Network News Anchors Shocked at Bias Charge: We're Professionals!

All three network news anchors appeared together on each of the morning shows on Thursday and blithely dismissed the notion that members of the media have shown bias and sexist attitudes in response to Sarah Palin's nomination for vice president. "World News" host Charles Gibson, who visited along with NBC's Brian Williams and CBS's Katie Couric, told "Today" host Meredith Vieira that the role of a journalist is "to raise these questions." "It's not based on politics. It is simply- those are the questions you ask," he touted.

"CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric acted as though the entire concept baffled her. "...But when you think of media these days, I mean, what does that mean exactly," she wondered. Placing blame on bloggers, she added, "In this case, it now means thousands and thousands of internet bloggers, partisan reporters and so I think you can't paint the media with a, with a broad brush."

The trio of journalists stopped by "Today," "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show" to promote a multi-network fund-raiser to fight cancer. They ended up dismissing the entire idea of bias and sexism against Palin. "NBC Nightly News" host Williams sniffed, "On this platform right now are represented four broadcasts that are the product of very hard working professionals and the four of us measure every word."

Of course, when the three TV personalities appeared on the morning shows back on May 28 for the same charity purpose, Couric herself  accused the Bush White House of "strong arm tactics" during the run-up to the war in Iraq and whined, "There was such a significant march to war and people who questioned it very early on...were considered unpatriotic."

On Thursday, Gibson rebuffed charges of sexism against the conservative Palin by telling Vieira, "The really critical questions involve experience. And to be honest, these are the same questions we'd be asking Barack Obama if he picked Governor Kaine of Virginia, who is new to the national and international scene."

But surely Gibson knows that journalists haven't been just raising "questions" against John McCain's running mate. They've been making gender-based charges. On ABC, Gibson's own network, weekend "Good Morning America" anchor Bill Weir challenged a McCain aide on August 30 to explain how Palin would be able to balance both children and being vice president. He derided, "Adding to the brutality of a national campaign, the Palin family also has an infant with special needs. What leads you, the Senator, and the Governor to believe that one won't affect the other in the next couple of months?"

Couric, Williams and Gibson's segment on "Good Morning America" also turned to the subject of media bias and Gibson used nearly identical language in his instance that he would hold Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to similar scrutiny.

Couric claimed to be "on guard for sexist coverage," but reiterated that Palin "needs to be scrutinized, analyzed and quite frankly dissected...just as any figure new to the national scene should be." (The anchors appeared on CBS's "Early Show," but the discussion there was limited to cancer research.)

For a frame of reference, an August study by the Media Research Center found that since Barack Obama appeared on the national scene four years ago, the candidate received 462 positive stories and only 70 negative, an imbalance of seven to one. Considering that Obama is a "figure new to the national scene," wouldn't fair journalists want to raise questions about him?

A transcript of the "Today" interview, which aired at 8:14am on September 4, and the "Good Morning America" segment, which aired at 7:43am, follows:

"Today" 8:14am

MEREDITH VIEIRA: You know, a couple of hours Governor Palin is going to address this audience here. There's been a lot of controversy in the past 24 to 48 hours. The McCain camp has really gone on the attack against the press, has accused the media of trashing her, of being sexist. Do you think that they have a point or do you think that this is a way to galvanize the base?

COURIC: I think it is a way to galvanize the base. I know these guys probably have an opinion, but when you say the media these days, I mean, what does that mean exactly? In this case, it now means thousands and thousands of internet bloggers, partisan reporters and, so, I think you can't paint the media with a, with a broad brush. And I think that sometimes those people can get out of line, scurrilous things are repeated. There's no editing. It's the World Wide Web and it's the democratization of the media and sometimes with that comes false and scurrilous stories. So, I think, you know, it's- we've heard that before, but I feel that we are reporting very responsibly and accurately.

WILLIAMS: I've got to side with Katie. On this platform right now are represented four broadcasts that are the product of very hard working professionals and the four of us measure every word. We would want to be judged on our work. So, a broad brush accusation needs subcategories. I don't mind people coming at us, tell me what.

CHARLES GIBSON: Look, the critical questions involves the fact that Governor Palin is new to her job. She's new on the national scene, new on the international scene, has very little international experience. The really critical questions involve experience. And to be honest, these are the same questions we'd be asking Barack Obama if he picked Governor Kaine of Virginia, who is new to the national and international scene. That's what our role is, to raise these questions. It's not based on politics. It is simply- those are the questions you ask.

COURIC: Experience and positions. I mean, they're very relevant to the decision-making process.

"Good Morning America" 7:43am

ROBIN ROBERTS: The Republicans did come out swinging last night. They weren't just throwing punches at the Democrats. They took aim at the media, as well. Take a listen.

FORMER ARKANSAS MIKE HUCKABEE: The reporting of the past few days have proven tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert.

ROBERTS: So we asked the three network anchors who were here what they thought of these charges of media bias. You know there's been a lot of criticism toward the media in the coverage of Sarah Palin. Has it been fair? Is there anything you would do differently in the coverage of her story thus far?

CHARLIE GIBSON: The questions basically revolve around her experience and those are things that you would raise no matter who the candidate might have been. A lot of the questions it occurred to me the other day that we are asking about Sarah Palin we would be asking about Tim Kaine if Barack Obama had picked him, the governor of Virginia, also new on the national scene, first term of governor, also new on the international scene, not much experience so these questions are things that the press raises.

KATIE COURIC: I think, you know, for example, Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant was as much about the vetting process as it was about her familial situation and I think there are a lot of legitimate areas to question her about and I -- you know, I'm on guard for sexist coverage because I'm particularly sensitized to that, but I think she needs to be scrutinized, analyzed and quite frankly dissected as Charlie said just as any figure new to the national scene should be.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And Americans know, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, Americans have a funny way of deciding for themselves. We all have the same judgment to make in November as citizens. You mention how extraordinary it is the three of us together here. I'm thinking if the attacks on the media keep up we might want to do just one booth in the future.

[laughter]

COURIC: Bulletproof.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

ROBERTS: A lot of remarks, a lot of remarks about how she has been covered.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org