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On O'Connor, Lots of Labeling, Wishes for Moderate Replacement --7/5/2005


1. On O'Connor, Lots of Labeling, Wishes for Moderate Replacement
All three networks broke in to regular Friday morning programming to note the retirement announcement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. ABC's Manuel Medrano was stuck on the C-word, saying Chief Justice Rehnquist is an "ardent conservative" and would likely be replaced by "another strong conservative, ardent conservative," unless O'Connor the "pragmatic centrist," whom Bush would work to replace with an "ardent conservative." George Stephanopoulos expressed some wishful thinking that O'Connor's swing vote role "might lead President Bush to nominate someone who's not as much of an ideological conservative to replace her." On CBS, anchor John Roberts claimed the Supreme Court fight would "derail the President's second-term agenda" and Bill Plante found that Bush's stated preference for a judge who would faithfully interpret the Constitution was code words: "Conservatives take that to mean someone who is anti-abortion. They still hope to overturn Roe v. Wade." On NBC, Brian Williams reported O'Connor's "solid position" at the court's center "has enraged people on the right side of the political spectrum," and Andrea Mitchell contended the White House has to decide "how hard-line they want to be."

2. CNN: Only Conservatives Have 'Litmus Test,' MSNBC Pushes Gonzales
On cable news Friday morning, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider built a case that the next justice would face an ideological "litmus test" -- not from liberals, but from conservatives. FNC and CNN sounded like they got their reporters mixed up when FNC's Megyn Kendall referred to feminists as "women's rights groups" and Bush's female judicial nominees as "extremely conservative jurists," while CNN's John King identified "liberal groups" and "pro-choice groups." On MSNBC, Newsweek's Debra Rosenberg called even Justice John Paul Stevens one of the "so-called liberals" on the court, while MSNBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell and Washington Post reporter Charles Lane built a case for consulting liberal Senators and picking Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a consensus choice.

3. NBC Newsroom Animated by View U.S. Presidents Were "Terrorists"
As recounted in a Media Reality Check "Quick Take" from the MRC on Friday, during a Thursday NBC Nightly News segment on the situation in Iran, in which a 1979 revolutionary has been "elected" President, anchor Brian Williams proposed to Andrea Mitchell: "Someone brought up today the first several U.S. Presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called terrorists at the time by the British Crown, after all." Mitchell replied: "Indeed, Brian." The MRC's Rich Noyes since noticed that Williams, on his blog a few hours before the June 30 Nightly News broadcast, provided an indication of where his odd moral equivalence was born: In the NBC newsroom. Williams relayed on MSNBC.com's "The Daily Nightly" blog how it "certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. Presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England."


Editor's Note: In today's CyberAlert, article numbers 1 and 2 were written by Tim Graham and I cobbled together number 3 based on submissions from Tim and Rich Noyes. -- Brent Baker

On O'Connor, Lots of Labeling, Wishes
for Moderate Replacement

All three networks broke in to regular Friday morning programming to note the retirement announcement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. ABC's Manuel Medrano was stuck on the C-word, saying Chief Justice Rehnquist is an "ardent conservative" and would likely be replaced by "another strong conservative, ardent conservative," unless O'Connor the "pragmatic centrist," whom Bush would work to replace with an "ardent conservative." George Stephanopoulos expressed some wishful thinking that O'Connor's swing vote role "might lead President Bush to nominate someone who's not as much of an ideological conservative to replace her." On CBS, anchor John Roberts claimed the Supreme Court fight would "derail the President's second-term agenda" and Bill Plante found that Bush's stated preference for a judge who would faithfully interpret the Constitution was code words: "Conservatives take that to mean someone who is anti-abortion. They still hope to overturn Roe v. Wade." On NBC, Brian Williams reported O'Connor's "solid position" at the court's center "has enraged people on the right side of the political spectrum," and Andrea Mitchell contended the White House has to decide "how hard-line they want to be."

The networks broke in twice on July 1, first around 10:30am EDT time with the news, and then again about 45 minutes later when President Bush praised O'Connor in the Rose Garden.

