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CNN, Fox News equally `fair and balanced’

Jan 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

How well has television news done in its post-Sept. 11 coverage? Has it been factual or opinionated, balanced or one-sided?
A new study finds TV news coverage in general “more decidedly pro-administration” than newspaper coverage. And in the bitter war of words between Fox News Channel and CNN over which is the more “fair and balanced,” the study finds “no appreciable difference in the likelihood of CNN [as opposed to FNC] to air viewpoints that dissent from American policy.”
Those are the top-line results from a study conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism with Princeton Survey Research Associates, which compared levels of “factualness” to levels of “analysis” and “punditry” on television as well as in print. Analysis, the study holds, is ostensibly based on facts and evidence, while punditry is based merely on opinion mongering.
Other TV results:
Morning shows provided some of the “most serious reporting around … full of facts and well sourced. Within the various broadcast genres studied, these shows had the greatest percent of factual reporting (74 percent) and only 12 percent opinion and speculation.”
Of the morning shows, the level of “factualness” of ABC’s “Good Morning America” stood out. “In December the gap in factualness between `GMA’ and CBS’s “Early Show” reached 21 points (65 percent vs. 44 percent).
The evening network newscasts “looked strikingly similar in their coverage of this crisis so far,” according to the study. “They were all highly factual. They all had similarly low levels of punditry. They all had similarly high numbers of sources in each story.” Crisis coverage on all three evening newscasts was about two-thirds factual, the study concludes.
Like CNN, “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” PBS’s evening newscast, has somewhat of a reputation for liberalism, which the crisis-coverage study seemingly debunked. “Overall, more than three-quarters, or 77 percent, of its applicable stories entirely supported U.S. policy, the same as CNN’s “NewsNight With Aaron Brown,” the study found.
Not surprisingly, the various talk shows studied had the lowest levels of factual information. Talk shows in September “were nearly four times more likely than the evening news and three times more likely than morning news to engage in opinion mongering”; in November, the talk shows “abandoned even this measure of factuality. Factual accounts dropped to just 32 percent of what was on the talk shows. Punditry surged to 40 percent. Analysis nearly doubled to 28 percent,” the study found.
A spokesman for Fox News described the results of the study as “not surprising.” The spokesman also said that an assertion that Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes talked often of “CNN’s anti-administration bias,” a characterization that appeared in advance copies of the report provided to the press Friday, was being changed to read: “CNN’s possible bias.”