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FIRST-PERSON: Media bias: another example

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–In his book, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” Bernard Goldberg makes the charge that national media outlets seek to shape public opinion — rather than simply inform the public — not only with what they choose to report, but also with what they choose to ignore.

A 28-year veteran of network news, one would assume Goldberg knows of that which he writes. However, if there were any doubts that he exaggerated, they were dispelled the other day when the national media absolutely ignored an outrageous insinuation contained in a report aired on National Public Radio.

NPR described an anthrax update, which aired on the Morning Edition show on Jan. 22, thusly: “NPR’s David Kestenbaum reports on the similarities between investigators’ efforts in the search for the person who mailed anthrax-tainted letters last fall and the Unabomber. Two central questions are who would want to perpetrate the crime and why.”

According to an NPR transcript of the broadcast, Kestenbaum said:

“Two of the anthrax letters were sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both Democrats. One group who had a gripe with Daschle and Leahy is the Traditional Values Coalition, which before the attacks had issued a press release criticizing the senators for trying to remove the phrase ‘so help me God’ from the oath. The Traditional Values Coalition, however, told me the FBI had not contacted them and then issued a press release saying NPR was in the pocket of the Democrats and trying to frame them. But investigators are thinking along these lines. FBI agents won’t discuss the case, but the people they have spoken to will.”

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition (TVC is among largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobbies in America), recognized the insinuation immediately. She is quoted on several Internet news sites as saying, “NPR is doing everything it can to make us look like the Taliban.”

NPR spokesman Jeffery Dovrkin dismissed Lafferty’s charges. “My sense is that Ms. Lafferty overstated the case. I think Kestenbaum was just doing a normal story. He was not accusing anyone of anything,” Dovrkin said in an interview with Cybercast News Service.

Has Laffery overstated her case? Let’s see, NPR promotes Kestenbaum’s report as seeking to probe “two central questions” which are: “who would want to perpetrate the crime and why.” In the context of this report, seeking to identify who might be responsible for the anthrax letters sent to Daschle and Leahy, Kestenbaum “suggests” that TVC “had a gripe” with the senators. Is Laffery just being paranoid or does she have a right to feel violated?

To further understand Laffery’s reaction, you must know that Kestenbaum contacted her via telephone prior to his report. In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Lafferty said Kestenbaum asked her whether she had “been contacted by the FBI yet.” She then inquired as to why he thought the FBI would contact TVC. According to Lafferty, Kestenbaum replied, “Because of what is going on in the Congress with anthrax.”

While Kestenbaum may not have overtly accused TVC of planting the anthrax letters, he clearly, and strongly, insinuated that they had motive and are, and should be, prime suspects.

What is as interesting as the slanted and, yes, biased report of Kestenbaum (The question, “Have you been contacted by the FBI yet?” is like the query, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” It clearly implies impropriety) is the total absence of the story on the national media outlets.

After searching the websites of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and FOX News, I found no mention of Kestenbaum’s report or Lafferty’s protest. I also found an absence of comment in major newspapers. Contrast this with all the attention given by the media to conservative Christians who stated “opinions” concerning the attacks of Sept. 11. Every newscast and every newspaper carried the comments of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham. It seems the “personal views” of a few religious leaders are more newsworthy than a NPR reporter’s insinuation that a national conservative Christian lobby is guilty of targeting certain senators with anthrax letters.

It is my opinion that NPR is seeking to shape the opinion of its listeners, numbering 16 million according to its website, by insinuating that the Traditional Values Coalition could well be behind the anthrax letters sent to Sens. Daschle and Leahy. Further, I believe the national media is ignoring the story because, after all, NPR’s insinuation is aimed at one of those “radical, right-wing” Christian groups. Of course my view is biased, but at least I will admit it. NPR and the national media outlets won’t.

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  • Kelly Boggs