War takes up less time on Fox News
By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer 2 hours, 28
NEW YORK - On a winter day when bomb blasts at an
Iraqi university killed dozens and the United Nations
estimated that 34,000 civilians in Iraq had died in
2006, MSNBC spent nearly nine minutes on the stories
during the 1 p.m. hour. A CNN correspondent in Iraq
did a three-minute report about the bombings.
Neither story merited a mention on Fox News Channel
That wasn't unusual. Fox spent half as much time
covering the Iraq war than MSNBC during the first
three months of the year, and considerably less than
CNN, according to the Project for Excellence in
The difference was more stark during daytime news
hours than in prime-time opinion shows. The Iraq war
occupied 20 percent of CNN's daytime news hole and 18
percent of MSNBC's. On Fox, the war was talked about
only 6 percent of the time.
The independent think tank's report freshens a debate
over whether ideology drives news agendas, and it
comes at a delicate time for Fox. Top Democratic
presidential candidates have refused to appear at
debates sponsored by Fox. Liberals find attacking Fox
is a way to fire up their base.
"It illustrates the danger of cheerleading for one
particular point or another because they were
obviously cheerleaders for the war," said Jon Klein,
CNN U.S. president. "When the war went badly they had
to dial back coverage because it didn't fit their
preconceived story lines."
Fox wouldn't respond to repeated requests to make an
executive available to talk about its war coverage.
So how to explain the divergent priorities? Different
opinions on what is newsworthy? A business decision?
A mere coincidence?
Fox News Channel viewers argue that their favorite
network is simply the most fair. Fox has long objected
to suggestions that its newscasts go through a
conservative filter. Surveys have shown its audience
is dominated by Republicans.
There are no similar differences in priorities among
the broadcast evening-news programs, where Iraq was
the top story between January and the end of March.
NBC's "Nightly News" spent 269 minutes on Iraq, ABC
had 251 and CBS 238, according to news consultant
Another story that has reflected poorly on the Bush
administration, the controversy over U.S. attorney
firings, also received more attention on MSNBC (8
percent of the newshole) and CNN (4 percent) than on
Fox (2 percent), the Project for Excellence in
Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center,
said Fox has always claimed to report from an American
perspective and to not follow the pack. While Graham
said he may have questions about the PEJ's
methodology, he doesn't dispute the results.
His group published its own study last year about the
content of coverage. Fox didn't have its head in the
sand; there were more negative stories about what was
happening in Iraq than positive. But his group's view
was that Fox was more balanced while CNN and MSNBC
were relentlessly pessimistic. Between May 15 and July
21 of last year, Fox aired nearly twice as many
stories about successes in Iraq as CNN and MSNBC
combined, he said.
Most coverage of Iraq focuses on what gets blown up,
"The problem we have with the media elite is that they
clearly see Fox as pandering to an audience and they
don't see CNN as pandering to an audience," Graham
said. "That's where I think the double standard sets
While polls say its size is diminishing, there's
clearly an audience that resists the general tenor of
war coverage. GOP presidential candidate Rudolph
Giuliani was applauded during last week's debate when
he wondered aloud what would happen if the American
war effort succeeds over the next few months. "Are we
going to report that with the same amount of attention
that we would report the negative news?" he said.
Klein disputed the idea that CNN doesn't give a
complete picture of what is happening in Iraq.
"Certain folks don't want to see any bad news," he
said. "It's our job to report all of the news."
The project's findings surprised MSNBC chief executive
Dan Abrams, who has been pushing his network to
concentrate on politics and inside-the-Beltway issues
"I'm not going to get on a high horse and judge our
competition based on the numbers," he said. "We are
looking for the right balance."
Fox's business interests may depend on less negative
news about Iraq.
If Fox's audience is dominated by Republicans who are
disgusted about hearing bad news on Iraq, it would
stand to reason that you'd want to feed them less of
it. Bill O'Reilly touched upon that idea on the air
one night last December, telling viewers that the
lowest-rated segment of his show the previous night
was when Iraq was discussed. Ratings jumped at talk
Britney Spears, he said.
The danger is whether those concerns eat away at
They're a news network, said CNN's Klein, "so it is
surprising that they're not covering the biggest story
in the country and the world."
The Project for Excellence in Journalism steered clear
of questions about what its findings proved. "We just
wanted to tell people that it does make a difference
where you go for the news," said the group's Mark
So with less on-air attention being paid to Iraq
during the first few months of the year, what filled
the void for Fox? PEJ's report said the network gave
the death of
Anna Nicole Smith significantly more air time than its
Fox News Channel is owned by News Corp.
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EDITOR'S NOTE David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org