-- ABC. In their first break on ABC, MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed reporter Manuel Medrano explained the ideological fallout with a lot of C-words:
"This is a significant change in the complexion of the Supreme Court. Before today's announcement we were anticipating the retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist. He, of course, an ardent conservative and were he to leave, we would presume that the President would appoint another strong conservative, ardent conservative. But with now O'Connor leaving, this may very well change the complexion of the ideological direction of the Supreme Court, because as I said, she is a moderate, she is a pragmatic centrist in her judicial philosophy. And there's no question, I think, that President Bush will work very hard to replace her with more of an ardent conservative. And as a result you may have a change in the legal complexion in the areas of affirmative action, abortion, civil rights, and criminal law."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos added that on many issues, O'Connor "has basically voted with the liberals of the Court. And you can expect that President Bush would want to pick a more ideological conservative replacement. That puts the Democrats in something of a difficult spot. They're going to have to do the hardest fight first." White House reporter Terry Moran called the coming battle "titanic" and emphasized the conservative's demand for a pro-lifer: "One thing it does also argue for though, is that the President's base for whom abortion and those issues are right at the top of the agenda are going to pressure the White House very, very hard."

During the second break-in, Stephanopoulos added a little wishful thinking on replacing O'Connor: "She has a very different ideological profile from the Chief Justice. She was the most important swing vote on the Court. That might lead President Bush to nominate someone who's not as much of an ideological conservative to replace her. Trying perhaps to ease the way toward confirmation, but that's, at least the Democrats might be hoping for not certain what they'll get."


-- CBS. In the second break-in, MRC analyst Brian Boyd found anchor John Roberts said about the coming fight: "It's going to just about derail the President's second term agenda, everything that he's been trying to get through Congress for the last few months is going to take a back seat to arguments over who will be the next Supreme Court justice." Just before that, White House reporter Bill Plante tried to interpret Bush's Rose Garden remarks: "There were two coded messages, John, in what the President had to say today. At least how I interpreted them. He talked about a judge who would faithfully interpret the Constitution. Conservatives take that to mean someone who is anti-abortion. They still hope to overturn Roe v. Wade."


-- NBC. In the first-break in, MRC analyst Ken Shepherd reported NBC legal reporter Pete Williams correctly noted O'Connor was one of the court's "solid six votes" in favor of Roe, so it changes the stakes from a Rehnquist retirement scenario. Anchor Brian Williams replied: "Indeed it does, Pete. And you mentioned her solid position there at the center of the Court at times it has enraged people on the right side of the political spectrum." Liberals certainly had "rage" for O'Connor, especially in the Bush vs. Gore fight, but that wasn't recalled.

During the second stint, Pete Williams repeated the day's conventional wisdom about a harder fight: "If William Rehnquist had stepped down and the President got a nominee, it would be a swap of one conservative for another conservative, not much of a net change in the Court. But there will be a huge battle now because O'Connor is the critical vote. Only the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens and a replacement with a conservative justice would push the court further to the right." Do reporters really believe if the fight had been over Rehnquist, liberals would have been noticeably mellower in protest of a conservative nominee?

Reporter Andrea Mitchell added: "There is going to be a fierce fight over this no matter who is nominated. The White House clearly has to make a decision, and probably already has, as to how hard-line they want to be."

CNN: Only Conservatives Have 'Litmus
Test,' MSNBC Pushes Gonzales

Bill Schneider On cable news Friday morning, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider built a case that the next justice would face an ideological "litmus test" -- not from liberals, but from conservatives. FNC and CNN sounded like they got their reporters mixed up when FNC's Megyn Kendall referred to feminists as "women's rights groups" and Bush's female judicial nominees as "extremely conservative jurists," while CNN's John King identified "liberal groups" and "pro-choice groups." On MSNBC, Newsweek's Debra Rosenberg called even Justice John Paul Stevens one of the "so-called liberals" on the court, while MSNBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell and Washington Post reporter Charles Lane built a case for consulting liberal Senators and picking Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a consensus choice.

-- CNN. At about 11:20am EDT, the MRC's Ken Shepherd passed on that CNN political analyst Bill Schneider noted O'Connor was an important vote in favor of abortion, adding about the next justice: "One question is, will the nominee be willing to say whether he or she would vote to uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade. Is that a fair question? Should there be a litmus test? A lot of conservatives say they want to know that before they'll go along with President Bush's nominee."

