Williams Denies Pro-Barack Bias at NBC: 'That's Just Ridiculous'

On his blog The Daily Nightly, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams took offense at "spinning" about his Obama-swooning patter on MSNBC about how reporter Lee Cowan admitted they've found it hard to remain objective about the Obama phenomenon. NBC, biased? Williams said "rival political efforts" (the Clintons?) charged him with bias and that's "just ridiculous." The anchor demanded viewers look at NBC against and judge the "quality and fairness of our journalism." But isn't that a little like Gary Hart challenging reporters to look for Donna Rice? Exhibits of Cowan's liberal bias on the campaign (not to mention NBC's) have been posted here at NB. From the anchor's blog:

Lee admits "...it's almost hard to remain objective..." which as he implies is our goal in our work every day. He's referring to what all of us who have covered campaigns have felt from time to time: it's impossible to get the long view...the view from 40,000 feet...while operating at sea level, and inside the bubble.

Lee was talking about the swirl of excitement that has hit the Obama campaign after Iowa -- the crowds, the hoopla -- all of it. Today we learned that rival political efforts were spinning this as some kind of "bias" on the part of either Lee, or me, or this News Division, and that's just ridiculous. My response is as it always is in these situations: look at it again, listen to what's being said, and judge us by the quality and fairness of our journalism.

Exhibit A comes from MRC's Geoff Dickens, who found Cowan reporting an entire story (or press release) on August 9 from the Service Employees International Union, which invited the Democratic candidates to do house work for a day to see how home health-care workers are dramatically underpaid. For the candidates, it was a golden opportunity for them to look like Men and Women of The People.

Cowan showed Obama humbly sweeping cobwebs and getting coffee, and served up the following softball to Obama: "What does it say about the state of our health care that you've got a 86-year-old man being taken care of by a 61-year-old woman and you put the two of them together and they probably don't have a living wage?" Obama dutifully agreed with the union: "It says that we've got to, we've got to do something more fundamental than just tinkering around the edges."

For another exhibit, in October, I found Cowan trying to sell both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as great sources of hometown pride for Chicago. The first thing he did to promote Hillary was interview her childhood pal (and reliable Hillary's Fabulous saleswoman) Betsy Ebeling, but then he even insisted she was a Cubs fan (and not a Yankees fan?):

COWAN: There's little each candidate won't claim about Chicago but they do disagree on one thing, baseball. Senator Clinton is a Cubs fan, Senator Obama roots for the Sox. At the end of the day it really is, sort of an embarrassment of riches for Democrats here because they have two hometown powerbrokers that have a pretty good shot at the White House.

LAUER: Yeah, they have a lot to be proud of. Lee Cowan, joining us here in Chicago. Lee good to see you, thanks very much.

Williams is clearly miffed that NBC's getting banged up for showing some humility about Obama Mania, that it's hard to see the energy and not see Obama winning everywhere. (That's a good thing to warn against, considering the New Hampshire loss for Obama.) But Cowan's frank talk with Williams about how it's tough to be objective is really just more sales talk about how non-partisan people are coming to see the Obama phenomenon, that average Joes are coming and putting their children on their shoulders because they "sense history" at Obama rallies and it's "not cool" to have missed seeing the Amazing Obama in person.

Does Williams not realize that if Obama loses the nomination, then perhaps "history" wasn't made? Does Williams not realize that most of the people coming to see Obama are hard-core liberals and not just dazzled independent voters, but partisans who want to insist on a story line of Democratic momentum? Does Williams not realize that it's somehow not as difficult for network reporters and anchors to avoid finding premature "history" from Republican candidates?

These network websites are supposed to, in part, bring "transparency" to the public about how the news is made. But the only thing that's transparent in the anchorman's blog here is how overconfident he is that NBC will look objective after prolonged evaluation.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis