Bias by the Numbers: Networks Give 30 Minutes to Tiger; Nothing for Right's Mt. Vernon Statement

According to ABC, CBS and NBC, an athlete involved in a three-month-old sex scandal is more newsworthy than a statement of principles signed by more than 80 conservative leaders.

Not just more newsworthy. The broadcast network morning shows devoted more than 30 minutes of coverage about Tiger Wood's statement to the press on his sexual "indiscretions" scheduled for Feb. 19. By contrast, the Feb. 17 signing of the Mount Vernon statement by 80 prominent conservative leaders received zero coverage. Both CBS and NBC sent camera crews to the event.

ABC provided the lion's share of the Tiger coverage, giving more than 17 minutes of airtime to the Woods story. A crisis management professional, a family therapist and two sports writers were brought on to speculate about the impact his expected apology would have on Woods' image and career, as well as the pros and cons of his wife Elin appearing alongside him.

Woods coverage on CBS clocked in at more than nine minutes while NBC, currently covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, gave Woods only four-and-a-half minutes.

With the recent conservative wins in New Jersey and Virginia, and Republican Scott Brown's election to liberal Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat, it'd be easy to think this statement would provide a hook for the morning shows talk about conservatism as it relates to the political future of America. Tied to CPAC, a major conservative conference that also began Feb. 18 in D.C., ABC, CBS and NBC had a huge news peg but no desire to cover the story.

The Mt. Vernon statement, similar to the Sharon Statement of 1960 drafted by William F. Buckley, outlined the notion of "Constitutional conservatism" as it should be applied to policies. It included these five basic principles that "define us as a country and inspire us as a people:"

  • Applying the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
  • Honoring the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.
  • Encouraging free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.
  • Supporting America's national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.
  • Informing conservatism's firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

Cable networks gave a bit more attention to the statement. Joan Walsh of Salon.com and Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring and a principle signatory of the statement, appeared on MSNBC's Feb. 18 edition of "Hardball with Chris Matthews."  Walsh used the spot to charge the signers with racism.

"It's a statement in context of needing this statement in the, quote, ‘age of Obama, that something has happened since we elected our first African-American president," she alleged. "We've suddenly got this movement for liberty and to restore values when we've got our first African-American president."

Despite insisting that she was not calling Hanna or his colleagues "racist," Walsh stated, "I feel a lot of these documents and a lot of these gatherings are rather hostile to the America that we're becoming, which is multiracial, which is younger, in which women have the right not merely to vote but to be president and it's turning back the clock."

Hanna pointed out to Walsh that "there's nothing in the statement that talks about the "age of Obama."

Walsh also criticized the statement for rehashing old sentiments.

"These are older people from another generation," she noted. "We've got Ed Meese, we've got Brent Bozell [founder and president of the Media Research Center, CMI's parent organization]. There's not a lot of youth and new thinking there. It's more of a restoration of the Reagan administration. So, I'm just not, I'm not feeling it right now." 

CNN's Wolf Blitzer grilled Erick Erickson, managing editor of RedState.com, during the Feb. 17 "Situation Room" about the need for the statement, but allowed him to make the case for it.

Erickson told Blitzer that the goal of the statement was to re-start the conversation about what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they crafted the Constitution and was not intended to be reincarnation of the 1994 Contract with America."

"Beginning again the conversation on what the principles of the Constitution are and why the country was founded, reminding people that under the Constitution, Congress only has 17 powers," he explained. "It's actually supposed to be very limited in a day and age when we think Congress can do anything it wants."

Blitzer questioned Erickson about one proclamation in the statement that read, "The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist."

Erickson responded by pointing out how the principles of the Declaration of Independence have been damaged by liberal ideologues. 

"We live in a day and age where the idea of life, liberty and pursuit of private property has been undermined by institutions such as universities, liberal academia, by the left in general, according to the conservative viewpoint, that there are actually things in life that are true and we shouldn't hid from those truths," asserted. "There is good, there is evil, there's truth. And a lot of people these days forget that some things are black and white."

ABC, CBS and NBC clearly went for the salacious over the relevant, and indicated that celebrity scandals pull rank over politics.