Nets Treat Liberal Label for Edwards as Unsupportable Accusation --7/7/2004
2. CNN & FNC Tag Edwards "Moderate,"
GMA Tags NY Post Not Edwards
Four years ago when George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney as his running mate, the evening newscasts adopted liberal assumptions about Cheney's "very conservative" record and eagerly passed along examples of his congressional votes which supposedly showed how his views were out of the mainstream. But on Tuesday night, the networks avoided the congressional record of John Kerry's vice presidential selection, John Edwards, largely ignored his liberal record and, when they did mention it, treated it as nothing more than a negative accusation from the GOP not worth supporting with examples of his stances.
The networks, however, had plenty of time to gush over the Edwards image. "John Edwards' phone rang this morning at 7:30," NBC's Carl Quintanilla trumpeted on the NBC Nightly News, "and on the other end, John Kerry both formalized Edwards' rock star status and answered Democrats' demands too loud to ignore." Byron Pitts, on the CBS Evening News, relayed how "with a style as syrupy as Carolina sweet tea, Edwards could also help in the South." Pitts insisted: "Democrats have what many consider their dream team." Over on ABC's World News Tonight, Dan Harris offered hope: "With his Southern accent and son of a mill worker biography, he may very well appeal to rural voters who the Democrats badly need."
Later, ABC featured a recent interview Peter Jennings conducted with Edwards. Amongst Jennings' questions: "What were you like as a kid?" and, "I gather you were a Hell of a lawyer."
In between segments of the Jennings interview, George Stephanopoulos offered how "all those years as a trial lawyer taught Edwards to argue tough cases with a big smile, which Democrats believe is perfect training for a debate with Vice President Cheney."
FNC's Carl Cameron, on Special Report with Brit Hume, uniquely stated as a fact that Edwards is a liberal: "Kerry, who had the most liberal voting record in the Senate last year, has now picked a multi-millionaire former trial lawyer with the fourth most liberal voting record."
CNN's NewsNight devoted the first half of its hour to the Edwards elevation, but I believe the word "liberal" was only uttered once. About 15 minutes into the program, Dana Bash dismissively passed along: "Some Republican attacks are familiar -- calling Edwards a liberal, out of the mainstream." But she provided no examples of Edwards' liberal record.
For the broadcast networks, on the ideological labeling front, with tags in ALL CAPS:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. On July 25, 2000, Linda Douglass reported on Cheney: "A close look at his ten years in Congress reveals that Cheney was one of its MOST CONSERVATIVE MEMBERS, say analysts who have looked at his record."
This year, anchor Peter Jennings cited the liberal charge against Edwards in the opening tease ("On World News Tonight, Senator John Kerry chooses Senator John Edwards to be his running mate. The Democratic establishment is happy, the REPUBLICANS SAY IT'S A LIBERAL TICKET NOW"), but no ABC reporter uttered the term "liberal" again and none provided any support for the characterization.
ABC's Kate Snow portrayed the GOP attacks as unfair. After she cited "polite words from the President" and how Cheney was "cordial" when he called Edwards, she intoned: "But it was downhill from there. The Republican rapid response team tore into John Kerry."
The Web page which so upset Snow: www.gop.com
Snow went on to note how business groups plan to "beat up on" Edwards because of his success as a trial lawyer and she relayed how the Bush campaign called Edwards the second choice after John McCain turned down Kerry.
Later in the program, ABC devoted four-and-a-half minutes to a Jennings interview with Edwards, interspersed with comments from George Stephanopoulos and Linda Douglass. Jennings set up the segment with a laudatory take on Edwards' appeal: "During the Democratic primaries, people said of Senator Edwards that they identified with him mostly if they identified with people, as they put it, who think and care for people like them. Here's an excerpt from a conversation I had with the Senator not too long ago."
The "questions" to Edwards posed by Jennings:
# "What were you like as a kid?"
# "Was there ever any doubt about you going to college even though neither of your parents did?" (Edwards: "Lots of doubt...")
# "Tell me about your wife. Where did you meet her?"
# "Why did you want to be a lawyer?"
# "I gather you were a Hell of a lawyer."
Jennings recalled: "Took on high-profile personal injury cases. He made millions of dollars in the process. And he used that notoriety to pick up a Senate seat in a largely Republican state."
