Judging fairness in the media

Ex-ABC News head weighs in on how media bias affects presidential elections


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 22, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Impact" segment tonight. You may remember that last week we reported on an excellent study by the Media Research Center that pinpointed how the three network nightly newscasts are covering the wealth of Mitt Romney's as opposed to how they covered John Kerry's money.

Kerry of course ran against President Bush in 2004. According to the study in the period from January to April of this year, the three newscasts discussed Romney's wealth 27 times. In the same period in 2004, they discussed Kerry's finances twice.

In fact, ABC News did 15 stories on Romney money, one on Kerry money. That was better than NBC which did none on Kerry money.

Here now is the man who was running ABC News back in 2004, David Westin, the author of the brand new book, "Exit Interview" about his time at ABC News. So what say you about this study?

DAVID WESTIN, AUTHOR, "EXIT INTERVIEW": Well first, thanks for having me, Bill.


WESTIN: I'm not responsible for the news now. I'm not responsible for the news coverage. I was back during the Kerry time. And my recollection in 2004 is the big issue of the country was facing was the war...

O'REILLY: Right.

WESTIN: ...with Iraq that's what everybody was talking about. And interestingly, you remember this well, what happened during that election was really they turned around Kerry's war record with this book called "Veterans of Truth", I talk about this in the book and made it all sort of a referendum on his claim to be a hero.

O'REILLY: There was all -- there was all of that. But that went to character and -- and what I see at the network news now is basically they're trying -- they being certain individuals, not everyone. I just want to mention it's not everybody but certain individuals trying to portray Romney as this rich, out of touch guy, right?

We just saw a clip with Diane Sawyer in the "Cold Open" saying, "Hey, you know, you and your wealth is pretty much out of touch".

Now, there isn't anybody more wealthy than John Kerry. He lives on Beacon Hill and he's got a house on Nantucket. He's wind surfing all over the place, all right, he's a swell. Yet, it was never mentioned and now Romney, that's the theme. And so some people might say, look, they're trying to demonize Romney because of his money while they gave Kerry a pass.

WESTIN: Yes and I'm not saying that they shouldn't have -- they shouldn't cover this less than they are. I'm not trying to defend them, Bill. But what I am saying is right now I think many Americans are worried about their economic situation. They're worried about their jobs, their houses, their children, their 401(k)'s and things like that, that was not true in 2004.

O'REILLY: All right. So you think that it's economically driven. I don't see it that way.

WESTIN: Well you know it's driven by the opponent. I mean, the Obama campaign is pushing this story very, very hard.

O'REILLY: But certainly the media is just picking up on that.

WESTIN: And the George W. Bush was pushing the let's challenge Kerry's war record very hard, too.

O'REILLY: I don't know about that. I know certainly the Swift Boat Veterans for Justice supported Bush. But I don't know how direct involvement that Bush had -- the Bush White House with those people.

Now, you were at ABC after I left. I think that's why you came. As soon as I left ABC, Westin came in to run the operations.

WESTIN: Now you were the one that got away. You were one of my great regrets.

O'REILLY: But I have to be honest I liked ABC News much more than CBS which I had worked for prior. But I did see a liberal culture in the management of ABC News when I was there. And I think that the people would admit that they personally, their belief system was liberal. Am I wrong?

WESTIN: Well, we fought against it every day.

O'REILLY: Did you really?


O'REILLY: Why did you fight against it?

WESTIN: Because I thought our mission was not to be left of center or right of center. But to try to get --

O'REILLY: So you saw what I saw, then?

WESTIN: I saw a lack of diversity and it wasn't just political diversity.

O'REILLY: How did that define itself? White rich people?

WESTIN: And so -- well, it can be religious, it can be race and ethnicity.

O'REILLY: But to you.

WESTIN: And I was always concerned that we need voices at the table who would say, you know, part of the world doesn't see it the way you do. There's another part of the world and I felt this powerfully. I come from Michigan and just in a small way, the Midwest was often --

O'REILLY: All right so you saw that there was an elitism at ABC News and in the West?

WESTIN: There's a tendency for everybody to hire people like themselves.

O'REILLY: And how were they, though? You're dodging. How were they? Were there liberal elitists when you got there?

WESTIN: Well, there was a range of people. But I thought we should diversify out from an East Coast orientation and sort of upper middle class, and yes, white Caucasian and expand out and hire a diverse group of people and put them into management positions. Mainly so they could --

O'REILLY: All right, liberals, conservative, you would admit that there were many more liberal thinkers than conservatives in the news organization when you got there, would you not?

WESTIN: I never asked people what their personal views are but -- but Bill honest to God, we fought every single day against that.

O'REILLY: All right.

WESTIN: I mean, I never heard people in news discussions take liberal points of view as liberal points of view ever.

O'REILLY: As you know, I was a friend of Peter Jennings.


O'REILLY: All right and you -- and I liked Mr. Westin's book, by the way, I read it. And you had a great story about you going head to head as you're a rookie with Jennings, who is a monster, about Princess Diana. I don't want to give this story away. Because I want people to read your book and it's a very, very telling and good story.

Jennings himself was a liberal man, all right? He was. But he did try to tamp it down.

WESTIN: He did.

O'REILLY: But he admitted that the whole culture of network news was left. He admitted it.

WESTIN: Listen, Bill, one of the things I talk about in the book is we all have a bias. Whether we know it or not we all have a bias --

O'REILLY: But it hasn't changed.

WESTIN: Oh, I think we really did change it in a sense.


O'REILLY: You think you did?

WESTIN: I think we made progress in saying other people have a voice at the table.

O'REILLY: Last question. Do you think Romney is going to get a fair shake from the three network news organizations as opposed to Obama this time around?

WESTIN: You know, I think -- first of all, I'm not running it, I don't know.

O'REILLY: I know you're not. But what do you think?

WESTIN: But -- but I'll tell you this is what I really think. I think that news organizations respond to the audience much more than we give them credit for. And ultimately we all get the news media that we demand.

O'REILLY: All right. I think you guys are ok fair so far. I think NBC obviously tilted way left. But you and CBS seem to be at least trying. And you're not there anymore. I'm just saying you because you're attached to ABC.

All right, the book is "Exit Interview" and it's a good read if you want to know about Jennings, there is a lot of really good stuff about him in the book. And Mr. Westin thanks.

WESTIN: Thank you so much.

O'REILLY: I appreciate you very much.

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