To hear Newsweek tell it, ABC’s “Nightline” is a “kind of national town meeting — a display case for electronic democracy.” But it seems that most citizens in “Nightline’s” town aren’t welcome at town hall and certainly aren’t invited to the meetings.
A 40-month analysis of ABC’s influential news program by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) showed “Nightline’s” guest commentators were predominantly white American males of the conservative elite trumpeting U.S. government policy with little or no opposition.
The analysis, conducted by William Hoynes and David Croteau of Boston College, revealed that 89.7 percent of the guests were male and 92.1 percent where white. Only 6.2 percent of the guests were black with 1.7 percent other minorities. When broken down by occupation, over 70 percent of the guests were either professionals or former or current government or military officials. Only four percent of the guests were public interest representatives while labor leaders and racial or ethnic leaders accounted for one percent each.
The top four repeating guests on “Nightline” reflect the limited spectrum of opinion with Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig appearing 14 times and Elliot Abrams and Jerry Falwell with 12 appearances. The only aberration was the 11 appearances by Nicaraguan government spokesman Alejandro Bendana, who was frequently placed in three-to-one opposing situations during the show.
As indicated by the statistics, representatives of liberal, civic, or public interest groups were often overlooked, and stories on economic, class, racial, gender, and cultural issues received short shrift. “Plainly stated, ‘Nightline’ presents a picture of the world which is startlingly similar to that presented by the U.S. government,” the study concluded.
In another study, conducted by the University of Minnesota, researchers analyzed every network newscast from January 1987 through June 1, 1989, and found that correspondents and producers turned time and time again to a very small group of the same experts. In fact, the study found that out of the select group of names in the “Golden Rolodex,” less than one fifth of the names accounted for more than half of the on-air appearances.
More importantly, this select group of experts is far from diversified in its range of opinion, consisting primarily of male Republicans who were either ex-government officials, or scholars from right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Even worse, the study found that these experts were labeled with titles such as “political analyst” and presented as neutral, when, in fact, many of them freely admit that their views are conservative and definitely aligned with the right. Democrats, however, “are almost always billed as Democrats, tipping off the viewership that it is listening to a partisan view.”
These two studies would certainly seem to debunk the myth of a liberal bias in the media. “It is quite frightening when you think about it,” concluded Holly Ainbinder, a spokesperson for FAIR. “There is a whole kingdom of thought and viewpoint and wisdom out there that is being ignored. What we’re showing is a need to invigorate the First Amendment.”
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHERS: ALAN BARBOUR and JAMIE BARRETT
130 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001, DATE: January/February 1989
TITLE: “ARE YOU ON THE NIGHTLINE GUEST LIST?”
SOURCE: MOTHER JONES, 1663 Mission Street, 2nd Floor San Francisco, CA 94103, DATE: February/March 1990
TITLE: “ALL THE RIGHT SOURCES”
AUTHORS: MARC COOPER and LAWRENCE E. SOLEY
COMMENTS: This nomination reports on two separate major media studies which explored who it is that the media turn to for “authoritative analysis” of important issues. The two studies were conducted by academicians, one at Boston College and the other at the University of Minnesota. In both cases, the results indicated that the media turn to a small group of mostly conservative white males for their information. And, in both cases, the results appear to debunk the myth of a liberal bias in the media. Not surprisingly, the media did not widely report the results.