Salon.com Story Lamely Claims 'Gross Exaggeration' In MRC Research on Obama, Reverend Wright

Sometimes, the left simply can’t argue against hard facts. In a book excerpt warning of the “resurgent right” on Salon.com, leftist Lee Fang accused Brent Bozell of “gross exaggeration” in describing media apathy on Obama scandals.  

Fang reported that in a speech at the Council for National Policy in February 2009, Bozell claimed by the time the national networks ran "a single story on Reverend Wright, 42 states and the District of Columbia had voted." Dear Mr. Fang: please identify the exaggeration in that fact.

Our research clearly found the first story with Wright sermon soundbites aired on ABC on March 13, 2008. By then, 42 states and the District of Columbia had already voted. The story came too late to damage someone almost no one in the media wanted to damage.

Fang somehow thinks this fact is refuted by what came after that. “According to a search of transcripts supplied by Nexis, the major networks ABC, CBS and NBC ran at least a combined 57 segments or mentions of Obama's controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright well before November.”

Not only is this claim irrelevant to the charge of “exaggeration” of our claim, but counting “mentions” is something you do when you want to give the networks your most generous nod (as we sometimes do). Blurring them in with full stories can make the amount of coverage sound....exaggerated.

We’ve never claimed the Reverend Wright story was never covered. We have claimed it was covered in a way that tried to extricate Obama from any political damage. Here are some of the study findings we offered in 2008:

The networks completely ignored soundbites of Wright’s conspiracy theory about the U.S. government inventing AIDS to kill blacks, and mostly ignored his comments about the September 11 terrorist attacks being "America’s chickens coming home to roost." None of the network morning or evening shows found one opportunity to air Wright’s 2003 sermon accusing the federal government of hiding the truth about their "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." His attack on America’s alleged record of terrorism and violence was ignored by all three evening shows, as well as by CBS’s The Early Show.

The broadcast networks gave clips of Obama’s "race speech" on March 18 more than twice as much air time in a few hours than they gave all of the Wright bites aired in the month of March. The evening news shows on March 18 carried almost six minutes (348 seconds) of highlights from the Obama speech, or roughly five times more than all the Wright bites in March. The morning shows carried roughly nine and a half minutes (572 seconds) of sound from the speech. The three morning shows gave almost twice as much time to the Obama speech clips as they devoted to Wright soundbites in March. Combined, Obama’s one speech drew about 15 minutes of clips, while Wright’s years of sermons drew about six minutes.

Broadcast network interview segments on the Wright remarks and Obama’s race speech in March were dominated by liberal guests. When the networks allowed Republican or conservative guests, they stayed neutral or praised Obama’s remarks. Overall, the network pundit count was 16 to 5. CBS especially loaded its reaction panels with nine liberals and just one right-leaning pundit, pollster Frank Luntz, who contained his remarks to grading Obama’s stagecraft. NBC allowed six liberals and three conservatives. ABC aired one liberal and one conservative.

Wright’s National Press Club vitriol repeating his opinions about an AIDS conspiracy and America deserving 9/11 went virtually unreported. The broadcast network morning and evening shows aired only two and a half minutes (155 seconds) of soundbites from Wright’s April 28 performance at the National Press Club, but there were no soundbites about AIDS and only 23 seconds about America deserving a terrorist attack. By contrast, these same Big Three shows aired almost six minutes (358 seconds) of clips of Wright’s softball interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, where he accused conservatives of smearing him as a hater.

In today’s rapid-fire political atmosphere of cable news, talk radio, and the Internet, media analysts can easily make the mistake of believing that the leading network news outlets were tough on a candidate because of the general perception of how the entire media – Old Media and New Media – brought a controversy to the public’s attention. But voters who sampled only a light menu of news from Big Three network TV could easily have missed the depths of Reverend Wright’s outrageous remarks. No one could find in these stories a scouring scrutiny of Obama’s decades of membership in his controversial church.

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