[Fwd: [FAIR-L] ACTIVISM UPDATE: Nightline Responds on One-Sided China Panel]

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Wed May 31 15:51:23 MDT 2000

There seemed to me to be some false assumptions operating in
the Activism Update from FAIR I am forwarding. I am copying
here a response I addressed to FAIR.


My response to FAIR:


I agree of course that Nightline is a very obnoxious program, and
your specific criticisms of Nightline in this case are valid.

BUT it seems to me this FAIR advisory itself becomes part of
what in a way is a more serious distortion of an issue than is the
distortion complained of. FAIR distorts the nature of an ongoing
debate *within* the left.

The whole thrust of this Update from FAIR is to equate support
for PNTR (or, more accurately, refraining from opposition to
PNTR) with support for globalism. But it seems to me (and many
others I know) that the opposition to PNTR was in fact a betrayal
of the central thrust of the Seattle and A16 movements, sidetracking
attention to a battle which (whatever the subjective intentions of
its advocates and whatever the facts, negative I agree, about
China) was in effect chauvinist, racist, and anti-communist. This
obscurring of an important conflict within the left is I believe
more damaging to progressive thought than anything the scoundrels
on Nightline might do or not do.

Carrol Cox

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [FAIR-L] ACTIVISM UPDATE: Nightline Responds on One-Sided China
Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 14:48:06 -0400
Reply-To: fair-l-request at listserv.american.edu

                    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and news reports

Nightline Responds on One-Sided China Panel

May 31, 2000

On the eve of the congressional vote on permanent normal trading
(PNTR) with China, ABC's Nightline (5/23/00) featured a show on the
with three guests-- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Senator
Simpson and former ambassador to China Winston Lord-- all of whom were
Republicans who favored passage of the trade bill.

FAIR urged activists to ask Nightline for an explanation of why the show
so one-sided. (See http://www.fair.org/activism/nightline-pntr.html .)
Commendably, Nightline senior producer Richard Harris responded promptly
letter-writers with the email below. Yet his message raises more
than it answers, claiming, among other things, that the show "never
to have a debate" about PNTR:

"A number of viewers questioned our coverage of the China Trade bill.
asked why we did not establish a debate between representatives of the
sides of the issue.  It was our feeling by the time that we went on the
the vote was really not in doubt.

"Rather than repeat a series pro/con debates which had played out on
television broadcasts and on op-ed pages across the country, we decided
take a different tack.  Why has China galvanized the Congress and White
House over many years to consistently approve most favored nation trade
status, while politicians across the spectrum  -- including Presidents
have railed against human rights abuses in China?

"To discuss that question, we invited a former speaker of the House, a
former Senator who had to vote over many years on the question and a
ambassador to China who helped Nixon open relations in 1972.  Yes, all
favor PNTR.  But we never intended to have a debate on the pending
legislation.  Perhaps we should have made clear at the outset of the
broadcast that this would not be a conventional pro/con program.

"Over the years, NIGHTLINE has done many programs on human rights abuses
China and interviewed dissidents. Judge us over time, not simply on
an individual program is balanced.

"We appreciate all your comments and take them in the spirit you wrote


The most obvious question raised by Harris' note is why Nightline
to cover what was arguably the year's most hotly contested congressional
vote until after the outcome "was really not in doubt." Does Nightline
really believe that issues should not be debated because one side looks
likely to win?  That would make sense only if one assumes that the
side is always right.

Harris urges viewers to "judge us over time, not simply on whether an
individual program is balanced," but Nightline very seldom deals with
issues. The May 23 broadcast was the first discussion that focused on
with China (or anywhere else) since May 1997, according to a search of
Nexis database.

Nightline seems to have had no debate on China's trading status since
(5/29/91), when the question was whether to extend most-favored nation
status. In this context, it's difficult to see the remarkably partisan
23 broadcast as part of a larger balance.

It's also unclear why Nightline's feeling that PNTR would pass should
foreclosed any balanced discussion of the bill's implications. Why is it
appropriate to discuss the question of "why has China galvanized the
Congress and White House over many years to consistently approve most
favored nation trade status" without including anyone who disagrees with
that policy?  Surely opponents would have a different perspective on the

Furthermore, if Nightline "never intended to have a debate on the
legislation," where were ABC News viewers supposed to go for such a
The other ABC News program that occasionally presents such discussions,
"This Week with Sam and Cokie," addressed the issue by interviewing PNTR
proponents Madeline Albright (5/21/00) and Senator Tom Daschle (5/7/00).
(It's worth noting that Disney, ABC's parent company, is highly invested
trade with China and lobbied strongly for PNTR.)

Nightline's response to the increasingly contentious debate over
globalization has been, by and large, to ignore it. Even when Seattle
Washington, D.C. were largely shut down by anti-globalization protests,
Nightline passed up the opportunity to explore the concerns of those who
question the benefits of "free trade."  (See
http://www.fair.org/activism/wto-nightline.html .)  In a response to
action alert on the WTO, Nightline executive producer Tom Bettag
that further discussion of trade issues would be forthcoming: "As for
serious issues underlying the protests, Nightline has done many
exploring them. It will do many more."

In fact, Nightline has done no shows that addressed globalization issues
since the Seattle protests-- until the May 23 broadcast with three PNTR
proponents. The program did, however, find time for 15 shows on Elian

If you'd like to express your views on Nightline's coverage of trade
you can write to:

Tom Bettag, Executive Producer
1717 DeSales St NW
Washington, DC 20036
mailto:Niteline at abc.com


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