Written 300 pm Feb 26, 1991 by fair in cdpmideast.media FAIR SURVEY SHOWS ONE-SIDED TV NEW
Written 3:00 pm Feb 26, 1991 by fair in cdp:mideast.media
FAIR SURVEY SHOWS ONE-SIDED TV NEWS SOURCES
Nightly network news programs largely ignored opposition viewpoints in
the first two weeks of war, according to a survey of TV sources conducted by
the media watch group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting).
FAIR analyzed the 878 sources used by the networks in war reports between
Jan. 17 and Jan. 30. Among FAIR's key findings:
- About 1.5 percent of their sources were identified as U.S. anti-war
protesters -- about the same percentage of Americans asked to comment on how
the war had affected their travel plans.
- Only one leader of a peace organization was quoted in the broadcasts
surveyed (0.1 percent of total sources). By contrast, seven Super Bowl
players were sought out to comment on the war.
"The survey documents the extent to which news coverage was limited to a
one-sided pro-war perspective," said Jim Naureckas, editor of FAIR's
publication Extra! "It illustrates what FAIR has been saying all along --
that there is no real debate on network TV. Basic journalistic standards
seem to require the inclusion of balancing views."
The survey also found:
- About half -- 47 percent -- of sources were connected to either U.S. or
allied governments. (Almost three in 10 came from the U.S. military.) One
percent of sources represented the Iraqi government.
- Civilian victims of the Iraqi bombing in Israel were featured more
heavily (5 percent of sources) than civilians and refugees from Iraq and
Kuwait (1.5 percent) who suffered much heavier loss of life.
FAIR's survey was based on an analysis of abstracts of ABC, CBS and NBC
nightly news programs provided by the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. A
FAIR survey released Jan. 16 found that only 1 percent of the Gulf crisis
coverage on nightly network news (Aug. 8-Jan. 3) dealt with popular
opposition to the war build-up.
GULF WAR SOURCES SURVEY -- JAN. 17 - JAN. 30, 1991
The media have been attacked by right-wing critics for giving too much of
a platform to anti-war viewpoints, and for providing a forum for Iraqi
propaganda. Meanwhile, peace movement leaders feel they have been nearly
shut out of the media, which they see as providing one-sided pro-war
To examine these competing claims statistically, FAIR surveyed the
on-camera sources used in two weeks of nightly news coverage on ABC, CBS and
NBC. The survey revealed a pattern of decidedly unbalanced coverage, which
promoted official pro-war views and gave little airtime to opposing views.
The survey examined the abstracts of the Jan. 17-Jan. 30 nightly network
news broadcasts provided by the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, which
include descriptions of all sources quoted. Based on the abstracts, FAIR
classified sources by nationality and occupational category.
FAIR found that of 878 sources used in war reports, almost half -- 47
percent -- represented either U.S. or allied governments. U.S. government
sources, including the military and Congress, accounted for 39 percent of
sources (346 sources). The U.S. military alone provided almost three of
every ten sources used (252 sources).
The next most highly represented governments were Israel (30 sources, 3
percent) and Britain (17 sources, 2 percent). Twenty- five sources (3
percent) represented other governments in the U.S.-led coalition (which at
that time included the Soviet Union, seven sources). Surprisingly, only
seven Saudi government sources and three Kuwaiti government-in-exile sources
Eight sources -- 1 percent -- represented the government of Iraq. Three
sources represented governments that were officially neutral (Jordan and
Iran). This reflected the tendency of the networks to present the war almost
entirely from the point of view of the U.S.-led coalition.
UNOFFICIAL SOURCES: U.S. CITIZENS
Most of the "unofficial" sources were citizens of the United States --
329, or 37 percent. (Since nationality was not always identified in the
abstracts, the figures for nationality are approximate.)
Many of these sources are "experts" -- academics, journalists and others
presumed to have a special expertise in their subject area. Of the academics
and professional analysts, who made up 4 percent of the sample (35 sources),
a handful are prominent scholars associated with the peace movement -- like
Todd Gitlin and historian Michael Emory. Far outnumbering these, however,
were generally uncritical experts, including security analysts, economic
forecasters and psychologists, all of whom tended to portray U.S. citizens
as victims of Iraq. Few analysts were called upon to give any cultural or
historical context to the war.
