Steve Rendall

Shocking Racist Ideas Are Getting Treated as Science in Leading National Publications

Nicholas Wade was a leading New York Times science writer for three decades, at one point the editor of the “Science Times” section. He retired from full-time work at the paper in 2012, and in May 2014 published A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, a book that has been described as a full-throated defense of “scientific racism” (New Statesman, 5/20/14). Wade’s embrace of the pseudoscience of eugenics raises questions about his tenure at theTimes, and about corporate media vigilance when it comes to racism.

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Is Sean Hannity America's #1 Racist Rehabilitator?

Sean Hannity’s prominence as a national pundit is a testament to the persistence of racism in America. With his own impressive record of racist episodes (One People’s Project, 9/24/11), Hannity also plays an important role as a champion of racists.

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Media Not Concerned About the Very Poor

"All this talk today about poverty got us wondering just how many people in America live below the poverty line,” anchor Scott Pelley announced on the CBS Evening News (2/1/12). By “all this talk,” Pelley was referring to less than 200 words, in a report CBS had just aired on GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s missteps, that discussed Romney’s remark that he wasn’t “concerned about the very poor.” 

Though the brief story was actually about the political horse race, it apparently struck Pelley as an unusual amount of focus on poverty. And, sadly, he was right.

Poverty as an issue is nearly invisible in U.S. media coverage of the 2012 election, a new FAIR study has found—even though what candidates plan to do about an alarmingly growing poverty rate would seem to be a ripe topic for discussion in campaign coverage. 

Even before the economic downturn made the poverty picture significantly worse in the United States, the Urban Institute reported that half of all Americans (51 percent) experience poverty at some time before age 65 (Urban Institute, 9/10/09). 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 report (9/11), poverty in 2010 was at a 19-year high, affecting 46 million people, or 15.1 percent of the population. That’s up sharply from 11.3 percent in 2000, and 12.5 percent in 2007. And several groups feel the effects of poverty at a much higher rate than the national average. According to the 2011 census, more than one in five children (22 percent) live in poverty, as do more than a quarter of all blacks (27 percent) and Latinos (26 percent). A 2011 Brookings Institution study (9/13/11) predicted that as many as 10 million additional Americans will join the ranks of the poor by 2014. 

The Census Bureau counts a single person under 65 as being in poverty if they make less than $11,702; for a family of four, the cut-off is $22,314 a year. These thresholds—calculated since the 1960s simply by multiplying estimated food costs by three—have been criticized for failing to account for the increased costs of necessities like housing, transportation and childcare, so the official poverty rates may grossly understate the number of families actually living in poverty. The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University (6/08), for example, estimates that “families typically need an income of at least twice the official poverty level ($42,400 for a family of four) to meet basic needs.”

A recent AP report (7/23/12) summarized the dire predictions of economists, academics and think tanks about poverty’s current trajectory: “The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

To see how this crisis is addressed in coverage of the 2012 presidential election, Extra! looked at six months of campaign coverage (1/1/12–6/23/12) by eight prominent news outlets: CBS Evening News, ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, PBS NewsHour and NPR’s All Things Considered, and the print editions of the New York TimesWashington Post and Newsweek. Using the Nexis news database, the study counted campaign-related stories, both news reports and commentary, that were substantively about poverty (i.e., mentioning causes, referring to proposed solutions and so forth), as well as campaign stories that mentioned poverty in passing or less substantial ways. 

Substantive mentions of the issue included stories like Jia Lynn Yang’s informative news article in the Washington Post (4/14/12), which addressed the presidential candidates’ policies toward the poor. Yang reported on Romney’s and Obama’s fundamentally different proposals for how drastic income inequality might be alleviated, but also noted that both candidates tend to court the middle class above all else. 

Stories not counted as substantive coverage included largely reactive reports about candidates’ “gaffes” or campaign speeches, like the ABC World News story (4/3/12) reporting Romney’s soundbite: “I go across the country and I’m talking to single moms, for instance, 30 percent of single moms are living in poverty now under this president.” Rather than prompting further analysis of the issue of female poverty, the soundbite merely served to illustrate how both candidates are fighting to win over the “key group” of women voters. 

New York Times editorial (2/2/12) that reacted to Romney’s statement about not being concerned about the “very poor,” however, was counted as substantive, because it put the remark in the context of poverty numbers and offered an argument about the impact of Romney’s policy proposals:

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How Public Is Public Radio?

When National Public Radio was launched in 1971, it promised to be an alternative to commercial media that would "promote personal growth rather than corporate gain" and "speak with many voices, many dialects."

In 1993, when FAIR published a study of NPR's guest list that challenged the network's alternative credentials, incoming NPR president Delano Lewis was still boasting about being a place where the unheard get heard: "Our job is to be a public radio station. So therefore the alternative points of view, the various viewpoints, should be aired."

