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CBS Host's False Attack on Wisconsin Governor Falls Flat

On Friday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge attempted to portray Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to curb costly benefits for public sector unions in his state as purely political: "Your teachers union, which votes Democratic...hit very hard. Yet your police, state trooper, firemen unions, who all supported and endorsed you, did not get touched in any of this. Why is that?" [Audio available here]

In the live interview, Walker quickly dismantled the entire premise of Wragge's attack: "Chris that actually is not true. There are 314 fire and police unions in the state. Four of them endorsed me. All the rest endorsed my opponent." Wragge was undeterred in his follow up question: "But you understand their position with some of the state workers, saying you're essentially taking away their voice by trying to break these unions. You understand that, correct?"

Wragge began his interrogation by urging the Governor to back down on his budget-cutting proposal: "Your Democratic state senators have all fled the state, schools have been closed, the state house, for all intents and purposes, is a mad house right now. And you've talked about potentially mobilizing the national guard. So has your position softened at all here?" Walker replied: "No. This is a bold political move, but it is a modest request of our employees....what we're asking for is still a lot less than what most of our average taxpayers are paying [for health and pension benefits]."

Even after the interview was over, Wragge couldn't help but proclaim to fellow co-host Erica Hill: "He talks about modest requests. But there's about 10,000 to 15,000 people in that state house each and every day the last few days who don't feel the same way."

At the top of the show, Hill teased the interview this way: "A battle over budget cuts gets nasty in Wisconsin. Democratic lawmakers walk out, as more than 10,000 state workers and teachers descend on the capitol in a massive protest. We will ask the Republican governor if he's trying to balance the budget, or break apart the unions." Introducing a report by correspondent Cynthia Bowers prior to the interview, Wragge declared: "In Wisconsin today, Republican lawmakers will try to force a vote on a plan to cut back union rights for state workers."

In her report, Bowers continued to paint Walker and state Republican legislators as villains: "And tens of thousands of people are expected to once again descend upon this capitol building today to protest what they say are anti-union legislation rules....more than 10,000 protesters rallied against a proposed budget bill they called drastic and extreme."

Bowers' report featured six sound bites. Four of them were of protestors chanting "Kill the bill!" and condemning the legislation as "bull crap" that would "take away all of our rights." One was of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeating President Obama's remark that the proposal was "an assault on unions." Finally, the last sound bite was from Walker, explaining: "This is a fraction of what most people, working-class, middle-class citizens in the state are paying, in terms of what we're asking for."

Concluding her piece, Bowers observed: "Even though Republicans have the support [to pass the legislation], they cannot force the vote until at least one Democrat comes back, and so far, all of them remain secluded." She failed to further mention that Democratic legislators were hiding in a hotel in Illinois rather than performing their duties as Wisconsin elected officials.

Here is a full transcript of the February 18 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ERICA HILL: Political showdown. A battle over budget cuts gets nasty in Wisconsin. Democratic lawmakers walk out, as more than 10,000 state workers and teachers descend on the capitol in a massive protest. We will ask the Republican governor if he's trying to balance the budget, or break apart the unions.

7:08AM ET SEGMENT:

CHRIS WRAGGE: In Wisconsin today, Republican lawmakers will try to force a vote on a plan to cut back union rights for state workers, as union members and their supporters try to stop that with another huge demonstration at the state capitol. We'll talk to Wisconsin's new Republican governor in just a moment. But first, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers is in Madison, Wisconsin, with the latest on those protests for us. Good morning, Cynthia.

CYNTHIA BOWERS: Good morning, Chris. And tens of thousands of people are expected to once again descend upon this capitol building today to protest what they say are anti-union legislation rules. But there are also reports that big-time Democratic money and organizers from out of state are now flowing in, trying to influence Wisconsin's vote.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Budget Showdown; More Than 10,000 Protest Over Wisconsin Cuts]

PROTESTORS: Kill the bill! Kill the bill!

BOWERS: In Madison, Wisconsin, more than 10,000 protesters rallied against a proposed budget bill they called drastic and extreme.

[PROTEST SIGN: Madison, WI; Class Warfare's Ground Zero]

For a third straight day, the state capitol seemed more like an unruly sports arena as protesters voiced their outrage over potential cuts that could impact 300,000 public workers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [PROTESTOR]: Our governor doesn't understand that we are taxpayers, too, and he's trying to take away our voices, and take away all of our rights.

BOWERS: The plan requires most public employees to contribute more to their pensions and health care plans. Public worker unions would also lose their right to collective bargaining with the exception of negotiating wages.

