Television news coverage of the invasion of Iraq was surprisingly even-handed, according to a study to be released today by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
Researchers for the Washington think tank surveyed more than 1,100 reports on the evening newscasts of record for the big three networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - plus Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume.
Taken together, the three old-line networks broadcast an even split of comments favorable and opposed to U.S. policies or conduct, according to the center. Fox News' coverage was found to be more favorably inclined, as 60 percent of opinions aired there were considered positive.
There were some sharp differences among the networks. Only 20 percent of opinions expressed on ABC's World News Tonight favored entering the war, while 95 percent did on the CBS Evening News. Fox News tended to air more opinions, but had an even split on the question of actually entering the war.
"Basically, Fox was saturated with opinion," said S. Robert Lichter, the social scientist who heads the group. He is a frequent commentator on Fox News who also appears on other news outlets. "It lets you think for yourself whether good journalism means there is a balance of opinion when there's so much opinion."
The study looked at coverage from March 19 through April 14. The center did not include CNN and MSNBC in its survey, saying it lacked the resources to do so.
An earlier study by the liberal media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting covering much of the same period found that the networks' newscasts and their cable and PBS counterparts relied overwhelmingly on pro-war sources, presenting an unfair picture of the debate. However, Lichter said FAIR and the Media Research Center, a conservative counterpart, execute "ideologically driven" studies that tend not to illuminate issues adequately.