Sunday, October 08, 2006

Are You On CounterSpin's Guest List?

Congratulations to FAIR on their twenty years of watchdogging the media. After the celebrating is over, possibly they could watchdog their own radio program? It's called CounterSpin and a current report on the guests booked on The NewsHour (PBS) calls the radio program into question.

If you missed it, you can read it here or you can click here for the AP report on it. If you don't have that kind of time, here's Democracy Now!'s summary of the report:

Study: Guests on NewsHour Largely White, Male and Republican
A new study has criticized PBS's flagship news program, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, for having relying too much on white, male Republican sources. The study, conducted by the media watchdog group FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, found that NewsHour interviewed four times as many male sources as women. People of color made up only 15 percent of U.S. sources. Among partisan sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by a two to one ratio. On the issue of Iraq, the show interviewed five times as many guests who advocated staying the course over withdrawing troops. According to FAIR, no peace activists were interviewed on Iraq during the study's six-month period.

CounterSpin is the half-hour weekly program put out by FAIR. FAIR criticized (rightly) The NewsHour for having four times as many male sources as women. CounterSpin books guests as well. Does FAIR know the figures for the same period on CounterSpin?

We'll help them out. Our count shows that there were 13 women interviewed. How many men? Well, if you can count struggling screenwriter and smear-job 'reporter' Gadi Dechter as human, you have to assign him the gender of male. Dechter is one of 36 males appearing from October of 2005 to March of 2006.

Feel free to check our math, we may have missed someone. But that translates, even for those with limited math skills, as CounterSpin interviewed three times as many males as females. Now, yes, that is a step up form The NewsHour's four times as many males -- but it's nothing to brag about. And nothing that FAIR can point to with pride.

Also note that one episode of CounterSpin didn't feature the usual two guest make up but instead devoted the time to one guest: Jonathan Kozol (January 6, 2006). No woman was deemed to be worthy of being the only guest for a program -- not Naomi Klein, not Phyllis Bennis, not any of the thirteen.

We knew the numbers for female guests wouldn't be good, we do listen to the show and that was obvious to us before we started looking at the guests. (For those interested in the host makeup -- there are three hosts -- one is woman, one is African-American. That is actually one host. The other two hosts are White males.) Eye balling the guest list will demonstrate that people of color didn't fare well either. (Trust us, you don't want the figure for women of color who were brought on as guests.)

But the reason we actually bothered to look into it was that FAIR was slamming The NewsHour for not having a peace activist on as a guest during the entire period they surveyed (October 2005 through March 2006, the same period we surveyed. And they did survey "through" not "to" -- through March.)

Here's the sentence, from the report, that caught our attention: "In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq."

As any reader of this site (or any of the community sites) knows, we've about had it with independent media failing to cover the peace movement. We've nudged, we've encouraged and still it can't be bothered. We're fully aware of who does and who does not make up the exception to that rule. So when we read "In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq" our first thought was: "How the hell did we miss CounterSpin's interview/s with peace activists?"

We didn't. There were none. There were people against the war -- academics, authors, critics, etc. That's not what they're talking about in the FAIR study, they're talking about "peace activists." If that's unclear to anyone, here's the paragraph in full:

At a time when a large proportion of the U.S. public already favored withdrawal from Iraq, "stay the course" sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5-to-1. In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq.

When they drop in that sentence about "a single peace activist," they've already dismissed the issue of those who favor withdrawal but aren't peace activists in their preceeding sentence.

So FAIR is pointing the finger at The NewsHour for failure to provide their audience with the views of even one peace activist. We applaud them for that. We agree that peace activists need to be heard.

But we're not so stupid that we'll just nod and smile. FAIR can critique outside their organization but they are responsible for who gets booked on their own program. In the same period, CounterSpin provided zero peace activists. So on the issue of the female and male guests, CounterSpin comes out only slight better (with a 1:3 ratio of female-to-male guests compared to The NewsHour's 1:4 ratio) and with regards to the statement "In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq" it can also be said: "In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on CounterSpin on the subject of Iraq."

Congratulations on the twenty years but fix the radio program. Until you do, your criticism can be applied right back at the organization. Both The NewsHour and CounterSpin need to show improvement.
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