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Rep. Kevin Cramer intends to seek hearing on media bias

GRAND FORKS--U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer has issued a letter announcing he intends to request a congressional hearing on media bias in 2016 presidential campaign coverage.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., speaks to media on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, at The Hub convenience store in Dickinson, N.D. Cramer spent time there as part of an in-store program by NACS. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., speaks to media on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, at The Hub convenience store in Dickinson, N.D. Cramer spent time there as part of an in-store program by NACS. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

GRAND FORKS-U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer has issued a letter announcing he intends to request a congressional hearing on media bias in 2016 presidential campaign coverage.

The letter, which comes just days before the presidential election on Tuesday-Cramer's own name will appear on the congressional ballot-is addressed to network executives at four major broadcast companies, including Fox Television Stations Group, NBCUniversal, ABC and CBS.

"While the principle of an independent media is critical to our constitutional government, a news media free of political bias is required for a free system to flourish," he said. "I am alarmed by recent polls and studies, which seem to confirm that our national network news has devolved from fact-based journalism to surreptitious propaganda."

The letter cites an Associated Press Poll from last week that found 56 percent of likely voters think the media is biased against Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, and 37 percent that think coverage is balanced. The letter also cites a Harvard study that found coverage of Trump turned more negative after he had defeated his Republican primary opponents.

Reached by phone Friday, Cramer said his intentions aren't to legislate the matter but simply to open a discussion with media organizations that use federal airwaves, which he said are taxpayer property. He stressed the scope of his interest is in national, not local, broadcast news, adding the federal government already imposes decency regulations on broadcasters.

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"This has potential to be in conflict with the First Amendment," he said. "That's why my letter tries ... to thread that needle. There's an additional responsibility to fairness when you're borrowing or renting a federal medium like the (broadcast) spectrum."

His letter was triggered, he said, by what he felt was insufficient coverage of recent events affecting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign. For example, he pointed out recent revelations of FBI interest in newly found emails that were discovered during an investigation into Anthony Weiner, a disgraced husband of a close Clinton aide. The coverage, he said, seemed to skew unfairly towards FBI Director James Comey's decision to make their discovery public instead of their implications on Clinton's fitness for the presidency.

Asked whether the letter might be a play for votes-given that both the presidential election and his own congressional election are just days away-Cramer responded if it is indeed effective with voters, then he's simply being a good representative by doing what his constituents want.

Cramer's letter stressed he doesn't want a return to the Fairness Doctrine, a former federal regulation that required television and radio stations to air opposing views on controversial matters.

However, he still pointed out what he framed as the importance of fairness.

"Your FCC license and the liberty that comes with your First Amendment rights are not a license to broadcast anything you want or in any way you choose," Cramer wrote. "Rather, this special freedom comes with basic moral and legal parameters."

Chase Iron Eyes, a Democrat on the congressional ballot with Libertarian Jack Seaman with hopes of unseating Cramer , lambasted the move.

"I think it's an utter waste of North Dakota taxpayer's time and money for a sitting congressman to threaten national media-basically shilling for Trump's ... democracy-debasing antics," Iron Eyes said. "He's calling into question the legitimacy and credibility of our government. He's saying that this election, if Trump loses, could be rigged (by the media)."

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Cramer laughed after being read Iron Eyes' quote and explained he doesn't believe the election is rigged. He did say it's "indisputable" national broadcast media outlets are biased against Trump and in favor of Clinton.

"I'm not questioning the government. I'm questioning those that (broadcast) on the government," he said. "I'm simply questioning the legitimacy or the independence of the media that uses a government asset to distribute their information."

Related Topics: KEVIN CRAMER
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