Conservatives want a litmus test? Conservatives would say they want a judge to interpret strictly the text of the Constitution, and a pro-life stance may follow. That could be called a litmus test, but it's less explicit than the liberal approach. Liberals in the last few presidencies have explicitly demanded an ideological answer on abortion. Liberal Senators (and liberal reporters) were scandalized in 1991 when Clarence Thomas claimed he hadn't discussed Roe v. Wade at Yale Law School. (They didn't push Ruth Ginsburg for her views on it.)

Schneider returned to his only-conservatives-have-a-litmus-test talk about a half-hour later, as he touted a recent Gallup/USA Today/CNN poll: "What we see here is that by better than two-to-one Americans say they want a justice who would uphold the Roe versus Wade decision. Now, that is likely to be the center of any confirmation battle. Principally because conservatives are pressuring the White House to name a judge who is not just the conservative but one whose position opposed to Roe v. Wade is known. That's the so-called litmus test. They want to know that this is a justice who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. And, as you can see that's a minority position. That is what would make this confirmation hearing enormously controversial."

But he wasn't done yet. During Inside Politics in mid-afternoon, Schneider went one better, explicitly suggesting Ted Kennedy opposed litmus tests. Over a graphic reading "A Litmus Test," Schneider explained: "Conservatives want President Bush to nominate a justice who will cast what could be the deciding vote against that right. And they want to know that up front, before the Senate confirmation vote. Their cry is 'no more David Souters.' Souter, nominated by the first President Bush in 1990, did not define his position on abortion. Conservatives were outraged when he turned out to support abortion rights. Many liberals denounce the idea that a nominee should have to pass a litmus test on the abortion issue."
Senator Edward Kennedy: "I don't set up a litmus test for any particular nominees. I have voted for judges which have been pro-life."

Schneider also played a snippet of Kennedy's infamous "Robert Bork's America" speech from 1987, albeit quite sanitized. While the Gallup poll showed pro-life voters were more intense about the court fight than pro-abortion voters, Schneider insisted "when abortion rights supporters feel their rights are being threatened, they have shown that they can rally, as they did against the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987."
Edward Kennedy clip from July 1, 1987: "In Robert Bork's America, there is no room at the inn for blacks, and no place in the Constitution for women."


-- FNC. During coverage in the 11am EDT hour Friday, FNC and CNN sounded like they got their reporters mixed up when FNC's Megyn Kendall referred to feminists as "women's rights groups" and Bush's female judicial nominees as "extremely conservative jurists," while CNN's John King identified "liberal groups" and "pro-choice groups."

At 11:51am, MRC's Megan McCormack noticed, Kendall used typical liberal media terminology in analyzing the judicial state of play: "There may be pressure from women's rights groups to replace Sandra Day O'Connor with a woman. The names we've heard, that are women, so far include Janice Rogers Brown, who's now just been confirmed to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit. Both, by most accounts, extremely conservative jurists. Sandra Day O'Connor is not. So you can imagine the battle that's going to unfold on Capitol Hill this summer if President Bush chooses to go with either of those women."

By contrast, at 11:11am, CNN's John King explained: "Already you see liberal groups, People for the American Way, saying Sandra Day O'Connor should be replaced by somebody like her, a moderate voice they called her. Other pro-choice groups, Planned Parenthood of America, saying that she should be replaced with someone who shares her views."


-- MSNBC. In the 11:00am EDT hour, MRC intern Patrick Skeehan reported MSNBC anchor Amy Robach interviewed Newsweek's Debra Rosenberg via telephone about how Republicans have failed to find nominees who stay conservative once they're appointed: "What goes into this decision-making process by the administration and how do they say, 'Look, this guy is the conservative, or gal, that we want, and he's going to stay that way'?"

Rosenberg found even the left-wing of the court filled with "so-called" liberals: "You know, there are no guarantees when it comes to picking justices. It's funny, if you look at the current court, some of the, you know, so-called 'liberal' justices, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, you know, even the moderates, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor -- all appointed by Republicans, you know, all thought to be more conservative, and when they get on the court, you know, that's part of what having a lifetime appointment is all about. You, you know, you don't get a guarantee as to how somebody will vote."

A few minutes later, MSNBC Chief Washington Correspondent Norah O'Donnell started noting that Republicans would not follow the Clinton model and consult opposing Senators on nominees: "President Clinton consulted with the Democrats, excuse me, with the Republicans I should say, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly Senator Orrin Hatch, about a potential nominee. That's not likely going to happen in this particular case, say several sources. It's not likely that President Bush will spend the next couple of weeks consulting with Democrats up on the hill about who he should name."

