Only NBC, ABC include Democrats’ Response
On Feb. 13, NBC opened with two stories involving national security. The first questioned whether then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn broke federal law in late December by discussing possible sanctions against Russia from the Obama administration with a Russian ambassador.
The second showed Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort appearing to discuss a North Korean missile test from earlier that evening.
NBC explained that such discussions are normally held in private, but the meeting appeared to take place in a public dining room. Pictures of the meeting even surfaced on Facebook.
In both stories, NBC included reactions from Democrats condemning the incident.
“How can you rely on a national security advisor…to make policy if that advisor is going to be untruthful with people?” said Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.).
NBC Nightly News
NBC showed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s tweet criticizing Trump’s public Mar-a-Lago meeting: “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.”
There's no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater. #FireFlynn
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) February 13, 2017
ABC also included Pelosi’s tweet. CBS covered both stories without a word from Democrats.
Was CBS smart to not include Democratic opposition and avoid any allegations of bias? Journalist and author Hooman Majd doesn’t think so.
“A network or newspaper should theoretically not be concerned with a perceived bias,” Majd said. “It should just report the news as it happens, and try to give perspective, context and explanation where necessary.”
Majd said he does not believe NBC and ABC influenced their viewers by showing the responses of Schiff and Pelosi.
“The backlash exists, was intense, and much of it came from elected officials—officials representing the very viewers in question,” he wrote. “Viewer opinion is hardly swayed by covering the news—it can be swayed by only selectively covering the news, or by injecting opinion into the news.”
Linda Winslow, former executive producer of PBS NewsHour, preferred the CBS coverage even without Democrats’ comments.
“I found the CBS report on that night’s Flynn story developments to be the most straightforward,” she said. “Trump was talking to Pence about Flynn and weighing whether to keep Flynn on the job, based on that conversation. And at that point, no one knew what the President would decide. I see no need to hear from any Democrats in the course of telling that story.”
More from Hooman Majd:
- “In a twenty-two minute evening broadcast, many decisions have to be made as to what to include and what to not include–but I would have erred on the side of inclusion. I cannot tell if CBS made the decision they did because of time constraints, production values, or in reaction to perceived media bias.”
- “Trying to please everyone with how you cover the news inevitably will please very few. Democratic reaction to the two events is news: whether Trump or Flynn supporters like it or not, both stories were controversial and including elected officials’ reactions is providing context.”
More from Linda Winslow:
- “I thought the ABC Flynn report was problematic. For one thing, the headline referenced a Flynn ‘apology,’ but the story backed into an explanation that he had apologized to Pence, using the Trudeau newser as B-roll; that was confusing and visually suggested Flynn had apologized to Trump . The story also said, ‘Multiple Sources told ABC that the topic of sanctions DID come up.’ That’s where it would have been good to see a name attached. I think that’s the kind of line, in a story like this, that makes some viewers accuse the media of an anti-Trump bias.”
- “The NBC story about Mar-a-Lago reported the White House explanation of what was happening on the terrace…In this case, I would argue that Pelosi’s criticism was relevant to the story and made it more complete.”
- “NBC analyst Jeremy Bash saying, ‘This is what happens when the national security team is inexperienced’ unbalanced the story, I think. That’s just his opinion — and why should I care what he thinks?”