can see it, and then you have me, you tell me if it's true or not. These are the words of a state representative from Houston named Debbie Riddle. Quote: 'Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education? Free medical care? Free whatever? It comes from Moscow. From Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.' Now do you know that that's true or not or is that just a work of fiction?"
Ivins: "Nope, that's absolutely true...."
Moyers: "Well you're talking about people who won the election. Republicans hold every statewide office in Texas now. They wouldn't be acting like this would they if they didn't have popular support?"
Ivins: "The Texas Republican Party has been completely taken over by the Christian right....These people really believe that public institutions should be destroyed. They're trying to destroy the schools, they're trying to destroy the welfare system. They don't think government should be used to help people. And it's really not because they're mean. They really think that government is bad and that we should be doing all this on our own through the churches. Well the fact that that's not do-able, that it's impossible, that it's an absurd proposition, is not something you can talk with these people about. It's like trying to talk to followers of David Koresh.
"They're like people in a cult. They are so convinced of their own rectitude that they are not open to reason or fact or persuasion....What has been lost here I think is our sense of 'us- ness.' That people, the Republicans talk about government as though it were 'them.' 'Those people in Washington, those people in Austin.' This government is us. You own it, I own it, everybody owns it. We are the board of directors; we control this thing. They work for us. And we've lost that sense that it's ours. When you talk to people about government now, they talk about it as though it were something that they could look at like a picture on a wall, and say whether they like it or not. 'Well you know, I just don't care much for politics.' 'Oh, it's boring.''Well they're all crooks anyway; there's nothing I can do.' I mean we have no sense of ownership about it....
"Good politicians compromise, and they work together to get things done; they try to move the ball. And it really doesn't matter much whether you're on the right or on the left. Real politicians, you know, Republican and Democrat, they work together all the time and then go out and have a beer together. That's been the way it's been done. But now what we're getting is elected, people elected to public office who have no sense of compromise, who are so possessed by their certitude and their sense of self- righteousness as though they were on a mission from God, and much of it is related in religion, that they feel entitled to run over other people. They feel that they have, absolutely entitled to impose their views on other people without, just not only without compromise, without discussion bill."

Sounds like the attitude of Bill Moyers.

For Now's page on this interview, complete with helpful links to Ivins' columns: www.pbs.org

"Pinch" in '94: Diversity "the Single
Most Important Issue"

From the MRC's TimesWatch.org, an article by TimesWatch.org Editor Clay Waters which was posted on Monday, about the Newsweek cover story in which the magazine's Seth Mnookin talked to Jayson Blair:

"Pinch" Flinches From Owning Up to Blair Facts

The Jayson Blair story not only has legs; now it's growing tentacles. Newsweek devotes this week's cover story to Blair, the young black reporter who resigned from the Times May 1 after proof of his fabricated "reporting" came to light. Seth Mnookin's report outlines Blair's personal problems and details the paper's fateful decision to include the unreliable Blair on the D.C.-sniper story: www.msnbc.com

"At last Wednesday's staff wide meeting, [Executive Editor Howell] Raines and [Managing Editor Gerald] Boyd were asked directly who had first brought up Blair's name. As Boyd was explaining how he had conducted a meeting in his office with several other top editors, Raines cut him off and said, according to staff members present at the meeting, "I'm the editor, it was my responsibility." Blair, after all, knew the area, and the national desk was understaffed."

And just why was that desk understaffed? This isn't the Podunk Post -- any self-respecting journalist would kill to work for the "paper of record." (Times Watch itself, in a weak moment, once applied for a late-night copy editor position there.)

It's become increasingly clear Raines' autocratic management style since taking over in September 2001 has driven away talent. Mnookin notes: "Raines certainly shook things up; by the end of the year, national correspondents Gustav Niebuhr, Carey Goldberg, Evelyn Nieves, James Sterngold, Blaine Harden, Sam Howe Verhovek and Kevin Sack had all left the paper."

But Howell Raines is only one member of the Times ruling troika. Allen Sloan, Newsweek's Wall Street columnist, suggests Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. should take a hit as well, where it hurts: The pocketbook. "For the sake of internal morale, as well as external reputation, it's important for a company's higher-ups to pay for their mistakes," Sloan writes. "If you hold small fry accountable for errors, which is only fair, you can't let the big fish swim away scot-free." Such measures would include a compensation hit for Sulzberger. Last year, Sulzberger got $1 million in salary and a $1.5 million bonus as well as over $3.5 million in restricted stock.

