Key Dems Blast News Coverage

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Cable news networks should pay more attention to Democrats and less to the White House, two party leaders told network executives last week.

In a letter to Cable News Network's Walter Isaacson, MSNBC's Erik Sorenson and Roger Ailes of Fox News Channel, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) complained that news coverage has been skewed toward President Bush.

"While some of this is clearly — and rightfully — attributable to the war on terrorism, your networks have often chosen to cover live White House events that focus on domestic issues, while live events by Democratic leaders that focus on the war on terrorism still go uncovered," the lawmakers wrote.

The letter said CNN has televised 157 live Bush administration events this year, but only seven events involving elected Democratic officials. A similar pattern has also marked MSNBC and Fox News' coverage, the letter said.

CNN and MSNBC acknowledged that they have devoted more airtime to the White House than to Congressional leaders from either party, which they say is justified by the war on terrorism.

"It is necessary to cover the administration making the decisions," both networks said in separate prepared statements.

Fox News spokeswoman Danielle Gorash would not comment on the letter. She said her network, which often touts its "fair and balanced" coverage, does not track how much airtime it gives to the different political parties.

Opinion polls show that most Americans think the media has done a good job covering the war on terrorism. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that the percentage of people who perceive political bias in the media has dropped sharply since Sept. 11.

Clamoring for more airtime is common among political leaders from the party that's not in the White House, but the war on terrorism has reinforced networks' tendency to focus on the commander in chief.

The approaching Congressional elections have heightened Democrats' desire for more coverage.

The letter "is kind of an early warning, and it may cause people at the news organizations to be sure that they are offering balanced coverage," said Radio-Television News Directors Association president Barbara Cochran.

The letter is the latest instance in which lawmakers have complained about news coverage on cable.

Earlier this year, House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) criticized network coverage of his committee's hearings into the collapse of Enron Corp. As lawmakers spoke, CNN and other cable networks displayed the amount of money Enron had contributed to their campaigns.

States News Service

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