Today, current NPR president Kevin Klose insists that diversity and inclusivity are among NPR's top priorities: "All of us believe our goal is to serve the entire democracy, the entire country."

NPR, which now reaches 22 million listeners weekly on 750 affiliated stations, does frequently provide more than the nine-second-soundbite culture of mainstream news broadcasts. But is the public really heard on public radio? And is NPR truly an alternative to its commercial competition? A new FAIR study of NPR's guest list shows the radio service relies on the same elite and influential sources that dominate mainstream commercial news, and falls short of reflecting the diversity of the American public.

FAIR's study recorded every on-air source quoted in June 2003 on four National Public Radio news shows: All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Week-end Edition Sunday. Each source was classified by occupation, gender, nationality and partisan affiliation. Altogether, the study counted 2,334 quoted sources, featured in 804 stories.

In addition to studying NPR's general news sources, FAIR looked at the think tanks NPR relies on most frequently, and at its list of regular commentators. To ensure a substantial sample of these subsets, we looked at four months of think tank sources and commentators on the same four shows.

Elite sources dominated NPR's guest-list. These sources -- including government officials, professional experts and corporate representatives -- accounted for 64 percent of all sources.

Current and former government officials constituted the largest group of elite voices, accounting for 28 percent of overall sources, an increase of 2 percentage points over 1993. Current and former military sources (a subset of governmental sources) were 3 percent of total sources.

Professional experts -- including those from academia, journalism, think tanks, legal, medical and other professions -- were the second largest elite group, accounting for 26 percent of all sources. Corporate representatives accounted for 6 percent of total sources.

Journalists by themselves accounted for 7 percent of all NPR sources. For a public radio service intended to provide an independent alternative to corporate-owned and commercially driven mainstream media, NPR is surprisingly reliant on mainstream journalists. At least 83 percent of journalists appearing on NPR in June 2003 were employed by commercial U.S. media outlets, many at outlets famous for influencing newsroom agendas throughout the country (16 from the New York Times alone, and another seven from the Washington Post). Only five sources came from independent news outlets like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the National Catholic Reporter.

The remainder of elite sources was distributed among religious leaders (2 percent) and political professionals, including campaign staff and consultants (1 percent).

Though elite sources made up a majority of sources, the study actually found a substantial increase in the number of non-elite sources featured. Workers, students, the general public, and representatives of organized citizen and public interest groups accounted for 31 percent of all sources, compared to the 17 percent found in 1993.

The increase comes largely in the general public category. These are "people in the street" whose occupations are not identified and who tend to be quoted more briefly than other sources -- often in one-sentence soundbites. More than a third (37 percent) of general public sources were not even identified by name -- appearing in show transcripts as "unidentified woman No. 2" and the like. General public sources accounted for 21 percent of NPR sources.

Spokespeople for public interest groups -- generally articulate sources espousing a particular point of view -- accounted for 7 percent of total sources, the same proportion found in 1993. Though not a large proportion of NPR's sources, public interest voices were still about twice as common on NPR as on commercial network news, according to a FAIR study published in 2002 that found that such sources made up only 3 percent of voices on network news shows.

Public interest voices on NPR reflected a wide range of opinion, from conservative groups like the National Right to Life Committee and Texas Eagle Forum to progressive groups like MoveOn.org and Code Pink. Types of organizations represented included political organizations, charitable foundations, public education groups and human rights and civil liberties advocates. Eighty-seven percent of public interest sources appeared in domestic policy stories.

Sources identified as workers on NPR programming in June accounted for 2.3 percent of overall sources and 1.8 percent of U.S. sources. But spokespersons for organized labor were almost invisible, numbering just six sources, or 0.3 percent of the total. Corporate representatives (6 percent) appeared 23 times more often than labor representatives.

Women were dramatically underrepresented on NPR in 1993 (19 percent of all sources), and they remain so today (21 percent). And they were even less likely to appear on NPR in stories as experts -- just 15 percent of all professionals were women -- or in stories discussing political issues, where only 18 percent of sources were women.

Women were particularly scarce in stories about Iraq, making up just 13 percent of sources. Nearly half of these women, 47 percent, were general public sources -- that is, they appeared as non-expert "people in the street" -- as compared to 22 percent of male sources in Iraq stories. Thirty-three percent of female sources commenting in Iraq stories appeared as professionals or experts, while 66 percent of male Iraq sources appeared in such capacities.

Female sources lagged markedly behind men in most occupation categories. Women accounted for 17 percent of journalistic sources, 12 percent of corporate sources and 12 percent of government officials. The only category where females appeared more often than males was among the small sample of students (12 of 23); women and men were equally cited as families of military personnel.

Six women tied for most often quoted, with three appearances each. Of these, four were from government: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. Abigail Thernstrom of the conservative Manhattan Institute and University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman rounded out the list of women who appeared most frequently on NPR.

