NEW YORK - March 23 - Last week, a FAIR action alert (3/18/04) raised questions about PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer's curious "editor's note" regarding comments made by independent journalist Christian Parenti on the program's March 2 broadcast. The program is now issuing a response to the hundreds of activists who have written to the show.
Parenti raised the possibility that corruption and mismanagement of the rebuilding contracts in Iraq were contributing to the insurgency against the American-led occupation of the country. Those comments apparently provoked a response from Lehrer, who explained two days later (3/4/04) that "a discussion about Iraq ended up not being as balanced as is our standard practice. While unintentional, it was our mistake, and we regret it."
A NewsHour producer told the Village Voice (3/17/04) that Parenti's response to the question "was not reportage, this was giving his opinion, and that's not why we brought him on."
FAIR questioned why Parenti's comments, which were not factually inaccurate, would be singled out for an on-air apology-- particularly when other journalists brought on the NewsHour have expressed strong opinions (albeit ones that are more consistent with conventional wisdom).
Responding to FAIR activists, NewsHour Executive Producer Les Crystal has sent the following email:
Dear sir or madam,
In response to your recent email I would like to explain the rationale for Jim Lehrer's Editor's Note on the NewsHour on March 1 [sic].
We have no quarrel with what Christian Parenti said at the end of the segment in which he was interviewed. He was asked a question and appropriately gave us his answer. Our concern was with the lack of another view. We should have asked the other guest, Professor Juan Cole, for his reaction.
Balance is one of our most important standards. It is a signature characteristic of the program. We believe our viewers value it as much as we do. Therefore, we decided to acknowledge that we regretted the imbalance which occurred.
Thanks for writing and for you interest in the NewsHour.
Executive Producer, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Crystal's explanation is very different from the comments NewsHour producers gave to the Voice, which were clearly directed at the content of Parenti's response.
But more importantly, the NewsHour's policy still seems inconsistently applied. Do the opinions of all guests require a balancing perspective, or was there something unique about Parenti's criticisms of Bush administration policies?
As FAIR noted, factually inaccurate statements made on the NewsHour by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (9/18/02) passed without comment, either by Lehrer or another guest. (See FAIR Action Alert, 9/20/02.) It remains curious that Parenti's words would be singled out for an apology.