Television critics dutifully selected those networks they felt provided the best and worst political coverage for the Winter 2005 Critics Poll, but many emphasized that nearly all the channels failed to adequately cover the election.
“The general lack of investigative reporting, the tiptoeing around campaign claims and the failure to question the need for war will haunt the major media outlets for years to come,” said Joanne Ostrow of The Denver Post. “Shame on the 24-hour cable networks in particular for being an echo chamber for spin, false claims and for focusing on the horse race aspects.”
Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer agreed.
“[Networks] were disgracefully caught in the expert (Republican) and unremarkable (Democratic) diversions of the candidates and their support teams,” he said. “Fox News has successfully changed the definition of political coverage from analytical reporting to mindless pontification and all the other organizations are deplorably following suit.”
“The major media weren’t covering the election, they were being played by consultants like Karl Rove,” said Ted Cox of the Daily Herald in Chicago.
Critics gave PBS, NBC and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” the highest marks. Citing “NewsHour” and “Frontline,” Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted, “Both programs go to the heart of the issue as opposed to focusing on the useless statistics in the horse race.”
David Kronke of the Los Angeles Daily News gave accolades to Jon Stewart and company for their “uncanny ability to put the day’s events in a context that the major news organizations seem too timid to attempt.”
As for the worst network coverage, some critics reiterated the common complaint that Fox News Channel is conservatively biased. “A bunch of talking heads saying the same thing at different decibels,” said Mark McGuire of the (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union.
Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti, noting the network’s high election coverage ratings, said, “Once again, this just demonstrates how out of touch some critics are with their readers.”
Most of the critics saved their wrath for CBS, which aired a September report by Dan Rather that used unauthenticated documents to question President Bush’s National Guard service during Vietnam.
“[The report] isn’t merely a black eye on his career, but on the work of hard-working television and print journalists everywhere,” Ms. McFarland said. “He barged ahead on a story when he didn’t have all the facts, validating every accusation about bias and sloppy reporting a distrusting public has toward us.”