Thursday, August 05, 2004

Media Bias in the Coverage of Ethics Scandals

There have been two recent allegations of serious ethical violations concerning 9/11 intelligence, one against a Democrat and one against a Republican.

Sandy Berger, a national security adviser under President Clinton and an adviser to the Kerry campaign, faced allegations that he tried to hide intelligence materials that would be embarrassing to the Democrats. The cable news outlets -- Fox and CNN -- vigorously reported the allegations and "talking heads" analyzed it endlessly. In a little reported development, however, Berger was cleared of all wrongdoing! Officials investigating Mr. Berger concluded that "no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks." How many who primary get theirs new from the cable outlets ever heard about that?

Today allegations against a Republican, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, surfaced. The Washington Post reported that the FBI has concluded that Shelby leaked classified intercepted messages to the media -- compromising U.S. intelligence and U.S. intelligence operatives. Interestingly, I have been unable to find a CNN report on the allegations. Fox did report on the issue, but its focus was on Shelby's vigorous denials. The story's title and byline:

Shelby Still Denies 9/11 Leak

WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard Shelby accused federal
law enforcement officials of abuse Thursday after a newspaper reported that
federal investigators had concluded he leaked to the media classified messages
from the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's important that the news media inform the public when government officials may be acting unethically. But is also important that it does so in a fair and unbiased way and that it inform us when allegations have been disproven. This type of responsible coverage didn't occur in this case.

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