CBS Covers Latest on Facebook Scandal; NBC, ABC Drop the Story

On Wednesday, CBS This Morning offered a full report on “new developments in the controversy over whether Facebook censors news.” Co-host Norah O’Donnell noted: “Allegations of liberal bias are drawing scrutiny from a powerful Republican senator....Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune calls the accusations serious.”

In the report that followed, correspondent Jan Crawford explained: “South Dakota Senator John Thune is worried the conservative side is being suppressed on the social network. In a letter sent to Facebook Tuesday, the South Dakota Republican asked if the trending topics were ‘subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints.’”

A sounbite ran of Thune: “Consumers have rights, and we want to make sure that we're protecting consumers' rights and that businesses aren't, in fact, engaged in any kind of deceptive practice.”

Crawford highlighted Facebook’s liberal leanings and declared: “...the controversy could reinforce a perception problem Facebook already had among conservatives. Its founder and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg, has recently taken positions supporting same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and Black Lives Matter.”

CBS News contributor Nicholas Thompson warning: “There’s a real fear that Facebook could actually control the way people think...If Republicans leave Facebook, that's terrible for Facebook. They can't afford to alienate the party that controls Congress.”

Wrapping up the segment, Crawford defended the right of Facebook to be as biased as it wants:

Now, that perception problem, I mean, that is really the issue because there's nothing that Congress can really do. I mean, media companies are protected by the First Amendment, they're not obligated to tell Congress why they pick the stories that they choose. And you know, Facebook, I mean, it's denying these allegations, but it can filter its stories however it wants. People have the choice of whether to use it or not.

Tell the Truth 2016

Despite both NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America providing full coverage of the controversy on Tuesday, neither broadcast mentioned the new developments Wednesday morning. Those omissions occurred despite Today co-host Natalie Morales predicting “this is a story that’s going to get a lot of investigation” and GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos promising “we have not heard the last of this” while concluding their respective reports one day earlier.

To its credit, NBC Nightly News was the only network evening newscast to cover the story on Tuesday, with anchor Lester Holt introducing a nearly two-minute segment on the topic: “A powerful U.S. Senator is demanding answers from Facebook over allegations that the social networking giant is biased against reporting conservative oriented news items. It's a story that has a lot of people talking. The company is now responding.”

Here is a full transcript of Crawford’s May 11 report:

7:16 AM ET

NORAH O’DONNELL: New developments in the controversy over whether Facebook censors news. Allegations of liberal bias are drawing scrutiny from a powerful Republican senator. We reported yesterday that former employees claim the social network blocks stories about conservatives in its trending section. Jan Crawford is at the Capitol, where Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune calls the accusations serious. Jan, good morning.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, good morning. So Senator Thune, I mean, he is raising a number of questions, Facebook has launched its own investigation as to whether it kind of filtered out these conservative topics. And interestingly, this controversy actually tended for much of the day on Facebook yesterday.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Facebook Bias?; Senate Demands Answers Over Story Blocking Charges]

TED CRUZ: So I would just encourage you to keep an open mind.

CRAWFORD: In this video posted last month, Facebook encouraged users to seek out opposing points of view.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Maybe, just maybe, it's a good time to search for them. To find the other side of the story.

CRAWFORD: But South Dakota Senator John Thune is worried the conservative side is being suppressed on the social network. In a letter sent to Facebook Tuesday, the South Dakota Republican asked if the trending topics were “subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints.”

JOHN THUNE: Consumers have rights, and we want to make sure that we're protecting consumers' rights and that businesses aren't, in fact, engaged in any kind of deceptive practice.

CRAWFORD: On Monday, Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez said that Facebook employs human curators who work off a list of stories generated by an algorithm. Then, they select the articles that become Facebook trending topics.

MICHAEL NUNEZ: We have evidence of them blacklisting, in a lost cases, conservative news –   
O’DONNELL: What's a particular story that they blacklisted?

NUNEZ: Well, so, the CPAC conference for instance. You know, as that was going on, that was not allowed to trend.

CRAWFORD: In a statement, Facebook said it will "keep reviewing our operational practices around Trending Topics – and if we find they are inadequate, we will take immediate steps to fix them."

NICHOLAS THOMPSON [THE NEW YORKER]: There’s a real fear that Facebook could actually control the way people think.

CRAWFORD: CBS News contributor Nicholas Thompson says the controversy could reinforce a perception problem Facebook already had among conservatives. Its founder and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg, has recently taken positions supporting same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and Black Lives Matter.

THOMPSON: If Republicans leave Facebook, that's terrible for Facebook. They can't afford to alienate the party that controls Congress.

CRAWFORD: Now, that perception problem, I mean, that is really the issue because there's nothing that Congress can really do. I mean, media companies are protected by the First Amendment, they're not obligated to tell Congress why they pick the stories that they choose. And you know, Facebook, I mean, it's denying these allegations, but it can filter its stories however it wants. People have the choice of whether to use it or not. Gayle?

GAYLE KING: Something tells me it’ll be trending again today. Thank you very much, Jan.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC