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Group alleges conservative bias on TV talk shows

WASHINGTON—Sen. Lindsey Graham stands accused of getting too much face time on the Sunday talk shows.

It's a charge he's happy to face.

"The fact that I get asked to appear, I consider personally an honor because I get to represent the conservative point of view," said Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

Media Matters in America, a liberal watchdog group in Washington, says the weekly news programs are politically biased because they host more Republican lawmakers and officials than Democrats, even since the Democrats gained control of Congress in November.

Among 2,000 guests in 2005 and 2006, 62 percent were Republican and 37 percent were Democrats, according to Media Matters.

The gap has narrowed since the election, the group says, but Republicans still outnumber Democrats.

Graham appeared on the four main talk shows 29 times in 2005 and 2006, more than anyone except Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Graham's been a guest three times this year, plus twice on CNN's "Late Edition," which Media Matters didn't track.

"Every time I've been on, there's been a counter view," Graham said. "I don't think there's a conservative bias."

The four programs monitored in the study are ABC's "This Week," CBS' "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press" and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s "Fox News Sunday."

Some Democratic lawmakers are horrified by the findings.

"It is a disservice to the public when either party is not given the opportunity to publicly make their case," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus.

"When network news shows favor one political point of view over others, the American people are cheated out of an open, honest and fair discussion," said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Graham, a first-term senator and a former military lawyer, said the Sunday talk shows are closely watched by movers and shakers on Capitol Hill—and inside a certain white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Graham was on hand last month when President Bush addressed an American Legion convention in Washington. After the speech, Graham said, Bush came up to the senator and praised him for defending the U.S. troop surge in Iraq on "Meet the Press" the previous Sunday.

"The subject matter is usually something very important for the country, whether it be Supreme Court confirmations, the Iraq war or detainee treatment," Graham said. "One of the reasons I get asked is because I'm active" in the Senate.

Stephen Battaglio, a TV Guide senior correspondent who follows the television news industry, said it's difficult to quantify political bias by counting the party affiliations of the talk show guests.

"I'm a big fan of the Sunday morning discussion programs," he said. "I think they're the only news programs worth watching, to be quite honest. In terms of political discussion, they're by far the best places to go."

Under the Media Matters study's approach, Battaglio said, Sen. Chuck Hagel—who appeared six times on "This Week" in 2005 and 2006—would indicate a conservative bias, even though he's an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

"It's tricky to start trying to measure bias by just looking at party affiliation," Battaglio said. "I think the Sunday news shows are about as down the middle as they can be. They're equally tough on both sides, I would say."

Perhaps the biggest problem with the think tank's methodology is Biden: The loquacious Democrat was on the four talk shows 38 times during the two years—more than anyone else.

Carin Pratt, executive producer of "Face the Nation," disagreed with the report's findings and methodology.

"It doesn't matter whether Secretary Rice is a conservative or a liberal," Pratt said. "She's the secretary of state."

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TALK-SHOW REGULARS: A handful of senators have dominated the Sunday morning talk shows, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their total appearances in 2005 and 2006:

"Meet the Press," NBC

_Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., 7 times

_Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, 6 times

_Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, 6 times

_Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., 5 times

"Face the Nation," CBS

_Biden, 11 times

_Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., 9 times

_Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., 8 times

_Rice, 8 times

McCain, 8 times

"This Week," ABC

_Biden, 10 times

_McCain, 10 times

_Rice, 6 times

_Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., 6 times

_Specter, 5 times

_Schumer, 5 times

"Fox News Sunday," Fox Broadcasting Co.

_Graham, 13 times

_Rice, 10 times

_Biden, 10 times

_Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., 9 times

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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