The Leah Walsh mystery

October 30, 2008 6:10:16 AM PDT
We're waiting for cops to identify the body of a woman found just off the Long Island Expressway.

Is she Leah Walsh, the special education teacher who disappeared Monday morning on her way to work? We're told that five minutes before her car was found off the side of the road with a flat tire, she had text-messaged her husband from her cell phone. Her purse was found in a nearby ditch.

The body discovered today was several miles from the car.

It is a mystery on many levels. Police questioned her husband for nine hours yesterday, and then let him go. We'll have the latest on the discovery of a body, and Walsh's disappearance, tonight at 11. Jen Maxfield is on the story for us. CLICK HERE for an udpate on this story.

We're also covering the economic crisis tonight. The Federal Reserve Board, for the ninth time in just more than a year, has cut a key federal interest rate -- by a half-point to 1%. This is the lowest rate since June, 2004.

Clearly, officials want to keep inflation in check and try to hold down unemployment. But what we're wondering is why these interest rate cuts haven't filtered down to us common folk. In the past, they did. Could it be that the banks just aren't passing these cuts along to customers who have home equity lines of credit, and similar debt? That's what appears to be happening - perhaps because of the credit crisis. Banks may simply be too fearful to lend money. They could also be so banged up, financially, that they'd like to make more money, and so they are not passing on these interest rate cuts to customers.

One more note about the economy - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is now asking the nine giant banks getting bailed out by the federal government to disclose how much bonus money their executives will be paid this year. It should be interesting to find out. Can you imagine the outcry if taxpayer money is being used to give year-end bonuses to executives who made boneheaded decisions with other people's money?

On the campaign trail -- John McCain was in Florida today. And Barack Obama, along with Bill Clinton, is there tonight. He's having an 11 p.m. rally, and the timing is hardly coincidence. They undoubtedly hope to appear live on local TV news in Florida, a highly contested state that is still considered "in play" - although polls show Obama leading.

We'll also get a chance to see Obama's 30-minute paid political ad tonight. Three networks are airing it -- Obama did not buy time on ABC.

Now the question we raised last night in this space: has the media been biased or fair in its coverage of this Presidential campaign? Holy opinions Batman -- did we get responses! Like the country itself on the Obama vs. McCain race, the folks we heard from were passionately divided.

Thank you all for taking the time to express yourselves, and letting us hear from you. One item to keep in mind as you read these observations: A new study finds that the Republicans, since Sept. 1, have been the target of late-night TV comics' jokes 7 times more frequently than the Democrats. In no other Presidential campaign in the past 20 years has the ratio been more than 2-to-1 in "favor" of either party.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11. BILL RITTER

Viewer emails:

"I have always trusted ABC News ... and I will always. You are the most honest in your views and your reports. Unfortunately, we no longer get NY news here in Barbados, but I try to follow you on-line. I do miss all the gang in NY. We get the news out of Miami, which is not the same."

Frances Ann Gentilin

"Absolutely (the coverage is bias)! It was a topic of conversation for a week at the nail salon I work at. Since when did the news stop reporting the facts and just spoon feeding their opinions? As an avid news reader and follower I have been disgusted by this. I can't remember a time that I knew who my anchors would vote for. I myself was undecided for a long time because it has taken so long to decipher all the opinions and bias. Interestingly enough, as a result I am now for the first time in my life not voting for the blue team, but the RED one. Not for nothin.. if the FBI wouldn't give Barrack Obama a job, why are we considering him to lead the country. Hmmm, that's a FACT that has not been reported by many!!! No one wants to vote Democratic more than I do, but I just simply can't this year (and I'd bet my right arm that Bill and Hillary aren't"

Deirdre LoCascio
Laurence Harbor, NJ

(Bill Ritter's note: The FBI won't give Barack Obama a job? First, I didn't know he had applied. Second, where in the world did that come from?)

"I don't think that the media is biased. The problem is that a lot of people always find something to complain about. For me, you guys do a very good job. Congratulations and keep a good work."

Irma D'Ecclesiis
White Plains, NY

"Yes I believe the coverage is slanted and I think that the reporters don't even realize they are biased. Your own article had its dig at Fox News. All the networks speak about Fox News in the same way, without ever mentioning MSNBC being the most partisan network. I don't think I can ever recall a reporter questioning the motives of MSNBC. Fox's popularity should be a warning sign to the networks. People want the other side of the story also."

Lisa Quaglietta
Old Bridge, NJ

"I am referring to ABC when I state they are not biased in their election coverage. I am a loyalist to ABC Channel 7 and therefore not qualified regarding other networks and whether they are biased in their election coverage."

Bob Atwell
Beacon, NY

"Worst performance by the mainstream media in any election since I have been voting. The admiration of promotion of Obama was almost as ridiculous as the sexist focus on Sarah Palin. Did anybody notice Biden told outright lies in his debate and made more than one totally incorrect?"

New York

"My biased news comes to me in the form of "Countdown," which i choose to watch nightly. While I am an avid viewer of ABCNews, I don't keep score on who is getting more negative press. I do rely on the program to report the news as it happens and if that means that there are more negative McCain stories than Obama ones, I think it's safe to assume the stories ascend from the source."

