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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

On Fox News, No Shortage of Opinion, Study Finds

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page C01

In covering the Iraq war last year, 73 percent of the stories on Fox News included the opinions of the anchors and journalists reporting them, a new study says.

By contrast, 29 percent of the war reports on MSNBC and 2 percent of those on CNN included the journalists' own views.

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These findings -- the figures were similar for coverage of other stories -- "seem to challenge" Fox's slogan of "we report, you decide," says the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In a 617-page report, the group also found that "Fox is more deeply sourced than its rivals," while CNN is "the least transparent about its sources of the three cable channels, but more likely to present multiple points of view."

The project defines opinion as views that are not attributed to others.

Last March, Fox reporter Todd Connor said that "Iraq has a new interim constitution and is well on its way to democracy."

"Let's pray it works out," said anchor David Asman.

Another time, after hearing that Iraqis helped capture a Saddam Hussein henchman, Asman said: "Boy, that's good news if true, the Iraqis in the lead."

Fox legal editor Stan Goldman challenged the hiring of attorney Gloria Allred to represent Amber Frey (Scott Peterson's mistress), saying: "If you want to keep a low profile, Gloria is not the lawyer to represent you."

In an interview, Fox's executive daytime producer, Jerry Burke, says: "I encourage the anchors to be themselves. I'm certainly not going to step in and censor an anchor on any issue. . . . You don't want to look at a cookie-cutter, force-feeding of the same items hour after hour. I think that's part of the success of the channel, not treating our anchors like drones. They're, number one, Americans, and number two, human beings, as well as journalists."

CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson says the study "reaffirms what anyone watching CNN already knows: CNN's reporting is driven by news, not opinion." MSNBC declined to comment.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Washington-based research group, offers a three-part breakdown of cable journalists voicing their opinions. From 11 a.m. to noon, this happened on 52 percent of the stories on Fox, 50 percent on MSNBC and 2.3 percent on CNN. Among news-oriented evening shows, journalist opinions were voiced on 70 percent of the stories on Fox's "Special Report With Brit Hume," due in part to its regular analysts panel at the show's end; 9 percent on MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann"; and 9 percent on CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown."

As for the most popular prime-time shows, nearly every story -- 97 percent -- contained opinion on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor"; 24 percent on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews"; and 0.9 percent on CNN's "Larry King Live." King devoted nearly half his time to entertainment and lifestyle topics, twice as much as O'Reilly and more than three times as much as Matthews.

The project describes cable news reporting as pretty thin compared with the ABC, NBC and CBS evening newscasts. Only a quarter of the cable stories examined contained two or more identifiable sources, compared with 49 percent of network evening news stories and 81 percent of newspaper front-page stories.

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