NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer Made Unjustified, Inflammatory Claim

[ Paul Bremer’s decision to close the al-Sadr-affiliated newspaper, Al Hawza, was arguably an important cause of the increased violence in Iraq. Hence, it is important that journalists properly represent to the American people the rationale for the censorship. –BL ]

NewsHour Should Correct Lehrer’s Falsehood

April 16, 2004 | Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

On the April 7 edition of the PBS NewsHour, anchor Jim Lehrer offered a rationale for the U.S. closure of the Al Hawza newspaper, affiliated with Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. But so far the program has been unable to supply evidence to back up Lehrer’s charge, and is refusing to correct the host’s error.

Lehrer explained on the program, “The reason we shut down his press is because it was calling for violence.” One of Lehrer’s guests interrupted to agree with him, but Lehrer finished by saying, “I just want to get that on the record.”

Syndicated columnist (and FAIR associate) Norman Solomon was puzzled by Lehrer’s attempt to set the record straight, since what he said actually contradicts the evidence that is on the record. Solomon called the NewsHour and asked what Lehrer was relying on to support his claim. A NewsHour spokesperson offered newspaper articles from the New York Times (4/6/04) and the Chicago Tribune (4/5/04).

But those articles don’t support Lehrer at all; they report U.S. charges that the paper was printing inaccurate information that could incite violence, but do not mention any calls for violence by the paper. In fact, another New York Times article (4/5/04) actually pointed out that “the paper did not print any calls for attacks.”

Solomon continued to press the NewsHour, asking if they would issue a correction for what is clearly a mistake by their anchor. But the program rejected that idea; in an email to Solomon, a spokesperson wrote, “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer stands behind the ‘Iraq: What Now?’ discussion segment from April 7 and will not be making a correction.”

Correcting a false statement by an anchor would seem to be an easy call. But FAIR activists might remember that the NewsHour seems to have peculiar standards when it comes to such matters: Last month, Lehrer actually read an apologetic “editor’s note” two days after a segment (3/2/04) where one guest criticized the reconstruction contracts granted to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. Lehrer faulted the segment (3/4/04) for “not being as balanced as is our standard practice.” Viewers might be left wondering what the show’s “standard practice” is for correcting errors made by the host.

ACTION: Contact the PBS NewsHour and ask them to correct Lehrer’s erroneous statement that the Al Hawza newspaper was “calling for violence.”

PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

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