To this category of "expert" can be added retired military personnel, who
were often used by the networks as in-house consultants. The
non-governmental source who appeared most frequently was Anthony Cordesman,
a retired Pentagon and National Security Council aide, who appeared on ABC
11 times in 14 days. The repeated appearances by Cordesman and other
military consultants, who were presented by network journalists as neutral
experts rather than partisans for their former employers, gave them a
special weight in the coverage. Such military consultants, as well as other
retired military personnel, appeared a total of 35 times, making up 4
percent of total sources.
Religious leaders were sometimes used as "moral experts" (9 sources, 1
percent). While these sources were sometimes quoted speaking positively
about peace, they were rarely cited as taking a position in opposition to
Another set of U.S. sources were representatives of the business
community, such as oil executives, flag manufacturers and travel agents
talking about how the war had affected their companies. There made up 5
percent of all sources (41 individuals).
A smaller category was representatives of non-profit citizen action
groups, which comprised only 1 percent of total sources (9 individuals). The
scarcity of spokespeople for these groups, which represent the main way
ordinary citizens can organize for political change, is striking. Only one
source in the broadcasts monitored represented a national peace group: Bill
Monning, of Physicians Against Nuclear War. In contrast, seven Super Bowl
players were asked to comment on the war and on the supposed terrorist
threat to the game.
By far the largest number of non-governmental sources (174, or 20
percent) were "people on the street." Contrary to critics who charged that
the peace movement received vast amounts of coverage in the first days of
the war, only 13 sources -- 1.5 percent of the total -- were identified as
anti-war demonstrators -- the same number of people who were interviewed
about how war had affected their travel plans.
To the quite limited extent the views and analyses of the anti-war
movement were covered, it was done almost exclusively through brief,
informal soundbites taken from individuals attending rallies, rather than in
substantive, in-studio discussions with official representatives. Certainly,
part of a news outlet's job is to report the views of people at the
grassroots level, but relying on random protesters to present the peace
movement's views is to deny the movement its most articulate and
knowledgeable spokespeople. The situation is comparable to depending on
interviews with the crowd at a Republican rally to convey the views of the
Another sub-group of general citizens were relatives of servicepeople in
the Gulf, with 21 speakers representing 2 percent of sources. None of these
were identified as members of the Military Family Support Network, the group
for military relatives who oppose the war.
UNOFFICIAL SOURCES: CIVILIAN VICTIMS
Since viewers tend to be sympathetic toward all civilians who face the
horrors of war, the distribution of interviews with such civilians suggests
where the media ask us to place the bulk of our sympathy. Based on this
survey, the answer in the Gulf war is clear: in Israel.
Civilian sources in Israel were quoted 46 times (5 percent), almost
always in regards to the fear they felt about Iraqi missile attacks. This
was by far the largest category of non- U.S. sources, with Israeli
government officials a distant second.
In contrast, Iraqi residents and refugees from Iraq and Kuwait were
represented by only 13 sources (1.5 percent). The disproportionate coverage
seems particularly striking when one considers that civilian casualty rates
are perhaps a thousand times higher in Iraq and Kuwait than in Israel.
Twenty-four sources (3 percent) were either Palestinians or Jordanians,
who tended to share with refugees a critical perspective on the war. Most of
these sources appeared on the ABC network. One of the few significant
differences between the networks was the relative number of Arab and Israeli
sources: While 10 percent of ABC's sources came from Arab countries (many
expressing anti-Iraq views) and 6 percent from Israel, CBS' sources were 7
percent Arab and 12 percent Israeli. NBC quoted 7 percent Arabs and 9
percent Israelis. (Given the lesser involvement in the war of Israel than
Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and arguably several other Arab countries, more
equal numbers of sources are not necessarily more "balanced.")
A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY
The Vanderbilt abstracts contain detailed information on nightly network
news, but they have limitations. Notably, the second half of special
one-hour extended broadcasts on the Gulf were sometimes preempted by the
local affiliate being monitored by Vanderbilt University. Approximately 22
of 28.5 hours of news coverage was included in the survey. Presumably, some
of the approximately 6.5 hours of coverage not monitored by Vanderbilt
included critical sources, but there is no reason to believe that this
coverage was markedly different from the 22 hours surveyed.
In a few cases, sources were described as plural without a specific
number -- e.g., "Marines," "Tel Aviv residents." (This was done once with
"protesters.") In these cases, FAIR considered the speakers as a single
source, assuming that such groups spoke more or less as a unit.
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