Howard Kurtz Mangles 'Studies' Showing Brit Hume's Right-Wing Bias

In Wednesday's Washington Post, media reporter Howard Kurtz profiled Fox News Channel's Brit Hume with the headline "Moving to the Right: Brit Hume's Path Took Him From Liberal Outsider to The Low-Key Voice of Conservatism on Fox News."

It's obvious from the headline. Once again, Fox is the only ideological news channel. In Kurtz's stories in the Post, the liberal media is usually treated as the objective media, never as liberal as they believe Fox is conservative. On April 4, Kurtz broke the Katie Couric story with the headline "CBS Prepares to Land a New Anchor." Liberal bias was not even mentioned in the story, as liberals worried about "residual sexism." The day before, the Keith Olbermann headline had only the right, not the left, in the headline: "A Gadfly With Buzz: MSNBC's Olbermann, Exercising the Right." On April 7, Meredith Vieira's arrival at NBC landed the bland headline "Who Wants to Be a Morning Host." (MRC did appear in that piece, in paragraph 19.) Last year, Bob Schieffer was "CBS News's Unstuffed Shirt." When the media pounded on Team Bush over Katrina, the headline rejoiced: "At Last, Reporters' Feelings Rise to the Surface." (Fox was included in the list of angry Katrina networks.)

It's not that Kurtz is incorrect that Hume has moved to the right over his journalism career, hired at ABC when he was liberal and breaking stories against Richard Nixon, and then falling out of step with Peter Jennings over the years. It's that other TV news stars don't have ideology be the main focus -- and provable commodity -- of their profiles.

It's a very different approach than the norm when Kurtz makes the point that "Hume, like his network, has clearly become a lightning rod in a polarized media environment. Hume is almost evangelical in his belief that he is fair and balanced while most of the media are not, an argument challenged by several studies showing that his program leans to the right." In this "polarized media environment," conservatives have certainly made Katie Couric a "lightning rod," but Kurtz couldn't locate that in the front-page story on Couric. Groups like the MRC have provided piles of examples of Couric bias, but he doesn't even ask Couric if she's fair and balanced. It's merely assumed. Only Fox is singled out as comically at odds with a fair and balanced pledge.

Later, he explores Hume's coverage of the Swift Veterans for Truth, a story the other networks displayed their pro-Kerry bias by strenuously doing nothing for weeks. Kurtz wrote, not of "several studies," but just one: "The Center for Media and Public Affairs, in a 2004 study, found that "Special Report" coverage of President Bush was positive 60 percent of the time, while its evaluations of John Kerry were negative by a 5-to-1 margin. Hume says he was fair to Kerry and that the media gave far more scrutiny to Bush's National Guard record."

But the press release for that study in September 2004 reported that "Evaluations of John Kerry were positive by a two-to-one margin, while evaluations of George W. Bush were over 60 percent negative." They added, "Fox News Channel was about as negative towards Bush as the broadcast networks, but Kerry's evaluations were negative by a five-to-one margin. There was little difference in the evaluations of party- and campaign-based partisan sources, but Bush fared over four times as well as Kerry among non-partisan sources." But Kurtz said Fox was 60 percent positive toward Bush, not 60 percent negative.

Overall, CMPA found "Evaluations of John Kerry were positive by a two-to-one margin, while evaluations of George W. Bush were over 60 percent negative. Among non-partisan sources, Kerry's evaluations were almost three-to-one positive; Bush's were over two-to-one negative. Based on CMPA's previous studies of primary and general election coverage, Kerry has gotten the best press on network news of any presidential nominee since we began tracking election news in 1988." But only Hume's 2004 coverage is still being cited by Kurtz in 2006. Only Fox is portrayed as biased.

MRC's Rich Noyes, who toiled on election-coverage studies at CMPA for many years until joining us, criticized Kurtz for how he portrayed CMPA's Fox results back in 2004.

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