26/01/04 Dennis Miller’s Defense: Ethics Don’t Apply to Him

FAIR-L Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Media analysis, critiques and activism


January 26, 2004

In response to FAIR activists and other critics pointing out the extraordinary conflict of interest posed by the new Dennis Miller talkshow on CNBC, Miller and the network have put forth a variety of contradictory excuses.

As FAIR pointed out in a January 23 Action Alert, the Dennis Miller show employs a consulting produce, Mike Murphy, who at the same time continues to work as a consultant and fundraiser for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Murphy, who has been nicknamed “the Merchant of Mud” for his expertise in negative advertising (Toronto Star, 4/5/00), is a leader of two committees set up to promote Schwarzenegger’s policies and raise money for his political activities. Murphy’s client is scheduled to be the featured guest on the show’s debuttonight.

Though from all descriptions, the show is intended to focus heavily on news and politics, Miller has suggested that rules against journalistic conflicts of interest don’t apply to him. “I don’t have the vaguest pretension to journalistic ethics, I’m a comedian,” he told the Hollywood Reporter (1/26/04), saying that his show would be “entertainment” rather tha “a font of pristine journalistic ethics.” He suggested at a news conference, in fact, that he’s actively hostile to the idea of such ethics: “I’m a comedian,” he told reporters on January 23 (Dallas Morning News, 1/24/04). “Mike’s my friend and a very funny writer. I’m sorry if it’s violated anybody’s bullshit sense of journalistic ethics.”

On he other hand, AP reported (1/25/04) that Miller indicated that “he’s not making a comedy show.” “I don’t want it to be a screaming shriekfest,” the news service quoted Miller. “I want it to be a pretty reasoned discourse.” CNBC, of course, is not Comedy Central, but a cable news channel specializing in business reporting.

Before it was revealed that Murphy was still aworking political consultant, CNBC dismissed the idea that his past affiliations with politicians posed a conflict of interest because, as Television Week reported (1/12/04), “Miller has made clear that his show, however political, will not be partisan.”

In subsequent comments, however, Miller has made that far from clear. He told AP (1/25/04) that he would not make jokes at the expense of George . Bush. “I like him,” Miller said. “I’m going to give him a pass. I take care of my friends.”

In the same article, the network put out a new version of its dismissal of the concept of conflict of interest: “CNBC points out that Murphy is one of several staff members, and that Miller is looking forward to having guests with varied views.” The guests that have been annonced so far, for the first week of the show, have all been prominent Republicans: Schwarzenegger, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. John McCain. Mike Murphy managed McCain’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

Credited with getting his client (as well as his former client) booked on the show (Washington Post, 1/19/04), Murphy is influencing decisions at the etwork in a way that could conceivably be viewed as an “in-kind” contribution to the governor’s lobbying and re-election campaigns.

AP also quoted CNBC president Pamela Thomas-Graham as saying of Miller: “He’s part of a lineup. He’s not the only person in the lineup”— though he is, in fact, the only person in the lineup with a show that focuses on the host’s opinons about national politics. AP said that Thomas-Graham said “she expects [former tennis star] John McEnroe, whose own talk show will immediately follow Miller’s starting this spring, to have different views.” It’s unclear, despite his years in the public eye, what McEnroe’s views are; “I’m not sure there are a lot of people who should care about my opinions but I’m interested to interview people in the political spectum,” he told the Newcastle Journal (1/16/04).

Given Miller’s thumbing of his nose at journalistic ethics, and CNBC’s disingenuous defenses of the show, it appears that the Hollywood Reporter was being accurate when it noted: “CNBC won’t care what Miller does as long as his 9 p.m. show brings the network a modicum of visibility in primetime.”

ACTION: You can express your opinion on Dennis Miller’s professed lack of journalistic ethics to:


As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

Read FAIR’s January 22 alert:


Your donation to FAIR makes a difference:


FAIR SHIRTS: Get your “Don’t Trust the Corporate Media” shirt today at FAIR’s online store:

FAIR produces CounterSpin, a weekly radio show heard on over 130 stations in the U.S. and Canada. To find the CounterSpin station nearest you, visit .

FAIR’s INTERNSHIP PROGRAM: FAIR accepts internship applicationsfor its New York office on a rolling basis. For more information, see:

Feel free to respond to FAIR ( ). We can’t reply to everything, but we will look at each message. We especially appreciate documented examples of media bias or censorship. And please send copies of your email corresondence with media outlets, including any responses, to .

You can subscribe to FAIR-L at our web site: . Our subscriber list is kept confidential. FAIR (212) 633-6700 E-mail: