NBC News president Noah Oppenheim recently insisted his network is not in the business of « advocacy journalism » despite a plethora of examples that suggest otherwise.
In an interview with the Poynter Institute published last week, Oppenheim said NBC News is « ferociously defending the traditional approach to journalism » and that its mission is « to hold the middle ground and be objective and nonpartisan » when covering the news.
« I still believe in that old-school approach to journalism and being just as tough on both sides, » Oppenheim added. « And looking for truth and facts. Our mission is to illuminate and not advocate. »
The NBC News president later declared, « It’s not what we do, » when asked if advocacy journalism has a place in media.
However, NBC News’ coverage, and rhetoric from its biggest stars, doesn’t always coincide with Oppenheim’s claim. Here are recent examples:
NBC’s Yamiche Alcindor gushed over Biden press conference with ‘propagandistic’ tweets
NBC News correspondent Yamiche Alcindor appeared enamored by President Biden’s performance at his first press conference of 2022 last week.
« Pres Biden, in the longest news conference in presidential history, made news, pushed back on critics, called out lies, took responsibility for mistakes he believes he made, expressed surprise at GOP, talked foreign policy and didn’t lash out on reporters. Quite the change, » Alcindor tweeted.
« There is so much to say about Pres Biden’s presser, » she added. « The thing that sticks w/ me is that he took responsibility for mistakes he believes he made, expressed genuine frustration w/ COVID & his agenda being stalled by GOP and Democrats & took hard questions without insulting folks. »
Critics bashed the NBC correspondent for her « propagandistic » comments showering the president with over-the-top praise.
« Not even Jen Psaki would be willing to write something so gushing and propagandistic, » Substack journalist Glenn Greenwald reacted. « As I said when she was hired by NBC, the more out in the open they are about their absolute loyalty to the Democratic Party, the better: the more people will see what their real function is. »
NBC’s Lester Holt said we don’t need to hear both sides to define truth: ‘Fairness is overrated’
Last year, NBC News anchor Lester Holt said reporters don’t need to hear both sides of a story before determining the « truth. »
« I think it’s become clear that fairness is overrated … the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in, » Holt said in March while accepting an award at the 45th Murrow Symposium.
« That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention, » Holt continued. « Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda, in fact, it’s just the opposite. »
Holt then said « providing an open platform for misinformation, for anyone to come say whatever they want, especially when issues of public health and safety are at stake, can be quite dangerous, » before declaring the duty of reporters is to be « fair to the truth. »
Liberal CNN journalist John Harwood tweeted his approval of Holt’s comments at the time.
NBC News came under fire for apparently pushing Google to remove conservative sites from ad platform
In 2020, NBC News faced intense backlash for apparently influencing Google to punish two conservative news sites over what was deemed offensive coverage of the George Floyd protests.
NBC News reported Google « banned » The Federalist and ZeroHedge from Google Ads for « pushing unsubstantiated claims » about the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it appeared it was NBC News’ inquiry into the matter that prompted Google’s actions in the first place.
« Google’s ban of the websites comes after the company was notified of research conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation. They found that 10 U.S-based websites have published what they say are racist articles about the protests, and projected that the websites would make millions of dollars through Google Ads, » NBC News reported.
The report continued, « Google blocked The Federalist from its advertising platform after the NBC News Verification Unit brought the project to its attention. ZeroHedge had already been demonetized prior to NBC News’ inquiry, Google said. »
Google later pushed back, claiming that The Federalist « was never demonetized, » and the tech giant claimed, « We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section. »
Chuck Todd dismisses notion of a liberal bias in the media as GOP talking point
NBC News anchor Chuck Todd last year dismissed the notion that there is a liberal bias in the media as a Republican talking point that has been repeated so many times even the left now believes it. The « Meet the Press » moderator then declared he would like his mainstream media colleagues to fight back against the theory.
« I think objectivity and fairness are not the same thing in some ways. You can’t define objectivity as sort of being equal, that we know. You can’t balance the truth, that we know, » Todd told The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel when asked how he maintains a sense of fairness.
