The NewsHour stands by its program and its reputation in the face of accusations by FAIR

FAIR study obfuscates question of balance and diversity by focusing on “sources” rather than program guests


FAIR – Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, released a report of a study on Wednesday October 4, 2006 that claims the The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer lacks diversity and balance.

The NewsHour producers and executives of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions stand by the program. “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is committed to providing its viewers with intelligent, in depth and objective reporting and analysis,” said Les Crystal, president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. “We strive to present a range of views in a balanced and civilized atmosphere and believe that we’ve achieved a strong track record in meeting that objective.”

The methods FAIR chose to use in compiling their data appear designed to obfuscate the issue.

“FAIR seems to be accusing us of covering the people who make decisions that affect people’s lives, many of whom work in government, the military, or corporate America,” said Linda Winslow, Executive Producer. “That’s what we do: we’re a news program, and that’s who makes news. We cover the news as fairly and impartially as we can. Period.”

Although the title of the report asks, “Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?” the report itself went far beyond the NewsHour’s guest list, focusing instead on what they loosely define as a “source”. Over the 6 month period of the study, FAIR “recorded every on-air source appearing on the show, including live and taped guests” and then classified them by race, gender, political affiliation and occupation.

Using this method, FAIR faulted the NewsHour for relying heavily on sources who were predominately white, male, Republican, government officials. The report lists President George Bush as the NewsHour’s most frequent source with 102 appearances, seconded only by his official spokesman, Scott McClellan with 25 appearances.

“President Bush is indeed a Republican, as are the leaders of the House and Senate and most members of the Administration,” said Linda Winslow, Executive Producer. “So if they’re including every sound bite from someone in the government who is making news in their tally, I don’t think it’s surprising that Republicans outnumber Democrats in their “count”. I also think that’s a pretty specious argument.”

Although taped excerpts of President Bush’s speeches, statements and press conferences are frequently used in the course of covering the news, President Bush has been an interviewed guest on the NewsHour just once since taking office.

Despite their questionable methods and critical conclusion, the FAIR report also demonstrated improvement. FAIR notes that the percentage of women on the NewsHour has increased since their last study. FAIR also notes that in terms of gender and racial diversity; the NewsHour ranks higher than other network news programs.

“I’m glad to see the percentage of women guests is improving. We have made a concerted effort to improve in this area, and that effort continues,” said Winslow. “Again, as women move into more decision-making positions in government and business, we expect to see even more of them on the program. The same goes for non-white guests, and I’m glad to see that we’ve also improved there. In fact, it looks to me like we’ve improved in just about every way FAIR could think of to categorize what we do.”

“Ultimately, as FAIR itself discovered, counting heads on a news program is meaningless unless you also analyze what they are saying,” said Winslow. “In that sense, this report simply proved that FAIR is quite incapable of rendering selective judgments about who, and what, is important and worth listening to.”

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is seen five nights a week on more than 315 PBS stations across the country. The program is produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, in association with WETA, Washington, D.C. and Thirteen/WNET in New York. Funding for The NewsHour is provided by the Archer Daniels Midland Co.; CIT; Pacific Life; BP and The Atlantic Philanthropies, with additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.