News Execs Fire Back at GOP Media Attacks

CNN's Jon Klein, NBC News' Steve Capus dismiss criticism of Palin coverage as stale political strategy.

After several primetime speakers at this week’s Republican National Convention unleashed a barrage of attacks on the news media for their coverage of vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, network news executives defended their coverage and dismissed the charges as a stale political strategy meant to distract viewers from legitimate election issues.

“It’s a time-honored marketing ploy and, every time they bash the media, it means they’re not talking about a vision or a plan,” CNN president Jon Klein said. “But the best antidote to cynical marketing is solid reporting.”

CNN had a dustup with the McCain campaign earlier this week after Campbell Brown’s persistent questioning of McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds on Palin’s foreign-policy experience as governor of Alaska prompted the campaign to cancel McCain’s scheduled appearance on Larry King Live. (Bounds and CNN have since patched thing up.)

“America has been presented with a total unknown who might be a heartbeat away from the presidency,” Klein said of Palin, “and Americans have every right to expect as much information as possible about this person so that they can make an informed choice. Certainly our critics are in favor of Americans making an informed choice, aren’t they?”

Scrutiny of the nominee only intensified Monday when the campaign revealed that the socially conservative Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is five months' pregnant.

“Network news and cable news literally did not touch the story until the press release came out from the [McCain] campaign,” said Steve Capus, president of NBC News. “So when our critics demonize that coverage, I don’t know what they’re pointing to. It’s been a respectful handling of a sensitive matter. There is nothing to that criticism. Nothing.”

As the GOP convention hit its stride Tuesday, after its opening was overshadowed by Hurricane Gustav, the press became almost as big a target as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), with speech after speech tarring the media as liberal and elitist.

Fred Thompson, the senator-turned-actor whose own campaign for the Republican nomination ended early, fired the first broadside in his speech Tuesday. On Wednesday, former Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani joined in before Palin herself took aim.

“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment," Palin said in her speech accepting the nomination. "And I’ve learned quickly these past few days that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.”

This prompted sustained boos from the audience at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

While Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and Gov. Palin’s status as a working mother of five (including a four-month-old with Down syndrome) set off furious, sometimes vicious debate in the blogosphere, news executives said the so-called mainstream media -- broadcast and cable networks and major newspapers -- have been fairly restrained.

“What people who are politically motivated are trying to do is take every outrageous blogger that exists online and lump them into traditional media,” Capus said. “And that’s not a sophisticated analysis of journalism. That’s someone making a political argument. Any objective analysis of the facts would come down on a different conclusion.”

Klein added, “This onslaught about the mainstream media seems woefully time-worn and out of step considering how new media have become the source of the scurrilous rumor-mongering on both the right and the left. If they want to pick a target, let them pick irresponsible bloggers who are reporting rumors promiscuously.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- who has enjoyed a chummy relationship with the Washington press corps and often referred to the media as "his base" -- is not expected to echo his surrogates' attacks in his acceptance speech Thursday night but to focus instead on his record and that of his opponent.