While watching some television news not too long ago, I began getting angry about all the negative coverage about America’s war in Iraq, even though during the recent election an estimated 70 percent of Iraqis turned out to vote. It got me to thinking about Spiro Agnew and I told myself, “You know, Spiro Agnew was right.”
Before he left office in disgrace in 1973, Vice President Agnew had spoken out, in many ways gallantly, against the media and how they covered news in this country. The Vietnam War was still going on during Nixon and Agnew’s first term and John Kerry, Jane Fonda and the other liberal hippie types were marching in the streets blaming America for the ills in the world.
The mainstream media seemed to be enjoying it. After a major speech President Nixon gave about Vietnam policy in 1969, there was the usual “analysis” by network commentators (there was no Fox News or CNN back then).on all three major networks. It was the speech where Nixon said there was a “great silent majority” of Americans who were still backing our service people in Vietnam. Afterward, it didn’t seem like many of those commentators had much good to say about the Nixon speech.
For Agnew, that was the last straw. Shortly after Nixon’s speech, Agnew gave a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, about network news coverage and overall news coverage in general. Surprisingly, the three major networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) carried his speech live. I watched it live on NBC.
Agnew said, “When the President [Nixon] completed his address — an address, incidentally, that he spent weeks in the preparation of — his words and policies were subjected to instant analysis and querulous criticism. The audience of 70 million Americans gathered to hear the President of the United States was inherited by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts, the majority of whom expressed in one way or another their hostility to what he had to say.”
As you would expect, Agnew was vehemently criticized in the media for that speech. The Columbia Journalism Review in its November-December 2001 issue said, “In retrospect, Agnew’s speech was significant for two reasons: It set the tone for the [Nixon] administration’s relationship with the press and laid the groundwork for the harassment, eavesdropping, and IRS audits that would soon be launched against Nixon’s perceived enemies in the Fourth Estate. At the same time, Agnew’s speech was the beginning of a new trend in American politics in which the ‘liberal press’ would become a punching bag for the Republican party, a tactic employed to spectacular effect by conservative politicians in the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond.”
But Agnew was not to be trifled.
Later, he gave a speech calling the news media “nattering nabobs of negativism” and he also called them “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” He went on to say, “In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
Many have said that conservatives Pat Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter, and William Safire, another Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist, wrote Agnew’s speeches.
But no matter who wrote them. Things have not changed. After every president’s speech, viewers are still treated to what Agnew called a “roundtable of critics” who have to “analyze” what the president said. Many of the network news people still seem to think that the American people can’t figure out for themselves what was said and make up their own minds. The answer is: just run the speech and leave the post-speech commentary out of it. Leave the analysis for the talk shows, Sunday interview programs, newspaper editorial pages and the like.
In my three decades of broadcasting, I heard many complaints from listeners about the so-called “instant analysis.” While attending college during the Nixon and Agnew years, many of my fellow students resented the “instant analysis” by the television networks as well. But it hasn’t stopped.
Agnew later admonished the media to report some good news about America. His words were never heeded. Do you ever see any positive coverage of America’s war in Iraq? The only television network that has done any news on what America has accomplished there is Fox News.
A recent study by the Media Research Center found that “network evening news coverage of Iraq during October and November found the networks maintained the same negative approach our team found during a review of Iraq news during the first nine months of 2005. In spite of a successful constitutional referendum in October, the start Saddam’s trial for mass murder, successful U.S. offensive campaigns along the Syrian border and the return of a number of cities and town to full Iraqi control, the networks continued to offer mainly downbeat coverage of the situation in Iraq.”
The Media Research Center study focused “on 324 Iraq stories aired on the three broadcast evening newscasts between October 1 and November 30. The MRC found that the three newscasts did not provide relatively similar amounts of Iraq war news. The “CBS Evening News” led the way, airing 139 stories on Iraq—90 full reports, plus another 49 short items read by the anchor. “NBC Nightly News” aired 113 stories (81 full reports vs. 32 anchor briefs), while ABC’s “World News Tonight” aired only 72 Iraq stories in two months (49 full reports and 23 anchor briefs),” according to the MRC study.
This MRC study proves that Spiro Agnew was right. If television had been around on D-Day on June 6, 1944, we probably would have seen Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline say, “In just a moment, we will talk live with Herman Goering in Germany to get the German reaction on how America’s bombardment will effect France and the European mainland and whether Germany can recover and beat the United States.”
The media remain “nattering nabobs of negativism.” If they continue on their present path, they will receive something they hate: more government regulation.
If people do not like the way the television networks cover news, they should write letters to the network affiliated stations in the towns and cities that they live in. The networks will respond to affiliate pressure. If people don’t speak out, fair news coverage will never be achieved.