PROTESTORS: Kill the bill! Kill the bill!

BOWER: It is a similar scene in Michigan and Ohio, where cost-cutting measures also have residents out in opposition. The budget debate has even gained President Obama's attention.

JAY CARNEY: What he sees happening in Wisconsin, making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, seems more like an assault on unions.

BOWERS: It is an emotional issue in the state that gave birth to public worker unions 75 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [PROTESTOR]: To take and throw away the contract to say that it's balancing the budget is bull crap.

BOWERS: But new Republican Governor Scott Walker says he was hired to fill a $3.6 billion budget hole, and his plan is saving 5,500 state worker jobs.

SCOTT WALKER: This is a fraction of what most people, working-class, middle-class citizens in the state are paying, in terms of what we're asking for.

BOWERS: But even though Republicans have the support, they cannot force the vote until at least one Democrat comes back, and so far, all of them remain secluded. Chris.

WRAGGE: CBS's Cynthia Bowers in Madison, Wisconsin for us this morning. Cynthia, thank you. Joining us now from Madison in Wisconsin is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Governor, good morning.

WALKER: Good morning, Chris.

WRAGGE: So we just hear from Cynthia's report a second ago, your Democratic state senators have all fled the state, schools have been closed, the state house, for all intents and purposes, is a mad house right now. And you've talked about potentially mobilizing the national guard. So has your position softened at all here?

WALKER: No. This is a bold political move, but it is a modest request of our employees. In fact, I should make it very clear, there are 300,000 state and local government employees. The vast majority of them for days have been showing up to work just like we pay them to do. The state senators who are hiding out down in Illinois should show up for work, have their say, have their vote, add their amendments, but in the end, we've got a $3.6 billion budget deficit we've got to balance. And I think for most people in the middle class outside of government, they understand what we're asking for is still a lot less than what most of our average taxpayers are paying.

WRAGGE: You say this is a modest request. Now some state workers have been hit harder than others. Your teachers union, which votes Democratic under normal circumstances, hit very hard. Yet your police, state trooper, firemen unions, who all supported and endorsed you, did not get touched in any of this. Why is that?

WALKER: Well, Chris - Chris that actually is not true. There are 314 fire and police unions in the state. Four of them endorsed me. All the rest endorsed my opponent. For us it's simple, we cannot compromise for one minute public safety in this state. We've seen what's happened, unfortunately, with a number of our schools. It is illegal to strike in this state. We can't compromise our public safety.

But the bottom line is we've got to balance a budget, the people who are here, the thousands of protesters, union protesters, at least those from Wisconsin - there are plenty of others coming in from throughout the country - but those from Wisconsin have a right to be heard. But the millions and millions of taxpayers in the state have a right to be heard, as well. And we can't raise taxes to balance this budget or we'll cripple the economy that already has about a 7.5% unemployment rate. To show that we're open for business we've got to make it easier to put people to work here, and asking employees to pay half the national average for health care is truly a modest request.

WRAGGE: But you understand their position with some of the state workers, saying you're essentially taking away their voice by trying to break these unions. You understand that, correct?

WALKER: No, Wisconsin has the strongest civil service protection system in the country. It was there several generations before any collective bargaining was ever approved in this state. Our workers have protections today, they'll have protections after this bill passes. What you've got our union leaders who don't like the fact that they're not going to able to mandatorily enforce that every one of the workers here in state and local government have got to be a part of the union. That's why they're here. That's why the national money's here. That's why the national union leaders are coming here.

But in the end, it's a better deal for those workers at the state and local level to get their dues back, to be able to have the option of joining or not joining and take that $500-$600 and apply it to the health care and pension costs we have. I toured manufacturing plants all across the state this week. Most of those workers, middle class, working class blue collar workers, are paying 25% to 50% of their health care premiums. We're asking for 12.6%. Again, I think it is a modest request. It's a bold political move, but it's a modest request. And I think the majority of taxpayers in the state understand, even those who work in union shops outside of government.

WRAGGE: Governor, thank you very much for taking the time and expressing your position this morning. Governor Scott Walker.

WALKER: Good to be with you.

WRAGGE: From the state of Wisconsin.

HILL: A lot of people will be watching to see how that shakes out today.

WRAGGE: He talks about modest requests. But there's about 10,000 to 15,000 people in that state house each and every day the last few days who don't feel the same way.

HILL: No, they don't, so we'll be continuing to watch that for you.

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.