Crazy 8s: Executive Summary

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The Live 8 concerts were tuned to a rare collaboration of politics and music. Organizer and rock star Bob Geldof used the July 2, 2005, event to pressure wealthy nations into increasing foreign aid to Africa. The international performance left the TV media seeing stars and unable to report on Live 8 as anything other than a “good cause.” News people awed by celebrities delivered one-sided accounts about African poverty that were light on facts and heavy on promotion. Even after the event, journalists carried this skewed outlook to the G-8 conference harping on America’s “low” foreign aid and criticizing the U.S. stance on global warming.

     The Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute analyzed all TV news and news-related programs on the five major networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News – for a two-week span leading up to the Live 8 concerts and ending just after the conclusion of the G-8 meeting. This analysis covered June 27 through July 10, 2005, and included 121 stories that focused on the concerts or on the issues of African aid or climate change, which topped the summit agenda.

    TV Leads the Cheer for African Aid: More than one third of all stories on Live 8 or the G-8 meeting that followed (43 out of 121) emphasized the concerts weren’t about money, when nothing could be further from the truth. Live 8 was perhaps the biggest fund-raiser in history, but journalists bought the hype and didn’t report the multi-billion-dollar reality.

    Where Has the Money Gone?: Twenty years after Live Aid, even founder Bob Geldof admitted “Africa’s declined economically 25 percent in 20 years,” but the networks didn’t explore the effectiveness of the billions of dollars in aid that has already gone to Africa except to point out that much of it was lost to corruption.

    Meet the Press…Release: News people didn’t just promote Live 8; they relied on phrases spouted by concert organizers or found in Live 8 press releases. The concerts weren’t part of a fund-raiser; they were “raising awareness” as part of Africa’s “long walk to justice.” If the networks had been concerned with justice they wouldn’t have ignored the fact that Live 8’s predecessor, Live Aid, worked with the Ethiopian government of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who is still wanted for the crime of genocide. Only one story even mentioned Mengistu. Africa has several dictators who could impede the delivery of aid that could have been exposed this time. They weren’t.

    America the Cheap: Twenty-three stories (19 percent) made reference to limited U.S. aid even though America gives more foreign aid than any other nation. That didn’t stop CNN from saying “the U.S. budget is quite low in terms of foreign aid.” There was only one passing comment alluding to estimated $62 billion donated worldwide though American charities each year.

    A Billion Here, A Billion There: The networks rattled off a wide variety of numbers – some for debt relief, some for aid, even some for specific U.S. programs. There was little consistency on how much aid left-wing activists wanted for Africa. Numbers ranged from a couple billion dollars to $200 billion or $300 billion and included little explanation. Broadcasters couldn’t even come up with numbers for the Live 8 TV audience. Those estimates were as low as the millions or as high as more than five billion. Actual ratings for U.S. broadcasts of Live 8 were atrocious, losing out to rain delay in a NASCAR race.

    Global Warming Hot Air: The climate change discussions at the G-8 meeting drew typical media scare stories of rising oceans and searing temperatures. News shows blamed President Bush for his opposition to the Kyoto treaty in 19 percent of the stories. Only one story on Fox News mentioned that the Senate had also voted 95-0 against Kyoto.

    CNN Worst Network, Fox News Best: Thirty-six percent of the CNN stories embraced the idea that the concerts weren’t about money; and the network also had the highest number of stories criticizing the United States for a low foreign aid budget. Fox News didn’t fall into the Live 8 public relations trap. The network also delivered the most in-depth global warming coverage tied to the G-8 meeting.

    CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Most Biased; Ken Dolan A Bright Spot: Amanpour outdid herself with a mixture of U.S. criticism and outrage that corrupt African nations be forced to clean up their act to receive aid. The network’s major bright spot was “Dolans Unscripted” co-host Ken Dolan who dared to ask tough questions about increased African aid.