Unfortunately, the Times is much better dishing out advice than taking it. Last Sunday's mea maxima culpa in the Times (a 7,200 word story, plus a 7,000 word explication of Blair's many story errors) did a good job of outlining the many fabrications of Jayson Blair. But it tiptoed around assigning blame to those responsible for Blair being in that position in the first place. "Let's not begin to demonize our executives-either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher," Sulzberger said, conveniently.

The New York Sun captures the irony nicely in a recent editorial: "Far be it from us to suggest how the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., ought to run his business, even if his editorial columns have spent much of the past year telling others how to run theirs."

New York Post columnist Eric Fettmann notes the Times diversity drive didn't start with the 2001 appointment of Executive Editor Howell Raines. "That drive at the Times originated with the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who in 1994 (while still deputy publisher) decreed that ensuring greater racial, gender and sexual-orientation diversity at the paper was 'the single most important issue' facing the Times....Sulzberger himself laid down the law in a 1994 interview: 'Increasingly, any middle or senior manager's or any employee's advancement is going to depend on how he or she deals with these fundamental issues' of managed diversity."

For Fettmann's May 18 column: www.nypost.com

Given those kinds of smoke signals from the mountaintop, is it any wonder that a newsroom manager desiring a smooth career path would be reluctant to raise a stink about "bad news" Blair?

END Reprint of TimesWatch article

For the latest on the New York Times, check: www.timeswatch.org

CNN Concedes, Sort of, Distorted "Assault
Weapon" Demonstration

Reeling from NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre charging CNN with fabricating and "deliberately faking" a story last Thursday to demonstrate how a banned "assault weapon" has much more dangerous firepower than a legal model, on Monday's Wolf Blitzer Reports, substitute anchor Miles O'Brien didn't go so far as to offer a retraction, but he did concede CNN's demonstration needed further amplification.

[Web Update: The Washington Times on May 20 ran a story on this subject, "CNN rapped over gun segment." See: http://washingtontimes.com]

On the May 19 edition of the 5pm EDT Wolf Blitzer Reports, O'Brien announced: "On this program on Thursday of last week, we aired a live demonstration CNN set up with law enforcement officials of a banned semiautomatic rifle and its legal counterpart. We reviewed that demonstration, and one on another CNN program, and decided that a more detailed report would better explain this complex issue."

Space limits how much I can do on this today and it's pretty hard to explain in words what CNN showed in firing range tests, but let me try to concisely run through what CNN showed on Thursday, LaPierre's angry reaction on Friday and what CNN showed in a revised demonstration on Monday which implicitly illustrated how their Thursday presentation was, at the least, misleading.

-- Thursday, May 15 Wolf Blitzer Reports, anchored by Kyra Phillips. John Zarrella traveled to the Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Office's outdoor shooting range where Sheriff Ken Jenne narrated what viewers were seeing as a deputy fired two "assault weapons."

Jenne explained why he favors keeping the ban in place: "Because I think guns are the tools of hunters, but these weapons are really the tools to kill people and there's a major, major difference."

First, a deputy fired what Jenne described as "a AK-47, the Chinese version," which is "currently banned."

CNN's distorted rifle comparison
Watch CNN's distorted rifle comparison

Viewers saw bullets fired into a pile of cinder blocks and chunks of the cinder block flying off, leaving a big hole in one block. Then, the deputy fired into a bullet-proof vest. Zarrella observed that the bullets "clearly fired right through" the vest.

Second, Jenne set up the next model to be tested: "This is an AK-47 also, but a civilian model. It has some differences and right now this only has a clip of 10 in the magazine -- or 10 rounds in the magazine. So this is a big difference than the 30 rounds in the previous magazine."

Viewers then saw the deputy fire four shots toward the cinder blocks, but nothing happened, not even a speck of the cinder block flew off, never mind any hole being created.

The very clear implication: The illegal model punches right through cinder block with devastating and deadly force, but the legal model can't even cause a speck to fall off.