ABC then jumped to a comment from Stephanopoulos: "He may have only two campaigns under his belt, but Democrats say Edwards makes up for his slim political resume with raw political talent. A natural style. He doesn't speak like he's been in the Senate his whole life. He's from the South. That broadens the ticket's geographic reach and his small town roots should appeal to rural voters in other regions too. Finally, all those years as a trial lawyer taught Edwards to argue tough cases with a big smile, which Democrats believe is perfect training for a debate with Vice President Cheney."
And then to Douglass: "Edwards' strength may also be his weakness. His silver tongue and his ability to connect with audiences all come from his years as a trial lawyer. Republicans are already trying to paint him as someone who's gotten rich filing lawsuits against companies and doctors. Today business groups put out a statements saying for that reason he's anti-business. And Republicans say he lacks national security experience. They say America needs a leader to fight the war on terror, not a lawyer."
Back to Jennings, he had one last question for Edwards: "I gather you've never been short of confidence."
-- CBS Evening News. On July 25, 2000, Dan Rather piled on about Cheney's supposedly extreme views: "In the presidential campaign, the official announcement and first photo-op today of Republican George Bush and his running mate Richard Cheney. Democrats were quick to portray the ticket as quote 'two Texas oilmen' because Cheney was chief of a big Dallas-based oil supply conglomerate. They also blast Cheney's voting record in Congress as again quote, 'outside the American mainstream' because of Cheney's votes against the Equal Rights for Women Amendment, against a woman's right to choose abortion -- against abortion as Cheney prefers to put it -- and Cheney's votes against gun control. Republicans see it all differently, most of them hailing Bush's choice and Cheney's experience."
Bill Whitaker opened his subsequent piece: "Though he promised an electrifying choice to fit his self-styled new Republican campaign, George W. Bush instead reached back to the past to the steady, tried and true."
Whitaker later asserted that "Cheney's A ROCK-SOLID CONSERVATIVE WHO MANAGES TO APPEAL TO PARTY MODERATES." After relaying how Democrats blasted his voting record against abortion and the ERA, Whitaker played this soundbite from Tom Daschle: "He is probably as FAR RIGHT as anybody in the Republican Party today."
This week, on Tuesday night, July 6, Rather was on vacation and anchor John Roberts provided a pedestrian introduction. Byron Pitts, however, trumpeted: "Today, Senator John Kerry picked the man the masses in the Democratic Party had wanted for months." Pitts related, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "A passionate speaker and a prolific fund-raiser, the campaign hopes the 51-year-old North Carolinian's 'I'm the son of a mill worker' message will connect with working class voters in battleground states. With a style as syrupy as Carolina sweet tea, Edwards could also help in the South. He's a proven vote-getter in South Carolina, the state where he was born and won the February primary. Hours after the selection, the first Kerry-Edwards ad was ready to go. But for all of today's goodwill and grand spin, Kerry's biggest concern was said to be the trial lawyer-turned one-term Senator's lack of experience, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Here's how Kerry described Edwards when the two were vying for the Democratic nomination."
Next, Bill Plante handled Republican criticism of Edwards: "To hear gleeful Republicans tell it, Kerry's choice of John Edwards was as good for them as winning the lottery, 'one of the most divisive and out-of-the-mainstream tickets for President,' said the Bush campaign. The President himself was more gracious."
Unlike in 2000, CBS failed to provide support for the opposition party's characterization of the nominee's ideology.
-- NBC Nightly News. On July 25, 2000, David Gregory concluded his piece on the day's announcement: "The Gore campaign is sharpening its knives. Democrats will attack Cheney as TOO CONSERVATIVE and Bush as too influenced by his father to make a bolder choice. A senior aide to the Vice President says tonight Gore was quite 'relieved' to hear of Bush's pick."
Tom Brokaw introduced a look at Cheney's record by noting how "Dick Cheney is a veteran of the Washington scene, A HARD-CORE REPUBLICAN WITH STELLAR CONSERVATIVE CREDENTIALS." Brokaw cautioned, "Cheney's long record in Washington is widely admired, but it also leaves a trail for Democrats to attack."
Anne Thompson examined "some serious questions" about his heart before getting to his ideology: "Tonight Democrats raising questions about his political past, a decade in Congress, A VERY CONSERVATIVE RECORD."
Fast forward four years and NBC had no interest in documenting Edwards' liberal record. With the words "liberal" and "trial lawyers" on screen in scary quote marks, Carl Quintanilla gave once sentence to the Republican charge: "Republicans launched an e-mail blitz portraying Edwards as A 'LIBERAL,' a friend to 'trial lawyers'" and inexperienced.
