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CBS Highlights AARP Losing Members Over ObamaCare

On Monday's CBS Evening News, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson filed a report highlighting the recent defections of thousands of AARP members to the more conservative American Seniors Association (ASA), because of the perceived support by the AARP for ObamaCare. The report recounted that Obama recently had to correct a claim that the AARP supports his plan, while some are suspicious that the group may support the President privately, but are unwilling to admit to doing so publicly.

Substitute anchor Maggie Rodriguez noted that Obama had to backtrack on claiming AARP support as she introduced the story: "President Obama once thought he had the AARP on board, as he put it, on his plan for health care reform, but he has since had to back off on that claim."

Attkisson started by relating that many AARP members have recently left the group, with a considerable number flocking to the ASA: "CBS News has learned that up to 60,000 people have cancelled their AARP membership since July 1 angered over the group's position on health care. ... Many are switching to the American Seniors Association, a group that calls itself the conservative alternative."

Attkisson soon got to the controversy over whether the AARP really supports Obama on health care reform or not. After a clip of Obama claiming that the seniors group was "on board," the CBS correspondent continued: "The AARP called the President's statements 'inaccurate,' saying it hasn't endorsed any plan or bill. Some were left with the feeling that AARP was waffling."

Then came a soundbite of former AARP member Elaine Guardani voicing her suspicions: "I feel that they're supporting it through the back door and telling their members that they're not through the front door."

Citing an interview with AARP official Cheryl Matheis, Attkisson suggested there may be some truth to this theory since Matheis did not voice disagreement with Obama's proposals: "Yet the AARP's Cheryl Matheis couldn't find anything to quibble with, including the Medicare cuts which she says will not affect benefits. So is there anything in President Obama's plan that you don't like?"

Below is a complete transcript of the story from the Monday, August 17, CBS Evening News:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: President Obama once thought he had the AARP on board, as he put it, on his plan for health care reform, but he has since had to back off on that claim. The AARP is a powerful lobby for seniors. It has 40 million members with an average age of 64, most of whom vote. But tens of thousands of them don't like the overhaul plans, and that's created a problem for the organization that represents them. Sharyl Attkisson has this exclusive report.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: CBS News has learned that up to 60,000 people have cancelled their AARP membership since July 1 angered over the group's position on health care. Elaine Guardani has been with AARP for 14 years.

ELAINE GUARDANI, FORMER AARP MEMBER: I'm extremely disappointed in the AARP.

ATTKISSON: Retired nurse Dale Anderson, 12 years.

DALE ANDERSON, FORMER AARP MEMBER: I don't want to be connected with AARP.

ATTKISSON: Many are switching to the American Seniors Association, a group that calls itself the conservative alternative.

STUART BARTON, AMERICAN SENIORS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: Thousand new members today, so far. That's good.

ATTKISSON: Last week alone, they added more than 5,000 new members. Our camera was there Friday when the mail came.

BARTON, READING LETTER: It's nice to see that someone still thinks we senior citizens are not idiots.

ATTKISSON: Letters were filled with cut up AARP cards.

BARTON: I think that probably the seniors are most up set about the cuts in Medicare.

ATTKISSON: The American Seniors Association is flat-out against President Obama's plan which costs $313 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years. The AARP is widely viewed as supporting the President.

BARACK OBAMA: We have the AARP on board because they know this a good deal for our seniors.

ATTKISSON: The AARP called the President's statements "inaccurate," saying it hasn't endorsed any plan or bill. Some were left with the feeling that AARP was waffling.

GUARDANI: I feel that they're supporting it through the back door and telling their members that they're not through the front door.

ATTKISSON: There has been some confusion as to whether AARP is supporting or endorsing the President's plan or not. Which is it?

CHERYL MATHEIS, AARP: AARP has not endorsed any plan at this point.

ATTKISSON: Yet the AARP's Cheryl Matheis couldn't find anything to quibble with, including the Medicare cuts which she says will not affect benefits. So is there anything in President Obama's plan that you don't like?

MATHEIS: We agree with many of the ideas, but we actually haven't seen provisions and legislation yet, so we are not, you know, we're going to reserve judgement until we see them.

ATTKISSON: Meantime, the AARP's image suffered with this town hall meeting August 4, already seen by hundreds of thousands on YouTube. Faced with skeptical questions from the audience, the AARP representative ends the meeting abruptly.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN NEXT TO PODIUM: I'm done.

ATTKISSON: When the discussion continues, she pulls the plug on the microphone. AARP says for a group with 40 million members that adds hundreds of thousands each month, losing 60,000 is just a drop in the bucket. But to the much smaller American Seniors Association, it's a flood. Sharyl Attkisson, CBS News, Washington.

-Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.