« So you have to be fair and have an open mind, » Todd added. « Where we did get lost in this, and this sort of happened to mainstream media in particular, is that we did let Republican critics get in our heads, right? »
Todd then said conservatives claim there is « a liberal bias in the media » and implied the concept isn’t accurate despite decades of mainstream media organizations favoring Democratic ideology and even suppressing news that’s harmful to the left.
« The Republicans have been running on, ‘There’s a liberal bias in the media,’ » Todd said. « If you say something long enough, there are liberals who say there’s a liberal bias in the media when you see polling now. »
Todd defended not having climate change skeptics on ‘Meet the Press’ special
Todd might deny a bias in the media, but in 2019 he dedicated an entire episode of « Meet the Press » to tackle what he described as the « climate crisis » and made it clear to NBC News viewers that anyone who questioned the existence of climate change was banned. Todd did not invite any climate change skeptics onto his show during the full-hour special on the subject.
« We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not, » the « Meet The Press » moderator said.
The NBC host defended his decision the following month during an appearance on « The Daily Show » when he doubled down by comparing climate change skeptics to people who don’t believe in the moon landing.
Savannah Guthrie panned for ‘debating’ Trump during NBC News town hall
Critics piled on NBC News only a few weeks before the 2020 election for devoting its town hall to what appeared to be a « debate » between then-President Trump and moderator Savannah Guthrie.
Guthrie, who recently earned praise by asking Vice President Kamala Harris tough questions, spent most of the first 20 minutes of NBC’s 2020 town hall grilling Trump on masks and White supremacy. Guthrie’s approach didn’t sit well with viewers, who vented on social media.
« How long will NBC go before giving an actual voter the chance to ask a question? » asked pollster Frank Luntz, who was among the many critics and later called the « town hall » descriptor of the program « false advertising. »
« The fake pretense of a ‘town hall’ when every aspect of it has been orchestrated in advance by the producers is such obnoxious BS, » journalist Michael Tracey added.
NBC News claimed GOP was ‘court-packing’ instead of filling vacancies
In 2020, NBC News was criticized over a headline that claimed that GOP lawmakers were « court-packing » and not simply filling vacancies during the Trump presidency.
The article covered then-Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who had released a report condemning the conservative influence over the judicial confirmations, including conservative lawyer and activist Leonard Leo, who was instrumental in the selection of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
« Our report exposes a twisted web of dark money, and special interest groups who behind the scenes are investing millions and millions to plant ideological activist judges completely remake the courts, and ultimately rewrite the Constitution, » Schumer wrote.
NBC News’ headline read, « Senate Democrats take on GOP court-packing in blistering new report, » which was shared on Twitter by Democratic activist Brian Fallon.
Court-packing has long been a hot topic as many Democrats want to expand the number of judges on the bench, particularly on the Supreme Court, in order to outweigh the incoming conservative-leaning confirmations with liberal judges. Critics slammed NBC News for conflating the term with filling available vacancies.
NBC News issued apology for edited George Zimmerman 911 call
NBC News was forced to issue an apology in 2012 for the way it handled the broadcasting of the 9-1-1 conversation between George Zimmerman and a police dispatcher in the Trayvon Martin case.
Following reports that NBC aired audio of the call that was edited to suggest Zimmerman was racist, the network launched an internal investigation and admitted the error.
« During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers, » the network said in a statement.
In audio of the call that NBC aired on « Today, » Zimmerman told dispatchers, « This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks Black. »
However, Zimmerman actually said, « This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around, looking about, » and didn’t mention Martin’s race until later in the call when the operator specifically asked what he looked like.
Handling of infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape
Oppenheim himself was suspected of advocacy journalism during the 2016 election.
In the final weeks of the campaign, the Washington Post published the bombshell story of the infamous « Access Hollywood » tape that nearly derailed Trump’s candidacy.
Critics at the time accused NBC of sitting on the damning footage of one of its shows and leaking it at a time when the tape could do the most damage to the Trump campaign. Trump was heard on the 2005 tape boasting about groping and kissing women without their permission.
Industry insiders assumed Oppenheim, who at the time was the executive in charge of « Today, » was behind the leak since he was a known friend of David Fahrenthold, the Post journalist who broke the story. Their friendship dates back to their time at Harvard University.
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Oppenheim long denied playing a role in the leak. Fahrenthold was later hired as a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC, NBC’s liberal cable arm.