Lauren Eisen
Stamford, CT

"Is the media biased? Yes. We can bring up the disgraceful treatment of Senator Clinton, which she bore like a soldier, but that is old news. John McCain has been getting a free ride by the media. Do you know of any Democrat who would be allowed to run a vague campaign, full of racist innuendos and outright lies, without being pummeled by the media? Has McCain been called out for not addressing substantial issues that are plaguing our country right now? Would a Democratic candidate be applauded for doing a good job in the debates if they winked at the audience, or just kept dredging up past party leaders? No, no, and no. I think that the Republicans should open their eyes, and admit that John McCain is directly responsible for his problems. Under these circumstances, the media should be much harsher than they are."

Susan Bosco
Flushing, NY

"Bill: I think the political reporting and programs of Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos have been visibly biased towards Obama. They present Obama and, to a lesser extent, Joe Biden, in a way that perpetuates the rock-star aura of Obama and glosses over the seamier side of Mr. Biden and his efforts on behalf of the credit card companies in Delaware at the great expense of the consumer. Stephanopoulos, a long-time Clinton political operative is so patently pro-Obama and anti-GOP that I would not be surprised to see him appear on the broadcast wearing and 'Obama-Biden' sweat-shirt. I think their constant broadcasting of the poll numbers, their refusal to tackle some of the seamier things perpetrated by the Democrats in this election cycle (ACORN, for example) and their general favorable coverage of Obama and unfavorable portrayals of McCain, has made them less impartial national reporters and more cheerleaders for a Democratic victory. I perceive very little difference between the slanted coverage at MSNBC and that at ABC.

"At WABC-TV I think you and Liz have done a balanced job of covering the political news on-air, but your own column has been blatantly anti-McCain and pro-Obama. But since the column is meant for distribution to other members of the media, I consider that rather harmless error. On-air, however, I take umbrage at the way Dave Evans does his political reporting. It seems quite clear he is in the Obama camp and does more boosting of that cause than he does giving impartial news reports."

Martin W. Schwartz
Nanuet, NY

(Bill Ritter's note: I try not to balanced and fair on-air and in this column. And I hope no one knows who I will or will not vote for. It shouldn't matter.)

From a fellow TV journalist who asked his name be withheld:
"I read the 'bias' column yesterday and couldn't agree more with what he said. I think it's one of the best columns about media bias I've ever read. I've always said our acts of omission are the ones that kill us, even more so than the acts of commission (Dan Rather's national guard fiasco an obvious exception to that). I think I'm fairly centrist? I work very hard to make sure we're fair to both sides. I've voted for both parties frequently, but I know who I'm rooting for in any given election and try my best to avoid any favoritism. "One thing I've noticed as a good example: lots of Fox News anti-Obama/Biden stories get ignored by the MSM, but MSNBC's anti-McCain/Palin stories are always in the MSM. And we can't deny the relevance of non-partisan studies that have shown a huge imbalance in the positive/negative stories about the campaigns. "Finally, we clamor for diversity in our newsrooms, but we don't even come close to political diversity. Did you see Slate's internal poll this year? 55 editor/reporters for Obama, one for McCain, one for Barr. That may be extreme, but polls have usually found that newsrooms have about an 80-20 Democrat/Republican split. With numbers like that, there's no way we can be balanced.

"What I've always said is that it's silly to deny there's institutional bias, but at the same time acknowledging that some of us try very, very hard to question ourselves, doing our damndest to achieve objectivity, or at worst, enlightened subjectivity: paying special attention to what we report, because we are constantly aware of our biases."

"Hi Bill. This is a timely question and I have to say that some of the media outlets are leaning, or outright for, one candidate or the other. Same with some newspapers. This has just become a fact of life and as long as folks are aware of this, they can choose their poison accordingly. I'm an ABC fan, it's my station. I think their reporting is very balanced. When I want to get a good jolt of the democrats, I watch MSNBC, SNL or David Letterman; or, read the NYT! I stay far away from anything with FOX in the name, they're republican through and through... complete with the way the republicans blatantly lie. Drudge, the WSJ, Bergen Record and Washington Post... they're not as blatant as FOX, but they're republican too and caution must be used when reading anything they produce. Not so with ABC from what I can tell. Keep up the good work. One thing I have noticed, however, reporters used to 'dig things up' and the news wasn't the same on all channels. I remember how Vietnam was reported, it was raw and scary... as war should be. The coverage (or lack of) with Iraq is so sanitized. I think that's why the sheeple haven't become outraged and started marching on D.C., like they did during Vietnam. People are so consumed with just trying to keep their head above water, without the media putting it on the evening news, they don't think about it. If the media had some guts, it would shout from the rooftops what an outrage this bailout is... giving money to the banks so they can buy-up their smaller competitors? How is that putting money into the hands of the people? This is a disaster and it should be followed in detail in the media. Every night we watch the news and the first five stories are always about local deaths and murders... nothing about the bigger picture of this country. OK, I'm on my soap box and rambling, but you get my point, I'm sure."

