BOB GARFIELD: We are back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Every once in a while we invite Mike Pesca, our producer at large, to disgorge the contents of his pockets in a segment we like to call Mike's Pockets. Hello, Mike.
MIKE PESCA: Hello, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What have you got for us this week?
MIKE PESCA: Well this week the trial of accounting firm Arthur Andersen has begun, so I thought it would be a good time to address the situation with CNN Money Line's anchor man Lou Dobbs.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Ah, yes. When we left Dobbs, he was defending himself vigorously against critics in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, all of whom claim that he was showing bias in his coverage of the Arthur Andersen case.
MIKE PESCA: Which he copped to. He said that opinion is part of his job and that's why my show is the highest rated financial show on TV. He wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which answered those critics that he has respect for the "just the facts, ma'am" approach; he just happens not to employ it himself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some have argued that On the Media takes a similar stance.
MIKE PESCA:That's your opinion. [LAUGHTER] The thing that got the papers to say, hey, what's an anchorman doing with an opinion was that his opinion in the Arthur Andersen case was a controversial one, and at times the opinion part which is normally a few words at the end of the broadcast seems to have had an impact on the rest of Money Line's Andersen coverage.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well let's talk about that controversial opinion. Dobbs seems to be saying that prosecuting Arthur Andersen at all is a mistake because a lot of innocent accountants in its employ would lose their jobs if the company went under.
MIKE PESCA: Correct. It's not a widely-held opinion, but it's certainly a defensible one. The Wall Street Journal has also expressed similar opinions on its editorial pages. The problem here is that the Wall Street Journal's news pages are at the forefront of the Andersen story. They've been doing a bangup job in covering the story whereas Lou Dobbs' Money Line's treatment is coated in this pro-Andersen sheen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How so?
MIKE PESCA:Well first of all in the interview segments in his show he's a pussycat with those who oppose Andersen's prosecution; he invites on former SEC chairmen and loves to hear from them. He really tears into people who are in favor of the government going after Andersen. But also, and let's use an objective measure here, he's been very atypical of the rest of the media. Now of course that doesn't make him wrong, but if you look at Money Line's coverage, you see a big difference. Let's take the first day of testimony. Here's Lou Dobbs introducing Money Line's report.
LOU DOBBS: In Houston it is day 3 of the obstruction of justice trial against Andersen. Prosecutors have yet to call their key witness, fired Andersen auditor David Duncan, responsible for the Enron account. Many say the later that Duncan appears in this trial, the weaker the case for the prosecution. Today's Andersen's attorney charged that the SEC investigation to Enron was lacking in both diligence and care and driven by media coverage to boot.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh! That sounds bad for the prosecution.
MIKE PESCA:It does. But when I read the newspapers the next day, I said were they watching the same trial that Lou Dobbs was? Typical coverage in the newspapers came from, say, the Wall Street Journal -- the headline there was: Partner Warned Arthur Andersen on Enron Audit, and what they're talking about is James Hecker [sp?] who's an Arthur Andersen employee, he testified that higher ups at Andersen knew about all these problems with Enron. The L.A. Times said: Enron Auditors Warned about Accounting. The Washington Post said: Enron Viewed as High Risk Client.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the rest of the media saw Hecker's testimony as the big story. How did Money Line deal specifically with Hecker?
MIKE PESCA: Well at the end of the CNN report, the reporter chatted with Lou Dobbs about Hecker's testimony. Here's tape of that.
REPORTER:It did further the government's case if you will by getting on the record that it was an open secret within En--Anr--Andersen, rather, that there were some potential problems at Enron back in August.
LOU DOBBS: And with that "open secret" and the fact that the investigation was spurred by an article in the Wall Street Journal and the fact that the SEC investigation did not begin until after the Justice Department alleges obstruction of justice began, what in the world sense does that make?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So obviously Dobbs thinks that the entire Andersen case rests on a flimsy foundation, but what sense does it make to you, Mike?
MIKE PESCA:I see him as not merely offering an opinion. I see him as slanting the news coverage in order to accommodate that opinion. He's no longer openminded. He's acting like Arthur Andersen's defense attorney and, and ignoring his obligation to viewers. So here we have the most prominent news host of the day, and I can no longer trust his coverage of the largest financial story of the day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This must be very hard for you, Mike.
MIKE PESCA: [LAUGHS] The Lou Dobbs posters are coming down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mike Pesca, OTM's producer at large. [MUSIC]