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Peter's Peace Platoon

ABC's Crusade Against "Arrogant" American Power

Executive Summary

In times of war, the media grow skeptical of the American government’s role in controlling the flow of information. But the American people are also concerned about the media’s control of the flow of information. Will they act as a neutral observers, devoted to balance and accuracy? Or will they play an activist’s role in undermining our government’s effectiveness in waging war?

jennings031403During a January 17 Nightline/Viewpoint special, ABC News President David Westin explained why he banned the wearing of flag pins by his reporters: “I think our patriotic duty as journalists in the United States is to try to be independent and objective and present the facts to the American people and let them decide all the important things....I respect any other news organization taking a different tack, but for me, part of the symbolism of the fact that what we’re doing in our constitutional democracy, what we’re trying to do to help quote, ‘the cause of the country overall,’ is to be objective and give just the straight facts to the American people and let them decide what they want to do about it.”

In a review of 234 stories on ABC’s World News Tonight from January 1 to March 7, the Media Research Center found that ABC News failed its promise to serve the American people as an independent and objective observer, offering straight facts and letting the people decide. Instead, ABC employed a dangerous double standard – harshly criticizing of the Bush administration and its policies, but failing to extend that same tough critical standard to other actors in this political crisis, from congressional Democrats, to UN bureaucrats, to skeptical allies like France, and even to the dictatorship in Iraq.

CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News presented a more balanced and less passionate evaluation of news developments. World News Tonight coverage of the crucial pre-war debate demonstrated a clear and repetitive bias on four fronts:

     • ABC questioned the purity of the Bush administration’s ideological and economic motives for war, and constantly decried a lack of White House respect for the peacemaking efforts of countries like France and the United Nations. ABC did not apply the same skeptical standards on ideology, greed, or “hard line” demands when it came to the policy stands of France or the United Nations.

     • While ABC treated Bush administration pronouncements with great skepticism, ABC routinely channeled propaganda from the Iraqi regime without investigating its accuracy or even treating it with equal skepticism.

     • ABC has touted the size and broadly “mainstream” nature of anti-war protest movements, without skeptical coverage of their radical organizers, their radical speeches, or their potentially destructive impact on the popularity of the “peace” position.

     • ABC selectively covered its own polling numbers, reporting results that show slippage for the White House case, while sometimes ignoring its own polls when they found growing support for the White House case.

While the American public grow more convinced every day of the need for war, they have not arrived at that opinion through objective reporting from ABC that demonstrated faith in letting the American people decide for themselves. Instead, ABC’s coverage on World News Tonight has scorned the notion of balance, lobbying the American people by favoring and highlighting information suggesting that war is unjustified, unnecessary, undiplomatic, and unwise.