She then wondered: "Will Bush create a conservative court?" or "Will he choose compromise over confrontation? Will he choose someone that could be similar to Justice O'Connor like his own attorney general, Alberto Gonzales?" She claimed "that was quickly batted down by conservatives very close to this White House. I'm told that the phones were smoking in the White House as many conservatives who will be involved in this fight called up Karl Rove, called up others and said Gonzales is not the type of person we want on the Supreme Court, because they concerned that he is too moderate when it comes to abortion rights and when it comes to affirmative action. So, they would not like someone like Gonzales."

Like Bill Plante, O'Donnell was seeing code words for conservatives in the Bush speech: "He says he wants someone who will faithfully interpret the Constitution. What the President means there is someone who will interpret and be a strict constructionist, not be a progressive, if you will. The President also pledged to consult with the Senate, which is important because that's what Democrats on Capitol Hill have been demanding, that there be consultation between the White House and the Congress."

In the 11:30am half hour, MRC intern Kyle Drennen found anchor Randy Meier asked Washington Post reporter Charles Lane if the "nuclear option" can be avoided, and he replied: "Oh yeah, there's a chance, because as you remember, they avoided that with this kind of compromise solution of 14 Senators and the President said in his statement that he planned to consult. If those consultations with those you know, middle of the road Senators, pay off and he produces a nominee that's acceptable to them, then they could avoid a filibuster, I don't think we can assume that this is all going to go nuclear, as people say, but you know facts are going to come out in these hearings that perhaps we can't anticipate now, and that might change that."
Meier: "And Charles is there a name that sticks out or jumps out at you as you watch this unfold?"
Lane: "Absolutely, I think Alberto Gonzales in many ways is a very logical choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. She was the first woman on the court, it would be historic to replace her with the first Hispanic on the court. Alberto Gonzales is also not as conservative as some of the other people on the President's list, and Justice O'Connor is not a very conservative conservative, so it would be a logical exchange. But listen, we all got a little bit surprised by her retirement in the first place, so maybe I shouldn't be predicting things, about who's going to replace her."
Meier: "We should echo the words of Tucker Carlson, conservatives around the country would probably hate the nomination of Alberto Gonzales because of the point you point out that he is more moderate than most would like."
Lane: "Yes you would lose some conservative votes, but what's their alternative? You know, do they want to force the President to nominate someone else, who might be so conservative that the Democrats would block him. I think that the real question here is for anybody who opposes any particular nominee of the President, do they have a Plan B that would work. And, you know, the political downside of opposing an Hispanic, an historical first, would be very apparent to a lot of people, even very conservative members of the Senate."

But "very conservative" Senators would no doubt prefer one-time circuit-court nominee Miguel Estrada, who has not voted against parental-notification laws for abortions.

A final note: We were baffled by how MSNBC's anchors could contradict each other so quickly on O'Connor's record in the first hour of breaking news. Randy Meier declared O'Connor was "almost always" a conservative vote, in the Rehnquist mold: "Amy said, and I think it bears repeating, that often times as Supreme Court Justices go, their politics and their ideology do change over time, and her's really only slightly changed. She came on to court as what was described as a conservative, in fact at one point she was described as the Arizona twin of William Rehnquist, in their ideology. As time went on, her philosophy seemed to move a little bit more toward the middle, but often and almost always voted with the conservative side of that Supreme Court."
Robach then explained how this supposed Rehnquist rubber stamp liked to vote with Souter: "That's right, and then eventually she became under increasing scrutiny as the swing vote on the court, and often during these sharply divided issues, like affirmative action, the death penalty, and abortion. And in fact, at one point an observer declared back in 1990, 'as O'Connor goes, so goes the Court.' And perhaps to the dismay of many of her conservative allies initially on, when David Souter joined the court that fall back in 1990, O'Connor and Souter voted the same way in every 5-4 decision in his first term, probably not what Reagan had envisioned when he appointed her back in 1981."

