Column on Bias at PBS TV

Bias at The News Hour

Tibor R. Machan

Often I check out newscasts from several sources, not just in print and on
the Internet but also on radio and TV. One place where I check things out
fairly regularly is PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) TV’s The News Hour
with Jim Lehrer, mainly because I am curious how a program funded to a
considerable extent from money taken in taxes handles controversial
topics. After all, the taxes are taken from all Americans who have a wide
variety of viewpoints about the news while The News Hour has limited
resources and time and obviously cannot give all these viewpoints an equal
chance to be represented.

Not surprisingly, then, nearly all treatments of controversial matters are
decidedly biased on this program. And while one can say the same about
NBC-TV, ABC-TV, CBS-TV, CNN TV and Fox TV, those are all privately funded
and they aren’t taking money from people and covering stories in ways
these people may very well find seriously objectionable. PBS has an
obligation to do a creditable job of representing the wide variety of
viewpoints, at least to some extent, while those other privately funded
organizations do not other than in a professional sense, as journalists.
PBS’s responsibility is a political, not only a professional one, because
they are funded by all taxpayers!

There is, of course, no doubt about the bias on The News Hour. For
example, only two commentators are invited to offer opinions on various
issues, David Brooks and Mark Shields, day after day, without a break
other than when one goes on vacation. Needless to note, there is a far
greater variety of opinions on the various topics in the country than what
Brooks and Shields provide. These two represent mainstream conservatism
and liberalism, at best, although even there many conservatives and
liberals would probably find that their views never see the light of day
at all.

But the bias is evident elsewhere, perhaps even more, This is when one of
Lehrer’s reporters brings in two or three economists, foreign policy
experts, educators, business professionals and the like, again mostly
lukewarm mainstreamers without a scintilla of a seriously challenging
opinion coming from any of them. It is mostly people who would be offered
space on the Op Ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. Now
and then a Wall Street Journal reporter or editor is invited but rarely.

Even part from the selection of "experts" in the various fields being
discussed on the air, there is also the more blatant bias of some of the
news reporters. For instance, in a recent report on the way President
Obama’s stimulus plan is being viewed around Washington, reporter Kwame
Holmes made reference to some doubts about this policy by referring to
"fears that President Obama’s economic plan may not be enough…." He
didn’t mention fears that the president’s plan may be wrongheaded,
misguided, overblown, or the like–only that it may "not be enough," thus
showing a bias in favor of just one way the plan might be improved,
namely, by making the various bailouts even larger than what they are
because as they stand they are too little.

In fact, of course, hundreds, even thousands of critics can be found
across America’s universities and think tanks who do find the plan
misguided, wrongheaded, and so forth, as the list of them featured
recently in a Cato Institute sponsored advertisement makes abundantly
clear.

Has Jim Lehrer ever let anyone on the program who pointed out that
President Obama grossly misrepresented whether there exists a consensus
among academic economists concerning his stimulus policy? No. No one has
appeared on the program, one paid for in part by all Americans, voicing
criticism of the Obama policy apart from some Republicans who could then
be dismissed as being purely partisan, without any scholarly credentials.

Bias on PBS TV and NPR (Nation Public Radio) abounds, of course, and one
could do a doctoral dissertation ferreting it out but in a column I can
only call attention to a few cases. Yet they should suffice to indicate
that public television is anything but representative to the American
public.

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