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On Fox News, No Shortage of Opinion, Study Finds

This, says the study, is in part because cable leans heavily on live reports, 60 percent of which are based on only a single identifiable source ("the White House said today," etc.). What's more, cable news is far more one-sided than other media outlets, with only a quarter of the stories involving controversy making more than a passing reference to a second point of view. By contrast, says the report, the network morning shows, PBS and newspaper front pages were more than three times as likely to contain a mix of views.

Cable networks "have gravitated, particularly as Fox has surged in the ratings, toward programs and somewhat less toward reporting," says Tom Rosenstiel, the group's director. He says opinion-laden journalism "probably is part of Fox's identity, but it's not true of all the programs."

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As for the tone of Iraq coverage, 38 percent of Fox stories were positive, compared with 20 percent on CNN and 16 percent on MSNBC, the report says. But war stories were about as likely to be neutral on Fox (39 percent), and more likely to be neutral on CNN (41 percent) and MSNBC (28 percent).

Despite its 24 hours of available air time, cable isn't exactly bursting with new news. Seven in 10 reports involve recycling of the same subject matter, with only 10 percent adding meaningful updates. "The time required to continuously be on the air seems to take a heavy toll on the nature of the journalism presented," the report says.

On the broadcast front, journalists offered no opinions on 83 percent of the evening news stories, 89 percent of the morning news reports and 97 percent of the pieces on PBS's "NewsHour." The biggest exception: campaign stories, where nightly news correspondents felt comfortable offering horse-race and other opinions 44 percent of the time.

One interesting contrast among the nightly newscasts: CBS was 50 percent more likely than NBC and twice as likely as ABC to air reports on disasters and other unexpected events (Dan Rather loved hurricanes). The "CBS Evening News" was also twice as likely to carry feature stories (such as the ethics of using high-tech duck decoys, or rising credit card debt) unconnected to breaking news .

The morning shows, which run at least two hours, still covered major stories less than the evening newscasts, the project says, devoting much of their time to Martha Stewart, Laci Peterson and other crime, lifestyle and celebrity topics. The morning programs were also more upbeat than not in their Iraq coverage, with positive reports 31 percent of the time and negative 19 percent. By contrast, 32 percent of Iraq stories on the nightly news casts were negative and 18 percent positive, while half were deemed neutral.

The project, which examined 16 newspapers -- from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post to the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph -- praised them for offering longer and more deeply sourced stories. Overall, 7 percent of stories contained anonymous sources, down from 29 percent in 2003. But the figure was 20 percent for front-page stories at the biggest papers, compared with 7 percent at the smallest. Stories about the Iraq war were more likely to be negative (31 percent) than positive (23 percent), but just as likely to be neutral in tone (33 percent).

The newsweeklies continued a drift toward softer and broader coverage, the report says. Newsweek did six celebrity and entertainment covers last year to Time's one, while Time did two covers on sports, two on history and one on the environment (the thinner U.S. News & World Report took a more traditional hard-news approach). Newsweek ("The Secret Lives of Wives") and Time ("Low Carb Nation") also ran a number of covers on what the project says might be called "faux trends."

Marching Orders?

Speaking of Fox, a Detroit News story last week called it "consciously biased" -- without attribution -- and quoted onetime Fox producer Dan Cooper as saying: "In the morning, everyone is told what today's key issues are and how those issues are viewed by Fox News. The entire staff understands how the organization feels about them."

Cooper, whose job was eliminated weeks after the channel launched in 1996, says the quotes were "fabricated" and he "never said anything like that." He says his other, more neutral quotes were accurate -- except for one likening Fox to "talk radio" -- but complains that reporter Tom Long used the disputed comments after this loaded sentence: "But the clear bias of Fox News troubles many."

"I love Fox News," he says. "I watch Fox News all day long."

News Editor Mark Silverman told Cooper by e-mail that after checking Long's notes, "we believe his story accurately portrayed what you said to him" and "there is nothing for us to correct." Silverman offered Cooper either a letter to the editor or a longer op-ed piece, as long as it didn't criticize Long's article.

Rave Review

Why did Vanity Fair allow freelancer Sally Horchow to write a puffy item on a Hollywood group called the Proscenium Club? As MediaBistro.com noted, Horchow is one of the founders of the club, a supporting group for Los Angeles County's Music Center. Horchow gradually told her editor of her role, says spokeswoman Beth Kseniak, and "in retrospect we wished we had disclosed it."

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program.

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