Congressional Democratic leaders have written to the network news heads asking them to give more face time to House and Senate Democratic leaders if they are going to cover President George W. Bush's national security speeches in the run-up to the November elections.
Pointing to a New York Times story asserting Republicans' plan to use a series of upcoming national security speeches to help win their races, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid asked the news chiefs to "commit your network to providing fair and equitable coverage to the viewpoints of both Republicans and Democrats on these crucial national security debates."
They singled out the president's speech on Sept. 11, which expanded beyond commemoration to a defense of the war in Iraq.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended the speech as a look back and forward at the war on terror whose first shot was 9/11. He also said he did not think the White House erred in not informing the networks of the speeches' contents beforehand.
The broadcast networks covered the speech after the White House asked for the time for what it billed as an "address to the nation" regarding 911.
According to chief ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, News President David Westin has responded in a letter, the gist of which is: "We agree that fair and equitable coverage of national security issues is of the utmost importance and that is precisely what we provide every day."
CBS agreed: "CBS news covers the issues fairly and accurately and will continue to do so," the network said in a statement.
Full text of the letter is below:
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
Dear Mr. Capus:
No subject is more critical to the American people than our national security. Yet as the press has widely reported, the issue of national security has regularly been politicized and exploited for partisan gain by the Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress. The President's recent speaking schedule and his nationally televised prime time speech last night strongly suggest that similar tactics will be employed in the coming weeks leading up to Election Day to heighten public anxiety and promote partisanship.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Republicans intend to use a series of national security speeches in what The Times has characterized as a "carefully calibrated strategy" to win the midterm elections. The issue of national security should not be politicized. The security of our nation surely deserves a thorough public discussion, and different viewpoints deserve similar coverage so that the American people hear alternative ideas. We write to you today to request that if you plan to continue to devote extensive live coverage to the President's national security speeches over the next few weeks, you similarly provide substantial coverage to the national security events and statements of House and Senate Democrats.
Until now, there has been a complete absence of balance in the news coverage of national security issues. Over the last month as campaign efforts have begun in earnest, according to Media Matters, there have been 64 percent more conservatives appearing on the Sunday news shows than Democrats. In a speech that was supposed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, last night President Bush was given almost 20 minutes of primetime coverage on all major networks for a speech that continued to inaccurately link 9/11 to the war in Iraq.
Congressional Democrats have a wealth of experience, authority, and the ideas as to how we could better secure our nation, combat terrorism, and ensure a significant transition in Iraq. House and Senate leaders hold frequent press conferences and briefings on a wide variety of national security issues ranging from Iraq to border security to the state of our military readiness. Most of these receive scant coverage, even when offering specific alternatives to Administration policies.
In order to provide the American people with complete information to make the best choices come Election Day, we ask that you commit your network to providing fair and equitable coverage to the viewpoints of both Republicans and Democrats on these crucial national security debates.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
House Democratic Leader
Senate Democratic Leader
cc: David Westin, ABC News; Sean McManus, CBS News; Jim Walton, CNN; Roger Ailes, FOX News Channel