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Bias Debate Reaches Impasse; Single News Segment Unfair To Both Parties

We didn't think it possible, but the bias debate has actually, literally, reached a point of inertia. Media Matters for America and Media Research Center have pointed out where it is apparently possible, within a single news segment, for a network to express bias against both Democrats and Republicans.

Both organizations posted criticism on their Web sites about a report on the "Evening News" on Sept. 28 regarding Tom Delay's recent indictment. You can watch it here:

MMA complains that CBS omitted Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle's statement that his office has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans:

"…While all three programs [ABC's "World News Tonight," "NBC Nightly News," "CBS Evening News"] covered DeLay's accusation that Ronnie Earle, the Travis County, Texas, district attorney who filed the charges, is a partisan Democrat on a political vendetta, only ABC and NBC noted that during his career Earle has prosecuted substantially more Democrats than Republicans. CBS allowed DeLay's accusation to go unchallenged."

"The September 28 broadcast of CBS' Evening News featured only DeLay's accusations against Earle, with no rebuttal. CBS News national correspondent Jim Stewart reported, 'DeLay believes ... the personal vendetta of Democratic prosecutor Ronnie Earle [is] the real cause of his problem,' and spotlighted a video clip in which DeLay claimed, 'Mr. Earle is abusing the power of his office to exact personal revenge for the role I played in the Texas Republican legislative campaign in 2002.' But Stewart's report made no mention of Earle's record of prosecuting more Democrats than Republicans."

I am going out on a limb here, because they don't quite come out and say it, but it looks like MMA is suggesting that the network sought to highlight the possibility that Earle is a "partisan Democrat on a political vendetta" rather than a district attorney with a "record of prosecuting more Democrats than Republicans," ostensibly because CBS wants to discredit Earle because he is a Democrat prosecuting a Republican.

MRC, in a fascinating twist, argues just the opposite -- that CBS "went out of its way" to avoid informing viewers of Ronnie Earle's Democratic political affiliation, noting that CBS repeatedly referred to Independent Counsel Ken Starr as a Republican, citing various examples in transcripts from CBS broadcasts:

"The CBS Evening News, which described Ken Starr as the 'Republican' independent counsel, on Wednesday night went out of its way to avoid alerting viewers to how Ronnie Earle, the Texas county prosecutor behind the indictment of Tom DeLay, is a Democrat. Anchor Bob Schieffer twice described DeLay not by his title as House Majority Leader, but as the 'House Republican Leader.' While Schieffer relayed how DeLay 'says he's the innocent victim of a rogue district attorney,' viewers did not learn of Earle's party affiliation until three-fourths the way through Jim Stewart's story when Stewart related how DeLay believes 'the personal vendetta of Democratic prosecutor Ronnie Earle' is 'the real cause of his problems.'"

This suggests - and they suggest it pretty clearly - that CBS sought to downplay the possibility that Earle's indictment was motivated by partisan politics, because the network supports a Democrat's indictment of a Republican leader.

Confused? So are we. Whether either side has a point or is just taking shots in the dark is for you to decide – you've seen the video and the concerns from both groups. In this case though, it seems that when you're looking for something hard enough, you'll probably find it.