Ringwood, NJ

"Bill, I think media bias will always exist, to some degree, and it's something that my political communication class (a great subject, by the way) is currently covering at The College of New Jersey here in Ewing. However, I think that when it comes to this election, bias is largely in the eyes of the beholder. If you watch nothing but opinion/commentary programs -- whether they have 'no-spin zones' or not -- then of course you'll be swayed one way or the other. One of the reasons I enjoy watching Channel 7 so much (aside from the fact that I interned with you guys over the summer, and it's now the only New York station still available on our cable service at school) is that, there are so many stories and angles to report every day that local broadcasts only get a very brief time to summarize any new developments, day-to-day, in the campaigns. This event-driven type of coverage, as opposed to the opinion-driven type, has really allowed me to make an educated decision for myself. I also think network news, including ABC of course, has been fair...though some Republicans might complain, and I'm sure they have, about ABC's chief Washington correspondent being a former Clinton staffer.

By the way, the Malone article brings to mind one of my favorite columns, the ombudsman's page on ESPN.Com. I'm a huge sports fan, and reading their ombudsman's weekly critiques is very helpful for me, as a prospective journalist, in determining how to truly report something in a "fair and balanced" manner. If I'm not mistaken, FOX News and MSNBC don't openly promote their ombudsmen's comments and criticisms (though I'm sure such consultants exist for both organizations).

Anyway, sorry for the long-windedness, but I just wanted to say that I think all of you at WABC are doing wonderfully with the coverage. I'm getting a little annoyed hearing the same "Vote '08" music everyday, but after spending the whole summer working in your newsroom, talking to you, and Dave Evans, and Diana Williams, and everyone else who's reported for the election buildup, I think you all should be proud of the very fair job you've done."

Patrick Lavery
WABC-TV "Eyewitness News" Intern, Summer 2008

"The news media has been too cautious and accommodating. How many news stories do we hear about Palin's clothes and folksy-ness? A few tepid comments on her lack of knowledge and preparedness to become President and then the media backs off, when it should be hammering home the point that she is unqualified. Period. Further, her choice was an erratic act that not only surprised the Republican Party, but demonstrated a willingness to be reactionary, the make a decision without thorough research. THAT is partly how we got into the Iraq mess. A concept "lets insure the health and wealth of military industrial complex (about which Eisenhower warned) for the next 30 years without considering the toll on the American public, its image and the health of our country. The media should have been hammering this and pointing out the outrageous distortions from the Republican campaign. But it has timid feet. The Republican Party of my parents weeps."

Bob Edwards
Wilkes-Barre, PA

"I'm not sure - if the paper you are referring to is the NY Times, it tries not to appear bias but then prints something that shows bias. As far as the media, I don't really care if it shows bias, as long as it is against the Republican ticket and Annie Oakley."

Diane Grossman
Forest Hills, NY

"I definitely do not think the media is biased in this election. I hear the truth most of the time from your coverage and think it is very comprehensive. I watch ABC News in preference to others for this reason."

Nancy Vaiti
Shrewsbury, NJ

"Yes, the media is extremely biased and unfair on how the are treating McCain & Palin. It is sad to see that ALL media is one sided on the issues like Palins clothing or McCain voting the same as Bush. Please remember that this country is in the problems we are in because of both parties in ability to watch out for Main St. We as a nation/media needs to demand our candidates stop passing the blame and start talking on how to resolve the issues. You in the media should be smart enough to challenge our candidates on these topics and ask them the tough questions not the most popular.... Stop being afraid of going after Obama on the real matters of his campaign so we as a nation can get some real CHANGE during the next 4 Years."

Name Withheld

"Yes, I see a tilt of sorts towards the Democrats, but considering the historical significance in that they had a woman and an Afro-American both running, I think one can't help that. I also tend to think the media tends to lean toward the more charismatic personalities. Not that I blame them, but I'd really like to see more in-depth done on how each party really tackles issues, not on the mod-slinging."

Lee Storm
Madison, NJ

"I don't feel that the media has covered more favorable coverage of Barack Obama than John McCain. I think the media has covered the news worthy stories as they happen. Barack Obama,was in the news with The Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers and ACORN issue. McCain was in the news with the Keating Five issue and his choice of VP selection and his ugly campaign tactic. McCain just complaining because he's down in the polls. Barack took the heat when he was campaigning against Hillary Clinton now John McCain. I think John McCain and Sarah Palin like to (dish) out garbage but they can't take it when it comes back to them. I'm looking forward to the media coverage of our next President(African American President) Nov 4, 5. A president for ALL AMERICA."

Noreen Belton
Laurelton, NY

"Yes the media is biased, but even worse you leave out many important issues. For example, did the media ask any candidate about the Americans With Disability Act? What assistance will you give so persons with disabilities can work? I have not seen any media persons ask these questions."

Debra Greif
Brooklyn, NY

"Bill, my feeling is that Fox TV must be supported by the Republican Party. They are so slanted to McCain."

Gene Berkowitz