Andrea Mitchell dismissed the relevance of Edwards' ideology as she concluded a subsequent story: "And what about those perceived negatives? TOO LIBERAL, a trial lawyer who could be caricatured as an ambulance chaser, too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief? The campaign says that they will disprove all of that when he debates Dick Cheney."
Case closed, apparently.
No one on Tuesday's Good Morning America uttered the term "liberal" to describe John Edwards, but Diane Sawyer decided it was relevant to point out how the New York Post, which erroneously plastered, "KERRY'S CHOICE: Dem Picks Gephardt as VP candidate" across its Tuesday front page, "is a conservative newspaper." Others on Tuesday morning not only failed to call Edwards a liberal, they described him as a "moderate." CNN's Candy Crowley dubbed him "a southern Democrat on the moderate side." FNC's Greg Jarrett claimed that "Edwards is considered to be a moderate" who will "balance" the "liberal" Kerry.
Only after John Kerry's 9am EDT announcement did ABC and NBC pass along the GOP charge that Edwards is liberal, but neither offered supporting evidence as the networks did in 2000 to back up the Democratic attack on Dick Cheney's ideology. (See the July 6 CyberAlert Extra: www.mediaresearch.org )
MRC analyst Jessica Anderson caught how in the 7am EDT half hour of ABC's Good Morning America, before news broke of Kerry's decision, Sawyer applied a label, but not to Edwards.
George Stephanopoulos noted: "The New York Post, going way out on a limb -- they're going for the 'Dewey Defeats Truman' prize right here, saying that he's already made his choice, a non-bylined story saying that he has picked Dick Gephardt. The campaign is waving people off this. They're not saying it hasn't happened. They're saying he hasn't made the choice."
Only after 9am EDT, in an ABC News Special Report following GMA and Kerry's announcement, did ABC reluctantly utter the word "liberal."
Peter Jennings asked: "Kate, what will the Republicans be saying first, second and third -- if you want to go that deep - about this man and this campaign team?"
Earlier, during the 8am half hour, Linda Douglass provided a glowing profile of Edwards which avoided his ideology: "Charlie, this really is a fascinating choice for precisely the reason you say. He is a relative newcomer here in the United States Senate. He's certainly not known here for writing a lot of legislation, but it was very clear to everybody who observed him that he could excite Democratic voters.
About the same time as Snow was passing along the liberal charge on ABC past 9am EDT, so was Tim Russert during the third hour of NBC's Today, MRC analyst Geoff Dickens noticed. Russert noted: "But Republicans, Matt, have already started coming after them. I received a phone call from a Republican [who] said, 'We now have two liberal Senators.' You mentioned a new campaign ad with John McCain endorsing George Bush and Republicans saying, 'McCain was Kerry's first choice and he's supporting our President.'"
"Moderate" Edwards? As relayed in the July 6 CyberAlert Extra, the National Journal determined that Kerry was the most liberal Senator in 2003 and Edwards the fourth-most liberal Senator. See: www.govexec.com
And Edwards has earned 90 and 95 percent ratings from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (see this site for a compilation of ratings: www.gop.com) yet FNC and CNN insisted upon tagging Edwards as a "moderate."
In the 9am EDT hour, the MRC's Megan McCormack observed, FNC anchor Greg Jarrett, a refugee from MSNBC, asked John Leo of U.S. News: "John, Edwards is considered to be a moderate, Kerry a liberal, that balances things out, does it?"
Earlier, just as the decision broke, at about 7:40am EDT, on the July 6 American Morning, CNN's Candy Crowley asserted: "It is good old-fashioned ticket balance: a Northeastern Democrat on the liberal side, a southern Democrat on the moderate side."
# One last thing about that erroneous New York Post story: At about 9am EDT Tuesday on CNN Jack Cafferty used the tabloid's screw up as a chance to denounce the Fox News Channel. As taken down by MRC intern Jen Schwarz, Cafferty complained: "John Kerry's running mate will be veteran U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri. This is this morning's New York Post, which is owned by the same company that owns the F-word news network up the street, for those of you who put so much stock in what those other guys are doing, and I hear from lots of you with the e-mail. New York Post, owned by News Corp, also owns the Fox News Network. 'Dem picks Gephardt as Vice Presidential candidate.'"
So, the next time Time magazine makes an error that should reflect badly on CNN?
-- Brent Baker