NBC Newsroom Animated by View U.S. Presidents
Were "Terrorists"

Brian Williams As recounted in a Media Reality Check "Quick Take" from the MRC on Friday, during a Thursday NBC Nightly News segment on the situation in Iran, in which a 1979 revolutionary has been "elected" President, anchor Brian Williams proposed to Andrea Mitchell: "Someone brought up today the first several U.S. Presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called terrorists at the time by the British Crown, after all." Mitchell replied: "Indeed, Brian." The MRC's Rich Noyes since noticed that Williams, on his blog a few hours before the June 30 Nightly News broadcast, provided an indication of where his odd moral equivalence was born: In the NBC newsroom. Williams relayed on MSNBC.com's "The Daily Nightly" blog how it "certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. Presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England."

The paragraph in full from the 4:15pm blog entry on June 30:
"Many Americans woke up to a curious story this morning: several of the former Iran Hostages have decided there is a strong resemblance between Iran's new president and one of their captors more than 25 years ago. The White House and most official branches of government are ducking any substantive comment on this story, and photo analysis is going on at this and other news organizations. It is a story that will be at or near the top of our broadcast and certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. Presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England."

The MSNBC blog site does not have a direct link for the 4:15pm entry, so go to this link and then scroll up the page to the previous entry time: www.msnbc.msn.com


Below is a reprint of the Friday Media Reality Check, "Sickening Moral Equivalence from Brian Williams; Happy Fourth Of July: NBC Nightly News Suggests 'The First Several U.S. Presidents Might Have Been Called Terrorists,' Just Like Ayatollah Khomeini's Radical Hostage Takers In Iran."

It was written by the MRC's Tim Graham and distributed by e-mail by the MRC's Rich Noyes who tracked down the the additional info and links presented after the Media Reality Check text.

To see the Adobe Acrobat PDF which matches what was faxed: www.mediaresearch.org

For the HTML version, which has a still shot of Brian Williams and an MP3 audio clip of him from Thursday's NBC Nightly News suggesting a comparison between America's Founding Fathers and the Islamic radicals who seized the U.S. embassy in Iran back in 1979: www.mediaresearch.org

Now, the text of the July 1 Media Reality Check "Quick Take":

Remote controls flew at TV sets across America last night as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams came out of an Andrea Mitchell story on whether Iran's new President was one of the captors of U.S. hostages in 1979 during Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution. Williams suggested a sickening moral equivalence between the Iranian radicals and America's Founding Fathers.

Both, he thought, could be called terrorists: "Andrea, what would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. Presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called terrorists at the time by the British Crown, after all." Mitchell replied: "Indeed, Brian." (Brian Williams worked in the White House during the Carter administration, beginning as a White House intern.)

This is not the first time Williams has mangled a historical analogy. During MSNBC's live coverage of precision bombing of Baghdad on March 21, 2003, Williams played amateur historian: "That vista on the lower-left looks like Dresden, it looks like some of the firebombing of Japanese cities during World War II." The Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945 destroyed much of that city and killed tens of thousands of civilians.

This is also not the first time NBC has compared American revolutionaries to terrorists. Last November 9, Today co-host Matt Lauer interviewed Lynne Cheney on her children's book about the Revolutionary War: "Let me talk about this idea that a rag-tag group -- not well-fed, not well-clothed, completely under-equipped as compared to this great British army and the Hessians -- could accomplish this. And let me ask you to think about what is going on in Iraq today, where the insurgents -- not well equipped, smaller in numbers -- the greatest army in the world is their opposition. What's the lesson here?" A shocked Mrs. Cheney replied: "Well, the difference of course is who's fighting on the side of freedom."

This is also not the first time NBC has tried to ruin Independence Day, although Williams has trumped 2003, when NBC promoted their July 4th edition of Dateline: "They had good jobs, making good money, but now they've lost almost everything. An American nightmare: The new homeless. All new Dateline, Friday."

END Reprint of July 1 Media Reality Check "Quick Take."

Recalling that July 4, 2003 Dateline: The actual show, in which reporter John Hockenberry followed the plight of four families, in fact contradicted the dire "American nightmare" claims of the NBC promotion, since two of the four families were never homeless and the other two were never forced out onto the street. For more on that Independence Day downer, go to: www.mediaresearch.org

And for more on what Brian Williams said during the opening hours of the 2003 war in Iraq, go to: www.mediaresearch.org

And to recall Matt Lauer's interview with Lynne Cheney from the November 9, 2004 Today go to: www.mrc.org

For a RealPlayer video clip of the Lauer/Cheney exchange: www.mediaresearch.org

-- Brent Baker in New Hampshire, based on articles by Tim Graham