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CBS Plays Up The Absence of Republican Speakers at King Anniversary

On Thursday's CBS This Morning, Jeff Pegues spotlighted the lack of GOP speakers at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech: "Noticeably absent from this event, the GOP...the two most senior Republicans in the House...were invited to speak but declined." However, Pegues failed to mention that the event organizers didn't make much of an effort to get Republican Tim Scott, the only current black U.S. senator, to speak.

The correspondent also zeroed in on former President Bill Clinton's dubious claim during his speech at the commemoration – that "a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon." [MP3 audio available here; video below]

During his report, Pegues featured two soundbites from President Obama's address at the anniversary event on the National Mall, as well as a clip each from Clinton; Rep. John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the original march in 1963; as well as an attendee from 50 years ago. Just before playing the soundbite from Rep. Lewis, the CBS reporter hinted that there is no longer much of a controversy over the morality and legal recognition of homosexual behavior:

JEFF PEGUES (voice-over): The civil rights message of today has changed. Speakers addressed gay rights and women's rights, while others used the opportunity to weigh in on some of the more controversial issues of the day. Congressman John Lewis, the only speaker on Wednesday who shared the stage with Dr. King 50 years ago, faulted laws that he believes unfairly target minorities.

The correspondent continued with the "assault weapons" clip from former President Clinton. He didn't bother to fact check the Democrat's contention about the ease of getting a semi-automatic rifle. Back in January 2013, the National Review's John Fund, in refuting an oft-cited, but questionable statistic that 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check, pointed out that "if you look at guns that were bought, traded, borrowed, rented, issued as a requirement of the job, or won through raffles, 85 percent went through Federal Firearm Licensees and would have been subject to a background check." Not one state in the U.S. requires voters to go through a background check in order to cast a ballot in an election.

Pegues concluded the segment with his line about Republicans being "noticeably absent" from the anniversary event, and cited Roll Call's report about Boehner and Cantor declining the invitation. The same publication documented on Thursday afternoon that Senator Tim Scott "declined an invitation to attend the ceremony as a spectator, according to a source connected to the event."

Writer Emma Dumain later noted that "Scott spoke at a special service in commemoration of the occasion at a church in North Charleston, S.C., where his cousin is a pastor, according to Scott's spokesman, Greg Blair." Dumain added that Blair "didn't say whether Scott would have accepted the invitation to attend the march had that invitation explicitly asked him to play an integral part. 'There was no effort to get the senator to speak,' added an aide with Scott's office."

On Wednesday's CBS This Morning, Pegues boosted President Obama's anniversary speech by playing nothing but race-related clips from the Democrat's past speeches. He also hyped how the President's July 2013 remarks about Trayvon Martin were "surprisingly revealing".

The full transcript of Jeff Pegues' report from Thursday's CBS This Morning:

ANTHONY MASON: In Washington, tens of thousands of people crowded the National Mall yesterday to remember the historic 1963 march – leading the commemoration: America's first black president.

Jeff Pegues is at the Lincoln Memorial where the celebration took place. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF PEGUES: Good morning, Anthony. 'His words belong to the ages'. That's what President Obama said about Dr. King here yesterday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, fifty years after the civil rights leader's famous speech.

[CBS News Graphic: "'Great Unfinished Business': President Stressed Need For Economic Justice"]

PEGUES (voice-over): Standing where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech, President Barack Obama reminded the crowd of the sacrifices made.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, a voting rights law was signed.

PEGUES: Mr. Obama delivered the keynote of the commemoration-

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (from August 28, 1963 speech during the March on Washington): I have a dream today-

PEGUES: A celebration of King's iconic speech and March on Washington. Tens of thousands of people of all ages and from across the nation packed the National Mall, just as Bill Tate did in 1963.

PEGUES (on-camera): What do you think is the significance of a black president 50 years later?

BILL TATE: It shows that we have made some progress.

PEGUES (voice-over): The civil rights message of today has changed. Speakers addressed gay rights and women's rights, while others used the opportunity to weigh in on some of the more controversial issues of the day.

Congressman John Lewis, the only speaker on Wednesday who shared the stage with Dr. King 50 years ago, faulted laws that he believes unfairly target minorities.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D), GEORGIA: The scares and stains of racism still remain deeply embedded in American society, whether it is 'stop and frisk' in New York or injustice in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

PEGUES: Also addressing the crowd: former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who condemned the wave of new voter ID laws.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: But a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon. (audience cheers and applauds)

PEGUES: But this was a call to action by the President, who pulled from the past to inspire the country into the future.

OBAMA: America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we'll get back up. That's how a movement happens. That's how history bends.

PEGUES (live): This is Washington, so a lot of what happens here is filtered through a political lens, and noticeably absent from this event, the GOP. And according to Roll Call, Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor – the two most senior Republicans in the House – they were invited to speak but declined. Anthony, Gayle?

MASON: All right. Jeff Pegues – thanks, Jeff.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.