Upon looking at the MRC videotape frame by frame, with the first rifle you could see a puff of smoke coming out of the end of the barrel as the deputy fired. But with the second gun, you could not see anything, as if no bullet were being fired. And if one was, the deputy either missed the target cinder blocks, or had good enough aim to be firing into the hole created by the first rifle.

Sheriff Jenne, Zarrella didn't bother to note, is a Democrat. From Jenne's bio on the Sheriff's office Web site:
"Sheriff Jenne was elected to the Florida Senate in 1978 and retained that position for 18 of the next 20 years. He held all of the top committee chairmanships and was Senate Democratic Leader when Governor Chiles chose him to become Sheriff of Broward County in January 1998, replacing the late Ron Cochran." See: www.sheriff.org

(Note how they landed the sheriff.org domain)

-- Friday, May 16 Wold Blitzer Reports, again anchored by Kyra Phillips. An angry Wayne LaPierre of the NRA charged at the start of a guest appearance:
"Apparently the only difference between the New York Times and CNN is that when a reporter for the New York Times fakes a story, he's fired, and at CNN he's not. Your bureau chief, John Zarrella, deliberately faked the story yesterday and intending to show that the performance characteristics of banned firearms on the list are somehow different from the performance characteristics of firearms not on the banned list. He was, he was implying that these were machine guns or fully automatic guns. That's not true."

Phillips retorted: "Mr. LaPierre, I have to stop you there. No one fakes stories at CNN and John Zarrella definitely did not fake a story at CNN. You're very off base."

-- Wolf Blitzer Reports, Monday, May 19, anchored by Miles O'Brien. After O'Brien conceded "that a more detailed report would better explain this complex issue" (see top of this item for full quote), Zarrella offered a detailed explanation of the differences between a legal and illegal weapon:
"This is a semiautomatic firearm. It instantly self-loads and fires one bullet for each trigger pull. The 1994 Crime Control Act says it is unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon. The law defines a semiautomatic assault weapon by name and description, listing 19 specific firearms by name that are illegal.
"The law also bans certain rifles, pistols and shotguns by description, as well as large capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The law is very specific. For a semiautomatic rifle to be banned, it must be able to use a detachable magazine and have at least two of the following features: A flash suppressor, a bayonet mount, a pistol grip, a folding or telescoping stock, or a grenade launcher."

Zarrella admitted a major NRA talking point, and thus contradicted the clear implication of his Thursday demonstration: "In fact, if you fire the same caliber and type bullets from the two guns," one illegal and one legal, "you get the same impact."

Viewers then saw two of the "assault weapons" being fired at cinder blocks at an indoor range.

Zarrella previewed the first rifle: "Here is a .223 caliber bullet fired from a banned AR-15 rifle." Big chunks of the cinder block fell away. "Now, the legal version of that rifle," Zarrella explained before the same guy fired the second rifle. But this time, only a very small hole was created in the cinder block.

That prompted Zarrella to clarify: "The smaller hole made by the second gun has nothing to do with the gun or ammunition. The shooter just hit the second target more times in the same place."

In other words, the Thursday demonstration, in which the legal assault weapon caused no damage to the cinder block, was very misleading and very possibly an outright fabrication.

[Web Update: On May 21 the Miami Herald reported:
"When a BSO employee fired a banned weapon, the camera showed bullets ripping through a cinderblock target. When a legal semi-automatic weapon was fired, the camera showed another cinderblock seemingly unharmed.
"In fact, the bullets from the legal gun never hit the cinderblock. CNN spokesman Matthew Furman said the camera operator didn't realize the sheriff's employee had switched targets and was firing into the ground....
"The comparison seemed to imply the banned weapon packed more punch than its legal counterpart. In fact, the two are the same in terms of firepower."
For the entire Miami Herald article: www.miami.com]

CNN deserves credit for re-visiting their earlier story in which, for all I know, they may have been the victims of the sheriff's shenanigans. But given how the clear implication of the demonstration was just plain wrong, that illegal assault weapons cause much more damage than legal models which have much less firepower, CNN still owes its viewers a more explicit acknowledgment that they visually conveyed a distortion of reality.

-- Brent Baker