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Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

The Only Beltway White Guy Pundits Too Hot for the Sunday Shows?

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann are well-known in the Beltway. They work at big-time think tanks (Brookings and American Enterprise Institute), appear on television chat shows, and write books and op-eds that powerful people pay attention to.

Lately, though, it seems they've become dangerous men.

Mann and Ornstein recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post (4/27/12) based on their new book. In it, they argued that whining about increased polarization or partisanship in politics obscures a central truth: This problem is not seen in equal measure on both sides. The headline summed it up: "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem."

They wrote:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

And the piece pointed a finger at the media's false balance:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.


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Our advice to the press: Don't seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

The article became quite an internet sensation–with something like 200,000 recommendations on Facebook. But as Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent (5/14/12) points out, one class of people seem uniquely uninterested in the argument: Sunday talkshow bookers.

It turns out neither man has been invited on to the Sunday shows even once to discuss this thesis. As Bob Somerby and Kevin Drum note, these are among the most quoted people in Washington–yet suddenly this latest topic is too hot for the talkers, or not deemed relevant at all.

Ornstein tells Sargent, "Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious."

Unfortunate, perhaps. But it's not all that curious. As FAIR's recent study of the Sunday shows revealed, the programs exhibit a remarkable right-wing slant, favoring Republican politicians over Democrats and conservative-leaning pundits over their more progressive counterparts. If anything, the Sunday programs serve to confirm the thesis laid out by Ornstein and Mann. It'd be hard to imagine these shows would be all that keen on inviting guests on who would challenge the extremely narrow political worldview that they attempt to pass off as reality every week.

Either that or they're trying to get a guest who can take the "other side" in this debate. You know, for the sake of balance.

That's not to say that nothing can be done about this–the more people speak up the better. That's why FAIR has encouraged activists to sign a petition to the Sunday shows urging them to diversify their guest lists.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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