Pie Charts at Twenty Paces!
On five key dates in January and all of February, the NBC morning show ran 99 political stories and interviews, compared with 63 on CBS's "Early Show" and 57 on ABC's "Good Morning America." So says NBC's research.
"For us it's a defining moment in history," says "Today" Executive Director Tom Touchet. "The decision was pretty much a no-brainer. Politics resonates more than a couple of years ago, and it works for our anchors."
But ABC is dubious of those numbers, saying they don't count the newscasts toward the top of the morning shows, when "Good Morning America" does some of its political reporting. And ABC prefers a network-by-network comparison, noting that its evening newscast has done more politics than NBC's "Nightly News" since last September, according to independent analyst Andrew Tyndall.
In fact, on Jan. 23 -- the day Diane Sawyer happened to have interviewed Howard and Judy Dean -- ABC says it did 44 minutes of politics, compared with 24 minutes for NBC.
"We do get excited about politics," says Shelley Ross, GMA's executive producer. When viewers are brushing their teeth in the morning, "in a very short period of time we tell you many things that happened in a sort of MTV format overnight." She calls NBC's argument about air time "pathetic."
Hold on, says NBC spokeswoman Lauren Kapp. ABC has "Nightline," while NBC has no comparable late-night news show ("Today" does have one hour more than its rivals, but does little politics in that 9-to-10 a.m. slot). "I think it's best if we keep this to a fair apples-to-apples comparison, while our competition thinks it's best for them to compare apples to steak," she says. "How about if we count MSNBC?"
And what about CBS's "Early Show"? "We think it makes more sense to measure coverage by quality and depth rather than an arbitrary count of total minutes," says spokeswoman Jenny Tartikoff. "We're proud we're the only network morning show to have our anchors travel with the candidates and report on location from the important primary and caucus states" -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Psyched Out of a Job
The Chicago Tribune terminated the contract of a freelance writer and apologized to readers last week after discovering he had misrepresented a quote following an Australian riot triggered by the death of an Aborigine teenager.
Uli Schmetzer, a Tribune foreign correspondent for 16 years before retiring two years ago, had quoted a psychiatrist named Graham Thorn as saying that the Aborigines "won't work. They steal, they rob and they get drunk. And they don't respect the laws."
After Australian blogger Tim Blair challenged the account, says Public Editor Don Wycliff, Schmetzer at first insisted his source was a psychiatrist whose name he had changed, but then admitted that was not the man's profession either.
Wycliff says the Tribune, which reprimanded Schmetzer in 1994 for borrowing material from a magazine piece, plans to investigate 300 of his stories over the past three years. "Everyone's very sad that Uli went out like this," he says.
But Schmetzer says by e-mail that the Tribune bowed to a "witch hunt" atmosphere "to find rogue journalists. . . . I acted in the interest of the readers to know there is a segment of the Australian public with this kind of opinion, a fact that nearly all Australians, like myself, are aware of, though few have the courage to say so in public."
Footnote: The Macon, Ga., Telegraph fired reporter Khalil Abdullah Friday after discovering he had written several passages "nearly identical" to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper said it found 20 more stories with passages and quotes apparently copied from the New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and other papers. Abdullah apologized and resigned as president of the Middle Georgia Association of Black Journalists.
Rumor Mill Strikes Again
Another politician is grappling with damaging, Internet-driven rumors about infidelity. But this one is fighting back.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry sought out the Austin American-Statesman last week to deny the "irresponsible" and "salacious" rumors, which also have indicated he is headed for a divorce. Perry blamed "a well-thought-out, organized effort" by his opponents and said the media should expose "the anatomy of a smear campaign."
Everyone in the Texas press knew about the rumors, but several news outlets couldn't prove anything. With certain Web sites stoking the rumors, Perry knew his denial would put the story in play.
The governor took a swipe at state Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting for referring to the rumor at a rally where people carried such signs as "It's OK to be gay, guv." Soechting accused Perry of "injecting his mean-spirited politics into everyone else's personal life."
More Martha Misfortune
CNBC blew it Friday afternoon when the Martha Stewart verdict came in. Reporter Mike Huckman kept checking the wrong boxes on a large chart as he gave the news. "Number one -- Not guilty for Martha Stewart on the conspiracy charge." This went on for nearly two minutes until Huckman got word that Stewart had been convicted, and apologized.
Senior Vice President David Friend called Huckman "the best reporter on the story," adding that "in a chaotic moment, he misheard some aspects of the verdict and we corrected it." MSNBC briefly put up a "Not Guilty" graphic on the conspiracy charge but a correction came within seconds.
Nice While It Lasted
New York Times reporter Jesse McKinley ran afoul of the paper's rules by allowing "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to redecorate his Manhattan apartment for a segment. McKinley got a talking-to after the New York Post reported the makeover and, says spokesman Toby Usnik, will "reimburse the program for the fair market value."
Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company