Appearing as a guest on Tuesday's The O'Reilly Factor to promote his book, Exit Interview, former ABC News president David Westin denied seeing a liberal bias among his colleagues when he was head of ABC News, and, when confronted by a recent study by the MRC's Business and Media Institute, rationalized the greater attention the media have paid to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's wealth this year as opposed to Democratic nominee John Kerry's wealth in 2004.
Host Bill O'Reilly began by recounting the recent MRC study documenting the imbalance in media treatment of Kerry versus Romney, giving Westin - who was head of ABC News in 2004 but has since retired - a chance to respond. Westin argued that the economy is a bigger issue this year than it was in 2004:
And my recollection in 2004 is the big issue the country was facing was the war. It was 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 the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth - I talk about this in the book - and made it all sort of a referendum on his claim to be a hero.
He soon added:
I'm not saying that they shouldn't have - they shouldn't cover this less than they are. I'm not trying to defend that, 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, things like that. That was not true in 2004.
He ended up suggesting that the media had followed an example supposedly set by the Bush campaign to make Kerry's war record an issue, and that the media are currently following a similar lead from the Obama campaign's attempts to make Romney's wealth an issue. Westin:
It's also driven by the opponent. I mean, the Obama campaign is pushing this story very, very hard. Bush was pushing the "let's challenge Kerry's war record hard, too."
But Westin's analysis ignored the fact that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth - rather than the Bush campaign - were mostly ignored when the right-leaning group emerged in May 2004 until August when Kerry himself started attacking the group because their ad campaign challenging his Vietnam War record was hurting his poll numbers. The media came to Kerry's defense by trying to undermine the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
In August 2004, the MRC's Media Reality Check publication twice documented the media's pro-Kerry treatment of the Swift Boat group in the articles, "TV Gives No Respect to Swift Boat Vets for Truth," and, "TV Focuses on Kerry's Spin, Not Kerry's History."
A bit later, after being pressed for an answer by O'Reilly, Westin eventually denied observing a liberal slant among journalists at ABC after he repeatedly avoided giving a straight answer to the media bias issue.
After Westin complained about a general "lack of diversity" at the network before he took over there, leading the former ABC News head to ramble about trying to include different types of people, he finally claimed not to have seen liberal bias at the network:
BILL O'REILLY: All right, liberal, conservative? You would admit that there were many more liberal thinkers than conservatives in the news organization when you got there, would you not?
DAVID WESTIN: I never asked people what their personal views are, but, Bill, honest to God, we fought every single day against that. I mean, I never heard people in news discussions take liberal points of view as (INAUDIBLE) ever.