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Peabodys Reflect Media Prejudices

Every year, the University of Georgia's journalism school announces the winners of its Peabody Awards for "distinguished achievement and meritorious public service" in television and radio. The awards for 1997, thirty-four in all, were presented on May 11. Six were given to shows on the commercial broadcast television networks, and half of those speak volumes about the political proclivities of the Peabodys.

Three of the broadcast network awards went to programs, or installments of programs, that had no ideological ax to grind. Until 1998, NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" had too much dramatic integrity to indulge in sociological crusading. (Then came its unfortunate gay-chic dabble of this past winter, when one straight male detective found himself dating a man.) CBS's "60 Minutes" aired a few slanted reports last year, but the four for which it won the Peabody were not among them. ABC's "Nightline" was honored for its three-parter on the since-deceased genocidal lunatic Pol Pot. (Network news was basically AWOL when the Khmer Rouge carried out its mass slaughter in the mid- and late '70s, but that failure doesn't diminish what "Nightline" accomplished in '97.)

That leaves three winners, each problematic because of its political viewpoint - or, better said, because each received an award because of its political viewpoint. In theory, journalists aren't supposed to praise advocacy. In practice, however, objectivity is a flag of convenience that the media fly regardless of their biases, and in this case, most are discernible in the choice of awardees.

First, there's CBS's languid "Sunday Morning," which is sort of like National Public Radio with pictures, except that a few years back, NPR cleaned up its act somewhat under threat of federal defunding and isn't all that left-leaning anymore. Not so "Sunday Morning," whose reporter Martha Teichner regularly barrages viewers with remarkably biased dispatches. One notable example was Teichner's interview with her Wellesley classmate Hillary Clinton, a puff-piece embarrassment more reminiscent of an alumni-magazine story than serious journalism.

A few months later, Teichner outdid herself with a whitewash of '40s pro-Communist lawyer Bartley Crum that suggested the major threat to freedom in post-World War II America was posed not by Joe Stalin, but by Joe McCarthy. "Sunday Morning" host Charles Osgood shouldn't be forgotten, either: his eulogy for radical gay poet Allen Ginsberg, which compared Ginsberg's "righteous wrath" to that "of an Old Testament prophet," put his ideological compass in its proper perspective.

Then there was the April '97 coming-out episode of "Ellen," which also received a Peabody last week. In its citation, the awards panel stated that it was not "endorsing the sexuality of Ms. DeGeneres." Oh, hogwash. By honoring the show, and that particular episode, it was honoring, and endorsing, several liberal positions, among them that opposition to gay rights ultimately has less to do with deeply held principle than it does with ignorance, ignorance that can be reduced or even eliminated by message-oriented fare - like "Ellen."

Homosexuality is one of the lifestyle issues (abortion is the other) on which the establishment media find it virtually impossible to acknowledge that there is an intelligent, credible "other side." It is also a highly important issue to them - and, apparently, to the Peabody board, which has lauded several gay-themed programs in this decade. Most recently, in '96 "The Celluloid Closet," about the portrayal of homosexual movie characters, was given an award; in '95, honors went to two pro-gays in the military efforts, NBC's "Serving in Silence" and PBS's "Coming Out Under Fire." I'm sure the Peabody folks would tell us there's no endorsement there, either.

The primary reason for this one-sidedness is that conservative stands on social issues are grounded in religion, and faith makes the media uncomfortable - bringing us to another '97 Peabody winner, ABC's now-canceled "Nothing Sacred." This was a "religious" series that a secular liberal could enjoy, and that an anti-Catholic could relish with glee. It was a series that appalled Catholics, not just because of its attacks on the Church but because its very existence was predicated on the proposition that a network should sponsor a show attacking the Catholic Church. It was a series that outraged millions while pleasing only the far left. It was conceivably the most offensive series ABC has ever aired.

And for that it won a Peabody. In the citation, the Peabody panel noted that the awards have "sought to recognize excellence... especially when such programming has faced ideological attack." Meanwhile, back in the real world, the public can't believe what it's watching on "entertainment" television, and doesn't believe what it's getting from the "news" media. And these media, in turn, can't understand why the public is turning away from them, by the millions and millions.