It was not feasible to do an ethnic breakdown of more than 2,000 radio sources, but an examination of NPR's commentators (see sidebar) suggests that the network may have made more progress in racial inclusion than in gender balance since 1993.

That NPR harbors a liberal bias is an article of faith among many conservatives. Spanning from the early '70s, when President Richard Nixon demanded that "all funds for public broadcasting be cut," through House Speaker Newt Gingrich's similar threats in the mid-'90s, the notion that NPR leans left still endures.

News of the April launch of Air America, a new liberal talk radio network, revived the old complaint, with several conservative pundits declaring that such a thing already existed. "I have three letters for you, NPR. . . . I mean, there is liberal radio," remarked conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan on NBC's Chris Matthews Show (4/4/04.) A few days earlier (4/1/04), conservative columnist Cal Thomas told Nightline, "The liberals have many outlets," naming NPR prominently among them.

Nor is this belief confined to the right: CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer seemed to repeat it as a given while questioning a liberal guest: "What about this notion that the conservatives make a fair point that there already is a liberal radio network out there, namely National Public Radio?"

Despite the commonness of such claims, little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR, and FAIR's latest study gives it no support. Looking at partisan sources -- including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants -- Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.

Partisans from outside the two major parties were almost nowhere to be seen, with the exception of four Libertarian Party representatives who appeared in a single story on Morning Edition.

Republicans not only had a substantial partisan edge, individual Republicans were NPR's most popular sources overall, taking the top seven spots in frequency of appearance. George Bush led all sources for the month with 36 appearances, followed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (8) and Sen. Pat Roberts (6). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Secretary of State Colin Powell, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer all tied with five appearances each.

Senators Edward Kennedy, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus were the most frequently heard Democrats, each appearing four times. No nongovernmental source appeared more than three times. With the exception of Secretary of State Powell, all of the top 10 most frequently appearing sources were white male government officials.

Read NPR's response to FAIR's study href="http://www.fair.org/press-releases/npr-study-response.html">here.

The Ratings Mirage

Reporting on the ratings rivalry between the Fox News Channel (FNC) and CNN is often misleading -- and almost always over-hyped.

"Fox Tops CNN as Choice for Cable News," declared one typical headline in the Chicago Tribune. "Fox News Channel Continues to Crush CNN," reported Knight Ridder in a column comparing the rivalry to a party primary titled, "Fox News Channel is winning the Nielsen caucuses." Last August, the New York Times Magazine declared, looking back at the period of the Iraq invasion, "Fox was -- and still is -- trouncing CNN in the ratings."

After exposure to countless similar stories published since January 2002, when Fox was reported to have surpassed CNN in the Nielsen ratings, one might naturally conclude that Fox has more viewers than CNN.

But it's not true. On any given day, more people typically tune to CNN than to Fox.

So what are the media reports talking about?

With few exceptions, stories about the media business report a single number for ratings (often expressed two different ways -- as "points" or "share"). This number is often presented as if it were the result of a popularity contest or a democratic vote. But it is actually the average number of viewers watching a station or a show in a typical minute, based on Nielsen Media Research's monitoring of thousands of households.

The average is arrived at by counting viewers every minute. Heavy viewers -- those who tune in to a station and linger there -- have a greater impact, as they can be counted multiple times as they watch throughout the day.

When an outlet reports that CNN is trailing Fox, they are almost invariably using this average tally, which Fox has been winning for the past two years. For the year 2003, Nielsen's average daily ratings show Fox beating CNN 1.02 million viewers to 665,000.

But there is another important number collected by Nielsen (though only made available to the firm's clients) that tells another story. This is the "cume" or the cumulative total number of viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes during a given day. Unlike the average ratings number the media usually report, this number gives the same weight to the light viewer, who tunes in for a brief time, as it does to the heavy viewer.

How can CNN have more total viewers when Fox has such a commanding lead in average viewers? Conventional industry wisdom is that CNN viewers tune in briefly to catch up on news and headlines, while Fox viewers watch longer for the opinion and personality-driven programming. Because the smaller total number of Fox viewers are watching more hours, they show up in the ratings as a higher average number of viewers.

CNN regularly claims a cume of about 20 percent higher than that of Fox. For instance, in April 2003, during the height of the fighting in Iraq, CNN's cume was significantly higher than Fox's: 105 million viewers tuned into CNN compared to 86 million for Fox. But in the same period, the ratings reported by most media outlets had Fox in the lead, with an average of 3.5 million viewers to CNN's 2.2 million.

Even among Fox's core audience of conservatives, CNN has an edge in total viewership. A study by the ad agency Carat USA found that 37 percent of viewers who call themselves "very conservative" watch CNN in the course of a week, while only 32 percent tune to Fox.

