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Thursday, March 20, 2008
MRC War Coverage Studies Mostly Ignore Fox News
Topic: Media Research Center

A March 17 MRC "Media Reality Check" by Rich Noyes declares:

Analysts at the Media Research Center have studied TV news coverage of the Iraq war from the beginning, even before the first bombs fell on Baghdad in March 2003. The record shows the networks have trumpeted bad news — setbacks for the U.S. coalition and allegations of misdeeds by American troops — while minimizing good news such as the success of the 2007 troop surge and acts of heroism by U.S. soldiers.

But nearly all of the 11 studies Noyes cites are focused only on the broadcast networks or a specific network -- two focus only on ABC (one of those solely on ABC anchor Peter Jennings), two focus only on NBC (one solely on then-NBC reporter Peter Arnett). One study focused only on cable news coverage. None offer a comprehensive look at all "TV news coverage of the Iraq war."

Why so little focus on cable news? Perhaps because it doesn't want to be put in the position of having to criticize conservative-friendly (not to mention MRC-friendly) Fox News. MRC, after all, has a history of running to Fox News' defense.

The lone cable news-focused MRC study of Iraq war coverage, in December 2006, made Fox News look good: It claimed that, unlike MSNBC and CNN, Fox News "was better able to balance the bad news with more optimistic news of U.S. achievements in Iraq," unashamedly rehashing Fox News' "fair and balanced" slogan. The study does not state whether news events in Iraq from the period of time studied warranted the "balance" that Fox News provided and the MRC lauded.

One MRC study, issued Feb. 28, claimed that "[w]hen U.S. casualties began to steadily decline, TV coverage of Iraq dramatically decreased" on the TV networks. That study, like nearly all of the others, excluded cable news coverage, and it uncritically repeats Bush administration talking points claiming that "the President’s surge strategy is well on its way to succeeding."

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media 2008 report, however, showed this trend of declining coverage was not limited to the purportedly liberal news networks: It found that Fox News "spent less time on the war in Iraq" than CNN and MSNBC, and it was "more oriented to crime, celebrity and the media than its rivals." (h/t Think Progress.)

The MRC does not mention this, nor does it note Fox News' previous hostility toward airing negative Iraq war coverage:

  • John Gibson claimed that those who criticized news channels for obsessive coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death while minimizing Iraq war coverage (like Fox News) were suffering from "news-guy snobbery."
  • Bill O'Reilly, responding to a previous PEJ study with similar findings for Fox News, defended the lack of coverage of negative Iraq war news by asserting that it does not "highlight every terrorist attack because we learn nothing from that. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do." O'Reilly also asserted, without evidence, that "CNN and MSNBC are actually helping the terrorists by reporting useless explosions. ... I'm not gonna cover every bomb that goes off in Tikrit, because it's meaningless."
These studies are not unlike a lot of other MRC studies -- they are driven too much by the MRC's conservative bias to be trusted without question.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:27 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, March 20, 2008 12:33 AM EDT

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