Show Me the Money

Journalists who publish Nielsen numbers ought to explain that the data are not simply measures of popularity, and they are not produced as a service to journalists or the public. The figures are gathered to provide advertisers with complex data about viewer habits. It pays to remember that neither cable news stations nor Nielsen Media Research are primarily in the business of serving the public interest -- both are in the business of delivering audiences to advertisers.

Advertisers would rather see larger numbers of viewers see each ad a few times than have a smaller number watch the ad over and over again. But having a large number of viewers tune in for so short a period of time that they see very few ads is not desirable either. As Sherrill Maine, CNN's senior vice president of marketing, was quoted in the Cablefax, "We'd like Fox's [average] ratings; Fox would like our cume."

But in the race between these two for-profit ventures, the bottom line is the bottom line: From their profitmaking perspective, the channel that gets more ad revenue is winning the real ratings war. Earnings for the two channels are a contentious subject since neither network reports its revenues separate from its corporate parent, and each claims to earn more income than its rival. But many industry analysts say CNN still makes more money. Stock analyst Michael Gallant told the Chicago Tribune that while Fox is growing faster, CNN is still earning about $200 million more per year than Fox.

Furthermore, CNN apparently continues to command higher ad rates, or CPM. CPM stands for "cost per thousand" (M being the Roman numeral), the price a television outlet charges advertisers per thousand television households reached by a commercial. Though Fox claimed to have reached CPM parity with CNN last summer, CNN chair Jim Walton insisted that CNN's rate was still 40 percent higher.

In interviews with Extra!, ad buyers for three different firms (all of whom declined to be named) confirmed that CNN continues to command a higher CPM, though their estimates of the gap in prices was less than half that quoted by Walton.

One of the reasons for CNN's lead in CPM, according to the buyers, is the advertiser preference for lighter viewers. Such viewers tend to come from the most desirable demographics -- younger, busier, more free-spending. And because they're harder to reach with ads, the law of supply and demand drives their cost up.

One media buyer we interviewed analyzed the contrast between Fox and CNN in terms of programming and viewing habits, telling Extra!: "CNN is like news radio where people drop in for the news; Fox is like talk radio, where they stay longer for the opinion shows."

Interviewed in Media Week last year, media business analyst Larry Blasius suggested that snob appeal was part of the reason that he didn't think Fox would soon catch CNN in the race for ad dollars: "There are two kinds of news advertisers. If you're talking cold remedies, you're buying eyeballs. Others are looking for an environment, an image. They're looking to reach decision-makers and influencers who watch news. If you're an image-oriented product -- a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus -- it's not even a question, you go with CNN. There's no comparison in the quality of the journalism -- CNN is light years ahead in objectivity and reporting -- and I don't think Fox's 'New York Post on TV' approach appeals to the most desirable consumers."

Fox vs. Everyone Else

Fox News Channel, then, is so far neither the choice of most people who watch cable news, nor the more successful business model. But the perception that Fox is "trouncing" CNN -- based largely on the fact that the number Nielsen releases to the public emphasizes heavy viewers -- is of great use to Fox, which trumpets these ratings as a vindication of its partisan, "fair and balanced" approach to the news. Reacting to a guest's charge that Fox had a rightwing bias, Brian Kilmeade, co-host of the successful "Fox and Friends" morning show, boasted: "Then what does that say about the country when they made us No. 1?"

But even in the limited sense of average hourly watchers, Fox is only No. 1 among 24-hour cable news channels. Fox, like CNN, now reaches about 4 of every 5 television households, so comparisons with broadcast news shows are increasingly valid. And among all television news sources, Fox's performance is nothing to brag about.

The O'Reilly Factor is the best-rated show on Fox, with about 2 million viewers a night. CBS Evening News, the least-watched broadcast network evening news show, routinely gets four or five times as big an audience, and that's seen as a ratings disaster. Fox's flagship news show, Special Report with Brit Hume, gets a million viewers on a good night -- a few thousand more than the local newscast of New York City's WNBC.

Fox likes to position itself as the alternative to all the other news that's on TV. As Fox News president Roger Ailes claimed in the New York Times, "If we look conservative, it's because the other guys are so far to the left." If it's true that news can be divided into two categories: Fox and everything else, then when "Special Report" airs at night, everything else beats Fox by at least 30 to one.

Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. This article has been republished with permission from EXTRA!, a publication of the media advocacy group FAIR.

White Noise

"[Public broadcasting] should provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard...[and] help us see America whole in all its diversity."
-- 1967 Carnegie Commission Report, which served as the basis for the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967


How Diversity Is Stifled

Created by the Public Broadcasting Act and signed into law by President Johnson in 1967, the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is legally required to "constitute an expression of diversity and excellence" through programming "that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities." It was also mandated to promote "locally relevant" programming that is "reflective of America's common values and cultural diversity."

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